Friday, 10 March 2017

"Stoneground/Stoneground 3" by STONEGROUND (2017 Beat Goes On Reissue - 2LPs onto 2CDs - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Looking For You..." 

California's STONEGROUND - a San Francisco 10-piece hippy ensemble fronted by ex Beau Brummel's guitarist Sal Valentino and no less than six other lead singers four of whom were ladies (see list below) - released three albums on Warner Brothers in rapid succession in the early Seventies and thereafter commercially disappeared into unfair obscurity and local legend (their live shows were a cause celeb of the day).

At times Stoneground comes on like a more rocking version of Leon Russell and his Shelter People (Valentino's voice is similar) with traces of Little Feat Rock-Funk, first album Ry Cooder and because of the raspy ladies - early Fanny. Their sound and style is a mash up of Sixties R&B, Gospel, Sunshine Pop and CSNY influences – with a trace of The Doors thrown in for good measure. Sounds good doesn't it - they were.

Their wonderful debut "Stoneground" hit the shops in April 1971 on Warner Brothers WS 1895 - the half-live/half-studio 2LP-set "Family Album" followed in December 1971 on Warner Brothers 2ZS 1956 - ending their initial tenure on the label with December 1972's "Stoneground 3" on Warner Brothers BS 2645. Those of us who have trawled secondhand record stores down through the decades will have seen their tan-label original vinyl LPs in their droves - cheap as chips and easily attainable. Pretty much an American-only phenomenon - none of their rather excellent albums ever bothered the charts on either side of the pond (their debut received a UK release but the following two didn’t) - and in hindsight that was a bit of a mistake on the part of a Joe Public seriously spoilt for choice in 1971 and 1972. Which brings us to this stunning-sounding 2017 reissue...

Beat Goes On of the UK put out their second platter "Family Album" in November 2016 on BGOCD 1263 (Barcode 5017261212634) as a 2CD set (see separate review). This new February 2017 2CD Reissue gathers up albums Number 1 and 3 and offers them up in a truly fabulous new remaster. There is a ton of detail to wade through - so once more unto the sand dunes and rainy day details...

UK released February 2017 - "Stoneground/Stoneground 3" by STONEGROUND on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1270 (Barcode 5017261212702) offers 2LPs Newly Remastered onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Stoneground" (37:24 minutes):
1. Looking For You [Lead Vocals, Sal Valentino]
2. Great Change Since I've Been Born [Lead Vocals, Lynne Hughes]
3. Rainy Day In June [Lead Vocals, Sal Valentino]
4. Added Attraction (Come And See Me) [Lead Vocals, Deirdre La Porte]
5. Dreaming Man [Lead Vocals, Tim Barnes]
6. Stroke Stand [Lead Vocals, Sal Valentino] - Side 2
7. Bad News [Lead Vocals, Lydia Phillips]
8. Don't Waste My Time [Lead Vocals, Luther Bildt]
9. Colonel Chicken Fry [Lead Vocals, Sal Valentino]
10. Brand New Start [Lead Vocals, Annie Simpson]
Tracks 1 to 10 are their debut album "Stoneground" - released April 1971 in the USA on Warner Brothers WS 1895 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 46087. Tracks 1, 4, 5, 6, and 9 are Sal Valentino originals – Track 2 is a Reverend Gary Davis cover - Track 3 is a Ray Davies song, a Kinks cover - Track 7 is a JD Loudermilk song, a Leadbelly cover - Track 8 is a John Mayall cover and Track 10 is a Jackie De Shannon cover (a Tom Donahue and John Blakely song).

For the debut STONEGROUND was:
SAL VALENTINO - Lead Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars and Percussion
LYNNE HUGHES – Lead Vocals
TIM BARNES - Lead Guitar, Bottleneck, Lead and Backing Vocals
LUTHER BILDT – Guitar, Lead and Backing Vocals
JOHN BLAKELEY – Rhythm Guitar and Bass Guitar
PETE SEARS – Bass Guitar and Keyboards
RON NAGEL – Keyboards and Percussion

Disc 2 "Stoneground 3" (43:14 minutes):
1. Dancin'
2. On My Own
3. You Better Come Through
4. Ajax
5. Down To The Bottom
6. From A Sad Man Into A Deep Blue Sea
7. From Me - Side 2
8. Lovin' Fallin'
9. Butterfly
10. Gettin' Over You
11. Heads Up
12. Everybody's Happy
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 3rd and final album for Warner Brothers - "Stoneground 3" - released December 1972 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 2645. Tracks 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 are Sal Valentino originals - Track 2 is by Lynne Hughes - Track 3 by Tim Barnes - Track 4 by Deirdre La Porte - Track 9 by Cory Lerios - Track 10 by Annie Sampson and Track 12 by Cory Lerios and David Jenkins.

For the third album STONEGROUND was:
SAL VALENTINO - Lead Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars and Percussion
LYNNE HUGHES – Lead Vocals
LYDIA MORENO – Lead Vocals
TIM BARNES - Lead Guitar, Lead and Backing Vocals
JOHN BLAKELEY – Rhythm Guitar and Bass Guitar
CORY LERIOS – Keyboards and Vocals

The card slipcase that now comes as standard with all BGO releases adds the whole shebang a classy feel - while the 14-page booklet uses new JOHN TOBLER liner notes to unravel the huge ensemble’s tangled history (three members of the group would go on to be in Pablo Cruise and finally achieve chart success). The liner notes for the original debut are here as are the lyrics to "Stoneground 3" along with some black and white live shots of the band and a tasty centre-page photo that has the group pushed to 11 members. Tobler describes their roots in the 'Medicine Ball Caravan' show that crossed America in 1970 and eventually became a movie in 1971 (several members of the band featured in it). The arrival of a songwriter like Sal Valentino (ex Beau Brummels) changed everything for Stoneground and got them the WB contract (Tobler discusses the BB's a lot) and we learn that Lydia Moreno and Annie Simpson had been in the cast of the hugely popular Rock Musical "Hair".

But the big news here is a truly gorgeous High Definition 2CD Remaster by tape supremo ANDREW THOMPSON – the Audio Engineer BGO has been using for decades. These CDs have been out before on Collectables – but the Audio here is way better. I’ve never heard the first LP sound so beautiful – all those great vocalists and funky guitar breaks. Let's get to the music...

Their April 1971 debut album "Stoneground" opens with a winner - the very languid Doors-sounding "Looking For You" - a cool little sucker if ever there was one. Lynne Hughes makes her considerable set if pipes known on the cover version of a Rev. Gary Davis Blues number called "Great Change Since I've Been Born". A member of a short-lived Bay Area group called 'Tongue & Groove' - she clearly identifies with the holy-roller lyrics "...songs I used to sing...I won't sing no more..." In fact the splitting of male and female voices as leads on each track works - but I would also imagine that it also made their sound and style hard to nail down (a PR problem no doubt). Valentino does a very Soulful Leon Russell take on the Kinks 'Face To Face' album track "Rainy Day In June" - the ladies giving it some great backing vocals I think Ray Davies would approve of. Deirdre La Porte gives it some Janis Ian meets Melanie Lead Vocals on "Added Attraction..." while Sal duets with her on some lines. "Dreaming Man" is pretty builder of a ballad that has an ever-present hiss in the background at the beginning - but thankfully gets drowned out by guitars and keyboards. Other album highlights include a clever slide-Blues take on Leadbelly's "Bad News" that feels amazingly modern in its instrument arrangement and a storming cover of John Mayall's "Don't Waste My Time" from his 1969 LP set "Empty Rooms" - a song Sal Valentino clearly has the hits for. Can’t say I dig "Colonel Chicken Fry" while the final cut "Brand New Start" is a hurter sung with real pain by Annie Simpson – a song you can’t help feel Bonnie Raitt should pay attention to as a potential monster cover.

Produced by Sal Valentino - the 3rd album saw the band ditch all cover versions and opt for 12 originals. Kitted out with a staggeringly unoriginal album name and artwork taboot – Funk-Rock seemed to be the order of the day. And again it's a mixture of the good and the ordinary - "Dancin'" opening proceedings strongly only to be followed by the neither-here-nor-there "On My Own". Barnes offers "You Better Come Through" again trying hard in a Delaney & Bonnie way to be great but never quite getting there. "Ajax" is beautifully produced - like Maria Muldaur meets Allen Toussaint. Valentino's "Down In The Bottom" feels like Robert Palmer circa "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" - a slick little Funk-Rock groove that hooks in and doesn't let go. He ends Side 1 with the excellent "From A Sad Man Into A Deep Blue Sea" - the remaster shining like never before as shimmering Dobro notes flick and clang in your speakers (what a stunning transfer). Other highlights include the cool Clapton-like slides of "From Me" and the Eagles/Little Feat feel to "Heads Up".

Piano player Pete Sears who played on their debut would later feature in Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship and along with Ian McLagan became a member of the house band that played on Rod Stewart's mighty trio of classic albums - "Gasoline Alley", "Every Picture Tells A Story" and "Never A Dull Moment". Cory Lerios, Steve Price and David Jenkins would form Pablo Cruise and sign to A&M Records for major chart success in the Seventies. Stoneground went on make more albums that no one remembers - even returning to Warner Brothers in 1978 for the "Hearts Of Stone" LP in 1978. There's a website to the band that tells you bugger all info about them...

Neither album is a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination - but those forgotten nuggets in-between the lesser stuff will have Seventies Rock fans turning heads in shock and pleasant surprise. Probably victims of too many faces, too many voices and too many forces trying to get noticed - Stoneground ended having the general buying public not noticing them at all. But as I re-listen to the Little Feat-ish Funk Rock of "Looking For You" or "Heads Up" or the stunning whiteboy Blues of "From A Sad Man Into A Deep Blue Sea" - and in this truly great Audio - I'm thinking some of us missed a trick here.

Stoneground are worth a punt - and this superb-sounding twofer CD set is a great place to start your lines in the sand...

PS: the Barcode 5017261212702 on this 2017 BGO 2CD Reissue seems to be wrongly linked to a 2009 single disc reissue by Collectables for just the first album. So check with your supplier on what issue you're buying until Amazon and Beat Goes On sort out this error/anomaly...

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