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Archive for January 27th, 2014

Review: Tower of Power, “Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Live on the Air and In the Studio”

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Tower of Power - LiveWhat is hip?

Based on the evidence of Tower of Power’s Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Live on the Air and in the Studio (RGM-0208), the Bay Area band certainly qualifies.  Real Gone Music’s crackling first-time release of a 1974 concert recorded for radio is a potent reminder of why Tower of Power’s rip-roaring horns have enlivened a host of recordings from artists as diverse as Elton John, Grateful Dead, Poison, Neil Diamond, Santana, and Aerosmith.

Tower of Power scored its commercial breakthrough with its third, self-titled album (and second for Warner Bros. Records), originally released in May 1973.  The album welcomed a number of new faces to the band.  Lenny Williams joined as lead vocalist, Chester Thompson assumed keyboard duties, Lenny Pickett replaced Skip Mesquite as lead saxophonist and Bruce Conte replaced original guitarist Willie James Fulton.  This new, 11-strong line-up’s first album together spawned three hit singles, “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “This Time It’s Real.”  All three songs established that the group’s songwriting – by band members including tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillio, baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and drummer David Garibaldi – was as deft as its musicianship.  One year later, in May ’74, TOP released its Back to Oakland album on the Warner label, and entered the studios of Long Island’s progressive-minded WLIR-FM for a live, in-studio performance.  Now, nearly forty years later, that smoking concert has finally seen release as a 2-CD set.  The fourteen-song set naturally drew heavily on Back to Oakland, with half of that LP appearing (“Oakland Stroke,” “Squib Cakes,” “Just When We Start Makin’ It,” “Time Will Tell,” “Man from the Past”).  Old favorites were also reprised, of course including the three hit singles from Tower of Power.

With two trumpeters (Greg Adams and Mic Gillette), three saxophonists (Castillio, Kupka and Pickett), one guitarist (Conte), one bassist (Francis Rocco Prestia), one keyboardist (Thompson), one drummer (Garibaldi), one percussionist (Brent Byars on congas) and one lead vocalist (Williams), the large aggregation’s sound was singular.  The WLIR broadcast showed off all sides of the band with tight instrumentals, vocal showcases, and extended jazz-flavored workouts.  Luckily for TOP, this was a period during which the charts were welcoming to such diversity and experimentation. The band’s guitar-keyboard-brass blend reflected the prominence of fusion in jazz, while the big, prominent horns echoed the hits that had dominated the charts from the likes of Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears  TOP was less pop-rock and less jazz, more funk ‘n’ soul, but similar touchstones were recognizable.

As Leo Sacks astutely points out in his new liner notes for Real Gone’s release, 1974 was also a time when anything was possible in R&B alone.  Perhaps never before had so many different strains achieved such mainstream success.  Thom Bell was bringing urbane sophistication and a sweetly melodic yet still funky sensibility to his work with The Spinners.  Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were redefining the Motown sound for a socially-conscious new generation.  Barry White was emphasizing intimacy on his steamy, lush bedroom ballads.  Miles Davis was alienating old fans and gaining new ones as he proved that a jazzman, with all his chops, could out-rock and out-funk damn near anybody else.  Earth, Wind and Fire were tapping into a bold, expansive sound all their own.  And disco, of course, was taking rise in Philadelphia and elsewhere, bringing the sounds of the underground to the mainstream.  In this soul stew, Tower of Power found that their audience-pleasing style extended beyond the Bay Area, bringing energy and a massive, often massively joyous sound to music that owed a debt to classic soul.  One of the band’s songs not performed for WLIR nonetheless could have been TOP’s manifesto: “You Got to Funkifize.”

After the jump: more on this sizzling live set! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 27, 2014 at 14:23

Posted in News, Reviews, Tower of Power

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UPDATE: Nice ‘n’ Easy Does It Every Time: “Sinatra, With Love” Arrives From New Signature Sinatra Imprint, Premieres One Previously Unreleased Track

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Sinatra with LoveLate last October, Frank Sinatra Enterprises – the joint venture between the late artist’s family and Warner Music Group – and Universal Music Enterprises quietly made history when they announced that, for the first time, Sinatra’s Capitol and Reprise catalogues would be united under the terms of a new agreement in North America.  (UMe previously had the Reprise-era license for a series of European straight album reissues.  Concord Music Group had, until recently, been releasing Sinatra’s Reprise reissues in the United States.)  UMe, who controls the singer’s Capitol catalogue as a result of its purchase of Capitol from EMI, acquired the license for his Reprise material, finally bringing the bulk of his recordings under one roof for a longer term than just a one-off release.  (Sony Music still controls Sinatra’s early RCA Victor and Columbia recordings.)  UMe and FSE launched Signature Sinatra, a new imprint dedicated to the artist, with the multiple-format reissues of Duets and Duets II, and UMe has also released a handful of budget projects with the Sinatra imprimatur (and both Capitol and Reprise material) including two Icon volumes and a 5 Classic Albums entry.  Now, with the Sinatra Centennial of 2015 just a year away (and the promise of new reissues and perhaps even a comprehensive box set), Signature Sinatra has announced its second project, a Valentine’s Day-aimed anthology entitled Sinatra, with Love.  It’s due from Capitol Records on January 28.

Sinatra, with Love naturally covers familiar ground, as similar compilations have been released in the past by both Capitol and Reprise.  This set’s repertoire, spanning the period between 1954 and 1988, is evenly divided down the middle between both eras and features contributions by arrangers including Nelson Riddle, Neal Hefti, Don Costa, Billy May and Eumir Deodato.  There are, naturally, staples of the Great American Songbook (the Gershwins’ “Love is Here to Stay,” Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight,” Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On,” “I Love You” and “Just One of Those Things,” the latter a somewhat odd choice for a romantically-inclined set!) as well as favorites from Sinatra’s go-to team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (“The Tender Trap,” “The Look of Love”) and for this author’s money the most sensual vocal ever recorded by Sinatra, of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave.”  One track has been confirmed by Nancy Sinatra at the Sinatra Family Forums as a previously-unissued recording: an alternate take of Victor Young and Ned Washington’s “My Foolish Heart” from Sinatra’s final Reprise studio session of June 6, 1988.  The 1995 Complete Reprise Recordings box set included one take of this song, arranged and conducted by Billy May, from the session during which Sinatra recorded at least 17 takes.  The previously unissued Sinatra, with Love take includes an unedited trumpet solo from Jack Sheldon.  Nancy states that “it is not the same take as on the Complete Reprise box set.”

After the jump, we have more information including the complete track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 27, 2014 at 12:57

New Box Set Explores The “Love, Poetry and Revolution” of ’60s British Psychedelia

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Love, Poetry and Revolution

It’s only appropriate that “a journey through the British psychedelic and underground scenes” would remain one of the best-kept secrets of late 2013.  Love, Poetry and Revolution is the name of the recent box set from Grapefruit, the Cherry Red Group’s dedicated U.K. psych imprint.  (Grapefruit is also responsible for the new John’s Children anthology featuring Marc Bolan.)  Over nearly four hours, this  3-CD set surveys the fertile, creative period in the U.K. musical underground between 1966 and 1972 in which various styles were all blossoming: psychedelic rock and pop, progressive rock, acid folk, even psychedelic blues.

In his introductory note, compiler David Wells notes that “psychedelia and the underground was always a broad church, a house of many windows that sought to incorporate poetry, jazz, pop, folk, rock and many other aspects of the arts.”  And so Love, Poetry and Revolution touches on all of those sounds.  The box draws on bands both well-known (The Spencer Davis Group, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Hawkwind) and all but unknown (Sun Dragon, Neon Pearl, Crocheted Doughnut Ring) over the course of its 65 trippy tracks which are arranged in chronological order.  Best of all, each and every track is accompanied by an individual note in the 36-page booklet delineating the original release information as well as details on the artist’s background.

A number of familiar names pop up here, sometimes on unexpected tracks.  The Bee Gees – Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb – penned the whimsical “Mrs. Gillespie’s Refrigerator,” recorded in 1967 by the band Sands on (Bee Gees manager) Robert Stigwood’s Reaction label.  Maurice Gibb shows up, incognito, on the fabled Beatles sound-alike single “Have You Heard the Word,” credited to The Fut.  The 1970 track was the work of Gibb, his brother-in-law (and Lulu’s brother) Billy Lawrie, and the Australian duo Tin Tin.  What happened to Sands?  The band’s Rob Freeman and Ian McLintock regrouped as the groovy duo Sun Dragon, and their 1968 single “Peacock Dress,” heard here, found them backed by the core of Deep Purple: Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice!  The Spencer Davis Group is heard on a couple of post-Steve and Muff Winwood tracks (“Mr. Second Class,” “Morning Sun”), while offshoot Hardin-York (featuring former Group members Eddie Hardin and Pete York) is represented with the 1969 Bell single “Tomorrow Today.”

If you don’t know the name of Fat Mattress, you likely do know the band’s star member, Jimi Hendrix Experience Noel Redding.  Fat Mattress was a result of Redding’s desire to be heard as both a songwriter and a guitarist, and the band also featured Neil Landon of The Flower Pot Men and Jim Leverton, a bassist who had performed with Cat Stevens and the Walker Brothers.  The group was short-lived, but the box presents their 1969 single B-side “Iridescent Butterfly.”  Another famous name here is that of Greg Lake.  Before he hooked up with Emerson and Palmer, Lake paid his dues in groups like The Shame and Shy Limbs, both of which are heard here – The Shame with the Janis Ian cover “Don’t Go ‘Way Little Girl” (originally “Too Old to Go ‘Way Little Girl”) and the latter with single B-side “Love.”  Trivia: the guitarist on “Love” was none other than Lake’s soon-to-be King Crimson bandmate, Robert Fripp!

After the jump: which tracks are making their first appearance anywhere here?  Plus: the full track listing with discography, and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 27, 2014 at 09:46

Posted in Box Sets, Compilations, News