ANGOLA SOUNDTRACK 2.
Following three aggravated uprisings in 1961, the Angolan authorities were forced to act. There was no denying it, Angola was in crisis. The country could implode. Something had to be done. The status quo wasn’t an option. What followed was a double edged sword of repression and reform. For the first time, foreign investment was allowed into Angola. Another first, was that children were allowed access to education. This was the good news. However, the program of reform proved to be a double edge sword.
At a stroke, the Angolan authorities banned the carnaval groups which had proved popular since 1958. This was perceived as an act of cultural censorship and vandalism. Angolans weren’t going to stand for the suppression and repression of cultural expression. They didn’t take this lying down. Soon, a new generation of Angolan entrepreneurs and musicians started promoting concerts, opening clubs and forming bands. Before long, Angolan music had a thriving, underground music scene. However, it wasn’t until 1969 that Angola had its own recording industry.
Sadly, the Angolan recording industry lasted only nine years. Between 1969 and 1978 just a few record companies dominated the Angolan music industry. They released over 800 records, most of which were singles. Twenty-one of these tracks feature on Angola Soundtrack 2, which was recently released by Analog Africa. These twenty-one tracks documents the musical legacy left by these Angolan labels. Before I pick the highlights of Angola Soundtrack 2, I’ll tell you how the Angolan music scene came about.
After the banning of carnaval, Angolan music started to change. Angolan musicians didn’t take this cultural suppression lying down. They reasoned that Carnaval was just one type of music. Music hadn’t been banned. So, new musical genres evolved. The turmas, which were musical groups, began to incorporate guitars into their music. This influence came from the Congo and Cape Verde. Soon, more bands were formed and the Angolan music scene expanded. What they needed, was somewhere to play.
Montes had been a stalwart of the Angolan music scene since about 1958. Six years later, he was just as supportive of Angolan music. He wanted to take bands to other parts of Angola, where these bands had never played before. Having gotten sponsorship from a beer company, Montes was able to take the bands on a tour of various parts of Angola. This circuit was called the Kutonoca, and eventually, took in nine different venues. At each venue, the bands had a chance to showcase their talent. Most of the songs were sung in the Kimbundu dialect, and became part of Angola’s cultural identity. The only problem was, that the only way people could hear this music was live. Angola didn’t have a recording industry.
That was when Mr. Llorente, formerly of the Congolese record label Ngoma record label, founded Fadiang (Fabrica de Discos Angola). This was Angola’s first record pressing plant. It was pivotal to the future development of the Angolan music industry.
Not only did Angola have its own record pressing plant, soon Angola had its first record company. This was Valentim de Carvalho. They had their own recording studio and released Dicanzas de Prenda’s Brinca Na Areia. It was released on Valentim de Carvalho’s subsidiary Ngola. This was the dawn of Angolan music industry.
A handful of record companies dominated the Angolan music industry. This included the triumvirate of Rebita, Bonzao Discos and Ngola. They released some of the best Angolan music between 1969 and 1978. It can be found on Angola Soundtrack 2, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
Os Anjos’ Avante Juventude opens Angola Soundtrack 2. A truly irresistible and mesmeric track, a guitar meanders its way across the arrangement. Beguiling and fluid, its cinematic sound takes centre-stage. Meanwhile the rhythm section and percussion play supporting roles. Everything from Afro-beat, jazz, funk, Latin and surf music melt into one, during three magical minutes.
Tony Von’s vocal on N’Hoca is slow, pensive and soul-baring. Then all of a sudden, it’s all change. The song bursts into life. It’s akin to a call to dance. A myriad of percussion, chiming guitars and drums provide the backdrop to Tony’s joyous vocal. What follows is a slice of aural sunshine guaranteed to brighten even the dullest, darkest Winter days.
Urbano De Castro contributes two tracks to Angola Soundtrack 2. The first is Kialo Mingo, a single released on the Rebita label. It’s a fusion of influences. Everything from Afrobeat, samba, folk, funk, merengue and soul is combined. As Urbano delivers an impassioned, spirited vocal, he sings call and response, and this musical melting pot threatens to bubble over. The other track Fatimita, is a much more laid-back, understated and wistful sounding track. This allows us to hear two sides Urbano’s music.
One of the highlights of Angola Soundtrack 2 is Agarrem, the first of two tracks from Africa Ritmos. Released on the Rebita label, it’s an instrumental, allowing you to hear some of the best guitar playing on the compilation. It’s truly mesmeric. You’re enthralled by its delights. Then there’s Africa Ritmos’ pulsating, hip swaying rhythms. Truly, this is a potent partnership. Having enjoyed Agarrem, Africa Ritmos don’t let their standards slip on Olha O Pica. It doesn’t disappoint. Far from it. It’s more of the same. You’re swept away by this fusion of influences and genres. Drawing inspiration from jazz, Afro-beat, Latin and funk, you’re left longing to hear more from Africa Ritmos, formerly one of Angola’s musical secrets. Thankfully, not any more.
Negoleiros Do Ritmo released Lemba on the Bonzao Discos label. Written by Almerindo Cruz what follows is an innovative and infectiously catchy track. Percussion, drums and chiming, crystalline guitars usher in a heartfelt, joyous vocal. Soon, you’re caught up in the spirit of what’s an anthemic, joyous dance track where African and Western influences melt into one.
Carlos Lamartine’s Basooka is one of the hidden gems on Angola Soundtrack 2. Previously, it was tucked away on the B-Side of Jesus Diala Ua Kidi, a single released on N’Gola. After Carlos yells “Basooka” a blistering track unfolds. Driven along by guitars, blasts of braying horns, drums and percussion, it’s a glorious melange of merengue, Afro-beat, jazz, funk and soul. There’s even a ska influence. Mostly instrumental, Carlos only intervenes to encourage his band to even greater heights. In doing so, he ensures this is one of the highlights of Angola Soundtrack 2.
Africa Show released Inspiraçáo De Nito on the N’Gola label. This was one of several singles they released on N’Gola. Inspiraçáo De Nito is more than a little special. It has a cinematic, languid and jazz-tinged sound. Elements of Latin and funk shine through, as the guitar melts and wah-wahs into the distance. Shakers. drums and percussion punctuate the arrangement providing the perfect backdrop to this melancholy, wistful track.
Closing Angola Soundtrack 2 is Teta Lando’s Fuguei Na Escola (Para Jogar A Bola). Teta has enjoyed a long and successful career. It started in the seventies, when he released his debut single on CDA. His career spanned four decades, where Teta became one Angola’s most successful musical exports. A heart-wrenching, jazz-tinged ballad Fuguei Na Escola (Para Jogar A Bola) is an emotive and quite beautiful way to close Angola Soundtrack 2.
The twenty-one tracks on Angola Soundtrack 2 span the period between 1969 and 1978. Sadly, in 1978, the Angolan music industry collapsed. A civil war had engulfed Angola in 1975. It lasted twenty-seven years, ending in 2002. By 1978, the country had descended into chaos. Angola’s music industry, which looked like thriving, was no more. Its legacy was 800 releases, most of which were singles. They’re a tantalizing reminder of Angola’s rich musical heritage.
For too long, Angolan music has been overlooked. While we’re familiar with the music of Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana, record companies have overlooked Angola’s musical past. Not any more. Samy Ben Redjeb’s Analog Africa released their first compilation of Angolan music in 2010. Three years later, comes the much anticipated followup, Angola Soundtrack 2. Featuring twenty-one tracks, Angola Soundtrack 2 is of the quality I’ve come to expect from Analog Africa.
Analog Africa’s approach to compilations is to concentrate on quality, not quantity. Angola Soundtrack 2 is only their fifteenth compilation. Rather than releasing new compilations each month, Analog Africa take time and care, producing lovingly complied and lavish compilations. Angola Soundtrack 2 is proof of this. Featuring in-depth sleeve-notes, full of interviews with some of the musicians that featured on Angola Soundtrack 2, this sets the standard for compilations. It’s obvious time and effort has gone into the making of Angola Soundtrack 2, an eclectic collection of tracks.
There’s everything from Afro-beat, funk, jazz, Latin, merengue and soul on Angola Soundtrack 2. Musical influences and genres melt into one. Joyous, uplifting, irresistible and infectiously catchy describes the music on Angola Soundtrack 2. So does soulful, heartfelt and impassioned. Full of subtleties, surprises and hidden secrets, Angola Soundtrack 2 is the perfect introduction to Angolan music. It’s also the perfect followup to Angola Soundtrack. Just like Angola Soundtrack, Angola Soundtrack 2 is a tantalizing taste of Angola’s rich and vibrant musical legacy. Standout Tracks: Os Anjos Avante Juventude, Urbano De Castro Fatimita, Carlos Lamartine Basooka and Teta Lando’s Fuguei Na Escola (Para Jogar A Bola).
ANGOLA SOUNDTRACK 2.
If I was to ask what group had nine albums certified gold, and one certified triple-platinum, between 1969 and 1979, how many people would say Jethro Tull? That’s because most people forget how successful Jethro Tull were. They were one of the most successful, groundbreaking and innovative of the prog rock bands in musical history. Several times, Jethro Tull reinvented themselves musically. Jethro Tull weren’t content to stand still. Far from it. In their early years, Jethro Tull were experimenting musically, so they could come up with their trademark sound and style. This saw Jethro Tull become one the most groundbreaking and inventive bands of the prog rock era. Despite having sold over sixty-million albums, Jethro Tull never receive the credit they deserve. Mind you, none of the prog rock bands did.
Nowadays, prog rock has almost been airbrushed from musical history. When it’s mentioned, it’s always a sideways snipe from Napoleonic critics. That means the careers of some of the most talented, innovative and creative musicians are overlooked. Instead, overrated and overhyped musical genres are given undue prominence. These musical genres are seen as more significant and culturally important than prog rock. That’s despite it being some of the most successful and complex released in the last fifty years.
A fusion of art rock, avant-garde, baroque, classical, folk, free jazz, jazz, pop and psychedelia, prog rock is a melting pot of musical influences and genres. Innovative and groundbreaking, it was a move away from the throwaway pop songs that had dominated music until then. Prog rock was cerebral, intelligent music. Sadly, for many years, prog rock has fallen out of favor. Now, thankfully, the tide is turning, and gradually, prog rock is receiving the credit it deserves. This includes a rerelease of Jethro Tull’s 1970 album Benefit.
Recently, Jethro Tull’s third album Benefit was rereleased by PLG. This was no ordinary rerelease of Benefit. Far from it. Instead, it was released a Collector’s Edition box set. This box set is best described as luxurious, lavish and lovingly put together. No effort has been spared. Disc one features Stephen Wilson’s 2013 Stereo Mix, plus five bonus tracks. On disc two there’s sixteen “Associated Recordings 1969-1970. Then disc three is a DVD which contains the contents of discs one and two in 5.1 surround sound. As you’ll realise, this is what a remastered album should sound like. This is no budget priced needle drop. No way. It’s a fitting homage to Jethro Tull’s third album Benefit. Before I tell you about the music on Benefit, I’ll tell you about Jethro Tull’s musical career up until then.
The origins of Jethro Tull can be traced to Blackpool, in 1962, That’s when Ian Anderson formed his first group The Blades. Originally a four piece, featuring Ian Anderson on vocals and harmonica, they became a quintet in 1963 and septet in 1964. By that time, they were a blue eyed soul band. After three years, the band decided to head to London.
Having moved to London, the band split-up within a short time. Just Ian Anderson and bassist Glen McCornick were left. This proved a blessing in disguise. They were soon joined by blues guitarist Mick Abrahams and drummer Clive Bunker. This was the lineup that featured on their debut album This Was. That was still to come.
Before that, the band had to settle on a name. Various names were tried. Then someone at a booking agent christened them Jethro Tull, after the eighteenth century agriculturalist. Not long after that, Ian Anderson acquired his first flute.
Up until then, Ian Anderson played just harmonica and was trying to learn to play the guitar. He realized wasn’t a great guitarist though. So, decided the world had enough mediocre guitarists, decided to expand his musical horizons. So he bought his flute. Little did he realize this would be one of Jethro Tull’s trademarks. After a couple of weeks, Ian had picked up the basics of the flute. He was learning as he played. Not long after this, Jethro Tull released their debut single.
Sunshine Day was penned by Mick Abrahams, with Derek Lawrence producing the single. On its release, the single was credited to Jethro Toe. It seemed thing weren’t going right for Jethro Tull. The single wasn’t a commercial success and failed to chart. Despite this disappointment, thing got better when they released their debut album This Was.
Having released their debut album This Was in October 1968, it reached number ten in the UK. Then when This was released in the US in February 1969, it reached just number sixty-two in the US Billboard. Critics praised This Was, which cost just £1,200 to record. Featuring mostly original material, which was penned by members of Jethro Tull, This Was a fusion of blues rock, folk, jazz and prog rock. This Was was a successful start to Jethro Tull’s career, which was about to enter a period where critical acclaim and commercial success were almost ever-present.
Prior to the recording of Stand Up, Jethro Tull’s sophomore album, Mick Abrahams left the band. Mick and Ian Anderson disagreed over the future direction of Jethro Tull. The problem was, Mick wanted Jethro Tull to stick with blues rock. Ian Anderson realised there was no real future in blues rock. He wanted to take Jethro Tull in different directions, exploring a variety of musical genres. So Mick left Jethro Tull and was replaced by Michael Barre. Little did either Mick nor Michael realise that Stand Up marked the start of a period where Jethro Tull sold over sixty-million albums.
Drawing inspiration from everything from blues rock, Celtic, classical, folk and rock work began on Stand Up. With Mick Abraham having left Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson was the primary songwriter. He penned nine of the ten tracks. They became Stand Up, which was released in August 1969 in the UK, where in reached number one. A month later, in September 1969, Stand Up reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200 Charts. This resulted not just in the start of Jethro Tull’s first gold disc, but the beginning of a golden period in their career. The next album in this golden period was Benefit.
For what became Benefit, Ian Anderson had written ten tracks. These ten tracks were recorded at Morgan Studios, London, during December and January 1970. Ian played flute, keyboards, guitar and sang lead vocals. The rest of Jethro Tull included Clive Bunker, who played drums, guitarist Martin Barre and bassist Glen Cornick who also played Hammond organ. John Evan, who’d later become a member of Jethro Tull, played piano and organ. David Palmer took charge of the orchestral arrangements, while Ian Anderson produced Benefit. It was released in April 1970.
Unlike Jethro Tull’s two previous albums, Benefit was released simultaneously in the US and UK and was well received by critics. Upon its release in April 1970, Benefit reached number three in the UK and number eleven in the US Billboard 200 Charts. This meant another gold disc for Jethro Tull. No only were they were on a roll, but as Benefit shows, continually reinventing their music.
Opening Benefit is With You There to Help Me. Straight away, there’s some studio trickery at work, with a flute played backwards. Then, Jethro Tull remind me somewhat of The Moody Blues. Ian’s earnest, heartfelt vocal is enveloped by harmonies, while searing, scorching guitars answer his call. Soon, we hear a different side to Jethro Tull. They’re rocking, and rocking hard. Driven along by the rhythm section and bursts of scorching, sizzling guitars, while flourishes of flute cascade above the arrangement. They prove a foil for the vocal and guitar, on a track where folk, blues, jazz and rock intertwine seamlessly and mesmerically.
Despite being recorded in 1970, Nothing To Say sounds way ahead of its time. It sounds more like a track recorded around 1973 or 1974. Again musical genres are fused. Rock becomes prog rock and then thanks to Ian’s wistful vocal and the languid arrangement, almost pastoral and then rocky. Then thanks to echo and filters, a lysergic, psychedelic sound can be heard. With Jethro Tull’s rhythm section joining forces with fiery guitars and piano, they provide a fitting backdrop for Ian’s dramatic, hurt-filed and defiant vocal. Shrouded in echo, it takes on an almost mysterious sound. From there, harmonies combine with the band as a timeless track unfolds where Jethro Tull, musical visionaries, showcase their inconsiderable skills.
A piano sets the scene for Ian’s vocal on Alive And Well And Living In. Stabs of piano are matched by the bass before Ian’s vocal enters. It’s deliberate and definite. He seems to be taking care as he articulates the lyrics. Meanwhile flourishes of flute and bursts of guitar are fired off. By now we’re hearing a harder rocking side of Jethro Tull. Then the arrangement is stripped back to the piano and bursts of flute which accompany Ian’s dramatic, powerful vocal. A fusion of blues, orchestral, classical, prog rock and rock it’s a continuation of Jethro Tull’s reinvention.
Son is a stomping, hard rocking number. Here, Ian Anderson reminds me of Alex Harvey, of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. His vocal is almost a theatrical sneer. Strutting his way through the track, machine gun guitars accompany him, while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Midway through the track, it’s all change. The tempo drops and Ian’s vocal becomes pensive, probing and questioning. Then the drama returns as the track heads to its glorious hard rocking crescendo.
Crystalline, chiming guitars join Ian’s tender vocal on For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me. The meandering guitars and vocal are a potent partnership. You’re drawn to them. Soon, you’re enchanted. Then with a burst of guitar the tempo picks up and Jethro Tull combine folk, blues, rock, classical and Celtic music. Just like what’s gone before, what follows is enthralling, beguiling and enchanting. It also shows another side to Jethro Tull.
To Cry You A Song sees a return to Jethro Tull’s blues rock sound. Driven along by a powerhouse of a rhythm section and dual guitars, it’s Jethro Tull at their best. Ian’s vocal is a mixture of power and emotion. When it drops out, Jethro Tull concentrate on mixing blues rock with prog rock. A captivating combination the music of the past, present and future collides head on. Later, Ian’s vocal is enveloped by harmonies and bursts of guitar, showcasing Jethro Tull at their hard rocking, bluesy best.
A Time For Everything bursts into life. It’s best described as a fusion of rock, Celtic and folk. Scorching guitars, boron, flute and acoustic guitar create a wall of dramatic, rocky music. As if inspired, Ian launches himself into the lyrics. He becomes a seer or philosopher, as he delivers the lyrics. A wash of feedback envelops a vocal that’s pensive, thoughtful and dramatic. Later, as the track heads towards a sudden and poignant ending Ian’s vocal is akin to an unanswered question. It’s as if he’s asking is there: “A Time For Everything?”
Inside is one of the highlights of Benefit. A rousing, anthemic combination of folk, rock and blues music. Meandering gently, there’s a slight Eastern influence. That’s maybe down to Ian’s flute. His vocal has a folk influence. Tender, veering between wistful and joyously, his vocal is crucial to the song’s success. Behind him, the rest of Jethro Tull combine musical genres on this breezy, joyous and irresistibly catchy track.
The rhythm section are at the heart of this hard rocking, bluesy Play In Time. Ian adds a grizzled vocal and plays the flute. Again, there’s some studio trickery, with the piano and guitars speeded up. This works, adding a psychedelic influence on this driving, dramatic and genre-melting track. Cascading flute, thunderous drums and wizened guitars provide the backdrop for what’s one of Ian’s best vocals. Strident and confident he struts his way through the track, as Jethro Tull kick loose. They’re a tight and talented unit who never miss a beat. As they jam, the earlier psychedelic influence adds the finishing touch.
Sossity You’re A Woman which closes Benefit, is very different from any of the other tracks. It’s like something from an other age. It’s as if Ian Anderson has been transported back in time as has been given the job of entertaining at a medieval feast. Just acoustic guitars accompany him, before later an organ adds an almost gothic sound. Later, the arrangement is a mass of acoustic guitars, tambourine, shakers and organ, before reaching its melancholy, thoughtful ending.
Benefit was just the second album in the most successful and productive period of Jethro Tull’s career. Between 1969 and 1979, nine of Jethro Tull’s albums were certified gold. Aqualung Jethro Tull’s 1971 Magnus Opus was certified triple-platinum. It seemed Jethro Tull could do no wrong. That was the case. Sadly, Jethro Tull never received the recognition they deserved.
After the advent of punk, critics and music lovers shied away from prog rock. Confessing to liking prog rock wasn’t the done thing. No. It wasn’t fashionable. Critics who previously, had championed prog rock, referred to prog rock groups like Jethro Tull as dinosaurs. Despite that, Jethro Tull gold discs kept coming Jethro Tull’s way. Right through to 1979s Stormwatch, Jethro Tull were hugely successful. The reason for that was their music never stood still. It constantly evolved. Jethro Tull’s music was groundbreaking, genre-melting and innovative. That’s why Jethro Tull enjoyed so much critical acclaim and commercial success.
Having released their debut album This Was in 1968, Jethro Tull went on to release another twenty studio albums. Their final album was 2003s The Jethro Tull Christmas Card. Over five decades, where they released twenty-one albums, Jethro Tull were more successful in the US than the UK. Ten of their albums were certified gold and one triple-platinum. Over in the UK, five of Jethro Tull’s albums were certified silver. Worldwide, Jethro Tull sold over sixty-million albums, making them one of the most successful prog rock bands ever. Despite that, Jethro Tull haven’t received the critical acclaim and recognition their music deserves.
Hopefully, that’s starting to change, especially with the rerelease of Jethro Tull’s third album Benefit. Recently, it was rereleased by PLG. This is no ordinary rerelease of Benefit. Far from it. Instead, this release of Benefit should be the benchmark for rereleases. It’s a Collector’s Edition box set, that’s best described as luxurious and lavish. No effort has been spared. As for the sound quality, it comes to life, assailing and surrounding you. Especially with Stephen Wilson’s 2013 Stereo Mix of Benefit. Quite simply, the music on Benefit comes to life. That’s what makes this rerelease of Benefit the perfect introduction to Jethro Tull’s music. Along with Benefit, I’d recommend EMI’s 2011 rerelease of Aqualung. They’re the perfect starting point to Jethro Tull, one of the most innovative, groundbreaking, commercially successful and critically acclaimed prog rock bands of all time, whose music is truly timeless. Standout Tracks: With You There to Help Me, To Cry You A Song, A Time For Everything and Play In Time.
END OF NEIL-GAS STATION COFFEE.
In an age when artists take years to record an album, it’s refreshing to come across an artist as prolific as End Of Neil. During 2013, End Of Neil has released a trio of E.Ps. The first of this trio was Less, released back in April. Then six months later, My Games was released in October. My Games was a coming of age for End Of Neil. It was his best release, with songs that were cinematic, evocative and emotive. My Games was another glimpse into the world of End Of Neil. During the six songs, End Of Neil, the troubled troubadour, introduces us to a compelling cast of characters. Their lives unfold during the six songs. Like mini kitchen sink dramas full of betrayal, heartache, love lost and love found, My Games left me wanting to hear more from End Of Neil. Much more. So, you can imagine how pleased I was to hear that End Of Neil had released another E.P. Gas Station Coffee.
Gas Station Coffee was released on on 1st December 2013. It’s available via Bandcamp, and features B-sides, demos and what End Of Neil refers to as “special tracks.” It’s another insight to the world of End Of Neil and will keep fans occupied until his next E.P. of new material. After that, End Of Neil will begin work on his debut album, which will be released during 2014. Somehow, End Of Neil manages to find time to fit a whole host of live dates. It’s no exaggeration to say, that End Of Neil it seems is the hardest working musician in Scottish music and has been since he founded End Of Neil in 2008. He’s packed a lot into five years. You’ll realize that when I tell you about his career so far.
Earlier this year, when I wrote about End Of Neil’s My Games E.P, I did what I always do when I come across a new artist, I asked him to tell me a bit about himself. I wanted to know not just about End Of Neil’s music, but Neil Stewart, and his life. What I was trying to do, was build a picture, so that I can tell his story. Often, the information I’m given, varies. It various in quality, quantity and substance. End Of Neil’s was different. It was a refreshing first.
Unlike many new musicians I come across, End Of Neil is modest, unassuming and ego free musicians. That’s really refreshing. It seems, he prefers to let his music do the talking. End Of Neil is a hugely talented singer-songwriter. He’s also one of the most modest men in music. I discovered that when I first came across him. When I first heard End Of Neil’s music, I got in touch with Neil Stewart, the man behind End Of Neil, and asked him to tell me about his career so far. Unlike other artists, Neil provided a short, ego-free CV. Straight away, I liked Neil Stewart. Here, was a really talented, singer-songwriter, who despite his obvious talent, remained humble and modest. He helps other bands, is supportive of his local music scene and is “part a strong community of songwriters.” Neil Stewart, I realised is an anomaly in modern music, an ego-free musician.
Based in Stirling, Scotland, End Of Neil is the alter-ego of Neil Stewart. End Of Neil was founded in 2008, and since then, has been honing their unique sound. Best described as a combination of acoustic and folk, it’s won over audiences throughout Scotland, and more recently, much further afield.
Most of End Of Neil’s music is written by Neil Stewart. He’s just the latest in a new generation of Scottish singer-songwriters. Neil’s been influenced by John Martin, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Neil Young. It’s not just folk music that influences End Of Neil. Not at all. Neil says anyone “with a guitar and sense of feeling” influences him. Interestingly, this includes Nirvana. These influences are reflected in End Of Neil’s music, which has been honed through constantly touring.
After founding End Of Neil, Neil played mostly Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh. His idea was, to refine his music through playing live. This is the old-fashioned way. Through playing live, an artist refines his sound and songs. Having played mostly in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, End Of Neil started playing further afield and opening for some big names.
No longer was End Of Neil playing much further afield. Audiences at concerts and festivals were won over by End Of Neil. So too, were The Vaselines, Ken Stringfellow and Rachel Sermanni, who End Of Neil supported. This summer, End Of Neil will be supporting Simon Townsend, the brother of Who guitarist, Pete Townsend. Whilst constantly touring, End Of Neil has released four E.P.s.
It was back in September 2012, that End Of Neil’s recording career began. Escape At The Zoo and 62 were the debut tracks from an undoubtably talented artist. Best described as joyous and celebrating being young and free, Escape At The Zoo features intelligent lyrics, thought provoking lyrics, about whether human instinct can be repressed by work and social pressures and norms. 62 is an atmospheric song, one that paints pictures in your mind, while Neil’s voice is needy and emotive. Just a month after End Of Neil’s debut single, came his first E.P.
September was released by End Of Neil in October 2012. This was End Of Neil’s debut E.P. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Both Escape At The Zoo and 62 featured on September. The other three tracks were of a similar quality. End Of Neil brought Forget The Afternoon, Save My Soul and Knights In Armour to life. Neil’s lyrics are a cut above what we’ve come to expect from modern singer-songwriters. Just like the seventies singer-songwriters who’ve influenced End Of Neil, Neil delivers his songs with passion and emotion. He’s like a master storyteller, his songs painting pictures, asking question, probing and provoking your emotions. For a debut E.P. September was the perfect way to begin End Of Neil’s recording career. Just seven months later, came the followup, My Games.
Released in April 2013, My Games was End Of Neil’s sophomore E.P. It featured six new tracks from End Of Neil. It built on September, which had been the starting point for his recording career. The songs are even better, tighter and slicker. Now six months later, Less was End Of Neil’s third E.P.
Less was released in October 2013 and featured another six new songs. Again, we were introduced to a diverse cast of characters. Many of them are complicated. Some of them are troubled. All of the characters are intriguing. Just like on My Game, Less saw End Of Neil introduce us to a diverse cast of characters. Many of them are complicated. Some of them are troubled, some heartbroken and some frustrated or angry. All of them are intriguing. In many ways, that makes it a very Scottish collection of songs. After all, we Scots are complicated, troubled and intriguing. We certainly have stories to tell and always have. It’s in our D.N.A. End Of Neil is storyteller, he’s also a poet and songwriter. His lyrics paint pictures and his characters come to life. That’s been the case on each of his E.P.s and is the case on the wonderfully named Gas Station Coffee. It features six songs which were written and produced by End Of Neil. So I’ll tell you taste Gas Station Coffee, End Of Neil’s latest E.P, and tell you about its flavours and aroma.
Opening Gas Station Coffee is Dry Land. It’s a demo where End Of Neil’s talent and passion shines through. A guitar driven track it’s perfect to open the E.P. Having set the scene with waves of his crystalline guitar, his vocal drifts in. There’s a sense of relief and joy as he sings of seeing “Dry Land.” You wonder who or what he’s looking forward to see? Is it a lover, his family or has the journey been fraught with danger? He sings call and response, harmonies answering his call and adding to the singalong nature of this track. Joyous, with plenty of slick hooks, End Of Neil does what he does so well, painting evocative pictures with his lyrics.
Gimp is a slower track, with a thoughtful, melancholy sound. The lyrics remind me of Loudon Wainwright. They tell the story of two people who’ve met on the internet, who’ve embarked upon a masochistic relationship. There’s a sense of guilt and sadness in the lyrics. It’s as if he knows or feels he’s doing something wrong. He’s angry and disappointed with himself. Deep down, he knows this is no basis for a relationship. That becomes apparent in Neil’s vocal. Tinged with irony and humor, there’s a very Scottish sense of guilt that shines through in the lyrics.
Heavy World grabs your attention straight away. This is what I’d describe as essential late-night listening. Especially, for any night owls or insomniacs. End Of Neil is speaking for them. With the guitar, bass and handclaps accompanying Neil’s vocal, he delivers vocals that are powerful and impassioned. Harmonies accompany him, as Neil, sings of how it’s a Heavy World during the night. Problems grow, things suddenly no longer make sense. Midway through the track, Neil’s vocal almost becomes a rap. He thinks back, remembering things he wish he’d done and people he’d been. Regrets it seems, End Of Neil has a few. He’s also capable of writing and delivering a slick, hook-laden, stomping track.
Straight away, Years In The Wilderness has a country influence. Just a guitar accompanies heartfelt Neil’s vocal during this paean. Full of regret, but truly heartfelt, Neil’s delivery of the lyrics are sincere and full of hope. He regrets his “Years In The Wilderness” and not being in touch. A couple of postcards, he knows wasn’t enough. Only now, does he realize what he’s risked losing. With punchy harmonies for company, Neil lays bare his soul. Delivering a needy, heartfelt and hopeful paean, this is one of the highlights of Gas Station Coffee.
With a melancholy harmonica and drums combining, they set the scene for Neil’s vocal on Villains. The harmonica and later, Neil’s vocal results in a real Neil Young influence. Apologetic describes his vocal, as he sings: “sorry I can’t save you.” As the drums and percussion provide a backdrop for his vocal, confusion, frustration, regret and sadness fill his vocal. Soon, his vocal is an outpouring and hurt. Harmonies accompany his vocal, and coo above the crystalline guitar. It’s one of the best guitar solos on Gas Station Coffee. As the arrangement builds to a dramatic close, Neil’s vocal veers between a vamp and scat. A cathartic unburdening, harmonies accompany every step of the way, while a radio plays in the distance. Together, they play their part in a track that epitomizes all that’s good about End Of Neil’s music.
Closing Gas Station Coffee is Deception. After Neil counts the band in, guitars drive the arrangement along, before his vocal enters. Soon, you’re hooked. Neil paints pictures with his lyrics. So evocative are they, that you can picture the scene unfolding before your eyes. Then with sadness and frustration filling his voice, he questions and probes, asking: “why is everyone playing these games?” That game is “Deception.” Now Neil’s a victim of this dangerous and deadly game. Full of bitterness, heartache and regret, it’s a poignant tale of love gone wrong from a hugely talented singer-songwriter.
For fans of End Of Neil, Christmas has come early in the shape of Gas Station Coffee. A delicious, aromatic blend of Americana, country, folk and rock, one cup isn’t enough. No. Far from it. It’s a truly irresistible drink, best tasted often. Indeed, from Dry Land right through to Deception, Gas Station Coffee oozes quality. Mind you, that’s what we’ve come to expect from End Of Neil.
That End Of Neil can consistently release quality music is the result of five years hard work. End Of Neil has dedicated himself to his craft. He’s now a hugely talented singer-songwriter. Long-gone are the rough edges. They’ve been smoothed away by five years touring. That has been time well spent. Inspired by and following in the tradition of seventies singer-songwriters, End Of Neil is troubled troubadour with stories to tell. Proof of that is his the triumvirate of My Games, Less and Gass Station Coffee.
These three E.P.s feature songs that are compelling and enthralling. You’re introduced to a diverse cast of characters. Many of them are complicated. Some of them are troubled. All of them are intriguing, interesting and compelling. These characters have been introduced during 2013. This has been akin to End Of Neil’s musical apprenticeship. Now he’s more than ready to record his debut album.
Unlike other artists, End Of Neil hasn’t released a debut album. It’s as if he’s doing things on his terms. That’s the way to do things. Far too often, do bands sign a recording contract and record an album early in their career. Sometimes, they never recover from that. That’s not the case with End Of Neil. No way. Gas Station Coffee is a tantalising taste of what are, End Of Neil’s hidden secrets. B-Sides, demos and his “special songs” feature on Gas Station Coffee. Incredibly, he hasn’t released them until now. These songs show End Of Neil developing, evolving and maturing as an artist. Along with My Games and Less, Gas Station Coffee shows that End Of Neil is ready to make the next step. That next step is his releasing his debut album. Why?
Well, Gas Station Coffee, with its fusion of folk, acoustic, Americana, country and rock features music that’s cerebral, intelligent, evocative, expressive, poetic and thoughtful. End Of Neil sings of hurt and heartbreak, love and loss, life and the meaning of it. Poignancy sits side-by-side with pathos. There’s a sense of melancholia, wistfulness and vulnerability on several tracks. Other songs feature irony, humour and guilt. Crucial to the success of Less, is Neil’s lived-in, world-weary, soulful vocal. Sometimes, Neil’s vocal is a cathartic unburdening. This is hugely powerful and emotive. It’s as if we’re seeing a glimpse of End Of Neil’s soul, as he introduces us to a cast of new characters on Gas Station Coffee, which represents the close of another chapter in End Of Neil’s career.
The next chapter of End Of Neil’s career begins with the release of his highly anticipated debut album. By then, word will have spread even further about the multitalented End Of Neil. Until then, you can enjoy a some of End Of Neil’s delicious and irresistible Gas Station Coffee.
END OF NEIL-GAS STATION COFFEE.
JO MANGO-WHEN WE LIVED IN THE CROOK OF A TREE.
One of the best kept secrets in Scottish music is Jo Mango, who released her new E.P. When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree on 2nd December 2013, on Olive Grove Records. It features some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard for a long time. Best described as ethereal, bewitching, captivating and haunting, the four tracks only last nine minutes, but believe me, they make a lasting impression. Quite simply, these are no ordinary songs. Far from it. Mind you, Jo Mango is no ordinary singer.
Jo Mango wrote the songs for a Celtic Connections show, held in Glasgow in 2012. That night, Jo was supporting Laetitia Sadlier of Sterolab. She’d written and recorded the four sings within a month The songs were based upon Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. This was the perfect inspiration for Jo. After all, here was a collection of enthralling stories, with stories that range from bleak, dark, joyous and surreal. Soon, Jo had the four songs that became her latest E.P. When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree. This was just the latest release from Jo Mango, who many people will know from being a member of Vashti Bunyan’s band.
It was back in 2005, that Glasgow based Jo Mango released her debut album, Paperclips and Sand. This was the debut album from Scotland’s latest folk singer, who had spent the least few years finishing her musicology doctorate. Released on Lo-Five Records, Paperclips and Sand introduced us to a talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
Not only does Jo write her own songs, but plays a whole host of instruments. A true multi-instrumentalist, Jo plays harmonium, kalimba, omnichord, piano and glock. If she’d been born a generation earlier, Jo could’ve been a member of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Then there’s Jo’s voice. What a voice it is. Enchanting, beguiling, fragile, vulnerable and whispery, it demands you listen. Having released her debut album, Jo split her time between being a member of Vashti Bunyan’s band, finishing her doctorate and her solo career.
Two year later, Jo released her single My Lung, in 2007. Just like Paperclips and Sand, it was released on Lo-Five Records. After that, Jo collaborated with David Byrne in 2007. Then in 2010, Jo released the limited edition The Moth and The Moon on Lo-Five Records. The following year, was a busy year for Jo. She worked with Glasgow based Teenage Fanclub, Devendra Banhart and Coco Rosie during 2011. In 2012, Jo worked with another another Scottish band, Admiral Fallow. That year, Jo released her sophomore album Murmuration.
Murmuration was released on Olive Grove Records. Producing Murmuration, was Adem Ilhan, who Jo knew from her time touring with Vashti Bunyan. On its release in November 2012, Murmuration received critical acclaim. Critics were enchanted by her voice and the way she delivered her cerebral, thoughtful lyrics. Then there’s the eclectic choice of instruments that feature on Murmuration. This was a winning combination. A month later, Jo was asked to support Laetitia Sadlier of Sterolab. Within a month, she’d penned and recorded what became her latest E.P. When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree.
The songs on When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree, are based upon Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. This famous book was the perfect inspiration for Jo. An eclectic collection of enthralling stories, they gave birth to the four songs that became Jo Mango’s When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree E.P. which I’ll tell you about.
Opening When We Lived In The Crook Of A Tree is the title-track. Stabs of piano provides a melancholy backdrop for Jo’s vocal. Her worldweary vocal paints pictures. Memories come flooding back. With a sense of sadness she sings “we used to hide when the bailiffs came.” You sense she’s seen too much too young. As a result, she’s old, wise and weary before her time. What’s obvious is the bond between her mother and her. That’s unbreakable, unlike her bond with the tree they lived and hid in. Jo’s had enough of it. It brings back memories, memories best forgotten, Wistfully and hopefully, she sings: “cut it down now.” Meanwhile, a melancholy arrangement takes shape, all the time tugging at your heartstrings, just like Jo’s vocal has.
Seasonless opens with the unmistakable sound of a harmonium. Perfectly, it sets the scene for Jo’s vocal. Tender, thoughtful and wistful describes her vocal. As the arrangement meanders along, slowly and gradually revealing its secrets. Similarly, Jo unburdens herself. There’s a fragility and vulnerability in Jo’s vocal. She’s almost despairing and heartbroken. It’s as if her life is almost over. This is apparent when she sings: “everything exhausts me, as I sink into the earth.” Accompanying her is a mournful arrangement which envelops her vocal and proves the perfect, potent and poignant foil for it.
Drums are beaten, while percussion and guitars combine as Send in the Crows unfolds. Jo’s vocal is higher. The despair and despondency of the previous track is gone. Airy and ethereal, her vocal is captivating and enchanting. As she sings, the song sounds like a fusion of a nursery rhyme and traditional folk music. Full of imagery, imagery and words unspoken, the crow becomes a messenger, but what of? Is it the bringer of bad luck as is so often the case. Similarly, is everything is as it seems, or is there a darkness to the slightly surreal lyrics? That’s what makes this such a bewitching track.
Take Your Medicine closes When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree. A myriad of percussive delights and a glock usher in Jo’s thoughtful vocal. Straight away, she’s painting evocative images. Close your eyes and you can see the “blackened land” Jo is singing about. Then as she song unfolds, a darkness descends as she sings “he took the medicine.” She makes it sound like a punishment for a betrayal. As Jo sings the lyric: “I drank your kindness down,” she sounds both grateful and angry. It’s as if she’s saying this is what we had, and now look what we are. There’s a twist in the tale though. She sings: “lift her high and shake the dust of her desire.” This is just the latest chapter in what sounds like a turbulent relationship that’s gone badly wrong.
For anyone yet to discover Jo Mango’s music, When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is the perfect starting place. It’s the introduction to another of Scotland’s best kept musical secrets. When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree features some if the most beautiful music I’ve heard for a long time. Best described as ethereal, bewitching, captivating and haunting, the four tracks only last nine minutes, but believe me, they make a lasting impression.
Based upon Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales, this is cerebral, intelligent music. Full of symbolism and imagery, there’s a surreal quality to some of the lyrics. Everything’s not what it seems. Far from it. It’s like a lysergic musical journey. Best described as a musical hall of mirrors, When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is full of nuances, subtleties and surprises. It’s also music that’s enchanting and ethereal.
Sounding not unlike a mixture of Katrine Polwart, Jerry Burns and Suzanne Vega, Jo Mango is an artist who deserves widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Maybe that will come. After all, Jo has only released two albums. When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree which was recently released on Olive Grove Records is a reminder, if any was needed, that Jo Mango is a hugely talented artist.
JO MANGO-WHEN WE LIVED IN THE CROOK OF A TREE.
Having released his debut album Pharoah’s First in 1964, Pharoah Sanders went on to release over thirty albums. As if this isn’t impressive enough, he’s accompanied jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Don Cherry. Pharoah’s other collaborations have included working with such luminaries as Terry Callier, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, who referred to Pharoah as “probably the best tenor player in the world.” This is high praise indeed. However, for anyone who has heard Pharoah’s legendary sheets of sound, this isn’t unexpected. Especially, for anyone familiar with Pharoah’s Impulse albums.
There’s no doubt that Pharoah’s best work was for Impulse Records. This is no surprise. After all, Impulse was one of the most groundbreaking, innovative labels. Jazz pioneers like John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Chico Hamilton and Max Roach called Impulse home. Whilst signed to Impulse, Pharoah released ten albums between 1966 and 1974. This included Elevation, which was released in 1973.
Recorded in September 1973, with two different bands accompanying him, Elevation was the first album Pharoah’s recorded since he returned to the West Coast. ABC Records who owned Impulse, decided to move the label back to Los Angeles from its New York base. Elevation was a homecoming for Pharoah Sanders.
Produced by Ed Michels, who was chosen to replace Bob Thiele in 1969, Elevation was another album of spiritual jazz from Pharoah Sanders. Elevation which was recently released by Sounds Of The Universe, an imprint of Soul Jazz Records was Pharoah Sanders’ penultimate album for Impulse. Love In Us All was Pharoah’s final album for Impulse and marked the beginning of a turbulent time in Pharoah Sanders’ life. That was all to come. Pharoah Sanders was enjoying one of the most productive period in his career. It seemed he could do no wrong. An innovator, he was one of the jewels in Impulse’s crown. You’ll realise that when I tell you about Elevation. Before that, I’ll tell you about Pharoah Sanders’ career.
Born in Farrell Sanders, in Little Rock, Arkansas, in October 1940, Pharoah Sanders’ career began in Oakland, California. That’s where he made his professional debut. A tenor saxophonist, played in local blues and R&B bands. That’s where Pharoah developed and honed his distinctive style. As the fifties drew to a close, Pharoah wanted to widen his horizons. So he headed to New York.
Initially, Pharoah’s time in New York wasn’t the happiest of his life. He was homeless, reduced to sleeping on the streets, under stairs or just about anywhere warm and dry. With his clothes reduced to rags, many a lesser man would’ve headed home. Not Pharoah Sanders. Luckily, he caught a break when he met Sun Ra.
Not only did Sun Ra give Pharoah a place to stay and bought him some new clothes, but brought him into his band. This was just the start of Pharoah Sanders’ career. Then in 1964, Pharoah released his debut album Pharoah’s First, on ESP Disk. A year later, Pharoah joined John Coltrane’s band, where he came to the attention of a much wider audience.
It was during the two years he spent as a member of John Coltrane’s band, that he perfected his sheets of sound technique. Once heard, it’s never forgotten. Best known for his overblowing, harmonic and multi-phonic techniques, Pharoah was the perfect addition to ‘Trane’s band. Pharoah played on albums like Ascension, Meditation and Om. Playing alongside ‘Trane was a musical apprenticeship worth its weight in gold. Sadly, Trane’s career was cut short, when he died in July 1967, aged just forty. Having learnt from the master, Pharoah returned to his solo career.
During his time playing with ‘Trane, Pharoah had released two solo albums,1965s Pharoah and 1966ss Tauhid, his debut for Impulse. It was at Impulse where Pharoah would release the best music of his career. Just like before, Pharoah split his time between his solo career and accompanying some of the giants of jazz. Among the artist Pharoah accompanied, were Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Don Cherry. Pharoah collaborated with Terry Callier, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. From 1969 right through to 1974, Pharoah was at his creative peak, whether as a bandleader or collaborator.
From 1969 right through to 1974, Pharoah was releasing two solo albums a year. In 1969 he released Karma, an album of spiritual jazz. A fusion of avant-garde, free jazz, Indian and African music, it seemed Pharoah trying to fill the void left by the death of ‘Trane. Just like ‘Trane’s album Pharoah played on, Karma featured music that was innovative and progressive. So did Jewels Of Thought, released in October 1969. Featuring an all-star band that included Leon Thomas, Lonnie Liston Smith, Cecil McBee and Idris Muhammad, Jewels Of Thought, is an often overlooked album in Pharoah’s back-catalogue. Jewels Of Thought marked the end of the sixties for Pharoah. Little did he know he was about to enter one of the most productive and creative periods of his career.
1970 saw Pharoah release one of his most ambitious and spiritual albums. Summun Bukmun Umyun or Deaf Dumb and Blind, was influenced by African music. The album is an exploration of faith, spiritual truth and enlightenment. Deaf Dumb and Blind are the “non-believers,” those who have rejected faith. Joining Lonnie Liston Smith and Cecil McBee were Gary Bartz and Woody Shaw. They played their part in what was an album that was hailed as ambitious and groundbreaking. Sadly, critics didn’t say the same thing about the followup, the underrated Thembi, one of three albums Pharoah released during 1971
Thembi, which was released in 1971, saw a change in style from Pharoah. Gone were the lengthy jams. In their place were short. breezy and uptempo tracks. These tracks see Pharoah’s band deploy an eclectic selection of instruments. Recording took place in two sessions. This resulted in the criticism that Thembi didn’t flow. Instead, it seemed like parts of two albums. That’s somewhat unfair. After all, Thembi saw embark on a transition. Granted it was still a fusion of avant-garde, experimental and free jazz, but these musical journeys were much more concise and just as captivating as previous albums. So was the other album Pharoah released during 1971, Black Unity.
Black Unity was released in December 1971. It marked the end of era. Pharoah decided to change tack. He decided to innovate rhythmically. Concentrating on the groove, he brought onboard younger musicians, who could fuse Afro-beat, funk, free jazz, avant-garde and experimental. His front line played their part. They can be heard innovating, pushing musical boundaries to their limits, sometimes, even way beyond. The result was a musical melting pot, that produced a mesmeric, hypnotic, genre-melting, groove-laden album. This was one of Pharoah’s greatest albums. Having concentrated on his solo career for much of 1971, where he released two studio albums and his Live album, Pharoah briefly, returned to being a sideman.
The other album Pharoah featured on during 1971, was Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidanada. A year later, Pharoah also played on Alice’s 1972 album Ptah, The El Daoud. It featured Pharoah and Joe Henderson. Along with drummer Ben Riley and bassist Ron Carter, the result was truly, space-age, genre-melting album. Alice Coltrane pushed musical boundaries to breaking point.
1972 wasn’t the most productive period of Pharoah’s career. His only release was Wisdom Through Music. It was well received by critics, who forecasted this would be the start of a golden period for Pharoah. How wrong they were.
Village Of The Pharoahs was released during in April 1974. It had been recorded at sessions held during 1971, 1972 and 1973. There’s not the same spontaneity. This was an album that didn’t flow, As a result, Village Of The Pharoahs was an album that critics didn’t take to. Featuring a brand new band, it didn’t match the quality of previous albums. Pharoah only played tenor saxophone on just one track. His weapon choice is the soprano saxophone. He also adds some vocals on Village Of The Pharoahs, which stylistically, was like a return to his earlier album. Thankfully, there was a return to form from Pharoah Sanders on Elevation, his penultimate album for Impulse.
Elevation features five tracks. They’re a mixture of four live tracks and one recorded in the studio. Each track was written by Pharoah Sanders. Recording took place during two sessions. The title-track, Ore-Se-Rere, The Gathering and Spiritual Blessing were recorded live at the Ash Grove, Los Angeles, on 9th September 1973. Pharoah was accompanied by a rhythm section of drummer Michael Carvin and bassist Calvin Hill. Joe Bonner played piano, cow horn flute and percussion. Jimmy Hopps and John Blue added percussion, while Lawrence Killan played congas and bell tree. This lineup played on Greeting To Saud (Brother McCoy Tyner). It was recorded a week later, on 13th September 1973, at Wally Helger Recording, San Francisco. These five tracks became Elevation, which was released in 1973.
On the release of Elevation, this fusion of a Afro-beat, avant-garde, free jazz, post bop and progressive jazz was well received. It didn’t receive the same critical acclaim as previous album. That’s no surprise. Free jazz was no longer as popular. Even ABC Records realized this and closed Impulse a year later, in 1974. What didn’t help, was that Elevation was neither a live, nor studio album. Instead, it was a hybrid. That puzzled critics? However, forty years after Elevation’s release, it’s time it was reappraised. Is Elevation one of the highlights of Pharoah Sanders’ career? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Opening Elevation is the title-track. It’s one of the four tracks recorded live. A blazing, broody tenor saxophone takes centre-stage, before being enveloped by bells and percussion. Meanwhile, the piano finds a groove and exploits it to its fullest, as the rhythm section provide a shuffling beat. Pharoah’s saxophone is akin to a plaintive cry. Mournful, full of sorrow, it’s a cathartic outpouring from a troubled soul. As if having exercised his demons, Pharoah plays with much more hope and freedom. Then all of a sudden the demons and turmoil comes to the surface. This results in a dramatic, frantic arrangement. Free jazz, avant-garde and experimental music combine. Instruments are almost punished. Joe Bonner pounds his piano in protest. What follows is not unlike Primal Scream therapy. It’s the equivalent of musical exorcism, with demons being expunged. Later, as if spent, a sense of calm is restored, the band almost spent, find a much mellower, melodic sound. Even then, demons are lurking just below the surface ready to surprise you.
Straight away, Greeting To Saud (Brother McCoy Tyner) has an Eastern feel. Waves of wistful piano are enveloped by percussion, tamboura and bells. Pianist Joe Bonner has a leading role. Flourishes of piano grab your attention. His modal piano playing is crucial to the track’s success. Pharoah plays a supporting role. He adds subtle, understated wailing, pleading and atmospheric saxophones. Their otherworldly sound adds the finishing touch to Elevation’s best track.
Again it’s Joe Bonner’s modal piano playing that’s at the heart of Ore-Se-Rere as it unfolds, He’s joined by a myriad of percussion, bells and drums that have an African influence. Chants and bursts of vocals are added, as this infectiously catchy track reveals its subtleties and nuances. An impassioned, heartfelt and joyous, vampish vocal scats above the arrangement. You’re always awaiting Pharoah’s saxophone. You wait and wait. It never arrives. Instead, he’s happy to let his band take centre-stage and allow them to showcase their considerable talents on this infectious and joyous call to dance.
Stabs and flourishes of piano open The Gathering. Joe Bonner takes charge, playing confidently and stridently. A myriad of percussion, bells and the rhythm section accompany him. They match Joe for power. Pharaoh adds a vampish vocal. It’s best described as a scat. Then there’s his saxophone playing. He plays tenderly and thoughtfully. You find yourself enthralled by his playing as it drifts in and out of. The rest of the band play with power and freedom. They’re very much the stars of the show. That’s until Pharaoh blows his saxophone. Veering between improvisational and a much more traditional style, he gives a virtuoso performance. Often the music is sweet, melodic and mesmeric, other times dramatic, bold and challenging. Like the pioneering jazz colossus he is, Pharaoh steals the show, helped no ended by Joe Bonner. No wonder at the end of this epic track, they received the rousing reception they did. It’s richly deserved.
Closing Elevation is Spiritual Blessing. It has a challenging, Eastern sound as the track unfolds. A crescendo of percussion and Pharoah’s saxophone intertwine. Gradually, the arrangement takes on a melodic sound. That’s because it sounds as if Pharaoh’s performance is an unburdening of his soul. Wistful and melancholy describes his playing. Around him the droning arrangement rises and wraps itself around his saxophone. They’re an unlikely ying and yang. Although they work well together, I long to turn down the faders on everything but Pharoah’s solo. Only then can let its ethereal beauty wash over me. That’s not possible though. However, Pharoah’s playing on this track is some of his best on Elevation and an example of why Ornette Coleman referred to Pharoah as “probably the best tenor player in the world.”
That’s high praise indeed. However, Ornette Coleman had been around and played with some of the giants of jazz. This includes the legendary John Coltrane, who brought Pharoah into his band in 1967. Pharoah spent the next two years in ‘Trane’s band. Indeed, Pharoah was in ‘Trane’s band right up until his death. That was part of Pharoah’s musical apprenticeship. So was working with Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Don Cherry, plus collaborations with Terry Callier, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. Working with such venerable musicians was a musical education. After that, Pharoah would go on to release some of the best music of his career.
This includes albums like Karma, Jewels Of Thought, Thembi and Black Unity. They feature Pharoah Sanders at his best. Elevation deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. That’s despite Elevation dividing opinion upon its release. A fusion of everything from Afro-beat, avant-garde, free jazz, post bop and progressive jazz Elevation was well received. However, Elevation didn’t receive the same critical acclaim as previous album. There’s a reason for that. Free jazz was no longer as popular. It was perceived as yesterday’s music. That seems strange, given that it was a groundbreaking and innovative album.
Elevation deserved to fare better, much better. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. It neither received the critical acclaim nor commercial success it deserved and warranted. Now Elevation has been rereleased by Sounds Of The Universe, an imprint of Soul Jazz Records. Maybe now, Elevation will be reappraised and seen as an album that was ambitious, bold, innovative and progressive. After all, that describes so much of Pharoah Sanders’ music, including Elevation.
HOLGER CZUKAY-ON THE WAY TO THE PEAK OF NORMAL.
Holger Czukay’s name is synonymous with Can, the group he cofounded in 1968. Soon, Can went on to become one of the most innovative, influential and groundbreaking groups in musical history. Their music is best described as a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Known for their ability to improvise, Can became famous for what they referred to as spontaneous composition.
When Can headed into the studio they improvised. Feeding off each other, genres and ideas melted into one. It was spontaneous and off-the-cuff. Can played with freedom and in doing so, pushed musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, beyond. Afterwards, the results would be edited and the result would be some of the most exciting music released between 1969 and 1979, when Can split-up.
In total, Can released eleven albums between 1969s Monster Movie and 1979s Can. During this period, Can released classic albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma. This was music that’s bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential. Expecting the unexpected, a new Can album featured exciting, innovative and progressive music, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one. For ten years and eleven albums, Can released cutting-edge music. Sadly, in 1979, Can split-up. Thankfully, they reconvened in 1989 for Rite Time.
After Can split-up in 1979, Holger Czukay returned to his solo career. Holger released Movies in 1979. This was the long-awaited followup to 1969s Canaxis 5. Then two years later, as a new decade took shape, Holger Czukay released On The Way To The Peak of Normal, which will be released on Groenland Records on 8th December 2013. Before I tell you about On The Way To The Peak of Normal, I’ll tell you about Holger Czukay’s career up until 1981s On The Way To The Peak of Normal.
Holger Czukay was born in March 1938, in what was then the Free City of Danzig. Nowadays, it’s known as Gdansk. As war broke out, Holger and his family became refugees. This impacted upon his education. Like so many displaced children, Holger’s education suffered. Despite this, Holger managed to get a job in a radio repair shop. Not only did he learn how to repair electrical equipment, but became fascinated by radio and the opportunities it offered. This would prove crucial to Holger Czukay’s later career. Before that, Holger served his musical apprenticeship.
For a three year period between 1963 and 1966, Holger Czukay was privileged to study music under the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen. A true pioneer, Karlheinz was way ahead of time. He wasn’t just a visionary in terms of electronic music, but was fascinated by aleatoric music, where some element of piece is left to chance. Granted there will only be a certain number of outcomes, but the musician has to choose the outcome they believe is correct. Serialism was another subject Karlheinz was interested in. With serialism, a series of values are used to manipulate musical elements. This form of composition fascinated Karlheinz. So did musical spatialism, which would influence Can. Karlheinz was an evangelist, encouraging his pupils to investigate, examine and scrutinise each of these subjects. So it’s no surprise that once Holger had finished studying, he became a musical teacher.
Having settled into life as a music teacher, Holger was enjoying life as a teacher. Then when he heard The Beatles’ I Am A Walrus in 1967, he was captivated by this psychedelic rock single. With the innovative use of bursts of radio and the experimental sound and structure, Holger went in search of similar music. Soon, Frank Zappa and Velvet Underground became favorites of Holger. Inspired by what he’d heard, Holger decided to form his own band in 1968…Can.
During his time studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of Holger’s fellow pupils was Irmin Schmidt. After graduating, Irmnin headed to New York, where he spent time with avant-garde musicians like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Soon, Irmin was aware of Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. This inspired him to form his own band when he returned home to Cologne.
In Cologne, Irmin a pianist and organist formed Can with American flautist David C. Johnson and bassist Holger Czukay. Up until then, the trio had exclusively played avant-garde classical music. Now their ambitions lay beyond that. Their influences included garage, rock, psychedelia, soul and funk. So they brought onboard three new members of the group which started life as Inner Space, and then became The Can. Eventually, they settled on Can, an acronym of communism, anarchy, nihilism.
The first two new additions were guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Vocalist and New York-based sculptor Malcolm Mooney joined the band midway through 1968. By then, they were recording material for an album Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. Unfortunately, record companies weren’t interested in the album. So the group continued recording what would become their debut album Monster Movies. However, David C. Johnson left the group at the end of 1968. He was disappointed at the change in musical direction. Little did he realise he’d lost the chance to be part of a groundbreaking band Can.
Monster Movies which was released in August 1969, marked the debut of Can. It started their career as they meant to go on. A groundbreaking, genre-melting fusion of blues, free jazz, psychedelia, rock and world music, Monster Movies has a Velvet Underground influence. It’s as if Can have been inspired by Velvet Underground and pushed musical boundaries to their limits. Experimental, multilayered and an example of Can’s spontaneous composition and editing skills, Monster Movie wasn’t just the album that launched Can’s career, but saw the term Krautrock coined. The founding father’s of Krautrock were Can, lead by Holger Czukay.
1969 saw the release of another Holger Czukay album. Credited to the Technial Space Composer’s Crew, Canaxis 5 was a collaboration between Holger and Ralf Dammers. Canaxis 5 is an often overlooked album, which features two lengthy tracks. It shows two innovative musicians pushing the musical envelop, as Can would continue to do.
Released in 1970, Soundtracks, was Can’s sophomore album. Essentially, Soundtracks is a compilation of tracks Can wrote for soundtracks. It’s the album that marked the departure of vocalist Malcolm Mooney. Replacing him, was Japanese busker, Damo Suzuki. He features on five of the tracks, contributing percussion and vocals. The addition of Damo wasn’t the only change Can were making.
Soundtracks was a coming of age for Can. It marked a move away from the psychedelic jams of Monster Movie and a move towards their classic sound. That saw the music becoming much more experimental and avant-garde. The music took an ambient, meditative, mesmeric and thoughtful sound. This marked the beginning of what became known as Can’s classic years, when albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma were released.
Tago Mago was released to critical acclaim in 1971. This was the start of a golden period for Can. They could do no wrong. Kenji Damo Suzuki had joined the band officially. Now a permanent member of Can, the band spent a year living in a castle near Cologne recording Tago Mago. Songs started as lengthy jams and improvised pieces. Then Holger worked his magic. He edited them and they became mini masterpieces.
Seven songs featured on a double album released in February 1971. On Tago Mago’s released, it was hailed as their best album yet. Jazzier with an experimental sound, the music has a mysterious, mesmeric sound. Innovative, genres and influences melted into one on Tago Mago. Multilayered, nuances, subtleties and surprises reveal themselves. Since its release, several generations of musicians have been inspired by Tago Mago, a true Magnus Opus, that belongs in every record collection. So does the followup Ege Bamyasi.
Can were on a roll. It seemed they could do no wrong. Ege Bamyasi was released in November 1972 to critical acclaim. Recorded in a a disused cinema, which the band lived in, the result was an album that was a fitting followup to Tago Mago. Just like its predecessor, it’s an essential part of any self respecting record collection. A fusion of jazz, ambient, world music, traditional music and rock, Ege Bamyasi saw Can continue to innovate and influence musicians and music lovers. As of another critically acclaimed classic album wasn’t enough, Can enjoyed their first hit single.
Spoon was chosen as the single from Ege Bamyasi. It reached number six in Germany. That was helped no end, by the single being used as the theme to a German thriller Das Messer. It seemed nothing could go wrong for Can.
That seemed the case when Can released Future Days, in August 1973. It marked a change of direction for Can. Their music moved in the direction of ambient music. The tracks especially, demonstrate that, Future Days and Bel Air. The move towards ambient music may have surprised some Can fans. However, Brian Eno was just one artist pioneering ambient music. This move towards ambient music must have pleased Holger’s guru Karlheinz Stockhausen. He must have looked on proudly as Can released the third of a quartet of classic albums. The final album in this quartet was released in 1974.
Soon Over Babaluma marked the end of Can’s golden period. It was the end of a period where they were releasing some of their most innovative and groundbreaking music. There was a change of direction on Soon Over Babaluma. Can were without a vocalist. Despite this, when Can released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974, it received praise from critics. With a myriad of beeps, squeaks and sci-fi sounds, Soon Over Babaluma is like musical journey into another, 21st Century dimension. A musical tapestry where layers of music are intertwined during five tracks on Soon Over Babaluma, which brought to a close the most fruitful period of Can’s career.
Following the “golden quartet,” Can didn’t go into decline. Instead, Can continued to reinvent themselves and their music. Landed was released in September 1975. It had been recorded between February and April 1972. It was the first Can album to be released on Virgin Records. Gone is the ambient sound of Soon Over Babaluma. Only Unfinished on Landed has an ambient influence. Instead, Landed has a poppy, sometimes glam influence. With uptempo, shorter songs, Landed was a much more traditional album. Surely Can weren’t conforming?
Flow Motion was Can’s eight album. Again, Flow Motion was an album that drew inspiration from everything from funk, reggae, rock and jazz. Released in October 1976, Flow Motion saw another change. The album featured lyrics written by Peter Gilmour. This was the first time someone outside the band had written for the band. However, this resulted in Can’s first UK single I Want More. It was later rerecorded by Fini Tribe and then Italo disco group Galaxis. With what was just their second hit single in seven years, maybe Can were about to make a commercial breakthrough?
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Saw Delight which was released in March 1977, wasn’t the commercial success many people forecast. That’s despite embracing world music. To add a percussive element, Holger added a myriad of sound-effects. This was Holger at his groundbreaking best. Experimental sounds including a wave receiver was used. Holger didn’t play bass on Saw Delight. Instead, he brought onboard former Traffic bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, another member of Traffic.
Despite the all-star lineup and a bold, progressive and experimental album, Saw Delight wasn’t a commercial success. It was well received by critics. The problem was, Saw Delight was way ahead of its time. If it had been released in the eighties, like albums by Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel, it would’ve been a bigger commercial success. Sadly, by then Can would be no more.
Out Of Reach which was released in July 1978, proved to be a prophetic title. After all, commercial success always seemed to elude Can? This would prove to be Can’s most controversial album. So much so, that they disowned Out Of Reach. On Out Of Reach Holger was left toadd myriad of sound-effects. Bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic returned. They were part of the problem.
Unable to play with the necessary freedom Can were famed for, the two ex-members of Traffic stifled Can. Rebop’s percussion overpowers Jaki’s drums, which have always been part of Can’s trademark sound. At least Michael’s virtuoso guitar solos are a reminder of classic Can. A nod towards Carlos Santana, they showed Can were still capable of moments of genius. There wouldn’t be many more of these. Can would breakup after their next album.
Can was released in July 1979. Holger didn’t play on Can. Instead, edited the album. That was his only involvement. The two ex-members of Traffic were still present on Can. They played their part in what would prove to be a farewell for Can. What was their final album to their 1989 reunion album Rite Time, didn’t replicate the success of their golden quartet. Shortly afterwards Can split up and Holger’s solo career began.
Movies, the first album Holger released since Can split-up, saw Holger play everything from keyboards, bass, synths and guitar. Other members of Can made guest appearances on the four tracks. Rejuvenated after playing a supporting role in Can, Holger pushed musical boundaries. Fusing musical genres, Movies was released to widespread critical acclaim. Revitalized and rejuvenated Holger Czukay was back. Two years later, he released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal which will be released on Groenland Records on 8th December 2013.
On The Way To The Peak Of Normal featured five tracks. Four of them, Ode To Perfume, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, Two Bass Shuffle and Hiss ‘N’ Listen were written by Holger. The exception was Witches Multiplication Table, which was written by Conny Plank. These five tracks were recorded at Inner Space Studio, Cologne.
At Inner Space Studios, Holger played keyboards, vocoder, organ,bass, harmonica, congas, synths and guitar. A number of musicians made guest appearances. Most played just on one or two tracks. This included Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, bassists Jah Wobble and Uli Putsch and guitarist Uwe Jahnke. Conny Plank played synth violin, Jurgen Wolter organ and Harry Rag added vocals on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. These five tracks became On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, which was released in 1981.
Just as had been obvious on the release of Movies, two years earlier, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal a found a rejuvenated Holger ready to innovate and create music that was groundbreaking and capable of challenging and pushing musical boundaries. Hailed as a return to form from Holger, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal marked a new era in his career.
Ode To Perfume opens Side One of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. A fourteen minute soundscape unfolds. Bursts of guitar give way to rolls of drums and scorching, searing guitar solos. Washes of synths ring out, while a vocal is sung through a vocoder. Then there’s the pulsating bass, sound effects and keyboards. The arrangement assails and surrounds you. Layers of music reveal their hidden secrets and depths. Subtleties and nuances unfold. With each listen something new appears. Grandiose, ethereal and symphonic, the music’s inherent beauty and drama inspires, lifts and tugs at your heartstrings. It’s music you want to tell people about, evangelize about and introduce to a wider audience. That’s how good this opus is.
Opening Side Two of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal is the title-track. Haunting and broody, describes the introduction. A faint, whispery, vocal that best describes as eerie and sinister vocal joins broody, moody bass. In the distance, a crystalline guitar almost dances. Atmospheric and evocative describes this captivating combination. As the arrangement meanders along, washes of Hammond organ are surrounded by a myriad of sound effects and percussion. All of a sudden, a funky slap bass is unleashed, while searing, rocky guitars compete for your attention. So do bursts of Holger’s radio frequencies. By now, genres are melting into one. Ambient, electronica, funk, jazz, Latin, psychedelia and rock are thrown into the melting pot. Together, they create a dramatic, atmospheric and evocative soundscape, that’s innovative and bold, just as you’d expect from Holger Czukay.
Guitars reverberate as Fragrance unfolds. Like a 21st Century, space age symphony, synths and vocoder combine with the rhythm section and crystalline guitars. Veering from bursts of dramatic sci-fi funky to a much more understated, meandering arrangement, it’s a track that pushes musical boundaries. To do that, Holger combines P-Funk, electronica, jazz, rock, psychedelia and ambient. It’s best described as a track that’s genre-melting, mesmeric, hypnotic, dramatic and understated.
Witches Multiplication Table is the final track on this version of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. Hiss ‘N’ Listen is omitted. So this haunting, eerie track closes the album. As was often the case on Can albums, space is used effectively. Just like Can, there’s a free jazz influence. That comes from the braying horns. They’re the perfect foil to a haunting vocal and are part of a band who are in the groove. They exploit this groove fully. Whether it’s the constant churning bass, tormented horns, shakers or sound effects, they’re ying to the vocal’s yang. They also play their part in a haunting, eerie and atmospheric track that’s a fitting finale to On The Way To The Peak Of Normal.
Although On The Way To The Peak Of Normal was released to critical acclaim, it wasn’t a commercial success. Granted it found an audience, but not the audience it deserved. On The Way To The Peak Of Normal was more of an underground album, rather than a widespread commercial success. It seemed that history was repeating itself all over again. Just like Can, the group he cofounded, Holger Czukay didn’t enjoy the commercial success his music deserved. That meant Holger Czukay and Can were in good company.
Holger Czukay and Can followed in the footsteps of a whole host of innovative artist who didn’t enjoy the commercial success their music enjoyed. Among them are Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, two artists who influenced Holger Czukay and Can. A small crumb of comfort for Holger Czukay is that both the music he recorded with Can and his solo albums, including On The Way To The Peak Of Normal went on to influence several generations of musicians. Why?
Well, the music on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal eclectic, genre-sprawling and ambitious. It’s music that pushes boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. It’s a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, funk, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Genre-melting describes an album of bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential music. Expecting the unexpected on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, Holger Czukay’s third solo album, which will be released on Groenland Records on 8th December 2013. It features exciting, innovative and progressive music, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one.
Whilst innovative is an overused word, Holger Czukay is a truly innovative musician. Whether it was with Can, or on solo albums like On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, Holger Czukay wasn’t afraid to push musical boundaries. In doing so, he fused musical genres. Throwing everything into his musical melting pot, Holger Czukay gave it a stir. The result was On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, a unique, enthralling and captivating album that was way ahead of its time. Indeed, Holger Czukay was way ahead of his time.
Holger Czukay’s career has lasted over five decades. In 1989, Can reunited and they released their farewell album Rite Time. Maybe this was the Rite Time for Can to go their separate ways? They’d been together for twenty years, on and off. They’d released groundbreaking music, music that pushed musical boundaries. Can’s best albums were their golden quartet of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma. After that, Holger returned to releasing solo albums and collaborating with other artists. One of the finest moments of Holger Czukay’s solo career is On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. It features this charismatic, enigmatic and mercurial musician at his best. The forthcoming rerelease of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, will allow another generation of music lovers the opportunity to discover the music of an innovative and visionary musician Holger Czukay.
HOLGER CZUKAY-ON THE WAY TO THE PEAK OF NORMAL.
DONNY HATHAWAY-NEVER MY LOVE: THE ANTHOLOGY.
Described by some as a musical genius, Donny Hathaway never got the opportunity to fulfil his potential. No. Tragedy intervened in Donny Hathaway’s life, when his career was cut shot in January 1979. Donny was just thirty-four. He’d released just a trio of solo albums between 1970 and 1973. His debut album was 1970s Everything Is Everything, followed by 1971s Donny Hathaway and 1973s Extension Of A Man. In between Donny Hathaway and Extension Of A Man, Donny contributed the soundtrack to Come Back Charleston Blue, his Live album and an album of duets with Roberta Flack.
Entitled Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, it was released in 1972 and was certified gold. It featured the number one US R&B single Where Is The Love. Five years later, in 1978, the pair enjoyed another number one US R&B single with The Closer I Get To You. Just like Where Is The Love, it was certified gold. Both of these tracks, feature on the recently released Donny Hathaway box set Never My Love: The Anthology. It was released on Rhino and is best described as a celebration of Donny Hathaway’s career over four discs. Before I tell you about the music on Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology, I’ll tell you about Donny Hathaway’s career.
Donny Edward Hathaway was born in October 1945, in Chicago. He was the son of Drusella Huntley, but was brought up by his grandmother Martha Pitts, a professional gospel singer. While many children are referred to as a musical prodigy, this was true of Donny. At the age of three, Donny joined his grandmother in her church choir. After graduating from Vashon High School, he headed to Howard University in Washington’ DC to study music on a fine arts scholarship. During his time at Howard, Donny formed a jazz trio. He was joined by drummer Ric Powell, and they played around the Washington area. In 1967 Donny received various offers to work within the music industry.
After leaving university, Donny’s first job within the music industry was as session musician, songwriter and producer. His first job was with Twilight Records in Chicago. Later he worked as an arranger, and was responsible for the arrangements on two of The Unifics singles Court of Love and The Beginning of My End. Donny went on to work with The Impressions, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Butler, The Staple Singers, Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield.
Working with Curtis lead to Donny becoming house producer at Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records. It was there, that Curtis started recording as one of the Mayfield Singers. In 1969, he recorded his first track under his own name. This was a duet with June Conquest entitled I Thank You Baby, with another duet by the pair Just Another Reason as the B-side.
Later in 1969, Donny signed to the Atco Records label. This came about after being spotted by King Curtis, a musician and producer at a music industry trade convention. This lead to Donny releasing his first successful single The Ghetto Part 1, which he cowrote with friend Leroy Hutson. Like Donny, Leroy Hutson would later go on to find success as a singer, songwriter and producer. The Ghetto reached number eighty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and twenty-three US R&B Charts.
Now signed to Atco, Donny Hathaway began work on his eponymous debut album Everything Is Everything. Released in July 1970 Everything Is Everything reached number eighty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and twenty-three US R&B Charts. Everything Is Everything was critically acclaimed.
Having released such a well received album, the pressure was on Donny to record his second album. Recorded at the Atlantic Recording Studios in New York, during 1970 and 1971, were nine songs. With Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Donny producing the album, these nine songs were mostly cover versions of soul, gospel and pop music, which Donny gave his own unique twist. With an all-star band accompanying him, that included a rhythm section of Cornell Dupree and Chuck Rainey on bass, drummer Al Jackson Jr and guitarists Phil Upchurch and Cornell Dupree and the unique sound of tenor saxophonist King Curtis gracing the album, nine tracks were soon recorded. Adding backing vocalists were two of The Sweet Inspirations Cissy Houston and Myrna Smith. Once Donny Hathaway recorded, it was scheduled for release in April 1971.
April 1971 saw Donny’s second album Donny Hathaway released. With songs by Van McCoy, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Mac Davis on the album, plus one song co-written by Donny with Nadine McKinnor, the album was well received by critics. On its release, it reached number six in the US R&B Charts and number eighty-nine in the US Billboard 200. Sales of Donny Hathaway surpassed Everything Is Everything, although it’s considered to be Donny’s finest album.
Having released what was his second critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, Donny would enter one of the busiest times of his tragically short career. In 1972, he released a trio of albums, two of which were huge commercial successes. Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway reached number three in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, while his Live album reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Both were certified gold, having sold over 500,000 copies. The only album from this trio that failed commercially, was the soundtrack album Come Back Charleston Blue, which reached just number 198 in the US Billboard 200. Little did anyone know it, but after this Donny would only release one further album, before his life ended in tragedy.
The final album of Donny’s career was Extension of A Man, released in June 1973. Recording of the album had taken place between 1971 and 1973, and featured some of the most memorable music of Donny’s career, including the brilliant and powerful Someday We’ll All Be Free. When the album was released, it didn’t sell as well as it’s predecessor Donny Hathaway, only reaching number sixty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and number eighteen in the US R&B Charts, After this, Donny would release no new albums, only a Greatest Hits album in 1978, which reached number fifty-one in the US R&B Charts.
Sadly, tragedy struck for Donny and his family, when in January 1979 Donny became unwell during a recording session with Roberta Flack. They were recording what became Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, which was certified gold upon its release in 1980. Having become paranoid and delusional, the recording sessions were stopped and Donny sent back to his hotel. Later he committed suicide, by jumping out of the fifteenth floor of his room at New York’s Essex House Hotel.
After his death, his wife Eulaulah thought that over time, Donny had gradually become less careful about taking his medication. Tragically, the problems with mental illness that caused him problems throughout his career resulted in him taking his life. That day, music lost one its most talented singers whose musical influence is still felt over thirty years after his tragic death. Donny Hathway could’ve and should’ve enjoyed a long and illustrious career. That wasn’t to be.
Instead, during Donny’s lifetime, he released just three studio albums, a live album, a soundtrack album and an album of duets with Roberta Flack. Some of the music on these albums, plus a whole host of unreleased tracks feature on Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology, which is a four disc celebration of Donny Hathaway’s music.
Disc One is entitled Favorites and features twenty-two tracks. This includes some of the best music Donny Hathaway ever recorded. One of these is The Ghetto – Part 1 and 2. It was Donny’s 1970 debut album Everything Is Everything. The Ghetto is a classic. With lyrics full of social comment, it’s a timeless classic. Other tracks from Everything Is Everything include Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything), a truly powerful, emotive opus. On the promo edit of Thank You Master (For My Soul), emotion and gratitude feature in Donny’s vocal, which has a spiritual quality. To Be Young, Gifted And Black is another track from Everything Is Everything. An oft-covered song, Donny follows in the footsteps of Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone and makes the lyrics come to life.
Of the other tracks on Disc One, there’s tracks from Donny’s two other studio albums 1971s Donny Hathaway and 1973s Extension Of A Man. Only two tracks from Donny Hathaway, which was released in 1971 feature on Disc One. They’re Giving Up, penned by Van Mccoy and Magnificent Sanctuary Band which was written by Dorsey Burnette. The heartfelt, soul-baring Giving Up is the best of the two. No wonder. It features one of Donny’s best vocals. A year later, Donny released on of his overlooked albums.
Released in 1972, Come Back Charleston Blue is an often overlooked album. It was a soundtrack, that was written and conducted by Donny. He worked on the album with Quincy Jones. Two tracks from the soundtrack to Come Back Charleston Blue feature on Disc One. They’re the title-track and Little Ghetto Boy. Released in 1972, it’s an often overlooked album. These two tracks are two of the highlights of Come Back Charleston Blue. A year after Come Back Charleston Blue was released, Donny released his final studio album.
Extension Of A Man was Donny’s final solo album. Released in 1973, Donny penned five of the eleven tracks on Extension Of A Man. He cowrote Someday We’ll All Be Free with Edward Howard. It’s one of six tracks from Extension Of A Man on Disc One. The others are I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, Valdez In The Country, I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, Come Little Children, Love, Love, Love. Of these six songs are Someday We’ll All Be Free is the best. Donny’s vocal is full of hope, with an almost spiritual quality. Like a musical Moses in search of a promised land, Donny’s vocal is biblical in terms of quality.
SIDE TWO-UNRELEASED STUDIO RECORDINGS.
Most box sets boast unreleased tracks. All too often, it’s obvious why these tracks haven’t been released. Usually, they’re very much a mixed bunch. Not here. There’s more than a few hidden gems on Disc Two. Never My Love a piano lead track features a tender impassioned vocal. A Lot Of Soul sees the tempo increase, but Donny still deliver a vocal that’s truly heartfelt. The jazz-tinged Let’s Groove, sees Donny and his band swing. Memory Of Our Love is an understated, mid-tempo track where Donny sounds not unlike Stevie Wonder. As you listen to this track, it strikes you just how much potential Donny had. Even his unreleased tracks ooze quality. Brown Eyed Lady is a piano lead instrumental which has a wistful, melancholy sound. It’s a real find, and is a track I’ll never tire of hearing.
DISC THREE-LIVE AT THE BITTER END 1971.
Given Donny Hathaway’s career was cut tragically short, a whole generation never saw Donny Live. Going by the ten tracks on Disc Three, which are entitled Live At The Bitter End 1971, it must have looked like Donny Hathaway was going to become one of the giants of soul music. From the opening notes through his cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Donny unleashes a variety of cover versions and original tracks. There’s covers of You’ve Got A Friend, John Lennon’s Jealous Guy and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Then there’s songs that became synonymous with Donny Hathaway. This includes Little Ghetto Boy, Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything, I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know and The Ghetto, which closes Disc Three. These ten tracks are a tantalising taste of one of the giants of soul in his prime. So good are the ten tracks which have never been released before, that they almost make it worth buying the box set just for Disc Three.
Roberta Flack recorded two albums of duets with Donny. The first was Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, which was released in 1972. It was certified gold and featured the number one US R&B single Where Is The Love, which features on Disc Four. So does I (Who Have Nothing). So does the rest of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. During the ten tracks, Roberta and Donny are like ying and yang, encouraging each other to greater heights of emotion and soulfulness.Among the highlights are You’ve Got A Friend, Be Real Black For Me, Where Is The Love and When Love Has Grown. Eight years after Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway was released, Roberta and Donny released another album of duets. Sadly, much had changed.
By the time Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway was released, Donny had been dead nearly a year. On the release of Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, it reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. This resulted in another gold disc. When The Closer I Get To You was released as a single, reaching number two in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Just like Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway, it was certified gold. The Closer I Get To You was one of three tracks on Disc Four are from Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway. Along with You Are My Heaven and Back Together Again this trio of track close Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology, a celebration of Donny Hathaway’s career.
Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology is best described as a celebration of the career of Donny Hathaway. It’s a career that was cut tragically short. Who knows, maybe if circumstances were different, Donny would’ve enjoyed a long and successful career. Maybe critical acclaim and commercial success would’ve been familiar friends in Donny’s life. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Having released just a trio of solo albums, Donny’s career was cut short. Granted he released a live album, a soundtrack album and an album of duets with Roberta Flack. These six albums represent the sum total of the music Donny released during his life. While that might not sound much, it’s much more than many artists achieve during their career.
While Donny achieved more in the way of critical acclaim and commercial success than many other artists, his music should’ve been more successful. After all, in Donny’s hands, songs came to life. He breathed, life, emotion, heartache, hurt and passion into lyrics. Sometimes, like on Someday We’ll All Be Free, Donny’s vocal takes on a spiritual quality. On this anthemic track he offered hope for a better future, and like a musical Moses, heading towards a promised land. He delivers a vocal that’s biblical in terms of quality. That’s just one of a whole host of musical highlights on Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology, which was recently released by Rhino.
Over four discs, we hear not just some of the best music Donny Hathaway recorded, during his ten year career. There’s also two discs of previously unreleased material. Whether it’s the disc featuring tracks that didn’t make it onto Donny’s three albums, or the live set, they’re compelling and captivating performances. You’re spellbound as you listen to Donny. That’s the case with all the music on Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology.
During Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology, Donny’s takes you on a musical journey. It’s best described as captivating, enthralling, mesmeric, soulful spiritual and uplifting. Donny’s fuses elements of soul, jazz, funk and gospel music. You’re transfixed, awaiting the next song with anticipation, listening to every subtlety and nuance. When one song ends, you await the next hungrily, especially, the previously unreleased tracks. You find yourself pressing repeat, listening again, just in case you missed anything the last time. Then there’s the tracks from Donny’s back-catalogue. They’re like old friends, who you’ve know all your life. These tracks are a tantalising taste of Donny Hathaway in his prime, when he looked like becoming one of the giants of soul.
Tragically, that wasn’t to be. Fate intervened and robbed us of Donny Hathaway. He died aged thirty-four. That day in 1979, soul music lost one of its most talented sons. A poignant reminder of this is Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology. Over four discs, Donny Hathaway-Never My Love: The Anthology is a celebration of Donny Hathaway’s musical career and is a reminder of a musical colossus who during the seventies, looked like he was on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in soul music.
DONNY HATHAWAY-NEVER MY LOVE: THE ANTHOLOGY.
PIED PIPER PRESENTS A NEW CONCEPT IN DETROIT SOUL.
When the definitive history of soul music is written, several cities will loom large in the story. A triumvirate in particular, have played a hugely important part in the development of soul. This triumvirate are Memphis, Philadelphia and Detroit. Some of the best soul music ever released, came out of these three cities. They however, are the gift that keeps on giving. Why? Well, hidden in the vaults of the record companies that called these cities home are a whole host of unreleased tracks.
This includes the twelve unreleased tracks that featured on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul, which was released on Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, earlier this years. They’re not just any unreleased tracks. No. The unreleased tracks on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul are some of the most exciting Detroit and Northern Soul tracks to be discovered in recent years. Quite simply, this is sixties soul gold. These unreleased tracks feature plus contributions from Lorraine Chandler, Nancy Wilcox, The Cavaliers and Willie Kendrick. Of the other twelve tracks, they were released on labels like Giant, Kapp, Karate, Musicor, Ruby and Wand. Each of these tracks have one thing in common, they were produced by the magic words: “A Pied Piper Production.” That as you’ll soon discover, means quality is guaranteed. Before I pick the best of the Pied Piper Production’s I’ll tell you about the men behind Pied Piper Productions.
Pied Piper Productions was founded in 1965 by Sheldon “Shelley” Haines, a music industry veteran. His first job in the music industry, was as a distributor for King Records. This was the late-forties. By, 1952, Sheldon and Jack Gale, a local DJ, formed the short-lived Triple A record label. It lasted a mere five releases. After that, Sheldon became interested in Detroit’s emerging R&B scene.
Soon, Sheldon was a familiar face on the Detroit R&B scene. By 1954, Sheldon and songwriter Perry Stevens found themselves working with doo wop group The Spartans, for the Capri label. A year later, Sheldon and Irving Lief formed a production partnership and several record labels. This included labels like Pix, Plaid, Sterling and Studio. Groups and artists like The Coronets, Cool Papa Jarvis and The Jet Tones. The pair also recorded The Womack Brothers, who later, became The Valentinos. Sheldon and Irving’s partnership lasted until 1960, where they recorded artists at their own studio. It wasn’t just artists signed to their own labels, but artists signed to RCA’s Groove imprint. This was a sign of how well thought of the production partnership were. Despite this, Sheldon returned to becoming a distributor in 1961.
For the next four years Sheldon was happy working as a distributor. Occasionally, he produced artists, and in 1965, made his comeback. Ed Wingate hired Sheldon as Vice President and General Manager of Ric-Tic, Golden World and Wingate record labels. His remit was overseeing marketing, promotion and product control. For his new business venture, Sheldon called the company Pied Piper Productions. The first two single produced by Pied Piper Productions were releases by Bob Santa Marie and Frank Meadow and The Meadowlarks. While they were neither successful nor groundbreaking releases, once Sheldon put together his production team, success wouldn’t be far away.
The two men who masterminded Pied Piper Productions were Jack Ashford and Mike Terry. Jack Ashford had studied music at college. He was a vibes player and a familiar face in Philly’s jazz scene. When he was asked to become a member of Marvin Gaye’s touring band, Jack went from jazz musician to Funk Brother.
Through meeting the Motown musicians, Jack decided to base himself in Detroit. Soon, he became part of Motown’s legendary studio band The Funk Brothers. Jack’s trademark tambourine sound became a staple of Motown recordings. However, Jack was more than a tambourine player. He studied arrangers, engineers and producer and soon, was able to learn from them. Jack was also a talented songwriter. Essentially, Jack Ashford was a musical all-rounder, which made him perfect for Pied Piper Productions. His partner would be Mike Terry.
Mike Terry played baritone saxophone first in Popcorn Wylie’s Mohawks, then with Joe Hunter’s band. Like many musicians, he gravitated to Motown, which in the sixties, was one of soul music’s most successful labels. He was part of the touring and studio bands, and his trademark sound features on numerous Motown recordings. Despite being on Motown’s payroll, Mike, like other musicians, including Jack Ashford, Mike felt the fees they were paid weren’t enough. So the pair left Motown.
Having left Motown, Jack and Mike briefly worked for Ed Wingate’s Golden World label. Mike with George Clinton and Sidney Barnes, formed the Geo-Si-Mik songwriting and production partnership. At the same time, Jack and Mike formed a songwriting and production partnership. One of their songs, Lonely One, for The San Reno Strings album on Ric-Tic came to the attention of Sheldon “Shelley” Haines. He realized this was a partnership to watch.
He was right. Jack and Mike head to Jack’s hometown Philly, to produce I Can’t Chang for The Sensations with Yvonne Baker. This was their first production, which was released on the Junior label. Later in 1965, the pair produced Joe Douglas for the Playhouse label. With Bobby Martin penning the B-Side, this was a single that was made has Philly. Ironically, it wasn’t in Philly Jack made his name as a producer. No. It was in Detroit, where with Mike Terry they masterminded Pied Piper Productions. Twenty-four Pied Piper Productions feature on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul.
There are four tracks from Lorraine Chandler on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul. One of these, I Can’t Hold On is a previously unreleased version of this Northern Soul classic. The only difference from the original, is the tempo is quicker. Written by Jack Ashford, Ermastine Lewis and Ray Monette, it’s a truly irresistible track. Especially with the blazing horns enveloping Lorraine’s emotive, vocal powerhouse. Lorraine contributes a trio of other tracks, including the unreleased, heart-wrenching and deeply soulful Mend The Torn Pieces Of My Heart. Then there’s her 1966 single Tell Me You’re Mine, written by Jack and Mike. This was released after Pied Piper folded. With a vocal that’s heartfelt and needy, Lorraine brings the lyrics to life. Previously unreleased is I Hear Music which was penned byJack Ashford and Ermastine Lewis. It has a wistful, thoughtful sound, it’s a real find and falls into the category of hidden gem.
Nancy Wilcox’s Gamblers Blues has Northern Soul written all over it. Penned by Jack Ashford, Ermastine Lewis and Joseph Hunter, for some reason, it’s lain unreleased since it was recorded in July 1967. Arranged by Joe Hunter, bluesy and soulful, horns, piano and a stomping beat ensures this track swings. Especially when Nancy sings: “you lost me baby.” In The End Nancy’s other contribution is an unreleased track. Although it’s a slower tracks, it’s still dance-floor friendly, with a vocal that’s accusing and full of hurt.
Back in 1967, The Hesitations released their debut album Soul Superman on Kapp Records. It featured She Won’t Come Back and I’m Not Built That Way. George Scott’s lead vocal on She Won’t Come Back is best described as soul-baring. Delivered against what’s the arrangement to Tell You’re Mine it’s a hugely powerful, emotive outpouring of heartache. As for I’m Not Built That Way, penned by Jack Ashford, Joseph Hunter and Ed Hillert, it’s a real Northern Soul stomper.
The Cavaliers’ We Go Together was written by Shelley Haims and Perry Stevens. Recorded in 1966, it’s never been released before. It reminds me of the type of music Chess were releasing during the first half of the sixties. As for the lyrics they’re best described as innocent. A fusion of soul and doo wop, it’s a song that’s a reminder of another and more innocent musical era.
It wasn’t often that Jack Ashford got the opportunity to dust off his vibes. He did on Freddy Butler’s That’s When I Need You. Just like I Fell In Love (Can’t Help It), it’s taken from his 1967 album on Kapp, With A Dab Of Soul. Jazz-tinged, soulful and understated, with a late-night sound, it’s one of the highlights of Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul. I Fell In Love (Can’t Help It) featured on With A Dab Of Soul. This is an alternate version, but hasn’t been released before. Listening to the two version side-by-side, I’d suggest that this version is better than the original. Why? Gone is the ponderous rhythm section. This to me, brings new life to the song and improves this slice of Northern Soul.
Recorded in February 1967, Willie Kendrick’s version of Time Changes Things transforms a track made famous by The Metros. Written by Jack Ashford, Ermastine Lewis and Ray Monette, the tempo is quicker and the track is much more dance-floor friendly. Willie’s vocal is vampish and powerful. Behind him, the band fuse elements of soul, funk and psychedelia. That’s the recipe for a groundbreaking and innovative track.
September Jones has a trio of tracks on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul. Only I’m Coming Home was released as a single, on Kapp, in 1967. Moody, broody and dramatic describe a track written by Jack and Penny Ashford with Joseph Hunter. Waves of harmonies unfold, while September’s vocal is an outpouring of emotion. Sassy and soulful describes Give Me All Of Your Love, this uplifting, joyful track. Quite simply, it’s one of the highlights of the compilation. The other contribution from September Jones is Chink A Chank Baby. It bursts into life, featuring an arrangement that is not unlike many other tracks released in 1967. That’s down to the guitar, which punctuates the arrangement, which over forty years later, has stood the test of time.
The Sandpipers’ Lonely Too Long closes Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul. Written by Ed Hillert and arranged by Mike Terry this track by the little-known Sandpipers, has lain unreleased since it was recorded in 1966. With a vocal that’s full of sadness and loneliness, and an arrangement that draws inspiration from pop, rock and soul, it’s a moving tale of heartbreak and love gone wrong.
When Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records released Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul, it was one of the most anticipated compilations of 2013. After all, Pied Piper Productions were know for the quality of their productions. They’d high standards. Jack Ashford and Mike Terry, just like the man who hired them Sheldon “Shelley” Haines, had high standards. Theirs was a quest for musical perfection. Nothing else was good enough. That’s obvious here. Even the tracks that have lain unreleased for over forty years are the highest quality. That’s testament to Jack Ashford and Mike Terry. It’s also credit to compiler Ady Croasdell, who compiled Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul.
Ady brought together twenty-four tantalizing tracks that showcases Pied Piper Productions. Jack Ashford and Mike Terry, two former Funk Brothers, discovered that there was life after Motown. Their time at Pied Piper Productions was the first step in what would be long and successful careers. At Pied Piper Productions, they worked with Lorraine Chandler, Nancy Wilcox, The Cavaliers, September Jones and Willie Kendrick. Artists were discover, careers were rejuvenated and stars were born. Sheldon “Shelley” Haines’ decision to bring Jack Ashford and Mike Terry to Pied Piper Productions was vindicated. For a few short years, they were a potent and successful partnership. Proof of this is the music on Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul. For anyone with an interest in either soul music, soul music recorded in Detroit or Northern Soul, then Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul is a compilation that belongs in your record collection. One listen to Pied Piper Presents A New Concept In Detroit Soul, and you’ll realise why. Standout Tracks. Standout Tracks: Lorraine Chandler I Can’t Hold On, Nancy Wilcox Gambler’s Blues, Freddy Butler That’s When I Need You and September Jones Give Me All Of Your Love.
PIED PIPER PRESENTS A NEW CONCEPT IN DETROIT SOUL.
GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-I FEEL A SONG.
For too long, Gladys Knight had been in the shadow of Diana Ross at Motown. Between 1967 and 1973, Gladys Knight and The Pips released eight albums. Then in 1973, when her contract with Motown ran out, she signed to a label where she would be wanted and appreciated. That label was Buddah Records, where Gladys Knight and The Pips enjoyed the most successful period in her career. During this period, Gladys Knight and The Pips released released I Feel A Song, which was recently rereleased by Funky Town Grooves.
Many people within the music industry felt Gladys should’ve left Motown Records years ago. It’s no exaggeration to say that Gladys was under-appreciated at Motown. Although Gladys Knight and The Pips had an abundance of talent,it seemed that other Motown acts were given special treatment when it came to new material and producers. That must have proved frustrating and for Gladys Knight and The Pips, they must have felt they deserved better. So when the chance came to sign to Buddah Records, Gladys realised that this was her opportunity to step out of Ms. Ross’ shadow and enjoy the most successful period of her career.
Now signed to Buddah Records, Gladys Knight and The Pips released Imagination in October 1973. Imagination reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R& Charts. Not only did Imagination surpass the success of any of Gladys Knight and The Pips’ ten previous albums, but it gave the group their first gold disc. It also featured three US R&B number one singles, Midnight Train To Georgia, I’ve Got To Use My Imagination and You’re The Best Thing That Happened To Me. This was the start of the most successful period in the Empress Of Soul’s career.
Following Imagination, Gladys Knight and The Pips were asked to record the soundtrack to Claudine. Written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, Claudine was released in March 1974 reaching number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R& Charts. This resulted in another gold disc for Gladys Knight and The Pips. Although there weren’t any number one singles, On and On reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R& Charts. Gladys Knight was on a roll.
For what was Gladys Knight and The Pips’ first studio album since Imagination, some of the biggest names in songwriting contributed nine songs. These nine songs became I Feel A Song. Jim Weatherly, who’d penned Midnight Train To Georgia and You’re the Best Thing That Happened To Me, contributed a trio of tracks. They were Love Finds Its Own Way, The Going Ups And The Coming Downs and The Need To Be. Bill Withers wrote and produced Better Go Your Way and Tenderness Is His Way. Burt Bacharach and Neil Simon cowrote seconds, Ronnie Miller Don’t Burn Down The Bridge and Tony Camillo and Mary Sawyer cowrote I Feel A Song (In My Heart). The other track was a medley of The Way We Were and Try To Remember. The Way We were was written by Marvin Hamlisch with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, while Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones cowrote Try To Remember. With the material for I Feel A Song ready, Gladys Knight and The Pips headed to the studio.
Recording of I Feel A Song took place at Bell Sound Studios and Bell Sound Studios in New York. Just like Imagination, various production teams and musicians worked on I Feel A Song. Although Gladys Knight and The Pips co-produced seven tracks, along with other production teams, they only produced Don’t Burn Down The Bridge. With so many producers working on I Feel A Song, this could either be a success like Imagination, or sound like a disparate collection of songs? One way to measure this success is through album and single sales.
On the release of I Feel A Song in November 1974, it reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This made in three consecutive gold discs for Gladys Knight and The Pips’ albums released on Buddah Records. Even better, the lead single, I Feel A Song reached number twenty-one in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Then in 1975, Love Finds Its Own Way reached number forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. The final single was the live medley of The Way We Were and Try To Remember. It reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100 and number six in the US R&B Charts. According to record buyers, I Feel A Song was a commercial success. What about the critics?
Critics gave I Feel A Song a positive response. They were maybe being to hard on the album. Many compared I Feel A Song to Imagination. In many ways, that’s unfair. After all songs like Midnight Train To Georgia and You’re The Best Thing (That Happened To Me) are once in an artist’s career. Comparing I Feel A Song To Imagination was never going to be a fair fight. There was only going to be one winner. Instead, I’ll look at I Feel A Song on its own merits.
I Feel A Song (In My Heart) opens I Feel A Song. Arranged, conducted and produced by Tony Camillo, it’s the perfect song to open the album. Emotive and dramatic describes the arrangement. Driven along by a piano and funky rhythm section, Gladys unleashes a vocal that’s full of hurt, heartache and hope. She’s down, but not out. Not that she’s found someone new. Joy and hope, hope for the future fills her defiant, powerful vocal. It’s swept along amidst swathes of strings, blazing horns, harmonies and the piano, which is ever-present.
Love Finds Its Own Way has an almost melancholy, thoughtful piano-lead, introduction. It’s understated, with the rhythm section marking time while memories come flooding back to Gladys. Swings sweep in, harmonies coo, horns growl and the arrangement grows in power, beauty and drama. Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise’s arrangement and production are masterful. They set the scene for one of Gladys most emotive, heartfelt and soul-searching vocals.
It’s obvious that Burt Bacharach arranged and produced Seconds. It has his “sound.” You can neither fault the quality of his arrangement nor production. Far from it. From its understated, melodic introduction and the moment Gladys’ heartbroken, grief-stricken vocal, you admire the quality of the song. The way the bursts of Fender Rhodes and lush, floaty strings are used provide a wistful, thoughtful backdrop. Then at the bridge, the drama builds and builds, as Gladys showcases a vocal that sounds as it’s lived, loved and survived the lyrics. Despite all that, and the song’s undeniable quality, it sounds as if it belongs on an album released circa 1967 or 1968, not 1974.
The Going Ups And The Coming Downs, just like Love Finds Its Own Way, is a Jim Weatherly song. Produced by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise, the arrangement literally floats into being. Woodwind and strings combine with the rhythm section and keyboards. After a burst of drama, things settle down and Gladys’ vocal is ushered in. It’s a mixture of confusion, frustration and even anger. She’s almost exasperated, at her boyfriend’s constantly changing his mind. As the bass leads the arrangement along, her vocal is a cathartic outpouring of frustration, in the hope he’ll mend his ways. Whether he will, is another thing? Deep down, her exasperation means she knows he won’t.
The decision to a add a medley of live tracks midway through a studio album seems strange. However, if you must The Way We Were and Try To Remember seem as good a choice as any. Gladys’ half-spoken vocal during sets the scene for what is a vocal masterclass. In her hands, the song comes to life, as question, probes and ponders: “would we, should we.” It seems very real. Pathos and poignant describes her vocal. With the orchestra behind her the song comes alive and reaches a dramatic, emotive crescendo. Given how Gladys transforms these tracks, a studio version should’ve been recorded, especially with an orchestra behind her.
Better You Go Your Way marks a change in direction. Uber funky and soulful, The Pips are transformed into foxy funakateers. They set the scene for Gladys. She becomes a disco diva and struts and vamps her way through the song. Behind her wah-wah guitars, swathes of strings and the funky rhythm section provide the backdrop on a track that’s funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly.
Don’t Burn Down The Bridge was penned by Ronnie Miller and sees another change in direction. Flourishes of strings and piano give way to an arrangement that’s a real fusion of influences. Everything from country, funk, Motown, rock and Southern is thrown into the mix. There’s also a funk influence, as Gladys unleashes a feisty vocal. The Pips add accusing vocals and harmonies, and like the piano and Hammond organ, add to the drama of this mini soap opera.
Straight away, The Need To Be, which was written by Jim Weatherly, reminds me of You’re The Best Thing (That Happened To Me). The similarities are uncanny. It’s the chords used, lyrics and arrangement that lead to this comparison. With a similarly understated arrangement the song unfolds. Sometimes, you’re almost waiting for Gladys to sing You’re The Best Thing (That Happened To Me). She doesn’t though. Similarly, strings and harmonies are used as a backdrop for Gladys’ vocal. Despite the similarities Gladys immerses herself in the song and makes the song work. It’s an outpouring of power, passion and sincerity.
Bill Withers’ Tenderness Is His Way closes I Feel A Song. A crystalline, jazz-tinged guitar and piano usher in Gladys’ vocal. Needy, heartfelt and impassioned, she slowly and almost dramatically delivers the lyrics. Behind her, the arrangement unfolds. Strings sweep, while vibes, the rhythm section and Hammond organ combine, while the guitar plays a leading role. Gladys is the leading lady and without a doubt, delivers the definitive version of this song.
Although Gladys Knight and The Pips released the soundtrack to Claudine between Imagination and I Feel A Song, to compare like with like, Imagination and I Feel A Song were compared. As I said earlier, that’s almost unjust. After all, Imagination featured a trio of tracks that were among the best Gladys Knight and The Pips ever recorded. They’d never been given a trio of songs as good as Midnight Train To Georgia, You’re The Best Thing (That Happened To Me) and Where Peaceful Waters Flow at Motown. Mind you, never again would they have three songs as good as this trio. Imagination was essentially, a turning point in Gladys Knight and The Pips’ career. It was their most successful album. That was their musical nirvana. Gladys Knight and The Pips had climbed their mountain, now the only way was down.
Good as I Feel A Song is, far from a flawless album. Mind you, neither was Imagination. At least on Gladys takes charge of lead vocal on every track. We’re spared the intervention of The Pips on lead vocals. As for I Feel A Song’s faults, they’re minor ones. Seconds which Burt Bacharach arranged and produced, has a dated, sixties sound. It’s as if he’s sticking to his previously successful formula, despite the seventies being well underway. The times they were a changing. It’s just shame Burt didn’t seem to realise this. Then there’s Jim Weatherly’s The Need To Be. Just like Seconds, the quality is undeniable. The problem is, it’s just like the long lost relation of You’re The Best Thing (That Happened To Me). Maybe Jim hoped that he’d enjoy a similar success with The Need To Be. My only other criticism is the inclusion of a live medley on I Feel A Song. Even given how potent and moving a medley it is, studio versions would’ve been much better. Gladys was made for The Way We Were and Try To Remember. She could’ve made the song her own, especially with an orchestra behind her. Apart from these three minor points, I Feel A Song is one of Gladys Knight and The Pips finest albums for Buddah Records.
Indeed, I Feel A Song, which was recently rereleased by Funky Town Grooves, along with Imagination are essential listening for fans of Gladys Knight and The Pips. This was during a period where Gladys Knight and The Pips reinvented themselves. Between Imagination, which was released in October 1973 and Second Anniversary in October 1975, Gladys Knight and The Pips released five albums. Each of these albums were certified gold and four reached number one in the US R&B Charts. Gladys Knight had stepped out of the shadow, taking centre-stage, where she rightly belong. Motown’s loss was Buddah Records gain, as albums like Imagination and I Feel A Song prove. Both Imagination and I Feel A Song feature Gladys Knight and The Pips as this golden period unfolded. Standout Tracks: I Feel A Song (In My Heart), Love Finds Its Own Way, The Need To Be and Tenderness Is His Way.
GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-I FEEL A SONG.
HALL OF FAME VOLUME 2.
Without doubt, one of the most influential record labels in the history of Southern Soul is Fame Records. It released some of the most important music in the history of not just Southern Soul, but soul music. Then there’e the music recorded at Fame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals.
The artists who recorded at Fame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals with the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, reads like a who’s who of soul music. Everyone from Arthur Alexander, Arthur Conley, Candi Staton, Etta James, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. That’s just a few of the names who recorded at Fame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals. What about Clarence Carter, George Jackson, Joe Simon, Otis Clay and Prince Phillip Mitchell, who all feature on Hall Of Fame Volume 2, which was released by Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records.
Hall Of Fame Volume 2 features twenty-four tracks. Of these twenty-four tracks, only four have been released before. This was on labels like Amy, Chess and Cotillion. Another track, George Soule’s and on a previous Kent compilation Kent 6Ts Anniversary. The other twenty tracks have never been released before. Among them, are some real hidden gems, which I’ll tell you about.
Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn enjoyed one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in the history of Southern Soul. They’re responsible for a string of classics, including It Tears Me Up, which was made famous by Percy Sledge. He’s responsible for the definitive version of the song. Back in 1966, James Barnett’s second single for Fame Records was meant to be It Tears Me Up. That was dependent on his debut single Keep On Talking being a commercial success. It wasn’t. So James’ version of It Tears Me Up was never released. What could’ve been a huge hit, was lost to the world. We missed out of a soul-baring song full of heartache, hurt and regret. Thankfully, at last, this emotive opus sees the light of day.
Despite a recording career that lasted between 1963 and 1972, June Conquest only ever recorded about six singles. Her debut single was 1963s Almost Persuaded, which was released on Fame Records. It wasn’t a commercial success and she was dropped by Fame Records. She left behind the dramatic piano driven Don’t Let It Be Said. Written by Earl Montgomery, it features a vocal powerhouse from June. Mixing power, pride and emotion, June’s vocal is defiant and dramatic. Describing this track as a real hidden gem, is almost an understatement. It’s much better than that. It’s essential listening for fans of Southern Soul.
George Jackson played a huge part in the success of Fame Records. He’s a talented and successful singer and songwriter. There are two unreleased tracks from George on Hall Of Fame Volume 2, Take Me Back and George Jackson. Of the two tracks, Take Me Back is a real find. Penned by George with Dan Greer, Larry Chambers and Melvin Leakes. It’s an uptempo track, with a real raw, gritty sound. Here, George’s vocal is needy, pleading and heart-wrenching as he makes this some come to life.
I Can’t Stop (No No No), which was written by Roger Hawkins and Dan Penn, is a track that’s been covered by any number of artists. This includes Big Ben Atkins, who recorded it on a demo. As this classic bursts into life, there’s a Motown influence. Indeed, the drums sound as if they’ve been recorded in Motown by one of The Funk Brothers. They weren’t. No. Instead, they were recorded in Muscle Shoals, where Big Ben Atkins gives turns a familiar song into a joyous stomper.
Billy Young was well travelled when he arrived at Fame. He released Glendora as a single on Original Sound in 1963. After that, he worked with Otis Redding, and had singles released on Otis’ Jotis label. Then when he was dropped by Jotis, Chess released two of his singles. This includes the Tommy Roe penned Have Pity On Me. Dramatic, needy and heartfelt describes Billy’s vocal on I Need You. Accompanied by blazing horns, chiming guitars and dramatic drums, this is the perfect backdrop for Billy’s impassioned, needy, pleading vocal. Why a single as potent and powerful as this wasn’t a commercial success, seems almost unjust.
From the opening bars of Linda Carr’s Are You Teasing Me, you’re enthralled. Briefly, you wonder if this is a lost Diana Ross track. That’s how similar the two are. Linda’s vocal veers between sensual, sassy and ethereal. Rick Hall thought he’d won a watch when he signed Linda to Fame Records in 1966. So much so, that he refused to sell Linda’s contract to Berry Gordy at Motown. Sadly, the success that Rick foresaw, never materialised. Linda released two singles, which were released on Bell during 1967. She recorded four other tracks, including a cover of Ira and Charlie Louvin’s Are You Teasing Me? Groovy, sassy, sensual and soulful, it’s a tantalising taste of Linda Carr.
Prince Phillip Mitchell, like George Jackson, has two songs on Hall Of Fame Volume 2.They’re Fool For A Woman and How Much More Can A Poor Man Stand, which he wrote. Fool For A Woman has an understated arrangement. Phillip’s accompanied by just a piano. This allows his vocal to take centre-stage. Raw, sincere, soul-baring and soulful describes his delivery. How Much More Can A Poor Man Stand is a track that will appeal to Mods with its stomping beat and a raw, powerful vocal from Phillip. He unleashes a vocal that’s controlled power and emotion. Despite his undoubted talent as a vocalist, Phillip enjoyed more success as a songwriter, writing a string of soul classics.
Clarence Carter is another artist who contributions two tracks to Hall Of Fame Volume 2. Although they’re just demos or unfinished tracks, they leave you wondering what would they have been like if they’d been finished? The first is Take It All Off, which Clarence wrote. The other is They’re Gonna Find Us (At The Dark End Of The Street), which is Clarence’s take on Dark End Of The Street. Building on what’s a classic track, Clarence somehow add to the emotion and heartache. In Clarence’s hands, the lyrics comes to life. The danger, the anticipation and the fear of being caught it all seems very real. Only a singer and songwriter as talented as Clarence Carter is capable of this.
Joe Simon’s Get In A Hurry is my final choice from Hall Of Fame Volume 2. During his long career, Joe Simon enjoyed commercial success. He worked with a variety of producers. This includes Rick Hall. Their partnership wasn’t a long-lasting one. It may have lasted just one session, which resulted in the hit single Let’s Do It Over. Another track from that session was Get In A Hurry, which is a deliciously melancholy slice of country soul. One of the highlights of Hall Of Fame Volume 2, it’s one of many reasons why you should explore Joe’s back-catalogue.
Featuring twenty-four tracks, Hall Of Fame Volume 2 is a glimpse of the music recorded at Fame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals. Twenty of the tracks have never been released before and are a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. Some of the tracks, the quality is indisputable. You wonder why the songs never saw the light of day? Among them are June Conquest’s Don’t Let It Be Said, Linda Carr’s Are You Teasing Me and Joe Simon’s Get In A Hurry. Then there’s contributions from George Jackson, Prince Phillip Mitchell and Clarence Mitchell. Then there’s a quartet of intriguing tracks.
These are the tracks that compiler Tony Rounce couldn’t work out who recorded them. They’re credited to unknown female and unknown male. Of this quartet, the version of Another Good Woman Gone Bad stands head and shoulders above the other three tracks. If only we knew who this unknown singer was? All we know, is she’d the voice of a soulful angel.
Of the four tracks that have been released before, Billy Young’s Have Pity On Me will make your life all the better for hearing it. It should’ve been a huge success. Sadly, maybe the problem was when it was released, music was changing and changing fast. However, despite that, Have Pity On Me has a timeless quality. That could be said of many of the tracks on Hall Of Fame Volume 2.
No wonder. They’ve all got one thing in common. That’s that they were recorded at Fame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals. Backed by some of the greatest session musicians of all time, they were responsible for a string of hit singles. Then there’s all the other sessions they played on. Not every session they played on, resulted in a single or album. Not at all. So, there’s no end of hidden gems awaiting discover in Fame Records‘ vaults. Hopefully, further volumes of this Hall Of Fame series will be released and Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, will continue to released compilations like Hall Of Fame Volume 2, which cherry picks the hidden gems tucked away in Fame Records’ vaults. Standout Tracks: June Conquest Don’t Let It Be Said, Billy Young Have Pity On Me, Linda Carr’s Are You Teasing Me and Joe Simon’s Get In A Hurry.
HALL OF FAME VOLUME 2.
When Van Morrison released his third album, Moondance, in February 1970, little did he know he’d just released not only a classic album, but an album he’d never surpass. This wasn’t unexpected. After all, two years earlier in February 1968, Van Morrison has released Astral Weeks, an album which was a game-changer.
Astral Weeks has been described as concept album. That’s wrong. It was a song cycle where Van fused jazz, blues, poetry and classical music. Full of symbolism, this stream of consciousness was an exploration of earthy love and heaven. Critically acclaimed upon its release, Astral Weeks was very different from Van’s debut, 1967 Blowin’ Your Mind.
Critics was spellbound by Astral Weeks, this groundbreaking album from Van Morrison, who was seen as part-poet, part-musical visionary. On its release, Astral Weeks wasn’t originally a huge success. It was certified gold in the US, but failed to make much of an impression in the UK, where it stalled at number 140. Things would be very different when Van Morrison released Moondance, which was recently rereleased as a double album by Warner Bros.
Van Morrison was only twenty-five when he released his third album, Moondance in February 1970. Moondance had been two years in the making and was an introduction to Van’s Caledonian soul. It had taken Van ten months to write the lyrics to Moondance. The lyrics were written at Van’s mountaintop home, not far from Woodstock village, in upstate New York. For some time, Van had been living in Woodstock, which was now home for him and his wife. This was the perfect place to write a classic album, Moondance.
Inspired by his surroundings, family and memories, Van set about writing the lyrics to Moondance. They are poetic, evocative and mystical. Like an artist used his palette to create pictures, Van used words. He takes you on a series of journeys. On And It Stoned Me, Van takes you back to the Belfast of his youth, while Caravan conjurs up images of living life as a gypsy. You can imagine the pictures unfolding before your eyes. These were the lyrics that Van took into A&R Studios, in New York.
For the recording of Moondance, Van recruited his band from musicians based in Woodstock. They headed along to A&R Studios, in New York. When they got there, they discovered that Van hadn’t written the music to Moondance. No. The music and the arrangements existed in his head along. Somehow, Van had managed to make his band understated what he was hearing in his head. That’s no surprise. Van had recruited a crack band of musicians.
The musicians who played on Moondance included a rhythm section of bassist John Kingberg, guitarist John Platania and Gary Mallaber on drums and vibes. Jef Labes played clavinet, organ and piano and Guy Masson played congas. Horns came courtesy of Jack Schroer on alto and soprano saxophone, while Colin Tilton played tenor saxophone and flute. Adding harmonies were The Sweet Inspirations, Doris Troy, Cissy Houston and Jackie Verdell. As for Van, he played acoustic and rhythm guitar, plus harmonica and tambourine. Moondance marked Van’s debut as producer. Producing a critically acclaimed and commercially successful classic, was quite a start to Van’s production career.
When critics heard Moondance, they hailed it an instant classic. There were no dissenting voices. Moondance was perceived as a coming of age for Van Morrison. He’d set the bar high with Astral Weeks, but surpassed it. Moondance was no ordinary album. Far from it. Genres melted into one. Blues, country, jazz, rock and soul combined with Van’s Celtic roots. The result was a cerebral, challenging and genre-melting of poetic genius, which showcased Van Morrison at the height of his powers. Just like the critics, music lovers loved Moondance.
On its release, in February 1970, Moondance reached number twenty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified triple-platinum. In the UK, Moondance reached just number thirty-two. Come Running was released as a single, but reached just number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 100. Then when Crazy Love was released as a single, it failed to chart. Maybe the problem was, that the singles released from Moondance didn’t work in isolation. Instead, they were part of something bigger, a classic album, Moondance, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening Moondance is And It Stoned Me, is a song about an experience Van had as a child. He was on his way fishing, when he asked an old man for a glass of water. Van was given some water the old man got from a stream. When Van drunk it, he remembers time standing still and heading into another dimension. With its mystical, almost surreal lyrics, Van paints potent pictures. There’s references to rural Ireland, where there’s county fairs and mountain streams. Van even references veteran jazzer Jelly Roll Morton. It’s as if when Van’s delivering the lyrics, he’s transported back in time. He’s right there, the scene unfolding before him. Behind him, a jazz-tinged piano, rasping horns and the rhythm section provide the perfect backdrop to this outpouring of surreal memories. Later, Van adds an acoustic guitar that’s a perfect foil for the piano. It sets the scene for his impassioned vocal, on this fusion of blues, jazz, country and Celtic soul.
Very few songs are as recognizable as Moondance. With its familiar jaunty arrangement, it skips and swings along. Driven along by an electric bass, the jazz-tinged arrangement is mostly acoustic. A guitar, flute, piano, saxophone and drums combine to create a small jazz band. Over-dubbing the flute was a masterstroke. It transforms the tracks. So does the piano solo, before the blazing saxophone panned left takes centre-stage. Together, the band ensure the song swings, as Van unleashes a vocal masterclass. Feeding off the band, he delivers the lyrics about autumn. You close your eyes and Van the poet, paints pictures. Evocative, images of Woodstock village where Van wrote Moondance come to mind. Later, as Van scats and the song reaches its dramatic crescendo, there’s only one word to describe this track “classic.”
Crazy Love shows another side of Van Morrison. An understated ballad, Van’s tender, heartfelt and needy vocal is joined by The Sweet Inspirations. They’re the perfect foil to Van. Bursts of their tender harmonies soar above the arrangement. Meanwhile, the band play thoughtfully, taking care not to overpower Van’s vocal. The result is an ethereal and beautiful paean, which shows Van’s romantic side.
Flourishes of piano open Caravan, a song about gypsy life. Straight away, Van unleashes a vocal powerhouse. Soon, he’s delivering lyrics which are full of imagery. So much so, you can imagine life on the open road, no worries, just days stretching in front of you. There’s a romanticism in the lyrics, which seems idealistic. There’s a melancholy, romantic sound. Van’s band provide the backdrop for his vocal. One minute his vocal is wistful, the next minute it’s a scat, as he trills. The guitar and Van’s vocal feed off each other. They’re crucial to the song’s success. As for the arrangement, it veers between understated to dramatic. Horns blaze adding drama, and with the piano add a jazz-tinged sound to this evocative, Joycean track.
Just an acoustic guitar, then meandering, thoughtful bass open Into The Mystic. As Van’s vocal emerges, it’s pensive and thoughtful. There’s a mysterious sound, as gradually, the arrangement unfolds. The band play gently, as if deferring to Van’s vocal. Piano, bass and acoustic guitars play an important part in the song. So do bursts of growling, jazzy horns. Again, imagery and romanticism are omnipresent. Van describes the sea, and the foghorn blowing as he makes his way home. Just on cue, a saxophone replicates the foghorn. Then his vocal grows in power and passion, as he unleashes another of his trademark vocal powerhouses. Along with his band, the lyrics come to life as Van poet and painter, create one of Moondance’s highlights.
Come Running has a country influence that’s obvious from the opening bars. Just the rhythm section, driven along by the bass, and the piano join forces to accompany Van. He sets the scene with even more imagery. You can imagine the train running down the track in the wind in rain. In the train, is Van lover. He’s sure of that. So sure, he delivers the line: “you’ll Come Running to me.” There’s a certainty that almost borders on arrogance. No wonder. This seems to be a game they play, given Van’s confident, feisty vocal. Their relationship is a turbulent one, one that’s brought to life in this fusion of blues, country, jazz and rock.
These Dreams Of You are driven along by a bluesy harmonica and the rhythm section. Chiming guitars accompany Van’s grizzled, heartbroken vocal. There’s a reason for this heartache. Van dreamt his idol Ray Charles had been assassinated. Soon the song becomes a mini soap opera. Soon, growling horns and Hammond organ are dropped in. They ensure the song swings and add the finishing touch as Van lays bare his soul and dreams for all to hear.
Brand New Day has a melancholy sound as piano and country guitars combine. Van’s vocal is slow and full of hope, hope for the future. He wrote the song when he was having problems spiritually. What follows is a cathartic outpouring of doubt. Cleansed of this doubt, it’s as if spiritually, his life begins again. His masterstroke on Brand New Day was having The Sweet Inspirations add gospel-tinged harmonies. Dramatic and spiritual, they’re the perfect accompaniment to Van on this spiritual awakening.
A clavinet opens Everyone, as the song explodes into life. It’s played powerfully and confidently. That describes Van’s impassioned vocal. It’s a mixture of power and passion, while the rhythm section provide a pounding, driving 12/8 beat. Later, a flute is overdubbed. It carries the melody, while acoustic guitar and occasional drums play supporting roles. With the 12/8 beat and choice of instruments, this track is very different from the rest of Moondance. Having said that, it showcases Van and his band’s versatility and undoubtable talent.
Closing Moondance is Glad Tidings. Inspiration from the song came from a letter Van received, marked that said “Glad Tidings” from London. With its R&B and soul influence, it’s as if Van’s been inspired by labels like Fame and Stax. That’s no bad thing. There’s a joyous, celebratory sound to the track, as Van’s vocal becomes a scat and vamp. Horns blaze, growl and rasp, punctuating the arrangement while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat and a Hammond organ adds its atmospheric sound. Van seems determined to close Moondance on a high. Encouraging his band, he vamps his way through this joyful, celebratory track. This seems a fitting way to end what’s a classic album.
Following up an album as critically acclaimed and commercially successful as Astral Weeks wasn’t going to be easy for Van Morrison. However, he wasn’t like other artists. Although he’d only released two albums, he was already establishing a reputation as one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. Van was part-poet, part-musical visionary. Proof of that are the ten tracks on Moondance.
Van Morrison’s lyrics are on Moondance are poetic, evocative and mystical. Van’s songs takes you on a series of journeys. Full of imagery, he conjurs up images. These pictures unfold vividly before your eyes. Using inspiration from his life and everyday life, you’re introduced to a cast of characters and scenarios. Other tracks feature lyrics that are almost mystical and surreal. Then there’s songs about love, and love gone wrong. This includes Crazy Love and Come Running. Brand New Day is Van’s spiritual awakening. Of course, there’s the classic title-track, Moondance, which since 1970, has been a staple of radio stations everywhere. It’s one of the best known songs Van Morrison wrote, while Moondance is perceived as Van’s finest album.
Think of that. Van Morrison wrote Moondance, the best album of his career when he was just twenty-five. Moondance was just Van’s third album. After that, he’d go on to release another twenty-nine albums. While many of them were critically acclaimed and commercially successful, they never quite matched the quality of Moondance. Following Moondance, Van was constantly trying to replicate such a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed and commercially successful album. That must have been hugely frustrating. There were times when we heard tantalising glimpses of the quality of music on Moondance, which was recently rereleased as a double album by Warner Bros.
Quite simply, the music comes alive on the newly remastered version of Moondance. You hear subtleties and nuances you’ve never heard before. They clarity of music is much better than previous CD versions. It assails you and surrounds you. There’s a depth to the music. Layer upon layer of music reveal themselves. You can’t help but let the music wash over you and revel in is ethereal, emotive and spiritual beauty. As the music washes over you, Van Morrison’s unique brand of Caledonian Soul comes alive on Moondance.
Genres melted into one on Moondance. Blues, country, jazz, R&B, rock and soul combined with Van’s Celtic roots. The result was Moondance, a cerebral, challenging and genre-melting album which showcased Van’s Morrison’s poetic genius. Moondance, like its predecessor Astral Weeks, featured Van Morrison at the height of his powers. That’s why Moondance is worthy of being referred to as a classic, which belongs in the record collection of anyone remotely interested or passionate about music. Standout Tracks: And It Stoned Me, Moondance, Crazy Dreams and These Dreams Of You.
DAMON- SONG OF A GYPSY.
For any collector of psychedelia, if they’re lucky enough to find a copy of Damon’s Song Of A Gypsy, it becomes one of their most prized possessions. Finding a copy is another thing. Copies are rarer than hen’s teeth and are changing hands for large sums of money. Recently, copies have changed hands for thousands of dollars. Song Of A Gypsy, which was recently released on Now Again Records, you’ll realise is no ordinary album.
Far from it. Privately pressed in 1969, Song Of A Gypsy was released on Ankh Records. It’s an album that pushed musical boundaries to their breaking point. A lysergic, genre-melting album, Song Of A Gypsy wasn’t a commercial success on its release. As a result, Damon didn’t release another album. Over the next twenty-five years, Song Of A Gypsy became a hugely influential album. It enjoyed a cult following. Meanwhile, the man behind Song Of A Gypsy was blissfully unaware of what was going on.
By the late-nineties, David Del Conte was a middle-aged former musician, who’d settled into a routine of running his family business. That was a bowling alley he’d inherited from his father. He’d been sober for twenty years, when he’d found God. Since then, he’d began rebuilding his relationship with his daughters, who he’d previously been estranged from. David had turned his life around. When he wasn’t working, he lived in a house that near Capistrano Beach. With its view of the Pacific Ocean, life was good for David. It wasn’t until he received an anonymous caller that his previous life as a musician became public knowledge.
David had become used to people asking of he was the Damon, who’d recorded Song Of A Gypsy. His reply was that he used to be. He’d gradually sold most of the copies of Song Of A Gypsy he’d left. Then one day, curiosity got the better of David, and he asked a caller how much a copy of Song Of A Gypsy was worth. When he was told a copy of Song Of A Gypsy was worth $3,000 dollars he was shocked. He agreed to sell the last copy for the $500 they’d agreed on, as long as the buyer didn’t resell the album for more that $500. It was only after David asked how much the record he recorded in 1969 was worth, that he realized he’d a cult following he knew nothing about. So what was the story behind Damon and Song Of A Gypsy? That’s what I’ll tell you.
David Del Conte was born in Rochester, New York in 1941. His parents owned a beauty parlor and over the years, saved enough to buy a bowling alley in California. Packing their belongings into their car, they followed the sun to California. In Los Angeles, the moved throughout the city limits. This is when David believed his: “predestined life as a gypsy began.” Eventually, they settled in Inglewood, where his parent’s business blossomed. Then when David was nineteen, his life changed forever.
His girlfriend told David she was pregnant. This was a very different era. So the pair married and went on to have three daughters. By the time David was married, he’d immersed himself in music. He was a natural musician, who’d learnt to play in high school. His first instrument was clarinet, so it’s no surprise that Benny Goodman was his hero. Soon, he was experimenting musically.
A keen surfer, it was only natural that David recorded a couple of surf rock tracks. This included Lonely Surfer, which was released on Merri Records, as David Del Conte and The Castaways. Then David released his first version of Don’t Cry. After that David moved to Harmony Records, where he released Bowling Alley Jane and Don’t Cry Davy. Next stop for David was United Artists, where It Don’t Mean A Thing was released under his name. That’s despite David only supplying backing vocals. Having become a musical nomad, wandering between labels, it was only natural that David founded his own label, Del Con.
Having formed Del Con, David released two singles, A Face In The Crowd and I Lie. Both are best described as garage rock soul. Then Merri Records asked David to record another single Cry, which was credited to Damon Lane. After that, David disappeared for a while,
It was the mid-sixties when David returned. He released singles on his Del Con label. This includes Lovin’ Man, whose B-Side is an impassioned ballad They Call Me A Fool. David’s final single for Def Con was I Wonder Why, was also released on the Ankh Records in 1968. Ankh Records was another label David founded. Tucked away on the B-Side of Ankh Records’ version of I Wonder Why was Song To A Gypsy. It was a tantalising taste of the direction David’s music was heading.
Although the original version of Song To A Gypsy, which was released as a B-Side wasn’t psychedelic, David must have been considering a change of direction. After all, why did he found two separate record labels and release two different versions of the same single? David admired two very different singers, Jim Morrison of The Doors and the purveyor of faux psychedelia, Donavon. It seemed David was caught between two styles of music? One man who’d help David find his musical direction was guitarist Charlie Carey.
Charlie and David met in 1967, when Charlie stood in for David’s guitarist. Soon, the pair formed a firm friendship. David’s life had been turned upside down. He was divorced from his wife, and almost estranged from his three daughters. Music was all David had now. So when Charlie met David, it was an opportune meeting. From the first chords Charlie played, David knew this was the man he’d been looking for. Here was someone with a unique style, who could almost make the guitar sing. This was a result. Despite this meeting with Charlie, David was overcome with the breakup of his marriage and not seeing his children.
So, David turned to drugs. He tried what were the drugs of choice, L.S.D. and dexies. Soon, David was trying heroin. That was the last straw. Things got so bad, that David was unable to standup, never mind make it concerts he was booked to play. Quickly, David got a reputation as unreliable. That resulted in David becoming determined to get straight.
Borrowing his grandmother’s cabin in Portland, Oregon, David went cold turkey. Now clean and free of heroin, David started making journey’s between his hometown and San Francisco. One day, when traveling to San Francisco, David entered the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
Having dropped two tabs of acid, David walked twenty miles to the Esalen Institute, which was managed by his school friend Charlie Farrington. Best described as a retreat or residential community, it was like nirvana for David. He wandered around playing his guitar and reveling in the atmosphere. The only thing that bothered David, was when a guitar strong broke. Later, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison visited. Tuning his guitar to the same tuning they used, David played alongside them. That tuning would prove inspiration for Song Of A Gypsy.
Having left the Esalen Institute, David walked back to San Francisco, where his car was. He drove back to Los Angeles, where he and Charlie Carey began work on a two singles, Song Of A Gypsy and Poor Poor Genie. Various versions were recorded, with the final version recorded at Western Recorders, in Los Angeles. Song Of A Gypsy and Poor Poor Genie were released simultaneously in 1968. Ankh Records hired a promotion company to plug it. They worked the singles well. There was a problem though. When Poor Poor Genie was well received on American Bandstand, there was a problem, the B-Side Don’t You Feel Me was reviewed. Sadly, despite the marketing campaign, neither single sold well. Maybe the album Song Of A Gypsy would fare better?
Accompanying Damon for what became for Song Of A Gypsy, were a tight, talented band. They recorded ten songs Damon wrote. The band included a rhythm section of drummer Carl Zarcone, bassist Atley Yeager and Charlie Carey’s “singing” guitar. Lee and Mike Pastora added percussion, Helena Vlahos finger cymbals and Richard Barham goblet drum. Damon sang lead vocal and played guitar on Song Of A Gypsy, which was released in 1969.
Just like the two singles, success eluded Song Of A Gypsy. Released on Damon’s Ankh Records, the label didn’t have the budget to promote the album. Instead, Damon tried promoting Song Of A Gypsy by performing live. That didn’t work. He wasn’t well received. Worse was to come. The original master tapes of Song Of A Gypsy disappeared. Things couldn’t get much worse. Could they? That’s what I’ll tell you. once I’ve told you about Song Of A Gypsy.
Opening Song Of A Gypsy is the title-track. Guitars scream and soar above the arrangement. They answer Damon’s browbeaten vocal. His vocal is almost bereft of emotion, as if life has ground him down. Behind him, a meandering arrangement features a myriad of percussion and rhythm section. As psychedelia and rock melt into one, Damon’s vocal is a soul-baring cry for attention.
Poor Poor Genie sounds as if it was recorded around 1968. It’s very much of its time. That’s no bad thing. It’s something of a hidden psychedelic gem. As the rhythm section and percussion provide a pulsating heartbeat, fuzzy, muted guitars match them every step of the way. Damon’s wistful vocal is punchy and urgent, sadness and regret in his voice as he sings: “ Poor Poor Genie why don’t they leave her alone.” Then almost enviously, he adds” “at least she’s got some soul.
As Don’t You Feel Me unfolds, crystalline guitars are panned left, while percussion and the rhythm section join forces. Damon seems to draw inspiration from the Lizard King, Jim Morrison. His vocal is best described as haunted and melancholy. Like a Byronic figure, he delivers the lyrics dramatically. He brings meaning and emotion to the lyrics, with what’s his best vocal so far.
There’s an element of mystery in Did You Ever, where rock, folk and psychedelia melt into one. Like a lysergic sage, Damon delivers the lyrics to this surreal, love song. Charlie Carey’s guitar answers Damon’s vocal. When the vocal briefly drops out, Charlie showcases his virtuoso skills, against the shuffling arrangement. Filters are added to Damon’s vocal, adding a further sheen of mystery in this lysergic, surreal paean.
Funky Funky Blues is very different from the previous tracks. Damon jives while his band fuse musical genre. Everything from funk, blues, rock and psychedelia are fused by the band. Vamping and jiving his way through the track, Damon again looks to Jim Morrison for inspiration. There’s also a nod to the vocal talents of B.B. King, Donovan and Rufus Thomas, during three genre-melting minutes of sassy, funky, blues music.
Do You has a real Eastern influence. It’s apparent from the opening bars. Damon’s vocal has a dreamy, lysergic sound. With its laid-back sound, harmonies accompany him while Charlie Carey’s guitar is ever-present. It plays a huge part in the track, add layers of sound and adding a contrast to Damon’s dreamy, faraway vocal. Sunshine pop, psychedelia and rock. It’s all gone into the making of this dreamy slice of wistful psychedelia.
During The Night, Damon paints pictures evocative pictures with his vocal. His delivery is deliberate and dramatic, while a myriad of percussion and the rhythm section provide a backdrop. Playing a starring role is Charlie Carey. His guitar playing is a perfect foil for Damon’s vocal. It sings, answering Damon’s call. While melodramatic describes Damon’s vocal, Charlie’s playing is no frills. They both play their part in what sounds like a musical period drama, with Damon and Charlie playing starring roles.
Feel Your Love has a much more thoughtful, understated sound. This is perfect for Damon’s slow, seductive vocal. Needy and sensual, his vocal is full of longing. Guitars chime, while the rhythm section and percussion meander along. Adding the finishing touches are the harmonies. It’s as if they’re giving thanks for Damon’s heartfelt and beautiful vocal.
Guitars reverberate into the distance on Birds Fly So High, as the shuffling arrangement introduces Damon’s dreamy vocal. Like a slice of aural sunshine, his vocal paints pictures. Harmonies accompany him while guitars chime and the rhythm section and percussion provide the melancholy heartbeat.
Closing Song Of A Gypsy is Road Of Life. A hesitant guitar reverberates, before Charlie plays his way into the track. Way deep down, the bass booms and drums mark the beat. Damon’s vocal is half-spoken. He sounds like a psychedelic seer, as he delivers the lyrics. They’re a reminder of the idealism of the sixties. As he scats, psychedelia, rock, jazz and folk unite, bringing back memories of another era, when life was very different and Damon looked like having a successful career in front of him.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. After Song Of A Gypsy’s commercial failure, Damon decided to try other career paths. An agent tried to get Damon a job in the film industry. That wasn’t for him. Then his life spiralled out of control. By the mid-seventies, Damon was reduced to robbing drug dealers at gun point. Then when someone pulled a gun on Damon, he realised it was time to change his ways. He couldn’t go on hustling.
So in 1979, Damon found himself in a drug program. His real reason was, he was hiding out from a couple of drug dealers he’d robbed. Then there was this woman who Damon had taken a shine to. Whether it was fate, Damon decided to mend his ways. He found religion and gave up drugs. Turning his back on his wild ways, he somehow, managed to turn his life around. Twenty years later, and Damon was back living in Capistrano Beach, running his family business. That’s when he discovered that his debut album Son Of A Gypsy, had acquired a cult following. More than that.
Son Of A Gypsy was a lost psychedelic classic. With copies changing hands for several thousand dollars, very few people were able to hear Song Of A Gypsy. Even previous rereleases on CD were rarities. So, when Now Again Records decided to rerelease Song Of A Gypsy, it was a welcome rerelease. Best described as a lovingly compiled and lavish rerelease, Now Again Records’ rerelease of Song Of A Gypsy, is like a mini hardback book. Featuring in-depth sleeve-notes, including an interview with Damon, it’s one of the most lavish rereleases of 2013. As for the sound quality, it’s exquisite. Time has been taken and money spent on getting the sound on Song Of A Gypsy, as Damon originally intended. This is a fitting makeover for Song Of A Gypsy.
After all, Song Of A Gypsy is an innovative, genre-melting, boundary pushing album. For anyone whose interested in psychedelia, then Song Of A Gypsy is a must-have album. Everything from blues, folk, funk, psychedelia, rock and soul can be heard on Song Of A Gypsy. With its lysergic, ethereal and dreamy sound Song Of A Gypsy is now within the budget of music lovers everywhere, who now can hear this lost psychedelic classic in all its glory for the first time. Standout Tracks: Song Of A Gypsy, Poor Poor Genie, As Don’t You Feel Me and Birds Fly So High.
DAMON- SONG OF A GYPSY.
BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS-CATCH A FIRE.
Forty years ago, Bob Marley and The Wailers released the album that launched their career, Catch A Fire which was recently rereleased by Island on vinyl. Catch A Fire was certified in the UK and was the start of a career where critical acclaim and commercial success were ever-present. It also introduced the world to Bob Marley, a man who was much more than a singer. Much more.
Poet, philosopher and political activist describes Bob Marley. He was someone who spoke up for the Jamaican people, someone who was a force for good and peace. Religion played an important in his life. A devout Rastafarian, Bob Marley was a deeply religious and spiritual man. Religion played an important part in his life. Bob Marley also played an important role in raising reggae music’s popularity.
Back in the 1970s’, Bob Marley was hugely influential in increasing the popularity of reggae music. Before that, although reggae music was something enjoyed by some people, it hadn’t crossed-over and gained mainstream appeal. Thankfully, Bob Marley were instrumental in raising reggae music’s profile. Catch A Fire was the album that launched Bob Marley and The Wailers’ career and was their debut album for a major record label.
Catch A Fire was Bob’s first album for his new record label Island Records, owned by Chris Blackwell. Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell had first met in London in 1972, when Bob Marley and The Wailers were stranded in London. They’d entered in a deal with CBS Records, and gone on tour with Johnny Nash, the American soul singer. However, things went badly wrong, and Bob, stranded in London, thought he’d approach Chris Blackwell about recording a new single. Instead, Chris Blackwell said he wanted the group to record a whole album. This, at the time, was unheard of, but Chris Blackwell was adamant. He asked Bob how much an album would cost, and Bob said between £3,000 and £4,000. Blackwell gave Marley £4,000 and headed back to Kingston, Jamaica to record Catch A Fire.
Now that Bob Marley and The Wailers had the funds to record a new album, they headed for Harry J’s recording studio in Kingston. It had an eight track recording studio, the type that rock bands were using then. Again, this was a first, as previously, no reggae band had used such a facility. Blackwell wanted more than a reggae album, he said he wanted “more of a drifting, hypnotic-type feel than a reggae rhythm.” To achieve this, Bob travelled to London to oversee Chris Blackwell’s overdubbing of the tracks. Chris Blackwell had enlisted the help of Wayne Perkins and John “Rabbit” Bundrick, two American musicians. Wayne Perkins was responsible for re-recording some of the lead and rhythm guitar parts. John Bundrick meanwhile, added organ, synths, clavinet and electric piano to the UK mix of the album. Another of Blackwell’s decisions, was to lessen the heavy bass sound. Two songs were then left off the album. This “new mix” didn’t go down well back in Jamaica. However, music critics love the album. Their reception was positive, now the only people to convince were the record buying public.
On Catch A Fire’s release in April 1973 it initially sold 14,400 copies. Although this wasn’t going to make Bob Marley a star, it had increased his profile and gained a good reception from music fans. Catch A Fire was hugely instrumental in launching Bob Marley and The Wailers. After Catch A Fire, the band embarked on a period where they released several classic albums one after another. Suddenly, after many years of trying, Bob Marley and The Wailers, were household names. One thing that saddens many people, is how the original Wailers weren’t part of this success story. They’d split up in 1973, tired of struggling for success. Little did they know in 1973, that success was just a year away.
One of the attractions of Catch A Fire for critics and music fans alike, were Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’ lyrics. Peter Tosh penned 400 Years and Stop The Train, while Bob Marley wrote the other seven tracks. Both Peter and Bob were socially aware and militant. Neither Bob Marley, nor Peter Tosh, were afraid of raising subjects and issues that would be deemed confrontational and controversial. Both wished for a future where people in Jamaica, and elsewhere, would be free from oppression. Their view of the world was an optimistic one, and this is apparent in the music on Catch A Fire, which would eventually be successful.
The nine tracks on Catch A Fire showcase the talents of Bob Marley and The Wailers. On its release, it may not have been their most successful album. Eventually though, it was certified silver and launched the career of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Not only that, but Catch A Fire has stood the test of time well, and the messages within it, are as relevant today, as they were in 1973. You’ll realise that when I tell you about Catch A Fire.
Catch A Fire opens with Concrete Jungle. It begins somewhat hesitantly, with a guitar, rhythm section and organ combining. Quickly, the arrangement opens out. Tough, edgy and pulsating rhythms emerge as Bob delivers a heartfelt, frustrated vocal. Behind him, the arrangement has an understated quality, with a bass reverberating, an organ gently playing, drums steadily keep the beat. The track gently pulsates, as instruments emerge, joining and leaving the mix. A guitar soars, but is played subtly. One constant is the buzzing bass. It’s a feature of the track. Like all the tracks on Catch A Fire, the lyrics deal with important social issues. Here, the issue is the poverty and conditions faced by people in the poorer areas of Jamaica. Bob Marley highlights their plight in this poignant, moving song.
Slave Driver deals with the effrontery that was slavery, one of the most abhorrent shameful things in history. Bob Marley’s lyrics tackle the subject head on. His vocal takes centre-stage, while the arrangement frames it. Drums and organ, accompanied by backing vocals, open the track. When Bob sings, he surrounded by reverberating rhythms, that sound melodic, yet the bass sounds slightly brittle. The arrangement has a similar understated quality to Concrete Jungle, it meanders along, never threatening to overpower Bob’s vocal. This suits the song, allowing the you to focus on Bob Marley’s vocal and his righteous anger as he tackles one of of the most shameful and despicable things in history, slavery.
The militant Bob Marley can be heard on 400 Years. With its dark, heavy, sound, it’s very different from the two previous tracks. Even Bob’s voice sounds different, it’s deeper, there also is an edge to it. Maybe it’s because he’s airing his frustration and anger. Likewise, the arrangement is fuller. Back is that brilliant buzzing bass, accompanied by drums and guitar. Backing vocals provided by The Wailers are the perfect accompaniment to Bob’s vocal. They drench his vocal beautifully, bringing a real spiritual feel to the track. All of this, contributes towards a powerful track, which demonstrates both Peter Tosh’s talents as a songwriter and Bob Marley and The Wailers talents as singers and musicians.
One of the best known songs on the album is Stop the Train I’m Leaving, another song written by Peter Tosh. It begins with drums, guitar and organ combining, with the drums almost cracking, whilst in contrast, the organ is melodic as it meanders in and out of the track. When Bob sings, his vocal sounds strong, yet relaxed. His vocal sits right at the top of the arrangement. Behind him, one of the best arrangements on the album is emerging. A chiming guitar, throbbing bass, subtle drums, a dreamy melodic organ make a potent, musical combination. When you add Bob’s powerful, charismatic voice, you’ve the recipe for one of the highlights of Catch A Fire.
On Baby We’ve Got A Date (Rock It Baby), we see another side to Bob Marley. Here we see his romantic side, on what is a much lighter, brighter track. This is apparent when the organ plays, gently and melodically. Drums play, they’re subtle, similarly, the bass is way back in the mix. Neither overpower the organ which is a constant presence, nor do they overpower Bob’s vocal. It’s very different, it’s gentler, the edge that was present on earlier tracks is gone. Instead this is Bob Marley the romantic, the lover. Quickly, Bob’s vocal is surrounded by the most beautiful arrangement on the album. It reverberates and chugs along, a magical musical combination, supplemented by some stunning female backing vocalists.
Another track that may be familiar to many people is Stir It Up. This is one of the tracks Chris Blackwell changed, bringing in Wayne Perkins to redo the lead guitar on the track. As the rhythm section opens this track, a bass reverberates and drums play. They’re joined by Wayne’s guitar while the bass then throbs way down in the bottom of the mix. Bob’s voice sounds lighter and happier. By now, music is emerging in waves, beautifully washing over you. Although the guitar playing is of the highest standard, it sometimes overshadow other instruments. You’re drawn to solos, and miss other things that emerge during the track. Another guest artist is Tyrone Downie, who plays organ. His playing is understated and is much more suited to the track. Although Stir It Up is one of the album’s highlights, it would’ve been interesting to hear what the track sounded like before it was overdubbed by Chris Blackwell. Maybe, it would’ve been even better without the addition of the overdubbing lead guitar parts?
Kinky Reggae has a a lovely laid back feel to it when it begins. It just gently pulsates, as it emerges out of your speakers. Straight away, it’s beauty just washes over you, and envelops you. A glorious sounding track emerges, straight from the opening bars. The rhythm section play and as the track unfolds, Bob sings. His voice is much more relaxed, happier as he sings lyrics loaded with not so subtle innuendo. Backing vocals join in, they suddenly emerge, to accompany and compliment Bob’s vocal. With its laid back feel, a myriad of beautiful rhythms and melodies unveil themselves. That combination and Bob’s vocal make this a track to treasure.
It’s a combination of spacious sounding bass, drums and backing vocalists that open No More Trouble. Here the tempo, is slow, pedestrian even, laden with drama as the song opens out. There is spiritual sound to the backing vocalists, and eventually, when Bob sings, his vocal is equally spacious and dramatic. This track sees Bob sing about peace, and a cessation to trouble and war, which back then, was tearing his country apart. Behind him, the arrangement is understated and dignified. As drums and percussion punctuate the arrangement, they reinforce the lyrics, which succinctly, poetically and powerfully see Bob Marley get his message across.
Midnight Ravers closes Catch A Fire. It’s another of Bob Marley’s protest songs. Here, he was ahead of his time, when he wrote about the problem of pollution. A drum roll opens the track, a guitar plays, as the song meanders along. Backing singers join in. Then, when Bob sings he and his backing singers combine masterfully and melodically. Gone is the happiness and joy that was previously present in Bob’s voice. Instead, he sounds almost sad, as if saddened by the destruction he’s singing about, and it’s effect on everyone. Behind him, glorious rhythms can be heard, they play brightly. This is a complete contrast to Bob’s vocal. There is almost a darkness present in both his vocal, and that of The Wailers. No wonder, given what he foresaw. Here, Bob Marley is akin to a seer with a social conscience.
Catch A Fire was the album that announced Bob Marley and The Wailers arrival to the wider world. Before that, they were a huge success in Jamaica. Following Catch A Fire, their popularity spread far and wide. Although Catch A Fire didn’t match the success of later albums, including Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya, it’s an important album in Bob Marley and The Wailers’ back-catalogue, which was recently rereleased by Island Records on vinyl.
Full of lyrics that are socially aware and militant, neither Bob Marley, nor Peter Tosh, were afraid of raising subjects and issues that would be deemed confrontational. Both wished for a future where people in Jamaica, and elsewhere, would be free from oppression. Their view of the world was an optimistic one. This is apparent in Catch A Fire’s lyrics. Although the subject matters are controversial, the music on Catch A Fire that’s no bad thing. Subjects like poverty, slavery and pollution all deserved to be tackled. The man to do that was Bob Marley. On Catch A Fire, Bob Marley and The Wailers tackled these subjects head on. Despite releasing an album of music with a social conscience, Catch A Fire wasn’t initially a commercial success.
On its release, Catch A Fire wasn’t a commercial success, selling only 14,400 albums. Eventually though, Catch A Fire was certified silver and launched the career of Bob Marley and The Wailers. Not only that, but Catch A Fire has stood the test of time. Catch A Fire is a timeless album. After that, Bob Marley and The Wailers released a string of classic albums, including Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya. These album may have been more successful, but since the release of Catch A Fire, it has been recognised as a classic album.
Featuring Nine tracks, with lyrics that are both militant and socially aware, Bob Marley deals with some of the problems affecting the people of Jamaica. Many of these problems affected people worldwide, and sadly, these problems persist today. In some ways, it was brave of Bob Marley to include such songs on Catch A Fire, as many people would be put of by his militancy. However, it was these subjects that made Catch A Fire what it is. That’s an important and potent classic album. To me, it’s one of Bob Marley’s greatest albums. Along with Natty Dread, Exodus and Kaya, Catch A Fire contains some of the best music Bob Marley and The Wailers records, is worthy of being called a timeless classic, with a social conscience. Standout Tracks: Stop the Train I’m Leaving, Baby We’ve Got A Date (Rock It Baby), Kinky Reggae and No More Trouble.
BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS-CATCH A FIRE.
CHIC-NILES ROGERS PRESENTS THE CHIC ORGANIZATION-BOX SET 1/SAVOIR FAIRE.
Considering how influential Chic proved to be, and the commercial success and critical acclaim they enjoyed, it’s about time a lovingly compiled and lavish box set celebrating their career was released. After all, for their first three albums Chic could do no wrong. Their 1977 eponymous album was certified gold, while 1978s C’est Chic surpassed Chic, and was certified platinum. Then as disco crashed and burned, Risque which was released in July 1979, was certified platinum. Another five albums were released between 1980 and 1992, but Chic never recaptured the commercial success they enjoyed. However, the music Chic released and produced for other artists, continued to influence further generations of producers, including Daft Punk.
Earlier this year, Niles Rodgers collaborated with Daft Punk on their 2013 album Random Access Memory, which included the huge hit Get Lucky. Suddenly, Chic were big news again. Soon, Niles Rodgers was playing the festival circuit with the latest incarnation of Chic. For a new generation of music lovers, they were able to hear a taster of what Chic in their heyday sounded like. Realizing that their was a market for Chic’s music, Rhino recently released a “new” box set Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1. However, all wasn’t as it seemed. I’ll tel you why, once I’ve told you about Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire.
Spread across the four discs that comprise Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1 /Savoir Faire are forty-six songs. This includes tracks from Chic’s fifteen year career, plus just a few of the artists Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards produced. Among them are some of their best known productions, including Sister Sledge and Diana Ross. Then there’s a fifteen previously unreleased tracks.
Granted there’s some hidden gems tucked away on Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1 /Savoir Faire. Among them are contributions from Norma Jean, Diana Ross, Teddy Pendergrass and Fonzi Thornton. However, there’s a few unreleased tracks that might have been better remaining unreleased. They might be better lying unreleased in a record company vault. After all, Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1 /Savoir Faire should be a celebration of all things Chic. Is that the case?
Disc One of Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1 /Savoir Faire opens with a stonewall disco classic, the original 12” mix of Everybody Dance. It’s Chic at their very best. This was a track from their 1977 debut album Chic. Dance-floor friendly and hook-laden, it’s a reminder of how potent the Bernard Edwards and Niles Rodgers’ partnership was. Two other tracks from Chic are Est-Ce Que C’est Chic and another classic Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah). Again, the 12″ Mix of this timeless disco classic has been chosen. Talking of classics, they keep on coming.
Le Freak from 1978s C’est Chic, was one of Chic’s biggest selling singles. It reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. It sold over six-million copies. Talking of classics, there’s the 12” mix of Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah). It’s one of six tracks from C’est Chic. The other two are Chic Cheer, Savoir Faire, Happy Man and At Last I am Free. There’s also a unreleased outtake of Funny Bone (Previously unreleased outtake). These tracks are representative of Chic at the height of the powers. Back then, Chic could do no wrong, whether as a band or producers.
The two other tracks on disc one of Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1 /Savoir Faire are from Norma Jean’s 1978 album. Norma Jean was one of Chic’s backing vocalists. Her eponymous album was produced by Niles and Bernard. Sorcerer was one of the singles released from Norma Jean. It’s the 12” version that features on disc one. Saturday is the other track, with the Dimitri From Paris remix transforming the track to a near ten-minute epic.
Overall, disc one of Saturday Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1 /Savoir Faire is quality all the way. From the opening bars of Everybody Dance, right through to the closing notes of Funny Bone, Chic don’t disappoint. No wonder. During this period, they could do no wrong either as a band or producers. Their talents as producers were in-demand and soon, Chic would become the go-to-guys for artists looking for a producer to revive their career.
That was the case with Sister Sledge. Before they teamed up with Bernard and Niles, their career was going nowhere. They’d released two of albums, but success eluded them. Then in 1979, Sister Sledge hooked up with Niles and Bernard. The result was We Are Family, which was certified platinum. It featured We Are Family, Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music and Thinking Of You.Dimitri From Paris works his magic on Lost In Music and Thinking Of You. These four tracks represent Sister Sledge at their best and reinforce why Niles and Bernard were so in-demand.
Of the other artists on disc two, there’s a previously unreleased long version of Norma Jean’s Hold Me Lonely Boy. It’s something of a find and is worthy of its place on disc one. So is Sheila and B. Devotion’s Spacer. There’s also a previously unreleased outtake of Love Devotion. Surely, it would’ve made more sense to include the original version? This outtake will be interesting to fans of Sheila and B. Devotion, but can hardly be described as one of Chic’s finest moments, unlike the other tracks on disc one.
I Want Your Love, Good Times, My Feet Keep Dancing and My Forbidden feature Chic at their best. Of this quartet, Good Times is a disco classic. Timeless, it’ll still fill dance-floors four decades later. Soulful, funk and dance-floor friendly, Chic were Kings and Queens of disco.
Just like disc one, most of the music is a celebration of Chic at their best. As a band, they enjoyed their most successful period between 1977 and 1979. During that period, they released a trio of classic albums, Chic, C’est Chic and Risque. They also worked with some of the biggest names in music, giving their career a musical makeover. On disc three, this includes Diana Ross and Debbie Harry.
As the eighties dawned, and disco was but a fleeting memory. Still, the anti-disco backlash was still being felt. Sister Sledge released their second Chic produced album Love Somebody Today. It featured Got To Love Somebody and Reach Your Peak. Sadly, despite its undoubtable quality, Love Somebody Today reached just number thirty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number seven in the US R&B Charts. These two tracks are a reminder of an album that’s a hidden gem.
Diana Ross was one of the biggest artists Chic worked with. They produced her 1980 album Diana. Two of the singles from Diana feature on disc three. Upside Down and I’m Coming Out are stonewall classics and feature two of the best tracks on Diana. This wasn’t the only big name Bernard and Niles worked with in the early eighties.
A year after producing Diana, Bernard and Niles were asked work with Debbie Harry. They wrote and produced her 1981 single Backfired. It’s a track from Debbie’s debut solo album KooKoo. Although Backfired proved to be a prophetic title, KooKoo was a huge commercial success, and was certified gold in the US and silver in the UK.
Two of Chic’s vocalists feature on disc three. Norma Jean contributes the 12” version of High Society. Fonzi Thornton delivers a sassy, strutting version of She Works Hard For A Living. This version is the Niles Rodgers long version. What these two tracks show, is how important Chic’s vocalists were in the group’s success.
Of the other five tracks on disc three, they’re all from Chic. Among them, are Rebels Are We and Chip Off The Old Block from their fourth album, 1980s Real People. Stage Fright and Burn hard are from 1981s Take It Off. By then, Chic were no longer enjoying the same commercial success. Chic were seen unfairly as “just” a disco band, and after the disco backlash, their record sales suffered. Still they were producing music that was innovative and genre-melting. Just it was no longer as fashionable. There’s some hidden gems tucked away on Real People and Take It Off. The other track on disc three is a previously unreleased outtake of What About Me.
Featuring a mixture of music from Chic’s fourth and fifth albums, plus their productions, disc three is an eclectic selection of classics and hidden gems. With two classics from Diana Ross, plus contributions from the voices of Chic, Fonzi Thornton and Norma Jean,
Given how Chic released eight albums and produced albums for numerous artists, there should’ve been more than enough material for a four disc box set. However, there’s some serious barrel scraping going on. Eight of the eleven tracks have been unreleased. This includes a trio from Johnny Mathis, who was jumping on the disco bandwagon with I Want To Fall In Love, It’s Alright To Me and Something To Sing About. These three tracks are really disappointing and are three reasons why disco received such a bad name. The 12” mix of Carly Simon’s Why isn’t exactly her finest moment. It was track from the soundtrack to the 1982 movie Soup For One. Just like the Johnny Mathis tracks, Why’s inclusion leads me to ask Why? At least some of the other unreleased tracks make up for these four tracks.
Niles Rodgers remix of Teddy Pendergrass’ Dream Girl is a real find. It falls into the category of hidden gem. Why it’s never been released before is something of a puzzle. Another unreleased track is Fonzi Thornton’s fabulously funky I’ll Change My Game. It’s a welcome inclusion, on disc four.
The remaining six tracks are from Chic. This includes the 12” mix of Soup For One. This shows another side to Chic. A fusion of electro, funk, jazz and post-disco Chic exploit a groove to its fullest. Then there’s Hangin’ On and I Feel Your Love Comin’ On from 1982s Tongue In Chic. You Are Beautiful is taken from the overlooked Believer album, released in 1983. It was the last to feature the classic lineup of Chic. The final two tracks on Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire are Just Call Me and Will You Cry, two previously unreleased tracks. They’re a somewhat disappointing way to end the box set. After all, Chic have released and produced much better music than this.
For three discs, Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire looked like being the box set that celebrated the career of Chic. Things went awry on disc four, where the barrel was scraped somewhat. That’s a great shame. After all, there’s more than enough music to ensure that Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization0Box Set 1/Savoir Faire was crammed full of quality music. It should’ve been an album that’s all killer and no filler. Indeed, I could’ve put together five discs of music celebrating the career of Chic. Sadly, here it was a struggle to fill four discs. That’s not the worst of it.
No. Back in 2011, a Chic box set released, it was only available in the UK as an import. That was Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire. The problem with that box set was the sound quality. It didn’t do the music justice. Far from it. At the time the box set released, that was the gripe most people had with Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire. So when Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire was recently rereleased, the problems would be rectified. Were they?
They weren’t. It’s the same version of Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire that was released back in 2011. Looking at the box, it was made in 2010. The only difference is it’s no longer available as just an import. Sadly, the same problems persist. What could’ve and should’ve been a fitting homage to one of the most important groups of their generation is still to be released.
Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire came close to being the box set that pays homage to one of the most innovative, inventive and influential groups of the late-seventies and early-eighties, Chic. They were responsible for a string of timeless disco classics. Chic were equally innovative, inventive and influential as producers, working with some of the biggest names in music. Among them were Diana Ross and Debbie Harry. They also reinvented Sister Sledge and transformed their career, writing, producing on playing on their classic album We Are Family. These are just a few of the artists Chic worked with and whose careers were transformed. During that period, everything Chic touched seemed to turn sliver, gold or platinum.
That’s why Chic deserve a box set that celebrates their career and pays homage to a group who were innovators. They pushed musical boundaries to their limits. Innovators describes Chic perfectly. Chic were one of the most influential groups of the last forty years. Since then, they’ve gone on to influence several generations of musicians and producers. Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire could’ve been the box set that paid fitting homage to Chic. For three discs that looked like being the case, Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Instead, Niles Rogers Presents The Chic Organization-Box Set 1/Savoir Faire came up short and we’re still waiting for the definitive Chic box set.
CHIC-NILES ROGERS PRESENTS THE CHIC ORGANIZATION-BOX SET 1/SAVOIR FAIRE.
King Crimson burst onto the scene in October 1969, with their debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King. A prog rock classic, it reached number five in the UK and was certified gold in America, when it reached number twenty-eight. Following the success of In The Court Of Crimson in America, King Crimson headed on their first American tour. On their return home, King Crimson lost two members Ian McDonald and Michael Giles. This was the first of numerous lineup changes in the history of King Crimson.
The next member of the band to exit stage left was Greg Lake. He’d been approached by Keith Emerson to join what became Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Having lost three members of the band, Robert Fripp was left as the only member of King Crimson. This presented a problem, King Crimson had an album to record.
So former members, Peter and Michael Giles returned to play bass and drums, while Keith Tippett played piano. Robert played keyboards and guitars, while session musicians augmented the band’s lineup. Without a lead singer, an unknown singer Elton John nearly became the lead singer. Instead, Greg Lake sang the lead vocals. This proved a winning formula.
On its release in May 1970, In The Wake Of Poseidon reached number four in the UK and number thirty-one in America. In The Wake Of Poseidon would prove to be King Crimson’s most successful album, during a five year period where King Crimson were one of the most successful prog rock bands. The album that close this golden period was Panegyric. Before I tell you about Red, I’ll tell you about the remainder of what was the most successful period in King Crimson’s long and illustrious career.
Following the success of In The Wake Of Poseidon, King Crimson released their third album seven months later. Again, King Crimson’s lineup seemed to be constantly evolving. Jazz pianist Keith Trippett and flautist and saxophonist Mel Collins returned. They were joined by drummer Andy McCulloch and Yes’ frontman Jon Anderson. Lizard, which was produced by Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield was a much more jazz oriented album. Despite its undoubtable quality, Lizard stalled at a disappointing number twenty-six in the UK and number 113 in the US Billboard 200. Equally disappointing was that this lineup of King Crimson never got the opportunity to tour. Having released two albums in seven months, it was another year before King Crimson released their fourth album, Islands.
Islands marked the end of era for several reason. The first was that Islands was the last album to feature Peter Sinfield’s lyrics. This was the last album to feature what was King Crimson’s trademark fusion of progressive and symphonic sounds. Again there were changes in lineup. Boz Burrell played bass and sang lead vocals, while Ian Wallace played drums and percussion. On the release of Islands, the album divided opinion.
Some critics felt that Islands didn’t match the quality of King Crimson’s three previous albums. Despite this, Islands, which was released in December 1971, reached number thirty in the UK and number seventy-six in the US Billboard 200. Then there was the controversy surrounding Ladies Of The Road. King Crimson found themselves in the midst of a controversy where they were accused of misogyny. For King Crimson this was a disappointing way to end an era.
For what was their fifth album Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, this marked the debut of the third lineup of King Crimson. Joining Robert Fripp were bassist John Wetton, ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford, percussionist Jamie Muir and David Cross, who played violin, viola, Mellotron, electric piano and flute. This new lineup saw the band head in a new direction. King Crimson incorporated different instruments, including percussion and African mbiras. They moved away from their jazz sound, to a fusion of prog rock and experimental music on what became Larks’ Tongues In Aspic. It was released in March 1973, to critical acclaim, reaching number twenty in the UK and number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200. With a new lineup and having released their strongest album in recent years, King Crimson looked as if they were about to become one of the biggest bands of the early seventies.
Just about every prog rock band released a concept album. Starless and Bible Black, which is a quotation from the first two lines of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, was King Crimson’s concept album. The album is a commentary on the sleaziness and materialism that was blighting society. Richard Palmer-James, a former member of Supertramp, cowrote four of the songs on Starless and Bible, which saw King Crimson take a different approach to recording.
Unlike previous albums, there’s no drums on Starless and Bible. Despite the lack of drums, drummer Bill Bruford played percussion and cowrote three tracks. While he played on Starless and Bible, Jamie Muir didn’t. He’d left the band. Another change was that only the first two tracks on Starless and Bible, The Great Deceiver and Lament recorded in the studio. The rest of the tracks were recorded live, with the applause edited out. This was a very different approach from previous King Crimson albums.
Despite this, Starless and Bible Black was well received. Some critics hailed Starless and Bible Black as King Crimson’s best album since their debut. With its fusion of prog rock and experimental music, it was an ambitious and groundbreaking album. On its release in March 1974, it reached number twenty-eight in the UK and number sixty-six in the US Billboard 200. With King Crimson having released two consecutive critically acclaimed albums, it looked as if they were about to join the royalty that included Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. However, that wasn’t to be.
Having released to consecutive critically acclaimed albums, 1973s Larks’ Tongues In Aspic and then Starless and Bible Black, critics and fans wondered what direction King Crimson seventh album Red would take? Being King Crimson, fans and critics had learnt to expect the unexpected. The first change was in the lineup. After their 1974 summer tour, David Cross left King Crimson. This meant the band was now a trio consisting of Robert Fripp, bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford. They cowrote much of Red.
Red featured just five tracks. The title-track was penned by Robert Fripp. He and John Wetton penned One More Red Nightmare. They the cowrote Fallen Angel with Richard Palmer-James. Province and Starless were written by King Crimson with former violinist David Cross. These five tracks became Red.
Recording of Red began on 30th June 1974 at Olympic Studios, London and finished in August 1974. Four of the songs on Red were recorded live. The exception was One More Red Nightmare, which was recorded live. In the studio, Robert Fripp played guitar and mellotron. He was joined by bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford. They were augmented by a variety of musicians who often, played on just one track. This included violinist David Cross, soprano saxophonist Mel Collins, alto saxophonist Ian McDonald, Robin Miler on oboe and Mark Charig on cornet and bass cello. These musicians played their part in not only what’s a landmark album, but an album that marked the end of an era.
On its release in October 1974, Red reached just number forty-five in the UK and number sixty-six in the US Billboard 200. Critics hailed Red as an innovative album. There are obvious similarities with Larks’ Tongues In Aspic and Starless and Bible Black in sound and quality. One change was the lack of the acoustic guitars that featured on previous albums. With its fusion of prog rock and classic music, Red proved to be a hugely influential and innovative album. I’ll now tell you why.
Opening Red is the title-track. It’s one of the reasons why Red was chosen by Q magazine as one of the fifty heaviest albums of all time. The trio of Robert Fripp on guitar, bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford give a masterclass in hard rock. A hard driving tracks, Robert’s guitar is at the heart of the action. It’s over-dubbed, so that it sounds as if you’re being assailed by a wall of searing, scorching, driving guitars. Meanwhile, John and Bill power the arrangement along. Seamlessly, King Crimson switch between time-signatures. From 4/4 they take detours via 5/8 and 7/8. This allows King Crimson to indulge in some musical showboating, as they demonstrate why they were one of the most talented and versatile bands in the history of prog rock.
Eerie, moody, discordant and melancholy describes the introduction to Fallen Angel. It has a much more understated sound. John’s vocal is accompanied by strings and a thoughtful, spacious rhythm section sounding not unlike Pink Floyd. Partly, that’s down to the harmonies that accompany the vocal. Then as the drama and emotion increases, King Crimson kick loose. The track takes on harder, rockier sound. That’s down to the rhythm section and screaming, soaring guitars. Sometimes, it heads briefly in the direction of free jazz. That’s not surprising, given King Crimson’s background. From that dramatic high, the arrangement takes on a more thoughtful understated sound. Keyboards and guitars take centre-stage, as the track takes on a melancholy, sometimes, sci-fi sound, before the rhythm section and harmonies and horns drive the arrangement to a dramatic crescendo.
One More Red Nightmare has a dramatic, moody, and almost disturbing sound. One thing’s obvious though, and that’s how good King Crimson. Although their just a trio, they’re a multitalented trio, who seem to relish the opportunity to showcase their inconsiderable skills. Having set the scene, John’s vocal matches the drama of the rocky arrangement. Swathes of driving, gnarled, guitars add to the drama. Then just as you least expect it, the tempo drops. From there, King Crimson toy with you. The arrangement veers between dramatic, disturbing and jazz-tinged, thanks to Ian McDonald’s alto saxophone. He unleashes a blistering solo, which seems to drive the rest of the band to even greater heights. They surpass everything that’s gone before, fusing prog rock, blues and jazz seamless to create a blistering, genre-melting opus.
David Cross’ wistful violin opens Providence. It constantly threatens to reach a discordant. That never quite happens. Despite that, you’re always wary, wondering what direction this experimental sounding track is heading. Bursts of percussion and scorching electric guitar threaten to interrupt the strings. For over three minutes the track threatens to explode. There’s everything from pizzicato strings, percussion and searing guitars thrown into the mix. With three minutes of this eight-minute epic left, free jazz, experimental and rock are combined by King Crimson. It sounds as if they’re jamming, experimenting and trying to play their way into the track. Having found an in, Robert’s guitars are at the heart of what becomes an innovative and explosive fusion of experimental, rock and free jazz.
Starless a near thirteen-minute epic closes Red, and would be their swan-song for seven years. Fittingly, there’s a gloriously wistful, melancholy sound. The arrangement is thoughtful and understated. So too is John’s heartfelt, pensive vocal. Behind him swathes of strings, woodwind and the rhythm section combine. They ensure they never overpower his vocal. Instead, it’s a case of complimenting his vocal, which is the best on the album. Similarly, Robert’s guitar playing is neither as power, nor aggressive. This allows you to hear another side to his playing. Then after four minutes, the arrangement is pared back. Just chiming guitars and a broody bass join shrill strings. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds, taking on a rockier sound. As the song progresses, King Crimson are at their heaviest. Powered along by machine gun guitars and a powerhouse of a rhythm section, lush strings sweep in. The rocky sound melts into King Crimson’s symphonic sound, as two side of the band become one, Given what was about to happen, this would prove fitting.
Following the release of Red, Robert Fripp called time on King Crimson. It was always meant to be temporarily, but lasted seven years. By the time King Crimson returned with Discipline in 1981, music had changed. So had King Crimson. They were now a quartet, but only Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford remained. This was just the latest change in King Crimson’s lineup. It was a very different lineup of King Crimson that featured on Red that featured on their debut album In The Court Of Crimson. Although the lineups were different, they both had one thing in common, their quality.
Red marked the end of a five year period when King Crimson were one of the most innovative, influential successful prog rock bands. The newly rereleased version of Red which was recently rereleased by Panegyric, is a double-album. Disc one features Robert Fripp and Simon Heyworth’s 2000 remastered version and two bonus track. Then on disc two, there’s the 2013 stereo mix of Red, plus two bonus tracks. Having listened to both discs, the sound quality on both is exquisite and which you prefer will be down to personal preference. That Red has been given this sonic makeover is fitting.
After all, Red marked the end of an era for King Crimson. They’d released seven albums in a five year period. These seven albums saw King Crimson at their very best. They never bettered this run of innovative, influential and groundbreaking albums. It began with In The Court Of Crimson and finished with Red. Remarkably, throughout this period, King Crimson’s lineup was constantly changing so often that the studio should’ve had a revolving door. Maybe this is part of King Crimson’s success.
With a constantly changing lineup, the new personnel brought new with them new and fresh ideas. That was the case with Red. The new lineup ensured King Crimson’s music never became stale or predictable. Robert Fripp made sure of that. After their seventh album in five years, Robert called time on King Crimson. They’d never stand accused of being dinosaurs. Instead, they were innovators, whose music influenced future generations. Starting with In The Court Of Crimson and finishing with Red, King Crimson were responsible for innovative, genre-melting music that pushed musical boundaries to their limits.
PERU MARAVILLOSO: VINTAGE LATIN, TROPICAL AND CUMBIA.
As the sixties unfolded, British and American music was on the cusp of a revolution. This began in 1962, when The Beatles released Love Me Do. Soon, the sixties were swinging. Over the Atlantic in America, the British Invasion proved a game-changer. For the first time, British music was influencing American music. Then as the second half of the sixties took shape, another revolution took place, a psychedelic revolution.
No longer was music gradually evolving, like it previously had. Far from it. Instead, it was revolution not evolution. It wasn’t just in Britain and America that this psychedelic revolution took place. No, it was throughout the world. This includes Peru, which was in the midst of political turmoil.
Whilst psychedelia and rock music was influencing Peruvian music, Cuban communists inspired their Peruvian comrades. They used guerrilla tactics to try and win political power. With two revolutions taking place simultaneously, both Peruvian politics and music would change throughout the sixties and seventies. The changes in Peruvian music during the sixties and seventies are documented on Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia, which was recently released by Tiger’s Milk Records, an imprint of Strut Records.
Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia features fifteen tracks that are a taster of Peruvian music during the sixties and seventies. Some of the tracks are a reflection of the political turmoil the country underwent. This is no different to what happened in the sixties in America. Back then, groups like Country Joe and The Fish became the voice of a generation. However, there’s more to the music on Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia than politics. Much more.
It’s not exaggeration to describe Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia as a truly eclectic compilation. No wonder. Peru had a rich and vibrant music scene during these two decades and this is just a taster of the music being released. This is a reflection of the sheer vibrancy and eclectic nature of Peruvian music.
During the sixties and seventies, Peruvian music was influenced by everything a whole host of influences. This includes the music coming out of America and Britain. Two obvious influences during the sixties were The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Throughout the fifteen songs on Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia, musical genres seamlessly melt into one. Everything from Cumbia, folk jazz, Latin, psychedelia and rock. Add to these influences African, Andean, Cuban and Spanish music. These songs were released on labels like Dinsa, Iempsa, FTA, Sono Radio, and Infopesa. This was very different to the music Peru was known for. As Bob Dylan sang, “The Times They Are A Changin.” They certainly were. Proof of this is Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia, which I’ll pick the highlights of.
I’ve often said that the opening track is the most important on any album. It’s got to grab your attention and hold it. The compilers have chosen well here. Opening Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia is Lucho Neves Y Su Orquesta’s Mambo De Machaguay. It’s a huayno track from the 1964 album Lima De Noche. It was released on Sono Radio label. Although it’s an oft-covered and familiar track, this piano jazz version injects new life and meaning. With stabs of blazing horns for company, this finger clicking, hip swaying slinky slice of piano jazz is the perfect way to open the compilation.
Chango Y Su Conjunto’s Salsa 73 was released as a single on Rey Records in 1973. It’s a real fusion of influences and genres. Salsa and Cumbia are thrown into the melting pot and given a stir. Back then, exiles living in New York were combining musical genres and drawing inspiration from various sources. As a result, Afro Cuban rhythms and fused with what became known as the “New York sound”. Bursting into life, a myriad of percussion and vocals combine. Stabs of horns punctuate the arrangement before later, the song literally explodes. Blazing, braying horns ensure the song reaches a dramatic crescendo.
From the opening bars of Los Zheros’ Para Chachita you’re hooked. It’s impossible not to be swept away by this songs considerable charms. Para Chachita was a track from their only album Cuarta Oscura. Released on the Dinsa label in 1971, it was penned by Choco Alvan. The quartet combine Peruvian and Western music. At breakneck speed, a glorious fusion of Latin rhythms, percussion and scorching, searing electric guitars melt into one. Elements of rock, surf and Latin music combine to create a hidden gem that’s one of the highlights of Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia.
It’s not difficult to date Paco Zambrano Y Su Combo’s Meshkalina. No. It sounds as if it was released in 1968. That’s when this trippy, lysergic, psychedelic sounding single was released. This single was a reflection in musical revolution that was unfolding. Veering between shuffling, to stomping and dubby, the addition of bursts of growling horns in the finishing touch to this hidden psychedelic gem.
Under his Zulu alias, bassist Miguel Angel Ruiz Orbegozo a trio of albums for the Iempsa label. After his third album, Zulu’s music was finding an audience in America and much of Latin America. Despite being on the verge of huge commercial success, Zulu decided to retire from music and became a preacher. Sueño De Amor is a track from his 1974 eponymous album. Sueño De Amor, which translates as Dreams of Love, was written by Bill Morgan. Wistful, melancholy and thoughtful sounding, it’s a delicious reminder of one of the forgotten men of Peruvian music.
Covers of Beatles’ songs are two-a-penny and vary in quality. Los Ecos’ breath new life and meaning into Lennon and McCartney’s I Feel Fine. Me Siento Felíz is a track from Los Ecos’ 1975 album Perigrosal, which was released on FTA . It’s best described as a joyous take on a familiar song that results in a slice of aural sunshine.
El Zambito Rumbero is a track from a man whose credited with playing a leading role in Peru’s musical revolution. Manzanita fused musical genres. He combined various genres of Brazilian music with Western music. If you want to know what a fusion of cumbia, huayno, guaracha, rock and post-rock sounds like, then Manzanita Y Su Conjunto’s El Zambito Rumbero is the answer. Released as a single in 1971, there’s even elements of psychedelia and stabs of prog rock keyboards thrown in for good measure. The only way to describe this track is genre-melting.
Aniceto Y Sus Fabulosos’ Los Fabulosos En Onda which was released as a single in 1971, closes Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia. It sees the music of two decades unite. Elements of sixties sunshine pop, psychedelia and rock combine with a shuffling Latin beat. What makes the track are some of the best guitar licks on the compilation. Sparse and spare, there’s neither frills nor showboating. Instead, the crystalline guitar licks wouldn’t sound out of place on a Santana album. That’s how good they are. This seems a fitting way to close Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia.
The eight tracks I’ve chosen from Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia are just some of the highlights on this compilation. There’s much more for to Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia than eight tracks. I could just as easily have chosen tracks from Pedro Miguel Y Sus Maracaibos, Gato Blanco, Los Orientales or Félix Martinez Y Sus Chavales. That’s how good the music on Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia. Indeed, the standard of music never drops. That’s no bad thing, given it’s the first release from Tiger’s Milk, an imprint of Strut Music. They’re starting as they mean to go on. Let’s hope that the next instalment in this series matches the quality of music on Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia, which is essential listening for anyone interested in Peruvian or Latin music.
For newcomers to Peruvian music, then Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia is a good introduction. It might be your first compilation of Peruvian music, but it won’t be your last. No way. This is just a tantalising taster of Peru’s rich and vibrant music scene during the sixties and seventies. It’s also a reflection of the eclectic nature of Peruvian music. There’s elements of jazz, sunshine pop, psychedelia, folk and rock. Add to that cumbia, huayno, guaracha, African, Andean, Cuban, Latin and Spanish music. Musical genres seamlessly melt into one on this musical tapestry which is a taster of what lies in Peruvian record companies back-catalogues.
Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia features music from labels big and small. Among them, are labels like Dinsa, Iempsa, FTA, Sono Radio and Infopesa. Many of these labels will be new to most people, but not any more. I’m sure when you head out on crate-digging expeditions, you’ll be looking for albums and singles from these labels. After all, who knows what delights are lying undiscovered? Going by the music on Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia, Peruvian music is a treasure trove awaiting discovery. Standout Tracks: Lucho Neves Y Su Orquesta Mambo De Machaguay, Los Zheros Para Chachita, Zulu Sueño De Amo and Aniceto Y Sus Fabulosos Los Fabulosos En Onda.
PERU MARAVILLOSO: VINTAGE LATIN, TROPICAL AND CUMBIA.
Z.Z. HILL-THE BRAND NEW Z.Z. HILL.
The story behind how Z.Z. Hill found himself in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording with producer Swamp Dogg is the equivalent to a game of musical pass the parcel. It all started when Swamp Dogg bought Z.Z. Hill’s contract from Quin Ivy, one of the stalwarts of the Muscle Shoals music scene. There wasn’t much Quin hadn’t done. He’d been a DJ, songwriter, owned a record shop and opened the Quinvy Studios. Quin had also produced Percy Sledge, but wouldn’t be producing Z.Z. Hill. No. The pair didn’t get on. There was a good reason for this though. Quin had been tricked into buying Z.Z. Hill’s contract from Phil Walden, who’d managed Otis Redding and founded Canyon Records.
Phil Walden was another music industry veteran. He’d managed and founded Capricorn Records. It was to Capricorn Records that Z.Z. Hill was signed. Z.Z. Hill and Phil didn’t see eye-to-eye. However, when Phil sold the contract to Quin, it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Now his contract had changed hands again. Swamp Dogg owned the contract.
There was a problem though. Z.Z. Hill was avoiding Swamp Dogg. The only way to contact Z.Z. Hill was through his brother Matt. There was a reason for this. Whilst under contract to Quin, Z.Z. Hill had recorded Don’t Me Pay For His Mistakes. It had been a huge hit. As Swamp Dogg owned the contract, he was entitled to a royalty. That’s why Z.Z. Hill was avoiding Swamp Dogg. Eventually, when the pair met Swamp Dogg agreed to forego any royalties. He also paid Z.Z. Hill $5,000 and a small royalty to record what became The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, which was recently released by Alive Records. Ironically, Swamp Dogg had chosen Quinvy Studios to record The Brand New Z.Z. Hill. Surely, that was a step to far for Z.Z. Hill?
It wasn’t. Z.Z. Hill agreed to record the blues opera that was The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, at Quinvy Studios. Most of the songs were written by Swamp Dogg and one of his regular songwriting partners Gary US Bonds. A total of ten tracks were recorded by Z.Z. Hill at Quinvy Studios. Accompanying Z.Z. Hill were some of the best musicians in Muscle Shoals.
When recording of The Brand New Z.Z. Hill began, Swamp Dogg had put together a crack band of musicians. The rhythm section included Bobb Wray, Butch Owens and Charles Haywood, while Jesse Carr and Jimmy Evans played guitar plus drummers Fred Proudy, Jasper Guarino and Lou Mullenix. Chuck Levell, Clayton Ivy, Ronnie Oldham and Swamp Dogg played piano and organ. Trumpeter Gene “Bowlegs” Miller was part of the horn section on The Brand New Z.Z Hill. Swamp Dogg produced eight tracks and Quin Ivy two tracks. These ten tracks became The Brand New Z.Z Hill.
On its release in 1971, The Brand New Z.Z Hill reached just 194 in the US Billboard 200. Of the singles released from The Brand New Z.Z Hill, Faithful and True reached the US Billboard 100, then Chokin’ Kind reached number fifty in the US Billboard 100. Despite what seems like a commercial failure, Swamp Dogg claims six singles recorded at the The Brand New Z.Z Hill sessions, sold over a million copies. Swamp Dogg and Z.Z Hill were doing something right. You’ll realize what on The Brand New Z.Z Hill.
It Ain’t No Use opens The Brand New Z.Z Hill. Waves of drama unfold, as the rhythm section and crystalline, chiming guitars create a shuffling beat. They introduce a half-spoken vocal. It’s no Z.Z. though. No it’s Bob Carl Bailey, a local DJ, who filled in for Z.Z. who only spent three days in the studios. He vamps his way through the lyrics, his vocal sassy, feisty and tinged with humor. Leawill Little plays the female role in this mini soap opera. Then having set the scene, Z.Z. Hill’s unmistakable vocal takes centre-stage. A raspy, throaty vocal, it’s full of emotion and despair, as his relationship has gone wrong. Enveloped by blazing horns and chiming, B.B. King-esque guitars, Z.Z. defiantly sings: “you wanna come back home it’s too late, you’ve done me wrong.” It’s as if this is payback, revenge for the hurt she’s caused. A delicious fusion of blues and Southern Soul, this is indeed The Brand New Z.Z Hill.
It’s not the half-spoken vocal from Bob Carl Bailey that grabs your attention as Ha Ha (Laughing Song) unfolds. No. It’s the band’s performance. They’re a tight and talented unit. Seamlessly create a sultry, bluesy backdrop.This comes courtesy of the rhythm section, driving guitars and piano. Then midway through the track Z.Z. makes his entrance. His vocal is full of frustration and anger. Meanwhile horns growl and rasp, as he unleashes a growling, gnarled vamp. He’s almost mocking his partner who he’s come to despise.
The dialogue that opens Second Chance, is like eavesdropping on a relationship gone badly wrong. Z.Z. realises that their relationship is over. Despite that his partner begs for a Second Chance. His vocal is wistful and full doubt as he delivers the line: “do you believe you deserve a Second Chance?” It’s like a rhetorical question. Behind him, the arrangement has Southern Soul written all over it. Washes of Hammond organ, piano, stabs of blazing horns and a slow, thoughtful rhythm section provide the perfect backdrop for Z.Z’s soul-searching, melancholy opus.
Our Love Is Getting Better is quite unlike the previous tracks. There’s no dialogue. Instead, it bursts into life. Bursts of blazing horns, a powerhouse of a driving rhythm section and piano joins provide the backdrop for Z.Z. He matches the band every step of the way. Power and passion are combined, while dramatic bursts of soaring harmonies are the finishing touch. The result is a swinging fusion of blues and Southern Soul that features Z.Z. at his best.
As a church organ opens Faithful And True, you’re captivated by the dialogue between two of Z.Z’s friends. They speculate why Z.Z’s getting married and are almost laying bets whether he’ll tie the knot. After that, Z.Z. accompanied by a Hammond organ, stabs of braying horns and melancholy rhythm section, delivers a gut-wrenchingly beautiful vocal. Laden with emotion and sounding like Otis Redding, it’s an affirmation of his wedding vows, where he promises to be “ faithful and true.”
The Chokin’ Kind was one of the singles released from The Brand New ZZ Hill. No wonder. From the opening bars you’re hooked. As Z.Z. delivers a heartfelt, impassioned vocal, the band create a wistful Southern Soul arrangement. It’s ying to Z.Z’s yang. As guitars chime, a bass explores the same groove and horns rasp and growl. A Hammond organ and hissing hi-hats add to the drama and emotion of this heart-wrenching track.
Hold Back (One Man At A Time) sees the tempo drop and the arrangement take on an understated sound. That allows Z.Z’s vocal to take centre-stage. As he delivers the lyrics, the band play around him. There’s a mixture of irony and pathos in his vocal. He’s not going to be used, cheated on and then cast aside. No way. That’s obvious from his vocal. Behind him, bursts of braying join with the rhythm section and piano to add bursts of drama. They never overpower Z.Z’s vocal and compliment his vocal which brings meaning and emotion to the lyrics.
A Man Needs A Woman (A Woman Needs A Man) is another slower song. Against a slow, melancholy arrangement Z.Z. delivers a needy, soulful vocal. Stabs of braying horns answer his call, while harmonies soar above the arrangement. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Z.Z’s vocal. Equally soulful, they match him for emotion. When they drop out, just the piano and rhythm section accompany Z.Z, before grizzled horns add the finishing touch to what’s one of the best ballads on The Brand New ZZ Hill.
Early In The Morning has a real bluesy sound. It’s the rasping horns that lead to this comparison. Then there’s the bursts of chiming, crystalline guitars that remind me of B.B. King. As for the rhythm section, they up the tempo slightly. Z.Z’s vocal is swept along above it. He unleashes a vocal that’s a combination of power and emotion. Vamping his way through the arrangement, chiming guitars and braying horns drive Z.Z. to even greater heights of drama and emotion as he mixes blues and Southern Soul seamlessly and successfully.
Just drums opens I Think I’d Do It, which closes The Brand New ZZ Hill. Stabs of horns then usher in Z.Z’s vocal. He struts and vamps his way through the track, unleashing a myriad of hollers and shrieks. His band decide to kick loose. The blazing, braying horns are at the heart of the action. So are the rhythm section and piano, as Z.Z. closes The Brand New ZZ Hill on a bluesy, soulful and dramatic, vampish high.
Sadly, The Brand New ZZ Hill wasn’t the commercial success that it deserved to be. It was his third album. Z.Z. had released The Soul Stirring ZZ Hill in 1965, with A Whole Lot Of Soul following in 1969. Two years later came The Brand New ZZ Hill. Ironically, it was the same old story, with Z.Z’s music not finding the audience it deserved. All it needed was the right label behind him. Maybe Mankind, a short-lived and unsuccessful subsidiary of Nashboro was the wrong label for The Brand New ZZ Hill? After all, everything else was in place for The Brand New ZZ Hill to be a commercial success.
There was nothing wrong with Swamp Dogg, Gary US Bonds’ and Quin Ivy songs. The same goes for Swamp Dogg and Quin Ivy’s their production skills. Quite the opposite, The Brand New ZZ Hill was an innovative concept album where blues and Southern Soul became one. Accompanied by a crack band of top session players, Z.Z. Hill made the music come alive. Blessed with a voice that can inject emotion, meaning, and energy into a song, lyrics come alive. It only takes one listen to The Brand New ZZ Hill which was recently released by Alive Records and you’ll realise this. Whether its sadness or joy, hurt, heartbreak and happiness Z.Z. Hill can deliver this and more. Love songs, breakup songs and makeup songs Z.Z. delivers them with feeling. However, there’s more to his music than that. He can grab a song by the scruff of its neck, making a good song a great, and an average song good. Not every singer can do this. Z.Z. Hill could and did. Sadly, he never enjoyed the success his talent deserved.
No. After The Brand New ZZ Hill, fame made fleeting visits to Z.Z. Hill. He briefly met the seductive temptress that is fame. Like many other singers, he enjoyed a tantalising taste of what fame had to offer. Sadly, although he never experienced its delights to the fullest. Having glimpsed and tasted its delights, tragically, Z.Z. Hill’s career was cut tragically short. Aged just forty-nine, he died in 1984, having recorded eighteen albums. One of the highlights of Z.Z. Hill’s back-catalogue is The Brand New ZZ Hill, the blues opera that could’ve and should’ve transformed his career. Standout Tracks: It Ain’t No Use, Second Chance, Hold Back (One Man At A Time) and A Man Needs A Woman (A Woman Needs A Man).
Z.Z. HILL-THE BRAND NEW Z.Z. HILL.
OMAR SOULEYMAN-WENU WENU.
Prolific. That’s a good way to describe Omar Souleyman. After all, how many artists have released over 550 albums? However, not all that glitters is gold. Many of these albums are recordings of Omar singing at weddings. They’re sold at kiosks in Omar’s native Syria. That’s where his nickname The Wedding Singer comes from. Despite Omar’s prolificacy and nearly twenty years in the music industry, he’s still hadn’t released a studio album. That was until recently, when Omar Souleyman released Wenu Wenu on Ribbon music.
Somewhat belatedly, Wenu Wenu was released just as Omar’s profile was rising. He’d come a long way from Ras Al Ain, in northeastern Syria, where Omar was born and brought up. Life wasn’t easy back home. What with the conflict, drought and stifling heat. Temperatures regularly rise to over 130 in Ras Al Ain. It was in this blistering heat that Omar Souleyman made his musical debut.
Omar was born in 1968, and when he was just seven years old, he sang at his first wedding. The Wedding Singer was born. Soon, he was performing almost daily with his band, which included Rizan Sa’id. Then as technology improved, Omar incorporated a Korg synth into his band. This was able to replicate the traditional Dabke band. Omar continued to play at weddings right up until 2000. He was the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a Dabke band.
With their mesmeric, joyous, stomping beat, dabke music is infectious and truly irresistible. Listen to a tape of his band live, and you’ll realize why he’s a hero to fellow Syrians. Despite this, he continued to work as a laborer. However, cassettes of his band were sold at kiosks throughout northeaster Syria. Then as the new millennia unfolded, Omar’s popularity grew.
Gradually, Omar Souleyman’s music found the wider audience it so richly deserved. From being just a Syrian phenomenon. Seattle-based Sublime Frequencies, a label that releases an eclectic selection of folk, pop and urban music. Sublime Frequencies released Highway To Hassake (Folk and Pop Sounds Of Syria) in 2007. This was the first in the Folk and Pop Sounds Of Syria series. Dabke 2020 followed in 2009, with Jazeera Nights released in 2010. By then, Omar Souleyman’s profile was in the ascendancy. He was playing at high profile events in America. This was down to Omar hooking up with Sublime Frequencies. Soon, the name Omar Souleyman was known much further afield.
Now Omar Souleyman was the first Syrian singer to enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim in America, his reputation spread to Europe. He released Leh Jani in 2011, for the Sham Palace label. His popularity was soaring. The usual hipsters and bandwagon jumpers were suddenly “fans” of his music. Omar was appearing at some of the biggest festivals in Europe and America, including Glastonbury in 2011. Big name artists wanted to work with him. So did Bjork and Gorillaz. DJs were remixing his music, making it dance-floor friendly. The only thing Omar still had to do, was release a studio album. This he did recently.
Wenu Wenu features just seven songs which were written by Omar Souleyman. He and Rizan Sa’id play on Wenu Wenu, which was recorded at Studio G, New York. Producing Wenu Wenu was Kieran Hedben. Once Wenu Wenu was finished, it was released on Ribbon Music. So after a lifetime of releasing live albums Omar Souleyman somewhat belatedly, released his debut studio Wenu Wenu. Was it worth the wait? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Opening Wenu Wenu is the pulsating title-track which in English translates as Where Is She. Seamlessly, Western and Arabic music melts into one. Having said that, there’s a contemporary sound to the track. It’s a fusion of traditional Arabic and dance music. As the song bursts into life, you’re hooked. You’re swept along, atop the thunderous, pounding beats. Swathes of strings carry you above the myriad of Arabian and Western instruments. There’s what sounds like an arghul and traditional Arabian drums plus keyboards and handclaps. They provide a mesmeric backdrop for Omar’s heartbroken, distraught vocal, as he brings to life the needless violence in the lyrics.
There’s no drop in tempo on Ya Summa or Oh Mother. Describing it as infectiously catchy and irresistible is an understatement. Resistance is impossible. Best just to submit to the track’s considerable charms. Musical genres are fused over four minutes. Elements of avant-garde, experimental, Arabic, dance, funk and soul are thrown into Omar’s melting pop. As he delivers an impassioned vocal, drums pound, providing the heartbeat, Omar and Rizan Sa’id give virtuoso performances. All manner of traditional instruments provide a delicious, dance-floor friendly backdrop. The result is no ordinary Dabke band, but one infused with the spirit of Jimi Hendrix .
Nahy which translates as My Precious, literally explodes into life. It’s a love song, where Omar lays bare his soul. His vocal is heartfelt and emotive. Meanwhile a combination of thunderous drums combine with flutes, arghul and handclaps. A potent combination, they’re the perfect foil to Omar’s soulful, impassioned vocal.
Straight away, it’s obvious Khattaba or Promise Of Marriage is something special. Stabs of keyboards and bursts of drums combine before an atmospheric, evocative and Arabian sounding arrangement unfolds. Swathes of sweeping strings add to the drama. Omar’s rasping, worldweary vocal is full of emotion and joy. His vocal drifts in and out of the arrangement. You’re left mesmerised and spellbound by what’s one of the highlights of Wenu Wenu.
Warni Warni (Come To Me) has a thoughtful, pensive sound. Very briefly, there’s a drum ‘n’ bass influence. Then the arrangement explodes. At breakneck speed, guitars and thundering, galloping drums drive the arrangement along. Omar vocal is a needy, heartfelt plea. As his vocal drops out, he and Rizan Sa’id push musical boundaries. They take this ancient, sacred music and reinvent it. Adding a contemporary twist, a seven minute, genre-melting, dramatic Magnus Opus unfolds. It demonstrates Omar Souleyman at his best, innovating and reinventing traditional Syrian music.
Dramatic and emotive describes Mawal Jamar (Mawal). It’s the stabs of keyboards and swathes of strings, not forgetting Omar’s vocal. He’s almost distraught and grief-stricken. Deeply moving, it’s heart-wrenching. Especially with lyrics that translate as: “he did not bury me.” Emotion, sadness and frustration fill his voice, while the arrangement frames his vocal. It’s the backdrop for this cathartic outpouring of emotion and anguish.
Yagbuni (Sweet Girl) closes Wenu Wenu. From the opening bars, you’re translated to Syria, Omar’s homeland. Then as the sound unfolds, it takes on a more contemporary sound. It’s a fusion Western and Arabic music. They prove a potent partnership. As the arrangement grows in power and drama, it almost becomes frenzied. Not quite though. It’s setting the scene for Omar’s seductive, alluring vocal. Soulful, sincere and seductive, it’s accompanied by an arrangement that’s a dramatic fusion of the music of two continents.
Wenu Wenu, Omar Souleyman’s debut album is long overdue, but has been well worth the wait. Granted he’s released over 550 live albums. Most of them were recorded when Omar sung at weddings in his native Syria. That’s how he acquired the nickname The Wedding Singer. He’s now forty-five and has gained recognition much further afield.
From America, Europe and Britain, belatedly, people are discovering one of Syrian music’s best kept secrets. It’s better late than never. Now some of the biggest artists in music are wanting to work with Omar Souleyman. At last his talent has been recognized. So has Omar’s ability to create genre-melting music. That’s the case on Wenu Wenu, Omar’s recently released debut album on Ribbon Music. Wenu Wenu sees Omar fuse everything from Arabic, dance, electronic, folk, funk and soul. It’s combined by producer Kieran Hedben on Wenu Wenu.
When anyone listens to Omar Souleyman’s debut album Wenu Wenu, they can’t help but be captivated by his voice. As he sings in Arabic, his rasping vocal veers beteen worldweary, lovelorn, heartfelt and heartbroken. Tales of love and love gone wrong are familiar themes for Omar. A man of few words, Omar takes the music of Syria’s past and reinvents it. The result is Wenu Wenu, a fusion of Arabian and Western music from Omar Souleyman, the one time Wedding Singer who now looks like being a worldwide star and belatedly enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. Standout Tracks: Ya Yumma, Nahy, Khattaba and Yagbuni.
OMAR SOULEYMAN-WENU WENU.
SANDRA PHILLIPS-TOO MANY PEOPLE IN ONE BED.
Producer Swamp Dogg hadn’t known Sandra Philips long, before he signed her to Canyon Records. Swamp Dogg was introduced to Sandra by her ex-husband. He let Swamp Dogg hear a single she cut for Epic. This was kismet. Not only was Sandra hugely talented, but she’d potential. She was desperate to forge a career in music. Her soulful, emotive voice could make lyrics come to life. This was just what Swamp Dodd needed. It would fill a void left by Doris Troy who Swamp Dogg had previously worked with.
Doris was proving unreliable. She’d stopped taking Swamp Dogg’s calls, was missing concerts. Then there was the small matter of a Buick Estate Wagon Swamp Dogg bought her. It had been shot up by her new “manager.” Doris Troy looking unlikely to have much of a future with Swamp Dogg. That was a huge loss. After all, Doris had released the Deep Soul classic I’m A Loser. Doris could’ve and should’ve been one of the biggest female soul singers of the late-sixties and early-seenties. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. She’d gone A.W.O.L. and someone was needed to fill that huge void.
That’s where Sandra Phillips came in. Realising the potential Sandra clearly had, Swamp Dogg signed her to Canyon Records. He then took Sandra down to Macon, Georgia, where with a crack band in tow, Sandra Phillips recorded Too Many People In One Bed for Canyon Records, which was recently rereleased by Alive Records. Would Too Many People In One Bed see Sandra Phillips fill the void left by Doris Troy? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about Sandra’s career.
Sandra Phillips was born in Mullins, South Carolina. From an early age, she was entering talent contests and sang in her church choir. When she left high school, she headed to New York to try and fulfil her dream of becoming a singer.
Now living in New York, she was signed by Sue Records, releasing two singles on their Broadway imprint. You Succeeded and World Without Sunshine were released in 1967. Although neither were commercially successful, they’ve become of favorites on the Northern Soul scene. Next stop for Sandra was Okeh, where she released I Wish I Had Known and I Still Love You. Still success eluded Sandra. She was no quitter though.
Not only was Sandra confident in her own ability, but so was her ex-husband. When he met Swamp Dogg, he let Swamp Dogg hear a single she cut for Epic. Given the problems Swamp Dogg was having with Doris Duke this was fate. Here was a singer who could fill the void Doris left at Wally Roker’s Canyon Records, were Swamp Dogg had a production deal. Swamp Dogg signed her to Canyon Records and work began on her debut album Too Many People In One Bed.
For Too Many People In One Bed, Swamp Dogg wrote or cowrote eleven of the twelve tracks. Swamp Dogg as Jerry Williams Jr, penned Rescue Song, Ghost Of Myself and If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine). With Charlie Whitehead, Jerry cowrote My Man And Me, Now That I’m Gone (When Are You Leaving) and Some Mother’s Son. They cowrote She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking) with Gary US Bonds. Jerry and Gary cowrote I’ve Been Down So Long,To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman), After All I Am Your Wife and Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me. The other track was Someday (We’ll Be Together), which was written by Jackey Beaver, Johnny Bristol and Terry Johnson. These twelve songs became Too Many People In One Bed, which was recorded in Macon, Georgia.
To record Too Many People In One Bed, Swamp Dogg took Sandra down to Macon, Georgia, where with a crack band in tow, the recording began. The band included a rhythm section of drummer Johnny Sandlin, bassist Robert Popwell and guitarist Pete Carr. Paul Hornsby played organ and piano, while Swamp Dogg played piano. Once the recording of the rhythm section and vocals were completed, Swamp Dogg headed to Philly where strings were added. Recording took place at the Cameo Parkway studios, with Swamp Dogg’s favourite arranger, Richard Rome taking charge of proceedings. Then when Too Many People In One Bed was completed, Sandra Phillips had to stand in for Doris Troy, who’d gone A.W.O.L, again.
With Doris Troy missing in action, Swamp Dogg had a problem. He’d shows booked in th Midwest and a lot of money riding on them. Doris was nowhere to be seen. So Swamp Dogg convinced Sandra to pretend to be Doris. This worked and I’m A Loser stayed in the top ten for two months. Sadly, Too Many People In One Bed didn’t enjoy the same success.
Canyon Records which was owned by Wally Roker folded before Too Many People In One Bed was released. Too Many People In One Bed was meant to be released in 1970. Sadly, Sandra Phillips’ debut album was never released. It was dispatched to retailers and before the release date, Canyon Records folded. Since then, Too Many People In One Bed has never been released…until now. Will Too Many People In One Bed prove to be a hidden gem that could’ve transformed Sandra Phillips’ career? That’s what I’ll tell you.
Rescue Song, which opens Too Many People In One Bed, has Southern Soul written all over it. With washes of Hammond organ and soaring gospel tinged harmonies for company, Sandra’s vocal is a mixture of power and emotion. Needy, she almost pleads for “somebody to rescue me.” It’s as if she’s lived the lyrics. Behind her Swamp Dogg’s band fuse Southern Soul with rocky guitars. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Sandra’s vocal tour de force.
I’ve Been Down So Long sees the tempo dropped way down. That’s perfect for this song. So too is the wistful sounding arrangement. Again, bassist Robert Popwell plays an important part, while guitars chime, horns rasp and drums add a melancholy heartbeat. As Sandra sings: “I’ve Been Down So Long” there’s a defiance and hope in her voice. She’s not given up yet and never will. With harmonies matching her every step of the way, Sandra unleashes a vocal dripping in emotion, defiance and hope.
Chiming, crystalline guitars open My Man And Me, before a sassy, feisty Sandra vocal struts centre-stage. Horns growl, harmonies soar dramatically and the Hammond organ adds its unmistakable atmospheric sound. The rhythm section adds a funky heartbeat and some boogie woogie piano proves the finishing touch to Sandra’s strutting, feisty vocal.
From the opening bars of To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman) you realize something special is unfolding. The song takes on a cinematic quality. Pictures unfolds before your eyes. That’s down to the washes of Hammond organ, piano and the rhythm section provide the backdrop for Sandra’s vocal. It’s a mixture of controlled power and emotion. Accompanied by strings, she lays bare her soul. Veering between confusion, defiance, joy, melancholy and sadness, Sandra makes the lyrics come to life. Proud and defiant, her parting shot is that: “the other woman will always be the wife.”
A pensive piano opens Now That I’m Gone (When Are You Leaving), before Sandra unleashes a powerhouse of a vocal. The arrangement unfolds, sometimes just at the right time. Swamp Dogg builds up from just the piano and the rhythm section providing the heartbeat. He drops stabs of blazing horns and soaring, gospel-tinged harmonies in at the right time. They provide a foil for Sandra’s embittered, angry and dramatic vocal.
Jazz-tinged. That’s the best way to describe Someday (We’ll Be Together). Sandra scats while horns rasp, strings swirl and guitars chime. Bassist Robert Popwell is at the heart of the action, his playing intricate and thoughtful. Sandra however, plays the starring role. As horns bray and blaze, strings sweep and jazz and soul unites. She transforms the song. In her hands it becomes an anthemic track. This plea for unity and togetherness could’ve and should’ve become the anthem for generation.
After All I Am Your Wife sees a lonely and heartbroken Sandra realize her marriage is all but over. She realises this and lay bare her soul. Sadness, frustration and anger, it comes to the surface. It’s a cathartic outpouring of emotion. Sung against a backdrop of lush strings, Hammond organ and bubbling bass, years of emotion come pouring out. Deep down though, she’s not over him though. The clue is when she sings: “after all, you’re my life.” Whether it’s a case of love gone wrong or unrequited love there’ll be no happy ending. So convincing is Sandra’s delivery, that you almost share her hurt. That’s why it’s one of the highlights of Too Many People In One Bed.
Stabs of piano provide a dramatic backdrop to Sandra’s vocal on Ghost Of Myself. Her vocal isn’t as powerful as on other tracks. It’s as if she’s singing within herself. That’s no bad thing. You focus on her every word. Her heartfelt, impassioned vocal is truly compelling. Her relationship is over and she’s a “Ghost Of Myself.” Swamp Dogg’s arrangement reflects this heartbreak and drama. Hammond organ, swathes of strings and the rhythm section accompany Sandra. Later, her vocal grows in power. She unleashes a vocal that’s a fusion of controlled power and emotion.With harmonies for company, this proves the perfect way to close this heart-wrenching, confession.
Gospel-tinged harmonies sweep as If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine) unfolds. Straight away, Sandra’s vocal is defiant and dramatic. Delivered against a backdrop of quivering strings, Hammond organ and meandering bass Sandra’s angry vocal takes centre-stage. Harmonies drift in, adding to the drama and emotion of Sandra’s feisty vocal. With a combination of defiance and heartbreak her parting shot is: “If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine).”
Bluesy horns open the melancholy She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking). With a slow, thoughtful arrangement where horns, piano and swathes of lush strings combine a quite beautiful song unfolds. A song about a two-timing, good-for-nothing guy, Sandra delivers what’s easily her best vocal. It’s not just the way she breathe life and emotion into the lyrics. No. It’s that she resists kicking loose and delivers a tender, wistful and heartbreakingly beautiful vocal.
Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me bursts into life. Swamp Dogg’s band and the backing vocalists spring into action. Sandra’s vocal is sassy and feisty, oozing with confidence. Harmonies accompany her, soaring above the arrangement. Meanwhile, horns growl and the rhythm section add a driving beat. As for Swamp Dogg he unleashes some of the best piano playing on the piano. It’s the finishing touch to this slice of good time music.
Some Mother’s Son closes Too Many People In One Bed. Moody, broody and dramatic describes the arrangement. Then it’s all change. Stabs of grizzled horns, searing guitars and probing bass join the piano as Sandra seems determined to close the album on a high. She does, delivering a needy, hurt-filled vocal. Her lovelorn vocal is a mixture of loneliness, emotion and hope, that one day, Some Mother’s Son will be the one.
Sandra Phillips’ Too Many People In One Bed could’ve and should’ve been the album that launched her career. After all, Sandra was talented singer, capable of bring lyrics to life. Songs takes on a cinematic quality. Pictures unfolds before your eyes. The characters within the twelve songs become very real. So much so, you end up sharing their hurt and pain. Not every singer can make music come alive like that. No. Far from it. However, Sandra Phillips could.
Too Many People In One Bed is like a twelve short stories. Tales of betrayal, heartbreak, loneliness and love gone wrong, it’s all on Too Many People In One Bed. A whole range of emotions come pouring out. We also see different sides to Sandra Phillips. One minutes she’s heartbroken, the next defiant, feisty or sassy. Whether Sandra’s vocal is powerful or tender, it’s equally effective. Mostly, it’s powerful though. Sometimes, I wish she’d just reign in the power. She doesn’t need to always unleash a vocal powerhouse to be effective. Not at all. Proof of that is She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking), which features a tender vocal. It’s the highlight of Too Many People In One Bed. Mind you, there’s many highlights on Too Many People In One Bed.
Indeed, there’s no disappointments on Too Many People In One Bed. Instead, Too Many People In One Bed is a reminder that Sandra Phillips could’ve and should’ve enjoyed a successful career. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Sandra’s musical career petered out. She retrained and enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim as an actress, even portraying Bessie Smith, The Empress Of The Blues, on Broadway. However, Sandra Phillips’ life and career could’ve been very different, if Canyon Records hadn’t folded. Maybe then, she’d have enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim that later came her way as an actress. Too Many People In One Bed which was recently rereleased by Alive Records, is a tantalizing reminder of one of Southern Soul’s best kept secrets, Sandra Phillips. Standout Tracks: Rescue Song, I’ve Been Down So Long, If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine) and She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking).
SANDRA PHILLIPS-TOO MANY PEOPLE IN ONE BED.