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Archive for November 2012

A Very (Television) Special Christmas: Legendary Brings Como, Burnett, “Sesame Street” to CD and DVD

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Carol Burnett ChristmasHoliday specials have long been a television tradition, from the beloved (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas) to the programs their creators would rather forget (The Star Wars Holiday Special).  Legendary Entertainment Alliance has recently drawn on the archives of producer Bob Banner for three new releases, each available as a DVD, a CD soundtrack and a CD/DVD combo pack.  Christmas with Carol Burnett reaches back to the earliest tube appearances of the famed comedienne, presenting three episodes of The Garry Moore Show for the first time on home video.  Christmas Around the World with Perry Como is a two-hour special (previously available on VHS) drawing on the relaxed crooner’s annual Christmas specials as recorded in various locales.  And last but not least is A Special Sesame Street Christmas, one of the only Sesame Street programs to be produced without the participation of Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and one of the oddest instances of Muppet-related arcana.  All three releases feature guest stars galore and are throwbacks to the nearly-gone days of Christmas variety programming.

The Garry Moore Show launched the television career of the young Carol Burnett, star of Broadway’s Once Upon a MattressA Carol Burnett Christmas includes three episodes from the 1958-1964 iteration of the CBS program.  Burnett was a regular from 1959 to 1962, and the selected holiday episodes date from 1959, 1960 and 1961.  (The 1961 episode has, alas, been edited from its broadcast length.)  In addition to Moore and Burnett, you’ll see performances from Jonathan Winters, Durward Kirby, Cliff Arquette as Charley Weaver, gospel great Mahalia Jackson, Broadway’s legendary Gwen Verdon, comedienne Marion Lorne (Bewitched’s beloved Aunt Clara) and Burnett’s pal and future TV co-headliner Julie Andrews.  Fans of The Sound of Music (and who isn’t?) should delight in Andrews’ performance of the musical’s “My Favorite Things” long before she was cast as Maria Von Trapp in the film version.  The 1959 episode also features Candid Camera interludes from Allen Funt.  Special features include a music-only mode and an image gallery of Christmas cards based on the episode stills of Burnett.

Christmas Around the World with PerryIn a similar vein is Legendary’s Christmas Around the World with Perry Como.  A Como tradition was an annual Christmas special from a different locale, including Mexico, Austria, Paris, New York, London, Hawaii and San Antonio.  Vignettes from sixteen of Perry’s holiday specials were recut into one two-hour program by producer Bob Banner, and this compilation was previously released on VHS from Reader’s Digest.  Now the two-hour special arrives on DVD (with musical highlights on CD).  Among the guest stars joining the laconic crooner are John Wayne, Debby Boone, the Vienna Boys Choir, Angie Dickinson, Richard Chamberlain, Sid Caesar, Toni Tennille, Vikki Carr and Dorothy Hamill.  Songs include Como classics like “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas” and “Home for the Holidays.”  Special features include a music-only mode and a “Perry-oke” mode “where the whole family can croon karaoke-style with Mr. Christmas himself.”  This makes a fine companion to Real Gone’s recently-reissued Complete RCA Christmas Collection collecting all of the late crooner’s classic Christmas recordings for his longtime label.

After the jump: the story of A Special Sesame Street Christmas, plus track listings and order links for all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 30, 2012 at 10:54

Review: Jackie DeShannon, “Keep Me in Mind: The Complete Imperial and Liberty Singles Volume 3”

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All good things must come to an end, and alas, that’s the case with the third volume of Jackie DeShannon’s Complete Imperial and Liberty Singles chronicling the decade-long output of the trailblazing songwriter and generation-defining singer.  DeShannon captured the spirit of her era with “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” the latter of which finally appears on Volume Three, entitled Keep Me in Mind (Ace CDCHD 1350).  But as anyone who’s picked up the first two volumes knows, DeShannon’s catalogue is a deep and varied one, taking in her own compositions, some co-written with the likes of Randy Newman and Jack Nitzsche, plus many from her contemporaries, and even golden-age standards.  Volume One of the series has the jangly folk-rock of “Needles and Pins” and “When You Walk in the Room,” and Volume Two boasts those impeccable, sophisticated Burt Bacharach productions.  But Volume Three picks up in 1967, with DeShannon reinventing herself in the face of a music industry that was, by that point, changing faster than ever.  As such, this may be the most experimental and eclectic of the three collections.

“Changing My Mind,” one of those songs that could only have come from 1967, kicks off the collection with verve.  A loopy little ditty with an inventive, part-sunshine pop, part-vaudeville orchestration, it might have been too offbeat for mainstream radio but is nonetheless a delicious way to start off the compilation.  Its flipside characterizes the different avenues DeShannon was pursuing:  a perfectly pleasant revival of Tommy Edwards’ hit “It’s All in the Game.”  But her very next Liberty single teamed DeShannon with old friend Jack Nitzsche as producer/arranger: their own “I Keep Wanting You” and Bonner and Gordon’s much-recorded “Me About You.”  The A-side favorably compares with Jimmy Webb’s work of the time, with a resplendent horn break, backed by a female chorus.  It manages to be both dramatic and breezy.  DeShannon, with her smoky and sensual tone, caresses the tricky vocal line of “Me About You” with ease and grace, while Nitzsche supports her with an orchestration that’s lighter than air.

Similarly sympathetic arrangements came from Nick DeCaro, including the soulful “Nobody’s Home to Go Home To,” another slice of sophisti-pop from Toni Wine and Carole Bayer (later Sager).  But a more rootsy style of pop-rock was taking hold, including the rise of the singer/songwriter that would achieve full blossom within just a few years with albums like Carole King’s Tapestry and Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon.  But the trend-setting Jackie actually arrived in Laurel Canyon first, at least on evidence of the 1968 single and album of the same name, produced by Charles Greene and Brian Stone.  Jackie reflects on this very special time in Peter Lerner, Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce’s exemplary liner notes: “I wasn’t living in Laurel Canyon; I was like the next street over, just down the block.  It was a very special time and place…The muse was there.  There were so many writers and artists living in the area.  You just listened, and out the songs came.”  The song “Laurel Canyon” is a raw, impassioned blend of blue-eyed soul and folk-rock that showed DeShannon’s unwillingness to be pigeonholed as just one kind of vocalist.  It was backed with the sensitive, downbeat “Holly Would,” like “Laurel Canyon” written entirely by Jackie and arranged by New Orleans’ Harold Battiste.  The restless vocalist even teamed with soul man Bobby Womack for a subsequent single, “Trust Me” b/w “What is This.”  DeShannon was clearly inspired by all of the musical possibilities around her, effortlessly navigating Womack’s gritty R&B stylings.

Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 29, 2012 at 10:02

In Case You Missed It: Universal U.K. Unearths Two Rainbow Deluxe Albums

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Looking for that perfect gift for a Ronnie James Dio fan this holiday season? If that Dio singles box isn’t up your alley, there’s always more deluxe editions of the Rainbow catalogue from Universal’s U.K. arm, released earlier this month. A complement to expanded presentations of Rainbow’s Rising and Down to Earth released back in 2010, Universal has now expanded 1977’s On Stage and 1978’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll as two-disc sets.

Recorded live in Germany and Japan over several tour dates in late 1976, On Stage was Rainbow’s third release, and the second to feature the revamped lineup introduced on sophomore album Rising. Erstwhile Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and vocalist Ronnie James Dio were the only holdovers from their 1974 debut, with keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Cozy Powell filling the rest of the outfit. The four-sided On Stage was, in retrospect, not an ideal representation of Rainbow’s live show, being presented out of sequence and edited for time, but fans were enthusiastic, taking it to the Top 10 of the U.K. charts. The set, which featured the debut of “Kill the King,” a standout track on the band’s next album, has been expanded with a full version of the last stop on the Rising tour in Tokyo on December 16, 1976. (The package itself lists the show from Osaka; Deep Purple fan site Darker Than Blue reports the discrepancy as well as replication between the original album presentation and the bonus disc – “Greensleeves” and the “Blues” section of the “Man on the Silver Mountain” medley, namely.)

Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll would see more personnel change – namely, Carey and Bain were replaced by David Stone and future Ozzy Osbourne drummer Bob Daisley. It, too, was another U.K. Top 10, but it would be the last of the hard-rockin’ Rainbow LPs, with Blackmore moving the band into a more commercial niche and Dio taking over for Ozzy as the frontman for Black Sabbath. Extra material on the deluxe Long Live include nine rough mixes and rehearsal takes and five live performances from Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert in 1978 – two of which were unaired rehearsal performances!

Both sets are available now from Amazon U.K. (On Stage Long Live) and Amazon U.S. (On Stage Long Live); full specs are after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

November 28, 2012 at 16:28

Holiday Gift Guide Reviews: Legacy’s “Classic Christmas Album” Series from Manilow, Vandross, Presley, Nelson, Denver, Kenny G

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If you’re a resident of the storm-ravaged East Coast, you might have recently found yourself singing, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute! “  I know I have.  As happens every year around this same time, holiday albums have already begun to fill the shelves, with new albums arriving from artists old and new as well as reissues from Christmases past.  In 2011, Legacy Recordings issued The Classic Christmas Album for Tony Bennett, combining tracks from Bennett’s three holiday-themed albums with rare offerings and one-offs.   This year, the Classic Christmas Album series has expanded to include offerings from five diverse artists, building on the template established by the Bennett set.  Elvis Presley, John Denver, Barry Manilow, Willie Nelson and Kenny G all have made their mark in Christmas music, and these new (and very reasonably priced) compilations make an enjoyable place to start with each of their holiday-themed catalogues.  And two of the titles are even more of a treat, as the Willie Nelson and Luther Vandross sets are actually resequenced and expanded editions of the artists’ seminal Christmas LPs.

It’s simply impossible to go wrong when you combine one of the great voices of our time with some of the greatest songs of our time.  Hence, you can’t go wrong with Luther VandrossClassic Christmas Album (Epic/Legacy 88691 96832 2).  His entire 1995 album This is Christmas is the centerpiece of this release, and its ten tracks have been supplemented by some very well-chosen bonuses.  Producers Leo Sacks and Jeff James have added Vandross’ Quincy Jones-produced take on “The Christmas Song” from 1992’s A Very Special Christmas, the original Cotillion recordings of “May Christmas Bring You Happiness” and “At Christmas Time” from 1976, and one previously unreleased track: Vandross and Chaka Khan’s duet of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from the 1998 Soul Train Christmas Starfest.

This is Christmas, produced by Vandross with contributions from longtime collaborators Nat Adderley Jr. and Marcus Miller, offered ten tracks of slick soul, with Vandross’ impassioned vocals set to gleaming and modern arrangements.  The unmistakable Vandross pipes are most resonant on the classic songs: Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with its melancholy undercurrent, or Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s evocative “My Favorite Things.”  These timeless songs have aged better than, say, “The Mistletoe Jam,” with the singer seductively intoning, “Girl, get over here and come under this mistletoe with me!” and the chorus imploring, “Everybody kiss somebody!”  Vandross veers a bit close to parody on that up-tempo, pop-soul confection, but he’s more successful when applying his velvet tones to his other originals like the big ballad “With a Christmas Heart” or the fun, Motown-styled “I Listen to the Bells” with the brassy Darlene Love and the equally legendary Cissy Houston (who is audible on a number of the album’s tracks).  You’ll also savor the unmistakable tenor sax of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons on “Bells.”  Vandross is reverent on a stately, martial “O Come All Ye Faithful,” the most atypical track on This is Christmas.

The “bonus tracks” are all strong additions.  Vandross and Chaka Khan are both emotive on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the two Cotillion songs (originally credited to Vandross’ group Luther) are both real gems.  “May Christmas Bring You Happiness” is a big, funky, R&B production while “At Christmas Time” is a sweet, traditional soul ballad arranged by Motown stalwart Paul Riser.

After the jump: take a sleigh ride with Willie Nelson, Barry Manilow, Kenny G, John Denver and The King! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 28, 2012 at 13:05

Reviews: Bunny Sigler and Billy Paul’s Philadelphia International Classics from BBR

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When Philadelphia International Records turned 40 this past year, there was no single campaign to recognize the milestone.  In the U.S., Legacy Recordings offered up the sizzling rare concert Golden Gate Groove, and the U.K.’s Harmless label delivered the most comprehensive box set to date of the label’s music.  But a great deal of the heavy lifting has come from another U.K. label, Big Break Records.  The BBR team has delivered a selection of generously expanded, beautifully designed album reissues from the PIR back catalogue including two recent releases: Bunny Sigler’s 1974 label debut That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You (the first of three PIR albums released by Sigler before he decamped for New York’s Salsoul Records) and Billy Paul’s 1973 War of the Gods, his fifth solo album and third for PIR.

Though he supplied many memorable songs for the Gamble and Huff roster (including “Drowning in a Sea of Love” and “Sunshine”), Walter “Bunny” Sigler had long had his sights on stardom as a singer.   Once billed as “Mr. Emotion” for his impassioned vocal quality, Sigler first teamed up with Leon Huff at Cameo-Parkway in 1967, and scored a Top 25 Pop hit with “Let the Good Times Roll/Feel So Good” as produced by Huff with John Madara and David White.  Sigler followed Huff, now with Kenny Gamble, to their Neptune label and finally to PIR.  Following some one-off singles, Bunny got the okay for his first PIR long-player: That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You.  This lost gem of an album has been rediscovered by Big Break for an expanded reissue, and it’s as perfect an example of the Philly Sound as any.

The album’s opening salvo implores that “Things Are Gonna Get Better.”  The lyric is directed at a lover, yes, but it’s also imbued with an optimism that spoke on a much broader level.  Social responsibility was always a key theme in Gamble and Huff’s ouevre, and it’s not hard to believe that co-writers Sigler, Allan Felder and Ron Kersey all believed that things were going to get better for every man.  The sentiment of the lyric was supported by Norman Harris’ sympathetic orchestration, which from its very first notes identified the song’s origins in the City of Brotherly Love: those jazzy horns!  Those dramatic strings!  That beat!  It’s funky yet elegant.   Though Sigler’s voice lacked the resonance of a Lou Rawls or a Teddy Pendergrass, his passion shines through in every track, including the title song.  The big ballad “That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You” retained some intimacy largely due to Sigler’s vocals, and the song surely turned the ladies’ heads in Bunny’s direction.  As would have “Somebody Free,” a sultry ode to a lady who makes our Bunny “walk a different walk, talk a different talk.”  This harmony-packed track, complete with a spoken rap from the singer, could be a lost vocal group gem.

The rest of the album (produced by the artist) is varied, perhaps too varied to have established Sigler as a formidable artist in his own right.   It’s no less enjoyable, however.  A disco workout on “I Lied,” with Sigler’s emotive, whooping, over-the-top vocals foreshadows Sigler’s later, commercially successful work at Salsoul.  It’s back to romance with the sweet doo-wop of “Picture Us,” first recorded by The Cruisers on the pre-PIR Gamble label.   Then Sigler detours to somewhere else entirely (Mexico?) with the lighthearted, atypical “Marianne.”  Its mariachi brass, marimba sound  and freewheeling lyric (“I would try to turn the moon to cheese/If I thought it would keep you pleased”) make it one of the most offbeat and fun items in the PIR catalogue.  “My Other Love” is as dark as “Marianne” is light.  Richard Rome’s textured arrangement can nearly hold its own with Thom Bell’s most dramatic work.  Ronnie Baker handled the arranging honors on “Your Love is Good,” a real swinger on which he’s prominently joined by the cooing female background vocalists (the Sweethearts of Sigma?).

There’s more on Bunny and Billy right after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 28, 2012 at 10:05

Posted in Billy Paul, Bunny Sigler, News, Reissues, Reviews

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Pancho and Lefty, Redux: Unheard Townes Van Zandt Coming from Omnivore

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Though his 1972 album was entitled The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, that description wasn’t quite true until New Year’s Day, 1997, when a life of hard living caught up with the 52-year old singer, songwriter, poet and musician.  But Texas native Van Zandt left behind a rich legacy in music consisting of ten studio albums plus singles and live recordings.  The country-blues-folk-rock hero also left behind some unheard material, however, and the musical archaeologists at Omnivore Recordings have unearthed quite the treasure trove!  The 2-CD, 28-track collection Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos 1971-1972 consists entirely of previously unreleased music from Van Zandt’s classic albums High, Low & In Between and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.  Both albums were originally released in 1972 on the Poppy label. The first disc of the new set features outtakes and alternate takes/mixes of tracks from the sessions for those LPs; the other presents his solo demos.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, John Townes Van Zandt first appeared on the Texas club scene in the mid-1960s which offered him to the opportunity to meet like-minded musicians including Doc Watson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mickey Newbury as well as one of his inspirations, Texan bluesman Lightning Hopkins.  But it was Newbury who encouraged Van Zandt and brokered an introduction to renowned producer Jack Clement.  The man who had written hits for Johnny Cash and discovered Jerry Lee Lewis took the helm of Van Zandt’s earliest albums on which his own songwriting style (influenced by songwriters ranging from Hank Williams, Sr. to Bob Dylan) blossomed.

What will you find on the new compilation?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 27, 2012 at 12:22

Hear His Train A Comin’: Jimi Hendrix’s “People, Hell & Angels” Coming in March

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Lucky for his legions of fans, Jimi Hendrix was a restless experimenter, committing to tape hours and hours of original music beyond the three studio albums released in his too-short lifetime.  Posthumous albums of the songwriter/singer/guitar legend’s unheard material have been released as far back as Reprise/Track’s 1971 The Cry of Love, and as recently as Experience Hendrix and Legacy Recordings’ 2010 Valleys of Neptune.  The latest addition to the Hendrix discography will arrive on March 5 from Experience Hendrix and Legacy.  Entitled People, Hell & Angels, it concentrates on Hendrix’s recordings outside of the Experience trio line-up and premieres twelve recordings from Hendrix and an array of collaborators including Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell, Larry Lee, Lonnie Youngblood, and another legendary guitarist, Stephen Stills.

The tracks selected for People, Hell & Angels show Hendrix proclaiming his freedom from the expected, utilizing horns, keyboards, percussion and second guitar.  Produced by Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott from a title coined by Jimi Hendrix, its dozen songs include “Earth Blues,” “Somewhere,” “Hear My Train A Comin’,” “Bleeding Heart,” “Baby Let Me Move You,” “Izabella,” “Easy Blues,” “Crash Landing,” “Inside Out,” “Hey Gypsy Boy,” “Mojo Man” and “Villanova Junction Blues.”  While he was recording the music featured on People, Hell & Angels at New York facilities including the Record Plant and the Hit Factory, Hendrix was building his own Electric Lady Studios where he planned to continue his various musical explorations, as always, on his own terms.  Like many previous Experience Hendrix issues, People, Hell & Angels rescues some original recordings which have only previously seen release in posthumously overdubbed versions overseen in the LP era by producer Alan Douglas.

Janie L. Hendrix, President/CEO of Experience Hendrix LLC, has commented of the upcoming release, “We’re thrilled to be able to release People, Hell & Angels during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of my brother’s birth. The brilliance of the album serves to underscore what we’ve known all along: that there has never been and never will be a musical force equal to his and that we cherish and take inspiration of what he left us both now and for many generations to come…simply eternity.”   Legacy President Adam Block continued, “People, Hell & Angels provides us with further insight into the genius of Jimi Hendrix.  Working with new rhythm sections and instrumentation, Jimi Hendrix was opening up the horizons of his music, creating new sounds filled with endless possibilities.”

Interested in those sounds?  Hit the jump for a track-by-track guide to the new recordings, as presented in the press release for this exciting new title!  There are plenty of surprises, even where familiar titles are concerned! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 27, 2012 at 10:01

Release Round-Up: Week of November 27

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Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine XX (Epic/Legacy)

Take the power back! The rock icons’ debut LP is greatly expanded with rare and unreleased audiovisual material. Available as a 2CD/2DVD/1LP box set (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.), a 2CD set with highlights DVD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.), a single-disc remaster with live B-sides (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.) and vinyl reissue (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.).

Various Artists, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (Elektra/Rhino)

The original, influential compilation comes back to CD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.) and vinyl (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.) with new liner notes.

T. Rex, The Slider: 40th Anniversary Edition (Edsel)

A most beloved classic of the glam genre is given the red-carpet CD/DVD/vinyl/book/swag treatment from Demon Music Group! (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)

St. Etienne, Casino Classics: Deluxe Edition (Universal U.K.)

This 1996 remix double-album from the indie-dance geniuses is now expanded to four discs. (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.) (A new two-disc remaster is also available as well – Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)

The House of Love, The House of Love: Deluxe Edition / The Blow Monkeys, Limping for a Generation / Animal Magic: Deluxe Editions (Cherry Red)

Some ’80s alt-rock/sophisti-pop classics coming to the U.K. from the Cherry Red label this week. Many demos, B-sides and archival material appended to these sets; three discs for The House of Love (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.) and two apiece for Limping for a Generation (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.) and Animal Magic (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)

Written by Mike Duquette

November 27, 2012 at 07:39

Limping for a (New) Generation: Cherry Red Expands Blow Monkeys LPs

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Bruce Robert Howard, better known to fans as Dr. Robert, got the globe dancing in 1986 with one simple question: “Tell me, why is it I’m digging your scene?”

Dr. Robert and his band, The Blow Monkeys, bought a sophisticated alt-rock/pop sound to the U.S. and U.K. in the mid-’80s, disbanded as the ’90s dawned and reformed in 2007 to record new material and tour. Now they can add “reissued some classic albums” to their list of recent accomplishment, thanks to the folks at Cherry Red.

The band’s first two albums for RCA, Limping for a Generation (1984) and Animal Magic (1986) have been remastered and expanded by the label as two-disc sets featuring B-sides, remixes and unreleased material. Limping, described by Dr. Robert as “jazz-punk,” earned critical acclaim but only modest sales; the more streamlined, soulful Animal Magic, featuring a worldwide Top 20 hit in “Digging Your Scene,” was far more successful, sales-wise. Both expanded sets come with new notes and a total of 21 unreleased tracks, including demos and original mixes of “Digging Your Scene” and “Aeroplane City Lovesong” off Animal Magic.

The band will commemorate the sets in January with a one-off date at London’s Assembly Halls, in which they will perform both albums back-to-back. Amazon lists a U.K. release date of this Monday, November 26 for the deluxe Animal Magic and next Monday, December 3 for the expanded Limping for a Generation. Pre-order links and track lists are below the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 26, 2012 at 15:48

Ooo Baby Baby: Two Lost Miracles LPs Arrive on CD

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The times they were a-changin’.  The Miracles, the group founded in 1955, by Smokey Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore and Ronnie White, had been synonymous with Motown Records since 1960, and survived chief songwriter and lead vocalist Smokey’s departure in 1972.  But despite a chart smash in 1976 with the No. 1 “Love Machine,” the group was dissatisfied with Motown.  Pete Moore recalled in 2012, “Even after all of this success, we never had any calls from Smokey or Berry [Gordy].”  Indeed, Miracle Bobby Rogers once observed that “Motown ceased to be a family the day they moved from Detroit to California.”  And so, with no true family in place anymore, the Miracles (Moore, Rogers, White, Billy Griffin and Donald Griffin) departed their longtime home in 1977 and inked a deal with Columbia Records.  The group’s two Columbia releases, though, sank without a trace, and the second of the two LPs didn’t even see American or British release.  Cherry Red’s Soul Music imprint, however, is finally giving Love Crazy and The Miracles their due with long-overdue CD reissues available in stores now.

1977’s Columbia debut Love Crazy was written concurrently with The Power of Music, the group’s Motown swansong (also awaiting CD reissue).  Like 1975’s City of Angels (which included “Love Machine”), Love Crazy was an ambitious album complete with an Overture.  And like City, it wasn’t without its share of controversy.  “Ain’t Nobody Straight in L.A.” frankly addressed the subject of homosexuality (“Ain’t nobody straight in L.A./It seems that everybody there is gay”).  “Spy for Brotherhood,” on Love Crazy, was sung by a protagonist whose music was seemingly being suppressed by the U.S. government: “Got to get away/I’m runnin’ from the CIA…I’m a spy for brotherhood/They would stop my songs if they could!” Billy Griffin, lead singer and co-writer of the song with album producer and fellow Miracle Pete Moore, recounts in Lewis Dene’s new liner notes that “it never really got on pop radio in America; most people, including Columbia, said they had a problem with the U.S. government about the song.  If you know anything about the U.S. government, you’ll know they never make official statements –they just do stuff!”  Whether or not life imitated art, “Spy for Brotherhood” didn’t translate into sales for the album, although the single hit No. 37 on the U.S. R&B chart.

That wasn’t the only controversial single.  “Women (Make the World Go ‘Round)” came next.  Whereas Thom Bell and Linda Creed felt “People Make the World Go ‘Round” in their ballad for the Stylistics, Griffin’s song (co-written with brother Donald and Pete Moore) was a bit more specific.   In the song, women pull the strings of every relationship: “For years we’ve been told that this is a man’s world/But nothing could be further from the truth/There’s nothing a man can’t do that a woman couldn’t change his mind with a sexy wiggle of her behind.”  Was it a tribute to women or a condemnation?  Again, the controversy didn’t cause a commercial stir.  But all that aside, there’s plenty of just plain great, danceable R&B/soul music on Love Crazy, including the potent title song (a worthy follow-up to “Love Machine,” though it wasn’t selected as a single) and the lush “A Better Way to Live.”  Soul Music’s reissue is expanded with three bonus tracks: the 45 RPM versions of “Spy for Brotherhood” and “Women (Make the World Go Round)” and an extended version of “Spy” listed as “Special Version” but otherwise unidentified in the booklet.

After the jump: onto The Miracles!  And we have order links and track listings for both CDs! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 26, 2012 at 12:37

Posted in News, Reissues, The Miracles