Posts Tagged ‘Cover Songs’

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: Are You One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Screaming hot in the 1990s

To many, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins career consists of his 1956 release “I Put a Spell on You,” and the coffin from which he arose to perform on stage. His theatrical, macabre image may have been novel, but his records were anything but novelties. Oddly, despite the single’s healthy sales and its iconic stature in the rock ‘n’ roll canon, it never made the charts, leaving Hawkins, technically, a no-hit wonder. But hitmaking wasn’t Hawkins’ musical metier, as he followed the beat of his very distinctive drummer with songs like “Constipation Blues” and “Feast of the Mau Mau.” And when he connected with Bizarre label owner (and subsequently manager and producer) Robert Duffey in 1990, the goal was to just let Jay “be Jay,” rather than overtly court commercial success.

Hawkins showed off his range of rock, blues and R&B on three albums for Bizarre, Black Music for White People (1991), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). The material includes originals from both Hawkins and Duffey (including the latter’s memorable “I Am the Cool”), covers that mine Hawkins’ first-person knowledge of 1950s music, and Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” “Ice Cream Man” and “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard.” Hawkins’ mojo was in full flight throughout his time with Bizarre as he hollers, growls and wrestles the songs into submission. The backing bands, assembled from talented local rock and blues players (including the Beat Farmers’ Buddy Blue) backed Hawkins’ howling vocals with hot rhythms, wild guitars, tight horns, and fat saxophones.

Manifesto’s 2-CD set gathers together all three of Hawkins’ albums for Bizarre, adds five previously unreleased tracks, and a sixteen-page booklet with full-panel album cover reproductions and liner notes by Chris Morris. Highlights include the piece-of-mind “Ignant and Shit,” the tribal Bo Diddley beat of “Swamp Gas,” a schizophrenic take on “Ol’ Man River,” a fevered cover of Ray Charles’ “I Believe,” an energetic run at “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (retitled “Call the Plumber” here), Duffey’s purpose-written “Rock the House,” homages to Sherilyn Fenn and the Long Island Lolita, Amy Fisher, and spoken word passages that echo Hawkins’ on-stage monologues. Of the three albums, the grittier production of the third has aged the least, but all are worth hearing! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles – 1967-1970

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Stupendous second chapter of Buck Owens’ career at Capitol

Omnivore’s previous set on Owens’ groundbreaking Capitol singles is now joined by a companion volume that catalogs his expanding reach as an artist. The commercial dominance of his initial rise to fame – which included twenty-two Top 40 hits and thirteen consecutive chart toppers – was unlikely to be matched, and yet this second collection rises to the occasion, both commercially and artistically. Of the eighteen singles Owens released across these four years, all but two made the Top 20; of the two misses, “Christmas Shopping” charted #5 on the holiday list, and only the internationally-themed instrumental “Things I Saw Happening at the Fountain on the Plaza When I Was Visiting Rome or Amore” missed entirely. Fifteen of the A-sides reached the Top 10, and six topped the country chart.

More importantly, the late ‘60s found Owens branching out from twangy Bakersfield country with innovative pop touches. He opened 1967 with the back-to-back #1s “Sam’s Place” and “Your Tender Loving Care,” dipped to #2 with “It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me),” and climbed back to the top with 1968’s “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone.” He scored three more chart toppers in 1969 (the originals “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” and “Tall Dark Stranger,” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”), and just missed the top spot with 1970’s “The Kansas City Song.” Owens joined Hee-Haw in 1969 and continued to chart throughout the 1970s, but with the passing of Don Rich in 1974, his interest in a music career quickly declined. After a pair of albums and a handful of mid-charting singles for Warner Brothers he basically retired from releasing music for more than a decade.

But in the mid-to-late ‘60s, Owens was still accelerating. As he and the Buckaroos had shown with their 1966 Carnegie Hall Concert album (and reaffirmed here with the 1969 live take of “Johnny B. Goode”), the group was one of the hottest bands in the land. The singles featured here include the talents or Don Rich, Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley and Willie Cantu, as well as later members Jerry Wiggins and Doyle Curtsinger, and numerous sidemen. Perhaps most startling is the inclusion of smooth backing vocals from the Jordanaires and the Nashville-based Anita Kerr Singers on several tracks, and strings are heard on both A-sides and flips, including “Big in Vegas.”

Owens authored a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great songs, and by the mid-60s he’d begun expanding beyond the classic Bakersfield Sound. The acoustic guitars of “It Takes People Like You” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” weren’t unprecedented, but the songs’ moods, particularly in Owens’ vocals, were new. Owens love of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll is heard on “Christmas Shopping,” there’s fuzz guitar on the waltz-time “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and Earl Poole Ball adds organ to the intro of “The Kansas City Song.” Rather than hoarding his best work for A-sides, Owens often complemented his hits with interesting flips, including the transfixed vocal of “That’s All Right With Me (If It’s All Right With You)” and the funereal “White Satin Bed.”

Owens found terrific chemistry with protege Susan Raye on several hits, including the Johnny & June-styled sass of “We’re Gonna Get Together,” the harpsichord-lined fairy tale “The Great White Horse,” and the terrifically stalwart B-side remake of Owens’ “Your Tender Loving Care.” Omnivore’s double-disc includes 18 singles (A’s and B’s), ten in mono and eight in stereo, mastered from original analog sources by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio. Scott B. Bomar’s liner notes are accompanied by detailed session notes, photos, and picture sleeve and label reproductions. This is a stupendous second chapter, showing Owens and the Buckaroos in full artistic and commercial flight. It’s every bit as essential as the first volume, and will leave fans eagerly anticipating the third and final Capitol chapter. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Johnny Mathis: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Johnny Mathis updates his groove for the 1970s

When Johnny Mathis first paired with producer Jack Gold for 1970’s Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, it seemed like an opportunity for an update. But the double album’s combination of previously released recordings of Burt Bacharach songs with new recordings of older Bert Kaempfert material failed to align Mathis with the new decade’s music. This second collaboration takes a bolder approach in its song selection, bringing Mathis up to date, while still maintaining lush arrangements to surround his inimitable vocal styling. This was less an attempt to cross him back over to the pop chart than an acknowledgement that the crafting of pop hits had expanded to a new generation of songwriters.

Mathis’ continuing affinity for Bacharach and David’s material led him to cover the album’s title track (a 1969 hit for B.J. Thomas), “Alfie” (a 1966 UK hit for Cilla Black, and a 1967 US hit for Dionne Warwick) and “Odds and Ends” (a 1969 adult contemporary hit for Warwick). Stretching out, he included material from Jimmy Webb (“Honey Come Back,” an R&B single for Chuck Jackson in 1969, and a country hit for Glen Campbell the following year), George Harrison (“Something,” Harrison’s first A-side and chart topper), Rod McKuen’s “Jean” (an Academy Award nominee and a #2 single for Oliver), and a pair of tunes from the film Midnight Cowboy, the latter of which are surprisingly good fits for Mathis.

Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” dated back to 1967, but with Nilsson’s version having been a hit in 1969, it had gained new currency. Mathis’ strong vibrato, supported by plucked strings and a free-spirited flute, pushes the song beyond the introspection and melancholy of Neil’s and Nilsson’s earlier versions. The theme song from “Midnight Cowboy” is performed with lyrics written by the album’s producer, turning John Barry’s haunting instrumental into a stalwart statement that echoes the drama of Ferrante & Teicher’s hit single. At its most contemporary, the album samples George Harrison (“Something”) and Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the latter closing out the original album’s track list.

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds five contemporaneous singles and B-sides, with material that stretches from a wonderfully crooned take on Coots and Lewis’ 1934 standard “For All We Know,” through Bachrach & David’s “Whoever You Are, I Love You” (from the musical Promises, Promises), Bert Kaempert’s “Night Dreams,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” and “The Last Time I Saw Her,” the latter pair with arrangements by Perry Botkin, Jr. Although the album cracked the Top 40, and “Midnight Cowboy” climbed to #20, the artistic revitalization outweighed the commercial impact, and buoyed Mathis’ recording career well into the 1980s. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis’ Home Page

Peter Rowan: Carter Stanley’s Eyes

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Peter Rowan returns to his bluegrass roots

Folk musicians gain a part of their artistic lineage through the literary tradition of the songs they learn and the generational artists with whom they play; and bluegrassers often trace their roots more formally through the apprenticeships they serve. Like many, Peter Rowan can document his lineage all the way back to Bill Monroe, who hired him as a Blue Grass Boy in the early 1960s. In addition to employment and teaching, Monroe introduced Rowan to Carter Stanley, whose voice and songs provided Rowan a second foundational stone. That 1965 meeting is the subject of this album’s title song, and from the awakening essayed in the song’s spoken verses, it’s clear that that personal connection informed everything Rowan has done ever since.

In that “ever since,” Rowan’s branched out from traditional bluegrass with folk, rock, Tex-Mex and even an album of Hawaiiana, but here he assembles a classic lineup of guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and bass, adding snare drum and other percussion only sparingly. He offers three originals (including “Wild Geese Cry Again,” as retitled “Drumbeats on the Watchtower” by Ralph Stanley), but the bulk of the set list is crafted as an homage to his influences, drawing on songs written by Charlie and Ira Louvin, Carter and Ralph Stanley, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and A.P. Carter.

The material spans a wide variety of misfortune, sorrow and redemption, including children’s tears, fateful train rides, broken hearts, lonesome nights, last chances, dark endings, hopeful hereafters and enduring spirits. Rowan sings both solo and in tight harmony with his bandmates, evoking the mystic longing of Carter Stanley. The pickers include fiddler Blaine Sprouse, guitarist Jack Lawrence, banjoist Patrick Sauber, and mandolinists Don Rigsby and Chris Henry. The picking is clean and lively, without being overly flashy, and one can only hope that Rowan takes this material and some of his bandmates on the summer bluegrass circuit! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

Juliana Hatfield: Sings Olivia Newton-John

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Charming and heartfelt tribute to Olivia Newton-John

Born in 1967, Juliana Hatfield was seven years old when Olivia Newton-John scored her first U.S. pop chart topper, “I Honestly Love You.” Newton-John scored again with the follow-up singles, “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please,” and though she continued to chart adult contemporary, it took her three more years to climb back to the top of the pop chart with 1978’s John Travolta duet “You’re the One That I Want.” Hatfield, known for her work with Blake Babies, the Juliana Hatfield Three and solo has “never not loved Olivia Newton­-John,” and it shows in the endearing performances and song selection of this tribute album.

In addition to heartfelt interpretations of Newton-John icons that span 1974’s “I Honestly Love You” to 1981’s “Physical,” the song list includes several deep fan favorites. “Totally Hot,” which stalled out at #52 in 1979, is deftly recast as buzzing Suzi Quatro-styled glam rock, and the pop-country “Dancin’ Round and Round” is taken uptempo and backed by hard-charging guitar and drums. The album reaches an emotional peak with “Please Mr. Please,” as Hatfield pours every last drop of the emotion she must have felt as an eight-year-old bonding with her first artistic idol.

Hatfield has internalized these songs and their artist in a thousand bedroom and car singalongs, and filters them through the original artistry they helped inspire. The contentment of “Have You Never Been Mellow” retains its optimistic mid-70s introspection while being deepened by Hatfield’s additional decades of life experience, and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” could just as easily be Hatfield singing about Newton-John as it was Sandy singing about Danny. This is a treat for fans of both Newton-John and Hatfield, and the only thing missing are some Grease photo cards to stick inside your locker. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Juliana Hatfield’s Home Page

Jackie DeShannon: Stone Cold Soul – The Complete Capitol Recordings

Friday, March 16th, 2018

DeShannon’s short, artistically rich early-70s stop at Capitol

After an eight-year run on Liberty/Imperial that included the Bacharach-David-penned “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and the original “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon made a brief stop at Capitol before moving on to Atlantic. Capitol initially sent DeShannon to Memphis to record with producer Chips Moman and his American Sound studio regulars, but other than the single “Stone Cold Soul” and the LP track “Show Me,” the sessions were shelved. Her second session, recorded in Los Angeles with Eric Malamud and John Palladino, resulted in the album Songs, and just like that, DeShannon was off to Atlantic. Eleven completed Moman masters appeared in the UK on RPM’s 2006 reissue of Songs, all of which is collected here along with five additional previously unreleased Memphis tracks, and liners from Joe Marchese that include a fresh interview with the artist.

DeShannon arrived in December 1970 at 827 Thomas Street to record at a studio that had put itself on the map with iconic records by the Box Tops, Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley. Though she’d previously tapped into her childhood love of R&B with a cover of Holland, Dozier & Holland’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” settling in with Moman and his “Memphis Boys” house band afforded an opportunity to fully fuse her love of soul music with original songs and well-selected cover material. One of DeShannon’s lasting artistic assets is her dual excellence as a songwriter and an interpreter of other writers’ songs. Here she shows off her interpretive abilities with selections from William Bell, Goffin & King, Emitt Rhodes, Arlo Guthrie, Van Morrison, and the non-charting title track by Mark James, the writer of Elvis Presley’s American Studios recording of “Suspicious Minds.”

The set opens with a short, previously unreleased take on Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water (Til Your Well Runs Dry),” establishing the Memphis session’s southern credentials with DeShannon’s soulful vocal and the piano and guitar “goodies” (as DeShannon calls them in the liner notes) of Bobby Woods and Reggie Young. The band plays as a tight, adaptable unit, providing thoughtful backing for the rural struggle of “West Virginia Mine,” and a more optimistic mood for the poetic look at the Israeli settlements of “Now That the Desert is Blooming.” The arrangements take the cover songs in subtly new directions as the guitar, strings, horns and backing vocals of Carole King’s “Child of Mine” gently frame DeShannon’s rough-edged vocal, and an upbeat soul treatment separates the cover from Emitt Rhodes’ original of “Live Till You Die

Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn’s “Sweet Inspiration” might seem like a gimme for the American Sound crew, but DeShannon leads them with a gentler vocal groove than the Sweet Inspirations’ original, and Arlo Guthrie’s B-side “Gabriel’s Mother’s Highway” fits easily into the album’s gospel vibe. The collection features five previously unreleased Memphis recordings, including keyboardist Bobby Emmons’ “They Got You Boy” and a cover of George Harrison’s deeply moving “Isn’t It a Pity.” While the Memphis tracks don’t necessarily jump out as hit singles, the material was well picked, DeShannon was in fine voice and found real chemistry with the house band, so it’s hard to imagine why Capitol didn’t hear the commercial potential, and scrapped the sessions.

But scrap them they did, and DeShannon moved on to record in Los Angeles with a different set of studio hands. The results would be released as the Songs album, opening with one of the two songs salvaged from the Memphis sessions, “Show Me.” Written by session guitarist Johnny Christopher, the song’s musical hall style was at odds with the soul of the Memphis sessions, but indicated the variety the Los Angeles album would bring. In addition to her downbeat folk “Salinas,” upbeat funk “Bad Water” and a new arrangement of “West Virginia Mine,” DeShannon picked up Bob Dylan’s “Lady, Lady, Lay,” Hoyt Axton’s “Ease Your Pain,” McGuinness Flint’s “International,” a blistering version of the traditional “Down By the Riverside,” and original material from the session players.

The Los Angeles sessions didn’t have the regional flair or musical centeredness of Memphis, but the individual tracks were well picked and thoughtfully performed. DeShannon returned to Memphis to record Jackie for Atlantic, and edged a few singles onto the bottom of the chart, but like her earlier Memphis session, the material remained largely unknown to all but dedicated fans. Real Gone’s 25-track collection includes all of the finished tracks DeShannon recorded for Capitol, highlighted by five previously unreleased Memphis selections (1, 3, 7-9). Joe Marchese’s liner notes feature fresh remembrances from DeShannon and the booklet includes previously unpublished photos. Fans finally have the full story of DeShannon’s short lived, but artistically rich Memphis-to-Los Angeles ride with Capitol. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Jackie DeShannon’s Home Page

Doc Watson: Live at Club 47

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Newly discovered Doc Watson live set from 1963

At the time of this February 1963 appearance at Boston’s Club 47, Doc Watson was a regional country and pop performer, but not yet the international exponent of traditional folk music he’d soon become. Folklorist Ralph Rinzler had started Watson on the path to fame with home recordings issued by Folkways in the early ’60s, and as his renowned grew, he began performing for urban audiences in New York, Boston and other outposts of the folk revival. His career took off over the next year with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and his debut record on Vanguard. The seeds of that success are all here, as Watson strums, picks and sings a widely drafted catalog of folk tunes, embellishing each with both the song’s history and his history with the song. Watson flat- and finger-picks guitar, plays the autoharp and harmonica, and entertains the audience with stories and stage patter throughout the set. This is a terrific document of a deeply talented musician on the cusp of turning his artistic mastery, encyclopedic knowledge and affable stage presence into long-lasting influence and stardom. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Doc Watson Fan Site

Zephaniah OHora: This Highway

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Brilliant evocation of Merle Haggard’s pathos

“Zephaniah OHora” isn’t the sort of name you normally expect to see on a country record. But this New England-to-Brooklyn transplant has obviously steeped in the classics, from the album cover’s allusion to Merle Haggard’s debut, to gently sung, pedal steel-lined songs that evoke the wistful, beaten-down-yet-still-faithful mood of the Hag’s classic Capitol albums. Eleven originals and a cover of Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” flow easily as OHora wistfully remembers lost soulmates, longs for lovers who are now out of reach, and is beaten down by the city. When he sings the New York City lyric “I was holding down a job, just south of Houston, for a while, serving time, making someone else a dime,” he mates the grit of big city life to the personal struggles that have always been at the root of country music.

The production puts the twang up-front alongside OHora, with electric guitar riffs that echo Roy Nichols, acoustic leads that have the gut-stringed tone of Grady Martin, and steel and fiddle that add potent emotion. But what really distinguishes the album is OHora’s ability to conjure honest, humble and tearful pathos. He leaves the door open for a love who’s moved on in “Take Your Love Out of Town” and patiently waits for a “High Class City Girl from the Country” with a gentle shuffle that might have graced records by Glen Campbell or Bobby Goldsboro in the 1960s. OHora’s protagonists find themselves looking out the door as someone leaves, hung up between accepting fate and begging a second chance. The emotions eventually turn dire as tears turn to threats with the dark lyrics and Ray Price beat of “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free).”

The album’s title track gives voice to the philosophical thoughts that rattle around a long-haul driver’s head, the highway continuously unspooling ahead as memories recede in the rearview mirror. And the closing “For a Moment of Two” is likewise contemplative, as OHora pairs his misery with a bottle that untangles the lies he’s told himself. Even the album’s cover of “Somethin’ Stupid,” sung as a duet with Dori Freeman, fits the album’s theme with its hesitant seduction. OHara is supported by Jim Campilongo and from Brooklyn’s Skinny Dennis scene, Luca Benedetti, Jon Graboff, Alex Hargreaves and Roy Williams, and their shared affinity for a time when country music surfaced in the mainstream without losing its hillbred soul has paid tremendous dividends here. A real sleeper. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Zephaniah OHora’s Home Page

Various Artist: The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volumes 3 & 4

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

The history of a 1960s should’ve-been soul powerhouse

The Baltimore-based Ru-Jac label, a long-time favorite of in-the-know collectors, is finally getting its historical due. Omnivore began digging the Ru-Jac vault with 2016 titles on Winfield Parker and Gene & Eddie, and now traces the length of the label’s entire story with four expertly curated, smartly illustrated and knowledgeably notated volumes [1 2 3 4]. Ru-Jac was born from the unlikely confluence of a numbers-running real estate investor and a dry cleaner with a sideline as a promoter. The latter, Rufus Mitchell, gained a spot managing the operations of the summer resort Carr’s Beach, and developed a nexus of musical acts, managers and disc jockeys that provided a foundation for a booking agency, a song publishing concern, and finally, the Ru-Jac record label.

Volumes 1 and 2 highlighted the beginnings of Ru-Jac, chronicling singles from 1963 to 1966. Volume 3 picks up in that latter year with a pair of singles by Rita Doryse. As Kevin Coombe’s liner notes explain, Rufus Mitchell’s busy schedule managing Carr’s and the flourishing of his dry cleaning business drew him away from his record label, and Doryse’s singles, alongside the Mask Man & The Cap-Tans’ “Love Can Do Wonders” (included on Volume 2), were Ru-Jac slate for 1966. The first of Doryse’s singles, recorded with backing by the Shyndells, is top-notch soul, with moody horns and emotional vocals of loneliness and longing. The B-side, “When I’m Alone,” previously recorded by Winfield Parker (and included on Volume 1), trades the original’s gospel style for a terrific Stax style.

Doryse’s second single, backed by the organ-based Bob Craig Combo, is more supper club than urban soul, with a B-side cover of “Goodie Goodie,” a Johnny Mercer song that was a hit for Benny Goodman in 1936 and Frankie Lyman in 1957. Neither the top side’s torch singing nor the flip’s bouncy pop played to Doryse’s strengths; more fetching is the Brill Building pop of the previously unreleased “Born to Be Loved.” 1967 kicked off memorably with Kitty Lane’s funky “It’s Love I Need” and it’s mid-tempo B-side “Sweetheart.” Lane was a fiery vocalist who briefly backed Otis Redding; here she’s backed by a hot horn section, and on the A-side, a terrific organ player.

1967 also saw the reappearance of label stalwart Winfield Parker, featured here on an alternate take of the Arthur Conley-written “Go Away Playgirl” (for the master take, see Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac), as well as the single “Sweet Little Girl” and a pair of demos. The year also welcomed the first Ru-Jac release by Gene & Eddie, whose early sides suggest both the mournfulness of Otis Redding and the bouncy duets of Sam & Dave. The duo’s songwriter and producer, Joe Quarterman, performing as Sir Joe, is also heard here on the effervescent “Nobody Beats My Love.” Fans can find their extensive singles catalog anthologized separately on True Enough: Gene & Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac.

Volume 3 is filled out with a pair of previously unissued instrumentals from the house band, the Shyndells, Leon Gibson’s invitation to dance, “Do the Roller,” it’s Bo Diddley inspired B-side “Working Hard,” and four previously unissued sides by unknown artists. Among the latter are a demo of Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Little Girl” (which plays back-to-back here with Winfield Parker’s finished single), the gospel soul “Finally Together,” the stage-ready showpiece “Searching” and the ballad “Never Never Leave Me.” After the low output of 1966, 1967 was a strong year artistically, if not commercially. Mitchell’s ear for talent continued to shine, and the continuing presence of Winfield Parker and arrival of Gene & Joe gave the Ru-Jac stable a strong lineup.

Volume 4 closes out the highly productive year of 1967 (essayed in the main on Volume 3) with Winfield Parker’s original “She’s So Pretty.” Parker shows off the sort of high-energy soul coined by Wilson Pickett and Arthur Conley, and is complemented on this volume by the up-tempo instrumental “Tighten Up” (credited to Archie Bell as writer, but not his 1968 hit), Sir Joe’s impassioned “Every Day (I’ll Be Needing With You),” Ru-Jac staff arranger Paul Johns’ socially-charged soul-psych “Changes, Part 1,” and Willie Mason’s energetic “I Loved You Once.” There were several ballads waxed by the Fred Martin Revue in 1968, including the open-hearted “I’m the One (Who Loves You)” and lonely plea “When I’m Alone,” as well as the crisply drummed, organ-and-guitar instrumental “Contagious.”

The Dynamic Corvettes’ 1971 single “Keep Off the Grass” and its B-side “It’s a Trap” offer social messages, with falsetto vocals that suggest Curtis Mayfield. Mitchell wound Ru-Jac down by the end of 1972, though it popped back up in 1980 with Jimmy Dotson’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Think of Me as Your Soldier.” The single’s stereo production, smooth sax and backing vocals are modern; the breezier B-side, “To Be Your Lover” more closely fits the Ru-Jac mould. Kevin Coombe’s liner notes provide tremendous detail on these little-known artists, and explain Rufus Mitchell’s decision to quiesce Ru-Jac to focus on his clothing-related businesses. All four volumes are essential, as are Omnivore’s releases on Winfield Parker, Eddie & Joe and an upcoming volume of Arthur Conley demos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Big Star: Live At Lafayette’s Music Room – Memphis, TN

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Regrouping between #1 Record and Radio City

Over the past thirty years, the size of Big Star’s posthumously released catalog (including reissues, a box set, archival dig, biography, documentary and tribute concert), has grown to match their stature as a key influence in rock music. What’s remained dear, are recordings of the band as a live act. With their debut having been stillborn commercially, the band played relatively few shows, and recorded even fewer. The scant live material known to exist includes rehearsals and a board tape from the Overton Park band shell in Memphis, an in-studio appearance on New York radio station WLIR-FM, and a widely bootlegged set opening for Badfinger in Cambridge.

The 2009 box set Keep An Eye on the Sky introduced another live performance, recorded in January 1973 in Memphis. Those same tracks are presented here in a standalone volume, with new restoration and mastering by Michael Graves, augmented by new liner note from Bud Scoppa, and a download of a previously unreleased 1972 radio interview with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel. Recorded as a trio, after the departure of Chris Bell, the set list includes material from the debut, #1 Record, the yet-to-be-recorded follow-up Radio City, and covers of the Kinks, T-Rex, Todd Rundgren and Flying Burrito Brothers.

The fallout of #1 Record’s commercial failure, and Bell’s subsequent departure, left Big Star as more of a concept than a working band. The trio lineup had Chilton singing Bell’s leads (e.g., “My Life is Right”), and Stephens doing his best to fill in the harmonies. For a band that’s a man down, with no wind at their backs, an uncertain future ahead, and a passive crowd waiting to see Archie Bell & The Drells, they still muster plenty of emotion and energy. Chilton shows off his solo guitar skills on several tunes, including “She’s a Mover” and “Don’t Lie to Me,” and strums a mini-acoustic set that leads off with “Thirteen” and closes with “Watch the Sunrise.”

The stereo room recording isn’t as nuanced as their carefully crafted studio work, but it’s balanced and full, and Stephens and Hummel’s rhythm work comes across as both melodic and powerful. The audience, which to be fair, had likely never heard of Big Star, is oblivious to what’s happening in front of them and offers smatterings of polite applause. The trio could easily have taken the lack of response as a negative comment on their performance, but the set actually picks up steam several times, and after covers of Todd Rundgren’s “Slut” and the Kinks’ “Come on Now,” the band closes with the fiery take on the song that would open Radio City’s, “O My Soul.” The performance is sparse and raw compared to the finesse of the album’s layered productions, casting the set’s best-known songs in new light. Robert Gordon captured the effect perfectly in his 1992 liner notes for the original issue of Big Star Live:

“You find an old picture of your lover. It dates from before you’d met, and though you’d heard about this period in his or her life, seeing it adds a whole new dimension to the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table. You study the photograph and its wrinkles, looking for clues that might tell you more about this friend you know so well–can you see anything in the pockets of that jacket, can you read any book titles on the shelf in the background. You think about an archaeologist’s work. When you next see your lover, you’re struck by things you’d never noticed. The skin tone, the facial radiance–though the lamps in your house are all the same and the sun does not appear to be undergoing a supernova, he or she carries a different light. As strikingly similar as the way your lover has always appeared, he or she is also that different. You shrug and smile. Whatever has happened, you like it. That’s what this recording is about.”

Chilton and Hummel’s laid-back, 14-minute 1972 interview covers the creation of #1 Record, group dynamics, Chilton’s musical tastes, touring and allusions to future recording. It’s an interesting peek into the mindset of musicians that don’t yet realize their first album isn’t going to be vested as an icon until several decades after its release. The interviewer asked, “Is the album out yet in the stores?” and Andy Hummel presciently replies, “Yeah, the album should have hit the stores today. I believe. That’s what they told us, but, you know, you never can tell when they’re actually gonna get there.” That reality-tinged optimism is a microcosm of the bridge this set constructs from the euphoria of the debut to the grief of its failure to the renewal that was still ahead. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Big Star’s Home Page