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Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, held on October 16, 1992 at New York’s Madison Square Garden to mark Dylan’s Columbia Records debut, could have been a valedictory. The 51-year old honoree and participant was nearly at the halfway point of a self-imposed sabbatical from writing and recording original songs; it would last seven years, from 1990 to 1997. He had not had an album reach the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 since 1983’s Infidels and hadn’t cracked the Top 5 since 1979’s Slow Train Coming. When Good as I Been to You, a collection of traditional tunes and standards, arrived in stores just a couple of weeks after the concert, it was the artist’s first solo acoustic album since 1964. Was the artist who once challenged convention with alarming regularity now succumbing to it, resting on his laurels while his famous friends saluted him? One could have been forgiven for coming to that conclusion. But the concert dubbed by participant Neil Young as “Bobfest” proved conclusively that the Bob Dylan songbook was as enshrined in the cultural consciousness as any of the classic songs Dylan had taken to recording of late. His songs still had the power to shock, to entertain, to incisively observe upon the world and the human condition. Columbia Records issued the concert as a 2-CD set and on VHS; now, both the audio and video components have received, shall we say, a 22nd anniversary update and upgrade from Legacy Recordings. With Dylan more venerated than ever, on the heels of a remarkable “comeback” that began in 1997 and hasn’t abated since, the timing couldn’t be better.
It’s striking in equal measure to note how many of the artists featured on Concert Celebration are still going strong, like Dylan, and how many have moved onto the next world. Of the former, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty all now possess “living legend” status. There’s an overwhelmingly bittersweet quality, however, savoring the performances by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, George Harrison, Richie Havens, Levon Helm and Rick Danko, Tommy Makem and Bobby, Liam and Paddy Clancy, Howie Epstein of The Heartbreakers and Donald “Duck” Dunn.
Underscoring the adaptable nature of Dylan’s singular songs, the genres of rock, folk, country and even R&B all earned a spot at the Garden that evening. Naturally for any such concert retrospective, a number of artists reprised past triumphs with an older and wiser sensibility to mark their own shared history with Dylan: Stevie Wonder with his 1966 hit version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Johnny and June Carter Cash with their 1965 Top 5 Country romp through “It Ain’t Me Babe” (enlivened by Mickey Raphael’s harmonica), Roger McGuinn and his 12-string Rickenbacker (plus Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!) with The Byrds’ chart-topping “Mr. Tambourine Man,” folk hero Richie Havens with “Just Like a Woman,” a staple of his repertoire since the 1960s. The O’Jays liked Dylan’s “Emotionally Yours” so much that they named a 1991 album after the song and recorded it twice on that LP – once in an R&B Version and once in a Gospel Version. The latter raised the rafters at the Garden, thanks to the chorus featuring, among others, Cissy Houston and the pre-fame Sheryl Crow. Sans Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of The Band invested “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with appropriate, ironic optimism.
Other headliners also had one foot in the past, honoring the original performances of the songs via their faithful renditions. John Mellencamp even enlisted Al Kooper to revisit his famous organ part on a rip-roaring, concert-opening “Like a Rolling Stone.” Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin and Mary-Chapin Carpenter revived the folk-rock spirit of The Byrds on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Eddie Vedder, on vocals, and Mike McCready, on guitar, tackled the acoustic “Masters of War” (“Even Jesus would never forgive what you do”) and did full justice to its lacerating, unforgiving lyrics (“I’ll stand on your grave ‘til I’m sure that you’re dead”).
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Rock’s back pages are littered with “creative differences.” Such differences split Paul Revere and the Raiders into two warring factions – Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay on one side; Phil “Fang” Volk, Mike “Smitty” Smith and Drake “The Kid” Levin on the other. The Volk-Smith-Levin triumvirate bristled at the more pop direction that the onetime garage band had been taking, and were none too pleased with the studio musicians being enlisted to beef up the Raiders’ recordings. In early 1967, the trio departed the band, leading to litigation and acrimony. But both parties soldiered on. Revere and Lindsay were joined in The Raiders by Freddy Weller, Joe Correro, Jr. and Keith Allison, and Volk, Levin, and Smith formed The Brotherhood. But while Revere continued to notch hits, The Brotherhood wasn’t quite so lucky. Its small three-album discography for RCA has gone all but forgotten in the ensuing years. Luckily, Real Gone Music has found this missing link in Raiders history. Brotherhood’s The Complete Recordings (RGM-0220, 2014) brings together all three of these fascinating LPs in one deluxe 2-CD set.
With a new label and newfound autonomy, bassist Volk, guitarist Levin and drummer Smith took few cues from their old band when they formed Brotherhood. Organist Ron Collins rounded out the group which tried to live up to its name; on the first album, every songwriting credit was shared by the three core members. Brotherhood’s first, self-titled long-player from 1968 began hopefully with the sound of applause, but despite the wealth of possibilities in its twelve tracks, a listener could be forgiven for wondering, “Just who are these guys?” The versatile talents of Brotherhood failed to create a cohesive album for their debut, but succeeded in showing off the many musical styles they had mastered, gleefully jumping from genre to genre – at times in the same song! The opening track “Somebody” veers from snarling garage rock to showbiz brassiness with a dash of reggae for good measure, but it gets even stranger from there. Levin’s “Pastel Blue” is a gently wistful bossa nova tune, while “Lady Faire” is a decidedly Parisian cabaret jaunt. “Box Guitar” is a slightly twee soft-shoe vaudeville track with enjoyable tack piano from Collins, but none of these tracks could have satisfied expectations of a new band built around the talents of the Raiders’ rhythm section.
Despite the smiling faces on the album cover, darkness permeates much of Brotherhood, too. One rocking track pleads to “Close the Door” (“before they find us…”), and the specter of Vietnam looms over the tense, slow and lysergic “Doin’ the Right Thing (The Way),” featuring Levin on sitar. (Volk’s brother Capt. George Francis Volk of the U.S. Army was killed in Vietnam in 1967.) “Love for Free” begins on an ominous note before ceding to harmony-psychedelia. The band indulged its baroque, impressionistic sensibilities on “Seasons” (with a guest cello spot) and the lyrically-cryptic “Ice Cream.” Brotherhood was an album in search of a single, as the band was aware. They settled on “Jump Out the Window,” with the LP’s most straightforward and enjoyable pop-rock melody. The lyric urges the title act as a kind of liberation, and most of it is innocuous enough: “I’m a hip Mary Poppins/I fly so naturally/I go where the wind blows/And the wind knows I’m free…” But the plea to jump out the window likely didn’t help it climb the pop charts. Bill Kopp’s comprehensive liner notes find Phil Volk confessing that he found the song’s message “irresponsible.” By the time of the album’s finale, the hypnotic, Moog-splashed “Forever” as sung by Levin, it was still difficult to discern what kind of band Brotherhood was, and wanted to be.
Where did the band head next? Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
The careers of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin have been inextricably linked since Franklin entered New York’s Atlantic Studios on Valentine’s Day, 1967, with producer Jerry Wexler to record Redding’s “Respect.” Even before that pivotal moment, however, the two artists shared a label in Atlantic Records (distributor of Redding’s Stax records) and an ability to invest any song with raw honesty and unvarnished emotion. Atlantic and Rhino Records have recently issued two newly remastered 4-CD retrospectives dedicated to Redding and Franklin: respectively, The King of Soul and The Queen of Soul.
“Respect” was originally cut by the soul shouter supreme and producer Steve Cropper at Stax’s Memphis, Tennessee studios in July 1965, and became his second-biggest pop hit to that point. In Redding’s original, he’s insistent as he addresses his woman. His intensity is as blazing as the song’s horns are frantically bleating. She can do him wrong, do what she wants to, take his money – but he demands “a little respect” when he comes home. It’s what he wants, sure. But moreover, it’s what he needs. It’s no surprise that Redding’s urgent entreaty to maintain his pride and self-worth took on greater depth against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Redding’s personal plea had universal resonance.
When Franklin approached “Respect,” she turned it on its ear. Whereas Redding asked, “What you want? Honey, you got it! What you need, baby you got it!,” Aretha taunted with equal measures of command and sass, “What you want? Baby, I got it! What you need? You know I got it!” Franklin and Wexler fleshed the song out, adding an instrumental bridge courtesy of saxophone great King Curtis, and dialing up the funk but relaxing the frenetic tempo. Aretha, with her sisters/background singers Erma and Carolyn, also personalized the song, throwing in some indelible ad libs (“Sock it to me,” “Take care, T.C.B.!”) and demanding her “propers.” She might give her man all her money, but there’s no doubt of who’s in control. The anthemic quality already inherent in Otis’ “Respect” came to the fore in Aretha’s empowered reading, which was crowned by one final, key touch – the spelling out of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Her electrifying reinvention went to the top of both the Pop and R&B (Black Singles) charts, prompting Redding to kiddingly stammer that it was the song “that a girl took away from me, a friend of mine, this girl, she just took this song!”
“Respect,” of course, features on both box sets – twice on Redding’s collection, once in the studio and once in a live setting. But that immortal song is just the tip of the iceberg for these compilations. In addition to offering a wealth of some of the most sublime soul music ever recorded, The King of Soul and The Queen of Soul serve as affordable, no-frills primers for those who don’t own all of the artists’ individual Atlantic albums on compact disc. The Redding set is particularly valuable in this regard; while most of Franklin’s CD releases are still in print, Rhino’s reissues of Redding’s Stax/Volt/Atco catalogue are considerably more difficult to find.
The King of Soul (Atlantic/Rhino R2 541306, 2014) coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the late legend’s debut album, 1964’s Pain in My Heart. Over its 92 tracks, these four discs trace Redding’s meteoric rise to superstar status, spanning the fast and furious period between 1962 and his tragic passing in 1967. King of Soul draws on both studio and live recordings, including key singles and tracks from such landmark albums as 1965’s Otis Blue, 1967’s Carla Thomas duets set King and Queen, and 1968’s posthumously-released The Dock of the Bay. Every one of Redding’s original studio albums through 1970 is represented here, and compiler Reggie Collins has also drawn upon the 1968 various-artists album Soul Christmas and 1993’s lavish, now out-of-print Rhino box set Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding. (Collins was credited as the “research director” on that box.) As Redding’s catalogue is limited in size, some albums are nearly-complete here, such as 1965’s torrid Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul. Ten out of the original LP’s eleven tracks are reprised. (The lone omission is Redding’s version of the Sam Cooke hit “Wonderful World.”) As Stax did not begin recording in stereo until 1965, the majority of the first three CDs are in mono; the fourth disc is nearly all-stereo.
After the jump: more on Otis, plus the lowdown on Aretha’s Queen of Soul! Read the rest of this entry »
If there’s some truth to the importance of being in the right place at the right time, Johnny Winter might attest to it. The slide guitar virtuoso came up in the ranks of show business when blues-rock was rising in popularity. He embodied an American alternative to Clapton, Page or Mayall, and offered a grittier take than Hendrix, more of the earth than the cosmos. Since debuting in 1969, Winter has rarely strayed from his signature style even as he’s stretched its boundaries, remaining True to the Blues. And that’s the entirely-fitting title chosen for Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings’ new large-scale retrospective of his still-strong career. Over four CDs and 58 tracks, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story stands a testament not just to the soul and inspiration of its subject but to the durability of the blues idiom itself. If stylistic diversity isn’t one of the strong suits of True to the Blues, its subject’s artistic consistency is certainly one of its hallmarks.
Following an incendiary guest spot at New York’s Fillmore East, the Mississippi-born, Texas-raised albino scored what was reportedly the biggest-ever sum paid to a new signing to Columbia Records: $600,000.00. (Remember: that’s in 1969 dollars!) Mike Bloomfield (subject of another recent, engrossing box set from Columbia/Legacy) introduced his friend Winter at the Fillmore East in December, 1968 as “the baddest motherfucker,” adding an understated “This cat can play!” for good measure. Coming from the great Bloomfield, that was no small compliment. The proof is in the pudding, a scorching 11-minute jam on B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault.” It’s just one electrifying moment for blues-rock devotees here.
The chronologically-sequenced (in order of recording, not release) box set draws on 27 albums originally released on labels including Liberty/Imperial, Columbia, Blue Sky/Epic, Alligator, Point Blank/Virgin, Friday Music, Collectors’ Choice Music, Megaforce and Legacy. It traces his development as an artist both in studio and live settings, accompanied by a number of greats including Bloomfield and Al Kooper, Dr. John, Derek Trucks, Booker T. Jones, Muddy Waters and even Vince Gill. Though Winter’s licks were torrid, an underlying, infectious joy in sharing this music often permeated his approach.
His swaggering attitude was exemplified on Second Winter, his sophomore Columbia studio effort from 1969 (and that rarest of creatures, a double-LP set with only three sides of music!). Winter kicked Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” up a notch via a startlingly-reinvented, rip-roaring take, with his near-spoken delivery as idiosyncratic as Dylan’s own. If Winter’s singing voice might have kept him from greater success – the same was often said of Bloomfield – his harsh, throaty yelp was never less than wholly authentic. (For comparison’s sake, the box set also makes room for a 1993 blazing live version of “Highway 61” from Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, on which the still-fiery Winter is backed by Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, plus G.E. Smith and session vets Anton Fig and Jim Keltner.) The inclusion of Dylan, Percy Mayfield (“Memory Pain”) and Little Richard (“Miss Ann,” with a tasty saxophone solo from Edgar) covers alongside his own material like the breakneck “Hustled Down in Texas” on Second Winter typified Winter’s catholic tastes. His style enlivened R&B, rock and roll, rockabilly and soul, all of which are represented on True to the Blues. And as for that vocal instrument? Winter is almost sweet on a 1977 cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” from his White, Hot and Blue album.
Unsurprisingly, each of the four discs contains a substantial amount of live material, as Winter’s rawest performances have been among his finest. True to the Blues heats up early with “Leland Mississippi Blues” from Woodstock (backed by brother Edgar on keyboards, plus Tommy Shannon on bass and “Uncle” John Turner on drums). So powerful was Winter’s performance at Yasgur’s Farm that the band sounds much larger than its actual size. His guttural growl and strutting guitar pyrotechnics upped the rock quotient and certainly must have brought some of the audience members down to earth from a heightened level of consciousness!
Just as good are three previously unreleased performances from the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival, with Johnny backed once again by Edgar, plus two members of The McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy,” “Fever”) – Rick Derringer and Randy Hobbs. With Derringer, Hobbs and Rick’s brother Randy Zehringer, Johnny formed the band Johnny Winter And. Fellow guitarist Rick spurred Winter on to even more creativity when their axes were pitted in battle. The band’s 1970 eponymous studio album introduced Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” the most commercial song Winter had recorded to that point. The vocals were a bit clearer, the musical interplay a little tighter, but the raw power and searing guitar pyrotechnics and flair still intact. Heavy metal thunder courses through the psychedelic “Guess I’ll Go Away” while Winter’s rapport with Derringer is evident on the drawling “Out on a Limb.” High-octane covers in the muscular, fluid power-blues manner are highlights throughout True to the Blues; he even out-performs The Rolling Stones on their own “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in a 1971 performance with his band “Johnny Winter And” from the long-shuttered Florida amusement park Pirate’s World. But Winter’s own ample contributions to the blues-rock songbook are also plentiful.
After the jump, we have much more on Johnny! Read the rest of this entry »
Talk about fusion! For “Hands Down,” the opening cut of his 1979 album Relight My Fire, Dan Hartman enlisted rock and roll great Edgar Winter to weave his alto saxophone licks throughout the Latin-flavored disco track, and Stevie Wonder to provide his instantly recognizable harmonica. Hartman wasn’t just a dilettante, but a regular musical renaissance man. A veteran of the Johnny Winter Band and the Edgar Winter Group, he wrote the latter’s smash hit “Free Ride,” and successfully completed the transition to solo stardom with 1978’s “Instant Replay,” a No. 1 Disco hit that also reached the Pop Top 30. In the eighties, he revitalized James Brown’s career with “Living in America” and gave blue-eyed soul a contemporary makeover with “I Can Dream About You.” The title song of “Relight My Fire,” on which Hartman was joined by Salsoul queen Loleatta Holloway, proved that he could capture the disco magic twice, as the song remained atop the Billboard dance chart for six weeks. In 1993, it became a hit all over again for Take That and Lulu. Now, thanks to Hot Shot Records, Hartman’s Fire has once again been relit.
Over just six tracks – all written by Hartman, who also played keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and percussion on the album – Relight My Fire pulsates with the energy of the era as filtered through Hartman’s pop sensibility. It was a catholic sensibility that made the musician and songwriter adaptable to pop, rock and soul settings. For the album centerpiece “Vertigo/Relight My Fire,” Hartman traveled to Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios and enlisted veteran Norman Harris (Blue Magic, The O’Jays) to arrange and conduct. Harris brought his sublime orchestrated style to the introductory “Vertigo” as well as to the main body of the sizzling, catchy “Relight My Fire,” with a typically passionate duet vocal from Loleatta Holloway. (Harris had also frequently produced Holloway at Salsoul.) Whether in the original, nearly 10-minute album version of “Vertigo/Relight My Fire” or the 3+-minute single edit of “Relight” (among the six bonus tracks on Hot Shot’s reissue), Hartman and Holloway’s musical invitation can’t be denied.
“Just for Fun” (“Just do what makes you feel all right…If you’re hungry for some good times now, don’t be late, let me show you how!”) is lyrically in the good-time, hedonistic vein expected of a disco record, and the singer’s enthusiasm is infectious, as is his boogie piano solo. (The piano has a bit of the flavor of another disco anthem, Peter Allen’s “I Go to Rio.”) The same goes for the bubbly “I Love Makin’ Music,“ which flows out of “Just for Fun” and epitomizes what could have been Hartman’s personal credo throughout his all-too-short 43 years. “Love makin’ music, love makin’ love,” the female background vocalist coo during the track, but on Relight My Fire, the two acts seem synonymous. Hartman’s disco remake of his own “Free Ride” is surprisingly effective. If it doesn’t replace the original, it succeeds on the strength of the song’s abundant melody, signature riff and energetic performance here.
After the jump, we have more on Relight My Fire, plus a look at Hot Shot’s rediscovery of actress-singer Sheryl Lee Ralph’s foray into contemporary R&B! Read the rest of this entry »
Dionne Warwick’s third album bore the title Make Way for Dionne Warwick. But truth to tell, by the time of its release in September 1964, America had already made way for the New Jersey-born singer. She had climbed the charts with the immortal likes of “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By” and “Reach Out for Me,” the latter two of which were included on that LP. Of course, all of those singles were written and produced by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who with Warwick were stretching the boundaries of American pop and soul with each new 45. The elegant singer made an art out of her vocal control, deftly navigating the tricky contours of Bacharach’s angular, complex compositions with preternatural cool. Bacharach shattered convention with his shifting time signatures and unexpected chord progressions, but Warwick suffused those melodies with a clarion tone and seemingly effortless restraint. She naturally brought an actress’ gifts and a musician’s know-how to Bacharach’s tunes and David’s direct, deceptively simple lyrics. Until an acrimonious breakup in 1972, their “Triangle Marriage” raised the bar for sophisticated, contemporary, adult and urbane pop.
Following last year’s series of 23 expanded reissues of Dionne Warwick’s Scepter and Warner Bros. catalogue from WEA Japan, the U.K.’s Edsel label has just reissued 16 of those very albums on four new, multi-CD sets. Each one of Edsel’s sets contains four original stereo albums in chronological sequence, with two of the sets adding singles and retaining bonus tracks originally introduced on Rhino Handmade’s expanded reissues. The titles have been reissued as follows:
- Presenting Dionne Warwick (1963) / Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964) / Make Way for Dionne Warwick (1964) / The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick (1965) (2 CDs)
- Here I Am (1965) / Dionne Warwick in Paris (1966) / Here Where There is Love (1966) / On Stage and in the Movies (1967) (2 CDs)
- The Windows of the World (1967) / In the Valley of the Dolls (1968) / Promises, Promises (1968, with bonus tracks) / Soulful (1969, with bonus tracks) (3 CDs)
- I’ll Never Fall in Love Again (1970) / Very Dionne (1970, with bonus tracks) / Dionne (1972) / Just Being Myself (1973) (2 CDs)
These four collections span Warwick’s entire groundbreaking period at Florence Greenberg’s New York-based Scepter label at which she recorded her most enduring hits, as well as her first two albums for Warner Bros. Records, the first of which was her final full-length album collaboration with Bacharach and David. As such, these compact packages of truly essential American music deserve a place on the shelf. One couldn’t better trace the evolution and growth of Warwick’s artistry as an interpretive singer, as well as the songwriting, production and arranging acumen of Bacharach and David, than via these seminal recordings.
As Dionne released very few non-LP singles at Scepter, all of her familiar hits from the period can be found on these four releases. But newcomers to her catalogue will also discover that her albums, though primarily consisting of Bacharach and David’s uptown take on R&B, were also peppered with standards, showtunes and later, pop “covers.” All of these varied songs spoke to her versatility as both a superior vocalist and an entertainer for all seasons.
This campaign from Edsel is the first large-scale reappraisal of Warwick’s catalogue in the U.K. since a series of early Scepter-era reissues from Sequel Records in the mid-1990s. And a daunting catalogue it is, especially for newcomers. In 2003 and 2004, Rhino Handmade premiered a number of the later Scepter albums on CD in generously expanded editions, but the series was abruptly ended before its scheduled conclusion. The first four Warner Bros. titles arrived on CD from Ambassador Soul Classics. Real Gone Music precursor Collectors’ Choice Music then reissued much of the Scepter catalogue plus the fifth and final Warner Bros. title in 2007 in straightforward album reissues with no additional material. (Discussion of Dionne’s non-Scepter and WB work is best left for another day!) The 2013 WEA Japan release series was the first major effort by one label to completely standardize the catalogue, and it did so admirably, including mono and stereo versions of each album (where applicable) plus a healthy selection of bonus tracks, many of which were never previously available on CD. The 23 Japanese reissues still didn’t include the entirety of Warwick’s Scepter and Warner recordings; some single versions, foreign language tracks and miscellaneous recordings were left off. But, especially with its inclusion of the first-ever CD reissues of Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Motion Picture Hits, The Dionne Warwicke Story: A Decade of Gold and From Within, the Japanese series made it possible for Dionne’s entire Scepter and Warner Bros. album catalogue to be obtained from one label in uniform editions.
Edsel’s new reissue series differs substantially from that of WEA Japan’s. We’ll dive into what you’ll find on these affordably-priced collectors’ sets after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
Though the band founded by Al Kooper, Steve Katz, Bobby Colomby, Jim Fielder, Dick Halligan, Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss produced some of the most enduring pop singles of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the group has long lingered in the shadows of rock’s back pages. Eclipsed in fame by Columbia Records labelmates Chicago, plagued by a series of acrimonious departures from the ranks, and pilloried for perceived pro-Nixon views, BS&T has survived primarily as oldies station fodder. Yet with its release of The Complete Columbia Singles (RGM-0211), Real Gone Music has put the emphasis on the vivid, varied body of work from the band’s Columbia period of 1968-1976. The 2-CD, 32-track set reveals a wealth of brassy, powerful jazz-rock that has stood the test of time.
Blood, Sweat and Tears wasn’t the first band to fuse rock and roll with a big-band horn section, but the group did it with a level of virtuosity that eclipsed those that had come before. For his one and only album with the band, Child is Father to the Man, Al Kooper blended the improvisational, experimental quality that had marked his work with The Blues Project with the commercial sensibility he honed as the young songwriter of pop hits like Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring.” Only two tracks from Kooper’s short tenure are heard here, but the driving blue-eyed soul of “I Can’t Quit Her” and the outré, effects-laden – yet still melodic – “House in the Country” both underscore how creative BS&T was at its inception. But Kooper, Brecker and Weiss were gone before long. Producer James William Guercio, whose rock-with-horns work with the Buckinghams had inspired the early BS&T, came on board in time for the group’s second album. It was the same year he would produce the eponymous debut album by a band with a similar idea – The Chicago Transit Authority.
With Guercio at the helm, Blood, Sweat and Tears reinvented itself. Key in this reinvention was the addition of vocalist David Clayton-Thomas to the line-up; Lew Soloff, Jerry Hyman and Chuck Winfield all also joined the group. Clayton-Thomas’ powerful, deep voice was deployed to stunning effect on the group’s re-arrangement of Brenda Holloway’s Motown hit “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” With commanding horns married to an irresistibly soulful melody and an urgent vocal, “Happy” fused jazz, rock, pop and R&B into one storming, radio-friendly whole. Clayton-Thomas’ own “Spinning Wheel” built on the style and sound of “Happy,” with its psychedelic lyrics tapping into the zeitgeist of the era. Soon, everybody had caught on to “Spinning Wheel” – from Mel Torme and Sammy Davis Jr. to Shirley Bassey and Nancy Wilson. Even The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, took a stab at it. The band used its transformative skills once again to great effect on Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die,” adding an anthemic quality and an inventively cinematic, old-west feel to the New York songstress’ folky, wise-beyond-her-years and ironically upbeat rumination. “Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die” are all presented in their original, edited 45 RPM mono versions; all three songs reached a peak of No. 2 on the Billboard charts. (The first eight tracks are in mono, and the remainder in stereo.) “Spinning Wheel” in particular suffered from its cuts, but the shortened version is indeed the one that received airplay in 1969.
Though Guercio was forced out of the producer’s chair after one album and replaced by Bobby Colomby – in hindsight, not the smartest move to make, per Steve Katz in Ed Osborne’s in-depth liner notes – BS&T continued notching moderate hits, at least for a while. (Guercio moved over to concentrate on Chicago, so it’s likely he wasn’t too broken up about being ushered out of BS&T’s circle.) These hits are, of course, here, too, in crisply remastered sound courtesy of Vic Anesini. Best of these might be Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s offbeat gospel riff “Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll),” given a huge production complete with an oddly incongruous choir. That No. 14 hit was followed on the charts by David Clayton-Thomas’ over-the-top composition “Lucretia MacEvil.” Yet, what goes up must come down. It would be BS&T’s final Top 30 hit. (“If they can live with ‘Lucretia MacEvil’ and their Las Vegas desecration of ‘God Bless the Child,’ then God bless them,” Al Kooper quipped in his book Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Survivor.)
After the jump: much more on BS&T! Read the rest of this entry »
And this here’s a government experiment and we’re driving like Hell
To give some cowboys some acid and to stay in motels
We’re going to eat up some wide open spaces like it was a cruise on the Nile
Take the hands off the clock, we’re going to be here a while
- Camper Van Beethoven, “Eye of Fatima (Pt. 1)”
You can take the band out of the underground, but you can’t take the underground out of the band. California’s Camper Van Beethoven had been making its brand of “surrealist, absurdist folk” for roughly five years before garnering a major-label contract courtesy of Virgin Records in 1988. Typically, many wondered if the result would be a watered-down version of what made the band successful in the first place. But upon the release of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, the words “sell out” were unlikely to cross the lips of all but the most cynical fans. Both that landmark release and its 1989 follow-up Key Lime Pie have just been reissued by Omnivore Recordings in splendidly remastered, generously expanded deluxe editions. These two packed reissues are manna for longtime fans and solid introductions for those who aren’t familiar with the CVB ouevre.
From D.I.Y. to the House That Richard Branson Built, Camper Van Beethoven maintained a core of musical integrity. The five-piece group behind Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (Omnivore OVCD-69) – bassist Victor Krummenacher, guitarist Greg Lisher, guitarist/vocalist David Lowery, drummer Chris Pedersen and strings/keys man Jonathan Segel – imbued the album with a joyfully schizophrenic tone and the defiantly “alternative” sound of Segel’s fiddle.
“How can I believe that everything in this world is going to be fine? /How can I believe that everything in this world has its place and time?,” Lowery asks on “She Divines Water.” The false rhyme notwithstanding, it’s an arresting opening couplet, and certainly reflected the questions of many listening in the year that George H.W. Bush seemed poised to continue the Reagan Era. Although there’s an anything-goes sense of possibility that permeates the album, there’s also an undercurrent of darkness. The mordant “tribute” to titular “revolutionary sweetheart” Patty Hearst and the cult of celebrity, “Tania,” is wryly humorous: “How I long for the days when you came to liberate us from boredom/From driving around/From the hours between five and seven in the evening…”
The quirky, irreverent, oblique and subversive lyrics throughout the LP are aided by the band’s varied musical settings, with one element rarely detracting from the other. Following the hypnotic “Devil Song,” “One of These Days” surprises simply by not being too surprising. The relatively straightforward track makes the most of its familiar title previously employed by the likes of Pink Floyd, Mose Allison, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed and Barry Manilow (!) and boasts a strong radio-friendly gloss. Pop harmonies enliven “Never Go Back” following its bleak, carnival-esque introduction, and Camper is at its most punk on the frenetic, aburdist “My Path Belated” and boisterous “Turquoise Jewelry.” A woozy brass arrangement punctuates the loping “Change Your Mind.” Instrumental tracks stand shoulder to shoulder with the vocal performances, such as Part II of “Eye of Fatima,” the heavy “Waka” and the atmospheric, film soundtrack-esque “The Fool.” The witty address that concludes the album (“And life is grand/And I will say this at the risk of falling from favor/With those of you who have appointed yourself to expect us to say something darker…”) showed a band completely unafraid to defy expectations…whatever your expectations were.
Reissue producer and designer Greg Allen has added a clutch of bonus tracks culled from singles and previously unissued live performances circa 1988 from Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. There are numerous treats here, including covers of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (“Wade in the Water”) and Paul Simon (“Kodachrome” with a clever twist of Ringo Starr’s “Photograph”). On the latter, David Lowery’s disaffected lead voice makes for an ironic contrast to Paul Simon’s knowing choirboy vocals on the original.
After the jump: a slice of Key Lime Pie and more! Read the rest of this entry »
“I think we’ve exploited you enough. I just want you to know I’m signing you!” With those words, spoken by John Hammond Sr. and heard on the first disc of Legacy Recordings’ new 3-CD/1-DVD box set From His Head to His Heart to His Hands, Michael Bloomfield became a Columbia Records recording artist. Though he died in 1981 at the age of 37, the blues guitarist extraordinaire left behind a substantial body of work in a variety of musical settings. Perhaps he never fulfilled the entirety of his tremendous promise, having battled personal demons for much of his too-short life. But the “sweet blues” left behind by Bloomfield speaks volumes in this invitingly personal “Audio/Visual Scrapbook” curated by his longtime friend and collaborator Al Kooper.
The three discs of From His Head to His Heart to His Hands are helpfully organized in rough chronological fashion as “Roots,” “Jams” and “Last Licks.” It starts at the very beginning – always a very good place to start, natch – with three previously unreleased from the birth of Bloomfield’s career, recorded at an audition session for the legendary Hammond. Although the Chicago-born Bloomfield was just in his early twenties, he had already soaked up the essence of that city’s storied blues. Hammond clearly cottoned to the young man’s mastery of the guitar. Accompanied only by bassist Bill Lee, Bloomfield showed off the styles which he had perfected, including Merle Travis-inspired “ragtime” guitar. He also introduced Hammond to his guttural, growled vocals; as a singer, Bloomfield was a tremendous guitarist! But if his voice was rough around the edges, it was – like his virtuosic guitar playing – all heart.
Kooper’s tour of Bloomfield’s early years continues with raucous live blues, recorded (where else?) in Chicago with fellow white bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, and then with a powerful one-two-three punch of sessions with Bob Dylan, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and The Electric Flag. The newly-remixed backing track of Dylan’s revolutionary “Like a Rolling Stone” shows how deft Bloomfield’s country-western lead guitar could be in a band setting – subtle yet forceful and distinctive, so well-integrated with Kooper’s washes of organ, Dylan’s guitar and harmonica, Bobby Gregg’s booming, thunderous drums, Joe Mack’s anchoring bass, and Paul Griffin’s ironically rollicking barroom piano.
A previously unreleased alternate version of “Tombstone Blues” with Columbia recording artists The Chambers Brothers on backing vocals is another thrill. (This is not same take previously issued on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home.) Bloomfield’s searing rockabilly-meets-the-blues lead and The Chambers’ earthy backups add to the gritty authenticity of Dylan’s dark, oblique, impressionistic story with its references to Ma Rainey, Beethoven and Cecil B. DeMille. This “Tombstone” is yet another example of how Dylan synthesized so many styles of music into something utterly new and shocking – and how integral Bloomfield was to the singular sound of Highway 61 Revisited.
Dylan plays a major role, too, bookending the set. A never-before-released live track from San Francisco circa 1980 is a bittersweet treat. It’s prefaced by a touching, affectionate introduction that leaves one hankering for the days when Bob would actually address the audience in concert. Dylan storms and seethes through “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” with Bloomfield smoothly ingratiating himself into the band with a smoking turn alongside guitarist Fred Tackett (Jimmy Webb, Little Feat) and the gospel backing vocals of Clydie King and company. As with Kooper, Bloomfield was so sympathetic to Dylan that his instrument could translate and express his musical partner’s vision as his own.
Bloomfield had a similar connection with Paul Butterfield, sharing guitar duties with Elvin Bishop on the driving blues-with-a-beat of “Born in Chicago” and the torrid my baby-up-and-left-me “Blues with a Feeling” (both from 1965’s The Paul Butterfield Blues Band). The sequence of the Butterfield tracks builds to the 13+-minute jam “East/West.” One can hear the roots of Santana in the Latin vibe of its opening strains. It builds in fury and fire, with Bloomfield’s guitar leading a small, electric (and electrifying) group that packs the power of a blues orchestra. He evinces the variety and invention of a jazz improviser as the song shifts moods as he builds solos on a single chord and creatively performs them in different scales.
The guitarist’s early arc culminates, at the conclusion of Disc One, with a brace of performances with The Electric Flag. There’s still a certain incongruity to Mike Bloomfield leading a horn band; Al Kooper points out the similarity to his own history in his entertaining introductory note. (Both men left their “outré blues bands” to form horn bands and then exited those horn bands after just one album!) The Flag largely resisted the temptations of pop, however. Proof can be found on the two scorching live tracks here, both of which are previously unreleased. Perhaps “blues with horns” was simply a concept too far ahead of its time; the Kooper-founded Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago both proved the viability of jazz-rock with horns (and had massive success when marrying that sensibility to pop melodies). Five selections from The Electric Flag do, however, demonstrate the band’s versatility. Yet the Electric Flag was too short-lived (and as the liner notes reveal, too plagued by drugs and interpersonal problems) to fully succeed. But even for just a while, Bloomfield, Harvey Brooks, Nick Gravenites, Barry Goldberg, Buddy Miles and co. created one hell of a joyful noise.
After the jump: much more on Mike’s blues! Read the rest of this entry »
Cuchi-cuchi! Charo, or María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, burst onto the cultural radar with her goofy, slightly suggestive catchphrase during the late-sixties run of the television phenomenon Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Once a frequent passenger on The Love Boat, the comedienne-bombshell still is a familiar face today on television (Dancing with the Stars, RuPaul’s Drag University) and onstage – on land and on sea, even on the good ship Disney Magic. In 1977, Charo teamed with Vince Montana Jr., the arranger-conductor of Salsoul Records’ house band The Salsoul Orchestra, for a fun disco romp entitled (what else?) Cuchi-Cuchi. It’s one of two Salsoul classics recently given the deluxe treatment by Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label, along with Loleatta Holloway’s 1978 Queen of the Night.
Cuchi-Cuchi, jointly credited to Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, definitely proved that camp and stellar musicianship could co-exist. “Dance a little bit closer…move it in like this…a little bit closer/You and me can dance so free/Oh, come/A little bit closer/Slide your feet like this/A little bit closer…” Charo coos on the opening song, one of the three compositions that sold Salsoul’s Cayre Brothers on Montana’s concept for a Philly soul-meets-Latin-fusion orchestra. The lyrics of “Dance a Little Bit Closer” don’t get any deeper than that, but the seductively insinuating groove and immaculate arrangement – with lush strings, commanding horns and of course a vibes solo from Vince – were pure, sophisticated Philly disco. “Dance,” breathily sung in the heavily accented English that made Charo famous (or infamous?) on Laugh-In, makes room for asides in Spanish (“Loco, loco, loco!”) as the singer’s playful personality compensates for her lack of a powerhouse voice. She was rewarded with a Top 20 dance hit for the infectious track.
That effervescent personality is also used to good effect on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Its once-controversial lyrics have always lent themselves to interpretation by sexy female artists – think Claudine Longet’s steamy rendition. Charo’s salsa-fied rendition of the Jagger/Richards melody comes with a healthy dollop of humor, as does “You’re Just the Right Size.” This remake of Montana’s 1976 Salsoul Orchestra song (basically an instrumental with choice vocal interjections) is one of the album’s most carnal cuts, but it’s also a fine showcase for the Orchestra’s trademark Latin percussion and Montana’s swirling and oddly elegant strings. “Cookie Jar,” co-written by the bandleader, is driving yet catchy funk, highlighted by Charo’s lighthearted double entendres.
More boisterous is Pedro Calaf’s singalong-style “Borriquito,” sung in Spanish as a disco-fied flamenco track. Charo warbles modestly in both English and Spanish on Mexican singer-songwriter Roberto Cantoral’s “The Clock” (reportedly recorded over 1,000 times by various artists worldwide). It’s performed in a straight ballad version with another delectable string chart from Montana. The oddest, campiest track on Cuchi-Cuchi, however, is far less authentically Mexican. It’s the disco revival of Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales,” sans Mel Blanc’s animated interjections that enlivened the original recording. A more successful tongue-in-cheek moment comes courtesy of Montana and Ronnie Walker’s made-to-order title track “Cuchi-Cuchi,” a centerpiece disco workout for the album.
Charo is backed by the ubiquitous background vocalists known as the Sweethearts of Sigma on the quintessential Philly soul of “More of You,” on which she sings “straight” over the irresistible and slickly funky track. Her hushed vocal is also commendable on the sensual ballad “Only You,” co-written by Montana, Ronnie James and Janet Gugliuzza. The melody is tailored to Charo’s strengths, and boasts some lovely Spanish-style guitar, too. Though Charo herself is a flamenco guitarist, she’s not among the credited musicians on the LP, but that’s hardly a liability considering those who did play on Cuchi-Cuchi. Among this list of Philadelphia all-stars: Earl Young and Charles Collins on drums, Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman on bass, T.J. Tindall and Bobby Eli on guitar, Ron Kersey on keyboards, Larry Washington on percussion and Don Renaldo leading the string section.
What extras will you find on BBR’s reissue? Hit the jump! Plus: the scoop on Loleatta Holloway’s Queen of the Night! Read the rest of this entry »