Fly Away: The Songs of David Foster
2009 / Contante & Sonante
Review by Michael Debbage
Tribute albums are always a challenge and in most cases face insurmountable odds of being a success. The task of covering someone else’s craft means either carbon copying the original version or presenting their interpretation which in many cases result in horrible compromises. Add to the fact that Fly Away is a tribute to the songs and composition of writer, producer and pianist David Foster, also affectionately known as the “Hitmaker,” only adds to the challenge. Revolving around the solid production and arrangements of producer Tomi Malm and a cast of talented performers, Fly Away not only beats the odds but also presents David Foster fans with a way to relive the music along with a few hidden treasures.
Toni Malm jumps right in and opens the album with an atmospheric prelude and then takes on the huge Earth, Wind and Fire hit “In The Stone” anchored in the vocal chores of Chicago’s Bill Champlin. Comparisons are inevitable and the first listen was tough but stay with it as the song really kicks into gear at about the third minute mark as the horns and rhythm section go at it hammer and tongs. Followed by the lesser known Peter Cetera hit “No Explanation” that was co written with Bill LaBounty who actually gives us a very respectable take on the vocals. This is such a simple yet beautiful song that was originally featured on the Pretty Woman soundtrack. Even more impressive is the utterly heart wrenching vocals of lesser known Arnold McCuller on the Boz Scaggs hit “Jo Jo”. If you are not familiar with the name, McCuller has been performing with James Taylor for over 30 years and has also released five solo albums over the years. Full recognition as an artist in his own right is way overdue.
Another notable surprise is the appearance of long time collaborator Jay Graydon on guitar combating with a terrific horn section on “Nothing You Can Do About It” that even manages to compete with the old Earth, Wind and Fire horn section. Producer and arranger Jeremy Lubbock who has also closely collaborated with Foster in the past makes an appearance both as producer and pianist on the very naked and vulnerable “The Best Of Me”. Performed here by Lisa Lovbrand, the vocal rendition is utterly transformed when compared to the original duet of Olivia Newton John and David Foster.
Speaking of Foster, the man himself even makes an appearance on the Boz Scaggs composition “Look What You’ve Done To Me” jazzing it up with Brandon Fields on saxophone along with the breezy and sultry vocals of lesser known Cecily Gardner. Foster even opens up his own vault and shares the upbeat and optimistic “When Will The World Be Like Lovers” that was scheduled to make the Chicago 18 album. It is not clear why this track did not make this album as this song is a complete joy with Michael Landau on guitar simply soaring. But all good things must come to an end and it does in a gracious manner with Foster sharing another unreleased gem courtesy of “Live Each Day”. Featuring the late great and truly underrated Warren Wiebe this song will leave you struggling to keep yourself composed.
Compliment, honor and praise are a few synonyms for the word tribute. These same words can be applied not only to the master who is being paid tribute to but also to the fruits of this specialty project. How the small intimate label Contante & Sonante managed to bring this all together is unclear. What is crystal clear is that despite the challenge of interpreting someone else’s craft and also via the complexity of multiple voices, Fly Away is not only a tribute to the great David Foster but also sets the standard of how a tribute album should be done.
September 14, 2009