Pursuing the Average
It has been 15 years since Glenn Frey, founding member of the Eagles, released a solo album. Now comes the ambitious After Hours, his latest. After so many years, to what purpose?
In Frey’s case, he chooses to cover (somewhat at least) the Great American Songbook, which he says is a tribute, of sorts, to his parents. After Hours is meant to celebrate the songs and love of music they instilled in him at a young age. Some of Frey’s earliest memories, he recalls, took place in his grandmother’s kitchen, watching his mother iron and sing along with the radio. That’s admirable, but After Hours isn’t, really, and that’s unfortunate. Not to say that it’s a bad piece of work—it’s not, it has its moments—but that the record is emphatically average, given Frey’s musical gifts, nothing more or less.
Among Frey’s gifts, vocals do not stand out. He has a good, not great, rock ‘n’ roll voice. But when it comes to taking on For Sentimental Reasons and The Shadow of Your Smile, for example, he doesn’t possess the pitch and lacks the instinctive phrasing necessary to pull them off. And it’s not for lack of trying, which in fact may be the problem: he’s trying too hard.
It’s clear the record is important to Frey, and it’s equally clear he worked diligently on his vocals for this project. But effort, no matter how determined, does not always produce the desired result. On After Hours, it generally does not. Plus, it’s getting crowded in here, so to speak, as several of Frey’s contemporaries have sought to mine similar material and remake or reestablish a career. Rod Stewart is the chief culprit, who couldn’t leave well enough alone and recorded at least five volumes of the Great American Songbook—with only a hand full of songs worth the effort. Paul McCartney recently released Kisses on the Bottom, his take on classic American songs, and that effort was, well, uninspired. The best crossover recording in the same vein as Frey’s and McCartney’s is undoubtedly Pictures and Paintings, the late Charlie Rich’s stellar 1992 take on the Songbook.
Frey addresses the difficulty of the crossover album’s vocals in the press release for After Hours: “It was a new adventure for me as a vocalist to see if I could indeed learn, own and deliver these songs. And I’m so happy I took the challenge, once I got started it seemed like these songs had been waiting for me to sing them, and I feel like since I’ve done this record I’m a better singer than I was before I started.”
Where After Hours does work is in Frey’s song selection. He sneaks in covers of the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No”, and the venerable, and rarely recorded these days, “Route 66”. The Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune The Look of Love is notably well done by Frey. He also recorded an original song for the album, the title track, which ends the disc. “After Hours” is one of the better songs here, which is proof that Frey’s songwriting gifts are still very much intact. Perhaps one day he’ll write enough songs in this vein to justify a new, similar album—without the burden of precedent—and that would likely be something special, plus he wouldn’t be competing in this space with the likes of Tony Bennett and other classic Songbook vocalists who were born to sing and perform these songs.
And yet, average could clearly be worse, which is to say that After Hours is a genial listening experience, never really demanding much from the listener, and that’s all right. You could do a lot worse than to cue this record up on a late Saturday night or Sunday morning.
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