Archive for the ‘Free Stream’ Category

The Oak Ridge Boys: When I Sing For Him – The Complete Columbia Recordings & RCA Singles

Monday, April 16th, 2018

The pre- and post-MCA sides of the Oak Ridge Boys

Those who know the Oak Ridge Boys from the hit singles that began with 1977’s “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and ran through crossover icons “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue,” may be surprised to find the group’s Southern gospel roots stretch back to the 1940s. Starting out as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet, and then in the early ‘60s, the Oak Ridge Boys. The group’s best-known lineup came together in the early ‘70s when bass singer Richard Sterban and tenor Joe Bonsall joined mid-60s arrivals Duane Allen and William Lee Golden. It was this quartet that charted with Johnny Cash on the 1973 single “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup” and eventually expanded from gospel to country hit making.

By 1974 the group had moved from the Heart Warming gospel label to the secular Columbia where they recorded the trio of albums anthologized here: The Oak Ridge Boys, Sky High, and Old Fashioned, Down Home, Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Southern Style, Gospel Quartet Music. The self-titled Columbia debut cracked the top 40, but the remaining two albums, despite quality material and performances, failed to chart. The group’s Columbia singles fared no better, with the first six failing to chart, and the seventh, “Family Reunion,” barely scraping onto the charts at #83. A large part of the group’s problem seems to have been Columbia’s lack of service to gospel radio, but their stylistic range, which included gospel harmony, MOR ballads, country and soul diluted their identity as gospel singers without providing a ready hook for secular radio.

Which is a shame, because the singles and albums deserved an audience. The group’s debut single for Columbia, the Grammy-winning “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor,” could easily have fit country radio in 1973, but it was a year or two late to mingle with the God Rock pop hits of 1971-2. Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” hasn’t the wasted soul of the original, but it was a canny pick for a cover, as was their non-charting take on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock.” The group turned soulful with Allen Toussaint’s widely covered “Freedom for the Stallion,” and the debut album’s “Give Me a Star” provides a powerful close to the debut Columbia album. Their sophomore effort opens with the album’s non-charting single “Rhythm Guitar,” featuring honky-tonk piano and a terrific bass vocal.

The opening verse of “Nobody Special” briefly shows off the quartet’s vocal blend in an a cappella arrangement that could have supported the entire track (or an album!). Porter Wagoner’s “When I Sing For Him” gave lead vocalist Duane Allen an opportunity to really soar, a performance so moving that Wagoner asked him to sing the song at his funeral, which he did in 2007. Beyond the album’s songs of praise, the group offers Christian life principles in “We Gotta Love One Another” and “Plant a Seed,” essaying the pitfalls of part-time faith. The closing “Mighty Fine” would have made a catchy second single, had Columbia been more interested in promoting the group. Disc one is filled out with six bonus tracks that include a pair of vault tracks from All Our Favorite Songs, the singles “Heaven Bound.” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup,” and the B-side “Look Away Mama.”

Disc two opens with the ten tracks of the group’s third Columbia album, and features a second collaboration with Johnny Cash on his original “No Earthly Good.” The non-charting single “Where the Soul Never Dies” and “Jesus Knows Who I Am” offer revival tent zest, but the album’s split between old-timey gospel, country-flavored numbers and middle-of-the-road ballads doesn’t quite live up to the collection’s home-spun title. As with the previous two albums, the breadth is admirable, but it plays more like a variety show than a group’s album. The final two Columbia singles, David Allan Coe’s “Family Reunion” and George Jones’ “All Our Favorite Songs” are included along with their B-sides.

The group moved from Columbia to Dot in 1977, then to Dot’s parent, ABC, and then to ABC’s parent MCA, minted the biggest hit albums and singles of their career. In 1990, with Steve Sanders having replaced William Lee Golden as the group’s baritone, the group signed with RCA and released Unstoppable and The Long Haul. Disc 2 is filled out with four RCA singles from this period, including a grandiose cover of Mann & Weil’s Brill Building classic “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration,” the country hit “Lucky Moon,” its bluesy B-side take on “Walking After Midnight” and the fine, but low-charting “Fall.” The set closes with a funky cover of “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” drawn from Sounds of the Season.

The Columbia sides show the group branching out from their gospel roots, but not yet fully committing themselves to the country market. As Joe Bonsall opines in Joe Marchese’s detailed liner notes, “Those were the days when we rode the fence musically trying to appease everyone… Although some of the songs were really cool, we just couldn’t seem to gain any real traction.” This set provides bookends for the group’s hit years on MCA, showing how they expanded their material and style from gospel to pop, rock, country and soul without ever dropping the thread of faith. Their Columbia material didn’t produced the mainstream fame they’d find on MCA, but it opened their ears to the opportunity that lay just ahead. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Oak Ridge Boys’ Home Page

K Phillips: Dirty Wonder

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

An Americana biography of romantic dissolution

A West Texan singer-songwriter named after Kris Kristofferson has a lot to live up to. But there’s a soulfulness in Phillips’ voice, the sort you hear on deep Van Morrison tracks, and a redemptive faith in his songs that suggests Bruce Springsteen. His album ponders the end of a relationship, and though written in the first person, the stories are biographical rather than autobiographical. The split viewpoint lends a philosophical angle that musters a friend’s pain and outrage from an observational angle. The songs battle the lethargy of aftermath, ponder second chances to end things cruelly, and find their way to forgive and move on to what could be renewal. “Had Enough” opens the album with a moment of realization that signals the oncoming emotional thaw. A growing understanding of just how unraveled he’d become leads to confession and confrontation as he begs for reaction, castigates himself and looks for an exit.

Phillips finds out that letting go sometimes turns out to be harder than remaining unhappy, as neither the conventions of “Rom Com” nor the rebound of “18 Year Old Girls” prove to be a sustainable escape from real world endings. The latter features a terrific neo-psychedelic guitar coda that suggests Television playing Americana, and elsewhere the album explores country, gospel, and in the closing “Hock the Horses,” a Latin rhythm. Gordy Quist’s production balances guitar sustain with deep bass notes and gently shuffling drums, pushing Phillips ever-so-slightly forward in the mix to emphasize his emotional isolation and personalize his plight. The crucible of a failed relationship leaves scars on the tested, but even one step removed, the sparks of recrimination and salve of forgiveness make for intensely revealing stories. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

K Phillips Home Page

Various Artists: The Roots of Popular Music – The Ralph S. Peer Story

Monday, October 30th, 2017

The recordings and song publishing of a legend

It’s hard to imagine someone more important to American popular music than Ralph S. Peer. His pioneering achievements in blues, country, jazz and Latin music vaulted him into the highest echelon of A&R, and his career as a publisher built a foundational catalog that remains sturdy to this day. Peer’s recordings of Mamie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and a publishing catalog that stretched from Bill Monroe to Perez Prado to Hoagy Carmichael to Buddy Holly speaks to his ears for originality and his unprejudiced love of music. His talent for placing songs with singers exemplifies the sort of contribution a non-musician can make to music, and his extrapolation of regional and societal niches into popular phenomena speaks to a vision unclouded by the status quo.

Ralph Peer was not the only producer to explore the musical landscape of the United States, but unlike his peer John Lomax, Peer was less a folklorist, and more a producer whose studio was in the trunk of his car. In 1927 he discovered Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in a single session in Bristol, Tennessee, and found additional success prospecting in Latin America. His interests in musical areas outside the popular mainstream led him to back the newly formed BMI, which in turn would spur the growth of radio as a medium for records, rather than live performances. The fruits of those labors are heard here in the songs he placed with Jimmy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and others.

The chronological running order of the first two discs gives listeners a sense of how Peer had his fingers in multiple genres at once. The enduring legacy of his work as a publisher is heard on disc 3, in recordings of songs whose appeal continued to grow after Peer’s 1960 death. The focus on Peer’s publishing catalog leaves out many of his landmark recordings, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The hardcover book includes notes from Peer biographer Barry Mazor, photographs and artifacts, but its lack of discourse on the set’s musical selections renders it more of an exhibit catalog than the liner notes for a fifty-song anthology. Pick up Mazor’s book, and the combination will tell you the story in words and music. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Whitney Rose: Rule 62

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Country, soul and girl group blossom under Rose’s command

With her friend and mentor Raul Malo co-producing, and a studio band drawn from the Mavericks, Jayhawks and Asleep at the Wheel, Canadian-born, Austin-based Whitney Rose doubles up on the retro country pop highlighted on 2015’s Heartbreaker of the Year. Across nine originals, and covers of “Tied to the Wheel” and “You’re a Mess,” Rose plugs into ‘70s country vibes, girl group sounds and, on “Can’t Stop Shakin’,” a deep soul groove. There’s an echo of Danny O’Keefe’s “Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues” in the downbeat mood of “You Never Cross My Mind,” and the rolling rhythm of the bittersweet “Trucker’s Funeral” suggests John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”

Rose is decisive as she leaves behind the wreckage of failed romances, and definitively cuts the ties that bind. She leaves without anger, and though hardened by experience, the emotional toll still leaves her numb, and on the Brill Building-worthy “Better to My Baby,” remorseful. Malo pops up throughout the album, singing harmony on “You Don’t Scare Me” and adding terrific guitar leads along with ace Kenny Vaughn. Malo and co-producer Niko Bolas showcase Rose’s vocal charms while also giving the musicians and songs room to shine. Chris Scruggs’ steel, Aaron Till’s fiddle and Jen Gunderman’s piano and organ are perfectly staged, and Rose is commanding as she eases herself into songs whose classic tones belie their originality. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

Eilen Jewell: Down Hearted Blues

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Sparkling Jewell covers the blues

Eilen Jewell’s voice has always been from another era. From her earliest country folk to the country shuffles, western swing and hot club jazz that have filled out her catalog, Jewell’s often had at least one peep-toed shoe in the 1930s. Even as she added electric guitars and growling saxophones to the mix with 2009’s Sea of Tears and 2014’s Queen of the Minor Key, she retained the out-of-time otherworldliness of her vocals. Her last album, 2015’s Sundown Over Ghost Town, dialed back the jazz, rock and R&B to electric country folk that married the directness of Woody Guthrie to the choked emotion of Billie Holiday. Two years later, the blues are back, as Jewell rips through a brilliantly selected and deftly executed collection of covers.

The dozen selections here weigh towards the 1950s and 1960s, with sides drawn from the Chess, Checker, Excello, Ace, Finch and Bluesville labels. The disc opens with a killer take on Charles Sheffield’s “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” driven by the spellbinding guitar of Jerry (“Not Moby Grape’s”) Miller. The covers include singles and deep album tracks made popular by Howlin’ Wolf, Big Maybelle, Little Walter and Otis Rush, and reach back to earlier sides from Bessie Smith (“Down Hearted Blues”) and Moonshine Kate (“The Poor Girl’s Story”). This is a connoisseur’s’ selection, highlighted by a rockabilly-inflected take on Betty James “I’m a Little Mixed Up” and a smokey, Peggy Lee-styled read of Little Walter’s “Crazy Mixed Up World.”

Jewell loosens up her voice, not to a full blues shout, but with an extroverted passion that, supplemented by Miller’s wicked guitar playing and a crack rhythm section, leaps from the speakers with authority. Even when playing coy, there’s no doubt who’s in charge, and unlike idiosyncratic stylists such as Holly Golightly or Lucinda Williams, Jewell takes a lighter touch in rethinking her covers. Jewell tips her hat to the material without losing centerstage, and in doing so the album sheds new light on the songs and the singer. The diverse material, drawn from the 1920s through the 1960s, fits together into a cohesive album, aided by Miller’s range of guitar styles and a flexible rhythm section. From start to finish, this is a love letter to the blues. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Eilen Jewell’s Home Page

Robert Lamm: Time Chill – A Retrospective

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Solo sides of founding Chicago keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter

As a founding keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter for Chicago, Robert Lamm was a regular visitor to the Top 10 with “25 or 6 to 4,” “Beginnings” and “Saturday in the Park.” His solo career began with 1974’s Skinny Boy, while still a member of Chicago, but it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that he fully emerged, and it wasn’t until 1999’s In My Head that he began to produce solo releases on a regular basis. Omnivore’s fifteen-track collection selects studio material from his 1999 coming out through 2012’s Living Proof, and adds a few remixes and previously unissued tracks. The collection touches on Lamm’s collaboration with America’s Gerry Beckley and the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson (“Standing at Your Door”), and shows off a wide range of musical interests that include rock, Europop, bossa nova, funk, classical composition and reggae. His lyrics draw inspiration from his personal life, but spiced with philosophical thoughts drawn from poetry and the realities of the headlines. Lamm’s solo releases didn’t have the commercial impact of his records with Chicago, but with or without the band, his creativity was unabated. This is a good introduction for those who only know his work with Chicago, and fans of his solo career will enjoy previously unreleased bonuses that include a cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” an a deconstructed take on Chicago’s “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Robert Lamm’s Home Page

Peter Cetera: The Very Best of Peter Cetera

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The ‘80s solo hits of a ‘70s rock powerhouse

Peter Cetera is best known as a founding bassist and vocalist of Chicago Transit Authority. He was the lead vocalist on the breakthrough “25 or 6 to 4,” as well as the group’s first chart-topper, “If You Leave Me Now.” His earliest solo work, a self-titled 1981 album and the single “On the Line,” was overshadowed by continued success with with the band; but by mid-decade, his vocals on Chicago’s hits, and his presence in the band’s videos provided enough personal notoriety to relaunch his solo career. 1986’s Solitude/Solitaire scored back-to-back #1s with Karate Kid II’s “Glory of Love” and the Amy Grant duet, “The Next Time I Fall.” He scored again with 1988’s “One Good Woman,” and continued to find success in adult contemporary throughout the ‘90s. Varese’s fourteen track collection runs through 1992’s World Falling Down, highlighted by a handful of original single versions. Cetera’s solo work, tinged by the production sound of the ‘80s, isn’t as timeless as his early sides with Chicago, but his tenor is fetching among the synthesized keyboards and big drums, and his power ballads are well crafted. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Cetera’s Home Page

Cowbell: Haunted Heart

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Wicked mix of late-60s and early-70s soul, blues and garage

This London duo’s third album is chock-full of garage-soul built on guitar, drums and splashes of organ that take things into darker places. The title track suggests the voodoobilly of the Cramps, while the rolling “Doom Train” melds sparse blues and tack piano with backing vocals that suggest Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks. There are echoes of the Kinks and Cream, but also the early-60s folk of Richard & Mimi Farina and the 1970s sounds of Laurel Canyon. Guitarist Jack Sandham sings most of the leads, but drummer Wednesday Lyle steps to the mic for the punk-fired “Downlow” and the cool-as-ice “New Kinda Love.” The album is tasteful, but even when taken downtempo, it remains sultry rather than sedate, with horns adding texture to several tracks. This is a sophisticated set that wanders through blues, soul and roots rock, like a shuffle through a music-lover’s record collection. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Cowbell’s Home Page

The Darling Buds: Evergreen

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Melodic 80s-90s indie-poppers return with fresh sounds

Twenty-five years after their last release, Erotica, this South Wales band returns with their melodic pop intact. Spurred by the positive response to several reunion shows, the band regrouped for this four song EP, with original vocalist Andrea Lewis Jarvis and bassist Chris McDonagh supported by ‘90s-incarnation guitarists Matt Gray and Paul “Chaz” Watkins, and drummer Erik Stams. Released on 10” vinyl and cassette (and for the modern set, digital), the four songs are highlighted by Jarvis’ breezy vocals. The effect is both nostalgic and, amid today’s inhumanely exaggerated autotuning, refreshing. Fans will enjoy hearing the band again, and those looking for a respite from modern chart pop’s mechanization will enjoy the sweetness of Jarvis’ voice, melodies that linger in your head, and the analog sounds of electric guitars, bass and drums. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Darling Buds’ Facebook Page

The Platters: Rock

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

The mid- and uptempo sides of ‘50s ballad legends

Like many of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding acts, the decades have largely reduced the Platters’ memory to their hits – “Only You,” “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” But, also like many of their colleagues, there was a great deal more to the Platters catalog than these iconic singles. Bear Family’s generous thirty track collection explores beyond the group’s familiar ballads, and focuses on mid- and uptempo tracks from the Mercury years of 1955-1962. The set’s most rocking tunes, including “Bark, Battle and Ball,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Hula Hop,” “I Wanna,” “Out of My Mind” and “You Don’t Say,” reach back past the pop balladry to the group’s R&B roots; but even the slower songs, including bass vocalist Herb Reed’s interpretation of “Sixteen Tons,” are more juke joint than supper club.

The group revs up the standards “On a Slowboat to China,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and “Let’s Fall in Love” to show tempo, giving a sense of what they might have sounded like at a hop. All five Platters get lead vocal spots, and the group is supported on several tracks by the orchestral direction of Mercury’s David Carroll. Also heard here are Wrecking Crew regulars Plas Johnson, Barney Kessell, Earl Palmer and Howard Roberts, and on the scorching opening pair, saxophonist Freddie Simon and guitarist Chuck Norris. Bear Family’s crisp reproductions of mono and stereo masters are housed in a tri-fold digipak with a 36-page booklet of photos, liner notes and a detailed discography. This is a novel view of the Platters’ catalog, but one that sheds new light on their range. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Herb Reed’s Platters’ Home Page