Posts Tagged ‘Collectors’ Choice’

Allan Sherman: Songs for Swingin’ Livers Only!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Mid-60s song parodist returns to his Jewish roots

After gaining fame with his 1962 debut My Son the Folk Singer and launching a #2 hit with 1963’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!,” Allan Sherman embarked on a series of high-profile projects and guest spots. By the time he recorded this 1964 release, the mood of the nation had changed radically with the assassination of JFK; the light-hearted parody that felt so effervescent in 1963 seemed a shade more superfluous in the shadows of 1964. In an effort to reconnect with his original audience, Sherman reintroduced the Jewish-rooted humor he’d largely abandoned over the course of several albums. His clever writing and ear for a tune were still sharp, but the record buying public wasn’t as hungry for silliness as they’d been two years earlier. Stories of gluttony, in-laws, modern pharmaceuticals, subway conductors and Jewish Lotharios are still funny, but what was once party entertainment – Sherman having honed his act in impromptu performances at friends’ homes – was now performance laden with expectations. There are many nice moments here, including the memorably anti-consumerist “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas,” but five albums along, the change in national zeitgeist seems to have dimmed Sherman’s fire. Collectors’ Choice straight-up reissue includes new liner notes by Dr. Demento. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Allan Sherman: My Son, the Nut

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Early ‘60s song parodist hits his commercial peak

Sherman’s third album, released in 1963 and recorded less than a year after his debut, was his most solid collection of songs, and spun off his most famous composition, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” As on the previous albums there’s a live studio audience, but with his humor now a known quanity, these feel more like staged performances than impromptu party appearances. The applause and laughs are genuine and well deserved, but they’re polite rather than the uncontrolled punctuations of his first album. Traces of his earlier Jewish humor can still be heard here, but the broader reach of My Son, the Celebrity is the real pay off. The opening treatise on the French crown, “You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louie,” is both a funny history lesson and a rocking good time. Sherman’s musical director, Lou Busch, continued to write serious arrangements to contrast with Sherman’s hilarious lyrics, but he also managed to mock musical icons of the time, slipping Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” into the opener and revving up a parody of “Rag Mop” for Sherman’s “Rat Fink.” Sherman unleashes his imagination on the complexities of early computerization, modern medicine, international cuisine, and suburban vexations. The album’s crown jewel, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter from Camp),” is like a musical version of a Bob Newhart phone call. Even here, among the numerous hazards that befall the summer campers, Sherman manages to work in an intellectual reference to James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The single won a Grammy and peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart, and seemed to be everywhere in the summer of 1963. Collectors’ Choice straight-up reissue includes new liner notes by Dr. Demento. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Allan Sherman: My Son, the Celebrity

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Second-helping of early ‘60s musical parody

Recorded only a few months after his debut album brought a surprising burst of public acclaim, writer/producer Allan Sherman recorded his second album of song parodies. As on his first, Jewish-American characters and life are primary subjects of his humor, but he also branches out in multicultural parody on the album’s cleverly written and popular “Mexican Hat Dance,” and winningly recasts the Dixieland “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?” as the intellectual “Won’t You Come Home, Disraeli?” As with his debut, this was recorded in front of a small, hand-picked studio audience in an intimate party-like setting. Sherman and his conductor Lou Busch play the live audience as much as the songs, leaving space for the uproarious laughs and hanging onto punch lines for maximum effect. Also similarly to the debut, Sherman’s everyman voice is backed by Busch’s serious arrangements, giving the humor of the lyrics an extra measure of silliness. This second helping isn’t as deeply clever as the debut (which, to be fair, was refined over several years in impromptu performances that Sherman made at parties), but it shows that Sherman wasn’t a one-hit wonder and set the stage for his third and greatest album later the same year. Collectors’ Choice straight-up reissue includes new liner notes by Dr. Demento. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Allan Sherman: My Son, the Folk Singer

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Brilliantly silly song parodies from 1962

Allan Sherman’s gift for parody songs dates back well before his commercial success in the 1960s. As a struggling comedy writer in New York he sang parody songs at parties, and as the successful creator and producer of the television game show I’ve Got a Secret, his parodies became well-known within the industry. He even recorded a single (“Jake’s Song” b/w “A Satchel and a Seck”) – a flop – in 1951. He tried again in the mid-50s with a Jewish-humor translation of My Fair Lady (to be called “Fairfax Lady,” after the Jewish neighborhood of Los Angeles), but failing to gain the original composer’s permission, the project was shelved. It wasn’t until several years later, after a move to Los Angeles, that his continuing party appearances garnered famous fans who led him to a composer, Lou Busch, and a recording contract with Warner brothers.

Sherman recorded this debut album in 1962 in front of a hand-picked studio audience, and with their laughter supplying the rocket fuel, the album, and it’s hit single “Sarah Jackman” (to the tune of Frerer Jacques), crossed over from the borscht belt audience to nationwide acclaim. The keys to Sherman’s success are many. His lyrics are both clever and catchy, eliciting spontaneous mid-song applause and sticking memorable lines (“He was trampling through the warehouse / where the drapes of Roth are stored” sung to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) in the listener’s ears. His comedic timing, augmented by terrific musical accompaniment, is perfectly tuned to his intimate studio gatherings, and the seriousness of Busch’s arrangements neatly emphasizes the silliness of Sherman’s words. His humor is decidedly Jewish, even old-timey, but exalting an old-time tailor and using an accent to rhyme “fourth” with “cloth” is funny whether or not you’re of the tribe.

This initial batch of songs threads archetypical Jewish characters – overbearing families, the merchant class, dealmakers, Floridians, gossipers, kvetchers and bargain hunters – into then-familiar melodies. He sings the praises of seltzer water, and in the closing “Shticks and Stones” traipses through six minutes of brilliantly segued slices of stereotypical Jewish life, including business problems, hospital bills, kosher foods and aging. Incredibly, rooting his songs so deeply in the Jewish-American experience somehow produces humor that’s universally funny and nearly fifty years later, Sherman’s humor and craft stand on their own, entertaining to even those who don’t know the original tunes. Collectors’ Choice straight-up reissue includes new liner notes by Dr. Demento. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Judy Collins: True Stories and Other Dreams

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Judy Collins finds her voice as a songwriter

Ironically, given Collins’ brilliant singing voice, she took more than a decade to find her voice as a songwriter. She’d dabbled with an original song or two on earlier albums, but for this 1973 release she wrote over half the album’s tracks, selected “So Begins the Task” from the catalog of her former paramour Stephen Stills, and opened with Valerie Carter’s intimate and homey “Cook With Honey.” The years that she’d been carefully selecting and sympathetically interpreting others’ material paid off in the imagination of her pen. She paints a colorful portrait of Long Island fishermen, shares wistful memories of her grandparents, and offers an admiring observations of her younger sister. Collins’ rendition of Tom Paxton’s “The Hostage” seethes with the prison guard narrator’s indictment of Governor Rockefeller’s handling of the 1971 Attica riot, and a pair of requiems, one for a friend who committed suicide, the second for the slain revolutionary “Che” close the album on somber and deifying notes. Musically, Collins consolidates the variety of sounds she’d explored up to this point in her career, including straight folk, country-rock and orchestrated pop; but unlike her previous studio album, 1970’s Whales & Nightingales, this one flows smoothly and creates a pleasant album experience. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Judy Collins: Whales & Nightingales

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Judy Collins embraces the 1970s

After breaking from straight folk with 1968’s In My Life, Collins continued to explore new sounds and song sources. This, her first album of the 1970s, masterfully mixes disparate material from contemporary folkies Dylan, Baez and Seeger, an Irish nationalist ballad, an Aaron Kramer poem set to music by her keyboardist Michael Sahl, a double-dip into the catalog of Jacques Brel, a two-part original, and several original arrangements of traditional tunes. It’s a more idiosyncratic collection than her earlier albums, heightened by varied recording locations that each provides a unique sonic ambiance. The result isn’t always cohesive from song to song, but Collins voice is so singularly beautiful, and her talent for interpretation so strong, that the individual pieces merit listening. The opening trio of songs, “A Song for David,” “Sons of” and “The Patriot Game,” meditate on different aspects of war: those whose principles lead them away from the fight, those who soldier on for the good cause, and those who die. Her vocal on Seeger’s “Oh, Had I A Golden Thread” soars with gospel emotion above its country-tinged piano, bass and guitar backing, and humpback whale and ocean sounds provide then-contemporary backing for the traditional whaling song “Farewell to Tarwathie.” “Simple Gifts,” a nineteenth century Shaker hymn, and a Top-20 a cappella take on “Amazing Grace” bring Collins back to simpler arrangements that revel in the soul of the human voice. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Judy Collins: In My Life

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

One of folk music’s greatest voices expands her horizons in 1966

After five folk albums, culminating in the superb Fifth Album in 1965, Judy Collins sought personal growth as an artist and broader synergy with the musical scenes developing around her. She’d already branched out from the traditional material of 1961’s A Maid of Constant Sorrow and 1962’s Golden Apples of the Sun (available as a two-fer) to contemporary material penned by Dylan, Seeger, Paxton, Ochs and Farina, but she’d kept to a traditional acoustic guitar and string bass approach. With this 1966 release she stretched even further for new material, adding pop songs and show tunes, while still championing newly emerging talents that included Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman and Donovan. She once again proved herself a unique interpreter of Dylan, singing the melody of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” with ease rather than haggard exhalation. Similarly, on “Suzanne” her voice adds delicacy and range that were beyond Cohen’s instrument, and gave the poet his break as a songwriter.

The arrangements push past the minimalism of her earlier albums with Joshua Rifkin-penned chamber-pop arrangements that add strings, woodwinds, percussion and harpsichord. This suits both the range of material as well as the moods Collins evokes as she extrapolates her interpretation into acting. Her readings of Brecht and Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” and Peaslee’s “Marat/Sade” are pitched to reach the last row and befit their stage origins, and Rifkin’s arrangement of guitar and violin provides dramatic backing for Jacques Brel’s dire “La Colombe.” Harp, bells and waltz time whirl Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street” nearly into carousel music, and now in retrospect, the closing cover of “In My Life” provides a bittersweet tribute to its author. Collectors’ Choice’s 2010 release is a straight-up reissue of the album’s original eleven tracks, with new liner notes by Richie Unterberger. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Judy Collins: Fifth Album

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Judy Collins peaks as a folk singer

By the time Judy Collins recorded this album in 1965, the traditional strains of the folk revival were losing steam. That same year Dylan released a side of electric tunes on Bringing it All Back Home and plugged in for his set at Newport. The Byrds released their debut album in June, and Simon and Garfunkel’s 1964 acoustic debut album begat the electric augmentation of Sounds of Silence two years later. Collins herself rethought her own music on 1966’s In My Life, but before doing so, pulled together the elements made her a great folk singer, and invested her ears and interpretive powers in selecting and rendering these twelve songs. She combined traditional tunes with contemporary compositions by Dylan, Ochs, and Farina, and gave each the benefit of her magnificently clear and moving voice. Collins’ talent for discovering material led her to Eric Anderson’s “Thirsty Boots” (with John Sebastian adding harmonica) and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” long before either became folk standards.

The album opens on a high note with a terrific interpretation of Richard Farina’s “Pack Up Your Sorrows.” Farina’s dulcimer is more upbeat than on the original duet with his wife Mimi, and together with second guitarist Eric Weissberg, Collins frees the song of its overt sorrow by leaning on the lyrics’ magnanimity. She proves her talent for interpretation by taking Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time” slowly, holding onto the notes with desire and longing, and she sings all four verses of “Mr. Tambourine Man” to an arrangement that replaces the electric guitar of Dylan’s original with Bill Lee’s acoustic bass. Her vocal captures both the overnight weariness of Dylan and the early morning wonder of McGuinn, creating a unique interpretation that stands tall among the many versions cut in 1965. Similarly, she brings a powerful feeling of solemnity and desolation to Billy Edd Wheeler’s “The Coming of the Roads,” giving voice to the emotional and environmental devastation of the song’s lyrics.

The baroque sounds Collins would explore on the following year’s In My Life are foreshadowed by a cello backing on the traditional “Lord Gregory,” and guitars and acoustic bass are joined by Jerry Dodgion’s flute for a live recording of Malvina Reynolds’ rousing “It Isn’t Nice.” Richard Farina’s dulcimer provides quiet accompaniment for Gil Turner’s civil rights anthem “Carry it On,” and his original poem from the album cover is reproduced in full on the booklet’s back (bring your magnifying glass!). Collectors’ Choice’s reissue brings the original dozen tracks back into domestic print, and includes new liner notes by Richie Unterberger. This is a terrific artifact of the folk revival and a high point in Collins’ career. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Clint Eastwood: Cowboy Favorites

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Clint Eastwood sings western songs on pleasant television tie-in

With so much incredible material in the Cameo-Parkway vault, most of which hasn’t seen  reissue in fifty years, one has to wonder why Collectors’ Choice decided to make this 1963 television tie-in one of the first C-P original album reissues. When originally issued, Eastwood had been starring in Rawhide since 1959, and though he’d become one of the most famous actors and directors of his generation, his singing career (which also included the 1969 film version of Paint Your Wagon and hit duets with Merle Haggard and T.G. Sheppard) remained mostly a sidelight. This album was the joint product of Eastwood’s background as a pianist and the early-60s penchant for cashing in on television popularity. Unlike the pop and rock records of Ricky Nelson, Shelley Fabares and others of the era, the 33-year-old Eastwood and his producers put together a set of western songs that played well to the actor’s voice. It was a good fit for the times, with Bonanza climbing to its mid-60s peak, and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” having dented the pop charts. Eastwood proves himself a passable crooner (rather than simply a television actor stepping out), and the unnamed New York band (which seems unlikely to have been the hard-charging Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway house combo) is sharp but bland – even Eastwood’s jazz background can’t move the band to swing Bob Wills’ “San Antonio Rose.” Collectors’ Choice’s CD reissue includes the album’s original dozen tracks, with Eastwood backed by an all-male chorus, and both sides of his pre-LP single, “Rowdy” and “Cowboy Wedding Song.” [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Terry Knight and the Pack: Terry Knight and the Pack / Reflections

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Garage, pop, folk and blues-rock seeds of Grand Funk Railroad

Cameo Records, and its subsidiary Parkway label, were Philadelphia powerhouses from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. They scored with rockabilly, doo-wop and a string of vocal hits by Bobby Rydell. They had chart-topping success with Chubby Checker, alongside hits by other Philly acts that included the Dovells, Orlons and Dee Dee Sharp. By the mid-60s the labels were reaching further outside their neighborhood, releasing early singles by Michigan-based artists Bob Seger (including 1967’s “Heavy Music”), ? and the Mysterians (including the hit “96 Tears”), and a pair of albums on the Lucky 13 label by Terry Knight and the Pack. The latter group would subsequently seed Grand Funk Railroad (with Knight moved from the lead singer slot to management and production), turning the Pack’s albums into collector items.

Cameo-Parkway was shuttered in 1967 and the catalog sold to Allen Klein, who reissued very little of the vault material. The Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 box set and a series of artist Best Ofs broke the digial embargo in 2005, and six more releases this year (including original album two-fers by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell and the Orlons) further detail the labels’ riches. Terry Knight and the Pack’s self-titled debut was released in 1966 (reproduced here in mono) and highlighted by fuzz-guitar and organ that favored the garage-rock and neo-psych sounds of the time. They faithfully covered the Yardbirds’ “You’re a Better Man Than I,” turned Sonny Bono’s “Where Do You Go” into a dramatic P.F. Sloan-styled folk-rocker, and had a minor chart hit with Ben E. King’s “I (Who Have Nothing).”

Knight’s background as a DJ gave him an encyclopedic feel for sounds of the times, writing originals that borrow from Dylan (“Numbers”), electric jugbands (“What’s On Your Mind”), folk-rock (“Lovin’ Kind”), chamber pop (“That Shut-In”), blues rock (“Got Love”) and psych (“Sleep Talkin’” and the terrific, Love-styled “I’ve Been Told”). His vocals fair better on the bluesier garage numbers than the ballads (a cover of “Lady Jane” barely echoes the mood of the original), but his band, featuring Don Brewer on drums and Bobby Caldwell on organ (and later Mark Farner on guitar) is stellar throughout. 1967’s sophomore outing, Reflections (mastered here in stereo), sports a bit more muscle and a bit less garage whine. As on the debut, Knight fares better with the bluesier tunes, such as the original “Love, Love, Love, Love, Love,” a song recorded by the Music Explosion with the same backing track!

A cover of “One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show” shows Knight had neither the style of Joe Tex nor the speed rapping grooves of Peter Wolf, borrowing instead Eric Burdon’s approach from the Animals’ version without really adding anything new. His cover of Sloan and Barri’s “This Precious Time” similarly reuses the folk-rock template the Los Angeles songwriters had laid out for the Grass Roots. The album’s ballads are generally forgettable and the lite-psych breaks taken amid the country twang “Got to Find My Baby” no longer seem like such a good idea. Side two opens with the Brill Building styled yearning of “The Train,” but devolves into Dylan parody, faux psych and sing-song novelty.

The closing cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” suggests the heaviness that Grand Funk would bring, but it can’t salvage the Pack’s second album. Both albums are distinguished more as rarities, this CD being their first ever reissue in the digital age, than as mid-60s essentials. The band is powerful and tight, making the most of Knight’s originals and giving him some solid riffs to work with on the up-tempo numbers, but in the end, Knight is not a particularly memorable stylist. Collectors’ Choice reproduces the original 24 tracks (72 minutes!), both front and back album covers, and new liner notes by Jeff Tamarkin. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]