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Archive for February 6th, 2014

It Ain’t Hard to Tell: Nas’ “Illmatic” Celebrated for Its 20th Anniversary

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Nas - IllmaticIn recent years, Long Island City at the westernmost edge of the New York City borough of Queens has become a hotbed of arts-related activities.  But before gentrification hit Long Island City, the neighborhood was already hosting an artistic renaissance in the form of rap.  One of the most acclaimed rappers to come out of the scene is Nas, or Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones.  Born in 1973, the son of jazz trumpeter Olu Dara made his album debut with 1994’s Columbia Records release Illmatic.  Now, Columbia and Legacy Recordings are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of this landmark album with a new 2-CD deluxe edition set for release on April 15.

Peaking at an impressive No. 12 on the Billboard 200, Illmatic established Nas as a vital, creative force in rap and hip-hop.  Critics took notice of both the album’s production and its intelligent, authentic and edgy treatment of themes including poverty, gang life, drugs and the other ravages of urban life.  The album incorporated numerous textures including samples by jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, and drummer Joe Chambers on the track “N.Y. State of Mind” (not inspired by the Billy Joel standard).  Vibraphonist Gary Burton, Michael Jackson, Kool and the Gang, Stanley Clarke and Mountain are among the other artists sampled.  By late 2001, Illmatic had been certified a platinum seller, a testament to its ongoing relevance.  Since the arrival of Illmatic, Nas has released nine albums, including 2012’s chart-topping, Grammy-nominated Life is Good.

What extras will be found on the new Illmatic XX?  Hit the jump!  Plus: we have the full track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 6, 2014 at 14:54

Posted in Nas, News, Reissues, Vinyl


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Written by Joe Marchese

February 6, 2014 at 09:54

Feeling Good: Rare Albums From Henry Mancini, Anthony Newley Arrive From Vocalion

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Visions of EightThe U.K.’s Vocalion label is dedicated to exploring the corners of music catalogue too often overlooked by other labels: dance bands, big bands, “personalities,” “easy, light and Latin,” soundtracks, and classical titles, per its website.  A new batch of rare and new-to-CD titles (including “easy listening” releases from Peter Nero, Floyd Cramer, Paul Mauriat and George Melachrino) is highlighted by a two-fer containing two rare Henry Mancini LPs, and another two-fer drawn from Anthony Newley’s tenure at RCA Victor in which the consummate entertainer was teamed with arrangers like H.B. Barnum, Billy Strange, Peter Knight and future Bread leader David Gates.

Producers David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies’ 1973 documentary Visions of Eight enlisted eight different directors to “capture what the naked eye cannot see” at the August 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, West Germany.  Milos Forman, John Schlesinger and Arthur Penn were among the film’s auteurs; each man selected his own crew and a subject on which to focus at the Games.  Forman took “The Decathlon,” Schlesinger covered marathoners in “The Longest,” and Penn filmed “The Highest” about pole vaulters.   French director Claude Lelouch’s The Losers depicted the pain of those athletes who didn’t take a medal home.  Mai Zetterling’s “The Strongest” focused on weightlifters, and Kon Ichikawa’s “The Fastest” concentrated on the men’s 100-meter dash, and so on. Hardly any of the films referred to the athletes by name, instead focusing on an artful, stylish interpretation of their accomplishments.

Tragically, the Games themselves were overshadowed by the Black September terrorist attacks (or the Munich massacre, as depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Munich) on the Israeli Olympic team which left eleven Israeli athletes and coaches as well as a West German policeman dead.  Critics at the time of Visions’ release took note that only Schlesinger fully addressed the attacks in his film The Longest; most of the directors reportedly had concluded their location shooting by the time of the September 5 attack.  The Golden Globe-winning Visions was dedicated to “The Eleven Slain Israeli Athletes, Tragic Victims of the Violence of Our Times.”

The versatile Henry Mancini was called on to score Visions of Eight, unifying many of the sequences with his dramatic musical cues.  RCA Victor, the label to which Mancini was signed, issued a relatively brief soundtrack album, including one composition recorded especially for the LP, “Ludmilla’s Theme.”  Vocalion’s reissue marks its first appearance on CD since a 1999 BMG Spain edition which is long out-of-print.  Visions of Eight has been paired with a more unusual project of the great composer’s.   Just You and Me Together Love, recorded in San Francisco in 1977, teamed Mancini with the poet John Laws.  Once described as “Australia’s best-selling poet of the 1970s,” Laws might be described as the Rod McKuen of the Aussie set.  And Just You and Me Together Love could then be thought of as Laws and Mancini’s answer to McKuen and the Anita Kerr Singers’ The Sea.  In any event, Laws narrated, and Mancini provided a typically lush array of original melodies and arrangements to accompany Laws’ recited poems.  Vocalion’s reissue is the first CD appearance of this rare LP, making it essential for Mancini collectors.

After the jump: Vocalion offers a two-for-one release from Anthony Newley! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 6, 2014 at 09:45