Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

OST: Smokey and the Bandit I & II

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Soundtracks to legendary Burt Reynolds films finally on CD

Smokey and the Bandit was originally developed by stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham as a cheap B-movie with singer-actor Jerry Reed as the star. But with the signing of box office dynamo Burt Reynolds, Reed was demoted to second banana, Universal quintupled the budget, and the film went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide. The soundtrack was scored by Nashville legend Bill Justis, and includes three vocal titles by Jerry Reed. The latter’s “East Bound and Down” became a signature song, and is included here in a second variation titled “West Bound and Down.” Reed also detailed the Bandit’s earlier adventures in “The Legend” and sings Dick Feller’s ballad, “The Bandit.” Justis mixes original country instrumentals with covers of chestnuts, including Ervin T. Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” and Jerry Wallace’s 1972 hit, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry, with uncredited fiddle and steel players who are excellent throughout the album.

The 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II, didn’t have the box office power of the original, but its soundtrack spun off a number of hits, including Jerry Reed’s “Texas Bound and Flyin’,” the Statler Brothers’ “Charlotte’s Web” and Tanya Tucker’s “Pecos Promenade.” The Snuff Garrett-supervised soundtrack album also includes performances by Don Williams, Mel Tillis, Brenda Lee, Roy Rogers with the Sons of the Pioneers and Burt Reynolds, the latter of whom scraped onto the country chart with “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial.” The album’s two instrumentals, performed by the Bandit Band, included a mashup of “Dueling Banjos” and “Wildwood Flower” titled “Deliverance of the Wildwood Flower,” and an original co-written by Garrett and Nashville legend Jerry Kennedy titled “Pickin’ Lone Star Style.” Both of these soundtracks are good spins, though the sequel’s collection of vocal material will likely be more memorable for country music fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tim Buckley: Venice Mating Call

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Expanded look at Buckley’s 1969 stand at L.A.’s Troubadour

The early years of Buckley’s performing career are surprisingly well documented in posthumous releases, including a set at New York City’s Folklore Center in 1967, a London set from 1968, and a gig at Los Angeles’ Troubadour from 1969. Manifesto Records expands greatly on the latter with two new releases that dig through an extended cache of materials from the three days of shows at the Troubadour. Issued as a double-LP (and single-CD) as Greetings From West Hollywood and a double-CD as Venice Mating Call, the new materials provide songs that had yet to be released commercially, and performances that have never been released before. The song lists overlap most of Live at the Troubador 1969, but often provide radically different improvisations. And for the Buckley completists, the LP and CD editions, though also overlapping in song titles, largely offer performances unique to each volume. This is a great opportunity not only to hear Buckley in an artistically experimental period, but to hear how that experimentation manifested itself in performance on stage. Buckley sings and guides the band with exploratory freedom, turning the performances into deeply personal, in-the-moment expressions. The double CD, house in a tri-fold slipcase with a 20-page booklet, provides a valuable addition to Buckley’s live catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tim Buckley’s Home Page

Carmaig De Forest: I Shall Be Re-Released

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Reissue of 1987 political folk-punk debut with eleven bonus tracks

In the mid-80s, the Los Angeles-born, UC Santa Cruz-educated Carmaig De Forest was shuttling up and down the California coast, strumming an electric ukulele and singing his pithy, politically-pointed songs. His delivery suggested the emotional spittle of Elvis Costello and Gordon Gano (the latter of whom took in De Forest as an opening act for the Violent Femmes), the tuneful monotone of Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman, and the iconoclastic musical freedom of his producer, Alex Chilton. De Forest takes frequent, very personal aim at then-president Ronald Reagan, wishing for age to claim him, scathingly recounting his sins alongside those of Hitler and Jim Jones, and imagining their fiery afterlife on “Hey Judas.” He sings of corporate hegemony and decaying social liberties, and offers the sideways love song “I’d Be Delighted.” De Forest plays his ukulele on most of the tracks, but it takes a back seat to his songs, voice and the band. Chilton’s production, and the backing of Chilton on guitar, Greg Freeman on bass and Eddie Sassin drums are at turns funky, jazzy, rocking and blue, adding flesh to De Forest’s songs and amplify the edginess of his idiosyncratic performances.

Omnivore’s reissue supplements the album’s original fifteen tracks (which include a raggedly rocking cover of “Secret Agent Man”) with material from the album’s aborted first pass, a leftover from the completed session, and seven contemporaneous live tracks recorded at San Francisco’s Paradise Lounge and Kennel Club. The additional material includes covers of the nineteenth century murder ballad “Bank of the Ohio,” the pop standard “”One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” and the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” alongside original material that didn’t make it to the debut album. The live tracks are especially compelling as De Forest feeds off the club atmosphere, and the band stretches out the short studio productions with solos. Pat Thomas’ detailed liner notes include fresh interviews with De Forest, Freeman, Gordon Gano, and others, telling the story of how the album came to be and the scene in which it was set. It’s been thirty years since this album was in print, and it’s as fresh today as it was in 1987. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Winfield Parker: Mr. Clean – Winfield Parker at Ru-Jac

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Mid-60s soul from magnetic Ru-Jac vocalist

Baltimore soul singer Winfield Parker walked a strange path to the microphone. Having broken into the business as a saxophonist, it was a gig as a carnival pitchman that seeded the idea to step out front. This led to his forming the Imperial Thrillers and catching the ear of Ru-Jac Records founder Rufus Mitchell. Mitchell owned a tightly woven web of local businesses that serviced his label, including a booking agency and a stagewear company, and quickly signed Parker to a solo contract in 1964. Backed by Ru-Jac’s house band, the Shyndells, Parker waxed the moody ballad “My Love For You,” a song he’d picked up supporting vocalist Little Sonny Warner, and backed it with the wonderfully ragged funk of “One of These Mornings.”

Parker’s realization of his leading man potential was evident from the first single, and he only got better with the pleading “When I’m Alone” and it’s dance-tempo B-side, “Rockin’ in the Barnyard.” His confidence continued to grow as he recorded more uptempo numbers in 1967, including the horns-and-organ rocker “I Love You Just the Same” and a trio of tunes written by soul legend, Arthur Conley. He continued to release singles on Ru-Jac through 1968, including the Wilson Pickett-influenced “She’s So Pretty” and “Funkey Party,” a more relaxed arrangement of “I Love You Just the Same,” and the James Brown styled two-part “Mr. Clean.”

Parker moved on to record for Arctic, Wand and Spring (where he scored with a cover of Edwin Starr’s “S.O.S. (Stop Her on Sight),”), but returned to watch over the Ru-Jac catalog upon the passing of Rufus Mitchell. Omnivore’s twenty-three track set includes all nine of Parker’s Ru-Jac singles alongside six previously unissued bonus tracks. The vault material includes a true stereo recording of “Go Away Playgirl,” alternates of “My Love For You” and “My Love,” and an unreleased cover of the William Boskent-penned Sonny Warner B-side “Nothin’.” This is a superb collection of little known music from soul music’s glory years, augmented with photos, promotional ephemera, and liner notes by Kevin Coombe. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Winfield Parker’s Home Page

The Coachmen: Subways of Boston

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Early-60s San Francisco folk revival trio

“The Coachmen” was a popular name in the ‘60s, having been used by garage rock bands from California and Nebraska, but it was also the name of this San Francisco-bred folk trio. The group began when Don Koss and Doug Tanner joined together to play for their City College fraternity. The duo soon became a trio with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Doug Brown, and gigged as the Coachmen in Bay Area venues, including San Francisco’s legendary Purple Onion. Within two years they’d signed a recording contract with the Hi-Fi label and issued their debut, Here Come the Coachmen! The following year they released this second and last album, Subways of Boston; founding member Doug Tanner was subsequently drafted, and the group parted ways.

This sophomore release is built mostly from variations on traditional material, such as the title track’s play on the Kingston Trio’s hit recording of Steiner and Hawes’ “M.T.A.,” itself based on “The Ship That Never Returned” and its variant “Wreck of the Old 97.” The track list draws in Frank Loesser’s WWII-era “Rodger Young,” Blind Willie McTell’s “Delia” (itself a variant of the Delia Green story, more recently told in Johnny Cash’s cover of Blind Blake’s “Delia’s Gone”), Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” and “Almost Done (on a Monday),” Oscar Brand’s bawdy “Zulika,” and Harry Loes’ gospel “This Little Light of Mine.” They also pull in folk revival versions of material with international origins, including the British and Irish “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” and “I Will Never Marry,” and the South African ceremonial “Bayeza.”

The Coachmen sang and played well, though on record they sounded like a regulation issue folk revival group. They had good ears for material, picking up songs from others in the scene, and adding their own variations. If you enjoy the sounds of the 1960s folk revival harmony groups like the Kingston Trio, the Coachman’s two albums are also available as the two-LPs-on-one-CDs Hootenanny and Essential Folk Classics with the non-LP track “Soldier’s Joy.” Like others of Essential Media’s reissues, a few audio artifacts (groove distortions, in this case) suggest the remastering was from vinyl. But this is still quite listenable mono, and given the relative obscurity and rarity of the Coachmen’s records, a nice add to a folk revival collection. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Neil Sedaka: Solitaire

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Sedaka was back, but his audience had yet to tune in

Neil Sedaka’s commercial re-emergence wasn’t fully realized until 1975’s “Laughter in the Rain” topped the American chart, but the seeds of his comeback were sewn four years earlier with the aptly titled Emergence and this 1972 follow-up. The album takes its title from Sedaka’s temporary departure from songwriting partner Howard Greenfield; Sedaka wrote and worked instead with Phil Cody, and recorded the album in England with a nascent 10cc. (Graham Gouldman, with whom Sedaka had become friendly, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley had been producing pop and bubblegum sides throughout the early ‘70s, including a stint cutting sides for the legendary Kasenetz-Katz team; a collection of their early productions can be found on Strawberry Bubblegum.)

By the time that Sedaka joined the crew at their Strawberry Studios, they’d waxed a number of hits, including “Neanderthal Man” as Hotlegs, and “Umbopo” as Doctor Father. It was the latter that drew Sedaka to Gouldman, and ultimately to the studio in early 1972. The album was heavily influenced by the soulful singer-songwriter strut that Sedaka’s friend Carole King had launched with the previous year’s Tapestry and which Elton John was heating up at the same time. John would sign Sedaka to his Rocket label two years later, and with songs from this and two other UK albums in tow, Sedaka’s U.S. comeback set sail. The opening “That’s When the Music Takes Me” speaks directly of Sedaka’s everlasting faith in music, and cracked the Top 40 upon its U.S. re-release.

The album’s title track was also reused on Sedaka’s U.S. comeback album, Sedaka’s Back; it became a hit single for Andy Williams, and later the Carpenters. It’s one of several tracks (including “Don’t Let it Mess Your Mind” and “Better Days are Coming”) which found their way into other artists’ repertoires. Sedaka may have only then been regaining his footing as a performer, but his legendary songwriting chops were clearly undiminished by the commercial layoff. Sedaka sounds renewed as he sings bluesy pop invitations to love, sweet pop confections of spiritual freedom, contented moments of optimism, and introspective thoughts of disillusion. Sedaka never again sounded quite so free and effortless, as his commercial re-emergence weighed on both his songwriting and performance. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Jim Nabors: Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Jim Nabors displays his sizeable comedy and vocal talents

The recently departed Jim Nabors is best known for his acting on The Andy Griffith Show and its spin-off Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., and secondarily for his career as a balladeer. For this 1965 LP, sung entirely in Nabors’ nasal “Gomer Pyle” voice, his singing and comedy came together. With songs written by the legendary Billy Edd Wheeler, John Loudermilk and Roger Miller, the material is several cuts above the typical TV star cash-in, and with Nabors twin talents as a vocalist and comedian, the results are funny, entertaining and endearing. Like any comedy album, it’s not likely to get spun as frequently as a straight music album, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll be singing along, and if you have kids, they may just love the tongue-twisting “Hoo How, What Now?” and the corny rock ‘n’ roll of “Heart Insurance.” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Elvis Costello & The Imposters: The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

High-energy show undermined by leaden recording

The Spectacular Spinning Songbook is a staging device Elvis Costello introduced on his 1986 tour. The giant spinning wheel is marked with songs that the band plays on the spot, in response to an audience member’s selection. The wheel contrasted with the calculation of a preconceived set list, injecting spontaneity into both the band’s job and the audience’s experience. Costello revived the wheel for his 2011 Revolver Tour, and a live recording was made during a two-night stand at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. The live set was initially released in an expensive “super deluxe” CD/DVD/vinyl box set, and has been reissued in more modestly priced CD and MP3 configurations.

As in the original release, the song list for the 16-track CD overlaps the DVD, but neither fully replaces the other. Also as in the original release, the set list is exciting and the band’s playing enthusiastic, but the recording is leaden. Costello’s vocals are often mixed too far behind a muddy instrumental mix that’s maddeningly bass heavy. Imagine yourself sitting at a bad spot in a medium-sized music hall or arena, and you’ll get an idea of the tonal balance. That said, it’s great to hear Costello and his crack band ripping through both the well-trod chestnuts of his enormous catalog, a few obscurities and a pair of covers. The latter includes an impassioned take on the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time” and the Bangles-recorded Costello original “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution),” with Susanna Hoffs singing lead.

A bit of Costello’s stage continuity is included in the introduction to “Everyday I Write the Book,” but the bulk of the wheel’s spinning is edited out, quickening the show’s pace by reducing it to its randomly selected set list. The band repeatedly turns on a dime with its deep knowledge of the selected songsS, and the program flows surprisingly well given its relative lack of planning. Better yet, without the laborious stage mechanics that introduced each song, the selections still pack an element of the surprise one expects from a live show. It’s unfortunate that the original recording was mixed in such a ham-fisted manner, as the performances really deserve to be heard more clearly. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Massive, deluxe box set chronicles “The Cradle of the Stars”

By the numbers: 20 CDs featuring more than 167 acts performing more than 500 songs, clocking in at more than 24 hours of recordings packaged in a heavy-duty box with a deeply detailed and spectacularly illustrated 224 page book, altogether weighing in at a healthy 9 pounds. But that’s statistics; the heart and soul of this set is the revolutionary Shreveport radio show, nicknamed the “The Cradle of the Stars,” that aired weekly from 1948 to 1960. In contrast to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the Hayride hitched its wagon to an ever developing set of acts that they discovered, nurtured into stardom and often lost to the Opry. Among those the Hayride helped boost to fame were Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Slim Whitman, Johnny Horton and Elvis Presley.

Williams and Presley provide the bookends to the Hayride’s most influential period, with Williams having been the show’s first superstar, and Presley’s rise paralleling the Hayride’s decline. The box set shows off the transition between the two, detailing the show’s twelve year run with a constantly evolving lineup of local, regional and national acts whose growth and innovation helped shape popular music in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Beyond the music, the show’s continuous, unrehearsed flow of artists, comedians, ads and announcers created a tapestry of entertainment that really filled a Saturday night. The recordings sourced here were cut for radio distribution and proof-of-advertising to sponsors, and without aspiration for commercial release, they capture the spontaneity of a show performed for a live audience rather than a recorder.

A set this massive has to be treated more as a pantry than a meal. It’s something from which listeners can draw upon for years, and though a once-through inks a picture of the Hayride’s arc, individual discs and performances play nicely in isolation. The set opens with pre-Hayride material from the show’s radio outlet, KWKH, providing an historical record of the station’s 1930s battle for its frequency, early broadcast continuity, and studio recordings waxed for commercial release. KWKH’s founder, William Kennon Henderson, Jr., was a colorful, self-aggrandizing iconoclast whose personal broadcasts railed against the then newly-formed Federal Regulatory Commission, chain stores and other stations intruding on his channel.

Henderson had sold KWKH by the time the Hayride began broadcasting in 1948, but the earlier material highlights the wild west roots from which radio was still emerging. With recorded music growing in popularity, radio stations performed double duty as broadcast outlets and recording studios. The Hayride and its peer barn dances became tastemakers as their live shows promoted the artists, their records and their tour dates. The show’s announcers even call upon the listeners to inquire about bringing a Hayride tour stop to their hometown, and it’s easy to imagine many taking the opportunity to drop their “one cent postcard” in the mail for details.

The announcers choreograph each show, introducing and conversing with the musicians as they’re brought on to play one or two songs before giving way to the next act. The set’s producers have deftly selected long, multi-artist segments that retain the continuity of intros, music, comedy and advertisements intact. Listeners will get a feel for the Hayride’s complete evening of entertainment, and how the program evolved over the years. In particular, the collection reveals the Hayride’s uncanny ability to discover and develop new talent (in part, a defense against the continual flow of their stars from Shreveport to Nashville) as the show’s constantly evolving lineup introduced and few performers into stars.

The slow churn of the Hayride’s cast turns out to have been one of its charms, and the intertwining of stars, soon-to-be-stars and talented performers who failed to catch on gives this set a widescreen perspective that’s often elided in reissue material. There are numerous hits from famous performers, but the broader context in which this collection sets them is especially interesting. The earliest live program included here, from August 1948, features a 24-year-old Hank Williams, who’d debuted on the country chart the previous year with “Move It On Over” and wouldn’t hit #1 (with “Lovesick Blues”) until the following year. Williams’ rising profile was his ticket to Nashville, but after being fired by the Opry in 1952, he returned to the Hayride, where he performed “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” to a surprised and enthusiastic audience.

Williams would die only three months after his return to the Hayride, and it would be more than a year until Elvis debuted in 1954. Presley converses shyly with the announcer in his first appearance, but rockets off the stage to the screams of the audience (and the immortal announcement “Elvis has left the building) in his 1956 finale. Elvis’ growing fame and ensuing tour commitments often kept him from the Hayride’s stage, so the show sought to satisfy its growing contingent of teenage fans by booking Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison in his place. But even the Hayride’s legendary nose for talent couldn’t help the show stay afloat amid the confluence of television, rock ‘n’ roll and the growing importance of record sales (and the radio DJ’s who spun them) to a teenage audience. By 1960, the Hayride could no longer hold stars in its regular cast, draw media attention or fill an auditorium.

The set’s massive book (so large and heavy, that it’s actually difficult to handle) includes a history of the Hayride by Colin Escott, a detailed timeline of show casts, an essay by Margaret and Arthur Warwick, detailed show and artist notes by Martin Hawkins, photos, and record label and promotional ephemera reproductions. Escott’s liner notes are knowledgeable and entertaining, though a bit prickly in unraveling the grandiosity of Horace Logan’s recollections. He’s no doubt correct in calling out many of Logan’s stories as self-aggrandizing fabrications, but the repetition of his derision gets tiresome. Hawkins’ notes offer museum-quality details about the individual show segments that help the listener place the artists, songs and performances in both historical and Hayride context.

The sound quality varies throughout, as one would expect from sixty-year-old recordings not waxed for posterity, but all of the tracks are listenable, and many are of surprisingly good fidelity – better than most listeners probably heard over the AM radio at the time. The mix of longer and shorter segments gives the listener a feel for the show without distracting from its core musical focus. The massive volume of material testifies to the Hayride’s monumental achievement of mounting a weekly live show for a dozen years with fresh, new artists amid changing musical tastes. Bear Family’s well-deserved reputation for lavish reissues is on full display here, and just like those who paid sixty-cents to attend the Hayride in person, you’ll get more than your money’s worth from this set. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Buffalos Bay: Living Under the Reef

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Melodic 60s-inspired bubblegum psychedelia

Formed in 2015, this Belfast quartet released their first single early in the year, and followed up with this melodic neo-psych EP. Their songs favor the music hall singalongs of the Kinks and the tuneful side of the Beatles psychedelia, and vocalist Stuart Miskelly winningly suggests the bubblegum sweetness of Peter Noone. They sing expressionistic odes to self discovery, nostalgic memories and fairy tale love, all draped in fetching melodies and 60s-inspired light-psych instrumental sounds. Imagine if the Gallagher brothers had a sense of humor that let them realize they weren’t the second coming, and you’ll have a feel for Buffalos Bay. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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