Reviewed by Barb Van Atta
“Imagine … It’s easy if you try.”
Imagine there was no Mark David Chapman, and John Lennon was still alive and well and getting ready for his 70th birthday. He would round up a few of his mates (and Yoko, of course) and, disdainful of impersonal arena touring, opt for concerts in small theaters and clubs. He would pair up songs and pare down arrangements while bringing his lyrics – no, make that his poetry – to the forefront. Through wide, round, wire-rimmed glasses he would make eye contact with his audiences, establishing intimacy through anecdotes and interpretations.
I think that’s what Rex Fowler (of Aztec Two-Step) and Tom Dean (of Devonsquare) had in mind when they created “Imagined: The John Lennon Song Project.” The Project, which appeared last Saturday (Nov. 6) at the Endicott Performing Arts Center, features Fowler on guitar and vocals; Dean on guitar, mandola and vocals; Jordan Janez on cello and percussion; Alana MacDonald (also a founding member of Devonsquare) on violin and vocals; Teg Glendon on bass guitar and vocals, and Robby Coffin on electric and acoustic guitars and vocals.
Through a combination of solos, duets and ensembles, the Project members paid the best kind of tribute to a master: keeping his genius alive. Fowler, in wire rims and cap, perhaps overdid the “I’m channeling John” routine a bit, but his sincerity earns him forgiveness.
Because the Project seeks to “imagine” and/or “reimagine” Lennon’s music, Fowler and Dean’s arrangements often have a different tempo or instrumentation than the originals. They combine two songs with similar themes or lyrics, such as The Beatles’ “I’ll Get You” (“… imagine I’m in love with you”) with Lennon’s “Imagine.” Lennon stories, told by Fowler, were interspersed with the music.
High points for me were Dean’s slowed-down, Parisian café-style version of “Girl”; the powerful cello and violin work on the “Come Together”/ “I am the Walrus” medley; MacDonald’s joyous rendition of “And Your Bird Can Sing” and her soulful “Beautiful Boy,” which ran the gamut from wispy to “wow,” and Coffin’s dynamite electric licks spearheading a gospel-tinged “Help.”
The two-hour program mixed works from Lennon’s solo career with songs he wrote for The Beatles (and released under both his and Paul McCartney’s name). Among the other offerings: “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”/ “Norwegian Wood,” “Rain,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “A Day in The Life” /”Across The Universe,” “You Can’t Do That”/ “I Call Your Name,” “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” “In My Life” and “Instant Karma.”
It was a treat for the ear – and the imagination.