I have immense respect for Black Jacket Symphony, the Birmingham, Ala.-based group of musical masochists who re-create — with exacting attention to detail — some of the greatest albums in the annals of rock music, from "Abbey Road" to "Thriller."
Clearly, I'm not alone in being a fan, since the band's shows regularly sell out in Chattanooga. During its most recent two-night stay at the Tivoli Theatre presenting The Eagles' "Hotel California," Black Jacket announced plans to return in February to perform Queen's "A Night at the Opera."
When I heard this, it immediately piqued my interest.
There are plenty of singers willing to try to emulate John Lennon, Michael Jackson or Prince, but it's the rare vocalist who dares to try to fill Freddie Mercury's shoes. Those who do usually fall woefully short, relying on theatrics and costuming to make up for sub-par singing.
From my many discussions with BJS' J. Willoughby over the years, I knew getting "close" wouldn't cut it. After all, without the right Freddie behind the mike, why even bother attempting operatic throat ravagers like "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "You're My Best Friend"?
"To find the right guy was an undertaking," Willoughby admits.
Two years ago, however, one of his friends pointed him toward Marc Martel, a Nashville-based singer he insisted was right for the job.
"He can nail Freddie Mercury," the friend promised.
When Willoughby looked up Martel's YouTube videos, he knew instantly that he could anchor a Queen show.
"I was like, 'I've got to get him,'" Willoughby says. "Some other people were pretty good, but they weren't spot-on like this guy is. It's really eerie."
Getting in touch with Martel proved difficult, but admittedly, he had a pretty good excuse.
In 2011, based on the strength of a video audition of "Somebody To Love," Martel was selected to front The Queen Extravaganza, a tribute founded by Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor. He was in the lap of the gods, so to speak.
When he finally came up for air earlier this year, Martel touched base with Willoughby and agreed to front the "Night at the Opera" dates next year.
Normally, the idea of anyone but Queen playing Queen's music fills me with shivering dread. For once, however, I'm looking forward to someone attempting the vocally improbable. I think we can all rest assured that Black Jacket and Martel will rock us.
Tickets for the Feb. 24 date at the Tivoli are on sale now for $25 and $30 at tivolichattanooga.com. Given Black Jacket's popularity, it's probably a good idea to buy them early.
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.