Don't underestimate the importance of the work of the solo members of what was a phenomenally successful group -- Three Dog Night. That band became an amazing hit machine, and the elements that made up such a successful entity deserve a study of their work apart from the original band. With its great 3-D set of cover photos (with the flickering kind of effect that Tommy James uses on his "audio movie" A Night in Big City) and 64-plus minutes of music, this CD by former Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron would qualify as a double vinyl LP. (The back cover looks like seven men in a midlife street gang -- The Negron Boys.) As with any 16-song release, there are going to be highlights and songs that might've worked better as B sides.
The disc begins with a dancy, Velvet Underground-type confessional "Livin' With a Jones," which further discusses Negron's substance abuse (chronicled in his autobiography Three Dog Nightmare). "Jones" is such a stark and poignant statement on survival that it puts Negron in a different league from the singer of Hoyt Axton's popular but bubblegummy "Joy to the World" -- a new version of which, sounding like Three Dog Night meets Donna Summer, ends this CD. Although it is fun to hear his biggest hit in this fashion, it is the bite of the first track that deserves the attention. "What a Wonder (You Saved Me)" has a phone call from Negron's daughter and it is these little touches, along with his sophisticated vocals, that make The Long Road Back a charming and very listenable experience.
"Mean Old Dog" is a not-very-disguised attack on Negron's old Three Dog Night bandmates. As far as revenge songs go, well, it's not as sharp as "Livin' With a Jones," so one suspects that Negron hates heroin more than his former place of employ; still, lines like "I've got problems with man's best friend/Every dog has got to have his day/But without me puppy/You're just a stray" are nicely vindictive. "The Robin," for Negron's wife, tones things down a bit, and the remake of "Never Been to Spain" is smooth. "Never Was My Plan" and "Took Me Under" seem like quasi-Tony Bennett laments over the ravages of addiction. "The Gift" is not the Lou Reed song, although many of these titles are like Blue Cheer gone Vegas. "Wasn't It You" is a complete about-face, though, like a Marvin Gaye ballad, followed by a remake of his hit from Hair, a folk and strings version of "Easy to Be Hard," which would make the late producer Nick Venet proud. "Soul to Soul" is the video release from this collection, and it's a fun tune, an adult version of Three Dog Night's "Black and White," if you will. "Surrender" is surreal, as is the remake of the Everly Brothers' hit "All I Have to Do Is Dream," containing a scratchy recording from 1958 -- Negron's very first recording -- blended into the new performance.
Negron is an important rock & roll artist, and this album feels like the total statement he could never have made as part of the hitmaking formula known as Three Dog Night, but it was the success of that band that gives this solo disc its place in rock history.