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Archive for March 25th, 2014

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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