It was my good luck to see Paul Rodgers, former vocalist for Free, Bad Company and the Firm, in concert along with pioneer flash guitarist Jeff Beck and Ann Wilson, formerly of the vocalist of the hard rock hit machine Heart. Beck was brilliant, a revelation on a minor scale, as he seems to have ramped up his chops for this tour; I was convinced boredom and old age had permanently convinced him to be chintzy with his chops, offering a stale, scratchy minimalism in place of the old eruptive practices. That night he was anything but minimal, he was maximalist to the furthest degree. I felt I owed him an apology for doubting the quality of his current skill set.
Ann Wilson was very good as well, her voice remaining a clarion wail and a serene melodic passage at once. She can handle nearly anything piece of material, any style put in front of her. I'd be pleased if her new work, an even more revved up version of the already animated power rock she performed with Heart, gets her a new audience and new success. Now, Paul Rodgers.....was kind of a bore. In good voice, a wonderful voice, in fact, he offered the crowd the greatest hits tour, generous doses of Free and Bad Company and some miscellaneous coves thrown in for good measure.
A crowd-pleasing performance, professional and as stiff as a Wayne Newton matinee show. Rodgers can sing, he sings better than anyone of his generation, and his voice is amazingly resilient and soaring against the wear and tear decades of blues belting and soul shouting can bring to a rock and roller's voice. Rod Stewart, Roger Daltry, cases in point, two fellows who have seen their grit and growls reduced to a whispery, puny version of a formerly big and impressive noise. Rodgers retains the voice, if not the hairline. Shall we consign ourselves to witnessing the vocalist become merely professional, a lounge singer, a man merely making a living?
It’s my view, after a weekend of rummaging through old albums, that Paul Rodgers is the best singer of his generation, and is the only singer from that era who has gotten better as a vocalist. Roger Daltry and Robert Plant and a host of other blues shouters have had their voices go south, wither, get reduced to a miserable croak, but Rodgers has only gotten better--power, control, feeling, range, the whole shot. Though it's not for everyone, his Muddy Waters Blues album, a tribute to the great bluesman, is a super fine blues/rock effort, with Rodgers belting, blasting and swing blues standards in ways very few Brits were ever to do. The songs, classics all, are bulletproof, made for a talent like Rodger's to grace. Rodgers is a brilliant vocalist who is also one of the worst songwriters of his generation, post-Free.
Bad Company were an OK band, but not geniuses in any department, and the kind of blues-bathos that Rodgers and cohorts tossed at us made the band seem like a Foghat with a good singer. They had a run, they were popular, I saw them several times, but anyone who listens to the old Free albums, especially Tons of Sobs or Heartbreaker, and not notice the depreciation in song quality, or conviction of performance really hasn't been paying attention. Rodgers sometimes sounded like he was droning into a nod, that his last held note often sounded like they were going to transform into snores, and we might have had the sound of our singer falling to the floor, napping hard. Crash!!! Bad Company's best album was Straight Shooter. After that, it was cruise control rock and roll, hard rock MOR. Nothing especially rich or interesting, basic as bread and water. The Page/Rodgers matchup didn't do much for me, not completely, but I did like their version of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling". But the fact is that the Righteous Brothers version is untouchable, though others have given the songs decent readings: Bill Medley, the lead vocalist on the original version, a performance that is a legend. The right voice for the right song. I think Rodgers would have better luck teaming up with VanHalen, at least for one album. But only if he let Eddie write the music and David Lee Roth scribe the lyrics, provided Roth can holster his ego and content himself with being Bernie Taupin to Rodgers’ Elton John. Not likely, though, and that’s too bad.