Album Review: Burton Cummings – Dream Of A Child (1978)

After two solo albums Burton Cummings decided the time was right to try his hand at producing his own album. Calling on friendships and contacts made during his ten years as a recording artist, mostly with The Guess Who, he found himself recording in two of the finest studios Los Angeles could offer with a host of talented musicians and engineers. The resulting album “Dream Of A Child” is regarded by many as his most rounded solo offering. Cummings himself is now of the opinion that he took too much on and should have delegated more of the production and concentrated more on the selection of the material. By his own admission some of the songs that made the album are maybe strange choices. A statement which makes you wonder just how good the album would have been if track selection had been higher in his priorities. One thing that isn’t in doubt though is the quality of the material. Strange choices or not it is all top notch stuff and I would venture that Cummings concern is more in the choice of covers. The more obscure Bobby Darin and Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan covers are interesting and uncontentious but as good as his versions are I’m not quite sure of the necessity for Cummings to record Percy Sledge and Sam and Dave classics. Maybe the record company thought such familiar tracks would help to sell  more units. As an accomplished songwriter a twelve track album that only features seven self penned tracks, including one which is a reworking of an old The Guess Who track is a little curious.

The album starts with the truly wonderful ‘Break It To Them Gently’ which is a classic Cummings composition in structure. It is a mid paced grand piano and Fender Rhodes led ballad with Cummings handling all keyboard work. There is a great lead guitar from Dick Wagner and some nice rhythm guitar from Randy Bachman. The melody and the lyric is what makes the song though. Cummings telling the tale of a young man who has fallen into bad company and now needs to flee leaving behind his loved ones. The lyric was apparently inspired by a TV movie that Cummings happened to see.  One of his best ever tracks it is a superb start to the album. The first of the dubious covers is next in the shape of ‘Hold On I’m Coming’, it is a fast paced run through of the Sam & Dave classic which is fairly true to the original. Steve Madaio contributes some authentic sounding Motown horns and Steve Cropper pops up on guitar. Cummings delivers a fine vocal but as he said himself some years later ” … there was no need for a white guy from the prairies to cover it …”. ‘I Will Play A Rhapsody’ takes us back to a more Cummings like sound and you can’t help but think Marti Pellow listened to it and used it as a blueprint for his own vocal style and for that of his band Wet Wet Wet. A carefully structured song Cummings plays numerous piano and keyboard tracks, Randy Bachman does similar with the guitars and for good measure Cummings provides a multi tracked harmony vocal. ‘Wait By The Water’ is an old little known Bobby Darin composition which had failed to chart in 1964 when Darin himself released it. It gained enough airplay though for a young Cummings to take a shine to it and fourteen years later he decided to cover it. It is a curious little track with a sad lyric but a great uptempo beat. Cummings vocal is a mixture of gospel, old time R & B and straight up rock and roll. Jeff Baxter plays some great slide guitar, Plas Johnson throws in a great sax solo and Becky Lopez, Vinetta Feild and Shirlee Matthews provide great Staple Singers style backing vocals. Despite the subject matter of  a woman walking in the sea to drown it is a fun good time track that leaves a nice feel in its wake. ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ would be the second of the dubious covers for me. It is again pretty true to the original although Cummings sings it in a much lower key than Sledge did. The horns and the girl backing vocalists are back to give it an authentic feel and the added bonus of  a Hammond Organ played by Jimmy Phillips ensures that it is a cut above most other cover versions of it. ‘Shiny Stockings’ is the third cover on the trot and the fourth of the five on album. A jazz swing workout of a track recorded originally by Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan on their album “Live At Basin Street East” it had first come to Cummings attention back in 1970 when RCA had sent him a batch of albums to listen to. He had liked the tempo and phrasing used in the song and as with the Bobby Darin track he had been reminded of it whilst selecting material for “Dream Of A Child”. Featuring only vocal, piano, bass and drums it is a pleasant end to the first half of the album and is far more than filler despite its frivolous nature.

The second half of the album starts with ‘Guns Guns Guns’ which is a reworking of one of Cummings old The Guess Who tracks. It is not a million miles away from the original and to be honest I have never quite seen the point of re-recording your own songs. To be fair to Cummings though this is in no way inferior to the original. ‘Takes A Fool To Love A Fool’ provided him with a surprise hit on the US country chart when a country radio station played it instead of  ‘I Will Play A Rhapsody’ when it was used as that tracks flipside for its US single release. For me it has the feel of the Domenic Troiano era The Guess Who material albeit with just a little bit to much old time country flavour for my tastes. The returning backing vocalists give it a little soul and Tom Brumley’s pedal steel is a nice addition. ‘Meaning So Much’ is a faster paced track much more similar to Cummings usual output. Bachman is back on guitars and along with Cummings trademark piano sound helps to drive the song along. Again the multi layering of the vocals gives the song great body. The lyric is again particularly pleasing and is a classic Cummings tale of melancholia. ‘It All Comes Together’ is another feel good swing time jazzy song almost like something from a show or musical and features a great sax solo from Jim Horn and some nice guitar over the melody. Short but sweet it is again too good to be thought of as filler despite its brevity. ‘Roll With The Punches’ begins with a humorous narrative before turning into a great bluesy rock ‘n’ roll stomp. As ever the lyrics from Cummings are a cut above the ordinary and are very clever. It was originally written during The Guess Who days for inclusion in a film which was to star Cummings but never got made. The uppitty foreigner referred to in the opening verse is none other than David Bowie. The track also features some great blues rock and roll guitar from Jeff Baxter. The album ends in the same spectacular style in which it started with another absolute classic in title track ‘Dream Of A Child’. It is a slow piano lead ballad written not by Cummings as you would imagine but by little known New York writer and performer David Forman. The lead off track on his only solo album it has a beautiful lyric full of melancholy sadness and hope which is not unlike the kind of lyric Cummings excels at. The track features only Cummings on vocal and grand piano, Phyllis St James on percussion and Little Feat’s Bill Payne on Oberheim synths. It is a fantastic end to a wonderful album and remains one of Cummings best recordings.

‘Dream Of A Child’ won the Juno award for album of the year in 1978 and became the first album by a Canadian artist to achieve triple platinum status. Despite the inclusion of a couple of ill advised covers it still remains the jewel in the solo crown of Burton Cummings.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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