Posts Tagged ‘Varese Sarabande’

Chuck Berry: Rockit

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Berry’s 1979 rocker for Atco was the final release of his lifetime

The last album released during Chuck Berry’s lifetime, Rockit also marked a rare deviation from his tenure at Chess. Released in 1979, it would be Berry’s last release until the posthumous Chuck earlier this year. Berry’s voice, guitar and lyrical ability were intact, as was Johnnie Johnson’s inimitable piano playing, and the rhythm section – Berry’s longtime bassist, Jim Marsala, Nashville studio drummer Kenny Buttrey, and Muscle Shoals bassist Bob Wray – is tight. The production hasn’t the grit of Berry’s Chess years, but his roots shine through the too-tidy studio sound. “Move It” and “If I Were” show off Berry’s guitar licks and his lyrical dexterity. He borrows from his own “Back in the USA” for the joyous “Oh What a Thrill,” but unsuccessfully rearranges “Havana Moon” with an odd meter and distracting backing vocal. Much better is the biting rewrite of “It Wasn’t Me” as “Wuden’t Me,” the love letter “California” and the atmospheric blues “Pass Away.” The latter is particularly interesting for its spoken storytelling and a looser vibe that evades the rest of the album. This may not measure up to Berry’s landmark Chess records, but it’s vital, clever and satisfying. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Chuck Berry’s Home Page

John Sebastian: Stories We Could Tell – The Very Best Of John Sebastian

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Nicely curated introduction to John Sebastian’s solo catalog

Though John Sebastian returned to the top of the charts with the 1976 theme song to “Welcome Back Kotter,” his solo career never gained the commercial traction of his earlier work with the Lovin’ Spoonful. Which isn’t to suggest there wasn’t artistic growth or musical riches in his solo years – there was plenty of both – but other than the single “Welcome Back” and his self-titled solo debut album, his releases failed to crack the Top 40. Varese’s sixteen track collection cherrypicks material from Sebastian’s five albums for Reprise, including the rare live album Cheapo Cheapo Productions Presents Real Live John Sebastian. The selections include his first solo single, “She’s a Lady,” the ambitious sixteen-minute “The Four of Us,” the soulful “Give Us a Break,” a thoughtful cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo,” the country-tinged “Stories We Could Tell” (famously recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1972), a modernized remake of “Didn’t Wanna Have to Do It,” and a quartet of live Lovin’ Spoonful covers. All four studio albums (John B. Sebastian, Four of Us, Tarzana Kid, Welcome Back) are available for digital download and in a grey-market 2-CD set, but Varese’s 16-track set offers those new to Sebastian’s solo years a well-curated single-disc introduction. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

John Sebastian’s Home Page

Peter Cetera: The Very Best of Peter Cetera

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The ‘80s solo hits of a ‘70s rock powerhouse

Peter Cetera is best known as a founding bassist and vocalist of Chicago Transit Authority. He was the lead vocalist on the breakthrough “25 or 6 to 4,” as well as the group’s first chart-topper, “If You Leave Me Now.” His earliest solo work, a self-titled 1981 album and the single “On the Line,” was overshadowed by continued success with with the band; but by mid-decade, his vocals on Chicago’s hits, and his presence in the band’s videos provided enough personal notoriety to relaunch his solo career. 1986’s Solitude/Solitaire scored back-to-back #1s with Karate Kid II’s “Glory of Love” and the Amy Grant duet, “The Next Time I Fall.” He scored again with 1988’s “One Good Woman,” and continued to find success in adult contemporary throughout the ‘90s. Varese’s fourteen track collection runs through 1992’s World Falling Down, highlighted by a handful of original single versions. Cetera’s solo work, tinged by the production sound of the ‘80s, isn’t as timeless as his early sides with Chicago, but his tenor is fetching among the synthesized keyboards and big drums, and his power ballads are well crafted. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Cetera’s Home Page

The Beau Brummels: The Very Best Of – The Complete Singles

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

The mono A-sides of the Beau Brummels, and more!

San Francisco’s Beau Brummels cast a long shadow with a surprisingly short chart resume. Their run in the Top 40 lasted two years, and amounted to only three hit singles, “Laugh, Laugh,” “Just a Little” and “You Tell Me Why.” From there, the singles dwindled down the chart, and ended with 1966’s “One Too Many Mornings.” But their sound – particularly their harmony arrangements – was unique, and their albums and non-album singles have retained an artistic currency beyond their commercial success. All six albums are on CD, along with best of and rarities collections, and a pair of deep vault explorations. Varese adds to the catalog a sixteen-track set that collects the group’s twelve original mono A-sides, a trio of Sal Valentino singles and the group’s 1975 reworking of “You Tell Me Why.” The 45-minute disc is accompanied by a twelve-page booklet of photos, liner notes by noted West Coast music historian Alec Palao, and song notes that Palao gathered from band members Ron Elliott, Sal Valentino, John Peterson, Ron Meagher and Don Irving, lyricist Bob Durand and producer Lenny Waronker. Those new to the group’s catalog may find a greatest hits collection to be a better overall introduction, but fans will really enjoy the original mono A-sides (and long for the B’s!). [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Beau Brummels’ Home Page

The Easybeats: Vigil

Friday, May 26th, 2017

The Easybeats’ fifth studio album was released in several different forms. The 14-track UK release was slimmed to 12 tracks, resequenced and retitled Falling Off The Edge Of The World for the U.S. market. In the group’s native Australia, the album retained its title and cover art, but lost three cover songs, gained the original “Bring a Little Lovin’,” and was issued only in mono. It’s this latter Australian release, with its track list, sequencing and mono master, that’s featured on this limited edition Record Store Day 2017 reissue. In addition to the multiple configurations of the album’s release, its construction was likewise multiheaded, as two songs recorded in mid-1967 with Glyn Johns (for the shelved Good Friday album) were combined with material recorded later the same year with Mike Vaughan.

The Australian edition sticks entirely to Vanda-Young originals, but there’s a great deal of musical range on offer. Soul influences course through the hard-grooving opener “Good Times,” rhythmic “See Saw,” mid-tempo “What in the World, and psych-gospel “Come in You’ll Get Pneumonia.” The group dips its toes into bubblegum-ska on “Sha La, La, La, Leah,” but more interesting is the social social commentary of “We All Live Happily Together” and the baroque polish of “Land of Make Believe.” And speaking of polish, the soft-pop closer, “Hello How Are You” may be the album’s most audacious in its distance from the group’s roots. There are numerous musical highlights here, if not an artistic vision that pulls it all together. Get Varese’s vinyl for the mono punch, and the CD for the bonus tracks. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Procol Harum: Shine on Brightly

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Vinyl reissue of second LP, with original U.S. artwork and gatefold

As indelible as Procol Harum’s first single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” has become, the band managed to flourish artistically amid only middling commercial success. Other than a live release, their many albums never cracked the Top 20, and only a small sprinkle of singles did any better. But the band persevered and continued to release new material through the mid-70s, regrouped in the 90’s, ‘00s and most recently for the newly issued Novum. This 1968 release was their second, following the success of their debut single and its follow-up “Homburg.” The album failed to chart in the group’s native England, and topped out at #28 in the U.S.

The album’s first side follows the direction of their self-titled debut, mixing rock and soul with progressive changes into three- and four-minute songs. All of the sounds that defined the first album were retained for the second – Gary Brooker’s smoky vocals, Matthew Fisher’s soulful organ, Robin Trower’s buzzing guitar and Keith Reid’s poetic lyrics. The album’s second side cuts loose, for better or worse, with the seventeen-minute, five part prog-rock suite “In Held ‘Twas In I.” Better, because it was an interesting artistic leap; worse, because it opened the floodgates to a wave of self-indulgent wankery.

The suite opens with drone-backed spoken word, and gets heavier as it mixes progressive rock, psychedelia, classical, vocal choruses and studio craft. You can hear the storms of pomposity on the horizon, but at this point it still felt organic. Varese’s Record Store Day 2017 reissue reproduces the U.S. release’s cover art and gatefold. Completists will want to pick up a CD reissue for the bonus B-sides, but the 12” gatefold cover (which provides a handy surface on which to separate seeds and stems from leaves), and the physicality of flipping the disc will help you relive this album’s place in time. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Procol Harum Fan Site

The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle

Friday, May 19th, 2017

50th anniversary of 1968 standout, with bonus tracks

Standing out among the class of ‘68 is tough. And yet, against The Beatles, Astral Weeks, Electric Ladyland, Beggars Banquet, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, White Light/White Heat, Bookends and dozens of others, the Zombies’ swan song made its mark. Perhaps it stands in relief by virtue of its 1967 recording dates – sessions held amid, and no doubt inspired by, 1967’s torrent of musical landmarks and social movements. Or maybe it was the group’s impending sense of professional doom, invention born of a constrained budget, the choice to self-produce and the artistic freedom to record all original material. Whatever the inspiration, the result was one of 1968’s lasting musical achievements.

Achievement and epitaph, actually, as the group disbanded at the end of 1967, four months before the album was released in April 1968 to critical acclaim and little commercial response. A quartet of UK and US singles failed before a re-release of “Time of the Season” finally reached #3 US in early 1969. Worse, with the Zombies disbanded and Rod Argent having formed his eponymous follow-on group, the chance to capitalize on the single’s belated success fell largely to fake touring units. Argent and Chris White recorded material for a 1969 Zombies release, but other than the singles “Imagine the Swan” and “If It Don’t Work Out,” the tapes languished in the vault until their eventual release as R.I.P.

Recorded primarily on the same Abbey Road 4-track as was Sgt. Pepper’s, Odessey & Oracle was carefully rehearsed and laid down quickly. Initially mixed to mono, a stereo mix was created afterwards, and it’s the latter that’s reproduced here. Varese augments the original dozen tracks with seven bonuses, including the mono B-side “I’ll Call You Mine,” a horn-free, stereo mix of “This Will Be Our Year,” and backing tracks and alternate mixes that include a scrapped cello overdub on “A Rose for Emily.” The 12-page booklet includes photos, ephemera and liner notes by Andrew Sandoval that quote interviews conducted by Alec Palao and Claes Johansen. The stereo mix is welcome, but the mono is missed. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Zombies’ Home Page

OST: Wheeler

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

The real music of a fictional Nashville up-and-comer

The soundtrack to the film Wheeler makes real the fictional Wheeler Bryson. Written and sung by screenwriter, producer and actor Stephen Dorff, the songs are neither workmanlike imitations nor certified hits – laying somewhere in between studied craft and the bottled lightning of stardom. In that sense, they’re perfectly tuned to a story of Nashville aspiration that sits on the precipice of success. Dorff has a bit of rock ‘n’ roll husk in his voice, and it serves both the up-tempo numbers and the ballads. The album’s single, “Pour Me Out of This Town,” was co-written by Dorff’s late Nashville songwriter brother Andrew, and Kris Kristofferson (who appears in the film) adds “New Mister Me” to the soundtrack. If the film struck a chord with you, this thirteen song soundtrack will be a nice souvenir; but even if you’re haven’t seen the film, there’s still something here to catch your ear. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

OST: The Greatest

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

1977 Muhammad Ali biopic soundtrack reissue with bonuses

Muhammad Ali’s 1977 biopic was drawn from his like-titled biography, and though Ali was arguably the greatest boxer of all time, he wasn’t the greatest actor, even when playing himself. Which is strange, because in real life he played the character of Muhammad Ali with incredible creativity, charisma and panache. Perhaps it was a disconnect with the script (courtesy of noted journalist and screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr.) or director, but the physical and intellectual poetry of his real life didn’t come through on the screen. The film’s soundtrack is remembered largely for the song “The Greatest Love of All,” a #2 R&B hit for George Benson, and even more famously taken to the top of the charts by Whitney Houston in 1985. Others may remember the song from Eddie Murphy’s performance in Coming to America.

The original soundtrack album also includes an instrumental version of the hit and two versions of Benson performing “I Always Knew I Had It in Me,” once with a driving rhythm and jazzy guitar, and once as a ballad. The remainder of the soundtrack is filled out with atmospheric instrumentals by Michael Masser that revolve around the riff from “I Always Knew I Had It in Me.” Labeling the last of them “Variation on Theme” is about as on-the-nose as you can get. Varese’s 2017 reissue adds four bonus tracks, highlighted by Cassius Clay’s charming, melody-challenged cover of “Stand By Me” and the original recitation “I Am the Greatest.” The remaining bonuses are the DJ 7” of Benson’s “The Greatest Love of All” and a disco 12” of “Ali Bombaye.” This is a nice upgrade to a period piece. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Muhammad Ali’s Home Page

Gerry Rafferty: The Best Of

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Rare single edits of 1978-1982 hits

When you first pop this disc in the player, you’re braced to hear Raphael Ravenscroft’s iconic late-70s saxophone riff on “Baker Street.” But before you get that, you’re treated to Rafferty’s other Top 10 hit, Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Rafferty had actually exited the group by the time the single made its way up the charts, leaving co-founder Joe Egan to mime the video. The song’s breakthrough persuaded Rafferty to return, and the band carried on into 1975 without further commercial gains. More importantly, when the band broke up, amid disagreements, managerial problems and lawsuits, Rafferty was left to ponder his future.

Sidelined by legal issues, and commuting from his native Scotland to London for court dates, Rafferty stayed in a friend’s Baker Street flat, mulling over his stalled career, and, as detailed in the last verse of “Baker Street,” eventually finding resolution and an optimistic return to work. Though he’d released the solo album Can I Have My Money Back? in 1971, his solo career really began with 1978’s City to City, topping the U.S. album chart and garnering a platinum record. The album’s hits included “Baker Street,” as well as “Right Down the Line” and “Home and Dry,” but despite the commercial breakthrough and continued artistic vitality, Rafferty’s success, particularly in the U.S., quickly decayed.

His second album, Night Owl, stalled at #29 and its singles, “Days Gone Down” and “Get it Right Next Time,” grazed the Top 20. His third album, Snakes and Ladders, was the last to crack the U.S. charts, and its sole U.S. charting single, “The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin’),” missed the Top 40. His last album for Liberty/UA, Sleepwalking, is represented here by the UK single of the title track. Varese’s 16-track set covers Rafferty’s commercial years of 1978-82, featuring six U.S. and two UK singles in their original edits, along with non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks. The eight-page booklet includes photos, label and picture sleeve reproductions, and liner notes by Larry R. Watts. This is a good introduction to Rafferty’s hits, and those who’ve already bought the albums will enjoy the rare single edits. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Gerry Rafferty’s Home Page