What kind of year will 2012 be? If the first batch of releases, slated for January 30 release, from the Edsel label is any indication, there's plenty of rare and well-done music on the way!
A three albums-on-two-CDs package collects the entirety of Todd Rundgren's Warner Bros. Records period. A Cappella/Nearly Human/2nd Wind continues Edsel's definitive series which brings Rundgren's solo and Utopia output on both Bearsville and Warner Bros. under one umbrella. The studio wizard's decision to record an album with nothing other than his own voice caused dissension between the artist and Bearsville Records, but Warner Bros. stepped in, resulting in the album which leads off this set. Thanks to both the versatility of Rundgren's vocal instrument and his embrace of the most current technology then available, 1985's A Cappella holds up today as much more than just a studio experiment. Even with the avant garde arrangement, "Something to Fall Back On" is pure pop bliss. He anticipates his future gig as writer of an off-Broadway musical with the theatrical "Miracle in the Bazaar" and "Lockjaw," just two of the songs in which he takes on offbeat character voices. He even nods to his Philly roots with an update of "Mighty Love," the Detroit Spinners classic originally produced by Thom Bell. A Cappella has been expanded with the rare extended mix of "Something to Fall Back On," which extends the song's length by nearly two minutes. After A Cappella, Rundgren returned in 1989 and 1991 with the two albums that might be considered his farewell to traditional pop/rock.
Nearly Human (split over Disc 1 and Disc 2) was produced with a simple mandate by the artist: record a set of songs that could be performed live. To that end, it was recorded live with few overdubs. Rundgren intuitively knew that these songs needed to be strong enough to stand on their own; stand they did, and do. The forward-thinking singer still was anxious to employ the latest studio technology, though, and Nearly Human was recorded on a 32-track digital system. Bobby Womack joined Rundgren for the potent soul brew of "The Want of a Nail" ("For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost/For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost/For the want of a horse, the rider was lost/For the want of a rider/The message was lost"), one of Rundgren's most poignant works. Equally good is "Parallel Lines," from that aforementioned musical, Up Against It. Rundgren tipped his hat to Elvis Costello with a cover of the latter's "Two Little Hitlers," and employed an unusual 22-voice choir for "I Love My Life." Among the singers was the late, great Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band.
The Nearly Human ethos was taken to the next step for 2nd Wind. Whereas that album was mostly performed live in the studio, 2nd Wind was actually recorded live in San Francisco, in front of an audience instructed to remain silent! His goal, as quoted by Paul Myers in the reissue's terrific and copious liner notes, was to make it "sound like a studio album, yet still retain that extra thing that only happens when you're playing for an audience." Despite the failure of Up Against It after just 16 performances in 1989, the musical received Drama Desk nominations (though not Tony Awards as stated in the notes, as off-Broadway musicals are ineligible for that recognition) and Rundgren resuscitated three of its songs for 2nd Wind: "The Smell of Money," "Love in Disguise" and the standout ballad "If I Have to Be Alone." The driving "Change Myself" should have been Rundgren's bid at a final radio hit, with its big hook and smart, honest lyric: "How can I change the world/When I can't change myself?...If I want more love in the world/I must show more love to myself." A full-color, 30-page booklet (with Myers' notes and full lyrics) accompanies this release.
Hit the jump for a look at what's coming from Harry Chapin and Vern Gosdin, plus Jo Jo Gunne and Manhattan Transfer!
Like Todd Rundgren, Harry Chapin could have been a major contender in the singer/songwriter boom, had he taken that route. Instead, like Rundgren, his ambitions led him elsewhere, including to the musical stage. And like Rundgren, he maintains a strong cult following to this day. Though Chapin tragically died in 1981, not even 40 years old, the idiosyncratic artist ("Cat's in the Cradle," "Taxi," "W.O.L.D.") can be celebrated with the combined reissue of his eighth and ninth albums: 1977's double-LP Dance Band on the Titanic and 1978's Living Room Suite. Both titles have been unavailable on CD for some time, making their re-entry into the marketplace particularly welcome; an essay by Alan Robinson does a fine job placing both albums in context.
Arguably the most diverse album of Chapin's career, Dance Band was titled after its wry title song: "Well, they soon used up all of the lifeboats/But there were a lot of us left on board/I heard the drummer saying, 'Boys, just keep playing!/Now we're doing this date for the Lord!" The lyric is literal but one senses that Chapin also considered the metaphorical implications of the titular image; the atmosphere is heightened by the big, ironically rollicking arrangement. "Dance Band" is just one of the wordy, widescreen epics favored by the artist, who utilizes various band and orchestral textures over the album's fourteen tracks, touching on various musical styles from country to reggae to folk, rock and pop. But there are simpler pleasures, too. The wistful "My Old Lady" might employ lighthearted humor on the surface ("You see my old lady went and took herself a young man last night/It got me crazy when she said, baby, don't you get uptight!") but the songwriter packs his not-uncommon social commentary as well as real emotion ("She says why can't a woman play the same damn game, and act out what she feels/She says she's going to take a bath/I hear her singing in the tub upstairs/While I'm sittin' here spittin' out chunks of my heart/Forced into being fair") into the song. Chapin's vivid characters come to life as their stories unfold in each song, and the helpful reprinting of every lyric are a major bonus if you'd like to savor every detail in the stories of domestic strife ("We Grew Up a Little Bit"), sexual awakening ("Manhood") and the vagaries of love (the affecting and clever "I Wonder What Happened to Him"). But even the tough "Mercenaries" reveals a romantic at heart. The closing, nearly 15-minute epic "There Was Only One Choice" is a song suite in which Chapin gleefully jumps from style to style in his quirky, personal musical odyssey.
Living Room Suite turned out to be Chapin's final studio album at Elektra; one more live album fulfilled his obligation to the label, and then he was off to Boardwalk Records for 1980's Sequel, its title track a literal continuation of Harry and Sue's story from his song "Taxi." Sequel turned out to be the final LP before Chapin's death, but Living Room Suite just might be his most personal. Whereas Dance Band was produced by brother Stephen Chapin, Chuck Plotkin was behind the controls of Living Room, and many of its supporting names are familiar: Jim Keltner and Andy Newmark (drums), Ernie Watts (clarinet, flute, oboe and saxophone), The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Cowsills (vocals). These session pros add a gloss to Chapin's intimate songs that lend the album a radio-friendly sound.
"Dancing Boy" is another personal father/son song from the man who gave the world "Cat's in the Cradle," and like its predecessor, it wears its heart on its sleeve: "And when Daddy and his dancin' boy will have dwindled down to one, you know the world will have taught you other steps to match the march of time/So you'll have to keep our dancin' days in your mind." Chapin's daughter Jen is his "rainbow above" in the beautiful "Jenny," while "If You Want to Feel" is practically a declaration of Chapin's emotionalism: "What makes you think emotions/Are something that you hide?" as much as "Flowers are Red" is an arresting statement of nonconformity.
Despite this wealth of personal relationship songs, this is a Harry Chapin album, so you can expect some rumination on the bigger issues in life. The lyric of "I Wonder What Would Happen to this World" had bittersweet resonance when it was used as the epitaph on the singer and humanitarian's gravestone: "Oh if a man tried/To take his time on Earth/And prove before he died/What one man's life could be worth/I wonder what would happen to this world." These two albums prove how lucky we are that Harry Chapin happened to this world.
To the bobbysoxers of the 1940s, Frank Sinatra was "The Voice" long before he was "Ol' Blue Eyes" or "The Chairman of the Board." But to country-and-western fans, The Voice will always be Vern Gosdin. The singer's three albums recorded for Elektra Records between 1977 and 1979 saw the onetime Gosdin Brother establish chart supremacy and a place in the country firmament: not an outlaw, not a honky-tonk nostalgist, not a country rocker, but simply a straightforward singer in the classic mold with the ability to affect a listener in a direct way. Gosdin's Elektra albums were produced and arranged by "Hollywood maverick" Gary S. Paxton ("Alley-Oop," "Monster Mash") and feature a pleasing mix of originals by Paxton and Gosdin writing with various partners, as well as covers from the likes of Harlan Howard and Waylon Jennings. Pop/rock songwriters like Carole Bayer Sager and Albert Hammond ("When I Need You"), Donovan ("Catch the Wind") and the Addrisi Brothers ("Never My Love") are also represented with twangy versions of familiar songs.
Though Gosdin continued to record after his stint with Elektra came to an end, it's fair to say that these albums represent the prime of The Voice. Byrds fans might recognize Gosdin's tones from his work on Gene Clark's 1967 Columbia Records debut; so prominent was the contribution of Vern and Rex Gosdin that the album was titled Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. The Elektra albums were a reunion for Vern with Gary Paxton, who had produced the Brothers' Sounds of Goodbye LP and the successful single "Hangin' On." That was the song that Paxton opted to remake for Vern as a solo artist, and the first single released by Elektra. You can hear it, and its even more successful flip, "Yesterday's Gone," on Till the End. No less a luminary than Emmylou Harris provided the angelic harmonies on both sides. That initial LP also boasts a tender reading of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which Vern had recorded as a Gosdin Brother on Sounds of Goodbye, before Ewan MacColl's song had become associated with Roberta Flack. Vern's wife Cathy Gosdin actually wrote the title track of Till the End.
All three LPs on this collection are sterling examples of Gosdin's crisp vocal style, aided by Paxton's clean production (with a hint of the Bakersfield sound) and the strong choice of repertoire. Gosdin proved the adaptability of songs both from country iconoclasts and pop songwriters. Following Emmylou Harris' lead, singer Janie Fricke joined Gosdin on "Mother Country Music" from Till the End, and "Never My Love" on the album also titled Never My Love. Though Gosdin's cover didn't best the Association's original, it made a respectable Top 10 placement on the U.S. country chart. There's no marked decline from one album to the next, either. The final LP in this set, You've Got Somebody, offers Gosdin the chance to make "Shake, Rattle and Roll" his own, and he also performs three songs by Shirl Milete, a songwriter who benefited from the largesse of Elvis Presley earlier in the decade. Tony Rounce contributes new liner notes, and like the Rundgren and Chapin albums, Phil Kinrade at Alchemy has remastered.
In addition to the offerings described above, that's not all on Edsel's January slate. A 2-CD set will bring together all four original albums from Jo Jo Gunne from 1972's eponymous affair to 1974's So...Where's the Show, making the definitive look at the Los Angeles band. And now for something completely different, the vocal jazz outfit Manhattan Transfer's Live (1978) and Extensions (1979) will be collected as one 2-CD set.
Each title mentioned above is available beginning January 30 in the United Kingdom; Amazon.com and other fine retailers usually have the titles in stock one week later in the United States. You'll find pre-order links and full track listings below!
Todd Rundgren, A Cappella/Nearly Human/2nd Wind (Edsel EDSD 2109, 2012)
- Blue Orpheus
- Johnee Jingo
- Pretending to Care
- Lost Horizon
- Something to Fall Back On
- Miracle in the Bazaar
- Honest Work
- Mighty Love
- Something to Fall Back On (Dance Mix)
- The Want of a Nail
- The Waiting Game
- Parallel Lines
- Two Little Hitlers
- Can't Stop Running
- Unloved Children
- Feel It
- I Love My Life
- Change Myself
- Love Science
- Who's Sorry Now
- The Smell of Money
- If I Have to Be Alone
- Love in Disguise
- Public Servant
- Gaya's Eyes
- Second Wind
Disc 1, Tracks 1-10 from A Cappella, Warner Bros. 9251281, 1985
Disc 1, Track 11 from Warner Bros. single W-8862, 1985
Disc 1, Tracks 12-18 and Disc 2, Tracks 1-3 from Nearly Human, Warner Bros. 9258812, 1989
Disc 2, Tracks 4-13 from 2nd Wind, Warner Bros. 9264782, 1991
Harry Chapin, Dance Band on the Titanic/Living Room Suite (Edsel EDSD 2108, 2012)
CD 1: Dance Band on the Titanic (Elektra K-62021, 1977)
- Dance Band on the Titanic
- Why Should People Stay the Same
- My Old Lady
- We Grew Up a Little Bit
- Country Dreams
- I Do It For You, Jane
- I Wonder What Happened to Him
- Paint a Picture of Yourself (Michael)
- One Light in a Dark Valley (An Imitation Spiritual)
- There Was Only One Choice
CD 2: Living Room Suite (Elektra K-52089, 1978)
- Dancing Boy
- If You Want to Feel
- Poor Damned Fool
- I Wonder What Would Happen to This World
- It Seems You Only Love Me When It Rains
- Why Do Little Girls
- Flowers are Red
- Somebody Said
Vern Gosdin, Till the End/Never My Love/You've Got Somebody (Edsel EDSD 2120, 2012)
CD 1: Till the End (Elektra 7E-1112, 1977 - Tracks 1-10)/Never My Love (Elektra 6E-124, 1978 - Tracks 11-20)
- Hangin' On
- Mother Country Music
- It Started All Over Again
- The Chokin' Kind
- The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
- Till the End
- Yesterday's Gone
- Woman, Sensuous Woman
- Answers to My Questions
- We Make Beautiful Music Together
- Never My Love
- Catch the Wind
- Anita, You're Dreaming
- When I Need You
- I Sure Can Love You
- Break My Mind
- Forget Yesterday
- Without You, There's a Sadness in My Song
- The Lady, She's Right
- Something's Wrong in California
CD 2: You've Got Somebody (Elektra 6E-180, 1979)
- You've Got Somebody, I've Got Somebody
- All I Want and Need Forever
- He Must Be Lovin' You Right
- The Rock I'm Leaning On
- She's Gone
- Shake, Rattle and roll
- Sarah's Eyes
- Took It Like a Man, Cried Like a Baby
- Till I'm Over Getting' Over You
- Fifteen Hundred Times a Day
Manhattan Transfer, Live/Extensions (Edsel EDSD 2110, 2012)
CD 1: Live (Atlantic K 50540, 1978)
- That Cat is High
- Snootie Little Cutie
- Four Brothers
- On a Little Street in Singapore
- Java Jive
- Walk in Love
- Chanson D'Amour
- Speak Up Mambo (Cuentame)
- 15 Minute Intermission
- In the Dark
- Je Voulais (Te Dire Que Je T'Attends)
- Well, Well, Well
- Freddy Morris Monologue
- Bacon Fat
- Turn Me Loose
- Tuxedo Junction
CD 2: Extensions (Atlantic K 50674, 1979)
- Wacky Dust
- Nothin' You Can Do About It
- Coo Coo-U
- Body and Soul (Eddie and the Bean)
- Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone
- Trickle Trickle
- Shaker Song
- Foreign Affair
Jo Jo Gunne, Jo Jo Gunne/Bite Down Hard/Jumpin' the Gunne/So...Where's the Show? (Edsel EDSD 2114, 2012)
- Run Run Run
- Shake That Fat
- I Make Love
- Barstow Blue Eyes
- 99 Days
- Academy Award
- Take It Easy
- Flying Home
- Ready Freddy
- Roll Over Me
- 60 Minutes to Go
- Rock Around the Symbol
- Broken Down Man
- Special Situations
- Take Me Down Easy
- Wait a Lifetime
- I Wanna Love You
- To the Island
- Red Meat
- Before You Get Your Breakfast
- At the Spa
- Monkey Music
- Couldn't Love You Better
- High School Drool
- Neon City
- Turn the Boy Loose
- Where is the Show?
- I'm Your Shoe
- Single Man
- She Said Alright
- S&M Blvd.
- Falling Angel
- Big Busted Bombshell From Bermuda
- Into My Life
- Around the World
Disc 1, Tracks 1-9 from Jo Jo Gunne, Asylum SD 5053, 1972
Disc 1, Tracks 10-18 from Bite Down Hard, Asylum SD 5065, 1973
Disc 2, Tracks 1-11 from Jumpin' the Gunne, Asylum SD 5071, 1973
Disc 2, Tracks 12-20 from So...Where's the Show?, Asylum 7E-1022, 1974
Sal Nunziato says
You do a great job here and I look forward to each and every e-mail blast. But, I should point out, I don't believe any of these Edsel Todd Rundgren reissues have been remastered. There is no indication of it in the liner notes, nor is their any indication in the sound. Even the bonus tracks seem to have just been plucked from already existing imports, and dare I say it, bootlegs. The fact that they are referred to as "definitive" is puzzling. The Japanese Rhino series from 2006 is far superior, at least sonically. My feeling is, there are clearly bonus tracks missing from a bunch of these Edsel reissues, so that, along with standard sound, make these new editions, more disappointing than definitive.
Thanks for letting me use your space.
Great news about the Harry Chapin reissues, just found this blog. Thanks it's going to come in handy!
Personally, I think a better combo would've been of Manhattan Transfer's "Extensions" and "Mecca For Moderns" together...
Still wish the Cars' Edsel reissues were in the cards...
Vern Gosdin Rip says
Wonderful article on Vern Gosdin 'The Elektra' years. thank you so much for keeping The Voice alive.