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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 »

Wainwright Family Tree: Anna and Kate McGarrigle, Reissued and Expanded

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When Kate McGarrigle succumbed to cancer in February 2010, the music world lost one of its brightest lights.  The wife of Loudon Wainwright III and mother of Rufus Wainwright, Kate proved herself a keen observer of the world as both a songwriter and a performer, most often with her older sister Anna.  The very same week Loudon’s long career was celebrated with the release of a career-spanning box set, Nonesuch released a three-disc collection devoted to Kate and Anna McGarrigle.  Tell My Sister reissues the McGarrigle Sisters’ first two albums, 1975’s Kate and Anna McGarrigle and its follow-up, 1977’s Dancer with Bruised Knees.  To these two remastered records Nonesuch adds an entire disc of unreleased performances including demos, never-before-heard songs and alternate versions of familiar tracks.

Kate and Anna McGarrigle was produced by Greg Prestopino and Joe Boyd, the British producer well-known for his work with Fairport Convention, R.E.M. and Nick Drake.    Prestopino and Boyd surrounded the Canadian sisters with top talent including Bobby Keys, Steve Gadd, Lowell George, David Spinozza, Russ Kunkel and even saxophone great Plas Johnson.  This debut LP featured the sisters’ version of one bona fide standard.  Anna’s “Heart Like a Wheel” was the title track of Linda Ronstadt’s 1974 Capitol Records swansong, the album that propelled Ronstadt to worldwide fame.  The LP featured one song by Loudon Wainwright III (“Swimming Song”) but Wainwright’s contribution was of a piece with the sisters’, whose own often-beautiful songs have a similar humanity and wit.

Dancer with Bruised Knees came in 1977, reuniting the sisters with the same production team.  Producer Boyd has expressed the opinion that this album’s main failing was simply being the follow-up to such a perfect debut.  While it didn’t garner the same high praise as its predecessor, Dancer was another step forward for the sisters’ traditional folk sound.  John Cale joined the proceedings, as did bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.  British folkies Dave Mattacks and Pat Donaldson also appeared.  Like the first album, there are songs sung in French, traditional folk staples and new songs including the haunting “Southern Boys.”

The third disc of Tell My Sister offers a healthy 21 tracks.  Some are from a Kate solo demo recorded in 1971, and other tracks derived from album pre-production sessions.  The songs are largely spare (even more so than on the finished album), bringing the sisters’ gorgeous harmonies to the fore.  “Saratoga Summer Song” and Kate’s collaboration with Loudon, “Over the Hill,” are among the disc’s standouts.  There are alternate versions of favorites like “Southern Boys,” “Heart Like a Wheel” and “(Talk to Me of) Mendocino.”

Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s 3-CD retrospective Tell My Sister is available in stores now.  Hit the jump for the track listing with discographical annotation and a link to order! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 6, 2011 at 10:07

Review: Loudon Wainwright III, “40 Odd Years”

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Lucky for us, Loudon Wainwright III is only “so damn happy” on an infrequent basis.   The singer-songwriter-humorist-satirist-actor (is that enough of a multi-hyphenate for you?) posited the question “Is it necessary to feel like shit in order to be creative?” He arrived at the final answer “yes!” but prefaced it with “unless you’re J.S. Bach.” Over the course of 91 songs on four CDs and another 38-plus on DVD, Shout! Factory’s new box set 40 Odd Years (82663-12189, 2011) – dig the double meaning of that title! – invites listeners on a journey through the singular world of the thankfully malcontented Wainwright.  What does such a trip entail?  Prepare yourself for songs alternately emotional and humorous (and frequently both!) reflecting on the subject’s favorite themes: childhood, parents, children, booze, death, the passage of time, and of course, show business.

40 Odd Years accomplishes one of the rarest feats of all, as it’s suitable for both the new fan seeking an entrée into the artist’s catalogue and the diehard looking for unheard rarities.  All phases of Wainwright’s body of work are covered, beginning with 1970’s self-titled debut for Atlantic Records and ending with 2009’s High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project.  Even after taking in all 91 audio tracks, though, the question remains: Who is Loudon Wainwright III?  The artist abbreviated as LW3 has sometimes been compared to Randy Newman, and like Newman, had his biggest commercial success with an atypical song.  (For Newman, it’s the oft-misunderstood “Short People,” while Wainwright’s success came via the novelty-style “Dead Skunk.”)  But whereas Newman’s songs are almost exclusively sung in character, usually by a deviant of one stripe or another, Wainwright’s character is most often his own.

Upon the release of that 1970 debut, he was hailed as a “new Dylan.”  But who, then, wasn’t?  The comparison isn’t completely off-the-mark, given Loudon’s pinched, somewhat nasal voice as he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar.  But the lyrical content of Wainwright’s songs couldn’t be more far-removed from the favorite son of Hibbing, Minnesota.  Having been born to an affluent family (his father wrote the column “The View From Here” in Life) and raised in a New York suburb, Wainwright hailed from a different place.  Liza Minnelli was even a classmate of his!  In his terrific 2004 speech “My Cool Life: The Singer-Songwriter as Autobiographer” (reprinted in 40 Odd Years’ booklet), Wainwright name-checks classic Broadway songwriting teams, and in fact, he signed as a young songwriter to Frank Music, the publishing firm owned by Frank Loesser of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying fame.  (It’s now owned by Paul McCartney.)  His understanding of the classic Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriting idiom is reflected in the considered structure and craft of his songs.  But the siren song of the burgeoning hippie and folk movements also called to Wainwright, a professed fan of Leadbelly, Tom Lehrer, Hank Williams and Louis Prima.  Talk about diverse influences!

The Shout! box covers those 40 odd years in chronological order, and adds one disc of unreleased and rare material as well as a 3+ hour DVD that may be the most comprehensive “bonus DVD” yet in a box set of this kind. Hit the jump to find out how well 40 Odd Years represents the music of a true eccentric, Loudon Wainwright III. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 3, 2011 at 13:45

Release Round-Up: Week of May 3

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Sade, The Ultimate Collection (Epic)

The sultry British soul band anthologized across two discs, featuring several brand-new tracks – the perfect teaser for their long-awaited summer tour. (Official site)

Loudon Wainwright, 40 Odd Years (Shout! Factory)

The witty singer/songwriter is anthologized across four CDs and a DVD. Check for Joe’s review later today! (Shout! Factory)

Rush, Moving Pictures: Deluxe Edition (Blu-Ray) (Mercury/UMe)

Already available at Best Buy since April, the CD/Blu-Ray edition of the classic Canadian rockers’ album makes a wider retail debut. (Official site)

The Association, And Then…Along Comes The Association! Expanded Edition (Now Sounds)

A forgotten classic of ’60s folk-pop, presented in mono for the first time since its original vinyl release and expanded with a dozen bonus cuts. Do note: this title, as well as the next three entries, have been available in the U.K. for a week and are now stocked with U.S. retailers. (Now Sounds)

Pennye Ford, Pennye Ford: Expanded Edition / Yarbrough & Peoples, Be a Winner: Expanded Edition / Loose Change, Loose Change: Expanded Edition / Tom Moulton, TJM: Expanded Edition (Big Break)

The latest slate from Big Break, featuring rare 12″ mixes and what have you. (Big Break)

The Fall, The Marshall Suite: Expanded Edition (Cherry Red)

An expanded version of the indie rockers’ techno-influenced album, expanded to three discs, featuring CD single material and rare live tracks. (Cherry Red)

Pepsi & Shirlie, All Right Now: Special Edition (Cherry Pop)

The former WHAM! backup singers’ debut album, expanded with rare single sides. (Cherry Pop)

Poison, Double Dose: Ultimate Hits (EMI/Capitol)

Do you need another Poison compilation? If so, here you are! A two-disc one. (Official site)

Barry Manilow, Duets (Arista/Legacy)

Another Manilow comp, focusing on his work with others. (Official site)

Rob Zombie, ICON (Geffen/UMe)

Oh dear, reader Don wasn’t kidding. This first came out back in 2010. This is a reissue of a reissue. The universe is clearly about to turn inside out. But…there’s a single-disc edition this time around, so…there’s that. (Amazon: 1-CD, 2-CD)

Written by Mike Duquette

May 3, 2011 at 08:57

Lauded Wainwright: Box Set to Honor Musical Patriarch (UPDATED)

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Loudon Wainwright III has had a charmed life. The singer/songwriter has captivated audiences for decades with his witty, self-deprecating style. He’s also done an impressive job of passing on his musical gift through genetics; children Rufus, Martha and Lucy Wainwright Roche are all accomplished singer/songwriters in their own right. But his latest project is all his to celebrate: a box set spanning his idiosyncratic career, coming out in May on Shout! Factory.

40 Odd Years is to be a four-CD/one-DVD box collecting 87 tracks and three hours of live performances on video. The 40-page book of liner notes will include an essay by David Wild of Rolling Stone. Film fans will recognize an interesting name as co-producer of the set: writer/producer/director Judd Apatow. The influential funnyman behind The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Freaks and Geeks has been a longtime fan of Wainwright, having cast him in his underrated television show Undeclared and tapped the songwriter to compose the score to Knocked Up.

Thus far, the biggest story revolving around 40 Odd Years is a short article from The Los Angeles Times. But rest assured, more information will be posted to The Second Disc as it comes!

UPDATE 2/18: Well there you have it. Shout! Factory’s got this one to order (first 200 copies have their booklets signed by Wainwright!), and MusicTAP has the press release and track list (the latter of which is after the jump).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

February 18, 2011 at 10:09