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Archive for July 12th, 2012

Review: B.J. Thomas, “The Complete Scepter Singles”

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What sweeter words are there to a catalogue music enthusiast than “Complete Singles”?  Thanks to the herculean efforts of the Real Gone Music team, three more artists now can boast of such a collection.  And while we’ll soon turn our attention to The Electric Prunes and Timi Yuro, today the spotlight is on a man for whom raindrops might keep falling…but nothing’s worrying him: B.J. Thomas.

Perhaps the most overdue of these sets is Real Gone’s delayed, but worth-the-wait collection of B.J. Thomas’ Complete Scepter Singles (RGM 0043, 2012).  Thomas is one of the most underrated vocalists in pop, as proven by these 46 sides originally released between 1964 and 1972.  Although exemplary compilations have emerged from the Rhino, Ace and Varese Vintage labels, Thomas’ output has never been released in the CD era with a view to completeness or historical perspective.  Real Gone’s set, then, accomplishes these feats, following the excellent series of original album reissues from the label’s predecessor, Collectors’ Choice Music.  The 46-track anthology is the first to offer A- and B-sides of every one of Thomas’ Scepter singles, including his 19 hits and a number of B-sides previously unreleased on CD. Thomas never lost the gentle Texas twang in his burnished baritone, and was remarkably versatile as he employed it on songs written by the crème of the crop, from Hank Williams to Burt Bacharach.

Oklahoma-born and Texas-raised, Billy Joe Thomas made a name for himself first as a member of The Triumphs and then under the tutelage of producer Huey P. Meaux.  Known as “the Crazy Cajun,” Meaux helped launch the careers of artists including Thomas, Ronnie Milsap, Doug Sahm and Johnny Winter.  When B.J. Thomas’ 1964 single of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” on the small Pacemaker label began to attract national attention, he turned it over to Florence Greenberg’s Scepter Records.  The golden age of Thomas’ recording career then began, with Greenberg and A&R man Steve Tyrell (also a Meaux alumnus) guiding the singer.   “I’m So Lonesome” kicks off the first disc of Real Gone’s 2-CD set, and it was an auspicious debut, finally hitting the U.S. Top Ten in 1966.  By the next year, Thomas would exclusively be a Scepter recording artist.  But the song was an anomaly, as most of his earliest singles came from the pen of Mark Charron.  A full ten sides, or nearly half of the first disc, are Charron compositions including the sincere ode to “Mama” (No. 22, 1966) and up-tempo, “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa”-recalling “I Don’t Have a Mind of My Own” from the same year. Thomas even returned to the Williams songbook with “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” which just cracked the Hot 100 in 1967.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

July 12, 2012 at 13:57

Posted in BJ Thomas, Compilations, Reissues, Reviews

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Hey, Mr. Producer: A Second Disc Interview! Talking Remastered, Remixed Edition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” with Bruce Kimmel

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Hats off, here it comes: the Kritzerland label is unveiling a new edition of the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies, but the Broadway babies and girls upstairs will likely have never sounded better.  Following similar releases for Promises, Promises and Sugar, Kritzerland has completely remixed and remastered Capitol Records’ 1971 Follies, affording listeners the opportunity to hear a Sondheim masterwork anew.  The label began accepting pre-orders last evening at midnight for the limited edition of 1,500, so those interested shouldn’t delay.  It’s priced at $19.98 and scheduled to ship the last week in August, but those familiar with the label know that they can expect it even earlier.

Though The New York Times’ Clive Barnes initially dismissed Sondheim’s score as “the kind of the musical that should have its original cast album out on 78s,” it’s since been appreciated as one of the great composer/lyricist’s triumphs.  Barnes failed to see that it was a musical unlike any other.  In this phantasmagorical mélange, past met present, reality met illusion, and audiences were asked to confront their own follies via mirrors metaphorical and literal.  Even the title was weighted with multiple meanings, never better reflected than in David Edward Byrd’s poster art, with the visage of a beautiful Follies girl, irrevocably shattered.  Follies revolves around the reunion of the Weismann Girls (think the Ziegfeld Girls) at a theatre set for demolition.  Almost immediately, secrets are revealed and relationships forever altered.

The production, co-directed by Harold Prince and choreographer Michael Bennett, both coming off Sondheim’s Company (1970), is still spoken of as one of the grandest spectacles in Broadway history, not just for Boris Aronson’s luscious set and Florence Klotz’s period-perfect costumes, but for the haunting performances of its four leads: Alexis Smith (Phyllis), Gene Nelson (Buddy), Dorothy Collins (Sally) and John McMartin (Ben) and a stellar supporting cast including Yvonne DeCarlo (Carlotta), Ethel Shutta (Hattie) and Mary McCarty (Stella).  When producer Prince took Follies to Capitol Records, it was a shocking move, especially considering the remarkable recording of Company produced by Columbia’s Thomas Z. Shepard just one season earlier, and the longtime patronage of Sondheim by Columbia President Goddard Lieberson.  Capitol sealed Follies’ fate when the label elected to record Sondheim’s sprawling and ambitious score (fusing classic Broadway pastiche with a contemporary sensibility) on one LP rather than the double-album it would have taken to preserve the entire score.  Internal cuts were made to some songs, and cut others entirely, for the album produced by Dick Jones.  One song, “One More Kiss,” was later reinstated on CD, but the other missing material simply wasn’t recorded in the first place.

As a result, the original cast recording of Follies has caused, in reissue producer Bruce Kimmel’s words, “a love/hate relationship for fans of the show…but what it did have made it something that, despite the frustrations, meant it would never be bettered – the original cast.”  Thanks to Kritzerland’s new reissue, those new to Follies can hear that unassailable cast of veterans, while those who have savored the album in the past might be able to gain some new perspective on it.  We were lucky enough to speak with Kimmel just hours before he made the announcement about his new Follies, and he was generous with insights and fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits.  Hit the jump for the full interview! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 12, 2012 at 10:00