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Review, “Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1989” On DVD and CD

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Released Amnesty CDSex, drugs and rock and roll have been closely linked since, well, the dawn of rock and roll itself.  But those who have been lucky enough to make a living in the rough-and-tumble world of rock have also frequently given themselves over to more noble pursuits.  George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangla Desh wasn’t the first time a rock superstar had performed for charity, but The Quiet Beatle’s star-studded event is rightfully considered the first benefit concert of such stature.  Since then, there have been numerous other events bringing together rock’s biggest and brightest have come together for a good cause, from Live Aid to the recent 12-12-12 in support of Hurricane Sandy relief.  The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Amnesty International, founded in 1961, began its series of Secret Policeman’s Balls in 1976, raising money for its human rights crusades with artists like Pete Townshend and the Monty Python troupe.  The scale of its benefit events grew notably in 1988 with the 25-city Human Rights Now world tour, headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel and others.  Since then, Amnesty has staged of a number of remarkable concert events to support its mission “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”  The impressive new 6-DVD box set Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 (826663-13562 and its companion 2-CD set of highlights (826663-13568) not only provide hours of musical entertainment from a legendary group of artists, but support Amnesty’s work.  The net proceeds from both releases, available now from Shout! Factory in the U.S., go to the organization.

The most striking aspect about these releases, particularly the DVD set, is just how all-encompassing and comprehensive they are.  The collector-oriented box set is a completely immersive presentation, with documentaries and bonus material – 32 separate segments, in all – covering virtually every aspect of these concerts.  Most significant, perhaps, might be the hour-and-a-quarter of new documentary material – Peter Shelton’s film Light a Candle!  The Story Behind The Human Rights Concerts and two separate interview features with Bruce Springsteen and Sting.  The always-passionate and eloquent Springsteen delivers what is essentially an uninterrupted monologue, candidly reflecting on his role with Amnesty over the years.  He ruminates on the importance of freedom in rock and roll not just in the personal sense, but to the world at large, and recalls the “harrowing” and “intense” news conferences surrounding the Human Rights Now! tour.  “Our place in the world changed a little bit,” Springsteen says, and he gained “an enormous sense of the globe as one place.”  On a lighter note, he recalls a night in 1988 when his fellow performers decided to surprise him onstage by dressing in his usual attire, or the night a decade later when the multi-lingual Peter Gabriel bailed him out when he was at a loss for words with a French-speaking crowd!

Sting is relaxed and wry in his featurette, which unlike Springsteen’s stream-of-consciousness talk is divided into brief segments each devoted to one topic.  What’s most clear is Sting’s pride in his involvement with Amnesty over the years.  Like Springsteen, he was affected by those he met on the tour – political prisoners, their families, et. als. – as well as with the camaraderie he established with his fellow musicians including the Garden State’s favorite son.  He stresses Amnesty’s embrace of world music, and doesn’t flinch from discussing the risks incurred whenever a person in the public eye takes a political stand.

After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at Released! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 7, 2013 at 14:45

Release Round-Up: Week of October 8

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Tony Bennett - Live at the SaharaTony Bennett, Live At The Sahara: Las Vegas 1964 (RPM/Columbia/Legacy)

Previously exclusive to The Complete Collection box set, Bennett’s first headlining act in Sin City is now available for standalone purchase. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Electricity by Candlelight_ NYC 2_13_97Alex Chilton, Electricity by Candlelight: NYC 2/13/97 (Bar None)

The late Big Star frontman had a talent that not even a power outage at New York’s Knitting Factory could blot out, as this spontaneous, covers-heavy release showcases. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies DeluxeThe Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies: Deluxe Edition (Sanctuary)

The Kinks’ ninth album (and first originally recorded for RCA) gets a two-disc reissue worthy of any 20th century man you might know. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Barbra Streisand - Classic ChristmasAlabama/Johnny Cash/Neil Diamond/George Jones & Tammy Wynette/Gladys Knight & The Pips/Martina McBride/Barbra Streisand/Andy Williams, The Classic Christmas Album (Legacy)

Following the success of last year’s wave of mid-priced holiday compilations, another eight are coming to fill your stockings with Christmas cheer.

Alabama: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Johnny Cash: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Neil Diamond: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
George Jones & Tammy Wynette: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Gladys Knight & The Pips: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Martina McBride: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Barbra Streisand: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Andy Williams: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

CBGB SoundtrackVarious Artists, CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Omnivore)

This 20-track compilation for the new film about the legendary New York club features some of the biggest bands who played that stage, plus a recording by founder Hilly Krystal and a new version of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl.” (Rhino will distribute a digital version in the future with exclusive tracks.)

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

They Shall Be “Released”: Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Joni Mitchell, U2, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis on Amnesty International Box

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Released DVD Box SetSince its founding in 1961, Amnesty International has endeavored “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”  The Nobel Peace Prize-winning international human rights organization has, naturally, attracted a number of high-profile supporters over the years.  In 1988, a number of those men and women took the road to spread Amnesty’s message and raise funds via the Human Rights Now! world tour.  The 25-city trek was headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour and was seen by over one million concert attendees in person and by millions more on television.  The tour was a success, tripling Amnesty’s worldwide membership.  To commemorate this event, Shout! Factory will issue the 6-DVD box set ¡RELEASED!: The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 on November 5.  The same date will also see the release of The Human Rights Concerts, a 2-CD set of audio highlights.

The DVD box set features performances from 36 artists performing for Amnesty International, with 120 songs and 12 hours of music.  It includes four films, all restored from the original masters.  The first film is dedicated to the all-day final concert of A Conspiracy of Hope, Amnesty’s 25th anniversary concert tour of the USA in June 1986.  The second film features highlights from the Human Rights Now!   The third presentation is An Embrace of Hope, the October 1990 concert in Chile celebrating that nation’s liberation following nearly two decades of dictatorship. The fourth and final film in the set is The Struggle Continues…, recorded in Paris in 1998 on the exact 50th anniversary of the signing in that city of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the tradition of numerous benefit concerts, these gigs presented the opportunity for favorite artists to perform in unexpected duets.  Various duet combinations of Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Youssou N’Dour, Aaron Neville, Steven Van Zandt, Bob Geldof and Bryan Adams are among the concert highlights.

What will you find on the 6-DVD and 2-CD collections?  Hit the jump for more details and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 7, 2013 at 14:43

Kick Out The Jams: Omnivore, Rhino Team for “CBGB” with The Police, Talking Heads, Television, MC5

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CBGB SoundtrackThough CBGB closed its doors at 315 Bowery on October 15, 2006 following a concert by Patti Smith, the legendary New York club never truly disappeared.  Though plans to open a new location in Las Vegas fell through – some might say, mercifully! – Hilly Krystal’s famous club has survived in spirit.  CBGB Radio launched in 2010, the CBGB Festival of music hit the Big Apple in 2012, and the original awning even migrated to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  This October, CBGB gets another lease on life with the release of director Randall Miler’s big-screen CBGB, starring Alan Rickman as the colorful proprietor Kristal.  The star of stage (Private Lives) and screen (Harry Potter) is joined by an ensemble including Johnny Galecki, Rupert Grint, Bradley Whitford, Malin Ackerman and Ryan Hurst for the film opening October 11 in New York, Los Angeles and other select cities.

No great rock film is complete, however, without a great soundtrack.  Omnivore Recordings and Rhino Records are teaming up to bring this musical portrait of CBGB to life.  On October 8, Omnivore will release CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on CD and 2-LP vinyl, with the first vinyl edition to be pressed on translucent pink vinyl.  With Omnivore handling the physical release, Rhino will issue the digital version of the album.  Exclusive digital-only tracks are promised.

Though Hilly Kristal originally planned CBGB as a home for Country, BlueGrass and Blues, it wasn’t long after the club’s founding in 1973 that it became a hotbed for New York’s vivid underground music scene.  Punk, new wave, and later, hardcore all became closely identified with CBGB, and the nightspot became part of the big city’s lifeblood.  The Patti Smith Group, Joan Jett, The B-52s, Blondie, Talking Heads and the Ramones all made splashes on Kristal’s small but immensely influential stage.

What will you find on the soundtrack album?  Just hit the jump!  We’ll also have the full track listing and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 5, 2013 at 10:14

Review: “A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection”

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On its surface, it seems kind of crazy to make a compilation of tunes from A&M Records. There are plenty of labels with clearer narrative arcs: Columbia was a hotbed for melodic singer-songwriters in the ’60s and ’70s, from Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel to Springsteen and Billy Joel. Burgeoning soul fans started with Motown and graduated to Stax or Atlantic, depending on their region. ZTT was the place for avant-garde dance-pop/rock in the ’80s, much like Elektra was the source for dreamy West Coast folk-pop.

A&M, on the other hand, was an artist, trumpeter Herb Alpert, and a record promoter, Jerry Moss. Two guys working out of a garage. That’s the kind of narrative fit for Apple, not a label that facilitated everything from jazz-pop, British rock and New Wave to polished R&B and even a smidgen of grunge. In a weird way, the lack of narrative is almost a worthy narrative in and of itself – and it’s what makes A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection (A&M/UMe B0016884-02) a potentially vital compilation for your library.

And yet, the set misses the mark, obscuring that free-form narrative with a presentation that suggests uncertainty, as if this whole “A&M 50” venture was even worth it in the first place.

That’s not to say the set is bad. Remember, A&M doesn’t have the kind of market share a Motown might, so the deck is already stacked against the concept. But from a content perspective, A&M 50 excels. The three themed discs – “From AM to FM,” “A Mission to Rock” and “Soul, Jazz and More” – bring some sort of cohesion to the proceedings.

Disc One focuses mostly on the early years of the label, when Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 and the Carpenters were the stars of the A&M roster. Gradually, while the demeanor and ideology of pop artists would change, going from earthy (Cat Stevens, Joan Baez) to ineffectual (The Captain & Tennille, Chris de Burgh) to a mix of both (Amy Grant, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow), that devotion to pop hooks and inoffensive, of-the-moment production was always there.

Disc Two is where things get interesting. The (mostly British) rock scene A&M tapped into not only yielded some of the biggest hits on the label (The Police, Styx, Bryan Adams, Peter Frampton) but kept that smorgasbord mentality of A&M alive. This was a label that hosted guitar-heavy hitters like Procol Harum and Free alongside electronically influenced, wordplay-loving tunesmiths like Joe Jackson, Squeeze and Split Enz (all among the era’s most criminally underappreciated acts!). The two-song transition that closes this disc, Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun” and Sting‘s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” are whiplash-inducing in their dissimilarity, and easily the point where you might agree with this point of view – that variety was the whole point of A&M Records.

The third disc amps up the eclecticism even more. A&M wasn’t content to just give you “soul music.” There were your classics old (the Phil Spector-produced “Black Pearl” by Sonny Charles & The Checkmates, Ltd.) and new (a 1991 cover of The Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Aaron Neville); real jazz (Jobim, Getz, Quincy Jones); some funky stuff (Billy Preston, The Brothers Johnson) and a few heaping helpings of poppy R&B (Jeffrey Osbourne, Janet Jackson, late-period Barry White). The disc earns its “and more” distinction by offering danceable tracks like “Crazay” by Jesse Johnson (formerly of The Time) and “Finally” by CeCe Peniston (unusually presented in its original album version, one of the few idiosyncratic decisions as far as which versions of songs appear on the compilation).

A&M 50 offers some fun discs, which is great. So what’s the problem? The set comes in a four-panel digipak, with a picture of Alpert and Moss and a brief essay (which nobody is credited with writing). The writer and producer credits are consigned to the inner panels, with little information outside of that. It’s very plain, and altogether a bit lacking. While a full-on box set approach might have been a tough sell, a double-sized digipak with a nicely-designed booklet should be less of a luxury and more of a commonality with sets like these.

Ultimately, it’s that lack of “luxury” which fails to elevate A&M 50 past a “Now That’s What I Call Three Sampler CDs from a Particular Label!” level. This was a fun idea that demanded better execution. Alpert and Moss may not have had a unifying goal when they founded that label out of their garage, but they had something worth showing off. It’s a shame that this concept didn’t quite get its due here.

Written by Mike Duquette

September 6, 2012 at 15:56

Release Round-Up: Week of August 28

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Frank Zappa, Official Reissues #15-26 (Zappa Records/UMe)

FZ’s 1972-1979 discography, almost entirely sourced from original analog masters. (Joe breaks it all down for you here!)

Various Artists, A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection (A&M/UMe)

Three discs of hits and favorites from a most eclectic of major labels.

Elvis Presley, A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings (Follow That Dream)

The King’s complete Sun tenure, with single masters, alternates, live takes and more – not to mention an enormous book of liner notes spanning over 500 pages.

Art Garfunkel, The Singer (Columbia/Legacy)

You know the voice; now, take a dive into Art Garfunkel’s career with this double-disc overview, curated by the man himself and featuring Simon & Garfunkel tracks, solo recordings and two brand-new tunes.

Johnny Mathis, Tender is the Night/The Wonderful World of Make-Believe Love is Everything/Broadway (Real Gone)

The first of a series of two-fers bringing Mathis’ Mercury discography back into print, including an unreleased LP of Broadway standards!

David Cassidy, Cassidy Live / Gettin’ It in the Street / Gary Lewis & The Playboys, The Complete Liberty Singles / The Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Volume 28 (Real Gone)

The rest of Real Gone’s monthly lineup includes two David Cassidy discs on CD for the first time ever.

The Brecker Brothers, The Complete Arista Albums Collection / Etta James, The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock ‘n’ Soul Albums Collection / Sarah Vaughan, The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Legacy)

The latest PopMarket boxes include a Brecker Brothers box entirely full of discs making their CD debuts.

Andrew W.K., I Get Wet: Deluxe Edition (Century Media)

2001’s ultimate party soundtrack, with a bonus disc of live and alternate material.

A&M Records Celebrates Half-Century Mark with Three-Disc Compilation

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Ask the most voracious of music trivia buffs what “A&M Records” stood for and they’ll tell you simply: Herb Alpert, noted jazz trumpeter and bandleader; and music promoter Jerry Moss, a duo who crafted the label from Alpert’s garage in 1962.

50 years later, with the upcoming release of the three-disc A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection, it’s clear that A&M stood for something else, too: one of the most intriguingly eclectic rosters in pop history, encompassing everything from jazz and modern R&B to New Wave and singer/songwriter pop. (There’s been a great amount of activity surrounding the label’s anniversary in Japan, like this compilation of Works by longtime A&M arranger Nick DeCaro.)

The three discs are rather cleverly themed: Disc 1, “From AM to FM,” chronicles some of the label’s earliest and most potent pop radio hits, from Alpert’s “The Lonely Bull” with The Tijuana Brass to the Carpenters’ beautiful “Close to You” all the way to Sheryl Crow’s inescapable “All I Wanna Do.” Things get great on Disc 2, “A Mission to Rock,” which features some of the best rock and New Wave acts of the ’70s and ’80s, including The Police, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Split Enz, Styx, Free, Joe Cocker and many more. Disc 3 loops around to “Soul, Jazz and More,” showcasing the likes of Quincy Jones, Stan Getz, Gato Barbieri, Milton Nascimiento, The Brothers Johnson and Jeffrey Osborne. (All in all, the set covers roughly 30 years of works, with most of A&M’s output after the sale to PolyGram and break-up throughout Universal Music Group – overlooked.)

While there’s not a lot particularly rare on all three discs (save for some of the deep cuts on the ’70s side of things, including tracks from Alpert and Hugh Masekela as well as Alpert’s talented wife, Lani Hall), what does raise eyebrows are some song choices: “Roxanne,” not “Every Breath You Take,” is The Police’s entry, as “Caught Up in You” by 38 Special is included over “Hold On Loosely.” Minor quibbles aside, this looks to be a really fun keepsake of a deservedly-treasured label.

A&M 50 is out on August 28 and can be pre-ordered after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 23, 2012 at 11:48

Back Tracks: The Police

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On this day in 1978, A&M Records signed a bunch of blonde guys masquerading as punk rockers to their label. That doesn’t sound like a blueprint for success, but those guys – vocalist-bassist Gordon Sumner (better known as Sting), guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland – were well on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world, then one of the most lamented and celebrated after their messy breakup (and inevitable reunion).

The Police were like few others, blending pop, rock, New Wave and worldbeat genres together before U2 ever thought to, and turning out some of the most radio-friendly earworms of all time. They achieved all their success in a ridiculously short time – from 1977 to 1986, give or take a reunion tour a few years ago – and remain a staple of pop/rock music the world over. In honor of that historic signing, today’s Back Tracks takes us through the release history of the band, including every compilation and video release you can stand. The catalogue’s been remastered twice – once in 1995 and once in 2003, just as the group celebrated its 25th anniversary and an induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – but there are still a few goodies to be found here and there beyond the studio albums.

We’ll be watching you after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

March 22, 2011 at 16:13

Reissue Theory: Sting, Compiled (UPDATED 1/12)

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, here we reflect on well-known albums of the past and the reissues they could someday see. Today’s installment concerns a former Police man and his lack of decent compilations over the past few decades.

There’s something disconcerting when an artist gets to the point where they’re comfortable enough to do whatever they want, but that “whatever they want” just doesn’t count toward reissues, box sets or the like.

One such example I’ve been thinking of lately is Sting, the erstwhile frontman of The Police and the world’s most hell-bent, pretentiously literary pop star. The Police have been treated well on CD, whether it’s through the Message in a Box set from 1993 or a series of SACD remasters in 2003. Sting’s catalogue, meanwhile, is in need of some sort of attention, regardless of how often ridiculous his albums are.

The last time Sting was even compiled on CD by himself (a threadbare 1997 compilation paired his early singles with the hits of The Police) was 1994. That’s nearly 20 years ago. Now, they say the greatest-hits compilation is sometimes a kiss of death; so often are the post-greatest hits albums kind of boring. Sting has done three pop albums since: the mostly forgettable Mercury Falling (1996), the surprise hit Brand New Day (2000) and the retread Sacred Love (2003). Everything since then has been increasingly pretentious – the lute album, the winter carols album, the orchestral covers album – but you could get a decent single disc compilation of Sting songs from his entire pop career if you (or Universal) wanted.

After the jump, here’s what a new Sting compilation might look like, while we wait for him to reissue some of his early, great albums. (We can wait. We’re patient.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

January 12, 2011 at 13:04

Reissue Theory: Klark Kent

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We’re sure readers of The Second Disc are relaxing after what was surely a delightful Fourth of July. (I know I am.) But if you’ve managed to pry yourself away from your back porch or grill and have a look at our humble catalogue compendium, allow yourself to consider – in honor of our country’s independence – a true American musician. One who, in his musical travels, fought for truth, justice and the American way. He may not have been exactly as he seemed, but his work is worth the appreciation even today.

I’m of course referring to Klark Kent. Far from being Superman’s alter-ego, though, this Kent was the alter-ego of another super man – one Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police.

To hear Copeland tell the tongue-in-cheek story, Kent was a musician with otherworldly skill, who could play all the instruments needed for true rock action. His biting lyrical content was some of the most thought-provoking commentary of all time, and it should come as no surprise that record labels wanted his skills. But only A&M Records got the goods on Klark Kent, and allegedly had to do so by signing this other act, The Police. While “Roxanne” and “So Lonely” struggled up the charts, Kent also had a charting single, the hard-driving “Don’t Care,” which made it up to No. 48 on the U.K. charts. Kent and his touring ensemble even had a spot on Top of the Pops in 1978; Kent wore the finest shades and silver makeup, while his bandmates and manager played while wearing masks. (Beyond the masks, the band bears striking physical resemblance to fellow Police-men Sting and Andy Summers, as well as the band’s loud road manager, Kim Turner.)

Another KK single in ’78 was followed two years later by an eight-track, 10-inch EP. It never made any chart, but for obsessives, it was one of the missing links in The Police’s story. (Copeland did indeed play all the instruments on the record, and his influence on The Police’s sound is most evident on this material.) In 1995, I.R.S. Records (founded by Stewart’s older brother Miles) finally made the Klark Kent katalogue available on CD, including all the EP and single material with a few unearthed tracks. But that disc went out of print ridiculously fast, and commands ridiculous prices on the secondary market.

Perhaps someday, a Hip-O Select-type organization might loose Klark Kent’s kinetic kraziness to the public once more. Until then, check out this Reissue Theory-style look at the other side of intriguing American Stewart Copeland, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

July 5, 2010 at 15:02

Posted in Features, Reissues, The Police

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