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Good Lovin’: Felix Cavaliere Teams with Todd Rundgren, Laura Nyro, Leslie West, Dino Danelli On Bearsville Reissue

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The union of singer/songwriter Felix Cavaliere and producer Todd Rundgren might have seemed like a marriage made in heaven, with Cavaliere having specialized in blue-eyed soul with The Rascals, and the wunderkind Rundgren no slouch in that field, either. But in fact, it was more like a shotgun wedding.  You can hear for yourself, as Cavaliere’s Rundgren-produced, self-titled 1974 album for Bearsville Records has just been coupled with its follow-up, Destiny (1975) on a stellar new two-for-one release from Edsel.

Felix Cavaliere recalled in liner notes penned especially for this reissue by Paul Myers that his loftier ideas met with opposition from Mo Ostin of Warner Bros. Records, then Bearsville’s distributor.  Ostin wasn’t much interested in Cavaliere’s rock opera based on Dune, or a politically-minded album like The Rascals’ Freedom Suite.  Instead, Ostin and Bearsville’s Albert Grossman were looking for pop singles, and turned to Bearsville house producer Rundgren, hot off Grand Funk Railroad’s smash We’re an American Band.  But the former Rascal felt that Rundgren “was very much concerned with his own, personal work…[and] I had just a lot of trouble trying to understand his attitude towards the product that we were doing.”  Rundgren diplomatically told Myers that he and Cavaliere “sort of got along personally.”  It couldn’t have helped matters that Rundgren was brought a partially-completed LP and instructed to work his magic.  And so Utopia stalwarts John Siegler (bass) and Kevin Ellman (drums) were overdubbed on nearly every track, and Todd himself played guitar on four songs.

Cavaliere co-wrote every track on his debut with Carman Moore, but many of its tracks bear the same signature as his collaborations in the Rascals with Eddie Brigati.   The album’s opening “High Price to Pay” would have put Rascals fans at ease with its catchy chorus and up-tempo groove, and “Everlasting Love” again recalls that classic sound with a brass section, though it’s a tougher sound than in the past.  Prominent backing vocals are supplied courtesy Cissy Houston and Judy Clay, among others.  Big pop ballad “Long Times Gone” even suggests a distant cousin of “How Can I Be Sure” in its melody and arrangement.

Cavaliere stretched his muscles elsewhere on the surprisingly cohesive album, though.  The Latin funk of “Summer in El Barrio” pleasingly blends brass and smoking guitar with Cavaliere’s soulful lead and the female chorus, while the twangy “I’ve Got a Solution” might betray a rootsy Bearsville influence.  Rundgren’s touch is most pronounced on “Funky Friday,” a bright pop song with his distinct guitar flourishes (“The one thing I’ve got to do/Is get funky with you!”) as well as on the spacey jam of “I’m Free.”  It likely reflects more on the marketplace than on the material that neither of the album’s two singles released by Bearsville saw chart action; Felix Cavaliere remains an overlooked gem.

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Written by Joe Marchese

February 29, 2012 at 14:06