Tag Archives: Todd Rundgren

Waiting: The Van Duren Story (review)

Original Documentary Soundtrack – Waiting: The Van Duren Story (Omnivore Recordings)

Van Duren came out of the same fertile Memphis music scene as cult heroes Big Star, and shared their gift of melody. In fact, Duren played with some of the members in post-Big Star bands. While Alex Chilton & Co. had their story told in the excellent documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me (which featured interviews from Duren), Van Duren himself is the subject of a brand-new film called Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which will be made available later in the year. In the meantime, Omnivore Recordings has assembled a dozen of the under-appreciated artist’s finest moments on this new soundtrack.

The roots of this documentary can be traced to two Australian filmmakers, Wade Jackson and Greg Carey, who basically stumbled across Duren’s music through social media. After becoming enamored with several of his songs, they wanted to explore why he wasn’t a household name.

“Grow Yourself Up” is a fantastic rocker that melds the melodicism of Todd Rundgren with the sophistication of Steely Dan. Yet, there’s a raw aspect that neither of the aforementioned artists ever achieved. There’s also some great guitar playing here (the song basically ends in a flurry of guitar echoes). The next track, “Chemical Fire,” features a funky bassline and strange, echoed vocals.

While the Big Star comparisons will obviously be there, I think Duren actually excelled in areas that Chilton’s band did not. For one, Van Duren is a fantastic rock vocalist – his growling at the 2:30 mark in “Chemical Fire” is fantastic. Yet, he is capable of great depth too, as on the gorgeous ballad, “Waiting,” where his voice soars like Emitt Rhodes (and dig that groovy, somewhat dated keyboard solo!).

The disc also includes a few in-studio performances recorded for a radio station. These tracks have a living room immediacy to them, but arguably Duren is even better here – his voice reminds me of the gruffness of John Lennon during the Let it Be sessions, especially on “Yellow Light.”

“Tennessee I’m Trying” has a country feel to it in its jangle delivery, featuring the great lyric: “And it won’t help if the home station won’t play it /never thought I’d have to change their mind.” There’s echoes of Eric Carmen on the tender ballad, “Positive (Wedding Song),” both in the chord progression and the singing.

But the surprises don’t stop there. Duren recorded tracks with Big Star’s drummer, Jody Stephens, and “Andy, Please” is as melodic as anything Stephens’ prior band recorded. Add in a great guitar solo at the end, and you wonder why this has remained in the archives so long?

Van Duren also covers fellow Big Star alumn Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene,” giving it a funkier groove, and again featuring a phenomenal lead vocal – especially when he shouts “I turned on the radio!”

The production level gets more slick on “Just You To Tell Me” but it still retains Duren’s keen melodic sense. The set ends off with a pair of songs from his band Good Question. These have typical Eighties’ production, yet are insanely catchy.

Above all, the music on Waiting: The Van Duren Story needs to be heard – it’s that good. Coupled with the unbelievable backstory, which we’ll get from the documentary, this should be Van Duren’s year. —Tony Peters

Classic Album – Todd Rundgren – Definitive Rock Collection (CD review)

Todd Rundgren – Definitive Rock Collection (2006) – CD review –

Todd Rundgren’s music career has been a difficult one to digest: he’s a very talented songwriter, who also loves to dabble in the latest technology. So, as a result, he releases a great album and then follows it with some half-baked piece of experimentalism.  That’s why the Definitive Rock Collection is so good; it’s the first-ever Rundgren compilation to just focus on his great songs, and not try and paint a complete picture of his career.

So, you don’t get stabs at innovation like “Born to Synthesize” or goofy novelty numbers like “An Elpee’s Worth of Tunes,” but what you do get is the best, most melodic songs Rundgren has ever written.

Whoever put this collection together was obviously a Rundgren fan. The hits are here, but so are many great album tracks. Even on a dud album, there was usually a good song or two, and this collection finds them. Every Rundgren studio album is represented, up until 1993, and his largely tuneless TR-i phase. We do get “Sweet”, a nice return-to-form pop gem off one of his latest solo albums.

Also a pleasant surprise is the inclusion of several tracks from Rundgren’s side-project, Utopia. Again, kudos to the compilers, who smartly omit the band’s early prog-rock material and concentrate on the band’s catchier songs. Several key Utopia tracks are absent (“Set Me Free,” the band’s biggest chart hit, and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” their biggest MTV hit), but those songs didn’t feature Rundgren on lead vocals and were left off for that reason.

Although some devout Runt fans will undoubtedly complain that one of their favorites is missing, it’s difficult to argue with the excellent song selection.  Thirty Rundgren songs, and all of them are keepers. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Utopia – Utopia (CD review)

Utopia – Utopia (1982) – CD review

Utopia began life as a Todd Rundgren side project to indulge his progressive rock leanings.  But as his solo work became more esoteric, the music he made with Utopia began leaning more toward the pop side of rock.  Utopia is the band’s peak.  Originally released with a “bonus disc” containing five extra songs, all fifteen now fit nicely on a single CD.  While Something / Anything was Rundgren’s high point for pop songwriting, this record comes in a close second.

Any longtime follower of Rundgren’s career knows his catalog is littered with half-baked experiments, heavy on over-indulgent studio trickery and concepts.  That’s what makes Utopia such a joy: for once, Rundgren and company deliver an entire album of tight, catchy pop songs, sung with gleeful abandon, and with no subplot.  What’s more, the experimentation is almost completely absent; the entire disc sounds like it could’ve been recorded in a single session.

The disc opens with the pounding “Libertine,” sung by bassist Kasim Sulton with a feaux-guitar keyboard solo from Roger Powell.  All four members contribute lead vocals, with drummer Willie Wilcox turning in the surprise rocker “Princess of the Universe.”  Sulton and Rundgren duet for the Beatles-ish “Say Yeah,” and Rundgren turns in a great ballad “I’m Looking At Your But I’m Talking To Myself.”  Powell’s “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” actually reached the lower rungs of the charts.  Not as groundbreaking as earlier or later material, Utopia provides a more simple pleasure. –Tony Peters