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The Year In Reissues: The 2014 Gold Bonus Disc Awards

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Gold CDWelcome to The Second Disc’s Fifth Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards!

As with every year’s awards, our goals are simple: to recognize as many of the year’s most essential reissues and catalogue titles as possible, and to celebrate as many of those labels, producers and artists who make these releases happen in an increasingly-challenging retail landscape.  The labels you’ll read about below have, by and large, bucked the trends to prove that there’s still a demand for physical catalogue music that you can purchase in brick-and-mortar stores.  And from our vantage point, there’s still great strength and health in our corner of the music industry.  By my estimate, The Second Disc covered roughly 500 compact disc releases in 2014 – and we have no reason to believe that number will decrease in the year ahead.  We dedicate The Gold Bonus Disc Awards to the creators of the music and releases we cover, to the dedicated retailers who continue to support catalogue titles, and most importantly, to you, our readers.  After all, your interest is ultimately what keeps great music of the past – this site’s raison d’etre – alive and well.

Which releases take home the gold this year? Hit the jump below to find out! Read the rest of this entry »

Release Round-Up: Week of September 16

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Jimi Hendrix, The Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)

Legacy and Experience Hendrix have reissues of Jimi Hendrix’s first two posthumously-released albums, both from 1971; The Cry of Love is long out-of-print on CD, while Rainbow Bridge makes its first authorized appearance in the CD format.  Both titles have been freshly remastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analog masters.

The Cry of Love: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Rainbow Bridge: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack : Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.



Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories (Resonance) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Jazz great Charles Lloyd, on saxophone and flute, is joined by guitarist Gábor Szabó, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Pete La Roca on this set premiering two 1965 New York concerts.  The deluxe 2-CD edition, remastered by Bernie Grundman, features new liner notes by Stanley Crouch, Willard Jenkins, Don Heckman & Michael Cuscuna.


Scruffy the Cat – Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990 (Omnivore) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

College radio heroes and alt-country rockers Scruffy the Cat return on this new anthology from Omnivore Recordings featuring 23 songs – one issued on a rare single and 22 never released anywhere – encompassing both live and studio tracks.


James Galway, The Man with the Golden Flute: The Complete RCA Albums Collection (RCA/Masterworks) (Amazon U.S. /Amazon U.K.)

This 73-disc (!) box set chronicles the career of “The Man with the Golden Flute.”  Over  71 CDs and 2 DVDs, Galway tackles both classical and pop repertoire with collaborators including Henry Mancini, The Chieftains, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, and many of the greatest orchestras and conductors in the world.

Salsoul Christmas

The Salsoul Orchestra, Christmas Jollies: The Deluxe Edition (Friday Music) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Friday Music’s new collection re-presents The Salsoul Orchestra’s first holiday album from 1976, produced, arranged and conducted by the late, great Vince Montana, plus three bonus tracks – “New Year’s Americana Suite” and the single versions of “Merry Christmas, All” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Ray Price Christmas

Ray Price, The Ray Price Christmas Album (Friday Music) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )

Friday Music also has the late country crooner’s 1969 Columbia holiday LP on CD featuring “Jingle Bells,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and more.


Barbra Streisand, Partners (Columbia) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Okay, this isn’t a catalogue title, but it’s Barbra Streisand!  The legendary artist returns with her latest studio album, featuring duets with Billy Joel, John Legend, John Mayer, Blake Shelton, Michael Buble, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and the late Elvis Presley.  Target stores have an exclusive edition with five bonus tracks – four previously released duets with Barry Gibb, Barry Manilow, Bryan Adams and Frank Sinatra plus one outtake with the album’s co-producer, Babyface.  (He’s also heard on Partners with “Evergreen.”)  This edition is also available in the U.K. from general retailers!

Northern Soul - The Soundtrack

Various Artists, Northern Soul: The Soundtrack (Harmless) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Demon Music Group’s Harmless imprint has the soundtrack to director Elaine Constantine’s new film chronicling the U.K. Northern Soul movement that gave new life to classic American soul records; the soundtrack set consists of two CDs (the actual songs from the film on the first CD and other Northern Soul favorites compiled by the director on the second disc) plus an exclusive DVD with Elaine Constantine being interviewed about the making of the film by actor James Lance who portrays Northern Soul DJ Ray Henderson in the movie.  A special limited edition set of vinyl singles is also available.

Real Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini / Neil Sedaka / Paul Anka / Harry Belafonte / Aretha Franklin, The Real… (Sony U.K.)

The U.K. arm of Sony Music continues its series of 3-CD anthologies drawing primarily from the Columbia and RCA archives, adding a number of favorite classic pop artists to a series that’s already 25+-titles strong.

The Real Henry Mancini: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The Real Neil Sedaka: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The Real Paul Anka: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The Real Harry Belafonte: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The Real Aretha Franklin: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Elmer Bernstein - GE

Elmer Bernstein, Themes from the General Electric Theatre / See No Evil (Intrada)

The Intrada label has two new titles from the composer and maestro Elmer Bernstein including the CD premiere of Columbia Records’ soundtrack to the anthology television series starring future President Ronald Reagan, and the world premiere release of Bernstein’s score to Richard Fleischer’s 1971 thriller starring Mia Farrow, See No Evil!

Love Is: Carol Williams, The Salsoul Orchestra Make Sweet Music on “‘lectric Lady”

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Lectric LadyCarol Williams signed to New York’s Salsoul Records label in 1975 for one single, but stuck around for one memorable album. That lone long-player, titled ‘lectric Lady, paired the New Jersey-born vocalist – Salsoul’s first female contract signing – with the label’s premier musical outfit, The Salsoul Orchestra, for an alluring blend of disco and sleek soul. Cherry Red’s Big Break Records imprint is now feeling electric with an expanded and remastered reissue of ‘lectric Lady.

Williams came to Salsoul as a seasoned performer both onstage and in the recording studio. When Salsoul held open auditions in Manhattan for a female singer, Williams stood out from the pack and secured the slot on the burgeoning label’s roster. The Salsoul Orchestra was already established as the label’s marquee act. Its leader, quadruple threat songwriter-producer-arranger-conductor Vincent Montana Jr., had come into his own at Salsoul. The veteran MFSB vibraphonist (and occasional arranger-conductor at Philadelphia international) became the Salsoul label’s de facto answer to Thom Bell, defining the Salsoul sound by fusing Latin salsa rhythms with the Philly soul style he helped create for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s recording empire.

Recording at the usual destination of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, Montana crafted an effervescent album debut for the diva. It took a powerhouse vocalist to stand out in front of the majestic orchestra, but Williams was clearly up to the task, and even co-wrote three tracks on the nine-song LP which blended disco with soulful ballads. Its opening track, “Love is You,” rightfully became a Salsoul anthem. It bore some stylistic resemblance to MFSB and The Three Degrees’ “Love is the Message,” with the same grand sweep and infectious groove, but that was no surprise, as The Salsoul Orchestra shared a great number of members with MFSB (Montana, Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Roland Chambers, Ronnie Baker, Larry Washington, Earl Young, and Don Renaldo among them). It’s still somewhat shocking that these five minutes of sultry, sizzling disco failed to become a crossover pop hit. Ronnie Walker, a Philly pal of Montana’s, co-wrote “Love is You” and another album cut, “Just Feel,” both of which he also later recorded himself. Walker, with a falsetto to rival that of The Stylistics’ Russell Thompkins Jr., first worked with Montana back in 1968 at Sigma Sound, when the latter was playing vibes for a Vent Records session on which Walker was singing.

The cool “Just Feel” may, in fact, be the album’s strongest moment next to “Love is You.” The smoldering track eschews disco, instead showcasing the purity of Williams’ voice in tandem with Montana’s lush arrangement. Williams’ velvety pipes accentuated the sensuality of another smooth slow-burner, “This Time May Be the Last Time.” Its male background vocals (likely provided by Walker and Carl Helms, based on the LP’s credits) add an unusual color to the production. Jack Perricone, the track’s co-writer, also penned the sweet ode to devotion that closes out the LP, “You’re So Much a Part of Me.”

The beguiling “Danger Sign” came from the pen of Philadelphia songwriter-producer T Life, an associate of Bunny Sigler and Instant Funk who placed songs at Philly International with The Intruders and The Ebonys. Arranged in shimmering fashion by Montana, “Danger Sign” retains the Salsoul percussion sound but sonically recalls the sophistication of Thom Bell’s collaborative album with Dionne Warwick, the overlooked masterpiece Track of the Cat.

Tasty tidbits abound in Christian John Wikane’s new liner notes, which take the form of a lengthy interview with Carol Williams – who, by the way, is most certainly blessed with a keen memory of her short time at Salsoul! One such recollection is that Williams sang “Tangerine” at a performance of her club act attended by Salsoul’s Vice President Ken Cayre before her signing. Williams knew she could tip the scales in her favor by singing a song already recorded by The Salsoul Orchestra on its debut LP. “Tangerine” was just one of the standards reinvented for disco by Montana over the course of his time at Salsoul. Another was the Mondo Cane standard “More” on ‘lectric Lady. Its elegant melody was a good fit for Williams, whose live repertoire included jazz standards and showtunes. Indeed, some jazz elements were incorporated into the recording of “More” both by Williams and the Orchestra, including some delicious saxophone licks.

Whereas “More” is relaxed – for disco, at least! – Montana’s chart for the poignant “My Time of Need” pulsates with urgency from its strings to the nonstop beat. Williams delivers a confident vocal on this song which she co-wrote with Montana. Background vocalists The Sweethearts of Sigma (a.k.a. Evette Benton, Barbara Ingram and Carla Benson) are prominent throughout ‘Lectric Lady, but get an enjoyably campy moment on this track, with the full story told in the liner notes. And though it’s not high in the mix, there’s a rockin’ guitar that vies with Williams’ lead for pure electricity! The other Williams/Montana composition, “Come Back,” gives winds and horns – not to mention the driving percussion – a workout.

The black sheep of ‘lectric Lady is “Rattlesnake,” Williams’ first recording for Salsoul produced in 1975 by The Exciters’ Herb Rooney. She recalls the track having been completed by the time she laid her vocals down, and it feels somewhat less personal than the balance of the album. The song is energetic disco but lacks the flair of the Montana-led music, though Williams’ throaty vocal is one of her most big-voiced on the LP.  There’s much more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 1, 2014 at 10:24

The Salsoul Orchestra Goes “High,” “Up the Yellow Brick Road”

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Salsoul Orchestra - Up the Yellow Brick RoadBig Break Records’ non-chronological series of remastered and expanded reissues for The Salsoul Orchestra has already taken listeners from 1975’s eponymous debut to 1982’s farewell release Heat It Up. With the recent releases of 1978’s Up the Yellow Brick Road and 1979’s How High, the label has filled in the gaps of its lavishly produced program of the Orchestra’s classic non-holiday studio albums. (No fear, however – there are other collaborative albums and even a collection credited to The Salsoul Strings still left to reissue!)

For what would turn out to be his final album leading The Salsoul Orchestra, producer-arranger-conductor Vince Montana, Jr. sought his inspiration from Hollywood, often by way of Broadway. Up the Yellow Brick Road featured just five tracks, each inspired by a different film: The Wiz (1978, based on the 1975 musical), West Side Story (1961, based on the 1957 musical), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978, based on The Beatles’ 1967 album and director Tom O’Horgan’s 1974 Off-Broadway staging), Fiddler on the Roof (1976, based on the 1964 musical) and A Star Is Born (1976). With this in mind, the album could have been sacrilegious: Disco Beatles? Disco Bernstein? But with the sure hand of bandleader Montana, the Orchestra’s MFSB-honed core (Bobby Eli and T.J. Tindall on guitar, Jack Faith on flute, Larry Washington on congas, Don Renaldo on violin) and the Sweethearts of Sigma (Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benton and Carla Benson) on vocals, the result is enjoyable camp crafted with impeccable musicianship.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie Smalls’ effusive invitation to “Ease on Down the Road” lends itself most to the disco treatment, and Montana’s arrangement of the Wiz showstopper isn’t too far away from Harold Wheeler’s original. What would Leonard Bernstein have thought of Montana’s West Side Story medley of five selections from the Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim score? It’s hard to say, but seeing as how Bernstein believed in making music accessible to the most people possible, it’s not inconceivable that he would have approved. After all, West Side has always been music made for dancing: Bernstein’s magnificent score captured the intensity and rhythms of New York City, accompanying the dynamic, now-iconic choreography of Jerome Robbins. (The 12-inch Disco Version of the West Side medley is included as the bonus track here.) An even lengthier medley of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s Fiddler on the Roof tunes goes a bit further astray, incorporating Ernest Gold’s theme to the film Exodus, his own “Sherele” and even the traditional “Hava Nagila” into its musical mélange.

Montana’s take on “Sgt. Pepper’s” – truly the odd track out here – cleverly begins with a blast of “A Day in the Life.” He wisely avoids full-on disco for the track, instead ceding center stage to The Sweethearts of Sigma who coquettishly deliver the Lennon/McCartney lyrics and are rather persuasive intoning, “We’d like to take you home with us!” Montana adds a bit of woozy brass interplay for an enjoyable reinterpretation. A lovely, lightly Latin rendering of Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams’ Academy Award-winning ballad “Evergreen” closes out Up the Yellow Brick Road. The Sweethearts are accompanied by lushly decorative strings, and Montana’s own, prominent vibes. “Evergreen” would also appear on How Deep is Your Love, the soft 1978 album credited to The Salsoul Strings.

Don’t miss a thing!  Hit the jump for more!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 13, 2014 at 10:39

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Salsoul Orchestra

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Release Round-Up: Week of April 29

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Nightclubbing DeluxeGrace Jones, Nightclubbing: Deluxe Edition (Island/UMe)

Pull back up to the bumper with a generously expanded version of the almighty Jones’ most beloved album.

2CD: Amazon U.K.
1CD: Amazon U.S.
2LP:  Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.
Blu-Ray Audio: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.

Supremes - Funny GirlDiana Ross & The Supremes, Sing and Perform Funny Girl: Expanded Edition (Motown Select)

A digital-only expansion of The Supremes’ 1968 album of the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill musical, featuring the original LP alongside a brand-new remix and a pair of live cuts. (Amazon U.S.)

Funny Girl Box SetFunny Girl: Original Broadway Cast Recording – 50th Anniversary Edition (Capitol/UMe)

Speaking of which, the original cast album – featuring the one and only Barbra Streisand – is also reissued today as a CD/LP set with a deluxe book! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Vanilla Fudge Atco SinglesBob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Riding Your Way — The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music, 1946-1947 / Vanilla Fudge, The Complete ATCO Singles / Rick Wakeman, White Rock / X, Under the Big Black Sun: Expanded & Remastered Edition / Cannonball Adderley, The Black Messiah

The latest Real Gone slate is quite the eclectic one! Read all about it here.

Bob Wills: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Vanilla Fudge: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Rick Wakeman: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
X: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. (TBD)
Cannonball Adderley: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Rush ReDISCoveredRush, Rush: ReDISCovered Box Set (Mercury/UMe)

A deluxe recreation of the Canadian legends’ first album on vinyl. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Blue Light Til DawnCassandra Wilson, Blue Light ‘Til Dawn: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blue Note/UMe)

The neo-blues vocalist’s breakthrough album, featuring stirring interpretations of tracks by Robert Johnson, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and others, is reissued with three unreleased live tracks. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Can't Fight FateTaylor Dayne, Can’t Fight Fate Soul Dancing: Deluxe Editions (Cherry Pop)

The ’80s dance diva’s second and third albums are expanded as two-disc sets with plenty of rare and unreleased remixes and B-sides, plus an all-new remastering for each original album.

Can’t Fight Fate: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Soul DancingAmazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Cryan ShamesThe Cryan Shames, A Scratch in the Sky: Deluxe Expanded Mono Edition (Now Sounds)

Now Sounds presents the Chicago band’s 1967 sunshine pop-flavored album for the first time on CD in mono, adding a plethora of bonus tracks! Joe’s full review is coming soon! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Silver ConventionSilver Convention, Save Me / The Salsoul Orchestra, Up the Yellow Brick Road / How High (Big Break Records)

Joe’s full writes-ups on three more Salsoul/BBR reissues are coming soon!

Save Me: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Up the Yellow Brick Road: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
How High: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Big Break Has “Street Sense” With Two New Salsoul Reissues

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Salsoul Orchestra - Street SenseCherry Red’s Big Break Records label continues its deep exploration into the vaults of Salsoul Records with two releases that might seem like business as usual for these artists, but are anything but. Street Sense, from The Salsoul Orchestra, isn’t a Vince Montana-led extravaganza but rather a project helmed by Tom Moulton, “the father of the 12-inch remix.” And Loleatta Holloway’s self-titled 1979 album isn’t a Philly-style banquet but rather a feast of southern soul.

Street Sense is another indispensable entry in BBR’s definitive reissue series for The Salsoul Orchestra. The 1979 release is a transitional album in virtually every sense, bridging the gap between the Philadelphia soul era represented by Montana (and then Bunny Sigler, Ron Baker and Ron Tyson) and the Orchestra’s two final albums from producer Patrick Adams (Phreek, Inner Life). Don’t fear, however: BBR will soon return to the Philly period with Montana’s final album as bandleader, the Hollywood-inspired Up the Yellow Brick Road, along with the Sigler/Tyson/Baker-helmed How High.

For Street Sense, Moulton stayed in place at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, utilizing a number of the studios’ key players (Earl Young, Keith Benson, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo’s Horns and Strings) to maintain musical continuity. But Moulton and arranger Thor Baldursson brought their own cutting-edge style to Sigma. This was signaled on the album’s opening track. On Donny Hathaway and Richard Evans’ “Zambezi,” the old meets the new. Renaldo’s brassy horns and swelling strings recalled the Vince Montana-led efforts of The Salsoul Orchestra, but the song’s funky bass, overtly jazz rhythms and prominent, spacey synthesizers conjured up a somewhat leaner, decidedly more contemporary Euro-disco spin on the Orchestra’s Philadelphia-honed sound.

Arranger/conductor Baldursson’s futuristic synths are at the forefront of Evans’ “Burning Spear,” which also offers relaxed saxophone work from Michael Pedecine, Jr. straddling the line between fusion and smooth jazz. The overtly Salsoul touches are evident in the strings and bright Latin percussion, with the original Orchestra’s Larry Washington among the three conga players. (Tom Moulton amusingly recalls in Stephen “SPAZ” Schnee’s excellent liner notes that “[Salsoul’s Ken Cayre said the album needed more] ‘percussion like congas and cowbells’ and all that crap. So I started adding the percussion to it and that’s how the album came out.” More cowbell, indeed!

The album’s title centerpiece, “Street Sense,” is an epic 7+-minute length call to the dancefloor with choral vocals imploring for life as a natural high: “You’ve got to check it out,” “feel the motion,” etc. As intended, it sets the pulse racing. (“Street Sense” appears as Track 3 rather than Track 4 as indicated on the sleeve and CD label.) Moulton didn’t veer too far from the Montana blueprint in including a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Montana’s Orchestra had previously made over such songs as “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (Cuchi-Cuchi, with Charo), “Short Shorts” (Magic Journey), “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Feelings” (Nice ‘n’ Naasty) and even the standards “Tangerine” and “Love Letters” (The Salsoul Orchestra); Moulton and Baldursson’s contemporary “Somebody” lacks the bite of the Grace Slick-written and sung original, but is a fun diversion for fans of the classic rock staple. (And who isn’t?)

But the catchy instrumental “212 North 12th” – Sigma Sound Studios’ address – is the quintessential Tom Moulton Mix here, the album’s most pure fusion of the Philadelphia brass-and-strings sound with Baldursson’s synths and the sleek, European flavor. The arc of Moulton’s mix allows each element of the Orchestra’s style to come into focus, individually and collectively. Closing track “Sun After the Rain,” co-written by Salsoul labelmate Bebu Silvetti, isn’t as intoxicatingly breezy as Silvetti’s previous, wordless “Spring Rain” (which certainly inspired it to some degree) but applies its predecessor’s bright, refreshing mood in a more driving context.

There’s much more after the jump on both Street Sense and Loleatta Holloway, including full track listings and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 3, 2014 at 09:52

Release Round-Up: Week of March 11

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Sid Selvidge - Cold of the MorningSid Selvidge, The Cold of the Morning (Omnivore)

A long out-of-print classic, produced by Big Star producer Jim Dickinson and featuring a killer set of tunes written or arranged by the late Memphis folk master (and father of Steve Selvidge, current guitarist of The Hold Steady, who produced this new reissue) and featuring six unreleased bonus tracks.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Todd Cochran - Worlds Around the SunBayeté, Worlds Around the Sun (Omnivore Recordings)

The debut album by jazz keyboardist Todd Cochran, known for his work with names as diverse as Carl Palmer, Peter Gabriel and Joey Scarbury, is released on CD for the first time with two bonus tracks from the vaults. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Songs Our Daddy Taught UsEverly Brothers, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (Varese Vintage)

Varese expands the classic Everlys collection – recently covered song for song as Foreverly by Norah Jones and Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong – with six previously unissued alternate takes of tracks including “Barbara Allen,” “Roving Gambler,” “Down in the Willow Garden” and “Put My Little Shoes Away.”  Expect a review from Joe soon! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Chicago Live in JapanChicago, Live in Japan (Rhino)

A Japan-exclusive live set released in 1972 makes its first appearance on CD in almost 10 years. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Time for Judy CanovaJudy Canova, Time for Judy Canova: The Rare Recordings 1928-1962 (Sepia)

Sepia collects 27 rare sides from singing comedienne and Republic Pictures star Judy Canova beginning with tracks recorded in 1928 and ending with her final recordings made in 1962. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Lena on the Blue SideLena Horne, Lena on the Blue Side Plus Bonus Tracks (Sepia)

This 1962 album by Lena Horne makes its CD debut outside of Japan with eight bonus tracks!   All bonus tracks are rare singles also making their CD debut, including four songs from her Broadway musical Jamaica that were recorded with Neal Hefti in pop arrangements! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Hank Snow Souvenirs Country HitsHank Snow, Souvenirs/Big Country Hits (Sepia)

This two-fer presents two complete LPs from Canadian country singer Hank Snow and adds four bonus tracks Snow recorded with Anita Carter of the Carter Family! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

LoleattaThe Salsoul Orchestra, Street Sense: Expanded Edition / Loleatta Holloway, Loleatta Holloway: Expanded Edition (Big Break)

Salsoul Orchestra: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Loleatta Holloway: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

ICON Blue NoteVarious Artists, ICON: The Best of Blue Note (Blue Note/UMe)

With an ambitious Blue Note vinyl campaign underway, UMe also honors the jazz label with a new two-disc compilation as part of the ICON series. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Dance a Little Bit Closer with Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, Loleatta Holloway

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Charo and Salsoul OrchestraCuchi-cuchi!  Charo, or María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, burst onto the cultural radar with her goofy, slightly suggestive catchphrase during the late-sixties run of the television phenomenon Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.  Once a frequent passenger on The Love Boat, the comedienne-bombshell still is a familiar face today on television (Dancing with the Stars, RuPaul’s Drag University) and onstage – on land and on sea, even on the good ship Disney Magic.  In 1977, Charo teamed with Vince Montana Jr., the arranger-conductor of Salsoul Records’ house band The Salsoul Orchestra, for a fun disco romp entitled (what else?) Cuchi-Cuchi.  It’s one of two Salsoul classics recently given the deluxe treatment by Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label, along with Loleatta Holloway’s 1978 Queen of the Night.

Cuchi-Cuchi, jointly credited to Charo and The Salsoul Orchestra, definitely proved that camp and stellar musicianship could co-exist.   “Dance a little bit closer…move it in like this…a little bit closer/You and me can dance so free/Oh, come/A little bit closer/Slide your feet like this/A little bit closer…” Charo coos on the opening song, one of the three compositions that sold Salsoul’s Cayre Brothers on Montana’s concept for a Philly soul-meets-Latin-fusion orchestra.  The lyrics of “Dance a Little Bit Closer” don’t get any deeper than that, but the seductively insinuating groove and immaculate arrangement – with lush strings, commanding horns and of course a vibes solo from Vince – were pure, sophisticated Philly disco.  “Dance,” breathily sung in the heavily accented English that made Charo famous (or infamous?) on Laugh-In, makes room for asides in Spanish (“Loco, loco, loco!”) as the singer’s playful personality compensates for her lack of a powerhouse voice.  She was rewarded with a Top 20 dance hit for the infectious track.

That effervescent personality is also used to good effect on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”  Its once-controversial lyrics have always lent themselves to interpretation by sexy female artists – think Claudine Longet’s steamy rendition.  Charo’s salsa-fied rendition of the Jagger/Richards melody comes with a healthy dollop of humor, as does “You’re Just the Right Size.”  This remake of Montana’s 1976 Salsoul Orchestra song (basically an instrumental with choice vocal interjections) is one of the album’s most carnal cuts, but it’s also a fine showcase for the Orchestra’s trademark Latin percussion and Montana’s swirling and oddly elegant strings. “Cookie Jar,” co-written by the bandleader, is driving yet catchy funk, highlighted by Charo’s lighthearted double entendres.

More boisterous is Pedro Calaf’s singalong-style “Borriquito,” sung in Spanish as a disco-fied flamenco track.  Charo warbles modestly in both English and Spanish on Mexican singer-songwriter Roberto Cantoral’s “The Clock” (reportedly recorded over 1,000 times by various artists worldwide).  It’s performed in a straight ballad version with another delectable string chart from Montana.  The oddest, campiest track on Cuchi-Cuchi, however, is far less authentically Mexican.  It’s the disco revival of Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales,” sans Mel Blanc’s animated interjections that enlivened the original recording.  A more successful tongue-in-cheek moment comes courtesy of Montana and Ronnie Walker’s made-to-order title track “Cuchi-Cuchi,” a centerpiece disco workout for the album.

Charo is backed by the ubiquitous background vocalists known as the Sweethearts of Sigma on the quintessential Philly soul of “More of You,” on which she sings “straight” over the irresistible and slickly funky track.  Her hushed vocal is also commendable on the sensual ballad “Only You,” co-written by Montana, Ronnie James and Janet Gugliuzza.  The melody is tailored to Charo’s strengths, and boasts some lovely Spanish-style guitar, too.  Though Charo herself is a flamenco guitarist, she’s not among the credited musicians on the LP, but that’s hardly a liability considering those who did play on Cuchi-Cuchi.  Among this list of Philadelphia all-stars: Earl Young and Charles Collins on drums, Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman on bass, T.J. Tindall and Bobby Eli on guitar, Ron Kersey on keyboards, Larry Washington on percussion and Don Renaldo leading the string section.

What extras will you find on BBR’s reissue?  Hit the jump!  Plus: the scoop on Loleatta Holloway’s Queen of the Night! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 31, 2014 at 09:36

BBR “Heats It Up” with Salsoul Orchestra, Joe Bataan, Herbie Mann, Chris Jasper

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Joe Bataan - SalsoulAs Big Break Records’ first releases for 2014 hit stores in the U.K. today (more on those shortly!), the time is right to take a look at more from the label’s closing slate of 2013.  This eclectic roster – from legendary Latin music artist Joe Bataan, the post-Vince Montana iteration of The Salsoul Orchestra, jazz flautist Herbie Mann and soul man Chris Jasper – is doubtless one of BBR’s strongest.

So influential was Joe Bataan’s 1974 Mericana Records release Salsoul that it literally inspired an entire label.  The Filipino-African-American artist, born Bataan Nittolano in New York’s Spanish Harlem, captured the manifold energies of the city streets on his records which blended street-corner R&B with Latin dance rhythms.   Incarcerated at age 16 for car theft, the young man turned his life around with music.  He learned music theory from a Juilliard graduate while in prison, and taught himself piano.  Soon, Bataan became known for composing his own songs and transforming popular hits like The Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman” into a soulful style that was distinctly his own.  Often singing in English over rhythms familiar to Spanish-speaking audiences, Bataan tapped into both markets with a series of albums beginning in 1967 for the pioneering salsa label Fania Records.  By 1972, however, the relationship between Bataan and Fania had soured.  He formed his own Ghetto Records label even as he fulfilled his Fania contract that year, and soon he sought out Joe, Ken and Stanley Cayre of the new Mericana label.  Bataan made it clear that he would like to throw in his lot with Mericana, and the result was Salsoul.

Salsoul, its title simply stating Bataan’s mix of salsa and soul, looked to both the past and the future.  He delivered Spanish interpretations of songs he previously recorded in English (“My Cloud” as “Mi Nube,” “Ordinary Guy” as “Muchacho Ordinario”), a funky mambo take on the standard “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and a sweet-soul reworking of “Mujer Mia,” another tune from his Fania days.  Instrumentals – including a groovy, dancefloor-ready take on Eumir Deodato’s “Latin Strut” – sat alongside vocal tracks from the hard-hitting tale of “Johnny” to the ballad plea for “Peace, Friendship, Solidarity.”  But all of the album’s nine songs contained Bataan’s urgent and brassy yet melodic stamp.  Mericana was rewarded for its belief in Bataan when Salsoul reportedly sold over 15,000 copies in just one week of release.  Ever the canny businessmen, the Cayre brothers took the title of Bataan’s album as the name of their new record label, installing Bataan as quarter-owner of an interest in the company and as A&R director.  Salsoul proved how an artist could bridge genres and cultures, and its namesake label carried on its tradition.  BBR has expanded this landmark album with four rare mono single versions plus the non-LP track “Continental Square Dance.”  Nick Robbins has remastered the album and Rico “Superbizzee” Washington has written new notes drawing on an interview with Bataan.

After the jump: The Salsoul Orchestra and more – plus full track listings and order links for all four titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 13, 2014 at 09:28

BBR Continues Its “Journey” With Salsoul Catalogue

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Salsoul Orchestra - Magic JourneyIf you’re looking for another chance to “dance your ass off,” look no further.  Big Break Records has returned to the mighty catalogue of Salsoul Records for another three “made in Philadelphia” classics from the soulful disco label.

“C’mon, Vince, play your vibes!”  Loleatta Holloway exclaimed before the leader of The Salsoul Orchestra, Vince Montana Jr., stepped forward for a solo on “Run Away,” the third track on the powerful unit’s third non-holiday long-player.  1977’s Magic Journey follows its predecessors The Salsoul Orchestra and Nice ‘n’ Naasty in receiving the deluxe BBR treatment.  By the time of Magic Journey, Montana had perfected the formula of showcasing each side of the so-called “disco orchestra” – and given the pedigree of the musicians involved, there were many sides.  The album featured MFSB veterans Earl Young, Charles Collins, Michael “Sugar Bear” Foreman, T.J. Tindall, Bobby Eli, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo and Jack Faith, and many others, along with the Sweethearts of Sigma – Barbara Ingram, Yvette Benton and Carla Benson – on backing vocals and arranger-conductor Montana himself on timpani, bells, chimes, marimba and vibes.

Though the second side of the original LP took listeners on the trip promised in the title, the first side offered one enjoyable pop-disco treat after another.  The bright scene-setter “It’s a New Day,” co-written by Montana, and a campy revival of Bob Gaudio’s “Short Shorts,” however, were mere appetizers for the sublime Philly soul of “Run Away.”  Sung by Holloway backed by the Salsoul Orchestra, “Run Away” was then – and is now – one of the finest songs to emerge on Salsoul.  With its infectious melody, shimmering arrangement and urgent vocals, it’s unfathomable that the song stalled at R&B No. 84 and didn’t even dent the pop chart.  It’s the undisputed highlight here, along with “Themes from Montreal Olympics 1976 – Farewell Song and Ballet of the Closing Ceremony.”   The lush orchestral sound of “Farewell Song” could be mistaken for a Stylistics backing track crafted by Thom Bell, and its immaculate blend of horns and strings is as far-removed from the conventional notion of disco as possible.  Only at about the 3-1/2 minute march does this soft and lovely piece musically nod at something as anthemic or victorious as the title would indicate.  Few tracks better show off the immaculate musicianship of The Salsoul Orchestra, not to mention just how much Vince Montana had grown as an arranger since his early MFSB days.

Besides “Short Shorts,” a couple of other pop covers pepper the album: a lightly disco take on the Cuban folk song-turned-Sandpipers hit “Guantanamera” and a funky reworking of Earth Wind and Fire’s “Getaway.”  Smoky saxophone leads the horn section, while taut guitar, Philly-style strings and the Orchestra’s trademark Latin percussion add up to a track that might best the EWF original for sheer excitement.

After the jump: more on Magic Journey, plus the scoop on BBR’s new reissues from Loleatta Holloway and Bunny Sigler! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 27, 2013 at 11:31