Tag Archives: Sony

Various Artists: The Roots of Popular Music – The Ralph S. Peer Story

The recordings and song publishing of a legend

It’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. Peer’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.

The chronological running order of the first two discs gives listeners a sense of how Peer had his fingers in multiple genres at once. The enduring legacy of his work as a publisher is heard on disc 3, in recordings of songs whose appeal continued to grow after Peer’s 1960 death. The focus on Peer’s publishing catalog leaves out many of his landmark recordings, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The hardcover book includes notes from Peer biographer Barry Mazor, photographs and artifacts, but its lack of discourse on the set’s musical selections renders it more of an exhibit catalog than the liner notes for a fifty-song anthology. Pick up Mazor’s book, and the combination will tell you the story in words and music. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Tommy Emmanuel: It’s Never Too Late

TommyEmmanuel_ItsNeverTooLateExtraordinary solo fingerstyle acoustic guitar

Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel is a magician. On his first solo all-acoustic album in more than a decade, he shows off the precision, dexterity and soulfulness that earned him one of five “Certified Guitar Player” titles bestowed by Chet Atkins. Emmanuel picks lead, rhythm chords and bass so seamlessly that his solo recordings often sound like multiple guitars. Rather than reducing his original compositions and reimagined covers to fit a single set of strings, his playing expands to orchestrate the songs. He picks the R&B “One Mint Julep” as a slow blues, with his percussive chords backing surprising turns in the lead. He adds Spanish flair to “El Vaquero,” paints a Western sunset in “The Duke,” and salutes Chet Atkins with “The Bug.” Emmanuel is a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word, a skilled artist whose technical mastery never overshadows his expression. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Tommy Emmanuel’s Home Page

Heart: Strange Euphoria

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 1980’s Heart’s Greatest Hits: Live, which at the time seemed to sum up a fading band’s run of commercial success. But with the release of 1985’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 1998’s Greatest Hits and 2002’s Essential), the band released a live run-through of their debut album on both CD and DVD. But as the band’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 Heart’s entire recorded legacy, including hits, album sides, live performances, demos and rarities. And rounding out the Wilsons’ legacy are solo selections and a pair by the Lovemongers. All together, twenty of the CDs’ fifty-one tracks are previously unreleased, and the DVD serves up a fifty-five minute live performance recorded in 1976 at Washington State University’s television station, KWSU. The opening instrumental of this vintage performance, as well as a scorching version of “Sing Child Sing,” shows the group’s progressive colors, but as they kick into “Heartless,” it’s clear that Heart was ready to rock. Hard. With the band’s debut album just released, they had the goods, but not yet the fame the album’s hits would bring. The video’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 Wilsons’ very first single, “Through Eyes and Glass” 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 Wilson’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 ‘60s acid culture has been lifted. Even in this early form, “Magic Man,” crackles with passion in both the rhythm and vocals. There’s a healthy dose of neo-psych in the guitar solo, but the song is undeniably powerful and anthemic. Other demos, such as “How Deep it Goes” and “Crazy on You,” are closer to final form, with Heart’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, they’re presented in a mix of studio, live and demo versions. The disputed Magazine album is represented by demos of “Here Song” and “Heartless,” the first of which actually sounds more polished than its album release, and a live version of “Devil Delight” that appears on the DVD. 1990’s Brigade offers up a demo of “Under the Sky” that is truly compelling in its lack of big studio gloss. Other demos, like the acoustic-guitar accompanied “Dog & Butterfly” show off the Wilsons’ songwriting, rather than Heart’s instrumental and production talents. Although the band’s commercial fortunes began to decline after 1980’s Bebe le Strange, they returned to commercial dominance in 1985 with five singles from Heart. Chief among the successes, and indicative of the band’s changes, was “These Dreams.” Written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, and sung by Nancy Wilson, the sound traded in the band’s guitar rock for synth-dominated modern pop, and navigated the commercial winds for the band’s first chart topper.

Heart remained commercially vital throughout the ‘80s, with Bad Animals and Brigade selling multi-platinum and spinning off multiple charting singles, but artistically, their demos, such as the terrific “Unconditional Love” and “Under the Sky” often showed more earthiness and soul than their heavily-produced albums. The first-half of the set’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 ‘90s receding in the rear view mirror, the Wilsons returned to the more organic rock and blues roots with which they started the ‘70s, and the demos show that they still had ideas other people couldn’t fathom as Heart material. The disc closes out with songs from the band’s last three albums, plus “Little Problems, Little Lies,” from Ann Wilson’s solo release.

Curated by Ann and Nancy Wilson, with notes that detail how songs and performances came into being, this is an artist’s view of their career, and one that may not completely agree with a fan’s perspective. The demos and live tracks provide new angles on well-known songs, and the video gives latter-day fans a peek at what they missed seeing and hearing live in the mid-70s. Someone looking for a recitation of the biggest hits in their original form is better off with a single-disc collection or a couple of original albums; with nearly two-dozen charting singles (including a handful of Top 10s) missing from the track lineup, this box is more of a supplement to a Heart fan’s existing collection than a place to start one anew. At over an hour each, the CDs are well stocked, and the live video is an unparalleled treat. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Heart’s Home Page

Elvis Presley: Elvis Country (Legacy Edition)

Elvis caps his remarkable comeback

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 That’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 Clark’s “The Fool” (written, surprisingly, by Lee Hazlewood) to the then-contemporary hit “Snowbird,” as well as classics from Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt & Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran.

Recorded in RCA’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 ‘50s roots and his glitzy ‘70s stage shows. Much like the 1969 American Studio sessions in Memphis, Elvis’ enthusiasm and musicality directs the assembled players and provokes top-notch performances; he leads the crew through a rocking workout of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and brings “Tomorrow Never Comes” to a volcanic climax.

The original album tracks are knit together with snippets of “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago,” 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 “The Sound of Your Cry” and “Rags to Riches,” and the album track “Sylvia.” The broad range of material on Love Letters doesn’t always connect with Elvis’ legacy as tightly as that on Elvis Country, but Elvis is in fine voice on each track, and the assembled players are sharp.

Everything here’s been issued before, but pulling together session material previously spread across singles, albums, box sets and latter-day compilations has created a superb recounting of the last chapter of Elvis’ incredible comeback. Not included are the eight Nashville tracks released as part of That’s the Way It Is. A third-disc with banded versions of Elvis Country (minus the musical segues, that is) would have been a great addition, but even without it, this is an excellent expansion upon previous standalone reissues, and a terrific complement to the Legacy editions of From Elvis in Memphis and On Stage. The remastered discs (by Vic Anesini) are housed in a tri-fold digipack with a booklet that includes liner notes by Stuart Colman and terrific photos. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Billy Joel: The Hits

19 hits and favorites from 23 years of music making

In prelude to a thorough reissue of his album catalog, Billy Joel is celebrated on this first-ever career-spanning domestic single disc anthology. Joel’s catalog has been excerpted more fully on the three-disc Greatest Hits series [1 2] and multidisc sets Essential and Complete Hits, but this is the first time his lengthy catalog has been condensed to a single U.S. CD. The nineteen tracks provide a compact tour through twenty-three years of music-making, selecting recordings from every Joel album from 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor through 1993’s River of Dreams. The selections mostly follow his hit-making, though the inclusion of the non-single “Everybody Loves You Now” and the non-charting “New York State of Mind” helps flesh out the hit-maker’s further identity as an album artist. This isn’t a complete recitation of even Joel’s biggest hits – “Just the Way You Are” and “Uptown Girl” are missing, the latter perhaps a victim of divorce – but it’s a musically satisfying 80-minute tour through a rich catalog of hit singles and multiplatinum albums. Radio and concert favorites like “Piano Man,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Big Shot,” “You May Be Right,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” will give Joel’s fans a charge and provide a great introduction to those who didn’t live through his hit-making years. Joel’s fascination with ‘60s doo-wop is heard in “The Longest Time” and his affection for Brill Building pop is lovingly evoked by the Ronettes-styled “Say Goodbye to Hollywood.” This is a good buy at a great price for those new to Joel’s catalog, especially if you’re not ready to pay for a multi-disc set. This collection fills a niche for newcomers; fans will have to wait for the album reissues to get their hands on rarities and previously unreleased tracks. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Billy Joel’s Home Page