Shaw/Blades | Influence (VH1 Classic)

influencesThe pair have sold millions of records between them, Shaw as the singer/guitarist of Styx and the writer of all that band's best songs ("Renegade," for example) and Blades as the singer/bassist of hair band giants Night Ranger, but neither has had a hit since 1 B.C. (Before Cobain), making a grasp at recapturing their glory with a covers album pretty much an inevitability.

 

 

There has been a rather discomforting trend lately of classic artists doing all-covers albums. Once Rod Stewart started selling truckloads of CDs by leaving his rock roots behind for limp re-recordings of standards in his Great American Songbook series, though, you could almost picture the dollar signs in artists' eyes as they lined up to follow in his footsteps, with results both good (Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs' Under the Covers), bad (Eddie Money's Wanna Go Back), and just unnecessary (the Smithereens re-recording Meet the Beatles! in its entirety).

Very few people were clamoring for a new album from Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades, the high-harmonizing pair who teamed with Motor City madman Ted Nugent to form Damn Yankees in the early '90s. The pair have sold millions of records between them, Shaw as the singer/guitarist of Styx and the writer of all that band's best songs ("Renegade," for example) and Blades as the singer/bassist of hair band giants Night Ranger, but neither has had a hit since 1 B.C. (Before Cobain), making a grasp at recapturing their glory with a covers album pretty much an inevitability.

Surprisingly, Influence gets off to a pretty decent start. The opening run through Seals & Crofts' soft rock classic "Summer Breeze" has a smooth, vaguely country feel to it and some excellent guitar heroics from Shaw. The pair's cover of the Zombies' "Time of the Season" has a surprisingly menacing sound during the verses, a pair of killer solos, and Shaw and Blades' voices blending as perfectly as fans remember, even if the pair haven't recorded together since 1995's Hallucination.

Unfortunately, the album's momentum doesn't hold. A folk-y take on Yes' "Your Move" is a decent, Styx-y song until the pair shoehorns the chorus to John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" over the coda. Shaw and Blades make their biggest mistake by foolishly attempting not one but two Simon & Garfunkel songs and butchering them both: an attempt to make "I Am a Rock" an actual rock song (it isn't, and shouldn't ever be), then a minstrel-y run through "The Sound of Silence" that sounds like bad dinner music.

The sound of the album, produced by Shaw and Blades and engineered by Great White keyboardist Michael Lardie, is certainly lush but sterile, especially in the case of the completely toothless "For What It's Worth." Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" is the only song that the band really makes its own, the lone track sounding like something Damn Yankees might have recorded in its heyday. Most of the songs left are nearly note-for-note recreations of the originals, pleasant enough but ultimately unnecessary; after all, how many covers of "California Dreamin'" do we really need? The songs that round out the setlist – a Counting Crows-ian take on the Hollies' "On a Carousel," New York Congressman John Hall's Orleans hit "Dance With Me," and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Lucky Man" – do very little to distinguish themselves from the originals. Fans of Shaw and Blades' previous work will no doubt enjoy hearing the duo's admittedly fine voices hitting the high notes on these great songs, but most listeners will probably get more out of kicking on the local classic rock station for an hour or two. C+ | Jason Green

RIYL: Damn Yankees, KSHE 95

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