After having a big hit record with Shannon, Lifesong/A&M gave Henry Gross an elaborate packaging with a slick cardboard inner sleeve to house the album, lyric sheet/facial photo inside, and a risqué LP cover featuring a naked woman under a sheet while Henry Gross gets his guitar and leaves her...for the stage.
The dorky John Denver-style image on his 1972 self-titled ABC release for Jimmy Miller Productions had a more humble and earthly feel but, despite the self-indulgence obvious just four years later, there is some strong pop here, showing the former Sha-Na-Na guitarist to be one of the best products from the stable of producers Cashman and West. That duo provide some backing vocals, but only put their production skills on an interesting cover of the Beatles' "Help." The rest of the project is on Gross' watch, and though there are deficiencies on side one, the album closes with a strong selection of summery numbers that are well-written and played. The title track begins the festivities with some fake applause and a riff borrowing from Loggins & Messina's 1972 hit "Your Mama Don't Dance." He doesn't borrow from Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina on "Painting My Love Song," though: he outright steals from their "Thinking of You" hit from 1973. The Bellamy Brothers' early-1976 record "Let Your Love Flow" gets nicked for both "Painting My Love Song" and "Come Along," while Carole King's "Sweet Seasons" also seems to slip in and out of the melody and sound. Side one really needed a cover song like "Help" to keep whatever listeners who loved "Shannon" tuned in.
Perhaps the philosophy expressed in that tune was in the back of his mind while trying to capitalize on his radio success. Gross does an admirable and slick job of crafting a more coherent and practical set of sounds on side two while mixing strong elements of a band he opened for, the Beach Boys, throughout. His voice, despite being quirky, is warm in that John Denver kind of way, and "What a Sound" certainly gives Brian Wilson his due. For those who felt the Beach Boys beautiful voices sometimes overshadowed and overpowered the pretty music, Gross emphasizes the band and lets the barbershop quartet blend in, pianos, drums, and guitars getting their place up in the mix. The harpsichord-type sounds envelope "I Can't Believe," while the singer nicely quiets down on "Hideaway" and "If We Tie Our Ships Together," though "Showboat" goes back to side one's blatant imitation of other artists, this time honoring or victimizing Seals & Crofts. Maybe that's something Henry Gross learned in Sha-Na-Na, but what eludes Show Me to the Stage is a powerful hit single, so you'll find no sequel to "Shannon" here.