Eric Woolfson’s Poe: More Tales Of Mystery & Imagination

Eric Woolfson's Poe: More Tales Of Mystery & ImaginationAs most fans of the Alan Parsons Project know, Project co-founder, songwriter and later vocalist Eric Woolfson split from Parsons after the two collaborated one last time on 1990’s Freudiana, an album Parsons produced as a Project concept album but which Woolfson treated as the concept album for a stage musical, the direction he ultimately decided to pursue full-time. Woolfson went on to create several musicals that went down well in Europe, often mining his own Project material for many of the songs. So many fans were surprised to see this 2003 release, boasting an entirely new album of material written by Woolfson which promised to revisit the subject of the very first Project album: Edgar Allan Poe.

But was Woolfson doing a straight-ahead rock album, or auditioning material for a future musical here? Freudiana proved that one can do both at the same time, but now that we’re about halfway through the Project remaster series, with its early-draft bonus tracks, it’s pretty safe to say that Freudiana – and indeed several Project albums – turned out so well because of the checks and balances that existed in the Woolfson-Parsons partnership, with Parsons reeling in some of Woolfson’s music-hall excesses from time to time. Woolfson on his own, however, doesn’t have that somewhat steadying influence, and the result is this somewhat schizophrenic album.

Parts of Poe are trying hard to be a great rock concept album; in classic Project style, the album starts with an instrumental and then segues into “Wings Of Eagles”, an orchestral rock anthem that thunders along under the sheer power of vocalist Steve Balsamo’s vocals. Balsamo does the vocal duties on much of the album, and his range is mindblowing – he can go from operatic to a throat-thrashing raw rock style that just about reminds me of frequent-flyer Project vocalist Lenny Zakatek. The next song, “Train To Freedom”, is a fantastic piece of music that I’m not sure ever would’ve flown with Parsons in the studio, borrowing from the style of black southern gospel music. Balsamo returns for the ballad “Somewhere In The Audience”.

Next up is a musical rendition of “The Bells”, performed by a mixed choir called the Metro Voices, and it’s really one of the weak points of the album. I will admit to a bias here – I’m quite familiar with Poe’s written works, and “The Bells” simply isn’t among my favorites. Translating it into a stagey musical format doesn’t improve that – it just sounds a bit silly. After “The Bells”, the three-part mini-rock-opera “The Pit And The Pendulum” is a refreshing course correction, with Balsamo back at center stage in what may well be the most Project-esque song on the entire album.

Woolfson then steers things back toward a stage musical direction with “The Murders In The Rue Morgue”, which seems to be trying hard to emulate Freudiana‘s “It’s Funny You Should Say That”, complete with silly character voices; I’ve listened to this album about half a dozen times as of this writing, and I’ll confess to having skipped this track on all but two of those listens. Balsamo returns for another ballad, “Tiny Star”, followed by another choral number, “Goodbye To All That” (which isn’t all that, bogged down again by Woolfson’s stagey sensibilities).

The final song on the album is a bit of a shocker, opening with Orson Welles’ narration recorded for the original 1976 Alan Parsons Project debut album Tales Of Mystery & Imagination (but not used as part of the album until the revised 1987 CD edition), and becoming a rather intense power ballad showcasing Balsamo’s impressive vocal range. The song itself ponders the nature of immortality, and whether or not Poe unwittingly achieved it through his work.

3 out of 4More Tales would be a fantastic album, except for the 25% of it that succumbs to Woolfson’s stage musical excesses. While he pulls off a couple of things here that I don’t think we would’ve been treated to if Parsons had been involved in this album (namely “Train To Freedom”), More Tales isn’t on a par with, say, Freudiana. Freudiana‘s stagier pieces at least worked within the context of the album, while their counterparts on More Tales completely interrupt any musical flow that the album might have. On the plus side, we get Steve Balsamo’s simply amazing performances and some fairly decent songs out of the deal. It’s no Alan Parsons Project album, sure, and while it’s probably not fair to expect anything even approaching one, it’s also inevitable that the comparison will be made.

Order this CD

  1. Angel Of The Odd (2:36)
  2. Wings Of Eagles (4:45)
  3. Train To Freedom (4:40)
  4. Somewhere In The Audience (4:47)
  5. The Bells (5:32)
  6. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part I (2:31)
  7. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part II (2:02)
  8. The Pit And The Pendulum – Part III (2:02)
  9. The Murders In The Rue Morgue (4:35)
  10. Tiny Star (2:44)
  11. Goodbye To All That (5:15)
  12. Immortal (5:30)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 46:59