Speedway Blvd. - Speedway Blvd.

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Rewind Records
Catalog Number: 65582-55024-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 35:23:00

The point of interest for progressive rock fans with this re-issue of Speedway Blvd's self-titled (and only) album is Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who was recruited by the album's producers Jerry Kazenetz and Jeff Katz to add a keyboard element to the group's music (he'd been to the duo's studio 6 years earlier to do some of his own Mini Moog recording). As Rudess writes in the liner notes, it was Kazenetz and Katz that were behind such hits as the 1910 Fruitgum Company's "Yummy Yummy" (among others) ? that is, so called "bubblegum" music. Never fear though, this is bubblegum music. It also isn't exactly the kind of music that Rudess is performing with Dream Theater, or in his solo career, thought the band had a hard rocking edge. Don't expect anything you might expect from Rudess, though surely some Rudessness comes through in some of the pieces where keys are more up front in the mix ? such as the light and lyrical opening (a la Styx' "Lady") to "(Call My Name) Rock Magic."

Originally released by the Epic in 1980, Speedway Blvd. were solely a studio band that included Gregg Hoffman on guitar and vocals, Dennis Feldman on bass and vocals, Glenn Dove on drums and percussion and Roy Herring, Jr, on vocals, percussion and piano. Of the quintet, it seems only Rudess continued to pursue a career in music, though if Allmusic.com is correct, Feldman remains active and appears on and produced Our Cross, Our Sins by Rondinelli (w/Bob Rondinelli) released by AOR label MTM last year.

Musically the focus is on songs, not on virtuoso performances and they were a fine group of musicians. Had they continued making music, they might be among the better known names of the era. Of course, with everything now seeming to take a backwards glance at the 80s ? at least VH1 is with their "I Love The 80s" series? well, who knows. Any one of these pieces could have been released as a single, and likely would have gotten airplay. I'm not sure if they did, or even if they made it into the pages of magazines such as Creem or Circus. Nonetheless Speedway Blvd., can be compared at various times to such contemporaries and near contemporaries as Billy Squier, Sweet, The Tubes, Saga, Glenn Hughes, Kiss, and many others who more often than not were splashed across the pages of 16 and Teen Beat magazine (along with those mentioned above). Though "(Think I Better) Hold On" has more a R&B feel to it, a la the soul hit "Can't Get Next To You" (lyrically somewhat, too), with a hint of both Latin and reggae in the drum rhythm. This reggae rhythm returns in "Prisoner Of Time" where the band get close at times to maybe Rainbow, but where Billy Ocean was the vocalist rather than Joe Lynn Turner (or Ronnie James Dio, for that matter). Actually, reggae rhythm aside, it sounds a bit like something from Ayreon, to be honest; certainly in the harmonized chorus. Rudess' keys almost sound like steel drums here, too, at times.

In fact, you can almost name some other song that a track here sounds like. It would take a bit of time to figure out whether the reference actually came before, at the same time, or after this album's release, but I'm not sure such an exercise would be helpful. Listening to this album, however, is a bit like listening to a various artists compilation ? well, yes, Rhino's retrospective series Super Hits Of The 70s ? Have A Nice Day would be an apt reference. And while it's hard to not think this 23 years later, much of it cliché ridden lyrically, certainly in "(Think I Better) Hold On." "Chinatown" is a smokin', grooving track with hot guitar leads and cascading keyboard part that made me suddenly think of neon-pink lights? no, I can't explain that. Early Toto come to mind with "Dog In The Distance."

The sliding guitar effect on "Out Of The Fire" sounds like a take on Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," even more so when the churning, driving rhythm of drums and bass back the non-Led Zep-like keyboard solo and non-Page-like guitar solo. Rudess' hand is evident in "Telephone Lens," which seems like a blending of Rick James' "Superfreak," with squeaky, 80s keyboard phrases from Rudess, and some other popular 80s hit, the title of which is just on the tip of my tongue. "(Call My Name) Rock Magic" is a ballsy rocker that sounds a bit like a heavier version of both Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" (at times) and Jefferson Starship's "Jane," right down to the repeated refrain of "Name?," to which you could easily and accurately sing the repeated refain of "Jane?" Let's say it's a mix of those two with a definite heavy and metallic edge. Interestingly enough, from the same album that "Jane" appeared on, there's a song on Freedom At Point Zero (1979) called "Rock Music."

The album closes with "A Boulevard Night," the soul version reprise of "Speedway Blvd." which, if I'm hearing the lyrics right, is the red light district ? at least the "happenin' road". Whereas the strutting, rocking opening track seems to about the "fast and furious" street racers and the girls that watch 'em.

Okay, having said all that, it's not a bad album at all. The performances are good ? good vocals, guitar leads, drumming, etc. ? that they could easily stand beside any of the more recognizable names of the era ? though perhaps not right next to those whose sound they ? borrowed. But, there's nothing here that Rudess should regret today ? and I'm sure he doesn't ? except maybe the cheesy opening to "Money Money." It's enjoyable to listen to.

Speedway Boulevard (3:57) / Chinatown (3:22) / (I Think I Better) Hold On (2:55) / Dog In The Distance (4:00) / Out Of The Fire (2:59) / Telephoto Lens (3:28) / Prisoner Of Time (4:29) / Money Money (3:02) / (Call My Name) Rock Music (4:18) / A Boulevard Night (2:58)

Glenn Dove - drums
Dennis Feldman - bass, vocals
Roy Herring - percussion, keyboards, vocals
Gregg Hoffman - guitar, vocals
Jordan Rudess - keyboards

Speedway Blvd. (1980/2002)

Genre: Rock

Origin US

Added: June 15th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: dreamtheater.net/disco_projects.php?s=rudess_speed
Hits: 960
Language: english


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