Posts Tagged ‘Varese Sarabande’

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

England Dan & John Ford Coley: The Very Best Of

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Poster boys of smooth ‘70s soft rock

Alongside Seals & Crofts, it’s hard to think of a duo more representative of 1970s adult contemporary soft rock than “England” Dan Seals and John Edward “Ford” Coley. The duo first performed together in a series of high school bands, including Theze Few and Southwest F.O.B., and debuted as a duo in 1971 on A&M. This collection picks up with their 1976 move to the Atlantic subsidiary Big Tree, and their breakthrough pair of Parker McGee-penned tunes “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and “Nights Are Forever Without You.” They continued to mint Top 40 singles throughout the rest of the 1970s, including Todd Rundgren’s “Love is the Answer” and several self-penned hits, and topped the AC chart four times.

Varese’s sixteen-track set collects nearly all of their Big Tree singles, including the Japan-only “Keep Your Smile.” Omitted are “You Can’t Dance,” and the non-charting “If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight” and “Hollywood Heckle & Jive.” Filling out the track list are album- and B-sides, and a pair of tracks from the film Just Tell Me You Love Me, including the duo’s last single “Part of Me Part of You.” This stacks up well against the shorter Essentials, I’d Really Love to See You Tonight & Other Hits and the period Best Of. Superfans may want to indulge in the import The Atlantic Albums+, but for most, this set will hit all the radio high points, and provide just the right amount of smoothly produced, touchingly sung ‘70s pop. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

John Ford Coley’s Home Page

Matt Costa: Music From the Motion Picture Orange Sunshine

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

mattcosta_orangesunshineSuperb evocation of late-60s psychedelic soundtracks

If you were making a documentary on a renegade 1960s LSD collective, Huntington Beach singer-songwriter Matt Costa might not be your first thought for a period-evoking soundtrack. But Costa’s roots in Orange County match those of the Brotherhood at the film’s center, and the seeds of his nostalgic musical constructions can be found in his catalog. The resulting soundtrack for the film Orange Sunshine is the sort of ersatz experience one gained from AIP’s exploitation films – music that is of the era, but doesn’t define it. Costa deftly evokes the ‘60s with fuzzed guitars, hallucinogenic flights, West Coast jazz odysseys, blue funk, folk fingerpicking, ragas and even a touch of strategically placed vinyl surface noise.

The compositions lean to mood-setting instrumentals, but the vocal tracks – particularly the Airplane-styled “Born in My Mind” – are spot-on. What rats this out as homage rather than artifact is the crisp fidelity – something that couldn’t easily be achieved on a shoestring budget in 1968. Most impressive is that Costa wrote, engineered, produced and performed the entire album – especially remarkable on “ensemble” jams like “The Fuzz.” Several of the cuts are under two minutes – often leaving you wanting more – but this works nicely as a standalone album of ‘60s-tinged psych, jazz, soul and rock, and provides a terrific complement to the film. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Matt Costa’s Home Page

Gene Autry: A Melody Ranch Christmas

Monday, December 19th, 2016

geneautry_amelodyranchchristmasA winter harvest of 1940s & 1950s radio performances

Gene Autry was a triple threat with successful careers in film, radio and television. It’s from his weekly Melody Ranch radio program that Varese has assembled twenty-three Christmas related performances. Although most of these songs are now considered standards, several of them – “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snow Man” and “An Old Fashioned Tree” – were introduced by Autry himself. The recordings span 1942 through 1955, and the backings range from the Melody Ranch Hard-Way Six to the orchestras of Carl Cotner and Paul Sell. Autry’s castmates include Johnny Bond, vocal groups the Pinafores and Cass County Boys, comedian Pat Buttram, and a special appearance by Rosemary Clooney. There are several rare performances of songs that Autry never released commercially, including a recitation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and Pat Buttram’s original “Did You Ever Hafta Sleep at the Foot of the Bed?” Restored from lacquer transcription discs, the sound quality is very good, and the performances superb. This is a terrific complement to Autry’s studio Christmas albums, and a warmly nostalgic addition to your family’s holiday soundtrack. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Gene Autry’s Home Page

Donna Fargo: That Was Yesterday

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

donnafargo_thatwasyesterdayDonna Fargo’s late-70s return to the charts

Top 40 listeners will remember Donna Fargo for her pair of 1972 crossover hits, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face,” but country fans will also recall the decade-long tail of her career. After her commercial fortunes began to fade in 1975, Fargo moved from Dot to Warner Brothers, and reignited her chart success with “Mr. Doodles.” That song provides the launching point for this collection of Fargo’s Warner Brothers-era sides, running through 1981’s non-LP “Lonestar Cowboy” and “Jacamo.” There are a few singles missing (1979’s “Walk on By” and a pair of low-charting sides from 1980’s Fargo), but what’s here covers the core of her commercial success at Warner Brothers, including six Top 10 hits, and the chart topping title track “That Was Yesterday.” Unusually for the times, Fargo wrote most her own material, only turning to others for hits (including “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” “Shame on Me,” “Do I Love You (Yes in Every Way),” “Ragamuffin Man,” and “Another Goodbye”) in the late ‘70s. For her earlier material on Dot, check out Varese’s Best Of collection, but to fill out the second half of her hit-making years, this is the set to get. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Donna Fargo’s Home Page