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You Gotta Have Faith (Hope, and Charity): Real Gone Reissues Lost R&B Gems

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Faith Hope and CharityReal Gone Music is moving to the sound of a disco beat! In conjunction with SoulMusic Records, Real Gone has tapped the vaults of RCA Records to present two world-premiere CD reissues, both with rare bonus tracks.

Perhaps no other genre has inspired as many songs imploring listeners to suppress their inhibitions and put their dancing shoes on as disco has. “Let’s Go to the Disco/’Cause I feel like dancing tonight/Let’s go to the disco/Where the music is outta sight!” The call to arms “Let’s Go to the Disco” opened the self-titled 1975 RCA album by Faith, Hope and Charity, which was produced, arranged, conducted and largely written by Van McCoy. Brenda Hilliard (“Faith”), Albert Bailey (“Hope”) and Zulema Cusseaux (“Charity”) first teamed as The Crystals (not those Crystals) and then as The Lovelles before canny producer Bob Crewe (The Four Seasons, “Lady Marmalade”) rechristened them Faith, Hope and Charity. They first worked with McCoy – in his days as a top purveyor of sophisticated, sultry soul, pre-“The Hustle” – in 1970, and their hit “So Much Love” gained them entrée to the Top 20 of the U.S. R&B chart and the Top 100 Pop. McCoy took the trio from Maxwell Records to Sussex Records, and although Zulema split from the group in 1971 after a couple of albums, the remaining two members stayed in contact with the producer. (Bailey and Hilliard had even sung on McCoy’s Disco Baby LP, from which “The Hustle” was drawn!) With the addition of new member Diane Destry filling the role of Charity, Hilliard and Bailey reteamed with McCoy and snagged a deal at RCA just as disco was continuing its ascent in the mainstream.

The gleaming, upbeat Faith, Hope and Charity followed the lush, string-laden orchestral disco approach that developed out of the Philadelphia soul sound emanating from that city’s Sigma Sound Studios. McCoy wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s nine tracks, with the remaining two slots going to cover versions. Each cut found the arranger-orchestrator at the top of the disco game, surrounded by top NY session pros including Steve Gadd on drums, Eric Gale and David Spinozza on guitars, and Leon Pendarvis and Richard Tee on electric piano and clavinet. George Devens filled the Vince Montana role on the vibes.

Like “Let’s Go to the Disco,” “Disco Dan” reveled in the very sound of the new dance music, unabashedly celebrating it: “Disco Dan/He’s the latest, he’s the greatest…Makes you wanna move your feet and clap your hands…The man is really something!” Faith, Hope and Charity also found room to revive classic songs in disco versions. “Disco-fying” songs, from standards to recent hits, was par for the course; in 1975, Gloria Gaynor famously took The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” to the Top 10. For FH&C, McCoy remade two vintage R&B hits. Both “Rescue Me,” Fontella Bass’ 1965 hit, and “Just One Look,” Doris Troy’s 1963 classic, featured lead vocals from Brenda Hilliard and respectably updated the beloved songs. Hilliard also lent her urgent vocals to the uptempo “Find a Way” from McCoy and his songwriting partner Charles Kipps, Jr.

After the jump: more on Faith, Hope and Charity, plus The New York Community Choir! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 22, 2014 at 10:18

Gentlemen, Please! Croydon Collects “Mid-Century Minx,” “Soho Blondes” and Other Pop Pleasures

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Mid Century MinxBob Stanley’s Croydon Municipal label has carved out a niche as part of Cherry Red’s label roster with its eclectic compilations and album reissues from the 1950s and early 1960s focusing on dusty corners of classic American pop ripe for reevaluation.  Three of Stanley’s latest projects continue that mission with the compiler’s usual flair for the unexpected.  The anthology Mid Century Minx focuses on many of the lesser-known ladies of vocal jazz along with some still-beloved (if underrated) performers like Jo Stafford, Anita O’Day and Broadway’s Dolores Gray.  Soho Blondes and Peeping Toms lives up to its subtitle of “Saucy Vocals and Piquant Pop from the ‘50s and ‘60s,” while Croydon’s reissue of Corky Hale reintroduces listeners to the titular harpist and the jazz sextet she led for one “lost” album.

Stanley, whose wonderfully ambitious Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop surely contains enough opinions to delight and anger most readers of this site, begins his notes for Mid Century Minx with a truthful admission: “Some days, it isn’t hard to see why rock ‘n’ roll pissed off so many people.  Here is a collection from an era of urbane, sophisticated music, taken from a bunch of captivating albums by female jazz singers made in the 1950s and the early ’60s, after which time this luscious American art form was swept aside by self-sufficient guitar bands.”  Indeed, rock and roll gave a shot of adrenaline to popular music and empowered the burgeoning youth culture – but at what cost?  Mid Century Minx answers that question with 20 well-chosen tracks from an eclectic array of the ladies of vocal jazz.   The likes of Jeri Southern, Stafford, O’Day and Gray are still known to many, but most of the women here are ripe for rediscovery.

There are collaborations with other famed musicians such as Miles Davis’ great orchestral collaborator Gil Evans on Lucy Reed’s “No Moon at All” and Marcy Lutes’ “Travelin’ Light,” Oscar Peterson on Toni Harper’s “Can’t We Be Friends” and “Mack the Knife” arranger Richard Wess on Sallie Blair’s “Better Luck Next Time.”  These cool, smoky tracks bring to mind the urbane soundtrack to a cocktail party for the swells; the only major liability here is the complete lack of songwriter, producer and arranger credits along with any kind of discographical annotation.  (Stanley does provide biographical details in his entertaining essay.)   Alas, the lack of credits extends to our next title, as well.

Soho BlondesSoho Blondes and Peeping Toms! takes listeners back to the Soho described by Stanley as “the bohemian epicenter of London,” the place which writer Colin Wilson once boasted had “the futile fascination of forbidden fruit, the heady intoxication of a bogus Baudelairean romantic evil.”  Today, Soho is rather less seedy, though some licensed sex shops still flourish among the trendy restaurants and clubs, fashionable retail, record shops, West End theatres, LGBT-friendly venues, and the like.   This 25-track compilation follows up Stanley’s It’s a Scandal! Songs for Soho Blondes, released on the Fantastic Voyage label.  Whereas that release “explored the songs and saucy instrumentals built to accompany strip shows in clubs where the champagne tasted like cherry cola,” this sequel focuses instead on pop songs that conjure up the patrons of such establishments.

Personnel here are expectedly eclectic.  A few American artists have made their way into this mixture including Peggy Lee and her onetime husband Dave Barbour on “Sweetheart” and “Bu Bam,” respectively, as well as Kay Starr (“Bossa Nova Casanova”).  Famed Brit arranger Johnnie Spence (Matt Monro, Tom Jones) is represented with “Sugar Beat.”  Johnnie Scott, who played saxophone for Goldfinger and flute on The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” appears here on the George Martin-produced “Hi Flutin’ Boogie.”  Welsh singer Ricky Valance’s “Lipstick on Your Lips” was written by Sherman Edwards (1776, “See You in September”) and Hal David, while Bob Hilliard – another Burt Bacharach collaborator – co-wrote The Friday Knights’ “Don’t Open That Door” with future Tonight Show and Gong Show bandleader Milton DeLugg.  Campy, jazzy, and brassy, the music of Soho Blondes and Peeping Toms might leave you asking the question performed by Kenny Day on a 1960 Top Rank single included here, “Why Don’t We Do This More Often?”

After the jump: the scoop on Corky Hale, plus track listings and order links for all three titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 21, 2014 at 10:32

What’s Going On: “Motown 25″ Comes To DVD In New Box Set, Highlights DVDs

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Motown 25

On the evening of March 25, 1983, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium was alive with the sound of music – the Sound of Young America, to be more specific.  Motown Records was celebrating its 25th anniversary, and producer Suzanne de Passe wasn’t pulling any stops.  “Once in a lifetime” was as overused in 1983 as it is today, but the galaxy of stars assembled by de Passe couldn’t be described any other way: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and the Commodores, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, Junior Walker, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and the Jackson 5 were all there.  And the moment Michael Jackson broke out of the shadow of his brothers, once and for all, to show America the moonwalk, the evening billed as Motown: Yesterday, Today, Forever entered into the annals of history.  With host Richard Pryor presiding over reunion performances ranging from the warm (The Miracles) to the seemingly contentious (The Supremes), a Temps/Tops “battle of the bands” and even tribute performances from visiting stars like Adam Ant and Linda Ronstadt, Motown 25 was an event the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again.  The program aired on NBC-TV on May 16, 1983, and was subsequently issued on MGM/UA Home Video in 1991, but DVD release had eluded it…until now.  On September 30, the Emmy Award-winning Motown 25 will arrive from Time Life/StarVista (in conjunction with de Passe Jones Entertainment and Berry Gordy’s West Grand Media) in a variety of formats echoing Time Life’s lavish treatment of The Midnight Special and other titles.

The crown jewel of this campaign is the 6-DVD box set, which – in Time Life/StarVista tradition – will be an online exclusive at MOTOWN25DVDS.COM. It’s available there now for pre-order.  The release features an extended version of the show, with over 20 additional minutes not seen on the original broadcast, as well as a brand-new 5.1 surround sound mix. The 6-DVD set also includes nine newly-produced featurettes and additional bonus features including:

  • “Signed, Sealed, Delivered – The Making of Motown 25,” which tells the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the program, and offers new insights into the rise of Motown and its roster of super stars
  • “What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye”
  • “Come and Get These Memories: Inside Hitsville”
  • “Dancing In The Street: History of Motown”
  • Rare footage of Marvin Gaye ad-libbing at the piano prior to a soulful version of “What’s Going On”
  • Stevie Wonder rehearsal footage
  • A two-part Motown 25 Performers Roundtable featuring Smokey Robinson and Duke Fakir (Four Tops), Otis Williams (The Temptations) and Executive Producer Suzanne de Passe, taped at the location of the original concert, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium
  • A “Yesterday-Today-Forever” Production Roundtable with de Passe, Director/Producer Don Mischer and others
  • Over 25 exclusive interviews with performers and crew, including Claudette Robinson (The Miracles), Martha Reeves (Martha and the Vandellas), Smokey Robinson, Nelson George, Gloria Jones, Adam Ant, Ashford and Simpson, Buz Kohan (Head Writer), David Goldberg (Executive in Charge of Production), Mickey Stevenson (Former Head of A&R/Songwriter), Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Songwriters/Producers) and many more.

The box set, pictured above, is packaged with an exclusive 48-page booklet packed with information about the show and artists, production materials and never-before-scene photos from the production, essays on Motown performers, a copy of the original Motown 25 program, and more.

Two versions – a 3-DVD set and a single-disc release – will arrive to retail on September 30.  The 3-DVD set features the concert and over six hours of extras including four featurettes, the Marvin Gaye rehearsal footage, the Performer and Production Roundtables and more.  The single DVD features the newly-remastered concert and over one hour of bonus features.

About the only thing missing from this comprehensive campaign is an audio component, such as a new reissue of the 1983 version of the Grammy-nominated The Motown Story audio documentary or a first-time-ever actual soundtrack of the evening’s performances.  After the jump, we’ll break down the contents of each release for you! Read the rest of this entry »

Ziggy Played Guitar: David Bowie’s “Sound + Vision” to Be Reissued

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Bowie - Sound and Vision CoverGround control to Major Tom: Sound and Vision is back for a third go-round.

As part of the breakup of EMI that left most – but not all – of the former monolith controlled by Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group acquired the venerable Parlophone label, founded in 1896 and onetime home to The Beatles. Though Universal kept the Fab Four, Warner obtained current artists like Coldplay and the back catalogues of classic ones like The Hollies and Matt Monro…and a certain David Bowie. Parlophone hasn’t announced any major plans for Bowie’s albums as of yet; in-print titles such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars were simply repressed with the new label logo (replacing that of EMI label Virgin Records, now controlled by Universal). Parlophone has also offered a number of Record Store Day vinyl exclusives bearing the Bowie imprimatur. On September 23, the label has a repackaged version of the artist’s out-of-print, 4-CD Sound + Vision anthology returning to stores.

Named for the track on Bowie’s album Low, Sound + Vision was first issued in 1989 by Rykodisc. That independent label, now also controlled by Warner, had just gained the rights to the Bowie-controlled masters of his pre-1983 albums formerly available on RCA. Housed in an LP-sized box, the original Sound + Vision boasted three CDs (or six LPs or three cassettes) spanning the period between Bowie’s second, self-titled album in 1969 and 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). It blended familiar songs and rare or previously unissued alternate versions of familiar songs with rarities, and also included a CD-Video disc with three previously unreleased recordings and the video of “Ashes to Ashes.” This impressive set won a Grammy Award for Best Album Package and racked up staggering sales for an expensive box set, eventually being certified Gold in the U.S. (and entering the Top 100 of the Billboard 200), Platinum in the U.K., and 4x Platinum (!) in Canada.

Rykodisc reissued Sound + Vision in 1995, streamlining the packaging and replacing the disc in the defunct CD-V format with a standard CD-ROM. The next iteration of the set came in 2003, by which time Bowie had moved his catalogue from Rykodisc to EMI’s Virgin Records label. This version of Sound + Vision dropped the “Vision” (the CD-V/CD-ROM!), added a fourth CD to cover the period of 1982-1997, and moreover, tweaked the original track listing. Though the original’s 50 tracks (including the bonus video disc) had grown to 67, a few of the original tracks were replaced with alternate versions of the same songs (“The Wild-Eyed Boy from Freecloud,” “London Bye Ta-Ta,” “Round and Round,” “Fascination”) and all four performances from the CD-V were dispensed with entirely.

What can you expect on the new version?  Hit the jump for details including the complete track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 19, 2014 at 09:44

Release Round-Up: Week of August 19

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Posies

The Posies, Failure (Omnivore)

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Omnivore expands the 1988 debut album from power-pop heroes The Posies.  The new Failure restores the album’s original 12-track running order (preserved on cassette but cut down by one song on vinyl) and adds eight bonus tracks. Many of these are sourced from a long out-of-print 2000 box set and a 2004 reissue of the album proper, but one, a demo of “At Least for Now,” is being heard for the first time on this disc.  The deluxe configuration is available on CD, and the original 12-track album on vinyl plus the bonus tracks on a download card.  Even better, the first pressing of the LP will be green vinyl!

Professor

Professor Longhair, Let’s Go to New Orleans: The Sansu Sessions (Fuel) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Fuel continues to raid the catalogues of Allen Toussaint’s Sansu and Dessu labels with a compilation of Toussaint-helmed sides for New Orleans’ great piano man Professor Longhair.

On the Town - London

Original London Cast Recording, On the Town (Masterworks Broadway)

In conjunction with the upcoming Broadway revival of the classic Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical, Masterworks Broadway brings the 1963 Original London Cast Recording to CD-R and DD for the first time.  Elliott Gould, Don McKay, Franklin Kiser and Carol Arthur star in this recording of the production directed and choreographed by Joe Layton.  Available exclusively at MasterworksBroadway.com for a limited time.

Smokey

Smokey Robinson, Smokey and Friends (Verve) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Okay, this isn’t a catalogue title, but we couldn’t resist putting the spotlight on Smokey Robinson’s new studio collection!  Smokey puts his own spin on the now-de rigeur duets album, featuring many of his famous Motown hits in new versions alongside Elton John, Sheryl Crow, John Legend, James Taylor, Steven Tyler and more!

Bitter Tears Revisited

Various Artists, Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited (Sony Masterworks) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This isn’t a reissue, either, but rather a tribute to The Man in Black’s 1964 concept album which daringly shed light on the plight of Native Americans.  This 50th anniversary set presents Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Bill Miller, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and veteran of the original LP Norman Blake as they reinvent Cash’s original songs with producer Joe Henry.  Look Again to the Wind is also a companion piece to the new documentary film We’re Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, chronicling the story of Bitter Tears and this new recording.

Spider - Kritzerland

Soren Hyldgaard, The Spider: Original Soundtrack Recording (Kritzerland)

Pre-orders are now being accepted for Kritzerland’s latest offering: Soren Hyldgaard’s spellbinding score to the 2000 Danish miniseries The Spider, a noir set in Copenhagen in the wake of World War II.  This 1,000-unit limited edition release improves on an earlier CD release in Denmark, upping the running time from around 44 minutes to nearly 79, mastered from the composer’s complete score tapes. The disc will ship by the last week of September, but pre-orders directly from Kritzerland usually arrive three to five weeks ahead of schedule.

Blow Out OST

Pino Donaggio, Blow Out: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack (Intrada)

Intrada has pre-orders open for this reissue of the soundtrack by Pino Donaggio (Carrie) for Brian DePalma’s 1981 thriller starring John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz and John Lithgow.  Though the haunting score was previously released on CD in 2002, Intrada corrects errors in track titles and sequencing, and otherwise upgrades its presentation for a new group of listeners who might have missed out on the first, now out-of-print release.

Get Outta His Dreams: Cherry Pop Expands Billy Ocean’s “Tear Down These Walls”

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Billy Ocean - Tear Down These WallsBack in 2011, Cherry Red’s Cherry Pop label gave the deluxe treatment to the two albums that established Billy Ocean’s chart supremacy in the 1980s: the Jive Records releases of Suddenly (1984) and Love Zone (1986).  Now, the label has returned to the Trinidad-born, U.K.-raised singer’s catalogue with an expanded edition of 1988’s Tear Down These Walls.

Ocean had been recording since 1972, and scored memorable hits in his home of England with the No. 2s “Love Really Hurts Without You” and “Red Light Spells Danger.” But his true commercial breakthrough on the worldwide level didn’t come until 1984 and Suddenly. If his rise was far from sudden, the album’s success certainly was. It spawned three Top 5 U.S. hits via the title track, “Loverboy” and the No. 1 “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run).” He followed up the double platinum LP two years later with Love Zone, switching producers from Keith Diamond to the team of Barry J. Eastmond and Wayne Braithwaite. The title song reached the Top 10 of the Hot 100, and “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” did even better, hitting the peak position on the chart. Love Zone also featured “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” from the film Jewel of the Nile; it rewarded Ocean with a No. 2 smash. The album would become Ocean’s second to achieve double platinum certification. Both LPs went Gold in the U.K., as well, with the U.K. charts also favoring “Caribbean Queen,” “Suddenly” and “When the Going Gets Tough.”

Naturally, anticipation was high for Ocean’s third album with Jive. Producers Eastmond and Braithwaite returned, to be joined by Robert “Mutt” Lange and Teddy Riley. Lange had worked on both previous LPs and co-wrote “When the Going Gets Tough.” For the album entitled Tear Down These Walls, Lange co-wrote and produced three tracks (two with Riley) including the title song. One of his productions would become a signature song for Billy Ocean.

Ocean and Lange’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (reportedly inspired by a lyric from The Sherman Brothers’ “You’re Sixteen,” a Top 10 hit for Johnny Burnette in 1960 and a No. 1 for Ringo Starr in 1974) was released on 45 in January 1988. Bolstered by a video in heavy rotation on MTV, the track ascended to No. 3 in the U.K. and No. 1 in seven countries including the U.S., of course.

Seven songs on Tear Down These Walls were produced and co-written by Barry J. Eastmond and his team including the ballad “The Colour of Love,” another U.S. Top 20 hit. Lange and Ocean had paid tribute to Ocean’s roots with “Calypso Crazy;” Eastmond and co. did the same with the calypso-flavored “Pleasure.” Other songs touched on bass-driven grooves (“Gun for Hire”), modern-day Motown (“Stand and Deliver”), and contemporary R&B (“Because of You”).

Hit the jump for more details including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 18, 2014 at 10:02

Posted in Billy Ocean, News, Reissues

Tell Me How You Like It: Harmless Reissues, Expands Philly Disco From John Davis and the Monster Orchestra

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John Davis - Night and Day Two-ferWhat makes for a Monster Orchestra? For Philadelphia composer-arranger-conductor John Davis, it was an array of the best musicians the city had to offer. Between 1976 and 1979, Davis led his Monster Orchestra for four disco LPs on the SAM Records label, plucking its members from the A-Team of Philadelphia International’s MFSB and Salsoul Records’ Salsoul Orchestra. Guitarists Bobby Eli and Roland Chambers, percussionist/conga player Larry Washington, drummer Charles Collins, bassist Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, and string and horn leader Don Renaldo (plus stalwart backing vocalists Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benton and Carla Benson, a.k.a. The Sweethearts of Sigma) all joined John “The Monster” Davis (an alumnus of productions for Carol Douglas, Arthur Prysock, The Philly Devotions and William DeVaughn) for four of the most memorably musical albums in the disco canon. All four of those titles have recently been remastered and expanded on two 2-CD sets from Demon Music Group’s Harmless label and its Disco Recharge series.

Night and Day/Up Jumped the Devil pairs Davis and the Monster Orchestra’s 1976 and 1977 platters, respectively. Night and Day put Davis’ group on the map, adding a dance backbeat and a resplendent, symphonic overlay to the Cole Porter songbook. One can only imagine what Porter, who died in 1964, would have thought of the Monster Orchestra’s approach, but surely the great composer-lyricist would have approved of seeing his classic songs speak to a new generation and “Night and Day” rise to the Top 5 on the Billboard Disco chart. Davis gave the lavish disco treatment to six evergreens from the eternally witty, often risqué Porter songbook, drawing on hits from stage (“I Get a Kick Out of You” from Anything Goes, “You Do Something to Me” from Fifty Million Frenchmen, “Night and Day” from Gay Divorce, “It’s De-Lovely” from Red, Hot and Blue) and screen (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Born to Dance, “In the Still of the Night” from Rosalie) alike. Much as Vince Montana frequently did leading his iteration of The Salsoul Orchestra on various standards, Davis balanced a certain, inherent amount of camp with an unwavering dedication to impeccable musicianship. He rounded out the LP with a couple of original compositions which he co-wrote with Monster guitarist Craig Snyder, “Tell Me How You Like It” and “I Can’t Stop.” The lyrics weren’t quite Porter, but they certainly kept listeners on their feet!

Up Jumped the Devil aimed for a funkier sound than its predecessor, which it accomplished via cuts like Davis’ title track and the Davis/Snyder co-write “Got to Give It Up.” Davis’ breezy “We Can Fly” recalled the sweet soul side of the Philadelphia players – a style they practically invented – while the epic medley of “The Magic is You/You’re the One/Recapitulation” was designed for club play and melded funk, rock and symphonic soul. All seven tracks were originals written or co-written by Davis, and the album succeeded in taking The Monster Orchestra in a new direction without losing the elements – and musicians – that led to its success in the first place.

Night and Day has been expanded with five bonus tracks – the 7-inch single edits of the title track, “Tell Me How You Like It” and “I Can’t Stop,” plus the extended 12-inch versions of “I Can’t Stop,” “Night and Day” and “I Get a Kick (Out of You).” Up Jumped the Devil has six bonuses, including both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of the title song and “You Gotta Give It Up,” as well as the 7-inch edits of “The Magic is You” and “You’re the One.”

After the jump: a look at Ain’t That Enough for You/The Monster Strikes Again, and complete track listings and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 15, 2014 at 10:11

Review: Omnivore Goes New Wave with Lost Songs of “Billy Thermal”

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Billy Thermal“Eternal Flame,” “So Emotional,” “Like a Virgin,” “True Colors” – the songs of Billy Steinberg not only nearly defined the sound of eighties pop, but have endured to the present day. Yet before Steinberg joined with Tom Kelly to pen those songs and so many others, he was fronting a power pop/new wave quartet with the unlikely name of Billy Thermal – Billy for Steinberg, Thermal for the city in which his father’s vineyards were located. The group, consisting of Steinberg, guitarist Craig Hull, drummer Efren Espinosa and bassist (and future “Butterfly Kisses” hitmaker) Bob Carlisle, received a featured spot on a compilation of up-and-coming artists for Richard Perry’s Planet Records and subsequently self-released one EP, but no other music ever surfaced…until now. Omnivore Recordings has just unearthed the lone LP from Billy Thermal (OVCD-95), the shelved 1980 album from which the five-track EP was sourced.  If this cool little record may not change your world, it just might rock it for 45 minutes or so.

Billy Thermal’s tight, energetic, three-minute-or-so power pop nuggets fit squarely into the new wave genre of the day with just enough variety in the tempi and arrangements to make the album a compelling listen. The lean, compact, take-home tunes on this fresh, fun time capsule sound as if they were composed to be played onstage at maximum volume by the crack, take-no-prisoners rhythm section, combining a smidgen of punk attitude with a heaping helping of pop know-how. Though he wrote all of the music and lyrics for Billy Thermal, Steinberg found his truest calling later as a lyricist, penning the words to Tom Kelly’s melodies which were of a much more sweeping nature than the compositions here.

In the liner notes, Steinberg describes the band’s songs as “intensely personal,” and indeed, many of the relationship songs here have intimacy and honesty despite being firmly rooted in pop territory. Some are less distinctive and less keenly-observed such as “I’m Your Baby” (“And I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your ooh!”) with its eighties-meets-Peter Gunn feel, but it’s clear that Steinberg the embryonic songwriter was well on his way.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

August 14, 2014 at 12:46

Posted in Billy Thermal, News, Reviews

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Shine Her Light: “The Midnight Special” Box Set Arrives In September with Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, ELO, More

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Midnight Special Box Set

Between August 1972 and May 1981, late night television was a little more rockin’.  Producer Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special followed Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on Friday evenings, welcoming viewers with Johnny Rivers’ rousing rendition of the traditional tune (a Top 20 hit for Rivers in 1965).  Over the course of 450 episodes, The Midnight Special presented a staggering array of music’s top talent on network television with most songs performed live for the majority of its run.  The program, featuring announcer Wolfman Jack and a variety of guest hosts, premiered as a one-off special in August 1972 but was promoted to full-time status in February 1973.  It first arrived on DVD in 2006 with episodes available as mail order exclusives, heavily promoted via infomercials.  On September 9, however, StarVista/Time Life will make The Midnight Special more widely available for the first time with 11-DVD, 6-DVD and 1-DVD releases.  With the resurgence in many of the ‘70s’ greatest pop hits thanks to the hit Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack the time couldn’t be better!  (Indeed, many of the Star Lord’s favorite songs were performed on The Midnight Special and will be included on these DVDs.)

The 11-disc Midnight Special Collectors’ Edition is now available to order exclusively online at MIDNIGHTSPECIALDVDS.COM for just under $100.00; while it’s expected that this set may eventually arrive to general retail (in the tradition of other StarVista sets for The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts), it will remain a website exclusive for the foreseeable future.  This edition features roughly 10 hours of musical performances plus 5 hours of newly-produced bonus material and a 32-page booklet.  The single-disc and 6-disc versions will be released on September 9 to stores everywhere. The Midnight Special played host to artists from the many genres that occupied the Top 40 slots on the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1970s, including Fleetwood Mac, The Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt, The O’Jays, Dolly Parton, David Bowie (who broadcast his final television appearance as Ziggy Stardust on the program), Alice Cooper, Electric Light Orchestra, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, Alice Cooper, frequent host Helen Reddy, and countless others who are featured on StarVista’s new sets.  The Midnight Special also gave the spotlight over to the era’s top comedians like Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin and Freddie Prinze.

After the jump: a look at what you can expect to find on these collections! Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond “Taxi”: Robinsongs Pairs Two LPs From Fender Rhodes Hero Bob James

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Bob James - Sign Two-FerCherry Red’s Robinsongs label, which has recently been responsible for reissues from jazz greats like Hank Crawford, Richard Tee and Ramsey Lewis, has turned its attention to producer-arranger-composer Bob James with the two-for-one release of his 1980 and 1981 albums, H and Sign of the Times.  The electric piano master has been making records as a leader since 1963 – his most recent is 2013’s Quartette Humaine with saxophonist David Sanborn – and this pair comes from the early years of his own Tappan Zee label (formed in1977).

The Missouri-born, Berklee-trained Bob James’ first outing as a leader, 1963’s Bold Conceptions for the Mercury label, remained his only such recording until 1974.  Instead of pursuing above-the-title stardom, James busied himself as a keyboardist and arranger, contributing an arrangement to Quincy Jones’ 1969 CTI record Walking in Space which first acquainted him with the Fender Rhodes electric piano.  James never planned on becoming so closely identified with the instrument, but his mastery of the Rhodes contributed mightily to the sound of 1970s crossover and fusion jazz styles.  James continued arranging and playing at Creed Taylor’s CTI, which spun off from its A&M Records roots into a true independent.  At CTI, he made significant contributions to sets from Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, and outside of Taylor’s empire, James added color to recordings by Paul Simon and Neil Diamond and composed the wistful theme to television’s Taxi.  But his key roles as arranger and sideman led to his artistic rebirth on the 1974 album One.

Each year between 1974 and 1977, James issued a numbered release, from One to BJ4, arranging, conducting and playing both his own tunes and choice cover versions.  With 1977’s Heads, he parted ways with Taylor, establishing his own Tappan Zee banner under the aegis of Columbia Records.  He was rewarded when the album became his first Jazz No. 1 LP.  Also serving for a time in A&R at Columbia, James continued to turn out records like clockwork.  He also took along the masters to his first four albums and saw to their reissue at Tappan Zee.  H marked his first album of the 1980s.

Hit the jump for details on both albums included on this reissue, including track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 13, 2014 at 10:16

Posted in Bob James, News, Reissues

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