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Razor and Tie Revisits Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery” For 40th Anniversary

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Brain Salad SurgeryFor Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the fourth time was the charm.

Keyboardist Keith Emerson, vocalist/bassist/guitarist Greg Lake and drummer/percussionist Carl Palmer were innovators in the progressive rock genre, fusing classical, jazz and heavy rock on a regular basis since their 1970 self-titled debut album. ELP was an answer both to the compact, three-minute pop songs that dominated the airwaves and to the blues-rock genre epitomized by the likes of Led Zeppelin, and the group pursued a refinement of their sound via their second and third albums, Tarkus and Trilogy. Yet the best expression of what made Emerson, Lake and Palmer so distinctive and so excitingly experimental can be heard on their fourth studio long-player (and fifth album overall), 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery. The mission statement for the album was simple – to follow up the dense production of Trilogy with an album that the “power trio” could play live – but the results were anything but. Razor and Tie has recently issued a new edition of Brain Salad as a 2-CD/1-DVD-A set to belatedly celebrate the landmark release’s fortieth anniversary.

This new reissue follows the label’s 2012 sets for ELP and Tarkus and follows a similar format: the original album in remastered form on Disc One, a different album presentation with an array of outtakes, alternates and early mixes on Disc Two, and new, high-resolution mixes on Disc Three, a DVD-Audio disc. Much has changed since 2012, however, not least of all the parting of the ways between the band and producer Steven Wilson. Prog hero Wilson has recently remixed albums from King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull, and it was anticipated that he would continue his association with ELP for Brain Salad. He’s been replaced by producer Jakko M. Jakszyk, currently of King Crimson, who is responsible for the new stereo mix available here in lossless 24/96 Advanced Resolution and 24/96 LPCM Stereo on the DVD-Audio disc. A key component of those earlier deluxe editions is missing, however: the new 5.1 surround mix which is only available on an import Super Deluxe box set.

Brain Salad Surgery –its title derived from a Dr. John lyric referencing fellatio – remains the most ambitious entry in the ELP catalogue. Produced by Lake, it proved an amalgam of the styles that propelled the group to success – and also was their loudest and most aggressive release. In addition, it marked ELP’s heaviest and most skillfully integrated use of electronic sounds and voices to that point. Nobody could accuse the supergroup of resting on its laurels. In attempting to get back to basics, ELP continued to push the envelope with impeccable musicianship and brainy bombast.

Certainly it was a brave move to open a hotly-anticipated album with an adaptation of a Hubert Parry (1848-1918) hymn with lyrics adapted from a William Blake poem (1757-1827) but that’s precisely what ELP did with “Jerusalem.” It was banned upon its release by the BBC on the grounds of its desecration of the classic hymn. It’s all rather stately, though, and a bold affirmation of the group’s English heritage – not to mention a grandiose and unexpected way to open a so-called rock album. “Toccata” also found ELP serving as adapters. Keith Emerson arranged the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s First Piano Concerto for the group, with the piece a showcase for not only his dexterous, cosmic synth explorations but for Palmer’s furious drumming. Ginastera, an acclaimed figure in 20th century classical music and in the music of his home country of Argentina, approved of Emerson’s radical transformation complete with its groundbreaking electronic drum solo.

The eclectic variety of sounds continued with the haunting baroque ballad “Still…You Turn Me On,” a pretty Lake ballad in the vein of “Lucky Man.” Its psychedelic flourishes and touches of funk retained the element of the unexpected, but the track was an oasis of accessibility on the album’s first side. In the liner notes for this reissue, Lake still laments his bandmates’ reluctance to issue the song as a single when it could have followed in the footsteps of “Lucky Man” to expose the group to a broader audience. “Benny the Bouncer,” an electronic-infused music hall pastiche with a cheerfully violent storyline, was written by Emerson, Lake and King Crimson’s Peter Sinfield, and features Emerson’s best barroom boogie-woogie piano licks. Lake’s exaggerated vocals are aptly described by Emerson as in the style of Stanley Holloway, the great British actor who originated the role of Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

The first four tracks on Brain Salad Surgery, however, served as prelude to the lengthy suite “Karn Evil 9” (a play on the word “carnival”). The nearly 30-minute track, beginning on Side One of the original vinyl and occupying the complete second side, as well was split into three movements (or Impressions) with two parts to the first movement. Like the epic title track that opened Tarkus, “Karn Evil” excitingly shifted moods, tempi and style, with standout moments for all three members. (Emerson and Lake shared writing credit along with lyricist Sinfield.)

Lake comfortably adopted the role of the carnival barker in the sci-fi fantasia which told of a futuristic world where “all manner of evil and decadence had been banished.” The “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends…” – the second part of the 1st Impression – likely remains ELP’s single most famous piece of music, but it’s surrounded by one of their most creative and sprawling sonic explorations. The 2nd Impression is the most jazz-oriented, a piano/bass/drums workout (with offbeat synthesized steel drums) that’s refreshingly straightforward in its instrumentation but varied in its execution. The 3rd Impression ratchets up the rock quotient, setting to alternately defiant and triumphant music a dialogue between man and computer, pitted against one another for supremacy.

After the jump: what sets this edition apart from the rest? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 31, 2014 at 09:33

How Deep Is Our Love: Robin Gibb’s Final Album Set For September Release

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Robin GibbEarlier this year, Barry Gibb took to the road with his Mythology Tour, in which he looked back on the music of The Bee Gees and his decades-long collaboration with his late brothers Maurice and Robin. Barry’s warm onstage tributes to Robin, who died of cancer in May 2012, were among the emotional high points of each concert, with Barry candidly and affectingly acknowledging the friction that sometimes characterized their relationship. Barry’s son Stephen paid homage to his uncle with his lead vocal on “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” and Maurice’s daughter Samantha performed the tender “Run to Me.” Barry, finally, ceded “I Started a Joke” to Robin himself, appearing via video. It was clear that Robin Gibb’s passing is still keenly felt by those in his family as well as by all of the fans whom his voice touched over the years. On September 30, Rhino/Reprise will afford those fans one more chance to hear Robin Gibb with the release of 50 St. Catherine’s Drive, a collection of 17 songs recorded by the late vocalist between 2006 and 2011.

50 St. Catherine’s Drive is so named for Gibb’s birthplace on the Isle of Man. It’s likely an apt title as the recording sessions found Gibb in a reflective mood; he even revisited one key track from the Bee Gees’ past. Rolling Stone, the first to break the news on the album, is offering an exclusive preview of the album’s re-recording of “I Am the World,” a B-side to the group’s Australian hit “Spicks and Specks.” The other sixteen songs are said to be original compositions by Robin, some co-written with his son RJ; most were intended by Robin for the St. Catherine’s LP but some are demos dating as late as 2011.

Hit the jump for more details! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 30, 2014 at 16:50

Posted in Bee Gees, News, Robin Gibb

Calling “Gloria”: Laura Branigan’s Debut Album Gets Expanded Reissue

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Laura Branigan - Branigan“What kind of an artist are you?”

The question has been asked again and again in this age of music reality shows in which a fickle public can make a recording star – at least for fifteen minutes – by dialing an 800 number or sending a text message. Truth to tell, Laura Branigan could have been any kind of artist she desired. Armed with a powerful, resonant and highly individual voice, Branigan worked her way up the ranks of stardom.  She ultimately chose to embrace the sounds of contemporary pop, forever to be associated with the big, sleek sound of the 1980s. But if the late artist will inevitably be remembered for “Gloria” or “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” her body of work reveals a multi-faceted vocalist whose alto was excitingly adaptable. The first phase of Branigan’s all-too-short career gets its most comprehensive exploration yet thanks to Other Half Entertainment and Gold Legion’s expanded CD reissue of her debut album for Atlantic Records, 1982’s Branigan. This loving reminder of Branigan’s dynamic talent adds seven delicious bonuses – six of which predate the album itself.

German producer Jack White and his co-producer/arranger Greg Mathieson were enlisted by Atlantic to shape Branigan’s debut platter after a number of singles failed to establish the singular vocalist in the pop mainstream. (More on those later!) With an A-list band including Toto’s Steve Lukather on guitar, Leland Sklar and Bob Glaub on bass, Carlos Vega on drums and Michael Boddicker on synthesizers, plus Maxine and Julia Waters on background vocals, Atlantic wasn’t taking any chances. White was determined to showcase many facets of Branigan’s burnished voice, alternating ballads with rockers and perhaps most key, dance-oriented floor-fillers.

Branigan begins modestly enough. Opening cut (and the album’s leadoff single) “All Night with Me,” written by future Walt Disney Music President Chris Montan, is an adult contemporary mid-tempo ballad placing Branigan’s warm voice out front. She embellishes the soft verses with vulnerability and the hook-laden chorus with sweetly seductive confidence, but the smooth composition serves as mere prelude.  Though it came second on the album, Umberto Tozzi, Giancarlo Bigazzi and Trevor Veitch’s “Gloria” is second to none in the Branigan songbook. The track exploded onto the turntable with a torrent of urgency; its fiery, anthemic arrangement by Greg Mathieson (who arranged the original Italian version of the song) with its commanding power chords was matched by Branigan’s furious vocal. If the singer kept her cards close to the vest on “All Night with Me,” she unleashed her inner tigress four minutes into Branigan on “Gloria.” Branigan’s plea to the titular lady to “slow down before you start to blow it” was delivered as if the lives of both the singer and the subject of her admonishment were on the line. The Americanized “Gloria,” with Veitch’s new lyrics, couldn’t miss. It proved to be a supremely fierce performance wrapped in an irresistibly catchy package for the post-disco generation of dancefloor dwellers. It took Branigan to the top of the Cash Box chart and No. 2 on Billboard.

Following “Gloria” would be no easy feat on any album, so White and Mathieson provided Branigan with a move away from dance and towards rock. Adrian John Loveridge and John Wonderling’s melodramatic “Lovin’ You Baby” burns with requisite passion and desperation (“How could I live? Where would I go and what would I give? What can I say? How do I stand…if there’s no more lovin’ you, baby?”). It wasn’t the only rock-oriented track on the nine-song album.  Dive in – after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 30, 2014 at 13:37

Posted in Laura Branigan, News, Reissues, Reviews

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The American Metaphysical Circus: Esoteric Label Mines Art Rock From The USA, John Cale

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United States of AmericaUnder the auspices of its new president, Clive Davis, Columbia Records aggressively courted the rock revolution in the late 1960s. The classy home to Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams built upon its successes with Paul Revere and the Raiders, Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan to tap into the youth market with a wide variety of rock artists. Two outré albums from the venerable Columbia catalogue have recently been reissued by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint, and they both live up to the label’s name.

The United States of America only released one album in its short career. The self-titled 1968 LP for Columbia’s classical Masterworks division was unusual even for the heady, excitingly adventurous times and a true example of “alternative” rock! The six-person band consisting of Joseph Byrd (electronic music/electric harpsichord/organ/calliope/piano), Dorothy Moskowitz (lead vocals), Gordon Marron (electric violin/ring modulator), Rand Forbes (electric bass), Craig Woodson (electric drums/percussion) and Ed Bogas (“occasional” organ/piano/calliope) defiantly rejected the conventions of the young rock scene. With no guitar player, the band’s sound was heavily electronic and unabashedly avant-garde. Byrd was a student of avant-garde hero John Cage and a member of the Fluxus “anti-art” art movement. Despite these credentials, he became interested in the power of pop and rock with young people. Through an association with Masterworks head, producer John McClure, Byrd and co. were signed to Columbia in the hopes of earning their underground sound a wider audience.

Byrd and the band dubbed The United States of America blended San Francisco-style acid rock with dense soundscapes and experimentation achieved by electronically altering the sound of conventional instrumentation. The self-titled The United States of America was uncompromising and unlike any other release on the pop-rock scene. Produced by David Rubinson – who would go on to collaborate with Herbie Hancock, The Pointer Sisters and Phoebe Snow – it melded compositional and musical sophistication with utter primitivism. Its tracks formed a song cycle about American life, with sharply satirical, often absurdist lyrical observations and no concessions to a commercial sensibility. Columbia marketed the album with an ad reading, “There’s a United States of America that’s a far cry from Mom, Apple Pie and The Flag,” but it was never destined for mainstream success.

After the jump: more on The United States of America, plus a lost album from John Cale and Terry Riley – and order links, track listings, etc.! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 30, 2014 at 10:19

Rhino Gets The Led Out, Wave Two: “Led Zeppelin IV” and “Houses of the Holy” Arrive in October

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Led Zeppelin - IV Box

It may be the dog days of summer, but that hasn’t stopped Led Zeppelin from adding a little more heat.  Following yesterday’s news of the next two reissues in Paul McCartney’s Archive Collection series, the legendary blues-rock band has announced the two next installments in its own definitive reissue program.  On October 28, Rhino/Atlantic – in conjunction with Zeppelin’s Swan Song label – will release Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy in a variety of CD, vinyl and digital formats.

The album referred to as Led Zeppelin IV arrived in late 1971, bearing no album title or even the band’s name on its cover.  Not that anybody was confused; with songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll” and “Going to California,” sales soared.  Though it peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, it’s currently the second-best selling album ever in the U.S., nestled between Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.  How to top that?  Houses of the Holy, consisting of all original material, arrived in spring 1973, and moved the band even further away from its blues-based brand of hard rock.  Its layered production and intricate compositions of “The Rain Song,” “The Song Remains the Same” and the reggae-based “D’yer Mak’er” a chart-topping album on both sides of the Atlantic.

Both albums will be available in the style of the recent Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III reissues, in the following formats:

  • Standard CD – Remastered album packaged in a gatefold card wallet.
  • 2-CD Deluxe Edition (2CD) – Remastered album plus previously unreleased companion audio disc.
  • Standard LP – Remastered album on 180-gram vinyl, packaged in a replica sleeve of the album’s first pressing.
  • Deluxe Edition Vinyl (2LP) – Remastered album and previously unreleased companion audio pressed on 180-gram vinyl.
  • Digital Download – Remastered album and companion audio will both be available.
  • Super Deluxe Box Set featuring the remastered original album and companion audio on both CD and 180-gram vinyl, plus a high-resolution digital download card for all content, housed in a hardbound 80-page book with a high-quality print of the album cover (the first 30,000 of which are individually numbered) also included.

After the jump, we have more information including the complete track listings and pre-order links for both titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 29, 2014 at 12:13

Listen To What The Man Said: Paul McCartney Announces “Venus and Mars,” “Wings at the Speed of Sound” Archive Sets

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Venus and Mars Box Set

BREAKING NEWS!

Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed links that appeared on Amazon this morning for the rumored upcoming Paul McCartney Archive Collection editions of d Wings’ 1975 and 1976 albums Venus and Mars and At the Speed of Sound, respectively.  Well, the rumor is now a fact, as Concord Music Group’s Hear Music label and McCartney’s MPL have confirmed the September 23 arrival in the U.S. of both titles.

True to form, both albums will be available in a plethora of formats including 2-disc standard editions, 3-disc (2-CD/1-DVD) hardbound book editions, gatefold vinyl and digital, each with a disc of rare and previously unreleased bonus material.

Venus and Mars, released in May 1975, had the unenviable task of following the phenomenally successful Band on the Run.  Though Band had been recorded by the slim, three-person line-up of Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine, Macca made the decision to bolster the group with the addition of Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and Geoff Britton on drums.  Before settling on Allen Toussaint’s Sea-Saint Studios as the recording venue of choice, Wings entered Abbey Road where early versions of three songs were cut for the new album.  After just six months in Wings, however, Britton departed the band, and American drummer Joe English completed the sessions for Venus and Mars.  Toussaint, Dave Mason and Tom Scott all guest-starred on the album which delivered on its promise of a true “Rock Show.”  If McCartney, indeed, had worried about building on the success of Band on the Run, he needn’t have.  Venus and Mars spawned a No. 1 single – the rollicking “Listen to What the Man Said” – and went to the top spot on both the U.S. and U.K. album charts. It also provided a platform for Wings to launch the Wings Over the World tour – which, of course, included the Wings Over America leg and album.

Between the Australian and European legs of Wings Over the World, McCartney and Wings entered Abbey Road to record the album that would become Wings at the Speed of Sound.  It was Macca’s first album wholly recorded in the U.K. since 1973’s Red Rose Speedway (still awaiting a deluxe Archive Collection reissue) and featured a number of lead vocals from singers other than Paul – Denny on “The Note You Never Wrote” and “Time to Hide,” Jimmy on “Wino Junko,” Linda on “Cook of the House,” and Joe on “Must Do Something About It.”  Of course, it was two songs sung by Paul that catapulted the album to another smash success: the endearing, childlike “Let ‘Em In” (No. 2 U.K./No. 3 U.S./No. 1 U.S. Easy Listening) and the unapologetically buoyant “Silly Love Songs” (No. 1 U.S./No. 1 U.S. Easy Listening).  The latter was a record-breaking 27th No. 1 for Paul the songwriter.  Released in March 1976, Speed of Sound went to No. 2 in the U.K. and the top spot in the U.S. for seven non-consecutive, becoming McCartney’s most successful album ever in America and setting the stage for the Wings Over America tour to take flight that May.

After the jump, we have more details courtesy the complete press release, plus pre-order links, the full track listings, and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 28, 2014 at 13:03

Real Gone Is “In Tune” With September Slate Featuring Grateful Dead, Ides of March, Willie Hutch, More

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Real Gone - September 2014

September 1 marks Labor Day, but Real Gone Music isn’t taking much time off! The very next day, the label launches a new crop of eight titles emphasizing soul, funk and R&B but also encompassing country, classic rock and a touch of prog!

At Motown, Willie Hutch gifted The Jackson 5 with his song “I’ll Be There,” saw his songs recorded by the label’s elite including Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, and penned funky soundtracks including The Mack. In 1977, he departed Berry Gordy’s empire for Whitfield Records, headed (of course) by Motown expatriate Norman Whitfield. Hutch’s two Whitfield albums In Tune and Midnight Dancer are arriving on U.S. CD for the first time anywhere. Hutch is joined by R&B great Esther Phillips on the Real Gone roster, as the label has a reissue of Phillips’ 1973 CTI/Kudu platter Alone Again Naturally. The former Little Esther tears into not only Gilbert O’Sullivan’s title track but gives her all to the likes of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s “Do Right Man, Do Right Woman,” popularized by Aretha Franklin. Real Gone’s edition is based upon the out-of-print edition by Reel Music including its two live bonus tracks and A. Scott Galloway’s essay. Alone Again has resulted from the partnership of Real Gone and SoulMusic Records; the labels’ affiliation is also yielding two rare albums by the soulful Ullanda McCullough for the Atlantic label on one CD, including a set written and produced for the singer by Ashford and Simpson!

Not in an R&B mood? Real Gone has country fans covered with the first-ever compendium of the chart hits of Ray Griff, the country singer-songwriter known to his fans as The Entertainer! Griff’s The Entertainer – Greatest U.S. and Canadian Hits collects 24 tracks from seven (yes, seven) record labels spanning the period of 1967-1986!

If classic rock is your bag, you might want to hop a ride on an expanded edition of Vehicle from the other Chicago horn band, The Ides of March! This reissue adds four bonus singles and new liner notes by Richie Unterberger (including new quotes from Ides of March/Survivor man Jim Peterik) to the original 1970 album and celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary. You might say “Yes!” to Rick Wakeman’s Criminal Record, recorded shortly after the keyboard great rejoined Yes for the Going for the One album in 1977. Last but not least, Real Gone returns to Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks series for a key 1969 show on the band’s home turf at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium!

Hit the jump for Real Gone’s press release with more details on all eight titles, plus pre-order links! All releases are due from the label on September 2. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 28, 2014 at 10:08

Ace’s “Girls with Guitars 3″ Features Guitar Rock From Jackie DeShannon, Brenda Lee, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, More

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Girls with Guitars 3Ace Records began its Girls with Guitars CD series in 2004.  That first volume took its inspiration from a 1989 LP issued by the label and featured 24 tracks from lesser-known American girl groups worthy of attention from garage-rock fans.  The music of Girls with Guitars was diverse, encompassing a variety of sixties sounds from garage to pop and soul.  A second volume, Destroy That Boy: More Girls with Guitars, followed in 2009 ramping up the star wattage with a couple of mind-blowing cuts by Ann-Margret.  Now, Volume 3 – entitled The Rebel Kind after Lee Hazlewood’s song famously recorded by Dino, Desi and Billy and surveyed here by New Zealand’s The Chicks – collects 24 more rockin’ girl rarities from the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Japan and beyond.

The most famous names on The Rebel Kind belong to Jackie DeShannon and Brenda Lee.  Jackie has been a fixture on the Ace scene, with the label offering volumes of her complete Liberty and Imperial singles as well as a collection of her work as a songwriter.  (A second such volume is on the way.)  Girls with Guitars naturally indulges the more rocking side of the “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “What the World Needs Now is Love” chanteuse, featuring her 1964 recording of “Dream Boy,” recording during the same London trip that yielded her folk-rock gem “Don’t Turn Your Back on Me.”  Jimmy Page, then a hot session guitar slinger, joins Jackie on the track.  Nashville queen and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” gal Brenda Lee also found herself in London in 1964 with Jimmy Page at her side and on fire.  With producer Mickie Most (The Animals, Donovan), Lee recorded the version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” heard here.

Donovan himself is represented with “You Just Gotta Know My Mind” from actress, singer and future David Bowie pal and collaborator Dana Gillespie.  The Donovan tune was Gillespie’s first single for Decca Records, and yup, featured the ubiquitous Page!    Donovan isn’t the only famous name here in the songwriting department.  Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is heard via a 1966 single by The Honeybeats – in Italian!  Brill Building stalwarts Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Chico’s Girl” was cut in Los Angeles by producer and Wrecking Crew sax man Steve Douglas for a 1966 single reprised here.  L.A. band The Turtles served as the backing group for The Chymes on another sound of ’66 –the Chattahoochee Records single “He’s Not There Anymore,” written and produced by Nita Garfield and her boyfriend, The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan.

Rock on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 25, 2014 at 10:49

Look Up To The Sun: Ruthann Friedman Goes Beyond “Windy” On Now Sounds’ “Complete Constant Companion”

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Ruthann Friedman - Constant CompanionRoughly one year ago, Now Sounds released Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook. Its colorful cover was adorned with a striking photograph of the artist, intense and beautiful, in a verdant setting. The label has now continued the Ruthann Friedman story with The Complete Constant Companion Sessions, and its cover is as to Windy’s as night is to day. Its stark black-and-white line art by Peter Kaukonen appears to depict an angel on a landscape of rolling hills, conjuring cryptic text and an arrangement of branches. The drawing is both spare and intricate, mysterious and inviting. It’s an apropos introduction to the intimate world of Constant Companion. The lush Wrecking Crew-aided pop arrangements as heard on Windy have ceded to delicate voice-and-guitar, folk-style performances, though the individuality of Friedman’s exquisite original compositions is – put simply – the one constant.

Ruthann Friedman is best known, of course, for penning The Association’s 1967 chart-topper “Windy” which was ranked among BMI’s Top 100 songs of the twentieth century. Now Sounds’ 2013 anthology premiered tracks salvaged from an aborted LP intended for A&M Records produced by Tommy LiPuma (George Benson, Diana Krall), as well as sessions with Curt Boettcher (The Association, Sagittarius) and others. It featured guests including Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and The Beau Brummels’ Ron Elliot on tracks recorded between 1966 and 1973. The centerpiece of this new collection is the 1969 Reprise LP Constant Companion; with the A&M project shelved, it was Friedman’s debut and her only studio release until 2013. To the album’s original twelve tracks, Now Sounds has added twelve more, most from its sessions and all previously unissued.

“Come all you likely people and hear these sounds I wail,” implores the singer as “Piper’s Call” begins. The de facto first track of Constant Companion, following the short, jazzy a cappella “Topsy Turvy Moon,” the beguiling, acoustic psych-folk ballad (co-written with Steve Mann) sets the fragile tone of the album. Friedman’s lyrics are more than occasionally impressionistic, employing timeless, often pastoral images in their storytelling. With Friedman accompanying herself on guitar, there’s nothing to detract from her piercing, expressive vocals on these moody, low-key reflections as produced in understated fashion by Joe Wissert (The Turtles, Boz Scaggs).

Many tracks here feel deeply personal or drawn directly from the artist’s experience, such as the contemplative “Looking Back Over Your Shoulder.” Friedman shares in her candid track-by-track liner notes that “Ringing Bells” (“…and blinking lights/In and after dawns of hard-lived nights”) was inspired by an acid trip, and indeed, it’s an eloquent evocation of the experience: “Here, I’ve found a never place/With shining souls on every face/Around the corner of a sigh/Between the twinkle of an eye.” A vivid snapshot of a particular era, she concludes, “High in constant never time, I dig the workings of my mind.” Similarly, the lovely and hopeful “Peaceable Kingdom” is very much of its time, dreaming of a better place within flight’s reach. “Danny,” written for Friedman’s nephew, is tender and one of the loveliest moments on Constant Companion. Other songs are far darker and more somber, like the hauntingly offbeat “Fairy Prince Rainbow Man,” and the sparse, poetic chronicle of the end of relationship, “Too Late to Be Mourning.”

Friedman, perhaps her own harshest critic, dismisses “People” as “moaning, whining, wimpy bullshit.” But there’s something touching and indeed, universal, hearing her reach a painful moment of self-discovery: “I have spent so many years trying to find myself/Now that I know where I am, I find that I am by myself.” The surrounding lyrics are a bit florid, but her awareness and ability to relate emotional truths can’t be denied. The up-tempo “No Time” is pointedly criticized by its songwriter as “another bullshit song,” and it is of a piece with “People.” Though Friedman is being hard on herself, both songs are directed at those who didn’t understand her. In “People,” she chastises, “People, you know you are just the same as me/The only difference is the lie we see…” and in the latter, it’s “Damn the chaos and down with the fools/And don’t bug me with all your rules.” The artist has certainly matured, but her sentiments still likely ring true for those of a certain age today, in the process of their own soul-searching.

A bluesy melody enhances “Morning Becomes You,” which would have made a great candidate for a harmony-pop rendition by the likes of The Association. (So many of the songs here are so intimate and so personal that it’s hard to imagine other artists tackling them.) The original album’s closing track, “Look Up to the Sun,” is also one of its most sensual. As on “Windy,” Friedman skillfully blends both the celestial and the earthbound into the fabric of her music.

Constant Companion has been expanded with numerous bonus tracks!  Read about them and more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 24, 2014 at 09:29

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Ruthann Friedman

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Sumpin Funky Going On: “Country Funk II” Features Willie, Dolly, Bobby, Jackie, Kenny and More

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Country Funk 2Almost two years ago, we reported on Light in the Attic’s Country Funk, an anthology celebrating the hybrid genre of the title.  Back then, LITA described country funk as an “inherently defiant genre” encompassing “the elation of gospel with the sexual thrust of the blues, country hoedown harmony with inner city grit.  It is alternately playful and melancholic, slow jammin’ and booty shakin’.  It is both studio slick and barroom raw.”  Well, if the 16 nuggets on that 2012 release weren’t enough for you, the label has returned to the well with another 17 slabs of soulful country-and-western tunes with Country Funk II.  Whereas the first volume spanned the period 1969-1975, this second installment takes in tracks from 1967 to 1974.

One familiar name has returned for Volume II.  It’s Bob, formerly known as Bobby, Darin, with another track from his Bob Dylan-inspired Commitment album of 1969.  “Me and Mr. Hohner” is about as far-removed from “Mack the Knife” as one can get, but Darin filled the role of hippie-folkie troubadour with the same conviction he had brought to the role of tuxedo-clad showman.  The luminous Jackie DeShannon also crossed over from the world of pop.  The “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “What the World Needs Now” artist was an early lady of the canyon with her 1969 LP Laurel Canyon, from which Country Funk II has derived her gritty cover of The Band’s immortal “The Weight.”

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton famously teamed up in 1983 for the chart-topping single “Islands in the Stream,” but both artists were by then well-versed in blurring genre lines – so it’s no surprise to see them here.  Rogers is heard with his band The First Edition, best-known for their psychedelic “Just Dropped In,” on the 1971 single “Tulsa Turnaround.”  Parton’s contribution is “Getting Happy” from her still-not-on-CD 1974 album Love is Like a Butterfly.  Willie Nelson had the same deft ability to traverse the worlds of pop and country as Parton and Rogers, and he shows up here with “Shotgun Willie,” the title track of his 1973 Atlantic Records outlaw-country breakthrough album.

The Byrds’ Gene Clark helped that seminal folk-rock band incorporate elements of country, bluegrass and psychedelia into their own music, and in 1968, he teamed up with banjo great Doug Dillard to form Dillard and Clark.  The duo produced two albums for A&M including 1969’s Through the Morning, Through the Night, from which their reinvention of Lennon and McCartney’s “Don’t Let Me Down” is reprised here.  Another duo, Larry Williams and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, created an unusual fusion in 1967 when they teamed with psych-rockers The Kaleidoscope for the Okeh single “Nobody.”  The song was covered by Three Dog Night for that band’s debut album; the original recording is presented on Country Funk II.  Three Dog Night scored a No. 1 hit with “Joy to the World” from the pen of Hoyt Axton; the Oklahoma-born songwriter’s “California Women” from his Joy to the World album appears here.

We have more details – plus the full track listing with discography and order links – after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 23, 2014 at 13:37

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