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Archive for May 15th, 2013

Review: R.E.M., “Green: 25th Anniversary Edition”

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REM GreenLet’s say you’re part of one of the most hotly sought-after bands in the world. You’ve developed a distinctive style that’s set you apart from most of your peers since day one. You’ve put out five basically flawless albums out in five years, eventually earning yourself a U.S. Top 10 hit and exposure on MTV. And now, a major label wants to sign you.

What do you do?

The way R.E.M. answered this question on Green, their sixth album and first of many for Warner Bros. Records, is perhaps a gold standard of how well this question can be answered. Bands in this position often walk a fine line between critical darling and sellout based simply on how they go about their first major-label project. (Consider Green Day’s successful Dookie, full of polished pop moments that expanded their cultural cache while alienating much of their existing core fan base.) Green, by contrast, makes just the right amount of tweaks that come not from an A&R meeting but from the hearts and minds of a ridiculously great rock quartet – and the recently-released 25th anniversary expansion of the album (Warner Bros. R2 535408) does a good job of underlining this fact.

While frontman Michael Stipe reportedly told his bandmates not to write any R.E.M.-type songs for Green, some of Green probably could have fit anywhere on the band’s I.R.S. Records discography. The band’s tendency for simple, singable, muscular rock (produced once again by Scott Litt, who collaborated with the band on Document and would be the band’s go-to producer until 1996) is evident on tracks like “Get Up” and “Orange Crush,” while fellow singles “Stand” and “Pop Song 89” are catchy winks at the band’s newfound major-label darling status, boasting some of the band’s most intentionally facile lyrics.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ve got a very diverse set of songs, anticipating the kind of multifaceted, often heart-tugging beauty R.E.M. mastered throughout the next decade. “The Wrong Child” and “You Are the Everything” are anchored around mandolin lines, while “World Leader Pretend” anticipates future ballads with its tender interplay between acoustic guitars and piano. Even the more traditional rock stuff sometimes aims a little to the left of center, veering away from Peter Buck’s typically jangly riffs in favor of slightly crunchier ones (“I Remember California,” the untitled closing track). Green‘s position as “pivot” on the R.E.M. discography may not make it as effortless as the five LPs that preceded it, but it’s still pretty darn good.

With Rhino handling the reins for R.E.M.’s 25th anniversary reissue series (UMe handling Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984) and EMI having covered Fables of the Reconstruction (1985), Lifes Rich Pageant (1986) and Document (1987)), fans certainly must be curious as to how Green stacks up against its predecessors on the reissue scale. Packaging is fairly similar to EMI’s handiwork, with the Green sleeve replicated on an oversize case that opens, lid-style, from one end. Inside are individual CD wallets for the remastered album and bonus disc, as well as sturdy, framable shots of Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry, a large fold-out poster and a liner notes booklet.

As with most of the 25th anniversary bonus discs, a live show is paired with Green – this time a show from the Greensboro, NC Coliseum in November 1989. Like the bonus disc that accompanied Document, the show isn’t complete on disc (though a Record Store Day-exclusive EP last month issued a portion of the missing tracks). But that’s not what makes this bonus disc just alright, instead of essential. As the live video Tourfilm showed, the Green tour was visually arresting – something you’re obviously not getting on CD. And the band’s sound was getting expansive enough to make it harder to nail the new tracks with the same sort of emotional heft as just a four-piece. (Tellingly, the band took a five-year hiatus from the road, after which they came back as a slightly extended lineup.) In spite of these drawbacks, the set is appropriately representative of where the band was at the time – and it’s thus pretty neat to hear audiences react strongly to both the new songs and the band’s back catalogue.

Even taking into account its pop crossover success, Green may not be the perfect starter for the new R.E.M. fan. But it’s certainly worth a reappraisal in the grander scheme of R.E.M.’s sterling discography – and this new set is surely as good a means of reintroduction as they come.

Written by Mike Duquette

May 15, 2013 at 15:14

Posted in Reissues, REM, Reviews

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Jazz Greats Benny Carter, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell Featured On “Too Late Blues”

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Too Late Blues OSTBefore pioneering cinéma vérité techniques on groundbreaking films like Faces and Husbands, John Cassavetes was signed to direct his first major-studio motion picture with 1962’s Too Late Blues.  Handed the assignment on the strength of his first film, Shadows, Cassavetes was a brave choice to direct the story of jazz musician “Ghost” Wakefield and his struggle to stay true to himself while pursuing fame and romance.  This raw and revealing story starred Bobby Darin, no stranger to the darker side of the music business himself.  And the score was provided by David Raksin (Laura), who not only provided the traditional score, but also wrote the jazz tunes to be played by the crème of the crop of the West Coast jazz scene.  Now, the world premiere of the complete score to Too Late Blues has been announced by Kritzerland, featuring the contributions of such world-class players as Benny Carter, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and Milt Bernhart.

A rare few films have successfully brought jazz scores to Hollywood, but Kritzerland’s new release aims to restore the all-too-little-known Too Late Blues to the position of prominence it deserves among jazz-flecked films and scores like Anatomy of a Murder and Paris Blues (both by Duke Ellington), A Man Called Adam (Benny Carter), The Man with the Golden Arm (Elmer Bernstein), Alfie (Sonny Rollins) and television’s Peter Gunn (Henry Mancini).

As Kritzerland’s Bruce Kimmel points out, “There is a lot of jazz in Too Late Blues.  The easy way out would have been to do standards, but Raksin wrote all original music for the film, even for the source cues.  And what music it is – Raksin at his best, and Raksin at his best is as good as it gets.”  Kimmel also recognizes the contribution of trumpeter Uan Rasey, who worked his magic on films from Singin’ in the Rain to Chinatown.  The producer continues, “Raksin wrote one of his most exquisite and inspired themes for the film, which he titled ‘A Song After Sundown.’  It’s heard in jazz guises, within the dramatic score, and even as a vocalese performed by Stella Stevens’ character.  It’s a haunting, melancholy theme filled with sadness and yearning – classic Raksin, as are the jazz cues and the dramatic score.  It’s all of a piece – absolute perfection in the picture and wonderful to listen to outside the film as well.”

After the jump, we have more details on this lost jazz classic, as well as pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 15, 2013 at 13:23

Hi-Def “Help!”: Beatles Film Coming to Blu-Ray

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The Beatles’ second feature film, 1965’s Help!, is making its Blu-Ray debut this June.

Reuniting with A Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester with a bigger budget (for one, they shot in color), Help! finds The Fab Four in yet another set of wacky predicaments – this time, Ringo can’t seem to get a ring unstuck from his finger, and an evil cult want said ring for their own purposes. Silly stuff, for sure – and, at perhaps the most grueling heights of Beatlemania, not as fun a shoot for the band as A Hard Day’s Night – but a captivating chapter in the band’s catalogue.

The accompanying album remains one of the most drastically different in the band’s catalogue on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.K. (now the standard version of the album, remixed by George Martin for its 1987 CD release), it featured chart-topping singles in “Ticket to Ride” and the title track as well as instant classics “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” – all of which featured in the film – and “Yesterday” (a U.S. No. 1 hit). The U.S. version, released on the United Artists label, was a much more standard soundtrack album, featuring some non-Beatles orchestral passages arranged by Ken Thorne.

First officially released on DVD in 2007, this single-disc Blu-Ray ports over all of that two-disc set’s material into a new HD set. Features included are:

  • A 5.1 surround sound mix for the film
  • The Beatles in Help! – a 30-minute documentary about the making of the film with Richard Lester, the cast and crew, including exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of The Beatles on-set.
  • A Missing Scene – a film outtake, featuring Wendy Richard
  • The Restoration of Help! – an in-depth look at the restoration process
  • Memories of Help! – the cast and crew reminisce
  • 1965 Theatrical Trailers – two original U.S. trailers and one original Spanish trailer
  • 1965 U.S. Radio Spots (hidden in disc menus)

Help! arrives on Blu-Ray June 24 around the world and a day later in America. Pre-order links will be added as they are available.

Written by Mike Duquette

May 15, 2013 at 11:10

One Kiss Leads To Another: Real Gone Unearths Hackamore Brick, Grateful Dead, The Association’s Russ Giguere and More

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Hackamore BrickReal Gone Music has just announced its slate for July 2, and it’s clear that the prolific label isn’t taking a summer vacation!  A number of cult favorites and new-to-CD titles populate this batch of records that won’t be “real gone” for much longer.

Atop the list is a true rarity.  Real Gone will be bringing One Kiss Leads to Another from Hackamore Brick to CD and vinyl in a newly-remastered and expanded edition.  Who is Hackamore Brick, you might ask?  The Brooklyn band’s 1970 album was an anomaly for the bubblegum specialists at Kama Sutra Records.  It’s most often spoken of in the same breath as The Velvet Underground, and it sounds as if it were built on the groundwork laid by that quintessential New York band.  Yet Hackamore Brick’s songwriters Tommy Moonlight and Chick Newman claimed to not have heard Lou, John and co. till after their album was recorded.  But indebted to that group or not, the quartet offers up a heady brew of its own.  Country-style harmonies and punk attitude sit alongside Doors-esque blues flourishes, incisive, Kinks-style lyrics, and primal rock simplicity on this true lost album.

Real Gone has also rescued a solo effort from The Association’s Russ Giguere.  Hexagram 16 offers songs from the likes of Judee Sill and Randy Newman and guest spots from Judy Henske, Jerry Yester and Bernie Leadon.  There’s a country-rock flavor on Hexagram, but Real Gone also offers more traditional country with the Nashville-style folk-pop of fifties favorites The Browns on Complete Pop and Country Hits.  Country, of course, also played a role in the Americana stew of The Grateful Dead, and Real Gone continues its reissuing of the Dick’s Picks series with some psychedelia from 1968.  A long-lost reggae tribute to the Dead is also reappearing in July.  Finally, Real Gone teams with Dusty Groove for three more deep-cut jazz albums from Ahmed Abdul-Malik, George Braith, and the duo of Stan Hunter and Sonny Fortune.

After the jump, Real Gone provides all of the details via the label’s press release, and we have pre-order links for all titles for you! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 15, 2013 at 10:13