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Archive for February 12th, 2014

Review: Blood, Sweat and Tears, “The Complete Columbia Singles”

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Blood Sweat and Tears - SinglesBlood, Sweat and Tears has much in common with Rodney Dangerfield – they get no respect.

Though the band founded by Al Kooper, Steve Katz, Bobby Colomby, Jim Fielder, Dick Halligan, Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss produced some of the most enduring pop singles of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the group has long lingered in the shadows of rock’s back pages.  Eclipsed in fame by Columbia Records labelmates Chicago, plagued by a series of acrimonious departures from the ranks, and pilloried for perceived pro-Nixon views, BS&T has survived primarily as oldies station fodder.  Yet with its release of The Complete Columbia Singles (RGM-0211), Real Gone Music has put the emphasis on the vivid, varied body of work from the band’s Columbia period of 1968-1976.  The 2-CD, 32-track set reveals a wealth of brassy, powerful jazz-rock that has stood the test of time.

Blood, Sweat and Tears wasn’t the first band to fuse rock and roll with a big-band horn section, but the group did it with a level of virtuosity that eclipsed those that had come before.  For his one and only album with the band, Child is Father to the Man, Al Kooper blended the improvisational, experimental quality that had marked his work with The Blues Project with the commercial sensibility he honed as the young songwriter of pop hits like Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring.”  Only two tracks from Kooper’s short tenure are heard here, but the driving blue-eyed soul of “I Can’t Quit Her” and the outré, effects-laden – yet still melodic – “House in the Country” both underscore how creative BS&T was at its inception.  But Kooper, Brecker and Weiss were gone before long.  Producer James William Guercio, whose rock-with-horns work with the Buckinghams had inspired the early BS&T, came on board in time for the group’s second album.  It was the same year he would produce the eponymous debut album by a band with a similar idea – The Chicago Transit Authority.

With Guercio at the helm, Blood, Sweat and Tears reinvented itself.  Key in this reinvention was the addition of vocalist David Clayton-Thomas to the line-up; Lew Soloff, Jerry Hyman and Chuck Winfield all also joined the group.  Clayton-Thomas’ powerful, deep voice was deployed to stunning effect on the group’s re-arrangement of Brenda Holloway’s Motown hit “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”  With commanding horns married to an irresistibly soulful melody and an urgent vocal, “Happy” fused jazz, rock, pop and R&B into one storming, radio-friendly whole.  Clayton-Thomas’ own “Spinning Wheel” built on the style and sound of “Happy,” with its psychedelic lyrics tapping into the zeitgeist of the era.  Soon, everybody had caught on to “Spinning Wheel” – from Mel Torme and Sammy Davis Jr. to Shirley Bassey and Nancy Wilson.  Even The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, took a stab at it. The band used its transformative skills once again to great effect on Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die,” adding an anthemic quality and an inventively cinematic, old-west feel  to the New York songstress’ folky, wise-beyond-her-years and ironically upbeat rumination.   “Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die” are all presented in their original, edited 45 RPM mono versions; all three songs reached a peak of No. 2 on the Billboard charts.  (The first eight tracks are in mono, and the remainder in stereo.)   “Spinning Wheel” in particular suffered from its cuts, but the shortened version is indeed the one that received airplay in 1969.

Though Guercio was forced out of the producer’s chair after one album and replaced by Bobby Colomby – in hindsight, not the smartest move to make, per Steve Katz in Ed Osborne’s in-depth liner notes – BS&T continued notching moderate hits, at least for a while.  (Guercio moved over to concentrate on Chicago, so it’s likely he wasn’t too broken up about being ushered out of BS&T’s circle.)  These hits are, of course, here, too, in crisply remastered sound courtesy of Vic Anesini.  Best of these might be Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s offbeat gospel riff “Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll),” given a huge production complete with an oddly incongruous choir.  That No. 14 hit was followed on the charts by David Clayton-Thomas’ over-the-top composition “Lucretia MacEvil.”  Yet, what goes up must come down.  It would be BS&T’s final Top 30 hit.  (“If they can live with ‘Lucretia MacEvil’ and their Las Vegas desecration of ‘God Bless the Child,’ then God bless them,” Al Kooper quipped in his book Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Survivor.)

After the jump: much more on BS&T! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 12, 2014 at 13:46

Jeepers! Kritzerland Scares Up Reissue of “Jeepers Creepers: Great Songs from Horror Films”

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Jeepers CreepersIt’s not Halloween for a while yet, but the Kritzerland label is scaring up some ghoulish tunes with its brand-new reissue of the 2003 anthology Jeepers Creepers: Great Songs from Horror Films!  With a stellar cast of performers drawn from Broadway and Hollywood including Brent Barrett, Alison Fraser, Jason Graae, Juliana Hansen, Katharine Helmond, Judy Kaye, Rebecca Luker, Michelle Nicastro and Christiane Noll, with a special appearance from the “Cool Ghoul” Zacherley (a.k.a. John Zacherle), Jeepers Creepers  features arrangements by album producer Bruce Kimmel and co-arranger/musical director Grant Geissman, composer of television’s Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly.

Jeepers Creepers first appeared in 2003 as a co-production between the Red Circle label and Kritzerland, and was in fact the first CD to bear the name of the future soundtrack and cast recording specialist label.  Though these songs share their origins in horror films (for the most part!), they’re otherwise an eclectic group penned by an A-list of songwriters past and present: Burt Bacharach and Mack David (“The Blob” from the film of the same name, sung here by Broadway’s Alison Fraser), Tony Hatch (“Look for a Star,” from 1960’s Circus of Horrors, sung by the mysterious Guy Haines), Bob Gaudio and Al Kasha (“Who Killed Teddy Bear?” from the campy 1965 thriller, sung here by Tami Tappan Damiano), Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn (“The Faithful Heart” from Journey to the Center of the Earth, sung by Rebecca Luker) and the legendary Johnny Mercer.

Mercer’s contributions might be surprising to some.  He co-wrote the title song of Jeepers Creepers with Harry Warren (42nd Street) for Louis Armstrong in the 1938 film Going Places referring to a horse called Jeepers Creepers, but the song found its way into the horror genre courtesy of a 2001 chiller named after the song and its 2003 sequel.  Mercer’s other track here is “Goody Goody,” co-written with Matty Malneck, which wasn’t written for a horror movie but certainly made an impression in one thanks to the Debbie Reynolds/Shelley Winters campfest What’s the Matter with Helen? in 1971.  (Who could forget – SPOILER – the maniacal Winters serenading the murdered Reynolds, hung like a scarecrow, on piano at the film’s conclusion?)  Cabaret star and actress Sharon McNight sings “Jeepers” here, and Lynette Perry (Broadway’s Ragtime, Grand Hotel) does “Goody Goody” with a little help from Zacherley.  Another surprising selection might be Ned Washington and Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight.”  It’s since become a standard for both vocalists and jazz musicians (including John Coltrane and Miles Davis), but it had its roots in the 1944 ghost story The Uninvited.  Brent Barrett (Phantom of the Opera, Chicago) does it here.

Hit the jump for more on Jeepers Creepers, including the track listing and pre-order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 12, 2014 at 09:53