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Archive for October 24th, 2011

Review: Paul Simon, “Songwriter” and Expanded, Remastered Albums (1980-1990)

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It’s 1971, and Aretha Franklin has just introduced the world to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a rousing, spiritual anthem that could have been written decades if not centuries ago.  She takes the song to the top of the charts.  Its notoriety leads to the rise of jobbing songwriter Paul Simon, who no longer needs to kick around the Brill Building in its waning days.  Simon’s career kicks off in earnest the following year with the release of his self-titled solo album.  It’s a quirky, offbeat affair, touching on reggae (“Mother and Child Reunion”) and folk-rock and blues (“Peace Like a River”).  He pursues a doggedly personal path over the next decade, following his muse through various sonic experiments, expanding his fan base and his esteem among modern singer-songwriters.  In his later years, Simon scores a personal triumph with the Broadway success of The Capeman, his musicalization of the life, and redemption, of convicted murderer Salvador Agron.  It’s also a look back at his often forgotten early days when he joined the now-noted architect Arthur Garfunkel as part of the doo-wopping duo Tom and Jerry.

It’s tempting to imagine the above, listening to Paul Simon’s new two-disc anthology simply titled Songwriter (Legacy Recordings 88697 96516-2, 2011).  Its 32 tracks convincingly craft an alternative history of the artist.  Simon’s once and future partner Art Garfunkel is absent from its two discs, as are some of Simon’s most enduring hits, like “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” or “You Can Call Me Al,” which introduced him to the MTV generation.  Accompanied by a generous book of lyrics, Songwriter asks its listener to consider Simon as a maker of songs first, apart from the baggage of a nearly-fifty year career played out in public.  On this count, the collection is unimpeachable.

Songwriter seems tailored to the buyer who isn’t a diehard collector but is looking to expand his Simon collection beyond, say, The Essential Paul Simon (originally released on Warner Bros. and since reissued on Legacy) or worn-out copies of Bridge Over Troubled Water and Graceland.  It’s to the artist’s credit that the album takes on an appropriately ruminative tone with an emphasis on deeper cuts.  The vibe on the first disc of Songwriter is a predominantly mellow one, epitomized in the reflective tone Simon adopts in his solo “The Sound of Silence,” the album’s lone unreleased track.  It hails from Simon’s concert at New York’s Webster Hall this past June 6.  It’s a mainly chronological journey, from 1971 through 1986.  The most interesting selection here is Aretha Franklin’s gospel-infused take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” itself a model of restraint and perfectly calibrated power.  As the collection is titled Songwriter and not Singer, one wishes Simon had chosen even more interpretations of his songs by other artists.  (Simon’s songs have proven particularly malleable, whether rendered by The Bangles, Emmylou Harris or David Bowie.)

One hopes that the omissions of Simon and Garfunkel songs like “America,” “Old Friends,” “The Only Living Boy in New York” and even “Mrs. Robinson” aren’t any reflection of Simon’s feelings towards those songs.  The 1960s are represented by just three tracks: the recent live version of “The Sound of Silence,” Simon’s 1991 solo performance of “The Boxer” in Central Park, and Franklin’s “Bridge.”  It’s hard to imagine that Simon felt constrained by his time with Garfunkel, given how much the duo accomplished in such a succinct period of time.  (Right place, right time, indeed.)  Yet Simon’s 1971 self-titled debut announced an artist looking to expand his boundaries, and virtually every subsequent solo LP did just that, whether looking back to his street corner harmony days or forward to world music explorations.  That album’s reggae-influenced “Mother and Child Reunion” is one of the more boisterous songs on the set, along with the exuberant “Kodachrome” from 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and “Late in the Evening” from 1980’s otherwise-overlooked One-Trick Pony.

In this song suite, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” with its melody as comfortable as an old pair of shoes, is a respite from the frank emotional roller-coaster of “Hearts and Bones,” informed by Simon’s tumultuous relationship with writer/actress Carrie Fisher: “One and one-half wandering Jews, returned to their natural coasts/To resume old acquaintances and step out occasionally/And speculate who had been damaged the most.”  You can’t see these old lovers meeting on the street last night, talking about some old times and drinking themselves some beers.  Yet the feeling is that the narrator of the song emerged wounded but wiser from the experience.  It’s hard not to think about Simon’s growth and maturation, and by extension, your own, while listening to this sequence of songs.  Even the stark cover portrait on Songwriter shows Simon, now aged 70, addressing aging in a matter-of-fact way.  (For Fisher’s part, she has attained her own catharsis, and uses Simon’s song “Allergies” in her stage show to illustrate just what was wrong with their relationship and subsequent, brief marriage.)

How does Songwriter address Paul Simon in the 1980s and beyond?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 24, 2011 at 13:53

A Fantasmagorical Second Disc Interview! Bruce Kimmel Talks New, Expanded 2-CD “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

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When Richard M. Sherman introduces his Academy Award-nominated song “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in concert, he often has to remind his audience that the film of the same name wasn’t a Walt Disney production.  Producer Albert R. Broccoli, best-known for the James Bond series of films, signed Richard and his brother Robert M. Sherman for their very first film score outside of the Disney sphere.  Like the Bond films, United Artists’ Chitty was based on the writing of Ian Fleming.  For Fleming’s story of a most fantasmagorical flying car, “Cubby” Broccoli envisioned an extravaganza that could even top Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins.  With something of a “James Bond-Meets-Mary Poppins” mindset, Broccoli enlisted heavy hitters from Disney’s 1964 classic: the Sherman Brothers, musical director/arranger Irwin Kostal, choreographers Dee Dee Wood and Marc Breaux, and pivotally, star Dick Van Dyke in the central role of Caractacus Potts.  From the world of 007, the producer brought aboard production designer Ken Adam and cast members such as Desmond Llewellyn and Goldfinger himself, Gert Frobe.  Beloved children’s author Roald Dahl was tapped for the screenplay.  Though the big-budget film didn’t match the success of Poppins at the time of its release in 1968, it’s as beloved today as many of Disney’s best films.

The profiles of both Richard and Robert Sherman and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang itself have been high in recent years.  The musical stage adaptation of the movie (with additional songs penned by the brothers) concluded runs in both London and New York.  The Shermans were the subjects of 2010’s acclaimed documentary The Boys, and Chitty was released on Blu-Ray the same year.  In May of this year, Richard Sherman took the stage at the Walt Disney World Resort to perform the title song to Chitty for the crowds at the Destination D convention held by the Walt Disney Company fan community, D23.  It sat comfortably alongside his Disney songbook.  At Anaheim, California’s D23 Expo in August, Van Dyke performed both “Chitty” and “Me Ol’ Bam-Boo” with Sherman beaming from the audience.  Of course, nobody minded that the film isn’t actually a Walt Disney movie!  Now, thanks to the efforts of producer Bruce Kimmel and Richard Sherman himself, another jewel is being added to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s considerable crown.

Hot on the heels of the Kritzerland label’s landmark 100th release, Kimmel today announced a Very Very Special Special Edition release as No. 101, and the producer isn’t one known for hyperbole.  Kritzerland’s remastered and expanded Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will pack a wealth of unreleased and new-to-CD material over two compact discs in a limited edition of 1,200 copies:

  • The original soundtrack recording, remastered from the first generation album master and expanded by the film’s Entr’acte, original Main Title (with sound effects) and film mix of the Exit Music;
  • The Leroy Holmes-conducted Song and Picture Book album released concurrently with the soundtrack, featuring Richard M. Sherman himself on vocals, opposite Lola Fisher;
  • Richard M. Sherman’s original demo recordings; and
  • Several of the mono playback tracks utilized by the cast to lip-synch on set, including another version of the title song (with quite a long instrumental), an instrumental called “The Vulgarian Anthem,” an instrumental of the “Chu-Chi Face” waltz, and a bit of the “Doll On A Music Box” not included on the original LP.
  • The first 100 copies ordered at Kritzerland will be signed by Richard M. Sherman!

That means you’ll hear multiple versions of Sherman classics sung by a cast including Dick Van Dyke (Caractacus Potts), Sally Ann Howes (Truly Scrumptious) and Lionel Jeffries (Grandpa Potts).  The memorable songs include the showstopping “Me Ol’ Bamboo,” charming “Truly Scrumptious,” delightful “Toot Sweets” and haunting lullaby “Hushabye Mountain.”  That’s not even mentioning the title melody, which like Fleming’s onomatopoeia, was inspired by the actual sounds of a sputtering car.  The songwriters added “fantasmagorical” to the lexicon, one in a long line of uniquely Sherman words like “fortuosity,” “gratifaction,” and of course, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  (Not to mention phrases like “substitutiary locomotion,” “protocoligorically correct” and the wizard Merlin’s favorite exclamation, “Higitus Figitus!”)

Just prior to the release of this fantastic and comprehensive 2-CD set, available now from the label at a special single-disc price, Kimmel spoke to The Second Disc about the process of assembling his labor of love.  Hit the jump for the complete interview! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 24, 2011 at 11:04

Dead News Round-Up: Of Road Trips and Blu-Rays

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It’s been a good year to be dead – well, The Grateful Dead, anyway – thanks to a handful of deep catalogue projects catered to the most undying of Deadheads. In the coming weeks, there are a trove of projects around and beyond Rhino’s enormous Europe ’72 box set, some of which indicate a bit of transition for longtime fans and collectors while still keeping an eye toward the future of preserving the band’s legacy.

First of all, for those who might want less than the dozens of discs in Europe ’72 (still available as a music-only edition, the mega-swag-filled sets having long sold out), the first six shows in the band’s European run are now available exclusively through Dead.net on their own. All of them are at least three discs long (the Copenhagen show from April 14, 1972 clocks in at four), meaning you’ve got about 19 discs to pore through on their own if you wish. All of them boast their own unique Kelly/Mouse artwork in the tradition of the Europe ’72 LP.

There’s another live show available for purchase, as well: the latest entry in the Road Trips series, featuring three discs taken from two shows on the band’s 1976 tour, their first after an 18-month hiatus (and the first to feature Mickey Hart on drums since 1971). This set actually marks the end of the long-running Road Trips series after 17 releases over four years, but rest easy, Deadheads: Dead.net promises “there is definitely going to be another release program dedicated to putting out the best material in the vault,” with details to be announced soon.

Finally, November 1 brings a fun Dead title for HD buffs out there: the debut of 1977 film The Grateful Dead Movie on Blu-Ray Disc from Shout! Factory. This classic collection of performances from five Winterland shows in San Francisco in 1974 comes with a bonus DVD of hours of bonus material and extra performances, most of which is mixed in 5.1 audio.

Check out all the releases coming your way after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 24, 2011 at 10:43