Wednesday, 14 June 2017

"Seven Bridges Road: The Complete Recordings" by STEVE YOUNG (May 2017 Ace Records CD Reissue - Duncan Cowell Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Stars In The Southern Sky..."

'Outlaw Country' - 'Country Rock' - these things were still being invented in 1972 when Reprise Records sneaked out MS 2018 in July of that year. Subsequently the misunderstood 'new' Country sound of "Seven Bridges Road" by Georgia's Steve Young received scant promotion or airplay and promptly whispered into the wind like a smoke trace from his Southern cigarette.

The tune itself wasn't new. Young had first recorded "Seven Bridges Road" as "7 Bridges Road" on his debut album "Rock Salt & Nails" released back in March 1969 on A&M Records SP 4177. Yet despite indifference shown by radio and public alike - other artists began to notice the warmth of the melody in the title song and soon a slew of covers followed. Joan Baez put it on her 1969 platter "One Day At A Time" - Rita Coolidge slotted "Seven Bridges Road" onto the flip-side of her "Ain't That Peculiar" single in 1971 - and then the big one nearly ten years later - the Eagles featured "Seven Bridges Road" as one of the exclusive tracks on their huge "Eagles Live" double-set in 1981 thereby allowing Steve Young to live off its royalties for decades after (other artists like Atlanta, Alan Jackson, Iain Matthews, Dolly Parton and more have also covered the plaintive tune).

His legendary second album "Seven Bridges Road" was in fact issued three times – and its complicated history needs some explanation. Released from his contract with an indifferent Reprise and picked up by a small enthusiastic independent - the second LP pressing came in July 1975 on Blue Canyon Records in the USA – that issue featuring two different songs on Side 1. But the rejiggered album again sold as little as its predecessor. Finally an almost complete overhaul arrived in August 1981 when Young re-recorded five of the songs for Rounder Records in the USA – but commercially – again no joy.

On top of that there was also a lone seven-inch single recorded before the album sessions with Ry Cooder co-producing. Promo-only – and rare as a conscience in Donald Trump's White House - it's also included here too. So bringing it all back to its Country home (so to speak) - that's where this excellent CD compilation from reissue champs Ace Records comes swaggering in. Here are the boozy, broody details...

UK released 26 May 2017 - "Seven Bridges Road: The Complete Recordings" by STEVE YOUNG on Ace Records CDCHD 1496 (Barcode 029667078825) is a 21-track CD compilation of Remasters that plays out as follows (68:01 minutes):

1. Seven Bridges Road [Side 1]
2. My Oklahoma
3. The White Trash Song
4. I Begin To See Design
5. One Car Funeral Procession
6. Long Way To Hollywood
7. Many Rivers [Side 2]
8. Lonesome Or'ry And Mean
9. Come Sit By Me
10. True Note
11. Ragtime Blue Guitar
12. Montgomery In The Rain
Tracks 1 to 12 are his second studio album "Seven Bridges Road" - released July 1972 in the USA on Reprise Records MS 2081 (no UK issue). Produced by PAUL TANNEN - it didn't chart.

13. The White Trash Song (1975 Re-Recording)
14. I Can't Hold Myself In Line (1972 Session Outtake, cover of a Merle Haggard song)
Tracks 13 and 14 were issued on the July 1975 USA LP reissue of "Seven Bridges Road" on Blue Canyon Records BCS 505. That LP was also issued in the UK October 1976 on Sonet Records SNTF 705. Removing tracks 3 and 4 on Side 1 of the 1972 version and replacing them with Tracks 13 and 14 will allow you to sequence that 1975 version. CHARLIE DANIELS is also listed as one of the 'pickers' on this version of the LP. 

15. Seven Bridges Road [1981 Re-record]
16. Down In The Flood [Bob Dylan cover]
17. Ballad Of William Sycamore [Steve Young song]
18. Wild Goose [Terry Gilkyson cover]
19. Days Of '49 [Bob Dylan song]
Tracks 15 to 19 are featured on the third pressing of "Seven Bridges Road" - released August 1981 in the USA on Rounder Records 3058. That 10-track variant of the LP can be sequenced as follows:
Side 1: 15, 12, 11, 6 and 16
Side 2: 17, 2, 18, 19 and 8

20. Down In The Flood (released as "Crash On The Levee")
21. The White Trash Song (released as "Sea Rock City (There's A High Tide A Risin')"
Tracks 20 and 21 released as a Promo-Only US 7" single on Reprise 0946 in 1972 – both sides recorded before the album and co-produced by ANDREW WICKMAN and RY COODER (Cooder on Bottleneck Guitar). No known stock copies exist.

The 16-page booklet with new liner notes by GARTH CARTWRIGHT make a good fist of explaining the complicated release history of the 1972 album as well as showing the artwork for all three releases (there's even a signed copy of the original repro'd on Page 3). DUNCAN COWELL has done the mastering and while the album sounds great with lovely clarity on those acoustic strums - the remixed 1981 Rounder material has a weird feel - like it was dubbed off the record. Bizarrely the 7" single (tracks 20 and 21) actually come out better and I'd swear that's Cooder's trademark Bottleneck style on "The White Trash Song" changed by some Reprise Records executive to read "Crash On The Levee" without the artists permission let alone knowledge (first time Young knew of it was when he saw a promo copy of the single - a 45 that was never apparently taken to stock copy issue). To the music...

The problem with albums of legend is that there are times when they actually have to live up that mythical reputation. I think Cartwright's assertion that Steve Young should be bandied about in the same breath as Gram Parsons or even Bob Dylan and Nick Drake is frankly stretching belief to the limit. Is this a masterpiece - I don't think so. But there are moments and songs on here when you can 'so' hear why that rep has built up across the years - the 'thinking about the muddy roads' and 'broken down cars in my yard' racing honky-tonkin' guitars of "The White Trash Song" - the lonesome Harmonica wail of "I Begin To See Design" where he never misses the night life now that marriage has made him a different man - and a fave of mine - the hard-hitting one-horse town anti-redneck sentiment of the brilliant "Long Way To Hollywood" (there ain't no banjo on Steve's knee but there's a burning song on his back).

But it's the ballads that cloy at your heart - "Lonesome Or'ry And Mean" where he's going to Shreveport on a Greyhound Bus but despite the freedom of the road is weary at the constant rootlessness - and the gorgeous Gram Parsons magic that's dripping off the simple but affecting "True Note" - a song where there are dues to pay in the real world even as the piano player echoes your pain every night in some neon'd bar. Most fans will love the Merle Haggard outtake "I Can't Hold Myself In Line" (an artist Young adored) that turned up on the Blue Canyon pressing in 1975 - full speed down the wrong road of life. I have to say that the 1981 tracks just feel wrong sound-wise despite a wonderful deep timbre having entered his voice - polished but missing that first flush of magic. And you wish the Alamo Tale of "Ballad Of William Sycamore" had actually been on the 1972 original...

You have to say that Ace has done it again - keeping alive a flame that should not have gone out. Steve Young died March 2016 in Nashville aged 73 - and despite the drinking, the broken marriages and legendarily erratic behaviour remains a mystery still and a genuine spirited hero for some.

The original "Seven Bridges Road" LP will only have you reach for "Rock Salt & Nails" (1969) and his other platters on RCA in the mid Seventies - and isn't that the best compliment you can give any reissue...

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