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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Todd Rundgren, “At The BBC 1972-1982”

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Todd at BBCChristmas has come early for Todd Rundgren fans this year with the release by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint of Todd Rundgren at the BBC: 1972-1982, a handsome new 3-CD/1-DVD box set of live performances drawn from Rundgren’s first decade of rock stardom. The latest release in Esoteric’s Todd Rundgren Archive Series, At the BBC captures the transformation of the ever-evolving artist from precocious pop chameleon to prog-rock adventurer and beyond.

1972’s sprawling Something/Anything announced Rundgren as an artist with whom to be reckoned, following the more modest solo releases Runt and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. On the heels of the U.K. single success of “I Saw the Light,” Rundgren made a trip to Britain and the BBC for Radio One’s In Concert program in July 1972. His half-hour performance kicks off this set, and it’s a fascinating document. Of its six songs, five were from Something/Anything. Three were played solo by Rundgren at the piano (the aching ballads “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Be Nice to Me” plus the dry blues spoof “Piss Aaron”) and three more with Rundgren accompanying himself to unique, pre-recorded backing tracks for which he supplied all instrumentation and backing vocals (the pure pop hits “I Saw the Light” and “Hello, It’s Me,” and the searing “Black Maria”). The stripped-down “Hello It’s Me” harkens back to the original Nazz ballad version of the song, with the backing vocals subtly enhancing what’s essentially a solo voice-and-piano rendition. The half-hour format also allowed for a liberal amount of banter, including Todd self-deprecatingly dismissing the beautifully vulnerable “Be Nice to Me” as a “simpering” song, or explaining the concept of meat loaf to his U.K. audience during “Piss Aaron.” No, not Meat Loaf, as in the rocker for whom Rundgren would produce the smash Bat Out of Hell, but meat loaf, the food!

While Rundgren’s 1972 appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test has not survived, At the BBC happily continues with two October 1975 songs performed for Whistle Test. Rundgren is joined by Utopia – then consisting of Roger Powell on keyboards, John Siegler on bass and Willie Wilcox on drums – for the blue-eyed soul of “Real Man” and the extended prog rock-soul jam “The Seven Rays.” On those songs, Utopia welcomed backing vocalists Luther Vandross and Anthony Hinton, and the pair also appeared with the band for an October 9, 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert broadcast by Radio One. That show, featured on the box set’s second disc, was previously released on CD by Shout! Factory in 2012, but here adds Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s pulsating West Side Story standard “Something’s Coming” which was unfortunately cut from the previous release.

The Hammerstein Odeon set closely resembled that of the concert released by Utopia as Another Live, which was recorded just a couple of months earlier with the six-piece line-up of Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett. Both concerts saw “The Wheel,” “Heavy Metal Kids,” Roger Powell’s “Mister Triscuits” and Jeff Lynne’s “Do Ya” all performed. Hammersmith Odeon, interestingly, offers both “Do Ya” and the Rundgren original “Open My Eyes,” first recorded by The Nazz. It’s been said that Rundgren covered “Do Ya” as a response to Lynne’s pre-ELO band The Move covering his “Open My Eyes.” The Hammersmith set deftly balanced Rundgren’s rock and pop sides, and also took in songs from select solo albums, including “When the Sh*t Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard/Le Feel Internacionale” (A Wizard, A True Star), “The Last Ride” and “Sons of 1984” (Todd, also original home of “Heavy Metal Kids”) and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (Something/Anything). “Freedom Fighters” originated on the 1974 Todd Rundgren’s Utopia album and “The Wheel” on Another Live.

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

Written by Joe Marchese

December 2, 2014 at 11:54

Release Round-Up: Week of December 2

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BJ - Home Happy

B.J. Thomas, Home Where I Belong/Happy Man (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
B.J. Thomas, You Gave Me Love/Miracle (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
Linda Jones, The Complete Atco-Loma-Warner Bros. Recordings (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )
The Five Stairsteps, Our Family Portrait/Stairsteps (Expanded Twofer Edition) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )
The Unforgiven, The Unforgiven (Expanded Edition) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )
Cowboy, 5’ll Getcha Ten (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Vol. 14—Boston Music Hall 11/30/73 & 12/2/73 (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
Theodore Bikel, Theodore Bikel’s Treasury of Yiddish Folk & Theatre Songs (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Real Gone Music kicks off December with a packed slate including soul rarities from The Five Stairsteps and Linda Jones, roots-rock from The Unforgiven, classic rock from Cowboy (featuring Duane Allman!) and Grateful Dead, timeless folk from Theodore Bikel, and four albums on two CDs from B.J. Thomas!  Home Where I Belong/Happy Man and You Gave Me Love/Miracle shed light on the multiple Grammy winner’s contemporary Christian period, and both titles feature bonus tracks and new liner notes from The Second Disc’s own Joe Marchese based on a new interview with B.J. himself!

Leonard Cohen - Dublin

Leonard Cohen, Live In Dublin (Columbia/Legacy, 2014)

3-CD/DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3-CD/BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3-CD: Amazon U.K.

The Canadian troubadour’s epic, three-hour career retrospective concert of September 12, 2013 concert in Ireland is preserved on a variety of releases!

Willie and Sister Bobbie

Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie Nelson, December Day: Willie’s Stash Vol. 1 (Legacy) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Legacy kicks off a new archival series dedicated to the legendary Willie Nelson with a selection of homemade recordings by Willie and his beloved Sister Bobbie, featuring other Family Band members including Mickey Raphael and the late Bee Spears.

Pixies 25

Pixies, Doolittle 25: B-Sides, Peel Sessions And Demos (4AD) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

1989’s Doolittle – the second album from Pixies – has been expanded as a 3-CD version with 50 tracks: the original album, 2 full Peel Sessions, 6 B-sides and 22 demos – of which, almost half have never been commercially released before.

Todd at BBC

Todd Rundgren, Todd Rundgren at the BBC: 1972-1982 (Esoteric) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This new 3-CD/1-DVD set captures Todd Rundgren’s live performances for the BBC during the first decade of his mighty career in one compact clamshell case.  This set promises to include all of the surviving footage of Todd at the BBC – on both radio and television – during this period, and the DVD is happily region-free.

Donna Summer, The CD Collection (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

The Vinyl Collection: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

The late, beloved dance diva’s underrated Geffen and Atlantic period is re-evaluated in a new box set containing remastered and expanded editions of Summer’s albums on CD, and remastered original album sequences on vinyl.  Each title is also available individually.  See here for links to individual titles, full track listings and more!

Three Dog - Suitable

Three Dog Night, Suitable for Framing: Expanded Edition (Iconoclassic) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Iconoclassic continues its series of Three Dog Night reissues with the band’s second album featuring “Celebrate,” “Easy to Be Hard” and “Eli’s Coming” plus Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Lady Samantha.”  This remastered edition boasts new liner notes and single mixes of “Eli’s Coming” and “Celebrate.”

Dionne - How Many Times

Dionne Warwick, How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye (FTG) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.) / No Night So Long: Expanded Edition (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Funky Town Grooves kicks off its vault-clearing series of expanded reissues from Miss Warwick’s 1980s catalogue with these albums from 1983 and 1980, respectively.  See full details and track listings here.


Goldebriars, Walkin’ Down the Line: The Best of the Goldebriars (Now Sounds) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Now Sounds revisits the 1960s folk group The Goldebriars – featuring the young Curt Boettcher – on this new anthology featuring previously unreleased tracks and new liner notes from Dawn Eden.  Watch this space for a full rundown soon.


Chess: The Original Recording – Remastered Deluxe Edition (Universal U.K.) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )

The original 1984 concept album of the musical by Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King) and ABBA masterminds Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus is revisited on a new 2-CD/1-DVD edition.  Chess stars Elaine Paige, Barbara Dickson, Murray Head, Tommy Korberg and Denis Quilley.  Three previously unreleased bonus audio tracks (“Press Conference,” “Mountain Duet (Der Kleine Franz)” and “Anthem (Instrumental)”) have been added as well as a (reportedly region-free) DVD with five music videos and a 1984 Swedish documentary.


Leonard Bernstein, On the Waterfront: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Intrada)

It’s hard to believe, but Leonard Bernstein’s score to Elia Kazan’s 1954 masterwork On the Waterfront has never been released in any audio format…until now!  Intrada has the world premiere release of the sole original film score by the great Bernstein plus four bonus tracks!  And for those who missed out, the label’s 2010 CD issue of John Williams’ score for SpaceCamp is also back in print!

Moody Polydor

The Moody Blues, The Polydor Years 1986-1992 (Polydor) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

An overlooked period of The Moodies’ long career is celebrated on this 6-CD/2-DVD/1-vinyl single set which includes previously unreleased music and a new hardbound book of liner notes and more.

Bert Berns 3

Various Artists, Hang on Sloopy: The Bert Berns Story Volume 3 (Ace) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Ace Records takes another little piece of our hearts with this third volume of songs penned by the great Bert Berns such as “Twist and Shout” and “Hang On Sloopy.”  Performers on this volume include Van Morrison, The Isley Brothers, The Drifters, Wilson Pickett and Lulu!

Baby Let’s Swing: Edsel Continues Todd Rundgren Deluxe Series

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Rundgren - Runt DeluxeOnce he wraps up the current leg of Ringo Starr’s sold-out All-Starr Band tour, Todd Rundgren will embark on a series of solo dates billed as “An Unpredictable Evening.” But in fairness, isn’t every solo concert with Rundgren an unpredictable evening? A typical (?) night with Todd could draw upon impeccable AM pop, heavy metal, prog rock, electronica, Gilbert and Sullivan and even bossa nova – and still not present every side of the musical iconoclast. As Rundgren has amassed a back catalogue now totaling 24 studio albums and numerous live releases and anthologies, it’s no surprise that there’s considerable interest in the varied music he’s crafted over the years.

In 2011, Demon Music Group’s Edsel label began reissuing Rundgren’s Bearsville catalogue, both solo and with Utopia, and continued onto his Warner Bros. years. Those titles were largely delivered in multi-album sets combining two or three LPs in one package. This year, Edsel has been revisiting the early Rundgren catalogue as standalone CDs in its deluxe casebound book format (previously utilized for reissues by Everything But the Girl, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle and others), with discs enclosed within a lavish hardbound book. The second batch in this series includes 1975’s Initiation, 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow, and a special 2-CD version of Rundgren’s 1970 solo debut Runt as paired with the first-ever standalone CD presentation of the complete sequence of The Alternate Runt. Taken together, they dramatically illustrate the arc of a career as songwriter, producer and artist.

Following his defection from the Philadelphia rock group Nazz, Rundgren spread his wings as a solo artist in May 1970 at the age of 23. While in a pop/blue-eyed soul vein, Runt introduced Rundgren the eclectically-inclined artist on its 10 tracks. He was joined by musicians including Tony and Hunt Sales, and on one track, future Utopia member Moogy Klingman. Buoyed by the impossibly catchy – and often-misunderstood – hit single “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” Runt featured Rundgren as piano-playing singer-songwriter (the yearning ballad “Believe in Me,” garage rocker (the driving “Who’s That Man”) and studio auteur (the haunting, wordless exercise in stacked harmony vocals, appropriately titled “There are No Words”). Runt found room for the brassy, nine-minute rock opus “Birthday Carol,” and welcomed Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band for “Once Burned,” another pretty ballad distinguished by Rundgren’s mannered vocal, on which he sounds a bit like Alan Wilson of Canned Heat!

After the jump: more on Runt, plus Initiation and Hermit of Mink Hollow! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 8, 2014 at 10:27

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Todd Rundgren

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Shine Her Light: “The Midnight Special” Box Set Arrives In September with Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, ELO, More

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Midnight Special Box Set

Between August 1972 and May 1981, late night television was a little more rockin’.  Producer Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special followed Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on Friday evenings, welcoming viewers with Johnny Rivers’ rousing rendition of the traditional tune (a Top 20 hit for Rivers in 1965).  Over the course of 450 episodes, The Midnight Special presented a staggering array of music’s top talent on network television with most songs performed live for the majority of its run.  The program, featuring announcer Wolfman Jack and a variety of guest hosts, premiered as a one-off special in August 1972 but was promoted to full-time status in February 1973.  It first arrived on DVD in 2006 with episodes available as mail order exclusives, heavily promoted via infomercials.  On September 9, however, StarVista/Time Life will make The Midnight Special more widely available for the first time with 11-DVD, 6-DVD and 1-DVD releases.  With the resurgence in many of the ‘70s’ greatest pop hits thanks to the hit Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack the time couldn’t be better!  (Indeed, many of the Star Lord’s favorite songs were performed on The Midnight Special and will be included on these DVDs.)

The 11-disc Midnight Special Collectors’ Edition is now available to order exclusively online at MIDNIGHTSPECIALDVDS.COM for just under $100.00; while it’s expected that this set may eventually arrive to general retail (in the tradition of other StarVista sets for The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts), it will remain a website exclusive for the foreseeable future.  This edition features roughly 10 hours of musical performances plus 5 hours of newly-produced bonus material and a 32-page booklet.  The single-disc and 6-disc versions will be released on September 9 to stores everywhere. The Midnight Special played host to artists from the many genres that occupied the Top 40 slots on the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1970s, including Fleetwood Mac, The Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt, The O’Jays, Dolly Parton, David Bowie (who broadcast his final television appearance as Ziggy Stardust on the program), Alice Cooper, Electric Light Orchestra, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, Alice Cooper, frequent host Helen Reddy, and countless others who are featured on StarVista’s new sets.  The Midnight Special also gave the spotlight over to the era’s top comedians like Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin and Freddie Prinze.

After the jump: a look at what you can expect to find on these collections! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 13, 2014 at 13:15

A Dream Goes On Forever: Vintage Todd Rundgren and Utopia Show Comes To CD

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Todd and Utopia - Electric BallroomTodd Rundgren has been rather generous of late with his archive, treating fans to a number of live concert recordings on various labels including gigs from 2010 (Todd Rundgren’s Johnson Live), 1990 (Live at the Warfield Theatre, San Francisco) and 1975 (Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Live at Hammersmith Odeon). Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings label continues its Archive Series with the release of Todd Rundgren and Utopia’s 2-CD set Live at the Electric Ballroom: Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978.

As longtime Utopia fans will know, Electric Ballroom features the “classic” Utopia line-up that wasn’t yet completed as of the 1975 Hammersmith show of Rundgren (guitar/vocals), Willie Wilcox (drums/vocals), Roger Powell (keyboards/vocals) and Kasim Sulton (bass/vocals). At Hammersmith, John Siegler was still handling bass duties. Months before Hammersmith (Utopia’s U.K. debut), the band had recorded Another Live when it was still a six-piece group with Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett. The tight band on Electric Ballroom would more or less remain in place until disbanding in 1986; they would briefly reunite in 1992.

The concert preserved on this release was an offshoot of Rundgren’s Back to the Bars tour. In May 1978, Rundgren began a series of live shows featuring many of the musicians with whom he had worked over the years; the eventual double-album commemoration of the tour featured recordings from New York’s Bottom Line, Los Angeles’ Roxy, and Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom. Those concerts, drawing on virtually the whole of the artist’s solo career, led to another extensive U.S. tour slated to run through November of that year. Rundgren and Utopia played two nights at Milwaukee’s Electric Ballroom, a former movie house that still stands today, shuttered.

Live at the Electric Ballroom captures the first of two shows played there. It was recorded directly through the PA system’s mixing desk to be broadcast on local radio. The set skillfully balanced pop compositions with more progressive rock-oriented material, indulging both sides of Rundgren and Utopia’s talents. Most of the songs played were from Rundgren’s solo albums though a handful of songs emanated from Utopia’s Another Live and Oops! Wrong Planet including two co-writes: Rundgren and Wilcox’s “Gangrene” and Rundgren and Powell’s “Abandon City.”

The setlist stretched back to Todd’s 1973 breakthrough Something/Anything, reprising that double album’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” “Black Maria,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and the hit single “Hello, It’s Me.” From his next two albums A Wizard, A True Star and Todd, the band played the anthemic “Just One Victory” and a solo-piano “A Dream Goes On Forever,” respectively. Three songs hailed from 1975’s Initiation (“Real Man,” “The Death of Rock and Roll” and an epic, 12-minute “Eastern Intrigue/Initiation”) and two from its follow-up, the half-covers, half-originals Faithful (“Love of the Common Man” and “The Verb ‘To Love,’” both originals). Rundgren’s most recent solo album at the time, 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow, was divided into The Easy Side and The Difficult Side. From The Easy Side, it yielded a performance in Milwaukee of the stirring ballad “Can’t We Still Be Friends.” From The Difficult Side came “You Cried Wolf.”

You’ll find more details and the complete track listing after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 1, 2014 at 09:56

Posted in News, Todd Rundgren, Utopia

Couldn’t I Just Tell You: Todd Rundgren Goes Deluxe In New Edsel Series

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Todd - Something AnythingOn the first side of his fifth LP, Todd Rundgren proclaimed, “A man would simply have to be as mad as a hatter/To try and change the world with a plastic platter…”  Yet forty years on, Rundgren is still “trying to make a living off an elpee’s worth of toons.”  As such, he’s accumulated quite a back catalogue, for which Demon Music Group’s Edsel label has been the most recent steward.  In 2011, Edsel began reissuing Rundgren’s Bearsville catalogue, both solo and with Utopia, and continued onto his Warner Bros. years.  Those titles were largely delivered in multi-album sets combining two or three LPs in one package.  Now, Edsel is revisiting the early Rundgren catalogue as standalone CDs in the label’s deluxe casebound book format (previously utilized for reissues by Everything But the Girl, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle and others), with discs enclosed in a lavish hardbound book.  Rundgren’s groundbreaking third, fourth and fifth albums have received this top-notch treatment: Something/Anything (1972), A Wizard, A True Star (1973) and Todd (1974).

Though Something/Anything was Rundgren’s third proper album, it was the first to herald his singular, wholly original voice.  His first two solo efforts, Runt and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, positioned him as a purveyor of sweet soul (he was from Philadelphia, after all) and piano-driven, Laura Nyro-influenced pop.  (Both albums were released by Edsel in 2011 on one stellar set which added a complete, alternate version of debut Runt.)    Something/Anything, on the other hand, was, and is, unlike any other album in the rock canon. The multi-hyphenate artist recorded three of the album’s four sides himself, playing all instruments and singing all vocal parts. The fourth side was a mock autobiographical operetta, aided by a rock ensemble.  Rundgren, the producer as studio auteur, had arrived.

Todd - Something Anything OpenSomething/Anything would have been an instant classic if only for its two enduring hit singles, the Carole King-inspired “I Saw the Light” and the ebullient remake of the Nazz track “Hello, It’s Me,” which replaced its dirge-like tempo with a new, more upbeat sound. But those popular tunes were just the tip of the iceberg. The impossibly lush ballad “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” rests comfortably alongside the heavy metal anthem “Black Maria,” while “Cold Morning Light,” “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” and “It Takes Two to Tango” show off the singer/songwriter’s effortless mastery of the pop song form. Comic relief was also in abundance, with “I Went to the Mirror,” “Piss Aaron” and theatrical, Gilbert and Sullivan-style “Song of the Viking.” All of these styles would be revisited, and deconstructed, on Rundgren’s subsequent releases – but never would they feel more effortlessly fresh, vital and remarkably inventive as on Something/Anything.  By 1975, it had earned Rundgren a gold record – and a legion of loyal fans.

As in 2011, Edsel’s 2-CD reissue is bolstered by the inclusion of a demo of “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” plus six radio spots for the original album.  (A resequenced Deluxe Edition was announced by Rhino Records in the U.S. in 1999, to have included Rundgren’s hour-long promotional radio show from 1972, the radio spots and “Difference” demo, and a single version of “Wolfman Jack” with the Wolfman on vocals.  It was scuttled at the last minute due to legal issues with the radio show, and has unfortunately never resurfaced on CD.)

Todd A WizardRundgren’s follow-up to the Top 30-placing Something/Anything was, naturally, eagerly anticipated.  Like clockwork, it arrived one year later. But nobody could have predicted the modestly-titled A Wizard, A True Star! Rundgren responded to his commercial breakthrough by rebuffing it.  Though it was a lengthy single-LP (56 minutes), it was more expansive than its predecessor.  Use of the psychedelic drug DMT had led Rundgren to attempt to bring to records the “musical chaos” he heard in his head, and the resulting album more than succeeded.  For the LP, he was joined by musicians including The Brecker Brothers, Mark “Moogy” Klingman, Ralph Schuckett, John Siegler, David Sanborn and Rick Derringer.

A Wizard was a psychedelic aural stew of electronica, metal, jazz, pop, soul and showtunes, and though many of those styles had been heard on Something/Anything, they were deployed in very different fashion here.  A Wizard was pure stream-of-consciousness from a mind moving in many different sonic directions, with the only interruption coming from having to turn the LP over.  It was a true album in every sense of the word, designed to be played in one sitting and with far less extractable material than Something/Anything.   Rundgren tipped his hat to some of his musical heroes while pushing his own art forward.  So “Never, Never Land” from the stage musical Peter Pan is joined by a soul medley of Thom Bell, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield oldies and a frenzied reworking of The Capitols’ “Cool Jerk.”  The ghost of Al Jolson is channeled on the irreverent “Just Another Onionhead,” and coexists with the clattering, noisy hard rock of “You Need Your Head” and “Rock and Roll Pussy.”  But if A Wizard is short on ballads – with “I Don’t Want to Tie You Down” a notable exception – there are moments of ravishing pop beauty via the bona fide Rundgren classics “Just One Victory” and “Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel.” If the audience didn’t know what to feel, either, Todd seemingly didn’t care. In “Onionhead,” he opined, “You want the obvious/You’ll get the obvious” before launching into anything but.  No additional material has been added to Edsel’s reissue.

After the jump: a look at Todd and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

June 3, 2014 at 10:37

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Todd Rundgren

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Todd’s Blues: Rundgren’s Live “Johnson” Captured On CD/DVD Set

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Todd Rundgren - Johnson LiveWhen Todd Rundgren’s Johnson was released in April 2011, the singer-songwriter’s longtime fans were forgiven for greeting the album with surprise.  While Toddheads have been trained to expect the unexpected, Johnson was a departure from even the artist’s most outré projects.  It was Rundgren’s first-ever all-covers album, and its subject wasn’t a songwriter whose influence was readily apparent in Rundgren’s own music.  (At various points in his career, a tribute to Laura Nyro or Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell might have seemed more appropriate, though the restlessly creative Rundgren was apparently never tempted.  1976’s Faithful featured one side of covers, and 1980’s Utopia release Deface the Music paid clever homage to The Beatles with all-original tunes.)   The subject was the late Delta blues legend Robert Johnson – hence, the rather unfortunately jokey album title.  But Johnson did give Rundgren the chance to utilize his own considerable guitar talents – and now, the artist is revisiting the album with Esoteric Recordings’ new CD/DVD release of Todd Rundgren’s Johnson Live, recorded in 2010.

Rundgren was approached to record the all-Johnson album by the distributor of his well-received 2008 rock record Arena.  He told journalist Graham Reid, “So it came time to do distribution for Arena and the company that made the deal also happened to administer the Robert Johnson music publishing. They made as a requirement to distributing Arena that I record an album of Robert Johnson tunes as well. They claimed to me that they were getting many requests for Johnson songs to be used in films and TV shows…[and] while they had the publishing, they had no recorded versions.”  He admitted, “I agreed to do it mostly because I wanted to get my record out and thought I would figure out how to deal with this later.”

Yet inspiration did strike Rundgren.  Speaking to Guitar World, he revealed that “The album is a tribute to the white players of the Sixties who were influenced by Robert Johnson — guys like Clapton, the Bluesbreakers and Michael Bloomfield.  It was modeled after the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album from 1966. That one really turned heads. It was like an atom bomb for guitarists.”  Johnson played like an off-kilter tribute to Robert Johnson filtered through the heavily-charged, amped-up sensibility of those pioneering blues-rockers.  Indeed, one of Rundgren’s earliest musical affiliations was with the band Woody’s Truck Stop, and the Woody’s sound took cues from blues-rock with a major twist of psychedelia.

After the jump: more on Johnson Live, plus the full CD/DVD track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 6, 2014 at 09:43

The Man From Utopia: Edsel Reissues Kasim Sulton’s Solo Debut

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Kasim SultonThis week, Todd Rundgren has released his most recent studio album, State. Edsel Records has recently given longtime Rundgren fans the chance to revisit the first solo LP from one of Todd’s longest-serving sidemen, Kasim Sulton. Edsel’s reissue of 1982’s EMI America album Kasim is available now.

Sulton, a bassist and singer, joined Todd Rundgren’s Utopia for its fifth, longest-lasting incarnation. This four-piece Utopia line-up of Rundgren, Sulton, keyboardist Roger Powell and drummer John “Willie” Wilcox, formed in 1976 and released five albums between 1977 and 1982. While in Utopia, Sulton played and sang on Meat Loaf’s 1977 Bat Out of Hell for producer Rundgren, and formed an association with Meat Loaf that lasted well into the 21st century. It was Sulton who wrote Utopia’s only Top 40 single with 1980’s “Set Me Free,” and that song’s success led the session pro and band stalwart to take its title to heart. Feeling constrained by the limitations of the band, he departed in search of solo stardom. The result was Kasim.

There’s more after the jump, including the full track listing with discography, and order links!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 11, 2013 at 12:08

Special Review: Todd Rundgren, “State”

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Todd Rundgren - StateTodd Rundgren has entitled his new studio album State, but the title is a loaded one: is Todd commenting on a state?  Is he commenting on the state?  What state is he in?  What is he stating?  And after all, when Todd Rundgren announces a new album, does anybody ever really know which Todd Rundgren to expect?  On his first album for the Esoteric Antenna label, Rundgren has taken his inspiration – and not so implausibly, I might add – from the likes of Skrillex and Frank Ocean, placing his voice in the middle of a dense, thick setting of swirling electronica and burbling dance beats.  The longtime one-man band has intentionally avoided organic sounds on the ten-song set, but it’s all Rundgren – as producer, arranger, songwriter, singer and sole musician.  Certainly many readers of The Second Disc will seek out State as a new collection of songs from Todd (or “DJ Odd,” as he’s billed on the album’s back cover!), but he and Esoteric have sweetened the pot by offering the album not just as a standalone CD, but in a 2-CD Deluxe Edition with a career-spanning concert from 2012 featuring The Metropole Orchestra (EANTCD 21018).

Its cover coincidentally recalls that of David Bowie’s recent “comeback” The Next Day, and its nonstop beats recall [RE] Production, Rundgren’s last and arguably most inexplicable album.  But State is a return to the topical, observational songwriting of 2004’s Liars, though mostly without that album’s undercurrent of seething anger.  It’s not a “concept” album like 2008’s Arena, a collection of arena-ready guitar rockers, or 2011’s unfortunately-titled Todd Rundgren’s Johnson, a Robert Johnson covers set.  The D.I.Y. State offers numerous flashes of Rundgren’s past in a computerized setting that’s equal parts intriguing and frustrating.

We’re diving in, right after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 10, 2013 at 12:12

Posted in News, Reviews, Todd Rundgren

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Nearly Human, Completely Rundgren: Todd’s 1990 San Francisco Concert Revisited

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Todd Rundgren - WarfieldTodd Rundgren’s 1989 album Nearly Human was conceived with a simple mandate by the artist: record a set of songs that could be performed live in an “R&B revue”-style setting. 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 album itself was reissued earlier this year by Edsel, and now the Esoteric Recordings label (part of the Cherry Red Group) has premiered a recording from the subsequent tour as Live at the Warfield Theater: San Francisco, March 10, 1990.  This is the latest Esoteric release from the Rundgren archives, with 2012 also having seen a first-time stand-alone issue of the lost Disco Jets album from Rundgren and Utopia.

This new 2-CD release, labelled as part of Esoteric’s Todd Rundgren Archive Series, has a similar track listing to the now out-of-print Nearly Human Tour: Japan ’90, released in 2003 by Sanctuary Records.  In fact, every song on that release is also heard in a version here.  But whereas that live recording from the same tour (recorded just two months earlier on January 10, 1990) offered just seventeen songs, Esoteric’s new release boasts a generous twenty-two.  Every one of the songs on Nearly Human is reprised live here with the exception of Rundgren’s “Fidelity” and Elvis Costello’s “Two Little Hitlers,” a CD-only track at the time of the album’s initial release.

Hit the jump for the track listing, order link and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 4, 2013 at 10:02

Posted in News, Todd Rundgren