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Archive for February 22nd, 2013

Reissue Theory: Duran Duran, “Duran Duran (The Wedding Album): 20th Anniversary Edition”

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Duran Duran (The Wedding Album)

Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Today, two decades after its release, we imagine an expanded edition of an album that sent an iconic ’80s band flying into the new decade – and back toward the top of the charts.

The bizarre narrative that seems to plague pop music is that, with each new decade, the trends of the last 10 years should be relegated to the past as soon as possible. The psychedelic sounds of the ’60s weren’t immediately swept away in the ’70s, but acts had to adapt considerably, lest they be drowned out by harder-edged rock, glam, disco and eventually punk rock. Those rawer styles (and even – or especially – disco) would find themselves out in the cold come the ’80s, a decade of synthesizer-based New Wave and big-haired metal.

Ironically, the secret to Duran Duran’s monolithic success in the 1980s hinged on their ability to take several trends that peaked the decade before and put a new spin on them, namely the cleanly-mixed, bottom-heavy disco overtones of groups like CHIC and the minimalist, keyboard-assisted rock approach of Roxy Music. Add a dollop of modern sensibility (namely a focus on physical appearance, served to perfection in scores of music videos for the nascent MTV), and it’s no surprise even Rolling Stone gave in to their charms, dubbing them “The Fab Five.”

That didn’t make Duran’s journey through a decade they largely owned any easier, though. By 1986, the quintet was reduced to a trio – vocalist Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor – and struggling to create music that was both artistically satisfying and commercially successful. (The criminally underrated Notorious (1986) and Big Thing (1988) did have several hit singles, including Notorious‘ title track and the latter album’s Chicago house-call “I Don’t Want Your Love.”)

Though Duran was anxious to start the decade off right – going so far as to hire touring guitarist Warren Cuccurullo (formerly of Frank Zappa’s band and Missing Persons) and touring drummer Sterling Campbell to the lineup, creating another five-piece outfit – they were tripped up by not only their inability but anyone’s inability to know which direction to move. Neither grunge nor hi-NRG dance nor Britpop had set in as musical trends, and the lack of general musical direction was twice as harmful to bands struggling to find their footing in the first place.

Whatever the cause for Duran Duran, 1990’s Liberty failed to post any hit singles, and the band’s decision to forego a tour did them no favors, either. Campbell would drift out of the lineup, and even Taylor – still battling drug addiction and testing out a marriage with model Amanda de Cadenet, who was carrying his first child – debated exiting the band.

The secret to their impending second wind was a most unexpected one, but the rewards were rich indeed. We tell that story – and imagine a reissue to celebrate that era – after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

February 22, 2013 at 12:13

Posted in Duran Duran, DVD, Features, Reissues

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Review: Carmen McRae, “I Am Music”

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Carmen McRae - I Am Music“Life is just too much for me to bear…I guess nobody ever really cared…do you?” Carmen McRae poses that question some four minutes into “A Letter for Anna-Lee,” the Benard Ighner song that opens her 1975 Blue Note album I Am Music. It’s a startling moment of direct address in this sad tale of a man for whom “the business of the day won’t let me be,” adding that “this life’s not meant for me.” The song, its accompaniment led by Dave Grusin’s burbling electric piano, shifts from its third-person narration to a reading of the titular letter, then reveals itself as a first-person account. As McRae’s pain and anguish come to the fore, the smooth backing builds to a dramatic crescendo, strings slashing through the gentility. McRae naturally brings a jazz singer’s vocabulary and phrasing to the song, elongating syllables and thoughts, indulging in the kind of melodic improvisation and exploration only she could do. (Its portrait of the strife lurking under the veil of domesticity actually recalls one of Barry Manilow’s finest songs, “Sandra,” so memorably recorded by another legendarily soulful voice: Dusty Springfield.) Carmen McRae was always among the more burnished and precise, yet bluesy, voices of the American songbook. With I Am Music, she created a hybrid of R&B, soul, and contemporary jazz that set it apart from most other titles in her deep catalogue. Its new reissue from Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label (CDBBR 0205) sheds some welcome light on this rare gem.

Big Break has previously reissued 1976’s Would You Believe, with its roster of songs from the worlds of R&B (Bill Withers, Skip Scarborough), modern jazz (Chick Corea), Broadway (Cy Coleman, George Gershwin) and pop-rock (James Taylor). The repertoire on I Am Music takes a different approach, avoiding standards. The songs are less familiar, some newly-written, with five coming from the lyrical pens of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (with various composers), two from Benard Ighner and two from Jelsa Palao. The album is rounded out by a Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song. And though Blue Note was aggressively courting the modern market, the album is more than just a one-note exercise in updating a legendary chanteuse’s sound for a rock crowd more interested in, say, Alice Cooper than “Alice Blue Gown.” (Though it has its own considerable merits, Would You Believe is more explicitly “contemporary” in feel and material than I Am Music. And Carmen actually covered an Alice Cooper song to good effect on that disc!) Roger Kellaway, once Bobby Darin’s accompanist and a talented composer-arranger in his own right, produced the album after Benard Ighner became indisposed. Kellaway arranged the lion’s share of the disc himself, bringing in Dave Grusin and Byron Olson as well.

There’s more after the jump!

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Written by Joe Marchese

February 22, 2013 at 11:15

Posted in Carmen McRae, News, Reissues, Reviews

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