Thursday, 11 September 2014

"Blue River/Stages: The Lost Album" by ERIC ANDERSEN - A Review Of His 1971 (and lost 1973) Columbia Albums - Now Remastered Onto 2CDs By Beat Goes On of the UK In 2014...

“…Candles At The Feet Of The Compassionate Patron Saint Of Youth…” 

Pennsylvania born folky musician/poet ERIC ANDERSEN has a recorded history that reads like some tragi-comedy that really shouldn’t be that funny. After a seven-album run between 1965 and 1970 (5 with Vanguard and 2 with Warner Bothers) – he signed to Columbia Records and finally saw limited chart action with “Blue River” in 1972. It reached the unfairly low placing of 169. But then his record company ‘lost’ his follow-up LP (see story below). A virtual unknown outside of certain circles even to this day – I can only hope that this stunning double CD reissue alters that run of bad breaks because this is a doozy of a release – it really is. Here are the longhaired tape-box mix-ups…

UK released September 2014 – Beat Goes On BGOCD 1159 (Barcode 5017261211590) offers up two albums onto 2CDs as follows:

Disc 1 (46:55 minutes):
1. Is It Really Love After All
2. Pearl’s Goodtime Blues
3. Wind And Sand
4. Faithful
5. Blue River
6. Florentine
7. Sheila
8. More Often Than Not
9. Round The Bend
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 8th solo album – “Blue River” was first released July 1972 in the USA on Columbia Records KC 31062 and February 1973 in the UK on CBS Records S 65145
10. More Often Than Not (Outtake from the “Blue River” Sessions)
11. Round The Bend (first issued on the 1999 Sony/Legacy CD reissue of “Blue River”)

Disc 2 (58:17 minutes):
1. Baby, I’m Lonesome
2. Moonchild River Song
3. Can’t Get You Out Of My Life
4. Woman, She Was Gentle
5. Time Run Like A Freight Train
6. It’s Been A Long Time
7. Wild Crow Blues
8. Be True To You
9. I Love To Sing My Ballad, Mama (But They Only Wanna Hear Rock And Roll)
10. Dream To Rimbaud
11. Make It Last (Angel In The Wind)
12. Lie With Me
13. Soul Of My Song
Tracks 1 to 13 are his ‘lost’ 9th album “Stages” - supposed to appear on Columbia Records in 1973. There’s a history to the album that needs explanation. Meant to be the spiritual follow-up to “Blue River” – tracks were recorded in Nashville in late 1972 and early 1973 and the sessions went well – using pretty much the same crew as the first album and the same delicate vibes and arrangements. But then disaster struck. In Columbia’s transitional confusion - they lost all the tapes (even the artwork) and Andersen was left stranded without career momentum and no answers. Amazingly they remained ‘lost’ until a diligent lady at Columbia called Amy Herot sent out a system-wide search only to be told in October 1989 that 40 boxes of tapes had been ‘found’ in the New York vaults. Columbia brought in mastering geniuses DENNY PURCELL and GREGG CALBI to deal with Tracks 1 to 10 - the usable ‘vintage’ recordings on his lost masterpiece “Stages”. Tracks 11, 12 and 13 were re-recorded by a virtual Country Rock supergroup in late 1990 featuring RICK DANKO on Bass/Backing Vocals with GARTH HUDSON on Accordion (both of course from THE BAND) with SHAWN COLVIN on Backing Vocals.  WILLIE NILE also played Guitar on “Soul Of My Song”. The Sony/Legacy CD of “Stages: The Lost Album” finally appeared in 1991 to widespread critical acclaim. Which brings us back to this Beat Goes On set…

The 24-page booklet has a superb essay on Andersen’s musical career/troubles/vindication by noted writer JOHN O’REGAN and full session details. There are photos of him with Baez and Dylan in 1975, Patti Smith in 1971 and even Shawn Colin and Rick Danko at the 1990 re-recording sessions. There’s also an outer card slipcase – it’s the usual classy affair from BGO. But best of all is a sparkling new remaster from ANDREW THOMPSON – each album shining like a diamond. The audio quality is beautiful – clarity and warmth.

Musically this is singer-songwriter territory with a Country twist. “Blue River” is a lovely album – very plaintive and soft on the ear. His Gram Parsons voice may not appeal to everyone – but the melodies are classy and work their way into your heart. The classy opener sets the pace and style – “Is It Really Love At All” – sounding not unlike James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim…” album from 1971. Piano introduces the perky “Pearl’s Goodtime Blues” feeling not unlike a “Stage Fright” outtake by The Band. The gorgeous title track “Blue River” features a rare backing vocal on the chorus from none other than JONI MITCHELL and another lady song “Sheila” is just as pretty. It gets a little Leonard Cohen on “Come To My Bedside, My Darlin’” with its bedroom lyrics and rolling acoustic guitar. He ends with an accordion romp through the old Hank Williams nugget “Why Don’t You Love Me?” sounding not unlike mid 90’s Steve Earle. The whole album feels like a lost classic – and on re-hearing – it is.

It’s clear from the 1991 results that 1973’s “Stages” would surely have broken the charts for him. It opens with the plaintive “Baby, I’m Lonesome” with backing vocal from his ex wife DEBBIE GREEN ANDERSEN (she’s also on the ending of “Can’t Get You Out Of My Life”. The truly lovely “Moonchild River Song” features a delicate backing vocal from DAN FOGELBERG that so compliments the country melody. But then you’re hit the album’s undeniable masterpiece – the sublime eight and half minutes of “Time Run Like A Freight Train” which is part Tim Buckley, part James Taylor and part Nick Drake. It’s just gorgeous – acoustic guitars and pretty melody searing their way into your heart (“..she asked for a symphony…I only gave her a song…”). Special mention should go to GLEN SPREEN on Hammond B3 organ and DAN FOGELBERG adding so much to the layered vocals on the lovely chorus (his explanation of the song titles this review).

“Wild Crow Blues” is dedicated to his early Seventies pal and neighbour PATTI SMITH and it features LEON RUSSELL on Electric Wurlitzer, EDDIE HINTON on Acoustic Guitar and TROY SEALS (brother of Jim from Seals and Crofts) on Electric Guitar. “Woman She Was Gentle” has a duet vocal with JOAN BAEZ. He evens goes a bit Country Rock on “I Love To Sing My Ballad, Mama” but it’s the least convincing of the tunes on here. It ends with the Folk of “Dream To Rimbaud” which maintains an acoustic rhythm throughout punctured by eerie Pedal Steel from veteran player WELDON MYRICK. The three new recordings are superb too – so impressive - especially “Lie With Me” and “Soul Of My Song” with gorgeous work from SHAWN COLVIN in complimenting his (by now) deeper 1990 vocals.

There’s a photograph of Andersen with Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs circa 1964 on the last page of the booklet – you can’t but think that all these heroes of Americana are only now been fully appreciated.

A gorgeous reissue – beautifully presented and sounding just amazing – well done to all at BGO and a definite reissue of 2014 for me…

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