You know, listening to Robert Berry's contributions to the assorted Magna Carta progressive rock projects (and particularly the tribute albums) individually but separately might cause those contributions to be somewhat overlooked. Particularly when considering the stellar listing of personnel, often including original band members, who were in fact involved in many of those projects. What this compilation CD Prime Cuts does is consolidate those stellar contributions and bring into sharp focus just what a singularly talented individual this man is. Stripped of the long list of names associated with each individual tribute album, one realizes how very little help Robert actually needs to produce his mini musical individual track masterpieces. Sure, you are still left with a short list of virtuoso contributors! But when assessing the actual contributions (a short snippet of Steve Howe acoustic guitar in the "Roundabout" cadenza, some Vinnie Moore rhythm guitar…yes I said RHYTHM guitar in "Different Strings" plus some assorted violin and percussion contributions) you are left with a mountain of arranging, performing, recording, mixing and producing done by one man, Robert Berry.
Perhaps the most incredible contribution (aside from the superb and original arranging skill he consistently demonstrates) is his chameleon like vocal capability. Whether it be a full blown Yes choral approach, a stark Pink Floydian vocal inflection or a far away tunneled Jethro Tull like delivery, the vocal nuances displayed by Robert are simply awesome. Ian Anderson was so impressed with Robert's take on "Minstrel In The Gallery" that he wrote a letter of congratulations to the label. His mastery of all instruments is just as mind boggling and that combination of vocal and instrumental chops obviously helped him land his gig as front man with prog rock gods Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in the "3" project of 1988. It also helps to explain why he has been in such high demand to contribute to various assorted and sundry projects by Magna Carta stable mates over the years.
The tribute contributions are of course stellar. Personal favorites are "Minstrel In The Gallery", "Roundabout" and "Karn Evil 9 1st Impression" (where the incredible keyboard and violin contributions of Jordan Rudess and Mark Wood respectively must be acknowledged). Also included are three of Robert's own tunes, including a new, previously unreleased track and the magnificent Yes like arrangement of the traditional "Carol Of The Bells". "Winespring Reel" and "A Theme For The Wheel Of Time" are from Robert's album Soundtrack For The Wheel Of Time his musical accompaniment piece to the fantasy novel series of Robert Jordan. Both of these pieces represent an age of whimsical Celtic enchantment with a sprightly rock jig feel fuelled by violin solos. The previously unreleased track "Life Beyond LA" is a soaring opus like track that immediately had me thinking it must have been written with Steve Walsh in mind….. an excellent and 100% solo track that ably demonstrates all of Robert's individual talents.
Even if you already possess most or all of the individual albums forming this compilation, it is well worth investing in it to as previously stated, clarify and bring into focus what an outstanding and veteran progressive mind this man has. Robert, it is time for another original project. You need to be heard.
1. Roundabout (6:55) – From: Tales From Yesterday (Tribute To Yes)
2. Minstrel In The Gallery (5:22) – From: To Cry You A Song (Tribute To Jethro Tull)
3. Brain Damage (2:30) – From: The Moon Revisited (Tribute To Pink Floyd)
4. Watcher Of The Skies (5:53) – From: Supper's Ready (Tribute To Genesis)
5. Winespring Reel (4:32) - From: A Soundtrack For The Wheel Of Time
6. Life Beyond LA (5:04) – Previously Unreleased Track
7. Karn Evil 9 1st Impression (8:51) – From: Encores, Legends & Paradox (Tribute To ELP)
8. Different Strings (5:03) – From: Subdivisions (Tribute To Rush)
9. A Theme For The Wheel Of Time (3:36) – From: A Soundtrack For The Wheel Of Time
10. Carol Of The Bells (6:19) – From: Sounds Like Christmas