Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

Vince Guaraldi Trio: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Legendary jazz pianist’s artistic and commercial breakthrough

Concord Records initiated a new pass through their Original Jazz Classics catalog in March of 2010, and they now add five more titles to the program. Each reissue features a new 24-bit remaster by Joe Tarantino, extensive liner notes, and bonus tracks. Five additions grace this reissue of Vince Guaraldi’s 1962 artistic and commercial breakthrough. The San Francisco pianist has been making a name for himself since the mid-50s, backing Woody Herman, Nina Simone, and Stan Getz, and sitting in with the Cal Tjader Quartet, but his solo albums hadn’t turned their critical praise into commercial notoriety until the original piece “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” led this album up the charts. Guaraldi would find yet another level of acclaim with his compositions for the Peanuts television specials, but it was this album that established him as a popular jazz luminary.

The album opens with covers of the four main themes from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa’s score for the film Black Orpheus. Despite the then-contemporary resurgence of bossa nova in American jazz, Guaraldi and his accompanists only feint towards the samba rhythms of the originals. Instead, the pianist takes the lead with his highly melodic version of bebop, both energetic, yet cosmopolitan cool. Nowhere is this balance more evident in Guaraldi’s Grammy-winning original “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” The song opens with the delicacy of a light summer fog before swinging into a bluesy middle that’s supported by Budwig’s walking bass line and Bailey’s ride cymbal and snare accents. The song communicates more about the special feeling of pre-hippie San Francisco in the early ‘60s than just about any other piece of music.

Guaraldi plays lush chords and sustained low notes to set the melancholy mood of Mancini and Mercer’s “Moon River,” and his mid-song solo again captures a unique ability to make modern jazz both melodic and compelling to pop listeners. The album finds its Latin feet with the stop-start original “Alma-Ville,” but even here Guaraldi only teases, as the combo switches to straight jazz by mid-song, and returns to the bossa nova style only to close things out. The reissues five bonus tracks include the single edit of “Samba de Orfeu,” and four previously unreleased alternate takes, including one of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” The fold-out booklet includes full-panel reproductions of the original covers (front and back), Ralph Gleason’s original album notes, and new liners by Derrick Bang. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Raul Malo: Sinners & Saints

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Raul Malo revisits his country, rock and Latin roots

After spending the better part of the last decade edging away from the sounds of the Mavericks, Malo began to find his way back from cover songs and supper club countrypolitan with last year’s genre-bending Lucky One. Here he takes an even more personal step, producing himself in a home studio and finishing off the tracks in Ray Benson’s Austin-based Bismeaux Studios. Malo reconnects with the upbeat Tex-Mex (or really, Cuban-Country) and gripping balladry that made his earlier work so arresting; the relaxed tempos and too-neat productions that failed to spark After Hours are counted off here with verve, and the arrangements are given soulful edges that match Malo’s deeply emotional vocals.

The balance weighs making music from the heart over production perfection, as evident on a cover of Rodney Crowell’s “’Til I Gain Control Again.” Sung in a complete take, Malo aptly describes the recording as “not perfect, but the emotion is there.” If it’s not technically perfect, Malo’s probably the only one who could point out the problems, and singing with the dynamism Waylon Jennings brought to his earlier cover, it’s hard to imagine the words being put across any better. Just as effective is the Spanish-language “Sombras,” with Malo pledging no less than his life to prove his love, and the drowsy “Matter Much to You” builds tension by hesitating to make the operatic Roy Orbison leap you might expect.

Cuban roots open the album with a lonely trumpet that beckons a bullfighter into the ring, but before the toreador appears, Malo’s organ and guitar add surf twang and spaghetti western mystery. Augie Meyers’ classic Vox Continental appears on several tracks, adding the texture and tone of the Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornados; the latter guest on “Superstar,” with Michael Guerra’s accordion casting a truly incredible spell. The rock ‘n’ soul of “Living For Today” suggests Delaney and Bonnie, but with the seeds sewn in the Nixon era watered by decades of American imperialism the lyrics have sprouted into mortal fatalism and the politically charged feeling that “we tried givin’ peace a chance / the only thing that’s wrong with that / we been at war since I was born.”

The original “Staying Here” sounds like something Elvis might have cut on his triumphant late-60s return to recording in Memphis. Malo plays everything on this track but the lead organ, but you’d be hard-pressed to know this was a one-man overdubbing band if you didn’t look at the credits – he’s that good at drums, bass, guitar, Mellotron and even tambourine; his voice is so fetching that it’s easy to forget his talents as an instrumentalist. Malo’s new songs are complemented by a cover of Los Lobos’ “Saint Behind the Glass,” further demonstrating that the contained form of his previous lounge material may have been an interesting singer’s exercise, but the expansive soul of these performances is the greater listener’s joy. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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Creedence Clearwater Revival: The Singles Collection

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

CCR_TheSinglesCollectionCCR as first heard on Top-40 radio

As a band that had tremendous top-40 success during the hey-day of freeform radio, Creedence Clearwater Revival stood with one foot planted firmly in each world. Their LPs were recorded in well-produced stereo, offered extended jams, thoughtful cover songs and deep album cuts that found room on underground FM stations such as Bay Area legends KMPX and KSAN. But above ground, the band’s music was remixed into powerful mono, edited for length and unleashed via AM powerhouses. AM’s narrow frequency range added emphasis to the music’s midrange, focusing listeners on Fogerty’s vocals and stinging guitar leads, and further revealing the band’s rhythm section to be among the most rock-solid and potent of its era. Their driving rhythms are just that much more driving in mono, and the band’s pop tunes sprang easily from a single speaker in the middle of a car’s dashboard.

Fogerty wrote with the goal of placing his songs alongside the R&B hits the group had grown up loving on Oakland’s KWBR and Sacramento’s KRAK. His originals stood toe-to-toe on album, airwave and top-40 chart with covers of “Suzie Q,” “I Put a Spell on You” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Included here are the A- and B-sides of thirteen original singles, ranging from 1968’s “Porterville” (b/w “Call it Pretending”) through 1972’s “Someday Never Comes” (b/w “Tearin’ Up the Country”). Also included is the single-edit of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (b/w “Good Golly Miss Molly”) that was released in 1976, four years after the group disbanded, and both sides of the stereo promotion-only experiment “45 Revolutions Per Minute.” The latter, a montage of production ideas, sound effects, musical bridges and comedy bits previously appeared as bonus tracks on the 2008 reissue of Pendulum.

Most of these songs are well-known to even casual listeners, as Creedence often broke both sides of their singles. The few less familiar cuts are the group’s first B-side “Call It Pretending,” Stu Cook’s “Door to Door” (an album cut from Mardi Gras and the B-side of “Sweet Hitch-Hiker”), and Doug Clifford’s “Tearin’ Up the Country” (also from Mardi Gras, and the B-side of “Someday Never Comes”). Strung end-to-end, these singles provide the AM listener’s view of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s success. While FM listeners grooved to 8:37 of “Suzie Q,” AM listeners enjoyed a concise 4:33 edit, and while album buyers sat back to enjoy album jams like “Graveyard Train,” “Keep on Chooglin’” and “Ramble Tamble,” singles buyers got another gumdrop every three or four months. The singles form an intertwined, yet separate, artistic arc that the band carved out in parallel to their albums.

Concord delivers thirty tracks on two CDs, each screened with a vintage Fantasy record label. The CDs are housed in a standard jewel case, together with a 20-page booklet that includes new liner notes by Ben Fong-Torres. Torres’ essay provides a genial trip through Creedence’s success on the radio, with quotes from 1960’s boss jocks, but it’s light on the particulars of these mono mixes and edits. A separate cardboard sleeve houses a DVD of four Creedence promotional videos: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Bootleg,” “I Put a Spell on You,” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door.” Staged in studios and aboard a riverboat these are real treats, with the band looking youthful and happy. There are groovy dancers on “Bootleg” and psychedelic effects of “I Put a Spell On You,” and the black-and-white footage of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” looks like it was filmed in the band’s rehearsal space. A folded poster insert reproduces many original 7” picture sleeves and completes a cardboard slip-cased package that is, in its own way, as important as the band’s original albums. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Creedence Clearwater Revival: The Concert

Friday, June 19th, 2009

CCR_TheConcertCreedence live on their home turf in 1970

After reissuing bonus-track laden CDs of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s first six albums, Fantasy’s new owner, the Concord Music Group, adds a straight (no bonus tracks) reissue of the group’s 1970 concert at the Oakland (California) Coliseum. While many bands’ live shows sound like their records, in Creedence’s case their studio albums had the muscle of their live shows. The difference may be lost on some, but it was never lost on the group’s audiences, who found themselves overwhelmed by the power of the rhythm battery and entranced by John Fogerty’s guitar playing.

With four albums under their belts and Cosmo’s Factory on the way (“Travellin’ Band” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” are included here), the live set list was essentially a greatest hits package. The two non-Fogerty compositions are the blues “The Night Time is the Right Time,” and the traditional “Midnight Special.” The latter may as well have been a Fogerty tune, given how well it fits with his original tunes. By 1970 Creedence had moved away from the Fillmore-styled jams of their earlier days, with only the nine-minute “Keep on Chooglin’” getting a lengthy exploration.

Given their prowess as a band, it’s a shame they didn’t continue to stretch out more on stage, but with their audience accumulating listeners from radio, the two- and three-minute hits became the public part of their catalog. The short clips of chatter and song introductions show Fogerty to be an engaging front-man, backed by a powerhouse band and fueled by a killer song catalog. This isn’t a revelatory live album, such as the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, but it is a true snapshot of the Great American Band at the height of their powers. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Covers the Classics

Friday, June 19th, 2009

CCR_CoversTheClassicsTwelve covers cherry-picked from Creedence’s albums

Early in their career as both a live band and a recording unit, Creedence was fond of covering material they loved. They rarely had hits this way, but they often managed to absorb even well known hits into the swampy Creedence universe. This new collection pulls together twelve covers that have been cherry-picked from Creedence’s studio albums. The only hits in the lot are single edits of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q,” and the post-breakup release of Cosmos’ Factory’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Both singles forgo the lengthy psychedelic jamming that made them such essential album tracks. The rest of the collection is a good look at the group’s influences, but only a few of the covers beyond the two singles, notably “The Midnight Special,” and “Cotton Fields” truly benefit from the Creedence treatment. When mixed in with Fogerty’s originals, the original album’s cover songs provided linkage to his songwriting and performing influences, but drawn onto a separate disc, they don’t always add up to anything as profound as the group’s originals. With only 12-tracks and a 40-minute running time this collection is no substitute for any of the group’s first five original albums. If you want hits, you’re better off with Creedence’s greatest original hits rather than Creedence’s covers of other people’s greatest hits. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Creedence Clearwater Revival: The First Six Albums Reissued

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

With Concord Music Group having purchased the Fantasy catalog, the fortieth anniversary of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s debut LP provides a suitable opportunity for a fresh round of reissues. All six of the original foursome’s albums (from 1968’s Creedence Clearwater Revival through 1970’s Pendulum) have been struck from new digital masters and augmented by previously unreleased tracks. Those who purchased the 2001 box set can pick up most of the bonus tracks separately as digital downloads (the two longest bonuses are CD-only). Those who didn’t buy the box, and think they’ll buy all six reissues may want to consider the box set for its inclusion of pre-Creedence work from the Blue Velvets and Golliwogs, the seventh CCR album Mardi Gras, the 1970-71 live recordings and several box-only bonuses. But for those just wanting to pick up a few favorite albums, these reissues are the ticket. Each is presented in a digipack with original front and back cover album art and a 16-page booklet with photos, credits and new liner notes.

Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Great American Band’s Debut

Creedence’s self-titled debut finds the band making the transition from blues and psychedelia to the bayou flavor that made them the greatest American rock band ever. The disc opens with a resurrection of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Fogerty’s vocal hasn’t the insane menace of Hawkins’ original, but his manhandling guitar solo shows how broad his vision of American music was going to be. The same is true for the group’s cover of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q,” extending the rockabilly classic into an eight-minute epic. Doug Clifford’s fade-in backbeat gives way to Fogerty’s insinuating guitar riff, and a run through of the lyrics leads to an intense guitar jam whose feedback-lined climax dissolves back into the smoke of a fading backbeat. The album’s third cover is “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” offered as a harder blues than the original’s Stax groove, and with a more ferocious vocal than Wilson Pickett’s original.

The originals, all written by John Fogerty, aren’t the swamp-rock icons of later albums, ranging from the straight blues “The Working Man” and “Get Down Woman” to the soul-psych “Gloomy” and jamming “Walking on Water.” The tune that points forward is “Porterville,” where you can hear the seeds of CCR’s swampy rock and an aggressive individualism in Fogerty’s lyrics. The 2008 CD’s bonus tracks include the throwback harmony rocker B-side of the group’s first single (originally issued as the Golliwogs) “Call it Pretending” and a 1968 album outtake of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” that’s less refined than the version they’d record for Cosmo’s Factory two years later. Two superbly present live tracks from a 1969 Fillmore show repeat “Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and “Suzie Q,” the former close to the studio original, the latter a set-closing showpiece demonstrating Fogerty’s hypnotizing guitar mastery stretching out to nearly twelve minutes.

Bayou Country
The Great American Band Finds Their Mojo

By the time Creedence recorded their second album, Bayou Country, John Fogerty had fully merged his broad range of Americana music influences into a wholly new sound. The El Cerrito, California bred songwriter re-imagined himself as a bayou musician whose guitar rock crawled from the swamp laden with backwoods blues and country twang. Fogerty debuts his persona on the album’s opener, with reverbed guitar bending over, around and through the group’s brilliant rhythm section. It’s a perfect bookend to the album’s closer, “Keep on Chooglin’,” whose title and rhythm define the underpinnings of the band’s musical vocabulary. In between Fogerty crafted the lasting myth of “Proud Mary,” fusing the group’s newly born shuffle, the soul of Stax and fictionalized images of Mississippi riverboats.

The band plays spare, late-night blues on “Graveyard Train,” but the images of lonely rural highways, railroads and undertakers all return to the album’s bayou hoodoo. The lone cover is a version of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” that finds Fogerty tearing up his overdriven lead guitar. The 2008 CD’s bonus tracks open with an alternate take of the shuffling “Bootleg” that’s stretched to double the original three minutes with a scat vocal section added to the middle. There’s also a trio of live tracks from the three-piece version of the group (sans Tom Fogerty) that toured Europe in 1971. “Born on the Bayou” is more rock ‘n’ roll fierce than the album track, “Proud Mary” is a by-the-numbers rendition of a band’s Big Hit (and seems most to miss Tom Fogerty), and “Crazy Otto” is a nine-minute blues jam recorded at the Fillmore in 1969.

Green River
The Great American Band’s First Completely Original Effort

Creedence’s third album (their second for 1969), Green River, is their first completely original effort as a band. Gone are the lengthy San Francisco jams, replaced by concisely written and arranged songs that concentrate Fogerty’s evocations of an idealized South. The album opens with the title track’s sumptuous memory of a mythical childhood, a song so deeply soaked in Southern swamps that it’s hard to imagine it being written in the urban hills of California’s Bay Area. The Fogerty brothers intertwine their twangy electric guitars with familial telepathy. The sound first explored on Bayou Country is now heard on every cut, mellowing the blue “Tombstone Shadow” and providing an introspective stage for Fogerty’s ballads. Even the frantic “Commotion” is given a Cajun base for its lyrics of a country boy demolished by the city’s hyperactivity. Fogerty’s social conscience stretches biblical allusions to then present day situations on “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” and with “Bad Moon Rising” the visions turn catastrophic. There’s a great deal more darkness here than on any other Creedence LP.

Fogerty’s guitar could be sinewy or ring with the influences of Chet Atkins, as does his solo on “Cross-Tie Walker.” Country music also makes an impact on the sorrowful, highly personal lyric of “Lodi.” The album closes with its sole cover, a slow rockabilly take on Ray Charles’ blue-soul “The Night Time is the Right Time.” The 2008 CD’s bonus tracks include a pair of pre-LP backing tracks that were never completed, the country-shuffle “Broken Spoke Shuffle” and the twangy “Glory Be.” Also here is a trio of live tracks from the group’s 1971 European tour. “Bad Moon Rising” is rushed (as are so many songs played live), a medley of “Green River” and “Suzie Q” is condensed to four-and-a-half-minutes, pointing out the two songs’ similarities more than giving the latter its full due, and “Lodi” is a fittingly weary lyric for a band reduced to three of its original four members.

Willy and the Poor Boys
The Great American Band Notches Their Second Classic

Creedence’s fourth album, their third full album for 1969, Willy & The Poor Boys, was even more of a classic than the preceding Green River. The band sounds even more at home with their sound and Fogerty’s creativity was stoked by the blistering pace at which he was creating new material. One could be forgiving of a few album tracks that didn’t measure up, but there weren’t any. Fogerty’s pen was overflowing with quality tunes and the band’s covers of “Cotton Fields” and “The Midnight Special” are so thoroughly inscribed with the Creedence sound as to be their own. Even the instrumental confection “Poorboy Shuffle,” with its wheezing harmonica and washboard skiffle, fits tightly into the album’s sequence, providing a light introduction and crossfade to the Ike Turner styled “Feelin’ Blue.”

The darkness of Green River is mostly dispelled here, as “Down on the Corner” opens the album with a joyous shuffle that coasts on Creedence’s potent rhythm section, and the paranoia of “It Came Out of the Sky” is played for rural laughs. Fogerty’s not without his calluses though, and “Fortunate Son” opens with a low, throbbing bass and memorable guitar riff to accompany the blistering attack on masters of war and privileged souls who get others to fight their wars. The 2008 CD’s bonus tracks include live versions of “Fortunate Son” and “It Came Out of the Sky” recorded by the three-piece Creedence on their 1971 European tour. The former is sung at a breakneck tempo that doesn’t seethe as fully as the studio original, the latter, recorded in Berlin, features the same hot guitar mix as other tracks from this show. Closing the CD is a version of “Down on the Corner” recorded with Booker T. and the MGs. The mono audio of this last bonus is less than sparkling, but where else are you going to hear John Fogerty and Steve Cropper swapping guitar licks?

Cosmo’s Factory
The Great American Band Hits Their Peak

Creedence’s fifth studio album, Cosmo’s Factory, expands upon the gains of their previous two releases even as it returns to the jamming, psychedelic roots and enthusiastic cover songs of the band’s 1968 debut. The result sums up the band’s evolution with socially-charged guitar jams (“Ramble Tamble”), concise, iconic hit singles (“Travelin’ Band,” “Up Around the Bend” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”), memorable B-sides (“Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Run Through the Jungle” and “Long As I Can See the Light”), heartfelt throwbacks (“Before You Accuse Me,” “Ooby Dooby” and “My Baby Left Me”), and a tour de force eleven minute reworking of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty would stick around for the next LP (Pendulum), but this one’s actually the more fitting summation of the original foursome’s 2-1/2 year run. John Fogerty might well have sensed this was the high point as he sings “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” weary but satisfied, and “Long As I Can See the Light” as an elegy.

Given that all three B-sides should have marked their own time on the charts, one can easily imagine this album spinning off six hits, with the lengthy album tracks tucked away on the late night radio waves of underground FM. Legacy’s 2008 CD reissue adds three bonus tracks, including a post-LP studio take of “Travelin’ Band” recorded without horns, a previously unreleased live version of “Up Around the Bend” from the group’s final European tour and a 1970 studio jam of “Born on the Bayou” featuring Booker T. on organ. If you’re only going to buy one Creedence LP, this is as good as it gets. Of course, that could equally well be said about Green River or Willy and the Poor Boys, and perhaps even Bayou Country. Best bet: get them all.

The Great American Band’s Last LP as a Foursome

Creedence’s sixth studio album in 2-1/2 years, Pendulum, marked their finale as a four-piece; two months after its December 1970 release, rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty would quit the group for good. Unlike the summary of their musical inventions heard on 1969’s Cosmo’s Factory, their latest LP found John Fogerty pushing the group in new directions, including more blatant nods to New Orleans funk, Stax soul, and experimental studio productions. The album’s press – both at the time and with this reissue – suggested the new focus was partly motivated by the dismissive attitudes of the band’s peers. With a string of top-5 singles and a lack of trendy sounds on their albums, Creedence wasn’t always given their due as innovators. Fogerty may have felt stung, but instead of capitulating with nods to current trends, he sought to lead the band in new directions. Fogerty may well have felt restless after stringing together Bayou Country, Green River, Willy and the Poorboys, and Cosmo’s Factory in just 18 months. Fogerty wrote all of the album’s songs for the first time, employed sax solos and a vocal backing chorus and, most conspicuously, added generous helpings of Hammond B-3.

Given all those changes, the album opens with a characteristic heavy rock jam that would have fit the group’s debut. The organ lining the album’s single, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” portends the larger changes to be found within the album, and those innovations first kick in with the organ, saxophone and chorus backing of “Sailor’s Lament.” Fogerty’s keyboard provides a spooky introduction to “(Wish I Could) Hideaway,” offering melodramatics that harken back to the group’s earlier cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” Fogerty’s fascination with Stax turns blatant on the funky “Chameleon,” and the structure and riff of “Born to Move” provide a solid nod to Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.”

As a producer Fogerty gives his rhythm section its due on “It’s Just a Thought,” moving the bass and drums forward and rewarding listeners with some of Stu Cook and Doug Clifford’s terrifically melodic playing. The album closes with the Little Richard styled rocker, “Molina,” and the six-minute prog-rock experiment “Rude Awakening, No. 2.” The latter provides a “heavy” bookend to the album’s opener, but aside from the acoustic guitar intro, it’s rather tortuous. Closing track pretentions aside, this is a solid album whose new directions may not measure up to the group’s peak, but might have proved fruitful had the group not dissolved with 1972’s Mardi Gras. Bonus tracks on the 2008 CD reissue include the promotional single “45 Revolutions Per Minute (Part 1 and 2),” which finds the band experimenting in the studio with a “Revolution #9” like montage of production tricks, backwards tape, sound effects, musical bridges, comedy bits, and San Francisco DJ Tom Campbell. Wrapping up the disc is a live take of “Hey Tonight” recorded by the three-piece Creedence in Hamburg on their last tour of Europe. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]