Tag Archives: RCA

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks

Late-40s and early-50s sides from the father of rock ‘n’ roll

Arthur Crudup is most widely remembered as the writer of Elvis Presley’s first single, “That’s All Right,” and the later B-side “My Baby Left Me.” But by the time Presley waxed these sides in the mid-50s, Crudup had already quit the recording business in disgust. Crudup was denied a share of the royalties his songwriting and recordings had generated, and after years of subsisting on low wages for sessions and performances, he’d had enough of enriching others. He eventually returned to recording and performing, continuing on into the 1970s, but even with legal help, he was never able to claim the royalties for the songs that had launched others onto the charts.

Bear Family’s 28-track collection focuses primarily on the sides Crudup recorded in Chicago for RCA in the 1940s, supplemented by a few early-50s recordings made in the studios of WQXI (Atlanta), WRBC (Jackson, MS) and WGST (Atlanta), and in 1962, New York City. Crudup began recording for RCA in 1941 with a basic session of acoustic guitar and washtub bass, but a two-year-long musicians strike created a gap that stretched from 1942 until the end of 1944. This set picks up with 1945’s “Open Your Book,” with Crudup’s energetic guitar playing backed by drummer Charles “Chick” Draper. The lyrics touched on the phrase “that’s all right,” though it wouldn’t solidify into the title song until the following year.

Another guitar-and-drums session, this time with Armand “Jump” Jackson on skins yielded the hit “So Glad You’re Mine,” which Elvis revived a decade later for Elvis. By Fall of 1946 Crudup had been reunited with string bassist Ransom J. Knowling, and along with drummer Judge Lawrence Riley they worked their way up to the iconic “That’s All Right.” Before recording the icon, the trio warmed up the key “that’s all right” phrase and the “de de de” scat on the raucous “So Glad You’re Mine.” Those two elements would continue to thread through Crudup’s work for years, including the subsequent “I Don’t Know It.”

Crudup, Knowling and Riley continued to record throughout 1947, Crudup traveling up to Chicago from his native Mississippi to which he’d returned in 1945. They mixed mid-tempo laments with up-tempo numbers whose excited vocals and sharp drum accents point in a straight line to Presley’s early Sun work, and the rock ‘n’ roll revolution. Late in 1950 the trio laid down “My Baby Left Me,” complete with the drum and bass intro that Bill Black and D.J. Fontana reworked for Elvis’ 1956 B-side. Crudup’s last Chicago session, and the last session the trio would play together, was held in Spring of 1951, and yielded the nuclear war paranoia of “I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole.”

By 1952, Crudup had a new rhythm section (bassist Jimmy Sheffield and drummer N. Butler), and recording had moved to Atlanta, to the studio of radio station WQXI. Crudup’s guitar has a more subdued tone in these sessions, and his vocals aren’t as exuberant as his hottest Chicago sides. He ventured down to Jackson, MS to moonlight for Chess with the juke-joint blues “Open Your Book,” and the push from Robert Dees’ harmonica returned the spark to his singing. He waxed the energetic blues “She’s My Baby” for Champion with a muddily-recorded piano adding a new sound to his records, and he returned to RCA in 1954 where a lack of with hits led to the end of his contract and an exit from recording.

Eight years later, in 1962, producer Bobby Robinson tracked Crudup down in Frankfort, VA, and brought him to New York. Together they re-recorded stereo versions of Crudup’s earlier work, of which three are included here. Crudup’s songs and style have reverberated throughout rock ‘n’ roll’s entire history, and though well known for the exposure Elvis Presley’s debut provided, his own recordings haven’t been as widely heard. Bear Family’s 28-track collection highlights his years with RCA and beyond, and the 36-page booklet includes informative liner notes by Bill Dahl and a detailed discography. More can be heard on the box set A Music Man Like Nobody Ever Saw, but as a starting point, this is “all right!” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Note: to play this collection in chronological order, program 11, 28, 9, 2, 7, 13, 6, 10, 19, 23, 24, 22, 4, 8, 3, 14, 15, 17, 21, 25, 16, 1, 12, 5, 26, 27, 18, 20.

Neil Sedaka: The Very Best Of (RCA)

NeilSedaka_TheVeryBestOfStereo catalog of Neil Sedaka’s late-50s and early-60s hits

Neil Sedaka topped the chart in 1974 with “Laughter in the Rain,” and as a songwriter with Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” but these were far from his first brush with fame. In fact, this mid-70s resurgence (due in large part to his signing with Elton John’s Rocket Records) was a renewal of a talented Brill Building songsmith whose performing and songwriting success had tailed off a decade earlier in the wake of the British Invasion. From 1958 through 1966, Sedaka recorded charmingly boyish hit records for RCA, falling out of the Top 40 in 1964 with the arrival of the Beatles. This fourteen track collection includes all thirteen of Sedaka’s Top 40 sides for RCS, as well as one that just missed (“I Go Ape,” #42/1959). This represents the core of Sedaka’s first run of fame, including his chart-topping original version of “Breaking Up is Hard To Do” and the icons “Calendar Girl,” “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” and “Next Door to an Angel.” All of the sides are presented in true stereo, which will make some collectors happy, but begs Real Gone or Bear Family to step up and release the original mono singles. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Charlie Rich: 25 All-Time Greatest Hits

CharlieRich_25AllTimeGreatestHitsCharlie Rich’s biggest country hits

Varese’s 25-track set collects Charlie Rich’s biggest hits from his decade on the Epic label, including all nine of his 1970s chart-toppers, and nearly all of his Top 40s. It also threads into the track list the mid-60s recordings for RCA that the label issued as singles in the 1970s in a successful effort to ride the coattails of Epic’s success. These sides represent Rich’s biggest hits, including the landmark “Behind Closed Doors” and the across-the-board smash “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” Missing is 1975’s “It’s All Over Now” (#23 Country), some lesser charting sides and singles released in the 1970s by Mercury, Elektra and United Artists.

Rich’s soulful delivery and musical range, exemplified by the jazz piano slipped into the pop “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” was unusual among his fellow Nashville hit makers. There’s some contrast between the earlier RCA sides and the Billy Sherrill-produced orchestrations on Epic, but they fit together surprisingly well. This is an excellent collection of Rich’s most commercially fertile years, but only scratches the surface of his artistic versatility. To get a broader view of the Charlie Rich story, supplement this set with collections of his work on Sun and Smash. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Kinks: The Essential Kinks

Kinks_Essential30 years of pivotal music on two fully-packed CDs

The Kinks touched so many musical bases that two full CDs (79 minutes each!) can still only outline their story. They blazed the British Invasion’s trail with “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” and supplied a steady stream of ever-more finely-written hits into the early ’70s. In parallel with their singles success, the band’s vocalist and primary songwriter, Ray Davies, wrote compelling B-sides and sketched out thematic collections that turned into a string of inventive concept albums. Davies ruminated on British culture, society, working class life and schooling, show business and the record industry in ever-more ambitious and increasingly theatrical productions that couched his lyrical alienation in satire, nostalgia and music hall tradition.

Banned from performing in the U.S. from 1965 until 1969, the band’s success on the American charts quickly faded. But elsewhere, particularly in their native Britain, they continued to land hit singles (including “Dead End Street,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Death of a Clown” and “Autumn Almanac”), and their albums continued to attract critical praise. Although the band returned to the U.S. in 1969 to promote Arthur, “Autumn Almanac” signaled the start of a fallow commercial period, with a brief respite from 1968’s “Days.” At the same time, Davies was crafting what was to be among the Kinks’ most revered albums, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

Though not a commercial success at the time of its release, Village Green has grown to be the group’s best selling album, and the album track “Picture Book” gained belated exposure in a 2004 HP commercial. By 1969 the group reestablished themselves commercially with the singles “Victoria,” “Lola” and “Apeman,” and the well-regarded albums Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One and Muswell Hillbillies. The latter represented their shift from Pye/Reprise to RCA, and unfortunately for the latter’s immediate commercial returns, Davies’ preoccupation with theatrical concept albums led to a string of early ’70s releases that failed to garner any singles action. On the other hand, the albums slowly rebuilt the group’s album sales in the U.S., and led to renewed chart action later in the decade.

Davies finally moved on from writing rock operas (and the Kinks from RCA to Arista) with 1977’s Sleepwalker, and the group returned to the American charts with the album’s title track. Their next few albums found an audience with U.S. record buyers, and the band became a regular concert draw. The latter success was memorialized on 1980’s Top 20 One for the Road, and represented here by live versions of “Lola” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Two years later the group had their last major commercial success with State of Confusion and the single “Come Dancing.” The latter even broke through to MTV with a heavily spun video. The group’s remaining albums, through 1993’s Phobia, garnered less and less commercial attention, as did their singles, though they did continue to find a home on rock radio into the early ’90s.

Legacy’s 2-CD, 48-track, 2-hour and 39-minute collection does an admirable job of surveying the group’s lengthy catalog, covering early mono productions (disc one, tracks 1-13), UK and US hits, deeply-loved album tracks, concert favorites and live performances (including a terrific 1972 rendition of “Till the End of the Day” drawn from the CD reissue of Everybody’s in Show-Biz). The timeline spans releases from Pye/Reprise, RCA, Arista and Columbia, and stretches from the band’s primal first hit, 1964’s “You Really Got Me,” to their final release for Columbia, 1993’s “Scattered.” Absent are stellar early B-sides like “I Gotta Move” and “Come On Now,” tracks from Schoolboys in Disgrace, Percy and the band’s two 1980’s album for MCA, but what’s here paints a compelling overview of a band whose three decades of music outstripped even the sizeable recognition it’s received over the past fifty years. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Kinks’ Home Page

Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner: Just Between You and Me (Bear Family)

DollyPartonPorterWagoner_JustBetweenYouAndMeA monument to one of music’s greatest-ever duos

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner’s partnership is remarkable even within a genre known for its venerable pairings. At the start of their professional relationship, Wagoner was an established star with dozens of hit singles and a weekly television program, and Parton was the new “girl singer” who had to win over fans of the departed Norma Jean. By the end of their partnership, seven years later, Wagoner’s chart action was winding down, and Parton’s stardom, which had begun its flight during her tenure with Wagoner, was about to go into hyperdrive. Parton said goodbye to Wagoner with “I Will Always Love You,” and lawsuits followed, but their chemistry as a duet was strong enough to survive their separation, with previously recorded material continuing to chart.

Parton and Wagoner were each artistic forces to be reckoned with. They were A-list songwriters and performers, and the enormous volume of material they recorded together was paralleled by a wealth of solo releases. Early on, Wagoner wrote surprisingly little for their pairings, choosing to showcase Parton’s material alongside that of other Nashville greats and a few adventurous selections, like Dan Penn’s “The Dark End of the Street.” Wagoner’s songwriting contributions picked up in the latter half of their partnership, and the pair also wrote several songs together. One has to wonder if the increasing fortunes of Parton’s solo career directed her original material to herself, and Wagoner was drawn to fill the void alongside his singing and producing duties.

Wagoner’s craft was meticulous, and the sidemen he selected included members of his road band (led by Buck Trent and featuring fiddler Mack Magaha) and the cream of Nashville’s session players (including Pete Drake, Lloyd Green, Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins and Roy Huskey, Jr.). The catalog he produced with Parton is impressive for both its size and uniformly high quality. The songwriting, vocals, production and playing never wavers across the duo’s seven-year partnership, and their commercial appeal lasted from an early cover of Tom Paxton’s folk classic “The Last Thing on My Mind” through Wagoner’s “Is Forever Longer than Always.” Along the way, fans will find the hallmarks of both Wagoner and Parton’s individual material, including the former’s dramatic recitations, the latter’s hard-scrabble roots and both of their religious faith.

Duet singing is ultimately more about the chemistry of conversation and the revelation of interpersonal dynamics than about the individual vocalists. Wagoner’s spoken-word interlude gives Parton’s lyric of family tragedy an extra shot of morbidity in “The Party,” and the easy give-and-take of “I’ve Been This Way Too Long” could just as easily be the extemporaneous bickering of a long-time couple. Though neither family nor spouses, the pair sang with the sort of connectedness that marks blood harmonies – and feuds. In retrospect, the spark that brought even the most common romantic themes to life now seems freighted with foreshadows of their bitter dissolution, eventual detente and final emotional reunion.

Like all of Bear Family’s box sets, this set’s extensiveness is both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing, of course, are six discs of superb recordings and a lavishly illustrated seventy-eight page book; the challenge is in trying to absorb seven years of material without the division and pacing of the original singles and albums. Alanna Nash’s lengthy notes and Richard Weize’s detailed discography provide fans a guide to the duo’s intertwined paths, and the compression of their career into a box set highlights the evolution of their pairing at fast-forward speed. This collection stands tall, even among the very tall field of archival releases Bear Family has produced since it’s founding in 1975; start saving your pennies and dimes (and quarters and dollars), as this is a must-have for fans of Porter, Dolly and Porter & Dolly. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Dolly Parton’s Home Page

Liverpool Five: The Best Of

LiverpoolFive_BestOfMid-60s Northwest R’n’R’n’B from ex-pat British Invasion band

The most honest part of this group’s name is “Five,” as they were indeed a quintet. The “Liverpool” part, however, seems to have been stuck on them by a manager in an effort to ride the Beatles’ coattails. All five members were from England, but apparently none from Liverpool, and their greatest success came after relocating to Spokane, Washington. The band toured the country as an opening act for U.S. hit makers and visiting British musical royalty, appeared on teen television shows, and recorded a pair of albums for RCA. There are remnants of the British Invasion to be heard in their RCA sides, but more on the London R&B side than Liverpool Merseybeat. More deeply the band was informed by the hearty sounds of Northwest rock and touched by the buzz of the American garage. Sundazed’s 18-track collection (originally issued on CD in 2008 and reissued for digital download by RCA/Legacy) cherry-picks from the group’s RCA recordings, sprinkling a couple of band originals among a wealth of well-selected, interestingly arranged and often wonderfully rare covers. Oddly, the group’s one brush with the charts, a cover of Chip Taylor’s “Any Way That You Want Me,” is omitted. Still, Sundazed’s done a wonderful job of resurrecting the core catalog of this undeservedly obscure transatlantic British Invasion transplant. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Elvis Presley: At Stax

ElvisPresley_ElvisAtStaxElvis at Stax in 1973 – masters and outtakes

Starting with his ’68 Comeback Special, a reawakened Elvis conjured a remarkable late-career hot-streak that included 1969’s From Elvis in Memphis, the revitalized Vegas stage shows documented on That’s the Way It Is and On Stage, and a return to his country, blues, gospel and rockabilly roots on 1971’s Elvis Country. In January of 1973, Elvis stormed the airwaves with Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite, and soon after signed a new seven-year contract with RCA. In July and December of that year he booked himself into the legendary Stax studio on McLemore Avenue, adding to a string of Memphis studios that had been good luck charms: Elvis had launched his career at Sun, and revived his sense of self at Chip Moman’s American Sound in 1969.

The July sessions produced ten masters, eight of which were released on 1973’s Raised on Rock, and two held back for 1974’s Good Times. Four were also issued as singles, with “Raised on Rock” climbing to #41 on the Hot 100, Tony Joe White’s “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” peaking at #4 country, and “Take Good Care of Her” making the Top 40 AC. All ten of the masters were solid, though by no means extraordinary. Elvis was in good voice, but neither the material nor the band assembled from road regulars and Memphis guests sparked anything really deep. Elvis connected well with bluesier material like “Just a Little Bit” and Leiber & Stoller’s “If You Don’t Come Back,” and gospel-tinged backing vocals add weight to a few ballads, but the sessions never lift off in the way of his earlier work at American Sound. Two tracks – “Girl of Mine” and “Sweet Angeline” – swapped in players from the Stax house band, including the MG’s rhythm section of Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, but you’d barely know it from the final outcome.

The December sessions were a great deal more productive, both in final output – 18 finished masters – and in musical vitality. The results were split across 1974’s Good Times and 1975’s Promised Land, further dissipating the sessions’ unity and squandering the marketing value of “Elvis at Stax.” But even with the inept marketing, the sessions turned out three Top 20 hits on each of the pop and country charts, and a country chart topping album in Promised Land. Elvis sounds much more deeply engaged than he had in July, and the material and arrangements are a great deal stronger. Highlights include a fiery take on Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” the strings, horns and deep bass of “If You Talk in Your Sleep,” the gospel-funk “I Got a Feelin’ in My Body,” Jerry Reed’s revival-charged “Talk About the Good Times,” and feeling covers of “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and “You Asked Me To.” Two ballads, “It’s Midnight” and “Loving Arms,” feature deeply touching, standout vocal performances.

Beyond the twenty eight masters, this 3-CD set includes a generous helping of alternate takes and one unfinished track. All of this material has been released before, but scattered across a number of posthumous collections and expanded reissues. Augmented with bits of studio chatter, the outtakes give a more organic view of Elvis’ presence at Stax than did the dispersed master takes. What you’ll hear is an artist who’s really committed to most of the material, and though the master takes were chosen for their commercial viability, the alternates are filled with vitality. Unlike the many soundtrack sessions through which Elvis often sleepwalked, and despite the Stax sessions being the product of a contractual obligation, Elvis was ready to make great music of his own volition. Freed from the confines of Hill & Range’s catalog, Elvis drew from both longtime suppliers and contemporary songwriters, recording songs with which he felt a personal resonance.

That personal resonance also applied to the assembled players, who were drawn from Elvis’ road band and key Memphis and Muscle Shoals players such as guitarist Reggie Young and bassist Norman Putnam. But the results weren’t as deeply impacted by Southern soul as were the earlier sessions at American Sound; Stax, it turned out, was more of a conveniently located venue than a sound with which Elvis wanted to engage. The label’s legendary musicians were barely involved in the July sessions, and not at all in December. By the time the later dates came around, even the Stax recording equipment had been swapped out in favor of RCA’s mobile unit, leaving the converted movie theater studio as Stax’s only real participation. Still, Elvis was home in Memphis, riding the crest of a remarkable career resurgence, and mostly (modulo the Colonel’s lingering machinations) in control.

The 3-CD set is delivered in an 8×8 box that includes a deluxe 42-page booklet stuffed with photos, ephemera and notes by Roger Semon and Robert Gordon. The discs are screened with images of tape reels, and slid into the pockets of a tri-fold cardboard insert, from which fans will likely want to relocate them to jewel cases or other appropriate storage. Collectors who already own Rhythm and Country and the FTD reissue of Raised on Rock, Good Times and Promised Land will have most of the tracks in this set, though having them all together in one (affordable!) place produces a uniquely coherent view of the sessions. One thing that becomes clear is that Elvis had a great album in him, but a contract that demanded two albums and multiple singles per year dug deeper than the sessions could support. What’s great here is really great, and what’s good is still passable. Though he’d record more in 1975-76, these Stax sessions are the last major sessions in his remarkable comeback. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Eddy Arnold: Complete Original #1 Hits

Loretta LynnAll twenty-eight of Eddy Arnold’s chart-topping singles

For most artists, a twenty-eight track collection of their biggest chart hits would be a fair representation of their commercial success. In Eddy Arnold’s case, twenty-eight #1 singles only very lightly skims the surface of nearly thirty-nine consecutive years of chart success that stretched from 1945 through 1983 (he struck out, though not without a few good swings, in 1958). A singer of such renown inspires numerous reissues and collections, including hefty Bear Family boxes (1 2), but this is the first set to include his entire run of chart-toppers, from 1946’s “What is Life Without Love” through 1968’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” Within that 25-year span, Arnold evolved from a twangy country star in the ’40s to a Nashville Sound innovator and resurgent chart-topper in the mid-60s.

Arnold was always more of a crooner than a honky-tonker, and even when singing upbeat tunes like “A Full Time Job,” you can hear pop stylings edging into his held notes. 1953’s “I Really Don’t Want to Know” drops the fiddle and steel, and is sung in a folk style to acoustic guitar, bass and male backing vocals. 1955’s “Cattle Call” finds Arnold yodeling a remake of Tex Owens’ 1934 tune, a song he’d recorded previously in 1944. The new version featured orchestrations by Hugo Winterhalter and signaled crossover intentions that would come to full fruition a full decade later. Arnold’s chart success dimmed in the face of rock ‘n’ roll’s rise, but by 1960 he’d regained a foothold, and by mid-decade he’d transitioned fully to countrypolitan arrangements.

In 1965 Arnold once again topped the charts with “What’s He Doing in My World” and his signature “Make the World Go Away.” Backed by strings, burbling bass lines, the Anita Kerr Singers and Floyd Kramer’s light piano, Arnold rode out the decade with a string of Top 10s and his last five chart toppers. He pushed towards an easier sound, but his vocals always retained a hint of his Tennessee Plowboy roots, differentiating him from more somnambulistic singers like Perry Como. Real Gone’s collection includes an eight-page booklet with liner notes from Don Cusic and remastering by Maria Triana. Tracks 1-21 are in their original mono, tracks 22-28 in their original true stereo. Though there’s a great deal more to be told, a spin through Arnold’s chart toppers provides a truly satisfying introduction to his catalog. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Eddy Arnold Fan Site

Jefferson Airplane / Jefferson Starship / Starship: The Essential

JeffersonAirplaneStarship_EssentialReissued two-disc anthology of San Francisco legends

Legacy’s two-disc Essential collection is actually a re-branded reissue of the 1998 Hits release, reiterating the same 35-track lineup and including Ben Fong-Torres original liner notes. If you pop these discs in your computer’s CD drive, you’re even likely to have the cover image of Hits pulled up by your media player. The set remains a good overview of “the band that transformed with the times,” from Jefferson Airplane’s scene-leading San Francisco Sound recordings of the mid-to-late ‘60s, through Jefferson Starship’s inheritance and evolution, and the Kantner-less Starship’s full-face turn to radio-friendly pop. The musical, social and commercial distance traveled from the Airplane’s earthy psychedelic jams to the Starship’s synth-laden ballads is itself a monument to adaptability.

The seventeen Airplane selections cover all seven of the band’s first run albums (nothing from their 1989 self-titled reunion is included), along with the single-only “Have You Seen the Saucers.” A few of their lower charting singles are absent, but other than “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” the Airplane was never a Top 40 success, and so the additional album tracks are more telling. Missing are tracks with early Airplane vocalist Signe Anderson singing lead, and even more noticeable is the lack of live material. Performance was an essential element of the San Francisco scene, and no telling of the Airplane’s story is truly complete without the stage interplay of vocalists and instrumentalists. Follow-on purchases of 30 Seconds Over Winterland, Bless Its Pointed Little Head or the more recent 6-CD anthology of vintage tapes can fill that gap.

Though the Jefferson Starship name was employed for Kantner’s 1970 sci-fi concept album, Blows Against the Empire, a steady band wasn’t formed until four years later for 1974’s Dragon Fly. This set skips the former album and picks up with two songs (“Caroline” and “Ride the Tiger”) from the latter. Though Dragon Fly went gold (and hit #11 on the album chart), it was the group’s next release, Red Octopus, that marked their real commercial breakthrough. Topping the album chart, the album spun off the Top 5 single “Miracles” and introduced a band who would have a ten year run in the Top 40. Most of Jefferson Starship’s biggest hits are included here, missing only their Top 20 “Winds of Change.” All eight of the group’s first run studio albums are sampled here; their two reunion releases (1998’s Windows of Heaven and 2008’s Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty) are skipped.

The group transformed yet again in 1984, into Starship, and found even greater success on the singles chart with three #1s: “We Built This City,” “Sara” and the Albert Hammond & Diane Warren-penned theme to the film Mannequin, “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now.” Starship landed two more in the Top 10, the latter of which, 1989’s “It’s Not Enough,” closes this set. Two more minor chart entries and a greatest hits album were released before the band morphed into a touring unit for vocalist Mickey Thomas. The six Starship tracks here cover all three of the band’s original albums, but omit a handful of lesser charting singles. This thirty-three track anthology provides a compelling picture of a San Francisco underground legend’s metamorphosis into a 1980s commercial juggernaut. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Martina McBride: The Essential Martina McBride

MartinaMcBride_TheEssentialNineteen years as a country hit maker, minus a handful of hits

Martina McBride’s first two-disc collection (complementing earlier single-disc anthologies, Greatest Hits, Playlist and Hits and More) covers a lot of ground: nineteen years of recording, nine studio albums, twenty-nine Top 40 country hits (including five chart-toppers), nineteen crossover Top-100 pop hits, and numerous duets and tribute appearances. But even with such impressive statistics, there’s essential material missing, including ten charting sides, six of which were Top 40s and one (“There You Are” from 2000’s Emotion) was Top 10. Her climb to stardom is abbreviated by the omission of singles from her early albums, particularly three sides from Wild Angels (“Phones Are Ringin’ All Over Town,” “Swingin’ Doors” and “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road”) that propelled McBride and Nashville into a much wider circle of fans. That said, what’s here paints a fair picture of how easily her music straddled tradition, modernity and pop.

Like others of her mid-90s class (which also included Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill and Patty Loveless), McBride benefited from both a canny producer (Paul Worley, in her case) and a renaissance of quality Nashville songwriting. Early on she sang hits penned by Kostas (“Life #9”), Gretchen Peters (“My Baby Loves Me”), Matraca Berg (“Wild Angels” and “Still Holding On”), Paul Kennerley (“Heart Trouble”) and Pat Bunch (“Safe in the Arms of Love”), threading a theme of empowerment through hits and album tracks like “Independence Day,” “A Broken Wing” and “This One’s for the Girls.” As Nashville crossed into the mainstream, so did some of McBride’s material and chart success; in addition to solo hits she found resonance with Jim Brickman (“Valentine”), Bob Seger (“Chances Are”) and Alan Jackson (“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”). McBride’s stage singing (heard here in “Over the Rainbow,” drawn from 2003’s Martina) shows that her power, accuracy and emotion aren’t tied to the studio.

The set’s shortcomings could be pinned on the two-disc format and a desire to please both new fans and collectors. The former get an overview of McBride’s career and an invitation to delve into individual albums. The latter get duets collected from albums by Clint Black (“Nothin’ But the Taillights”), Jimmy Buffet (“License to Chill”) and Raul Malo (“You’re Only Lonely”), tracks scavenged from tributes, soundtracks and the Hallmark Valentine’s Day EP My Heart, and four songs introduced on 2001’s Greatest Hits. The result balances McBride’s chart highlights and catalog rarities, but a third disc (which Legacy has added in their 2.0 re-releases of Essential titles) could have picked up all the missing hits. This is a good starting point for those who’ve yet to enjoy Martina McBride’s brand of tradition-laced modern country, and a nice collection of non-LP tracks for those who are already fans. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Martina McBride’s Home Page