Archive for the ‘Compilations’ Category
Ace Super Soul Round-Up, Part Two: The “One in a Million” Songs of Sam Dees, The New Orleans Sound of Cosimo Matassa
Birmingham, Alabama native Sam Dees has worn many hats in a long and illustrious career – producer, singer, songwriter, among them. But it’s a songwriter that Dees has received his greatest acclaim. He’s gifted music to George Benson and Aretha Franklin (“Love All the Hurt Away”), Atlantic Starr (“Am I Dreaming”), Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Save the Overtime (For Me)” and Loleatta Holloway (“The Show Must Go On”) – as well as Larry Graham, whose No. 1 R&B/No. 9 pop hit “One in a Million You” lends its title to One in a Million: The Songs of Sam Dees.
This 22-track compilation draws upon Dees’ vast catalogue of soulful compositions, originally issued between 1970 and 1983. Dees himself kicks off the anthology with his own 1977 recording of “My World,” one of his strongest ballads. It goes on to feature a “Who’s Who” of soul royalty including The Spinners’ John Edwards (“Stop This Merry-Go-Round,” 1973), The Chi-Lites (the exclusive U.K. remix of “Vanishing Love” from 1977 – a song first recorded by…John Edwards!), Loleatta Holloway (the aforementioned “The Show Must Go On” from 1975), Esther Phillips (“Cry to Me,” from 1981 – first recorded by Loleatta!), Jackie Wilson (“Just as Soon as the Feeling’s Over,” from 1975), and Johnnie Taylor (“Seconds of Your Love,” from 1983). The latter was co-written by Dees and Philadelphia’s Ron Kersey, and also recorded by artists including Holloway, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Wilson Pickett and Jackie Moore. The Kersey/Dees partnership is also represented with The Temptations’ 1983 “What a Way to Put It,” featuring Dennis Edwards on lead vocals. Another Philly soul great, Bobby Martin, produced 1980’s “Where Did We Go Wrong” for LTD, co-written by Dees and LTD’s Jeffrey Osborne. The set, with track-by-track annotations from compiler Tony Rounce and remastering from Duncan Cowell, ends with Larry Graham’s “One in a Million You,” appropriate for a one-in-a-million solid gold songwriter.
The death earlier this year of Cosimo Matassa at the age of 88 truly marked the end of an era. Born in New Orleans in 1926, Matassa opened his first recording studio in 1945. He moved to a larger facility in 1955, and as studio owner and engineer, he became one of the most significant figures in New Orleans’ musical history – and therefore, the history of R&B. Cracking The Cosimo Code: ‘60s New Orleans R&B and Soul draws on the rich music recorded by Matassa at Cosimo Recording Studios, 521-525 Governor Nicholls Street, New Orleans. Matassa had been around to witness the changing of the guard in N’awlins R&B, from Fats Domino and producer Dave Bartholomew to younger production talents like Allen Toussaint, Wardell Querzegue and Harold Battiste and their stable of artists including Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Ernie K-Doe and The Neville Brothers. Though much else of the sound of the city changed, Matassa was a constant, presence and a constant innovator.
After the jump: more on Cosimo, order links and track listings for both titles!
Ace Super Soul Round-Up, Part One: Wayne Cochran, Arthur Prysock, and More “When Country Meets Soul”
Wayne Cochran was known as “The White Knight of Soul,” for his outrageous onstage attire and white pompadour. But underneath all the glamour of his showbiz persona, Cochran was a commanding soul vocalist. With Goin’ Back to Miami: The Soul Sides 1965-1970, Ace aims to showcase Wayne Cochran, the singer. This 2-CD, 38-track set collects recordings for the King, Mercury and Chess labels during the five-year period in which Cochran immersed himself in true R&B. As Alec Palao explains in his introduction to the thick, 28-page booklet, “He came on as a novelty [at venues such as The Apollo] and left as a fully-fledged blue-eyed soul brother.” Much of the rest of the booklet is filled with Cochran’s own illuminating recollections of his pop life; today, he’s a minister in Florida.
Inspired by his friend James Brown, Cochran’s approach was full-throttle in every respect. He made his debut on King in 1963, just a year before he would score his biggest success as a songwriter with J. Frank Wilson (and later, Pearl Jam)’s “Last Kiss.” He was encouraged to take his music in a harder-hitting direction by King labelmate Brown as evidenced by his recording of “Think” included here. He next moved to the small Soft label and then to Mercury during the period in which his club shows with the C.C. Riders really set his live work skyrocketing. Philadelphia’s Jerry Ross produced Cochran’s “Goin’ Back to Miami” in 1966, name-checking the city in which he’s lived since 1964. After Mercury had failed to set his chart career ablaze (despite fine work from Ross and his frequent arranger Joe Renzetti, and others), Cochran moved to Chess, where he recorded at Muscle Shoal’s Fame Studios. He returned to King in 1969 where plans were afoot for a live album. Though The Wayne Cochran Show LP (cut “live in the studio,” not actually “live”) never materialized, Ace has included it in full on the second disc of this collection. With Cochran’s interpretations of songs made famous by Otis Redding, Sly and the Family Stone, Sam and Dave and The Temptations, it’s a time capsule to the heyday of Cochran’s trademark “Vegas soul.” Cochran ended his recording career in the 1970s at Epic, also bringing his live work to a close late in that decade. He started a ministry in the early 1980s, where he happily remains ensconced today. But Goin’ Back to Miami is a fine appreciation of his towering, often underrated vocal talents, equal parts showbiz and passion. The set has been remastered by Nick Robbins.
After the jump, we’re taking a look at music from Arthur Prysock and the When Country Meets Soul series! Read the rest of this entry »
Upon his departure from Mott the Hoople, frontman Ian Hunter wasted little time in establishing a solo career. His first, eponymous solo album in 1975 yielded the single that made Hunter’s name as a solo artist, the original version of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” Recorded at George Martin’s AIR Studios, “Once Bitten” boasted Hunter’s old cohort Mick Ronson as arranger, guitarist and co-producer, and the track made it all the way to No. 14 on the U.K. chart. (Great White’s 1989 cover version belatedly earned Hunter a hit in the U.S. when it reached the Top 5.) Though “Once Bitten” was Hunter’s only hit U.K. single as a solo artist, his fellow musicians were taking notice. Hunter’s star-filled next album, 1976’s All American Alien Boy, has recently been reissued by Varese Sarabande’s Varese Vintage imprint in a newly-remastered edition which also adds six previously-issued bonus tracks including the unique single version of the title track. (Thanks to all who entered our recent contest to win this fantastic title!)
Recorded at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, All American Alien Boy saw Hunter joined by jazz greats David Sanborn and Jaco Pastorius, as well as Mothers of Invention drummer Aynsley Dunbar, Blood Sweat and Tears’ Lew Soloff and Dave Bargeron, and even Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen! Messrs. Mercury, Taylor and May can be heard, along with Sanborn, on “You Nearly Did Me In.” (An early version of the song sans guests, “Weary Anger,” is another of the bonus cuts here.) Though Mick Ronson didn’t appear on the album, Chris Stainton was brought onboard as a creative foil for Hunter, and supplied the evocative organ work on the Side Two opener, “Rape.” Aynsley Dunbar’s drums shine on “Apathy 83,” and though jazz great Jaco Pastorius brought his signature bass to the whole album, he also stepped up on lead guitar for “God (Take 1).” Soloff and Bargeron, of the Blood Sweat and Tears horn section, brought their powerful brass to the epic title track.
To quote from that band, however, what goes up must come down. Despite the strength of its material and the impeccable musicianship, Hunter’s sophomore effort failed to match the success of its predecessor. In the U.S., the Columbia Records release only reached No. 177 on the Top LPs chart, a far cry from the No. 50 scored by Ian Hunter. Varese Vintage’s reissue restores the original American cover artwork for All American Alien Boy, and also boasts a Columbia replica logo on the CD itself. This reissue happily retains the six bonus tracks released for the album’s thirtieth anniversary edition in 2006. Full lyrics and credits are provided in the new booklet along with liner notes from Larry R. Watts. Steve Massie has remastered the LP.
After the jump: more on Ian Hunter, plus the news on a collection of rarities from Ray Price! Read the rest of this entry »
“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” goes one of John Denver’s most well-known songs. In a little over five minutes – and even less in its single version – “Sunshine” touches on many of the themes most important to the singer-songwriter: nature, love, beauty. Throughout the course of a career sadly cut short when he perished in a plane crash in 1997 aged just 53, Denver revisited these themes over and over again, using his pure, crystalline tone to bring comfort and spread a message of peace. With his boyish good looks, gentle voice and enthusiasm for music and nature, he was one of the preeminent pop voices of the 1970s, incorporating folk and country influences into his popular material. Legacy Recordings and Denver’s longtime label, RCA, have recently celebrated his enduring gifts of song with the release of a new box set, All of My Memories: The John Denver Collection. This 4-CD, 90-track box set revises and expands upon Denver’s last retrospective box, 1997’s The Country Roads Collection. Whereas that set was limited to the troubadour’s RCA years, this box also takes in the earliest part of his career and his post-RCA recordings for labels including Sony, Windstar and MCA.
Two-time Grammy winner Denver charted more than 40 Billboard Hot 100, AC and Country songs from 1971 to 1988, and this box set naturally features a number of them, most notably his twangy sing-along breakthrough “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (No. 2 Pop/No. 3 AC/No. 50 Country, 1971), the sweet “Sunshine on My Shoulders” (No. 1 Pop/No. 1 AC/No. 42 Country, 1974), the euphoric “Rocky Mountain High” (No. 9 Pop/No. 3 AC, 1972), the joyful “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (No. 1 Pop/No. 5 AC/No. 1 Country, 1975) and the lush, sensual ode to his then-wife, “Annie’s Song” (No. 1 Pop/No. 1 AC/No. 9 Country, 1974). Many of Denver’s own compositions are, naturally, featured alongside tracks composed by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (who co-wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “I Guess He’d Rather Be In Colorado”), Buddy Holly (“Everyday”), John Prine (“Blow Up Your TV (Spanish Pipe Dream)”), Joe Henry, and others. This career overview also takes in key album tracks, live performances, and rarities including promotional-only and privately-pressed tracks. In addition, six songs make their first appearances anywhere on this set. Typical for a collection of this nature, the lesser-known material is the most fascinating.
Somewhat startlingly, Denver’s familiar, warm voice is instantly recognizable and his style almost fully-formed on Disc One’s first two tracks. Both are previously unissued demos from an October 1964 Capitol session produced by The New Christy Minstrels’ founder, Randy Sparks. “This Road,” from Sparks’ own pen, and Morgan Ames’ “Far Side of the Hill,” are lushly orchestrated with strings and background singers in the popular folk-pop style of the day, but Denver effortlessly sails above the ornamentation with a confident vibrato and earnest delivery. (The arrangements were by “Our Day Will Come” composer Mort Garson.) These qualities would serve him well down his own road – a road that Sparks helped set him on when he insisted that the young artist change his name from Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.! John took his new moniker both from his favorite state and from The New Christy Minstrels’ “Denver,” the first single from the singing group’s second album! The box also has highlights from his tenure with The Chad Mitchell Trio.
The original, previously unissued version of “Rhymes and Reasons” is included here as recorded for Reprise Records in 1968. It was later re-recorded for Denver’s RCA debut later that year with the same producer – Milton Okun, with whom Denver would forge a strong bond and association that would last for years. The Reprise version lacks the prominent piano part of the RCA version and has a different sonic character. It’s not radically dissimilar, but sheds light on Denver’s developing style. (A couple of other rare tracks come from Denver’s Reprise period – both sides of Denver, Boise and Johnson’s 1968 single featuring the rollicking political novelty “The ’68 Nixon (This Year’s Model)” and the folk-rock of “Take Me to Tomorrow.”)
There’s plenty more after the jump!
St. Etienne co-founder Bob Stanley’s Croydon Municipal imprint from the Cherry Red Group continues to have some of the most eclectic releases out there, emphasizing classic fifties and early sixties pop, R&B and beyond. The label’s latest offerings include a tribute to the pride of Bloomington, Indiana – Mr. Hoagy Carmichael – as well as a return to the realm of Popcorn, and a collection of cool, swinging film themes!
Any songwriter would likely sell his soul to compose a song with the endurance of “Stardust,” the 1931 standard written by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics later added by Mitchell Parish. But “Stardust” was just one of the many eternal songs penned by Carmichael (1899-1981); others include “Heart and Soul,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and “Georgia on My Mind.” So Carmichael is a fitting selection for Croydon’s first songwriter anthology. Buttermilk Skies: The Hoagy Carmichael Songbook has, among its 24 tracks, all of the songs mentioned above and many others.
Hoagy himself was a singer-songwriter long before the term was in vogue, so Buttermilk Skies includes his own versions of the nominal title track “Ole Buttermilk Sky” and “My Resistance is Low.” But compiler Stanley has also showcased the breadth of Carmichael’s songwriting talent with performances from across the musical spectrum. Some of the performers here come from the classic pop vocal tradition, such as Matt Monro with his rich rendition of “Skylark,” Bobby Darin with his brash “Up a Lazy River” and Mel Torme with the lightly swinging “One Morning in May.” Torme was a jazz vocalist par excellence, and other jazz singers and instrumentalists also get the spotlight – trumpeter Chet Baker with his hushed vocal performance of “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” Billie Holiday with “April in My Heart,” Nina Simone with “Memphis in June,” Carmen McRae with a smoky “Baltimore Oriole” and Louis Armstrong with a vocal version of “Ev’ntide.” Big band legends are represented (Glenn Miller with “We’re the Couple in the Castle,” Tommy Dorsey with “Walk It Off”) and R&B giants such as “The Genius” Ray Charles with his never-bettered “Georgia on My Mind” from 1960, and Billy Ward and the Dominoes with their hit 1957 revival of “Stardust.” Bob Hope and Shirley Ross are heard on “Two Sleepy People,” co-written with Frank Loesser, which they performed in the 1939 film Thanks for the Memory. Another film star, the brassy Betty Hutton, sings “Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief,” her Billboard No. 1 from 1945.
There are some surprising omissions here (no “The Nearness of You” or “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” for which Carmichael won an Academy Award), but Buttermilk Skies is a thoroughly enjoyable primer on the innovative songwriter who brought jazz influences into American popular song. The compilation includes an essay on Carmichael’s life and legacy by Matthew Lees, although we must question Lees’ assertion that “the other great songwriters of the era” represented “the more treacly world of stage and film musicals.” (Cole Porter and George Gershwin? Treacly?) Alas, the booklet contains no discographical annotation and no credits for Carmichael’s many collaborators, among them Loesser, Parish, Paul Francis Webster, and Johnny Mercer.
After the jump: the scoop on more Popcorn and a selection of Troxy Music: Fifties and Sixties Film Themes! Read the rest of this entry »
Blue Note Records’ 75th anniversary celebration has already encompassed compact disc and vinyl reissues from the venerable jazz label’s classic roster of artists including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown and Thelonious Monk. On November 4, the Blue Note party continues with the release of a new 5-CD box set. Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression is the title of both the box set, a 75-track compendium of key Blue Note singles, and an accompanying hardcover book. Uncompromising Expression, the book, has been written by jazz historian Richard Havers who has also curated the box set. Havers performed the same duties last year for the book and CD releases of Verve: The Sound of America from Blue Note sister label Verve Records.
Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression, the box set, opens with the label’s very first artist, pianist Meade “Lux” Lewis, and comes to a close 75 years later with bassist Derrick Hodge. Among the numerous artists featured are drummer Art Blakey, trumpeters Miles Davis and Donald Byrd, saxophonist John Coltrane, pianists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and vocalists including Norah Jones, Rosanne Cash and Cassandra Wilson. (A separate set, with all of Monk’s Blue Note single releases on two CDs, will be issued on the same date of November 4.)
Founded in 1939 by German immigrant/impresario Alfred Lion and musician Max Margulis, Blue Note was quick to recognize the seismic changes coming to the sound of jazz – namely bebop and hard bop – in the late 1940s. Adapting with the times, the Blue Note roster boasted some of the most legendary names in jazz, among them Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Art Blakey, Fats Navarro, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. In the late 1960s, Blue Note was acquired by Liberty Records, which was in turn acquired by United Artists (the conglomerate of which was bought by EMI in 1979). The label’s output waned by the end of the 1970s, but within a few short years, the Blue Note name was reactivated as many of the label’s past triumphs were revisited on CD. Eventually, Blue Note returned to new music including Come Away with Me, the Grammy-winning 2002 debut album by Norah Jones. In 2006, a number of related labels were consolidated by EMI as the Blue Note Label Group, and today, Blue Note is a division of Universal Music Enterprises, a result of Universal’s purchase of many of EMI’s assets.
Each of the box set’s five discs covers a specific era of the label’s evolution. Over 75 years, Blue Note has been at the vanguard of boogie, bebop, hard bop, bossa nova, soul jazz and beyond, and Havers has chronologically compiled the discs as follows:
- Disc 1: From Boogie To Bop 1939 – 1953
- Disc 2: Messengers, Preachers and Hard Bop 1953 – 1958
- Disc 3: Struttin’, Moanin’ and Somethin’ Else 1958 – 1960
- Disc 4: Bossa, Blues and Hits 1961 – 1965
- Disc 5: Can You Dig It? 1969 – 2014
After the jump, we have more on these upcoming releases! 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 »