Friday, 31 July 2015

"The Singer And The Song" by LABI SIFFRE (2015 Edsel Expanded CD Reissue – Phil Kinrade Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Find Myself A New Life…"

Labi Siffre's 2nd studio album "The Singer And The Song" was released in the UK on the Pye International label in July 1971 and finally kick-started his chart career (it weighed in at Number 47 for one week whereas his self-titled debut album from 1970 didn’t chart at all). It would take his 3rd studio album "Crying Laughing Loving Lying" from October 1972 with its hooky title track and the hugely popular "It Must Be Love" (both hit 45s) before Siffre finally broke through to the masses as a singer songwriter of note. Along with his brilliant and underrated debut LP – "The Singer And The Song" has remained something of a curio in his catalogue for most – but this gorgeous CD Reissue/Remaster makes a strong case for reassessment. Like all his albums – there are moments of Funky Rock genius ("Rocking Chair" and "Summer Is Coming") and even beauty ("Bless The Telephone" and "Who Do You See?")...

This UK released Friday 31 July 2015 Edsel CD reissue on EDSA 5040 (Barcode 740155504038) is essentially a re-run of the June 2006 EMI CD remaster that’s been deleted for years now. What’s new is that the former 21-track EMI CD version has now had two extras added on – B-sides that make their CD debut here for the first time anywhere (see lists below) – thereby filling in holes in his Discography. Also upgraded is the 12-page booklet of old into a new 32-page version. It’s housed inside a rather lovely gatefold card digipak and supplies full lyrics to the LP’s 15 songs as well as the 8 bonus tracks, UK and European 7" Single Picture Sleeves, a publicity photo circa 1971 and a new ALAN ROBINSON interview with Siffre in 2015. It runs to 58:21 minutes and like the other 4 titles in this 2015 reissue series - it’s very tastefully done. Here are the finite details…

1. There's Nothing in The World Like Love
2. You're Lovely
3. A Number Of Words
4. Who Do You See?
5. Not So Long Ago
6. The Shadow Of Our Love
7. When I'm On My Own You Are On My Mind
8. Rocking Chair [Side 2]
9. Interlude
10. Thank Your Lucky Star
11. Talkabout
12. Relax
13. Bless The Telephone
14. Summer Is Coming
15. Goodbye
Tracks 1 to 15 are his 2nd album "The Singer And The Song" - released July 1972 in the UK on Pye Records NSPL 28147 (no USA issue).

16. When You Find You Need A Friend – non-album B-side to "Thank Your Lucky Star" issued as UK 7" single in February 1971 on Pye International 7N.25542
17. Get To The Country – non-album A-side issued as a UK 7" single in July 1971 on Pye International 7N.25560 (its B-side is track 18)
18. A Feeling I Got – non-album B-side to "Thank Your Lucky Star" (track 17)
19. Till Night Time Comes Along – album outtake first issued June 2006 on the EMI CD as a bonus track
20. Fallin’ For You - album outtake first issued June 2006 on the EMI CD as a bonus track
21. Oh What A day - album outtake first issued June 2006 on the EMI CD as a bonus track, from the children’s musical "The Magic Bed"
22. Just A Face - album outtake first issued June 2006 on the EMI CD as a bonus track, from the children’s musical "The Magic Bed"
23. Seasons Come, Seasons Go - album outtake first issued June 2006 on the EMI CD as a bonus track
Notes: Tracks 16 and 18 are new to this reissue

The original inner gatefold sleeve artwork of the LP with its handwritten track details is reproduced on both inner flaps of the digipak (the CD itself is light blue in colour to reflect the original UK Pye Record label - a nice touch). There’s a photo of EMI Tape Boxes on Page 31 - while the interview from Pages 25 to 30 goes into some depth with the singer-songwriter about the album’s producer Ian Green who had done the console duty on the debut.

Born in London in 1945 to a Belgian/Barbadian mum and Nigerian father, Labi had his demos sent to a music publisher in late 1969 which resulted in a publishing contract and the recording and release of his first album on Pye Records early in 1970 (Pye Records at that time was home to The Kinks and Status Quo). His style for the first 5 albums he did on Pye is more singer-songwriter than soulster, though the tracks themselves are often very soulful in their nature - sort of a ‘Bill Withers meets Gilbert O'Sullivan’ vibe. Many were just Labi, Acoustic Guitar and his high falsetto voice. He's often lumped in with the Easy Listening genre here in the UK that frankly does his superb song-writing talents a huge disservice. And like Gilbert O'Sullivan – Siffre is another 'soft' songwriter of the Seventies not given nearly enough credit for his brilliance in penning a truly touching tune, but beloved still by fans and those who like their singers to be on the side of Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor.

PHIL KINRADE at Alchemy Mastering has transferred the fabulous Audio remastering done by EMI in 2006 and the results are stupendous – each track beautifully clear, muscular and a real revelation.

Pye tried two 45s – one from the forthcoming album and a standalone track in the same month as the LP release. "Thank Your Lucky Star" b/w "When You Find You Need A Friend" was UK released in February 1971 on Pye International 7N.25542 - while the superb non-album "Get To The Country" b/w "A Feeling I Got" surfaced in July 1971 on Pye International 7N.25560. The first single wasn't a great choice (I own a titled 'promo-only' picture sleeve for it in the UK which is unfortunately not pictured in the booklet) but the second was accomplished and should have made a noise – unfortunately both tanked and the LP did the same.

Very much an album of its time – some tunes like the opener "There's Nothing In The World Like Love" with its plinking piano, hippy lyrics and happy-wappy melody admittedly have a slightly dated feel – but despite that – are undeniably pretty. The 32-second "You're Lovely" is a throwaway acoustic interlude (gorgeous audio) that precedes the dreadful "A Number Of Words" where Green's arrangements of the song have Siffre sound like Tom Jones seeking a hit but in a bad way. Far better is "What Do You See?" which has a naff orchestral intro that suddenly fades into a sweet acoustic ballad – and it hits you – his way with a melody that wins you over. "The Shadow Of Our Love" is a soft-shoe shuffle with strings leaving the short-lived "When I'm On My Own You Are On My Mind" to finish Side 1 in Spanish Acoustic style (again with beautifully clear audio).

Side 2 opens with what is probably the best track on the LP and something that should have been released as a single – the funky "Rocking Chair" (lyrics from it title this review). Brian Odgers provided and played the Bass Line while Colin Green provided the guitar solo. "Interlude" is ok but "Thank Your Lucky Star" feels patronizing even now and even though it was sincerely trying to be informative about 'food for the hungry' (a kazoo gives it an almost comical chorus that just doesn’t work). Prettier by far is "Talkabout" – an acoustic plea to a 'beautiful dream girl' with fab audio throughout. "Relax" is again given clunky rhythms and strings that overdo it that are partially redeemed by an "I Got The..." bass-break-moment half way through. Far sweeter to the ear and the heart is the album's other ballad winner - "Bless The Telephone" – lovely and again sounding like he's in your living room. Pace picks up big time with another choice LP cut "Summer Is Coming" where John Spooner plays the Bass Drum accompanied by nice brass arrangements. The two elusive non-album B-sides "When You Find You Need A Friend" and "A Feeling I Got" finally get long overdue airings onto CD and turn out to be half-decent tracks. But bluntly the outtakes like "Till Night Time Comes Along" and "Fallin' For You" are much better – even if they do sound suspiciously like 1975 or later (him and his electric piano).

Increasingly his songs are being name-checked and used by R'n'B soul boys of the last few years who have realised that Labi's songs offer a wealth of good source material. KAYNE WEST sampled "My Song" from "Crying Laughing Loving Lying" on his "I Wonder" track from 2007's “Graduation" - while both JAY-Z and EMINEM have famously sampled the stunning bass break that happens half way through "I Got The..." on the "Remember My Song" LP from 1975. Siffre retired for a few years - but then returned in 1987 with "(Something Inside) So Strong" on China Records - a magnificent Anti-Apartheid anthem and as moving a song as you're ever likely to hear.

In truth “The Singer And The Song” is a good 3-star album at best rather than a great one – but still featuring those sporadic moments of warmth. The extras certainly beef it up and make the purchase worthwhile and the audio/presentation is spot on.

Well done to Edsel for getting these reissues out there once again and in such a classy way too...

The 31 July 2015 EDSEL Expanded CD Remasters for Labi Siffre are:

1. Labi Siffre (1970)
Edsel EDSA 5039 (Barcode 740155503932) with 6 Bonus Tracks
2. The Singer And The Song (1971)
Edsel EDSA 5040 (Barcode 740155504038) with 8 Bonus Tracks
3. Crying Laughing Loving Lying (1972)
Edsel EDSA 5041 (Barcode 740155504137) with 8 Bonus Tracks
4. For The Children (1973)
Edsel EDSA 5042 (Barcode 740155504236) with 1 Bonus Track
5. The Last Songs (1998)
Edsel EDSA 5043 (Barcode 740155504335) no bonus tracks

His 5th album "Remember My Song" from March 1975 on EMI was reissued on CD in 2006 but for some undisclosed reason is not included in this 2015 reissue campaign.

There was one last album in the Seventies for EMI called "Happy?" released in November 1975 and its 10-tracks are available on CD albeit in a round about way. The EMI CD compilation called "The Music Of Labi Siffre" contains all but one song of the "Remember My Song" album and the full "Happy?" album (see separate review) – so you acquire that budget-priced CD to get the guts of both albums at a reasonable cost.

The 14 new tunes of “The Last Songs” was recorded live on Tour in 1998 and released on CD that year. It was reissued in 2006 and is once again in this 2015 Edsel campaign (no bonus tracks). It’s beautifully recorded and songs like "Sparrow In The Storm" and "Why Isn't Love Enough?" show Siffre has lost none of his singer-songwriter magic...

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