Archive for the ‘Reissue’ Category

Booker T. & The M.G.’s: The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 1 (1962-1967)

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Killer soul instrumentals from the Stax house band

As the Stax house band, Booker T. & The M.G.’s were often heard backing seminal recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and other label stars, but their career as a standalone group also produced iconic singles, B-sides and albums. Real Gone pulls together the original mono mixes of the group’s first 15 singles, A’s and B’s, to highlight the hits and deep-grooved flips of the band’s first six years. The hits include their chart-topping 1962 debut, “Green Onions,” and a pair of crossover Top 40’s from 1967, “Hip Hug-Her” and a cover of the Rascals’ “Groovin’.” The latter kicked off a string of crossover hits that stretched into 1969 (and will hopefully be anthologized on Volume 2). In between, the group delivered catchy singles that touched the bottom of the Top 100 while generating bigger success on the R&B chart.

The band’s debut album was filled with instrumental covers, but their singles featured original mid-tempo groovers built on soulful organ leads, searing guitar solos, and propulsive backbeats. The group’s first B-side, “Behave Yourself” is a dark, late-night blues, but their second single, “Jelly Bread,” turns the tempo up as Jones vamps behind Cropper’s introductory guitar riffs. The rhythm section of Jackson and Steinberg get everyone moving for 1964’s “Can’t Be Still,” and Isaac Hayes reportedly keys the organ on the follow-up “Boot-Leg.” 1966’s “My Sweet Potato” trades organ for piano, as does the country-inflected “Slim Jenkins Place.” The set’s covers include Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a pair of holiday releases, and, under the title “Big Train,” the gospel classic “This Train.”

Real Gone has packed twenty-nine original sides onto a single 74-minute CD, with liner notes and discographical detail by Ed Osborne, and mastering by Dan Hersch. For the vintage minded, they’ve produced a limited-edition 2-LP set on blue vinyl with a gatefold cover. Shorn of album tracks and the temporal condensation of greatest hits albums, this chronological recitation of the group’s mono singles showcases what listeners heard through their radios at the time. Album sales would later become a central focus of both the recording ethos and marketing strategy of music groups, but in the early-to-mid-60s, singles were still the lingua franca of pop music, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s made some great ones! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Booker T.’s Home Page

Dandy: Dandy Returns

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

First-ever reissue of 1968 rocksteady rarity

Many listeners are most likely to know Dandy (a.k.a.Robert Livingstone Thompson) for his songs that gained currency in the 1980s ska revival. The Specials made an icon out of “Rudy, A Message to You,” and UB40 brought “Version Girl” back to prominence. But decades earlier, the fledgling reggae giant Trojan Records issued this sophomore effort as one of the label’s very first long-players. Incredibly, the album has remained unreissued since its 1967 drop, and is offered here on a limited edition orange vinyl LP for the first time in more than 50 years. Dandy’s depiction on the album cover, stepping off a plane, was emblematic of his position as a producer for Trojan and a key link between the London-based label and its Jamaica-based music. He’d released numerous singles under his own name, as well as the nom-de-records Sugar & Dandy and the Brother Dan All-Stars, but also produced key sides that included Tony Tribe’s cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” a treatment that UB40 would also return to in the 1980s. Dandy sings in a sweet, easy-going manner that leaves the underlying rocksteady rhythm to preside. Beyond his original material he covers Chad & Jeremy’s “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” accompanied by organ, horns (including some fine trumpet solos), and on “Your Daddy’s Home,” a short harmonica solo. This is an unassuming, yet fetching album from Trojan’s early days, and a treat to have back in print, if only fleetingly. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Marshall Crenshaw: Miracle of Science

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Expanded reissue of Crenshaw’s impressive, self-produced 1996 return to the studio

After five albums for Warner Brothers and one for MCA, this 1996 release marked five years since Crenshaw’s previous studio album, and broadened his new relationship with the indie label Razor & Tie. More importantly, the production stripped away the overwrought Steve Lilywhite-helmed sonics of Field Day and the extensive guest lists of Downtown and Good Evening, and centered on the considerable, innate charms of Crenshaw’s songs, voice and guitar. That transformation began to show with the trio playing of 1991’s Life’s Too Short, but with the guitar-rich live album My Truck is My Home, and again with this first self-produced studio effort, Crenshaw washed away the aural sheen of the 1980s, and brought the spotlight back to the richness of his pop craft.

From the hopeful longing of the opening “What Do You Dream Of,” the album offers hummable melodies, warm harmonies, catchy lyrical hooks, and perhaps most thankfully, studio production that supports rather than preens. Crenshaw is able to sing without straining to be heard, returning his voice to its m\wheelhouse. He sounds enthused to be in the studio with a new batch of original, co-written and coover material, and he alternates between mixing it up with guests and pitching in one-man-band-style on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, percussion and vibraphone. By producing himself, he no longer served as a canvas upon which others cast their own shades, and his aim is as true as Richard Gottehrer’s work on Crenshaw’s 1982 eponymous debut.

Crenshaw had grown artistically in the fourteen years since Marshall Crenshaw, and this album isn’t a repeat of, or even really a throwback to his earlier work; but there is a connection to the nostalgic sounds of his earlier work than hadn’t been captured on the albums in between. The Shadows-styled guitar instrumental “Theme From Flaregun” offers a faux 1960s TV-theme, and Hy Heath’s up-tempo country-rock “Who Stole That Train” includes scorching electric guitar, energetic drumming and dobro from Greg Leisz that add muscle and buzz to the honky-tonk soul of Ray Price’s 1953 rendering. Several of Crenshaw’s originals are laced with bittersweetness as he contemplates the uncertain possibilities of “Only an Hour Ago” and lonely memories of “Laughter,” and the dissolution of Grant Hart’s “Twenty Five Forty One” is buoyed by terrific electric guitar figures.

“There and Back Again” may be the album’s most emotionally powerful moment, as Crenshaw wistfully remembers the joy of romantic discovery through the lens of its eventual end. More fully satisfied is a cover of  “A Wondrous Place,” with vibraphone and a Latin beat expanding upon Jimmy Jones’ and Billy Fury’s 1960 takes. Having gained ownership of his Razor & Tie catalog, Crenshaw is planning to reissue all five of its albums in expanded editions. This first effort includes a reordered track list alongside three bonus tracks that quizically include a backward rendering of “Seven Miles an Hour,” and new recordings of Daniel Wylie’s haunting “Misty Dreamer” and Michael Pagliaro’s 1975 single “What the Hell I Got.” The latter, a memorable song that was a minor hit in Canada, must have beamed across the border to Crenshaw’s native Detroit to make its long-lasting impression.

One might assume that the lack of major label marketing muscle doomed his album to its relative obscurity; but given that neither Warner Brothers nor MCA had much more success in promoting Crenshaw to a wide audience, it was likely the same disconnect between his artistry and the times that had plagued the commercial prospects of his earlier work. Which is a shame, because this album evidences Crenshaw’s talent, charm and vision more plainly than his earlier work. Those who lost track of Crenshaw during his major label run are highly recommended to this album as a place to reengage, and fans who’d already discovered this title will be interested in both the bonus tracks, and the tinkering Crenshaw has performed on “Twenty-Five Forty-One,” “Only an Hour Ago” and “There and Back Again.” A great start to Crenshaw’s reissue project! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Marshall Crenshaw’s Home Page

Big Star: In Space

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Expanded edition of reformulated Big Star’s 2004 return to the studio

After reformulating Big Star with the Posies John Auer and Ken Stringfellow in 1993, Alex Chilton eventually mustered up the interest to record a new album in 2004, and release it the following year. But in ways similar to Big Star’s third album (and to be fair, even the Chilton-led, mostly Bell-free Radio City), one might ask what it means to be a Big Star album. There is material here – largely from Auer, Stringfellow, and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens – that harkens back to the band’s early-70s British pop inspired beginnings. But there are also strong currents of Alex Chilton’s rag-tag solo work, and his propensity to record cover songs. It’s difficult to hear this as continuous with the band’s earlier work, though there are moments; it’s not an erszatz doo wop band touring under someone else’s name, but it may be more accurate to think of this Big Star moniker as more ancestry than identity.

Despite having acceded to performing as Big Star, Chilton retained an uneasy relationship with the group’s earlier material. The new album was apparently born out of both his boredom with the narrow setlist he was willing to play on stage, and the opportunity to collaborate with bandmates with whom he enjoyed making music. After ten years of sporadic gigs, the group was really solid, rooted in the legacy material they performed, but not beholden to its ghosts. Chilton evidenced little interest is writing material for the new album that echoed his past, leaving it to his bandmates to mine the band’s legacy. Jon Auer and Jody Stephens’ co-writes touch most closely on the band’s earlier work, with both “Best Chance” and “February’s Quiet” offering guitar riffs and melodies that fit comfortably with the band’s first two albums. Stephens’ drumming on the former highlights just how fundamental he was to Big Star’s sound, and the closing chord of the latter song will provoke aural deja vu.

Chilton’s funky “Love Revolution” and “Do You Want to Make It” are more in line with his solo career than earlier Big Star, and the Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively” is just the sort of obscure cover that had long since become a Chilton trademark. Chilton’s post-Big Star penchant for spontaneous, raw performances threads through several tracks, including the rock ‘n’ roll rave-up “A Whole New Thing,” a ploddingly-delivered arrangement of Georg Muffat’s baroque “Aria, Largo,” and the cacophonous closer, “Makeover.” There’s craft to be heard, as on Ken Stringfellow’s Beach Boys’ pastiche “Turn My Back on the Sun,” but it’s not the sort of crystalline sounds the original band recorded in the early 1970s.

The original album is expanded on this 2019 reissue with a half-dozen bonus tracks that include songwriter demos, an a cappella take of Auer’s Beach Boys tribute, a rough mix of “Dony,” and “Hot Thing,” a track originally recorded by Big Star for their own tribute album Big Star, Small World. The demos are particularly interesting as working documents that sketch the initial inspiration and evolving views of the singer-songwriters. Liner notes from Auer, Stringfellow, co-producer/engineer Jeff Powell, assistant engineer Adam Hill, and Rkyo Records exec Jeff Rougvie offer first-person memories and warm anecdotes of what turned out to be a one-off studio effort. In retrospect, this is a nice coda to the Big Star legend, if not exactly a straightforward element of the canon. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Laura Nyro: More Than a New Discovery

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

Laura Nyro’s 1967 debut back on vinyl in its original mono mix

Laura Nyro was more than a new discovery on this 1967 debut, she was a wholly new musical entity, bringing together the songcraft of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, blues, jazz and pop. Her lyrical and singing voices melded these strands into something wholly new, and years ahead of other singer-songwriters who’d venture into similar polymusical directions. Even more impressive is that her songs were strong enough to create space for both her authoritative original versions and the iconic hit covers of others. Nyro’s passionate reading of “And When I Die” is wholly satisfying, and uneclipsed by Blood, Sweat & Tears’ iconic cover. The same can be said for “Stoney End” (Barbara Streisand) and “Wedding Bell Blues” (The Fifth Dimension), both of which are equally remarkable as originals and covers. Originally released by Verve/Folkways, the album was reissued by Columbia (under the title The First Songs, with revised running order and cover art) with Nyro’s move to the major. The original formulation has had a few import CD reissues, and is now returned to vinyl in a limited-edition, violet-colored mono LP, with remastering by Vic Anesini from the original master tapes, and a new lacquer cut by Clint Holley. In addition to Nyro’s preferred mono mix, this reissue is also free of the reverb that Columbia added to The First Songs. This is a super souvenir for Nyro’s many fans! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

David Ball: Thinkin’ Problem

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

Expanded 25th anniversary reissue of 1994 honky-tonk landmark

Having gained artistic and fan notoriety in Austin’s Uncle Walt’s Band, David Ball spent more than a decade searching for commercial success in Nashville. He recorded an album for RCA in 1988, but after the initial singles had only middling chart success, the album was vaulted until this 1994 Warner Brothers release broke nationally. The sessions offered uncompromising neotraditional country, just as the neotraditional movement was giving way to crossover sounds; but fans apparently hadn’t gotten the marketing memo, as the  album launched five country chart singles and sold double platinum. At the age of 41, Ball’s maturity – both musically and experientially – shows in music that’s rife with broken hearts that won’t stop loving, bittersweet memories that continue to surface, and emotional bruises salved with an alcohol liniment.

Produced by Blake Chancey and engineered by the legendary Billy Sherrill, the album is backed studio players who came together into a tight, twangy honky-tonk band of fiddle, steel, piano, drums and generous amounts of Telecaster. Ball’s voice was recorded without the sort of mid-90s studio effects that polished and pumped singers for radio, and it leaves his emotional connection to the lyrics exposed for everyone to hear. The record doesn’t sound anachronistic (even for its own time), but the throwback connections from Ball’s earlier work with Uncle Walt’s Band are clear. The album’s lone cover is a devastating take on Webb Pierce’s “A Walk on the Wild Side of Life,” opening with a haunted acapella intro that leaves the protagonist to forever stalk an empty house. Ball’s original material — reportedly winnowed down from a hundred songs over two years to the ten included on the original album – is superb.

The uptempo title track provided the first of five singles to make the country chart, falling just shy of the top at #2. The other four include the mid-tempo honky-tonk of “Look What Followed Me Home” and “Honky Tonk Healin’,” the slow, bluesy “What Do You Want With His Love,” and the pained ballad “When the Thought of You Catches Up to Me.” The album tracks are just as good, including the rockabilly-tinged “Down at the Bottom of a Broken Heart” and the Tex-Mex flavors of “Don’t Think Twice” that evoke Buck Owens, Doug Sahm, and the Mavericks.

Omnivore’s anniversary reissue adds eight demos that show just how hard the choice of ten album tracks must have been. Ball’s liner notes suggest “I’ve Got a Heart With Your Name On It” as George Strait-styled material, but the simply arranged demo and Ball’s heart-on-sleeve vocal are more in line with Nick Lowe’s post-Jesus of Pop singer-songwriter works. The old-timey “Goodbye Heartache, Hello Honky Tonk” and “The King of Jackson Mississippi” reach back to Uncle Walt’s Band more directly than the tracks that made the album, and “Give Me Back My Heart” has some incredibly fine, and surprisingly extensive guitar picking, for a demo. The original album’s appeal has proven timeless in its emotion and artistry, and augmented by period demos, this reissue is a must-have upgrade for fans. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

David Ball’s Home Page

Country Joe & The Fish: Live! Fillmore West 1969

Monday, January 6th, 2020

1969 farewell to Country Joe & The Fish’s classic lineup

Previously released on CD by Vanguard in 1994 (and in Italy on vinyl), this two-LP yellow-vinyl reissue commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Country Joe & The Fish’s farewell performances at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West. By the time the band got to this three-day run they’d already seen the 1968 departure of bassist Bill Barthol (replaced here admirably by Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Cassidy), and they welcomed local guests David Getz on “It’s So Nice To Have Your Love,” and Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Steve Miller and Mickey Hart for a 38-minute jam on “Donovan’s Reef.”

When the band later reconvened for their 1969 album Here We Are Again, Gary Hirsh and David Cohen had also departed, and the group reassembled for Woodstock included a new rhythm section and organist. By the time of this farewell, the band had grown from the folk and blues-based Rag Baby EPs into an electric psychedelic powerhouse and a potent jam band. The group extends their studio material with instrumental interplay, unwinding “Flying High” into a 12-minute piece replete with bass solo, and, with Garcia and Hart helping out, stretching “Donovan’s Reef” into a 38-minute, extemporaneous essay.

Though only two years removed from the conventional length studio arrangements of I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die and Electric Music for the Mind and Body, the band had developed a free-form style for the stage that indulged the improvisational dynamics they’d developed together. Real Gone’s 1000-piece limited-edition reissue is delivered in a six-panel double-gatefold sleeve with liner notes from both the set’s original producer Sam Charters, and the reissue’s producer, Bill Belmont. A reformulated band would achieve widespread notice at Woodstock, but this farewell performance provides an important capstone to the original group’s run. [©2020 Hyperbolium]  

Country Joe McDonald’s Home Page

Tony Joe White: That on the Road Look “Live”

Monday, January 6th, 2020

Outstanding, yet long neglected, 1971 live set

Though originally planned for commercial release, this 1971 multitrack recording sat in Warner Brothers’ vaults for nearly forty years. Rhino Handmade released a limited edition CD in 2010, but it’s taken nearly another decade for these tapes to find a full retail release. Opening for Creedence Clearwater Revival, White is in great voice, his “whomper stomper” wah-wah pedal sets his electric guitar deep in the swamp, and he’s backed by a tight band that includes White’s longtime drummer Sammy Creason and organist Mike Utley, alongside MG’s bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Together they work through more than an hour of material that mixes selections from White’s earlier tenure on Monument and his then-current run for Warners, including “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Willie and Laura Mae,” and a ten-minute version of “Polk Salad Annie.” White connects deeply with the folk side of his material in this small group setting, often setting down his electric guitar for an acoustic that leaves more room for the gritty, intimate soulfulness of his voice. This is an outstanding set that catches a unique artist on the rise, and a must-have for all of White’s fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Tony Joe White’s Home Page

OST: Harper Valley P.T.A.

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

The title hit, Barbara Eden and selections from Nelson Riddle’s score

A decade after Jeannie C. Riley topped the country chart with Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” the song was made into a feature film starring Barbara Eden. Eden had turned her early training as a singer, and the fame generated by I Dream of Genie, into a 1967 album for Dot and numerous appearances on television variety shows. For the soundtrack of this 1978 film she sang the Tom T. Hall songs “Mr. Harper” and “Widow Jones,” the latter released as a single. The album leads off with the stereo version of the title tune, and adds well-known songs by Jerry Lee Lewis (“High School Confidential”) and Johnny Cash (“Ballad of a Teenage Queen”) to Carol Channing’s cover of “Whatever Happened to Charlie Brown.” Of more interest to soundtrack collectors will be Nelson Riddle’s instrumental pieces, which include swing, late-night jazz and a classical pastiche. Unfortunately, though listenable, the fidelity of the Riddle tracks doesn’t match that of the rest of the album. Worth getting, but someone should take another look in the vault for better source material. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

The most widely heard unsung singer at Motown

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be simultaneously one of the most obscure soul singers of her era, and one of the most widely heard. “Obscure,” because Motown’s hit-seeking radar somehow missed the brilliance in the dozens of tracks they recorded on Williams and then buried in their vault. “Widely heard,” because Williams was heard by millions of television viewers each week as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. The daughter of a baptist minister, Williams grew up singing, directing and playing piano in church choirs. She performed with Andraé Crouch, Billy Preston and Edna Wright in the Cogic Singers, releasing several records on the Simpson and Exodus labels, but solo contracts pulled the group apart, with Williams recording an album for Atlantic.

Williams had previously crossed into secular music with a 1963 single (and a flip) under the nom de record “Lindy Adams,” and a 1964 single for Vee Jay that backed the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” with “Heartaches.” She landed at Motown in 1968 under her high school nickname, Blinky, and debuted with the Ashford & Simpson-penned “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is.” An album of duets with Edwin Starr followed in 1969, along with three more singles  (one on Motown, and two on the label’s west coast imprint, Mowest), but despite opening for the Temptations and a spot in the Motortown Revue, the lack of a concerted promotional push left all of the releases to founder commercially.

Had this been the extent of Williams’ engagement with Motown, she might have been collected only by crate diggers, and remembered as a talent whose intersection with the label was artistically fruitful but commercially bare. What distinguishes Williams from other Motown shoulda-beens is the large number of finished, unreleased sides that were left in the vault alongside fascinating working tracks and live material. Motown rolled a lot of tape on someone they couldn’t (or more likely just didn’t) break, and the fervor of her fans (who mounted a now-successful “Free Blinky from the Vaults” campaign) reflects the riches that she recorded, rather than the limited sides that Motown actually released.

The two-disc set opens with Williams’ unreleased album Sunny & Warm, immediately provoking the question of what else Motown had going on that led them to leave this in the vault. To be fair to Motown, Williams’ album was slotted between Diana Ross’ eponymous 1970 solo debut, and the Jackson 5’s Christmas album, so Motown’s promotions staff was certainly busy. If it’s any consolation to Williams, Jimmy and David Ruffin’s I Am My Brother’s Keeper was in the same spot, though released on the subsidiary Soul label. Sunny & Warm opens with the single “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is” (which Williams can be seen performing on Chuck Johnson’s Soul Time USA), and features a new interpretation of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me,” produced by the song’s co-writer, Raynard Miner. Clay McMurray produced the gratified “This Man of Mine” and the questioning “Is There a Place,” and Ashford and Simpson’s “How Ya Gonna Keep It” (backed with a stunning, deep soul cover of Jimmy Webb’s “This Time Last Summer”) was slated to be the next single.

And then… nothing. No album, and no explanation. Williams kept plugging away, making a connection with Sammy Davis Jr., and touring with him while continuing to record for Motown. Disc one fleshes out the unreleased album with the singles Motown and Mowest released in 1972-73, live material (including a previously unreleased performance of “God Bless the Child”) from the Motortown Revue, and several tracks from anthologies and soundtracks that include a studio take of “God Bless the Child” that was released on 1971’s Rock Gospel – The Key To The Kingdom, and a commanding performance of the early blues  “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” from Lady Sings the Blues.

The set’s second disc includes twenty-two previously unreleased tracks recorded with a variety of Motown producers, including label material and covers. Among the latter is an original soul arrangement of Graham Gouldman’s “Heart Full of Soul,” and a thoughtful, extended cover of the Stylistics “People Make the World Go Round.” A few of the tracks are mastered with control room slates or musician count-ins, giving them the aura of work-in-process, but these are finished pieces that offer performances, arrangements and sound that are all up to Motown’s standards. Why were they left in the vault? Perhaps Williams’ gospel roots were too soulful for the pop-leaning Motown, but more likely she was a victim of the sheer volume of material that the well-oiled Motown machine could produce. Motown’s investment may not have yielded commercial returns, but the artistry of these sides is undeniable, and freed from the vault, they’re finally available for Williams’ longtime devotees to enjoy. [©2019 Hyperbolium]