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Archive for December 6th, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Frank Sinatra, “Duets: Twentieth Anniversary”

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Frank Sinatra - Duets SDE

“May you live to be one hundred and may the last voice you hear be mine.”  The image of Frank Sinatra, glass in hand, delivering that favorite toast is an indelible one.  His wasn’t just a voice, after all.  Before he was Ol’ Blue Eyes or The Chairman of the Board, he was simply The Voice.  And through all its many changes, The Voice endured.  The pure, romantically-charged timbre that set the hearts of bobbysoxers pounding in the forties transformed into the ultimate instrument of ultimate cool during the fifties and sixties.  Cigarettes, whiskey and experience deepened the once-crystalline tone as the decades rolled on, but in any year, Frank Sinatra exuded an air somehow both untouchable and intimate…and always unflaggingly honest.  Yet until now, none of the roughly 60 studio albums recorded by the artist had ever been expanded into box set format.  Capitol Records has finally made that move with 1993’s triple-platinum Duets, now combined with its 1994 platinum follow-up Duets II.  The Duets – Twentieth Anniversary campaign includes a 2-CD/1-DVD Super Deluxe Edition box set (Capitol B0019342-00), 2-CD Deluxe Edition (with both audio discs from the box set, including bonus tracks), 2-LP vinyl set (with just the original albums) and single-CD Best of Duets highlights disc.

Duets, originally released on November 2, 1993 and included as the first disc of the Super Deluxe box, marked Sinatra’s return to Capitol Records after a more than thirty-year absence. His first studio album for the label since 1962’s Point of No Return, Duets teamed the celebrated icon with producer Phil Ramone, co-producer Hank Cattaneo, and a host of performers from various musical genres and eras.  It took a good deal of coaxing to get the 77-year old superstar into the studio to bring Duets to life, and a good deal of Ramone’s studio wizardry, too.  Duets, for good or ill, helped popularize the now rather commonplace concept of the virtual duet, as Ramone recorded Sinatra in the famous Studio A with Bill Miller at the piano and a full orchestra conducted by Patrick Williams…and nary a duet partner in sight.  (Wasn’t Sinatra always a trendsetter?)  All of the famous personnel would be added later, with Ramone using a fiber-optics system developed in part by George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound to record Sinatra’s guests.  Twenty years on, divorced from any controversy about the recording techniques, Duets holds up surprisingly well.  For all the illustrious talent on display on the LP, the reason why boils down to three words: Francis Albert Sinatra (with a little help from his friends).

Hit the jump to join us as we dive into Duets: Twentieth Anniversary! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2013 at 13:13

Esoteric Label Rediscovers Lord Sutch’s “Heavy Friends” Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Bonham

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Lord Sutch - Heavy FriendsWhen Screaming Lord Sutch promised the presence of some “Heavy Friends,” he wasn’t messing around.  The cover of 1970’s Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends boasts some of the heaviest hitters in rock and roll: guitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, drummer John Bonham, pianist Nicky Hopkins and Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding.  It’s recently been remastered and reissued by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint, and certainly qualifies for release on a label called Esoteric!

David Edward Sutch (1940-1999) was a showman through and through, whether rocking-and-rolling in his horror-themed stage act or sending up politics as founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.  (And yes, the Monster Raving Loonies have actually won elections!)  Though he wasn’t much of a singer, “Screaming” Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow, made a splash with the Joe Meek-produced, banned-by-the-BBC single “Jack the Ripper” in 1963.  (His nickname was inspired by Screaming Jay Hawkins, and he wasn’t really an Earl…but no matter!)  That was the same year he stood in his first election, representing the National Teenage Party.  Always a colorful character, Sutch and his manager Reginald Calvert even formed a pirate radio station, inventively named “Radio Sutch.”  Sutch was known to emerge from a coffin onstage, and could be found offstage tooling around in his Union Jack-adorned Rolls Royce.

Until 1970, however, Sutch had never released an LP.  He called on some of his very famous friends to participate in sessions for the album that would become Heavy Friends, though most subsequently disowned it when Sutch emblazoned their names on the cover of the LP rather than allowing them the reportedly-promised anonymity.  Recorded at Hollywood’s Mystic Sound Studios in 1969, Heavy Friends has a loose, off-the-cuff feel, as if the recorders had been turned on during a late-night jam session.  Sutch resisted the temptation to record a batch of oldies, instead bringing self-described “modern rock ‘n’ roll with the real Zeppelin sound” to the table.  Though it’s debatable whether he quite achieved that, one couldn’t deny Sutch’s understated assertion that “John Bonham is a tremendous drummer.”  Jimmy Page ended up with a co-producer credit (“very nice of [Sutch],” he commented in 1970) and as co-writer of six of the album’s twelve songs.  Sutch and co. were joined by Daniel Edwards, Martin Kohl and Rick Brown on bass, Kent Henrey on guitar, and Carlo Little and Bob Metke on drums.

Malcolm Dome, in his new liner notes, persuasively makes the argument for this “oddball yet strangely charismatic” and “weird and effective” album, but reaction upon its release was hardly so kind.  Rolling Stone called it “absolutely terrible” and Page insisted the album was no more than a joke that “became ugly.”  But Heavy Friends today plays like a primal early exercise in what would become punk, with musical nods to blues-rock and rock-and-roll.   Sutch’s distinctive, if not particularly musical, vocals may not be to everyone’s tastes, but Beck’s guitar shines on “Gutty Guitar,” and Page and Bonham’s interplay on a number of tracks is particularly worthwhile.  In addition, tracks like “Union Jack Car” and “L-O-N-D-O-N” are offbeat but memorable and very much of the period.  Stripped-down, wild and woolly, and certainly original, Heavy Friends is certainly one of the strangest records to have been created by an all-star supergroup.  Page and Bonham appear on seven songs, with Beck on one track, and Hopkins and Redding on three each (Redding supplies the “Thumping Beat” on the song of the same name).

After the jump: more on Heavy Friends, including the track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2013 at 10:45