“By George By Bachman” is Randy Bachman’s tribute to the “Quiet Beatle”, George Harrison. Harrison’s brilliance was often eclipsed by the prolific output of his band mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but over time, a greater appreciation of this fantastic musician has rightfully emerged. The recent Martin Scorsese documentary “Living in the Material World” is required viewing for any music fan, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar you might be with his life and creative output.
I love the music of George Harrison, and this album is obviously a labour of love by Randy Bachman; add to this that I liked his last album ”Heavy Blues”, and this record was perfect for me. So while on a long drive, I convinced the family to listen to the record. And then I pressed play, and it all went to hell in a hand basket.
The album is bookended by an original Bachman composition that is best described as a pastiche Harrison track, complete with sitar noodling. It’s not great, but I get the intention. And then it got worse.
Bachman has “re-invented” the material, most often very drastically, and in the process stripped out almost every element that made the originals so good. Bachman is backed by his usual partners in crime Marc LaFrance as co-producer/drummer, Mick Dalla-Vee on bass and keys, and Brent Knudsen for additional guitars, all fine musicians, but the band is playing the tracks so heavy handedly that most of the songs sound stiff and lifeless. The Beatles were all fantastic musicians (yes, even Ringo), and these songs had so much life in them that it hurts to hear them stripped of so much of it.
Bachman peppers little references to other songs here and there, like the slide guitar from “My Sweet Lord” in his interpretation of “Think For Yourself”, but it’s never as clever as what the “Love” project did. Strangely enough, that’s all you’ll hear from “All Things Must Pass”, Harrison’s magnificent solo début triple album. His solo career is only represented by “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, and The Travelling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care” also makes an unfortunate appearance.
“Taxman” is probably the song that fares the best, with a boogie like re-imagining, and “Here Comes the Sun”‘s reggae reading comes close to working, but never quite makes it. “Don’t Bother Me”‘s hard rock rendition isn’t too bad, possibly because it’s based on a lesser track, and as such is measured against a more attainable yardstick. Still, none of Harrison’s wit and spirituality made it into this record, and that’s kind of missing the point, isn’t it?
I love Randy Bachman, a legend in his own right, but this record is at best passable, and at its worst horrible. Why do musicians (and film makers) keep redoing material that was great the first time around? Why not revisit albums that had good songwriting but never quite got the execution right? It’s OK to re-imagine a song, but not if you get it this wrong: these are just different to be different. Change the lyrics, and Bachman could have had an original record for the most part. That’s how far from the source these songs have travelled.
In the end, my 11-year old son, a Beatles fan since almost birth, had the closing comment on this. 3/4 of the way through the record, this little voice from the backseat simply said “Dad, is it just me or is this kind of bad?” It’s not just you, son.
I created a Spotify playlist of Harrison’s best material. I needed cleansing.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage