The late John Fahey might not be the first name associated with Christmas music. But the steel-string acoustic guitarist and pioneer of the American Primitive Guitar style recorded a number of albums of holiday music, one of which (1968’s The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Solo Christmas Album) remains the most successful release in Fahey’s catalogue. Fantasy Records’ new compilation Christmas Soli brings together fourteen songs from Fahey’s four holiday platters released between 1968 and 1982.
Fahey’s fingerpicking guitar style proved itself remarkably adaptable to holiday music of both the religious and secular varieties. Fahey’s minimalist style brought out a stately, often hidden beauty not just in traditional melodies but in Great American Songbook standards by Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) and Mel Torme and Robert Wells (“The Christmas Song”). Bluegrass, country, folk and particularly the blues all informed the young Fahey, who released The New Possibility on his own Takoma label. Named for Fahey’s hometown of Takoma Park, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, DC), Takoma was at one time or another home to other famed musicians including Michael Bloomfield, George Winston and Leo Kottke.
From The New Possibility, Christmas Soli reprises five tracks including Handel’s “Joy to the World” and traditional tunes such as “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and “Auld Lang Syne.” The album was such a success for Fahey that he returned to the Christmas well with Christmas with John Fahey Volume Two in 1975. Three tracks have been taken from that LP, including a medley of “O Tannenbaum” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” with “Jingle Bells,” and a duet with Richard (Rick) Ruskin of “Carol of the Bells.” Guitarist Ruskin recorded three albums for Takoma.
Fahey’s next holiday-themed release, John Fahey Christmas Guitar Volume One, arrived in 1982 on the Varrick label. Consisting almost entirely of religious-themed favorites, three tracks appear on Christmas Soli: “The First Noel,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Silent Night.” The final album represented here is Popular Songs of Christmas and New Year’s, recorded with fellow acoustic guitarist Terry Robb and also released in 1982 on Varrick Records. That album featured many secular Christmas songs, two of which appear on the new anthology (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “The Christmas Song”) along with a medley of “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” (The original album also featured Fahey’s surprising renditions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow,” among other holiday staples.)
After the jump: more on Christmas Soli, including the full track listing with discographical annotation and order links! Read the rest of this entry »
We missed this one last week – and didn’t want you to miss it, too! The previously unreleased debut album from California psychedelic country-rockers Beachwood Sparks arrives on CD with bonus material, all circa the late 1990s. For fans of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, and the West Coast pop-rock sound.
The Jones Girls, Coming Back (Expansion) (Amazon U.K.)
The Jones Girls, best-known for a string of LPs for Philadelphia International, “came back” with this 1992 album for ARP Records. Expansion bolsters this rare slice of soulful R&B with six bonus tracks.
Legacy reissues the very last concert ever given by Roy Orbison, from December 3, 1988, in a special package with a bonus DVD containing The Last Interview (taped with Roy directly after the performance) and selected performances from 1981 and 1986. The Big O was gone two days later, but his music lives on.
In case you missed it last week (after all, we almost did!), Iconoclassic’s expanded reissue of Poco’s 1971 album features new remastering by Vic Anesini, an essay by John Einarson, and two previously unreleased bonus tracks: the unreleased studio versions of “C’mon” and “A Man Like Me” produced by Richie Polodor.
Two former Supremes – Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene – joined with producer Gene McDaniels for this 1979 LP which featured special guest Ray Charles and addition vocals from Joyce Vincent of Tony Orlando and Dawn. Partners updated the Supremes sound with a sleek, modern R&B vibe, and makes a long-overdue appearance on CD here.
Although the Summer of Love has long passed, the sound of The Strawberry Alarm Clock has never really left the American airwaves. Thanks to oldies radio, “Incense and Peppermints” – which spent sixteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 including one week at pole position – remains in frequent rotation on terrestrial and satellite stations. Though the California-based band released four albums and numerous singles on the UNI label between 1967 and 1970, the success of “Incense” was never matched or bettered. Cherry Red’s all-psychedelic Tune-In label celebrates the group with the single-CD reissue of debut Incense and Peppermints and its 1968 follow-up Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow with three bonus tracks.
The Incense and Peppermints album (which reached No. 11 in the U.S.) masked all of the turmoil that went into its creation. The personnel changes that would plague Strawberry Alarm Clock throughout its short lifespan began early when founding member Gene Gunnels departed the group at his girlfriend’s behest prior to the 45 release of “Incense.” (Gunnels founded SAC with bassist Gary Lovetro, guitarist Steve Rabe and vocalist Mike Luciano as The Quaker Oats; guitarists Ed King and Lee Freeman expanded the group to a sextet. They morphed into Thee Sixpence, and Luciano was eventually replaced by keyboardist Mark Weitz. Then Steve Rabe followed Luciano out. Got that?)
“Incense” was originally penned by Weitz and King, who laid down a backing track for their pop-psych nugget. Producer Frank Slay then sent it to the songwriting team of John Carter and Tim Gilbert, who shaped it into the catchy yet sufficiently lysergic ode everybody knows. But when the song was released by Thee Sixpence on co-producer Bill Holmes’ small All-American label, the names of Weitz and King were nowhere to be found on the label. The producers assured the band that this simply was business as usual, though Weitz and King weren’t quite convinced.
As if those problems weren’t enough for the young band members to face, the song’s vocals were also “farmed out” to Greg Munford of The Shapes. Munford was brought in by Slay and Holmes, as was second vocalist Randy Seal of the Waterfyrd Traene who soon replaced Gunnels in the band line-up. The All-American 45 was released under the Thee Sixpence name; it was reissued on UNI (to whom Holmes sold All-American) as by the very au courant Strawberry Alarm Clock– and the name stuck.
By the time of the release of the Incense album, bassist George Bunnell and flautist Steve Bartek had joined the group although Bartek was too young (14!) to participate full-time; the duo was initially brought on from the Waterfyrd Traene as songwriters. Despite the behind-the-scenes fracas, however, Incense and Peppermints boasted a number of strong, well-played songs with distinctive guitar, organ, vibes and flute sounds lending a psychedelic air. The lengthy, trippy opener “The World’s on Fire” set the stage for gentler harmony-pop songs like the Association-esque “Birds in My Tree” as well as jazzy workouts like “Unwind with the Clock.” Garage rock energy also permeates many of the colorfully titled cuts (sample titles: “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow,” “Paxton’s Back Street Carnival”). Bartek and Bunnell shared credit for five of the album’s cuts, with Bunnell also contributing to another two tracks.
Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing for both albums! Read the rest of this entry »
Another year…another Black Friday. Yes, it’s that time of year again in which consumers start off the holiday shopping season on a mad, frenetic note. This year is another one in which numerous big-box retailers in the U.S. have made headlines by blackening Thursday, or Thanksgiving Day itself, by sales starting on the holiday. So many might give thanks that the folks behind Record Store Day are waiting until the traditional Friday to release their twice-yearly slate of exclusive releases.
As usual, many top artists are represented, from Bob Dylan to U2, with titles aimed coming from both the new and catalogue ends of the spectrum. With that in mind, Mike and I have once again selected our picks for the crème de la crème of titles being released this Friday. Don’t hesitate to head over and drop by your local independent record store, and don’t fear the crowds. With everybody at the mall, the Black Friday RSD event is usually a bit more manageable than the April festivities. You can find a full list of RSD Back to Black Friday exclusives (and a list of participating shops) here.
Without further ado, we’ll kick things off with five of Joe’s favorite slabs of vinyl due on Friday…
Let’s go ahead and say it: 2013 has been The Year of Nilsson. Legacy’s well-curated sampler The Essential Nilsson whetted appetites for its crown jewel box set The RCA Albums Collection, and that landmark collection was followed by the first-ever CD reissue of Flash Harry on Varese Vintage. Now, Legacy caps off this yearlong celebration with the 180-gram vinyl release of a Nilsson album that never was. Sessions 1967-1975, adorned with Steve Stanley’s wonderful original artwork created for the box set, features twelve of the best Nilsson tracks you might not have known – and won’t soon forget. An alternate of “One” (“…is the loneliest number you’ll ever know”) and a demo of “Coconut” sit alongside John Lennon’s “Isolation” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Marry Me a Little” on this remarkable distillation of a singular musical life. To vinyl collectors who already own the box, Sessions is a fine complement. To those who don’t…you’re in for a treat. Doctor’s Orders: Put the lime in the coconut and call me in the morning.
Van Dyke Parks, “Come to the Sunshine” b/w “Farther Along” 7-inch single (Sundazed)
Musical iconoclast (and close pal and collaborator of Harry Nilsson) Van Dyke Parks returns with a replica 45 of his 1966 single, originally on the MGM label. “Come to the Sunshine” has proved a rallying cry for the sunshine pop genre, covered by artists including Harpers Bizarre – who included it as the very first track on their debut album. One part jazz, one part vaudeville, one part psychedelia and all- infectious, the intricately arranged “Come to the Sunshine” is packaged by the Sundazed crew in a new sleeve with a period photo of Parks and new liner notes from California pop historian Domenic Priore.
Ernie Kovacs, A Percy Dovetonsils Christmas (Omnivore)
Omnivore has our candidate for the wackiest release of the Christmas season – or is that the Christmath theathon? Yes, everyone’s favorite lisping poet is back. And if Ernie Kovacs’ kooky creation isn’t your favorite lisping poet, he might well be once you take a chance on A Percy Dovetonsils Christmas. “The Night Before Christmas on New York’s Fashionable East Side” is a most unique Christmas Eve tale, and it’s joined on this festive vinyl 10-inch picture disc by five more of Dovetonsils’ rather refined poems. Grab your smoking jacket (zebra pattern not required) and your glasses (painted-on eyeballs optional, as well) and rest in your easy chair with some of the strangest – and most strangely enjoyable – odes you’ll hear this holiday season.
The Doors, Curated by Record Store Day (Elektra/Rhino)
This 180-gram LP offers eight rare studio and live tracks from Jim, Ray, Robby and John including four mono mixes (“Break on Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” “Moonlight Drive” and “When the Music’s Over”) plus the LP version of “Love Street,” “The Unknown Soldier” from the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, “Roadhouse Blues” from New York’s Felt Forum in 1970, and “Five to One” from Boston, also 1970. All tracks have been remastered by Bruce Botnick, and surviving Doors Robby Krieger and John Densmore have hand-written the track listing on the artwork.
Roy Orbison, The Monument Vinyl Box (Legacy)
Here, then, is a Monumental 4-LP box for a Monumental artist. The Big O immortalized such heartbreakingly dramatic mini-operas as “Only the Lonely,” “Crying,” “Running Scared” and “Blue Bayou,” all of which you’ll hear on the first three LPs in this new vinyl box set: Lonely and Blue, Crying and In Dreams. The fourth LP is a wholly new creation: an Oh! Pretty Woman album featuring the title track, “Ooby Dooby,” “Claudette,” and other tracks handpicked by Orbison’s sons. This one will sure look great under the tree – wrapped in some pretty paper, of course.
After the jump: Mike selects his five picks for Back to Black Friday! Read the rest of this entry »
If you’re looking for another chance to “dance your ass off,” look no further. Big Break Records has returned to the mighty catalogue of Salsoul Records for another three “made in Philadelphia” classics from the soulful disco label.
“C’mon, Vince, play your vibes!” Loleatta Holloway exclaimed before the leader of The Salsoul Orchestra, Vince Montana Jr., stepped forward for a solo on “Run Away,” the third track on the powerful unit’s third non-holiday long-player. 1977’s Magic Journey follows its predecessors The Salsoul Orchestra and Nice ‘n’ Naasty in receiving the deluxe BBR treatment. By the time of Magic Journey, Montana had perfected the formula of showcasing each side of the so-called “disco orchestra” – and given the pedigree of the musicians involved, there were many sides. The album featured MFSB veterans Earl Young, Charles Collins, Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, T.J. Tindall, Bobby Eli, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo and Jack Faith, and many others, along with the Sweethearts of Sigma – Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benton and Carla Benson – on backing vocals and arranger-conductor Montana himself on timpani, bells, chimes, marimba and vibes.
Though the second side of the original LP took listeners on the trip promised in the title, the first side offered one enjoyable pop-disco treat after another. The bright scene-setter “It’s a New Day,” co-written by Montana, and a campy revival of Bob Gaudio’s “Short Shorts,” however, were mere appetizers for the sublime Philly soul of “Run Away.” Sung by Holloway backed by the Salsoul Orchestra, “Run Away” was then – and is now – one of the finest songs to emerge on Salsoul. With its infectious melody, shimmering arrangement and urgent vocals, it’s unfathomable that the song stalled at R&B No. 84 and didn’t even dent the pop chart. It’s the undisputed highlight here, along with “Themes from Montreal Olympics 1976 – Farewell Song and Ballet of the Closing Ceremony.” The lush orchestral sound of “Farewell Song” could be mistaken for a Stylistics backing track crafted by Thom Bell, and its immaculate blend of horns and strings is as far-removed from the conventional notion of disco as possible. Only at about the 3-1/2 minute march does this soft and lovely piece musically nod at something as anthemic or victorious as the title would indicate. Few tracks better show off the immaculate musicianship of The Salsoul Orchestra, not to mention just how much Vince Montana had grown as an arranger since his early MFSB days.
Besides “Short Shorts,” a couple of other pop covers pepper the album: a lightly disco take on the Cuban folk song-turned-Sandpipers hit “Guantanamera” and a funky reworking of Earth Wind and Fire’s “Getaway.” Smoky saxophone leads the horn section, while taut guitar, Philly-style strings and the Orchestra’s trademark Latin percussion add up to a track that might best the EWF original for sheer excitement.
After the jump: more on Magic Journey, plus the scoop on BBR’s new reissues from Loleatta Holloway and Bunny Sigler! Read the rest of this entry »
In 1962, Henry Mancini scored a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Music from the Motion Picture on the RCA Victor label. But that 12-track LP only told part of the story of Mancini’s Academy Award-winning score for the film starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Buddy Ebsen, Patricia Neal and Mickey Rooney. Like most of the scores from his classic period, Mancini re-recorded his Tiffany’s music in pop arrangements for its RCA “soundtrack” LP. Consequently, the original music as heard in the film had never been officially released in any audio format – until now. Following similar releases of the actual film music of Mancini’s Charade, Hatari!, and Days of Wine and Roses, the Intrada label has just released one of film music’s holy grails from the immortal composer-arranger-conductor with the first-time Original Soundtrack Recording of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Henry Mancini picked up one Oscar for his instrumental score to Blake Edwards’ 1961 film and a second with Johnny Mercer for their Best Song, the now-standard “Moon River.” But beyond that gentle serenade, Mancini’s score to Tiffany’s was one of his most tuneful, equal parts cocktail jazz, big-band swing, Latin-tinged pop and pure drama. In other words, its colorful sounds were perfectly suited to Edwards’ dreamy adaptation of Truman Capote’s fanciful if surprisingly edgy 1958 novella. Though Mancini’s collaboration with Edwards lasted 35 years and roughly 30 projects, Tiffany’s stands as one of the pair’s crowning achievements. The 30-minute re-recording was a popular LP and stands on its own merits as a remarkable (and remarkably successful) recording. But, by design, it didn’t reflect the full breadth and scope of the versatile composer’s music as heard in the motion picture.
The RCA LP included just “Moon River” in the opening titles track and a cha-cha arrangement. Not only does Intrada’s new 38-track release include Audrey Hepburn’s own fragile vocal performance of “Moon River,” but it premieres the complete original music of the movie’s heist sequence, the dramatic bus station farewell, the full opening and end titles, and much more. Nine bonus tracks round out a truly immersive package, including “Moon River” as performed by just Hepburn and guitar, the “Meet the Doc” cue minus the film’s organ grinder, three “Practice Piano” cues and four more “Moon River” alternates. All told, the new disc clocks in at just a bit less than eighty minutes’ length.
Hit the jump for more, including an order link and the complete track listing! Read the rest of this entry »