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Review: Claudia Lennear, “Phew!”

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Claudia Lennear - PhewClaudia Lennear might have spent much of her career 20 Feet from Stardom, as per the acclaimed documentary of that title.  But on her 1973 Warner Bros. solo debut album, the onetime background singer and member of Leon Russell’s Shelter People was front and center.  That LP was titled Phew!, perhaps not the most likely name for a heady brew of funk, rock and soul by the striking singer who gave inspiration to both David Bowie and Mick Jagger.  But “Phew!” is an accurate expression of relief now that Lennear’s only solo platter has finally arrived on CD from Real Gone Music.  And it actually has the feel of two distinct records.  Ian Samwell (Cliff Richard, America, Small Faces) is credited with producing the entire LP, and he indeed called the shots on the rocking Side One.  But the second side was written, arranged and overseen by New Orleans’ own Allen Toussaint.  And when Toussaint promised “everything I do gonna be funky,” he wasn’t one to mess around.  Each side has its own pronounced vibe –gutsy rock on Side One, and soulful New Orleans rhythm and blues on Side Two.

For Side One’s greasy, Rolling Stones-esque rockers, Samwell enlisted none other than Ry Cooder as the frontline guitarist.  The stellar line-up also included Jim Dickinson and Tommy McClure of the Dixie Flyers on guitar/piano and bass, respectively, plus Milt Holland on percussion, John Craviotto on drums, Charles Grimes on guitar and Mike Utley on Hammond organ.  Samwell and Lennear chose two songs from singer-songwriter Ron Davies to kick off the album, and both tracks set the down and dirty tone.  Lennear’s throaty lead on “It Ain’t Easy” (“…to get to heaven when you’re going down”) – also memorably recorded by David Bowie on his landmark Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars –teeters on vocal cord-shredding territory, matching the pounding piano and searing guitar licks for intensity.

Davies also contributed the torrid groove of “Sing for the Children.”  Lennear imbues it with an earthy, no-nonsense sensibility as she begs, “Please keep me satisfied” with primal fervor.  Activist Angela Davis, also the subject of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Angela” as well as The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Black Angel,” inspired Lennear to pen her own “Sister Angela,” which she sings in a sympathetic, pained howl.  With Samwell, the singer also wrote “Not at All,” the fieriest track on Side One.  She aggressively wails and growls through this rocker aimed in Mick Jagger’s direction.  In Pat Thomas’ interview with Lennear for Real Gone’s reissue, she reveals that she had discussed travelling to Australia for Jagger’s Ned Kelly press junket. She fiercely and furiously asks of him in song, “Did you think I’d go ‘round singin’ the blues cause you’re on the wanted list and I’m all alone?”  The cry of “Not at all!” is a defiant one.

There’s more on Phew! after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 1, 2013 at 14:22

It’s a Real Gone September with Jefferson Starship, The Paley Brothers, Joanie Sommers and More

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Jefferson Starship - Live

While we await previously announced titles coming later this month from Dionne Warwick, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., P-Funk offshoot Parlet and more, Real Gone Music is already looking forward to summer’s end with a new release slate due on September 3.

Real Gone is making a couple of very contemporary connections with releases from Claudia Lennear and Ponderosa Twins Plus One.   Lennear, a longtime background singer, recently stepped to the fore as one of the artists featured in director Morgan Neville’s documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.  And the all-but-forgotten Jackson 5 sound-alikes Ponderosa Twins Plus One were sampled by none other than Kanye West on his new album Yeezus.  Add to those a comprehensive collection from musical sweetheart Joanie Sommers (including an unreleased track penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David), two discs of previously unreleased music from Jefferson Starship, a complete anthology from power-pop icons The Paley Brothers (with a never-before-issued Phil Spector production!), plus more unexpected country and rock-and-roll treats, and you’ve got an idea of what to expect from Real Gone in September!

Hit the jump for the scoop on each title plus pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »