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Archive for October 8th, 2012

Review: Steve Winwood, “Arc of a Diver: Deluxe Edition”

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Steve Winwood turned 32 in 1980, a grand old man by rock and roll standards.  He was already a veteran, having played with the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and perhaps most notably, Traffic, but a 1977 solo debut failed to yield significant commercial gains.  “I suppose I’ve always been a band leader, rather than a virtuoso like [Blind Faith bandmate] Eric Clapton,” Winwood once mused.  So it might have come as a shock to many when the inner virtuoso emerged on New Year’s Eve, 1980, with the second solo effort from the multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter: Arc of a Diver.  Almost 32 years later, Winwood has revisited this watershed album as a 2-CD deluxe edition from Universal Music, and it still holds up as a taut, vibrant song cycle rather than as a curio of the past.

Though Winwood had a considerable C.V. prior to the release of Arc, and would have subsequent hits like 1986’s Back in the High Life, it remains one of the most enduring albums in his catalogue. Winwood wrote every track on the album, either on his own or in collaboration with Will Jennings (“Looks Like We Made It,” “My Heart Will Go On”), Vivian Stanshall (The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band) or George Fleming. Winwood recorded Arc at his own home studios in Gloucestershire, England, joining an elite member of a group of one-man bands including Prince, Todd Rundgren and Jeff Lynne.  Winwood played acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, synthesizers, drums and percussion.  He produced and engineered the sessions himself, too, ending up with seven fairly sprawling tracks, all but one over five minutes in length.

The opening song, “While You See a Chance,” could have been Winwood’s credo.  A shimmering pop confection with a relentlessly upbeat and optimistic message expressed both musically and in Jennings’ lyrics, it’s also an affirmative statement from a survivor.  It implores all of us to seize that same strength of spirit, to refuse to give up even when the cards aren’t in your favor.  This central theme resonates throughout the album, and is complemented by “Arc of a Diver,” the title track co-written with Vivian Stanshall.  It’s ostensibly a love song, but its striking and unusual imagery also evokes a triumph over adversity.  Even elements of nature won’t stand in Winwood’s way:  “I play the piano, no more running honey/This time to the sky I’ll sing if clouds don’t hear me/To the sun I’ll cry and even if I’m blinded/I’ll try moon gazer because with you I’m stronger…”  Positivity also echoes on another beloved album cut, “Spanish Dancer.”  The central simile (“I can feel the beat/Like a Spanish dancer under my feet”) is repeated as Winwood blissfully recounts the effect music has on him.  Like “While You See a Chance,” “Spanish Dancer” has a universal sentiment.  It’s cannily set to a hypnotic melody embellished with light funk and Latin flourishes.

This being rock and roll, there’s an ode to a “Second Hand Woman,” set to another bright melody with a gleaming, then-contemporary arrangement.  The most overtly rocking track is the insistent “Night Train” with its locomotive metaphors, capturing the frenetic energy of a man who hasn’t slowed down, “looking for the break of day.”  On the other end of the spectrum is “Slowdown, Sundown,” a low-key ballad that could easily be translated to the country-and-western idiom (“Slowdown sundown, all I really need is time/For faded love songs and feelings in the wine/Let them take me down the line…”) and offers a reflective respite in the album sequence.  Yet both of those songs show a yearning for a personal peace.  The album closer “Dust” is another mature reflection on the passage of time in the framework of a love song: “With you, dawn never tasted so good/Swept up like debris on a Saturday night…Dust, the timeless memory of you, I love you.”

What sets this deluxe edition of Arc of a Diver apart from past issues?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 8, 2012 at 15:54

Posted in Reissues, Reviews, Steve Winwood

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Donald Fagen Gives “Cheap XMas” Gift with Career-Spanning Digital Compilation

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In preparation for Steely Dan singer Donald Fagen’s fourth solo album, Sunken Condos,   Reprise is releasing a compact digital compilation pairing the new album with the rest of Fagen’s solo discography.

Cheap XMas: Donald Fagen Complete is a digital box set featuring five discs worth of Fagen albums and non-LP material. The Nightfly (1982), Kamakiriad (1993) and Morph the Cat (2006), Fagen’s jazzy “Nightfly Trilogy,” will be included with the set, as well as the disc of non-LP material that appeared in Rhino’s Nightfly Trilogy CD/DVD box set, released in 2007 and long out of print.

The critically-acclaimed, Grammy-nominated The Nightfly was described by Fagen in the liner notes as “represent[ing] certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build.” It features a host of great session work from luminaries including Michael Brecker, Jeff Porcaro, Paul Shaffer, Rick Derringer, Greg Phillinganes and Michael Omartian, and the hit single “I.G.Y.”

Follow-up Kamakiriad, an eight-song cycle about an everyman’s trip in a futuristic car, was a major step in Fagen’s career, as it was produced by his Steely Dan partner Walter Becker. (It was the duo’s first collaboration since 1980; ultimately, the pair would reunite, releasing the Grammy-winning Two Against Nature in 2000.) Finally, the self-produced Morph the Cat was a self-produced rumination on aging and loss that closed Fagen’s trilogy, leading up to the considerably lighter Sunken Condos.

Cheap XMas hits digital retailers on October 16. Hit the jump to check out the track list.

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 8, 2012 at 14:10

Falling In Love Again: Kritzerland Revisits “The Blue Angel,” “Ranchipur” and “The Seven Cities of Gold”

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Though Hugo Friedhofer’s name isn’t among the most recognizable in the pantheon of film composers, Kritzerland is determined to change all that!  The 1947 Academy Award winner for The Best Years of Our Lives has been fêted by the label over the past couple of years with impressive restorations and reissues of his scores to One-Eyed Jacks, The Adventures of Casanova, The Barbarian and the Geisha and Violent Saturday, while Intrada has also gotten into the act with Two Flags West.  The versatile Golden Age composer is saluted today with a 2-CD set of 3 scores for the price of 1 CD!  (Got that?  Good.)  These scores from the 20th Century Fox vaults and show off Friedhofer’s impressive range: 1955’s The Rains of Ranchipur and Seven Cities of Gold, plus 1959’s remake of The Blue Angel.

The Rains of Ranchipur had previously been released in truncated form: about thirteen minutes of stereo cues.  Since that initial release, other sources have been revealed, making it possible to present virtually the entire score.  Though the “new” material is in mono, all that’s now missing is roughly seven minutes of cues that are thematically covered in other cues.  This restored presentation makes Disc One of this 2-CD set.  Seven Cities of Gold has been paired with The Blue Angel on the second disc.  Seven Cities had also been previously released, by Varese Sarabande, but our friend Mike Matessino has completely remixed the score for Kritzerland’s presentation, and has also uncovered two previously unreleased cues.  Friedhofer’s The Blue Angel, rounding out the package, has never before been released outside of the film itself, and all eighteen minutes of his score appear in full, including the interpolation of “Falling in Love Again” from the original 1930 Marlene Dietrich/Josef von Sternberg film.

Kritzerland’s limited edition of 1,000 copies is available now, along with the label’s world premiere soundtrack of the 2012 musical science-fiction homage The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, starring Creed Bratton (The Grass Roots, The Office), Kevin McCarthy (the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Paul Williams (who needs no introduction around these parts).  Both CDs are due to ship by the third week of November, though pre-orders from the label frequently arrive an average of four weeks early.  Hit the jump to read the complete press release for the Friedhofer trio!  You’ll also find the track listing and a pre-order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 8, 2012 at 12:00

The One and Only: Salvo Expands Kirsty MacColl’s Catalogue

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This week, Salvo Records takes a big step in getting people to stop saying they don’t know about the late, famed British singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl, by releasing new remastered and expanded editions of four of her albums.

The reissue campaign, titled Kirsty MacColl: The One and Only, happens in honor of what would have been MacColl’s 53rd birthday. Salvo has prepped double-disc expansions of her albums Kite (1989), Electric Landlady (1991) and Titanic Days (1993), as well as the first-ever CD release of debut LP Desperate Character (1981).

MacColl’s unique voice was first heard on her single for Stiff Records, the peppy “They Don’t Know.” Despite strong airplay, the single actually never charted on the U.K. charts, the victim of a distributor’s strike keeping the single from experiencing any major sales. (In 1983, a cover by singer/actress Tracey Ullman, featuring MacColl on backing vocals, was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. and the United States.) After leaving Stiff, Kirsty cut her debut LP, 1981’s Desperate Character, with the Top 20 hit “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.” Dropped by Polydor before she could release her follow-up album, MacColl signed to Stiff again, where she released singles including her biggest hit “A New England,” originally recorded by Billy Bragg (and featuring new verses written for her by Bragg).

But when Stiff went bankrupt in 1986, MacColl again found herself without a label. That didn’t stop her from working as a session vocalist, nor scoring another hit as featured vocalist on The Pogues’ holiday chestnut “Fairytale of New York.” Eventually, MacColl scored a new contract with Virgin, releasing the acclaimed albums Kite and Electric Landlady. Both records were produced by MacColl’s then-husband, Steve Lillywhite, and featured a host of British rock luminaries, including David Gilmour and Johnny Marr. (MacColl covered The Smiths’ “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby” in 1988, and Marr co-wrote and played guitar on several tracks of hers, including U.S. rock hit “Walking Down Madison.”)

After 1993’s Titanic Days, a one-off with ZTT Records, MacColl’s writing turned increasingly to world music, including Cuban and other Latin-flavored styles. Unfortunately, her new direction was cut short in 2000, when, while diving off of Cozumel, Mexico, she was struck and killed by an errant boat. Her memory lives on, whether through catalogue projects (a three-disc retrospective and expanded editions of her Virgin and ZTT albums were released by EMI in 2005) or radio airplay.

For the new reissues, Salvo has not only put the original release of Desperate Character in print and on compact disc for the first time, but commissioned two-disc editions of her next three albums. Each feature a host of non-LP B-sides, tracks that did not feature on the previous expansions and even some unreleased material (an Electric Landlady outtake, an alternate remix of “Angel” and a live set on the Titanic Days expansion).

The One and Only album reissues are the first step in a MacColl reissue campaign; in 2013, Salvo will release a new compilation and a 2010 live tribute concert featuring Bragg, Alison Moyet, Catherine Tate and others. Meanwhile, these new reissues are available in the U.K. today (and shipping soon as imports to the U.S.)! Hit the jump for full track breakdowns and Amazon links, as always.

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 8, 2012 at 11:25

7Ts Wakes Up in Love This Morning with David Cassidy Reissues; Beach Boys Among Guests

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David Cassidy sure is getting a lot of love on both sides of the Atlantic.

Almost simultaneously, reissue campaigns for the singer, actor and former teen idol were launched in the U.S. by Real Gone Music and in the U.K. by Cherry Red’s 7Ts imprint.  The former label has already reissued 1974’s Cassidy Live!, 1976’s Gettin’ It in the Street, and 1985’s Romance.  7Ts began its own campaign with a two-fer of Cherish and Rock Me Baby (both from 1972) and is continuing chronologically with four more studio albums on two CDs.  The Bell Records release Dreams Are Nuthin’ More Than Wishes (1973) has been paired with RCA debut The Higher They Climb, The Harder They Fall (1975), while Home is Where the Heart Is and Gettin’ It in the Street (both from 1976, on RCA) are combined on the second two-fer.  Perhaps surprisingly for those unfamiliar with Cassidy’s catalogue, all four albums are distinct experiences well worth revisiting, and there are plenty of songs and guest appearances from other notable musicians, including Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Ricky Fataar of the Beach Boys.

Dreams Are Nuthin’ More Than Wishes was produced by Harry Nilsson collaborator Rick Jarrard, who may have suggested that Cassidy record Nilsson’s “The Puppy Song,” originally written by Nilsson for Mary Hopkin’s Post Card album.  (His own rendition can be heard on the Harry LP.)  The choice paid off when “The Puppy Song” was one side of a double A-side single with Terry Dempsey’s “Daydreamer,” and the single went to No. 1 in the U.K.  Nilsson’s lyric also gave the album its title, and the LP reached the same lofty position as the single.  Yet neither the album nor single dented the U.S. charts.  No matter, though; Partridge-mania may have been subsiding, but Cassidy was determined to make the kind of music that wouldn’t render him a flash in the pan.

Dreams includes some off-the-beaten path covers.  In addition to the vaudevillian-styled “Puppy Song,” Cassidy included a refreshingly straight reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific anthem “Bali Ha’i,” a retro take on John Sebastian’s “Daydream” (not to be confused with “Daydreamer,” of course) and a funky R&B makeover for the Little Willie John/Peggy Lee-popularized “Fever.”  Of the less familiar material, “Daydreamer” was a strong, sweet ballad (with a slight melodic resemblance to Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You”).  Partridge Family stalwart songwriter Tony Romeo provided the likeable “Summer Days” (previously recorded by the Partridges) and “Sing Me,” and Cassidy himself penned a couple of tracks (the wistful “Can’t Go Home Again” and the soulful “Preyin’ on My Mind”) with an up-and-coming singer/songwriter who had accompanied him in concert, by the name of Kim Carnes!

1974 was a quiet year on the studio front for Cassidy, with just one single of two non-LP sides released in the U.K. (“If I Didn’t Care” b/w “Frozen Noses”) and the Cassidy Live LP, now available on Real Gone.  The year was also a tragic one when a teenaged fan of Cassidy’s died in a crush of fans at a London concert.  He retreated from the spotlight, returning in 1975 with a new RCA contract and an album co-produced with the Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston.

The Higher They Climb, The Harder They Fall showed an increasing maturity in Cassidy’s vocals and material.  He was surrounded by the Hollywood musical elite on both background vocals and in the band, including Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell of America, Carl Wilson and Ricky Fataar from the Beach Boys, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (a.k.a. Flo and Eddie), Ned Doheny, Lee Sklar, Jim Gordon, Neil Diamond associates Tom Hensley and King Errisson, and Danny Kortchmar, to name a few.  The centerpiece was Johnston’s own “I Write the Songs,” recorded before Barry Manilow’s version, and still the only “I Write the Songs” to have made the U.K. charts.  (It reached No. 11.)  Cassidy’s version offers a window into what a Beach Boys version might have sounded like, with Carl Wilson in particular offering some stunning vocals that give the song a very different character than Manilow’s well-known recording.  Again, the tracks were a blend of covers (The Beach Boys’ “Darlin’”, Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” a personalized revision of Harry Nilsson’s “This Could Be the Night”) and originals (Cassidy’s own, sprawling multi-part statement “When I’m a Rock N Roll Star,” sleek “Fix of Your Love” and gentle “Love in Bloom,” penned with Buffalo Springfield’s Richie Furay).

All these songs added up to a loose concept album about stardom and the transition from teen idol to adult performer.  Cassidy’s ever-confident vocals were enhanced by Johnston’s lush production and killer backing from L.A.’s crème de la crème.  Ned Doheny’s “Get It Up for Love” may have been banned by the BBC for its rather on-the-nose lyrics, but the song still managed No. 1 for South Africa, and is irresistible in Cassidy’s urgent recording.  There are some self-indulgent moments, for sure, such as the spoken-word interlude “Massacre at Park Bench.”  But if you’ve ever wondered what David Cassidy would sound like in Laurel Canyon circa 1975, here’s your answer.

Hit the jump for details on Home is Where the Heart Is/Gettin’ It in the Street, plus full track listings and order links for all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 8, 2012 at 10:14