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Archive for June 2011

Review: The Left Banke, “Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina” and “The Left Banke Too”

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After listening to The Left Banke’s two original albums, just reissued by Sundazed, I have only one question: what took so long?

The group’s recorded output was collected back in 1992 by Mercury on There’s Gonna Be A Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969.  Besides getting my vote for Best Rhino Album Not Actually Produced By Rhino (Bill Inglot produced and Andrew Sandoval annotated…’nuff said!), the single disc compilation offers a remarkable view of the group that soared with 1966’s “Walk Away Renee” and then crashed in a big way.  But Sundazed’s remasters of 1967’s Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina (SC 6276/LP 5375) and its 1968 follow-up, The Left Banke Too (SC 6277/LP 5376), are the first CD appearances of these two albums in their original album configurations.  (They’re also available on LP.)  Again, friends: what took so long?  But no matter.  They’re here now, and they’re essential listening for any fans of that heady time in music when studio experimentation was at a high – along with certain consciousnesses! –  and anything was possible.

The Left Banke’s oeuvre has most often been described as “baroque pop” or “baroque rock.”  Sure enough, the debut album’s “Barterers and their Wives,” with its prominent harpsichord, is a quintessential example of those genres.   Chief songwriter and classically trained pianist Michael Brown, one fourth of The Left Banke, pushed the envelope with his intricate ballads.  Most of them were arranged by John Abbott, including the two hit singles that were released in advance of the LP and gave the album its title. “Pretty Ballerina” utilizes violin, cello and oboe on a stunning track that supports Steve Martin-Caro’s haunting lead vocal.  “Just close your eyes and she’ll be there…”  But the one that started it all, “Walk Away Renee,” was the perfect synthesis of the baroque style and commercial pop sensibility.  Its wistful, resigned lyric is set to a melody with a big sing-along chorus – the soul lurking underneath was quickly discovered by the Four Tops – and the three-part harmony (a Left Banke specialty thanks to Martin-Caro, bassist/guitarist Tom Finn and percussionist George Cameron) practically blended into one voice on the chorus.  Needless to say, it sounded perfect coming out of an AM radio!  The band didn’t count, however, on the success of “Renee” leading to a demand for live performances.  The Left Banke in concert was heavily reliant on cover versions; they simply couldn’t replicate the complex arrangements live! 

Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina is far from the work of one-trick ponies, though.  Read on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 30, 2011 at 11:25

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Left Banke

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Review: Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On: 40th Anniversary Edition”

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Close your eyes and think of your favorite childhood vacation destination. That familiar locale, perhaps a constant lake house where you dreamt of the perfect summer and did your best to achieve it. The silly family rituals, the bonds you made with others, the warm feeling that comes with those kind of memories.

Now picture that same destination, revisited as a luxurious, all-expenses-paid package. There’s not a worry in sight, no shortage of requests to be fulfilled by servers and staff – the epitome of melt-into-your-beach-chair luxury.

Which one do you like more? Your answer will help you decide whether or not you should make the new 40th anniversary edition of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (Motown/UMe B0015552-02) a part of your record collection. This luxurious set is the kind of set you’re going to all but need if you’re hungry for this album or any album by Gaye. But it’s hardly a replacement to the just-as-fantastic, near-perfect deluxe edition that arrived in stores 10 years earlier.

What’s Going On, in its original album form, is an unassailable classic. It’s as full of darkness, confusion, faith and introspection in 2011 as it was upon its original release in 1971. What’s more, though, is it never lets the title statement serve as anything less than an open-ended statement on a time – easily the impoverished, war-weary America that Marvin wandered in his lifetime, as well as the broke, hungry, confused landscape of today. And even with the weighty subject material, it never stops being a killer soul offering. The conceptual nature of the record allows tracks and tempos to wrap around through each other like coils, never compromising the lyrical themes or the beats laid down by Motown’s very best session musicians (credited here on What’s Going On for the first time anywhere).

The 30th anniversary Deluxe Edition of the album (Motown 440 013 404-2, 2001) had several revelatory layers to peel back for fans: first, there was a stunning alternate mix of the entire record, a muted, even jazzier affair mixed in Detroit instead of Motown’s new, burgeoning Los Angeles headquarters. Then there was a powerful live performance at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center in 1972 – Gaye’s first venue since the death of longtime duet partner Tammi Terrell – that featured the tracks from the record in their entirety, out of order but in no way robbed of their power. As if that weren’t enough, some of the album’s best single mixes, long unheard on homogenized classic radio stations, were given CD debuts. Top it off with a respectable package – one of the first of Universal’s standard Deluxe Editions with digipak, thick liner notes booklet and silver slipcase (even more appreciated in these dark times for packaging) – and you can’t be blamed for being totally content.

So what’s on the new set that may tickle your fancy? We don’t want to escalate, but you may want to, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 29, 2011 at 18:22

Posted in Box Sets, Marvin Gaye, News, Reissues, Vinyl

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Some Kind Of Wonderful: Carole King’s “Music” Set For SACD and LP Release

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Fronting a band called The City in 1968, Carole King titled her first full-length LP Now That Everything’s Been Said. Thankfully, King actually had much, much more to say. She began her solo career, proper, in 1970 with Writer, and had the breakthrough the following year with Tapestry. But how to follow an album that spawns three number one pop hits and wins four Grammy Awards, not to mention igniting the entire female singer/songwriter movement? King wasted no time, and less than one year later, she released the simply-titled Music. The LP reunited her with producer Lou Adler and much of the same personnel from Tapestry including James Taylor, Charles Larkey, Ralph Schuckett and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, her bandmate in The City. Percussionist Bobbye Hall joined drummer Russ Kunkel to give the album a unique sound, and befitting its title, Music drew on R&B, soul, gospel, rock and pop influences.  Mobile Fidelity has just confirmed release of Music as a hybrid SACD playable on all CD players and also a 180-gram audiophile vinyl edition. The release of Music was confirmed by The Second Disc last November, and was preceded by Mobile Fidelity’s release of The Carnegie Hall Concert in those same formats.

Eight of the twelve tracks featured on Music were self-written by King, including the haunting “Song of Long Ago” (a near-duet with Taylor), the bright, jazz-inflected title track and “Carry Your Load,” which continues the theme of “You’ve Got a Friend.” Three songs were co-written with Toni Stern, who had contributed lyrics to “It’s Too Late” and “Where You Lead” on Tapestry. King and Stern wrote the album’s two most commercial tracks: “Sweet Seasons,” the album’s highest charting single (No. 9) and “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” subsequently covered later in 1972 by the Carpenters in a more lush arrangement. Richard and Karen’s take on the wistful yet hopeful song was rewarded with a No. 12 pop placement. One song was taken from the classic Goffin and King song, and the new arrangement of “Some Kind of Wonderful” (a minor 1961 hit for The Drifters) was stripped down to the song’s essence.  Hit the jump for more, including track listing and ordering info! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 29, 2011 at 13:06

Posted in Carole King, News, Reissues

Barbra Streisand’s Latest Offers Bonus Disc Of Bergman Classics

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It should come as no surprise that Barbra Streisand has dedicated her newest studio album to the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Streisand began her association with the husband-and-wife lyricist team in 1969, recording their “Ask Yourself Why,” with music by Michel Legrand, on What About Today?, her very first stab at the contemporary pop market. (She actually had recorded one Alan Bergman/Lew Spence song, “That Face,” as part of a medley on 1966’s Color Me Barbra.) Though Streisand would perfect the pop formula with 1971’s Richard Perry-produced Stoney End, she continued recording the Bergmans’ songs regularly. August’s release of What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman marks the 22nd Streisand album to feature Bergman compositions, including one unreleased album (1973’s Life Cycle of a Woman). It’s also the first-ever album by Streisand to be devoted to a single composer or lyricist, though she was the special guest “friend” of a legendary composer on Harold Sings Arlen (With Friend) in 1966.

What Matters Most will offer a special treat for catalogue fans. The deluxe edition of the album, in stores on August 23, includes a second bonus disc which might as well be titled The Best of Streisand Sings Bergman. To complement the album’s ten new tracks, the bonus disc features ten prior Bergman/Bergman/Streisand collaborations, dating between 1971’s Barbra Joan Streisand (“The Summer Knows”) and 2003’s The Movie Album (“How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”). The bonus disc is a no-brainer; it’s somewhat surprising that a compilation of its kind hasn’t already been created. The Bergmans gave Streisand some of her most enduring standards including “Papa, Can You Hear Me?,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and of course, “The Way We Were.” The sympathetic collaboration between the singer and the lyricists echoes that of many interpretive singers across many genres: Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen and even Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman. It’s no exaggeration to say that Streisand is the muse of Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

What’s on the bonus disc?  What’s missing?  Hit the jump to find out! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 29, 2011 at 10:26

Reissue Theory: WHAM! “The Final: Live at Wembley”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we take a look back at notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Twenty-five years after one of pop’s guiltiest pleasures said goodbye to a packed live audience, we wonder what a release of that show would look like.

On June 28, 1986, twenty-five years ago today, WHAM! became a past-tense pop act. It wasn’t your typical pop meltdown, however; it was a breakup for the ages. What other group bids their fan base (80,000 attendees worth) farewell with a handful of guest megastars and a lengthy, sugar-sweet set list?

Of course, that was par for the course for WHAM!, who had entered 11 of their 12 singles into the U.K. Top 10 (six of which were chart-toppers) and would sell about 20 million albums worldwide when all was said and done. From the beginning, when a lucky scheduling conflict got them a spot on Top of the Pops in 1982, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were two of the flashiest stars on the pop scene.

As an unironic fan of WHAM!’s effortless bubblegum pop, it would give this writer great pleasure to see some sort of catalogue activity occur for the boys. And this final show at Wembley Arena might be the flashpoint for any such product. Hit the jump to read up on how everything in the band’s career culminated in that show – and how we’d present the concert for fans, Reissue Theory-style! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 28, 2011 at 17:32

Review: Neil Young, “A Treasure”

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Are you ready for the country?

In 1984, Neil Young certainly was.  His Geffen Records debut, Trans, had just a couple of years earlier plunged Young into a “high tech” world of vocoders, synthesizers and dance beats while the singer ruminated about “The Computer Age,” “Computer Cowboy” and “Transformer Man.”  1983’s Everybody’s Rockin’ was an exercise in recreating rockabilly, with Young’s band billed as The Shocking Pinks.  Originals like “Kinda Fonda Wanda” blended right in with covers of “Mystery Train” and “Cry, Cry, Cry.”  Had Young lost his mind?  Was he just being willful?  Geffen certainly thought so, suing the singer for producing deliberately non-commercial LPs not characteristic of his past work.  (Label owner David Geffen later apologized to Young.)

After the failure of Everybody’s Rockin’, the always-unpredictable musician followed yet another muse and hit the road with the International Harvesters during 1984 and 1985.  The music produced by Young and this group was pure country-and-western, and if the sound was alien in the pop world of 1984, it wasn’t a complete departure like Trans or Everybody’s Rockin’.  Young’s most successful album ever, 1972’s Harvest, was “country,” albeit by way of Laurel Canyon.  Touring with the International Harvesters, Young offered up rollicking, twangy, rootsy music performed to audiences in the heartlands, often at rodeos and state fairs.  Twelve tracks from their tour have been released by Reprise as A Treasure on LP and CD (Reprise, 2011, various cat. nos.) as the ninth entry in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series.  It proves to be a robust, surprisingly joyful listen from an artist in the midst of a controversial period.

A Treasure finds the singer, always somewhat inscrutable, thumbing his nose at both the prevailing musical mores of the 1980s (which he had flirted with on Trans) and his own rock legacy by reveling in Americana.  Despite his Canadian roots, Young had always had an ear for American roots music.  But rather than being a straightforward collection of live country tunes, A Treasure also reflects the many sides of the singer/songwriter.

In a feature shot in 1985 and included on the Blu-Ray edition, Young is described by an interviewer as “erratic,” which the singer quickly corrects to “consistently erratic.”  Promoting his country album Old Ways, he’s then asked whether he’s become “more conservative,” with respect to both his music and his personal views.  So we have the dedicated environmental crusader and blunt songwriter of “Let’s Impeach the President” (that would be No. 43, George W. Bush) plainly praising President Ronald Reagan for, among other attributes, fostering more pride in America.  These views aren’t necessarily contradictory, though they may be jarring to some of the fans who think of Young solely as the writer of “Ohio.”  But Young has rarely shied from expressing himself musically or politically, and has always been a man of multiple facets.  (Van Dyke Parks, once part of the Warner/Reprise family with Young, told Record Collector recently that the idea “fostered in those lyrics [of Young’s “Let’s Roll”] that we should retaliate was just absolutely revolting to me.  It raised my hackles, and I think it condemned Neil Young forever as a mongering toady of war.”  Clearly Young is just as controversial today as he was when he recorded “Ohio” with Messrs. Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1970.)

And so Young’s cranky anger is evident on “Motor City,” a sarcastic jab at the 1980s foreign car culture which originated on the album Re-ac-tor.  When he sings, “Too many Toyotas in this town!,” he’s preaching to the choir, and is greeted by loud cheers from the audience.  He’s just as riveting, however, on the workingman’s protest song “Nothing is Perfect” (“But nothing is perfect in God’s perfect plan/Look in the shadow to see/He only gave us the good things so we’d understand/What life without them would be…There’s plenty of wheat on the prairies/Lots of coal in the mines/We got soldiers so strong they can bury their dead/And still not go back shooting blind.”), one of the five songs making their commercial debut on A Treasure.  Another of those “new” tracks, “Grey Riders,” is the most rock-sounding cut, and features Young on scorching electric guitar.

What else will you find on A Treasure?  Hit the jump to continue reading! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 28, 2011 at 11:01

Posted in CSNY, Neil Young, Reissues

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Release Round-Up: Week of June 28

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Queen, News of the World / Jazz / The Game / Flash Gordon / Hot Space: Deluxe Editions (Island/UMC)

The next wave of Queen remasters are out this Monday in England. If you don’t want to get them as imports, you’ll have to wait until September to get these as domestic reissues – by which point I’d imagine the third wave will be out in the U.K. (Official site)

Alice Cooper, Old School 1964-1974 (Bigger Picture)

This desk-sized box includes not pencils, not books, not black eyeliner, but four CDs of unreleased rarities from Alice Cooper’s early years, along with some vinyl goodies and extra swag. (Official site)

Teena Marie, Lady T: Expanded Edition / Irons in the Fire: Expanded Edition / First Class Love: Rare Tee (Hip-o Select/Motown)

The Ivory Queen of Soul is honored with expansions of her second and third Motown LPs plus a double-disc set of unreleased tracks (originally issued as a smaller-scale digital set). (Hip-o Select: Lady T, Irons, Rare Tee)

Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor: Deluxe and Collector’s Editions (J/Legacy)

To mark ten(!) years since Alicia Keys’ first album was released, it’s been expanded with a host of vault material (and in the case of the collector’s edition, a new documentary). The original album has also been pressed on vinyl, too. (Official site)

The Left Banke, Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina / The Left Banke Too (Sundazed)

Two long-out-of-print albums by The Left Banke, newly reissued on CD and vinyl (Sundazed: Walk Away CD, LP; Too CD, LP; CD bundle, LP bundle, CD and LP bundle)

The Doobie Brothers, Live at The Greek Theatre 1982: Farewell Tour (Eagle Rock)

A CD (or DVD – not both, sadly) set of The Doobies’ last tour before Michael McDonald went full-on solo, featuring guest appearances by a handful of former members. (Eagle Rock: CD, DVD)

Deep Purple, Phoenix Rising (Eagle Rock)

A treasure from the vault – documentary footage of the band’s live tour in 1975 – and all the rock and roll insanity that followed. (Eagle Rock: CD/DVD, Blu-Ray)

Various Artists, The Best of Soul Train Live (Time-Life)

I’ve been on a Soul Train kick lately, and it excites me to see this compilation of a handful of live performances on the long-running show get an official CD release. (Amazon)

Buddy Guy with Junior Wells and Junior Mance, Buddy and The Juniors (Hip-o Select/Verve)

The U.S. CD debut of this loose, laid-back record from the Blue Thumb catalogue. (Hip-o Select)

Paul McCartney, Run Devil Run (MPL/Concord)

Not nearly as expansive as the last McCartney reissues – this one’s just a straight-up remaster. (Official site)

BREAKING NEWS! Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow Brings First Disney-Intrada Releases

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71 years ago, a little cricket named Jiminy reassured children everywhere that “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true” in Walt Disney’s film Pinocchio.  Well, the dreams of many film score collectors and Disney enthusiasts are indeed coming true thanks to tonight’s announcement by Intrada Records.  The California label, a 25-year veteran in the soundtrack business, put to rest weeks of rumors and tonight confirmed a new partnership with The Walt Disney Company.  The inaugural title in the Walt Disney Records/Intrada co-branded series is the commercial CD premiere of Michael Giacchino’s Academy Award-winning score to 2009’s Up.  It’s available for pre-order now and will begin shipping tomorrow.  Up is joined by a release from the vault of Disney-owned Touchstone Pictures, John Scott’s 1988 score to Shoot to Kill, under the Intrada Special Collection banner.

Intrada’s initial statement promises that the release is the “start of [a] new series of long-awaited soundtrack treasures from Disney vaults, presented from original session elements lovingly restored, all spotlighting premiere CD releases from animation and live action classics appearing throughout [the] esteemed studio’s history!”  Walt Disney Records’ Randy Thornton elaborated: “Walt Disney Records will be producing and manufacturing this new line exclusively for Intrada – hence the dual logos.”  Disney’s legacy is intertwined even more closely with music than most realize; the very first commercially-issued soundtrack album in history was Victor’s 1938 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a set of three 78s, two songs per disc! 

Despite a rich catalogue of titles from both Disneyland and Buena Vista Records, the modern Walt Disney Records family of labels has never been a major player on the reissue front.  We here at The Second Disc have been vocal in encouraging the Mouse to take advantage of its vast library.  That said, what has escaped from the Disney vault, however, has been choice: mainly archival projects like Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair (2009), The Sherman Brothers Songbook (2009) and A Musical History of Disneyland (2005).  A line of soundtrack expansions in the 1990s and early 2000s spearheaded by Randy Thornton was devoted to many of the classic animated films, but the series stalled.  Kiosks at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts offered many classic LPs as burn-on-demand CDs, but the system wasn’t profitable, and many of the titles slated for theme park release were relegated to iTunes.  Perhaps most distressingly to longtime fans, the soundtracks to Disney and Pixar’s Up and Toy Story 3 didn’t receive CD releases despite the high profile names of Michael Giacchino and Randy Newman, respectively.  The teaming with Intrada seems a promising sign that the entertainment giant is serious about making available the assets it has so painstakingly preserved over the years.  I know I got a thrill seeing the classic, long-retired Disneyland Records logo in the top right corner of the Up cover!  Chances are many of you will, too.

Hit the jump for details on this exciting launch, including track listings and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 27, 2011 at 21:19

Sonic Youth Comp Goes from Starbucks to Stores Everywhere

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Anyone who missed Sonic Youth’s last compilation, 2008’s Hits Are for Squares (released exclusively through Starbucks stores), have another chance to get it beyond last year’s vinyl release on Record Store Day. It’s being released to general retail this summer, reports MusicTAP.

The collection collates hits and favorite tracks from the New York City band’s extensive catalogue, stretching back from 1984’s EVOL to 2004’s Sonic Nurse. All the tunes were selected by famous fans of the band, including Beck, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and many more. There’s also a new track exclusive to this set, “Slow Revolution.”

The set is out on August 23. Hit the jump for all the track details. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 27, 2011 at 15:43

Benson, Hubbard, Turrentine On June Slate From CTI Masterworks

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Earlier this year, Universal and Hip-o Select released a bold orange box set containing the first 6 LPs on the Impulse! label, all of which were produced by Creed Taylor.  The ambitious producer didn’t stay long at Impulse!, however, departing for the greener pastures of Verve, then A&M, where he founded his CTI label.  Following a highly successful series of CTI albums under the A&M imprimatur, Taylor’s mini-kingdom went the independent route and along the way practically defined the sound of seventies jazz.  Sony’s Masterworks Jazz label quietly dropped four more CTI titles in stores on June 14, part of the 40th Anniversary Series that began with the release of the Cool Revolution retrospective box.  (We’ve got details on April’s batch here.)  The titles were released between 1970 and 1974, and all four feature bona fide legends who were integral parts of the CTI family: George Benson (guitar), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet/flugelhorn), Hubert Laws (flute) and Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone).

The earliest title in the group, Hubbard’s Straight Life (1970), was his second album for CTI following Red Clay, already released in this series.  Straight Life could be considered a “sequel” to Red Clay, as many of the same personnel returned, including saxophonist Joe Henderson, keyboard player Herbie Hancock and CTI stalwart Ron Carter.  George Benson, naturally on guitar, joined in as well.  On percussion, Richard “Pablo” (Richie) Landrum contributed, while Jack DeJohnette replaced Red Clay’s Lenny White on drums.  Straight Life consists of three lengthy tracks: the 17 minute jam on the title song by Hubbard, “Mr. Clean” by Weldon Irvine (who plays tambourine on the album) and the Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen standard “Here’s That Rainy Day.”  With only Hubbard, Benson and Carter playing, “Rainy Day” is as beautiful as “Straight Life” is funky.

Benson’s own album, Body Talk, is also released in this wave.  His third for the independent CTI, it’s all-instrumental.  Rather than “house arranger” Don Sebesky, it’s Pee Wee Ellis who arranged and conducted Body Talk, a duty he also performed on CTI albums for Esther Phillips, Johnny Hammond and Hank Crawford.  The only cover in this set of blazing originals is “When Love Has Grown” from Donny Hathaway and Gene McDaniels’ pen.  Ron Carter, of course, played bass, as did Gary Kng, and Earl Klugh joined to contribute second guitar.  As on previous reissues, this remastered Body Talk contains one bonus, an alternate take of the title track.

Hit the jump to meet Mister T. and go back to the Beginning. We’ve also got track listings, order links and discographical info for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 27, 2011 at 14:02