Posts Tagged ‘Epic’

Donovan, Tammy Wynette, The Bangles: Playlist

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Legacy’s latest version of the single-disc artist overview has a few novel twists. Rather than a strict chronological recitation of an artist’s chart hits, the song selections are meant to gather those tracks a fan might compile for themselves. The 14-track playlists are still hit focused, but don’t always provide a full accounting of an artist’s chart success. Mono singles, longer album versions, out-of-print and non-hit tracks are sequenced to optimize song-to-song segues and draw out an impression of the artist’s overall catalog. The results are intended to deliver a listening experience rather than a hits archive. As a physical disc, Legacy’s marketing these as CD-quality alternatives to MP3s, improving on the package’s ecological aspects with a plastic-free digipack made of 100% recycled paperboard, and including additional materials (pictures, liner notes, credits, wallpapers) on the disc itself, rather than in a printed booklet.


Donovan’s Playlist opens with his 1966 flower-power anthems, “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow,” the former in the longer stereo album version, the latter in the mono single mix. The Scottish Woody Guthrie’s acoustic folk is heard in the mono singles “Catch the Wind” and “Colours,” the latter featuring a harmonica bridge left off the album version. The body of the compilation runs through most of Donovan’s US hits (including specific single versions of “There is a Mountain” and “Epistle to Dippy”), omitting “Jennifer Juniper,” “Lalena” and “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting.” In place of the three missing hits are the album tracks “Season of the Witch” from 1966’s Sunshine Superman, “Young Girl Blues” from 1966’s Mellow Yellow, “Isle of Islay” from 1967’s A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, and “Happiness Runs” from 1969’s Barabajagal.

Those looking for a straightforward accounting of Donovan’s US chart hits should seek out the Greatest jifiHits or Essential CDs. Those looking for flavor beyond the hits will find the stark, piercing portrait of loneliness, “Young Girl Blues,” particularly affecting, and the positivity of “Happiness Runs” a sweet folk round. What the album tracks show is that Donovan can’t easily be captured in only fourteen tracks. Key protest titles (“The War Drags On,” “Universal Soldier”), winning B-sides (“Sunny South Kensington”), and writerly album works (“Writer in the Sun,” “Sand and Foam”) await you on original album reissues, longer single-disc offerings like Best Of-Sunshine Superman, or longer-form collections like Troubadour: The Definitive Collection or Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan. As a short overview, though, this is a good place to start your journey into the world of Donovan.

Tammy Wynette

How well each Playlist volumes live up to the marketing promise differs artist by artist. With over forty hit singles to her name, Wynette’s Playlist couldn’t possibly capture them all; instead, the selections cherry-pick hits that stretch from 1966’s “Apartment #9” through 1976’s chart topping “’Til I Can Make it on My Own.” All fourteen tracks are notated as identical recordings on 45 and LP, so there’s no collector’s aspect, and given that the same titles were released in 2004 as The Essential Tammy Wynette, this volume is more of a repackage rather than a fresh appraisal. That said, this is a solid single-disc introduction to one of country music’s greatest vocalists. It’s not a deep survey or career retrospective, for that you’ll need to seek the out-of-print Tears of Fire: The 25th Anniversary Collection.

The Bangles

The Bangles edition of Playlist partly reneges on the premise by reeling off their eight U.S. chart hits in order, starting with the 1986 Prince-authored breakthrough “Manic Monday” and concluding with 1989’s “Be With You.” Unlike other artists in this series with more extensive hit catalogs, The Bangles chart run fits snugly into half a disc. Also included is the group’s AOR hit “Hero Takes a Fall” from 1984’s All Over the Place, and five album tracks from All Over the Place, Different Light, and Everything. The non-hits favor covers, including Katrina and the Waves’ “Going Down to Liverpool,” The Merry-Go-Round’s “Live,” and Big Star’s “September Gurls.” This is the same track sequence offered on 2006’s We Are the ‘80s.

While these fourteen selections provide a fair representation of the Bangles’ commercially successful years, they could have better captured the fan’s view. Missing are tracks from the group’s pre-Columbia EP on Faulty/IRS, their paisley-underground compilation appearances, 12” remixes that accompanied their hits, and material from their various reunions. Perhaps those are too arcane for a 14-track once-over, but without them this set offers only one compilation producer’s selection of album tracks over another’s. Many will find the album tracks included here (particularly the covers and the original “Dover Beach”) an improvement over the selections on Greatest Hits, but your mileage may vary. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

Carole King: Tapestry (Legacy Edition)

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Seminal singer-songwriter LP augmented with live tracks

At the time of this album’s 1971 release, Carole King had long since proven herself one of America’s greatest pop songwriters, but she had yet to be fully recognized as a performer. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Early in her career she’d released a few singles from her perch at the legendary Brill Building, including the minor hit “It Might As Well Rain Until September.” She’d also produced a smattering of titles for the Dimension and Tomorrow labels in the mid-60s, an album with the group The City in 1969, and her solo debut, Writer, in 1970. The latter held many charms, but found King singing her way past rock ‘n’ roll backings or fitting herself into country rock. Writer‘s variety is broader than the piano-centered productions of Tapestry, but neither the upbeat numbers nor the placid ballads of King’s debut proved the expressive jazz-tinged singer-songwriter vehicles of this sophomore breakthrough.

Presciently, Writer’s closing cover of “Up on the Roof” did point the way to Tapestry, taking what had been a signature 1962 performance by The Drifters and rearranging its Latin beat and swirling strings into an introspective piano ballad. It’s the same magic King performed in transforming the searching adolescence of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” into the thoughtful worry-wonder of a woman on the brink of thirty. The feats are all the more impressive for the lyrics having been written when King was barely twenty-years-old herself, writing for commercial acceptance on AM radio rather than pure self expression. Here, as throughout Tapestry, King’s piano is the instrumental focus, allowing her to emote through her voice and fingers in parallel.

The funky opener, “I Feel the Earth Move,” finds King’s vocals equally at home up-tempo. Her emancipated expression is breathtaking, and a bluesy piano solo enhances the euphoric freedom. Such openly emotional writing would be cloying in less talented hands, but King was not only an expert wordsmith, but a definitive interpreter of her own material. Her gospel-tinged version of “You’ve Got a Friend” is heavier than James Taylor’s contemporaneous single, amplifying both the pain and relief of the song’s lyrics, and the closing take of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is stripped of Aretha Franklin’s arrangement and supported instead by King’s piano playing and an overdubbed backing vocal. The spare instrumentation brings this closer to a songwriter’s demo, but King’s performance finds a dedication to the lyrics that reclaims her stake in the song.

In addition to re-imagined versions of earlier songs, King composed intimate new works of relationships being strained (“So Far Way”) and broken (“It’s Too Late”), loneliness (“Home Again”), salvation (“Way Over Yonder”) and faithfulness (“Where You Lead”). It’s only with “Smackwater Jack” and the album’s title track that King took to more fictional abandon. The sum total of Tapestry swept the 1971 Grammys, netting King awards for Album of the and Pop Vocal Performance, as well as Record of the Year ( “It’s Too Late”) and Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”). The album launched “It’s Too Late” to the top of the charts, and followed with “So Far Away” as a top twenty. Both singles’ B-sides, “I Feel the Earth Move” and “Smackwater Jack,” got their share of airplay, with the album peaking at #1 at the start of a six-year stay on the charts.

Legacy’s two-CD reissue features the original album on disc one, and a second disc of live takes recorded at various locations in 1973 and 1976. The eleven tracks of disc two repeat the Tapestry song list, save “Where You Lead,” whose lyrics King had deemed servile, and left off her set list. Over the years, this material was performed in a variety of musical settings, but Legacy has selected arrangements featuring only voice and piano. There’s not much distance between Lou Adler’s lean arrangements for the original album and these solo takes, but removing the intermediation of studio recording pushes King even closer to her songs. She adds an occasional inflection to her melodies, but what really sets these performances apart is the communication with her audience. The songs are transformed from interior expressions of a songwriter to vehicles for sharing emotions and responses.

King really digs into her songs on stage, bringing the sleeper “Beautiful” fully to life and adding extra passion to “Way Over Yonder.” As on the original album her “covers” of songs made into hits by others reveal new emotional layers. “You’ve Got a Friend” spurs King to vocal exclamation, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is sung with a declarative force that’s in startling contrast to its intimate lyric. Even more so than on the studio versions you get a hear King’s singing and playing as natural expressions. Running the live tracks in the same order as the album suggests just how carefully the album was sequenced; but what isn’t shown here is how these songs fit into King’s larger live set. It’s also interesting to note that none of these tracks were selected from tours that promoted Tapestry itself; they’re all from subsequent album tours.

Those who purchased earlier versions of Tapestry will enjoy the new light shed by the live tracks; they can be purchased individually from on-line download services. Those picking up their first Tapestry CD may also want to reach back to the 1999 reissue for the bonus track “Out in the Cold,” likewise available as a download. This latter track is reputed to be a Tapestry outtake, though its provenance remains disputed. Legacy’s deluxe gatefold digipack includes new liner notes by Harvey Kubernick, period photos from the recording sessions, and song-by-song lyrics and instrumental credits. This is a superb reintroduction of one of the 1970s most endearing and enduring albums. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

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