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Starbucks Serves “Self-Portraits” of Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman and Others

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Starbucks Self-PortraitsSome of the music featured on Starbucks Entertainment’s latest compilation album, Self-Portraits, is a bit atypical for a coffeehouse setting: Warren Zevon, Judee Sill, Randy Newman, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III.  The songs on Self-Portraits, by and large, demand attention, as all are drawn from the realm of the singer-songwriter with an emphasis on confessional or first-person songs.  The 16-track CD focuses on the 1970s (with just one track from 1969), and although there are a few unquestionably familiar, oft-anthologized songs, there are also a few that might make this disc worth perusing.

The hit singles come first on Self-Portraits.  Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” kicks off the disc, as it did King’s 1971 sophomore solo album Tapestry.  That was, of course, the album that ignited King’s career as a solo artist, and the same could be said for James Taylor’s second long-player.  “I Feel the Earth Move” is followed by “Fire and Rain,” from the troubadour’s 1970 Sweet Baby James, which featured (you guessed it) Carole King on piano.  Though Judy Collins had the hit single of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Self-Portraits includes Mitchell’s version from her 1969 album Clouds, and then segues to British piano man Elton John for a track off his second album: the ubiquitous “Your Song.”

Following “Your Song,” the disc – as curated by Starbucks’ Steven Stolder – veers off in interesting directions.  Leon Russell, whose style was an influence on budding artist John’s, is represented with his piano-pounding “Tight Rope.”  Like Leon Russell (a key player in the Los Angeles “Wrecking Crew” of session musicians), Jimmy Webb spent his formative years behind-the-scenes.  In Webb’s  case, he was a songwriting prodigy with hits like “Up, Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” under his belt by the time he began his proper solo career with 1970’s “Words and Music.”  From that album, Self-Portraits draws “P.F. Sloan,” Webb’s remarkable, multi-layered ode to a songwriting colleague.  Any discussion of popular songwriters would be incomplete without a mention of Bob Dylan, and his “If You See Her, Say Hello” from his singer-songwriter masterwork Blood on the Tracks is the choice here.  Perhaps the least-known songwriter here is Judee Sill, the troubled Lady of the Canyon whose small discography yielded touching and unusual gems like “The Kiss.”

Self-Portraits also includes tracks from artists with more explicitly folk leanings than, say, King, Webb and Taylor.   Both Loudon Wainwright III (whose only hit single remains “Dead Skunk,” alas) and his wife Kate McGarrigle are heard here; Kate is joined by her sister Anna for “Talk to Me of Mendocino” from their eponymous album.  Another folk hero, John Prine, gets a spot with “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” with which Prine draws comparisons between the Indian actor’s life and his own.  From the Brit-folk scene, Richard and Linda Thompson (“Dimming of the Day”) and Nick Drake (“Northern Sky”) appear.

After the jump: we have much more on the new comp, including the full track listing and an order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Paul Anka, “Duets”

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Paul Anka - DuetsWhether you prefer your “My Way” by Sinatra or Sid (Vicious, that is), you have Paul Anka to thank.  It was Anka who took the melody to the chanson “Comme d’habitude” and crafted the ultimate anthem of survival and tenacity with his English-language lyrics.  When Sinatra recorded the song, a gift to him from Anka, he was just 53 years of age yet could still ring true when singing of that “final curtain.”  Today, Paul Anka is 71, and his new memoir is entitled, what else, My Way.  Thankfully, the end seems far from near for the entertainer, who has kept busy not only with the book, but with an album from Legacy Recordings.  Duets (88765 48489 2) is a blend of new and old tracks with one thing in common: the unmistakable voice of Paul Anka.  (He also wrote or co-wrote all but two of its songs.)

The Ottawa-born pop star scored his first hit at the ripe old age of 15 with 1957’s “Diana.”  It earned him a No. 1 in the U.S. Best Sellers in Stores and R&B charts, as well as No. 1 in the U.K., Canada and Australia. But overnight sensation Anka was a teen idol with a difference: he was a true singer/songwriter, writing both music and lyrics for his own songs. By the age of 20, Anka was reportedly raking in $1.5 million a year and selling some 20 million records, but he knew that he had to take himself to the next level. The singer poised himself for a reinvention for the adult market with more mature material aimed at the supper club crowd.  Throughout his chart career, Anka has successfully balanced contemporary pop with timeless showbiz tradition.

To its credit, Duets isn’t a rehash of the formula enjoyed by so many superstars, from Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennett, of remaking “greatest hits” with familiar partners.  There’s no “Puppy Love,” no “Times of Your Life” or “One Woman Man/One Man Woman.”  Nor is Duets a career retrospective, per se, as the only vintage tracks are drawn from 1998’s A Body of Work.  In many ways, Duets is an update of that Epic release.  A Body of Work included seven duets among its eleven tracks, and four of those have been reprised on Duets.  (That album also included a posthumous duet with Sinatra on “My Way.”  Frank and the song are here, too, but in a newly-created recording.)  None of Anka’s hit seventies duets with Odia Coates like “One Woman Man” or “You’re Having My Baby” are heard here.  Though Jay-Z reportedly denied Anka’s invitation to participate, a number of top talents did show up to celebrate Anka’s 55 years in entertainment, including Dolly Parton, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson and Michael Bublé.

Come join us after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Now Sounds Unearths Lost Leon Russell-Produced Psych-Pop Classic “Daughters of Albion”

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Daughters of AlbionBefore he actually became The Master of Time and Space to his fans, Leon Russell was manipulating everything but time and space on a psychedelic pop opus that nobody heard.  The fantastically imaginative Daughters of Albion was, well, DOA in the commercial sense upon its initial release in 1968.  Its blend of dense lyrics, elaborate vocal arrangements, shifting moods and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-oh-hell-we’ll-throw-that-in-too approach to the musical accompaniment might have been too far out even for ’68.  But you can decide for yourself on Now Sounds’ first-ever authorized CD reissue of this long-hidden gem (CRNOW 39).

Daughters of Albion was one of Leon Russell’s first production assignments, alongside its sister album, Look Inside the Asylum Choir (recorded by Russell and Marc Benno, who adds guitar to Daughters of Albion).  This ambitious song cycle was the brainchild of arranger/producer Russell, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Greg Dempsey, vocalist Kathy Yesse (later Dalton) and songwriter Dave “Luff” Linden, who departed the project in its early days.  Dempsey brought his formidable songwriting skills to the table; he and Linden had already written songs for artists including Dino, Desi and Billy, and Vic Dana.  With co-writer Jack Nitzsche, Dempsey had also provided Don and the Goodtimes with one of the most infectious, underrated songs of the entire decade, “I Could Be So Good to You.”  (Though Russell didn’t contribute any songs to DOA, he and Dempsey would later team to pen songs including “Roll Away the Stone.”)  Prior to DOA, Dempsey and Yesse were two-fifths of The Gas Company, a Reprise recording act that will be anthologized on a future Now Sounds release.  Though he recorded the album in Hollywood, Russell enlisted his Oklahoma crew of musicians rather than the L.A. Wrecking Crew.  Their participation lends DOA a different flavor than might have been expected.

This trip to a sonic carnival is a curiosity, no doubt, but occasionally a transcendent one.    “I Love Her and She Loves My” (no, that’s not a typo), the album’s catchy opening track, marries Cowsills-esque bubblegum vocals to twangy, country-flecked guitars, with majestic, classical strings adding tension and gravitas.  And that’s just the first song!  Every track, with the exception of the closing suite, is a nugget of the three-minute variety, yet even the most straightforward pop songs here have some strikingly unusual element to them.  The jaunty “Our Love is Growing” has offbeat vocalizations over a piano-driven instrumental bed that otherwise could have been plucked from one of Russell’s records with Gary Lewis and the Playboys.  Shimmering harp opens the ethereal, Dalton-led “Candle Song” with its Pet Sounds bass figures and fragile music box quality.  As sad, sensitive and strange as “Candle Song” is, “Ladyfingers” is brassy, with its bold, vaudevillian horns anything but subtle.  The oom-pah band returns to cut loose on the mini-symphony “Hats Off and Arms Out, Ronnie.”

There’s sonic overload at times, as when Dempsey sings two different sets of lyrics in counterpoint on “Sweet Susan Constantine,” with Russell orchestrating Mamas and the Papas-style vocal answers from Dalton, piano reminiscent of Jimmy Webb, and even burbling water effects as the impressionistic lyrics ask, “Who shot John and who shot Bobby?  Who shot Martin, Brother Malcolm?  Who shot Andy, who shot me?”  Daughters of Albion lyrically offers a sideways look at society, culture and love in all their many permutations.  (Animation giants Disney and Hanna-Barbera also get name-checked in the bizarre lyrics of “Sweet Susan Constantine,” with Dempsey factually observing that “Hanna-Barbera does not rhyme!”)  It’s arguable that a more razor-sharp focus might have commercially behooved Russell and co., but there’s no doubt that these artists stayed true to their vision.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 19, 2012 at 09:23

Review: Tom Northcott, “Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Bros. Recordings”

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Extra!  Extra!  Lost Folk Singer Found!

His name is Tom Northcott, and had things turned out a little differently, he might be remembered in the same breath as Joni Mitchell or Gordon Lightfoot, fellow Canadian troubadours.  After founding the Tom Northcott Trio, he headed for California during perhaps the most fertile period ever for creative, boundary-breaking musical exploration, the mid-1960s.  Northcott opened for The Who, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, and was signed to Warner Bros. Records.  He gained solid regional airplay and a minor chart entry in the U.S., but his music never struck the same chord in America as in his native Canada.  In the early 1970s, Northcott retreated from the music business to practice law, returning only sporadically.  Thanks to the team at Rhino Handmade, however, the fresh and inventive music he created in his heyday is available once more.  Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Bros. Recordings (Rhino Handmade RHM2 524879) brings together twenty long-lost tracks on one CD.  Is it sunshine folk?  Is it baroque coffeehouse?  This genre-defying and blissfully offbeat music speaks for itself.

Northcott was supported by a virtual “Who’s Who” of the L.A. scene, including Harry Nilsson, Leon Russell, Randy Newman and Jack Nitzsche, all under the watchful eye of Warner Bros.’ supreme A&R man, Lenny Waronker.  He stood apart from many of his contemporaries, though, by his reliance on material from outside songwriters.  Though an accomplished composer and lyricist with six self-penned tracks included here, Northcott was launched by Warner Bros. as an interpretive singer in an era when the rules were being rewritten on the spot.  Young men, armed with guitars, had little need for the songs coming from New York’s Aldon or Los Angeles’ Metric offices.

At the heart of Sunny Goodge Street is the 10-track Best of Tom Northcott, a Canada-only LP release.  It included a number of Northcott’s American single sides such as Harry Nilsson’s “1941” and a version of the Donovan song that gives the new Rhino anthology its title.  One month prior to the May 1967 release of Northcott’s “Sunny Goodge Street,” Leon Russell and Lenny Waronker had crafted the immaculate title track to Harpers Bizarre’s Feelin’ Groovy, and Russell is also responsible for the most vividly imaginative arrangements here.  The ornate, dreamy take on “Sunny Goodge Street” is even more far-out than “Feelin’ Groovy.”  The song is dramatically reinvented from Donovan’s slow, lysergic original, with Russell layering on a shimmering harp, calliope, accordion, strings, horns and background vocals in a beautiful cacophony.  Did Russell take his cue from the lyric’s “strange music boxes sadly tinkling?”  There are some similarities to Judy Collins’ earlier version of the song, but the vision of Northcott, Waronker and Russell is strikingly original.  The luscious orchestration contrasts with the impressionistic and vaguely disturbing words:  “On the firefly platform on sunny Goodge Street, violent hash-smoker shook a chocolate machine, involved in an eating scene/Smashing into neon streets in their stonedness, smearing their eyes on the crazy cult goddess, listenin’ to sounds of Mingus, mellow fantastic/My, my, they sigh!”  Northcott recalled in 1997 that Glen Campbell, James Burton, Larry Knechtel and Jim Gordon, all of the “Wrecking Crew,” all played on the song.

Perhaps proving the old adage that one must know the rules before breaking them, Russell ironically made his own solo career on stripped-down, raw and visceral rock and roll, the complete opposite of the style he supplied on songs like “Sunny Goodge Street,” John Hartford’s “Landscape Grown Cold” and Harry Nilsson’s “1941.”  Northcott, alas, didn’t find the same kind of success with “Landscape” that Glen Campbell did with Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”  James Burton fronts the Russell arrangement on dobro.  Nilsson’s “1941,” a sad and personal tale of one family’s history repeating itself, is adorned by Russell’s grandiose orchestra which embraces the song’s circus setting.  Northcott supplies an imploring vocal, and the resulting production is less delicate than Nilsson’s stately 1967 original.  “1941” cracked the U.S. pop charts at No. 88, and another Nilsson song, “The Rainmaker,” was issued the following year.  Jack Nitzsche was responsible for the quirky arrangement on Northcott’s version.

Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 2, 2012 at 13:13

The Road to Tarkio: Brewer and Shipley’s Debut “Down in L.A.” Remastered and Expanded By Now Sounds

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Oklahoma-born Michael Brewer and Ohio native Tom Shipley found fame on Missouri’s mythical Tarkio Road, thousands of miles away from Hollywood’s La Brea Avenue and the headquarters of A&M Records.  But before they took one pivotal toke over the line into stardom, Brewer and Shipley recorded an album for Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ label that couldn’t have been recorded at any other time and place than Los Angeles, circa 1967-1968.  Down in L.A. was almost entirely written by Brewer and Shipley, either individually or collectively, and recorded at such landmark studios as United/Western Recorders and Sunset Sound.  The names dotting the album’s personnel list are about as lustrous as you could possibly find at the time: Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon on drums, Joe Osborn and Lyle Ritz on bass, Leon Russell on piano, keyboard and organ.  These Wrecking Crew vets supported Brewer and Shipley in creating an album that stands as a lost treasure of the California folk-rock genre.  Thanks to the fine folks at Now Sounds, Down in L.A. has made its long-awaited CD release.

Brewer and Shipley first bonded over their mutual love of folk music, playing the coffeehouse circuit alongside countless other young troubadours in the early 1960s.  Brewer was the first of the duo to answer California’s siren call, teaming with songwriter Tom Mastin as Mastin & Brewer.  That twosome made vital connections with members of The Mothers of Invention and Buffalo Springfield, but Mastin’s personal demons brought the partnership to an abrupt halt.  Brewer’s brother Keith deputized for Mastin, but the real magic happened when Brewer and Shipley brought their voices together.  Shipley, an acquaintance of Brewer’s, had independently made his way to the Golden State and reconnected with his old friend.  Reissue producer Steve Stanley’s copious liner notes inform us that Brewer received an offer to join The Association in early 1967 as a replacement for the departing Jules (Gary) Alexander.  Brewer declined the offer, preferring to continue developing a professional bond with Shipley.  Shortly thereafter, Brewer and Shipley were signed as staff songwriters to A&M Records’ Good Sam Music publishing division.  At Good Sam, they placed songs with artists as diverse as Bobby Rydell, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and even Noel “The Windmills of Your Mind” Harrison.  But it wasn’t long before A&M gave them the green light to proceed with the album that became Down in L.A. under the production auspices of Allen Stanton and Jerry Riopelle.

Hit the jump to join us Down in L.A.! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 29, 2012 at 09:52

Who Is Tom Northcott? Rhino Handmade Clues You In with New Warner Bros. Anthology

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Somewhere in rock’s back pages, you might find the name of Tom Northcott, troubadour.  After establishing himself as the folk-singing frontman of The Tom Northcott Trio in his native Canada, Northcott headed for California, and proved himself in the fertile musical ground of the San Francisco Bay Area, opening for acts like The Who, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane.  Soon he found himself even further south, signed to Los Angeles’ Warner Bros. Records.  And between 1966 and1969, Northcott recorded some twenty sides for the label, working with names from the WB “house team,” gents like Lenny Waronker and Leon Russell.   At the water tower, Northcott also had access to some of rock’s great songwriters, so he recorded compositions by the likes of Harry Nilsson and, of course, Waronker’s close pal Randy Newman.  But when Tom Northcott abandoned music to practice law in the early 1970s, after having cut one 1971 LP for UNI Records, he was all but forgotten.  In recent months, Rhino Handmade had been asking the question “Who is Tom Northcott?” in various teasers.  Now, the question is answered, and in the best way possible: via the man’s music.

Sunny Goodge Street: The Warner Bros. Recordings collects twenty of Northcott’s recordings for the label, including six previously-unreleased tracks from 1968 and 1969, recorded in both Los Angeles and London.  The collection has been many years in the making, beginning with Andrew Sandoval and Bill Inglot’s unearthing of the original tapes and finding the additional unissued tracks and rare single versions.  The complete, 10-track The Best of Tom Northcott LP as originally released in 1970 is, of course, included in full.  This LP never received wide release in the U.S., designed for the Canadian market, so the music contained within its grooves will be particularly new to many listeners. (Billboard noted on August 1, 1970 that the album was “enjoying much Vancouver sales success.”)  The album also contains the single versions of “Sunny Goodge Street” and its flip, “Who Planted Thorns in Miss Alice’s Garden,” plus Northcott’s final single with Warner Bros., “Make Me an Island,” written by Albert (“It Never Rains in Southern California”) Hammond and arranged by Nilsson collaborator Perry Botkin, Jr.

Hit the jump for much, much more, including the full track listing and discography! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 19, 2012 at 14:05

Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan, Metallica Join Neil Young For “Bridge School Concerts” CD/DVD

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Who but Neil Young could have brought The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Ben Harper, Eddie Vedder, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, and Los Lonely Boys together on the same stage?  Though Young is an easy target for what can appear as a capricious attitude towards his back catalogue – announcing, then delaying or cancelling titles with alarming frequency – one aspect of the man’s great legacy cannot be in dispute, and that is his philanthropy.  Since 1986, Young and his wife Pegi have offered annual support for The Bridge School, an organization dedicated to the education of children with severe speech and physical impairments.  That was the year Mr. and Mrs. Young created The Bridge School Benefit Concert. 

The very first line-up included Young with his friends Crosby, Stills and Nash, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Tom Petty and Robin Williams; the 2004 concert offered the diverse group including Bennett and McCartney.  This year’s shows, on October 22 and 23, will continue the generally all-acoustic ethos, and will offer faces both old and new.  Bennett and Vedder are to join Diana Krall, Dave Matthews, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Los Invisibles featuring Carlos Santana, Beck, Jenny Lewis, and Mumford and Sons.

Held yearly at Mountain View, California’s Shoreline Amphitheatre, The Bridge School Benefit Concerts have welcomed artists including David Bowie, Willie Nelson, Sarah McLachlan, Elton John, Leon Russell, Sheryl Crow, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Brian Wilson, The Who, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Bob Dylan.  All of those names (and many more!) appear on The Bridge School Concerts: 25th Anniversary Edition, due on October 24 from Reprise Records in 2-CD and 3-DVD formats.  There has been one prior Bridge School CD (1997’s The Bridge School Concerts Vol. 1) and a number of digital-only offerings, but these sets mark the most comprehensive package of music from the Bridge School’s archives.

Though there is some overlap among the CD and DVD releases (which will be sold separately), each features a unique selection of music.  Contributions from David Bowie, Patti Smith, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Waits and Billy Idol only appear on the DVD set.  No Doubt, Jack Johnson, Sonic Youth, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, Nils Lofgren, Norah Jones and Jonathan Richman are among those artists only appearing on CD.  Both formats include tracks from Elton John and Leon Russell (“My Dream Come True”), Bruce Springsteen (“Born in the USA”), Brian Wilson (“Surfin’ USA”), Fleet Foxes (“Blue Ridge Mountains”), Metallica (“Disposable Heroes”), The Who (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”) and Paul McCartney (“Get Back”).  Neil Young himself is represented on CD with “Country Feedback” with R.E.M. and “Love and Only Love” with Crazy Horse.  “Country Feedback” reappears on the DVD, along with a Young solo performance of “Crime in the City.”

Whereas the first two DVDs in the set are exclusively devoted to performance footage, the third disc contains bonus material: two documentaries, Backstage at the Bridge School Benefit and The Bridge School Story, along with artist and student interviews.

Hit the jump to watch the video trailer, as well as for the complete track listing and pre-order links!  The Bridge School Concerts: 25th Anniversary Edition hits stores on October 24 from Reprise, and it’s important to note that “all profits from this release go directly to The Bridge School.”  The label has set up an official site for the project here! Read the rest of this entry »

Release Round-Up: Week of August 9

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GQ, Two (Funkytowngrooves)

GQ’s 1980 Arista album gets the remastered treatment. (Amazon)

Jefferson Airplane, Red Octopus (Friday Music)

The 1975 effort from Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Grace Slick and co. arrives on 180-gram vinyl with the mega-hit “Miracles” a highlight!  (Official site)

Evelyn “Champagne” King, Music Box (Funkytowngrooves)

King teams with T-Life for this groove-laden RCA set from 1979! (Amazon)

The Motels, Apocalypso (Omnivore)

The Motels’ lost album from 1981 finally surfaces, and Omnivore’s expanded edition boasts seven additional tracks!  Full story here.  (Amazon)

Mickey Newbury, An American Trilogy (Drag City)

Drag City compiles three albums from Mickey Newbury, the writer/arranger of Elvis Presley’s titanic “An American Trilogy.”  The box brings together Looks Like Rain, `Frisco Mabel Joy, and Heaven Help the Child, and adds one extra disc of bonus material.  (Amazon)

Original Broadway Cast, Say, Darling (Masterworks Broadway)

Jule Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl) teamed with Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town) for this Broadway play about the writing of a Broadway musical.  Got that straight?  Either way, the score is fantastic fun!  Johnny Desmond stars.  Visit the official site of Masterworks Broadway here and our coverage of all of the label’s upcoming releases here.  (Digital-only)

Original Off-Broadway Cast, Ernest in Love (Masterworks Broadway)

This 1960 musical version of The Importance of Being Earnest features a score by lyricist Anne Croswell and composer Lee Pockriss, also the writer of Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel” and The Cuff Links’ “Tracy.” (Digital-only)

Original Off-Broadway Cast, The Mad Show (Masterworks Broadway)

Linda Lavin and Jo Anne Worley are among the cast members in this 1966 revue based on Mad Magazine.  With talents like Joe Raposo (Sesame Street), Mary Rodgers and even Stephen Sondheim involved, however, it’s definitely Not Brand Eccch!  (Digital-only)

Original Off-Broadway Cast, The Nervous Set (Masterworks Broadway)

Here’s the off-Broadway musical that introduced the standards “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and “Ballad of the Sad Young Men.”  (Digital-only)

Original Off-Broadway Cast, Now is the Time For All Good Men (Masterworks Broadway)

This 1967 musical with a pop/rock sound reflects its Vietnam-era setting with a score by Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer.    Gretchen’s then-husband David Cryer starred.  (They are also the parents of Two and a Half Men’s Jon Cryer!) (Digital-only)

Original Studio Cast Recording, archy and mehitabel (Masterworks Broadway)

Columbia Records brought to life this 1954 musical based on Don Marquis’ beloved stories of the poetic cockroach archy and alley cat mehitabel, with songs by George Kleinsinger (Tubby the Tuba) and Joe Darion (Man of La Mancha).  Darion contributed to the musical’s book with a young writer named Mel Brooks!  Carol Channing and Eddie Bracken are the stars.  (Digital-only)

Leon Russell, Live in Japan (Omnivore)

The renaissance of The Master of Space and Time continues!  Omnivore’s release pairs a 1973 concert from Japan’s Budokan Hall with a 1971 gig at Texas’ Sam Houston Coliseum.  Our full story here.  (Amazon)

Styx, The Grand Illusion (Friday Music)

Friday Music remasters the original 1977 arena rock classic on 180-gram vinyl!  (Official site)

Various Artists, CTI Records 40th Anniversary series (CTI/Masterworks Jazz)

Four rare titles from the CTI jazz catalogue arrive in remastered editions: Airto’s Fingers; Jackie Cain and Roy Kral’s A Wilder Alias; Joe Farrell’s Outback; and Randy Weston’s Blue Moses. (Official site)

Written by Joe Marchese

August 9, 2011 at 09:05

Superstar: Leon Russell’s “Live in Japan” Arrives In Newly-Expanded Edition

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Can anyone dispute that the Master of Space and Time has returned?

Leon Russell is currently touring the country with none other than Bob Dylan, riding the wave of adulation he’s received for 2010’s high-profile Elton John collaboration The Union, as well as an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On August 9, the Omnivore label will remind listeners of just why Russell is so revered today. On that date, Omnivore will release Live in Japan, restoring to a print a 1974 Japan-only LP documenting Russell’s November 8, 1973 stand at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall. But wait, there’s more! Reissue producer, Omnivore co-founder and Rhino alumnus Cheryl Pawelski has added seven more tracks, all taken from a Houston, Texas show at the Sam Houston Coliseum recorded November 22, 1971. The Houston performance was the first show of his 1971 U.S. tour, after he and the newly formed Shelter People band had taken to the road in late 1970, occasionally teaming with then-newcomer Elton John. The nine Live in Japan tracks are all new to CD, while the 1971 gig has never appeared on LP or CD.

A native of Oklahoma, the former Claude Russell Bridges honed his craft first as a pianist on the local club circuit and then as one of the top-flight session men of Los Angeles’ so-called “Wrecking Crew.” You can hear Russell tickling the ivories on recordings by Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and even Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t long before he allied himself with producer Snuff Garrett, for whom he not only arranged Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring” but co-wrote the group’s hits “Everybody Loves a Clown” and “She’s Just My Style.” These pop classics gave little indication, though, of where Russell would take his career next. After recording as the leader of the “Midnight String Quartet” and the Asylum Choir (with Marc Benno), Russell began his proper solo career with 1970’s Leon Russell, released on Shelter Records, a joint venture of Russell and Englishman Denny Cordell. That album was just the first to demonstrate his mastery of rock, soul, gospel, country, blues and even psychedelia during his long, distinguished career.

What can you expect from this heaping helping of Leon Russell? Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 4, 2011 at 09:29

Posted in Leon Russell, News, Reissues

Elton, Orbison, Plant, Mellencamp, Allman Salute “The Producer” On New T Bone Burnett Comp

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T Bone Burnett epitomizes cool.  The former Joseph Henry Burnett, with his omnipresent sunglasses, is so cool, in fact, that he makes the name “T Bone” sound hip!  He’s the producer as rock star, an artist whom superstars and fresh-faced talents alike seek out for a shot in the arm.  He’s also the man who made bluegrass trendy.  And lest his cool credentials be in doubt, the man toured with Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue!  Raised in Texas, by way of Missouri, Burnett relocated to Southern California as the seventies began, fronted a couple of bands and gained major notice in 1980 with Truth Decay, an album bearing little relation to anybody else’s music at the dawn of that decade.  It was during the 1980s that the musical revivalist began making significant inroads as a producer for other artists, eventually amassing a resume dotted with names like Roy Orbison and Elton John, John Mellencamp and Robert Plant.  And oh yeah, he picked up an Oscar, too.  The career of T Bone Burnett, producer, is the subject of a most unique new compilation from Starbucks Entertainment, available now at the ubiquitous coffee shops.  The simply-titled T Bone Burnett: The Producer collects fifteen of his finest productions as well as a booklet with track-by-track notes by Burnett recalling the stories behind the songs.

Journalist Bill Flanagan has suggested that Burnett is “the conscience of the music industry,” if such a thing is possible, opting instead that he’s “a one-man counterculture.”  The story of the one-man counterculture began in Texas where he was running a studio at an early age.  (He even cut a number of pop songs with future Broadway star Betty Buckley there!)  Always a man of mystery, he appeared on a 1968 album by a group with a name that could only have come out of that era: Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill.  Which was T Bone?  Productions for another group, The Case Hardy Boys, followed, as eventually did another album, The B-52 Band and the Fabulous Skylarks.   Burnett began frequenting the clubs of New York’s hallowed Bleecker Street, where he reportedly met Bob Dylan.  Whatever the circumstances, it wasn’t long before Burnett was appearing alongside Mick Ronson and Bobby Neuwirth on the Rolling Thunder Revue.  He then formed The Alpha Band at the behest of Arista’s Clive Davis, though the charts were hardly bothered by the band’s albums.   It was on 1980’s solo Truth Decay (ironically not produced by its singer and songwriter but by Reggie Fisher that Burnett’s “voice” became evident via its collection of what Rolling Stone termed “mystic Christian blues.”  The songs were inspired by Sun Studios, and old blues and folk records, and despite the title, arguably had more truth in them than much of the synthesized popular music storming the charts.  Burnett was on his way.  Hit the jump to join T Bone in 1987! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 2, 2011 at 13:37