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Sunday, 5 July 2015

"Anutha Zone/Duke Elegant" by DR. JOHN (2015 Edsel/Rhino 2CD Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Soulful Warrior..."

When New Orleans voodoo man Dr. John released "Anutha Zone" on CD in August 1998 - people applauded its definite return to slinky form for the 'blackest white man' in the business (as legendary Atlantic Records Producer used to call him). Mac Rebennack (his real name) followed it in February 2000 with a tribute album to his musical hero jazzman calling it "Duke Elegant: Dr. John Performing The Music Of Duke Ellington". And that's where this clever 2CD reissue comes in...

UK released February 2015 – Edsel EDSK 7076 (Barcode 740155707637) is a 2CD set housed in a snazzy card slipcase (Disc 1 is 14 tracks at 56:54 minutes, Disc 2 is 12 tracks at 66:38 minutes). There is no remastering here (absolutely no need) - but there is a beautifully laid out 24-page booklet which features liner notes by PAUL MYERS and a new 2014 interview with the great man himself. Inbetween we get full musician credits and reproductions of the gorgeous artwork (the Ellington set is done in old style 78s wording and label bags).

PAUL WELLER guests on Guitar and Vocals on the cover of John Martyn's "Solid Air” classic "I Don't Wanna Know" as well as accompanying Carleen Anderson on "Party Hellfire" (vocals). Dr. John’s house band of Bobby Broom on Guitar is bolstered to huge effect by Hugh McCracken's additional slide menace on the funkily sly "Ki Ya Gris Gris". Dr. John's rolling Fats Domino-influenced piano features throughout as does his great gris-gris vocals - while Ronnie Cuber's superb Saxophone fills are never far away ("Anutha Zone", "Voices In My Head" and the fabulously sloppy "I Like Ki Yoka"). Funk lovers will eat up the chugging shuffle of "Why Come" – an album highlight.

The "Duke Elegant" set from 2000 (released to tie-in with Ellington's birth centenary) splits listeners and fans into Marmite groups of "I love it" or "I loath it" – personally I’m of the first persuasion but can understand both camps. It opens with "On The Wrong Side Of The Railroad Tracks" – a beautifully smoochy piano version and two things hit you – the great arrangement that makes an old song feel new – and the stunning Production values. The album was self-produced but mastered by top Sound Engineer GREG CALBI whose audiophile work with Supertramp, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney has garnished huge praise over the decades. This album sounds awesome – his backing band being Bobby Broom on Guitars, David Barard on Bass, Merman Ernest III on Drums with Ronnie Cuber guesting on Saxophone (he collectively calls them "The Lower 9-11").

Things get slap-bass funky with "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'" where Dr. John comes on more like the Isley Brothers than Professor Longhair. He adopts the same Brothers Johnson funkified arrangement to the old standard "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and in this case – I’m not so sure if it works (one for the purists to pull out tufts of hair or what they’ve got left of it). More successful is the pulsating R&B New Orleans Piano romp he radically applies to "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" – I love it (others will not). But my fave has always been his lounge-lizard slouch through "Mood Indigo" where he sounds like some barroom drawl at 2 in the morning when he’s just pleasing himself.


A clever pairing of albums - presented in beautiful sound and quality packaging – nice one Edsel and a must for Mac Rebennack fans..

“Creole Moon/N’Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D’Udda” by DR. JOHN (2015 Edsel/Rhino 2CD Reissue) - A Review by MARK BARRY...




"...Dear Old Southland..."

This is the 2nd 2CD set reissue by Edsel of the UK in 2015 covering DR. John's later output – namely the "Creole Moon" album from October 2001 and the June 2004 set "N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda" - both CDs being tributes by the Gris Gris Man to his spiritual home and beloved city of NEW ORLEANS.

UK released February 2015 - Edsel EDSK 7077 (Barcode 740155707736) has 2CDs in a card slipcase with a new 32-page colour booklet – Disc 1 being the 14-track "Creole Moon" album (68:31 minutes) while Disc 2 gives us the 18-tracks of "N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda" album (68:25 minutes). The other 2CD reissue in this series is "Anutha Zone" from 1998 and "Duke Elegant" from 2000 on Edsel EDSK 7076 (again reissued February 2015).

Like the "Anutha Zone/Duke Elegant" double - there is no remastering here (absolutely no need) - but there is a beautifully laid out 32-page booklet which features liner notes by PAUL MYERS and a new 2014 interview with the great man himself. Inbetween we get full musician credits, track-by-track breakdowns by Dr. John (on the Creole Moon album) and a huge range of impressive Guest Musicians – all clearly enjoying themselves.

The backing band for 2001's "Creole Moon" is what he called THE LOWER 9-11 – the group he had on "Duke Elegant" and in fact much of "Anutha Zone". They are Bobby Broom on Guitars, David Barard on Bass, Merman Ernest III on Drums with Ronnie Cuber on Saxophone.

DAVID "Fathead" NEWMAN plays Guest Saxophone on "Creole Moon", "You Swore" and "One 2 A.M. Too Many", virtuoso Slide Guitar player SONNY LANDRETH contributes to "Georgianna", "Monkey And Baboon" and "Take What I Can Get" while the legendary horn players FRED WESLEY of THE JB'S (James Brown's Backing Band) along with ERIC TRAUB arrange and play on "Food For Thot", "Litenin'", "One 2 A.M. Too Many" and "Money And Baboon".

The second New Orleans tribute set "N'Awlinz..." features a dizzying array of guests - duet vocals by MAVIS STAPLES on "When The Saints Go Marching In" and "Lay My Burden Down", CYRIL NEVILLE of THE NEVILLE BROTHERS sings on "Marie Laveau" and "Chicken La Pas", WILLIE TEE plays Keyboards on "Dis, Dat Or D'Udda", "Chicken La Pas" and "Shango Tango", the lifelong Fats Domino sideman DAVE BARTHOLOMEW plays Trumpet on "The Monkey" with Spoken Word by EDDIE BO. Further infusions come from RANDY NEWMAN who sings duet vocals on "I Ate Up The Apple Tree". Country and Blues legends WILLIE NELSON and SNOOKS EAGLIN sing and play guitars on "You Ain't Such A Much" – Blues Men B.B. KING and CLARENCE 'Gatemouth' BROWN sing and play Viola on "Hen Layin' Rooster" while B.B. KING and WILLIE NELSON double up as vocal buddies with the good Doctor on "Time Marches On".

The audio on these CD albums is exceptional – the slink and cool of "Marie Laveau" slithers out of your speakers in its New Orleans way for 6:50 minutes with The Creolettes providing soft-sung backing vocals – not too brash – not too forced – it's just perfectly judged. Beauty comes at you in the shape of the instrumental "Dear Old Southland" where Dr. John plays piano accompanied only by the lone trumpet of Nicholas Payton – it's a simple song that feels monumental and moving at one and the same time.

Both of these Edsel twofers have reminded me of why I loved this guy so much in the Sixties and Seventies – that mooch – that sly rhythm – that unique set of pipes and turn of phrase. Gorgeous sound, quality music and beautifully presented - recommended gumbo indeed...

Saturday, 4 July 2015

"Orange Is The New Black - SEASON 3" on BLU RAY and DVD - A Review Of The Netflix TV Series Aired 2015...Amongst The Best TV Ever...





I can’t stop thinking about 2015's Season 3 of Orange Is The New Black.

If this amazing Netflix TV program continues on like this into Season 4 or even Season 5 – it will surely join the rarefied pantheon of American super television occupied by the likes of Breaking Bad, The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Homeland, Lost, Frasier, Rescue Me, The Newsroom, Girls, Northern Exposure, Boss, House Of Cards and Nurse Jackie (to name but a few) - as being the greatest television ever made. With quality like this on our goggleboxes - is it any wonder that fans have become disillusioned with movies and stopped going to the flicks – not wanting to be fleeced anymore by endless rehashes and safe bets that do the job but little else.  

“Orange” is ballsy, it's brave, it’s funny and it's gross too - every single episode taking chances and risks that British TV seems incapable of in 2015 because of the politically correct brigade and their self-serving gutlessness. This program relishes the unspoken and rarely touched upon subject matters - consistently going to awkward and embarrassing places. And yet it still manages to be human – to be warm – regularly stroking your intelligence with hurt, pathos and hard truths that few programs go anywhere near.

And it’s not popcorn prison either – not a laugh a minute for the sake of it. Like many I’ve become sickened and disillusioned with the sadistic slime of torture porn that now seems to regularly slither over much of Game Of Thrones - otherwise ruining a genuinely great TV Series. And although set in the brutalising world of American Prison for Women - “Orange Is The New Black” is different in its depiction of cruelty precisely because it goes in deep. The writers seem determined to explore what makes these women what they are and how the system affects them. Of course prison corrupts and dehumanises a soul (even if they are felons) but inside this pressure cooker, this cage of regret, grinding routines and demeaning tasks – the women develop bonds, friendships and even love. They pour over their pasts, their mistakes, and especially the people who claimed to be loved ones – parents, brothers and sisters. Painful truths are arrived at, mistakes acknowledged and the world beyond the fence longed for (a precious second chance). There’s sex, there’s no sex, there’s contact and there’s no contact – it’s a strange world of both. Inmates and Guards - each side struggles to maintain some semblance of humanity in a situation that sees both pitched against each other and a corporate ownership that only cares about quarterly share dividends.

You also have to talk about the staggering cast drawn from every ethnic background that makes up the stewing pot of American society. The opening credits feature extreme close-ups of a long line of women’s skins – ordinary, marked, spotty, tattooed, studded, pretty, scarred...all facing outwards like a mugshot to Ronnie Spektor’s aggressive theme song “You Have Time”. But even after that’s done the lead-in scenes will have maybe 10 to 15 more names come up on screen – almost all of them unknown to us. “Orange Is The New Black” has a massive ensemble-cast that is an Emmy-winning wonder to behold – so many new actors and actresses given amazing material that allows them all to shine.

Locked up in the fictional Litchfield Prison - Principal Leads Taylor Schilling as ‘Piper’ the preppy socialite caught carrying drugs for a street-savvy friend and lover Alex (Laura Prepon) and Kate Mulgrew as the butch Russian chef ‘Red’ who rules with a rod of iron - anchor each episode. But it’s their bunkmates that keep you watching – the mentally unhinged Crazy Eyes who writes space porn and is vulnerable to manipulation by prison bullies and voices in her head (a career making role for Uzo Aduba – won the Golden Globe), the expletive-spouting rehabilitating druggy redhead Nicky (stunning work from Natasha Lyonne), Burset the crossing-dressing hairdresser trying to hold onto a gender-confused son (a stunningly brave part by LaVerne Cox), the soft-hearted Dayanara playing by the beautiful Dashca Polanco, a simple Dominican women who falls pregnant to a guard who professes love but finds it difficult stepping up to the plate. Then there's the men who are all brilliant but special mention should go to Michael Harney as the plumb soft-spoken guidance counsellor Sam Healy who struggles with a cold Russian bride at home and his feelings for the inmate Red within - and Nick Sandow who brilliantly layers his flawed but essentially decent Prison Warden Joe Caputo - a middle-aged underachiever trying desperately to keep a lid on everything and everyone (including his staff's jobs). There's so many more...we'd be here for weeks...

The back-story for each inmate and each member of staff is intricate, well thought out and wholly believable. As the episodes go by and the tragedies multiply – you’re shown crappy housing projects, poor role models, no hoper cities and the easy ways to money. The textbook upbringings that virtually guarantee a fresh supply of new inmates in yellow are shown in graphic and uncompromising detail. And the music... There’s usually a singular song placed in each episode that gets woven in as a theme/backdrop. The choices run the full gamut of genres – Rock, Pop, Schlock, Theatre and Blues – often picking tunes that seem the most unlikeable candidate – yet they work (Blue Oyster Cult, Les Miserables, Foreigner). And that joyous scene by the lake in Episode 13 will stay with you...

First aired in the USA in July 2013 and written by Piper Kerman with a huge team of contributors who deserve all the accolades going - “Orange is The New Black” makes you care and think and laugh and wince and hurt – all at the same time. It’s also showing that women of all shapes, sizes, colours and backgrounds can bring in Hollywood type box-office numbers because the public is frankly sick of shallow and longs for substance like this.

“...I want to know what love is...” - the lyrics to that Foreigner ballad plays as the newbees arrive for the first day of incarceration - that look on their faces - lives wasted - maybe a second chance somewhere in the future...

“...I want you to show me...” – the singer continues. 

Well “Orange Is The New Black” does...

Friday, 3 July 2015

“Enlightenment” by VAN MORRISON (2008 Polydor/Exile Expanded CD Remaster) - A Review By Mark Barry...



"…See Me Through…" 

“Enlightenment” is part of the 2nd wave of Van Morrison remastered reissues to hit the shops in 2008 (see full list below and cancellations). UK released Monday 30 June 2008 in the UK (1 July 2008 in the USA) on Polydor/Exile 5308763 (Barcode 600753087633) - it boasts an upgraded booklet and 2 pretty good bonus tracks for the first time. Here’s the enlightening details (58:52 minutes):

1. Real Real Gone
2. Enlightenment
3. So Quiet In Here
4. Avalon Of The Heart 
5. See Me Through 
6. Youth Of 1000 Summers [Side 2]
7. In The Days Before Rock ’n’ Roll 
8. Start All Over Again
9. She’s My Baby 
10. Memories 
Tracks 1 to 10 make up the original album “Enlightenment” – it was released October 1990 in the UK and USA on Polydor 847 100-1/4/2  (LP, MC and CD) 

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased): 
11. Enlightenment (Alternate Take)
12. So Quiet In Here (Alternate Take)  

The upgraded booklet has the lyrics to the two Alternate Takes after the rest of the album, session notes and beneath the see-through inlay is a photo that matches the original artwork. Disappointingly, there’s no new liner notes, no interview, no photos – but the really greats news is the Remaster - the original analogue tapes have been 96K/24Bit Remastered for this release and the sound quality is superlative - much better than the very quiet sound that came off the original 1990 CD. I’ve waited 18 years to hear “See Me Through” in this sound quality – and it was worth the wait. 

The bonus tracks are a mixed bag; the alternate version of “Enlightenment” is heavy on the vocals and the keyboards – while Georgie Fame’s tinkering is lovely, Van’s vocals are very forced and it sounds like what it is – a run-through – a take trying to find the true soul of the song. Its good but nowhere near as good as the finished take. “So Quite In Here” fares better – delicate, genuinely lovely in places – it deserves the moniker of ‘bonus track’.

As an album “Enlightenment” is “Avalon Sunset” Part 2 and a firm fan favourite for that reason. The jaunty “Real Real Gone” was an ill-advised opening single where it would have been better to release the album’s true masterpiece “See Me Through” - a gorgeous almost spiritual song that is impossibly moving and not just clever and hooky. Another peaceful tune (true to its name ) is “So Quiet In Here”. Searching for the mystical groove “Avalon Of The Heart” benefits from lovely piano work and brass fills. Side 2 of the record opens with the zippy religious tribute song “Youth Of 1000 Summers” where Van sings “in my soul” with real conviction - Georgie Fame adding so much to the backing. In a co-write with Paul Durcan “In The Days Before Rock ’n’ Roll” has his strange vocal and dodgy rhymes open the song before it goes into a typical Van shuffle but any chance of the song taking are ruined by his dreadful lyrics. But we’re saved by one of the album’s prettier ditties “She’s My Baby” which hankers back to the simplicity of the “Moondance” songs. Sweet and to the point, it feels like a lost album gem. Lovely stuff…

So a good Van the Man album given a boost by an excellent remaster.  Recommended like a walk on a warm day in the forest…

PS: Van Morrison Remasters - Released and CANCELLED
Like "A Sense Of Wonder" - 28 other Van Morrison albums were to be reissued in remastered form throughout 2008 and into early 2009. Each contained upgraded booklets, previously unreleased material and all were pitched at mid-price. The first two batches were released (are now deleted, I've reviewed most) but the second two batches never appeared (and without explanation). The following lists are by way of info:

January 2008 (7 titles)
Tupelo Honey (1971), It's Too Late To Stop Now (2 CD Live Set) (1974),
Wavelenght (1979), Into The Music (1979), A Sense Of Wonder (1985),
Avalon Sunset (1989) and Back On Top (1999)

June 2008 (8 titles)
Veedon Fleece (1974), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983), Live At The Grand Opera House, Belfast (1984), No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), Enlightenment (1990), A Night In San Francisco (2CD Live Set) (1994) and The Healing Game (1997)

September 2008 (7 titles) - CANCELLED
Saint Dominic's Preview (1972), A Period Of Transition (1977), Beautiful Vision (1982), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Hymns To The Silence (2CD Studio Set) (1991), How Long Has This Been Going On (Live At Ronnie Scott's) (1995), Tell Me Something - The Songs Of Mose Allison (1996)

January 2009 (8 titles) - CANCELLED
Hard Nose The Highway (1973), Irish Heartbeat (with The Chieftains) (1988),
Too Long In Exile (1993), Days Like This (1995), The Story Of Them (2CD Set) (1999), The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast (with Lonnie Donegan & Chris Barber) (2000), Down The Road (2002) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)

PPS:
I've review most of Batches 1 and 2, the 2CD DELUXE EDITION of "Moondance" and the superb 60ts set "The Bang Masters"...

“A Sense Of Wonder” by VAN MORRISON (2008 Polydor/Exile Expanded CD Remaster) - A Review By Mark Barry…



“…Gravy Rings, Wagon Wheels, Barnbracks, Snowballs…”

Originally released in February 1985 - "A Sense Of Wonder" followed after 1984s purely functional live set "Grand Opera House, Belfast" - and I remember was greeted at the time as a bit of a let down. "Wonder" occupies a three-star place in Van's five star ranks for most fans - but this new 2008 Remaster has gorgeous sound and two excellent bonus tracks to recommend it.In fact - on hearing the album afresh and with its spangly new additions - the whole shebang is better than I remember. Here are the gravy rings, wagon wheels, barnbracks and snowballs…

UK released 28 January 2008 (February 2008 in the USA) - "A Sense Of Wonder" by VAN MORRISON on Polydor/Exile 537 545-2 (Barcode 731453754522) pans out as follows:

1. Tore Down A La Rimbaud
2. Ancient Of Days
3. Evening Meditation
4. The Master’s Eyes
5. What Would I Do
6. A Sense Of Wonder [Side 2]
7. Boffyflow And Spike
8. If You Only Knew
9. Let The Slave (Incorporating The Price Of Experience)
10. A New Kind Of Man
Tracks 1 to 10 make up the original album "A Sense Of Wonder" - released 1984 in the UK on Mercury Records MERH 54 and in the USA on Mercury 822 895-1.

BONUS TRACKS (Previously Unreleased):
11. Crazy Jane On God (Alternate Take)
12. A Sense Of Wonder (Alternate Take)

As you can see from the track list above - "Crazy Jane On God" was never on the original "A Sense Of Wonder" album. It first appeared as an outtake on the 2CD retrospective set "The Philosopher's Stone - The Unreleased Tapes" from 1998 (all previously unreleased tracks). But like that 1998 version - this 'different' take has gorgeous sound quality and is a superlative bonus track.

The alternate version of the album title track fares less well though. It's easy to see why this 'starter' version of "A Sense Of Wonder" was left in the can. It's done in a slightly faster pace and at 6:08 minutes is shorter than the final album cut of 7:11 minutes. It's a good version of the song but ‘missing something’. That something was the truly fantastic contribution the Irish Folk-Rock band MOVING HEARTS made to the finished version. They’re not on this alternate take and it shows. What we do get is the lovely organ playing of JOHN ALLAIR featured throughout. With regard to the bonuses - I'm always wary of outtakes and alternate versions as extra material on reissue CDs that act as a cheap way of suckering fans into purchasing more of the same. But these two choices are inspired for the most part - and an absolute must-have for Van lovers.

The album contains two instrumentals - "Boffyflow And Spike" is fun - but "Evening Meditation" is much better - harking back to the stunning moody Celtic Mystique instrumentals on "Inarticulate Speech of the Heart" from 1983. But the album's spiritual masterpiece is the title track "A Sense Of Wonder” with Moving Hearts as backing musicians (they're also on "Boffyflow & Spike"). DAVY SPILLANE - Moving Hearts' virtuoso Uilleann pipe player (has over 8 solo albums on CD - check out "Shadow Hunter") adds truly heart-touching flourishes to the track while BIANCO THORNTON and PAULINE LAZANO on backing vocals perfectly match his playing (their vocals feature on six of the album's ten tracks). To this day the song brings blubbering tears to my Irish goggleboxes - Van at his best.

There are two covers on the album - "What Would I Do?" is a Ray Charles slow love song and is superbly and warmly delivered - but the R'n'B/Jazzy cover of Mose Allison's "If You Only Knew" seems out of place here. Van sounds like Georgie Fame on a very bad day and no matter how much he may love Allison's catalogue - this isn't a great song nor an inspired delivery of it. More successful is "Let The Slave” - Van's plaintive music put to the wonderful words of William Blake's "The Price Of Experience", with Bianca and Pauline Lazano once again adding great backing vocals. An overlooked gem called "A New Kind Of Man" finishes the album with both PEE WEE ELLIS and BOB DOLL providing lovely brass work in the background.

The upgraded booklet contains all the lyrics in the same 'leafy' style as the original vinyl album inner bag and reproduces the bewildering "Boffyflow And Spike" story, also on the inner sleeve. There's a brief list of who sessioned on what, but disappointingly there's no history of where the album fits in, no new liner notes, nor any photographs.  However, a nice touch is the lyrics to the alternate takes - the record company could have lazily left out "Crazy" and reproduced the 'same' lyrics for "Wonder" at the end of the booklet, but closer examination shows they haven't. The lyrics for "Crazy" are provided as are the free-forming words of the alternate "Wonder" - a nice touch.

But the best bit is definitely the SOUND. The original analogue master tapes have been 96K/24 Bit digitally remastered by Tim Young at Metropolis Mastering in London - and the sound is BEAUTIFULLY CLEAR and WARM - making you reassess every song and the superb musicianship on each as a wonderful 'new' surprise.

All in all - a quality reissue with a superb new remaster and an album I urge fans to return too…

PS: Van Morrison Remasters - Released and CANCELLED
Like "A Sense Of Wonder" - 28 other Van Morrison albums were to be reissued in remastered form throughout 2008 and into early 2009. Each contained upgraded booklets, previously unreleased material and all were pitched at mid-price. The first two batches were released (are now deleted, I've reviewed most) but the second two batches never appeared (and without explanation). The following lists are by way of info:

January 2008 (7 titles)
Tupelo Honey (1971), It's Too Late To Stop Now (2 CD Live Set) (1974),
Wavelenght (1979), Into The Music (1979), A Sense Of Wonder (1985),
Avalon Sunset (1989) and Back On Top (1999)

June 2008 (8 titles)
Veedon Fleece (1974), Common One (1980), Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983), Live At The Grand Opera House, Belfast (1984), No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), Enlightenment (1990), A Night In San Francisco (2CD Live Set) (1994) and The Healing Game (1997)

September 2008 (7 titles) - CANCELLED
Saint Dominic's Preview (1972), A Period Of Transition (1977), Beautiful Vision (1982), Poetic Champions Compose (1987), Hymns To The Silence (2CD Studio Set) (1991), How Long Has This Been Going On (Live At Ronnie Scott's) (1995), Tell Me Something - The Songs Of Mose Allison (1996)

January 2009 (8 titles) - CANCELLED
Hard Nose The Highway (1973), Irish Heartbeat (with The Chieftains) (1988),
Too Long In Exile (1993), Days Like This (1995), The Story Of Them (2CD Set) (1999), The Skiffle Sessions - Live In Belfast (with Lonnie Donegan & Chris Barber) (2000), Down The Road (2002) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003)

PPS:
I've review most of Batches 1 and 2, the 2CD DELUXE EDITION of "Moondance" and the superb 60ts set "The Bang Masters"...

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