Posts Tagged ‘Real Gone’

Willie Nelson: Things to Remember – The Pamper Demos

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Expanded helping of Nelson’s early songwriting demos

For a songwriter of Willie Nelson’s stature, it’s surprising that his early ‘60s Nashville demos have received so little attention. A few slipped out on compilations and bootlegs, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Sugar Hill pulled together fifteen for Crazy: The Demo Sessions. And it was thirteen more years until Sony expanded the catalog with two volumes of digital downloads on The Demo Project. Real Gone now collects the latter two volumes into physical CD and LP releases, augmenting the twenty-eight tracks with liner notes by Colin Escott, and photos from the archives of Bear Family founder Richard Weize. As with the previous releases, the recordings are clean and compelling, and with only partial overlap of the 2003 Sugar Hill disc, this is an essential addition to any Willie Nelson fan’s collection.

Nelson signed a publishing deal with Pamper Music in 1960 and commenced to churning out songs and demos with his guitar and in off-hour sessions with Nashville A-listers. The material includes many of his most iconic compositions – “Crazy,” “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Hello Walls,” “Night Life,” “Pretty Paper” – first turned into hits by Patsy Cline, Faron Young, Ray Price, Roy Orbison and others. But also heard here are the initial takes on songs that would populate Nelson’s early albums for Liberty and RCA, and fully flower in the years after he’d shucked off Nashville’s stylistic straightjacket. His idiosyncratic vocal phrasing had yet to fully form, but you can hear its roots here, and the sophistication of his songwriting was already steps ahead of the Nashville mainstream.

The band tracks are two-steps and shuffles, and though Nelson sings straight to the beat, his voice, melodies and lyrics are distinctive. The violence of “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye” probably wouldn’t be released as a single today, but Nelson actually had middling success cutting it for RCA in 1965. The low strings on “Little Things” sound like Nelson’s guitar playing, though they don’t have the tone of Trigger, and the walking bass line of “I’m Gonna Lose a Lot of Teardrops” and the acoustic blues guitar and fingersnaps of “Night Life” offer changes of pace. Nelson turned out numerous songs of romantic dissolution, each colored with a unique shade of self-pity, anger or remorse, and “I Gotta Get Drunk” sounds like something Hank Williams might have written had he lived into the 1960s.

Comparing these demos to their later incarnations provides an interesting lesson in what songwriters, singers, musicians and producers each contribute to a hit record. The lyrics of “Pretty Paper” provide a sympathetic portrait of the song’s subject, but the demo couldn’t anticipate the level of pathos that would be brought to the hit by Roy Orbison, producer Fred Foster and arranger Bill Justis. Similarly, Nelson’s demo of “Crazy” suggested the phrasing that would turn it into a hit, but didn’t take it to the crooning extreme that made it a signature for Patsy Cline. The talking guitar that threads through “Hello Walls” is a nice period touch, but only a placeholder for the answer vocals on Faron Young’s hit. As memorable as are the hits, it’s a treat to hear these early sketches and enjoy Nelson’s early burst of songwriting genius. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nelson’s Home Page

The Quick: Mondo Deco

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Long-lost ‘70s power-pop gem liberated from the vault

Music impresario Kim Fowley’s outsize personality and professional longevity both exaggerated and overshadowed the commercial and artistic success of his artists. As half of the fictional Hollywood Argyles he topped the charts with “Alley Oop,” had his hand in a string of 1960s novelties that included the instrumental “Nut Rocker,” the doo-wop “Papa Oom Mow Mow” and the treacly “Popsicles and Icicles,” threaded his way into the British rock scene, and became an icon on the Sunset Strip. The mid-70s were a particularly fertile period for Fowley on the L.A. pop-rock-glam scene as he produced three albums for the Runaways, and releases for Venus and the Razorblades, Dyan Diamond, and The Quick.

The Quick formed, played their first gig, were discovered by Fowley, signed to Mercury (the home of Fowley’s other proteges, the Runaways), and recorded and released this debut album all within 1976. Though the Ramones released their debut the same year, and the band played on bills with many of Los Angeles’ punk rock luminaries, the Quick’s early influences leaned heavily to glam, glitter and the lyrically cutting works of the British Invasion. As engineer and co-producer, Sparks founding guitarist Earl Mankey brought a generous helping of quirky pop sound to the table, and the high, sweet voice of Danny Wilde (made even higher by a change in tape speed) added a campy, devilish edge. Guitarist Steven Hufsteter was a prolific writer whose songs overflowed this debut into demos, fan club singles and covers by Los Angeles notables such as the Dickies.

Hufsteter’s songs were literate and cynical in the manner of Ray Davies, with scathing Elvis Costello-like sarcasm effectively delivered with a smile instead of a sneer. The album’s sugary melodies and power chords undersell the sardonic humor in songs of feral teenagers, dominatrixes, and the brilliantly essayed San Fernando Valley malaise of “My Purgatory Years.” The band showed off their instrumental sophistication with the ringing drums and hard guitars of “Anybody,” and drew the Beatles and Four Seasons into their musical orbit with covers of “It Won’t Be Long” and “Rag Doll.” All of the group members went on to other glories (Wilde with the Rembrandts, Hufsteter with the Cruzados, Danny Benair with the Three O’Clock, bassist Ian Ainsworth with Great Building, and keyboardist Billy Bizeau as a songwriter for the Runaways), but never again realized a sound this unique.

The band was a favorite of KROQ’s Rodney Bingenheimer, and got spins on college radio, but gained no commercial traction and broke up in 1978. The album was reissued as a needle-drop LP in 2009, but now comes to CD from the original master tapes with ten demos and a session outtake. Several of the demos are close to the album in attitude and arrangement, but others, including “Hi Lo,” add new twists. The band had a surprisingly firm handle on their musical ethos, given the speed with which they formed and headed into the studio. Mankey added clarity and sheen to the recordings, but didn’t fundamentally reshape the songs. The demos include a few tunes (“Teacher’s Pet” and “Heaven on Earth”) that didn’t make the album, along with a snippet of “Born Free” that showed how far the band could reach. This is a long overdue reissue that revives a memorable, transitional moment in the L.A. music scene. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Keely Smith: Sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney Songbook

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Imaginative early covers of Lennon & McCartney

Keely Smith is most often remembered for the 1950s Las Vegas lounge show and recordings that came from her partnership with then-husband Louis Prima. Her deadpan comedic chops gave way to a solo career in the 1960s, signing with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and attracting the talents of arrangers Nelson Riddle, Ernie Freeman and Benny Carter. After two albums of standards, this 1964 release drew exclusively upon the early works of Lennon & McCartney, cannily resetting them to make the most of Smith’s jazz and pop stylings.

“If I Fell” opens the album with a dramatic string-and-vocal passage that gives way to a Latin beat, while the chart for “This Girl” tips its fedora to Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” The latter is no surprise, given that Smith and Sinatra’s tracks were both arranged by Ernie Freeman and produced by Jimmy Bowen. Smith’s voice is in superb throughout, whether skipping along breezily or holding onto dramatic notes. The walking bass and fingersnaps that open “A Hard Days Night” nod to “Fever,” but Smith’s blue-jazz vocal and the quiet horn accents give the recording its own mood.

The Beatles’ quick fame made the Lennon & McCartney catalog ripe for exploitation, and while a few of the arrangements lean to novelty, the productions are full, and Smith found real artistic resonance with many of the songs. There’s a swinging sax solo on a waltz-time version of “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and Smith punches up “Can’t Buy Me Love” with her brassiness. The album may been a commercially-inspired lark, but the talent elevates it well above the Beatle-related cash-ins that flooded the market. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Michelle Phillips: Victim of Romance

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

1977 solo album provided Phillips a fetching turn in the spotlight

Upon the 1970 dissolution of the Mamas and Papas, three of the four members carved out solo careers, while Michelle Phillips departed the music world for a career as an actress. Five years later she edged back into the studio with the singles “Aloha Louie” and “No Love Today,” and in 1977 released this album, with production and arrangements by Jack Nitzsche, and backing from some of Los Angeles’ finest studio players. Singing material by Moon Martin, Alan Gordon, John Phillips, the Bee Gees, Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle, as well as a pair of originals, she sounds surprisingly self-assured and effortless for someone who’d mostly been away from the microphone for the previous seven years. Her reported lack of confidence in her solo voice proved unfounded as she showed off a command of a spotlight that was previously diffused by her talented groupmates.

Martin’s opening “Aching Kind” has a dreamy ‘70s feel, with Phillips’ double-tracked vocal gliding thoughtfully along the song’s self-reflective sorrow. Nitzsche gave her the full Crystals’ treatment, complete with Steve Douglas sax solo, for Martin’s title track, and added Drifters-styled triangle, castanets, strings and a baion beat to Phillips’ Mexicali-tinged “There She Goes.” There’s a ‘50s R&B feel to Martin’s “Paid the Price,” but with guitars that bring the song into the ‘70s, and both “Trashy Rumors” and “Woman of Fantasy” have a modern, jazzy edge. Among the album’s surprises is a reggae-tinged cover of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” that predates\d Linda Ronstadt’s single, and closing out the original set is Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle’s sleepy “Where’s Mine.”

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds three session outtakes as bonuses, including Phillips’ original “Guerita,” the New Orleans-styled funk “Practice What You Preach,” and a second Bee Gees cover, “Had a Lot of Love Last Night.” Together with the ten album tracks, this collects all of the finished material from the Nitzsche sessions. The CD’s booklet adds new liner notes by Joe Marchese with a fresh interview with Phillips. At album length, Phillips showed how easily she could slip into a variety of styles without surrendering her Laurel Canyon roots. Following this album, she sang backup on a few projects, and recorded “Forever” for the California Dreaming soundtrack, but that was basically it. Phillips returned to acting, leaving this album as her sole full-length statement as a musical artist; a statement that will leave fans wishing there had been more. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Johnny Mathis updates his groove for the 1970s

When Johnny Mathis first paired with producer Jack Gold for 1970’s Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, it seemed like an opportunity for an update. But the double album’s combination of previously released recordings of Burt Bacharach songs with new recordings of older Bert Kaempfert material failed to align Mathis with the new decade’s music. This second collaboration takes a bolder approach in its song selection, bringing Mathis up to date, while still maintaining lush arrangements to surround his inimitable vocal styling. This was less an attempt to cross him back over to the pop chart than an acknowledgement that the crafting of pop hits had expanded to a new generation of songwriters.

Mathis’ continuing affinity for Bacharach and David’s material led him to cover the album’s title track (a 1969 hit for B.J. Thomas), “Alfie” (a 1966 UK hit for Cilla Black, and a 1967 US hit for Dionne Warwick) and “Odds and Ends” (a 1969 adult contemporary hit for Warwick). Stretching out, he included material from Jimmy Webb (“Honey Come Back,” an R&B single for Chuck Jackson in 1969, and a country hit for Glen Campbell the following year), George Harrison (“Something,” Harrison’s first A-side and chart topper), Rod McKuen’s “Jean” (an Academy Award nominee and a #2 single for Oliver), and a pair of tunes from the film Midnight Cowboy, the latter of which are surprisingly good fits for Mathis.

Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” dated back to 1967, but with Nilsson’s version having been a hit in 1969, it had gained new currency. Mathis’ strong vibrato, supported by plucked strings and a free-spirited flute, pushes the song beyond the introspection and melancholy of Neil’s and Nilsson’s earlier versions. The theme song from “Midnight Cowboy” is performed with lyrics written by the album’s producer, turning John Barry’s haunting instrumental into a stalwart statement that echoes the drama of Ferrante & Teicher’s hit single. At its most contemporary, the album samples George Harrison (“Something”) and Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the latter closing out the original album’s track list.

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds five contemporaneous singles and B-sides, with material that stretches from a wonderfully crooned take on Coots and Lewis’ 1934 standard “For All We Know,” through Bachrach & David’s “Whoever You Are, I Love You” (from the musical Promises, Promises), Bert Kaempert’s “Night Dreams,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” and “The Last Time I Saw Her,” the latter pair with arrangements by Perry Botkin, Jr. Although the album cracked the Top 40, and “Midnight Cowboy” climbed to #20, the artistic revitalization outweighed the commercial impact, and buoyed Mathis’ recording career well into the 1980s. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis’ Home Page

The Oak Ridge Boys: When I Sing For Him – The Complete Columbia Recordings & RCA Singles

Monday, April 16th, 2018

The pre- and post-MCA sides of the Oak Ridge Boys

Those who know the Oak Ridge Boys from the hit singles that began with 1977’s “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and ran through crossover icons “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue,” may be surprised to find the group’s Southern gospel roots stretch back to the 1940s. Starting out as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet, and then in the early ‘60s, the Oak Ridge Boys. The group’s best-known lineup came together in the early ‘70s when bass singer Richard Sterban and tenor Joe Bonsall joined mid-60s arrivals Duane Allen and William Lee Golden. It was this quartet that charted with Johnny Cash on the 1973 single “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup” and eventually expanded from gospel to country hit making.

By 1974 the group had moved from the Heart Warming gospel label to the secular Columbia where they recorded the trio of albums anthologized here: The Oak Ridge Boys, Sky High, and Old Fashioned, Down Home, Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Southern Style, Gospel Quartet Music. The self-titled Columbia debut cracked the top 40, but the remaining two albums, despite quality material and performances, failed to chart. The group’s Columbia singles fared no better, with the first six failing to chart, and the seventh, “Family Reunion,” barely scraping onto the charts at #83. A large part of the group’s problem seems to have been Columbia’s lack of service to gospel radio, but their stylistic range, which included gospel harmony, MOR ballads, country and soul diluted their identity as gospel singers without providing a ready hook for secular radio.

Which is a shame, because the singles and albums deserved an audience. The group’s debut single for Columbia, the Grammy-winning “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor,” could easily have fit country radio in 1973, but it was a year or two late to mingle with the God Rock pop hits of 1971-2. Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” hasn’t the wasted soul of the original, but it was a canny pick for a cover, as was their non-charting take on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock.” The group turned soulful with Allen Toussaint’s widely covered “Freedom for the Stallion,” and the debut album’s “Give Me a Star” provides a powerful close to the debut Columbia album. Their sophomore effort opens with the album’s non-charting single “Rhythm Guitar,” featuring honky-tonk piano and a terrific bass vocal.

The opening verse of “Nobody Special” briefly shows off the quartet’s vocal blend in an a cappella arrangement that could have supported the entire track (or an album!). Porter Wagoner’s “When I Sing For Him” gave lead vocalist Duane Allen an opportunity to really soar, a performance so moving that Wagoner asked him to sing the song at his funeral, which he did in 2007. Beyond the album’s songs of praise, the group offers Christian life principles in “We Gotta Love One Another” and “Plant a Seed,” essaying the pitfalls of part-time faith. The closing “Mighty Fine” would have made a catchy second single, had Columbia been more interested in promoting the group. Disc one is filled out with six bonus tracks that include a pair of vault tracks from All Our Favorite Songs, the singles “Heaven Bound.” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup,” and the B-side “Look Away Mama.”

Disc two opens with the ten tracks of the group’s third Columbia album, and features a second collaboration with Johnny Cash on his original “No Earthly Good.” The non-charting single “Where the Soul Never Dies” and “Jesus Knows Who I Am” offer revival tent zest, but the album’s split between old-timey gospel, country-flavored numbers and middle-of-the-road ballads doesn’t quite live up to the collection’s home-spun title. As with the previous two albums, the breadth is admirable, but it plays more like a variety show than a group’s album. The final two Columbia singles, David Allan Coe’s “Family Reunion” and George Jones’ “All Our Favorite Songs” are included along with their B-sides.

The group moved from Columbia to Dot in 1977, then to Dot’s parent, ABC, and then to ABC’s parent MCA, minted the biggest hit albums and singles of their career. In 1990, with Steve Sanders having replaced William Lee Golden as the group’s baritone, the group signed with RCA and released Unstoppable and The Long Haul. Disc 2 is filled out with four RCA singles from this period, including a grandiose cover of Mann & Weil’s Brill Building classic “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration,” the country hit “Lucky Moon,” its bluesy B-side take on “Walking After Midnight” and the fine, but low-charting “Fall.” The set closes with a funky cover of “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” drawn from Sounds of the Season.

The Columbia sides show the group branching out from their gospel roots, but not yet fully committing themselves to the country market. As Joe Bonsall opines in Joe Marchese’s detailed liner notes, “Those were the days when we rode the fence musically trying to appease everyone… Although some of the songs were really cool, we just couldn’t seem to gain any real traction.” This set provides bookends for the group’s hit years on MCA, showing how they expanded their material and style from gospel to pop, rock, country and soul without ever dropping the thread of faith. Their Columbia material didn’t produced the mainstream fame they’d find on MCA, but it opened their ears to the opportunity that lay just ahead. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Oak Ridge Boys’ Home Page

Jackie DeShannon: Stone Cold Soul – The Complete Capitol Recordings

Friday, March 16th, 2018

DeShannon’s short, artistically rich early-70s stop at Capitol

After an eight-year run on Liberty/Imperial that included the Bacharach-David-penned “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and the original “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon made a brief stop at Capitol before moving on to Atlantic. Capitol initially sent DeShannon to Memphis to record with producer Chips Moman and his American Sound studio regulars, but other than the single “Stone Cold Soul” and the LP track “Show Me,” the sessions were shelved. Her second session, recorded in Los Angeles with Eric Malamud and John Palladino, resulted in the album Songs, and just like that, DeShannon was off to Atlantic. Eleven completed Moman masters appeared in the UK on RPM’s 2006 reissue of Songs, all of which is collected here along with five additional previously unreleased Memphis tracks, and liners from Joe Marchese that include a fresh interview with the artist.

DeShannon arrived in December 1970 at 827 Thomas Street to record at a studio that had put itself on the map with iconic records by the Box Tops, Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley. Though she’d previously tapped into her childhood love of R&B with a cover of Holland, Dozier & Holland’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” settling in with Moman and his “Memphis Boys” house band afforded an opportunity to fully fuse her love of soul music with original songs and well-selected cover material. One of DeShannon’s lasting artistic assets is her dual excellence as a songwriter and an interpreter of other writers’ songs. Here she shows off her interpretive abilities with selections from William Bell, Goffin & King, Emitt Rhodes, Arlo Guthrie, Van Morrison, and the non-charting title track by Mark James, the writer of Elvis Presley’s American Studios recording of “Suspicious Minds.”

The set opens with a short, previously unreleased take on Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water (Til Your Well Runs Dry),” establishing the Memphis session’s southern credentials with DeShannon’s soulful vocal and the piano and guitar “goodies” (as DeShannon calls them in the liner notes) of Bobby Woods and Reggie Young. The band plays as a tight, adaptable unit, providing thoughtful backing for the rural struggle of “West Virginia Mine,” and a more optimistic mood for the poetic look at the Israeli settlements of “Now That the Desert is Blooming.” The arrangements take the cover songs in subtly new directions as the guitar, strings, horns and backing vocals of Carole King’s “Child of Mine” gently frame DeShannon’s rough-edged vocal, and an upbeat soul treatment separates the cover from Emitt Rhodes’ original of “Live Till You Die

Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn’s “Sweet Inspiration” might seem like a gimme for the American Sound crew, but DeShannon leads them with a gentler vocal groove than the Sweet Inspirations’ original, and Arlo Guthrie’s B-side “Gabriel’s Mother’s Highway” fits easily into the album’s gospel vibe. The collection features five previously unreleased Memphis recordings, including keyboardist Bobby Emmons’ “They Got You Boy” and a cover of George Harrison’s deeply moving “Isn’t It a Pity.” While the Memphis tracks don’t necessarily jump out as hit singles, the material was well picked, DeShannon was in fine voice and found real chemistry with the house band, so it’s hard to imagine why Capitol didn’t hear the commercial potential, and scrapped the sessions.

But scrap them they did, and DeShannon moved on to record in Los Angeles with a different set of studio hands. The results would be released as the Songs album, opening with one of the two songs salvaged from the Memphis sessions, “Show Me.” Written by session guitarist Johnny Christopher, the song’s musical hall style was at odds with the soul of the Memphis sessions, but indicated the variety the Los Angeles album would bring. In addition to her downbeat folk “Salinas,” upbeat funk “Bad Water” and a new arrangement of “West Virginia Mine,” DeShannon picked up Bob Dylan’s “Lady, Lady, Lay,” Hoyt Axton’s “Ease Your Pain,” McGuinness Flint’s “International,” a blistering version of the traditional “Down By the Riverside,” and original material from the session players.

The Los Angeles sessions didn’t have the regional flair or musical centeredness of Memphis, but the individual tracks were well picked and thoughtfully performed. DeShannon returned to Memphis to record Jackie for Atlantic, and edged a few singles onto the bottom of the chart, but like her earlier Memphis session, the material remained largely unknown to all but dedicated fans. Real Gone’s 25-track collection includes all of the finished tracks DeShannon recorded for Capitol, highlighted by five previously unreleased Memphis selections (1, 3, 7-9). Joe Marchese’s liner notes feature fresh remembrances from DeShannon and the booklet includes previously unpublished photos. Fans finally have the full story of DeShannon’s short lived, but artistically rich Memphis-to-Los Angeles ride with Capitol. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Jackie DeShannon’s Home Page

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys: The Complete Jessup Recordings Plus!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

RalphStanleyAndTheClinchMountainBoys_TheCompleteJessupRecordingsPlusRare Ralph Stanley albums, plus a third from Whitley and Skaggs

By the time Ralph Stanley released Michigan Bluegrass on the independent Jessup label in 1971, he was well into establishing the second phase of his career. A twenty year run as half the Stanley Brothers had ended with the passing of his older brother Carter in 1966, but barely missing a beat, he reincarnated the Clinch Mountain Boys, continued to release records for King, and added releases on Rebel, Jalyn and Jessup. His connection with the latter was brief, comprising just two albums recorded in five weeks in 1971, and released in ‘71 and ‘73. The albums were previously reissued as Echoes of the Stanley Brothers, but are augmented here by ten additional tracks drawn from Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs’ contemporaneous Tribute to the Stanley Brothers.

Whitley and Skaggs were backed by the Clinch Mountain Boys for their album, and after being invited to join the group, the album was reissued under Ralph Stanley’s name. This 2-CD set opens with ten of the tribute album’s twelve tracks (omitting “White Dove” and “The Angels Are Singing Tonight”), with, according to the Colin Escott’s well-researched liner notes, Stanley leaving the banjo parts to Roy Lee Centers. Whitley and Skaggs delved deep into the Stanley Brothers catalog, showing off the encyclopedic knowledge that had originally caught Ralph Stanley’s ear. The songs of loss, longing and loneliness are highlighted by an unusual murder-suicide in “Little Glass of Wine.” The stereo production is clean and spacious, with the fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass crisply arrayed around the tight, sorrowful lead harmonies.

In the summer of 1971, after a live outing and a pair of albums for Rebel, Stanley took his band into Jessup’s Jackson, Michigan studio. The first of his two Jessup albums features a trove of then-new material, including a pair of socially conscious songs by Gene Duty. “Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving” is straightforwardly prideful, but the opening “Are You Proud of America” digs deeper with its questioning of those who question America. Wendy Smith contributed “River Underground,” a murder ballad in which the protagonist ends up haunted by guilt rather than jailed or dead. Joyce Morris’ “Another Song, Another Drink” gains an extra shade of sadness in the retrospective light of lead vocalist Keith Whitley’s untimely death, and the album’s instrumentals, “Hulla Gull” and “Buckwheat,” highlight the band’s musical talent.

Five weeks later, the group was back in Jessup’s studio to record an album of gospel material drawn from the Stanley Brothers catalog. In addition to traditional material given the Stanley treatment, the songs include Ruby Rakes’ “Wings of Angels” and J.L. Frank and Pee Wee King’s “My Main Trail is Yet to Come.” The former looks forward to heavenly salvation, while the latter finds a condemned man awaiting his eternal sentence. The vocals are at turns forlorn and praiseful as they essay family, faith, loss and sorrow, mourning those who’ve passed and anticipating reunion in the hereafter. Stanley said that vocalist Roy Lee Centers “had the gift,” and it’s in full evidence here amid the revitalized group. Real Gone’s 2-CD set is a real treat for fans of bluegrass, gospel and the Stanley Brothers. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Dr. Ralph Stanley’s Home Page

The Mamas and the Papas: The Complete Singles

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

MamasAndPapas_TheCompleteSinglesFor the first time in 50 years, the original mono single edits and mixes

Although the Mamas & Papas’ hit songs are nearly elemental in their familiarity, the actual hit singles are still rare to the ear. That’s because the mono mixes collected here often differ from the more commonly circulated versions by virtue of edits, instrumental changes and vocal overdubs. Unless you have the original singles, you probably haven’t heard these versions since they were on the radio, and even then, you likely heard them only through the limited fidelity of AM broadcast. But heard in remastered form, your ears will be impressed with the coherence of the mono productions and vocal blends, and in their absence, the problems that have plagued the group’s stereo catalog. To make things even better, the group’s A’s and B’s are complemented by the ABC/Dunhill solo singles of Cass Elliot, John Phillips and Denny Doherty.

The set opens with the group’s incredibly rare first single, “Go Where You Wanna Go.” While the recording is well-known through its inclusion on the debut album and greatest hits anthologies (and the song is even more familiar in its later hit cover by the Fifth Dimension), the 7” single saw only very limited release, possibly even promotional only, and was quickly superseded in distribution, record company attention, public acclaim and chart success by “California Dreamin’.” The group would continue to ride high in the charts through 1967’s “Creeque Alley,” fading a bit before “Dream a Little Dream of Me” returned them to prominence and charted the way for Cass Elliot’s solo career. Elliot, Doherty and Phillips all recorded solo material for ABC/Dunhill, and their singles fill out disc two.

Nearly all of these tracks appeared on original albums, though as noted earlier, often in different mixes or edits than the singles. A few, “Glad to Be Unhappy,” “All For Me,” and “The Costume Ball” were originally released only as singles, and though Doherty’s “To Claudia on Thursday” was released as an album track, it was on Jimmy Haskell’s California 99, rather than one of Doherty’s own albums. The UK-only B-side “I Can’t Wait” is omitted from this set, but that’s a nit among the wealth of mono singles returned to print here. Ed Osborne’s liner notes feature interviews with Michelle Phillips and producer Lou Adler, and the 24-page booklet includes full-panel photos, master and release data, and chart info. This is a must-have for fans, but even casual listeners will find it an incredibly compelling collection. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

King Curtis: The Complete Atco Singles

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

KingCurtis_TheCompleteAtcoSinglesSuper collection of King Curtis’ Atco singles – A’s and B’s

King Curtis’ saxophone may have been better known to record buyers than King Curtis himself. In an extensive career as a session musician, his horn provided iconic hooks and solos on singles by the Coasters (“Yakety Yak” “Charlie Brown”), Buddy Holly (“Reminiscing”) and LaVern Baker (“I Cried a Tear”). Curtis’ “Hot Potato,” originally released by the Rinkydinks in 1963, reissued as “Soul Train” by the Ramrods in 1972, and re-recorded by the Rimshots, was used as the original opening theme of Soul Train. But Curtis was also a songwriter and bandleader who produced dozens of singles under his own name, most notably “Soul Twist,” which he waxed for Enjoy, “Soul Serenade” for Capitol, and a number of hits for Atco, including “Memphis Soul Stew” and covers of “Ode to Billy Joe” and “Spanish Harlem.”

While at Atco from 1958 to 1959, and again from 1966 to 1971, Curtis released a broad range of singles that crossed the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts. His sax could be tough, tender, muscular, smooth, lyrical and humorous, and his material included originals, covers of R&B and soul tunes, contemporaneous pop and country hits, film themes and even Tin Pan Alley classics. He recorded with various lineup of his own Kingpins (though perhaps never a better one than with Jerry Jemmott, Bernard Purdie and Cornell Dupree), but also with the players of the Fame and American Sound studio. He teamed with Duane Allman for the Instant Groove album, kicking out a Grammy-winning cover of Joe South’s “Games People Play,” and recorded “Teasin’” with Eric Clapton.

King Curtis’ singles catalog was filled with interesting selections, including superb covers of Big Jay McNeely’s “Something on Your Mind,” Rufus Thomas’ “Jump Back,” Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and a warm take on Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” that was lifted from Atco’s Soul Christmas. Curtis’ originals were just as good, including the twangy “Restless Guitar,” the go-go “Pots and Pans,” the manifesto “This is Soul,” the funky “Makin Hey,” and the frantic “Pop Corn Willy.” Of particular interest to collectors are the many singles that didn’t appear on original King Curtis albums, including eight of the first ten tracks on this set. Other non-LP singles include the guitar-centered “Blue Nocturne,” an early rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Valdez in the Country” titled “Patty Cake,” and the yakety-sax oldies medley “Rocky Roll.” Of paramount interest is Curtis’ previously unreleased final Atco single, “Ridin’ Thumb,” which closes disc three and includes a rare King Curtis vocal.

With more than a third of these tracks having been originally released only as singles, this set will fill a lot of gaps, even for fans who’ve collected Curtis’ albums. The quad-panel digipack includes a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Randy Poe, photos, label reproductions and discographical detail. It would been great to get detailed session data, particularly on the bands and session players (and particularly the excellent guitarists), but such note taking wasn’t always on a producer’s mind in the 1960s. Curtis’ sides for Enjoy and Capitol are essential elements of his catalog, as are his early dates as a sideman; those new to his catalog might start with a multi-label best-of, but once you’re hooked, this collection of Atco singles (in pristine mono!) is a must-have. [©2015 Hyperbolium]