I’m as interested as the next listener when an artist/songwriter of quality decides to embark upon what we used to call a “busman’s holiday.” David Bowie’s Pin Ups, John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll … collections of cover-versions of songs that influenced the artists can be revelatory, adding to one’s understanding of that artist. That’s the case with The Sincerest Form of Flattery, a new 12-track collection from Marco Rossi. Rossi is best-known as a music journalist, and he brings a deep-dive, crate-digging mindset to this release.
The list of artists covered on The Sincerest Form of Flattery reads like a who’s who of hardcore music fiend favorites. Deep tracks from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Nazz, Paul Williams and other high quality acts make this set a delight. Rossi’s approach is less retro than, say, The Dukes of Stratosphear; he gets the vibe right without creating recordings that sound vintage. The production aesthetic is top-notch, just gauzy enough to suit the material but sharp enough to let the music shine through.
Some of the arrangements are scintillating; Rossi’s reading of Orange Bicycle’s “LA” sounds like The Association backed by Nazz. And speaking of Todd Rundgren’s old group, Rossi’s cover of “Forget All About It” captures everything that’s special about the proto-prog/power pop classic. Rossi doesn’t reinvent the tune (nor should he) so it sounds a lot like both the Nazz original and the Gladhands cover. But one can never get enough versions of the song. The drums are especially powerful and well-recorded, with a splashy, bashing yet precise Keith Moon feel about them.
Even though the song selections are drawn from an assortment of artists, The Sincerest Form of Flattery has a cohesive character; if one didn’t know that these were covers, they’d likely just think of the album as a collection of very, very good songs with compelling arrangements. And that’s what this is, really. Only hen “Let’s Get Together” comes up will the typical listener encounter a song they’ve heard many times. And Rossi does some interesting things with the vocal arrangement.
A faithful take on We The People’s sweeping “In the Past” closes the album. The power of the recording belies Rossi’s approach to the project: he sang and played everything himself, but these songs sound very much like the work a proper band. Chances are good that even the most obsessive fan of ‘60s psych and related styles will encounter at least a tune or two that’s unfamiliar. And if that leads them to further investigation, then part of Marco Rossi’s goals have been realized. Recommended.