Posts Tagged ‘Omnivore’

Malo: Latin Boogaloo – The Warner Bros. Singles

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

The single edits of a 1970s Latin-rock jam band

Omnivore takes a fresh look at the San Francisco-based Latin-rock group Malo through the lens of their singles. The band’s original run of 1970s albums (Malo, Dos, Evolution and Ascención) can be found in reissue, alongside live albums and best ofs, but the original single edits (courtesy of Malo’s producer, David Rubinson) have been harder to come by. The interest in these sides lays in the resonance they will have for those who first met Malo on the radio. The group’s first single, “Suavecito,” is presented here in the shortened 3:29 version that climbed to #18 on the Billboard Top 100. The longer album version, from the group’s self-titled debut, is certainly worth having, but may seem oddly long to those weaned on the single.

The band’s mix of rock, soul, funk and Latin flavors were powered by a punchy rhythm section, tight horn charts, and the guitar playing of Jorge Santana and Abel Zarate. The tightly edited singles presented here elide intros, instrumental passages and lengthy jams that gave the albums flavor. That said, the highly-charged arrangements of guitar, percussion and horns were the band’s calling card, and though not heard at album length on the singles, are still the focal point of many of these sides. Some of the tunes, such as “Cafe,” feel as if they were cut off just as the band was taking flight, while others were more artfully edited into shorter form.

Omnivore has gathered Malo’s six singles for Warner Bros. – A’s and B’s – plus a single that was prepared (“Just Say Goodbye” b/w “Pana”) but only released in Turkey. Given that the band’s first single was the only one to chart, it’s likely that many listeners will be unfamiliar with terrific sides that include a soulful cover of “I Don’t Know,” the funky B-side “Think About Love” and the instrumental “Just Say Goodbye.” To hear the band in full flight, you’ll need the albums, but those looking for an intro, or deep fans wanting to hear how the band’s jams were tamed for radio will enjoy this volume. All stereo, except #4. [©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

Don Gibson: The Best Of The Hickory Records Years, 1970–1978

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Don Gibson’s second wind on Hickory Records

By the time that Don Gibson landed at Hickory Records, he’d been scoring hits for more than a decade at RCA. 1958’s chart-topping “Oh Lonesome Me” kicked off a string of RCA hits that ran through the end of the 1960s, and continued at Hickory into the late-70s. His biggest Hickory singles, “Country Green,” “Woman (Sensuous Woman)” and “Touch the Morning,” included his third (and final) #1, and provided the commercial face of a solid catalog that’s seen surprisingly little reissue activity. Omnivore offers twenty-five well-selected singles and album tracks, covering original and cover material that ranges from the twangy “Don’t Take All Your Loving” to a soulful take on Mel & Tim’s “Starting All Over Again.”

Gibson is remarkably consistent as he brings soul to Joe South’s “Games People Play,” heartbreak to Bobby Bond’s “If You’re Goin’ Girl,” and compelling blues to Grady Martin’s “Snap Your Fingers” and Mickey Newbury’s “If You Ever Get to Houston (Look Me Down).” Producer Wesley Rose cannily framed Gibson’s voice in a number of different ways, without losing his identify as a singer or his connection to country music. Rose’s sound wasn’t as clean as that produced by Chet Atkins at RCA, but neither was it tained with the badly aging affectations of many 1970s sessions. The guitar and steel players, uncredited here, add terrific stutter and twang on many of the tracks.

Gibson’s songwriting remained strong throughout his tenure at Hickory, and though his biggest Hickory hits came from the pens of Eddy Raven and Gary S. Paxton, he wrote fine singles, B-sides and album tracks, including the effervescent love song “I’m All Wrapped Up in You,” the ballad “Pretending Everyday,” and the remorseful “Praying Hands.” Omnivore’s collections pulls together all of the charting singles that hit #29 or above, and includes tracks from each of Gibson’s Hickory albums. That leaves nearly a dozen lower-charting singles and a wealth of album material for Bear Family to extend its series of Gibson box sets; but as an introduction to Gibson’s second wind of fame, this is terrific! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ: NRBQ

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

America: Heritage – Home Recordings & Demos 1970-1973

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Plotting the course of soft rock with demos from 1970-1973

The three expats that formed America in London in 1970 began their climb to stardom in late 1971 with the release of their eponymous debut. But it wasn’t until the album was reissued with the addition of “A Horse With No Name” that they captured the top spots on the album and singles charts. The debut also spun off “I Need You,” and the follow-up album, Homecoming, launched “Ventura Highway” the same year. The rest of the second album’s singles, and the third album, Hat Trick, registered successively lower on the charts, and it would take a few more years to return the band to hitsville with 1974’s “Tin Man” and “Lonely People,” and 1975’s “Sister Golden Hair.” The band has continued on to this day (minus Dan Peek, who left in 1977 and passed away in 2011), occasionally popping back up on the adult pop and contemporary charts.

Omnivore’s volume of demos and home recordings shows that the band was always destined for success. The magic blend of their voices was present from the beginning, and even as teenagers, they had a clear idea of their direction. Although many of these demos were successfully re-recorded for their albums, the excitement of recording together for the first time gives these initial takes their own unique feel. The earliest recordings were laid down at Chalk Hill Studios in 1970, and combines material from their debut (“Riverside” “Here” “Rainy Day” “Donkey Jaw”) with songs that never made it back to the studio. All are surprisingly well played and recorded, with the acoustic and electric guitars in balance and the harmony and backing vocals tightly arranged and sung.

The second set of recordings, from 1972 and 1973, were recorded at Gerry Beckley’s home studio, and include several titles that ended up on Hat Trick, songs and fragments that were never completed, and bits of studio chatter. Of interest to even casual fans will be a 1972 take of “Ventura Highway” that preceded the hit recording, and a vocal isolation of “A Horse With No Name” that’s nearly a cappella. Tracks 1, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 14 have been previously released on earlier America anthologies, but the remaining ten tracks are issued here for the first time. Founding member Dewey Bunnell provides original liner notes, and period photographs by Henry Diltz grace the cover and booklet. This is a great find for the band’s fans! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

America’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

Various Artist: The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volumes 1 & 2

Friday, January 19th, 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.

Mitchell drew his acts primarily from Baltimore and D.C., releasing a string of excellent singles that began with Jesse Crawford’s dramatic plea “Please Don’t Go” and it’s sorrowful B-side “I Love You So.” A distribution deal with a larger label wasn’t enough to garner any commercial action, but Mitchell was undeterred, and doubled-down with a second pair of soul laments by Sonny Daye. The A-side, “A Woman Just Like You,” is a deeply wounded mid-tempo number with a fetching sax hook and a Latin undercurrent; the flipside pairs a raw blues guitar with a soul croon. As with the initial release, the single’s lack of commercial success barely slowed Mitchell down, as he continued to capture magic on tape, whether or not the stars aligned to lift his singles onto the charts.

The first two years of Ru-Jac were filled with terrific records, and even more impressively, a few A-side-worthy tracks that never made it out of the vault. The set opens with the wicked soul jam “Fatback,” a tune that should be the fondly remembered closing theme of an early-60s Baltimore TV dance show; something John Waters could have reintroduced to the world in Hairspray. In that same fictional history, the slower “Cross Track” would have replaced “Fatback” mid-way through the second season (after a single episode in which “Trash Can” was used) when the show’s producer and the record label had a falling out, and fans would argue to this day which was the better show closer. Those same kids likely would have spent their summer time at Carr’s Beach, making the resignation and renewal of Brenda Jones’ “Let’s Go Back to School” someone’s very fond memory.

Baltimore native (and former carnival pitchman) Winfield Parker first appeared on Ru-Jac with the moody, Stax-influenced 1964 ballad “When I’m Alone,” backed with the mid-tempo “One of These Mornings.” The latter is presented here in a previously unissued horn-lined alternate that some will find bests the master found on Omvnivore’s Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac. Winfield would turn out to be one of the label’s most prolific artists, and perhaps even more importantly, the caretaker of the label’s legacy. With Mitchell’s passing in 2003, the label’s riches – which included tapes, promotional material and business records – passed to Parker, who has now passed that archive on to Omnivore, while serving as the executive producer for these releases.

Volume one is filled out with numerous little-known, or in the case of the ten previously unreleased tracks, unknown gems. Jeanne Dee roars through a vault recording of the blues standard “Every Day I Have the Blues,” Tiny Tim’s “Saving All My Love” suggests Clyde McPhatter, and Celestine’s B-side “You Won” borrows its hook and New Orleans roll from Barbara Lewis’ “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More).” Mitchell tried out gospel with the Fruitland Harmonizers, torch-singing with Marcie Allen’s “All Over Again,” soul-jazz with its flip “Crying Won’t Help You,” fast-talking jive with Rockin’ Robin’s “Don’t Bit Mo,” and numerous deep-groove instrumentals, including the Jolly Sax’s “The Monkey Cha-Cha.”

Volume Two picks up the story in 1964 with Brenda Jones’ second Ru-Jac release “It Must Be Love,” its flipside, and the previously unreleased 50s-styled ballad “So Alone.” The year finished out with singles by D.C. native Shirley Grant and Harrisburg organist Butch Cornell. The latter pair of sides are particularly fine, as Cornell offers up Hammond B-3 licks in a trio setting with a jazz-chording rhythm guitarist and a hard-swinging drummer. A previously unreleased alternate take of Cornell’s “Goose Pimples” gives the song an entirely different feel from the single, with a full horn section and dance-friendly go-go beat. 1965 brought the legendary Arthur Conley to Ru-Jac as the songwriter and vocalist on Harold Holt’s “Where You Lead Me” and its flipside “I’m a Stranger.” Conley’s songs graced other Ru-Jac artists records, and Conley self-recorded several piano-and-voice demos, two of which are included here.

1965 also brought a sharper focus on DC acts, including The Neltones and Bobby Sax, and in 1966, The Mask Man & The Cap-Tans with The Paul Earle Orchestra. Like many of Mitchell’s signings, all three were one-off Ru-Jac artists, and though there was some regional action, like the rest of the Ru-Jac roster, there was no national breakthrough. The durable Winfield Parker is represented here by two previously unreleased recordings of “I Love You Just the Same,” one a demo with Parker singing slightly off mic, the other a finished studio alternate of the original single. Two garage rock bands borrowed talent agent Lillian Claiborne, The Reekers and The Henchmen, are omitted here, leaving the door open for Bear Family to render the Complete Ru-Jac box set.

Track after track it’s hard to imagine how this music failed to break; but the business of hit singles has never been strictly meritorious, and Mitchell’s Baltimore-based connections apparently didn’t have the juice to gain the national attention his productions deserved. Other labels, such as Lieber & Stoller’s Daisy/Tiger imprints, suffered the same fate, but it still remains stupefying in retrospect. Each of the four volumes in this series is illustrated with vintage photos and ephemera, and the history of the label and its artists is given detail by Kevin Coombe’s studious liner notes. Volumes 3 & 4 are due in March, and a set of Arthur Conley’s demos in May, but these first two collections are ready to take you to Charm City. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Chris Bell: Looking Forward / I Am the Cosmos / Complete

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

The most detailed look yet at Chris Bell before and after Big Star

Chris Bell’s untimely death in 1978 not only robbed the world of his musical greatness, but also froze his artistic assets. A full appraisal of his art was retarded by the paucity of available recorded material that lingered for many years after his passing. Big Star’s debut, #1 Record, despite the contemporaneous critical praise and retrospective glory lavished upon it, had been poorly distributed at the time of its 1972 release. Reissued in 1978, apparently to Bell’s delight, it’s imported manufacture delegated it to specialty shops. That same year, Bell’s solo single, “I Am the Cosmos,” was released on Chris Stamey’s Car label, but it would be fourteen more years until Ryko’s 1992 full-length I Am the Cosmos really started to flesh out the Chris Bell story. By then, Big Star had become an iconic reference among 1980s indie pop bands, and with Alex Chilton’s new Big Star formation in 1993, interest in Bell continued to grow.

The next cache of Bell material to turn up were pre-Big Star recordings by The Jynx, Rock City, Christmas Future and Icewater on collections dedicated to Big Star and the Ardent label. In 2009, Rhino Handmade provided further insight into Bell’s post-Big Star period with an expanded edition of I Am the Cosmos. Omnivore now pulls this all together, expanding upon what’s been excavated before with three new releases. First is the single CD Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, which adds six previously unissued tracks to the existing corpus of pre-Big Star material. Second is a deluxe reissue of I Am the Cosmos that adds eight tracks to the 2009 Rhino Handmade reissue. Third is an omnibus vinyl-only box set, The Complete Chris Bell, which collects the material from the first two sets, and adds an excerpt from Rich Tupica’s forthcoming biography, There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Big Star Founder Chris Bell.

What’s immediately striking about the material on Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star is how good it sounds. Ardent studio owner John Fry had the presence of mind to train a handful of musicians on recording technique, and let them practice in the studio’s down time. These sessions were free from the pressure of a studio clock or a label’s budget, and they allowed the musicians to explore their craft as players, engineers and producers. The six previously unreleased tracks include recordings by The Wallabys (“The Reason”) and Icewater (“A Chance to Live”) and four backing tracks. Big Star fans drawn to the backing track “Oh My Soul” will find it unrelated to the Chilton song of the same name, but the chugging groove is infectious and Bell’s guitar work superb. The unfinished “Germany” has fine vocal overdubs, and the gritty guitar on the alternate of “Feeling High” is terrific.

What shines through the early Ardent sessions is everyone’s unbridled enthusiasm, and for Chris Bell in particular, an optimism that had yet to be crushed under the weight of #1 Record’s commercial failure. From the earliest track, “Psychedelic Stuff,” through the British Invasion tones of the Wallabys, breakthrough compositions like “All I See is You,” and material that would be re-recorded by Big Star, everything rings with a sense of musicians chasing their muse, unencumbered by commercial considerations and with a growing sense that they could make music as meaningful and moving as their idols. Alec Palao’s liner notes include insightful interviews with John Fry, Steve Rhea, Terry Manning, Alan Palmore, Jody Stephens, Tom Eubanks, providing detail on the scene, sessions and tracks.

The eight tracks added to I Am the Cosmos include alternate versions, backing tracks and mixes that provide the final clues as to the journey Bell’s songs took throughout his lifetime. As Alec Palao notes, “unless some new studio sessions come to light in the future, [this set] is essentially the last word on the work of this quixotic talent.” Omnivore relocates the Icewater and Rock City tracks Rhino added in 2009 to a more natural spot on Looking Forward, and adds several mixes from the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me. Bob Mehr’s liner notes tell of Bell’s spiritual, musical and geographical odysseys to record, overdub, mix and find a record deal. Alec Palao’s track notes further dissect Bell’s artistic restlessness by piecing together details of his intercontinental quest for perfection.

The avalanche of material that’s been posthumously released on Big Star, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton might feel Elvis- or Jimi-like, had the band not been so thoroughly ignored in their prime. The drive to learn how these artists came to produce #1 Record, Radio City and Third, and what became of them afterwards is delayed discovery rather than morbid curiosity. The books, documentary, reissues, best-ofs, box sets, archival artifacts, resurrections, reunions, and tribute performances might overwhelm lesser artists. But in the case of Chris Bell, the before and after provide a surround that magnifies the all-too-brief artistic flame. Those new to the Big Star canon should start with their albums, those who’ve already imbibed will want to dig the roots and the afterwards, and those who’ve already thoroughly explored the periphery will find something of value in upgrading. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Alex Chilton: A Man Called Destruction

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Reissue of Chilton’s 1995 album of deep covers and R&B originals

Alex Chilton had an on-again-off-again relationship with accessibility. His earliest hits with the Box Tops, and his initial work with Big Star were tightly produced and memorably tuneful records that were easy on the ears. But his third album with Big Star and several of his solo releases seemed to be deliberately challenging. While some fans are enervated by the search for charm among the controlled chaos, others would favor the label “masterpiece” over “hot mess.” By the time of 1987’s High Priest, Chilton had begun to lean heavily on an eccentric catalog of R&B and pop covers, culminating in 1993’s solo acoustic all-covers album, Cliches. 1995’s A Man Called Destruction picks up the idiosyncratic song selection and adds a band performance to a mix that feels less ironic than the crooning that came before.

There may still be a knowing wink in covering Danny Pearson’s “What’s Your Sign?,” but Chilton’s fascination with astrology is well known, and the affection for the song heard in his voice is clear. Placing he Italian rockabilly number “Il Ribelle” alongside Crescent City staples, and sandwiching a falsetto-laced cover of Jan & Dean’s “New Girl in School” between two hard-R&B originals may cause a bit of listener whiplash, it suggests the jumble of influences that seeded Chilton’s musical genius. Omnivore’s 2017 reissue adds seven bonus tracks to the albums original dozen, including alternates, an off-the-cuff take on Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do” and several otherwise unreleased originals, including the memorable “Give It to Me Baby” and the jam-ready “You’re My Favorite.”

Recording in Memphis for Ardent, Chilton assembled a three-piece horn section of veterans Jim Spake and William “Nokie” Taylor, and newcomer Jim Spake. Spake was given the task of working out horn charts ahead of time. Chilton drew in his regular bassist Ron Easley, and two of his road drummers, alongside the organ playing of 22-year-old Al Gamble and Peabody Hotel pianist Bob Marbach. It was a surprising amount of intention for a Chilton session, and though the bonus tracks show some improvisation and in-studio development, Chilton came prepared with his songs ready to go. The results swing without devolving into loose ends, and Chilton sounds at ease with his material, band, guitar playing and singing, resulting in a session that wasn’t subject to the usual deconstruction. [©2017 Hyperbolium]