Posts Tagged ‘Real Gone’

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]

The Soulful Strings: The Magic of Christmas

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

SoulfulStrings_TheMagicOfChristmas1968 Chicago soul with strings, finally on CD

The Soulful Strings are surprisingly little known, given the relative success of their first few albums. Their origin lay somewhere between Chess label owner Leonard Chess, producer Esmond Edwards, and arranger Richard Evans, but the project’s voice and artistic success lay squarely with the latter. Working with Cadet studio players, including Charles Stepney, Lenard Druss, Bunky Green, Phil Upchurch, and Ronald Steele, Evans fashioned superb, soulful music that wove together a string section and jazz players without artifice or novelty. The strings lent an orchestral weight to the solid funk of the band, broadening the tonal palette without losing the music’s essential swing.

Although the group released six studio albums and a live set, only their second album, Groovin’ with the Soulful Strings (#59 Top LPs, #6 R&B, #2 Jazz) has seen previously licensed for digital reissue, and then only in Japan. The Evans-composed single “Burning Spear” (#64 Hot 100, #36 R&B) has turned up on compilation albums and been widely sampled, but the bulk of the group’s catalog remained locked in the vault, tied up in vagaries of commercial potential, much to Evans’ frustration. Evans would continue on to arrange and produce for many other artists, and he spent twenty-five years as a much-loved professor at Berklee, but the red tape tying up Soulful Strings’ reissues vexed him to his passing in 2014; no doubt this reissue of the group’s fourth album would have made the best possible Christmas present.

The album’s song selection mixes traditional Christmas songs, classical pieces and a few jazz and R&B titles. Along with the studio regulars, Evans added vibraphonist Bobby Christian (a talented percussionist who’d been a mainstay of Dick Shory’s ensembles) and harpist Dorothy Ashby, the latter of whom Evans had signed and produced for three albums with Cadet. Ashby solos alongside flutist Lenny Druss on an arrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy” whose beat is equally stoke by the bass, drums and cellos. Ashby and Druss provide the swirling flakes for Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall,” and Ashby’s harp takes the lead on a bluesy rendition of Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby.” The vibraphone provides mood throughout the album, but it’s turned loose for a pair of high-energy solos on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.”

In addition to strings, woodwinds, percussion, horns, bass and drums, Evans employed congas and even Ron Steele’s electric sitar. His arrangements span the minor key string fantasy of “Deck the Halls” to a funky take on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” highlighted by the outstanding cello work of Cleveland Eaton. The funk continues to reign on “Jingle Bells,” with drummer Morris Jennings and guitarist Phil Upchurch joined by what’s credited as a French horn, but what sounds like an oboe (either way, most likely played by Lenny Druss, who could apparently play anything with a mouthpiece or reed). Christian’s vibes provide a suitably warm lead for Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” and the album closes with flute and vibes leading the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.”

Richard Evans was a scholarly, studious and dedicated artist, but he also had a terrific sense of swing and a fun sense of humor (check out the melodic quote of “La Marseillaise” in “Jingle Bells”). Together with his studio crew, string section and a few talented guests, he put together a Christmas album that celebrates the season in a truly original fashion. This album plays well with holiday titles from Charles Brown, Jimmy Smith, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and label sets by Atco, Motown and Verve, but these arrangements and performances have a magic all their own. For next Christmas, let’s hope Real Gone puts on the red suit again and brings the rest of the Soulful Strings’ catalog in their bag. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Steppenwolf: The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Steppenwolf_ABCDunhillSinglesA treasure trove for Steppenwolf and John Kay fans

Steppenwolf’s residual radio legacy – “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” – may fairly represent their brand of hard-rocking psychedelia, but it simultaneously over-represents their otherwise modest results as a singles band, and under-represents their enormous success as an album act. These two towering hits overshadow four years of gold-selling albums and a string of mid-charting singles that deserved a bigger stage. Real Gone’s two-disc set assembles Steppenwolf’s ABC/Dunhill A’s and B’s (except for “Monster,” which uses the full “Monster/Suicide/America” album track in place of the shorter single edit), alternate B-sides, and John Kay’s solo singles into a compelling recitation of the group’s lesser known singles and adventurous flipsides.

Beyond the two big hits, a few of the groups singles remain familiar. Their second release, a funky rock cover of Don Covay’s “Sookie Sookie,” failed to chart, but gained airplay on soul stations, their chilling take on Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher” graced the opening scene of Easy Rider, and “Rock Me” closed out their top ten run in 1969. Nine more singles over the next couple of years brought some musical highlights, but only middling chart success, topped by 1969’s “Move Over.” AM radio was a big tent in the early ‘70s, and though there was still space for rock music, apparently the Doors, Who, Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin had sharper commercial elbows than Steppenwolf. But even though the group’s singles stalled midway up the charts, their albums continued to sell and their popularity as a concert draw resulted in a gold-selling live LP.

The group’s B-sides often provided more musical reach than the A’s. Goldy McJohn’s signature organ provides an ominous underpinning, and John Kay’s gruff, bluesy vocal was well spent on producer Gabriel Mekler’s “Happy Birthday,” the original “Power Play” has a Dylan-esque meter and showcases then newly-added lead guitarist Larry Byrom, snappy horns were added to the instrumental B-side “Earschplittenloudenboomer.” and the arrangement turns acoustic for the string quartet backed “Spiritual Fantasy.” There’s was also a lengthy experimental instrumental, “For Madmen Only,” which was replaced as the B-side of Mars Bonfire’s “Ride With Me” by the more conventional “Black Pit.” The top sides had their adventurous moments, including the Kustom Electronics’ “The Bag” talk box used on “Hey Lawdy Mama” and a superb take on Hoyt Axton’s anti-drug “Snowblind Friend.”

In 1972, Steppenwolf disbanded, and Dunhill retained John Kay as a solo artist. His work combined originals and covers drawn from a surprising range of sources, leading off with a heavy cover of Hank Snow’s “Movin’ On.” Kay also covered Hank Williams’ wounded “You Win Again,” Alan O’Day’s “Easy Evil” and Five Man Electrical Band’s “Moonshine (Friend of Mine).” Kay’s voice is easily recognized, but freed from the legacy of Steppenwolf’s “heavy metal thunder,” he finds resonance with Richard Podolar’s spacious and more gentle productions. The combination is particularly effective on Kay’s fine country, folk and soul-tinged originals “Walk Beside Me,” “Somebody” and “Nobody Lives Here Anymore.”

This is a terrific set for the band’s fans, with mono singles mixes used for disc one (except track 15), and nearly half of disc two (3-5, 8-9 and 14-15), and true stereo for the rest. Those seeking the band’s hits are better off with a single disc collection (or even bargain priced copies of their first two albums), but fans will really enjoy this view of the band and John Kay’s early solo work. The latter may be the set’s biggest surprise, particularly for those weaned only on Steppenwolf’s radio hits. The generous running time (77:48 for disc 1, 69:26 for disc 2), is complemented by a 24-page booklet that’s stuffed with photos and intimate liner notes by John Kay. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Steppenwolf’s Home Page

Ronny and the Daytonas: The Complete Recordings

Friday, August 14th, 2015

RonnyAndTheDaytonas_TheCompleteRecordingsThe surprisingly extensive catalog of Nashville’s first surf band

On the surface, Ronny and the Daytonas’ “Little G.T.O.” is a classic mid-60s California surf & drag hit. The song is super-stocked with a driving beat, period hot rod lingo and a falsetto hook worthy of Jan & Dean. But the song wasn’t produced in California, nor was it even the product of an actual group. The eponymous “Ronny” was actually John Wilkin, son of country songwriter Marijohn Wilkin (“Waterloo” “Long Black Veil”), the Daytonas were an ad hoc aggregation of Nashville studio hands, and the session’s producer was Sun Records alumni Bill Justis. Even more surprising, “Little G.T.O.” was Wilkin’s first foray as an artist, and it launched a recording career that lasted into the early 1970s and spanned multiple record labels.

The Pontiac G.T.O.’s 1964 debut proved to be a pivotal moment in automobile history, igniting a muscle car craze that engaged all four American car makers and spread quickly to popular culture. Wilkin was a high school student when his dual interests in music and cars were catalyzed by an article in Car and Driver. The result was the #4 hit, “Little G.T.O.,” with Wilkin’s nylon-stringed classical guitar providing the unusual solo. With a hit single on his hands, more originals were recorded, an album was put together, and a touring band was assembled to hit the road. The follow-on singles, “California Bound” and a cover of Jan & Dean’s “Bucket T,” charted, though without the nationwide impact of the debut, and “Little Scrambler” and “Beach Boy,” despite their teen effervescence, failed to gain any commercial traction.

The lack of follow-on hits didn’t deter Wilkin, and working with Buzz Cason, he released the bouncy single “Tiger-A-Go-Go” (b/w the instrumental “Bay City”) under the names of Buck & Buzzy. The duo had more success with the Daytonas’ second (and final) major chart hit, 1965’s “Sandy,” developing a softer sound with folk tones, lush backing vocals and strings. The corresponding album offered more introspective lyrics than the earlier surf songs, and reflected the sort of growing sophistication heard in the Beach Boys’ contemporaneous releases. Strangely, 1966 started up in reverse with the non-charting single “Antique ’32 Studebaker Dictator Coup,” a track lifted from the 1964 Little G.T.O. album.

The Daytonas’ finished their run on the Mala label with 1966’s “I’ll Think of Summer,” and debuted on RCA with “Dianne, Dianne.” The latter was co-written with Merle Kilgore, and carried on the soft sounds of Sandy. The flip, “All American Girl,” was a catchy Jan & Dean surf-rock pastiche that must have already sounded nostalgic upon its release in mid-1966. The background vocals and falsetto flourishes of “Young” quickly recall the Beach Boys, though the driving piano and drums give the song an original kick. The flip, “Winter Weather,” sounds as if it were drawn from an AIP teen film set in snow country. Wilkin also tried covers, turning Rex Griffin’s 1937 suicide themed, “The Last Letter” into a teenage tearjerker, venturing winningly into light psych with Mark Charron’s “The Girls and the Boys,” and crooning “Alfie” and Boyce & Hart’s “I Wanna Be Free.”

RCA issued singles by both the Daytonas and Bucky Wilkin, the latter including the war themed “Delta Day (No Time to Cry),” co-written by Wilkin, his mother and one of her Buckhorn Music staff writers, Kris Kristofferson. Wilkin’s last “Ronny” originals included the Brothers Four-styled folk harmony of “Walk with the Sun,” the harmony rocker “Brave New World” and the pop “Hold Onto Your Heart.” A few tracks that were left in the vault finish off disc two with the surf-styled “Daytona Beach” the organ rocker “Hey Little Girl,” a reverential cover of Barry & Greenwich’s “Chapel of Love,” and the tender “Angelina.” For a “group” that’s known primarily for their first single, Wilkin built a surprisingly extensive catalog, riding various musical trends between 1964 and 1968, and creating a solid body of original work. Missing are his later solo releases on Liberty and United Artists, but what’s here, remastered almost entirely from tape in original mono, with revealing liner notes by Mr. Wilkin himself, is a surprise and a delight. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

John Buck Wilkin’s Home Page

Jackie DeShannon: All the Love – The Lost Atlantic Recordings

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

JackieDeShannon_AllTheLoveLost 1973 sessions with Tom Dowd and Van Morrison

As a songwriter, Jackie DeShannon had tremendous success throughout the 1960s, but it wasn’t until she recorded 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” that she found fame with her own material. But despite the song’s commercial success, the following year’s To Be Free would be her last for Imperial, and after a brief stop at Capitol for 1972’s Songs, producer Jerry Wexler landed her for his Atlantic label. Her two albums, Jackie and Your Baby is a Lady, included both original material and covers, and though artistically satisfying, neither achieved much sales and DeShannon moved on to a short stay at Columbia as her recording career wound down.

Lost in the transition was an album made for Atlantic, but never released. Recorded in 1973 with producer Tom Dowd at the fabled Sound City and Criteria studios, the sessions were a distinct change from Jackie’s strong Memphis flavors. Gone were the backing chorus, strings and the heavier horn charts, and in was a smaller group sound highlighted by a wider choice of material that spanned folk, pop, soul and gospel. In addition to four new DeShannon originals (co-written with Jorge Calderon, a multi-instrumentalist who would famously collaborate with Warren Zevon), the album included well-selected covers of Dylan, Alan O’Day, Christine McVie and others.

With the album in the can and awaiting release, DeShannon did some additional recording with Van Morrison in his home studio. Those sessions yielded four more tracks (15-18 here), of which the Morrison original “Sweet Sixteen” was released as a single, with the Dowd-produced “Speak Out to Me” as the B-side. When the single failing to chart, Atlantic shelved the entire year’s output, and DeShannon eventually began work on her next album. Six of the Dowd tracks (1-3 and 5-7 here), and all four Morrison productions, eventually appeared on Rhino’s 2007 reissue Jackie… Plus, but the rest of the Dowd-produced material remained in the vault until now.

Why Atlantic scrapped the album is unclear. The material is excellent, DeShannon’s performances are strong and Dowd’s production provides soulful support. Perhaps it was the album’s broad reach that gave Atlantic second thoughts, though there are several tracks upon which they could have hung their promotion. DeShannon’s organ-backed take on “Drift Away” was beaten to the market by Dobie Gray’s hit, but “Hydra,” “Grand Canyon Blues” and the album’s superb cover of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” could have found some love on FM. Sadly, the set’s unlisted nineteenth track – a Coke commercial – was probably it’s most heavily broadcast. Real Gone’s done DeShannon’s fans a solid with this anthology, and augmented the ’73 sessions with a 12-page booklet that includes detailed liner note from Joe Marchese. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Jackie DeShannon’s Home Page

Johnny Mathis: Life is a Song Worth Singing – The Complete Thom Bell Sessions

Friday, April 10th, 2015

JohnnyMathis_LifeIsASongCompleteThomBellRomantic lead meets Philly legend

Throughout the ‘50s and well into the ‘60s, Johnny Mathis was the answer to the question “Who do you make out to? Sinatra or Mathis?” Mathis’ distinctive voice and long, vibrato-laced notes created a romantic mood that flourished especially well at album length. By the time rock shoved adult contemporary music off of the radio, Mathis had begun to expand his stylistic palette, while still remaining true to his romantic roots. This two-disc set compiles Mathis’ mid-70s  work with Philly soul legend Thom Bell, collecting two full albums (1973’s I’m Coming Home and 1977’s Mathis Is…) alongside eight bonus selections that include mono and stereo singles, unreleased instrumentals and collaborations released elsewhere as album tracks.

It’s not particularly surprising that Mathis fit easily into Bell’s string-laden arrangements, but as the band heats up with deeper bass and horns, Mathis breaks free of his comfort zone.Writing with lyricist Linda Creed for the 1973 release, Bell fashioned material that both catered to and challenged Mathis. Bell kept Mathis in the middle of his vocal range, exploring the singer’s ability to build emotion without relying on high notes. The soft brass of “I’m Coming Home” shines a light on Bell’s fondness for Burt Bacharach, and rose to the top of the Easy Listening chart. But Bell also pushed Mathis, inviting the staccato delivery of “Life is a Song Worth Singing” that adds attitude to the performance. The six minute album version includes terrific instrumental work from Philly International’s house band, MFSB, that was cut from the three-minute single.

In addition to the newly written material, I’m Coming Home includes covers of the Stylistics’ “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” and “I’m Stone in Love With You,” with fresh arrangements to suit Mathis and fit the album’s tone.  The latter won over the Soul Train dancers in a 1974 performance that also featured the Bell/Creed original “Foolish.” The first disc’s bonus tracks include the mono edit of “Life is a Song Worth Singing,” the stereo single of “I’m Coming Home,” and previously unreleased instrumental takes of “I’m Stone in Love With You” and “And I Think That’s What I’ll Do.” The latter pair shows off Bell’s deft touch as an arranger and producer, and the house band’s ability to flawlessly nail a song’s mood.

Mathis and Bell reunited in 1977 to record a second album at Seattle’s Kaye-Smith (later Heart’s Bad Animals) studio. Surprisingly, though waxed on the West Coast amid the rising tide of disco, the album picks up where their previous collaboration left off. Bell wrote many of the album’s originals with his nephew LeRoy, and combined Philly and West Coast studio aces and orchestral players to build a sound that’s remarkably free of disco’s tropes. Mathis luxuriates in the long notes of  “Lullaby of Love” and soaring strings of “Heaven Must Have Made You Just For Me.” Bell comes right back with the upbeat “Loving You-Losing You,” and his love of Bacharach-styled bounce is heard in “I’ll Make You Happy.”

Mathis Is… closes with a cover of the Spinners’ “Sweet Love of Mine,” whose faster tempo strengthens the song’s hopefulness. The second disc’s bonus tracks show that these albums weren’t Mathis’ first meeting with Bell’s material, nor his last. Mathis recorded the Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow” in 1972 and “Break Up to Make Up” in 1973, and “You’re as Right as Rain” in 1975. He re-teamed with Bell in the studio for the 1991 Patti Austin duet “You Brought Me Love,” and cut a strong 2008 cover of “You Make Me Feel Brand New” with Yolanda Adams. Joe Marchese’s liner notes complement a 16-page booklet whose album cover reproductions will have you scrambling for a magnifying glass to read the credits. This is a great set for Mathis’ fans, as well as those who might enjoy a unique twist on the Philly soul sound. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis’ Home Page

Gene Rains: Far Away Lands – The Exotic Music of Gene Rains

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

GeneRains_FarAwayLandsAn exotica original finally gets his digital due

Like his exotica compatriot Arthur Lyman, Gene Rains was a vibraphonist with a jazz background. And like Lyman, and Lyman’s former band leader Martin Denny, Rains held a tenure at the Hawaiian Village Hotel’s famed Shell Bar. Unlike Lyman and Denny, however, Rains recording career was rather short – three original albums in all – and began a few years after Denny’s 1957 breakthrough with Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village” and Lyman’s return to exotica with 1958’s Taboo. Rains’ three albums for Decca didn’t gain the public renown that greeted Denny and Lyman’s releases, and until this eighteen-track sampler, his music remained available only on pricey, highly sought-after original releases.

Rains’ albums followed the same template as Denny’s and Lyman’s, combining Hawaiian folk melodies with standards, Broadway and film tunes and newly written island songs. Rains’ jazz quartet of vibes, piano, bass and world percussion were deft mixologists, and Decca’s engineers captured their sound in crisp, audiophile-quality recordings. The arrangements are alternately lush, romantic and dramatic, though even with vibraphone at their core, they don’t often swing as freely as Lyman’s work. Pianists Paul Conrad and Bryon Peterson add dramatic arpeggios and deep low notes, and bassist Archie Grant (who’d join Arthur Lyman’s group in the mid-60s) also adds flute, and several tunes are garnished with exotica’s requisite bird and animal calls.

Many of this compilation’s titles will be familiar to those who’ve collected Denny’s and Lyman’s albums, but Rains and his quartet put their own spin on the arrangements. Ernesto Lecuona’s “Jungle Drums,” which had been a hit for Artie Shaw in the late ’30s, opens with a dramatic introduction before leaning more heavily on the song’s Latin rhythm than Martin Denny’s vocal chorus arrangement. And “Caravan” (one of the three pillars of Exotica) is really more jazz than exotica, with the vibes, piano and bass each getting a solo spotlight. This is a superb collection, filled with lively playing and original nuances, and the song list includes exotica classics, jazz and popular standards, and a few inventive adaptations.

The collection’s 16-page booklet includes full-panel reproductions of all three original albums’ front and back covers, liner notes by Randy Poe, and a front-cover photo of noted mermaid, Marina; the disc is screened with a reproduction of Decca’s rainbow label. Due to a loss of the original masters, this set was sourced from vinyl, but the transfers, though not flawless, speak to the long-lived high fidelity of early ’60s pressings. It’s too bad that Real Gone didn’t go the full monty and reissue the three original albums in full; still, some Gene Rains is a whole lot better than no Gene Rains, and this disc belongs in the collection of every exotica lover. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

OST: How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

Friday, September 12th, 2014

OST_HowToStuffAWildBikiniCharming soundtrack to AIP’s sixth beach party film

Although pop music was a key element of American International’s beach party films, it was surprisingly elusive on record. Perhaps the value of cross-marketing hadn’t yet fully developed by the mid-60s, as the music from these films was only spottily released as singles and album tracks, often in studio versions that differed from those featured in the film. In fact, this cast album for How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is the only original soundtrack recording released in conjunction with any of the seven AIP beach party films, but it’s an excellent example of the musical variety offered by the films.

By the time this sixth entry in the series was cast, singer-actor Frankie Avalon’s busy schedule had moved him into a supporting role, where he was not featured as a vocalist. Annette Funicello was still starring, and got two superb songs from the pens of Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. Sung in her trademarked double-vocals, “Better Be Ready” has a sweet bubblegum melody and superb guitar hook, and “The Perfect Boy” includes clever rhymes that are memorably fractured by the background singers. The album’s ballad, “If It’s Gonna Happen,” is sung by one-time Arthur Godfrey show regular Lu Ann Simms, but this solo version differs from the four-part vocal heard in the film. The version heard here was also released as a single, backed with a solo recording of this film’s group-sung “After the Party.”

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up by group and novelty numbers that gave the film a lot of its flavor. Harvey Lembeck lays on a broad Brooklyn accent for his turn as Eric von Zipper singing “Follow Your Leader” and the ironic “The Boy Next Door,” and guest stars Mickey Rooney and Brian Donlevy each get campy Broadway-styled songs. Co-star John Ashley, who’d recorded rockabilly in the ’50s, leads the cast on the title theme, the country-rocker “That’s What I Call a Healthy Girl” and the closing “After the Party.” The latter is particularly effective in communicating the film’s idealized summer beach mood. The Kingsmen close out the album with an original garage-rock tune, “Give Her Lovin’,” and a drums-and-organ take on the title theme.

The album runs a scant 24 minutes, but it’s 24 minutes of musical bliss for fans of the beach party films. The vinyl has long since become a collectors’ item, and the rare stereo release – as reproduced here from the master tapes – was hard to find even at the time of its original release. Real Gone’s reissue includes the original cover art and a 12-page booklet that features detailed liner notes by Tom Pickles and several full-panel photos. It’s a shame that the film version of “If It’s Gonna Happen” wasn’t available as a bonus track, but for those who maintain a soft spot for beach party films and their kitschy soundtracks, this is a truly welcome reissue. [©2014 Hyperbolium]