The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for March 12th, 2012

Ring Them Bells: Liza Minnelli’s Triumphant “Live at the Winter Garden” Expanded For CD Premiere

with 2 comments

Liza Minnelli turns 66 today, and could rightfully relax, look back and celebrate over six decades in show business.  But the daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, who made her first onscreen appearance as a baby in 1949’s MGM extravaganza In the Good Old Summertime, has never been one to rest on her considerable laurels.  Minnelli is still touring, recording and doing what she does best: entertaining, whether on the big screen (Sex and the City 2), the small screen (Arrested Development) or onstage.  Masterworks Broadway will, on April 3, give the deluxe treatment to one of the few milestones in Minnelli’s career not previously revisited: Live at the Winter Garden.

In 1974, the multi-hyphenate talent was riding high, having taken home a Best Actress Academy Award for her incendiary performance as Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse’s film version of Cabaret, as well as an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Program – Variety and Popular Music for Liza with a “Z,” also helmed by the visionary Fosse.  So it was probably inevitable that Minnelli and Fosse would reteam in their natural habitat: onstage.

Liza Minnelli, just 27 years old and already a superstar, took the stage at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre (today the home of Mamma Mia!) on January 6, 1974 for a series of 24 sold-out concerts, setting a house record at the venerable theatre.  The concert itself, directed and co-choreographed by Fosse, was simply entitled Liza, and there was no doubt of the surname.  Columbia Records, to which Minnelli had recently been signed, was on hand to record the event.  It boasted special material by longtime friends John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) and musical coordination by another Academy Award winner, Marvin Hamlisch.  Columbia released the album in April when the shows were still fresh in fans’ minds, but the original LP was soon withdrawn due to legal wrangling with the rights holders to the Cabaret soundtrack, unhappy that Minnelli’s famous songs from the film were now available on a competing release.

Hit the jump for much more on this classic LP, including the complete track listing and links to order and hear samples! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 12, 2012 at 13:38

City In His Head: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Reissues Continue From Edsel

with 2 comments

Todd Rundgren’s tenure at Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records label took him from his days as a singer/songwriter/self-described Runt in 1970 through his cutting-edge avant garde experiments, both solo and with his band Utopia, culminating in 1985’s A Cappella, rejected by the label and eventually released on Warner Bros. instead.  The U.K.’s Edsel label has recently completed its catalogue overhaul for Rundgren, including the entirety of his tenures at Bearsville and Warner.  The most recent batch of titles has just recently hit stores, consisting of nine albums on four CD sets: Rundgren’s The Hermit of Mink Hollow/Healing/The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and Back to the Bars and Utopia’s Todd Rundgren’s Utopia/Another Live and Adventures in Utopia/Deface the Music/Swing to the Right.  Taken individually or a set, these albums represent some of the most restlessly creative, dynamic and just plain odd pop and rock created during the latter half of the 1970s and first half of the 1980s.

The earliest albums in this batch are Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (1974) and Another Live (1975), both recorded with the six-person “Utopia Mark II” line-up and combined as one 2-CD set.  (“Mark I” referred to a short-lived touring unit.)  Though Rundgren consented that he put his own name above the band’s for “obvious commercial reasons,” the music within its grooves was anything but commercial.  With Kevin Ellman (drums), Moogy Klingman (keyboards), Jean-Yves “M. Frog” Labat (synthesizers), Ralph Schuckett (keyboards) and John Siegler (bass/cello), Rundgren indulged his wildest sonic fantasies on Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.  With shifting tempi and a sound influenced as much by fusion jazz as by prog rock, TRU might be the place where the Mahavishnu Orchestra meets The Mothers of Invention.  Though its four individual tracks are lengthy (from 15 minutes to 30 minutes; only the four-minute “Freedom Fighters” is an exception), Rundgren explains in Paul Myers’ liner notes that there was very little jamming in the studio; these pieces were actually intricately structured, and created in the studio from individual segments.

“Freedom Fighters,” the album’s lone concession to song-oriented rock is a tough, metallic anthem, but the pop-ish backing vocals augur for Utopia’s future.  The likes of “Love is the Answer” would have to wait, though.  The album’s centerpiece is undoubtedly “The Ikon,” which took up the entirety of the original LP’s second side, clocking in at over one half-hour.  A prog mini-musical, the suite offers songs in miniature, with some catchy melodies featured over the prog workout as it builds to an intoxicating, swirling finale.  On the way, “The Ikon” is alternately childlike and futuristic, with even a bit of a country feel in one segment!  Clearly Rundgren wasn’t about to be boxed into one style, even with Utopia still more or less a “side project” to his solo career.  Another Live would show another dimension of the band.

Like TRU, Another Live featured collaborative songs written by band members in various combinations alongside Rundgren solo compositions.  Largely recorded in New York’s Central Park in August 1975, the album introduced a modified (but still not final) Utopia line-up, with Roger Powell replacing M. Frog, and Willie Wilcox replacing Kevin Ellman.  Soon, the band would transform into a tight four-piece unit, but for this concert, the six-man fusion group was augmented by trio of backing vocalists for an eclectic sequence of songs.  The first side of the original LP wouldn’t have shocked fans of the first album, with three long pieces.  “Another Life,” “The Wheel” and “The Seven Rays” weren’t exactly standard song forms, but nor were they 15-30 minute suites, either.  Rundgren anticipates a famed later song with the lyric “Sometimes you just don’t know what to feel” in the quiet, acoustic “The Wheel” while flourishes of trumpet and glockenspiel add a wholly new dimension to the Utopia sound.  This laconic track was extended with an audience sing-along.  “The Seven Rays” was on the rock/soul border, less structured than “The Wheel” with more room for instrumental improvisation.

A couple of well-chosen covers illustrate Rundgren’s restless muse.  “Something’s Coming,” the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim song from West Side Story, gets a true rock makeover, perhaps even something of which the forward-thinking Mr. Bernstein (who had dabbled in rock sounds himself in his concert piece Mass) would have approved.  Jeff Lynne is channeled on an energetic version of The Move (and later ELO)’s “Do Ya,” while Rundgren reprises the clattering “Heavy Metal Kids” and appropriately triumphant “Just One Victory.”

Hit the jump for more, including full track listings, discography and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 12, 2012 at 11:00