DEEP PURPLE-MADE IN JAPAN.

DEEP PURPLE-MADE IN JAPAN.

During August 1972, Deep Purple were touring Japan. Deep Purple’s reputation preceded them. Their penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. Chaos and carnage was omnipresent as Deep Purple toured the world. That’s why Deep Purple were referred to as the third member of the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.” Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were their main rivals for the crown of hardest living and most successful heavy metal band.

Although Deep Purple had only been formed in 1968, they’d already released six albums. From their 1968 debut album Shades Of Deep Purple, commercial success came Deep Purple’s way. America and Britain were won over by Deep Purple.

By 1972, everything Deep Purple touched turned to gold and platinum. Their sixth album, 1972s Machine Head was the most successful of their career. It was certified gold in the UK and double platinum in the US. As far afield as Argentina and France, gold and platinum discs were coming Deep Purple’s way. Four months after the release of Machine Head in March 1972, Deep Purple were touring their latest album.

That’s why Deep Purple were touring Japan in August 1972. Their Machine Head World Tour was scheduled to last the rest of 1972 and into 1973. On the 15th and 16th of August 1972, Deep Purple took to the stage in Osaka. Then on 17th August 1972, Deep Purple landed in Tokyo. These three concerts were recorded and became Made In Japan. It was released in December 1972 in the UK and April 1973 in the US. This further reinforced Deep Purple’s reputation as one of the greatest heavy metal bands. Since then, Made In Japan, which was recently rereleased as a double album, has attained legendary status.

Made In Japan was critically acclaimed upon its release in 1972. Critics hailed Made In Japan as one of the finest live albums ever. Forty-two years later, that’s still the case. That’s why Universal rereleased Made In Japan. Disc one features the original seven track album. It’s been digitally remastered from the 1972 analogue stereo master. Then on disc two, there’s a further six bonus tracks. 

Disc two features the encores from the three nights in Osaka and Tokyo. Just like the original concert on disc one, the encores feature Deep Purple at their hard rocking best. Each night, the encore began with Black Night. Closing the shows on the 15th and 17th August 1972 were Speed King. On the 16th August 1972, Deep Purple bid their farewell will a version of Lucille. As they leave the stage, it’s obvious that the audience want more. If they’d had their way, the audience would have had Deep Purple play their entire back-catalogue. That’s how popular they were in 1972. It was very different when Deep Purple released their debut album four years previously.

Deep Purple were formed in 1968 in Hertford. However, the story begins in 1967. That was when ex-Searchers drummer, Chris Curtis, contacted London based businessman, Tony Edwards, with a business proposition. Chris wanted to create a supergroup which he would name Roundabout. The idea behind the name was that the lineup was fluid. Members would come and go, on what was akin to a musical roundabout. Tony Edwards liked the idea and brought onboard Jon Coletta and Ron Hire. They named their new venture Hire-Edwards-Coletta (HEC) Enterprises. Now with financial backing, Chris Curtis started putting together Roundabout.

The first member of Roundabout was Jon Lord, a classically trained organist. He’d previously played with The Artwoods. Guitarist Richie Blackmore, who recently, had been working as a session musician is Hamburg auditioned. He too joined Roundabout. So did bassist Nick Simper, whose most recent band was The Flower Pot Men. Nick was a friend of Richie Blackmore. The two other members of Roundabout were also friends. Rod Evans was recruited as the lead vocalist. Previously, he was a member The Maze. Their drummer was Nick Paice. Nick became the final piece in the jigsaw. However, he was not the first choice drummer.

Originally, Bobby Woodman was meant to be Roundabout’s drummer. He was drummer when Rod Evans auditioned as vocalist. Richie Blackmore had seen Nick Paice playing before. Although just eighteen, Richie knew Nick Paice was a good drummer. So when Bobby headed out to buy cigarettes, Nick Paice was auctioned. Instantly, everyone realised Nick Paice was a better drummer. When Bobby returned with his cigarettes, he was no longer Roundabout’s drummer. However, at least Roundabout’s lineup was settled. Or so people thought.

Roundabout were kitted out with the finest equipment and lived at Deeves House in South Mimms, Hertfordshire. This was their home during March 1968. That was, until they headed out on a short tour of Denmark and Sweden. It was during this tour that Roundabout became Deep Purple.

It was Richie Blackmore that came up with the name Deep Purple. This was the name of his grandmother’s favourite song. That was the name he wrote on the blackboard, when everyone was asked to choose a new name for the nascent band. Deep Purple wasn’t the favourite though. That was Concrete God. However, the members of Roundabout decided against it. They felt the name was too harsh. So Roundabout became Deep Purple and began recording their debut album in May 1968.

Shades Of Deep Purple.

When Deep Purple entered Pye Studios, in Marble Arch, London Deep Purple in May 1968, they’d chosen ten songs for their debut album Shades Of Deep Purple. Seven songs were written by members of Deep Purple. The other three songs were cover versions. This included Joe South’s Hush, Lennon and McCartney’s Help! and Joe Roberts’ Hey Joe which is synonymous with Jimi Hendrix. These ten songs were recorded by the original version of Deep Purple. This included

vocalist Rod Evans, drummer Ian Paice, bassists Nick Simper, organist Jon Lord and guitarist Richie Blackmore. Producing Shades Of Deep Purple was a friend of Richie’s, Derek Lawrence. Once Shades Of Deep Purple was recorded, it was released later in 1969

When critics heard Shades Of Deep Purple they weren’t impressed. Reviews were mostly negative. Since then, critics have rewritten history and most reviews of Shades Of Deep Purple are positive. Back in 1968, things were very different. Shades Of Deep Purple was perceived as unfocused. It was a  mix of psychedelia, progressive rock, pop rock and thanks to Richie’s guitar riffs, hard rock. That was why many critics disliked Shades Of Deep Purple. Record buyers had different ideas about Shades Of Deep Purple,

Shades Of Deep Purple was released in July 1968 in America. It reached number twenty-four in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was no doubt helped by Hush reaching number four in the US Billboard 100 charts. Two months later, Shades Of Deep Purple reached number fourteen in Britain. For Deep Purple their debut album had been a commercial success and their lives transformed.

After the commercial success of the single Hush and Shades Of Deep Purple, Deep Purple were booked into a gruelling tour of America. Their American record company, Tetragrammaton, decided that Deep Purple should record another album. So Deep Purple headed into the recording studio in September 1968 to record The Book of Taliesyn.

The Book of Taliesyn.

Time was against Deep Purple. There wasn’t long before their American tour began. Deep Purple only had five new songs written. They had to rely upon cover versions to complete The Book of Taliesyn. Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Lennon and McCartney’s We Can Work It Out and River Deep, Mountain High completed The Book of Taliesyn. It was released in America in December 1968,

Just like Shades Of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn was a mixture of psychedelia and progressive rock. The only difference was it had a harder edge. Deep Purple’s trademark sound was evolving. Critics seemed to prefer The Book of Taliesyn. It received a much more favourable reception from critics. This was also the case upon  the release of The Book of Taliesyn.

Released in December 1968, The Book of Taliesyn reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 200. Two singles were released in America. Kentucky Woman reached number thirty eight in the US Billboard 100 charts. Then River Deep, Mountain High stalled at number fifty-three in the US Billboard 100 charts. The Book of Taliesyn charted in Canada and Japan. It seemed word was spreading about Deep Purple. However, in Britain, The Book of Taliesyn failed to chart. That wasn’t the only problem Deep Purple would have.

Deep Purple.

By 1969, Deep Purple were becoming a tight, talented band. Onstage and in the studio, they were growing and evolving. This included as songwriters. Although they’d only been together just over a year, they were a much better band. They’d released two albums and toured constantly. There was a problem though. Which direction should their music take?

Some members of Deep Purple wanted their music to take on a rawer, harder sound. This didn’t please everyone. Lead vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper were in the minority. Organist Jon Lord, guitarist Richie Blackmore and drummer Nick Paice wanted the band to change direction. With the band split, this wasn’t the best way to prepare for the recording of their third album Deep Purple.

For Deep Purple, the band were keen to turn their back on cover versions. Deep Purple only featured one cover version, Donavon’s Lalena. The eight tracks were all written by members of Deep Purple. Just like their first two albums, Deep Purple would be produced by Derek Lawrence.

Recording of Deep Purple took place during a two-month tour. Deep Purple had ensured they had some free days where they could record their third album during January and March 1969. Recording took place at the De Lane Lea Studio, London. They were familiar with the De Lane Lea Studio. Previously, Deep Purple had rerecorded The Bird Has Flown there. So, they were familiar with the room. This allowed Deep Purple to work quickly. With their reputation in America growing, Deep Purple wanted their eponymous album released as soon as possible.

As soon as Deep Purple was recorded, Deep Purple jumped on a plane and headed back to America. They rejoined the tour of the country that had claimed them as their own. There was a problem though. Tetragrammaton, Deep Purple’s American label hadn’t pressed the album. Worse than that, the label had financial problems. Within a year, they would be insolvent and would be filing for bankruptcy. Already, this was affecting Deep Purple. Their manager John Colleta headed home. He decided that this would save on a hotel room. Things it seemed, couldn’t get any worse for Deep Purple.

On the release of Deep Purple in June 1969, the album had a harder sound. Elements of blues, progressive rock and heavy metal combined on seven tracks. The exception was The Bird Has Flown. It veered off in the direction of classical music. Mostly, though, Deep Purple’s trademark sound was evolving. How would critics and fans respond to Deep Purple?

Given the problems with Tetragrammaton, it’s no surprise that Deep Purple wasn’t a commercial success. Tetragrammaton couldn’t afford to promote Deep Purple properly. Despite generally positive reviews from critics, Deep Purple stalled at 162 in the US Billboard 200 charts. It failed to chart in the UK on its release in November 1969. At least Deep Purple charted in Japan. Things looked up when Deep Purple was certified gold in Germany. That was the only good news Deep Purple enjoyed.

Deep Purple In Rock.

The tension that was within Deep Purple bubbled over after the release of their third album. This lead to vocalist Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper being replaced. In came vocalist Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover. Little did anyone realise that this would later, be perceived as the classic lineup of Deep Purple. It was also the lineup that recorded the album that saw Deep Purple make a commercial breakthrough in Britain, Deep Purple In Rock.

With their new lineup, Deep Purple Mk II entered the studio for the second time. They made their recording debut on Concerto for Group and Orchestra which was a collaboration between Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. However, Deep Purple In Rock was the start of a new era in Deep Purple’s history.

Recording of Deep Purple In Rock took place at IBC, De Lane Lea and Abbey Road Studios. A total of seven songs were recorded. They were written by Deep Purple. These seven songs showcased the new Deep Purple. The music was heavier and more like what would be seen as their classic sound. This was essentially hard rock or heavy metal. It was after the success of Deep Purple In Rock that lead to Deep Purple being referred to as the third member of the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal.

Deep Purple released Deep Purple In Rock on 3rd June 1970. This was Deep Purple’s first album to be released to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. It was the first Deep Purple album to reach the top ten in Britain. Deep Purple In Rock reached number four in Britain. In America, Deep Purple In Rock only reached number 143 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Elsewhere, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge commercial success worldwide. 

From Europe to Argentina, America and Japan, Deep Purple In Rock was a huge success. This resulted in gold discs for Deep Purple in America, Argentina, Britain, France and Holland. For Deep Purple, Deep Purple In Rock was a game-changer. Their decision to change direction musically was vindicated. Now, Deep Purple were one of the biggest bands in rock music.  Little did Deep Purple realise that they were entering the most successful period of their career.

Fireball.

Fireball was the first of three number one albums Deep Purple would have in Britain. Belatedly, Britain had “got” Deep Purple. They were their own, and were proud of that. The hard rocking quintet’s unique brand of hard rock was winning friends and influencing people. Having toured extensively, at last Deep Purple were now part of British rock royalty. This continued with Fireball.

Given Deep Purple extensive touring schedule, albums were recorded whenever the band had downtime. Fireball was recorded during various sessions that took place between September 1970 and June 1971. Recording took place at De Lane Lea Studios and Olympic Studios, London. Other sessions took place at The Hermitage, Welcombe, North Devon. During these sessions, seven tracks were recorded. Each of the tracks were credited to the five members of Deep Purple. Unlike other bands, everyone in Deep Purple played their part in the songwriting process. That had been the case since the first album Deep Purple Mk. II had recorded, Deep Purple In Rock. Just like Deep Purple In Rock, Fireball would be a commercial success.

Most critics gave Fireball favourable reviews. There were very few dissenting voices. Apart from later, members of Deep Purple. They felt Fireball wasn’t their best album. Record buyers disagreed.

Across the world, Fireball was a huge commercial success. Fireball was released in Britain in July 1971. Record buyers in America and Europe had to wait until September 1971. By then, Fireball had reached number one in Britain and was certified gold. Two singles were released in Britain. Strange Kind of Woman reached number eight and Fireball number fifteen. This was just the start of Fireball’s success.

When Fireball was released in America it reached number thirty-two in the US Billboard 200 charts and was certified gold. In Canada Fireball reached number twenty-four. Fireball proved one of Deep Purple’s most successful albums in Japan, reaching number sixty-six. Australians were won over by Fireball, when it reached number four. Deep Purple proved popular in Israel, where they enjoyed a top ten album. However, it was in Europe that Fireball burnt brightest. 

On Fireball’s release in September 1971, it reached number one in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Fireball reached the top ten in Finland, France, Holland, Italy Norway. Despite the widespread commercial success and critical acclaim Fireball enjoyed in Europe, the only gold disc awarded was in Holland. However, Deep Purple would make up for this with their sixth album, Machine Head.

Machine Head.

By 1972, Deep Purple had established themselves as one of the hardest working bands in music. They seemed to be constantly touring. When they weren’t touring, they were recording. As a result, Deep Purple were about release their sixth album in less than four years, Machine Head.

Unlike their five previous albums, Deep Purple didn’t head into the recording studio. Instead, they brought the recording studio to them. They were booked to stay at the Grand Hotel, in Montreux Casino, Switzerland. So that’s where they brought the Rolling Stone’s sixteen track mobile recording studio to. Between the 6th and 21st December 1971, Deep Purple were meant to record their sixth album, Machine Head. However, there was a problem.

Lead vocalist Ian Gillan had contracted hepatits. His doctors advised him to rest. For Deep Purple, this was a disaster. The hotel rooms and mobile recording studio was booked. They’d already had to cancel their forthcoming American tour. Cancelling the recording of their sixth album would be an utter disaster. No doubt realising the gravity of the situation, and buoyed by the excitement of starting recording a new album, Deep Purple decided to head to Switzerland.

Deep Purple landed in Switzerland on 3rd December 1971. Only one further concert had to take place at Montreux Casino. That was Frank Zappa’s now infamous concert. It took place on the 4th December 1971. During Frank Zappa’s set, an over enthusiastic member of the audience fired a flare. It hit the roof, causing the Montreux Casino to go on fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Unfortunately, the Montreux Casino was in no fit state to double as a makeshift studio. Luckily, the Montreux Casino’s owner Claude Nobs new a theatre nearby that could be transformed into a makeshift studio. So Deep Purple headed to the Pavilion, where they’d record a song based on the somewhat surreal experience at the Montreux Casino. This song would become a classic, Smoke On The Water.

For what became Machine Head, Deep Purple had six songs completed. They were all credited to the five members of Deep Purple. So would the unfinished song. It was provisionally titled “Title No. 1.” However, as the five members of Deep Purple spoke about the events at the Montreux Casino, bass player Roger Glover uttered the immortal words “Smoke On The Water.” A classic had been born. 

During a sixteen day period between the 6th and 21st December 1971, Deep Purple recorded their sixth album, Machine Head. The conditions weren’t ideal. The mobile recording studio was parked outside and cables run through the Pavilion. They ran along corridors and under doors. It was far from the ideal conditions to record an album. Coupled with Ian Gillan’s medical condition, it’s a wonder Deep Purple were able to even record an album, never mind a career defining album.

Machine Head was released on 25th March 1972. Reviews varied between favourable to glowing. Although reviews mattered, what counted was sales. There was no problem there. On its release, Machine Head reached number one in eight countries. This included Argentina, Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and Yugoslavia. In Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway andSweden, Machine Head reached the top ten. Across the Atlantic, Machine Head became Deep Purple’s most successful album, when it reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 charts. Given the commercial success of Machine Head, it received a plethora of gold and platinum discs.

Having reached number one in their home country, Machine Head was certified gold in Britain. Across the English Channel, Machine Head was certified gold twice. In Argentina, Machine Head was certified platinum. However, Machine Head was most successful in America, where it was certified double-platinum. However, this wasn’t the end of the commercial success. Machine Head featured two singles.

Never Before was chosen as the lead single in Britain. Although it reached number twelve, this seemed a strange choice. After all, Smoke In The Water was a classic in waiting. It reached number four in the US Billboard 100 charts. It wasn’t until 1977 that belatedly, Smoke In The Water was released as a single, where it reached number twenty-one. How it wasn’t released as a single in 1972, remains a musical mystery. However,  having released a career defining album, Machine Head, Deep Purple headed out on their Machine Head World Tour.

Made In Japan.

The Machine Head World Tour would be one of the most gruelling tours Deep Purple had embarked upon. It was scheduled to last the rest of 1972 and into 1973. Deep Purple were a hugely successful band. That’s why music lovers in the four corners of the globe wanted to see and hear Deep Purple. That included in Japan.

By August 1972 Deep Purple had arrived in Japan. They’d been popular in Japan for most of their career. However, Machine Head transformed Deep Purple’s fortunes. This included in Japan. On the 15th and 16th of August 1972, Deep Purple took to the stage in Osaka. Then on 17th August 1972, Deep Purple landed in Tokyo. These three concerts were recorded and became Made In Japan. 

Seven of the songs recorded in Japan made it onto Made In Japan. This includes Highway Star and Child In Time. They were recorded in Osaka on 16th June 1972. From the opening bars of Highway Star, Deep Purple burst into life. It’s the fastest song on Made In Japan. You’re mesmerised by Deep Purple’s performance. The same can be said about Child In Time. It’s a protest song against the Vietnam War is transformed into a ten minute epic. Next up comes a future classic Smoke On The Water.

Smoke On The Water was recorded in Osaka on 15th August 1972. It was taken from Deep Purple’s most recent album Machine Head. It’s a defining point in Made In Japan. Featuring some of Richie Blackmore’s peerless guitar riffs. Thankfully these guitar riffs keep on coming.

On The Mule, which was recorded in Tokyo on 17th August 19792, a ten second tambourine solo opens the track. It’s a curveball. Soon the organist Jon Lord, bassist Roger Glover and Richie Blackmore combine. When Richie unleashes a spellbinding solo, it lasts a minute. Later, the final three and half minutes see Deep Purple reduced to a quartet. Ian Gillan’s vocal drops out. The rest of Deep Purple cut loose and give a heavy rock masterclass. This continues throughout Made In Japan.

Strange Kind Of Woman was released as a single in 1971. This is the third of four tracks recorded in Osaka, on 15th August 1972. It’s an autobiographical story about a friend of Deep Purple who became involved with an evil woman and eventually, married her. The track became a favourite of Deep Purple live. One of the high points of the song is when Richie’s blistering guitar licks and Ian’s vocal duel. It’s akin to call and response, as Deep Purple showcase their inconsiderable talents.

The version of Lazy on Made In Japan is different to the version on Machine Head. Recorded in Tokyo, on 17th August 1972, it’s transformed into a ten minute epic. There’s even an except from Hugo Alfvén’s Swedish Rhapsody incorporated into Lazy, as they mix rock and blues seamlessly. Just like the rest of Made In Japan, Richie Blackmore unleashes some peerless guitar licks.

All too soon, Made In Japan is over. The closing track is Space Truckin, which was recorded in Osaka on 16th August 1972. That night, Deep Purple played one of the best sets in the Japanese leg of the The Machine Head World Tour. Often, Space Truckin’ closed the show during a twenty minute Magnus Opus. There’s even an excerpt from Mandrake Root incorporated into the track, as Deep Purple take the original track in new and unheralded directions. This allowed drummer Ian Paice and Ian Gillan to take centre-stage. Having said that, every member of Deep Purple plays their part in making Space Truckin’ a success. Especially, that night in Osaka on 16th August 1972. 

For anyone who couldn’t make the Machine Head World Tour, Made In Japan was the perfect reminder of a legendary tour. Especially the Japanese leg. Between the 15th and 17th August 1972, Deep Purple were at their hard rocking best. 

This continued wherever they went. However, there were a lot of people who wanted a reminder of this legendary tour. For others, who for whatever reason, couldn’t get to see Deep Purple, a double album entitled Made In Japan was almost as good. So Made In Japan was released in Britain in December 1972 and in America in April 1973.

When critics heard Made In Japan, even the most cynical and hardbitten rock critic had to compliment Deep Purple. They were no one of the three best heavy rock bands in the word. Led Zeppelin were the best and Deep Purple and Black Sabbath fought it out for second place. So well received was Made In Japan, that it was heralded as one of the finest live albums ever. Made In Japan further reinforced Deep Purple’s reputation as one of the greatest heavy metal bands.

On its release in December 1972, Made In Japan reached number fifteen in Britain and was certified gold. Made In Japan reached number one in Austria, Germany and Canada. In Norway, Made In Japan reached number seven. Then in April 1973, Made In Japan reached number six in the US Billboard 200. For Deep Purple, this resulted in even more gold and platinum discs.

Across the word, Made In Japan was a commercial success. After being certified gold in Britain, it was then certified gold in France. Made In Japan was then certified platinum in America, Austria, Germany and Italy. In Argentina, Made In Japan was certified double platinum. Just four years after they first formed, Deep Purple were one of the most successful rock bands in the world. Their 1972 legendary live album,  Made In Japan, is a reminder of Deep Purple at their very best.

Following Made In Japan, commercial success and critical acclaim continued for Deep Purple. There would also be changes in lineup, breakups and reunions. However, the classic lineup of Deep Purple features on Made In Japan. The classic line up of Deep Purple bid a farewell on 1973s Who Do We Think We Are. 

Although the original lineup of Deep Purple made a comeback, it wouldn’t be until 1984s Perfect Strangers. Made In Japan is a reminder of what Deep Purple fans missed for that eleven year period. Good as the new lineup of Deep Purple were, they never quite came close to reaching the heights that Deep Purple Mk. II reached. From Deep Purple In Rock right through Fireball, Machine Head and Who Do We Think We Are were at their hard rocking best. During this period, Deep Purple were one of “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal. 

Deep Purple’s penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. It came with the territory. This was after all, rock ’n’ roll. Chaos and carnage was omnipresent and expected as Deep Purple toured the world. This never seemed to affect Deep Purple’s music. They were always at their hard rocking, hard living best. A reminder of this is Deep Purple’s first live album Made In Japan, which is one of the finest live albums ever released. 

DEEP PURPLE-MADE IN JAPAN.

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SPIRITUAL JAZZ 5: THE WORLD.

SPIRITUAL JAZZ 5: THE WORLD.

In the four previous volumes of their Spiritual Jazz series, Jazzman Records have mostly, focused on European jazz. For Spiritual Jazz 5: The World, Jazzman Records have travelled far and wide. They’ve been on what can be best described as a worldwide crate digging expedition.

Hidden gems and rarities have been unearthed during this crate digging expedition. There’s tracks from artists as far afield as Argentina, Australia, India, Japan, South Africa and Turkey on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World.  This includes the Charlie Munro Quartet, Jazz Work Shop, Jazz Semail, Ahmadu Jarr, Paul Winter Sextet and Aquilla. Many of the tracks on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World have never featured on CD before. That’s no surprise.  

Some of the tracks on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World are incredibly rare. Copies of the albums they’re taken from are few and far between. Finding copies of these albums could take a lifetime and more than a little luck. That’s how rare some of these albums are. Even if you could find copies of the albums the seventeen tracks are taken from, buying them would another matter. They would be beyond most people’s pockets. Thankfully, not any more. Jazzman Records have put the seventeen tracks on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World. This must make Spiritual Jazz 5: The World one of the biggest bargains of the summer months? I’ll tell you if that’s the case after I’ve picked some of the highlights of Spiritual Jazz 5: The World.

Opening Spiritual Jazz 5: The World is an edit of the Charlie Munro Quartet’s Islamic Suite. This is a track from the 1967 album Eastern Horizon. It was released in Australia by Phillips. Islamic Suite is a twelve minute epic that’s a tantalising taste of what’s a hidden gem of an album. Sadly, copies are incredible rare and if you can find one, most likely, it’ll be beyond the pockets of most record collectors.

Versatile describes Louis Banks. He’s a composer, pianist and keyboard player. Louis’s music ranges from acoustic, improvisational, electronic, fusion and info jazz. Song For My Lady is a track from Louis’ Explorations’ album. It features saxophonist Brad Gonzales and Pam Crain. Explorations was released in India on The Record Company of India. One of Explorations’ highlights is the compelling and beautiful Song For My Lady.

Erol Pekcan, Tuna Ötenel and Kudret Öztoprak collaborated on the 1978 album Jazz Semai. It was released in Turkey on EMI and since then, has become a real rarity. Copies of Jazz Semai change hands for £330. One of the best tracks on Jazz Semai is Köy Yolu. Written by Tuna Ötenel, it showcases an talented and innovative band as they cut loose during an uplifting slice of jazz.

Horacio “Chivo” Borraro released his album El Nuevo Sonido Del Chivo Borraro in 2002 on Whatmusic. It was hailed as a modal jazzmini-masterpiece. This was Chivo’s first album since his 1975 debut album Blues Para Un Cosmonauta. He was back with a bang. Proof of this is Half and Half, which features a blistering, joyous saxophone solo from Horacio. 

London Experimental Jazz Quartet only ever released one album, Invisible Roots. That was forty years ago in 1974 on Scratch Records.  Destroy The Nihilist Picnic is a celebration of innovation and experimentation. Avant garde, experimental, jazz and post bop melt into one on this groundbreaking track.

In 2009, Fitz Gore and The Talismen released their eponymous debut album on the Norwegian label, Jazzaggression Records. Sadly, since 2009, Fitz Gore and The Talismen haven’t released any further albums. That’s a great shame given the uplifting, joyous sound of Gisela (Lion Rock). 

In 1979, South African pianist Tete Mbambisa, was a member of Did You Tell Your Mother. That year, they released their eponymous debut album. Did You Tell Your Mother opened with Trane Ride. It’s an eleven minute mesmeric musical journey that you’ll want to take many times.

Forty years ago, in 1974, Aquilla released their album Del Aquila. It was released on the Chilean label Alba. Aquilla were a jazz fusion band lead  by Pablo Garrido. He was a classically trained musician. He trained as a percussionist and was a member of the Symphony Orchestra of Chile. Later, he moved from classical to jazz music. Pablo became part of Chile’s small but thriving jazz scene. With Aquilla, he become of the Chilean jazz’s scene’s leading lights. No wonder. Un Allah, a track from Del Aquila is a reminder of how good a band Aquilla were. Playing an important part in Um Allah’s success is Pablo’s percussion. Quite simply, Jazzman Records have kept the best until last.

Although I’ve only mentioned eight of the tracks on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World, I could’ve just as easily mentioned just about every track. This includes Jazz Work Shop’s Mezare Israel, Hideo Shiraki’s Fiesta, Ahmadu Jarr’s Kathung Gbeng and the Paul Winter Sextet’s Winters Song all ooze quality. Sadly, these tracks have never been heard by a wider audience. No. Instead, the tracks on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World fall into the categories of hidden gems and rarities. That’s a result of Jazzman Records’ latest crate-digging expedition.

For Spiritual Jazz 5: The World, Jazzman Records have travelled far and wide. They’ve been on what can be best described as a worldwide crate digging expedition. Argentina, Australia, India, Japan, Norway, South Africa and Turkey have all been stops on this crate digging expedition. This has been time well spent. Spiritual Jazz 5: The World features a glittering array of jazz gems.

This includes contributions from the Charlie Munro Quartet, Louis Banks, Jazz Work Shop, Jazz Semail, London Experimental Jazz Quartet and  Horacio “Chivo” Borraro and Aquilla. These tracks are just a tantalising taste of the music on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World. There’s much more. In total, there are seventeen tracks to discover on Spiritual Jazz 5: The World. Each one has something different to offer. With a a mixture of hidden gems, rarities and underground classics,  Spiritual Jazz 5: The World is a worthy and welcome addition to Jazzman Records Spiritual Jazz series.

SPIRITUAL JAZZ 5: THE WORLD

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BOB CARPENTER-SILENT PASSAGE.

BOB CARPENTER-SILENT PASSAGE.

Often, it looks as if a singer is destined for greatness. That was the case with Canadian singer-songwriter Bob Carpenter. He was signed to Warner Brothers in 1974. Straight away, Bob headed into the studio to complete his solo album, Silent Passage, which was rereleased by No Quarter Records on 19th August 2014. 

Bob Carpenter had already recorded some of the ten songs he’d written for Silent Passage. He’d been working on Bob Carpenter since 1971. It was meant to be the start of a glorious career. Many people forecast that Silent Passage would be the start of a glorious career for Bob Carpenter. This included many within the music industry. 

Within the music industry, Bob Carpenter was being heralded as “the next big thing.” Singer songwriters were in vogue. Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Carole King and Joni Mitchell were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim.This meant record companies were always looking for new artists. Warner Brothers decided Bob Carpenter was the future.

Now signed to Warner Brothers, Bob Carpenter entered the studio. He was accompanied by what was an all-star band. Emmylou Harris, Anne Murray and Diane Brooks sang backing vocals. Two members of Little Feat played on Silent Passage. Lowell George played guitar and Bill Payne organ and piano. Top session players drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar were drafted in by producer Brian Ahern who played percussion and twelve-string guitar. Other musicians were drafted in when needed.

This included saxophonist Don Thompson, Peter Pringle on harmonium, Buddy Cage on steel guitar and Bill Speer on electric piano. Drummer Andy Cree and bassist Skip Beckwith provided the rhythm section on Down Along The Border and Now and Then. Strings were added to several songs and woodwind to Before My Time. It seemed no expense was being spared in the recording of Silent Passage. Warner Brothers looked as if they were fully behind the project. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

With Silent Passage recorded, Bob Carpenter was ready to release his debut. Now was his chance to enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim other singer-songwriters were enjoying. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. A contract dispute resulted in Silent Passage being shelved. For Bob this was a huge blow.

For Bob Carpenter his career was almost over before it began. What looked like being a glittering career stalled. It would be ten long years before Silent Passage was eventually released.

It was 1984 before Silent Passage was released on a small, Canadian label, Stony Plain Records. It was a long way from Warner Brothers, a major label. By then, Bob Carpenter had almost given up on music. The belated release of Silent Passage rejuvenated Bob’s interest in music.

Following the release of Silent Passage, Bob was booked to play at several Canadian folk festivals. Bob still had it. He could captivate an audience with his worldweary vocals mesmeric acoustic guitar playing. When he walked on stage, Bob came alive. For as long as he was onstage, the audience were spellbound. However, little did anyone know, that Bob was at a turning point in his life.

This turning point was caused by his interest in Buddhism. Over time, Bob’s interest and commitment to Buddhism grew. So much so, that Bob became a Buddhist monk. This resulted in Bob turning his back on music. Sadly, this time, there would be no comeback.

Tragically, Bob Carpenter died in 1995.  Brain cancer robbed music of one a truly talented singer-songwriter. His only album was Silent Passage, which was belatedly released in 1984. In the last thirty years, Silent Passage has become known as a lost classic. You’ll realise why, when I tell you about Silent Passage.

From the opening bars of Miracle Man, you’re captivated. It’s the perfect way to open Silent Passage. Elements of blues, country and folk melt into one. Bob’s languid, joyous vocal is accompanied by his trusty acoustic guitar. Soon, the rhythm section ands piano join in. Lee Sklar’s bass and Russ Kunkel’s drums drive the arrangement along. Flamboyant flourishes of piano and bottleneck guitar from Lowell George are added. Then there’s backing vocals from Anne Murray and Diana Brookes. They all play their part in this carefree anthem.

Silent Passage has a much more thoughtful, pensive sound. Just keyboards and acoustic guitar accompany Bob’s weary, lived-in vocal. There’s a poignancy to the lyrics as Bob sings “before the war I had no need for travelling.” Now he’s returned home, he’s realised something “it’s only coming back home that brings you nearer.” As he sings those words, strings sweep in. They’re joined by backing vocals from Emmylou Harris. Along with Ben Keith’s steel guitar they’re the finishing touch to one of the most beautiful tracks on Silent Passage.

A haunting guitar reverberates, before Old Friends unfolds. A pulsating rhythm section provide the backdrop to Bob’s vocal. His vocal is a mixture of emotion and sincerity, as he sings about friendship. The way he sings “you’ll never lose a friend,” it’s with real feeling and belief. Soon, washes Hammond organ sweep in. They join the rhythm section. Later, a sultry saxophone is unleashed. Bob whoops as waves of the the arrangement unfold. Cooing, testifying backing vocals join the strings as Bob unleashes a vocal that sincere and soulful. It’s a reminder why he could’ve and should’ve been a huge star.

First Light has a much more understated arrangement. Just a meandering acoustic guitar and washes of Hammond organ combine. This suits the song. It allows Bob’s wistful vocal to take centre-stage. Strings sweep Bob’s vocal away. His vocal sounds not unlike Cat Stevens. Bob’s lyrics remind me of Al Stewart. Just like Al, Bob draws inspiration from history and religion. They’ve a cinematic quality. So much so, that you can imagine the imagery taking shape before your eyes. It’s akin to watching a film unfold before your eyes, with Bob Carpenter playing a starring role.

Just a piano opens Morning Train. It sets the scene for Bob’s weary vocal, as sings about boarding the “Morning Train.” He’s had enough of living the way he is. His partner is out all day, and all night. Finally, he’s had enough. He’s lonely and he thinks about and dreams of catching the “Morning Train.” Strings sweep and swirl, harmonies soar above the arrangement which is driven along by the rhythm section. They provide the perfect backdrop for Bob’s lonely, heartbroken vocal.

The Believer is another track with a minimalist arrangement. Just an acoustic guitar accompanied Bob. His raspy vocal has a lived-in sound. Desperation, sadness and sorrow fills his voice during a song about loneliness and death. One of the most poignant lyrics is “I may not be around tomorrow.” Bob realises the clock is ticking, and has his regrets. One of his regrets is the time he “spent searching for better weather.” Accompanied by lush string pathos is omnipresent during this beautiful and poignant song. Quite simply, it’s one of the highlights of Silent Passage.

Bob’s subtle acoustic guitar wanders across the arrangement to Gypsy Boy. It grabs your attention. So does Bob’s vocal. It’s gritty and raspy, as dramatically, Bob delivers the lyrics. Stylistically, he’s similar to Al Stewart and Bob Franks. Gypsy violins, steel guitar and a twelve-string guitar are joined by percussion. They help Bob paint the picture of the Gypsy Boy. “I am a gypsy boy, I am where you find me” Bob sings with a mixture of controlled power, emotion and drama. It’s a compelling performance.

On each song, Bob starts with the musical equivalent of a  blank canvas. He then starts painting a Picture. That’s what he does on Down Along The Border. His acoustic guitar and then vocal set the scene. Soon, a steel guitar, Hammond organ and lush strings provide a poignant accompaniment to Bob’s raspy, heartfelt vocal.

Before My Time has a country-tinged sound from the get-go. Bob’s vocal is worldweary. He sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. You wonder where he been and what he’s seen? This is perfect for the song. The lyrics come to life. Bob takes on the role of narrator. He sets the scene for the listener. So do the strings, electric piano and woodwind. They’re like actors on the stage. However, the person playing the starring role in Bob Carpenter.

Now and Then closes Silent Passage. Firmly and confidently, Bob strums on his acoustic guitar. Soon his wistful vocal enters. It’s different from previous tracks. That’s because the ten songs on Silent Passage were recorded between 1971 and 1974. During that period, Bob’s vocal changed and matured. As Bob’s vocal grows in power, drama and frustration are omnipresent. Framing his vocal are the rhythm section, electric piano, melancholy strings wistful woodwind. They ensure Now and Then proves a powerful and poignant way to close Silent Passage.

It’s forty years since Silent Passage was meant to be released by Warner Brothers. A contract dispute put paid to that. It also put paid to Bob Carpenter’s career. 

Ten years later, when Silent Passage was released, Bob was lost to music. He’d fallen out of love with music. After a brief comeback, Bob Carpenter found religion. He became a Buddhist and eventually, became a Buddhist monk. Bob never recorded another album. Tragically, Bob died of brain cancer in 1995. Sadly, Bob Carpenter never got to see Silent Passage become a cult classic.

That’s the best way to describe Silent Passage. It’s a hidden gem of an album that for forty years, lay undiscovered. Recently, however, people have rediscovered one of music’s best kept secrets, Bob Carpenter. He may have only released one album, Silent Passage, but what an album it was. 

if I was to describe Silent Passage in one word, that word would be flawless. Bob Carpenter was a hugely talented singer-songwriter. He reminds me of Bob Franks. With Bob Carpenter, there’s none of the hype that came with the overrated Lewis. No. Instead, Bob Carpenter is the real deal. His music doesn’t need smoke and mirrors. Instead, Bob Carpenter’s music does the talking. That’s how it should be. 

Silent Passage was recently rereleased by No Quarter Records, on 19th August 2014. Belatedly, this lost classic Silent Passage, will be discovered by a new generation of music lovers. Hopefully each and every one of them will cherish Bob Carpenter’s one and only album, the flawless Silent Passage.

BOB CARPENTER-SILENT PASSAGE.

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LES AMBASSADEURS-LES AMBASSADEURS DU MOTEL DE BAMAKO.

LES AMBASSADEURS-LES AMBASSADEURS DU MOTEL DE BAMAKO.

As the seventies unfolded, the Rail Band de Bamako were kings of Malian music. They had dragged Malian music kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. The Rail Band de Bamako had given traditional Malian music a makeover. However, another group was about to steal their crown, Les Ambassadeurs.

Stern Africa recently released a double-album of Les Ambassadeurs’ music. This includes their two albums Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako. These two albums feature the first appearance of a legend of African music, Salif Keifa. He would play an important part in the Les Ambassadeurs’ story.

Les Ambassadeurs comprised members of several West African bands. Many members of Les Ambassadeurs had previously, been a members of the Ivory Coast band, Les Elephants Noirs Of Bouke. That was until 1968. Then the military junta came to power in Mali. 

Lieutenant Tiekoro Bagayoko was one of the most powerful men within the military junta. In the evenings, he liked nothing better than to head to Ousmane Makolou’s Motel De Bamako. That was where he went to unwind and meet visiting dignitaries. He couldn’t have picked a better location. Motel De Bamako sat on the banks of the river Niger, under the shade of mango trees. There was only one thing missing, his own band.

In the Buffet Hotel, which was adjacent to the city’s central station, the Rail Band played every night. They were lead by Malian saxophonist Mousa “Vieux” Sissoko. Joining him in the Rail Band were Guinean trumpeter Kabine “Tagus” Traore and singer Ousmane Dia, of the Star Band de Dakar. With such a star studded lineup, it’s no surprise the Rail Band were crowned kings of Malian music. Lieutenant Tiekoro Bagayoko wanted his own equivalent of the Star Band. Usually, what he wanted, he got. 

In 1972, Lieutenant Tiekoro Bagayoko decided to put together his own band. His first “recruit” was Guinean guitarist Kante Manfila. He became the bandleader. That was partly, down to his musical pedigree and partly, down to his background. Kante Manfila had been a member of the Unite Jazz and Independence Jazz in the Ivory Coast. He was also the scion of a leading Manding family. More importantly, Kante was an innovative musicians and bandleader who commanded respect. Joining Kante were some equally talented musicians.

This included guitarist Issa Gnare, drummer Djosse, balafon player organist Idrissa Soumaoro and balafon player Kaba Kante. Along with Kante Manfila was Les Ambassadeurs was born.

Les Ambassadeurs would prove one of the most versatile West African bands. They didn’t stick rigidly to one style of music. Their raison d’être was to entertain, and entertain they did. Seamlessly, the switched between Afro-beat, Afro-Cubam, blues, jazz, pop and R&B. If needed, they could turn their hand to French, Russian and Chinese music. Whatever the audience wanted, they got. 

At one time, people were bringing in music for Les Ambassadeurs to hear. They’d then go away and learn how to play it. It seemed that Les Ambassadeurs realised the importance of entertaining their audience and pleasing their patron Lieutenant Tiekoro Bagayoko. He was pleased with his new band’s progress. However, the missing piece in the musical jigsaw joined Les Ambassadeurs in 1973.

His name was Salif Keita. He was invited to join  Les Ambassadeurs in 1973. Salif was a member of Les Ambassadeurs’ biggest rival the Rail Band. This would be a coup for Les Ambassadeurs, poaching one of their main rival’s most talented members. Les Ambassadeurs pulled of this musical coup de tat, and  Salif Keita became their latest recruit.

Having joined Les Ambassadeurs, Salif Keita began to learn his new bands way of doing things. Practice began at 10am and lasted right through until 2pm. This prepared Les Ambassadeurs for their evening engagement. They were consummate professionals. For Salif, a young singer who previously, had been wanting to change direction, this was akin to an apprenticeship.  

Previously, Salif has been singing traditional songs. This was too restrictive. He wanted and needed to change direction. Salif wanted to sing more modern music. When he joined Les Ambassadeurs he was able to sing songs about what it was like living in Mali in the seventies. Straight away, Salif flourished.

Salif didn’t take time to settle. Thrust into the limelight he shawn. What helped was that he wasn’t Les Ambassadeurs’ only singer. No. There were three other singers. Each had their speciality. Beidy Sacky sung the Afro-Cuban songs, Ousmane Dia sung Wolof songs and Moussa Doumbia was an R&B singer. The only thing Les Ambassadeurs didn’t have was someone who sung Malian folk songs. 

That was where Salif came in. He was able to sing Malian folks songs. This included new ones written by Kante Manfila. Salif also wrote a few songs. Sitting drumming his guitar, Salif penned his songs. Just like Kante’s songs, they were full of social and political comment. Inspiration for songs came from Sekou Toure, the President of Guinea. He was one of Africa’s modernisers. With Kante originally from Guinea and Kalif a Malian, this combination made for potent and successful musical partnership.

When Les Ambassadeurs took to the stage, Salif and the rest of Les Ambassadeurs became one. Kante’s guitar playing was at the heart of the band’s sound. So was Salif’s vocal. He soon became one of the most important members of Les Ambassadeurs. His vocals were captivating. Les Ambassadeurs were on their way to becoming kings of Malian music.

During their journey to the top of Malian music, Les Ambassadeurs added three more members. This included two guitarists Ousmane Kouyate and Amadou Bagayoko. They were joined by multi- instrumentalist Kelitigui Diabate. Little did anyone know it, but this would be the classic lineup of Les Ambassadeurs.

In 1974, the rivalry between Les Ambassadeurs and the Rail Band was at its peak. So, like two gunslingers, Les Ambassadeurs and the Rail Band took to the stage at the largest stadium in Bamako. There was only ever going to be one winner, Les Ambassadeurs. Stealing the show was a series of vocal masterclasses from Salif. What should’ve been Les Ambassadeurs’ finest hour was overshadowed.

Not long after this, the junta took tighter control of Mail. For Les Ambassadeurs this wasn’t good. Their songs were full of social comment. They could’ve been perceived as an enemy of the state. Despite this, Les Ambassadeurs decided to record their debut single.

Les Ambassadeurs were now billed as Kante Manfila and Les Ambassadeurs, when they headed to the recording studio for the first time. Their first single was Ambassadeur. It became Les Ambassadeurs’ best known track. Some would say it was their theme tune. Salif made his debut on the B-Side Mana Mana. This was the first of five singles released between 1975 and 1976. 

After Ambassadeur, Bolola Sanou (Golden Jewellery), Seranfing (Payday), Nagana and Tie Columba (Columba) were released. With each single, Les Ambassadeurs’ popularity grew. They were one of the biggest bands in Mali, if not Africa. Les Ambassadeurs travelled not just throughout Mali, but overseas. So it made sense to record their debut album.

Disc One-Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bemako.

In 1976, Les Ambassadeurs were chosen to be one of the Malian representatives at the Festival Of Arts and Crafts, in Lagos, Nigeria. This was just one of the many trips abroad Les Ambassadeurs made. France, Burkina Faso and Guinea were all regular venues for Les Ambassadeurs. With each visit, Les Ambassadeurs’ reputation grew. So, they needed an album to spread the word about Les Ambassadeurs’ music. This was  Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako. 

On the album cover, there’s no sign of Salif Keita. He makes his present felt throughout the Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako. 

Salif takes He also takes charge of the lead vocal on each of the ten tracks. This includes the singles Bolola Sanou. Nagana and Saranfing. Then on Djoula, which  was the B-Side to Nagana, Salif delivers a vocal masterclass. Singing in the Soninke dialect, his vocal is impassioned and compelling. This was Salif Keita’s introduction to the wider world. Little did anyone know he would become one of the legends of African music. However, Les Ambassadeurs are no one man band.

Each member of Les Ambassadeurs makes their presence felt. The music is a melting pot of genres and influences. Afro-beat, avant garde, funk, jazz and soul. Then there’s Wolof, Malian and Guinean  music. Love songs and ballads sit side-by-side with songs of praise and devotion. Some songs were understated, others dramatic.  The lyrics are similarly eclectic.

Some lyrics are full of social comment. Others songs about love and war. Every member of Les Ambassadeurs contributes something to the band’s greater good. While Salif may be the star of Les Ambassadeurs, he couldn’t exist in isolation. He needs the rest of Les Ambassadeurs as they seamlessly, combine musical genres and influences during this  rhythmic and vocal tour de force. The result was one of the finest debut albums by a Malian band.

Quite simply, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako. It’s a compelling and captivating musical journey. During this musical journey, Les Ambassadeurs sound like the experienced and talented band they are. Many people thought they had a great future ahead of them. However, the political conditions worsened.

Despite the worsening conditions, Les Ambassadeurs headed back into the recording studio. They recorded two more albums. While this might have seemed selfish to the Malian people suffering at the hands of the junta. It wasn’t.  Les Ambassadeurs were giving a voice to the Malian people. Their problems and circumstances were heard by the wider world. Tracks from these two albums, Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako Volume One and Two feature on disc two.

Disc Two-Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako.

A total of nine track feature on disc one. They’re a mixture of singles, album tracks and two tracks from a radio broadcast. It’s more a compilation than a fully fledged album. This isn’t a criticism, merely an observation. During the nine tracks we hear different sides to Les Ambassadeurs.

Just like their debut album, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako is suitably eclectic. Unlike their debut album, the vocal changes hands throughout the album. Salif Keita, Idrissa Soumaoro, Ousmane Dia and Kante Manfila all take charge of the vocals. This works, and works well.

The music veers between understated and laid-back, to rousing and uplifting. Highlights include Mali Denou, which features Mail’s lead vocal and the Wolof song Ray M’bote, which features a heartfelt vocal from Ousmane Dia. Then there’s Ambassadeur, which is Les Ambassadeurs ‘ anthem. Ousmane Dia returns on Fatema These four tracks showcase  Les Ambassadeurs at the peak of their powers. They could’ve and should’ve dominated Malian music for a long time.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Mali was hit by strikes during 1977. The country was brought to its knees. Malian military dictator Moussa Traore decided enough was enough. He decided to imprison many members of the junta and their supporters. This included Lieutenant Tiekoro Bagayoko. For Les Ambassadeurs, this wasn’t good news. 

Lieutenant Tiekoro Bagayoko had always looked out for  Les Ambassadeurs. With him in prison, they were vulnerable. Many of  Les Ambassadeurs decided to stay in the Ivory Coast. Then most of  Les Ambassadeurs headed for Adidjan. This was a place where artists and musicians felt safe. However, some members of  Les Ambassadeurs missed home. They decided to head home to Bamako. For  Les Ambassadeurs, this marked the end of the original lineup.

Over the next few years, the lineup of Les Ambassadeurs changed. They released further singles and albums. However, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako and then Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako Volume One and Two feature Les Ambassadeurs at their best. They were about to embark upon a great musical adventure. Anything seemed possible. The future looked bright for Les Ambassadeurs. Their star was in the ascendancy for several years. Just about anything looked possible. Sadly, as is often the case Les Ambassadeurs never fulfilled their potential. The political climate changed and Les Ambassadeurs were forced into exile. At least one of Les Ambassadeurs was able to fulfill their potential.

That was Salif Keifa. He became one of the legends of African music. Salif Keifa enjoyed the critical acclaim and commercial success that  Les Ambassadeurs could’ve and should’ve enjoyed. A reminder of Les Ambassadeurs’ music is Les Ambassadeurs du Motel De Bamako, which was recently released by Stern Africa.

LES AMBASSADEURS-LES AMBASSADEURS DU MOTEL DE BAMAKO

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ROBYN HITCHCOCK-THE MAN UPSTAIRS.

ROBYN HITCHCOCK-THE MAN UPSTAIRS.

Sometimes, dreams can come true. Growing up, Robyn Hitchcock had a dream. When he was fifteen, he dreamt that one day, Joe Boyd would produce one of his albums. Back in 1967, Joe Boyd was on his way to becoming one of the most successful producers of his generation. 

Already, Joe Boyd’s production credits included already included Pink Floyd, the Incredible String Band, Soft Machine, The Purple Gang, Dave Swarbrick, Martin Carthy and Diz Disley. Joe would go on to produce the great and good of music.This includes Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Vashti Bunyan, John and Beverly Martyn, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Richard Thompson, R.E.M, June Tabor and Loudon Wainwright III. That’s just a few of the artists who Joe Boyd has produced. Now, a new ams joins that illustrious list, Robyn Hitchcock.

Forty-six years after he first dreamt that Joe Boyd would produce one of his albums, Robyn Hitchcock’s dream has come true. Joe produced Robyn’s latest album The Man Upstairs, which was released on 25th August 2014, by Yep Roc Records.

The Man Upstairs is just the latest release from the veteran singer, songwriter and musician, Robyn Hitchcock. He first came to prominence in the late seventies, as a member of The Soft Boys.  

They formed in 1976 and released two albums, A Can Of Bees in 1979 and 1980s Underwater Moonlight. The Soft Boys split-up in 1981. Just like many bands, there have been subsequent reunions. However, it looked like the end for The Soft Boys in 1981. After this, Robyn decided to concentrate on his solo career.

In 1981, Robyn released his debut album Black Snake Diamond Role. It featured several members of The Soft Boys. Released to critical acclaim Black Snake Diamond Role resulted in a great future being forecast for Robyn. However, his next album didn’t fare so well.

Groovy Decay was released in 1982. Robyn wasn’t happy with the album. This proved to be prescient. Critics hated the album. Eventually, so did Robyn. He disowned Groovy Decay and released a revised edition, Groovy Decoy. Following the disappointment of Groovy Decay, Robyn changed tack,

I Often Dream Of Trains was an acoustic album. Released in 1984, it found favour with critics. The arrangements are stark and sparse, while the lyrics are poignant and full of imagery and emotion. They’ve also a cinematic quality. Robyn was back in vogue amongst critics. However, he seemed to miss being part of a band, so joined forces with The Egyptians.

Between 1985 and 1989, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians released a quartet of albums. Their debut was 1985s Fegmania! Not long after Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians toured Fegmania!, a live album Gotta Let This Hen Out! was released. This was the start of a fruitful period in Robyn’s career. 

Element Of Light followed in 1986, with Globe of Frogs following two years later in 1988. It featured Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze. This star studded collaboration resulted in Globe Of Frogs being hailed one of Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ finest albums. They weren’t going rest on their laurels and enjoy the critical acclaim. Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians had another album to record.

1989s Queen Elvis was the last album Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians released before he returned to his solo career. Just like the previous albums, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ reputation was growing. No wonder. They were constantly touring. As for Robyn, he was perceived as one of the finest songwriters of his generation. That’s why high profile musicians like Peter Buck and Glenn Tilbrook were so keen to collaborate with Robyn. However, Robyn decided to put Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians on hold.

The reason for this was Robyn wanted to record another solo album. It was very different to the music he was making with Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians. Eye was another acoustic album. Stylistically, it’s in a similar style to I Often Dream Of Trains. Just like I Often Dream Of Trains, it was well received. Robyn seemed to be maturing as a lyricist with every album. After Eye’s release in 1990, Robyn began work on another Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ album.

On Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians’ next album, Robyn wrote the eleven songs. He was joined by Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of R.E.M. Having such esteemed guest artists paid off. So You Think You’re in Love gave Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians the biggest single of their career. It reached number one on the US Modern Rock charts. For Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians this was one of the high points of their career. The low point came two years later.

In 1993, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians released their fourth and final album for A&M, Respect. It was recorded in Yarmouth, at Robyn’s home. This wasn’t a good time for Robyn. His father had died and Respect reflects that Robyn was still grieving. Respect was released to mixed reviews. After this, Robyn Hitchcock with The Egyptians went their separate ways. 

Since the death of his father, Robyn hadn’t been near a recording studio. Then in 1996, Robin returned with Moss Elixir, another acoustic album. Again, reviews were mixed and Moss Elixir didn’t prove as popular as Robyn’s earlier albums. This must have affected Robyn, as it wasn’t until 1999 that he released another album, Jewels for Sophia.

Jewels for Sophia was released in 1999. It featured guitarist Grant Lee Phillips, Peter Buck and Kimberley Lew, a former member of The Soft Boys. With such an illustrious cast, it’s no surprise that Jewels for Sophia proved a much more popular album. Released to critical acclaim, Robyn Hitchcock was back. 

As the new millennia unfolded, Robyn returned with another album of acoustic material, Luxor. It’s a was a mixture of uptempo and introspective material. Many of the songs are love songs, which Robyn penned for his partner Michele Noach. Released in 2003, the Luxor seemed to divide opinion. The same would be said of Robyn’s next album Spooked.

Spooked was recorded in Nashville. Robyn collaborated with Gillian Welch on twelve new tracks and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Close The Door. During Spooked, Robyn introduces a cast of eccentric characters. They proved compelling. Especially as various scenarios unfold. During some of the scenarios, there’s a surreal nature. There’s also several references to death. Fans and critics were divided about Spooked, on its release in 2004. For Robyn this must have been a disappointment. So he changed tack and returned in 2006 with a new band.

By 2006, Robyn had a new band. He was billed as Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3. They released three albums between 2006 and 2010. Olé! Tarantula was recorded in Seattle and featured Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and Bill Rieflin of Ministry. They were the Venus 3. Other guest artists included  Morris Windsor and Kimberley Rew of The Soft Boys. Mostly, the reviews of Olé! Tarantula were positive. This augured well for their  Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3’s future.

For many people, Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3’s finest moment was Goodnight Oslo. On its release in 2008, critics hailed the album one of Robyn’s best. This set the bar high for Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3’s swan-song.

Propellor Time was released in 2010. It featured an all-star cast. Among the guest artists were Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Nick Lowe and former Soft Boy Morris Windsor. Not all of the tracks were new. Some had been recorded in 2006, at the Olé! Tarantula sessions. Belatedly, they made their debut on Propellor Time which was well received upon its release. Robyn Hitchcock with The Venus 3 bowed out in style.

When Robyn released his next album Tromsø, Kaptein, in 2011, it was on the Norwegian label Hype City Records. This was a much lower profile release. However, this being Robyn Hitchcock, it was a case of expect the unexpected. The music, which was described as jangle pop, was quite different. Robyn the musical chameleon was still exploring new styles. He returned to familiar territory on Love from London.

This was the case Love from London. Released in 2013, Love from London was described as folk pop. It was well received by critics and fans alike. Aged sixty, Robyn Hitchcock was maturing with age. He was the musical equivalent of a fine wine. 

A year later, Robyn is back with another new album, The Man Upstairs. Produced by Joe Boyd, it’s a mixture of cover versions and new tracks.

There’s covers of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost in You,  Roxy Music’s To Turn You On, Grant-Lee Phillips’ Don’t Look Down and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship. There’s also a cover of De From Comstad and Ann Lise Frokedal’s Ferries. Robyn contributes San Francisco Patrol, Trouble In Your Blood, Somebody To Break Your Heart, Comme Toujours and Recalling The Truth. These ten tracks make up from The Man Upstairs. This should be a compelling album from Robyn Hitchcock. Is that the case though?

A cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost In You opens The Man Upstairs. Robyn counts his band and firmly strums his guitar. Before long Robyn’s unmistakable vocal enters. It’s a mixture of excitement, frustration and sadness. Especially. when he sings: “love, love, love, you couldn’t give it away” and later, “love is only a heaven away.” Meanwhile, the understated arrangement provides the perfect foil to Robyn’s vocal. Just strings, piano and guitar accompany him. Anything else would be overkill as he reinvents a familiar track.

San Francisco Patrol is a Robyn Hitchcock song. A crystalline guitar and cello set the seen for Robyn. His vocal is full of pain and pathos, as he sings about love gone wrong. Accompanied by a tender female vocal, he lays bare his soul. One of his most telling lyrics is “I’m talking to myself, as if I was someone else.” So real does Robyn make the heartbreak and loneliness seem, it’s as if he’s lived and survived it.

Bryan Ferry wrote To Turn You On. Roxy Music are responsible for the definitive version. Robyn’s comes a close second. The song is given an understated makeover by Robyn. One thing that isn’t lacking is emotion. Robyn’s vocal is needy and emotive. Longing and sometimes, desperation fills his voice. Especially when he sings “I’d do anything To Turn You On.” When he sings “I’d even leave you,” you realise that he doesn’t mean it. The way he he delivers the lyrics it’s almost as if he’s obsessed.  This results in a powerful take on a familiar song.

Just guitars and subtle harmonies accompany Robyn on Trouble In Your Blood. Slowly he delivers the lyrics. There’s a sadness in his voice as he sings “there’s Trouble In Your Blood” and “later, you don’t know what you do to me.” Pizzicato strings are sprinkled across the arrangement, as Robyn becomes thoughtful. It’s as if he can’t help himself. He loves her but knows it’s no good. That’s why there’s a sadness in his voice. He knows what he should do, but can’t. 

A bluesy harmonica helps drive Somebody To Break Your Heart along. Robyn’s vocal is urgent, and full of frustration. This comes out in his playing. He strums urgently on his guitar. Meanwhile the bass helps drive the arrangement along. The arrangement seems to mix elements of blues, R&B rockabilly. Sadly, it doesn’t quite work. It’s not through lack of effort. All the time the blues harmonica drifts in and out, accompanying Robyn’s vocal. His  vocal is good, but not great. What lets him down is the arrangement.

From the distance, the arrangement to Don’t Look Down arrives. It’s understated and beautiful. Just a guitar accompanies Robyn. Tenderly and thoughtfully he sings. A crystalline guitar and whispery backing vocals enter. They melt into the arrangement as Robyn delivers one of his finest vocals. This more than makes up for the previous track. There’s an intimacy in Don’t Look Down. It’s as if Robyn is singing to someone. The listener is an onlooker and privileged to hear this beautiful song.

Gone is the intimacy of the previous track. Ferries sees Robyn seek inspiration from his past. Accompanied by his trusty guitar and backing vocalist he delivers an impassioned, pleading vocal. The lyrics have a cinematic quality. It’s a case of closing your eyes and watching the scenes unfold. There’s a poignancy and sadness in the lyrics. Robyn accentuates this by briefly unleashing his electric guitar. This works well and results in a moving cover of a hidden gem.

Comme Toujours has a wistful, thoughtful sound. Again, it’s a pensive Robyn and his acoustic guitar. Strings add to the sense of melancholia. Robyn’s vocal veers between hopeful to despairing, as seamlessly, he switches between French and English. Later, he accusingly sings: “look at this broken heart, it’s yours” and wistfully, “I’ll think of you forever.” This mixture of hurt, hope and heartbreak is vintage Robyn Hitchcock. It’s another example of what Robyn Hitchcock at his best, is capable of.

Covering The Doors’ The Crystal Ship was never going to be easy. Slowed way down, with just piano, strings and acoustic guitar for company The Crystal Ship takes on new life and meaning. This reinvention works well. Sometimes, Robyn reminds me of Al Stewart in his prime. Al had the ability to bring songs to life. So has Robyn. Here, he combines drama and emotion seamlessly.

Closing The Man Upstairs is Recalling the Truth. A thoughtful Robyn is accompanied by a chiming guitar and breathy backing vocals. Memories come flooding back as his vocal veers between tender and thoughtful to powerful, as it soars above the arrangement. Always, Robyn sings the lyrics with feeling and despair. As he sings “you’ve been gone to wrong,” hurt shines through. This results in a beautiful and moving song, that’s the perfect way to close The Man Upstairs.

It’s taken forty-six years for Robyn Hitchcock’s dream to come true. He always wanted Joe Boyd to produce one of his album. Forty-six years after he first dreamt that Joe Boyd would produce one of his albums, Robyn Hitchcock’s dream has come true. Joe Boyd produced Robyn’s latest album The Man Upstairs, which was released on 25th August 2014, by Yep Roc Records. It’s a welcome addition to Robyn Hitchcock’s back-catalogue.

The Joe Boyd produced The Man Upstairs which is, without doubt, one of Robyn’s best albums of recent years. It’s an old-school album. This isn’t a sprawling album where the artist is determined to fill the compact disc. No. It only features ten songs. They’re a mixture of cover versions and new songs. Many of them pay benefit from an understated intimacy. It’s just Robyn and a small band. His vocals take centre-stage as he reinvents familiar and new tracks. 

There’s covers of The Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost in You,  Roxy Music’s To Turn You On, Grant-Lee Phillips’ Don’t Look Down and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship. There’s also a cover of De From Comstad and Ann Lise Frokedal’s Ferries. Each of these tracks are given an inventive makeover. They work and work well. New life and meaning is brought to familiar tracks. Then there’s Robyn’s new songs.

Robyn contributes five tracks. They’re San Francisco Patrol, Trouble In Your Blood, Somebody To Break Your Heart, Comme Toujours and Recalling The Truth. Four of them work. Sadly, Somebody To Break Your Heart doesn’t. It’s a mish mash of influences and disappoints. That’s a pity because there’s a good song shining through. That’s the only disappointing track on The Man Upstairs. Apart from that, its quality all the way.

It was well worth Robyn Hitchcock waiting so long for Joe Boyd to produce one of his albums. Robyn’s patience was rewarded withThe Man Upstairs, an album that showcases Robyn Hitchcock at his best. He’s a talented singer, songwriter and musician, whose career has spanned over forty years. He has released over twenty albums with The Soft Boys, The Egyptians and The Venus 3. The Man Upstairs is just the latest addition to Robyn Hitchcock’s back-catalogue, and finds Robyn back to his very best. 

For the newcomer to Robyn Hitchcock’s music, then The Man Upstairs is the perfect starting point. After that, there’s plenty more music to discover. However, The Man Upstairs is the perfect introduction to Robyn Hitchcock.

ROBYN HITCHCOCK-THE MAN UPSTAIRS.

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THE BLUE NILE-HATS.

THE BLUE NILE-HATS.

For most groups, a gap of five years between albums would be unthinkable. It just wouldn’t happen. Either the group would be keen to get a new album released, or their record company would be pressurizing them to do so. Not The Blue Nile. In fact, the five years between their debut alum A Walk Across the Rooftops and their sophomore album Hats, wasn’t long by their standards.

Indeed, there was a gap of seven years between Hats, and their third album Peace At Last. The gap between albums three and four grew to eight years. High, which proved to be The Blue Nile’s swan-song was released in 2004. It had been so long between albums, that a new millennia had dawned. However, fifteen years earlier, Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and P.J. Moore released what many people perceive as their finest album, Hats, which was recently rereleased and remastered as a double album. Disc One features the newly remastered version of Hats, while Disc Two contains a disc full of Blue Nile rarities. When I recently reviewed the Blue Nile debut album, A Walk Across the Rooftops which was also rereleased and remastered on the high-fidelity SHM-CD format., I said that I found it hard to decide whether A Walk Across the Rooftops or Hats was their finest album. Once I’ve reviewed Hats, I’ll now decide which album is indeed The Blue Nile’s finest hour.

Five years had passed since A Walk Across the Rooftops had been released by Linn Records. A Walk Across the Rooftops was Linn Records first release. Indeed, Linn had specifically set up the label to release A Walk Across the Rooftops. It was the perfect way to showcase Linn’s high end hi-fi products. During the previous five years, The Blue Nile proved they were no ordinary band. 

Describing The Blue Nile isn’t easy. They were enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. The Blue Nile weren’t exactly your normal band. Not for them the rock “n” roll lifestyle favored by other bands. In many ways, neither musical fashions nor fads affected them. Their attitude was almost contrarian. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically as The Blue Nile strived for musical perfection. This wasn’t a group willing to jump onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or supermodels. Quite the opposite. It seemed to be their way or no way. So, for their sophomore album Hats, Paul, Robert and P.J. retreated to the studio. Once there, it seemed they sought musical nirvana, perfection. What they came up with was Hats, which was pretty near it.

Hats featured seven tracks, written by Paul Buchanan, Glasgow’s answer to Frank Sinatra, a tortured troubadour, whose voice sounds as if he’s lived a thousand lives. Producing Hats was group effort, with Paul, Robert and P.J. taking charge of production duties. Guiding them, was Callum Malcolm, who with Paul and Robert took charge of recently remastering both A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. On the release of Hats, American audiences proved more discerning and appreciative of The Blue Nile’s sophomore album Hats.

On the release of Hats in the UK in 1989, it was critically acclaimed, but not a commercial success. Then when it was released in America in 1990, audiences seemed to “get” Hats. Not only did it reach number 108 in the US Billboard 200 Charts, but The Downtown Lights reached number ten in the US Modern Rock Tracks charts. While this was a small crumb of comfort for the Blue Nile, in the UK, they remained a well kept secret. Since the release of Hats, like their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops it’s become a minor classic. Indeed, if everyone who claimed to have originally bought Hats had indeed done so, the Blue Nile would’ve been fabulously wealthy. Now twenty-three years later, somewhat belatedly, Hats has been remastered and rereleased. This seems like the perfect opportunity to decide whether A Walk Across the Rooftops or Hats was The Blue Nile’s finest hour.

In many ways, Hats is a like a musical journey, a voyage of discovery. Over The Hillside is the first step on the journey. Slow, spacious drums, washes of wistful synths and a dramatic guitar combine. Then Paul’s worldweary vocal enters. The sheer drudgery, repetitiveness and almost hopelessness of everyday life flavors Paul’s vocal. Sage-like, he sees through living to work and working to live. It fills him with dread and despair. Reflecting this, is the arrangement, with its somewhat industrial, repetitiveness. Drums with a synthetic, monotonous regularity and washes of wistful synths combine. As the drums reflect the pointlessness of the 9 to 5 life, synths offer a sympathetic backdrop. Meanwhile, eloquently and giving voice to the lack of hope, opportunity and escape, is Paul’s vocal, which brings to life the relentless grind of modern life. Bleak, honest but eloquence personified is this five minute track.

A sprinkling of cascading synths gives way to thunderous drums and washes of synths as The Downtown Lights begins. Soon, Paul Buchanan’s tortured vocal enters. It’s a mixture of emotions, worldweary, but heartfelt and reassuring. Drums cracks, synths fill the gaps and a pounding, broody bass reflects the drama in Paul’s vocal. As the arrangement grows in power and drama, so too does the emotion and reassurance in Paul’s voice. When he sings “it’s alright,” you believe him. His vocal grows in emotion and soulfulness, enveloped by swathes of synths, a funky bass and crispy drums. Later, as the power, drama and emotion grows, driven along by chiming guitars, you realize this is deeply soulful, but not soul music. Instead, it’s music for the soul, music about love, being in love and insecurity.

Waves of synths meander, growing in tension and drama. Let’s Go Out Tonight has just began to reveal its cerebral beauty. Guitars chime, while the backdrop is minimalistic. Paul’s whispered vocal is filled with despair. His relationship is almost over. It’s on its last legs. Rather than stay home and talk about it, it’s easier to go out. Best to dance around the subject and problems, rather admit it’s over. Meanwhile, synths, keyboards and guitar join Paul’s vocal, as he lays bare his soul, his hurt and heartache. His voice is tinged with regret and sadness, as if he can’t believe it’s over. For anyone whose been in this situation, or is going through it, then this song describes it perfectly. Quite simply, this is highlight of Hats and one of the Blue Nile’s greatest songs.

The tempo increase on Headlights On The Parade. So too does the emotion. Blue Nile mix moody funk courtesy of the bass and guitars with waves of bright, hopeful synths and stabs of keyboards. It’s almost as if they’re setting the scene for the worldweary troubadour, Paul Buchanan. From the moment Paul’s vocal begins, his vocal is filled with emotion. Saying: “I love you” isn’t easy, it’s hard, the three hardest words for him to say. Waves of symphonic, hopeful music cascade, envelop Paul’s vocal as he finally plucks up the courage.When he does, it’s almost a relief, it seems. Keyboards and quivering strings join him. Having found the courage, they serenade the one he loves. The result is an elegant, symphonic and beautiful song, one about conquering and overcoming the fear of commitment and the fear of rejection.

From A Late Night Train is a track that’s wonderfully moody and melancholy. The arrangement is broody and minimalistic, meandering behind Paul’s heartfelt vocal. It’s a bit like Frank Sinatra meets Brian Eno. Keyboards picked out carefully and cautiously are joined by occasional bursts of wistful horns. Slowly, Paul delivers lyrics that are poetic, with a strong narrative and steeped in emotion. His half-spoken vocal is filled with sadness, as he sings of his relationship being “over now.” You can imagine him heartbroken, sitting on the late night train, wondering why and what could I have done differently? Considering this track is only four minutes long, it’s a poetic, descriptive and emotive tour de force, Blue Nile style.

Squelchy synths, crunchy drums and percussion join a funky bass as Seven A.M. unfolds. A combination of an industrial sounding arrangement, which brings to mind Can, Neu and Velvet Underground join Paul’s worldweary, wistful vocal. Pensive, probing and questioning, he wonders “where is the love?”  It’s a question posed a thousand times before, puzzling poets and philosophers alike. Paul sounds just as puzzled, pondering, wondering. Lovelorn and confused Paul and the Blue Nile bring out the subtleties and beauties of the lyrics, but pose a question that’s unanswerable, even for them.

Saturday Night sees the Blue Nile close Hats with another of their Magnus Opus.’ Like Let’s Go Out Tonight, this is classic Blue Nile. Washes and stabs of synths, chiming guitars, a buzzing bass and crispy drums combine with Paul’s vocal. It’s a mixture of hope, happiness and longing, but tinged with insecurity. Washes of synths and lush strings cascade. They sweep and swirl, and are joined by chiming guitars. Together they envelope Paul’s deeply soulful vocal. His vocal is filled with hope and emotion and plays its part in one of the most beautiful tracks the Blue Nile ever recorded. As if a remastered version of Hats isn’t enough in itself, then there’s the bonus disc.

Unlike the original version of Hats, the newly remastered and rereleased  high-fidelity SHM-CD format version includes a second disc of six bonus tracks. While these tracks may not be particularly rare, they offer an insight to an enigmatic band. A live studio version of Seven A.M, alternate versions of Saturday Night Let’s Go Out Tonight are three hidden gems from The Blue Nile back-catalogue. So too is the live version of Headlights On the Parade, which is the perfect reminder of how good a live band the Blue Nile were. The Wires Are Down is a tantalizing glimpse of The Blue Nile and what might have been. I’m sure there’s many more tracks like this hidden, safely away in The Blue Nile’s vaults. Hopefully, before too long, we’ll be able to hear many more of these hidden gems. So, having told you about the newly released, remastered version of Hats, is Hats a better album than their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops?

Hat’s is a captivating, bewitching and beautiful album, where The Blue Nile lay bare their soul. Not only do they lay bare their soul, but articulate their hopes, fears, frustrations and dreams. Articulating this range of emotions, is Glasgow’s troubled troubadour, who mixes Frank Sinatra, Tom Waits and Tim Buckley, but doing so in a way that’s almost quintessentially Scottish. This newly remastered version of Hats accentuates the Scottishness of the seven songs. However, despite this quintessentially Scottishness, the music transcends geographical boundaries. For anyone whose lived, lost and lost love, then this album speaks to and for them. It brings to life their heartache and hurt, their sense of how life will never be quite the same again. Combining elements as diverse as Brian Eno, Can, Neu and the Velvet Underground Hats is an album of many influences, but unique. Only the Blue Nile could produce an album so special, so deeply soulful, beautiful and emotive. In some ways, Hats is a very different album from A Walk Across the Rooftops, the Blue Nile’s debut album. However, is Hats a better album?

A Walk Across the Rooftops was one of the best debut albums released by a Scottish, or indeed British band. A Walk Across the Rooftops belongs in every self-respected record collection. So too does Hats. Both albums are the perfect introduction the Blue Nile and their music. After just one listen to the seven tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, you’ll fall in love with the music of The Blue Nile. These were the two best albums of The Blue Nile’s career. Choosing which is the best album is like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite child. Just like they’d refuse to answer the question, I’m going to refuse to choose between not just two of my favorite albums, but two of the best albums released by a British band in the last forty years. Instead, I’ll leave you to decided. The best way to do this, is to buy copies of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, two of best albums by one of music’s best kept secrets.

THE BLUE NILE-HATS.

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ELVIS PRESLEY-THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.

ELVIS PRESLEY-THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.

By the time Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie was born on 1st February 1968, his career was at a crossroads. Over the last few years, Elvis had been trying to forge a career as a movie star. However, the movies were formulaic and according to critics, were the epitome of poor taste. The films may have been popular and profitable earlier in Elvis’ career. Not any more.

Clambake was released in October 1967. Just like every film Elvis appeared in, a soundtrack album accompanied Clambake’s release. The Clambake soundtrack proved to be the lowest selling Elvis album. For Elvis, this reinforced what he already knew. Music fan’s opinion of him had changed. 

Previously, Elvis had been the King of Rock ’N’ Roll. Now, The King had lost his crown. Worse still, people weren’t taking Elvis seriously. They were laughing at him as he appeared in the third rate movies. Even some of Elvis’ most faithful fans were turning their back on The King. Something had to give.

When Speedway stalled at number eighty-two in the US Billboard 200 chart. The singles he released didn’t fare any better. His most successful single reached just number in the US Billboard 100 chart. Elvis knew he had to change direction.

So, Elvis decided it was time to make a comeback on television. It had been eight years since Elvis last appeared on American television. That was on Frank Sinatra’s Timex Show in 1960. A lot had happened since then. Not all of it good. He’d lost his crown. Elvis way of regaining his crown was by a Christmas special. 

Recording of what NBC billed as Elvis, took place in June 1968. This was Elvis’ first live appearance since 1961. So, Elvis and his band took time to hone their sound. The last thing Elvis wanted was his comeback being a flop. After all, his future career was on the line. Having honed his tight, talented band, Elvis took to the stage in late June. Wearing his trademark black leather suit with the upturned collar, a nervous Elvis produced a barnstorming performance. By the time Elvis left the building, The King had regained his crown. 

Elvis comeback was complete on Christmas day 1968. An estimated forty-two percent of Americans watched Elvis’ comeback. Then in January 1969, If I Could Dream was released as a single. It reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100. The soundtrack album to Elvis’ comeback reached the top ten in the US Billboard 200. At last, Elvis was back.

His comeback continued in June 1969, when Elvis released his first non-soundtrack album since 1961, From Elvis In Memphis. It was recorded at American Sound Studios. This proved to one of Elvis’ best, and most fruitful sessions in years. Not only did the American Sound Studios’ sessions spawn From Elvis In Memphis, but a trio of other singles.

On From Elvis In Memphis, Elvis rolls back the years. His performance was peerless. This was vintage Elvis. More importantly, Elvis became relevant again. He moved between country, soul, pop and rock. From Elvis In Memphis also spawned the single In The Ghetto, which reached number three in the US Billboard 100 chart. In The Ghetto wasn’t the only single recorded during the the American Sound Studios’ sessions. So were the classic Suspicious Minds, Kentucky Rain and Don’t Cry Daddy. The release of these three singles and From Elvis In Memphis, further reinforced the fact, The King was back.

After the release of From Elvis In Memphis, promoters worldwide were trying to book Elvis. Some offers were turned down, including the chance to play a week at the London Palladium. However, Elvis chose to play fifty-seven nights at the International Hotel, Las Vegas. 

On his first night, on 31st July 1969, Elvis took to the stage in front of a star-studded audiences. Elvis soon won over his audience and for the next two months, won friends and influenced people in Las Vegas. Later in 1969, Elvis released a trio of albums.

As 1969 drew to a close, three Elvis albums were released. Change Of Habit was released in November 1969. So were two other albums. The first was Elvis In Person At The International Hotel. Then From Memphis To Vegas/ From Vegas To Memphis was released. It featured tracks from the American Sound Studios’ sessions. For Elvis fans Christmas had come early. As for Elvis, his comeback continued. This would be the case in 1970.

During 1970, what was a golden period in Elvis’ career continued. He released one of his finest albums in 1970, That’s The Way It Is. That’s The Way It Is also lent its name to a documentary film by Denis Sanders, the Academy Award winning producer. That’s The Way It Is was a tantalising glimpse of Elvis during what was a five year golden period. During that period, between 1968 and 1973, Elvis could do now wrong. He was at the peak if powers. That’s what makes  That’s The Way It Is such a compelling and welcome rerelease.

Disc One.

That’s The Way It Is has recently been rereleased as RCA Legacy. This is no ordinary release though. RCA Legacy’s rereleased version of  That’s The Way It Is, is a double album. On disc one, there’s the original version of  That’s The Way It Is. There’s also the four singles I’ve Lost You, The Next Step, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Patch It Up. There’s also outtakes of How the Web Was Woven, I’ve Lost You, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Patch It Up and Bridge over Troubled Water. That’s just disc one of That’s The Way It Is.

The original version of That’s The Way It Is featured just twelve tracks. They’re a mixture of cover versions and future classics.Each and every one, Elvis tried to make his own. Aiding and abetting him were backing vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials, Joe Guercio and His Orchestra and Elvis’ band.

By 1970, Elvis band featured a rhythm section of drummer Ronny Tutt, bassist Jerry Scheff and guitarists James Burton, John Wilkinson and Charles Hodge, who also added vocals. They were joined by Glen D. Hardin on piano and Millie Kirkham on vocals. Add to this backing vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials and Joe Guercio and His Orchestra. Surely Elvis couldn’t fail?

He couldn’t. When That’s The Way It Is was released in November 1970, it, reached number twenty-one on the US Billboard 200 charts and number eight in the US Country charts. The singles released from That’s The Way It Is all charted. I’ve Lost You was released in July 1970, reaching number thirty-two on the US Billboard 100 charts and number fifty-seven in the US Country charts. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me was released in October 1970. It reached number eleven on the US Billboard 200 charts and number fifty-eight in the US Country charts. For Elvis, That’s The Way It Is ensured his comeback continued apace. No wonder. That’s The Way It Is oozes quality.

That’s the case rom the opening bars of I Just Can’t Help Believin’, which opens That’s The Way It Is. Elvis rolls back the year. He’s accompanied by cooing harmonies from The Sweet Inspirations and rasping horns. His vocal is tender and needy, before becoming a vamp as Elvis the showman steps forward. This ensures Elvis has your attention. He doesn’t let go.

This starts with the ballad Twenty Days and Twenty Nights. It features a despairing Elvis. His vocal is rueful and full of regret. Adding the finishing touch are ethereal harmonies courtesy of The Sweet Inspirations. How the Web Was Woven is another ballad. Elvis delivers a truly heartfelt vocal. It has you spellbound. You listen intently, as he breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Elvis it seems is best when he dawns the role of balladeer. However, there’s another side to Elvis on That’s The Way It Is.

After two ballads, Elvis and his band kick loose on Patch It Up. Cascading harmonies from The Sweet Inspirations are the perfect foil for a needy Elvis. Patch It Up proves to be the exception rather than the rule. After this, Elvis the balladeer returns. 

For the next five tracks, Elvis is back doing what he seemed to do best in 1970, delivers ballads. He begins with a heartfelt, country-tinged version of Mary In The Morning. The ballads continue on You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. It’s without doubt, one of the highlights of That’s The Way It Is, as a heartbroken Elvis lays bare his soul. Elvis then covers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann’s You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. Although it’s an oft-covered track, Elvis makes it his own. He combines power, emotion and hurt. This continue on I’ve Lost You. A despairing, haunted Elvis combines power, hurt and sadness. Despite this, there’s a soulful quality to Elvis’ vocal. Just Pretend is the last of the five ballads. It features an understated arrangement. This allows Elvis’ vocal to take centre-stage. That’s where a vocal of this quality belongs. Following five ballads, Elvis changes tack on Stranger in the Crowd.

Stranger in the Crowd is a reminder of Elvis roots. It’s a reminder of a much younger Elvis. However, the song has a seventies sound. Swathes of strings, cooing harmonies and country-tinged guitars accompany Elvis as he delivers an impassioned, soulful vocal. The soulfulness continues on The Next Step Is Love. Elvis’ vocal is soulful and wistful as he delivers lyrics that have a cinematic quality. Just like so many times before lyrics come to life as Elvis delivers them. No more so than on Elvis’ cover of Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s a truly beautiful take on a classic song. It takes on a spiritual quality in Elvis’ hands. Given Elvis’ gospel roots, this proves a fitting way to close That’s The Way It Is. However, that’s not the end of the Legacy Edition of That’s The Way It Is.

Disc Two.

On disc two, this veritable musical feast continues. There’s seventeen tracks recorded during a dinner concert that took place on 12th August 1970. Elvis is in fine form as he works his way through a string of classics. He starts the show with storming country tinged take of That’s All Right. There’s not let up during I Got a Woman. Elvis produces a barnstorming performance. He then turns back the clock and works his way through three stone wall classics Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel and a tender, heartfelt and soulful version of Love Me Tender. Following a trio of stonewall classics, Elvis returns to the present day.

I’ve Lost You was Elvis’ latest single. It’s a slow burner. His despairing vocal is accompanied by a lone piano before the arrangement unfolds. Against a string drenched backdrop Elvis rolls back the year. Adding a soulful backdrop are The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials. The quality continues with a spellbinding version of I Just Can’t Help Believin.’ Strings, horns and harmonies accompany Elvis as he toys with the audience. They’re enthralled. This is still the case as Elvis storms his way Patch It Up. He sings call and response with The Sweet Inspirations. They’re the perfect foil for Elvis. After that, Elvis decides to drop the tempo.

Elvis the balladeer makes an appearance on Twenty Days and Twenty Nights. His vocal is tender, wistful and full of hurt. Then on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’ Elvis transforms the song into a gospel tinged ballad. This is no ordinary ballad. It’s one that oozes emotion and drama. The drama continues on Polk Salad Annie.

On Polk Salad Annie, Elvis swaggers his way through the lyrics. His band fuse blues, funk and R&B as Elvis indulges in a vamp. He then introduces his band. After that, a good natured Elvis storms his way through Blue Suede Shoes. It’s vintage Elvis.

Elvis and his band roll then continue to roll back the years on You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Elvis is back to his best. It’s a long way from the formulaic movies of a few years earlier. His vocal is needy and hopeful as he makes You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me his own. He then reinvents Bridge Over Troubled Water. In Elvis’ hands, it becomes a tender, heartfelt ballad. Accompanying him are a piano, lush strings and horns. Adding the finishing touch are The Sweet Inspirations’ harmonies. For many singers, they’d have bid the audience goodnight. Not Elvis. 

He showcases one of his most recent singles, Suspicious Minds. This tops everything that’s gone before. Aided and abetted by The Sweet Inspirations and his band he delivers a barnstorming version of Suspicious Minds. It’s vintage Elvis. He’s not done yet. 

Closing the show is Can’t Help Falling in Love. Elvis the balladeer is back. The Sweet Inspirations and his band drive Elvis to greater heights. Only after this grandstanding finale, does Elvis leave the building.

Sadly, less than seven years after the release of That’s The Way It Is, Elvis Presley died on 16th August 1977. He was just forty-two. Over the past four years, Elvis’ health had deteriorated. By 1977, Elvis weight had soared. He’d taken to grazing on junk food. Sadly, Elvis was a pale shadow of his former self. So much so, that for the last four years, Elvis wasn’t spending as much time in the recording studio.

For RCA Victor, this was worrying. Elvis had always been a prolific artist, who would release several albums a year. The well was running dry. They needed more music. After some cajoling, Elvis would enter the studio. He’d record some new music and be gone. No one could’ve forecast that this would happen.

Especially between 1968 and 1973. That was the final golden period of Elvis’ career. It began in 1968 when he was thirty-three. By 1973, Elvis was thirty-eight and to all intents and purposes, we’d heard the best from him. 1973s Elvis At Stax and 1974s Elvis Recorded Live On Stage On Memphis marked the end of an era. Sadly, after that, The King lost his crown. He never reached the same heights. There would be occasional glimpses of genius. Sadly, they became fewer and fewer. That’s what makes That’s The Way It Is such a poignant musical document.

That’s The Way It Is features Elvis at the peak of his powers. He was back to his best. It was as if Elvis had awoken from a slumber. That was what the seven years he’d spent acting in third rate movies was equivalent to. It was the ruination of Elvis. By 1967, his popularity had slumped. The only way was up.

Elvis comeback began in 1968. Two years later, Elvis was back to his very best. The two discs on the Legacy Edition of That’s The Way It Is are proof of this. We hear different sides to Elvis. Sometimes he produces barnstorming performances. Other times he becomes a balladeer. Both sides of Elvis feature a performer reborn. However, Elvis the balladeer is Elvis at his very best. He breathes life, meaning and emotion into a string of ballads. He has the audience in the palm of his hand. They’re spellbound by Elvis, the comeback King. Elvis had regained his crown and looked like it would be his for a long time. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

On the 16th August 1977 Elvis Presley died, aged just forty-two. He’d only recorded That’s The Way It Is in 1970. However, it seemed a lifetime ago. Elvis had left the building for the last time. Elvis left behind a huge musical legacy. Some of the best music Elvis recorded was during the golden period between 1968 and 1973. This includes That’s The Way It Is, which features Elvis Presley, the comeback King at his very best.

ELVIS PRESLEY-THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.

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NO MORE DOGGIN’ THE RPM STORY VOLUME 1 1950-53.

NO MORE DOGGIN’ THE RPM STORY VOLUME 1 1950-53.

Jules Bihari, a Hollywood based musical entrepreneur, founded Modern Music with his brothers Saul, Joe and Lester in 1944. Little did anyone realise, that within a few years the nascent Modern Music would become one of the most successful independent labels. Modern Music made its name releasing R&B. Its first hit single came in 1945, after Jules Bihari booked some studio time.

This studio time was to record Hadda Brookes, who Modern Music billed as the Queen Of The Boogie. Hadda provided Modern Music with their first commercially successful single, Swinging The Boogie. Released in 1945, this paved the way for the commercial success that followed. Three years later, in 1948, Modern Music changed its name to Modern Records. By then, Modern Records had a problem.

Modern Records were releasing so many singles that it was becoming difficult to get all their records played on radio. Radio stations were wary of playing too many records by the same label. They were scared they’d be accused of accepting payola. For labels like Modern Records, this presented a problem. So they had to work out a way round the problem.

Their way of doing this, was to setup a subsidiary company. Often this subsidiary company only released one type of music, like blues or R&B. Modern Records’ first subsidiary company was Colonial. It was founded in 1948. A year later, Modern Records founded their second imprint RPM Records.

Founded in 1949, RPM Records would release its first releases in 1950. Part of RPM Records’ success, was a talent scout called Sam Phillips. He brought RPM Records blues legends B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Sam also brought Rosco Gordon. He was part of RPM Records until 1952, when he fell out with the Biharis. After that, Sam Phillips founded his own label Sun Records. However, in 1950, RPM Records was just about to release its first singles.

RPM Records’ first releases included Austin McCoy’s cover of Jack Holmes Happy Payday. An alternate version of Happy Day features on Ace Records recent compilation No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53. 

The best way to describe No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 is lovingly compiled. It’s a double album that features fifty-six tracks. There’s contributions from blues legends like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Rosco Gordon and Memphis Eddie.  Luke Jones, Gene Phillips, The Nic Nacs, Mickey Champion, Alexander Moore and Jimmy Nelson also make an appearance. Of the fifty-two tracks on More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53, seventeen have never been released before. They’re mostly alternate takes. Sometimes, they allow you to hear a new take on a familiar track. For anyone with a passing interest in blues music, No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 will be essential listening. I’ll now tell you why.

Disc One.

Disc One of No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 features a total of twenty-six tracks. Sixteen have been released before. They were released between 1950 and 1982. The other ten tracks have never been released before. 

Two of the unreleased tracks were recorded before RPM Records was even a twinkle in Jules Bihari’s eye. Gene Phillips and His Rhythm Aces recorded Big Fat Mama in 1947 and Luke Jones and Orchestra’s Luke Jones recorded Mama Oh Mama in 1949. Of the other unreleased tracks, when the recording took place isn’t known. This include B.B. King’s The Other Night Blues, Rosco Gordon’s Rosco’s Boogie, Alexander Moore’s If I Lose You Woman, Willie Nix’s Try Me One More Time and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Bad Luck And Trouble. These unreleased tracks are a snapshot of some of the biggest names in blues music as their career unfolded. The same can be said of the other unreleased tracks.

Among the alternate are Austin McCoy’s Nappy Payday Pt 1 and Memphis Eddie’s Good Time Woman. They were two of the earliest  singles released on RPM Records. Both singles were recorded in musician Ted Brinson’s home studio and released in 1950. So was Clyde Hurley’s Alabamy Bound, which featured Adele Francis’ vocal. These three tracks helped launch RPM Records in 1950. 

By 1951, RPM Records’ roster was expanding. Junior Blues released Whiskey Head Woman. Two blues legends signed to RPM Records, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf. B.B. King released She’s Dynamite and 3 O’Clock Blues. Howlin’ Wolf released Ridin’ In The Moonlight. It’s one of the highlights of No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53. Before long, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf would become two of RPM Records biggest names. So would Rosco Gordon. He released Saddled The Cow (And Milked The Horse). Other singles released during 1951, included Jimmy Nelson’s Fine Little Honey Dripper, Mumbles’ Black Gal. As 1951 drew to a close RPM Records was forging a reputation as one of the most successful blues labels.

This continued into 1952. During 1952, pianist Rosco Gordon released Booted, one of the biggest singles of his career. Not long after this, Lightnin’ Hopkins joined RPM Records and released Jake Head Boogie. This was his only released for RPM Records. It was a tantalising taste of a blues legend as his career began. Not to be outdone, another blues legend, Howlin’ Wolf released I Want Your Picture. Now RPM Records had a trio of blues legends on their roster. The future looked bright for Jules Bihari’s label.

This was the case. RPM Records had B.B. King, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf on their roster. They also had Gene Phillips, The Nic Nac, Mickey Champion and Jimmy Nelson. It looked as if RPM Records would be capable of rivalling the bigger, more established labels. Jules Bihari’s label had come a long way in three years.

Disc Two.

On disc two of No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story picks up where disc one left off, in 1952. Of the twenty-six tracks on disc two, nineteen were released between 1952 and 1975. The other seven tracks have never been released before. They make their debut on disc two No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story, which begins in 1952.

Rosco Gordon’s most famous song No More Doggin’ opens disc. It also lends its name to the compilation. That’s fitting. After all, No More Doggin’ was one of RPM Records’ biggest hits of 1952. 1952 proved to an important year for RPM Records.

1952 was the year Sam Phillips and the Bihari brothers parted company. This came about when rather than send B.B. King’s 3 O Clock Blues to the Biharis, who would possibly send it to Chess Records, Sam send the record directly to Chess Records. The Biharis were infuriated. They saw this as them being cut out of the deal.

Previously, Sam had been a talent scout for RPM Records. He brought the Biharis artists and then, sometimes, the Biharis took them to a bigger label. As if the problem with B.B. King’s 3 O Clock Blues wasn’t bad enough, Sam made things worse when he sent copies of Howlin’ Wolf and Roscoe Gordon masters to Modern Records and Chess Records. Things then came to a head.

Sam Phillips parted company with the Biharis. He formed his own record company Sun Records. Given Sam and the Biharis had an agreement, some of RPM Records’ assets were divided up. Howlin’ Wolf signed to Chess Records and Roscoe Gordon stayed at RPM Records. This meant RPM Records had lost not just its talent scout, but one its top artists. It wouldn’t be long before RPM Records had a new talent scout, Ike Turner.

Before that, the RPM Records success story continued apace during 1952. Lightnin’ Hopkins, now one of two future blues legends left at RPM Records, released Last Affair. The roster would would soon begin to change, when Ike Turner signed to RPM Records. 

Ike Turner signed as a talent scout and artist. His first release was Trouble And Heartaches, which was credited to Ike Turner with The Ben Burton and His Orchestra.  He followed this up with Bonnie and Ike Turner’s My Heart Belongs To You. One of Ike’s first signings was Sunny Blair, who released Glad To Be Back Home in 1952. An alternate take of Glad To Be Back Home features on No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story. Houston Boines was another artist mentored by Ike Turner. Superintendent Blues was released as a single in 1952. Sadly, this was Houston Boines’ only single. Mind you, what a single it is. However, and Houston Boines weren’t the only new names on the RPM Records roster.

As 1952, progressed, a number of new names signed to RPM Records. Jules Bihari was determined to continue the commercial success they’d previously enjoyed. Losing Sam Phillips was a massive blow though. As musical history proved, Sam Phillips could spot a star in the making. However, Sam Phillips was the past. So, Jules Bihari had to start again. 

With Ike Turner’s help RPM Records continued to rebuild. Jay Frank recorded Stripped Gears in April 1952. It was released later in 1952. So was Jimmy Huff’s She’s My Baby. This was one of two singles Jimmy released on RPM Records. Another single released on RPM Records was Little Eddie Kirkland’s It’s Time For Lovin.’ This was the debut single for was John Lee Hooker’s second guitarist. John Lee Hooker adds backing vocals on It’s Time For Lovin.’ This makes the single something of a collector’s item. Gene Forrest and His Orchestra entered the studio in August of 1952. They recorded two tracks. One of them was Aching and Crying. Sadly, despite its quality it failed to chart. For everyone concerned, including Jules Bihari this proved a disappointing end to 1952.

As 1953 began, of RPM Records three blues legends, only only Lightnin’ Hopkins was left. Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King had moved on. Lightnin’ Hopkins was now RPM Records’ biggest draw. When he released Another Fool In Town in 1953, it didn’t disappoint. It showcases Lightnin’ Hopkins at his very best. Another Fool was one of the finest releases on RPM Records during 1953. Another was Rosco Gordon’s We’re All Loaded. Written by Joe Josea, it further reinforced Rosco’s position as one of RPM Records’ biggest names. However, there was still a void left by the loss of Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King. It needed filled.

Back in 1951 Jimmy Nelson had signed to RPM Records. He’d previously enjoyed a number one single T-99 Blues. So, when RPM Records got the chance to sign Jimmy, they didn’t hesitate. In 1953, Jimmy Nelson released two singles. The first was the swinging Sweetest Little Girl. It was followed up by the sultry Meet Me With Your Black Dress On. Neither single was a hit. Both tracks are a reminder of one of the most underrated blues musicians on RPM Records. However, Jimmy wasn’t the only artist who RPM Records acquired via a buy-in.

Jimmy Huff was another artist whose contract RPM Records bought. Don’t You Know was the followup to 1952s She’s My Baby. Just like She’s My Baby, Don’t You Know failed to trouble the charts. It’s without doubt the best of the two singles Jimmy released on RPM Records. Sadly, other singles released during 1953 failed to enjoy the success earlier releases on RPM Records enjoyed.

This includes King Perry and His Orchestra released Vaccinate Me Baby and Welcome Home Baby in 1953. Both feature vocals from Dell St. John. Again, despite being quality cuts, neither sold well. That’s despite drawing comparisons with Louis Jordan. These tracks are true hidden gems. They deserved to fare better. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Melvin Daniels fared no better with I’ll Be There. He gives his all as he vamps and scats his way through the track. That’s not the end of No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53, though. There’s the unreleased tracks.

Just like all of Rosco Gordon’s cuts on No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53, Just In From Texas oozes quality. The version included on No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 in an alternate take. It wasn’t released until 1975. It’s the perfect showcase for the legendary blues pianist. Another blues legend features among the other unreleased tracks.

Other unreleased tracks on No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 include a trio from B.B. King, Shake It Up And Go, Woke Up This Morning and Please Love Me. Other unreleased tracks include Rosco Gordon’s New Orleans Wimmen, Frankie Irvin’s False Love and Jimmy Nelson’s Cry Hard Luck. These six tracks are far too good to be hidden in the vaults of a record company. They deserve a wider audience.

Featuring fifty-two tracks spread over two discs, No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 documents the first three years of when RPM Records were in business. During that three year period, RPM Records released some of the best blues and R&B music of that era. Despite its undoubtable quality, many of the singles released by RPM Records weren’t a commercial success. Some were only successful with California, which was home to RPM Records. Other singles never came close to even troubling the regional tracks. However, RPM Records enjoyed more than its fair share of success.

Blues legends like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Rosco Gordon made their debut on RPM Records. They were discovered by Sam Phillips, who was a talent scout for RPM Records. In many ways, he was the man behind the throne. He discovered and produced these artists. When he left, this left a huge void to be filled. Ike Turner tried to fill this void.

Sadly, Ike never quite succeeded in filling that void. Sam Phillips set the bar high. He’d discovered four blues legends. How could he compete with that? Ike did discover a number of talented artists. Sadly, they didn’t enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim that the artists Sam Phillips discovered. All of the artists Ike discovered were talented, but for whatever reason, never found the commercial success their talent deserved. That was the case with a number of artists who were signed to RPM Records. No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 is a reminder of these artists and their undoubted talent.

The music RPM Records released between 1950 and 1953m is part of the label’s rich musical legacy. A tantalising taste of this rich musical legacy can be heard on Ace Records recent compilation No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53. Hit singles and hidden gems sit side-by-side on No More Doggin’-The RPM Records Story Volume 1 1950-53 which is a veritable music treasure trove.

NO MORE DOGGIN’ THE RPM STORY VOLUME 1 1950-53.

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A BLUES TRIBUTE TO CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL.

A BLUES TRIBUTE TO CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL.

The latest instalment in Cleopatra Records’ Tribute To series is A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival. This is third instalment in the series released during 2014. The first instalment was A Psych Tribute To The Doors, which was released in March 2014. 

A Psych Tribute To The Doors featured bands like Elephant Stone, The Black Angels, Sons of Hippies, Dead Skeletons, VietNam and Geri X. A total of twelve bands covered Doors classics and hidden gems. Released to critical acclaim, A Psych Tribute To The Doors was a welcome release in an ever crowded compilation market. So much so, that A Psych Tribute To The Doors is, without doubt, one of my favourite compilations of 2014. I awaited the next instalment in the series eagerly. 

Thankfully, I didn’t have t wait long. Midnight Rider-A Tribute To The Allman Brothers was released to critical acclaim in June 2014. Again, it featured twelve tracks from The Allman Brothers’ illustrious back-catalogue. They were covered by a mixture well known and new names. This includes Pat Travers, Leon Russell, Molly Hatchett, The Artimus Pyle Band, Steve Morse, Tinsley Ellis, Eric Gales and Eli Cook. Just like its predecessor, A Psych Tribute To The Doors, was one of the best tribute album money can buy. Having released two critically acclaimed compilations, Cleopatra Records return with A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival. Will A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival feature the same quality of music?

Just like the two previous volumes in the Cleopatra Records’ “Tribute To” series, A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival features twelve tracks from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s back-catalogue. They’re given a bluesy makeover by Mike Zito and Sonny Landreth, The Mynabirds, Blitzen Trapper, Spirit Family Reunion, Dead Man Winter, South Memphis Stiung Band and Trampled Under Foot. They cover twelve singles released between 1968 and 1972.

During this period, Creedence Clearwater Revival released seven albums. Quite simply, Creedence Clearwater Revival could do no wrong. Of the seven albums they released between Creedence Clearwater Revival in June 1968 and Mardi Gras in April 1972, commercial success was ever-present. Their least successful album was their 1972 swan-song Mardi Gras. It was certified gold. Previously, every album reedence Clearwater Revival turned to platinum. That’s why Creedence Clearwater Revival were one of the biggest selling bands of the late-sixties and early-seventies.

In America alone, Creedence Clearwater Revival sold over 13.5 million albums and two of their albums reached number one in the US Billboard 200 charts. John Fogerty’s unique brand of blues, psychedelia, Southern Rock and swamp rock won friends and influenced people. Forty-two years later, Creedence Clearwater Revival are still remembered as one of the best bands of the late-sixties and early-seventies. That’s why many modern bands have been influenced by Creedence Clearwater Revival and want to pay homage to them. Twelve of these bands pay homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival on A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Opening A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival is Mike Zito andSonny Landreth’s cover of the protest song Fortunate Son. It reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 100. Fortunate Son is a track from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s third album Willy and the Poor Boys. Released in November 1969, it reached number three in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-eight in the US R&B charts. This resulted in Willy and the Poor Boys being certified double platinum. It’s given a makeover by Mike Zito and and Sonny Landreth. In their hands, Fortunate Son is transformed into a blistering, stomping fusion of blues and rock. 

The Mynabirds chose to cover Bad Moon Rising, which reached number two in the US Billboard charts in 1969. Bad Moon Rising was taken from Green River, which was released in August 1969. Green River reached number one in the US Billboard and number twenty-six in the US R&B charts. This resulted in Green River being certified triple-platinum. Here, The Mynabirds reinvent a stonewall classic, combining psychedelia and power pop. The result is a trippy take on a classic.

Another of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classics is Proud Mary, which Blitzen Trapper cover. Back in 1969, it reached number in the US and number eight in the UK. It’s a track from Bayou Country, which was released in January 1969. Bayou Country reached number seven in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-one in the US R&B charts. This resulted in Bayou  County being certified double-platinum. One of the standout tracks was Proud Mary. Blitzen Trapper give it a slow, moody, bluesy makeover Blitzen Trapper. So good is this cover, that you’ll be dipping into  Blitzen Trapper’s back-catalogue.

Down On The Corner is given a makeover by Spirit Family Reunion. It was released on 1969 and reached number three in the US Billboard 100 charts. It’s another track from Willy and the Poor Boys, which was released in November 1969. They’ve released four albums on their own label since 2014. Their cover of Down On The Corner a fusion of blues, country and rock. Just like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Spirit Family Reunion have a charismatic lead singer with an unmistakable voice. He plays his part in one of the highlights of A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Originally, Have You Seen The Rain was released as a single by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970, reaching number eight in the US Billboard 100. It featured on Pendulum, which was released in December 1970 and reached number five in the US Billboard 200 charts. Dead Man Winter cover Have You Seen The Rain. They’ve only released one album, Bright Lights in 2011. It was written by lead vocalist Dave Simonette. He delivers a tender, wistful vocal on Have You Seen The Rain, resulting in a truly beautiful track.

Leroux chose to cover Looking Out My Back Door, which Creedence Clearwater Revival released as a single in 1970. Back then, it reached number two in the US Billboard 100. It’s a track from Cosmo’s Factory,  which was released in July 1970. It reached number one in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B charts. This proved Creedence Clearwater Revival’s most successful album, when it was certified four-times platinum. Leroux’s cover of Looking Out My Back Door has a seventies sound, as effortlessly, they mix blues, country and rock. 

Duke Robillard is a veteran bluesman whose released over fifteen albums since 1986s Swing. So, who better to give Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Who’ll Stop The Rain a bluesy makeover? Who’ll Stop The Rain reached number two in the US Billboard 100 charts in 1970. It’s another track from Cosmo’s Factory which was released in July 1970. Here, Duke Robillard combines heartache and melancholy in this quite beautiful take on Who’ll Stop The Rain.

Creedence Clearwater Revival enjoyed a number one single with Up Around The Bend in 1970. It’s another track from Cosmo’s Factory. On A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival, South Memphis String Band cover Up Around The Bend. They’ve only released two albums 2009s Home Sweet Home and 2012s “Old Times There…” Here, they unleash a storming, pounding cover of Up Around The Bend, as the South Memphis String Band showcase their considerable talents.

Will WIlde covers Suzie Q, is another Creedence Clearwater Revival classic. It was released as a single from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1968 eponymous debut album. Suzie Q reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100 chart and was certified gold in 1968. Creedence Clearwater Revival then reached number fifty-two in the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. Covering a classic track isn’t easy. Not unless you’re Will Wilde. He delivers a virtuoso performance. Quite simply, it’s a blues masterclass. So good is it, that it leaves you wanting to hear more from the British harmonica player.

Bnois King and Smokin’ Joe Kubek combine to cover Run Through The Jungle. It was released as a single in 1970 and reached number four in the US Billboard 100 charts. Run Through The Jungle is another track from the 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory. This was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s finest hour. Here, Bnois and Joe pay homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival. They strut their way through a blues-rock cover of Run Through The Jungle.

Green River was released as a single by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969. It reached number two and was certified gold. It’s a the title-track from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s third album. Released in August 1969, it gave Creedence Clearwater Revival their first number one album. This resulted in Green River being certified triple platinum. Written by John Fogerty, Green River was one of the album’s highlights. Kirk Fletcher decides to reinvent Green River. His vocal is charismatic and powerful. He breathes life and meaning into the lyrics as his tight, talented band combine  delicious fusion blues and rock. 

A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival closes with Trampled Under Foot’s cover of Born On The Bayou. It’s a hidden gem in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s discography. This was the title-track to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s sophomore album. It was released as a single in 1969, but  failed to chart. Forty-five years later it’s given a makeover by Trampled Under Foot. Danielle Schnebelen delivers a bluesy, sassy take vocal. She literally struts her way through the track, bringing back memories of Janis Joplin. What better way to close A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival than with Trampled Under Foot.

The twelve bands on A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival seem determined to pay homage to one of the most successful bands of the late-sixties and early-seventies. Commercial success was ever-present during Creedence Clearwater Revival’s four year and seven album career. 

During this four year period, 1972s Mardi Gras was certified gold, 1969s Creedence Clearwater Revival and 1970s Pendelum were certified platinum, 1969s Bayou Country and Willy and the Poor Boys were certified double-platinum and 1969s Green River was certified triple-platinum. 1970s Cosmo’s Factory was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s most successful album. It was certified four-times platinum. In total, Creedence Clearwater Revival sold over 13.5 million albums between 1968 and 1972. Then there’s the five gold and five platinum discs Creedence Clearwater Revival received for the singles they sold. Despite the commercial success Creedence Clearwater Revival’s importance is understated.

Critics often compare Creedence Clearwater Revival unfavourably to groups like The Doors, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and  The Kinks. Creedence Clearwater Revival are perceived as a band who played  straight-ahead rock and roll. That’s unfair and inaccurate. There’s much more to Creedence Clearwater Revival than that. 

Listen carefully and a melting pot of influences unfold on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s seven albums. Everything from blues, psychedelia, Southern Rock and swamp rock shine through. So, it’s no surprise that Creedence Clearwater Revival sold over twenty-million singles and albums between 1968 and 1972. During that period, Creedence Clearwater Revival won friends and influenced people. They continue to do this. 

That’s why another generation of musicians were happy to cover Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music on A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival. Each of the twelve tracks are reinterpreted. Some of them are reinvented. Musical genres melt into one. Americana, blues, country, power pop, psychedelia and rock are combines. Sometimes, tracks head in a  new direction and become something new and innovative. That’s quite fitting, because Creedence Clearwater Revival were a groundbreaking group. They seamlessly combined musical genres and influences on the seven albums they released between 1968 and 1972. Fittingly, a new generation of musicians pay homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival on A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their music oozes quality and is a must have for music fans.

A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival, which will be released on 25th August 2014, is the latest instalment in Cleopatra Records’ “Tribute To” compilation series. Creedence Clearwater Revival are the perfect addition to the “Tribute To.” They’re music is often overlooked and underrated. That should’t be the case. After all, Creedence Clearwater Revival were one of the most talented groups of a generation. They enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. Sadly, their place in musical history is often forgotten. Not any more. Maybe when a new generation of music lovers hear A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival, this will lead to a revival in interest in the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

A BLUES TRIBUTE TO CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL.

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HENRY GROSS-RELEASE/SHOW ME TO THE STAGE.

HENRY GROSS-RELEASE/SHOW ME TO THE STAGE.

In 1969, Henry Gross was the youngest person to perform at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. Henry was just eighteen when he took to the stage with Sha Na Na. However, Henry Gross, whose albums Release and Show Me To The Stage were recently rereleased by Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records, was no newcomer to music.

Henry Gross was born on 1st April 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother was a music lover who encouraged Henry’s nascent career. By the time Henry was thirteen, he played at the World’s Fair with his first band. Then by the time Henry was fourteen, Henry was a familiar face in the clubs of New York. This was a tough musical apprenticeship.

One of the clubs Henry’s band played was owned by a major New York gangster. He encouraged Henry to pursue his musical career. Playing the tough, rough and ready clubs of New York meant Henry was ready for anything. However, when the summer came, Henry played to a very different audience.

When the school term ended, Henry headed to the Catskill Mountains where he played at the resort hotels. This was Henry Gross’ musical apprenticeship. 

By the time Henry graduated from high school in 1969, his music apprenticeship was complete. Henry headed to Brooklyn College, where he founded Sha Na Na. 

Sha Na Na were unique. Realising the importance of standing out from the crowd, Sha Na Na billed themselves as a group “from the streets of New York.” They wore leather jackets and gold lame. Their hair styles ranged from a pompadour to slicked back ducktails. Similarly unique were their shows. 

When Sha Na Na walked on stage they combined song and dance. Their music was a mixture of fifties rock ’n’ roll and doo wop. They simultaneously revived and sent up rock ’n’ roll. This proved a popular draw. Before long, Sha Na Na were opening for some of the biggest names in music. This included Dr. John, Grateful Dead, B.B. King, Canned Heat, Santana, Taj Mahal and The Kinks. That’s how highly Sha Na Na’s peers thought of them. For Sha Na Na, this was just the start of their rise and rise.

Later in 1969, Sha Na Na released their debut album Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay. Although it only reached number 183 in the US Billboard 200, word spread about Sha Na Na. This lead to Sha Na Na being asked to play at the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Fair.

The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair took place between 15th and 17th August 1969. It was advertised as “three days of peace and music.” For Sha Na Na this would launch their career. They played on the main stage. For a relatively new band, this was like hitting a home run in the World Series. However, Henry Gross didn’t see it like this.

Standing at the side of the stage, Henry watched some of the biggest names in music play. Then as Jimi Hendrix brought the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair to a close, Henry realised Sha Na Na wasn’t what he wanted to be doing. 

He thought about Sha Na Na. Here, were twelve men and women dressed as if they’d stepped out of the fifties. However, psychedelia was King. The fifties were another country. Musically, it was the past. The members of Sha Na Na were happy doing what they were doing. They were good guys Henry knew, but they weren’t taking things seriously. Henry was different. He wanted to make a living out of music. Furthermore, he was a talented singer and songwriter. So, in 1970, Henry Gross left Sha Na Na.

Having left Sha Ne Na in 1970, Henry Gross signed to ABC-Dunhill Records in 1971. While working on his eponymous debut album, Henry did some session work. One of the albums he played on was Jim Groce’s I Got A Name. It was released in 1973, and reached number two in the US Billboard 200. By then, Henry had left ABC-Dunhill Records.

Henry Gross.

Having recorded his debut album Henry Gross for ABC-Dunhill Records, it was released in 1972. Henry Gross was reasonably well received by critics. Tracks like My Sunshine and Loving You-Loving Me showcase what Henry was capable of. Some critics however, felt Henry Gross was a couple of tracks short of being a fine album. Prayer To All and You’ll Be Mine disappointed critics. Looking back, Henry Gross showed the potential that Henry had. Sadly, record buyers failed to spot that potential and  Henry Gross failed to chart. As a result, Henry was dropped by ABC-Dunhill Records. He wasn’t without a record contract long and signed to A&M in 1973.

Henry Gross.

ABC-Dunhill Records seemed to have been hasty getting rid of Henry. He wasn’t allowed to develop and mature as an artist. That takes time. Sometimes, an artist doesn’t hit his stride until his second or third album, which confusingly, was also entitled Henry Gross. It found favour amongst record critics.

On the release of Henry Gross in 1973, it was apparent that Henry was maturing as a singer and songwriter. Accompanied by a tight, talented band, Henry works his way through ten tracks. Without doubt, one of the highlights was Meet Me On The Corner. It gave Lindisfarne the biggest hit of their career. Apart from Meet Me On The Corner, Simone, The Ever Lovin’ Days and Lay Your Love Song Down showcased Henry Gross as he evolved as a singer and songwriter. So it’s no surprise that Henry Gross was released to widespread critical acclaim. Sadly, commercial success eluded Henry. 

Despite the undoubted quality of Henry Gross, the album failed to chart. For Henry, this must have proved frustrating. After all, singer-songwriters were in vogue. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were enjoying critical acclaim and commercial success. Soon, so would Henry Gross.

Plug Me Into Something.

For Henry, the commercial failure of his sophomore album was disappointing. However, it made him even more determined to succeed. So, he returned him and began work on his third album, Plug Me Into Something.

Plug Me Into Something proved to be a coming of age for Henry. On it release in 1975, Plug Me Into Something was hailed a career defining album for Henry Gross. With every release, Henry seemed to mature. What many people forgot, was that when Henry release his debut album, he was only twenty-one. When he released Plug Me Into Something, he was still only twenty-four. However, he’d grown as a singer, songwriter and storyteller. That was apparent on Plug Me Into Something.

When Plug Me Into Something was released in 1975, it reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 charts. Over at ABC-Dunhill Records, someone had some explaining to do. After all, it was obvious that they’d cut Henry loose too early in his career. Henry thought he was about to hit the most fruitful period of his career, starting with Release, which featured the biggest hit single of Henry’s career, Shannon. 

Release.

By the time Henry began work on his fourth album Release, which is one of the two albums to be rereleased on one CD by Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records, he was in-demand as a session guitarist. Henry had also left A&M Records. He decided to move to Terry Cashman and Tommy West’s Lifesong Records. 

Signing to Lifesong Records must have been a culture shock for Henry. He’d previously been signed to large labels like ABC-Dunhill Records and A&M Records. At Lifesong Records, the roster was smaller and meant each artist was treated as individual. They weren’t part of the corporate machine. Co-owners Terry Cashman and Tommy West would produce Release, Henry’s Lifesong Records’ debut.

For Release, Henry penned a total of ten tracks. This included a song he wrote about the death of Carl Wilson’s red setter dog, Shannon. To onlookers, this seemed a strange subject for a song. Little did anyone know the effect Shannon would have. However, before Shannon was released as a single, it had to be recorded.

Recording of Release took place at The Record Plant, New York. Between September and November 1975, the ten tracks were recorded by a band of talented musicians accompanied Henry. He played electric and acoustic guitars and backing vocals. The rhythm section included drummers Allan Schwartzberg and Steve Gadd, bassist Warren Nichols and guitarist Hugh McCracken and Bucky Pizzarelli who played a seven-string guitar. Phil Aalberg played electric piano, piano, celeste and synths, while Larry Packer played fiddle and mandolin. Percussion came courtesy of George Devens, Steve Gadd and Tommy West. Backing vocals were added by Tommy West, Terry Cashman, Marty Nelson, Tasha Thomas and Mike Corbett. A horn and string section adding the finishing touches to Release, which was released in 1976.

When critics heard Release, they were won over by Henry’s fourth album. Release received widespread critical acclaim. Henry’s blend of pop, soft rock and A&M pop went down well with critics. Dissenting voices were very much in the minority. So, everything looked good for the release of Release.

That proved to be the case. Shannon was released as a single. The song about Carl Wilson’s red setter gave Henry Gross a huge hit single. In America Shannon reached number six in the US Billboard 100, number one in Canada and number thirty-two in the UK. Eventually, Shannon was certified gold in America alone. The sophomore album Springtime Mama, then reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100. When Release was released in 1976, it reached number sixty-four in the US Billboard 200. However, there’s more to Release than two singles.

When people mention Release, they always mention the beautiful,  poignant and wistful ballad Shannon. It showcases the soulful side of Henry Gross. The keyboard driven introduction to Springtime Mama always reminds me of The Who. Then when Henry’s vocal enters, it’s the Beach Boys all the way. Partly, that’s down the the harmonies. It’s also a result of Henry’s vocal versatility. It runs through Release.

Juke Box Song explodes into life as Henry shows his rocky side. Driven along by blistering guitars, Henry and his band grab your attention. Henry seems determined to find his inner rocker. They become one during this explosive start to Release. Later, on Release, Henry returns to his rocky sound on Some Thing In Between. He and his band relish the opportunity to kick loose. Henry’s vocal is a mixture of power and sass. However, that’s just one side to Henry Gross. The variety keeps on coming.

Lincoln Road sees Henry throw a curveball. It has a laid- back reggae hue. That’s down to Hugh McCracken’s reggae tinged guitar playing. Then there’s Henry Gross balladeer.

On Overton Square Henry delivers a tender, heartfelt ballad. There’s a nod to David Gates on this beautiful paean. On One Last Time, Henry’s at his best. It’s a mid tempo ballad, featuring a needy, hopeful vocal full of longing. Someday is another understated ballad. Henry’s band provide a slow, beautiful backdrop. It allows his vocal to shine as he delivers a seductive vocal.

Moonshine Alley has Celtic and country influence. The understated arrangement sets the scene for a compelling vocal from Henry.

Pokey closes Release. It’s country rock. He’s accompanied by a rocky arrangement. It features a slide guitar and piano. They’re at the heart of the song’s success. So is Henry’s charismatic vocal. It ensures he finishes release on a high.

As I said earlier, there’s much more to Release, than the two singles Shannon and Springtime Mama. Throughout Release, Henry Gross keeps you on your toes. He’s a musical chameleon. Unlike many artists, Henry is capable of  seamlessly changing style. One minute he’s discovering his inner rocker, the next he becomes the seducer in chief. Then on Lincoln Road Henry turns his hand to reggae. Variety Henry Gross believed was the spice of life. This eclecticism works.

Quite simply, Release oozes quality. There’s no padding on Release, just quality music. That’s why Release was Henry’s most successful album. Obviously, Release was helped by the million-selling single Shannon. However, Henry Gross’ career had been building up to Release. Release saw critical acclaim and commercial success come Henry Gross’ way. It should’ve been the start of the most successful period of his career.

Show Me To The Stage.

After the commercial success and critical acclaim of Release, Henry started work on his fifth album. He wrote ten tracks. They became Show Me To The Stage. It was recorded at The Record Plant, New York.

Recording took place between October 1976 and Jaunary 1977, at The Record Plant. Some of the musicians who played on Release returned for Show Me To The Stage. The rhythm section included drummers Allan Schwartzberg and Rick Marotta, bassists Warren Nichols, Don Payne, Tony Levin and Will Lee. Henry played guitars, Phil Aalberg keyboards. Percussionists included Allan Schwartzberg, George Devens and Jimmy Maelens. Backing vocals were added by Tommy West, Terry Cashman, Marty Nelson and Henry. Once recording of Show Me To The Stage was completed, in was released in 1977.

Five years after releasing his eponymous debut album in 1972,  Henry released Show Me To The Stage. Critics regarded Show Me To The Stage as an album of two sides. Side one was something of a slow burner, cumulating in an intriguing cover of The Beatles’ Help.  It showcases the not just the production skills of Cashman and West, but their harmonies. Then on side two of Show Me To The Stage Henry can do no wrong. Hooks are in plentiful supply as side two has an uplifting and joyous with a feel-good, summery vibe. Critics forecast great things for Show Me To The Stage.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Show Me To The Stage stalled at just number 176 in the US Billboard 200. For Henry, his career had stalled. Worse still, he was back to where he was after his sophomore album. However, Show Me To The Stage is an underrated album.

Faux applause greets Henry on the title-track, Show Me The Stage. It’s a melting pot of influences. There’s AOR, West Coast Sound and rock. Sample spotters will notice a riff that’s been inspired by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s 1972 hit Your Mama Don’t Dance where Henry is determined to grab the audience’s attention. He continues to do that the rocky String Of Hearts. Henry swaggers his way through the track combining blues and rock ’n’ roll. Add to that harmonies and hooks and it’s a heady brew.

On the beautiful, heartfelt ballad Painting My Love Songs there’s similarities with Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s Thinking of You. Having said that it’s a truly gorgeous track. That’s down to the lyrics and Henry’s tender delivery of them. Then there’s the harmonies and crystalline guitars.

Come Along sees Henry return to his rocky side. Having discovered his inner rocker, he struts his way through the track, with blistering, searing guitars for company. During the breakdown percussion and the rhythm section combine, before Henry heads kicks loose and the track heads to  its crescendo.

A cover of The Beatles’ Help closed side one of Show Me To The Stage. It’s a compelling reinvention of a classic track. He veers between transforming the song into a ballad, before heading in the direction of psychedelia, rock, wistful and later, draws inspiration from The Beach Boys. Quite simply, Henry’s take on Help is a Magical Mystery Tour,

Side Two of Show Me To The Stage won over the critics. No wonder. It oozes quality. What A Sound reminds me of Supertramp and later, The Beach Boys. There’s even a brief nod to The Beatles’ psychedelic period. The quality continues on Sometimes and Hideaway. They’re both ballads. This is what Henry does so well. He delivers the lyrics with emotion, breathing life and meaning into them. The balladry continues on Showboat. Some people have compared Henry to Seals and Croft on Showboat. There may be an element of truth. However, what you can’t deny is the quality of music. With harmonies and harmonica for company, Henry delivers a soul-searching, vocal masterclass.

Henry Gross closes  Show Me To The Stage with a quite poignant, wistful ballad, If We Tie Our Ship Together. It’s a slow burner. The song seems loathe to reveal its secrets. When it does, it’s well worth the wait. After a minute, Henry delivers a tender, thoughtful and hopeful vocal. Again, the harmonies add a Beach Boys influence. That’s down to Terry Cashman and Tommy West’s production. They’ve kept one of the best until last, ensuring you want to hear more from Henry Gross.

Show Me To The Stage is probably, the most underrated album of Henry Gross’ career. It stalled at just number 176 in the US Billboard 200. For Henry, his career seemed to be stalling. Just when he seemed to be forging a career as a successful artist, Henry Gross was back to where he was after his eponymous sophomore album. However, despite the lack of commercial success, Show Me To The Stage is an underrated album.

Listening to Show Me To The Stage it’s an eclectic album where Henry has been inspired by a variety of influences. AOR, blues, Celtic, country, pop and rock all feature on Show Me To The Stage. Henry has been influenced by The Beatles, Beach Boys, Seals and Croft, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina, The Bellamy Brothers, Brian Wison and Carole King. All these influences and more shine through as Henry veers between his inner rocker and balladeer. 

It’s delivering ballads that Henry Gross is at his best on Show Me To The Stage. The final four songs of  side two of Show Me To The Stage are ballads. They feature Henry Gross toying with your emotions. His vocals are tender, needy, hopeful and heartfelt. The lyrics come to life. Their meaning and beauty becomes apparent, as Henry delivers a series of vocal tour de forces. This is just four reasons why Show Me To The Stage is a hidden gem in Henry Gross’ back-catalogue. Partly, that’s because Show Me To The Stage has never been rereleased.

That all changed recently. Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records rereleased Release and Show Me To The Stage on one CD. This is a welcome rerelease. After all, neither album have ever been rereleased. Their recent rerelease will allow a new generation of music lovers to discover Release, Henry Gross’ most successful album and Show Me To The Stage, his most underrated albums. Release and Show Me To The Stage will make welcome additions to any record collections.

HENRY GROSS-RELEASE/SHOW ME TO THE STAGE.

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THE BLUE NILE-A WALK ACROSS THE ROOFTOPS.

THE BLUE NILE-A WALK ACROSS THE ROOFTOPS.

Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe The Blue Nile’s 1984 debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops. The Blue Nile are the complete opposite of most bands. Describing the Blue Nile as publicity shy, is an understatement. Indeed, since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they formed thirty-one years ago, The Blue Nile ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in The Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever. 

Having released their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops in 1984, only three further albums were released during the next twenty  years. Five years after A Walk Across the Rooftops came 1989s Hats. This marked the end of the original Blue Nile sound, where influences so diverse as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Frank Sinatra united. The next time Blue Nile released an album, they turned to America for inspiration.

Seven long years passed, where Blue Nile fans wondered what had become of Glasgow’s most enigmatic trio. Then the unthinkable happened. The Blue Nile signed a million Dollar deal with Warner Bros. and along came Peace At Last, released in 1996. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, with the American-influenced Peace At Last showing a different side to the Blue Nile and their music. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul’s worldweary vocal. He was still the tortured soul, who wore his heart on his sleeve. Opinions were divided among fans and critics. Little did we know that Peace At Last was their penultimate album.

High released in 2004, proved to be the Blue Nile’s swan-song. It was very different from their first two albums, Although soulful, High lacked the European influence of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Some critics unkindly called High soul for the wine bar generation. Obviously, they didn’t quite get High, or more likely, didn’t want to. Maybe they didn’t want to understand its subtleties and nuances. What they neither understood nor realized was that the Blue Nile were never a band to stand still. Instead, they’d always tried to innovate and ensure their music evolved and was reborn. Sadly, there would be no rebirth for the Blue Nile’s music. After just four albums, the Blue Nile were no more. Even when they spilt-up, the Blue Nile never told anyone. Instead, like the lover that waits for the letter that never arrives, Blue Nile fans waited for an album that was never released.

Just like that lover, all we’re left is our memories. This includes the four albums The Blue Nile released between 1984 and 2004. The first of these was A Walk Across The Rooftops, which was released in 1984. That was thirty years ago. Sadly, there’s no fanfare for what was a true classic. In the UK, there’s neither a reissue nor even an in-depth article about A Walk Across The Rooftops. That’s not the case elsewhere.

In Japan, The Blue Nile’s first three albums, A Walk Across The Rooftops, Hats and Peace At Last  are being rereleased on CD as Limited Edition Mini LPs.  They’re being released on the high-fidelity SHM-CD format by EMI. Essentially, these rereleases are the same as the 2012 reissues, albeit with even better sound quality. In the case of A Walk Across The Rooftops, the fourteen tracks on the 2012 reissue feature on one CD. However, Hats and Peace At Last are given the double album treatment. It seems somewhat strange that Walk Across The Rooftops is only a single CD. After all, Walk Across The Rooftops was the album that launched the career of the enigmatic Blue Nile. They always did things their way.

Even the story of how A Walk Across the Rooftops came about, is typical Blue Nile. Not for the Blue Nile signing to a traditional record company. First they formed their own label, then released A Walk Across the Rooftops on a label founded by a prestigious hi-fi maker to showcase their products.

The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore, all of whom met at Glasgow University. Before forming the Blue Nile, Buchanan and Bell were previously members of a band called Night By Night. Try as they may, a recording contract eluded them. Night By Night’s music  wasn’t deemed commercial enough. So Paul, Robert and P.J. decided to form a new band, Blue Nile.

Once the Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that The Blue Nile released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and rereleased on the RSO label. Unfortunately for the Blue Nile, RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, Blue Nile persisted.

Blue Nile kept writing and recording material after the merger of RSO with Polygram. Some of that material would later be found on  A Walk Across the Rooftops. When recording engineer Calum Malcolm heard The Blue Nile’s music, he alerted Linn Electronics. At last, their luck had changed. 

Linn gave The Blue Nile money to record a song that they could use to demonstrate the quality of Linn’s top-class hi-fi products. When Linn heard the track they were so pleased, they decided to set up their own record label, which would release their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops 1984. 

Although this allowed the band to finally release their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops, Paul Buchanan later wondered whether Linn was the right label for the Blue Nile to sign to. He felt that Linn didn’t operate like a record label. Mind you, he conceded that, during this period, The Blue Nile weren’t like a band.

When A Walk Across the Rooftops was released in 1984, although it wasn’t quite to critical acclaim, but the reviews were at least positive. A Walk Across the Rooftops was quite different from other albums released in 1984. Since its release, A Walk Across the Rooftops has gained almost a cult status. It’s widely recognised as one of the finest British albums of the last forty years, as you’ll realise when I tell you about Disc One, which features A Walk Across the Rooftops

A Walk Across the Rooftops opens with the title-track, A Walk Across the Rooftops. Like much of the album, the tempo is slow, the sound moody and hauntingly beautiful. It’s a song about love, and being in love. Washes of Brian Eno influenced synths meander in, joined by percussion. They add drama and tension, while the slow tempo adds to the impact of the lyrics. Beautiful lush strings, the slow steady beat of a drum machine and Paul Buchanan’s worldweary vocal, become one. Soon, Paul’s vocal and the arrangement grow in power, emotion and drama. Although it’s a love song, it’s a love song with a difference. Paul sings of his love for Glasgow, name-checking the things he loves about the city. For five minutes, drama and emotion unite to create what’s quite simply a beautiful track, featuring a vocal tour de force from Glasgow’s Frank Sinatra and troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan. 

Tinseltown In the Rain is the most upbeat song on A Walk Across the Rooftops. The  funkiest of bass line, stabs of keyboards and guitars unite. When Paul’s vocal enters, he delivers some really beautiful, poetic and Glasgow-centric lyrics. They reminds me of Glasgow. Even the title puts me in mind of a rainy, winter’s night in Glasgow. People going about their business, walking hand in hand on a cold, wet winter’s night. Lovers walking hand in hand, neon lights casting their shadows over them, the buildings and the city. Strings that sweep and swirl furiously, take this track to another level. Meanwhile the slap bass drives the track along, with flourishes of keyboards for company. Together, they create a track that’s a funky, orchestral, symphonic Magnus Opus, and one that’s wonderfully Glasgow-centric.

Rags To Riches like all the tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops is written and produced by Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell. Straight away, you realise the remastering breathes new life and meaning into the song. There’s more depth to the music. Sounds and textures shine through. So do the atmospheric sounds that open the track. Along with the mid-tempo beat, meandering waves of synths give the arrangement a somewhat industrial, Kraftwerk sound. What makes the song are the lyrics, plus Paul’s heartfelt, worldweary vocal. He’s like a modern-day minstrel or troubadour, delivering a vocal bathed in sadness, passion and pathos. As the industrial sound continues, building and growing, it becomes dramatic and even, challenging. Still, beauty and emotion shines through. Paul referencing and influenced by troubadours and crooners, lays bare his soul against a post-modernist backdrop, that’s drama personified.

Stay sees the tempo and the emotion and heartache grow. Synths, drums that crack like whips and percussion set the backdrop for Paul’s vocal. He pleads, his vocal tinged with emotion, sorrow and sadness, as sings about his crumbling relationship. Robert Bell’s thunderous, dramatic, slapped bass crackles. It’s as if it’s reflecting the electricity in Paul’s vocal. Welling up with emotion, he pleads, asks, begs, his partner to stay. He’ll change: “learn to understand you.” It’s hugely moving, emotional and soulful. You can’t help but feel and sympathize for Paul and his plight, on what’s quite simply, a Blue Nile classic. Not only is one of the highlights of A Walk Across the Rooftops, but their career.

Just a wistful, melancholy piano opens Easter Parade and accompanies Paul’s weary vocal. The tempo is slow, the sound haunting and beautiful. It’s apparently about a young man being stuck on a street whilst an Easter parade takes place around him. This evokes old and painful memories, when he attended church and learned about religion and the death of Christ. This is a sad, spiritual and incredibly moving and hauntingly beautiful song. 

Heatwave sees the Blue Nile tease and toy with you, before the newly remastered track comes alive. After meandering slowly into life, stabs of synths, percussion and then thunderous drums signal the arrival of Paul’s vocal. His vocal is filled with sadness, despair and even bitterness. Soon the arrangement loses its moody, pensive sound. Although other bands kick loose, the Blue Nile don’t. That’s not quite their thing. They nearly do though, just don’t tell anyone. Guitars and bass unite. Together with washes of synths and crunchy drums, they provide a sound where hope shines through. They also provide a backdrop for a peerless vocal from Paul. Although his vocal might be worldweary and tired, hope shines through. Textures and layers of music unfold, washing over you, drawing you in. The band play under and around Paul’s vocal, with Paul, Robert and P.J. becoming one. They unite, to create a track that’s a timeless, emotive roller-coaster that you don’t want to ever climb of.

Closing A Walk Across the Rooftops is Automobile Noise. It sees a return to the industrial sound that is heard on Rags To Riches. Again, the tempo is slow, with Brian Eno and Kraftwerk influencing the track. There’s a combination of avante-garde and more traditional sounds as the track reveals its secrets. This works, and works well. Thunderous crashes of cymbals, crispy drums and melancholy keyboards create a compelling backdrop for Paul’s vocal. He delivers some insightful lyrics about one person’s struggle to cope with life in the city. They find urban life tiring, almost soul destroying. Soon, they tire of the daily grind, they’re fed up just keeping their head above water. Gradually, they long to walk away from chasing the wealth the city promises. Sadly and tragically, it’s always just out of their reach. Of all the songs the Blue Nile wrote, the lyrics to Automobile Noise are among their most insightful and honest. Twenty-eight years after A Walk Across the Rooftops, these lyrics are just as relevant, poignant and insightful.

As if the original version of A Walk Across the Rooftops newly remastered isn’t enough of a bonus for fans of the Blue Nile, there’s also seven bonus tracks. Six of these seven tracks have previously been released, mostly on various singles released during the last thirty years. The only previously unreleased track is St. Catherine’s Day. For Blue Nile completists, this makes buying the newly remastered version of A Walk Across the Rooftops worthwhile. This is just one of fourteen reasons why every self respecting music fan should own a copy of A Walk Across the Rooftops.

So what makes A Walk Across the Rooftops such a special album? After all, it contains just seven songs and lasts just over thirty-eight minutes. Within these thirty-eight minutes, the lush, atmospheric sound draws the listener in, holding their attention. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to seven peerless vocal performances courtesy of Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. Paul’s vocal adds soulfulness to an album that references Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Tim Buckley, classic soul and seventies funk. The result is a compelling, innovative album. A Walk Across the Rooftops, was so innovative that it was way ahead of its time. Released in 1984, Blue Nile were miles ahead of other groups. They were innovators, leaders of a new wave of Scottish bands, who trailed in their wake. In many ways, A Walk Across the Rooftops is a very Scottish album, but not in a traditional way. On several of the seven songs on A Walk Across the Rooftops, the lyrics bring to mind Glasgow, its streets, its people and its secrets. For Glasgow, you could replace it with Philly, Berlin, New York or Oslo.

A Walk Across the Rooftops is also full of subtleties, secrets and nuances. Layers, textures and hidden depths await discovery.  These secrets and nuances come to life on the newly remastered version of A Walk Across the Rooftops. This crystalline new sound comes courtesy of Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Callum Malcolm. From the moment you hear the opening bars of A Walk Across the Rooftops, you hear things that previously, had lain undiscovered. It’s not unlike an old picture that after years covered in grime, is cleaned suddenly, a new picture emerges. Similarly, the remastering process means that A Walk Across the Rooftops suddenly comes to life. It’s reenergized, becoming something the original CD never was. You’ll be astounded at the differences. Play the original version and remastered version and you’ll never reach for your much played, much loved and treasured copy of A Walk Across the Rooftops again.  

For anyone yet to discover the Blue Nile, you’ve yet to discover one of the greatest and underrated bands of the last thirty years. Although they have only made four albums in thirty years, they were four great albums. A Walk Across the Rooftops is one of the best debut albums released by a Scottish, or indeed British band. A Walk Across the Rooftops belongs in every self-respected record collection. It’s the perfect introduction to the Blue Nile, and their music. After just one listen to the seven tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops, you’ll fall in love with the music of the Blue Nile. After that, I’d recommend Hats, which was the follow up to A Walk Across the Rooftops. It’s as good, if not better than A Walk Across the Rooftops. While  Peace At Last and High had considerably more commercial success than the first two albums, I prefer A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. They’re the perfect introduction to one of Scotland’s best ever bands, the Blue Nile, whose music deserved to savored and treasured. One listen to A Walk Across the Rooftops, and you’ll be smitten by The Blue Nile, and treasure their majestic music forevermore. 

THE BLUE NILE-A WALK ACROSS THE ROOFTOPS.

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END OF NEIL-ONLY SURFERS KNOW.

END OF NEIL-ONLY SURFERS KNOW.

Without doubt, one of the most talented Scottish singer-songwriters around today is End Of Neil. I’ve been following End Of Neil’s career for the past couple of years. Since I last touched base with him, a lot has happened to End Of Neil.

Neil Stewart, the man behind End Of Neil has moved to Edinburgh in an attempt to lift his profile. That seems to be working. He’s been playing higher profile venues, and has recently released his debut album Only Surfers Know. Since then, End Of Neil’s star has been in the ascendancy. Word seems to be spreading about Scotland’s best kept musical secret, End Of Neil. However, still there are people yet to discover End Of Neil. For them, I’ll tell you about End Of Neil’s career so far.

It was in 2008 that Neil Stewart adopted his End Of Neil alias. Since then, End Of Neil has been one of the hard working, prolific and talented artists in Scotland. He’s spent the last six years honing his style. It’s been time well spent.

I first came across End Of Neil a couple of years ago. When I first heard his music, I knew that here was a talented artist and decided to write about him. After all, End Of Neil’s music deserves to be heard by a much wider audience. So, I got in touch with End Of Neil.

This is what I always do with new artists. So, I asked Neil 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. 

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 Martyn, 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 is one of the most prolific artists I’ve come across.

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. My Games was a coming of age for End Of Neil. It was his best release so far. The songs 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, introduced us to a compelling cast of characters. Their lives unfolded during the six songs. Like mini kitchen sink dramas full of betrayal, heartache, love lost and love found. Most importantly, My Games built on September, which had been the starting point for his recording career. The songs are even better, tighter and slicker. 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. So has 

End Of Neil. He’s a storyteller, 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 featured six songs which were written and produced by End Of Neil.

For fans of End Of Neil, Christmas has come early in the shape of Gas Station Coffee. The six songs were variously heartfelt, hook-laden, emotive, joyous,poignant and melancholy. Tinged with anger, disappointment, heartbreak, hope, humour and pathos. Then there’s the stomping Heavy World and the needy, heartfelt and hopeful paean, Years In The Wilderness. Quite simply, this was  a delicious, aromatic blend of Americana, country, folk and rock. One cup isn’t enough. No. Far from it. It was a truly irresistible drink, best tasted often. Indeed, from Dry Land right through to Deception, Gas Station Coffee oozes quality. Gas Station Coffee whetted your appetite for End Of Neil’s first E.P of 2014, Headspinnin.’

This was a case of End Of Neil picking up where he left off on Headspinnin.’ It  was released as 2014 dawned. Featuring three tracks and marked a welcome return of End Of Neil the storyteller. Headspinnin’ was a tantalising taste of how End Of Neil’s music was progressing. However, it was just leading up to End Of Neil’s debut album Only Surfers Know.

Ever since the advent of the CD, artists seem to feel compelled to fill the eighty minutes. Not End Of Neil. He’s old school. Just like myself, he remembers the days of vinyl. Back then, the length of an album was restricted. It couldn’t be a sprawling album. Instead, an album featured eight to ten tracks. This meant you heard an artist’s best work. End Of Neil realises this. So, his debut album Only Surfers Know features just seven tracks. Only Surfers Know allows you to hear End Of Neil at his very best. You’ll realise that when I tell you about Only Surfers Know.

Opening Only Surfers Know is All The Way. Shakers give way to the rhythm section and punchy horns. A sultry saxophone solo gives way to Neil’s joyous vocal. He literally skips his way through the track. It has a joyful, feel good sound. Especially when layers of harmonies accompany him. They’re replaced by a swirling saxophone. As for Neil, he’s like the Pied Piper. He spreads hooks and happiness, meaning you follow in his wake.

Picked Up By The Ship has a spacious, understated arrangement. Bursts of R&B tinged horns sit above the piano, rhythm section and Neil’s trusty guitar. His vocal paints pictures as he sings about “things that land in the night.” The lyrics are cerebral, cinematic and slightly surreal. There’s an element of mystery. Having said that, can imagine the scenes unfolding before your eyes. That’s down to End Of Neil, storyteller par excellence. 

Hearing Voices bursts into life. A wistful, mellow horn joins with the rhythm section and guitar. They set the scene for Neil’s vocal. Straight away, he’s painting pictures. As he does, his vocal is full of sadness and frustration. Especially, when Neil sings: “he never loved you really…he laughs at you.” He’s saddened she can’t see through him, wants her to forget him. Neil makes the lyrics seem very real. They’re akin to a kitchen sink drama. What makes this wistful opus all the better, is the horn that dips in and out, highlighting the sadness and melancholy.

Le Etoile sees the tempo drop and the drama increase. A deliberate piano, firmly strummed guitar and the rhythm section create the backdrop for Neil. His vocal is reassuring and tender as he sings “baby it’s all right to get a move on.” As the song progresses, Neil’s voice rises in power. It’s always heartfelt and reassuring. A blazing horn, cooing harmonies and sample provide the perfect backdrop for Neil as he delivers a tender, beautiful vocal. It’s without doubt, one of the highlights of Only Surfers Know.

Just a lone guitar opens Crossed The River In My Sleep. Before long, the band sweep in. The rhythm section and later keyboards accompany Neil and his guitar. His vocal is full of despair and hurt. He’s been hurt and lays bare his soul. Despite this, he’s giving her a second chance. “Maybe this time” Neil sings. The way he sings those words, it’s as if he doesn’t quite believe them. That’s maybe why when  his vocal drops out, a blistering saxophone solo fires a warning shot across his bows. It’s as if it’s warning Neil that this could end badly. The saxophone solo is akin to a cathartic outpouring of hurt as it drifts in and out. After that, Neil plays the role of troubled troubadour to a tee on this tale of love and love gone wrong.

River Of Your Mind sees a return to End Of Neil’s more familiar sound. It’s just Neil and his trusty guitar. His vocal is pensive and thoughtful. Especially as memories come flooding back. He sings: “press escape or press rewind, down the River Of Your Mind.” Instantly, memories come flooding back. Listening to Neil, it’s obvious that not all of them are good. That’s why Neil’s singing: : “press escape or press rewind.” If only forgetting the bad times, hurt and pain were than easy.

Closing Only Surfers Know is Scream and Shout. Neil’s guitar sets the scene for his thoughtful vocal. He reflect, singing pop music stole my youth, pop music tells the truth, about the people you’re with.” Bursts of blistering guitar riffs and a Fender Rhodes provide contrasts. At the front sits Neil’s vocal and his guitar. Later, when he’s singing about music Neil delivers the lyrics: “when you Scream and Shout, you let all the demons out.” Neil delivers his lyrics with power, passion and emotion. Combined with some of his finest lyrics, which are akin to a homage to pop music, this is one of the best songs on Only Surfers Know. What a way to end End Of Neil’s debut album.

Only Surfers Know marks a slight change in style from End Of Neil. He introduces a a full band and horns. This works really well. It frames Neil’s vocals. The addition of the horns is a masterstroke. Sometimes, they reflect to emotion and passion in Neil’s vocal. They prove to be the finishing touch to a couple of songs. These songs show the different sides to End Of Neil. 

End Of Neil is variously joyous, lovelorn, heartbroken, reflective and pensive on Only Surfers Know. He delivers each song with feeling. His lyrics are cerebral and cinematic. The characters come to life before your eyes. They seem very real. That’s nothing new. On every release so far, End Of Neil has breathed life, emotion and meaning into his lyrics. However, Only Surfers Know is a coming of age from End Of Neil. 

Having served a six year musical apprenticeship, End Of Neil was more than ready to release his debut album. His apprenticeship was over End Of Neil released Headspinnin’ earlier this year. Now he’s ready to progress his career. So, End Of Neil has moved to Edinburgh and is playing larger venues. He’ll also start working on his sophomore album early next year. Hopefully, by then, End Of Neil will have been signed by a record company. After all, End Of Neil’s music is relevant and current.

In some ways, End Of Neil reminds me of King Creosote. They’re both hugely talented singer-songwriters. Both are the latest in a new generation of Scottish troubadours. King Creosote and End Of Neil are born storytellers whose raison d’être is to entertain. That’s apparent on End Of Neil’s debut album Only Surfers Know.

After six long years, End Of Neil has released his long awaited, and critically acclaimed debut album Only Surfers Know. At last, a much wider audience will be able to hear End Of Neil’s unique fusion of Americana, country, folk, rock and soul. It’s a powerful combination.

End Of Neil’s music is 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 in his voice. Other times irony, humour and guilt shine through. That’s apparent on Only Surfers Know as End Of Neil showcases his vocal prowess.  

During Only Surfers Know, End Of Neil showcases his lived-in, world-weary, soulful vocal. Sometimes, End Of Neil’s vocal is a cathartic unburdening. This proves powerful and emotive. It’s as if we’re seeing a glimpse of End Of Neil’s soul. We get a sense of who End Of Neil is, and what makes him tick on his debut album Only Surfers Know.

Although Only Surfers Know is End Of Neil’s debut album, he’s an experienced artist. End Of Neil has been working towards Only Surfers Know, the album which hopefully, will launch the career of Neil Stewart.

END OF NEIL-ONLY SURFERS KNOW.

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JIMMY HUGHES-STEAL AWAY.

JIMMY HUGHES-STEAL AWAY.

Fifty years ago, Jimmy Hughes released what was the first album to bare the Fame Records logo, Steal Away. It was released after the title-track, Steal Away gave Jimmy Hughes the biggest single of his career. On its release, Steal Away gradually climbed the charts. Its rise wasn’t meteoric. Instead, it was steady. Eventually, Steal Away reached number two in the Cashbox R&B chart. Then on 20th June 1964, Steal Away entered the US Billboard 100. After a slow climb, Steal Away reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100, and spent twelve weeks in the charts. For Jimmy Hughes, this transformed his life.

Having just enjoyed a huge hit single, Jimmy Hughes had the confidence to quit his job in Robbins Rubber factory. No longer would he be Jimmy Hughes part-time singer-songwriter. Now Jimmy Hughes was following in the footsteps of his cousin Percy Sledge.

One of the first things Jimmy Hughes did when he became a professional musician, was begin work on his debut album Steal Away, which was released later in 1964. That’s nearly fifty years ago. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Steal Away’s release, Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records have recently released Jimmy Hughes’ debut album. It’s been released on 180gm heavyweight vinyl and is the latest instalment in Ace Records vinyl collection. Steal Away was Jimmy Hughes debut album. It should’ve launched a long and successful  career. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Between 1962 and 1970, Jimmy Hughes only released three albums. After that, Jimmy retired from music and withdrew from public life. Many people have wondered why? 

There’s no mystery, Jimmy simply became disillusioned with music. He felt his music wasn’t being sufficiently promoted by Volt Records’ boss Al Bell. Jimmy was also tired of touring and being away from his family for long periods of time. Eventually, Jimmy decided he’d had enough. So, he walked away from music.

After that, Jimmy took a job working for the US government making parts for nuclear power plants. His only involvement in music was singing in his church choir. Sadly, Jimmy Hughes’ music never found the success of his cousin Percy Sledge. It all looked could’ve been very different.

Jimmy Hughes was born in 19938, in Leighton, Alabama which is near Muscle Shoals. Whilst still in high school,  Jimmy joined a gospel quartet, The Singing Clouds. This proved to be Jimmy’s musical apprenticeship.

After Jimmy left high school, he got a job in the Robbins Rubber factory. Music was only a hobby back then. He worked during the night, and was a member of The Singing Clouds by night. Nobody ever expected Jimmy to embark upon a musical career. Not even Jimmy. He’d rather have been a basketball player. However, Jimmy had a change of heart in 1962.

By 1962, Jimmy had watched his cousin Percy Sledge embark upon a musical career. Maybe this inspired him? Jimmy decided to audition for 

record producer Rick Hall of Fame Records. Rick Hall was so impressed that he recorded Jimmy’s debut single I’m Qualified. This was a track Rick had co-written with Quin Ivy. I’m Qualified became Jimmy’s debut single and was released on the Philadelphia label Guyden. After the single was recorded, Jimmy returned to his day job in a rubber factory.

Two years later, Jimmy and Rick Hall’s path’s crossed again, when Jimmy returned to Rick with a ballad he’d written Steal Away. The song based on the gospel song Steal Away To Jesus, was recorded in just one take. Little did Jimmy and Rick realise it, but this one song would help define the Muscle Shoals sound that become so hugely popular and famous. 

On its release, Steal Away gradually climbed the charts. Its rise wasn’t meteoric. Instead, it was steady. Eventually, Steal Away reached number two in the Cashbox R&B chart. Then on 20th June 1964, Steal Away entered the US Billboard 100. After a slow climb, Steal Away reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100 and spent twelve weeks in the charts. For Jimmy Hughes, this transformed his life. He had the confidence to quit his job in Robbins Rubber Factory and began work on the followup to Steal Away, Try Me,

Jimmy entered the studio and recorded a cover of James Brown’s Try Me. It’s given a heartfelt, needy makeover by Jimmy. On its release, Try Me reached number sixty-five in the US R&B Charts. Now it was time for Jimmy Hughes to record his debut album Steal Away.

Steal Away was a mixture of new songs and cover versions. Jimmy only contributed one track, Steal Away. Cover versions included Terry Thompson’s A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues, James Brown’s Try Me, Joe South’s I’m Gonna Rise Again and T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday. Lovely Ladies was one of the first songs penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. Dan Penn also penned I Tried To Tell You. Other tracks included Cecil McNeeley’s There Is Something On Your Mind, Huey Meaux’s Neighbor, Neighbor, William Bruce’s I’m Getting Better and Oscar Franck’s I Want Justice. These twelve tracks became Jimmy Hughes’ debut album Steal Away.

Recording of Steal Away took place at Fame Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals. Accompanying Jimmy Hughes was the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals Horns. They were some of the hottest and tightest musicians of that era. This included drummer Rodger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Barry Beckett. When they recorded together, they were one of the finest backing bands ever. Jimmy Hughes couldn’t have asked for a better backing band on his debut album Steal Away. It was released in late 1964.

Everyone had high hopes for Steal Away. Surely with the right combination of material, a crack backing and Jimmy breathing life, meaning and emotion into the twelve songs, Steal Away couldn’t fail? Sadly, Steal Away sunk without trace. So few copies sold that original copies of Steal Away are a real rarity. There was a good reason for Steal Away’s commercial failure.

Vee-Jay, who distributed Fame Records’ releases had financial problems. They didn’t have the funds to promote Steal Away. Not long after this, Vee-Jay became insolvent. It filed for bankruptcy. Luckily, Rick Hall had only leased Fame Records’ releases to Vee-Jay. This was a small crumb of comfort for Jimmy, who must have been wondering whether he’d have been better off working in the rubber factory. We should be grateful he didn’t remain in the Robbins Rubber factory. If he had, Jimmy would never have released Steal Away, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening side one of Steal Away is Lovely Ladies. The rhythm section and braying horns provide an irresistible, joyous backdrop for Jimmy’s vocal. It’s tender and seductive. From the get-go, Jimmy dawns the role of seducer-in-chief. Behind him, guitars jangle, horns blaze and the rhythm section provide a sultry, sometimes choppy backdrop. All the time, Jimmy’s vocal is needy and tinged with longing and loneliness.

Concern and worry fills Jimmy’s vocal on There Is Something On Your Mind. Cooing harmonies, chiming guitars, the rhythm section and rasping horns join forces. Together they combine elements of blues, R&B and soul. This is the perfect backdrop for Jimmy’s hurt-filled vocal. He lays bare his hurt and heartache for all to hear. However, try as he may, he can’t forget the woman who betrayed him.

As A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues unfolds, it takes on an early sixties sound. There’s a nod towards rock ’n’ roll, pop and even the Beach Boys. It’s very different from the two previous songs. However, it shows how versatile Jimmy and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals Horns were. They’re joined by female backing vocalists. They accompany Jimmy, and also add handclaps. Against a backdrop of whoops, hollers and whistles, Jimmy delivers a slice of hook-laden bubblegum pop.

Neighbor, Neighbor features a despairing, frustrated Jimmy. He’s fed up with his nosey neighbours. They’re always listening to what’s going  on in Jimmy’s house. So he fires a warning shot across their bows during the song.  All his frustration and anger comes to the surface. It overflows. As this happens, the rhythm section, Hammond organ and searing combine to create an arrangement that’s got Southern Soul written all over it.

Everybody Let’s Dance sees a return to a much more poppy, soulful sound. Although Jimmy’s heartbroken, after his girlfriend has left him, he’s determined the party must go. His vocal is a mixture of bravado and sadness as he sings “Everybody Let’s Dance.” All the time horns growl and the rhythm section provide a jaunty, dance-floor friendly backdrop. Against that arrangement, Jimmy sings: “I wait for tomorrow before I cry…I’ll find another woman, before the night is through.”

Steal Away closes side one of Steal Away. It’s without doubt, the highlight of side one. It has an understated arrangement. Just the piano, rhythm section and cooing harmonies accompany Jimmy’s heartfelt, hopeful vocal. His vocal oozes emotion as he sings: “your folks are sleeping, lets not waste any time, lets Steal Away.” As he sings these lyrics, the arrangement builds. Harmonies, urgent drums and Hammond organ sweep in. Jimmy’s vocal grows in power, hope and urgency, resulting in a truly beautiful soul classic.

Try Me opens side Two of Steal Away. Here, Jimmy reinvents the James Brown track. So good is his version, that he makes the song his own. There’s not yelps, hollers or whoops. Instead, Jimmy delivers an gentle, hopeful and needy vocal. The arrangement is suitably understated. Stabs of piano, a shuffling backdrop, harmonies and bursts of rasping saxophone frame Jimmy’s vocal. As a result Jimmy’s vocal and Rick Hall’s arrangement is like a meeting of minds. They’re like yin and yang, complimenting each other perfectly.

I’m Gonna Rise Again bursts into life. Rasping horns and the rhythm section join forces. Then when Jimmy’s vocal enters, he’s accompanied by harmonies. The track takes on a gospel sound. Especially when Jimmy sings: “I’m Gonna Rise Again.” This gives the track an uplifting and joyous sound. Helping Jimmy all the way are the cooing harmonies. They add to the song’s soulfulness.

Abruptly, the pan and hurt of I Tried to tell You unfolds. Urgent backing vocals accompany Jimmy’s vocal. His vocal is rueful and tinged with sadness. Especially when he sings: “I found somebody else.” He’s torn between the past, the present and the future.  He knows what he should do, but is torn. All the time, a jangly piano, chiming guitar and rhythm section combine with sweeping harmonies. The result is a soulful soap opera.

I’m Getting Better features a heartbroken Jimmy. Things are getting better for him. Hopefully, he sings: “maybe it wont be long, till all my hurt is gone.” A weeping Hammond organ joins a probing rhythm section and cooing harmonies. This is the perfect backdrop for Jimmy’s lovelorn vocal. It frames it perfectly, allowing Jimmy’s vocal to shine.

Stormy Monday Blues was written by T-Bone Walker, and is, without doubt, a stonewall classic. Oft-covered, Jimmy delivers a heartfelt, impassioned soulful vocal. Accompanying him are a jazz-tinged guitar,  rhythm section and rasping horns. They mix blues, R&B and soul. The finishing touch are the harmonies. They sweep in and compliment and highlight Jimmy’s vocal as seamlessly, he combines blues, gospel and soul.

The joyous I Want Justice closes Steal Away. It has a poppy hue that has early sixties written all over it. Handclaps, harmonies and the rhythm section combine as pop and soul combine. Later, braying horns enter as Jimmy delivers a rousing, stirring version of I Want Justice.

For Jimmy Hughes, the failure of his debut album Steal Away, was a huge blow. He knew Steal Away deserved to fare better than it did. Sadly, circumstances out-with his control put paid to Steal Away’s success. It was a case of if-only. 

If only Rick Hall of Fame Records cut a deal with another distributor, rather than Vee-Jay. After all, Vee-Jay looked like they weren’t long for this world. That proved to be the case. Vee-Jay imploded. Not long afterwards, Vee-Jay became insolvent and was filing for bankruptcy. For Jimmy Huges his career continued.

Despite the failure of his debut album Steal Away, Jimmy Hughes toured with some of the great names in soul music, including Bobby Womack and Jackie Wilson. For a relative newcomer like Jimmy, this was akin to a musical education. He would learn about stagecraft and how to command an audience. Having rubbed shoulders with the soul greats, Jimmy entered the studio again.

When Jimmy’s next few singles failed to build on the success of his first two singles, Jimmy was sidelined. Vee-Jay decided to focus on acts like The Four Seasons and The Beatles. Things weren’t looking good for Jimmy. Then his cousin Percy Sledge released a classic single, When A Man Loves A Woman,.

On the back of Jimmy’s cousin Percy Sledge’s successful classic single When A Man Loves A Woman, Rick Hall managed to get Jimmy a new deal for his label to be distributed by Atlantic. This coincided with an upturn in Jimmy’s fortunes. 

His next three singles on Fame, Neighbor, Neighbor reached number four in the US R&B Charts and sixty-five in the US R&B Charts in 1966, while I Worship the Ground You Walk On reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100. In 1967,  Why Not Tonight reached number five in the US R&B Charts and ninety in the US Billboard 100. Jimmy’s next single It Ain’t What You Got reached number forty-three in the US Billboard 100. It was 1967 that Jimmy’s sophomore album Why Not Tonight was released. 

When Why Not Tonight was released in 1967. Just like Steal Away, commercial success eluded Jimmy Hughes. His singles were more successful than his albums. The lack of success was beginning to affect Jimmy. After Why Not Tonight, Jimmy only released one further album, Something Special.

Jimmy’s third and final album Something Special was released on Volt Records in 1969. By now, Jimmy was disillusioned, having become fed-up being away from his family on tour. What didn’t help was his belief that Al Bell, who produced his album, hadn’t promoted his album sufficiently. He felt that other acts were being promoted much better than he was. His quote was he felt like the “low man on the totem pole,” described his feelings perfectly. After that, Jimmy decided enough was enough, and he returned to “civilian life.” 

After eight years in the music business, Jimmy Hughes turned his back on music. Jimmy found a job making parts for nuclear power plants. His only involvement in music was singing in his church choir. Sadly, Jimmy Hughes’ music never found the success of his cousin Percy Sledge. However, although Jimmy Hughes career may not enjoyed the commercial success, critical acclaim or longevity of his contemporaries, he produced three hugely underrated albums. The best of this triumvirate of albums was Steal Away which was released fifty years ago.

To celebrate that anniversary, Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records have recently recently released Jimmy Hughes’ debut album Steal Away on 180gm heavyweight vinyl. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records vinyl collection, where it joins illustrious company. That’s fitting. After all, Steal Away was an important album.

Steal Away wasn’t just Jimmy Hughes debut album. It was also the first album Rick Hall’s Fame Records released. Steal Away is also credited with defining the Southern Soul sound. So, Jimmy Hughes is a soul pioneer who is only now, receiving the critical acclaim his music deserves. Jimmy Hughes’ finest hour was, without doubt Steal Away, which showcases one of soul’s best kept secrets.

JIMMY HUGHES-STEAL AWAY.

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HADDA BROOKES-QUEEN OF THE BOOGIE AND MORE.

HADDA BROOKES-QUEEN OF THE BOOGIE AND MORE.

When Hadda Brookes released her debut single, Swingin’ the Boogie in 1945, she was billed as Queen Of The Boogie. This wasn’t hype. Far from it. Hadda Brookes was the real deal. That’s why she enjoyed the longevity that she did. 

Hadda’s career lasted over fifty years. She was rediscovered by a new generation of music lovers in the nineties. This resulted in Hadda releasing a new album in 1996, Time Was When. It was so successful that Hadda was booked to play at some of the smartest clubs in Los Angeles. Fifty-one years after the released Swingin’ the Boogie in 1945, Hadda was still Queen Of The Boogie. Even today, twelve years after Hadda died in 2002, the Queen Of The Boogie’s music is still hugely popular.

So much so, that Ace Records have released Queen Of The Boogie And More, a twenty-four track compilation of Hadda Brookes’ music. They focus on Hadda’s time at Modern Music. Eighteen of the tracks have never been released before. They’ve lain in Modern Music’s vaults for over sixty years. Belatedly, they make their debut on Queen Of The Boogie And More, which is the perfect introduction to Hadda Brookes’ music.

The Queen of the Boogie was born Hadda Hapgood on October 29, 1916, in the Boyle Heights suburb of Los Angeles. Her mother was a doctor and her father a deputy sheriff. However, it was Hadda’s grandfather Samuel Alexander Hopgood who proved to be the biggest influence on her career.

Samuel Alexander Hopgood moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Los Angeles, where he lived with his family. He was steeped in the arts, especially theatre and opera. As Hadda grew up, Samuel introduced his her to theatre and opera. His influence rubbed of.

Growing up, Hadda listened to Italian coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci and operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. This lead to Hadda studying classical music with Italian piano instructor, Florence Bruni. She trained with him for twenty years. However, when Hadda graduated high school, she headed to the University of Chicago.

Having left Los Angeles Hadda headed to the Windy City of Chicago. It was there that Hadda discovered vaudeville, black theatre and the music of Bert Williams. Hadda’s time in Chicago was like a cultural awakening. She’d broadened her cultural interests and completed her degree. Hadda had also decided to become a professional musician.

On her return to Los Angeles, in the early forties, Hadda became a professional musician.Her first booking was playing piano in the tap-dance studio owned by Hollywood choreographer, and dancer, Willie Covan. Hadda was paid ten Dollars. In return, she played a selection of popular songs. While this might not seem like the most glamorous booking, Hadda was playing to an audience of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, who Willie worked with. For Hadda, she wasn’t complaining. At last, she was making a living as a musician. She was now a married woman.

Earl “Shug” Morrison was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. He was also Hadda Brookes’ husband. They married in 1941. When the team headed off on tour, so did Hadda. She would play venues in the cities the Harlem Globetrotters visited. Sadly, Hadda’s marriage didn’t last long. Sadly, Earl died of pulmonary pneumonia in 1942. Hadda and Earl had only been married a year. Never again, would Hadda marry. It seemed nobody could replace Earl. So, Hadda decided to concentrate on her career.

After Earl’s death, Hadda began honing her style. Personally, she preferred playing ballads. However, she started listening to boogie woogie pianist like Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis. For Hadda, this was a eureka moment. Instantly, she realised this was the direction her music should head. This was a hunch, but a hunch that proved right.

Jules Bihari was a Hollywood based musical entrepreneur. With his brothers, he’d formed Modern Music. They were doing their best to carve a niche into a music market that previously, had been populated by major labels. Not by the early to mid-forties. Now a number of small, ambitious, independent labels had sprung up. This included Modern Music. Every label was constantly looking for new artists. Jules found Hadda in a Hollywood music store.

At the time, Hadda was sitting playing classical music on one of the store’s pianos. Jules was mesmerised by Hadda’s talent and beauty. So, he asked her name and if she would be interested in recording for Modern Music? She agreed and the Queen Of The Boogie was born.

When Hadda’s career began, she decided to dispense with the name Hopgood. She decided to adopt the surname Brookes. That would be the name that would adorn her releases. 

From the moment they met, Jules had made it clear to Hadda the type of music he wanted her to play. He wanted people jumping out their seats and pressing the replay button on the jukebox. This was easier said than done. Not if you were the Queen Of The Boogie. Hadda’s debut single was Swingin’ The Boogie, a song that would become synonymous with Hadda Brookes.

On its release in 1945, Swingin’ The Boogie saw Hadda Brookes billed as Queen Of The Boogie. They weren’t far wrong. Swingin’ The Boogie gave Hadda a regional hit. It was so successful within the Los Angeles area, that several times, Swingin’ The Boogie had to be repressed. Swingin’ The Boogie had launched Hadda’s career. 

After that, Jules Bihari sent Hadda into the studio with a small band. Two of the singles Hadda released in 1946 were Basin Street Blues and Polonaise. Tucked away on the B-Side of Polonaise, was Polonaise Boogie. It features on Ace Records’ compilation Queen Of The Boogie And More. So does Grieg’s Concerto Boogie In A Minor. It’s another B-Side. It was the B-Side to 1946s Grieg’s Concerto In A Minor. Hadda was forging a reputation as one of the finest boogie-woogie pianist of the day. So, Jules decided to record Hadda as often as possible. 

As a result, Jules was recording more music than he could release. This was deliberate and meant that for the foreseeable future, he had recordings he could release. In total, Hadda recorded over one-hundred tracks for Modern Music. So, even if Hadda decided to leave Modern Music, Jules would be able to continue releasing singles. However, it looked unlikely Hadda would leave Modern Music. She was, after all, Jules’ girlfriend.

In 1946, Jules decided that Hadda should release her debut album. This would a first for Modern Music. The company had never before released an album. It featured just six tracks. These tracks were recorded in February and March of 1946. Hadda, as always was a perfectionist. She had the highest standards. So much so, she’d constantly record the same songs time and time again. This was the case for her debut album. 

When Hadda recorded her debut album, she recorded the same songs over and over. She was determined to get them right. Eventually, the six songs that featured on Hada’s debut album were ready. The six songs feature on Queen Of The Boogie And More. They’re  Sunset Limited, Juke Box Boogie, Night Life, Boogie In The Bandbox, Bully Wully Boogie and Down Beat Boogie. It’s not the original version of Bully Wully Boogie that features on Queen Of The Boogie And More. Instead, it’s Take 3. Given how good Take 3 is, Hadda obviously had exacting standards. That would the case throughout her career, including when she changed direction musically. 

By mid-1946, Jules decided that Hadda should change direction. Initially, Hadda recorded just instrumentals. Not any more. Now she was ready to find her voice.

So Hadda headed into the studio on and recorded That’s My Desire. On its release in 1946, it became the biggest selling single of Hadda’s career. Since then, That’s My Desire is recognised as a classic West Coast R&B single. After the success of That’s My Desire, Hadda became the First Lady of Modern Music. They recorded and released Hadda’s music in ever greater numbers.

In 1947, Modern Music Minuet In G Boogie and Humoresque Boogie. They’d later feature on a compilation released by Modern Music in 1955, A Collection Of Popular Songs-Modern Records Volume 7. It featured eight tracks. The A-Side featured Polonaise Boogie, Humoresque Boogie, Hungarian Rhapsody #2 In Boogie and Melody In F Boogie. Each of these tracks feature on Queen Of The Boogie And More. The only difference is that it’s Take 2 of Hungarian Rhapsody #2 In Boogie and Take 4 of Melody In F Boogie. These are two further examples of Hadda’s exacting standards. Another examples can be found on the B-Side. 

The B-Side of A Collection Of Popular Songs-Modern Records Volume 7  featured Hungara (Gypsy), Grieg’s Concerto Boogie, Roses Of Picardy Boogie and Minuette In ‘G’ Boogie. Only a rehearsal version of Hungara (Gypsy) features on Queen Of The Boogie And More. For most pianists, this version would be good enough. Not Hadda. It seemed she was always looking to better her previous efforts. So much so, that it was if Hadda’s career was a constant search for perfection. Maybe that’s why she was such a talented and versatile pianist. That becomes apparent on the other unreleased tracks on Queen Of The Boogie And More.

Of the other ten unreleased tracks, we hear different sides to Hadda. She’s at her bluesy best on 134 Blues, Strollin’ ‘N’ Rollin’ and 743 Blues. 134 Blues was recored in 1945, early on in Hadda’s career. Strollin’ ‘N’ Rollin’ was one of many songs written by Hadda. She recorded in 1946, just as her career was taking off. Sadly, it was never released, until now. It shows Hadda developing as an artist. So does 743 Blues, which was recorded in 1947. By then, Hadda had enjoyed several hit singles. She seems to have progressed as a pianist, and showboats her way through this wistful blues. Strollin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ is another track with a bluesy hue

On other tracks, Hadda delivers some blissful boogie-woogie. Without doubt, one of the best is Hadda’s Honky Tonk Train. Hadda delivers what’s best described as a masterclass in boogie-woogie piano. Even better is the unedited version of Schubert’s Serenade In Boogie. Here, Hadda’s accompanied by blazing horns. They’re the perfect foil for Hadda as she demonstrates why she’s the Queen Of The Boogie.

Three other tracks show different sides to Hadda. Sleepy Time Gal was recorded in 1947 and laid-back, feel good sound. Moonglow has a jazz-tinged sound. The guitar proves the perfect foil for Hadda on a track as it meanders wistfully along. Hadda’s take on Stardust is dramatic and full of flamboyant flourishes. She reinvents herself. Gone is the blues and boogie-woogie. Replacing it is a track that’s beautiful, dramatic and wistful. 

The twenty-four tracks on Ace Records’ recently released compilation Queen Of The Boogie And More, is an introduction to Hadda Brookes time at Modern Music. During her time at Modern Music, Hadda recorded well over one-hundred tracks. Some  of them feature on the three previous compilations of Hadda Brookes’ music released by Ace Records. Queen Of The Boogie And More features a mixture of familiar tracks, hidden gems and alternate cuts. They’re a compelling snapshot into the career of Hadda Brookes.

She was, without doubt, a hugely talented and versatile pianist and vocalist. That’s apparent on Queen Of The Boogie And More. Hadda was also a talented and prolific songwriter. She wrote eleven of the tracks on Queen Of The Boogie And More. What’s also apparent about Hadda, is she was a perfectionist. 

She’d record a track and then rerecord it. It wasn’t unknown for Hadda to record numerous takes. Each time, Hadda was determined to surpass her previous efforts. That’s no bad thing. Hadda took pride in her music. She was never going to settle best. That wasn’t Hadda’s style. maybe that’s why Hadda’s career lasted over fifty years.

Not many artists enjoy the longevity that Hadda Brookes enjoyed. Her career spanned over fifty years. She remained relevant throughout her career. Hadda was played in front of dignitaries, politicians and in 1959, Pope Pius XII. Later in her life, Hadda forged a new career as an actress. Music like Earl, remained her first love. Indeed, Hadda was rediscovered by a new generation of music lovers in the nineties. 

This resulted in Hadda releasing a new album in 1996, Time Was When. It was so successful that Hadda was booked to play at some of the smartest clubs in Los Angeles. Fifty-one years after the released Swingin’ the Boogie in 1945, Hadda was still Queen Of The Boogie. Even today, twelve years after she died on November 21st 2002, Hadda Brooks  is still the Queen Of The Boogie And More.

HADDA BROOKES-QUEEN OF THE BOOGIE AND MORE.

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BILLY HAWKS-THE NEW GENIUS OF THE BLUES/HEAVY SOUL!

BILLY HAWKS-THE NEW GENIUS OF THE BLUES/HEAVY SOUL!

When Bob Weinstock founded Prestige Records in 1949, he’d no idea that his nascent label would become one of the most important, influential and innovative labels in jazz music’s history. So much so, that nowadays, Prestige Records sits proudly beside Atlantic, Blue Note, Columbia, Impulse! and Verve at jazz’s top table. No wonder. Look at the artists who called Prestige Records home.

Prestige Records’ discography is akin to a whose who of jazz. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Gene Ammons, Jackie McLean, Modern Jazz Quartet, Kenny Burrell, Sonny Stitt, Coleman Hawkins, Donald Byrd and Brother Jack McDuff. They all recorded for Prestige Records and are responsible for a string of classic albums. However, not every album Prestige Records released became a classic. No. Some of Prestige Records releases are hidden gems awaiting discover.

This includes two albums that Billy Hawks released in 1967 and 1968. Billy released The New Genius Of The Blues in 1967 and Heavy Soul! in 1968. Both albums fall into the category of hidden gem. They’ve long been overdue a rerelease and deserve to be heard by a much wider audience. Ace Records realised this. They released The New Genius Of The Blues and Heavy Soul! on their BGP Records imprint. The two albums feature on one mid-price CD. This is the perfect opportunity to discover the music of Billy Hawks, whose career I’ll tell you about.

Billy Hawks was born on 3rd September 1941. He grew up in the town of Blackstone, Virginia. The Hawks’ family were a musical family. Everyone sang or played an instrument. This included Billy. 

From the age of five, he was playing the piano and singing. Music was his life. If he he’d been allowed, Billy would’ve played the piano all day. When he wasn’t playing the piano, Billy was listening to the blues. This was both Billy’s musical eduction and inspiration. One of Billy’s favourite artists was Fats Domino. He inspired Billy, who moved to Jersey when he was seventeen.

Not long after moving to Jersey, Billy Hawks decided to switch to the big burner, the Hammond organ. Billy loved the sound of the Hammond organ. So it made sense to switch to the Hammond organ. Especially since it was growing in popularity. Switching to the Hammond organ proved to be the best decision Billy ever made.

By 1961, aged just twenty, Billy Hawks joined Steve Gibson’s Red Caps. His decision to switch to the Hammond organ was vindicated. He was a member of Steve Gibson’s Red Caps until 1962.

Billy left Steve Gibson’s Red Caps in 1962 and joined joined the Modern Flamingos. For the next two years, Billy’s musical education continued as a member of the Modern Flamingos. Then in 1964, twenty-three year old Billy Hawks was ready to become a bandleader.

With manager Clifford Doubledee guiding him, Billy founded The Billy Hawks Organ Trio. They were based in Philly and featured guitarist Maynard Parker and drummer Henry Terrell. The Billy Hawks Organ Trio made their name playing along the Eastern Seaboard.

Soon, Billy was working six or seven nights a week. He played in clubs, army bases and private parties. Soon, Billy was travelling all over America. Atlantic City, Jersey, New York, Philly and Virginia Billy played them all. Billy was like a hired gun. Wherever someone was looking for an organist, he’d make his way there. He’d then entertain audiences with his unique blend of blues, gospel, jazz and soul. Audiences were won over by Billy and his three or four piece band.

Having honed their sound, for two years, Billy’s band were ready to record their debut album. He was actively looking for a record deal when he heard that Prestige Records were looking for new artists. For Billy, this was the break he’d been looking for.

Billy and his manager Clifford Doubledee made an appointment to see Prestige Records’ A&R man Cal Lampley. When the meeting took place, at first, Cal wasn’t interested. He became more interested when Billy mentioned his band. Knowing he had to rescue the situation, Billy noticed a piano sitting in Cal’s office. Billy offered to audition. Instead, he was told to submit an audition tape of The Billy Hawks Organ Trio.

Knowing that this was The Billy Hawks Organ Trio’s big chance to shine, they began work on an audition tape. They recorded several songs, then submitted the tape to Prestige Records. Luckily, founder Bob Weinstock heard the tape. He liked what he heard. Before long, Billy was signed to Prestige Records. Before long, Billy would enter the studio to record what would become The New Genius Of The Blues.

The New Genius Of The Blues.

The New Genius Of The Blues featured ten tracks. Five of these tracks tracks, Billy had written during the last two years. This included I’ll Wait For You Baby, Why Do Things Happen To Me, Let Me Love You Before You Go, Mean Woman Blues and Hawk’s Blues. Other tracks included covers of Preston Foster’s Got My Mojo Working (But It Just Won’t Work On You), Ray Charles’ I Got A Woman, Willie Dixon’s I Just Want To Make Love To You and Ferdinand Washington’s Every Time It Rains. The other track was Albert Beach and Charles Trent’s I Wish You Love. These ten tracks became The New Genius Of The Blues.

Recording of The New Genius Of The Blues began on November 15th 1966. Joining Billy were drummer Henry Terrell and guitarist Joseph Jones. They were waiting for Billy when the sessions were due to start. Unfortunately for Billy, he overslept. Billy had a reputation as a somewhat laid-back person. Even the thought of recording his debut didn’t seem to excite him. Indeed, the thought of playing without an audience filled Billy with dread. He seemed to think he needed an audience to inspire him. That was far from the case. With Henry and Joseph accompanying him, Billy recorded ten tracks which was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and produced by  Cal Lampley. They became The New Genius Of The Blues.

On it release in 1967, The New Genius Of The Blues wasn’t a commercial success. This was disappointing. It’s not a reflection on the quality of music. Billy Hawks was a seriously talented organist and vocalist. That’s apparent from the opening bars of The New Genius Of The Blues.

What better way to start The New Genius Of The Blues, than a blistering cover of Got My Mojo Working (But It Just Won’t Work On You). Billy vamps his way through the track, showcasing his considerable talents as a singer and organist. He then drops the tempo on I’ll Wait For You Baby. Having blown a bluesy harmonica solo, Billy delivers a needy, hopeful and soulful vocal. All the time, his Hammond organ provides an atmospheric backdrop. 

I Got A Woman sees Billy kick loose and deliver another blistering performance. This he does against an understated, jazz-tinged backdrop. Billy’s vocal is a mixture of power and sass, as he vamps his way through a classic track, bringing new life to it. 

The tempo drops on Why Do Things Happen To Me. Slow, bluesy and moody, it features a despairing vocal from a heartbroken Billy. As the tempo increases on Let Me Love You Before You Go, the hurt and heartache is still present. A Billy heartbroken, needy Billy pleads “Let Me Love You Before You Go.” Very different is the understated and beautiful I Wish You Luck. It sees Billy change tack and deliver a tender, heartfelt vocal on one of The New Genius Of The Blues’ highlights.

On Mean Woman Blues, Billy sounds as if he was born to sing the blues. His weary vocal is a mixture of power, hurt and despair. It veers between tender to a roar. It’s akin to a cathartic outpouring of pain and hurt. Meanwhile, his band fuse a delicious brew of blues and jazz. This continues on another classic track, I Just Want To Make Love To You. It’s the perfect showcase for Billy as he plays blues harmonica and Hammond organ. 

Then Billy ups the ante. Billy delivers a sultry, sassy, vocal powerhouse, as he makes a classic track swing. 

As Every Time It Rains unfolds, Billy drops the tempo. He and his band mix their unique blend of blues and jazz. His vocal is a mixture of pain and sadness, as he makes the lyrics come to life. Closing The New Genius Of The Blues is the instrumental Hawk’s Blues. It’s the perfect showcase for Billy and his band. They enjoy stretching their kegs when the solos come around. Especially Billy, as he delivers a Hammond organ masterclass.

Despite the undoubted quality of The New Genius Of The Blues, Billy Hawks debut album almost sunk without trace. That’s a great shame. After all, Billy Hawks was a hugely talented musician and singer. He could play piano, Hammond organ and harmonica. Then there was Billy’s vocal prowess. 

Songs came to life when Billy sings them. Especially songs about love and love lost. Billy brings to life the betrayal, hurt, pain and sadness. Other times, he swaggers and strut his way through tracks, bravado and machismo oozing out of every pore. Billy Hawks it seems, had lived the lyrics he was singing. He sounded as if he’d lived through the hurt and survived the pain. Not many vocalists can do that. Billy could. So, it made sense to have Billy Hawks record his sophomore album Heavy Soul!

Heavy Soul!

After the disappointment of his debut album The New Genius Of The Blues, the pressure must have been on Billy to record a successful sophomore album. After all, if his sophomore album Heavy Soul! failed commercially, Prestige Records would most likely let Billy go. He’d be back playing live dates along the Eastern Seaboard. Billy didn’t want that to happen.

So, Billy had been busy. He’d written written seven of the nine songs on Heavy Soul! This included O’Baby (I Believe I’m Losing You), Whip It On Me, What More Can I Do, Heavy Soul,You’ve Been A Bad Girl, I Can Make It and That’s Your Bag. The other two tracks on Heavy Soul were cover versions. They were Henry Glover’s Drown In My Own Tears and Oscar Brown Jr’s I’ll Be Back. These nine tracks became Heavy Soul!

Heavy Soul! was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder’s at his studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Producing Heavy Soul! was  Cal Lampley. Accompanying Billy were drummer Henry Terrell, guitarist Maynard Parker and Buddy Terry on tenor saxophone. Once Heavy Soul! was completed, it was released in 1968.

On the release of Heavy Soul in 1968, lightning stuck twice. Heavy Soul never came close to troubling the charts. However, on closer inspection, Heavy Soul! is another hidden gem. 

O’Baby (I Believe I’m Losing You) opens Heavy Soul. It would become a club classic during the nineties, when Acid Jazz DJs rediscovered the track. It’s a hypnotic and irresistible call to dance. Billy and his band get into the groove and work their magic.

Drown In My Own Tears has a slow, spacious and moody arrangement. This is perfect for Billy. He delivers a soul-baring vocal. His vampish vocal is akin to an exorcism of hurt, pain and betrayal. The tempo increase on Whip It On Me, where Billy embarks upon another vamp. Again, the arrangement is funky, soulful and jazz-tinged as Billy heads in the direction of James Brown.

Jazz-tinged and soulful describes What More Can I Do? The arrangement supplies the jazz, while Billy’s hurt-filled, emotive vocal supplies the soul. Despairing and downhearted, he pleads his way through the lyrics.

Very different is Heavy Soul, an instrumental. It’s the perfect showcase for Billy and their band. They get an opportunity to showcase their combined talents. Then later, everyone gets their moment to shine. Billy like any good bandleader, doesn’t begrudge them this opportunity, realising that it’s for the album’s greater good.

You’ve Been A Bad Girl sees Billy move in the direction of soul, jazz and even rock, courtesy of the drums. His band lock into a groove and Billy delivers a despairing, needy vocal. He vamps his way through the tracks hoping, pleading and “you’ll come on back to me.”

I’ll Be Back has a much more soulful sound. Billy delivers an impassioned, hopeful vocal. He’s singing from the perspective of a soldier heading out to Vietnam. A braying tenor saxophone answers his call, adding to the emotion, drama and beauty of the track. This is a masterstroke and results in the definitive version of this track.

I Can Make It has a soul-jazz sound. Billy drops the tempo and sets the scene with his Hammond organ. Then when Billy’s vocal enters it’s needy, hopeful and desperate. He breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics, against a mesmeric arrangement. The soul-jazz sound continues on That’s Your Bag. As the arrangement unfolds, it breezes along. Guitarist Maynard Parker unleashes some of the best guitar lines on Heavy Soul! It’s a jazz guitar masterclass. When his guitar drops out, Billy picks up the baton. He’s inspired to greater heights. So is drummer Henry Terrell. Together they ensure that Heavy Soul! ends on a resounding high.

Sadly, Heavy Soul! proved to be Billy Hawks final album for Prestige Records. It was also the last album Billy Hawks recorded. Never again, would Billy enter a recording studio. He spent the rest of his life playing at army bases, clubs and private parties. Billy traveled all over the Eastern Seaboard. Atlantic City, Jersey, New York, Philly and Virginia were home from home for Billy and his band. They played each and every one of those cities more times than they cared to remember. Billy was like a musical hired gun. Wherever someone was looking for an organist, he’d make his way there. He’d then entertain audiences with his unique blend of blues, gospel, jazz and soul. Audiences were won over by Billy and his three or four piece band. After that, they’d leave town and do it all again. However, this is what Billy loved.

For Billy, there was no greater thrill than playing live. Recording wasn’t the same. Maybe that’s why Billy never recorded another album. He didn’t get the same buzz out of playing in a studio. Whatever the reason, the fact that Billy Hawks never recorded any more albums was a great shame. This was music’s loss. We never got to hear how Billy matured and evolved as an singer and musician. That’s true in more than one way.

Aged just forty-one, Billy Hawks died of a heart attack. Ironically, given his profession, Billy neither smoked nor drank. By then, Billy had played more live dates than most musicians twenty years his senior. Sadly, his discography features just two albums, The New Genius Of The Blues and Heavy Soul! They’ve been recently released by Ace Records on their BGP imprint. These two albums are the perfect opportunity to discover or rediscover Billy Hawks’ two albums The New Genius Of The Blues and Heavy Soul! Both The New Genius Of The Blues and Heavy Soul! are a reminder that Billy Hawks could’ve and should’ve been a contender.

BILLY HAWKS-THE NEW GENIUS OF THE BLUES/HEAVY SOUL!

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JOHN MORALES PRESENTS CLUB MOTOWN.

JOHN MORALES PRESENTS CLUB MOTOWN.

DJ and remixer John Morales, spent much of the last seven years working what he describes as his “labor or love,” John Morales Presents Club Motown. It’s a lovingly compiled double album which was recently released by UMC. John Morales Presents Club Motown  features a total of twenty tracks from Motown’s eighties’ roster. These twenty tracks are a combination of stonewall classic and hidden gems. 

Among these hidden gems are five previously unreleased M+M mixes. This includes Tata Vega’s Get It Up For Love, Diana Ross’ The Boss, Teena Marie;s I Need your Lovin,’ Thelma Houston’s Saturday Night Sunday Morning and Val Young’s If You Should Ever Be Lonely. These five tracks alone should make John Morales Presents Club Motown a must have. However, there’s more to John Morales Presents Club Motown than these five tracks. Much more. However, before I tell you about John Morales Presents Club Motown, I’ll tell you about the man behind the remixes, John Morales.

John Morales’ love of music started at an early age, working in an after-school job at a local record shop. He was only about twelve at the time, with the record shop paying him in singles. By fourteen, John formed a band, the F Band. They played gigs at local high schools, but nothing became of the F Band. However, even then, John knew that he wanted to make music a career. Then his collection of singles, which he’d started when working in the record shop lead to a career in music.

When John started DJ-ing in 1975, he played first at small clubs and bars in his native Bronx.  Then when the rollerskating craze started in the early eighties, John started working at the Bruckner Roller Dome. From there he played at other rollerskating venues, before heading into New York, where he’d DJ at various bars and clubs. Soon he was playing the Limelight, Pippins and Studio 54. With Sergio Munzibai, John opened a club, with 1018 becoming M&M. However, during that period, John had established another career which ran parallel with his DJ-ing career.

This other career was working at New York’s WBLS radio station, where Frankie Crocker, was musical director. John was responsible for the midday and weekend mixes. These mixes required John to teach himself to reedit tracks. He had to make them longer, because the records were far too short. To do this, John bought a Sony reel-to reel tape recorder. At home, he taught himself to edit tracks, splicing the tape up, rejoining it, lengthening breaks and making them much more dance-floor friendly. Remember there were no Apple Mac’s running Logic, ProTools or Ableton Live. This was an example of John was learning his craft, something many modern producers no longer do. However, John Morales, like Tom Moulton learnt his trade and next step would see John as one of the best remixers of the mid-seventies and early eighties.

Soon, John Morales and Sergio Munzibai launched one of the most fruitful and prolific remixing partnerships in dance music history. After their first remix, they decided that each of their remixes would feature the M&M name. John says his first credited remix was Inner Life’s Caught Up, although before that, he’d undertaken a number of remixes. Ironically, on Caught Up, his first credited remix, John’s name was spelt wrongly. Since then, they’ve undertaken literally hundreds of remixes, all featuring the M &M logo. Of all the remixes John’s undertaken, his Salsoul remixes are some of his best known. 

After meeting Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael, John Morales became their favoured remixer for their Salsoul work. The Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael’s production team’s partnership with John Morales at Salsoul Records proved to be a fruitful one. 

It’s not just Greg and Patrick’s Salsoul recordings John remixed, he also remixed non-Salsoul acts like the Universal Robot Band. However, it was for his remixes of Greg and Patrick’s Salsoul recordings John became best known for. This saw John remix tracks by Inner Life, Logg, Aurra, Sky, Funk Deluxe and Instant Funk. Remixing such high-profile tracks helped John’s career no end. 

It helped John Morales become one of the most successful, busiest and highest profile remixers of eighties and early nineties. By 1989 John and Sergio ended their remixing partnership. Then in 1993, illness had a huge impact upon John’s career.

Sadly, John became ill in 1993, with the illness lasting a decade that meant time away from the recording studio. However, this gave him the opportunity to test learn the musical software that would soon dominate the music industry. During this period, John tested what would become Cubase for Atari Computers. In some ways, this must have given John an advantage over other producers for his return the recording studio. 

Since his return to the studio, John has been even busier than ever, remixing some of the highest profile names in dance music. He’s now spent forty years as a DJ and remixer. During that time, John has become one of the most respected DJs and remixers, respected by everyone within dance music. John has also released some of the most successful compilations over the last five years.

It was back in February 2009, that John Morales released his first compilation for BBE Music. This was John Morales-The M&M Mixes. It was released to widespread critical acclaim and reinforced John’s reputation as one of the top remixers. Two years later, John released his second volume of M&M Mixes.

John Morales The M+M Mixes Volume 2 was released on BBE Music, in March 201. It featured remixes of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Candy Staton, Sandy Babrber, Loletta Holloway and First Choice. Released to critical acclaim, everyone hoped Volume 3 would follow.

It did. Two years later, John Morales The M+M Mixes Volume 3 was released on April 2013. John had surpassed himself. Volume 3 featured twenty-four tracks spread over three CDs. There were remixes of tracks from Loleatta Holloway, The Salsoul Orchestra, John Davis and The Monster Orchestra, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Sandy Barber, Jean Carne and The Dramatics. This wasn’t the only John Morales release that day in April 2014. 

No. As an added bonus, John Morales The M+M Mixes Volume 3-Instrumentals was released at the same time. For anyone interested in disco, this was disco heaven. Critics ran out of superlatives when John Morales The M+M Mixes Volume 3 was released. However, little did anyone know, John’s labor of John Morales Presents Club Motown was nearing completion. 

Eventually, John Morales Presents Club Motown was completed earlier this year, and released on 21st July 2014. It features a who’s who of Motown’s eighties roster. The Commodores, Diana, Ross, The Temptations, Lionel Ritchie, Teena Marie, Rick James, Thelma Houston and Debarge. There’s also contributions from Dennis Edwards, Vanity, Rockwell and Tata Vega. In total, there are twenty tracks on John Morales Presents Club Motown, which I’ll tell you about.

Side One.

Opening side one of John Morales Presents Club Motown is Dennis Edwards featuring Siedah Garrett’s Don’t Look Any Further. It was released as a single by Dennis in 1984. That was the year he left The Temptations and signed to Motown as a solo artist. Don’t Look Any Further peaked at number two in the U.S. R&B charts and number one in the US Hot Dance Club Play charts. Buoyed by this success, Dennis released his debut solo album Don’t Look Any Further. It reached number two in the U.S. R&B charts. This proved to be the most successful album moment of Dennis’ solo career. The single that started kickstarted Dennis solo career was the soulful delights of Don’t Look Any Further.

Before embarking upon a solo career, Michael Lovesmith had been a songwriter. From the sixties onwards, he wrote for many artists, including  Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and The Jackson 5.. Then in 1983, Michael embarked upon a solo career. By 1985 he released his third and final album Rhymes Of Passion. It featured the single Ain’t Nothin’ Like It. Neither  Rhymes Of Passion nor Ain’t Nothin’ Like It charted. Commercial success eluded Michael. Ain’t Nothin’ Like It proved to be popular within clubs. It’s been remixed by John Morales. The Extended M+M Mix of Ain’t Nothin’ Like It is sure to result in the track finding its way into DJs record boxes once again.

The Mary Jane Girls only ever released two albums. Both albums were certified gold. No wonder. They were produced by Rick James. Their sophomore album was Only For You, which surpassed the success of their debut, reaching number five in the U.S. R&B charts. This resulted in gold disc number two. Only For You contained three hit singles. The most successful was In My House, which reached number three in the U.S. R&B charts and number one in the Billboard Dance Club Play charts. Hook-laden and dance-floor friendly, it’s no surprise that In My House was The Mary Jane Girls most successful single

When The Temptations released Reunion in 1982, it was their twenty-eighth album. The Temptations changed with the times. Standing still wasn’t an option. So, when they came to record Reunion, they decided to collaborate with one of music’s most exciting artists, Rick James. He wrote, arranged and produced Standing On The Top. On its release as a single in 1982, it reached number six in the U.S. R&B charts. When Reunion was released, it reached two in the US R&B charts. This was The Temptations most successful album in the U.S. R&B charts since 1975. One of the highlights of Reunion was  Standing On The Top, where Rick James gives The Temptations a musical makeover and ensures their music remained relevant.

On October 11th 1983, Lionel Ritchie released his sophomore album Can’t Slow Down. It would go on to become the most successful album of Lionel’s career, reaching number one in the U.S. Billboard pop and U.S. R&B charts. Can’t Slow Down sold over twenty-million copies, won a Grammy Award in 1985 and featured five hit singles. The most successful single was All Night Long (All Night), which reached number one in the U.S. Billboard 100 and U.S. R&B Charts. It also reached number five in the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play charts and was certified gold. Produced by James Anthony Carmichael and Lionel, it features Lionel at his soulful, sultriest best.

Model, actress, dancer, singer and songwriter Denise Katrina Matthews was christened Vanity by Prince, who they met in 1980. Vanity became the lead singer of Vanity 6, who enjoyed a hit with Nasty Girl in 1982. Then in 1984, Vanity signed to Motown, and her solo career began. She released her debut album Wild Animal. in 1984, Vanity returned with her sophomore album Skin On Skin in 1986, which featured Under The Influence. It was a Robbie Nevil, Tommy Faragher and Tony Haynes composition, produced by Skip Drinkwater. Released in 1986, Under The Influence reached number nine U.S. R&B and number six in the Billboard Dance Club Play charts giving Vanity her biggest hit single. It’s reinvented by John Morales on his M+M Mid-Day Mix and transformed into a mid-tempo epic.

By 1985, The Commodores were one of the most successful groups on Motown’s roster. They had signed to Motown in 1972. Since then, The Commodores had released ten studio alums and enjoyed six number one U.S. R&B singles. However, their career at Motown was almost over. Nightshift saw The Commodores bow out in style. Nightshift was released in January 15th 1985. This was their second album without Lionel Ritchie. It reached number twelve in the U.S. Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. Things got even better, when the title-track reached number three in the U.S. Billboard 100 and number one in the U.S. R&B charts. Written by Walter Orange, Franne Golde and producer Dennis Lambert, this was a poignant tribute to Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye two legends of soul, who died in 1984. Nightshift also proved a fitting and beautiful finale to The Commodores Motown career.

Between 1981 and 1985, DeBarge released a quartet of albums for Motown Records. DeBarge’s most successful album was their fourth album Rhythm Of The Night. Everything it seemed, had been leading up to Rhythm Of The Nightm which was released in February 1985, reaching number three in the U.S. R&B charts. This resulted in DeBarge’s first platinum disc. When Rhythm Of The Night was chosen as the lead single, it reached number two in the U.S. Billboard 100 and number one in the U.S. R&B charts. DeBarge received gold disc number two. Two became three when Who’s Holding Donna Now was also certified gold. Since then, is Rhythm Of The Night has been perceived as an eighties Motown classic that’s synonymous with DeBarge.

Before signing to Motown in 1984 and releasing Candlelight Afternoon as a single, Phyllis St James had enjoyed a successful career as a songwriter, backing vocalist and percussionist. She was a twenty year veteran of the music industry. Phyllis put her solo career on hold in 1975. By 1984, she was ready to make her comeback. In 1984, Phyllis released her debut album Ain’t No Turnin’ Back on Motown. Produced by Velton Ray Bunch,it featured the single Candlelight Afternoon. Sadly, success eluded Ain’t No Turnin’ Back. Phyllis returned to songwriting and singing backing vocals. Candlelight Afternoon gave Phyllis’ a minor hit and is a reminder of her brief, but memorable solo career. It’s another hidden gem that’s a welcome addition to John Morales Presents Club Motown.

Bobby Nunn released two albums on Motown between 1982 and 1983. His 1983 sophomore album Private Party which was co-produced by Bobby and Winston Monseque. It featured Don’t Knock It (Until You Try It). Written by Bobby, he delivers one of his best vocals on Private Party. It’s a soulful, sassy, sultry, vamp, which delivered against an arrangement that’s funky and dance-floor friendly. Sadly, this is one Private Party that wasn’t a success. After leaving Motown, Bobby returned to songwriting and enjoyed a successful career. Don’t Knock It (Until You Try It) is a reminder of Bobby’s “other career.”

In 1972, Jermaine Jackson launched his solo career. His debut album Jermaine,reached number one in the U.S. R&B Charts. This was the perfect start to Jermaine’s his solo career. His next four albums, released between1973 and 1978, never came close to replicating the commercial success of Jermaine. However, as a new decade dawned, Jermaine’s career was transformed with 1980s Let’s Get Serious. Co-produced by Stevie Wonder, Let’s Get Serious became the most successful album of Jermaine’s career. It reached number six in the U.S. Billboard 200, number one in the U.S. R&B Charts and was certified gold. Then when the title-track, which Jermaine and Lee Garratt cowrote, reached number one in the U.S. R&B Charts Jermaine’s career was back in track.

Disc Two.

Not many groups enjoyed the longevity and success The Temptations enjoyed. In 1984, twenty-four years after they formed in Detroit, The Temptations were still going strong. Things were changing. They embraced musical technology on Truly For You. It was the first album to feature new member Ali-Ollie Woodson. He joined The Temptations in 1983, replacing Dennis Edwards. Ali-Ollie cowrote the most successful single The Temptations had released since 1975, Treat Her Like A Lady. It was the lead single from Truly For You and reached number two in the U.S. R&B Charts. The commercial success continued when Truly For You reached number number three in the U.S. R&B Charts. Twenty years after their debut album Meet the Temptations, The Temptations were still enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim with what’s without doubt, their finest single of the eighties.

Kennedy Gordy was a staff songwriter at  Jobete Music when he wrote and recorded Somebody’s Watching Me which featured Michael and Jermaine Jackson on backing vocals. Ray Singleton spotted the song’s potential. So did Berry Gordy, Kennedy’s father. It was then that Kennedy’s half-brother Kerry Gordy, suggested Kennedy adopt the Rockwell persona. When Somebody’s Watching Me reached was released in 1983, it reached number two in the U.S. Billboard 100 and number one in the U.S. R&B charts. This resulted in a gold disc for Rockwell. Then in January 1984, Rockwell’s debut album Somebody’s Watching Me reached number five in the U.S. R&B charts, resulting in another gold disc for Rockwell. This was the most successful period of Rockwell’s three album career.

Way before Rick James found fame, fortune and later notoriety, he was the lead singer for R&B and doo wop groups. This was the early sixties. Later, Rick modeled himself on David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. So it’s fitting that Rick eventually signed to Gordy, a subsidiary of Motown Records. By 1981, Rick hit the musical equivalent of a home run in 1981, when he released his fifth album Street Songs. Released in April 1981 it  reached number three in the U.S. Billboard 200 and number one in the U.S. R&B charts. It was certified triple platinum. Then Super Freak was released as a single, reaching number sixteen in the US Billboard 100, number three in the US R&B charts and number one in the U.S Dance Club Play charts. Rick James it seemed could do no wrong. Not only had he released his most success album, but a classic track Super Freak, which will forever be his best known song.

After releasing her debut album when she was just twelve, Stacy Lattisaw met Narada Michael Walden. He guided Stacy’s career for the next six albums. They proved a successful partnership, enjoying five consecutive hit albums. Then in 1985, after I’m Not The Same Girl failed to chart, Stacy left Cotillion Records. For her seventh solo album, Stacy signed to Motown Records. Take Me All the Way was Stacy’s 1986 debut for Motown Records. Several producers worked on the album which reached number thirty-six in the U.S. R&B charts. It featured two hit singles, including Jump Into My Life. It was produced by Kashif. Released in 1987, it reached number thirteen in the U.S. R&B charts and number three in the U.S. Club Play chart. Not only was Stacy Lattisaw’s career was back on track, but Jump Into My Life would be perceived as an eighties Motown classic.

Looking back at Teena Marie’s thirteen album career, the most successful period was her time at Motown Records. She released four albums between 1979 and 1981. During that period, three of Lady T’s albums were certified gold. This includes 1980s Irons In The Fire, which featured I Need Your Lovin.  It was Teena’s third album and the first album Teena produced herself. This might have seemed a risky move. It wasn’t. Teena had learnt from Art Stewart, Rick James and Richard Rudolph. When Irons In The Fire was released in July 1980, it  reached number number nine in the U.S. R&B charts and was certified gold. The single I Need Your Lovin’ reached number nine in the U.S. R&B Charts and number two in the U.S. Dance charts. This meant Irons In The Fire was the most successful album of Teena’s career so far. As for I Need Your Lovin,’ it’s a poignant reminder of Lady T at the peak of her powers.

It was none other than George Clinton who discovered Val Young in 1977. Val became a backing vocalist for The Brides Of Funkenstein, one of the band’s in Funkadelic’s stable. She then progressed to singing backup for Roy Ayers and The Gap Band. However, it wasn’t until Val met Rick James that her solo career began in earnest. Rick introduced Val to Berry Gordy. He signed Val to Motown. Rick produced Val’s 1985 debut album Seduction, which featured three single, including If You Should Ever Be Lonely. It was produced by Fred Jenkins and Levi Ruffin Jr. and reached number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. This was Val’s most successful single. Sadly, it was Val Young’s last release for Motown. Rick James was having contractual problems with Motown, and Val’s sophomore album Private Conversations was released on Amherst Records. Never again did Val enjoy scale the same soulful heights.

Having left The Supremes in 1970, Diana Ross’ solo career began. By1978, Diana had enjoyed continued commercial success. One thing eluded her grasp in America, a gold disc. Over the Atlantic, in the UK, Diana had three gold discs. However, in America, gold discs eluded Diana. This was about to change. Ashford and Simpson, who had previously worked with Diana, set about rectifying this. They wrote and produced her 1979 album The Boss. It peaked at number fourteen in the U.S. Billboard and number ten in the U.S. R&B Charts. At last, Diana had her first American gold disc. Then when The Boss was released as a single, it reached number one in the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart. Diana had just enjoyed the most successful album of her solo career, The Boss, and was on the cusp of the most successful period of her career.

Thelma Houston released her sixth solo album Ride To The Rainbow in 1978, on Tamla. Sadly, due to poor promotion, the Hal Davis produced Ride To The Rainbow failed to chart. One of the highlights of Ride To The Rainbow was the Mitchell Bottler and Norma Helms penned Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was penned by Mitchell Bottler and Norma Helms. It gave Thelma a minor hit single, reaching number thirty-four in the US Billboard 100, number nineteen in the US R&B charts and number thirty-three in the US Dance charts. This helped Thelma reinvent herself as a disco diva. On John Morales Presents Club Motown, John totally reinvents Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, turning it into a dance-floor classic.

Multitalented describes Táta Vega. She is a singer, songwriter and actress. Táta came to prominence in the Broadway production of Hair. When she left the cast of Hair, Tata joined Pollution, who released a trio of albums. After that, Tata’s solo career began. Following the release of Táta’s 1976 Motown debut Full Speed Ahead, she followed this up with 1977s Totally Táta. Despite not receiving the critical acclaim of her previous album, Totally Táta surpassed their commercial success. The double-A sided single I Just Keep Thinking About You Baby/Get It Up For Love went on to reach the top twenty in the Billboard Dance Club Play charts. This made Totally Táta, the most successful single of Táta Vega’s nascent solo career.

For DJ and remixer John Morales, he’s spent much of the last seven years working what he describes as his “labor or love,” John Morales Presents Club Motown. It’s not all been plain sailing. Far from it. There’s been problems getting tracks licensed. So the final track listing isn’t what John envisaged. Ironically, this has worked in his favour. 

John Morales Presents Club Motown is a combination of stonewall classic and hidden gems. Classics come courtesy of The Boss, Diana Ross, the Super Freak himself, Rick James, and Lady T, Teena Marie. That’s not forgetting true Motown legends The Temptations, soul seducer in-chief Lionel Ritchie and his former band The Commodores. There’s also successful tracks from The Mary Jane Girls, Debarge, Rockwell and Stacy Lattislaw. Hidden gems come courtesy of Bobby Nunn, Thelma Houston and Michael Lovesmith. Quite simply, if you like your music soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly, then there’s something for everybody on John Morales Presents Club Motown, which is John’s first visit into the Motown vaults. Hopefully, there will be further instalments.

Especially if there’s eleven M+M Mixes on future instalments of the John Morales Presents Club Motown series. John breathes new life and meaning into the tracks from the Motown vaults. Some of the tracks have been released before. Not all. There’s previously unreleased tracks from Diana Ross, Tata Vega, Teena Marie, Thelma Houston and Val Young. They’ve never been released before. Instead, they’ve been hidden away in John Morales’ vaults. Not any more. They make their debut on John Morales Presents Club Motown, which was recently released by UMC.

John Morales Presents Club Motown is best described as a lovingly compiled double album. It features a total of twenty tracks from Motown’s eighties’ roster. These twenty tracks are a combination of stonewall classic and hidden gems. Some of the biggest names in Motown’s history make an appearance. Others played just a walk on part in Motown’s history. However, each of the twenty tracks on John Morales Presents Club Motown are a reminder of Motown as it tried to reinvent itself during the post-disco eighties. 

JOHN MORALES PRESENTS CLUB MOTOWN.

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NEW YORK DOLLS-NEW YORK DOLLS.

NEW YORK DOLLS-NEW YORK DOLLS.

No other group epitomises the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle like the New York Dolls. Drink, drugs and death touched the New York Dolls. Despite this, the Dolls continued to court controversy, with a  disaster always just a heartbeat away. Just like a game of daring do, the egged each other to fly close to the sun. This was all part of the myth that surrounds the New York Dolls. Here was another case of flawed genius. A firecracker combination of talents and personalities, they could’ve and should’ve been one of the biggest bands in musical history.  Fuelled by a diet of alcohol, pills and powders, the New York Dolls first two albums were the best they ever recorded. 

Their 1973 eponymous debut album New York Dolls, which was recently released by Universal Music, was a swaggering, strutting introduction to the New York Dolls. A year later, came their sophomore album, Too Much Too Soon. A fuelled up Dolls, courted controversy and chaos, continued to strut and swagger their way through life. On both of these albums, the New York Dolls out-rocked the opposition. Other bands, including the Rolling Stones, enviously looked on. Here was a band who were the real thing. They were living the rock ‘n’ lifestyle and living it hard. With what seemed like an appetite for destruction, somehow the New York Dolls recorded  two classic albums within the space of a year. The first of these was their debut album New York Dolls, which was recently rereleased on vinyl Scorpio Records on. It’s that classic album New York Dolls, which I’ll tell you about.

Although the New York Dolls were formed in 1971, the bands origins can be traced to 1967. That’s when Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, two school friends, started playing in a band called The Pox. Then when the lead singer left, the band split up. To make ends meet, Sylvain and Billy worked various dead end jobs. 

First of all, the pair started a clothes shop called Truth and Soul. After that, Billy worked in another clothes shop, A Different Drummer. Situated across from the New York Dolls’ hospital, rumour has it, that this is how their future band got its name. Then in 1970, after a couple of years working dead end jobs, Sylvain and Billy decided it was time they formed a new band. They’d eventually, become members of the New York Dolls. 

Formed in 1971, the New York Dolls arose, like a Phoenix from the ashes out of Actress. Four members of Actress, guitarist Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, drummer Billy Murcia and bassist Arthur Kane would form the backbone of the New York Dolls. Johnny Thunders was originally the lead singer, but soon decided he wasn’t cut out to be a frontman. David Johansen was. So, he joined the band and Johnny originally a bassist, was converted into a guitarist. Then when Rick Rivets quit the band, Sylvain Sylvain replaced him. Before the Dolls had made their debut they’d been through several lineups. While this isn’t unusual in a band’s early days, the Dolls lineup was constantly changing. This was essentially Mk. 1 of the New York Dolls.

Having settled with vocalist David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, drummer Billy Murcia and Sylvain Sylvain on guitar, bass and piano, the Dolls were ready to make their debut. They made their live debut on Christmas Eve 1971, at one of the most unlikely music venues. This was the Endicott Hotel, a homeless centre in New York. After that, the New York Dolls got themselves a manager, Soon, word was spreading of their unique swaggering sound and style. 

Word got as far as Rod Stewart, who decided the Dolls were the perfect group to open for him in London. This looked like the perfect start to the New York Dolls’ career. Opening for Rod Stewart increased the New York Dolls profile. They were making inroads into the American and British markets. Then disaster struck. 

Not long after the Dolls opened for Rod Stewart, drummer Billy Murcia tragically drowned during their UK tour. High on drink and drugs, he passed out and accidentally drowned. This was devastating news for the Dolls. They’d lost the man who gave the group its heartbeat. Despite the loss of a key member, the show had to go on. Drummers were auditioned and eventually, Jerry Nolan was selected as Billy’s replacement. Not long after that, Mercury Records signed the New York Dolls and work began on their eponymous debut album.

For what became New York Dolls, the Dolls’ debut album, David Johansen wrote Vietnamese Baby and formed a successful partnership with Johnny Thunders. They cowrote Personality Crisis, Looking For A Kiss, Lonely Planet Boy, Bad Girl, Subway Train and Jet Boy. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain penned Frankenstein and Trash, while David and Arthur Kane contributed Private World. The other track was a cover of Bo Diddley’s Pills. These eleven tracks became New York Dolls.

When recording of New York Dolls began at the Record Plant in April 1973, New York, Todd Rungren was chosen as producer. For many people, this was a strange choice of producer. Here, was a brash, innovative group. They were the future, with their intensity, energy and showmanship. Todd Rungren was the ghost of rock’s past. Formerly a member of Nazz, even the band didn’t seem impressed. He was used to a slicker, more sophisticated sound. The rawness and energy of the Dolls was the antithesis of everything Todd Rungren believed in. It seemed this was the case of the wrong producer for the wrong album? David Johansen disparagingly referred to Todd Rundgren as: “an expert in second rate rock ‘n’ roll.” As for Todd Rundgren’s approach to production, he mixed the album in half a day. In doing so, the edge was taken of Jerry Nolan’s drums. Did this mean that rather than trying to capture the band’s energy and intensity, part of the New York Dolls trademark sound was lost? That’s what I’ll tell you, when I tell you about New York Dolls?

Personality Crisis explodes into being, opening New York Dolls in style. Fiery, machine gun guitars, flourishes of boogie woogie piano and a driving rhythm section set the scene for David’s proto punk vocal. Raw and edgy, describes his vocal, while behind him, the Dolls manage to be both tight and sloppy simultaneously. The Dolls are better musicians than many people give them credit for. They provided the template for the Rolling Stones and Primal Scream, amongst a thousand other impersonators. An intense explosion of energy, this is timeless good time rock ‘n’ roll, what a way to introduce the Dolls.

Drawing on inspiration from Eddie Cochran, David every inch the charismatic frontman, struts his way through Looking For A Kiss. Low slung guitars trade licks, while the rhythm section provide the pulsating heartbeat. As for David, feisty, sassy and oozing an air of danger, describes his performance as proto punk, glam rock and rock ‘n’ rock unite majestically.

A gong chimes, before the New York Dolls throw launch into the rocky Vietnamese Baby, an ant-Vietnam War song. Driven along by scorching, searing guitars, drums pound and David’s vocal seems to have matured. This is much more like how he sounds on their sophomore album Too Much Too Soon. It’s as if he’s enjoying the role of frontman. There’s a swagger in his vocal. He spurs the band on. They trade glistening guitar licks, playing with a freedom and swagger, as if realising that this it what they were born to do.

Lonely Planet Boy has much more understated sound. Just guitars and thoughtful rhythm section accompany David’s whispery, theatrical vocal. Bursts of jazzy horns drift above the arrangement, as the Dolls look to the past for inspiration. Drawing inspiration from sixties R&B, jazz, pop and doo wop harmonies, we hear another side to the New York Dolls, one which I’d like to have heard more of.

Three years after New York Dolls released their debut album, and punk was born, tracks like Frankenstein provided the template for this new musical genre. You can hear where Johnny Rotten comes from. Having said that, the Dolls were ten times the musicians than the Sex Pistols ever were. They were hype, the Dolls were the real thing. Here, a snarling, angry vocal is accompanied by a raw, raucous arrangement. Key to that are the driving rhythm section and  machine gun guitars. Combined this explosion of energy, intensity and raw power, resulted in a thousand impersonators, none of which came close.

Trash is a combination of garage, grunge, proto-punk and rock. It’s as if the Dolls are hyperactive and Trash is an outpouring of energy. Like a five Duracell bunnies, the Dolls become an explosive unit. They play as if their lives depended on it. Playing with power and passion, they never miss a beat. Neither does David. His vocal is an outpouring of frustration, while cooing harmonies provide a contrast.

Bad Girl sees a no frills approach from the Dolls. It’s as if the producer just called a wrap, warts and all. This gives a taste of what the New York Dolls live were like. Jackhammer guitars join drums which aren’t so much played, but punished. Then there’s David’s vocal. He roars, as if this is cathartic. Surely, he must have been hoarse by the time he’d laid down this vocal? As for the guitars, they’re mesmeric. Chiming, soaring, searing, their crystalline sound, feedback and all, plays a huge part in the Dolls at their best.

Subway Train sees the New York Dolls play within themselves. They’re much more restrained. Rather than an explosion of energy and intensity, they produce a much more laid-back performance. David’s vocal is more restrained, but just as effective. He’s not roaring, his delivery drawling and languid. Guitars riff, scream and screech, trading licks. Like a musical shoot out between guitar gunslingers. At the end, everyone’s left standing. The Dolls swagger into the sunset, catching a Subway Train everyone needs to catch a ride on, once in their life.

Bluesy harmonica and an explosion of searing guitars open Pills, an old Bo Diddley song. It had never been played liked this before. Given the Dolls background, this should’ve been their theme tune. They seem to realize this, seamlessly mixing blues, glam rock and rock ‘n’ roll. In between blowing his blues harp, David struts his way through the lyrics. Accompanied by a wall of guitars, thunderous rhythm section and harmonies, rock ‘n’ roll’s hardest living band deliver a paean to hedonism.

A probing bass opens Private World, before the rest of the New York Dolls kick loose. Veering between gloriously sloppy and tight, the were the envy of rock ‘n’ roll rivals and pretenders. They’re in the tightest of grooves, a stomping beat, percussion and dueling guitars providing a raucous, good time backdrop. Stabs and flourishes of piano add to the good time sound. David vamps his way through the track. He revels in being the frontman for a group as good as the Dolls, who in 1973, were rock ‘n’ roll royalty.

Jet Boy closes New York Dolls. Does it close the album on a high? From the opening bars, the Dolls unleash their machine gun guitars, cooing harmonies and pounding rhythm section. Soon, rock, proto-punk and glam rock have been combined. The Dolls are at their hard rocking best. David’s struts and swaggers, while harmonies and handclaps accompany him. Then there’s the guitars, which include some of the best playing on the album. That’s saying something. Riffing, dueling and feeding off each other, the New York Dolls guitar heroes ensure that New York Dolls ends on an explosive high.

Released in 1973 on Mercury, New York Dolls divided opinion. Some critics hailed New York Dolls as a stonewall classic, others deemed it a parody of a rock album. It certainly took the world by storm, spawning a million imitators. Strangely, on its release, sales of New York Dolls were disappointing. It only reached number 167 in the US Billboard 200. Mercury had hoped that the album would be one of their big sellers of 1973. It certainly captured the attention of critics and music lovers, it was voted both the best and worst album of 1973. It seems that New York Dolls was an enigmatic album and one that divided opinion. Forty years later, history has been rewritten.

Ironically, during the forty years since its release, critics who called New York Dolls “mock rock” have changed their mind. These lisping rock critics have now changed their mind about the New York Dolls. Nowadays, New York Dolls is now perceived as a classic album. The New York Dolls fusion of glam rock, proto-punk and hard rock is perceived as innovative and ahead of the musical curve. The New York Dolls are credited as one of the founding fathers of punk rock. Since then, many groups have imitated the New York Dolls swaggering brand of good time music. Nobody comes close. No ifs, no buts. Having released a career defining album, the New York Dolls never bettered. If ever there’s a case of a band peaking to soon, this was it. 

Raw, intense and full or energy describes New York Dolls. It’s as close you’ll get to hearing what the New York Dolls sounded like live. This was a no frills album. Sleazy, sassy and raunchy, New York Dolls is lo-fi, good time music. It’s no wonder Todd Rundgren only spent half a day mixing New York Dolls. Although he was a strange choice for the Dolls, he harnesses their energy and enthusiasm. Maybe the Dolls should’ve called the album Raw Power? Apart from a few occasions where Todd Rundgren’s overdubbing goes too far, he strikes the right balance for a debut album. He doesn’t overproduce New York Dolls. Having said that, he was the wrong man for Too Much Too Soon.

That’s where Shadow Morton came in. He produced Too Much Too Soon, a much more polished album. Too Much Too Soon, the New York Dolls’ sophomore album, is an iconic, innovative album. Ironically, Too Much Too Soon almost passed unnoticed. It hardly troubled the American charts. After its release, Mercury sent the New York Dolls on an American tour. It proved chaotic and almost broke the band. On their return from the ill-fated tour, Mercury dropped the Dolls. Later in 1975, they split up, against a backdrop of rancour, drug abuse and hedonism. The hardest living party band were no more.

Despite reforming, the New York Dolls never reached the same heights. New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon are the best albums the New York Dolls ever released. Nothing else comes close to these two iconic albums, which have recently released by Scorpio Records on vinyl. These two albums, New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon provided the template for punk and spawned a thousand impersonators. Not one comes close to the New York Dolls. 

NEW YORK DOLLS-NEW YORK DOLLS.

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BOB DYLAN-STREET LEGAL.

BOB DYLAN-STREET LEGAL.

Back in 1978, Bob Dylan was abut to release Street Legal, his eighteenth album. When Street Legal was released in June 1978 it was a very different sounding album to anything he’d previously released. So much so, that it would divide the opinions of critics and fans. Unlike previous albums, he decided to record the album with a huge pop and rock band backing him. Supplementing the sound, would be female backing vocalists. 

Before he could record the album rehearsals would take place for a tour of Japan and Australia. So he set about putting together a band. Joining his band were Steven Soles, David Mansfield, Rob Stoner and Howie Wyeth, all former members of the Rolling Thunder Revue. Pianist Walter Davis Jr and percussionist Otis Smith completed the line-up. However, suddenly one member decided to leave the band. Drummer Howie Wyeth decided to leave, he’d been struggling with heroin addiction and decided not to go on tour. Auditions were held for a new drummer. Many tried out, but it was Denny Seiwell, who played with Wings briefly, who got the job. Now the band was complete, they’d head to rehearsals of Street Legal which was recently released by CBS on Blu Ray.

However, when the rehearsals began on December 30th 1977, guitarist Jessie Ed Davis was now part of the band. The backing vocalists were Katey Sagal, Franny Eisenberg and Debbie Dye Gibson. However, the line up would continue to change. In mid-January 1978, Sagal and Eisenberg were replaced by Jo Ann Harris, a professional singer and Helena Springs who was an unknown novice singer. That wasn’t the end of the changes though. Drummer Denny Seiwell and the rest of Wings were caught in possession of drugs in Sweden. When he applied for a visa for the forthcoming concerts Japan, he was denied a visa. This meant Seiwell was out, and a new drummer required. After further auditions, Ian Wallace, former King Crimson drummer got the job. By now the line up that would tour and record Street Legal was almost complete. Guitarist Billy Cross joined the line-up, as did percussionist Bobbye Hall, saxophonist Steve Douglas and keyboard player Alan Pasqua. This would be the line up that headed to Japan on tour.

When the band played in both Japan and Australia, critics and fans loved the new arrangements of Dylan’s old material. Later, a recording entitled Bob Dylan Live At Budokan would be released of the concert. During the tour, some of the band weren’t happy with the sound. This included Rob Stoner, who at the end of the tour in Australia, quit the band. This meant a new bass player was needed to record the album. Jerry Scheff replaced Stoner, and now Dylan and the band would start to record Street Legal.

Street Legal was recorded in Santa Monica, California at a recording studio and rehearsal space he called Rundown. Dylan had hired a mobile recording studio to record the sessions. It only took four days to record the nine songs Bob had written for Street Legal. Because of the short time scale, everything was rushed. Getting equipment into place was done quickly, and there very few takes of each song recorded. Don DeVito the producer knew that Bob Dylan had a tight schedule, and just had to make the best of what he had. 

When Street Legal was released, to say that critics in America disliked the album, is an understatement. However, in the UK, critics took a different view. They really liked the album and gave it positive reviews. Commercially, it reached only number eleven in the US, but reached number two in the UK album charts. In the UK, it became his biggest selling studio album. Having told you about the background to Street Legal, I’ll tell you what kind of album it is, and who were right, the American or UK music critics. 

Street Legal opens with Changing of the Guards. Straight away, the new sound is apparent. The rhythm section, guitar and keyboards accompanying Bob. As he sings the deeply literate lyrics which have religious themes, it’s like call and response between him and the backing vocalists. Their joyous voices are the perfect accompaniment for his voice. Quickly, the arrangement grows. His band play brilliantly their sound big, bold and really tight. This sound includes guitars, rhythm section, keyboards and is augmented by a saxophone, which drenches the arrangement. One member of the band who deserves credit is drummer Ian Wallace. Throughout the track his playing is perfect. To quote Rob Stoner he has “a beat like a cop.” What makes the track is the arrangement. It features Bob and a really tight band and the additional of the backing vocalists was a masterstroke. Without them, this wouldn’t be as good a track. Quite simply, this is the perfect way to start Street Legal.

It’s a combination of electric guitar and drums played really slowly the opens New Pony. The atmosphere is moody, even before Bob sings. When he does, his voice is loud and slow. Again, he’s accompanied by backing singers. Slowly, the arrangement builds, but mostly, it’s just really slow, soaring guitars and plodding drums. It’s a powerful sound, and here, Bob sometimes is almost snarling the lyrics.   Here the lyrics reference religion, with references to Lucifer, praying, ghosts and voodoo. Religion is a theme that’s a constant throughout the album, as are apocalyptic themes. Later in the track, saxophones blow, further increasing an impressive and powerful track, New Pony is very different in style to the opening track it’s just as good.

Like New Pony, No Time To Think is a slower song, one featuring lyrics which have apocalyptic themes. They portray images of society unravelling, lawlessness all around. Here, it seems Dylan was far from optimistic about the direction society was heading. An epic song begins with drums and saxophone combining, before Bob sings. Straight away, the same powerful delivery as on New Pony is present. Again, the backing singers accompany him, their voices a welcome addition. Here, Bob sings the song with passion, while behind him piano, saxophone, guitars and rhythm section play. They’re playing with the same passion as Bob, producing a fantastic rocky track, with tinges of gospel, courtesy of the backing vocalist. Alan Pasqua’s keyboard playing especially is outstanding here. Quite simply, a combination of strong, intelligent lyrics, and a great performance from Bob and his band, results in an outstanding track.

Probably the best known track on Street Legal Is Baby, Stop Crying, a track he played brilliantly the night I saw him live. From the opening dramatic bars, it’s apparent that something special is unfolding. The combination of booming drums, chiming guitars and keyboards opens that track, then Bob sings. Here, he gives one of his best vocals on the album. His voice is much clearer, it’s strong and powerful, supplemented by the backing vocalists. Their voices veer between strong and passionate to a high, soaring sound. Behind him, drummer Ian Wallace provides the track’s heartbeat, saxophones blow, guitars and keyboards play. The keyboard adds atmosphere to the track. For nearly five and half minutes, Bob Dylan and his band provide a musical masterclass, which thirty-six years on, still sounds as spectacular as it did back then. Stunning.

When Is Your Love In Vain? begins, the tempo is slower and the sound much fuller. A trumpet accompanies guitars, rhythm section and keyboards in producing a lovely rich sound. They jam for forty-five sections before Bob sings, and when he sings, his voice doesn’t seem as powerful as on previous tracks. It’s much more subtle and augmented by backing vocalists. The band seem to be overpowering him slightly. Having sad that, their playing is flawless.  During the track they really get the chance to shine, producing one of the fullest arrangements on the album. Later in the track, Bob plays his trusty harmonica, reminding us of his roots. Overall, it’s another great performance from Bob and his band. However, the lyrics caused controversy. In them, he poses a number of questions about love. On the album’s release, this song drew accusations of sexism from one reviewer. He thought the lyrics which include “can you cook and sew, make flowers grow,” were sexist in their nature, and thus offensive. Certainly, I’m uncomfortable with them, and don’t particularly like the almost servile nature of them. For me, this takes some of the shine of an otherwise good track

It’s a very different sound at the start of Senor (Tales of Yankee Power). As the song opens, there’s a slight hesitancy about the sound. Quickly, this is rectified and what is dramatic sounding song opens up. Again, Bob’s voice is different, it’s much more powerful, and clearer. Sometimes, his voice soars, accompanied by saxophones, piano and backing vocalists. Like on other tracks, Ian Wallace’s drums help lay the foundations of the track. Wallace’s drumming is dramatic. Similarly, a guitar gets in on the drama. A careful and thoughtful solo is played several times. It too, is spectacular, like the saxophone solos. By now, you realize just how good a band Bob put together. In putting this band together, he was able to find musicians who could transform his sound, and reenergise his music. Here, they did a great job, as did producer Don DeVito. Together, they helped Bob to produce another powerful track, where he delivers a truly impassioned vocal.

True Love Tends To Forget is another track that starts slowly, with just guitars and drums playing before Bob sings. Quickly, he’s joined by saxophone, keyboards and backing vocalists. Together, they combine to produce a slow powerful track, where he sings about regret, forgiveness and love. Although slow, his voice is a mixture of strength and clarity, and here, the band don’t overpower him. Instead, they compliment his voice, a combination of chiming guitars, atmospheric keyboards, steady and reliable drums and those masterful backing vocalists. The sound Bob and the band produce has a joyousness, and they really sound as if they’re enjoying themselves. I certainly enjoyed their performance and True Love Tends To Forget is one of the album’s highlights.

At the start of We Had Better Talk This Over there is a slight country feel to the track. This is down to the guitars, violin and mandolin accompanying the drums at the start of the track. After that, this influence continues throughout the track. Even the backing vocalists and piano adds to this influence. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. This is good, but quite different sounding track. The guitar and piano playing especially, is really good. However, it’s Bob’s vocal augmented by the backing vocalists who steal the show. Together, the combine masterfully, bringing the lyrics about a failed relationship to life.

Street Legal ends with Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat). Percussion opens the track, then saxophone, drums and keyboards combine before Bob sings. When he sings, the backing vocalists immediately accompany him. As always, their performance is stunning, making a good track even better. Their voices soar, as Bob sings the lead. Behind him a great arrangement is unfolding, with keyboards having the biggest influence, producing a lovely retro sound. Drums steadily play, later a saxophone joins the frae. Bob meanwhile is giving a great performance, his voice loud and confident as he sings the lyrics. By now the band have really hit their stride, and this tight band seem to have reserved a standout performance for this track. The same can be said of Bob, he seems in his glory. Towards the end a guitar solo plays, it’s loud and soars high above the rest of the arrangement. That and the backing singers, bring the track to a close. At the end, you feel ecstatic having heard such a great track to close the album. It was a track of epic proportions, a brilliant, full arrangement where everyone played a part in its success.

I’ve always loved Street Legal, it’s one of my favourite Bob Dylan albums. Since the album was released, I’ve loved it, and it’s one of Bob’s albums that I’ll return to often. His idea to use this band and the backing singers was a masterstroke. It totally transformed and reenergised his music. Many people saw Bob Dylan in a new light after Street Legal. They may not have been drawn to his earlier work, but loved this album. No wonder.

For nine songs, you’re enthralled by Bob and this great band. However, what really made this album, was Bob’s decision to use the backing vocalists. They were the perfect accompaniment for his voice and the songs. When they sang, they helped bring the song to life. During the album, they filled gaps left by Bob, and accompanied him just at the right time. Without them, it wouldn’t be as good an album. Considering that Street Legal was recorded in just four days, it’s remarkable that the album sounds so good. Much of the credit must go to producer Don DeVito for bringing the album together, and producing such a great sounding album. There are flaws on the recording which are audible, but that doesn’t matter, because this is a great album. That critics in America disliked the album so much seems strange, because what’s not to like, great songs, a great band and backing singers and of course, Bob Dylan. Thankfully, critics in the UK realized how good an album this is. They were right, and if you’ve never heard the album, go out and buy it. Even if you’re not usually a Bob Dylan fan, Street Legal will change your mind. 

BOB DYLAN-STREET LEGAL.

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JENNY HVAL AND SUSANNA-MESHES OF VOICE.

JENNY HVAL AND SUSANNA-MESHES OF VOICE.

Five years ago, in 2009, Jenny Hval and Susanna began writing to each other. A lot has happened to Jenny and Susanna since that initial exchange of letters. 

Jenny and Susanna were both singer-sonwriters. So it made sense that they collaborated. Together, they cowrote fifteen songs. They showcased these songs at their debut  performance at Ladyfest, at the Henie Onstad Art Exchange on March 8th 2009. This performance was recorded, and would become Meshes Of Voices. After the success of their debut performance, Jenny and Susanna were invited to one of the biggest events in the Nordic musical calendar.

After their critically acclaimed performance at Henie Onstad Art Exchange, Jenny and Susanna were  invited to one of the most prestigious events in the Norwegian musical calendar, the Oslo Jazz Festival. This is, without doubt, one of the most prestigious events in the Nordic musical calendar. At the Oslo Jazz Festival, Jenny and Susanna won friends and influenced people. Despite this, the recording of  the concert at at the Henie Onstad Art Exchange wasn’t released. Indeed, another five years passed before it would be released as Meshes of Voice.

Meshes Of Voice will be released on 18th August 2014, on Susanna’s label SusannaSonatta. A lot has happened since Meshes Of Voice was recorded in March 2009.

Two years later, in 2011, Norwegian singer, songwriter, guitarist and author Jenny Hval released her third album album, Viscera, on Rune Grammofon. Viscera was the first album Jenny had released under her own name. 

Previously, Jenny had recorded two albums as Rockettothesky. To Sing You Apple Trees was Rockettothesky’s 2006 debut. Two years later, Rockettothesky released Medea. It reached number twenty in the Norwegian charts. This proved to be the album that launched Jenny’s career.

When Jenny Hval released Viscera in 2011, It was to critical acclaim. Critics realised that Jenny Hval was an innovative artist. So it was no surprise Viscera was hailed one of the best albums of 2011. Uncut magazine placed Visera at number 42 on its list of the Top 50 Albums of 2011. Two years later, Jenny returned with a career defining album.

This was Jenny’s fourth album, Innocence Is Kinky. It reached number thirty-one in Norway in 2013. Not only was Innocence Is Kinky released to widespread critical acclaim, but it saw Jenny nominated for one of Norwegian music’s most prestigious award.

This was a Spellemannprisen, which is the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Jenny had been nominated for the best composer award. Despite Innocence Is Kinky being only Jenny’s sophomore album, this Norwegian woman of letters was establishing a reputation as one of Norway’s most innovative artists.

Comparisons were drawn to Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono and a pre-Sledgehammer Peter Gabriel. Great things were forecast of Jenny Hval. So she headed out on tours of Britain and America. This further reinforced Jenny Hval’s reputation as a truly innovative artist. The same can be said about Susanne Karolina Wallumrød.

Susanna was an experienced artist when she first met Jenny. She’d released two albums as Susanna and The Magical Orchestra, 2004s List Of Lights And Buoys and 2006s Melody Mountain. Then in 2007, Susanna released her first album as Susanna. This was Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, which was released on Rune Grammofon. It featured twelve songs written by Susanna, and made a big impression. 

Released to critical acclaim, Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos caught the attention not just of record buyers, but some music industry insiders. Among them, were Will Odham. He wrote to Susanna, expressing his admiration for her voice and music. This resulted in Susanna and Will collaborating.

This happened on Susanna’s 2008 sophomore album, Flower Of Evil. On Flower Of Evil, Susanna wrote just two songs. The over twelve songs were cover versions. This included one penned by Will Odham, Joy And Jubilee. Will dawned his Bonnie Prince Billy alias and added vocals on Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak and a cover of Badfinger’s Without You. Susan gave songs by Lou Reed, Prince, Nico, Sandy Denny and Abba. For critics, this was a masterstroke. On Flower Of Evil’s release, Susanna’s star being in the ascendancy.

The following year, 2009, Susanna returned with another another album  from Susanna And The Magical Orchestra. 3 was Susanna And The Magical Orchestra’s third album. Just like her previous releases, Susanna And The Magical Orchestra’s 3 was well received. However, Susanna didn’t release another album until 2011.

By then, she’d started writing to Jenny Hval. They’d been friends for two years when Susanna began one of the busiest years of her musical life, 2011.

During 2011, Susanna released two collaboration and one solo album. The first was a collaboration with Norwegian poet Gunvor Hofmo. On Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene put Gunvor’s poetry to music. This resulted in Gunvor’s poetry reaching a new audience. Then, later in 2011, Susanna collaborated with Swiss harpist Giovanna Pessi on If Grief Could Wait. 

Just like Flower Of Evil, If Grief Could Wait saw Susanna combine cover versions and her own songs. She only wrote two tracks. The other eleven tracks were cover versions. Susanna and Swiss harpist Giovanna Pessi reinterpreted songs by Henry Purcell, Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. The result was another critical acclaimed and commercial successful album. Susanna’s final album of 2011 was a solo album. 

Unlike her previous solo album, Susanna released Hangout as Susanna Wallumrød. It was released on ECM Records. Hangout was well received by critics. Susanna had managed to navigate the busiest year of her career successfully. She’d released three very different albums. Each found favour with critics and record buyers. However, there was more to come from Susanna. She was about to found her own record label.

One of the biggest events of 2011, was Susanna launching her own record label SusannaSonatta. That would be the outlet for Susanna’s future albums. Before that, Susanna released one more album on Rune Grammofon. This was Wild Dog.

Wild Dog  featured a total of ten tracks. They were written by Susanna. On Wild Dog, Susanna became a musical chameleon. Acoustic, alt rock, balladry, indie rock and pop featured on Wild Dog. Just like previous albums, Wild Dog was well received by music critics. Susanna was well on her way to becoming one of the most successful Norwegian artists.

Susanna’s previous album was a collaboration with Ensemble neoN. The Forrester was released in 2013. Not only was The Forrester released to widespread critical acclaim, but it won a Spellemannprisen, which is  Norwegian Grammy. Success came in the open category in 2013. Buoyed by this success, Susanna decided to release her collaboration with her friend Jenny Hval, Meshes Of Voice.

Meshes Of Voice was recorded on 8th March 2009 at the Henie Onstad Art Exchange. This was only Jenny Hval and Susanna’s second performance. Their performance featured fifteen tracks that Jenny and Susanna wrote. That night, Jenny Hval and Susanna were accompanied by a small, talented band.

Jenny Hval and Susanna’s band featured just two members. They were Anita Kausboll and Jo Berger Mhyer. Anita played drum, effects, noise and sung backing vocals. Jo played double bass, zither, effects and noise. Jenny played piano, autoharp and guitar. She also added effects, noise, samples and vocals. Susanna played grand piano, harmonium,  and added effects, noise, samples and vocals that night in March 2009. Since then, what became Meshes Of Voice has lain unreleased. Not anymore.

Meshes Of Voice will be released on 18th August 2014. It has a fascinating backstory. The music on Meshes of Voice was written for Ladyfest in 2009. It was inspired by Maya Deren’s 1943 surrealist film, Meshes of the Afternoon, and the gothic visions of Antoni Gaudí. On Meshes Of Voices, Jenny Hval and Susanna prove a musical yin and yang.

Listening to Jenny Hval and Susanna on Meshes Of Voices is like jumping onboard a musical and emotive roller coaster. The music veers between ethereal, haunting and beautiful to wild, discord and joyous. Jenny and Susanna toy with you. They tug at your emotions with music that’s cerebral, poetic, poignant and minimalist. Sometimes, it’s not what they say, but what they leave unsaid. They leave you wondering and thinking. It’s not often that happens in music nowadays. However, Jenny and Susanna are different.

Although their voices are very different, they prove a perfect foil for each other. Especially when they sing call and response. Sometimes, raw power and emotion is countered with ethereal beauty. Other times, it’s a meeting of minds. Always, the vocals are heartfelt, impassioned and delivers with meaning and feeling. Lyrics come to life. You’re in no doubt as to their meaning. Equally compelling are the arrangements.

Mostly, the arrangements are understated. They tinkle, shimmer, glisten and quiver. Examples of this are Droplet and Milk Pleasures. They’re atmospheric and spacious. Other times, the arrangements ooze ethereal beauty. Especially on the piano lead Black Lake and O Sun O Medusa. Both tracks remind me of Kate Bush in her prime. 

Equally beautiful is A Mirror in My Mouth, where the subtle arrangement allows the vocals to take centre-stage. Atmospheric describes the arrangement to Thirst That Resembles Me. Again, this allows the tender, heartfelt and ethereal vocals to capture your attention. This is the case throughout the rest of Meshes Of Voice.

I Have a Darkness and Running Down are very different to the rest of Meshes Of Voice. The multilayered arrangement envelops you, as the darkness descend and the track veers between dramatic and discordant. After that, Meshes Of Voices continues to spring surprises.

An understated arrangement provides a backdrop for an impassioned, dramatic and strident vocal on A Sudden Swing. Honey Dew sees the unmistakable sound of a harmonium provide the backdrop for Susanna’s vocal. She seems to dawn the role of a torch singer. Medusa sees another change of tack. It allows Jenny and Susanna to stretch their legs vocally. What follows, is another reminder that you’re listening to two of the finest Nordic voice. 

Having just written that, House of Bones reinforces these words.It’s best described as a cathartic outpouring of emotion. Pain, hurt, sadness and emotion. It’s all there, and much more. There’s no drop in quality on Dawn. It features some of the best lyrics on Meshes Of Voice. They come alive as Jenny and Susanna’s vocal become one. 

Closing Meshes Of Voice is The Black Lake Took. With an sparse, understated backdrop, there’s very little to distract you from the undisputed ethereal beauty of Jenny and Susanna. This means they close Meshes Of Voice with one of its highlights.

It’s hard to believe that an album as good as Meshes Of Voice has lain unreleased for over five years. Music as good as this deserves a much wider audience. That’s what Meshes Of Voice will be released to. After all, Jenny Hval and Susanna’s profiles are much higher than they were in 2009. 

Now, Jenny Hval and Susanna have established themselves as two of the finest Nordic voices. That’s apparent on Meshes Of Voice. It’s just the latest critically acclaimed album from Jenny Hval and Susanna have released since 2009.  

Critical acclaim has been a familiar friend for Jenny Hval and Susanna. Each of them have released critically acclaimed albums since 2009. Both Jenny and Susanna have been nominated for a Spellemannprisen, which is the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Susanna and Ensemble neon won a Spellemannprisen for their 2013 collaboration The Forrester was released in 2013. Maybe this is what inspired Susanna to release Meshes Of Voice.

Belatedly, Meshes Of Voice will be released on Susanna’s label SusannaSonatta, on 18th August 2014. Hopefully, Meshes Of Voice won’t be the last collaboration between Jenny Hval and Susanna. After all, what could be better than another collaboration between two of the most talented and successful Norwegian singer-songwriters? They’re like yin and yang on Meshes Of Voice. Their voices are made for each other. They bring out the best in each other, and drive each other to greater musical heights. That’s apparent on Meshes Of Voice, which is a tantalising taste of two of the finest Nordic vocalists Jenny Hval and Susanna as their career unfolds. Maybe, Meshes Of Voice is just the beginning, and further collaborations between Jenny Hval and Susanna will follow? 

If they do, we’ll hear a very different Jenny Hval and Susanna. They’re five years older and have a wealth of experience under their musical belts. That’s what makes a followup to Meshes Of Voice such a tantalising proposition. Let’s just hope that somehow, Jenny Hval and Susanna can find the time within their busy schedules to record the followup to the critically acclaimed Meshes Of Voice.

JENNY HVAL AND SUSANNA-MESHES OF VOICE.

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DANA GILLESPIE-CAT’S MEOW.

DANA GILLESPIE-CAT’S MEOW. 

Dana Gillespie has packed a lot of living into her sixty-five years. She’s been an actress, singer and songwriter. Her singing career began in the mid-sixties. Initially, Dana was a folk singer. Before long, Dana became a teen pop idol and  released her debut album, Foolish Seasons in1967. Since then, Dana’s musical career has continued to evolve.

During the seventies, Dana’s career moved in the direction of rock. This came about after Dana sang backing vocals on It Ain’t Easy, a track from David Bowie’s 1972 classic album, The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. David Bowie and producer Mick Ronson realised Dana was a talented singer-songwriter. So, they produced Diana’s 1973 album Weren’t Born A Man. However, Weren’t Born A Man proved to be Dana’s only dalliance with rock. After that, Dana found her real musical love, the blues. Since then, Dana has been singing the blues. Here most recent album is Cat’s Meow, which was recently released on Ace Records.

Cat’s Meow is Dana’s comeback album. She hasn’t released an album since 2010s Rest My Case. However, Dana has been busy. That’s been the story of her career.

Throughout Dana’s career, she’s been much more than a singer. She’s successfully juggled a number of careers. Dana is a successful actress, whose appeared on stage and screen. Her screen debut was the 1966 film Secrets of a Windmill Girl. Since then, Dana has appeared in a  number of films and stage-plays. 

Without doubt, Dana’s highest profile role on the stage, was in the original London production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This was back in 1973, at the Palace Theatre. She played Mary Magdalene and appeared on the Original London Cast album. As you can see, Dana Gillespie means different things to different people. She’s an actress, singer and songwriter. Most people remember Dana as a singer-songwriter. No wonder, with over forty-five albums to her name. Cat’s Meow is Dana’s latest album.

For Cat’s Meow, Dana cowrote eleven tracks. Of these eleven tracks, she cowrote eight with guitarist Jake Zaitz. This includes Cat’s Meow, Love Matters, Especially Yours, Eureka Moment, Hands Of Hope, Love Moves, It’s Alchemy and Giving Out To Everyone. Dana, Jack and Evan Jenkins penned Last Chance Saloon. They also cowrote Two-Faced Girls with Artie Zaitz. The other tracks was Running Out Of Steam, which Dana and Jeff Walker wrote. These eleven tracks became Cat’s Meow.

Cat’s Meow was recorded at DD Studios London. Dana and Jake Zaitz produced Cat’s Meow. Dana’s band included a rhythm section of drummer Evan Jenkins, bassist Jeff Walker and guitarist Jake Zaitz. Artie Zaitz plays acoustic guitar, guitar, electric piano, organ, keyboards and percussion. Mike Paice played harmonica and saxophone, while percussionist David Malin added backing vocals. Once the eleven songs were recorded, they became Cat’s Meow.

After four years away, Dana Gillespie was back. Cat’s Meow was her comeback album, was released recently to critical acclaim. Britain’s Queen of the blues was back with Cat’s Meow, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening Cat’s Meow is the title-track. As the rhythm section provide the arrangement’s heartbeat, a guitar chirps, blues harmonica blows and a saxophone rasps. The arrangement is slow, moody, bluesy and understated. It’s the perfect backdrop for Dana’s vocal. She’s totally calm as she deliver the lyrics about pride and betrayal. He thinks he’s the Cat’s Meow, but Dana isn’t impressed and lets him know that.

A plucked bass, crystalline guitar and shuffling rhythm section open Love Matters. They provide the backdrop for Diana. Accompanied by braying horns and piano, she ensures the song swings. Her vocal is a sultry and needy as her band deliver jazzy backdrop. When the solos come round, each member of the band enjoys their moment in the spotlight. They’re talented musicians who play a huge part in the tracks sound and success. 

Bursts of quivering, shivering, bluesy harmonica and a glistening guitar join the rhythm section, in setting the scene on Eternally Yours. Having set the scene for Dana, her vocal is slow, sultry and sassy. All the time,  her band create the perfect bluesy backdrop. This allows Dana to deliver one of her sultriest and finest vocals on Cat’s Meow.

As Dana delivers a tender, pensive vocal on Eureka Moment, her band create a slow, spacious arrangement. Chirping guitars, stabs of grizzled horns and the rhythm section combine. They leave plenty space within the arrangement. So does Dana. By doing so, her vocal is really effective. It’s breathy and needy as she breaths meaning and sass into the lyrics. 

A probing bass and the drums combine with Dana’s vocal on Last Chance Saloon. She’s far from happy as she sings: “I had my fill of your crazy ways…you’d better shape up or ship out, not a moment too soon, ‘cos you’re standing in the Last Chance Saloon.” Dana means what she says, as she delivers a despairing vocal. Meanwhile, her band provide a bluesy backdrop that swings. Especially when the rhythm section and bluesy harmonica combine with guitars. They’re yin to Dana’s yang.

Hands Of Hope has a tough, bluesy sound. This comes courtesy of bursts of blistering guitars, washes of Hammond organ and the rhythm section. They set the scene for Dana’s vocal. She’s fearless. The reason for this is she’s been: “Rescued by the Hands Of Hope.” Dana can’t quite believe this. So much so, that she sings; “It’s still a mystery to me,  I must confess, how you heard my S.O.S.” Bluesy, soulful and with a gospel twist, this shows the many sides of Dana Gillespie.

Love Moves has a soulful, jazz-tinged sound. The arrangement meanders along, with the rhythm section, guitars and percussion accompanying to Dana’s heartfelt, soulful vocal. Subtle bursts of saxophone interject and guitars chime. All the time, percussion marks time as Dana’s delivers some beautiful lyrics, including: “Love Moves even mountains.”

Running Out Of Steam sees a return to a much more bluesy sound. The rhythm section, guitars and washes of Hammond organ lock into a bluesy groove. They’ve set the scene for a despairing Dana, as she sings: “oh I’m running out of love… I’m running out of patience… I’m running out on you.” When her weary, despairing vocal drops out, guitarist Jake Zaitz delivers a blues guitar masterclass. This seems to spur Dana on as she breathes life and meaning into the lyrics.

Percussion and drums open It’s Alchemy. They’re joined by shimmering guitar and Dana’s sultry vocal. As guitars shimmer, the rhythm section provide an understated backdrop. Washes of Hammond organ sweep in.  Later, Jake Zaitz delivers another stunning guitar solo. This is the finishing touch, as a lovestruck Dana delivers a needy, breathy, sensual vocal.

A carefully strummed guitar and wash of Hammond organ accompany Dana on Two Faced Girls. Before long, Dana is delivering an angry, frustrated vocal. She’s frustrated at a younger woman having stolen her man. She takes her aim, and vents her spleen at those “Two Faced Girls” who “shake their hips and purse those lips, then move in for the kill.”Later, Jake Zailz delivers another stunning guitar solo as Dana and her band kick loose.

Closing Cat’s Meow is Giving Out To Everyone. It’s a slow, spacious track, where the band allow Dana’s vocal to take centre-stage. Her mid-Atlantic vocal is accompanied by gently rasping horns, keyboards and glistening guitars. Before long, Dana’s vocal is growing in power and drama. She delivers a spellbinding, soulful performance that ensures Dana closes Cat’s Meow on a high.

After four years away, Dana Gillespie makes a welcome return with Cat’s Meow, which was recently released by Ace Records. Cat’s Meow is very much a return to form from Dana. Accompanied by a tight, talented band, Dana Gillespie combines  blues, jazz and soul on Cat’s Meow. Considering Dana has made a name as a blues singer, she’s equally comfortable delivering jazz and soul. That’s no surprise. During Dana’s near fifty year career, Dana has been a musical chameleon.

Over the last fifty years, Dana has sung everything from folk, pop, rock, jazz, soul and blues. However, it was as a blues singer Dana Gillespie made her name. She’s been singing the blues for over forty years. That’s what Dana Gillespie was born to do. She breaths life and meaning into the lyrics. Hurt, heartbreak, despair, frustration and anger come to life when Dana sings. Other times, Dana’s vocals are joyous, heartfelt, impassioned, sensual and sassy. On Love Moves, Dana comes across as lovestruck. Sometimes, Dana kicks loose, strutting and swaggering her way through tracks, making them her own. One thing that we can say, is that no two songs are the same. 

That’s what music lovers have come to expect from Dana Gillespie. She’s without doubt one of the most versatile artists of the past fifty years. Dana Gillespie reinvented herself several times. Then she found the blues. That was over forty years ago. Since then, Dana Gillespie has released over forty albums. Her latest album Cat’s Meow, is a reminder of why Dana Gillespie is Britain’s blues Queen.

DANA GILLESPIE-CAT’S MEOW. 

CDCHD-1404

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