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Review: Real Gone Goes Country with Eddie Rabbitt, Mel McDaniel, Cowboy Copas

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What defines country music?  The answer isn’t an easy one.  Dolly Parton is undoubtedly singing a country-and-western song when she reminisces about “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” but how about when she’s warbling “Here You Come Again” by the Brill Building team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil?  Are Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift country artists as pop stars, or pop stars as country artists?  Billboard recently described none other than Bruce Springsteen as “a symbolic fencepost in modern country.”  Clearly, country music comes in all varieties.  This hasn’t been lost on the fine folks at Real Gone Music, who have recently issued a group of country-themed collections that are about as different as different can be.  The artists are three late troubadours: Cowboy Copas (1913-1963), Eddie Rabbitt (1941-1998) and Mel McDaniel (1942-2011).  Real Gone’s three new compilations prove that these singers were able to carve out their own niches in the overall country-and-western landscape.

The Taylor Swifts of the world might be most indebted to Eddie Rabbitt, whose music practically defines “crossover country.”  Perhaps this was due to his upbringing; Rabbitt was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised across the Hudson in East Orange, New Jersey, a highly unlikely breeding ground for a country music superstar.  Rabbitt’s 13 Original # 1 Hits (Real Gone Music RGM-0047, 2012) is not one of Real Gone’s more comprehensive collections, but despite its brief running time, it nonetheless traces Rabbitt’s ascendancy from rising country star to pop crossover success.

Though Rabbitt made his debut on record in 1964, this collection of his thirteen No. 1s (on various charts) picks up in 1976.  That was six years after Elvis Presley made the world take notice of Rabbitt when he recorded the songwriter’s “Kentucky Rain,” still a perennial favorite of the late King’s fans.    Rabbitt remained a consistent hitmaker until 1986, and Real Gone has gone the extra mile in licensing these tracks from labels including Capitol, Warner Bros. and RCA.  Rabbitt was equally comfortable as a songwriter and interpreter of others’ material, and was quite adaptable in musical styles.

The earliest track here is pure honky-tonk country, musically and lyrically (“Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind),” co-written with Even Stevens) but by the second song, from 1978, the change in Rabbitt’s style is pronounced.  The piano is no longer rollicking but plaintive for the Alan Ray/Jeff Raymond composition “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” a big, sumptuous pop ballad with not a twangy guitar in sight.  Soon enough, strings and backing vocalists were added to the radio-ready equation (“I Just Want to Love You,” written by Rabbitt, Stevens and David Malloy) in a sound that was more AM pop than countrypolitan.  The change paid off, with both songs hitting pole position on the C&W chart.

Rabbitt continued his climb atop the charts, bringing a light country flavor to pop tunes (the movie theme “Every Which Way But Loose”) or abandoning the Nashville overtones altogether (the slick, blue-eyed soul song “Suspicions”).  His crossover gambits worked beautifully, as the endurance of smash hits like jukebox sing-along “I Love a Rainy Night” (No. 1 Pop, C&W and AC in 1980) and Crystal Gayle duet “You and I” (No. 1 C&W, No. 2 AC and No. 7 Pop) proves.   The collection concludes with the romantic “Both to Each Other (Friends and Lovers)” which found Rabbitt joining Juice Newton in an attempt to recapture some of the magic of his Crystal Gayle duet.  Bill Dahl offers a solid and informative essay to accompany 13 Original # 1 Hits, but unfortunately the booklet contains no discographical information to the original issue number of each single and chart positions.

The next release in Real Gone’s country trio comes from a contemporary of Rabbitt’s, Mel McDaniel.  Hit the jump where you’ll find baby with her blue jeans on! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 14, 2012 at 13:46

Release Round-Up: Week of May 1

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George Harrison, Living in the Material World / Early Takes Vol. 1 (Hip-O/UMe)

The big release in the U.S. today: Martin Scorsese’s documentary about the esteemed Beatle on DVD and Blu-Ray, and a 10-track disc of entirely unreleased demos and outtakes.

The Beach Boys, 50th Anniversary Collection ‘ZinePak (Capitol/EMI)

A new compilation/mini-booklet, available exclusively at Walmart stores in America, that features classic Beach Boys singles alongside the first-ever album appearance of the band’s new recording of “Do It Again.”

Greg Phillinganes, Pulse: Expanded Edition (Big Break Records)

The famous session keyboardist’s 1984 solo album, featuring the Michael Jackson outtake “Behind the Mask,” gets expanded and re-released in the U.K. by Big Break.

Lee Hazlewood, The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes, & Backsides (1968-1971) (Light in the Attic)

Released on vinyl for Record Store Day, this compilation of solo tracks from the “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” writer/producer gets a CD release today.

The Ad-Libs, The Complete Blue Cat Recordings / Mel McDaniel, Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On — His Original Capitol Hits / Eddie Rabbitt, 13 Original #1 Hits / The Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Vol. 30 — Academy of Music, New York City, NY 3/25 & 3/28/72 and Dick’s Picks Vol. 31 – 8/4-5 Philadelphia Civic Center, Philadelphia, PA 8/6/74, Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ (Real Gone)

A diverse offering from the fine folks at Real Gone, including two reissues of classic Dead shows.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, We Salute You (Warner Bros.)

In honor of their recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the Chili Peppers release this digital-only EP of B-side and non-LP covers of their fellow inductees.

Ooh Wah, Ooh Wah, Cool Cool Kitty: Grateful Dead, Ad Libs, Eddie Rabbitt Coming From Real Gone Music

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Yee-haw!  Real Gone Music has announced its late April/early May slate of releases, and you can count on plenty of country plus helping heapings of R&B, pop and, well, The Grateful Dead!  On April 17, the label will release the Complete Hit Singles As and Bs from soul legend Little Willie John as well as a vintage Complete Hit Singles As and Bs collection for “Cowboy” Copas.  Then on May 1 comes The Complete Blue Cat Recordings of The Ad Libs, straight from the vaults of Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird Records, plus two more reissued installments of The Grateful Dead’s Dick Picks.  Rounding out this group are hits collections for 1970s country superstars Eddie Rabbitt and Mel McDaniel.

Little Willie John (born William Edward John) died at the age of 30 inside a state penitentiary, serving time for a manslaughter conviction.  But before that sad ending, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer scored a series of hit records for Cincinnati’s King Records between 1955 and 1961.  King, of course, later was the home to James Brown, who learned a few tricks from John as an opening act and later paid homage to him with the Little Willie John…and a Few Nice Things album.  Real Gone Music’s comprehensive The Complete Hit Singles As and Bs boasts 32 tracks over 2 CDs including all of John’s chart hits plus their B-sides.  His first recording, a cover of Titus Turner’s “All Around the World” is joined by the original version of “Need Your Love So Bad,” and of course, “Fever,” later immortalized by Peggy Lee.  Bill Dahl provides new liner notes for this exciting compilation, and draws on comments by Lamont Dozier, who spent time alongside John’s sister Mable at Detroit’s Hitsville USA, Motown!

Following the same format is a collection dedicated to Lloyd Estel “Cowboy” Copas spanning the years 1946-1963.  Real Gone sheds some much-deserved light on this country pioneer who is perhaps best known for having perished in the same plane crash that took the life of Patsy Cline.  The label reveals that Copas actually had fourteen hits during his lifetime versus Cline’s nine!  The 2-CD Complete Hit Singles As and Bs contains 30 tracks including those rarely-heard flipsides.  Colin Escott (co-writer of Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet) supplies the liner notes, writing of Copas that “his records were so personable and so unlike any others from that day and time. Not honky tonk, not bluegrass, not Western swing, not hillbilly, not pop crossover, they could be labeled Cowboy Copas records.”

We jump a number of years in the country-and-western vein for two new anthologies dedicated to Mel McDaniel and Eddie Rabbitt, respectively.   The late Mel McDaniel scored a string of 41 hits during the 1970s and 1980s, and 21 of those appear on Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On — His Original Capitol Hits.  In addition to the title track, you’ll hear rollicking McDaniel favorites like “Louisiana Saturday Night” and “Big Ole Brew.”  Another light on the Capitol roster was Eddie Rabbitt, another bona fide country superstar in those decades.  Real Gone’s 13 # 1 Hits not only draws on Rabbitt’s Capitol period, but also his work for Elektra/Warner and RCA.  Featured songs include the smash “I Love a Rainy Night” plus “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “Every Which Way But Loose” and the chart-topping duet with Juice (“Angel of the Morning”) Newton, “Both to Each Other (Friends and Lovers).”

Hit the jump for The Ad Libs, The Grateful Dead and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 8, 2012 at 09:53