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Look Up To The Sun: Ruthann Friedman Goes Beyond “Windy” On Now Sounds’ “Complete Constant Companion”

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Ruthann Friedman - Constant CompanionRoughly one year ago, Now Sounds released Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook. Its colorful cover was adorned with a striking photograph of the artist, intense and beautiful, in a verdant setting. The label has now continued the Ruthann Friedman story with The Complete Constant Companion Sessions, and its cover is as to Windy’s as night is to day. Its stark black-and-white line art by Peter Kaukonen appears to depict an angel on a landscape of rolling hills, conjuring cryptic text and an arrangement of branches. The drawing is both spare and intricate, mysterious and inviting. It’s an apropos introduction to the intimate world of Constant Companion. The lush Wrecking Crew-aided pop arrangements as heard on Windy have ceded to delicate voice-and-guitar, folk-style performances, though the individuality of Friedman’s exquisite original compositions is – put simply – the one constant.

Ruthann Friedman is best known, of course, for penning The Association’s 1967 chart-topper “Windy” which was ranked among BMI’s Top 100 songs of the twentieth century. Now Sounds’ 2013 anthology premiered tracks salvaged from an aborted LP intended for A&M Records produced by Tommy LiPuma (George Benson, Diana Krall), as well as sessions with Curt Boettcher (The Association, Sagittarius) and others. It featured guests including Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and The Beau Brummels’ Ron Elliot on tracks recorded between 1966 and 1973. The centerpiece of this new collection is the 1969 Reprise LP Constant Companion; with the A&M project shelved, it was Friedman’s debut and her only studio release until 2013. To the album’s original twelve tracks, Now Sounds has added twelve more, most from its sessions and all previously unissued.

“Come all you likely people and hear these sounds I wail,” implores the singer as “Piper’s Call” begins. The de facto first track of Constant Companion, following the short, jazzy a cappella “Topsy Turvy Moon,” the beguiling, acoustic psych-folk ballad (co-written with Steve Mann) sets the fragile tone of the album. Friedman’s lyrics are more than occasionally impressionistic, employing timeless, often pastoral images in their storytelling. With Friedman accompanying herself on guitar, there’s nothing to detract from her piercing, expressive vocals on these moody, low-key reflections as produced in understated fashion by Joe Wissert (The Turtles, Boz Scaggs).

Many tracks here feel deeply personal or drawn directly from the artist’s experience, such as the contemplative “Looking Back Over Your Shoulder.” Friedman shares in her candid track-by-track liner notes that “Ringing Bells” (“…and blinking lights/In and after dawns of hard-lived nights”) was inspired by an acid trip, and indeed, it’s an eloquent evocation of the experience: “Here, I’ve found a never place/With shining souls on every face/Around the corner of a sigh/Between the twinkle of an eye.” A vivid snapshot of a particular era, she concludes, “High in constant never time, I dig the workings of my mind.” Similarly, the lovely and hopeful “Peaceable Kingdom” is very much of its time, dreaming of a better place within flight’s reach. “Danny,” written for Friedman’s nephew, is tender and one of the loveliest moments on Constant Companion. Other songs are far darker and more somber, like the hauntingly offbeat “Fairy Prince Rainbow Man,” and the sparse, poetic chronicle of the end of relationship, “Too Late to Be Mourning.”

Friedman, perhaps her own harshest critic, dismisses “People” as “moaning, whining, wimpy bullshit.” But there’s something touching and indeed, universal, hearing her reach a painful moment of self-discovery: “I have spent so many years trying to find myself/Now that I know where I am, I find that I am by myself.” The surrounding lyrics are a bit florid, but her awareness and ability to relate emotional truths can’t be denied. The up-tempo “No Time” is pointedly criticized by its songwriter as “another bullshit song,” and it is of a piece with “People.” Though Friedman is being hard on herself, both songs are directed at those who didn’t understand her. In “People,” she chastises, “People, you know you are just the same as me/The only difference is the lie we see…” and in the latter, it’s “Damn the chaos and down with the fools/And don’t bug me with all your rules.” The artist has certainly matured, but her sentiments still likely ring true for those of a certain age today, in the process of their own soul-searching.

A bluesy melody enhances “Morning Becomes You,” which would have made a great candidate for a harmony-pop rendition by the likes of The Association. (So many of the songs here are so intimate and so personal that it’s hard to imagine other artists tackling them.) The original album’s closing track, “Look Up to the Sun,” is also one of its most sensual. As on “Windy,” Friedman skillfully blends both the celestial and the earthbound into the fabric of her music.

Constant Companion has been expanded with numerous bonus tracks!  Read about them and more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 24, 2014 at 09:29

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Ruthann Friedman

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Old School: Soul Man Willie Jones Has “Fire In My Soul” On Comeback Album, Welcomes Frank Black, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere

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Willie Jones - Fire In My SoulWe interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a special news bulletin: Willie Jones, vocalist for The Five Jokers back in the early 1960s, has returned to recording for the first time in decades! His new solo album, Fire in My Soul, arrived this week in the U.K. from Cherry Red Records’ Shout! label, and we’re happy to report that it’s a treat for vintage soul enthusiasts!

Much has been made of today’s crop of “neo-soul” artists, fusing organic elements of traditional R&B into more contemporary grooves. But one modern soul revivalist was actually there at the ground floor: “Willie Jones was the first guy to sing rhythm and blues in Detroit,” said soul singer par excellence Bettye LaVette. “Everybody in the world would come down to watch [Willie’s group] The Royal Jokers. They did, and said, ‘I can do that’ and off they went and made a lot of money, and nobody in Detroit offered a kind of leg-up to Willie that he needed to get his career going.” Yet miraculously, nearly 60 years after Jones first appeared on Atlantic Records, the veteran soul man has reappeared with Fire in My Soul via Cherry Red’s Shout! imprint. Its fifteen robust tracks harken back to classic R&B and gutbucket southern soul but with a vibrant edge befitting the 77-years young singer.

The vocal instrument – an expressive tenor – that led Jones to establish himself as a popular recording artist at Atlantic and a host of independent labels in the early days of popular R&B is largely undiminished despite the passage of time. Jones is joined by a core rhythm section of album producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Tiven on keyboards, saxophone and guitar and Sally Tiven on bass plus a rotating line-up of drummers including Anton Fig, Simon Kirke, Chester Thompson, Harry Stinson, Darrell Peyton, Tariq Snare and Greg Morrow.  “I’ve got a fire in my soul and I just can’t put it out,” he sings on the funky title track, a collaboration with Stax legend Steve Cropper and the Young Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere. Cropper and Cavaliere, who co-wrote the track with Tiven, contribute their signature guitar and keyboards, respectively, to the song as well as to “In the Wind.” (The pair have previously issued two joint albums, 2008’s Nudge It Up a Notch and 2010’s Midnight Flyer. The contemporary blues-soul approach of those projects is echoed here.) Black Francis, a.k.a. The Pixies’ Frank Black, joins Jones on the big, honking soul stew of “Janie, Turn It Over.”

Bettye LaVette, for whom Jones wrote the Atlantic single “Shut Your Mouth” in 1962, pays tribute to her old friend with a typically soul-deep vocal – and even a bit of rap – on “Without Redemption” (“Without redemption, all human goodness fails/Without redemption, there is no peace…”) penned by Jones, Tiven and LaVette with poet-lyricist Stephen John Kalinich, best-known for his collaborations with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Kalinich also co-wrote “Janie” and the brassy, up-tempo “Troubled World” on which Jones duels with Tiven’s searing guitar. Another special guest on Fire in My Soul is Jon Auer of The Posies and Big Star. Auer co-wrote and plays both guitar and keyboards on the rueful “Scar B4 I Bruise” (“They gave me a pillow to sleep on/But I had to make my own bed of nails…”). “Reasons” is similarly dark, though the arrangement has an Allen Toussaint vibe to it. “Add It Up” is a slow blues-flecked scorcher that would have fit snugly in the Otis Redding songbook.

Keep reading after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 23, 2014 at 10:28

Posted in News, Reviews, Willie Jones

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Review: Real Gone Goes Soulful With Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Irma Thomas

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Labelle BluebellsDuring its mid- to late-sixties heyday, Atlantic had two “girl groups” on its roster: The Sweet Inspirations and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. It’s appropriate, then, that SoulMusic and Real Gone has a companion release to The Sweet Inspirations’ singles anthology with Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles’ 2-CD set The Complete Atlantic Sides Plus (RGM-0237/OPCD-8839) featuring Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash and Cindy Birdsong. Like The Sweet Inspirations and Irma Thomas collections, this set premieres some previously unreleased material – four songs, in fact.

Philadelphia’s Bluebelles had much in common with The Sweet Inspirations beyond the fact that they were both soulful African-American foursomes recording for Atlantic within roughly the same timeframe. Like The Sweet Inspirations, one member defected during their time at the label; in this case it was Cindy Birdsong, who decamped in 1967 to become a Supreme. Both groups recorded under the aegis of Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd, both shared access to the same pool of songwriters (Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, Burt Bacharach and Hal David) and both even shared some of the same repertoire (Wexler and Bert Berns’ “I Don’t Want to Go on Without You”). What was different about The Bluebelles? That much is obvious from the very first track here – “Danny Boy,” the 1913 song based on the 19th century Irish melody “Londonderry Air.” Okay, so the group didn’t typically stretch back that far, but the Bluebelles were firmly rooted in the standards and showtunes which occupy roughly half of this set’s first disc. Having mastered the music of the classic songwriters from Harold Arlen to Jule Styne, they were able to bring their interpretive gifts to edgy fare from Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Williams, Jr. a.k.a. “Swamp Dogg,” and eventually morph into the glam-soul Labelle.

Producer David Nathan has sequenced this collection of The Bluebelles’ complete Atlantic recordings (live and in the studio) in the order of recording rather than by albums, singles, etc. The girls first graced the Atlantic label with their performance at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater in 1964 alongside The Drifters, Wilson Pickett and Barbara Lynn. Although only one song from their set made the original LP (“Down the Aisle,” issued in its studio version on the small Newtown label in 1963), five songs appear here. These reflect the group’s artistic diversity – “Danny Boy,” the Jimmy McHugh/Harold Adamson classic “Where Are You,” the smoldering R&B of the then-recent Baby Washington hit “That’s How Heartaches are Made” and the sweet, doo-wop-inflected R&B of “Down the Aisle” and “One Phone Call.” Atlantic snapped the group up and assigned them to hot producer and Wexler pal Bert Berns.

Disc One contains the entirety of the 1966 Berns-produced Over the Rainbow LP as well as the live Saturday Night at the Uptown tracks and half of 1967’s Dreamer LP which was derived from various sessions and producers.  Disc Two picks up with the balance of Dreamer and more singles and unreleased cuts – including many more original songs that attempted to give the group more of an identity.

Berns tried the group on a variety of sides designed to show off their many facets – intense soul (“Patti’s Prayer”), light pop (“Groovy Kind of Love,” previously cut by the duo Diane and Annita and destined for a hit via The Mindbenders and decades later, Phil Collins), contemporary Broadway favorites (“Who Can I Turn To,” “People”), and classics (“Unchained Melody,” “Ebb Tide”). Berns oversaw Patti and the Bluebelles’ recording of his own driving “You Forgot How to Love,” but his most memorable recording with the group might be their shimmering “Over the Rainbow,” still a signature song of Patti LaBelle’s today. These early sides emphasized pop over R&B, but the blend of stirring vocals with sweet orchestral settings doesn’t disappoint. Only minor commercial inroads were made, however. At a peak of No. 20 R&B, “Over the Rainbow” would be the group’s biggest chart success at Atlantic. Jerry Wexler believed that Pam Sawyer and Lori Burton’s “All or Nothing,” with its dramatic strings and powerfully dense production, was a hit record. You’ll think so, too, rediscovering it here.

The vocal blend that would become famous in Labelle had its roots in the Bluebelles’ sound, and while Patti LaBelle’s big voice – alternately playfully coquettish and thunderously soulful – led her to solo stardom, the roles of Birdsong, Dash and Hendryx in the Bluebelles sound can’t be underplayed. Following the Berns sessions, Atlantic tried a variety of approaches on Cindy, Sarah, Nona and Patti with sessions in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and possibly Memphis. Curtis Mayfield’s sensually slow-burning “I’m Still Waiting” should have crossed over in 1966, but had to be content with a Top 40 R&B placing. Its B-side, “Family Man,” showed off a funkier style. The Philly session in September 1966 with arranger Richie Rome and producer Bob FIniz yielded, ironically, another Berns tune (“I Don’t Want to Go on Without You”) and a storming, unusual take on Bacharach and David’s “Always Something There to Remind Me.” Patti and co. returned to Philly in mid-1967 to cut another couple of songs with future MFSB players Norman Harris and Ronnie Baker among the musicians: Lorraine Ellison’s torrid “Oh My Love” and Nona’s own, dynamic “I Need Your Love.”

After the jump: more on The Bluebelles, plus a look at Irma Thomas’ Lost Cotillion Album!

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Written by Joe Marchese

July 14, 2014 at 12:01

Review: The Sweet Inspirations, “The Complete Atlantic Singles Plus”

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Sweet Inspirations - Atlantic Singles PlusReal Gone Music and SoulMusic Records have dug deep into the Atlantic Records vaults for a trio of rarities-packed complete releases from The Sweet Inspirations, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and Irma Thomas! Right now, let’s take a look at the music made by Cissy Houston and co. as The Sweet Inspirations!

Today, The Sweet Inspirations might be best-remembered as Elvis Presley’s preferred onstage backup group, but The King was just one of a staggering number of artists supported by the group, among them Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, even Jimi Hendrix. But Atlantic Records rightfully believed in the group as headliners, too – hence, the Real Gone/SoulMusic co-production of The Sweet Inspirations’ Complete Atlantic Singles – Plus (RGM-0263/OPCD-8853).

The classic, pre-”Elvis years” Sweet Inspirations recording line-up of Cissy Houston, Sylvia Shemwell, Myrna Smith and Estelle Brown evolved from the Drinkard Singers/Gospelaires families that also famously included Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick (Houston’s nieces) and Judy Clay (Shemwell’s sister). After backing Atlantic’s soul royalty, Jerry Wexler ushered the girls into Atlantic’s New York studios in 1967 for their very own session. The group recorded five albums and numerous singles for the label between 1967 and 1971; all of those 45s and a smattering of previously unreleased tracks are collected here for the first time. Only one cut made the Top 40 of the Hot 100, though – unsurprisingly – many more of the group’s vividly impassioned, often gritty songs scored on the R&B chart. Though The Complete Atlantic Singles features songs from Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, The Brothers Gibb, Carole King, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David, The Sweet Inspirations turned pop into pure deep soul.

What’s most immediately evident on these 37 tracks (three of which are previously unissued, hence the title’s “Plus”) on 2 CDs is the unusually supple sound for a foursome. Estelle recalls in David Nathan’s superb notes that the group was “famous for…moving harmonies up and interchanging parts so that the background vocals sounded so full, almost like a choir.” Indeed, the members’ gospel roots informed every performance. Jerry Wexler, and later Tom Dowd and the team of Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford, knew this and supplied the Sweet Inspirations with songs they could plumb for raw emotion.   Bert Berns, a master of desperation in song, co-wrote “I Don’t Want to Go on Without You” with Wexler, first recorded by The Drifters and also by Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. It became the group’s first B-side, supporting a wrenching version of The Staple Singers’ “Why (Am I Treated So Bad).”

Wexler had a knack for importing southern soul sounds to New York (frequently by bringing bands north to Atlantic’s studios) but he sent the Sweet Inspirations directly to the source in Muscle Shoals, Alabama as well as Memphis, Tennessee. Producers Tom Dowd and Tommy Cogbill oversaw their spine-tingling version of Dan Penn and Chips Moman’s “Do Right Woman-Do Right Man” at the same 1967 Memphis session that yielded a dramatic take on Bacharach and David’s “Reach Out for Me.” Penn also scored the group its first and only Top 20 Pop hit with the Spooner Oldham co-write “Sweet Inspiration.” Naturally, the duo wrote it specifically for them.

The Sweet Inspirations’ sound wouldn’t have proven incompatible at Stax, and in fact, the post-Cissy Houston trio line-up recorded an album for the venerable Memphis label. At Atlantic, the girls recorded 45 RPM slices of Stax soul by Otis Redding (an intense “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”), Isaac Hayes and David Porter (“When Something is Wrong with My Baby”), Booker T. Jones and William Bell (“Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday”) and Steve Cropper and the “Wicked” Wilson Pickett (the brassy, up-tempo groover “Don’t Fight It”).

Don’t miss anything – hit the jump to keep reading! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 9, 2014 at 10:02

Shaken, Not Stirred: Ace Mines “The Secret Agent Songbook” With “Come Spy with Us”

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Come Spy with UsFor many, the sound of John Barry epitomizes the sound of the spy thriller. It’s no surprise – with 12 James Bond films under his belt, the late, great British composer imbued his melodies with the right amount of adventure, humor, tension, sophistication, and well, sex. It’s fitting that Barry opens Ace Records’ superlatively entertaining new anthology Come Spy with Me: The Secret Agent Songbook, collecting 25 samples of swinging music from spies and secret agents (and even a handful of detectives!) released between 1962 and 1968, the heyday of the genre.

Come Spy with Me opens with “A Man Alone,” Barry’s 1965 instrumental theme to The Ipcress File. Perhaps his second-most recognizable spy theme after his arrangement of Monty Norman’s “The James Bond Theme,” it inventively utilizes the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer, to achieve its singular sound. Matt Monro had sung the first-ever vocal James Bond theme with Lionel Bart’s “From Russia with Love” as heard in the second 007 film, the first for which Barry provided the score. “Wednesday’s Child,” from 1967’s The Quiller Memorandum, is all the evidence one needs of the rich-voiced crooner’s deep affinity with Barry’s absorbing melodies. The lyrics, incidentally, were written by Mack David; his younger brother Hal would later collaborate with Barry on songs including “We Have All the Time in the World” from the Bond adventure On His Majesty’s Secret Service.

It was Barry, serving in the capacity of arranger, who gave shape to Monty Norman’s composition “The James Bond Theme” for Bond’s screen debut in Dr. No. It set the template for all spy music to come. While the original of the track, with Vic Flick’s indelible guitar part, isn’t here, a fine stand-in is Johnny and the Hurricanes’ 1963 surf-inspired version with prominent tenor sax and organ adding new colors. The most famous artist associated with the music of James Bond is Shirley Bassey. While her showstopping “Goldfinger” might be the quintessential spy song, she’s instead featured belting Lalo Schifrin and Peter Callander’s theme to “The Liquidator” in her most divinely bombastic style. Bassey wasn’t the only one to mine the success of “Goldfinger,” however. Susan Maughan’s “Where the Bullets Fly,” from songwriters Ronald Bridges and Robert Kingston, hails from the 1966 film of the same name, and incorporates about as much of “The James Bond Theme” and John Barry sound as the law would allow! This rarely-heard nugget is a fantastic treat.

Scott Walker not only sings, but co-wrote The Walker Brothers’ Barry-inspired “Deadlier than the Male” from the 1967 film of the same name which starred Richard Johnson and Elke Sommer. Walker’s resonant, haunting baritone meshes beautifully with Reg Guest’s evocative arrangement. (Spy music connoisseurs take note: Walker made a rare return both to traditional melody and the spy genre with his understated performance of David Arnold and Don Black’s sad, achingly gorgeous “Only Myself to Blame” in 1999. The song was written and recorded for the Bond film The World Is Not Enough, but was sadly unused in the actual motion picture; it did, however, appear on the soundtrack album.

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Review: Hank Williams, “The Garden Spot Programs 1950″

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Hank Williams - Garden SpotHello everybody, Garden Spot is on the air/So just relax and listen in your easy rocking chair/Music for the family in the good old-fashioned way/I hope that we can please you, bring you sunshine every day!

That bucolic, peppy introduction opened Naughton Farms’ Garden Spot radio program, “the show that brings you all your favorite folk music singers.”  One such “folk music singer” in 1950 was Hank Williams.  Omnivore Recordings’ new The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 (OVCD-87, 2014) preserves 24 tracks from four of these programs which haven’t been heard since their initial broadcasts.  In fact, nobody even knew these recordings existed until a deejay and author, George Gimarc, found them on transcription disks from Creston, Iowa’s KSIB radio station in 2013.  With the cooperation of the Williams estate, Omnivore has issued these lost treasures on a splendid single-disc presentation.

Radio has always played a key role in the country music story, largely due to the popularity of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry.  Williams was no stranger to sponsored radio programs; he had been pitching items on radio since 1937.  Many of these performances made their way to records, including for Johnnie Fair Syrup and patent medicine Hadacol.  His 1951 shows for Mother’s Best, a flour and farm feed company, also famously survived.  The Garden Spot Programs of 1950 were sponsored by Naughton Farms, a mail-order plant nursery in Waxahachie, Texas.  Despite the company’s Texan origins, the programs were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee.  The format was simple – Williams would perform, and during breaks, a local announcer would appear on-air.  He would inform the audience of the plants for sale and provide instructions to write the station to buy them.  Radio station personnel would process the C.O.D. orders and pass them onto Naughton Farms for fulfillment.

Williams made the recordings featured here at Castle Recording Laboratories in Nashville’s Tulane Hotel, not far from Opry flagship WSM.  Once the recordings were made, they were transferred to the 16-inch transcription disks and sent to radio stations across the country for broadcast; only the KSIB disks discovered by Gimarc are known to survive.  The station apparently preserved the disks well, too.  The clarity of these recordings, as restored and mastered by Michael Graves, is shockingly good.  For the Garden Spot sessions, Williams wasn’t joined by his usual Drifting Cowboy Band, and indeed, there’s no evidence as to who was performing alongside Williams.  Longtime Williams historian Colin Escott, in his typically erudite liner notes, surmises that the steel guitarist could be Don Davis (rather than Don Helms) or more likely, Clell Sumney, and takes a reasoned guess that the fiddler might be Dale Potter.  In any event, though, these musicians bring a different sound to Williams’ songs than the Drifting Cowboys.

This disc, produced by Escott and Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski, recreates what it must have been like to listen to the original programs with jingles and between-song banter.  Of the disc’s 24 cuts, 12 are proper songs – other tracks are jingles, brief, hoedown-ready instrumental fiddle tunes, and finale performances of Stephen Foster’s 1848 American standard “Oh! Susanna.”  Stick around after the final listed track, too, to hear a three-minute commercial for Naughton Farms’ rose bushes “that will make your yard the beauty spot this spring!”

We have plenty more after the jump, so stick around, won’t you? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 30, 2014 at 10:57

Posted in Hank Williams, News, Reviews

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Lovely Day: Aretha, Sly, Andy, Marvin and Billie Headline “The Brazil Connection”

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Brazil ConnectionWell, summer is officially upon us! Already there’s talk about which songs will be anointed the perfect summer jams for 2014 – songs by artists like Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea and the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams. If those names don’t set your pulse racing, however, Legacy Recordings has an alternative that’s bound to conjure up images of tropical sunsets, refreshing drinks and summer breeze. Studio Rio Presents The Brazil Connection makes over 12 pop classics from the Sony vaults by melding the original vocals with new bossa nova and samba arrangements written and/or played by some of Brazil’s top musicians including Torcuato Mariano, Paulo Braga, and bossa legends Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal. The artists represent a cross-section of genres such as R&B (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye) to jazz (Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Carmen McRae), and traditional pop (Andy Williams, Mel Torme). The Brazil Connection arrives in stores today, just in time to coincide with the 2014 World Cup being held in Brazil.

Producers Frank and Christian Berman’s Studio Rio aggregation is successful in retaining an organic sound for most of these familiar recordings in their new, chill Brazilian settings. One can fairly question the practice of grafting new productions around vintage tracks – especially from deceased artists, whether Williams, Holiday, Gaye or Brubeck, just to name a few – but these Rio de Janeiro-made recordings are fun, tasteful and faithful to the spirit, if not the style, of the originals.

Most radical – and one of the album’s undisputed highlights – is the transformation of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 chart-topper “Family Affair” from lean, dark funk to soft and sensual tropicalia. Gone are the electric piano, bass and early drum machine; in their place is a lush and mellow complement of guitar, piano, bass, drums, flugelhorn, tenor and alto saxophones and trombone. The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” both get rousing, lively reinventions from co-arrangers Mariano and The Berman Brothers. (“It’s Your Thing” is also featured on Sony’s official World Cup 2014 album, One Love, One Rhythm.) Another R&B great, Bill Withers, sees his 1977 “Lovely Day” shorn of its sleek R&B rhythm and replaced with a brassy yet contemporary Brazilian groove. One misses the iconic original backing of Johnny Nash’s 1972 No. 1 hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” though the new, cheerful backing is a perfect match for the song’s lyrical sentiments.

Unsurprisingly, Aretha Franklin’s 1964 recording of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk on By” lends itself well to the treatment here. One of the Queen of Soul’s Columbia tracks that most anticipates her soulful direction at the Atlantic label, “Walk on By” thrives in Roberto Menescal’s alluring arrangement, as Latin rhythms are in the DNA of a Bacharach melody. Similarly, Mel Torme’s 1965 rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is a natural for Studio Rio, with arranger Mario Adnet seemingly channeling Claus Ogerman’s work on the seminal Sinatra/Jobim collaboration between another great American singer and Brazil’s answer to George Gershwin. Marcos Valle turns in a fun chart (and also plays Fender Rhodes) on Andy Williams’ hard-swinging “Music to Watch Girls By.” Williams was no stranger to Valle’s music, making this a particularly inspired choice. Roberto Menescal joins Valle on guitar for this upbeat samba.

We have more after the jump – including the complete track listing and order links!   Read the rest of this entry »

Big Break Big Round-Up, Divas Edition: Label Reissues Carolyn Franklin, Gloria Gaynor, Patti LaBelle

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Carolyn Franklin - If You Want MeAs the youngest daughter of The Reverend C.L. Franklin, Carolyn Franklin was destined to live in the shadow her older sister Aretha. But like eldest sister Erma, Carolyn carved out an impressive career of her own. During her too-short life, sadly curbed by cancer at age 43 in 1988, Carolyn recorded for both the independent Double L label and the major RCA Victor. In addition to serving as a background singer on such classics as “Respect” and contributing to its now-famous arrangement, she wrote or co-wrote a number of memorable songs for Aretha including “Ain’t No Way,” “Ain’t Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)” and “Angel.” Now, Big Break has brought her fourth solo album, 1976’s If You Want Me, to CD.

Recorded in 1973 but shelved for three years, If You Want Me arrived in record stores at the wrong time. Disco and funkier R&B had supplanted the lush, sweet soul style employed by Carolyn and a team of producer-arrangers on the album including Jimmy Radcliffe, Wade Marcus, Sonny Saunders, and Pearl “Spear” Jones. Radcliffe was an ace soul singer himself, with the original recording of “This Diamond Ring” under his belt as well as songs like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s dramatic “(There Goes) The Forgotten Man.” Marcus was equally conversant in jazz (Donald Byrd, Grant Green) and soul (Marlena Shaw, The Dramatics), and Saunders had worked with Walter Jackson and Tyrone Davis. “Spear” had backed Aretha with The Sweethearts of Soul.

These varied producers were able to create a unified sound for Carolyn’s record, generally soft but with a few choice gritty cuts. Though her voice wasn’t as powerful as that of Aretha or Erma, it still was a strong and expressive instrument. It’s not hard to hear a touch of Aretha’s sound and style on tracks like the title track “If You Want Me” when Carolyn employs her gospel-trained belt over Radcliffe’s light reggae arrangement.   (Carolyn co-wrote the song with Radcliffe, too.) There’s a breezy groove to Spear and Saunders’ “Sunshine Holiday,” given a spirited arrangement by Saunders.

Other tracks touched on funk (“Dead Man” and “Song Man,” both co-written by Wade Marcus, and the sassy “Deal with It” from the pen of Franklin and Jones) and smoldering soul (the sensual “I Can’t Help My Feeling So Blue,” which became the album’s lone single). Marcus wrote a comparatively spare, earthy arrangement for Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s Stylistics hit “You Are Everything,” and Carolyn imbued it with a sultry, simmering passion. Franklin and Saunders’ “Not Enough Love to Hold” is the album’s most upbeat moment, with vocals and horns both appropriately brassy.

After the jump: more on Carolyn, plus the scoop on Gloria Gaynor and Patti LaBelle on BBR! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 24, 2014 at 10:27

The Entertainer: Marvin Hamlisch’s “D.A.R.Y.L.” Premieres on CD, Features Teddy Pendergrass and Nile Rodgers

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DARYL OSTIt’s appropriate that Marvin Hamlisch’s only children’s book was titled Marvin Makes Music, for making music was indeed what the man did – music for Broadway, music for television, music for the concert hall, music for the silver screen. In any genre, Marvin made music overflowing with melody, wit and heart, and his populist approach earned him the nickname “the people’s composer.” Hamlisch’s film career began in 1968 with the score to the cult film The Swimmer and ended with his posthumously-released work on the HBO motion picture Behind the Candelabra; along the way, he picked up three Academy Awards (all in 1974, for The Sting and The Way We Were) and nine further nominations (between 1972 and 1997). La-La Land Records has recently unveiled the first-ever soundtrack to one of Hamlisch’s less-heralded projects, the 1985 sci-fi fantasy D.A.R.Y.L., on compact disc.

Director Simon Wincer’s film centered on a mysterious little boy named Daryl (Barret Oliver) who comes into the lives of foster parents Andy (Michael McKean) and Joyce (Mary Beth Hurt). Eventually it’s discovered that Daryl isn’t a boy at all, but rather an artificial intelligence named D.A.R.Y.L. (Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform) who wishes to be human. This contemporary spin on Pinocchio followed the eighties trend of “weird scene” movies aimed at youngsters, but something in the premise clearly inspired Marvin Hamlisch. The eighties wasn’t the best decade for the Pulitzer Prize and EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony)-winning maestro; his score to D.A.R.Y.L. proved to be his only Hollywood assignment between 1983 and 1987. D.A.R.Y.L. arrived between his scores to two unsuccessful musicals, London’s Jean Seberg and New York’s Smile.  Despite fine scores with some of Hamlisch’s most inventive and effective music, both shows failed to reach their potential. D.A.R.Y.L. is yet one more crucial piece of evidence that Hamlisch’s gifts were still in abundance during this period of his career.

La-La Land’s beautiful presentation offers the score in full, plus three bonus tracks. Two of these bonuses are source cues (of Beethoven and Rodgers and Hart!) but the third is the song that exists at the heart of D.A.R.Y.L., “Somewhere I Belong.” Philadelphia soul man Teddy Pendergrass performs the song with lyrics by Dean Pitchford (Footloose) in a glossy pop rendition with production and guitar by CHIC’s Nile Rodgers that makes its worldwide debut on CD here. (This version is the full 5+-minute version of the song, too, rather than the truncated edit.) Pitchford’s lyrics take Daryl’s point of view while also functioning as a universal love song: “Somewhere I belong/somewhere I can call my home/Open your heart to me/I’ve got the feeling/That your love is leading me home…”

Hamlisch threaded the yearning, reflective melody of “Somewhere I Belong” throughout his heartfelt, often poignant score, beginning with the latter portion of the Main Title (which begins with a languid, wistfully whistled melody that’s quintessentially Hamlisch). Echoing the family film’s various elements of comedy, drama and high adventure, Hamlisch’s score is among his most diverse. Most of it is traditionally orchestral, but befitting the modern science-fiction elements, he also incorporates more cutting-edge sounds. The score’s first major brush with electronics is the brief, synthesizer-led “Baseball Montage” but soon piano and orchestra take over in softer mode. (The bright and brash “Baseball” melody recurs in the buoyant “Turtle’s Homer.”) A far colder, more sterile use of electronics is heard in “TASCOM/I’m Scared” for the sequence in which D.A.R.Y.L. returns to the facility in which he was created.

There’s more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 23, 2014 at 13:14

Ramble On! Review: The Led Zeppelin Remasters – “I,” “II” and “III”

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Led Zep 1Led Zeppelin wasn’t built in a day.

“Good Times Bad Times,” the first track off the hard rock combo’s first album, today sounds very much of its time and also unusually forward-thinking. The crunchy riff that introduces the track augured for the amped-up sound of metal to come, but the opening verse and chorus still have one foot in mod pop. Yet the sheer attack that marks Zeppelin’s best work was already there. Jimmy Page’s guitar cuts loose at about the minute-and-a-half point, John Bonham’s intense drums drive the entire song. John Paul Jones does so much more than just anchor the song with his bass, while Robert Plant can’t help but sound like a man possessed once he hits his stride. Recorded in just 36 hours and produced by Page, Led Zeppelin built on the foundation of the British blues boom and took heavy blues-rock to the next level.

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III have just arrived in their first-ever expanded editions, available in a plethora of formats from Rhino and Atlantic Records: 1-CD, 1-LP, 2-CD, 2-LP and 2-CD/2-LP box sets. These are among the most eagerly-awaited reissues of the compact disc era, and miraculously, both the remasterings and the previously unheard music live up to expectations. These decades-old recordings sound fresh and vividly crisp, with increased clarity, presence and detail, and pronounced stereo separation. Longtime fans are likely to be seized with the excitement of rediscovery at the classic albums in upgraded sound, but the 2-CD editions are also ideal primers for those exploring the band’s compact catalogue of just nine “core” albums for the first time. This first wave of reissues traces the early arc of the band from swaggering, upstart blues-rockers to metal pioneers to creators of an original sound all its own.

I: Your Time Is Gonna Come: Led Zeppelin I

Jones’ funereal organ introduced “Your Time is Gonna Come,” with Page on steel guitar. Like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” the song has the both the light and the dark sides of the band on display. It’s almost “hard folk” with a sing-along chorus and a pronounced soul influence. Just plain hard is the frenetically pulsating “Communication Breakdown,” a two-and-a-half minute nugget of fast and dirty proto-punk rock and roll. On the other end of the spectrum is the album’s longest track, “How Many More Times,” with its shifting jam reinvention of the bolero blueprint.

The storming, urgent “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” was based on Anne Bredon’s folk song which also attracted the attention of folk heroines (Joan Baez), teen stars (Mark Wynter), San Francisco rockers (Quicksilver Messenger Service) and harmony pop bands (The Association). It took until the 1980s for Bredon to be credited, along with Page and Plant, for providing the basis of the Zeppelin transformation. “Babe” showed the band’s versatility, with passages of quiet beauty juxtaposed with rage and thunder. “Dazed and Confused” was written and recorded by Jake Holmes in 1967 but Zeppelin’s recording of the song with new lyrics and a modified melody was credited solely to Page. Following a 2012 settlement with Holmes, the credits on the new discs read, “Jimmy Page inspired by Jake Holmes.” Regardless of its authorship, “Dazed” is a furious showcase for Page’s bowed-guitar technique, with the band melding psychedelia with deep blues. The beguiling, short instrumental “Black Mountain Side,” featuring Indian drummer Viram Jasani, was inspired by a traditional song but followed the (uncredited) arrangement of folk artist Bert Jansch. Willie Dixon, on the other hand, received full credit for two covers on the album: the torrid twelve-bar blues-based “You Shook Me” (with turns for Jones on organ and Plant on harmonica) and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” inspired by the performance of bluesman Otis Rush.

Though Led Zeppelin was formed from the ashes of The Yardbirds, there could be no doubt after the release of Led Zeppelin I that the group had found a style far removed from that of the band in which Page once served.  After the jump: more on Led Zeppelin II, III and beyond! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 16, 2014 at 12:11

Posted in Box Sets, Led Zeppelin, News, Reissues, Reviews

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