My unique star rating system takes into account that these are "Acquisitions Of The Year". Therefore * represents a more than acceptable 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
Sacred Hearts And Fallen Angels - The Gram Parsons Anthology (77.55/78.36)*** R 1967-1973, P 2001
Gram Parsons was always going to burn out rather than fade away, and when he did the sensational manner and events surrounding his demise, and his reputation as a dilettante playboy, threatened to overshadow his musical vision and legacy. There's no doubt that he changed the face of popular music, particularly at the country end of the spectrum, and if you harbour any doubt of this, then this double CD is the place to put your doubts to rest.
Disc one begins with half a dozen examples of his work with the International Submarine Band, mostly singles from the album Safe At Home, made for Lee Hazlewood's LHI label, released in 1967, and one previously unheard rehearsal take from the album sessions. Already his template of "Cosmic American Music" was in place, crucially adding a strong helping of deeply unfashionable country music to a hybrid of southern soul, R&B, gospel and rock. This was the year of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, I Had Too Much Too Dream Last Night, We Love You, Purple Haze and Abba Zaba; and Gram was singing Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Bobby Bare.
Shortly afterwards he had joined and completely transformed the Byrds, who had reduced to a trio at the time of their last album and were in need of direction. Their last single had been a middle of the road cover of Carole King's Goin' Back, but with Gram on board they soon released a country version of You Ain't Going Nowhere and followed with the ground-breaking country album, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Much derided at the time it is now acknowledged as a great classic. By the time the album came out, Gram had already moved on, and because of an injunction since he was still under contract to Lee Hazlewood most of his lead vocals were replaced on the released version. Two of the three that survived are represented here, the sublime Hickory Wind, co-written by Gram, and You're Still On My Mind. They recorded sixty takes of George Jones' You're Still On My Mind, before choosing Take One as the master. Also included are the original masters with Gram's vocals on (I Like) The Christian Life, his own One Hundred Years From Now and the southern soul song written by William Bell, You Don't Miss Your Water (Till The Well Runs Dry), all obviously Gram's choices for the album, though replaced on the record by Roger McGuinn, who sounded especially embarrassed on the Louvin Brothers tune, The Christian Life. Its sentiment sat awkwardly with his involvement with the Subud religion that had led to his name change from Jim the year before. Gram's version, on the other hand, is sung with absolute conviction. His contributions to this album alone would afford him a place in rock history, but he was to carve out a bigger name for himself with his next band, the Flying Burrito Brothers (in which he enlisted former Byrd member Chris Hillman and Sneaky Pete Kleinow who had also guested with the Byrds); and his two solo flawless albums, GP and Grievous Angel.
Incredibly, Burritos songs like Wheels and Christine's Tune (Devil In Disguise), with its buzz-saw pedal steel, now considered standards, were never released as singles, though Hot Burrito No. 1 was the flipside of the non-album single The Train Song (not included). They are among eight selections from the eleven-track 1969 Burritos debut album The Gilded Palace Of Sin rightly included, along with four from its inferior 1970 sequel, Burrito Deluxe. By this time Gram was fully embracing the rock lifestyle and hanging out with the Rolling Stones, even getting first dibs on the song Wild Horses, which appeared on Burrito Deluxe some months before Sticky Fingers. A third album was abandoned in 1970 when Gram was fired from the band although some rehearsal tracks subsequently appeared on a compilation called Close Up The Honky Tonks, and two of the best re-surface here: Merle Haggard's Sing Me Back Home and the Bee-Gees' To Love Somebody.
The second disc is devoted almost entirely to his solo repertoire found on GP and Grievous Angel, albums no one should be without, especially since both feature Emmylou Harris providing the perfect foil with her duet vocals. Many of the players on these records were to feature in her own Hot Band after Gram's passing, when she carried the flame for his music, including musical director Glen D Hardin and guitarist James Burton, both fresh from a stint in Elvis Presley's band. It is worth noting, though, that the song Return Of The Grievous Angel appears in a remix prepared for a 1982 British single. Additionally there are three live recordings made with his touring band the Fallen Angels and Emmylou, including a nod to his old band the Byrds with Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man, a song he had written with Roger McGuinn. The collection is completed with three outtakes from Grievous Angel which are among the most sublime recordings he and Emmylou ever made: Brand New Heartache, Sleepless Nights and The Angels Rejoiced Last Night. Fabulous.
Although some of the selections are relatively rare, only one track is previously unreleased, a factor to take into account for those whose collection already includes some of this invaluable material, but a beautifully compiled bargain for those whose doesn't.
(review filed 18 December 2007)
My Mama Never Taught Me To Cook - The Aura Years 1978-1982 (78.33)*** R 1978-1982, P 2004
It is always good to see the vastly underrated maverick performer Annette Peacock finally making it onto CD, though I still await 1970's I'm The One to put in an appearance, so this handsome release in 2004 was cause for much celebration. Annette Peacock made two innovative albums for Aura, namely X Dreams and The Perfect Release.
X Dreams came out in 1978, though some of it had been recorded between 1971 and 1974, including the hypnotic opener My Mama Never Taught Me To Cook, which must have been an influence on the young poet Patti Smith, and the ten-minute epic Real And Defined Androgens. Helping out were some big name collaborators who had worked with her elsewhere, people like guitarists Mick Ronson, Chris Spedding, Jim Mullen and Brian Godding and percussionist Bill Bruford, making this a very accessible record despite its idiosyncratic avant jazz nature. At the core of every track is Annette Peacock's charismatically lilting voice and perambulating keyboards, providing the essence and focus of the record. Sometimes her Moog was used to treat her vocals as well as provide spacey instrumentation. The one song she did not write, Don't Be Cruel (one of her homages to Elvis), was also released as a single.
The Perfect Release followed in 1979 and consisted of a number of experimental songs Annette Peacock had laid down at Ray Davies' Konk Studios with borrowed members of the Jeff Beck Group, guitar duties being taken by Robert Ahwei, and culminating in the fifteen-minute Survival, which includes a musical reference to Silent Night. Love Is Out To Lunch was the chosen single, but proved a little too risqué for the likes of Capital Radio, and despite a deliberate attempt by Annette Peacock to move closer to the mainstream for commercial reward, the album remains one of the seventies' forgotten classics.
Added to this pairing are two outtakes from The Perfect Release which were included on The Collection in 1982, but these appeared to have been mastered from an acetate and have some surface noise and distortion.
(review filed 22 June 2006)
An Acrobat's Heart (61.12)** P 2002
Much of Annette Peacock's back catalogue has scandalously never been given the CD treatment, including her ahead-of-it's-time masterpiece I'm The One from 1970, with its sublime version of Love Me Tender and synthesized vocals and electronics that ought to have been impossible at the time, so if you peer into the Annette Peacock section of your closest large emporium, this 2002 set on ECM is what you are most likely to unearth.
Annette Peacock, born in New York on 8 January 1942, was in her twenties when discovered by Timothy Leary, experimenting with psychedelia and avant garde jazz. She later eloped with Gary Peacock, bassist for Albert Ayler and later Paul Bley. This is how she came to compose for the Paul Bley Trio, writing their entire 1967 album Ballads, before touring as the Annette and Paul Bley Synthesizer Show at the start of the 1970s.
She subsequently expanded on her rockier inclinations, making ground-breaking work for the Aura label that inspired the likes of Patti Smith, and worked and recorded with Bill Bruford (appearing with him on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978). She has also collaborated with the modern classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Her mother was a classical musician, and in her sixtieth year Annette chose to record this acoustic and electronics-free album of reflective bitter-sweet songs on which her distinctive singing and piano playing is sympathetically accompanied by the Cikada String Quartet, calling up memories of the chamber music she was brought up listening to. The result is a haunting, evocative, mature and beautiful suite of songs where lines of thought and music stop and are replaced with new themes and musical ideas that pick up the threads and form a complete whole. A wholly satisfying listen
(review filed 15 June 2004)
Greatest Hits (74.34)*** P 1969-1978, P 1988
If you needed just one Ann Peebles album in your collection, surely a legal minimum, you could do worse than select this Greatest Hits CD collection released in 1988. Long out of print, it can fetch high prices though, so unless you come across it at a budget price you might consider the mid-price 19-track US R&B Hits '69 - '79, or the more complete 2CD The Hi Singles A's And B's as an alternative. If you want to delve a little deeper, then The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records, Vol. 1 has her first four albums, plus B-sides up to 1974, on 2 CDs, and contains much of her best work.
If you only know Ann Peebles from her biggest hit, I Can't Stand The Rain, then you will be delighted to discover gems such as Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home and I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down among the generous 26 tracks included. As Ann Peebles was on Hi Records during this period it is natural that she be linked musically to Al Green, who shared the same label, backing band, producer and arranger over the same period, but while Al Green has the greater vocal dexterity it is Ann Peebles who cuts through to the heart of the matter with her emotional honesty and vulnerability.
Most of the singles you would expect are here, the obvious exception being (You Keep Me) Hangin' On, the Joe Simon song, and there are additionally 11 B-sides. One of these, Heartaches Heartaches, did not appear on an album and had not been on CD before. The track selection is oddly programmed, kicking off with a B-side (99lbs), and to mind does not showcase the songs to their best advantage. Mono single mixes have been used on tracks 1, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 24.
(review filed 21 August 2008)
The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records (Vol. 1): 1969-1973 (46.08/56.41)***
The Complete Ann Peebles On Hi Records, Vol. 1 contains her first four albums, as well as the additional B-sides up to 1974, and contains much of her best work. To find them collected and complete on just two CDs at a reasonable price should make it an irresistible first stop for anyone wishing to add some of Ann Peebles work to their collection on CD.
Ann Peebles of course continues to this day to be an important artist, and Volume 2 and beyond are recommended subsequent purchases, but for sheer quantity of gems, such as I Can't Stand The Rain, Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home, I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, I Pity The Fool, (You Keep Me) Hangin' On and A Love Vibration, all hit singles, this obviously is the place to start, and naturally you get to hear the albums as they were meant to be heard as well as two B-sides that did not appear on albums. Ann Peebles' third album, Part Time Love, named after her hit version of the Little Johnny Taylor track, is an exception to this at it was largely a repackaging of previously released material, and the duplicated tracks are not repeated, but the four new tracks complete disc one, following This Is Ann Peebles. This was her debut album and contains far less original material than her other albums. However I have no complaint at hearing Ann Peebles singing Bettye Swann, Fontella Bass, Aretha Franklin or the untypically funky Isley Brothers hit It's Your Thing.
Disc two is essentially Straight From The Heart, a title that sums up Ann Peebles vocal style, and her fourth album, I Can't Stand The Rain. Both contain a number of songs written by Ann and her partner Don Bryant, and some by Hi staff writer Earl Randle.
All the tracks were recorded at the Royal Recording Studios in Memphis, produced, engineered and arranged by Willie Mitchell, and hugely benefit from the combined forces of the Hi Records studio band, the Memphis Horns, the Memphis Strings and the backing vocals of Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes; the same team of course that created those great Al Green sides.
Mastering is very good considering the age of the masters and stereo album mixes have been used throughout, with the strange exception of I've Been There Before. This was also the B-side of Somebody's On Your Case, so possibly the mono single mix has been used in error, as the stereo mix has turned up on previous CD pressings that include the album Straight From The Heart. Both the non-album B-sides, Heartaches Heartaches and I Can't Let Go, are also mono, presumably because they were never mixed into stereo.
(review filed 4 January 2009)
Boppin' Blue Suede Shoes (62.10)** R 1955-1958, P 1995
If Carl Perkins had done nothing but write and record Blue Suede Shoes, his place in history would be assured. His original version released in February 1956 reached no. 2 in the USA, becoming Sun Records' first million seller, and no. 10 in the UK, but was eclipsed by former label mate Elvis Presley's version for RCA. This was released just 3 months later, as Carl Perkins lay convalescing in hospital after the car accident that put his career on hold at such a crucial time.
Carl Perkins was a big influence on many later artists, in particular the Beatles. George Harrison and Ringo Starr between them sung lead on three Beatle records of Carl Perkins' songs, Matchbox, Honey Don't and Everybody's Tryin' To Be My Baby. At BBC sessions they also recorded Sure To Fall, Glad All Over and Lend Me Your Comb. Many decades later Paul McCartney recorded Carl's first single, Movie Magg. All these songs are included on this CD.
Although Carl Perkins recorded and performed live throughout his long career, it is for the early recordings he made for Sun between 1955 and 1958 that he is best remembered. Serious collectors will want original albums or box sets, but if you just need a representative selection of Carl Perkins at his best on Sun, these 25 digitally remastered tracks are just that.
All nine A-sides are included, plus six notable B-sides and album tracks. When he left Sun to join Columbia, a heap of first class unreleased masters were left behind, many of which have since surfaced on Sun compilations and ten are included here. These include the original recordings of Y-O-U and Pink Pedal Pushers, both of which were re-recorded as singles for Columbia, an alternative version of Honey Don't, and his version of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven (which the Beatles also covered)
(review filed 24 July 2004)
The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (42.15/41.58/32.06)**** R 1967, P 2007
Whilst today stereo is the norm, in 1967 it was a small minority market and much more time was lavished on the monaural version than on the stereo mix, which would be done in a day or two, after the mono master had been completed, and was often not released until after the standard mono version. Consequently, there were often significant differences between the two. I can remember spending far too many teenage hours comparing mono and stereo versions of albums by the Beatles, the Pink Floyd and others on headphones using a customized mono record player with a stereo cartridge wired to a second amplifier. To me, a psychedelic record such as Piper cried out for stereo effects, and thanks to the crisp production of the late Norman Smith and the sound engineering of Peter Bown at Abbey Road, I was not disappointed.
It was an exciting time at Abbey Road, too, as the Beatles were ensconced at the same time in another studio working on Sergeant Pepper, and met the Floyd while they were working on Pow R Toc H. The Pretty Things also started work on SF Sorrow there, again with Norman Smith (who also engineered Sergeant Pepper), before the Floyd's sessions were complete.
Piper was the only album that Syd Barrett made in full with the Floyd. He wrote eight of the nine songs and contributed his unique space guitar flourishes to Interstellar Overdrive and the noodly Pow R Toc H. Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is really a benchmark album of the genre now known as psyche. Roger Waters may now dismiss it as juvenilia, but I still listen to it more often than is probably healthy.
The stereo version has been newly remastered for this edition, and sounds superb. A mono version of the album has been out before, but this is apparently the first time the authentic mono mix as on the original vinyl album has been remastered, and it clocks in some seventeen seconds longer than the new stereo re-master. In particular it seems an edit of Flaming (used as an American single which had The Gnome on the flipside) was used in error on some mono editions, though at 2.43 now it is barely a second longer than the 1997 mono CD version that I already had, but though I wonder now in what way the 1997 edition did differ from the original album and why, I certainly have no complaints with the 2007 re-mastering.
The bonus disc is probably the strongest bait to attract the Pink Floyd enthusiast. It is logical that it should contain the five tracks released on singles that year (the sixth, Scarecrow, was taken from the album), and it is good to have them in catalogue again, but many collectors will already have these on the 6-track mini-LP released in 1997 or from the Shine On 1992 box set. They collect in one place all the released material that feature Syd Barrett, apart from the three tracks on A Saucerful Of Secrets.
The real treats here are the final four tracks. The French Edit of Interstellar Overdrive is a substantially re-mixed mono version of Take Two (the one used on the album) of Interstellar Overdrive, unheard since it first turned up on the French EP of Arnold Layne in 1967, and the CD also includes Take Six, a previously unreleased take recorded three weeks later, which shows the extent of variation between performances of this largely improvised piece, and is great to have. There's a rare stereo mix of the extraordinary Apples And Oranges single, too, which is said to be previously unissued but might be the same as the one on the French vinyl LP The Best Of The Pink Floyd; and finally an unreleased early version of Matilda Mother, recorded at their first Abbey Road session. The song was inspired by Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales and this version has lyrics that were changed on the released version, possibly to avoid copyright problems. Obviously missing are the unreleased gems Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream, although as these were recorded for a potential single for release in 1968, long after Piper had been released, they could just as justifiably be included on an edition of A Saucerful Of Secrets.
The packaging is nice and glossy and has a facsimile of a booklet of Syd's art collage notebook as well as photos and album lyrics. Given that the primary market for a package such as this must be the avid collector, the booklet surprisingly lacks any technical details at all about the mixes, recording dates, sources and so forth.
This clearly is the definitive ultimate edition of Pink Floyd's debut album, until the next re-issue of it, and corrects the shortcomings of previous releases that most of us hadn't been aware of. Cynicism aside, this is an important sixties album for a number of reasons and deserves to be heard in both mono and stereo mixes, and the bonus disc and lavish packaging make it a considerable treat, especially for collectors.
(review filed 16 April 2008)
Ummagumma: Live Album/Studio Album (39.21/46.57)** P 1969, P 1994
This double album represents the band at a turning point in their career. Their previous official album, A Saucerful Of Secrets, had found them recovering from the trauma of losing their principal singer, songwriter and lead guitarist, and against the odds, coming up with a winner. The sci-fi leanings of Syd Barrett's Astronomy Domine had been matched with Roger Waters' compositions Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and Let There Be More Light, and Richard Wright had contributed two whimsical pieces, Remember A Day and See Saw. Their new direction, however, was determined by the closing track in which they were given the freedom to do whatever they wanted, A Saucerful Of Secrets itself, a 12-minute epic combining four separately composed instrumental pieces, Something Else, Syncopated Pandemonium, Storm Signal, and Celestial Voices. It set the pattern for the new Pink Floyd.
The idea of this double album was to wrap up their old repertoire with a live album of stage favourites, while launching their re-invented selves with a second studio album in which each of the four members would contribute a quarter in the form of solo performances or constructions.
The Pink Floyd had already launched new material in their More Furious Madness From The Massed Gadgets of Auximenes concerts, but for the Ummagumma sets stuck to familiar material. Recordings for the live album were made at 3 locations - Bromley Technical College, Bromley Common, Kent (26 April 1969); Mothers Club, Erdington, Birmingham (27 April 1969 - a gig I attended) and the College of Commerce, Manchester (2 May 1969). The Bromley concert recording was not used whilst it appears composites from the other two appearances were edited together to form the four song track list of the Live Album. "Parts of Saucerful on Ummagumma came from the Birmingham gig, which we put together with the Manchester stuff," said Richard Wright of the process. The plan rather backfired as the Live Album proved so popular that the band were obliged to continue to play the old tunes in their sets thereafter.
The Studio Album proves the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Rick Wright's Sysyphus suite is portentous and somewhat overblown and Nick Mason's Grand Vizier's Birthday Party fares less well. Roger Waters has two pieces, of which the pastoral Grantchester Meadows is the one to which I most return, and both of which provide the lightest and most humorous touches to the record. David Gilmour asked him to write some lyrics for his own piece and Roger Waters probably did him a favour by refusing since The Narrow Way must have shown him that he could write his own lyrics, as it was one of the first of a long line of work from his pen. It was either brave or indulgent for the members of the band to expose their strengths and weaknesses in this way, but it cleared the way for more fully realised work by the whole band such as 1970's ambitious Atom Heart Mother, and the superb Echoes on 1971's Meddle
(review filed 29 June 2004)
Doolittle (38.45)**** P 1989
In 1986 a Californian anthropology major in Puerto Rico named Charles Thompson IV, studying Spanish on an exchange program, dropped out to form a band with his room-mate. They moved to Boston MA and put an advert in the papers for a bass guitarist "into Husker Du and Peter, Paul And Mary". That band became the Pixies, and Doolittle, their third album, from 1989, represents their commercial and artistic peak.
Not only did it mark the apotheosis of indie guitar rock, it also paved the way for future landmark records in other genres, such as Nevermind, Daydream Nation and OK, Computer. The subject matter is dark, but the approach is celebratory and full of exuberant energy and unbounded confidence. The lyrics are intelligent, yet self-deprecating in their wit. Dead, for instance, is the story of the affair between David and Bathsheba, while the single Debaser is inspired by Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, but debunks itself in the line "but I am un chien Andalusia." Another single, Monkey Gone To Heaven, elliptically explores myth, death, good, evil and the environment, all in a few casual lines.
Initially signed by the British indie Four A.D. label, this was the first Pixies album to be licensed in America to a major label (Elektra). However, with songs like I Bleed and Gouge Away it is clear that no artistic compromise is involved.
Using cheap thrills and spills, B-movie and comic book teen horror imagery as metaphors for the big themes examined herein, the Pixies subvert content so that nothing is what it is. The sound is taut and focused (15 tracks in under 40 minutes) and structurally diverse, ranging from twisted spaghetti western (Silver) to the pop sensibilities of There Goes Your Man. Whilst Wave Of Mutilation takes the perils of surfing in cars as its subject, the sound of the surf guitar is reserved for the almost throwaway La La Love You. The undisputed considerable creative talents of Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering are here sublimated in the greater cause of the initial vision as steered to its resolution by Thompson, by now known onstage in his alter-ego guise of Black Francis
(review filed 1 January 2004)
Red Roses For Me (57.45)**** P 1984-1985, P 2004
Sometimes things seem to connect with a past they don't actually belong to, but perhaps should have. Desiderata might seem to have been the work of a seventeenth century monk, but we now know it to have been written by a lawyer in 1927. The Ploughman's Lunch conjures visions of medieval farmworkers relaxing from their heavy toil over a wholesome refreshment, but was apparently conjured up by the English Country Cheese Council in 1960.
Red Roses For Me, with its organic marriage of Shane MacGowan's brilliant compositions and rowdy performances of traditional Irish drinking songs and rebel balladry, played on predominantly acoustic instruments, seems to embody hundreds of years of Ireland's musical history, but nobody has managed to come up with any recorded precedents.
The former Shane O'Hooligan is the first to acknowledge his debt to such as the poets Brendan Behan and James Clarence Mangan, and musically to the Dubliners. However great they were, however, no Dubliners record could be mistaken for one by the Pogues, unless the Pogues were playing on it.
This astounding debut appeared fully-formed and gloriously unique, preceded only by their single Dark Streets Of London (in a slightly different version to that on the album), its surface shambolics belying a solid musical and lyrical depth and maturity. Red Roses For Me was produced by Stan Brennan, who ran Rocks Off Records in West One, where Shane sometimes served behind the counter. It was his long term mission to get the band off the ground, and he managed to pour the Pogue magic, unspilled and distilled, into the flagon at Wapping's tiny Elephant Studios.
The Anglo Celtic sound of the Pogues, fermented in London's glamorous King's Cross, is a mixture of pub and punk, both Shane and Mancunian Maestro Jimmy Fearnley having been veterans of punk band the Nips (formerly the Nipple Erectors), but played with an exuberance and an excellence that proved impossible to resist, despite the dark rising tide of New Romanticism, except by an old guard who thought the Pogues represented the stereotype of the drunken Irish paddy they were trying to escape. To be fair, it is rumoured that Shane likes a drink.
The album is embellished with six vital bonus tracks. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, Eric Bogle's chilling account of Gallipoli, was revisited on Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, but this is the original flipside of their debut single. You may know the song by Eric Bogle or June Tabor, but not like this. Repeal Of The Licensing Laws was the B-side of the (cleaned-up) Boys From The County Hell. The band returned to Elephant in 1985 to record the B-sides Whiskey You're The Devil and Muirshin Durkin, both for the single A Pair Of Brown Eyes, and The Wild Rover and The Leaving Of Liverpool backed up Sally MacLennane. Those last two A-sides are from Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, your next essential Pogues acquisition after this one
(review filed 21 February 2006)
The Ultimate Collection/Live At The Brixton Academy (75.02/77.46)**** R 1984-2001, P 2005
If there is little or no Pogues in your collection, and there most certainly should be, this could be a great place to start, as disc one gathers all their most influential material; the singles, key album tracks and even a B-side (The Repeal Of The Licensing Laws), while the soul of the band is laid bare on the second disc, the previously unreleased reunion concert that took place over two legendary nights at the Brixton Academy on the lead up to Christmas 2001, with Shane MacGowan back with the band for nearly all the lead vocals (Spider Stacy takes the lead on Tuesday Morning, Phil Chevron sings his own Thousands Are Sailing and Lila MacMahon guests with Shane on a rousing Fairytale Of New York), and the band themselves, augmented by the Fiesta Horns, on excellent, sometimes riotous form.
The only obvious omission that I can see is their first single, Dark Streets Of London; however as this is on Red Roses For Me, which you will doubtless be acquiring shortly after playing disc one, this is not a great problem. It would have been an idea, though, to have included the original single as this differed from the album version and is hard to find.
A few notes about which versions have been used where more than one exists: Rainy Night In Soho is the remix that first appeared on the CD release of the Poguetry In Motion EP (the original vinyl mix seems to be unavailable on CD). The Irish Rover, If I Should Fall From Grace With God and A Pair Of Brown Eyes are all the remixed single edits; The Boys From The County Hell is the cleaned-up single version. Only Rainy Night In Soho is duplicated on the expanded editions of the parent albums.
(review filed 10 August 2006)
Watch The Fireworks (43.20)**** R 2006, P 2007
For those of us almost in mourning over the loss of the Delgados in April 2005, a treasured and underrated unique-sounding band, the consolation of an album by Emma Pollock, one of its principal members, has been a very long time coming. The news, shortly after the amicable split, that she had been signed to the highly suitable Four A.D. label was soon followed by radio appearances on which promising new songs such as Paper And Glue and Limbs were performed acoustically with the help of brother-in-law Jamie Savage on second guitar and piano. In Spring 2007 she was back on the radio, still previewing the songs, this time also sharing piano duties with Jamie Savage, as the album, although it had been recorded in the main between March and April 2006 at the new Chem19 Studios in Hamilton and added to in New York later in the year, was still not out.
I'm pleased to report that the delay has been worthwhile as the album cracks and sizzles with confidence and style throughout its forty-three minutes, and reveals to me for the first time just how much of a contribution Emma Pollock must have made to the Delgados. Although it is more stripped back and lacks the big orchestral arrangements of some Delgados records (a cello, played by Alan Barr, escapes onto just one song), in many ways it sounds more like a Delgados record than Universal Audio did: the enchanting vocals that give the songs their soul, at time airy, at others melancholic; the entwining and surprising melodic structures and sounds; and not least the evocative, distinctive and intelligent lyrics.
Of course, former Delgados drummer and husband Paul Savage also contributes to the sound, additionally supplying dulcimer and omnichord. The other musicians on the record apart from Jamie Savage are Campbell McNeil (from Aerogramme) and Graeme Smillie on bass guitars, and the additional guitar of Knox Chandler, added to some of the songs in New York at the suggestion of producer Victor Van Vugt. The album is something of a triumph. Set alight and stand back to enjoy.
(review filed 1 October 2007)
The Covers Record (41.04)*** R 1998-1999, P 2000
Clearly of the Less Is More faith, Cat Power spent two years stripping back to nearly nothing this esoteric set of covers, exposing their bare essence and reinventing them as minimalist sound sculptures. Getting the makeovers are songs associated with Bob Dylan (Kingsport Town, Paths Of Victory), the Rolling Stones (Satisfaction), Helen Merrill (Troubled Waters), Moby Grape (Naked If I Want To), Michael Hurley (Sweedeedee), Velvet Underground (I Found A Reason), Nina Simone (Wild Is The Wind), Smog (Red Apples), Mississippi John Hurt (Salty Dog - with extract of Candy Man), Phil Phillips and the Twi-Lights (Sea Of Love) and Chan Marshall (her alter-ego) on In This Hole. She must have an interesting record collection. Sublime
(review filed 29 April 2004)
The Greatest (41.50)*** P 2006
Teaming Cat Power with some of the Hi team who recorded behind Ann Peebles and Al Green was an unexpected and brilliant idea. A special alchemy took place at Ardent Studios in Memphis which enhanced both Cat Power's gorgeous smoky voice and the soulful groove the band has laid down. I would say that that it was worth the price of the album just for the majestic opening song, The Greatest, were it not that it is also available as a single, but that would be to unfairly demean the rest of the record, and the same would be true of Lived In Bars or several of the other songs which seep into your consciousness like welcome stowaways. Of course Cat Power does not need embellishment, as is demonstrated on the unadorned song Hate. Cat's most accomplished album to date.
(review filed 15 June 2007)
Jukebox (41.38/21.31)***P 2008
The cover version has unfortunately become much maligned over the years. Whereas bands were once judged by how well they could perform certain blues, R&B, Lennon/McCartney or Dylan songs and could gain kudos from picking up early on an up and coming songwriting talent, the rise of the singer/songwriter (and the extra profits from the publishing royalties) has meant the proliferation of home-grown material to the near total exclusion of pre-existing songs.
Thankfully, Cat Power, though with a proven pedigree as an accomplished songwriter, notably on her previous album of original songs The Greatest, has always peppered her live appearances and recording sessions with songs that she has felt a connection with, regardless of who wrote them, and began a whole album of them a decade ago, The Covers Record, released in 2000.
This album was conceived as a sequel, and was originally going to be called Covers 2 (and still is, on the CD Text of my copy at least). Its final title Jukebox still modestly places the emphasis on the song rather than the singer, but its major difference from The Covers Record, which was mostly Cat Power on her own, is the presence of a band, the Dirty Delta Blues Band, featuring major players including Judah Bauer from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Jim White from the Dirty Three. According to the credits Chan has eschewed both guitar and piano on this record. The sound of the band, fleshed out on some tracks by guests of the calibre of Mabon Hodges (an integral part of The Greatest) and Spooner Oldham, session veterans from Memphis and Muscle Shoals respectively, is not a million miles from that on The Greatest, though there is a deliberate ragged informality in the proceedings here that sets it apart.
It would be quite a jukebox, too, if it featured the versions that inspired Chan, with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to the Hot Boys. Not all the songs were known to me, but favourites such as James Brown's Lost Someone and Joni Mitchell's Blue, a brave choice, become revitalized through her translucent performances. A Woman Left Lonely, too, is wonderful, and as it was written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, that is presumably Spooner that we can hear on it. The shortlist for this album included the Dan Penn-Chips Moman song Dark End Of The Street, and I cannot be alone in thinking how wonderful that must have sounded, and as Spooner Oldham was the pianist on James Carr's original version, it is likely he would have played on that one, also. I'm not familiar with George Jackson's original of Aretha, Sing One For Me, but as it was recorded for Hi Records back in 1972 it is quite likely that Mabon Hodges was the guitarist on it, and it is good to see Chan recognizing and acknowledging the heritage these guys bring to her record.
I don't see Cat Power as a keen follower of rules and regulations, so on this album it is no surprise to find, on this album of covers, two of her own songs. I suppose one of these, Metal Heart, is technically a cover, since she had previously recorded it on Moon Pix. The other, Song To Bobby, an album highlight, neatly follows Dylan's I Believe In You.
This limited edition version contains a bonus disc with five additional tracks, though these do not include Dark End Of The Street or the other dropped title, Fortunate Son. I would suggest grabbing this edition while it is still available.
Not speaking Spanish, some of the charms of Roberta Flack's Angelitos Negros were lost on me, but her versions of Nick Cave's Breathless and Patsy Cline's She's Got You easily match the best cuts of the first disc. The Hot Boys' I Feel is completely reinvented and is the only track to recall The Covers Record, as its only accompaniment is (her own?) piano. Her Moby Grape cover first appeared on The Covers Record, and although the bonus disc is generally less orchestrated than its parent, the restrained arrangement of Naked, If I Want To (the title has gained a comma since its earlier incarnation) demonstrates the distance traveled since the first cover. Where before the only accompaniment was Chan's guitar, now an ensemble of electric guitar, piano, bass and drums rocks along behind her.
A reviewer in (I think) Mojo, wrote of The Covers Record that Cat Power doesn't cover songs, she uncovers them, and despite the less sparse settings of this set, this happily remains the case.
(review filed 13 May 2008)
Take My Hand - Gospel Favourites (58.53)** R 1957-1972, P 1999
Gospel music was Elvis' first love and at the time of his discovery by the late Sam Phillips he was seriously considering joining the Songfellows, a gospel quartet, instead of signing to Sun Records. Throughout his career Elvis always used full gospel groups rather than backing singers, on stage and in the studio. At the same time that he was recording All Shook Up in January 1957, he was also recording songs for a gospel EP, Peace In The Valley, all of which were included on Elvis' Christmas Album later that year, and also appear here.
This collection also draws from three gospel albums that Elvis released: His Hand In Mine (1960), How Great Thou Art (1966) and He Touched Me (1971) and a couple of stray tracks including his hit single Crying In The Chapel, plus a medley of two songs he recorded and filmed at the Elvis On Tour sessions but which remained in the can until 1994.
Although a great rock singer, unlike his contemporaries, Elvis had the range to sing with an unmatched purity and sincerity on both devotional gospels and secular ballads and wasn't afraid to match his voice with the best gospel singers in the business, as this set ably demonstrates
(review filed 7 October 2003)
Essential Elvis: The First Movies (56.16)** R 1956-1957, P 1986
After the death of Elvis, RCA in America went on recycling compilations of his previously available material that appeared to have been programmed by a computer on "random" setting. In 1986 RCA Europe changed all that by releasing this 25-track CD, which rounded up songs from the first three Elvis movies (Love Me Tender, Loving You and Jailhouse Rock), but included 12 alternative takes and unreleased mixes. Elvis collectors proved keen to compare fast and slow versions of Loving You and work-in-progress takes of songs such as Party and Jailhouse Rock, to the degree that for the first time record companies woke up to the fact that such added value "bonus tracks" were a cash cow, and a whole new market opened up, made practical by the longer playing time of the CD and the new popularity of the box set.
David Sinclair in Q did not approve and described the release of this CD as "disgraceful". Despite this, it came out in America in 1988 and was followed by a whole series of other Essential Elvis albums. I found it a fascinating insight into the recording process and am glad that this material is available for the study of an artist of the stature and importance of Elvis Presley
(review filed 5 November 2003)
Loving You (41.19)*** R 1957, P 1997
RCA's Elvis re-issue programme continued apace in the decades following his death in baffling profusion to all but the dedicated fan. The 1957 soundtrack album Loving You was re-mastered and re-issued in 1997 and contained the 7 songs included in the film (though not necessarily the same versions, although this is not made clear) on side one of the original album, and the five additional "popular ballads" on side two to pad it out to album length, plus eight bonus tracks comprising 4 more songs, including One Night, very welcome in its original unbowdlerised One Night Of Sin version; and four alternate takes and outtakes from the sessions, including an alternate version of I Beg Of You, which came out as the B-side of Don't in 1958.
Both sides of the original LP sleeve are reproduced, although the rear sleeve has been "revised" to include the bonus track titles. This is slightly confusing as it becomes unclear which the extra tracks are. Also, it has not been revised to remove the legend "Stereo" from the top of the sleeve, a claim that is untrue of this edition.
It is good that serious Elvis collector's can hear these additional takes for evaluation but there are plenty more that could have been added to the 41-minute total playing time to make this the definitive release. For instance there are versions of the song Loving You on Essential Elvis: The First Movies which are not included here. One suspects that they may turn up on a future re-issue to squeeze a few dollars more from Elvis' loyal fans
(review filed 27 November 2003)
King Creole (34.18)*** R 1958, P 1997
This edition of the King Creole 1958 soundtrack, the last film Elvis made before his watershed spell in the army, was released in 1997 and adds 7 bonus tracks to the original eleven. Most are alternative takes or "Movie versions", but there is an undubbed version of Lover Doll, and the song Danny, named after Elvis' character Danny Fisher. This was cooked up after the main sessions when doubts set in regarding the song King Creole, but wasn't used in the film or album, and remained unreleased until 1978's A Legendary Performer, Vol. 3. The bonus tracks comprise twelve and a half minutes, so the original album must have had a playing time of a measly twenty-two minutes. At thirty-four minutes, it isn't exactly generous now. Shouldn't Elvis punters be more demanding?
The film is set in New Orleans but despite titles like King Creole, Dixieland Rock, Crawfish and New Orleans, and the presence of additional musicians adding brass and woodwind, the sense of locality is curiously diluted in the music, and notwithstanding the presence of some great tracks, some of the songs sound like makeweights. Perhaps the rot had begun to set in before the spell in the US Army. Hard Headed Woman was the only single from the film (King Creole was also a single in the UK) but a couple of the songs went on to become popular, notably Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Trouble, which in the film Elvis performs in the Gilded Cage nightclub
(review filed 27 November 2003)
Get The Picture (46.05)*** P 1965-1966, P 2000
The good cop/bad cop image that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had in the 1960s may have been a tad contrived. The Beatles weren't the clean cut lads they might have seemed and the Stones certainly played up to the Bad Boys Of Pop reputation they had that oiled the publicity machine so well. They had risen from a pool of bands playing blues and Bo Diddley covers, bands like the Downliners Sect, the Cops 'n' Robbers, the Bo Street Runners and the Pretty Things, and when it came to bad publicity, the Pretty Things had it in spades, and were rarely out of the headlines for their rock 'n' roll crimes. They were badder than the others and their music was rawer, wilder, bluesier and more crudely recorded. Most of them shared a house and lived the rock lifestyle of excess to the full.
Their second album, Get The Picture?, came out only a few months after their self-titled debut, and showed a laudable unwillingness to compromise, though it also showed they had not stood still musically in the intervening months of grueling round-world touring (they seemed to have left the drummer behind in New Zealand) as there was now a light and shade to the group sound and signs of experimentation. It also featured more of their own material, which included not only ravers like Buzz The Jerk, but also lighter folk-influenced songs like London Town and the excellent Can't Stand The Pain, on which Dick Taylor's guitar stands out. The covers include a great rough and ready rendition of Slim Harpo's Rainin' In My Heart, Ray Charles' version of I Had A Dream and the Cops 'n' Robbers' own But You'll Never Do It Babe. Their hit version of Cry To Me, written by Bert Berns for Betty Harris but best known at the time in Solomon Burke's cover is also featured. The Stones had recorded the song around the same time for Out Of Our Heads, so a direct comparison can be made.
This reissue has been given the re-master treatment, and now includes all the extra tracks added to the contemporary EPs Rainin' In My Heart and The Pretty Things On Film, plus the raw soul power 1966 single Come See Me, adapted from the northern soul version by JJ Jackson.
The Pretty Things On Film featured 4 songs from the soundtrack of LSD, a Chaplinesque short directed by Caterina Arvat and Anthony West, described on the EP sleeve as "sixteen minutes of chase, laughter and many brilliant club scenes", and included their all-stops-out recent classic single Midnight To Six Man ("he might be gone first but is he going anywhere?"), recorded apparently between midnight and six at IBC Studios, and featuring the tinkling piano of Nicky Hopkins and Margo from Goldie and the Gingerbreads on organ. It stalled surprisingly at number 46 in the UK charts but was included on Nuggets II.
If you want one Pretty Things album in your collection, this is probably the one to go for
(review filed 22 March 2004)
Parachute (62.59)** P 1970-1971, P 1999
Although the Pretties are now belatedly given credit for having conceived and recorded the first rock opera, SF Sorrow, their equally ambitious follow-up of one year later, Parachute, has yet to be reassessed and recognised as the achievement that it is.
When they returned to the Abbey Rd studios after SF Sorrow, with Beatle engineer Norman Smith again in the producer's chair, they were quite a different outfit. Their distinctive lead guitarist Dick Taylor had left the band to become a producer, and Victor Unitt from the Edgar Broughton Band was filling in for him until a permanent replacement was found. Twink, their drummer, had also quit to form the Pink Fairies, and their former drummer Skip Alan had returned after a spell with Sunshine.
Another year of communal living, constant touring, drug taking, partying and song writing (not necessarily in that order) had yielded a burst of creativity resulting in a bunch of songs united by a theme of rural versus urban living, and the contradictions implicit in resolving the differences of each; in other words it was one of the first concept albums. The themes are contrasted by use of harmony and melody set against some occasionally quite heavy rock, using a live sound not unlike White Album-period Beatles, and the whole works well musically as an album.
They allowed themselves to stretch out musically on longer tracks such as Cries From The Midnight Circus and Sickle Clown, which was inspired by the ending to the film Easy Rider. Clearly also influenced by the Beatles album Abbey Road, and using the same legendary studios they were able to achieve the same ethereal harmony sounds, particularly on the closing title track, featuring Jon Povey's multi-tracked vocals.
Although commercially unsuccessful the record did receive some critical acclaim and in 1971 was voted album of the year by Rolling Stone.
The Good Mr Square (incorporating She Was Tall, She Was High) had preceded the album as a single on EMI's new "progressive" label, Harvest, and it also represented the album on the Harvest-label sampler, Picnic, though by the time the next single was due they had been back in the studio recording new material so it remained the only single to be taken from Parachute.
The Good Mr Square's non album B-side and all 5 tracks from their next two singles have been added to this edition. These two singles (October 26 and Stone-Hearted Mama) were recorded after they had found their new guitarist, Peter Tolson from Eire Apparent, and include the excellent Summertime and Circus Mind.
(review filed 5 March 2004)
Latest Writs Greatest Hits (71.27)*** P 1964-1999, P 2000
Snapper Music are responsible for making available the Pretty Things back-catalogue in newly re-mastered editions with added A-sides and B-sides etc, licensed from the various labels for whom they recorded between 1964 and 1999, with shifting line-ups whose one constant was singer and lyricist Phil May. An obvious spin-off from this admirable project is this "best of" creatively compiled and sequenced non-chronologically by friend of the band Mike Stax.
The Pretty Things took their name from a Bo Diddley song and began life in 1963 as an R&B band, formed by Dick Taylor, former bass guitarist for the Rolling Stones. Their first single, Rosalyn, remains a classic piece of Bo Diddley-inspired proto-garage and began the most commercially successful part of their career when they regularly outdid the Stones in the "bad boy" image stakes. Both Rosalyn and their second 45, Don't Bring Me Down, were endorsed by David Bowie by inclusion on his Pinups album. By 1967, bored with "5 A sides, 5 B sides albums", they enthusiastically embraced the burgeoning underground movement, creating psychedelic wonders such as Defecting Grey.
This led to the concept album SF Sorrow, which allegedly inspired Pete Townshend to write Tommy. SF Sorrow was recorded at Abbey Road in the same magical time frame that had the Pink Floyd recording Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and the Beatles at work on Sgt Pepper in the adjacent studios (George's sitar was "borrowed" for the contemporary single Defecting Grey).
Critically regarded and influential, but a poor seller, shortly afterwards Dick Taylor left and the band began a decline into heavy metal territory, though the material included around the period of the Parachute album still showed a band alive and kicking with inventiveness and flair. The band inevitably split in 1976, but reformed periodically thereafter. One track is included from the 1980 album Cross Talk in this compilation, otherwise there is a gap from 1976 to 1999 when the 1966 line-up got together to make the album Rage Before Beauty. Two tracks are included from this, Vivian Prince, a tribute to their legendary first drummer, and All Light Up, a pro-marijuana anthem which enlisted the pupils of Highbury Quadrant primary school to sing the subversive chorus by the simple ploy of sticking a microphone through the railings of the playground, showing they had lost none of their counter-cultural ideals! Phil May's notes and contemporary newspaper cuttings of their numerous controversies are included in the CD booklet. It is obviously impossible to do justice to such a large oeuvre in 19 tracks, but this serves as a near-impeccable introduction to the Pretty Things.
(review filed 17 November 2003)
The BBC Sessions (79.10/79.08)*** R 1964-1975, P 2003
The Pretty Things were no strangers to the various converted theatres, cinemas and hotels that made up the suite of studios in which the BBC recorded radio light entertainment shows, gardening forums, dance hall orchestras and rock bands. In fact the earliest session here dates from October 1964, which coincides with the release of only their second single, Don't Bring Me Down. The five track session is included in full and includes Don't Bring Me Down, Big Boss Man (which had been the B-side of the first single) and R&B selections from their future first album, including two by Bo Diddley, from whose song Pretty Thing the band took their name. On the two singles session drummers had been employed, so here is a chance to hear the tunes performed exclusively by the band. It isn't clear how many sessions and concert appearances the band made between 1964 and 1976 when the band were mothballed for quite a while, but sixteen are drawn from on these two discs. In the sixties these were taken from Saturday Club and John Peel's Top Gear programme, but in the seventies they are drawn from various presenters' shows, including David Symonds, Alan Black, Mike Harding and John Peel. Broadcast dates are given, but further details such as recording dates, line-ups and studio locations are skimpy at best.
There are two recordings of their minor 1966 hit Midnight To Six Man, one for a TV show (in very poor sound), the other far better performance from Saturday Club, and, like the single, featuring the tinkling ivories of session pianist Nicky Hopkins. After this came a swift change of direction, when like a lot of bands, they temporarily ditched soul and R&B and fully embraced psychedelia. In the case of the Pretties this included sitar-soaked pieces such as Defecting Grey and Turn My Head (a song that never got a commercial release), and then the full blown and highly influential mini-opera S F Sorrow, from which all of their 1968 session for Top Gear was drawn.
The Pretty Things were in a constant state of flux with frequent changes in line-up and neither of the two songs included from their 1969 session made it onto a record either, and by 1970 even founder-guitarist Dick Taylor had left the band leaving only original vocalist and songwriter Phil May left from the line-up that had recorded Rosalyn, their first single from 1964, though Dick Taylor did make a guest appearance on their 1972 re-visit to the song for Top Gear. Nevertheless, the Parachute album material and the various tracks from singles that make up what they recorded for the BBC on the rest of the first disc show a lively, focused, inventive band very much on top of their live performances, with the new members clearly being allowed full creative input.
Disc One's final track and the first four songs on Disc Two all come from the same concert, recorded in stereo on 9 August 1973 at the Golders Green Hippodrome, for the In Concert programme, introduced by Pete Drummond. Indeed, at a approximately half-an-hour it probably represents the full segment of the Pretty Thing's part of the hour long show, and includes an uncredited performance of Onion Soup/Another Bowl. Most of this featured on their album Freeway Madness, though also included is their cover of Route 66, a song also covered by the Rolling Stones, a group with which the Pretties were often compared in the early days, especially since Dick Taylor had been a member of an early version of that band before they were signed. Onion Soup and Route 66 also featured on a studio session for Bob Harris's Sounds Of The Seventies recorded a fortnight later, and on which they previewed Atlanta, which was to figure on their album Silk Torpedo in 1975.
Two sessions for John Peel recorded at Maida Vale (and not for In Concert or in front of an audience as stated in the booklet notes) in December 1974 and July 1975 conclude the second disc. They mainly again draw from Silk Torpedo, though there are two surprises. The first is an unlikely version of Dudley Moore's instrumental theme tune for the series Not Only But Also, probably led by recent keyboard recruit Gordon Edwards, and the other is a stomping return to Big City, a song written by their manager Jimmy Duncan from their eponymous first album of a decade earlier.
It is fascinating to retrace the rocky road travelled by the band over this eventful decade in these unique and valuable recordings. Some of them come from transcription discs made for World Service broadcasts, without which many of these and other priceless sessions by other bands and artists would not have survived at all. How much more of their BBC work has survived isn't known though there are hints in the booklet that there may be more to come on further releases, which I for one will be keen to explore.
(review filed 27 May 2007)