RockSpot Reviews
May 20, 1998

(Blue Gorilla / Mercury)

Question of the Day: Is this a Hooters album? Well, it started out that way. Rob Hyman was inspired a few years ago by the second movement, "Largo," of Antonin Dvorákís 9th Symphony, "From the New World," and thought that the Hooters could use it as the concept of their next CD. Rob, Eric Bazilian, and producer Rick Chertoff began to follow that plan. But as they invited more and more guest musicians to help with interpretations, the project acquired a life of its own.

The word "Hooters" does not appear anywhere in the package. The band that recorded Largo is not named, but consists of about two dozen musicians including Joan Osborne, Cyndi Lauper, Taj Majal, Carole King, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, David Forman (a.k.a. "Little Isadore"), and the Chieftains. Some record stores file it under Largo (as if that were the name of the band), some under Various Artists, at least one under Hyman, and probably none of them are really sure where to put it.

But it still might be a Hooters album. Think of the personnel changes. When they sold hundreds of thousands of copies of Amore on a local independent label in the early 1980s, they were Rob, Eric, Rob Miller, John Lilley, and David Uosikkinen. On their national debut, Nervous Night (1985), and their second Columbia release, One Way Home (1987), Andy King had replaced Rob Miller (who after a nasty car accident resurfaced in 1988 playing keyboards for Tommy Conwell). On the third Columbia CD, Zig Zag (1989), Fran Smith was in, Andy was out, and Peter, Paul, and Mary sang on one cut. The fourth CD, Out of Body (1993), was released on MCA with violinist/vocalist Mindy Jostyn added. But then Mindy got an offer she couldnít refuse from John Mellencamp and the Hooters were down to five again.

The Hooters have always incorporated a wide variety of musical influences. The Celtic influence now made explicit by the Chieftains has long been implicit in Hooters music, for example, "Give the Music Back" on Zig Zig or "Karla with a K" and "Washingtonís Day" on One Way Home. Would you believe that before they went national, the Hooters were known in Philadelphia as a ska band, an art band, a bubblegum-idol band, a hard rock band, etc., depending on who you talked to? Everyone agreed on only two things about the Hooters: they were virtuoso musicians and they were loud. So in this latter-day incarnation, it should be no surprise that as Robís and Ericís music has become even more diverse it needs a great many more musicians to bring it to fruition.

There are indeed a few tunes on Largo that sound like standard Hooters, even with new vocalists. It must be that marvelous Hyman/Bazilian instrumentation that does it. The unmistakable combination of Robís keyboards and Ericís strings is so uniquely lyrical that any competent vocalist could fit into it. David Forman and Levon on "Gimme a Stone," Forman on "Disorient Express," Taj on "Freedom Ride," Taj and Forman on "Banjoman," and Willie Nile on "Medallion" all seem right at home. Singer Rob himself has seldom sounded better on his two leads, "Cyrus in the Moonlight" (with Cyndi) and "Hand in Mine" (with Joan). Bandmaster Robís choice of vocalists for particular tunes is superb. Ooooooh, Cyndi is so sultry on "White Manís Melody"!

As varied as the musicial styles and themes on Largo are, they hang together as an uncanny unit remarkably well. The only track that sticks out like a sore thumb is "An Uncommon Love," sung by Joan and Carole. Not that itís a bad song; it just doesnít work here. Itís too much of a typical torchy 1970s romantic ballad to be part of this cutting-edge 1990s compilation.

Largo cannot be appreciated by just listening to it once. It is a dark, deep, formidable concept that seems harmless or even forgettable at first, but gradually dares you to allow its elements to haunt your head. And haunt they will! On first hearing, it might rate only two stars; but on sixth or seventh it easily rates three-and-a-half or four. You will not get tired of this CD, because it will constantly reveal new subtleties.

Any band with both Rob and Eric in it will always sound somewhat like the Hooters. The songs on Largo which sound least like the Hooters are those such as "An Uncommon Love," "Before the Mountains," and several instrumentals where Rob and Eric do not appear together.

Yet for all its freshness, diversity, and exotic unfamiliarity, Largo still resembles a Hooters album more than, say, Rubber Soul resembles Meet the Beatles.

Dr. Eric, Syracuse, NY

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