Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Drink A Toast To Innocence - A Tribute To Lite Rock

It is often said that in order for someone to be successful in a business venture, it is critical that they find their niche; their own unique position in the market, and address the needs of that underserved market segment. Andrew Curry has certainly done that in spades by producing a terrific new tribute album that focuses on a specific timeframe and sub-genre of popular music.

The album, "Drink A Toast To Innocence - A Tribute To Lite Rock" is a giant 28 song collection, spread over 2 CD's that are packed to the brim with excellent renditions of Lite Rock songs from the late '70's and early 80's. There will also be a 10 song vinyl edition. Sorry, but no 8 tracks or cassettes.

If you're 35 or older, you know every one of these songs and can probably sing along with them too! But age is no restriction on your potential for enjoying this music. These newly recorded tribute versions are performed by current independent bands and individual musicians who may not yet be familiar names, but I assure you, all of them are worthy of wider recognition for the quality of their songcraft.

Album Producer Andrew Curry
The idea began as a playlist on a Facebook page. Lite Rock fan Andrew Curry assembled a countdown of what he thought were the 20 greatest Lite Rock songs of all time. Curry described these songs as "the soundtrack of my youth". Eventually, the idea of doing a real album of cover versions developed and it was time to make it happen. The project was pitched on the fundraising website, Kickstarter and achieved its $10,000 goal in just 3 weeks! That should tell you something about not only the enduring popularity of this music, but also the costs involved in putting an album like this together. Things like song licensing, manufacturing & promotional costs add up quickly.

Contributing Artists David Myhr & Eytan Mirsky
Andrew's next task was getting musicians on board to record the songs. The first ones to sign on were Eytan Mirsky and Andy Reed (of An American Underdog). But Andrew recently told me, "I had an interesting sort of dance going with Mike Viola before he finally agreed. But when he did come aboard, it made securing other artists much easier to do. After all, I'm hardly a household name."

I asked Andrew at what point was he certain that the idea had wings. He replied, "I knew the project had real potential when Michael Carpenter submitted his video for "We Don't Talk Anymore". It showed that a major figure in the power pop world took this thing seriously enough to put in that extra work to help make the record buzzworthy. I had gotten a few tracks submitted by the time Michael sent me his video, and I really dug them all. But that specific moment is when I thought, "You know? This thing might actually work."

All the way from New South Wales, Australia, here's Michael Carpenter's video version of "We Don't Talk Anymore", originally a hit for Cliff Richard back in 1979. Nice job, Michael!

Kelly Jones
Other artists made less involved, but no less impressive initial entries. To present her idea for the England Dan & John Ford Coley song, "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight", Kelly Jones sent Andrew Curry a demo that was recorded on her iPhone! The song has a very gentle, sweet feel in that lo-fi demo version. The song was recorded properly in a studio for the album, but I can't help thinking it would have been a nice touch to work in the iPhone recording for the early 1st verse or so, since the song is about a phone call anyway.

Brandon Schott
As for other interesting stories, there are a few. But one of the best is about Brandon Schott's version of the Andrew Gold hit, "Thank You For Being A Friend". Brandon had the idea that a song about friendship should include lots of people (friends and fans and family) in the background of the song. So he put together a choir of people that included not only his parents and his kids, but also a bunch of other artists from the tribute album itself. Included in the background vocals are David Myhr, Andy Reed (of An American Underdog), Steven Wilson (of Plasticsoul), Joe Giddings, Paul Bertolino, Michael Simmons (of Popdudes), Eric Kern (of Vegas With Randolph) and radio personality Michael McCartney, who did the great K-tel style voiceovers for the Kickstarter fundraising videos.

Willie Wisely
There's only one song on the entire album that makes me itch a bit and that is Willie Wisely's percussion-heavy take on Atlanta Rhythm Section's "So Into You". After repeated listens, I feel that the track could have been greatly improved by doing a "single edit"; shortening the song and eliminating some distracting vocal excesses during the last minute or so, but the overall production is interesting. Willie certainly picked up on the "voodoo in the vibes" lyric in the first verse of the song. I do have to say that I was surprised to see that this track is to be included on the vinyl edition of the album. While this recording has merit, I'm not sure that it's one of the best choices to represent the album on what amounts to a 10 song sampler.

Vegas With Randolph
However, I do have my personal favorites, like this first rate version of the Little River Band's "Cool Change", done by Vegas With Randolph. THIS, my friends, is how to do a cover! It completely respects the song, keeping all signature parts intact, yet it sounds like the band who's playing the song; putting their identity on it, but not in an overwhelming way. By the way, this song does not appear on the vinyl version and it should.

Then, there are the musicians that do their darndest to replicate the original recording as best they can. Hailing from sunny Southern California, here are The Popdudes with their excellent version of Walter Egan's "Magnet & Steel". This makes me smile. If you like toy pianos, this is your jam!

There are almost too many highlights to mention without including the entire list of songs, but in particular, I got a charge out of Bleu's excellent replication of Player's "Baby Come Back"; still the best Hall & Oates song that Hall & Oates didn't write. Other favorites that scored high in originality include Mike Ruekberg's "Believe It Or Not", Greg Pope's reworking of Poco's "Crazy Love", Paul Bertolino's version of "Just Remember I Love You" by Firefall, and The Davenports' energetic take on "Just When I Needed You Most".

In conclusion, the best cover versions are, as my wife says, "different enough so it's fresh, but the same enough to where you can sing along if you want." I completely agree, and this collection is chock-full of recordings like that. In my many years of enjoying tribute albums, I have heard the good, the bad and the very ugly. This project is obviously a labour of love for the producer and for the musicians who played on it. In fact, there's so much consistently good material in this collection, from one track to the next, that I honestly feel that this is easily one of the very best and most enjoyable tribute albums ever done by anybody, and I do not say that lightly, folks. This album is a great one and you should go buy it right now.

Here's what's on the CD's.

The vinyl edition will include:
1. Steal Away - Mike Viola
2. The Things We Do For Love - David Myhr
3. I'd Really Love To See You Tonight - Kelly Jones
4. We Don't Talk Anymore - Michael Carpenter
5. Escape (The Pina Colada Song) - Eytan Mirsky

1. Baby Come Back - Bleu
2. More Than I Can Say - Linus Of Hollywood
3. Thunder Island - An American Underdog*
4. Shake It - Cliff Hillis
5. So Into You - Willie Wisely

(* Thunder Island is a vinyl exclusive!)

The album will be available on Monday April 29th, but you can pre-order the CD or the download version right now on Bandcamp. On the 29th, the full album will be available there and will also find its way onto the usual outlets like CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes. The official website,, is where you will be able to find links to where you can get the album on the 29th. It's up and running now, so you can sign up via email to be notified when new info is available.


  1. I guess I should 'fess up right up front--I'm Andrew Curry's mother. I absolutely loved this review and the music you included in it. In 1978 I was teaching English to 7th and 8th graders in Houston, TX, and my students LOVED "Thank You for Being a Friend." I was the sponsor of the school newspaper, and we had a page of musical dedications in each issue. (one student "dedicated" a song to another. This one song was the most often chosen for the two years I was there. Your story about Brandon Schott's family and friends singing in the chorus with him makes me like the song even more than I already did. I can't wait for my CD to come. This retired English teacher gives your review an A+.

    Elizabeth Cook

  2. Thank you so much for your kind note, Ms. Cook. As someone who writes for the enjoyment of it, I am most grateful to receive an A+ from an English teacher! I can thank Andrew for telling me about Brandon recording his song when I interviewed him for the article via Facebook. Thank you for sharing your story about your students enjoying the song back when it was popular. I'm sure you're super proud of Andrew's success with this project. I am just glad that he made it happen. It's a great album and I look forward to the good things that may come from it.

  3. I realize that music either speaks to a listener or it doesn't. So, I'm not chiming in to talk anyone into appreciating anything they don't dig. But…

    In my defense here--there was no reason to cover Atlanta Rhythm Section's "So Into You" (a wildly under-celebrated classic track) in a manner reverent to the 1970's hit version.

    Frankly, there's not much of a song there. It's just a "voodoo-ish vibe" over a groove. The verses and choruses and breaks are all similarly constructed, varying themselves in these microscopic ways which are unlikely, almost non-sensical, and yet also, sublime. In other words, to do an "accurate" version of the song would've only served to show the inadequacies of the composition itself, or the absolute stoned mastery of the ARS's performance--depending on how you look at it. Either way, my contribution to the comp would've looked shoddy.

    You may recall that over half the original recording constitutes a lazy FM-radio guitar solo coda. We're all lucky that wasn't re-created for the sake of "Innocence", so to speak.

    Basically, the original is a heavy eye-lid masterpiece, and since I long ago left marijuana for the harder stuff, it just didn't make sense to go there.

    Hell, I thought I was doing everyone a favor. The ARS's version clocks in at another minute or two longer than mine.

    Also, I'm a little perplexed that a listener wouldn't be absolutely gobsmacked at the notion of Kelly Jones, giving her extemporized, orgasmic vocal everything on my coda--then again, I'm a Donna Summer/Yoko Ono fan.

    Speaking of: Yoko albums are some of the best post-Beatles solo works. Ah, but that's another argument.

    And regarding making a listener "itch a bit"-- I thought that was the point of this whole saccharine era of music (that I absolutely adore)?

  4. Hi Willie! Good to hear from you. Allow me to clarify some things.

    While I stand by my review, I never said I didn't like the track. I did say it was interesting and that wasn't meant sarcastically or any way other than good. You might also check earlier in the article where I said that "all of them are worthy of wider recognition for the quality of their songcraft", meaning that everyone did a great job, regardless of the aesthetic of their contribution. You should know that I did give your track several dedicated listens so I could form an opinion because it was so unique.

    I agree with you that there's not much to the original song, so I do salute you for taking a different approach, seeing how a straight cover wouldn't have added much to the musical universe.

    If you think of this album as an ice cream store with 28 flavors, all of them have something different going on. Some are variations on a root flavor while others are more experimental. Everyone will prefer different flavors for different personal reasons. But even those who don't necessarily care for a particular flavor know that it's still ice cream, and that's a good thing.

  5. I was completely floored by "So Into You". I couldn't stop listening to it. Yes, the wild vocals of Kelly Jones towards the end gave me the impression of someone untamed and with an almost "Stop! Stop! Stop!" Hollies like arrangement going on throughout the song...well that's what I love in a recording like this. It totally harkens back to Donna Summer and that's enough to keep this listener thrilled.

  6. Thanks to our friends at The Time Machine for writing in. I'm glad "So Into You" has some fans out there.

    On another matter, I should reiterate that just because I failed to mention any particular song in the review does NOT mean I didn't like it. Au contraire! Truth is, there's SO MUCH good stuff on the album that a gushing track by track review would have been too much of a good thing and would lessen the credibility regarding the overall quality of the album, ya dig?

  7. I can't get the songs to play, the videos do, but not the songs.

    1. Very sorry about that. We do experience periodic difficulties with Divshare's server that make song files slow to load or even fail to load. This problem comes & goes, depending on traffic on their servers. The other possibility is that you are viewing the blog on an Apple device. The Divshare player is Adobe Flash based and Apple devices stubbornly refuse to recognize Flash, for whatever reason Apple has. The player does work on Windows computers and Android phones. I am considering alternate players that work on any platform, but haven't been able to make a definite choice, due to various limitations. Hope that answers your question. Thanks for checking out the blog!

  8. We all love ice cream, don't we, Phillydog!?!! Now how about that Yoko argument ;^)?

    1. Yes we do Willie!! :) Regarding Yoko, side 2 of my copy of Live Peace In Toronto is as shiny as the day it was made. But she has certainly influenced many along the way. John thought that The B-52's "Rock Lobster" was a nod to Yoko and it likely was. "Walking On Thin Ice" was one of the best tracks that came out of their last sessions. She was a unique artist on her own before she & Lennon met. Still, there's many who curse her name by blaming her for the breakup of The Beatles, which was inevitable with or without her.