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Ace Offers Front Row Seat to a “Musical Revolution” with Vanguard Box; Unreleased Dylan Track Included

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A vanguard is, by definition, a position at the forefront of new ideas or developments.  And in the fertile musical stomping ground of the early 1960s, some of the newest, most avant-garde ideas were being espoused on the Vanguard Records label.  Yet these so-called radical, even “dangerous” thoughts were being espoused in forms so traditional, they might have seemed as old as time.  Vanguard dived headfirst into the flourishing folk music scene in 1956 with The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, bravely defying the blacklist to issue the group’s 1955 Christmas performance.  Vanguard was rewarded with a best-selling title, and continued on a dogged path of recording albums by artists both socially and musically significant.  Ace Records’ new 4-CD box set Make It Your Sound, Make It Your Scene: Vanguard Records and the 1960s Musical Revolution (VANBOX 14, 2012) is a comprehensive chronicle of the Vanguard sound and style, taking in not only folk, but blues, gospel, country and even rock.  (The label’s jazz and classical forays, alas, shall have to wait until another day.)  As such, it’s a hugely impressive monument to a decade-plus of recordings that influenced a generation of blues-rock and psychedelic performers as the 1960s made way for the 1970s.  But it’s even more of a revelation, for good or ill, that the universal themes reflected in these artists’ works still resonate today.  This set isn’t for casual, background listening, but instead offers a serious (and seriously entertaining) glimpse back at a heady time for American culture.

Virtually from the start, Seymour and Maynard Solomon’s Vanguard Records took itself seriously, and quality was paramount.  High-fidelity sound was an important concern, and the company’s logo of a knight on a steed, lance proudly held high, trumpeted the motto “Vanguard Recordings for the Connoisseur.”  Intellectualism reigned at the company; producer Sam Charters was brought in after having written the tome The Country Blues, and it’s the passionate and erudite Charters who provides an introduction to the box set.  It’s otherwise annotated by the set’s producer, John Crosby.  Though the set’s purview is the 1960s, some tracks originate from the 1970s and beyond.  (The actual recording dates are sometimes absent in the discographical information.  As Vanguard mined its backlog of unreleased material for the CD era, a 1990s date will sometimes be attributed here to a vintage song!)

Make It Your Sound has been sequenced for mood, not chronology, roughly separated into “movements” of a particular genre in all of its many permutations and shifts.  The box makes a case that one of the most distinct American musical forms, the blues, is the root from which virtually all other music grows.  The first disc in the box concentrates on many performances based in this idiom, though the interpretations are greatly varied and blues can be found across all four discs.  The blues had a great renaissance when artists went electric, and both the traditional and electric strands are represented.  The highlights are many, from Otis Rush’s torrid, soulful “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (which emphasized the B in R&B) to Buddy Guy’s smoking “Fever.”  Though he swaggers and shouts through the song, it still comes close to pop territory, as the oft-covered composition transcended simple categorization.  Another legendary proponent of the blues, Big Mama Thornton, is heard on “Ball and Chain” from 1975; the elder artist dedicated it to the “late, great Janis Joplin.”  The Charlie Musselwhite Blues Band’s “Clay’s Tune,” propelled by funky organ, even swings a bit!

Bluegrass plays a major role on Make It Your Sound, alongside the folk and singer/songwriter material on the second and third discs with which the label is most closely identified.   Doc Watson and The Stanley Brothers are among the legends you’ll hear, but the real treasure is in the lesser-known tracks.  The purest ballad tradition is epitomized by artists like Almeda Riddle (hailing from the Ozarks), with her warbling, a cappella voice, and Hedy West; their southern voices seem foreign and otherworldly today, even to American ears.  John Herald and the Greenbriar Boys offer “Stewball,” the melodic basis for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s holiday perennial “Happy Christmas (War is Over),” from 1962.  There’s an unusual treat when Country Gentlemen give a jovial bluegrass makeover to Paul Simon’s attractive “Leaves That Are Green” (1973).

When the sequence eases into classic early-sixties folk, it would run the risk of cliché if the performances weren’t still so powerful.  Such is the case with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” as performed by The Weavers in 1958. Guthrie and The Weavers’ Pete Seeger might still be the most common faces of folk to the general public, as well as two of the most anthologized artists of the genre.  Seeger’s rueful live version of the much-recorded “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” is still affecting, and Guthrie’s songs are heard here from numerous artists.  His “Pretty Boy Floyd” is delivered by Cisco Houston, with its biting, pointed commentary on social inequity and injustice (“But as through this life you travel, as through your life you roam/You will never see an outlaw drive a family from their home,” he concludes).  Guthrie’s “Hard, Ain’t It Hard” is quite boisterous in a version by The Kingston Trio, proving definitively that folk wasn’t always staid!

The enormous impact of Bob Dylan tended to overshadow, then and now, his contemporary young folk singers and songwriters, many of whom produced work that still stands up today.  A sampling of those talents can be found here, including Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, and the even lesser-known Patrick Sky.  Paxton’s sensitive live “Last Thing on My Mind” looms large, as does Ochs’ forceful yet calm “There But For Fortune,” with its message of empathy worth repeating. This set doesn’t limit itself solely to American folk; The Clancy Brothers make a showing for the rich musical legacy of Ireland, and the liner notes also offer the unique perspective on how Vanguard’s ouevre affected the burgeoning British folk and blues-rock scenes – as well as how its lack of availability in the U.K. also affected the blues boom there!

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

Written by Joe Marchese

September 12, 2012 at 10:06

“Chimes of Freedom” Flashing for Bob Dylan and Amnesty International

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Let’s face it, Bob Dylan tributes aren’t exactly uncommon. That said, one of the most ambitious albums of its kind is coming down the pike, set for January 24 release. Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan is a specially-priced 4-CD set containing 73 Dylan songs in renditions from an incredibly broad array of artists. Most of the tracks were recorded specifically for this project, but since a handful are previously unreleased tracks of an older vintage (and Dylan’s own 1964 released take of “Chimes of Freedom,” appropriately enough, closes out the set), we felt that coverage of this set was warranted here.

Chimes of Freedom is produced by Jeff Ayeroff and Julie Yannatta, who were also responsible for 2007’s Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. That 2-CD set brought together artists like U2, R.E.M., Green Day, The Flaming Lips and Jackson Browne on a selection of John Lennon songs. This set features a similarly eclectic roster of musicians and a comparably broad scope. Many favorites here at Second Disc HQ have made a contribution to Chimes of Freedom: the late Johnny Cash, plus the very-much-alive Patti Smith, Pete Townshend, Sting, Elvis Costello and Carly Simon, to name a few. Miley Cyrus is the youngest performer on the collection at 19, and the Hannah Montana star offers “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” The oldest act on the line-up is none other than Pete Seeger, who could be describing himself at the age of 92 with Dylan’s “Forever Young.” It’s difficult to single out notable artists on a compilartion featuring so many. Kris Kristofferson offers “The Mighty Quinn,” Diana Krall brings her sensual touch to “Simple Twist of Fate” and Eric Burdon of the Animals tackles “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The white-hot Adele is represented by a radio performance of “Make You Feel My Love.” Ke$ha gets into the act with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and the frequent Philip Glass collaborators The Kronos Quartet performs the same song. Glee heartthrob Darren Criss does the honors for “New Morning.” Seal and Jeff Beck are an unlikely pair on “Like a Rolling Stone,” and bluesman Taj Mahal plays “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.” Even Dylan’s old flame Joan Baez is here, with a live performance of “Seven Curses.”

Hit the jump for more, including the complete track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 16, 2011 at 10:16

Reissue Theory: Live Aid on CD

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Twenty-six years ago today, on two different continents, the music world came together for a worthy cause: to raise awareness of famine in Ethiopia. Live Aid, a pair of concerts organized by Bob Geldof in London and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985 and broadcasted live on the BBC, ABC and MTV, was seen in person by some 172,000 people and on television by nearly 2 billion across the globe.

And, if you can believe it, none of it has ever been released on LP or CD.

Granted, it’s not entirely unsurprising. Geldof promised artists that the performances were very much a one-off, never to be seen past the initial broadcast. (That of course turned out to be untrue, with the release of a four-disc DVD set in 2004.) But you have to wonder, given not only the fiercely charitable nature of the organization as well as the capitalistic nature of the music industry, why a commemorative album was never put out to raise even more money for charities.

But if they did, this is how it might go down.

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Joan Baez to Reissue “Play Me Backwards” With Additional Tracks

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Joan Baez recently announced the reissue of her 1992 album Play Me Backwards as a nicely expanded set – but you’ll have to pony up if you want it in the States.

Play Me Backwards marked a lot of firsts for the folk singer: her first album in Nashville since Come from the Shadows (1972), her first of many collaborations with songwriters/producers Kenny Greenberg and Wally Wilson, her main collaborators for most of the 1990s and her first music video, for the track “Stones in the Road.” The album was a considerable success in its own right, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Recording.

But it turns out there was more to the record, as this new edition from Proper Records suggests. The set will be expanded with no less than 10 previously unreleased demos, including “Seven Curses,” a long-unreleased song written by Bob Dylan. (His own demo was only recently released!) It will also feature new artwork and a new essay by Arthur Levy.

Now here’s the rub: Proper will only release the CD in the U.K. and Europe, so you’ll have to import the disc if you want a copy. However, another label, Diverse Records, will release the expanded set as a 180-gram double LP that will be available in all territories. The sets are out March 14, and you can see the track list after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

March 1, 2011 at 14:34

Posted in Joan Baez, News, Reissues, Vinyl

More Catalogue Gold from the Grammys

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Just as we noted the box sets and other catalogue sets that were nominated for Grammys this year, we would also like to tip the hat to the recordings that were put into the Grammy Hall of Fame, as announced Monday.

Thirty recordings, including nine LPs, have been added to a group that now includes 881 classic pieces of music. The oldest recordings on the list are two singles, “Dark Was the Night – Cold Was the Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson and “My Mammy” by Al Jolson (both released in 1927); the newest is Prince and The Revolution’s Purple Rain, released in 1984.

Rest assured we’ll be covering some of these recordings in future Reissue Theory posts!

Read the press release here; the complete list is after the jump.

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