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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

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: Simon and Garfunkel, “The Complete Albums Collection”

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Simon and Garfunkel - Albums CoverQueens Boys Make Good, a headline might have read of young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel when “The Sound of Silence,” a bleakly beautiful, acoustic snapshot of disillusionment and isolation, sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 on New Year’s Day 1966. Simon and Garfunkel were unlikely candidates for pop stardom. Neither English major Simon nor fine arts (later architecture) major Garfunkel hid their cerebral, intellectual tendencies. As the era of the singer-songwriter blossomed in the wake of Bob Dylan’s ascendancy, Garfunkel was, vocally speaking, the anti-Dylan. His pristine high tenor would have found him gainfully employed as a singer in any era. Yet these two articulate young men were also relatable. Fusing a street corner doo-wop sensibility with social consciousness, their music existed at the crossroads of folk, rock and pop, a product of beautiful harmony and well-publicized tension. Roughly six years together yielded just five proper studio albums, plus nine competitive Grammy Awards, seven Top 10 hits, and over ten standards not just of the rock era but of American popular song – not a bad track record at all. Simon & Garfunkel: The Complete Albums Collection, a new box set from Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings, brings together those five studio albums, the duo’s chart-topping soundtrack to The Graduate, their first, 14x Platinum-selling Greatest Hits album, and four live recordings to create an overview of these old friends’ remarkable career.

Paul Simon met Art Garfunkel in the halls of Queens, New York’s P.S. 164 in the sixth grade, with both young men cast in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. They soon bonded over a mutual love of music, and by 1956, Simon and Garfunkel were performing locally as “Tom and Jerry,” modeling themselves on the Everly Brothers, with whom they would later collaborate. Though he and Simon briefly split in the early 1960s, they reunited for 1964’s Wednesday Morning 3 AM, the album which opens the new box set. This low-key, acoustic collection of folk songs included originals by the precociously-talented Simon, covers of Bob Dylan, Ian Campbell and Ed McCurdy, and even traditional tunes like “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Despite the already-apparent magic of their vocal blend, Wednesday Morning was lost in the shuffle of the British Invasion. Simon retreated to England and Garfunkel resumed his studies. When Columbia Records and producer Tom Wilson decided to reissue the album’s “The Sound of Silence” with electric overdubs in September 1965, however, Simon and Garfunkel were presented with ample reason to reform: the song was climbing its way to No. 1. Bob Dylan had gone electric on July 25, 1965, plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival and igniting a revolution. Why shouldn’t have Simon and Garfunkel?

Sophomore LP Sounds of Silence was recorded with producer Bob Johnston in December 1965 during that heady time when “Silence” was making waves in the music industry. Simon’s incisive songwriting was becoming sharper by the day as both his musical and lyrical palettes expanded – taking in gently romantic paeans (“Kathy’s Song”), unconventional character studies (“Richard Cory,” “A Most Peculiar Man”) and an anthemic statement of emotional detachment and alienation (“I Am a Rock”). Many of these songs had first appeared Simon’s solo The Paul Simon Songbook, recorded during his time in London and unavailable for decades, but Garfunkel’s participation took them to the next level.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 17, 2014 at 10:26

To Everything There Is A Season: Raven Reissues “The Byrds”

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ByrdsWhen the album simply entitled Byrds arrived on David Geffen’s Asylum label in 1973, it had been only about a year-and-a-half since the last record from the California folk-rock heroes. But the original line-up of Gene Clark, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke hadn’t recorded a complete album together since 1965. Byrds would be the group’s first long-player for a label other than Columbia Records – and the final Byrds album to date. Australia’s Raven Records label has recently remastered and reissued Byrds, with two bonus tracks from the solo Gene Clark which also featured the complete five-piece band.

Following the defection of Gene Clark from the band in February 1966, The Byrds’ line-up had been fluid, to say the least. Eleven members had passed through the ranks between 1964 and 1972 with only Jim (later Roger) McGuinn as the constant. The group’s sound had also shifted considerably from folk-rock to psychedelia to country-rock and every style in between. The Byrds’ final Columbia album, 1971’s Farther Along, featured McGuinn, Clarence White, Skip Battin and Gene Parsons (no relation to another former Byrd, Gram Parsons). In July 1972, with no new album in the works, Parsons was let go from the band, replaced on drums by John Guerin. Session pro Guerin remained with the live band through January 1973, though he was never considered a full-fledged member of the band. Skip Battin was next to go, dismissed after a February 10, 1973 show. Roger McGuinn asked Chris Hillman of the original band to step in for two more shows later that month and then called it a day on The Byrds’ touring line-up. But by that time, the original Byrds had already reunited and completed the album that would become Byrds.

McGuinn was still fronting the touring band when he and his four original bandmates entered Los Angeles’ Wally Heider Studios in October 1972, the hatchet having apparently been buried with David Crosby, who was named producer of the upcoming album. Impresario Geffen was the catalyst for the reunion, as he desired for the reformed Byrds to have a place of honor on his label’s impressive roster of SoCal rockers also including Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and Eagles. With Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on indefinite hiatus at that point, it was also perceived that the reformed Byrds could fill their void. By the end of sessions in November 1972, eleven songs had been laid down for Byrds.

With rich, recognizable harmonies in abundance, Byrds naturally featured songs by all four songwriters in the band: McGuinn, Clark, Crosby and Hillman. Clark supplied the mission-statement opener “Full Circle” and another one of the LP’s strongest tracks, “Changing Heart.” (“Full Circle” wasn’t written for The Byrds, per Clark, but might as well have been.) McGuinn co-wrote the haunting folk ballad “Sweet Mary” with Bob Dylan’s sometimes-collaborator Jacques Levy as well as the upbeat, likely autobiographical “Born to Rock and Roll.” (He would return to the song on his 1975 album Roger McGuinn and Band.) Chris Hillman penned two songs, both with his ex-Manassas bandmates. “Things Will Be Better” was written with drummer Dallas Taylor, and “Borrowing Time” with percussionist Joe Lala. (Lala had ever so briefly played with the Byrds in February 1973.) Crosby brought “Laughing,” an original Byrds-era song which he had previously recorded on his solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name, as well as the acerbic music biz commentary “Long Live the King.”

Three covers rounded out Byrds. “For Free” was plucked from the songbook of Asylum label mate Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon; Crosby provided the lead vocal. Gene Clark urged his fellow Byrds to include two compositions by Crosby’s CSNY bandmate Neil Young: “Cowgirl in the Sand,” from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, and “(See the Sky) About to Rain,” which Young hadn’t yet recorded.  We have more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 16, 2014 at 11:13

Posted in News, Reissues, The Byrds

Holiday Gift Guide Review: A Folk and Country Christmas with The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four and the Statler Brothers

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Kingston Trio - Last MonthThe cover of The Kingston Trio’s 1960 Capitol release The Last Month of the Year depicts the three young folksingers in suits and ties, each loaded with a bundle of Christmas gifts. With a cover like that, one could be forgiven for having expected the group to deliver a jovial set of holiday favorites. Instead, The Trio created an album of rare beauty but considerable darkness. As such, it’s hardly your typical holiday fare but Real Gone Music’s reissue (RGM-0312) is a worthwhile inclusion on any Christmas music shelf.

Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds graced The Last Month of the Year with some of their most intricate harmonies and complex musicianship on this delicate collection of twelve acoustic songs. Most were original compositions, though even some of the originals were based on traditional folk melodies. The opening track, Guard’s “Bye Bye Thou Little Tiny Child,” melodically takes its cue from the Coventry Carol but lyrically dramatizes King Herod’s decree to slay all infants under the age of two. Happily, the album could only go to lighter places from such a striking beginning. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” the album’s most familiar standard, is interpreted in the style of The Weavers and features some rarely-heard lyrics. The spiritual “Go Where I Send Thee,” long a part of the Trio’s repertoire, gets an even more lively performance anchored by David “Buck” Wheat’s bass. “All Through the Night” and “Goodnight, My Baby” are both sweet lullabies inspired by Nick Reynolds having just become a new father at the time of the album’s recording. “Mary Mild” is a darker spin on childhood. Based on the English ballad “The Bitter Withy,” this tale of Jesus ends with a number of drowned children. Nobody could accuse The Kingston Trio of pulling any punches to craft a commercial record!

The album was built around a diverse set of influences. “Follow Now O Shepherds” had its roots in an ages-old Spanish carol; “Sing We Noel” harkened back to 15th century France. The ravishingly pretty “White Snows of Winter” adapted its melody from Brahms. “Sommerset Gloucestershire Wassail” was an adaptation of numerous English folk songs enhanced by the presence of the bouzouki. (The instrument, specially made for the Trio per the original liner notes, also adds colors to the upbeat “Sing We Noel.”) The album’s title track, passed on to the Trio from famed song collector Alan Lomax, asks children to remember, “What month was Jesus born in?” The answer, of course, was “The last month of the year!” You’ll remember The Last Month of the Year, too, via this fine reissue of a haunting and singular Christmas album. Tom Pickles provides copious new liner notes, and the original album artwork has also been retained.

Brothers Four - Merry ChristmasMerry Christmas from The Brothers Four (RGM-0308) is a folk album of a different stripe. With more of a pop slant than The Kingston Trio’s holiday effort, this 1966 LP featured a team of heavy hitters. Group members Bob Flick (baritone/upright bass/bass), John Paine (baritone/rhythm guitar), Dick Foley (lead tenor/guitar) and Mike Kirkland (tenor/guitar/banjo) were joined on this smooth holiday affair by orchestrator/conductor Peter Matz (known for his work with Barbra Streisand and countless others) and Miles Davis’ most frequent producer Teo Macero plus renowned Columbia engineer Frank Laico and vocal arranger (and John Denver collaborator) Milt Okun. Real Gone’s expanded and remastered reissue not only restores the album to print on CD (past CD issues have been commanding high prices) but adds four bonuses, two of which are previously unreleased.

After the jump: more on The Brothers Four, plus a two-for-one reissue from The Statler Brothers! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 15, 2014 at 13:20

Omnivore Boils Ron Nagle’s “Bad Rice” In Deluxe Edition of 1970 Cult Classic

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Bad RiceToday, Ron Nagle may be best known for his groundbreaking work as a ceramic sculptor.  The “baron of sculptural intelligence” has been pushing the boundaries of art for decades now with his award-winning variations on the basic form of a cup.  The San Francisco Gate recently praised the “master ceramic sculptor and painter whose original sense of color is equally informed by Mark Rothko and the hot rod aesthetic.”  But for music fans, Nagle is known for his double life as a singer, songwriter and musician.  A member of the Bay Area band The Mystery Trend and the pop duo Durocs, Nagle has co-written songs with Barbra Streisand (“Believe What You Read,” from Streisand Superman) and provided sound effects for The Exorcist.  In 1970, in the salad days of the Warner Bros. Records label, Nagle recorded one album with co-producer and arranger Jack Nitzsche that has gone on to attain cult classic status.  Now, Omnivore Recordings is restoring that long-lost platter, Bad Rice, to print in a deluxe, 2-CD expanded edition.

Featuring what Omnivore aptly describes as “Nagle’s trademark blend of Stones-y raunch, Beach Boys lilt and Newman-esque black humor,” Bad Rice features guest appearances by Sal Valentino of The Beau Brummels and Ry Cooder, both of whom were sharing the WB family of labels with Nagle, as well as John Blakeley (Stoneground), George Rains (Mother Earth, Sir Douglas Quintet), and Mickey Waller (Pilot, Silvermetre).  Nitzsche, the legendary Wall of Sound architect, co-produced and arranged the LP alongside Nagle’s mentor, San Francisco radio personality Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue.  Despite receiving critical acclaim upon its release, Bad Rice failed to trouble the charts, leaving its charms to be appreciated only by those who found it in dusty record racks and dutifully found themselves spreading the word.  A vinyl reissue arrived from Edsel Records in 1999, but CD release somehow eluded Bad Rice.

We have more details after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 15, 2014 at 11:14

Posted in News, Reissues, Ron Nagle

Release Round-Up: Week of December 15

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Kinks Anthology

The Kinks, Anthology 1964-1971 (BMG/InGrooves, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Producer Andrew Sandoval (the recent The Monkees: Super Deluxe Edition) helms this kink-sized 5-CD kollection of hits, demos, interviews, alternate mixes, session outtakes, 25 previously unavailable tracks, an exclusive 7-inch single and copious, new liner notes!

Dionne - Finder of Lost Loves

Dionne Warwick, Finder of Lost Loves: Expanded Edition (Arista/Funky Town Grooves) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This 2-CD edition of Warwick’s 1985 album features a bonus disc with 12 additional tracks – three rare single versions and nine previously unreleased recordings, including the Barry Gibb-produced Heartbreaker outtake “Broken Bottles” and two alternate versions of the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager title track featuring Dionne joined by Luther Vandross!

Aretha - Aretha

Aretha Franklin, Aretha: Expanded Edition (Arista/Funky Town Grooves) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

FTG adds a staggering 19 bonus tracks to create a 2-disc edition of The Queen of Soul’s 1986 album featuring “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” – including rare remixes of five songs as well as the Aretha Megamix!  It appears that the companion disc – an expanded edition of Through the Storm – won’t be available until next month.

Manhattans - Black Tie

The Manhattans, Black Tie / Forever by Your Side (Columbia/Funky Town Grooves)

Black Tie: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Forever: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

FTG continues its series of reissues from The Manhattans’ catalogue with expanded editions of the legendary vocal group’s 1981 and 1983 albums of silky R&B!

Trip Shakespeare

Trip Shakespeare, Applehead Man / Are You Shakespearienced? (Omnivore)

Applehead CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Applehead Translucent Red Vinyl & Download Card: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Are You... CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Are You… Translucent Green Vinyl & Download Card: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Omnivore remasters and expands the first two albums from Minnesota band Trip Shakespeare – the training ground for John Munson and Dan Wilson, two members who would later go on to form Semisonic!

Foreigner - 4 and More

Foreigner, The Best of Foreigner 4 and More (Sony) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Just two months ago, on October 3 and 4, 2014, Foreigner took the stage at Atlantic City’s Borgata.  Now, highlights from those concerts are being released on one budget-priced ($5.99 as of this writing!) CD including the hit songs from 1981’s landmark Foreigner 4 and other favorites. Tracks include “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “Cold as Ice,” “Hot Blooded” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

 

 

Into the Woods

Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods: 2-CD Deluxe Edition Soundtrack (Walt Disney Records) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Okay, this isn’t a reissue, but we’re looking forward to it all the same.  This week, Walt Disney Records releases the original soundtrack to the new film version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods, featuring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and future Late Late Show host James Corden.  The 2-CD edition features all of Sondheim’s songs plus the film’s orchestral underscore.

The Last Ship OBC

Original Broadway Cast Recording, The Last Ship (UMe) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Sting recently stepped into his Broadway musical The Last Ship for a limited run through January 24; here’s a chance to experience his songs for the musical as performed by the original cast of Michael Esper, Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate and others.  Sting himself is heard on a bonus track singing “What Say You, Meg?” from the show’s impressive score.

Written by Joe Marchese

December 15, 2014 at 08:32

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