Leader of the Band
2010 / Green Hill
Review by Michael Debbage
It has been three years since the likable and warm Jim Wilson released his last batch of original compositions in the form of the remarkable Beneath The Olympian Skies. Those of you seeking self composed material will have to keep waiting as Leader Of The Band represents Wilson’s piano tribute to the music of the late Dan Fogelberg. However, unlike any other tribute album, Wilson’s respects are not only due to his past musical collaborations but also the personal kindred spirits the two found in each other. Wilson fittingly honors not only the obvious Fogelberg treasures but also with tender love and care uncovers the lesser known gems of one of America’s significant storytellers.
Leader Of The Band covers ten of Dan Fogelberg’s compositions. The more obvious choices are the more commercially successful “ Heart Hotels”, “Same Old Lang Syne”, “Longer”, “Part Of The Plan”, Run For The Roses” and of course the title track. They are all wonderful renditions but it is the illuminating rendition of “Heart Hotels” that significant stands out. Wilson’ rhythmic piano work is in total syncopation with the sublime trumpet of Jonathan Dane.
But it is on the lesser known material where Wilson utterly shines. Bravely, Wilson opens his homage with the delicate melancholy “Dancing Shoes” with the accordion of Matt Rollings utterly complimenting Wilson’s performance. There is also the more soulful “Scarecrow’s Dream” with Wilson sharing the spotlight with the wordless vocals of George Merrill supplemented by Bruce Watson’s driving acoustic guitar chords and C.J. Vanston’s subtle string arrangements. Both of these songs were originally recorded on Fogelberg’s 1977 album Nether Land and were also featured on his gorgeous 1997 four disc box set Portrait.
Wilson digs even deeper and puts the midas touch via his pivotal performance on “There’s A Place In The World For A Gambler”. Originally featured on Fogelberg’s 1974 Souvenirs album, here the song builds slowly adding Eric Rigler on the uilleann pipes, Gerry Beckley on guitar and then the wordless but soulful vocals of Merrill. But it is the magic of Wilson’s stirring piano work that ultimately drives the song home. Equal to the task, Wilson concludes the album with the more recently recorded “Icarus Ascending” that was featured on Dan’s 2003 recording Full Circle. This time around the song is immediately compelling with Wilson’s inspiring rhythmic piano work utterly complimented by Beckley’s wordless vocals. It is simply breathtaking, concluding the tricky task of recording someone else’s material and setting the high standard on how a tribute album should be created.
While Fogelberg has appeared on a few of Wilson’s albums, a personal photograph of the two as well as Wilson’s warm words on the liner notes certainly would support that the relationship went beyond artistic collaborations. Closing with Wilson’s own words “…Dan crafted honest, passionate songs that are pure reflections of how he lived his life. He left us far too soon but his phenomenal body of work continues to touch the lives of millions”. Thanks to Jim Wilson’s delicate, detailed and delightful renditions of the late Dan Fogelberg, Leader Of The Band will continue to proclaim the voice of Dan Fogleberg courtesy of the instrumental voice of Jim Wilson.
August 15, 2010