Sunday, 29 November 2009

"From Langley Park To Memphis” by PREFAB SPROUT. A Review of their 1988 Album Now Released as a Japan-Only 2009 CD Remaster on Sony Music/Epic.

"…Like A Bolt Out From The Blue…I Remember That…”

"From Langley Park To Memphis" was first issued March 1988 on Kitchenware Records in the UK and on Epic Records in the USA. It felt like a more commercial version of its brilliant predecessor “Steve McQueen” from 1985 – and building on that incredible groundwork – it was eagerly awaited and so raced to Number 5 in the UK charts.
It was released on LP/MC and CD at the time in fairly good sound – but a remaster has been long overdue.

Some of its hit singles have been remastered for “Best Of” compilations, but this is the first time the entire album has been sonically upgraded – and it’s an absolute wow - even it is only available as a limited edition import from Japan...

This 26 August 2009 Japan-only CD is on Epic EICP 1245 (Sony Music Japan) and is part of 6 albums reissued there - all in remastered form (45:32 minutes). It's one of those mini LP replica sleeves in an Obi and sealable outer plastic, which also reproduces the original inner sleeve. The inner sleeve's nice to look at, but of course because of its 5-inch size, virtually illegible - hence the need for the separate lyric booklet. There’s also another insert advertising further Eighties CD titles, but it’s entirely in Japanese…

CD sites in Japan have claimed that each has 2009 remastering, and although I can't actually find this in writing anywhere on the disc or packaging (that I can understand), I don’t need to see it in writing because I can hear it. The sound quality is simply GLORIOUS.

Highlights include the beautiful melody of “I Remember That” (lyrics above) and an incredible punch out of “Knock On Wood” and an absolutely HUGE feel to “The Golden Calf”. A lot of the time, you’re just in awe of Paddy McAloon’s superb songwriting and how well so much of it has held up – the arrangements, the clever lyrics, the melodies that grow and grow on each hearing - 20 years plus and they still move me...

It is of course a shame that the many unreleased tracks off the singles "The King Of Rock & Roll”, “Cars & Girls" and "Hey Manhattan" are not on here, but this release doesn't pretend to be anything other than a straightforward transfer of the album.

With no sign of British or US remastered versions on the horizon, fans of this superb British band and their brilliant albums will need to own this.

Recommended wholeheartedly.

PS: the other albums reissued in this Japanese Limited Edition series are:
1. "Swoon" (1983) on Epic EICP 1276 (21 October 2009 release)
2. "Steve McQueen" (1985) on Epic EICP 1244 (26 August 2009 release)
3. "Jordan: The Comeback" (1990) on Epic EICP 1278 (21 October 2009 release)
4. "Protest Songs" (1985 Recordings Released in 1989) on Epic EICP 1277 (21 October 2009 release)
5. "Andromeda Heights" (1997) on Epic EICP 1279 (21 October 2009 release)

PPS: see also my review for "Jordan: The Comeback” from the same series - and thanks to TIM SQUIER of Revival Records for a lend of the 2 CDs

“Shout It Out” by PATRICE RUSHEN. A Review of her 1977 Jazz-Funk Gem on Prestige Now Remastered & Reissued in 2009 by Soul Brother Records of the UK.

This review is part of my "SOUNDS GOOD: Exceptional CD Remasters Soul, Funk & Jazz Fusion" Download Book available to buy on Amazon to either your PC or Mac (it will download the Kindle software to read the book for free to your toolbar). Click on the link below to go my Author's Page for this and other related publications:


"…You Got To Get Over…Gotta Try…”

Still only 23 when she released this vinyl gem (her 3rd album for Prestige since 1974), “Shout It Out” has long been a hugely sought-after jazz-funk and fusion piece - and this 2009 remastered reissue by Soul Brother Records of the UK does that rarity proud.

CD SBCS 37 is part of their “Classic Soul” and “Pure Jazz” reissue series and is the first appearance of the album on CD anywhere (there’s a vinyl version too - LP SBCS 37 – a limited edition).
The 8-page inlay has affectionate and informative liner notes by LAURENCE PRANGELI and track-by-track session details.

Remastered from the original master tapes (licensed from another top reissue label – Ace Records of the UK), the result is stupendous – loud, clear and as funky as James Brown’s sock drawer. The sound throughout is wonderful – incredibly clean.

Originally released on LP in the USA on Prestige P 10101 in 1977, this fully remastered CD (43:47 minutes) also tags on the rare 7” single edit of “Let Your Heart Be Free” as a bonus track (it was issued on Prestige P-766 in the same year).

Featuring top musicians like AL McKAY on Guitar, CHARLES MEEKS on Bass and BILL SUMMERS on Percussion and a host of other great session-men - the album is in fact more notable for Patrice’s own astonishing playing. She was blisteringly good on everything - Electric Piano, Clavinet, Mini Moog and even Electric Bass.

There’s some vocals on the fantastically funky opener “The Hump” (lyrics above) and “Let Your Heart Be Free”, but mostly it’s all fusion instrumentals – fast and funky one moment - “Roll With The Punches” - soulful and jazzy and almost Bacharach the next – “Stepping Stones”. It all leads up to the big finisher “Sojourn” which is magnificent – sort of what a great Santana track should sound like.

A great job done – and kudos to the guys at SB for the truly superb remaster quality.

PS: other titles by Soul Brother include…

1. Anthology - GARY BARTZ (CD SBPJ 23)
2. Hell Of An Act To Follow/Bobo - WILLIE BOBO [2LPs on 1CD] (CD SBPJ 39)
3. Gambler’s Life - JOHNNY HAMMOND (SMITH) (CD SBCS 9)
4. Anthology - EDDIE HENDERSON (CD SBPJ 3)
5. Anthology – The Soul Jazz And Fusion Years 1966-1982 - FREDDIE HUBBARD
(2CD set on CD SBPJ 10)
6. Rhythm Of Life - JAMES MASON (CD SBCS 3)
7. See The Light/Take A Look At Yourself - EDDIE RUSS [2LPs on 1CD] (CD SBPJ 37)
8. Fusion With Attitude – VARIOUS (CD SBPJ 28)
9. Now That I’ve Got Your Attention - LESETTE WILSON (CD SBCS 16)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

“Jordan: The Comeback” by PREFAB SPROUT, A Review of their 1990 Album Now Released as a Japan-Only 2009 CD Remaster on Sony Music/Epic.

"…Long Ago…One Glorious Night…We Let The Stars Go…”

"Jordan: The Comeback" was first issued September 1990 on Kitchenware Records in the UK and on Epic Records in the USA. With its whopping 19 tracks clocking in at nearly five minutes over one hour, Prefab Sprout’s 4th (and some say most accomplished) album was a bit of a monster to take in. But, to many ears, it was also an audiophile let down. Barely listenable on LP or cassette because of the extended playing time, the CD also seemed to have no muscle in it either – although noted producer Thomas Dolby was at the helm.

Fast forward to nearly 20 years later and at last the entire album receives the sonic upgrade it’s always deserved – and Paddy McAloon’s astonishing songwriting finally gets to shine – even it is on a limited edition import...

This 21 October 2009 Japan-only CD is on Epic EICP 1278 (Sony Music Japan) and is part of 6 albums reissued there – all in remastered form (64:12 minutes). It’s one of those mini LP replica sleeves in an Obi and sealable outer plastic, which also reproduces the original inner sleeve. The inner sleeve’s nice to look at, but of course because of its 5-inch size, virtually illegible – hence the need for the separate lyric booklet.

CD sites in Japan have claimed that each has 2009 remastering, and although I can’t actually find this in writing anywhere on the disc or packaging (that I can understand), when I A/B the sound with my old disc, it is obvious that things have improved hugely because the difference couldn’t be more marked – and almost all of it - for the better.

To my ears certain tracks are at least twice what they were - and not in a garish way where the treble is simply amplified ever upwards – the remastering is subtler than that. I’m hearing stuff everywhere. The synth and vocal intro to “Machine Gun Ibiza” is so clear now and at about 36 seconds when the drums finally kick in – you can ‘really’ feel it. The swirling vocals and keyboards of “We Let The Stars Go” is gorgeous too (lyrics above) while the acoustic guitar and echoed vocals of “Mercy” is so clean and clear now that it’s made the song even more ethereal and beautiful.

Again Paddy McAloon’s spoken vocal intro on “Jordan: The Comeback” is so clear too and when the band kicks in at 48 seconds, the muscle is there – sweet, clean and full. The sort of Charleston shuffle of the rhythm section on “The Wedding March” is also better as is the astonishing clarity on “Jesse James Symphony”. Disappointingly, I found one of my favourites tracks “One Of The Broken” to be a bit underwhelming – it’s good – but I was hoping for more. And tracks that I didn’t give much time to before now seem suddenly brilliant – “Moon Dog” and “The Ice Maiden” jump to mind – both kicking in – in all the right ways.

Another repeat pleasure is revisiting the brilliance of those great lyrics – here are two gems that I’ve always thought of as genius…

From “One Of The Broken“
“Hi! This is God here
Talking to me used to be a simple affair –
Moses only has to see a burning bush
And he’d pull up a chair…”


From “Moon Dog”
“The world was different then
In bed asleep by ten –
And Daddies shook their fists
At hidden Communists…”

By the time the huge guitars and drums of “Scarlet Nights” arrive and rattle your speaker cones, you’re convinced.

It is of course a shame that the unreleased tracks off the singles “Looking For Atlantis” and “We Let The Stars Go” are not on here, but this release doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a straightforward transfer of the album.

With no sign of British or US remastered versions on the horizon, fans of this superb British band and their brilliant album will need to own this.

Recommended wholeheartedly.

PS: the other albums reissued in this Japanese Limited Edition series are:
1. “Swoon” (1983) on Epic EICP 1276 (21 October 2009 release)
2. “Steve McQueen” (1985) on Epic EICP 1244 (26 August 2009 release)
3. “From Langley Park To Memphis” (1988) on Epic EICP 1245 (26 August 2009 release)
4. “Protest Songs” (1985 Recordings Released in 1989) on Epic EICP 1277 (21 October 2009 release)
5. “Andromeda Heights” (1997) on Epic EICP 1279 (21 October 2009 release)

PPS: see also my review for “From Langley Park To Memphis” from the same series

PPS: thanks to TIM SQUIER of Revival Records for a lend of the 2 CDs

Friday, 27 November 2009

“Management”. A Review of the Rom-Com Film Now Issued on a September 2009 BLU RAY.

"…You Can Touch My Butt…But Then You Gotta Go…”

The premise isn’t new – dweeb falls for babe – babe finds him repulsive at first, but then grows to love his sincerity and ordinary ways – dweeb and babe ride off into the sunset having both grown into nice people. Yeah right!

It’s a hard sell at the best of times, but “Management” just about pulls it off – and it does so because of excellent writing and the stunning acting capabilities of its two principal leads.

STEVE ZAHN plays the hapless, but sweetly na├»ve Mike Cranshaw who is living and working with his parents in their small motel “The Kingman Motor Inn” in the town of Kingman in Arizona (off Route 66). Mike’s Mum Trish is effectively running the solid but uninspiring joint (a beautifully understated performance by MARGO MARTINDALE), while her says-little and does-even-less husband Jerry (FRED WARD at his effective best) seems stuck in a rut he doesn’t know how to get out of.

Life at the Motel is routine and boring – especially for the friendless and womanless Mike. But just occasionally - he gets up enough courage to bring a bottle of plonk around to a lady guest in her chalet and try on his ‘complimentary’ wine routine. It never works. But this time – Mike’s heart gets more than it bargained for when it encounters the big-city, tight-suited Jennifer Aniston character Susan Claussen, who’s in town from Baltimore to flog paintings to corporate clients. Planes to appointments, car rentals to accommodation and a laptop on the bedside, she is the very epitome of a young executive woman going places. Mike is the last person in the world Sue would consider dating, let alone spending a lifetime with…the idea is almost laughable to her. But of course she keeps coming back to his sweetness and he pursues her because he’s besotted and simply doesn’t understand 'no' - nor get the meaning of boundaries.

Along the way Mike encounters Zen Buddhists, takes piano lessons, sleeps in a basement in a Chinese restaurant and jumps out of a plane. There’s one great scene where she figures if she lets him touch her perfectly formed posterior, he’ll give up and she can get on with her presentation notes (title above). She leans over and presents the said rear for his delectation. With his hand placed on her right cheek, they talk about weather conditions in Maryland – it’s both visually and lyrically - very, very funny.

But what keeps you watching is the growing tenderness between the two. Mike may not be the smartest tool in the kit, but he is heartfelt and sincere – and in many ways despite her obvious intelligence and affluence, Sue isn’t. She needs to learn that and he needs to grow up. Woody Harrelson also turns up in a great pantomime role as the ex-punk-rocker Jango who is now rich through dog handling. Later Mike’s Mum Trish becomes gravely ill – thereby presenting the two men in her life with changes both may not want but need…and on it goes.

Written and Directed by first-timer STEPHEN BELBER and produced by SIDNEY KEMMEL, the offbeat rom-com “Management” hit the US screens in May 2009 receiving excellent reviews. And on the strength of this September 2009 BLU RAY - it’s easy to see why.

I first spotted Steve Zahn in a wonderful film called “Happy, Texas” where he was paired up with Britain’s Jeremy Northam as two escaped convicts trapped in a hick town which tames their thieving ways and changes both of them for the better. Zahn’s been bubbling under for years, but in “Management” he really shines. A lesser actor might have overdone the inner nerd to go for hammy laughs - and in the real world his character’s ludicrous naivety might even have been insufferable - but Zahn makes you ache for Mike’s attempts at wooing Susan.

Aniston is more capable now as an actress than she’s ever been. Her character’s disbelief and dismissive awkwardness at first is so believable - and as the movie progresses - her barriers very subtly start coming down – to a point where you really do believe she would look at Mike as a ‘nice guy’ – and as ‘good for her’ – and that’s more important than all the material crap inbetween. She is superb in the part.

Although it feels like an Indie production, the BLU RAY image is beautiful throughout - really crisp – you are aware most of the time that is high def and not a soft DVD image.

The extras are great fun; a feature-length commentary by Stephen Belber and Steve Zahn, Gag Reels and Bloopers (very funny outtakes including all the cast mostly of them giggling and fluffing lines), some Deleted Scenes and a Trailer.

“Management” is going to bolster up my gravity-bound man-titties or lessen the amount of hair growing out my nasal passages – but it has enriched my brain. At its core is a truly lovely premise - that love will out – and corny or not - that ‘is’ what many of us believe.

“Management” isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but you can’t but feel that the world is a nicer place because this sweet little ode to hope is in it.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

“The Dambusters” on BLU RAY. A Review of the 1955 World War II Film Now reissued on a 2009 BLU RAY by Optimum Releases.

"...I'm off to write some letters..."

For about 70% of the time, the black and white print on this BLU RAY reissue is superb - shockingly good in fact - a lot clearer than you've ever seen it before. There are moments later on in the film when the lines and scratches appear sporadically (the stock footage used of the actual test runs of the bouncing-bombs is knackered), but overall - the film itself is a very definite improvement over anything that went before - and Optimum are to be praised for this. Watching some of the internal cockpit scenes now for instance gives you tremendous clarity and it really brings the piece to life. The price is also very reasonable.

The really big disappointment is the complete lack of extras, not even a trailer - which is a real shame because there are interviews with Richard Todd about the film that I’ve seen on television only this year. It deserved better than this bare bones presentation.

Michael Redgrave (sporting pasty white hair to make him look older and more dotty) is wonderful as Dr. Barnes Wallis the stubborn but brilliant inventor, while Richard Todd steps up as the daring-do Wing Commander who believes in Wallis and his ‘bouncing bomb’ idea. The mission is to take out 3 dams in the Ruhr valley in one night and thereby cripple Germany’s war-machine. Directed by Michael Anderson in 1955 and featuring superb aerial photography from the inside of the planes (giving it a gritty realism), it struck a genuine chord with audiences and has remained a beloved classic ever since.

If you look closely too, you'll see a young Robert Shaw in the cockpit of one of the Lancaster bombers - and if you blink - you'll miss the young soldier outside the conference room keeping all out for secrecy’s sake - it was Patrick McGoohan of Danger Man and The Prisoner fame. He later gets one line in a similar scene with Richard Todd's unfortunately named black Labrador dog (*igger) who gets his own weepy moment.

"The Dambusters" is a fitting tribute to the 56 pilots who lost their lives on this famous low-level flying mission and with Eric Coate’s rousing score still ringing in your ears, you are genuinely moved as you watch Richard Todd walk away to write letters to the parents of those who didn’t make it back…

Recommended for a very good print – despite the disappointing lack of extras.

PS: this is subtitled on the disc as – “The War Collection - Volume 1”. I think “The Cruel Sea” and “The Colditz Story” will also feature in this series of BLU RAY reissues.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

"The Prisoner – The Complete Series In High Definition”. A Review of the BLU RAY Box Set Released 28 September 2009 by NETWORK in the UK.

"…We Have A Citizen’s Advice Bureau Up There…They’re Very Good Apparently…"


When the 1st episode of "The Prisoner" was aired by ITV in September 1967 in the UK (June 1968 in the USA by CBS), "Sgt. Peppers" was still at number one and the Summer of Love was in full swing. All things seemed possible - and at the same time - with the Vietnam War, Race Riots and the escalation of Government control over personal lives - many things seemed slightly sinister too...

Enter into this volatile soup the cocky and charismatic actor Patrick McGoohan fresh from his global TV success as John Drake in "Danger Man". The distinctly voiced actor (born in New York, but raised in Ireland and Britain) had a mind-bending idea for a new "spy" TV series limited to only 7 episodes. "The Village" would be a self-contained world where no one had a name but a number - and would act as a sort of containment home for retired secret agents that big-brother Government wanted to control and keep an eye on. Each week would see a new Number 2 trying to crack Number 6 (McGoohan) through ever more elaborate means. Escape was curtailed by a blob that chased you called "rover" which suffocated its victims - conformity was reinforced by the repetition of phrases that meant no one could escape - stuff like "be seeing you". It was a brilliant pitch and Lew Grade (head of Independent Television) thought it was "...crazy enough that it might just work...". But come February 1968 when the 17th truly-out-there "Fall Out" episode was finally aired (some saying it made little sense), McGoohan was on the defensive and practically being run out of his own country by angry and confused fans... How utterly cool!

First to the details - UK-released on BLU RAY in September 2009 (Oct 2009 in the USA with different packaging) - this UK-only packaging is a box-of-chocolates shaped set with two compartments - the first contains a near-300 page paperback book entitled "The Prisoner - A Complete Production Guide" by ANDREW PIXLEY. It was originally produced exclusively for NETWORK and their 2007 remastered DVD box and is reprinted here; the second inset has a 6-disc BLU RAY clip box (each disc features a different picture). Discs 1 to 4 contains all 17 episodes - the complete series and each episode with its own special features. Discs 5 and 6 have staggering amounts of further extras including input from those involved, previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage, a different version of "Arrival" and several commentaries by the production crew. It's exhaustive stuff.

While the paperback is fan-obsessed with details and a truly informative account, it is completely devoid of any photographs, which I feel is not just disappointing, but does this otherwise fantastic presentation a major disservice. While there are loads of pictures on Disc 6 (in High Def) and fabulous complimentary features too - it would have been nice to trawl over a really good book featuring photos of those superb production values. No disrespect to the author whose work here is incredible and must have taken years of research, it's just that all words and no visual make it a very dry read (probably too cost-prohibitive).

But that minor niggle quickly pales into insignificance once your eyes see the frame-by-frame fully restored 35mm print. Presented in 1:33:1 aspect and filling the full screen - it is ABSOLUTELY GLORIOUS TO LOOK AT - and puts many a modern production to shame. I noticed maybe only one or two occasions where the image had lines or some other stock fault - for 98% of the time, the digitally restored high definition print is faultless and a constant joy and revelation to look at.

Filmed in a real-life folly called Portmeirion in Gwynedd in Wales (fans still visit the town in Prisoner regalia), the entire seaside town was the dream of architect Clough Williams-Ellis who purchased the peninsula in 1923 and began building his own Mediterranean village there complete with an English twist. Portmeirion had in fact featured in previous "Danger Man" episodes and McGoohan and his family had often holidayed there. With a budget of £50,000-per-episode, a large uniquely clothed cast of extras and an entire town bathed in summer sunshine to play with, the extraordinary location and production values collided to produce a vision that stuns to this day.

The clarity is AWESOME... There's a scene in Episode 1 "Arrival" where McGoohan is offered a chair in Number Two's lair - a hole in the floor slides across and up pops a stool - but this time you can clearly see that the hole is cardboard - and not steel. In Episode 2 "The Chimes Of Big Ben" when Nadia Gray wakes up as Number 8, you can see her hair is immaculate and her eyelids are heavily pasted in blue makeup... (the episode also features Finlay Currie as the General who was Magwitch the Convict in David Lean's masterpiece "Great Expectations") - and on it goes!

Although made in the late Sixties and featuring those kind of dated hair-dos and fashions, "The Prisoner" rose above that by virtue of its premise - and in fact viewing it some 42 years later - because of this, its still staggeringly relevant - especially on the core subjects of individual freedom and Governmental control...

I've reviewed quite a few superlative restorations before this - "North By Northwest", "The Italian Job", "Cool Hand Luke", "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" and "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner" (see reviews for all), but this takes the gong.

"The Prisoner" on BLU RAY is bound to make many fans go weak at the knees and will hopefully draw in a new generation of lovers for one of the most extraordinary television programs ever made.

Like William Shatner and Star Trek, McGoohan had a notoriously spiky relationship with the character and TV series that defined and pigeonholed him for decades...but you can't help but feel that Patrick is up there right now beaming down at this wonderful box set.

Is "Number 1" that part of you that capitulates - as McGoohan seemed to suggest when the mask was finally unveiled in "Fall Out"? I don't know. But that's what "The Prisoner" is like - it's thought provoking, contemporary and still stunningly brilliant. And now it has the box set on the definitive format that it has always deserved.

For me - this is Reissue of the Year - in any format.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

“David Bowie: 40th Anniversary 2CD Remaster” aka “Space Oddity” by DAVID BOWIE (2009 EMI '40th Anniversary 2CD Remaster') - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Ground Control To Major Tom…Take Your Protein Pills…Put Your Helmet On…"

This EMI Collector’s Limited Edition 2-Disc reissue is a 40th Anniversary celebration of Bowie’s long forgotten and criminally underrated 2nd album from 1969 - “David Bowie” - later more commonly known as “Space Oddity”. There’s a lot on here so let’s get to the Major Toms…

UK released October 2009 - "David Bowie: 40th Anniversary Edition" by DAVID BOWIE on EMI DBSOCD 40 (Barcode 5099930752221) is a 2CD Remaster of his 1969 self-title LP on Philips that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (46:12 minutes):
1. Space Oddity
2. Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
3. Letter To Hermione
4. Cygnet Committee
5. Janine [Side 2]
6. An Occasional Dream
7. The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
8. God Only Knows
9. Memory Of A Free Festival
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album “David Bowie” issued 14 November 1969 on Phillips SBL 7902 in the UK. Released in the same month in the USA but with slightly altered artwork (the photo on the cover is used as the 1st page of the booklet), the US version was re-titled as “Man Of Words/Man Of Music” and issued on Mercury SR-61246.

Disc 2 – BONUS MATERIAL - (63:47 minutes):
1. Space Oddity (early 'Demo' version featuring duet vocals with John “Hutch” Hutchinson, recorded January 1969)
2. An Occasional Dream (early 'Demo' version also featuring duet vocals with John “Hutch” Hutchinson, recorded March/April 1969)
3. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (this is an alternate version put out as the non-album B-side to “Space Oddity” issued in July 1969 as a UK 7” single on Philips BF 1801. It contains the Paul Buckmaster spoken intro and less brass and strings - none of which are on the LP version)
4. Let Me Sleep Beside You
5. Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
6. Janine (tracks 4 to 6 were recorded live for the Dave Lee Travis show on the BBC’s Radio 1 on 20 Oct 1969 (broadcast 26 Oct). 5 and 6 have been issued before on the 2000 CD set “Bowie On The Beeb...” but 4 is previously unreleased)
7. London, Bye, Ta-Ta (Stereo Version) (recorded in January 1970 in Trident Studios as a follow up single to “Space Oddity” but shelved, this version first appeared on the “Sound + Vision” 4CD Box set in 2003)
8. The Prettiest Star (Stereo Version) (released as a UK 7” single in March 1970 on Mercury MF 1135 but only in MONO - this STEREO version first appeared on the 1997 compilation “The Best Of…1969/1974”)
9. Conversation Piece (Stereo Version) (the non-album B-side to “The Prettiest Star” 7” single which was only ever issued in MONO – this is a previously unreleased STEREO version)
10. Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 1)
11. Memory Of A Free Festival (Part 2) (tracks 10 and 11 are the A&B of the June 1970 UK 7” single on Philips 6052 026. This is not the LP track, but a re-recorded version then split across two sides of a single. These first appeared on the Ryko CD version of “Space Oddity” in 1990)
12. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Alternate Album Mix)
13. Memory Of A Free Festival (Alternate Album Mix) (previously unreleased version that is over 2 minutes longer)
14. London, Bye, Ta-Ta (Alternate Stereo Mix)
15. Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola (Full Length Stereo Version) (the 1970 Italian version of “Space Oddity”. It translates into “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl”. The single mix turned on the “Bowie Rare” LP in 1983, but this version is previously unreleased)
[Note: 1, 2, 4, 9, 12 to 15 are Previously Unreleased]

The British album (on which this release is based) originally came in a fetching gatefold sleeve (now a hugely collectable £400 vinyl rarity in mint condition) and it’s this artwork that’s used for both the back and front cover of the tri-gatefold digipak. Different Trident Studios Master Tape boxes are pictured under each see-through CD tray, while the 32-page booklet is a feast of memorabilia from fans and collectors - rare picture sleeves, trade adverts, period photos – all topped off with a fantastically detailed essay by noted expert KEVIN CANN.

If I was to have a gripe about the booklet and the packaging, it would be this - on the back of the UK success of the “Hunky Dory” album in September 1972 (reached number 3 in the UK charts), the “David Bowie” album was then reissued in November 1972 on RCA Victor LSP 4813 as “Space Oddity”. It came in different artwork and was given an inner lyric bag and a foldout poster. I mention this because for such an extensive and superbly annotated booklet, none of this is printed or pictured – an odd omission?

But it’s a minor point because the real sparks are to be found in the SOUND. Remastered from the first generation master tapes by PETER MEW at Abbey Road with help from TRIS PENNA and NIGEL REEVE – the audio is FABULOUS. I’ve sung the praises of Peter Mew’s work before (Jethro Tull’s “This Was” and Dr. Feelgood’s “Down At The Jetty” jump to mind – see reviews) and having years and hundreds of credits to his name, he knows his way around a tape or two. I’ve never heard the track “Space Oddity” sound so clear and full - it’s a superlative job. The clarity on the two newly found demos at the beginning of Disc 2 is incredible also - especially given their vintage and crude recordings.

The music itself is an acquired taste. Not quite the Sixties pop of his debut or the Seventies rock brilliance of “Ziggy” and “Hunky Dory” which was just around the corner, it’s a man finding his artistic feet – ideas are everywhere – and it’s even quite folky in places. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for sure, but if you’ve the inclination, it’s a rediscovery well worth making… 

To sum up – this is a superb reissue – and it’s the dogs bollox where it matters the most – in the sound department.

Far above the world – sitting in his tin can – Major Tom is grinning…

Thursday, 19 November 2009

“The Simmer Dim” by JOHN MARTYN. A Review of the June 2008 One World Records CD.

"…Thanks For Coming Up…"

This is not a new studio album, but yet another live set from the UK’s "One World Records” Label who are dedicated wholly to JM reissues and new releases. It’s a wonderful performance for sure, but the awful news for fans and newcomers alike is that it’s only ‘passable’ sound-wise.

It was recorded at the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick in Shetland in furthermost Scotland (the most Northerly town in Britain). The date was 12 August 1980 and Martyn was still riding high on his Island Records "One World" masterpiece from 1977. His audience was now split between the folk output of 1968 to 1975 (“London Conversation” and “Sunday’s Child”) and the new fans gained through the ethereally, electrified "One World" album. Personally I dug both – and his gigs of the time included music from each camp – making his concerts a superbly rounded experience.

To the bad news first…

The rear sleeve rather vaguely states "A Restored Recording" but of course offers no further explanation as to where it was 'restored' or from ‘what’. It isn’t unlistenable by any means, but the best approximation is that it’s an audience tape – it’s therefore loaded down with all the inherent crap that accompanies such things - chatter, rumble, noise, the music in the distance, interruptions between songs by people moving about and shuffling things… The 8-page John Hilarby liner notes rather conveniently don't mention anything about this…

But the real shame is that the performance is fantastic – exceptionally good. Some songs like the wonderful opener “Over The Hill” and the obvious but sweet finisher “May You Never” are just him on a lone acoustic guitar, while “Big Muff” and “Dealer” feature his famous electrified echoplex-guitar effect. The crowd shout at him and he responds wittily and warmly - including one lady who literally stops the whole gig to thank him for making his way to such an out of the way place in the fog (her words are the title above). In fact the banter between him and the audience adds extraordinary warmth to the proceedings. None of the drunken arrogance that often marred his concerts of the time is evident here - Martyn’s in superb form – witty, sharp, and enjoying himself. Vocally he’s right up there too – easily imbibing each tune with really sweet vocal work. You would imagine that the punters left that tiny gig that wonderful night feeling they’d just witnessed a little bit of Scottish magic for a pittance (£3 a ticket!).

Two rarities turn up – “Anna” was recorded for the 1978 road movie “In Search Of Anna” and receives a rare airing here. It’s a lyric/vocal version of “Small Hours”, the 8-minute echoplex instrumental masterpiece that finishes the “One World” album. It’s really lovely and has poignant lyrics about a kid in a “…dirty town, where they like to put you down…” The second rarity is “Seven Black Roses”, a mid-60’s folk instrumental he wrote to impress club owners and Davey Graham fans – it’s fast and complicated and receives genuinely impressed reaction from the crowd when it ends on clever harmonic pings. Another highlight is a truly lovely version of “Couldn’t Love You More”, but towards the end it’s unfortunately counter-pointed by a lengthy echoplex version of “Outside In” from the 1975 “Live At Leeds” privately pressed UK-only album. It goes from rocking out to lovely mellow across its near 19-minute course – and as good as it is in places - it seriously overstays its welcome and is self-indulgent.

As I say – the real shame is not that the sound is only passable – the real kicker is that you’d kill to hear this great gig in decent fidelity; then we’d be raving about one of his best live works and not using words like ‘shoddy’ or ‘bootleg’…

Released in July 2008 (‘before’ he so sadly died in January 2009) - there are two ways of looking at this release – it’s exploitive and deliberately deceptive – or it’s magic that deserves to be in the marketplace – it’s both really.

The title of the set takes itself from a weather anomaly; that far North there are as little as 6 hours of daylight during Midwinter, which produces a sort of surreal twilight the local Scots like to call “The Simmer Dim”…

It’s a damn shame that this CD’s sound doesn’t match such a lovely thought…

In a two-to-three star kind-of-a way – and at a very, very tight pinch – it’s recommended.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

“North By Northwest”. A Review of the November 2009 BLU-RAY 50th Anniversary Reissue of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 Film Masterpiece.

"…We’re In The Business Of Expedient Exaggeration…”

As you watch the title credits of Hitch’s 1959 masterpiece “North By Northwest” roll up on your screen in all their resplendent VistaVision Technicolor glory - the shiny, cold and aloof glass panelling of a New York skyscraper acts as their backdrop.

It’s a brilliant touch, because combined with Bernard Herrmann’s staccato score; it ratchets up the tension and also subliminally suggests to the viewer that some poor John Doe is about to get rightly and royally screwed by big business and big Government – or both. And of course, mistaken for a UN diplomat called George Caplin - our hapless hero George Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) – does just that.

Then when the credits end and Cary exits the lift with his secretary (Doreen Lang), all suited-n-booted and looking dapper enough to lick - another element kicks in – the picture quality…

State-of-the art frame-by-frame restoration has taken place here, because the print is just BEAUTIFUL. I raved in an Amazon UK Listmania list some 3 years ago about how good the DVD looked – well this BLU RAY is better – and at times just jaw dropping to look at.

Icing on the cake is that this 50th Anniversary BLU RAY reissue (Nov 2009) also adds on some superlative new features which are just as good as the film itself.

Here’s the full list:

1. Commentary by Ernest Lehman (Original Script-Writer)
2. New 2009 Documentary "The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style" (over 50 minutes - featuring comments from directors Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, Frances Lawrence, Guillermo del Toro and many more)
3. Previously seen but superlative feature-length profile "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" (over 1 hour)
4. New 2009 feature called "North By Northwest: One For The Ages" examining the movies innovations and influences
5. Feature called “The Making Of North By Northwest” from 2000
6. Music Only Audio Track
7. Stills Gallery
8. Theatrical Trailers & TV Spots
9. Internet link to Warner Brothers

A whole bunch of things combine to make NBN work - a great story by Ernest Lehman, superb night and day locations, immaculate period clothes, the bulbous gas-guzzling cars, the art-deco buildings, the interiors of wealthy homes and the deeply luxurious dining cars of long-distance 1950’s trains. And to top all of that, you get genuine old-school Hollywood star power in the form of James Mason, Martin Landau, Leo Carroll and the luminous love interest Eva Marie Saint. And of course the effortlessly suave and charming Cary Grant – arguably the best leading man Tinseltown ever produced. Throw in the tension, wit and camera angles of Hitchcock at the helm - and you’re on a winner.

But your eyes keep coming back to how this BLU RAY shines. There are so many little scenes that now look sumptuous – Alfred missing the bus just at the end of the opening credits in his famous cameo scene – the garish colours of Fifties New York taxis, the marble of the Plaza hotel lobby Cary walks through to meet clients. Then there’s the Townsend home and gardens as the villains motor up the gravel driveway to the front door, the three dapper suits of the boys as they parry in the library room inside (Mason, Landau and Grant) and the clarity of the night scene where they put a drunk Cary in a stolen car and try to drive him off a cliff. Further on there’s the colour of the fields in the legendary crop-duster scene, hanging off the Mount Rushmore monument by your fingernails - even Eva Saint Marie’s beautiful red dress in the hotel room as she stands by the door while Cary showers in the bathroom… I could go on!

If I was to point out one genuine downside, it’s the focus. Some scenes quite deliberately have Grant and Saint with an almost halo-like shine around them (soft focus to make them look better) and can at times make the print look just a teeny bit soft, but other than that the whole shebang is a joy to behold… Also the US version is in a dapper looking book-pack, while ours is a plain Blue pack with no booklet?

Up there with “The Italian Job”, “Zulu”, “Goldfinger”, “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning”, “2001” A Space Odyssey” and “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner” in terms of top quality restoration (see my reviews for each) – “North By Northwest” is a triumph on BLU RAY. And the superb additional extras only make you feel that Warners are to be praised for a job well done…

Roll on “To Catch A Thief” on Blu Ray - another beautiful Hitchcock restoration presently wowing fans in the USA on a March 2009 2DVD "Centennial Collection" set...

I can’t help but think that this will make an ideal Christmas present for family members of a certain age and hair colour.

Recommended - big time.

PS: When the Government types scan the Nov 25, 1958 newspaper THE EVENING STAR at their desks, it has a headline "DIPLOMAT SLAIN AT U.N." But if you scan to the left of that, you can just see another article entitled “Nixon Promises West Will Remain In Poland”.

'Possibly' not the last promise he’ll make to the American people which may or may not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but…

Sunday, 15 November 2009

"The 8th Day…Plus… + I Gotta Get Home…Plus" by THE 8TH DAY (September 2009 Edsel 2CD Retrospective Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

This Review and 100s More Like It Are Available 
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"...I've Got A Story To Tell You..."

After the song-writing partnership of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Edward-Lamont-Brian) left Motown in the late Sixties, they set up the INVICTUS and HOT WAX labels in the States featuring hot new soul acts like Chairman Of The Board, Freda Payne, Parliament, The Honey Cone, Ruth Copeland, Laura Lee etc.

Part of a slew of UK releases covering all those acts and both of those labels (see list below) - "The 8th Day...Plus + I Gotta Get Home...Plus" by THE 8TH DAY on Edsel ESCD 2068 (Barcode 740155206635) is a superbly presented 2CD Anthology of the H-D-H band fronted by the fantastically expressive vocals of MELVIN DAVIS.

This UK September 2009 remastered 2CD set gathers up both of their rare early Seventies albums, non-album single sides and other related tracks and play out as follows...

Disc 1 (48:26 minutes)
1. She's Not Just Another Woman
2. You've Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)
3. Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)
4. La-De-Dah
5. Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Mo (Three's A Crowd)
6. Just As Long
7. I Can't Fool Myself
8. I'm Worried
9. I've Come To Save You
Tracks 1 to 9 is their debut US album "The 8th Day", April 1971 on Invictus ST 7306
Tracks 10 is "She's Not Just Another Woman", April 1971 USA 7" single mix on Invictus IS 9087 (it's B-side is the album track "I Can't Fool Myself" - Track 7)
Track 11 is "Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Mo (Instrumental)" - it turns up re-titled as "Get Your House In Order" which was issued in 1974 as the instrumental B-side to "Sittin' On A Time Bomb (Waitin' For The Hurt To Come)" by LEE CHARLES on Invictus ZS7 1260 (both tracks were non-album)
Tracks 12 and 13 are "If I Could See The Light In The Window" and "(If I Could See The Light In The Window (Instrumental)", Non-Album A&B of their 3rd US 7" single released December 1971 on Invictus IS 9107

Disc 2 (50:36 minutes):
1. I Gotta Get Home (I Can't Let My Baby Get Lonely)
2. Cheba
3. Good Book
4. Anything
5. Rocks In My Head
6. Faith
7. Get Your Mind Straight
8. Heaven Is There To Guide Us
Tracks 1 to 8 is their 2nd US album "I Gotta Get Home (I Can't Let My Baby Get Lonely)", April 1972 on Invictus ST 9809
Track 9 is "You Made Me Over", a 1973 USA 7" solo single by MELVIN DAVIS on Invictus ZS7 1259
Tracks 10 and 11 are "I'm Worried (Single Edit)" and "Just As Long (Single Edit)", non-album shortened versions of tracks from "The 8th Day" LP issued in 1972 as a MELVIN DAVIS solo single on Invictus IS 9115
Track 12 is "It's Instrumental To Be Free", a non-album B-side to "You've Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)" issued September 1971 on US 7" single Invictus IS 9098
Track 13 is "Free Your Mind" - it's a remix of "It's Instrumental To Be Free" (Track 12) and it appeared as the B-side of the UK 7" single "Love Machine" by THE POLITICIANS on Hot Wax HWX 114

The 16-page booklet has affectionate and informative liner notes by noted British soul lover and expert TONY ROUNCE while the remastered sound by ALCHEMY is warm, clear and gorgeous to the ear (surprisingly free of hiss).

Their debut album opens with a lethal one-two sucker punch - "She Not Just Another Woman" and "You Gotta Crawl (Before You Walk)" - 20 seconds into either and you're hooked. It's easy to see why both reached number 3 on the US R'n'B charts in 1971. This is truly fabulous Seventies soul with one foot still in the Sixties vibe; it's The Temptations - it's Stevie - it's Jackie Wilson on Brunswick with a little RCA Sam Cooke thrown in. It sounds like a reinvigorated Motown hit-making machine with a point to prove - the arrangements, the tight band, the wonderful brass fills that make your feet tap - all topped by the killer vocals of Northern Soul favourite MELVIN DAVIS (who toured as recently as Summer 2009 to rapturous applause by soul lovers hungry for the real deal). Then just as you're about to pigeonhole The 8th Day as a H-D-H singles-machine, you get the stunning seven and a half minutes of "Just As Long" - as lovely a soul ballad as you're ever likely to hear - that starts out almost as an instrumental and then builds - so sweet.

Niggles - the liner notes for Disc 2 have IS 9098 as 9090 and IS 9115 as 9117 - both miscredited in the booklet - and collectors will know that there's a 7" single edit of "You Gotta Crawl" which lops off 15 seconds from the album version that could have been put on here, but it's a minor exclusion.  Besides - prior to the availability of the Net - and as someone who's worked in second-hand records shops for nearly 20 years - I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually seen copies of these rare US LPs and singles.  What a treat to have them all finally presented to us - and in such a cool way too.

Great stuff Edsel - love it, love it, love it - recommended big time.

PS: other titles in this series are:
1. CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD - Give Me Just A Little More Time Plus... (Featuring bonus albums by GENERAL JOHNSON and HARRISON KENNEDY) (Edsel EDSD 2053, 2CDs)
2. CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD - Bittersweet + Skin I'm In + Bonus Album by DANNY WOODS Aries  (Edsel EDSD 2055, 2CDs)
3. RUTH COPELAND - Self Portrait + I Am What I Am albums Plus... (Edsel EDSD 2067, 2CDs)
4. HOLLAND-DOZIER-HOLLAND - Love & Beauty - The Complete Invictus Masters (Edsel EDSD 2056, 2CDs)
5. PARLIAMENT - Osmium Plus... (Edsel EDSS 1031, 1CD)
6. FREDA PAYNE - Band Of Gold + Contact  + The Best Of + Reaching Out (Edsel EDSD 2054, 2CDs)

PPS: for those who want to go deeper into the Invictus and Hot Wax labels, Sequel Records of the UK released a huge number of related CDs in 1999 featuring artists not covered in this 2009 reissue series - some of those names are 100 Proof Aged In Soul, Flaming Ember, The Politicians, The Glass House, Barrino Brothers, Eloise Laws and several cool Various Artist compilations like "Invictus Chartbusters"

Sunday, 8 November 2009

“Music From The North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology" by THE JAYHAWKS (2009 America 'DELUXE EDITION' Version with 2CDs and 1DVD) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Never Thought That I’d Miss You… That I’d Miss You So Much…"

American 88697 47043 2 is in tri-gatefold card sleeve with an extensive booklet and song choices overseen by key band member GARY LOURIS.

This is the 2CD + 1DVD 'Deluxe Edition' of "Music From The North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology" by THE JAYHAWKS. The DE is green in colour - the standard 1CD version is red.

Disc 1 has 20 remastered tracks from their 6 studio albums (the standard single CD version); a bonus Disc 2 which contains 20 rarities (14 of which are previously unreleased) and a bonus DVD that gives you 7 Music Videos Plus 2 EPKs (Electronic Press Kits).

Here’s a detailed track-by-track breakdown…

Disc 1 (76:29 minutes):
1. Two Angels
2. Ain’t No End
(1 and 2 from “Blue Earth”, 1989)
3. Waiting For The Sun
4. Martin’s Song
5. Clouds
6. Settled Down Like Rain
(3 to 6 from “Hollywood Town Hall”, 1992)
7. Blue
8. I’d Run Away
9. Over My Shoulder
10. Miss Williams’ Guitar
(7 to 10 from “Tomorrow The Green Grass”, 1995)
11. Trouble
12. Big Star
13. The Man Who Loved Life
(11 to 13 from “Sound Of Lies”, 1997)
14. Smile
15. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
16. What Led Me To This Town
(14 to 16 from “Smile”, 2000)
17. Tailspin
18. All The Right Reasons
19. Save It For A Rainy Day
20. Angelyne
(17 to 20 from “Rainy Day Music”, 2003)

Disc 2 (76:10 minutes):
1. Falling Star (from “The Jayhawks”, privately pressed US-only debut LP limited to 2000 copies, never officially on CD before)
2. Old Woman From Red Clay (Alternate Take of “Two Angels” from “Blue Earth”)
3. That’s The Bag I’m In (A Fred Neil cover Recorded Live for KFAL Radio in Minneapolis in October 1989)
4. Won’t Be Coming Home (1991 Demo, Later Made Famous by GOLDEN SMOG)
5. Stone Cold Mess (Outtake from “Hollywood Town Hall” Sessions, 1992)
6. Mission On 2nd (Outtake from “Hollywood Town Hall” Sessions, 1992)
7. Lights (Victoria Williams cover specially recorded for the Various Artists compilation “Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams”, 1993)
8. Darling Today (Non-Album B-side of USA CD single of “Blue”, 1995)
9. Break My Mind (Non-Album B-side of USA CD single of “Bad Time”, 1995)
10. Get The Load Out (Non-Album B-side of a European CD single of “Bad Time”, 1995)
11. Poor Little Fish (Early Version, An Outtake from the “Sound Of Lies” Sessions, 1996)
12. Someone Will (1998 Demo for “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” from “Smile”, first aired on “Live From The Women’s Club Official Bootleg” CD in 2003)
13. Cure For This (1999 Previously Unreleased Track, has emerged as “Goodbye Kiss” by Janey Winterbauer and Marc Perlman on their “25:32:47” EP in early 2009)
14. I Can Make It On My Own (1998/1999 Demo from the “Smile” Sessions)
15. Rotterdam (1999 Demo of “All The Right Reasons”)
16. Follow Me (2001 Demo by Tom O’Reagan)
17. In The Canyon (2001 Demo, Outtake from the “Rainy Day Music” Sessions)
18. Tailspin (2001 “Early Version” Demo from the “Rainy Day Music” Sessions)
19. I Think I’ve Had Enough (2001 Demo from the “Rainy Day Music” Sessions)
20. Help Me Forget (2001 Demo from the “Rainy Day Music” Sessions)

Tracks 2 to 6 and 11 to 20 are previously unreleased

“…Anthology…” is produced by JOHN JACKSON and PD LARSON (who also does the liner notes) with superb mastering by GREG CALBI at Sterling Sound in New York. The sound quality is really clean and musically upped a notch (“Blue” in particular is gorgeous - lyrics for this review above). The 26-page booklet gives detailed backgrounds to each song (especially the unreleased stuff) and even if the print is tiny, it makes for a really entertaining and informative read.

I’d expected the quality to dip on Disc 2, but for the most part it’s actually a strong rival for the sheer melody of the songs on Disc 1. It’s really impressive stuff. Fans will adore “Rotterdam” the demo version of “All The Right Reasons” (surely one of their strongest songs) while the “Poor Little Fish” alternate is them stretching out into soundscapes they normally wouldn’t go anywhere near – and winning – I love it. Their cover of the Victoria Williams song “Lights” for her cancer relief CD project is both fantastically musical and poignant. The quirky videos for “Big Star” (bevies of babes petting the boys) and “Save It For A Rainy Day” (ballerina outfits and swimming pools) are just icing on an already rather cool little cupcake.

“Music From The North Country” is a superb overview of a great American band in the tradition of Big Star and R.E.M. – and classily done too. It truly is a shame that they’re gone. Recommended - big time.




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INDEX - Entries and Artist Posts in Alphabetical Order