VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Working Man (Magna Carta)

Throughout the band's career, critics have been notorious for hating Rush. Fans, on the other hand, have rejoiced in the Canadian trio's musical talents for almost a quarter of a century. I became a Rush fan after hearing All the World's a Stage (the band's 1976 live album) for the first time. Until then, I wrote them off as nothing more than a Pavlov's Dog clone. I saw them perform live several times after I heard Stage and was amazed at the amount of music and visuals produced by these three in concert. By 1984, the band started delving more and more into synthesizers, and for me, the excitement waned.

Apparently, the folks at Magna Carta felt the same way. The majority of the tracks on Working Man are from the pre-1984 years. As is the case with the other tribute CDs released by Magna Carta, there are a wide variety of artists on the disc. There aren't many people who can sing like Geddy Lee (used to), and at times it's painfully obvious. Overall, the musicians do an excellent job, but the vocals could be better. The best tracks are the ones where the singers add their own personal touches to the songs, rather than striving to emulate Lee's vocals.

The CD gets off to an interesting start with the title track and "By-Tor and the Snow Dog". Sebastian Bach's caterwauling on "Working Man" is horrendous, although the music's good. The interesting thing about these two tracks is the way "Working Man" segues into what is actually the second half of "By-Tor". The next two songs, "The Analog Kid" (one of my favorite Rush songs) and "The Trees" are simply awful. One of the best tracks on the CD is the instrumental, "La Villa Strangiato", featuring incendiary guitar work from Steve Morse. Billy Sheehan comes up with some killer bass lines on the song too.

"Anthem" is another track to stay away from. Mark Slaughter's vocals on this one sound like Geddy Lee on helium. Sebastian Bach isn't nearly as obnoxious on "Jacob's Ladder" and musically, it stays fairly true to the original version. Fates Warning's rendition of "Closer to the Heart" is one of the better cuts on Working Man. The performance is good, and they add an excerpt from the overture of "2112" to the end for good measure. The music on "Natural Science" is good, but the vocals sound eerily like Marilyn Manson. "YYZ" is excellent all around, especially Stu Hamm's searing bass riffs. Working Man winds up with respectable covers of "Red Barchetta" (again, with Steve Morse on guitar) and "Free Will".

One interesting note for fans - this CD was mixed by longtime Rush producer, Terry Brown. With Brown overseeing the final mix and production details, they achieved great sonic detail in the studio. Overall, this tribute is a mixed bag, but Rush fans will probably be pleased.

© 1996 Steve Marshall