Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton

September 30, 2014


Bobby Vinton had the blues in 1963, which was a good thing. His “Blue On Blue” peaked at number three on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 during the summer. It was decided to release an entire album of songs with blue in the title. Songs such as “Blue Moon,” “Am I Blue,”  and “Blue Hawaii” were quickly recorded. “Blue Velvet” was one of the last songs recorded, just to fill out the album.

The label decided to release “Blue Velvet” as a single despite Vinton’s objections. This time the label was right. The song entered the Hot 100 on August 10, 1963. On September 21, it became his second number one single. It remained on top of the charts for three weeks and has been played at proms for decades.

Bobby Vinton would place 47 singles on the national pop charts with four reaching number one but “Blue Velvet” remains his signature song.



Promise Of A Brand New Day By Ruthie Foster

September 28, 2014


There has always been a close connection between the gospel music of the church and the blues of the Southern Delta. Ruthie Foster fuses those two styles with her brand of passionate and energetic vocals.

Her two previous albums, The Truth According To Ruthie Foster and Let It Burn were both nominated for Grammy Awards in the Best Blues Album Category. Her new album, Promise of A Brand New Day, will be released August 19th.

Her music can best me compared to that of a modernized Staple Singers but with a little more straight-forward power in the vocals. Whether cover songs or one of her seven originals, they carry strong and relevant messages that she conveys with the strength of her voice.

She returns to her roots with a cover of the Staple Singers “The Ghetto.” The song begins as a sultry electric guitar blues ballad and builds with an increasing intensity. “Second Coming” is an Odetta type civil-rights protest song. A simple melody and acoustic guitar allow her voice to soar.

Her own composition “Singing The Blues,” which is the albums lead track, is a soulful trip though the old world of rhythm and blues. Simple is many times best as her a cappella version of “Brand New Day” demonstrates. “It Might Not Be Right,” a tune she wrote with William Bell, is her type of message song as it deals with the issue of gay marriage.

She has surrounded herself with a capable band consisting of bassist/producer Meshell Ndegeocello, guitarist Chris Bruce, drummer Ivan Edwards, and keyboardist Jebin Bruni. Also on hand are guest vocalist Toshi Reagon and guitarist Doyle Bramhall II.

Ruthie Foster has continued her tradition of releasing powerful and relevant gospel and blues albums. Promise Of A Brand New Day is music is from the heart, the pulpit, and the soul. It is music for today that draws on the traditions of the past.


Live In The USA By Cactus

September 28, 2014


Cactus, 1969-1972, was a heavy rock band that influenced such future bands as Van Halen, Aerosmith, Montrose, .38 Special and a host of others. Bassist Tim Bogert, drummer Carmine Appice (both of Vanilla Fudge), guitarist Jim McCarty (Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels), and vocalist Rusty Day combined to produce one of the heavier sounds of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Bogert and Appice have consistently been one of the better rock and roll rhythm sections of the last four plus decades but the key is guitarist McCarty. When you hear him play, you assume it is two guitarists. When his playing is placed on top of the rhythm section, it produces an ominous and oppressive sound that few bands have been able to re-produce.

Cactus lasted for just under four years and issued four studio albums. If you want to get to the heart of the band’s music  or of heavy rock and roll itself, just track down their self-titled 1970 album or 1971’s One Way ….. Or Another.

After splitting, Day formed a band under the same name during the mid-1970’s but he was the only original member. He was murdered in early June of 1982 and the case has never been solved.

The lights went back on for Cactus in 2005 when Bogert, Appice, and McCarty reformed the band and added singer Jimmy Kunes, formally of Savoy Brown, and harmonica player Randy Pratt. One of their first performances was at B. B. King’s Club in New York City during early June of 2006. Live In The USA is a chronicle of that performance.

They may be a bit ragged around the edges, probably due to a lack of practice, but they do a good job at re-creating the Cactus sound. Bogert and Appice have lost none of their chemistry and McCarty remains one of rock’s underappreciated guitarists. Kunes may not be able to channel Day’s vocals completely but he is more than capable. Harmonica player Pratt is a good addition as he brings some new elements to the music and pushes the band in a more bluesy direction.

“Long Tall Sally,” “Parchment Farm,” and “One Way …. Or Another” formed part of their live repertoire back in the early 1970’s and here they may be a little more sedate but the musicianship remains excellent. The back and forth between McCarty and the rhythm section drive the songs along and Pratt provides some extra textures by filling in the gaps.

“Cactus Boogie” chugs along and Muddy Waters “Evil” contains the blues in the midst of their rock and roll. “Oleo” features a tasty solo by McCarty.

The Cactus of 2006 may not be the same as forty 45 years ago but they do a good job at reviving their music. Live In The USA is an entertaining trip back in time.


The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective By The Dream Academy

September 24, 2014


Dream Academy’s recording career only lasted about six years and three studio albums. Nick Laird (lead vocals and guitars), Kate St. John (vocals and oboe), and Gilbert Gabriel (vocals and keyboards) created a fairly unique sound that has since been labeled “Dream Pop.”

As far as I can tell, The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective is the first comprehensive compilation of the band’s music. The two-disc CD draws from their three studio albums, The Dream Academy (1985), Remembrance Days (1987), and A Different Kind Of Weather (1990), plus adds a number of previously unreleased tracks, and ends with one new song created for the album.  As with all Real Gone Music releases, the remastering process is excellent and there is an extensive booklet that contains a history of the music and the band.

They are probably best remembered in the United States for their two hit singles. “Life In A Northern Town” has socially conscious lyrics encased in catchy melodies. “”The Love Parade” is a technological marvel as the multi-tracking of a single voice just builds and builds.

What made their sound unique was the interaction of St. John’s Oboe, among other instruments, with the keyboards. The other-worldly “In Places On The Run,” the ethereal “Power To Believe,” the delicate “Here,” and the soaring guitar of the previously unreleased “Living In A War” are all demonstrations of their creative spirit.

“Sunrising” was recorded this year and included on the release. It is more simple than most of their music as it began as a basic piano and drum piece before they added on some additional textures.

Despite the spiritual feel of their music, the lyrics moved in a socially conscious direction at times as they explored such themes as anti-war and the difficulties of life. It gives their music a lasting quality rather than just being stuck in the late 1980’s.

The Dream Academy carved out a nice niche for themselves during the last half of the 1980’s. The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective traces their career from its origins to its end. No doubt a must for any fan of the band.


My Boyfriends Back By The Angels

September 24, 2014


Girl vocal groups reached the top of the charts dozens of times throughout the 1960s. The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, The Crystals, The Chiffons, and The Supremes all reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. One group that is often overlooked is The Angels, whose “My Boyfriend’s Back” was enjoyed a three week run at the top of the charts beginning August 31, 1963.

Lead singer Peggy Santiglia and sisters Barbara and Phyllis Allbut began singing together in their New Jersey high school as The Starlets. They began traveling into New York City to provide backing vocals for a number of artists. This led them to cut a demo for Caprice Records. That song, “’Til,” released under the name The Angels, reached the top 20 and was followed by “Cry Baby Cry,” which peaked at number 38.

1963 found them recording for Smash Records and working for producers Robert Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer, who would later produce The McCoys and record themselves as The Strangeloves. They wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back” for the group and it entered the Hot 100 on August 3, 1963. Four weeks later it was the number one single in the country.

The song told a simple story set to catchy music, which was a staple for AM radio in the pre-Beatles era. The Angels broke no new musical ground but their harmonies were right on and they were one of the better examples of the early 1960s group sound.

They would have only two more charting singles. After undergoing a number of personnel changes the group disbanded during the early 1970s. Every once in a while, the original members get together for a concert or two.

The Angels may have become a footnote in the history of rock music but 51 years ago they had the most popular song in the United States.

Fingertips Part 2 By Little Stevie Wonder

September 19, 2014

Fifty-one years ago, in 1963, The Tymes, The Essex, Jan & Dean, Lesley Gore, Little Peggy March, Ruby & The Romantics, and The Rooftop Singers were some of the artists that topped the Billboard Hot 100. The common thread a half century later is all have either faded from the music scene or been consigned to the oldies circuit. That is not the case for the artist that topped the chart beginning August 10, 1963, for three weeks.

Stevie Wonder, or Little Stevie Wonder as he was known early in his career, was signed to Motown’s Tamla Records in 1961 at the age of 11. The next year, he released two albums for the label. One of those albums was The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, which contained the song “Fingertips.” The instrumental clocked in at around three minutes. The album failed to chart and disappeared, but the song would soon return.

Motown used to run “package tours” for their roster of artists called The Motortown Revue. During June of 1962, the revue pulled into the Regal Theater in Chicago. The tape was running when Wonder recorded a nearly seven-minute version of “Fingertips.” It was released in 1963 on Wonder’s Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius album, which followed up his other 1962 LP, Tribute to Uncle Ray.

The song received a positive reaction but singles during the early 1960s were not seven minutes long. Berry Gordy (the Motown CEO who signed him to Tamla) had the idea of dividing the song into two parts, with each part on one side of the release. It was “Fingertips (Pt. II)” that became the hit. It first charted June 22, 1963, and 51 years ago  became the number one song in the United States where it reigned for three weeks. It was the first number one hit of his career, which has spanned over 50 years. To date, Stevie Wonder has 30 number one hits.

“Fingertips (Pt. 2)” may seem raw and a bit antiquated today but it was the beginning of huge commercial success for one of the most successful and respected artists in American music history.




So Much In Love By The Tymes

September 19, 2014


The career of The Tymes lasted about a half century, which is 2600 weeks, give or take. Out of all those weeks, they only spent one at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. That occurred 51 years ago  when “So Much in Love” topped the American music world for seven days beginning August 3, 1962.

The origin of The Tymes began in 1956 when George Hilliard and Norman Burnett met at summer camp and shortly after formed The Latineers with Albert Berry and Donald Banks. The last addition was George Williams, who quickly became the lead singer.

They were performing locally in the Philadelphia area when they entered a talent contest sponsored by Cameo-Parkway Records. The result was a contract with the company. Williams had written a song called “The Stroll.” Producer Billy Jackson added some seashore noise but more importantly changed the title to “So Much in Love.”

At this point in their career, they were more of an easy listening vocal group than a rhythm & blues or soul group. This was shown by their two top 20 follow-up hits, a cover of the Johnny Mathis hit “Wonderful! Wonderful!” and “Somewhere.” Then there was their 1968 top 40 hit, a cover of the song “People,” originally made famous by Barbra Streisand.

By the mid-1970s they had gone in a soul direction with their last major hit in the U.S., “You Little Trustmaker.” They were not done with the charts however. “Ms Grace” only reached 91 in late 1974 in the U.S., but in the U.K. it went all the way to the top of the charts.

The hits ran out for The Tymes in the late 1970s but they continued to perform and tour for almost three decades. That is a lot of weeks on the road and in the studio, but none was as bright as that week 51 years ago when “So Much in Love” was the number one song in the United States.

Step Back By Johnny Winter

September 17, 2014


Johnny Winter has inhabited my musical universe for as long as I can remember. It is thus bittersweet to review his last album as he passed away at the age of 70 on July 16, 2014, two days after his last performance. Stand Back was recorded and finished before his death and as such is his last studio release.

Winter has always been one of the better guitar technicians and has lost little of his ability with the passage of years. His voice may not be as strong as in its prime but it is still a fine instrument for his type of rock and blues.

A number of guests are along for his last ride. Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Brian Setzer, Leslie West, Dr. John, Joe Perry, and more all lend a hand.

Oddly my least favorite track is the album’s first. “Unchain My Heart” never really takes off and does not have the fire of most of the other tracks. The only other slip-up is an ordinary version of “My Babe.”

Once you get past the two aforementioned tracks, the other 11 performances combine to form one of his strongest albums of the last quarter century. “Don’t Want No Woman” finds Eric Clapton in a supporting role as Winter provides the fireworks. He trades riffs with Billy Gibbons on “Where Can You Be.” They fit together well despite their having two very distinct sounds. Brian Setzer on the instrumental “Okie Dokie Stomp” and Joe Bonamassa on “Sweet Sixteen” meet Winter as guitar equals.

Johnny Winter enjoyed a career that lasted over a half-century. He did not realize that Stand Back would be his final musical statement. It is always good to leave people wanting more. An excellent final effort from one of the leading practitioners of the modern day fusion rock and blues.

The Complete Atco Recordings By Dee Dee Warwick

September 17, 2014


Dee Warwick, 1945-2003, was the sister of Dionne Warwick, the niece of Cissy Houston, and the cousin of Whitney Houston. She produced a more gritty sound than her three more famous family members but came close to them in terms of talent, if not commercial success.

She began her career in the late 1950’s as a member of the Gospelaires with Cissy and Dionne and then spent the first half of the next decade as an in demand session singer.  By the mid-1960’s, she was on her own and over the course of the next decade, she would produce 10 rhythm & blues chart hits,  have seven singles reach the pop charts, and receive two Grammy nominations.

Her time with the Atco label during the early 1970’s was brief and a bit unusual. Despite extensive time spent in the recording studio, only one album was released. Real Gone Music has now gathered all 35 of her Atco tracks and released them under the appropriate title, The Complete Atco Recordings.

Her time spent with the label was not the most fruitful period of her career. Atlantic/Atco had such premier artists like Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack under contract and they received the label’s priority. Second echelon artists like Warwick tended to suffer. This lead to an inconsistency of material and recording dates, not to mention a lack of publicity. Still, when you dig into her catalogue, there are a number of excellent performances.

She was primarily a cover artist but her only co-written original ”The Way We Used To Do” is one of the better tracks. It appears as both a previously unreleased demo and a finished smooth soul song. “What Manner Of Man” and “You Tore My Wall Down” are from the same session and both place the emphasis on her soulful voice.

The centerpiece of her only album release is “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking),” which is a funky story of infidelity and was a successful single release. At the other end of the scale are covers of such songs as Charlie Rich’s “Who Will The Next Fool Be” and Jimmy Webb’s “If This Was The Last Song,” which take her out of her comfort zone.

Two other tracks rank among her best work for the label. She charges through an up-tempo version of “Cold Night In Georgia” and then delivers a slow funky version of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”

The 12 previously unreleased tracks add little to the overall quality of the release other than some historical interest if you are a fan of Warwick’s. Many times tracks remained unreleased for a reason.

Good news is the sound quality. Her material in the past has had an uneven nature to the sound but that has been corrected as it is now clear and clean. The accompanying booklet provides a good biography of Warwick and her time with the label.

Dee Dee Warwick is one of those artists who rarely come to mind when exploring soul music of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Complete Atco Recordings provides a nice look into her career. It may not all be great but there are places which are equal to some of the best s

A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble By Jesse Winchester

September 15, 2014


The music of Jesse Winchester is like an old friend who shows up at your door every once in awhile, renewing acquaintances, creating new memories, and then disappearing until next time.

Jesse Winchester’s voice was silenced when he passed away from cancer April 11, 2014. When his cancer was in remission, he went into the studio and recorded the tracks for what was to become his last studio album. A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble has a release date of September 16th.

Jesse Winchester never really received the huge commercial success he deserved. He had a voice that commanded attention, while at the same time expressing emotion. He was also a first rate songwriter whose compositions were covered by dozens of artists including Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Wilson Pickett, The Everly Brothers, and Emmylou Harris. What may be his last nine compositions are among the album’s 12 tracks.

It is a poignant album as he was facing morality in the eye. “Just So Much” is his philosophical musings on the ending of life, which everyone faces. It is not a morbid song but one of reluctant acceptance. “All I Have Is Now”  travels in a more humorous direction as he reviews some of the all to fleeting pleasures of life. Also included is “Never Forget To Boogie,” which is the type of song he was so good at creating. It is a rock song but with some odd twists.

It may be the cover songs that are the most telling. “Whispering Bells,” “Devil Or Angels,” and “Rhythm Of The Rain,” were hit songs from his youth by The Del Vikings, Bobby Vee, and The Cascades respectively. He may have released them as this was his last chance to record some childhood favorites as he brought his career and life full circle.

A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble is a fitting conclusion to his career as it combines a stoicism with a sense of celebration.