The Starting Line (CD) by Amber Sweeney

January 29, 2014

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Amber Sweeney is one of those artists who began her career by singing in church. She released a solo album at the age of 18 and then spent four years, 2001-2005, as the bass player and background vocalist for the band Enation. She has now released her third solo album, The Starting Line, which features five new original compositions.

She has a gritty voce and has developed into an adept guitarist. She also has the ability to write a good tune and is able to add some melodic textures to the mix. It all comes down to a listenable pop/blues fusion album.

She has added a little edge to her music as “Leap” was written for the purpose of ending human trafficking. The lyrics show a growing maturity as an artist.

The Starting Line is a nice leap forward as an artist for Amber Sweeney. The main problem is it only contains five tracks. Still, it is worth a listen from an artist that continues to develop.


January 29, 2014

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Guitarist Mick Abrahams lasted one album with Jethro Tull before differences with Ian Anderson forced him to depart.  Everything worked out fine as he found a new band mate in keyboardist, saxophonist, violinist, flautist Jack Lancaster. When they added bassist Andy Pyle and drummer Ron Berg, Blodwyn Pig was born.

Abrahams may have been a part of Tull but his new group gave little hint of that type of sound as Lancaster greatly influenced the direction of the band. They ended up as a blues band that fused rock and jazz elements into their sound.

They released two studio albums during the early period of their career. A Head Rings Out (1969) and Getting To This (1970) produced music that was ahead of its time. Lancaster’s virtuosity on a number of instruments gave the sound a lot of flexibility to move in a number of directions. They were critically acclaimed and commercially successful enough to play The Isle Of Wight Festivals and complete two tours of the United States. The band has had a number of reunions and released two new studio albums during the 1990s.

Pigthology features music from their early career period and includes remastered versions of their most famous songs “Dear Jill,” “See My Way,” and “Drive Me,” plus some unreleased live and studio material. It all adds up to an eclectic release that gives a surprisingly good glimpse of their music. The only real downer is the lack of any liner notes whatsoever.

The best of the live performances are a rock oriented “The Change Song” recorded at the Marquee Club in 1969, a jazzy “Cosmogification” from 1973, and a flowing “Same Old Story” from a BBC performance.

The most interesting track is “Monkinit” with Lancaster trying to impersonate Thelonious Monk fronting a rock band. Lancaster rarely played the piano with the band but the music swirls around his improvisations into a creative mix.

What Pigthology lacks in cohesiveness, it makes up for in creativity. Blodwyn Pig is one of those what if bands as one can only imagine what directions they would have traveled had they remained together.  Pigthology is a nice introduction to a multi-faceted band.

 


It’s All In The Game by Tommy Edwards

January 28, 2014

Tommy Edwards, 1922-1969, had one of the biggest hits of the year with “It’s All In The Game.” It topped The BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100 for six weeks and Best Sellers In Stores Chart for three, beginning September 29, 1958. It also topped the R&B Chart. The song, however had an interesting history.

Back in 1912, a Chicago banker named Charles Gates Dawes wrote the music for “Melody In A Major.” In 1951, lyricist Carl Sigman added the words and changed the title to “It’s All In The Game.” It was recorded by a number of artists including Tommy Edwards.

Cut to seven years later. Edwards re-cut and updated the tune as a ballad that fit right in with the rock and roll era. The rest as they say is chart history. It also topped the British Pop Chart.

Interesting fact number one:  BILLBOARD MAGAZINE had a number of pop singles charts and at one time the number had risen to four. “It’s All In The Game” was the last song to top the Best Sellers In Store Chart as it was discontinued in November of 1958. That left the BILLBOARD Hot 100 as the only Pop Singles Chart.

Interesting Fact Number Two:  Charles Dawes would pass away in 1951 and thus not see his song sell millions of copies. Don’t feel sorry for Dawes, however, as he would be one of the most unusual composers to ever have a number one hit. He would win a Nobel Peace Prize and serve as Vice President of The United States, 1925-1929.


Bird Dog by The Everly Brothers

January 23, 2014

 

Phil and Don Everly were the most popular duo in music history until passed by Hall & Oates. They were superstars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They broke up 1973 but reunited in 1983. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986.

“Bird Dog” was their third of four number one hits but only barely. It topped out at number two on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 but managed to spend one week at the top of the Best Seller In Stores Chart. While it was definitely not a country song, it also topped that chart as well.

Don Everly passed away recently so one last tip of the hat to the Everly Brothers and their number one hit “Bird Dog.”


Road Show by The Alabama State Troopers

January 22, 2014

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Take two virtually unknown singers, Don Nix and Jeanie Greene, one 78 year old bluesman, Furry Lewis, a 15 piece backing band dubbed the Mt. Zion Band and Choir, and then charge a robust $1.50 to see them in concert. And so it was with The Alabama State Troopers back in 1971. Think Delaney and Bonnie on tour without the star power.

The Alabama State Troopers performed at the Long Beach Civic Auditorium October 15, 1971, and the Pasadena Civic Auditorium two days later and the tape machine running.  Those performances resulted in the double album Road Show. Real Gone Music has now reissued this long out of print and vastly underappreciated album.

Their music was a fusion of blues, soul, and funk. Lewis began his recording career as an acoustic blues guitarist in 1927-1929. While not a big name in the early 1960s blues revival movement, he had performed with nix in the past. Nix had been associated with Leon Russell 1963-1969 and released two excellent albums.  Jeanie Greene quickly disappeared from the music scene but she had a fine voice that was equally at home in a blues, gospel, and rock format.

They were one of those bands that were better live than in the studio as it gave them room to stretch out their songs through improvisation. The tracks are presented as they were performed with no overdubbing or studio tricks. The only negative mentioned in the liner notes were the elimination of some songs due to time constraints.

The acoustic part of the concert finds Nix and Furry technically adept as they play their hybrid brand of the Delta blues. “Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But A Bird”, a wonderful laid back version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Jesus On The Mainline,” and “Furry’s Blues” are all very listenable over 40 years later.

They are better in full electric rock/blues mode, which makes sense if you have a 15 person group on stage. Greene and Nix both had commanding and explosive voices that fit their brand of music. By the time they reach their concert closer “Goin’ Down” they sound exhausted as they go all out all the time.

The Alabama State Troopers were a band for the short hall and their sound quickly became obsolete as the 1970s progressed and eventually disappeared.  Their music is raw at times, over the top in other places, but always well-played and entertaining. Road Show is a nice journey back in time to a long gone era and it is nice to have it back in circulation.


From Nashville To L.A. – Lost Columbia Singles 1963-1969 (CD) by Patti Page

January 15, 2014

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Earlier this year Real Gone Music released The Complete Columbia Singles by Patti Page. It contained all the A and B sides of her single releases for the label. While most of her well-known hits were recorded for the Mercury label, there was a lot of good music issued during her seven years with Columbia.

While assembling that album, a number of previously unreleased tracks were discovered. Those 24 tracks have been released as From Nashville To L.A. – Lost Columbia Masters 1963-1969. The end product is a somewhat disjointed album as the tracks were recorded over a number of years and for different albums. On the other hand, the songs are finished tracks and should please any fan of Page.

The music moves in a number of directions. She gives a simple rendition of the Eddy Arnold hit “I Really Don’t Want To Know.” “Raining In My Heart” was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and originally recorded by Buddy Holly & The Crickets. She slows the tempo a bit and moves the song in a light pop direction. I remember Herb Alpert’s version of the Bacharach/David tune “To Wait For Love” and Page’s is much better as she gives a pitch perfect vocal performance.

Her 1966 sessions for the album America’s Favorite Hymns, provide four tracks. “Just As I Am,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “I’ll Live Up There,” and “In The Sweet Bye and Bye” represent a side of Page that is rarely explored.

The album is a treasure trove for her fan base. Dinah Washington had an R&B hit with “Teach Me Tonight” but Page’s version moves it back to its pop roots. She swings with the Ray Charles classic  ”Hallelujah I Love You So.” Add in her Spanish language releases of “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” and “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” and you have an album of note.

The best way to describe From Nashville To L.A. – Lost Columbia Masters 1963-1969 is interesting as it helps to fill in her legacy. It may not be cohesive but there are a number of excellent stand-alone tracks. It forms a nice introduction to an often neglected period of her career.

 


Just Out Of Reach: Rarities From Nashville Produced By Chet Atkins (CD) by Perry Como

January 15, 2014

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Perry Como was one of the superstars of American music during the 1940s and first half of the 1950s. His television variety program ran from 1949-1967 and his Christmas specials were broadcast for years. While the rock era eventually eroded his popularity, he remained active on stage and in the recording studio until near his death in 2012.

While Como’s career spanned nearly seven decades, one of his lesser known periods was his time recording in Nashville with producer Chet Atkins. Those sessions resulted in three of his more popular albums, The Scene Changes (1965), And I Love You So (1973), and Just Out Of Reach (1975).

Real Gone Music in conjunction with RCA has now released 23 tracks from those sessions including his entire Just Out Of Reach album. In addition to the complete album there are outtakes from both of his 1970s albums and a number of non-album singles releases. The missing pieces are the And I Love You So, which was the strongest of the three releases and The Scene Changes album.

Como may have been in Nashville and country legend Chet Atkins may have been his producer but he was far from a country artist. He was a laid back crooner who was able to adapt just about any type of song to his style. John Loudermilk’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” the Lennon/McCartney tune “Here There And Everywhere,” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Loving You Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” are all examples of his easy listening style no matter what the song.

The six outtakes are all being released for the first time. Sometimes unreleased tracks were unreleased for good reasons. While such songs as “It Was Such A Good Day,” “Yellow Beach Umbrella,” “Take A Look At Me,” and “Take Me Home” may be a pleasant for his fans, they pale next to his better material.

The highlight of the album is the non-album single releases. “Love Don’t Care (Where It Grows),” “Walk Right Back,” and “Wonderful Baby” may not be among his better known hit songs but they are Como at his understated best. His Spanish recording of “And I Love You So” makes one wish for the original version.

The common denominator is producer Cher Atkins. Otherwise, it is a disjointed compilation made up of one average album and some bits and pieces. Just Out of Reach: Rarities From Nashville Produced By Chet Atkins is not a starting point for exploring the Perry Como legacy. It is a release mainly for his fans.


Dark Night Of The Soul (CD) by Jimbo Mathis

January 15, 2014

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Jimbo Mathus has been producing excellent music for several decades yet has somehow not found widespread commercial success. Hopefully his stunning new album, Dark Night Of The Soul, to be released in early 2014, will rectify that situation.

Mathus began his career as a member of Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves before moving on to the Squirrel Nut Zippers. They were a band that fused jazz, blues, and swing into an energetic mix. They were a constant on the Indy circuit, 1993-2000, and have been playing off and on since 2006.

Mathus is about to release his 9th album. He spent a year haunting various studios and recorded close to 40 tracks with his backing band The Tri-State Coalition. Many of the songs were recorded virtually live with little overdubbing.

His sound as a solo artist has continued to evolve. He has settled in to what can best be described as a rock/Americana sound.

The title track sets the tone for what will follow. It starts off as a sparse track before the rock foundation joins the mix. The lyrics add a depth to the song. It all adds up to one of the better performances of the year. Add in such tunes as “White Angel,” “Rock & Roll Trash,” “Shine Like A Diamond.” and “Tire In The Canebreak” and you have a superior release.  He also avoids the trap of many musicians by producing songs that are unique in their own right.

All of Jimbo Mathus’ experience comes to fruition on Dark Night of The Soul. It is an excellent album from a musician, who has paid his dues and it takes its place as one of the better independent releases of the year.


Little Star by The Elegants

January 11, 2014

 

The Elegants are one of music’s ultimate one-hit wonders as “Little Star” was their only song to reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100 Chart.

They were a doo-wop group formed in Staten Island, New York during the mid-1950s. They consisted of lead singer Vic Picone, plus Arthur Venosa, Frank Tardogna, Carmen Romano, and James Moschella. Picone and Venosa adapted the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” into a rock and roll song and it was promptly released as a single. It entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 on July 28 and on August 25, it topped the chart for one week.

Their touring prevent any serious studio work. Then Picone was in an auto accident with a six month recovery and finally two members were drafted.

The Elegants have reformed a number of times down through the years and a version of the group was still on the road as of 2012 with two original members.

It may have been their only hit but”Little Star” remains one on the signature doo-wop songs of the 1950s.


Funky Christmas by Various Artists

January 8, 2014

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Have yourself a funky little Christmas. Funky Christmas, originally released in 1976 on the Cotillion label, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic, has slid under the radar for decades. It now returns with remastered sound and new liner notes as a part of the Real Gone Music Christmas reissue series.

The album is comprised of two songs by six artists who had just released their debut albums for the label. It was hoped the release would give the artists some additional exposure during the Christmas season.

The five person vocal group, Luther (featuring lead vocals by a young Luther Vandross), provides the strongest two tracks. In addition both songs are original compositions. “May Christmas Bring You Happiness” has a disco feel as Vandross’ voice soars as the three female and one male member of his group provide backing. “At Christmas Time” is a ballad that has a jam style with Vandross seemingly making up the lyrics as the song progresses.

John Edwards would only spend a short time with the label as he would leave in 1977 to begin a two-decade stint with the Spinners. His contributions are the well-known Christmas classics “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Both benefit from his soul styling but are a little two short and add nothing new to these oft recorded tunes.

Marge Joseph is an underrated singer who was a staple on the R&B charts. Legendary Motown writer Lamont Dozier wrote both of her Christmas performances. “Christmas Gift” and “Feeling Like Christmas” are propelled by her energetic vocals and makes one wonder why she did not gain widespread popularity.

Lou Donaldson and Willis Jackson were both saxophonists who had a long recording history for other labels. Donaldson’s take on “Jingle Bells” is a non-funky clunker but his “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” percolates along. Willis’ “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is one of the better instrumental takes on this old chestnut but “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” finds him on cruise control.

The last two tracks are by The Impressions. This is not the group of Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, or even Leroy Hutson. The reconstituted group consists of longtime members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash plus new additions Ralph Gooden and Reggie Torian. Their two performances were not an auspicious beginning for the label as their choir backed “Silent Night” and their disco-like version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” struggle to be average.

Funky Christmas is inconsistent and has some highs and lows. Its main saving grace is it is different from most other Christmas albums out there. It is a non-traditional Christmas release that was issued by a label to promote their own artists. While self-serving over 35 years ago, it remains interesting today.