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Archive for August 27th, 2012

Review: Taj Mahal, “The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal: 1969-1973”

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Perhaps Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr. just didn’t have the right ring to it?  Whatever the reason, the former Fredericks took the name of Taj Mahal after the palatial Indian mausoleum, and never looked back.  The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and all-around renaissance bluesman had his first solo tenure with Columbia Records, from 1968 to 1976, and most of that period is addressed on the new 2-CD anthology The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 (Columbia/Legacy 82876 82294 2, 2012). This set features two CDs of previously unreleased material, both live and in the studio. The first disc debuts studio recordings dating from 1969-1973, and the second disc premieres a full-length live concert, recorded April 18, 1970 at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London between the releases of Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home (1969) and Happy to Be Just Like I Am (1971). And plans are already afoot for further projects from Mahal’s entire Columbia Records catalogue.

Disc One of Hidden Treasures compiles unreleased songs and alternate takes from four distinct sessions, each with its own musicians.  These different bands bring out different qualities in Taj Mahal, the singer, and it’s a pleasure to hear, since his work as a vocalist is often overlooked in favor of his instrumental prowess.  His singing is obviously blues-derived, as Mahal is one of the most influential figures in establishing the ongoing relevance of traditional acoustic blues.  But he also takes in folk, country, gospel and world music influences, not to mention rock; after all, he played the Sunset Strip with Ry Cooder as a member of The Rising Sons in the heady, a-go-go days of the mid-sixties!  All of these influences are evident on the twelve tracks here.  That said, it’s easy to see why many of these rough performances didn’t see release initially, although that doesn’t diminish their value.  This disc may not be an ideal introduction to Taj Mahal’s artistry, but it’s a gift to those familiar with his deep history.

We dive in right after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 27, 2012 at 14:08

Posted in Compilations, Reviews, Taj Mahal

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Déjà Vu: Expanded Reissue of Dionne Warwick’s 1979 “Dionne,” Produced by Barry Manilow, Arrives on CD

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Dionne Warwick recently announced a new album, produced by Phil Ramone.  Entitled Now, the projected October release will reflect on a storied career that’s lasted 50 years.  But Warwick was in a very different place then, meaning in 1979.  The sophisticated soul singer was at a crossroads.  Her unprecedented string of pop and R&B hits written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David at Scepter Records were far in the rearview mirror.  Bacharach and David had bitterly split after just one album with Warwick at Warner Bros. Records, despite Warwick’s having been handsomely signed to the label expressly to the view of further collaborations with the duo.  One more dynamic success awaited with 1974’s “Then Came You,” unbelievably Warwick’s first-ever No. 1 Pop single, a duet with The Spinners produced by Thom Bell.  But other than that one single, Warwick’s studio career was commercially floundering.  Her expressive voice was as strong as ever, maybe even stronger than before, but producers including Jerry Ragovoy, Michael Omartian and Holland/Dozier/Holland had all been unable to rekindle the magic she had with her “triangle marriage.”  Enter Clive Davis and Barry Manilow.

That’s the story being told on Big Break Records’ new expanded and remastered reissue of Warwick’s 1979 Arista debut Dionne, arriving in U.K. stores on August 27 and in the U.S. one week later (CDBBR 0176).  Manilow was Arista’s golden child, having delivered to label president Clive Davis nine Top 10 hits including three that went straight to the top, not to mention a No. 1 album and many more charting singles.  Manilow and Davis also had a close friendship and intuitive sense of song selection.  Davis would often find a potential hit for Manilow, and the singer/songwriter would deftly rearrange it to his strengths as a vocalist.  Witness Manilow’s sublime reworkings of David Pomeranz’ “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again,” Randy Edelman’s “Weekend in New England,” and Ian Hunter’s “Ships,” just to name a few.  Davis knew that Manilow was the right man to reinvigorate Dionne Warwick’s career once she was signed to Arista.  The resulting album is one of the strongest entries in Warwick’s impressive catalogue, and also one of the most enduring albums produced by Manilow.

Barry Manilow’s love of soul and R&B has never been in doubt to those who know his discography, despite an image that might suggest otherwise.  He covered Martha and the Vandellas’ “My Baby Loves Me” on his second album, doffed his hat to “Dancing in the Streets” with his own “It’s a Miracle,” and even performed a Motor City medley in early concerts.  That love, combined with a kinship for the songwriting of Laura Nyro and the craft of the great musical theatre writers, led to the development of Manilow’s own trademark sound.  He applied all of that knowledge in producing Dionne, and he and Davis selected a nearly perfect 10-track line-up for the singer possessed of class, elegance and a sublime vocal restraint.  Manilow played piano, with the rhythm section also including bassist Will Lee, percussionist Alan Estes, keyboardist Bill Mays, drummer Rick Schlosser and guitarist Mitch Holder.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

August 27, 2012 at 10:08