Category Archives: CD

The Box Tops • The Letter/Neon Rainbow–Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions [2CD]

I approach these “lots of albums on one or two CDs” collections kind of cautiously. After all, if the albums were so damn good, wouldn’t people be willing to pick them up as separate discs? Case in point: THE BOX TOPSThe Letter/Neon Rainbow– Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions. This new 2CD, four album release comprises all of the band’s studio albums in one handy set, and it’s definitely a hit and miss affair.

You may remember a few of The Box Tops’ bigger hits, such as the once ubiquitous ’60s AM radio staples “The Letter” (“Give me a ticket for an aeroplane…”) – a Number One, mind you – and “Cry Like a Baby,” both of which we still hear today in movie soundtracks in order to set the time period or to establish some sort of emotional vibe for people of “a certain age”. The band weren’t a slapped together group or a studio concoction, exactly, but were made up of a Memphis group called The Devilles who added 15 year old local Alex Chilton as lead singer, recorded a cool new song in a local studio, and then went on to fame (but apparently not much fortune) and the pop radio tour circuit. Chilton himself later joined Big Star, another Memphis group that went on to acclaim as a cult power pop band. (See my coverage of them here.) After that, Alex went solo and on to college radio stardom (as in, culter-than-cult status) before the 1990s when Big Star finally had its day. All types of fame are relative, of course, so what you know about any of these groups’ band or solo discographies depends on how you like your pop music. Regardless, Alex Chilton was one of those guys who had fame on about every level a musician can – except maybe without the cold, hard cash that typically comes with it. Anyway, back to The Box Tops…

The four albums that make up this set are of your typical Sixties variety, being made up of a hit single or two and then another ten or so songs good enough to help pad out an LP. A few songs on each of these records stand out a bit more than the rest, but basically, after the hit singles there’s not a lot here to get your everyday music fan excited. Sure, guys like me will be interested in, for instance, other songs that the guy who wrote “The Letter” wrote, or The Box Tops’ version of Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (not that different from the Fudge’s), but after that even I have to call “time” on things. Yet, for £9.95 plus shipping, this 2CD is worth the price. IF you really dig Alex Chilton, that is.  — Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Beat Goes On BGOCD1400, UK, 2020)

Tagged , ,

The Idle Race • The Birthday Party [2CD]

There was so much going on in pop music in 1968, the year THE IDLE RACE’s The Birthday Party, their debut album, was first released. It’s not hard to understand how something this good could have been overlooked; luckily one of the band’s leaders, Jeff Lynne, went on to a level of fame that meant anything he had a hand in creating would arouse interest for decades to come. England’s Cherry Red Records, under their Grapefruit imprint, have just released a two disc celebration of that album, complete with both the mono and stereo mixes and the album’s attendant 45 releases.

What kind of pop music are we talking about here? Well, like so much of what made – and didn’t make – the charts then, there are definitive Beatles vibes going on, but there’s some good ol’ British style pschedelia going on, too. How else to explain the abundance of mellotron, sing-song melodies, double-tracked harmonies and songs about guys sitting in trees, ladies who think they can fly and other psilly psubjects. My favorite tunes on The Birthday Party are “Sitting in My Tree,” “Don’t Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward,” “On With the Show” and the album’s natural closer, “End of the Road.” You also get (on Disc 1) singles “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree,” which was given to the Idle Race by The Move, who went ahead and recorded it and then released it before Liberty Records could get Lynne & Co.’s version out. Too bad, too, because it’s about as good as The Move’s version so it could have been the goosing that the Idle Race’s career needed. Another good one is the alternate take of “Follow Me Follow,” which is less straight ahead than the album version and actually better than that. “Days of the Broken Arrows” is a non-LP A-side that definitely makes for a great single (and its B-side is great, too, that being “Worn Red Carpet”).

Jeff Lynne left The Idle Race after the group’s second album (Idle Race) for The Move, spent a couple years with that group and then started ELO with fellow Mover Roy Wood (with both groups running simultaneously for a year or two). Listening to The Birthday Party is a good way to see how Lynne worked his way from nascent popster to world renowned producer (he went on to produce, besides his own Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, Traveling Wilburys and The Beatles, among many others). This is a 2CD set jam packed with tunes that you’ll want to hear again and again. — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Grapefruit QCRSEG065D, UK, 2020)

Tagged , ,

Andrew Gold • Something New: Unreleased Gold [CD]; America • Heritage II: Demos/Alternate Takes 1971-1976 [CD]

Here are a couple of releases that are coming out for Record Store Day 2020 (now post-poned to June 20), on limited edition vinyl, but are actually out on April 24th on CD and as digital downloads.

ANDREW GOLD‘s Something New: Unreleased Gold is a collection of early demos – recorded both solo and with a band – prior to him getting a deal with Asylum Records, where his first album came out in 1975. These ’73 recordings definitely encapsulate Gold’s folky tunes (especially the ones recorded solo on acoustic guitar), foreshadowing the smooth voice that sang later hits “Lonely Boy” (which I had on 7″) and the theme song to The Golden Girls TV show, “Thank You For Being a Friend.” The recordings themselves are quite good, having been recorded by professionals in an LA studio, and the bulk of them are Gold singing to solo piano or guitar (sometimes with his own double-tracked or harmony vocals). If you’re a fan of Andrew Gold and his mid-’70s LA folk-scene style, then this might be a fun diversion to take your mind off things.

AMERICA’s Heritage II: Demos/ Alternate Takes 1971-1976 is a similar affair, a second volume of the three-man band’s original recordings of songs that (mostly) appeared on their mid-’70s albums Holiday, Hearts and Hideaway (they got a little “H” thing going with those titles). At the controls for most of these tracks were producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, two who are well-known for their work with The Beatles (for starters). I’m not a huge America fan so I don’t recognize most of Heritage II’s songs from their released counterparts, but there are some tunes on here that many of us would know, like the rough mix (with no lead vocals) of “Tin Man,” which was a big hit for them in 1974. Another highlight is “Jameroony,” a nearly 13 minute acoustic guitar jam that Americaphiles had only heard of until this new release came out. It’s a real nice jam session, alright, reminding me of the way my step brother Dave and I (and sometimes our dad, Denny) would play our acoustics together. It was usually Dave who did the soloing – he was much better than me and I seem to remember Denny wasn’t really into soloing – and we weren’t nearly as good together as Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek were. You can tell these three spent a lot of time playing together, the way they play off of each other and anticipate where the current soloist is going. I’m drawn to this album for that and because of the fact that, at about 11 or 12, I learned how to play America’s “A Horse with No Name” on the guitar and it was likely the first song I knew all the way through. (It was either that or The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”). Anyway, you get a baker’s dozen of the band’s demos on this collection, available now on CD and on limited edition vinyl come Record Store Day in June (or whenever it ends up happening, coronavirus restrictions pending). — Marsh Gooch

(Omnivore Recordings OVCD-371 [Andrew Gold] and OVCD-370 [America], 2020)

 

Tagged ,

Frank Zappa • The Hot Rats Sessions [6CD Box Set]

Out of all the FRANK ZAPPA albums a newbie could start with, Hot Rats might not be the best choice. “It’s jazz,” I hear you cough. [Careful!] “Ick.” That’s what I thought the first time I heard it, anyway, back in the late ’70s after discovering Joe’s Garage and then The Mothers’ Fillmore East–June 1971. Besides one song with then-unknown-to-me Captain Beefheart kinda narrating, it was all instrumental and fairly difficult for my 16 year old music brain to comprehend. No humor – which does belong in music – no lyrics or singing, no obvious hooks for me to catch. Fast forward nearly forty years and 50-something year old me is, like, “This is a damn good album!” And now, at the landmark album’s 50th anniversary, there’s way more to get into than the original six cuts that made up Frank’s first proper solo album. The Hot Rats Sessions is a major box set, comprising six CDs, a nice book with lots of photos and notes about the sessions, a set of guitar picks and even a board game. Hot rats, indeed!

Hot Rats was the first non-Mothers of Invention record from Zappa – though a few Mothers played on it – if you don’t count Lumpy Gravy, which he wrote but didn’t play on, and the first time the guitarist/bandleader put something out generally lacking words. It was also, though, the first time his guitar soloing was given such a front seat, and that is something guitarists all over the world can dig, even if they can’t quite fathom the semi-jazz chord patterns or the soloing by violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. (I’m not huge on that part, myself, though I am a fan of Harris’ early work as part of Don & Dewey.) Though Zappa is credited with the bulk of the playing on Hot Rats, Mother Ian Underwood played piano, organ, sax, clarinet and flute, and others played here and there on the sessions (Ron Selico, John Guerin, Jimmy Carl Black, Art Tripp III and Paul Humphrey on drums; John Balkin, Max Bennett, Roy Estrada and Shuggie Otis on bass; Bunk Gardner on sax; Harris on violin). Those sessions took place over a couple weeks in July 1969 with the finished LP released in October. With catchy (for jazz!) tunes like the tasty “Peaches En Regalia,” “Willie the Pimp” (which The Mothers did on Fillmore East), the sweet “Little Umbrellas” and others, it was yet another Zappa classic at the time – but who really knew what to make of it?

Well, now it’s available in super long form for all of us to figure out, and since many of us have so much time on our hands right now, there’s never been a better time to give it a try. The Hot Rats Sessions comes in a 12″ x 12″-ish box housing the six CDs in a gatefold LP-style folder, a 28-page book with notes from Underwood and Matt Groening (he did not play on these sessions!), and the aforementioned game, Zappa Land, which has a 12″ x 24″ board and many colorful game pieces. Needless to say you may want to make color copies of those so as not to destroy the value of this super deluxe box set! In all, there’s much to recommend this baby. Sure, some of the lengthy jamming may get tedious after awhile (though the 32-minute “Big Legs” is scintillating throughout*), and let’s face it: no matter how good a box set is, you’re only likely to dive into the deep end on rare occasions anyway. But if you really like your Rats Hot, you must partake. Find it on sale somewhere and dig in while the diggin’s good. — Marsh Gooch
* “Big Legs” in severely edited form is “The Gumbo Variations” on the final released album.

4/5 (Zappa Records ZR20032, 2019)

Tagged

Booker T. & The MG’s • The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962-1967) [CD, 2LP]

It’s pretty hard to beat the grooves that BOOKER T. & THE MG’S laid down back in the ’60s, and proof of that can be found in the grooves that make up The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962- 1967), a new compilation from Real Gone Music. This 29-track funk-a-thon is one hell of an intro to the Memphis group’s sound, muscular R&B instrumentals from a mixed race melting pot of organ/piano, guitar, bass and drums that basically defined the Stax sound.

The 1CD/2LP collection compiles the band’s early period sides for Volt and Stax, the former label morphing into the latter and becoming an indie powerhouse that gave us Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and many more. Made up of organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassists Lewie Steinberg and (later) Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. and his MG’s concocted a sound that was high on swinging, hard hitting grooves that to this day are the epitome of what makes Memphis music so irresistible. Pretty much anyone who’s ever turned on the radio has heard “Green Onions,” the band’s signature and first single, and all of the following records had the same basic ingredients. Despite their efforts to mix it up a bit by adding additional instruments here and there, the original recipe was so good that no amount of tweaking could alter its appeal. Yet, followup singles “Mo-Onions,” “Jellybread” (see video below) or the fabulous “Boot-Leg” and “Hip Hug-Her” never bettered that first side, charts-wise.

Real Gone Music’s 29-track compilation is 75 minutes long, generous as hell for one CD (or two LPs) and would be a lot to digest if it wasn’t for the fact that Booker T. & The MG’s music is so fun and uplifting that the vibe never really gets old. (It helps that the tunes are rarely more than a couple of minutes long.) I can imagine what it might’ve been like to hear these guys play them live, stretching out on a solo or groove and really getting down with it – I’m sure I would’ve totally dug it. As in “dig it,” you know, that phrase they said back in the Sixties and which some of us younger old farts still say on occasion. Worth the low price, for sure, The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 is all you need to get your own “MG Party” started. — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Real Gone Music RGM-0889, 2019)

Tagged

Hank Williams • Pictures from Life’s Other Side [Book/6CD Set]

Hey friend, did you say there’s a HANK WILLIAMS revival going on? Did I miss the memo? Well, there’s no need to print one out because Pictures from Life’s Other Side has just hit the stores and it’s the second big release in half a year celebrating ol’ Hank’s legacy. That’s close enough to a memo to me.

“The Man and His Music in Rare Photos and Recordings” is the tagline of this behemoth, which consists of a 272 page hardcover book (inside a nice slipcase) loaded with great photos and housing six CDs of the music Hank made for yet another syndicated radio program, this one sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour. There is a bountiful dozen dozen (144) songs here, many that Hank & His Drifting Cowboys or alter ego Luke The Drifter never recorded for MGM Records in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Before we get to the music, let’s talk about the book. It’s beautiful, with an exhaustive and exhilarating selection of photos – many never published – in both black and white and (a handful in) color. Some are staged, studio shots, some are fans’ photos of the star and those very fans. Even the familiar pictures are reproduced clearer than ever before. The book itself is so fancy that it’s even got a red ribbon attached so you can mark your place; I mean, there’s no way you’re gonna get through this tabletop book in one go! It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the book is worth the price alone.

As for the music on Pictures from Life’s Other Side, the songs were cut throughout 1951 in a recording studio, “live” with Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys current lineup. One of the things that makes this collection so cool is that, unlike on last year’s Health & Happiness Shows release (reviewed here), Hank and his band mates sound natural and off-the-cuff between songs. It’s a bit jarring when the banter is snipped off or quickly faded, but it does cut down on the hokey dialog that sometimes makes that other radio show release kinda corny. Many of Williams’s greatest hits are here, of course, but there are loads of not so obvious cuts, such as one version of “Dear Brother,” which Hank sings with his then-wife Audrey (I’ve noted how bad a singer she is before, most recently in that aforementioned review). On this particular take it’s like you’re listening to Hank & Audrey channeling thirty years into the future to John Doe & Exene Cervenka of punk band, X. I gotta say, though, that I’d much rather hear John & Exene sing “Los Angeles” than Hank & Audrey singing anything at all. (Maybe one day John & Exene will cut an album of Hank & Audrey hits! It’d be sorta like a second volume of X alter ego band The Knitters’ Poor Little Critter on the Road.)

Considering the hugeness of this Hank volume, you could likely find yourself on a lost highway going through Pictures from Life’s Other Side – I’ve only made it through the first three CDs and two quick runs through the book – and that means that the true fan will find lots to like about this massive book and music set. Cheryl Pawelski of Omnivore Recordings fame can again be thanked for producing yet another Hank Williams treat, and it’s Michael Graves who did the big job of restoring and remastering the music. (A host of others also should be thanked, including Hank historian Colin Escott, who assembled the book [and who wrote the definitive biography on our subject a few decades ago].) Three cheers for Hank Williams, his Drifting Cowboys, and the fans-in-high-places who keep the man’s fire stoked year after year. — Marsh Gooch

5/5 (BMG, 2020)

Tagged ,

Marshall Crenshaw • Miracle of Science [CD]

What do many MARSHALL CRENSHAW fans dream of? Reissues! Apparently MC got the memo, and here’s the first in a series, Miracle of Science. Originally released in 1996 on Razor & Tie Records (on CD only, though), it was the first studio album of Crenshaw’s brand of power pop after his contracts with Warner Bros. and Paradox/MCA ended. At the time it probably made sense for Marshall to move to the environs of the indie world, and he ended up making all of the rest of his albums that way. Major fame and fortune eluded him despite his ability to craft tunes that you’d be humming for days and weeks.

I instantly fell in love with Crenshaw’s music when I first heard his self-titled debut, Marshall Crenshaw, in 1982. Sure, I dug the fact that he has the same name as me (not too many of us Marshalls in the world, then or now), but it was more about the mix of pop, rockabilly and girl group rock that he played. That mix of genres continued through all of his albums, and here on Miracle of Science you get a good dose of his kind of rock ’n’ roll. From his practically patented power pop style, epitomized on “What Do You Dream Of” and “Only an Hour Ago,” full of melody and Stratocaster guitar tone, to the rockabilly of “Who Stole That Train?” and his instinct for interesting covers (“The ‘In’ Crowd”), this album is packed with a punch that is seldomly witnessed. Marshall’s added some interesting bonus tracks to this reissue on Shiny-Tone, (I believe) his own label and a guarantee he’ll get to keep doing it his way. An interesting track, “Seven Miles an Hour,” is featured in both forward and backward versions, and MC decided to include the backward version first (as a standard track) and the forward version (which was the one originally released in ’96) as a bonus track. Curious.

Anyway, let’s keep the Crenshaw reissues coming! The severe lack of tune in today’s “tunes” means we need Marshall’s tunes more than ever. — Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Shiny-Tone 020286-23000, 2020)

 

Tagged

Young Fresh Fellows • A Tribute to Music [CD]

[Review originally published 1/26/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc]

This 1997 release on Rock ’N’ Roll, Inc. out of Spain completely slipped by me. Now, let me just say that YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS are probably the best band ever out of Seattle (sorry, Sonics were from Tacoma), and I’ve followed them since their inception. Why, I can remember many drunken gigs at the Rainbow (in Seattle), the Hollywood Underground (where I got asked onstage to sing “Give It to the Soft Boys” with them), and just about every good dive (oxymoron!) in town. A Tribute to Music is one of those foreign releases the Fellows have always been fond of: put out an entirely great CD on some tiny-ass label and let the hardcore fans have fun trying to find a copy. Well, I got mine used for $5.99 at Easy Street Records in West Seattle today, and I’m here to say I’m quite enjoying this 12 song, 29:39 disc.

Right off the bat there’s a real kooky intro—sorry, an “Invocation”—and then a super annoying “Louie Louie”-style tune with Scott McCaughey sounding quite demonic. Very next thing, they launch into a cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know,” which was a hit for Tracey Ullman. Soon you get “Ivar’s Theme” about our local fishmonger/marketing genius Ivar Haglund, and it just keeps rockin’ all the way to the end. I gotta hand it to Scott, Jim, Kurt and Tad for their ability to keep it real for so dang long. How I missed this one when it came out, I have no idea. But I’m glad I got it now. If only Jim Sangster would come by and get that Ampeg amp grill I snagged for him… — Marsh Gooch
4/5 (Rock ’N’ Roll, Inc. R&RINC 013, Spain)

Tagged

Big Star • In Space [CD, LP]

If you started with BIG STAR’s In Space and worked your way backwards through Third/Sister Lovers, Radio City and then #1 Record, you’d feel like you’d quickly worked your way to an easy jackpot. Sorta like playing the slots and winning with the first lever pull (okay, these days, button push), then winning some more, then winning A LOT more, and then BOOM! Lights flash, slot machine makes all kinds of exciting noise and then the attendant comes over to give you buckets and buckets of coin. That may be exaggerating the point, but the final album in Big Star’s four album trajectory (not counting live stuff) is a winner, it’s just nowhere near as great as the others.

The rock critic in me feels bad making such a statement about In Space, as I know both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow in real life and they’re a couple of great guys – AND they’re talented as hell! When they hooked up with remaining Big Stars Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens in the early ’90s all of us in the Seattle music scene were excited for these founders of The Posies, perfect youngbloods, to bolster the once brilliant band. They did some live concerts, eventually releasing a few (Columbia, Live in Memphis) and doing some short tours. When it was announced that Big Star Mk IV were in the studio recording an album of new material, it came as a pleasant surprise, tempered by the likelihood that whatever they recorded wouldn’t match the excellence of the original band’s (as in Mks I, II & III) near-immaculate output. Okay, maybe what turned out to be In Space might equal Third/Sister Lovers in awesomeness, but even that was likely not gonna happen. What I’m saying is, In Space turned out to be a pretty nice little album. Not necessarily essential listening, but in a way, exactly where you’d have expected Big Star to land if they’d stayed together. AND… it could’ve been a disaster. That, my friends, is why the Posies/Big Star merger made total sense: Because it didn’t end in disaster.

The album starts with the four best tracks, “Dony,” “Lady Sweet,” “Best Chance” and “Turn My Back on the Sun,” all songs that sport that patented Big Star power pop mixture: catchy tunes, tough but melodic guitars, hard pounding drums and killer harmonies. There’s even a Brian Wilson tribute (“Turn My Back”) with vocals that deserve to be heard on their own (which is just what you get as a bonus track). In Space also includes a pair of funky workouts like those Alex Chilton favored in his mid ’80s solo phase (“Do You Wanna Make It” and the Archie Bell & The Drells-inspired “Love Revolution,” which works as a nice mid album change of pace). Did you know that Ken Stringfellow is a real good bass player? Dig his playing here!

I can’t say all of the album is that good. I could live without “Aria, Largo,” which is an instrumental cover of baroque composer Georg Muffat’s original that sounds like the guys are still learning it, and the remaining songs are alright but not essential. But what the album lacks in all-out Big Star goodness it makes up for in a lighthearted, fun vibe that permeates the entire disc.

Omnivore’s 2019 reissue includes a rocking epic called “Hot Thing” that they ought to have included when the album was originally released in 2005, some demos and a rough mix, and the aforementioned a cappella take. The CD version sounds muscular and dynamic, and I’d assume the vinyl (initially available on clear blue wax) is going to sound similarly swell. It’s a worthwhile purchase, especially if you don’t have the original Rykodisc issue. Basically, in my dad’s words, In Space is “not too shabby.” Not superb, but NTS. — Marsh Gooch

2.75/5 (Ominvore OVCD-338, 2019)

Tagged , ,

Harry Nilsson • Losst and Founnd [CD, LP]

HARRY NILSSON died of a heart attack twenty-five years ago. That would seem to explain why it took so long to finish Losst and Founnd, the “new” album from pop’s coolest singer. But there’s almost always more to the story than the obvious explanation, especially with Harry. And so, here we are in 2019 with a finished version of the album he was working on when he passed away in 1994 and it’s just about everything you’d want out of a Nilsson record.

Why’d it take so long to find Losst and Founnd? It’s apparently a convoluted enough story that there’s a four part podcast series dedicated to it. I don’t have time to sift through that now, so take it from me, it doesn’t really matter. This is a new Nilsson record! As it’s sung on the title track, “Losst and Found, what a miracle!”

From the humor that is uniquely Harry’s on “U.C.L.A.,” to the die-hard fandom of “Yo Dodger Blue,” to his interpretations of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” and Jimmy Webb’s beautiful-yet-funny “What Does a Woman See in a Man,” this album’s completion means there’s one more really good Nilsson record (or CD) to have on your shelf. Yes, by now his voice wasn’t the instrument it once was – but he could still sing, and in fact the gruff in his voice quite suits the material. Sorta like how some of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings tracks (such as “Hurt,” the cover of Nine Inch Nails) benefited from the maturity and experience that only an old guy could emote. The arrangements, too, are of a similar quality level to what Harry accomplished with Richard Perry back in the early ’70s.

You may not go to Losst and Founnd as often as you do Nilsson Schmilsson or Son of Schmilsson, but it’s right up there with Pussy Cats and some of Harry’s other greats. Despite its twenty-five year incubation, it was really worth the wait. Kudos to Omnivore Recordings and producer Mark Hudson for allowing it to finally hatch.  — Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-346, 2019)

 

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: