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Archive for November 28th, 2012

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.

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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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