Posts Tagged ‘RCA’

David Cassidy: Gettin’ it in the Street

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

David Cassidy’s third and final post-teen idol album for RCA

In the two years after David Cassidy walked away from Bell Records and his career as a teen idol, he recorded three albums for RCA. The first, The Higher They Climb, found success in Europe and spun out a pre-Barry Manilow hit recording of Bruce Johnston’s “I Write the Songs.” Cassidy’s second album for RCA, Home is Where the Heart Is failed to chart, as did the pre-release singles from this third album. RCA planned and then shelved the album’sU.S. release, though apparently copies were pressed and warehoused, as they began showing up in cutout bins three years later.

The album’s track list is an eclectic lot, including the autobiographical title tune (featuring the guitar playing of Mick Ronson), the boozy original “Rosa’s Cantina,” a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “The Story of Rock and Roll,” and a tune co-written by Cassidy, producer (and America founding member) Gerry Beckley and head Beach Boy, Brian Wilson. The latter, “Cruise toHarlem,” has the hallmarks of a mid-70s Brian Wilson tune, with a chugging rhythm and sophisticated vocal arrangement. The album closes with Cassidy’s original “Junked Heart Blues,” sung in a clenched voice that brings to mind Boz Scaggs.

Cassidy sings with terrific emotion throughout, including a duet withBeckleyon “Living a Lie,” but his more sophisticated and soulful pop-rock couldn’t find a place in the market. One has to wonder whether the “David Cassidy” name was still overshadowed by his earlier fame, making it difficult for listeners to accept him as a bona fide recording artist. The music he made fit well with the commercial mainstream of ‘76-77, but despite his artistry, chart success was not to be. Real Gone’s reissue includes the album’s original nine tracks, clocking in at thirty-four minutes, and features liner notes from Michael Ragogna. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Jerry Reed: The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice of Jerry Reed / Nashville Underground

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Jerry Reed’s country and Nashville Sound beginnings

Singer, songwriter and certified guitar player Jerry Reed found his musical calling as a child, and by the time he turned 18 in 1955, he was already making records. Sides cut for Capitol (catch the rockabilly “When I Found You” here), NRC and Columbia failed to ignite a performing career, but his songwriting and session guitar work garnered traction in Nashville. By 1965 he’d come to the attention of Chet Atkins, and two years later he released his debut LP, The Unbelievable Guitar & Voice of Jerry Reed, on RCA. The album was stylistically schizophrenic, ranging from folk-country tunes similar to Waylon Jennings early RCA sides to faux British Invasion pop to rootsy blues-country. It’s the latter, including the album’s first single, “Guitar Man,” that came to define Reed’s sound.

In 1967, though, Atkins was still trying to find a place for Reed within the Nashville Sound. Atkins added badly-aging harpsichord to many of the debut’s tracks, and though Reed, Wayne Moss and Fred Carter Jr. cut loose with gut-string picking on several tracks, including the instrumental “The Claw,” there were still the doubled pop vocals of “If I Promise” sharing track space with the sly talking ablues “Woman Shy” and the Everlys-styled “Long Gone.” It’s interesting, albeit a bit disconcerting, to hear Reed singing so far outside his earthier country sound, and the folk- and pop-flavored cuts haven’t the swagger of his blues. Elvis Presley covered “Guitar Man,” with Reed reproducing the guitar break from this recording, and “U.S. Male,” with the lyrical intro shifted from Georgia to Mississippi.

Reed returned Elvis’ favor with his next single “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” on his second album, Nashville Underground. Released in 1968, this second album’s title proves itself ironic with music that’s even heavier on the crossover balladry. Try as he might though, Atkins couldn’t shave the Southern edges off Reed’s playing and singing, highlighted by the hard-picked guitar of “Fine on My Mind.” In addition to eight originals, Reed covers a pair of traditional titles (“Wabash Cannonball” and “John Henry”), and takes a playful, jazzy turn on Ray Charles “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” As on the debut, Reed’s versatility is impressive, but it’s the talking blues and arrangements stripped of Atkins’ crossover production that still leap most energetically from the speakers.

Real Gone’s first-ever CD reissue of these two albums features the twenty-three original tracks, and includes a twelve-page booklet rich with original cover art (front and back), session data and liner notes by Chris Morris. If you only know Reed from 1970s hits “Amos Moses” and “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” (or only as an actor from Smokey and the Bandit), this is a great opportunity to hear his first brush withNashville. Atkins’ production leaves many of these tracks sounding like period pieces, but Reed’s talent still shines through, and if you pick your way around the glossier pop ballads, there’s some truly rewarding here. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Elvis Presley: Young Man With the Big Beat

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Elvis tears up the music world in ‘56

Eighteen months after bursting into the music world with “That’s All Right,” Elvis moved from the indie Sun label to the major leagues of RCA. A month-and-a-half later, in January 1956, he entered the a Nashville studio and began a year that included two chart-topping albums (Elvis Presley and Elvis), three chart-topping singles (five, if you include the Country chart), several more top-fives and fifteen total chart entries among two dozen singles. That’s in addition to live and television performances that made him the most famous person in the world. Five decades later, according to RCA, he remains the best-selling artist of all time, with over a billion records sold. He’s certainly among the most reissued, but with a catalog as lengthy and rich as Elvis Presley’s, it’s rewarding to view it from multiple angles.

RCA/Legacy’s 5-CD set focuses solely on the transformative year of 1956, collecting its the first two discs the thirty-nine master recordings Elvis issued that year. The original track lists of Elvis Presley (which combines seven sides cut expressly for RCA and five previously cut for Sun) and Elvis (cut in three September days in Hollywood) start discs one and two, respectively. Each of these discs is filled out with non-LP singles, B-sides and EP tracks. Elvis minted a lot of gold in ‘56, including the chart-topping hits “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender,” the iconic “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” and “Love Me,” lower-charting treats “Money Honey” and “Paralyzed,” and non-charting sides that include a stellar rockabilly cover of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” and the gospel-styled “We’re Gonna Move.” The music just poured out of Elvis and his combo, their roots still intact and raw, and Elvis’ magic in full-bloom on the ballads.

The set’s third disc combines live material from the last night of Elvis’ two-week run at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, a May performance in Little Rock, Arkansas, and ten previously unreleased tracks from a December concert in Shreveport, Louisiana. Elvis gave it his best in Las Vegas, but by closing night his funny, witty, sarcastic and self-deprecating stage patter (“we got a few little songs we’d like to do for you, we have on record, in our style of singing, if you wanna call it singing”) reflected the lukewarm reception he’d received from the middle-aged audience. The May and December dates find Elvis greeted by screaming fans, and he returns the favor with fevered rock ‘n’ roll. The tapes are all quite listenable, though the Little Rock show is a bit rough in spots, and the Shreveport show a bit muffled. Shreveport had been instrumental in launching Elvis with his appearances on the Louisiana Hayride, and his bond with the city and its fans is evident.

Disc four opens with outtakes of “I Got a Woman,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I’m Counting on You” and “I Was the One,” from his first Nashville session. In addition to alternate versions of four great Elvis tracks, listeners get to hear how fresh Presley and his band remained from take to take. The remainder of the disc becomes the province of collectors and completists as it unspools the February 3rd sessions for “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” In addition to multiple takes of each tune, you get bits of studio chatter, moments of vocal rehearsal and instrumental noodling. The disc concludes with a half-hour interview conducted by Robert Brown at New York City’s Warwick Hotel. Brown introduces fans to Elvis by discussing his career, hobbies, favorite singers (Sonny James, Frank Sinatra, Mario Lanza), current films (“Helen of Troy,” “The Man with the Golden Arm,” and “Picnic”), foods and clothes. Elvis comes across as thoughtful, humble and exceedingly thankful for his success.

The fifth disc closes the set with an additional hour of spoken material, including an interview session with TV Guide, an interview of Colonel Tom Parker, the spoken-word “The Truth About Me” (which was originally included in Teen Parade magazine, and appears to explain Elvis to both his growing teenage audience and their parents), an interview recorded on the film set of Love Me Tender, and a pair of ads for RCA record players. Elvis handles tough questions that recount critical press accounts of his talent and performances, politely showing confidence in himself and his fans. He doesn’t seek to explain or excuse his music or dancing, but notes that he and his audience share an understanding and appreciation of what’s passing between them.

The 12”-square box set includes an 80-page book stuffed with photos and ephemera (ticket stubs, record company memos, fan letters, record charts, magazine covers, etc.), a thorough discography and sessionography of 1956, and is highlighted by a day-by-day chronology of Elvis’ recording dates, concerts, television appearances and personal events throughout the year. The box also includes reproduction 8 x 10 photos, posters and a concert ticket stub. For those only interested in the core master recordings, the first two discs of this set (minus three tracks from the Love Me Tender EP: “Let Me,” “Poor Boy” and “We’re Gonna Move”) are being released separately as the Elvis Presley: The Legacy Edition. This two CD set includes Elvis’ first two albums, and nearly all the non-LP A’s, B’s and EP tracks included here. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Perry Como: Seattle

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Easy listening vocalist rocks out, but only momentarily

Como’s 1969 LP opens with a number, “Happiness Comes, Happiness Goes,” that suggests the easy listening pop vocalist was late getting to a groovy party hosted by Esquivel. But after only one groovy concoction of fuzz guitars and organ, the album reverts to the light, warm pop that Mister C had been landing on the charts since the early 1940s. The album’s hit was a remake of “Seattle,” the theme to television’s Here Come the Brides. It’s upbeat harpsichord, organ and horns cracked the Top 40 and reached #2 on the adult contemporary chart. The album’s other period piece is “That’s All This Old World Needs,” whose optimism was a better fit for August’s Woodstock than December’s Altamont. Working with RCA staff producers Andy Wiswell and Chet Atkins, Como selected a range of material, including the Brothers Four’s melancholy hit, “Turnaround,” the cheery, Mitch Miller-y “Deep in Your Heart,” and the bluesy “Beady Eyed Buzzard.” Como also recorded a pair of tunes from the legendary Cindy Walker, and his work with Atkins in the famed “Nashville Sound” studio gives several tracks a pop-country feel. Como was perhaps the very easiest of easy listening vocalists, but the lack of pyrotechnics in his vocal style made records recorded in his late ‘50s as smoothly ingratiating as those waxed in his younger years. Don’t be fooled by the opening track, this is a solid easy-pop album with ‘60s pop-country colors. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Perry Como Discography

Elvis Presley: Viva Elvis – The Album

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Modern reconstructions of Elvis to love or hate

No doubt some will take to these reconstructions of famous Elvis Presley songs, while others will feel they’re bastardizations on par with Ted Turner’s colorization of movies. The truth lies somewhere in between. Presley’s iconic vocals have been lifted and recontextualized in modern arrangements augmented with new instrumental performances. The results are a great deal more radical than George and Giles Martin’s mashups of the Beatles catalog for Love. At times the rhythms will remind you of the monotonous dance floor beats of the Stars on 45 medleys, and Brendan O’Brien’s overbearing remake of “That’s Alright” borrows its dominant riff from Katrina and the Wave’s “Walking on Sunshine.”

Unlike Love, this feels less like a celebration than a tortured attempt to make Elvis relevant to twenty-first century ears. The shame of it is that Elvis’ original recordings still hold the magic laid into them fifty years ago, and much of what makes them special is lost in these translations. The contrast of hillbilly guitars and burning vocals is buried under mounds of modern studio sounds that compete with rather than amplify Elvis’ preternatural ferocity. Casting “Heartbreak Hotel” into a delta blues might be an interesting trick if the producer (O’Brien again) trusted listeners to stay entertained without adding sizzling Vegas horns. But he can’t help himself, or perhaps he can’t escape the live show’s demands. Serban Ghenea’s hyperbolic reworking of “Blue Suede Shoes” suffers the same fate, overwhelming both Elvis and the listener with studio pyrotechnics that are distracting rather than energizing.

The acoustic arrangement given “Love Me Tender” momentarily drops the album’s bombast, but Dea Norberg’s duet vocal doesn’t stand up to Elvis’ original. It’s not impossible to overlay an inspiring duet on Elvis – Celine Dion did so in a video performance of “If I Can Dream,” for example – but this is the wrong song and the arrangement is too sedate. Shelly St.-Germain fares better on “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” though the arrangement’s percussion distracts with its busyness. If you’ve been asking yourself “what would Elvis sound like if he were recording with a modern chart act,” perhaps these reworkings will help you imagine the answer. But even those few tracks that retain some of the originals’ joyousness, such as “Bossa Nova Baby,” fall to the disc’s hyperkinetic overdrive.

What might interest Elvis fans are the odd bits of continuity – studio dialog, radio announcers, film clips – used as production edgings. But unlike the rearranged instrumental lines of Love, these tracks are too radically reconstructed to play “where’d that come from?” No doubt this works well as a soundtrack to the live show; enjoyed in the round and visualized by circus acts, the CD will make a nice souvenir. But as a standalone offering it begs the question: why listen to someone else’s subtle-as-a-flying-mallet reconstructions when the heart of rock ‘n’ roll is still beating in the easily obtainable originals? [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Willie Nelson: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Good selection of Willie Nelson live material from 1966 through 1979

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

Like most of the artists in this series, Nelson is well-known for his stage act. This set samples previously release performances from Live Country Music Concert, Willie Nelson Live, Willie and Family Live, Wanted! The Outlaws, and The Original Soundtrack: Honeysuckle Rose. There is no previously unreleased material. The latter three albums are much lauded and easily found. The first two, from which tracks 1 through 4 are selected, will be fresh to many ears. Live Country Music Concert was released in 1966 and Willie Nelson Live was released ten years later; both albums feature pre-outlaw recordings of Nelson playing a July 1966 date in Ft. Worth, Texas. As with Nelson’s early studio recordings, these performances find him straining against his band’s straight time and inflexible arrangements. It’s only on the ballads “The Last Letter” and “Touch Me” that Nelson really gets to stretch into the phrasings and melodic transitions that would become his trademarks. The crowd’s rowdy reactions to favorite songs show he was a fan favorite in Texas long before Nashville figured out how to market him to the general country audience.

The track list is filled out with some of Nelson’s most beloved songs and performances, including the supercharged Waylon and Willie duet “A Good Hearted Woman,” a superbly assured take on “Funny How Time Slips Away” and emotional readings of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” The set closes with the national anthem of the Willie Nelson Nation, “On the Road Again.” By the mid-70s Nelson had assembled a band that could hang with his phrasing and ease their way through key and time changes with the fluidity of a jazz combo. Nelson is clearly energized by the sympathetic playing of his band mates, and the looseness of the cuts from Honeysuckle Rose is especially satisfying. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Good selection of Willie Nelson live material from 1966 through 1979

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

Like most of the artists in this series, Nelson is well-known for his stage act. This set samples previously release performances from Live Country Music Concert, Willie Nelson Live, Willie and Family Live, Wanted! The Outlaws, and The Original Soundtrack: Honeysuckle Rose. There is no previously unreleased material. The latter three albums are much lauded and easily found. The first two, from which tracks 1 through 4 are selected, will be fresh to many ears. Live Country Music Concert was released in 1966 and Willie Nelson Live was released ten years later; both albums feature pre-outlaw recordings of Nelson playing a July 1966 date in Ft. Worth, Texas. As with Nelson’s early studio recordings, these performances find him straining against his band’s straight time and inflexible arrangements. It’s only on the ballads “The Last Letter” and “Touch Me” that Nelson really gets to stretch into the phrasings and melodic transitions that would become his trademarks. The crowd’s rowdy reactions to favorite songs show he was a fan favorite in Texas long before Nashville figured out how to market him to the general country audience.

The track list is filled out with some of Nelson’s most beloved songs and performances, including the supercharged Waylon and Willie duet “A Good Hearted Woman,” a superbly assured take on “Funny How Time Slips Away” and emotional readings of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” The set closes with the national anthem of the Willie Nelson Nation, “On the Road Again.” By the mid-70s Nelson had assembled a band that could hang with his phrasing and ease their way through key and time changes with the fluidity of a jazz combo. Nelson is clearly energized by the sympathetic playing of his band mates, and the looseness of the cuts from Honeysuckle Rose is especially satisfying. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Marty Stuart: Ghost Train- The Studio B Sessions

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Stuart amazes with the honesty and heart of his country music

Like ex-presidents who turn the mantle of their former office into opportunities to improve the world, talented musicians can turn the freedom of their post-hit years into explorations of that which really moves them. And such is Marty Stuart, whose baptism in bluegrass led to a run on Nashville in the mid-80s and, more successfully, in the early 90s with a four year chart run that included Hillbilly Rock, Tempted and This One’s Gonna Hurt You. His subsequent releases kept his core fans, but provided only middling commercial returns. But as his chart success waned, his artistic vision expanded. 1999’s song cycle The Pilgrim was his most powerful and coherent album to that date, showing off both his musical range and his ability to write songs that are literary, but still communicate on an emotional level.

Throughout the current decade he’s explored gospel (Souls’ Chapel), Native American struggles (Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota), and country and folk standards (Cool Country Favorites). And this time out, Stuart salutes the classic country of his youth, but other than a couple of well selected covers, he uses all new originals to conjure the sounds that inspired him in the first place. What will really ring in listeners’ ears is how natural and heartfelt this is. Like a dancer floating through his steps, Stuart plays songs as an extension of his soul, rather than as a performance of words and music. Recording in the legendary RCA Studio B, Stuart amplifies the echoes of performances past, much as John Mellencamp has on his recent No Better Than This.

Stuart is a country classicist, and his new songs resound with the spirits of Waylon, Merle, Buck and Johnny. The instrumental “Hummingbyrd” recounts the playfulness of “Buckaroo” and the Johnny Cash co-write “The Hangman” retains the Man in Black’s gravitas and frankness. The opening “Branded” splits the difference between Haggard’s “Branded Man” and Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield,” tipping a musical hat to the piercing guitar of Roy Nichols. Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll” gives Stuart a chance to roll out his rockabilly roots, and show off the glory of his band, the Fabulous Superlatives. Stuart and guitarist Kenny Vaughan sing a duet and duel on their electric guitars as drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin push them with a hot train rhythm – this one’s sure to leave jaws hanging slack when played live.

The album’s ballads are just as good, not least of which for the emotional steel playing of Ralph Mooney (whose own “Crazy Arms” is covered here as an instrumental). Co-writing with his wife, singer Connie Smith, Stuart sings tales of romantic dissolution and regret. Smith joins Stuart for the exceptional duet “I Run to You,” drawing together threads of Gram and Emmylou, the Everly Brothers and classic Nashville pairings of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The album’s saddest song, however, is “Hard Working Man,” which questions the soul of a nation whose work ethic is undermined by globalization. There’s personal salvation in “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” but the questions raised in “Hard Working Man” is what will really haunt you.

The album ends with “Little Heartbreaker,” the best Dwight Yoakam song that Yoakam didn’t actually write lately, followed by a short mandolin solo that brings things back to Stuart’s bluegrass roots. The sounds of Stuart’s influences are immediate throughout, but as someone obsessed with country music from his teens, and a protégé of both Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, this is less a nostalgic interlude than a heeding of his mother’s words: “When you find yourself, if in the middle of nowhere, go back to Jerusalem and stand. Wait on divine guidance. It’s the only guidance worth having.” The recent neo-redneck movement may position themselves as modern-day hellraisers, but this rockabilly, Bakersfield twang and heartbroken balladry are the true sounds of rebellion, or as Stuart describes them, “sounds from the promised land.” [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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Marty Stuart’s Home Page
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Alabama: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Nice collection of live tracks, including 7 previously unreleased

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

Unlike many of the volumes in this series, Alabama’s entry includes a wealth of previously unreleased material in its first seven tracks. These newly available recordings are drawn from a 1981 show in Salt Lake City, Utah and a 1982 date in Florence, Alabama. The rest of the set’s tracks date from the mid-80s and are drawn from the previously released Alabama Live and Gonna Have a Party… Live. All but one of these thirteen titles reached #1 on the country chart, with “My Home’s in Alabama” having peaked at #17 as an indie release that paved the way to RCA and Total Chart Domination. To really understand how thoroughly Alabama owned the country charts in the 1980s you have to realize that these twelve chart toppers were part of an eight-year string of twenty-one straight #1 singles, a feat that was followed by dozens more hits, including another eleven #1s!

The group’s formula stayed remarkably steady from their beginnings through the end of their hit-making years, setting Randy Owen’s masculine-yet-emotional lead vocals and the group’s rich harmony singing against powerful bass, guitar and drum backings. The combination paired the punch of Southern rock with the down home feel of country’s roots. Alabama was more derivative of ‘70s country than earlier honky-tonk or hillbilly sounds, but there’s an earthiness to their playing and singing –especially evident in these live settings – that distanced their music from the factory sounds of Nashville. More importantly, performing as a self-contained band, rather than a solo singer with backing musicians, Alabama cut a new figure in country music, drawing up a template that’s been emulated by dozens of followers.

The cheering reception each Alabama song gets from the live audiences is now familiar, but the reaction they stoked in their live shows, bringing rock ‘n’ roll dynamics to country audiences – something Waylon Jennings pioneered in the ‘70s – still sounds fresh. Alabama dials it back and lays harmonies into “Feels So Right” and “Lady Down on Love,” builds to multiple emotional climaxes on “My Home’s in Alabama” (sung with extra resonance to the enthusiastic home-state audience), and revs it up for the foot-stomping “Mountain Music.” While the group’s other live releases give a better sense of their stage shows, this collection provides a good introduction to the group’s live energy, and the previously unreleased tracks will help fans cope with the group’s retirement from the road. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Dolly Parton: Letter to Heaven – Songs of Faith and Inspiration

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Parton’s 1971 album of faith and praise + 7 bonuses

Letter to Heaven returns to print 1971’s Golden Streets of Glory, Dolly Parton’s first full album of inspirational song. The seventeen tracks of this 45-minute collection include the album’s original ten and six bonuses cherry-picked from Parton’s albums and singles of the 1970s. As a treat for collectors, the original album session track “Would You Know Him (If You Saw Him) is released here for the first time. The latter is among Parton’s most compelling vocals in the set, and a real mystery as to how it was left off the original release. Parton wrote or co-wrote ten of the seventeen titles and puts her vocal stamp on standards (“I Believe”), country (“Wings of a Dove”), gospel (“How Great Thou Art”) and classic spirituals (“Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” here reworked as “Comin’ For to Carry Me Home”). The album’s originals are surprisingly generic songs of faith and praise, unsatisfying in comparison to the following year’s brilliant “Coat of Many Colors.”

The bonus tracks fare much better. Parton’s tribute to her grandfather, “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man” is joined by memories of childhood church-going in “Sacred Memories.” Her appreciation of creation’s majesty, “God’s Coloring Book” is personal and intimate, and “Letter to Heaven” retains its power to evoke a lump in your throat forty years after it was recorded. Producer Bob Ferguson dials back his Nashville Sound to light arrangements of country, soul and gospel; the twang is still minimized, but neither the strings nor backing choruses overwhelm. RCA Legacy’s single-CD reissue includes recording details and liner note by Deborah Evans Price. Fans will be glad to have this back in print, but those new to the Parton catalog might check out other key album reissues first, such as Coat of Many Colors, Jolene, or My Tennessee Mountain Home. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Dolly Parton’s Home Page

Ray Charles: Genius + Soul = Jazz (Expanded Edition)

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Four-LPs-on-two-CDs reissue of Ray Charles’ jazz sides

Ray Charles’ helped inaugurate the Impulse! label with this 1961 release, the label’s second album. Produced by Creed Taylor, and recorded in the same New Jersey studios that hosted Jimmy Smith and other Blue Note greats, Charles sat himself behind a Hammond B-3 and together with key members of the Count Basie band, he swung arrangements written by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns. From the opening horn stabs of “From the Heart” it’s clear that this band plays big, brassy and hard, yet Charles keeps it cool on the organ, and his two vocal numbers (“I’ve Got News For You” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”), are blue and soulful. Charles gave the band and its soloists plenty of room to shine, but when his keys step to the front, such as his growling lead on “One Mint Julep,” it’s clear whose leading the sessions.

Concord’s two-CD reissue adds three albums that Charles recorded in the 1970s: My Kind of Jazz (1970), Jazz Number II (1972) and My Kind of Jazz Part 3 (1975). These are primarily instrumental albums and are filled with the sort of charts used to warm up audiences at Charles’ live shows. There is a generous helping of 3/4 jazz waltzes and Latin rhythms. Recorded with his road band, the lineup is filled with instrumental stars, including Blue Mitchell, Joe Randazzo, Clifford Scott, David “Fathead” Newman and many others. Highlights include the Stax-styled groove of “Booty-Butt” and a bubbly take on Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.” As an additional bonus, a cover of “Misty” is included from trombonist Steve Turre’s In the Spur of the Moment.

The recording quality is superb, with a super wide stereo image. Remastering is by Paul Blakemore at Telarc. The set’s 12-page booklet includes new liner notes by Ralph Friedwald, original album notes by Dick Katz and Quincy Jones, and full-panel cover reproductions. The original sessions show Charles at full power; the 1970s albums feature great playing, but often feel like pre-show warmups. If you already have Genius + Soul = Jazz in high fidelity, the upgrade may not be necessary, but if you haven’t yet enjoyed Charles’ 1961 classic, this is a great way to hear it. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ray Charles’ Home Page