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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: Carmen McRae, “I Am Music”

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Carmen McRae - I Am Music“Life is just too much for me to bear…I guess nobody ever really cared…do you?” Carmen McRae poses that question some four minutes into “A Letter for Anna-Lee,” the Benard Ighner song that opens her 1975 Blue Note album I Am Music. It’s a startling moment of direct address in this sad tale of a man for whom “the business of the day won’t let me be,” adding that “this life’s not meant for me.” The song, its accompaniment led by Dave Grusin’s burbling electric piano, shifts from its third-person narration to a reading of the titular letter, then reveals itself as a first-person account. As McRae’s pain and anguish come to the fore, the smooth backing builds to a dramatic crescendo, strings slashing through the gentility. McRae naturally brings a jazz singer’s vocabulary and phrasing to the song, elongating syllables and thoughts, indulging in the kind of melodic improvisation and exploration only she could do. (Its portrait of the strife lurking under the veil of domesticity actually recalls one of Barry Manilow’s finest songs, “Sandra,” so memorably recorded by another legendarily soulful voice: Dusty Springfield.) Carmen McRae was always among the more burnished and precise, yet bluesy, voices of the American songbook. With I Am Music, she created a hybrid of R&B, soul, and contemporary jazz that set it apart from most other titles in her deep catalogue. Its new reissue from Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label (CDBBR 0205) sheds some welcome light on this rare gem.

Big Break has previously reissued 1976’s Would You Believe, with its roster of songs from the worlds of R&B (Bill Withers, Skip Scarborough), modern jazz (Chick Corea), Broadway (Cy Coleman, George Gershwin) and pop-rock (James Taylor). The repertoire on I Am Music takes a different approach, avoiding standards. The songs are less familiar, some newly-written, with five coming from the lyrical pens of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (with various composers), two from Benard Ighner and two from Jelsa Palao. The album is rounded out by a Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song. And though Blue Note was aggressively courting the modern market, the album is more than just a one-note exercise in updating a legendary chanteuse’s sound for a rock crowd more interested in, say, Alice Cooper than “Alice Blue Gown.” (Though it has its own considerable merits, Would You Believe is more explicitly “contemporary” in feel and material than I Am Music. And Carmen actually covered an Alice Cooper song to good effect on that disc!) Roger Kellaway, once Bobby Darin’s accompanist and a talented composer-arranger in his own right, produced the album after Benard Ighner became indisposed. Kellaway arranged the lion’s share of the disc himself, bringing in Dave Grusin and Byron Olson as well.

There’s more after the jump!

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Written by Joe Marchese

February 22, 2013 at 11:15

Posted in Carmen McRae, News, Reissues, Reviews

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Big Break Serves Up Soul, Jazz and Funk from Carmen McRae, Billy Paul, Azteca and More

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Carmen McRae - I Am MusicTimeless soul music knows no regional boundaries, at least based on the latest quintet of releases from Cherry Red’s Big Break Records imprint.  With this group of reissues, you’ll travel to Philadelphia by way of Hawaii, Oakland, Harlem and Chicago.  All of the titles previewed below are available now in the U.K. and next Tuesday, February 5, in the U.S.!

Two new titles hail from the Philadelphia International Records catalogue.  Perhaps most exciting is the first CD release outside of Japan for 1973’s Dick Jensen, the self-titled album by the renowned entertainer from Hawaii.  Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff enlisted the MFSB orchestra plus producers and arrangers like Bobby Martin, Bunny Sigler and Thom Bell to craft a major musical statement from the high-energy performer, but Dick Jensen quickly sank without a trace.  It was no reflection on the album’s quality, however, as the LP is filled with stunning mini-pop/soul masterpieces.  BBR’s edition features new liner notes by Stephen “Spaz” Schnee that shed light on the late, enigmatic singer and this lost classic.  Click here for our full review of Dick Jensen!

Big Break is also delivering another title in its series of releases from Philadelphia’s own Billy PaulGoing East (1971) was not only Paul’s first PIR platter, but the label’s very first album altogether.  As such, the smooth PIR soul sound was still in its formative stages, and Going East bears many of the jazz hallmarks that informed 1970’s Ebony Woman (previously reissued on BBR).  Musically, Going East is rough-hewn, with the full MFSB Orchestra not in the picture.  Of the familiar players, Norman Harris and Roland Chambers appeared on guitars, Vince Montana chimed in with vibes, and Don Renaldo as usual supplied the (subtle) strings.  The prominent flute of Tony Williams adds a distinct character to the album.  Eddie Green wrote the rhythm charts for the album, and Lenny Pakula arranged horns and strings for the epic title track, a slow-burning, mystical meditation on slavery which does look forward to similarly widescreen productions like “War of the Gods” from the album of the same name (also a recent BBR reissue).

Billy Paul - Going EastThe rest of the album’s horn and string charts were divided between Thom Bell and Bobby Martin, who each arranged four songs.  Bell’s symphonic stylings are most apparent on a striking rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “This is Your Life,” while his arrangement of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” is simply atypical for both Bell and Paul.  “(If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?” came from Peter Link and C.C. Courtney’s off-Broadway musical Salvation, and was previously recorded by Ronnie Dyson.  Dyson, of course, recorded an album with Bell that didn’t include the Salvation song; here’s your chance to hear what a Bell arrangement of the song sounded like, with Paul’s incomparably mature vocals.  (It’s worth noting that Going East was issued in September 1971; two months later, the Thom Bell-produced debut of The Stylistics followed.  How remarkably different his work is here, minus most of the stylistic and instrumental hallmarks for which he would become renowned.  Yet all three issued singles from Going East were Bell’s handiwork.)  Of the Bobby Martin tracks, there’s a slick, languid version of Rodgers and Hart’s On Your Toes standard “There’s a Small Hotel,” and Martin’s own song “I Wish It Were Yesterday,” which has the same late-night cabaret vibe.  A pleasant if unexceptional Gamble and Huff tune, “Love Buddies,” and a fiery take on Eugene McDaniels’ “Compared to What” continue the album’s diverse approach.  Going East is one of the most unusual PIR albums, but Paul’s vocal mastery was in its prime even if Gamble and Huff hadn’t yet found the formula to best marry those jazz-honed pipes with silky soul.  BBR’s edition includes all three single A-sides released from the album along with new liner notes from Andy Kellman drawing on an interview with Billy Paul himself.

After the jump: Azteca, Tyrone Davis and Carmen McRae take the spotlight, plus track listings with discography and order links for all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 29, 2013 at 10:01

“Would You Believe” Carmen McRae’s Funky Soul-Jazz Classic is Back from BBR?

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1976’s Can’t Hide Love, recently reissued by Big Break Records, wasn’t jazz singer Carmen McRae’s first venture into contemporary territory.  Like so many other interpretive vocalists who had begun their careers in a pre-Beatles world, McRae found herself adopting an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” credo towards the increasingly prevalent rock genre, which had itself recently dropped the “and roll” to create a whole new sound.  1967’s Atlantic release For Once in My Life adventurously saw McRae tackling two Beach Boys songs off Pet Sounds (“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”) plus The Beatles (“Got to Get You into My Life”), the folk of Buffy Sainte Marie (“Until It’s Time for You to Go”) and the pop-soul of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“The Look of Love”).  The Sound of Silence and Portrait of Carmen (both 1968) added Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Margo Guryan and Bob Lind into the songwriting mix.  As the 1970s dawned, Just a Little Lovin’ featured an early song by Tom Waits (“I Want You”) alongside a cut from Laura Nyro and more from Jimmy Webb and The Beatles.  Moving on from Atlantic, McRae continued to pursue a diverse path, returning to her rightfully cherished American standards, recording an album of songs by one Bob Friedman and trying soul/jazz at CTI competitor Groove Merchant.  But McRae’s most aggressive courting of the modern soul market was Can’t Hide Love, on Blue Note.

For Can’t Hide Love, the singer assembled her most eclectic songwriters’ roster yet: Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough from the R&B world, Cy Coleman from Broadway, Chick Corea from modern jazz, James Taylor and Eric Carmen from the pop/rock side – plus a couple of guys with the surname Gershwin and a certain Vincent Furnier, or Alice Cooper.  Yet the ten-track LP is surprisingly cohesive, and makes for another exciting reissue to arrive from the thriving Big Break label.  Today, its fusion of jazz with rock, R&B and soul elements sounds utterly natural.  McRae surrounded herself with some of the best of the best on the musical side: Dave Grusin, Larry Carlton, Ernie Watts, Joe Sample, Harvey Mason, Chuck Berghofer and Wilton Felder all supported her on various tracks.  In fact, the overall style isn’t too far from the accessible jazz being popularized on Creed Taylor’s CTI label.

Hit the jump for much more on this lost classic, including the full track listing with discography, and an order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 17, 2012 at 14:42

Posted in Carmen McRae, News, Reissues