Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price

February 27, 2014

Lloyd Price had the nickname “Mr. Personality,” taken from his hit “Personality. While this was his best-known song, it was not his biggest hit. That honor fell to “Stagger Lee,” which topped the BILLBOARD Hot 100 for four weeks beginning February 9, 1959.

Price was a born and bred New Orleans musician. His break-through came in 1952 when his “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” topped the R&B Chart.

“Stack-O-Lee” was an old folk song which Price re-wrote in the hopes of producing another R&B hit for himself. The bonus was his success on the pop chart.

His commercial success would want in the early 1960s but he would contine to tour with his nine piece band.


Smoke Gets In Your Eyes By The Platters

February 24, 2014

Jerome Kern co-wrote “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” for the 1938 musical ROBERTA. The Platters resurrected the forgotten tune in late 1958 and released their version as a single. Kern’s widow was planning to sue until the royalty checks started arriving.

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” sold well over a million copies and on January 19, 1959, became the number one song in the United States. It remained on top of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 for three weeks.

The Platters were a traditional vocal group who had there greatest popularity in the last half of the 1950’s. Lead singer Tony Williams left the group in 1960. Mercury sued him for breach of contract but Williams won as he stated the Platters were signed to the label but not the individual members. It proved to be a land mark decision in the music industry.


The Chipmunk Song by The Chipmunks With David Seville

February 20, 2014

Ross Bagdasarian, who as David Seville, had a huge numbeer one hit with “With Doctor,” in which he speeded-up the voices in some of the lyrics. While driving one day, he just missed hitting a chipmunk in the road and so an idea was born.

Al Bennett was the president of Liberty Records. His partner was Si Waronker, Ted Kemp was a recording engineer for the company. And so Alvin, Simon, and Theodore entered music history.

“The Chipmunk Song” sold over 2 and 1/2 million copies. It reached number one on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 December 22, 1958, and remained at the top for four weeks.

The Chipmunks are one of very few 1950s artists who are still active today. Their movies remain popular and their albums still sell millions of copies.


True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story (4 CD Box Set) by Johnny Winter

February 20, 2014

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Johnny Winter will celebrate his 70th birthday, February 23, 2014, and in recognition of that milestone, Columbia/Legacy will issue a career spanning, four CD box set that collects 56 tracks culled from 27 albums released on eight different labels, 1968-2011.

Johnny Winter has been a force of nature on the music scene for close to 50 years. His technique as a blues/rock guitarist is impeccable and his speed of play and aggressive nature have made him one of the best guitarists of the last two generations.

True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story not only chronicles his career but is a nice ride through the music and times of the last half-century.

The Johnny Winter story begins with two tracks from his long out-of-print 1969 Capital album, The Progressive Blues Experiment. “Bad Luck And Trouble” and “Mean Town Blues” catch the young Johnny Winter in the process of developing his signature style. It’s raw but glimpses of his talent are already apparent. Just a few months later he played at the Fillmore East with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Al Kooper.  Playing as an equal with Bloomfield is something very few guitarists were able to do but they roll through a 10 minute version of “It’s My Own Fault.”

When you reach the tracks taken from his classic Columbia albums; Johnny Winter, Second Winter, and Johnny Winter And; you find a fully developed artist with a unique style and sound.  His classic take on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” the guitar virtuosity of the live “Black Cat Bone” and “Johnny B Goode,” the fire of “Mean Mistreater,” and the slide guitar of “Dallas” are all dazzling examples of his skill.

Johnny Winter on stage is always a treat and his soloing on such tracks as “Good Morning Little School Girl,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and the previously unreleased “Eyesight To The Blind,” and “Prodigal Son” from his 1970 performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival do not disappoint.

His 1970’s albums Still Alive And Well and John Dawson Winter III find him moving closer to a harder rock sound. Backed by bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and drummer Richard Hughes; he ably fronts what would be considered a power trio with such tunes as “Rock & Roll,” “Bad Luck Situation,” “Rollin’ Cross The Country,” and “Bad Luck Situation.”

He has performed with many of the leading blues artists of the last century. The six minute live version of “I Done Got Over It” with Muddy Water and James Cotton is a lesson in old-style electric blues.

The box set comes to a fitting close with a live version of “Highway 61 Revisited” from Dylan’s 1993 30th Anniversary Concert and “Maybelline” and “Dust My Broom” from his 2011 album Roots. They prove that his skills have lost little with the passage of time.

The sound is excellent and the extensive liner notes provide a nice biography of his career and the music. All in all it adds up to one of the better compilation box sets of the past several years.

 


Sweet Revival by Gino Matteo

February 20, 2014

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I don’t think I have ever heard a bad album issued by The Rip Cat Records label and Sweet Revival by Gino Matteo keeps that streak intact.

Matteo is a solid blues and roots composer, guitarist, and singer who crosses over to gospel upon occasion. He is a regular on the European blues club and festival circuit. In the United States, he has played with the likes of B.B. King, John Mayer, Little Willie G, and Guitar Shorty.

He has a soulful voice that can explode with energy or just purr when needed. While “Here Comes The Lord” and “Pulpit In The Graveyard” are more personal than straight gospel; they are still rooted in that format.

His bread and butter will always be the blues and “Grandma Told Me,” “Take A Chance On Me,” “The Longest Night,” and “We Can Find A Way” are all nice excursions into that style and sound.

What we have is an old school blues album that should please any fan of that type of music.


Unlock My Heart by Dick Hyman and Heather Masse

February 16, 2014

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Heather Masse and Dick Hyman were born 55 years apart, yet they have joined their talents to release the album, Lock My Heart.

Hyman began his career before World War II. His first claim to fame came after his release from the U.S. Army when he served as the pianist for Benny Goodman’s orchestra. Since then he has worked as an arranger, composer, producer, and an artist who has been involved with well over 100 albums as a solo artist, with his own band, and as a guest.

Masse studied jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music and is now a part of the Canadian folk trio, The Wailin’ Jennys. She first came into contact with Hyman on the radio show A Prairie Home Companion when they performed “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.”

They wisely kept the album simple. It is just Hyman’s piano and Masse’s voice. Except for two original compositions by Masse, all of the material is taken from the Great American Songbook, which they interpret in a light jazz format.

Hyman has been a pianist for most of his life. He may not be as limber as he was several decades ago but he is more than adequate on these tunes. He is still able to interpret the music and provide a good foundation for Masse’s vocals. He has the experience to give the music a personal feel but wise enough to not interfere with the vocals. Masse has a voice that fits these light jazz classics well. Songs such as Rogers & Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale,” and George Gershwin’s “Love Is Here to Stay” are simple and subtle renditions of these well-known classics. They also take Buddy Johnson’s 1940s blues ballad “Since I Fell for You” and move it over to a jazz translation.

Masse wrote two original songs for the album. The beautiful love song “If I Called You” and “Morning Drinker” fit in well with the rest of the tracks.

A chance meeting in a studio has led to a relaxed and very good album. So put some wood on the fire, grab your favorite beverage, sit back, and give this release a listen.


Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

February 16, 2014

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Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell have traveled back in time to create an album of old time country music. Harris has one of the sweetest voices in country music while Crowell is pure twang. It may seem they are somewhat of a miss-match but on Old Yellow Moon they meld together to create a beautiful sound.

The songs travel in different directions but form a cohesive whole. There is the country swing of “Hanging Up My Heart” and the acoustic “Spanish Dancer,” which is propelled by Harris’ voice. “Chase The Feeling” has a blues foundation and comes very close to rock and roll. “Bluebird Wine” is another swinging tune with wonderful harmonies. “Dreaming My Dreams” finds them trading lead vocals before joining together in unison.

Old Yellow Moon has the feel of two old friends just hanging out. It is a comfortable album that shines night or day.


To Know Him Is To Love Him by The Teddy Bears

February 15, 2014

The Teddy Bears were formed in high school by Phil Spector. By 1958 they were a trio consisting of Spector, Marshall Leib, and Annette Kleinman.

Spector’s father had the words “to know him is to love him” on his tombstone and so a hit song was born. The song was released on the new Dore label and first reached the Hot 100 on September 22, 1958. On December 1, it reached number one and remained there for three weeks.

Phil Spector went on to become famous for his ‘wall of sound” and was elected to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a producer. He also worked with the Beatles both individually and collectively. His recent legal problems brought a sad end to his career.

Annette changed her name to Carol Connors and made her living as a songwriter. Her most famous composition was the Oscar nominated “Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky).” She also was possibly the only female to write a hit hot rod song when her “Hey Little Cobra” by The Rip Chords reached number four on the Hot 100.


Tom Dooley by The Kingston Trio

February 11, 2014

The Kingston Trio were one of the connectors between what can be called traditional folk music and modern folk-music of the 1960s.

The group was formed in San Francisco by Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds, and Dave Guard. They were quickly signed to a recording contract by Capital. It was a good move as in the late 1950s-early 1960s pre-Beatles era, their albums consistently reached number one and sold tens-of-millions of copies.

“Tom Dula” was a mountain man hanged for murder in 1868. A folk tune was written about his death. Nearly a century later, The Kinston Trio resurrected the song and took it all the way to number one on the BILLBOARD hot 100 for the week of November 17, 1958.

John Stewart replaced Dave Guard in 1961 and remained with the group until 1967. There have been reunions and Bob Shane fronted the band for decades.


Old Sock by Eric Clapton

February 11, 2014

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There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Eric Clapton’s latest release, Old Sock. Words such as comfortable, relaxed, and cruise control can all be used to describe the sound and feel of this album.

Clapton does not over-reach or try to be over-creative. Instead he selects material that he seems to enjoy and fits where he is in life. While his guitar chops are still present; they do not dominate the album but rather are used in support of his vocals, which are the center piece. It all ends up as an album that covers the middle ground well with no real lows or highs. As the title would suggest, the music takes you to a warm and safe place.

The old Led Belly song, “Goodnight Irene,” is probably the best track. His voice moves it away from its blues origins but some slide guitar returns it back again. His cover of Ray Charles” “Born To Lose” has a little fire in it while his mostly acoustic “Still Got The Blues” is a fine tribute to the late Gary Moore. “Further On Down The Road” ends with one of the few classic Clapton guitar solos and is well-worth the wait.

On the other hand, “The Folk Who Live On The Hill” has a blandness to it while “Gotta Get Over” never really gets going. “Every Little Thing” unfortunately comes complete with a children’s choir, which is a bit out of tune.

Old Sock is like a dinner wine; you savor it but it leaves no lasting impression. There is little doubt that Clapton is content with the album and I am OK with it as well. As Ricky Nelson once sang; “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”