Holiday Gift Guide Review: A Folk and Country Christmas with The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four and the Statler Brothers
The 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.
Merry 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 »
Today, 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 »
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!
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!
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.
The Manhattans, Black Tie / Forever by Your Side (Columbia/Funky Town Grooves)
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, 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!
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.”
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.
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.
Anita Pointer’s solo debut might have seemed inevitable. She had sung lead on many of The Pointer Sisters’ biggest hits including Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” and co-wrote the Grammy-winning “Fairytale.” By the time she released Love For What It Is on RCA in 1987, Anita was following in the footsteps of sisters Bonnie (who left the group in 1977 for a Motown solo contract) and June (with 1983’s Baby Sister). The album arrived on the heels of the success of “Too Many Times,” a duet with Earl Thomas Conley that landed Anita on the Country chart at No. 2, but wasn’t country-flavored. Instead, Anita and RCA turned to R&B veteran Preston Glass to produce.
Glass, whose production C.V. included Whitney Houston, Phyllis Hyman and Aretha Franklin, also co-wrote a couple tracks on the nine-song album – one with Brenda Russell (“Beware of What You Want”) and one with Alan Glass and Ron Broomfield (“More Than a Memory”). The album’s opening track, “Overnight Success,” was penned by Motown vets Brenda and Michael Sutton, while Tom Snow and Jennifer Kimball provided “The Pledge,” a duet with Earth Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey. “Overnight” peaked at a respectable No. 41 on the R&B Singles chart, with “More than a Memory” only making it to No. 73. Despite its sleek, soulful sound, Love For What It Is only made it to No. 48 on the Cash Box R&B Albums Chart. BBR has uncovered this underrated LP for an expanded edition boasting six bonus tracks – three mixes of each of the two singles. Reissue co-producer Christian John Wikane has written the detailed new liner notes based on an interview with Anita, and Nick Robbins has remastered. It’s presented in a Super Jewel Box.
BBR dips back into the Silver Convention catalogue for the West German disco act’s third release. This expansion of 1976’s Madhouse follows the label’s reissues of Silver Convention’s first two albums Save Me and Get Up and Boogie. For Madhouse, producers Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze injected a stronger element of funk into their set of ten original songs performed by the group line-up of Penny McLean, Ramona Wulf and Rhonda Heath. Foreshadowing Kunze’s later involvement in musical theatre, Madhouse was also conceived as a loose concept album, or a Wild Party for the disco set. The titular madhouse appeared on the album artwork, and songs included “Fancy Party,” “I’m Not a Slot Machine,” “Magic Mountain” and a title song, too. The funky theme park of an album, however, didn’t match the success of its predecessors. In the U.S., the LP peaked at No. 65 Pop/No. 47 R&B, and the single “Dancing in the Aisles (Take Me Higher)” only reached No. 102 Pop/No. 80 R&B. Stephen “SPAZ” Schnee provides a brief essay on the album’s history, and the single mixes of “Fancy Party” (released in Germany) and “Dancing in the Aisles” have been included, too. Remastering has again been handled by Nick Robbins.
After the jump: BBR gets shocked with 5000 Volts and is downright sinful with Rinder and Lewis – plus track listings and order links for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »
When it comes to rare soul, Ace Records never sleeps! The label has recently released a compilation celebrating the career of Sam Cooke not as a singer but as a songwriter, along with collections dedicated to excavating the vaults of two great Detroit labels: Westbound Records, and of course, Motown!
Countless albums have anthologized the short but influential oeuvre of Sam Cooke, but Bring It on Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke takes a different approach, featuring 24 versions of Cooke compositions recorded between 1959 and 1976, performed by some of the biggest African-American names in popular music. Cooke (1931-1964) was a singer-songwriter before the term was in fashion, writing or co-writing 25 of his 35 R&B hits charted between 1957 and 1965 (not counting many of the B-sides which he also wrote). Bring It on Home doubles as a “Who’s Who” of classic American soul, with artists from the Stax, Motown and Atlantic rosters among many others.
Many of Cooke’s most famous songs are here: the silky, chart-topping ballad “You Send Me” as performed by Percy Sledge in Muscle Shoals, “Shake” from Cooke disciple Otis Redding (who, like Cooke, died tragically young – but not before including renditions of Cooke songs on all but one of the studio albums released during his lifetime), “Cupid” from “Take a Letter, Maria” singer R.B. Greaves, “Wonderful World” from Johnny Nash of “I Can See Clearly Now,” and of course, “A Change is Gonna Come” from “Gimme Little Sign” vocalist Brenton Wood. The title track, “Bring It On Home to Me,” is heard courtesy of Stax legend Eddie Floyd. As a special treat, Ace has unearthed a previously unissued version of Theola Kilgore’s “answer song” to “Chain Gang” entitled “(Chain Gang) The Sound of My Man.”
A couple of tracks are drawn from the Motown stable including The Supremes ‘ ” (Ain’t That) Good News” from Diana, Mary and Flo’s 1965 We Remember Sam Cooke album, with Flo on a thunderous lead. Smokey Robinson leads The Miracles on their 1964 version of “Dance What You Wanna.” From the Stax Records family, Sam and Dave offer their first U.K. Pop hit, 1966’s “Sooth Me.” A couple of tracks have been drawn from Sam Cooke’s own SAR label, too: Sam’s production of “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day)” by future Stax superstar Johnnie Taylor, and Johnnie Morisette’s “Meet Me at the Twistin’ Place,” also produced by Sam. Mr. Cooke himself is heard on “That’s Heaven to Me” from his final session with The Soul Stirrers. Other highlights include tracks from Lou Rawls (“Win Your Love”), Aretha Franklin (“Good Times”) and Little Anthony and the Imperials (“I’m Alright”), proving the breadth of Cooke’s versatility. Tony Rounce has provided the track-by-track liner notes in the 16-page booklet, and Duncan Cowell has newly remastered all tracks. Bring It on Home is a worthy addition to the series of Black America Sings, which also includes titles spotlighting the songs of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Otis Redding, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
After the jump, we’re heading to Detroit! Read the rest of this entry »
The centerpiece of the February batch just might be the first-ever complete collection of Louisiana man Tony Joe White’s Warner Bros. recordings! Singer-songwriter White (“Willie and Laura Mae Jones,” “Polk Salad Annie”) has one of the most distinctive voices in southern soul, and Real Gone’s new collection celebrates a major period his career with a new 2-CD set collecting three albums and six non-LP singles! The label then has a new collection of inspirational music from one of country’s most beloved – and shall we say, tumultuous! – couples: George Jones and Tammy Wynette! This hitherto-unexplored side of George and Tammy is one you won’t want to miss.
Cult favorites aren’t being left out in the cold, either. Real Gone has, for the first time, Bobby Lance’s (“The House That Jack Built”) two Atlantic/Cotillion releases on one CD, and the only solo album from Texas’ Jerry Williams. On the rock side, the label is expanding “Power” from Orleans’ John Hall as well as the eponymous album from Ray Kennedy, one of the co-writers of The Beach Boys’ anthemic “Sail On Sailor.” Two landmark June 1974 shows are featured on a new pressing of Grateful Dead’s twelfth volume of Dick’s Picks. And last but not least, Real Gone and its SoulMusic Records imprint have combined Apollo Saturday Night and Saturday Night at the Uptown – two classic live albums from New York and Philly with headliners including Otis Redding, The Drifters and the “wicked” Wilson Pickett – on one CD!
Hit the jump for Real Gone’s complete press release with full details on every title, plus pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »
It was ambitious, even for Sinatra.
His sixth studio album on his own Reprise label – and one of five full-length LPs released in 1962 alone – would be recorded in Great Britain with a British musical director, producer and personnel, and would feature only songs from British composers. For the quintessentially American singer, it must have been a formidable challenge. But Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain proved that The Voice was up to the task. Over time, it became a highly-regarded album in a considerable canon, and also a “lost” album as American release eluded it until the compact disc era. Now, a remastered and expanded Great Songs is at the heart of a new 3-CD/1-DVD box set from UMe and Frank Sinatra Enterprises under the new Signature Sinatra imprint. Sinatra: London follows 2006’s New York and 2009’s Vegas in celebrating a city near and dear to the late artist via his various performances there over the decades, in this case 1953-1984. The set premieres over 50 previously unreleased tracks on CD and DVD – both live and in the studio – and is a timely reminder on the eve of his 100th anniversary year of Sinatra’s enduring, universal power.
Arranger/conductor Robert Farnon, an accomplished composer of “light music” and a four-time Ivor Novello Award winner, wisely kept Sinatra’s voice front and center on this collection of rich ballads. His gentle a cappella tone opens the album with the title lyric of “The Very Thought of You,” kicking off an understated, dreamy collection. Recording at CTS Studios in Bayswater in June 1962, Farnon provided a lush setting for Sinatra on such classic British songs as Novello’s “We’ll Gather Lilacs,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “We’ll Meet Again” (the wartime anthem so closely associated with Dame Vera Lynn) and Noel Coward’s “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart.” Two songs on the album, “London by Night” and “If I Had You,” marked the third time Sinatra had recorded them, in each case previously at both Columbia and Capitol Records, but Farnon’s orchestrations (as played by a 40-strong orchestra including Sinatra’s regular accompanist, Bill Miller) stand the test of time as the definitive ones.
There’s not a lot of ring-a-ding-ding on Great Songs, just a lot of impeccable singing despite Sinatra’s own belief that his voice was strained. Despite experiencing vocal stress, he used any roughness in his voice in service of the songs. Though Farnon’s evocative string arrangements are most prevalent throughout, the arranger evoked a smoky milieu with brass for “If I Had You,” the sweetly devotional lyrics of which Sinatra embodied with seeming effortlessness and a light swing. On “Now Is the Hour,” Sinatra tempered the sadness of the lyric with just the right note of hope; indeed, some of the vocalist’s most pure singing can be heard as he caresses “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” or conjures up the vivid, romantic imagery of “London by Night.” The London box adds the previously-released outtake “Roses of Picardy” – a haunting performance that would have fit comfortably on the original album – as well as brief but illuminating spoken introductions to each of the original ten songs by Sinatra from an October 21, 1962 BBC radio broadcast of the album.
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