After relocating from New Orleans to Los Angeles, soul queen Irma Thomas largely disappeared from public view for a few years. But a series of singles produced by Jerry Williams (a.k.a. Swamp Dogg) on the indieCanyon, Roker and Fungus labels led to this eight-track release in 1973. Williams had proven himself a talented musician and producer, and in the latter capacity he leaves behind the absurdist humor of his own records to bring Thomas a helping of Southern soul and West Coast funk. Thomas’ new material, much of it written by Williams, has plenty of bite, but it’s more personal than broad. The wistful drama of her early Minit and Imperial sides had given way to something heavier, more worldly-wise, weary and womanly. When she sings of broken relationships, it’s from the experience of being spurned rather than the hope of being accepted, and when she takes stock of her life, she’s not afraid to highlight problems with the balance sheet. The transition from her earlier work is particularly apparent in a remake of “Wish Someone Would Care” which evolved from heartbroken yearning to mortally wounded. Alive’s 2013 reissue adds two bonus tracks, including the pre-album B-side “I’ll Do it All Over You.” This little-known album caught Thomas in a fiery and outspoken mood, and its return to print makes a welcome addition to her better-known releases. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Archive for the ‘Video’ Category
For most artists, a twenty-eight track collection of their biggest chart hits would be a fair representation of their commercial success. In Eddy Arnold’s case, twenty-eight #1 singles only very lightly skims the surface of nearly thirty-nine consecutive years of chart success that stretched from 1945 through 1983 (he struck out, though not without a few good swings, in 1958). A singer of such renown inspires numerous reissues and collections, including hefty Bear Family boxes (1 2), but this is the first set to include his entire run of chart-toppers, from 1946′s “What is Life Without Love” through 1968′s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” Within that 25-year span, Arnold evolved from a twangy country star in the ’40s to a Nashville Sound innovator and resurgent chart-topper in the mid-60s.
Arnold was always more of a crooner than a honky-tonker, and even when singing upbeat tunes like “A Full Time Job,” you can hear pop stylings edging into his held notes. 1953′s “I Really Don’t Want to Know” drops the fiddle and steel, and is sung in a folk style to acoustic guitar, bass and male backing vocals. 1955′s “Cattle Call” finds Arnold yodeling a remake of Tex Owens’ 1934 tune, a song he’d recorded previously in 1944. The new version featured orchestrations by Hugo Winterhalter and signaled crossover intentions that would come to full fruition a full decade later. Arnold’s chart success dimmed in the face of rock ‘n’ roll’s rise, but by 1960 he’d regained a foothold, and by mid-decade he’d transitioned fully to countrypolitan arrangements.
In 1965 Arnold once again topped the charts with “What’s He Doing in My World” and his signature “Make the World Go Away.” Backed by strings, burbling bass lines, the Anita Kerr Singers and Floyd Kramer’s light piano, Arnold rode out the decade with a string of Top 10s and his last five chart toppers. He pushed towards an easier sound, but his vocals always retained a hint of his Tennessee Plowboy roots, differentiating him from more somnambulistic singers like Perry Como. Real Gone’s collection includes an eight-page booklet with liner notes from Don Cusic and remastering by Maria Triana. Tracks 1-21 are in their original mono, tracks 22-28 in their original true stereo. Though there’s a great deal more to be told, a spin through Arnold’s chart toppers provides a truly satisfying introduction to his catalog. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Though country music is most typically associated with the Southern United States, it’s impact has been felt all around the world. In addition to Nashville and Texas exports, a strong but little-known strain developed among Australian aboriginals in the second half of the twentieth century. American songs were repurposed to tell stories of harsh conditions in the outback, and lyrics of country-to-city migration, drinking and prison all found resonance in the freewheeling down-under. But Australians also stretched the genre with localized stories, locations and slang, and dark themes of social injustice that had more in common with America’s folk, blues and outlaw movements than country’s mainstream.
Roger Knox, known as both the Koori King of Country and the Black Elvis (check out his early work on Best of Koori Classic), has been an Australian favorite for more than 30 years, but like so many from outside Nashville, his music has always been too country for country. His parallels to other outspoken artists are many, but none more so than Johnny Cash, whose sympathies for the repressed, downtrodden and imprisoned are mirrored in Knox’s work. On this first new record in nine years, Knox revisits the history of aboriginal country music, reworking his own contributions and covering classics of the genre. He’s backed seamlessly by Jon Langford’s Pine Valley Cosmonauts, with guest appearances by Dave Alvin, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, Bonnie Prince Billie, The Sadies and Charlie Louvin. The latter, heard on “Ticket to Nowhere,” is thought to have been making his last recorded performance.
The selections profile rough-and-ready cowboys from a frontier that lasted decades longer than the American West, natives imprisoned and stripped of their cultural practices, prejudice expressed openly and in misguided assimilation programs, and homesick emigrants whose delicate memories are like sensory poems. The devastating effects of forced social alienation – broken families, alcoholism, arrest and prison – play similarly to those essayed by Johnny Cash of Native Americans, but amid the privation and heartache are threads of optimism, expressed both in response to hardships and in positive exclamations of place and pride. This is a truly moving collection of songs and performances, and a good introduction to a pocket of country music likely to be unfamiliar to even the most adventurous listener. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
There may never have been as iconoclastic a country artist as David Allan Coe. Though his rejection of Nashville norms drew parallels with the outlaw movement, he always seemed a notch wilder and less predictable than Waylon, Willie and the boys. Reared largely in reform schools and prisons through his late-20s, his bluesy 1969 debut, Penitentiary Blues, didn’t predict his turn to country, but certainly showed off the outspoken songwriting that would sustain his career. At turns, Coe was a rebel, a rhinestone suited cowboy, a biker and a successful Nashville songwriter. After a pair of albums for Shelby Singleton’s indie SSS label, Coe hooked up with a rock band for a couple of years, wrote a chart-topping hit for Tanya Tucker, and signed with Columbia in 1974.
This 1977 release on Shelby’s Plantation label appears to have been recorded in 1973, on the eve of the songwriting revolution fueled in large part by Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver and Guy Clark. All three are represented (Kristofferson with “Why Me,” Shaver with “Ride Me Down Easy” and Clark with “That Old Time Feeling”), along with Mickey Newbury (“Why You Been Gone So Long”) and Jackson Browne (“These Days”). Coe finds a deep resonance with these then-contemporary songs, but the way he pulls older selections into his universe is even more impressive. He converts John Greer’s early-50s “Got You on My Mind” from R&B to country-soul and turns Johnny Cash’s Sun-era tragedy “Give My Love to Rose” into a mournful ’70s ballad.
Coe wrote only two of the songs here, the sympathetic “Mary Magdeline” and the prescient “Fuzzy Was an Outlaw.” Both exhibit the sort of blunt honesty that would become his trademark. By the time this album was released in ’77, Coe had charted “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” “Longhaired Redneck,” and “Willie, Wayon and Me,” but Texas Moon drew little public notice and has been left unreissued on CD until now. Real Gone’s reissue includes a 12-panel insert with new liner notes by Chris Morris, and original front and back cover art. The latter includes vintage mug shots and a list of Coe’s incarcerations. This isn’t the place to start a David Allan Coe collection, but it’s a missing chapter that the singer-songwriter’s many fans will enjoy having available again. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
As part of the Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe’s star power was obscured by the outsized shine of her bandmate, Miranda Lambert. Though the Annies share lead vocals, they present themselves as a trio, with only Lambert’s fame standing out individually. But stepping out for her second solo album, Monroe’s singing talent is front and center. She sings in a voice that’s both innocent and world-wise, tipped with the sweetness of Dolly Parton, and with a sense of faith unshaken by life’s bumpy road. The title track, co-written with Guy Clark, is a showcase for this balance, laying out a path of endless forks that forges onward with hope and optimism. Monroe keeps the vocal intimate, even a bit shell-shocked, busting out in hints of wonder and pride only in the chorus. You can sense Monroe’s grit, another trait she shares with Parton, but also humbleness as she mirrors the song’s story in her vocal tone.
Producers Vince Gill and Justin Niebank serve Monroe perfectly with old-school productions of keening steel, crying fiddles and slip-note piano, but modern studio sonics that keep the album from sounding retro. It’s a much better setting for Monroe than her 2006 debut, Satisfied, fitting the delicate parts of her voice more supportively and pushing her toward traditional country phrasing. You can hear the difference in her remake of “Used,” sung here with a grace that escaped the earlier version. Monroe’s material balances blue-tinged autobiographical ballads with honky-tonk humor, the latter heard in the call-to-marital-duty “Weed Instead of Roses” and a sassy duet with Blake Shelton, “You Ain’t Dolly.” At only nine tracks (and under thirty minutes), this album ends too quickly, but with the Annie’s 2011 breakthrough advancing Monroe’s profile, her second shot at solo stardom is sure to be a success. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
After a less-than-satisfying engagement with his last record label, Marshall Crenshaw’s taking his music straight to the people. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, Crenshaw’s developed a subscription project that will turn out a series of six three-song 10” vinyl EPs, each featuring a new song, a cover and a remake from the singer-songwriter’s rich catalog. The EPs also include a code with which the analog-deprived can download digital versions of the recordings. The first EP was delivered earlier this year, and this second entry features a new A-side, “Stranger and Stranger,” filled with lyric uncertainty and underlined by Bryan Carrott’s vibraphone. The B-sides include a superb acoustic remake of Crenshaw’s “Mary Anne,” that was originally recorded for the 2008 film God is Dead, and a fully orchestrated cover of the Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” The latter is played straight, with smooth choral backing vocals and a trumpet solo by Steven Bernstein. The EP with digital download, as well as a one-year three-EP subscription, is available through Crenshaw’s on-line store. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
This Provo, UT quartet has a modern rock sound that usually suggests the The Shins, but the A-side, “I Won’t See You,” of their new EP is sweetly rooted in the 1970s soft-rock hits of Fleetwood Mac, Andrew Gold and others. The song’s melody and harmonies are warm and comforting, and it’s not until the song transitions into a more angsty chorus that you realize you’re not listening to a period piece. Even then, a short guitar solo once again captures the mood of ’70s radio and leads back to another gorgeous verse. The EP’s second track edges more towards Gin Blossoms territory, but the rhythm guitars could still bring you back to 1976. The closing “Birds” returns more to the modern-rock sounds of the Shins or Morning Benders, though the harmony vocals and blues-heavy undertow still tug at you from decades past. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
What if, after cutting his musical teeth in Phoenix, Lee Hazlewood had turned East to Nashville, rather than West to Los Angeles? And what if he’d met Nancy Sinatra in MusicCity rather than the City of Angels? The answer might sound like a twist on the Western-tinged landscapes of “Summer Wine” and “Some Velvet Morning,” and it might have sounded something like the opening track of this Nashville band’s debut. Vocalist Jessica Maros’ sings a bit more ethereally than Nancy, but with the same confident sass that was catnip to Sinatra’s fans. Maros’ cohort Tyler James fills Hazlewood’s role as vocal straight man, but with a grittier rock ‘n’ roll kick and a haunting trumpet sound that evokes the sun-baked deserts of Sergio Leone and forlorn mood of Bobby Hackett.
Despite those tips of the sombrero, Escondido isn’t a hipster rehash of Nancy, Lee or Ennio, as they also gear down to a dreamier sound that brings to mind Mazzy Star. At times, such as on “Willow Tree,” Maros conjures both Nancy Sinatra and Hope Sandoval, and James, along with bassist Adam Keafer, drummer Evan Hutchings and guitarist Scotty Murray paint the backgrounds in spare, atmospheric strums and echoing notes. Recorded in a single day-long session, the album is populated with ruinous femme fatales, lonely sirens and upbeat farewells. The band’s hard twanging “Don’t Love Me Too Much” was recently featured on ABC’s Nashville, which is a larger coup for network television than for a band whose original combination of influences should attract ears from both the mainstream and the outside lands. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Willie Nelson sang from the Great American Songbook as early as 1976′s The Sound in Your Mind, and with 1978′s Stardust he demonstrated a unique affinity for pop standards. He continued to draw on this material for decades to come, including 1981′s Over the Rainbow, 1983′s Without a Song and 1988′s What a Wonderful World. His latest collection of pop and country standards is a low-key affair without backing vocals or orchestrations, leaving Nelson’s voice isolated out front of his Family band. His idiosyncratic phrasing continues to serve this type of material wonderfully, but unlike the statement of Stardust, this set is more of a Saturday night jam than a staged performance. With his sister Bobbie and longtime compadres Mickey Raphael and Paul English on board, the sessions feel as if Nelson’s calling out favorites for the group to pick up. The players slide easily into familiar songs, and though the solos can be tentative, the warmth these musicians share, Nelson’s deep feeling for the material and his inimitable singing are all worth hearing.
Nelson’s recorded many of these songs before, a few several times over. He waxed “You’ll Never Know” in 1983 and again in 1994, but this third time he shares the stage more fully with the piano accompaniment. His original “Is the Better Part Over” is stripped of the strings heard on 1989′s A Horse Called Music, and though nominally about a relationship that’s run it’s course, at age 79, one can hear Nelson singing about his life. “Vous Et Moi” digs more deeply into the percussiveness of Nelson’s guitar strings than the 1999 version heard on Night and Day, and “Twilight Time” is sung in a lower, less-nasal register than his earlier version. Floyd Tillman’s oft-recorded “I’ll Keep on Loving You” provides a gentle western swing, and Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” which might seem an odd companion here, fits nicely as semi-acoustic, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. Nelson greets these songs like old friends, but with renewed enthusiasm each time they meet. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
The slow catching flame of Big Star’s belated renown has recently been stoked by a feature-length documentary, and now by this Record Store Day double-LP of period demos and alternate mixes, and a few remixes made for the film. Depending on your viewpoint, the new mixes may be revelatory and revisionist, or both. The period material, however, will be welcomed by all of the band’s fans. For those who’ve been wearing out copies of #1 Record, Radio City and Third since their original appearances on vinyl, even the slightest variations in these tracks will prick your ear with something new. The quality of the original recordings and the condition of the tapes remains impressive, and the opportunity to hear these variations on much loved themes (decorated in a few spots with studio chatter) is a rare opportunity. What appeared to the public as highly polished diamonds turned out to be – perhaps unsurprisingly if you ever stopped to think about it – the results of a lot of intention and hard work. The seeds of the final tracks are here, even in the demo of “O My Soul,” but not in the balance that’s been etched into fans’ ears.
Robert Gordon’s liner notes from Big Star Live capture the feeling perfectly: “You find an old picture of your lover. It dates from before you’d met, and though you’d heard about this period in his or her life, seeing it adds a whole new dimension to the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table. You study the photograph and its wrinkles, looking for clues that might tell you more about this friend you know so well–can you see anything in the pockets of that jacket, can you read any book titles on the shelf in the background. You think about an archaeologist’s work. When you next see your lover, you’re struck by things you’d never noticed. The skin tone, the facial radiance–though the lamps in your house are all the same and the sun does not appear to be undergoing a supernova, he or she carries a different light. As strikingly similar as the way your lover has always appeared, he or she is also that different. You shrug and smile. Whatever has happened, you like it. That’s what this recording is about.” CD, CD/DVD and double-LP black vinyl editions are forthcoming. [©2013 Hyperbolium]