Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: Are You One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Screaming hot in the 1990s

To many, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins career consists of his 1956 release “I Put a Spell on You,” and the coffin from which he arose to perform on stage. His theatrical, macabre image may have been novel, but his records were anything but novelties. Oddly, despite the single’s healthy sales and its iconic stature in the rock ‘n’ roll canon, it never made the charts, leaving Hawkins, technically, a no-hit wonder. But hitmaking wasn’t Hawkins’ musical metier, as he followed the beat of his very distinctive drummer with songs like “Constipation Blues” and “Feast of the Mau Mau.” And when he connected with Bizarre label owner (and subsequently manager and producer) Robert Duffey in 1990, the goal was to just let Jay “be Jay,” rather than overtly court commercial success.

Hawkins showed off his range of rock, blues and R&B on three albums for Bizarre, Black Music for White People (1991), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). The material includes originals from both Hawkins and Duffey (including the latter’s memorable “I Am the Cool”), covers that mine Hawkins’ first-person knowledge of 1950s music, and Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” “Ice Cream Man” and “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard.” Hawkins’ mojo was in full flight throughout his time with Bizarre as he hollers, growls and wrestles the songs into submission. The backing bands, assembled from talented local rock and blues players (including the Beat Farmers’ Buddy Blue) backed Hawkins’ howling vocals with hot rhythms, wild guitars, tight horns, and fat saxophones.

Manifesto’s 2-CD set gathers together all three of Hawkins’ albums for Bizarre, adds five previously unreleased tracks, and a sixteen-page booklet with full-panel album cover reproductions and liner notes by Chris Morris. Highlights include the piece-of-mind “Ignant and Shit,” the tribal Bo Diddley beat of “Swamp Gas,” a schizophrenic take on “Ol’ Man River,” a fevered cover of Ray Charles’ “I Believe,” an energetic run at “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (retitled “Call the Plumber” here), Duffey’s purpose-written “Rock the House,” homages to Sherilyn Fenn and the Long Island Lolita, Amy Fisher, and spoken word passages that echo Hawkins’ on-stage monologues. Of the three albums, the grittier production of the third has aged the least, but all are worth hearing! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Malo: Latin Boogaloo – The Warner Bros. Singles

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

The single edits of a 1970s Latin-rock jam band

Omnivore takes a fresh look at the San Francisco-based Latin-rock group Malo through the lens of their singles. The band’s original run of 1970s albums (Malo, Dos, Evolution and Ascención) can be found in reissue, alongside live albums and best ofs, but the original single edits (courtesy of Malo’s producer, David Rubinson) have been harder to come by. The interest in these sides lays in the resonance they will have for those who first met Malo on the radio. The group’s first single, “Suavecito,” is presented here in the shortened 3:29 version that climbed to #18 on the Billboard Top 100. The longer album version, from the group’s self-titled debut, is certainly worth having, but may seem oddly long to those weaned on the single.

The band’s mix of rock, soul, funk and Latin flavors were powered by a punchy rhythm section, tight horn charts, and the guitar playing of Jorge Santana and Abel Zarate. The tightly edited singles presented here elide intros, instrumental passages and lengthy jams that gave the albums flavor. That said, the highly-charged arrangements of guitar, percussion and horns were the band’s calling card, and though not heard at album length on the singles, are still the focal point of many of these sides. Some of the tunes, such as “Cafe,” feel as if they were cut off just as the band was taking flight, while others were more artfully edited into shorter form.

Omnivore has gathered Malo’s six singles for Warner Bros. – A’s and B’s – plus a single that was prepared (“Just Say Goodbye” b/w “Pana”) but only released in Turkey. Given that the band’s first single was the only one to chart, it’s likely that many listeners will be unfamiliar with terrific sides that include a soulful cover of “I Don’t Know,” the funky B-side “Think About Love” and the instrumental “Just Say Goodbye.” To hear the band in full flight, you’ll need the albums, but those looking for an intro, or deep fans wanting to hear how the band’s jams were tamed for radio will enjoy this volume. All stereo, except #4. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Technicolor Paradise – Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Top shelf Exotica rarities

“Exotica” is a musical genre born at the post-war intersection of jet travel and high fidelity. It’s name was coined for Martin Denny’s pioneering debut album, and it’s sound offered an intoxicating blend of world percussion, tribal rhythms, orchestral arrangements, wordless vocals, jazz changes and modern instrumentation. Exotica offered an invitation to an exotic Shangri-La through expansive, often culturally ersatz, sounds. Though born in tropical climes, exotica expanded, particularly in retrospect, to include Asian and Latin influences. The genre’s 1990’s revival, amid a broader look back at “space age bachelor pad” culture, spurred numerous reissues of thrift store rarities, artist anthologies and genre compilations, alongside new books, visual art, weekenders and analyses of the revival itself.

Canadian artist Gordon Monahan posited a holy trinity of exotica songs in “Taboo,” “Caravan” and “Quiet Village,” repeating them in triplet form in both performance and on record. “Taboo,” though written by Cuban singer and composer Margarita Lecuona, is closely associated with Hawaiian vibraphonist Arthur Lyman. “Caravan” began its life as a jazz standard written by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and though first performed by the latter in 1936, became an exotica staple in the 1950s. It’s offered here by percussionist Bobby Christian, with a twangy guitar lead and a siren’s ghostly vocal from Christian’s daughter. “Quiet Village,” written and originally recorded by Les Baxter, was turned into exotica’s national anthem by Martin Denny’s 1957 arrangement. It appears here in a vocal version by former Our Gang actress Darla Hood, as well as a vibraphone-led instrumental by Five Glow Tones.

Numero expands on Monahan’s trio of exotica pillars with 54 (48 for the LP release) expertly curated rarities. A few of the titles may be familiar, such as “The Moon of Manakoora” and “Nature Boy,” but they’re presented here in versions all but the most devout have not likely heard. And given that “exotica” is more a retrospective label applied by crate-digging collectors than a cohesive musical category, collections such as this define the borders for themselves. Disc 1, titled “Daiquiri Dirges,” focuses on guitar instrumentals, including a surprisingly mellow early recording from the Pacific Northwest’s Wailers entitled “Driftwood,” the Blazers’ surf-tinged “Sound of Mecca,” the Palaton’s languorous “Jungle Guitar,” the Voodoos’ Quiet Village-inspired “The Voodoo Walk,” and the Chayns’ earworm “Live With the Moon.”

Disc 2, titled “Rhum Rhapsodies,” expands the program to vocal tracks, giving a feel for some of the not-particularly-exotic acts that hitched a ride on the good ship exotica. In addition to a second track by Darla Hood (“Silent Island,” also rendered in a wonderfully moody orchestral arrangement by Modesto Duran), there’s a dramatic harmony chorus on film composer Andre Brummer’s “Tumba,” comic actress Martha Raye cover of the exotica chestnut “Lotus Land,” Jerry Warren’s Paul Anka-styled B-side “Enchantress,” the Potted Palm’s AIP-soundtrack-ready “My House of Grass,” and Akim’s frantic “Voodoo Drums.” Don Reed’s sax-heavy cover of “Nature Boy” gains a dollop of exotica cred from its haunting, Yma Sumac-styled vocal, and the Centuries’ “Polynesian Paradise” faintly suggests folk and surf origins, even as the wordless vocalist loses track of the islands’ tranquil feeling.

The set’s third disc, titled “Mai Tai Mambos,” returns to instrumentals, sailing into port with Latin, guitar, jazz and orchestral arrangements from Cuban conga player Modesto Duran, Canadian rockabilly Arnie Derksen, Americans Nick Roberts, Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak and Jimmy McGriff, and others. The percussive arrangements and pulse-racing rhythms revive the set’s exotica vibe, with even soul singer Bobby Paris finding an Afro-Cuban groove for 1961’s “Dark Continent.” The instrumentalists take the exotica elements as new flavors – rhythms, instruments, melodic lines and song titles to be imbibed – rather than overt commercial opportunities to be chugged. Each of the three discs harbors unique charms, and listeners may find their favorite shifting with the sybaritic tide.

The CD set’s 129-page hard-cover book is perhaps even more impressive than the CDs. Ken Shipley’s liner notes provide a scene-setting introduction, and the song notes are spectacular in their encyclopedia detail. Michael Graves has conjured magic in his audio restoration of the mixed bag of tape and vinyl he was served, knitting together the disparate sources into a smoothly flowing program. The book is filled with period photos and record label reproductions, and while the overall design is beautiful, some of the backgrounds make the text hard to read. The selection of lesser known artists and songs makes this set a terrific complement to exotica’s best known recordings, and a set that both the novice and experienced fan can enjoy. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Matt Dorrien: In the Key of Grey

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Broken-hearted homage to Tin Pan Alley, Nilsson, Randy Newman and more

The old-time vibes in Matt Dorrien’s music are unmistakable. The influence of Nilsson is the top-line note, but the archness of Randy Newman, the melancholy of Elliot Smith and Brian Wilson, the introspection of Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney’s penchant for British music hall aren’t far below the surface. After a pair of folk-influenced guitar-based albums recorded as Snowblind Traveler, Dorrien returned to his first instrument, piano, and crafted a set of tunes whose optimistic melodies belie the broken heart that sparked their creation.

The immediate fallout of the breakup is captured in “I Can’t Remember,” but the bottom is found in the post-romance doldrums of “Baby I’m So Lost.” The latter suggests an emotional cul de sac whose only apparent escape is an unlikely reconciliation. The post-breakup phone call of “All I Wanted to Say” attempts the impossible navigation of friendship lost amid romantic dissolution, and the boozy “Mister Pour Another” does its best to literally drown Dorrien’s sorrows.

There are pickups and one night stands in “Pretty Little Thing” and “Underwear Blues,” but their salve proves to be temporary. The actual path to recovery begins with the album’s title track, and blooms into conscious thought with the Ted Mosby-like faith of “Maybe This Time.” The vulnerability of Dorrien’s public confrontation with his emotions provides an intimate connection for the fraternity of the dumped, and while it’s an engaging listen at any time, it will resound especially well in your own emotional cul de sac. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Matt Dorrien’s Home Page

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles – 1967-1970

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Stupendous second chapter of Buck Owens’ career at Capitol

Omnivore’s previous set on Owens’ groundbreaking Capitol singles is now joined by a companion volume that catalogs his expanding reach as an artist. The commercial dominance of his initial rise to fame – which included twenty-two Top 40 hits and thirteen consecutive chart toppers – was unlikely to be matched, and yet this second collection rises to the occasion, both commercially and artistically. Of the eighteen singles Owens released across these four years, all but two made the Top 20; of the two misses, “Christmas Shopping” charted #5 on the holiday list, and only the internationally-themed instrumental “Things I Saw Happening at the Fountain on the Plaza When I Was Visiting Rome or Amore” missed entirely. Fifteen of the A-sides reached the Top 10, and six topped the country chart.

More importantly, the late ‘60s found Owens branching out from twangy Bakersfield country with innovative pop touches. He opened 1967 with the back-to-back #1s “Sam’s Place” and “Your Tender Loving Care,” dipped to #2 with “It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me),” and climbed back to the top with 1968’s “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone.” He scored three more chart toppers in 1969 (the originals “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” and “Tall Dark Stranger,” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”), and just missed the top spot with 1970’s “The Kansas City Song.” Owens joined Hee-Haw in 1969 and continued to chart throughout the 1970s, but with the passing of Don Rich in 1974, his interest in a music career quickly declined. After a pair of albums and a handful of mid-charting singles for Warner Brothers he basically retired from releasing music for more than a decade.

But in the mid-to-late ‘60s, Owens was still accelerating. As he and the Buckaroos had shown with their 1966 Carnegie Hall Concert album (and reaffirmed here with the 1969 live take of “Johnny B. Goode”), the group was one of the hottest bands in the land. The singles featured here include the talents or Don Rich, Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley and Willie Cantu, as well as later members Jerry Wiggins and Doyle Curtsinger, and numerous sidemen. Perhaps most startling is the inclusion of smooth backing vocals from the Jordanaires and the Nashville-based Anita Kerr Singers on several tracks, and strings are heard on both A-sides and flips, including “Big in Vegas.”

Owens authored a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great songs, and by the mid-60s he’d begun expanding beyond the classic Bakersfield Sound. The acoustic guitars of “It Takes People Like You” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” weren’t unprecedented, but the songs’ moods, particularly in Owens’ vocals, were new. Owens love of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll is heard on “Christmas Shopping,” there’s fuzz guitar on the waltz-time “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and Earl Poole Ball adds organ to the intro of “The Kansas City Song.” Rather than hoarding his best work for A-sides, Owens often complemented his hits with interesting flips, including the transfixed vocal of “That’s All Right With Me (If It’s All Right With You)” and the funereal “White Satin Bed.”

Owens found terrific chemistry with protege Susan Raye on several hits, including the Johnny & June-styled sass of “We’re Gonna Get Together,” the harpsichord-lined fairy tale “The Great White Horse,” and the terrifically stalwart B-side remake of Owens’ “Your Tender Loving Care.” Omnivore’s double-disc includes 18 singles (A’s and B’s), ten in mono and eight in stereo, mastered from original analog sources by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio. Scott B. Bomar’s liner notes are accompanied by detailed session notes, photos, and picture sleeve and label reproductions. This is a stupendous second chapter, showing Owens and the Buckaroos in full artistic and commercial flight. It’s every bit as essential as the first volume, and will leave fans eagerly anticipating the third and final Capitol chapter. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Don Gibson: The Best Of The Hickory Records Years, 1970–1978

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Don Gibson’s second wind on Hickory Records

By the time that Don Gibson landed at Hickory Records, he’d been scoring hits for more than a decade at RCA. 1958’s chart-topping “Oh Lonesome Me” kicked off a string of RCA hits that ran through the end of the 1960s, and continued at Hickory into the late-70s. His biggest Hickory singles, “Country Green,” “Woman (Sensuous Woman)” and “Touch the Morning,” included his third (and final) #1, and provided the commercial face of a solid catalog that’s seen surprisingly little reissue activity. Omnivore offers twenty-five well-selected singles and album tracks, covering original and cover material that ranges from the twangy “Don’t Take All Your Loving” to a soulful take on Mel & Tim’s “Starting All Over Again.”

Gibson is remarkably consistent as he brings soul to Joe South’s “Games People Play,” heartbreak to Bobby Bond’s “If You’re Goin’ Girl,” and compelling blues to Grady Martin’s “Snap Your Fingers” and Mickey Newbury’s “If You Ever Get to Houston (Look Me Down).” Producer Wesley Rose cannily framed Gibson’s voice in a number of different ways, without losing his identify as a singer or his connection to country music. Rose’s sound wasn’t as clean as that produced by Chet Atkins at RCA, but neither was it tained with the badly aging affectations of many 1970s sessions. The guitar and steel players, uncredited here, add terrific stutter and twang on many of the tracks.

Gibson’s songwriting remained strong throughout his tenure at Hickory, and though his biggest Hickory hits came from the pens of Eddy Raven and Gary S. Paxton, he wrote fine singles, B-sides and album tracks, including the effervescent love song “I’m All Wrapped Up in You,” the ballad “Pretending Everyday,” and the remorseful “Praying Hands.” Omnivore’s collections pulls together all of the charting singles that hit #29 or above, and includes tracks from each of Gibson’s Hickory albums. That leaves nearly a dozen lower-charting singles and a wealth of album material for Bear Family to extend its series of Gibson box sets; but as an introduction to Gibson’s second wind of fame, this is terrific! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: The Best Of

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Turn-of-the-70s funk and soul grooves w/2 new tracks

With Warner Archives’ Express Yourself no longer in print on CD, Varsese fills the vacancy with this sixteen track set. Included are the Los Angeles group’s three crossover hits (“Do Your Thing,” “Love Land” and “Express Yourself”), an additional selection of period material, and two new tracks (“Happiness” and “Remember That Thing”) that anticipate an upcoming album. The Mississippi-born Wright moved to Los Angeles as a pre-teen, where he performed in a number of doo-wop bands before founding and growing what would become the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright was equally at home with hypnotic James Brown-styled riffing as with soul vocals, and the interlocking rhythm section of bassist Melvin Dunlop, drummer James Gadson and guitarist Al McKay, was equally adept with percussive funk riffs as they were with melodic tunes.

In addition to the crossover hits, the set includes three singles that charted R&B – “Till You Get Enough,” “Must Be Your Thing” and “Your Love (Means Everything to Me).” Those who already own the Warner Archives release will find four more vintage titles here, including the funky “I Got Love,” but six from the previous volume, including the instrumentals “The Joker (On a Trip Through the Jungle)” and “65 Bars and a Taste of Soul” are dropped. Also note that “Spreadin’ Honey” seems to have a shorter drum intro here than on the previously anthologized recording. Fans will want to track down the expanded reissues of the original albums (and look forward to the new album), but those just looking for a taste of this band’s funk and soul will find this a good place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Charles Wright’s Home Page

Johnny Mathis: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Johnny Mathis updates his groove for the 1970s

When Johnny Mathis first paired with producer Jack Gold for 1970’s Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, it seemed like an opportunity for an update. But the double album’s combination of previously released recordings of Burt Bacharach songs with new recordings of older Bert Kaempfert material failed to align Mathis with the new decade’s music. This second collaboration takes a bolder approach in its song selection, bringing Mathis up to date, while still maintaining lush arrangements to surround his inimitable vocal styling. This was less an attempt to cross him back over to the pop chart than an acknowledgement that the crafting of pop hits had expanded to a new generation of songwriters.

Mathis’ continuing affinity for Bacharach and David’s material led him to cover the album’s title track (a 1969 hit for B.J. Thomas), “Alfie” (a 1966 UK hit for Cilla Black, and a 1967 US hit for Dionne Warwick) and “Odds and Ends” (a 1969 adult contemporary hit for Warwick). Stretching out, he included material from Jimmy Webb (“Honey Come Back,” an R&B single for Chuck Jackson in 1969, and a country hit for Glen Campbell the following year), George Harrison (“Something,” Harrison’s first A-side and chart topper), Rod McKuen’s “Jean” (an Academy Award nominee and a #2 single for Oliver), and a pair of tunes from the film Midnight Cowboy, the latter of which are surprisingly good fits for Mathis.

Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” dated back to 1967, but with Nilsson’s version having been a hit in 1969, it had gained new currency. Mathis’ strong vibrato, supported by plucked strings and a free-spirited flute, pushes the song beyond the introspection and melancholy of Neil’s and Nilsson’s earlier versions. The theme song from “Midnight Cowboy” is performed with lyrics written by the album’s producer, turning John Barry’s haunting instrumental into a stalwart statement that echoes the drama of Ferrante & Teicher’s hit single. At its most contemporary, the album samples George Harrison (“Something”) and Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the latter closing out the original album’s track list.

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds five contemporaneous singles and B-sides, with material that stretches from a wonderfully crooned take on Coots and Lewis’ 1934 standard “For All We Know,” through Bachrach & David’s “Whoever You Are, I Love You” (from the musical Promises, Promises), Bert Kaempert’s “Night Dreams,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” and “The Last Time I Saw Her,” the latter pair with arrangements by Perry Botkin, Jr. Although the album cracked the Top 40, and “Midnight Cowboy” climbed to #20, the artistic revitalization outweighed the commercial impact, and buoyed Mathis’ recording career well into the 1980s. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis’ Home Page

Peter Rowan: Carter Stanley’s Eyes

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Peter Rowan returns to his bluegrass roots

Folk musicians gain a part of their artistic lineage through the literary tradition of the songs they learn and the generational artists with whom they play; and bluegrassers often trace their roots more formally through the apprenticeships they serve. Like many, Peter Rowan can document his lineage all the way back to Bill Monroe, who hired him as a Blue Grass Boy in the early 1960s. In addition to employment and teaching, Monroe introduced Rowan to Carter Stanley, whose voice and songs provided Rowan a second foundational stone. That 1965 meeting is the subject of this album’s title song, and from the awakening essayed in the song’s spoken verses, it’s clear that that personal connection informed everything Rowan has done ever since.

In that “ever since,” Rowan’s branched out from traditional bluegrass with folk, rock, Tex-Mex and even an album of Hawaiiana, but here he assembles a classic lineup of guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and bass, adding snare drum and other percussion only sparingly. He offers three originals (including “Wild Geese Cry Again,” as retitled “Drumbeats on the Watchtower” by Ralph Stanley), but the bulk of the set list is crafted as an homage to his influences, drawing on songs written by Charlie and Ira Louvin, Carter and Ralph Stanley, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and A.P. Carter.

The material spans a wide variety of misfortune, sorrow and redemption, including children’s tears, fateful train rides, broken hearts, lonesome nights, last chances, dark endings, hopeful hereafters and enduring spirits. Rowan sings both solo and in tight harmony with his bandmates, evoking the mystic longing of Carter Stanley. The pickers include fiddler Blaine Sprouse, guitarist Jack Lawrence, banjoist Patrick Sauber, and mandolinists Don Rigsby and Chris Henry. The picking is clean and lively, without being overly flashy, and one can only hope that Rowan takes this material and some of his bandmates on the summer bluegrass circuit! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

Juliana Hatfield: Sings Olivia Newton-John

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Charming and heartfelt tribute to Olivia Newton-John

Born in 1967, Juliana Hatfield was seven years old when Olivia Newton-John scored her first U.S. pop chart topper, “I Honestly Love You.” Newton-John scored again with the follow-up singles, “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please,” and though she continued to chart adult contemporary, it took her three more years to climb back to the top of the pop chart with 1978’s John Travolta duet “You’re the One That I Want.” Hatfield, known for her work with Blake Babies, the Juliana Hatfield Three and solo has “never not loved Olivia Newton­-John,” and it shows in the endearing performances and song selection of this tribute album.

In addition to heartfelt interpretations of Newton-John icons that span 1974’s “I Honestly Love You” to 1981’s “Physical,” the song list includes several deep fan favorites. “Totally Hot,” which stalled out at #52 in 1979, is deftly recast as buzzing Suzi Quatro-styled glam rock, and the pop-country “Dancin’ Round and Round” is taken uptempo and backed by hard-charging guitar and drums. The album reaches an emotional peak with “Please Mr. Please,” as Hatfield pours every last drop of the emotion she must have felt as an eight-year-old bonding with her first artistic idol.

Hatfield has internalized these songs and their artist in a thousand bedroom and car singalongs, and filters them through the original artistry they helped inspire. The contentment of “Have You Never Been Mellow” retains its optimistic mid-70s introspection while being deepened by Hatfield’s additional decades of life experience, and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” could just as easily be Hatfield singing about Newton-John as it was Sandy singing about Danny. This is a treat for fans of both Newton-John and Hatfield, and the only thing missing are some Grease photo cards to stick inside your locker. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Juliana Hatfield’s Home Page