Posts Tagged ‘Omnivore’

Buck Owens: Country Singer’s Prayer

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Buck Owens’ previously unreleased final album for Capitol

Don Rich’s death in a 1974 motorcycle accident had a well-documented impact on Buck Owens. With his musical drive in neutral, his chart success declining and his Capitol contract expiring, Owens departed his longtime label, recorded a pair of albums for Warner Brothers and faded into a musical hiatus. Lost in the shuffle was this final album Owens recorded in 1975 for Capitol at his Bakersfield studio. Two singles – “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Country Singer’s Prayer” – were released to little chart action, and anthologized on the album that turned out to be Owens’ last Capitol release, The Best of Buck Owens, Vol. 6. The remaining tracks, shelved for more than forty years, are released here in their original running order, from the master tapes, for the first time. Both singles and their B-sides are included alongside liner notes by Scott B. Bomar and new interviews with Buckaroo Jim Shaw, and songwriters Robert John Jones and Dennis Knutson.

The album opens with Homer Joy’s New Orleans-tinged “John Law.” Joy played an important role in Owens’ career as the writer of his comeback vehicle “Streets of Bakersfield,” and here he writes a tale of a colorful night in a county jail. The song’s opening lyric tips its hat to Don Rich, who plays guitar on this 1973 track. By this point in Owens’ career, he wasn’t writing much, but he collected good material from RJ Jones, Jim Shaw, David Knutson and David Frizzell. Though still grieving the loss of Don Rich, he puts on a brave face for a few up-tempo numbers, but really digs into the sad songs of cheating spouses, lost souls and fraying relationships. The title track’s reminiscence, written by Jim Shaw and RJ Jones, proved dear to Owens as he thought back on the road traveled with Rich and the Buckaroos, and “A Different Kind of Sad,” again by RJ Jones, could easily have been written for Owens about Rich.

Owens’ distress eventually sapped his drive for recording, but it never dented his talent or star power. The mood here is more sedate than the explosive performances of his early, groundbreaking years, but Owens poured his sorrow into his singing, and found enough resonance with this material to re-record many of these songs for Warner Bros. The studio hands that backed those later recordings, though Nashville pros, didn’t muster the deep connection that Owens found with his Buckaroos, and Owens himself didn’t sound as emotionally invested as he had on these original drafts. After more than forty years, it’s a real treat for Owens’ many fans to have this album finally released. It’s a more fitting bookend to his Capitol career than a sixth volume of hits, and shows that even amid in his personal and professional grief he found solace in music. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

The Rose Garden: A Trip Through the Garden – The Rose Garden Collection

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Charming, but little-known mid-60s folk-rock band

You might be excused for thinking John Einarson’s fascinating, detailed liner notes for this reissue are an early draft of the script for That Thing You Do! Much like the fictional Wonders, the Rose Garden managed to catch breaks and side-step many of the pitfalls that line the path to fame, only to be pulled back to shore by the tide that grounded many of the bands that followed in the Beatles’ wake. They pulled together a band, worked hard to gain local notice, crossed paths with an artistic mentor, signed with well-connected managers, scored a major label contract with the Atlantic subsidiary Atco, recorded an album, had a hit single, toured on package bills, and appeared on American Bandstand. The group reached the Top 20 with “Next Plane to London,” but internal conflicts and two members awaiting disposition from their draft boards led to label disinterest, a stillborn follow-up single (“If My World Falls Through),” foundering and disbandment.

Had the Rose Garden been nothing more than a studio concoction, their epitaph would have been an endlessly anthologized needle drop of the hit single. But the group had more going for it than their brief brush with fame might suggest, and their album, augmented here by the post-album single and fourteen bonus tracks, provides a lesser-seen view of the culturally fertile mid-60s Los Angeles music scene. The Beatles and the Byrds may have been the group’s north stars, but influences also included the Seekers, Mamas & Papas, Lovin’ Spoonful, Beau Brummels and early Grass Roots. The group played nearly all the instruments on the album – unusual for the time – but didn’t write any of the material. The one song credited to the group, “Flower Town,” is a rewrite of Derroll Adams “Portland Town” that substitutes “flower” for “Portland” and elides the song’s most stridently anti-war verses. What the group did bring to the song is a new approach that turned the original folk vocal and banjo arrangement into a languorous, flute-lined flower-power tune.

Of specific interest to Byrds fans are two songs given to the band by Gene Clark: “Till Today” and “Long Time,” the former of which Clark recorded with the band as a demo that’s included among the bonus tracks. Additional material was drawn from Bob Johnston & Wes Farrell, and in an original arrangement, Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” John Noreen’s 12-string Rickenbacker lends a Byrdsian tone to many of the album’s tracks, but none more so than Pat Vegas’ “Coins of Fun,” with a terrific duet vocal from Jim Groshong and Diana De Rose. The wide range of writers from which the material was drawn, and the shuffling of lead vocal duties might have produced an album with no band identity, but the collection hangs together as it ranges through beat pop, sunshine harmonies and flower power. The band suggests that their instrumental abilities were shortchanged by their managers’ lack of production prowess, but the forward mix of the vocals is quite engaging.

The bonus tracks make this edition a must-have upgrade from earlier reissues of the album. Included are the group’s follow-on single (in both both mono and stereo), with backing harmonies on the top side and absent on the flip, suggesting that internal band conflicts might have already been taking their toll on the group’s harmony. Previously unreleased tracks recorded for an uncompleted second album include a cover of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” the First Edition’s “Charlie the Fer De Lance” and Al Kooper & Bob Crewe’s “The World is a Great Big Playground.” Also included are five live tracks from August of 1967 that find the band singing their hit, covers of the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “She Don’t Care About Time,” Sonny & Cher’s “It’s the Little Things,” and Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.” The bonuses provide a nice coda to the career of a band whose talent and opportunity carried them far, but whose luck ran out before they could make an indelible commercial mark. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Rose Garden’s Archived Home Page

Dennis Coffey: One Night at Morey’s – 1968

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Second set of hot Detroit soul instrumentals from Motown funk brother

Following closely on the heels of last year’s exquisite Hot Coffey in the Big D – Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, Omnivore delivers a second set from Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey’s 1968 residence at Morey Baker’s Detroit club. As with the previous release, Coffey plays guitar in a trio led by organist Lyman Woodard, and backed by drummer Melvin Davis. And as with the previous collection, the trio cooks with three burners on full blast. The set list mixes up originals (“Mindbender,” “Big City Lights” and “Union Station”) with covers selected from the catalogs of Wilson Pickett, the Beatles, the Meters, the Young Rascals, the Soulful Strings, the Isley Brothers and Charlie Parker.

The inclusion of then-contemporary hit songs provides an entry point for the audience, but like a jazz outfit, the themes are mostly launching points for improvisation, including a fiery guitar-and-organ jam on “Eleanor Rigby” and extended riffing on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut.” Richard Evans’ “Burning Spear,” released by the Soulful Strings in 1967, is turned into a thirteen-minute inferno with a lengthy solo slot for Davis, and “It’s Your Thing” finds Coffey playing fuzz guitar, as he did two years later on “Ball of Confusion,” but with a harder fuzz tone in front of the combo. Coffey and Woodard are outstanding throughout, and Davis’ funky rolls, fills, backbeats and cymbals give the trio a deep rhythmic groove.

Coffey’s originals are worthy complements to the better-known cover material, with the rocking “Mindbender” suggesting the guitarist kept his ears open while opening for the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom, and “Big City Lights” offering Memphis-tinged funk. It’s been fifty years since the trio laid down these jams for the audiences that flocked to Morey’s, but they remain as propulsive and innovative as they were in 1968. Taken together with last year’s Hot Coffee in the Big D, these tracks fill out a picture of the trio’s wide-ranging set list, and more importantly, the original music of a guitarist whose day job garnered commercial hits, but whose evenings let explored his musical soul. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey’s Home Page
Dennis Coffey’s weekly gig at the Northern Lights Lounge

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]

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