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Edsel January Preview: Rundgren, Chapin, Gosdin, Manhattan Transfer, Jo Jo Gunne Kick Off 2012

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What kind of year will 2012 be?  If the first batch of releases, slated for January 30 release, from the Edsel label is any indication, there’s plenty of rare and well-done music on the way!

A three albums-on-two-CDs package collects the entirety of Todd Rundgren’s Warner Bros. Records period.  A Cappella/Nearly Human/2nd Wind continues Edsel’s definitive series which brings Rundgren’s solo and Utopia output on both Bearsville and Warner Bros. under one umbrella.  The studio wizard’s decision to record an album with nothing other than his own voice caused dissension between the artist and Bearsville Records, but Warner Bros. stepped in, resulting in the album which leads off this set.  Thanks to both the versatility of Rundgren’s vocal instrument and his embrace of the most current technology then available, 1985’s A Cappella holds up today as much more than just a studio experiment.  Even with the avant garde arrangement, “Something to Fall Back On” is pure pop bliss.  He anticipates his future gig as writer of an off-Broadway musical with the theatrical “Miracle in the Bazaar” and “Lockjaw,” just two of the songs in which he takes on offbeat character voices.  He even nods to his Philly roots with an update of “Mighty Love,” the Detroit Spinners classic originally produced by Thom Bell.  A Cappella has been expanded with the rare extended mix of “Something to Fall Back On,” which extends the song’s length by nearly two minutes.  After A Cappella, Rundgren returned in 1989 and 1991 with the two albums that might be considered his farewell to traditional pop/rock.

Nearly Human (split over Disc 1 and Disc 2) was produced with a simple mandate by the artist: record a set of songs that could be performed live.  To that end, it was recorded live with few overdubs.  Rundgren intuitively knew that these songs needed to be strong enough to stand on their own; stand they did, and do.  The forward-thinking singer still was anxious to employ the latest studio technology, though, and Nearly Human was recorded on a 32-track digital system.  Bobby Womack joined Rundgren for the potent soul brew of “The Want of a Nail” (“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost/For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost/For the want of a horse, the rider was lost/For the want of a rider/The message was lost”), one of Rundgren’s most poignant works.  Equally good is “Parallel Lines,” from that aforementioned musical, Up Against It.  Rundgren tipped his hat to Elvis Costello with a cover of the latter’s “Two Little Hitlers,” and employed an unusual 22-voice choir for “I Love My Life.”  Among the singers was the late, great Big Man himself, Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band.

The Nearly Human ethos was taken to the next step for 2nd Wind.  Whereas that album was mostly performed live in the studio, 2nd Wind was actually recorded live in San Francisco, in front of an audience instructed to remain silent!  His goal, as quoted by Paul Myers in the reissue’s terrific and copious liner notes, was to make it “sound like a studio album, yet still retain that extra thing that only happens when you’re playing for an audience.”  Despite the failure of Up Against It after just 16 performances in 1989, the musical received Drama Desk nominations (though not Tony Awards as stated in the notes, as off-Broadway musicals are ineligible for that recognition) and Rundgren resuscitated three of its songs for 2nd Wind: “The Smell of Money,” “Love in Disguise” and the standout ballad “If I Have to Be Alone.”  The driving “Change Myself” should have been Rundgren’s bid at a final radio hit, with its big hook and smart, honest lyric: “How can I change the world/When I can’t change myself?…If I want more love in the world/I must show more love to myself.”  A full-color, 30-page booklet (with Myers’ notes and full lyrics) accompanies this release.

Hit the jump for a look at what’s coming from Harry Chapin and Vern Gosdin, plus Jo Jo Gunne and Manhattan Transfer! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 9, 2012 at 12:45