Tackling a legendary progressive rock concept album is a dangerous proposition, especially when a recent remaster has refocused the spotlight on the original. But drummer/vocalist Nick D'Virgilio is better suited than most to reinterpret Genesis' classis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
(Atlantic, 1975), beautifully remixed/remastered in the recent Genesis: 1970-1975
(Rhino, 2008) box. A member of contemporary progsters Spock's Beard, perhaps more importantly D'Virgilio played drums on four tracks of Genesis' overlooked post-Phil Collins album, Calling All Stations
(Atlantic, 1997). With such a connection, and in collaboration with Nashville producer Mark Hornsbywho has worked with everyone from Yes' Jon Anderson to Rush's Neal PeartRewiring Genesis' Tribute to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
begins in an advantaged position.
The instrumentation makes clear that this is no literal interpretation of Rael's oblique journey from the streets of New York to the Colony of Slippermen and more. It's odd enough to find a string quartet and horn section in the personnel listing, but it's even more unsettling to find none of the keyboards that so defined the original: organ, mellotron and synthesizer. Greater emphasis on vocal harmonies and the substitution of accordion, trumpets, saxophones and strings for synthesizers and keys may make this a far more acoustic experience, but reverence for Genesis' arrangements remains intact, even as D'Virgilio, Hornsby and horn/string arranger John Hinchey take considerable and imaginative liberties with the original material.
It starts from the very beginning: the piano intro to the title track is literal enough, but as the band enters with horns and strings playing the signature riff originally driven by fuzz-toned guitar and bass, the album takes off in a different, but somehow parallel direction. D'Virgilio's lead vocals combine perfect respect for Gabriel's key idiosyncrasies while injecting an earthy quality all his own, as he completely sidesteps the tendency to be either overly literal or over-sing and lose the meaning of the lyrics.
Some songs feel close to their sources despite being quite differentthe gentle "Cuckoo Cocoon" turned into an acoustic guitars/vocals duet with the occasional injection of Sam Levine's flute. Still, Hornsby and D'Virgilio take even greater chances elsewhere. "The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging" is nothing but vocals and percussion, yet retains the absurdity and gradual dramatic build of the original, while the solo section of the sex-by-numbers "Counting Out Time" turns into a completely unexpected piece of Dixieland swing with soaring horns and even a little scat. Swing also features in "The Colony of Slippermen," while the pastoral, near-ambient "Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats" is no less profound, but driven here by cello, light percussion, overdubbed choral vocals and wooden flute.
Rather than expanding the original with additional solos, as Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess did on The Road Home (Magna Carta, 2007), Rewiring Genesis sticks closer to The Lamb's basic form. But imaginative reallocation of Genesis' electric instruments, John Hinchey's creative horn and string arrangements, and D'Virgilio's personal yet respectful delivery makes A Tribute to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway a rare tribute album that succeeds so well on its own merits that it's almost possible to forget the original.
Personnel: Nick D'Virgilio: lead vocals, background vocals, drums, percussion; Kat Bowser: background vocals; Carolyn Martin: background vocals; Mike Lusk: background vocals; Dave Martin: bass guitars; Don Car: electric and acoustic guitars, electric sitar, banjo; Jeff Taylor: acoustic piano, accordion, whistle, Rhodes, Wurlitzer; John Hinchey: horn and string arrangements, trombone; Steve Patrick: trumpet; Jeff Bailey: trumpet; Prentiss Hobbs: trombone; Sam Levine: saxophones, flute; Doug Moffett: saxophones; David Angell: violin; Pam Sixfin: violin; David Davidson: violin; Kristin Wilkinson: viola; Anthony Lamarchina: cello.