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Soul Masters: BBR Reissues Edwin Starr, Gap Band, Yarbrough and Peoples, Boys Town Gang

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Edwin Starr - Soul MasterFor its latest batch of reissues, Big Break Records travels back in time to the days when The Sound of Young America ruled the airwaves with two vintage titles from the late, great Edwin Starr, and returns to the catalogues of two more label favorites – The Gap Band and Yarbrough and Peoples!

Ultimately, Edwin Starr (1942-2003) will forever be best-known for his incendiary 1970 recording of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s “War,” a scorching protest song that tapped into the growing unrest of the American public in the Vietnam era.  Starr’s intense, no-holds-barred delivery transformed a Temptations album track into one of the most indelible recordings of all time.  “War” went all the way to the top of the pop chart in the U.S. and earned its vocalist a Grammy nomination, and spawned cover versions by everybody from Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Bruce Springsteen.  Starr was a late comer to the Motown family, joining the label roster in 1968 when Berry Gordy purchased local rival Ric-Tic Records.  Big Break has lavishly expanded his first album at Motown, Soul Master, along with the 1971 record featuring “War,” Involved.

Soul Master contained both tracks recycled from Ric-Tic and more recent songs cut at Motown.  From the Ric-Tic catalogue, the album boasted the R&B hits “Agent Double-O Soul” and “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.).”  Unusually for Motown at the time, Soul Master also included numerous songs written or co-written by Starr, including “Oh How Happy,” first recorded by The Shades of Blue and later covered by The Jackson 5.  Other recognizable Motown songwriters represented on Soul Master include Smokey Robinson, Henry Cosby, James Dean and William Weatherspoon, and Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson.  BBR has added a whopping 17 (!) bonus tracks to the original 12-track album, primarily single releases.

Edwin Starr - Involved1971’s Involved was Starr’s fifth album.  By the time of its release, Motown – like the world – was a very different place.  1971 was the year of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which was released just weeks before Involved.  While Involved lacks the personal vision of that classic, it also very much reflects its time and place with heightened social consciousness.  “War” is joined on the LP by another Whitfield/Strong composition, “Stop the War Now,” and an epic revival of their psychedelic soul masterworks for The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and “Cloud Nine.”  Sly Stone’s equally fiery call to action “Stand!” was also sharply current, but Involved also found room for less urgent material like George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” and a classic Motown throwback with Smokey Robinson’s 1960 Miracles song “Way Over There.”  One more Whitfield/Strong song on the album, “Funky Music (Sho’ Nuff Turns Me On)” could have been Starr’s mantra.  BBR’s reissue, remastered like Soul Master by Kevin Reeves, packs in 13 bonus tracks.  Both titles have new liner notes from Justin Cober-Lake.

With its new reissues of Gap Band IV and Gap Band V: Jammin’, BBR boasts five titles from The Gap Band in its label discography.  Brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson had quite a run.  In 1967, the Oklahoma boys formed the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band, which in 1973 morphed into The Gap Band.  Under that moniker the brothers Wilson remained together until 2010.  Following a short and ultimately disappointing time at Leon Russell’s Shelter Records, the band found initial success on Mercury before transferring to Lonnie Simmons’ Total Experience label with the release of 1982’s Gap Band IV.  The funk outfit was revitalized on IV, with three of the album’s eight songs scoring mightily on the U.S. R&B chart.  “Early in the Morning” and “Outstanding” both reached pole position, while “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” did almost as well with its No. 2 berth.  Like Mercury swansong Gap Band III, the album achieved platinum sales.  It peaked at No. 1 on the R&B album chart and went Top 20 Pop.

After the jump, more on The Gap Band plus Yarbrough and Peoples, and The Boys Town Gang! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 24, 2014 at 10:28

Back Tracks: Scott Walker, Part 2 (1975-2014)

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Scott-Walker-b01Where Part 1 of our Back Tracks feature left Scott Walker, he was in a creatively barren period, cranking out albums of AM pop and country, a far cry from the Brel songs and even the Brill Building tearjerkers that characterized his best work. Having left the sublime pop symphonies and edgy chansons behind, he found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. In 1975, The Walker Brothers reformed, much to the surprise of many. The group recorded the LP No Regrets, which they followed up with 1976’s Lines and 1978’s Nite Flights, all three for the GTO label. (All three titles were reissued in one compact box set by Sony U.K. in 2010.) The first two LPs were both distinguished by quality material from outside songwriters, including songs by old stalwarts Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman and Mickey Newbury, and strong contributions by Boz Scaggs, Kris Kristofferson, Jesse Winchester and Janis Ian. But nobody could have been prepared for the third album.

Nite Flights was entirely self-written by the Walker Brothers, a dark, disquieting album that augured for Walker’s future recordings and set aside any notions of their former pop stardom. Scott’s four Nite Flights songs were strange, indeed: “Shutout,” “Fat Mama Kick,” “Nite Flights” and especially the morbid “The Electrician” all dispensed with traditional song form and any pretense of literal lyrics. Combining nightmarishly odd words with instrumentation ranging from wailing, feedback-laden guitar to even disco-style backing, Walker had discovered a new voice that would lead to the most polarizing, provocative part of his career.  He wouldn’t re-emerge as a recording artist, though, until 1984. Back Tracks follows Scott Walker’s unbelievable journey and transformation after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 23, 2014 at 13:45

Posted in Features, Reissues, Scott Walker

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Early Years of Jon Lord, Keef Hartley Chronicled on The Artwoods’ Box Set “Steady Gettin’ It”

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The ArtwoodsToday, The Artwoods might be best remembered as footnotes in the stories of a number of other famous bands. Frontman and namesake Art Wood was the oldest brother of Faces/Rolling Stones man Ronnie. Organist Jon Lord went on, of course, to found Deep Purple. And drummer Keef Hartley would, among other credits, form The Keef Hartley Band. RPM Records has recently celebrated the music of the mod R&B revivalists with the release of the 3-CD box set Steady Gettin’ It: The Complete Recordings 1964-67.

The Artwoods formed in 1963 and remained active through 1967, along the way becoming a popular live attraction. Like so many other bands, the roots of The Artwoods could be found in other groups. Art Wood, a onetime student at the Ealing School of Art (which also has David Bowie, Pete Townshend and Freddie Mercury among its alumni), made his name in music with his own nine-piece big band The Art Wood Combo and then as a vocalist for bluesman Alexis Korner’s rotating Blues, Incorporated lineup. Korner inspired Wood to reform his own Combo, this time as a blues quartet. After experimenting with a floating line-up similar to that of Blues, Incorporated, Wood set out to form a more consistent group.   Guitarist Derek Griffiths and keyboardist Jon Lord were both members of semi-pro band Red Bludd’s Blusicians when Bludd leader and bassist Don Wilson proposed a merger with the Art Wood Combo. In early 1964, Wilson, Lord and Griffiths joined Art Wood and his drummer Reg Dunnage.

That iteration of the group was short-lived. In March 1964, Don Wilson broke both his legs, forcing him out of the band. Malcolm Pool was recruited from The Roadrunners to take on bass duties. As The Art Wood Combo, this line-up of the band recorded four songs for an acetate (all of which are released on RPM’s set for the very first time) and attracted the attention of Decca Records. But there was one more important shift before the group transformed into The Artwoods. In late summer 1964, drummer Dunnage declined to continue with the band. Other drummers were sought including Mitch Mitchell who actually played a few dates with the group. Enter Keith “Keef” Hartley, Ringo Starr’s replacement in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. With Hartley in place, the group decided (likely under the advice of Decca’s Mike Vernon, per the comprehensive liner notes included in the box) to change its name. The Artwoods were born.

Hit the jump to find what’s on Steady Gettin’ It! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 23, 2014 at 09:55

Posted in Box Sets, News, The Artwoods

Back Tracks: Scott Walker, Part 1 (1967-1974)

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Scott WalkerThis week, Scott Walker released his latest studio album, Soused, a predictably unpredictable collaboration with drone-metal band Sunn O))). To mark the occasion, we’re reviewing the musical iconoclast’s complete discography in this two-part Back Tracks series originally presented in June 2010 and freshly updated!

The music business is famous for hyperbole, but it’s no exaggeration to say that few have had a career anything like that of Scott Walker. An American who skyrocketed to fame on British shores in the heady time that was the mid-1960s, Walker (born Noel Scott Engel in 1943) turned his back on the world of a pop idol. He became one of the first major performers to embrace and champion the dark musical melodramas of Jacques Brel but that, too, didn’t last long. After some largely-undistinguished albums recorded during his self-described “lost years” and a period of relative seclusion, Walker emerged, creating provocative soundscapes that dispensed with any traditional notions of melody or songwriting. Whatever other labels may be used to describe him, Scott Walker remains an artist true to himself. Back Tracks takes a look at the solo recordings of one of music’s true eccentrics, just one click away. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 22, 2014 at 13:30

Posted in Features, Reissues, Scott Walker

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A Little Love In Her Heart: “She Did It” Spotlights Songs of Jackie DeShannon

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Jackie DeShannon - She Did ItThat Jackie DeShannon is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in popular music should come as no surprise to anybody reading this. Equally skilled at interpreting her own songs as well as those of others, the multi-talented Miss DeShannon was the concerned yet optimistic voice of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” the flower-power spokeswoman who implored you to “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” one of the first Ladies of the Canyon, and one-half of the songwriting team behind the eternally sensual “Bette Davis Eyes.” And that’s just naming a few of her accomplishments. Ace Records has celebrated DeShannon’s career on a series of her complete Liberty and Imperial singles as well as on a series of volumes recognizing her songwriting, the second of which has recently arrived. Take one glance at the list of artists populating She Did It! The Songs of Jackie DeShannon Volume 2 to get an idea of the breadth of her songwriting’s reach: The Carpenters, Marianne Faithfull, The Righteous Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, The Ronettes, Tammy Grimes, Kim Carnes (of course). The first volume, Break-A-Way: The Songs of Jackie DeShannon 1961-1967, had 27 of the more than 300 songs in her catalogue. In true Ace fashion, this set adds another 26, from the familiar (Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”) to the obscure (Broadway star Grimes’ previously unissued “The Greener Side,” and the very first DeShannon cover, Brenda Lee’s bouncy, twangy “My Baby Likes Western Guys”). As DeShannon wrote as both a solo composer-lyricist and with other tunesmiths, there’s plenty of variety here, too.

Though most of Jackie’s songs from her halcyon days emanated from Metric Music, California’s answer to the Brill Building, they often ended up in surprising places. She Did It kicks off with southern soul singer supreme Doris Duke tackling the rootsy “Bad Water,” co-written by the “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” team of Jackie, her brother Randy Myers and singer Jimmy Holiday, as produced by Swamp Dogg in Alabama and arranged by Philadelphia’s Richard Rome. She Did It also spotlights the team’s aforementioned now-standard “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” as sung with equal parts passion and funk by ex-Edwin Hawkins Singers vocalist Dorothy Morrison and Holiday’s own, soulful rendition of 1969’s “Yesterday Died.” A true rarity comes from Myers’ band dubbed Raga and the Talas by Liberty Records imprint World Pacific. Jackie supplied her brother with “My Group and Me” in 1966, arranged in a then-cutting-edge Eastern-influenced style.

One of the most versatile of songwriters, She Did It features songs in pop, R&B, country and folk modes. In the latter, there are particularly wonderful discoveries in Bay Area duo Joe and Eddie’s “Depend on Yourself,” arranged by Leon Russell, Marianne Faithfull’s haunting 1966 rendition of Jackie’s “With You in Mind,” and an early recording by Delaney Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie: the propulsive folk-rocker “You Have No Choice,” superbly produced as well as written by Jackie! As fans of her “Splendor in the Grass” with The Byrds know, DeShannon was a top proponent of the folk-rock sound. She Did It features another rarity in this vein, the very first 45 by beloved voice Olivia Newton-John: a version of Jackie’s “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” dating from 1966 – long before Grease and even before Toomorrow!

Jackie’s 1975 Columbia album New Arrangement, produced by Michael Stewart, proved a fertile source for a number of cover versions, three of which are included here. Rita Coolidge quickly latched onto the beautifully wistful “I Wanted It All,” co-written by Jackie and John Bettis. And then there’s “Bette Davis Eyes.” DeShannon admits in her sensational track-by-track recollections that producer Stewart envisioned the song as a shuffle, leaving it to producer Val Garay six years later to bring out the sex and the sass in the DeShannon/Donna Weiss tune. Kim Carnes’ raspy vocal was a perfect fit, and the song won Song of the Year and Record of the Year in addition to remaining atop the charts for nine weeks. It wasn’t a bad ending at all for a song which didn’t live up to its potential in its first recording. DeShannon had enlisted Brian Wilson for the background vocals on New Arrangement’s dreamy “Boat to Sail,” a song on which he’s actually name-checked in the lyrics. When The Carpenters revisited the escapist ode one year later in the version included here, the brother and sister duo brought their inimitable style to it. Karen’s invitingly warm and pure vocal evokes relaxed nostalgia, supported by Richard’s beautifully understated, tranquil orchestration.

Six songs here hail from the fruitful, early partnership of DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley including “It’s Just Terrible” (trust me, it isn’t) by Everly Brothers sound-alikes The Kalin Twins, the martial yet sensual ballad “Don’t Put Your Heart in His Hand” from young Kiki Dee, and the raucous “He Did It” from the pre-Phil Spector Ronettes. DeShannon and Sheeley’s “The Other Side of Town” is sung by P.J. Proby in full-on Elvis mode. If you ever wondered what The King might have sounded like crashing an uptown soul session by the likes of Chuck Jackson or Tommy Hunt, wonder no more. Here’s Proby as Elvis in a background of slashing, swirling strings and horns, doing full justice to the big ballad. Darlene Love has the lead on Spector’s production of “I Shook the World” for Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but the fine liner notes reveal that the vocals were merely overdubbed on Jackie’s original demo as arranged by Spector’s usual right-hand, Jack Nitzsche.

There’s much more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 22, 2014 at 10:25

Special Review: Neil Diamond, “Melody Road”

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Melody RoadFor Neil Diamond, good times never felt so good.

The venerable singer-songwriter, a robust 73, continues his late-career winning streak with Melody Road, his 32nd studio album. It’s a record of firsts – his first LP under a new agreement with Capitol Records following 40+ years with Columbia Records, and his first of original material since 2008’s Home Before Dark. On this 12-track set, Diamond is in a contemplative mood, offering songs of age and experience in his still-resonant voice. But this brooding “solitary man” is now writing and singing from a place of contentment, embracing the sunshine and sentimentality of a life clearly enriched and inspired by his 2012 marriage.

Sonically, Melody Road melds the rootsy acoustic approach of the Rick Rubin-helmed 12 Songs and Home Before Dark with the widescreen orchestrations that were a major part of the Diamond sound in previous years. Significantly, though, Diamond’s guitar is still out front as on those two albums, and the “back to basics” style still prevails under the auspices of producers Don Was (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) and Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., Snow Patrol, Taylor Swift). He’s joined by a cast of musicians including Joey Waronker on drums, Richard Bennett and Smokey Hormel on guitars, and Benmont Tench and Greg Phillinganes on keyboards, plus The Waters on backing vocals and longtime associate Alan Lindgren for string arrangements. With these talents bringing his new works alive, Diamond’s craft as a songwriter remains undiminished, and Melody Road radiates the light in which he seems to be basking. As a result, it’s a less stark collection than either 12 Songs or Home Before Dark. But despite lacking the grit of those two albums, Melody Road still feels like the conclusion of a trilogy, or the light at the end of the tunnel.

The warm, inviting title track (“Melody from the heart/Melody from the start/Telling me things will be okay/I think that I just might stay/On Melody Road…”) bookends the album. With its “Song Sung Blue” lilt, it’s a balm that sets the tone for this sunny and frequently autobiographical album. Despite song titles like “Something Blue” and “Nothing But a Heartache,” Diamond is upbeat on this trip down Melody Road. The former is, simply, classic Neil Diamond. One of many songs here inspired by and directed to his new wife, it’s an expression of what the artist calls “the accident of love.” It’s set to a gentle bounce strummed on guitars and banjo with bass and brushed percussion, subtle horns, and a rollicking piano solo. One can easily see this perky pop gem taking a clap-along place at a future Diamond show.   (He’s embarking on a major tour in 2015.) As for the impassioned, intense “Heartache,” its full-throated delivery is reminiscent of “Beautiful Noise” crossed with “I Am…I Said.”   In it, a genuine-sounding Diamond paints love as one’s personal savior, or a light from the darkness. Sharp electric guitar adds to the textures on this track, the album’s dramatic centerpiece.

New wife Katie McNeil is also the likely recipient of the gently romantic “(Ooo) Do I Wanna Be Yours” and the straightforward, amiable “Marry Me Now,” on which low, oom-pah brass turns into an exultant, almost-Dixieland revel. As ever, Diamond is wholly believable even when espousing a simple sentiment like “Marriage is not an easy thing/But look at all the joy it brings…” The aura of sweetness continues on the appealing “Sunny Disposition.” “She had a sunny disposition/He had a cloud that never went away,” sings the famous loner in this heartfelt, third-person story song.

Other tracks on Melody Road look to Diamond’s past rather than present. The singer sounds like a man reborn on the upbeat, guitar-driven splendor of “First Time,” a note of encouragement to those just starting out. “Alone at the Ball” is a more pointed “word to the wise” from someone who’s been there. Diamond is likewise in reflective mode on the sad, ironically uptempo “In Better Days.” He’s touching as he revisits a past relationship in loving if conflicted terms: “Why do we promise forever and never stay that long? Why do we swear to care until we die? And what does it mean when two lovers sing a loving song/Then move along and not know why?” When listening to this confessional track, it’s hard not to think of the singer’s 26-year marriage to his wife Marcia, which ended amicably in divorce in 1995.

Hit the jump to keep travelling down Melody Road! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 21, 2014 at 14:30

Posted in Neil Diamond, News, Reviews

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The Nashville Sound: New Set Spotlights Chet Atkins’ Collaborations

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Chet Atkins - Master ClassFourteen-time Grammy winner Chet Atkins (1924-2001) was a man of many hats. At RCA Victor between 1947 and 1982, as a performer, producer and executive, he was a key player in the creation of the “Nashville Sound” which made country palatable to crossover audiences.  Indeed, though the style has changed, the pop influence on the country genre certainly hasn’t, and fans of Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood all owe something to Chet Atkins.  Also one of Nashville’s most pioneering and virtuosic guitarists, Atkins notched a number of hit singles while at RCA and embarked on a series of collaborative albums with other guitar greats including Les Paul, Mark Knopfler, Jerry Reed and Tommy Emmanuel – all four of which are represented on a new 2-CD set from Australia’s Raven Records. Chet Atkins – Four Master Class Albums 1978-1997 collects four Atkins LPs originally released on the RCA and Columbia labels and continues Raven’s series of Atkins reissues.

The earliest album here, 1978’s Guitar Monsters, was the second full-length collaboration of Atkins and Les Paul following 1976’s Grammy-winning Chester and Lester.  Though Atkins pioneered the “countrypolitan” sound of Nashville, the tracks on Monsters are stripped-down and tight with no strings anywhere in sight.  Randy Goodrum (piano) and Larrie London (drums) returned from Chester, and were joined by Paul Yandell (rhythm guitar), Buddy Harman and Randy Hauser (drums) and Joe Osborn (bass).  As on that first duo album, a loose, informal atmosphere prevailed on Guitar Monsters.  You’ll want to turn your volume up to hear the faint in-studio comments preserved.  Sometimes the gents are calling out chord changes; other times, they’re just laughing or making wry observations.  But of course, the main attraction here is the music – standards like “Over the Rainbow,” “I Want to Be Happy,” “Limehouse Blues” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa classic “Meditation.”  There’s plenty of breathing room for tasty solos from both men over these eleven tracks, with friendship as well as competition likely keeping Chet and Les at the top of their respective games.

The set then jumps to 1990 with Atkins’ Mark Knopfler collaboration, Neck and Neck.  The elder statesman and the hotshot Dire Straits leader/axeman picked up two Grammy Awards for this joint effort, on which they were joined by Guy Fletcher on drums, bass and keyboards, Edgar Meyer and Steve Wariner on bass, Larrie Londin on drums, Mark O’Connor on fiddle and mandolin, and Paul Franklin on steel, with guest spots from legendary Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer and vocalist Vince Gill.  Knopfler supplied the original song “The Next Time I’m in Town,” with other repertoire coming from the classic country (Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” and “Just One Time”), pop (Gus Kahn and Isham Jones’ “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) and jazz (Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt’s “Tears”) songbooks.

There’s more after the jump including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 21, 2014 at 12:32

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