The Rolling Stones: Their Satanic Majesties Request

September 22nd, 2017

The Stones’ red-headed stepchild gets a lavish 50th birthday party

Released between Between the Buttons and Beggars Banquet, the Rolling Stones’ 1967 foray into psychedelia has often been heard as a divisive outlier. Recorded in sessions spread throughout a tumultuous year, and often relegated to also-ran status as a me-too derivation of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album hadn’t the conceptual grandiosity to create such a stir. Worse, the band’s own indifference, exemplified by quotes printed inside this lavish four-panel album-sized package, hasn’t redeemed the album’s image. But on this fiftieth anniversary, one can ask whether the album has been fairly assessed, and see if hindsight illuminates the work more clearly than the flashing, multicolored light shows of 1967.

First and foremost, Satanic Majesties was a clear break from the tough, R&B-driven music on which the Stones had minted their reputation. The overt use of mellotron, oscillators and studio manipulations gives this album textures unlike any of the band’s other releases. And while drugs certainly influence other Stones recordings, none are so entrenched in psychedelia as this album. 1967 was a year of band turmoil, with Mick and Keith having been arrested on drug charges in February, Brian Jones’ girlfriend leaving him for Richards in March, Jones being arrested on drug charges in May, and the band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, leaving the fold. And it was at an intersection of personal tribulation and acid-drenched communal ethos that the Stones recorded this album.

The sessions were chaotic and weighed-down by hangers-on, and with Oldham abandoning ship, the band was left to produce themselves. The results were uneven – with jeweled classics rubbing elbows with uneventful jams. The album’s release on December 8 was foreshadowed by the single “In Another Land,” written and sung by bassist Bill Wyman. The tremelo-processed vocal, harpsichord, mellotron and dream-within-a-dream lyrics fit the album’s mood. With the A-side credited to Wyman (and with the B-side, “The Lantern,” credited to the Stones), the single scraped into the Top 100, leaving the album to generate its own publicity.

The LP performed well commercially, reaching #2 on the U.S. chart with the help of a late December single of “She’s a Rainbow” backed by “2000 Light Years From Home.” Critics were mixed, and though the album earned a gold record in America, it seems to have been largely forgotten by the Stones the moment it was released. The studio recording of “2000 Light Years From Home” was used to introduce the group’s 1972 stage show, but it wasn’t until 1989 that they performed it live, and it was another eight years before they performed “She’s a Rainbow.” The rest of the material remained at rest on record, and the group’s return to rock ‘n’ roll with 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the rock, blues and country of Beggars Banquet, rendered Satanic Majesties an anomaly.

Beyond the hit single, the album has many charms. “Sing This All Together,” while not of the caliber as the hit single, opens the album with group vocals that echo the feeling of communal opportunity that was in the 1967 air. The track’s middle jam is edged along by percussion and horns until the vocals return and lead into the memorable guitar-riff that opens “Citadel,” “In Another Land” and the terrific “2000 Man.” Side one closes with the return of “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” which, unlike the taut reprise of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” is an unstructured eight-minute improvisational jam that returns to the album-opening mood before segueing into a theremin rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

The indulgence that closes side one is redeemed by the perfection that opens side two. Introduced by a carnival barker, Nicky Hopkins’ music-box piano and John Paul Jones’ string arrangement key the brilliant and beautiful “She’s a Rainbow,” with bass and acoustic rhythm guitar reigniting the song each time it slows. The group’s blues roots shine through “The Lantern,” particularly in the blistering electric guitar riffs, but the tablas and flute jam of “Gomper” hasn’t aged well. The latter pales in particular comparison to the inspiration of “2000 Light Years From Home.” It’s this latter track, with discordant piano, mellotron, theremin, dulcimer, oscillator flourishes and a lyric of growing physical and emotional distance that will haunt your memory long after the record’s finished playing.

The music hall closer, “On With the Show,” seems to both mimic the frame of Sgt. Pepper’s and anticipate that of Magical Mystery Tour, and provides an entertaining coda to the album. The album’s psychedelic underpinnings glow on many tracks, including the band’s preceding hit, “Ruby Tuesday,” and singles recorded during the Satanic Majesties sessions, “We Love You” and “Dandelion.” Unfortunately, these period tracks aren’t included as bonuses – nor are the outtakes and demos that have been bootlegged elsewhere. But what’s here was freshly remastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering (2016-mono, 2017-stereo), and pressed onto both vinyl (from a lacquer cut by Sean Magee at Abbey Road) and hybrid SACDs.

The two vinyl LPs and two SACDs are housed in a heavyweight, four-panel fold-out cover, with the album’s original lenticular art restored to the front cover and the gatefold art to the inside. A 20-page booklet includes an essay by Rob Bowman, and candid photos from Michael Cooper’s original cover shoot photo session. The package is hand numbered, and the pressing is advertised as a limited edition. So what’s actually new here? The mono master is the same as was used for the 2016 box set (vinyl and CD), but it’s reproduced here with a new vinyl lacquer, and as a first-ever high resolution mono release on the hybrid SACD. The stereo remaster is new, as is its vinyl lacquer. The lenticular cover art isn’t new, but has been out of circulation for many years.

For those who’ve already collected the original mono and stereo vinyl, reissue stereo vinyl and SACD, and reissue mono vinyl and CD, the wholly new elements here are the high-resolution layer on the mono hybrid SACD and Bob Ludwig’s new stereo remaster. Are they worth the duplication? That depends on how much you value this album – particularly the punchier mono mix – or whether having mono, stereo, vinyl, redbook and high resolution digital in one three-pound package simply tickles your collector’s fancy. The absence of contemporaneously recorded singles, alternates and outtakes may disappoint some, but having the original dozen tracks, mono and stereo, with lenticular cover art intact will be a treat for the album’s faithful fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Rolling Stones’ Home Page

Peter Himmelman: There Is No Calamity

September 15th, 2017

Philosophical rock ‘n’ roll looks at the world’s ills and cures

It’s been three years since Peter Himmelman rebuffed his own doubts with the introspective The Boat That Carries Us. The disillusion displayed in the 2007 documentary Rock God gave way to a more emotionally agile life that turned obstacles into opportunities for recalibration, and found happiness in the realities that his youthful dreams of fame had spawned. On this follow-up he focuses on dialectical questions of the mind and heart, looks outward at society’s barriers and wonders how one’s thoughts and emotions create and might ultimately contribute to the resolution of the world’s problems.

The opening “245th Peace Song” condemns the toxic political and social atmosphere that currently dominates America, but Himmelman seeks healing in place of scapegoating; pleading for solutions rather than protesting problems. He laments fear’s corrosive impact on societal bonds and advocates collective action as an antidote. At turns Himmelman can be defeated, deterministic, nihilistic and existential, noting that rich men run the world, wondering if we can even know whether meaningful decisions exist, and pitying those who coast through life without the friction that creates opportunities for redemption.

But in his heart, Himmelman is an optimist. The gospel-tinged “Ropes or Wings” opines that bitterness and hate are choices, but that hope, kindness and mercy are always ready options. He contemplates the seemingly infinite wealth of one’s memories, and cleverly rhymes his way through the impressionistic “Ribbon of Highway.” He strikes an inspirational tone that is part Springsteen and part Neil Diamond on several tracks, and the guitar playing, particularly the solo on “Smoke and Flames,” will remind you of how much you miss rock music. This album is intellectually deep and emotionally soulful, which will come as no surprise to Himmelman’s many fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Himmelman’s Home Page

Mike Younger: Little Folks Like You and Me

September 14th, 2017

Canadian transplant makes socially aware country-rock in Nashville

The hoarse edge on Mike Younger’s voice might remind you of a young Don Henley, and there’s an earthiness to his delivery that’s more middle-America than Los Angeles. Originally from Nova Scotia, he wandered the world before setting down in Nashville where his rootsy honky-tonk and folk fit easily into the scene that lays beneath the city’s commercial sheen. His years as a busker taught him that gimmicks might stop a passerby, but it’s having something personal to say that will make them stay. That same lesson works well on record as he sings of both his own plights, and those of the audience to whom he’s played face to face.

He identifies with a working class that seeks a moment to dream of something better for themselves, as well as those they will leave behind to inherit the planet. His protagonists nobly hold to their convictions, even as their principles become their last possession, and they remain optimistic that the good in people will win over society’s most selfish instincts. He rejects the short-sighted profits of “Poisoned Rivers” and reflects on the gained experience of shared hardship as he laments a mortal ending on “How To Tell a Friend Goodbye.” The latter song’s lack of emotional resolution will be familiar to anyone who’s felt they came up short in a final farewell.

This is a serious album, but not one without lighter charms. “Never Was a Dancer” recalls Younger’s clever effort at turning his lack of experience into an invitation for instruction, with neatly crafted lyrics that leave the actual definition of “dancing” to the listener’s imagination. He falls for a honky-tonkin’ gal on “Rodeo Queen” and celebrates the week’s end with “The Living Daylights.” His songs of social conscience suggest Woody Guthrie, John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, and his first producer (for 1999’s Somethin’ in the Air), Rodney Crowell. Younger’s voice is authentic and he has something to say. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Mike Younger’s Home Page

Andrea Stray: Into Blue

September 12th, 2017

Moody rock EP with country and blues echoes

There’s something haunting about Andrea Stray’s new EP. The languorous tempos convey an emotional mood that’s as much weary as it is wary. She sings of love’s dichotomies, suggesting that strength and fragility are two sides of the same coin, and that discord can harden from explosive force to impediment to acrimony. Her vocals are often lost in thought, but the thoughts that break to the surface with “Forgive and Forget” are the last rays of optimism before the unhappy ending is faced on the closing “You’re the Kind.” Recorded in Nashville with professional studio hands, this sounds nothing like the product one associates with the city’s commercial side. J.T. Corenflos’ moody, blues-tinged electric guitar is revelatory, and Scotty Sanders creates atmosphere rather than country twang with his pedal steel guitar. Stray’s singing might remind you of Robin Lane, Hope Sandoval or Neko Case, but her songs, and the moods she creates with them, are all her own. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Andrea Stray’s Home Page

Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux – The Rejected Master Recordings

September 11th, 2017

Jan & Dean fulfill their contract with a satire of Jan & Dean

By 1965, Jan & Dean were riding high. They’d minted a dozen top-40 singles, including the chart-topping “Surf City,” collaborated extensively with Brian Wilson, hosted the T.A.M.I. Show, filmed a television pilot, begun work on a feature film, and as highlighted here, added comedy to their stage act. As the last album owed to Liberty, Filet of Soul, was apparently too outre for a label looking to milk the last ounce of profits from a departing act, so a more conventionally edited version was released in 1966 as Filet of Soul – A Live One. The full length original record, with sound effects and comedy bits intact remained in the vault, unreleased for more than fifty years, until now.

Although technically a contractual obligation album, Jan & Dean used the opportunity to experiment, rather than simply complete their obligation. The duo brought members of the Wrecking Crew to the Hullabaloo Club for two nights of live recording, and then tinkered with the tapes in the studio. As they sweetened and edited the live recordings, they sought to offer something interesting, while not giving their soon-to-be-ex-label chartworthy new material. The answer was to present a live set of cover songs augmented by sound effects and satirical comedy bits. Except it wasn’t an answer to their contractual obligation, as the label rejected the master and demanded more songs.

To appease the label, several songs from the duo’s television pilot were added, but so too a spoken word piece that was sure to raise the label’s ire. But before the lawyers could engage, Jan Berry was involved in the auto accident that ended the duo’s recording career. The label, seizing the opportunity to release amid the ensuing publicity, edited the album down to its songs, releasing a cover of “Norwegian Wood” and “Popsicle” as singles, the latter rising to #21. So how does the original fare? On the one hand, the label was likely right about its commercial potential among Jan & Dean’s teenage audience in early 1966; on the other, Jan & Dean clearly knew what they were doing, and were ahead of their time.

The album’s opening trumpet flourish suggests something grand, only to have its pomposity punctured by the sound effect of a rooster crowing. A live take of “Honolulu Lulu” is awash with the excited screams of female fans, but the subsequent monolog, “Boys Down at the Plant,” lampoons the show business facade. The live tracks are tightly performed, if not always with huge enthusiasm, but the duo’s chemistry, command of the stage and improvisational skills are on full display. The studio manipulations and dadaistic sound effects point forward to the surrealistic rock and comedy records of the late-60s and 1970s, but haven’t the conceptual coherency that the Firesign Theater and others would bring to records a few years later.

Omnivore reproduces the ten tracks of the resubmitted master, and includes Beatles songs (“Michelle,” “Norwegian Wood” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), Jan & Dean’s own “Dead Man’s Curve,” and pop hits of the day (“Cathy’s Clown,” “Lightnin’ Strikes” and “Hang On Sloopy”). The recordings are taken from a mono acetate (hand labeled “Fill it with Shit,” seemingly to indicate the duo’s non-commercial intentions). The 10-page booklet includes liner notes by Dean Torrence and surf music historian David Beard, photos and some of the original graphical elements that Torrence designed for the originally planned release. This isn’t the high point of Jan & Dean’s musicality, but it’s an interesting suggestion of where they might have gone, if not for Berry’s accident. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Jan & Dean’s Home Page

Raspberries: Pop Art Live

August 19th, 2017

Astoundingly great 2004 reunion

Reunions are often laden with compromise in service of nostalgia. But three decades after their last performance, this 2004 reunion of the original quartet makes no concession to the passage of time, changing tastes in popular music, nor the yearning for one’s glorious youth. This was a rock ‘n’ roll show as vital and stirring as it would have been in 1974. The band played hard and tight, the vocal harmonies were spot-on and the songs shined with the vibrant colors of photos that had sat undisturbed in a drawer for 30 years. Eric Carmen gave it his all out front, Wally Bryson’s guitars had the perfect tone and touch, and the rhythm section – particularly Jim Bonfanti’s drumming – was as muscular as ever. Nostalgia might have been a spice, but it wasn’t the main course.

The group’s hits – “I Wanna Be With You,” “Let’s Pretend,” “Tonight,” “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” and especially the set closing “Go All the Way” – are as thrilling today as they were blasting out of the radio in the 1970s. And hearing them performed live adds a dimension that many latter-day Raspberries fans missed from the band’s hey day. These are killer songs for live performance, and the band’s even more powerful on stage than they were in the studio. And beyond the hits, the band reminds listeners that they made four incredibly strong albums.

Highlights include the ambitiously epic “I Can Remember” from the group’s debut, the country-styled “Should I Wait,” the harmony-rich “Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak” and Carmen’s declaratory “I’m a Rocker.” The band’s influences are heard in the Who’s “Can’t Explain” and a trio of finely selected Beatles’ covers. The latter includes an extraordinary version of 1964’s “Baby’s in Black” that affirmatively answers James Rosen’s rhetorical liner notes question “is this really as good as I think it is?” It is. Together with four extra singer/musicians (“The Overdubs”), the group is able to reproduce the lushness of their studio recordings without sacrificing the energy of live performance.

As on record, Eric Carmen provides most of the lead vocals, though Dave Smalley and Wally Bryson get significant leads of their own, and their pre-Raspberries band, The Choir, is celebrated with “When You Were With Me” and “It’s Cold Outside.” This is a long, satisfying set, and though Carmen’s voice must have been weary by the time they closed with “Go All the Way,” he’s solid in reaching for the song’s highest notes. Initially planned as a one-off to open Cleveland’s House of Blues, the fan response led to nine more dates, including a tour-ending Los Angeles gig. They did a few shows in 2007, and capped their reunion activities with a 2009 show at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Omnivore’s first-ever issue of this show is spread across two discs, and presented in a tri-fold digipak with a 12-panel booklet that includes liner notes by Cameron Crowe (who reviewed the Raspberries’ first album for the San Diego Door at the age of 15), author James Rosen, and Raspberry biographers Ken Sharp and Bernie Hogya. The band’s joy in performing for their loyal (and incredibly patient!) fans is evident throughout the set, and the renewed relationship as a working unit was savoured by all. The confluence of people, places and times that forge a band is difficult to sustain, and nearly impossible to recreate, but the sparks that first ignited the Raspberries were still firing thirty years later, and lit up one of the best reunion shows in pop music history. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Eric Carmen’s Home Page

Dwight Yoakam: Live from Austin, TX

August 12th, 2017

Dwight Yoakam at the peak of his commercial success

This October 1988 date found Yoakam headlining a bill with his hero and mentor, Buck Owens. Yoakam had rescued Owens from self-imposed retirement earlier in the year, and together they topped the chart with a remake of Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield.” The day before the show, Yoakam’s third album, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room, crested at #1 on the Billboard country chart, and it would go on to net Grammy, ACM and CMA awards. Owens opened the show with a tight 30 minute set (available on a companion volume), with Yoakam joining him for “Under Your Spell Again.” Owens returned the favor during Yoakam’s set to sing their recent chart topper.

Yoakam’s set combined selections from his first three albums, mixing original material with covers of songs by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman (“Little Sister”), Homer Joy (“Streets of Bakersfield”), Johnny Cash (“Home of the Blues”), Johnny Horton (“Honky Tonk Man”), Lefty Frizzell (“Always Late With Your Kisses”) and Stonewall Jackson (“Smoke Along the Track”). His original material included nearly all of his hits to that point, as well as several album tracks. The band is superb, with Pete Anderson’s guitar and Scott Joss’ fiddle really standing out. Yoakam turns on the sex appeal as he introduces the sultry “What I Don’t Know,” the band turns up the heat for “Please, Please Baby” and “Little Sister,” and the audience joins in enthusiastically to close “Honky Tonk Man.”

As on the duet sung together in Owens’ set, the happiness shared by Yoakam and Owens in teaming up for “Streets of Bakersfield” is palpable – Owens reveling in the new artistic partnership that rekindled his interest in music, and Yoakam in working with his idol and mentor. Each has such a distinct voice, that the delight in hearing them sing together continues to rise as they swap verses and share the chorus. Flaco Jimenez joins the band onstage and stays to accentuate the sorrow of “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room,” with Joss’ fiddle and Anderson’s low strings adding mournful notes. Yoakam tells several stories on the DVD that are elided on the CD, including an account of his first meeting with Johnny Cash.

The partnership between Yoakam and Anderson was incredibly fruitful, both artistically and commercially, but it wasn’t always easy to see past Yoakam’s charisma to Anderson’s immense talent as a guitarist. But here, even with Yoakam center stage, you can’t help but be drawn to Anderson’s licks as he solos on “Home of the Blues,” hot picks the closing “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me,” and plays Yoakam on and off the stage with a twangy instrumental bumper. New West’s reissue combines the previously released CD and DVD, and it’s four-panel booklet provides credits, but no liner notes. It’s a terrific package that plays just as well on the stereo as it does on the screen. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Dwight Yoakam’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Live from Austin, TX

August 12th, 2017

The king of the Bakersfield Sound on the comeback trail in 1988

There is no shortage of live Buck Owens recordings, but nearly all of them date to his record breaking run in the 1960s. Owens was not only a terrific songwriter, guitarist, singer, bandleader and businessman, but a gifted stage performer whose personal magnetism drew fans to his tours and to his dying day, to his beloved Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. By the time of this 1988 performance on Austin City Limits, it had been more than a decade since Owens had recused himself from his music career. The 1974 death of Don Rich had drained his enthusiasm, and with his energy focused on the radio stations he’d begun buying in the 1960s, it took an insistent Dwight Yoakam to pry Owens out of his self-imposed exile.

This October 1988 date found Owens and Yoakam on the same bill, each playing a full set and guesting on the other’s. Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room had just crested at #1 on the album chart, the lead single, a duet with Owens covering “Streets of Bakersfield,” had topped the singles chart in June, and the title single from Owens’ own return to the studio, Hot Dog, would be released the following week. So there was a lot to celebrate on this Sunday night in Texas, as Owens showed that the layoff hadn’t impacted his musicality or showmanship, and that the latest edition of the Buckaroos, including keyboard player Jim Shaw, bassist Doyle Curtsinger, guitarist and steel player Terry Christofferson and drummer James McCarty, was sharp and powerful.

With sixty Top 40 hits (and more than twenty chart toppers!), Owens could barely graze the highlights of his catalog in this thirty minute set But in only 11 songs he manages to touch on classic hits, album cuts, covers of his hero Chuck Berry, and material from his upcoming album. And he does it without resorting to the medleys that had helped him squeeze more fan favorites into his live sets of the 1960s. The jangle of Owens’ silver sparkle Telecaster (which may very well have been Don Rich’s ‘66) kicks off “Act Naturally” and the band falls in behind him. Curtsinger provides the harmony foil once supplied by Don Rich, and Christofferson echoes Tom Brumley’s steel solo on “Together Again.”

Owens is in terrific voice, and his enthusiasm belies the number of times he’d performed “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Crying Time,” “Tiger By the Tail” and “A-11,” each remaining fresh and potent decades after they’d been introduced. Even more enticing is a duet with Yoakam on “Under Your Spell Again.” The pair don’t lock their vocals together as seamlessly as had Owens & Rich, but the joy in their voices – Owens rediscovering the joy of a singing partner, and Yoakam singing with his hero – is palpable. The single “Hot Dog,” a cover of Owens’ 1956 turn as Corky Jones, gives the band a chance to rock, as does the closing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”

This set combines the previously released CD and DVD into one package, with the same song list shared by both formats. The four-page booklet includes credits, but no liner notes, and no remembrances from anyone involved as to how this show came together or what it meant to the participants. For the second half of the bill, including “Streets of Bakersfield,” check out the companion volume on Dwight Yoakam. Owens took this band on the road, producing the belatedly released double-disc Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989, but it’s hard to top a Sunday night in Texas with Buck & Dwight! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace

The Robert Kraft Trio: North Bishop Ave.

August 10th, 2017

Old-school pop-soul from Austin trio

If Robert Kraft wasn’t actually born in Muscle Shoals, he clearly grew up listening to its music. The sweetness of his throwback soul is informed by a troubling childhood whose main solace was the radio. Specifically, KKDA 730 – “Soul 73” – in Grand Prairie, Texas, belting out a mix of soul and R&B, with some gospel, jazz and blues thrown in for good measure. It was the sort of local station that spoke to its community, and in Kraft’s case, provided mentoring that defined the core of his musicality. And despite having played other genres – including alternative rock and an album of standards – the soul music of his youth was always edging its way on stage.

Backed by guitarist (and arranger) JD Pendley and bassist Lindsay Greene, and with guest appearances by drummer Robb Kidd and organist (and producer) David Boyle, the Austin-based Kraft cooks up seven original tunes that would have fit nicely onto KKDA’s playlists. The arrangements are spacious, leaving room for Kraft’s sweet voice and Pendley’s vintage guitar licks. Kraft likens his songs to recapturing “the feeling of a perfect summer day in the park with a girl who might actually like me.” That summer feeling manifests itself in the longing of “I Want to Show You” and “Alone With You,” and blossoms into the colorful metaphors of “So Beautiful.”

Kraft drops a romantic placeholder in “You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart,” but makes a more illicit offer in “Gotta Have You.” The latter suggests Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” but with the guilt of an agonizing dilemma burned away by amatory fire. Pendley offers several tasty guitar solos, and Greene adds nice flourishes to the rhythm section’s time keeping. The set closes with the funky “Stand (The Ally Song),” building on a Bill Withers-styled groove and rounding the vocal tone with a hint of Sinatra. Kraft is a polished singer, and the trio’s Friday night gig at the Continental has honed them into a swinging soul trio whose debut CD is a treat. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Robert Kraft Trio’s Home Page

Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

August 9th, 2017

A quiet 1972 gem from a country-soul legend

Arthur Alexander’s music career was as heartbreaking as were his songs. A writer of indelible sorrow, he sang with a depth that seemed to flow directly out of his aching soul. He reached the Top 40 with “You Better Move On” and the R&B Top 10 with “Anna,” but his songs quickly became better known for other artist’s covers – the Stones, Beatles, Steve Alaimo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Bob Luman in the ‘60s – than for his own performances. The covers kept coming, as Mink DeVille, Chris Spedding, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others discovered Alexander’s songs, but various revivals of his own recording career never reached the commercial heights his artistry deserved.

Dropped by Dot in 1965, Alexander recorded a handful of singles for Sound Stage 7 and Monument (collected here), and in 1971 was signed by Warner Brothers to record this album. Alexander wrote five of the twelve titles, serving up heartbreak tinged with the difficult loyalty of “Go On Home Girl” and the painful memories of “In the Middle of It All.” Amid the sadness he surprises with resilience, haunted by failure but not knocked out in “Love Is Where Life Begins,” and resolutely focused on the prize in Dan Penn and Donnie Fitts’ troubled “Rainbow Road.” He aches with quiet desire on “It Hurts to Want It So Band,” and offers up an early version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” but without the fire of Elvis’ subsequent hit.

Released in 1972, the album and its singles garnered little interest from radio and no commercial results to speak of. A pair of follow-on singles, included here as bonus tracks, fared no better commercially. “Mr. John” has the sleek feel of Bill Withers, and the follow-up cover of “Lover Please” has a bouncy New Orleans roll. Two more tracks, the yearning “I Don’t Want Nobody” and optimistic “Simple Song of Love” were recorded for Warner Brothers but left unreleased until now. Alexander resurfaced a few years later with a charting cover of his own “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” as well as the Elvis tribute, “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home,” but unable to sustain this success, he left the business.

Two decades later he bubbled up again with the superb Lonely Just Like Me, finally receiving the attention and accolades he deserved. Sadly, and perhaps in keeping with the melancholy of his best work, Alexander passed away just months after the album’s release. Omnivore’s reissue of Arthur Alexander reproduces the original 12-song running order, adds six additional tracks waxed for Warner and original cover art. The 12-page booklet includes full-panel photos, label reproductions, and original and new liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. Although his time with Warner Brothers was short, it was artistically triumphant, and adds a valuable chapter to his small but influential catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]