Posts Tagged ‘Omnivore’

Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

A quiet 1972 gem from a country-soul legend

Arthur Alexander’s music career was as heartbreaking as were his songs. A writer of indelible sorrow, he sang with a depth that seemed to flow directly out of his aching soul. He reached the Top 40 with “You Better Move On” and the R&B Top 10 with “Anna,” but his songs quickly became better known for other artist’s covers – the Stones, Beatles, Steve Alaimo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Bob Luman in the ‘60s – than for his own performances. The covers kept coming, as Mink DeVille, Chris Spedding, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others discovered Alexander’s songs, but various revivals of his own recording career never reached the commercial heights his artistry deserved.

Dropped by Dot in 1965, Alexander recorded a handful of singles for Sound Stage 7 and Monument (collected here), and in 1971 was signed by Warner Brothers to record this album. Alexander wrote five of the twelve titles, serving up heartbreak tinged with the difficult loyalty of “Go On Home Girl” and the painful memories of “In the Middle of It All.” Amid the sadness he surprises with resilience, haunted by failure but not knocked out in “Love Is Where Life Begins,” and resolutely focused on the prize in Dan Penn and Donnie Fitts’ troubled “Rainbow Road.” He aches with quiet desire on “It Hurts to Want It So Band,” and offers up an early version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” but without the fire of Elvis’ subsequent hit.

Released in 1972, the album and its singles garnered little interest from radio and no commercial results to speak of. A pair of follow-on singles, included here as bonus tracks, fared no better commercially. “Mr. John” has the sleek feel of Bill Withers, and the follow-up cover of “Lover Please” has a bouncy New Orleans roll. Two more tracks, the yearning “I Don’t Want Nobody” and optimistic “Simple Song of Love” were recorded for Warner Brothers but left unreleased until now. Alexander resurfaced a few years later with a charting cover of his own “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” as well as the Elvis tribute, “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home,” but unable to sustain this success, he left the business.

Two decades later he bubbled up again with the superb Lonely Just Like Me, finally receiving the attention and accolades he deserved. Sadly, and perhaps in keeping with the melancholy of his best work, Alexander passed away just months after the album’s release. Omnivore’s reissue of Arthur Alexander reproduces the original 12-song running order, adds six additional tracks waxed for Warner and original cover art. The 12-page booklet includes full-panel photos, label reproductions, and original and new liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. Although his time with Warner Brothers was short, it was artistically triumphant, and adds a valuable chapter to his small but influential catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 4 – Bill Watrous

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1979 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. Volume 4 is headlined by trombonist Bill Watrous, and backed by a hand-picked quartet of Pepper, Russ Freeman (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and Carl Burnett (drums). Originally issued as Funk ‘n’ Fun, Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original eight tracks.

Recorded in March, 1979, the session features a 40-year-old Watrous who’d played with many jazz luminaries and led his own big band, the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge. The label’s suggestion of Watrous was seemingly at odds with their stated desire to record West Coast jazz veterans, but Pepper and Watrous had been gigging together, and Pepper’s longtime association with Freeman, and then-recent gigs with Magnusson and Burnett, made for easy chemistry in the studio. The set opens with a trio of 1930s jazz standards, with fine solos and unison playing, and Magnusson’s fluid bass and Burnett’s drum accents stoking the beat. Pepper takes flight on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” and Watrous’ trombone is forlorn and Freeman’s piano introspective on the ballad “When Your Lover Has Gone.”

Watrous’ original “For Art’s Sake” picks up from the ballads in a frenetic mood, and Watrous, Pepper and Freeman all find swinging grooves through the choppy rhythm as they dodge Burnett’s snappy fills. Pepper’s “Funny Blues” is taken at a mellower tempo than the 1956 original, though Pepper is energetic with his runs, and inspires the same in Watrous. The album closes with the oft-recorded mid-40s ballad “Angel Eyes” and Al Cohn’s “P. Town.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and 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 3 – Lee Konitz

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1982 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. Volume 3 is headlined by saxophonist Lee Konitz, backed by a hand-picked rhythm section composed of Michael Lang (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and John Dentz (drums). The last of Pepper’s sessions for Atlas, this was originally released as High Jingo; Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original seven tracks.

Recorded in 1982 at Sage & Sound, the set list leans heavily on jazz standards, augmented by original pieces from each of Pepper and Konitz. The set opens with a breezy take on the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful,” with potent solos from both saxophones, mellower bridges by Lang and Magnusson, and toe-tapping cymbal work by Dentz. Laurie Pepper’s liner notes deftly dissect the different styles of Pepper and Konitz, pointing out that the former came out swinging from the first note, while the latter built up to his most potent improvisations. By the time they join together at song’s end, Konitz is warmed up, and when he enters on “High Jingo” with a mellower tone, he springboards off of Pepper’s energy. Paul Chambers’ “Whims of Chambers” cools things down a bit, as Magnusson’s walking bass line starts everyone’s head bobbing, and Lang’s comping provides superb backing for the sax solos.

Pepper’s “A Minor Blues in F” includes a fine solo from Lang and an unexpected “a cappella” sax duo in which the band drops away to leave the horns to their own conversation. The set’s ballad, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” finds Pepper on clarinet, ceding the bulk of the soloing to Konitz and Lang. Pepper’s solo on “Anniversary Song” stretches the waltz into more abstract territory before the band returns to the theme, and the set closes with a rousing take on “Cherokee.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art 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

Robert Lamm: Time Chill – A Retrospective

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Solo sides of founding Chicago keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter

As a founding keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter for Chicago, Robert Lamm was a regular visitor to the Top 10 with “25 or 6 to 4,” “Beginnings” and “Saturday in the Park.” His solo career began with 1974’s Skinny Boy, while still a member of Chicago, but it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that he fully emerged, and it wasn’t until 1999’s In My Head that he began to produce solo releases on a regular basis. Omnivore’s fifteen-track collection selects studio material from his 1999 coming out through 2012’s Living Proof, and adds a few remixes and previously unissued tracks. The collection touches on Lamm’s collaboration with America’s Gerry Beckley and the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson (“Standing at Your Door”), and shows off a wide range of musical interests that include rock, Europop, bossa nova, funk, classical composition and reggae. His lyrics draw inspiration from his personal life, but spiced with philosophical thoughts drawn from poetry and the realities of the headlines. Lamm’s solo releases didn’t have the commercial impact of his records with Chicago, but with or without the band, his creativity was unabated. This is a good introduction for those who only know his work with Chicago, and fans of his solo career will enjoy previously unreleased bonuses that include a cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” an a deconstructed take on Chicago’s “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Robert Lamm’s Home Page

Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

An overlooked gem in Pepper’s mid-50s catalog

Despite his extensive drug-related jail time, Pepper was a prodigious and surprisingly consistent recording artist. The late-50s and early-60s were particularly fruitful years, minting classics that include 1957’s Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and 1959’s Art Pepper + Eleven. But among these well-known catalog highlights were smaller gems, such as this 1956 release. Recently freed from a federal penitentiary, married his second wife, Diane, and gigging regularly around Los Angeles, Pepper recorded this one-off, low-key quartet date for the Tampa label. Accompanying Pepper is his longtime colleague Russ Freeman on piano, and West Coast regulars Ben Tucker on bass and Gary Frommer on drums.

The repertoire for this outing included five Pepper originals, along with interpretations of the standards “I Surrender Dear” and “Besame Mucho.” Pepper’s widow, Laurie, notes in the liners that the takes are shorter than one might expect for a jazz album – all of the master takes are under six minutes, and “Val’s Pal” a tidy 2’04. But that still leaves room for Pepper and Freeman to exchange ideas, and the conciseness of their solos is appealing. Freeman’s comping leads the rhythm section as Pepper solos, and though this isn’t the saxophonist’s most adventurous outing, its relaxed, optimistic mood is charming and unusual among Pepper’s catalog as a session leader.

Omnivore’s reissue adds alternates of “Pepper Pot” and “Blues at Midnight,” and session tapes from the recording of “Val’s Pal.” The latter are particularly interesting, as they detail a complete first pass, and the false starts and incomplete takes that led to the master. Laurie Pepper’s liner note provide background on the session’s recording and its road to reissue, providing the sort of context that’s often lost or overlooked in a straight-up reissue of a lesser-known catalog entry. This may not be the place to begin an appreciation of Pepper’s catalog – his ‘50s and early-60s highlights and remarkable comeback in the 1970s are more obvious starting points – but its reissue is a welcome addition to the Pepper library. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Rosebud: Rosebud

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Bonus-laden reissue of 1971 one-off w/Judy Henske and Jerry Yester

Although Henske and Yester are both well-known, this one-off collaboration under the group name “Rosebud” has remained surprisingly obscure. Henske had come up through the coffee houses and folk revival of the early ‘60s, notching a pair of albums for the Elektra label in 1963-4. Yester had likewise played the folk clubs, with his brother Jim and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, before finding even greater commercial success as a producer. Henske, Yester and Zal Yanovsky (whom Yester had replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful) released the eclectic Farewell Aldebaran on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and two years later Henske and Yester teamed with Craig Doerge, David Vaught and John Seiter for this short-lived group’s one and only album.

Rosebud retains the musical eclecticism of Farewell Aldebaran, though not its sonic experimentation. The album is highlighted by the group’s tight execution of Yester’s superb vocal charts, and though Henske’s extraordinary voice is prominently featured, Yester, Doerge and Seiter all get leads. The songs, written by various groupings of Henske, Yester and Doerge, fit the singer-songwriter vibe of early ‘70s Southern California, with touches of country rock and 1960s San Francisco. “Roll Home Cheyanne” is redolent with the atmosphere of big sky country, and “Reno” (included here in both its album and single versions) would have fit easily into the Jefferson Airplane’s set. The harmonies take a baroque turn for the harpsichord-lined “Lullabye II” and to gospel rock with “Salvation.”

The album’s emotional high point comes in the chorus of “Western Wisconsin” as the group’s harmony singing vanquishes any hint of treacle in the lyrics’ sentiment. The legendary steel player Buddy Emmons is heard on “Yum Yum Man,” and again on the bonus track “Easy On Me, Easy.” Though justly proud of their album, the group split after only a few live performances, amid Henske’s separation from Yester, and before the group gained any traction. Most listeners will be surprised by the group’s mere existence, but those already familiar with the album will be shocked by the quality of the material that was left in the vault. Omnivore doubles the album’s original ten tracks with singles and seven previously unreleased recordings, along with new liners by Barry Alfonso. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Craig Doerge’s Home Page
Judy Henske’s Home Page
Jerry Yester’s Home Page

Peter Rowan: My Aloha!

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

A love letter to Hawaiian aloha from an old country soul

Though mainly viewed as a bluegrass musician, Peter Rowan’s musical adventures have also includes rockabilly, blues and rock. For much of his career, starting with his 1965 induction into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, he’s played bluegrass, teaming with David Grisman in Muleskinner and Old and in the Way, touring with his brothers, and continually growing his roots in new directions. His latest album seemingly takes a bit of a detour, indulging in Hawaiian-influenced original material as he collaborates with island musicians, and, just as importantly, vintage, region-specific instruments.

But what might at first look like a detour, turns out to be an extension of his roots. Having spend downtime on the beaches and in the clubs of Hawaii, Rowan’s found connections between island sounds and his bluegrass roots, and made friends out of those who carry on the traditions. Here he’s gathered a few of his island colleagues, and they brought along vintage guitars, ukuleles and mandolins whose resonance with one another is astounding. As Kilin Reece writes in the liner notes: “It became immediately clear to us that these entities of wire and wood had a lot to say to each other.”

Rowan’s originals are filled with aloha as he pines for a departed hula girl, is mesmerized by love and nature, and contemplates the inevitability of mortality. The tempos are relaxed and the mood serene as Jeff Au Hoy’s slide provides a distinctive sound, and Rowan’s voice edges into falsetto. It’s hard to imagine a younger or less-experience musician making an album this loving of a second spiritual home. If you’ve been to Hawaii, this album will remind you of the enveloping warmth of the air and the sunset’s perfect hue; and if you haven’t been, this album will make you long to go. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

Cait Brennan: Third

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Pop music in a grand ‘70s vein

Brennan’s full-length 2016 debut, Debutante, set a high bar for this follow-up. Though she began making music as a child, she retreated from public performance for nearly two decades before edging back into the spotlight. Such a period of woodshedding is often emblematic of the industry aphorism, “you have a lifetime to write your first album, but only a year to write your second.” Thankfully, Brennan didn’t empty her artistic bank account on her debut, or even the shelved second album Introducing the Breakdown, and – bonus – since this is technically her third album, it’s ineligible for a sophomore slump.

And slump this is not. ‘Ascent’ is more apt. Together with creative partner Fernando Perdomo, Brennan combines the best of ‘70s pop – Nilsson, Bowie, Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes, Sparks, Raspberries, ELO – with the snap of Prince’s ‘80s funk. Perdomo plays most of the instruments and Brennan provides all of the vocals, but it sounds like an ensemble rather than a construct. With tracking laid down in only three days, the productions are full of early-take life that’s magnified by canny overdubs of guitar, mellotron and other atmospheric touches. This has the energy of a live set and the finesse of a crafted studio product.

Recording at Ardent’s fabled studio A, the duo not only channeled Big Star’s influence, but employed some of their original equipment. Perdomo played Chris Bell’s Gibson 330 on the opening “Bad at Apologies,” and Brennan picked it up for “Collapse.” The duo’s production is as inviting as the songs and performances, with a gorgeous choral finish to “Perish the Thought” and a superb vocal treatment on the closing “Goodbye Missamerica.” E-Bow, Mellotron, Moog and a wah-wah pedal add period vibes, but the overall sound is modern, with some tech terminology thrown into a few songs for good measure.

Brennan’s stories of crisis and revival may spring from her transgender identity, but she doesn’t pigeonhole herself. As she noted in an interview with Curve, “The beauty of words on a page…is that it’s beyond gender and sexuality and race and age—it’s the ideas that count.” Her songs transcend personal history, and her bountiful sense of humor is evident in tagging “He Knows Too Much” with a disclaimer, referencing Dr. Seuss in “A Hard Man to Love,” and giving a song title shout-out to Benedict Cumberbatch. Those new to Brennan should prepare to be dazzled; fans should prepare to be dazzled anew. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Cait Brennan’s Home Page

The Sneetches: Form of Play – A Retrospective

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Retrospective of undeservedly obscure Bay Area pop band

Amid the post-punk, indie-rock and the phoenix-like rise of grunge, there was a thread of late-80s pop that focused on melody and craft. The dB’s, Game Theory and Bongos were more cerebral than their power-pop counterparts but no less fetching to listen to. And standing tall artistically, if not in record sales, was San Francisco’s Sneetches. Initially formed as a duo of Mike Levy and Matt Carges, the group became a bassless trio with the addition of drummer Daniel Swan (ex-Cortinas), and a quartet with the addition of bassist Alec Palao (ex-Sting-Rays). Their releases nearly snuck out in singles, EPs and albums across multiple labels (including Kaleidoscope, Creation, Alias, spinART and Bus Stop), and though there was no commercial success, they were well-loved by a coterie of fans and well-played by in-the-know college radio stations.

This first-ever career retrospective collects material ranging from Levy and Carges’ terrific first single, 1985’s “Only For a Moment,” through a solidly-played 1994 live date at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. In between are stops at singles, albums and a pair of previously unreleased studio tracks that include the euphorically melodic “Juliana Why” and an acoustic demo of “How Does It Feel.” It’s a fair cross-section of the group’s guitar-driven pop, with nods to the Beatles, Zombies, Big Star, Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks and others, and its retrospection provides a double layer of nostalgia as listeners listen back to the ‘80s listening back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. The arrangements center on guitars, bass and drums, but horns and keyboards add dimension to a few tracks, and Levy’s vocals stretch into falsetto for “They Keep Me Running” and hypnotic repetition for the psych-tinged “Take My Hand.”

Sneetches bassist (and noted archivist and reissue producer) Alec Palao scoured the vaults for the live tracks and unreleased material, but more importantly, hard-to-find singles mixes that recount the story as it unfolded to the band’s original fans. Missing is material from their 1993 collaboration with the Flamin’ Groovies’ Chris Wilson, but given that it’s really a Chris Wilson record, the minutes are better spent here on original Sneetches material. The 16-page booklet is filled with photos and liner notes by Palao that provide an inside look at the band and life as a Sneetch. At twenty-two tracks, clocking in at seventy-seven minutes, this is a good buy for those just meeting the band, but also those who collected everything along the way. Fans may find a few favorite tracks (*cough* “54 Hours”) missing, but what’s here is a great introduction, with bonuses that sweeten the pot. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Derrick Anderson: A World of My Own

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Veteran L.A. power-pop bassist steps back into the spotlight

Bassist Derrick Anderson may not be a household name, but those he’s played with – Dave Davies and the Bangles, among others – certainly are. His eponymous L.A.band featured power pop luminary Robbie Rist, and released a pair of albums to considerable fan enthusiasm. The band’s conceit – that the three core members were half-brothers by a shared father – put Anderson’s name on the cover, but shared musical credit. On this solo debut he’s backed by a who’s who of famous fans, including the Smithereens, Bangles, Cowsills, Andersons!, Matthew Sweet, Kim Shattuck, Tommy Keene and Steve Barton.

Anderson plays bass with a McCartney-like buoyancy and sings in a voice that remains, as it did with the Andersons!, decades younger than his chronological age. Interestingly, the essential questions of youth still resound in his songs, but with the adolescent angst of typical power-pop replaced by midlife perspective. Anderson’s empathy and solace are more superego than id, his quests more philosophy than impulse, and the life in “my whole life” is richer in his fifties than it could have ever been in his twenties. It’s an interesting twist on classic themes, one that others have explored as they aged, but few realized on their first solo outing.

The songs range from the Revolver-esque “Happiness” to the soul-infused rocker “Stop Messin’ About,” and there’s even a heavy, Lenny Kravitz-style cover of “Norwegian Wood.” The distinctive harmonies of the Bangles are heard on “Something New” and “Spring,” and the Cowsills on “A Mother’s Love,” but it’s Anderson’s layered vocals on the rave-up “Phyllis & Sharon” and the optimistic “My Prediction” that make his personal mark. The results are, as Vicki Peterson labeled them, “timeless,” with Anderson’s talent, craft and experience making for an unusually mature “debut.” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Derrick Anderson’s Home Page