Klaus Voorman called upon a number of notable musician friends to help with the charmingly low key A Sideman’s Journey. Though never a household name, the bass player’s friends include Paul McCartney, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and Dr. John. Those names should increase the level of interest even among music fans unfamiliar with Voorman’s career. Billed officially as Voorman & Friends, A Sideman’s Journey is a great deal of fun. Eight different lead vocalists are featured on a total of eleven tracks.
Even if Voorman’s resume had ended with designing the album cover for The Beatles’ Revolver, for which he was awarded a Grammy, he’d at least be a footnote in rock history. But his contributions went much farther. In addition to his role as bassist in Manfred Mann during the late 1960s, he was an in-demand session player who provided the bottom end for many classic albums. The Beatles’ association continued into the early ’70s, with Voorman being the preferred bassist of John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr on their early solo records.
A Sideman’s Journey opens with an energetic take on Fats Domino’s “I’m In Love Again,” sung by Paul McCartney, who also played guitars and keyboards. McCartney previously covered the song in 1988 on his so-called “Russian Album,” Choba b CCCP. This version is quite similar, though the addition of Ringo Starr on drums is a nice touch. Unlike McCartney, Starr shows up later on the album – again, strictly as a drummer – for a version of “You’re Sixteen” sung by Max Buskohl. One of the youngest contributors to the album, Buskohl was a contestant on season four of Deutschland sucht den Superstar, Germany’s version of American Idol.
Voorman’s departed friend and colleague George Harrison is paid tribute to in the form of several cover versions. Yusuf Islam sings lead on “All Things Must Pass” and “The Day the World Gets ‘Round.” The latter is a particular treat, as the relatively obscure track from Harrison’s 1973 Living In the Material World is among his most underrated gems. Bonnie Bramlett, formerly of Delaney & Bonnie, sings Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” This version is a neat combination of Harrison’s own hit and the late Billy Preston’s gospel-inflected take. Bramlett also sings “So Far,” a song originally produced by Harrison for Apple artist Doris Troy (co-written by Voorman and Troy).
Voorman reunites with some of his former Manfred Mann bandmates (who have played together as The Manfreds, albeit without Voorman, since 1991) for a redo of their classic hit, “Mighty Quinn.” Written by Bob Dylan as “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn),” Dylan’s own version was released only after Manfred Mann’s had become a smash on both sides of the Atlantic. The new version here is a nicely relaxed update.
Among the other contributors to A Sideman’s Journey include former Joe Cocker and Leon Russell sideman Don Preston, singing and playing guitar on an up-tempo rave-up of “Blue Suede Shoes.” Blues guitarist John Fohl takes a crack at Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby.” And closing out the collection in high style is Dr. John, bringing his New Orleans R&B to a rendition of his own “Such a Night.” The sparse arrangment finds Voorman playing upright bass, unlike the rest of the tracks where he plays bass guitar.
A Sideman’s Journey is not revelatory, but rather an album of small pleasures. It would be hard to assemble this much seasoned talent, performing time-tested material, and not wind up with something listenable. But that’s not to damn the album with faint praise, as it is genuinely enjoyable. There aren’t any virtuosic displays, but rather a group of talented veterans having a good time.