Wednesday, 18 December 2013

“Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes/My Sportin’ Life” by JOHN KAY [of Steppenwolf] (2008 Beat Goes On CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

This review is part of my Series "SOUNDS GOOD: Exceptional CD Remasters 1970s Rock And Pop" 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 can't help but think that John Kay (Steppenwolf's vocalist and principal songwriter) has seen a thing or two. These two cruelly ignored Seventies albums are full of great tunes and characters gingerly chopping their way through the heartlands - humping, burning and looting - and that's just the cover versions. Here are the born wild details...

UK released April 2008 (reissued November 2009) - “Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes/My Sportin’ Life” by JOHN KAY [of Steppenwolf] on Beat Goes On BGOCD797 (Barcode 5017261207975) runs to 77:44 minutes and breaks down like this:

1. Many A Mile
2. Walk Beside Me
3. You Win Again
4. To Be Alive
5. Bold Marauder
6. Two Of A Kind
7. Walkin’ Blues
8. Somebody
9. I’m Movin’ On
Tracks 1 to 9 are his debut vinyl solo album "Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes" first released April 1972 in the USA on ABC/Dunhill Records DSX 50120 and July 1972 in the UK on Probe Records SPB 1054.

10. Moonshine
11. Nobody Lives Here
12. Drift Away
13. Heroes And Devils
14. My Sportin’ Life
15. Easy Evil
16. Giles Of The River
17. Dance To My Song
18. Sing With The Children
Tracks 10 to 18 being his 2nd solo album "My Sportin' Life" – released July 1973 in the USA and UK on ABC/Dunhill DSX-50147 and Probe SPBA 6274 respectively.

The outer card wrap around the jewel case pictures both albums, the 20-page booklet has comprehensive liner notes by noted writer JOHN TOBLER and includes lyrics to both LPs, detailed recording info, photos and interviews - it's a thoroughly great job. But that's nothing to the fantastic sounding remaster done by ANDREW THOMPSON at Sound Performance Studios - unbelievably clear and full of muscle. Having owned clean vinyl copies of these albums for decades now - it's a blast to hear detail and power like this - a really brilliant transfer.

The albums liberally mix originals with cleverly chosen covers - he treats Hank Williams "You Win Again" pretty much like the original (wistful and self-deprecating) but he completely funks up Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" sounding not unlike fellow label mates Three Dog Night. I also love the dark and brooding cover of Richard Farina's "Dark Marauder" with it's body slashing count - his vocals and Dulcimer playing leaping out of your speakers - fabulous stuff (lyrics from it title this review). Then there's two contrasts - his own "Two Of A Kind" which is a plaintive and aching ballad about him and his lady of the moment 'knowing' themselves which is immediately followed by a bottleneck guitar romp through Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" sounding like Steppenwolf at their very bluesy best (he plays the harmonica too). And again - the production values are absolutely superb.

The second album is good too - opening with a country-feel song by Lee Emerson of The Five Man Electrical Band called "Moonshine (Friend Of Mine)" - it's followed by his own mid-tempo "Nobody Lives Here Anymore" and then a cover of Mentor Williams' wonderfully evocative "Drift Away". What a song this is - "gimme the beat boys and free my soul...I wanna get lost in your Rock 'n' Roll...". Dobie Gray, Humble Pie and Rod Stewart did fantastic versions of it in 1973, 1974 and 1975 respectively. "Heroes And Devils" was written by Renee Armand and Kerry Chater of Gary Puckett's Union Gap and again suits Kay's penchant for acoustic ballads that tell stories of drifters and losers. The best track for me is his self-penned "My Sportin' Life" which appeared on the brill "Gold" 2CD set for Steppenwolf (see separate review) - great stuff. The Anita O'Day cover of "Easy Evil" is slinky and sexy while "Giles Of The River" is a BECKER/FAGEN exclusive song unavailable on any Steely Dan album (you can so hear their 1972 songwriting on it). It ends on a high note - a rocking bluesy jaunt through "Sing With The Children" by Ron Davies. Davies wrote the truly fab "It Ain't Easy" which was covered by Davie Bowie on "Ziggy Stardust" in 1972, Dave Edmunds in 1971 on "Rockpile" with Three Dog Night and John Baldry literally naming entire albums after the song in 1970 and 1971. The menacing slide guitar of "Sing With The Children" goes on for near seven minutes. "I'm going down to the river...down to the water side..." he roars throughout. I love it!

To sum up - anyone expecting full on Steppenwolf Rock may be disappointed by what they hear here on these two albums. But I'd say give this nugget a chance - there's so much to enjoy and savour and after 4 decades of still discovering stuff about the Seventies - isn't that nice.

“It’s many a mile I’ve been on this road…” he bemoans on the Side 1 opener of “Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes“. Time to remember this fabulous traveller you howlers…

PS: Beat Goes On also released the first 8 Steppenwolf albums on excellent remasters with the same quality packaging and sound. And there are also superlative 2013 Japanese SHM-CD remasters of the same albums with 5" card repro artwork and bonus tracks which are not available on the BGO issues. They’re all available on Amazon with a search...

No comments:

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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