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Rhino Gives The Royal Treatment To The King and Queen of Soul with New Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin Box Sets

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Otis Redding - King of SoulRhino is kicking off February’s Black History Month in a big way – with two new box sets dedicated to undisputed R&B royalty, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.  On February 4, the label will release the 4-CD collections The King of Soul and The Queen of Soul, and despite the wealth of sublime soul music on these sets, both titles are priced with an eye to the budget-conscious.  As of this writing, the Otis set is available at Amazon U.S. for $33.62, and the Aretha set for $34.05…or less than $0.40 per track!

Otis Redding’s The King of Soul coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the late legend’s debut album, 1964’s Pain in My Heart.  Over its 92 tracks, the collection traces Redding’s meteoric rise to superstar status, spanning the fast and furious period between 1962 and his tragic passing in 1967.  King of Soul draws on both studio and live recordings, including key singles and tracks from such landmark albums as 1965’s Otis Blue, 1967’s Carla Thomas duets set King and Queen, and 1968’s posthumously-released The Dock of the Bay.  It appears that tracks are in stereo (where available) with a few selections noted as mono.  (Stax began recording in stereo in 1965.)  King of Soul is a successor to 1993’s now out-of-print Rhino box set Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding, which featured 96 tracks over four CDs.  The new collection showcases Redding’s prodigious gifts as both an influential interpretive vocalist and an impassioned singer-songwriter.

Aretha - Queen of SoulOf course, Otis Redding penned what many consider to be Aretha Franklin’s signature song, “Respect.”  On King of Soul, you’ll find studio and live versions of the defiant anthem by Redding, and on Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin’s recording takes center stage.  Like the Redding set, this box is a latter-day successor to the 1992 box entitled Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings.  That set boasted 86 tracks on four CDs; this box has 87 with the same disc count.  The new iteration of Queen of Soul includes music from each of Franklin’s Atlantic albums between 1967’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and 1976’s Sparkle with the exception of the still-not-on-CD With Everything I Feel in Me (1974) and You (1975).  In addition to prime album cuts and hit singles such as “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer,” the collection also features numerous non-LP sides and a smattering of outtakes first issued on Rhino’s 2007 rarities compendium Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul.

After the jump, we have more on both sets, including full track listings with discographical annotations, pre-order links, and news on a special contest! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 14, 2014 at 09:57

And One More For The Road: Frank Sinatra’s “Duets” Goes Super Deluxe In November

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Frank Sinatra - Duets SDE

The way he wore his hat…the way he sipped his tea (or likely, something stronger)…the memory of all that…no, they can’t take that away from us.  Frank Sinatra’s influence is still felt every day – in style, in attitude, especially in song.  Though 2013 has been a quiet year for the Chairman’s catalogue, that’s about to change on November 19 when Capitol and UMe celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Sinatra’s triple-platinum Duets album with a variety of commemorative reissues including a 2-CD/1-DVD Super Deluxe Edition, 2-CD Deluxe Edition and 2-LP vinyl set.  All iterations will include Duets II, the 1994 Grammy-winning follow-up, and both CD editions will include bonus duets with Tom Scott, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson, Luciano Pavarotti and George Strait.

Duets, originally released on November 2, 1993, marked Sinatra’s return to Capitol Records after a more than thirty-year absence.  His first studio album for the label since 1962’s Point of No Return, Duets teamed the celebrated icon with producer Phil Ramone, co-producer Hank Cattaneo, and a host of performers from various musical styles.  Some of Sinatra’s choices for duet partners were naturals, such as his friends Tony Bennett (his self-professed “favorite singer”) and Liza Minnelli, or Barbra Streisand.  Others came from the worlds of R&B (Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin), and rock (Bono).  Natalie Cole, daughter of Nat, had a deep connection to the standards created by the likes of Sinatra and her dad, while Carly Simon had ventured into the Great American Songbook on her 1981 collection Torch.  Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias and Charles Aznavour all added international flavor to the album.

Frank Sinatra - Duets DEPhil Ramone was able to deftly blend Sinatra’s classic style of recording with modern technological advances allowing for virtual duets.  He chose to record Sinatra in Capitol’s Studio A, the same room Sinatra had inaugurated in 1956.  Sinatra would sing an array of his most famous songs in front of a live orchestra, as always, with musical director Patrick Williams conducting his own charts as well as those by Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, Billy Byers and Quincy Jones.  Ramone told The Independent just before the album’s release, “We had separated him from the band in the beginning – not extremely, but with enough separators and bits of plexiglass and stuff and he was very uncomfortable.  He said, ‘I wanna be with the guys.’ The only thing to do was to put him out in the middle of the room…We put [his longtime accompanist] Bill Miller in front of him, so he could tease him, bust him. Bill’s been with him 40 years…Ordinarily, I would use two mikes on him – one above, one below. But he wasn’t comfortable, so I got him a stool and a hand-mike. It’s a way in which I’ve recorded Jagger and Bono. It’s not going to win any audio awards. But he’s the most comfortable with that. He did nine songs one night, straight. Three of the tracks that made it to the album are Take Ones.”  As he recalled in his book Making Records, Ramone utilized the Entertainment Digital Network system, developed in part by George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound, to record the duet partners via long-distance: Aznavour in Paris, Minnelli in Brazil, Bono in Ireland, Estefan and Iglesias in Miami, and Franklin and Baker in Detroit.

Duets was an unqualified commercial success, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S. and No. 5 in the U.K., and selling over three million copies in the United States.  The following year, Capitol released Duets II, once again in time for the holidays.  This time, Ramone and Sinatra corralled an arguably even more diverse gallery of duet partners.  Sinatra’s pals Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme showed up, as did old friend Antonio Carlos Jobim and the legendary Lena Horne.  Willie Nelson, who successfully transformed standards into his own laconic style on Stardust, joined Sinatra, as did Linda Ronstadt, who shared with Sinatra a close collaboration with Nelson Riddle.  Neil Diamond, Jimmy Buffett, Chrissie Hynde, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder all brought their instantly recognizable styles to Duets II.  Frank Sinatra, Jr. even joined his pop on a swinging “My Kind of Town.”  Duets II also made the Billboard Top 10, though it fared less well abroad with a No. 29 peak in the United Kingdom.  It went on to sell over one million copies and netted Sinatra the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.

What will you find on Capitol’s various anniversary editions of Duets?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Baby, It’s Burt: “The Warner Sound” and “The Atlantic Sound” Compile Rare Bacharach Tracks

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Warner Sound of BacharachIn his 85th year, Burt Bacharach has kept a pace that would wear out many a younger man.  In addition to performing a number of concert engagements, the Oscar, Grammy and Gershwin Prize-winning composer has released a memoir, continued work on three musical theatre projects, co-written songs with Bernie Taupin and J.D. Souther, and even penned a melody for Japanese singer Ringo Sheena.  Though Bacharach keeps moving forward, numerous releases this year have looked back on his illustrious catalogue.  Universal issued The Art of the Songwriter in 6-CD and 2-CD iterations to coincide with the publication of his memoir, Real Gone Music rescued his three sublime “lost” 1974 productions for Dionne Warwick from obscurity, and Warner Music Japan reissued the near-entirety of Warwick’s Scepter and Warner Bros. tenures under the umbrella of Burt Bacharach 85th Birth Anniversary/Dionne Warwick Debut 50th Anniversary.  Two more titles have recently been added to that Japanese reissue series: The Atlantic Sound of Burt Bacharach and The Warner Sound of Burt Bacharach.  These 2-CD anthologies are both packed with rarities and familiar songs alike for a comprehensive overview of the Maestro’s recordings on the Warner family of labels.

The Warner Sound of Burt Bacharach is the more wide-ranging compilation of the two, drawing on recordings made not just for Warner Bros. Records but for Valiant, Festival, Elektra, Reprise, Scepter, and foreign labels like Italy’s CDG and Sweden’s Metronome.  This 2-CD set is arranged chronologically, with the first CD covering 1962 (Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” her only appearance on the set) to 1978 (Nicolette Larson’s “Mexican Divorce”), and the second taking in 1981 (Christopher Cross’ Oscar-winning chart-topper “Arthur’s Theme”) to 2004 (Tamia and Gerald Levert’s “Close to You”).

On the Elektra label, Love scored a hit with “My Little Red Book,” presented here in its mono single version.  The composer didn’t care for the band’s melodic liberties, but the Sunset Strip rockers’ version is today better known than the Manfred Mann original.  From the Reprise catalogue, you’ll hear the great arranger Marty Paich with a swinging instrumental version of “Promise Her Anything,” a genuine Bacharach and David rocker originally recorded by Tom Jones.  Trini Lopez’s groovy “Made in Paris” is also heard in its mono single version.  Morgana King is sultry on a Don Costa arrangement of “Walk On By.”  Buddy Greco delivers a hip “What the World Needs Now,” and Tiny Tim makes the same song his own.  Ella Fitzgerald puts her stamp on “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” produced like Tiny Tim’s “World” by Richard Perry.  Another production great, Wall of Sound architect Jack Nitzsche, brings a touch of class to the Paris Sisters’ dreamy “Long After Tonight is All Over.”

Numerous tracks on the first CD come from the worldwide Warner vaults.  The two stars of the original Italian production of Promises, Promises – Catherine Spaak and Johnny Dorelli – are heard in their beautiful, low-key performance of “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” as released on the CDG label.  The Sweden Metronome label yields Svante Thuresson’s “This Guy’s In Love with You,” Siw Malmkvist’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” and one of the strangest songs in Bacharach and David’s entire catalogue, “Cross Town Bus” as sung by the Gals and Pals in English.  Australia’s Festival label – the original home of the Bee Gees – has been tapped for Noeleen Batley’s “Forgive Me (For Giving You Such a Bad Time)” and Jeff Phillips’ “Baby It’s You.”  The treasures on the Warner Bros. label proper are just as eclectic, from Liberace’s gentle “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” to The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s torrid “I Wake Up Crying.”  Harpers Bizarre’s “Me Japanese Boy (I Love You),” with an atmospheric Nick DeCaro arrangement, is another highlight.  The Everly Brothers truncated Bacharach’s melody to “Trains and Boats and Planes” but their harmony blend is at its peak in a 1967 recording.

The second disc of The Warner Sound emphasizes latter-day R&B as Bacharach branched out with a variety of lyricists.  Chaka Khan is heard on “Stronger Than Before” by Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager;  Earth Wind and Fire on “Two Hearts” co-written with Philip Bailey and Maurice White; Tevin Campbell on “Don’t Say Goodbye Girl” co-written with Narada Michael Walden and Sally Jo Dakota; and Randy Crawford on “Tell It To Your Heart” from Bacharach and Tonio K.  Mari Ijima’s original version of “Is There Anybody Out There” – penned by Bacharach, John Bettis, James Ingram and Puff Johnson – is a welcome surprise; the song was recorded in 2012 by Dionne Warwick on her Now album.  Ingram is also heard with “Sing for the Children.”  On the 1993 track, co-producer/arranger Thom Bell channeled Bacharach’s classic flugelhorn sound to great effect.  Old favorites are also revisited and reinterpreted on this disc via Everything But the Girl’s “Alfie,” The Pretenders’ “The Windows of the World,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” Anita Baker’s “The Look of Love,” guitarist Earl Klugh’s “Any Old Time of Day” and frequent Bacharach collaborator Elvis Costello’s “Please Stay.”  With big hits (“Arthur’s Theme”) alongside rarely-anthologized gems (the George Duke-produced “Let Me Be the One” performed by Marilyn Scott), there’s something for everybody here.

After the jump: check out The Atlantic Sound of Burt Bacharach!  Plus: track listings with discography and order links for both titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Duane Allman, “Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective”

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Skydog - Duane Allman Retrospective

“I ain’t wastin’ time no more,” Gregg Allman sang following the death of his brother Duane at the age of 24 in October 1971, “’cause time goes by like pouring rain…and much faster things/You don’t need no gypsy to tell you why/You can’t let one precious day slip by.”  Surveying the remarkable new box set Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective (Rounder 11661-9137-2), it’s evident that Duane Allman’s too few days certainly were precious, filled with soulful sounds that transcended genre tags like rock, blues, pop and R&B.  It’s sobering to realize that the seven-disc box’s consistently surprising, dynamic and gripping licks were recorded in just six short years, between 1965 and 1971, and only three of its 129 tracks were recorded under the name of “Duane Allman.”  Rather, as a leader of the Allman Brothers Band and anonymous session man for everybody from Lulu to Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman generously placed his gifts as a musician in the service of others.

Skydog tells the story of Howard Duane Allman’s transformation from journeyman guitarist in a number of bands to session pro and ultimately, rock star.  (“Skydog” was his nickname.)  It’s artfully crafted in chronological fashion by recording date, including all of the major touchstones in Allman’s career as well as a number of tracks that add color, context and a further understanding of the man’s art.  All told, 33 of its tracks are new to CD or previously unreleased altogether, and each disc as so expertly curated by producers Bill Levenson and Duane’s daughter Galadrielle Allman creates a distinct chapter of a tragically too-short story.

Dive in, after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

He Picks The Songs That Make The Whole World Sing: Clive Davis Curates “The Soundtrack of My Life”

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Clive bookIn a year that counts Tommy Mottola, Cissy Houston, Burt Bacharach and Paul Anka among the music biz icons who have published, or will publish, their memoirs, one such figure’s autobiography has already made headlines: Clive Davis’ The Soundtrack of My Life.  The attorney-turned-music mogul took a no-holds-barred approach to chronicling his history, including his tenures at Columbia, Arista, J and the RCA Label Group.  This should come as no surprise to anybody who’s followed his illustrious and admittedly controversial career, but some readers might still be surprised at the sheer volume of remarkable musicians affected in one way or another by Davis’ “golden ears,” including Bob Dylan, Donovan, Lou Reed, The Kinks and Sean “Puffy” Combs.  Since his appointment by towering music industry leader Goddard Lieberson to lead Columbia Records in 1965, Davis has never stopped making waves with his bold, hands-on hitmaking style.

Now, as Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment (a position Davis has held since 2008 at the current parent company of all the aforementioned labels), Davis has teamed with Legacy Recordings to reflect on his career via a series of Spotify playlists with special commentary tracks.  Though it’s unusual here at this branch of Second Disc HQ to direct our readers to Spotify – after all, aren’t there plenty of amazing physical releases out there demanding your listening attention? – the opportunity to hear a venerable legend reflecting on his considerable C.V. isn’t one to pass up.  And Legacy’s “The Legacy Of” app, on which Davis’ playlists are featured, is a prime example of how the online streaming service’s offerings can complement a physical music collection.

Spotify users who navigate to “The Legacy Of” app will discover Davis as the Featured Artist.   The menu provides links to: Albums / Biography / Photos / Playlists / Discography. Head over to “Playlists” to listen or subscribe to six new playlists curated by Davis himself. Each is populated by artists with whom he has worked during his career at CBS Records (Columbia and Epic and their associated labels), Arista Records (including LaFace and Bad Boy), J Records and more.  You can directly visit the “Legacy Of” app at this link. Davis’ six playlists are entitled The Soundtrack of My Life, Best of 2000s, Best of 1990s, Best of 1980s, Best of 1970s, and Best of 1960s.  Naturally, the Soundtrack of My Life playlist is the one with commentary from Davis.  He has recorded reminiscences for fourteen of the playlist’s 20 tracks, and the playlist includes songs from many of the artists with whom he is most associated.

Which songs has Davis selected?  Hit the jump for details and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Release Round-Up: Week of February 12

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Merle - SinglesMerle Haggard, The Complete ’60s Capitol Singles / Wanda Jackson, The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles / George Jones, The Complete United Artists Solo Singles (Omnivore)

Joe’s review of all three of these new country/rock singles anthologies from Omnivore speaks for each of them pretty well!

Merle: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Wanda: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
George: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Billy Joe Shaver - Complete ColumbiaBorderline, Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires/The Second Album / Sam Dees, The Show Must Go On / Kenny O’Dell, Beautiful People / Pozo Seco, Shades of Time / Sam Samudio, Hard and Heavy / Billy Joe Shaver, The Complete Columbia Recordings /Rick Wakeman, No Earthly Connection (Real Gone Music)

The latest from Real Gone (some of which is on tap in the preceding link), including a solo LP from Sam The Sham, all of Billy Joe Shaver’s Columbia work and a solo disc from Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman.

REM Original Album SeriesR.E.M., Original Album Series / Yes, Original Album Series (Rhino U.K.)

Two new entries in Rhino’s “Original Album Series” sets, budget boxes packaging five albums by the same artist together, with a minimum of frills. R.E.M.’s set includes their final five albums, all recorded as a trio after drummer Bill Berry retired (Up (1998), Reveal (2001), Around the Sun (2004), Accelerate (2008) and Collapse Into Now (2011)), while Yes’ box includes their final works for Atlantic/Atco (Going for the One (1977), Tormato (1978), Drama (1980), 90125 (1983) and Big Generator (1987)).

R.E.M. Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Yes: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Joni boxJoni Mitchell, The Studio Albums 1968-1979 (Rhino)

Already available in the U.K., this domestic new release features the iconic singer-songwriter’s first ten albums in one box. Nothing new in the way of packaging or remastering, just a quick way to snag ’em all at once. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Shabooh ShoobahINXS, Shabooh Shoobah/The Swing (Friday Music)

From Friday Music comes the Australian band’s third and fourth albums on one compact disc. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Aretha - In the BeginningAretha Franklin, In the Beginning: The World of Aretha Franklin 1960-1967 (Wounded Bird)

A 1972 compilation of Aretha’s oft-overlooked early days on Columbia gets reissued by Wounded Bird. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

sepia1216Pat Boone, I’ll See You in My Dreams/This and That / Jane Morgan, What Now My Love/At the Cocoanut Grove / Tony Mottola, Roman Guitar 2/Spanish Guitar / Original Soundtrack Recordings, The Road to Hong Kong/Say One for Me (Sepia)

Some special two-for-one albums, many with bonus tracks, making their CD debuts from this British reissue label.

Short Takes, Classic Pop Edition: What’s Coming From Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett

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Willie Nelson - Let's Face the Music

Today’s Short Takes looks at a variety of upcoming releases with one thing in common: great vocalists in the tradition of the Great American Songbook!

First up, let’s take a look at an album of new recordings from a favorite reissue label.  One genre has never been enough to contain the musical restlessness of Willie Nelson.  The country legend and honky-tonk hero created his own standards with his early songs such as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” before paying tribute to the Great American Songbook of yore with 1978’s chart-topping Stardust.  Since that seminal album, the prolific Nelson has made frequent returns to the realm of standards of both the pop and country genres.  His latest such effort arrives from our friends at Legacy Recordings on April 15.

Roughly two weeks before Nelson celebrates his 80th birthday on April 30, Legacy will release Let’s Face the Music and Dance from Willie Nelson and Family.  Recorded in Austin, Texas and produced by Buddy Cannon, the album of all-new recordings is titled after the 1936 Irving Berlin song.   He’s joined by Family, the band he formed with his sister Bobbie Nelson (on piano), drummer Paul English and Mickey Raphael on harmonica.  They’re accompanied by Paul’s brother Billy English (keeping it all in the family, after all) on electric gut string and snare drum, Kevin Smith on upright bass and Jim “Moose” Brown on B-3 organ.  Willie’s son Micah Nelson, who contributed to Nelson’s 2011 Legacy debut Heroes, contributes percussion.  Pop, rock, jazz and country classics all have found a place on Let’s Face the Music and Dance, including songs from Carl Perkins (“Matchbox”), Frank Loesser (“I Wish I Didn’t Love You So”), Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh (“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”) and Django Reinhardt (“Nuages”).

Willie’s celebratory jaunt through some of the songs that have shaped his own musical legacy hits stores on April 15.

Jane Morgan - What Now

The U.K.’s Sepia Records label continues to offer a number of rare vocal, soundtrack and cast album treats, many of them available as a result of the U.K.’s current public domain laws.  Last month’s batch of reissues included titles from Jack Jones, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, and Enoch Light.  Come February 12, Sepia will release the following:

Pat Boone, I’ll See You in My Dreams/This and That – Sepia continues its series dedicated to Pat Boone with this new release.  The label is supplementing two original Boone LPs with seven bonus tracks, and many of these tracks have not appeared on CD outside of Bear Family’s complete box sets.  Rather than being in rock-and-roll mode here, Boone tackles standards including “That Old Black Magic,” “My Blue Heaven,” “The Tennessee Waltz” and even “Peg o’ My Heart.”

Jane Morgan, What Now My Love/At the Cocoanut Grove – The great chanteuse’s final two albums for Kapp Records, both from 1962, are joined together on one CD.  What Now My Love, a collection of torch songs, is notable for having been arranged and conducted by the young Burt Bacharach.  It includes Bacharach and Bob Hilliard’s song “Waiting for Charlie to Come Home.”  (Morgan first recorded a new Bacharach song with 1959’s “With Open Arms.”  Around the time of the LP, Bacharach recorded his “Forever My Love” with Morgan as the B-side to the single of “What Now My Love,” and he also arranged and conducted a Terry Gilkyson song, “Ask Me to Dance,” for her.)   Cocoanut Grove features Jane on extended medleys of Paris-themed songs and tunes popularized by actress/singer Lillian Russell (1860-1922).

Tony Mottola, Roman Guitar 2/Spanish Guitar – Sepia pairs two 1962 Command Records LPs from session guitarist extraordinaire Tony Mottola on one CD.  Roman Guitar 2 made it all the way to No. 46 on the U.S. Billboard album chart and contains performances of Italian-themed favorites like “Funiculi Funicula.”  For Spanish Guitar, Mottola turned to “Tico-Tico,” “Granada” and even “Lady of Spain.”  Mottola continued to record into the 1980s, but this pair of albums finds the guitarist in his prime, making music ready-made for dancing in front of the hi-fi.

Original Soundtrack Recordings, The Road to Hong Kong/Say One for Me – Two rare soundtracks starring Bing Crosby have been collected on one CD.  From 1962 and 1959, respectively, The Road to Hong Kong and Say One for Me have never previously been available on CD.   The original Liberty Records soundtrack to Hong Kong finds Crosby and Bob Hope joined by Joan Collins and Dorothy Lamour; Columbia’s Say One for Me album features Debbie Reynolds and Robert Wagner.

After the jump: Wounded Bird revives a long out-of-print title from the Queen of Soul, and travel with Tony Bennett as time goes by! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 30, 2013 at 11:25

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Ace Compiles Otis Redding Songbook, Louisiana R&B and King’s Northern Soul

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Ace Records has long been, well, aces where soul music is concerned.  Three recent releases have arrived courtesy of the Ace and Kent labels, and connoisseurs, collectors and casual fans alike will all find plenty to enjoy on these incendiary new compilations.

The rich recorded legacy of black artists has been a cornerstone of the Kent soul and R&B library.  Kent launched a “Black America Sings…” series with titles dedicated to the Lennon and McCartney and Bob Dylan songbooks, a sort of companion to the label’s Songwriters and Producers series.  With a new installment, Kent turns its attention to another singer/songwriter: Otis Redding.  Hard to Handle: Black America Sings Otis Redding brings together 25 sides of simmering soul, with every track written or co-written by the late Redding.  Naturally, the most famous recording of Redding’s most famous song is here: Aretha Franklin’s 1967 “Respect.”  The song earned both Franklin and Redding their first pop chart-topper and remains a cornerstone of the pop and soul songbooks today.  Not far behind is “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay,” a posthumous success for Redding following his untimely death in a December 1968 plane crash, and heard here via the Staple Singers in a Stax recording produced by the song’s co-writer Steve Cropper.  James Carr takes on another iconic Redding composition, “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” in a 1977 recording for Goldwax, and William Bell offers “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” in a 1967 Stax rendition.  You’ll also hear performances from soul royalty like Judy Clay, Maxine Brown, Irma Thomas, Percy Sledge, Arthur Conley, and Lou Rawls, and Kent has gone the extra mile (as usual!) with the inclusion of three previously unreleased tracks: Mitty Collier’s “I’m Missing You,” as recorded for Chess, Conley’s “A Year, A Month and a Day” from the Atco vaults, and Take 2 of Redding’s own Volt recording of “Loving By the Pound.”  Otis Redding is well remembered today for his scorching soul vocals, but Hard to Handle is a reminder of the man’s titanic gifts as a songwriter whose compositions were supremely adaptable in the pop, soul, funk and R&B idioms.  Indeed, some songs here were never recorded by Otis, so here’s a chance that shouldn’t be passed up to check them all out.

Another long-running series is continued with the third volume of King Northern Soul.  Volume Two arrived in 2001, but producer Ady Croasdell has located another 24 rare tracks from the vaults of the company that James Brown called home.  These tracks date from 1962-1973 and feature some of King’s brightest performers along with those on associated labels DeLuxe, Federal and Hollywood.  Naturally, Brown and his associated acts are represented in various capacities on the 24-track disc; JB co-wrote Charles Spurling’s “That’s My Zone (He’s Pickin’ On),” and The Brownettes’ “Baby, Don’t You Know.”  Marva Whitney is heard on Hank Ballard’s “Unwind Yourself,” and Ballard himself is represented with Rudy (“Good Lovin’”) Clark’s “I’m Just a Fool (and Everybody Knows)” produced by Steve Venet for Screen Gems but released on King!  Stax favorite “Packy” Axton appears via L.H. and the Memphis Sounds’ “Out of Control,” the Memphis Sounds being Packy’s group and L.H. being one L.H. White.  Billy Cox, of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, accompanies Hal Hardy on 1967’s “House of Broken Hearts.”  These funky and incredibly rare Northern Soul floor-fillers have been annotated by Croasdell for this volume, which will surely leave you wanting more!

After the jump: we go Boppin’ by the Bayou, and have track listings and order links for all three titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 20, 2012 at 09:55

All the Love in the World: Dionne, Aretha Classics Are Remastered by BBR

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The eighties aren’t traditionally remembered as a halcyon period for classic soul.  R&B eventually took on new meaning as it splintered into hip-hop, rap and urban genres that were as integral to their day as street-corner doo-wop and soul were to their own.  Big Break Records, a Cherry Red imprint, has long been committed to rediscovering perhaps-neglected works by some of the biggest names in soul and R&B, and a particularly fascinating series of recent reissues has turned its attention to two legendary ladies of soul as they transformed themselves for a new generation, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.  Both Franklin’s Love All the Hurt Away and Warwick’s Heartbreaker were produced under the aegis of Clive Davis for Arista Records in the early days of the 1980s (1981 and 1982, respectively), and both of these classic albums have just received gleaming new editions from BBR.

Love All the Hurt Away follows BBR’s recent reissues of Aretha (1980), Jump to It (1982) and Get It Right (1983), completing the initial quartet of Arista releases from the Queen of Soul.  Franklin’s sophomore Arista album found her as a sort of nexus of R&B’s past and present.  At the helm was her longtime Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin, who had earlier reunited with Franklin when he co-produced her Arista debut in 1980.  Songs came from friends old (Burt Bacharach, David Porter and Isaac Hayes) and new (Rod Temperton, Bacharach’s collaborator and eventual wife, Carole Bayer Sager), a duet was recorded with another veteran artist who had scored a major crossover from jazz to pop (George Benson) and the rhythm section featured some of the hottest names in eighties rock, pop and soul: Jeff Porcaro and Paulinho da Costa on drums, Marcus Miller on bass, Steve Lukather on guitar, Greg Phillinganes on anything with keys!  Even the song selection was split between originals and reworkings of old favorites.  With this album perhaps more than any other, Franklin looked both forward and back, and of course, she would reach the zenith of her eighties “comeback” with 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who.

Mardin had produced a handful of tracks on 1980’s Aretha, but must have felt sufficiently rejuvenated to oversee every track on Love All the Hurt Away.  He applied gloss and funk to versions of “Can’t Turn You Loose” and “What a Fool Believes” on Aretha, and here, the same treatment was applied to Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and more interestingly, The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”  The former rendition retained the original’s trademark horn riff, with arrangers Jerry Hey and Larry Williams embellishing it further while Marcus Miller’s bass adds to an almost Kool & the Gang-esque “Celebrate” feel.  Franklin raps a bit, and Robbie Buchanan’s “mini-Moog” sounds add another modern slant to the track.  For “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” Mardin took a similar approach, retaining the original’s choir but adding electronic sounds from Greg Phillinganes on the mini-Moog and David Paich on the electric piano; Franklin’s vocal floats airily above Miller’s burbling bass, Porcaro’s drums and the guitars of Steve Lukather and David Williams.  Franklin took the opportunity to alter the Glimmer Twins’ lyrics, personalizing the song and delivering an offhand, funky and up-tempo take on the song that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Rod Temperton’s “Living in the Streets” can sit comfortably alongside the danceable R&B he penned for Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones on albums like Off the Wall and Thriller, with a rhythmic groove that doesn’t let up.  Chuck Jackson returned from Aretha to contribute the sensitive “Search On,” one of the album’s classic soul throwbacks with a dynamic melody and sweet backing vocals from Jo Ann Harris.  The pleasant title duet with George Benson as well as Allee Willis, David Lasley and Don Yowell’s “There’s a Star for Everyone” also snugly fit into this category.  Franklin herself supplied two songs: the seductive, joyous “Whole Lot of Me,” and the album-closing, string-swathed “Kind of Man” in which she heaps praise upon the “kind of man that every little boy looks up to and wants to be.”

There’s more on Aretha, plus Dionne’s Heartbreaker, after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 27, 2012 at 13:10

Reissue Theory, In Memoriam: Various Artists, “The Essential Marvin Hamlisch”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. Today’s installment looks back at the mighty career of the late Marvin Hamlisch and how his best songs might be compiled into a truly “Essential” release.

On Tuesday morning, August 7, news broke that composer Marvin Hamlisch had unexpectedly died the day before, at the age of 68.  The worlds of music, theatre and film were all shocked, as Hamlisch’s latest musical, The Nutty Professor, had started performances in Nashville, Tennessee, and the busy conductor had continued to fulfill his concert appearances.  Barbra Streisand reflected, “I’m devastated…he was a musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being.”  Her sentiment was echoed by many with whom he had worked.  Rupert Holmes, his lyricist on The Nutty Professor, commented, “The music of Marvin Hamlisch is invariably compassionate, charming, tender, uplifting, classy, delightful and profoundly moving.  The world has not lost a note of his genius.  His music will live on.  What I have lost as his devoted collaborator is a friend who was invariably…compassionate, tender, uplifting, classy, delightful and often profoundly moving.”  Robert Klein, star of Hamlisch’s musical They’re Playing Our Song, admitted, “He was inscrutable in some ways, but was a loving collaborator who composed the most beautiful melodies, and thankfully we are left with them.  It is sad to think of all the beautiful music he would have composed in days to come.”  Liza Minnelli, a childhood friend, summed it up: “I have lost my lifelong best friend, and sadly we have lost a splendid, splendid talent.”

The best way, of course, to celebrate Hamlisch’s life is with his music.  Surely the man who wrote “The Way We Were” and “One [Singular Sensation]” is deserving of a retrospective collection.  And so we’ve created one, Reissue Theory-style!  A box set would seem most natural, with one disc devoted to his orchestral soundtrack work, another to his Broadway musicals, and a third to his pop music and hit film songs.  But would it be possible to distill the essence of Marvin Hamlisch onto one disc?  His was an enormously versatile talent; there’s not a signature Marvin Hamlisch sound the way there is a “Burt Bacharach sound” or a “Henry Mancini sound.”  What Hamlisch’s compositions have in common is an unerring sense of melody, an open heart and a true positivity.  And you’ll certainly hear some musical trademarks on these tracks.

For our not-yet-a-reality The Essential Marvin Hamlisch, we have attempted to bring together the best of all three of Hamlisch’s musical worlds, with both hit songs and some pieces which might be unfamiliar.  Some amazing tracks had to fall by the wayside, all of which are every bit as worthy as those we have chosen: “At the Ballet,” from A Chorus Line, perhaps that score’s most thrillingly visceral moment.  “At the Fountain,” the heart-stopping soliloquy from Sweet Smell of Success.  The yearning “Disneyland” from Smile.  “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” the Lesley Gore pop hit.  “Life is What You Make It,” from the film Kotch.  “Cause I Believe In Loving,” an affecting song that closes Woody Allen’s Bananas in a version performed by singer Jake Holmes.  The dramatic cues for films like Sophie’s Choice and Ordinary People.  The list goes on and on.  Hamlisch even wrote a number of songs for performers who might not usually be associated with him.  The young Paul Simon recorded a demo of the song “Flame.”  The Chambers Brothers, Stephanie Mills, Tevin Campbell and Peter Allen all recorded music by Marvin Hamlisch.

You can read our full tribute to Marvin Hamlisch here.  Or hit the jump for our hypothetical track listing to The Essential Marvin Hamlisch, with track-by-track “liner notes” and complete discographical information as to where you can find each of these remarkable songs! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 10, 2012 at 10:06