Andy Pratt - piano, vocals; Mark Doyle - guitar, arranger, keyboards, vocals; Gary Link - bass, vocals; Andy Mendelson - organ, keyboards, guitar; Frank DeFonda - drums
In 1973, Columbia Records released "Avenging Annie," one of the most ambitious singles of the decade. The song was penned and recorded by Boston-based singer/songwriter Andy Pratt, a recent Harvard grad and skilled studio engineer. Back in 1968 Pratt began building and operating his own recording studio and soon became active in the Cambridge music scene with groups like Butter and the Chosen Few. A 1969 solo album received little attention, but his 1972 demo of "Avenging Annie" caught the ears of Columbia, who released Pratt's self-titled album the following year to widespread critical praise. Pratt toured the album with an outstanding band that included the young jazz guitarist, John Scofield, and Spyro Gyra's Dave Samuels, as well as singers Erin Dickens and Pat Rosalia, who Greg Allman would soon recruit for his band. Despite such a promising start, the album experienced only modest sales outside the Northeastern United States. Columbia opted not to renew Pratt's contract the following year. Following the death of his father shortly thereafter, Pratt enrolled in Boston's Life Institute, searching for a higher meaning in life. In 1976, with a newfound sense of purpose, Pratt signed with Atlantic Records and got to work on his next album, Resolution, with legendary Arif Mardin producing. Resolution featured some of the best pop musicians of the era and received uniformly rave reviews, with uber-influential Rolling Stone magazine proclaiming that the album "has forever changed the face of rock." Pratt assembled another impressive touring band, which would begin his longtime collaboration with Syracuse-born guitarist and arranger, Mark Doyle, opening for groups like The Band and Loggins & Messina. A second Arif Marden produced album, Shiver The Night was released in 1977 to lesser fanfare. Following a memorable final concert before 7000 people in Boston's City Hall Plaza, Pratt left the music industry for several years due to lack of support.
That 1977 tour remains the most intriguing time to have caught Andy Pratt live and this performance, recorded at New York City's Bottom Line, presents ample evidence of Pratt's adventurous songwriting and dramatic vocal flare during this time. The recording begins with two standout tracks from Resolution performed back to back. "Treasure That Canary" is a prime example of Pratt's ambitious songwriting and Mark Doyle's dramatic arranging skills. A pop song with rock leanings, this gradually increases in intensity, eventually showcasing Pratt's soaring falsetto vocals and Doyle's tasteful and fiery lead guitar work. "Can't Stop My Love" heads in the opposite direction. Highly introspective, here Pratt explores his feelings related to the death of his father. Unlike so many rebellious child/parent relationship songs of the era, Pratt expresses a depth of understanding and sentimentality rarely expressed during this era of "the generation gap."
Pratt keeps the emotional tug strong by next performing a stirring rendition of "So Faint" from his newest album, Shiver In The Night. Quite elaborate on the studio recording, here "So Faint" is stripped down to just Pratt's voice and piano, with just some tastefully restrained synth slightly adorning it. This is followed by the unreleased rarity, "A Woman Who's Gonna Change Me," a sort of self-analytical love song. Pratt's distinctive vocal style and complex melody lines are in full force here, but it's the last two tracks of this recording that display Pratt and the group at their most eloquent and compelling. The full-blown performance of "Avenging Annie" is elaborate, infectious and nearly impossible to resist. Pratt's theatrical flare (plenty of falsetto here!) and sense of drama is undeniable and that he achieves this through the instrumentation and vocals alone is even more impressive. The final track, "All I Want Is You," is equally impressive. The standout track from Shiver In The Night, this nearly 10-minute exercise not only showcases Pratt's vocal prowess, but also is a tour-de-force instrumentally. Featuring tight ensemble playing, a soaring melody and feverish piano flights, this number allows the group to fully flex their musical muscles.
Although no two songs sound alike, a thematic link of idealism and optimism pervades Pratt's material. These 1977 performances prove that he is not only a man with a distinctive voice and serious songwriting chops, but also a true original fronting a band at the peak of their powers.