Thursday, 7 June 2012

“An American Trilogy” by MICKEY NEWBURY (2011 Saint Cecilia Knows/Mountain Retreat 4CD Reissue/Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...


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"…Just Like The Dawn…My Heart Is Silent Breaking…"

Originally issued in Germany (Berlin) in May 2011 as a pricey box set with a 95-page booklet and fold-out map containing the lyrics on the other side (now deleted) – this 'altered' reissue followed only months after (August 2011). As you can imagine - fans that forked out over sixty-five pounds/ninety dollars for the initial import were a tad peeved and felt taken for a ride. However (and there's no meanness intended here) - you'd have to say that their loss is very much our gain - because this scaled-down reissue finally makes Mickey Newbury's extraordinary music available to us all - and at a reasonable price too - eighteen to twenty pounds/thirty dollars for 4CDs worth.

Released 23 August 2011 - "An American Trilogy" by MICKEY NEWBURY on Saint Cecelia Knows/Mountain Retreat CEC001R – this 4CD reissue comes in a 5-way foldout card–pack with cardboard-colored front artwork (instead of the black embossed original) and a curtailed booklet of 24-pages (no map either). The CDs are the same as the initial issue and break down as follows:

Disc 1 (41:31 minutes):
1. Write A Song A Song/Angeline
2. She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye
3. I Don’t Think Much About Her No More
4. T. Total Tommy
5. 33rd Of August/When The Baby In My Lady Gets The Blues
6. San Francisco Mabel Joy
7. Looks Like Baby’s Gone
Tracks 1 to 7 are his debut album "Looks Like Rain" – issued in the USA on Mercury Records SR 61236 in September 1969

Disc 2 (38:53 minutes):
1. An American Trilogy
2. How Many Times (Must The Piper Be Paid For His Song)
3. Interlude
4. The Future’s Not What It Used To Be
5. Mobile Blue
6. Frisco Depot
7. You’re Not My Same Sweet Baby
8. Interlude
9. Remember The Good
10. Swiss Cottage Place
11. How I Love Them Old Songs
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 2nd album "'Frisco Mabel Joy" – issued in the USA on Elektra Records EKS-74107 in October 1971

Disc 3 (37:14 minutes):
1. Heaven Help The Child
2. Good Morning Dear
3. Sunshine
4. Sweet Memories
5. Why You Been Gone So Long
6. Contelia Clark
7. Song For Susan
8. San Francis Mabel Joy
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 3rd album "Heaven Help The Child" – issued in the USA on Elektra Records EKS-75055 in January 1973

Disc 4 (44:46 minutes):
1. If You Want Me To I'll Go
2. Sunshine
3. Sad Satin Rhyme
4. Why You Been Gone So Long
5. I Don't Wanna Rock (Publisher Demo)
6. Let Me Stay Awhile
7. Flower Man
8. Good Morning Dear
9. On Top Of Old Smokey
10. Interlude: How Many Times (Must The Piper Be Paid For His Song)
11. Better Days
12. How I Love Them Old Songs
13. I Don't Wanna Rock (Live Radio Session)
14. I Don't Want Me No Big City Woman
15. You're Not My Same Sweet Baby
Tracks 1 to 15 are called "Better Days (Demos, Rarities, Unreleased)" and break down as follows:
Tracks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 are PUBLISHER DEMOS
Tracks 2 and 3 are a US 7" single released in 1969 on Mercury 73036. A-side is an Alternate Mono Version to the album cut - which is in Stereo – the B-side is non-album also
Tracks 7 and 9 are HOME DEMOS – "Flower Man" is PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
Tracks 10 to 15 are a live RADIO SESSION recorded 25 November 1970 for "The Skip Weshner Show" on Radio KRHM-FM in Los Angeles.
Both "Better Days" and "I Don't Want No Big City Woman" are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

A fairly obvious and noticeable absence is 'artwork' – none of the three albums are pictured anywhere – even on the CDs themselves. There's a famous picture of Newbury in front of a plate glass Tiffany Lamp – that multi-coloured Tiffany Lamp theme is used for all 4 different picture CDs – but of course without the original artwork to reference it – they make no sense. His second and most famous album "'Frisco Mabel Joy" (the only one of his LPs to be given a UK release in late 1971 on Elektra K 42105) even enjoyed the privilege of a boxed die-cut front with a lovely inner sleeve behind it containing the lyrics – but none of that is reproduced here either. Perhaps there's licensing issues? But if you do want to know what the album covers look like and get a feel for his output – Saint Cecilia Knows re-issued the three records and the fourth "Better Days" rarities set on VINYL in 2011 - and all are pictured on Amazon (and available for sale). 

The shorter 24-page booklet version has liner notes by the Producer and Compiler of the set – CHRIS CAMPION. It also reproduces Kris Kristofferson's original liner notes for Newbury's 1969 debut album "Looks Like Rain" and an article that first appeared in the AllMusic catalogue of 2000 by BEN-FONG-TORRES. There's some photos of Newbury in the early years - his short stint with the Doo Wop group The Embers – a tour with the American Army in 1960 - and a gig poster from November 1970 where his West Coast debut performance is shared with David Steinberg at the newly opened 'The Bitter End' venue in Santa Monica. The last few pages give detailed musician-credits on all albums and extras (Dennis Linde produced and played on "'Frisco Mabel Joy" – Charlie McCoy and Jimmie Haskell are on "Heaven Help The Child" etc). But the big news is the sound… 

All of that slightly underwhelming packaging pales into the background once you start to 'listen' – because not only is the music gorgeous – this set has one the most BEAUTIFUL REMASTERS I've ever heard. Each of the albums is shockingly clean - none-too-trebled for effect – just there in your speakers with truly stunning clarity. JESSICA THOMPSON and STEVE ROSENTHAL did the transfers and they're to be praised for their work with the tapes.

The first LP famously features segues between the tracks of 'rainfall' lifted off the "One Stormy Night" LP by The Mystic Moods Orchestra – and the reproduction of it here is so good that you may double take on the weather outside. The remaster especially brings out the Dennis Wilson "Pacific Ocean Blue" girly vocals that punctuate so many of the songs with an almost churchlike eeriness. I suppose you'd say that overall his musical style is country – but that's too limiting. Singing one moment then talking the next in that richly tonal Oregon drawl of his - there's a shimmering delicacy about the music that makes it both hurting and deeply beautiful at one and the same time. Girls leave, girls stay, hearts lift, hearts break… It's American country-rock music but with a Nick Drake sensibility. Another very real influence is Kris Kristofferson whose similar languid songwriting-style lingers in the background (Kristofferson championed Newbury at the time and has sung his songwriting genius ever since). There's even the melodrama of The Walker Brothers in there too – but never too mawkish.

Highlights include the beautiful ballad "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye" (lyrics from it title this review) and "I Don't Think Much About Her No More" (which feature those lovely background vocals I mentioned above). "The Future's Not What It Used To Be" was featured on the massive "Forever Changes" box set covering Elektra Records and it's huge history. The lyrics of "Frisco Debut" feel real - "might as well be the moon when you're as broke as I…" and "when you're cold, there's nothing as welcome as sunshine…"

Writing something as rampantly patriotic and deeply Southern as "An American Trilogy" at a time when America was dying inside (Vietnam, Race Riots) mightn't have occurred to most songwriters of the day – but it did to Newbury - who stunned the Bitter End audience into silence and tears with it in 1970. Hearing it rescued from the very Vegas version Elvis Presley charted in 1972 (No. 8 in the UK) is an unexpected and genuine pleasure. The remastered sound quality is gorgeous – the strings, vocals – fabulous. The near six-minute "How Many Times (Must The Piper Be Paid For His Song)" is beautifully arranged with acoustic guitars and that "look away Dixie" vibe to the melody. By the time he got to "Good Morning Dear" and "Song For Susan" on the 3rd album "Heaven Help The Child" - the combo of piano, vocals and strings had become almost an artful signature style of his – and so impressive. A slight remake of "San Francisco Mabel Joy" finishes the album with rainfall, acoustic guitars and wailing steam trains in the distance - and you're reminded so much of England's Nick Drake and his perfect three albums on Island Records - "Five Leaves Left" (1969), "Bryter Layter" (1970) and "Pink Moon" (1972) - Newbury's own "American Trilogy" should be just as revered - and is just as good. 

I had thought the 4th disc would be most filler – but it's not. The publishing demos are mostly Newbury singing at piano with some light band accompaniment and are very pretty. "Good Morning Dear" alone was recorded by huge names like Ray Charles and Roy Orbison. Best of all is the Radio Session for KBHM - which is hissy - but with acoustic guitar and voice to the fore - is so wonderfully intimate. And many of the songs like "Sad Satin Rhyme" and "I Don't Wanna Rock" are not on the other albums. "Better Days" itself is as lovely a song as any penned by more famous luminaries.

To sum up – Mickey Newbury’s brand of melodrama Country Rock may not be everybody’s cup of Darjeeling. But if you’ve an open ear and are willing to try it - "An American Trilogy" is an embarrassment of riches and at last its pitched at a price music-lovers can actually afford. Even if Newbury is an unknown to you – this is one of those times when I’d say you should take a chance - because the quality on here is a joy and worth every penny.

Properly fabulous rediscovery time…and well done to all involved...

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