Thursday, 2 February 2012

"Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon" by JAMES TAYLOR (2010 Warner Brothers SHM-CD Reissue In 5" Repro Mini LP Sleeve Artwork) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Blue As The Deep Blue Sea…Won't You Listen To Me…"

Fans of JT will know that only 3-tracks from "Mud Slide Slim…" are available as remasters – "You've Got A Friend",  "You Can Close Your Eyes" and "Long Ago And Far Away" – all of them on the Warners Brothers/Rhino 'Best Of' compilation "You've Got A Friend" from 2003. And sweet they sound too…

But this Japan-only SHM-CD released 7 April 2010 on Warner Brothers WPCD-13820 (Barcode: 4943674097319) is the first time the entire album has been remastered since its release on a dull-sounding US/European CD in the mid Eighties. And as one of the first vinyl albums I ever bought as a kid and loved to bits - I’m thrilled to say that the 40-year wait has been worth it - because the audio quality on this CD reissue is BEAUTIFUL.

Part of a 6-album campaign (see list below), this 2010 remaster (37:34 minutes) was done by ISAO KIKUCHI in Japan and it’s a limited edition (non-numbered) on the SHM-CD format. Super High Materials CDs do not require a specific machine to play them on – they’re simply a better form of disc created by JVC in 2008 to improve on the original format (unchanged since it was first put out 30 years ago). The general idea is that the sound on the SHM-CD is more defined as they play - they seem to extract more nuances from the transfer - and of the 8 or so that I own – I've found this to be true.

The 5” mini repro packaging here apes the April 1971 USA vinyl release on Warner Brothers WS 2561 with its hard-card gatefold artwork (lyrics and recording details on the inside). The outer resealable bag it has to be said is very flimsy, so extracting and replacing the sleeve has to be done carefully lest you rip it. The 12-page plain white booklet is very ho-hum too – just lyrics and an essay in Japanese that you can’t read. No pictures – nothing new. At least the rounded white paper inner bag has one of those protective poly-slips inside it to protect the CD. The disc itself repro’s the green Warner Brothers label of the original vinyl album too – a nice touch. It’s tastefully done as always with these releases. But it’s all about the sound here…

1. Love Has Brought Me Around
2. You’ve Got A Friend
3. Places In My Past
4. Riding On A Railroad
5. Soldiers
6. Mud Slide Slim
7. Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox [Side 2]
8. You Can Close Your Eyes
9. Machine Gun Kelly
10. Long Ago And Far Away
11. Let Me Ride
12. Highway Song
13. Isn’t It Nice To Be Home Again
Tracks 1 to 13 are the album “Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon” – released April 1971 in the USA, May 1971 in the UK on Warner Brothers WS 2561 (reissued in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46085 in 1972)

Right from the opening bars of "Love Has Brought Me Around" you can suddenly hear the instruments – especially Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel on Bass and Drums - so sweet and warm. Other highlights include the Banjo of John Hartford and Fiddle of Richard Green on "Riding On A Railroad" – much clearer now – as is the lovely accordion playing of Kevin Kelly on "Places In My Past".

As everyone knows "You've Got A Friend" was written by CAROLE KING and first turned up on her magnificent "Tapestry" album at almost the same time of release – April 1971. What is perhaps not stated enough is her overall contribution to James Taylor's "Mud Slide Slim" in that she played piano on 7 of its 13 tracks (harmonizing on others too) - and always with that beautiful melody she seemed to effortlessly get. It underpins "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox" (lyrics above title this review) and "Highway Son". The other beautiful lady contributing to proceedings is of course JONI MITCHELL who puts in rare guest vocal appearances on "You've Got A Friend" and the gorgeous "Long Ago And Far Away" – both sounding so much more defined here. If I wash pushed, I'd say the best-sounding tracks on here are "Machine Gun Kelly" and "Soldiers" – acoustic guitars, the rhythm section - all very, very sweet indeed.

Downsides – it's Japanese only, a limited edition and expensive. And the booklet could have done with some more pizzazz instead of the rather safe presentation it did get.

But if you've got any kind of love for this Seventies singer-songwriter album – then you owe it to yourself to acquire this SHM-CD version of it. Lovely, lovely stuff – and I’m saving up to get the rest…

PS: Albums remastered in this April 2010 JAMES TAYLOR Japanese SHM-CD series are:
1. Sweet Baby James (March 1970) on Warner Brothers WPCR-13819
2. Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon (July 1971) on Warner Brothers WPCR-13820
3. One Man Dog (November 1972) on Warner Brothers WPCR-13821
4. Walking Man (July 1974) on Warner Brothers WPCR-13822
5. Gorilla (May 1975) on Warner Brothers WPCR-13823
6. In The Pocket (June 1976) on Warner Brothers WPCR-1382

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