The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for August 2nd, 2012

Review: “Follies: Original 1971 Broadway Cast Recording” (Remixed and Remastered Edition)

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Though the former showgirls and stage-door Johnnies of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies reunited in the 1971 musical for “one last look at where it all began,” it’s been rather difficult for those under the musical’s spell to take one last look (or listen, as it were) at the original production of Follies.  Those who saw it routinely recall it as the grandest of all musicals; those who didn’t have had to make do with still photographs, grainy YouTube footage, talk show appearances, copious volumes of reviews and recollections, and of course, its Original Broadway Cast Recording.  But, to steal from a previous Sondheim musical, we’ve always been sorry/grateful for Capitol’s Follies.

While it preserved a flawless cast led by Alexis Smith (Phyllis Rogers Stone), John McMartin (Ben Stone), Gene Nelson (Buddy Plummer) and Dorothy Collins (Sally Durant Plummer), the record produced by Dick Jones was severely truncated.  Some songs were subject to internal cuts; others were excised entirely.  It was also marred by a less-than-ideal mix.  Vocals were hard-panned to the left or right, sounding altogether distant.  Even the full orchestra playing Jonathan Tunick’s rich and wildly varied arrangements sounded, well, uneven.  After 41 years, though, it’s as if a layer of gauze has been removed from Follies thanks to a limited edition reissue on the Kritzerland label (KR 20023-3).  No further material was available to add to the new CD; the songs were, alas, shortened or edited prior to the recording sessions.  But producer Bruce Kimmel, remix engineer John Adams and mastering engineer James Nelson have given new life to an old favorite, continuing the story of this most singular of musicals.

Follies has always been the ultimate tribute to, and deconstruction of, the Broadway musical.  It’s a celebration as well as a eulogy, if you will.  Its songs unfold the lives of these two couples, surrounded by old friends, who reunite on the eve of demolition of the Weismann Theatre.  They discover that the site is populated not only by old friends, but by specters of the past.  In one uninterrupted evening, fractured relationships are matched only by fractured reality, and the literal setting yields to a dreamscape both nightmarish and thrilling in which the characters’ many follies are explored.

From the very first notes of Sondheim’s overture/prologue (one of the musical sequences sadly edited down for the recording session), it was clear that the composer and his collaborators (including co-directors Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, also the choreographer) had something unusual in mind.  Follies is a ghost story, and the Prologue’s opening drum roll doesn’t lead to a brassy medley of the score’s songs, but rather to the melody of “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” a fragile, macabre and slow waltz.  It’s grand, all right, but far from triumphant.  Although the ghosts that populated the stage of Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre (standing in for the fictional Weismann house) can’t be seen on an audio recording, they can certainly be felt.  Audiences might have been expecting a parade of glamorous personalities and lavish costumes in a show entitled Follies, and indeed, that parade came.  But when it did, it exposed the flaws, shortcomings and regrets of the principal players, and in turn, of the audience.  The title is loaded with multiple meanings, and even the characters’ troubled marriages carry metaphorical heft.  The many colors of the fantasia that is Follies all have never sounded better, or more shattering, than they do on this revitalized recording.   The remarkable upgrade from all previous editions is audible in the nuance and newfound clarity of the orchestra, from the prologue onward.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

August 2, 2012 at 13:13

United Together: Aretha Franklin, Cheryl Lynn Among Latest From BBR

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Without a doubt, Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label has been one of the most hospitable to the legendary divas of soul, and two recent releases just further underline that fact.  Having previously reissued deluxe editions of Aretha Franklin’s 1982’s Jump to It and 1983’s Get It Right, both produced by Luther Vandross, the label has turned the clock backward to 1980 for the Queen’s Arista Records debut, simply titled Aretha.  It’s recently been joined by Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 Columbia LP Instant Love, produced by…wait a second…Luther Vandross!

Aretha Franklin greeted the 1980s with open arms, reinvigorated by a new deal with the Arista label.  Under the direction of Clive Davis, the label had already given a shot in the arm to the recording career of another legendary singer, Dionne Warwick.  Like Dionne’s time at Warner Bros. Records, the final years of Aretha’s Atlantic Records contract had been less than fulfilling, artistically and commercially.  Dionne’s 1979 Arista debut (also coming soon from Big Break!) earned the singer two Grammy Awards and even a new signature song (“I’ll Never Love This Way Again”).  Could Arista work the same magic on Franklin?

Whereas Barry Manilow took the producer’s chair for the Dionne album, Aretha split the duties between two talents.  The LP reunited the singer with longtime Atlantic arranger Arif Mardin (with whom she had some of her greatest triumphs) and another accomplished producer and songwriter, Chuck Jackson (not the “Any Day Now” singer).  The Sweet Inspirations, who lent their background vocal prowess to Aretha’s 1960s classics, also were on deck.  The cover photo of a relaxed Franklin reflected the music within, from an artist utterly in control of a vocal instrument still in its prime.  The eclectic line-up of songs was designed to show all sides of the artist.  Mardin oversaw two cover versions with the most overtly modern sounds on the album: a driving, funky reworking of Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose” and a glossy treatment of The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” a No. 1 hit just one year earlier for the band.  Though including the song’s signature riff, Franklin reinvented the vocals with stunning new harmonies.  Mardin was also at the helm of the opening song, the inviting, mid-tempo “Come to Me,” with its intertwined piano part from David Foster and David Paich.

Chuck Jackson produced the most successful single from the album, the anthemic “United Together,” which rose to the R&B Top 5 and remains one of the most potent items in Franklin’s considerable catalogue today.  He also was behind the sweet Philly groove (just dig those flutes and horns!) of the playful “Take Me with You,” and the earnest “Together Again.”  On the latter, Franklin could have been singing about herself and her bond with an audience that never left her, even in fallow days: “Well, here we are, after so many years, together again!  Yes, we’re together again!”

Though Aretha only reached No. 47 on the Billboard 200 (but a strong No. 6 on the R&B chart), it’s one of the most timeless entries in her latter-day catalogue.  It eased her into the new terrain of the 1980s while still appealing to her core style of classic R&B and soul.  Mardin returned for 1981’s Love All the Hurt Away before Franklin disciple Vandross was brought in to bring the singer in a more contemporary urban direction.  Big Break’s new edition includes four bonus tracks: 12-inch mixes of “What a Fool Believes” and “Can’t Turn You Loose,” and single versions of “Fool” and “United Together.”  Christian John Wikane’s strong essay includes great reminisces from none other than Clive Davis as well as the late Arif Mardin’s son Joe.

After the jump: the scoop on Cheryl Lynn’s Instant Love, track listings with discography and order links for both releases, and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 2, 2012 at 10:12