Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Shirelles: “Happy And In Love/Shirelles” (2014) CD Review



The Shirelles formed in the late 1950s and are known for such hits as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Mama Said,” “Baby It’s You” and “Dedicated To The One I Love,” the last of which was revisited on Happy And In Love, one of the two albums included on the new CD put out by Real Gone Music. This CD includes two complete albums originally released on RCA in the early 1970s, as well as a few bonus tracks. Neither of these albums has been available on CD until now.

Happy And In Love opens with a good, funky cover of The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight,” with an added moment of the girls singing, “So sweet, so sweet” over the beat, which is a nice touch.

That’s followed by “Boy You’re Too Young,” written by Kenneth Gamble, Archie Bell and Thom Bell. It’s an easy-going tune, with strings and a good groove, and is about an older woman interested in a young man – young enough that it’s still up to his parents to allow or disallow the relationship. “You’re just a little school boy/Growing up mighty fast/Let’s not get started/’Cause how long do you think this love will last.”

“Take Me” is a groovy tune boasting a powerful, energetic vocal performance. This is a song that was released earlier as a single on United Artists.

“Dedicated To The One I Love”

The Shirelles revisit “Dedicated To The One I Love,” a song they’d released as a single in 1959. This 1971 rendition is quite a bit different, sounding delicate at the beginning. They found a new spin to put on it, while keeping the song’s main elements in place, and turning in excellent vocal performances. I like this version, but it’s certainly no replacement for the earlier one.

“We Got A Lot Of Lovin’ To Do” is a sweet, fun, catchy tune with a positive vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And everybody tells me that it’s always raining/Well, I don’t mind the rain, but it’s plain to see that/We’ve got a lot of lovin’ to do.” I am really fond of this track. For me, it’s one of this collection’s highlights.

“Strange, I Still Love You,” the final track on Happy And In Love, was released as the flip side to the single of “No Sugar Tonight.” It features another powerful vocal performance. “Through the pain you’ve given me, I remember the pleasure/I guess I’ll never be free.”

The second album, Shirelles, opens with a cover of Carole King’s “Brother, Brother.” This track was also released as a single in 1972. It’s followed by the flip side to that single, “Sunday Dreaming,” a somewhat funky tune.

“Ain’t No Sunshine”

“Ain’t No Sunshine” is a song I absolutely love, and The Shirelles do an excellent rendition of it. They stretch out the “I know, I know” part longer than usual, making it an entire section with a build, before settling back into the song’s main groove. These girls do some interesting stuff with this song, and I wish the track were longer. Written by Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” is a song that’s been covered by such artists as Freddie King, Joe Cocker and Michael Jackson.

They also cover the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” And they do a really good rendition of Carole King’s “Walk On In,” one of my favorite tracks from the second album. Another strong track is their cover of “Drowning In The Sea Of Love,” written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

The second album ends with a Marvin Gaye medley of “Mercy Mercy Me,” “What’s Going On” and “Inner City Blues.” This is another highlight. I particularly like what they do with “Inner City Blues.

Bonus Tracks

This CD includes three bonus tracks, originally released on singles in 1973, including “Let's Give Each Other Love” and “Do What You've A Mind To.” “Touch The Wind (Eres Tu),” the best of the three tracks, was actually the flip side to “Do What You've A Mind To.” It’s a beautiful, powerful song written by Juan Carlos Calderon, and this rendition has some surprising country elements.

CD Track List

  1. No Sugar Tonight
  2. Boy You’re Too Young
  3. Go Away And Find Yourself
  4. There’s Nothing In This World
  5. Medley: Gotta Hold On To This Feeling/I’ve Never Found A Boy
  6. Take Me
  7. Dedicated To The One I Love
  8. It’s Gonna Take  A Miracle
  9. We Got A Lot Of Lovin’ To Do
  10. Strange, I Still Love You
  11. Brother, Brother
  12. Sunday Dreaming
  13. Ain’t No Sunshine
  14. It’s Going To Take Some Time
  15. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
  16. Let’s Stay Together
  17. Walk On In
  18. Deep In The Night
  19. Drowning In The Sea Of Love
  20. Hung On Yourself
  21. Medley: Mercy Mercy Me/Inner City Blues/What’s Going On
  22. Let’s Give Each Other Love
  23. Do What You’ve A Mind To
  24. Touch The Wind (Eres Tu)

Happy And In Love/Shirelles was released on July 29, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cass Elliot: “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore Plus Rarities – Her Final Recordings” (2014) CD Review



Cass Elliot’s incredible voice was such a vital part of the charm of The Mamas And The Papas. When that band broke up in 1968, she began a solo career, which was sadly cut short in 1974 by a heart attack. In 1973, she released her final record, Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore, a live album recorded at Mister Kelly’s (though with some additional recording in the studio). The new re-issue of that album, Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore Plus Rarities – Her Final Recordings, includes five other tracks, two of which were previously unreleased.

The CD’s first track begins with a man introducing Cass Elliot, accompanied by a drum roll. The band then goes into just a bit of “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” while Cass comes out on stage. She opens with “Extraordinary,” an odd show tune from Pippin with lyrics containing references to advertisements and so on. At the end, she sings, “And don’t make me think about everyday things/They’re unnecessary/To someone who is very/Extraordinary like me.” It’s cute, but feels basically like a bit of a warm-up.

A much better song is the delightful “I Think A Lot About You,” written by Margo Guryan. In this, she shows what she can do vocally, varying her approach on different lines to great effect. What an amazing voice this woman had. I love the playful element to this song.  Listen, for example, to the way she sings the lines, “Now if I hadn’t controlled me/You know I might have been ashamed/In the morning.”

This CD contains a couple of tracks of stage banter, showing Cass Elliot’s great sense of humor. In the first, she says: “Maybe perhaps you can pretend that you’re in my living room. Of course, the drinks wouldn’t be so watered.” She talks about The Mamas And The Papas, and the problems with the names.

That leads right to her performance of “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore,” the album’s title track, a song written for Cass Elliot by Walter Earl Brown. It’s kind of a big production, but with a sense of humor. In this one, she sings, “You can call me partner/You can call me ma’am/If your wife don’t understand you and you’re smashed/My name is Sam/But don’t, don’t call me Mama anymore.” (The original album concludes with an instrumental reprise of this tune.)

Cass Elliot does a pretty rendition of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” (a song originally included on Wings’ 1973 record, Red Rose Speedway). One of the highlights of this CD is “The Torch Song Medley,” which begins with a cool version of “I Came Here To Sing A Torch Song.” She takes it down a bit with a sweet, sexy, intimate vocal delivery of “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues.” She lets it build as she slides right into “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” and then “Mean To Me.” The band throws in what sounds to me like just a touch of Gershwin (“Rhapsody In Blue”) between that song and “Why Was I Born.” There is a pause before the reprise of “I Came Here To Sing A Torch Song.”

“I Like What I Like” opens with a bit of stage banter, and Cass introduces some of the band. They then go into the funky “I Like What I Like,” written by Bruce Wheaton and originally performed by Everyday People. The song is a lot of fun, though it doesn’t have that great percussion intro of the original. It does have some nice backing vocals and some seriously cool work on keys.

Rarities

This disc includes approximately seventeen minutes of rarities, including two tracks that were previously unreleased. “Theme From ‘L’Amour’” is a playful and totally delightful tune, the theme from the Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey film. “Listen To The World” is a strange and wonderful song about communication and responsibility, with an ultimately positive message and feel. I really like these lyrics: “All those preachers telling you/Your religion's good for you/Perfect for the whole world too/If they know what's good for them.”

The rarities also include the single version of “I Think A  Lot About You,” one of my favorite songs from the live album. This is a wonderful track, just absolutely perfect.

The two previously unreleased tracks are both live tracks. The first is another medley, this one beginning with “Make Your Own Kind Of Music,” then going into “Dream A Little Dream Of Me.” I’ve always loved the way she sang this one. There is a bit of a pause before “New World Coming,” and then she returns to “Make Your Own Kind Of Music.” This track ends with some stage banter about why she didn’t include “Monday, Monday” or “California Dreamin’” in the medley. And then she responds to an audience member who requests those songs. The other previously unreleased track is “Don’t Make Me A Memory.”

CD Track List

  1. Introduction: Dream A Little Dream Of Me/Extraordinary
  2. I Think A Lot About You
  3. Audience Rap, Pt. 1
  4. Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore
  5. My Love
  6. I’m Coming To The Best Part Of My Life
  7. The Torch Song Medley: I Came Here To Sing A Torch Song/I Got A Right To Sing The Blues/I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good/Mean To Me/Why Was I Born/I Came Here To Sing A Torch Song (Reprise)
  8. Audience Rap, Pt. 2
  9. The Night Before
  10. I Like What I Like
  11. I’ll Be Seeing You
  12. Closing: Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore (Reprise)
  13. Theme From “L’Amour”
  14. Listen To The World
  15. I Think A Lot About You (single version)
  16. Medley: Make Your Own Kind Of Music/Dream A Little Dream Of Me/New World Coming
  17. Don’t Make Me A Memory

Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore; Plus Rarities – Her Final Recordings was released on July 29, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Posies: “Failure” (1988/2014) CD Review



I’ve often said that pop music went wrong in 1986. But that certainly doesn’t mean that nothing good came from the late 1980s. After all, we had some great albums from R.E.M and Tracy Chapman. And in 1988, The Posies released Failure. This wonderful album was originally released only on cassette, and then on vinyl and CD the following year. I didn’t get the chance to listen to it then, because at the time I was getting into the Boston folk scene. But I do wish it had been on my radar, because I think I would have dug it.  But the new re-issue gives me the chance to enjoy it now. And this re-issue includes several bonus tracks, including some really cool instrumental tracks. This album shows how good pop can be.
  
“Blind Eyes Open”

The album opens with “Blind Eyes Open.” Once this song kicks in, it becomes a catchy rock number, with just a bit of a punk feel at times. I really like that powerful, kind of raw delivery of the vocals on the chorus: “Now you’ve made your blind eyes open/And so light streams in/Everything’s clear as crystal/Enlightenment.” I also dig lines like “The rites of spring have no meaning in my brain.”

An instrumental demo of this tune is included in the bonus tracks. This track was also included as a bonus track on the 15th anniversary edition of Failure.

“The Longest Line”

I’ve never been a patient person, and these early lines from “The Longest Line” jumped out at me the first time I listened to this CD: “I’ve had all I can take of patience and kindness/I can’t wait in this line any longer.” I can totally relate. And those delightful lines are not the only thing making “The Longest Line” one of my favorite tracks. This song has a fun, quick rhythm on acoustic guitar and wonderful vocals. When pop works, this is what it sounds like. This is such a great tune.

“Like Me Too”

There is kind of an odd feel to “Like Me Too,” a song that seems to be coming from an awkward teenager at times. It has some really amusing lines, like “But you call me immature because I’m too sensitive to your insensitivity” and “You’re about as human as the Statue of Liberty/But maybe you’ll like me too.” I love that he follows an insult with a line that is both an admission of attraction and a hope that it’s mutual. And I really like the short guitar instrumental section toward the end.

The bonus tracks include a demo version of this tune, and in this version the electric guitar in that section seems to come out of nowhere, and then disappears so quickly.

“I May Hate You Sometimes”

“I May Hate You Sometimes” has a happy mid-1960s pop feel that you’ll either love or hate. I love it. This fun tune has lots of lines that stand out, such as “But things have changed/And now you’re only happy when I remember where my place is” and “I can’t be everything to everybody/Could I at least be something to you” and “If I can’t live with myself, how could you live with me.” And for some reason, every time I listen to this song, the way they sing the line “But I’ll always love you” reminds me of a song from Shock Treatment.

The bonus tracks include a demo version, in which you can hear them testing the vocal microphone at the beginning. There are no drums on this version, and the bass line is more prominent and delicious.

“Paint Me”

“Paint Me” is another really good pop tune with a catchy riff and good vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I may be color-coated/But that won't hide the fact/That under shades of lifeless gray/I'm painted darkest black.”

There is a demo version of this song in the bonus tracks. It feels like it might be just a bit slower, and it doesn’t include the intro or outro, but I really like this version. I might actually prefer it to the regular version. It was also included on the 15th anniversary edition of the album.

“At Least For Now”

“At Least For Now” is probably my favorite track. It has a kind of sweet vibe, painting a sad portrait to start, but with a positive sound to the chorus. These are some of the lines that stand out for me: “A healthy dose of deep depression/Keeps you comfortably smug/Life without you can’t imagine/It’s become your favorite drug” and “Now gazing at your own reflection/Makes you want to smash the mirror.” It’s just a really good song.

An instrumental demo of the song is included in the bonus tracks. This is the only previously unreleased track on the CD, and it’s a good one.

“What Little Remains”

The original album ends with “What Little Remains,” another interesting pop song. I really like this line: “You’re at war with yourself, and I’m stuck in the middle of it.”

Bonus Tracks

This re-issue includes approximately twenty-five minutes of bonus tracks. Besides the tracks I’ve already mentioned, there is a live version of “Believe In Something Other (Than Yourself),” with a bit of stage banter at the beginning. This rendition is guitar and vocals. It was originally released on 2000’s At Least At Last.

“Alison Hubbard” is a great rock instrumental number with a good youthful, raw energy. This is one of my favorite tracks, and was originally released on the 15th anniversary edition of Failure.

“After Many A Summer Dies The Swan” is an interesting and very short instrumental track with an unusual vibe (reminding me a bit of Frank Zappa or very early Phish).

CD Track List

  1. Blind Eyes Open
  2. The Longest Line
  3. Under Easy
  4. Like Me Too
  5. I May Hate You Sometimes
  6. Ironing Tuesdays
  7. Paint Me
  8. Believe In Something Other (Than Yourself)
  9. Compliment?
  10. At Least For Now
  11. Uncombined
  12. What Little Remains
  13. Believe In Something Other (Than Yourself) (live)
  14. I May Hate You Sometimes (demo)
  15. Paint Me (demo)
  16. Like Me Too (demo)
  17. Alison Hubbard (instrumental)
  18. After Many A Summer Dies The Swan (instrumental)
  19. Blind Eyes Open (instrumental demo)
  20. At Least For Now (instrumental demo)

The Posies are Jonathan Auer and Kenneth Stringfellow.

This special re-issue of Failure was released on August 19, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings. It was released on vinyl as well as CD.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jerry Lee Lewis: “The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings” (2014) CD Review



I’ve always loved Jerry Lee Lewis. His music attracted me at a very young age, and his appeal has never lessened. His style and his attitude seem to be the embodiment of what rock and roll is, even when he’s doing country. It’s part ego, part lark, with an attitude of defiant indifference to conventions and rules, but also with an unbridled and honest passion. That’s the feel of it. When I read about adults in the 1950s ranting in opposition to rock and roll, I always guessed it was aimed specifically and directly at Jerry Lee Lewis – that he frightened them in a way Elvis Presley never could. For he really embodies that unpredictable element of rock and roll, what gives it that excitement. And you can hear it in these recordings from the 1970s as well. Jerry Lee is clearly having a great time, and is as loose as ever. He refers to himself in the third person, and likes to toss the word “mother-humper” into these tunes (I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone else say that). But even while clowning, the man can really play. The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings features ten tracks with some excellent work on piano. Jerry Lee Lewis puts his own spin on these familiar songs, even turning in a rocking rendition of “Harbor Lights.”

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”

The album opens with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” and right off it’s clear that Jerry Lee is having a hell of a time, adding his own thoughts and lines to this wonderful Jim Croce song. He’s riffing like mad, and the results are so much bloody fun. He even refers to himself and his own work, actually starting the track by saying, “Get the Killer down on tape right and we’ll make millions,” and later mentioning “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Late in the track, he changes perspectives to the first person, he himself becoming the “bad” character, taking the place of Leroy Brown, as “the meanest man in Memphis, Tennessee.” Before that, he mentions Nixon: “He’s worse than ol’ Leroy Brown.” You can’t help but love it. Plus, there is some nice work on fiddle and harmonica. Yes, the band gets to have fun here too.

“Ragged But Right”

I love the playful vocal delivery on “Ragged But Right,” which he sings as “Rugged but right,” and the equally playful work on keys.  He mentions himself on this track too: “The Killer’s rugged but he’s right.” This track is absolutely delightful, especially when he delivers, as he says, “a ragtime mother-humper, New Orleans style.” He mentions “Great Ball Of Fires” at one point on this track. And he ends it so smoothly, “Listen to me now, I’m so right/The Killer’s right.”

“Room Full Of Roses”

Jerry Lee then gives us his version of the great country song “Room Full Of Roses,” making it his own, adding his name to the lyrics (“For every time Jerry cried every night” and “You might send ol’ Jerry a rose or two”). I love how he can make his voice sound so sweet in lines like “All I want is my arms full of you.” He does some surprising stuff on keys here. This is an excellent track.

Chuck Berry

Jerry Lee Lewis tackles a couple of the most well-known tunes from his contemporary Chuck Berry: “Johnny B. Goode” and “Carol.” That guitar still plays a big part in this version, but of course it’s the piano that takes prominence at times. The band really cooks, and they slide into “Carol,” with Jerry Lee adding his own lyrics. He then slows things down at the end for a kind of bluesy finish.

“Music! Music! Music!”

Jerry Lee Lewis does a second medley on this CD: “Music! Music! Music!” into “Canadian Sunset.” “Music! Music! Music!” is one of my favorite tunes, with a great old-time feel, and Jerry Lee does some great stuff with it. He then moves into “Canadian Sunset,” a tune written by Eddie Heywood. And there is a delightful jam, led, of course, by piano.

“Beautiful Dreamer”

Jerry Lee Lewis delivers a surprising performance of “Beautiful Dreamer,” with some spoken word about the songwriter, Stephen Foster. There is something perfectly rough in his voice as he tells the sad tale of the songwriter, then returns to the song itself.

CD Track List

  1. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
  2. Ragged But Right
  3. Room Full Of Roses
  4. Johnny B. Goode/Carol
  5. That Kind Of Fool
  6. Harbor Lights
  7. Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior
  8. Music! Music! Music!/Canadian Sunset
  9. Lovin’ Cajun Style
  10. Beautiful Dreamer

The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings is scheduled to be released on CD and vinyl on September 23, 2014 through Saguaro Road Records.