Various Artists - 2004 Influences & Connections Vol 1 - Mr. Big

ARTIST: Various Artists
ALBUM: Influences & Connections Vol 1 - Mr. Big
LABEL: Frontiers
YEAR: 2004

LINEUP: Featuring: Richie Kotzen, Billy Sheehan, Pat Torpey, Paul Rodgers, Doug Pinnick, Ty Tabor, Chuck Wright, Lanny Cardolla, Joe Lynn Turner, Marty Friedman, Tim Bogert, John Waite, Glenn Hughes, Steve Lukather, Ann Wilson, Gene Black, Mickey Thomas, Stevie Salas, Keanu Reeves, Bret Demrose, Donnie Vie, Yngwie Malmsteen, Matt Sorum, Teddy 'Zig Zag' Andreadis, Debby Holiday

TRACK LISTING: 01 Mr. Big (lead vocals: Paul Rodgers) * 02 Take Cover (lead vocals: Doug Pinnick) * 03 Colorado Bulldog (lead vocals: Joe Lynn Turner) * 04 Wild World (lead vocals: John Waite) * 05 Price You Gotta Pay (lead vocals: Glenn Hughes) * 06 Promise Her The Moon (lead vocals: Ann Wilson) * 07 Addicted To That Rush (lead vocals: Billy Sheehan) * 08 Just Take My Heart (lead vocals: Mickey Thomas) * 09 Shine (lead vocals: Bret Domrose) * 10 Crawl Over Me (lead vocals: Pat Torpey) * 11 To Be With You (lead vocals: Richie Kotzen) * 12 Green-Tinted 60's Mind (lead vocals: Donnie Vie) * 13 Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (lead vocals: Joe Lynn Turner) * 14 Alive & Kickin' (lead vocals: Glenn Hughes)


Sometimes it's hard to know which audience tribute albums are meant for. Do you buy a tribute album because you like the band being saluted and want to hear different approaches to their songs? Or do you buy it because you like the bands paying the tribute on the CD, regardless of whom they are paying tribute?

Well, here's one which should appeal to people from both sides. Gathered here, we have a whole host of classic melodic rock luminaries paying tribute to Mr Big, covering their classic and (in some cases) not so classic songs.

The Songs

First up is Paul Rodgers, with a new version of 'Mr Big'. Personally, I think this is a bit of a cheat, as in the hands of Mr Big, it was a cover tune in itself, having originally been performed by Free (co-written by Rodgers himself); so what we have here is Rodgers paying tribute to a band whose version was in tribute to him..

Nevertheless, it's a great version, and as the Free/Bad Co fans among you will testify, Paul's voice is as good as ever. While Paul is the real star here, a special mention must go to Billy Sheehan, whose bass playing during the up-tempo part of the song is superb and to Richie Kotzen - again spot on, and I always love to hear him playing in a bluesy style.

Less obvious, Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor of the hugely under-rated King's X, treat us to a rousing rendition of 'Take Cover' (originally from 'Hey Man'). Doug's voice is strong, but on the whole, he sounds slightly lost without his usual fat bass sound (bass duties here are performed by Chuck Wright). Still a great effort though, as I'm sure you'll agree, Eric Martin has pretty big shoes to fill.

I've long been an admirer of John Waite. In my opinion, John is one of the all-time greats and has a very natural singing style which makes him instantly recognisable. He makes an excellent job of vocalising on 'Wild World' (once again, being a cover, I'm less than convinced it deserves a place here, despite Mr Big scoring a hit with it in the 90s) but aside from John's vocals, I find little here of interest as I really dislike the song and always have. Mr Big wrote a bunch of great original compositions, I really wish he'd chosen one of those.

Enter another singer with a huge voice: Ladies and gents, I give you Joe Lynn Turner. I'd hoped for great things, as I've been listening to Joe for nearly as long as I can remember. Sadly, his two contributions leave me cold. 'Colorado Bulldog' (from 'Bump Ahead') is a full on shred-fest here thanks to some severe over-playing by Marty Friedman and Lanny Cordola.

At least during a spirited cover of 'Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy', his main vocals are better, but some unnecessary wailing at the end of each chorus makes this sound more like a Rainbow/Deep Purple vehicle than a tribute to Mr Big - and are those snatches of 'Highway Star' I hear after the guitar solo? (smirk).

For my money, the best part of 'Daddy, Brother..' is the solo played by Yngwie Malmsteen, (sans electric drill) which is far too widdly by half, but seems to work. I know I've just critisized Marty Friedman and Lanny Cardolla for the same thing, but what the hell. (Just call me Mr Double Standard.).

From a performance stance, Turner should've taken notes from his buddy Glenn Hughes, who makes 'Price You Gotta Pay' sound as if it was written especially for him. Solid, bluesy hard rock sang by a master and a solo by Steve Lukather, great stuff.

Ann Wilson takes the reigns for a fantastic performance of 'Promise Her The Moon', suitably altered from 'her' to 'him', naturally. Here we are in the twenty-first century and after more years in the business than she'd probably care to remember, Ann's voice is still one of the greatest. Given time, this is one I'll probably end up liking more than the original. I have to say, for those of you whom are still reading this but are feeling a little sceptical, if the promise of Ann Wilson in great vocal form doesn't sway you, then nothing will.

Sometime Jefferson Starship man Mickey Thomas takes lead vocals on 'Just Take My Heart' and despite past glories, Mickey's reading of this song is pedestrian at best. Actually, that may be a little unfair of me, as those of you who are Mr Big fans will know the original featured a great vocal from Eric, so chances are, anybody else brave enough to cover it would probably fall short. Hmm, maybe John Waite should've had a go. On the plus side, it's saved from complete mediocrity by Gene Black who plays another great solo.

Can I be honest? I hate 'To Be With You'. When it was a hit, the radio played it seemingly forever; my friends played it endlessly. I've never managed to hear it since without wincing. Even now when I play 'Lean Into It' I turn the album off before it comes on (thankfully it's at the end, so it's not much effort).

Surprising then, in that case, I actually quite like the version of the song offered here. In the hands of Richie Kotzen, it's lost some of its sickly sweetness. He's chosen to take it down a notch and play it with a bluesy sensibility, accented by his slightly soulful voice. This could have easily found its way onto one of his solo albums - as we know, he's never been shy about revisiting and rearranging stuff, as the version of 'Shine' from his 'Change' album shows well.

Speaking of 'Shine', the version here is pretty good. I really hadn't expected it to be, to be honest, as it's performed by Dogstar (that's the band with Keanu Reeves in it, dudes..whoah.). I'm sorry I pre-judged it (something I don't often do) as it's more than competent and all the right ingredients are there, including the chorus backing vocals. Hear it and believe, people.

From the outset, it would seem that Mr Big's tribute to psychedelia, 'Green Tinted 60's Mind' would be ideal for Donnie Vie. His version in no way should be thought of as a failure, but isn't quite as good as it could have been. This may be due in part to the fact that 'Green Tinted..' is arguably one of the greatest songs in the Mr Big canon, their original version being damn near perfect.

At the beginning, the smart guitar work on the original has been replaced with sitars. I'm sure in Donnie's mind, he was aiming for Beatle-esque charm, but when I heard it, I thought it was more like 'Listen To The Flower People' by Spinal Tap. The vocals are phased too, for an even more psychedelic edge.

Regular worshippers at the First Church Of Z'Nuff shouldn't be disappointed with the end result, but for me, the original version wins out. That said, I love the way the music drops out during the 'hanging out with Janis' part on Donnie's version here, so maybe it'll grow on me.

So, that just leaves the two cuts featuring lead vocals by original band members Billy Sheehan and Pat Torpey. Sheehan's 'Addicted To That Rush' rocks big time. It has all the groove of the Mr Big classic, but Sheehan's low, slightly gravely delivery gives the song a much edgier feel, a top performance from all concerned here, especially Teddy Andreadis, whose harmonica really drives the rush, so to speak.

I wish I could be so complimentary about Torpey's 'Crawl Over Me'. Alongside Joe Lynn Turner's 'Colorado Bulldog', this ranks as a weak offering (if I'm being honest, even 'Wild World' isn't as bad as this), but you can't win 'em all as they say.

In Summary

At the time of writing this [December 2003] I think it'll be interesting to see what's next in line for a tribute as part of this series of albums from Frontiers.

I hope they've got enough sense to know that some things are best left alone. In the meantime, give this one a whirl. The number of melodic rock stars which have contributed make it worth your while.

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