DAN MASTROIANNI-TEARS AND WHISPERS.

DAN MASTROIANNI-TEARS AND WHISPERS.

All too often, an album fails to find the audience it deserves first time round. This can be a result of a number of reasons. The albums was released on the wrong label, it wasn’t promoted properly or it was too far ahead of its time. There can be any number of reasons. Time and time again I’ve written about these albums. Often, it’s hard to believe that these albums weren’t released to widespread commercial success and critically acclaim. Sadly, often it’s only much later that these albums are appreciated. Another example is Dan Mastroianni’s Tears and Whispers, which was recently rereleased by BBE Records as part of their Masters We Love series. In their press release Tears and Whispers is described as a unique album. That’s no exaggeration.

When Tears and Whispers was released in 1984, it was described as an experimental and innovative album. That’s apparent from the opening bars of Lead On, right through to the closing note of When You Say Goodnite. The eight tracks find Dan Mastroianni constantly pushing musical boundaries. To do that Dan, a talented keyboardist embraced musical technology. However, he didn’t turn his back on traditional musical methods. 

No. Tears and Whispers is a marriage of musicians and technology. To augment the synths, sequencers, keyboards and drum machines Dan had amassed, he brought onboard some of his musical friends. The result was Tears and Whispers, a compelling melting pot of soul, funk, boogie and even psychedelia synths that was recorded in 1984.

The story behind Tears and Whispers begins in 1984. That’s when Dan Mastroianni set about recording his debut album Tears and Whispers. It featured eight tracks written by Dan. He was a talented keyboardist, who embraced the new musical technology. 

That’s apparent throughout Tears and Whispers. During the eight tracks, Dan plays keyboards and synths. He also programmed drum machines and sequencers. Dan used samples on Tears and Whispers. Especially, horn and drum samples. This makes Dan Mastroianni one of the pioneers of samples. He was way ahead of the musical curve. However, Dan was still something of a traditionalist. Augmenting Dan’s technology were some of his musician friends.

For the recording of Tears and Whispers, Dan brought onboard his brother John Mastroianni. John played flute and saxophone. Al Shulick played drums, and arranged the drums and percussion with Sam Eckhardt and Dan. Vocalists included George “Cooter” McCallister and Dave Smith. These were the only musicians to feature on Tears and Whispers. Mostly, Tears and Whispers was Dan’s musical “baby” He arranged Tears and Whispers and produced the album with Sam Eckhardt. Tears and Whispers was released later in 1984.

Tears and Whispers was released as a private pressing in 1984. It was a fusion of man and machine. Musicians and technology became one. The result was a genre-melting album of experimental, groundbreaking music. Boogie, funk, soul and psychedelia synths all melt into one on Tears and Whispers. There was a problem though. 

Maybe, just maybe, Tears and Whispers was way ahead of the musical curve? Here was another case of an album that if it was released a couple of years laters, might have much more successful. Sadly, Tears and Whispers, failed commercially. What didn’t help was that Tears and Whispers was a private pressing. 

With private pressings, the labels haven’t the same resources as a major label. Sometimes, the label is owned by the artist. It’s sometimes been setup for the release of this one album. This means that it’s unlikely that the album will reach a much wider audience. Often though, the release will be only a short run, maybe one or two thousand copies. In this case, the best the artist can hope is that the album is picked up by a bigger label. Sadly, Tears and Whispers disappeared without trace. 

Since then, thirty years have passed. Just like many albums, Tears and Whispers has belatedly found an audience. It’s only now, that people realise just how groundbreaking an album Tears and Whispers is. Sadly, copies of Tears and Whispers were extremely rare. Copies were few and far between. When they came up for sale, the price was prohibitive to most people. Then BBE Records announced they were rereleasing Tears and Whispers. Belatedly, Dan Mastroianni’s Tears and Whispers can now be heard by a wider audience. They can enjoy Tears and Whispers, which I’ll now tell you about.

Tears and Whispers opens with Lead On. Dramatic drums and swells of synths rise up. Then banks edgy keyboards make their presence felt. So do drums and a fluttering bass. George “Cooter” McCallister adds a hurt-filled, needy vocal. Harmonies accompany him, adding to the soulful sound. Meanwhile, synths beep, squeak and then gradually, rise towards a crescendo. That’s the signal for this delicious fusion of blue-eyed soul meets boogie to kick loose, before reaching a dramatic ending.

Thirty years ago, You and I would be described as new age soul. It was very different to much of the soul being released. In fact, it was very different to much of the music being released in 1984. Oozing quality, emotion and beauty, You and I features a soul searching vocal from Dave Smith. He delivers it against an arrangement that comes courtesy of a a myriad of synths and banks of keyboards. This allows Dan the opportunity to dawn the role of musical alchemist. He unleashes some spellbinding solos. They veer between dramatic to thoughtful and wistful. It’s the perfect foil for the soulful delights of Dave Smith’s vocal.

A Million and One bursts urgently into life and a magical musical adventure unfolds. This urgency reminds me of the White Rabbit at the start of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What follows is akin to a lysergic trip through the looking glass. Swells of synths, banks of synths and an uber funky bass line join drums and shimmering harmonies. They’re the backdrop for George’s urgent, soulful vocal. Later, a braying swirling saxophone is added as boogie, funk and soul combine seamlessly to create a dance-floor friendly track.

Slow, soulful and sultry described Shine. George’s scatted vocal gives the way to the sultry sound of a saxophone. When it drops out, George’s heartfelt, needy vocal enters. Sometimes, his vocal becomes a jazzy scat. All the time, drums provide the heartbeat. Later, harmonies float in. However, it’s George’s vocal and John’s saxophone that play starring roles in what’s the most soulful track on Tears and Whispers.

Stabs of keyboards linger, adding to the emotion in Dave’s vocal on Blame It On Love. They’re part of what looks like an understated arrangement. That’s until Dan throws a curveball. Then the arrangement bursts into life. It becomes an irresistible explosion of joy, emotion and hooks. This reminds me of Dan Hartman. Providing the backdrop to Dave’s vocal is Dan. He dawns the role of one man band. Banks of keyboards and synths take charge. He unleashes some peerless solos. Later, drums and blazing horns augment Dan’s one man band during this irresistible, hook-laden track.

Tears and Whispers sees the tempo drop and things get deeply soulful. George take charge of the vocal. It’s full of emotion and soulfulness. Dan provides the backdrop for the vocal. His keyboards and synths provide a multilayered arrangement. Drums provide the heartbeat and like the saxophone, add to the drama. They frame George’s vocal as he revels in the role of troubled troubadour.

Just One Touch is another boogie track. From the get-go, the arrangement bursts into life. Keyboards, synths and drums propel the arrangement along. Unlike previous tracks, the two vocalists feature. George and Dave are like yin and yang, complimenting each other perfectly. They drive each other to greater heights of soulfulness. This seems to spur Dan on. He unleashes some of his best solos on Tears and Whispers. When George and Dave return, this solo spurs them on. They surpass their previous efforts on this soulful slice of boogie.

When You Say Goodnite closes Tears and Whispers. The swathes of synths give the track a cinematic sound. So does the flute that swirls above the arrangement. It’s very different from the rest of Tears and Whispers. Then it’s all change. Rolls of drums and George’s urgent, melancholy vocal combine. A slapped bass and rolls of drums makes their presence felt. They add to the drama and emotion on this wistful fusion of electronica, funk and soul. 

Belatedly, Dan Mastroianni’s debut album Tears and Whispers can be heard by a wider audience. Previously, copies of Tears and Whispers were extremely rare. Dan had released Tears and Whispers as a private pressing. This meant, that Tears and Whispers was a limited run. Very few copies seem to change hands. When they did, the price of a copy of Tears and Whispers was beyond most people. That was a great shame, because many people were desperate to hear Tears and Whispers.

Over the past few years, interest in Tears and Whispers was growing. A few discerning music lovers had discovered copies of Tears and Whispers. Soon, the word was out. Tears and Whispers was another hidden gem. It had lain undiscovered for nearly thirty years. Then the story got even more interesting.

Last year, 2013, a track from Tears and Whispers, Just One Touch, featured on Americana 2, a compilation released by BBE Records. This resulted in even more interest in Tears and Whispers. Suddenly, it was obvious, there was a new audience who were hungrily awaiting a rerelease of Tears and Whispers. 

Nearly a year later, and BBE Records have rereleased Dan Mastroianni’s debut album Tears and Whispers. This is just in time to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Tears and Whispers. Listening to Tears and Whispers, it’s hard to believe that Dan Mastroianni recorded the album in 1984. It’s a truly timeless album that was way ahead of the musical curve. However, innovative is only one half of the story.

The music on Tears and Whispers is experimental. Dan a talented keyboardist, pioneered the use of samples, sequencers, synths and drum machines. This resulted in Tears and Whispers’ experimental and innovative sound. Experimentation and innovation are the two threads that run through Tears and Whispers. They’re constants. So is the quality of the vocal and musicianship. All this meant that Tears and Whispers should’ve transformed Dan Mastroianni’s career.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Dan decided that Tears and Whispers should be a private pressing. With private pressings, the labels haven’t the same resources as a major label. This means that it’s unlikely that the album will reach a much wider audience. That was the case with Dan Mastroianni’s Tears and Whispers. 

As a result, Dan Mastroianni’s groundbreaking and experimental fusion of man and machine Tears and Whispers, failed commercially. Thirty years later, and somewhat belatedly, Tears and Whispers, Dan Mastroianni’s debut album is receiving the critical acclaim it so richly deserves. Even better, Tears and Whispers is being heard by the wider audience it deserves. No longer is Dan Mastroianni’s Tears and Whispers a hidden gem awaiting discovery.

DAN MASTROIANNI-TEARS AND WHISPERS.

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JEFF BUCKLEY-GRACE.

JEFF BUCKLEY-GRACE.

Twenty years ago, Jeff Buckley released the one and only album of his career, Grace. Jeff was the son of  Tim Buckley, one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. Tim could’ve and should’ve enjoyed widespread commercial success and critical acclaim. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Having released nine albums between 1966 and 1974, Tim died in 1975. He was only twenty-eight. Sadly, Tim never got to the opportunity to realise his potential. Tragically, history would repeat itself twenty-two years later.

Originally, Jeff played in various struggling bands. After that, he worked as a session guitar. Then in 1990, Jeff decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Just like his father Tim, it became apparent that Jeff Buckley was a talented singer-songwriter. Four years later, Jeff Buckley released his debut album Grace. Released to widespread critical acclaim, Grace was a  stunning and successful debut album. A great future was forecast for Jeff. Sadly, tragedy intervened in Jeff Buckley’s life.

On 29th May 1997 Jeff was in based in Memphis, where he was in the process of recording his sophomore album. He was awaiting the arrival of his band. With nothing to do, Jeff decided to go for a swim in the Wolf River. Having dived fully clothed into the river, Jeff was caught in the wake of a passing boat. Various attempts were made to rescue Jeff. These attempts were in vain. It wasn’t until 5th June 2014, that Jeff Buckley’s body was recovered. That day, music lost one of  its most potentially talented sons. Jeff Buckley’s musical legacy was his only album Grace, which will be rereleased by Sony BMG on 15th September 2014. This twentieth anniversary edition of Grace includes both a vinyl and CD version of Grace,  Jeff Buckley’s opus. Before I tell about Grace, I’ll tell you about Jeff Buckley’s life.

Jeff Buckley was born on November 17th 1966, in Anaheim, California. Although the son of Tim Buckley and Mary Guibert, he was brought up as Scotty Moorhead. He was brought up by his mother and stepfather. During his childhood, he was steeped in music. His mother was a classically trained musician, playing cello and piano. Tim Buckley, his father, was a successful singer-songwriter. However, it was his stepfather, Ron Moorhead who introduced Jeff to artists like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppilin, Pink Floyd and Queen. He had started playing guitar aged five, and by thirteen, owned his first electric guitar. During high school, he played music, even playing in the school jazz band.

On graduating from high school, he spent a year at the Musician’s Institute, graduating aged nineteen. This course taught him about music theory and harmonies. After this, he spent six years playing guitar in various bands. Their style of music ranged from rock to reggae, and jazz to heavy metal. To make ends meet, he worked in a hotel during this time. He also worked as a session musician, playing in funk and R&B sessions. 

In February 1990, Jeff moved to New York. Once settled in New York, he found it hard to get work as a musician. Whilst there, his musical tastes widened. He became interested in blues musician Robert Johnson’s music, hardcore punk band Bad Brains and Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s work in particular. It was whilst in New York that Jeff got his next major break in music. His late father’s manager Herb Cohen, offered to help Jeff record a demo tape. This was called the Babylon Dungeon Sessions. The idea was to attract interest in Buckley as a solo artist.

This worked. The Babylon Dungeon Sessions brought Jeff’s music to the attention of a wider audience. Soon, word spread that Tim Buckley’s son was a talented singer-songwriter. However, although Babylon Dungeon Sessions had been a success, Jeff was still looking for that elusive “big break.” It came when Jeff was asked to sing at a 1991, tribute show to his father Tim in New York.

At that tribute concert in New York, Jeff performed one of his father’s classic songs I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain. His performance at the concert stimulated interest in his career. At last, his music career was going somewhere. For the next couple of years, he played numerous gigs around New York, where he honed his skills as a musician. During his concerts, he would play a wide range of material. In his sets he would play covers of everything from Edith Piaf to The Smiths and Led Zeppelin to Leonard Cohen. After a while, he started attracting interest from major record labels. Eventually, he signed to Columbia Records, signing a three album deal, worth roughly one million dollars in October 1992. In July and August 1993, he headed to the studio, to record his debut EP Live At Sin-e. 

Midway through 1993, he began working on his debut album Grace. It featured ten tracks. Three were written by Jeff,  Last Goodbye, Lover, You Should’ve Come Over and Eternal Life. He cowrote Mojo Pin and Grace with Gary Lucas, and So Real with Michael Tighe.  Dream Brother was the other track Jeff cowrote Matt Johnson and Mick Grondahl. The other three tracks were cover versions. They were James Shelton’s Lilac Wine, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Benjamin Britten’s Corpus Christi Carol. These ten tracks would become Grace.

For Grace, Jeff put together a tight, talented band. The rhythm section included drummer and vibes player Matt Johnson, bassist Mick Grondahl and guitarists Michael Tighe and Gary Lucas. Other musicians included organist Loris Holland and Misha Masud on tabla. Jeff played guitar, harmonium, organ, dulcimer and tabla. The sessions were produced by Andy Wallace, who previously, had mixed Nirvana’s Nevermind album. After a few weeks practice, the band headed to Bearsville Studios, in Woodstock, New York. They spend six weeks recording parts of Grace. Overdubbing took place in New York and Manhattan. It was there, that Jeff Buckley recorded numerous takes of his vocals, attempting to achieve perfection.

Between finishing the recording and overdubbing sessions for Grace, and its release in August 1994, Jeff Buckley headed out on the road to tour his EP, Live At Sin-e.  His tour was a huge success, with many well known musicians taking in Jeff’s shows. This would include Chrissie Hynde of The Pretender and U2’s The Edge. With such high profile names accompanying him, this created a buzz for the release of Grace.

When Grace was released in August 1994, it was critically acclaimed. The great and good of music all queued up to praise the album. Luminaries such as Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and David Bowie all loved Grace, and widely praised it. Rolling Stone magazine loved the album, and have included it in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Sales started slowly, and eventually, Grace stalled at number 149 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-four in Britain. This was disappointing, considering the reviews Grace received. Since then Grace has been certified gold in Australia, France and the US. However, it was very different back in 1994.

After the release of Grace, Buckley spent the next eighteen months touring the album. Wherever he played, he was a sell out. After all the years he’d struggled to make ends meet, Jeff was suddenly a huge star. After the tour ended in 1996, he prepared to write his next album. This was entitled Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk. Tom Verlaine ex-member of Television was to produce the album. Several recordings took place, and after a recording session in Manhattan, Buckley was still not happy with the album. To him, the album wasn’t finished yet. He played a few new songs at The Knitting Factory’s tenth anniversary concert. After that, he decided to head to Easley McCain Recording studios in Memphis, to work on his album. He hired a house, and became so attached to it, that he asked the owner’s if he could buy it. Whilst there, he even played a number of concerts at local venues. However, the album wasn’t going well, Buckley wasn’t happy with Tom Verlaine as producer, and contacted Andy Wallace, producer of his first album, Grace. In preparation for the arrival of Andy Wallace, Jeff recorded some demos and sent them to Andy Wallace. 

Whilst his band returned to New York, Buckley stayed behind to work on the album. His band arrived back in Memphis on May 29th 1997. They were going to join him in the studio to see some new material he’d been working on. That night, Buckley decided to go swimming in Wolf River Harbor, part of the Mississippi. He entered the river fully clothed. A member of his road crew watched his swim. He’d swam there before. The roadie turned, and moved a guitar and radio out of the reach of the wake of a tug-boat, that was about to pass. When he turned round, Jeff Buckley was gone, nowhere to be seen. Tragedy had struck. Sadly, after a long search that night, there was no sign of Buckley. Then on June 5th, two local residents found Jeff Buckley’s body. He was thirty years of age. That day, music lost one of its a hugely talented singer-songwriter.

Since his death, Jeff Buckley’s music is more popular than ever. A number of live albums, greatest hits and Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk have been released since his death. His music is still attracting new fans, and his debut album Grace, is widely recognized as an outstanding album, one of the best albums of the 1990s’ I will now tell you just why Grace is such an outstanding album.

Grace opens with Mojo Pin, a song that starts quietly, the sound distant, gradually getting nearer. When it does, Jeff Buckley’s vocal emerges, soaring high at first, then dropping almost to a whisper. His hesitancy could be because he’s singing about  a dream. Behind him the track meanders gently, before opening out, becoming louder and fuller. As this happens, Jeff’s voice veers between high and low. His range is wide, his voice full of character. You get the impression he’s holding himself back, and any minute he could launch into a vocal thats loud and passionate. It happens. He almost screams, but gathers control. The same can’t be said of his band, they really let go and unleash a wall of glorious sound. Mojo Pin is a dichotomy of a track, one minute quiet, gentle, with Buckley sounding thoughtful, the next his voice soars, he nearly screams, joining the band in an almost explosive crescendo. It’s a powerful track, one that demonstrates Jeff Buckley’s considerable talent as a vocalist.

The introduction to the title-track, Grace sees a change in tack from Jeff and his band. Grace is based upon an instrumental Rise Up to Be, which was penned by Gary Lucas. Jeff added the lyrics after saying goodbye to his girlfriend at an airport. Straight away, the sound is full, the tempo faster. When Buckley sings his voice is softer, he articulates the lyrics perfectly, bringing out the beauty in the lyrics. It’s one of his best performances on the album. His band play really well, the guitars particularly are a highlight of the track. Later in the track, Jeff adds beautiful harmonies. Then later, his voice is much stronger, he really lets go, forces the high notes to emerge. When he does, his band join in, upping the tempo, the sound getting louder, nearly frenetic. Then suddenly, the track ends. You’re left wondering, where did it go? However, at least you’re are left with a wonderful memory of Jeff Buckley in full flight.

Last Goodbye begins with a slide guitar playing, as if just warming up. Quickly, things get serious. What follows is a beautiful song. Buckley’s voice is strong, clear and full of emotion. Despite the emotion, Jeff is  perfectly in control of his voice. Again, he demonstrates that wide vocal range. This allows him to veer from gentle and tender to high and soaring. Always though, Jeff in control. As for Jeff’s lyrics, they are among the best on the Grace. When he delivers them, his vocal is heartfelt, impassioned and emotive. That’s one reason why, seamlessly, everything falls into place. Jeff’s vocal, the lyrics and his band’s play their part in one of Grace’s high points.

Lilac Will will be familiar to many people. It has been covered by many artists. I’ve heard many of these versions. Some are good, others bad, and some the equivalent of a musical car crash. Jeff’s version is, by far, my favorite version. He poured everything he had into this song. During the song, you’ll experience a wide range of emotions. You’ll feel sad and happy, and experience highs and lows. Here his rendition is heartfelt, passionate and loaded with emotion. He brings the tempo way down low, when he sings his voice is brilliant, perfectly suited for the song. The arrangement is minimalist, just Jeff and his band playing softly behind him. It’s truly a gorgeous, soul-baring version of this song. After you’ve heard this version, anything else is second best.

After Jeff’s vocal masterclass on Lilac Wine, it’s going to be hard to either equal, or better that song. On So Real, he tries, tries very hard. It’s a good attempt. So Real is another of the album’s highlights. His voice is at its best, going between soft and gentle, to high and soaring. When he does this, he’s always in control of his powerful voice. This is something he shared with his father Tim. On this track, the arrangement is much fuller, the band are occasionally, allowed of the leash. Like Jeff Buckley’s vocal, the band’s performance veers between almost understated to full on. Having said that, they never overpower Jeff Buckley’s vocal, and compliment him perfectly.

Hallelujah sees Jeff cover another song that has been covered by many people. Written by Leonard Cohen, it’s a beautiful song, with Cohen’s version in many people’s opinion the best. Until now. Jeff sings the song beautifully, the arrangement wonderfully understated. He immerses himself into the song. So much so, that his version is one of the most moving versions of this song you’ll ever hear. When he delivers the lyrics, there are no frills. Instead, you’re fortunate to hear what’s an extremely moving and heartfelt reading of Leonard Cohen’s beautiful lyrics. This version is dramatic and emotive. When you first hear this track, it takes your breath away. It’s so different from many of the songs on the album. Only one word can describe this performance. Seminal.

Lover You Shouldn’t Have Come is a track that starts slowly. Gradually, it reveals  its secrets and subtleties. After  nearly a minute  before Jeff Buckley sings. When he does, it’s well worth the wait. His performance is truly compelling. Jeff’s delivery of the lyrics he wrote is full of despondency and despair. He sounds as if he’s outlived the relationship he’s singing about. What follows is a snapshot into Jeff’s turbulent personal life.  It’s also the perfect showcase for Jeff’s talents as a songwriter. Quite simply, these are some of his best lyrics on Grace. His vocal is just as good. When Jeff sings, he sings from the heart. You feel he means every word of the lyrics. Heartfelt, sincere and tinged with equal parts despair and despondency, Lover You Shouldn’t Have Come features Jeff at his very best.

Corpus Christi Carol, is from Benjamin Britton’s, A Boy Is Born. This was a song that Jeff was first introduced to in school. It’s the last of the three cover versions on the album. His version of this song is stunning. When you hear his voice, it has an ethereal quality, he controls his voice really well, resisting the urge to reinterpret the song. Instead he sings the song as it’s meant to be sung. The arrangement is subtle, understated and perfect for this beautiful song.

Eternal Life is the complete opposite to many tracks on Grace. Whereas Lilac Wine, Hallelujah and Corpus Christi Carol are quiet tracks, with a subtlety and understated arrangement, Eternal Life is the complete opposite. Straight away, the sound is loud and unapologetic. It’s right in your face. Truthfully, you worry if your speakers will survive nearly five minutes of this. Searing, scorching guitars soar above the arrangement and the drums pound. So much so, that it sounds as if they’re being  punished. After the initial shock, when you listen to the track, it grows on you. You begin to enjoy it. Jeff Buckley’s vocal is loud, as if he’s battling his band, almost struggling to make himself heard. When eventually the tempo drops, you breath a sigh of relief, draw breath. Mistake. They start straight back up, launching another assault on their instruments. By the end, I’m exhausted, but in all honesty, I really enjoyed the track, as it showed a very different side to Jeff.

Grace ends with Dream Brother, a track that has a hesitant start. When the track starts the arrangement is gentle. A guitar plays quietly, drums play in the distance and Jeff’s vocal is understated. The song meanders along. I’m always waiting for the song to open out, the volume to increase, Jeff and the band to cut loose. After two and a half minutes the sound gets fuller, the band and Jeff still showing restraint. They’re resisting the temptation to end the album with a band. Instead Jeff Buckley’s vocal is controlled, very much within himself. His voice is still full of character and feeling when he sings the lyrics. They’re powerful, his rendition of them adding a dramatic impact. Then the song ends, not with a bang, but with a subtle, understated ending. It’s a lovely track to end the album, keeping up the consistent quality that runs throughout Grace.

Grace was the only album released during Jeff Buckley’s short life. It was one of the best debut albums of the nineties. Twenty years later, Grace is still one of the best debut album you’ll be lucky enough to hear. So good was Grace, that was hailed as one of the best album of the 1990s. That’s still the case. Grace is a truly timeless album.  It’s an album that has stood the test of time well. Today, Grace still sounds as good today as the day I first heard it back in 1994. Indeed, so good was Grace that it was hailed one of the finest albums of the nineties. In the twenty years since Grace’s release, it’s been hailed as a classic album. Whenever lists of the best albums of all-time are released, Grace features on it. As a result, Grace has sold over two million copies. That’s no surprise. It’s a classic album that belongs in every record collection. For those yet to discover Grace, now is their opportunity to do so.

Grace which was released just over twenty years ago, will be rereleased by Sony BMG on 15th September 2014. This twentieth anniversary edition of Grace includes both a vinyl and CD version of Grace,  Jeff Buckley’s Magnus Opus. Grace should’ve launched Jeff Buckley’s career. Sadly, fate decided to intervene.

Nearly three years after the release of Grace, on 29th May 1997 Jeff was in based in Memphis, where he was in the process of recording his sophomore album. Things hadn’t been going well. He’d changed producer and came to Memphis seeking inspiration. Tom Verlaine was replaced by Andy Wallace, who produced Grace. Tragedy occurred when Jeff was awaiting the arrival of his band.

With nothing to do, Jeff decided to go for a swim in the Wolf River. Having dived fully clothed into the river, Jeff was caught in the wake of a passing boat. Various attempts were made to rescue Jeff. These attempts were in vain. It wasn’t until 5th June 2014, that Jeff Buckley’s body was recovered. That day, music lost one of  its most potentially talented sons. Jeff Buckley’s musical legacy was his only album Grace, 

Although Jeff Buckley only released one album, Grace was a stonewall classic. It’s a mixture of three cover versions and seven new songs. There is not one bad song on Grace. This is unusual. Usually, there are a couple of mediocre tracks on most albums. Not on Grace. It’s an album that oozes quality. Similarly, emotion and beauty is omnipresent throughout Grace. That’s why Grace is one of these albums that I return to time and time again. Each time, I hear something new. With every listen to Grace, subtleties or nuances continue to reveal themselves. That’s why I never tire of listening to Grace. It was the perfect showcase for Jeff Buckley.

He could’ve become one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation. Jeff could’ve and should’ve enjoyed widespread commercial success and critical acclaim. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Jeff died aged thirty, having never come close to fulfilling his potential. Grace is just a taste of what Jeff Buckley was capable of.  Sadly, we’ll never know what heights Jeff Buckley might of reached? Grace is just a hint of the heights Jeff Buckley might have reached and what he was capable of. 

JEFF BUCKLEY-GRACE.

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SHE DID IT! THE SONGS OF JACKIE DESHANNON VOLUME 2.

SHE DID IT! THE SONGS OF JACKIE DESHANNON VOLUME 2.

When eventually, the definitive history of modern music is written, Jackie DeShannon will be remembered as one of the first, and most successful singer -songwriters. Her career began in 1956, when as Sherry Lee, she released her debut single Baby Honey. Jackie was just fifteen. This was the start of a songwriting and recording career that would span six decades. 

A reminder of Jackie’s long and illustrious career of Jackie De Shannon, is She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2, which was recently released by Ace Records. It features twenty-three tracks which Jackie DeShannon wrote or cowrote. There’s hit singles, hidden gems and even an unreleased track on She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2. It’s a musical voyage of discovery and tantalising taste of a talented singer and songwriter, Jackie DeShannon, whose story began in 1941. 

Jackie DeShannon was born Sharon Lee Myers, in Hazel, Kentucky, on 21st August 1941. She discovered music at an early age. That was partly, thanks to her parents. They were music lovers, who encouraged Jackie’s love of music. Before long, people realised that Jackie was a talented singer. 

Aged six, Jackie was singing country songs on a local radio station. By the time she was eleven, Jackie was hosting her own radio show Breakfast Melodies. Sadly, life for her parents became difficult on their farm. So they made the decision to move to Batavia, Illinois.

Having moved to Batavia, Jackie attended the local high school. Then when she was a thirteen year old, eighth grader, Jackie featured in a local newspaper. They wrote about how Jackie was a talented and aspiring singer who also presented her own radio show. Jackie also made many appearances at various events within the local community. It seemed Jackie was being prepared for life as a singer.

The next step in Jackie’s career was an appearance on Pee Wee King’s Country and Western Television Show, in March 1956. This was the same year as Jackie released two singles as Sherry Lee. They were Baby Honey and I’m Crazy Darling. When neither singles charted, this proved an inauspicious start to the the future Jackie DeShannon’s music career.

Having spent two years at the Batavia High School, Jackie left in 1957, her sophomore year. The same year, Jackie’s recording career began. She would go on to release singles as Sherry Lee, Jackie Dee, and Jackie Shannon. Then later, she dawned the role of Jackie DeShannon. That was still to come. Before that, she signed to George Goldner’s Gone label in New York.

When Jackie signed to Gone, her management decided to change her name to Jackie Dee. Her debut single was I’ll Be True, which was released in 1957. She released three more singles as Jackie Dee, 1957s I’ll Be True and 1958s Buddy and Strolypso Dance. However, none of these singles charted. This resulted in a rethink from Jackie’s management.

They decided that Jackie Dee become Jackie Shannon. As Jackie Shannon, she released two singles, Just Another Lie and Lies. Neither country-tinged single charted. While this was disappointing for Jackie, these two singles came to the attention of Eddie Cochran.

Eddie Cochran was impressed with Jackie’s interpretation of country songs. He was also impressed with Jackie’s songwriting. So he arranged for Jackie to travel to California and meet his girlfriend Sharon Sheeley. 

Sharon Sheeley was a Californian based singer-songwriter. When she met Jackie, the pair immediately got on. They decided to form a songwriting partnership. This proved a successful songwriting partnership. Together, they penned a string of hit singles. One of the biggest hit singles was Dum Dum, which gave Brenda Lee a hit in America, Australia and Britain. For Jackie, this was just the start of her luck changing.

1960 saw Jackie sign to Liberty Records. She decided to adopt the name Jackie DeShannon. This she felt, would help her sell records. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

The first nine singles that Jackie released failed to chart. Her tenth single, 1962s Faded Love reached number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 100. Then Jackie’s cover of Needles and Pins reached number eighty-four in the US Billboard 100. Jackie also released her eponymous debut album in 1963. Later in 1963, Jackie’s cover of When You Walk in the Room reached number ninety-nine in he US Billboard 100. Despite the early promise Jackie had showed, commercial success was continuing to elude her. However, she received a big break in 1964.

In 1964, The Beatles were about to tour America for the first time. Belatedly, America “got” The Beatles. They needed someone to open for  them. That’s where Jackie came in. This lead to the release of her album Breakin’ It Up On The Beatles Tour! Later that year, Jackie penned Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe, for The Byrds’ debut album. She also released another album, Don’t Turn Your Back On Me. It seemed Jackie’s luck was changing.

1965 saw Jackie move to New York. It was there she met Randy Newman. They formed a songwriting partnership and penned two love songs, She Don’t Understand Him and Did He Call Today Mama? Jackie also formed a brief songwriting partnership with Jimmy Page. However, 1965 was the year Jackie released her breakthrough single. What The World Needs Now Is Love reached number four in the US Billboard 100. It also featured on her 1965 album This Is Jackie DeShannon. So did A Lifetime of Loneliness, which reached number sixty-six in the US Billboard 100.For Jackie, 1965 had been the best year of her career. Surely this was just the start of the rise and rise of Jackie De Shannon?

That looked like being the case. Sadly, in 1966, Jackie enjoyed just one minor hit single, Come and Get Me. It stalled at just number eighty-three in the US Billboard 100. Her album Are You Ready for This? didn’t fare much better. This was the start of two lean years for Jackie De Shannon.

During 1967 and 1968, none of Jackie De Shannon’s singles charted. She released three albums during this period, New Image and For You in 1967. Then in 1968, she released two further albums, Me About You and Laurel Canyon. The only commercial success she enjoyed was with The Weight, which reached number fifty-five in the US Billboard 200. Things would improve in 1969.

Jackie’s career was transformed in 1969. She cowrote Put a Little Love in Your Heart it with her brother, Randy Myers, and Jimmy Holiday. It reached number four in the US Billboard 100. The followup Love Will Find a Way reached number forty in  the US Billboard 100. Put a Little Love in Your Heart lent its name to Jackie’s 1969 album. As a new decade was about to dawn, things looked good for Jackie.

She moved to Los Angeles and signed to Atlantic Records in 1970. For Jackie these changes had mixed results. Her single You Keep Me Hanging On stalled at number ninety-six in the US Billboard 100. It’s So Nice then reached just number eighty-four in the US Billboard 100. Her 1970 album Love, marked a change in Jackie’s sound. It was well received by critics. 

1971 was a huge disappointment for Jackie. Neither of the two singles she released charted. Her 1971 Love marked the evolution in Jackie DeShannon’s sound and style. 

It came to a fruition in 1972. This was when Jackie DeShannon released her new album Jackie. Released to critical acclaim, everything looked good for Jackie. Sadly, Jackie sold badly, failing to match the success of previous albums. A small crumb of comfort was the single Vanilla Olay, which reached number seventy-six in the US Billboard 100. After this, Jackie would enjoy just two minor hit singles 1977s Don’t Let the Flame Burn Out and 1980s I Don’t Need You Anymore. However, in 1973, Jackie released one of the best albums of her career, Your Baby Is a Lady.

Released in 1973, Your Baby Is a Lady was hailed by critics as one of the finest albums of Jackie DeShannon’s career. Unfortunately, history repeated itself when Your Baby Is a Lady followed in the footsteps of Jackie and failed to chart. This was the start of a period where commercial success as a singer eluded Jackie. Her career as a songwriter was a different matter. You’ll realise that when I tell you about the highlights of She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2.

Doris Duke’s Bad Water opens She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2. I’m pleased to see a Doris Duke song on any compilation, especially this one. It was written by Jackie, Randy Myers, and Jimmy Holiday. Produced by Swamp Dogg and with strings arranged by Richard Rome this is track from Doris’ 1971 album A Legend In Her Own Time. Released on the Mojo label, one of the highlights of A Legend In Her Own Time was Bad Water. It’s a track that epitomises the country soul sound, and is a tantalising taste of one soul music’s best kept secrets.

Originally, Bettye Davis Eyes featured on Jackie’s 1975 album New Arrangement. It was written by Jackie and Donna Weiss. Nobody bothered much about the song. That was until six years later, when Kim Carnes released Bettye Davis Eyes as a single in 1981. Not only did it reach number one in the US Billboard 100, but was awarded Grammy Awards for Record of The Year and Song Of The Year. This was well deserved. Kim brings the lyrics to life and turns the track into a timeless classic. Thirty-three years later, it sounds just as good.

Put A Little Love In Your Heart is an oft-covered track. Dorothy Morrison covered Jackie, Randy Myers, and Jimmy Holiday’s song in 1969. She was formerly a member of the Edwin Hawkins Singers, a gospel group. Her gospel-tinged cover was the B-Side of her 1969 single All God’s Children’s Got Soul brings new meaning to a familiar track.

Brenda Lee was one of the first artists to cover a Jackie DeShannon song, when she covered Dum Dum. She also covered My Baby Likes Western Guys in May 1958. It featured on her 1960 eponymous sophomore album. My Baby Likes Western Guys is a reminder of what Little Miss Dynamite was capable of.

Before working with Phil Spector, The Ronettes were signed with Coldpix. When Phil Spector came along, The Ronnettes managed to escape their contract with Coldpix. They didn’t take this lying down. No. In 1965, they released an album The Ronettes Featuring Veronica. It was essentially designed to cash-in on the success of The Ronnettes. Opening the album was He Did It, penned by Jackie and her first songwriting partner Sharon Sheeley. He Did It shows a very different side to The Ronettes. It’s The Ronnettes without Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound. One thing is apparent though, and that’s The Ronnettes were going places.

Marianne Faithfull covered Jackie DeShannon’s With You In Mind in 1966. Produced by Mike Leander, With You In Mind featured on Marianne’s 1967 album Love In A Mist. It’s a tender, beautiful fusion of folk, chanson and pop. 

Gerri Diamond’s cover of I’m Breaking The Law sounds as if it was released in 1967. That’s not the case. Instead, it was released thirty years later in 1997. It was later released in 2005 on the Saxony Records Vaults compilation. The Ohio born singer delivers a sultry, sensual vocal that oozes emotion.

One of the unreleased songs on She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2 is Tammy Grimes’ The Greener Side. Tammy made her name as a Broadway Star, who won two Tony Awards. She also enjoyed a recording career. This includes recording The Greener Side in 1966. Written and Jackie and produced by Jack Nitsche, this song was never released. That’s a great shame, Tammy is obviously a talented singer. That’s apparent as she delivers a sensual vocal in her own, unique style.

Olivia Newton-John is best known for her performance in Grease. There’s much more to her career than that. Her career began in the sixties. She released her debut single in 1966. This was the Jackie DeShannon penned Till You Say You’ll Be Mine. Three years earlier, Jackie released Till You Say You’ll Be Mine as a single. Then in 1966, it’s given a makeover and launched Olivia Newton-John’s long successful career.

Rita Coolidge’s I Wanted It All is the perfect showcase for her tender, wistful vocal. Written by Jackie and John Bettis I Wanted It All featured on Rita’s 1975 album It’s Only Love. It was produced by David Anderle and released on A&M Records. One of the highlights of It’s Only Love is the melancholy beauty of I Wanted It All.

From one great vocalist in Rita Coolidge, to another with Karen Carpenter. She delivers a beautiful version of  Boat To Sail. Written by Jackie, it’s a track from The Carpenters’ 1976 A Kind Of Hush album. Featuring a lush, orchestrated arrangement from Richard Carpenter it’s another of the highlights of She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2.

Closing She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2 is Jackie DeShannon’s version of Love Forever Stay. It’s never been released before. It featured on a 1967 demo album. Just a few copies of these demos were pressed to showcase Jackie’s new songs. Unlike other artists, Jackie’s demos weren’t hurried affairs. Time and effort went into them. That’s why Jackie’s demo are comparable with other artists demos. Here, she’s accompanied by an acoustic guitar as Jackie breathes meaning and emotion into this hidden gem.

During a career that’s spanned fifty-eight years, Jackie DeShannon has established a reputation as one of the most successful singer songwriters. Commercial success and critical acclaim came the way of Jackie DeShannon. She was destined to make a career out of music. It was literally written in the stars. 

From the age of six, Jackie DeShannon was singing live on the radio. By the time she left high school, Jackie DeShannon was a musical veteran. However, commercial success eluded her. It took a six years and four changes of name before she had a hit single. By then, Jackie DeShannon was enjoying  a successful career as a songwriter.

She started as she meant to go on, writing hits for the biggest names in music. The first big single Jackie wrote was Dum Dum for Brenda Lee. After that, the hits kept on coming. Just a tantalising taste of the hits Jackie wrote feature on She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2. Apart from hit singles, hidden gems and unreleased tracks feature on She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2. This is just the tip of a musical iceberg.

There’s plenty more songs that Jackie wrote and recorded. Maybe, Ace Records will release a followup to She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2? I hope so. Especially if it’s as good as She Did It! The Songs Of Jackie De Shannon Volume 2. 

SHE DID IT! THE SONGS OF JACKIE DESHANNON VOLUME 2.

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DJ SNOWBOY PRESENTS THE GOOD FOOT.

DJ SNOWBOY PRESENTS THE GOOD FOOT.

Mark Cotgrove was just fourteen when he made his DJ-ing debut. This was at Deanes School, in Thundersley, Essex. The future DJ Snowboy assisted his metalwork teacher on the wheels of steel. This could’ve, and should’ve, been the start of his DJ-ing career. It wasn’t.

By the time Mark was seventeen, he’d enrolled at a graphic design course at Southend Art College. This was in 1978. Post-punk and and jazz funk were de rigeur. The Essex music scene was thriving. However, Mark had stopped going out. 

Each night, Mark stayed in. He spent his evenings listening to fifties rock ’n’roll. His love of rock ’n’roll was inspired by his elder brother, Paul. Rock ’n’roll became the soundtrack to Cotgrove brother’s lives. Then one night, some of Mark’s college friends convinced Mark to go along to a local club, Crocs.

Initially, Mark wasn’t bothered about going out. However, he was starting to feel lonely. He also didn’t want to be left out. So he agreed to go along to Crocs. His visit to Crocs was a life-changing experience. It was at Crocs Mark first heard Donald Byrd, Funkadelic, Brainstorm, George Benson, Weather Report and P-Funk. Originally, this was something of a culture shock. After all, Mark was listening to fifties rock ’n’ roll. His taste would soon change.

In October 1978, Chris Hill was one of the top DJs in Essex. He was playing at the Goldmine, in Canvey Island. He was playing everything from disco, funk, jazz, P-Funk, Philly Soul and Salsoul. This was a whole new musical world for Mark. He dived head first into this brave new world.

Soon, Mark was feverishly collecting everything from disco, funk, jazz, P-Funk, Philly Soul, Salsoul and street funk. Before long, Mark became evangelical about the music he had collected. He wanted to share his love of this new music with other people. So with just sixty or seventy records to his name, Mark hired out the Goldmine and the Mad Marx Roadshow made its debut in October 1978. Since then, Mark has made a career out of DJ-ing.

Mark has spent much of the last thirty-six years DJ-ing. At the last count, Mark has played in thirty-three different countries. He has also run a number of successful club nights.

One of Mark’s most successful club nights is at the Good Foot, in Soho, London. At the Good Foot, Mark plays what he describes as vintage music. He has been doing this since 4th June 2010. Since then, Mark has built the night into one of London’s most popular club nights. People come from far and wide to the Good Foot club night. For those that can’t make the journey, DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot, which was recently released on BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records is the next best thing. DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is the latest compilation Mark has compiled, during his thirty-six year career, that started back in 1978.

From the very first night the Goldmine, in October 1978, the Mad Marx Roadshow was a huge success. The popularity of the night grew and lasted right throughout until 1983. Then in 1979, Mark met Dr. Bob Jones who Mark credits with influencing his musical tastes. 

Throughout his career, Mark’s musical tastes would continue to evolve. Mark’s tastes are best described as eclectic. Afro-beat, electro, go go, Tex Mex, rap, jazz and funk would all inspire Mark musically. Similarly varied has been Mark’s career, since he dawned the roll of DJ Snowboy.

For anyone not yet familiar with the career of DJ Snowboy, he’s a man with many strings to his bow. Not only is he a highly accomplished Latin percussionist, but a band leader, recording artist and DJ. 

Not only did DJ Snowboy’s DJ career start back in 1978, but this was the same time as he started learning percussion. He released his first single Bring On the Beat in 1985 as Snowboy and The G.L. Band. By the late eighties, DJ Snowboy signed to Acid Jazz Records. 

As Snowboy and The Latin Section, Ritmo Snowboy his 1989 debut album was released. After that, Snowboy and The Latin Section released seven further albums between 1991 and 2008. That’s not all.

Away from Snowboy and The Latin Section, DJ Snowboy has found time to compile numerous compilations. However, there is much more to DJ Snowboy than musician, band leader and compiler. 

Back in 2009, DJ Snowboy, using his “real” name Mark Cotgrove, wrote The History of The UK Jazz Dance Scene. This put Mark’s encyclopaedic knowledge of music to good use. A year later, so did Wayne Hemmingway. 

In 2010, Wayne Hemmingway was looking for a curator for the first Vintage Festival. It was due to be held at Goodwood. Various names were banded about. Then Mark’s name came up. It was then that Wayne Hemmingway realised he had found his curator. Given Mark’s love of the vintage scene, he was the perfect person to take on the role of the curator to the Vintage Festival at Goodwood. However, Mark’s first love was DJ-ing.

DJ Snowboy is now into his fifth decade as a DJ. Over the years, he has run a number of successful and long running residencies and club nights. His latest successful club night is held at The Good Foot, in Soho.

At the Good Foot, DJ Snowboy plays what he describes as vintage music. Just like Mark’s musical taste, the playlist is eclectic. Blues, funk, R&B, rare groove and soul. Some nights, DJ Snowboy will even throw boogaloo, mambo and ska into the mix. He has been doing this since 4th June 2010. Since then, Mark has built the night into one of London’s most popular club nights. Given the eclectic and open minded music policy, it’s no surprise that people come from far and wide to the Good Foot club night. 

For those that can’t make the journey, DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot, which was recently released on BGP Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records is the next best thing. DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is the latest compilation Mark has compiled. Featuring Etta James, The Dynamics, Jimmy Norman, Luther Ingram, James Carr, Aretha Franklin, Z.Z. Hill, The Contours and Mark Murphy. They’re just a few of the twenty-three tracks of the eclectic delights on DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

Opening DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is a medley from Little Eva Harris. She begins with William Robinson’s anthem Get Ready. before moving onto Uptight. It was written by Henry Cosby, Sylvia Rose Moy and Stevie Wonder. Released in 1968, on Spring Records, this was six years after her biggest hit Locomotion. Although the single failed to chart, it was a reminder of what Little Eva Harris was capable of.

Not many artists enjoy the longevity that Etta James enjoyed. Her career began in the sixties, when she was signed to Argot Records. In 1964, Etta recorded I Can’t Shake It, for Chess Records. Sadly, it was never released. Instead, it sat in the Chess Records’ vaults. That’s where it was discovered by Kent Soul. It featured on the 2011 Etta James compilation Who’s Blue? Rare Chess Recordings of the 60s & 70s. Belatedly, this joyous, carefree song found the wider audience it deserved.

In 1963, The Dynamics released their debut single Misery. Written by Gary Stratton and Andy Wilson, it was released on Big Top Records. Soulful, funky and laden with emotion, Misery was the start of The Dynamics’ career. They released a series of singles and two albums. Their debut album was 1969s First Landing. Four years later, What A Shame was released. It spawned a trio of singles, Funkey Key, What a Shame and “She’s for Real (Bless You). However, the single that launched The Dynamics’ career was Misery.

Sue Ann Jones’ released I’ll Give You My Love in 1968. It was written by Dave Hamilton and James Moorman. Released on the TCB label, this is a deliciously funky slice of Northern Soul. Sadly, it failed to give Sue Ann Jones the hit single she deserved.

Jimmy Norman released his sophomore single I Don’t Love You No More (I Don’t Care About You) in 1962. Released Little Star Records, it was penned by H.B. Barnum. In Jimmy’s hands, the tracks is a fusion of funk, R&B and soul. Unfortunately, the single disappeared without trace. That wasn’t the end of Jimmy’s career. It continued and in 1987, he released his debut album Home, on Bad Cat Records.

Luther Ingram is another artist who has enjoyed a long and successful career. He cowrote Respect Yourself for The Staple Singers. Then in 1972, Luther enjoyed the biggest hit of his career with (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right. Thirty-six years later, hi career was  still going strong. He released Oh Baby Don’t You Weep as a single on Kent Select. Bluesy and soulful, it’s a reminder of the hugely talented Luther Ingram.

The Barrino Brothers have been around since the sixties. They released their debut album Livin’ High Off The Goodness Of Your Love in 1973. Four years earlier, they released a single that’s a true hidden gem, Just A Mistake. It was written by Ray Barrino and Wardell Montgomery Jr. Just A Mistake is The Barrino Brothers at their soulful best. A heartfelt, impassioned vocal and cooing harmonies play their part in glorious fusion of funk and soul.

The story of James Carr is a case of what might have been. Ill health robbed soul music of one of its most talented sons. Coming Back To Me Baby was released as the B-Side to his 1966 single Love Attack. Penned by Qiunton Claunch, Come Back To Me Back featured on James’ 1967 debut album You Got My Mind Messed Up. A stomping beat provides the accompaniment to James needy, lived-in vocal as he delivers a soul masterclass.

Way before Aretha Franklin was crowned the Queen of Soul, her career was struggling. Her first two albums failed to chart. So did her third album The Electrifying Aretha Franklin. Released on Columbia Records in 1962, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin features Rough Lover, which was written by John Leslie McFarland. It features a sassy, feisty vocal powerhouse from Aretha. It’s a long way from her gospel roots, but gives more than a hint of what Aretha Franklin was capable of.

Still, Z.Z. Hill is one of the most underrated soul singers of his generation. That seems strange, when you listen to You Don’t Love Me. Z.Z. wrote and recorded this song fifty years ago. in 1964. It was released as a singe on Kent, and in 1965, featured on his The Soul Stirring Z.Z. Hill album. It’s an album that oozes quality. However, one of the highlights is You Don’t Love Me, where Z.Z. lays bare his soul for all to see.

In 1962, Hank Mart released The Watusi Roll as a single on Federal Records. What follows is a masterclass on the Hammond organ. Hank proves to the Hendrix of the Hammond. Flamboyant flourishes are unleashed as he gives a truly barnstorming performance.

My final choice from DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is The Contours’ Do The See Saw. This was a track that The Contours recorded when signed to Motown, where they spent much of their career. It was also where they recorded the best music of their career. They recorded much more music than they released. This wasn’t unheard of. Record companies liked to stockpile music. Do The See Saw was an example of this. It’s a dance track that lay undiscovered until 2011, when Kent Records released Dance With The Contours. 

The twelve tracks I’ve mentioned are just a some of the highlights of DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot. There’s much more to DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot than these twelve track. I could just as easily have mentioned contributions by The Ikettes, James Brown, Little Willie John, The Shirelles, Little Johnny Taylor, Mark Murphy and Willis Jackson. That’s how good DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is.

A lot of thought and care has gone into compiling DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot. That’s the way it should be. Sadly, not every compiler takes the same care as DJ Snowboy. He has taken care to ensure that DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is representative of a night at The Good Foot. 

At The Good Foot, DJ Snowboy plays what is best described as eclectic selection of vintage music. DJ Snowboy’s playlist is eclectic. Blues, funk, R&B, rare groove and soul. Some nights, DJ Snowboy will even throw boogaloo, mambo and ska into this eclectic mix. Equally eclectic is DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot. It’s a snapshot of the eclectic musical taste of a veteran DJ. 

DJ Snowboy is also a veteran when it comes to compiling compilations. He’s previously compiled several successful compilations. DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot, which was recently released by BGP Records, an imprint of Ace Records, is the latest compilation from DJ Snowboy. It’s one of his best and most eclectic.

Having listened to, and thoroughly enjoyed DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot, The Good Foot sounds like one of the final bastions of good music. The Good Foot started out in June 2010. Since then, The Good Foot has been growing in popularity. Given how good the music on DJ Snowboy Presents The Good Foot is, that’s no surprise.

DJ SNOWBOY PRESENTS THE GOOD FOOT.

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COLD COLD HEART-WHEN COUNTRY MEETS SOUL VOLUME 3.

COLD COLD HEART-WHEN COUNTRY MEETS SOUL VOLUME 3.

For the past fifty years, country music has influenced soul music, and soul singers. Many soul singers grew up listening to soul music. This would later influence and help shape their careers. Later, when their careers began, many soul singers would pay homage to how country music influenced their early lives. To understand this, you’ve got to go back to the fifties and early sixties. 

Many soul singers, especially Southern Soul singers, grew up in the southern states. They listened so to a soundtrack of country music coming out of Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals on the local radio stations. Back then, country music was one of the most popular genres.

Artists like Hank Williams, George Jones, Webb Pierce, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline some of the biggest names in country music. Each of singers were influencing the next generation, including a new generation of soul singers. One of the biggest influence was Ray Charles.

There is no doubt, Ray Charles deserves to be described as a musical pioneer. That was the case from when he released his 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Volumes 1 and 2 on ABC-Paramount. These albums struck a chord, reaching numbers one and two in the US Billboard 200 Charts. After that, the crossover between country and soul became much more popular during the sixties and seventies. Since then, record companies have often released compilations of how country music influenced soul music. This includes Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records. Recently Kent Soul released Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3.

Just like the two previous volumes in the Where Country Meets Soul series, the release of Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3 has been eagerly awaited. No wonder. The track listing reads like a list of the great and good of soul music. There’s contributions from Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, The Temptations, Arthur Alexander, The Supremes and Bobby Bland. Then there’s hidden gems.

The hidden gems include tracks from some of soul music’s best kept secrets. This includes from soul sisters Margie Joseph, Bettye Swann and Esther Phillips. Johnny Adams and Ralph “Soul” Jackson contribute two tracks that epitomise the country soul sound. However, one of the most intriguing tracks is George Benson’s 1969 My Woman’s Good To Me. It’s proof that George Benson found his voice way before the mid-seventies. Good To Me is just one of twenty-four tracks Tony Rounce has chosen for the latest instalment in the Where Country Meets Soul series, Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3. Tony has chosen well. You’ll realise that, when I pick the highlights of Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3.

Percy Sledge’s True Love Travels On A Gravel Road opens Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3. It was released as a single  on Atlantic Records in 1969. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road was taken from Percy’s fifth album, My Special Prayer. It’s one of My Special Prayer’s highlights. A fusion of country, soul and gospel tinged harmonies, hope, beauty and melancholia are omnipresent on True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.

Before signing to Atlantic Records in 1972, Mississippi born Margie Joseph was signed to Okeh and Volt Records. She had enjoyed several minor hit singles and released two albums. After Margie covered Stop In The Name Of Love, which give her the biggest hit of her career, this brought her to the attention of Atlantic Records. They signed Margie in 1972. Her Atlantic debut was Touch Your Woman. It was written by Dolly Parton, and the song had already given her a top ten single. Arif Mardin decided Touch Your Woman was the perfect song for Margie’s Atlantic debut. The song is given a soulful makeover. In Margie’s hands, it becomes slow, sultry and sensuous. Sadly, if failed to chart. However, it wasn’t long before commercial success came Margie’s way at Atlantic.

Solomon Burke’s recording career began back in 1956, when he released his debut single on Apollo Records. Seven years later, in 1963, he was signed to Atlantic Records. He had just released his debut album If You Need Me. Later that year, he released You’re Good For Me as a single. Tucked away on the B-Side Beautiful Brown Eyes in 1963. Written by Roy Acuff and Arthur Smith and produced by Bert Sterns, it’s a heartachingly beautiful hidden gem.

Listening to The Temptations’ cover of Bobby Russell’s Little Green Apples, it’s hard to believe that they recorded this track during their psychedelic period. Featuring an understated arrangement and Paul Williams  wistful, thoughtful vocal, it’s very different to much of the music they recorded during this period. Little Green Apples, featured on their 1969 album Puzzle People. It reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. This resulted in another gold disc for The Temptations, who during this period, could seemingly do no wrong.

Bo Kirkland and Ruth Davis joined together to cover Freddie Hart’s Easy Loving. It was released as a single on Claridge Records, in 1976. Easy Loving also featured on their 1976 album Bo and Ruth. Accompanied by bursts of braying horns and swathes of the lushest strings, Bo and Ruth  deliver heartfelt, tender vocals. The result is a a beautiful, seductive paean.

Of all the artists on Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3, Arthur Alexander is an artist whose music epitomises the country soul sound. That’s the case with I Hang My Head And Cry. It was the B-Side to Arthur’s 1962 single Anna, which was released on Dot Records. I Hang My Head And Cry was a cover of a song made famous by one of country music’s first superstars, Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy.” However, Arthur Alexander’s version is very different. It’s full sadness and pathos, and showcases a vocal that’s rueful and tinged with regret.

Stand By Your Man is an oft-covered track. It was written by Tammy Wynette and Billie Sherrill. The original version was recorded by Tammy Wynette in 1968. A year later, The Mirettes covered Stand By Your Man. Their version was produced by Clarence Paul, Ernie Shelby and Dick Cooper. It’s best described as an impassioned fusion of country, soul and gospel.

Without doubt, one of the finest tracks on Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3, comes courtesy of Bobby Bland. It’s his cover of Charlie Rich’s Who Will The Next Fool Be? It has a late-night, bluesy sound. A despairing, rueful Bobby is accompanied by rasping horns as he wonders “Who Will The Next Fool Be?” Quite simply, this is vintage Bobby Bland.

In 1972, Laura Lee decided to cover Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man. It was originally recorded by Faron Young and Margie Singleton as a country song. Then in 1968, Lee Rundless covered Marlin Greene, George Jackson and Dan Penn’s song. Candi Staton recorded Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man in 1969. That for many, was the definitive version. However, in 1972 Laura Lee breathed new life and meaning into a now familiar track. It featured on her 1972 sophomore album Love More Than Pride. Despite bristling with emotion and electricity, Chess decided not to release this song as a single. If they had, maybe Laura Lee’s name would be synonymous with Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man?

It was in 1963, that Johnny Adams decided to cover Cold Cold Heart. This was a song penned by the man they called the hillbilly Shakespear, Hank Williams. Released on the Ron label, and produced by Joe Ruffino, Johnny Adams delivers a soul-baring vocal that equal parts hurt and disbelief.

Nearly fifty years after releasing he debut single, Bettye Swann is still one of soul music’s best kept secrets. That’s a great shame. It certainly wasn’t through a lack of talent. No. Bettye had a voice that stood comparison with the biggest names in soul music. Sadly, Bettye never got the breakthrough her talent deserved. By 1972, Bettye was signed to Atlantic Records. She released Larry Henley and Red Lane’s Till I Get It Right. Produced by Mickey Buckins, Till I Get It Right is the perfect showcase for a hopeful, heartfelt vocal from Bettye.

Having started life in a doo woo group, Brook Benton was forced to change direction in the early sixties. As his career progressed, his singles weren’t as successful. So he decided to reinvent himself as a balladeer. In 1963, producer Shelby Singleton took Brook to Nashvile, where he recorded Darrell Edwards and George Jones’ Tender Years. It then became the B-Side to his 1963 single My True Confession. It’s a track that oozes quality and emotion. With Shelby Singleton’s help, he recorded a wistful, country-tinged take on Tender Years.

My final choice from Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3 is Esther Phillips’ Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry. It was released as a single on Roulette Records in 1969. By then, Esther Phillips was on the comeback trail. Her career had been on hold due to heroin addiction, which blighted her career. Esther hoped lightning would strike twice. Country music rescued her career in 1962. Seven years later, she headed to Nashville and recorded a bunch of songs. This includes Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry. While it never gave Esther a hit single, it shows just what she was capable of.

Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3 has a pleasure to review. It’s an album that absolutely oozes quality. Compiler Tony Rounce has chosen well. There’s a nice mix of the familiar and hidden gems.

The track listing reads like a list of the great and good of soul music. There’s contributions from Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, The Temptations, Arthur Alexander, The Supremes and Bobby Bland. Then there’s more than a few hidden gems.

The hidden gems include tracks from some of soul music’s best kept secrets. This includes from soul sisters Margie Joseph, Bettye Swann and Esther Phillips. Then there’s contributions from Johnny Adams and Ralph “Soul” Jackson. They contribute two tracks that epitomise the country soul sound. However, one of the most intriguing tracks comes courtesy of  George Benson. 

His 1969 single My Woman’s Good To Me is proof that George Benson found his voice way before the mid-seventies. Of the hidden gems, this is the most intriguing of the lot. It’s just one of many reason why Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3 is without doubt, the best instalment in the Where Country Meets Soul series.

It seems that with each instalment in the Where Country Meets Soul series surpasses the previous one. That’s the case with Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3. The man to thank for this, is compiler, Tony Rounce. He’s a man who knows his country soul. Tony has surpassed himself with Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3. It was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. So good is Cold Cold Heart-Where Country Meets Soul Volume 3 that I’m already looking forward to Volume 4.

COLD COLD HEART-WHEN COUNTRY MEETS SOUL VOLUME 3.

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CHANCHA VIA CIRCUITO-AMANSARA.

CHANCHA VIA CIRCUITO-AMANSARA. 

It’s been three long years since Chancha Via Circuito released his sophomore album, Rio Arriba in 2011. Hailed as an innovative, groundbreaking, genre-melting album, Rio Arriba lifted the profile not just of Chancha Via Circuito, but cumbia. 

The commercial success and critical acclaim of Rio Arriba lead to  Chancha Via Circuito being asked to remix several high profile tracks. This included tracks from The Ruby Suns, The Gotan Project and a track for Giles Peterson’s Havana Remixed project. Then in 2013, Chancha Via Circuito contributed a track, Lacandona to the Sub Pop 1000 compilation. Rio Arriba had transformed it seemed, had transformed Chancha Via Circuito’s career. It also lifted the profile of cumbia music.

Although Rio Arriba featured cumbia, this was cumbia reinvented. it wasn’t like anything people had heard before. This was cumbia reimagined and given a modern makeover by a musical maverick. Essentially, Chancha Via Circuito took what some people perceived as obscure Latin rhythms, chopped them up, then combined them with native drum beats. They were then given a contemporary twist. This became Rio Arriba, which found favour with a global audience.

As soon as music lovers heard Rio Arriba, they were won over by this captivating combination of musical influences and genres. No wonder. Chancha Via Circuito is akin to a call to dance, one that is impossible to resist. All you can do is submit to the charms of Chancha Via Circuito’s music. That’s what discerning music lovers did on 2011, upon the release Rio Arriba. Having won over a new audience with Rio Arriba, his new fans hungrily awaited Chancha Via Circuito’s third album.

They’ve had to be patient. Three years have passed since the release of Rio Arriba. However, the wait is almost over.  Chancha Via Circuito will release his fourth album Amansara on 29th September 2014 on Crammed Discs. Amansara is Chancha Via Circuito’s first album for Crammed Discs. The long awaited followup to Rio Arriba marks a new chapter in the career of musical maverick, Chancha Via Circuito.

Originally, Argentinian producer Pedro Canale came to prominence as part of Buenos Aries’ famous digital cumbia scene. It was during that period, that Pedro adopted the nom de plume Chancha Via Circuito. By then, he was gaining a reputation for pushing musical boundaries. 

Soon, Chancha Via Circuito was gaining a reputation as a musical alchemist. He was fusing the unlikeliest of musical genres. Brazilian rhythms were combined the music of the Andean mysticism, Argentinean folklore and the Paraguayan harp. Add to this elements of avant-garde, electronica and post dub-step. The result was music that’s futuristic and innovative. This was music for 21st Century dance-floors. It was also music that caught the imagination of other artists and music lovers.

Rodante.

This was the case from Chancha Via Circuito’s debut album Rodante. Released in 2008, Rodante saw Chancha Via Circuito accompanied by a cast of guest artists. This included Khumba Keta, Jahdan and Rancho MC. With their help, Chancha Via Circuito took cumbia in the most unexpected directions on Rodante. 

During the ten tracks on Rodante, cumbia headed off on a genre-melting, musical journey. It’s a captivating journey full of twists and turns aplenty. Before long, you realise to expect the unexpected. You never try to second guess Chancha Via Circuito on Rodante. This made Rodante a truly refreshing and innovative album. Rodante was also an album caught the imagination of other artists. 

Cumbia, other artists realised, was only the starting point for Chancha Via Circuito. It was just one of many musical building blocks on Rodante. What he added to cumbia made all the difference. This inspired other artists to follow in Chancha Via Circuito’s footsteps. Music lovers were also inspired by Rodante. They were won over by the futuristic sound of a musical alchemist. This they realised, would be the music that filled dance-floors in the future. So would the music of  Chancha Via Circuito’s sophomore album Rio Arriba.

Rio Arriba. 

Three years later, in 2011, Chancha Via Circuito returned with his sophomore album, Rio Arriba. The release of Rio Arriba was eagerly awaited. Both other artists and music lovers wanted to hear the direction Chancha Via Circuito’s had headed. After all, music is in a constant state of evolution. Similarly, Chancha Via Circuito wasn’t the type of artist who would stand still.

That proved to be the case. The three previous years had been well spent. Chancha Via Circuito took  these so called obscure Latin rhythms, chopped them up, then combined them with native drum beats. They were combined with South American folklore and then given a contemporary twist. This resulted in Rio Arriba, which was released in 2011.

On the release of Rio Arriba in 2011, it was released to critical acclaim. Rio Arriba has hailed as a truly groundbreaking album. Chancha Via Circuito was lauded by critics and hailed as an artist with a big future. That proved to be the case.

Following the commercial success and critical acclaim of Rio Arriba,  Chancha Via Circuito was asked to remix several high profile tracks. This included tracks from The Ruby Suns, The Gotan Project and a track for Giles Peterson’s Havana Remixed project. Then in 2013, Chancha Via Circuito contributed a track, Lacandona to the Sub Pop 1000 compilation. The success of  Rio Arriba had Chancha Via Circuito’s career. However, during this period, Chancha Via Circuito was  still making new music.

Semillas E.P.

This included his Semillas E.P. It was released in 2012, and featured five new tracks from Chancha Via Circuito. Two of the tracks were collaborations. Karpis and Papas featured on Gevgelis, while Leando Frías featured on Tornasol. Just like his two previous albums, the Semillas E.P. was a reminder that Chancha Via Circuito’s music was constantly moving forward. It was as if Chancha Via Circuito was determined to reinvent himself and his music. Chancha Via Circuito. continues to do this on Amansara.

Amansara.

For Amansara, Chancha Via Circuito has been busy. Over the last few years, Chancha Via Circuito has written and recorded eleven tracks. Of these eleven tracks, he wrote seven tracks and cowrote the four other tracks. This includes Jardines with Lido Pimienta, Coplita with Miriam García and Camino de posguerra with Sara Hebe. The other track is Sabiamantis, which Chancha Via Circuito penned with Barrio Lindo and Sidirum. These four collaborations became Amansara, Chancha Via Circuito’s long-awaited third album.

Opening Amansara is Hola (intro). Drums pound. They drift around, reverberating and pulsating. Then washes of eerie synths meander in. They quiver, shiver and shimmer, adding to the cinematic sound.

Percussion plays as Sueño en Paraguay’s arrangement unfolds. Before long, a myriad of instruments combine. A Paraguayan harp, keyboards, guitar and drums join percussion. Briefly a haunting, mocking laugh escapes from the arrangement. Midway through the track, the arrangement is stripped bare, before rebuilding. The instruments gradually rejoin before musical influences and genres melt into one. 

Futuristic. That describes the introduction to Jardines. Waves of synths reverberate. Drums are added, giving the arrangement a broken beat, nu  jazz sound. Then Lido Pimienta’s vocal enters. It’s best described as heartfelt, soulful and beautiful. It grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. When it drops out, a myriad of sci-fi sounds and drums take centre-stage. After that, the sultry sound of Lido Pimienta’s vocal returns. It’s crucial to the track’s success. Her vocal is yin to the arrangement’s yang.

Dramatic drums open Tarocchi. They plod across the arrangement. It has an almost uneasy, eerie sound. That’s the case as waves of synths and percussion combine with drums Adding to uneasiness are bursts of a cooing vocal. Then there’s stabs of synths and wistful keyboards. When all this is combined, the results is a haunting, mysterious,  cinematic sounding track.

Thunderous drums opens Sauce. Having more than made their presence felt, they’re joined by jangling percussion. What sounds like a harmonium is added. It’s distant, hidden amidst the drums of percussion. The result is a what’s best described as hypnotic meets melancholy. 

Dark, dramatic and guaranteed to grab your attention. That’s how to describe the arrangement to Coplita. It’s made up of layers. The foundation is the drums. They pound and drive the arrangement along. Above them, sits percussion, flutes and synths. Then there’s Miriam García’s pensive, thoughtful and emotive vocal. This is the perfect foil to the arrangement. It proves the perfect contrast to the darkness and drama of the arrangement.

Urgent, stabs of synths and percussion open Guajaca. Together, they create a futuristic, eerie and industrial arrangement. Avant-garde, electronica, experimental and industrial combine. A melange of disparate influences and genres, it’s a track full of twists and turns. Just like previous Chancha Via Circuito albums, it’s a case of expect the unexpected, as he creates what’s akin to a musical representation of a 22nd Century futuristic cityscape.

As Coroico reveals its secrets, it has a much more understated sound. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds. The arrangement is  reminiscent of a late night walk through an urban environment. Chancha Via Circuito toys with your emotions. Sometimes, you think danger lurks round every corner. Then later, it’s all change. The track takes on an irresistible Latin influence. It’s Chancha Via Circuito at his best, as he creates the soundtrack to a film that’s yet to be made.

Camino de Posguerra is a fusion of Latin and hip hop. There’s even a nod to the old Spaghetti Westerns and French film soundtracks of the sixties. Joining Chancha Via Circuito is Sara Hebe. She delivers an impassioned, swaggering rap. This she does against a bold backdrop of drums and washes of synths. Although Sara’s vocal takes centre-stage, there’s much more going on. The keyboard that sits deep in the mix plays an important role. Its atmospheric sound helps frame Sara’s feisty, swaggering vocal.

Sabiamantis features the last of the guest artists, Barrio Lindo and Sidirum. Again, the arrangement is full of contrast. Bells and percussion provide a subtle contrast to the thunderous drums and washes of otherworldly synths. Before long, a captivating fusion of influences unfolds. Avant-garde, electronica, experimental and industrial rub shoulders. They play their part in a futuristic, industrial sounding track that veers between eerie, ethereal and otherworldly.

De Tu Mano (Outro) closes Amansara. At just over a minute long, this bookends Amansara nicely. After all, a short track opened Amansara. With its hesitant, melancholy, understated sound, this shows another side to Chancha Via Circuito and his music.

Three years have passed since Chancha Via Circuito released his sophomore album, Rio Arriba in 2011. It was hailed as an innovative, groundbreaking, genre-melting album. The same can be said of Amansara which will be released on 29th September 2014 on Crammed Discs. Amansara, like Rio Arriba, is another fusion of musical genres and influences.

Listen carefully and Chancha Via Circuito combines a myriad of disparate musical influences. As a starting point, Chancha Via Circuito uses cumbia. He adds to that avant-garde, electronica, experimental, hip hop, industrial, Latin and soul. The soul comes courtesy of Lido Pimienta and  Miriam García. Although they’re both Latin vocalists, they’re both deeply soulful. They provide a contrast to Chancha Via Circuito’s arrangements. Each of these arrangements are very different.

That was case with Rio Arriba. It’s also the case with Amansara. During Amansara, Chancha Via Circuito seems determined to constantly reinvent himself and his music. He successes in doing so. Amansara is a genre-melting, musical journey. It’s a captivating journey full of twists and turns aplenty. Before long, you realise to expect the unexpected. The other thing you realise, is never try to second guess Chancha Via Circuito. He is after all, a musical maverick. That’s why Amansara is a truly refreshing, genre-melting and album of ambitious, innovative music.

CHANCHA VIA CIRCUITO-AMANSARA. 

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VELVET REVOLUTIONS PSYCHEDELIC ROCK FROM THE EASTERN BLOC VOLUME TWO 1968-1971.

VELVET REVOLUTIONS PSYCHEDELIC ROCK FROM THE EASTERN BLOC VOLUME TWO 1968-1971.

One of the last sources of undiscovered music has to be what was the former Eastern Bloc. Especially the music released during the psychedelic era. As a result, music lovers in the West never got to discover the psychedelic rock music that was popular within the Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Hungary. Each of these countries had a thriving psychedelic scene between 1968 and 1971. However, many music lovers are still unaware of this. It’s only very recently that Eastern European psychedelia is starting to be heard by a wider audience.

One of the labels flying the flag for Eastern European psychedelia are Particles. They recently released Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. It’s the followup to Velvet Revolutions-Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc 1969-1973. Released in 2013, this for many people, was their introduction to Eastern European psychedelia. This was just the tip of a musical iceberg.

The seventeen tracks on Velvet Revolutions-Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc 1969-1973 were just a taste of what Eastern European psychedelia had to offer. As with all things psychedelic, there is always an audience for newly discovered psychedelia. However, since the release of Velvet Revolutions-Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc 1969-1973, most record labels seem to have been reluctant to release further compilations or albums of Eastern European psychedelia. Maybe, that may be about to change?

Eastern European psychedelia deserves to be heard by a much wider audience. Hopefully, the release of Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971 marks the coming of age of Eastern European psychedelia. It has, for too long, been the poor relations in the psychedelic family. That is quite ironic, given the plethora of hidden musical gems awaiting discovery. Many of them feature on the recently released Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971.

Among the twenty tracks on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971, are contributions from some of the biggest names in Eastern European psychedelia. This includes Olympic, Progress Organisation, Kameloni, The Matadors, Romauld I Roman, Crupa 220, Breakout, Blue Effect, Omega and No To Co. These bands are one of the reasons why Eastern European psychedelia is one of the most underrated musical genres. That is apparent when you listen to Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. You want to hear much more than the twenty tracks on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. They’re just a tantalising taste of Eastern European psychedelia. 

Olympic feature four times on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. They played an important part in the Czech music scene. So much so, that they’re credited with being the founding fathers of Eastern Bloc Rock. Formed in Prague in 1963, Olympic released their debut album Želva in 1968. This was the very first Czechoslovakian psychedelic album.

Želva which was released on the Suphraphon label, features Psychiatrický Prášek one of the four tracks Olympic contribute to Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. It’s a fusion of blues, pop, rock and psychedelia. This is very different to Báječné Místo and Čekám Na Zázrak from Olympic’s 1969, sophomore album Pták Rosomák. Báječné Místo veers between understated, jazz-tinged and urgent. Čekám Na Zázrak incorporates elements of folk and sunshine pop as Olympic’s psychedelic sound evolves. 

By 1971, Olympic released their album Jedeme Jedeme 3. It’s apparent from Bláznivej Kiki that Olympic were coming of age musically. They had much more tighter, focused rocky sound. It’s no surprise that they would become one of the most successful and important bands in the history of Czech music. However, who knows what heights they might have reached if politics hadn’t gotten in the way of music?

Progress Organisation are another band from Czechoslovakia. Their 1971 album The Barnodaj features a cover of I Feel Free. Washes of Hammond organ give way to a driving, stomping, hysteric take on a rock classic.

Kameloni were formed in Koper, Yugoslavia in 1965. They made their debut later that year. Before long, they became a successful touring band, playing in Italy and Austria. By 1968, Kameloni were nearly history. Out of money and luck, they were ready to call it a day. Then Yugoslavian film director Bostjan Hladnik asked Kameloni to provide the soundtrack to his new film Soncni Cri (Sunny Cry). This saved their career. The blistering, explosive psychedelic Svnny Day and I’m Gonna Tell You Part 1, are a reminder of one of Yugoslavian music’s best kept psychedelic secrets.

The Matadors were formed in Czechoslovakia in 1965. Their music ranged from psychedelia, R&B and garage. It was in East Germany that The Matadors were most popular. They spent three years honing their sound. Mostly, The Matadors played covers of The Kinks, The Who and Motown songs. Then in 1968, The Matadors released their eponymous debut album. Released in 1968 on the Suphraphon label, The Matadors became the second Czechoslovakian psychedelic album. One of the album’s highlights was Extraction. Don’t Bother Me is another psychedelic reminder of why The Matadors were so highly regarded for three years. Sadly, in 1968, The Matadors were no more. Members of The Matadors left and formed Blue Effect.

Romauld I Roman are a Polish group, who were formed in Warsaw in 1968. Their speciality was producing left-field, avant-garde psychedelic sounds. Much of their music was experimental, including Człowiek, their debut single. It was released in 1969. Later in 1969, Bobas featured on a Polish compilation album. Bobas would become synonymous with Romauld I Roman, whose career lasted until 1976

Grupa 220 were one of the most innovative Yugoslavian bands of the mid-to-late sixties. They were formed in Zagreb in 1965. Three years later, Grupa 220 released their debut album Naši Dani. It was unlike most Yugoslavian music being released in 1968 on the Jugoton label. Instead, Naši Dani was an album of Western influenced music. However, Prolazi Jesen Grupa 220’s third single didn’t feature on Naši Dani. Written by Drago Mlinarec, it’s an innovative, moody and trippy slice of psychedelia.

Originally, Breakout were called Blackout when they formed in 1968. They changed their name when they signed to the Pronit record label. It was on Pronit, that Breakout released their critically acclaimed debut album Na Drugim Brzegu Tęczy. This was the first step on a journey where Breakout became one of the most successful bands in the Polish underground music scene. That’s no surprise when you hear the fusion of blues, rock, folk and psychedelia that’s I Would Follow You.

Crni Bisert were formed in 1963. Back then, they were called The Black Pearls. A change of name to Crni Biseri resulted in a change of fortune. By 1968, were about to release their sophomore E.P. Nisam Više Taj. It featured Dreams the B-Side to Cupid’s Inspiration single Yesterday Has Gone. In Crni Biseri’s hands, Dreams is transformed into a glorious fusion of rock and psychedelia that’s best described as a hidden lysergic gem.

Tamas Barta formed Hungaria in 1969, He had just completed national service in the Hungarian army. A year later, in 1970, Hungaria released their debut album Koncert A Marson on Qualiton, the Hungarian state record company. Koncert A Marson showcases a talented band. One of the highlights is A Barbanos Lady. From the get-go, the driving, rocky sound has you hooked. Rocky, anthemic and full of hooks, what more do you want? 

Blue Effect were formed when members of The Matadors decided to form a new band. The five members of Blue Effect were dedicated to the psychedelic cause. They wanted to keep the psychedelic flag flying in Communist Poland. Formed in 1968, Blue Effect had an eye for the Western psychedelic market. Rather than sing in Polish, they sung in English. This worked well. They became a popular psychedelic band. So well regarded were Blue Effect, that they’re ranked alongside Eastern European psychedelic royalty. Their debut album was 1970s Meditace, which features Rainy Day (Deštivý Den). That year, 1970, Blue Effect released their Snakes E.P. It showcases Blue Effect at their very best, fusing rock and psychedelia. One track stands out, the title-track, Snakes which shows just how good a band Blue Effect were. It’s no wonder they enjoyed such a long career.

In 1968, Omega Red Star became Omega and set about transferring their sound. Originally, their music ranged from pop to rock. From their third studio album 10000 Lépés, released in 1969, Omega’s music moved in the direction of psychedelic rock. This continued on their fourth album Éjszakai Országút. Released in 1970 on the Qualiton label, It featured Maradj Velem, a track that also featured on their 1972 eponymous album. A fusion of folk, and psychedelic rock, there’s even a nod to Led Zeppelin as seamlessly, Omega combine musical genres and influences.

Illes’ roots can be traced as far back as 1960. By 1969, they were perceived as a progressive, pioneering band. They were sometimes referred to as The Hungarian Beatles. No wonder. One listen to Sárika (Sally), a track from their 1969 album Illések És Pofonok…(№ 3) and you’ll realise why. This is the type of music The Beatles would’ve made if they’d been born in Hungary.

Not To Co were one of the most popular Polish bands of the early seventies. So much so, that they were briefly signed to UK CBS. As So What, Not To Co recorded two songs for UK CBS. Sadly, nothing became of this single. By 1971, Not To Co were back home and  signed to the Pronit label. Back home in Poland, their star was in the ascendancy. Their 1970 album was an album of folk tunes given a makeover by Not To Co. This includes Smolidvpka, which is total transformed by Not To Co and given a psychedelic twist.

That’s the story of Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. It was recently released by the Particles reissue label. This is their second venture into the Eastern European psychedelia. Particles have chosen twenty tracks from some of the biggest names in Eastern European psychedelia. 

There’s music from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Hungary. This includes Olympic, Progress Organisation, Kameloni, The Matadors, Romauld I Roman, Crupa 220, Breakout, Blue Effect, Omega and No To Co. The music is groundbreaking and genre-melting. Everything from avant garde, blues, folk, pop, psychedelia, prog rock and rock can be heard on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971. Most of the music is timeless. 

Just like the best in American, African, British and Western European psychedelia, the music on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971 has stood the test of time. The music doesn’t sound dated. For from it. It sounds ahead of its time. So much so, that it’s hard to believe that the music on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971 was recorded when it was. That’s the case though. These twenty tracks were recorded between 1968 and 1971. Sadly, for most people, they’ll never have heard the music on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971.

When the music on Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971 was released, it was at the height of the Cold War. Music fans on the West were unable to hear the music coming out of the Eastern Bloc. Sadly, that’s still the case. Very little of the music recorded in the Eastern Bloc has been rereleased. Recently, however,  that’s beginning to change.

A few small, independent labels are proving to be trailblazers. They’re trying to introduce the music of the Eastern Bloc to a much wider audience. This includes Eastern European psychedelia. Hopefully, Velvet Revolutions Psychedelic Rock From The Eastern Bloc Volume Two 1968-1971 is just the start of a comprehensive reissue program of Eastern European psychedelia. 

VELVET REVOLUTIONS PSYCHEDELIC ROCK FROM THE EASTERN BLOC VOLUME TWO 1968-1971.

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WILLIAM ONYEABOR-WHAT?!

WILLIAM ONYEABOR-WHAT?!

It was only when David Byrne’s Luaka Bop released World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor in October 2013, that the wider world first heard the music of one the most mysterious and elusive musicians. The title Who is William Onyeabor was one that nobody could answer with any certainly, 

There’s a good reason for this,Much of William Onyeabor’s life is shrouded in mystery. After releasing eight albums between 1978 and 1984, William Onyeabor became a born-again Christian. He turned his back on music and refused to talk about his life or music. In some ways, this has helped perpetuate the myths surrounding William Onyeabor.

With William Onyeabor refusing to discuss his past, numerous rumours surrounded his life after music. Rumours were rife about what happened next. Some believe William studied cinematography in the Soviet Union, then returned to Nigeria, where he founded his own film company, Wilfilms. Then there’s the rumour that William studied law in England, then became a lawyer in his native Nigeria. Others believe William became a businessman in Nigeria. According to other people, William worked for the Nigerian government. No-one can say with any degree of certainty. The only person who knows what happened next, is William Onyeabor. William Onyeabor however, isn’t for telling.

Thirty-nine after William Onyeabor found religion, and turned his back on music, he’s still refusing to discuss his past. This means still, little is known about Nigerian music’s most enigmatic musicians, William Onyeabor. The effect this has, is to perpetuate the myth of William Onyeabor. He’s a a musical riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Sadly, one that looks like never being solved. There’s no clues in William Onyeabor’s biography.

Trying to write an accurate biography of William Onyeabor is almost impossible. Especially when William Onyeabor refuses to talk about his past. There are some things we can say with a degree of certainty. The first is that growing up, William Onyeabor was a talented musician. 

William Onyeabor was born either in 1945 or 1946. Nobody knows. Only William Onyeabor and he won’t say. He was born and brought up Enugu, in the Nigerian provinces. Growing up, William Onyeabor showed an interest in music. 

Soon, William was hooked. Music began to play a bigger part in his life. Before long, he realised listening to music was one thing. He wanted to make music. So he decided it was tine to learn how to play an instrument. It’s thought that the first instrument William learnt to play were keyboards. That was his musical weapon of choice. Before long, it became apparent that William Onyeabor was a talented musicians. Some people thought that when William Onyeabor left school, he would make a living out of music. They were in for a surprise.

When William was a teenager and ready to leave high school, it’s thought he was awarded a scholarship to study cinematography in the old Soviet Union. That may, however, be one of the myths surrounding William Onyeabor. 

Anyone who has a copy of William Onyeabor’s 1977 debut album, Crashes in Love, will see he is described as an American and French trained filmmaker on the back cover. Crashes in Love is allegedly the soundtrack to the film of the same name. It’s meant to have been made by William’s own film company Winfilms. That however, is another of the controversies surrounding William Onyeabor.

On his return to his native Nigeria, William Onyeabor founded his own film company, Winfilms. Between 1977 and 1985, when William’s career was at its height, people speculated whether Winfilms released any films? It was known if Winfilms had even released a film? Since then, efforts have been made to trace whether Winfilms released any films. There has been no trace of Winfilms releasing any films. That includes Crashes in Love. It’s billed as “a tragedy of how an African princess rejects the love that money buys.” However, another company William Onyeabor founded was more active and successful.

Winfilms wasn’t the only company William Onyeabor founded. No.  A subsidiary of Winfilms, Wilfims Records released William Onyeabor’s eight albums. They were recorded at Winfilms Recording Studio in Enugu, Nigeria. William Onyeabor’s debut album was 1978s Crashes In Love. 

Crashes In Love.

Crashes In Love was released in 1978 on Wilfims Records. This was supposedly a soundtrack album. However, no trace of the film Crashes In Love has ever been traced. That’s not the only mystery surrounding William Onyeabor’s debut album Crashes In Love.

Seemingly, there are two versions of Crashes In Love in existence. There’s what’s known as the electronic version. It’s essentially a remix album. The four songs have added drumbeats. Then there’s the original version.

The original version of Crashes In Love has just five tracks. It opens with the ten minute spic Something You’ll Never Forget. After that, the music continues to be funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Especially Ride On Baby and Crashes In Love would showcase William Onyeabor’s trademark sound. However, with two version of Crashes In Love being released, it seems even mystery surrounds William Onyeabor’s debut album.

Atomic Bomb.

Following his debut album, William Onyeabor released his sophomore album Atomic Bomb in 1978. Featuring the Winfilms Resident Band, Atomic Bomb was groundbreaking, genre-sprawling album. Released on his own label, Wilfilms Records, William Onyeabor Atomic Bomb was a career defining album further established William’s reputation as a pioneering musician.

Atomic Bomb is one of those albums where there’s no weak tracks. It just oozes quality. From Beautiful Baby to the defiant, social comment of Better Change Your Mind and Atomic Bomb, William Onyeabor unleashes a series of musical tour de forces. They’re just three reasons why William Onyeabor would be hailed as one of the most innovative musicians with Nigeria in the late seventies. So is the understated, spacey lo-fi funk of Shame and I Need You All Life.

Tomorrow.

For the recording of his third album Tomorrow, William Onyeabor headed to the familiar surroundings of Wilfilms Studios Limited, Awakunanaw, Enugu. William had written another five tracks. They would feature what was his trademark sound. 

Essentially, this was funk and soul fused with a pulsating Afro-beat beat. Sometimes, the female backing vocal took the music in the direction of gospel music. Especially when they sung call and response with William. The music was joyous and irresistible. What made William Onyeabor’s music stand out, were the banks of synthesisers. This was very different from most of the music coming out of Nigeria. 

William it seemed, was determined to stand out musically. Tomorrow and Fantastic Man are proof of this. This is Why Go To War, one of many ant-war songs William recorded. His music had a social conscience. It was also evolving with each album. There was no chance of William Onyeabor standing still. That wasn’t his style. He was determined his music would continue to evolve. That would be the case as a new decade dawned.

Body and Soul.

For the cover of Body and Soul, William Onyeabor dawns a while suit and bow tie. This makes him resemble Lou Rawls. So when you drop the needle on The Way To Win Your Love, you’re expecting a slice of the smoothest soul. You’re in for a shock. It’s all beeps, squeaks from the music and sound-effects department of Wilfilms Ltd. Add to this stabs of horns and hissing hi-hats. After that, soul, funk and Afro-beat melt into one. This is the case right Poor Boy, Body and Soul and Believe In God, which provides a clue to William Onyeabor’s future.

Five years after the release of Body and Soul, William Onyeabor would become a born-again Christian. Was the release of Believe In God a hint of the direction William Onyeabor’s life was leading? He was certainly known for his anti-war songs and social conscience, but religion was apparently a new thing. Believe In God was just a hint that William Onyeabor was changing.

Great Lover.

Just like Body and Soul, the cover of Great Lover is akin to a homage to the album covers of giants of American soul. William Onyeabor dawns a tuxedo and top hat on Great Lover. Wearing a watch that’s the size of a dinner plate, William Onyeabor looks urban and debonair. This is very different to the younger version of William Onyeabor that headed to the former Soviet Union to study cinematography. The image William Onyeabor is also very different to the reality of his life.

By 1981, when he released Great Lover, William Onyeabor wasn’t exactly a giant of Nigerian music. He was enjoying a modicum of success. However, he wasn’t one of Nigerian’s most successful musical exports. So it’s no wonder rumours continued to surround this mystery man. However, one thing wasn’t in doubt, William Onyeabor’s talent.

That’s apparent on the genre-hopping Great Lover. Elements of Afro-beat, Afro-Cuban, funk and soul melt into one during this concept album. Just like his previous albums, William Onyeabor is determined to innovate. He manages to do that on an album that’s soulful, funky and tinged with the influences of three continents.

Hypertension.

In 1982, William Onyeabor was ready to release his sixth album, Hypertension. It marked a change of direction from the man they called a musical chameleon, William Onyeabor. He fused Afro-beat, funk, psychedelia, rock and even a hint of soul. This musical melange also so songs of praise and protest songs sit side-by-side. Hypertension was William Onyeabor his eclectic best.

From the opening bars of The Moon And The Sun, what was probably William Onyeabor’s most eclectic and ambitious album proved a musical mystery tour. After The Moon And The Sun gave way to Papa Na Mama and Hypertension, William’s social conscience shines through on Politicians. They’re far from William Onyeabor’s people. They’re to blame for Nigeria and the wider world’s problems. This impassioned track closes William Onyeabor’s most eclectic and innovative album Hypertension.

Good Name.

Little did anyone realise it, but 1983s Good Name would be the penultimate album William Onyeabor released. Good Name is a truly compelling album. Although it only features two tracks, where elements of Afro-beat, electronica and funk are fuses, these two tracks speak volumes.

On side one, William almost dawns the role of a preacher. The message he preaches is about Love. That he believes leads to peace, harmony and happiness. Then on side two, Williams sings about the importance of good name. It he believes is better than silver and gold. William reinforces this message by singing: “no money, no money, no money, Nn money can buy good Name.” Looking back, this could be seen as the beginning of a change in William Onyeabor. Maybe this was the start of William Onyeabor turning his back on music?

Anything You Sow.

If Good Name gave a hint of what was about to happen, Anything You Sow spelt it out in large letters. Given the title, Anything You Sow, it looks as if William was changing. Maybe he was on the verge of a spiritual awakening and was questioning the world around him? This would explain songs like When The Going Is Smooth and Good, This Kind Of World, Anything You Sow and Everyday? 

A fusion of Afro-beat, funk and soul, the changes in William’s life didn’t affect the quality of music on Anything You Sow. William was continuing to push musical boundaries. He was determined, maybe even fearful of releasing music that didn’t evolve. There was no chance of that. Similarly, there was no hint of what was about to happen next.

Looking at the back cover to Anything You Sow, William Onyeabor continued to give an impression that Wilfilms Limited was an important, thriving company. It wasn’t a case of what Wilfilms Limited did, it was case of what they didn’t do. Their services were listed as “recording and  record manufacturing industry. Music, video and film producers.”  They also had within their portfolio of business interests an office, factory and recording studios within the Wilfilms Complex. To the onlooker, it looked like William Onyeabor was on his way to building a business empire on the back of his recording career. Surely, the last thing he was about to do was walk away from music?

1984s Anything You Sow was William Onyeabor’s final album. After that, William Onyeabor turned his back on music. He became a born-again Christian. Since then, he has refused to discuss his music or his past. Both his musical career and his past are another country.  Since then, rumours, myths and speculation have surrounded William Onyeabor. 

One of the most controversial parts of his life was where he studied. Which side of the Iron Curtain did William Onyeabor study? Originally, he claimed to have won a scholarship to study cinematography in the former Soviet Union. Then on his 1977 debut album Chains Of Love, which was the alleged soundtrack album, William Onyeabor claims to have studied cinematography in France and America. Just like the rest of his life, William Onyeabor refused to speak about this period of his life. So tight lipped is William Onyeabor, that ge wouldn’t even confirm if he had ever made a film. As a result, allegations of the Russian connection in William Onyeabor’s life refuse to go away. 

Even when Luaka Bop released World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor in October 2013, William would neither discuss his music nor life. That is a great shame. This means that those who love his music are denied the opportunity to discover more about his life and music. Especially his music.

No longer is it just discerning musical connoisseurs who love the music of William Onyeabor. No. Many people within the music industry are fans of William Onyeabor’s music. So much so, that when Luaka Bop decided to release an album of cover versions and remixes of William Onyeabor’s music, that many high profile musicians and remixers offered their services. This includes Hot Chip, The Vaccines, Justin Strauss and Brian Mette, JD Twitch, Javelin, Policy and Scientist. They all feature on William Onyeabor-What?! It’s a ten track compilation which will be released on 8th September 2014.

For William Onyeabor-What?! the ten artists have chosen some of the best music in William’s back-catalogue. There’s no better way to start than Hot Chip Vs. William Onyeabor’s take on a stonewall classic, Atomic Bomb. Hypnotic, spacey, melodic, sultry and spiritual it’s a joyous take on one of William Onyeabor’s finest musical moments.

The Vaccines gave William Onyeabor’s Do You Want A Man a moody makeover on their E.P. d Melody Calling. Released in August 2013, The Vaccines transform Do You Want A Man, It becomes moody and rocky. Especially with machine gun guitars added. The result is a track that melodic and not short of hooks.

There’s three versions of  Body and Soul on William Onyeabor-What? They’re all very different. The first is Justin Strauss and Brian Mette’s  whatever/whatever remix. Uber funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly, it’s a glorious remix. It brings out the best in another William Onyeabor classic. Body and Soul epitomises his trademark sound. Space-funk meets psychedelia, soul and gospel-tinged female backing vocals.

Joakim featuring Akwetey covered Good Name, the title-track from William’s 1983 album. It’s then given a remix Dragons of Zynth. Twinkling, crystalline synths provide the backdrop for the vocal as the original track is reinvented, not once but twice. It’s transformed from the track that William Onyeabor originally envisaged and is given a contemporary dance-floor friendly sound.

JD Twitch Vs William Onyeabor breathes new life and meaning into another of William Onyeabor’s best known tracks, Why Go To War? Mesmeric and pulsating the arrangement is driven along by synths, percussion and a persistent, prying guitar. Genres melt in one. This includes electronica, funk and Afro-beat. The vocal is impassioned as bewildered and despairing it asks Why Go To War?

Daphni’s remix of Ye Ye is quite different to the other tracks on William Onyeabor-What?! It’s painted from a different musical palette. The track takes on a darker, pensive sound. Having said that, the combined efforts of the pulsating bass and synths drive this compelling remix along. 

Javelin takes on the job of remixing Heaven and Hell. This is a track from William Onyeabor’s 1977 Crashes In Love. Two versions of Crashes In Love were released. This means two versions of Heaven and Hell. In Javelin’s hands, the track is given a musical makeover. Its reinvention transforms the track and gives it a dance-floor friendly sound.

With three remixes of Body and Soul on William Onyeabor-What?!, David Terranova decides to take the track in a very different direction. He gives Body and Soul an understated nu-jazz sound. Later, his remix heads in the direction of house. The result is a laid-back, chilled out remix with a summery sound.

Policy’s remix of  Something You Will Never Forget bursts into life. Afro-beat and house melts into one. What follows is is irresistibly catchy and guaranteed to fill a dance-floor. William Onyeabor’s original track is reinvented. It becomes an uplifting anthem that’s akin to aural sunshine.

Closing William Onyeabor-What?! is Scientist’s take on Body and Soul. It’s totally different from the two other versions. Scientist’s remix is darker and dubby. The arrangement is also understated and mesmeric. It holds your attention and proves the perfect way to close William Onyeabor-What?!.

Less than a year after Luaka Bop released World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor, they’ll release on William Onyeabor-What?! It’s best described as a homage to one of the most mysterious and elusive men in music. However, don’t let the mystery and speculation surrounding William Onyeabor’s life overshadow his music.

William Onyeabor is a hugely talented singer, songwriter, musicians, arranger and producer. The eight albums he released between 1977 and 1984 are a reminder of this. Throughout his career, William Onyeabor pushed musical boundaries. He wasn’t content to stand still. That was for other, less talented artists. Instead, William Onyeabor innovated and created music that was groundbreaking and pioneering. 

From 1980 onwards, William Onyeabor’s music evolved. It became much more reliant on synths, keyboards and drum machines. Sometimes, it’s best described as futuristic, with a sci-fi sound. William Onyeabor fuses musical disparate genres seamlessly. Sometimes, these fusions pf musical genres that shouldn’t work. They do and  sit happily side-by-side work. It seems William Onyeabor dared tread where others fear to tread. That’s why for some people, William Onyeabor is perceived as a musical innovator. 

It’s also why ten artists and remixers have taken some of William Onyeabor’s best known tracks and reinvented them on William Onyeabor-What?! The tracks are transformed. New life and meaning is breathed into a selection of William Onyeabor classics. As a result, William Onyeabor-What?! is the perfect companion to World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor. They’re the perfect introduction to a musical innovator, who fused a multiplicity of musical genres and influences to create his own unique and inimitable sound. 

Thirty years after William Onyeabor released his final album Anything You Sow, his music is still relevant. It’s also timeless. That’s apparent when you listen to the music on the eight albums William Onyeabor released between 1977 and 1984. When William Onyeabor walked away from music, music lost a true innovator.

A reminder of this musical innovator can be found on Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor. It was released by Luaka Bop in 2013. The next chapter in theWilliam Onyeabor story is William Onyeabor-What?!, which will be released by Luaka Bop on 8th September 2014. Hopefully, William Onyeabor-What?! will introduce a new generation of music lovers to one of Nigerian music’s most innovative sons, William Onyeabor.

WILLIAM ONYEABOR-WHAT?

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LED ZEPPELIN-LED ZEPPELIN IV.

LED ZEPPELIN-LED ZEPPELIN IV.

When Led Zeppelin III was released in October 1970 music critics gave the album mediocre reviews. This had been the case throughout their career. Critics didn’t seem willing to Led Zeppelin a fair hearing. For Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, this was hugely frustrating. Things got so bad that Jimmy Page refused to speak to the press for eighteen months. That wasn’t end of Led Zeppelin’s protest.

Having recorded their fourth album between October 1970 and March 1971, it came to giving the album a name. The four members of Led Zeppelin decided that their fourth album would officially be untitled. There was a good reason for this. Led Zeppelin decided they wanted to remain anonymous. They also didn’t want to their music to be pigeonholed or stereotyped. This added an air of mystery to the album. So did the inner sleeve’s design. It featured four symbols. Each symbol represented each band member. With no official titled, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album became known variously as Four Symbols, The Fourth Album, Untitled, Runes, The Hermit, and ZoSo. However, since then, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album has been known as Led Zeppelin IV. 

Led Zeppelin IV is one of the next instalment in Atlantic Records’ reissue program. A deluxe remastered version of Led Zeppelin IV will be rereleased by Atlantic Records as a double album on 27th October 2014. Disc one features the original version of Led Zeppelin IV remastered. Then on disc two there’s alternate versions of Led Zeppelin IV.

This means that on disc two of Led Zeppelin IV the version of Black Dog is the basic track with guitar overdubs. It’s followed by an alternate mix or Rock ’N’ Roll. The version of The Battle Of Evermore is the mandolin/guitar mix from Headley Grange. That would close what was the end of side one of Led Zeppelin IV.

Opening what would be the alternate version of Led Zeppelin IV is the Sunset Sound Mix of Stairway To Heaven. Just like the previous tracks, this shows another side to a familiar track. Having said that, nothing will match the original version of Stairway To Heaven. Alternate mixes of Misty Mountain Hop and Four Sticks follow, before the mandolin/guitar mix of Going To California proves a welcome addition. Closing this alternate version of Led Zeppelin IV is the alternate UK mix in progress of another stonewall Led Zeppelin classic, When The Levee Breaks. This alternate version of Led Zeppelin IV is a welcome addition to the remastered version. However, the main event is the original version of Led Zeppelin IV which was recorded between October 1970 and March 1971.

As Led Zeppelin set about recording what became Led Zeppelin IV, the four members of the band had written their strongest album so far. The Jimmy Page and Robert Plant songwriting partnership cowrote The Battle Of Evermore, Stairway To Heaven, Four Sticks and Going To California. Jimmy Page and Robert cowrote Rock ’N’ Roll with John Bonham and Misty Mountain Hop with John Paul Jones. Led Zeppelin cowrote the other two tracks, Black Dog and When The Levee Breaks, which is also credited to Memphis Minnie. She is credited as having written the original song. These eight tracks became what’s referred to as Led Zeppelin IV.

Led Zeppelin set about recording what would become Led Zeppelin IV in  October 1970. The initial session took place at Island Record’s new recording studios in Basing Street, London. After that Led Zeppelin decided to move Headley Grange. 

On the recommendation of Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin decided to move to Headley Grange. It was an old Victorian house in Hampshire. Led Zeppelin used a mobile studio belonging to the Rolling Stones. After the tracks had been completed, they returned to Island Records’ studio for overdubbing. Mixing of Led Zeppelin IV, which was produced by Jimmy Page, took place at Sunset Studios, Los Angeles. By March 1971, Led Zeppelin IV was completed. However, there was a problem.

Once Led Zeppelin started mixing Led Zeppelin IV, they encountered some problems. The group weren’t happy with the mix, and they returned to London to redo some of the work they’d just finished in Los Angeles. This meant Led Zeppelin IV’s release date became delayed by several months. Indeed, Led Zeppelin IV wasn’t released until November 1971. Before that came the promotion of the untitled album.

Now Led Zeppelin had finished Led Zeppelin IV, they could set about promoting it. First they had to decide the album’s title. Instead of giving the album a title, it featured four hand drawn symbols, on both the inner sleeve and record label. Each symbol was meant to represent a band member. Nor would there be any information on the album cover, with the band’s name being downplayed. This was almost unheard of, and many people at Atlantic, their record company feared that this would damage sales of the album. Before the album was released, Atlantic sent copies of the graphics to the press, so they could include the symbols in articles about the album. Since the album’s release, it has been referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, although that wasn’t the original title. However, the lack of a conventional title didn’t harm the album, or sales.

When Led Zeppelin IV, was released, reviews were mixed. They ranged from lukewarm to positive, Unlike nowadays, Led Zeppelin were far from a favourite of music critics. It was only late that Led Zeppelin IV became critically acclaimed and referred to as a “genre classic.” Music critics never quite got Led Zeppelin. Music lovers did. That was the case from their eponymous debut album. By Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin were one of the biggest selling rock bands in the world. They were also referred to as one the “unholy trinity of rock.” 

Led Zeppelin’s reputation preceded them. Their appetite for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was legendary. Excess was encouraged within the Led Zeppelin camp. They wore their infamy with pride. Drink, drugs and debauchery was commonplace. So was destruction. The four members of Led Zeppelin weren’t averse to wrecking hotel rooms. Having trashed a room in the Tokyo Hilton, Led Zeppelin were banned from the chain for life. Hotel rooms weren’t just trashed. Television sets out of hotel windows. Another time, John Bonham rode a motorcycle the Continental Hyatt House, which Led Zeppelin nicknamed Riot House. However, when it came time to recording an album, Led Zeppelin put their game head on. That was apparent when Led Zeppelin IV went on sale.

On the release of Led Zeppelin IV, across the world, the album sold in huge quantities. In Britain, Led Zeppelin IV. Over the Atlantic, Led Zeppelin IV reached number two in the US Billboard 200 and number one on Canada.  Led Zeppelin IV reached the top ten in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway and Spain. Gold and platinum discs came Led Zeppelin IV’s way.

It was in America, Britain and Canada where Led Zeppelin IV was most successful. in America Led Zeppelin IV was certified platinum twenty-three times. Across the border, Led Zeppelin IV was certified double diamond in Canada. Over the Atlantic in Britain, Led Zeppelin IV was certified six times platinum. Led Zeppelin IV was certified gold in Brazil and gold three times over in Germany. In Argentina, Holland, Spain and Switzerland, Led Zeppelin IV was certified platinum. Led Zeppelin IV was also certified double platinum in France and eight times platinum in Australia. When executives at Atlantic counted the sales of Led Zeppelin IV, nearly thirty million copies of were sold. By far, Led Zeppelin IV was Led Zeppelin’s most successful album. However, what does Led Zeppelin IV sound like?

Opening Led Zeppelin IV is Black Dog. After a hesitant start, before the track bursts powerfully into life. Robert Plant’s unleashes a lung bursting, unaccompanied vocal. This gives no indication of what’s to come. What follows is a masterclass in full on rock ‘n’ roll at its very best. Jimmy Page’s screaming, lightning fast, guitar playing, John Bonham’s frantic drumming driving the song along with John Paul Jones bass guitar. The tempo is fast, the sound akin to a wall of loud. As the song drives along, there’s occasional pauses, before the track builds back up, returning to the earlier frantic pace. You can’t help but admire Robert Plant’s vocal, it’s one part raw power, to one part sheer passion, as he almost screams and bawls his way through the track. Black Dog inspired a new generation of bands, but none of them canA brilliant way to open the album.

How do you follow a classic track like Black Dog? It’s quite simple really, with one called Rock and Roll. It begins with Bonham playing a drum solo, that’s fast, full and power personified. After that, the group treat us to some old school rock ‘n’ roll. Plant’s gives his usual energetic and enthusiastic vocal, as the band turn back the years. Again, Jimmy Page’s guitar playing is peerless. He unleashes some blistering, screaming, howling guitar riffs. His playing is quick, accurate and sounds like something you’d expect Chuck Berry to play in years gone by. Behind him, John Bonham punishes his drums and John Paul Jone’s bass sits at the bottom of the mix. Later, Rolling Stone Ian Stewart lays down piano solo. A lengthy part of the track is just an instrumental where the group showcase why in 1971, Led Zeppelin were rock ’n’ royalty.. Together, the band produce a track that although relies on power, embodies the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. 

After two really rocky songs, Led Zeppelin change styles with The Battle of Evermore which features Sandy Denny on vocals. It has a distant, meandering start with Jimmy Page playing mandolin. Then Robert delivers the lead vocal accompanied by Sandy Denny. This is a very different track, it’s slower, with a folk feel and sound, especially with the instruments used and the way the vocal is sung. By now, it’s mandolin and acoustic guitar that are playing. There are no electric instruments used on the track, but one thing hasn’t changed and that is Robert Plant’s vocal. Sometime’s he cut’s loose, and unleashes a powerful, energetic vocal, especially towards the end of the song. Mostly, though, he resists this temptation, and it’s a much more restrained vocal from him, more in keeping with Sandy Denny’s vocal style. Although very different stylistically, The Battle of Evermore shows Led Zeppelin’s versatility.

Probably the most famous song that Led Zeppelin ever recorded is next, Stairway To Heaven, an eight minute epic. It’s one of the band’s best known, and best loved tracks. An acoustic guitar is played slowly and gently, before a recorder plays. Robert Plant’s vocal is much gentle, as the track meanders beautifully along. As for the lyrics, they’re among the best on Led Zeppelin IV. After just over two minutes, the song starts to fill out, the arrangement growing slowly. A bass plays, guitars too, as Robert Plant gives one of his best vocal on Led Zeppelin IV. Things start to really take shape when John Bonham plays, his drumming much more restrained here. Eventually, drums, guitar and bass let loose. Another blistering guitar solo from Page takes shape and John Bonham’s drumming is much louder and faster. Then Robert Plant decides he’s had enough of the restrained vocal style, and gives another lung bursting vocal performance, just before the track ends. Overall, this was a career defining moment for Led Zeppelin, as it’s both a rock track, and one of the most famous and best loved songs ever recorded.

After Stairway To Heaven, anything else will sound second best. However, Misty Mountain Hop is the track they chose to follow Stairway To Heaven. Keyboards, guitars and drums all play, before Robert Plant sings the vocal. They combine powerfully, driving the track along, with John Bonham’s drums at the front of the mix. Robbert Plant’s vocal is a powerhouse. He shows no restraint. Sometimes, he screams, hollers and roars his way through the lyrics. Behind him, the rest of the band similarly, forget about subtlety, and really let loose. Jimmy Page’s guitar playing and John Bonham’s drumming are key to the sound. They provide a powerful and dynamic backdrop for the vocal. Jimmy Page demonstrates just how great a guitar player he was, playing a stunning solo during the track. Robert Plant’s vocal launched a thousand wannabe impersonators, many of whom went on to form bands and have successful careers. However, there was and only ever will be one Robert Plant. Here, he and the rest of Led Zeppelin produce another slice of peerless, hard, driving rock music.

Straight away, guitars and rhythm section combine to produce a loud, powerful and driven backdrop for Robert Plant’s vocal on Four Sticks. Although his vocal is forceful and loud, he’s somewhat struggling against the  hard rocking arrangement. It’s loud, repetitive, full of power and energy. It’s an example of what Led Zeppelin do best. John Bonham’s drumming is among his best on Led Zeppelin IV. Quite simply, it’s loud, fast, accurate and powerful. Meanwhile, Jimmy Page’s guitar playing chugs along, it’s dynamic and dramatic with riffs aplenty, while Robert Plant shrieks, screams and wails, as he really forces the vocal. By the end of the track, you can’t help but admire the sheer power displayed by Led Zeppelin. What they produce is dramatic wall of sound, which Robert Plant copes admirably with, producing a dramatic and energetic vocal.

An acoustic guitar, then mandolin plays when Going To California unfolds. Straight away, you realise that this is a very different type of song. Here it’s just acoustic instruments that accompany Robert Plant’s vocal. His vocal is much softer, gentler and is much more restrained. Here he doesn’t indulge in any theatricals, no howls, wails or hollers, just a thoughtful vocal, sung beautifully, against a backdrop of acoustic guitar and mandolin. 

Led Zeppelin IV ends with When the Levee Breaks, a seven minute opus. John Bonham’s slow booming drums and a bluesy harmonica solo plays, join a screaming guitar. It solos, soaring above the arrangement. It’s an arrangement that builds and builds, and as it does just gets better. After a dramatic pause, Robert Plant’s vocal enters, seemingly, much more restrained. This doesn’t last, he soon breaks free of his shackles, and is roaring, giving a powerful, energetic and passionate vocal for the last time on Led Zeppelin IV. It seems Led Zeppelin have kept one of the album’s best tracks for last. This is a track with everything. Guitar solos, that screech, scream and howl, pounding, booming drums and a frenetic bluesy harmonica solo. Over seven minutes, the band really let loose, showcasing their talents as musicians, and demonstrating just why they were the greatest rock band of their era.

Released in November 1970, Led Zeppelin IV was Led Zeppelin’s most successful album. It sold nearly thirty million albums. This was the perfect response to critics who consistently failed to give Led Zeppelin a fair hearing. A case in point was Led Zeppelin IV. 

If it was released today, critics would instantly realise that Led Zeppelin IV was a stonewall classic. Not back in 1970. Reviews ranged from lukewarm to positive. For a Led Zeppelin album, that was good. Led Zeppelin were far from a favourite among critics. So it’s no surprise that Jimmy Page refused to speak to the press for eighteen months. Another reaction to the treatment Led Zeppelin were receiving from the press was not giving their fourth album a title.

For their fourth album, Led Zeppelin eschewed traditional marketing methods. They decided not to give the album a “traditional” title. What became Led Zeppelin IV was released at a time when Led Zeppelin hadn’t toured for a while. This meant Led Zeppelin’s profile wasn’t as high as it had been. That didn’t matter. Led Zeppelin IV was a career defining moment for Led Zeppelin.

Led Zeppelin IV was the perfect response from Led Zeppelin. Since their debut album, they’d been a victim to the slings and arrows of outrageous critics. These critics seemed determined to sabotage Led Zeppelin’s success. They failed miserably. 

From the opening bars of Black Dog right through to When the Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin have your attention. Led Zeppelin IV becomes like a musical fairground ride. All you can do is hold on and enjoy the ride. What follows is a mixture of blues, folk and Led Zeppelin’s unique brand of heavy rock. It’s played with power, passion and commitment, by four hugely talented musicians. They were in the peak of their career. It was as if everything had been leading up to Led Zeppelin IV, which is worth of being a called classic album.

Nearly forty-three years after the release of Led Zeppelin IV, a deluxe remastered version of Led Zeppelin IV will be rereleased by Atlantic Records as a double album on 27th October 2014. This is the latest addition in the long overdue reissue of Led Zeppelin’s back-catalogue. 

Led Zeppelin IV finds one of the members of the infamous unholy trinity,  Led Zeppelin, at the peak of their power, doing what they do best unleashing, their own brand of blistering, swaggering, Rock ’N’ Roll.

LED ZEPPELIN-LED ZEPPELIN IV.

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UNDER THE INFLUENCE VOLUME 4-COMPILED BY NICK THE RECORD.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE VOLUME 4-COMPILED BY NICK THE RECORD.

Over the last few years, ZR Records Under The Influence compilation series has become one of the most eagerly awaited releases. The first volume of Under The Influence first hit the shops back in October 2011. Under The Influence Volume 1 was compiled by Red Gregg. Featuring a plethora of soul, funk and disco, Under The Influence Volume 1 was one of the most popular compilations of soul, funk and disco released during 2011. Record buyers eagerly awaited Volume 2.

When Under The Influence Volume 2 was released in 2012, there was a change of compiler. This time Paul Phillips was responsible for what was billed “a collection of rare soul and disco.” It actually went further. There was everything from soul, funk, disco and 80s club boogie. When I reviewed Under The Influence Volume 2, I remarked that it wasn’t as good as Volume One. Cue the soul mafia sharpening their knives. The equivalent of emails written in green pencil came my way. However, I speak as I find. That was the case with Under The Influence Volume 3.

Under The Influence Volume 3 was released in 2013. Again, there was another change of compiler. I was pleased by this. A change of compiler ensures a compilation doesn’t became stale. James Glass was responsible for this latest “collection of rare soul and disco.” The change of compiler worked well and  The Influence series was back on track. Luckily for me, the soul mafia didn’t need to draw arms this time round. There were neither threatening letters nor fatwas. Everything was rosy in the Under The Influence garden. However, will that be the case with Under The Influence Volume 4?

For Under The Influence Volume 4, there is a a new compiler. Nick The Record takes over compiling duties on Under The Influence Volume 4. Nick is responsible for compiling the latest in the Under The Influence series. That’s to give it its full title Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record.

I was going to say that Nick The Record has been busy. That’s an understatement. He has been on a crate digging expedition extraordinaire. Nick has been in search of hidden gems. Digging deep into his crates, Nick has come up with some of the rarest disco, funk and boogie. Over the two discs on Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record, the listener is introduced to a platter of musical delights. 

The delighted awaiting discovery on Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record included Boogsie, The Family Tree, Jean Adebambo, Wild Fire, Leston Paul, Santth, Shelbra Deane, Ronnie Jones, Charlie Mike Sierra and State Of Grace. There’s many more awaiting discovery on Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. You’ll realise that when I pick the highlights of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. Before that, I’ll briefly tell you about Nick The Record.

Like many people within music, Nick The Records music has been consumed by music. He caught the music bug early in his life and it has never left him. During his life, his musical tastes have changed and evolved. 

During the eighties, Nick was listening to hip hop and house. Then Nick decided to trace the origins of the music used in hip hop. This lead him to soul, funk, rare groove and rare disco. Before long Nick was discovering musical history. For him, this was a voyage of discovery. It also lead to Nick making his living out of music.

For the last thirty-five years Nick has been buying records. This lead to Nick selling records for twenty-five years. This allows to continue to search for that elusive piece of vinyl. After all, record collecting is all about the search for that elusive record, especially disco. Nick The Record is an expert in all things’s disco. That’s reflected on Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. However, there’s more to Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record that disco.

Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is a compilation that reflects Nick’s record collection and his musical taste. The twenty tracks are also a reflection of one of Nick The Record’s DJ sets. These twenty tracks feature a mixture of familiar faces and hidden gems. I’ll now pick my ten highlights of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record.

Boogsie’s Can’t You See Me opens disc one of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. Can’t You See Me is a track from Boogsie’s 1979 album Phase2. Released in Trinidad and Tobago by Sharc Productions, Phase2 was Boogsie’s only album. Featuring soul and funk with a Latin twist, one of Phase2’s highlights was Can’t You See Me.

Proton Plus released Pay Up back in 1981. This was their sophomore single. Released on the Yew Wood label, Proton Plus is best described as post disco with a soulful side. Essentially, it’s boogie, the genre that filled the void left by disco. Rather than the original version of Proton Plus, Nick The Record has flicked over to the B-Side and given the Remixed Rhythm Track a welcome airing. 

Bill Campbell is a UK based singer, songwriter and producer. He released Boogie All Night as a single in 1980. Released on Union Records, Bill was part of the first wave of British boogie. Boogie All Night is funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. So much so, that you’ll Boogie All Night.

Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is a bit like a magical musical mystery tour. Wild Fire were a Barbados based group. They released Try Making Love as a single on WIRL in 1977. The twelve inch version of Try Making Love was released on Strakers Recordings. It’s a real fusion of includes and genres. Disco, funk, soul and even a hint of psychedelia shine through on Try Making Love.

Leston Paul’s What A Surprise is a track from his 1983 debut album The Arrival. Released on the Barbados based Ibiris Records, The Arrival was a genre melting album. There’s everything from elements of electronica, funk and soul. Hailed as innovative upon its release, The Arrival sunk without trace. Three decades later, The Arrival is a prized possession among record collectors. One of The Arrival’s highlights and delights is What A Surprise.

Disc Two.

Sugar and Spice’s The Beast opens disc two of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. The Beast was released as a single on the much missed Philly Town Records in 1982. This was three years after Sugar and Spice released the hugely underrated You’re My Sugar, You’re My Spice on West End Records. Music had changed in three intervening years. Boogie replaced disco as the music of choice amongst DJs and dancers. Despite this, Sugar and Spice had kept their finger on the musical pulse. Whilst there’s elements of disco during the instrumental version The Beast, boogie shines through. As a result, the instrumental version of The Beast is one of the highlights of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record.

Skye released  Ain’t No Need as single way back in 1976. Released on Anada Records, it’s a track that’s been ripe for a remix since the day it came out. Sadly, that’s never happened to this glorious melange of funk, soul and disco. The closes thing is the DJ Nick The Record part and & 2 Re-united Re-Edit. Both the original and long version on the B-Side are transformed into something mightier than the individual parts.

Shelbra Deane released You Move Me as a promo on Muscle Shoals Sound Records. It was produced by Muscle Shoals legend Roger Hawkins and also Gino Soccio. They had the Midas Touch. You Move Me was then picked up by T.K. Disco. A driving, slice of funky, soulful music from Muscle Shoals. 

The futuristic, proto boogie of Charlie Mike Sierra came to the attention of discerning music lovers back in 1977. His debut and only album, On The Moon was like nothing around. Especially the title-track. It’s an irresistible hidden gem. Futuristic, with sci-fi sounds and a pulsating beat, you’ll find yourself pressing play time and again.

My final choice from Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is Blackway and Helene’s Music For Us. This slice of Italo Disco is the perfect way to close Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. Released on Moon Records International in 1982, the version chosen is the iInstrumental version. It’s a memorable reminder of the heyday of Italo Disco from some of its finest exponents.

That’s the story of the latest addition to the Under The Influence series. Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is, without doubt, the best of the four volumes. There’s no filler whatsoever. Instead, Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is chock full of quality music. 

As one great song finishes, another begins. Just when you think you’ve heard the highlight of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record, you’re forced to think again.  Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is an eclectic selection of floor-fillers. Some of them are familiar faces, others hidden gems. Boogie, disco, electronica, funk, Italo Disco and soul can all be found on Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. They sit happily side-by-side on Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record, the latest on ZR Records Under The Influence series. 

Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record will be out on 8th October 2014. For anyone who likes their music funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly, then Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record is a must have. Don’t just take it from me, pick up a copy of Under The Influence Volume 4-Compiled By Nick The Record. You won’t regret it.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE VOLUME 4-COMPILED BY NICK THE RECORD.

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THE PEARLFISHERS- OPEN UP YOUR COLOURING BOOK.

THE PEARLFISHERS- OPEN UP YOUR COLOURING BOOK.

“Everything comes to he who waits.” So the sayings goes.  Even a new album from The Pearlfishers. Recently, Scotland’s best kept musical secret, The Pearlfishers, released their seventh album, Open Up Your Colouring Book, on Marina Records. Open Up Your Colouring Book was released seven years after their previous album, Up With The Larks. 

Open Up Your Colouring Book was a labor of love for David Scott and the rest of The Pearlfishers. There’s a reason for this. The Pearlfishers you see, aren’t a full-time band. Some of the members of The Pearlfishers have other commitments. 

David Scott for example, is a lecturer in music at the University of the West of Scotland. So he has to fit The Pearlfishers around his “real job.” That’s why Open Up Your Colouring Book has taken seven long years. Unlike full-time bands, The Pearlfishers have to record when and wherever they can. 

For fans of The Pearlfishers this has left them waiting in vein. After a few barren years passed, it was no longer a case of “when” the new Pearlfishers’ album would drop. No. It was a case of if. Some Pearlfishers fans thought they’d more chance of seeing Santa than a new Pearlfishers’ album. They were wrong. “Everything comes to he who waits.” That was the case when recently, The Pearlfishers released Open Up Your Colouring Book.

Open Up Your Colouring Book is The Pearlfishers’ seventh album. I find that hard to believe. It doesn’t seem long ago that I was holding a copy of Za Za’s Garden which was released on the Iona Gold label. That was back in 1993. I was hooked. This was the beginning of a twenty-one year love affair with The Pearlfishers’ music. Since then, each Pearlfishers’ album has been eagerly awaited. 

Having enjoyed the musical delights of Za Za’s Garden, I awaited The Pearlfishers’ sophomore album. Four years passed before The Strange Underworld of the Tall Poppies was released on Marina Records. The Strange Underworld of the Tall Poppies saw the emergence of The Pearlfishers’ trademark sound.

Two years later, The Pearlfishers released what is, without doubt, their musical Magnus Opus, The Young Picnickers. Released in 1999, comparison were drawn with The Beach Boys. David Scott was seen as East Kilbride’s answer to Brian Wilson. Nobody knew if David had his own sandpit within chez Scott. As a songwriter and singer, David came of age on The Young Picnickers. 

The Pearlfishers were at their melodic best on The Young Picnickers. No wonder. David introduces you to a cast of quirky characters and scenarios. With the song’s cinematic quality, the scenarios unfold before your eyes. Hope, humour, optimism, beauty and romance are omnipresent. For me, The Young Picnickers is a classic Scottish album. Following The Young Picnickers up wasn’t going to be easy.

As the new millennia dawned, The Pearlfishers returned with their fourth album Across The Milky Way. Released in 2001, Across The Milky Way featured a band who were maturing. Just like The Young Picnickers, Across The Milky Way was released to widespread critical acclaim. Great things were being forecast of The Pearlfishers. They were too good for we Scots to keep as our own. It was our duty to share The Pearlfishers with the world. 

Sadly, The Pearfishers remain one of music’s best kept secrets. Although they’ve a fan-base outside Scotland, David Scott et al, haven’t enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim their music deserves. In some ways, The Pearfishers’ story reminds me of The Blue Nile. Both are hugely talented bands who could’ve and should’ve rubbed shoulders with the giants of music. Sadly, that’s not the case. Instead, The Pearlfishers are best known by their own kith and kin. That would continue to be the case.

The Strange Underworld of the Tall Poppies was released in 2002, on Marina Records. This was quite unlike The Pearlfishers. They never before had released two albums within the space of two years. Some critics and fans wondered whether The Pearlfishers were keen to make up for lost time. Maybe they were looking to make the great leap forward?

Listening back to The Strange Underworld of the Tall Poppies, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the melodic delights of The Pearlfishers. The songs are irresistibly catchy and hook laden. There’s a reason for that. David Scott is one of the great Scottish songwriters of his generation. He’s a student of what makes a great song. Anyone who has hard David talk at length about songwriting, will realise this. 

About a year ago, David Scott did a workshop for BBC Radio Scotland. He talked about some of his favourite songs and what made them great song. It was a mini masterclass into the art of songwriting. During this workshop, he explained who the great songs were written. He played these songs and delivered them with emotion and passion. One of the highlights was a new Pearlfishers’ song The Way My Father Spoke About Vincent. Breathtaking is the only way to describe the song. Just like so many Pearlfishers songs, it had a cinematic quality. The characters unfolded before your eyes. So did the song’s ethereal beauty. However, back in 2002, David had yet to write The Way My Father Spoke About Vincent. Indeed, he still had two more albums to write and release.

The first of these was Sky Meadows. Released in 2003, on Marina Records, fans of The Pearlfishers were enjoying a veritable musical feast. Sky Meadows was the third album The Pearlfishers had recorded in three years. Surely, they must be nearing that elusive breakthrough?

That proved not to be the case. It was a familiar scenario. The Pearlfishers released Sky Meadows to critical acclaim. However, it didn’t sell in the vast quantities that it deserved. For David and the rest of The Pearlfishers, this must have been really frustrating? After all, they were releasing albums laden with musical jewels. Sadly, these jewels were being lost within the racks of record shops. As anyone whose had any involvement in the music business knows, many potential classic albums don’t find the audience they deserve. Following the disappointment of Sky Meadows, it was another four years before we heard from The Pearlfishers again.

2007 saw the release of The Pearlfishers’ sixth studio album, Up With The Larks. Oozing optimism, positivity, joy and a healthy load of hooks, The Pearlfishers were back. Up With The Larks marked the welcome return of a Scottish musical institution. Critics hailed Up With The Larks as another welcome addition to The Pearlfishers’ back-catalogue. Music lovers privy to the secrets of The Pearlfishers bathed in its delights. Everyone was happy. However, still The Pearlfishers’ music wasn’t being heard by the wider audience that it deserved. Maybe that would change with their seventh album?

Time goes slowly when you are a Pearlfishers’ fan waiting for a new album. Seven long years passed before David Scott and the rest of The Pearlfishers completed Open Up Your Colouring Book.

It’s no wonder it’s taken seven years for Open Up Your Colouring Book to be recorded. There’s sixteen songs on Open Up Your Colouring Book. David Scott wrote fourteen tracks. He cowrote Chasing All the Good Days Down with Amy Alison and I Don’t Want to Know About It with Erin Moran. These sixteen songs were recorded at a variety of studios in the West of Scotland.

Open Up Your Colouring Book was recorded over the last couple of years, at a variety of studios. This includes what’s become known as The Pearlfishers’ headquarters, East Kilbride Arts Centre. That’s become David Scott’s centre of operations throughout his career. Other sessions took place at the University Of West Of Scotland Studio and at Gorbals Sound. Even The Fruitmobile was called into service for the recording of Open Up Your Colouring Book which featured The Pearlfishers and friends.

For the recording of Open Up Your Colouring Book David played guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin, concertina and recorder. The rhythm section includes drummer Jamie Gash, bassist Dee Bahl and guitarist Gabriel Telerman. Strings come courtesy of violinist Lawrence Dunn, Alison Lucas, Tom Prentice on viola and cellist Wendy Wetherby. Arran Fitzpatrick and Adam Welsh played trumpets. Backing vocalists included Stuart Kidd, Madaleine Pritchard and Stefanie Lawrence. This was the lineup that recorded Open Up Your Colouring Book, The Pealfishers’ latest opus.

Diamanda opens Open Up Your Colouring Book. The introduction brings back memories of The Boo Radleys’ Wake Up Boo. After that, The Pearlfishers’ trademark sound evolves. There’s an optimism and sense of wonderment in David’s vocal. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds. Instruments are like an artist’s palette. He’s accompanied by handclaps, cooing, sweeping harmonies, an acoustic guitar and jaunty keyboards. providing the heartbeat are the rhythm section. Later, a crystalline guitar is sprayed above the arrangement. Adding a finishing touch to this joyous anthem are lush strings.

To The Northland sees a real change in sound. A hypnotic rhythm section lock into a groove. Chiming guitars reverberate. David’s vocal is heartfelt, tender and thoughtful. Soon, strings sweep and swirl. Later, David’s voice becomes melancholy and rueful. This is reflected by the swathes of grand strings sweeping in the background.

Chasing All the Good Days Down has a country-tinged sound. That’s until the strings dance in. They set the scene for a pensive vocal from David. Its’ tender, thoughtful and veers between emotive, joyous and dramatic. Before long, it’s obvious that this is classic Pearlfishers. Everything works. The arrangement proves the perfect backdrop for David’s emotive vocal. Lush strings, jangling guitars and the rhythm section provide the backdrop for David, as he delivers some beautiful lyrics.

The Way My Father Talked About Vincent was the first song I heard from Open up Your Colouring Book. That was the version from the songwriting workshop, which featured David duetting with a female vocalist. Sadly, she’s absent on the album version. Instead, David drops his vocal and sings that part. It works though. As David sings the lyrics, memories come flooding back. He remembers his father telling him about Vincent Van Gogh. There’s the same wonderment in his voice. It’s as if he’s being transported back. Suddenly, he’s young and spellbound by the story his father is telling him. You become an onlooker in their conversation. Accompanying David is an understated piano lead arrangement. A melancholy violin and harmonies enter. Mostly it’s David’s vocal that takes centre-stage. It’s responsible for a poignant and beautiful song.

From the opening bars, The Last Days of September is instantly recognisable as a Pearlfishers’ song. It has their trademark sound. Partly it’s down to David’s vocal. It’s instantly recognisable. There’s also The Pearlfishers’ use of harmonies. They compliment David’s vocal. Here, his love of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys shines through. Even the meandering, understated arrangement brings back memories of previous Pearlfishers’ albums. What really makes this song are the lyrics. They’ve a poignancy and paint a picture of a town as summer become autumn. David lyrics leave you imagining the town’s faded grandeur as the seasons change.

Just an acoustic guitar accompanies David on You’ll Never Steal My Spirit. David’s vocal is heartfelt and disbelieving. His lover wants him back. There’s something she’s not telling him. Something is different. He realises it, but she doesn’t. The love they once had is gone. David doesn’t love her any more. She doesn’t realise it. There’s only one reason she wants him back, loneliness. Swathes of wistful strings sweep and a thoughtful David whistles. This results in the song sounding like something from a French movie. Later, a defiant David sings: “you can pull me down, but You’ll Never Steal My Spirit.”

A spacious, melancholy Fender Rhodes provides the backdrop to David’s tender vocal on Gone In The Winter. He sings “I fly free, I fly free, I fly free, over the buildings, out past the cornfields.” He sings of escaping the winter, but is that the case? Is it not more likely he’s escaping a relationship or responsibility? Cooing, cascading harmonies accompany David. So do deliberate drums and reverberating, crystalline, guitars. As David sings of escaping, he wants to be remembered. “You’ll feel my skin or hear my call” It’s as if he wants the best of both worlds. He wants to be remembered and loved, but also wants to escape for the winter.

Attacked by Mountain Cats has a Spanish sound. Deliberate guitars set the scene. Then briefly David whistles. It’s then replaced by the guitars as this musical Amuse Bouche shows its secrets.

Open up Your Colouring Book has a lush, wistful introduction. Strings combine with a plucked guitar. As the guitar drops out, it’s replaced by David’s heartfelt, emotive vocal. He reassures the person he’s singing to. It’s as if he believes in them and loves them. When he sings: “Open up Your Colouring Book” this is a metaphor. It’s more him saying I believe in you and believe you can do this. Later, trings sweep and dance, harmonies soar above the arrangement and a jaunty piano plays. Percussion can be heard as the arrangement unfolds. There’s a nod to The Beach Boys. Especially when David drops the tempo and his vocal signals the rebuilding of the arrangement. It becomes an orchestral opus where beauty is omnipresent during this heartfelt paean.

A Peacock and a King is another track with a cinematic quality. David accompanied by piano, percussion  and tender harmonies paints pictures with the lyrics. He takes you to a special and surreal world, where A Peacock and a King “roamed the city streets, the hills and valleys and through the country fair.” Images take shape before your eyes. It’s akin to revisiting another time and place, with David Scott and The Pearlfishers your time travel guide.

Just like other tracks on Open up Your Colouring Book, Silly Bird has a subtle arrangement. Mostly, it’s keyboards and harmonies that accompany David. Later, percussion enters, and a guitar chirps. Mostly the arrangement allows David’s vocal to take centre-stage. An envious David sings about how the bird the song about is free, then remembers that: “like you and me, pal, passing through.”

I Don’t Want to Know About It features a heartbroken David accompanied by a lone piano. Soon, harmonies sweep in. A despairing David sings: “I Don’t Want to Know About It, don’t want to know about it.” Recorders, triangles, cascading harmonies and a seeing guitar replace David’s despairing, heartbroken vocal, as he lays bare his hurt for all to see. The result is one of Open up Your Colouring Book’s highlights.

After one of Open up Your Colouring Book’s highlights, The Pearlfishers are on a roll. When Love Was a River is The Pearlfishers at their best. That’s down to David’s vocal and the arrangement. It features Byrdsian guitars, lush strings and cooing harmonies. All the time the rhythm section join harmonies in providing the backdrop David’s vocal. He sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics, unlike his former beau.

Keyboards, pounding drums, dark piano chords and an acoustic guitar combine on You Can’t Escape the Way You Feel. It’s full of twists and turns. You never quite know where the track is heading. A despairing David awaits the call that never comes. It was one night only. The disappointment and sadness fills his voice as David delivers the lyrics  You Can’t Escape the Way You Feel.

Straight away, there’s a sense of melancholy in Her Heart Moves Like the Sea Moves. Again, there’s a cinematic quality to the lyrics. The characters seem very real. So does their faith. Especially the central characters, McGarvey and his mother. Against just a piano, David Scott becomes the narrator in what sounds like a very Scottish play.

Closing Open up Your Colouring Book is A Christmas Tree in a Hurricane. Just washes of Fender Rhodes accompany David’s vocal. His vocal is slow and tender. Before long, it grows in power and emotion. When his vocal drops out, a guitar chimes and meanders. This sets the scene for the return of David’s vocal, as he unleashes a vocal that’s emotive and heartfelt.

After a gap of seven long years, The Pearlfishers make a very welcome comeback. They’ve been away far too long. Open up Your Colouring Book is a reminder of what we’ve been missing. 

Hook-laden, joyous, cerebral, thoughtful, melancholy and wistful describe the music on Open up Your Colouring Book. That’s just a few words that describe Open up Your Colouring Book. So does captivating, bewitching and beautiful. 

Especially when David Scott, dawns the role of troubled troubadour. His lived-in, weary vocal sees him breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. For anyone whose lived, lost and lost love, then Open up Your Colouring Book 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. 

Other songs have a cinematic quality. They’re akin to soundtrack to short films or plays. You can shut your eyes and imagine the lyrics unfolding before your eyes. The characters, their hurt and lives seem very reals. Sometimes, it’s as if they’re laying bare their soul. Not only do they lay bare their soul, but articulate their hopes, fears, frustrations and dreams. 

Articulating this gambit of emotions and musical vignet, is David Scott, another of Scotland’s troubled troubadours. Just like previous albums, David Scott, accompanied by the rest of The Pearlfishers. They play their part in Open up Your Colouring Book’s sound and success. 

Seven long years after the release of Up With The Larks, Scotland’s best kept musical secret, The Pearlfishers, return with their seventh album, Open Up Your Colouring Book. It was recently released on Marina Records. Open Up Your Colouring Book is a welcome return to form from The Pearlfishers, Scotland’s best kept musical secret.

THE PEARLFISHERS- OPEN UP YOUR COLOURING BOOK.

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PORTISHEAD-DUMMY.

PORTISHEAD-DUMMY.

Over the years, I’ve often written about many groups groups who were innovators within their chosen genre. This includes King Tubby, Kraftwerk, The Orb and Primal Scream. Each of theses groups have produced albums that have been influential in various ways. King Tubby pioneered dub reggae. Krafwerk were one of this first groups to use electronic instruments and computers in music.The Orb were pioneers in their use of samples within music. Primal Scream fused rock and dance to produce their masterpiece Screamadlica. Portishead were also innovators and pioneers who popularised trip hop. They released a trio of albums including Dummy, which was recently rereleased by Island Records on vinyl  twenty years after its initial released. Dummy was Portishead’s 1994 debut album, which is now perceived as a trip hop classic. 

Portishead are an English band from Bristol. They were formed in 1991 and are named after the nearby town of Portishead. Since 1991, Portishead have only released three albums. These are Dummy in 1994, Portishead in 1997 and Third in 1998.  Portishead consist of three members, Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley. Sometimes, Dave McDonald who was the engineer on their debut album Dummy, is referred to as the fourth member of Portishead.

When it was released in 1994, this album was widely acclaimed by music critics and as an innovative and pioneering album. Portishead mixed together elements of psychedelic and and experimental music, which together, became known as trip-hop. At that time, the music scene was in Bristol was thriving. The Bristol Sound was at his peak, with groups such as Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky and the Wild Bunch Soundsystem providing the city’s soundtrack. Another thriving scene in the city, was the graffiti art scene. Graffiti artists such as Banksy, were contributing a colorful backdrop to Bristol’s landscape, much to the chagrin of Bristol’s denizens. 

During the early 1990s, the city of Bristol was exposed to a huge variety of musical styles. These musical influences, all helped to spawn the genre that became known trip hop. Throughout the city, it was a musical melting pot, people were listening to hip hop, dub reggae, acid jazz, techno, disco and psychedelic music. Being exposed to such a huge variety of different music styles, groups such as Portishead, were bound to use these influences in the music they were producing.

When we look back at Portishead, the group’s various talents complimented each other perfectly. Each brought their own unique talent to the group. Beth Gibbons was the vocalist, and without her delicate, and almost sullen, or sulky, vocals on the tracks, their music would not have same impact. The other two members, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley were renowned sonic manipulators, who had the ability to take a sound or sample and transform it totally into something unimaginable.

One of the biggest influences on Portishead, at the time they were making Dummy, was 1960s and 1970s film soundtracks. The music on these albums are said to be there primary musical influence. When one listens to Dummy carefully, these influences are apparent. For example one track features a sample of Lalo Schifrin’s The Danube Incident, Eric Burdon and War’s Margic Mountain, Isaac Hayes Ike’s Rap III and the Smokey Brookes’ track Spin It Jig. Having told you about Portishead, and the musical environment that spawned Dummy, I will now tell you about the album.

Dummy features ten tracks written by Portishead. Opening Dummy is Myterons. Mysterons starts with various samples and scratches. One of the samples has an eeriness to it, this is magnified by the various scratches. Next Beth Gibbons vocal takes centre-stage in the track. She has the perfect voice for the track. There is a moodiness and sense of mystery in her voice, and Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow show their mastery of sonic manipulation by using a multitude of samples, scratches and drumbeats to accompany, and highlight the vocal track. This is a good track to start the album. It has a moody and atmospheric feel to it, but at the same time, provides a showcase for Beth Gibbons vocal ablilities.

Sour Times starts with the use of a sample from Lalo Schifrin’s, The Danube Incident. The track brings to mind Cold-War spy thrillers and secret assignations between rival agents in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. This track also features a sample of Smokey Brookes’ track Spin It Jig. These samples are the building blocks for the track. Portishead use other instruments and samples within the track. Both a Rhodes keyboard and Hammond organ feature on the track as well as guitar. The highlight of the track is Beth Gibbons’s vocal. Her voice perfectly suits the Lalo Schifrin’s, sample and blends in well with it. This track demonstrates how samples, instruments and vocals can be blended together to produce something totally different to the component parts. I am sure Lalo Schifrin never envisaged a piece of his work being used so effectively in this way, to produce something quite different and compelling.

Strangers starts with a shrill sound, and then various samples and scratches. When you first hear the start of the track you wince somewhat. It does not have the most promising start. However, if you give the track time, it opens up, and begins to show promise. Not only does, the song improve, but you’re drawn into it. The song maybe lacks the quality of the first two tracks, but features some interesting aspects. Beth Gibbons vocal, as i the previous tracks is good, and the samples used are interesting. I found myself listening carefully, trying to identify one the samples, and suddenly realized that they had sampled an old Weather Report track, Elegant People. Portishead were innovators when they produced this album, and their manipulation of sounds, samples and scratches works well.

It Could Be Sweet sees a return to form for Portishead. This is a much better track than Strangers. The sound is much more subdued. Beth Gibbons’ voice is given the opportunity to shine. Her voice sits at the front of the track, and the drum beats and Fender Rhodes sit behind the vocal. The arrangement on this track has a minimalist sound to it. Here, this works perfectly. This arrangement has made It Could Be Sweet is one of the Dummy’s highlights.

Wandering Start starts with a dull repetitive sound, and then Gibbons’ vocal joins the song. She is accompanied by various drum beats, samples and scratches. These are almost like an alternative twenty-first century orchestra. Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow have used these extremely effectively to build a track that has an atmospheric and almost sinister quality to it. With this track, you concentrate on everything that is happening in the song, you find yourself trying to second guess what will happen next. Sometimes your guess is correct, other times you are way of the mark during this mini-masterpiece. Incidentally, for sample spotters wondering what the sample is, it’s Eric Burdon and War’s, Magic Mountain. 

Numb features a glorious multitude of instruments, samples, scratches and almost other-worldly sounds. To accompany this varied sonic palette is Beth Gibbons voice. Her vocal is stunning. She has reserved one of her finest vocal performances for Numb. Her voice accompanies, and is complimented by, the the cornucopia of sounds that have been used within this track. This track shows what can be done with a just Hammond organ, bass, drum beats and a lot of imagination.

Roads begins with a dark and brooding sound, and then opens up to feature a vocal by Beth Gibbons that sounds like not unlike Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. The track then features a wider array of instruments than on any other track on the album. The tempo is almost pedestrian in places, and this brings out the track’s beauty. On this track there is a fantastic arrangement of strings. This, the vocal and the dark brooding sound, that repeats throughout the track contribute towards producing one of the standout tracks on Dummy.

Pedestal begins with a multitude of samples and scratches, and a vocal that sounds subdued. The samples and scratches in combination with the muted vocal, provide an atmospheric track, that draws its inspiration from early hip hop tracks. Andy Hague provides a masterful trumpet solo that adds a different dimension to the track. His trumpet solo adds a variety to the arrangement.  Without it, the atmospheric Pedestal might sound as if it lacks something. .

Biscuit is another track where you find yourself trying to identify the sample used in the track. This time the sample is from an old Johnnie Ray track, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. It’s a track that could divide opinion. For some, it’s the weakest track on the album. There’s too much happening in this track. Portishead have used too many samples, scratches and surreal sounds. This does not help the track. Quite the opposite, it detracts from the track. At the start of the track, a variety of samples are used. Thereafter, a wide variety of strange and otherworldly sounds feature. Even Beth Gibbons’ vocal can’t even rescue the track, and maybe Portishead should have heeded the maxim less is more. If they had used fewer samples, sounds and scratches this track may have been a better one.

The final track on Dummy is Glory Box. This track begins with a sample of an Isaac Hayes track Ike’s Rap III, which is used throughout the track. On this track, the sample works, even the scratchy sound! In some ways, it adds to the effectiveness of the sample. Beth sings the vocal well, and uses her vocal range well. The guitar solo is well placed in the track, it does not overpower the vocal, and highlights the quality of the vocal and also, the track. The track features waves of sound. They rise to a crescendo, and fall, quite suddenly. A good example is Beth’s vocal towards the end of the track. This results in a the perfect end to a trip hop classic.

That is the story of Portishead, and their debut album Dummy. I have always been impressed that Portishead were able to produce such a good first album. They used the technology that was available to them at the time, well. At that time, technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is now. So what Portishead were able to achieve is a considerable achievement. The resulting music, is a fusion of traditional instruments such as, guitar, bass and drums, and the newer technology including samplers, samples and scratches. Added to that, Beth Gibbons glorious and ethereal vocal, and of course, a lot of creativity and imagination. What all of that has combined to produce is an album that led the way, and help launch a new genre of music, trip hop.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, Dummy is a trip hop classic. Considering this was Portishead’s debut album, this is quite an achievement. That’s why, if you have never heard of Portishead, or their album Dummy, I can strongly recommend that you consider buying this album. Should you do so, you will not be disappointed. Dummy is an album that you will return to time and time again. Each time you do so, you will hear sounds, subtleties and nuances that you have never have hear before. In many ways, each time you listen to this album, is like hearing a different album, as you will hear and focus on, different aspects of the mesmeric, magical and moody music on Dummy.

PORTISHEAD-DUMMY.

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FRANK SINATRA-IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING AND SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS.

FRANK SINATRA-IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING AND SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS.

It’s hard to believe that by the early fifties, Frank Sinatra’s career had stalled. Frank Sinatra’s career was at a crossroads. He hadn’t released an album since Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra. Released in October 1950, Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra was the final album he released for Columbia. This marked the end of an era for Frank Sinatra.

Previously, Frank Sinatra had been a teen idol. However, those teens had grown up. For Frank Sinatra, this presented a problem. There was only option, Frank Sinatra had to change direction. The problem was, which direction should his career head? 

Frank was at a loss. His contract with Columbia was over. They hadn’t renewed his contract. The only other thing Frank Sinatra knew was acting. He had previously, featured in twelve films. They were a mixed bag, including musicals, romances and short films. These films were met with a mixed reception by critics. So, it’s ironic that a film revived Frank Sinatra’s career. This was From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity was released in August 1953. It was an adaptation of James Jack’s book and features the lives of three soldiers stationed in Hawaii, in the run up to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Playing the main lead characters are Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift. Donna Reed and Deborah Kerr played their wives. Other members of the star stubbed cast included Ernest Bogerine, Phillip Ober and Jack Warden. Directed by Fred Zinnemann and produced by Buddy Adler, great things were forecast for From Here to Eternity.

Upon its release, From Here to Eternity was released to widespread critical acclaim. From Here to Eternity was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and won eight. One of the Academy Awards went to Frank Sinatra, for Best Supporting Actor. Frank Sinatra also won one of two Golden Globe Awards. Again, this was for Best Supporting Actor. As a result of the critical acclaim and commercial success From Here to Eternity enjoyed, Frank Sinatra’s career was back on track. 

In 1953, Frank Sinatra signed to Capitol Records. This was one of the best decisions of his career. He was now thirty-eight and too old to be a teen idol. His music had to change direction. However, he couldn’t do this on his own. Fortunately, Capitol Records had the man who could rejuvenate Frank Sinatra’s career, arranger, Nelson Riddle.

Capitol Records had many of the top arrangers in their employ. This included Billy May and Gordon Jenkins. The best was, without doubt Nelson Riddle. Almost single handedly, Nelson Riddle transformed and reinvented the career of Frank Sinatra. With Nelson Riddle’s help, Frank Sinatra recorded music that was much more grownup, darker, emotive and sometimes, melancholy. This included several classic albums, including In The Wee Small Hours and Sons For Swingin’ Lovers which were recently rerelease by Black Coffee Records.

Each of Black Coffee Records’ rereleases of Frank Sinatra albums have been remastered. The sound quality is stunning. Never has the Chairman Of The Board sounded better. As an added and very welcome bonus, both albums features bonus tracks. In The Wee Small Hours features eight bonus tracks. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! features eleven bonus tracks. This makes these reissues the one to choose. Especially, when you hear the story behind each album.

Having signed to Capitol Records, Frank Sinatra set about rejuvenating his career. Little did he realise, that Capitol Records was the perfect label for an artist on the comeback trail. Capitol Records had access to some of the best songwriters, musicians, producers and arrangers. It was one of Capitol Records’ best known arrangers, Nelson Riddle who helped transform Frank Sinatra’s career.

By 1953, Nelson Riddle was just thirty-two. He had already worked as an arranger, bandleader, composer and orchestrator. Nelson had already worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Tommy Dorsey and Nat King Cole. That would be the case throughout his long and distinguished career. Frank Sinatra was just the latest artist to work with Nelson Riddle. Their partnership began on the 1954 album Songs for Young Lovers.

Songs for Young Lovers.

For Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle’s first collaboration Songs for Young Lovers, they spent two days in the studio. Nelson Riddle provided the orchestrations. Producing Songs for Young Lovers was Voyle Gilmore, Capitol Records’ in-house producer. Recording took place between 5th and 6th November 1953. Eight songs were recorded. This included covers of Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out of You, Rogers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine and Little Girl Blue. Two Ira and George Gershwin’s A Foggy Day and They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Once the eight songs were recorded, Songs for Young Lovers was released in 1954, nearly four years since Frank Sinatra’s last album.

During this enforced break, times had changed. Songs for Young Lovers became the first Frank Sinatra album not to be released on 78. One thing hadn’t changed, Frank Sinatra’s voice.

Despite nearly four years away from the recording studio, Frank Sinatra hadn’t lost his Midas Touch. He breathed, life, meaning and emotion into the eight songs on Songs for Young Lovers. It’s no wonder Songs for Young Lovers, was released to critical acclaim. The Chairman Of The Board made a swinging return. This was just the start of one of the golden period’s in Frank Sinatra’s career.

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Swing Easy!

Swing Easy! was a landmark album for Frank Sinatra. It was the first album to feature arrangements by Nelson Riddle. On Songs for Young Lovers, Nelson Riddle was responsible for orchestration. Not now. He took charge of orchestrations and arrangements. Voyle Gilmore, Capitol Records in-house took charge of producing Swing Easy, which featured eight songs.

Just like Songs for Young Lovers, Swing Easy saw Frank Sinatra dip into some of the great American songbooks. This included Cole Porter’s. His Just One Of Those Things opened Swing Easy. Other tracks included I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter, Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams and Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer’s Jeepers Creeper. Closing Swing Easy, was Gerald Marks and Seymour Simon’s All Of Me. Again, these eight tracks were recorded in two days.

Recording of Swing Easy took place on the 7th and 19th April 1954. Accompanying Frank Sinatra was Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra. They provided the backdrop for Frank Sinatra. The songs had been chosen well. The uptempo numbers allow Frank and the Orchestra to swing. His vocals are full of nuances and subtleties. Frank’s timing is perfect, as the songs take on new meaning. It seemed Nelson Riddle’s arrangements were the perfect foil to Frank Sinatra’s vocals.

Critics agreed. They were won over by the latest album from the comeback King, Frank Sinatra. Vocal jazz, swing and pop melted into one on Swing Easy! Some critics felt that Frank Sinatra’s star was in the ascendancy. How right they were.

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In the Wee Small Hours.

Without doubt, the first classic album of Frank Sinatra’s time at Capitol Records was In the Wee Small Hours. It’s credited with being the first ever concept album. It was one of several concept album Frank Sinatra would record. 

The song on In the Wee Small Hours deal with a variety of issues. Loneliness, love lost, heartbreak and the breakup of relationships. There’s even songs about depression and night life. That’s reflected on the cover to In the Wee Small Hours. 

A pensive, thoughtful Frank Sinatra stands at the corner of a dimly lit street. It’s as if the cover to In the Wee Small Hours is telling you that the music within is for late night listening. Especially if you’re lonely, heartbroken and morose. That’s apparent from the music. It’s also a reflection of where Frank Sinatra was.

Just before Frank Sinatra began recording In the Wee Small Hours, his marriage to Ava Gardner was on the rocks. It was said to be a turbulent relationship, best described as they couldn’t live together, couldn’t live apart. Both were alleged to be unfaithful and this put a strain on the marriage. By the time recording of In the Wee Small Hours began, the marriage was all but over. So Frank Sinatra was experiencing the emotions he was singing about on In the Wee Small Hours.

Recording of In the Wee Small Hours began on 8th February 1955 and lasted to March 4th 1955. Nelson Riddle was responsible for orchestration and arrangements. Voyle Gilmore, Capitol Records in-house took charge of producing In the Wee Small Hours. When Frank started singing, it must have been like a window into his weary, lonely heartbroken soul.  In just under a month, Frank Sinatra recorded In the Wee Small Hours. It would become a classic album. That was obvious from the opening track of In the Wee Small Hours.

In the Wee Small Hours features a string of classic tracks. It opens with melancholy reading of In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. Mood Indigo is then transformed. It’s slowed down and takes on a thoughtful sound. The way Frank sings Rogers and Hart’s Glad To Be Unhappy and Hoagy Carmichael’s I Get Along Without You Very Well it’s as if he’s living the lyrics. 

In Deep in a Dream, Frank sings of better days. Deep down though, he knows he’s kidding himself. I See Your Face Before Me features a wonderfully wistful vocal from Frank. Just like so many times on In the Wee Small Hours, Frank sings the lyrics as if he’s living them and is desperate to come out the other end. Can’t We Be Friends? seems almost personal. It’s as if Frank’s thinking aloud. The result is a truly poignant track. When Your Lover Has Gone features a vocal tinged with hurt, heartbreak and loneliness. This is accentuated my the melancholy strings. Like Frank’s vocal, they’re designed to tug at your heartstrings, and proved a perfect way to close side one of In the Wee Small Hours.

A despairing, lovelorn Frank Sinatra breathes meaning into Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love? He’s then in a reflective mood Last Night When We Were Young. Reflective becomes melancholy on I’ll Be Around and Ill Wind. Frank then dips into the great American songbooks again.

He delivers two Rogers and Hart songs. It Never Entered My Mind features a disbelieving vocal from Frank. Dancing on the Ceiling demonstrates why Rogers and Hart were one of the most successful songwriting partnerships is American musical history. Frank Sinatra toys with the lyrics. It’s as if he’s reflecting on their meaning. His delivery rueful, emotive and sometimes, tinged with regret. Quite simply, it’s Frank Sinatra at his thoughtful best.

Frank like anyone whose had their heartbroken, thinks I’ll Never Be the Same. His delivery of the lyrics seems personal. It’s heartfelt and almost a glimpse of the hurt and torment he was experiencing in 1955. Closing In the Wee Small Hours was This Love Of Mine. This was the second time Frank had recorded This Love Of Mine. Originally, he recorded the song with Tommy Dorsey in 1941. By 1955, Frank was older and had matured as a vocalist. His delivery of the lyrics is very different and much more believable. This proves the perfect way to close what was a classic album, In the Wee Small Hours.

Critics agreed. They said that In the Wee Small Hours was a career defining album from Frank Sinatra. It was a coming of age from Frank Sinatra. In the Wee Small Hours was Frank Sinatra’s ninth album. Everything had been leading up to In the Wee Small Hours. 

Critically acclaimed, the first concept was an emotional roller coaster where Frank laid bare his heart and soul. It seemed to strike a chord with the American record buying public. Released in April 1955, In the Wee Small Hours reached number two in the US Billboard 200 charts. It spent eighteen weeks in the charts, and by 2002, was certified gold. By 2002, accolades and awards came the way of In the Wee Small Hours.

Music magazines referred to as a In the Wee Small Hours as a classic. Every self respecting record collection included a copy of In the Wee Small Hours. It’s seen as an album that changed not just Frank Sinatra’s career but music. After all, never before had anyone released a concept album. This was a first.  However, In the Wee Small Hours wasn’t the last concept album Frank Sinatra released. They would become a staple of his discography. So were classics, which describes his next album Songs For Swinging Lovers.

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Songs For Swingin’ Lovers.

What a difference a year made. In March 1956, Frank Sinatra released Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. It featured a much more optimistic, upbeat Frank Sinatra. He decided to record existing pop standards in a hipper, jazz-tinged style. There was an optimism and  exuberance as a hip, finger clicking, swinging Frank Sinatra worked his way through fifteen songs. Just like In the Wee Small Hours, there’s classics aplenty on Songs For Swinging Lovers, which was recorded in late 1955 through to early 1956.

Recording of Songs For Swingin’ Lovers began on Capitol Records Studios on October 17th 1955. There was then a break until early 1956. The sessions then resumed on 9th January 1956. They recorded right through until the 12th January and returned on 17th January 1956 to complete Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. Frank Sinatra was accompanied by his A-Team. Nelson Riddle was responsible for orchestration and arrangements. Voyle Gilmore would produce Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. Little did they realise they’d recorded another classic album.

Just like In the Wee Small Hours, Songs For Swingin’ Lovers was released to widespread critical acclaim. Critics hailed the optimism of Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. They liked the upbeat fusion of jazz and pop. It was a much more hipper Frank Sinatra. For some critics, it was as if Frank Sinatra stylistically, had undergone a makeover. That wasn’t the case. He was just demonstrating his versatility. Record buyers realised this and just like In the Wee Small Hours, made Songs For Swingin’ Lovers a huge commercial success.

On its release in March 1956, Songs For Swingin’ Lovers reached number two in the US Billboard 200 and number one in Britain. For Frank Sinatra, he was on his way to becoming one of the most successful singers and entertainers of the fifties. Songs For Swinging Lovers was just the latest critically acclaimed album from the Chairman Of The Board.

Songs For Swingin’ Lovers opens with a joyous version You Make Me Feel So Young. Frank Sinatra makes the song swing and at the same time, claims it as his own. In doing so, the song becomes a classic. It Happened In Monterey would become another Frank Sinatra classic. Frank’s light, airy vocal becomes a mixture a power, longing and sadness. Then Frank, accompanied by horns, toys with You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me. A reflective, joyful Frank delivers a tender, subtle take on You Brought and New Kind of Love to Me. There’s no drop in quality. 

Too Marvellous For Words was penned by Johnny Mercer and Richard A. Whiting. It’s one of the highlights of Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. As the horns cut loose, Frank delivers one of his best vocals. He unleashes a vocal tour de force. This is just the start of what would become a string of classics.  By now, Frank is just getting into his swing. It’s as if he’s warmed up for Ole Devil Moon, Pennies From Heaven and then George and Ira Gershwin’s Love Is Here To Stay. That proves a poignant and perfect way to close side one.

The Cole Porter classic I’ve Got You Under My Skin opens side two. A swinging Frank Sinatra makes it his own. That’s why, whenever anyone covers I’ve Got You Under My Skin, comparisons are drawn with Frank’s version. After all, it’s the definitive version. 

I Thought About You and We’ll Be Together Again see melancholia turn to joy. Then on Makin’ Whoopee, Frank kicks loose. A familiar track is given a makeover. The Sinatra-Riddle partnership work their magic. This continues on Swingin’ Down The Lane. It’s Frank Sinatra at his best. His phrasing breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. That’s the case with his light hearted, good natured take on Anything Goes. Closing Songs For Swingin’ Lovers is the thoughtful, poignant and beautiful How About You? Just like any good album Frank Sinatra leaves you wanting more on Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!

After the release of Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, Frank Sinatra’s comeback was complete. This was a long way from the early fifties, when his career was at a crossroads. Much of the credit goes to Nelson Riddle. His arrangements played a huge part in the sound and success of Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! That was the case with In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. This was just the start of the commercial success and critical acclaim that would come the Sinatra-Riddle partnership’s way. 

Although Voyle Gilmore produced In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, he played a less important role than Nelson Riddle. He was responsible for the arrangements and orchestrations. They were crucial to the rejuvenation of Frank Sinatra’s career. Without Nelson Riddle, Frank Sinatra might never have reached the heights he did. One of their finest collaborations was Songs for Swingin’ Lovers. It was the perfect foil for his previous album In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.

Songs for Swingin’ Lovers and In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning show two sides to Frank Sinatra. There’s songs abo loneliness, love lost, heartbreak and the breakup of relationships In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. There’s even songs about depression and night life. It’s a wonderfully melancholy album. Frank Sinatra, the troubled troubadour lays bare his troubled soul. Then on Songs for Swingin’ Lovers a much more optimistic, upbeat Frank Sinatra swings his way through fifteen songs. Just like In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers finds Frank Sinatra back to his very best. 

In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers marked the second coming of Frank Sinatra. The former teen idol had reinvented himself, and was now one of the most successful and critically acclaimed artists. His music was popular around the world. However, things had changed. Frank Sinatra, the former teen idol had matured, and was now a troubadour, who in 1955 and 1956, released two classic albums In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers.

FRANK SINATRA-N THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING AND SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS.

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THE KINKS-LOLA VERSUS POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND AND PERCY.

THE KINKS-LOLA VERSUS POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND AND PERCY.

By 1970, The Kinks had been through the ringer. Everything that could’ve gone wrong, had gone wrong. The Kinks had lost of bassist Pete Quaife in 1969. Pete left after The Kinks sixth album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. It was released in November 1968 and failed to chart in Britain and American. For The Kinks, this was a disaster. Never before had one of their albums failed to chart. When The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society failed to chart, this was a first. Surely this was a mere blip? After all, The Kinks were one Britain’s most popular musical exports.

Down, but not out, Ray Davies returned with Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). This was a concept album which was meant to be the soundtrack to a television play based around a story written by novelist Julian Mitchell. Between May and July 1969, The Kinks, with new bassist John Alton making his debut, recorded their seventh album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). This was a lavish album. Horns and strings adorned Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). It was as if The Kinks were determined to get their career back on track. What better way than providing the soundtrack to television play? After all, The Kinks’ music would be heard by a large part of the British population.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Arthur the television play was cancelled. This presented The Kinks with a problem. They’d just written the soundtrack to a play that would never be made, never mind seen. Despite this, The Kinks released Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) in October 1969. 

On its release, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) failed to chart in the UK and stalled at number 105 in the US Billboard 200 charts. For The Kinks, this was an improvement in their previous album. So were the two minor hit singles released from Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). 

Plastic Man was the lead single from Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). It reached number twenty-eight in Britain. Then neither Drivin’ nor Shangri-La failed to chart. The final single was Victoria, which reached number thirty in Britain and number sixty-two in the US Billboard 100. Maybe, just maybe, The Kinks luck was changing?

It wasn’t. 1970 proved to be one of the most turbulent years in The Kinks’ career. Drummer Mick Avoy’s illness meant The Kinks had to cancel all booking for ten weeks. This resulted in The Kinks American tour being cancelled. That wasn’t the end of The Kinks problems.

In the background, The Kinks were experiencing problems with their manager and bureaucrats. It would take time to free themselves of the contractual problems. The problems with bureaucrats really hampered The Kinks. Their eighth album Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, featured one of the biggest singles of The Kinks career, Lola. However, The Kinks had been banned from entering and touring America. They were unable to build on the early success they enjoyed. Since 1965, The Kinks hadn’t played live in America. Longterm, this cost The Kinks dearly. They never quite reached the heights they should’ve. 

Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, which was recently rereleased by Sony Music, along with the soundtrack to Percy, could’ve and should’ve transformed The Kinks career in America. They had the talent to be one of the biggest British bands in America. 

Belatedly, the band on The Kinks from playing in America had been lifted in 1969. For the first time in five years, The Kinks would play live in America. This was perfect timing. Sadly, illness prevented The Kinks from touring America. Their concert tour was cancelled and The Kinks lost the chance to make up for lost time. Unfortunately. lightning struck twice. 

A year later, and the lead single from Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround Lola, reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 charts. With The Kinks touring America, this should transform their fortunes. Unbelievably, that wasn’t to be. Lightning struck twice for The Kinks.

Members of The Kinks, including Mick Avoy fell ill. They had to cancel all booking for ten weeks. This resulted in The Kinks American tour being cancelled. For The Kinks, this was a disaster. After being banned from America for five years, their comeback was snatched away. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. With Lola reaching number nine in the US Billboard 200 charts, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, that should’ve been start of The Kinks conquering America. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround,

After the disappointment of 1968s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society and 1969s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), The Kinks hoped that a new decade would bring about a change in fortune. For their eight album, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, Ray Davies decided to write another concept album. This was a concept album with a difference though, it was about the music industry.

For Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, Ray Davies wrote eleven of the thirteen tracks. Dave Davies penned Strangers and Rats. Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, is concept album. It’s best described as a  satirical, tongue-in-cheek concept examination of the various aspects of the music industry. During the thirteen tracks, The Kinks look at the various facets of the music industry. Everyone, from music publishers, the music press, accountants, managers and The Kinks’ bette noire, music unions. The American musician’s union had stopped The Kinks playing in America for five long years. Now was The Kinks opportunity for payback.

Recording of Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, took place took place between at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London. The sessions began in April and lasted until May 1970. The Kinks then took a break until August 1970. They then worked through to September 1970. By then, The Kinks Mk.II had completed Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround.

The lineup of The Kinks was a rhythm section of bassist and guitarist John Dalton, drummer and percussionist Mike Avory, plus Dave Davies on lead guitar, slide guitar and banjo. Dave also took charge of lead vocal on the two tracks he wrote, Rats and Strangers. John Gosling played piano and organ, while Ray Davies sang  lead vocals, played guitar, harmonica, keyboards and resonator guitar. After four months work, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround was complete.

Before the release of Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, two singles were released. The lead single was Lola, which reached number two in Britain and number nine in the US Billboard 100. Across the world, Lola was a hit. It reached number one in countries so far afield as Holland and New Zealand. Then Apeman was released as a single. Just like Lola, it was a worldwide hit. However, it didn’t replicate the success of Lola. Apeman reached number five in Britain and number forty-five in the US Billboard 100. With two hit singles, it looked as if Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, would revive The Kinks’ fortunes.

Released in November 1970, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, was critically acclaimed. Most critics were won over by Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround. There were very few dissenting voices. That’s not the case now.

Since 1970, some critics have changed their opinion of Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround. Mostly, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround has been well received by critics. However, some recent reviews have been mixed. In the main, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround is perceived as one of The Kinks’ finest albums. It certainly revived The Kinks fortunes.

Just like their previous album, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) Lola Versus The Powerman and TheMoneygoround fared better in American than Britain. Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround,reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200 charts. However, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround failed to chart in Britain. It seemed that The Kinks were more popular in America than their home country. Maybe, America got better understood the concept album that was Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround?

Just like so many of The Kinks’ previous albums, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround was eclectic. It veered between pop, power pop, hard rock and folk. There was even a homage to the British music hall, which Ray Davies was a devotee of. The Kinks combined acerbic comment, wit, nostalgia, frustration and anger. After all, The Kinks hadn’t had an easy ride at the hand of the music industry. This was apparent when Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround.

Opening Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, is Contenders, a song about bands who dream about making it big. That’s until they have to negotiate with the music publishers in Denmark Street or the unions that feature in the ballad Get Back In Line. Then there’s the Lola, the best known song on Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround.

Whilst not directly about the music industry, Lola is a song about the  type of people who populate the fringes of the music industry. The song is about brief romantic encounter between a young man and a transvestite. Ray’s voice gets across the confusion, panic and bewilderment the narrator encounters when he sings the lyric “walked like a woman and talked like a man.” Although Lola is the best known track on  Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground, there’s much more than one track.

After Lola, Ray turns his ire on Top Of The Pops. It was merely an arbiter of popularity, not quality. This must have frustrated Ray. The music he wrote was much more cerebral and incisive than most of the music that appeared on Top Of The Pops. After Top Of The Pops, business managers and accountants incur the wrath of Ray on The Moneygoround. It’s as if he’s been waiting a while to unleash his ire.

After Top Of The Pops, business managers and accountants incur the wrath of Ray on The Moneygoround, which is a homage to the English music hall. It’s as if he’s been waiting a while to unleash his ire. 

This Time Tomorrow and the ballad A Long Way Home, finds Ray reflecting on the life on the road. Gruelling, tiring and boring, Ray misses his family and home. After the balladry of A Long Way Home, Dave delivers the lead vocal on Rats. 

Rats bursts into life. It also features some of the best guitar playing on Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground. On the release of the hard rocking Apeman, Rats was chosen as the B-Side. Just like Strangers, it’s a reminder of Dave’s talent as a singer and songwriter. The hard rocking continues on Powerman, where The Kinks cut loose. It’s an impressive sound. So is the song that closes Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround.

Closing Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround, is the poignant, wistful Got to Be Free. It’s a mixture of country and bluegrass. This is quite unlike most of Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground. The way Ray delivers the lyrics, it’s as if Ray feels enslaved by the contract he’s tied to. It’s as if all he longs for is to be free of the contract.

Never before had anyone written a concept album about the music industry. Then along came The Kinks in 1970. Their eighth album Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround saw the brothers’ Davies unleash acerbic comment, wit, nostalgia, frustration and anger. They turn their guns on the music industry, which they felt had treated them badly. The only way of telling people about this, was through their music. It proved an eye opener for music fans. Many of them had no idea how the music industry worked. Ironically, having exposed the inner workings of the music industry, it proved profitable for The Kinks.

After the commercial success of Lola, The Kinks were offered a new contract by RCA Records. The Kinks negotiated hard. As a result, they were able to build their own recording studio. This made life much easier and cheaper for The Kinks. Now whenever they wanted to record new music, they could head to their own studio. All this was the result of The Kinks best known singles, Lola. Less well known was The Kinks’ ninth album Percy.

Percy.

Just five months after the release of Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround The Kinks released their ninth album, Percy. It was released on March 26th 1971. This was no ordinary Kinks album. 

No. Instead, Percy was the soundtrack to a British comedy film featuring Hywel Bennett and Britt Elkland. Directed by Ralph Thomas, Percy featured the music of The Kinks. They were assisted by Stanley Myers, who took charge of the orchestral arrangements, for what was The Kinks final albums for Pye. 

For Percy, Dave Davies penned fourteen tracks. These fourteen tracks were recorded at Morgan Studios, London, between October 1970 and January 1971.  The lineup of The Kinks was a rhythm section of bassist John Dalton,drummer Mike Avory and Dave Davies on six and twelve string guitar. John Gosling played keyboards. Ray Davies sang lead vocals, played acoustic guitar and harmonica. When Percy was completed, it was released on March 26th 1971.

When Percy was released on March 26th 1971, music critics weren’t won over by the Percy soundtrack. Its mixture of pop and rock wasn’t as well received as  Lola Versus The Powerman and Moneygoround. That’s not surprising. The two albums were very different.

Percy was the soundtrack to a low budget British movie. Pop and rock sat side-by-side. There were two firsts on Percy. Some of the songs were instrumentals. The other first was that Willesden Green was the only Kinks song to feature vocals by another band member. On Willesden Green, John Dalton impersonates Elvis Presley. This shows a lighter side to The Kinks. Sadly, Percy wasn’t a commercially successful album. 

On its release, Percy failed to chart in Britain. Pye decided not to release Percy in America. Considering The Kinks were more popular in America than Britain, this seems strange. It may have been that because Percy was the soundtrack to a low budget British film? A single was released from Percy.

A single God’s Children was released from Percy. It gave The Kinks a minor single in Australia and New Zealand. It failed to chart in America. This was the case with the God’s Children E.P, which was released in Britain. Just like the album Percy, it failed chart. For The Kinks, this was a disappointing end to their time at Pye.

The last few years had been tough for The Kinks in Britain. Neither Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground nor Percy had charted in Britain. At least the single Lola had given The Kinks a hit single. However, mostly, times had been tough for The Kinks. 

There had been illness, managerial problems and tours cancelled. They’d lost their original bassist Pete Quaife and been banned from playing in America for four years. Then there was Percy, their soundtrack album. It was neither The Kinks finest, nor most successful album. 

Percy is a typical soundtrack album, and very much of its time. Revisiting Percy after forty-three years, it hasn’t stood the test of time as well as Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground. Having said that, there are some memorable moments. This includes God’s Children and Animals In The Zoo. Then there’s the rocky Dreams and bluesy Completely. That’s four reasons why during the seventies, Percy was constantly being imported into America. It seemed that Percy had belatedly, found an audience, in The Kinks’ adopted home country, America. Now forty-three years later, Percy has been rereleased.

Recently, Sony Music released Lola Versus The Powerman and Moneygoround as a double album. On disc two, is the soundtrack album Percy. It makes a welcome return. However, the main even is Lola Versus The Powerman and The Underground, which was one of The Kinks’ finest albums of the seventies. Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround could’ve and should’ve transformed The Kinks’ career. If The Kinks American tour hadn’t been cancelled then maybe, just maybe, Lola Versus The Powerman and The Moneygoround would’ve transformed The Kinks into one of the biggest British bands in America. 

THE KINKS-LOLA VERSUS POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND AND PERCY.

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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.

Black Snake Diamond Role.

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.

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.

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.

Queen Elvis.

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.

Eye.

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.

So You Think You’re in Love?

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.

Respect.

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.

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. 

Luxor.

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.

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.

 Olé! Tarantula.

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.

Goodnight Oslo.

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.

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.

Tromsø, Kaptein.

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.

 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. 

The Man Upstairs.

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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