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Archive for January 17th, 2012

A Grande Cup of Burt: Starbucks Brews “Music By Bacharach”

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If you see me walking down the street, and I start to cry…or smile…or laugh…there’s a good chance I might be listening to a song by Burt Bacharach.  Since beginning his songwriting career with 1952’s instrumental “Once in a Blue Moon” as recorded by Nat King Cole, Bacharach has provided the soundtrack to many of our lives, often in tandem with lyricist Hal David.  (Their first collaborations date to 1956, including The Harry Carter Singers’ “Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil,” and Sherry Parsons’ “Peggy’s in the Pantry,” a song Bacharach would rightfully rather forget!)  A new compilation on the Starbucks Entertainment label is bringing Bacharach’s music to coffeehouses around the world, and is making quite a splash in the U.S., actually opening at a none-too-shabby No. 59 on the Billboard 200.  It offers sixteen selections, the majority of them drawn from the most famed period of the composer’s still-thriving career.  This was the time when Angie Dickinson was on his arm, the drink was Martini and Rossi, and the composer-conductor-producer- arranger-performer was proclaimed “The Music Man” on the cover of Newsweek.  The simply-titled and elegantly-designed Music by Bacharach will take you back to the mid-1960s, when Bacharach matched David’s universal lyrics to sophisticated melodies, the likes of which weren’t seen in pop music.  They still aren’t.

Music by Bacharach doesn’t offer any rarities, and doesn’t purport to cover Bacharach’s entire career.  (He’s still active today; in 2011, Bacharach scored a hit in the U.K. with his Ronan Keating collaboration When Ronan Met Burt, and also wrote the original score to the musical Some Lovers, which premiered in San Diego.)  Instead, it focuses on the halcyon hitmaking era, when Bacharach provided 39 consecutive chart hits for Dionne Warwick alone.  Appropriately enough, the collection offers two songs by Warwick, the third part of the Bacharach/David “triangle marriage.”  Also figuring prominently with two tracks each are Dusty Springfield and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  Bacharach himself participated in nine of the album’s sixteen tracks, with the remaining seven tracks all well-chosen “cover” recordings. Though far from comprehensive, the collection is a potent and well-curated time capsule nonetheless.

Warwick is represented by her first hit (No. 21 pop), “Don’t Make Me Over,” written to order by Bacharach and David for the young firebrand, as well as with her iconic reading of “Walk on By.”  Across the pond, many considered Dusty Springfield to be Bacharach’s supreme interpreter, and her catalogue is tapped for the charming “Wishin’ and Hopin’” (originally a Warwick B-side) and the incendiary “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” first recorded by Tommy Hunt.  Warwick’s own recording arrived two years after Springfield’s, in a rare reversal.  Herb Alpert is heard on the theme to Casino Royale as well as on the 1968 “This Guy’s in Love with You,” somewhat unbelievably the very first pop No. 1 for Bacharach and David.  Another iconic performance, Jackie DeShannon’s original 1965 take of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” is also included.  Warwick followed DeShannon with a 1967 version of the song.

The most recent tracks on Music by Bacharach are two 1990s collaborations.  “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” originally a 1963 hit for Warwick, may be one of the most musically challenging of Bacharach’s songs.  It announced Dionne on the scene as her first Top 10 hit in 1963, as the singer navigated with ease the tricky time signature shifts (5/4 to 4/4 to 7/8 and back to 5/4).  Ronald Isley takes on the song here in a supremely soulful rendition from his 2003 Isley Meets Bacharach.  Just a few years earlier, Bacharach had teamed with Elvis Costello for the song “God Give Me Strength,” written for Allison Anders’ film Grace of My Heart.  The song’s success led to a full-blown album collaboration, Painted from Memory, which remains one of the strongest sets of songs in either man’s considerable oeuvre.   From its opening horn salvo, “God Give Me Strength” announced a return to classic form for Bacharach after his successful detour into modern pop in the 1980s (“On My Own,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” “Arthur’s Theme”).  It shares the signature Bacharach sound that’s highlighted on each of the older tracks here.

Hit the jump for much more on Music by Bacharach, including an order link and the full track listing with discography! Read the rest of this entry »

Doin’ It for Themselves: Funky Town Grooves Plans Major Expansions for Aretha and Andre

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As independent reissue labels go, Funky Town Grooves has long been a pioneer in cratedigging through scores of forgotten soul and R&B favorites, many from the fertile period of the 1980s. This year, the label has announced two expanded releases that may be among their most ambitious, for two of the best-loved R&B albums of the decade.

First up, this March will see an expanded edition of Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, the major comeback by The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Aretha had ended the 1970s leaving her longtime home at Atlantic for Clive Davis’ Arista label. Her early albums, while boasting a host of talent (namely producer Luther Vandross), never caught on with an increasingly future-forward young audience.

With 1985’s Narada Michael Walden-produced Who’s Zoomin’ Who? The Queen planted herself into the consciousness of the MTV generation, thanks to colorful videos for the wildly catchy singles “Freeway of Love” (a No. 3 hit, her first Top 10 since 1973); “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” a duet with New Wave duo the Eurythmics from their Be Yourself Tonight album and the Top 10 title track of the album. This touched off a major rediscovery of Aretha, which culminated with her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and arguably hasn’t cooled since. FTG’s double-disc presentation of the album remasters the original album and provides 17 bonus tracks – every remix, extension, edit and dub of the album’s five singles.

It’s onto a noted Prince associate – and just a spot of reissue drama – after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 17, 2012 at 13:37

Life is Beautiful: The “Romantic” Tony Bennett Coming For Valentine’s Day

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Well, Valentine’s Day is less than one month away, and chances are some of you might be looking for the perfect accompaniment for that moment when you turn the lights down low, pour your favorite vino and share amorous thoughts with your better half.  If so, Concord Music Group has one such offering for your hi-fi.  Isn’t It Romantic? is a new 15-track offering due on February 7, drawing on Tony Bennett’s recordings for the Improv and Fantasy labels, originally released between 1975 and 1977.

Bennett founded Improv Records in 1975 with the determination of an industry veteran ready to make a statement of creative freedom.  He had concluded a long tenure at Columbia Records and a two-album deal for MGM when Improv was born, and although the label only released some ten albums in its short lifetime, its music resonated with the full power of what we now call The Great American Songbook.  A glance at some of the songwriters represented on Isn’t It Romantic? proves this: Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter.

More than one-third of the tracks originated on The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album, the first collaboration between Bennett and the jazz pianist, known for his sensitive work as a pioneer of the modal jazz style.  Bennett and Evans made for incredibly sympathetic partners, and their work together is mood music of the highest order.  Three tracks come from their 1977 follow-up, Together Again, recorded for Improv.

Though nothing is present from the freewheeling Tony Bennett/The McPartlands and Friends Make Magnificent Music, each one of Bennett’s other Improv albums is represented.  From the original Sings 10 Rodgers and Hart Songs comes three cuts including “Isn’t It Romantic?,” written by the team for the 1932 motion picture Love Me Tonight.  Its “sequel” (from the same 1973 recording sessions with the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet) Sings More Great Rodgers and Hart has yielded “My Romance,” from the 1935 musical Jumbo.  Finally, 1975’s Life is Beautiful has been culled for both its title track (gifted to Bennett by its songwriter, Fred Astaire!) and Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By,” introduced in the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome but immortalized on the silver screen in 1942’s Casablanca.

Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing and pre-order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 17, 2012 at 11:26

Every Saga Has a Beginning: “Star Wars” Score to Be Reissued

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As Star Wars fans count down to a theatrical reissue of the chronological beginning of the six-film series, new fans will get a chance to rediscover its musical merits, thanks to a new reissue from Sony Classical.

The year 1999 was a monumental year for fans of George Lucas’ Star Wars series. After years of discussions and planning, that May saw the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first of a new prequel trilogy that explained how Lucas’ mythological galaxy fell into the turmoil depicted in the classic Star Wars trilogy from 1977 to 1983.

The merits of the film, which centered on an intergalactic trade dispute and introduced a 10-year-old Anakin Skywalker – the boy who would become a powerful Jedi and, later, black-masked villain Darth Vader – were certainly up for debate. Critics and even some fans were put off by the juvenile antics, slow plotting and unusually out-of-place characters in the new film. But it was hard to debate the merits of a new Star Wars score by John Williams, who’d written the Oscar-winning music to the original Star Wars (1977) and the excellent scores to The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). For his first Star Wars score in 16 years, Williams led The London Symphony Orchestra in a stirring performance that reinterpreted classic themes from the original trilogy while drafting new ones, namely the epic “Duel of the Fates,” written for the climactic battle sequence toward the end of the movie.

In 1999, Sony Classical released a healthy, 74-minute soundtrack that featured various highlights of the film score. But in the actual picture, what was heard on the album was heavily edited and shifted throughout the film, a practice that would unfortunately become pro forma in the subsequent prequels in 2002 and 2005. This led to one of the biggest major-label soundtrack tempests in a teapot: the 2000 release of the double-disc “Ultimate Edition” of the Episode I soundtrack, which was roundly criticized by fans for presenting the strangely-edited score presentation instead of all the music recorded for the film sans edits.

The upcoming reissue of the soundtrack, due February 7 (in advance of the 3D reissue of the film , goes back to basics, offering the original soundtrack album with one bonus track from the Ultimate Edition – a version of “Duel of the Fates” with dialogue from the film mixed in. (This version was used in a promo music video for the soundtrack.)

There’s no domestic pre-order link yet (Amazon’s U.S. link lists it as an overly expensive import), but you can hit the jump to view the track list. (Editor’s note: if you’ve never seen The Phantom Menace, there are a few major spoilers in the track titles on the soundtrack.)

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 17, 2012 at 10:37

Release Round-Up: Week of January 17

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Frank Sinatra, The Concert Sinatra (Concord)

A remixed, remastered and expanded edition of Frank’s 1963 studio album (the title referred to the size of Nelson Riddle’s excellent orchestra).

Modern English, Mesh and Lace / After the Snow / Ricochet Days (4AD)

Newly-pressed reissues of the first three Modern English LPs, with bonus tracks. They’ve been out before, so you might already have them. But if you don’t, they’re here again.

Heaven 17, Play to Win: The Very Best of Heaven 17 / Hot Chocolate, You Sexy Thing: The Best of Hot Chocolate / UFO, Too Hot to Handle: The Very Best of UFO (Music Club Deluxe)

Some new double-disc budget compilations from Demon’s U.K. imprint.

Martina McBride, Hits and More (Sony Nashville/RCA)

The contemporary country star closes out her RCA contract with this hits collection featuring a handful of rare and new tracks.

Written by Mike Duquette

January 17, 2012 at 08:10