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Archive for January 2012

Greater Hits: Aretha/Arista

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Welcome to our latest installment of Greater Hits, where we scour an artist’s discography for compilations and pick the best one for your buck. Today focuses on Aretha Franklin’s fascinating third chapter on Arista Records and the multitude of compilations that it’s yielded.

Just as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin’s sizzling 1967 album and first for Atlantic Records, was a shock to anyone who’d known her from her days singing solid if not transcendent soul on Columbia in the early ’60s, the Queen of Soul’s mid-’80s return with 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? was light years away from “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Today, we laud veteran comebacks that echo the songs that made us fall in love with artists in the first place. Aretha, however, did it on modern-day terms, pairing with producers like Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden to ensconce herself in the sound of the 1980s, never once compromising that multiplatinum voice we still adore today.

While Franklin’s work for Columbia and Atlantic have been the subject of many reissues and box sets, modern day representation of the Arista years has mostly been in the form of compilations, most recently Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998. (Although that trend seems to be changing, it’s an independent label handling an expansion of her work.) And what a list there is: prior to Legacy’s newest set, three major compilations of the Arista years have been released in the last 15-plus years.

Join us after the jump as we dive into each one and tell you which one should be zoomin’ into your collection first!

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 31, 2012 at 18:14

Tattoo You: Rolling Stones Digital Archive Unveils 1981 Concert

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When the Rolling Stones opened the Stones Archive for business late in 2011 with the first-ever legitimate release of The Brussels Affair, it was greeted as somewhat of a mixed blessing.  The Archive promised to be a place where fans of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band “can listen to unheard music, view unseen photographs and films, and look at rare merchandise. Fans have the opportunity to buy items such as signed lithographs, deluxe box sets, even personalised merchandise and tour gear in the shop.”  Of course, some lamented the lack of physical counterparts for the Archive’s releases.  Others were distressed by the lack of high-fidelity FLAC files for American customers; while purchasers abroad can choose between FLAC and MP3, the Archive’s American licensee (Google Music, via Android Market) offers only MP3.  So it’s “business as usual” for the just-announced second release from the Archives.  Whereas The Brussels Affair preserved a 1973 concert, the Archives jumps ahead to the waning days of 1981 for Hampton Coliseum: Live 1981.

Recorded in Hampton, Virginia on December 18, 1981, the digital album presents a lengthy concert from the final leg of the Tattoo You tour, and also one of six tour dates taped for radio’s King Biscuit Flower Hour.  That night in Virginia, the Stones tore through some of their latest hits from the critically and commercially successful album: “Start Me Up,” “Hang Fire,” “Little T&A,” “Black Limousine,” “Neighbours” and “Waiting on a Friend.”  Though Tattoo You was largely assembled from spruced-up outtakes (some dating back as far as a decade), the material felt fresh, and the Rolling Stones were rewarded with their final No. 1 album to date in America.  The album was still on audience members’ minds at the time of the December gig, having just been released in late August.

Hit the jump for more on Hampton Coliseum: Live 1981, including the full track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 31, 2012 at 13:05

Review: Aretha Franklin, “Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998”

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Aretha Franklin is serious about her royalty.  Billed on her newly-activated Twitter account as “the undisputed Queen of Soul” (take that, Tina Turner!), Franklin doesn’t take her title lightly.  But for a brief period, the artist’s credentials as reigning Queen of Pop were just as unimpeachable.  When Aretha joined Arista Records in 1980, it was after five disappointing albums at Atlantic, none of which have ever seen the light of day on compact disc.  On those LPs, producers as diverse as Curtis Mayfield, Van McCoy, Lamont Dozier and Marvin Hamlisch all tried to reignite the spark that began the Queen’s ascendancy at Atlantic, and all fell short of the mark.  How would Arista’s Clive Davis succeed?  Aretha had watched her contemporary, Dionne Warwick, return to chart supremacy under Davis’ watchful eye with 1979’s Dionne.  So she put her faith in Davis, the onetime head of her very first label, Columbia.   The story picks up on Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998, the new 16-track anthology from Arista and Legacy Recordings (88697 99780 2, 2012).

The period that produced these songs will, inevitably, always be second best to the rock steady soul of 1967-1974.  Some might even fairly place the era third, behind Franklin’s precociously mature jazz vocals at Columbia, beautifully boxed en toto by Legacy in 2011.  But this compilation (of eighteen years boiled down to sixteen tracks) nonetheless represents a major period in the career of an eminent American artist, in which she greeted a new decade head-on, flying in unexpected directions with a variety of songwriters and producers.

Producer Leo Sacks has organized the collection in chronological order, allowing one to chart the singer’s stylistic journey.  Her initial effort at Arista actually reteamed her with Atlantic’s “house arranger,” Arif Mardin, as well as with prominent background vocalists The Sweet Inspirations.  The album, the first of two Arista sets titled Aretha, yielded the lush “United Together,” produced not by Mardin but by Chuck Jackson, and firmly in the Quiet Storm mold.  (Producer/songwriter Jackson shouldn’t be confused with the “Any Day Now” singer of the same name!)  The song, written by Jackson and Phil Perry, returned Aretha to the uppermost regions of the R&B chart (No. 3) while placing respectably (No. 56) on the pop survey, as well.  Mardin returned for 1981’s Love All the Hurt Away, and its title song, a duet with George Benson, is reprised here.  The big ballad is as far from Franklin’s soul roots as it is from Benson’s in jazz, and anticipated many future duets; a full seven tracks here are all-star collaborations.

We continue after the jump…so Jump to It, won’t you? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 31, 2012 at 10:26

Still in Love with Them: Vault Gems Abound on New Thin Lizzy Deluxe Sets

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The last two years have been great for Thin Lizzy fans and collectors. Universal’s U.K. arm has, in recent times, expanded a good chunk of the band’s 1970s catalogue, released a thorough box set of tracks from the band’s BBC sessions and announced the acquisition of a ridiculous amount of unreleased tapes for future catalogue purposes.

The catalogue action continues this spring with double-disc deluxe editions of the band’s fourth and fifth albums, Nightlife and Fighting. Each set comes with a host of material making its debut on any format – a deserved reward for longtime fans of the band.

1974’s Nightlife is best known for the smoldering ballad “Still in Love with You,” which featured duet vocals from Scottish rocker Frankie Miller and guitar work from Gary Moore of Irish band Skid Row. Moore had joined the band that year following the departure of Eric Bell, and while he would depart in April, his cutting solos on the track would leave an indelible mark on the album, to the point that replacement guitarist Brian Robertson voted not to replace Moore’s work with his own. (Moore would perform with Lizzy and bandleader Phil Lynott throughout the rest of his career.)

“Still in Love with You” was sort of par for the course on Nightlife, a largely smoother record than the band had recorded (which the band attributed to the production work by Ron Nevison, who would later smooth out the edges of Heart in the mid-’80s) and one that did not earn them much acclaim at the time. Follow-up Fighting (1975), recorded after a revitalizing series of tours with Bob Seger (whose “Rosalie” was the first single off this album) and Bachman Turner Overdrive in the U.S., was arguably the start of Lizzy’s classic period, the first to chart in the U.K. (at No. 60) and a perfect set-up for the hard-driving sound and smart songwriting of Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox in 1976.

The bonus material on both sets is voluminous: both Nightlife and Fighting come with tracks from their respective BBC sessions of the era, while Fighting has another two previously-released tracks: non-LP B-side “Half Caste” (the flip to “Rosalie”) and an alternate mix of “Rosalie” included on U.S. pressings of the album. But there’s a lot of unreleased material to go around: Nightlife includes  three demos with Moore on guitar (“It’s Only Money,” “Showdown” and an early “Still in Love with You”) and two alternate studio takes of the latter two tracks. Fighting, meanwhile, boasts 10 unreleased alternate and early versions of tracks from the album and related sessions, including a different version of “Try a Little Harder,” an outtake released on the 2001 box set Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels.

Each set is available on March 12. Pre-order links are live after the jump! (A hat tip to Real Gone Reviews for their reportage on these sets.)

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 31, 2012 at 09:31

Posted in News, Reissues, Thin Lizzy

Release Round-Up: Week of January 31

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Aretha Franklin, Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of 1980-1998 (Arista/Legacy)

The Queen of Soul’s comeback years, in a new anthology. Check back soon for a review from Joe as well as a Greater Hits from me stacking this set up to other compilations from this part of Aretha’s discography.

Various Artists, Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in San Francisco 1973 (Philadelphia International/Legacy)

A sublime showcase of some of the best Philly soul in concert.

Various Artists, Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology (Arista/Legacy)

One of the most underrated hip-hop labels out there – home to Run-D.M.C. and DJ Rob Base and E-Z Rock – anthologized over two great discs.

The Tymes, So Much in Love (Real Gone)

The first-ever CD release for a ’60s classic, with four bonus tracks, no less!

Bonnie Pointer, Bonnie Pointer: Expanded Edition / Isaac Hayes, Don’t Let Go: Expanded Edition (Big Break)

The U.K. soul label’s latest expanded reissues.

Metallica, Beyond Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

A physical release for this EP of outtakes from Metallica’s last album, Death Magnetic.

Various Playlist releases (Legacy)

You know the drill on this one.

All Hail the “King of the Beats”: Mantronix Anthology Released

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Here’s an overlooked treat released last week: a double-disc compilation honoring influential hip-hop/dance duo Mantronix.

In the mid-1980s, as the New York rap scene blossomed and all sorts of rhythms were seeping into pop music, fewer dance acts were more exciting than Mantronix. Comprised of DJ/producer Kurtis Mantronik (nee el-Khaleel) and rapper MC Tee, Mantronix won club kids over with their sample-ready electronic sounds, combining processed beats, synthesized bass and turntable scratches to create something that sounded like the logical sonic progression from “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force or Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message.”

After the success of Billboard dance hit “Fresh is the Word” and the release of independent album Mantronix: The Album in 1985 (featuring tracks sampled or referenced by the likes of Beck and The Beastie Boys), Mantronix began to produce for other acts on their Sleeping Bag Records label before signing to Capitol in 1987 in one of the first seven-figure deals for a hip-hop act. MC Tee left the group for the Air Force in 1988, and Mantronik added rappers Bryce Wilson and DJ D. (and later singer Jade Trini in DJ D.’s place). Later singles like “Got to Have Your Love” were U.K. hits, but Mantronik left the music business for a long spell in 1991.

Traffic Entertainment Group, who expanded Mantronix: The Album in 2008 with a bonus disc of vintage mixes and edits, now presents King of the Beats 1985-1988, an overview of the band’s Sleeping Bag years, featuring 12″ mixes and album cuts from The Album and follow-up Music Madness (1986) as well as rare Mantronix productions for Just-Ice and T La Rock.

King of the Beats is out now and yours to order after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 30, 2012 at 18:22

Review: “Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia, Live in San Francisco 1973”

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No love, no peace, no shoes on my feet…no home, just a shack where I sleep…

In the fall of 1971, Philadelphia International Records launched its long-playing series with Billy Paul’s Going East, and the title opus in which the velvet-voiced crooner spins a slow-burning yarn of slavery.  It was hardly Top 40 fare (Paul would have to wait till producers/songwriters/label entrepreneurs Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff gifted him “Me and Mrs. Jones” the following year) but signaled the dramatic experimentation with which the label would define TSOP, or “The Sound of Philadelphia.”  Socially conscious, even spiritual lyrics would rest comfortably on a jazz-influenced bed of orchestral splendor, as smooth as it was funky.  With the very next PIR album, the label would start a nearly-unbroken string of music that’s as classic today as it was relevant, then: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ self-titled debut (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”), The O’Jays’ Back Stabbers (“Back Stabbers,” “Love Train”), 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”).

Each one of those artists and songs can be heard on a remarkable time capsule that’s newly arrived from Legacy Recordings and Philadelphia International.  Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia, Live in San Francisco 1973 (88691906232, 2012) is somewhat paradoxical, capturing a 1973 night in the City by the Bay introducing the brightest stars from the City of Brotherly Love.  But in any setting, boy, can these Mothers (and Fathers, Sisters, and Brothers) play!  It’s the first (but hopefully not the last) volley from Legacy in the 40th anniversary celebration of Philadelphia International Records.

Recorded on July 27, 1973, the concert was held at CBS Records’ company convention inside the plush environs of the Fairmont Hotel.  Previous performers at the convention included Bruce Springsteen and Engelbert Humperdinck.  Joe Tarsia, the owner of Philly’s hallowed Sigma Sound Studios and the concert’s engineer, recalls in the liner notes that the event was attended by everyone on the CBS roster from Perry Como to Edgar Winter.  (What a sight that must have been!)  And nearly everyone associated with the success of Philadelphia International was up there, on that stage.  Vocalists included Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees, Billy Paul, and the O’Jays. The MFSB Orchestra that evening counted among its 35 members two-thirds of the city’s “Mighty Three,” Leon Huff and Thom Bell on piano and organ, respectively. Huff and Bell were joined by a duo of Philly’s finest arrangers, Norman Harris and Bobby Eli (guitars), plus Earl Young (drums), Ronnie Baker (bass), Lenny Pakula (piano/keyboards), Jack Faith (saxophone), Vince Montana (vibes) and other notables. Bobby Martin and Richard Rome, two more arrangers with key contributions to the Philadelphia sound, took turns conducting.

Gamble and Huff considered the evening a crucial one to secure ongoing promotion at CBS Records for their fledgling label despite its already-proven hitmaking ability.  That urgency is evident in the performances.  (Thom Bell was the third partner in Gamble and Huff’s publishing company, and a frequent face at the label despite his outside productions for The Stylistics, The Spinners, Ronnie Dyson, New York City, Johnny Mathis and so many others.)  Hit the jump to meet the evening’s emcee, the one and only Mr. Don Cornelius! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 30, 2012 at 12:01

The Hills of Yesterday: Henry Mancini, Charles Strouse Offer “Molly Maguires” Scores

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A victim of the blacklist, director Martin Ritt (The Front, The Great White Hope and Norma Rae) felt passionately about using film to explore relevant social issues.  So it would have been no surprise that he was taken with the story of the Molly Maguires, the Irish-American coal miners who formed a secret society (some might say, of terrorists) to fight their oppressive employers in 19th century Pennsylvania.  Ritt enlisted an all-star cast including Sean Connery (still in his James Bond period) and Richard Harris for his 1970 Paramount Pictures epic.  Initially signed to write the score was Charles Strouse, the theatrical composer of Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman (and later, Annie).  On the silver screen, Strouse had recently made a splash with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and William Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), so he seemed a reasonable choice to score Ritt’s film.  Reportedly, though, Strouse’s score didn’t sit well with test audiences, so Ritt turned to a more experienced film composer who could also turn out superlative work in a short period of time: Henry Mancini.

Mancini had a busy slate in 1970, also scoring Vittorio De Sica’s Sunflower and Blake Edwards’ Darling Lili, but he, of course, rose to the occasion.  He chose to employ unusual instrumentation including pennywhistle, ocarina, button accordion and Irish harp to color his rich melodies.  He even supplied a stirring song, “The Hills of Yesterday,” well-known to Scott Walker’s fans.  In 1992, producer Bruce Kimmel was instrumental in bringing Mancini’s Molly Maguires score to compact disc, supported by an enthusiastic Mancini.  The Bay Cities edition of the score (BCD-2039) has been out-of-print for years, commanding high prices on the secondhand market.  Fast forward twenty years, and Kimmel now heads Kritzerland, a label dedicated to reissuing classic soundtracks and original cast albums.  How better to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the original Molly Maguires CD than with a reissue?  And what could make this reissue even more special the second time around?  How about the world premiere release of the rejected score by Charles Strouse as a supplement to the Mancini score?

Kritzerland’s The Molly Maguiresfeatures the entire Mancini score, as recorded by the great composer, in newly mixed sound from the original master tapes.  It’s easy to see the importance of music to the film, which begins with a wordless, nearly 15-minute sequence set to the score.  Several cues omitted from the original soundtrack album make their first appearance here, and five bonus tracks have been appended: three unique album versions and two film versions.  Charles Strouse’s complete score, opposite in style and approach to Mancini’s, is also making its premiere in any form.  Producer Bruce Kimmel explains in the liner notes, “Sometimes a score just isn’t working for the film, even though the music itself might be excellent. And that’s what happened here – Strouse’s score just wasn’t working with the film.”   The new Molly Maguires is limited to 1,500 copies and is due the second week of March, but pre-orders from the label usually arrive an average of four weeks early.

But’s that not all.  Kritzerland is also delivering a two-for-one soundtrack by Albert Glasser.  Invasion USA and Tormented! are just two of the hundred-plus B-movies scored by Glasser, and both feature appropriately wild scores.  (Just check out the artwork, below!)  Adventures of Superman buffs should note that Invasion USA boasts performances by both Lois Lanes, Noel Neill and Phyllis Coates!  Kritzerland has remastered these never-before-available soundtracks from the late composer’s personal tapes, and the sparkling result will be released alongside The Molly Maguires.  Hit the jump for Kritzerland’s full press release on the Glasser duo, plus track listings and pre-order links for both titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 30, 2012 at 10:50

Vintage, Retro Mixes Shine on U.K. Philadelphia International Box Set

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Now’s as good a time as any to get into the sweet sounds and lush arrangements of Philadelphia soul in the 1970s. 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of legendary writer/producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s creation of a label that set the groundwork for some of the best soul and R&B sounds of the decade, and this year’s seeing a lot of excellent catalogue projects honoring that legacy.

We’ve already told you about Legacy’s Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in San Francisco 1973 (keep an eye out for a review from Joe!), and there are more great titles in store in the coming months as well. One of them is a stellar four-disc box set that combines the great arrangements of Philly soul with the ace mixing techniques of Tom Moulton.

Moulton, the father of the modern-day remix, is about as far from a stranger to Philadelphia International as you can get. In 1977, he mixed classic sides by The O’Jays, The Three Degrees, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and MFSB for the double album Philadelphia Classics. Over time, he was commissioned for a variety of other projects for the label, some of which never saw the light of day past a few rarer promo records or obscure compilations.

With the release of Philadelphia International Classics: The Tom Moulton Remixes, Harmless Records – a subsidiary of the U.K.’s Demon Music Group – has compiled all eight cuts from Philadelphia Classics and combined them with not only seven rare or unreleased vintage mixes, but another 15 extended versions commissioned just for this set. The Intruders, The Trammps, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass – those are just a few of the artists ripe for rediscovery on this set. In addition to the four separately packaged discs, the box will also feature 16 pages of newly-written liner notes by acclaimed British music journalist Lloyd Bradley and rare photos of Moulton at work in Sigma Sound Studios, birthplace for countless classics of the label.

The box will be out February 27 in the U.K., and it can be yours to pre-order (for a rather stellar price, given the worth of the music) at Amazon after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 30, 2012 at 10:24

Thank You M.C. 1969: Michael Chapman’s Folk-Rock Classic “Rainmaker” Arrives From Light in the Attic

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When the distinct green Harvest Records logo is remembered today, it’s often for Pink Floyd or early Electric Light Orchestra.  But the label, created to stake a claim in the burgeoning rock market, boasted a deep, diverse roster, all the better to compete with other “alternative” labels like Decca’s Deram or Philips’ Vertigo.  One of the artists who found early success on Harvest was Michael Chapman, a former art and photography instructor.  Chapman’s greatest achievement was arguably 1970’s Fully Qualified Survivor, on which the troubadour was backed by Mick Ronson on guitars and Elton John’s arranger du jour, Paul Buckmaster, supplying the string orchestrations.  But Chapman was so fully qualified because Survivor was actually the third in a rich series of albums that both defined and transcended the British folk-rock ethos of the period.

Light in the Attic delivered Fully Qualified Survivor last year, and has now turned its attention to remastering and expanding Rainmaker, Chapman’s 1969 debut for Harvest.  (1971’s Window would fall in between those albums.)  Like that more famous sibling, Rainmaker blends psychedelic, folk and rock influences into a potent brew that’s uniquely Chapman and again features a stellar line-up of supporting artists.  The album was overseen by another Elton John collaborator, Gus Dudgeon, the producer behind John’s remarkable series of seventies classics as well as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” single.  Dudgeon would go on to produce Survivor for Chapman.  The singer, songwriter and guitarist was joined by drummer Aynsley Dunbar, perhaps best known for his association with Frank Zappa, and a host of other musicians including Clem Clempson (Humble Pie), Alex Dmochowski (Retaliation), Norman Haines (Locomotive), Danny Thompson (Pentangle) and Rick Kemp (Steeleye Span).

Hit the jump for more on Rainmaker, including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 27, 2012 at 13:44