Posts Tagged ‘Doo-Wop’

The Coasters: Coast Along with the Coasters

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Coasters_CoastAlongWithThe Coasters return to what they do best in 1962

Much like their self-titled 1958 debut, this 1962 long-player collects a number of A- and B-sides and adds a few album-only tracks. After their diversion into standards with 1960’s One by One, the group returned to Leiber & Stoller’s songbook and a driving R&B production style for the sides collected here. The hits are “What About Us” and “Little Egypt,” but there’s a lot more to recommend this album. The nursery rhyme “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me” opens the album with a luscious stereo production that spreads out the quartet’s vocals, and their early version of “Girls Girls Girls” is more laid-back than Elvis’ take, with a limbo bass line and vocal punctuations that mimic a train whistle. The album-only tracks include the mismatched lovers of Pomus & Shuman’s “The Snake and the Bookworm” and a swinging cover of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe.” Most imaginative of all is the retribution of Leiber & Stoller’s beer-drinking, poker-playing monkey in “Run Red Run.” Everything here is in true stereo except for “Wait a Minute,” which is mono. The jokiness of the earlier Coasters records is lessened, but the interplay of their vocals will always make you smile. To get a broader look at their hits, try The Very Best of the Coasters; to go deep check out Rhino Handmade’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Coasters: The Coasters

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Coasters_CoastersThe Coasters’ 1958 debut LP

The Coasters first full-length LP is more an anthology than a purpose-built album, collecting half its fourteen songs from the pre-Coasters lineup of the Robins, and adding seven more by the first lineup to record under the Coasters name. Though the group changed more than half its members between the Robins and Coasters, the songs and production of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller provide a through line that gives the album an impressive consistency. The song list includes the group’s first four hit singles, “Down in Mexico,” “One Kiss Led to Another,” “Young Blood,” and “Searchin’,” alongside favorites “Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Framed,” and terrific, lesser-known sides “Wrap it Up” and the energetic “I Must Be Dreamin’.” The Coasters deftly combined deep R&B roots with a comedic approach that made their songs fun without turning them into novelties. You’ll smile every time you hear the Coasters, but you’ll never think of them as anything less than a consummate vocal group. To get a broader look at their hits, try The Very Best of the Coasters; to go deep check out Rhino Handmade’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Dion: The Complete Laurie Singles

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Dion’s teen-idol and comeback solo sides for Laurie

Dion DiMucci is one of the few first-generation rock ‘n’ rollers to fruitfully navigate the cultural twists and turns of succeeding decades. He had doo-wop hits fronting the Belmonts in the late ‘50s, teen idol solo hits in the early ‘60s, a resurgence in the ‘70s, and a string of albums running through 2008’s Giants of Early Guitar Rock and this year’s Tank Full of Blues that still find him making vital music. Real Gone’s 2-CD set reaches back to Dion’s breakout as a solo artist on the Laurie label, and catalogs all thirty-six of the sides he released as singles. He hit as a solo in 1960 with “Lonely Teenager,” and scored a 1-2 punch the following year with “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.” He reached the Top 10 with  “Lovers Who Wander,” “Little Diane” and “Love Came to Me,” but in late 1962 departed for Columbia. Laurie had enough material in the vault to issue singles into 1964, charting with the originals “Sandy” and “Lonely World,” and covers of “Come Go with Me” and “Shout.”

He returned to Laurie in 1968, and at the label’s suggestion recorded “Abraham, Martin & John,” a song that resounded strongly amid the year’s social upheaval and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The record’s forlorn mood was just right for the times, and the single charted to #4 in the U.S. Dion’s stay at Laurie proved short-lived, as he moved to Warner Brothers the following year, but before going he released several more singles, including covers of Fred Neil’s “The Dolphins,” Joni Mitchell’s “From Both Sides Now,” a nearly unrecognizable folk-rock arrangement of “Purple Haze,” and a soulful take on the Four Tops’ “Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever.” He also recorded a few originals, including the heavy “Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)” and socially charged “He Looks A Lot Like Me.” Dion’s songwriting had clicked as early as “Runaround Sue,” and it continued to sustain him through the rest of his career.

The thirty-six sides collected here represent nineteen singles released by Dion as a solo act for Laurie (two of the singles shared B-sides with other singles, hence the disparity between the number of sides and number of singles). All thirty-six sides are remastered from the original single mixes. Missing are Dion’s earlier releases with the Belmonts, as well as his sides on Columbia (which included the hits “Ruby Baby,” “Donna the Prima Donna” and “Drip Drop”). Lining up all the A’s and B’s, listeners will hear the tug-of-war between the label’s belief in pop songs, Dion’s love of gutsier blues and rock, the fast pace at which the music scene changed in the 1960s, and an artist’s ability to expand and reinvent himself. The 20-page booklet includes photos, picture sleeve reproductions, and extensive liner notes by Ed Osborne that feature generous quotes from Dion. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Dion’s Home Page

The Ad Libs: The Complete Blue Cat Recordings

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Astonishing stereo re-masters and demos of Brill-era vocal group

Blue Cat was a subsidiary of the Red Bird label started in 1964 by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The parent label cashed in on the girl group craze with the Dixie Cups and Shangri-Las, but Blue Cat also cracked the Top 10 with the label’s second single, “The Boy from New York City.” Written by saxophonist John T. Taylor, the song had a jazzy swing that gave the then-recently rechristened Ad Libs a distinct sound. The New Jersey quintet featured Mary Ann Thomas singing lead and a smooth male quartet providing backing vocals. A second single, “He Ain’t No Angel,” was penned by Red Bird’s house team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (and previously waxed by the Lovejoys for Tiger), but label turmoil stalled the single on the bottom rungs of the Top 100. Two more singles, “On the Corner” and “I’m Just a Down Home Girl,” fared even worse and led to the group’s departure from Blue Cat.

Judging solely by the charts, the Ad Libs were a four-single, one-hit wonder; but as this twenty-three track collection shows, there was a lot more to their catalog than found broad public acclaim. In addition to the group’s four A’s and B’s, Real Gone’s gathered a clutch of unreleased tracks, alternate versions and a cappella demos that give full testimony to the group’s vocal talent and their production team’s ability to craft memorable melodic and instrumental hooks. The B-sides are anything but throwaways, with “Kicked Around” sporting an incredible jazz bass line, sly organ bed and maddeningly memorable triangle figure behind Thomas’ thirsty flower vocal. “Ask Anybody” is a dance tune touched by doo-wop, blues and gospel, and the male leads on “Oo-Wee Oh Me Oh My” and “Johnny My Boy” show the group had more than one vocalist capable of holding the spotlight.

The finished track “The Slime” went unreleased, and, sadly, was deprived of the opportunity to ignite a worldwide dance craze based on melting like butter down in the gutter. The set’s other unreleased master, “You’ll Always Be in Style,” adds a touch of Latin soul. The set’s most arresting find, however, are seven mono a cappella demos that starkly highlight the group’s melding of doo-wop and vocal jazz. In addition to demos of singles sides (including a take on “The Boy from New York City” that shows the hit single’s more relaxed tempo to have been the right choice), four additional titles are featured, including the holiday-themed “Santa’s on His Way.” The five alternate takes include a version of “The Boy from New York City” with a distractingly present trumpet riff, and the disc is filled out with seven tracking sessions that provide a rare peak inside the studio.

Reissue producer Ron Furmanek has re-mastered many of these tracks (1-4, 6-9, 18-30) in stereo from the original 3- and 4-track master session tapes. At times, particularly on the singles, the separation and clarity of the vocals and instruments is disconcerting to ears trained by original mono singles heard through AM radio. That said, even with handclaps and backing vocals panned hard left and right, the soundstage still hangs together reasonably well, even when individual elements (such as the honking saxophone on “He Ain’t No Angel”) stand a bit forward. The tracking sessions are interesting, but fresh re-masters of the original mono singles would have been a more long-lasting treat. Real Gone’s four-panel slipcase includes a 12-page booklet with lengthy liner notes and an introduction by the Manhattan Transfer’s Tim Hauser. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

The Tymes: So Much in Love

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Smooth and soulful mid-60s Philly vocal sounds

The Tymes were a Philadelphia vocal group originally incorporated as the Latineers. By the time they signed with the powerhouse Cameo-Parkway label, they’d honed their vocal arrangements into a sophisticated sound that was as much supper club soul as street corner doo-wop. Their first recording and first single for Cameo, “So Much in Love,” was also their biggest hit, topping the chart in 1963. They’d land two more singles in the top-twenty, including the terrific cover of “Wonderful! Wonderful!” heard on this 1963 LP. The album was filled out with compelling takes on standards (“That Old Black Magic” and “Autumn Leaves”), ‘50s hits (“Goodnight My Love” and “My Summer Love”), and ensemble-sung originals from the team of Straigis, Jackson and Williams. The wonder-struck spoken introductions that adorn the tracks grow gimmicky by album’s end, which make the single edits of “So Much in Love” and “Wonderful! Wonderful!” terrific bonuses alongside the Coasters-styled “Roscoe James McClain” and a spirited 1963 take on Jan & Dean’s “Surf City.” Twelve of these eighteen tracks (the eighteenth being an unlisted Italian-language version of “So Much in Love”) do not appear on The Best of the Tymes 1963-1964, making this a wonderful complement to the earlier anthology. All tracks are remastered in their original AM-ready mono, and the set includes an eight-page booklet with liner notes by Gene Sculatti and full-panel reproductions of the album’s two different covers. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

The Dovells: For Your Hully Gully Party / You Can’t Sit Down

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Two-fer from early ‘60s Cameo-Parkway vocal group

Shortly before the Collectors’ Choice label was sold to Super D, they embarked upon an ambitious program of reissues from the Cameo-Parkway catalog. The Cameo-Parkway tapes had mostly sat idle in ABKCO’s vault ever since Allen Klein acquired them in the late ‘60s, and the first program of legitimate reissues began in 2005 with a series of Best Of’s, including a volume on this Philadelphia vocal group. Five years later, a series of two-fers returned full, original albums to print, including this pairing of the group’s second and third albums, originally released in 1962 and 1963, respectively. This skips over the group’s first and biggest success, “The Bristol Stomp,” but joins them in a run of dance-themed hits that included “Do the New Conteinental,” “Hully Gully Baby” and “The Jitter Bug.” Missing from this period is the non-LP “Bristol Twistin’ Annie.”

The two-fer includes the group’s second biggest hit, 1964’s infectious, hand-clapping cover of the Phil Upchurch Combo’s instrumental “You Can’t Sit Down.” The Dovells’ version shot to #3, and with the subsequent departure of tenor vocalist Len Barry (who’d later score a solo hit with “1-2-3”), the group’s chart fortunes came to an end. The album tracks combine covers and staff-written tunes that, in full accord with Cameo’s recoding ethic, chased the dance trend to its last fumes. Remember tearing it up to the “Hully Gully Square Dance” or “Country Club Hully Gully?” Neither does anyone else. Still, even when the material was repetitive, the group sang with doo-wop verve, and the house band – led by Dave Appell and featuring the honking tenor sax of Buddy Savitt – was rock solid. Mastered in crisp mono with nice bass detail, this is reminder of a much simpler time on the Top 40 charts. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Paul Simon: Songwriter

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Idiosyncratic collection highlighting Paul Simon’s songwriting

This two-disc, thirty-two track collection (with a generous running time of 139 minutes) highlights the legendary songwriting of Paul Simon. The composer himself selected the tracks, touching on both hits and the lesser-known compositions of which he’s most proud. The result is an idiosyncratic tour of Simon’s catalog that will remind you of his broad commercial power, but key you into the depth of his craft as a writer. The selections focus almost entirely on Simon’s post Simon & Garfunkel career, with only a solo live take of “The Sound of Silence” (the set’s only previously unreleased track), Simon’s 1991 Concert in the Park recording of “The Boxer,” and Aretha Franklin’s 1970 cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” reaching back to his duo work.

The bulk of the collection cherry-picks from Simon’s solo albums, stretching from 1972’s Paul Simon through this year’s So Beautiful or So What. Selections from Simon’s well-loved albums of the 1970s and his commercial renaissance sparked by Graceland will be familiar, but deep album cuts, picks from Hearts and Bones and Songs from the Capeman (including the excellent 50s-pastiche “Quality”), and his contribution to the soundtrack of The Wild Thornberrys Movie will be fresh to many listener’s ears. The breadth of Simon’s writing mirrors both his own maturation as a person and the evolution of the society in which he wrote. The reactionary outbursts of his early songs were stoked by youth and the turbulent times in which he was living; his early post-S&G years found him developing a solo personality and indulging his musical interests in reggae, doo-wop, and South American folk.

Simon’s music has been as revelatory and memorable as his words, speedily evolving from the acoustic arrangements of the folk scene to sophisticated tapestries of instruments and genres. Decades before Graceland introduced African music to the American audience, Simon augmented his palette with American gospel, Peruvian folk and Jamaican reggae. He explored sounds from South Africa, Brazil and the American South, all the while embroidering his autobiographical, observational and imaginative lyrics with ideas drawn from his musical interests. His relationships seeded numerous songs, including ones of developing love (“Hearts and Bones”), family (“Father and Daughter” and “So Beautiful Or So What”), marital turbulence (“Darling Lorraine”) and dissolution (“Tenderness”). His evolving view of society provided bookends to the American unrest with the angry “The Sound of Silence” and the haggard “American Tune.”

Over the years, Simon’s craft sharpened, his characters multiplied, his philosophical and emotional insights deepened, and his favorite lyrics became more impressionistic and poetic. But winningly, his music remained accessible as he teased apart new layers in existing forms and interwove the fresh threads of his ever-broadening musical grasp. Simon sees himself first as a songwriter, secondarily as a performer and recording artist, but as these recordings attest, his words, melodies, arrangements and estimable guitar playing are all deeply intertwined. Simon always surrounded himself with carefully picked players who add original colors to his songs with their instruments and voices. Listening to a set of his recordings, it’s easy to appreciate the songwriter, but difficult to untangle that appreciation from the carefully crafted performances.

The set’s booklet includes full lyrics, but no song notes by the author. Simon, most likely, sees the lyrics as the best possible explanation of the songs. Still, the stories behind the songs would have been an interesting extra. The absence of Simon & Garfunkel recordings leaves the listener to remember how Simon’s first blaze of glory sounded; the words are here in three early songs, but as noted, Simon’s lyrics are deeply wedded to his expression, which originally included Art Garfunkel. The set’s forward is written by painter (and apparent Paul Simon superfan) Chuck Close, and the liner notes are by Tom Moon. Full musician, production and release credits are also included. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Paul Simon’s Home Page

Paul Simon: There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Simon expands his reach with third solo effort

Simon’s third solo album (including 1965’s The Paul Simon Songbook), found the singer-songwriter expanding upon the freedom he’d displayed on the previous year’s eponymous release. The branching out displayed with reggae, Latin and South American sounds was now expanded with bluesy doo-wop, New Orleans pop, gospel and Memphis soul. Simon deftly choreographed an impressive guest list that includes The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Roches, horns arranged by Alan Toussaint and strings arranged by Quincy Jones. His mastery weaves multiple studios, dates and backing bands (including the players of Muscle Shoals) into a surprisingly cohesive album.

Beyond the album’s hits (“Kodachrome” and “Love Me Like a Rock”), Simon produced an album of memorable songs that set themselves apart from his earlier work with Art Garfunkel. The brass party on “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” gospel backing vocals of “Tenderness,” Jamaican style of “Sunny Day,” and country underpinnings of “St. Judy’s Comet” were fresh to Simon’s catalog, and even the Garfunel-esque “American Tune” feels like a declaration of independence with Simon singing unaccompanied. Legacy’s 2011 reissue reuses Bill Inglot’s remastering and the four bonus demo tracks of Rhino’s 2004 reissue. Legacy’s traded out Rhino’s digipack for a standard jewel case and a 12-page booklet of lyrics and pictures. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Earls: Remember Then

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Fine sides from doo-wop’s later years

The Earls were a doo-wop group formed in the Bronx in the late ‘50s. They’re most fondly remembered for this set’s title track, released in 1962 and peaking at #24 the following year. The group’s first four A-sides are included here, starting with 1961’s “Life is But a Dream” and its follow-up “Looking for My Baby,” 1962’s “Remember Then” (presented here in a stereo mix that doesn’t have the same punch as the original mono) and 1963’s “Never.” Their 1963 demo of “I Believe” and 1964 single “Cry Cry Cry” are also treats. The odd-bodkin in the lot is a suitably overwrought cover of “I Who Have Nothing” that seems to be from a later, non-doo wop period in the group’s history. The Earls stayed together in various lineups for quite a few years, which means this collection is missing numerous B-sides and additional singles. The Earls were a terrific example of the artistry that could still be found in doo wop’s waning days, with Larry Chance’s strong lead vocals backed up by sharp harmonies. This selection of their early A-sides is a good taste, but for the whole story you’ll need to track down out-of-print collections released by Collectables, Emor and Ace. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Larry Chance and the Earls’ Home Page

Various Artists: Let Freedom Sing

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

various_letfreedomsingPerfectly timed musical anthology of the civil rights movement

Two years ago, just when then-Senator Barack Obama was announcing his run for the highest public office in the U.S., the producers at Time Life began work on this stupendous 3-disc, fifty-eight track collection. Scheduled in celebration of February’s Black History Month (and in conjunction with a PBS/TV-One documentary), the set gains an indelible exclamation point from the inauguration of President Obama as the 44th chief executive of the United States of America. Throughout these fifty-eight tracks one can hear spirit, belief, faith, fear, sadness, hope and empowerment that were an inspirational source from which participants in the civil rights movement drew strength and a narrative soundtrack of historical events.

The fluidity with which music intertwines daily life makes it more of a people’s art than other performance media, self-sung as field hollers and church spirituals, passed as folk songs by troubadours, and saturating the ether of popular consciousness through records, radio, television and movies. Music is an accessible medium for documenting one’s times, creatable with only a human voice as an instrument. Like speech, music can both record and instigate, but unlike speech, musical melodies readily anchor themselves in one’s memory, forever associated with a time or place or person or event. That duality allows this set to play both as a public chronology of historic events and, for those old enough to have been there, a personal history of one’s emotional response.

The set opens a few years before America’s entry into World War II with the a cappella spiritual “Go Down Moses,” the dire reportage of “Strange Fruit” and the protest of “Uncle Sam Says.” The ironies of post-war America continued to be questioned in “No Restricted Signs” and “Black, Brown and White,” but as the ‘40s turned into the ‘50s, the tone became more direct, and at times angry. Historic court decisions and watershed protests intertwined with horrific killings, and this was reflected in the documentary tunes “The Death of Emmett Till, Parts 1 & 2” and “The Alabama Bus,” and the questing lyrics of The Weavers’ “The Hammer Song” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “When Do I Get to Be Called a Man?”

The set list follows a rough chronology of recording dates, but the thematic flow paints the more circuitous route of gains and setbacks, hopes and disappointments, triumphs and retrenchments that highlighted and pockmarked the movement’s progress. The turbulence of 1965, the year of Malcolm X’s assassination, provides a particularly keen microcosm of the conflicts, segueing the righteous protest of J.B. Lenoir’s “Alabama Blues” with The Dixie Hummingbird’s temperate ode “Our Freedom Song,” and matching the cutting irony of Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Forty Acres and a Mule” with The Impressions’ compassionate call “People Get Ready.”

The last half of the sixties offered up beachheads in Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stand!,” and Lee Dorsey’s pre-Pointers Sisters original “Yes We Can, Part 1.” At the same time, assassinations and riots yielded John Lee Hooker’s “The Motor City is Burning” and George Perkins & The Silver Stars’ funereal “Cryin’ in the Streets, Part 1.” At the turn from the 60s into the 70s the movement seemed unstoppable, inciting Motown to veer into social commentary with The Temptations’ “Message From a Black Man,” provoking the Chi-Lites to editorialize with “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” and launching Curtis Mayfield’s solo career with deep thinking, adventurous productions like “We the People.” Mayfield would be joined by Marvin Gaye with the release of What’s Going On, and the catalog of injustice and angst “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”

The momentum continued in the ‘70s, but not without opposition, anger and dissent. Gil Scott-Heron provides a stream-of-consciousness news report from the frontlines with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” displays caution bordering on paranoia, and Aaron Nevill’s “Hercules” is both paranoid and pessimistic. The embers of empowerment still burned, as heard in Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” which pairs nicely with the collection’s earlier reggae tune, a cover of Nina Simone’s “Young Gifted and Black.” The set jump-cuts from the soul sounds of the O’Jays’ “Give the People What They Want” to the hip-hop works of the Jungle Brothers’ “Black is Black,” Chuck D’s “The Pride” and Sounds of Blackness’ “Unity.” Disc three includes new works by old masters Solomon Burke and Mavis Staples, but omits key figures of the ‘80s and ‘90s such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, and Mos Def. The set closes with the gospel spiritual “Free at Last,” answering the call of disc one’s opener.

These events, stories and lessons resonate against an evolving palette of musical forms – doo-wop, jazz, gospel, blues, soul, rap – pioneered by African Americans in parallel with the civil rights movement. The pairings of stories and sounds tell an indelible story of faith, belief, empowerment and spirit. The producers have mixed little-known gems with the movement’s hits, providing much deserved exposure to the former and much welcomed context to the latter. Production quality is top-notch, with sharp remastering, an introduction by Chuck D, and Grammy-worthy liner notes by Colin Escott that interweave song details and historical moments. Disc one is mono, except tracks 11, 13-18; disc two is stereo, except tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 21; disc three is stereo. This is a fantastic music collection that doubles as the soundtrack to a history lesson. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Listen to Let Freedom Sing, Disc 1
Listen to Let Freedom Sing, Disc 2
Listen to Let Freedom Sing, Disc 3
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