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Review: Tower of Power, “Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Live on the Air and In the Studio”

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Tower of Power - LiveWhat is hip?

Based on the evidence of Tower of Power’s Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Live on the Air and in the Studio (RGM-0208), the Bay Area band certainly qualifies.  Real Gone Music’s crackling first-time release of a 1974 concert recorded for radio is a potent reminder of why Tower of Power’s rip-roaring horns have enlivened a host of recordings from artists as diverse as Elton John, Grateful Dead, Poison, Neil Diamond, Santana, and Aerosmith.

Tower of Power scored its commercial breakthrough with its third, self-titled album (and second for Warner Bros. Records), originally released in May 1973.  The album welcomed a number of new faces to the band.  Lenny Williams joined as lead vocalist, Chester Thompson assumed keyboard duties, Lenny Pickett replaced Skip Mesquite as lead saxophonist and Bruce Conte replaced original guitarist Willie James Fulton.  This new, 11-strong line-up’s first album together spawned three hit singles, “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “This Time It’s Real.”  All three songs established that the group’s songwriting – by band members including tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillio, baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and drummer David Garibaldi – was as deft as its musicianship.  One year later, in May ’74, TOP released its Back to Oakland album on the Warner label, and entered the studios of Long Island’s progressive-minded WLIR-FM for a live, in-studio performance.  Now, nearly forty years later, that smoking concert has finally seen release as a 2-CD set.  The fourteen-song set naturally drew heavily on Back to Oakland, with half of that LP appearing (“Oakland Stroke,” “Squib Cakes,” “Just When We Start Makin’ It,” “Time Will Tell,” “Man from the Past”).  Old favorites were also reprised, of course including the three hit singles from Tower of Power.

With two trumpeters (Greg Adams and Mic Gillette), three saxophonists (Castillio, Kupka and Pickett), one guitarist (Conte), one bassist (Francis Rocco Prestia), one keyboardist (Thompson), one drummer (Garibaldi), one percussionist (Brent Byars on congas) and one lead vocalist (Williams), the large aggregation’s sound was singular.  The WLIR broadcast showed off all sides of the band with tight instrumentals, vocal showcases, and extended jazz-flavored workouts.  Luckily for TOP, this was a period during which the charts were welcoming to such diversity and experimentation. The band’s guitar-keyboard-brass blend reflected the prominence of fusion in jazz, while the big, prominent horns echoed the hits that had dominated the charts from the likes of Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears  TOP was less pop-rock and less jazz, more funk ‘n’ soul, but similar touchstones were recognizable.

As Leo Sacks astutely points out in his new liner notes for Real Gone’s release, 1974 was also a time when anything was possible in R&B alone.  Perhaps never before had so many different strains achieved such mainstream success.  Thom Bell was bringing urbane sophistication and a sweetly melodic yet still funky sensibility to his work with The Spinners.  Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were redefining the Motown sound for a socially-conscious new generation.  Barry White was emphasizing intimacy on his steamy, lush bedroom ballads.  Miles Davis was alienating old fans and gaining new ones as he proved that a jazzman, with all his chops, could out-rock and out-funk damn near anybody else.  Earth, Wind and Fire were tapping into a bold, expansive sound all their own.  And disco, of course, was taking rise in Philadelphia and elsewhere, bringing the sounds of the underground to the mainstream.  In this soul stew, Tower of Power found that their audience-pleasing style extended beyond the Bay Area, bringing energy and a massive, often massively joyous sound to music that owed a debt to classic soul.  One of the band’s songs not performed for WLIR nonetheless could have been TOP’s manifesto: “You Got to Funkifize.”

After the jump: more on this sizzling live set! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 27, 2014 at 14:23

Posted in News, Reviews, Tower of Power

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Release Round-Up: Week of November 26

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Animals - Mickie Most YearsThe Animals, The Mickie Most Years and More / Tower of Power, Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow – Live on the Air & in the Studio 1974 / Lisa Fischer, So Intense / The Alabama State Troupers, Road Show / The Obsessed, The Church Within (Real Gone Music)

An Animals box set and a compilation of unreleased Tower of Power greatness head off Real Gone’s slate for the end of the year!

The Animals: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Tower of Power: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Lisa Fischer: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
The Alabama State Troupers: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
The Obsessed: CD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.) LP (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Badfinger - TimelessBadfinger, Timeless: The Musical Legacy (Apple)

A new single-disc compilation devoted to the would-be Beatle heirs, the first to be derived from Apple’s 2010 remasters. (Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.)

Big Star - PlaylistBig Star, Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star (Legacy) / Nothing Can Hurt Me (Magnolia)

A double dose of Big Star today: a new compilation in Legacy’s Playlist line that marries some of the band’s classic early recordings with latter-day live tracks from their mid-’90s reunion, and a new feature-length documentary on the band.

PlaylistAmazon U.S. /Amazon U.K.
Nothing Can Hurt Me: DVD (Amazon U.S.) BD (Amazon U.S.)

Thelonious Monk Paris 1969Thelonious Monk, Paris 1969 (Blue Note)

An unreleased live set from later in Monk’s career, available in multiple formats (including an equally unseen video!).

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

Screaming Life-FoppSoundgarden, Screaming Life/Fopp (Sub Pop)

An expanded remaster of the Seattle grunge icons’ debut EPs.

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

Barbra - Back to BrooklynBarbra Streisand, Back to Brooklyn (Columbia)

Barbra takes Brooklyn – specifically, the new Barclays Center – by storm in these shows, recorded in October 2012.

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

It's a Scream How LevineVarious Artists, It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba (Idelsohn Society)

Subtitled “The Latin-Jewish Musical Story 1940s-1980s,” this double-disc set (featuring performances by Carole King, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and more) is a fun, occasionally wacky musical archaeology session that’ll keep you amused and informed. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Wicked - DeluxeWicked: Original Broadway Cast Recording 10th Anniversary Special Edition (Verve/UMe)

Defy gravity with this deluxe two-disc version of the Tony-winning musical about the witches of Oz. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

UPDATE: Real Gone Music Is “Obsessed” With Late November Slate, Featuring Animals Box Set and Live Tower of Power

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Animals - Mickie Most YearsReal Gone Music’s November 25 release slate is so packed that the label has decided to roll it out a few titles at a time.  The label is kicking things off for the pre-Thanksgiving rush with some soulful Southern rock, a hidden gem from one of the stars of 20 Feet from Stardom, a slab of metal, a previously unissued live concert from the soulful horn band Tower of Power, and a 5-CD box set from the pride of Newcastle upon Tyne, The Animals!

Real Gone is going wild with perhaps its most ambitious title yet – a deluxe box set!  A project of ABKCO Records through Real Gone, The Animals’ 5-CD The Mickie Most Years and More celebrates the music of Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler, Hilton Valentine and John Steel, plus later additions Dave Rowberry and Barry Jenkins.  The Mickie Most Years contains the soulful rockers’ first four U.S. albums plus bonus tracks and an original 4-track EP.  Three of these were produced by Most (1938-2003), also known for his work with artists such as Donovan, Lulu and Herman’s Hermits.  Each one of these four original albums – The Animals (1964), The Animals on Tour (1965), Animal Tracks (1965) and Animalization (1966) – has been transferred by remastering engineer Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering from the original first generation mono tapes.  In addition, each album contains an assortment of bonus tracks including four tracks never before released in the U.S., unique single versions of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “I’m Gonna Change The World,” and “Roadrunner,” a UK-only track.  Another bonus is the complete 4-track EP I Just Wanna Make Love to You, originally issued in 1963 on the Graphic Sound label.  This EP was later reissued by Decca in the U.K. as In the Beginning There Was Early AnimalsRolling Stone Senior Editor and music historian David Fricke contributes new liner notes to each CD, and the box set also includes an Animals T-shirt (size XL, 100% cotton).

Tower of Power - LiveOakland, California’s Tower of Power has more than lived up to its name over the past 40+ years.  The horn band’s soulful and funky R&B grooves have enlivened over 20 studio and live albums plus countless appearances with other artists from Elton John to the Grateful Dead and everybody in between.  Tower of Power scored its commercial breakthrough with its third, self-titled album, originally released in May 1973.  The album spawned three hit singles, “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “This Time It’s Real.”  Of course, the band wasn’t going anywhere, and was unquestionably hip – for real.  In May 1974, T.O.P. entered the studios of Long Island’s progressive-minded WLIR-FM for a live, in-studio set.  Now, nearly forty years later, Real Gone Music is issuing that blazing concert on 2 CDs.  The performance on Hipper Than Hip came on the heels of the band’s fourth album Back to Oakland, and includes such favorites as “So Very Hard to Go,” “You’re Still a Young Man,” “Time Will Tell” and of course, “What is Hip?” with Lenny Williams on vocals.  Real Gone’s package includes a booklet with photographs and new liner notes from R&B historian Leo Sacks.

Lisa Fischer - So IntenseIn recent months, we’ve seen reissued music from a number of the top-tier background vocalists featured in Morgan Neville’s acclaimed documentary 20 Feet from StardomDarlene Love, Merry Clayton, and Claudia Lennear (the latter on Real Gone).  Now, Lisa Fischer can be added to that list.  Fischer won a Grammy Award for her R&B chart-topping 1991 single “How Can I Ease the Pain,” but soon retreated from the solo spotlight in favor of her stellar background singing career.  Fischer has performed and toured with artists as diverse as The Rolling Stones, Sting, Tina Turner, and Nine Inch Nails, but fans haven’t forgotten her sole 1991 solo album on the Elektra label, So Intense.  Real Gone is revisiting So Intense, with productions by an A-list including Narada Michael Walden and Luther Vandross, in a deluxe edition expanded with five bonus tracks.  So Intense: Deluxe Edition, from one of Mick Jagger’s most frequent and favorite duet partners, includes new liner notes by Pat Thomas.

After the jump: head down to Muscle Shoals and beyond!  Plus: pre-order links and track listings for all titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 16, 2013 at 11:57