SPROUT Performs the Music of the Beatles WHITE ALBUM TRIBUTE

    icon Feb 19, 2009
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The Beatles are a tough act to follow even 40 years after the fact when memories of the almost hysterical anticipation that greeted each new Beatle release have dimmed.

You had to be there and both of us were.

The Publisher received the first 'numbered' edition of 'The White Album' for Christmas at the tender age of 14 and listened to it constantly for days on end.

Bo bought the White album as soon as it came out – the original numbered version as well, only it wasn't known as the White album back then.  Its proper title seems rather simple, The Beatles – but it's like the arrow that is not sent or the word that cannot be spoken - "The Beatles" – an identifiable longing, the beginning of the end, and four separate entities emerging from the mother ship.

It was an unprecedented release for a rock & roll album because it contained two full discs of music, a conceit familiar only to classical recordings – serious music. It took the Beatles five excruciating months to record the White Album with producer/wizard George Martin traipsing between three studios to capture the genius musical whims of John, Paul and George. 

John and Paul were no longer trading off riffs and helping each other with lyrics as Yoko Ono was on the scene, John's constant companion and muse. If John wanted advice he would go to Yoko. And Yoko being Yoko (a classically trained musician) was more than happy to give John advice. 

The animus became so bad that Ringo quit the band in August; only a month after the sessions commences, but eventually was wooed back a few weeks later by the three remaining Beatles.

The public never knew about the crack in the façade.

In September, we happily gobbled up Hey Jude and Revolution and couldn't wait for the November release of the White Album. When it came we were blown away not just by the music but also the four 8 X 10 glossies of our heroes and the tri-fold insert with candid photos and lyrics. 

We loved the music unconditionally and uncritically and did not know at the time that this was a watershed event, a release that marked an end to the dream that was The Beatles.

We both attended the Sunday afternoon event and were there not simply to hear Beatles songs, but to pay tribute to Sprout - one of the best bands to ever come out of the Great Lakes Bay Region. Their CD When the Silence Breaks was one of the brightest and most cohesive collections of music released in 2008. Aaron Johnson is an undiscovered musical genius that writes great songs, plays masterful guitar and possesses an incredible bluesy voice that conveys emotional depth as well as humor and irony.

The fact that the entire band took the time and discipline to learn each and every song from the classic White Album, but also render the material in a faithful manner, replete with five-piece horn sections, strings, and a cavalcade cast of guest musicians ranging from Tim Avram – whom sang a punk version of Helter Skelter – to Noel Howland and Honesty Elliott, whose crystal clear voices hit those challenging high back-up harmonies; to Cornpone that fed dimension and authenticity to the one 'Ringo' song on the album, Don't Pass Me By, only underscores what a remarkable group Sprout truly is.

The songs sequenced to the order in which they appear on the original album, so the show opens with Back in the USSR. Right away it's obvious that the PA is not working properly, as the prominent guitar line and lead vocals are muffled. The sound is muddy, lacking power and unable to capture the dynamic interplay of the instruments. The monitors do not seem to be operating optimally and it appears that the musicians are not hearing themselves accurately.

Still, Johnson is unruffled and is able to pull it off and soldier on despite the failings of the sound equipment. He's got a great Smile Away smile.  Apart from this rocky start, by the time the next song cycles in, Dear Prudence, John Lennon's anthem to Mia Farrow's daughter, the sound is finally corrected and each musician involved knocks this one right out of the ballpark.  With about 50 microphones on stage, obviously a glitch or two is bound to happen.

31 songs are performed - too many to review in this article - so here's a few highlights.

It always seemed Glass Onion was a throwaway, a bit lightweight musically.  Lennon seems to be teasing those who pick his lyrics apart to find some special meaning or universal truth. But in Sprout's hands the music is fleshed out and has more muscle. Johnson's voice is able to convey the tease.                

Loren Kranz does a neat turn as the Bee in Wild Honey Pie only to return later to sing Honey Pie, McCartney's vaudeville pastiche, which is either cloying or endearing depending on your mood or point of view.  To preface his performance, Kranz steps up to the microphone and says Let it Bee – which is a perfect pun.

Bit players in costume roam the aisles and stage throughout the show – a hunter with a rifle during Happiness is a Warm Gun; a pajama-clad interloper during I'm So Tired.  Matt Nyquist does a great job on Rocky Raccoon.

In Lennon's Julia (the last song recorded for the White album), she is the ocean child.  Ocean child is the English translation for …Yoko – Lennon's tribute to his mother is also a tribute to Yoko and Sprout sings it beautifully.

Ray Torres is one of the best guitarists in mid-Michigan and his take on While My Guitar Gently Weeps is masterful, gentle and searing. He also sings like Harrison. Great performance.

Martha My Dear gets an extraordinary treatment with violin and horns and a nice vocal by Aaron Johnson. He finds his voice on this song.  Sprout gives Piggies a bigger sound than on the album and Justin Weisenbach gives a fantastic performance replicating the harpsichord riff.

Mick Furlo gave THE premier guest performance on Yer Blues. He was simply magnificent. The song is desperate and emotionally devastating. Mick's performance is powerful. Kudos to one of Saginaw's greatest musicians!

Aaron Johnson absolutely nailed Revolution – Lennon's disparaging ode to the new left and those freaks that hung up posters of Chairmen Mao in their dorm rooms and pretended to be hip. It was a song that railed against revolution – his message was 'count me out' - and the only destruction Lennon espoused was the destruction of constipated thinking and bourgeois values.

Cry Baby Cry found Sprout accompanied by Noel Howland on accordion and the rendering was simply beautiful and letter perfect.

Sprout developed a montage of video clips for Revolution #9 – hard to pull off, as this is the only song most of us avoided whenever we listened to the White Album in 1968 (and we listened to it almost daily.

The show concluded with an encore, a brilliant performance of All You Need is Love with the entire ensemble of Sprout and guest performers. This 1967 masterpiece was recorded before an international audience of 400 million as part of a satellite broadcast called Our World, expressing a belief in universal peace and brotherhood.

Seems naïve now, though it definitely made believers of the entire audience.

Peace & Love to SPROUT and your many fans.  You are to be commended and congratulated for forging not only a great Tribute concert, but for demonstrating the possibilities and potential for greatness that lurks within this community when artists pull together for a common vision and goal.

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