Posts Tagged ‘ABC’

The Mamas and the Papas: The Complete Singles

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

MamasAndPapas_TheCompleteSinglesFor the first time in 50 years, the original mono single edits and mixes

Although the Mamas & Papas’ hit songs are nearly elemental in their familiarity, the actual hit singles are still rare to the ear. That’s because the mono mixes collected here often differ from the more commonly circulated versions by virtue of edits, instrumental changes and vocal overdubs. Unless you have the original singles, you probably haven’t heard these versions since they were on the radio, and even then, you likely heard them only through the limited fidelity of AM broadcast. But heard in remastered form, your ears will be impressed with the coherence of the mono productions and vocal blends, and in their absence, the problems that have plagued the group’s stereo catalog. To make things even better, the group’s A’s and B’s are complemented by the ABC/Dunhill solo singles of Cass Elliot, John Phillips and Denny Doherty.

The set opens with the group’s incredibly rare first single, “Go Where You Wanna Go.” While the recording is well-known through its inclusion on the debut album and greatest hits anthologies (and the song is even more familiar in its later hit cover by the Fifth Dimension), the 7” single saw only very limited release, possibly even promotional only, and was quickly superseded in distribution, record company attention, public acclaim and chart success by “California Dreamin’.” The group would continue to ride high in the charts through 1967’s “Creeque Alley,” fading a bit before “Dream a Little Dream of Me” returned them to prominence and charted the way for Cass Elliot’s solo career. Elliot, Doherty and Phillips all recorded solo material for ABC/Dunhill, and their singles fill out disc two.

Nearly all of these tracks appeared on original albums, though as noted earlier, often in different mixes or edits than the singles. A few, “Glad to Be Unhappy,” “All For Me,” and “The Costume Ball” were originally released only as singles, and though Doherty’s “To Claudia on Thursday” was released as an album track, it was on Jimmy Haskell’s California 99, rather than one of Doherty’s own albums. The UK-only B-side “I Can’t Wait” is omitted from this set, but that’s a nit among the wealth of mono singles returned to print here. Ed Osborne’s liner notes feature interviews with Michelle Phillips and producer Lou Adler, and the 24-page booklet includes full-panel photos, master and release data, and chart info. This is a must-have for fans, but even casual listeners will find it an incredibly compelling collection. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Ray Charles: Live in France 1961

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Ray Charles live in 1961 at the height of his powers

1961 was a banner year for Ray Charles. The crossover seeds he’d sewn with Atlantic on 1959’s The Genius of Ray Charles had led him to bigger bands and orchestras and a contract with ABC. In 1960 he’d notched his first #1 on the pop chart with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind,” and by 1961 the demand for his concert appearances finally brought him to Europe, where he headlined the second-annual Antibes Jazz Festival in southeastern France. Charles performed four dates with the classic lineup of his octet, featuring Hank Crawford (alto sax), David “Fathead” Newman (tenor sax and flute), Leroy Cooper (baritone sax), Phillip Guilbeau (trumpet), John Hunt (trumpet), Edgar Willis (bass), Bruno Carr (drums) and the Raelettes (Gwen Berry, Margie Hendrix, Pat Lyles and Darlene McCrea).

The two full dates captured here – July 18th and 22nd – split their set lists between earlier titles recorded for Atlantic and then recent sides for ABC. The two sets repeat a few titles (“Let the Good Times Roll,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Sticks and Stones” and crowd-rousing versions of Charles’ first crossover hit, “What’d I Say”), but also add unique titles, including a swinging take of Charles then-current Latin-rhythm single “One Mint Julep” a celebratory performance of “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” (with Newman stepping to the front for a short solo), and a cover of Nat King Cole’s “With You On My Mind.” The band’s instrumental tunes give Charles an opportunity to show off his considerable talent as a pianist, and the fluidity with which the shows move between jazz, blues, R&B, gospel and pop is mesmerizing.

The two sets are augmented by six bonus performances culled from shows on the 19th and 21st, bringing the total program to a satisfying 105 minutes. Originally filmed (not videotaped) for French public television, these performances have been unseen for nearly fifty years. The black-and-white footage is neatly edited, with interesting close-ups of the instrumentalists and images of the sunglasses-wearing cigarette-smoking audience. The audio is crisp, well-balanced mono with only a few inconsequential artifacts, including Charles’ enthusiastic foot stomping rattling his microphone stand on “Let the Good Times Roll.” This is a terrific archival discovery and a must-see for Ray Charles fans! [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: Singular Genius – The Complete ABC Singles

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Complete recitation of Ray Charles’ fifty-three singles for ABC

Ray Charles long ago graduated from a hit-seeking artist to an omnipresent musical god. His iconic singles, innovative albums and sizzling live performances are so monumental as to obscure the time before they existed. It’s all but impossible to recall the excitement of a new Ray Charles release climbing up the charts to popular acclaim and immortality. But Charles’ genius was both artistic and commercial, and his growth and triumphs as a musician were paralleled by success on the charts. Concord’s 5-disc set gathers the mono A- and B-sides of all 53 singles that Charles released on the ABC label, starting with 1960’s “My Baby (I Love Her Yes I Do)” and concluding with 1973’s “I Can Make It Thru the Days (But Oh Those Lonely Nights).” Along the route the set stops at eleven chart-topping hits, numerous lower-charting A-sides and a wealth of terrific B’s. Thirty of these tracks are making their first appearance on CD, and twenty-one their digital debut.

By the time Charles joined ABC-Paramount, he’d already begun to translate his success on the R&B charts into broader crossover acclaim with the Atlantic singles “What’d I Say” and “I’m Movin’ On.” His recordings for ABC included both indelible albums (e.g., Genius + Soul = Jazz and Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music), and an incredible string of charting singles that included “Georgia on My Mind” (his first Pop #1), “Hit the Road Jack,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Busted” and “Crying Time.” Charles repeatedly showed himself to be a master of blues, soul, jazz, gospel, pop and his own brand of country, and a musician (both as a pianist and vocalist) whose brilliance was amplified just as fully by a small combo as it was by an orchestra.

Charles had first expanded his musical boundaries with Atlantic on 1959’s The Genius of Ray Charles, augmenting his R&B band with additional players and strings; ABC capitalized on this by providing the opportunity to record with big bands and orchestras. The through line that links the two eras is the soul Charles poured into each vocal, the personal experience he wrote into his lyrics, and the imagination with which he created definitive interpretations of others’ songs. Charles’ piano playing – particularly on the electric – was as iconic as his voice, and as a bandleader he surrounded himself with exceptional instrumentalists, including tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, who developed their own notoriety and followings.

It wasn’t until Charles’ third single for ABC, 1960’s career-defining cover of “Georgia on My Mind,” that he topped the pop chart and fully exploited his crossover success. It was a feat he’d repeat with 1961’s “Hit the Road Jack,” 1962’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and with other titles on the R&B chart. Charles’ sessions often turned out enough high-grade material to stock both sides of his singles. 1962’s landmark cover of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” for example, was backed by an even higher-charting take on Governor Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine.” But the biggest hits aren’t this set’s most intriguing material – it’s the lower-charting singles and B-sides, overshadowed by Charles’ commercial success, that are the biggest surprise.

Lesser-known highlights include Phil Guilbeau’s trumpet work on Percy Mayfield’s sly blues “But on the Other Hand, Baby,” Gerald Wilson’s moody arrangements of “Careless Love” and “Something’s Wrong,” a sizzling two-part live remake of Charles’ 1955 hit “I Got a Woman,” the Wrecking Crew’s Carole Kaye laying down a funky bass line on “The Train,” Charles’ cooking original version of Ashford & Simpson’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” Jimmy Holiday’s southern-tinged blue soul “Something Inside Me,” Billy Preston’s gospel organ on “Here We Go Again,” the bittersweet waltz-time “Somebody Ought to Write a Book About It,” the gospel testimony of “Understanding,” the Stax-styled “Let Me Love You,” and the run of Buck Owens tunes (“Love’s Gonna Live Here Again,” “Crying Time” and “Together Again”) Charles covered in 1965-6.

In the Fall of 1965, Charles began recording in his own RPM International studio, and many of the singles from this era sound pinched (Billy Vera’s liner notes say they’re “drier”), as though they were mixed and EQ’d narrowly for AM radio. As the timeline rolls into 1966 and 1967, the compressed dynamic range and mono mixes become anachronistic. As Charles’ fame grew, he became more dependent on interpreting the songs of staff writers and others. The musical invention of the early ‘60s settled into a comfortable groove, but Charles’ blend of soul, blues, jazz, country and pop never failed to offer something unique. Treats in the latter half of the collection include a superbly wrought cover of Sam Cooke’s “Laughin’ and Cryin’,” a subtle double-tracked vocal on the soul B-side “If You Were Mine,” a soulful reworking of “America the Beautiful,” and a sharp take on “Ring of Fire” that was Charles’ last B-side for ABC.

The five discs are housed in individual cardboard folders, with interior reproductions of a label or picture sleeve. The folders are packed in a heavy-duty box with a linen-textured finish and magnetic clasp. The 48-page booklet includes archival photos, detailed musician credits and release data, and new liner notes by Billy Vera. All 106 tracks are mastered in mono. This is a superb way to get acquainted with the range of Ray Charles’ recordings of the 1960s and early 1970s, combining his best-loved hits with superb B-sides and lower-charting singles that remain obscure to many listeners. It’s not a substitute for hearing his groundbreaking albums of the era, but an equally worthy profile of the Genius of Soul. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: Sings for Lovers

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Brother Ray sings the highs and lows of love

Concord’s “For Lovers” series features catalog selections from vocalists and instrumentalists exploring the joys and heartaches of love. Singer-pianist Ray Charles is a natural fit for this series, with his soulful vocal delivery, emotional playing, sophisticated arrangements and broad appetite for material. These sixteen tracks are drawn from his post-Atlantic pop recordings, with nearly half dating back to his first few years on ABC. The rest are drawn from the late-60s through the mid-70s, and skipping over his late-70s return to Atlantic there’s a 1993 cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and a 2006 re-orchestration of his 1970s cover of the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On.”

Producer Nick Phillips mixes iconic hit singles “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Ruby,” and “Here We Go Again” with lower charting entries, the seasonal favorite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside (sung in duet with Betty Carter) and intelligently selected album tracks. It’s the latter – the lesser-known picks – that make this collection unique. Highlights include a version of Meredith Wilson’s “Till There Was You” that’s so soulful, it’s hard to match it with Paul McCartney’s sugar sweet rendition on With the Beatles, and his intimate reading of the Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” features a terrific piano solo within Sid Feller’s restrained arrangement.

The broad range of Charles’ musicality is represented in selections from jazz player Don Redman, country artists Don Gibson, Red Steagall, and Eddy Arnold, tin-pan alley scribes Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Mitchell Parish, and George and Ira Gershwin, pop writers Leon Russell, George Harrison, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and theater and film composers Meredith Wilson, Victor Young, Ned Washington and Heinz Roemheld. The latter’s “Ruby,” which riginally appeared in the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, was recorded by Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Peterson, and brought to its greatest prominence with this yearning, hopeful-yet-wary 1961 recording. Across these selections, Charles is variously backed by orchestra and chorus, strings, horns, and piano and organ-led jazz combos.

With more of Charles’ catalog appearing on download services, you might opt to put together your own collection of his love-related songs. But unless you’re deeply familiar with his catalog you’d miss some of the selections Phillips includes here. Charles won a Grammy® for his cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” but sixteen-years later you might have forgotten how poignant it sounds in Charles experienced, 63-year-old hands, and the album track “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” shows a delicate jazz chemistry between Charles and Betty Carter that’s buried by the annual revival of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This is finely programmed set that’s a nice spin for those who want to hear a side of Ray Charles beyond the hits. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Volumes 1 & 2

Friday, June 19th, 2009

RayCharles_ModernSounds12The genius of soul re-imagines the Nashville songbook

Originally released on ABC-Paramount in 1962, Modern Sounds in Country and Western, was a revelation, both for fans of country music and for fans of Ray Charles. The former had never heard their favorites orchestrated with the depth of soul brought to the table by Ray Charles, and fans of the genius singer had never before heard him indulging his love of country songwriting so deeply. Nashville had adapted to brass and strings in an attempt to create crossover hits, but their charts and players never swung with the sort of big band finesse and bravado of these arrangements, and their vocalists rarely found the grooves mined by Charles. The second volume, issued the same year, follows the same template, with Nashville standards rearranged and conducted by Gerald Wilson and Marty Paich, and recording split between New York and Hollywood.

Having been a country music fan since his youth, Charles evidently didn’t hear any line that would separate him from the Nashville songbook. His recording supervisor, Sid Feller, was tasked with gathering songs, and ABC, thinking the whole ideas was a lark, left the pair alone to follow Charles’ muse. The album spun off four hit singles, including a chart-topping remake of Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and a heartbreaking cover of Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me” that fell just one rung shy of the top. Marty Paich’s strings brilliantly underline and shadow Charles’ vocals, adding atmosphere without ever intruding or overwhelming the singer or the song. Track after track, Charles, his arrangers and his band find wholly new ways through these songs, turning “Half as Much” into mid-tempo jazz, layering string flourishes into “Born to Lose,” laying the blues on “It Makes No Difference Now” and punching up “Bye Bye Love” and “Hey Good Lookin’” with big band sizzle.

Volume two may not have been as much of a surprise, but neither was it a second helping. Gerald Wilson’s soul vision of “You Are My Sunshine,” expertly rendered by Charles and a swinging horn section, leaves few traces of the song’s mid-20th century origin. Charles, spurred by backing vocals from the Raeletts, sounds like he’s reeling off a personal tale of devotion rather than singing someone else’s lyric. The Raeletts provide an edge to side one’s New York sessions, with the Jack Halloran Singers sitting in on side two’s Hollywood takes. Both album sides yielded hit singles, including a pained reading of “Take These Chains From My Heart,” and a slow, mournful take on “Your Cheating Heart.” As with the first volume, Charles finds a directness in country songwriting that matches the expression he developed with the blues.

Country music and Charles’ career each received a boost from these albums. Nashville expanded its audience outside its core region, Nashville songwriters found new ears for their songs, and Charles gained an influx of fans who might otherwise have never bought R&B records. These were all lasting marks, as Charles’ fame continued to expand, and country music gained new flavors for its crossover dreams. Concord’s reissue includes the two volumes’ original twenty-four tracks, full-panel cover art (front and back!), original liner notes for each, and new liners by Bill Dahl. Volume one previously appeared as a standalone CD in the 1980s, but the complete volume two only appeared on the (out-of-print) box set The Complete Country & Western Recordings 1959-1986. This single disc is the perfect way to get Charles’ 1962 country sessions in one sweet package. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]