BLACK SABBATH-MASTER OF REALITY.

BLACK SABBATH-MASTER OF REALITY.

1970 had been a year that defined Black Sabbath’s career. They’d released two hugely successful albums. This includes their debut album Black Sabbath, which was released in February 1970. It reached number eight in the UK and number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in Black Sabbath being certified gold in the UK and platinum in the US. Black Sabbath launched the Birmingham trio’s career. However, things were about to get even better.

Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s sophomore album, was released in the UK in September 1970. It reached number one and was certified gold. Then in January 1971, Paranoid was released in the US, reaching number twelve and was certified platinum four times over. Ironically, in the US, Paranoid wasn’t well received by critics. Despite this, Paranoid sold over twelve-million copies and and featured three Black Sabbath classics Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs. After just two albums, Black Sabbath were one of the biggest names in rock music.

Unlike many bands, Black Sabbath’s rise and rise had been meteoric. Just two years after they’d formed in Birmingham, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, guitarist Tony Iommi and lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne were rubbing shoulders with rock royalty. There was a problem though. How do you followup an album as successful as Paranoid? After all, what chance had Black Sabbath of recording an album that surpassed Paranoid, a stonewall classic?

The answer to that is with Master Of Reality, is an album influenced three genres of music. They were stoner rock, doom metal and sludge metal, a fusion of hardcore punk and heavy metal. It seemed Black Sabbath were determined to continue pushing musical boundaries on Master Of Reality, which was recently rereleased in America, by Universal.

Black Sabbath didn’t even get the opportunity to enjoy Paranoid’s success in America. It was released in America in January 1971. That was when Black Sabbath headed into Island Studios to record eight tracks. Six of them, Sweet Leaf, After Forever, Children Of The Grave, Lord of This World, Solitude and Into The Void were written by Black Sabbath. Embryo and Orchid were written by Tony Iommi. Between January and May 1971, Black Sabbath got to work.

At Island Studios, producer Rodger Bain was joined bassist Geezer Butler, drummer and percussion Bill Ward. They provided the rhythm section. Guitarist Tony Iommi also played synth, flute and piano. Adding his inimitable vocal was Ozzy Osbourne. By May 1971, Black Sabbath had completed Master Of Reality, which was released in July 1971.

Before the release of Master Of Reality, reviews were mixed. Just like Paranoid, Lester Bangs, the supposed doyen of critics, gave the album a mixed review. Other high profile critics didn’t take to Master Of Reality. It wasn’t cerebral enough for them. Among the criticisms were that Master Of Reality was “monotonous,” “dull and decadent.” Despite the mixed reviews, Master Of Emotion was a huge commercial success.

Master Of Reality, which was Black Sabbath’s third album, was released on 21st July 1971. In the UK, Master Of Reality reached number five and was certified silver. Over the Atlantic, Master Of Reality was certified gold on preorders along. Eventually, Master Of Reality reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and was certified double-platinum. The Black Sabbath success story continued with Master Of Reality, which I’ll tell you about.

Master Of Reality opens with Sweet Leaf, one of the earliest examples of stoner rock. A loop of Tony coughing, whilst allegedly smoking a joint opens the track. After that, the rhythm section and blistering guitars accompany Ozzy’s powerhouse of a vocal. It’s a mixture of emotion and power., Machine gun guitars and the thundering rhythm section accompany him all the way. Guitarist Tony Iommi gives a guitar masterclass, before Black Sabbath’s rhythm section kick loose. Like a well-oiled machine Black Sabbath pickup where they left off on Paranoid, creating groundbreaking rock music.

After Forever was the only single released from Master Of Reality. However, it failed to chart. Black Sabbath were always more of an albums band. This is one of the most controversial songs on the album, given the lyrics about religion and Christianity. When this song was released in 1971, it must have provoked controversy. Back then, religion played a bigger part in British and American life. A buzzing synth gives way to Black Sabbath in full flow. It’s a joy to behold. Geezer, Bill and Tony lock into a tight groove. Drums like jackhammers accompany blistering guitars. Ozzy’s rabble rousing vocal is accompanied by stomping arrangement as heavy rock anthem unfolds.

The guitars that open Embryo have a sixties influence. There’s also a brief prig rock influence, before Black Sabbath cut loose. Quickly, the arrangement gathers momentum and a glorious, driving arrangement unfolds. Ozzy struts his way through the lyrics, singing about revolution. Dramatic bursts of guitar are fired above the arrangement. Tony unleashes some blistering licks, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along further honing and defining Black Sabbath’s trademark sound.

Children Of The Grave is an anti-war song. Black Sabbath had two anti-war songs on Paranoid, War Pigs and Electric Funeral. This is just as good. It’s no mealy mouthed protest song, like Give Peace A Chance. They left that to ex-Beatles and conceptual artists. Neither do Black Sabbath do bed ins. That’s unless groupies and class As are involved. The arrangement is big, bold and in-your-face. Literally, the arrangement is a wall of sound. Searing, blistering and crystalline guitar licks and a thundering, driving rhythm section. Ozzy’s vocal is a mixture of anger and frustration. Tony seems to play as if his very life depends on it, before the track reaches a haunting crescendo.

Straight away, it’s obvious that Orchid is very different to the other tracks on Master Of Reality. It has a folk influence. Chiming, crystalline guitars and a subtle bass combine during this beautiful, short and melancholy instrumental.

Normal service is restored on Lord Of This World. Dark. Dramatic and moody describes the arrangement. The rhythm section glue the arrangement together, while scorching guitars match Ozzy’s grizzled vocal. Later, when Ozzy’s vocal drops out, the rest of the band get their chance to shine. It’s obvious that Geezer, Bill and Tony are top class musicians who were among the greatest rock musicians of the seventies. Lord Of This World is a reminder of this, if any was needed.

Solitude has an understated, melancholy sound. Just a chiming guitar and meandering bass combine with Ozzy’s vocal. It’s full of sadness, regrets and confusion. A flute floats above the arrangement, adding to the atmospheric, haunting arrangement. While this is very different to much of Master Of Reality, it’s a beautiful, haunting and cerebral song, that shows another side of Black Sabbath. 

Into The Void closes Master Of Reality, was originally called Spanish Sid. A blistering guitar solo joins a pounding, thunderous rhythm section. Black Sabbath seem to be enjoying the opportunity to showcase their inconsiderable skills. They kick loose and are joined by Ozzy. He delivers his vocal urgently, in short, sharp bursts. Behind him Geezer and Tony join forces, while Bill seems determined to punish his drums.

Although Master Of Reality didn’t quite match the success of paranoid, it proved to be a hugely influential album. Master Of Reality influenced three genres of music. They were stoner rock, doom metal and sludge metal, a fusion of hardcore punk and heavy metal. It seemed Black Sabbath were determined to continue pushing musical boundaries on Master Of Reality, which was recently rereleased in America, by Universal.

Master Of Reality also saw Black Sabbath further refine and and hone their unique sound. They were continuing to rewrite the rules of heavy metal. It was a case of  the heavier the better. Leading the charge, were Black Sabbath. This didn’t please some people.

Among them were the critics. This self styled tastemaker seemed to have a downer on Black Sabbath. Along with many American critics, they felt Master Of Reality was too heavy.  Critics didn’t approve of the aggression and later, satanic lyrics. That’s why Master Of Reality wasn’t released to critical acclaim. Despite that, Master Of Reality was certified gold in the UK and double platinum in the US. Not for the first time, the critics got it wrong.

Black Sabbath continued to redefine heavy metal on Master Of Reality. So much so, that Black Sabbath provided the blueprint for heavy metal If someone asked what heavy metal sounded like, Black Sabbath was what you played them. The albums that started this was Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s sophomore album. That’s why, in the history of heavy metal, there are only two periods, B.P. and A.P. Before Paranoid and After Paranoid. Following Paranoid would’ve been almost impossible for most bands. However, they weren’t Black Sabbath.

By the time Black Sabbath released Master Of Reality, they’d become a musical phenomena. That was the case for the next ten years. Excess and commercial success were ever-present for the band the redefined heavy metal. Black Sabbath rewrote the rules. Right through until 1981s Mob Rules, gold and platinum discs came Black Sabbath’s way. So did controversy. Much of it concerned Ozzy Osbourne.  He parted company with the band in 1979. Sacked by the group he formed, both Ozzy and Black Sabbath survived to tell the tale. However, back in 1971, the Black Sabbath story was just taking shape and they’d go on to become one of the biggest and most successful bands in the history of heavy metal. However, back in 1971, when Black Sabbath released the influential and innovative Master Of Reality, they had another ten years of chaos, controversy, commercial success and critical acclaim coming their way.

BLACK SABBATH-MASTER OF REALITY.

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EMMYLOU HARRIS-WRECKING BALL.

EMMYLOU HARRIS-WRECKING BALL.

In 1995, Emmylou Harris was thirty-eight, and about to release the sixteenth album of her career Wrecking Ball. Emmylou hoped that Wrecking Ball would be the album that would transform her fortunes. Having enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim between 1975 and 1981, Emmylou’s career had stalled. The problem was, she was no longer enjoying the mainstream success she’d previously enjoyed. For six years, Emmylou was one of the most successful country artists

That’s why Emmylou received seven gold discs in the US and two silver discs between 1975s Pieces Of The Sky and 1981s Evangeline. During that period, Emmylou had won three Grammy awards. Following Evangeline the commercial success and critical acclaim Emmylou enjoyed seemed to dry up. The problem was, Emmylou wasn’t enjoying the same mainstream success. Country music was no longer as popular. 

From, 1981s Cimarron right through to 1993s Cowgirl’s Prayer, commercial success eluded Emmylou. Cimarron was Emmylou’s most successful album, reaching just number forty-six in the US Billboard 200 charts. That was as good as it got. 

When Emmylou released White Shoes in 1983, it reached just number 116 in the US Billboard 200. In My Dreams, a track from White Shoes saw Emmylou win the fourth Grammy Award of her career. Sadly, despite winning another Grammy Award, Emmylou’s career was on the slide. 

1985s The Ballad Of Sally Rose stalled at number 171 in the US Billboard 200. At least The Ballad Of Sally Rose reached number eight in the US Country charts. Things improved slightly when 1986s Thirteen reached number 157 in the US Billboard 200 and nine in the US Country charts. However, after that things got even worse.

1987s Angel Band stalled at number 166 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Then 1989s Bluebird and 1990s Brand New Dance failed to chart. That was a huge blow for Emmylou Harris. However, things improved in 1993.

Cowgirl’s Prayer was released in 1993. It was a mixture of laid back track and rockers. Although Cowgirl’s Prayer was well received by critics, it didn’t find its way onto country radio playlists. Older country artists were being dropped from radio playlists in favour of younger artists. Ironically, Emmylou was just thirty-six. In the eyes of radio executives, Emmylou was a veteran. Given this policy, Cowgirl’s Prayer received little airplay and stalled at just number 152 in the US Billboard 200. It was after Cowgirl’s Prayer that Emmylou Harris decided to change direction musically with Wrecking Ball which was recently rereleased as a three disc box set by Nonesuch.

After a string of unsuccessful albums, Emmylou Harris had no other option. So Emmylou decided that from Wrecking Ball on, her music would have a harder, tougher and rockier sound. Gone was the acoustic country sound that Emmylou made her name with. To help Emmylou change direction, she brought in two innovators.

This included Daniel Lanois. He’d previously worked with everyone from Brian Eno and Harold Budd to U2, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Ron Sexsmith. The other member of Emmylou’s new team was engineer Mark Howard. Mark had worked with Daniel on previous projects and had established a close working relationship. Many of the projects they’d worked on had both commercially successful and critically acclaimed. Hopefully, this would be the case with what became Wrecking Ball.

For Wrecking Ball, Emmylou only cowrote two tracks, Waltz Across Texas Tonight with Rodney Crowell and Deeper Well with David Olney and Daniel Lanois. Daniel contributed Where Will I Be and Blackhawk. Cover versions included Steve Earle’s Goodbye, Julie Miller’s All My Tears, Neil Young’s Wrecking Ball, Anna McGarrigle’s Goin’ Back to Harlan, Bob Dylan’s Every Grain Of Sand, Lucinda Williams’ Sweet Old World, Jimi Hendrix’s May This Be Love and Gillian Welch’s Orphan Girl. These twelve tracks were recorded in Nashville during 1995.

When recording of Wrecking Ball began in Nashville, it was an all-star lineup that accompanied Emmylou. Some musicians only played on one track, others played on several tracks. The rhythm section included U2’s Larry Mullen on drums, cymbal and percussion. Producer Daniel Lanois played bass, electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin and duetted on two tracks. Malcolm Burn played  piano, vibes and tambourine while Tony Hall played drums and Daryl Johnson  bass and keyboards. Other guest artists included Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams on acoustic guitar, Brian Blade on drums and hand drums. Neil Young added harmonies and harmonica. Kate and Anna McGarrigle added harmonies and Richard Bennett tremolo guitar. This all-star cast were part of the reinvention of Emmylou Harris on Wrecking Ball.

Before the release of Wrecking Ball, critics welcome Emmylou’s change of direction. They welcomed the harder, rockier sound. After a string of unsuccessful albums, Wrecking Ball was critically acclaimed. It was hailed as one of the best albums of 1995. Critics welcomed the harder, rockier sound. This was a move away from the country mainstream. However, would Emmylou’s fans and music lovers welcome this change of direction?

Released in September 1995, Wrecking Ball reached number ninety-six in the US Billboard 200. This was Emmylou’s most successful album since 1981s Cimarron. Over the Atlantic, Wrecking Ball reached number 100 in the UK. Although Wrecking Ball didn’t result in any silver, gold or platinum discs. However, Wrecking Ball saw Emmylou win another Grammy Award in 1996 for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Wrecking Ball, which I’ll tell you about, features the reinvention of Emmylou Harris.

Where Will I Be opens Wrecking Ball. It has an atmospheric, slow, spacey sound. Drums and a hand drum combine with a crystalline guitar to provide a backdrop for Emmylou’s hurt-filled vocal. Despair and despondency fill her vocal as a bass buzzes and a cymbal crashes. Meanwhile, searing guitars add a harder edge to this fusion of folk, country and rock. It’s best described as atmospheric, moody and thanks to Emmylou’s  vocal, emotive and beautiful.

Goodbye is a cover of a Steve Earle song. As Emmylou is counted in, hand drums and acoustic guitars combine. Emmylou’s vocal is rueful and tinged with sadness. She breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. So much so, that they take on a cinematic quality. Her vocal is at the heart of the arrangement. Everything else plays a supporting role. Not once does the arrangement overpower Emmylou’s heartbroken vocal, which is at the heart of the song’s success. 

Wrecking Ball is a Neil Young song. It’s from the album that relaunched his career in 1989, Freedom. Emmylou sticks close to Neil’s original version. She delivers a beautiful melancholy take on a Neil Young classic. Neil adds harmonies while understated guitars shimmer and drums are played with subtlety. Just like the previous track, the band play a supporting role, allowing Emmylou and Neil to shine.

Goin’ Back To Harlan, with its fusion of Americana, country and folk, has a Neil Young sound. Just the rhythm section and weeping guitars set the scene for Emmylou. Her ethereal vocal soars above the arrangement. Meanwhile, synths, organ and percussion join the arrangement. This results in an atmospheric, mellow arrangement as Emmylou reinvents this wistful Anna McGarrigle song.

Pounding hand drums that open Deeper Well. They provide the arrangement’s hypnotic heartbeat. Guitars, bass and  keyboards combine, creating a multilayered arrangement. Emmylou’s vocal is a mixture of power and emotion. Daniel Lanois’ arrangement has been inspired by everything from Americana, country, folk, world music and later, rock. It’s a real pot pourri of influences.  

Every Grain Of Sand is a Bob Dylan song. It featured on his 1981 album Shot Of Love. Emmylou stays true to the original. Her vocal oozes emotion. Quite simply, this one of her best vocals on Wrecking Ball. Just acoustic guitars, rhythm section and an organ accompany Emmylou as she rolls back the years. A truly beautiful and emotive vocal, this is simply vintage Emmylou Harris. 

Sweet Old World sees Emmylou pick up where she left on the previous track. Written by Lucinda Williams, Emmylou delivers a tender, heartfelt and soulful vocal. She’s accompanied by the rhythm section and guitars. This includes slide and tremolo guitars. They add to the authentic country sound. So does Neil Young’s harmonica. Nell also adds tender harmonies. They’re a perfect foil for Emmylou as she delivers a vocal that can only be described as heartachingly beautiful.

May This Be Love is a Jimi Hendrix song. Fittingly, just an electric guitar and drums accompany Emmylou’s needy, hopeful vocal. The electric guitar is played by producer Daniel Lanois, who duets with Emmylou. He delivers a a blistering guitar solo while Larry Mullen Jr’s drums provide the heartbeat. Just like other tracks, Emmylou delivers lyrics like she’s lived them.

Orphan Girl opens hesitantly. Just a tambourine and searing guitars combine before Emmylou unleashes a vocal where pain and hurt are omnipresent. Just a hand drum, guitars, mandolin and harmonies accompany Emmylou. It’s as if she’s experienced what she’s singing about. Her portrayal is a mixture of sadness, hurt and honesty.

Blackhawk is the second song Daniel Lanois wrote on Wrecking Ball. It’s a mini soap opera that unfolds before you. The song has a cinematic quality. So much so, that if you close your eyes, the scenes unfold. Emmylou becomes the narrator. She describes the scenarios, bringing the characters to life. Accompanying her is a country-tinged arrangement. Acoustic guitars, the rhythm section, piano and harmonies join forces. Later, Daniel drops an electric guitar in at the right moment.It sets the scene for Emmylou. Her vocal is rueful, memories come flooding back as she wonders “Blackhawk where are you now?”

Waltz Across Texas Tonight closes Wrecking Ball. The tempo is slow, with the rhythm section, acoustic guitar and slide guitar combining with Emmylou’s tender, heartfelt vocal. Harmonies sweep in. So does a searing guitar solo. It adds a rocky twist to what’s an atmospheric, country-tinged arrangement as the reinvention of Emmylou Harris draws to a close.

Wrecking Ball was the most ambitious album of Emmylou Harris’ career. It had to be. Emmylou’s career was at the crossroads.  If Wrecking Ball failed commercially, she’d nowhere to go. Her career could’ve been over. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Instead, Wrecking Ball saw Emmylou’s career rejuvenated. It became her most successful album since 1981s Cimarron. Fourteen years later, Emmylou Harris was back. 

Much of the credit must go to producer Daniel Lanois and engineer Mark Howard. They helped Emmylou to create a multilayered album that was variously atmospheric, moody, dark and haunting. Wrecking Ball is an album that’s ethereal and full of different textures. Americana, country, folk and rock shines through on Wrecking Ball, which features an all-star cast of musicians.

This includes U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. He provided the hypnotic heartbeat. Emmylou did what she does so well, deliver vocals that are variously beautiful, ethereal, heartfelt, rueful, wistful and full of sadness, hurt and regret. Emmylou’s vocals are flawless. That’s the only way to describe them. Mind you, she was into her fourth decade as a singer, songwriter and musician. Like a good wine, Emmylou’s vocal matured with age. That’s apparent on Wrecking Ball. Her diction and phrasing are what you’d expect from someone who’d won six Grammy Awards. That became seven in 1996, when Wrecking Ball won a Grammy Award in 1996 for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Since then, Wrecking Ball has been remembered as the album that reinvented and rejuvenated Emmylou Harris’ career.  That’s why Wrecking Ball was recently rereleased as a three disc box set by Nonesuch.

Disc two is entitled Deeper Well: The Wrecking Ball Outtakes. It features thirteen tracks. There’s alternate versions of Where Will I Be, All My Tears, Deeper Well, Sweet Old World, Blackhawk, May This Be Love and Goin’ Back To Harlan. Tracks that don’t feature on Wrecking Ball include Still Water, How Will I Ever Be Simple Again, The Stranger Song, Gold and May This Be Love. Among the highlights of the tracks that didn’t make Wrecking Ball are the beautiful and melancholy The Stranger Song and the heartbreaking, piano lead Gold. They both fall into the category of hidden gems. Overall, the various alternate tracks and unreleased tracks make Deeper Well: The Wrecking Ball Outtakes a welcome addition. These tracks are too good to lie unreleased in a record company’s vaults.

On disc three is a documentary entitled Building The Wrecking Ball. It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary that anyone interested in how an album is made will enjoy. It documents the making of one of the most important albums in Emmylou Harris’ career, Wrecking Ball. 

Before Wrecking Ball, Emmylou found her career at the crossroads. Emmylou realised she had to change direction musically. There was no other option. If she didn’t, she risk becoming irrelevant musically. So Emmylou Harris enlisted the help of producer Daniel Lanois and  engineer Mark Howard. They helped Emmylou reinvent herself musically on Wrecking Ball, an album which rejuvenated Emmylou Harris’ career.

EMMYLOU HARRIS-WRECKING BALL.

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THE WAR ON DRUGS-LOST IN THE DREAM.

THE WAR ON DRUGS-LOST IN THE DREAM.

Philadelphia. Musically what does Philly mean to you? For many people, it’s Philly Soul. Back in the seventies, jump-suited groups like The O’Jays, The Detroit Spinners and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes flew the flag for Philly. However, there’ more to Philly than Philly Soul. Much more.

This includes ambient innovator Laraaji, Philly’s best kept secret. Then there’s blues great Otis Rush. Philly also gave the world jazz legends Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner and Stanley Clarke. Each of these artists deserve to be called innovators. Far from it. They created groundbreaking music. However, just like Philly Soul, these artists are part of Philly’s musical past. Philly’s musical future belongs to groups like The War On Drugs.

Recently, The War On Drugs released their third album Lost In The Dream. It was released on the Strictly Canadian label. Lost In The Dream is the followup to The War On Drugs’ 2011 sophomore album Slave Ambient. Slave Ambient had been a long time coming. Three years had passed since The War On Drugs released their debut album Wagonwheel Blues. In the intervening years, The War On Drugs’ had been honing their sound. They were now perceived as one of America’s best up-and-coming groups. Since then, The War On Drugs have been winning friends and influencing people, including music lovers and critics alike.

That includes with their recently released third album Lost In The Dream. It’s seen critics  compare Lost In The Dream to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits. Lost In The Dream has been described as an album that harks back to the eighties. It’s an album of everyman anthems that was recorded in the old school way.

When recording Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs relied on vintage instruments. This gives them their unique sound. It’s is best described as a fusion of alt-rock, Americana, classic rock, Krautrock and psychedelia. The result is Lost In The Dream, the followup to the critically acclaimed Slave Ambient. Lost In The Dream Adam Granduciel hopes should see The War On Drugs make their “creative breakthrough.”There’s a reason for this.

Lost In The Dream is The War On Drugs first album which features a full band. Before Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs was a much more ad hoc band. However, keyboardist Robbie Bennett and drummer Charlie Hall have quickly settled in to The War On Drugs. They both played on Lost In The Dream and are ready to head out on The War On Drugs’ most extensive tour of their nine year career. During that tour, The War On Drugs will showcase Lost In The Dream, which Adam hopes  will be a “future rock classic.” 

For some people, Adam’s description of Lost In The Dream as a “future rock classic” is a bold statement. Usually, it’s a case of an artist setting himself up for the almost inevitable fall. Maybe not this time? Adam’s realises that Lost In The Dream is a coming of age for The War On Drugs. 

Adam wrote ten tracks for Lost In The Dream. They were recorded at eight studios in Philly and New York between August 2012 and November 2013. The studios used included Uniform Recording, Echo Mountain Recording, Fidelitorium, Rare Book Room, Miner Street Recordings, Water Music, Public Hi-Fi and the University Of The Arts, Philadelphia. At these studios, the four members of The War On Drugs got to work. 

Lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel played piano, organ, synths, harmonica, Space Rhodes and Arp Ommi II on Lost In The Dream, The rhythm included bassist Dan Hartley, drummer and percussionist Charlie Hall. Keyboardist Robbie Bennett plays piano, organ, flux wurlitzer and arp string synth. Augmenting The War On Drugs was a huge cast of musicians.

Among the guest artists who augmented The War On Drugs on Lost In The Dream were drummers Pat Berkery, Jon Ashley and Mike Sneeringer. They were joined by guitarist Paul Sukeena, pedal steel guitarist Ricky Ray Jackson, lap steel guitarist Mike Sobel and Carter Tanton on Leslie guitar. Jeff Zeigler took charge of drum programming and effects on Disappearing, while Gabe Wax added tape flanging on Burning. Horn players included baritone saxophone Jon Natchez plus saxophonists Joseph Shabason and David Fishkin. Nicolas Vernhes played organ and tambourine, while Michael Johnson played ARP 2600.  Each of these guest artists played on Lost In The Dream and gave the album its unique sound, which I’ll tell you about.

Under The Pressure opens Lost In The Dream. Briefly, it has a dubby lysergic sound. Soon, the arrangement reverberates and shimmers. This is just a curveball. Quickly, The War On Drugs kick loose. Their rhythm section lock into a tight groove. They’re joined by synths while a thoughtful piano drops in and out of the arrangement. By now they remind me of U2 in their prime. Adam’s vocal has both a seventies West Coast and eighties influence. When his vocal drops out, searing guitars, pounding drums and buzzing synths take charge. As Adam’s vocal returns, the track is a rousing anthem. Later, as The War On Drugs take a detour. They jam, for the rest of the track. ii takes on a late on a late-sixties sound, as The War On Drugs who two sides to their music during this nine minute epic.

Straight away, Red Eyes grabs your attention. Chiming guitars, keyboards and a thunderous rhythm section lock horns. They provide the backdrop for Adam’s vocal. I sounds distant and mysterious. It’s as if it’s shrouded by effects. Soon, he takes on the role of  rabble rouser in chief, encouraging the group to greater heights. This works., The War On Drugs unleash a blistering rocky opus. The rhythm section, keyboards and and searing, scorching guitars power the arrangement along. Adam whoops and hollers encouraging them on, as everything from Krautrock to indie rock is combined by The War On Drugs,

Suffering sees the tempo drop. Drums provide the heartbeat and guitars reverberate into the distance. Adam’s vocal is wistful and  full of pain. He sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. His vocal is the focus of your attention. That’s until the arrangement starts to build. Then layers of music unfold. Everything from a Fender Rhodes, synths, guitars played effects boxes, a Wurlitzer and pedal steel guitar are combine. Together they play their part in an atmospheric and mesmeric arrangement. Adding the finishing touch is the rasping saxophone. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Adam’s hurt-filled vocal on this heartachingly beautiful ballad.

An Ocean In Between The Waves sees another change in direction from The War On Drugs. Drummer Pat Berkery lays down a hypnotic motorik beat. To the Krautrock beat, reverberating guitars and probing bass are added. Again, this leads to comparison to late-eighties U2. Then there’s Adam’s despondent vocal. It has a seventies West Coast influence. The hypnotic arrangement and despondent vocal are a potent combination and works well. Then, later, scorching, blistering guitars are unleashed. They transform the track. What follows in a barnstorming, blistering guitar driven track where The War On Drugs kick out the jams.

As Disappearing unfolds, Adam lays down some searing guitar licks. Dave Hartley’s thundering bass is accompanied by drum machine. They’re part of a multilayered arrangement. This includes an ARP 2600, a Flux and Space Wurlitzer, slide guitar, piano and harmonica. Instruments flit in and out of the arrangement. They’re all part of a bigger picture. So is Adam’s vocal. It’s lysergic and dreamy. This is perfect for an arrangement where everything from eighties electronica, ambient, indie rock, post rock and psychedelia melts majestically and seamlessly into one. 

Eyes To The Wind has a country influence from the get-go. Guitars reverberate and weep, before a strummed guitar indicates what’s about to unfold. Seamlessly, The War On Drugs are transformed into an alt-country band. Think Wilco and The Jayhawks. It seems there’s no end to The War On Drugs’ versatility. They combine alt-country, Americana and rock. Emotion fills Adam’s vocal, while guitars, the rhythm section, keyboards and a string synth combine. Then adding an authentic country sound are a pedal steel guitar and a lap steel guitar. Playing an important part is the piano. It helps define the sound. Adam seems to relish this new sound. He breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics and as a result, this is one of the highlights of Lost in the Dream.

A synth bubbles as The Haunting Idle reveals its secrets. It’s totally different from everything that’s gone before. The best way to describe the track is an atmospheric, experimental soundscape, one that’s truly innovative. Faux strings cascade, guitars variously shimmer and resonate. Feedback seems never far away. It never materialises during a track that’s ethereal, atmospheric and groundbreaking.

Broody and moody describes the introduction to Burning. The arrangement meanders and buzzes along, before The War On Drugs kick loose. It’s a joy to behold. Chiming, driving guitars and a pounding rhythm section join forces. They’re joined by synths, organ and percussion. My only criticism is Adam’s vocal seems too far back in the arrangement. The same goes for the harmonies. Having said that, The War On Drugs strut their way through the track. Adam swaggers his way through the lyrics, unleashing whoops and hollers, during this gloriously rocky homage homage to Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark.

Melancholy crystalline guitars open Lost In The Dream. They’re joined by the rhythm section, and Adam’s wistful vocal. Here, The War On Drugs draw inspiration from alt-country, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. It’s a song that harks back to the great American rock albums. Adam’s thoughtful, tender and rueful vocal is perfect for the lyrics. It brings them to life. Then towards the end, Adam lays down a harmonica solo and that proves the finishing touch to what’s a quite beautiful, melancholy song.

In Reverse closes The War On Drugs third album Lost In The Dream. It’s an eight minute epic. With an atmospheric, ambient sound, there’s no hint at what direction the track is heading. Briefly, it reminds me of John Martyn’s One World. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds. It’s understated and pensive. Above it, sits Adam’s frustrated, rueful vocal. Accompanying him is a plodding bass and weeping guitar. All of a sudden, they burst into life and decide to combine alt-country, rock and experimental music. What follows is a track that reminds me of Dire Straits in their prime. It’s as if having paid homage to Bruce Springsteen, The War On Drugs have decided to pay tribute to one of the most underrated British groups, Dire Straits.

Lost In The Dream took  just over a year to record. Eight studios in New York and Philly were used. So were a cast of guest artists. They augmented The War On Drugs on Lost In The Dream. Once Lost In The Dream was completed, lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel hoped that Lost In The Dream would be their “creative breakthrough.” That was the case. 

Released to critical acclaim, Lost In The Dream was a coming of age for The War On Drugs. Lost In The Dream was the finest album of The War On Drugs three album career. Soon, word was out. Here was a band with a big future ahead of them. There was a reason for this. The War On Drugs weren’t like many other bands. Far from it. They were innovators who created groundbreaking, genre-melting music. 

Everything from alt-country, ambient, Americana, classic rock, indie rock, Krautrock, post rock and psychedelia can be heard on Lost In The Dream. Many tracks are a fusion of several genres. There’s anthems, ballads and experimental tracks. On other tracks, including Under The Pressure and In Reverse, The War On Drugs take you on a magical mystery tour. The track heads in one direction, before The War On Drugs throw a curveball. You’re then taken in a totally different direction. This results in two truly compelling tracks. As a result, you can’t help but admire producer Adam Granduciel’s vision. He’s played a huge part in the success of Lost In The Dream, the album that should transform The War On Drugs’ career.

Maybe the next time The War On Drugs release an album, they’ll be signed to a major label? They’re certainly not lacking in talent or vision. Far from it. The War On Drugs are one of the most exciting, innovative and talented American bands. Lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Granduciel realised that. He hoped that Lost In The Dream would be a “future rock classic.” That could well be the case. However, there’s more to Lost In The Dream than a rock album. 

Lost In The Dream is a truly eclectic album. Genre-melting describes the music. The War On Drugs draw inspiration from everyone from Neu, Can, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Each of these artists influences the ten tracks on Lost In The Dream. The result is Lost In The Dream, a groundbreaking album of genre-melting from The War On Drugs. It could be a “future rock classic.” Only time will tell how history judges The War On Drugs’ third album Lost In The Dream.

THE WAR ON DRUGS-LOST IN THE DREAM.

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THE COMPLETE FAME SINGLES VOLUME 1-1964-1967.

 THE COMPLETE FAME SINGLES VOLUME 1-1964-1967.

Mention Southern Soul, and certain labels spring to mind. Among them are Stax, Hi Records and Fame Records. These three labels are synonymous with Southern Soul. Together, they released some of the greatest music in the history of Southern Soul. Indeed, the artists who walked through the doors of Stax, Hi and Fame Records reads like a who’s who of Southern Soul. However, for far too long, Southern Soul has been overlooked. Instead, record labels have focused on labels like Philadelphia International Records and Motown. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Now reissue labels like Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, are releasing a series of lovingly compiled compilations of music released by Fame Records. The most recent compilation is The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967. 

The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 is the first in a three disc series featuring every single released by Fame Records. It’s a double album featuring twenty-six tracks on each disc. With a mammoth fifty-two tracks, this is one of the most comprehensive retrospectives of music released by Fame Records.

On The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 there’s contributions from some of the most influential artists in Fame Records’ history. This includes twenty-two tracks from Jimmy Hughes, six from Clarence Carter and a quartet of tracks from Dan Penn, Terry Woodford, Arthur Conley and Art Freeman. Then June Conquest, Spooner and The Spoons, James Barnett and The Villagers contribute two tracks each. That makes fifty-two tracks. For a newcomer to Fame Records, it’s the perfect introduction to one of Southern Southern’s greatest labels, which was founded in the late fifties.

The story starts during late fifties when Rick Hall, Tom Stafford and Billy Sherill founded a record label, and built their first studio above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. However, by the early sixties, this nascent partnership would split-up, resulting in Tom Stafford and Rick Hall needing a new studio. They decided to move to what had been a tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As if by magic, Rick Hall soon recorded what would be his first hit single, Arthur Alexander’s You Better Move On. Wisely, he decided to invest the profit in a better studio, and moved to their current location Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The first hit single Rick Hall recorded in his new studio was Jimmy Hughes’ Steal Away. Little did Rick Hall know it back then, but soon his new studio would see artists coming from far and wide to record at Fame.

After Rick’s success with Jimmy Hughes, word got out that Fame was the place to go to record a new single or album. Quickly, everyone from Tommy Roe to The Tams, and from Joe Tex, Joe Simon, George Jackson and Clyde McPhatter right through to Irma Thomas, Etta James and Mitty Collier. Even Aretha Franklin recorded at Muscle Shoals. Indeed, it was at Muscle Shoals that Jerry Wexler brought Aretha Franklin, to record her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. However, why did all these artists choose to head to Muscle Shoals to Fame?

Part of the reason was the session musicians that worked with Rick Hall. This included the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals Horns. They were some of the hottest and tightest musicians of that era. This included drummer Rodger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Barry Beckett. When they recorded together, they were one of the finest backing bands ever. Between 1961 and 1969, when they departed from Fame to found the rival studio Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. However, for eight years, they graced numerous hit singles and album. This includes on the tracks on The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967, which I’ll pick some of the highlights of.

DISC ONE.

Jimmy Hughes is the artist who features most often on The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967. He features twenty-two times. No wonder. It was Jimmy who transformed Rick Hall and Fame Records’ fortunes. His recording career at Fame Records began in 1964. The song that launched Jimmy Hughes’ career was the stonewall classic Steal Away, which gave Jimmy a top twenty US R&B single. Penned by Jimmy, it features Lollypops, Lace And Lipstick on the B-side. After this, an album entitled Steal Away was released. This was a mixture of new material and songs Rick Hall had previously recorded with Jimmy.  It featured Jimmy’s sophomore single. 

This was the James Brown penned Try Me, which was released in 1964. It was produced by Rick Hall and features the hugely underrated Lovely Ladies on the B-Side. Reaching just sixty-five in the US R&B Charts Try Me didn’t replicate the success of Steal Away. Neither did Jimmy’s third single. 

The William Bruce penned I’m Getting Better was Jimmy’s third single. A dramatic, needy ballad, it failed commercially. Hidden on the B-side was the catchy dance track I Want Justice.

In 1964, Dan Penn released Close To Me, one of his own compositions. This was his first single on Fame. Previously, he’d been signed to United Artists. He was backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Previously, Close To Me had been released as a single by The Tams. Dan’s version is slow and heartfelt his needy vocal full of emotion. Hidden away on the B-side was Let Them Talk was written by Rick Hall and Tom Stafford. It’s a real hidden gem, where Dan delivers a vocal where power, passion and emotion collide head on. 

Dan’s other contribution is (Take Me) Just As I Am. Released in 1965,  as Lonnie Ray, it wasn’t a commercial success. That’s despite its obvious quality. Penned by Dan and Spooner Oldham, the song was later recorded by Spencer Wiggins and Solomon Burke. Diamonds which was the B-side was written by Dan and David Briggs. This is a fusion of pop and soul that’s a reminder of the music of the early sixties.

Despite a recording career that lasted between 1963 and 1972, June Conquest only ever recorded about six singles. Her debut single was 1963s Almost Persuaded, which was released on Fame Records. It wasn’t a commercial success and she was dropped by Fame Records. She left behind the dramatic piano driven Don’t Let It Be Said. Written by Earl Montgomery, it features a vocal powerhouse from June. Mixing power, pride and emotion, June’s vocal is defiant and dramatic. Describing this track as a real hidden gem, is almost an understatement. It’s much better than that. It’s essential listening for fans of Southern Soul.

James Barnett was signed to Fame in 1965 on a two-year contract. Keep On Talking like the B-side Take A Good Look was written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. Sadly, Keep On Talking failed commercially and James’ career at Fame was over. Since then, Keep On Talking has become a favourite among Northern Soul fans. Take A Good Look is one of the hidden gems in Fame’s back-catalogue.  Featuring a heart-wrenching vocal from James, it also marks a coming of age of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham as songwriters.

DISC TWO.

Terry Woodford featured on disc one. He has another two tracks on disc two. They’re Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s It’s His Town. Produced by Rick Hall it’s quite different from Gonna Make You Say Yeah. This is a much more soulful song, featuring a tender, wistful vocal from Terry. She Wants What She Can’t Have was the B-side penned by Terry and Larry Hamby. It’s a poppy slice of heartfelt soul that reminds me of The Everly Brothers.

When The Villagers released Laugh It Off, which was penned by Ray Whitley in 1965, they were the last pop or rock band to release a single on Fame until 1970. The Villagers were essentially a covers band. Their version of Laugh It Off, is a  fusion of pop, rock and soul. On the B-side is a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s You’re Gonna Lose That Girl. They stick closely to The Beatles’ original version and don’t try and reinvent a classic. The only difference is the tempo is slightly quicker. Apart from that, this is one of the best covers of You’re Gonna Lose That Girl I’ve heard.

Just like disc one, Jimmy Hughes contributes the most tracks. One of his finest moments is I Worship The Ground You Walk On. He breathes life, meaning and emotion into the song. His vocal is full of hurt and heartache. Written by  Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, it’s a heartbreaking ballad that reached number twenty-five in the US R&B charts in 1966. Terry Thompson’s A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues, a much covered track features on the B-side, and allows us to hear another side of Jimmy Hughes. 

For many people, Arthur Conley’s name is synonymous with Sweet Soul Music. There’s much more to Arthur than that. This includes I Can’t Stop (No, No, No) which was a double-A side. Its inclusion is a welcome one. Written by Dan Penn and Roger Hawkins, and produced by Rick Hall, this track was recorded in 1966 this is a track that literally oozes emotion. Arthur breathes life into the lyrics. On the other side the Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn composition In The Same Old Way. 

Just like I Can’t Stop (No, No, No), it’s a track where emotion and quality are ever-present. I’m Gonna Forget About You is another of Arthur Conley’s singles. It was penned by Arthur. This is vintage Arthur Conley. No wonder. Otis Redding was in the studio when Arthur cut this track. He seemed to inspire Arthur. Ironically, Arthur sounds as if he’s been influenced by Sam Cooke. On the flip-side Take Me (Just As I Am), which was penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s Take Me (Just As I Am) features a totally impassioned vocal from Arthur.

Clarence Carter’s delivery of I Stayed Away Too Long literally oozes emotion. Penned by Clarence Carter, it had been chosen as Clarence’s 1966 single. Then, when it was released, Fame decided to flip the single over. Tell Daddy which was written by Clarence, Marcus Daniel and Wilbur Terrell climbed all the way to number thirty-five in the US R&B charts. This was the start of Clarence Carter’s rise to becoming one of the biggest Southern Soul stars of the sixties. 

Then in 1967, Clarence released Thread The Needle as a single. Just like the B-side Don’t Make My Baby Cry it was penned by Clarence. The groove-delicious Thread The Needle reached number eight in the US R&B charts.  However, proving that fame is a cruel mistress was the commercial failure of She Ain’t Gonna Do Right. 

She Ain’t Gonna Do Right is a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham composition. It’s a glorious slice of Southern Soul that allows Clarence to showcase his considerable talents. The Road Of Love has a moody, bluesy sound. Accompanied by the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Clarence demonstrates why he was one of Fame Records’ biggest success stories.

So, that’s the story of The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967. It features an incredible fifty-two tracks. That’s both the singles and sometimes, B-sides. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s another two volumes in this series due for release. Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, are doing justice to Fame Records illustrious back-catalogue and have been for some time. They’ve released a string of lovingly complied compilations. The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 is just the latest in this series. It’s a combination of classics, hit singles, familiar faces and hidden gems .

Some of the most talented Southern Soul singers make an appearance. This includes old friends like Clarence Carter, Jimmy Hughes, Dan Penn, Terry Woodford, Arthur Conley, Art Freeman, June Conquest, Spooner and The Spoons, James Barnett and The Villagers. Some of these artists may not be familiar to you. That’s because they only played a walk on part in the Fame Records’ story. 

This includes James Barnett. He didn’t enjoy the commercial success his music and talent deserved. However, nearly forty years later, James Barnett is being heard by a new generation of music lovers. They’ll have heard of  Clarence Carter, Jimmy Hughes, Dan Penn, Terry Woodford and Arthur Conley, but not Art Freeman, June Conquest, Spooner and The Spoons, James Barnett and The Villagers. Thankfully, that’s been rectified. Kent Soul have righted a musical wrong by introducing music lovers to these artists. Although they weren’t Fame Records most successful artists, they released some deliciously soulful music.

Compiler Tony Rounce has dug deep into Fame Records vaults and released some of the best Southern Soul released between 1964 and 1967. This is vintage Southern Soul. Other tracks are a fusion of soul and pop, while others have a bluesy sound. Together, the fifty-two tracks on The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 are the perfect introduction to Fame Records, one of the legendary Southern Soul labels. For anyone with an interested in either Fame Records, Southern Soul, soul music or just good music, then The Complete Fame Singles Volume 1-1964-1967 is an essential purchase. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to Kent Soul’s Hall Of Fame series and The Fame Records Story 1961-1973 box set. Together, they’re the perfect introduction to Fame Records, one of Southern Soul’s greatest labels.

THE COMPLETE FAME SINGLES VOLUME 1-1964-1967.

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THE IMPRESSIONS-ABOUT TIME.

THE IMPRESSIONS-ABOUT TIME.

For any group, losing their lead singer can derail their fortunes. In some cases, this can prove fatal. It’s a body blow that the group never recovers from. Especially when the lead singer happens to have written many of the group’s biggest hits. This was the case with The Impressions.

Since 1960, Curtis Mayfield  had been The Impressions lead singer and principal songwriter. Curtis penned and sang lead vocal on many of The Impressions’ biggest hits. Among them three number one singles, It’s All Right in 1963, 1967s We’re A Winner and 1969s Choice Of Colours. Then there’s Impressions classics like Gypsy Woman, Keep On Pushin’ and People Get Ready. However, after 1970s Check Out Your Mind Curtis left The Impressions and embarked upon a solo career.

Curtis hadn’t left The Impressions on a high. Check Out Your Mind failed to chart in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. For a group that had previously enjoyed six top ten US R&B albums during the sixties, it looked as if The Impressions’ career was a crossroads. Over the next few years, The Impressions struggled to recapture the commercial success and critical acclaim they’d enjoyed during the sixties.

Replacing Curtis Mayfield was Leroy Hutson. He was three months out of college when he joined The Impressions. His Impression debut was 1972s Times Have Changed, which stalled at number 192 in the US Billboard 200 charts. 1973s Preacher Man failed to reach US Billboard 200 charts. It was a case of close but no cigar, with Preacher Man stalling at a lowly 204 and number thirty-one in the US R&B charts. Following 1973s, Preacher Man, Leroy Hutson left The Impressions. His replacement was Ralph Johnson and 1974 was a year of mixed fortunes for The Impressions.

1974 was a busy year for The Impressions. They provided the Blaxploitation soundtrack Three The Hard Way. It wasn’t a commercial success, reaching just 202 in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number twenty-six in the US R&B Charts. 

Ralph Johnson’s Impressions debut was much more successful than Leroy Hutson. 1974s Finally Got Myself Together may have only reached number 176 in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. However, the title-track reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100 charts and only reached number one in the US R&B Charts. This was The Impressions’ most successful single since 1967s We’re A Winner. This was the start of a brief Indian Summer in The Impressions’ career.

1975s First Impressions reached number 115 in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. This was The Impressions’ most successful single since 1968s This Is My Story. Two singles from First Impressions Sooner or Later and  Same Thing It Took reached number three in the US R&B charts. It looked as if The Impressions’ career was back on track.

1976 was a year of upheaval for The Impressions. They left Curtom Records, which had been their home since 1970. They signed to Cotillion, a subsidiary label of Atlantic Records. The other change was Nate Evans replaced Ralph Johnson as lead singer on About Time, which was recently rereleased by Rhino. Would the change in personnel affect The Impressions’ fortunes?

About Time featured eight tracks. Six of these tracks were penned by Melvin and Mervin Steals. They’d previously, as Maestro and Lyric, had written The Detroit Spinners’ Could It Be I’m Falling In Love, Major Harris’ Each Morning I Wake Up, The Trammps’ Trusting Heart and Honey Bee for Gloria Gaynor. Melvin and Mervin also wrote tracks for Ecstasy, Passion and Pain and Blue Magic. For The Impressions, Melvin and Mervin cowrote In The Palm Of My Hands, You’ll Never Find, Same Old Heartaches, I Need You, Stardust and What Might Have Been. The two other tracks included McKinley Jackson and Shirley Jones’ This Time and Paul Richmond and Daryl Ellis’ I’m A Fool For Love. These eight songs became About Time, which was recorded at various studios.

It seemed no expense was spared on The Impressions’ Cotillion debut. Barnum Recording Studio, Wally Heider Recording and ABC Recording Studios in, Los Angeles. Other sessions took place at Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago. Mixing took place at Wally Helder Recording and Kendun Recorders, where the mastering took place. Before that, producer McKinley Jackson put together a crack team of session players.

The rhythm section included drummers Ed Greene, James Gadson and Ollie Brown, bassists James Jamerson and Scott Edwards plus guitarists Ray Parker Jr, Ben Bebay and Lee Ritenour. McKinley Jackson, Melvin Steals, John Barnes, Ronald Coleman and Sylvester Rivers played keyboards and percussion came courtesy of Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Gary Coleman and Jack Ashford. Ernie Watts played alto and tenor saxophone and Oscar Brashear trumpet. They augmented the might of the Los Angeles Brass, Woodwind And String Sections. Arrangers included Gene Page and Gil Askey. The Impressions, Fred Cash, Nate Evans, Reggie Torian and original member member Sam Gooden sung and assisted producer McKinley Jackson. Once About Time was finished, the album was ready for release later in 1976.

When About Time was completed, everyone connected with the album was excited about its prospects. That’s quite remarkable, considering McKinley Jackson wasn’t originally intended to produce About Time. Al Bell had been booked to produce About Time. For whatever reason, Al Bell changed his mind. So, McKinley stepped in to fill the void. Melvin and Mervin Steals, the principal songwriters, flew to L.A. to oversee the recording sessions. There they found an reinvigorated Impressions rolling back the years. Everything it seemed was in place for a hit album. Sadly, one mistake proved costly.

Everything was going well for The Impressions. It looked like their career was back on track. Then after a concert in Atlanta, an alleged incident by one the members of The Impressions proved costly. Atlantic Records were enraged. They felt they couldn’t back About Time. Not after what had happened. This had caused huge embarrassment to a musical institution, Atlantic Records. So, it’s no surprise that About Love reached a lowly 195 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-four in the US R&B charts. This Time reached just number forty in the US R&B Charts. Then in 1977, You’ll Never Find reached a lowly number ninety-nine in the US R&B charts. For The Impressions, this was a case of what if? Mostly, it was a case of what if they’d never played Atlanta. Things could’ve been very different. That wasn’t to be and About Time, which I’ll tell you about, was The Impressions’ only album for Atlantic Records’ subsidiary Cotillion.

In The Palm Of My Hands opens About Love. Stabs of growling horns, a pounding rhythm section and dancing disco strings are joined by percussion and a searing guitar. It’s a dramatic, Philly-tinged arrangement. You fully expect Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, The Detroit Spinners or The O’Jays to take centre-stage. Instead, it’s The Impressions. Their harmonies provide the perfect accompaniment to Nate Evans’ needy, joyous lead vocal.  Harmonies coo and soar, while Nate delivers a vocal powerhouse. At the breakdown, strings dance, guitars chime, horns blaze and percussion augments the rhythm section. They then pass the baton to The Impressions as this joyous hook laden opus proves the perfect way to open About Love.

The rhythm section and percussion spring into action on You’ll Never Find. They mix funk and soul. That’s before cascading disco strings signal the entrance of Nate’s grizzled, hurt-filled vocal. He’s augmented by the rest of The Impressions. Again, there’s a Philly Soul influence as The Impressions sound not unlike Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. The Steal  brothers have picked up where they left off on In The Palm Of My Hands. This tale of hurt and heartache is tailor made for The Impressions. They kick loose, mixing Philly Soul, funk and disco. Featuring a vocal masterclass from Nate, The Impressions trademark harmonies and McKinley Jackson’s production this is a real hidden gem, that would’ve made a great single.

Same Old Heartaches sees the tempo drop and swathes of strings flutter above the arrangement. Meanwhile, guitars chime and the rhythm section provide a subtle heartbeat. This sets the scene for Nate’s heartbroken vocal. Behind him, strings sweep and swirl and harmonies punctuate the arrangement. Helping drive the arrangement along is the probing bass. At the heart of the song’s success is Nate’s soul-searching vocal and tender harmonies. They coo and sweep, while the all-star band provide a big, bold, lush and dramatic arrangement. This is perfect backdrop for Nate’s vocal, where heartbreak and regret are ever-present. He brings to life and meaning the Steal brothers beautiful ballad.

Strings cascade, joining flourishes of piano and the rhythm section in creating an arrangement for I Need You that oozes drama. When the baton passes to Nate, there’s no letup in the drama. His vocal is veers between heartfelt and full of hope, to slow and sensual. Later, what starts of as a ballad changes. The tempo increases and Nate and the rest of The Impressions vamp their way through the lyrics. After that, there’s a return to the earlier balladry as the vocal continues to change hands. Two thing remain the same the quality and drama.

This Time was originally the opening track on side two. There’s no letup in the drama. It’s a hopeful, uptempo ballad. Producer McKinley Jackson, who cowrote the song with future Jones Girl Shirley Jones, makes good use if swathes of strings. They’re joined by percussion, pounding rhythm section and way way guitar. Then there’s the cooing harmonies that accompany the Nate’s rueful vocal. It’s tinged with sadness and regret at the hurt he’s caused his former girlfriend. Hopefully, he sings “this time we’re makin’ it last forever,” as the track reaches its emotive and dramatic crescendo.

Just percussion, strings and muted horns open Stardust. They’re joined by chiming guitars and harmonies. Tender, thoughtful and wistful harmonies sweep in. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Drums pound, the bass leads the way and strings cascade. However, it’s the harmonies and strings that are the focus of your attention. That and a sultry trumpet solo leave lasting memories of The Impressions delivering some of their best harmonies on About Love.

A scorching horn solo opens I’m A Fool For Love. Straight away, it’s obvious this is a very different type of track. It’s penned by Paul Richmond and Daryl Ellis. Drums thunder, strings sweep and harmonies soar above the the arrangement. The drums crack as Nate delivers a powerhouse of a vocal. When his vocal drops out, strings sweep and swirl. Then when he returns, he combines power and passion. Nate can cope with this change of style. He seems to relish the opportunity to cut loose and bring meaning and emotion to the lyrics. Nate it seems, was The Impressions’ secret weapon on About Love.

Closing About Time was the rueful What Might Have Been. This is the sixth song from the pen of Melvin and Mervin Steals. Straight away, there’s a rueful sound. That’s apparent in the combination of the swathes of strings, rhythm section and Hammond organ. Then there’s the preacher reading the wedding vows. After that, Nate cuts in with “ he’s standing there, where I’m supposed to be.” Heartbroken and realising what he’s let go, Nate sings the lyrics like he’s lived them. That’s apparent when he delivers the line: “but now that I lost you, darlin’ Im sadder, so I’m sadder than sad.” Meanwhile, the rest of The Impressions add rueful harmonies while McKinley Jackson’s production is a mixture of drama and emotion. It’s the perfect accompaniment to one of Nate’s most impassioned and heartfelt vocals on About Time. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that About Time is one of the great lost albums. Released in 1976, it should’ve soared all the way to the top of the charts. It didn’t. Far from it. Instead, it hardly made an impression on the charts. What should’ve been The Impressions’ most successful album of the seventies has been all but forgotten. There’s a reason for this. 

An alleged incident by one of The Impressions lead to Atlantic almost killing the album off. Executives at  Atlantic Records were enraged. They felt they couldn’t back About Time. Not after what had happened. This had caused all caused a huge embarrassment to Atlantic Record, one of America’s musical institutions. For The Impressions, what’s one of their finest albums of the sixties passed the world by. Some critics realised the quality of About Time. However, with Atlantic Records’ marketing machine behind About Time, The Impressions weren’t going to enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim they deserved. It  was an uphill struggle for The Impressions. Sadly, About Time stalled at a lowly 195 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-four in the US R&B charts. For many people, who’d put their heart and soul into About Time, this was heartbreaking.

This includes three members of The Impressions. Then there’s the principal songwriters Melvin and Mervin Steals. They’d contributed six songs to About Time. They could easily have shopped the songs to any number of other producers. The six songs ooze quality. Mind you, they were on a roll, having written songs for some of the biggest names in Philly Soul. Melvin and Mervin deserved better. So did arrangers Gene Page and Gil Askey. Then there’s producer McKinley Jackson. About Time was variously a big, bold, dramatic and lush album. It was reminiscent of Philly Soul at it’s best. Sadly, through no fault of McKinley’s About Love failed commercially. 

Since then, About Love has languished in the vaults of Atlantic Records. Not any more. Rhino have rereleased About Time. This is part of recently released Atlantic Records, Japanese Soul and  R&B range. This is a real treasure trove. Especially, when they’re rereleasing hidden gems like About Time. Belatedly, The Impressions’ About Time can be heard by music lovers. About Time was one of The Impressions’ best albums of the seventies and never again, did they come close to reaching these heady heights ever again.

THE IMPRESSIONS-ABOUT TIME.

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THE DETROIT SPINNERS-MIGHTY LOVE.

THE DETROIT SPINNERS-MIGHTY LOVE.

When The Detroit Spinners signed for Atlantic Records and hooked up with producer Thom Bell there was a huge turnaround in their fortunes. Their first two albums, 1967s The Original Spinners and 2nd Time Around in 1970, hadn’t been commercial a success. Only 2nd Time Around had charted, reaching number 199 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. However, once they signed for their new label Atlantic, and started working with Thom Bell, five consecutive gold albums followed, with the group having three consecutive US R&B number one albums. This was a remarkable turnaround in fortune for Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith, Philippe Wynne, Henry Fambrough and Pervis Jackson, who were The Detroit Spinners.

After the huge success of Spinners, The Detroit Spinners debut album for Atlantic and their first album produced by Thom Bell, the group set about recording what would be the follow-up album Mighty Love which was recently rereleased by Rhino. Spinners was going to be a hard act to follow, have reached number one on the US R&B Charts, and number fourteen in the US Billboard 200. Having sold over 500,000 copies, the album was certified gold. Suddenly, with the help of Thom Bell, The Detroit Spinners were one of the biggest soul groups in America. What everyone was wondering, was could their next album match the success of Spinners?

Six of the songs on Mighty Love were penned by Charles Simmons, Joseph B. Jefferson, and Bruce Hawes.  Charles Simmons and Joseph B. Jefferson also cowrote Love Don’t Love Nobody. The other track was Thom Bell and Linda Creed cowrote I’m Going Home. These eight tracks became Mighty Love which was recorded at Jpe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios, in Philly.

What would become Mighty Love was recorded at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios, with Thom Bell producing the album. Eight songs were recorded, with the famous Philadelphia International house band M.F.S.B. backing The Detroit Spinners. This included one of the best rhythm sections in music B-H-Y, bassist Ronnie Baker, guitarists Norman Harris and drummer Earl Young. Together, this hugely talented trio played on numerous albums that defined The Philly Sound. This includes The Spinners’ Atlantic albums of the early to mid-seventies. Linda Creed joined with The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Evette Benton. With Mighty Love recorded, it was due for release in March 1974.

After being critically acclaimed, Mighty Love was released in March 1974, reaching number one in the US R&B Charts and number sixteen in the US Billboard 200. This meant that The Detroit Spinners received their second consecutive gold disc of their careers. Little did they know back then, that they receive five in total. Adding to the success of Mighty Love was three top ten US R&B singles. The first of these Mighty Love which reached number one in the US R&B Charts and number twenty in the US Billboard 100. It was followed by the Thom Bell and Linda Creed penned I’m Coming Home which reached number three in the US R&B Charts and number eighteen in the US Billboard 100. The last single released from Mighty Love was Love Don’t Love Nobody, reaching number four in the US R&B Charts and number fifteen in the US Billboard 100. All things considered, Mighty Love had been a massive commercial success, reaching number one on the US R&B Charts and spawning three hit singles, including a US R&B number one single. By now it seemed that The Detroit Spinners could do no wrong. This success lasted until 1976, and during this time The Detroit Spinners were one of the biggest and most successful groups in soul music, releasing one great album after another, including Mighty Love which I’ll now tell you about. 

Mighty Love opens with Since I Been Gone, one of six penned by Charles Simmones, Joseph B Jefferson and Bruce Hawkes. A combination of buzzing bass, piano, shimmering strings, rasping horns and punchy drums open the track, before giving way to the united vocals of The Detroit Spinners. After this, Bobby’s gentle, tender lead vocal enters, as he sings about his loneliness and how he misses his ex-girlfriend. Behind him the rest of group provide dramatic harmonies, accompanied by the rhythm section and rasping horns. Then strings sweep in, their lush sound adding to the sadness and emotion of Bobby’s lead vocal. With Thom Bell’s producing the track, his masterful arrangement manages to combine emotion, sadness and drama perfectly, resulting in a track full of heartache and regret.

The remarkable thing about Mighty Love is that three great singles were released from the album, and a track like Ain’t No Price On Happiness wasn’t one of them. That demonstrates the sheer quality of music on Mighty Love. When you hear the track you wonder why? As the track opens with the Baker, Harris and Young rhythm section combining with slow, blazing horns and the lushest of strings. It’s only then that Bobby’s beautiful vocal enters, tinged with sadness and regret. Meanwhile, the rest of the group and backing vocalists combine to contribute tender backing vocals. Swathes of strings enter, sweeping behind Bobby, while the rhythm section and horns combine. By now, the heartache and despair in Bobby’s voice is almost tangible, at the end of his relationship, as he sings that “there ain’t no price on happiness.”This beautiful, but sad and despondent vocal from Bobby is complimented by some stunning, thoughtful playing from M.F.S.B. and another emotive Thom Bell arrangement.

I’m Glad You Walked Into My Life is one of the slow songs on the album, with a beautiful, slightly dramatic introduction, where keyboards, rhythm section and lush strings combine with gently, rasping horns. They give way to a thoughtful vocal from Bobby, with the rest of the Spinners singing harmonies. There’s a mixture of joy and emotion in Bobby’s voice having finally met the woman of his dreams. Behind him, Thom Bell’s sympathetic arrangement adds to the emotion in Bobby’s vocal. Strings sweep slowly and emotively, while the rhythm section combine playing thoughtfully with short, sharp bursts of drama. As the song progresses, it just gets better and better. Bobby’s vocal grows in power and emotion, as does the arrangement, ultimately reaching an emotional and joyful crescendo.

What was side one of Mighty Love closes with I’m Coming Home, co-written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed, who over the years, co-wrote so many critically acclaimed and commercially successful songs together. When this track was released as the second single from the album, it reached number three in the US R&B Charts and number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. The track bursts into life, a punchy rhythm section, swirling strings and blazing horns combining with Philippe Wynne’s joyous vocal. His vocal is quicks, with him elated at returning home. Behind him, the rest of The Detroit Spinners and backing vocalists contribute equally joyful backing vocalists. Similarly, M.F.S.B. lock into this joyous sound, with strings swirling, horns braying and the rhythm section providing the song’s heartbeat. Overall, it’s an uplifting, joyous and hook laden track, which has an irresistibly catchy sound.

Side two of Mighty Love opens with He’ll Never Love You Like I Do, a mid-tempo track. It opens with piano and Norman Harris’ chiming guitar combining gently, before horns and Earl Young’s subtle drum enters. With a lovely subtle backdrop, Bobby gives a tender and heartfelt delivery of the lyrics, warning his ex-girlfriend that her new man will never love her like he does. With the other Detroit Spinners and female backing vocalists combining, this adds to the sense of sadness and loss, in Bobby’s voice. Rasping horns and drums add bursts of drama, as a heartbroken Bobby promises love and happiness, while Linda Creed and  The Sweethearts of Sigma are among the backing vocalists, who tenderly accompany him. By the end of the track you find yourself rooting for a desperate and bereft Bobby, hoping that he’ll be given another chance by his ex-girlfriend. That’s the power of this track, and the emotion involved in both Bobby’s vocal and Thom Bell’s subtle, yet emotive arrangement.

Love Has Gone Away is a very different track, when it opens. A funk drenched and dramatic Baker, Harris and Young rhythm section combine punchy drums, buzzing bass and funky guitar, before keyboards, swirling strings and blazing horns enter, giving the track a classic M.F.S.B. sound and feel. They give way to Bobby’s searing, soaring vocal, while tight harmonies accompany him. Meanwhile, Earl’s drums drive the track along, his hi-hats, hissing, as he provides a funky and dramatic heartbeat. Horns blaze and rasp, as keyboards, chiming guitars and grand strings combine to provide a powerful, dramatic, sweeping backdrop for The Detroit Spinners. As if sensing this arrangement is something special, Bobby and the rest of the guys, up their game, producing a dynamic and energetic vocal, fitting for this drama drenched arrangement that combines a majestic combination of soul and funk.

After the welcome diversion into funky territory, things change with the gorgeous Love Don’t Love Nobody, a piano lead ballad, with one of the most thoughtful and emotional vocals on the album. The arrangement sees Bobby accompanied by the piano and rhythm section, who mostly play with subtly, but intersperse this subtly with brief bursts of drama. Mostly though, it’s just a lonely, Bobby accompanied by the rest of Detroit Spinners and backing vocalists, with the lush arrangement meandering along. Lush quivering, shivering strings join this slow, epic jam that lasts over seven minutes. When you listen to this gorgeous track, you realize just why it was so successful when released as the third single, reaching number four in the US R&B Charts and number fifteen in the US Billboard 200, and deservedly becoming a Quiet Storm classic in the process.

Mighty Love closes with the title track, Mighty Love, which was the first single released from the album, reaching number one in the US R&B Charts and number twenty in the US Billboard 100. The track opens with dramatic mixture of rhythm section, blazing horns and sweeping strings. As the arrangement becomes much more subtle, Bobby’s joyful vocal enters, with tight, sweet harmonies accompanies him. Behind him, M.F.S.B. are on top form, the dynamic rhythm section, swirling sweeping strings and rasping blazing horns combining perfectly with keyboards. On top of the arrangement sits Bobby’s powerful, soaring vocal, with the rest of the group harmonizing, and wave upon wave of the dramatic and dynamic arrangement unfolding. When this uplifting, catchy and hook laden track, ends you’re left thinking that The Detroit Spinners kept the best until last. After all, it’s best to end the album on a high.

On Mighty Love everything came together for The Detroit Spinners. It’s almost as if the stars were perfectly aligned. They had eight great songs to record, and were backed by one of the best bands of the time M.F.S.B. and were fortunate to have in Thom Bell, one of the most talented producers of all time. With that line-up, it’s no wonder that Mighty Love reached number one in the US R&B Charts and number sixteen in the US Billboard 200. Add to this three top ten US R&B singles, including the title track, Mighty Love, and 1973 had been a hugely successful year for The Detroit Spinners.

Both Spinners, their first album for Atlantic and first album produced by Thom Bell and Mighty Love reached number one in the US R&B Charts and were certified gold. This successful period would continue until 1976, with 1974s New and Improved reaching number one in the US R&B Charts and number nine in the US Billboard, while Pick of the Litter reached number two in the US R&B Charts and number eight in the US Billboard 200. The final album during this successful period was Happiness Is Being With The Spinners, which reached number five in the US R&B Charts and number twenty in the US Billboard 200. Like Spinners and Mighty Love, these three albums were all certified gold. This was a remarkably successful period for The Detroit Spinners when not only did they produce some stunning music, but became one of the biggest and most commercially successful groups in the history of Philly soul.

Although each of these five albums feature some outstanding music, Mighty Love is one of their most complete albums.  Each of the eight tracks are of the highest quality and feature The Detroit Spinners at their very best. For anyone who hasn’t heard Mighty Love, Rhino recently rereleased Mighty Love. Mighty Love is a welcome reminder of a Philly Soul classic and is the perfect introduction to The Detroit Spinners, who with Thom Bell’s help, helped define the Philly sound. Standout Tracks: Since I Been Gone, I’m Glad You Walked Into My Life, He’ll Never Love You Like I Do and Mighty Love.

THE DETROIT SPINNERS-MIGHTY LOVE.

 

THE REBEL KIND: GIRLS WITH GUITARS.

THE REBEL KIND: GIRLS WITH GUITARS.

It was back in 2004  that Ace Records released Girls With Guitars. Featuring twenty-four tracks, Girls With Guitars it brought back memories of the golden age of the girl group. Record buyers were reminded of the sound of The Angels, The Beattle-Ettes, The Tomboys, The Daughters Of Eve and The 2 Of Clubs. Released to critical acclaim, Girls With Guitars struck a chord with many record buyers. Many people felt a followup was inevitable and would follow a year later. It did, but fans of Girls With Guitars had to be patient.

Another five years passed before Destroy That Boy! More Girls With Guitars was released in 2009. Picking up where Girls With Guitars left off, Destroy That Boy! More Girls With Guitars featured The Debutantes, What Four, Pivots, Feminine Complex, Canada’s She Trinity and Liverpool’s The Liverbirds. They strutted their way throughout twenty-four tracks mixing sass, attitude and emotion. Destroy That Boy! More Girls With Guitars  and critics wondered when the next instalment in the Girls With Guitars would be released? Little did they realise it would be another five years.

Recently, Ace Records released the long awaited and highly anticipated followup to  Destroy That Boy! More Girls With Guitars, The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars. It features another twenty-four tracks from Colette and The Bandits, The Girls, Dana Gillespie, Brenda Lee, Honeybeats, The Debutantes, Jackie DeShannon, Pinky Chicks and The Chantels. Just like the two previous instalments in the Girls With Guitars compilation series, Mick Patrick has compiled The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars. It’s a combination of familiar faces and hidden gems, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

Colette and The Bandits open The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars with A Ladies’ Man. It features a feisty, strutting vocal and machine gun guitars. You’re hooked from the open bars. Released in 1965 on Stateside, A Ladies; Man was penned by John Adkins and Bobby Buie. It was produced by none other than Shel Talmy, who worked with The Kinks and The Who. This is the definitive version of A Ladies Man. No ifs, no buts. 

The Girls will be familiar faces for veterans of the Girls With Guitars’ series. Their single My Baby featured on Girls With Guitars. Chico’s Girl is their contribution The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars. Dramatic, with a feisty vocal, it was written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Man. Originally, Cynthia thought this was perfect for The Crystals. They recorded the song, but it was never released. Susan Barrett then covered the song in 1963. Three years later, The Girls released Chico’s Girl in 1966, on Capitol. Their dramatic and feisty version is perceived as the best version of this song.

I’ll Let You Hold My Hand was written by Chet De Milo and Mark Wiley, and is best described as The Bootles’ homage to The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand. This was one of 200 Beatles’ inspired tracks released in 1964. Joyous and full of slick poppy hooks, it’s one of the best of the 200 Beatles’ inspired tracks released during 1964.

Only The Debutantes feature three times on The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars. The Debutantes were formed by fourteen year old Jan McClellan, after seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. They released a quartet of singles. This included Love Is Strange, which was written by Mickey Baker, Ellas McDaniel and Sylvia Robinson. Previously, it had been hit for Mickey and Sylvia a hit in 1957. Later, The Debutantes covered it. They also covered Albert Hamilton and Richard Morris’ Strong Foundation. It was produced by Andre Williams and released on Standout. However, Jan’s composition A New Love Today, which was released on the Lucky Eleven label in 1967, is their finest moment. It’s a fusion of pop, rock and psychedelia. Featuring a vocal full of sadness and regret, it’s a reminder why The Debutantes are remembered as one of the great girl groups of the sixties.

You Just Gotta Know My Mind shows another side to Dana Gillespie’s music. Nowadays, she best known for singing the blues. Back in 1968, Dana had just signed a new recording contract with Decca. Her first release was You Just Gotta Know My Mind. Penned by Donavon Leitch and produced by Wayne Bickerton, it’s a bright, breezy fusion of pop, rock and psychedelia. This is very different from Dana’s early folk-tinged singles and is a glorious slice of upbeat sixties pop.

Brenda Lee unleashes a vocal powerhouse on her cover of Ray Charles’ What’d I Say. Produced by Mickie Most and released in 1964, this was one of the only times Brenda recorded outside of Nashville. Her reason for recording in London was to record a single with the “British sound.” Although very different from much of Brenda’s music, it’s one of her finest moments. Sadly, it proved too rocky for her American fans. 

Jackie DeShannon is another of the familiar faces on The Rebel Kind-Girls With Guitars 3. Dream Boy features a hopeful, needy vocal. It’s delivered against a rocky backdrop. Written by Jackie and produced by Charles Blackwell, it wasn’t released on Liberty until 1967. Belatedly, the world got to hear this slice of perfect pop.

The Delmonas’ Peter Gunn Locomotion is a cover of  Sammy Cahn and Henri Mancini’s track. Unlike most of the tracks, this isn’t a song from the sixties. No. It featured on an E.P. released on Big Beat in 1984. Having said that, The Delmonas’ has an authentic sixties sound. For lovers of sixties girl groups, this will be a welcome reminder of another era

Some groups have all the talent in the world, but never get the chance to release an album. That’s the story of San Francisco’s The Ace Of Cups, who Jimi Hendrix was a fan of. Sadly, they never released an album until 2003s It’s Bad For You But Buy It. This was an album of rarities, demos and rehearsals. It featured Stones, which features some blistering, screaming guitar solos. Along with a pro to punk vocal, this is a heady brew  from one of music’s best kept secrets The Ace Of Cups.

The Chantels’ Peruvian Wedding Song closes The Rebel Kind: Girls With Guitars 3. It was recorded in 1959, but wasn’t released until 1987. Driven along by guitars and the rhythm section this is a track that puts to bed the myth that The Chantels could sing, but not play their instruments. That’s far from the truth. They’re hugely talented musicians, who can kick out the jams with the best of them. 

Although there’s been a five year wait between Destroy That Boy! More Girls With Guitars and The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars it’s been well worth the wait. Compiler Mick Patrick has dug deep and come up with a combination of familiar faces and hidden gems. The twenty-four tracks ooze quality. Especially tracks from Colette and The Bandits, The Girls, Dana Gillespie, The Debutantes, Brenda Lee, Jackie DeShannon, The Ace Of Cups and The Chantels. These groups combine pop with rock and sometimes, psychedelia. It’s a potent and tantalising combination that shows another side to girl groups.

The music on The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars has a much more tougher, edgier sound. This is very different to the girl groups of the early sixties. Similarly, it’s very different to the girl groups favoured by labels like Motown. This was Girl Groups With Attitude. The twenty-one artists and groups strut their way through the twenty-four songs. Feisty, full of confidence, sass, emotion and attitude, The Rebel Kind: More Girls With Guitars is a welcome addition to Ace Records’ critically acclaimed Girls With Guitars compilation series.

THE REBEL KIND: GIRLS WITH GUITARS.

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ROBBIE BASHO-THE VOICE OF AN EAGLE.

ROBBIE BASHO-THE VOICE OF AN EAGLE.

There are some artists who follow trends, while others are trendsetters. Trendsetter describes Robbie Basho perfectly. His love and appreciation of various cultures, especially Indian culture, resulted in a series of albums of genre-defying music. Robbie’s raison d’être seemed to be broaden the minds of music lovers. He wanted them to open their ears to musical possibilities. That’s what he did in 1962, when he first heard Ravi Shankar.

Before hearing Ravi Shankar, Robbie had already embraced Asian culture. This began back in 1959, when the then nineteen year old Daniel Robinson Jr, bought his first guitar. Soon, Robbie immersed himself in Asian culture. So much so, that he changed his name to Robbie Basho, in honour of the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō. This was the beginning of the transformation of Daniel Robinson Jr, from student to Robbie Basho, groundbreaking musician who released a string of albums between 1965 and 1985. This included 1972s The Voice Of An Eagle, which was recently rereleased on Vanguard Masters, a subsidiary of Ace Records. It demonstrates why Robbie Basho is remembered as a groundbreaking musician. Robbie’s story began in Baltimore in 1940.

Tragically, Daniel Robinson Jr, was orphaned at an early age. He was then adopted by the Robinson family and attended school in Baltimore. At high school, he sang in the middle and high school choirs. Daniel also played the euphonium in his high school band. So, for some people, it wasn’t a surprise that Daniel Robinson Jr, would go on to enjoy a career as a musician. His career began at the University of Maryland.

Daniel headed of to the University of Maryland in 1958. It was there that he met John Fahey, Ed Denson and Max Ochs. They were all aspiring guitarists. Their interest rubbed off on Daniel. However, he didn’t have a guitar. Not until he met a sailor who’d just returned from Mexico.

Daniel was working his way through college by working in a club. One night, he met a sailor who’d just returned from Mexico. The sailer had an antique Mexican 12-string guitar. He offered to sell it to Daniel. The only problem was that he wanted  $200 for it. Robbie however, bought the guitar for $200. However, buying the guitar was just the start of a new chapter in Daniel’s life.

With his new guitar, Daniel set about pushing the guitar to his limits. Daniel also immersed himself in Asian culture. So much so, that he changed his name to Robbie Basho, in honour of the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō. This was the just the first change in Robbie’s life and career.

Having started off playing country blues, with John Fahey, Ed Denson and Max Ochs, that didn’t seem to satisfy Robbie. So he dipped into bluegrass, classical, oriental and free jazz. Then came the moment that changed Daniel’s life. He heard Ravi Shankar.

Sitting in the dark, listening to Ravi Shankar, Daniel found music he could relate to. This was fortuitous. Many artists who played folk music found they weren’t able to express themselves. Having listening to Ravi, Daniel realised he could. There were a whole host of tunings he hadn’t yet discovered. Soon, Daniel was studying with Ali Akbar Khan, who was a renowned sarod virtuoso. Ali helped popularise Indian music within the West. So, did Robbie Basho.

Robbie pioneered and popularised a whole host of open and exotic tunings. He also developed his coded Doctrine of Mood and Colour For 6 and 12-String Guitar. This was all part of Robbie efforts to transform the steel-string acoustic guitar into a concert instrument. That took the best part of ten years. By then, Robbie’s recording career was well underway.

After a spell spent travelling, Robbie found himself in Berkeley. There was a thriving folk scene in Berkeley. This played its part in the revival of Takoma Records, who Robbie would release Robbie’s solo album.

This was 1965s The Seal Of The Blue Lotus. Robbie’s sophomore album was 1966s The Grail and The Lotus. These two albums were innovative and much more adventurous than much of the folk music being released back then. Robbie was determined to push musical boundaries. He succeeded, releasing The Falconer’s Arm I, The Falconer’s Arm II and Basho Sings in 1967. That year, Robbie contributed The Thousand Incarnations Of The Rose to the compilation Contemporary Guitar – Spring ’67. 1967, proved to be the most fruitful year of Robbie’s career.

It wasn’t until a new decade dawned that Robbie Basho released another album. This was 1970s Venus In Cancer, which was released on Blue Thumb Records. Robbie’s last album for  Takoma Records was released in 1971. That was Song Of The Stallion. After that, Robbie signed to another prestigious label, Vanguard Records, where he released two albums.

The first of the two albums Robbie released on Vanguard Records, was The Voice Of The Eagle. It featured eight tracks penned by Robbie. He played 6 and 12-string guitar and sang led vocals. Ramnad Raghavan was a guest artist. He played the mrdangam drums, which are an Indian log drum. Producing The Voice Of The Eagle, was Jack Mothrop. Robbie dedicated The Voice Of The Eagle to the Indian  American and Avatar Meher Baba an Indian spiritual master, who many people believed, was God in human form. The Voice Of The Eagle was released in 1972.

The Voice Of The Eagle found Robbie immersing himself in Native American culture. It was a truly ambitious album. However, it was totally different to other albums released during 1972. David Bowie released, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, Can Ege Bamyasi, Steely Dan Can’t Buy A Thrill, Nick Drake Pink Moon, Neu Neu and Big Star Number One Records. Looking back, The Voice Of The Eagle was very different to the music released in 1972. Sadly, The Voice Of The Eagle was a commercial failure. It passed most people by. Maybe the problem was, people didn’t understand what was one of Robbie Basho’s most ambitious albums, which I’ll now tell you about.

Opening The Voice Of The Eagle is the title-track. It’s described as a Hopi Raga. Just a deliberately strummed guitar sets the scene for Robbie’s vocal. It’s heartfelt and sincere, as like the eagle, which is the messenger of the gods, soars and quivers above the arrangement.  Sometimes, it’s half-spoken, other times, akin to a Native American chant. A constant companion is Ramnad Raghavan’s mrdangam. It provides the heartbeats and adds to the drama. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the emotion and sincerity of Robbie’s vocal on this  Hopi Rag.

Wounded Knee Soliloquy has a much more tradition folk sound. This might have been a better track to open the album. Just an acoustic guitar accompanying Robbie’s vocal. It veers between tender to powerful, while melancholia and sadness are ever-present as Robbie tells the story of Big Foot. The lyrics are beautiful and have a cinematic quality. Pictures and scenarios unfold. They come to life thanks to Robbie’s heartfelt rendition of the lyrics.

Blue Corn Serenade is an eleven minute epic that’s Robbie referred to as an “American Indian manifesto.” This allows Robbie to experiment. It sees a continuation of the folk influence of the previous track. Robbie’s fingers flit up and down the fretboards Seamlessly and quickly, he changes chords. You realise just how talented a guitarist he is. After four minutes of mesmeric guitar playing, a heart-wrenching vocal enters. It’s Robbie’s finest vocal. Oozing emotion, he gives thanks for the harvest. We should give thanks for a vocal and guitar playing as good as this.

Melancholy described the acoustic guitar that opens Joseph. Robbie’s deep, powerful vocal soars above the arrangement, as he tells the story of Thunder Rolling who set out on a twelve hour, epic journey. Again, Robbie brings the lyrics to life. You can imagine the journey unfolding. Especially, Thunder Rolling leading his people “across the mountains by the end of the day.” Just like other tracks, the lyrics have a cinematic quality. Similarly, Robbie becomes a storyteller who has you spellbound.

Omaha Tribal Prayer is similar to a song the Boy Scouts sing as they close their camp fire. Robbie changed the words slightly. He uses the Sioux word for god Wakantha. This also helps with the rhythmic quality of the track. It’s a  return to the sound of the opening track, The Voice Of An Eagle. Ramnad Raghavan’s mrdangam accompanies Robbie’s needy vocal and acoustic guitar. His vocal is a cathartic outpouring of emotion. If you listen to the lyrics: “cross On Over, Cross On Over, The bridge twixt you and me, and a helping hand, will set you free” they could be construed as personal. Is this Robbie reaching out and trying to free the father he lost at an early age? If it is, this makes this track all the more powerful.

Bright stabs of guitar open Sweet Medicine, a wistful instrumental. Robbie’s chiming guitar is accompanied by him whistling. It quivers above his guitar. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from his guitar playing, which is some of his finest. He mixes drama, beauty and melancholia over five minutes.

Roses And Gold is a heartfelt and beautiful love song. It shows another side of Robbie Basho. With just a tender, acoustic guitar for company Robbie’s vocal is impassioned and sincere. This is apparent when he sings “she ls my love, she ls my life.” Having shown another side to his music, one wonders how much commercial success and critical acclaim Robbie would’ve enjoyed if he’d made a career out of more traditional songs like this?

Moving Up A Ways, a drama myth, closes The Voice Of The Eagle. The song depicts the “spiritual and physical evolution from lover to higher forms of life.” After a lengthy introduction where Robbie lays down some of his finest guitar licks, his vocal enters. It’s a mixture of drama, emotion and sincerity as the lyrics take on new meaning and life. 

The Voice Of An Eagle found Robbie Basho at the height of his interest in the Native American. The album is akin to Robbie paying homage to their memory. Hence this fusion of celebratory songs, chants and love songs. It was an ambitious, bold and groundbreaking project. That’s the case from the get-go. The title-track, which is a Hopi Raga, has a real left-field sound. It’s a challenging and innovative track. This shows that Robbie was determined to push music boundaries. However, it could be argued that  it wasn’t the best track to open The Voice Of An Eagle  which was recently rereleased on Vanguard Masters, a subsidiary of Ace Records. 

Research has shown that potential record buyers only spend fifteen seconds decided whether to purchase an album. Often, they don’t get any further than the first track. That’s why it’s vital that the first track grabs the listener’s attention. So, possibly, if Wounded Knee Soliloquy had opened The Voice Of An Eagle maybe it would’ve made a bigger impression on record buyers. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

The Voice Of An Eagle either passed many people by or they didn’t understand it. Then there was the fact that music had moved on. Folk was no longer as popular. Rock was King. Whether it was Krautrock, prog rock or classic rock, rock ruled the roost. Granted soul was making inroads, but only briefly. Maybe, The Voice Of An Eagle is an album that was a couple of years too late.

Indeed, The Voice Of An Eagle has a late sixties sound to it. Back in the late-sixties, people seemed more amenable to new genres of music. It was a time when anything went. That would’ve been the time to release The Voice Of An Eagle. Sadly, The Voice Of An Eagle was released in 1972 and sank without trace. That’s a great shame, because Robbie Basho was determined to create ambitious and groundbreaking music. Ironically, given his talent as a musician, singer and songwriter, Robbie could’ve enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim.

That would’ve meant compromising what he believed in. Robbie wasn’t willing to go down the road of James Taylor and Jackson Browne. No. He was determined to release music he believed in. You can’t help but admire Robbie for sticking to his principles. That was the case throughout his twenty-year recording career. Sadly, commercial success and critical acclaim eluded Robbie Basho, who was more than a singer, songwriter and musician.

Robbie was a poet and father of American Raga. He was an innovator whose life was a spiritual quest. Life was a constant search for meaning for Robbie Basho. However, Robbie’s career was cut tragically short aged forty-six. Robbie Basho’s legacy was a string of innovative and ambitious albums, including the underrated The Voice Of An Eagle.

ROBBIE BASHO-THE VOICE OF AN EAGLE.

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BROTHERS AND SISTERS-DYLAN’S GOSPEL.

BROTHERS AND SISTERS-DYLAN’S GOSPEL.

For too long, backing singers have been the forgotten heroes of music. That’s been the case since the sixties. Mostly, they were largely anonymous figures. Their raison d’être was to make the stars sound good. Backing singers, like session musicians, were hired guns. Every day, the found themselves working with different artists. So they had to be versatile and able to adapt. After all, yesterday they could be singing soul, today jazz and tomorrow working on a rock album. Often, the same backing singers were called upon time and time again. 

This included The Sweethearts of Sigma and The Sweet Inspirations. They were among the creme de la creme of backing vocalists. That’s why top producers had their number on speed dial. However, often, the backing singers outshone the artist they were working with. Both The Sweethearts of Sigma and The Sweet Inspirations had experienced this. So had Merry Clayton, Gloria Jones, Sherlie Matthews, Ed Wallace and Fred Willis. During the sixties, they’d all worked with songwriter and producer Lou Adler. 

He’d established a reputation as one of Los Angeles’ top producers. Lou worked with the great and the good of music. Who he didn’t know, wasn’t worth knowing. When producing a session, Lou always called upon the same backing vocalists. Over the years, he’d formed a good relationship. So much so, that Lou had always wanted to make an album with the backing vocalists. Lou wanted the backing vocalists to play a starring role. The only problem was, by 1969, Lou Adler, songwriter, producer and manager was without a label. He needed a new challenge. So Lou decided now was the time to make the album with backing vocalists. 

The result was Dylan’s Gospel the debut album from Brothers and Sisters, which was released by Light In The Attic Records. Brothers and Sisters featured some of the L.A’s top session players. In total, twenty-seven session singers appeared on Dylan’s Gospel. Among them are Merry Clayton, Ruby Johnson, Shirley Matthews, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway, Julia Tillman. So too did Edna Wright of The Honeycones and Gloria Jones who recorded the original version of Tainted Love in 1965. It was an all-star lineup that gathered at Sound Recorders Studios.

When the recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in L.A, Lou had drafted Gene Page, who arranged Dylan’s Gospel. Ten of Bob Dylan’s finest songs were chosen to be recorded by Brothers and Sisters. Accompanying Brothers and Sisters were some of L.A’s best session players. The rhythm section included bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Gene Pello. Evelyn Freeman played organ, Gene Page piano and percussionist Joe H. Vaerga. Producing Dylan’s Gospel was Lou Adler. The Dylan’s Gospel sessions weren’t like most other sessions Lou Adler had produced.

Looking back, many who were present at the recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in Hollywood, remember the sessions as akin to a four-day party. The great and the good of music swung by. Carole King came to hear the  Brothers and Sisters. So did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. Then there cousins, mothers, partners and friends of the Brothers and Sisters. They ate, drank and were merry. It was gospel rock ’n’ style. The sessions were like a four day party where the Brothers and Sisters transformed ten Bob Dylan tracks. 

Sadly, when Dylan’s Gospel was released on Ode Records in 1969, the album passed most people by. This unique album wasn’t a commercial success. For once, Lou Adler’s Midas touch failed him. Dylan’s Gospel joined the ranks of great albums never to be heard by a wider audience. That’s until Light In The Attic Records decided to rerelease Brothers and Sisters’ Dylan’s Gospel, which I’ll tell you about. 

The Times They Are A Changing opens Brothers and Sisters’ debut album Dylan’s Gospel. Just an organ and piano combine to create an authentic gospel backdrop for Merry Clayton’s vocal powerhouse. She unleashes a vocal that’s equal parts power, passion and emotion. She brings hope to the lyrics that “The Times They Are A Changing.” Meanwhile, harmonies, coo, sweep and soar while the drums add to the drama. Seamlessly, a Bob Dylan classic is transformed into a  hopeful stirring gospel track.

Just a lone piano opens I Shall Be Released. It’s joined by a rumbling bass and a heartfelt soaring vocal. Backing vocalists reply to the vocal. Meanwhile a wailing Hammond organ, piano and subtle drums provide the perfect backdrop. It never overpowers the vocal or harmonies. They’re at the heart of the track’s success. The vocal is a fusion of sincerity and emotion. So much so, that the lyrics take on a new meaning. Joyous describes the swaying, soaring harmonies. They’re just the finishing touch to this reinvention of I Shall Be Released.

Edna Wright takes charge of lead vocals on Lay Lady Lay. A bubbling bass, drums played with hands and harmonies accompany Edna’s tender vocal. Soon, a piano enters as the Brothers and Sisters kick loose.  Soulful and needy describes Edna’s vocal. She’s accompanied by cooing harmonies. They soar above the arrangement. Later, Edna combines gospel, soul and jazz. Kicking loose, her vocal becomes sultry and sensual, as she delivers a vocal masterclass.

Distant harmonies and a gospel tinged piano make their way towards you. Then a rousing, stirring version of Mr. Tambourine Man unfolds. The song is totally transformed. Partly that’s down to the lead vocal. It ensures the song swings. Then there’s the rousing harmonies and the tight talented band. Together, Mr. Tambourine Man becomes a stirring, rousing celebration.

All Along The Watchtower is right up there with the best songs Bob Dylan has written. Here, new life and meaning is breathed into a familiar song. Atmospheric and dramatic describes the arrangement. Just the rhythm section, stabs of piano and washes of Hammond organ accompany soaring, swaying harmonies and handclaps. The lead vocal is a combination of controlled power, emotion and passion. This inspires the rest of the Brothers and Sisters. They clap their hands, stomp their feet and unleash some of their finest harmonies as they reach new heights. 

Of all the songs on Dylan’s Gospel, The Mighty Quinn is the one that really takes on new life. It really suits the gospel treatment. The Brothers and Sisters really let themselves go. They throw themselves into the song. Their rousing harmonies and handclaps are joined by a wailing Hammond organ, rhythm  section and rasping horn. Then there’s Merry Clayton’s joyous and celebratory vocal, which later becomes a vamp. It takes the song to new places and results in the song Bob Dylan had always hoped for.

Ethereal harmonies open Chimes Of Freedom. They soar helpfully heavenwards. Then when they drop out, an impassioned lead vocal enters. It oozes emotion. So, does the female vocal that picks up the baton. When they join together, they’re accompanied by a gospel piano, probing bass and washes of Hammond organ. They add to the spiritual sound of a track Bob Dylan started and the Brothers and Sisters finished.

For many people, Gloria Jones’ name will be forever synonymous with Tainted Love. That’s until they’ve heard her vocal tour deb force on I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. She kicks loose. Swaying, soaring and joyous harmonies and jangling piano accompany Gloria as she lays claim to the song, her vocal a mixture of sass and need.

Piano and drums combine as My Back Pages unfolds. A tender, wistful vocal is accompanied by rousing gospel harmonies. They coo above the arrangement, while the unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ is dropped in. Lou Adler’s timing is perfect. It adds to the emotion and is the perfect accompaniment to the Brothers and Sisters on this emotive opus.

Without doubt, Just Like A Woman is one of Bob Dylan’s finest hours. That’s why it’s a fitting way to close Dylan’s Gospel. Replacing the familiar harmonica in the introduction is a church organ. This sets the scene for the massed ranks of Brothers and Sisters. They throw themselves into the song. The twenty-seven Brothers and Sisters become one. It’s an impressive and powerful combination. I’d go as far as to say it’s emotionally overpowering. In the midst of Brothers and Sisters, someone hollers “Yes She Should” while spontaneous vamps are unleashed. It sounds as if the Brothers and Sisters are having the time of their lives while making some of the best covers of Bob Dylan songs you’ll ever hear.

That’s no exaggeration. Bob Dylan songs are some of the most covered in the history of popular music. However, Brothers and Sisters’ ten covers of Bob Dylan songs are some of the best you’ll ever hear. The ten tracks ooze emotion, meaning, joy, hope and happiness. That’s thanks to some of the finest backing vocalists of the sixties. They reinvent some of the tracks, especially The Mighty Quinn, Chimes Of Freedom and My Back Pages. These are tracks that Bob Dylan started and the Brothers and Sisters finished. They made this trio of tracks their own. Their unique brand of gospel is tailor made for these songs. That’s the case with the rest of the ten tracks on Dylan’s Gospel. The songs literally, take on new meaning in the hands of the Brothers and Sisters. As a result, the music is rousing, stirring, joyous, celebratory and emotive. It must have been some session.

Described as a four-day party, where the great and the good of music swung by. Carole King came to hear the Brothers and Sisters. So did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. So did cousins, mothers, partners and friends of the Brothers and Sisters. They ate, drank and were merry. It was gospel rock ’n’ style. The sessions were like a four day party where the Brothers and Sisters transformed ten Bob Dylan tracks. During the sessions, onlookers must have thought that Dylan’s Gospel was bound to be a commercial success.

Sadly, when Dylan’s Gospel was released on Ode Records, in 1969, it wasn’t a commercial success. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the music. It oozes quality. Maybe the problem was that Lou Adler signed the Brothers and Sisters to the wrong label. Ode Records was too small and didn’t have the funds and personnel to promote Dylan’s Gospel. A major label like Columbia Records or A&M would. If either of these labels had released Dylan’s Gospel, it would’ve been a huge commercial success and the album would’ve been hailed an innovative, modern classic. That wasn’t the case. Instead, Dylan’s Gospel hasn’t been released since 1969. Thankfully, Light Of The Attic Records released Dylan’s Gospel on 14th April 2014. Belatedly, Brothers and Sisters’ lost classic Dylan’s Gospel has been rereleased and hopefully, a new generation will hear some of the finest Bob Dylan covers ever recorded.

BROTHERS AND SISTERS-DYLAN’S GOSPEL.

 

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JOE TURNER-THE REAL BOSS OF THE BLUES.

JOE TURNER-THE REAL BOSS OF THE BLUES.

After enjoying a renaissance in its popularity during the early sixties, blues music was in doldrums. Soul had replaced the blues in popularity. However, many of the new breed of rock bands had been inspired by the blues. This included Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Yardbirds, The Animals and Led Zeppelin had all been inspired by blues. Despite these artists continued patronage, interest in blues music was at its lowest in a longtime. So, the late-sixties would seem a strange time to form a new blues label? However, that’s what Bob Thiele did.

For eight years, Bob ran Impulse, ABC’s jazz label. Then when the jazz revival began, Bob convinced his bosses at ABC to let him found a blues label. This was Bluesway, However, Bob left ABC’s employ after a coup d’état at Impulse. The next step for Bob was forming his own labels.

When Bob left ABC’s employ, he decided to form a new label. Through working with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz, Bob must have realised that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, and they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. So, Bob Thiele, created an environment where this would be possible. This was Flying Dutchman Productions and its blues subsidiary Bluestime.

Before long, Bluestime became home to many of the artists formerly signed to Bluesway. This included one of Bob Thiele’s favourite blues players, Joe Turner. The man the called The Boss Of The Blues was approaching veteran status. Now fifty-nine, he’d been signed to ABC’s blues subsidiary Bluesway. Joe Turner would become Bob’s latest signing to Bluestime, where he recorded The Real Boss Of The Blues, which Ace Records recently released. For The Real Boss Of The Blues, Joe Turner’s music was given a makeover.

Bob Thiele realised that with many artists and bands name checking blues artists who’d influence them, some of the people buying their records would decided to find out what blues music was about. There was a problem though. Blues music hadn’t really moved with the times. The music was still the same as it had been twenty-years before, when the blues went electric. Back them, this was a step too far or many blues purists. What would record buyers and fans of Joe Turner think of Bob Thiele’s decision to turn his new label Bluestime into a contemporary blues’ label? 

Joe Turner had spent a lifetime playing the blues. He was born Joseph Vernon Turner Jr, in Kansas City, Missouri. When Joe was four, his father died in a train accident. From an early age, music was a constant in Joe’s life. He sang at church and later, sang on street corners. Then in 1925, fourteen year old Joe Turner quit school and inadvertently, his career began.

His first job on leaving school was a chef. He then moved on to working as a barman. During his time working in the bar, Joe gained the reputation as The Singing Barman. Soon, he and pianist Pete Johnson were making a living working in Kansas City clubs. One of the clubs was run by Piney Brown, who inspired one of Joe’s best known songs, Piney Brown Blues. During this period, Joe and boogie woogie pianist Pete Johnson were making a name for themselves.

So much so, that they headed to New York and appeared on the same bill as Benny Goodman. After that, Joe and Pete returned to Kansas City. New York weren’t quite ready for Joe and Pete. They were ahead of their time. It took until 1938, when talent scout John H. Hammond realised their potential. He asked them back to New York to play at his From Spirituals to Swing concerts. The bill featured everything from gospel, blues and swing. These concerts featured integrated audiences and helped bring jazz and blues to a wider audience. For Joe and Pete, success was just round the corner. This started with the hit single Roll ‘Em Pete.

After that, Joe became resident at the New York nightclub Cafe Society in 1939. Then in 1941, Joe took part in Duke Ellington’s revue Jump For Joy. This meant a Hollywood debut for Joe. Three years later, Joe was back in L.A. providing the vocals for MeadeLuxLew’s silent movies. Then two years later, Joe and Pete founded their bar The Blue Moon Club in Los Angeles. That year, he signed to National Records.

At National Records, Joe worked with Herb Abramson. Soon, Joe was enjoying hits with S.K. Blues, My Gal’s A Jockey and Around The Clock. He then duetted with blues shouter Wynonie Harris on Battle of the Blues. While the singles sold well locally, this didn’t translate to national success. However, in 1947, Joe signed to a new label that Herb Abramson co-founded with Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun…Atlantic Records.

During his time at Atlantic, Joe Turner released both blues and rock ’n’ roll. However, it was rock ’n’ roll that Joe made his name releasing. Between 1950 and e enjoyed fourteen top ten US R&B singles 1956. This included two US R&B number ones, 1953s Honey Hush and Joe’s biggest hit Shake, Rattle and Roll. This fusion of twelve-bar blues and rock ’n’ roll helped transform Joe into a huge star. It was also during this time Joe released his debut album.

Whilst at Atlantic Records that Joe Turner released his debut solo album, 1956s The Boss of the Blues. The Boss Of The Blues Sings Kansas City Jazz followed later in 1956. Soon, Joe was releasing at least one album a year. Rock and Roll followed in 1957. Then in 1958 Joe released Rockin’ The Blues. 1959 was the end of what was a golden period in Joe’s career.

After leaving Atlantic, Joe turned his back on rock ’n’ roll. No longer was popular music for him. Maybe it was a case of returning to what he loved. Unfortunately, this coincided with a downturn in Joe’s career. 

For much of the sixties, Joe combined playing live with recording a series of albums. This included Joe Turner With Pete Johnson’s Orchestra’s Jumpin’ The Blues, which was released in 1962 on Arthoolie. During this period, Joe’s albums didn’t sell well. Then in 1967, Joe recorded Singing The Blues for ABC’s jazz label Bluesway. Sadly, there was no followup. By then, Bob Thiele who ran Bluesway had been ousted. He founded Bluestime, which signed Joe Turner in 1969.

The newly founded Bluestime was trying to give blues music a more contemporary sound. For too long, many people felt, the blues had stood still. It was almost resistant to change. Not any more. Bob Thiele introduced fatback drumming, bubbling bass and rocky riffing guitars. This would all feature on the eight tracks that became The Real Boss Of The Blues.

For The Real Boss Of The Blues, a combination of old favourites and new tracks were chosen. Joe covered Charles Calhoun’s Shake, Rattle and Roll, Lou Turner’s Honey Hush, Carless Love and Leroy Carr’s How Long, How Long Blues. There was also a cover of Teddy McRae and Charles Singleton’s Lonesone Train and Joe’s Corrine, Corrina. Ted Murrell’s Two Loves Have I and Len Chandler’s Plastic Man completed The Real Boss Of The Blues. These eight tracks were arranged by Gene Page, produced by Bob Thiele and featured some top blues players.

When the band entered the studio to record The Real Boss Of The Blues, Bob Thiele had put together a crack band. The rhythm section included drummer Paul Humphrey, bassist Max Bennett and guitarist Louie Shelton. Tom Scott added tenor saxophone. Joe sang lead vocals, while Bob Thiele produced The Real Boss Of The Blues, which was released in 1969.

Despite Joe Turner’s music being given a makeover, The Real Boss Of The Blues wasn’t a commercial success. It passed both critics and music lovers by. Since then, The Real Boss Of The Blues has become a real rarity among blues fans. At last, this blues rarity has been release by Joe Turner and features the blues veteran doing what he spent a lifetime doing, singing the blues. That’s what The Real Boss Of The Blues does well.

Horns blaze, guitars chime and a wandering bass combines with a piano. They set the scene for Joe’s vocal on Shake, Rattle And Roll, which opens The Real Boss Of The Blues. Straight away, the years roll back for Joe. Fifteen years to be precise, when this gave him a number one single. Joe ensures the songs swings. Stabs of horns, pounding piano and riffing guitars accompany Joe. At the heart of the arrangement’s success are the horns and Joe’s despairing vocal as he gives a classic track a modern makeover.

Straight away, there’s a melancholy sound to Lonesome Train. Accompanied by rasping horns, rumbling bass and searing, blistering guitars, blues and rock combines. Heartache and hurt fills Joe’s vocal. It’s slow and oozes emotion. Enveloping Joe’s vocal is an arrangement that’s a fusion of power, drama and sadness. This results in one of the album’s highlights from The Real Boss Of The Blues.

Corrine, Corrina bursts into life, and is driven along by a harmonica, piano and rhythm section, complete with bubbling bass. Joe grabs the song, breezes life and emotion into it. It becomes a joyous celebration where Joe and his all-star band create a blistering slice of electric blues that truly, deserves a wider audience.

Slow, moody and bluesy describes Joe’s take on How Long, How Long Blues. Just a plodding bass, crystalline guitar and stabs of piano enter, before Joe’s lived-in vocal enters. It sounds as if he’s lived and survived the lyrics. At just the right moment. Bob Thiele drops the horns in. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Joe’s needy, pleading vocal.

From the get-go, the tempo rises on Careless Love. The rhythm section take charge, driving the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Joe’s vocal is frustrated and angry. With his band lock into a tight groove, horns are unleashed. They blaze above the arrangement, and really lift the track. It’s a transformation, as the song swings. That’s still the case when a flute enters. Accompanied by the horns, Joe heads for the finishing line doing what he does best, singing the blues.

Two Loves Have I has a much more contemporary sound. That’s down to the horns. They seems to have been influenced by soul music, that was popular during 1969. Joe’s vocal reminds me of Van Morrison. Just like Van, Joe grabs the song and lives it. Meanwhile, horns bray and the rhythm section provide the heartbeat to the arrangement. With its much more contemporary sound, it’s another of the highlights of The Real Boss Of The Blues. Bob Theile, it seems, achieved what he set out to do, give the blues a musical makeover.

Honey Hush is a cover of Joe’s first number one US R&B single. That was in 1953. Here, the song takes on new life. A blues harmonica and meandering helps propel the arrangement along. The rest of the band provide the heartbeat. It’s the harmonica, Joe’s vocal and later, a blistering saxophone solo that are at the heart of the reinvention of one of Joe’s best known songs. His high kicking vocal sees Joe Turner roll back the years.

Plastic Man, an eleven minute contemporary blues track closes The Real Boss Of The Blues. A blistering bluesy harmonica and riffing guitars envelop Joe’s heartbroken vocal. The drums and pulsating bass provides the heartbeat to a track that’s slow, moody and bluesy. Riffing guitars soar above the arrangement, while bursts of boogie woogie piano add to this blues epic. It’s as if Joe and his band are enjoying the opportunity to stretch their legs musically on this glorious blues jam. Later, growling horns are unleashed, soaring above the arrangement. Just like the jazz bands Joe played in earlier in his career, everyone gets the chance to shine. There’s no passengers in this band, just top class musicians, who Joe inspires to even greater heights. This modern blues Magnus Opus proves the perfect way to close The Real Boss Of The Blues.

Bob Thiele’s decision to give blues music a makeover was as you’d expect, from a musical pioneer, an astute one. He realised that the blues had to change. It had stood still since the blues went electric. It it didn’t change, blues music risked becoming irrelevant. Should that happen, blues music could’ve ended up as just part of musical history, rather than a musical genre that evolved and continued to be relevant. The problem was, America didn’t seem to cherish the blues. Ironically, it took a group of British musicians to remind America of the importance of the blues.

Groups like John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, Cream, The Yardbirds, The Animals, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones realised the importance of the blues. It was their inspiration. That’s why when artists like Joe Turner toured Britain, they received a hero’s welcome. They were held in a higher esteem in Britain than America. These musicians, realised, that without the blues, there would be no rock ’n’ roll. Essentially, they owed their careers to artists like Joe Turner. So British artiest were keen to promote blues legends. Sadly, many of them were eking out a living. Even with the patronage of some of the most successful groups of the sixties, Joe Turner wasn’t enjoying the popularity he once enjoyed. There was no option, the blues had to change.

Artists like Muddy Waters and B.B. King realised this. When Muddy recorded Electric Mud for Chess, he changed direction. Electric Mud was a fusion blues, rock and psychedelia. It’s one of the most groundbreaking blues albums ever. B.B. King was the most successful blues player. He’d opened for some of the biggest rock bands. This meant his music was heard by a wider audience. Joe Turner wasn’t as successful. That’s why he had to change direction.

On The Real Boss Of The Blues, Joe Turner rolls back the years. It’s a vintage performance from the blues veteran. Accompanied by an all-star band, his music is given a modern makeover. Blues, jazz and rock combines. Drawing inspiration from rock music, fatback drums, riffing guitars and a bubbling bass feature on each of the eight tracks. Then there’s the horns. They variously blaze, soar and sound sultry. Add to this some stabs of piano and even some boogie woogie and the result is Joe Turner back to his best. Producer Bob Thiele and arranger Gene Page transformed Joe. The years rolled back and suddenly, Joe was producing some of the best music he recorded since leaving Atlantic. Sadly, not many people heard the music on The Real Boss Of The Blues.

Sadly, not many people heard the second coming of Joe Turner. The Real Boss Of The Blues was back, and back to his best. However, very few people heard The Real Boss Of The Blues, which was recently rereleased by Ace Records. It wasn’t a  commercial success. However, since then, a number of blues aficionados have championed The Real Boss Of The Blues, which finds Joe Turner, The Real Boss Of The Blues back to his very best.

JOE TURNER-THE REAL BOSS OF THE BLUES.

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MAJOR HARRIS-MY WAY.

MAJOR HARRIS-MY WAY.

For a member of a successful group, it’s always a risk to leave and embark upon a solo career. Often, the success they’ve enjoyed becomes a distant memory. Conversely, the success they’ve enjoyed is often surpassed upon embarking on a solo career. Everyone will have examples when an artists decision to embark upon a solo career either worked or didn’t. By 1974, Major Harris decided to leave The Delfonics and launch a solo career. Things hadn’t quite gone to plan with The Delfonics. Major Harris had joined a group at the peak of their career, having just released their most successful album. The next three years didn’t quite turn out as he’d hoped, so Major Harris left The Delfonics and signed a contract with Atlantic Records as a solo artist. His debut solo album was My Way, released in 1975, which would feature some of Philadelphia’s finest musicians. Would My Way which will be rereleased by Rhino on 14th April 2014 mark a change in fortune for Major Harris?

Major Harris had replaced Randy Cain in The Delfonics in 1971. He was joining a successful group, who’d just released their most successful album in 1970, The Delfonics. It had reached number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Soon, changes were afoot in The Delfonics’ camp. Randy Cain left and there would be changes in the producer’s chair. 

Thom Bell had been The Delfonics mentor, producing their first three albums and writing many of their songs. Sadly, The Delfonics was Thom’s final album as sole producer. For Major Harris’ Delfonics debut, 1972s Tell Me This Is A Dream, Stan Watson who owned Philly Groove Records, The Delfonics label, would co-produce the album with Thom Bell.On its release it reached just number 123 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. If that was disappointing, worse was to come. 

Alive and Kicking was released in 1974, and not only proved to be The Delfonics final album, but their least successful album, reaching number 205 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts. So with The Delfonics’ career on the slide, it’s no wonder Major Harris had decided that the time was right to launch his solo career, with a little help from his Philly friends.

For Major Harris’ debut album, Bobby “Electronic” Eli would produce eight of the nine tracks on My Way, with Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey producing After Loving You.  Bobby “Electronic” Eli would also cowrite five of the tracks, three with his songwriting partner Vinnie Barrett and two with Terry Collins. Two other tracks, Each Morning I Wake Up and After Loving You were written by Melvin Steals, under the pseudonym Mystro and Lyric. The other track was a cover of My Way, which closes My Way. These nine tracks were recorded at Philly’s famous Sigma Sound Studios, with a cast of legends accompanying Major Harris.

Accompanying Major Harris were some of Philly’s best musicians, including many of M.F.S.B. who’d go on to become The Salsoul Orchestra. My Way features some of the greatest musicians of the seventies. All the greats played on My Way. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and were joined by bassists Bob Babbitt and Rusty Jackmon, drummer Charles Collins and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey played keyboards, Vince Montana Jr, vibes, Larry Washington congas Don Renaldo and His Strings and Horns completed this cast of musical titans. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton. Once the nine tracks that comprise My Way were recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, the album was set for release in 1975.

Before My Way was released in 1975, Each Morning I Wake Up was released as a single. Although it reached just number ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100, it proved popular in clubs, reaching number three in the US Disco Singles Charts and number fourteen in the US Club Play Charts. When My Way was released in 1975 it was to critical acclaim and huge commercial success. My Way reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. Then after years and years of trying, Major Harris had the smash hit single he so wanted. Each Morning I Wake Up reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Not only did this vindicate his decision to leave The Delfonics, but surpassed the success of any of their singles. With the help of his Philly friends, Major Harris had a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album and number one single. However, what made My Way both critically acclaimed and commercially successful?

Opening Major Harris’ debut solo album is the Melvin Steals penned Each Morning I Wake Up. It’s arranged by Norman Harris and produced by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and from the opening bars, there’s only one city this song could’ve been produced in..Philly. The song literally bursts into life with bursts of blazing horns and sweeping, swirling strings combining with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They power the arrangement along before Major Harris unleashes a powerful vocal full of sadness, regret and drama. Adding to the drama are the Sweethearts of Sigma add tight, soaring soulful harmonies. Meanwhile, the dual guitars of Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Norman Harris provide musical contrasts. Bobby relies more on effects, while Norman’s style is jazzier, but both play important roles. Earl’s thunderous drums provide the track’s emotive heartbeat, while Don Renaldo’s strings and horns add to the overall drama, emotion and beauty of the track and are matched all the way by Major Harris’ Magnus Opus of a vocal. It’s an outstanding track and what a way to open My Way. No wonder this track gave him his first US R&B number one.

Love Won’t Let Me Wait is the first of the Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett penned tracks. The tempo drops way down, with the rhythm section, chiming guitars and rasping horns augmented by the lushest of strings. Major Harris is transformed into balladeer, delivering a needy, sensuous vocal, accompanied by cooing harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. Norman Harris’ jazz-tinged guitar, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and haunting horns play their part in this spacious, beautiful arrangement. They each play a part in the seductive sounding backdrop as Major Harris produces one of the best vocals of his long career. So undeniably sultry and sensual is this bedroom ballad, it should carry a government health warning, that after listening to it, two can become three. 

Sweet Tomorrow opens with the unmistakable sound of Norman Harris’ chiming, jazz-tinged guitar before lush strings sweep and swirl, horns growl and Earl Young’s drums signal the arrival of Major Harris’ vocal. His vocal is heartfelt, a mixture of power and passion, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add punchy, but soulful harmonies. Meanwhile Don Renaldo’s strings dance with delight as the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Later, horns growl and rasp and harmonies cascade adding to the drama and beauty of this hook-laden track written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett.

Major Harris’ half-spoken vocal is accompanied by just tender harmonies, plucked strings and keyboards. With emotive strings accompanying his gravelly vocal, Major Harris lays bare his soul as Sideshow unfolds. This is a cover of Blue Magic’s track, which Bobby “Electronic” Eli cowrote with Vinnie Barrett, but given new life and meaning. The arrangement has an understated string-drenched sound, with the rhythm section adding a thoughtful heartbeat and the Sweethearts of Sigma contributing subtle harmonies. While it’s a very different version to Blue Magic’s original, it’s heartachingly beautiful and designed to tug at your heartstrings.

Closing Side One of My Way is Two Wrongs, the second Melvin Steals penned track. Here, Bobby “Electronic” Eli arranges the rhythm and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey the strings and horns. It’s another uptempo track where horns blaze and strings dance as the rhythm section power the arrangement along. Major Harris vocal is a powerful, throaty vamp accompanied by dramatic harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma. Soon, you realize just how joyous, catchy and uplifting the track is. A mass of growling horns, cascading strings and sweeping harmonies are combined as Major Harris makes the song his own, delivering it with confidence and a real swagger. Together with some of Philly’s finest musicians, he plays his part in what’s an inspirational, uplifting and joyous song.

Side Two of My Way Opens with Loving You Is Mellow which teases you for a couple of bars before the track decides to reveal its secrets. Just plucked strings give way to Earl Young’s pounding drums before Major Harris’ swinging vocal enters. Along with his band, a glorious track unfolds. This means lush strings sweeping and swirling, horns rasping and growling, cooing harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma and a dramatic bursts from the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. Similarly, Major Harris has reserved a stellar performance, where he joyfully gives thanks for the love he’s found. Taken together and the result is a hook-laden, irresistible track.

Just A Thing That I Do is one of the two tracks Bobby “Electronic” Eli cowrote with Terry Collins. They also cowrote Loving You Is Mellow. This is a very different track, slower and featuring an arrangement and vocal laden with emotion. Keyboards, chiming guitars and the rhythm section combine with Major Harris’ heartfelt, impassioned vocal. Swathes of strings and heartfelt harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma add to the emotion and the beauty of the track. Here, Major Harris digs deep, bringing out the subtleties and nuances of the lyrics, bringing meaning to them and highlighting their beauty and sadness. 

Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey takes charge of the producer’s chair on After Loving You, which he also arranged. It’s another irresistible slice of Philly Soul, with Major Harris unleashing a power vocal full or heartbreak and hurt. The arrangement is an emotive roller-coaster, with dancing strings, growling horn and the Sweethearts of Sigma tight, soulful harmonies. Meanwhile, the Baker, Harris, Young provide the track heartbeat as the arrangement unfolds to reveal a hugely catchy sound. This is perfect for Major Harris’ soul-baring vocal. It seems whatever the emotion, Major Harris can deliver a vocal that’s believable and capable of stirring your emotion. This is  one of his best vocals, and one of the best arrangements and productions.

Closing My Way is the title-track, where Major Harris delivers a vocal that’s almost a homage to The Chairman of The Board. He turns the track into a six minute epic, that stays true to Frank Sinatra’s version. With a combination of dramatic drum rolls from Earl Young, blazing horns and lush strings courtesy of Don Renaldo, Major Harris delivers an impassioned vocal. Sweeping, tight and beautiful harmonies from the Sweethearts of Sigma are combined with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s piano and Norman Harris’ thoughtful, jazzy guitar. Throughout the track, the power, drama and emotion builds. All the time the strings, gospel-tinged harmonies, horns and Earl’s drums are crucial to the sound and success. By the end of the song, you’ll be won over by the this masterful reinterpretation of an old classic from Major Harris and his band of Philly legends.

Major Harris decision to leave The Delfonics and launch his solo career was vindicated with a top thirty album and number one US R&B single. After years of struggling in bands, like The Charmers, The Teenagers and The Jarmels, Major Harris thought his luck would change with The Delfonics .While his fortunes did improve slightly during his three years with The Delfonics, he was unfortunate to join them when they’d reached their peak and were on their way down. The hits had dried up and their albums weren’t as successful as their first three. So leaving The Delfonics was something of a no-brainer. By then Major Harris had become almost an honorary Philadelphian, even though he’d been born in Richmond, Virginia. His music was synonymous with the Philly Sound. It was no surprise that the arrangers, producers, musicians and backing singers that helped make My Way such a success were all from Philly.

Each of them played their part in making My Way the success it became. From producers Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and arranger Norman Harris, through to the all-star band that featured the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, Vince Montana Jr, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo and His Strings and Horns and the Sweethearts of Sigma. Together, they played their part in making Major Harris’ debut solo My Way a true Philly Sound classic. From the opening bars of Each Morning I Wake Up, until the closing notes of My Way, Major Harris produces a spellbinding performance on My Way. So good is each track, that just when you think you’ve heard the best track on My Way, another comes along and trumps it. Unlike most albums, there isn’t a weak track on My Way. Far from it. Each track is capable of provoking an emotion, from sadness to joy, and everything in between. One minute Major Harris tugs at your heartstrings, the next, comes up with a hook-laden and joyous track like Loving You Is Mellow. That’s why for anyone who loves the Philly Sound, then Major Harris’ My Way is an album the deserves to find its way into their collection. Standout Tracks: Each Morning I Wake Up, Love Won’t Let Me Wait, Sweet Tomorrow and Loving You Is Mellow.

MAJOR HARRIS-MY WAY.

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WILSON PICKETT IN PHILADELPHIA.

WILSON PICKETT IN PHILADELPHIA.

By 1970, when Wilson Pickett released Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia, his recording career was eight years old. He’d released his debut single If You Need Me in 1962, and since then, had enjoyed four number one US R&B singles. The first of these was his 1965 classic In The Midnight Hour, with 634-5789 (Soulsville USA) and Land of The 1000 Dances following in 1966. Wilson’s last number one single in the US R&B charts was 1967s Funky Broadway. Since then, Wilson had enjoyed further chart success. This success was sporadic. His music was much more popular in the US R&B Charts, that the US Billboard 100. The same was the case with Wilson Pickett’s albums Indeed, his last three albums demonstrated this.

1968s The Midnight Mover reached just number ninety-one in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts.1969s Hey Jude reached number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. Wilson’s first album of the seventies was Right On, released in 1970. It stalled at number 197 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts. With music changing, and changing fast, Wilson Pickett looked like ending up being left behind and becoming yesterday’s soul man. What was needed was someone to rejuvenate his career. The men chosen to do this, were Philly-based songwriter and producers Gamble and Huff. By 1970, they were establishing a reputation as the hottest songwriting and production teams. So, they were the perfect choice to produce Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia, which was the followup to the disappointing Right On. Would the Gamble and Huff produced Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia see Wilson’s career rejuvenated?

For Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia,which will be rereleased by Rhino, on 14th April2014, Gamble and Huff would contribute the tracks, Run Joey Run, Parts 1 and 2 of Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9 and Ain’t No Doubt About It. Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Carl Fisher cowrote Help The Needy, while Jerry Akines, Johnny Belmon, Reginald Turner and Victor Drayton penned Come Right Here and Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You. They also wrote Bumble Bee (Sting Me) with Bunny Sigler who cowrote Days Go By with Eugene Dozier. With Bernard Broomer and Lee Phillips, Bunny and Eugene wrote International Playboy. These ten tracks became Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia, which was recorded in Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios in Philly.

Accompanying Wilson Pickett for the recording session of Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia, were some of the members of what became M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. Vince Montana Jr. played vibes, Thom Bell organ, Eugene Dozier and Lenny Pakula played piano and Thom Bell organ. Providing the horns were Sam Reed and His Horn Section, while strings came courtesy of Don Renaldo and His String Section. Arrangers included Bobby Martin, Lenny Pakula and Roland Chambers, while Gamble and Huff produced Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia, which was released in 1970. Would Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia rejuvenate Wilson Pickett’s career?

On the release of Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia in 1970, it reached number sixty-four in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9 reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You then reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts in 1971. Then two years later in 1973, International Playboy reached number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Gamble and Huff hadn’t just rejuvenated Wilson Pickett’s career, but totally transformed it. In Philadelphia was his most successful album since 1967s The Sound of Wilson Pickett. However, why was Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia such a successful album? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the music on Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia.

Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia opens with Run Joey Run. It was written by Gamble and Huff and arranged by Bobby Martin. Searing, riffing guitars, growling horns and a driving Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section join percussion in setting the scene for Wilson’s urgent, growling vocal. Testifying backing vocals sweep in, while Wilson delivers a powerful, vampish vocal. Delivered a dramatic backdrop where percussion, punchy horns a pounding beat unite, Southern Soul and Philly Soul become one, grabbing the listener’s attention.

Bobby “Electronic” Eli cowrote Help The Needy with Carl Fisher. This was just the start of Bobby’s songwriting career, but demonstrates what was to come. A much more understated, emotive backdrop with Norman Harris’ jazzy guitar, Vince Montana Jr’s and lush strings combining is perfect for Wilson’s hurt-filled pleas. Providing the heartbeat are Baker, Harris, Young. Soon, Wilson’s unleashing one of his best vocals, laying bare his soul. Emotion, heartbreak and desperation fill his voice, as the arrangement grows in power and drama, proving that although music was changing and changing fast, Wilson Pickett’s music was still relevant. 

A flourish of piano opens Come Right Here before gradually, the arrangement reveals its hidden depths. The pensive piano proves to be a curveball. Soon, braying horns, percussion and Norman Harris’ guitar join Wilson in ensuring the song swings. His vocal is sassy and strident, with growling horns replying to his call. Fills of Hammond organ, percussion and guitar combine, while Earl Young’s drums add the track’s confident heartbeat. Catchy and delivered with a swagger, this track swings, and then some.

Norman Harris’ guitar opens Bumble Bee (Sting Me), before percussion and Baker, Harris, Young enter. When Wilson’s vocal enters, you realize the track is struggling. This isn’t his fault. The lyrics have a real bluesy influence and sound. Regardless of how much effort and passion he delivers the lyrics with, you can’t help but feel they’re lacking. Maybe it’s just they sound dated. Wilson throws himself into the song, mixing sass and showmanship. While you can’t fault his or M.F.S.B’s performance, they’re let down by the somewhat outdated lyrics.

Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You closes Side One of Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia. It’s the second track arranged by organist Lenny Pakula, and has a jaunty, uptempo arrangement. Baker, Harris, Young provide the track’s heartbea. Norman Harris’ guitar chimes, and is joined by percussion, while Ron Baker’s bass drives the arrangement along. When Wilson’s vocal enters, it’s a powerful and impassioned. Waves of Hammond organ, soaring harmonies and piano combine. Soon, Wilson and M.F.S.B. are kicking loose, resulting in a delicious slice of soul.

Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9 opens Side Two of Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia. Written by Gamble and Huff, there are two parts to the track. Ron Baker’s bass, percussion and chiming guitars provide a moody, broody and dramatic backdrop for Wilson’s vocal. As soul, funk and rocky guitars combine, Wilson delivers a heartbroken, emotive vamp. Against waves of a funky arrangement, Wilson struts confidently through the song. Hollers, yelps and rock-tinged guitars accompany him. Sometimes, it’s reminiscent of James Brown, as Wilson seeks to prove that there’s more to his music than soul.

Stabs of guitar and dramatic bursts of drums open Days Go By. Then it’s all change.  The arrangement becomes more understated, and Wilson delivers a vocal that’s filled with despair and loneliness. Strings sweep and horns growl, while piano and drums add to the drama. By now, the arrangement has grown in power and drama, matching the emotion and despair in Wilson’s vocal, which is one of his best on Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia.

International Playboy has a real sixties sound from the get-go. Stabs of piano, swathes of strings, growling horns and piano join Baker, Harris, Young in driving the arrangement along. Strings sweep and waves of Hammond organ play their part in providing the backdrop for Wilson’s vampish, sassy vocal. His vocal grows in power, confidence and passion joining his sass. Soon, this hooky, memorable track is swinging along, with Wilson and M.F.S.B. becoming one. They’re in the groove, and play their part, in this poppy slice of soul.

Ain’t No Doubt About It closes Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia. Just Ron Baker’s broody bass and growling horns set the stage for Wilson. When his heartfelt vocal takes centre-stage, it seems he’s determined to close the album on a high. Waves of horns and Hammond organ are at the heart of the arrangement. The horns dramatically kick, while Baker, Harris, Young and searing guitars provide the backdrop as Southern Soul and jazz combine seamlessly.

Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia saw Gamble and Huff rejuvenate Wilson Pickett’s career. While Wilson Pickett’s previous albums had proved successful in the US R&B Charts, Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia proved successful in both the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts. Indeed, Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia spawned two top five US R&B singles. It seemed that although music had changed and changed fast in the past few years, Gamble and Huff ensure that Wilson Pickett’s music was still relevant as a new decade dawned.

Gamble and Huff didn’t attempt to reinvent Wilson Pickett as an artist. What they did, was provide Wilson with quality material that suited his style. They then brought in some of the most talented musicians and arrangers in Philly. Their arrangements featured the trademark Philly horns and strings, but in a way that suited Wilson’s Southern Soul background. While Gamble and Huff gave other artists a Philly Soul makeover, this wasn’t the case with Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia. Instead, they realized that Wilson Pickett was an artist with a relatively successful track record. What he needed was the right material, where he was accompanied by a tight, talented band. M.F.S.B. were the perfect band for Wilson Pickett. They were versatile, and able to seamlessly switch between musical genres. On Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia, they fused elements of Southern Soul, Philly Soul, funk, R&B, jazz and rock.

Most of the tracks on Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia have stood the test of time, and marked a revival in Wilson Pickett’s career. One can only speculate what would’ve happened if Gamble and Huff hadn’t produced Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia? Would Wilson Pickett’s career have stalled? As it was, Wilson Pickett’s career stalled after Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia. His next three albums, Don’t Knock My Love, Mr. Magic Man and Miz Lena’s Boy failed to match the success of Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia. This was a recurring theme for much of the seventies for Wilson Pickett. Indeed, Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia proved to be Wilson Pickett’s last great album and marked the end of era for one of the legends of soul music. Standout Tracks: Help The Needy, Come Right Here, Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You and Days Go By. 

WILSON PICKETT IN PHILADELPHIA.

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LET THE MUSIC PLAY: BLACK AMERICA DOES BACHARACH AND DAVID.

LET THE MUSIC PLAY: BLACK AMERICA DOES BACHARACH AND DAVID.

It was in the Brill Building in 1957, that Burt Bacharach and Hal David first met. They were both aspiring songwriters. Burt was a twenty-nine year old music graduate from Kansas. Hal was the older of the two. He was a thirty-six year old New Yorker. Despite the differences in their age and background, Bacharach and David would go on to form one of the most successful songwriting partnerships ever. 

Their successful songwriting partnership started with Marty Robbins’ cover of The Story Of My Life. It reached number one in the US Country charts and number fifteen in the US Billboard 100 in late 1957. Then two months later, in February 1958, Perry Como covered Magic Moments. Reaching number four in the US Billboard 100. Over the Atlantic, Bacharach and David made history.

Perry Como’s Magic Moments and Michael Holidays’ cover of The Story Of My Life gave Bacharach and David consecutive number ones. This was the first of many records that Bacharach and David would go on to break. Their songs would be covered by some of the biggest names in music. Everyone from Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, The Beatles, The Delfonics and Isaac Hayes covered Bacharach and David. These artists brought fame, fortune and critical acclaim Bacharach and David’s way. This lasted right through to the early seventies, when the Bacharach and David partnership ended. Since then, numerous compilations have been released to celebrate the music of Bacharach and David. However, Ace Records recently released compilation Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David is a refreshing alternative to previous compilations.

Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David features some of the most successful American artists cover of Bacharach and David. There’s everything from soul superstars and disco divas. This includes Dionne Warwick, Irma Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Cissy Houston. The Drifters, James Carr, Gloria Gaynor, Mavis Staples and Gladys Knight and The Pips. As compilations go, Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David literally oozes quality. That’s why it’s going to be so difficult to pick the highlights.

It seems fitting that Dionne Warwick’s cover of Make It Easy On Yourself opens Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David. When Bacharach and David penned this track, Dionne was desperate to record it. Much to her displeasure, Jerry Butler released the original version. It gave Jerry a top ten hit. However,  Make It Easy On Yourself was the title-track on Dionne’s 1963 album. Her delivery is wistful, rueful and full of heartbreak and is a reminder of why Dionne was one of the finest exponents of Bacharach and David’s music.

Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen Of New Orleans is, without doubt, one of the most underrated soul singers. Proof of this is her emotive powerhouse on Long After Tonight Is All Over. This was one of two Bacharach and David songs Irma recorded in 1964. Sadly, neither song saw the light of day until 1964. Long After Tonight Is All Over is a hidden gem that features Irma in her prime.

Aretha Franklin’s version of Say A Little Prayer is the definitive version of this song about the Vietnam War. Although many artists have recorded this song, none of them come close to Aretha. Released as single in 1968, it reached number ten in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B charts. This resulted in the single being certified gold. It was taken from Aretha’s 1968 album Aretha Now. It reached number three in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts, resulting in another gold single for Aretha. During this period, Aretha was crowned The Queen Of Soul. 

The Drifters version of In The Land Of Make Believe featured on the B-Side to Vaya Con Dios. Released in 1964 on Capitol Records, it reached number forty-three in the US Billboard 100. It was arranged by Gary Sherman, and produced by Lieber and Stoller. Johnny Moore takes charge of the lead vocal. Meanwhile the rest of The Drifters and The Sweet Inspiration add some deliciously soulful and heartfelt harmonies. Why this wasn’t chosen as the the single, seems a missed opportunity? Especially with The Drifters’ career on the slide. 

Roy Hamilton’s heartfelt, hopeful and impassioned pleading vocal on Let The Music Play. It was recorded in 1966, when Roy was signed to RCA. Sadly, RCA never released the track as a single. It only came to light in 1997, when Kent released the compilation Rare, Collectable and Soulful. At last, this soulful delight was heard by a wider audience, who appreciated its beauty.

Lou Johnson’s cover of The Last One To Be Loved is produced by Bacharach and David. It epitomises what their music is about. Lush strings cascade, harmonies coo and bursts of drama interject. They’re the perfect foil for Roy’s impassioned, sometimes, dramatic vocal. Incredibly, The Last One To Be Loved was only the B-Side to Message To Martha. Sadly, the single wasn’t a commercial success. Despite this, Lou’s version of The Last One To Be Loved is definitive take on this track. It manages to surpass Dionne Warwick’s cover.

In 1970, Willie Tee had just signed to Capitol Records and was in the process of recording his debut album. One of the songs he covered was Reach Out For Me. He was laying is reputation on the life. After all, Dionne Warwick cut the ultimate version. However, Willie, with the help of producer David Axelrod, breathes new life and meaning into this track. Soulful and needy, it’s a tantalising taste of what Willie Tee was capable of.

Many artists have recorded The Look Of Love. So much so, that it’s now regarded as a standard. The song is synonymous with Dusty Springfield. It features on her Dusty In Memphis album. That was her finest hour. Nina Simone also covered The Look Of Love on her 1967 album Silk and Soul. It was released on RCA Victor after Dusty’s version. Arranged by Sammy Lowe and Danny Davis, the tempo rises, and the jazz tinged arrangement is understated. This allows Nina’s sultry vocal to shine. She delivers a vocal masterclass. One wonders if Nina’s version had been released first would Dusty’s version have been so successful?

James Carr is one of  over one-hundred artists to record What The World Needs Now Is Love. Sadly, his version was never released until 2004. Recorded in 1968, just after the assassination of Martin Luther King, James transforms the track. It’s an emotive epic. Spine-tingling describes his version. From the opening bars of Quinton Church and Rudolph Russell’s production you’re truly spellbound. His vocal fuses gospel and Southern Soul. As for the arrangement, it’s a fusion of  gospel, jazz, R&B and Southern Soul. The addition of rasping horns proves just the finishing touch to what’s one of the most powerful covers of this classic. 

Gladys Knight and The Pips’ wistful, rueful version of One Less Bell To Answer is a track from her Motown album If I Were Your Woman. Released in 1971, this marked the end of an era. She left Motown in 1972, signing to Buddah Records. At Buddah, she didn’t have to play second fiddle to Diana Ross. As a result, Gladys’ career was transformed. She enjoyed a series of commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums. Before that, If I Were Your Woman reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 200 and four in the US R&B charts. One of the album’s highlights was If I Were Your Woman, where Gladys’ rueful delivery makes the lyrics come to life.

What better way to close Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David than with Mavis Staples’ haunting cover of A House Is Not A Home. Produced by Steve Cropper, it’s a track from Mavis’ eponymous debut album. It was released on Volt in 1969. Mavis unleashes a vocal that’s equal parts hurt, heartbreak and regret. This proves a beautiful and captivating way to close this homage to Bacharach and David.

When it comes to songwriting partnerships, they don’t come much better than Bacharach and David. They’re right up there with the best. Between 1957 and the early seventies, commercial success and critical acclaim came their way. Artists were almost beating a path to their doors, so desperate were they to be the first to record Bacharach and David’s latest songs. A Bacharach and David song could launch a career. That was often the case. Bacharach and David were game-changers. Artists who previously, had struggled, had their careers transformed by Bacharach and David. Among them were Dionne Warwick. Her career was transformed with Bacharach and David’s patronage. This was the case with a whole host of artists. For other artists, looking to give their career a boost, a Bacharach and David often did the trick. That’s one reason why so many artists covered Bacharach and David.

Among them are some of the biggest names in music. Many of them feature on Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David. It features soul superstars and even Gloria Gaynor, disco diva. Mostly though, Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David is just quality soul music. Love and love lost sit side-by-side with tearjerkers and celebratory songs. Then there’s songs with lyrics full of social comment, including Aretha’s classic I Say A Little Prayer. Probably the most powerful track is James Carr’s poignant transformation of What The World Needs Now Is Love. It’s truly heart-wrenching and spellbinding. James slightly changes the lyrics, to take account of the assassination of Martin Luther King. That one song is worth the price of Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David. However, there’s much more to Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David than one track.

Indeed. A total of twenty-six tracks feature on Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David. Classics, familiar faces and hidden gems sit side-by-side. Each of these tracks ooze quality and emotion. That’s why Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David is one of Ace Records’ best compilations of 2014. Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David is also a refreshing alternative to the usual Bacharach and David compilations that are released. Let The Music Play: Black America Does Bacharach and David is the perfect homage to of the greatest songwriters in musical history, whose music has touched the hearts of everyone.

LET THE MUSIC PLAY: BLACK AMERICA DOES BACHARACH AND DAVID.

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ENNIO MORRICONE-MORRICONE HIGH-THE TRIPPIER SIDE OF MORRICONE.

ENNIO MORRICONE-MORRICONE HIGH-THE TRIPPIER SIDE OF MORRICONE.

Although Ennio Morricone’s name is synonymous with film soundtracks, there’s much more to his career than that. This includes over 100 classical pieces that Ennio wrote between 1946 and the late-fifties. After that, Ennio worked at RCA as an arranger. He arranged over 500 songs, and worked with everyone from Chet Baker to Paul Anka. Then as the sixties dawned, Ennio Morricone changed direction. He started penning the first of over 500 film soundtracks. This it seemed, was what Ennio was born to do.

That’s why the eight-five year old composer is remembered as without doubt, the most prolific, highest profile and best respected film composers of the twentieth century. Ennio Morricone has written over 500 soundtracks. These soundtracks cover every possible genre of film. This includes Spaghetti Westerns.

The quartet of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns Spaghetti Westerns are what many people associate Ennio Morricone with. This began in 1964 with 1964s A Fistful of Dollars, then 1965s For A Few Dollars More, 1966s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and 1968s Once Upon A Time In the West. They made Ennio Morricone a household name. However, there’s much, much more to Ennio Morricone’s career than just four Spaghetti Westerns. Much more. The story begins in 1959.

It was 1959s The Death of A Friend that was Ennio Morricone soundtrack debut.  His career would span a further six decades. Never one to shirk a challenge, The Maestro wrote scores to everything from big-budget blockbusters right through to art-house films. His soundtracks have sold over fifty-million copies and he’s won awards worldwide. The music on these soundtracks is best described as eclectic. This includes psychedelia. Ennio Morricone’s psychedelic side is celebrated on Morricone High. However, with Morricone High it’s a case of caveat emptor.

When I first received the copy of Morricone High, I vaguely remembered the cover. It was the cover that caught my attention. It’s hardly a masterpiece in modern design. You don’t forget a cover like that. Far from it. It’s more like a pastiche of psychedelia. So I started digging, and discovered that Morricone High was first released back in 2005, by the same label, El Records. There’s nothing new on this version. Hence my warning of caveat emptor. 

There’s nothing whatsoever different this version of Morricone High. Sadly, that means there’s still no sleeve-notes worth mentioning. The highlight of the sleeve-notes is a brief introduction by The Maestro. Apart from that, there’s some supposedly sixties psychedelic photos. Their raison d’etre seems to be to pad out the flimsy eight-page booklet. Sadly, they don’t add to the product. Looking through the booklet, it hardly comes across as a quality product. Quite the opposite. Hopefully, the music on Morricone High will more than make up for lack of sleeve-notes and pseudo psychedelic album cover.

Morricone High comprises a sixteen tracks and lasts just forty-nine minutes. The tracks featured on the soundtracks of six films. These films were released between 1968 and 1971. Each of these films were produced by European directors. Some of the films are hardly blockbusters. Indeed, many of them have been long forgotten. Often, for good reason. For many people, the highlight of the film was Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks which I’ll tell you about.

The first five tracks on Morricone High are taken from Scusi Faciamo L’amore? Excuse Me, Let’s Make Love is an Italian film, released in September 1968. It tells the story of a young man heading to Milan to his father’s funeral. Once in Milan, he decides to make a living as a gigolo. Hence the titles Excuse Me, Let’s Make Love, Between The Sheets, Take Me Now, To The Altar and Back and A Lidia. As for the five tracks, they’ve a cinematic quality. They’re a fusion of sixties pop, psychedelia, easy listening, jazz, lounge and even briefly, avant garde. The music veers between sultry, needy, melancholy, melodic, haunting, dramatic and ethereal. These tracks demonstrate what The Maestro in his prime was capable of.

Le Foto Proibite Di Una Signora Per Bene was released in 1970. It’s hardly the finest film Ennio Morricone has been asked to provide the score to. Directed by Luciano Ercoll, Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion is a tale of friendship, love, sex, and possibly, murder. Four tracks from the soundtrack feature on Morricone High. The first is Allegretto Per Signora, where sixties psychedelia and funk collide head on. Amore Come Dolore is much more subdued and mellow, growing in power and drama. Orchestral strings are deployed effectively. Le Foto Proibite Di Una Signora Per Bene features a tender, needy vocal delivered a melancholy backdrop. The shuffling, organ driven Secondo Intermezzino Pop is a much more upbeat slice of memorable pop, that like the other tracks, shows The Maestro’s talent and versatility.

Veruschka: Poetry of a Woman was a documentary about the Vera Gräfin von Lehndorff-Steinort. During her career, she’s been an actress, artist and model. Indeed, she’s seen as the original supermodel. That’s why in 1971, a documentary was made about her life. Ennio wrote the score. It featured the ethereal beauty of La Banola. Astratto 1 is very different. It’s a cinematic fusion of avant garde, experimental and free jazz. However, sometimes, it heads towards discordant. Then there’s the bass driven Le Fotographie. It seems to pick up where Astratto 1 left off. Having sailed close to the wind, Ennio creates a track that’s ambitious, bold and innovative.

Paolo Spinola directed La Donna Invisible, which was released in Italy in December 1969. Sadly, it proved not to be his finest hour. Critics weren’t won over by The Invisible Woman. The soundtrack was another matter. Scored by Ennio Morricone, two tracks from The Invisible Woman feature on Morricone High. Ritratto D’Autore veers between dramatic to beautiful, courtesy of the swathes of lush strings. La Moda has a late-sixties poppy sound. That’s before horns and strings sweep in. There’s also a strong psychedelic influence. This shows that The Maestro constantly strove to reinvent himself and his music.

Broody, moody, dramatic and haunting describes the minimalist Notte Bambole. Its cinematic sound has you on the edge of your seat. This is a track the soundtrack to La Corta Notte Delle Bambole De Vetro. The Short Night Of The Glass Dolls tells the story of an American journalist searching for his girlfriend, who suddenly, has disappeared. Released in October 1971 and directed by Aldo Lado, eerie, atmospheric and haunting describes this track.

1970 closes Morricone High. It’s a track from the soundtrack to Il Gatto A Nove Code. The Cat o’ Nine Tails was directed by Dario Argento, and released in May 1971. It’s a truly captivating track. It veers between haunting, ethereal and dramatic. Jazz, psychedelia, avant garde and experimental combine to create a captivating cinematic track.

Thankfully, the music on Morricone High makes up for the shortcomings of the sleeve-notes and album cover. The sixteen tracks features The Maestro in his prime. His music paints pictures. You can imagine the scenes unfolding before your very eyes. To do that, he combines musical genres. Everything from avant garde, easy listening, experimental, free jazz, jazz, lounge, pop, psychedelia and rock. All these influences shine through on Morricone High. This results in music that’s variously atmospheric, broody, moody, dramatic, sultry,  ethereal, haunting, melancholy, melodic and psychedelic. That’s why when European film directors were looking for someone to write the soundtrack to their film, the man they called was The Maestro. 

The six soundtracks that the sixteen tracks were taken from, are just six of 500 films Ennio Morricone has written the score to. These films range from art-house films to blockbusters. Another thing that differs is their quality. None of the films that the sixteen tracks were taken from, won any Oscars. Far from it. They’re low budget movies, which in some cases, have been long forgotten. That’s apart from the soundtrack. Their quality surpassed the quality of the movie. Now over forty years later, these soundtrack are highly sought after. That’s why fans of Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks welcome compilations of his music. 

That’s the case here. There’s a but though. The sound quality of some of the tracks isn’t what I’d expect. Especially on the first five tracks. They were a bit crackly. That was somewhat disappointing. Maybe this was a problem with the master tapes, or that the tracks from recorded from a vinyl copy of the soundtracks? Then there’s the lack of sleeve-notes and the disappointing album cover. My final gripe is that Morricone High isn’t a new compilation. It was released back in 2005 and was dusted down again recently. There aren’t even any bonus tracks. Many people perceived this as nothing but a cynical marketing plot. However, is Morricone High an album to add to your record collection? 

The answer to that is yes and no. Given the quality of music, I’d say yes. Morricone High features The Maestro in his prime. However, it’s not exactly the most psychedelic music I’ve ever heard. Trippy only describes some of the tracks. The rest are an eclectic selection. They all have a cinematic quality. What lets Morricone High down is the lack of sleeve-notes, disappointing album cover and sometimes, disappointing sound quality. Sadly, the sleeve-notes, album cover and sound quality don’t do justice to The Maestro’s music on Morricone High. At least the music  reinforces why Ennio  Morricone is called The Masestro.

ENNIO MORRICONE-MORRICONE HIGH-THE TRIPPIER SIDE OF MORRICONE.

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RODRIGO AMARANTE-CAVALO.

RODRIGO AMARANTE-CAVALO.

There aren’t many solo artists who can claim to have been part of one of the most successful bands of all time. Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante can. His debut solo album Cavalo will be released on 5th May 2014, on Mais Um Discos. He was a member of Los Hermanos. Their four albums sold millions of copies. However, Los Hermanos were put on hold in 2007. That’s when Rodrigo formed Little Joy.

Rodrigo, Binki Shapiro and The Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti had first met in 2006. That’s when they first toyed with the idea of forming a new band, one that had nothing to do with their respective bands. With Los Hermanos having been put on hold, this was the perfect time. Little Joy were born in 2007. This Brazilian American supergroup were soon signed to Rough Trade. Then in 2008, Little Joy released their eponymous debut album 2008. It was released to critical acclaim. Sadly, Little Joy proved to be their only album. Now six years later, Rodrigo Amarante is about to embark upon his solo career. This is just the latest chapter in the career of Rodrigo Amarante.

The Rodrigo Amarante story begins back September 6th 1976. That’s when Rodrigo Amarante de Castro Neves was born in Rio De Janeiro. Music seems to have been in Rodrigo’s blood. By the time he headed to University in Rio, he was already a multi-instrumentalist. That’s where he met Marcelo Camelo and Rodrigo Barba, who were founding members of Los Hermanos.

Marcelo and Rodrigo asked Rodrigo along to rehearse with Los Hermanos. Having played at several rehearsals, Rodrigo was asked to become a permanent member of Los Hermanos. He’d go on to play on their four albums.

For their first album, Los Hermanos, Rodrigo wrote the single Quem Sabe and Onze Dias. He also played traverse flute. Released in 1999, Los Hermanos was the start of the band’s rise to becoming one of Brazil’s most successful and critically acclaimed bands.

This continued with Los Hermanos’ sophomore album Bloco Do Eu Sozinho. Released in 2001, Bloco do Eu Sozinho marked Rodrigo’s coming of age as a songwriter and musician. One of Rodrigo’s best songs was A Flor, which he cowrote with Marcelo. It gave Los Hermanos one of their biggest hit singles. However, Los Hermanos’ third album would surpass everything that had gone before.

After a gap of two years, Los Hermanos returned with Ventura in 2003. During this two year break, Rodrigo seemed to have matured as a songwriter. Ventura featured some of Rodrigo’s best songs. Among them were Último Romance, O Velho E O Moço, Um Par, Do Sétimo Andar and Deixa o Verã. Critics hailed Rodrigo one of the finest songwriters of his generation. This resulted in him stepping out of the shadows. No longer was he just a sideman. Now he was a fully fledged member of Los Hermanos. Ironically, as this happened Los Hermanos’ career stalled.

When Los Hermanos returned with 4 in 2005, it wasn’t as successful as previous albums. The songs were penned by Rodrigo and Mercelo. Despite the quality of the five songs Rodrigo wrote, O Vento was the only hit single. It seemed Los Hermanos’ career was at the crossroads.

Despite this, Rodrigo won the Best Instrumentalist in the Prêmio Multishow awards in 2006. This was well deserved, given he’d played such an important role in Los Hermanos success. However, in 2007, Los Hermanos were put on hold. This resulted in a change of direction for Rodrigo.

Rodrigo decided to spend time on the Orquestra Imperial. This was a collaboration between Rodrigo, Moreno Veloso, Nina Becker, and actress Thalma de Freita. They headed to California and started writing Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon with Venezuelan singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart. That’s also where Rodrigo met Binki Shapiro and The Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti.

This was 2006. That’s when Rodrigo, Binki  and Fabrizio first toyed with the idea of forming a new band. They decided it should have nothing to do with their own bands. With Los Hermanos having been put on hold, this was the perfect time. Little Joy were born in 2007. This Brazilian American supergroup were soon signed to Rough Trade. Then in 2008, Little Joy released their eponymous debut album 2008. It was released to critical acclaim. Sadly, Little Joy proved to be their only album. Since then Rodrigo’s collaborated with a number of artists.

Among them are Adam Green. Rodrigo featured on his 2010 album Minor Love. He also cowrote and arranged O Que Você Quer, a track from Marisa Monte’s 2011 album O Que Você Quer Saber De Verdade. However, during this period, Rodrigo, whose been living in Los Angeles since 2008, has been working towards his debut solo album Cavalo.

Cavalo features eleven songs. They’ve come about as a result of the six years Rodrigo’s spent living in Los Angeles. Looking back, he didn’t expect to spend so long in L.A. Rodrigo “didn’t expect to moor my boat for long.” During that time, he’s felt like an “exile,” but an exile whose been made welcome. Rodrigo has and has enjoyed his time in L.A, especially the feeling of being anonymous. That wouldn’t have been possible in Rio. Not after having been a member of such a high profile band as Los Hermanos. This has allowed Rodrigo to become an explorer or onlooker. It’s also allowed Rodrigo to almost reinvent himself. He’s even invented what he refers to as “an accomplice to which I am also the channel, the one I name Cavalo.” So Cavalo is essentially ten songs about the adventures of Rodrigo Amarante during the last six years in L.A, which I’ll now tell you about.

Nada Em Vão opens Cavalo. It has a wistful, dreamy sound. The arrangement meanders along. A muted guitar and keyboards  accompany Rodrigo’s scatted vocal. Occasionally, a drum punctuates the arrangement. Mostly, it’s understated, with doo-wop harmonies, keyboards, percussion and a sultry horn escaping from the arrangement. They’re the perfect foil for Rodrigo’s heartfelt paean.

Percussion, growling horn and bass accompany Rodrigo’s vocal on Hourglass. This is a very different song. It has a much more rocky sound. Having said that, it’s a musical pot pourri. Everything from funk, soul, new wave and psychedelia influences Rodrigo. There’s even an eighties influences. Grizzled horns and the rhythm drive the arrangement along as Rodrigo draws inspiration from Don Henley and Robert Palmer. His vocal has a lazy, lysergic influence. This result is a genre-melting, psychedelic stomper full of slick poppy hooks, 

Just a picked acoustic guitar and subtle percussion accompany Rodrigo’s vocal on Mom Nom. Emotion and sincerity fill his vocal, as the band plug-in. The rhythm section and chiming guitar accompany him. Meanwhile, waves of horns disappear into the distance. There’s a sixties psychedelic influence on this folk-tronic waltz which features a heart-wrenching vocal from Rodrigo.

Although just a lone guitar accompanies Rodrigo on Irene, that’s all it needs. It’s hugely effective and means you focus solely on Rodrigo’s impassioned delivery of the lyrics. His vocal is captivating. It literally oozes emotion and is spellbinding in its beauty.

Maná sees a return to the Latin rhythms that Rodrigo’s so familiar with. His guitar is panned hard left and percussion right. That leaves room for the rhythm section and Rodrigo’s joyous vocal in the middle. During this call to dance, Rodrigo reminds me of Paul Simon. However, Paul Simon has never fused Latin, funk, rock and poppy hooks. Rodrigo does and it’s truly irresistible and joyous.

A wistful piano opens Fall Asleep, setting the scene for Rodrigo’s vocal. His vocal veers between melancholy and hopeful, as he’s transformed into a troubled troubadour. Behind him, a probing bass helps the distant piano drive the arrangement along on what’s one of the most beautiful and pensive songs on Cavalo.

From the get-go, the word ambient seems the perfect description of The Ribbon. Ethereal harmonies and an acoustic guitar combine before Rodrigo’s vocal enters. It’s tender and thoughtful. Harmonies accompany him. They sweep in and eventually replace Rodrigo’s vocal. His lyrics have a poetic quality and are delivered with feeling and passion. Meanwhile, the arrangement grows in power and drama. Thankfully, it never overpowers the captivating beauty of Rodrigo’s vocal, which is one of his finest.

O Cometa has an understated introduction. Just an acoustic guitar and percussion join Rodrigo’s heartfelt vocal. Later, drums played with brushes and melancholy horns sweep in. They too are understated. So are the tender harmonies. They’re like pieces of a jigsaw and with Rodrigo’s guidance, everything seems to fall perfectly into place.

The piano is an often underrated instrument by musicians. Not on Cavalo. Here, Rodrigo uses it to toy with your emotion. It also adds to the drama of this hugely atmospheric track. Here, Rodrigo sings call and response. His vocal is forlorn and despondent, as if memories are coming flooding back to him and he’s reliving the pain and hurt again.

Cooing, ethereal harmonies and an acoustic guitar open I’m Ready. Then when the harmonies drop out, Rodrigo’s heartbroken vocal enters. It’s like a cathartic outpouring of grief and pain at the loss of his son, whose been taken away by its mother. Rodrigo sounds almost numb, as if he can’t be hurt any more. When he sings: “I’m Ready” it’s as if he’s daring her to try and make him feel worse than he already does. That I don’t think will be possible. This is the most moving songs on Cavalo.

Tardei closes Cavalo, and features Rodrigo scatting and playing his trusty acoustic guitar. His vocal is heartfelt, tender and emotive. When it drops out, ethereal harmonies sweep in. They accompany Rodrigo, and together, play their part in what’s an ethereal and beautiful way to close Cavalo.

Rodrigo Amarante’s debut solo album Cavalo is a departure from the music he’s recorded with Los Hermanos and Little Joy. It’s very different. However, Cavalo has something in common with the music of Los Hermanos and Little Joy, its quality. That’s undeniable. 

Often, the arrangements are understated and feature just Rodrigo and his trusty acoustic guitar. He dawns the role of troubadour as if born for the role. Many of the arrangements are understated and spartan. That’s no bad thing. It allows Rodrigo’s vocal to take centre-stage. He delivers a series of understated, tender, heartfelt, emotive and soul-baring ballads. Sometimes, he’s also accompanied by ethereal harmonies. They prove the perfect foil for Rodrigo Amarante. However, there’s more to Cavalo than ballads.

This includes ambient, folk, funk, Latin, pop, psychedelia and rock. Two very different tracks are Hourglass and Maná. Hourglass is a psychedelic stomper, that’s full of slick poppy hooks. Mana is simply irresistible and joyous. These two tracks show a very different side of Rodrigo Amarante on Cavalo, which will be released on 5th May 2014, on Mais Um Disco. Cavalo is the long-awaited debut album from one of the giants of Brazilian music, Rodrigo Amarante.

The former member of Los Hermanos and Little Joy has come a long way in the six years he’s been living in Los Angeles. Rodrigo has discovered a new side to his music. It’s much more introspective and thoughtful. It’s as if the six years he’s spent in L.A. has resulted in inspiration for the eleven songs on Cavalo, where Rodrigo takes centre-stage. This is a role Rodrigo Amarante seems born for. He’s a storyteller who brings his lyrics to life. During each song, he sounds as if he’s lived, loved and survived the pain, hurt and heartbreak he’s singing about. So much so, that you find yourself empathizing with Rodrigo Amarante’s plight and pain. Then to life your spirits, he throws in a hook laden gem like Hourglass or Maná. This leaves you wanting more. The same can be said of Cavalo, Rodrigo Amarante’s critically acclaimed  debut album, which belongs in the record collection of anyone who loves and appreciates music that’s ethereal, beautiful, wistful, heartfelt and joyous.

RODRIGO AMARANTE-CAVALO.

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STIAN WESTERHUS AND PALE HORSES-MAELSTROM.

STIAN WESTERHUS AND PALE HORSES-MAELSTROM.

Having established a reputation as one of the finest abstract guitarists in Europe, Stian Westerhus decided to change direction. After three critically acclaimed solo albums and several collaborations, Stian decided that now was the time to go from solo artist to frontman. Not long after this, Pales Horses, an electronic rock trio was born. This saw Stian joined by keyboardist Øystein Moen and drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen. A group featuring three of Norway’s most innovative and inventive musicians was a truly captivating combination. 

With their different musical backgrounds, Pale Horses set about reinventing a rock album on Maelstrom, which will be released by Rune Grammofon on 5th May 2014. Maelstrom is best described as a fusion of fluidity and improvisation. Everything from jazz, post-rock, psychedelia and rock melts into one. Then there’s Stian’s vocal. It oozes emotion. So, much so, that the lyrics come to life. That’s why Maelstrom is one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2014. It’s also why Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses have been compared to The Blue Nile, Talk Talk and Radiohead. That might seem like high praise, but Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses are three of Norway’s top musicians.

Over the last few years, Stian Westerhus has established a reputation as one of Europe’s most accomplished and innovative abstract guitar players. This has been the result of a lifetime’s work. That’s how long it’s take to hone and tame his unique sound. As a result of his dedication, Stian has been constantly in demand as a session player and producer. Then there’s three solo albums and numerous collaborations with the great and the good of Norwegian music. The story begins back in 2006.

Back then, Stian was a member of Puma, who released their debut album Isolationism in 2006. Puma’s sophomore album was the brilliantly titled Discotheque Bitpunching. It was released in 2008. Then in 2010, Puma released their final album Half Nelson Courtship, which was released on Rune Grammofon. However, this wasn’t the only album Puma released.

No. In 2009, Puma and Lasse Marhaug joined forces. Their successful collaboration was  Fist Full Of Knuckles. It was released to widespread critical acclaim and was seen as a union of innovators. This isn’t the only collaboration Stian’s been involved in.

A year before the release of Fist Full Of Knuckles, Stian had collaborated with Eldbjørg Raknes and saxophonist Eirik Hegda. The result was From Frozen Feet, released in 2008. The same year, Stian collaborated with Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset on Laden With Rain. Together with his work as a session musician, this stood Stian in good stead for his solo career.

It was 2009 that Stian’s solo career began, when he released Galore. Released on The Last Record Company, a subsidiary of Rune Grammofon, Galore was mixed, recorded and produced by Stian. His 2010 sophomore solo album, Pitch Black Star Spangled was released on Rune Grammofon and saw Stian further develop his abstract guitar style. Critically acclaimed, Stian was seen as one of Norwegian music’s leading musicians. That’s why he was constantly in-demand as a guitarist, vocalist and later, a producer.

This includes adding vocals to Bladed’s 2009 album Mangled Dreams. Then in 2010, Stian played on Jaga Jazzist’s One Armed Bandit album. Stian played everything from percussion, harp,effects, twelve-string guitar, baritone guitar and electric guitar. Then to round off 2010, Stian played on Maurhaug’s All Music At Once. 2010, had been, without doubt, the most productive year of Stian’s career

2011 saw Stian play on Ulver’s War Of The Roses album. He also played harmonium, mixed and produced Nils Petter Molvær’s Baboon Moon. For Stian, this was all good experience for his solo career, which he returned to in 2012.

The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers was Stian’s third solo album. It was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. Critics hailed this genre melting album Stian’s finest album. That wasn’t the end of 2012 for Stian. Far from it. 

During 2012, Stian collborated with Bol and Snah. Billed as Bol, Westerhus, Snah, they released Numb, Number. Then Stian collaborated with Norwegian jazz vocalist Sidsel Endresen on Didymoi Dreams. This was an album that pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, and way beyond. Stian’s blistering, searing guitar licks and Sidsel’s explosive bursts of vocal were a potent partnership. Genres melted into one as Stian and Sidsel challenged musical norms. Ambitious, brave and groundbreaking describes this opus. After this, Stian decided to change direction and founded Pale Horses. 

Pale Horses are an electronic rock trio, but they’re not exactly a new band. Stian, keyboardist Øystein Moen and drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen all played together in Puma. Øystein Moen also was a member of Jaga Jazzist. Stian made a  guest appearance on their 2010 album One Armed Bandit.So musically, they know each other really well. The only difference is the type of music that Pale Horses will be playing. Puma’s music is best described as a fusion of experimental, jazz and post rock. That’s quite different to the music on Maelstrom.

For Maelstrom, Pale Horses penned seven tracks. They were recorded at Oslo Klang by Stian and Johnny Skallenberg. At Oslo Klang, Stian played guitars, mellotron, piano, electronics and sang lead vocals. Øystein Moen played Moog, mellotron, Prophet, Ms20, piano and electronics. Erland Dahlen played drums and percussion. Stian produced Maelstrom, which I’ll tell you about.

Don’t Say That You Care opens Maelstrom. It’s best described as melancholy, hesitant, jazz-tinged and experimental. The arrangement comprises layers of music. They assail and surround you, grabbing your attention. Variously, you focus on the sci-fi sounds, keyboards and rolls of drums. However, what proves captivating is Stian’s vocal. He’s a troubled troubadour. Despair and heartache fill his vocal, as it oozes emotion. He sounds remarkably like Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile. They’e both capable of singing songs like they’ve lived, loved and survived them. Later, as the arrangement has grown, Stian’s vocal drops out. It’s as if he’s overcome by emotion. Then when he returns, the drama builds to a dramatic crescendo and Stian’s vocal is a cathartic outpouring of emotion as he pleads: “Don’t Say That You Care.”

Thoughtful, crystaline guitars open Nights And Sleepless Days. They’re joined by futuristic sounds. Then a drum pounds and Stian’s ethereal vocal enters. Meanwhile, the arrangement is a fusion of experimental, industrial, post rock and psychedelia. At the heart of the arrangement is the vocal. It’s full of pain and hurt. As the emotion builds, the arrangement grows. Pale Horses become a power trio. Genres melt into one and  this soundscape envelops Stian’s vocal. Blistering, scorching guitars and pounding rhythm section drive the arrangement along, as it pays homage to classic rock. Then having reached a dramatic crescendo, Pale Horses throw a curveball, and the darkness descends. Just a lone piano accompanies Stian’s wistful vocal. Oozing emotion and drama, Stian reminds me of Jeff Buckley in his prime during this soul-searching opus.

Straight away, Bed On Fire reminds me of Japan’s early albums. It’s the use of effects that prompts this comparison. They’re panned way left and provide an eerie, minimalistic backdrop. Then when Stian’s vocal takes centre-stage it’s dubby and distant. Soon, it becomes a heartfelt and impassioned plea. As if exhausted, his vocal drops out and Pale Horses kick loose. Stian unleashes a blistering guitar solo. The only way to describe it is flawless. Seamlessly, Stian tames and hones his guitar. Later, ethereal harmonies prove a fitting and beautiful replacement for Stian’s guitar masterclass.

Just like the previous track, On and On sees panning used effectively. It grabs your attention, before indie rock, experimental and post rock combine. Reverb is added to the guitar, while drums crack and Stian’s vocal reminds me of James Dean Bradford of The Manic Street Preachers, on their 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. It has a similar sound and quality. The lyrics come to life. It’s as if they’re personal and he’s experienced the despair and despondency.  Later, swathes of guitar, mellotron, keyboards and the rhythm section combine to create a soundscape that’s the perfect backdrop for Stian’s cathartic unburdening.

Times Like These has a bouncy, space-age introduction. That doesn’t prepare your for what comes next. Pale Horses throw a curveball. Stian dawns the role of troubled troubadour. It’s as if he was born for this. His vocal is dramatic and he questions and probes. He reminds me of Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile and Chris Thompson of The Bathers. By then, Stian is living the lyrics. That’s how real his portrayal of them is. It’s hugely effective. Especially with the minimalist arrangement. Later, things change. The arrangement grows in power, matching the drama and theatre of Stian’s vocal.

Chasing Hills features needy, pleading vocal from Stian. Despair fills his vocal as he sings: “brother let me rest…let me climb to the higher ground.” These lyrics and Stian’s delivery of them are beautiful and moving. The arrangement veers between understated and dramatic. Pale Horse’s rhythm section and Stian’s blistering guitar solo are joined by ethereal harmonies. At the heart of the arrangement’s success is Stian’s guitar. This is his finest solo on the album. It soars dramatically above the arrangement. Along with Stian’s vocal, this results in an eight-minute epic.

Maelstrom closes with the title-track. Stian’s questioning, frustrated vocal is accompanied by percussion as the arrangement begins to reveal its secrets. Meanwhile, Stian’s delicate vocal glides above the airy, spacious arrangement. It meanders along, gathering pace and growing. Ethereal harmonies join percussion, searing guitars and a rumbling rhythm section. Any minute, you expect Pale Horses to gallop into the sunset. Gradually, the arrangement grows. The rhythm section, blistering guitars and keyboards power the arrangement along. Pale Horses seem determined to close Maelstrom on a high. Everyone seems to raise their game. Stian leads from the front, unleashing a scorching solo. It’s a game-changer. There’s no stopping Pale Horses as they close their debut album on a resounding high. 

Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses’ debut album Maelstrom is what I’d describe as an old-school album. It features just seven stunning tracks lasting fifty-four minutes. This is very definitely a case of quality over quantity. To quote Jerry Lee Lewis, “it’s all killer, no filler.” That describes Maelstrom perfectly. So does genre-melting.

Over the seven tracks, Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses combine everything from experimental, jazz, post-rock, psychedelia and rock. Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses play with a fluidity, intricacy and accuracy, before kicking out the jams. They’re then transformed into a power trio. This brings back memories of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Other influences include The Blue Nile, The Bathers, Talk Talk, The Manic Street Preachers and Radiohead. This is a truly eclectic mix. However, each of these influences shine through on Maelstrom. Especially, The Blue Nile influence.  Sometimes, Stian sounds not unlike Paul Buchanan. Both dawn the role of troubled troubadour, and sound as if they’ve lived the lyrics they’re singing about. Other times, Stian sounds like Chris Thompson of The Bathers and on On and On James Dean Bradford of The Manic Street Preachers. However, there’s more to the success of Maelstrom than Stian Westerhus’ vocal.

Granted Stian Westerhus’ vocals are at the heart of Maelstrom’s success. So is his innovative and maverick guitar stylings. However, keyboardist Øystein Moen and drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen more than play their part in Maelstrom’s success. Just like Stian, they’re talented and inventive multi-instrumentalists. They’re all parts of a bigger picture. Without Øystein’s keyboards and Erland’s percussion parts Maelstrom wouldn’t be the same album. It’s just a case that’s it’s always the frontman who takes centre-stage. In this case it’s Stian Westerhus. Pale Horses are however, no one man band. Far from it.

Instead, Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses are an innovative, inventive and influential band. They comprise three of Norway’s top musicians. Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses debut album Maelstrom, which will be released by Rune Grammofon on 5th May 2014. It’s one of the most anticipated albums of 2014. No wonder. Maelstrom oozes quality and hopefully, will be the first in a series of groundbreaking albums from the hugely talented Stian Westerhus and Pale Horses.

STIAN WESTERHUS AND PALE HORSES-MAELSTROM.

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T-BONE WALKER-EVERY DAY I HAVE THE BLUES.

T-BONE WALKER-EVERY DAY I HAVE THE BLUES.

T-Bone Walker was, without doubt, one of the most innovative and influential blues guitarists ever. He was a pioneer of both the jump blues and electric blues. That may seem like a bold statement, but it’s not. It’s the truth. After all, T-Bone was one of the first artists to wield an electric guitar. He honed and tamed the electric guitar and made that sound his own. That’s why nearly forty years after T-Bone Walker’s death he’s remembered as one of the best blues guitarists. What some people forget is that T-Bone Walker was also a flamboyant showman.

It was T-Bone Walker that Jimi Hendrix saw playing his guitar with his teeth. This was T-Bone Walker’s party trick. When he decided to showboat, T-Bone could play his guitar above his head, behind his back and with his teeth. A young Jimi Hendrix saw this. He was awe struck. Here was  a guitarist who could do things other guitarists could only dream of. For the young  Jimi Hendrix it was as if T-Bone had thrown down the gauntlet. Jimi went away and eventually, was able to play the guitar T-Bone Walker. However, if he’d never seen T-Bone play, would Jimi have ever reached the heights he did? The same can be said of other artists T-Bone influenced.

Apart from Jimi Hendrix, T-Bone Walker influenced several generations of musicians. Among them are B.B. King, The Allman Brothers and Chuck Berry. Then there’s a generation of British musicians who grew up listening to artists like T-Bone Walker. This includes Eric Clapton, John Mayall, The Animals and Rolling Stones. Each and every one of these artists owe a debt of gratitude to the late, great, T-Bone Walker. 

By 1970, T-Bone was entering the fifth decade of his career. His career had enjoyed something of a renaissance during the late-sixties. T-Bone had been enjoying something of an Indian Summer. That’s why Bob Theile signed T-Bone Walker to his newly formed Bluestime label in 1969. It was a subsidiary of Bob’s jazz label Flying Dutchman Productions. T-Bone’s one and only album for Bluestime was Every Day I Have The Blues, which was recently rereleased by Ace Records. 

Every Day I Have The Blues was recorded on 18th August 1969, with a crack band of session players accompanying T-Bone Walker. Then in 1970, Every Day I Have The Blues was released by Bluestime. Would Every Day I Have The Blues see T-Bone’s Indian Summer continue? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about T-Bone’s career.

It was in May 1910, that T-Bone Walker was born Aaron Thibeaux Walker. Both T-Bone’s parents Movellia Jimmerson and Rance Walker were musicians. So, was T-Bone’s stepfather Marco Washington. Rance, like T-Bone’s mother, was a member of the Dallas String Band. He taught T-Bone to play guitar, banjo, violin, ukelele and piano. T-Bone couldn’t have asked for a better of a musical education. By the time T-Bone was a teenager, his career as a musician began.

Having left school aged ten, T-Bone became a professional musician when he was a teenager. His mentor was Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was a family friend. Blind Lemon helped T-Bone establish himself on the local blues circuit. Then when T-Bone was nineteen, he made his recording debut in 1929. He wasn’t billed as T-Bone Walker. No. Instead, he was billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, when he released the single Wichita Falls Blues. This was the first recording in a career that lasted six decades.

By the time T-Bone was twenty-five, he was living in Los Angeles. He was married with five children. Sometimes, T-Bone was the guest vocalist for the Les Hite Orchestra. All the time, T-Bone was developing his musical style. 

When T-Bone signed to Capitol Records in 1942, this was the start of one of the most important periods in his career. T-Bone’s sound was constantly evolving. So much so, that his single Mean Old World was a game-changer. His sound was totally unique and inimitable. This lead to T-Bone being referred to as a flamboyant, innovative and influential. Sometimes, T-Bone would play his guitar with his teeth, above his head or behind his back. Audiences were shocked and awe struck. Nobody had played a guitar like this. Then in 1947, T-Bone released a track that’s since become synonymous with him.

This was Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just As Bad). It was released on the Black and While label, which T-Bone has signed to in 1946. For two years between 1946 and 1948, T-Bone was releasing some of the most successful and pioneering music of his career. This included 1946s Bobby Sox Blues and West Side Baby, which gave T-Bone top ten hits. Having released some of the most important music of his career at Black and White, the fifties saw blues music fall out of favour and T-Bone flit between record companies.

Back then, this wasn’t new. Many artists signed one-off deals with labels. This was the case with T-Bone. He released several singles for Imperial and in 1959, released his debut album Sings The Blues. A year later, in 1960, T-Bone Blues was released on T-Bone Blues on Atlantic. It comprised recordings from the fifties. However, T-Bone Blues was a coming of age for T-Bone. Belatedly, record labels realised that blues musicians were no different from jazz or R&B artists, and should be releasing albums. Sadly, T-Bone Blues was T-Bone’s only album for Atlantic. After this, T-Bone didn’t release another album until 1965.

That’s despite the early sixties seeing a revival in the popularity of blues music, T-Bone didn’t release a new album until The Blues Of T-Bone Walker in 1965. In 1963, a retrospective collection entitled, The Great Blues Vocal and Guitar Of T-Bone Walker (His Original 1945-1950) had been released. Apart from that, T-Bone wasn’t releasing much in the way of music. Instead, he was concentrating on playing live. However, work was hard to come by for many blues’ musicians. Then in 1967, T-Bone met a man who’d transform his career, Bob Thiele.

Bob ran Impulse, ABC’s jazz label. Then when the jazz revival began, Bob convinced his bosses at ABC to let him found a blues label. This was Bluesway, which Bob signed T-Bone to. T-Bone recorded two albums in 1967. Funky Town was released in 1967 and Stormy Monday Blues in 1968. However, Bob left ABC’s employ in 1969. Little did anyone realise that Bob and many of Bluesway’s artists would soon be reunited.

When Bob left ABC’s employ, he decided to form a new label. Through working with some of the most innovative and creative musicians in the history of jazz, Bob must have realised that often, large record companies aren’t the best environment for innovative and creative musicians. Often, these musical mavericks didn’t thrive within such an orthodox environment. Their creativity is restricted, meaning they’re unable to experiment and innovate like they’d like. So, Bob Thiele, created an environment where this would be possible. This was Flying Dutchman Productions and its blues subsidiary Bluestime.

Before long, Bluestime became home to many of the artists formerly signed to Bluesway. This included T-Bone Walker, whose career Bob Thiele had helped revive. So much so, that T-Bone’s career was enjoying something of an Indian Summer. This Bob and T-Bone hoped, would continue at Bluestime.

For what became Every Day I Have The Blues, seven tracks were chosen. T-Bone penned T-Bone Blues Special and Sail On, while Bob Thiele penned Vietnam. Other tracks included Peter Christian’s Every Day I Have The Blues, John Lee Hooker’s Shake It Baby, Jessie Rae Robinson’s Cold, Cold Feeling and Louie Shelton’s For B.B. King. These tracks were recorded by T-Bone accompanied by some top session players.

When the band entered the studio to record Every Day I Have The Blues on 18th August 1968, Bob Thiele had put together a crack band. The rhythm section included drummer Paul Humphrey, bassist Max Bennett and guitarist Louie Shelton. Artie Butler played piano and organ and Tom Scott added tenor saxophone. T-Bone played guitar and sang lead vocals, while Bob Thiele produced  Every Day I Have The Blues.

On the release of Every Day I Have The Blues in 1970, Bob Thiele and everyone at Bluestime  had high hopes for the album. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Despite its quality, neither critics nor music lover were won over by Every Day I Have The Blues. A small coterie of blues aficionados realised that T-Bone was in top form. They’d followed T-Bone’s career for decades and realised that Every Day I Have The Blues was a hidden gem, featuring classics and songs full of social comment. Sadly, since then, Every Day I Have The Blues has remained one of the most underrated albums in T-Bone Walker’s back-catalogue. I’ll now tell you why that’s the case.

Every Day I Have The Blues opens with the title-track. Straight away, T-Bone unleashes one his guitar solos. His trademark searing guitar is accompanied by the rhythm section and jangling piano. The guitar and piano are panned left, and the rhythm section panned right. This has the effect of narrowing the arrangement. Taking centre-stage is T-Bone’s despairing, lived-in vocal. It’s as if he’s lived the lyrics. T-Bone brings them to life. Then when his vocal drops out, Tom Scott delivers a blistering tenor saxophone solo. It gives to Artie Butler on piano. He’s not going to be outdone, and almost steals the show. After bassist Max Bennett enjoys his moment in the sun, T-Bone returns as the track reaches a crescendo. 

Vietnam was penned by Bob Thiele and features lyrics full of social comment. T-Bone and the band provide a slow, moody, bluesy backdrop. His guitar takes centre-stage, while guitarist Louie Shelton plays around him. The rest of the band provide a shuffling beat. Then washes of Hammond organ add to the atmospheric backdrop. This is perfect for T-Bone’s vocal. He sings about a soldier in Vietnam writing to his girlfriend asking her to protest about the war. Later, T-Bone sings: “if only the President and Congress would hear my plea.” Poignant and heartfelt, this is almost a reinvention of the antiwar song. After all, how many antiwar songs are sung from a soldier’s viewpoint?

John Lee Hooker’s Shake It Baby is reinvented by T-Bone. It’s transformed into a fusion of blues, free jazz and rock. Bursts of tenor saxophone respond to T-Bone’s needy, urgent vocal. Meanwhile, the rest of the band lock into a groove. That’s until T-Bone steps forward and unleashes a crystalline guitar solo. It steals the show. Especially when accompanied by Louie Shelton’s guitar and Max Bennett’s bass. They play their part in this innovative reinvention of Shake It Baby.

Straight away, it’s obvious something special is unfolding. That’s apparent from the opening bars of Cold, Cold Feeling. T-Bone’s searing, bluesy licks, a shuffling rhythm section and washes of Hammond organ provide a moody arrangement. This is perfect for T-Bone’s despairing, heartbroken vocal. He delivers the lyrics as if he’s lived them. It results in one of T-Bone’s best vocals. This seems to inspire the band. They raise their game. A growling tenor saxophone, Hammond organ and rhythm section lock horns. As a result, the years roll back and it’s as if T-Bone is in his musical prime. That’s how good this track is.

Just a slow, bluesy piano opens T-Bone Blues Special. It sets the scene. Then Artie Butler switches to Hammond organ and the arrangement unfolds. Slow, broody and bluesy, the band lock into a groove. Everyone gets their chance to shine. First up is Artie Butler, then a blues masterclass from T-Bone. Louie Shelton veers between jazz and blues, while the rhythm section propel the arrangement along. Next up is a sultry tenor saxophone solo from Tom Scott. Later, the guitars duel, veering between blues and rock. It’s just the latest twist in this nine minute musical adventure, where T-Bone and his all-star band showcase their considerable skills.

For B.B. King was penned by Louie Shelton and features some of the best guitar licks on Every Day I Have The Blues. It marks the return of T-Bone Walker the showman. He plays with flamboyance, his fingers flitting up and down the fretboard. Not once does he miss a beat. Behind him, the band lock into a groove. With the rhythm section providing the heartbeat, Tom Scot’s braying tenor saxophone and Artie Butler’s piano play supporting roles. Taking centre-stage is the man himself, T-Bone Walker as he delivers a blues masterclass.

Sail On, the second track T-Bone wrote, closes Every Day I Have The Blues. He unleashes a crystalline guitar solo, while the rhythm section, stabs of piano and bursts of growling horns accompany him. His lived-in vocal soars above the arrangement. He’s realized that his partner doesn’t love him any more. “Sail On” he sings, his vocal a mixture of bravado, frustration, anger and sadness. Meanwhile, he lays downs another of his searing guitar solos. It’s one of his best. It’s captivating. The band realize this, and take care never to overpower T-Bone as he closes Every Day I Have The Blues on a high, demonstrating that he’s one of the greatest guitarists in musical history.

Earlier, I mentioned that Every Day I Have The Blues is one of T-Bone Walker’s most underrated albums. On its release in 1970, it was overlooked by both critics and music lovers. Since then, critics seemed to have a downer on all of T-Bone Walker’s late-period albums. That’s unfair. Especially since for part of that period, T-Bone released some of the best music of his career. This started with 1967s Funky Town and Stormy Monday Blues in 1968. They were released on the ABC imprint Bluesway. Then when Bob Thiele parted company with ABC, he signed T-Bone to his newly formed Bluestime label. 

As the recording of Every Day I Have The Blues got underway, T-Bone was accompanied by some of the top session players. They recorded seven tracks, which included a mixture of new material and old favourites. Each of these tracks find T-Bone and his all-star band at the top of their game. T-Bone rolls back the years. His searing., crystalline licks are a reminder of why he’s remembered as one of the greatest blues guitarists ever. Sadly, despite the quality of music on Every Day I Have The Blues wasn’t a commercial success. This could as a result of any number of reasons. 

What definitely didn’t help was that Bluestime was a small label. It probably couldn’t afford to promote Every Day I Have The Blues like major labels could. Then there’s the downturn in the popularity of blues music. This was a huge problem. A couple of years earlier, and blues music was enjoying a renaissance. As the new decade dawned, musical tastes changed. Blues music was no longer as popular as it had been. So it’s no surprise that Every Day I Have The Blues wasn’t a commercial success. Sadly, not even the critics recognised Every Day I Have The Blues’ quality. Since then, it’s been overlooked by critics and music lovers alike. Hopefully, not any more.

Ace Records recently rereleased Every Day I Have The Blues. Hopefully, this will encourage a new generation of music lovers to revisit Every Day I Have The Blues. Maybe, belatedly, Every Day I Have The Blues will receive the recognition it richly deserves? For too long, Every Day I Have The Blues has been underrated. That seems strange, given the quality of music on Every Day I Have The Blues. It features T-Bone Walker, the Godfather of the electric blues, accompanied by an all-star band. They inspire each other to even greater heights. It’s like a series of blues’ masterclasses, featuring some legendary musicians. This includes the star of the show, T-Bone Walker, one of the most innovative and influential blues musicians who also happened to be a flamboyant showman. Proof of that can be found on very Day I Have The Blues, which is a hidden gem from T-Bone Walker’s illustrious back-catalogue.

T-BONE WALKER-EVERY DAY I HAVE THE BLUES.

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COME SPY WITH US-THE SECRET AGENT SONGBOOK.

COME SPY WITH US-THE SECRET AGENT SONGBOOK.

For many people, the fifties and sixties were the golden age of both the spy novel and film. That’s no surprise. This was the post war era. The Iron Curtain separated Eastern and Western Europe. Suspicion and paranoia were common place. Especially after the defection of Philby, Burgess and McLean. These stories inspired authors. 

Soon, authors were inventing double agents. Among them were Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Graham Greene, Lesley Charteris and of course, Ian Fleming. Many of characters from these novels, leapt from the page onto the silver screen. No wonder.

The character’s lives was a potent cocktail of danger, drama and glamour. Their lives were lived on the edge. Danger was never a page or frame away. On the page and screen, secret agents like their cocktails, shaken not stirred. Life was lived in the fast lane. They fought by the Queensberry rules and the suave and debonair secret agent always got his man. All this was crammed into two hundred pages or two hours. For many an impressionable schoolboy, dreams of life as a secret agent were born. As the credits rolled, the theme tune was replayed. Often, that was the most memorable part of the film.

Indeed, often, whilst a spy film is long forgotten, the theme tune has become a minor classic. Other times, the theme tune, like the film has become a classic. An example of this is Lalo Schifrin and His Orchestra’s theme from Mission Impossible. The same can be said of Dusty Springfield’s The Look Of Love and The Challengers’ Them From Mission Impossible. Both the theme tune and film have become classics. They can also be found on Ace Records latest compilation Come Spy With Us-The Secret Agent Songbook.

Released on 31st March 2014, Come Spy With Us-The Secret Agent Songbook features twenty-five themes from spy films released during the fifties and sixties. For many people, this was the golden age of the spy novel and film. There’s contributions from The Walker Brothers, Astrud Gilberto, Laio Schifrin, The Supremes, Matt Monroe, Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Smith and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. With everything from pop, jazz, soul, Latin and soul jazz, Come Spy With Us-The Secret Agent Songbook is a truly eclectic compilation. Quite simply, there’s something for everyone. Come Spy With Us-The Secret Agent Songbook, which I’ll pick the highlight of, is sure to provoke some cinematic memories.

There’s no better way to open Come Spy With Us-The Secret Agent Songbook than with John Barry and His Orchestra’s A Man Alone. John Barry’s name is synonymous with film scores. In 1965, he was asked to compose the score for the adaptation of Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File. It featured Michael Caine in one of his most famous roles, Harry Palmer. This was one of John Barry’s finest hours. It almost a definition of what the word cinematic means. Literally, it paints pictures. Evocative and full of mystery. it brings to mind a world of secret agents, danger and cloak and dagger dealings.

For anyone yet to discover The Walker Brothers’ music, Deadlier Than The Male is a tantalising taste of what they’re capable of. Quite simply, it’s a truly haunting track. It was the theme to the 1967 film The Female Of The Species. Although it wasn’t the most successful film of 1967, it featured the haunting Deadlier Than The Male. Sadly, when it was released as a single, it stalled number thirty-two in the UK. If ever a single deserved to fare better, this was it.

Probably, one of Dusty Springfield’s finest moments, was The Look Of Love. Penned by Bacharach and David, Dusty delivers the definitive version of this track. Nothing else comes close. Given its indisputable quality, it’s no surprise it reached number twenty-three in the US Billboard 100. In 1967, The Look Of Love became the theme to the latest instalment in the James Bond series, Dr. No. Written by Ian Fleming in 1953, Dr. No “starred” Sean Connery. His portrayal of James Bond wasn’t well received by critics nor fans. That’s why many people felt Dusty’s version of The Look Of Love was the highlight of the film. 

Just like Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond, Dean Martin’s portrayal of Matt Helm in The Silencers strayed from author Donald Hamilton’s original books. For the author, it must have been frustrating watching his character become almost pastiche of what was originally intended. Billed as”Girls, Gags and Gadgets” The Silencers was a commercial success in 1966. Looking back, this is another case of the books surpassing the their portrayal on the silver screen. The best thing about The Silencers, was Vicki Carr’s delivery of the title-track. Her delivery of Mack David and Ernest Bernstein’s song is slow, sultry and dramatic.

Back in 1965 The Challengers were asked to provide the theme to a new television series,The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Starring Robert Vaughan and David McCallum it ran for 205 episodes over a four year period. Fifty years after the first episode hit American television screens, both the television program and The Challengers’ theme tune have become stonewall classics.

Originally, Lalo Schifrin started life as a jazz pianist. By 1968, he was forging a career writing soundtracks. His latest commission was to write theme to Mission: Impossible. Having written a dramatic score in 5/4 time, Lalo Schifrin and His Orchestra entered the studio. Little did they realize that they’d just recorded one of the most recognisable theme tunes ever. Mission: Impossible is a timeless classic, that promises drama and adventure and is instantly recognisable by several generations.

It was in 1965, that The Supremes were asked to sing the theme to Dr Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine. It was the brainchild of American International Pictures. They decided that, having released horror and beach party movies, now was the time to jump on the spy film bandwagon. In retrospect, it maybe wasn’t their best idea. Nowadays, this would a movie that goes straight to DVD. As a result, The Supremes theme tune was the most memorable part of the movie. Penned by Guy Hemric and Gerry Styner it’s full of slick hooks and is truly irresistible.

The story of Matt Monro’s life, deserves to be turned into a film. Originally, he was a London bus driver. His breakthrough came when he became one of the BBC Show Band’s vocalists in 1956. For the next couple of years, Matt Monro became a huge star. Then just as quickly, he returned to obscurity. That wasn’t the end of Matt Monro. As the sixties dawned, his career got back on track. From 1961 right through to the seventies, Matt Monro became a superstar on both sides of the Atlantic. He sang the title-track to several films. This includes 1963s From Russia With Love, 1966s Born Free and Wednesday’s Child, which was the theme to The Quiller Memorandum in 1967. Written by John Barry and Mack David, it features a heartfelt vocal from Matt and demonstrates why he was known as “the man with the golden voice.”

Each week, Gene Barry dawned the role of Captain Amos Burke in Burke’s Law. The show ran for three seasons between 1963 and 1966. As America tuned in watch Captain Amos Burke, who just so happened to be a multi-millionaire, Wynton Kelly’s unmistakable jazz-tinged Theme From Burke’s Law played. It veers between light and airy to dramatic. With its unmistakable early sixties sound, it’s also one of the finest moments from Wynton’s 1963 album Comin’ In The Back Door.

Sarah Vaughan is remembered as one of the greatest female vocalists in the history of jazz. In 1965, she covered the theme to Peter Gunn, which was a television series that ran between 1958 and 1961. It followed the adventures of a private detective. A total of 114 episodes were aired. This was the creation of Blake Edwards, who later, would create The Pink Panther. Penned by Henry Mancini, Ray Evans and Jay Livingstone, Sarah Vaughan delivers a vocal powerhouse. This reminds you why Sarah was known as “The Divine One.”

Closing Come Spy With Me-The Secret Agent Songbook is Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ Come Spy With Me. It was the opening theme to the 1967 film Come Spy With Me. Produced by Arnold Kaiser and starring Troy Donahue the film wasn’t well received by critics on its release in January 1967. Ironically, since then, the film has been lost. So, a new generation of film fans will never be able to judge the merits of Come Spy With Me. They will, however, be able to hear Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ version of the title-track, which was the B-Side to their 1967 single, The Love I Saw In You Was Just  A Mirage. Apparently, it was the highlight of the film.

For anyone whose interested in the golden age of the secret agent, then Come Spy With Me-The Secret Agent Songbook is a veritable treasure trove. It’s guaranteed to bring back memories of secret agents from the past. Many will be old favorites, others long forgotten. That’s been the case for me. Listening to Come Spy With Me-The Secret Agent Songbook is like a  trip down memory lane. During that trip, we meet everyone from James Bond, Harry Palmer, Matt Helm, Captain Amos Burke and Peter Gunn. Some names are instantly recognizable. Others, well that’s not the case. After all, how many people saw Dr Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine and Come Spy With Me? What’s instantly recognizable, is the music.

Indeed, the music on Come Spy With Me-The Secret Agent Songbook is like a who’s who of film music. No wonder. Among the artists on Come Spy With Me-The Secret Agent Songbook are John Barry, Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers, Astrud Gilberto, Laio Schifrin, The Supremes, Matt Monroe, Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Smith and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Truly, Come Spy With Me-The Secret Agent Songbook is a veritable feast. The listener taken on a magical mystery tour. This musical journey through the genres includes pop, jazz and soul, right through to Latin and soul jazz. That’s why Come Spy With Us-The Secret Agent Songbook, which was recently released by Ace Records, is best described as eclectic, treasure trove of music from the golden age of the secret agent.

COME SPY WITH US-THE SECRET AGENT SONGBOOK.

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SWAMP POP BY THE BAYOU.

SWAMP POP BY THE BAYOU.

When the first compilation of Swamp Pop was released back in the early seventies, it was a genre without a name. So, the compilation was simply called, The Other Sound Of The South. Then Bill Millar coined the term Swamp Pop. That day, a new musical genre was born. Swamp Pop is still as popular today, as back in the late-fifties, when some of the music on Swamp Pop By The Bayou was first released.

Swamp Pop By The Bayou is the latest instalment in Ian Saddler’s By The Bayou series. It was recently released on Ace Records and is the seventh compilation in the By The Bayou compilation series. There are twenty-eight tracks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou. Fourteen of the tracks were released between 1959 and 1964. This includes tracks from Vince Anthony With The Blue Notes, Jay Richards & The Blues Kings, Warren Storm, Rocket Morgan, Frankie Lowery and John Fred. Then there’s fourteen previously unreleased track. Among them, are tracks from Guitar Jeff, George, Tommy Strange, Bee Arnold and Rocket Morgan. For anyone interested in Swamp Pop, this mixture of familiar faces and hidden gems will be essental listening. I’ll tell now you why.

Ian Saddler couldn’t have picked a better track to open Swamp Pop By The Bayou than Vince Anthony With The Blue Notes’ Sneakin’ Home. It’s a glorious example of Swamp Pop. Written by Vincent Anthony Guzetta, it was released in 1959 on Hilton Records. Crucial to the track’s success are the rasping horns and Vince’s sultry vocal. This isn’t the only track from Vince Anthony With The Blue Notes. Cry Your Eyes Out is billed as Donnie Williams and The Blue Notes. However, it’s actually Vince Anthony With The Blue Notes. Released on Hilton Records in 1960, Vince’s heartbroken vocal means this track falls into the category of tearjerker.

Warren Storm has a trio of racks on Swamp Pop By The Bayou. As if that’s not enough, he plays drums on several tracks. His first contribution is Oh Oh Baby, which was released on J.D. Miller’s Rocko label in 1959. Slow, with a heartfelt, needy vocal this is the best track from the man many people refer to as the Godfather of Swamp Pop. Warren’s other contributions are This Life I Live and the heartbreaking I’m Leaving You. Neither of these tracks have been released before. However, their quality is indisputable.

Rocket Morgan has been a regular contributor to the By The Bayou series. Usually, he’s singing rockabilly. He’s equally at home singing Swamp Pop. Proof of this is Too High A Price (To Pay For Love). Released on Zynn in 1959, it features a rueful, wistful vocal from Rocket. It’s as if he’s come to his senses. Did You Leave Something Else (For Me) is a more uptempo track. Again, it was released in 1959, on Zynn. Driven along by braying horns and jangling piano, Rocket’s vocal is tinged with hurt  and heartache. Walkin’ Home, a piano driven track is Rocket’s final contribution. Remarkably, given its quality, this hidden gem has never been released before. Thankfully, Ian Saddler has rectified this.

I Ain’t Had No Sleep is Frankie Lowery first contribution to Swamp Pop By The Bayou. It’s a blistering horn driven track, that epitomises what Swamp Pop’s all about. Strangely, the track has never been released before. It’s a real find. Ian Saddler has struck gold here, as it’s one of the highlights of the compilation. Infectiously catchy describes this track. There’s no let up in quality on She’s Walking Towards Me. Here, Frankie is transformed into a balladeer. Released in 1960, on Zynn, heartfelt and hopeful describes Frankie’s tender, needy vocal. 

Lonely Lonely Heart is the first of two unreleased tracks from Tommy Strange. His vocal oozes emotion and heartbreak on this ballad. When his vocal drops out, it’s replaced by a crystalline guitar solo. It’s one of the finest guitar solos on Swamp Pop By The Bayou. Having set the scene for Tommy’s  return, his vocal veers between hopeful and heartbroken. He sings the lyrics like he’s lived them. Tommy’s other contribution is  a previously unreleased alternate version of What Am I To Do is. The original version of What Am I To Do was the B-Side to Nervous and Shakin’ All Over, which was released as a single on the Rocko label.

Charles Page released No Season On Squeezing as a single in 1961. This was one of six singles Charles released on Goldhand Records. It was produced by Eddie Shuler. He had great hopes for Charles Page. Commercial success, Eddie hoped, was just around the corner. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. That’s despite this being a hook laden slice of Swamp Pop.

The version of Doug Charles and The Boogie Kings’ You’re On My Mind on Swamp Pop By The Bayou, has never been released before. It’s an alternate version of this slow, sultry ballad. With growling horns propelling the arrangement along, Doug dawns the role of crooner. This is a role he seems to relish and delivers a beautiful, heartfelt vocal masterclass.

My final choice from Swamp Pop By The Bayou is Buck Rogers and His Jets’ Rose Marie. Its another unreleased track. Again, Ian Saddler has struck musical gold. Infectiously catchy and full of hooks, describes this alternate version of Rose Marie. It’s a track that’s guaranteed to fill any dance-floors By The Bayou.

Just like the previous six volumes of the By The Bayou compilation series, Swamp Pop By The Bayou oozes quality. So much so, that I could literally have chosen any of the twenty-eight tracks. Eventually, I settled for just fourteen tracks. They come courtesy of familiar faces and new friends. 

The familiar faces include Vince Anthony With The Blue Notes, Jay Richards & The Blues Kings, Warren Storm, Rocket Morgan, Frankie Lowery and John Fred. Then there’s unreleased tracks from Guitar Jeff, George, Tommy Strange, Bee Arnold and Rocket Morgan. Among these unreleased tracks are musical gold. These hidden gems have you shaking your head and wondering why these tracks have never been released before? These timeless Swamp Pop gems mean Swamp Pop By The Bayou is essential listening for anyone  interested in Swamp Pop. The same can be said of the By The Bayou series.

Swamp Pop By The Bayou, which was recently released by Ace Records, is the seventh release in the By The Bayou series. It seems that with each instalment, the quality of music gets even better. That’s down to Ian Saddler’s crate digging skills and impeccable music taste. Ian’s a man steeped in Louisiana’s rich and eclectic musical history. He knows where to find the hidden gems that have peppered the seven volumes of By The Bayou. However, Ian’s surpassed himself on Swamp Pop By The Bayou. He’s dug deeper than he’s ever dug before on Swamp Pop By The Bayou and takes the listener on a compelling, enthralling and mesmeric musical journey through Louisiana’s musical past. 

SWAMP POP BY THE BAYOU.

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PAUL MURPHY PRESENTS THE RETURN OF JAZZ CLUB.

PAUL MURPHY PRESENTS THE RETURN OF JAZZ CLUB.

It was back in 1978 that Paul Murphy first DJ-ed. He hadn’t planned to DJ that night. Far from it. He was the promoter of a club night in Ilord Essex. This was no ordinary venue. Situated above  a above a funeral parlour, it was notorious as a place where local gangsters hung out. However, this was where Paul Murphy graduated from promoter to DJ.

One night, a snowstorm swept in. The two Paul had booked Bob Jones and Paul Gratue were stranded. Paul was without a DJ.  So, it was a case of needs must. He stepped behind the wheels of steel and never looked back. 

That night, was a coming of age for Paul Murphy. Two years later, Paul was DJ-ing full time. He’d moved to a new venue, the Horseshoe in Tottenham Court Road. His speciality was spinning rare jazz funk and fusion. Some of the records he played, he imported from America. He was digging deeper than any other DJs. As a result, his sets were peppered with ultra rare tracks. Many of the tracks he broke became classics. Then in 1982, Paul headed for pastures new.

The Electric Ballroom in Camden became home to Paul in August 1982. His sets were a steady diet of fusion, Latin and jazz. This, after all, was what the jazz dancers who headed to The Electric Ballroom demanded. After two years playing the same music every Friday, Paul felt he needed a new challenge.

Next stop for Paul was Sol Y Sombra, where he spun eclectic sets at his two nights. At the start, he played Latin and Salsa on Fridays. Then he added another night. On Monday nights, Paul tried something new. Everything from fifties and sixties hard bop, right through to soul jazz, vocalese and bossa nova could be heard. This caught the imagination of London’s hipsters. 

Especially, influential style journal The Face. They got behind this burgeoning scene. So, did a new generation of musicians who’d been influenced by the music Paul played. Paul it seemed, had single handedly, invented a scene. It was no surprise when he was asked to compile a compilation of the music he spun on Monday nights at Sol Y Sombra.

Paul compiled his first volume of Jazz Club which was released in 1984. A second volume followed in 1985. There was meant to be a third volume. It never transpired. By then, music had changed and Paul’s DJ sets were changing. They were heading in the direction of R&B and rare groove. Since then, much has happened to Paul. He DJ-ed right through until the end of nineties. This included being one of the pioneers of the Acid Jazz scene. However, as a new millennia dawned, Paul realised he was burnt out. Needing to slow down, he relocated to Budapest. 

Nowadays, Paul Murphy divides his time between DJ-ing, producing and compiling compilations. His latest compilation is Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club, which was recently released by BGP Records, an imprint of Ace Records. This sees Paul pay homage to the scene he single handedly built. 

Digging deep into his record collection, Paul chose fifteen tracks for Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club. Among them are tracks from Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk Trio, Bennie Green, Freddie McCoy, Mose Allison and Willie Rodriguez Jazz Quartet. While many jazz lovers will have heard of these artists, they may not have heard of these tracks. There’s more than a few hidden gems on Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club, which I’ll pick the highlights of.

What better way to open Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club than with a track from a true jazz legend, Sonny Rollins. St. Thomas featured on Sonny’s 1956 album Saxophone Colossus. This describes Sonny Rollins perfectly. It’s no exaggeration to describe him was one of the most influential and innovative tenor saxophonists in jazz history. That’s why Sonny was signed  to Prestige, where he released Saxophone Colossus in 1956. Penned by Sonny, St. Thomas showcases Sonny’s inimitable style on this Caribbean tinged dance classic. It’s akin to a call to dance that’s truly irresistible.

Back in 1952, the Thelonious Monk Trio headed to New York to record the album Manteca. It was released on Prestige in 1953. The lineup consisted of drummer Art Blakey, bassist Gerry Mapp and Monk on piano. This multitalented trio were joined by Latin percussionist Ray Baretto on Bye Ya. Just like so much of the music Thelonious Monk recorded, it was innovative and moved jazz in a new direction. However, like so much innovative music, it wasn’t commercially successful. That was the case here with this groundbreaking fusion of jazz and Latin.

During a spell with Lionel Hampton’s band, Arnett Cobb was crowned the “Wild Man of the Tenor Sax.” This was down to his uninhibited stomping style. That can be heard  on Flying High a track from Arnett’s 1959 album Party Time. It was released on Prestige. Flying High is best described as jazz goes rock ’n’ roll. Arnett plays with power, freedom, ferocity and flexibility.  His playing is inventive and unique. In his hands, the tenor saxophone takes on new life. Joe Dukes’ drums help drive the arrangement along. The result is a blistering slice of good time jazz from Arnett Cobb, one of jazz’s best kept secrets.

Bernie Green’s Hiyo Silver will strike a chord with fans of the Lone Ranger. For younger readers, The Lone Ranger was one of television’s first superheroes. Mind you, I don’t remember The Lone Ranger ever singing “we’re going to rock you tonight?” Bernie does on his homage to the mysterious masked man. Written by Bernie and Osie Johnson, it featured on Bernie’s 1955 Prestige album, Blows His Horn Hi-Fi. Straight away, Bernie throws a curveball on Hiyo Silver. He takes the song in the direction of R&B and rock ’n’ roll. What follows is  dance-floor friendly fusion of R&B, rock ’n’ roll and jazz.

By the early nineties, Johnny Lytle’s  music became a favourite of the UK dance scene. Especially, his ultra rare New and Groovy album. So, much so, that it had been rereleased. The Village Caller, his 1963 album, released on Riverside was very different to New and Groovy. It was a much more laid back affair. Pedro Stroller featured on The Village Caller. It’s driven along by Johnny’s vibes and Willie Rodrigeuz’s percussion. This gives the track an unmistakable early sixties sound. Evocative, cinematic and melodic, this track will have provided the soundtrack to many a cocktail party, when the sixties were about to swing.

Eddie Jefferson is thought to be the inventor of vocalese, where lyrics were added to jazz instrumentals. Here, Eddie Jefferson transforms The Horace Silver Quintet track Filthy McNasty. Penned by Horace, Eddie’s version features on his 1968 album Body and Soul. It also sees Eddie give Charlie Parker’s Body and Soul and Horace Silver’s Psychedelic Sally. Just like Filthy McNasty, new life and meaning is breathed into these tracks. So is power, drama and emotion thanks to Eddie’s vocal tour de force.

When The Billy Taylor Trio collaborated with Candido on Mambo Inn, Billy was already an experienced and highly accomplished pianist. He’d spent the last ten years building his reputation. During that period, he’d come a long way. This included a spell as the house pianist at Birdland. By 1954, he was leading his own trio. They were about to record what would become The Billy Taylor Trio With Candido. Released in 1954, one its highlights wwas Mambo Inn. Here, he reworks this classic. With the help of Candido on congas and a rhythm section of drummer Charlie Smith and bassist Earl May, The Billy Taylor Trio make this classic their own.

Willis Jackson’s Blue Gator features the sultriest of saxophones. It comes courtesy of the man himself, Willis Jackson, who penned this track. It’s the title-track from his 1960 album. Released on Prestige, it showcased an all-star band. This includes Brother Jack McDuff on Hammond organ. Waves of his Hammond and a shuffling beat augment Willis’ blistering saxophone solo. He plays as if his very life depended upon it and makes this the perfect way to close Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club. It’s very definitely a case of keeping the best until last.

Although we’ve had to wait nearly thirty years for Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club, it’s been well worth the wait. Everything they say, comes to he who waits. This includes a compilation crammed full dance-floor classics. From the opening bars of Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas right through to Willis Jackson’s Blue Gator, it’s quality all the way. These fifteen tracks are from the fifties and sixties. Giants of jazz including Sonny Rollins,Thelonious Monk, Brother Jack McDuff, Mose Allison and Art Farmer sit happily side-by-side with hidden gems from Arnett Cobb and Bennie Green. This mixture of familiar faces and new names will appeal to two lots of people.

The most obvious are the people who spent Monday nights at Sol Y Sombra. They listened to Paul Murphy spin everything from fifties and sixties hard bop, right through to soul jazz, vocalese and bossa nova. For those ageing hipsters, this will be the equivalent to time travel. Paul Murphy’s Jazz Club will bring back memories of a time and a place. Memories of people and dancing till dawn will come flooding back. These memories will be prompted by the music on Paul Murphy’s Jazz Club. It’ll be like listening to one of Paul Murphy’s DJ sets. However, it’s not just anyone who went to  Sol Y Sombra that Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club will appeal to.

No. Anyone with a passing interest in jazz will enjoy Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club, which was recently released by BGP Records, an imprint of Ace Records. It’s one of the best jazz compilations of 2014. With its mixture of familiar faces and hidden gems, Paul Murphy Presents The Return Of Jazz Club will appeal to everyone from jazzers to ageing hipsters and everything in between.

PAUL MURPHY PRESENTS THE RETURN OF JAZZ CLUB.

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