If my drive through Dan Fogelberg’s discography has taught me one thing thus far, it’s that he’s always in the state of becoming. Strong melodies and weak wordplay accented his first three albums, true, but each showed measurable artistic growth and his fourth effort, 1977’s Nether Lands, was a stellar set only spoiled – in my opinion – by the symphonic syrup poured over several songs. Along the way, he’d carved out a mid-tier niche for himself as a sensitive singer-songwriter. He wanted more, however.
Thus, his fifth album remains one of the strangest if not bravest moves made by singer-songwriter primarily known for possessing a pretty voice: join forces with a flautist and release a mostly instrumental album. In August 1978, he teamed with Tim Weisberg for Twin Sons of Different Mothers, a 10-track set that found Weisberg’s flute upfront more often than not. In the liner notes, Fogelberg explained that the album “is an attempt for both of us to move outside our own boundaries and try new directions – new forms of music which we rarely get to explore on our own. It is a chance to stretch, an opportunity to grow, and a hell of a lot of fun.”
They’d long been admirers of each other, it should be noted, with Weisberg adding his distinctive flute to “Give Me Some Time” on Nether Lands. It was then, from what I’ve read, that Fogelberg glommed onto the notion that they should join together for an album-long endeavor. Perhaps to set the stage for it, he had the flautist join him on some stops of his otherwise solo fall tour. Recording commenced in early 1978.
Rock critic Steve Pond called the result “a welcome experiment” in the October 15th, 1978 edition of the L.A. Times. Bill Bleyer of the Gannett News Service, around the same time, said that “the album offers a kind of haunting chamber music.” And the Hartford Courant’s Henry McNultry described it as a “thorough, serendipitous joy.” Not everyone loved it, however. Rich Tozier of the Bangor Daily News, on September 23rd, equated the result to “the sort of easy filler you’d expect to hear between those Jethro Tull and old Fairport Convention cuts on FM radio.” The truth, at least to my ears, falls somewhere in between.
As a whole, the album plays to Fogelberg’s strength, i.e. melodies, while sidestepping his occasional lyrical lapses. It opens with “Twins Theme,” one of seven instrumentals written by Fogelberg, with the wordless tunes veering from the trite to the astonishing. Of the former: said “Twins Theme,” which could be knocked over by a light breeze. “Lazy Susan,” the third track, is one of the latter, however, accented by Fogelberg’s deft acoustic guitar work. “Guitar Etude No. 3,” too, has its moments, though there are moments when I half-expect it to break into the Room 222 theme.
Of the songs with vocals, the first is a cover of the Hollies’ “Tell Me to My Face” – an odd choice, perhaps, as it was an album track from the Hollies’ 1966 album For Certain Because (known as Stop! Stop! Stop! in the U.S. and Canada) and not well-known. That said, it’s a strong song and performance, accented by Fogelberg’s blazing guitar.
It leads into what is my favorite of the instrumentals, “Hurtwood Alley,” which features Fogelberg on “six thousand acoustic and electric guitars.” (A play on the liner notes from Buffalo Springfield’s Again, no doubt, as they referenced “11,000 guitars” being played on “Bluebird” and Fogelberg was a big Springfield fan.)
A cover of Judy Collins’ “Since You’ve Asked” is the penultimate song of the set and, honestly, the weakest of the lot. “The Power of Gold,” written by Fogelberg, ends things in fine fashion, however, with him reflecting on integrity vs. success: “Balance the cost of the soul you lost with the dreams you lightly sold/Then tell me that you’re free of the power of gold….” It’s the best song off the album and one of Fogelberg’s best songs to date.
In addition to generating mostly good reviews, Twin Sons of Different Mothers did very well in the charts, peaking at No. 8 and going platinum – the first time Fogelberg hit that esteemed sales mark and the only time Weisberg did.
I imagine that many who bought the LP did so based on “The Power of Gold,” which crested at No. 24 on the singles charts, and then found the album a non-offensive entity perfect for background music. That’s how I, as a first-time listener, hear it, at any rate. Aside from “Lazy Susan” and “Hurtwood Alley,” the instrumentals come across more as unfinished songs than anything, with Weisberg’s flute filling the vocal void; the songs would have benefited from the eccentric oomph that accented Michael Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Also, a few of the attempts at jazz-rock fusion flail into watered-down disco. (To quote Grace Slick, “either go away or all the way in.”) But that’s me. Your mileage may vary.
The track listing:
Past, present & future entries in the series…