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When I was about to listen to his tape, I remember clearly I was thinking, “Gee, if he has the mom’s musicality and smarts, and the dad’s smarts and voice, that’d be nice”…Then I put it on and I said, “Oh, my God, this is stunning.”
-Lenny Waronker on Rufus Wainwright
The scope and longevity of Rufus Wainwright’s career is almost underserved by his own historic musical lineage. The eldest child of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle (who would divorce when Rufus was three), his music is at times evocative of both but in a completely more adventurous direction. Rufus’ style is considerably more baroque than either of his parents, with a style that recalls theatrical tradition (Wainwright recently announced a second opera for performance in 2018) and a songbook overflowing with beautiful, yearning compositions.
After some 15 years of recording and touring, Wainwright will release Vibrate: The Best of Rufus Wainwright this spring in standard and two-disc deluxe editions. The standard edition covers 18 tracks, including songs from nearly all of his studio albums between his critically-acclaimed self-titled debut for DreamWorks Records in 1998 and 2012′s Out of the Game for Decca Records. That disc is augmented by a non-LP track (and arguably one of Wainwright’s most famous recordings) – a piano-driven cover of Leonard Cohen’s now-immortal “Hallelujah,” released on the hit soundtrack to the animated film Shrek in 2001 – and a new track, the perhaps-appropriately named “Me and Liza.” (Wainwright’s love for Liza Minnelli’s mother, Judy Garland, hit a fever pitch in 2006 when he performed a pair of shows in tribute to Judy’s acclaimed live set at Carnegie Hall in 1961; a resultant live album was released the following year.)
The deluxe edition, meanwhile, features even more rare and unreleased content, including soundtrack songs (“La Complainte de la Butte” from Moulin Rouge!, ”The Maker Makes” from Brokeback Mountain, a stunning take on The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” for the film I Am Sam), several exclusive bonus cuts (such as “WWIII” from the Out of the Game sessions, making its physical debut here); another new track, “Chic and Pointless” and a host of unreleased live content, including tracks from a celebrated gig at London’s Kentwood House in 2010. (At least one of those tracks was released on House of Rufus, Universal U.K.’s mega complete box set of Wainwright’s career up to 2011.)
Both versions of Vibrate: The Best of Rufus Wainwright hit stores in the U.S. on March 4. Hit the jump for pre-order links and full track lists!
Though the catalogue of Johnny Cash has been mined numerous times, for acclaimed Bootleg volumes and even a Complete Album Collection box set, there’s still more of the story of the Man in Black yet to be told. A crucial part of that story will be revealed on March 25, 2014 when Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings release Out Among the Stars, a “lost album” comprised of twelve recently discovered studio recordings made by Cash between 1981 and 1984.
Produced by Nashville legend Billy Sherrill (Charlie Rich, George Jones, Tammy Wynette) and recorded at that city’s Columbia Studios and 1111 Sound Studios, Out Among the Stars is a rare closer look at the music being created during one of the lowest ebbs in Cash’s personal and professional lives. His long tenure at the label was coming to a close, with albums like The Baron (1981), The Adventures of Johnny Cash (1982) Johnny 99 (1983) and Rainbow (1985) all failing to ignite the charts despite some fine material worthy of rediscovery. The recordings on Out Among the Stars were made before he departed Columbia for Mercury, where he began his next chapter with 1987’s Johnny Cash is Coming to Town.
On these songs – which are not demos or alternate versions of previously released material – Cash is joined by his wife June Carter Cash and fellow Highwayman Waylon Jennings for duets. He’s supported by a distinguished ensemble of musicians including the young Marty Stuart on guitar and mandolin plus first-call session vets like Jerry Kennedy (guitar), Pete Drake (steel guitar), Hargus “Pig” Robbins (piano) and Henry Strzelecki (bass). Two of the songs, “Call Your Mother” and “I Came to Believe,” are original Cash compositions.
The material that will premiere on Out Among the Stars was discovered in 2012 when John Carter Cash joined the Legacy team to catalogue his parents’ archives in Tennessee and at the Sony Music Archives. Cash states, “When my parents passed away, it became necessary to go through this material. We found these recordings that were produced by Billy Sherrill in the early 1980s…they were beautiful.” He told The Associated Press that “Nashville at the time was in a completely different place. It was the Urban Cowboy phase. It was pop country, and dad was not that. I think him working with Billy was sort of an effort by the record company to put him more in the circle of Music Row and see what could happen at the heart of that machine.” Sherrill, after all, was an architect of the crossover countrypolitan sound that dominated so much of the country music coming from Nashville.
After the jump, we have more details plus the full track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »
It’s T. Rextasy at the Cherry Red Group, with two recent titles exploring the music of T. Rex’s Marc Bolan. The Grapefruit imprint has collected two discs’ worth of material from Bolan’s early band John’s Children, while RPM has reissued two albums from Gloria Jones on one CD including the Bolan-produced Vixen.
By the time Marc Bolan joined the ranks of John’s Children in 1967, the British band had already established quite a reputation. Encouraged by manager Simon Napier-Bell to engage in outrageous antics, Andy Ellison (vocals), Geoff McClelland (guitar), John Hewlett (bass) and Chris Townson (drums) were known for their high-octane live shows. The band might trash their instruments, spill fake blood or engage in fisticuffs. But record buyers cottoned to the group’s music, too. First single “Smashed Blocked” cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.; it was retitled “The Love I Thought I’d Found” in the U.K. due to the drug connotation of “blocked,” or high on amphetamines. Their second single “Just What You Want – Just What You’ll Get,” with a guitar solo from guest Jeff Beck, hit the British Top 40. “Not the Sort of Girl (You’d Like to Take to Bed)” was intended as the group’s third single, but the U.K. Columbia label rejected it for rather obvious reasons. The band moved to Track Records, home of The Who, and carried on, but still more controversy was to come. In March 1967, McClelland was replaced by Marc Bolan, who penned John’s Children’s next 45: “Desdemona.” The BBC banned that one, unhappy with the “lift up your skirt and fly” lyric. Marc and co. couldn’t get a break; their U.S. label, White Whale, rejected their album, too. The reason why? It was entitled Orgasm.
The mod-psych rockers went on to further fame (infamy?) when they were booted off a Who tour for being “too loud and violent.” (That said, drummer Chris Townson subbed for Keith Moon for a few days at the end of The Who’s 1967 tour.) A long life wasn’t in the cards for John’s Children, however. Bolan departed the group after a mere four months, unhappy with Napier-Bell’s production of his song “Midsummer Night’s Scene,” a June 1967 single. Bolan went on to form Tyrannosaurus Rex. The remaining members briefly soldiered on, with Chris Townson switching to guitar and Chris Colville handling drums. A couple more singles were issued including a version of Bolan’s “Mustang Ford” (as “Go-Go Girl”) recorded after he left the line-up, but John’s Children broke up in 1968, not reuniting until the mid-1990s.
Grapefruit’s A Strange Affair: The Sixties Recordings features 52 tracks on two CDs. The first disc, Singles and Rarities, includes a number of Andy Ellison solo tracks along with all of the band’s U.K. 45s. The second disc is built around Orgasm (which was finally released in 1970, after the split) plus bonus tracks such as alternate versions, mixes and instrumentals. (Most of these have been previously released on various hard-to-find compilations over the years.) The new liner notes in the 24-page booklet have been written by Ellison, including track-by-track annotations. Nick Watson has remastered, and a note indicates that as the original master tapes have been “mislaid or lost,” Watson has “for the most part gone back to the original records rather than using existing CD source[s].” As this is the most comprehensive John’s Children-related anthology yet, it’s the perfect chance to discover the band that was “louder than The Who.” It’s available now from Grapefruit!
After the jump, we flash-forward to 1976, and Gloria Jones’ Vixen! Read the rest of this entry »
Holiday Gift Guide Review: A Real Gone Christmas With Andy Williams, Patti Page and The New Christy Minstrels
When Andy Williams passed away on September 25, 2012 at the age of 84, the loss was keenly felt by anyone who had ever played the “red album” and the “green album” during the holiday season. The Andy Williams Christmas Album (1963) and Merry Christmas (1965) were the best-selling Columbia LPs that led Williams to embody the title of “Mr. Christmas.” His rich, warm and resonant tenor was ideally suited to holiday music of both the secular and spiritual traditions, and his association with the holiday lasted for his entire life, through albums, television appearances and stage performances. Real Gone has just delivered the ultimate celebration of Williams’ Christmas perennials with the 2-CD set The Complete Christmas Recordings (RGM-0197).
This collection includes the entirety of those two aforementioned albums plus 1974’s long out-of-print Christmas Present LP and a clutch of five rare bonus tracks (two of which are making their first ever appearance here). The Andy Williams Christmas Album (the “red album”), produced and arranged by Robert Mersey, was divided into a secular side and a religious side, but the treatments of the songs were surprisingly adventurous. On the former side, Williams’ association with the legendary arranger and nightclub singer Kay Thompson led to the inclusion of her own version of “Jingle Bells” plus a swingin’ medley of Thompson’s “The Holiday Season” with Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday.” The familiar “Twelve Days of Christmas” was also turned on its ear as “A Song and a Christmas Tree.” On the latter side, Williams’ pure, crystalline tone was at its most pristine on “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” But The Andy Williams Christmas Album’s most lasting contribution to pop culture was the introduction of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the Edward Pola/George Wyle song that may still today be the single most exuberant track ever to celebrate the holiday season. It also became a theme song for Williams perhaps second only to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River.”
Naturally, a follow-up album was planned. 1965’s Merry Christmas followed the template of its predecessor, with Williams and Mersey applying their combined talents to another group of songs from across the holiday spectrum. The same “Side One – Tin Pan Alley, Side Two – Church” format was also adhered to, except Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Silver Bells” crept onto the second side! No matter, though. “Silver Bells” was just one of the beautifully-sung songs here. A moody arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” made for one of the song’s finest recordings; the exciting treatment of “Sleigh Ride” featured Williams deftly navigating a staggering number of key changes. Williams and arranger Bob Florence (subbing for Mersey on just one track) made magic from “Christmas Holiday,” Craig Smith’s otherwise-unknown seasonal tune with an adventurous melody and jubilant lyrics. Christmas Album and Merry Christmas are included in their entirety here, but both albums have been wholly resequenced for this compilation.
Following Merry Christmas, Williams didn’t return to the holiday songbook at Columbia until 1975. That was the year he issued Christmas Present, the most atypical of his three Christmas sets for the label. It also may be Williams’ most personal. The opening title track, a pleasant slice of mid-seventies MOR, cedes to a frequently-solemn, ravishingly-sung collection of hymns and spiritual music including “Joy to the World,” “What Child is This?,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and both the Schubert and Gounod settings of “Ave Maria.” Williams’ voice never sounded more natural or more direct in its power, even if the joyous, celebratory feel of the previous two albums was altogether absent. Christmas Present is a passionate set worth a second look, and Real Gone’s Complete Christmas Recordings marks its return to CD after roughly two decades. It’s presented in its original running order.
After the jump: more on Andy, plus Patti Page and The New Christy Minstrels! Read the rest of this entry »
In the annals of American popular song, there’s a place reserved for James Taylor. For 45 years, the Boston-born troubadour’s distinctive and soothing baritone has been a reassuring voice bringing light to the darkness with his nakedly emotional, often autobiographical music. Sure, recording technology has changed a bit over the years, but Taylor’s style now is essentially the same as it was then – applying that warm voice and shimmering, precise guitar to those direct, melodic and deceptively simple songs. This stripped-down, back-to-basics style has served Taylor well, and it lends a consistency to The Essential James Taylor. Taylor’s first 2-CD compendium, it’s drawn from his Warner Bros., Columbia and Hear Music catalogues, only overlooking his 1968 debut for The Beatles’ Apple label. (“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Carolina in My Mind,” both first recorded on Apple, are included in their fine Warner Bros. remakes for 1975’s Greatest Hits; that classic compilation’s live recording of the blues take-off “Steamroller” has also made the cut here.)
This new anthology has been produced by Bill Inglot. No stranger to Taylor’s discography, Inglot remastered 2003’s excellent single-disc primer The Best of James Taylor. The first disc here chronologically surveys the artist’s career from 1970 to 1977, and opens with the very first song heard on Taylor’s first American LP: the title track of Sweet Baby James. There weren’t too many country waltzes opening rock records in 1970, but the lullaby disarmed, and hooked, listeners. “Sweet Baby James” didn’t wear its three-quarter-time sophistication on its sleeve, but quietly established Taylor as a rather special musician.
Remarkably, and equally subversively, he took the bleakly beautiful “Fire and Rain” up the charts. A song of stunning depth even with its initial impact long dulled by familiarity, “Fire” was plain-spoken poetry. Its opening lines were shocking and sad (“Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone/Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you…”), with the song permeated by angst and awareness of the finality of it all (“But I always thought I would see you again…”). Many of its lyrics were starkly autobiographical, as with the reference to “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” (Taylor’s first band, with Danny Kortchmar, was The Flying Machine – not the “Smile a Little Smile for Me” group of the same name.) But Taylor had a dramatist’s gift of understanding, that the most specific writing is usually also the most universal. “Fire and Rain” struck an emotional chord. It still does. “Fire” also shows off another Taylor trademark: the instantly-memorable opening guitar riff. These “vamps” – think “Mexico,” “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got a Friend” – have become integral parts of songs themselves.
After the jump, we have more on JT! Read the rest of this entry »
Happily for fans, Omnivore Recordings has willfully ignored the unwritten rule that reissue labels wind down for a bit toward the end of the calendar year. They’ve just announced the latest catalogue projects of what is already shaping up to be a busy 2014, with rare and unreleased recordings due from Paisley Underground group The Dream Syndicate, country-rockers Lone Justice and legendary ex-Hüsker Dü member Bob Mould.
Omnivore announced yesterday the expansion of Workbook, Mould’s 1989 solo debut, as a 2CD or 2LP set. Released a year after the Minnesota punk band’s acrimonious split, the album saw Mould exploring intensely personal and furiously proficient songcraft (critics and fans have called Mould’s guitar playing on Workbook some of his best), more than a little removed from the noisy power-pop bliss of his follow-up band Sugar. The two-disc Workbook 25 features the remastered album and non-LP B-side “All Those People Know” on one disc, and a mostly-unreleased live show from Chicago’s Cabaret Metro, just two weeks after the album’s original release. (Mould will also embark on seven tour dates to commemorate the album, commencing with a special set at San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival in February.) A double-vinyl version will add “All Those People Know,” as well.
Mere weeks before The Dream Syndicate convened in the studio to record their full-length debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, they took to a studio inside the offices of KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, playing a rapturous set of new and old originals (from their self-titled EP released earlier that year) and covers of Donovan (“Season of the Witch”), Bob Dylan (“Outlaw Blues”) and Neil Young (“Mr. Soul”) to a receptive audience that included members of R.E.M. and The Bangles. First released nearly a decade after the band’s split, The Day Before Wine and Roses captures the live spirit of this seminal band – a spirit which audiences recently got to experience in California for a special set of reunion shows alongside fellow Paisley Underground bands The Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and The Bangles. This reissue features both new liner notes by band frontman Steve Wynn and vintage ones from producer Pat Thomas.
Finally, a spate of unreleased tracks by L.A. rockabilly/roots group The Lone Justice, will be released by Omnivore. Recorded two years before their debut LP for Geffen (which featured an all-star supporting cast including producer Jimmy Iovine, songs co-written by Tom Petty and Steven Van Zandt and session work by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ own Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench) with engineer David Vaught, the aptly-named This is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes is a successful snapshot of the band’s raucous spirit as a then-primarily live act. In addition to its 12 tracks, nine of which are unreleased, the CD or red-vinyl LP package features a host of liner notes and essays, from guitarist Ryan Hedgecock and bassist Marvin Etzioni, Billboard‘s Chris Morris and even longtime fan Dolly Parton.
Expect This is Lone Justice on January 14, The Day Before Wine and Roses on February 4 and Workbook 25 on February 25. Hit the jump for full track listings for all of them!