Posts Tagged ‘Brill Building’

Willy DeVille: Come a Little Bit Closer – The Best of Willy DeVille

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Moving collection of live performances drawn from 1977-2005

At first it seemed only a matter of timing that had Willy Deville and his band, Mink DeVille, part of the New York punk rock scene. Though they shared a stage with the Ramones, Patti Smith and Television (and toured with Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello), their music drew more from the Brill Building than CBGB. Signed to Capitol, the band’s first four albums were produced by Phil Spector protégés Jack Nitzsche and Steve Douglas, and each brilliantly melded the Drifters’ romanticism with electric blues, Latin influences and the downtown edginess of the Velvet Underground. What really made DeVille fit among the punk rock scene was his artistic daring; the band’s fine-tuned productions were the polar opposite of punk rock’s DIY aesthetic, but their music was a comrade in the sort of emotional authenticity that challenged the reign of corporate rock.

DeVille provided a visual center point for the act with his bouffant hair and pencil-thin mustache, crooning perfectly crafted originals and well-selected covers. Those who saw them in club dates, or touring concert halls with Lowe and Costello were regularly blown away by DeVille’s showmanship and the resonance of his music. Eagle Records’ seventeen-track set cherry picks live performances from 1977 through 2005, collecting along the way many of DeVille’s best originals, including “Venus of Avenue D,” “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl,” “Spanish Stroll,” “Just Your Friends,” “Just to Walk That Little Girl Home” (co-written with Doc Pomus) and a moving version of his Oscar-nominated end-title theme for The Princess Bride, “Storybook Love.” Also included are covers of songs he made his own, including Moon Martin’s “Cadillac Walk” and Barry & Greenwich’s “Little Girl.”

Though DeVille issued live albums and DVDs of specific concert dates, this is the first set to draw across his early years with Mink DeVille and his later years as a solo artist. With his passing in 2009, his recorded legacy remains a shining light for fans to revisit and new listeners to discover. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Neil Diamond: The Bang Years 1966-1968

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The young Neil Diamond graduates from songwriter to performer

Before Neil Diamond became a singing superstar he was a songwriter, but even as a songwriter he wasn’t an instant success. He spent his teen years tramping from one publishing house to another, occasionally selling a song against royalties for hits that never came. It wasn’t until an unsuccessful year on the staff of Leiber & Stoller’s Trio Music and, ironically, a transition to recording, that Diamond found his voice as a songwriter. He first charted with Jay and the Americans’ “Sunday and Me,” and hit his commercial stride with the Monkees chart-toppers “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” Other songs in his catalog found favor among British Invasion acts that included Cliff Richard and Lulu.

Diamond’s earlier attempts at a performing career (with Dual in 1959 and Columbia in 1963) had gone nowhere, but his signing to Bang in 1966 unlocked his songwriting talent and paired him with producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. It was during this initial run at Bang that Diamond proved himself a talented songwriter, unique vocalist and commanding hit maker. His first seven singles reached the chart, six making the top 20; for good measure he extended the chart run with “Red, Red Wine” and a soul-power cover of Gary U.S. Bonds’ “New Orleans.” Several of his B-sides, including “The Boat That I Row” and “Do It” were as good as the A’s, and cover versions of “Red Rubber Ball,” “Monday, Monday” and “La Bamba” were blessed by the Diamond touch.

Barry and Greenwich (who can be heard singing backing vocals) hired the cream of New York’s session players, and together with arranger Artie Butler and engineers Brooks Arthur, Tom Dowd and Phil Ramone, cranked out these brilliant capsules of AM radio pop. Diamond would go on to even greater chart and performance glory, but the seeds of his success can be heard in the craft of these twenty-three sides, particularly his eighteen original compositions. The mono masters are housed in a tri-fold digipack with a 20-page booklet that features pictures and revealing liner notes by Diamond himself. For the next phase in Diamond’s career, check his mid-period work on Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings… Plus! [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Neil Diamond’s Home Page

Irma Thomas: Wish Someone Would Care

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Deep soul debut LP from the Soul Queen of New Orleans

Twice divorced and the mother of four by the age of twenty, Irma Thomas brought a lot of living to her career as a preeminent soul vocalist. Initially waxing singles for Ronn, Bandy and Minit, Thomas landed on the Imperial label in 1963. The following year she debuted the deeply emotional original “Wish Someone Would Care,” crossing over to the pop Top 20 and gaining further attention with an irresistible performance of the Jackie DeShannon-penned B-side “Break-a-Way.” The latter would earn cover versions, including a UK hit by Tracey Ullman, but it wasn’t the only B-side to gain notice across the pond; the Rolling Stones turned Thomas’ brilliant gospel take on “Time is on My Side” into their first stateside Top 10. One listen to Thomas’ original reveals how much Mick Jagger was influenced by her vocal interpretation.

Thomas is superb throughout the album, ably supported by inventive arrangements and superbly earthy session players. She pleads “I Need Your Love So Bad,” builds stirring crescendos on a cover of Clyde McPhatter’s “Without Love (There is Nothing),” and reads Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” with a delivery that suggests Dinah Washington. She turns Randy Newman’s obscure “While the City Sleeps” into Brill Building pop, and draws on her tumultuous romantic history for the original “Straight from the Heart.” Thomas’ recording career didn’t hit a regular stride until she signed with Rounder in the mid-80s, but it was a mistake of the record industry, as she measured up to Aretha, Carla, Koko, Mavis or Etta. The album’s dozen tracks are presented in true stereo, as they were previously on a two-fer with Thomas’ second album, Take a Look. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Tara Nevins: Wood and Stone

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Nevins explores her country and Cajun roots

Nevins’ second solo album (her first since 1999’s Mule to Ride) hangs on to the rootsy underpinnings of her musical day job with Donna the Buffalo, but cuts a looser, more soulful country groove than does her long-time group. Without a co-vocalist sharing the microphone, Nevins’ voice carries the album, and without a second writer, her songs stretch out across all her influences, including fiddle- and steel-lined country, second line rhythms and the Cajun sounds of her earlier band, the Heartbeats. The latter appear together on the energetic fiddle tune “Nothing Really,” and individually on several other tracks. Additional guests include Levon Helm (drumming on two tracks), Allison Moorer (tight trio harmony with Teresa Williams on “The Wrong Side”) and Jim Lauderdale (harmony on the acoustic “Snowbird”).

Producer Larry Campbell fits each song with a unique groove and adds superb electric and pedal steel guitar. The girlishness in Nevins’ voice and the layering of double-tracked vocals add a hint of the Brill Building, which is a terrific twist on the rustic arrangements. The lyrics cast an eye on relationships that refuse to live up to their potential, with music that underlines the certainty of a woman who will no longer suffer others’ indecision, inaction or infidelity. Three deftly picked covers include the standard “Stars Fell on Alabama” (from the film 20 Years After), the traditional “Down South Blues,” and Van Morrison’s “Beauty of Days Gone By.” Campbell and Nevins work some real magic here, creating a musical platform that often feels a more crafted fit for Nevins’ singing than that of her long-time group. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Wood and Stone
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Darlene Love: The Sound of Love – The Very Best of Darlene Love

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh transfer and remaster of Darlene Love’s best

With the Philles catalog now in the licensing hands of Sony Legacy and EMI, the fiftieth anniversary of the label’s 1961 founding is being celebrated with a new round of reissues. First out of the gate are remastered best-of collections for the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love and Phil Spector. This 17-track Darlene Love collection proves that while Ronnie Spector (nee Veronica Bennett) may have been Spector’s greatest heartthrob, Darlene Love was his vocal MVP. As the lead vocalist on key singles by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, the Blossoms (both under their own name, and as the West Coast version of the Crystals), and solo singles, not to mention her work with the Blossoms as go-to backing vocalists, Love’s voice was as important an element of the Wall of Sound as the Wrecking Crew’s drums, guitars, pianos and basses.

Included here are tunes by the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (though not their first hit, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” on which Bobby Sheen sang lead), the Blossoms, and solo sides. This collection mostly duplicates the track line-up of ABKCO’s out-of-print 1992 Best of Darlene Love, dropping “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and a pre-Dixie Cups version of “Chapel of Love,” and adding four titles: the Blossoms’ “No Other Love, “That’s When the Tears Start” and “Good Good Lovin’,” and Love’s “Strange Love.” A couple of her lower charting singles (the pre-Philles “Son-in-Law” with the Blossoms, and the 1992 soundtrack single “All Alone on Christmas”) are absent, but more puzzlingly, neither the earlier or current collection includes Love’s signature holiday pièce de résistance, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Though all this material has been previously released, several of Love’s solo tracks went unissued at the time of their recording, turning up a decade later on rarities anthologies. Among these are “Run Run Runaway,” “A Long Way to Be Happy,” and the brilliant Poncia and Andreoli song, “Strange Love.” Fleshing out her post-Philles career is a soulful 1965 turn on Van McCoy’s “That’s When the Tears Start” (produced by Reprise staffer Jimmy Bowen) and a 1975 session with Phil Spector on Mann and Weil’s “Lord, If You’re a Woman.” As with the other volumes in this series, this isn’t the vault discovery fans are waiting for, and the lack of stereo (except tracks 16 and 17) will vex long-time collectors, but with ABKCO’s earlier best-of out of print, this is a welcome return to retail of Love’s classic sides. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Ronettes: Be My Baby – The Very Best of the Ronettes

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh mono transfer and remaster of Ronettes’ best

With the Philles catalog now in the licensing hands of Sony Legacy and EMI, the fiftieth anniversary of the label’s 1961 founding is being celebrated with a new round of reissues. First out of the gate are remastered best-of collections for the Ronettes, Crystals, Darlene Love and Phil Spector. This 18-track set includes all eight of the group’s Philles singles (all of which charted, but amazingly flew under the Top 10 except “Be My Baby”), Veronica’s “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall in Love” and “So Young,” the album tracks “I Wonder” and “You Baby,” the B-side “When I Saw You,” the 1969 A&M single “You Came, You Saw, You Conquered,” and a few tracks that went unreleased at the time of their recording. The latter includes a terrific pair (“Paradise” and “Here I Sit”) co-written by a young Harry Nilsson, and previously released on The Phil Spector Masters. This collection duplicates the track line-up of ABKCO’s out-of-print Best of the Ronettes with one exception: the 1964 B-side “How Does it Feel” is replaced here by the group’s last charting single, 1966’s “I Can Hear Music.” The track ordering is mostly chronological to the songs’ recording dates, and Lenny Kaye offers touchingly personal liner notes alongside detailed recording data. This isn’t the vault discovery that fans are waiting for, and many will complain about the all-mono line-up, but with ABKCO’s set itself a collector’s item, this is a welcome overview of the group’s biggest hits. Now, where are the rarities and stereo mixes? [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Crystals: Da Doo Ron Ron – The Very Best of the Crystals

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh mono transfer and remaster of the Crystals’ best

The Crystals formed in 1961 with Barbara Alston as their lead singer. Quickly signed by Phil Spector for his brand new Philles label, they were the subject of the label’s very first single, first hit and first Top 20, “(There’s No Other) Like My Baby.” They struck gold again the following year with the Mann & Weil’s brilliant “Uptown” and reached #1 with Gene Pitney’s “He’s a Rebel.” Oddly, the latter single, the group’s only chart topper, was recorded by a completely different set of Crystals – Darlene Love and the Blossoms – than the one who’d first broken on the charts. The story has the original Crystals touring the East Coast at the moment the demanding Spector was ready to record in Los Angeles, and Love’s group was on hand.

The Love/Blossoms Crystals hit one more time, in 1963 with “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” before the original group regained their name with “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” and “I Wonder.” Well, sort of. “Da Doo Ron Ron” had been recorded by Darlene Love and the Blossoms, but Spector replaced her lead vocal with one by Lala Brooks, to whom Alston had ceded the lead vocal role in the Crystals’ stage show. The latter two singles also feature Brooks with Love and the Blossoms providing the backing vocals. The East Coast group split with Spector and Philles shortly thereafter, and amid additional personnel changes recorded a few more non-charting singles that failed to capture the thrills and grandeur of their hits.

This disc collects the group’s ten charting singles (which also include “Little Boy” and “All Grown Up”), B-sides, album tracks, the short-lived A-side “There’s No Other Like My Baby” (which was flipped to make “(There’s No Other) Like My Baby” a hit), and the quickly withdrawn “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).” Two rarities – the hard-swinging unissued-at-the-time “Heartbreaker” and the previously unissued LaLa Brooks-sung “Woman in Love” fill out the disc. This isn’t a complete exposition of the group’s recordings (their early version of “On Broadway” would have been a nice inclusion), and some will complain about the all-mono line-up, but with ABKCO’s Best of the Crystals out of print, it’s great to have the group’s hits and and B-sides available alongside collections for the Ronettes, Darlene Love and Phil Spector. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Wall of Sound – The Very Best of Phil Spector

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Fresh mono transfer and remaster of Spector’s best

In the lull between the primordial spark of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and the ‘60s echo brought by the British Invasion, Phil Spector reinvented the pop single. He broke into the music industry in the late ‘50s with his group, The Teddy Bears, and subsequently elevated the stature of “record producer” with his unique Wall of Sound methods. Starting in New York, and eventually decamping to Los Angeles, Spector’s fame eclipsed that of his artists. Though the Ronettes and Crystals got star billing, and the A-list studio players got their historic due as the Wrecking Crew, these singles have collectively become known as “Phil Spector records.” And given Spector’s reclusive lifestyle and his 2009 incarceration, the records are more than ever his public legacy.

This 19-track collection samples the key years, 1961-66, during which Spector produced for his own Philles label. With the Philles catalog now in the licensing hands of Sony Legacy and EMI, the fiftieth anniversary of the label’s 1961 founding is being celebrated with a new round of reissues. Alongside this remastered collection of Spector’s hits are collections for the Ronettes, Crystals and Darlene Love. This set stretches from the Crystals’ and Philles’ first single, 1961’s “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” through the 1966 release whose chart failure is reported to have broken Spector’s heart, Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” In between are key sides from the Ronettes, Darlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, Righteous Brothers and more from the Crystals, gathering together all of the label’s Top 40 singles except for three mid-60s releases by the Righteous Brothers.

This is a great look at the peaks, both commercial and artistic, of Spector’s run at Philles. It’s missing the warm-up act of pre-Philles sides with Ray Peterson, Gene Pitney, Curtis Lee and the Paris Sisters, as well as Spector’s comeback work in the ‘70s and 80s, but as a single disc overview of the Wall of Sound, and given the per-track royalty model for U.S. releases, it’s hard to argue with the choices. To reach deeper into the Phil Spector and Philles catalogs, to hear B-sides, album tracks and the few non-charting Philles singles, seek out the individual artist collections being issued in parallel, dig up a copy of the out-of-print box set Back to Mono, or spring for the imported Phil Spector Masters. This isn’t the vault archaeology that fans seek, and many will complain about the mono line-up (all except “River Deep”), but it is a welcome overview of one of pop music’s greatest auteurs. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Carole King: The Essential Carole King

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Two sides of Carole King

Brill Building legend Carole King has really had two full music careers. Starting in the late 1950s and flourishing in the 1960s, she was part of the legendary stable of New York City songwriters who took their name from the sister building to the one in which they wrote their effervescent gems for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music. Together with Gerry Goffin, King wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s, scribing landmark sides for the Shirelles, Everly Brothers, Drifters, Chiffons, Monkees, Aretha Franklin, and dozens more. King is generally regarded, based on the chart success of her songs, as the most commercially successful female pop songwriter of the twentieth century. Had this been her only contribution to pop music, she’d be heralded as a legend, but King also had it in mind to step into the spotlight and perform her songs.

Her early attempts at a singing career, represented here by the Top 40 hit “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” fit into the prevailing Brill Building sound. She sang demos (some of which can be sampled on Brill Building Legends) and had another minor hit with “He’s a Bad Boy,” but didn’t really develop her singer’s voice until nearly a decade later. Moving to the West Coast, King recorded an album with Danny Kortchmar as The City (Now That Everything’s Been Said), and released a solo debut (Writer) that gained notice but little sales. It wasn’t until the following year’s Tapestry that King found the fame as a singer that her songs had previously found for her as a songwriter. Her songs created a lyrical voice that was perfectly in sync with 1971, and even more poignantly, her tour de force remake of 1959’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” highlighted the emotional depth that had been part of her songwriting from the earliest days.

Legacy’s 2-CD set looks at both sides of King’s career. Disc one samples her early solo work, her 1970s stardom with tracks from  Writer, Tapestry, Music, Rhymes & Reason, Fantasy, Wrap Around Joy, Thoroughbred, her score for Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie, and a couple of later tracks recorded with Babyface (“You Can Do Anything”) and Celine Dion. Missing are the albums she recorded for Capitol, Atlantic and EMI from the late-70s into the early-90s; they may not be essential to telling the story of her breakthrough years, but a sampling of tracks would have made a nice addition. Disc two samples fifteen King compositions recorded by (and mostly hits for) other artists. The breadth of acts that made brilliant music from King and Goffin’s compositions is staggering, particularly when you realize this is a fraction of the hits she wrote, and that is in turn a fraction of the thousands of cover versions these songs earned.

Disc one clocks in at over seventy-one minutes, disc two at forty-one – no doubt the cross-licensing of singles from so many original labels limited the second disc’s track count. Additional King-penned hits by the Drifters, Cookies and Monkees are missed, as are hits by the Animals, Tony Orlando, Earl-Jean and Steve Lawrence (not to mention Freddy Scott, who’s “Hey Girl” is represented by a Billy Joel cover), but what’s here is terrific. Disc one isn’t a substitute for King’s classic albums of the early 1970s, but provides a very listenable tour through her first seven years as a solo artist, and a great introduction to one of pop music’s brightest lights. Disc two is rich, but only hints at the wealth of King’s songwriting catalog. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez: The Deep End

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

SNL singer serves up rock ‘n’ roll with a side of Stax

Rock ‘n’ roll women have always been a sparser commodity than their male counterparts. Even the adjective that describes a forceful rock ‘n’ roll performance discriminates with its anatomical reference. Rock’s had a few chart-topping female stars, including Wanda Jackson, Janis Joplin, Ann Wilson, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar, but the bulk of female rockers labor in day jobs that overshadow their solo output, or work in local obscurity. Patty Scialfa’s better known for her marriage and membership in the E Street Band than for her three releases, Karla DeVito is remembered more for the video she made with Meat Loaf (on which she lip-synched Ellen Foley’s vocal) than her solo album or subsequent song writing, and Ronnie Spector took decades to emerge from the shadow of her former husband and producer.

Christine Ohlman, whose twenty-year gig with the Saturday Night Live Band has put her voice in the ears of millions of listeners, has released six albums and contributed vocals to dozens of projects, yet remains more of a cult favorite than a name star. She sings in a gutsy rock ‘n’ roll voice edged in soul and blues, part Bonnie Raitt and part Genya Raven, with an element of Van Morrison’s early wildness. Her throwback sound combines the romanticism of Brill Building pop and horn-fed Stax muscle (courtesy of the Asbury Jukes’ Chris Anderson and Neal Pawley) into a potent rock ‘n’ roll stew. Her music reaches back to a time when guitars were front and center and bass lines propelled dancers to the floor.

The album opens with Ohlman growling her lovesickness against a twangy variation of the riff from Barrett Strong’s “Money.” She’s drawn to the wrong man, but loyal to a fault, recounting the reasons to break away but lamenting what she’s missing, proclaiming everlasting love and, in the tradition of the Crystals, opening her arms without worry of what others will think. She slings it out with the ease and familiarity of a club singer, working the crowd and drawing listeners close. Ohlman’s band is similarly road-tested (Michael Colbath’s bass playing is particularly notable), and her guests include Ian Hunter, Al Anderson, Eric Ambel, Levon Helm, Dion, and Marshall Crenshaw. Her dozen originals are complemented by covers of Van & Titus’ deep soul “Cry Baby Cry,” Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells’ “What the Matter With You Baby,” and Link Wray’s “Walkin’ Down the Street Called Love.”

Once upon a time, when rock ‘n’ roll thrived on the radio, this album would have spun off several hit singles. But in today’s fragmented music market, and with little room for raw, gutsy guitar-based music, you’ll more likely hear this in the background of a Fox TV show whose music coordinator is tasked with setting a rebellious mood, or perhaps on a celebrity musician’s weekly satellite radio program. Of course, you can also hear Ohlman in her weekly gig on SNL, and perhaps the show’s producers will be so kind as to offer her a spotlight to sing her original songs – songs that stand tall alongside the covers she curates for the band. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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