It’s telling that John Hall’s Wikipedia page identifies him as “John Hall (New York politician).” For despite a career that saw him found Orleans, pen such instantly identifiable pop hits as “Dance with Me” and “Still the One,” and organize the 1979 No Nukes concerts alongside such heavy hitters as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt, Hall may be best known today as a member of the House of Representatives for New York between 2007 and 2011 and as a longtime environmental activist. Real Gone Music has recently brought his third solo album, Power (RGM-0323), to domestic CD for the very first time. It proves an enjoyable collection of socially-conscious soft rock.
The title of Power is weighted with multiple meanings. Of course, there’s power as in the atomic variety that Hall has passionately crusaded against, but also man’s use and abuse of power – themes Hall addresses in the album’s lyrics. The album, originally released on Columbia’s ARC imprint, was produced and arranged by Hall, with all songs written by Hall and his then-wife Johanna. It happily marries catchy, radio-friendly melodies to both serious and escapist themes, all rendered with impeccable musicianship courtesy a band including Hall on guitar, Tony Levin on bass, Bryan Cumming on saxophone and guitar, Mike Maineri on vibes, Eric Parker on drums, Jody Linscott on percussion, David Schwartz on bass and Louis Levin on keyboards.
James Taylor and Carly Simon join Hall in making sweet harmony on the title track, gently pleading “please take your atomic poison power away” and celebrating the gifts of nature, such as sun, water, wind, and fire. Taylor and Hall performed the song at No Nukes, joined by The Doobie Brothers. A funky bassline anchors another politically-minded track, the rhythmic “So.” The song finds Hall proclaiming, “You were wrong about me all along,” and with a jagged feel somewhat similar to David Bowie’s “Fame,” takes aim at society’s ills in a pointed, blunt manner.
This isn’t to say that Power is less than accessible to those seeking Orleans-style pop-rock. The album finds room for more-or-less typical pop offerings such as the opening, romantically-minded “Home at Last” and the tale of a “Heartbreaker.” The exuberant, uptempo “Run Away with Me,” too, takes on the conventional pop notion of escape in attractive fashion; along with the pretty, languid “Firefly Lover,” it’s one of the most attractive cuts on the LP. Hall also revisits his and Johanna’s “Half Moon,” famously recorded by Janis Joplin on her posthumously-released Pearl, prefaced by the fusion-esque instrumental jam “Arms.” Most touching is the album’s closer. “I remember you, when you were the thoughtful kind,” Hall opens “Cocaine Drain,” a sad, heartfelt and ultimately sympathetic lament to a friend caught in the throes of addiction: “You’re so different now/Are you going down that cocaine drain?” It ends Power on a poignant, personal note.
Real Gone’s reissue doesn’t end here, however. Producer Gordon Anderson has appended one bonus track, “Plutonium Is Forever,” a dryly humorous, sharply ironic jab at atomic power originally released in 1979 as a non-LP B-side. It, too, was appropriately performed by Hall at No Nukes. Power has been splendidly remastered by Maria Triana at Sony’s Battery Studios and features excellent new liner notes from Gene Sculatti. Since Power, John Hall has divided his time between politics and music, and has recorded both solo and with his old bandmates in Orleans. This welcome reissue shows him standing proudly at the intersection of politics and art.
Also from the catalogue of Columbia and ARC comes another new, expanded reissue from Real Gone, the self-titled 1980 album from singer-songwriter Ray Kennedy. Produced by David Foster, Ray Kennedy (RGM-0324) is the second solo release from a real rock-and-roll Zelig. Kennedy, who died in 2014 at 67 years of age, rubbed shoulders with Kenny Gamble, Dave Mason, Paul Williams, Barry Goldberg, Mike Bloomfield and Brian Wilson, to name just a few. When he recorded Ray Kennedy, it was ten years after the release of his first solo LP, and four years after his second and final album with Goldberg and Bloomfield in the band KGB. Foster brought along Toto’s Steve Lukather and Steve, Mike and Jeff Porcaro, as well as engineer Humberto Gatica, supreme vocalist Bill Champlin and horn arranger Jerry Hey to support Kennedy on a nine-song set of commercial, synth-and-guitar-driven eighties AOR. All of the tracks were written by Kennedy, frequently in collaboration with Jack Conrad.
Lukather shines on the driving pop-rock of “It Never Crossed My Mind,” a fun, energetic opener, and the urgent pair of “Can’t Seem to Find the Time” and the pulse-pounding, Toto-esque “You Oughta Know by Now.” The latter features one of Kennedy’s most forceful leads. Ray Kennedy has its share of slower moments, too. “Just for the Moment” is an attractive power ballad, while the shimmering, soft “My Everlasting Love” is a lower-key ballad that nonetheless explodes into guitar-solo territory. It also recalls Foster’s production work to come with Chicago; so does the brassy, nursery rhyme-inspired “Starlight.” More atypical is the quietly pretty “Let Me Sing You a Love Letter,” adorned with a liquid slide solo.
Kennedy also took the occasion to revisit a couple of his most famous songs. He gave The Babys their first hit in 1978 with “Isn’t It Time?” and here reinvents it as a showcase for his strong, gruff vocals. “Sail On Sailor,” introduced by The Beach Boys on 1973’s Holland, originally bore credits for Brian Wilson, Ray Kennedy, Van Dyke Parks, Jack Rieley and Tandyn Almer. Kennedy first reclaimed the song on KGB’s 1975 debut album, reinstating his original lyrics and abandoning credits for all other writers save, of course, Wilson. The same goes for his re-recording here which further tweaks the lyrics from the KGB recording but retains its bluesy feel, odd rhyme scheme, and darker worldview (“Dawn is frightenin’/When you’re coked out”). The production is slicker this time out, and Kennedy’s vocal less raw and more confident. Neither of Kennedy’s recordings will make you forget The Beach Boys’ original, but with accounts of the song’s genesis wildly varying, it’s nonetheless fascinating to hear the song as envisioned by one of its authors.
This reissue produced by Real Gone’s Gordon Anderson and crisply remastered by Sean Brennan at Battery Studios adds four bonus tracks – three previously unreleased tracks (including one outtake and two alternate takes) and the single version of “Starlight.” The R&B-flavored outtake “Dance the Night Away” has a brisk and funky disco feel, while the alternate takes vary in length and arrangement. Gene Sculatti again provides the fine liner notes putting this album in context of Kennedy’s long and varied career. Though he never attained great commercial success as a performer, you’ll likely wonder why after listening to this “lost” showcase.
Both titles are available now from Real Gone Music.