Itâ€™s hard to imagine someone more important to American popular music than Ralph S. Peer. His pioneering achievements in blues, country, jazz and Latin music vaulted him into the highest echelon of A&R, and his career as a publisher built a foundational catalog that remains sturdy to this day. Peerâ€™s recordings of Mamie Smith, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and a publishing catalog that stretched from Bill Monroe to Perez Prado to Hoagy Carmichael to Buddy Holly speaks to his ears for originality and his unprejudiced love of music. His talent for placing songs with singers exemplifies the sort of contribution a non-musician can make to music, and his extrapolation of regional and societal niches into popular phenomena speaks to a vision unclouded by the status quo.
Ralph Peer was not the only producer to explore the musical landscape of the United States, but unlike his peer John Lomax, Peer was less a folklorist, and more a producer whose studio was in the trunk of his car. In 1927 he discovered Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in a single session in Bristol, Tennessee, and found additional success prospecting in Latin America. His interests in musical areas outside the popular mainstream led him to back the newly formed BMI, which in turn would spur the growth of radio as a medium for records, rather than live performances. The fruits of those labors are heard here in the songs he placed with Jimmy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and others.
Career-spanning 3-CD/1-DVD box set with many previously unreleased treats
There has been no shortage of hits packages for Heart, starting with 1980â€™s Heartâ€™s Greatest Hits: Live, which at the time seemed to sum up a fading bandâ€™s run of commercial success. But with the release of 1985â€™s Heart, the Wilson sisters sparked a major comeback with their band, and by 1995, set off nearly annual production of anthologies and album reissues. In addition to single- and double-disc sets (including 1998â€™s Greatest Hits and 2002â€™s Essential), the band released a live run-through of their debut album on both CD and DVD. But as the bandâ€™s career stretched into the twenty-first century with Jupiters Darling and Red Velvet Car, and the Wilson sisters recorded solo and with their side-project, The Lovemongers, existing anthologies have fallen out of date.
Epic/Legacy cures this problem with a 3-CD, 1-DVD set that expands across Heartâ€™s entire recorded legacy, including hits, album sides, live performances, demos and rarities. And rounding out the Wilsonsâ€™ legacy are solo selections and a pair by the Lovemongers. All together, twenty of the CDsâ€™ fifty-one tracks are previously unreleased, and the DVD serves up a fifty-five minute live performance recorded in 1976 at Washington State Universityâ€™s television station, KWSU. The opening instrumental of this vintage performance, as well as a scorching version of â€œSing Child Sing,â€ shows the groupâ€™s progressive colors, but as they kick into â€œHeartless,â€ itâ€™s clear that Heart was ready to rock. Hard. With the bandâ€™s debut album just released, they had the goods, but not yet the fame the albumâ€™s hits would bring. The videoâ€™s lighting, camera work and mono sound are good, and the picture (including some primitive special effects) holds up well for something no one probably thought would become historically important.
The CD set begins the Wilsonsâ€™ very first single, â€œThrough Eyes and Glassâ€ recorded as Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks in 1968, and released locally on the Topaz label. Key elements of Heart can be heard in the elder Wilsonâ€™s voice and flute, though the brooding mood is more connected to 1960s ballrooms than 1970s arenas. Skipping ahead to mid-70s demos, it feels as if the gauze of â€˜60s acid culture has been lifted. Even in this early form, â€œMagic Man,â€ crackles with passion in both the rhythm and vocals. Thereâ€™s a healthy dose of neo-psych in the guitar solo, but the song is undeniably powerful and anthemic. Other demos, such as â€œHow Deep it Goesâ€ and â€œCrazy on You,â€ are closer to final form, with Heartâ€™s signature blend of electric and hard-strummed acoustic in place on the latter. Ann Wilson had yet to unleash her full vocal power in these demos, but you can hear how the songs will push her to great heights.
Though the box set covers songs from all thirteen Heart studio albums, theyâ€™re presented in a mix of studio, live and demo versions. The disputed Magazine album is represented by demos of â€œHere Songâ€ and â€œHeartless,â€ the first of which actually sounds more polished than its album release, and a live version of â€œDevil Delightâ€ that appears on the DVD. 1990â€™s Brigade offers up a demo of â€œUnder the Skyâ€ that is truly compelling in its lack of big studio gloss. Other demos, like the acoustic-guitar accompanied â€œDog & Butterflyâ€ show off the Wilsonsâ€™ songwriting, rather than Heartâ€™s instrumental and production talents. Although the bandâ€™s commercial fortunes began to decline after 1980â€™s Bebe le Strange, they returned to commercial dominance in 1985 with five singles from Heart. Chief among the successes, and indicative of the bandâ€™s changes, was â€œThese Dreams.â€ Written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, and sung by Nancy Wilson, the sound traded in the bandâ€™s guitar rock for synth-dominated modern pop, and navigated the commercial winds for the bandâ€™s first chart topper.
Heart remained commercially vital throughout the â€˜80s, with Bad Animals and Brigade selling multi-platinum and spinning off multiple charting singles, but artistically, their demos, such as the terrific â€œUnconditional Loveâ€ and â€œUnder the Skyâ€ often showed more earthiness and soul than their heavily-produced albums. The first-half of the setâ€™s third-disc is devoted to non-Heart material from the Lovemongers, solo performances, and live and demo tracks that were never remade in the studio. With the big hair â€˜90s receding in the rear view mirror, the Wilsons returned to the more organic rock and blues roots with which they started the â€˜70s, and the demos show that they still had ideas other people couldnâ€™t fathom as Heart material. The disc closes out with songs from the bandâ€™s last three albums, plus â€œLittle Problems, Little Lies,â€ from Ann Wilsonâ€™s solo release.
Recorded in 1970 and released in 1971, Elvis Country was the culmination of a remarkable career resurrection. Starting with his 1968 Comeback Special, Elvis went on to reel off the brilliant From Elvis in Memphis (and the second-helping, Back in Memphis), the smartly constructed Vegas show of On Stage, and the studio/live Thatâ€™s the Way It Is. He capped the run with this 1971 return to his roots, branding these country, gospel, blues, rockabilly and western swing covers with authority. Elvis showed his genius was rooted in his passion for music, which encompassed everything from the early rockabilly of Sanford Clarkâ€™s â€œThe Foolâ€ (written, surprisingly, by Lee Hazlewood) to the then-contemporary hit â€œSnowbird,â€ as well as classics from Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt & Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran.
Recorded in RCAâ€™s famed Studio B with Presley regulars James Burton, Charlie McCoy and Chip Young; the newly assembled studio hands included several players from the Muscle Shoals powerhouse, and the sessions were produced by Felton Jarvis. The arrangements ranged from loose, down home country jams to Vegas-styled orchestrations, and hearing the variety back-to-back, one quickly realizes how easily Elvis transcended the musical boundaries between his â€˜50s roots and his glitzy â€˜70s stage shows. Much like the 1969 American Studio sessions in Memphis, Elvisâ€™ enthusiasm and musicality directs the assembled players and provokes top-notch performances; he leads the crew through a rocking workout of Jerry Lee Lewisâ€™ â€œWhole Lotta Shakinâ€™ Goinâ€™ Onâ€ and brings â€œTomorrow Never Comesâ€ to a volcanic climax.
The original album tracks are knit together with snippets of â€œI Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago,â€ a gimmick that some listeners find irritating, and which wreaks havoc on shuffle play; the complete take is included in the bonuses. An earlier CD reissue expanded the track count from twelve to eighteen, and this double-CD pushes the total to twenty-nine, including all six earlier bonuses. Disc two opens with the third-helping of the Nashville sessions, previously released as Love Letters from Elvis, and adds three more session bonuses: the singles â€œThe Sound of Your Cryâ€ and â€œRags to Riches,â€ and the album track â€œSylvia.â€ The broad range of material on Love Letters doesnâ€™t always connect with Elvisâ€™ legacy as tightly as that on Elvis Country, but Elvis is in fine voice on each track, and the assembled players are sharp.