The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for October 3rd, 2013

Interview: Going Full Circle with Richard Barone of The Bongos

leave a comment »

Phantom TrainRichard Barone, frontman for New Jersey-based power-pop act The Bongos, describes his career as centered around the theme of “full circle.” This year, Barone has revisited a lot of captivating and familiar territory from his lengthy career.

The Bongos were the closing act at legendary Hoboken club Maxwell’s in July, having (as members of the band “a”) been the venue’s first act. Onstage, they announced the release of a “lost” Bongos album, Phantom Train, recorded primarily at Compass Point Studios with producer Eric “E.T.” Thorngren in 1986 but unreleased until this week. The album was released by the reactivated Jem Recordings, whose founder, Marty Scott, first distributed the band in the United States through the original Jem’s PVC label. (Jem also released this week physical CD reissues of Barone’s acclaimed 1987 solo debut Cool Blue Halo and a 2CD/1DVD concert/documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary of that album in 2012 – all of which was a real treat for Barone, whose birthday was the same day as the October 1 release date.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Richard about Phantom Train as well as his storied past, present and future in the business. I hope you enjoy it, and heartily recommend giving Phantom Train a spin. It’s a killer pop record from the past that doesn’t require a time machine to enjoy.

Before Phantom Train, The Bongos spent time on both an independent label (U.K. based Fetish Records, distributed in the U.S. by Jem’s PVC label), and later signed to RCA.

It seemed like a long time at the time. We signed with RCA in 1982 and stayed with them for about three years. During that time we recorded two albums and toured constantly – 300 shows a year. It seemed like a decade!

What was the major label experience like, compared to being independent?

Oh, it was all good. I’m an indie person, and if you look at my catalogue, you’ll see I bounce back and forth between majors and indies. There’s a best of both somewhere in there – I like working with labels that have a huge team, so you can really reach all over the country. There’s benefits to both, and I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to experience both kinds of labels. My students [Barone teaches at New York University] are just breaking into the industry, and I’m able to share a lot of experiences on both sides of that coin.

The indie scene is fantastic, I love it and support it in every way, but it’s also a vortex. You start thinking in small terms, but music can be very widespread. You can really reach a lot of people with your music. So it’s kind of good to apply what the majors do and play their game, but on a scale that puts you in control.

Phantom Train was recorded at Compass Point Studios, owned by Chris Blackwell. Were you near a deal with Island instead?

We were never signed to Island. It came out of friendships and associations that you build along the way. The Bongos are very spontaneous guys, still. Someone said, “Oh, you should go to Compass Point and record.” We’d just come off a tour, and it sounded like a great idea. But there was nothing on paper. There was no formal arrangement.

Tell us a little bit about the album.

Phantom Train is my favorite of our albums, in a few ways. We were just experimenting and were able to do whatever we wanted without any kind of restraints. We wanted to just play music in great studios.

It’s the only album where we recorded songs many different ways. We give fans a taste of that with “My Wildest Dreams” beginning and ending the album two different ways. We labeled the last one “demo” for indexing purposes, but it really was a different take on the song. The hardest thing about putting this together now was to choose which versions are on the album. It was very diverse.

We were experimenting with different tape formats. We of course did 24 and 48-track, but we really also liked the sound of eight-track tape. Songs like “Run to the Wild” and “I Belong to Me,” those were done on eight-track.

We spent the summer at Shelter Island going through all these tapes. They all had to be baked, and there were hundred of takes on these tapes. Maybe about 30 or 40 reels of tape. But it all came together – I think it might be our most consistent record.

There’s more from Richard after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

October 3, 2013 at 15:24

Review: The Alan Parsons Project, “I Robot: Legacy Edition”

with 2 comments

I Robot Legacy EditionHow to follow an art-rock concept album based on the macabre tales of nineteenth-century author Edgar Allan Poe?  For The Alan Parsons Project, the answer was apparently a simple one: look forward rather than back.  So the second album by the progressive-rock “group” – in actuality producer-engineer Parsons, chief songwriter-executive producer Eric Woolfson, and a rotating cast of musicians and vocalists – was inspired by the writing of Isaac Asimov and explored artificial intelligence in a sci-fi landscape.  I Robot (not to be confused, for legal purposes, with Asimov’s I, Robot, though the author gave the Project’s project his blessing) bested the No. 38 placing of the Poe-based Tales of Mystery and Imagination on the Billboard 200 by hitting No. 9. That was no small feat for an ambitious prog-rock opus in the pop-and-disco-dominated days of 1977.  Now, the APP’s Arista debut I Robot has arrived from Legacy Recordings in a 2-CD Legacy Edition with 14 bonus tracks, 9 of which are previously unreleased.  This edition supplants a 2007 single-disc remaster as it contains the original five bonus tracks from that reissue.

The future depicted in I Robot via the album’s ten tracks – six vocal songs and four largely instrumental compositions, all credited to Woolfson and Parsons – is a rather dark one, even if the title of one anthemic track proclaims that “Day After Day (The Show Must Go On).”  The lyrics are more concerned with mood and feeling rather than advancing a particular story, but are focused on the relationship between man and his robotic creations.  Woolfson, who died in 2009, wrote in 2006 as reprinted in the liner notes, “I Robot to some extent looks at the questions and the extent to which as human beings we may or may not be pre-programmed and act in a robotic fashion, as well as the dangers of uncontrolled development of artificial intelligence.”  It’s heady stuff, and the album revels in progressive pomp.  But it’s all played with impeccable musicianship not to mention earnestness and seriousness.  In other words, I Robot wholly avoids the trap of camp despite the frequently operatic writing.  Comparisons to Pink Floyd are inevitable, particularly as Parsons famously engineered Dark Side of the Moon, and there’s a certain similarity in the grandiosity of it all not to mention the instrumentation; Parsons admits in his new liner notes here that the title track of I Robot was inspired by the Floyd’s use of the EMS Synthi-A synth sequencer.  But I Robot showed The Alan Parsons Project establishing a less lysergic, more cosmic sound of its own, with multiple singers and varied textures placed in both rock-based and orchestral veins.

Read on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 3, 2013 at 14:05

Morello Reissues The Electric Prunes’ “Mass” and “Oath” On One CD

leave a comment »

Electric Prunes - Mass and Release

Cherry Red’s Morello label has taken a break from its usual diet of classic country – think: the legendary likes of George Jones, Marty Robbins and Charley Pride – to bring two titles from the psych-rockers The Electric Prunes back into print.  The label has paired The Prunes’ 1968 David Axelrod-produced albums Mass in F Minor and Release of an Oath on one CD which is now available.

Composed and arranged by the maverick Axelrod – on loan from Capitol Records – Mass in F Minor is perhaps best-remembered today for its opening track, “Kyrie Eleison.”  Axelrod’s composition – translated as “Lord, have mercy” and a psychedelic resetting of an important Christian prayer – earned a measure of cinematic immortality when it was used in the film Easy Rider.  But “Kyrie” and Mass weren’t the work of the same Electric Prunes who scored a No. 11 Pop hit with the 1967 nugget “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).”  The band’s original line-up of Ken Williams (guitar), Jim Lowe (vocals/autoharp), Mark Tulin (bass) and Michael Weakley (drums) was in a near-constant state of flux since its signing to Reprise Records.  Even that hit single lacked the participation of Weakley and added James Spagnola on guitar and Preston Ritter on drums.   During the recording of Mass, the band splintered again, and Jim Lowe once commented that “Axelrod was so far above what we as a garage band were able to deliver.”  Mass – with other segments of Axelrod’s religious service including “Gloria,” “Credo,” “Sanctus,” “Benedictus” and “Agnus Dei” – was completed by members of The Collectors and various session musicians.  An iteration of the “real” Prunes attempted to play the complex album onstage, but a planned tour was cancelled after just one performance.

Seemingly undeterred, producer Dave Hassinger and arranger-composer Axelrod persevered with another spiritually-inclined album to follow up Mass under The Electric Prunes’ name.  Read about it after the jump.  Plus: order links and full track listings! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 3, 2013 at 10:12