Burton Cummings / My Own Way to Rock /
Dream of a Child / Woman Love
(Epic / Legacy)

The year was 1975. The Guess Who had just released Power in the Music (a criminally overlooked album if there ever was one). However, all was not well. Tensions had been building within the band for quite some time. The last straw came when the band's lead vocalist, songwriter, and pianist, Burton Cummings came to the band with a demo for a new song he had been working on and was particularly pleased with. The song was "I'm Scared." Unfortunately, the rest of the band didn't share his enthusiasm for the song. It was at that time that Cummings decided to leave the band and go out on his own. His first four solo records were released in Canada last year, and at long last, are finally being reissued here in the US. All of the discs include new liner notes by Cummings, and contain 2 bonus tracks on each disc. The only thing bad about the bonus tracks is that the booklets contain no information about them whatsoever aside from the titles.

Burton CummingsCummings' self-titled debut solo effort hit the racks in 1976. The original title was to be Is It Really Right (after his personal favorite track on the album), but the record company executives thought it sounded "too ethereal" and insisted that he rename the album Burton Cummings. The album's fist single, "Stand Tall" sold two million copies in almost no time. Overall, the album concentrated on his mellower side, going as far as to include a cover of ex-band mate Randy Bachman's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" done 'big band style.' About the only rock and roll track on the album was "Your Back Yard." Like the other three albums, Burton Cummings was digitally remixed and remastered. Where this one differs from the rest is the sound quality. The warmth and low end that was so prevalent on the vinyl is practically nonexistent on the CD. But if you turn up the bass, it sounds great. The only other noticeable difference was in "Burch Magic," which sounds slightly different now. It's the same performance, only it's a different mix. The bonus tracks are demo recordings of "Blossom" and "I'm Scared". Personally, I like the demo of the latter tune better. It has a much more innocent and stripped down sound to it.

My Own Way to RockBurton's second solo effort was My Own Way to Rock. This album marked the second time he worked with producer Richard Perry, and also the first time he worked with the late Jeff Porcaro on drums. In the liner notes, Cummings describes him as "one of the finest and most sought after musicians of his time." I couldn't agree more. Porcaro's 'in the pocket' style added an infinite amount of bounce and feel to the album, especially on the title track. The sound quality on this CD is excellent--at least as good as the original album. Starting with the excellent "Never Had a Lady Before and running through to the painstakingly orchestrated "A Song For Him," there isn't a dud to be found here. Two live songs make up the bonus tracks on this disc--"Lay It On the Line" (the studio version appears on the Canadian 'Best of Burton Cummings' album) and "Charlemagne" (which includes the now politically incorrect Freddie Mercury reference). Both tracks are good performances, originally intended for a live album that was later scrapped.

Dream of a ChildDream of a Child was Cummings' third solo album, and unfortunately a commercial flop here in the US. The year was 1978, and the country was in the height of the disco era. Thankfully, Burton had the integrity to do what he wanted, as opposed to giving in to the masses. It was also the first time he produced his own album. Musically, the album is all over the place. There are beautiful ballads ("I Will Play a Rhapsody," "Break it to them Gently"), rhythm & blues covers ("Hold On, I'm Comin'," "When a Man Loves a Woman"), a great jazz vocal workout ("Shiny Stockings"), a reworked Guess Who tune ("Guns, Guns, Guns"), even a country tune ("It Takes a Fool"). Although the album didn't do well here, Dream of a Child went on to win a Juno award for the biggest selling album of the year, and it was the first album by a Canadian artist to go triple platinum. The bonus tracks on this disc are a semi-unfinished cover of Brenda Lee's 1960 hit, "Sweet Nothin's" and "Wild Child," a song Cummings describes as being "about this young, would-be groupie girl who goes to a concert and tries to impress the singer and then he flies off and that's the end of that."

Woman LoveJump to 1980. Burton had just spent six months working on his next album, Woman Love. Since Dream of a Child didn't do well in the US, the label execs in this country didn't even give this one a chance, which is a shame because there are a number of good cuts on it. Some of the tracks sound dated now, like "Feels So Wrong" with its Space Invader keyboards. It may have sounded cool 20 years ago, but now it's just amusing. Fortunately, the album picks up considerably from there. "One and Only" is a classic Burton ballad that sounds like something you'd find on The Guess Who's So Long Bannatyne album. "Had to Be You" rocks out, and features the great Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter on lead guitar. Where Baxter really shines is on the bluesy title track, which incidentally is Cummings' favorite track on the album. His fractured guitar work on the tune is outstanding. As for the bonus tracks on this disc, these two cuts will have the collectors drooling. "Vocals On The Boat" was long considered to be the 'holy grail' of Burton Cummings songs. Originally released as a B-side, the song is Cummings' personal favorite of all the bonus tracks. "Daddy's on the Road" has a cool Doors-like groove to it, and is another of the 'semi-completed' songs that were tacked onto the reissues.

Cummings fans around the world have been waiting a long time for these albums to be reissued (the Canadian fans got a bit of a break with the release dates), and aside from the lack of bass on his first album, they did a great job. All they need to do now is reissue the rest of Cummings' solo material…

© 2000 Steve Marshall