Sunday, June 4, 2023

Tom Collier: “Boomer Vibes Volume 1” (2023) CD Review

Tom Collier is a percussionist, vibraphone player and composer, who has played and recorded with a wide variety of artists over the years. He has also released several albums under his own name, usually playing his own material. His new album, Boomer Vibes Volume 1, is then something of a departure for him, as it is made up entirely of covers of popular songs, songs of a certain generation. It is the first in a three-volume series. This is largely a solo effort, with Collier playing electric vibraphone, acoustic vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, piano, electric piano, organ, synthesizer, synth bass, and drums. He does have guests joining him on a couple of tracks. In the liner notes, he includes some thoughts on each of the compositions he’s chosen to play.

Tom Collier opens the album with perhaps its most interesting song selection, Frank Zappa’s “Magic Fingers,” a song from 200 Motels. In the liner notes, by the way, he mentions his connection to Frank Zappa, sitting in with him at a gig. Anyway, it’s a cool choice to open the album, starting things off with a wild ride. The tune has a delicious groove, and of course is not afraid to deviate from it often. This rendition features some absolutely wonderful work on vibraphone. An excellent start to the album. That’s followed by “At Last.” This is actually an interesting choice as well, for when I think of this song, it is the vocal line that most often plays in my head. It’s a beautiful tune, and this is one of the tracks to feature a guest musician. Eddie “Pick” McCord plays guitar. And if you want to hear a bluesy and romantic marimba performance, well, here it is.

“Both Sides Now” is one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, and it often makes me cry. Tom Collier offers a solo performance of it on vibraphone, and it works really well in this setting. At first, I couldn’t help but have the lyrics running through my head as I listened. But soon the music takes over, and that’s when the magic happens for me. Tom Collier puts his own touch on the song. I love how gentle, even delicate, it gets as the song reaches its conclusion. He follows that with “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and recorded by The Animals. This might seem like another odd choice for an instrumental rendition, particularly one led by vibraphone and marimba. Certainly it has a tamer feel without Eric Burdon’s vocals. But again, once you let go of that, this rendition begins to fly on its own power. For me, it happens approximately a minute and forty-five seconds in. That’s when Tom Collier really begins to make the song his own, and after that, it becomes a one-man jam, and it’s wonderful. I also like that lead on piano just before the end.

Tom Collier next delivers a cover of The Stylistics’ “People Make The World Go Round,” though this version, as mentioned in the liner notes, was influenced more by the 1973 recording by Milt Jackson (which also features Herbie Hancock). I love the way it begins, like opening the door to an unusual, somewhat mesmerizing landscape. He pulls us into his world. I like music that is able to transport me, and this track works quite well in that regard, and ends up being one of my personal favorites of the album. I particularly love the marimba. That’s followed by the second of the album’s tracks to be composed by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Morning),” a song that has been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan, among many others. This is the other track to feature a guest musician. Ed Kraft plays acoustic bass on this one, delivering some cool work. This track offers a mellow and pretty journey, and I dig that work on organ.

“There’s Always Something There To Remind Me” was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. And yes, the first recording I heard of this song was the Naked Eyes version, which I loved (and still love, actually). At the time, I assumed it was an original song (give me a break, I was eleven). And then at some point I heard the Sandie Shaw rendition, which has a very different sort of energy. I think it was still quite some time before I heard Lou Johnson’s version. It’s an inherently great song, and each rendition I’ve heard has worked. I like the way Tom Collier approaches it. He plays electric vibraphone, acoustic vibraphone, marimba, piano, synth bass and drums on it, and each time I listen to this track, I find myself focusing on a different instrument or different element, and the way it contributes to the overall vibe. I particularly like the piano. And of course there is some wonderful work on vibraphone. This version also has a pretty ending, which I love.

Tom Collier covers two Rolling Stones songs on this album. The first is “Wild Horses,” from Sticky Fingers, one of the best Stones albums. Here Tom Collier delivers it as a vibraphone solo, taking the song in some wonderful directions. That’s followed by “One Fine Day,” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and originally recorded by The Chiffons. Carole King later had a hit with it herself, and it’s been covered by a lot of other artists over the years. Tom Collier gives us a good version, featuring a lot of excellent work on vibraphone, as well as a strong lead on organ in the middle of the track. On his 2015 release Alone In The Studio, Tom Collier covered The Beatles’ “Here, There And Everywhere,” and on this disc he covers “Yes It Is,” which was first released as the flip side to “Ticket To Ride,” and later included on Past Masters Volume One. Tom Collier delivers a sweet rendition. He then concludes the album with the second Rolling Stones song, “As Tears Go By,” a song included on their December’s Children (And Everybody’s) album (which was one of the first Stones albums I ever bought). It’s a beautiful song, and Marianne Faithfull did a really nice rendition of it. This rendition by Tom Collier takes an unusual approach, giving us a very different look at the familiar song. The beauty is there, but there is a strong pulse surrounding it, at times making us a bit uneasy, the way it is fragmented. It is kind of fascinating, and ends up being another of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List

  1. Magic Fingers
  2. At Last
  3. Both Sides Now
  4. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
  5. People Make The World Go Round
  6. Just  Little Lovin’ (Early In The Morning)
  7. There’s Always Something There To Remind Me
  8. Wild Horses
  9. One Fine Day
  10. Yes It Is
  11. As Tears Go By

Boomer Vibes Volume 1 was released on March 10, 2023 on Summit Records.

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