Posts Tagged ‘Omnivore’

The Muffs: Happy Birthday to Me

Monday, March 6th, 2017

“A home run in an empty ballpark” – 2017 reissue w/bonuses

The Muffs 1997 swan-song for Warner/Reprise continued the hook-filled pop-punk of their previous pair of albums, but with an even tighter shock of guitar, bass and drums than the previous Blonder and Blonder, and vocals that wrap emotion in a frock of snotty attitude. Having burned in the trio dynamic on tour, the Muffs were more musically connected than ever before. Shattuck’s production really galvinized the album, and engineers Sally Browder and Steve Holroyd got a ferocious guitar-first mix on tape. Shattuck always wrote openly of her desires, and sings with a passion whose blisters can obscure the candidness of her admissions. She’s keenly aware of herself, whether testing the waters, surrendering to her emotions, standing up, stepping away or squarely laying the blame on her way out the door. And though she doesn’t mince words in eviscerating those who’ve mistreated her, there’s often a shadow of insecurity that makes her songs more than stock kiss-offs.

This 2017 reissue includes seven bonuses: a B-side cover of The Amps’ “Pacer” with “best guess” lyrics, and six previously unreleased songwriter demos. Shattuck’s guitar, bass and drums demos don’t have the sonic force of the album tracks, but they show how the band took her templates to finished product, and highlight her melodies. And her melodies are worth paying attention to, as she wrote great vocal hooks for “That Awful Man” and “Honeymoon,” and crafted a power-pop earworm in “Outer Space.” The commercial failure of Blonder and Blonder lost Warners’ interest, and though given creative freedom to record, the band was dropped before Happy Birthday to Me was released. Drummer Roy McDonald opines, “I couldn’t help but feel like we had hit a home run in an empty ballpark.” Omnivore’s reissue adds a 20-page booklet of photos, liner notes from McDonald and Barnett, and track notes from Shattuck, making for a terrific twentieth birthday present. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Muffs’ Facebook Page

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 2 – Pete Jolly

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

1980 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and now being reissued individually by Omnivore with bonus tracks. The first volume, a double-CD headlined by Sonny Stitt, is joined by this volume headlined by pianist Pete Jolly. Originally issued as Strike Up the Band, the original seven tracks are augmented by two bonus takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues,” one previously unreleased.

Recorded in February 1980 at Sage & Sound in Hollywood, Pepper and Jolly were joined by bassist Rob Magnusson and drummer Roy McCurdy as they worked through a selection of standards from the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Pepper had played all of these tunes in the 1950s, so the value here is what this quartet could do with them on these dates. Pepper and Jolly are melodic and lively as they fly through an up-tempo take on the Gershwins’ “Strike Up the Band,” and McCurdy is crisp as he pushes with his cymbals and fills with his full kit. Pepper’s stretches out on the ballad “You Go to My Head,” bridging the lyrical sections with quick runs and giving way for a reflective solo by Jolly. Pepper and Jolly get more conversational on the chestnut “I Surrender Dear,” with Magnusson and McCurdy vamping the ending.

The album’s lone original is Pepper’s “Y.I. Blues” (named after the session’s producer) a piece that inspires Pepper and Jolly, and gives the rhythm section an opportunity to groove with snappy fills from McCurdy and a short solo for Magnusson. Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” opens with a Latin beat, and though the backing starts out supper-club subdued, Pepper gets more passionate and the rhythm section swings as the song plays out. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and detailed liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 1 – Sonny Stitt

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

1980 Japan-only releases reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. The first volume, a double-CD headlined by Sonny Stitt, combines two albums, Groovin’ High and Atlas Blues: Blow! & Ballade, and adds three previously unissued takes mixed from the original multitracks.

Recorded in July 1980 at Sage & Sound in Hollywood, Pepper and Stitt were joined by pianist Lou Levy, bassist Chuck DeMonico and drummer Carl Burnette for Groovin’ High, and pianist Russ Freeman, bassist John Heard and Burnette for Atlas Blues. The former leans on jazz titles from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie Bernie Miller and Morgan Lewis, while the latter takes in the standards “Autumn in New York,” “My Funny Valentine” “Lover Man” and “Imagination” alongside Stitt’s “Atlas Blues” and Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In.” The quintet swings with quotes from “Rhapsody in Blue” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” but the first session’s rhythm section tends to the frenetic, and Pepper and Stitt sometimes seem to be blowing at each other as much as with each other.

There’s unison playing to kick things off and pull them back together, but the uptempo pieces can feel like a boxing match of jabs and counterpunches. The ballads cool things down, with the quintet finding a tender groove for “My Funny Valentine” and Freeman offering a lyrical solo to close out the set on “Imagination.” The quintet finds a tender groove for “My Funny Valentine” and Freeman offers a lyrical solo to close out the set on “Imagination.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and detailed liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Tim Buckley: Wings – The Complete Singles 1966-1974

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

timbuckley_wingsthecompletesinglesThe singles of an album artist

Though singer-songwriter Tim Buckley flourished in an era in which singles – and the radio exposure they attracted – often led albums onto the charts, he was never a singles artist. His label dutifully released singles from all nine of his albums, placing none of them on the charts, and, at best, only distracting free-form FM stations from the albums they were more likely to play. So unlike artists feted with collections of the original mono singles that listeners remember from the radio (see, for example, recent sets by The Turtles and Buck Owens), the motivation for a collection of Tim Buckley’s singles is more obscure.

Which isn’t to suggest the music is less than magnificent, or the collection unworthy of your attention, but other than the previously anthologized “Once Upon a Time” and its previously unreleased B-side “Lady, Give Me Your Key,” most of these tracks are likely already in the collections of Tim Buckley fans. What the set does offer is a read on the label’s attempt to sell Buckley commercially, both in the US and UK, and a quick read of his nine year arc as a recording artist. It also provides rare mono single mixes for tracks 1-9, improved sound (courtesy of Michael Graves), and an interview with Buckley’s longtime collaborator, Larry Beckett.

Five of the singles turn up on the retrospective Best Of, suggesting that the label (or Buckley himself) had good ears. But with no hits, one’s left to wonder whether the label hadn’t the will to push Buckley on singles-oriented radio, or if his music was simply that of an album-oriented artist. The set’s 16-page booklet includes Beckett’s detailed reminiscences about collaborating with Buckley and the genesis of their songs. That commentary and the unreleased single are the catnip, but the whole set is an interesting view of an artist whose work was too complex to fit between a DJ’s talk up and the next jingle. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Tim Buckley Archives

The Legal Matters: Conrad

Monday, December 19th, 2016

legalmatters_conradBeautifully harmonized power pop

The second album from this Detroit pop trio is awash in fetching melodies and beautifully crafted harmonies that will remind you of the Beach Boys, Badfinger, Rubinoos, Raspberries, Posies, XTC, Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne. That’s heady company, but earned by an album whose sunny melodies, sweet lead vocals and complex backings are in perfect balance. The band’s themes of infatuation, pining, coupling, misunderstanding, discord and regret come to an emotional conclusion in “Pulled My String,” as Keith Klingensmith wallows in the emotion-blinding bleakness of heartbreak. His bandmates’ harmonies and strummed guitars strive to lighten the mood, but they can’t illuminate an exit. The prideful outsiderness of “The Cool Kid,” and nostalgic “Short Term Memory” broaden the topics beyond matters of the heart. There’s falsetto vocals that suggest Brian Wilson’s prime and a lovely vocal crescendo on “More Birds Less Bees,” and the album ends on ambivalent notes of optimism and introspection in “Better Days.” This is a terrifically poised sophomore effort from an incredibly talented band. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Legal Matters’ Home Page

Don Rich and the Buckaroos: Guitar Pickin’ Man

Friday, December 16th, 2016

donrich_guitarpickinmanBuck Owens’ right-hand man picks and sings

Buck Owens had hits before teaming with Don Rich, but together they led the Buckaroos to unparalleled commercial and artistic success. Owens first met Rich in Tacoma, Washington, where the latter grew up playing fiddle and the former was taking a break from his Capitol Records contract. Rich gigged with Owens around town and on local television, and after a stint in college, joined him in the studio for 1959’s “Above and Beyond” and “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache).” Rich switched to acoustic guitar for 1961’s B-side “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” and electric lead for 1963’s “Act Naturally.” The latter was perhaps not coincidentally Owens’ first #1, and the first in an uninterrupted string of fifteen chart toppers.

Owens and Rich equipped themselves with sparkling Telecasters (tuned down a half step to reduce string breakage and get a fatter tone) and Fender Twin Reverb amps, and with the bass and drums given more prominence, the Bakersfield Sound was born. Music poured out of the Buckaroos at an incredible rate, filling albums and the singles charts, and spilling over from Buck Owens’ albums into a dozen albums led by Rich. It’s from this torrent of creativity that Omnivore has cherry-picked eighteen tracks, three from Buck Owens albums, fourteen from Buckaroos’ albums, and a previously unreleased version of “Guitar Pickin’ Man,” recorded for the Hee Haw television program.

The selections favor vocal tracks, though Rich’s guitar playing is highlighted both here and on a sprinkling of instrumentals. Among the latter is the stuttering lead of “Chicken Pickin’,” the western atmosphere of “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,” and the genre-bending “Bossa Nova Buckaroo Style.” Rich’s vocals weren’t as sorrowful as Owens’, though he strikes a similar tone for Bonnie and Buck Owens’ “Number One Heel,” and recalls Owens’ own double-tracking on “You Bring Out the Best in Me.” Rich wrote a lot of the Buckaroos’ material, often working with Red Simpson and other co-writers when not covering catalog material from Owens and Merle Haggard.

For all of his acknowledged importance to the Bakersfield Sound, Don Rich’s name was rarely above the title. His only solo album, Don Rich Sings George Jones, was recorded in 1970 and shelved until 2013, and his 1971 release with Buck Owens’ son Buddy, We’re Real Good Friends, remains out of print. Ditto for most of the Buckaroos’ albums, save these. This new collection joins That Fiddlin’ Man as a look into Rich’s work with Owens and the Buckaroos, more of which is highlighted on Omnivore’s recent double-CD The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966. The 12-page booklet includes photos, credits and liner notes from Rich’s adoring sons, fleshing out the family man behind the guitar. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966

Friday, December 9th, 2016

buckowens_completecapitolsingles5766The towering Capitol singles of Buck Owens

Having already been feted with exhaustive box sets, multidisc anthologies, vault finds, tribute albums, a posthumous autobiography, and dozens of original album reissues, one might ask: what’s left to say? As it turns out: plenty. Collecting Owens’ A’s and B’s from his most commercially fertile years, this generous two-disc set replays Owens’ emergence and dominance as both a country hit maker and a maverick artist. Recording in Hollywood, two thousand miles from Nashville, he added a new chapter to the country music playbook with the driving, electric Bakersfield sound, and established himself as an iconoclastic force on the both the singles and album charts. Among the fifty-six tracks collected here are twenty-two Top 40 hits, including an astonishing string of thirteen consecutive chart toppers.

While the hits will be familiar to most, and the B-sides to many, only the most ardent Owens fans will recognize the earliest Capitol singles. This quartet of originals, waxed in 1957, sounds more like Buddy Holly-styled rock ‘n’ roll than the Bakersfield sting Owens would later develop. The low twanging guitar, sweetly phrased lead vocal and backing chorus of “Come Back” is more doo-wop than country, and its waltz-time B-side “I Know What It Means” sounds like Nashville going pop. “Sweet Thing,” co-written with Harlan Howard, has rockabilly licks supplied by guitarists Gene Moles and Roy Nichols, and its ballad B-side, “I Only Know That I Love You” has a lovely guitar solo to accompany its double-crossed lyric.

Owens returned to Capitol’s studio in 1958 with a reconstructed backing unit that included fiddler J.R. “Jelly” Sanders and Ralph Mooney on steel. It was from this session that “Second Fiddle” launched Owens onto the country chart. The same group, which also included pianist George French, Jr., bassist Al Williams and drummer Pee Wee Adams, cut a 1959 session from which “Under Your Spell Again” climbed to #4. By year’s end, Sanders was out and Don Rich was in, Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond” carried Owens one notch higher, to #3, and Howard and Owens’ “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache)” then reached #2. The B-sides include the charting “I’ve Got a Right to Know,” and the ironic “Tired of Livin’.” Ironic, because the song’s sad-sack complaint about a lack of success was fronted by a Top 5 hit!

1961 found Owens paired with Rose Maddox for the double-sided hit “Mental Cruelty” b/w “Loose Lips,” and he just missed the top slot twice more with “Foolin’ Around” and “Under the Influence of Love.” The success of his A-sides dipped slightly in 1962, though he was still charting regularly, minting staples like “You’re For Me,” and the B-side “I Can’t Stop (My Lovin’ You).” Owens turned out an incredible amount of high quality, original material throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, winningly vacillating between sunny elation and sorrowful heartbreak. He also had an ear for other songwriters, recording albums dedicated to Harlan Howard and Tommy Collins, and charting covers of Pomus & Shuman’s “Save the Last Dance for Me” and Wanda Jackson’s “Kickin’ Our Hearts Around.”

Owens finally topped the charts in 1963 with Johnny Russell’s “Act Naturally,” kicking off a string of #1s that stretched into 1967. Incredibly, all of disc two’s singles topped the chart, except for a return duet with Rose Maddox that stalled at #15 and a 1965 Christmas single. The A-sides from this era are among the most iconic of Owens’ career, including “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “My Heart Skips a Beat,” “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,” “Open Up Your Heart” and Don Rich’s “Think of Me” (which became a staple for the Mavericks). The B-sides include the chart-topping “Together Again,” the stalwart “Don’t Let Her Know” and the woeful “Heart of Glass.”

The classic lineup of the Buckaroos had come together in 1964, with Owens and Rich joined by bassist Doyle Holly, drummer Willie Cantu and steel player Tom Brumley. Their chemistry was immortalized on Live at Carnegie Hall, and their instrumental skills carried “Buckaroo” to the top of the country chart. More importantly, it was this lineup that doubled down on Owens’ rejection of the Nashville Sound. The polite drum accents of 1961’s “Foolin’ Around” might have alarmed Music City’s gentry, but it was only a prelude to the more insistent tom-toms of “My Heart Skips a Beat,” Don Rich’s twangy fills and solo on “Act Naturally” and Willie Cantu’s full-kit drumming on “Before You Go.”

While Nashville was busy courting pop fans with syrupy layers of strings and choruses, Owens was stripping his sound down to guitars, bass, fiddle and drums, and riding the beat. He also bucked another Nashville standard by recording with his band, rather than picking up session players. Red Simpson sat in for a few sessions in ‘65 and ‘66, and James Burton provided the sputtering electric lead on “Open Up Your Heart,” but what you hear on all the singles from ‘64 onward are the Buckaroos. The set ends with Owens’ last hit of 1966, “Where Does the Good Times Go,” two singles shy of the end of his continuous string of #1s, and well short of the success that ran up to Don Rich’s 1974 death. Owens moved on from Capitol to Warner Brothers, and returned again in the late ‘80s, but mostly retired from the studio to run his businesses and perform on the weekends at his legendary Bakersfield club.

The singles are presented in the order of their release, and remastered in mono from the original reel-to-reels. The brightness that Owens laid into the masters remains, but with more bottom end than you likely remember from AM radio. Owens emerges from these sides as a pioneering artist who wrote, sang (often doubling himself on harmony), picked guitar and led a band that was both revolutionary and commercially successful. And with the masters having come from the Buck Owens’ estate, you can add top-flight businessman to his resume. The CD package includes a 20-page booklet highlighted by Dwight Yoakam’s introductory notes, excerpts from Owens’ autobiography, detailed personnel and session data, and label and picture sleeve reproductions. All that’s missing is ‘67-’75, so here’s hoping for a sequel! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Atom Bomb

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

blindboysofalabama_atombombReissue of post-Grammy album of gospel and faithful pop

After a four album Grammy run from Spirit of the Century through the Ben Harper-produced There Will Be a Light, the group re-teamed with producer John Chelew for this 2005 release. As on the preceding albums, the material was selected from a wide range of sources, the group’s gospel singing was combined with pop, rap, R&B and blues, and the studio welcomed guests that included harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, keyboard player Billy Preston and guitarist David Hidalgo. Unlike the star-fronted Go Tell It on the Mountain, the guests here support the Blind Boys’ lead vocals. If you liked the reach of the Grammy run, you’ll enjoy how the rich gospel harmonies are spent on both standards and pop songs of faith, including Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and Blind Faith’s “Presence of the Lord.” Omnivore’s 2016 reissue adds instrumental versions of seven album tracks and new liner notes by David Seay, providing a nice upgrade to those who already have the original release. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Monday, November 21st, 2016

blindboysofalabama_gotellitonthemountainExpanded reissue of guest-filled 2003 Christmas album

Founded in 1939 and turned into a professional group six years later, it took more than fifty years for these gospel legends to record a Christmas album. Released in 2003, the album was third in a string of four Grammy-winning albums in four years, including Spirit of the Century, Higher Ground and There Will Be a Light. The album includes guests leading every track but the first and last, ranging from soul singer Solomon Burke, singer-songwriters Tom Waits and Shelby Lynne, to jazz vocalist Les McCann and funkmaster George Clinton. The wide range of guests lends the album a lot of variety, though in a few spots, such as Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” it mostly obscures title group.

There’s no losing sight of the group as they provide Aaron Neville an intricate a cappella backing for “Joy to the World,” provide harmony backing to Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and add lively interplay to Mavis Staples’ “Born in Bethlehem.” One might lament how the cavalcade of guest stars cuts into the Blind Boys’ opportunities to sing lead, but the selection of guests and their interaction with the group and house band (John Medeski on keyboards, Duke Robillard on guitar, Danny Thompson on bass and Michael Jerome on drums) yields some nice moments. If you’re expecting a Blind Boys gospel Christmas album, you’ll be disappointed, but if you take this album as part of the group’s Grammy era artistic expansion, there’s much to like.

Omnivore’s 2016 reissue retains the a cappella rendition of “My Lord What a Morning” that was recorded for the 2004 CD reissue, and adds a pair of live tracks drawn from a contemporaneous holiday concert at New York’s Beacon Theater. The latter includes the title track and a closing rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung (as it was on Higher Ground) to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun.” The 12-page booklet includes photos and musicians’ credits, and Davin Seay’s liner notes add career context for the album and anecdotes about how the group, their guests and producers worked together in the studio. The album’s soulful productions and gospel backings will complement any holiday gathering and raise everyone’s spirits! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

Peter Case: Peter Case

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

petercase_petercaseA soulful rock ‘n’ roller creates a modern folk sound on bonus-laden 2016 reissue

Two years after the breakup of the Plimsouls, Peter Case returned with a solo album that departed from soul-tinged rock ‘n’ roll and moved to folk and blues rendered in modern hues. T-Bone Burnett’s production includes electric guitars and drums, but they’re layered carefully among acoustic and synthetic elements. Case’s new material sported more abstract surfaces and tackled introspective and socially conscious themes, and combined with Burnett’s production, led the singer to more subtle vocals. A few of the songs, including “Walk in the Woods” and the Pogues’ “Pair of Brown Eyes,” are narrative, but others, including “Echo Wars,” “Steel Strings” and “I Shook His Hand” remain more open ended.

Case’s is matched by Burnett and the assembled musicians, as harmonica and percussive guitar are backed by a Van Dyke Parks string arrangement on “Small Town Spree,” and Jerry Marotta’s drum machine adds texture on several tracks. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue includes a sixteen-page booklet with new liner notes by Case, and expands the original twelve-track lineup with seven bonuses. The latter features acoustic versions of “Steel Strings” and “I Shook His Hand” previously issued on the promo-only Selections from Peter Case, and five vault finds. Latter day fans who haven’t dug back this far in Case’s catalog now have a reason to do so, and fans have a good reason to upgrade. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Peter Case’s Home Page