Too Much Time On Our Hands: A Styx Tribute Album
(Salt Lady Records)
There should be a Styx tribute album. Chicago's favorite sons of the '70s had a couple of dozen hits in the main cycle of their career, before it all fell apart.
However, that tribute ought to include some influential hitmakers of today, paying homage to the old guard. This collection, instead, was put together by a Minneapolis singer-songwriter with a bunch of no-name artists from around the country with varying degrees of talent.
It's what you'd expect if a dozen local bands got together to play cover songs at a summer festival. Some interpretations are interesting, some right-on and some embarrassing.
Echelon opens the disc with a funky cover of "Renegade" that's a bit slower than the original, but otherwise a viable nod at one of Styx's best rock songs. Alva Star channels "Lady" through The Commodores; there's no improvement on the original here in any way. Tom Freund (with help from Aimee Mann collaborator Jon Brion) slows down "Blue Collar Man" and sets a jazz bass behind it; an interesting experiment with mixed results.
Lost and Found turns "The Grand Illusion" into a finger- pickin' acoustic song that sounds about like what you'd expect if They Might Be Giants handled it. Likewise with compilation instigator Jonathan Rundman's countrified remake of "Come Sail Away." Jeff Krebs opens "Boat on the River" with a nicely plucked banjo strain, before kicking in the drums and plaintive guitars. He recaptures the melancholy of Tommy Shaw's recording quite well.
Beki Hemingway offers one of the disc's most successful remakes — an acoustic guitar-backed cover of "Don't Let It End." Without the keyboards, bass and drums of the original, Hemingway's richly emotional vocal delivery is front and center, giving her the chance to offer more raw feeling than the original.
Chicago's Dag Juhlin (Slugs, Poi Dog Pondering) reconstructs "Too Much Time on My Hands" using only guitar lines (the original was synthesizer-based). It's an interesting, but unsuccessful, experiment.
While there are a variety of styles represented, the overriding feel is Styx revisited by coffee house folk singers. The allure of the often bombastically powerful originals is lost in these recordings, which generally don't feature vocalists with anything near the range and talent of the original singers. For Styx fans, however, it's an interesting listen. Check the company's site at www.saltlady.com.
(Dag Juhlin, Jeff Krebs, Jonathan Rundman and Dolly Varden members will be at a CD-release show for Too Much Time on Our Hands at Chicago's Uncommon Ground, 1214 W. Grace St., June 28 at 6 p.m.)