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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Ed Palermo Big Band

The Great Un-American Songbook

Review by Gary Hill

This is a cool set. I haven't heard of this act before, but apparently they came to fame doing interpretations of Frank Zappa songs. On this double CD set they cover everyone from The Beatles and the Stones to Arthur Brown and King Crimson to Green Day and Radiohead. There is, as you might expect, a lot of jazz here. There is a lot of rock music, too, though. Many tracks are instrumental, but quite a few have vocals. There are some cool Beatles related skits sprinkled throughout. One quick look at the liner notes and spin of one of the discs will tell you that it's all delivered with a great sense of humor. All in all, this is a fun ride.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2017  Volume 3 at
Track by Track Review
Volume I (disc one)

Good Morning, Good Morning (The Beatles)

Starting with some goat drama, they launch out into a killer jazz rock version of the classic Beatles song.

Open Up Said the World at the Door (The Move)
There is a funny little scene at the beginning of this one, too. They launch out from there into some killer jazz stylings. This is a lot of fun. It's more pure jazz. It really has a lot of energy and magic built into it.
We Love You (The Rolling Stones)
The scene bit that starts this made me literally laugh out loud. The cut has a cool psychedelic rock meets fusion kind of approach. It's quite classy stuff. As good as this has been so far, I think this stands even taller than the two openers. I love the violin on this song. This segues right into the next tune. 
Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles)
With a lot of organ soloing to drive the retro textures, this is a pretty awesome rendition of one of my favorite Beatles tunes. They play it sans vocals and it feels more along the lines of jazz prog than the original Beatles textures. It's another particularly strong rendition.
Definitely Maybe (Jeff Beck)
This comes out of the previous number with some more great jazz meets rock stylings. It's not a big change, but it's also quite effective.
As You Said (Cream)
There's another introductory bit here. Then they launch into more cool jazz stuff.
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2 (King Crimson)
Now they turn their attention to King Crimson. This jazz meets hard rock arrangement really fits this piece of music. This is a powerhouse jam that's so cool. It does a nice job of adapting the various sections of the piece.
21st Century Schizoid Man (King Crimson)
This is a powerhouse jam that's more purely jazz oriented. They really create an exceptional variation on these familiar themes. They do turn it more rocking for the single chorus with vocals.
Send Your Son to Die (Blodwyn Pig)
Jazz and rock merge on this energized tune. It's a killer number that's a lot of fun. I dig the guitar solo on this thing. The vocal approach on this makes me think of 60s music.
Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder (Nicky Hopkins and Quicksilver Messenger Service)
An extensive jam, this is more purely jazz in nature for the majority of its roughly eleven minute length.  It does have some sections that are more purely fusion oriented, though. The cut fades down to end, but the first CD isn't done. Wait for a short time and some backwards tracked stuff with some weird bits of sound over the top take it. Then this thing powers out into some hard rocking jazz rock.
Volume II (disc two)

America / American Idiot (The Nice, Green Day)

There's another goofy introduction to this. Then they launch out into The Nice's rendition of the West Side Story song. From there they take it out into Green Day. This is very much a jazz styled number for the first part. It gets into more rock territory complete with violin soloing. The Green Day part has vocals.  It gets a parental advisory for the lyrics. This one runs right into the next tune.

Beggar's Farm (Jethro Tull)
This really does have a Jethro Tull vibe. The vocals certainly contribute to that. The musical arrangement is definitely part jazz and part rock. The switch time movement is a lot of fun. They come back out into a powerhouse return. There is some great flute soloing and another spoken bit ends it.
Bitches Crystal (Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Emerson, Lake and Palmer get a great re-telling on this thing. I love the mix of jazz and rock on this. There is some particularly cool horn soloing on this. The whole tune just works so well, though.
Wreck of the Hesperus (Procol Harum)
While the vocals really don't seem like Procol Harum, the music is clearly that band. This is more of a purely prog rock arrangement in a lot of ways. Yes, it still has some jazz in it, but it's mostly icing on the cake, rather than the real structure.
Diamond Dust (Jeff Beck)
This instrumental has some great jazz stylings built into the run.
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (Traffic)
I'm a huge fan of the original of this. This version comes in fairly true to the original. It gets a bit of an old-world element as it works forward. The vocals aren't far removed from the original version. This song seems an obvious one for this act to do because the original was essentially jazz rock fusion. This cover is strong. The mid-track jam is full on jazz and very powerful. It returns to the familiar theme to end it.
Fire (Arthur Brown)
The original of this had a lot of jazz in the mix. This cut gets a great (and fairly faithful) version here. It is perhaps more pure rock than some of the others. It's fun however you slice it, though. The vocals on the mellower section feel a bit theatrical for my tastes, but still this works well.
The Tourist (Radiohead)
I'm not sure that I've heard the original of this. There is a bit of a Radiohead vibe recognizable on this, though. I like the sort of psychedelic edge that the cut gets. Although there are still jazz edges to this, it's one of the most pure rock explorations of the set.
Don't Bother Me (The Beatles) / Nardis (Miles Davis) / Don't Bother Me (reprise) (The Beatles)
This feels like it comes out of the previous tune. The violin soloing over the top is classy stuff. The track works its way forward from there in style. The shift to Miles Davis territory is a cool drop back in tempo. While the intensity is lowered, the cut seems to gain some passion and fire at the same time. When it comes back to the Beatles territory we get some vocals. It's a killer rocking jam that serves well as the resolution to the Miles Davis jamming.
I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles)
I love the duet between violin and guitar on this screaming hot stomper. They do this one as an instrumental.
Good Night (The Beatles)
There is a bit of a spoken skit at the start here. Then they work it out to a mellow rendition of the Beatles cut. They bring it to a bit of a jazzy arrangement for a short bit, and then drop it back down. There is another little spoken bit at the end. It makes for a nice bookend to the set. It also works well to take it all out in style.  However, that's not the end. As on the first disc, there's a short bit of silence followed by a journey out into a jazz journey. It's apparently a tune called "Her Majesty." It sounds like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin (but it's actually Mick Starkey) doing a lounge jam on a Beatles song. The little spoken bits on this are funny.
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