The star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents 50-60%, ** is 60-70%, *** is 70-80%, **** is 80-90% and ***** is 90-99.9% (we're talking Pet Sounds or Forever Changes here). The retail price, actual price paid, packaging etc. are not relevant to the rating
Echo and the Bunnymen
Crystal Days 1979-1999 (76.54/72.52/76.24/76.58)*** R 1979-1999, P 2001
Who are these boxed sets that anthologize the work of a band or artist across the decades intended to cater for? Is it the newcomer who wants an instant collection and expects to find the cream of their recorded output on one disc? Or is it the collector who has all the albums but is anxious to own digital copies of early singles and rarities, and hopes to find previously unreleased gold dust?
It seems the wary compiler has to steer a middle ground, whilst running the risk of alienating both parties. The cherry pickers don't want obscure early B-sides, the collectors resent buying loads of album tracks all over again to get to the goodies.
Since this box set came out all the Bunnymen albums have been re-mastered and re-issued with bonus tracks. Many of the tracks that this set was criticised for omitting are now available on these re-issues, and from the lack of duplication in the majority of cases it would seem that they have been intended to complement the box set.
The set kicks off with their earliest release, Monkeys, with Julian Cope on keyboards, originally on a compilation called Street To Street - A Liverpool Album, and has both sides of the earliest Bunnymen single, on the Zoo label, The Pictures On My Wall/Read It In Books. It includes the magnificent 12" versions of Silver, The Killing Moon and Never Stop, and much loved B-sides such as Angels And Devils and Rollercoaster. There are a couple of Peel session tracks, alternate versions, tracks from a scrapped 1986 album and outtakes. The ten year jump to their 1997 reformation happens almost seemlessly and chronologically concludes disc three.
Disc four seems like an afterthought as it scatters a few more worthy rarities before presenting 50 minutes of concert material from 1982-1985, mostly previously unreleased, demonstrating what a fine live band they were.
Two important factors that can assuage the undecided buyer are the quality of the packaging and the price. Crystal Days is attractively packaged, with extensive notes and a track by track commentary from Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant. There are four discs, each with around 75 minutes of music, but value for money will depend on the current asking price and the number of tracks that duplicate those in your collection. Twenty-four of the seventy-two tracks come directly from original albums, exactly a third; perhaps slightly too many given that a few others have been on compilations such as Songs To Learn And Sing and The Cutter, but still leaving plenty for the collector to pick over.
Since the cherry-picker should find that everything essential to him is here, I think on the whole the compilers have done a fair balancing act and done justice to the band.
(review filed 2 May 2006)
Ecstasy Of St Theresa
Slowthinking (41.41)*** R 2001-2002, P 2003
I bought the album Free-D by Ecstasy Of St Theresa in 1994, having been impressed by a session I had heard the previous year on John Peel, on which they previewed one of the tracks on that album. As usual, he was way ahead of the game, having heard their impossibly hard to find debut 1992 album Susurrate, after the band's founder Jan Muchow had sent him a copy. He had actually called on them in person when in Prague to invite them to the Maida Vale studios for a session. Luckily they were already booked to play some dates in England and so were later able to take up the offer.
They and Here were the only bands from the Czech Republic ever to achieve the ultimate dream of recording a Radio One session for the great man. The self-same session, recorded in February 1993, became their first British release as the Fluid Trance Centauri EP. This was followed in 1994 by Free-D, produced between May and October 1993 with Guy Fixsen (who later formed Laika, a band owing something to Ecstasy Of St Theresa).
At the time they were pioneering the ambient-rock sound somewhat of the kind we associate with My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and latterly Mogwai, and with considerable skill, depth and dexterity - as you would hope for a band named after a sculpture by the seventeenth century baroque artist and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
I came across Slowthinking ten years later, exactly to the day, unaware that they were still a going concern, and purchased it on the spot. There seems to have been a recording gap between 1995 and 1998 but otherwise they had been going strongly the whole time, with various line-up changes and an ongoing evolution in their musical palette. There is a compilation CD overview of the period, Thirteen Years In Noises. I acquired that one a year to the day after Slowthinking as it happens; they're that kind of band.
By the time of Slowthinking the band had become streamlined to a nucleus of Jan Puchow and singer Katerina Winterová, who first appeared on record with the group on 1999's In Dust 3. As an actress she is also a full time member of Prague's National Theatre ensemble. The pair are augmented on Slowthinking by a number of musicians who provide woodwinds, brass, cello, double bass and “noises”, bringing together real instruments and a subtle array of electronics. Muchow has described it as “a quiet record, which has to be played loudly”.
The shoe-gazing elements have been superceded by a glitchier psychedelic soundscape and Katerina's fragile child-like vocals (sung in English) - think Matmos enjoying an unhealthy picnic with Stina Nordenstam, or Múm perhaps caught in the act of burning FourTet's toys. Perhaps there are elements of Goldfrapp, Lamb or Bjork on certain tracks, no bad thing, though the influences are as likely to be from the Ecstasy Of St Theresa as the other way around.
The singles from the album are Local Distortion and I'm (Not Really) Optimistic, while www.eost.Pluto (featuring the only Czech language to be heard on the record) began life on the Planet Sound compilation for Zivel magazine and features Sifon on “Arizona tenor”. The songs are interspersed with short interludes known as Miss Underloops
(review filed 13 February 2005)
Ecstasy Of St Theresa
Thirteen Years In Noises (64.26)*** R 1991-2003, P 2004
Like many bands, the Ecstasy Of St Theresa owe much to John Peel, who had a copy of their ridiculously rare Susurrate album and had got in touch with them while he was in Prague, setting into motion what became a session recording for his programme in February 1993 which led to a UK deal with Go! Discs. Thirteen Years In Noises tells their story between 1991 and 2003.
The Ecstasy Of St Theresa evolved in January 1991 from earlier bands involving founder Jan Muchow when he discovered singer Irna Libowitz. At that time they became a noisy post-punk band, influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees with early Cocteau Twin-type vocals and a layer of muddy My Bloody Valentine distortion that may not have been totally by design. This period is represented by the first two tracks, taken from their debut EP Pigment, and To Alison, from the following year's full-length Susurrate. The Peel session, which later became their first British release as the FluidTranceCentauri EP for Free Records, is included in full and is followed by Her Eyes Have It which was recorded in London in August/September 1993 for the album Free-D (Original Soundtrack). By this time the band had become more experimental and spacey, and the album title was telling, as Jan Muchow was to work on film and theatre projects when version one of the band departed (For That Moment comes from a film called Samotari). An EP of remixes from Free-D was to follow in 1995, glorying in the title AstralaVista, represented here by Vacuum Blow.
By 1999 the Ecstasy Of St Theresa was resurrected as a duo comprising Jan Puchow and actress-singer Katerina Winterová, who first appeared on record with the group on 1999's InDust3, hence presumably the title 1+1=11. The drum and bassy Neon, from the album, was the lead single and represents the first time Katerina had entered a recording studio.
From 2002's Slowthinking they were augmented by a number of musicians who provide woodwinds, brass, cello, double bass and “noises”, bringing together real instruments and a subtle array of electronics. The shoe-gazing elements of the mid-nineties have been superceded by a glitchier psychedelic soundscape and fragile child-like vocals that bring to mind Hanne Hukkelberg, Emiliana Torrini or Múm. The singles from the album were Local Distortion and I'm (Not Really) Optimistic, and Sensor is also included.
The final track is an oddity: a British Sea Power song called A Lovely Day Tomorrow that, according to their website, is "concerned with a moment in Czech history, one that was by turns inspiring and tragic. As the lyrics suggest, the song looks back to a time in 1942 when men flew through the sky from England and on over Bohemia and Moravia, intent on halting the devil in his Mercedes-Benz". This Ecstasy Of Saint Theresa remix (done mostly by Katerina) comes from a limited edition single of, appropriately, 1942 copies, which was only available in the Czech Republic, from British Sea Power's April 2004 UK tour or through their official web-site.
Jan's liner notes end by saying, "We're not at the end of the story but at the beginning of the next chapter." As he seems to be a past master of re-invention, I do not doubt it.
(review filed 14 October 2005)
Because They're Young (51.56)** P 1958-1986, P 1992
There are many Duane Eddy compilations on the market, often available very cheaply, but many say in the small print something like “tracks may have been re-recorded by the original artist to ensure high quality”. One wonders how many times Duane Eddy has gone into a studio for a few hours to knock out his greatest hits with a couple of anonymous sidemen, and why this would make better sense commercially to anyone than licensing the original tracks. The originals have passed into history and have a value as artifacts that is unique and that re-recordings can never have, however good.
Duane Eddy is long overdue for an extensive reissue programme and a comprehensive compilation spread over two or three CDs. Meanwhile, this useful collection contains 19 fully twangin' original recordings from his Jamie period up to 1961, with Lee Hazlewood in the producer's chair and the Rebels kicking up a storm. Although mostly comprising his hit singles, beginning with his first, Moovin' 'n' Groovin, and including Because They're Young, the theme from the film in which he also had an acting role, as well as the Peter Gunn theme, there are also couple of tracks from his 1960 album Songs Of Our Heritage on which he swaps his usual Gretsch, with its heavy duty strings fed through an echo chamber, for a conventional guitar.
There is nothing from his RCA, Colpix or Reprise periods of the late 60s and early 70s but there are two later British hits included: Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar was written for him by Tony Macauley and saw him back in the UK Top Ten in 1975 with the Rebelettes providing some vocals. He was back on Top Of The Pops in 1986 when Art Of Noise revived his Peter Gunn Theme and invited him to provide the guitar lead. The version here is the full length 7.27 version, longer even than the extended CD single version, and makes an excellent finish to the CD
(review filed 14 January 2004)
Greatest Hits (61.50)** P 1962-1965, P 2006
Conventional wisdom is that Duane Eddy's best work was for Lee Hazlewood's Jamie label, between 1958 and 1962, whereas the material he cut for RCA from 1962 to 1965 was sanitized, commercialized and lightweight. One only has to compare the 1964 version of Rebel-Rouser on this CD with the 1958 original to see some truth in this. From the same year, Rumble, the Link Wray classic, on paper promises to be explosive but wouldn't even register on the Richter scale, notwithstanding a slightly menacing undercurrent, and sounds polite enough to be played at a vicar's tea party. Some tracks, such as the saxophone-led Tequila, hardly seem to feature Duane at all.
In the three years he was with the label, RCA managed to squeeze nine albums out of him, all hurriedly recorded and often built around a theme, so we have for example Twistin' N' Twangin', Twangy Guitar - Silky Strings and Twang A Country Song. Additionally, many of the singles were in addition to the albums. No wonder quality control was stretched.
However, he also made some of his most memorable recordings at RCA. The Ballad Of Paladin (from the film Have Gun Will Travel) is a minor classic and continued successfully in the style of his 1960 smash Because They're Young. It was Top Ten in the UK. Deep In The Heart Of Texas was also a Top Twenty hit in the UK, and (Dance With The) Guitar Man and Boss Guitar, both featuring the Rebelettes (actually the Blossoms, featuring Darlene Love, from the period that they were also doubling as the Crystals for Phil Spector) were sizeable pop hits both in America and the UK. Guitar Man in particular remains one of Duane Eddy's most anthologized tracks.
This 26-track single CD seems to guide us through the best of the RCA years. Certainly with seven A-sides it has nearly all of the singles RCA put out, and it also has thirteen album tracks (five from Dance With The Guitar Man as well as the single, the rest from Twangy Guitar - Silky Strings, Twangin' The Golden Hits, Twistin' N' Twangin', Twangin' Up A Storm and Twangsville - it really is all about the twang). I'm not personally familiar with most of these albums, so I don't know if the best tracks have been picked but I certainly found much to enjoy from tracks such as The Scrape, High Noon, Blowin' Up A Storm and The Feud. With the exception of the instrumental mono single Moon Shot (written by David Gates long before he wrote Moonchild for Captain Beefheart) all of the tracks are in well-mastered true stereo.
The remaining six tracks are all mono B-sides (tr. 19-23 and 26) and far from being throwaways are among some of the strongest cuts on the record, particularly The Iguana, Roughneck, The Wild Westerners (a theme from a B-movie western in which he had an acting role) and The Desert Rat. It caused me to wonder if some of these were actually Jamie recordings that RCA had acquired, as most of them involved Lee Hazlewood as writer or recording supervisor. Unfortunately, the anonymous liner notes are typically vague as to the origins of any of the tracks.
It seems quite possible that this good value CD represents the best way for the non-completist to sample Duane Eddy's RCA period.
(review filed 14 April 2008)
Eighteenth Day Of May
Eighteenth Day Of May (47.45)*** P 2005
Sadly, Eighteenth Day Of May are no more, but at least they have left this eponymous album as a permanent record of how they got things so right, and perhaps they have paved the way for other like-minded musicians to follow.
Folk music needs to re-invent itself from time to time as it did in the late sixties, to connect with the present generations, and to draw from whatever influences inspire the musicians in question. In my opinion, the wider the palette the better.
Brilliant albums like Hark! The Village Wait, Liege And Lief, No Roses and On The Shore seemed to promise great things and for awhile folk music shed its finger-in-the ear, cosy Arran jumper image and joined the mainstream. Unfortunately it took not too long to descend into the twee silliness of daft attire, All Around My Hat and its ilk, before returning underground.
There have always been great cult performers like Nic Jones and Martin Carthy, but apart from a few mainstream bands such as All About Eve, who strayed occasionally into folk territory, not much appeared in the spotlight glare of the masses.
Currently, there is a resurgence of interest, thanks to wonderful artists such as Kate Rusby and Eliza Carthy, and it seemed that there was an audience ripe for the likes of Eighteenth Day Of May. For whatever reason, the band didn't last long enough to build on their initial acclaim, but showed that there is plenty of life left in their brand of folk, which is considerably more electric than most of their contemporaries, even psychedelic in places, though this is probably a musical rather than cultural influence.
Most of the songs on the album are home grown and show that they have a flair for the dark side of English balladry, and Sir Casey Jones, for example, sounds as if it could have been around for centuries. There are a couple of traditional songs, however - Flowers Of The Forest, as recorded by Fairport Convention on Full House, and Lady Margaret, which Trees adapted from Buffy Sainte-Marie's acoustic version back in 1970 (another stage favourite is Codine, which was another Buffy Sainte-Marie staple, and their version can be found on a B-side, though it probably owes more to Quicksilver Messenger Service's version). There is also a new arrangement of Bert Jansch's Deed I Do which works very well.
The playing is strong, subtle, textured and confident, and is not merely backward looking but updates the material for the new century. Most of the band had been in other bands before, and viola player Alison Cotton had been in Reading's Festive Fifty-topping Saloon. Hopefully, we will hear from some of them again in other ventures. Even while the band were going there were splinter projects such as the Left Outsides going on.
Music mostly exists within a context and regardless of its inherent worth, the longevity of this album will depend on whether this proves to be an early exponent of a new movement, or just an interesting detour down a blind alley. I am hoping it's the former.
(review filed 6 May 2008)
The Menace (38.45)*** P 2000
After a hit first album, which remains a classic and great favourite, there was a five-year gap before the follow-up arrived in 2000. Studio perfectionists, after some eventful years of work, they had ditched the lot and re-recorded the bulk of the album in a few weeks, only to see the album flop upon release. A tour followed in which the band felt they were regularly blown off stage by the support act, Peaches, who was accompanied only by a beat box, so, with a wry glance at their banks of equipment and teams of support, they split up.
I suppose the market must have changed after the first record, because the music is still fine, highly entertaining in fact. I had been surprised not to come across it in second-hand shops - perhaps those who did buy it had hung on to it. Justine Frischmann and Elastica are much missed and needed at the present time
(indexed 17 February 2003)
The Radio One Sessions (Promo) (52.53)**** P 1993-1999, P 2001
Elastica were signed by Steve Lamacq to Deceptive Records in 1993, before he joined Radio One as co-presenter of the Evening Session. Elastica managed 7 sessions for Radio One during their career up to 1999, of which four were for John Peel's programme. The first of these was in August 1993, prior to the release of their first single, Stutter (which they never recorded in a BBC session), and is included in full (although a bit of laughter and chat at the end of Annie, when Justine discovers that their bass guitarist, Annie Holland, had been stuck with a cigarette in her mouth throughout the take, has sadly been excised) and captures the spontaneity and sense of fun that the band exuded.
By the time they returned to Maida Vale in March 1994 for Steve Lamacq's show, they had been in the Top Twenty with Line-Up. Two tracks are included, the unreleased but fabulous In The City and the definitive version of Waking Up (2:1 and Connection are omitted). Another unreleased song (except in Japan), Ba Ba Ba, turns up at their next John Peel session in June along with songs that would turn up on their debut album, Four Wheeling (aka Car Song) and Hold Me Now (Never Here is left out of this release), and they came back to do a special Christmas session which included the traditional All For Gloria and I Wanna Be A King Of Orient Aah. As this version of Gloria has appeared on an official release before, I would have preferred to see Father Christmas here, or Donna Matthews' non-Xmas Blue, which was also included in the broadcast session.
Mark Radcliffe got the band in to his House Of Earthly Delights BBC studio in Manchester in March 1995 and they performed 4 songs from the just-released album. Rockunroll and 2:1 are chosen for this CD (Gloria and Car Song are not), both fine versions broadcast live to air.
During their long hiatus, a dark night of the soul for them, the band made their second appearance on the Evening Session in July 1996, previewing material from the second album (still four years away, unbeknownst to all). The session version of A Love Like Yours appeared on Volume 17 so is slightly wasted here. I Want You and The Other Side never saw the light of day on an official release, but a version of Only Human was included on The Menace (as Human). Sadly, The Other Side does not appear on this collection either.
By the time the band, in a somewhat changed line-up, recorded their next and final session, for John Peel in September 1999, a 6-track EP of demos and alternative takes from the still-forthcoming Menace was in the shops, and from it they played KB and Generator, also previewing their cover of Trio's Da Da Da (the initials of Justine's ex-partner Damon Albarn) and Your Arse My Place, both to appear on the album (Mad Dog from this session is excluded here).
The collection plays well and shows the effectiveness of their tight minimal arrangements, with nothing so vulgar as a guitar or organ solo ever allowed, and leaves one keen for more. Perhaps this is a good thing but with a playing time of under 53 minutes, all the omitted session tracks would have fitted onto the CD, which would have pleased completists and put a line under one aspect of the Elastica story
(review filed 25 November 2003)
Rock It To The Moon (73.58)**** P 2001
Formed in Brighton in 1998, this feminist avant rock four-piece set up their own record label with backing from Sony a couple of years ago. A young band, guitarist Mia Clarke was still preparing for her A-levels during the recording of this debut album. They had already put out a couple of singles on In Denial and Fierce Panda, one of which, Film Music, turns up in re-recorded form both here and on an EP which includes remixes by Echoboy, Treva Whateva and Jagz Kooner, and is where I first heard the band. Approved by The Wire, they were written up in issue 208 and tracks by them show up on Wiretapper 8 and Wiretapper 9 cover disc CDs.
Although they use modern production techniques and equipment, mixing with ProTools, the overall sound is quite retro because of their love of Farfisa organ and analogue instruments, and is predominantly instrumental despite the occasional vocal phrase emerging through the mix. Long Dark reminds one of nothing so much as Syd-era Pink Floyd, elsewhere the twangy surf guitar is redolent of Duane Eddy. However, their experimental approach and use of digital samplers puts them squarely in the twenty-first century. The music is energetic and enthusiastic and bursts out of the speakers in a long and inventive 65 minute rush, anchored by the Krautrock drumming from Emma Gaze and Rachel Dalley's relentless bass lines.
One can pinpoint their overall sound at this point quite accurately. Create a hyperbolic graph of the Pink Floyd's sonic soundscape from their first album onwards and extrapolate forwards and backwards. Find the point 4.7 months prior to Piper At The Gates of Dawn, and there you are. This moment is probably as fleeting in Electrelane's existence as it was in the Pink Floyd's, and will be interesting to see what twists and turns their music will take them to.
A barking dog on the opening track is subverted into a sly Stooges reference. One track, Blue Straggler, features an exquisite string section, arranged by founder member and chief musician Verity Susman. Other tracks evoke boats, carnival rides, church services and film soundtracks, all on one giddy sonic trip. This album, recorded over 4 weeks in September and October 2000, catches this ever-evolving band at a particular and special point in their uncharted trajectory
(review filed 11 November 2003, expanded 26 October 2004)
Lost Dreams (63.52)*** R 1966-1967, P 2000
The Electric Prunes put out two magnificent garage-psyche albums on Reprise in 1967, as well as several stunning singles, including of course their big American hit, I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night. Their final single in this incarnation was Everybody Knows (You're Not In Love) backed with You Never Had It Better, and Lost Dreams collects the strongest tracks from all of these onto a single disc. The band loved to experiment with all the latest gadgets and stretched the recording techniques available at the time to achieve a densely sophisticated sound with their three guitarists and the expert engineering of Richie Podolor and Bill Cooper.
The band were not always in agreement with the record label or with manager and producer Dave Hassinger and both albums, particularly the first, contained non-original material they didn't want to record. Members of the band apparently had considerable input on this compilation and have not only omitted the tracks they find embarrassing, but have added longer mixes of several of their best and most exploratory numbers, namely Hideaway, The Great Banana Hoax (a wonderful satire of the times), Dr Do-Good and the magnificent Long Day's Flight. This gives a clearer view of the band's intent than on the original albums and the sound throughout is startlingly clear. Brief track by track notes have been added by Jim Lowe, the band's primary lead singer.
Rarities include Shadows, which played over the credits of the exploitation film The Name Of The Game Is Kill, and was released at the time only on a promo single; both sides of 1st release Ain't It Hard/Little Olive from 1966; an unreleased Hollies cover, I've Got A Way Of My Own, and another unreleased outtake from the first album sessions, World Of Darkness. The albums were released in both stereo and mono formats and the stereo mixes have been chosen for everything here including outtakes, apart from third single Get Me To The World On Time and the non-album first single.
(review filed 13 July 2007)
Too Much To Dream (50.31/59.21)*** R 1966-1967, P 2007
Until now, if you wanted an overview of the Electric Prunes' output prior to Mass In F Minor, the obvious choice was the compilation Lost Dreams on the Birdman label. Largely drawn from their two magnificent albums from 1967, including their surrealistic American hit, I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night), it included later singles, rarities, unreleased items and extended versions of album tracks. Inevitably, certain favourite tracks from the albums were omitted, however.
This new anthology from Rhino has the luxury of being spread over two discs and therefore includes both stereo albums in full, namely I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night and Underground. Listeners can therefore hear from themselves why the band were so embarrassed at being made to record Al Jolson covers and vaudeville pastiches, whilst also enjoying omitted classics such as Bangles, Children Of Rain, Antique Doll and I, all in the high quality re-mastered sound that Lost Dreams introduced onto CD, this time by Dan Hersch.
The albums are both presented in their standard versions, so if you want to hear fuller versions of Hideaway, The Great Banana Hoax and Dr Do-Good you still need Lost Dreams, though the long stereo version of Long Day's Flight has been added (confusingly mislabeled as a mono single version). A number of A-sides and B-sides from both albums are also added in their original mono single mixes, including the fabulous Great Banana Hoax (again mislabeled as being a previously unreleased version).
Rarities again include Shadows, which played over the credits of the film The Name Of The Game Is Kill; both sides of their first single Ain't It Hard/Little Olive; two outtakes (an unreleased Hollies cover, I've Got A Way Of My Own, and World Of Darkness, though this time both presented in mono); and their final 1967 single, Everybody Knows/You Never Had It Better.
This comprehensively rounds up the most seismic chapters of their history, up to the end of 1967. Mass In F Minor, as its title suggests, introduced a very different sound and a very different band, but that is a another story.
(review filed 20 July 2007)
Mass In F Minor (26.28)*** P 1968
David Hassinger built up a good reputation as a sound engineer, having worked with the Rolling Stones in their mid-sixties prime, and on early Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane albums. Unfortunately, for the Electric Prunes, he was primarily their producer and along with their manager Lenny Poncher regarded them as a purely commercial commodity, bringing in outside material for them to record with little regard for their own preferences or musical direction.
For their third album, he called in the composer David Axelrod who had been commissioned to write a psychedelic rock Latin mass for them, Mass In F Minor. To their credit, the band went along with this ambitious, if unexpected idea.
The Electric Prunes, though, being creative musicians but not necessarily the fastest interpreters of unfamiliar musical scores (and only one of them read charts), found themselves being sidelined by session musicians, hired by David Hassinger just three hours into the first day of the week-long session for the album. It turned out that the band didn't even own their own name and could be replaced with whoever he chose to employ for their records. By this time, however, they had already laid down tracks for the three songs on Side One, Kyrie Eleison, Gloria and Credo, which doesn't seem a bad rate for three hours work. Kyrie Eleison, it seems, had been completed, whilst reports vary as to how much of the other two feature the original band. However Jim Lowe and Mark Tulin's chant-like vocals feature throughout the whole album, augmented by Bill Henderson (brought in from the Collectors, a Canadian band also managed by David Hassinger). The rhythm section of Mark Tulin (bass) and Michael "Quint" Weakley (drums) was also retained for the whole album.
Session men involved included Richie Podolor, a guitarist who was also an engineer, and who owned the American Sound Studios where the album was made. A veteran of surf bands, he had also stood in for Chocolate Watch Band musicians on a number of their records. He and Bill Henderson replaced the Prunes' guitarists Ken Williams and Mike Gannon on most of the tracks, using Kyrie Eleison as the model for the style of further recording. Top L.A. session jazz player Don Randi added keyboards, and a cello quartet and french horn quartet completed the ensemble.
The resulting half-hour of six tracks didn't sell particularly at the time, but has stood the test of time surprisingly well. The Gregorian monk-like Latin vocals and fluid guitar work in the setting of a large ensemble flow with ethereal ease. It may have been conceived as a gimmick, a hip religious record for the kids, more in the service of Mammon than any higher calling, but it worked; for which credit is due to David Axelrod's composition. Ironically, the most successful and best known piece from the record is Kyrie Eleison, on which all Electric Prunes play, without added strings and brass, following its use in the soundtrack of the cult 1969 film Easy Rider, and on its successful album tie-in.
However, if you know the Prunes from their I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night period, take note that this is something very different both in concept and execution.
(review filed 16 December 2007)
The Motown Anthology (75.27/60.43)*** R 1961-1968, P 2007
The story of how a singer named Saundra Mallett, who had had one Tamla single out in 1962, and a vocal group in the Isley Brothers mould called the Downbeats, who recorded for the same label, joined forces to become a hit combo called the Elgins, is well documented and illustrated on this two-disc anthology, which draws together pretty much everything they recorded, both separately and together.
The Elgins' hit 1965 single Darling Baby provided the title track of their V.I.P. album of the following year, which also included the hits Heaven Must Have Sent You, Put Yourself In My Place and Stay In My Lonely Arms. The entire album, mixed in stereo, is included in full and comprises the first twelve tracks of disc one. Saundra shines on all the lead vocals on the album, apart from 634-5789 and When A Man Loves A Woman on which Johnny Dawson sings lead. It was mostly recorded in 1966, but It's Gonna Be Hard Times dates from 1962, and was the B-side of her solo single on which she was joined by the three Vandellas and Marvin Gaye on piano. Most of the album was produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, with several original Holland-Dozier-Holland songs from when they were on a huge roll, but one of my favourites is No Time For Tears, which Norman Whitfield produced. The Marvelettes did the great original version of this but that was buried on a B-side, and Saundra here makes it her own.
The original mono singles and their B-sides are also included separately, as well as those by Saundra Mallett and the Downbeats, but the revelation here once again is the quality of the wealth of previously unreleased material. The second disc includes fifteen tracks by the Downbeats, more than enough for a pretty good album, and all but three of these are appearing for the first time (one is a superior alternative mix of a 1962 single). A couple of these may never have been intended for release as they are fairly blatant carbon copies of existing songs: Party Time bears a strong similarity to Pony Time by Chubby Checker, and Let The Groove Roll On is a secular version of Mahalia Jackson's Let The Church Roll On via Chris Kenner's I Like It Like That. Both bring out the gospel fervour of the Downbeats, though, and sound terrific.
Yvonne Vernee Allen took over as lead singer in 1968 but nothing was released from her tenure with the Elgins, until now: there are four excellent examples of her work with the Elgins on disc one, produced by James Dean and William Weatherspoon, and reflecting the Motown sound of the time.
These Motown Anthologies are pure treasure trove and this opens another largely unknown chapter.
(review filed 13 July 2007)
Here Come The Warm Jets (41.58)*** P 1973
Creative tension is good, but more than one leader in a band never works for long and after two groundbreaking albums with Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry and Eno parted company. After a couple of singles (which would have made nice bonus tracks), Eno recorded his dazzling solo album in September 1973. Bowie-esque in places, primal or avant-garde in others, it includes Baby's On Fire, the first song he ever wrote, and Cindy Tells Me, with its Roxy-like lines about Hotpoints left to rust in kitchenettes. There is considerable camp humour, too, as when he exclaims, "oh, cheeky cheeky, oh, naughty sneaky" (Dead Finks Don't Talk).
Some have said that since the rest of Roxy Music (apart from Ferry) were employed as session men, the album gives a glimpse of what Roxy Music would have sounded like had Eno won the ego wars. I don't think this is true though, partly because the methodology is different when recording a solo album, and secondly because no more than a couple of members from the group play on any one track. Phil Manzanera adds distinctive guitar to 3 tracks, but Robert Fripp, Paul Rudolph and Chris Spedding contribute to the rest. All the sound is treated by Eno in his inimitable way. With hindsight, the multi-layered instrumental sections with their gamelan interludes and subtly-changing atmospherics can be seen as early indications of the paths he was to follow, though none of that was apparent at the time
(indexed 16 September 2003)
It's Everly Time/A Date With The Everly Brothers (72.15)*** R 1960, P 2001
I believe that the best of the Everlies work for Warner Brothers exceeds even the high standards they achieved at Cadence, because Don and Phil Everly were true artists who pushed themselves, and tried to make every record better than the one before. Like John and Paul, they were open to new ideas and keen to face new challenges. This CD not only contains in full the first two albums they made for Warner, both made in 1960, but also seven bonus tracks: three non-album singles (including teen death-craze song Ebony Eyes, Sonny Curtis' Walk Right Back and an inspired and chilling revival of Temptation) and four out-takes including the first recorded version of Temptation, which has never been released before. All 31 tracks have been remastered in true stereo.
It's Everly Time opens with the single So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad), such a perfect song, written by Don Everly, and so movingly performed that there's almost no need to hear the other eleven songs on the album; everything you need from the Everlies is right there, but there is obviously much more. At a time when most tracks on an album were regarded as filler, the Everlies clearly worked hard to make every song count. Sometimes, their choice of material could be corny (Memories Are Made Of This), even pedestrian, but with Boudleaux and Felice Bryant on board to provide half-a-dozen new songs, there is plenty of gold. The original version of Sleepless Nights is here, and it is shocking to learn that this was never a single. Some Sweet Day, later revived by Sandy Denny for Fairport Convention, was also exclusive to this album. There is a hefty booklet included, with reams of information, though a couple of points go unanswered. They do a song by Earl Sinks and Bob Montgomery of Crickets fame, That's What You Do To Me, for example. It has quite a Buddy Holly feel to it, but I could not find that it had been recorded before, with or without Buddy. Where did they find it?
Similarly, on A Date With The Everly Brothers they include Mel Tillis' Stick With Me Baby (revived in 2007 by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss). The notes mention them liking the song and contacting Mel Tillis when they had studio problems getting it right, but again there seems not to be no earlier recording. How did they come by the song? Was it a demo, or had Mel Tillis recorded it himself before? No matter. This time, it is Phil Everly who writes the opening song, Made To Love, and there are three compositions from Don and Phil, a highlight being the recent hit single Cathy's Clown. Boudleaux and Felice Bryant again provide a handful of new songs including the upbeat Donna Donna, the poignant A Change Of Heart and the peerless Love Hurts. Many went on to record this song but not even Gram and Emmylou could match the subtle profundity of the Everly Brothers original, which harks back in style to their Cadence material.
At this point in their career the Everlies were better at those searing torch ballads than when they rocked out, in my opinion, and their classy but polite rendition of Lucille lacks the raucous abandon of the original. However, in the UK where it was promoted as an A-side alongside So Sad it outsold Little Richard's hit, so what do I know?
Two beautifully mastered albums by a duo on top of their game, with some essential bonus tracks, well packaged, at a bargain price. This is a no-brainer for any lover of Everlies music.
(review filed 16 June 2008)
Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits/Gone Gone Gone (79.42)*** R 1960-1964, P 2005
This series of 2 LPs on one CD of the Everlies Warner catalogue, is a text book example of how to do it. Full albums, augmented by singles and enough outtakes to fill the CD, all superbly mastered from the original definitive stereo tapes, with copious notes that don't gloss over the behind the scenes difficulties and clashes, fully illustrated with the original artwork, packaged in a protective cardboard sleeve, and sold at a budget price.
This particular pairing follows Both Sides Of An Evening/Instant Party sequentially in the series, though in between they had released the compilation of Warner material The Golden Hits Of The Everly Brothers and the seasonal Christmas With The Everly Brothers And The Boys Town Choir. Before Gone Gone Gone there had also been The Very Best Of The Everly Brothers, consisting of new recordings of their Cadence hits as well as half-a-dozen repeats from Golden Hits.
Great Country Hits was a project recorded over two days in June 1963 and produced no singles at the time, though Born To Lose and a couple of others would probably have fared quite well had they been released (Release Me and Sweet Dreams were dusted off for release as a single in 1966). Interestingly, the album was not recorded in Nashville, as one might have expected for a country record, but in Hollywood, producing a fresh feel to the songs with a top crew including Wrecking Crew players Billy Strange, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Hal Blaine, and pedal steel maestro Red Rhodes to add that country edge, while avoiding Nashville MOR gloss. Sonny Curtis, writer of Walk Right Back, was also on hand and was co-writer with fellow cricket Jerry Allison of the one non standard country tune, This Is The Last Song I'm Ever Going To Sing. This closed the album, and their single at the time, It's Been Nice, had been recorded two years earlier, but the lyric soon turned out to be a false prophecy after all.
Gone Gone Gone was a rather hurriedly put out album, released in January 1965, capitalizing on their first US hit Top 40 hit in nearly three years with the song Gone Gone Gone, possibly their greatest upbeat recording to date (How Can I Meet Her? comes very close), and a Don and Phil composition to boot, their relaxed harmonies really jelling with the terrific studio band, controlled by some fantastic drumming from Hal Blaine (I surmise).
To make the album up to weight the record company ignored a couple of new recordings as well as several tracks that had been out on singles since the last album, and instead chose three recordings from 1960; two outtakes (Lonely Island and Radio And TV, both Boudleaux and Felice Bryant songs previously withheld for contractual reasons) and, curiously, the opening track Donna Donna, which had been on A Date With The Everly Brothers in 1960 (now slightly remixed and simultaneously released as a B-side to Made To Love, another oldie). Two other singles were included, though, The Ferris Wheel and the bluesy Ain't That Loving You Baby, along with a flipside, Torture, an excellent revival of the John D Loudermilk song, and overall it was probably a better sounding album than Great Country Hits, since at last they were again able to use their own songs and those of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who between them provide five songs.
The missing singles have thoughtfully been added by Warner, and they are The Girl Sang The Blues/Love Her, Ring Around My Rosie/You're The One I Love, and B-sides Hello Amy, Nancy's Minuet and Don't Forget To Cry. The other bonus tracks were all unreleased at the time but some have since turned up on retrospective releases, and include Girls, Girls, Girls (What A Headache) which humorously name checks several of the girls from earlier Everlies records such as Susie, Cathy, Claudette and Jenny.
(review filed 21 June 2008)
From Nashville To Hollywood (56.37)*** R 1961-1963, P 2005
Listening the the Everlies on British radio in the first half of the sixties it seemed that they were at a creative peak. With pulsating singles like How Can I Meet Her?, The Girl Sang The Blues, Gone Gone Gone, The Price Of Love and Love Is Strange, and B-sides to match, such as Nancy's Minuet, Torture and Man With Money, they seemed to have pulled off the trick of looking forwards and backwards at the same time, embracing the arrival of the British bands like the Beatles while retaining the sophisticated harmonies and structures that came from their country roots.
I was completely unaware of the painful legal and management wrangles that had led to a label change and the lack of access to the Acuff-Rose publishing company, in particular the songs of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant that they had proved so adept at interpreting. Since they were themselves contracted to the same publishers, they were also in the unenviable position of not being easily able to record their own songs. Had I heard either of their 1961 albums, I would have been startled to hear renditions of standard tunes such as Hi-Lili Hi-lo, Bye Bye Blackbird and others too horrible to mention, as they struggled to find a way forward.
The Everly Brothers Warner re-issue programme has done a great job of pairing up albums and mopping up stray singles and other debris onto single discs, but plenty of treasures apparently remain, and so From Nashville To Hollywood is the first of several promised collections from the archives, this one offering an instructive peep behind the scenes at Everlies recording sessions in both Nashville and Hollywood between 1961 and 1963. There are three A-sides and three B-sides otherwise uncollected in the programme. Ten other re-mastered tracks though unreleased at the time subsequently turned up on collector's compilations. The rest are previously unreleased.
It isn't clear why sure fire successes like Chains (which they recorded before the Cookies) or Little Hollywood Girl, another superbly evocative Gerry Goffin/Carole King song, never came out; or why Don Everly's own Nancy's Minuet, which was re-worked over and over in the studios for over a year and should have been an Everlies classic alongside Cathy's Clown, finally limped out on a forgotten flipside and was left off their albums.
It is illuminating also to see how talented and visionary they were in the studios as auteur producers, in addition to being performers, arrangers and writers, which this collection, whilst clearly not for those just wanting a greatest hits collection, ably shows.
(review filed 5 November 2006)