Deep Purple are more known as the kind of band that people cover, rather than a band known for doing covers. Sure, “Hush” (Billy Joe Royal) was a hit. “Kentucky Woman” (Neil Diamond) was almost a hit. Their first three records are cover-heavy, but that was the 1960s. Live covers, like “Lucille” (Little Richard) or “Green Onions” (Booker T. & the M.G.’s) were more of an in-concert thing. Until the surprising inclusion of “Roadhouse Blues” (The Doors) on 2017’s InFinite.
Stir in another surprise: a worldwide pandemic! You get one of the world’s greatest bands doing a covers album to keep from going stir-crazy! Re-teaming with producer Bob Ezrin, the boys in Deep Purple decided to turn to crime and steal songs from other artists. With twelve tracks plus one bonus, it’s 53 minutes of Deep Purple doing their thang all over the oldies. How salacious!
The excellent packaging even tells you who did the original tunes if you didn’t already know. Love’s “7 & 7 Is” has been covered numerous times by our beloved rock artists, including Alice Cooper (twice) and Rush. Without comparing, the charm of Purple’s version is threefold: 1) Ian Gillan’s mannerisms on lead vocals, 2) Ian Paice’s pace, and 3) Don Airey’s quaint 80s backing keyboards. Not to be outdone, Steve Morse turns in a solo that can only be described as brief but epic.
Sax and horns join the for “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”, once covered by Aerosmith. You so rarely get to hear Deep Purple gettin’ down with a horn section (although they once did a whole tour based on that concept). It’s brilliant, and listen for a nod to “Smoke on the Water” in a musical Easter egg. “Rockin’ Pneumonia” is reminiscent of “Purple People Eater” from Gillan/Glover.
Like a polar opposite, Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” is built tough and heavy. Morse plays the main blues riff on an acoustic, while Don Airey’s big Hammond roars behind. This smoker will sound great if Purple play it live. Meanwhile, 73 year old Ian Paice plays those drums like a berzerker.
Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were an influence on early Purple. Ritchie Blackmore confessed to appropriating their kind of beat for “Kentucky Woman”. You can absolutely hear that here on “Jenny Take A Ride!”. The two songs are connected via Purple’s playing. There’s also a mid-track segue into one of Gillan’s big influences, Little Richard’s “Jenny Jenny”.
Bob Dylan isn’t an artist you think of in conjunction with Deep Purple. “Watching the River Flow” has a beat you can get behind. Ian Gillan’s actually the perfect singer to do Dylan, isn’t he?
The horns return on Ray Charles’ “Let the Good Times Roll”. It sounds like “Deep Purple go Big Band”! Which is not a bad thing. Especially if you want a varied covers album. Airey and Paicey really go for that jazz band vibe. You can picture this one in a big smokey club somewhere in Chicago.
It’s Little Feat next with “Dixie Chicken”, a track we can assume came in via Steve Morse. Airey and Morse are the stars here, but as a cover it’s a little nondescript. The Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” is similarly like sonic colourlessness, though Roger Glover gets to shine a little. They can’t all be highlights on this album.
Speaking of album highlights, this one will doubtless be divisive. Some will think it’s too corny for Deep Purple, others will love the fact that it’s so different and Purple’s take is so original. Lonnie Donegan’s version of “The Battle of New Orleans” is the main inspiration rather than Johnny Horton’s. You can hear that in the beat. But what might really surprise people about “The Battle of New Orleans” may be the singers. For the first time, that’s Roger Glover up front. Ian Gillan, Steve Morse and Bob Ezrin are also credited singers. As for Purple’s arrangement, it’s jaunty and slightly progressive where the guitar is concerned. It’s certainly not pure country though it does have plenty of twang and fiddle. Crossover hit material?
The album has not necessarily peaked as there are still great tracks ahead. “Lucifer” by the Bob Seger System is right up Purple’s alley. Purple could easily put it in a concert setlist. It’s jam-heavy and sounds right at home. Another track in the same category is Cream’s “White Room”. Keen-eared Purple aficionados will recall Purple opened for Cream on their first US tour. Of course, only Ian Paice is still around from that tour, but he got to witness the original band play it every night. It’s certainly odd hearing a band that is clearly Deep Purple playing such a recognizable Cream song, but damn they do it so well! What’s amazing is these jams were recorded separately in home studios by family members.
The final track on CD and LP is “Caught in the Act”, a medley of famous songs that they Purple-ized. Many of these, Purple have played live such as “Going Down” and “Green Onions”. We’ll save some of the others as surprises. They finish the medley with “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Spencer Davis Group, and it’s a totally smashing way to finish an album that was some massively fun listening.
But it’s not really the last track if you signed up for Deep Purple’s Turning to Crime mailing list. A specially numbered 13th track was emailed to those who subscribed. “(I’m A) Roadrunner” by Junior Walker & the Allstars is another horn-laden Deep Purple soul jam. Just drop it in the folder and it’s already pre-numbered as the last track on Turning to Crime. Great sax solo!
What you won’t hear on Turning to Crime are any of Purple’s earlier classical influences, for those members are gone. Nor will you get any Beatles whom Purple covered twice in the early days.
How many times will you end up reaching for a Deep Purple covers album to fill your speakers? Hard to say, but know this — you will enjoy it every time you do.