Picks and Pans Review: A Night with Mr. C

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Clarence Clemons

Bruce Springsteen has given his E Street Band a year off. But sideman Clemons hasn't hung up his horn for the hiatus. The saxophonist has toured with Ringo Starr all summer and is now with the Jerry Garcia Band, in addition to turning out this third solo album.

Clemons jokes that the whirlwind of activity is attributable to the fact that he has two college-age sons. So if the tuition checks are a bit late in arriving, it's partly I because A Night with Mr. C is not exactly money in the bank. Dad does give it the old college try. The familiar energy is there, but the material and delivery are I dubious. The clearest sign of creative bankruptcy in rock is when you see performers resorting to dusting off oldies. Clarence dips into the vaults no less than three times. His covers of Gary U.S. Bonds's "Quarter to Three" and Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away" are feckless desecrations of the originals. I Only slightly better—due to an extended brass throw-down—is a version of Jr. Walker's "Shotgun." (The best latter-day rendition of Walker's R&B classic—by I David Koz—was effectively buried on the sound track of the movie Action Jackson.)

Among the original compositions is a Narada Michael Walden-Jeffrey Cohen-Preston Glass ballad, "Tonight You're Mine, Baby," which is sappy despite a credible Ronnie Spector homage by singer Kitty Beethoven. Then there's the clunky funk of "Dance, Dance, Dance," on which Clemons duets with Kim Carnes. The best songs are three fusion instrumentals: the pulsing jitter-bug of "The Man," the languid slow dancing "Forgiveness" and the cranked-to-the-gills march of "Big Blue," a collaboration with one-man band Jan Hammer. (The enjoyment of these songs is enhanced by the fact that they offer a respite from Clemons's fog-cutting singing.) We entreat you. Big Man: Forget the oldies, stick to the instrumentals, and, oh, yeah, send out those checks. (Columbia)

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