Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Maxus - s/t (1981)

On the heels of the success of Toto in the late seventies, another group of LA session cats decided to form a band in a similar tradition.  Vocalist, Jay Gruska; keyboardist, Robbie Buchanan ; guitarist, Michael Landau; bassist/vocalist, Mark Leonard; and drummer Doane Perry formed Maxus.

Where Toto's sound was more on the rock end of the spectrum, Maxus decided to lean slightly more to the jazz fusion side.  Gruska had released a solo album in the seventies; had married Jennifer Williams (daughter of famous film score composer, John Williams); produced his brother-in-law, Joseph Williams, debut album; and had co-written the lead off single from Chicago 16 (What You're Missing).  Buchanan had played the piano player in the Bette Midler film, The Rose, and toured with Midler in support of the soundtrack album.  Doane Perry hadn't done much work prior to his time with Maxus, but following the band's split he played with the likes of the Fairport Convention, Stan Getz, Lou Reed, Dweezil Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Pat Benatar, and Dragon before inevitably being invited to be the drummer for Jethro Tull in 1984.  Prior to his brief stint with Maxus Michael Landau was competing with high school classmate, Steve Lukather, to become the guitarist for Toto and since his time in Maxus he has literally played on thousands of albums for hundreds of different artists.

All 9 songs on Maxus one and only Michael Omartian produced album are enjoyable and imminently listenable.  However, nearly 20 years later they all sound quite dated with that early eighties over-synthesized vibe dripping from every song. 

If one can forgive the over-synthesized sound (and given the era in which the album was released, one should at least consider forgiving the band's love affair with synths) the music is an excellent snapshot of that era.

Gruska's voice is pleasant but somewhat unremarkable and given the other vocalists popular in the early eighties having a pleasant voice was not quite good enough to push Maxus to that next level nor to bring them greater success than they inevitably found.

If you're looking for an interesting musical relic and a musical snapshot of a long past era this fits the bill.  But listening to the album it's also easy to understand how and why this band only spawned a single album before their dissolution and the later success of some members.  The promise of their talents is certainly audible but those talents never quite gelled the way the talents of their contemporaries in Toto did.  For the sub $10 download price from it's certainly a worthy investment although I wouldn't recommend paying much more for this release.

Related Links
Maxus (wikipedia)
Robbie Buchanan (wikipedia)
Michael Landau (official site)
Michael Landau (wikipedia)
Doane Perry (wikipedia)
Michael Omartian (official site)
Michael Omartian (wikipedia)


luminous muse said...

After listening to the shorts of these guys on itunes I'm on the fence. Seem like nice hooky songs, but that singer's got a little too much jive Orleans going on (actually a little less than Orleans, but the same vibe.) I've heard Michael Landau do some amazing things, but aside from a little rhythm barely heard him on the snippets.
BTW - Did you know he's the brother of Jon Landau? The guy who famously heard Springsteen at Charley's in Boston and said, "I heard the future of rock and roll..." My band played there a few years later but for some reason Landau wasn't there.

Perplexio said...

luminous muse: Landau is a great and underrated guitarist. I was listening to his 1997 solo CD, Raging Honkies today. There's some good stuff on there. Straight ahead hard rock. I also listened to his Tales From Big Bulge CD and that was some cool jazz fusion. That cat certainly is versatile!