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Archive for April 23rd, 2013

WE HAVE A WINNER! Record Store Day 2nd Chance: A Complete Set of Limited Edition Colored Vinyl From Omnivore Recordings!

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Written by Joe Marchese

April 23, 2013 at 14:39

Review: Shuggie Otis, “Inspiration Information/Wings of Love”

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Inspiration Information Wings of LoveHow to describe the career trajectory of Shuggie Otis?  The son of Johnny Otis, the “Godfather of Rhythm and Blues,” Shuggie (born Johnny Alexander Veliotes Jr.) displayed prodigious talent on the guitar from an early age.  He began performing with his father before he reached his teenage years, played for the likes of Al Kooper and Frank Zappa, and even joined with dad Johnny in 1969 for some off-color ribaldry as two-thirds of Snatch and the Poontangs. Otis then landed at Epic Records for a three-album stint between 1970 (Here Comes Shuggie Otis) and 1974 (Inspiration Information).   Inspiration registered as barely a blip in the lower reaches of the Billboard 200.  In 1977, he scored a hit via The Brothers Johnson’s recording of his “Strawberry Letter,” introduced on 1972’s Freedom Flight.  But then he was gone.  In 2001, David Byrne championed his lost musical hero with the reissue of Inspiration Information on his Luaka Bop label. The idiosyncratic amalgam of funk, soul, jazz and blues attracted a new generation of fans, but Otis didn’t capitalize on its newfound notoriety with any new music.  Flash forward to 2012.  Otis embarked on a tour and confirmed the expanded reissue on Epic and Legacy Recordings of Inspiration Information.  It’s finally arrived, paired in one package with Wings of Love, a new album of thirteen previously unreleased songs recorded between 1975 and 2000 (88697 74700 2).

Whereas Otis’ previous two albums were produced by his father and featured musicians including Plas Johnson, Wilton Felder, Al McKibbon, George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar, Inspiration found Otis acting as a one-man band in the style of Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder, Emmit Rhodes, Paul McCartney, and later, Prince.  (Only strings and horns were supplied by outside players.)  To compare Otis to any of those gentlemen, though, is doing a disservice both to them and to Otis.  Inspiration is, undoubtedly, a singular album.  Yet this doggedly non-commercial sonic fantasia doesn’t quite fit into any one musical genre and even today plays like a patchwork quilt, albeit one crafted by a creative, preternaturally gifted artist.

Lyrics take a back seat to music on Otis’ obviously personal journey, and indeed, a number of the album’s tracks are pure instrumentals.  On the songs with both music and lyrics, the vocals are often buried in the mix, making them difficult to completely decipher.  And even melody is subordinate to arrangement on many tracks here.  Pop likely wasn’t Otis’ aim, and he wasn’t a natural melodist like Rundgren or McCartney.  The title track of Inspiration, perhaps the album’s strongest, is a funk tour de force of intertwined lead and background vocals, organ, guitar, bass and drums, a spacey ode to one who is “making me happier…now I am snappier.”  What gives Inspiration a sound unlike almost any other circa 1974, though, is Otis’ extensive use of the Maestro Rhythm King analog drum machine.  His wasn’t the first use of the device in soul music; Sly and the Family Stone famously employed it on 1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On.  On the sweetly-sung, lyrically-epistolary “Island Letter,” the Rhythm King lends a near-bossa nova feel that turns exotic with layers of strings, percussion, guitar, organ and electric piano.  It’s easy to see why these liquid, fantastically illusive grooves became so attractive in later years to artists utilizing samples.  Like “Island Letter,” “Sparkle City” is transporting, in this case to an urban dreamscape that might exist only in Otis’ head.  When he sings, “Now come time for me to run/Sorry people, but I’m not the one/So I think I’ll have to split and let you think about it,” was he matter-of-factly previewing his retirement from the musical rat race?

A reggae-ish vibe pervades “Aht Uh Mi Head.”  The lyrics are simple (“Aht uh mi head/It’s glowing…Aht uh mi head ‘cause I heard something said in a word/From your voice did I hear/Only choice dear?”) but strings lend it a majestic if unsettling feel.  “Happy House,” the original Side Two opener, is a little over a minute long but is a trip through the radio in Otis’ head, switching from style to style with brief snatches of funk.  The rest of the side is dominated by instrumentals in a sort of fusion suite.  “Rainy Day” is the most evocative.  It’s quite lovely, as Otis’ fluid and soulful lead guitar lines are supported by snatches of lush orchestration.  (There’s a touch of Wes Montgomery or George Benson in his style here.)  “XL-30” is leaner and tougher, with its insistent beat and stabs of organ.  “Pling!” is almost ambient music, emphasizing the hypnotic, repeated beat with subdued brass and burbling keys.  The album closer, “Not Available,” has Otis’ guitar at the fore, but is as shifting in tone as the earlier “Happy House.”

Inspiration Information demands repeated listens and still isn’t wholly satisfying, with all-too-brief compositions and lyrically-undercooked songs both seeming to cry out for further development.  But it’s subtly fascinating, and ephemerally beautiful.  It’s also a vivid portrait of where Shuggie Otis was in 1974: ahead of his time and aht uh his head.  The first disc of Legacy’s reissue appends four previously unissued bonus tracks recorded between 1971 and 1977.  “Miss Pretty” is another slight, lean song, but “Magic” (1971) is a delicious funk brew with Otis drawling over a typically taut track with a bit of Allen Toussaint style.  “Things We Like to Do” (1977) expands Otis’ sound palette when he marries another exotic beat to high harmonies that could have been influenced by Brian Wilson in trippy, lo-fi mode.  “Castle Top Jam” isn’t really a jam in the improvisational sense, still seeming tightly arranged, but its musicianship and whispered vocal groove are as worthy as any cut on Inspiration proper.

For those disciples of Shuggie who already owned the Luaka Bop reissue of Inspiration, the main attraction here might be Wings of Love, a collection newly curated by Otis of his previously unreleased music.  It’s heartening to know that when Otis dropped off the radar, he was still creating music and beating (literally and figuratively) to his own drummer.  We take flight on these Wings after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 23, 2013 at 13:17

Posted in Reissues, Reviews, Shuggie Otis

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Back To Montague Terrace (In Blue): Scott Walker’s Early Solo Albums Are Remastered and Boxed

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Scott Walker Box

Upon the late 2012 release of Scott Walker’s album Bish Bosch, U.K. newspaper The Guardian posed the question, “Were you hoping this might be the album that would see Scott Walker return to lush, beautiful balladry?”  The answer: “Well, tough.”  Indeed, the iconoclastic singer-songwriter has pursued a defiantly singular path creating intense, nightmarish and never-uninteresting soundscapes on albums such as Bish Bosch.  His work over the past two-plus decades has been removed, of course, from the pop on which he first rose to fame as a member of sixties pop sensations The Walker Brothers, and even bears little relation to the evocative, dark, Jacques Brel-influenced songs of his acclaimed, early solo work. If you’re looking to revisit the resonantly-sung melodies that influenced everybody from David Bowie to Jarvis Cocker, though, you’re in luck.  On June 3 in the U.K. and June 11 in the U.S., Universal U.K. will issue Scott – The Collection 1967-1970, a remastered 5-CD box set containing Walker’s four numbered solo albums as well as their 1970 stylistic sequel ‘Til the Band Comes In.  In addition, a special vinyl pressing of the box set will also be released on those same dates.

After the jump: we’ll take you on an album-by-album journey through the box set.  Plus, we’ve got full specs on the brand-new remastering, notes, packaging and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 23, 2013 at 10:07

Release Round-Up: Week of April 23

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Kaya DeluxeBob Marley & The Wailers, Kaya: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Island/Tuff Gong/UMe)

A newly-remastered deluxe version of Marley’s follow-up to Exodus, featuring the bonus track “Smile Jamaica” and an unreleased live show. A vinyl edition includes the regular album and the bonus track.

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

ELO - Zoom RevisedElectric Light Orchestra, Zoom / Live / Jeff Lynne, Armchair Theatre (Frontiers)

ELO’s 2001 album Zoom, and a subsequent set from a tour to promote the album, will be reissued on CD alongside band frontman Jeff Lynne’s solo album from 1990. All three will include unreleased bonus tracks.

ZoomAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LiveAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Armchair Theatre
Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Written by Mike Duquette

April 23, 2013 at 08:00