Tuesday, 30 June 2015

"Strikes Twice/Sleepwalk/Friends" by LARRY CARLTON (2015 Beat Goes On 2CD Set – Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review By Mark Barry...

“...The Magician...”

A regular sessionman for Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Steely Dan and Billy Joel (and they’ll only take the best) – the sublime Los Angelino guitar-player Larry Carlton began his astonishing career at age 20 by getting a debut album out on Uni Records called "With A Little Help From My Friends" in 1968. After another album on Blue Thumb in 1970 and a decade of sideman work for a huge array of impressive names – he signed with Warner Brothers in 1978 and popped out "Larry Carlton". This British 2CD reissue deals with the three albums that followed in the Eighties and they’re typical fare for that period – funky instrumentals – smooth grooves and some truly dreadful pap best forgotten (he was a terrible vocalist). Thankfully the slick outweighs the slimy and this beautiful sounding 2CD set has much to offer lovers of that West Coast sound. Here are the fretful (and dare we say it) soulful details...

UK released June 2015 (July 2015 in the USA) – "Strikes Twice/Sleepwalk/Friends" by LARRY CARLTON on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1187 (Barcode 5017261211873) is a 2CD Set containing 3 Albums from 1980, 1982 and 1983 and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (59:34 minutes):
1. Strikes Twice
2. Ain’t Nothin’ For A Heartache
3. Midnight Parade
4. The Magician
5. Springville [Side 2]
6. Mulberry Street
7. In My Blood
8. For Love Alone
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 4th studio album "Strikes Twice" – released 1980 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3380 and in Europe on Warner Brothers K 56723

9. Late Nite
10. Blues Bird
11. Song For Katie
12. Frenchman’s Flat
Tracks 9 to 12 are Side 1 of his 5th studio album "Sleepwalk" – released 1982 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3635 and in Europe on Warner Brothers WB K 56974

Disc 2 (62:49 minutes):
1. Sleepwalk
2. Upper Kern
3. 10 P.M.
4. You Gotta Get It While You Can
Tracks 1 to 4 are Side 2 of his 5th studio album "Sleepwalk" – released 1982 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3635 and in Europe on Warner Brothers WB K 56974

5. Breaking Ground
6. South Town
7. Tequila
8. Blues For T.J.
9. Song In The 5th Grade [Side 2]
10. Cruisin’
11. L.A, N.Y.
12. Friends
Tracks 5 to 12 are his 6h studio album "Friends" – released 1983 in the USA and Europe on Warner Brothers 9 23834-1

There’s an outer card slipcase, a 20-page booklet with full album credits and new liner notes by noted Jazz Columnist and Writer CHARLES WARING and new 2015 ANDREW THOMPSON Remasters. As the production values for these albums was second-to-none in the first place – it should come as no surprise to find that these CDs sound amazing – full of expert playing – mastered by talented people. Time after time - you’re struck by the beauty of these recordings - and despite their origin they’re thankfully free of 80’s studio trickery and excess. Wonderful transfers on all three albums...

It starts out with the zippy instrumental “Strikes Twice” where guitars battle it out with keyboards – his soloing is superb towards the end of the track. But we then enter serious cheese puff territory with “Ain’t Nothin’ For A Heartache” – the kind of terrible tune that would end an 80’s rom-com that didn’t work (his vocal is best forgotten). Things improve with “Midnight Parade” sounding not unlike the Crusaders circa “Street Life” (in fact Pops Popwell guests on Bass). Originally mastered by Bernie Grundman – the production qualities are second to none on “Mulberry Street” where his finger-playing dexterity threatens to run away with itself (endless zippy soloing). We then go into more commercial funk with the second of three ill-advised vocals on the album “The Magician” – at least a little better than track 2. The album ends on the truly lovely instrumental “For Love Alone” – a sort of Jeff Beck “Cause We Ended As Lover” type track (a Stevie Wonder cover he did on his 1975 LP “Blow By Blow”) where Carlton stops being flashy on the frets and actually gets some feel into the five-minute slowy (his guitar work is gorgeous).

Despite it uninspiring artwork - things improved out of all proportion with the fabulous “Sleepwalk” album – the kind of mellow groove record that was all good – a side-to-side player. The mostly instrumental “Sleepwalk” employed the same group of top session players that “Strikes Twice” did – Abraham Laboriel plays fantastically slinky Funk-Bass on “Blues Bird”, “”Song For Katie”, “Upper Kern” and “”You Gotta Get It While You Can” while Pops Popwell of The Crusaders does the slappy honours on “Frenchman’s Flat” and “Sleepwalk”. Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro (of Toto) play Drums while Greg Mathieson and Don Freeman provide cool keyboards flourishes throughout. It opens with an impossibly cool double-whammy of cool grooves - “Last Nite” – the kind of Crusaders slink they so effortlessly excelled at – which is followed by a huge fave of mine - the wicked shuffle of “Blues Bird”. Brian Mann backs up the pings and bends with soft keyboard fills – very nice indeed (Carlton’s playing is exceptional on “Blues Bird” and for me is worth the price of admission alone). His Hawaiian take on the Santo & Johnny’s 1959 Number 1 hit  “Sleepwalk” opens Side 2 and became an unlikely hit for Carlton too. Another fave of mine is the slow funk and downright sexy groove of “10:00 P.M.” which sounds like some Blaxsploitation movie backing track as our hero walks around his mirrorball boudoir in a silk kimono eager to show a lady the wonder of his Shaft (oh dear). It ends on the slap-bass dancer “You Gotta Get It While You Can” which actually sounds out of character with the rest of the mainly mellow album (great keys though).

The “Friends” albums continues the good stuff as it brings on board talents like Joe sample of The Crusaders, B.B. King (a co-write with Carlton on “Blues For T.J.”) and Michael Brecker playing Saxophone on the cover of the Champs “Tequila” with Al Jarreau providing vocals. The album opens with a great one-two – a pair of slick instrumentals – the smooth “”Breaking Ground” and the uber-funky and impossibly catchy “South Town” - Joe Sample on Fender Rhodes backed up by a fantastic brass arrangement. Carlton’s guitar playing on “South Town” feels like “Hill Street Blues” lets its hair down and hits the dancefloor – a really great groove (with Joe providing a cool solo). Another Carlton original is “Cruisin’” that tries hard but feels like it’s going nowhere – better is the B. B. King inspired “Blues For T.J.” that sees Carlton duet with the great Bluesman – aping his style of playing (again Sample plays Fender Rhodes while Jeff Porcaro of Toto and Abraham Loboriel bringing up the rhythm section of Drums and Bass). Brecker ends the album on the smooze of “Friends”.

So there you have it – not all genius for sure – but the good stuff is ‘so’ good. And once again Beat Goes On presents the lot in a classy and pleasing way. If you’re partial to your West Coast grooves (like me) – you’re gonna have to have it...

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