Archive for the ‘reissue’ Category

Album Review: Barry White — Can’t Get Enough

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

James Brown might have been Soul Brother Number One, but it was Isaac Hayes who brought soul into the mainstream with his lush, romantic workouts such as his cover of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” And while Hayes would remain the master of that style, he had other things on his mind as well, such as the driving soundtracks to Shaft, Truck Turner and other flicks of the era.

But in the 1970s we had Barry White to carry the torch of that particular sub-style. Rock fans might even think of White as a sort of ELO to Isaac Hayes’ Beatles: he took one specific part of a great act’s musical approach and ran with it.

Some say he ran it into the ground. But with the benefit of hindsight, and if approaching it while attempting to keep irony at a safe distance, it’s actually a lot of fun. Can’t Get Enough was White’s third album, but he had been successful right out the gate with his first two solo LPs: I’ve Got So Much to Give and Stone Gon’ (both 1973) hit #1 on the US R&B charts, and top-twentied on the pop charts. Still, Can’t Get Enough was the crowning achievement: number one on both charts, and certified Gold in both the USA and UK.

The album is characterized by a mix of lush songs – often including his lugubrious Isaac Hayes-inspired raps – that were in turns heavily orchestrated and filled with propulsive, proto-disco beats. “Mellow Mood (Pt. 1)” is such an orchestrated number that segues quickly into the #1 dancefloor hit “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything.” But most of Side One is consumed by the slow jam “I Can’t Believe You Love Me,” a prototype of 70s makeout music that features equal parts low-register rapping (the old kind, kids) and equally-low-register romantic crooning. A studio full of strings, harpsichords, Rhodes, female choruses and a slowed-to-the-breaking-point drum part all come together to make this signature track.

The sort-of title track, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby” topped the pop and R&B charts, and deservedly so. With the drums mixed way out front (right up there with the orchestra and ol’ Barry’s multi-tracked voice), it was made for dancing. And the production and arrangement are impressive and crystalline. “Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It” has a memorable sax riff, but otherwise it tends – at least when compared to the other tracks on Can’t Get Enough – to come off a bit faceless.

“I Love You More Than Anything (In This World Girl)” features a stronger melody, and strikes a balance between slow jam and disco territories; it probably works best as a slow dance number, conjuring as it does visions of glittery disco balls. The brief “”Mellow Mood (Pt. II)” wraps up the disco with a repeating riff of strings and wah-wah guitar while imaginary credits roll.

When White was ruling the charts, this ten-year-old Billy had no use for his romantic notions and discofied beats. When I was a teen and bought my first of several copies of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, I laughed aloud when I read part of Dave Marsh‘s review of White’s side-project Love Unlimited Orchestra: “And Barry White is (you know, baby) pretty (uh-huh) goddamn lame.” But hearing Can’t Get Enough some forty years after its original release – on 180-gram Audio Fidelity vinyl, I must hasten to add), it’s some pretty fine music, well worth reconsideration. This 2014 reissue comes in numbered editions housed in a sturdy gatefold sleeve; like the ’74 original, it includes all of the (yeah, baby) lyrics so you can (uh-huh) sing along.

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Album Review: Bethlehem Records Reissues

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

For several years in the decade of the 1950s, Bethlehem Records released some fine jazz albums. Recently Verse Music Group has licensed those albums, and is in the midst of reissuing them on both CD (nice enough, that) as well as vinyl, in their original 10” and 12” formats. While I’ve covered a few of these in recent reviews, today’s entry will take a quick look at three more.

Zoot Sims – Down Home
A 1960 set comprising eight numbers, this LP features the tenor saxophonist backed by piano (Dave McKenna), bass (George Tucker) and drums (Daniel Richmond). While there’s but one Zoot Sims original here (“I’ve Heard That Blues Before”), the songs are well selected to showcase the players’ chops and interplay. Leaning heavily in the direction of toe-tapping, lively, accessible jazz, it’s a worthwhile outing. The uncredited production (in hi-fi, not stereo) is clear but not up to the you-are-there ambience that Orrin Keepnews was getting for his clients’ sessions.

Bobby Troup – The Songs of Bobby Troup
A curious release, since Troup was a songwriter and these are all covers, it’s a nice collection nonetheless. Reissued in its original 1955 ten-inch format, the record draws mostly from the Great American Songbook, with all but one of the eight tacks composed in part by Johnny Mercer. (Side note: I attended Georgia State University in the early 1980s, and on one floor of the downtown “concrete campus” they had a Mercer museum. I wish I had paid closer attention.) Troup’s vocals are front and center, but Howard Roberts‘ guitar is a highlight throughout. The instrumental “Laura” is the best track here.

Pepper Adams – Motor City Scene
Technically, this 1960 release isn’t actually credited to Adams (nor to any one musician, for that matter); the lineup features him on baritone sax, plus Donald Byrd on trumpet, Kenny Burrell on guitar, pianist Tommy Flanagan, drummer Louis Hayes and Paul Chambers on bass. All that said, it’s Adams’ sax that’s the highlight of this five-number set. This album has received middling reviews, but I think it warrants closer inspection. Not groundbreaking, perhaps, but it’s a lively, varied collection that showcases each of the players. And the sound (again in hi-fi) is top-notch.

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Album Review: Dave Van Ronk — Inside Dave Van Ronk

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

I’m not a folkie. When it comes to acoustic based music of the folk sort, my tastes are fairly limited: I own a decent-sized stack of Bob Dylan albums, that cat-chewed first Peter, Paul and Mary LP I got from my parents’ collection, and a few Phil Ochs albums. And that’s about it. I prefer the British Isles/European folk styles of Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson, and, well, Donovan.

But I’ve long been familiar with the name Dave Van Ronk, albeit only on a surface level. What I knew of him could be summed up in a sentence or two at most: he was part of that whole Greenwich Village scene, along with people like Rambin’ Jack Elliott. I had never heard a note of music by either of them, though. Still, when the Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis was released, and I started hearing Van Ronk’s name more often, I figured it was time to give a listen. (The film takes some of its cues from Van Ronk’s life, I’m told; I haven’t seen the movie.)

As it happens, Concord Music Group, owner of the Fantasy back catalog, shrewdly chose right-about-now as the time to reissue Inside Dave Van Ronk, on vinyl and CD. So availing myself of a copy, I sat down to take in some folk. But first, I turned to my trusty and well-worn copy of the seminal rock-crit treatise, Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia. Wrote Ms. Roxon:

In the sixties, an age of lyric tenors, falsettos and angelic boy singers, Dave Van Ronk, who sings like a combination truck driver-lumberjack, seems strangely out of time and out of place. But if you’ve ever heard him after an evening of Judy Collins-Joan Baez sweetness, and if you’ve heard what he does with Joni Mitchell‘s “Both Sides Now,” giving it the gritty third dimension of a man who’s been there, then you know his time is coming.

Roxon was prescient about a lot of things, but Van Ronk’s time never truly did come. Or maybe it did. While he never shifted a whole lotta units, this was folk music, after all. But he was a respected, revered figure in the folk world, and his twenty-or-so albums are highly regarded within the folk idiom. rates several of his albums as four-to-five star releases, and not a single rated one is less than three stars.

He began his recording career in 1959, and his fourth LP (recorded in early ’62) was released in 1964 as Inside Dave Van Ronk. On the record, Van Ronk performs unaccompanied acoustic guitar readings of a dozen tunes, all traditional numbers. And to the first-time listener, he sounds a bit like an American version of Nick Drake, albeit with a much gruffer voice and a simpler approach on the guitar. The choice of English folk tunes (“Fair and Tender Ladies,” to name one) alongside more recognizably American ones (“Kentucky Moonshiner”) heighten the similarity.

The Fantasy reissue isn’t a straight reissue f the original LP; no, it also includes the LP Dave Van Ronk / Folksinger (recorded in April ’62 at the same time as the Inside tracks, but released in 1967; go figure). It’s a mix of traditional tunes with some more modern numbers. So the CD features 25 tracks.

The two albums are very much cut from the same cloth, and it makes good conceptual sense to reunite the music all into one place. His reading of Reverend Gary Davis‘ “Cocaine Blues” is more rough-hewn than Drake’s version (included on the bootleg Tamworth-in-Arden). But it honors its source relatively faithfully. Van Ronk plays guitar and sings on the Folksinger tracks; he switches to the more expressive 12-string for Inside, and adds a bit of dulcimer, autoharp and harmonica as well. All the tracks are spare and unadorned, and sound like what they probably are: recordings made in a single pass, with Van Ronk pulling songs from his own repertoire and playing them the same way he would at a Village coffeehouse.

If that description sounds appealing, you’ll likely enjoy an hour-plus of Dave Van Ronk as presented on this set. The music makes no pretense to be anything more than it is: Van Ronk’s not musically arguing for the timelessness of these folk tunes. He’s merely presenting them for you to react however you see fit.

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Album Review: Alice Cooper — Billion Dollar Babies

Monday, March 17th, 2014

On the occasion of its 2014 reissue on Hybrid SACD, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies is due for a critical second-look. Originally released in 1973, Billion Dollar Babies was Cooper’s sixth LP, and the second-to-last to feature the original band. Though by the time of Babies, ace session guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner were already being enlisted to add their talents to the tracks.

By this point in the band’s career, they had achieved concert headlining status, and had a number of hit albums (Love it to Death and Killer in 1971, and School’s Out in 1972), and three Top 40 singles (“I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “Elected”) under their belts. Billion Dollar Babies would be their first number-one album (in both the USA and UK) and spawned three charting singles.

But it was as an album that Billion Dollar Babies achieved its greatest success. Not quite a concept album, the record does feature a sort of thematic unity. As ever, the songs explored outré subject matter and aimed to shock. How else to explain songs titled “Raped and Freezin’” and “I Love the Dead.”

With crystal-clear production by Bob Ezrin, Billion Dollar Babies makes complete the band’s move away from muddy, garage vibe of their days on Frank Zappa’s Straight label. With a production and arrangement aesthetic that positioned each of the record’s ten cuts as an anthem of sorts, the group perfected the balance of grimy scuzz-rock and gleaming, streamlined commerciality.

The Hunter-Wagner twin guitar attack makes its grand appearance in the album’s opener, “Hello Hooray,” a template for Cooper-the-man’s stage show. The theatrical bent that was central to the live show was successfully conveyed in this track. And while I haven’t done an A/B comparision between this SACD version and my old vinyl, Cooper’s (Furnier’s) voice seems to stand out a bit clearer in the sonic spectrum on the new release. There’s a definite tophat-and-tails overblown vibe to the track, but that’s certainly by design.

Its prurient title aside, “Raped and Freezin’” is a top-notch rock and roller, one that sounds like the group, something that can’t really be said of the opener. One supposes that since it’s the singer/narrator who ends up raped and freezin’, it’s okay. No matter: it’s a winner, and the stylistic left turn that it takes near the end (sort of a piss-take on Santana, perhaps) adds to its interest.

“Elected” is the album’s first breakout track. Cooper’s voice is still deep in the murk; the guitars are mixed much more forward than the vocal. But the thrilling chord progression that makes up the song’s chorus is stunning. And while the marching-band style horn arrangement no doubt came as a surprise to listeners on initial hearing, it pushes the song into classic status; nothing else the band did before or since sounds like “Elected.” The track may well have influenced The Tubes’ “White Punks on Dope” from just a year later, right down to the spoken outro.

The title track features another killer riff, and another left-field production choice: the addition of vocals by – of all people — Donovan. Hard rock with neck-snapping guitar duels was the order of the day in ’73 (see also: Thin Lizzy) and this cut is an exemplar.

“Unfinished Sweet” is the lengthiest cut on Billion Dollar Babies. Cooper’s singing is about as good as it gets, and the arrangement is quite interesting – there’s a spy-movie soundtrack include that quotes “James Bond Theme” — but somehow the whole track doesn’t hold together. Though the spy bit sounds great, it has nothing conceptually to do with the song’s slight lyric. And when the track devolves into a squawking interlude, one can’t help but think that it probably worked better live: it sounds like the soundtrack for some or other wordless onstage antics.

Billion Dollar Babies hits its high point on what was the vinyl LP’s opening side-two cut, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” A near-perfect combination of memorable riffs, a singalong chorus and the band’s smart-alecky stance, it sounds as fresh in 2014 as it must have back in 1973. The track’s backing vocals are a key to its success, but every detail is in just the right place.

With “Generation Landslide,” the band aims for a T. Rex vibe, and takes a more musically subtle approach than anywhere else on the album. The track features shimmering acoustic guitar as well as delightfully busy, nimble and lyrical drum work from Neal Smith. Cooper emotes over the top of all that, and while he does a creditable job, the vocals are the least interesting component of “Generation Landslide.” The harmonica solo suggests what it might have been like to be sitting around a prairie campfire with the band. (Okay, not really.) Some tasteful vibroslap and an nice extended guitar solo make a good song even better.

“Sick Things” hasn’t worn well in the ensuing years since its release. Again, it probably worked exceptionally well onstage, with Alice running ‘round with snakes and guillotines and whatnot. And the arrangement ideas – specifically the turgid pace of the song — might have been filed away in producer Ezrin’s memory for use six years later when he worked on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Ezrin got a co-credit on the tune.

The brief “Mary-Ann” is another piss-take, this time aimed squarely to shock and discomfit the band’s detractors who found their decadence (real and/or imagined) too much to take. The mock love song’s kicker (“I thought you were my man”) sits in stark contrast to the swirling music-hall piano arrangement.

That elegiac piano forms the basis of “I Love the Dead,” in which the Coop speaks a good portion of the lyric. The melody is punctuated by stinging guitar lines. Ezrin’s hand in the song is obvious; it’s more theater than music, and when Cooper finally does sing, it’s in a faux-scat dialogue with the lead guitar. Eventually the song hits its stride for a few measure, and then it breaks into a big production extravaganza, complete with a singalong feel to the title lyric. And then it’s all over.

It’s little more than my belated speculation, of course, but I’m left to wonder if the band wasn’t too enamored of the Wagnerian (sic) aesthetic that permeates a good half of the album, preferring instead to rock out a bit harder. That might help explain the more stripped-down approach taken on the next album, Muscle of Love. But that album and its (in relative terms, at least) commercial failure would be the last gasp for Alice Cooper the band; subsequent releases would feature Alice Cooper the man, and a new team built around Hunter and Wagner.

The 2014 SACD release features no bonus tracks, but it does include a booklet that reproduces all of the album’s original artwork and lyric sheets, as well as the one-billion-dollar note that came with the original LP. The SACD discs are released in numbered editions for those who care about such things; mine’s #1086.

You may also enjoy my review of three other Alice Cooper albums: Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin, and Dada.

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Album Review: Los Lobos — Sí Se Puede

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

It was eight long years ago that I first reviewed a Los Lobos album, a then-new best-of compilation called Wolf Tracks. And I had added some of their music to my collection many years earlier, with a purchase of the La Pistola y el Corazon vinyl LP in 1988. So while I’ve not followed their career as closely as perhaps I should have, I’ve known from the start that these Angelinos were adept at chronicling the Latino/Norteamericano experience in a way few others could even attempt.

What I didn’t know until very recently is that while their breakout EP Just Another Band From East L.A was released in 1978, it wasn’t their debut: an even-earlier collection of songs was put together in 1976.

Conceived as a charity album with all sales proceeds going to United Farm Workers of America, Sí Se Puede featured the band backing various vocal collectives. And coming from a band that was still some years away from hitting the relatively big time, it’s a revelation.

As one might expect, there’s a strong worker-centric vibe to these songs, all selected by television producer Art Brambila, the man who conceived of the overall project. Brambila gathered local singers together in a studio (with session time donated by Herb Alpert) with the then four-member Los Lobos to record the ten tracks that made up Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can). A few weeks later, the project was completed, and 5000 copies were pressed on vinyl, to be sold as fundraisers. In 2014, original copies are impossibly rare: the two online outlets where one usually looks to find used vinyl ( and have none, nor does ebay. does indeed list one, for a mere $1409.18 (plus shipping).

Thankfully, Concord Music Grop has remedied this situation, after a fashion. On March 11 (this week) the label has reissued Sí Se Puede in digital-only format. And while that might be a slight disappointment to those who cherish the physical artifact, the music itself makes getting an mp3 version worth making the exception.

Most of the tunes are in Spanish (in all or in part), but a lack of familiarity with the language won’t diminish your enjoyment. “Mana is Now” featuring Geree Gonzales and Tierra sounds not wholly unlike what Linda Ronstadt did on 1987′s Canciones de mi Padre. And the artist known here only as Ramon fronts Los Lobos on “Yo Estoy con Chavez” (“I am With [Cesar] Chavez”), a new folk tune based – fittingly enough — on the melody of Woody Guthrie‘s “This Land is Your Land.”

There’s plenty of traditional Mexican sounds to be found here; Los Lobos turn in primarily acoustic performances, though the lack of electric instruments doesn’t mean a corresponding lack in energy. Lots of accordion, fiddle and harmonica give these tunes – lovingly arranged by the band – an authentic and homespun (yet thoroughly professional) feel overall. The highlight of the entire collection is one of three tracks on Sí Se Puede to feature Carmen Moreno, the lovely, flute-laden “Sangre Antigua.”

Fans of the band will absolutely want to add this to their collection, as will anyone interested in a socio-musical document of the concerns of California farm workers in the mid 1970s. Originally done as a way to raise funds for UFW, today it’s simply a fine collection of music.

Note: You may also enjoy my review of Los Lobos’ 2010 album, Tin Can Trust.

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The Moody Blues’ Mike Pinder: Promise Renewed (Part Two)

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Continued from Part One

BK: Eighteen years passed between release of The Promise and Among the Stars. Certainly you were busy with other things in the intervening years, but why so long a gap? And again – did you build up a backlog of songs over that period, or did you approach the album as a new project, and set about writing for it anew?

MP: I was very happy and busy with family life! During the years I was active with my band I did not have much of a private life. We were always recording or touring. First the release of Magnificent Moodies and Go Now in 1965. Then the formation of Moodies II. We were busy then from 1967 to 1978 recording eight albums. It was a rewarding but grueling work schedule.

I wanted to spend as much time enjoying and nurturing my family as I had done nurturing a band. When my sons were almost grown I thought it would be fun to get back into the studio recording. I have always had a small recording studio at home so even though I did not formally release any songs during those years, I was always tinkering around with the music and listening to the muse.

BK: Among the Stars seems to feature a sound that is closer in some ways to what you had done with the Moody Blues, specifically in its greater use of keyboards. Was the fact that so much time had passed a factor in your thinking, “it’s okay to sound like this now and then” or was that not part of your thinking at all?

MP: Keyboard is my main instrument so it is always an easy choice for me in an arrangement. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to use more Mellotron or keyboards. Having the sounds of the Mellotron available to me helped me to arrange and paint the backdrop for the song. I think you will always hear Moody Blues in my songs and arrangements because the music of the Moodies always reflected a certain part of who I am, my message and my creative vision.

BK: Part of the stated reason for your leaving your old band had to do with not wishing to tour. Did you do any live dates to promote either The Promise or Among the Stars, and to what degree have you engaged in public performance since that time?

MP: I did a tour in the US when I released The Promise. But I did not do any live shows when I finished Among the Stars. Instead I did a tour in the USA of Borders Books & Music stores. That was really fun. I got to meet and greet the fans. It was a beautiful experience to hear first hand the impact the music has had on listeners of our music. I have always said that that is my Hall of Fame. Who needs a bogus political entity telling me that I am worthy of recognition in Rock’s Hall of Fame. When you have changed or touched a life in some magical and wonderful way with music or art then the artist has hit the jackpot.

BK: The Mellotron was long notorious for its – many said – unsuitability as a live performance instrument. You, of course, used it extensively. Today, very few musicians do that; beyond Damon Fox of Bigelf, I don’t know of any other touring musicians who use a Mellotron. And when albums note the use of a ‘Tron, often it’s (ironically) a sample of a Mellotron! Of course there’s something called the Memotron, an attempt at a modern digital answer to this decidedly analog instrument. Are you familiar with the Memotron, and if so, how do you think it compares to my favorite musical instrument, the Mellotron?

MP: I think it was fate that brought me together with the Mellotron. Besides being a player, I have always had an interest in mechanics and engineering. The Mellotron was manufactured by Streetly Electronics in Birmingham and I applied for a job working in the factory. A perfect match. I loaded the tapes and made sure they were timed correctly. The fact that I could assemble a Mellotron from top to bottom enabled me to troubleshoot the instrument. I knew it inside and out.

The Mellotron was delicate. Improper handling would cause the tapes to get tangled. Also it was a heavy instrument at 350 pounds. All the weight was in the housing.

I have only seen the Memotron online but it is a concept that I did for myself years ago when I digitized my favorite Mellotron sounds to use on a Roland sampler. In the early 90’s I digitized and looped my favorite Mellotron sounds, and I now play them on a Roland S-760 Sampler (weighing 3 pounds) I also digitized the best sounds of the Chamberlain. So now I can play both in stereo. I still love the Mellotron but it is nice to have it available to me in a more compact version.

The sound and tone of the Mellotron is uniquely recognizable and I think I achieve my signature sound by the interface of how I use the pitch control and volume pedal.

BK: Two of the three bonus tracks included with Among the Stars feature involvement by Ray Thomas and Tony Clarke. When were those recorded?

MP: A few years before we lost Tony, he came over to the States and worked with my sons, Michael Lee and Matt Pinder (also known as The Pinder Brothers) on their CD Ordinary Man. “Waves Crash” and “Empty Streets” were songs Tony produced. We sent the tracks to Ray in the UK for his flute parts. It was a real treat to have them working with my sons.

BK: The new package is very nicely put together, with the box, booklet and DVD. How did this project come to be?

MP: I met the people at Esoteric on a visit to the UK. They had released a box set for my dear buddy Ray Thomas, and Ray introduced me. They are passionate about music, and this is rare in the record business of today.

Mike Pinder’s The Promise / Among the Stars box set is available from Cherry Red as well as the usual online places. Mike’s website is

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The Moody Blues’ Mike Pinder: Promise Renewed (Part One)

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Keyboardist Mike Pinder was a founding member of the Moody Blues. He was with them back in the really early days, when their lead singer was Denny Laine (later of Wings) and they scored a hit with “Go Now.” He was one of three members(along with flautist Ray Thomas and bassist John Lodge) who remained with the group as they became the quintet that most remember, the one with lead vocalist Justin Hayward and drummer Graeme Edge. That group released what are known among fans as the “Core Seven,” a series of albums that prominently featured Pinder’s arrangements and keyboard work, most notably on the Mellotron.

Pinder left the Moodies after their 1978 LP Octave, but had already began a solo career with 1976′s The Promise. A second solo release, Among the Stars followed, but not until 1994. Both albums have long been out of print. But now in 2014, the pair of albums – plus a DVD with interviews, and a few bonus tracks – have been released in a handsome box set. I spoke with Mike Pinder about the new reissue and some topics that have long been on my mind. Here’s our conversation. – bk

Bill Kopp: I bought The Promise on vinyl many years ago. When I first heard it, it came as a bit of a surprise to me, as it wasn’t what I had expected: a Mellotron album. Only the title track sounds much like what we’d heard from you before. Was it a conscious decision for you to create an album that overtly moved away from keyboard-focused songs, and from the heavily orchestrated sound of the Moody Blues?

Mike Pinder: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I just gave choose the arrangement that I think fit the song. Recording on my own for the first time in many years just gave me the flexibility and freedom to use other musicians and friends and experiment a little more.

BK: A few years ago, I interviewed Graeme Edge, and asked him about the possibility of the Moody Blues doing what a number of groups have done: performing complete albums live onstage, start to finish. He said no, and his reason had to do with your songs: “We have considered it, but there’s a problem: we wouldn’t have somebody else sing a Mike Pinder song. It wouldn’t be right; there’s a phoniness to that.” What are your feelings on the subject?

MP: I don’t know about that. I considered them all my songs in some way as I am sure the entire band did. I would hear a song of Ray [Thomas]’s or John [Lodge]’s and I would add any creativity I could to making the song stronger. We all did that for each other. When you hear any Moody Blues song you hear my input or influence. For instance the counter melodies of “Nights in White Satin” are my creation. I think I am known for creating many of the memorable counter melodies, unexpected chord changes and most of the arrangements that you hear in any Moody Blues songs from the eight albums we did. Certainly from what fans call the “Core” or “Classic 7.”

BK: Moody Blues albums from 1967 to 1972 always featured one, two or more of your songs, since the band had several songwriters. I’m reminded of George Harrison once he left the Beatles and released All Things Must Pass. Was yours a similar situation, in that you had a huge backlog of songs you hadn’t had the opportunity to record and release, or did you write most of the tunes for The Promise specifically for the album?

MP: It was about 50/50. But it is interesting you make that analogy. Yes, like George I had songs in the wings. Musical ideas, like other art forms, are unique only in their expression. I don’t think ideas are individual by any means. But the transformation of the idea by the individual into art gives it uniqueness.

Here is a little fishing metaphor for the creative muse. I like to visualize creative ideas as being poured out of an urn, almost like Aquarius pouring out water. And then the wind would blow them, ideas, musical notes, lyrics, color etc and they would flow like a river. Alongside the river would be people sitting, with pencil in hand, an empty notebook or a guitar on their knee (which is metaphorically like fishing tackle) As these ideas come by, you try and grab one for you. Quite often that is what happens and you would hook something, and you would struggle with it, but you could never quite get it in the boat. So you have to cut your line.

I remember buying a George Harrison album, and hearing a song, and thinking “that’s the one that got away.” I didn’t get it, but further downstream (and George used to live about three miles away) George was up that night and hooked the bugger. Late at night when everyone is asleep has always been my favorite time to fish. I think when the world is quite it is easier to listen to the muse.

BK: I have read that “One Step Into the Light” was one of yours from the time of The Promise. It’s such a strong song; assuming that account is accurate, what led you to not including a version of it on your own album to begin with?

MP: “One Step Into the Light” was originally on Octave, which was the last album I recorded with the Moodies. We were not getting along very well in the recording studio, and I did not think any of the songs on that album got the attention they deserved. It was lovely to reflect on the song over time and re-record it with my sons.

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Hundred-word Reviews: Deluxe Packages

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Each of these is a multi-disc set collecting archival (and sometimes previously-unreleased) music, but other than that, there’s little to connect these releases in any stylistic fashion: Celtic soul, proto-funk/pop, hard rock, comedy spoken word, and psychedelic post-punk. All have been sitting on my desk awaiting review for far too long. So, here ya go.

Van Morrison – Moondance (Expanded Edition)
Moondance was released in 1970, and several tracks – “Crazy Love,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic” and the title track ( a de rigueur dance-band number) – have since assumed “standard” status. And that kind of over-saturation can result in people forgetting just how good the album really was/is (see also: Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP). A new 2CD set appends eleven outtakes – all previously unissued – to the album. The outtakes add to the listener’s understanding of the album as an organic whole, and there’s even a 4CD version (with more unreleased goodies) available as well.

Various – Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
The Diminutive Purple One didn’t spring forth fully formed; the Minneapolis scene had long been a breeding ground for all kinds of r&b talent. And while most never broke out in any major way (Morris Day being a notable exception), they left behind a cache of music. Those crate-digging folks at Numero Group have unearthed the best of these and compiled them in three formats (2CD w/book, 4CD w/book, MP3). It’s really more of a book with a soundtrack than the reverse; at 144pp, one can delve deeply into the history of African-American modern r&b out of the Twin Cities.

Deep Purple – Now What!? (Gold Edition)
You can be forgiven for initially looking upon this release with skepticism. After all, Deep Purple’s high water mark came in the very early 1970s. Like so many hard rock bands of their ilk, they floundered creatively (and commercially) in the 1980s and beyond, releasing little of note and becoming somewhat faceless. So it’s some great surprise to learn that the group (comprised mostly of prime-era members) has roared back with their best album in decades. Now What!? sounds and feels like the Deep Purple of old, and a bonus disc of live tapes show that it’s not sessioner trickery.

The First Family – 50th Anniversary Edition
The early 1960s was a golden era for the comedy LP; releases from Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman and others enjoyed success in the marketplace. While those vintage LPs make for quite the dated, quaint listen today, they’re fun nonetheless. The First Family capitalized on craze for all things Camelot, when the public couldn’t get enough of the Kennedy clan. A followup album (cut five months later) got much less notice, and when JFK was killed in November of that year, most people quietly shelved the first LP. Both are gathered together with some bonus material for this 2CD anniversary set.

Red Temple Spirits – s/t
This package has an extremely high “boutique” quotient; how else to describe a set that places CDs in what look like embossed, wax-paper sleeves, encased in a gold-toned envelope? This is one set that won’t fit on your CD shelf, nor will it stand alone like some box set. And the music – post-punk from the late 1980s – isn’t the sort of pretty, filigreed stuff you’d expect to get this kind of treatment. It will appeal to fans of Public Image Limited; though RTS was California-based, vocalist William Faircloth added a veddy British vibe to the goth-rock proceedings.

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Hundred-word Reviews: Reissues

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Those CDs continue to pile up here at Musoscribe World Headquarters. And even after I cull the unsolicited or semi-solicited ones that don’t make the cut for coverage, I still end up with more music than I can possibly cover in the depth of detail I’d like (and that they deserve). So occasionally – and more often of late – I schedule a group of hundred-word capsule reviews in which I endeavor to hit the high points. All of these are worth your time. Toady’s batch are all reissues of older releases, several of which are somewhat rare.

Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys – Albion Doo-Wah
This little-known outfit was initially championed by no less a luminary than Jimi Hendrix, who produced their debut album. This, their second, was no more successful in the marketplace, but it remains an interesting listen. From the opening track, “Riff Raff” onward, the band leans in a city-headed-country rock direction, with the results sounding like some cross between The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble and The Band. Some of the truly deep-fried tracks like “Turkish Taffy” are only partially successful, but the genre hybridization of “Boonville Massacre” still sounds delightfully fresh and appealing forty years later.

Mason Williams – The Mason Williams Ear Show
Like the above title, this is the second of two Real Gone Music reissues by a mostly (and unjustly) forgotten artist. Released a mere nine months after The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, this album very much continues in a similar musical vein (how could it not?). For many artists, such a rush-release schedule wold result in an album full of half-baked, tossed-off tunes, but it would appear that Williams was a prolific composer of quality material. Like the last record, this one is full of eclectic mainstream pop Americana (though in its formal sense rather than its 21st century one).

Surf Punks – Locals Only
Neither the best nor the worst of its kind, this album is a reasonably successful amalgam of comedy rock and surf music. The titles tell you the story: “No Fat Chicks,” “Born to Surf,” “Spoiled Brats from Malibu.” It’s fun enough, and with the principals’ connection to Captain and Tennille (drummer/composer/producer) Dennis Dragon is the brother of “Captain” Daryl Dragon) one can be all but certain that there’s a commercial appeal to these bratty tracks. And there is; it’s more revved-up garage rock (with party trappings) than anything approaching punk. A welcome dose of 80s nostalgia.

The Alabama Stare Troupers – Road Show
A curio from the anything-goes early 1970s. An all-star (sic) lineup takes to the road – presaging Bob Dylan‘s Rolling Thunder Revue – and one show is documented as a tour souvenir. Don Nix (his Living by the Days was also reissued) rounded up country bluesman Furry Lewis and vocalist Jeanie Green plus assorted musicians and a choir. The result 2LP didn’t sell like hotcakes. But Furry Lewis – who gets half of the first CD – is in fine form, and the full-band tracks – sounding very much like The Band with a choir – are soulful and enjoyable.

The Lords of the New Church – Is Nothing Sacred?
Give this CD five seconds of your time, and you’ll say “1983.” But “Dance With Me” – the most well-known track from the Gothic rock band led by former Dead Boys singer/guitarist Stiv Bators – still sounds great. Sure, it’s more than a little reminiscent of Duran Duran, The Church and Billy Idol, but this foursome – with punk veterans from The Damned, Sham 69 and The Barracudas – earned their punk/new wave cred honestly. Two other Lords studio albums – their 1982 debut (their best) and 1984′s The Method to Our Madness – have also gotten reissue.

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A Conversation with The Tubes’ Founder Bill Spooner, Part Five

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Continued from Part Four

“We’re waiting for an investor.
Maybe it’s you.”

Bill Kopp: I remember something from a little later in The Tubes’ career, from The Completion Backwards Principle era tour. The way you opened the show was that you’d all come out dressed in business suits, with briefcases. But you weren’t in that; it was all the guys in the band plus, I guess, a roadie or something. The song was “Business.”

Bill Spooner: That was because I had just had knee surgery. I’m singing on the track, and I had done it onstage for a year before that. But then I screwed up my knee skiing and had surgery. Plus, I wasn’t really a dancer to begin with. But the knee injury was my excuse not to do it. Because it did hurt.

I’m actually singing two of the parts on the track [not on the album, but on a laserdisc that came out around the same time] because when we recorded it, Roger was out of town. So I figure that made up for it.

That was Chopper [onstage], our road manager.

BK: I saw the Tubes several times in those days. One time, at Atlanta’s Civic Center, I was in the front row with a 35mm camera that had a 200mm zoom lens. I was removed by security.

BS: Oh, really?

BK: Yeah, but they were actually very nice: “Go put your camera away, back in your car. Then you can come back in.” They didn’t take my film or anything. The pictures came out great. I have a poster print of one on my living room wall. You’re sitting on a bar stool playing guitar, and you have one of those calculator watches on your wrist.

BS: Calculator watch? That was to calculate time between pills, I imagine. I guess that was from when my knee was still screwed up.

BK: A left-field question, if you don’t mind. On the Outside Inside tour, when you guys did “Tip of My Tongue,” it seemed to me that the horn parts were being played by you on guitar, through some sort of effects. True?

BS: Right, but we were also playing along with a tape. We had a tape that ran, and it had a click-track on it. And I played along with the horn parts using a Mutron or something. Basically, an envelope follower. And I tried to make it sound like it was real. We just couldn’t find a way to duplicate it. Mike Cotten could have made the horn sounds, or he could make the other sounds that the song needed.

Plus, they were really complicated; the horns were done at The Compound, Earth, Wind & Fire‘s studio. That was the EW&F horns. Those guys are tight, I’ll tell ya. Very hard to duplicate. Somewhere I have a version of that song with Maurice White singing it.

One of the few benefits of working with David Foster was his relationship with Earth, Wind & Fire. He had a few other friends I liked, too. Like Bobby Kimball, Steve Lukather.

BK: One last question. For years now, I’ve been hearing about a Tubes documentary that Mike Cotten has been working on. Do you know anything about how that’s coming along?

BS: I think it’s finished. He’s been working on it for abut ten years. The problem is that to put it out, we have to secure the rights to the songs. Even though we wrote the songs, the versions that people are familiar with are owned by A&M and Capitol, which is all Sony or EMI. And between the two of ‘em, they want about $250,000 just for the rights to put those in a movie. It is a lot of songs, but you’d think they’d be a little more generous with their licensing. But they’re not.

So we pay that, or go in and re-record all those songs, which would probably cost just as much. And it would never sound the same anyway. So that’s the hold-up. Kenny Ortega [Tubes choreographer who went on to greater fame with the 1996 and 2002 Olympics – bk] has expressed interest, but he’s not going put in his own money. So we’re waiting for an investor. Maybe it’s you.

It’s a very interesting film. Besides all the live stuff, there’s interviews with everybody we’ve ever worked with, plus another fifty people we didn’t work with. It’ll be a pretty interesting movie if it ever gets released. I hope I’m still alive by the time it gets released.

The 2CD set pairing The Tubes’ Young and Rich with Now was released in 2012 on Real Gone Music. Copies are still available, and are well worth seeking out. — bk

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