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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Judy Garland, “The Garland Variations: Songs She Recorded More Than Once”

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Garland VariationsJudy Garland opens JSP Records’ new 5-CD box set The Garland Variations: Songs She Recorded More Than Once (JSP 975) with “Everybody Sing,” the kind of rousing showstopper she was practically born to sing. Sessions for the song from MGM’s Broadway Melody of 1938 began when Garland was on the cusp of just fifteen years old, but the power of her vocal instrument was already in place. But even when belting with a force to rival the mighty Merman, there was always something unfailingly intimate – or personal – about a Judy Garland performance. There’s plenty of that intimacy, as well as that power, on this illuminating new set produced by JSP’s John Stedman and compiled and annotated by Lawrence Schulman.

As with so many of her peers, it wasn’t uncommon for Judy Garland to revisit repertoire over the years; after all, these are the recordings through which many of these songs entered the standard American songbook. An arrangement might vary, in great or small ways, and so, of course, would the artist’s interpretation. The Garland Variations presents songs she recorded in the studio on multiple occasions between 1937 and 1962, with 115 tracks (three of which are new to CD) and over 6-1/2 hours of music, These tracks include such signature songs as “The Man That Got Away,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and of course, “Over the Rainbow,” which is included in five distinct renditions. A number of the most renowned composers and lyricists of popular song are represented, such as Harold Arlen, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, Johnny Mercer, and Harry Warren. There’s also a good amount of so-called “special material,” much of it courtesy MGM’s Roger Edens, one of the more influential music men in Garland’s life.

As she was inarguably the greatest female song stylist to remain best-known for her work on the silver screen, it’s easy to forget that Garland was actually a recording artist before she was a movie star. Her first long-lasting recording affiliation was with Decca Records. Following some abortive test records made in 1935 by the twelve-year old singer (released by JSP on the label’s Lost Tracks set), Decca released two sides by Garland in 1936 and signed MGM’s up-and-coming star the following year. Garland remained at Decca through 1947, and her tenure there yielded 90 recordings from 30 sessions between 1936 and 1947. Her departure from Decca coincided with MGM’s entering the young soundtrack LP market, and so she no longer had the need to re-record movie favorites for Decca as had been her standard practice. With MGM having first right of refusal for her work, she didn’t make any further studio recordings until after her departure from the Hollywood giant in 1950.

Naturally, Garland’s recordings for MGM play a major role here. Not that Garland’s venerated recordings and celebrated onstage performances aren’t all crucial parts of her legend, but her indelible cinematic portrayals informed every aspect of her career. The first lady of the movie musical, Garland brought her visual and dramatic gifts to other avenues of performance, including the recording studio. Cinema brought out her singular blend of the earthy and the larger-than-life.

Hit the jump for more on this revelatory set! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 19, 2014 at 10:58

Holiday Gift Guide Review: “International Pop Overthrow: Volume 17″

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IPO 17We’d like to extend a big welcome to the newest member of our Second Disc family, author Ted Frank.  Ted, a self-described “power pop-a-holic,” kicks off his contributions to The Second Disc with a review of the latest collection from the fine folks at The International Pop Overthrow Festival.  The Festival’s seventeenth volume (yes, seventeenth – congratulations, IPO!) of pure pop for now people is just the latest in a smashing line of releases designed to introduce you to the best bands you’ve never heard of – and won’t soon forget. Produced by David Bash and designed by Steve Stanley of the Now Sounds label, IPO Volume 17 is available for order through Pop Geek Heaven or from the Amazon Marketplace – and take it from us, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer!  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; take it away, Ted!

What is pop?

As anyone reading this knows, pop music takes many forms.  Perhaps you have a hankering for the sweet pop sound as found on Jeff Tweedy and Wilco’s recent invasion of “essential tracks” What’s Your 20? or the 20-years-in-the-making rarities box set Alpha Mike Foxtrot.  Or perhaps you’re craving the sixties style of The Monkees, the timeless cool of Frank Sinatra, or the earthy jazz of Joni Mitchell.  Well, here comes the latest entry in a compilation series nearing the 20 year mark itself.  The International Pop Overthrow Volume 17 just might fulfill all of your pop needs, however diverse.

Back in the grunge-filled days of the late 1990s, Not Lame Recordings, onetime home of power pop icons like Dwight Twilley, Jellyfish and The Posies, released a single-disc CD compilation that would soon become an annual tradition.  A number of the bands featured on that first compilation would appear at the annual International Pop Overthrow Festival which began in Los Angeles in 1998 and continues to tour numerous U.S. and foreign cities alike. (IPO hit 15 cities in 2014 alone, from Los Angeles to Liverpool!) David Bash, the founder and CEO of IPO, originally named the festival and compilation album in honor of Material Issue’s critically acclaimed 1991 album of said title.  In 2011, Not Lame founder Bruce Brodeen transitioned his independent label into a power pop-oriented website, Pop Geek Heaven, but he continues to distribute the annual IPO compilation via this medium.

This year’s compilation has all those pop elements which Material Issue packed into its 1991 album (produced by power pop pioneer Jeff Murphy of the band Shoes – who, along with his Shoes bandmates, played an excellent set at this past May’s Power Pop Festival at Brooklyn’s Bell House).  Material Issue’s International Pop Overthrow, a Billboard 200 entry at No. 86, just flat-out reminded the masses what made music popular in the first place. Those uninitiated with IPO, power pop, and/or Material Issue need look no further than the band’s lyrics for proof of this music’s timelessness:

And all these other boys they’re just makin’ noise
They don’t know rock and roll, they just need someone
To have their picture taken with and I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you
Tell me what do I do, come on where do I go?
I don’t need a girlfriend, I need an accomplice/It’s an International Pop Overthrow!

Although timelessness tends to be a rather subjective term, some things are certainly undeniable: With such a straightforward, earnest message, and through such sheer enthusiasm, this kind of music has ability to reach nearly anyone.  One of the songs on IPO 17, “Skip A Beat (Everything’s Alright)” by Dot 22, only reinforces the notion that this is a kind of music whose main intention is to make the heart “skip a beat.” Twenty-three years since Material Issue’s release and numerous IPO Festivals and compilation albums later, The International Pop Overthrow’s music consistently tugs at the heartstrings of its listeners through what Bash refers to as IPO’s “two-fold” purpose: “…to give every worthy band who’d like to play their music in a festival atmosphere the chance to do so, and … to bring pop music the attention it so richly deserves.”

Don’t miss a thing – keep reading after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 18, 2014 at 14:35

Cherry Red’s él Label Revisits Henry Mancini, Esquivel and Piero Piccioni On New Anthologies

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Playboy ThemesThe latest crop of titles from Cherry Red Group’s él label criss-cross the globe from the U.S.A. to Mexico to Italy with releases from American legend Henry Mancini, bandleader Esquivel, and composer Piero Piccioni.

Fans of Henry Mancini’s cool jazz and lounge stylings are the target audience for Playboy Themes, a collection of the great maestro’s music recorded between 1958 and 1962.  This 28-track compilation takes in both Mancini’s own compositions as well as those he recorded by others.  The title is derived from the Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity, Barnum) song interpreted by Mancini on his 1960 Combo! album featuring such jazz greats as Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Pete Candoli, Dick Nash and Ted Nash, as well as the young Johnny (later Academy Award-winner John) Williams on piano and harpsichord!  In addition to Coleman, Mancini brings his distinctive touch to songs by Claude Thornhill (“Snowfall”), Nino Rota (“Drink More Milk”) and Mikis Theodorakis (“Love Theme from Phaedra”), but the emphasis is on his own classic music from the television series Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, and the films Touch of Evil, High Time, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bachelor in Paradise, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, The Days of Wine and Roses and more.  Both sides of his RCA single from the film The Great Impostor are also here.  A couple of tracks are actually covers of Mancini songs, such as the sublime guitarist Laurindo Almeida’s “Moon River” and “Baby Elephant Walk” from another guitar great, Al Caiola.  Brief liner notes round out the package.  You can further explore Mancini’s groundbreaking film music on a new box set from RCA Victor and Legacy Recordings, The Classic Soundtrack Collection.

EsquivelTracks like “Playboy’s Theme” and “A Cool Shade of Blue” are perfect accompaniment for a groovy bachelor pad; and so is the music you’ll find on the two-for-one expanded reissue of Latin-Esque and Exploring New Sounds in Stereo from bandleader Juan Garcia Esquivel (1918-2002).  The King of Space Age Pop made his name on these early records, migrating from RCA Victor’s Mexican division to its American label with his “exotica” records featuring trademark cocktail piano, quirky and lush, often Latin-inspired instrumentation, wordless vocals (like his famous “zu-zu-zu”) and a futuristic sound.  On these albums, he pushes the envelope of stereo separation; there’s even a “Guide to Listening” in the booklet explaining the exaggerated, frequently striking stereo effects used.  Recording in Hollywood, Esquivel used many of the same musicians as Henry Mancini, including Bud Shank, Ted Nash, Plas Johnson, and Vincent De Rosa; Laurindo Almeida sat in on guitar.  This set pairs 1962’s Latin-Esque with 1959’s Exploring New Sounds in Stereo, and adds selections from both volumes of Infinity in Sound (1960 and 1961) for a swinging overview of Esquivel’s early period at RCA.  Standards like “My Blue Heaven,” “Lazy Bones,” “All of Me” and “Take the A Train” – all of which were featured alongside Esquivel originals and traditional tunes – never quite sounded the same!

There’s much more after the jump, including full track listings and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 18, 2014 at 11:20

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Joni Mitchell, “Love Has Many Faces”

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Joni - Love Has Many FacesJoni Mitchell wasn’t yet 25 when she first gifted the world her song “Both Sides Now.” Judy Collins made its first commercially-released recording; soon artists were lining up to record it, including Frank Sinatra. The 25-year old Mitchell herself released it in 1969. In what might be her most famous song, she asserted, “I really don’t know love at all.” Flash-forward to the present day, and the 71-year old singer-songwriter-artist seems well-acquainted with the vagaries of that most universal subject. Mitchell has curated a retrospective of her career in the form of a new 4-CD box set appropriately entitled Love Has Many Faces. Subtitled A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced, the box finds Mitchell eschewing a traditional approach to create a new creative arc based on her music, assembled in four acts.

Love Has Many Faces doesn’t present its acts as traditional narratives, but rather as thematic suites. Together, they challenge listeners to view Mitchell’s music and career in a new context. Only a rough one-third of the set is drawn from the 1970s, during which she thrived as a leading light of the “singer-songwriter” movement. As a result, favorite songs like “Help Me,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Free Man in Paris” and “Woodstock” are nowhere to be found, discarded in favor of lesser-known work from the 1980s and onward. Stylistically, the box also emphasizes the jazz that has long been a vital part of her creative palette. If the resulting compilation of songs drastically underrepresents the folk-rock artist with whom so many of her fans first fell in love, it’s still a sharp, compelling, reflective and deeply personal journey through love and the ways we make contact.

Join us after the jump as we dive into this box! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 16, 2014 at 15:48

Ace Is Twistin’ the Night Away with Sam Cooke Tribute, Motown Rarities and More

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Black America Sings Sam CookeWhen it comes to rare soul, Ace Records never sleeps!  The label has recently released a compilation celebrating the career of Sam Cooke not as a singer but as a songwriter, along with collections dedicated to excavating the vaults of two great Detroit labels: Westbound Records, and of course, Motown!

Countless albums have anthologized the short but influential oeuvre of Sam Cooke, but Bring It on Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke takes a different approach, featuring 24 versions of Cooke compositions recorded between 1959 and 1976, performed by some of the biggest African-American names in popular music.  Cooke (1931-1964) was a singer-songwriter before the term was in fashion, writing or co-writing 25 of his 35 R&B hits charted between 1957 and 1965 (not counting many of the B-sides which he also wrote).  Bring It on Home doubles as a “Who’s Who” of classic American soul, with artists from the Stax, Motown and Atlantic rosters among many others.

Many of Cooke’s most famous songs are here: the silky, chart-topping ballad “You Send Me” as performed by Percy Sledge in Muscle Shoals, “Shake” from Cooke disciple Otis Redding (who, like Cooke, died tragically young – but not before including renditions of Cooke songs on all but one of the studio albums released during his lifetime), “Cupid” from “Take a Letter, Maria” singer R.B. Greaves, “Wonderful World” from Johnny Nash of “I Can See Clearly Now,” and of course, “A Change is Gonna Come” from “Gimme Little Sign” vocalist Brenton Wood.  The title track, “Bring It On Home to Me,” is heard courtesy of Stax legend Eddie Floyd.  As a special treat, Ace has unearthed a previously unissued version of Theola Kilgore’s “answer song” to “Chain Gang” entitled “(Chain Gang) The Sound of My Man.”

A couple of tracks are drawn from the Motown stable including The Supremes ‘ ” (Ain’t That) Good News” from Diana, Mary and Flo’s 1965 We Remember Sam Cooke album, with Flo on a thunderous lead.  Smokey Robinson leads The Miracles on their 1964 version of “Dance What You Wanna.”  From the Stax Records family, Sam and Dave offer their first U.K. Pop hit, 1966’s “Sooth Me.”  A couple of tracks have been drawn from Sam Cooke’s own SAR label, too: Sam’s production of “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day)” by future Stax superstar Johnnie Taylor, and Johnnie Morisette’s “Meet Me at the Twistin’ Place,” also produced by Sam.  Mr. Cooke himself is heard on “That’s Heaven to Me” from his final session with The Soul Stirrers.  Other highlights include tracks from Lou Rawls (“Win Your Love”), Aretha Franklin (“Good Times”) and Little Anthony and the Imperials (“I’m Alright”), proving the breadth of Cooke’s versatility.  Tony Rounce has provided the track-by-track liner notes in the 16-page booklet, and Duncan Cowell has newly remastered all tracks.  Bring It on Home is a worthy addition to the series of Black America Sings, which also includes titles spotlighting the songs of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Otis Redding, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

After the jump, we’re heading to Detroit! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 11, 2014 at 11:11

Release Round-Up: Week of December 9

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Sinatra - London Contents

Frank Sinatra, London (UMe) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This 3-CD/1-DVD swingin’ affair spans 1953-1984 and features over 50 previously unreleased tracks on CD and DVD - all dedicated to Sinatra’s performances in the great city.  At its centerpiece is an expanded and remastered edition of Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain, the Chairman’s only studio album recorded outside of the United States!  Watch for Joe’s full review soon!

Beatles 1962-1966

The Beatles, 1962-1966 / 1967-1970 / 1 / Love (Vinyl Only) (Capitol/Apple)

1962-1966: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
1967-1970: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
1: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Love: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The Fabs’ famous “red” and “blue” albums, along with the CD-era compilation Beatles 1 and the Cirque du Soleil soundtrack Love are remastered and reissued on heavyweight 180g vinyl just in time for the holidays!

Jam - Setting

The Jam, Setting Sons: Deluxe Edition (Universal) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Paul Weller and The Jam’s seminal 1979 rock classic is expanded as a two-disc Deluxe Edition with single versions, non-LP B-sides, demos and live tracks.

Wilko

Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey, Going Back Home: Deluxe Edition (Chess) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

The acclaimed 2013 album from Dr. Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson and The Who’s Roger Daltrey has been expanded into a double-disc affair with the addition of outtakes, alternates, and live tracks from Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Royal Albert Hall from earlier this year.

Supertramp - Crime of the Century

Supertramp, Crime of the Century: Deluxe Edition (Universal) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Blu-ray Audio: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3-LP Vinyl: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

This 2-CD set marks the 40th anniversary of Supertramp’s landmark album, adding a previously unreleased concert from Hammersmith Odeon in March 1975, newly mixed by original producer Ken Scott!

Carrie - Hits

Carrie Underwood, Greatest Hits – Decade # 1 (Arista Nashville) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

The biggest star to emerge from American Idol collects the best of her first decade on this 2-disc retrospective including duets with Randy Travis, Vince Gill and Brad Paisley, and three previously unreleased work tape demos.

Judy - Swan Songs

Judy Garland, Swan Songs, First Flights: Her First and Last Recordings (Doremi/Hallow) (Amazon U.S. TBD / Amazon U.K.)

Exact contents haven’t been released yet, but this new 3-CD celebration of the legendary entertainer promises that “Judy Garland is heard in exciting live performances from her last years, many never previously released on CD and collected here for the first time – Swan Songs. And for the first time on CD are charming and historic recordings from Garland’s youth made between the ages of 7 and 17 – First Flights. All in new state-of-the-art transfers and remastering!”  The set is also available at Discovery Records.

Only Folk Collection

Various Artists, The Only Folk Collection You’ll Ever Need (Shout!) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This 2-CD, 30-track folk sampler features a “Who’s Who” of folk music including Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are A-Changin’”), Peter, Paul and Mary (“Blowin’ in the Wind”), Doc Watson (“Sitting on Top of the World”), Phil Ochs (“I Ain’t Marching Anymore”), The Byrds (“Mr. Tambourine Man”), Tim Hardin (“If I Were a Carpenter”), Fairport Convention (“Who Knows Where the Time Goes”) and others.

Written by Joe Marchese

December 9, 2014 at 08:41

The Legacy Vault Opens For Christmas With Ray Price, Jerry Vale, John Davidson, More

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Ray Price Christmas AlbumWithout a doubt, 2014 has shaped up to be another joyous year for fans of Christmas music. Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings has been at the vanguard of delivering holiday music with a recent batch of titles from Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and others as part of its Classic Christmas Album Series. Sony has also licensed festive titles from Robert Goulet, Rosemary Clooney, The Brothers Four and Frank DeVol and the Rainbow Strings to Real Gone Music. Those titles have recently been joined by 20 digital-only releases from the Columbia and RCA libraries which can be found in The Legacy Vault, all of which are new to the digital format.

Since its inception in 2013, The Legacy Vault has allowed fans to suggest undigitized titles from the vast Sony Music Library for digital release. The Legacy Vault Christmas Series is open for business now, and has something for everyone to place under the digital Christmas tree.  Four titles were added to the Christmas series last year, with another 16 having recently arrived in time for this year’s merriment.

John Davidson - ChristmasFans of classic vocalists will appreciate the holiday titles from musical theatre star, actor and television personality John Davidson, talk show host Mike Douglas and the late, great Italian-American singer Jerry Vale. Also on the television front, the Vault has trips down Memory Lane via The Waltons Christmas Album and Bonanza star Lorne Greene’s Have a Happy Holiday. Other warmly nostalgic albums being issued digitally for the first time include easy listening favorites John Gary’s Christmas Album and The Melachrino Strings’ Christmas Joy, and one for fans of the Bronx Bombers: Yankee Stadium organist Eddie Layton’s 1964 The Organ at Christmas! NFL fans aren’t left out, either, thanks to the reissue of John Facenda’s The Nativity. Many football fans knew the broadcaster and NFL Films narrator, simply, as “The Voice of God,” but on this 1964 release, he celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Jerry Vale - Christmas GreetingsA number of vintage country-and-western titles are also part of this release slate, from legends like Ray Price, Boots Randolph, Hank Snow, Jimmy Dean and even the satirically-minded Homer and Jethro, known as the “Thinking Man’s Hillbillies.” The Beers Family’s 1967 Appalachian folk-flavored Christmas album for a Columbia is a rare slice of Americana. Other releases available now include RCA’s 1972 A Golden Age Christmas with songs from the earliest part of the twentieth century (from artists like Enrico Caruso, John McCormack, and Richard Crooks), a treat from Polka King Frankie Yankovic, a holiday set from instrumental group The Three Suns (reportedly Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite group!) and a groovy winter wonderland courtesy of The Moog Machine’s Christmas Becomes Electric. More reverent is The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ gospel-R&B holiday fusion, Peace is Blowin’ in the Wind, from 1969.

Hit the jump for more information on these titles including a complete list! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 8, 2014 at 14:01

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