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Archive for March 2014

Reviews: Real Gone Goes R&B with Bettye Swann and Samuel Jonathan Johnson

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Bettye Swann - AtlanticShreveport, Louisiana-born Bettye Swann never liked her birth name of Betty Jean Champion, yet when it came to soul music, Swann was certainly a champion.  Her debut single for Money Records, 1965’s “Don’t Wait Too Long,” became a Top 30 R&B hit, and two years later, “Make Me Yours” went all the way to the No. 1 spot on that chart.  It was inevitable that bigger labels than Money would come calling, and sure enough, Swann recorded two country-flavored LPs in 1969 and 1970 for Capitol.  Rick Hall of the FAME label and studios was among Bettye’s fans, and with a distribution deal through Capitol, signed Swann to his production company.  But by the time he was ready to release any recordings by Bettye, the deal with Capitol was up.  Following one 45 issued directly on FAME, Hall brokered a deal to sign Swann to one of the cornerstones of American soul music: Atlantic Records.  Real Gone has teamed up with SoulMusic Records for The Complete Atlantic Recordings.  This new compilation rounds up all 23 sides recorded by Swann for the New York giant between 1972 and 1975, five of which are making their very first appearance anywhere.

Unlike some of her earthier counterparts, Swann possessed a smooth, girlish and frankly pretty voice.  Hall, in charge of Swann’s first seven Muscle Shoals-recorded Atlantic sides, deployed that voice to great effect on this collection’s opening single, the ironically-upbeat “Victim of a Foolish Heart,” in which Swann implores her man not to fall prey to the charms of an old paramour.  Though Swann’s message is clear, it’s delivered in such a sweet way that one can’t see how the weak-willed guy could possibly turn Bettye down!  Hall and Swann took a more traditionally torrid southern-soul approach on a revival of “I’d Rather Go Blind” with its tight guitar licks, organ and stabs of brass, but Swann’s coquettish lead allows the gritty lyric to be heard anew.  Swann and Hall also recut Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again” which she had recorded at Capitol, and took a stab at the oft-recorded Carole King/Gerry Goffin copyright “Yours Until Tomorrow.”  Swann’s recordings lacks the fervor of Dee Dee Warwick’s or the drama of Gene Pitney’s, but compensates with the mature, intelligent delivery of Goffin’s pleading lyric.

Despite the strength of the Muscle Shoals recordings including an irresistible makeover of Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer’s Supremes cut “I’m Not That Easy to Lose,” none of Swann’s singles got any higher on the Hot 100 than “Today I Started Loving You Again” with its No. 46 placement.  So Atlantic set Swann up at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios in 1973, teaming her with The Young Professionals, a.k.a. LeBaron Taylor, Phil Hurtt and Tony Bell, younger brother of Philadelphia soul architect Thom Bell.  Though Philly soul could be as sweet as it comes, Taylor, Hurtt and Bell’s first recording with Swann made the Muscle Shoals tracks sound positively sugary in comparison.  “The Boy Next Door” is swaggering Philadelphia-style funk, with burbling guitar licks, slashing strings and an insistent groove.  Arranger Tony Bell’s second track for Swann, B-side “Kiss My Love Goodbye,” should have been the A-side.  It’s a quintessential, up-tempo Spinners-style track, and for Swann’s next single, Tony Bell turned to his older brother Thom to provide the charts.  You can hear Bell’s influence in the soft horns, strings and ethereal male backing vocals of the gorgeously melancholy “Time to Say Goodbye,” providing a cushion as soft as Swann’s velvety voice.  Thom also arranged the A-side of “Time,” the darker, funk-infused “When the Game is Played on You” in which Swann once again serves up a tasty dish of vengeance to the one who’s done her wrong: “How does it feel, baby, when the game is played on you?”

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 31, 2014 at 12:37

The Animals’ Alan Price Leads Musical “Andy Capp” From Stage Door Records

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Andy CappWhen the musical Andy Capp premiered at London’s Aldwych Theatre (current home to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward) in September 1982, cartoonist Reg Smythe’s beloved character took his place alongside Little Orphan Annie, Snoopy and Li’l Abner as comic strip creations-turned-musical heroes.  The frequently inebriated, cap-wearing, chronically unemployed ne’er-do-well made his debut in The Daily Mirror on August 5, 1957 and readers quickly became engrossed in the daily gags featuring Andy, his wife Florrie and their neighbors Chalkie and Rube.  (The strip continues today in the same publication.)  The stage adaptation was conceived by Mirror editor Mike Molloy and became a reality thanks to an Animal and a Peacock – that is, Alan Price of The Animals, and Trevor Peacock, the songwriter of “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” among other songs.  On March 31, the Original West End Cast Recording of Andy Capp makes its debut on CD from Stage Door Records.

Reg Smythe gave his blessing to the musical with a book by Peacock, music by Price, and lyrics by both gentlemen.  Peacock had the difficult task of fleshing out the characters for a full evening of musical theatre.  He told Capp biographer Les Lilley that “I had to invent a plot, so I introduced a young couple who were getting married. Then, because Andy is always so bossy with Florrie, I created another family in which the man is completely under the thumb of the woman. I seem to remember it was Andy’s nephew who was the boy. He was called Elvis Horsepole, and he was marrying the daughter of this other family in which the mother was on top.”  Oscar-nominated actor Tom Courtenay (Doctor Zhivago) was a northern lad like Price and the fictional Capp.  He added a bit of luster, not to mention authenticity, to the production when he agreed to play Andy.  Val McLane portrayed Florrie, John Bardon was Chalkie, and Price himself appeared in the role of Geordie.  The musical’s set was decorated with images from Smythe’s comics.

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 28, 2014 at 11:51

Review: Elvis Presley, “Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis”

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Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis Legacy EditionLord a-mighty, do you feel your temperature rising?  Okay, “Burning Love” isn’t among the songs on the new 2-CD Legacy Edition of Elvis Presley’s 1974 Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis, but there’s nonetheless plenty to get the pulse pounding and the pelvis swiveling.  The original Memphis LP preserved The King’s hometown show of March 20, 1974, and this reissue adds a live concert from two nights earlier in Richmond, Virginia plus five bonus tracks from an in-studio rehearsal session.  Memphis was Elvis’ fifth live recording in five years, following Elvis in Person at the International Hotel and On Stage, Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden and Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite.  Each one of those has been previously addressed by Legacy as part of this ongoing series.

On March 20, Elvis stepped onstage at Memphis, Tennessee’s Mid-South Coliseum, located roughly eight miles from his Graceland mansion – so memorably, if unexcitingly, pictured on the cover artwork for Live on Stage.  Elvis clearly had Memphis on his mind, and had just recently returned to the city’s studios in July and December 1973 for sessions at Stax.  On the same day of the concert, his album Good Times was released by RCA, culled from these sessions.  (Its tracks were reissued last year by Legacy on Elvis at Stax.)

In a move that would be odd by today’s standards, Elvis didn’t perform any of the tracks from his new album at Mid-South.  The set list hewed to the basic format he had been employing, and there’s plenty of overlap with the New York and Hawaii concerts reissued by Legacy – from the opening fanfare of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” to the finale of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  But the local crowd seemingly energized Elvis from the second he launched his big show with the support of The TCB Band (James Burton and John Wilkinson on guitar, Charlie Hodge on guitar/vocals, Duke Bardwell on bass, Ronnie Tutt on drums and Glen D. Hardin on piano), singers The Sweet Inspirations, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, Kathy Westmoreland and the Nashville group called Voice, and Joe Guercio and his orchestra.

That Elvis vocally was in solid shape is somewhat surprising, considering the punishing touring schedule on which he embarked in ’74.  He played over 150 U.S. concerts that year, and the Memphis homecoming shows – five, overall, of which March 20 was the final one – were his first performances there since a benefit in 1961.  The first disc of the new Legacy Edition reissues the Follow That Dream label’s complete presentation of the concert (heavily edited on the original LP) from 2004 but in newly remixed form by Steve Rosenthal and reissue co-producer Rob Santos.

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 27, 2014 at 11:29

Posted in Elvis Presley, Reissues, Reviews

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You Got It: Legacy to Expand Roy Orbison’s Final Album with Unheard Audiovisual Content

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Roy Orbison - Mystery Girl DeluxeRoy Orbison, a.k.a. The Big O, a.k.a. Lefty Wilbury, a.k.a. “the Caruso of Rock,” never did anything small.  His big, booming voice gave life to a series of painfully heartbreaking yet irresistible ballads that sounded like nothing else in rock and roll or pop.  Orbison brought an authenticity and urgency to the dramatic songs he wrote and recorded, but when he cut loose on an “Ooby Dooby” or “Oh, Pretty Woman,” his voice could also be the sound of freedom and lust and excitement.   With the February 7, 1989 release of Mystery Girl, the music of Roy Orbison was riding high.  The album went Top 5 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the Top 10 success of “You Got It,” which returned the singer to the Top 40 for the first time in 24 years.  Unfortunately, the success of Mystery Girl was bittersweet, as Orbison had passed away a scant couple of months prior to its release, on December 6, 1988.  On May 20, 2014, Legacy Recordings and Roy’s Boys LLC will celebrate this triumphant posthumous comeback with the release of a CD/DVD Deluxe Edition, a 15-track Mystery Girl Expanded Edition on CD, and a double-LP set.

While Roy Orbison didn’t live to see the release of Mystery Girl, he did get to enjoy a resurgence of popularity.  David Lynch’s 1986 cult classic Blue Velvet prominently utilized Roy’s haunting “In Dreams.”  That same year, he reunited with old friends Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the Sun Records reunion disc Class of ’55, and revisited many of his seminal recordings on In Dreams: The Greatest Hits.  1988 was another monumental year for The Big O.  He began the year with the broadcast on Cinemax of A Black and White Night, for which he was supported by a band of admirers.  And this little band was the greatest in the land, featuring James Burton, Jerry Scheff, Ronnie Tutt and Glen D. Hardin from fellow Sun alumnus Elvis Presley’s TCB Band along with T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes and k.d. lang.  (Whew!)  Later in 1988, Warner Bros. released the first album by the mysterious Traveling Wilburys.  Rumor has it that Nelson, Otis, Lefty, Charlie and Lucky were, in fact, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan!

Work on the album that would become Mystery Girl began during The Wilburys’ sessions.  Songs were contributed by Orbison himself along with Diane Warren, Albert Hammond, Elvis Costello, Wesley Orbison, and U2’s Bono and The Edge.  Jeff Lynne, T Bone Burnett, Bono, and the team of Orbison and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell all produced tracks for the LP.  Campbell, Howie Epstein and Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers all played on Mystery Girl, as did Al Kooper and George Harrison.  The infectious Orbison/Petty/Lynne “You Got It” became the lead track on the album.  As gleamingly produced by Lynne in the style of the Wilburys’ recordings, it became one of Roy’s biggest hits.

After the jump: full specs and pre-order links for all formats!

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 26, 2014 at 13:23

Posted in News, Reissues, Roy Orbison

She’s The Greatest Star: Barbra Streisand’s Broadway “Funny Girl” Goes Super Deluxe For 50th Anniversary

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Funny Girl Box Set

Attention people who need people! Funny Girl is turning 50, and that’s no laughing matter.   To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the classic Broadway musical that launched Barbra Streisand to superstardom, Capitol/UMe is releasing a CD/LP super deluxe edition of the original cast album of Funny Girl on April 29th.

The musical by librettist Isobel Lennart, composer Jule Styne (Gypsy, Bells Are Ringing) and lyricist Bob Merrill (Carnival, New Girl in Town) depicted the rise to fame of comedienne/Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice (Streisand, in her second Broadway role) and her troubled relationship with husband Nicky Arnstein (Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie and star of Styne’s Bells Are Ringing and Subways Are For Sleeping). Kay Medford and Danny Meehan also starred as Mrs. Brice and Eddie Ryan, respectively, and future All in the Family “Dingbat” Jean Stapleton was featured as Mrs. Strakosh. Funny Girl, directed by Garson Kanin and produced by Brice’s son-in-law Ray Stark, opened on March 26, 1964 after 17 previews at the Winter Garden Theatre (today, home to the musical Rocky). It then transferred to two more theaters before closing in 1967 after 1,348 performances; Mimi Hines succeeded Streisand as Fanny.   The show earned eight Tony nominations, but won none of them thanks to the unstoppable competition from David Merrick’s production of Hello, Dolly!. Streisand would be awarded for her portrayal of Fanny, however, when she won Golden Globe and Academy Awards for the 1968 film version. It would be her first role in a film. The musical produced a number of standards, including “I’m The Greatest Star,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and, of course, “People,” not to mention one of the most electrifying overtures ever composed.

The original cast album, one of Streisand’s only recordings not on Columbia Records, was recorded over just one session (as was standard practice at the time) at the Manhattan Center studios on April 5, 1964 and was produced by Dick Jones. Longtime Broadway champion Goddard Lieberson, the president of Columbia, reportedly passed on the cast album but made a stipulation that Streisand record a number of songs from the score for Columbia which she did in December of that year. (Two – “Who Are You Now” and “Cornet Man” – still remain locked in the Columbia vaults.)  Lieberson might have rethought his passing on the album if he could have foreseen its success. In stores just a scant week after it was recorded, it went on to spend 51 weeks on the Billboard chart. It peaked at No. 2, kept from pole position only by The Beatles’ Second Album (illuminating how much the charts have changed over 50 years!). The Original Broadway Cast Recording of Funny Girl would eventually be certified Gold in September of 1964 and go on to win the Grammy for Best Original Cast Album. It was released on CD in 1987 on Capitol and in 1992 on EMI’s Broadway Angel Label, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.

What will you find on the 50th Anniversary release?  Hit the jump!

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 26, 2014 at 12:32

Review: Eric Carmen, “The Essential Eric Carmen”

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Essential Eric Carmen

The first track on Legacy Recordings’ new double-disc anthology The Essential Eric Carmen (Arista/Legacy 88883745522) is titled, appropriately enough, “Get the Message.”  And the message relayed by its 30 nuggets comes through loud and clear: whether as power pop prince, classically-inspired MOR balladeer or nostalgic yet contemporary eighties rocker, Eric Carmen had the goods.

Young lust never sounded as thrilling, as exuberant, or as pretty as it did in the hands of The Raspberries.  Over the course of just four albums released between 1972 and 1974, each one of which is represented here, the band positioned itself as legitimate heirs to the thrones of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Byrds.  With jangly guitars, alternately swaggering and yearning vocals, full-bodied harmonies, unerring melodic instinct and plenty of youthful abandon, the mod four-man group defined “power pop” on songs like “Go All the Way,” “I Wanna Be with You” and “Let’s Pretend.”  As singer, guitarist/bassist and songwriter, Carmen provided the band – also featuring guitarist Wally Bryson, drummer Jim Bonfanti and guitarist/bassist Dave Smalley – with three-minute opuses that crackled with the spirit of FM and the sound of AM.  The roots of The Raspberries are vividly apparent on “Get the Message” from Carmen and Bryson’s pre-Raspberries band Cyrus Erie, which makes its CD debut here.  Just listen to those cries of “Come on!” in the catchy track’s first twenty seconds!

Carmen made the leap to solo artist with his self-titled 1975 Arista album, the first of two Eric Carmen LPs.  Retaining the services of Raspberries producer Jimmy Ienner, the bright, brash “Sunrise” didn’t stray too far from the band’s blueprint, but the album’s two major hit singles certainly did.  “All By Myself” and “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” both drew on melodies of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), giving the late composer two hit records more than three decades after his death.  The oft-covered “All by Myself,” which is heard here in its full 7+-minute album version, certainly showcased Carmen at his most bombastic.  But its supremely melancholy lyric and majestic melody by both Carmen and Rachmaninoff created a striking orchestral-pop amalgam that stands among the singer-songwriter’s best works.  “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” has an equally downbeat lyric, but is married to the purely irresistible Rachmaninoff chorus, rendered in ironically bouncy style.  It’s wistful but never mawkish, and it’s easy to see why both “Never Gonna Fall” and “All by Myself” garnered enough attention to be performed in concert by no less an eminent interpreter than Frank Sinatra himself.  (Coincidentally, Arista Records had a third hit single in 1975 based on a classical theme: Barry Manilow’s Top 10 “Could It Be Magic.”)

In addition to the Cyrus Erie track, The Essential serves up rarities in the form of two previously unreleased selections from New York’s fabled Bottom Line.  Carmen revived The Raspberries’ “Starting Over,” and his intimate performance brought his sophisticated songcraft to the fore.  The live version of Eric Carmen track “That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” is looser and more boisterous, and both tracks make a case that the entire concert should be issued imminently.

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 25, 2014 at 13:58

Posted in Compilations, Eric Carmen, Reviews

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Release Round-Up: Week of March 25

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Johnny Cash Out Among the StarsJohnny Cash, Out Among the Stars (Columbia/Legacy)

This new album of newly-discovered mid-’80s outtakes is perhaps better than what was released at the time. Gorgeous and, at times, haunting, the way Johnny Cash albums should be.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Elton GBYR 40 Super DeluxeElton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: 40th Anniversary Edition (Mercury/Rocket/UMe)

Elton’s classic double album comes back to glorious life with several lavish editions, featuring new covers of songs from the set, B-sides, live material and more.

1CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
4CD/1DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
1BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Okie from MuskogeeMerle Haggard, Okie from Muskogee: 45th Anniversary Special Edition (Capitol Nashville)

Haggard and The Stranger’s classic 1969 live album is remastered and paired with the next year’s follow-up The Fightin’ Side of Me, in its first-ever CD release. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Miles at the FillmoreMiles Davis, Miles at the Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy)

Four discs of mostly-unheard jazz experimentation from one of Miles’ most challenging and enjoyable periods. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Rod Stewart - Live BoxRod Stewart, Live 1976-1998: Tonight’s the Night (Warner Bros./Rhino)

This long-rumored box, featuring 58 unheard recordings, now offers a fitting chronicle of Rod in concert. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

My Chem May Death Never  Stop YouMy Chemical Romance, May Death Never Stop You: The Greatest Hits 2001-2013 (Reprise)

New Jersey’s own late lamented My Chem, one of the best alt-rock bands of the past decade, release a career-spanning compilation with one unreleased song and several demos.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. 
CD/DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. 
2LP/DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Essential Eric CarmenEric Carmen, The Essential Eric Carmen (Arista/Legacy)

A lovingly-assembled two-disc compilation honoring the talents of the singer/songwriter, from The Raspberries to today. Includes the gorgeous new track “Brand New Year.” (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Blue Nile Peace At LastThe Blue Nile, Peace At Last: Deluxe Edition (Virgin/UMC)

A surprise expansion of the Glasgow pop group’s 1996 album. (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)

Far Beyond DrivenPantera, Far Beyond Driven: 20th Anniversary Edition (EastWest/Rhino)

The band’s hit 1994 album paired with a live bootleg disc of the band’s Monsters of Rock Festival 1994 performance. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

High Land Hard RainAztec Camera, High Land Hard Rain: Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition (Domino)

The Scottish rock band’s first album is expanded to just about completion, with single sides and unreleased tracks on a bonus disc.

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

TotoToto, TotoHydra / Turn Back (Rock Candy)

Toto’s perfectly crafted AOR-pop blend is represented by their first three albums, newly remastered for CD by Rock Candy.

Toto: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.
HydraAmazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.
Turn BackAmazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.

Bruce BDVarious Artists, A MusiCares Tribute to Bruce Springsteen (Columbia)

Last year’s multi-artist live tribute concert in honor of The Boss, capped with a mini-set by Springsteen and The E Street Band.

DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Micky DolenzMicky Dolenz, Micky Dolenz Puts You to Sleep / Broadway Micky (Friday Music)

Two of Micky’s children’s albums for Kid Rhino from 1991 and 1994 reappear in print on one disc. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Message from the MagicBlue Magic, Message from the Magic (FunkyTownGrooves)

The Philadelphia soul band’s fifth album from 1977 is remastered and released for the first time on CD. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Island HarvestRonnie Lane and Slim Chance, Ooh La La: An Island Harvest (Mercury)

A hits-and-rarities compilation from the late Small Faces/Faces bassist’s mid-’70s group. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Lou Reed BDJoni Mitchell, Woman of Heart and Mind + Painting with Words and Music / Lou Reed, Classic Albums: Transformer + Live at Montreux 2000 (Eagle Rock)

Eagle Rock brings four vintage programs back to video with these two Blu-ray releases, both part of the label’s new “SD Blu-ray” line.  As indicated, these programs are in upscaled standard definition video but have been upgraded to “uncompressed stereo and DTS-HD high resolution surround sound.”

Joni: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Lou: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Review: Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: 40th Anniversary Edition,” Part One

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Elton Goodbye Yellow Brick Road“When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land?”

It looked like Elton John would never come down. When Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John’s seventh album and first double-LP set, arrived in October 1973, it followed six straight Top 10 albums. The last two of those had gone all the way to No. 1. Five of John’s singles had also reached the Top 10 of the Hot 100, including one chart-topper. The former Reg Dwight was at the top of the world. Where does one go from there? The answer, of course, was even higher.

Forty years and two dozen studio albums later, GYBR remains the quintessential Elton John album. And it’s just returned from UMe in a multitude of formats including single-CD remaster and double-CD remasters, a 2-LP vinyl reissue, a 4-CD/1-DVD Super Deluxe Edition, and a Blu-ray disc. But whether you’re playing it on a turntable, a CD player or the latest in BD technology, it remains the purest expression of Elton John’s artistry. Not that Captain Fantastic did it alone. GYBW is very much a band album, featuring Dee Murray on bass and two players that still share the stage with John today: Davey Johnstone on guitars and Nigel Olsson on drums. Del Newman’s lush orchestrations made sure that the album sonically reflected the grandiose cinematic quality so often referred to in the lyrics of The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Bernie Taupin. Producer Gus Dudgeon made the entire program of songs hold together cohesively.

GYBR isn’t a concept album, but is a showcase for the various strains of American music that Elton John made his own. Thematically, Hollywood and music itself recur as central lyrical inspirations, with John and Taupin’s stirring array of songs addressing loss – of innocence, of love, even of life. Even today, John opens his concerts with the eleven-minute “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” an epic, ominous, majestic Overture for what’s to come. The instrumental “Funeral,” with David Hentschel’s spooky ARP synthesizer, sets the grand tone for the sprawling album. It segues into “Love,” with some of the Rocket Man’s best rock piano yet accompanying a Taupin lyric about the collateral damage caused by life as a musician.

Naturally, GYBR’s four singles – “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” (No. 12 on the Hot 100), “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (No. 2), “Bennie and the Jets” (No. 1) and “Candle in the Wind” (No. 11 in the U.K.) – threaten to overshadow the other thirteen songs on GYBR. Both the title track and “Candle in the Wind” make use of the Hollywood imagery that plays such a prominent role on the entire LP. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is ostensibly a declaration of getting back to one’s roots, filtered through powerful, potent cinema imagery and uncommon sensitivity. The narrator is turning his back on fantasy in favor of hard reality (“You can’t plant me in your penthouse/I’m going back to my plough”). If he’s bitter (“I’m not a present for your friends to open/This boy’s too young to be singing the blues” – and the melody soars in perfect tandem with the lyric), he’s also emboldened.  “Candle,” with its now-famous central metaphor, is less a eulogy for Marilyn Monroe than for youth and innocence itself. In the elegiac, empathetic song, Taupin and John observe the glamorization of death and the immortalization of a star gone too soon. It struck a chord in 1973, and is still sadly relevant today.

In “Bennie,” music itself is central. Taupin’s lyric is typically oblique as it describes this “weird and wonderful” band, but the song satirizes the music industry while noting the power of rock and roll to “fight our parents out in the streets/to find who’s right and who’s wrong…” Its singular glam-R&B fusion earned Elton his first appearance on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart. “Saturday Night” rocked even harder; if it’s not the artist’s flashiest, best balls-out rocker, I’d be hard-pressed to name what is.

Keep reading after the jump!

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 25, 2014 at 10:19

Posted in Elton John, Reissues, Reviews

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The Return of “One-Eyed Jacks”: Sold-Out Soundtrack Receives New Encore Edition

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One-Eyed Jacks KLWhen we first reported on Kritzerland’s reissue of the soundtrack to 1961’s One-Eyed Jacks on Wednesday, August 25, 2010, the limited edition release had already sold out.  In fact, all 1,200 copies had sold out in a matter of hours.  But the label is bringing this in-demand title back as a new Encore Edition.  Strictly limited to 1,000 units, the Encore Edition re-presents the contents of the deluxe restoration of Hugo Friedhofer’s score. The new edition is scheduled to ship by the first week of May, but pre-orders placed directly through Kritzerland usually ship one to five weeks earlier.  For those who missed out the first time, here’s the scoop on this unusual western cult classic.

The first and only film directed by Marlon Brando, the 1961 western One-Eyed Jacks isn’t as well-remembered as many of the screen legend’s other accomplishments. But with a cast including Brando as bank robber Rio (inspired by Billy the Kid), Karl Malden as his former partner-turned-sheriff Doc Longworth and Ben Johnson as new cohort Bob Emory, and a revolving door of screenwriters including Sam Peckinpah and Calder Willingham, One-Eyed Jacks had much to distinguish it. It was the final film shot in Paramount’s magnificent VistaVision process, and Charles Lang was the cinematographer, and was duly rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for his work. Also among those notable qualities was its score by Hugo Friedhofer, nine-time Academy Award nominee and winner of the 1947 trophy for his score to the William Wyler-directed The Best Years of Our Lives.  Friedhofer brought to his score a mastery of many genres honed by his years as an orchestrator for the likes of Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and his own diverse array of scores including The Young Lions starring Brando, Hondo and The Bishop’s Wife. Kritzerland’s 2-CD release preserves both the complete film recordings and the original Liberty Records LP presentation of Friedhofer’s score.

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 24, 2014 at 13:43

Review: Little Feat, “Rad Gumbo: The Complete Warner Bros. Years 1971-1990”

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Little Feat - Complete WB“Well they say that time loves a hero/But only time will tell/If he`s real he`s a legend from heaven/If he ain`t he was sent here from hell…”  Though Little Feat’s singer-songwriter-guitarist Lowell George wasn’t among the writers of the song “Time Loves a Hero” from the band’s 1977 album of the same name, the lyric might well describe him.  Time has, indeed, told: almost 35 years after George’s death in June 1979, his legacy still resonates as does that of the band which he founded.  Yet during its first lifetime, Little Feat never scored a hit record.  One critic, in 1977, noted that the band was “still slogging around the country playing 3,000-seat arenas” despite praise from Led Zeppelin and The Marshall Tucker Band, not to mention The Rolling Stones.  Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, Linda Ronstadt and Phish have all celebrated Little Feat.  So why was Little Feat destined to remain a band’s band (as Buffett described them) or even a cult band rather than, say, a people’s band?  One definitive answer will likely remain elusive.  But the journey of discovery has never been as easily accessible as it is now, thanks to Rhino’s release of Rad Gumbo: The Complete Warner Bros. Years 1971-1990.

This new 13-CD box set includes Little Feat’s first ten core albums, the 2002 expanded edition of the acclaimed 1978 live album Waiting for Columbus, and a bonus disc of rarities from the now out-of-print 2000 box set Hotcakes and Outtakes.  It spans the entire original run of Feat (1971-1979) as well as the first two albums from the regrouped unit circa 1988-1990.  Over the years, Feat endured a couple of key personnel changes.  Bassist Roy Estrada, who founded the group with his fellow Mother of Invention alumnus Lowell George as well as drummer Richie Hayward and keyboardist Bill Payne, was featured on just two albums.  The group briefly disbanded after those first two records, but once its members reconvened sans Estrada, the roster remained consistent from 1972-1979, with Hayward, Payne and George joined by bassist Kenny Gradney, guitarist Paul Barrere, and percussionist Sam Clayton.  When Little Feat reformed in 1988, its surviving members Hayward, Payne, Barrere, Gradney and Clayton enlisted vocalist Craig Fuller and guitarist Fred Tackett to round out the line-up.  But what remained the same was the group’s singular brand of good-time boogie.

Southern rock by way of southern California, Little Feat’s sound encompassed rhythm and blues, rock, country, jazz and funk, led by George’s distinctive slide guitar.  Other groups incorporated many of those influences, and the band was sometimes lumped in with the SoCal rock of Jackson Browne, the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt.  The latter was a friend of George’s, and no doubt fattened his bankbook when she included “Willin’” on her chart-topping 1975 album Heart Like a Wheel.  Of course, his truckers’ anthem to the pleasures of “weeds, whites and wine” wasn’t likely to follow “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved” to the top spots on the Billboard survey.

If George’s edgy, idiosyncratic, somewhat off-kilter lyrics didn’t augur for the band’s commercial fortunes, the group was lucky to have a committed label in the artist-friendly Warner Bros. Records.  The development of, and changes to, Little Feat’s sound becomes apparent on Rad Gumbo.  Showcasing its tight quartet of musicians and the songs of George and Payne (individually and collectively), the 1971 Russ Titelman-produced debut Little Feat established the band’s blue-collar country-rock cred thanks to tracks like “Truck Stop Girl,” “Hamburger Midnight,” “Strawberry Flats” and the first version of future signature song “Willin’.”  Kirby Johnson’s orchestration also showed that the band was, um, willin’ to go out on a musical limb.  The next year’s Sailin’ Shoes continued in the country-rock vein of Little Feat, but George’s amusingly surreal songwriting had become even stronger and more focused.  Producer Ted Templeman smoothed out the rougher musical edges on key tracks like the shoulda-been-a-hit “Easy to Slip” and a definitively re-recorded “Willin’,” plus an assortment of ballads and blues.  George’s title track attracted the attention of another Warner Bros. iconoclast, Van Dyke Parks, who included it on his steel drum-flecked calypso album Discover America.

When the “new” band premiered on 1973’s Dixie Chicken, it was imbued with the rollicking, soulful spirit of New Orleans.  Now also in the producer’s chair, George continued as the dominant writer and lead vocalist in the band.  He album tipped his hat to one of the Crescent City’s finest with a smoking cover of Allen Toussaint’s “On the Way Down,” but Little Feat was on the way up.  The band’s musicianship was tighter than ever, allowing for jams and intricate interplay.  Future full-time member Fred Tackett (also a close collaborator of Jimmy Webb) provided his acoustic guitar on the LP, with background vocals supplied by Bonnie Raitt, Gloria Jones and Bonnie Bramlett.  The fiercely funky title track garnered cover versions from artists ranging from Jack Jones (yes, that Jack Jones) to, years later, Garth Brooks.  Dixie Chicken remains Little Feat’s crowning achievement, but the band continued to hone the style of the album on future releases.

There’s much more Gumbo after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 21, 2014 at 13:49

Posted in Box Sets, Little Feat, Reissues, Reviews

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