This 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 »
That 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 »
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 »
Fourteen-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 »
Ray Parker Jr. & Run-DMC, Ghostbusters: Stay Puft Edition Super Deluxe Vinyl (Legacy)
The Marshmallow Man is back! The Stay Puft Super Deluxe Edition Vinyl is a limited edition collectible that every Ghostbusters fan will want to take home! Co-produced by The Second Disc’s Mike Duquette, this set contains the No. 1 hit single “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. and the “Ghostbusters” rap by Run-DMC for the film’s hit sequel, with both tracks on a white 12” single in a deluxe, puffy, package that smells like marshmallows!
Cherry Red has a 4-CD, 82-track overview of the glam rock icon (and Happy Days star)’s career, including her early, 60s pop sides, her prime hitmaking period, and even her forays into musical theatre! Joe will have a full review up soon!
This new 3-CD Hollies anthology, marking the harmony purveyors’ 50th year of recording, arrived in the U.K. last month but today gets its American release from Rhino.
Rhino boxes up eight Oldfield albums in one CD box set, including three Tubular Bells variations.
Spandau Ballet, The Very Best of Spandau Ballet: The Story (Rhino)
The New Romantic hitmakers behind “True” look back on their career with this set, available in 1-CD and 2-CD iterations.
Varese is restoring the second solo album from Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter to print in the U.S. with the six bonus tracks first appended to the 30th anniversary edition. The 1976 album features personnel including Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, Lew Soloff, Auyn and the members of Queen! Watch this space for an exciting opportunity to WIN a copy of this reissue!
The singer-songwriter and Dancing with the Stars contestant has an 11-track compilation, featuring producer Max Martin’s previously unreleased version of “In Love with a Girl” and a new version of “Finest Hour.”
Neil Diamond returns with his 32nd studio album and first for Capitol, and its 12 songs in the artist’s vintage style add up to a warmly nostalgic trip for longtime fans. Target has an exclusive edition with two bonus tracks which may be outtakes from his 2010 covers project Dreams: renditions of George Harrison’s “Something” and Harry Nilsson’s”Remember,” and this edition is also available as an import at this link. Look for my review of Melody Road soon!
The venerable R&B outfit offers its first-ever holiday album, with favorites like “Winter Wonderland” and “Sleigh Ride” alongside reworked versions of “September” (yup, it’s “December”!) and “Happy Feelin'” – which this joyous celebration just might give you!
The sixties pop crooner-turned-avant garde hero Scott Walker teams up with California drone metal band Sunn O))) for a 5-track, 50-minute record that pushes the envelope for both artists. We’re marking this unusual release this week with a look back at the entirety of Walker’s career in a special two-part Back Tracks retrospective beginning tomorrow!
The Queen of Soul reunites with Clive Davis for her latest studio album, a tribute to her fellow divas – then and now – including Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dinah Washington and Adele!
Billy Idol is back with his rebel yell and sneer intact on his first album since 2005, produced by Trevor Horn and Greg Kurstin!
Annie Lennox usually hasn’t been one to bask in nostalgia, but here she is, bringing her own spin to such Great American Songbook standards as “Summertime” and “God Bless the Child.” The Amazon U.S.-exclusive edition has a bonus disc featuring a Lennox interview and a live version of blues staple “I Put a Spell on You.”
Roger Wilco! We’ve received the transmission that, on November 17, two new collections will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chicago alt-rock band Wilco in high style! Nonesuch Records will issue Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a new box set (4 CDs, 4 LPs or digital) of rare studio and live recordings culled from the band’s archives. And on that same date, the label will offer What’s Your 20, the first-ever compendium of Wilco’s previously released studio recordings, on 2 CDs or digital.
Formed from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco began in a similar alt-country vein before expanding its sonic palette to touch upon folk, rock, punk, avant-garde experimentalism and vintage pop textures. Though the alt-rockers’ lineup shifted frequently during its first decade, the band has been stable since 2004 with a line-up consisting of vocalist/guitarist Jeff Tweedy, bassist John Stirratt, guitarist Nels Cline, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen and drummer Glenn Kotche. Since its inception, Wilco has released eight studio albums, a live double album, and collaborative albums with both Billy Bragg and The Minus 5 (the “floating line-up” supergroup which featured Scott McCaughey, The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on the Wilco project). Wilco picked up two Grammy Awards in 2005 for A Ghost is Born, and has received four further nominations over the years, most recently for 2012’s The Whole Love.
Both of these upcoming collections have been produced by Grammy-nominated producer Cheryl Pawelski, co-founder of Omnivore Recordings and veteran of countless projects from labels including Capitol and Rhino. Pawelski notes in the press release, “Like a lot of fans, I had collected these straggling tracks over the past two decades of following Wilco’s every move. Alpha Mike Foxtrot includes almost every unique, essential performance that appeared on soundtracks, tribute albums and B-sides—and there are probably a few surprises for even the sharpest collector. This set presents an alternate history of the band, kind of a sideways view, and ultimately, it’s a super-fun listening experience.”
We have more details on these sets, as well as pre-order links and the full track listings, after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
O-o-h Child! Real Gone’s December Line-Up Features Five Stairsteps, Grateful Dead, B.J. Thomas and More
O-o-h Child! Real Gone Music has announced its December 2 release slate, and following the label’s holiday offerings set for November 4, it’s packed with rare soul, classic rock and folk!
The Real Goners have a complete collection of Linda Jones’ recordings for not one, not two, but three labels – Warner Bros., Atco and Loma –marking the most comprehensive collection yet for the “Hypnotized” songstress, including tracks new to CD! Joining the Linda Jones set is a two-for-one release of two Buddah albums from The First Family of Soul, The Five Stairsteps: 1968’s Our Family Portrait and 1970’s Stairsteps, the latter of which introduced the Top 10 hit “O-o-h Child.”
On the rock front, you’ll find two collections from western-themed bands! Real Gone continues the story of Cowboy with 5’ll Getcha Ten, the band’s 1971 album featuring the legendary Duane Allman sitting in; and the label adds a couple of tracks to the lone album from the 1980s’ wild roots-rockers The Unforgiven! And speaking of roots-rock of a kind, the ongoing Dick’s Picks reissue series for Grateful Dead continues with two 1973 shows from the Boston Music Hall!
The legendary Theodore Bikel makes his first appearance on Real Gone with a long out-of-print collection originally issued on Rhino Handmade. Theodore Bikel’s Treasury of Yiddish Folk and Theatre Songs contains 26 tracks from Bikel’s seminal Elektra recordings made between 1958 and 1964 at a time when popular music was rapidly changing, and will remind listeners, even today, of the enduring power of Bikel’s classic repertoire.
These six titles will be joined by two more releases originally scheduled for November 4. In the mid-1970s, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” icon B.J. Thomas became one of the most successful artists ever in the field of contemporary Christian music, recording a series of record-breaking, Grammy Award-winning albums for the Myrrh label that reflected the style and high production values of his pop material but with a spiritual emphasis. Home Where I Belong/Happy Man and You Gave Me Love/Miracle, with two albums on each CD, reveal a major chapter in the career of B.J. Thomas. I’ve written new liner notes for both titles, with fresh contributions from B.J. himself!
After the jump, we have the contents of Real Gone’s full press release plus pre-order links for all eight releases! Read the rest of this entry »