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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Joe Jackson & Todd Rundgren feat. Ethel

State Theater New Jersey 2005

Review by Gary Hill

This is quite an unusual set. I have to think this show was unique, though. It starts with a set from Ethel, who is not a single person, but rather a chamber music group, complete with symphonic instrumentation. That is followed by a solo performance from Joe Jackson. I have to admit that it's that part of this that loses me a little. I've never been a big fan of Jackson's vocals. Next up we get a solo set from Todd Rundgren. Then Jackson does another song with Ethel as his accompaniment. Rundgren does one with Ethel before they all feature on two songs to close it out. This set has the two-CD set along with a DVD of the show. The video and audio quality is great, and I'm glad there is a record of this unusual concert experience.

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Track by Track Review
Nepomuk’s Dances: Memory

There is a definite classical vibe to this cut. The symphonic instrumentation and moving groove are classy on this opening instrumental. This works through some twists and turns and at times makes me think of the music to the movie "Psycho."

Starting mellower, but getting more energetic and crazed, this is another symphonically styled piece, but it does grow into something closer to art rock.
Pelimanni’s Revenge
This is an energetic symphonic romp with a real Celtic vibe.
Sweet Hardwood: Spiritual
A bit more tentative and slow moving as it grows, this is an intriguing piece. It is also dynamic, getting pretty driving and potent for a time before dropping back to mellower zones to continue.
Sweet Hardwood: Shuffle
This is a powerhouse classically infused piece that feels like an extension of the one that preceded it.
Joe Jackson

Piano brings this cut into being. The vocals come in over the top of that backdrop. The vocal performance gets a little weird for my tastes.

Steppin’ Out
The piano for this comes out of an mutates from the piano on the previous tune. This is Jackson's big hit, and it works pretty will in this arrangement (just piano and vocals) and performance. Again, I'm not convinced of some of the stranger parts of the vocal performance.
Awkward Age
A driving piano and vocal tune, this works better than Jackson's previous two tunes for me. I'm reminded a little of Elvis Costello on this, perhaps merged with Billy Joel.
Take It Like A Man
The basic concept, energetic, rocking piano and vocal concept, is in the driver's seat here. I'm not enamored with the vocal performance on this one, either.
It’s Different For Girls
A dramatic and rather artsy tune, this works better.
Obvious Song
Another that works better for me, this is energetic. It has some jazz in the mix.
Love At First Light
I dig this number quite a bit, too. It has a real singer-songwriter vibe to it. It's another that makes me think of Billy Joel a little.
Dramatic and evocative, I like this one a lot, too.
Be My Number Two
Another solid tune is on the menu here.
Citizen Sane
The vocals go a bit off the rails on this number.
Is She Really Going Out With Him
Jackson's other hit, the audience claps along here. They also provide the "where?" This is bouncy and fun. It is one of the highlights of the Joe Jackson solo part of this set.
Todd Rundgren
Love Of The Common Man

Here we get Rundgren's vocals accompanied just by guitar. This classic rocker is solid and delivered with style.

I Don’t Want To Tie You Down
A straight-forward Rundgren rocker, this works well.
Seeming to come right out of the previous track, this isn't a big change.
Tiny Demons
Here we get a tasty ballad. This is  a highlight of this second disc.
Another ballad, this one is built on piano and vocals. I really like this one a lot.
Free, Male And 21
A bouncy piano groove serves as the backdrop on this tune. The lyrics to this are tastefully funny.
Hello, It’s Me

There is a long introduction to this made up of piano and spoken vocals. The cut shifts into the actually song from there. I've always been a big fan of this piano and vocal number, and this live take is great.

Bang The Drum All Day
Rundgren moves to ukulele on this bouncy number.
Black And White
He brings the electric guitar for this rocker. It's always been a strong tune and this version rocks.
Back to non-powered guitar, this is a classy melodic rocker.
The Wheel
This Rundgren classic gets a good live telling in this more intimate format.
Joe Jackson & Ethel – The Other Me

Jackson is back here with the symphonic treatment of Ethel backing him up. This is evocative and strong.

Todd Rundgren & Ethel – Pretending To Care
Rundgren does one with Ethel here. I love the symphonic sound on this. The tune has a real proggy vibe in this treatment.
Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson & Ethel – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
With both the symphonic instrumentation and electric guitar, this cover of the Beatles song might be my favorite song on this whole set.
Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson & Ethel – Black Maria
I love the combination of electric guitar and killer violin soloing on this. It's a powerhouse rendition of a smoking hot rocker.
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