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Archive for June 7th, 2012

Review: Paul Simon, “Graceland: 25th Anniversary”

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When Paul Simon travelled to Graceland, he was aware of the mighty contradictions: “And I may be obliged to defend every love, every ending/Or maybe there’s no obligations now…”  Those days of miracle and wonder took place in 1986, and now some 25 years later, the restless artist is still defending Graceland.  The path to Graceland was a circuitous one, with stops in New York, Los Angeles, London, Louisiana and most crucially, Johannesburg.  Though the multi-platinum record picked up Grammy Awards, sold over 14 million copies and was almost universally hailed, Simon’s decision to ignore a United Nations-sanctioned cultural boycott in travelling to South Africa threw the entertainer into the eye of a political firestorm.  This story lends Legacy Recordings’ provocative new 2-CD/2-DVD box set of Graceland (88697 97715 2, 2012) a depth not usually found on such commemorative editions and one which can still inspire passionate discourse today.  It’s told in words, images, video, and of course, music.

For the classic album’s title metaphor, Paul Simon chose a place explicitly tied to the birth of rock and roll.  Not only is Graceland literally the place of Elvis Presley’s residence (“I am following the river down the highway/Through the cradle of the Civil War”) but in the song, it simply represents the state of grace the singer is trying to attain, the place where he “will be received.”  Over a track partially built in Johannesburg with the participation of South African musicians on drums, percussion, bass, pedal steel and guitar, Simon adopted a trans-cultural Sun Records shuffle, and even called in his old heroes The Everly Brothers on vocals.  Sure, Simon had been fascinated with sounds of other cultures as far back as the 1960s when teamed with Art Garfunkel.  He adapted the Peruvian melody of “El Condor Pasa,” then as a solo artist in the 1970s toured with South American group Urubamba.  In the same decade, he recorded reggae in Jamaica for “Mother and Child Reunion.”  But with Graceland, both the song and the album, Simon’s dictum that music is the universal language never before seemed so explicitly put into practice.

That original 11-track album, remastered in 2011, sounds as fresh as it did in 1986, with its big drum sounds the most prominent remnant of the decade of its birth.  The album combined Simon’s dazzling wordplay and ravenous musical curiosity with some of the most talented musicians to come out of South Africa: Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Vusi Kumalo on drums, Ray Phiri on guitar, The Boyoyo Boys, The Gaza Sisters, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Simon required authenticity to bring the enchanting, joyous sounds of South Africa to a mainstream American audience, and found it in these musicians who endured creating their indigenous mbaqanga music despite the oppression of apartheid in their home country.  The often sullen troubadour, producing with longtime engineer Roy Halee, created an album that’s as danceable as it is thought-provoking.  Who would have pegged Paul Simon to write an arena-friendly anthem like the quirky “You Can Call Me Al,” just one of many songs in which he introduces memorable characters with a strong dollop of autobiography?  The compositions on Graceland are all the more striking when one considers that the instrumental tracks were recorded and songs then written around these grooves; Simon’s penchant for transforming the mundane into the fantastic (through lyrics alternately abstract, impressionistic, observational and reflective) was never better utilized.  It’s also easy to make a case for Simon as a pioneer of “sampling,” as he made an art out of building new compositions around existing musical material, from “El Condor Pasa” through Graceland and beyond.

There’s plenty more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 7, 2012 at 12:52

Posted in Box Sets, News, Paul Simon, Reissues, Reviews

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Hooked On A Feeling (Again): B.J. Thomas “Complete Singles” Back On Schedule, Plus Germs Update

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Longtime readers of The Second Disc know that Real Gone Music is one of our favorite reissue labels.  And the level of dedication from the Real Gone team brings a silver lining to what would otherwise be an update as to a long-delayed title.  Back in February, the Real Goners announced the March 27 release of The Complete Scepter Singles of B.J. Thomas, the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Hooked on a Feeling” hitmaker.  March, of course, came and went, and as of June 6, this eagerly-anticipated title still hasn’t arrived.  But that’s all about to change!

On June 19, The Complete Scepter Singles will arrive in stores and even better than expected.  Here’s the story, straight from Real Gone’s email newsletter: “Shortly after we sent out the press release and started production, we discovered that, while stereo recordings for the album versions of B.J.’s singles were easily accessible, the tapes were missing for most of B.J.’s original mono singles. We then embarked on a worldwide search for those single tapes – worldwide because the Scepter label has had a lot of owners over the years, and sometimes the tapes have been left behind as ownership transferred. Well, we’re happy to say our work paid off – we found a good number of tapes stashed in various vaults over the globe, and the result is all but two of the 46 tracks come from tape, and the other two -including, for the first time ever on CD, the long stereo version of ‘Rock and Roll Lullaby’ – are seamless disc dubs made from mint copies [of the original singles].”

In short, June 19 will bring the first-ever anthology to include the Texas-raised singer’s original single mixes (38 mono, six stereo) including all nineteen of his chart hits.  In addition, the first 50 customers to order The Complete Scepter Singles from Real Gone will receive a booklet autographed by Thomas himself.   (Customers who previously ordered the title from the label will receive a booklet, as well).

But that’s not all.  Real Gone’s release of the self-titled album from The Germs has also received an “upgrade,” so to speak!  Hit the jump for details!

Real Gone enlisted Pat Smear, current Foo Fighters guitarist and former guitarist for The Germs, for the liner notes to its reissue of 1979’s Joan Jett-produced album (GI).  Smear clued the Real Gone crew into the existence of an unreleased track from the original album sessions engineered by Jett, “Caught in My Eye,” that had been withheld from release as a potential single. The Real Gone newsletter picks up the story: “We checked with the licensor, Rhino, and, sure enough, there were a lot of versions of that song in the vaults. So, we figured, one of those had to be the right version, right? So, we announced the inclusion of the bonus track, designed the art (and got some killer Jenny Lens photos to add to the package along with lyrics and liner notes), and were ready to roll when we got the bad news – all that was in the vault was the Chris D. remix of the song that had appeared on an earlier Germs compilation! Forehead…meet wall.  But then, right before we were about to scrap the art and announce to the world that we goofed, we got a call – Rhino had discovered a track on their tape logs that looked like it could be the one we were looking for. We had them send it over via email, and it sounded great to us, definitely different from the previous remix. But it still awaited the true test: Pat’s blessing. So we sent it over to him and sure enough, it’s the real deal!”

The Germs’ (GI) is in stores now, complete with “Caught in My Eye.”  It can be ordered here, while the June 19 release of B.J. Thomas’ The Complete Scepter Singles can be pre-ordered at this link or right here directly from Real Gone!

Written by Joe Marchese

June 7, 2012 at 09:45