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Archive for November 7th, 2013

Review, “Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1989” On DVD and CD

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Released Amnesty CDSex, drugs and rock and roll have been closely linked since, well, the dawn of rock and roll itself.  But those who have been lucky enough to make a living in the rough-and-tumble world of rock have also frequently given themselves over to more noble pursuits.  George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh wasn’t the first time a rock superstar had performed for charity, but The Quiet Beatle’s star-studded event is rightfully considered the first benefit concert of such stature.  Since then, there have been numerous other events bringing together rock’s biggest and brightest have come together for a good cause, from Live Aid to the recent 12-12-12 in support of Hurricane Sandy relief.  The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Amnesty International, founded in 1961, began its series of Secret Policeman’s Balls in 1976, raising money for its human rights crusades with artists like Pete Townshend and the Monty Python troupe.  The scale of its benefit events grew notably in 1988 with the 25-city Human Rights Now world tour, headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel and others.  Since then, Amnesty has staged of a number of remarkable concert events to support its mission “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”  The impressive new 6-DVD box set Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 (826663-13562 and its companion 2-CD set of highlights (826663-13568) not only provide hours of musical entertainment from a legendary group of artists, but support Amnesty’s work.  The net proceeds from both releases, available now from Shout! Factory in the U.S., go to the organization.

The most striking aspect about these releases, particularly the DVD set, is just how all-encompassing and comprehensive they are.  The collector-oriented box set is a completely immersive presentation, with documentaries and bonus material – 32 separate segments, in all – covering virtually every aspect of these concerts.  Most significant, perhaps, might be the hour-and-a-quarter of new documentary material – Peter Shelton’s film Light a Candle!  The Story Behind The Human Rights Concerts and two separate interview features with Bruce Springsteen and Sting.  The always-passionate and eloquent Springsteen delivers what is essentially an uninterrupted monologue, candidly reflecting on his role with Amnesty over the years.  He ruminates on the importance of freedom in rock and roll not just in the personal sense, but to the world at large, and recalls the “harrowing” and “intense” news conferences surrounding the Human Rights Now! tour.  “Our place in the world changed a little bit,” Springsteen says, and he gained “an enormous sense of the globe as one place.”  On a lighter note, he recalls a night in 1988 when his fellow performers decided to surprise him onstage by dressing in his usual attire, or the night a decade later when the multi-lingual Peter Gabriel bailed him out when he was at a loss for words with a French-speaking crowd!

Sting is relaxed and wry in his featurette, which unlike Springsteen’s stream-of-consciousness talk is divided into brief segments each devoted to one topic.  What’s most clear is Sting’s pride in his involvement with Amnesty over the years.  Like Springsteen, he was affected by those he met on the tour – political prisoners, their families, et. als. – as well as with the camaraderie he established with his fellow musicians including the Garden State’s favorite son.  He stresses Amnesty’s embrace of world music, and doesn’t flinch from discussing the risks incurred whenever a person in the public eye takes a political stand.

After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at Released! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 7, 2013 at 14:45

Purple Reign: Numero Anthologizes Early Minneapolis Funk Bands

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Purple SnowIt was something like Sly Stone or James Brown for the New Wave set: tight, sparse R&B jams peppered with funky guitar and pulsating bass, sweetened with electronic accoutrements in the percussion section and dazzling synthesizers where a horn section might be. The “Minneapolis sound” changed soul music dramatically in the ’80s, with Prince and his collaborators, associates and followers (The Time, Andre Cymone, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Alexander O’Neal) helping rewrite musical style for a new generation.

With much of Prince’s recent material partially focused on retrofied jams (his last studio albums in the U.S., 2009’s LOtUSFLOWER and MPLSound, were heavy on the Linn LM-1 drums and Oberheim OBX synths that propelled the likes of 1999 and Purple Rain into pop immortality), and an entire wave of activity surrounding the Tabu Records catalogue with the help of Edsel Records this year, the time seems right to revisit just where that sound came from. Enter cratedigger label extraordinaire Numero, whose double-disc compilation Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound takes listeners back to the earliest days of the funk revolution.

Many of the 32 tracks herein feature names familiar to Prince fans, but the leadoff track features The Purple One himself. “If You See Me” is a long-circulating outtake by 94 East, a band formed by local musician Pepe Willie, who was married to a cousin of Prince’s. The teenager was encouraged early on by Willie, who recruited both Prince and a childhood friend, bassist Andre Cymone, to play in his band. Prince would of course find success producing, writing, arranging and performing his own material when signed to Warner Bros. in 1978 – but he took Cymone with him in his live backing band. (Cymone was not an official member of the famed Revolution, eventually being replaced by bassist Mark Brown, though he did sign to Columbia Records shortly thereafter and cut three albums, most famously 1985’s The Dance Electric, with a title track written by – you guessed it – Prince.)

The notable names don’t stop there. Purple Snow features cuts by Flyte Tyme, a funk outfit that featured among its ranks keyboardists James Harris III and Monte Moir, bassist Terry Lewis and drummer Jellybean Johnson. Lead singer Cynthia Johnson would depart the group for Lipps Inc. (it’s her pipes that grace dance classic “Funkytown”), and she would be replaced by another Twin Cities up-and-comer, Alexander O’Neal. Those five would be considered for a project Prince was allowed to produce for Warner Bros.; ultimately, he kept all but O’Neal, whom he replaced with Morris Day. Adding guitarist Jesse Johnson and percussionist/comic foil Jerome Benton (and downplaying his writing-producing-performing output under the pseudonym Jamie Starr), Prince created The Time, arguably his best spin-off project. (Jam and Lewis were ejected from the band before the release of Purple Rain, in which The Time figure heavily; the band split up shortly thereafter but briefly reunited for new albums in 1990 and 2011.)

Jam and Lewis, of course, used the Flyte Tyme moniker to get their producing career off the ground in the middle of the decade, working for Tabu Records (writing and producing for O’Neal, Cherrelle and The S.O.S. Band) before hitting it big collaborating with Janet Jackson. But even before that, Jam was a principal member of Mind and Matter, another local outfit honored both on this set (with both sides of their only single and another outtake) and another forthcoming Numero title: 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement), a compilation of nine unreleased home demos largely written and produced by the future Jam. Mind and Matter were, perhaps, a more organic alternative to the Minneapolis sound, and it’s a fascinating listen/companion piece to the mighty Purple Snow.

Purple Snow will be available as a 2CD or 4LP set, each packed in hardbound packages with copious liner notes and essays. The first 500 pre-orders from Numero’s website get an additional, Prince-ish vinyl treat: a 7″ single featuring “Twin Cities Rapp,” David “T.C.” Ellis’ 1985 single in tribute to the by-then internationally-renowned Minneapolis acts of the day. (T.C. would later affiliate himself with the Prince camp, co-starring in the bizarre Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge in 1990 and releasing a full-length, True Confessions, on The Artist’s Paisley Park label a year later.) It’s in stores December 3, while Mind & Matter’s 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement) is available now. After the jump, you’ll find the full track lists for both!

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 7, 2013 at 13:39

BBR Completes Pointer Sisters’ Planet Catalogue with “Priority” and “Black and White” Remasters

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Pointer Sisters - PriorityBetween 1978 and 1988, The Pointer Sisters recorded a stunning series of nine albums with producer Richard Perry (Barbra Streisand, Harry Nilsson), first for his Elektra-distributed Planet Records label, and then for RCA, to whom Perry eventually sold Planet.  During this period, June, Ruth and Anita finally were able to Break Out on the U.S. charts – to quote the title of the group’s multi-platinum 1983 album which introduced four U.S. Top 10 hits.  Previously the Pointers had mastered jazz, blues, funk and even country – the latter with the Grammy-winning “Fairytale.”  But with Perry at the helm, the trio emphasized lithe R&B grooves equally steeped in dance, pop and rock rhythms.  In other words, Perry and the Pointer Sisters synthesized all of their influences into one recognizably “Pointer” style.  Big Break Records has just completed its reissue program for all of the Perry/Pointer Sisters albums with the recent releases of Priority (1979) and Black and White (1981).  In addition to getting the expanded treatment, the latter title is also appearing for the very first time on CD in its original album mix.

Even for fans of the sleek Pointer records like “Jump (For My Love)” and “He’s So Shy,” 1979’s Priority might come as a bit of a surprise.  As Perry reflects in Christian John Wikane’s incisive liner notes, the priority of the title was to produce genuine “rock-oriented material with a black group.”  And so, for the second collaborative album between Perry and the Pointer Sisters, the group tackled songs originally performed or written by The Rolling Stones, The Band, Ian Hunter, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Bruce Springsteen.  It was the latter’s “Fire” – a No. 2 hit from the Pointers’ Planet debut Energy – that pointed the way for the more aggressive direction on Priority.  To support the vocalists, Perry enlisted some of Laurel Canyon’s finest, raiding Rick Marotta (drums), Waddy Wachtel (guitar) and Dan Dugmore (guitar) from Linda Ronstadt’s band.  Pianist Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones, Nilsson) joined the personnel, as did Little Feat’s Bill Payne on keyboards, William “Smitty” Smith on organ, Scott Chambers on bass, and session great David Spinozza on slide guitar.  Though headlined by a vocal group, Priority feels very much like a “band record.”

“Who Do You Love” (“Is it her or is it me?”), pulled from Ian Hunter’s 1975 solo album, features a gritty June Pointer lead over a track adorned with barroom piano and bluesy guitar (with Wachtel soaring on lead) that would have been equally comfortable for Ronstadt or any of her country-rocking L.A. brethren.  The Pointer Sisters may have been from the Bay Area, but clearly the sound of Southern California could inspire them as well.  Though a uniform sound adorned most of the album’s tracks, their origins were diverse.  The arrangement of Detroiter Bob Seger’s “All Your Love” was cut from the same cloth as that of “Who Do You Love,” but, with Ruth’s even smokier vocal, emphasized the roughness around the edges.  Any group must be brave to tackle the Rolling Stones songbook, but the Pointers did just that with the Exile on Main Street rave-up “Happy,” with June filling in for Keith Richards and Nicky Hopkins reprising his role on piano.

Just as bold was the choice to cover a Bruce Springsteen song, though it was inevitable considering the Pointers’ success with The Boss’ “Fire.”  Arguably even more smoldering than “Fire,” “The Fever” was written and originally sung by Springsteen, but not released until the 1990s.  Allan Rich gave it a shot as “Fever For the Girl,” but the song became the property of Southside Johnny Lyon when he recorded it – with a memorable vocal contribution from E Streeter Clarence Clemons – in 1976.  Ruth was the perfect choice to sing lead, her husky tones giving weary life to the blues of Springsteen’s lyric.  The lack of Southside Johnny’s signature horn section also lends “(She’s Got) The Fever” a different quality here, and the mutual R&B roots of Springsteen and The Pointer Sisters are in evidence.

“Blind Faith,” a Gerry Rafferty/Joe Egan song for their band Stealer’s Wheel is hardly as well-known as Glimmer Twin Keith’s signature “Happy.”  But Perry imbued it with a down ‘n’ dirty spin on a girl group record as Ruth intoned the bluesy lead, June and Anita “bop-shoo-bopping” with ironic spirit behind her.  Richard Thompson’s “Don’t Let a Thief Steal Into Your Heart” might feature the best vocal and instrumental interplay on the album.  Chambers adds funky bass as the versatile Wachtel soars on slide, with June, Ruth and Anita each playing a substantial role in the vocals.  Robbie Robertson’s raucous “The Shape I’m In” concludes the album on a high note.

Priority did grant listeners one brief oasis of calm, however.  David Palmer and William D. Smith’s “Dreaming as One” had been recorded previously by The Walker Brothers and Warren Zevon associate Jorge Calderon, but Anita’s sensitive, cooing vocal didn’t force the sweet, natural emotion of the song.  In a fine decorative touch, Dan Dugmore’s pedal steel added the country flavor with which Anita was accustomed.  For all this fine material, the album lacked one song with strong enough pop single potential, by producer Perry’s own admission.  Still, one can’t help but believe that the group’s embrace of rock on Priority was another feather in their cap and another stepping stone to the superstardom that beckoned in the new decade.

Big Break’s reissue doesn’t add any bonus material, but the album has been remastered by reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson and includes a typically lavish and colorful booklet with full credits and Wikane’s new essay.  As usual, the attention to detail is top-notch right down to the Planet/BBR label on the CD itself.

After the jump: a look at Black and White, plus order links and track listings for both titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 7, 2013 at 11:11

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Pointer Sisters

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