Thursday, 30 July 2015

"The Circle Game" by TOM RUSH [featuring Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor] (2008 Rhino Expanded CD – Bill Inglot and Dan Hersch Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Someone To Love Today…"

Heavily steeped in the American Folk, Blues & Roots movements of the early to mid Sixties - TOM RUSH was already a 5-album veteran by the time he released "The Circle Game" in April 1968 at the age of 27. The bog-standard CD version of this lovely, but long-forgotten gem of an album has been available for almost 20 years now with a slip of paper as an insert and useless hissy sound.

Thankfully Rhino's May 2008 Reissue finally addresses that travesty by giving the album the sonic upgrade its long deserved - a Remastered 40th Anniversary Edition CD on Elektra/Rhino 8122-79978-5 (Barcode 081227997854) - complete with an upgraded booklet and 3 rare bonus tracks. The Elektra/Rhino 2008 CD remaster of “The Circle Game” by TOM RUSH breaks down as follows (52:12 minutes):

1. Tin Angel
2. Something In The Way She Moves
3. Urge For Going
4. Sunshine Sunshine
5. The Glory Of Love
6. Shadow Dream Song [Side 2]
7. The Circle Game
8. So Long
9. Rockport Sunday
10. No Regrets
11. (Coda)
Tracks 1-11 make up the album "The Circle Game" issued on Elektra EKL 4018 (Mono)/EKS 74018 (Stereo) in April 1968 in both the USA and UK. The Stereo mix is used.

12. Something In The Way She Moves (UK Single Mix) - issued March 1968 in the UK on Elektra EKSN 45032. This A-side is a different mix to the album version – the album track "Rockport Sunday" was its B-side in the USA and UK.
13. Urge For Going (US Single Mix) - issued late 1967 in the USA on Elektra EKS-45607 - again different to the album version. "Sugar Babe" from the June 1966 Elektra Records LP "Take A Little Walk With Me" was its B-side.
14. The Circle Game (Take 1) – PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

The 8-page booklet has a new essay and interview with Rush by the respected reviewer PETER DOGGETT and is filled out with session details, trade paper reviews and pictures of US and UK singles. The album artwork is beneath the see-through tray and the CD itself reflects the colour of the original US vinyl album label - all nice touches - and typical of Rhino's attention to detail.

Some might moan that the album's original MONO mix should have been included as well as the STEREO version - I'd take that as a valid point - but two of the bonus tracks are a real find and collectors I'm sure would prefer them.

In an odd sort of way, "The Circle Game" isn't remembered so much for Rush himself, but for the astonishing singer-songwriters he introduced to the world via the record - JONI MITCHELL, JACKSON BROWNE and JAMES TAYLOR - all three unsigned at the time. With these enormous talents providing the bulk of the songs and two cracking originals of his own, this unassuming little folk album practically kick-started the entire Californian singer-songwriter movement. The album's title is one of Joni's best compositions "The Circle Game" which she eventually put out on her 3rd album "Ladies Of The Canyon" in 1970 (lyrics from it title this review). The other two covers are "Tin Angel" which turned up on her 2nd LP "Clouds" in 1969 and "Urge For Going” - as beautiful a song as she has ever written and for me one of the real beauties on this record. Her own version didn't find its way onto vinyl until 1972, when it turned up as a B-side of "You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio". Its CD debut is on the wonderful "Hits" set from 1996 - a HDCD remaster in truly beautiful sound quality. When you hear just how touching her original is - it's easy to see why Rush nabbed the song as fast as he could.

James Taylor's two tracks fare less well. First up is "Something In The Way She Moves" which Rush unwisely speeds it up with funky brass fills ruining the beauty of the song - it's dated and awful. A few months later, Taylor left for London, signed to The Beatles Apple label and released his debut LP "James Taylor" in 1968 with his softer version of the song on it. It was such a lovely tune, several artists covered it almost immediately - best of which is MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT's version on the "Second Spring" album from 1970. However, Taylor aced all of them - including his own original - by re-recording the song for his first hits set in 1976 - the white covered "Greatest Hits" - it's the definitive version of a beautiful song. The 2nd Taylor track is "Sunshine Sunshine" - a far better jaunty love song complete with strings and 60's upbeat message.

Before the album was released in April - Elektra tried “No Regrets” as a 45 in the USA in January 1968 (Elektra EKSN 45025) with “Shadow Dream Song” as its flipside – but it unfairly sank without a trace despite his beautiful tune now being revered as a Sixties love-song classic. I’ve always lovely “Rockport Sunday” – an instrumental that reflects its title – the kind of mellow acoustic vibe tune you’d play chilling out on a Sunday morning at home with a coffee in hand looking out at the sunny day to come.

Jackson Browne's voice and sound is immediately evident in the chorus of "Shadow Dream Song" - a good song - and a pointer to what was to come years later in 1974's sublime "Late For The Sky".

The other two covers are "The Glory Of Love" made famous by Benny Goodman in 1936 with The Five Keys doing a number 1 doo-wop version of it in 1951 - Rush's version is more uptempo and only ok in my books, while "So Long" is an old Charlie Rich song from his days at Sun Records. But then - for me - comes the lethal double whammy of his own two compositions - the gorgeous instrumental "Rockport Sunday" and the classic and magical "No Regrets" (made a huge hit by The Walker Brothers in 1975). To hear them both in this improved sound quality is a genuine blast. The less-than-a-minute string curio that is "(Coda)" is just that - a curio tagged onto the end of the record. Two of the bonus tracks, "Urge For Going" and "The Circle Game", are sparse bare acoustic versions and beautiful for it - a real treat for fans.

Soundwise the improvement is enormous - it's still a little hissy on a lot of the tracks, but the clarity of the instruments and the depth of his huge deep voice are so much more to the fore now - a muscular and fabulous remaster by Rhino's tape-masters BILL INGLOT and DAN HERSCH.

To sum up - flawed in places for sure, but the good stuff is breathtaking - and this remastered reissue finally brings that out. A job well done and an album you need to investigate...

PS: see also my review for the two albums that preceded "The Circle Game" - 1965's "Tom Rush" and 1966's "Take A Walk With Me" now both reissued and remastered by Beat Goes On of the UK in 2015...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Books Series. E-Books giving advice on "Exceptional CD Remasters" in different genres. Check out SOUNDS GOOD: 1960s and 1970s Volume 2...available to buy on Amazon and many other download sites...

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