Archive for February 2nd, 2012
To all the girls and boys who have loved the music of Willie Nelson before, there’s plenty of good news ahead. The red-headed stranger, 78, has signed a new deal with Sony’s Legacy Recordings division that encompasses both new albums (with a total of five promised) and archival releases. Nelson, one of the most prolific recording artists of any genre, has maintained a release schedule that would make many a younger man envious. In 2011 alone, Nelson released one studio album and one live album, and saw collections from the many labels for whom he’d recorded. The Legacy announcement indicates that Nelson will serve as curator of his catalog and “will work with label archivists to select recordings, including previously released and previously unreleased tracks, for release in newly compiled collections and as bonus material on new editions of existing titles.”
Recording for the Legacy imprint brings Nelson full circle. Although the artist began his career at Liberty Records, the lengthiest stint of his early years was at RCA Victor. That label’s catalogue is now controlled by Sony/Legacy, including Nelson’s 1964-1972 tenure. After a brief sojourn to Atlantic, the singer’s 1975 Columbia release Red Headed Stranger kicked off a career renaissance. The Columbia recordings, too, are under the aegis of Legacy. It’s not hard to imagine a deluxe edition of that seminal LP. The singer/songwriter had written concept albums before, including Phases and Stages, a chronicle of a marriage, in 1974 at Atlantic. But even with its stark sound (the antithesis of RCA’s “countrypolitan” style) and raw story of a murderer on the run, Nelson’s conceptual work struck a chord with listeners. Red Headed Stranger sold millions, produced a hit single in its cover of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and put Nelson in the vanguard of the young Outlaw Country movement. But Nelson never rested in one place for too long, using his freedom at Columbia to explore gospel, honky-tonk and finally, American popular standards with the epochal Stardust (1978). It was only appropriate, though, as Nelson had added to that esteemed songbook himself with compositions like “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” He would remain with Columbia for roughly twenty years.
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Although we make our claim as tireless reporters on all things in the catalogue music world, we at Second Disc HQ are music lovers first and foremost, regardless of the era. So it gives me a bit of weird pleasure to speak a little bit out of the usual comfort zone for a second and talk about one of pop music’s weirdest current trend stories, which actually, tenuously, has some ties to our usual reportage.
If you’re a voracious consumer of all topics musical, you’ve probably read anywhere from one to a thousand words on Lana Del Rey, whose major label debut Born to Die was released this week. If you haven’t, here’s her story in a nutshell: her brooding, densely arranged pop and Nancy Sinatra by way of Nico vocals made her a darling of tastemaking blog Pitchfork last summer, when hypnotic single “Video Games” was released. In due time, a massive amount of backlash ensued: Del Ray was previously known as a more sensitive singer-songwriter type named Lizzy Grant, the daughter of a magnate in the Web domain name business (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up) before she changed her name (and, some would argue, her appearance, with a fuller set of pouty lips springing seemingly out of nowhere) and signed a deal with major label Interscope Records.
Over time, the backlash spun into a demented maelstrom of hype and antihype, the likes of which pop culture has arguably never seen. The U.K. embraced her almost immediately – “Video Games” peaked at No. 9 – while the music press continued shredding her for her appearance, her bizarre live stage presence (exemplified in a not-that-great performance on Saturday Night Live) and just about anything under the sun. The blog Hipster Runoff turned into a one-stop shop for all nutty analysis of Del Rey.
What made the whole ordeal maddening was twofold. First of all, the controversies were dissected far away from the eyes of mainstream music listeners. (Very few personal friends were fully aware of her existence until weeks after the discussion reached fever pitch.) Second, the discussion almost completely ignored the music, most of which was only partially heard through videos Del Rey uploaded to YouTube. Taking the music into consideration, it’s rough around the edges but not worth all the excoriation. In some places, it’s actually rather good – Del Rey’s shapeshifting voice and strangely evocative lyrics need some work, but the busy, hip-hop-lite arrangements and dreamy chord changes are signs of promise.
So what, then, does this have a damn thing to do with The Second Disc? It turns out the “first” Lana Del Rey – released in 2010 on the 5 Points label under “Lana Del Rey a.k.a. Lizzy Grant” – might be reissued some time this summer. (Del Rey bought back the album from the label, theoretically for the very purpose of giving Interscope something else to sell.) So hopefully everyone will have their opinions together on the new album by the time the old one comes back out.
Have you heard Del Rey’s new album? Does the amount of hoopla over the whole thing bother you? What do you think? The Lana Del Rey a.k.a. Lizzy Grant track list, with links to hear the songs, is after the jump.