Posts Tagged ‘Standards’

Willie Nelson: Let’s Face the Music and Dance

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

WillieNelson_LetsFaceTheMusicAndDanceWillie and Family stroll through the Great American Songbook

Willie Nelson sang from the Great American Songbook as early as 1976’s The Sound in Your Mind, and with 1978’s Stardust he demonstrated a unique affinity for pop standards. He continued to draw on this material for decades to come, including 1981’s Over the Rainbow, 1983’s Without a Song and 1988’s What a Wonderful World. His latest collection of pop and country standards is a low-key affair without backing vocals or orchestrations, leaving Nelson’s voice isolated out front of his Family band. His idiosyncratic phrasing continues to serve this type of material wonderfully, but unlike the statement of Stardust, this set is more of a Saturday night jam than a staged performance. With his sister Bobbie and longtime compadres Mickey Raphael and Paul English on board, the sessions feel as if Nelson’s calling out favorites for the group to pick up. The players slide easily into familiar songs, and though the solos can be tentative, the warmth these musicians share, Nelson’s deep feeling for the material and his inimitable singing are all worth hearing.

Nelson’s recorded many of these songs before, a few several times over. He waxed “You’ll Never Know” in 1983 and again in 1994, but this third time he shares the stage more fully with the piano accompaniment. His original “Is the Better Part Over” is stripped of the strings heard on 1989’s A Horse Called Music, and though nominally about a relationship that’s run it’s course, at age 79, one can hear Nelson singing about his life. “Vous Et Moi” digs more deeply into the percussiveness of Nelson’s guitar strings than the 1999 version heard on Night and Day, and “Twilight Time” is sung in a lower, less-nasal register than his earlier version. Floyd Tillman’s oft-recorded “I’ll Keep on Loving You” provides a gentle western swing, and Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” which might seem an odd companion here, fits nicely as semi-acoustic, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. Nelson greets these songs like old friends, but with renewed enthusiasm each time they meet. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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Bill Medley: Bill Medley 100% / Soft and Soulful

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Righteous Brother goes solo in 1968 and 1969

Following his 1968 break with fellow Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield, Bill Medley kicked off a solo career with this pair of releases for MGM. Both albums grazed the bottom of the Billboard 200, and three singles (“I Can’t Make it Alone” and “Brown Eyed Woman” from the first album, “Peace Brother Peace” from the second) charted short of the Top 40. It would be Medley’s last solo chart action for more than a decade, as he’d reteam with Hatfield in 1974 and forgo solo releases for several years afterwards. By the time he re-engaged his solo career in 1981, the music world and his place in it had changed, leaving this pair of albums the best evidence of the solo sound grown from his first run with the Righteous Brothers.

Following the Righteous Brothers’ falling out with Phil Spector (who had produced three Philles albums and four hit singles for them), Medley assumed the producer’s seat for the duo’s last #1, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” In conjuring a convincing imitation of Spector’s Wall of Sound, Medley showed himself to have ambition and talent that was larger than the role of featured vocalist. As he took the producer’s chair for his solo records he leaned heavily on big band arrangements of blues, soul and stage standards that suggested he’d been listening to Ray Charles and other blues and soul singers. He creates a Spectorian crescendo for “The Impossible Dream,” shouts his way through “That’s Life,” sings at the ragged edge of his husky voice on “Run to My Loving Arms,” and chews the scenery with the Neil Diamond-meets-Blood, Sweat & Tears gospel-soul of “Peace Brother Peace.”

Soft and Soulful dials down the volume of 100% to provide more nuanced and soulful vocals, including tender covers of Jerry Butler’s “For Your Precious Love” and Joanie Sommers “Softly,” an intense performance of the title song from the 1969 prison film Riot, “100 Years,” and a version of Burt Bacharach’s “Any Day Now” that winningly slows the tempo of Chuck Jackson’s original and Elvis Presley’s contemporaneous cover. Medley wrote or co-wrote four of the album’s tracks, including the period proclamation of personal freedom “I’m Gonna Die Me.” Real Gone delivers the disc and six-panel booklet (featuring liner notes by Richie Unterberger and reproductions of the back album covers) in a folding cardboard sleeve that includes both front album covers. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

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Glen Campbell: Live in Japan

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Glen Campbell lights up the Tokyo stage in 1975

Originally released only in Japan, this 54-minute set found Campbell entertaining with a tightly-paced set at Tokyo’s Kosei Nenkin Hall in May 1975. The chart-topping run Campbell had started with 1967’s “Gentle on My Mind” was slipping ever so slightly lower by the early ‘70s, as his television program ended in 1972. Campbell’s albums started to edge out of the Top 10 and his singles out of the Top 20, but three days before this show, he released “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and rode it  to the top of the country, pop and adult contemporary charts. Oddly, the single had yet to ingratiate itself into a starring spot in Campbell’s live set, and is not included here.

Given the depth of Campbell’s catalog of hits, his live set only highlighted a few in full, and added five more in medley form. The set opens with a horn-and-tympani intro to a slick, stirring cover of Mac Davis’ “I Believe in Music.” Campbell is in terrific voice, opening “Galveston” with a few riveting a cappella notes and investing himself fully in the drama of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.” The set holds several surprises, including the southern soul of bassist Bill C. Graham’s album track, “Lovelight,” touching covers of Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” and the Japanese single “Coming Home (to Meet My Brother),” which had originally been popularized as a Coca-Cola jingle.

The arrangements stick mostly to orchestrated, MOR ballads (including “My Way” and a medley of “Try to Remember” and “The Way We Were”), but the pickers heat things up on Carl Jackson’s banjo-led “Song for Y’All” and Campbell sings heartfelt gospel on the closing “Amazing Grace.” The between-song banter is short and good-humored (even when Campbell’s jokes are lost in translation), and the hits, even when reduced to medley form, are sung with deep feeling. Real Gone delivers the disc and eight-page booklet (featuring new liner notes by Mike Ragogna and a reproduction of the original Japanese insert) in a folding cardboard sleeve that includes the front and rear album covers. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

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Buddy Cole: Swingin’ at the Hammond Organ

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Theatrical Hammond organ takes on standards

Edwin “Buddy” Cole’s Hammond albums are probably better known by sight than sound. The album covers – particularly Have Organ, Will Swing and Powerhouse! – are treasured icons of the space-age bachelor pad genre, seen by many, but actually heard by few. Surprisingly, the music inside isn’t particularly exotic. Cole was more of a lush, theater organ stylist (a job he’d actually held in the 1930s) than a bluesy howler, and though he had significant chops as a jazz pianist, they were spent mostly as an accompanist behind Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole (no relation). Here he sticks mostly to lyrical interpretations, though he does exercise the Hammond’s powerful sting, and adds some swinging bass lines and zesty percussion to the later arrangements.

Cole was prolific in his first few years recording with Capitol, releasing eight albums between 1958 and 1960, of which four are included here: 1958’s Have Swing, Will Travel, 1959’s Powerhouse! and Hot and Cole, and 1960’s Swing Fever. Given that the song lists stuck primarily to standards, the collection’s lack of chronological order (and the gaps in album sequence) will be noticed only by those who’ve lined up the original LPs by matrix number. The arrangements get quite a bit livelier by the last of the four albums, and cartoon fans will enjoy Cole’s take on Raymond Scott’s classic “Powerhouse.” Jasmine’s remastered all four albums in stereo for this bargain-priced set. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Robert Davi: Sings Sinatra on the Road to Romance

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Actor Robert Davi salutes Frank Sinatra

There’s a long history of actors branching into singing, some convincingly, some not so much. Actor Robert Davi, who sees himself as a singer who fell into acting, joins the former group with this salute to Sinatra. Davi shows that an actor’s expressive ability and top-notch accompaniment go a long way to recreating the character of Sinatra’s performances. Davi has a compelling baritone, and his enthusiasm for the material and the man are obvious. He’s deeply influenced by Sinatra – as would be just about anyone singing these songs at this point in musical history – but not imitative. He evokes Sinatra’s playful attitude without raiding every nook and cranny of the master’s style, leading the orchestra through swinging charts by Nic Tenbroek in the same Capitol studio Sinatra waxed some of his greatest sides. The song list is drawn primarily from Sinatra’s years with Capitol and Reprise – roughly mid-50s to mid-60s (only “Mam’selle,” from 1947, dips back into his Columbia years) – and weighs heavily to iconic swing sides. The ballads – “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Here is That Rainy Day” – haven’t the desperate loneliness of Sinatra’s originals, though the latter’s heavy strings add a nicely orchestrated mood of brooding. Davi hasn’t the perfect vocal control of Sinatra in his prime, but he evokes the attitude with affectionate vocal inflections – a trombone-like slide, hummed note or snappy verbal aside – that bring the Chairman’s style back to life. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

The Chairman meets the Count

The twenty tracks collected here pull together the original line-ups of 1962’s Sinatra-Basie: An Historical Musical First and 1964’s It Might as Well Be Swing. Both albums found Sinatra in superb voice, complete command of his material and leading Basie’s band from the singer’s seat. Unlike his early days as a big band boy singer, Sinatra doesn’t have to dodge and weave around the instrumentalists; Neil Hefti and Quincy Jones penned the arrangements in consultation with the vocalist, and the band hangs on his every word. Basie may have been the band leader, but once Sinatra opened his mouth, the instrumentalists took their cues from the Chairman.

By the early ‘60s, Sinatra was in the third phrase of his career – having transformed from big band singer to crooner to ring-a-ding-ding label owner.  In his late ‘40s, the feeling of freedom in his singing was never stronger. He dances through the lyrics as if he was singing extemporaneously, expressing himself rather than the thoughts of a songwriter, and the arrangements push him to great heights. Basie’s band (and for the second album, orchestra) swung hard, ranging from jazzy piano, bass and percussion interludes to full-out horn charts. The sections play with a coherence that’s sublime, and the soloists are given space to weave their own magic, including especially fine moments from flautist Frank Wess.

Sinatra’s records at Capitol may have represented his greatest sustained period of artistic achievement, but his years on Reprise often consolidated and exploited what he’d learned. His sessions with Basie, particularly the first, were a master class in tone and phrasing. Basie’s greatest artistic growth had similarly occurred in earlier decades, but he retained nealy unparalleled talent for accompanying a singer – supporting the vocals as the primary mission, but finding room for the band to be heard. Hefti and Riddle’s contributions can’t be overstated, picking songs and writing charts that allowed Sinatra and Basie to infuse new life into these iconic selections. Sinatra deftly punches, pauses and slides through the lyrics of “(Love is) The Tender Trap,” and with a transformation from Bossa Nova to 4/4, “Fly Me to the Moon” was established as a Sinatra standard.

Some material from the second session – movie and stage themes “More” and “Hello, Dolly!” – are lightweight compared to the collection’s better titles, but Sinatra and Basie still give their all. Concord’s reissue includes liner notes from Robin Douglas-Home and Stan Cornyn (featuring an interview with Quincy Jones), and newly penned notes by Bill Dahl, but the key is Sinatra: no auto-tune, no punch-ins, no splice jobs… just a supremely talented singer letting it all hang out in front of the world’s reigning swing band. To complete your collection of Sinatra-Basie collaborations, pick up the 1966 live album, Sinatra at the Sands, featuring Quincy Jones conducting the Count Basie Orchestra. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Tony Bennett: The Best of the Improv Recordings

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Sampling of a master vocalist’s indie sides from the mid-70s

At the turn from the ‘60s into the ‘70s, Tony Bennett – the vocalist’s vocalist – parted ways with his longtime label, Columbia. The parting dissolved their business contract, but also served as a declaration that having fruitfully co-existed with the commercial dominance of youth-oriented rock ‘n’ roll, he would not compromise his artistry by covering lightweight, contemporary pop tunes. He wasn’t alone, as Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Johnny Mathis and others were each having their arms twisted in the same direction. Bennett’s concert draw was increasing, and in his mid-40s, his voice offered a maturity and richness that may have been the best of his long and distinguished career. So rather than giving in to Columbia’s demands, and accepting other slights, he fled to MGM, and after failing to find success there, spent a few years without a recording contract.

His commercial fortunes wouldn’t be revived until his son Danny rebuilt his career in the 1980s, reuniting him with musical director Ralph Sharon, and, ironically, Columbia. But in the interim, Bennett founded his own label, Improv, and laid down some of the most artistically satisfying sides of his entire catalog. The label failed after only a few years (due to a lack of distribution, rather than a lack of quality goods), but without the major label bean counters breathing down his neck, Bennett was able to surround himself with the talents of Bill Evans, Charlie Byrd, Jimmy McPartland, Marian McPartland and others, and deeply explore jazz-inflections of the great American songbook. His five albums for Improv, along with a wealth of previously unreleased session tracks, were anthologized on the 2004 4-CD set, The Complete Improv Recordings; this single disc surveys many of the larger set’s highlights.

The selected tracks essay Bennett’s mastery in several different settings, including orchestral arrangements, duets with pianist Bill Evans, and a collection of Rodgers & Hart tunes recorded with a quartet led by cornetist Ruby Braff. The latter tracks show the jazziest edges of Bennett’s vocals as he dances atop John Guiffrida’s string bass and trades phrases with Braff and guitarist George Barnes. The duets are deeply thoughtful, as Bennett and Evans speak to each other through their music as much as to the listener, and the orchestral pieces have refined arrangements by Torrie Zito, including lovely bass and strings on “Reflections,” that winningly frame Bennett’s voice. Bennett vocalizes novel interpretations of several well-trod chestnuts, including “Blue Moon,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “I Could Write a Book.”

The set ends with a pair of live tracks that includes a rousing take on Bennett’s trademark “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” From the thrill heard in Bennett’s voice, the enthusiastic playing of his all-star band and the crowd’s fevered response, you’d guess they were at the Fairmont atop Nob Hill, but in fact the recording was made at his record label partner’s Statler Hilton hotel in Buffalo, New York. It’s a thrilling end to a terrific set that gives listeners a taste of an artistic giant’s most independent statement of art. At just a little over twice the price for four-times the music, it’s hard not to recommend the full 4-CD set, but if a taste will satisfy you, this is a rich one. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Frank Sinatra: Ring-A-Ding-Ding

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

It was Frank’s world, and we were lucky to live in it

Sinatra’s 1961 debut for his own record label, Reprise, is the product of a man who was on top of the world, with records, films, concerts and a fraternal social life each running flat out. It wasn’t, however, the sort of artistic reinvention he created on his late ‘50s albums for Capitol, nor the middle-aged discoveries he’d make on September of My Years or with Antonio Carlos Jobim. Still, Sinatra was in the pocket, and the self-confident swagger of his performances made up for the lack of a new artistic leap. Together with arranger Johnny Mandel, Sinatra pushed hard on the swing side of these tunes, eschewing balladry, and spurring his band of West Coast musicians to some sizzling performances. Mandel gained the arranger’s slot when Sinatra’s previous partners, Nelson Riddle and Billy May, were found to be exclusively contracted to Capitol. Mandel brought both jazz and film scoring experience, along with connections to some of Los Angeles’ finest players.

The song list includes a title track written expressly for Sinatra by Cahn and Van Heusen, along with standards both new to and revisited in the Sinatra catalog. Those who enjoy Sinatra’s swing records will love the unbridled verve with which he and Mandel attacked these tunes. Concord’s 2011 reissue adds insightful liner and song note from Frank Sinatra Jr. and a ten-minute session track as a bonus. On the latter, Sinatra is spied working on Rodgers & Hart’s “Have You Met Miss Jones,” dissecting Mandel’s arrangement in the process, digging out notes that disagreed with his knowledge of the song, and eventually discarding the tune altogether. As a ballad, it wouldn’t have fit the hard-swinging album, but as a bonus track it provides a fascinating peek into Sinatra’s intense work ethic, his leadership in the studio, the response he provokes from fellow musicians, arrangers and producers, and his tremendous ear as an artist. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Kermit Lynch: Kitty Fur

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The blossoming of a wine master’s music career

Kermit Lynch is well-known to oenophiles for his unique wine importing business; but even his most ardent customers would be surprised to find he’s also a gifted musician. Throughout the sixties, Lynch fronted bands in the Berkeley area, only giving it up in the early ‘70s when his travels through Europe begat a career in wine. With the encouragement of vintner/musician Boz Scaggs, Lynch returned to music in 2005, and with co-producer Ricky Fataar, released the album Quicksand Blues. In 2009 he followed-up with Man’s Temptation, mixing literate, world-traveled originals with well-selected covers that included a terrific old-timey take on Lee Hazlewood’s rockabilly classic “The Fool.”

With Fataar once again in the producer’s seat (and drummer’s throne), Lynch offers up his third course, adding an original title track to ten covers. Much like his taste in wines, Lynch’s music is varied and at times eclectic. He sings country, rock, blues, folk, reggae, Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” and even the romantic WWII-era “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” His voice is a bluesy instrument with the weathered edges of someone more partial to grain than grape, and it adds new shades to each interpretation. The opening original “Kitty Fur” has the blue jazz feel of Mose Allison, the Rolling Stones’ “Winter” is played more like Sticky Fingers than Goats Head Soup, and Dylan’s slight “Winterlude” (from 1970’s New Morning) is slowed into a luscious waltz that’s more classic country than the original’s old-timey vibe.

Lynch is backed by top-notch players, including Rick Vito on guitar, Michael Omartian on piano, Dennis Crouch, Michael Rhodes on bass, Glen Duncan on fiddle and Lloyd Green on pedal steel. The core players are augmented by a horn section for Bobby Blue Bland’s “She’s Puttin’ Something in My Food,” and sound really together as a band, suggesting Lynch is as accomplished at leading a band as he is leading a business. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Kitty Fur
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Gary Fields: Sounds About Right

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Swingin’ standards from the Great American Songbook

Gary Fields follows in a line of precocious teenagers and twenty-somethings that swim against the tide of their peers with an early interest in the Great American Songbook. Harry Connick Jr. recorded a set of standards at 20, and his protégé Peter Cincotti performed in the off-Broadway production Our Sinatra at 18 before adapting modern pop songs to fit with the works of Cole Porter and Roger Hammerstein. A similar mix of classic and classicized was offered by Michael Bublé, who coolly matched a Sinatra-esque delivery to songs from Sammy Kahn, Jerome Kern, The Bee Gees and Gamble & Huff. Fields borrows from many of the same song and vocal sources, with held notes and spoken asides mindful of Sinatra, a brashness that brings to mind Bobby Darin’s post-rock supper club style, and a hipster swing reminiscent of Sammy Davis Jr.

Although this is a Nashville production and was engineered and mixed by Billy Sherrill, Fields sticks to supper club pop rather than the countrypolitan derivative revisited by the likes of Sara Evans (1997’s Three Chords and the Truth), The Mavericks (1995’s Music For All Occasions), and Mandy Barnett (1999’s I’ve Got a Reason to Cry). Fields sings with a quartet of guitar, bass, keyboards and drums that omit the orchestration with which many of these songs were originally arranged. Sinatra’s 1953 hit “Learnin’ the Blues” is rendered sedate without a horn section to goose the vocal, though “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” captures the melancholy mood of the Chairman’s take. Fields finds particular affinity with breezy, upbeat arrangements of Sammy Cahn’s “Teach Me Tonight” and “Please Be Kind,” both of which were also recorded by Sinatra, among others.

There’s light Latin swing in Marcos Valle’s “So Nice” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” and a pensive version of “A Day in the Life of a Fool” splits its time between English and Spanish lyrics. More radically, the smooth jazz of Bobby Caldwell’s “All or Nothing at All” is transformed into a swinging piece of lounge cool, and Hugo & Luigi’s “I Got Time On My Hands” appears to have been remade from a mid-70s Stylistics album. Closing the album with “The Best is Yet to Come” Fields sings with both the ring-a-ding-ding attitude of Sinatra and the power of Tony Bennett. It’s a nice capper to an album that wears its influences openly without reducing them to loungey imitation. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

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