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Archive for April 28th, 2014

Special Review: Jack Bruce, “Silver Rails”

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Jack Bruce - Silver RailsAs bassist, songwriter and singer for the power trio Cream, Jack Bruce ensured his place in the classic rock pantheon. Yet in a career spanning over 50 years, Bruce’s time in Cream was incredibly brief: 1966-1968, with two very brief reunions thereafter. That Cream existed for such a short time seems almost unbelievable in light of how influential the band’s music became. But both B.C. and A.C. – Before Cream and After Cream – Jack Bruce has been a working musician. His first studio album since 2003 and fourteenth overall, Silver Rails, has just arrived via the Esoteric Antenna label. As on More Jack Than God, that 2003 release, Bruce is in top form, still searching out fresh, new musical avenues.

Bruce and producer Rob Cass have enlisted a top-notch crew of musicians for Silver Rails – including Cindy Blackman Santana, Robin Trower, John Medeski, and Phil Manzanera – and have left plenty of room in the arrangements for them to breathe. In this context, Bruce’s bass work isn’t flashy but is always, naturally, an integral part of the instrumentation. But even an A-list group of musicians couldn’t shine without the right material. Thankfully, Silver Rails is a mature, consistent collection of well-crafted songs that don’t wear out their welcome.

Lyrically, “looking back” is one of the themes addressed over the album’s ten tracks. But that Silver Rails isn’t an attempt to recapture the glory days of Cream is evident from the very first track. “Candlelight” lopes at a laconic calypso beat, adorned with stabs of brass and John Medeski’s cascading Hammond organ. Bruce is vocally in fine fettle as he pleads “O help us sunshine,” his urgency matched by an unexpected electric guitar solo from Phil Manzanera.

The album’s diverse stylistic palette also takes in progressive rock with the droning verses of “Hidden Cities,” on which Bruce is backed by vocalists Aruba Red, Chantelle Nandi, Julie Iwahete, Uli John Roth and daughter Kyla Bruce.   “Reach for the Night” (a lyric from which – “Now my train can still sing along those silver rails” – inspired the album’s title) is one of seven songs here co-written with longtime collaborator Pete Brown. Jazz has always informed Bruce’s sensibilities, and “Night” is a moody piece of reflection, with the artist speak-singing the vivid if impressionistic lyrics as Derek Nash’s tenor sax lends the appropriate nocturnal ambiance.

Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 28, 2014 at 15:08

Posted in Cream, Jack Bruce, News, Reviews

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WE HAVE A WINNER of a Complete Set of Omnivore Recordings’ Record Store Day Exclusives!

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Omnivore - RSD '14 Banner - Medium


Written by Joe Marchese

April 28, 2014 at 09:31

Posted in Giveaways!, News, Reissues, Vinyl

BBR Embarks On An Odyssey With “Native New Yorker” Group and The Hues Corporation

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Hues Corporation - Freedom for the StallionCherry Red’s Big Break Records imprint has rocked the boat with a batch of recent reissues from the RCA vaults – one seminal title from The Hues Corporation and a trio from “Native New Yorker” group Odyssey.

When “Rock the Boat” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1974, it wasn’t exactly new.  It had first appeared almost a year earlier on the August 1973 release of Freedom for the Stallion, The Hues Corporation’s debut album for RCA.  “One lovely lady” and “two bright young men” is how the label described the trio consisting of H. Ann Kelley, St. Clair Lee and Fleming Williams.    Though the group only recorded five albums before disbanding in 1978, they remain radio mainstays thanks to “Rock the Boat,” considered one of the first – if not the first –disco record to top the pop charts.

One wouldn’t call Freedom for a Stallion a “disco” record, however.  Producer John Florez (The Friends of Distinction, The 5th Dimension) assembled an eclectic group of songs and musicians to create the California pop-soul trio’s first LP.  Setting up shop in RCA’s Hollywood studios, Florez was joined by Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon, Joe Osborn, Louie Shelton and Al Casey from the famed L.A. Wrecking Crew.  They were joined by a cross-section of players from the worlds of jazz (The Crusaders’ Joe Sample, Larry Carlton and Wilton Felder) and rock (future Toto member David Hungate).  Arrangements were provided by such famous names as Barry White collaborator Gene Page, Harry Nilsson associate Perry Botkin, Jr., and Tom Sellers, who scored the simple, catchy proto-disco of “Rock the Boat” with the light, breezy touch that kept it afloat on its long sail to No. 1.

The smooth harmonies, lush strings and Bacharach-style horns of Freedom for the Stallion occasionally recall the sound of The 5th Dimension, making for a bright and upbeat debut in the finest sweet-soul tradition.  “Rock the Boat” was written by Hues manager Wally Holmes, who also penned three other tracks for the album.  The stirringly anthemic title track – here given an alternately dramatic and wistful chart from Gene Page – came from the Allen Toussaint songbook; over the years, it’s also seen renditions by Boz Scaggs, Three Dog Night, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Elvis Costello with Toussaint himself.  John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins (“Son of a Preacher Man”) were tapped for a couple of compositions, as was Michael Jarrett (Elvis Presley’s “I’m Leavin’.”)  The closing track, “Miracle Maker (Sweet Soul Shaker)”, was provided by Brill Building stalwarts Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who like the Wrecking Crew, were first-hand witnesses to a radically changing musical landscape.

BBR has added two bonus tracks to Freedom for the Stallion, the single versions of both Toussaint’s title song and of course, “Rock the Boat.”  With copious notes by Christian John Wikane and new remastering from Nick Robbins, Freedom has set sail once again, ready for rediscovery.

After the jump: the scoop on three reissues from Odyssey, plus full track listings and order links for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 28, 2014 at 09:18