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Big Break Big Round-Up, Divas Edition: Label Reissues Carolyn Franklin, Gloria Gaynor, Patti LaBelle

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Carolyn Franklin - If You Want MeAs the youngest daughter of The Reverend C.L. Franklin, Carolyn Franklin was destined to live in the shadow her older sister Aretha. But like eldest sister Erma, Carolyn carved out an impressive career of her own. During her too-short life, sadly curbed by cancer at age 43 in 1988, Carolyn recorded for both the independent Double L label and the major RCA Victor. In addition to serving as a background singer on such classics as “Respect” and contributing to its now-famous arrangement, she wrote or co-wrote a number of memorable songs for Aretha including “Ain’t No Way,” “Ain’t Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)” and “Angel.” Now, Big Break has brought her fourth solo album, 1976’s If You Want Me, to CD.

Recorded in 1973 but shelved for three years, If You Want Me arrived in record stores at the wrong time. Disco and funkier R&B had supplanted the lush, sweet soul style employed by Carolyn and a team of producer-arrangers on the album including Jimmy Radcliffe, Wade Marcus, Sonny Saunders, and Pearl “Spear” Jones. Radcliffe was an ace soul singer himself, with the original recording of “This Diamond Ring” under his belt as well as songs like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s dramatic “(There Goes) The Forgotten Man.” Marcus was equally conversant in jazz (Donald Byrd, Grant Green) and soul (Marlena Shaw, The Dramatics), and Saunders had worked with Walter Jackson and Tyrone Davis. “Spear” had backed Aretha with The Sweethearts of Soul.

These varied producers were able to create a unified sound for Carolyn’s record, generally soft but with a few choice gritty cuts. Though her voice wasn’t as powerful as that of Aretha or Erma, it still was a strong and expressive instrument. It’s not hard to hear a touch of Aretha’s sound and style on tracks like the title track “If You Want Me” when Carolyn employs her gospel-trained belt over Radcliffe’s light reggae arrangement.   (Carolyn co-wrote the song with Radcliffe, too.) There’s a breezy groove to Spear and Saunders’ “Sunshine Holiday,” given a spirited arrangement by Saunders.

Other tracks touched on funk (“Dead Man” and “Song Man,” both co-written by Wade Marcus, and the sassy “Deal with It” from the pen of Franklin and Jones) and smoldering soul (the sensual “I Can’t Help My Feeling So Blue,” which became the album’s lone single). Marcus wrote a comparatively spare, earthy arrangement for Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s Stylistics hit “You Are Everything,” and Carolyn imbued it with a sultry, simmering passion. Franklin and Saunders’ “Not Enough Love to Hold” is the album’s most upbeat moment, with vocals and horns both appropriately brassy.

After the jump: more on Carolyn, plus the scoop on Gloria Gaynor and Patti LaBelle on BBR! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 24, 2014 at 10:27

Release Round-Up: Week of May 6

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Steeltown DeluxeBig Country, Steeltown: Deluxe Edition (Mercury/UMC)

The second, criminally underrated album by the Scottish rockers behind “In a Big Country” is remastered and expanded with a bonus disc of single sides and outtakes. (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.UPDATE: This one’s been pushed back to September, folks!

Philadelphia International BoxPhiladelphia International: The Collection – 2o Original Albums / The Very Best of Teddy PendergrassLou RawlsThe Three DegreesThe IntrudersThe O’JaysBilly Paul and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (Sony Music U.K.)

Sony Music recently announced their acquisition of all post-1975 Philadelphia International Records masters (previously they were only licensed by Sony), so we can expect some more celebrating of all things Gamble, Huff and so on – starting with a 20-disc box set of some the best albums on the label and some new U.K.-exclusive compilations for PIR’s biggest artists.

Philadelphia International: The Collection (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)
Amazon U.K.: The IntrudersHarold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The O’Jays, Billy PaulTeddy PendergrassLou RawlsThe Three Degrees

Gloria GaynorGene Chandler, Get Down / Gloria Gaynor, Gloria Gaynor (Big Break Records)

BBR’s remastered/expanded release slate this week includes some interesting finds: “Duke of Earl” Gene Chandler’s first disco-oriented album for Chi Sound Records in 1978 and Gloria Gaynor’s tenth album (and only one for Atlantic), released in 1982 and featuring a cover of The Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love.”

Gene Chandler: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.
Gloria Gaynor: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.

Message from the MagicBlue Magic, Message from the Magic (Funkytowngrooves)

The Philadelphia R&B group’s fifth and final album for ATCO Records is remastered and released on CD for the first time ever! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Ace’s “Black America Sings Bacharach and David” Features Dionne, Aretha, Cissy, Nina and More

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Black America Sings BacharachIn retrospect, it might be telling that Burt Bacharach’s first recorded song, “Once in a Blue Moon,” was cut in 1952 by Nat “King” Cole. From those earliest days, Bacharach and his lyrical partner Hal David saw their songs recorded by a host of African-American artists: Johnny Mathis, Gene McDaniels, Joe Williams, Lena Horne, and Etta James among them. Once the duo began to change the sound of American music with their ultra-cool, sophisticated pop-soul compositions, those songs were most frequently interpreted by African-Americans: The Shirelles, Jerry Butler, Lou Johnson, The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, and of course, Dionne Warwick. It’s no small feat to distill the best of Bacharach and David’s R&B recordings onto one disc, but Ace Records has proved up to the task with the release of Let The Music Play: Black America Sings Bacharach and David. This 24-track compilation follows similar releases for Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding, and draws from the halcyon period between 1962 and 1975. For much of that period, Bacharach and David’s songs were rarely far from the top of the pop and R&B charts. As per Ace’s custom, the set includes both the familiar hits and the lesser-known tracks that just might become future favorites.

Songwriter-producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were among the earliest professionals to champion Bacharach and David’s work. Both teams were integral to the sound of so-called “uptown soul” in which strings and Latin rhythms melded with gutbucket R&B to create some of the most indelible records ever made. Both of those elements are present on Leiber and Stoller’s production of Marv Johnson’s majestic 1963 recording of “Another Tear Falls,” one of B&D’s songs that fell short of hit status. Johnson passionately navigates its martial beat and darkly brooding orchestration, and Bacharach’s signature unexpected melodic shifts and rhythms are already in place. (Just listen to the song seemingly end around the 2 minute, 7 second mark, only to return with a coda – a device which Bacharach would revisit in the future.) Leiber and Stoller also produced a couple of other stunning tracks here, like Jerry Butler’s booming original recording of “Message to Martha” (later “Michael” in Dionne Warwick’s version) and The Drifters’ dramatic “In the Land of Make Believe.” With its nearly-operatic vocals and offbeat jazzy instrumental noodling, it’s one of the more unusual items in the Bacharach and David catalogue and all the more beguiling for it.

Thom Bell, along with his Mighty Three music partners Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, updated the “uptown soul” ethos for a new generation with The Sound of Philadelphia. Bell, who recently (and correctly) described his own music as “Bacharach-strange,” is represented on Black America Sings Bacharach and David with his 1968 production and arrangement of “Alfie” for The Delfonics. Bell delivered his ultimate homage to Bacharach with his reinvention of “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” for The Stylistics in 1972, but the lush, William Hart-led “Alfie” is no less classy. Bacharach’s influence on Philly soul is evident elsewhere, too. The Orlons made the most of a straightforward Richard Rome arrangement of “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” but it wasn’t enough to restore the “South Street” group to chart supremacy. Future “Hustle” man Van McCoy produced and arranged “Don’t Make Me Over” for Philly’s Brenda and the Tabulations, and also hewed closely to Bacharach’s original template.

Cissy Houston more radically overhauled her niece Dionne’s second hit, “This Empty Place,” in 1970. The funky arrangement takes liberties with Bacharach’s original time signatures but gives the powerfully-voiced Houston the opportunity to get down-and-dirty with her vocal. Aretha Franklin, like Houston a powerhouse vocalist, knew when to cut loose and when to play it cool on her hit 1968 recording of “I Say a Little Prayer.” Even the piano that opens Aretha’s “Prayer” is slinky and sexy. Bacharach has always been unduly harsh on his bright arrangement of the song for Dionne Warwick, but Aretha’s recording more vividly brought out its longing and passion. Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes are expectedly and excitingly torrid on “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” respectively. More restrained is Nina Simone’s detached, smoky reading of the sultry “The Look of Love” from 1967, one of the now-ubiquitous song’s first covers.

After the jump, we have plenty more for you, including the complete track listing with discography and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 30, 2014 at 10:44

She Will Survive: BBR Reissues, Expands Gloria Gaynor’s “Love Tracks” and “Park Avenue Sound”

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Gloria Gaynor - Love TracksThe very first release on Big Break Records, early in 2010, was an expanded reissue of the very first solo album by Gloria Gaynor.  Never Can Say Goodbye spun Clifton Davis’ title track into disco gold and pioneered the sidelong disco mix with a nearly 19-minute suite from Tom Moulton consisting of “Honey Bee,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and another Motown revival, “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”   Big Break followed that landmark 1974 album with an expansion of Experience Gloria Gaynor, from 1975.  It followed the template of her debut with a sidelong, Moulton-mixed disco suite on Side One, and a more R&B-oriented Side Two.  (Continuing her tradition of updating classic soul music, Gaynor reworked Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By” here.)  Over three years later, BBR is revisiting the era-defining vocalist’s catalogue with remastered and generously expanded versions of her fifth and sixth albums: Park Avenue Sound and Love Tracks (both 1978), the latter of which introduced a little anthem called “I Will Survive.”

The Newark, New Jersey-born vocalist had experienced the law of diminishing returns (commercially speaking) with the three albums that followed the success of her stunning and influential debut Never Can Say Goodbye.  Naturally, she looked to refine and reshape her sound; the Meco Menardo/Tony Bongiovi/Jay Ellis team that helmed her first three LPs made way for Gregg Diamond (The Andrea True Connection, George McCrae) on 1977’s Glorious.  When that album failed to set the charts ablaze, Gaynor cast her sights not to New York, as the title of Park Avenue Sound might indicate, but to another neighbor of New Jersey: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Perhaps Broad Street Sound lacked the same tony ring to it?  (J. Matthew Cobb’s helpful and entertaining notes inform us that Gaynor’s management had recently relocated to the swank Park Avenue environs.)

Guitarist/songwriter/arranger/producer Norman Harris, a key creator of the sound of Philadelphia soul and one of the founders of the MFSB house band at Sigma Sound Studios, had a few years earlier departed Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International empire.  He brought his artistry to the Salsoul Records stable while also racking up hits for artists on numerous labels.  Harris’ clients included The Dells, Eddie Kendricks, The Trammps and Blue Magic, each one benefitting from his versatile touch.  Harris could arrange down-and-dirty funk, euphoric disco or sweet soul.  Many of his productions were in tandem with bassist Ron Baker and drummer Earl Young under the Baker-Harris-Young umbrella.  Harris had actually provided the arrangement for the Paul Leka-produced track “Honey Bee” on Gaynor’s debut, so he was already familiar with the singer’s talents.  For Park Avenue Sound, he joined with songwriter Allan Felder and vocalist Ron Tyson of The Ethics and Love Committee; the three co-produced Park Avenue Sound under the moniker “TAN.”  Tracks were laid down at Sigma Sound with the usual suspects: Bobby Eli joining Harris on guitar, Larry Washington on congas, Ron Kersey on keyboards, Bruce Gray on piano, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Yvette Benton on backing vocals, and Jack Faith on arrangements and (likely) flute.

Those fans of Philadelphia soul who might be unfamiliar with this long-unavailable album will smile immediately upon hitting that “play” button.  The very first notes of the jubilant and lightly swinging “This Love Affair” – all rapturous Philly horns and strings, arranged by Harris, Tyson and Al Stewart – couldn’t have been recorded anywhere but Sigma Sound.  The creamy coos of the Sweethearts of Sigma kick in before Gaynor’s confident lead vocal begins: “This love affair has gotten to where I want it/I’m so proud to own it.”  Co-written by Gaynor, it’s an upbeat, happy and comfortable opening to an album that takes on themes of love in all its forms.

Gloria Gaynor - Park Avenue SoundThe peppy, burbling “Everytime You Make Love to Me” (“It’s so heavenly…”) and “For the First Time in My Life” (“I’ve found a man for me/A man who makes me feel just like a queen!”) are both sunny, quintessential mid-tempo Philly jams from the Harrison/Tyson/Felder team, with the former arranged by Harris solo and the latter by Harris and Jack Faith.  “For the First Time” employs the Thom Bell-esque electric sitar sound that was a Philly soul staple along with the usual complement of horns and strings a-plenty.

Not that Park Avenue Sound is all sunshine and flowers.  Gaynor plays a sassy “other woman” who’s more than a little fed up on “Part Time Love (Is a Full Time Job),” the track gilded by arranger Kersey’s persuasive disco beat.  There’s a funk-meets-disco edge to “Kidnapped,” though the Sweethearts’ backing vocals and Harris’ brassy orchestral flourishes keep the catchy track from falling too far afield of the pop-soul blueprint.

A pair of tracks produced by Joel Diamond and Harold Wheeler rounded out the original LP.  Wheeler was Broadway’s first African-American conductor when selected to ascend the podium for Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Promises, Promises in 1968, and today conducts the orchestra for U.S. television’s Dancing with the Stars.  Wheeler and Gaynor attempted to rekindle the “Never Can Say Goodbye” magic with a dancefloor jaunt set to Ashford and Simpson’s Motor City classic “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and went considerably mellower with a medley of “After the Lovin’” (a then-recent hit for Engelbert Humperdinck) and Gaynor’s “Sweet Sounds for My Baby.”  Though sonically cut from a different cloth than the Harris/Tyson/Felder tracks, both songs occupy unique places on the album: “You’re All I Need” is the most overtly disco track on the LP, and the “After the Lovin’” medley shows Gaynor’s prowess as a sensual and soulful ballad singer.  “You’re All I Need” was selected to lead off a four-track, 12-inch disco single, along with “This Love Affair,” “Everytime You Make Love to Me,” and “Part Time Love.”  Though Polydor gave it a shot, none of the songs were sufficiently remixed and extended to create too many rumbles at the disco.  All four sides are included on BBR’s deluxe edition as bonus tracks, along with the standard single version of “This Love Affair.”

It’s a mystery why the infectious lead-off single “This Love Affair” and Park Avenue Sound weren’t better received at the time, as they stood tall at the crossroads of Philadelphia soul, disco and crossover-friendly pop.  Undeterred, Gaynor went on to create the LP which yielded her most successful record ever, and one of the most iconic songs of all time.

After the jump: we will survive with Love Tracks! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 13, 2013 at 12:11

Posted in Gloria Gaynor, News, Reissues, Reviews

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Release Round-Up: Week of August 6

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SONY DSCElvis Presley, Elvis At Stax (RCA/Legacy)

Four decades after the King decamped to the famous Memphis studio to cut some country-fried soul sides, this triple-disc box set presents the fruits of those labors, greatly re-contextualized from the original albums that featured these sessions (1973’s Raised on Rock/For Ol’ Times Sake and 1974’s Good Times).

3CD box set: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
1CD highlights: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP highlights: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Gloria Gaynor - Love TracksGloria Gaynor, Gloria Gaynor’s Park Avenue Sound Love Tracks: Expanded Editions (Big Break)

BBR’s latest features the fifth and sixth albums by the future disco queen Gaynor, remastered and expanded. Hits here include a cover of “You’re All I Need to Get By” and some tune called “I Will Survive.”

Park Avenue SoundAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Love TracksAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Crocodiles 2LPEcho & The Bunnymen, Crocodiles (Weatherbox)

The post-punk heroes’ debut, expanded as a double-LP with hardback book packaging and bonus tracks from Rhino’s expanded remaster. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Written by Mike Duquette

August 6, 2013 at 08:32