Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eric Woolfson dies

So, thanks to Jim Lowder (thanks Jim) I learned last week that Eric Woolfson died earlier this month (December 4th) at the age of 64. Better known as Alan Parsons' partner, co-founder of The Alan Parsons Project and co-writer with Parsons of all ten of the group's albums, he was a driving creative force behind one of my all-time favorite groups and helped them create some of the finest concept albums rock music has to offer (I ROBOT, TALES OF MYSTERY & IMAGINATION, PYRAMID, and possibly TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD and EYE IN THE SKY as well).*

Starting with their fifth album, he also sang one or more songs on most of their later albums,** including "Time", "Eye in the Sky", "Don't Answer Me", and "Separate Lives". Since going their separate ways (after GAUDI [1987], Parsons has put out four new albums, one of which (ON AIR) is good enough not just to have been an Alan Parson Project album but to have ranked among their best, while Woolfson drifted more into writing musicals and, recently, revisiting past glories. Of his three solo albums, by far the best (and the only one to feature Parsons) is the first, FREUDIANA [1990], an eccentric collection of songs from the points of view of Freud's various patients.*** The outstanding song here is "Upper Me" (which for years I thought was called "The Other Me"), though "Funny You Should Say That" and "You're On Your Own" have their appeal. If you wondered what an Alan Parsons album would sound like with Leo Sayer and Kiki Dee joining the usual suspects (like Chris Rainbow and John Miles, both of whom are also present), here's your answer: surprisingly enough, it works.

The same cannot be said of POE: MORE TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION [2003], which attempts to revisit the Project's first and most ambitious album with a 'part two' -- but most of the songs here have nothing to do with Poe; "Murders in the Rue Morgue" recaptures the goofy charm of "Funny You Should Say That", but only "The Pit and the Pendulum" is worthy to have been included on the old album. By far the best song is "Train to Freedom", which manages to capture a faux-spiritual vibe somehow.

And just earlier this year I got his latest, rather awkwardly titled ERIC WOOLFSON SINGS THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT THAT NEVER WAS [2009], where he re-records some of songs from MORE TALES along with some rejects from Alan Parsons Project days and newer songs he said would have been on Project albums had the Project not disbanded some twenty years before. Despite its name, this is most emphatically not a genuine Alan Parsons Project album -- for one thing, it lacks any input from Alan Parsons. For another, it lacks one of the hallmarks of the Project and part of their appeal: having a wide range of singers appear on the same album to have a contrast of voices and styles. Instead, all ten songs here are sung by Woolfson in his high, pleasant voice. No standouts at all, I'm afraid.

So, it seems unlikely we'd have gotten another good album out of Woolfson if he'd been spared (by contrast, even the latest and quirkiest Alan Parsons album still has one or two good pieces on it, like "More and More Lost Without You"). But it's sad to see the passing of someone who contributed so much to some of my favorite music. Many thanks, and Rest in Peace.

--John R.

*although my favorite concept album, bar none, remains TARKUS by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer [1971].

**thirteen in all, by my count, over the course of five albums.

*** I owe my discovery of this one to Rich Baker, who loaned me a cassette of it back in our early days together at TSR; it took me the better part of a decade to find the cd (which had to be imported from Germany); Woolfson's later albums I had to order directly from his website.

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