Almost Famous has released its original Broadway cast recording, and that's something to sing about! Released April 21, the cast recording features 24 tracks ranging from classic rock covers to original tunes, including the raucous final bow version of "Fever Dog" performed by the entire company.
Featuring a book and lyrics by Cameron Crowe and music and lyrics by Tony and Pulitzer winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), Almost Famous made its Broadway premiere earlier this season, opening at the Bernard B. Jacob Theatre November 3, 2023. Based on the 2000 Oscar-winning film by Crowe, the musical follows a 15-year-old aspiring music journalist who Rolling Stone hires to go on tour with an up-and-coming rock band, Stillwater. The musical features Kitt-penned arrangements and orchestrations, and vocal design is by AnnMarie Milazzo.
In this track-by-track breakdown of the cast recording, Kitt offers a peek behind the curtain at the creation of the musical, and the ways in which classic rock is interwoven both directly and indirectly through the period piece.
Kitt: I grew up with Cameron Crowe. Not literally of course, but his movies were as much a part of my education as math, science, and history. Cameron’s influence on me began at the age of 9, when my older siblings allowed me to watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High with them, unbeknownst to my parents in the other room. And as I lived through my own adolescent/young adult dramas, I was grateful to have Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, and, of course, Almost Famous to help me find my way. The humanity and poetry at the center of his stories were life-changing and pointed me towards the person I wanted to be. So, when I got the opportunity to meet Cameron and pitch myself to collaborate with him on a musical adaptation of Almost Famous, I can honestly say it was the conversation I had been waiting to have my entire life. In the almost six years that have followed, Cameron has become not only a cherished collaborator, but family as well. In adapting Almost Famous, I wanted to make my contributions to his story as personal as Cameron’s. That meant investigating every note, every word, every instrument, every gesture with the greatest of care and creativity so that each song was speaking directly from my heart. Listening to our newly released cast recording, I can proudly say that for me, the songs are doing exactly that. This would have been impossible without the brilliance of the actors and musicians as well as Scott M. Riesett, Roy Hendrickson, Lia Vollack, Scott Farthing, and everyone who worked tirelessly to make this album the sonic experience that it is. What follows is a bit more insight into the process and all the details that make the Almost Famous Cast Recording one of my favorites.
Two words. Bruce Springsteen. It’s even written as the tempo marking on the sheet music. I wanted this song to embody the propulsive, galvanizing, soaring, stirring, life-affirming, soul-shaking, rocking and rolling textures that you feel when Bruce Springsteen steps to the front of the stage and announces his arrival with his guitar. On a personal level, as I waited through the pandemic for live theatre to return, hearing these first two guitar chords in the theatre was something to wish for and look forward to. There are many homages throughout. The Roy Bittan-esque piano motif that sets the song in motion; the acoustic guitar that arpeggiates the motif halfway through the first verse, as in Springsteen’s classic anthem, Growing Up; the organ glisses and stings; the heavy rhythmic acoustic strumming; the soaring strings and big drum fills. But none of this would work without the presence of a strong narrative that feels as urgent and larger than life as Springsteen’s songs do. I’m not the only writer who will tell you that the opening number is often the hardest thing to crack. "1973" was the second opening we wrote, the softer and more plaintive "My Name is William" being the first. There was a lot I liked about that first song, but the overwhelming feeling was that we needed something with more energy. One day during a writing session, Cameron and I we were professing our love for Tom Petty’s "Learning to Fly," and our desire to do what only rock and roll can do in taking a simple word such as “hey” or “yeah” and making it feel like the most earnest revelation. Thus, the vibe of "1973" was born. In weaving between book and score, the song felt like a breakthrough in that it showed us how we could take the poetry of Cameron’s screenplays and turn it into lyric. But most importantly, the song functions as an introduction to the dynamics of William and his family. We get the humor, friction, and eventually, the life-changing discovery (“one day you’ll be cool”). This track also introduces us to the great artistry of AnnMarie Milazzo whose vocal design throughout the score will be a huge source of emotion for the piece, going beyond simply evoking the period by capturing the hopes and yearnings of all these rich characters. One moment I always relish is the final choral add-on in the last “hey” before the final chorus. Ultimately, "1973" wants to evoke the romanticism of what it means to truly come of age. It certainly resonates that way for me because every time I hear the company sing “I look back to see where I’ve been/Watch it fade to black so my life can begin,” I long to do the same.
2. "Who Are You With?"
Two words (again). Led Zeppelin. The model for this song was "Going to California," so the key remains D to get the timbre of that very specific tuning. It’s also the first time we hear Ann Klein on the mandolin as well as John Kengla’s 12-string guitar (first score in which I’ve used the 12-string and I loved it!). The Zeppelin, folk soundscape is perfect for showcasing the knowledge, wisdom, and richness of the Band-Aids. For the lyric, Cameron would send me memos with vivid detail about their history, and we eventually decided that this song would pay tribute to the fact that the Band-Aids were as much a part of the music as the musicians themselves. AnnMarie Milazzo’s work again is front and center throughout, beautifully rendered by Katie Ladner, Julia Cassandra, Jana Djenne Jackson, and the brilliant Solea Pfeiffer as Penny Lane. Solea’s vocals shine throughout this album, and here, we get a taste of what’s to come.
READ: Don’t Call Them Groupies: How the Band-Aids in Almost Famous Are Dressed for Empowerment
Two words. Led Zeppelin (for real this time). "Ramble On" proved the perfect way to establish the whirl of backstage activity at an arena rock concert. Putting this puzzle together took some experimentation, but it was wonderful to discover that the original lyrics could seamlessly apply to our characters, especially Russell Hammond’s elusiveness (“mine’s a tale that can’t be told…”). Chris Wood beautifully sets everything in motion with his solo guitar playing, and the band thrillingly takes it from there. It was fun to add strings to those iconic guitar parts, especially their rising slide under halfway through the second verse. The ensemble is rocking throughout, and Casey Likes obliterates the last chorus, while managing to retain the child-like innocence and awkwardness that William would feel in this moment. For the end of the song, we transition back to original music, based on a song used in the film, "Your Move" by the band Yes. Damien Bassman’s huge bass drum hits, as well as the flutes, cathedral organ, and acoustic guitars, are all providing the textures found in that classic song. Lyrically, I loved using the theme that “time is not forever” especially as it pertains to rock and roll (“it’s better to burn out than to fade away”). Unlike in the musical, the song would need an ending for the album, so we improvised a canon/fade-out that feels very much of the period. I learned on this album that getting a fade-out exactly right is truly an art.
4. "Fever Dog"
I am abandoning my “two words” motif for just one: STILLWATER!!! Gerard Canonico’s earth-rattling primal scream announces the band and we are off! Drew Gehling rocks this track, and when he and Chris Wood sing together, it is magical. Almost Famous fans know that this song, written by Cameron and rock legend Nancy Wilson, was featured prominently in the film. The song is rooted in classic arena rock, and the lyrics celebrate the heightened ridiculousness that the great rock critic, Lester Bangs (the great Rob Colletti) lives for. I felt lucky to get to add a few new wrinkles to it such as the B-3 organ (Dan Green!), and the guitar breakdown, which builds to Damien’s big drum fill and then, Chris Wood’s electrifying guitar solo. And thank you again to Roy for the effect on Drew’s final wail, giving it just the right tonality to place us in the arena along with the band.
This was one of the first songs Cameron and I wrote for the musical. When I first saw the film, I was struck by the notion that Penny Lane, seemingly at the height of her power and influence, is looking for an escape to a new life. The musical gave us the opportunity to explore that desire and get to the heart of it. I wanted to speak to her vulnerability and fragility, the way only theatre songs can. Cameron has talked movingly about how Stephen Sondheim’s "Barcelona" was a major source of inspiration for this song. Another for me would be one of my all-time favorite artists, Linda Ronstadt. This track features an an exquisite vocal performance by Solea, and the icing on the cake is getting to hear the beautiful richness of Solea and Casey harmonizing together. A few years ago, we were rehearsing in NYC and David Crosby, who was visiting Cameron, heard this song. He found me during a break and asked, “Did you write that song?” I replied, “I did.” He said, “Do you have any others.” I replied, “I do.” And then he said, “I’d like you to send me some.” But I was too nervous to follow through because I I didn’t want to ruin that glorious moment by sending him something he might not like as much. Sitting here, writing this, I wish I had sent him a few more.
6." It's All Happening"
I love this track from the moment the tabla groove begins. I remember writing these lyrics while sitting in a San Francisco hotel room, wanting the song to feel like the characters were floating through space, swirling in imagery until landing in a burst of light when that first chorus drops. I have always loved the timbre of a big anthemic rock chorus anchored by the strum of the steel-string guitar and Roy Hendrickson has granted my wish here. Ann KIein’s lead guitar line in the chorus was always part of the fabric but on the album, we can really feel it (shoutout here also to bass player, Michael Olatuja. I especially love his fill at the end of the first chorus). This song went through many different versions, eventually streamlined for Broadway, but on the album, it feels like a huge discovery with all the parts restored. The hilarious Vic (the brilliant Chad Burris!) was always a highlight, but William’s moment of reflection set to an homage of The Who’s Tommy is new. Also restored is the interplay between Penny and William, that leads to the second awe-inspiring Solea Pfeiffer held-note moment (the first being her glorious “hey” in "20th Century Boy"). And then, we continue following Solea’s majestic vocals through the last chorus with the ensemble helping to lift the track into the stratosphere. For a song that has been shapeshifting from the beginning, we end with one more Tommy inspired homage, fading out to the thrilling rhythmic playing of Sherrod Barnes and John Kengla and Ann Klein’s wailing solo. And if you’re like me, you immediately go back to the beginning and listen to it all again.
7. "Everybody's Coming Together"
One of our first compositions, this song speaks to an important theme in the play. At a time of great discord and dissonance, the idea of an epic jam session feels as important as ever. To function in that beautiful moment, you are required to listen, to be creative, to collaborate, to support, to add your voice in a way that augments and uplifts. And then the light shines directly on you and you step into it, as your fellow musicians salute and applaud you. And when that moment is over, you pass it along to the next person so they can have a shot at glory. Imagine if that kind of philosophy incorporated all walks of life? Some of my favorite songs live in a beautiful simplicity, and that’s what Cameron and I were striving for here. For inspiration, I was following the beautiful tonalities of Thunderclap Newman’s "Something in the Air," which was used for this moment in the film. Again, our company shines on AnnMarie’s beautiful harmonies, and we also get an Ann Klein shredding guitar solo! I also must at this point give a shoutout to Bryan Perri and his gorgeous work on the piano. Another favorite moment is the arrival of the sitar on the second verse for just the right lift. This track was actually recorded in the winter of 2020, just before the pandemic (shoutout to Storm Lever, Colin Donnell, and Sam Gravitte for their enormous contributions). I listened to it often during that difficult time and when Almost Famous was announced for Broadway, I remember walking around NYC with it blaring in my air-pods, tears running down my cheeks because I was finally getting the chance to put it out into the world.
8. "The Night-Time Sky's Got Nothing On You"
Cameron Crowe’s poetry coming to life. Not just the hook, but also, “The way you turn a hotel into a home/The way you pick up strays wherever you go” and the new lyric, “Flashing your beautiful three-stages smile.”Writing this song with Cameron was pure joy, and once I came up with the musical motif, I knew it was going to feature the mandolin. It’s one of my favorite instruments and is a staple of so many great songs from the period. This song wanted to be part romance, part seduction, and part catharsis and watching Chris and Solea perform it onstage every night, you felt all those things. It also helps that for the first time in the score, I embrace 3/4 time which makes the song feel a bit more unexpected and urgent (of course, I can’t help throwing in a 4/4 bar here and there). And if you haven’t yet found yourself swimming in the beautiful string playing by our phenomenal quintet, you won’t be able to miss them on this track.
9. "No Friends"
The G minor 7 chord. Truly one of my all-time favorite chords and it all started with "Rocket Man." So, if I am going to pay tribute to Sir Elton John (one of my heroes) how can I start this song with any other chord? Once I had that, the song pretty much wrote itself. "No Friends" came later in the writing process when Cameron and I realized that we needed to track William and hear his heart at this point in the story. I was immediately fascinated with writing William’s ultimate dilemma: now that he has finally found his crowd, he must heed Lester Bang’s advice and keep his distance so he can do his job and remain as Lester says, “honest and unmerciful.” It’s all brought to life by the beautiful, aching artistry of Casey Likes and our ensemble. Scott M. Riesett and Roy Hendrickson added a wonderful phaser effect on the voices, and with Ann Klein’s soaring guitar slides, I can see why people ask me if this song is an homage to Pink Floyd as well. The chorus is all about the Bachian descent, but in many ways, it’s the bridge that gets me, especially the string lines in the second half and the unexpected resolution back into the main progression under the lyric “then I am…”. Then there is another tribute to arena rock where Casey just gets to wail as the drums fill under him (shout-out to Shannon Ford who played the entire run at the Old Globe Theatre and is recorded here. While I’m at it, another shout-out to my pal Randy Landau on bass, John Putnam on steel-string and Ina Paris-Cabello on viola). Another little nugget that I love is the high harmony (the glorious pipes of Gerard Canonico, Brandon Contreras and Matt Bittner) on the first line of the last chorus. And then we fade into nothingness with William having traveled so far, only to come right back to where he started.
10. "Simple Man"
Another moment to savor Drew Gehling and Chris Wood as they pay tribute to the legendary rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. This smaller cut of the song makes you yearn for the whole thing, and yet, it feels quite satisfying, for we still get the iconic opening guitar arpeggio as well as the soaring, wall of sound chorus. On this track, I allow myself to marvel at the band’s virtuosity and range, as they occupy every distinct musical space with such authenticity and musicality. They take on the identity of a rock band that has been touring together for years but in truth, at the time of this recording, they’ve been together for all of 2 months.
11. "Something Real"
Like the acid trip that it depicts, this track wants to be an episodic, unpredictable fever dream. When we begin, Russell is in fraught motion, so cue the driving guitars. I hear shades of The Byrds’ "Eight Miles High" in the progression of ascending and descending 5ths, which serve to foreshadow what lies ahead. Chris Wood tears through the opening, giving Russell both a fierce intensity as well as a sad vulnerability. And then we get introduced to Libby Winters’ Stillwater fan, hilariously transitioning us to a snippet of Deep Purple’s "Highway Star." And now we come to one of my favorite moments, where I get to musicalize Aaron and Marlon, the Stillwater fans who can’t get over the fact that their hero is now standing in Aaron’s bedroom. “You Aaron. You are real. Your room is real. Your friends are real. Real.” I loved setting those lyrics. Here again, we have the 12-string, this time leading an homage to two bands, Boston and The Marshall Tucker Band. And then we are back to the blistering rock pace, followed by a brief pause (Emily Schultheis, hilarious) and then another enormous rock build where I’m mixing The Who with Emerson Lake and Palmer. And then, we arrive at the motherlode; what I’ve been waiting to set to music: “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!” And all is right with the world.
12. "Tiny Dancer"
As Elton John said to Cameron, “You have to use Tiny Dancer.” It was never a question. A song that I had been playing on the piano since the age of 12, already an iconic masterpiece when Cameron further immortalized it in his film. But how do we honor and theatricalize it? My instinct was to start it as an impromptu sing-along. To break the tension, a single voice (Drew) begins it as a peace offering. And one by one, voices add (Matt Bittner always breaks my heart with his solo). More guitar based than piano based at first and in a lower key to serve all the different voices. The arrangement wants to have order but feel spontaneous. It wants to be heartfelt but unresolved. It wants to honor the original, but also serve the dramatic moment. Penny Lane as ringleader was a wonderful discovery. Simplicity is our friend. And then we get to the iconic moment from the film. “I need to go home. You are home.” And that’s where we go from black and white to technicolor, the final chorus becoming Williams’ guttural cry for help. The key now reverts to the original, and the strings enter, playing those legendary melodies from the original recording. Casey is literally singing for dear life as the ensemble angelically dances around him. Our first act is coming to an end at exactly moment it should. It was Cameron who asked that those voices hold for a beat longer than the band (I always loved watching Bryan Perri conduct this moment) so that William has a few extra seconds to live in these conflicting tonalities, in all that’s happened and all that awaits him. And then as one, the cast fades, holds, and releases.
13. "Stick Around"
For the top of Act 2, I wanted to create something celebratory and galvanizing, a palette cleanser of sorts but still focused on story. I’m not sure where the impulse for this song came from, but it came to me quickly and was written in about 15 minutes. Tailor-made for Van Hughes’ beautiful tenor voice, and again, featuring the gorgeous singing of our ensemble, "Stick Around" could also be called "The Ballad of William Miller." Small homages abound. The feel of the song takes its cue from "You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away," and the vocals come straight out of the classic sound of the band, The Eagles. We also get another fantastic guitar solo from Ann Klein, and a lovely step out harmony from Libby Winters. And for the ending, we manage to keep Elaine from interrupting so that Van can for once, finish his song.
14. "Elaine's Lecture"
Another iconic moment from the film is when Elaine Miller addresses her class and declares, “Rock Stars have kidnapped my son.” Knowing that we were going to expand on this moment for the musical, I asked Cameron to write an essay in Elaine’s passionate and pointed voice. What I received is a document that I will cherish for all time. Cameron sent me a treasure trove of hilarious observations which became the foundation of this song. I always lived for that moment where the great Anika Larsen would announce, “I didn’t want kids” and then wait to see how the parents in the audience would react (it ran the spectrum from guffaws to nervous chuckles). One of my favorite lines came right from that essay: “Our fall will not come with an explosion, but with the continued dissolution of trust/But as Goethe said, ‘Enjoy what you can and endure what you must.’” Looking back to Cameron’s document as I write this, I feel a tremendous honor to have been entrusted with these personal thoughts. For the music, I looked to Carole King, and the band rises to meet her sound with great artistry. Lastly, I can’t mention Elaine Miller without also mentioning Alice Crowe, the matriarch of the Crowe family, the basis for Elaine, and the source of inspiration here and throughout the piece. This song, as well as all of Elaine’s musical moments, are the most meaningful way that I can thank Alice for all that she gave to us: her wisdom, her humor, her love, and, of course, Cameron.
15. "It Ain't Easy/It's All Happening Reprise"
We began the exploration of this important coming of age moment by investigating some original song ideas, but eventually, we landed on David Bowie’s classic rock song to speak to this moment. I loved replicating the original parts for our band; harpsichord, driving steel-string guitar, kick drum, bass whole notes, and the signature lead-guitar line. Because I was having so much fun with the 12-string, I decided to add it here as well. Our incredible Band-Aids shine on this track, and then Daniel Sovich arrives and wows you with his phenomenal voice in the second verse, as does Drew Gehling in the third verse. The performances brilliantly capture the playfulness and seduction in this scene, and then we get to the second part of the song where we enter William’s thoughts and lean into our original score again. I always loved the metronomic, oscillating two chord progression here that starts with just harp and then turns into a sonic soundscape. Sherrod Barnes’ gorgeous guitar playing shines here with all the ethereal tones he finds. Casey is heartbreaking in conveying how this moment of truth that seems to be about validation feels only like cruel rejection. I love how Roy pushes, the steel-string strumming when the “it’s all happening” build begins, and how he mixes the swirling voices that underscore William’s state of mind. Listening to these harmonies I am again struck with how brilliant AnnMarie’s work is. And then we kick back into "It Ain’t Easy" and the band and company are again pulsing and wailing, with Casey somehow managing to rise above everything to thrilling effect. And when the track finishes, I’m left marveling at the fact that somehow, I was given the chance to share a stage with David Bowie. Pretty unbelievable.
READ: Cameron Crowe Knows You’ve Been Talking Behind His Back; He Pays It No Mind
16. "Listen To Me"
This presented a challenge because the dynamics between Anika and Chris onstage were such a big part of how the song landed. The long look Chris would give Casey after the lyric “I sometimes forget he’s only 15” would always elicit a huge response from the audience, as did all the nervous and uncomfortable looks from both Chris and Casey throughout. But happily, all that wonderful interplay is captured beautifully in the performances here. I can also really appreciate the beautiful chamber playing from the band as well as Anika’s phenomenal vocal performance. I also love that we got to immortalize the Crowe family whistle (it’s what the strings answer with after the lyric “Listen to me/I have friends in high places/Who run background checks and traces/So you know.”). Shoutout here to Randy Cohen and his brilliant keyboard programming (thanks for the tubular bell!).
17. "The Wind"
Another iconic moment from the film is the scene where Kate Hudson sings this beautiful song as she dances in an empty arena. For the musical, the question again became, how do we theatricalize it and give it more story? In San Diego, we came up with the idea that it would be set against the backdrop of the Stillwater poker game taking place in another space. Solea’s innocent and hopeful sentiment here is even more heartbreaking as we see the cruel proceedings taking place. However, for the album, it made sense to lose that part of the story and focus on Solea’s gorgeous interpretation of the song. I loved being able to add strings for the second verse, and it’s an absolute treat to hear Ann and John impeccably play their dueting guitar parts.
18. "Lost In New York City/River"
"Lost in New York City" is one of those personal compositions that has become about so much more than the moment it was written for. Inspired by Elton John’s iconic "Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters," the song occurs at the moment when we find William at his lowest, having watched all the romanticism and beauty turn into something darker and bleaker. The opening mandolin is inspired by Elton John’s gorgeous tapestry, as is Bryan Perri’s rolling piano. AnnMarie’s vocal writing beautifully evokes other Elton John classics such as "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Conceived as a standalone for William, it was a revelation when Penny became part of the story and upped its theatricality. An earlier bridge incorporating a feel from "Country Comfort" was rewritten. During the early stages of the pandemic in NYC, when it felt like we were the only ones here, this song felt quite prophetic. And coming back from the pandemic, it became a personal anthem of resilience and survival. Captured so vividly for the album, Casey and Solea embody all these themes and more. And then of course, there’s Joni Mitchell. What an unbelievable gift it was to get to incorporate her masterpiece into this sequence. It felt like the most special discovery when we heard it for the first time, perfectly capturing Penny’s utter pain and hopelessness. Solea is breathtaking as she conjures a thousand tonalities into a single note. The song builds to its conclusion with a rising soundscape combining both songs, William again fighting to be heard over the musical cacophony. Listening to it, I am both inside and outside of it. Then Casey blasts that high A on the word “lost,” and I am kind of a mess. One other discovery for the album is that I loved getting to feature the gorgeously played string passages that existed as underscore in the show. And for those that know my score for Next to Normal, the string harmonics on Solea’s “fly” are in fact, a direct quote of Michael Starobin’s orchestration which begins that show.
19. "The Real World"
A new song written for Broadway where we again looked to Joni Mitchell for guidance. If you have ever experienced the joy of listening to Joni Mitchell at the piano, you know that feeling when the suspensions and harmonies in her chord voicings take over your senses and you are washed over by a warmth that is unlike any you’ve known. That feeling is what Cameron and I were chasing here and it’s what led me to create the initial musical motif that begins the song. I loved using the Major 7th chord that comes at the peak of the "Morocco" progression, so here, I used that same harmony but inverted it so that it now comes at the beginning of the phrase. A few cast members picked up on this new motif which made it feel like a strong impulse. My first orchestration for "The Real World" felt too busy, so I thinned it out and focused more on solo instruments and phrases. I decided to lean on the strings for the appropriate tension and sweep, especially in the bridge. Solea’s performance is exquisite and completely locked into what she did onstage, so that every pause creates a picture in my mind of Penny and William in Central Park. “Happy/sad, that’s the real world” brings us to the final soundscape, where I am again riding the wave of our company’s beautiful harmonies as the strings support with dueling ostinatos. Damien is playing a rhythmic pattern he originally created for an old Tom Kitt Band song, "The Best and the Worst," a pattern Michael Olatuja’s bass seems to know as well. We again get the rich timbre of Casey and Solea harmonizing, their back and forth landing us at Solea’s final notes, and as that last swell moves forward towards silence, I can see Penny’s thirty-thousand-foot view quite clearly.
20. "Goodbye/New Day Coming"
Another early composition, in the musical, New Day Coming primarily functions as underscore. For the album, it was enormously satisfying to embrace it as an instrumental. Ann Klein begins the track, ripping a Pete Townshend-esque steel string guitar solo, and then we transition to a two-chord progression (F#min7sus/EMaj7) that I could never tire of listening to. Written as an homage to Simon and Garfunkel, even more specifically, their song, "Old Friends," this track features string parts that explore dissonance, counterpoint, and dramatic swells. The strings also serve to establish the melody that will become, “There’s a New Day Coming/There’s a New Day…”. I must at this point give a special shoutout to this extraordinary string quintet: Belinda Whitney, Katherine Livolsi, Monica Davis, Andrew Griffin, and Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, whose skillful playing here and throughout is truly heavenly. On this track, I also love Sherrod Barnes’ guitar fills, especially during the B section, a section that Cameron asked for one day and I happily obliged. The ensemble eventually joins in, creating a call and response with the strings that is new for the album. A final addition was further wisdom from Elaine (“Honey, Carl Jung said there is no good luck or bad, there is only meaningful synchronicity”) and then a vocal build brings us to the "Night-Time Sky Reprise." In rehearsal, we experimented with a Penny Lane counter-melody that was eventually cut for Broadway. But it’s included here and like the restored sections in "It’s All Happening," I don’t see it going away again.
Beginning in unison, the ensemble beautifully sets the mood and tone for this track. In the show, these opening vocal lines are interspersed with dialogue but for the record, we tie the vocals together along with an added recall of the opening string lines from "1973." Ann brings back her signature guitar arpeggios, and then we get a mini build that lands us in a short vamp. For the album, we get right to the iconic William/Russell exchange from the film: “What do you love about music?"/"Everything.” And with that, we dive into pure celebration and appreciation of this great company. For the album, we can really dig out all the melodic lines in the band, especially the interplay between the three guitars. The voices are beautifully balanced, and we hear the many intricacies of AnnMarie’s writing in every phrase. The song becomes one long build, winding towards a final modulation that takes us to the beautiful declaration that Cameron wrote in his very first draft of the musical: Music is love.
22. "Fever Dog Bows"
This arrangement came to me in a dream and the album perfectly captures what in the theatre was always the ultimate celebration of this great company. In "Fever Dog Bows," everyone gets their turn at fronting the band. I love the moment where Jakeim Hart and Gerard Canonico, who play the rival managers Dennis Hope and Dick Roswell, share a harmony. Same goes for when Matthew C. Yee and Brandon Contreras step to the mic and we get to hear Ben Fong Torres and Silent Ed rock out (Matt also plays a mean guitar, as does Jakeim!). I’ll never forget being at the Old Globe and asking Cameron if there might be a third verse somewhere. Cameron was immediately on the phone with Nancy Wilson, and “Fever Dog/Papa show no mercy/Turned me out/On the road and thirsty” was soon in the music and being shredded by Rob Colletti and Anika Larsen. If you listen closely during that third verse, you can hear the ultimate Beach Boys tribute, Dan Green’s wailing theremin. Even the strings get into the action in the spirit of everybody’s coming together, as do our great swings, Claire Kwon, Danny Lindgren, Erica Mansfield, Alisa Melendez, Kevin Trinio Perdidio, and Andrew Poston who are present in the ensemble throughout the entire album. And then it’s one last big bombastic rock and roll ending, as it should be.
23. "He Knows Too Little (And I Know Too Much)"
We parents always struggle with when to give our kids more freedom, and when to hold on even tighter. The hardest thing to reconcile is the knowledge that at some point, your kids are going to get hurt. And who better to present the parents’ side of this conundrum than Elaine Miller. Cameron wrote this hook into an early draft, and it immediately spoke to me as a groove song in the tradition of great artists like Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, and Van Morrison. For me, strings are always a part of that landscape and so they are well represented here. Damien begins with light cymbals, but for the bridge, he brings in hand percussion and that’s where the groove really takes off. But it’s Anika Larsen who infuses this track with the honesty, humor, and vulnerability that makes it soar. When she gets tripped up on the lyric, “Be the man…the boy that I raised” we are right there with her, viscerally feeling her uncertainty, her fears, and the inevitability of time passing. As Anika’s voice rises to a beautiful peak on “Yeah, he knows too little” and then quietly resolves on “And I know too much," all parents can agree that she is speaking for all of us.
24. "Anything's Possible"
Another Joni Mitchell homage as you can tell from the featured piano progression that anchors the entire song (another major 7th motif). The strings articulate their parts beautifully on this track, as do John, Sherrod, and Ann, especially as they weave around each other in the final verse. I especially love Sherrod’s subtle electric guitar lines, which perfectly compliment Solea’s heartbreaking vocal performance. When the song was still in the show, William would interrupt the final vamp with the painful revelation of what occurred at the Stillwater poker game. For the album, we choose to never lift that spell, delivering one last fadeout with Solea improvising a gorgeous vocalise. What’s captured on the record is, I believe, her first take. It turned out to be the perfect one. Listening to these last moments of the album, I suddenly don’t want the fade-out to end. I want the song to keep going. But as the final notes do indeed begin to disappear, I am left only with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for this album, for this show, for this family of artists, for Cameron Crowe, and especially, for Almost Famous.