Album review: Yardbirds, Birdland (2003)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 8, 2003

By Steve Newton

You might think, since the current version of the Yardbirds includes only two founding members of the pioneering ’60s Brit-rock act—rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja and drummer Jim McCarty—that the latest installment is just trying to cash in on the group’s famous name.

One listen to Birdland blows that misconception away, however, because Dreja and McCarty have assembled a crack band that includes Detroit-reared frontman-bassist John Idan, onetime Nine Below Zero member Alen Glen on harp, and one of the best guitarists you’ve never heard of—Gypie Mayo, who played with Dr. Feelgood in the late ’70s. On newish, McCarty-penned tracks like “Crying Out for Love” and “Dream Within a Dream”, Mayo proves himself a wondrous picker as deserving of fame as former ’Birds Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page.

Today’s Yardbirds aren’t about to close the door on their incredible history, though. At the urging of guitar wizard Steve Vai—who is also boss of the band’s label, Favored Nations—the Yardbirds made new recordings of eight classic tunes from its heyday, and got some of today’s most celebrated guitarists to take solos. These include Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on “The Nazz Are Blue”, Steve Lukather on “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, Slash on “Over, Under, Sideways, Down”, and Vai himself on the legendary “Shapes of Things”.

As far as these reworkings are concerned, I’ve had a soft spot for “Train Kept a Rollin’ ” ever since Aerosmith covered it on its second album, Get Your Wings. This time around Bay Area fretburner Joe Satriani does the speedy six-string damage, though I still prefer Joe Perry’s expressive lead freak-out from ’72.

I guess you had to be there.

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