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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Suzi Quatro, “The Girl from Detroit City”

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SuziSusan Kay Quatro, a.k.a. Suzi Quatro, has sold 55 million singles and LPs, scored five U.K. Top 10s  and twelve Top 50s including two chart-toppers, followed in the footsteps of Ethel Merman onstage, appeared on television’s Happy Days, and influenced a “Who’s Who” including Joan Jett and The Go-Go’s.  Quatro is billed as The Girl from Detroit City on her first-ever retrospective box set which has been recently released by Cherry Red Records.  This 4-CD, 82-song book-style box is packed with unreleased material.  It tracks Quatro’s singular career as a rock-and-roller from her first release, at 14 years old, as a member of the all-girl band with the provocative name of The Pleasure Seekers, all the way through the present day.  The first three discs trace a chronological arc, while the fourth rounds up various rarities and never-before-heard recordings dating as far back as the beginning of her solo career.

For most, Suzi Quatro’s story begins when Mickie Most (The Animals, Lulu, Donovan) saw her in Detroit in 1971.  The producer’s discovery paved the way for the transatlantic crossing that made the singer-songwriter as much a product of England as her native America.  But The Girl from Detroit City starts earlier, with 1965’s “What a Way to Die” and the fourteen-year old Suzi, credibly rocking out in proto-punk garage style.  Her throaty drawl was already well in place as well as her talent on the bass.  But when the band (also including her sisters Arlene and Patti) was signed to Mercury Records, studio players were called in to augment their sound.  Two Mercury-era tracks show the versatility of The Pleasure Seekers, however.  George Fischoff and Carole Bayer (later to add Sager to her surname) supplied the brassy girl-pop of 1967’s regional hit “Light of Love.”  Two more veteran songwriters, Jerry Ross and Mort Shuman, penned the following year’s uptempo “Locked in Your Love,” which never made it past the test pressing stage but happily is included here.

This collection hits all of the high points of Quatro’s impressive career including her 1973 solo debut single, “Rolling Stone,” produced by Most and featuring Peter Frampton on guitar, and its follow-up, “Can the Can,” which just happened to be her first U.K. No. 1.  Written and produced by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, “Can” – as well as follow-ups like “48 Crash,” “Glycerine Queen,” and the No. 1 “Devil Gate Drive” – fit snugly into the glam rock ethos.  The Elvis-inspired, black leather-clad Suzi didn’t particularly identify with the glitzy likes of Alvin Stardust, Bowie and Bolan, but the crunchy guitars, stomping beat and high-pitched vocals of her most successful singles had the self-assured swagger of glam’s greatest.  A particular treat are the pre-“Rolling Stone” cuts produced by Most which premiere on Disc Four of the box, in which both artist and producer are searching for a sound.  When Most paired Quatro with Chapman and Chinn, they certainly found it!

Quatro developed her distinctive and identifiable style early on, but she wasn’t averse to sonic experimentation, either.  “Roman Fingers” (the B-side of the glammed-out rock of U.K. Top 20 hit “Daytona Demon”) has a “Stuck in the Middle with You”-esque, country-influenced vibe.  Quatro co-wrote “Roman Fingers” as part of the agreement that saw her writing her own flips when Chapman and Chinn were churning out A-sides.  Quatro had a clear grasp on her sound, as evidenced by “In the Morning,” another worthy B-side that could easily have been on the other side of the 45.

But even with such a well-defined sound, Quatro knew when it was time to expand her horizons.  As it progresses chronologically over its four discs, The Girl from Detroit City showcases the singer’s mastery of other styles.  The funky bassline of 1975’s “Your Mamma Won’t Like Me” augured for a new sound as did the smoking, insinuating horns of “I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew.”  From the Your Mamma Won’t Like Me album of the same year, the singer embraced a big string sound on “Michael.”

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 19, 2014 at 14:05

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Judy Garland, “The Garland Variations: Songs She Recorded More Than Once”

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Garland VariationsJudy Garland opens JSP Records’ new 5-CD box set The Garland Variations: Songs She Recorded More Than Once (JSP 975) with “Everybody Sing,” the kind of rousing showstopper she was practically born to sing. Sessions for the song from MGM’s Broadway Melody of 1938 began when Garland was on the cusp of just fifteen years old, but the power of her vocal instrument was already in place. But even when belting with a force to rival the mighty Merman, there was always something unfailingly intimate – or personal – about a Judy Garland performance. There’s plenty of that intimacy, as well as that power, on this illuminating new set produced by JSP’s John Stedman and compiled and annotated by Lawrence Schulman.

As with so many of her peers, it wasn’t uncommon for Judy Garland to revisit repertoire over the years; after all, these are the recordings through which many of these songs entered the standard American songbook. An arrangement might vary, in great or small ways, and so, of course, would the artist’s interpretation. The Garland Variations presents songs she recorded in the studio on multiple occasions between 1937 and 1962, with 115 tracks (three of which are new to CD) and over 6-1/2 hours of music, These tracks include such signature songs as “The Man That Got Away,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and of course, “Over the Rainbow,” which is included in five distinct renditions. A number of the most renowned composers and lyricists of popular song are represented, such as Harold Arlen, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, Johnny Mercer, and Harry Warren. There’s also a good amount of so-called “special material,” much of it courtesy MGM’s Roger Edens, one of the more influential music men in Garland’s life.

As she was inarguably the greatest female song stylist to remain best-known for her work on the silver screen, it’s easy to forget that Garland was actually a recording artist before she was a movie star. Her first long-lasting recording affiliation was with Decca Records. Following some abortive test records made in 1935 by the twelve-year old singer (released by JSP on the label’s Lost Tracks set), Decca released two sides by Garland in 1936 and signed MGM’s up-and-coming star the following year. Garland remained at Decca through 1947, and her tenure there yielded 90 recordings from 30 sessions between 1936 and 1947. Her departure from Decca coincided with MGM’s entering the young soundtrack LP market, and so she no longer had the need to re-record movie favorites for Decca as had been her standard practice. With MGM having first right of refusal for her work, she didn’t make any further studio recordings until after her departure from the Hollywood giant in 1950.

Naturally, Garland’s recordings for MGM play a major role here. Not that Garland’s venerated recordings and celebrated onstage performances aren’t all crucial parts of her legend, but her indelible cinematic portrayals informed every aspect of her career. The first lady of the movie musical, Garland brought her visual and dramatic gifts to other avenues of performance, including the recording studio. Cinema brought out her singular blend of the earthy and the larger-than-life.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 19, 2014 at 10:58

Holiday Gift Guide Review: “International Pop Overthrow: Volume 17″

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IPO 17We’d like to extend a big welcome to the newest member of our Second Disc family, author Ted Frank.  Ted, a self-described “power pop-a-holic,” kicks off his contributions to The Second Disc with a review of the latest collection from the fine folks at The International Pop Overthrow Festival.  The Festival’s seventeenth volume (yes, seventeenth – congratulations, IPO!) of pure pop for now people is just the latest in a smashing line of releases designed to introduce you to the best bands you’ve never heard of – and won’t soon forget. Produced by David Bash and designed by Steve Stanley of the Now Sounds label, IPO Volume 17 is available for order through Pop Geek Heaven or from the Amazon Marketplace – and take it from us, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer!  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; take it away, Ted!

What is pop?

As anyone reading this knows, pop music takes many forms.  Perhaps you have a hankering for the sweet pop sound as found on Jeff Tweedy and Wilco’s recent invasion of “essential tracks” What’s Your 20? or the 20-years-in-the-making rarities box set Alpha Mike Foxtrot.  Or perhaps you’re craving the sixties style of The Monkees, the timeless cool of Frank Sinatra, or the earthy jazz of Joni Mitchell.  Well, here comes the latest entry in a compilation series nearing the 20 year mark itself.  The International Pop Overthrow Volume 17 just might fulfill all of your pop needs, however diverse.

Back in the grunge-filled days of the late 1990s, Not Lame Recordings, onetime home of power pop icons like Dwight Twilley, Jellyfish and The Posies, released a single-disc CD compilation that would soon become an annual tradition.  A number of the bands featured on that first compilation would appear at the annual International Pop Overthrow Festival which began in Los Angeles in 1998 and continues to tour numerous U.S. and foreign cities alike. (IPO hit 15 cities in 2014 alone, from Los Angeles to Liverpool!) David Bash, the founder and CEO of IPO, originally named the festival and compilation album in honor of Material Issue’s critically acclaimed 1991 album of said title.  In 2011, Not Lame founder Bruce Brodeen transitioned his independent label into a power pop-oriented website, Pop Geek Heaven, but he continues to distribute the annual IPO compilation via this medium.

This year’s compilation has all those pop elements which Material Issue packed into its 1991 album (produced by power pop pioneer Jeff Murphy of the band Shoes – who, along with his Shoes bandmates, played an excellent set at this past May’s Power Pop Festival at Brooklyn’s Bell House).  Material Issue’s International Pop Overthrow, a Billboard 200 entry at No. 86, just flat-out reminded the masses what made music popular in the first place. Those uninitiated with IPO, power pop, and/or Material Issue need look no further than the band’s lyrics for proof of this music’s timelessness:

And all these other boys they’re just makin’ noise
They don’t know rock and roll, they just need someone
To have their picture taken with and I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you
Tell me what do I do, come on where do I go?
I don’t need a girlfriend, I need an accomplice/It’s an International Pop Overthrow!

Although timelessness tends to be a rather subjective term, some things are certainly undeniable: With such a straightforward, earnest message, and through such sheer enthusiasm, this kind of music has ability to reach nearly anyone.  One of the songs on IPO 17, “Skip A Beat (Everything’s Alright)” by Dot 22, only reinforces the notion that this is a kind of music whose main intention is to make the heart “skip a beat.” Twenty-three years since Material Issue’s release and numerous IPO Festivals and compilation albums later, The International Pop Overthrow’s music consistently tugs at the heartstrings of its listeners through what Bash refers to as IPO’s “two-fold” purpose: “…to give every worthy band who’d like to play their music in a festival atmosphere the chance to do so, and … to bring pop music the attention it so richly deserves.”

Don’t miss a thing – keep reading after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 18, 2014 at 14:35

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Simon and Garfunkel, “The Complete Albums Collection”

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

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

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

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 17, 2014 at 10:26

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Joni Mitchell, “Love Has Many Faces”

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Joni - Love Has Many FacesJoni Mitchell wasn’t yet 25 when she first gifted the world her song “Both Sides Now.” Judy Collins made its first commercially-released recording; soon artists were lining up to record it, including Frank Sinatra. The 25-year old Mitchell herself released it in 1969. In what might be her most famous song, she asserted, “I really don’t know love at all.” Flash-forward to the present day, and the 71-year old singer-songwriter-artist seems well-acquainted with the vagaries of that most universal subject. Mitchell has curated a retrospective of her career in the form of a new 4-CD box set appropriately entitled Love Has Many Faces. Subtitled A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced, the box finds Mitchell eschewing a traditional approach to create a new creative arc based on her music, assembled in four acts.

Love Has Many Faces doesn’t present its acts as traditional narratives, but rather as thematic suites. Together, they challenge listeners to view Mitchell’s music and career in a new context. Only a rough one-third of the set is drawn from the 1970s, during which she thrived as a leading light of the “singer-songwriter” movement. As a result, favorite songs like “Help Me,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Free Man in Paris” and “Woodstock” are nowhere to be found, discarded in favor of lesser-known work from the 1980s and onward. Stylistically, the box also emphasizes the jazz that has long been a vital part of her creative palette. If the resulting compilation of songs drastically underrepresents the folk-rock artist with whom so many of her fans first fell in love, it’s still a sharp, compelling, reflective and deeply personal journey through love and the ways we make contact.

Join us after the jump as we dive into this box! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 16, 2014 at 15:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 15, 2014 at 13:20

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Frank Sinatra, “London”

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Sinatra - London Contents

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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Written by Joe Marchese

December 10, 2014 at 13:07

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