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Real Gone’s Duos, Reviewed: Tom Jans and Mimi Fariña, Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Barbara and Ernie

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Tom JansReal Gone Music has recently released three very different albums from three duo acts, and we’re looking at each one of them!

Tom Jans is perhaps best known today as the songwriter of “Loving Arms,” so memorably recorded by Elvis Presley in 1973 and also cut by everyone from Etta James to Kenny Rogers.  But in his tragically short lifetime – he died in 1984, aged 35 or 36 depending on the source – Jans also recorded five albums as a singer-songwriter.  His first two, including an album of duets with Mimi Fariña, have been reissued on one CD by Real Gone (RGM-0132).

Jeffrey Shurtleff introduced Jans to Joan Baez, who in turn introduced Jans to her younger sister Fariña.  Mimi was seeking a return to music after her second failed marriage; her first, to Richard Fariña with whom she had recorded a series of folk LPs, ended when he perished in a motorcycle accident.  Jans was an ideal collaborator, and their harmonious blend earned them a following in and around the Bay Area.  They toured with Cat Stevens and James Taylor before signing to A&M for 1971’s Take Heart, the first of the two albums on Real Gone’s new CD.

For their album debut, Jans and Fariña enlisted three-fourths of the famed Section of L.A. musicians: Craig Doerge on piano, Leland Sklar on electric bass and Russ Kunkel on drums.  Another session pro, Jim Keltner, filled Kunkel’s chair on some tracks; “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow also contributed pedal steel to one track.  The album crafted by this core band under the aegis of “the other” Michael Jackson as producer is a tender, soft, folk-style affair, anchored by Jans and Fariña’s tight harmonies and acoustic guitars.  Every song was written by Jans, Fariña, or the two artists in tandem, save one.

The album opens with the lyric “Carolina’s on my mind,” except in Jans’ song “Carolina,” the title refers to a woman, not a state (or a state of mind).  It’s just the first of the character studies on Take Heart.  On “Charlotte,” Fariña’s pure, crystalline voice, so reminiscent of her sister Joan Baez’s, is enhanced by Edgar Lustgarten’s cello for a story of a girl who’d “like to see her sister take a fall, up, up on a stage, where the whole world could see.”  If any parallels – intentional or otherwise – bothered Baez, she didn’t let on, and supported her sister by recording the album’s “In the Quiet Morning” for her own A&M album.  Mimi’s song was a eulogy for Janis Joplin (“That poor girl, she cried out her song so loud/It was heard the whole world ‘round…”), but it wasn’t the only tribute to fallen friends.  Mimi also wrote “Reach Out,” subtitled “For Chris Ross,” who was “so lonesome that he died.”  She tempers the song with the encouraging chorus: “Reach out, make a little contact/Reach out, send a little love!/You may think this life is trying, but this is it, so do the best with it/’Cause for now, it’s all you’ve got…”  The country-flecked “Letter to Jesus” shows off the duo’s gorgeous vocal blend at its most lovely, while “After the Sugar Harvest” features just their shimmering acoustic guitars.  Clearly both Jans and Fariña enjoyed the sound of country duos; the album’s lone cover is Buck Owens’ “The Great White Horse,” which Owens sang with Susan Raye.

After the jump: more on Tom Jans, plus reviews of Chet Atkins and Les Paul, and the jazz-pop-R&B team of Barbara (Massey) and Ernie (Calabria)! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 7, 2013 at 14:46

No April Fool: Real Gone Announces Packed Line-Up For Month with Grateful Dead, Whiting, Jans, Atkins, More

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Margaret Whiting - Wheel of Hurt

April is known for showers, so why shouldn’t Real Gone Music shower collectors with a big line-up encompassing not just some super-rare rock and soul, but also country, film soundtracks, pop vocals and even crossover classical?  Nine releases, all due on April 2, run the gamut for this busy label.

Don NixOn the rock front, fans will likely snap up the first-time domestic CD release of the 1971 solo album by Memphis music legend Don Nix.  Featuring the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, Living by the Days was originally released on the Elektra label.  Nix, who began his career playing saxophone with the Mar-Keys, went on to play a major role behind the scenes at Stax while also finding time to work with a “Who’s Who” including Leon Russell, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Isaac Hayes. For Living by the Days, the composer/arranger/musician was joined by Donald “Duck” Dunn, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett.  Real Gone’s reissue of this lost southern soul classic, with flourishes of both folk and gospel, recreates the original release’s gatefold artwork and adds new notes by music historian Colin Escott.

Barbara and Ernie - Prelude ToFrom the same year, Real Gone is reissuing the funk-soul-rock-folk stew Barbara & Ernie: Prelude To… This unusual LP, first issued on Cotillion, paired guitarist Ernie Calabria and soul singer Barbara Massey.  Calabria had played on sessions for Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone and Anita Carter, while Massey had shared the microphone with Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Cat Stevens.  Real Gone describes this lost album as a “funky, folky, psychedelic soul gem graced with a stellar list of sidemen (e.g. Joe Beck and Keith Jarrett) that vanished without a trace in the more stratified world of early ’70s music retail.”  Calabria and Massey’s talents were enhanced by the orchestrations of Brazil’s Eumir Deodato, whose credits prior to his own solo breakthrough included arrangements for Wes Montgomery, Astrud Gilberto and Frank Sinatra.  The repertoire on Prelude consists of originals plus a cover of the Great Society/Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.”  Real Gone’s release marks its first legitimate release on CD, with liner notes written by Pat Thomas.

After the jump: Tom Jans, Grateful Dead, Margaret Whiting and more!  Plus: pre-order links to all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 21, 2013 at 09:53