Posts Tagged ‘Varese Sarabande’

Jim Ford: Harlan County

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

Your favorite’s favorite country-soul singer-songwriter

You may have never heard country-soul singer-songwriter Jim Ford, but you’ve likely heard his songs, and you’ve certainly heard his fans. Ford co-wrote P.J. Proby’s hit single “Niki Hoeky,” an album for the Temptations, and songs recorded by Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Bobbie Gentry, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. The latter named Ford as his biggest musical influence, and recorded Ford’s songs with his pub rock group Brinsley Schwarz and as a solo act. This 1969 debut was the only full-length release of Ford’s lifetime, which also included singles, unreleased albums for Capitol and Paramount, and a wealth of session tracks that slowly found their way out of the tape vault.

Recorded in Los Angeles with support from James Burton, Dr. John, Jim Keltner and Pat and Lolly Vegas, Ford laid down an unusual mix of funk, soul, country and swamp pop. Burton’s guitar figures combine with soulful backing vocals, horns and strings, to create an album that sounds as if it could have just as easily been recorded in Memphis as in Southern California. The title track looks back at the poverty and back breaking work from which Ford ran away as a teenager. The song’s breakdowns into hymn contrast with full throated pleas for relief, as Ford recounts the sort of living that wears a man down by his early twenties. His early years inform his recording of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Long Road Ahead,” and his move from New Orleans to California is essayed in the autobiographical “Working My Way To LA.”

Oddly, for an album by a songwriter, half the selections are covers, including Stevie Wonder’s “I Wanna Make Her Love Me,” a swamp-boogie take on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and a vocally strained rendition of Alex Harvey’s “To Make My Life Beautiful.” Ford’s originals include the broken hearted road metaphors of “Under Construction,” the emotionally satisfied “Love on My Brain” and the not-too-subtle drug references of “Dr. Handy’s Dandy Candy.” None of this made an impression on radio programmers or record buyers, and the album quickly disappeared. Ford eventually made his way to England where sessions with Brinsley Schwarz and the Grease Band failed to generate releases, and additional masters recorded for Paramount were shelved.

Ford drifted into partying and out of the music industry, eventually ending up in Northern California’s Mendocino County, where he passed away in 2007. Bill Dahl’s liner notes tell the story of Ford’s career leading up to, through and following this album, and the booklet reproduces the album’s front and back cover art. The original ten tracks have been reissued several times on vinyl and CD, including a 2014 release by Varese, and an expanded 2013 edition by Bear Family. Additional volumes [1 2 3 4] of previously unreleased material have also been issued, but if you’re new to Ford as a performer, this 1969 debut is the place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: The Best Of

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Turn-of-the-70s funk and soul grooves w/2 new tracks

With Warner Archives’ Express Yourself no longer in print on CD, Varsese fills the vacancy with this sixteen track set. Included are the Los Angeles group’s three crossover hits (“Do Your Thing,” “Love Land” and “Express Yourself”), an additional selection of period material, and two new tracks (“Happiness” and “Remember That Thing”) that anticipate an upcoming album. The Mississippi-born Wright moved to Los Angeles as a pre-teen, where he performed in a number of doo-wop bands before founding and growing what would become the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright was equally at home with hypnotic James Brown-styled riffing as with soul vocals, and the interlocking rhythm section of bassist Melvin Dunlop, drummer James Gadson and guitarist Al McKay, was equally adept with percussive funk riffs as they were with melodic tunes.

In addition to the crossover hits, the set includes three singles that charted R&B – “Till You Get Enough,” “Must Be Your Thing” and “Your Love (Means Everything to Me).” Those who already own the Warner Archives release will find four more vintage titles here, including the funky “I Got Love,” but six from the previous volume, including the instrumentals “The Joker (On a Trip Through the Jungle)” and “65 Bars and a Taste of Soul” are dropped. Also note that “Spreadin’ Honey” seems to have a shorter drum intro here than on the previously anthologized recording. Fans will want to track down the expanded reissues of the original albums (and look forward to the new album), but those just looking for a taste of this band’s funk and soul will find this a good place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Charles Wright’s Home Page

The Foundations: The Best of the Foundations

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

A legacy that’s richer than their four hits

This late-60s, multiethnic, multinational soul ensemble is best known to U.S. audiences for its two Top 40 singles, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Both hits, and a good deal of their other material, were co-written by producer Tony Macaulay, often with his regular writing partner John MacLeod. The band had two more hits in the UK (“Back on My Feet Again” and “In the Bad Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)”), as well as a number of minor chart entries, but after only four years, and numerous personnel changes, they packed it in. Various members toured and recorded under variations of “The Foundations” name throughout the 1970s, but it’s the original material from 1967-1970 that’s featured here. Varese has included all of the group’s A-sides for Pye (UK) and Uni (US), including the UK-only “Baby, I Couldn’t See” and US-only “My Little Chickadee,” a handful of B-sides and a pair of tracks from the band’s final album, Digging the Foundations.

The band’s 1967 introduction attached them to the backside of the British Invasion, and their association with Macauley gave their hits a pop breeziness. But their innate sound was more in line with Motown, Stax and American horn bands. Given the chance to record original material, the group showed off grittier soul, jazz and blues influences on the B-side “New Direction” and the late A-Side “I’m Gonna Be a Rich Man.” That said, they could also write bubblegum, such as the B-side “Solomon Grundy,” and they picked up sunshine pop tunes that include “Baby, I Couldn’t See” and “Take a Girl Like You.” Varese’s sixteen track set (including mono single mixes on 1, 4-6, 11, 13 and 15) provides a good overview of the group’s charms, and the CD’s screening with the rainbow swirl Uni label is a nice touch. For a more complete rendering of the group’s story, look for the out-of-print Build Me Up Buttercup – The Complete Pye Collection, but for most this is a good place to start. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

OST: Smokey and the Bandit I & II

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Soundtracks to legendary Burt Reynolds films finally on CD

Smokey and the Bandit was originally developed by stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham as a cheap B-movie with singer-actor Jerry Reed as the star. But with the signing of box office dynamo Burt Reynolds, Reed was demoted to second banana, Universal quintupled the budget, and the film went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide. The soundtrack was scored by Nashville legend Bill Justis, and includes three vocal titles by Jerry Reed. The latter’s “East Bound and Down” became a signature song, and is included here in a second variation titled “West Bound and Down.” Reed also detailed the Bandit’s earlier adventures in “The Legend” and sings Dick Feller’s ballad, “The Bandit.” Justis mixes original country instrumentals with covers of chestnuts, including Ervin T. Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” and Jerry Wallace’s 1972 hit, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry, with uncredited fiddle and steel players who are excellent throughout the album.

The 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II, didn’t have the box office power of the original, but its soundtrack spun off a number of hits, including Jerry Reed’s “Texas Bound and Flyin’,” the Statler Brothers’ “Charlotte’s Web” and Tanya Tucker’s “Pecos Promenade.” The Snuff Garrett-supervised soundtrack album also includes performances by Don Williams, Mel Tillis, Brenda Lee, Roy Rogers with the Sons of the Pioneers and Burt Reynolds, the latter of whom scraped onto the country chart with “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial.” The album’s two instrumentals, performed by the Bandit Band, included a mashup of “Dueling Banjos” and “Wildwood Flower” titled “Deliverance of the Wildwood Flower,” and an original co-written by Garrett and Nashville legend Jerry Kennedy titled “Pickin’ Lone Star Style.” Both of these soundtracks are good spins, though the sequel’s collection of vocal material will likely be more memorable for country music fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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