A DECENT FACSIMILE 

A DECENT FACSIMILE

Birdland

The Yardbirds

(Favored Nations Recordings)

Yeah, The Yardbirds. Well, a couple of them at least: founding members rhythm guitarist (remember when there was a distinction between rhythm and lead players?) Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty. No Paul Samwell-Smith, no Eric Clapton, no Keith Relf, and no Jimmy Page. Jeff Beck phones in a performance on one "New Yardbirds" original tune, and three faceless, middle-aged British journeyman rockers try to fill some mighty large shoes. There's a plethora of guitar guests -- six-string murderers like Steve Vai, Brian May, Slash, Joe Satriani, and grizzled old Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. Even that hapless dingus from the Goo Goo Dolls sings on a remake of "For Your Love."

So why doesn't this record suck like the low-rent Santana guest-artist project it's trying so shamelessly to be? Frankly, I have no idea. It should suck in a loud, vigorous manner (and it does in a few patches), but somehow the eight updates of classic Yardbirds tunes and a few of the new originals are more than pleasantly competent. This crew of has-beens and guest guitar-slinger wannabes should barely qualify as a geezer-squad hoping to milk some nostalgia bucks and casino bookings from the endlessly forgiving classic-rock-concert market. Instead they've made a pretty decent recording. Go figure.

For one thing, the celebrity guitarists and the new members are remarkably tasteful in their re-creation of the Yardbirds' signature sound. A lot of what made the original group so great was down to the late Relf's distinctive nasal vocals. Well, they've found a guy who can do a pretty passable imitation of him, and that's fine with me. The nattering guitars stay in the background for the most part, while the Relf imitator wails on top of the proceedings. This production approach works very nicely actually; the singer is often louder than the guitar army backing him. In fact, the Yardbirds have once again become what they started out as: a pretty good pop band. Just pray that none of the special guests tours with them anytime soon. -- Ross Johnson

Grade: B+

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