Wednesday, 8 June 2016

"Sweet Harmony/Southern Winds/Open Your Eyes" by MARIA MULDAUR (2016 Beat Goes On 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Make Love To The Music..."

Giving you her three forgotten Yacht Rock albums from the mid to late 70ts - "Sweet Harmony" (March 1976), "Southern Winds" (April 1978) and "Open Your Eyes" (August 1979) - this gorgeous-sounding Beat Goes On 2CD reissue remasters those three albums to absolute high-definition perfection.

This is one of the most accomplished CD transfers I've heard in years (another swelligant effort from BGO’s resident Audio wizard Andrew Thompson). But apart from the first album and bits of the second and some heavy-hitter musical contributions from the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell, Michael McDonald, Patrick Henderson of The Doobie Brothers, Bill Payne of Little Feat, Motown’s Stevie Wonder and Jr. Walker and even the 'never guests on anything' guitarist J.J. Cale - you just wish the material (especially the later stuff) as well as the sound deserved such trouser-expanding excitement. But for me there's still enough to warrant purchase - so here are the breezy details anyway...

UK released Friday, 27 May 2016 (June 2016 in the USA) - "Sweet Harmony/Southern Winds/Open Your Eyes" by MARIA MULDAUR on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1232 (Barcode 5017261212320) offers up three full albums remastered onto two CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (57:23 minutes):
1. Sweet Harmony
2. Sad Eyes
3. Lying Song
4. Rockin' Chair
5. I Can't Stand It
6. We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye [Side 2]
7. Back By Fall
8. Jon The Generator
9. Wild Bird
10. As The Eagle Stirreth In Her Nest
Tracks 1 to 10 are her third studio album "Sweet Harmony" - released February 1976 in the USA on Reprise Records MS 2235 and in the UK on Reprise K 54059. Produced by LENNY WARONKER and JOE BOYD and Engineered by LEE HERSCHBERG - it peaked at No. 54 on the LP charts.

11. Make Love To The Music
12. Say You Will
13. I'll Keep My Light In My Window
14. I Got A Man
15. Cajun Moon
Tracks 11 to 15 are Side 1 of her fourth studio album "Southern Winds" - released April 1978 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3162 and may 1978 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56463. Produced by CHRISTOPHER BOND and Engineered by JOHN MILLS.

Disc 2 (59:57 minutes):
1. I Can't Say No
2. Here Is Where Your Love Belongs
3. That's The Way Love Is
4. Joyful Noise
5. My Sisters And Brothers
Tracks 1 to 5 are Side 2 of her fourth studio album "Southern Winds" - released April 1978 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3162 and may 1978 in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56463.

6. Fall In Love Again
7. Finally Made Love To A Man
8. Birds Fly South (When Winter Comes)
9. Heart Of Fire
10. Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)
11. Open Your Eyes [Side 2]
12. (No More) Dancin' In The Street
13. Elona
14. Clean Up Woman
15. Love Is Everything
Tracks 6 to 15 are her fifth studio album "Open Your Eyes" - released August 1979 in the USA on Warner Brothers BSK 3305 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56634. Produced by PATRICK HENDERSON (of The Doobie Brothers) and DAVID NICHTERN (writer of "Midnight At The Oasis").

Housed in their now standard card-slipcase (renders the release a classy feel) - there's a packed 20-page booklet with hugely in-depth JOHN TOBLER liner notes that start on her Folk Days in the early sixties with The Even Dozen Jug Band (see my review for the 5CD set "The Greenwich Village Folk Scene - Original Album Series") and progress onto the three albums concerned. With every song being written by someone else and so many guest contributions - as you can imagine the factoids come fast and furious. There are full album credits and a few repro photos of the artwork.

But the big news is new 2016 High Definition Remasters by ANDREW THOMPSON from Original Master tapes licensed from parent company WEA. The moment you play "Sweet Harmony" for instance which is heavy on harmonising voices - the Audio is truly fab - beautifully clean. The Remasters effortlessly bring out the amazing original Production values of LENNY WARONKER (Randy Newman, James Taylor, Ry Cooder, Gordon Lightfoot, Rickie Lee Jones etc) and England's Island Records in-house Engineer JOE BOYD (Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Martyn etc). For the 3rd album CHRISTOPHER BOND of Hall & Oates fame (RCA period) was brought in - and again the results are pure audio dynamite. But let's get to the music...

The Gospel feel to "Sweet Harmony" makes for a very tasty album opener. Written by Motown's Smokey Robinson and with Strings arranged by Nick DeCaro - the Muldaur band consists of ace guitarists Amos Garrett and David Wilcox putting in licks as the voices swirl around them urging peace on the planet. "Sad Eyes" is a Neil Sedaka cover that is given a real boost by the Electric Guitar presence of J.J. Cale not to mention that West Coast mafia sessionmen - Waddy Watchel on Guitar, Willie Weeks on Bass and Russ Kunkel on Drums (because they've been on so many albums they're often referred to as 'The Section'). Kate and Annie McGarrigle provided the Country-ish "Lying Song" - while Hoagy Carmichael's "Rockin' Chair" and Harry Wood's "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye" (a Harry Bennett and His Seven Aces song from 1933) are two of the old-timer Swing Jazz tunes.

Muldaur's association with songwriter Wendy Waldman would be long and production - she provides the pretty "Back By Fall" and "Wild Bird". Amongst my faves are two old Spirituals - "Jon The Generator" which is Blind Willy Johnson's "John The Revelator" under another name (Muldaur uses a brassed-up version of the John Herald adaption). Leaning in with a Pops Staples guitar tremble - her cover of Reverend William H. Brewster's "As An Eagle Stirreth In Her Nest" goes the route of those Staple Singers Epic LPs in the mid Sixties - loads of voices sanctifying while your neck jerks to that great guitar back beat. Even Arthur Adams gets an uncredited duet vocal on her Blues Brothers funky cover of The Soul Sisters 1964 Sue 45 "I Can't Stand It" - a dancing winner penned way back by Smokey McAllister.

Yacht Rock lovers will adore the downright sexy "Make Love To The Music" - the first of three songs Leon Russell contributed to the "Southern Winds" album. Clearly trying to ape the seductive success of "Midnight At The Oasis" (a song so pelvicly rhythmic that its apparently resulted in gazillions of Seventies pregnancies - like Santana's "Samba Pa Ti") - its harmony is the closest the LP gets to genuine magic. "Say You Will" is a co-write between Leon Russell and Gary Ogan of Elektra's 'Portland' while Rory Block wrote "I Got A Man". Not quite as good (or radical) as Herbie Mann's cool instrumental cover of J.J Cale's "Cajun Moon" (from his 1974 LP "Okie") - Muldaur's take is nonetheless a genuine highlight on an album that feels like its entering the area of diminishing returns - despite its polished production and player pedigree (slide guitar from Les Dudek).

Produced by Patrick Henderson of The Doobie Brothers and David Nichtern (the man who wrote her huge 1974 hit "Midnight At The Oasis") - the final offering is the least convincing of the three records despite some huge names guesting and providing songs. Michael McDonald fans will know that his "Open Your Eyes" (co-written with Patrick Henderson and Lester Abrams) on their magnificent December 1978 "Minute By Minute" album is an audio and musical joy - here it merely seems good rather than great. Stevie Wonder's trademark high-note harmonica tries to amplify David Nichtern's "Birds Fly South (When Winter Comes)" and Jr. Walker gives it some blasting Saxophone on "Heart Of Fire" - but both feel workmanlike rather than inspired. Her covers of John Hiatt's "(No More) Dancin' In The Street" and an ill-advised version of Betty Wright's 1971 Alston Records Funk classic "Clean Up Woman" do little to better the originals. Best is the confessional sexy love song "Finally Made Love To A Man" (something I've yet to do myself).

Re-listening to these three overlooked Maria Muldaur albums has been a fun and frustrating experience. There's magic in them dar well-produced hills - but there's also a fair share of fool's gold. Absolutely worth the punt - and fans will have to own this for that fabulous Audio...

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