To mark one-hundred years since the birth of Roy Rogers (November 5, 1911), Varese Sarabande’s put together a set of twenty-one early tracks by Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. Rogers, still performing under his birth name, Leonard Slye, formed the group in the early 1930s with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, and they quickly added fiddler (and bass vocalist) Hugh Farr. Before moving on to a film career as Roy Rogers in 1938, he and his fellow Pioneers became the model Western harmony singing group. These recordings are taken from transcriptions made in 1934 and 1935 for Standard, and include the group’s iconic “Cool Water” (with Rogers, unusually, on lead vocal) and several fine examples of Rogers’ yodeling. The collection ends with an early Rogers solo, “It’s Home Sweet Home to Me,” recorded shortly after his film career began. Laurence Zwisohn’s liners provide a quick sketch of Rogers career and a few notes on the recordings, and they’re supplemented by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett’s fond remembrance of her father. The packaging proclaims these as “never-before-released recordings,” but without detailed information (there are no dates or master numbers provided), it’s hard to be sure some or all haven’t appeared among Bear Family’s extensive box sets. What is for certain is the warmth and continuing vitality of these 67-year-old recordings, crisply transferred and restored by William Cook, Phil York and Steve Massie. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Posts Tagged ‘Varese Sarabande’
If you lost track of Dwight Twilley over the years since his mid-70s breakthroughs, Sincerely and Twilley Don’t Mind, you’re in luck, as his latest album is as richly enveloping and fully satisfying as you remember from thirty-five years ago. Those who kept up with the Oklahoman have been treated to new albums, live recordings and multiple volumes of unreleased material, but the pop mainstream long ago moved on from the magic he created with drummer/vocalist Phil Seymour and guitarist Bill Pitcock IV. With Seymour having passed away in 1993, and Pitcock having passed just as this new collection was being completed, this is likely to be the last album that retains the full measure of Twilley’s ‘70s nostalgia.
And nostalgic this album is. Not only does much of it sound as if it were produced alongside Twilley’s earlier classics, but as the soundtrack to a documentary on Twilley’s life, the songs are purposely autobiographical. Twilley sounds great, with the Buddy Holly hiccup still in his voice, the atmosphere of Sun’s slapback echo surrounding him in a luscious bank of rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, and Pitcock’s 6-string adding searing leads. He writes of his immortal days as a Tulsa teenager, his early dreams of rock ‘n’ roll, and the musical education he received from Sun’s Ray Harris in Tupelo; and it’s all wrapped in Twilley’s signature melding of Merseybeat and Memphis.
Twilley’s remained enthusiastic, even as music business machinations – he and Tom Petty each suffered at Shelter Records – sidetracked his career at the very points it was set to explode. He’s scrupulously maintained his artistic integrity – never pandering or chasing trends in search of a contract – and built an artistically consistent, if not always consistently distributed, back catalog. His musical autobiography retains the youthful spark of his earlier work, but layered with the craft and perspective of thirty-five years in the business. He lauds the value of hard-won accomplishments in the lushly acoustic “Good Things Come Hard,” reaching back for images of his early partnership with Phil Seymour.
Twilley’s melodies hold a wistful edge, and it serves his nostalgia well. His optimism shines in “My Life,” providing a riff on the sentiment of John Lennon’s “In My Life,” and when recounting the difficulties of his aspiring days, he looks back with fondness rather than ire or regret. Twilley isn’t untouched by life’s bad turns, but the scars are like a guitar players calluses, providing insulation without dampening one’s feeling. He combines the idealism of a teenager with the unshakable belief of a battle-scarred veteran, tracing a remarkably straight artistic line from his mid-20s to his current work. It’s a line that traces Twilley’s inexhaustible creativity and unshakable fealty to rock ‘n’ roll. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
It’s hard to imagine that in 2011, a time in which everything ever recorded seems to be available in digital form, there are still hit recordings yet to be reissued. But such is the case for singer/songwriter Dickey Lee, whose hit singles on the pop and country charts have yet to be reissued in proper form. You can find his biggest pop hit, “Patches,” if you look hard enough (try here), but his chart-topping country hit “Rocky” (along with twenty-six other rarities) can only be found on the provenance-free Greatest Hits Collection. Given his success as both a recording artist (who began his career recording for no less than Sun) and songwriter, one can only assume his recordings are tied up in a maze of lost contracts and competing intellectual property claims.
Varese’s collection doesn’t solve the problem of Lee’s original recordings, as these tracks are re-recordings made within the past decade. The arrangements are kept simple, but the clean production and modern keyboards and drums distract from the period songwriting style. Lee’s voice retains the boyishness of his younger years, and without the original singles easily available, this is at least a good reminder of what’s in the vault. “Patches” retains the morose triple-shot of classism, prejudice and teen tragedy, and the follow-up “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” is still one of the spookier stories to crack the Top 40. Lee was so adept at singing bitter-sweet songs that he topped the country chart with Jay Stevens’ “Rocky” the same year Austin Roberts took it up the pop chart.
It’s interesting to hear Lee sing the hits he wrote for others, including George Jones’ “She Thinks I Still Care,” Reba McEntire’s “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving,” George Strait’s “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together,” John Schneider’s “I’ve Been Around Long Enough to Know,” Charley Pride’s “I’ll Be Leaving Alone” and the the oft-covered “Never Ending Song of Love.” But like many albums of remakes, the arrangements compress decades of performing and songwriting into a singular sound that likewise compresses the artist’s story. It’s great to hear Lee in good voice, but what fans really need is for Bear Family to wake up from its hibernation and clear the original recordings for reissue! [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Little by little, the catalog of 1960s country hit-makers Teddy and Doyle Wilburn is coming back into print. Varese issued a terrific greatest hits anthology in 2006, and followed up with an album of inspirational songs earlier this year. An import anthology and original album reissues [1 2] are now joined by Varese’s first ever CD issue of the official soundtrack album from the Wilburn’s popular television show. Originally released in 1966, the album recreates the format of the duo’s half-hour show (complete with light audience applause), collecting terrific performances from the Wilburns, comedy and song by Harold Morrison, spotlights from the show’s “girl singer” Loretta Lynn, and guest appearances by Ernest Tubb. Owen Bradley produced the disc in crisp mono at the famed Bradley’s Barn, capturing live versions of several hits, including the Wilburns’ “Trouble’s Back in Town,” “It’s Another World” and “Knoxville Girl,” Lynn’s 1965 single “The Home You’re Tearing Down” and the Wilburns-Tubb collaboration “Hey, Mr. Bluebird.” The disc is filled out with singles (including the moving prison song “The Legend of the Big River Train”), old favorites, terrific harmonies, good humor and the inviting, easy-going manner of the Wilburn Brothers. You can catch reruns of the original program on on RFD-TV, but this soundtrack album is a great souvenir. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
The Arkansas-born Wilburn Brothers began their career as part of a family act, starring as regulars on the legendary Louisiana Hayride before breaking off as a brotherly duo in 1953. They signed with Decca and had hits throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, starred in a syndicated television show and developed both a publishing house and talent agency; the latter found them discovering both Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless. Their two albums of inspirational song, 1959’s Livin’ in God’s Country and 1964’s Take Up Thy Cross, are excerpted on this fourteen-track collection, anthologizing nineteenth century southern gospel hymns, Negro spirituals and a few titles, such as Dorsey Dixon’s “Wreck on the Highway,” from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The backings are unadorned arrangements of fiddle, steel, piano, guitar and bass, leaving the focus to fall upon the Wilburn’s brotherly harmonies and individual lead vocals. Highlights include the revival atmosphere of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” the peaceful surrender of “Angel Band,” the bouncy tempo and intertwined vocals of “I Feel Like Traveling On,” the Louvin-esque “Medals for Mothers” and the dramatic recitation of “Steal Away.” With neither of the original albums having made the leap to digital reissue, it’s a shame this couldn’t have been a complete two-fer, but it’s hard to argue with the fourteen tracks of this budget reissue. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Varese’s fourteen-track anthology combines titles from Buck Owens’ chart-topping 1966 album Dust on Mother’s Bible, and the 1970 release Your Mother’s Prayer. The former album was reissued in 2003, but has since fallen out of print, and the latter album has yet to see digital release; all of which makes this anthology a good get for fans that missed (or wishes to upgrade from) the original vinyl. The song list combines original compositions, including the title pieces of the original albums, along with new arrangements of traditional tunes. Owens’ voice is equally suited to the mournful “Dust on Mother’s Bible,” the dramatic recitation in “I’ll Go to the Church Again with Momma” and the joyful “Old Time Religion,” capturing sorrow, hope and expectant faith in both lyrics and tone. The Buckaroos turn down their Telecaster-fueled sting, though there’s plenty of fiddle and steel, and the harmonies feature Owens’ trademark doubled vocals. While a two-fer of the original albums would have been more fully satisfying, fourteen tracks in a budget release is a great buy for Owens’ fans. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
After partnering with John Ford Coley as the “England Dan” half of the soft-rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, Dan Seals found tremendous commercial success as a solo act. Starting with 1983’s Rebel Heart, he climbed the country chart with “Everybody’s Dream Girl” and “After You,” scored a Top Ten hit with his original “God Must Be a Cowboy,” and topped the chart eleven times. His initial hits added light twang to a soft-rock base, but by the time he climbed into the top ten, the steel and honky-tonk piano moved forward, the beat leaned on two and four, and his vocals took a mournful turn on “(You Bring Out) The Wild Side of Me.”
Though he cut rootsier sides that included “My Old Yellow Car,” “Everything That Glitters (is not Gold)” and the Eagles-ish “Big Wheels in the Moonlight,” they were all touched by the clean studio sound of the ‘80s. Several of Seals’ hit singles abandoned country for adult contemporary sounds, such as heard in the string-lined “One Friend” and the power ballad “I Will Be There.” But even as he vacillated between contemporary country and contemporary pop, he struck gold on the country chart. He notched his first #1 with 1985’s “Meet Me in Montana,” kicking off a string of nine chart-toppers in a row, and sparking a parallel chart renaissance for his duet partner, Marie Osmond.
The bulk of Seals’ hits were uplifting, reassuring and hopeful, but he also put across a few, including “Addicted” and “They Rage On,” that spoke to longing and sadness. There were also a few streaks of nostalgia, including the wistful memories and missed chances of “Big Wheels in the Moonlight” and a winning remake of Sam Cooke’s 1964 hit, “Good Times.” Varese’s eighteen-track collection includes all eleven of Seals’ #1s, his five Top 10s, and two of his three Top 40s. Missing is 1983’s “You Really Go for the Heart” (which you can snag here) and his lower-charting singles from the early ‘90s. This is a terrific summary of Dan Seals’ years as a solo performer, and the most complete collection of his hits that’s on the market. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Varese Sarabande extends their lineup of country legends singing songs of faith with this remastered reissue of K-Tel’s The Old Rugged Cross (something K-Tel also reissued as Country Gospel). The tracks were originally recorded in the mid-90s, and though Price’s voice wasn’t the polished instrument of his earlier hit-making years, he still sang strongly; there’s some wavering in his pitch, but it’s balanced by passion and conviction. The arrangements are mostly by-the-books (or by-the-clock, as per Nashville recording practice), though the uncredited steel and fiddle players add some nice lines. If you’re a fan of the singer, or simply a fan of inspirational song, you’ll enjoy hearing the older Price sing these works of praise, but if you’re new to Price’s catalog, you’ll want to start four decades earlier with his 1950s honky-tonk sides and his subsequent turn to crooning in the 1960s and 1970s. For the bigger picture, check the anthology The Essential Ray Price. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Susan Raye was a solid 1970s country hit maker, but having shared peak years with Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, her long-term fame has been overshadowed and her Capitol catalog has been neglected by the reissue industry. The last collection of her solo work, Varese’s 16 Greatest Hits, was released over a decade ago, and is now joined by this selection of fourteen duets recorded with her mentor, Buck Owens. The pair recorded four albums between 1970 and 1973, launching six chart hits, all of which are featured here. The hits include Buck Owens originals “We’re Gonna Get Together,” “The Great White Horse” and “The Good Ol’ Days (Are Here Again),” as well as endearing covers of the Browns’ “Looking Back to See” and Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange.”
Owens had been a hit maker for over a decade when he and Raye cracked the charts as a duo. He continued to be a strong presence in the Top 10 for another five years before switching to Warner Brothers and successively peaking lower and lower through the rest of the decade. In 1970, however, Owens could virtually do no wrong; he was co-hosting Hee Haw, and the stinging Bakersfield sound he’d pioneered with the Buckaroos had broadened over the years alongside his public appeal. Owens had long been absorbing pop influences, heard here in the harpsichord on “The Great White Horse,” and the rock ‘n’ roll dynamics of the Buckaroos continues to spark up the twang. Amid all the influences, though, Owens’ voice always retained its country core.
Raye proved to be an excellent traveling partner for Owens’ explorations. The duo’s song list reprises several of Owens’ earlier hits with the Buckaroos, including “Together Again,” “Cryin’ Time,” “I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),” “Think of Me When You’re Lonely,” and “Your Tender Loving Care.” Many of Owens’ recordings with the Buckaroos were sung with his own voice doubled in harmony, or with the backing of Don Rich, but Raye adds a female dynamic that winningly changes the tenor of the lovelorn lyrics. Owens’ albums with the Buckaroos have been extensively reissued, but most of these superb sides with Raye have previously remained in the vault. Lawrence Zwisohn provides liner notes and the CD is screened in the orange of a 1970s Capitol label, but the gold is in the grooves. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
With Wanda Jackson’s profile raised by her new Jack White-produced album, The Party Ain’t Over, Varese Sarabande offers up sixteen sides from her key years on Capitol. The set opens with 1956’s “I Gotta Know,” storms through rockabilly classics “Fujiyama Mama,” “Mean Mean Man,” “Rock Your Baby,” and “Let’s Have a Party,” adds incendiary takes on The Robins’ “Riot in Cell Block #9,” Little Richard’s “Rip it Up” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and fills out the picture with a few of Jackson’s country ballads, including two Top 10 hits, “Right or Wrong” and “In the Middle of a Heartache.” It’s a quick look at a catalog that is deeper on both sides – rockabilly and country – than could fit into sixteen tracks. More specific collections can be found in Ace’s Queen of Rockabilly and The Very Best of the Country Years, and Bear Family’s monumental Right or Wrong and Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine. Fans might also want to pick up Capitol reissues of Jackson’s original albums, but for a quick introduction to her musical brilliance, this is a good bet. Tracks 1-7 and 9 are mono, the rest stereo. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]