Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

August 9th, 2017

A quiet 1972 gem from a country-soul legend

Arthur Alexander’s music career was as heartbreaking as were his songs. A writer of indelible sorrow, he sang with a depth that seemed to flow directly out of his aching soul. He reached the Top 40 with “You Better Move On” and the R&B Top 10 with “Anna,” but his songs quickly became better known for other artist’s covers – the Stones, Beatles, Steve Alaimo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Bob Luman in the ‘60s – than for his own performances. The covers kept coming, as Mink DeVille, Chris Spedding, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others discovered Alexander’s songs, but various revivals of his own recording career never reached the commercial heights his artistry deserved.

Dropped by Dot in 1965, Alexander recorded a handful of singles for Sound Stage 7 and Monument (collected here), and in 1971 was signed by Warner Brothers to record this album. Alexander wrote five of the twelve titles, serving up heartbreak tinged with the difficult loyalty of “Go On Home Girl” and the painful memories of “In the Middle of It All.” Amid the sadness he surprises with resilience, haunted by failure but not knocked out in “Love Is Where Life Begins,” and resolutely focused on the prize in Dan Penn and Donnie Fitts’ troubled “Rainbow Road.” He aches with quiet desire on “It Hurts to Want It So Band,” and offers up an early version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” but without the fire of Elvis’ subsequent hit.

Released in 1972, the album and its singles garnered little interest from radio and no commercial results to speak of. A pair of follow-on singles, included here as bonus tracks, fared no better commercially. “Mr. John” has the sleek feel of Bill Withers, and the follow-up cover of “Lover Please” has a bouncy New Orleans roll. Two more tracks, the yearning “I Don’t Want Nobody” and optimistic “Simple Song of Love” were recorded for Warner Brothers but left unreleased until now. Alexander resurfaced a few years later with a charting cover of his own “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” as well as the Elvis tribute, “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home,” but unable to sustain this success, he left the business.

Two decades later he bubbled up again with the superb Lonely Just Like Me, finally receiving the attention and accolades he deserved. Sadly, and perhaps in keeping with the melancholy of his best work, Alexander passed away just months after the album’s release. Omnivore’s reissue of Arthur Alexander reproduces the original 12-song running order, adds six additional tracks waxed for Warner and original cover art. The 12-page booklet includes full-panel photos, label reproductions, and original and new liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. Although his time with Warner Brothers was short, it was artistically triumphant, and adds a valuable chapter to his small but influential catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks

August 4th, 2017

Late-40s and early-50s sides from the father of rock ‘n’ roll

Arthur Crudup is most widely remembered as the writer of Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right,” and the later B-side “My Baby Left Me.” But by the time Presley waxed these sides in the mid-50s, Crudup had already quit the recording business in disgust. Crudup was denied a share of the royalties his songwriting and recordings had generated, and after years of subsisting on low wages for sessions and performances, he’d had enough of enriching others. He eventually returned to recording and performing, continuing on into the 1970s, but even with legal help, he was never able to claim the royalties for the songs that had launched others onto the charts.

Bear Family’s 28-track collection focuses primarily on the sides Crudup recorded in Chicago for RCA in the 1940s, supplemented by a few early-50s recordings made in the studios of WQXI (Atlanta), WRBC (Jackson, MS) and WGST (Atlanta), and in 1962, New York City. Crudup began recording for RCA in 1941 with a basic session of acoustic guitar and washtub bass, but a two-year-long musicians strike created a gap that stretched from 1942 until the end of 1944. This set picks up with 1945’s “Open Your Book,” with Crudup’s energetic guitar playing backed by drummer Charles “Chick” Draper. The lyrics touched on the phrase “that’s all right,” though it wouldn’t solidify into the title song until the following year.

Another guitar-and-drums session, this time with Armand “Jump” Jackson on skins yielded the hit “So Glad You’re Mine,” which Elvis revived a decade later for Elvis. By Fall of 1946 Crudup had been reunited with string bassist Ransom J. Knowling, and along with drummer Judge Lawrence Riley they worked their way up to the iconic “That’s All Right.” Before recording the icon, the trio warmed up the key “that’s all right” phrase and the “de de de” scat on the raucous “So Glad You’re Mine.” Those two elements would continue to thread through Crudup’s work for years, including the subsequent “I Don’t Know It.”

Crudup, Knowling and Riley continued to record throughout 1947, Crudup traveling up to Chicago from his native Mississippi to which he’d returned in 1945. They mixed mid-tempo laments with up-tempo numbers whose excited vocals and sharp drum accents point in a straight line to Presley’s early Sun work, and the rock ‘n’ roll revolution. Late in 1950 the trio laid down “My Baby Left Me,” complete with the drum and bass intro that Bill Black and D.J. Fontana reworked for Elvis’ 1956 B-side. Crudup’s last Chicago session, and the last session the trio would play together, was held in Spring of 1951, and yielded the nuclear war paranoia of “I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole.”

By 1952, Crudup had a new rhythm section (bassist Jimmy Sheffield and drummer N. Butler), and recording had moved to Atlanta, to the studio of radio station WQXI. Crudup’s guitar has a more subdued tone in these sessions, and his vocals aren’t as exuberant as his hottest Chicago sides. He ventured down to Jackson, MS to moonlight for Chess with the juke-joint blues “Open Your Book,” and the push from Robert Dees’ harmonica returned the spark to his singing. He waxed the energetic blues “She’s My Baby” for Champion with a muddily-recorded piano adding a new sound to his records, and he returned to RCA in 1954 where a lack of with hits led to the end of his contract and an exit from recording.

Eight years later, in 1962, producer Bobby Robinson tracked Crudup down in Frankfort, VA, and brought him to New York. Together they re-recorded stereo versions of Crudup’s earlier work, of which three are included here. Crudup’s songs and style have reverberated throughout rock ‘n’ roll’s entire history, and though well known for the exposure Elvis Presley’s debut provided, his own recordings haven’t been as widely heard. Bear Family’s 28-track collection highlights his years with RCA and beyond, and the 36-page booklet includes informative liner notes by Bill Dahl and a detailed discography. More can be heard on the box set A Music Man Like Nobody Ever Saw, but as a starting point, this is “all right!” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Note: to play this collection in chronological order, program 11, 28, 9, 2, 7, 13, 6, 10, 19, 23, 24, 22, 4, 8, 3, 14, 15, 17, 21, 25, 16, 1, 12, 5, 26, 27, 18, 20.

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 4 – Bill Watrous

July 26th, 2017

1979 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 4 is headlined by trombonist Bill Watrous, and backed by a hand-picked quartet of Pepper, Russ Freeman (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and Carl Burnett (drums). Originally issued as Funk ‘n’ Fun, Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original eight tracks.

Recorded in March, 1979, the session features a 40-year-old Watrous who’d played with many jazz luminaries and led his own big band, the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge. The label’s suggestion of Watrous was seemingly at odds with their stated desire to record West Coast jazz veterans, but Pepper and Watrous had been gigging together, and Pepper’s longtime association with Freeman, and then-recent gigs with Magnusson and Burnett, made for easy chemistry in the studio. The set opens with a trio of 1930s jazz standards, with fine solos and unison playing, and Magnusson’s fluid bass and Burnett’s drum accents stoking the beat. Pepper takes flight on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” and Watrous’ trombone is forlorn and Freeman’s piano introspective on the ballad “When Your Lover Has Gone.”

Watrous’ original “For Art’s Sake” picks up from the ballads in a frenetic mood, and Watrous, Pepper and Freeman all find swinging grooves through the choppy rhythm as they dodge Burnett’s snappy fills. Pepper’s “Funny Blues” is taken at a mellower tempo than the 1956 original, though Pepper is energetic with his runs, and inspires the same in Watrous. The album closes with the oft-recorded mid-40s ballad “Angel Eyes” and Al Cohn’s “P. Town.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 3 – Lee Konitz

July 26th, 2017

1982 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 3 is headlined by saxophonist Lee Konitz, backed by a hand-picked rhythm section composed of Michael Lang (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and John Dentz (drums). The last of Pepper’s sessions for Atlas, this was originally released as High Jingo; Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original seven tracks.

Recorded in 1982 at Sage & Sound, the set list leans heavily on jazz standards, augmented by original pieces from each of Pepper and Konitz. The set opens with a breezy take on the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful,” with potent solos from both saxophones, mellower bridges by Lang and Magnusson, and toe-tapping cymbal work by Dentz. Laurie Pepper’s liner notes deftly dissect the different styles of Pepper and Konitz, pointing out that the former came out swinging from the first note, while the latter built up to his most potent improvisations. By the time they join together at song’s end, Konitz is warmed up, and when he enters on “High Jingo” with a mellower tone, he springboards off of Pepper’s energy. Paul Chambers’ “Whims of Chambers” cools things down a bit, as Magnusson’s walking bass line starts everyone’s head bobbing, and Lang’s comping provides superb backing for the sax solos.

Pepper’s “A Minor Blues in F” includes a fine solo from Lang and an unexpected “a cappella” sax duo in which the band drops away to leave the horns to their own conversation. The set’s ballad, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” finds Pepper on clarinet, ceding the bulk of the soloing to Konitz and Lang. Pepper’s solo on “Anniversary Song” stretches the waltz into more abstract territory before the band returns to the theme, and the set closes with a rousing take on “Cherokee.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Big Star: The Best of Big Star

July 24th, 2017

Cherry-picked collection of the band’s first three albums w/singles

There’s an element of triumph in the unjustly-ignored-in-their-time Big Star being celebrated in retrospect. At the same time, the books [1 2 3 4], documentary, reissues [1 2 3], box sets [1 2] archival artifacts [1 2 3 4 5 6], resurrections and reunions [1 2 3 4], tributary performances (and resulting concert film) and best-ofs [1 2], threaten to overwhelm the rare brilliance of their slim, original catalog. For the uninitiated, the two-fer of the band’s first two albums provides the original testaments, and the challenging third album the capstone. But if three albums is too much to absorb up front, this collection provides a a Cliff’s Notes to a musical novella whose briefness belies its importance and nuance.

The disc intertwines material from the group’s three 1970’s albums, #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers, and includes many of the band’s most beloved songs. For fans, the draw is a half-dozen single versions. Robert Gordon’s liner notes summarize the ill fates that befell the band, and their Phoenix-like rise from obscurity to seminal influence. The music essays the group’s sweetest acoustic moments, their hardest rocking, and the despair that gripped Alex Chilton as he spiraled into the third album. A “best of” is only a short hop away from an ouvre that can be had in two discs [1 2], but if you’re not ready for the plunge, this is a good place to start. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Big Star’s Home Page

Robert Lamm: Time Chill – A Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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