Rick Wakeman

Piano Vibrations [2003]

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During their years of struggle, many artists turned their hands to something or other of which they are not especially proud. Both David Bowie and Elton John, for example, anonymously voiced a series of sound-alike singalongs for budget-priced compilation albums in the late '60s and early '70s, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Rick Wakeman, too, had his flirtation with the "hits you like" factory back in 1971, when the U.K. Polydor label teamed him with the John Schroeder Orchestra to layer prog-tinged highlights over a host of recent pop hits. Released as the third volume in Polydor's Vibrations series, Elton John's "Take Me to the Pilot," Joe Cocker's "Delta Lady," "Classical Gas," and "Fire and Rain" all come in for the treatment and, in all honesty, it's an enjoyable selection. Albums like this (and there were many) sold for barely the price of a 45, and there was a time when you could barely move in an English thrift store without knocking into a pile of the things. They are harder to find now, but Voiceprint's CD reissue restores Vibrations in all its glory. Wakeman himself may have been no more than a jobbing sessionman here, but he plays with all his customary flourish and abandon; the orchestrations are at least sensitive to the songs themselves, and a toe-tapping time is had by all. Of course it's cheesy, but what's wrong with that? [Piano Variations was reissued on CD in 2003.]

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