Sunday, 23 July 2017

"Just For The Record: The Solo Anthology 1969-76" by ANDY ROBERTS (July 2005 Sanctuary/Castle Music 2CD Reissue - Nick Watson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Andy The Revelator..."

Played guitar on Scaffold recordings – sessioned with Jimi Hendrix and Graham Nash - produced by Paul McCartney - toured with Led Zeppelin - had the drummer from Jethro Tull in his band - was involved in four Liverpool Scene albums - another for the short-lived Everyone group - another for the revered Plainsong ensemble and then on top of all that managed four more solo albums of his own by late 1973 (one of which was issued in two different versions). And yet I suspect like most people - you won't have a knacker's nadge as to who ANDY ROBERTS actually is. Which is a damn shame and something we need to rectify pronto. And that's where me and this rather brill little twofer-CD set from Sanctuary's Castle Music come bellowing in...

"Just For The Record..." offers the uninitiated 33-Tracks stretching from the London guitar-players first solo recordings with RCA in 1969 to his stay with cult British Folk-Comedy geezers Grimms in 1976. Included are Six Previously Unreleased tracks from his own archives and quality remasters of tracks from his rare and sought-after Seventies LPs - "Home Grown" (March 1970 on RCA - remixed and reissued in June 1971 on B&C Records), "Nina And The Dream Tree" (October 1971 on Pegasus), "Urban Cowboy" and "The Great Stampede" from March and December 1973 on Elektra Records as well as three tracks from the "Everyone" LP project in January 1971 on B&C Records and a Grimms track from 1976.

The project has had AR's full involvement and uses real tapes - and it shows. There are also guest appearances across the tracks from a wide variety of musical alumni – Ian Matthews, Zoot Money, Tim Renwick of Quiver, Carol Grimes, members of Plainsong, Grimms and Fairport Convention, Bob Sargent of Brinsley Schwarz, members of Liverpool Scene, vocalists Mac and Katie Kissoon and more. And for me especially – one of the big gifts here is the beautiful Acoustic Nick Drake/Roy Harper-ish Folk Rock of the 5-track "Nina And The Dream Tree" LP from 1971 in its Remastered entirety. Yum Yum. There's a ton of detail to get through so onwards and upwards...

UK released 26 July 2005 - "Just For The Record: The Solo Anthology 1969-76" by ANDY ROBERTS on Sanctuary/Castle Music CMEDD 1084 (Barcode 5050749410849) is a 2CD 33-Track Compilation of Remasters with Six Previously Unreleased Tracks that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (74:33 minutes):
1. The Raven
2. Applecross
3. Moths & Lizards In Detroit
4. The One-Armed Boatman And The Giant Squid
5. Creepy John
6. Home Grown
7. You're A Machine
8. John The Revelator
9. Baby, Baby
10. Autumn To May
11. Queen Of The Moonlight World
12. Lonely In The Crowd
13. Radio Lady (US Version)
14. Don't Get Me Wrong
15. Sitting On A Rock
16. Gig Song
17. Richmond
18. Elaine
19. Just For The Record
20. Good Time Charlie
All songs written by Andy Roberts except cover version of "Creepy John" and "Good Time Charlie" (both by Spider John Koerner), "John The Revelator" (Blind Willie Johnson/Traditional) and "Autumn To May" (Peter, Paul And Mary)
Tracks 1, 7, 9 and 18 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
Tracks 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 16 are from his debut solo LP "Home Grown" - first released as a 14-track UK LP in March 1970 on RCA Records SF 8086
Tracks 2, 5, 11, 12 and 19 are his debut solo LP "Home Grown" - remixed and reissued as a 10-track UK LP in June 1971 on Charisma/B&C Records CAS 1034. 
Track 13 is from the "Andy Roberts Is With Everyone" LP by ANDY ROBERTS - released July 1971 in the USA on Ampex Records A 10117
Tracks 14 and 15 are from the "Everyone" LP by EVERYONE - released January 1971 in the UK on B&C Records CAS 1028 (same LP as Track 13 with different mixes)
Track 20 is from his 2nd solo LP "Nina And The Dream Tree" - released October 1971 in the UK on Pegasus Records PEG 5
Track 17 is from his 3rd solo LP "Urban Cowboy" - released March 1973 in the UK on Elektra Records K 42139

Disc 2 (65:16 minutes):
1. Keep My Children Warm
2. I've Seen The Movie
3. 25 Hours A Day/Breakdown/Welcome Home
4. Dream Tree Sequence
5. Poison Apple Lady
6. Urban Cowboy
7. Living In The Hills Of Zion
8. Charlie
9. Big City Tension
10. Home At Last
11. Home In The Sun
12. New Karenski
13. Bluebird Morning
Tracks 1 to 4 are from his 2nd solo LP "Nina And The Dream Tree" - released October 1971 in the UK on Pegasus Records PEG 5
(Using Track 20 on Disc 1 and the above four - you can sequence the entire LP as follows:
Side 1: Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Disc 1 - Side 2: Track 20 from Disc 1 and Track 4 from Disc 2
Tracks 8, 9, 10 and 12 are from his 3rd solo LP "Urban Cowboy" - released March 1973 in the UK on Elektra Records K 42139
Track 11 is from his 4th solo LP "The Great Stampede" - released December 1973 in the UK on Elektra Records K 42151
Track 13 is by GRIMMS and is from their 3rd LP "Sleepers" - released 1976 UK LP on DJM Records DJLPS 470

COLIN HARPER (author of "Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History") penned the superlatively detailed liner notes that condense the man's staggeringly varied career into 12-pages of text. Amidst the reminiscences from Roberts are adverts for Scaffold gigs back in 1965, photos of The Liverpool Scene on stage and at various stages of counter-culture play, colour snaps of AR at The Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970 with Zeppelin and Blodwyn Pig - a trade advert for his support slot with Procol Harum at The Queen Elizabeth Hall - all rounded off with AR and Ian Matthews reunited at the 2000 Cropredy Festival (Fairport Convention). There are the usual reissue credits and a very nice touch is his 7-LP Discography pictured on the inside rear inlay (includes the "Andy Roberts" budget compilation LP on Charisma CS 6).

NICK WATSON did the Remasters at The Town House and even the largely Acoustic Demo recordings sound glorious. As much of the music is very Acoustic based Folk-Rock in its nature - the remasters seem to have made the melodies more open and haunting in ways I hadn't heard before. I also love the way the reissue acknowledges the two entirely different sounding versions of his sought-after debut "Home Grown" - with my poison being the re-done 1971 version on B&C Records. Even though it has less tracks than the RCA original (10 against 14) - along with "Nina And The Dream Tree" - I think both are forgotten gems Seventies soft-rock lovers will love enjoy rediscovering. To the music...

Although primarily remembered as a session-guitarist - Andy Roberts was/is a multi-instrumentalist. Across his four solo LPs (and on the others too) - he plays Acoustic, Electric and Slide Guitar, Dulcimer, Flute, Glockenspiel, Piano, Violin and handles all lead vocals. His debut "Home Grown" has a tangled history. RCA put out a 14-track version in March 1970 while manager Sandy Robertson oversaw a 10-track remix/re-record in 1971 put out by Charisma’s B&C Records. What you notice about the RCA initial pressing is how stripped down and Acoustic tracks like "The One-Armed Boatman And The Giant Squid" are (and hissy too in some places). While "Home Grown" feels like Country-Rock ala Gordon Lightfoot singing about weed and its 'home grown' medicinal properties. The Country feel continues with "Gig Song" where our travelling man spends his life on the motorways of the world. Things improve immeasurably with his funky cover of the Blues/Gospel Traditional "John The Revelator" (one of my fave tracks on the first version). But things go stellar for me with the accomplished sound to the B&C pressing in 1971. There's a coherence to the Cochise and Brinsley Schwarz swagger of "Creepy John" while the near seven-minute "Applecross" is as lovely as Acoustic Rock gets. Continuing with Acoustic - the beautifully recorded two-minute instrumental "Lonely In The Crowd" could be one of those fingerpicking melodic ditties Jimmy Page slipped into Zeppelin LPs. Another is the very Terry Reid instrumental "Just For The Record" - a tune that lets him show off his acoustic note-plucking and harmonics prowess (he'd been touring with Ian Matthews and Richard Thompson and clearly some of that guitar talent had sunk in deep).

The "Nina..." in the title of his second solo LP turns out to Polly James of the popular TV Show "The Liver Birds" whom he was in a serious relationship with at the time - the muse for all of Side 1. Although there are only five tracks - I love the Nick Drake/Roy Harper feel to the songs - sort of "Bryter Layter" meets "Stormcock" although probably not as good as either - but close. Guests Carol Grimes and Charlene Collins (lady vocals) and ace sessionman Ray Warleigh on Alto Saxophone add hugely to the beautiful almost hymnal "Keep The Children Warm" - a song that doesn't sound fay or cloying after 46 years - but genuine and heartfelt. The casually strummed acoustic guitars and tasty piano notes remind me too of Terry Reid keeping it casual and loose on his 1973 set "River". Gerry Conway of Fairport Convention plays the drums on "I've Seen The Movie" - but its the astonishing string-arrangements of Robert Kirby that elevates the song into the magical - like when Elton used to be on "Tumbleweed Connection" and "Madman Across The Water". On the eight-minutes of the three-part "25 Hours A Day/Breakdown/Welcome Home" - Roberts sees his pal Dave Richards of Plainsong and Grimms play Bass and Organ with Backing Vocals provided by the soulful duo of Mac and Katie Kissoon (who would have their in the mid Seventies). That wild guitar solo in the 'Breakdown' section still feels every so slightly out of place - but the mellow soon returns with the very quiet and very pretty "Welcome Home" part.

His cover of Spider John Koerner’s "Good Time Charlie" has a great chug before finally hurtling into a ye-haw hoedown finish. The huge fifteen-minute "Dream Tree Sequence" runs the musical gamut – Folk Rock to begin with – then into a softer Acoustic centre – and a wicked Harper-esque electric guitar change of pace – all aided and abetted by Zoot Money on Organ and the trio of Ian Matthews (Matthews Southern Comfort) and Mac And Katie Kissoon on Backing Vocals. It feels very Plainsong before that band had been invented yet. I can’t help thinking that "Nina And The Dream Tree" is something of a forgotten classic when it comes to 1971 LPs...

For the artist himself – he prefers (as do many) to run to the two Elektra Records LPs he did in 1973 as his musical apex – "Urban Cowboy" in March 1973 and "The Great Stampede" towards Christmas of that year. With a CD reissue of "The Great Stampede" due when they were compiling this twofer – Castle only provide us with one song from the fourth LP which is a damn shame – especially given the playing time that would have allowed for two or three more at least. But what we do get of both is wonderful - with the lovely "Richmond" and "Bluebird Morning" being my faves here. Of the six unreleased – my heart goes to the demo of "Elaine" and the two-minute Dulcimer prettiness of "Baby, Baby".

Andy Roberts essentially became a musician for hire after the mid Seventies even doing a stint with the live variant of Pink Floyd for their 1981 "Wall" concerts. He's released CDs since and joined the Ian Matthews Plainsong reunion band too.

But for many his criminally overlooked singer-songwriter work between 1970 and 1973 define him and explain why albums that used to linger unloved and unwanted in secondhand racks now go for money. Collectors discovered their quality...and you should too. Well done to all involved...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

"Natural Born Bugie: The Immediate Anthology" by HUMBLE PIE (October 2000 Sanctuary/Castle Music 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...A Nifty Little Number..."

I've had this truly fantastic HUMBLE PIE twofer-CD set for over 15 years now and meant to review it many times. Well, no time like July 2017.

Fronted by the mighty Steve Marriott (fresh from the Small Faces) and The Herd's lead singer Peter Frampton - over in the USA especially HUMBLE PIE achieved stadium-filling Rock legend but initially remained something of a subdued force back in their native Blighty.

And that’s where "Natural Born Bugie: The Immediate Anthology" comes rollicking in. This October 2000 Sanctuary Records/Castle Music 2CD reissue features their initial two albums with Andrew Loog Oldham's ill-fated 'Immediate Records' - both issued in the heady days of 1969 - "As Safe As Yesterday Is" in July 1969 and "Town And Country" in late November. Original drummer Jerry Shirley got involved in this reissue helping with the new remixes from original tapes and reminiscences for the liner notes. The set also offers both sides of a stand-alone 7" single (the titular "Natural Born Bugie" backed with the delightfully monikered "Wrist Job") and eleven other stragglers - a very tasty Nine Previously Unreleased Tracks with two further outtakes first issued on a German CD in 1992 (Tracks 7 and 8 on Disc 2). It's a big ole slice of forgotten Pie - so let's get to the many-headed details...

UK released 30 October 2000 (November 2000 in the USA) - "Natural Born Bugie: The Immediate Anthology" by HUMBLE PIE on Sanctuary/Castle Music CMDDD 054 (Barcode 5050159105427) is a 2CD 34-Track Set of Remasters that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (74:00 minutes):
1. Natural Born Bugie
2. Wrist Job
Tracks 1 and 2 are the non-album A&B-sides of their debut UK 7" single released July 1969 on Immediate IM 082

3. Desperation [Side 1]
4. Stick Shift
5. Buttermilk Boy
6. Growing Closer
7. As Safe As Yesterday Is
8. Bang! [Side 2]
9. Alabama '69
10. I'll Go Alone
11. A Nifty Little Number Like You
12. What You Will
Tracks 3 to 12 are their debut studio album "As Safe As Yesterday Is" - released July 1969 in the UK on Immediate Records IMSP 025 and December 1969 in the USA on Immediate IMOCS 101 with the Ian McLagan track "Growing Closer" on Side 1 replaced with the single "Natural Born Bugie". It peaked at No. 34 in the UK, didn't chart USA.

13. Take Me Back [Side 1]
14. The Sad Bag Of Shakey Jake
15. The Light Of Love
16. Cold Lady
17. Down Home Again
18. Ollie Ollie
Tracks 13 to 18 are Side 1 of their 2nd studio album "Town And Country" - released November 1969 in the UK on Immediate Records IMSP 027 (No USA Release). It didn't chart in the UK

Disc 2 (70:34 minutes):
1. Every Mother's Son
2. Heartbeat
3. Only You Can See
4. Silver Tongue
5. Home And Away
Tracks 1 to 5 are Side 2 of their 2nd studio album "Town And Country" - released November 1969 in the UK on Immediate Records IMSP 027 (No USA Release). It didn't chart in the UK

6. I'll Drown In My Own Tears
7. 79th Street Blues
8. Greg's Song (Backing Track)
9. Hello Grass (No Regrets)
10. Road To Ride
11. BTMG's (Instrumental)
12. Zeptoe Through The Tulips
13. Leave No Turn Unstoned (alias Just A Riff) - Instrumental
14. Every Mother's Son (alias Jesse Hardin) ('Drunk Intro' Version)
15. The Sad Bag Of Shaky Jake
16. For Your Love (Studio Jam)
Tracks 6 and 9 to 16 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
Tracks 7 and 8 first appeared on the 1992 German CD reissue of "Town And Country" on Repertoire REP 4231-WY (Barcode 4009910423127)

STEVE MARRIOTT - Lead Vocals, Guitars and Keyboards
PETER FRAMPTON - Lead Vocals, Guitars and Keyboards
GREG RIDLEY - Bass and Vocals
JERRY SHIRLEY - Drums and Percussion

Compiled by a name trusted by collectors JOHN REED - almost all of the Sanctuary/Castle Music CD reissues of the period favoured a fold-out inlay which is not only a tasty treat visually but an in-depth and knowledgeable read too. With liner notes from ROGER DOPSON, JOHN HOLLIER and JERRY SHIRLEY, the text is peppered with rare Euro 45 picture sleeves ("The Sad Bag Of Shaky Jake"), Immediate Records trade adverts and even the photograph of the brown-parcel artwork that featured on the "As Safe As Yesterday Is" sleeve. They've repro'd the rear covers of both LPs, an NME issue that featured HP on the front cover, black and white and colour snaps of the English rockers in full flight on varying stages and an A-Label demo of the band's lone British single on immediate - "Natural Born Bugie" that peaked at No. 4 on the UK singles charts in September 1969.

But the great news is quality sources for the Audio - 'Immediate Remasters' by Sound Recording Technology at St. Ives, mix downs for the previously unreleased material by Jerry Shirley and Andy Jackson at Dave Gilmour's Studios and the whole set Remastered by NICK WATSON at SRT. The first album is essentially a Rocker - whilst the poor-selling No. 2 LP was largely an Acoustic Folky affair - and both sound suitably brill to me – muscle and details galore. To the music...

Marriott wrote both sides of the "Natural Born Bugie" single where some copies credited the track as "Natural Born Woman" after the actual chorus lyric. It's a simple guitar and piano good-time Rock 'n' Roller with that fantastic Bluesy organ sound on "Wrist Job" being my preferred poison. The debut album opens with a storming Steppenwolf cover version - "Desperation" - just one of the John Kay-written highlights on their January 1968 "Steppenwolf" debut LP on ABC/Dunhill Records. By the way both Marriott and Frampton play and sing - you could be forgiven for thinking Humble Pie are a British version of that American juggernaut of a band - a style call I'll take any day of the week. Frampton gets his first credit with the slide guitar of "Stick Shift" whilst also contributing "I'll Be Alone" and a co-write with Marriott on the LP's superb title track "As Safe As Yesterday Is". Things kick into boogie mode with "Buttermilk Boy" where a country boy finds himself at the eager hands of an amorous city gal (this strapping lad will be needing a big breakfast come the morning). Ian McLagan's lone contribution to the LP "Growing Closer" is the kind of Small Faces-sounding harmonica rocker from the "Autumn Stone" period that I love - with Side 1 ending on the epic six-minute title track where Humble Pie's musicality comes to full fruition - what a tune and what a sound they made – minstrel of the night indeed.

The band had left for the USA, Immediate didn't promote the new record with a British single and were themselves weeks away from financial ruin anyway. Also unlike its rocking predecessor - the new album’s direction seemed more Folk than Natural Born Bugie. So when the 2nd Humble Pie album "Town And Country" appeared in late November 1969 – critics were baffled and the public either didn't know of its existence or worse - didn't care (it failed to chart in the UK and wasn't given an equivalent US release). Poor sales and disinterest are born out with my own decades of experience. I worked as a Rarities Buyer in Reckless Records in Islington and Soho for nearly 20 years (one of the best and busiest second-hand record shops in London) and while the A&M Humble Pie albums (especially the popular doubles "Performance" and "Eat It") would regularly show in people's record collections – the first two Immediate albums never did – especially the second "Town And Country".

But I've always loved it – even bought the 2008 Japanese SHM-CD reissue. Re-listening to the genius Sitar shimmy of "The Light Of Love" (could be a 1967 Summer of Love classic) or the Terry Reid cool keyboard groove of "Cold Lady" or the Sticky Fingers "Wild Horses" country-acoustic of "Every Mother's Son" or Frampton's fantastic vocal on "Only You Can See" – and I'm loving this wonderfully accomplished LP all over again. Hell I even like the 'rawk' cover of Buddy Holly's "Heartbeat" that HP make sound like a Small Faces outtake from a particularly boozy night out...

Both 1970's "Humble Pie" and 1971's "Rock On" – their opening gambits on A&M Records – are gems too – and equally difficult to find on original vinyl or for that matter reissue CD (outside of Japan that is). But I dig them all so much. Like so many great bands of the period - Humble Pie made a sound that is 'so' British Rock 'n' Roll and like the Faces and The Stones – engender an affection that is actually warranted and has lasted (now nearly into five decades).

"Natural Born Bugie..." is a brill little twofer-CD that's still available for about eight quid or less and it’s safe to say I’ll be returning to this set of 1969 yesterdays for years to come. Great stuff...

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

"Already Here/Wovoka/Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes" by REDBONE (July 2017 Beat Goes On - 3LPs onto 2CDs Reissue and Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Come And Get Your Love..."

Preceding September 1972's "Already Here" that opens this 3LPs-onto-2CDs 2017 reissue – REDBONE had already clocked up three albums.

First came the double-opener "Redbone" in February 1970, "Potlatch" followed in November 1970 and then came the real breakthrough LP - "Message From A Drum" in February 1972. It contained the monster hit "Witch Queen Of New Orleans" - a smash for the Native American four-piece as far back as May 1971 (the LP didn't arrive until early 1972). With the same track list but different artwork - the British variant of the "Message From A Drum" LP was actually renamed "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans" for UK audiences after the Epic Records single became their first charter in Blighty as well – peaking at an unprecedented No. 2 in late 1971.

But to the matter in hand - what you get here in July 2017 are studio albums number four, five and six from 1972, 1973 and 1974 remastered and presented in the usual classy manner by England's BGO (Beat Goes On). In fact most people will only really know Redbone through the movies - the American actor Chris Pratt using their Seventies smash "Come And Get Your Love" on his Walkman as he dances through an alien planet landscape in the opening sequence of the huge "Guardians Of The Galaxy" movie in 2014 - giving the song and the forgotten group another lease of life.

Their music and sound fluctuated from their initial 1970/1971 Red Indian Swamp Rock to 1972-1974 War-like Rock-Funk, Seventies Pop and even Santana-esque Soulful flourishes and Return To Forever nine-minute whig-outs. But as the LPs progressed and especially after the huge success of "Come And Get Your Love" - you can hear the band leaving behind the interesting experimentation of old and instead reach for that 'popular music for the masses' handbook and most times come up trumps (though not all). Despite an inevitable commercialization of their unique Native American Funk-Pop on the weak third album presented here - this CD-twofer still makes for a hugely enjoyable listen overall and also has you think – here is a band that and a sound that genuinely deserves 'rediscovery'. To the details…drum rolls please...

UK released Friday, 14 July 2017 (21 July 2017 in the USA) - "Already Here/Wovoka/Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes" by REDBONE on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1277 (Barcode 5017261212771) offers 3LPs Remastered onto 2CDs and play out as follows:

Disc 1 (52:52 minutes):
1. Fais-Do [Side 1]
2. Motivation
3. Power (Prelude To A Means)
4. Speakeasy
5. Condition Your Condition
6. Where Is Your Heart [Side 2]
7. Good Enough For Jesus
8. Poison Ivy
9. Already Here (Brujo)
Tracks 1 to 9 are their fourth studio album "Already Here" - released September 1972 in the USA on Epic Records KE 31598 and January 1973 in the UK on Epic Records S EPC 65072.

10. Wovoka [Side 1]
11. Sweet Lady Of Love
12. Someday (A Good Song)
13. Liquid Teeth
14. We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee
Tracks 10 to 14 are Side 1 of their fifth studio album "Wovoka" - released November 1973 in the USA on Epic Records KE 32462 and November 1973 in the UK on Epic EPC 65500.

Disc 2 (52:32 minutes):
1. Come And Get Your Love [Side 2]
2. Day To Day Life
3. Clouds In My Sunshine
4. 23rd And Mad
Tracks 1 to 4 are Side 2 of their fifth studio album "Wovoka" - released November 1973 in the USA on Epic Records KE 32462 and November 1973 in the UK on Epic EPC 65500.

5. One More Time [Side 1]
6. Suzi Girl
7. Only You And Rock And Roll
8. Blood, Sweat And Tears
9. Cookin' With D'Redbone
10. (Beaded Dreams Through) Turquoise Eyes [Side 2]
11. Beautiful Illusion
12. Interstate Highway 101
13. I'll Never Stop Loving You
14. Moon When Four Eclipse
Tracks 5 to 14 are their sixth studio album "Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes" - released October 1974 in the USA on Epic Records KE 33053 and October 1974 in the UK on Epic Records EPC 80429

LOLLY VEGAS - Lead Guitar and Lead Vocals
TONY BELLAMY - Rhythm Guitar and Vocals
PAT VEGAS - Bass and Vocals
ARTURO PEREZ - Drums and Percussion on "Already Here" only
BUTCH RILLERA - Drums and Backing Vocals on "Wovoka" and "Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes"

RED RHODES of BAMBOO - Steel Guitar on "Speakeasy" on the "Already Here" LP
TERRY FURLONG of THE GRASS ROOTS - Slide Guitar on "Fais-Do" on the "Already Here" LP
ELIJAH HORN SECTION - Brass and Horns on the "Already Here" LP
JOE SAMPLE of The Crusaders - Piano and Vibraphone on the "Wovoka" LP
SHIRLEY WILLIAMS - Backing Vocals on the "Wovoka" LP
BONNIE BRAMLETT, MERRY CLAYTON and CLYDIE KING - Backing Vocals on the "Beaded Dreams..." LP

The outer card slipcase lends these BGO reissues a very classy feel and the 20-page booklet certainly lays on the credits, photos and musical assessments hard and thick. NEIL DANIELS provides the affectionate and enthusiastic liner notes which are dedicated to Lolly Vegas and Tony Bellamy - principal songwriters in the band who sadly passed in 2010 and 2009 respectively. ANDREW THOMPSON once again does the beautifully rendered Remasters from real tapes - great sound that lifts up every song. To the music...

Across three whole albums there is only one cover version – all other material are original Lolly and Pat Vegas compositions with some contributions from Tony Bellamy – an impressive feat. Even the 'you can look but you better not touch' cover of the Lieber/Stoller-penned Coasters nugget "Poison Ivy" gets a radical Funk-up so you're not hearing another slavish R&B interpretation. The "Already Here" album retains much of that 'War' funk ethic with the nine-minute title track being a sort of Return To Forever Jazz Fusion whig-out that's actually a little indulgent. But tracks like the Funky "Motivation" and the 'get your act together' message song "Condition Your Condition" would do The Isley Brothers proud over on T-Neck Records. The Pat Vegas ballad "Power (Prelude To A Means)" is really pretty and with its Philly strings comes on like The Manhattans or even Bobby Womack with a message for the ladies that will benefit them entirely. The other worthy entry is the catchy and Soul-lovely Lolly Vegas shuffler "Where Is Your Heart". It's amazing that Epic chose the lesser "Fais-Do" as a lead off 7" single in August 1972 when I can't help feel this tune had Soul and Pop crossover appeal.

After the over-the-top 'Brujo' fusion work out of the title track to "Already Here" - the deliberately commercial "Wovoka" LP is a Rock-funky album coming from the 'land of spirits'. The title track is a fabulous 'dancing' funker that's got its Saxophone and Guitar heart firmly in the 'Witch Queen' corner. Another shuffler comes with the very catchy "Sweet Lady Of Love" and again this could be The Delfonics or The Dells getting their collective vocal teeth into a deeply Soulful groove. You can hear why someone thought it was a good idea to release "We Were All Wounded At Wounded Knee" as a 45 but it feels like a poor man's 'buffalo' and 'reservation' follow-up to "Witch Queen" that never really ignites no matter how worthy its historically uncomfortable lyrics are. Better is the joint Vegas/Bellamy song of "Day To Day Life" where he and his common-law wife keep on rocking. They go native chanting on the equally impressive snake rattles of "Clouds In My Sunshine" – a strange mixture of Native American vibes mixed with the second half of the song that goes pure Philly Soul. The near seven-minutes of "23rd And Mad" comments on city life as it funks through the ‘great boom boom boom’ where all the girls are sexy temptations and the cafes are full of dudes and pimps.

But as good as all they are – the album belongs to one song. At five minutes and one second - the full album cut of "Come And Get Your Love" starts with an almost Gospel refrain before it goes into that familiar opener (edited from the 7” single). It’s a damn shame BGO didn't include the 45-cut of 3:39 minutes that most people are familiar with from the Radio, Commercials and Films as a Bonus Track. But it doesn't stop the Remaster of this fabulous slice of Seventies joy from being a guilty pleasure I’m sure many listeners will return to more than once on this reissue. A billion-dollar movie can't be wrong. "Come And Get Your Love" indeed...

Reaching No. 174 on the US Top 200 in early November 1974 - "Beaded Dreams Through Turquoise Eyes" failed to capitalize on the "Wovoka" No. 66 chart placing the year previous. "One More Time" has clever socially-conscious lyrics about not being able to pay the bills and people saying they can kick that itch in their arms - but it gets lost in some obvious "Come And Get My Love" identikit melodies that aren't as good as the previous winner. The too-poppy "Suzi Girl" feels much the same. Things improve with the hooky "Only You And Rock And Roll" - a clavinet-funky little dancer with strings and an eye on the singles chart. "Blood, Sweat And Tears" is a message song while the Sly & The Family Stone funky "Cookin' With D'Redbone" tries hard and just about gets away with it. Much of Side 2 is the same ever so slightly syrupy material with the Stylistics dancer "I'll Never Stop Loving You" even being a possible Northern Soul discovery.

To sum up - the first album "Already Here" is very good, "Wovoka" a total sweetie and that third "Beaded Dreams..." set lets the side down a lot - a victim of chasing chart success without having the tunes to achieve sales. Still with the great audio and fab presentation - fans will need to own it and newcomers will find much to enjoy. Nice one...

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

"Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" on BLU RAY – A Review by Mark Barry of the 2007 Sidney Lumet Film...

"…Everything's Wonderful…"

When LED ZEPPELIN released "In Through The Out Door" in 1979 (their last studio album) - the famous design company HIPGNOSIS provided them with six different album covers hidden behind outer brown paper bags (the sleeves were identified as A, B, C, D, E and F on the spines). The wordless cover shot is a photo of a man sat on a barstool lighting a piece of paper with a match while five other people watch him do it - a barman, drinkers, a hooker in the corner over by the jukebox etc. So each of the six sleeves is the man lighting the piece of paper - but from their viewpoint - front (barman), sideways (drinker), behind (hooker)...

I mention all of this because Sidney Lumet's 2007 "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" is the cinematic equivalent. The bulk of the film is a jewellery heist that goes disastrously wrong - but told from different angels and at different times. We get the day of the robbery, three days before the robbery, hours after the robbery. And each time we revisit a scene - we see the same stuff and people - but with more information presented to us that shows how and why the whole thing came apart - and more importantly - the truly horrible consequences that follow on from lies and greed.

30-something New Yorker's Andrew and Hank Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) have major financial problems. Hank (Andy's younger brother) has a daughter with his embittered and estranged wife Martha (Amy Ryan) who keeps demanding alimony payments and trips to The Lion King that he simply can't afford. Andy is adrift - his job - his love life - his kid - and his general lack of spunk towards people and decisions are quickly making him look like and feel like a loser. His older and considerably cockier brother Andy works for a real estate company and gives the illusion of wealth and control. But he's fiddling client accounts and regularly raiding the cash box to feed his recreational habit with a local dealer who puts heroin in his arm in a plush apartment and asks no questions (permanently dressed in a silk nightgown - he isn't interested anyway). Then there's Andy's sexy but slightly unhinged girlfriend Gina (Marisa Tomei) who is 'doing' his brother Hank every other Thursday in an ménage-a-trois smug Andy knows nothing about.

But Andy has a foolproof solution to everyone's financial woes with a whopping $600,000 payoff. They do over a small 'mom & pop operation' in a Westchester suburb on a Saturday morning when its quiet and elderly shop-hand Doris opens up at 0800 a.m. No guns, no problems, insurance pays up after they're gone - the only hitch is that it belongs to Charles and Nanette Hanson (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) - their own Father and Mother. Hank is amazed at such a suggestion at first - but soon money is bearing down on him and they commit. But Hank stupidly ropes in a barroom lowlife called Billy (Brian F. O'Byrne) because he doesn't have the guts to do the actual robbery himself (as requested by Andy). Bobby turns up on the day playing thrash metal in their rental car to get psyched up and packing a gun. And instead of Doris - mum Nanette opens Hanson Jewellers. But Mum isn’t about to cower in the corner...

The legendary Director of 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Q&A, Network and Dog Day Afternoon - doesn't do 'nice'. Characters in this unfolding melodrama are mean and often unrelenting in their arrogance - and of course there's a price to pay for that when Daddy Charles (who at first seemed like a pushover) becomes obsessed with finding out 'who' so callously took his beloved wife from him.

Brilliantly written by Kelly Masterson - this is not an easy watch - its tone is brutal, nervy, unsettling and dark - and it pointedly refuses to go to redemptive for the ending (all the more realistic for not doing so). But what makes the movie tick is an astonishing troop of actors who could knock down walls with their skills. Principal among these is of course the recently passed Philip Seymour Hoffman whose scenes with a syringe hanging out of his chunky body lying on a bed now have a deeply sad and poignant feel to them. Not to be outdone - Ethan Hawke pours on serious acting chops throughout too - as does Marisa Tomei who bravely spends a lot of the movie conspicuously naked in long and awkward scenes with both Hoffman and Hawke. Michael Shannon and Brian B. O'Byrne only add to their huge portfolio of class work. Adding to all this quality is the powerhouse talent of Albert Finney who has to only sit at a table looking down -and say the words "Let Her Go" (about his wife) and he has you in tears.

Despite his advanced years - Lumet embraced digital technology with a vengeance because (as he explains in the Extras) he could get the 'eye-to-screen' visual quality and style he wanted. I mention this because filmed entirely in HD - the BLU RAY picture quality is fabulous throughout. The razor-sharp scenes filmed on sunny/leafy New York streets offer up a light and colour palette that is beautiful. It's also defaulted to 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio so fills your entire screen. AUDIO is English 51.1 DTS-HD and English 5.1 Dolby Digital while the lone SUBTTLE is English SDH.

The Documentary "How The Devil Was Made" includes interviews with the Director Sidney Lumet, Producers Michael Cerenzie and Brian Linse, Actors Hoffman, Hawke, Tomei (and others) and location footage.

"You used to have the world by the I'm not sure you've got any..."  - arrogant Andy says to Hank as he pitches him the heist in a bar.

It may not be everyone's idea of Heaven but give this acidic little monster 10 minutes of your time...before...

PS: the USA disc is REGION A LOCKED so won't play on our machines - avoid that.

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

INDEX - Artists, Albums, Record Labels, CD Remaster Engineers, Liner Notes Authors, Links etc