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From Manhattan to Memphis: Ace, Kent Collect Classic Soulful Sides on Three New Releases

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Though they’re located across the pond, the team at Ace Records literally has the entire map of the U.S. covered when it comes to celebrating classic soul sounds.  Among the numerous titles recently issued by the Ace family are three geographically-attuned sets sure to pique your ears and interest.  Ace’s journey begins in the American northeast, and specifically in New York City, with a second volume of Manhattan Soul.  Like the first volume in the series, it’s drawn from the considerable archives of Scepter, Wand and Musicor Records, and it brings together songs from cherished vocalists like Tommy Hunt, Jimmy Radcliffe and Big Maybelle, along with a whole slew of artists who may not have achieved notoriety, but sure did wax some great music.  Next, the Ace team heads down to Alabama, where The Charmels and Jeanne and the Darlings might have shouted, “We’re the Soul Girls!”  This 29-track anthology collects the complete recordings of two of Stax Records’ criminally-underrated girl groups, with many tracks appearing on CD for the very first time.  Finally, Ace basks in the glow of the heartland with Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul, exploring the crossroads of those two distinct genres.

Both volumes of Manhattan Soul conjure up the urbane R&B sound that came out of the 1960s in that storied borough of New York City.  Florence Greenberg’s Scepter and Wand labels (home to Maxine Brown, Dionne Warwick, The Shirelles and B.J. Thomas) and Aaron Schroeder’s Musicor (home to Gene Pitney, George Jones and the Platters) boasted diverse rosters, but both had a keen interest in soul music, frequently swathing it in strings and lush orchestrations.  It’s no surprise that one maestro of sophisticated soul, Burt Bacharach, had his biggest successes on Scepter, and also provided hits for Musicor.  There were many other ties; Luther Dixon departed the Greenberg empire for Musicor, while Van McCoy, Bert Keyes, and Bert DeCoteaux all arranged platters for both labels.  Each of those names is represented on Manhattan Soul, Volume 2.

This is uptown soul, for sure, with further contributions from producers such as Teddy Randazzo (Porgy and the Monarchs’ “That Girl”), Chips Moman (The Masqueraders’ “I Don’t Want Nobody to Lead Me On,” recorded in Memphis but released in Manhattan on Wand), and songwriters like the young Kenny Gamble (Nella Dodds’ “I Just Gotta Have You”) and Curtis Mayfield (Something New’s “You Babe”).  Fetching big beat ballads proliferate on this 24-track CD, such as Ed Bruce’s “I’m Gonna Have a Party.”  The track was written by Bruce arranged by Florence Greenberg’s son Stan Green (nee Greenberg) on Wand, and is almost a sideways rewrite of Bacharach and Bob Hilliard’s “Any Day Now,” a sizeable Wand hit by Chuck Jackson.  Though the second volume of Manhattan Soul doesn’t feature as many high-profile artists as the first (which had The Shirelles, Johnny Maestro, The Platters and Maxine Brown all represented), it’s just as rewarding, if not more so.  These songs meld sophisticated, sometimes Latin-flavored arrangements with deep soul, plenty of booming baritones and swelling strings.  There are even four interesting unreleased tracks, including Jimmy Radcliffe’s beguiling “Deep in the Heart of Harlem” and “No Jealous Lover,” by Lois Lane, a.k.a. Louise Williams, a U.S. Congresswoman since 1988!  Ady Croasdell annotates, and even teases us with a liner note about a song that wasn’t included: Sylvia Jenkins’ “It’s Gonna Be All Right,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin which was rejected for its “excruciating passages!”  Bring on Volume Three.

After the jump: to Alabama and beyond, plus track listings and pre-order links for all three titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2012 at 10:04

The Second Disc Buyers Guide: The 100 Greatest Reissues of All Time, Part 10 (#55-51)

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In Part 10 of our TSD Buyers Guide, which counts the reissues of the albums in Rolling Stone‘s 100 greatest albums of all time (as selected in 2003), we pay homage to early rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues pioneers, look at two very different albums from 1970, and head down for Memphis for some seductive soul!

55. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley (RCA Victor, 1956)

Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go, cat, go!

With such words was a revolution born! Those simple lyrics were the first sung by Elvis Presley on his 1956 self-titled RCA Victor debut, accompanied by the blasts of Scotty Moore’s guitar, then the frantic beats of D.J. Fontana’s drums. It’s unlikely that Presley ever anticipated that his recording of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” would provide the soundtrack to a country’s coming of age. Elvis Presley turned 21 in the buttoned-up, repressive climate of the American south circa 1956. Soon his music, synthesizing African-American R&B, pop, soul, country and gospel into something wholly new, hit a raw nerve. Presley’s debut recordings crystallized the power of the American teenager on both culture and the music business, selling the album format (previously the territory of adults) to youth, and influencing clothes, hairstyles and attitudes.

The above is an excerpt of my review of Legacy Recordings’ Young Man with the Big Beat (RCA/Legacy 88697 93534-2, 2011), a lavish 5-CD box set that includes, in its entirety, the 1956 Elvis Presley debut album that’s made this list at No. 55. Young Man was released concurrently with a 2-CD Legacy Edition of the expanded Vic Anesini remasters of Elvis Presley and its just-months-later follow-up, Elvis, minus the box set’s remaining bonus material. Young Man and the Elvis Presley Legacy Edition are the most recent, and perhaps most definitive, editions of Elvis Presley, but they’re not the last word about the album on CD. Its original domestic issue (RCA PCD1-5198, 1985) was supplanted in 1999 by an edition including singles as bonus tracks (RCA 07863 67735-2) and new remastering, though this edition raised the ire of collectors by altering the track listing and sequence. A 2005 DSD remastering by Kevan Budd restored the proper album sequence, with the bonus tracks at the end of the disc (RCA 82876-66058-2). A gold disc was released by RCA itself in 1995. RCA’s 1996 Elvis ’56 (RCA 07863 65135-2) was an early predecessor to Young Man with the Big Beat, containing many of Elvis’ 1956 recordings including much of Elvis Presley. Young Man contains all of the tracks on both Elvis ’56 and the 1999 CD. The only related Elvis Presley tracks not on the Young Man box set can be found on the deluxe reissue of Elvis Presley from the mail-order/Internet-only Follow That Dream label. FTD’s 2006 expansion (8287686160-2) was remastered by Kevan Budd and includes not only the original album and the six singles, but an interview and over an entire disc’s worth of session material. For true devotees of Elvis Presley, the FTD issue and the Young Man box are both essential.

54. Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland (Reprise, 1968)

Electric Ladyland, originally released in October 1968, is the third and final album of new material by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the only one of the band’s albums produced by Hendrix himself. A sprawling psychedelic double-album, it touched on all aspects of Hendrix’s musical personality, from heavy rock to blues, soul and funk. Hendrix’s majestic cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” joined his own psychedelic originals, including both “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” as well as “Crosstown Traffic” and “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland).” The U.S. edition on Reprise Records topped the charts for two weeks, and it was almost as successful in the U.K., where it reached No. 6 on the album chart. Still one of the guitar god’s most beloved and enduring albums, Electric Ladyland has been reissued with frequency.

Whereas Reprise controlled the Hendrix catalogue in the U.S., Polydor had the rights overseas. Both Polydor and Reprise (W2 6307-2, 1987 and 1990) initially released the catalogue on CD (reportedly from second generation tapes) then remastered the titles using the controversial “NoNoise” method. Alan Douglas supervised another edition for MCA Records remastered by Joe Gastwirt (MCAD-10895, 1993), and although the tape used is still a matter of debate, NoNoise wasn’t applied. When the newly-formed Experience Hendrix concern took over the catalogue, yet another remastered edition was released on MCA (MCAD-11600, 1997), this time from the original tapes and again without NoNoise (though some audiophiles took exception to the limiting applied by George Marino and Eddie Kramer on these releases.) The Experience Hendrix series recently moved from Universal to Sony’s Legacy division, and the Kramer/Marino remaster was reissued in a deluxe edition with a bonus DVD (Legacy 88697 62164-2, 2010) containing a 12-minute mini-documentary.

Next stop: the ground floor at the birth of soul! Hit the jump!

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 9, 2011 at 10:48

People All Over the World! A New “Soul Train” Comp Rolls Your Way

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For most of its 35-year run, there was no better outlet for soul music on television than Soul Train. Featuring a diverse palette of R&B artists and the commanding presence of creator/producer/host Don Cornelius, Soul Train has become an institution, the longest-running, nationally syndicated show in American history – albeit one that modern audiences would be slow to appreciate, were it not for the efforts of Time-Life Entertainment in releasing several official DVDs of content from the shows back in 2009.

Now, Time-Life follows up those discs with a special compilation, The Best of Soul Train Live, in stores tomorrow. While most of the performances on the program were lip-synched to the original tracks, a few here and there were not. And a dozen such performances will be captured on this DVD. Most of them stem from the show’s first four seasons, although there is a legendary 1979 duet between Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson on his “Ooo, Baby Baby” and a medley of hits from Stevie Wonder performed in 1991.

Hit the jump for full track details and an Amazon link, and remember – as always, we wish you love, peace…and soul! Read the rest of this entry »

“Get Back” To The Beatles With Ace’s “Black America Sings Lennon and McCartney”

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“Yesterday” is considered the most-covered popular song of all time, but might The Beatles also be the most-covered band of the rock era?  I’ll leave that one to the Guinness folks, but needless to say, there are thousands of cover versions of songs introduced by The Fab Four, most of which were written under the “Lennon and McCartney” umbrella.  On June 7, Ace will release a follow-up to its acclaimed 2010 collection How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan, turning the spotlight onto the much-covered catalogue of the boys from Liverpool.

Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon and McCartney brings together 24 such examples.  While this may be considered a soul compilation in the broadest sense, the songs encompass a wide variety of genres: blues, gospel, pop and funk among them.  The artists selected are a virtual “Who’s Who” of popular music: Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Little Richard, “Fifth Beatle” Billy Preston, and lesser-known but no less respected artists like Maxine Brown, Mary Wells, The Chairmen of the Board and The Main Ingredient.

As is expected from Ace, there are many rare treats awaiting discovery.  Mary Wells makes a post-Motown appearance with “Please Please Me” while Scepter/Wand goddess Maxine Brown implores, “We Can Work It Out.”  Chubby Checker takes on The White Album with a 1969 recording of “Back in the USSR” on the Buddah label, and the sweet soul harmonies of The Moments enliven “Rocky Raccoon” from that same seminal Beatles set.  “Paperback Writer” shows that there was more to R.B. Greaves than “Take a Letter, Maria,” while the Chairmen of the Board appear with the title track, “Come Together.”

Come Together features versions of The Beatles’ first major U.S. hit (“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” courtesy Al Green) and their last (“The Long and Winding Road,” via The New Birth).  More than one half of the tracks are from the period between 1965 and 1969; the earliest cut is Wells’ “Please Please Me” (1964) and the latest is “The Long and Winding Road” (1976).  (The B-side of Wells’ single was actually the “My Guy” girl’s take on “I Should Have Known Better.”)  Ace’s tribute is only appropriate as The Beatles openly admitted their great debt to the music of Black America.

Hit the jump for the complete track listing plus discographical annotation for each track.  Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon and McCartney is due in the U.K. on June 7 and in the U.S. shortly thereafter. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 26, 2011 at 13:44

More Catalogue Gold from the Grammys

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Just as we noted the box sets and other catalogue sets that were nominated for Grammys this year, we would also like to tip the hat to the recordings that were put into the Grammy Hall of Fame, as announced Monday.

Thirty recordings, including nine LPs, have been added to a group that now includes 881 classic pieces of music. The oldest recordings on the list are two singles, “Dark Was the Night – Cold Was the Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson and “My Mammy” by Al Jolson (both released in 1927); the newest is Prince and The Revolution’s Purple Rain, released in 1984.

Rest assured we’ll be covering some of these recordings in future Reissue Theory posts!

Read the press release here; the complete list is after the jump.

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