Tag Archives: Columbia

The Kinks: The Essential Kinks

Kinks_Essential30 years of pivotal music on two fully-packed CDs

The Kinks touched so many musical bases that two full CDs (79 minutes each!) can still only outline their story. They blazed the British Invasion’s trail with “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” and supplied a steady stream of ever-more finely-written hits into the early ’70s. In parallel with their singles success, the band’s vocalist and primary songwriter, Ray Davies, wrote compelling B-sides and sketched out thematic collections that turned into a string of inventive concept albums. Davies ruminated on British culture, society, working class life and schooling, show business and the record industry in ever-more ambitious and increasingly theatrical productions that couched his lyrical alienation in satire, nostalgia and music hall tradition.

Banned from performing in the U.S. from 1965 until 1969, the band’s success on the American charts quickly faded. But elsewhere, particularly in their native Britain, they continued to land hit singles (including “Dead End Street,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Death of a Clown” and “Autumn Almanac”), and their albums continued to attract critical praise. Although the band returned to the U.S. in 1969 to promote Arthur, “Autumn Almanac” signaled the start of a fallow commercial period, with a brief respite from 1968’s “Days.” At the same time, Davies was crafting what was to be among the Kinks’ most revered albums, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

Though not a commercial success at the time of its release, Village Green has grown to be the group’s best selling album, and the album track “Picture Book” gained belated exposure in a 2004 HP commercial. By 1969 the group reestablished themselves commercially with the singles “Victoria,” “Lola” and “Apeman,” and the well-regarded albums Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One and Muswell Hillbillies. The latter represented their shift from Pye/Reprise to RCA, and unfortunately for the latter’s immediate commercial returns, Davies’ preoccupation with theatrical concept albums led to a string of early ’70s releases that failed to garner any singles action. On the other hand, the albums slowly rebuilt the group’s album sales in the U.S., and led to renewed chart action later in the decade.

Davies finally moved on from writing rock operas (and the Kinks from RCA to Arista) with 1977’s Sleepwalker, and the group returned to the American charts with the album’s title track. Their next few albums found an audience with U.S. record buyers, and the band became a regular concert draw. The latter success was memorialized on 1980’s Top 20 One for the Road, and represented here by live versions of “Lola” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Two years later the group had their last major commercial success with State of Confusion and the single “Come Dancing.” The latter even broke through to MTV with a heavily spun video. The group’s remaining albums, through 1993’s Phobia, garnered less and less commercial attention, as did their singles, though they did continue to find a home on rock radio into the early ’90s.

Legacy’s 2-CD, 48-track, 2-hour and 39-minute collection does an admirable job of surveying the group’s lengthy catalog, covering early mono productions (disc one, tracks 1-13), UK and US hits, deeply-loved album tracks, concert favorites and live performances (including a terrific 1972 rendition of “Till the End of the Day” drawn from the CD reissue of Everybody’s in Show-Biz). The timeline spans releases from Pye/Reprise, RCA, Arista and Columbia, and stretches from the band’s primal first hit, 1964’s “You Really Got Me,” to their final release for Columbia, 1993’s “Scattered.” Absent are stellar early B-sides like “I Gotta Move” and “Come On Now,” tracks from Schoolboys in Disgrace, Percy and the band’s two 1980’s album for MCA, but what’s here paints a compelling overview of a band whose three decades of music outstripped even the sizeable recognition it’s received over the past fifty years. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Kinks’ Home Page

Paul Simon: Over the Bridge of Time

PaulSimon_OverTheBridgeOfTimeA too-small helping of singer-songwriter brilliance

Given the wealth of Paul Simon’s catalog, both in concert with Art Garfunkel and solo, and given the many reconfigurations and reiterations of this material issued on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD and digital download, it’s difficult to place the specific utility of this new 20-track collection. Six essential tracks from Simon & Garfunkel and fourteen stretching across Simon’s solo catalog provide an enjoyable sprint through forty-five years of Simon’s masterful songwriting, singing and guitar playing. But there are so many highlights and pivotal moments missing that the end result is the Cliff’s Notes of a multivolume career. Nearly every track leaves you longing to hear its album-mates, which may just be the point: this is audio catnip for luring an unsuspecting listener into Simon’s musical lair where they can mainline The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970 and The Complete Album Collection. Buy this for someone who would appreciate Simon’s craft, but for some reason (youth, most likely), hasn’t yet acquainted themselves with his work. They’ll enjoy full-panel photos, song lyrics and Jesse Kornbluth’s career overview in a twenty-eight page booklet, and with any luck, ask for more. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Paul Simon’s Home Page

Christie: Christie

Christie_ChristieUK country-rock from 1970

Christie was a UK band built around singer-songwriter Jeff Christie, and fleshed out with drummer Mike Blakely, and Blakely’s former Acid Gallery bandmate Vic Elmes on guitar. The band’s one brush with fame was their first single, “Yellow River,” which reached #23 in the U.S., supported an album that sold well, and produced three separate videos (see below!). The follow-up single, the country-tinged “San Bernadino,” scraped its way to #100, keeping the band (technically, at least) from being labeled a one-hit wonder. The album stretches out on the pop-inflections the band found in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s roots sound, and though they didn’t manage any more chart singles, neither did they load up on filler. With a lucky break, or better promotion from their U.S. label, the band could easily have been remembered for more than “Yellow River.” If you like early ’70s country-rock from Gallery, the Stampeders, as well as their more famous peers, you should check this out. A 22-track import CD reissue expands upon this straight up digital reissue of the album’s original thirteen tracks. [©2013 hyperbolium dot com]

Bill Wilson: Ever Changing Minstrel

BillWilson_EverChangingMinstrelExtraordinary, yet virtually unknown singer-songwriter Americana from 1973

A label as big as Columbia in the early ‘70s was bound to miss a few opportunities, even ones they’d signed, recorded and released. Such was the case for this 1973 rarity, the product of an Indiana singer-songwriter, the famous producer he engaged and the all-star studio band wrangled for the occasion. The singer-songwriter is the otherwise unknown Bill Wilson, the producer, who’d already helmed key albums for Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, was Bob Johnston, and the band was a collection of Nashville legends that featured Charlie McCoy, Pete Drake and Jerry Reed. Wilson had made Johnston’s acquaintance by knocking on his door and naively asking to make a record; Johnston agreed to listen to one song, and by that evening, was in the studio with his unknown artist and hastily assembled band.

The record features a dozen original songs, and though released by Columbia, it was quickly lost in the wake of Clive Davis’ departure from the label (and reportedly a pot bust). The few copies that circulated disappeared before the album could even make an impression as a sought-after, long-lost treasure. It just vanished. It wasn’t until former Sony staffer Josh Rosenthal found a copy in a record store bargain bin that the title dug its way out of obscurity to this reissue. Johnston and Wilson never saw one another after their recording session, but Johnston was able to sketch out the album’s background. Wilson had landed in Austin after a stint in the Air Force, and found that Johnston had set up base there after leaving his position as a staff producer at Columbia. Wilson had some prior musical experience, singing and playing dobro in local bands, but it was as a singer-songwriter with a Southern edge, that he was compelled to make music.

Wilson’s touchstones included Dylan (and perhaps Bobby Darin’s late-60s activist sides), but also Austin songwriter Townes van Zandt, singer-guitarist Tony Joe White, and the open road sound of the Allman Brothers. The quality of the songs and performances would be impressive as a peak moment among an artist’s catalog, but as a one-off it’s truly extraordinary. Wilson is confident and earthy, while the band handles his material as if they’d been playing it on tour for years. The songs, in shades of folk, blues and rock, touch on traditional singer-songwriter themes, and the religiously-themed numbers have a strong hippie vibe. The label lists this as remastered from tape, but there seem to be a few vinyl artifacts that are more patina than distraction. The album’s rediscovery is an incredible feat of crate digging, and its return to circulation is most welcome. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection

A whole lot of Johnny Cash on Columbia

After three years on Sun, Johnny Cash moved to Columbia, where a nearly 30-year run produced an unparalleled catalog of recordings. Many of Cash’s singles and albums have been reissued, but a surprising number have not, or not in the U.S. The Complete Columbia Album Collection features 59 albums on 63 CDs, including 35 albums (19 in mono) seeing their first CD release in the U.S.  In addition to Cash’s studio albums, the set includes eight live titles, including a 1978 show in Prague making its first appearance on a domestic release. Also included are soundtracks from I Walk the Line and Little Fauss and Big Halsy, the bible chronicles The Holy Land and The Gospel Road, two albums with the Highwaymen, and children’s and Christmas releases. Rounding out Cash’s Columbia albums are two CDs of non-LP singles and a new compilation of Sun-era tracks. The box is a monument to one of music’s most towering figures and a tribute to the wide swath he cut through American culture. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Cash’s Home Page

Taj Mahal: The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973

Extraordinary set of early rarities and a superb 1970 concert

This 2-CD set of previously unreleased material provides a superb complement to the previously issued Essential anthology. Where Essential set surveyed thirty-three years of Mahal’s immense catalog, this latest collection focuses on five years from early in his career. Those formative years found Mahal exploring numerous threads of the blues, including pre-war styles, as well as soul and funk. The first disc includes a dozen finished studio tracks that clock in at a generous 77 minutes. The recordings were made in Woodstock, Miami, the San Francisco Bay Area andNew Orleans, the latter produced by Allen Toussaint in rustic, drumless arrangements. The bands include 3- and 4-piece combos, as well as larger aggregations that feature the Dixie Flyers and a brass band. Jesse Edwin Davis’ guitar provides a strong, guiding presence on many tracks, and Mahal’s harmonica adds an expressive voice on a superb cover of Dylan’s “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” and a soulful instrumental version of “People Get Ready” titled “Butter.”

Disc two features a 1970 concert atLondon’s Royal Albert Hall. The live set features both original material and covers, including Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues,” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up on My Baby,” and a lengthy take on Robby Robertson and Garth Hudson’s pre-Band era “Bacon Fat.” Mahal starts his set – an opening slot for Johnny Winter and Santana – with a gutsy, a cappella version of the traditional “Runnin’ by the Riverside.” His stage manner is warm and welcoming, offering detailed introductions to his songs and drawing on the folk tradition of audience participation. His performances are backed by a superb four-piece that includes Jesse Davis (guitar), John Simon (Piano), Bill Rich (Bass) and James Karsten (Drums), as well as Mahal’s National Steel and harmonica.

Perhaps most amazing is that this entire set – both the studio and live tracks – is previously unreleased. Few artists ever record material this good, let alone in such quantity that they can leave some of it in the vault. Mahal is equally compelling in the studio as he is on stage, something few artists achieve; his studio recordings breathe freely and his stage work is lively but tight. Miles Mellough’s liner notes are detailed and informative, though a bit over-the-top in their devotion. Sound quality is good throughout, with the concert tapes sounding full and punchy – perhaps having Santana and Johnny Winter on the bill brought out the A-list live truck. This is a terrific find for Mahal’s fans, providing insight into both his studio process and the musical alchemy he brought to the stage. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Taj Mahal’s Home Page

The New Christy Minstrels: A Retrospective – 1962-1970

The preeminent folk chorus of the ‘60s revival

The New Christy Minstrels were a relentlessly upbeat folk revival group. The Minstrels generally hewed to the lighter side of the folk revival, often appearing in coordinated ensembles, and more likely to be seen on a mainstream television variety program, such as the Andy Williams show, than at a social demonstration or political rally. Aside from their musical roots in traditional material, their entertainment style had more in common with 1950s vocal choruses than with 1960s protest singers. Their hits were celebratory rather than confrontational, starting with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” that (to be fair, like several other covers of the time) didn’t touch any of the socially-charged verses.

Over the group’s core folk years of 1961-65, a number of folk, pop and rock luminaries passed through its ranks, including Barry McGuire (whose co-write withSparks, “Green, Green,” was a hit for the group), the Modern Folk Quartet’s Jerry Yester, and future Byrd Gene Clark. Randy Sparks had formed the group inLos Angelesin 1961, and led them artistically and commercially into 1964. Upon his departure, the group’s stage direction was turned over to Barry McGuire, and with McGuire’s subsequent departure, they expanded into pop and comedy, truing the variety of their show to the 19th century group after which they were named. The comedy team of Skiles and Henderson added skits to the show, and Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes cycled through the group on their way to greater fame.

The Minstrels’ folk-era albums included many traditional songs, but Real Gone’s collection focuses more heavily onSparks’ original material. On the one hand, this leaves the group seeming unconnected to folk tradition, on the other,Sparks’ material is musically apiece with the traditional tunes they revived on their albums and in concert. The darker themes heard in other groups’ recordings are omitted here, as the track list sticks primarily to upbeat celebrations, historical tales and comedic romps. The Christys were built for entertainment, rather than social commentary, and though their contrast with the folk movement grew in the era of Dylan and Ochs, their entertainment value never diminished.

These twenty-five tracks trace the group’s transformation from an earnest folk chorus to a crossover pop act in search of direction. Their three biggest chart hits, “Green, Green,” “Saturday Night” and “Today,” are here, along with a previously unreleased studio outtake of their concert opener, “Walk the Road.” A wonderful Art Podell live performance of “(The Story of) Waltzing Matilda.” shows off the group’s impressive charisma, deftly mixing folk history, story-telling, harmonies, comedy and audience sing-along. The group’s post-RandySparksdrift into pop, gospel and film themes produced covers of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” backings from HugoMontenegro’s orchestra, and eventually the soft rock “You Need Someone to Love.” By the time the latter was recorded in 1970, the original membership and their folk roots had both been obliterated.

The track list includes a taste of the group’s post-Sparks years, but without distracting from their more emblematic folk chorus sound. The selections include group harmonies and spotlight vocals (including a Kenny Rogers-led cover of Mickey Newbury’s “Funny Familiar Feelings” that was shelved at the time of its 1966 recording), and four new-to-CD tracks that include Gary Fishbaugh’s original “Door Into Tomorrow,” “Walk the Road,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “You Need Someone to Love.” The set is mastered in stereo and includes a 20-page booklet with photos and extensive liner notes by Tom Pickles. For a deeper helping of rare sides (including non-LP singles), check out the 2-CD The Definitive New Christy Minstrels, but for a single-disc survey, this one’s hard to beat. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol. IV – The Soul of Truth

A saved Johnny Cash proclaims faith and salvation

This is the fourth volume in a series of official bootleg releases that document lesser-known material and previously unreleased recordings from the House of Cash studio in Hendersonville, TN. The 51-tracks focuses on Cash’s songs of faith from the 1970s and 80s, and collect the rare 1979 double-LP A Believer Sings the Truth, the withdrawn 1983 album Johnny Cash–Gospel Singer, and an unnamed, previously unreleased gospel album. Additional tracks are culled from 1984’s I Believe and, most important to collectors, is the inclusion of five previously unreleased session outtakes (disc 1, track 25 and disc 2 tracks 23-26). Cash is joined variously by his wife June, sisters-in-law Anita and Helen, daughters Rosanne and Cindy, and son-in-law Rodney Crowell, and the sessions are typically light and upbeat as Cash works through traditional hymns, folk songs and a few contemporary tunes, such as a Dixieland-tinged arrangement of Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m an Old Chunk of Coal.” Cash sounds at peace with his life in these sessions – a saved man, rather than a sinner wrestling with dark temptations – and the mood is reflected in a clean production sound. If you’re looking for a tormented soul wrestling with his demons, check the back catalog, but if you want to hear a saved man proclaiming the fruits of his faith, this is a fine collection of testimony. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Neil Diamond: The Very Best Of Neil Diamond – The Original Studio Recordings

An oddly sequenced collection of Diamond’s diamonds

As anyone familiar with Neil Diamond’s career knows, he’s had more hits that could possibly fit onto a single CD. But drawing across his stints on Bang, Uni, Capitol (for which he recorded the soundtrack to The Jazz Singer) and Columbia, this twenty-three track set shows Diamond’s maturation from Brill Building songwriter to hit-making singer to worldwide superstar to reinvented elder statesman. Of course, given the set’s non-chronological programming, you’ll only hear the actual arc of his artistic development if you reprogram the tracks as 12, 4, 9, 10, 16, 21, 20, 18, 6, 11, 21, 7, 5, 13, 8, 17, 2, 14, 1, 3, 15, 22, 23, 19. If you play the set as-is, you’ll start near the end of Diamond’s hit-making career with 1978’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” and spin through a few other 1970s releases before jumping back to 1966’s “Cherry, Cherry.”

Given the focus on hits, it’s easy to excuse the great album tracks left behind, but the inclusion of lesser sides in place of the hits “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” “Longfellow Serenade” and “Heartlight” is surprising. The mix of Top 10s, Adult Contemporary hits (“Beautiful Noise”), low-charting singles that were hits for other artists (“I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine”) and latter-day sides with Rick Rubin (“Pretty Amazing Grace” and “Hell Yeah”) covers the breadth and depth of his career, but the muddled timeline and interweaving of mono Bang-era tracks with modern stereo productions is without obvious purpose. Segueing from the 1980’s “Love on the Rocks” to hard-rocking guitars of “Cherry, Cherry” is awkward, as is the mood shift from 1972’s “Play Me” to 1967’s bubblegum-soul “I’m a Believer.”

Despite the set’s odd characteristics, Diamond shines as a talented songwriter who learned early on how to write a hook, and a dramatic vocalist with a memorable voice. He’s been well-served by arrangers and producers who fit his voice into a variety of contexts – guitar-charged rock, organ-backed soul, contemporary pop and huge productions that echo the operatic grandeur of Roy Orbison. Diamond’s song-by-song notes are peppered with interesting recollections and generous sharing of credit with his many exceptional co-workers. It may surprise casual fans to find that he co-wrote with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, was produced by Robbie Robertson, and recorded several of his biggest hits in Memphis at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio.

Noting the missing chart entries, as well as the terrific list price, this is a good single-disc sketch of Diamond’s career as a hit maker, but it’s only a sketch, and only a sketch of his hits. It balances his years at Bang (seven tracks), Uni (seven), Columbia (six) and Capitol (three), and plays well for those wishing to relive the artist’s most familiar songs. The two Rick Rubin-produced cuts, “Pretty Amazing Grace” and “Hell Yeah,” show Diamond still vital and growing in his fifth decade of recording. Still, a career as rich as Diamond’s can’t really be condensed onto one disc; even the three-disc In My Lifetime left fans arguing about what was missing. A more complete picture of Diamond’s early years can be heard by picking up The Bang Years: 1966-1968 and Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings… Plus!, and his Columbia years are well represented on original album reissues and several anthologies. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Neil Diamond’s Home Page

Billy Joel: Piano Man (Legacy Edition)

Classic Billy Joel album and a stunning 1972 live concert

Billy Joel had a long career in music before his first commercial break with this 1973 album and its title hit single. He’d played piano as a studio sideman and recorded with several rock groups, including the Hassles and Attila, before settling into the singer-songwriter style that began with 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor. With his solo debut having stiffed commercially, and label problems keeping him from recording a follow-up, he relocated to Los Angeles where he spent six months playing as a lounge pianist, writing new material a eventually returning to touring. Signing with Columbia, he released this sophomore album in November and cracked the Top 40 by the following Spring – more than five months after the records were released. The single rose to #25, but it would be three more years until Joel achieved massive acclaim with 1977’s The Stranger.

The introspection of Cold Spring Harbor was mostly replaced on his second album with lightly- and wholly-fictional character sketches. The album’s love song, “You’re My Home” (written as a Valentine’s Day gift for Joel’s first wife) is also its most personal, though the title song is clearly drawn from Joel’s tenure as a lounge singer. Narratives of travel and distance, as well as the line “too many people got a hold of me” (from “Worse Comes to Worst”), speak to the touring and travail of his early solo years. The album’s sound was heavily influenced by California’s early-70s canyon-country scene, mixing West Coast twang with Joel’s East Coast bravura. The epic “Captain Jack” turned out to be the cure for that early turmoil, as a live recording from a 1972 radio broadcast became the turntable hit that sparked Columbia Records’ interest.

The Legacy edition of Piano Man augments a remastered edition of the original album on disc one with a newly commissioned mix (from the 16-track master) of the 1972 radio concert that yielded the pivotal live recording. Recorded live in April, 1972 at Sigma Sound Studios, the concert was broadcast on Philadelphia’s WMMR-FM. The audience was made up primarily of contest winners and the set list included six songs from Cold Spring Harbor, three that would be recorded later in the year for Piano Man, and three rarities from Joel’s early songwriting catalog (“Long, Long Time,” “Josephine” and “Rosalinda”). Joel is commanding at both his piano and microphone throughout the show, and his road band is soulful and razor sharp; together they deliver performances with more musical life than the studio versions of Joel’s first two albums.

As Jonathan Takiff point out, Joel captivated a Philadelphia audience who knew relatively little about him, getting them to respond to songs they were hearing for the first time, rather than hits they’d come to hear. Joel showed himself to be a formidable singer-songwriter and a magnetic showman whose patter (including an impromptu station ID) keeps both the studio and radio audiences hooked. Those with bootleg version of the concert will find a few changes have been made, most notably drummer Rhys Clark’s flub on “Captain Jack” has been excised. Those weaned on the original tape may take exception, but most listeners won’t notice. The two-disc set is housed in a tri-fold digipack with a 24-page booklet filled with detailed liner notes and photos. The original single edit of “Piano Man” would have made a nice bonus, but that’s a nit; fans who didn’t have the opportunity to see Joel perform in the early ‘70s owe it to themselves to hear this seminal 1972 concert. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Billy Joel’s Home Page