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Archive for December 6th, 2011

Review: Neil Diamond, “The Very Best of Neil Diamond”

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They don’t make ‘em like Neil Diamond any more.  Then again, did they ever make ‘em like Neil Diamond?  When the self-described solitary man of lean, tough Bang Records rockers like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman” eventually gave way to the literally glittering superstar of such dramatic fare as “I Am…I Said” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” it became all too easy to forget the man’s C.V. as a singer, songwriter and producer.  Diamond discovered world music some 15 years before his friend Paul Simon with 1970’s Tap Root Manuscript, brought gospel fervor to pop with “Holly Holy” and “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” gave American sports another national anthem with “Sweet Caroline” (ba-ba-da)  and was writing “sensitive” songs before it became fashionable to do so.  But when has Diamond been concerned with fashions of the time?  Sure, there have been ups and downs, musically and personally, for the son of Brooklyn, New York.  But 23 potent reminders of the many sides of Neil Diamond, the artist, can be savored on The Very Best of Neil Diamond: The Original Studio Recordings, a new collection from Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings (88691 90360-2, 2011) that’s arriving just in time for the holidays and in conjunction with Diamond’s induction into the elite group of Kennedy Center Honorees.  (He’s joined by three other musical artists with ties to the Columbia family: Sonny Rollins, Barbara Cook and Yo-Yo Ma, as well as actress Meryl Streep.)

The Very Best is, somewhat unbelievably, the first-ever single-CD career-spanning anthology of Diamond’s work to include the original studio recordings for the Bang, Uni, Capitol and Columbia labels (hence the subtitle).  Although the Bang and Columbia eras were brought under one umbrella some time ago, the absence of the Uni recordings (with such songs as “Sweet Caroline, “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Song Sung Blue” and “I Am…I Said” under the Universal corporate banner) from Columbia compilations like The Essential Neil Diamond marred those efforts.  Similarly, Universal couldn’t issue a definitive Diamond anthology, as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Hello Again,” “Love on the Rocks” or “Beautiful Noise,” to name a few, were all unavailable.  Live versions were often substituted by both labels, making for less-than-accurate representations of the man’s career.  (It must be said, though, that In My Lifetime, Diamond’s fine 3-CD box set, was assembled from all labels and periods.)  At last, each and every track on The Very Best of Neil Diamond is the real deal.

Is this, really and truly, The Very Best?  No fewer than 37 singles by Diamond went Top 10, and all three of his number ones are here: 1970’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” 1972’s “Song Sung Blue” and 1978’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” There are eight more that cracked the Top 10 on The Very Best of Neil Diamond, spanning the period between 1966 (“Cherry, Cherry”) and 1980 (“Hello, Again,” “Love on the Rocks” and “America,” all from the soundtrack to The Jazz Singer).  The collection’s remaining tracks are judiciously divided between favorites of the fan and the composer (“Hell Yeah,” “Pretty Amazing Grace”), key album cuts (“Red, Red Wine”) and other successful singles that didn’t quite make it to the top portion of the chart (“Solitary Man,” “Shilo,” “Kentucky Woman”).

Each fan (Diamondhead?) might have a personal favorite that hasn’t made the cut, selected by producers Bernie Becker (also the set’s mastering engineer) and Sam Cole.  “September Morn,” “Longfellow Serenade,” “Heartlight,” “Be,” “Desiree,” “Stones” and “Brooklyn Roads” are all lamentably absent.  “Heartlight,” famously inspired by Steven Spielberg’s film E.T., is a particularly egregious omission, as the 1982 Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager co-write was Diamond’s final Top 5 pop hit.  As a result of its omission, the 25-year period between 1980 and 2005 isn’t represented at all.  In that time, Diamond released 12 studio albums which met with varying degrees of success, both critically and commercially.  But it’s difficult to argue with a single one of the 23 songs which comprise this set.  Read all about them after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2011 at 14:13

The Second Disc Buyers Guide: The 100 Greatest Reissues of All Time, Part 7 (#70-66)

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Our look at the many reissues of the 100 greatest albums of all time, as selected by Rolling Stone in 2003, soldiers on! We look at the masterings and expansions of these classic albums on disc, letting you know which audio treasures can be found on which releases. Today’s a full house of rock royalty, with a Piano Man, a King of Pop, a soul legend and two albums by Led Zeppelin!

70. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (Swan Song, 1975)

Led Zeppelin’s sixth album could’ve easily not happened had bassist John Paul Jones made good on his idea to leave the band to accept a choirmaster job at Winchester Cathedral. But cooler heads prevailed, and a breezy set of heavy-duty sessions (coupled with some tracks left over from previous sessions) made for an astounding double-album that was arguably the major zeitgeist moment for the band. (It went platinum on advance orders alone, and sent the band’s entire back catalogue at that point back into the charts.) With catchy rockers like “Kashimir,” “Houses of the Holy” and “Trampled Underfoot,” it wasn’t hard to see why it was such a hit.

As with Led Zeppelin II from yesterday’s entry, Physical Graffiti bowed on CD in 1990 (Swan Song SS 200-2) mastered for CD by Barry Diament. Jimmy Page and George Marino at Sterling Sound remastered the entire Led Zep catalogue not long after; the final products ended up in the 1990 box set (Atlantic 7 82144-2) and its 1993 sequel (Atlantic 7 82477-2), the 1990 two-disc compilation Remasters (Atlantic 7 80415-2) and 1993′s The Complete Studio Recordings (Atlantic 7 82526-2), which sequenced all the material back into album order, ten discs strong. (Physical Graffiti, as mastered by Page and Marino, was released on its own in 1994, as Atlantic 92442-2.) A Japanese SHM-CD remaster used the same remasters (Swan Song WPCR-13135/6, 2008); those SHMs were compiled into The Definitive Collection in 2008 (Atlantic WPCR-13142; later released on standard CDs in America as Atlantic R2 513820).

69. Curtis Mayfield, Super Fly (Curtom, 1972)

Multi-instrumentalist Curtis Mayfield was known through the ’60s for his socially conscious R&B work with The Impressions. The soundtrack to blaxploitation film Super Fly was only his third solo album. But what a work: despite little perceived commercial appeal, the album was a chart-topping smash, with two funky hits – “Freddie’s Dead” and the pulsating title track – to its credit. Along with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, it ushered in a new era of R&B that didn’t sacrifice the soul in telling the harsh truth about poverty, drug abuse and other ills plaguing the streets of America.

First released on CD in 1988 as Curtom CUR-2002, several straight reissues have been released worldwide (mostly in Europe by Charly Records) since then. The most notable versions, though, are the 25th anniversary edition (Rhino R2 72836, 1997), which remastered the album and expanded it by more than a disc’s worth of rare and unreleased material, including demos, alternate mixes and interviews, all in a nicely-sized digipak. Two years later, Rhino released the album without the bonus disc, thereby including two bonus tracks, the single mixes of the title track and “Freddie’s Dead” (R2 75803), and a foreign pressing by Charly Records (SNAP 258 CD, 2005) featured some of the bonus tracks (the ones not based on the familiar songs from the album) at the end of the disc. A SHM-CD pressing (Victor VICP-70093) appeared in 2009.

68. Michael Jackson, Off the Wall (Epic, 1979)

The seventh-youngest member of the Jackson family was impossible to ignore when The Jackson 5 became the darlings of Motown in the late ’60s and early ’70s, sending their first four singles to the top of the charts. Barely a decade later, before Michael turned 21, his first solo venture as an adult (after three middling-to-great albums with The Jacksons for Epic) made heads turn again. Teaming with producer Quincy Jones, Michael had never exuded such confidence or control over his output, mixing disco, jazz and funk stylings that had something to offer even if you’d never want to hear a disco song again. From the one-two-three punch of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You” and “Working Day and Night,” to the easy yearning of the Paul McCartney-penned “Girlfriend” and the heartache that made Jackson break down at the end of “She’s Out of My Life,” the stage was set for a solo career that would exceed all human expectations.

Off the Wall received its first CD release in 1983 as Epic EK 35745. It is worth noting, however, that not only was the cover art changed on most domestic pressings (using the bottom half of the gatefold image on the original LP sleeve), but “Rock with You” and “Get on the Floor” were presented in alternate mixes. The original LP pressing exists on some discs, namely those pressed in Japan for Europe (Epic EPC 83468) or the U.S. (matrix # 35 8P-2 71A3). In 2001, to coincide with the release of Jackson’s comeback album Invincible, the King of Pop’s first four Epic albums were remastered by Bernie Grundman, with new artwork and bonus material to boot. While the special edition of Off the Wall (Epic EK 66070)  – which uses the “remix” pressing – features home demos of “Don’t Stop” and “Working Day and Night,” it’s slightly bogged down by audio interviews with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton that might have been more fun to read than hear. (Those eight minutes of interviews could have easily been supplanted by more archival material, which has been rumored, since Jackson’s passing in 2009, to be on deck for another expanded edition of the album in the future.)

67. Billy Joel, The Stranger (Columbia, 1977)

Billy Joel had been putting out good-to-great albums out for six years before the release of The Stranger, but with the one-two punch of both producer Phil Ramone and his road-tested backing band in the studio, it was hard to imagine anything but greatness. Add to that a set of nine pop standards, from “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” to Grammy-winning “Just the Way You Are,” many of which still get airplay to this day, and it’s not hard to understand why this was Columbia’s best-selling album for years upon years.

The initial CD pressing of The Stranger came out around 1990 (Columbia CK 34987); a digital remaster by Ted Jensen followed in 1998 (Columbia CK 69384), as an enhanced CD with QuickTime videos embedded into each disc. (Every one of Billy’s albums from 1971 to 1993 got this treatment.) Jensen oversaw a Super Audio CD pressing in 2002 (Columbia CS 69384) and mastered the album yet again, for a lavish Legacy Edition in 2008 (Columbia/Legacy 88697 22581-2) that added a bonus disc with part of an unreleased show at Carnegie Hall in New York City prior to The Stranger‘s release. (A box set – Columbia/Legacy 88697 30801-2 – added a bonus DVD of Joel’s 1978 performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test plus new interviews and extras.)

66. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic, 1971)

Whatever you call it – Led Zeppelin IV, ZOSO or nothing at all – it’s hard to deny the album as one of the best in an already-sterling catalogue, and a fine entry point into their dense, hard-rockin’ catalogue. Tracks like “Rock and Roll,” “Black Dog” and glorious closer “When the Levee Breaks” seal the deal.

The song remained the same with IV‘s CD releases, more or less. A CD edition of the album first showed up in Japan in 1985 (Atlantic/Warner-Pioneer 32XD-335), followed by Barry Diament’s master released worldwide in 1990 (Atlantic 19129-2). The Page/Marino remasters came out through the box sets as referred to above, and the IV remaster was released in 1994 (Atlantic 82638-2). The 2008 SHM-CD master (Atlantic WPCR-13133) was compiled into the Definitive Collection box set in 2008.

Tomorrow: Joe goes back to mono, and covers classics by U2, Guns N’ Roses, Van Morrison and more!

Written by Mike Duquette

December 6, 2011 at 12:00

Come to the Sunshine: Now Sounds Expands, Remasters Harpers Bizarre’s “Feelin’ Groovy”

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Leon Russell might have been reluctant to return to his pop music roots when producer Lenny Waronker invited him to sit in the arranger’s chair for Harpers Bizarre’s 1967 debut album.  But in retrospect, a Master of Time and Space must have been involved in any LP that listed among its credits Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Simon, Richard Rodgers and Sergei Prokofiev!  The California quintet’s Feelin’ Groovy long-player is still one of the boldest, most imaginative and most fun debut albums of all time, and it’s getting the red carpet treatment from the fine folks at Now Sounds!  The Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition of Feelin’ Groovy expands the original 10-band album to a packed 26 tracks.  And what a groovy complement of bonuses they are: instrumentals, single mixes, and seven tracks from the band’s earlier incarnation, The Tikis!

At the time The Tikis (a.k.a. Dick Yount, Eddie James, John Petersen, Dick Scoppettone and Ted Templeman) found themselves on the roster of Warner Bros. Records, the young turks running the water tower were making Burbank the place to be.  Under the direction of Mo Ostin, Joe Smith and Lenny Waronker, Warner Bros. was establishing a hip, young identity.  The label that had begun in 1958 with Tab Hunter and Jack “Just the facts, ma’am” Webb on the roster was now expanding its ranks to include The Tokens (It’s a Happening World!), The Everly Brothers, The Association, The Beau Brummels and The Grateful Dead.  Like The Tikis, The Beau Brummels came to Warner via the label’s acquisition of the Bay Area-based Autumn Records, and Tikis member John Petersen was himself an ex-Brummel.  And the embryonic Dead had actually shared stages in the past with The Tikis.   In this fertile, creative atmosphere, producer Waronker keenly matched artist to song when he offered the soon-to-be Harpers Bizarre a completely original reworking of Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”  Wordsmith and arranger Van Dyke Parks recalls being the one who renamed the band for a counterculture audience that wouldn’t accept the square-sounding Tikis!  Harpers Bizarre was then born.

In Simon and Garfunkel’s original version, the song is casual (almost tossed-off), low-key and completely charming.  In the arrangement crafted by Waronker and master orchestrator Leon Russell, “The 59th Street Bridge Song” became an ambitious pocket symphony, complete with choir and baroque instrumental interlude.  Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that this big reworking retained the innocent, carefree spirit of the original.  In reissue producer Steve Stanley’s compelling liner notes, Waronker recounts Russell winning him over with his intricate charts for instruments unusual to the typical AM single. Unsurprisingly, the musicians of the Los Angeles Wrecking Crew were deployed in full force, including Russell himself on piano, Glen Campbell on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, and other names that should be familiar to those reading this, like Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye and Lyle Ritz (bass) and Mike Deasy, Al Casey and Tommy Tedesco (guitar).  “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” b/w “Lost My Live Today” (a Tikis track that is, of course, included here) made it all the way to the Top 15 on the pop charts.

Though it gives the album its title, the song is just the tip of the iceberg here.  Hit the jump for much more, including the complete track listing with discography! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2011 at 10:54

Release Round-Up: Week of December 6

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Neil Diamond, The Very Best of Neil Diamond (Columbia/Legacy)

A new single-disc greatest hits compilation that unites classic Columbia stuff with early works for Bang and Universal and the excellent, newer stuff he’s been doing with producer Rick Rubin. The E.T. song, though? Not here.  Watch for Joe’s review later today!

Amy Winehouse, Lioness: Hidden Treasures (Universal Republic)

The late, lamented neo-soul singer memorialized with a posthumous album.

Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, The Lost Album featuring Watermelon Man (Hip-o Select/Polydor)

James Brown catalogue titles don’t necessarily have to be chock full of James Brown, as this lost album from the early ’70s proves.

Elvis Costello and The Imposters, The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!! Super Deluxe Edition (Hip-O/UMe)

Which Elvis Costello box set? Oh yeah, that one.

Doris Day, My Heart (Arwin Productions)

Doris Day’s first album of original material in seventeen years hits stores in the U.S. after notching a chart success in the U.K.!  The American edition contains one previously unreleased bonus track, “Stewball.”

Bee Gees, Main Course (Rhino Flashback)

Barry, Robin and Maurice’s 1975 smash introduced the world to “Jive Talkin’,” “Nights on Broadway,” “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” and “Wind of Change.”  Long out-of-print, Main Course makes a budget-priced comeback thanks to our friends at Rhino!

Written by Mike Duquette

December 6, 2011 at 08:50