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Archive for June 7th, 2013

Don’t Walk On By: Dionne Warwick’s “Unissued Warner Bros. Masters” Joins “The Complete Warner Bros. Singles” On CD

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Dionne - Warner SinglesWhen Dionne Warwick signed on the dotted line with Warner Bros. Records, the possibilities must have seemed endless.  The singer had embraced change, after all.  A new decade was in its infancy.  She had traded a feisty New York independent (Scepter) for a Burbank giant.  She had even added an “e” to her surname on the advice of an astrologer.  And although the exact amount wasn’t disclosed, Warwick had reportedly signed the biggest deal ever for a female vocalist.  What didn’t change, at least initially, was the commitment of producers/songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David to the superstar.  Warwick was signed to Warner Bros. through their production company, and every indication was that the trio’s chart presence – well-established since 1963 – would continue.  Of course, things don’t always go as planned.  Following the professional breakup of Bacharach and David, the singer’s 1972-1978 Warner Bros. tenure ultimately became a footnote in a career of one triumph after another, first at Scepter Records and later in a remarkable “comeback” at Arista (1979-1995). Thanks to the protean efforts of Real Gone Music, however, Dionne Warwick’s Warner tenure will be forgotten no more.  On July 30, the label will issue two essential volumes: The Complete Warner Bros. Singles, and even more excitingly, We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters.  The latter will feature 19 never-before-released songs including productions by Burt Bacharach, Thom Bell, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Nickolas Ashford and Valarie Simpson.

Sessions began in New York City in 1971 for the debut album simply entitled Dionne.  Little did Warwick, Bacharach, David, and the Warner Bros. brass know it would be the trio’s final full length collaboration. The album was released in January 1972 to a respectable showing (No. 54 Pop, No. 22 R&B), but the Bacharach/David partnership was soon torn asunder by professional and personal differences.  Lawsuits ensued, and Warwick was forced to soldier on with a variety of writers and producers.  Of course, she had the creme of the crop at the ready, including Holland-Dozier-Holland, Jerry Ragovoy, Michael Omartian, and most notably, Thom Bell.  Philadelphia soul architect Bell fared best.  He provided her with “Then Came You,” and that 1974 duet with The Spinners earned Dionne, unbelievably, her very first U.S. Pop No. 1.  But that wasn’t even a Warner Bros. single, having been issued on sister label Atlantic, home of The Spinners.

So what will you find over the course of 21 tracks on The Complete Warner Bros. Singles? Only one single was issued from the Bacharach/David-produced Dionne.  Oddly, the A-side wasn’t one of the team’s new compositions, but rather a Don Sebesky-arranged rendition of the Jacques Brel tune “If We Only Have Love,” with a revival of “Close to You” arranged by Bob James on the B-side.  Another album didn’t arrive on Warner Bros. until 1973.  It was Just Being Myself, produced and mostly written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland.  Warwick was never comfortable with the song selection, nor with the process of singing over pre-recorded tracks reportedly intended for artists on H-D-H’s Invictus label.  But the Detroit-recorded album has its fair share of soulful highlights, and four tracks from the LP saw single release including the title track and “Don’t Let My Teardrops Bother You.”  Jerry Ragovoy was in charge of Then Came You, so titled for the Thom Bell-produced hit single that was appended to the otherwise-unrelated LP.   “Then Came You” itself isn’t on Real Gone’s anthology, but two singles (four sides) from the March 1975 release, naturally, are – including No. 30 R&B hit “Take It From Me” and the No. 66 “Sure Thing.”

Then came Thom Bell, who was given the plum assignment of producing an entire album for Warwick.  Seeing as Bell was a spiritual successor to Bacharach, he was a perfect choice.  December 1975’s Track of the Cat deserved a better fate than its No. 137 Pop/No. 15 chart berth, as you’ll hear via its two singles (four sides) here: “His House and Me” b/w “Ronnie Lee,” and “Once You Hit the Road” b/w “World of My Dreams.”  A non-LP single followed Track of the Cat with some of Warwick’s most impassioned singing: 1976’s Joe Porter-helmed “I Didn’t Mean to Love You” b/w “He’s Not for You.”  These are just two of the rare treats on The Complete Singles.  The collection concludes with five sides from Love at First Sight, Warwick’s final Warner Bros. album, from 1977.  (The Steve Barri/Michael Omartian-produced LP included a reunion with Hal David on the sublime “Early Morning Strangers,” which boasted a melody by someone who would play a key role in the next chapter of Dionne’s career – Barry Manilow.  It, alas, wasn’t selected as a single!)  Warwick wouldn’t re-emerge with another studio album until Clive Davis paired her with Manilow for 1979’s platinum-selling Dionne.  The rest, they say, is history.  All tracks on The Complete Warner Bros. Singles are heard in their original single stereo mixes.  (And for those interested in the entire albums, the entire Warner album catalogue will soon be reissued on CD by Warner Music Japan.  You’ll find all of the details here!)

What will you discover on We Need to Go Back: The Unissued Warner Bros. Masters?   Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 7, 2013 at 11:46

Review: A Trio from Townes Van Zandt

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Townes - High, LowSteve Earle once famously wrote, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world,” adding for good measure, “and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” Earle later backtracked on his statement, answering in the negative whether he really believed Van Zandt was Dylan’s superior. Van Zandt was also embarrassed by the fulsome praise (“I’ve met Bob Dylan’s bodyguards and if Steve thinks he can stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table, he’s sadly mistaken!”) but for Dylan’s own part, the legendary singer-songwriter reportedly was a big fan of the late Texas troubadour. Yet despite having his fans number the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Dylan and Earle, Van Zandt died as he lived: a cult figure. His relatively small catalogue of songs enabled him to make a living in the business of song, but his own recordings never achieved mainstream success.  A fiercely self-destructive streak ultimately led to his death in 1997, 44 years from the day on which his early inspiration Hank Williams passed.

Earlier this year, Omnivore Recordings pulled back the curtain on Townes Van Zandt’s enduring mystique with the release of Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos 1971-1972 (OVCD-15, 2013), a double-disc compendium of 28 previously unissued tracks from a true “songwriters’ songwriter” who blurred the lines of folk, country and rock.  Sunshine Boy drew from the era that yielded the albums Townes Van Zandt (1970), Delta Momma Blues (1971), High, Low and In Between (1971) and The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt (1972).  Omnivore has recently detailed more of the Van Zandt story with reissues of the latter two LPs in remastered CD and vinyl editions, and these have been produced with the same care as the Sunshine Boy collection.

After the jump, we’ll revisit Sunshine Boy (just in case you missed our review the first time!) and explore High, Low and In Between and The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 7, 2013 at 09:54