Sugartime by The McGuire Sisters

August 31, 2013

The rock and roll era was in full swing as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson, and other icons of the era were pumping out the hits. Enter the McGuire Sisters who were really a throw back to the Big band era of vocals. Phyllis, Christine, and Dorothy were sisters who had perfect pitch harmonies. They placed 25 hits on the BILLBOARD Singles Chart, 1955-1959, including “Sincerely,” which topped the chart for 10 weeks in 1955.

“Sugartime” was their second and last number one. It only reached number five on the Top 100 and peaked at number sever on the Best Sellers In Store Chart. D.J.’s loved the song however and on 2/17/58, it reached the top of the Most Played by D.J.’s Chart where it remained for four weeks.

“Sugartime” was their last top ten hit. Dorothy would go solo for a while but the sisters reunited in the 1980s and performed together for years.


Don’t 45 by Elvis Presley

August 29, 2013

 

Elvis returned to the top of the charts in early 1958 with another Leiber and Stoller composition. The slow ballad “Don’t” became his 9th number one single. The flip side, “I Beg Of You,” also became a hit reaching number eight on the BILLBOARD Top 100.

Elvis had been drafted into the Army but was able to put off his induction for two months so he could finish the film, KING CREOLE, and record a number of singles and a Christmas album. On March 24, 1958, he reported for induction. That was just after “Don’t” topped the charts.

Best Sellers In Stores Chart – 2/10/58 – 5 weeks at number one.

Most Played By D.J. Chart – 3/17/58 – 1 week at number one.

Billboard Top 100 – 3/10/58 – 1 week at number one.

The hits would keep coming while he was in the service.  Of course his income dropped from over $100,000 a month to $78.


So Much Guitar by Wes Montgomery

August 28, 2013

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So Much Guitar!, by Wes Montgomery, is one of five new titles released by Concord Music Group in their ongoing Original Jazz Classics Remasters series.

Wes Montgomery (1923-1968) was one of the most innovative jazz guitarists of the 20th century. His use of the guitar as the main instrument, plus his technique of picking the strings with his thumb to create a unique style, and his ability to expand his sound from the exploration of single notes helped to expand the guitar’s place in jazz music.

His recording period can be divided into three distinct periods. His time with Riverside Records, 1959-1964, was his most prolific and productive and found him leading small groups. His period with Verve, 1964-1966, found him in basically an orchestral setting, complete with strings and brass. Just prior to his death, he signed with A&M and moved in a very commercial pop direction. This latest reissue is wisely taken from his Riverside period as So Much Guitar! is one of the better, if underrated, albums of his career.

When he went into the recording studio in August of 1961, he was accompanied by pianist Hank Jones, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Lex Humphries, and conga player Ray Baretto. The key was Carter, who was near the beginning of a career that continues today as one of the most prolific bassists in jazz history. He was the perfect foil for Montgomery as his talent on the bass pushed him to better performances.

The most interesting tracks are Montgomery’s two original compositions, “Twisted Blues” and “Something Like Bags.” The ballads, a subtle cover of the 1940s tune “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” and “While We’re Young,” are good examples of the Carter and Montgomery interplay. The Duke Ellington piece “Cotton Tail,” which in its original incarnation was a sax-driven tune, was adapted to feature guitar as the main instrument.

As with all the albums in the series, the sound is clear and crisp and the booklet gives a fine history of the albums creation and music. The original liner notes are also included.

There were no outtakes from the sessions to add as bonus tracks, so the producers went in a different direction and added eight tracks that were recorded early in 1961 at The Cellar in Vancouver, British Columbia. These include Wes Montgomery with Buddy Montgomery on vibes, bassist Monk Montgomery, and drummer Paul Humphrey. The performances of compositions such as “Snowfall,” “This Love of Mine,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “Angel Eyes” may not have the sophistication of the previous studio tracks but they are good examples of the guitarist’s technique and style as his playing is out front. The eight performances were released as The Montgomery Brothers in Canada, so you are essentially getting two albums for the price of one.

So Much Guitar! was a pivotal album in the career of Wes Montgomery and is an essential listen for any fan of his or of jazz guitar.


Dancer And The Moon by Blackmore’s Night

August 28, 2013

Who knew that when Ritchie Blackmore was the lead guitarist for hard rock bands Deep Purple and Rainbow, someday he would find contentment and love as a part of the rock/renaissance band Blackmore’s Night? But here he is 16 years and a dozen or so albums down the road.

The band’s albums tend to have a flow to them. They have fused a modern rock sound with elements of renaissance music into a unique and many times brilliant mix. The band has not veered from that approach, so If you like one album; you will probably like them all. Their latest release, Dancer and the Moon,is except for two tracks mostly more of the same, which should please their ever-growing fan base.

Blackmore’s Night has covered a number of songs by outside writers with varying results. Songs such as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (Elvis), “First of May” (Bee Gees), “Diamonds and Rust” (Joan Baez), “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (Bob Dylan), and “Celluloid Heroes” (Kinks) have, for better or worse, graced their albums. This time they have recorded the best cover song of their career, Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” It is the album’s first track and one where the band veers from their usual approach. It is more of a pop song, since the group changes the song’s tempo, plus Candice Night’s vocals bring a polish to the track. Blackmore’s guitar play is sedated, which provides a subtle foundation for the performance.

The second track, “Troika,” finds the band back in familiar territory. It is English renaissance music meeting the sounds of the Russian Volga boat men. The music then settles in to their well-known groove. It is not their most energetic release, but after several listens the music sneaks up on you to create a pleasant flow. “The Last Leaf,” “Dancer and the Moon,” “The Spinner’s Tale,” and “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over the Sea)” all fit in with their previous work. There is also a beautiful take on the traditional Welsh folk tune, “The Ash Grove.”

The second song that is outside the norm is the album’s last track, “Carry On…Jon.” It is one of the more poignant ones of Blackmore’s career, as it is an instrumental tribute to his old Deep Purple bandmate Jon Lord, who passed away last year. It is an extended guitar solo with a melancholy feel that is a fitting farewell to a person with whom he spent a lot of years.

I tend to like Blackmore’s Night’s music and Dancer and the Moon is a satisfying release. They may or may not have some creative twists and turns in their future but for now, this album will do just fine.$(KGrHqF,!hcE+5h1rW+1BQPZJ4zzog~~60_1


Sweatheart Of The Sun by The Greencards

August 19, 2013

 

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A decade ago, transplanted Australians Kym Warner (mandolin) and Carol Young (bass and vocals) found themselves in Austin, Texas, where they met English fiddler Eamon McLoughlin. The result of that meeting was the formation of one of the underappreciated gems of the American music scene. Their newest album, Sweetheart of the Sun. will be released next month.

The Greencards may not have been formed by Americans but they play a distinct brand of American music. They can best be described as a progressive bluegrass band. Their music may mix in some folk and rock but it is firmly rooted in American bluegrass traditions. The lyrics at times take it all in an Americana direction but it all works out to a blend that has been labeled newgrass.

Ten years after their formation, Warner and Young remain the core of the band. Guitarist Carl Minor is now the third permanent member. They use a rotating cast of musicians to create the sound in the recording studio, plus they use a pedal steel guitar for the first time here.

Their latest album finds the band moving in some new directions. Their early releases had a jam-like feel. Now they’re more sophisticated as they have honed their sound so that it has a polish and even a sonic quality at times. The use of additional musicians gives the band a much fuller sound than in the past, yet one can still discern the acoustic guitar, mandolin, and bass foundation, which is probably how the music will be presented on stage.

The new music also has an underlying concept as it explores their connections to water and movement. It is an album that evokes a mood as the songs build upon one another.  It is one of those releases that needs to be listened to in its entirely, as the whole is better and certainly more complete than the parts. Songs such as “Black, Black Water,” “Paddle the Torrens,” “Ocean Floor,” “Midnight Ferry,” and “Fly” create an ambiance that will take the listener on a journey through their world.

Sweetheart of the Sun was an ambitious project for the Greencards and they were able to bring their vision to fruition. It is an album that shows their growth as a band and is well worth a listen.


A Token Of His Extreme DVD by Frank Zappa

August 19, 2013

$(KGrHqF,!hcE+5h1rW+1BQPZJ4zzog~~60_1It is not surprising that during the mid-1970s Frank Zappa decided to fund his own television special. It is also not surprising that given the conservative nature of the TV networks during that era, none of them would air the special. Zappa had an eccentric brilliance that was outside the mainstream and the networks at the time were all about mainstream, so the special sat in the vaults. Now A Token of His Extreme has returned in all its bizarre glory.

Given that the film is close to 40 years old, they have done a good job of cleaning it up as the sound and picture are very clear. The problem is the way it was filmed, as the camera angles move very fast at times and for no apparent reason. During some of the performances, Zappa is not the center of attention even when playing a solo and Frank Zappa’s guitar solos are to be treasured.

The band backing Zappa’s guitar and vocals is tight. It centers around keyboardist George Duke, for whom I have new respect, plus sax player Napoleon Murphy Brock, percussionist Ruth Underwood, bassist Tom Fowler, and drummer Chester Thompson. Songs such as “The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat,” Stink-Foot,” “Pygmy Twylyte,” “Inca Roads,” and “More Trouble Every Day” will never come close to the Billboard Hot 100 but they are wonderful excisions into the mind and music of Frank Zappa. They are good connecters to a specific period of his career. Five of the performances clock in at between seven and 12 minutes, which allows the musicians to stretch out and explore his visions.

You can’t have a Zappa television special without some animation interspersed among the music. Bruce Bickford created the characters. I’m sort of split on the effectiveness of the approach but to Frank Zappa it all made sense and, at the least, it is an interesting ride.

The best of the bonus material is his 17 minute appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, which was done to promote the special. Also on hand as guests were Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Walker, which form a very odd threesome.

A Token of His Extreme is a welcome addition to his vast catalog of releases. It will no doubt please his many fans and hopefully add a few new ones along the way. So sit back, let you mind wander, and enjoy the world and music of Frank Zappa.


Dandy 45 by Herman’s Hermits

August 15, 2013

Dandy

Between 1964 and 1968, Herman’s Hermits sold tens of millions of records in the United States as they placed 19 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including 11 top 10s and two number ones.

“Dandy” was an odd song for them to cover. It was written by Ray Davies of The Kinks who would go on to become one of the most respected song writers in music history. His songs ranged from gritty rock and to roll to what can be called high art. Herman’s Hermits were a light weight pop/rock band who produced catchy if not enduring music.

Their version was very popish but was perfect for AM radio at the time. It reached number five during the fall of 1966.

Herman’s Hermits had their last hit during the summer of 1968. Music was changing and their brand of pop was quickly out of style.


Don’t Just Stand There/Patty and Sings Songs From Valley Of The Dolls/Sings Folk Songs by Patty Duke

August 14, 2013

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Patty Duke is remembered by an aging generation of males as a mid-1960s teen idol for her starring roles on The Patty Duke Show, in which she played the dual look-a-like characters of Patty Lane and her cousin Cathy Lane. Movie fans will remember her for winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at the age of 16. After the series ended, she played the very adult role of Neely O’Hara in the movie Valley Of The Dolls.

Like many actors and actresses, before and since, she decided to try her hand at singing. On the strength of her television show, she released two commercially success albums: Don’t Just Stand There (1965) and Patty (1966), which spawned two hit singles, “Say Something Funny” and “Don’t Just Stand There.” In 1967, she released an album of songs from the film she starred in, Valley Of The Dolls. The last album of her career, Sings Folk Songs (1968), which contains traditional and popular songs of the day, was never issued – and the Valley album was never released on CD. Real Gone Music has now released all four albums, complete with a few bonus tracks, as two-for-one CDs. Not counting two compilation albums and two songs on the Billie soundtrack, these releases represent just about all of her studio tracks at the time.

Duke has what can be called an acceptable voice. It was probably better than Hayley Mills and Shelley Fabares and about equal in quality to Annette. She basically sang lightweight pop and her vocals could carry the songs, although they seem very dated today and in many ways would have fit better in the pre-Beatles era.

Don’t Just Stand There/Patty was very typical of many pop albums of her day. Take a couple of singles and surround them with a number of cover songs. Let’s face it. Songs such as “Yesterday,” “Downtown,” “A World Without Love,” “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” “Save Your Heart for Me,” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” were all covered dozens of times and much better most of those times, and that’s not taking the originals into consideration. Her two hits are by far the best tracks, as they are catchy pieces of pop. All in all, these are albums definitely rooted in the 1960s but there are a lot of people who still remember her, and the young woman on the CD cover is still appealing.

Sings Songs From Valley Of The Dolls/Sings Folk Songs contains the last two albums of her singing career.  They are more obscure than her commercially successful pop material but are also more interesting. Her role in Valley Of The Dolls, for better or worse, was her first attempt to leave her youth behind. The albums reflect a new maturity, at least in the selection of material.

She owed United Artists a couple of albums and so to capitalize on her movie performance in Valley of the Dolls, she covered a number of songs from it. Dionne Warwick had a huge hit with the title song in 1968, and while Duke’s performance does not reach those heights, she gives it a good try. “Valley Of The Dolls,” “It’s Impossible,” and “Come Live with Me” may be a bit subdued but she is in control and they are credible performances.

The second side of the original vinyl release was made up of cover songs that attempted to appeal to an adult audience. “Roses Are Red” and “Half-Hearted Kisses” were competent adult-contemporary performances. The film’s soundtrack and Warwick’s own Valley of the Dolls album sold well but hers quickly disappeared.

The real gem for Patty Duke fans is her previously unreleased album of folk songs. Her label made the decision to not release it and so the music sat in the vaults for over 40 years. It is certainly dated today but it is overall her strongest album. The material fit her voice better than the pop material. The simple versions of “The Bells of Rhymney,” “The Cruel War,” “The Housewife’s Lament,” and “Colors” may have been a little out of place in the late 1960s but they are a nice visit to a simpler time.

Real Gone music has done a good job with the packaging, as the booklets give a comprehensive history of the albums and Patty Duke. There are also a number of classic photos of her as well.

In the last analysis, these releases will probably only appeal to her fans or fans of the era. If you fall into either of those categories, then these long out-of-print albums are for you.


The South Side Of Soul Street: The Minaret Singles 1967-1976 by Various Artists

August 14, 2013

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Thousands of music labels have been established in the United States and most have faded into obscurity because of a lack of commercial success. Despite the failures, there was a lot of good music produced and issued by many of these long gone and forgotten labels. One such label was Minaret Records, established in 1962 as a Nashville country and rock and roll label. It was purchased by Finley Duncan in the mid-1960s, who took it in a soul direction and had it distributed by Shelby Singleton’s SSS International Records.

Artists such as Big John Hamilton, Willie Cobbs, Genie Brooks, Doris Allen, Willie Gable, Johnny Dynamite, and Leroy Lloyd and The Dukes may not be household names or even recognizable to most music fans, but rhythm & blues aficionados consider some of their singles to be the Holy Grail of collecting. Now all 20 A and B-sides of the Minaret soul singles, released 1967-1976, have been released under the appropriate title, The South Side Of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976, as a two-disc CD.

Big John Hamilton is the center of the CD as he appears on half the tracks, which include four duets with Doris Allen. He has a sweet soul voice that is perfect for everything from blues to gospel. He learned his trade during a stint with Hank Ballad & The Midnighters and Etta James’ backing band. “Big Bad John” (not the Jimmy Dean hit) could have been released by Stax. It has a funky horn section and a stinging guitar that serve as the underpinning for his vocal. “I Had No One” is a nice ballad featuring his silky voice, while “How Much Can a Man Take” is another ballad in the James Brown tradition. “Big Fanny” has pulsating rhythms to support the tale of the 300-pound chanteuse. His duet on “Let a Little Love In” with Doris Allen is a breezy and soulful redo of a country song. Their best collaboration is a soaring and rocking version of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.”

Genie Brooks was one of those local artists that many people couldn’t quite figure out why he didn’t make it in a big way. He had a flexible voice that could run up and down the scales. “South Side of Soul Street” is a typical late 1960s dance track but the other side of the original single, “Helping Hand,” is a passionate and socially conscious tale of prison and loss.

Perhaps the best track is the instrumental “Soulful Strut” by Leroy Lloyd and The Dukes. It has some bluesy guitar licks, but it is the brass that dominates the track.

The quality of the music makes one wonder why it didn’t sell well at the time of its release. One reason was small labels had limited funds for promotion and secondly, the larger labels, such as Motown and Stax, were releasing equally good and some times better music and more of it.

The major problem may have been the lack of a consistent sound. The album is a collection of very individual tracks and while many are excellent representations of late 1960s and early 1970s soul and provide a historical presentation of what was being issued by smaller labels, there is an inconsistency to the music.

In the final analysis, The South Side Of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles 1967-1976 is a valuable release in that it resurrects a number of hard to find tracks that are still a worthwhile listening experience.


Bangla-Desh 45 by George Harrison

August 12, 2013

Bangladesh

George Harrison spent the 1960s as the lead guitarist of The Beatles. Every once in awhile, one of his songs would be included on an album. “Something” was a rare tune of his released as a single by the band.

When the Beatles disbanded, he released one of the classic albums in rock and roll history, ALL THINGS MUST PASS, proving that he was a major talent. He followed this with his famous CONCERT FOR BANGLA-DESH. He was always interested in humanitarian causes and the concert and subsequent album benefited the starving in Bangla-Desh.

The single was released during the summer of 1971 and peaked at number 23 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100. It may not have been one of his best songs but it was one of his most important.