Another Bite of the Apple: Lon and Derrek Van Eaton’s “Brother” with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Reissued and Reviewed
RPM Records is taking a bite out of the Apple. Apple Records, that is. All has been quiet on the Apple front since EMI’s 2010 reissue campaign offered remastered and expanded albums from Badfinger, Mary Hopkin, James Taylor and others. But the Come and Get It compilation, released in conjunction with the album reissue program, brought to CD a number of tantalizing tracks from lesser-known lights on the Apple roster. Among those artists were Lon and Derrek Van Eaton, New Jersey natives whose demo tape came to the attention of George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1971. Their “Sweet Music,” produced by Harrison, was a highlight of that anthology, but they also recorded an entire album produced by close Beatle pal Klaus Voormann. Now, the Van Eaton brothers are getting a full return from Cherry Red’s RPM label. That 1973 Apple LP, Brother, has just been reissued and expanded in a comprehensive new edition (including previously unreleased songs with Starr and Voormann) from Apple and RPM, produced by RPM’s Mark Stratford and Apple historian Stefan Granados.
Brother wasn’t technically the debut of Lon and Derrek Van Eaton; the brothers had previously teamed as members of Jacob’s Creek and recorded a 1969 album for Columbia Records with that band. But any affiliation with The Beatles can reasonably be called a rebirth. The brothers were both multi-talented, with Derrek handling lead vocals, bass, flute and drums, and Lon taking piano, vocal, guitar, saxophone and drum duties. They collaborated as writers on all of the songs on Brother, with Lon also handling string and horn arrangements. George Harrison produced “Sweet Music,” from the Van Eatons’ original demo tape, at Abbey Road, and brought along Ringo and Jim Gordon on drums, Mike Hugg on harmonium, and one Peter Frampton on guitar! Then, with a brace of songs written and ready to go, the brothers became the first artists to record at Apple Studio in Savile Row. They recorded almost all of the instrumental parts themselves, although Voormann (on bass) and Starr (on what else, drums) joined in occasionally. The final album also included four songs recorded back in New York at Bell Sound, as well as one of the original demos, but the album’s heart is the London-recorded material. RPM’s new issue even premieres outtakes from the Apple Studio sessions among its plentiful bonus tracks.
Naturally, there’s a lot more waiting for you after the jump!
Of course, the Harrison-produced “Sweet Music” is the album’s centerpiece. It betrays the influence of Phil Spector on the Beatle’s production style, recalling Spector’s heavier, “thick”-sounding productions of the early seventies. With Ringo and Jim Gordon on drums, Mike Hugg on harmonium and Peter Frampton on guitar, it’s a luxury production all the way; the saxophone coda and Fab-like backing vocals add another layer to the song. In Stefan Granados’ liner notes, Derrek recalls George’s having employed the same style as he would have on his own solo albums of the time. Harrison’s influence is also felt on “Sun Song.” Its refrain of “Sun, sun, will you come?” amounts to a heavier musical prequel to the considerably more upbeat “Here Comes the Sun.”
The variety of the music on Brother reflects the eclectic taste of the Apple principals. The brothers’ folk side was indulged on opening track “Warm Woman,” actually heard in the lo-fi demo version presented to Apple. Where “Sweet Music” was issued as the American single, “Warm Woman” was the English choice. “More Than Words” also has a haunting, homespun quality. As well as “Sweet Music,” “Sunshine” proves that the Van Eatons could mesh a commercial rock sensibility with more unusual sounds, like that song’s flute. The sound of the album changes with the four Bell Studios tracks, recorded subsequent to the Apple sessions. “Hear My Cry” shows off a slicker, R&B style, as does “Help Us All.” The Bell tracks all possess a crisper, more polished sound. “Ring” emphasizes its funky beat and “Without the Lord” goes in another direction entirely, with its gospel-meets-bluegrass rave-up feel. And if the melody line at one point recalls George Harrison’s own “Miss O’Dell,” George apparently copped to taking inspiration from the Van Eatons’ song. For their part, they were flattered. Andy Newmark joined the NY sessions on drums, alongside Paul Glanz on organ, T.J. Tindall on guitar, Alexis Guevara on congas and Richard Davis on bass.
Those Bell tracks replaced three Apple-recorded songs, “Home, Dear Home,” “The Sea” and “Can’t Wait.” All three make their first-ever appearance on RPM’s reissue. They’re joined by “Song of Songs” (the B-side to “Sweet Music”), a version of album track “Another Thought” with strings, a new remix of “Sweet Music” and two more outtakes, “Livin’” and “Resurrection (Version 2).” It should be noted that Version 1 is nowhere in sight, but there is some studio chatter included before this jazzy cut. The bonus material is uniformly strong. “Home, Dear Home” is a strong, reflective guitar-and-piano ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place on the album, and “The Sea” marks a fascinating collaboration with classical composer and fellow Apple artist John Tavener (The Whale, Celtic Requiem). Ringo Starr had championed Tavener much as he had the Van Eatons; Tavener added an evocative and rather outré coda to the grand, orchestrated track that sounds unlike any of the other songs on Brother. “Can’t Wait” has a cool, funky groove.
After the lack of commercial success for Brother, the Van Eatons found work backing everyone from Carly Simon to Andy Williams. They continued to play for Ringo Starr throughout the 1970s, including on Ringo and George’s hit single “Photograph.” They also recorded an album for A&M and are currently planning an anthology of songs recorded between 1968 and the present day. There’s much sweet music to savor on this classy reissue of Brother, however. Ian Jones has impeccably remastered all of the tracks at Abbey Road. Stefan Granados’ detailed liner notes are lavishly illustrated with photographs and memorabilia including a cablegram from George Harrison imploring then-Apple chief Allen Klein of the single’s potential in colorful terms! The original zoetrope included with the LP is also reprinted as an illustration, and the front and back covers of the album have been faithfully reproduced. The long-awaited debut of Brother on CD is a landmark release that fills a major gap in the always-ripe Apple catalogue. It’s available now, and you can order it at the link below!
Lon and Derrek Van Eaton, Brother (Apple SAPCOR 25, 1973 – reissued RPM RETRO 912, 2012)
- Warm Woman
- Sun Song
- More Than Words
- Hear My Cry
- Without the Lord
- Sweet Music
- Help Us All
- Maybe There’s Another
- Another Thought
- Home Dear Home (Album Session)
- The Sea (Album Session)
- Song of Songs (B-side of “Sweet Music,” Apple single 1845, 1972)
- Another Thought (Version 2, with strings)
- Sweet Music (Remix)
- Livin’ (Album Session)
- Can’t Wait (Album Session)
- Resurrection (Version 2 – Finished Demo)
Tracks 12-13, 15-19 previously unreleased