This CD was released in 1996, and almost immediately the music press started reporting that Rush were trying to have it taken off the shelves. One of our former owners at the Record Store, the infamous Tom, said: “I can see why they were trying to do that. Because it’s too fucking good.”
It actually is. There are few tribute albums worth listening to all the way through. How many can you name: Encomium, the Zeppelin tribute? The Sabbath tributes Nativity in Black? Do you listen to those front to back? That’s the best and only way to enjoy Working Man. So numerous are the progressive rock and hard rock names here that we may have trouble keeping track of them all.
Sebastian Bach hails from the Great White North, so it is only appropriate for him to open this CD with the title track. He also passionately stuns on “Jacob’s Ladder” a bit later on, utilising the power and range he is known for. What names on these songs! Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan play drums and bass respectively; two guys often cited as the best in the world on their instruments! If that wasn’t enough, ex-Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee shreds the hell out of “Working Man” while John Petrucci from Dream Theater goes for the throat on “Jacob’s”. Take a minute to absorb all that.
Seamlessly, “Working Man” develops into “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” with James LaBrie of Dream Theater in peak voice. Sheehan and Portnoy handle the rhythm for most of the album, so you can be assured that the chops of Mr. Lee and Mr. Peart are served well here by the next generation of players. Dream Theater fans will lose their shit completely. But there is so much more here than just progressive rockers letting it fly. A youthful and impressive Jack Russell from Great White takes on the galloping “Analog Kid” from Signals and wins. Have no fear or doubts: this may seem strange, but Russell’s version of “Analog Kid” may well be one of the best Rush covers you’ll ever hear. (Especially when Billy Sheehan and guitarist Michael Romeo do a synched-up dual bass/guitar solo!)
- The late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery has no problems with “The Trees”, an excellent version.
- Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors) takes the main guitar part for “La Villa Strangiato”, causing spontaneous head explosions.
- Blue-eyed soul singer Eric Martin (Mr. Big) does a fine job of the light “Mission”, though it sounds very different from the shred-rock elsewhere.
- A bang-on “Closer to the Heart” performed by Fates Warning is a must-have for fans.
- James LaBrie and his old bandmate in Winter Rose, Rich Chycki, reunite on the classic “Red Barchetta”. A little added Can-Con for rock fans.
And best of all, Devin Townsend screaming his balls off, all over “Natural Science”. Without a doubt, Townsend has the most unorthodox interpretation, but it’s Devin Townsend, so you must expect the unexpected. This guy is an underrated national treasure, and along with James Murphy (Death, Testament) on guitar, Stu Hamm on bass, and Deen Castronovo on drums, all walls are shattered. “Natural Science” is undoubtedly the most different track here, and consequently it’s the most exciting.
The only mis-fire:
- “Anthem”, with Mark Slaughter and George Lynch. Slaughter’s voice is too shrill. (I cannot handle when he shrieks “Come on! Yeah!” at the start.) George’s Eastern-flavoured shredding is also overdone and misplaced.
That means out of 13 tracks, 12 of them are keepers.
For an added layer of authenticity, the CD was mixed by Terry Brown himself, in Toronto. Prices fluctuate wildly, but fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Sebastian Bach or Devin Townsend would be wise to pick this up if found in their travels.