Posts Tagged ‘Varese Sarabande’

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

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