Greatest Slow Jams by The Dramatics

May 16, 2014

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The Dramatics formed during 1962 and were constants on the rhythm & blues charts during the 1970s. While Ron Banks and Lenny Mayes are deceased;  L. J. Reynolds, Willie Ford, and Winzell Kelly are still with the group. They may not come immediately to mind when thinking of 1970’s music but their time with the Volt label, a subsidiary of Stax, produced some of the better soul music the early 1970s.

The Dramatics have now returned as a part of the “Slow Jams” series of releases, which is dedicated to rhythm & blues love songs. Greatest Slow Jams gathers eight classic tracks from their Volt period, adds three more from the 1970s, and an odd L. J. Reynolds solo track from 1985.

The weakness of such an approach is the elimination of their up-tempo material, including “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” “Get Up And Get Down,” and “Fell For You;” all of which remain some of their best songs. On the other hand, what is here is very good and perfect for a romantic evening around a blazing fire.

THE Stax label always had more of an edge than many of their contemporaries including Motown. While the vocals are of the smooth soul variety; the instrumental backing prevents the songs from being repetitive.  Some are piano based; others have a prominent guitar, and some feature strings. It is this variety that sets the music of The Dramatics apart from a lot of what was being issued during the 1970s.

Songs such as “Toast To The Fool,” “Thank You For Your Love,” “Hey You Get Off My Mountain,” and their biggest hit “In The Rain” were all smooth performances that hold up well. When the group left Stax, the quality of their material and their commercial success began to suffer.

The Dramatics are not usually recognized as a top tier vocal group but when they were good, they were very good. It may be a little stretch to fill an entire album with slower material but there are some nuggets to be found here.


Running Bear by Johnny Preston

May 15, 2014

J. P. Richardson, who recorded under the name The Big Bopper, was killed in the same plane crash that took the lives of Richie Valens and Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959. He is best remembered for the hit “Chantilly Lace,” which reached number six on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 during 1958.

He wrote and produced a single for Johnny Preston, who had organized a band in high school. The Shades became popular in parts of Texas and resulted in him coming to the attention of Richardson. “Running Bear,” the story of Little Dove and Running Bear was recorded in late 1958 but not released until the fall of 1959 due to Richardson’s death.

“Running Bear” is the answer to the trivia question; what was the first song to reach the Billboard Hot 100 (October 12), fall out of the chart; re-enter (November 12) and go all the way to number one. It would reach number one January 16, 1960 and remain at the top for three weeks. It was a simple love song and very typical of many of the hits of the early 1960’s.

Preston would never have a another chart hit after 1961 but he grabbed the brass ring once, which is more than most artists can say.


Life Journey by Leon Russell

May 12, 2014

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Leon Russell is now a full-fledged member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. It was a fitting reward for a lifetime of good music and a lot of time on the road and in the studio. At the age of 72 he has returned with a new studio album with the fitting title, Life Journey.

The ten cover songs and two originals can be considered a soundtrack to his life. “Georgia On My Mind” and “That Lucky Old Sun” have a beauty to them as his weary voice tells their stories. The old classic “Fever” would seem to be an odd choice for Russell but he purrs his way through the old standard.

Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind” would seem to be another odd choice but he transfers this pop standard to his own brand of New Orleans gumbo. The album opening “Come On In My Kitchen” is a solid blues number.

The two original tunes, “Big Lips” and “Down In Dixieland” are Leon Russell to the core. He is at heart a New Orleans based artist and these songs explore the rhythms and textures of his lifetime in music.

He has intimated that this may be his last studio album. It that is indeed the case, he has finished his studio journey in style.


The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire by Earth, Wind & Fire

May 12, 2014

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Maurice White formed Earth, Wind & Fire during 1969 while living in Chicago. Now 45 years, over 90 million albums sold, 20 Grammy nominations received, and a 2000 induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame; the Columbia Legacy label has issued a two-CD, 35 track retrospective titled The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire, which sums up the release perfectly.

Earth, Wind & Fire was and is a sprawling 8-10 man group lead by longtime members Maurice White (vocals, percussion), Philip Bailey (vocals), Verdine White (bass), and Ralph Johnson (drums). They are a funky R&B band that also incorporates elements of soul, jazz, and gospel into their sound.

The material that comprises The Essential Earth, Wind, & Fire has been in circulation for years and in a number of formats. Fans of the band who own any of their Greatest Hits releases or box sets will no doubt own these tracks many times over. Still, when they are presented in chronological order, they not only present a good history of the band but catch them at their best.

Anyone who has even been marginally interested in music is no doubt familiar with the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. Songs such as “Shining Star,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “September,” “Let’s Groove,” and “After The Love Has Gone,” have been radio staples for decades. In many ways they have become such a part of musical landscape that people forget just how creative and unique they were at the time of their release.

There was an album of the same title, and much of the same material, released a little over a decade ago. That release was plagued with poor sound quality. That issue has been corrected this time around as there is a clarity to the tracks that enables the listener to explore the layers and textures of each song. What is missing is any type of essay that gives a history of the band and music.

The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to explore the bands legacy and for some will be the only album needed. Even for people who are familiar with the band, it gathers all their essential tracks into one place. As far as Earth, Wind & Fire are concerned, these tracks are indeed essential.

 


El Paso by Marty Robbins

May 8, 2014

 

The 1960’s changed the course of rock & roll so its ironic that the first number one single of the decade was by a member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Marty Robbins placed a number of singles on the Pop Chart during the 1950’s with “A White Sports Coat (And A Pink Carnation)” reaching number two. It was, however,  his series of GUNFIGHTER album that changed his career. They became both country and pop hits. His first volume sold over one million copies and produced the number one single “El Paso,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks beginning January 4, 1960.

It would be his only number one pop hit but he topped the country chart 17 times. He was also a race car driver in his spare time and competed in the Daytona 500. He developed heart problems and passed away at the age of 57 in 1982.

He was one of the first country artists to continually cross over to the pop chart and left behind a legacy of hundreds of songs including the first number one single of the 1960’s.


She’s So Unusual: A 30th Anniversaey Collection (Vinyl) by Cyndi Lauper

May 5, 2014

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Very few debut albums have made the commercial impact as did She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper. Released in late 1983, it produced five hit singles, won two Grammy Awards, and to date worldwide has sold in the vicinity of 22 million copies. Rolling Stone Magazine named it to its list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

The album has been re-issued many times and in a number of formats down through the years. It has now reached its 30th anniversary and one of the ways it has been re-issued is as a limited edition vinyl record album.

The sound has been remastered and is pristine. An album released on non-recycled vinyl and played on high quality stereo equipment can sound every bit as good as a CD. In many ways, vinyl is the way that many of these older albums are meant to be heard. There is a nod to the present, however, as the album comes with a free MP3 album download.

The music is the better side of 1980’s pop. Songs such as “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” “All Through The Night,” and “Money Changes Everything” dominated radio play lists for a couple of years. They may not have changed the course of American music but they were smooth, energetic, and just plain fun pop creations.

The vinyl edition comes with three bonus tracks, all of which were previously unreleased. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (2013 Yolanda Be Cool Remix), “Time After Time” (2013 Nervo Back In Time Remix), and “Time After Time” (2013 Bent Collective Remix) are somewhat out of place as they run counter point to the 1980’s flavor of the original album. Still, they are enjoyable modern updates of two of her classic songs.

She’s So Unusual is one of those albums that needs to be heard in its original vinyl format. So dust off the old turntable, climb aboard the time machine, and experience a part of the music world of thirty years ago.

 

 


The Gospel Collection (CD) by Charley Pride

May 5, 2014

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Charley Pride was a black man in a white man’s business. He was a country superstar when country music was almost exclusively dominated by white musicians and fans. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, he sold tens-of-millions of albums and released 39 number one country singles during the course of his career. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, only Elvis Presley sold more records for the RCA label. He was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in the year 2000.

He has released 48 studio albums but only two contained gospel music. Real Gone Music has now reissued 1971’s Did You Think To Pray and 1975’s Sunday Morning With Charley Pride under the title The Gospel Collection. The material from Sunday Morning With Charley Pride is making its official debut on CD.

Pride’s voice was somewhat unusual for country music at the time. It had a very smooth quality that enabled him to find commercial success beyond country music’s normal fan base.

Country and gospel music have always been first cousins and Pride was able to make the jump between the two forms with ease.

Each of the albums has a distinct quality. Did You Think To Pray has a more traditional flavor as it mixes some gospel standards with newly created inspirational songs. Sunday Morning With Charley Pride has a more contemporary feel.

Did You Think To Pray is a classic fusion of country and gospel. “Let Me Live” was a hit country single release and finds Pride stretching his vocal ability in an emotional performance. His laid back renditions of “Whispering Home” and “Church In The Wildwood” bring these old chestnuts into the modern age.

Many of the compositions on Sunday Morning With Charley Pride were written especially for him. The Jordanaires and the Nashville Edition provide choir-like backing vocals on the tracks. “Little Delta Church” finds Pride reminiscing about happy childhood memories, while incorporating such hymns as “Amazing Grace,” “In The Sweet By and By,” and “Precious Memories” into the mix. “Brush Arbor Meeting” is a nice nostalgic performance, while “Without Mama Here” is and outstanding ballad.

The Gospel Collection presents two unique stops in the career of country superstar Charley Pride. They remain two of the better gospel albums of the 1970’s and it is nice to have them back in circulation.