Guitarist Jeff Richman has produced his fourth guitar tribute CD for the Tone Center label. The three previous compilations paid homage to John Coltrane (A Guitar Supreme), Miles Davis (Fusion For Miles), and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Visions Of An Inner Mounting Apocalypse). This time around it's a tribute to Steely Dan entitled The Royal Dan: A Tribute.
The core band on the CD is comprised of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jimmy Halsip on bass, Peter Wolf on keys, Ernie Watts on sax, and Richman himself on rhythm guitar (and lead on 'Josie'). Richman also arranged all the songs, and in almost every case, the songs are reworked quite a bit.
There are some really great performances here. Steve Lukather is awesome on 'Pretzel Logic'. His style fits perfectly with the tune. His solo is a mixture of hip lines, and those wild, unhinged 'Luke' explosions we all know and love. The result is a tune that is heavier than the original, and very cool. Another perfect match is Jimmy Herring on 'The Fez'. The arrangement sounds pretty faithful to the original, and Herring plays some real cool lines over the changes. Herring's one of those guys who's touch and harmonic sensibility make him a great fit for Steely Dan material. You can easily imagine him as one of the stable of guitar greats playing on the original albums. (For further evidence of this, check out some live Dragonflys shows where Herring tears it up on 'Kid Charlemagne').
Another favorite for me is 'Bodhisattva' featuring Steve Morse. This is another example where the guitarist really fits the song. Morse's bluesy phrasing and tumbling lines really work here. The most interesting arrangement/performance may be 'Aja' with Al DiMeola. The song sounds radically different from the original. It's turned into more of a jazz piece. DiMeola plays a great solo on nylon string guitar.
There are other great performances as well, such as Robben Ford on 'Peg', and Frank Gambale on 'FM'. Jay Graydon and Elliot Randall (both of whom played on original Steely Dan albums) have featured spots also. The only song I don't care for much is 'Dirty Work' with Mike Stern. For some reason the whole tune sounds timid, in my opinion. Stern has appeared on all four of the Richman tribute albums. I prefer his take on 'My Favorite Things' from the Coltrane tribute to what he does this time around. He plays well here, but it just doesn't quite gel for me.
Of all the guitar tribute albums Jeff Richman has produced, I'd say the Mahavishnu tribute is my personal favorite. This album, however, is a close second. Well worth picking up.