Posts Tagged ‘Warner Brothers’

Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

A quiet 1972 gem from a country-soul legend

Arthur Alexander’s music career was as heartbreaking as were his songs. A writer of indelible sorrow, he sang with a depth that seemed to flow directly out of his aching soul. He reached the Top 40 with “You Better Move On” and the R&B Top 10 with “Anna,” but his songs quickly became better known for other artist’s covers – the Stones, Beatles, Steve Alaimo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Bob Luman in the ‘60s – than for his own performances. The covers kept coming, as Mink DeVille, Chris Spedding, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others discovered Alexander’s songs, but various revivals of his own recording career never reached the commercial heights his artistry deserved.

Dropped by Dot in 1965, Alexander recorded a handful of singles for Sound Stage 7 and Monument (collected here), and in 1971 was signed by Warner Brothers to record this album. Alexander wrote five of the twelve titles, serving up heartbreak tinged with the difficult loyalty of “Go On Home Girl” and the painful memories of “In the Middle of It All.” Amid the sadness he surprises with resilience, haunted by failure but not knocked out in “Love Is Where Life Begins,” and resolutely focused on the prize in Dan Penn and Donnie Fitts’ troubled “Rainbow Road.” He aches with quiet desire on “It Hurts to Want It So Band,” and offers up an early version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” but without the fire of Elvis’ subsequent hit.

Released in 1972, the album and its singles garnered little interest from radio and no commercial results to speak of. A pair of follow-on singles, included here as bonus tracks, fared no better commercially. “Mr. John” has the sleek feel of Bill Withers, and the follow-up cover of “Lover Please” has a bouncy New Orleans roll. Two more tracks, the yearning “I Don’t Want Nobody” and optimistic “Simple Song of Love” were recorded for Warner Brothers but left unreleased until now. Alexander resurfaced a few years later with a charting cover of his own “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” as well as the Elvis tribute, “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home,” but unable to sustain this success, he left the business.

Two decades later he bubbled up again with the superb Lonely Just Like Me, finally receiving the attention and accolades he deserved. Sadly, and perhaps in keeping with the melancholy of his best work, Alexander passed away just months after the album’s release. Omnivore’s reissue of Arthur Alexander reproduces the original 12-song running order, adds six additional tracks waxed for Warner and original cover art. The 12-page booklet includes full-panel photos, label reproductions, and original and new liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. Although his time with Warner Brothers was short, it was artistically triumphant, and adds a valuable chapter to his small but influential catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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

Conway Twitty: The Complete Warner Bros. and Elektra Chart Singles

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

ConwayTwitty_CompeteWarnerBrosTwitty’s early ‘80s hits for Elektra and Warner

After successful tenures at MGM, Decca and MCA, Conway Twitty moved to Elektra in 1981, and subsequently the label’s parent, Warner Brothers. Though he returned to MCA in 1987, the Warner years saw continued success on the country singles and album charts. Varese’s collection pulls together all sixteen of Twitty’s A-sides for Elektra and Warner Brothers, half of which topped the country chart, and all but two (“The Legend and the Man” and “You’ll Never Know How Much I Needed You Today,” which reached #19 and #26, respctively) made the top ten.

The 1980s found Twitty singing ballads (“The Clown” “We Did But Now You Don’t”), waltzes (“Lost in the Feeling”) and lots of covers (“Slow Hand” “The Rose” “Heartache Tonight” “Three Times a Lady” “Ain’t She Somethin’ Else”). The productions have the gloss of 1980s Nashville, but Twitty’s voice retains its soulful edge. “Don’t Call Him a Cowboy” strikes up some Waylon-styled orneriness, and “Between Blue Eyes and Jeans” rustles up some two-stepping fiddle and twang. These aren’t the iconic hits Twitty recorded for MGM and MCA, but they’re an interesting later chapter in his career. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Margo Smith: The Very Best Of

Monday, September 14th, 2015

MargoSmith_TheVeryBestOfCountry singer’s ‘70s and ‘80s Warner Brothers hits

Margo Smith was a country singer whose career began with a self-titled 1975 album on 20th Century Fox, and the top ten single “There I Said It.” Varese picks up her story the following year, when the closing of 20th Century Fox’s Nashville division precipitated a move to Warner Brothers. She debuted on Warner with a cover of the Brotherhood of Man’s chirpy Eurovision Song Contest winner, “Save Your Kisses For Me.” Her singles see-sawed between country and pop, with “Take My Breath Away” employing steel, fiddle and a forlorn vocal that showed off Smith’s talent for blue notes and hair-raising yodels. The follow-on, “Love’s Explosion,” had double-tracked vocals and soaring strings that were closer to bubblegum than country.

The doubled vocals on Smith’s first #1, “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You,” echo Connie Francis’ 1962 original, and her follow-up chart-topper, “It Only Hurts For a Little While,” was also a cover, this time of the Ames Brothers’ 1956 hit. After a third hit cover (Kitty Kallen and Joni James’ “Little Things Mean a Lot”), Smith took a bold turn in 1979 with her original co-write, “Still a Woman,” and its thirty-something’s declaration of sexual desire. She recorded a pair of duets with Rex Allen Jr. and the homesick “The Shuffle Song,” and concluded her tenure on Warner with a cover of Mary Wells’ “My Guy.” The set’s eight-page booklet includes photos and discographical data, wrapping up a nice package for Smith’s many fans. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Margo Smith’s Home Page

Nicolette Larson: Lotta Love – The Very Best Of

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

NicoletteLarson_LottaLoveTheVeryBestOfSolid overview of Larson’s pop years

Nicolette Larson’s first and biggest hit, 1978’s “Lotta Love,” is surprisingly unrevealing of her bona fides. Produced by Ted Templeman, it’s smooth, contemporary pop that evidences none of the roots music that had been Larson’s metier as a backing and duet vocalist. Her work with Commander Cody, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver and Neil Young didn’t portend the horns, strings and flute of “Lotta Love.” Most pop radio listeners probably didn’t even realize that the single had been written by Young (and released on Comes a Time), or were aware of Larson’s earthier contributions to other artists’ records.

The album’s second single, Jesse Winchester’s “Rhumba Girl,” added a touch of funk, with crisp drums and horns, electric piano and flavorful percussion, but the third single, “Give a Little,” veered again to the middle of the road. The album held some deeper charms, including a stellar cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “Angels Rejoice” and a sweet, if somewhat sedate take on Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” Her second album, In the Nick of Time, leaned almost completely on the crystalline production sounds of the late ‘70s, highlighted by a duet with Michael McDonald on “Let Me Go, Love,” the upbeat “Dancin’ Jones,” and the mid-tempo Karla Bonoff-penned “Isn’t It Always Love.”

And so went her next two albums, with synthesizers added to the title track of 1981’s Radioland, Linda Ronstadt adding harmonies on Annie McLoone’s “Ooo-eee,” and Larson finding a deep groove on Allen Toussaint’s “Tears, Tears and More Tears.” 1982’s All Dressed Up & No Place to Go capped Larson’s pop career (as well as her time with Warner Brothers), after which she shifted to contemporary country music. Backed in large part by Andrew Gold (as was Linda Ronstadt on several of her most iconic works), Larson’s cover of “I Only Want to Be With You” gained some radio play (charting at #53), and Lowell George’s “Two Trains” gave her another funky pocket in which to sing.

Varese’s sixteen track set samples all four of Larson’s Warner Brothers albums, including charting singles and well-selected album tracks. Also featured are duets with Emmylou Harris (an absolutely stellar version of the Carter Family’s “Hello Stranger” from Harris’ Luxury Liner) and Steve Goodman (“The One That Got Away” from his High and Outside), and Larson’s contribution to the Arthur soundtrack. “Fool Me Again.” It’s a fair sample of Larson’s pop career, but necessarily missing some strong album tracks, particularly from her debut, and reputation-minting contributions to other artist’s albums. This is a good introduction, but new fans should follow-up with Nicolette and Neil Young’s Comes a Time. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Malo: Malo

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Malo_Malo1972 debut of a Latin rock and soul powerhouse

Coming in the wake of Santana’s 1969 breakthrough debut, and led by Carlos Santana’s guitar-slinging brother, Jorge, there’s no getting away from comparing this group to their Latin-soul brethren. Malo trawled a similar groove of rock, soul, funk and Latin jams, though with a larger aggregation of musicians, a heftier dose of percussion and a tight horn section. This 1972 debut, the only album recorded by the group’s early lineup, includes their lone chart hit, “Suavecito” (presented here in its original six-minute album mix and its three-minute single edit). This is a hard-driving album that’s a great deal more energetic than the summertime vibe of the single. The album has been available part of Rhino Handmade’s limited edition Celebracion box set; fans can now get Malo’s debut as a standalone with a four-panel booklet that includes liner notes by A. Scott Galloway. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

AshleyMonroe_LikeARoseThe Pistol Annies’ Ashley Monroe’s shines brightly in the solo spotlight

As part of the Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe’s star power was obscured by the outsized shine of her bandmate, Miranda Lambert. Though the Annies share lead vocals, they present themselves as a trio, with only Lambert’s fame standing out individually. But stepping out for her second solo album, Monroe’s singing talent is front and center. She sings in a voice that’s both innocent and world-wise, tipped with the sweetness of Dolly Parton, and with a sense of faith unshaken by life’s bumpy road. The title track, co-written with Guy Clark, is a showcase for this balance, laying out a path of endless forks that forges onward with hope and optimism. Monroe keeps the vocal intimate, even a bit shell-shocked, busting out in hints of wonder and pride only in the chorus. You can sense Monroe’s grit, another trait she shares with Parton, but also humbleness as she mirrors the song’s story in her vocal tone.

Producers Vince Gill and Justin Niebank serve Monroe perfectly with old-school productions of keening steel, crying fiddles and slip-note piano, but modern studio sonics that keep the album from sounding retro. It’s a much better setting for Monroe than her 2006 debut, Satisfied, fitting the delicate parts of her voice more supportively and pushing her toward traditional country phrasing. You can hear the difference in her remake of “Used,” sung here with a grace that escaped the earlier version. Monroe’s material balances blue-tinged autobiographical ballads with honky-tonk humor, the latter heard in the call-to-marital-duty “Weed Instead of Roses” and a sassy duet with Blake Shelton, “You Ain’t Dolly.” At only nine tracks (and under thirty minutes), this album ends too quickly, but with the Annie’s 2011 breakthrough advancing Monroe’s profile, her second shot at solo stardom is sure to be a success. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Ashley Monroe’s Home Page

Sanford & Townsend: Smoke from a Distant Fire / Nail Me to the Wall

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

First and third albums from soulful mid-70s one-hit wonders

Ed Sanford and John Townsend first worked together in their native South, but it wasn’t until they moved toLos Angelesthat their music garnered any commercial impact. The duo initially signed on as staff writers, but their aspirations to perform was achieved via songwriting demos and a contract with Warner Brothers. Their self-titled 1976 debut was produced by Jerry Wexler at Muscle Shoals, but even with all that going for it, it didn’t make a commercial impression at first. It wasn’t until the single “Smoke from a Distant Fire” climbed the chart and the album was reissued under the single’s title that the duo gained traction, including opening slots for major ‘70s hit makers. But as hot as the single became, climbing to #9, the duo was never able to chart again, and was dropped by their label after their third album.

Like many one-hit wonders, Sanford & Townsend made good music both before and after their brush with fame, and their albums have something to offer beyond the single. Johnny Townshend sings in an arresting tenor reminiscent of Daryl Hall, and the Muscle Shoals sound, supervised by keyboardist Barry Beckett, is solid and soulful. The duo’s songwriting is full of hooks that should have grabbed more radio time alongside Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Orleansand Hall & Oates. Recorded in their home state of Alabama, the duo’s lyrical milieu was often cautionary tales of Southern Caifornia, to which they added carefully crafted moments of country, blues and Doobie Brothers-styled funk. The group’s third album, 1979’s Nail Me to the Wall, doesn’t fully measure up to the debut with which it’s paired, but both provide worthwhile listening beyond the well-known single. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Johnny Townsend’s Home Page

Connie Stevens: The Complete Warner Bros. Singles

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

The charming singing career of a talented actress

There have been many actors whose musical aspirations out-distance their vocal abilities. Not so for Connie Stevens, whose singles and albums for Warner Brothers were sung with both charm and talent. Though best remembered for co-starring roles in 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye, Stevens sang these early-to-mid ‘60s sides in a voice that conveyed both sweet innocence and Hollywood sophistication. Better yet, Warner Brothers often supplied her with very good material, top-notch arrangements by Don Ralke, Perry Botkin Jr., and Neal Hefti and the production talents of David Gates, Lou Adler, Jimmy Bowen and others. She only cracked the Billboard Top 40 twice, first with the novelty “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” and later with “Sixteen Reasons,” but landed several more in the Top 100.

Real Gone’s two-disc set collects seventeen complete mono singles (A’s and B’s), the stereo single version of “Kookie, Kookie” (the B-side of which was an Edd Byrnes solo), and the superb radio promo “Why Can’t He Care for Me.” The latter was featured in the Jerry Lewis film Rock-A-Bye Baby, but never released commercially. Stevens’ early singles were similar to those of her early ‘60s peers Connie Francis, Annette Funicello and Shelley Fabares. She sang lyrics of love, longing and broken hearts, often in tunes that have novelty arrangements; but as early as 1960’s “Little Sister” you can hear a growing sophistication in the arrangements and vocals, if not yet the lyrics. Though Stevens was never a belter, she does add a bit of sass to her delivery of Goffin & King’s “Why’d You Wanna Make Me Cry.”

Stevens continued to sing of moony teen-romance (including titles by noted songwriting pairs Goffin & King, Barri & Sloan and Cook & Greenway), but also branched into more mature emotions with the punchy horn arrangement of “Hey, Good Lookin’” and a torchy cover of “Nobody’s Lonesome for Me.” By 1966, she incorporated Nancy Sinatra-styled go-go sounds into the upbeat “How Bitter the Taste of Love,” and her last Warner single covered Tim Hardin’s “It’ll Never Happen Again” in a soulful style similar to contemporaneous versions by P.P. Arnold and Johnny Rivers. She continued to act in film and on stage, and developed a successful cosmetics line, but these singles forever capture the Spring of her celebrity. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

The Jackie Davis Quartet: Easy Does It

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

A lightly swinging Hammond organ album from 1963

Jackie Davis was among the first players to spearhead the organ-jazz genre in the mid-50s. As a pianist who’s accompanied Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, his touch at the keyboard was especially noticeable on the highly responsive electro-mechanical Hammond organ. His repertoire favored jazz, blues and pop standards, ranging from Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” to Arlen and Mercer’s “Blues in the Night” and the twelve-bar “Night Train.” After five years on Capitol, Davis moved to Warner Brothers, where his first release was this 1963 production. As the album title implies, Davis’ small combo takes it easy on the tempos, though the Hammond provides plenty of fire and Earl Palmer’s drumming adds compelling accents. Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass provide rhythm as Davis’ keys dance across the light swing of the title tune, and his keys deftly wind their way around the Latin beat of “Midnight Sun.” It’s not until the album’s closing take on “Saint Louis Blues” that the band turns up the tempo, with Comfort running up and down the strings and Palmer’s snare drum and ride cymbal getting a workout. This is a fine, low-key organ jazz album from an early master of the form. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]