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Archive for June 18th, 2013

Review: “Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center”

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Woody at 100

The new CD/DVD set is entitled Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center, but in fact, Woody never made it past 55. This document of an altogether lively concert program from a wide assortment of admirers proves, however, that his music has not only lasted ‘til 100, but will likely survive us all.  This is a celebration, yes, but a celebration with a conscience.  A strong thread of morality and social awareness ran through all of Guthrie’s songs, as he believed music could make a difference in America.  That same belief is shared by the performers who took the stage of Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center on October 14, 2012, including Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Donovan, Judy Collins, Tom Morello, John Mellencamp and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.  That evening, they showcased the spectrum of Guthrie’s work from protest songs to children’s sing-alongs.

As produced by Woody’s daughter Nora Guthrie, Bob Santelli and Garth Ross, the concert is well-sequenced, beginning with the joyous barrage of nonsense lyrics in Old Crow Medicine Show’s bluegrass-style “Howdi Do.”  The string band continues the jamboree with Guthrie’s rapid-fire story of a “Union Maid” who’s “stickin’ to the union ‘til the day I die,” and indeed, Guthrie’s commitment to the ideals of unionization recur throughout the program.

A major highlight is the mini-suite of songs thematically connected by imagery of the open road and the hobo, with contemporary folksinger Joel Rafael’s harmonica-accompanied “Ramblin’ Reckless Hobo” (for which he set Guthrie’s lyrics to his own music), Jimmy LaFave’s “Hard Travelin’,” Donovan’s “Riding in My Car” and Rosanne Cash’s “I Ain’t Got No Home.”  Listening to Rafael, it’s hard not to hear a Bob Dylan influence, or more precisely, how Guthrie influenced Dylan and in turn, Rafael.  Texas singer LaFave’s “Hard Travelin’” contrasts a jaunty melody with the story of a hard-working itinerant who brushes up against the law; “I Ain’t Got No Home” introduces a similar character with an even sadder tale.  While “Hard Travelin’” utilizes awkward grammar (“I’ve been layin’ in a hard-rock jail, I thought you knowed”) and jolts of dry humor in its lyric (“Damned old judge, he said to me, ‘It’s 90 days for vagrancy”), “I Ain’t Got No Home” is all too touching and troubling.  Cash, accompanied only by her own guitar and that of guitarist-vocalist-husband John Leventhal, gets to the root of the song in her low-key, empathetic vocal.  She doesn’t overplay the despair but rather renders the character she embodies with a quiet resolve and dignity.

Donovan leads a sing-along on Guthrie’s children’s song “Riding in My Car,” which fits snugly among the other, more “adult” songs.  It’s no mystery why: Guthrie wrote for adults in the same simple and lyrically unadorned style he wrote for children.  Grown-ups will likewise want to sing along to the mandolin- and fiddle-adorned refrain of The Del McCoury Band and Tim O’Brien’s “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh.”

Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 18, 2013 at 15:06

Review: ZZ Top, “The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990”

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ZZ Top Rhino box“My friends, they all told me
Man there’s somethin’ gonna change your life…”

-ZZ Top, “Brown Sugar”

I hate to play favorites, but from day one, I’ve been a fan of Legacy Recordings’ “complete albums” concept. The slick packaging of an artist’s classic albums in one package, with nicely-crafted mini jackets, replicated label art on disc and the always promising idea of bonus content is often too good to pass up. I’m probably not the typical target buyer – really, when am I ever – but as someone hungry to dive in with a beloved band, these boxes really do the trick.

I’ve often hoped to see other labels follow suit on the concept, and the newest catalogue project from Rhino, ZZ Top’s The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990 (Warner Bros. 8122-79664-2), is exactly what I’m getting at. This little set is the one to buy if you’re looking to cannonball into the Texas trio’s brand of Southern-smoked boogie.

ZZ Top are one of those bands that just know how to keep their fan base. The lineup of lead singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard hasn’t changed in four decades – nor has their commitment to raw, good-time 12-bar blues. With Hill and Beard as a whip-cracking rhythm section, Gibbons allows his six-string skills to shine in a way that few other rock guitarists allow. He’s distinctive without laying it on too thick – just flashy enough to stay ahead of the pack. From rockin’ singles like “La Grange,” “Tush” and “Sharp Dressed Man” to lesser-known cuts like the ballads “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell” or “I Need You Tonight,” Gibbons – and, by extension, ZZ Top – are a master of their craft.

Keep reading about the “little ol’ band from Texas” after the jump, and find out what else we like about the box, too!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 18, 2013 at 12:50

Posted in Box Sets, Reissues, Reviews, ZZ Top

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Reviews: Eddy Arnold, “Complete No. 1 Hits” and David Allan Coe, “Texas Moon”

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Eddy Arnold Complete Original #1 HitsWhen 1965’s “Make the World Go Away” entered the Pop Top 10, it was unusual, even for those heady days of pop diversity.  The singer, Eddy Arnold, had first signed to RCA Victor in 1943.  The Musicians’ Union’s strike prohibited the young vocalist from recording until it was settled in December, 1944, but when Arnold finally entered WSM’s radio studios to record four songs, he was making history.  His session was the first for a major label to be held in Nashville, Tennessee.  His star was soon on the ascendant.  1946’s honky-tonkin’, fiddle-adorned “What is Life Without Love” was but his first No. 1 on the Billboard country chart.  In the period of 1947-1948, Arnold held the top spot for 60 consecutive weeks (!) and in 1947-1949, he remained there for 79 out of 112 weeks (!!).  In all, it wasn’t a bad career for the sharecropper’s son from Tennessee.  Despite this great success, it hasn’t been an easy task tracking down Arnold’s original RCA recordings, as he revisited his classic catalogue later in his career for re-recordings – frequently with overdubbed strings and additional instrumentation.  Real Gone Music has remedied the situation with Complete Original No. 1 Hits (RGM-0081), containing all 28 of Arnold’s original Country chart-toppers out of 147 chart hits.

The Tennessee Plowboy was the first country star to have his own television program and led the charge to make country mainstream; 37 hits in all also made the pop chart.  The earliest recordings on this compilation reveal a smooth, direct and often romantic tenor voice, which by the 1960s had transformed into a burnished baritone.  Young Elvis Presley cited Arnold as an influence, and in another connection, “Colonel” Tom Parker was Arnold’s manager until 1953.

Though heartbreak naturally plays a role in many of the songs on Complete Original No. 1 Hits, Arnold’s genial presence was indebted to the tradition of singing cowboys like Gene Autry.  He also was a disciple of Bing Crosby, and one can hear Crosby’s easygoing charm, and intimacy, in Arnold’s recordings.  (Crosby recorded his share of country-style songs, too!)  Some compared Arnold to Perry Como, and both singers indeed boasted a similarly laconic delivery.  The compilation covers the period of 1946-1968, but 1955-1965 was a fallow period for Arnold, with no songs reaching the coveted top spot.

The very first song here, “What is Life Without Love,” is one of eight tracks co-written by Arnold, who was no slouch in the songwriting department.  But he also had good taste in recording the songs of others.  Bob Hilliard, who also collaborated with Burt Bacharach and co-wrote the score to Walt Disney’s Peter Pan, wrote lyrics to Steve Nelson’s melody for “Bouquet of Roses,” one of the many Arnold songs with a marked pop leaning.   “A Heart Full of Love (For a Handful of Kisses),” by Nelson, Ray Soehnel and Arnold, is another one of the many pure pop lyrics here.  Much of the country comes from the arrangements, usually adorned with fiddle and the distinctive steel guitar of “Little” Roy Wiggins.  There’s a yodel in Arnold’s voice on songs like “One Kiss Too Many” and Cindy Walker’s “Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me,” again playing the role of the heartsick, lovelorn hero.  The Ed Nelson/Steve Nelson/Arnold songwriting partnership yielded the even more maudlin “I’m Throwing Rice (At the Girl I Love)” (“After she just said ‘I do’”).

Hit the jump for more on Arnold, plus David Allan Coe’s Texas Moon! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 18, 2013 at 10:57

Release Round-Up: Week of June 18

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Patty Duke - ValleyPatty Duke, Don’t Just Stand There/Patty / Sings Songs from Valley of the Dolls/Sings Folk Songs (Time to Move On) (Real Gone Music)

All four of Patty’s United Artists albums released on a pair of two-fers, including 1968’s unreleased Sings Folk Songs.

Supremes - Cream of the Crop Paper SleeveThe Supremes, Cream of the Crop / Love Child / I Hear a Symphony / Join the Temptations / Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland / Supremes A Go-Go (Motown MS 649, 1966) (Culture Factory)

A bunch of Supremes classics – six albums from 1966’s The Supremes A Go-Go to 1969’s Cream of the Crop, their last with Diana Ross – all get the mini-LP treatment from Culture Factory.

Evening with Diana Ross

Diana Ross, The Boss /An Evening with Diana Ross (Culture Factory)

Culture Factory also brings Miss Ross’ long out-of-print concert disc back to CD, along with a new, mini-LP edition of the Ashford and Simpson-helmed favorite The Boss.

JULIA FORDHAM SweptJulia Fordham, Porcelain / Swept: Deluxe Editions (Cherry Pop)

The second and third LPs by U.K. singer Julia Fordham are expanded and remastered for the first time.

Porcelain: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.
Swept: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.

20 Feet from StardomVarious Artists, 20 Feet from Stardom: Music from the Motion Picture (Columbia)

The soundtrack to the anticipated new documentary about the best backup singers you might not have known, from Darlene Love to Merry Clayton. (Legacy’s releasing Clayton’s first-ever best-of compilation next month.) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Paul Young RRPaul Young, Remixes and Rarities (Cherry Pop)

Two discs of rare or new-to-CD bonus material from the ’80s crooner. (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)

Woody 100 ConcertVarious Artists, Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center (Legacy)

Not sure if this concert kills fascists, but this CD/DVD tribute to a folk legend, featuring John Mellencamp, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash and more is a fitting way to honor one of the century’s best songwriters. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)