domingo, 31 de mayo de 2009

Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day (1970)

In 1968, Vashti Bunyan, husband, and dogs set out on a horse-and-cart pilgrimage from central London to a commune that was to be established in northwest Scotland. Walking towards a utopian dream, this motley crew were the embodiment of the hippy ideal, in both their romanticism and foolishness. For, two years later, by the time they'd made it to Skye, they found that their commune had never gotten off the ground, and no one was left. But, on the way, Bunyan —who'd had a brief, unsuccessful, unsatisfying stint as a pop starlet groomed by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham— had written 'walking songs,' sing-song tunes about keeping the pace up. With an album's worth of tunes in her head, Bunyan returned to London, and set out recording with Nick Drake's producer and arranger, Joe Boyd and Robert Kirby, and members of The Incredible String Band. The resulting album, Just Another Diamond Day, rendered a gentle, fragile, beautiful portrait of the English idyll. Her songs reference neither the politics of the time nor the psychedelically refracted medievalism so prevalent in the folk-rock of the era; the simple quatrains of hypnotic songs like 'Diamond Day', 'Come Wind Come Rain', or 'Where I Like to Stand' instead consist of uncomplicated lyrics that could've been written virtually any time in the past few centuries. The adorable ‘Jog Along Bess’ is about rescuing a bunch of psychologically or physically wounded animals and taking them to the country to frolic with her. ‘Rosehip November’ is a lyrical masterpiece that would not be out-of-place on Nick Drake's albums, whilst ‘I'd Like to Walk Around in Your Mind’ is a touching ode to a reluctant lover. On its release, the album was half ignored, half savaged. Hurt, and feeling like a failure, twice-over, Bunyan retired from music for good. Yet, when Just Another Diamond Day was reissued in 2000, it was passionately embraced by modern audiences and Vashti was roundly recognized as the 'godmother of freak-folk.' And Just Another Diamond Day, a record that once fell through the pop-cultural cracks, has been now, quite astonishingly, accepted as a basic building block in any alternatively-minded collection.,
Vashti sings the atmospheric 'Diamond Day' in a recent live performance:

viernes, 29 de mayo de 2009

Vashti Vunyan: Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind - Singles and Demos (1964-67)

Before the remarkable resurrection of Diamond Day, even before her legendary late 60s horse-and-cart trek from London to the Isle of Skye, Vashti Bunyan was a figure from an older, weirder England: she was a would-be star at the very birth of British Pop. This charming compilation of lost singles and early demos makes plain what Bunyan has always insisted on: she wasn’t a pre-Raphaelite folk princess, but rather an aspiring singer-songwriter, an early, ambitious recruit to Andrew Loog Oldham’s “Industry of Human Happiness”. Unfortunately, in 1965 Bunyan could only be a kind of singing doll, as ALO evidently saw her like the next Marianne Faithfull, setting her up with 'Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind', a winsome Jagger and Richards number. Backed by her own ‘I Want To Be Alone’, the single flopped and Vashti left to pursue more pared-down ambitions, recording ‘Train Song’/‘Love Song’ for Columbia, with just voice, guitar and cello. Again foundering with no publicity upon its release in June 1966, Vashti left again, this time returning to Andrew Oldham and the Immediate label he had just started. She recorded three more singles between 1966 and 1967, yet each again remained frustratingly unreleased, leading to Vashti’s disenchantment with the industry and disappearance, bound for the Isle of Skye and a colourful if obscure existence in which she would not pick up a guitar again for over 30 years. But this anthology, compiled from mouldering old acetates and tapes, rescues several songs that hint at the kind of pop writer she might have been, and show the beginnings of the singer who recorded 'Diamond Day'. 'Winter Is Blue', an unreleased single from 1966, is an eerie, baroque number that might not be out of place on early Joni Mitchell album, while 'Coldest Night Of The Year', recorded with Immediate label mates Twice As Much, is a deliciously frosty British take on the Beach Boys. '17 Pink Sugar Elephants,' from a '66 home tape, have the exotic-minstrel flair of '66 Donovan. And the second disc, a whole set of 1964 demos, recorded straight through in an hour, reveal an oddly determined, genuinely peculiar talent. Now that Diamond Day inescapably rings out during every ad-break, perhaps, after a long detour, Vashti Bunyan has finally become the pop star she always meant to be.,
Vashti performing Jagger/Richards' song 'Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind', back in the '60s:

And here, the B-side 'I Want To Be Alone':

sábado, 23 de mayo de 2009

Maxine Sullivan: Memories of You - Tribute to Andy Razaf (1956) ... plus

A subtle and lightly swinging jazz singer, Maxine Sullivan's delivery was very likable, and she did justice to all of the lyrics she sang during her long career. After moving to New York, Sullivan sang during intermissions at the Onyx Club and was discovered by pianist Claude Thornhill. Thornhill recorded her with a sympathetic septet singing a couple of standards and two Scottish folk songs performed in swinging fashion — 'Annie Laurie' and 'Loch Lomond.' The latter became a big hit and Sullivan's signature song for the rest of her career. Even if lightning did not strike twice, she was now a popular attraction. She appeared briefly in the movie Going Places opposite Louis Armstrong and in the Broadway show Swingin' the Dream. From 1940-42, Sullivan often sang with her husband, bassist John Kirby's Sextet, a perfect outlet for her cool sound. Both had the unique distinction of being the first Black Jazz stars to have their own weekly radio show, Flow Gently Sweet Rhythm, which they starred for two years. Sullivan had a reasonably successful solo career and then, in the mid-'50s, became a trained nurse. In 1968, the singer began making a comeback, performing at festivals and even playing a little bit of valve trombone and flugelhorn. During her later period, she often sang with mainstream jazz groups, including Scott Hamilton's. This legendary 1956 session marked a return to recording for Maxine after a long absence from the studio, and found her in the company of jazz giants Milt Hinton, Buster Bailey, Jerome Richardson, Dick Hyman and Charlie Shavers. The album, which many believe to be the best of Ms. Sullivan's career, was a special tribute to one of jazz music's greatest songwriters, Andy Razaf ('Ain't Misbehavin', 'Honeysuckle Rose'). As an added bonus, there have been added two extra tracks, including an updated version of Maxine's biggest hit 'Loch Lomond' recorded that same year.,
A fragment of the 1938 film, Going Places, where Louis Armstrong and Band play 'Mutiny In The Nursery' with Maxine Sullivan singing in different sequences:
Maxine Sullivan sings live 'Surprise Party', in 1975:

jueves, 21 de mayo de 2009

Brenda Holloway: The Very Best of (1999)

This 15-track collection gathers up the very best of Brenda Holloway's recordings for Motown. A peripheral figure in the company's history, Brenda made the trek from Los Angeles to Detroit to record, working with producers Smokey Robinson, Mickey Stevenson, Henry Cosby, Frank Wilson, and label boss Berry Gordy. Known as “the most beautiful woman ever signed to Motown”, she was one of several female Motown artists who never broke through to the top level of stardom, or even of the company's concern, partially because she was a bit too sophisticated and gritty for the label formula. Holloway's big hits ‘Every Little Bit Hurts,’ ‘I'll Always Love You,’ and ‘When I'm Gone’ are aboard, along with the original version of ‘You've Made Me So Very Happy,’ later appropriated by Blood, Sweat & Tears. Solid album material from the canceled Motown album Hurtin' & Cryin' makes up the majority of this collection, with ‘Hurt a Little Everyday,’ and ‘You Can Cry on My Shoulder’ being two of the highlights. Two previously unreleased tracks, ‘You've Changed Me’ and ‘Til Johnny Comes,’ round out the package. Holloway was a big-voiced gospel-style belter, and while not in the Motown front racks, this scintillating comp makes a welcome addition to any soul collection. Along with The Supremes, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, she is one of the Motown acts I like the most.~

Brenda Holloway with King Curtis Band singing 'I Can't Help Myself', from opening-act for The Beatles' concert (Shea Stadium, 1965):

sábado, 16 de mayo de 2009

Petula Clark: My Love (1966) ... plus

This is one of the 17 major albums Petula Clark recorded for Pye Records between 1957 and 1971. The result of her first New York sessions, the set was issued at the height of their popularity and, as well-loved as it was then, critical opinion of it has grown rather than diminished over the years. Produced by Tony Hatch, there are no less than nine original songs written by him, either alone or in collaboration with Petula. There is the pair of international smash hits ‘My Love’ (a US nº 1, which Petula hated then and still dislikes) and ‘A Sign of the Times’, which with its bouncy B-side ‘Time for Love’, not only stormed up the charts round the world, but also became a Northern Soul favourite. Another highlight is ‘The Life and Soul of the Party’, on of the finest beat songs Petula recorded. It was considered as the first single of the set until Hatch was told that the title meant nothing in the States. ‘Dance with Me’, in contrast, is a slow seductive and hypnotic track, while ‘Hold on to What You Got’ is as raunchy and driving as you could wish and Hatch’s ‘31st of June’ is ‘60s pop at its best. Petula wrote the melodies for two masterpieces which became concert classics and, by the way, are among my favourite Petula Clark’s numbers. ‘Just Say Goodbye’ became a smash hit for her in French, Italian and German and d a huge success for the Walker Brothers round the world. ‘Where Did We Go Wrong’ was just as haunting and provided Petula with a number 1 in South Africa when lifted as a 45. Add to these originals three wonderful covers and the result is a classic album indeed. From Guys and Dolls is remarkable ‘If I Were a Bell’, from the Beatles’ songbook a driving and convincing ‘We Can Work It Out’ and from the then-unknown Randy Newman, the classic ‘Can’t Remember (Ever Loving you)’. As bonus tracks, this out-of-print reissue from 1994 has added another great Beatles cover, ‘Rain’, and two of Petula’s self-penned 1966 B-sides ‘Love Is a Long Long Journey’ and ‘Your Way of Life’, three beautiful and rare tracks. Taken from the original liner notes.

Petula singing live 'My Love':

Here, on a TV performance of 'A Sign of the Times':

The Italian version of another of my favourite Petula's songs, 'Just Say Goodbye':

miércoles, 13 de mayo de 2009

Thelma Jones: Second Chance - The Complete Barry and Columbia Recordings (2007)

Aretha Franklin scored a smash hit in 1968 with ‘The House That Jack Built’, but Harlem-based Thelma Jones recorded the song first. And she did it better, too. It was a seal of approval when Aretha covered you; witness her versions of Ray Charles, Baby Washington, Johnny Ace, Dionne Warwick and Ben E. King songs. Thelma was in great company! Jones’ recording career came in two bursts: ten tracks cut for Barry Records in 1966 through 1968 (including her R&B Top 50 ‘Never Leave Me’ and the Northern Soul stomper ‘Souvenir of a Heartbreak’, both in 1967) and a dozen for Columbia a decade later, when she reappeared with ‘Salty Tears’, a beautiful ballad by the crack songwriting team of Teddy Randazzo and Victoria Pike. Eleven years after her first hit, Thelma brushed the R&B charts for a second and final time with a revival of the Miracles’ ‘I Second That Emotion’. Columbia released her eponymous album that same year. Since then, nothing. What a shame. The oft-funky Barry sides are infused with gospel fervour, while the Columbia decks are glossy, commercial and occasionally disco-fied (in a good way). Yet the two phases sit side-by-side very happily on this compilation, which contains virtually her complete recorded output, thanks to the common denominator of Thelma Jones’ fabulous vocals.~

viernes, 8 de mayo de 2009

Blossom Dearie: Once Upon a Summertime (1958)

A distinctive, girlish voice, crisp, impeccable delivery, and an irrepressible sense of playful swing made Blossom Dearie one of the most enjoyable singers of the vocal era. Her solid reputation was made on record with a string of excellent albums for Verve during the '50s, but she also remained a draw with Manhattan cabaret audiences long into the new millennium. Once Upon a Summertime (1958) is probably the finest album (and my personal favourite) that the bespectacled, bop-mad Betty Boop cut while she worked for the New York label: and that's saying a lot. Dearie's light-as-a-feather vocals float over her jazz piano chords on the definitive versions of ‘Manhattan,’ ‘Down with Love’ and the autumnal title track. Other highlights are ‘Moonlight Saving Time’, ‘It Amazes Me’, ‘We're Together’ ‘If I Were a Bell’ and ‘Our Love Is Here to Stay’. Even if she sticks to mainly standards, her aproach is so unique that it doesn't feel like they have been done before. Her warmth and sparkle ensure that she never treats those classics as the well-worn songs they often appear in less capable hands. Also interesting is her ability on the piano, as she provides most of her own accompaniment. Dearie has a very light and dainty touch and it makes the piano practically sing along with her. Teddy Wilson, one of the great style-setters of jazz piano, singled her out as one of his favourites. Playing with Blossom are guitarist Mundell Lowe, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen, all of whom do a great job of being minimal yet soothing. Believe it or not, Blossom Dearie was born with that name (and what an accurate one!) and, believe it or not, she sounds exactly as she looks on the charming cover of this album !,,

The adorable Blossom Dearie singing and playing 'The Surrey with the Fringe on Top':

Gigi & The Charmaines: Cincinnati's Top ‘60s Girl Group (1960-1967)

This thorough overview of Gigi & The Charmaines' recorded output from 1960 to 1967 shows the Cincinatti R&B trio had the stuff to compete on a bigger field if they'd had a bit more luck. Gigi Griffin, the group's lead singer, was able to meld passion with vocal precision and her partners Dee Watkins and Irene Vinegar brought some superb harmonies and backing vocals to their sessions. Add some memorable production smarts and quality material and you have one of the better soul vocal acts of the era. Their brief and only Billboard chart appearance at #117 in 1961 doesn't reflect the trio's great solo work on six different labels, nor does it take into account their work backing vocals for the likes of Lonnie Mack, Kenny Smith and Carl Edmondson. This compilation not only collects Gigi & the Charmaines' best near-hits, but rare sides, including the group’s Fraternity debut from 1960 ‘Rockin’ Old Man’, backed with ‘If You Were Mine’, for which Gigi wrote the lyrics. It also features their swampy version of ‘Rockin’ Pneumomia and The Boogie Woogie Flu’, a fabby, dangerous sounding and sexy take on Ike Turner’s song ‘I Idolise You’, plus the original version of ‘On the Wagon’, a song later recorded by the pre-fame Ronettes. There are other Columbia, Date and Fraternity recordings, some great examples of their work as back-up singers and all of the trio's Northern Soul favourites, like ‘Guilty’, ‘Girl Crazy’, ‘Poor Unfortunate Me’ and the previously unreleased track ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose Him’.~, Thanks again for passing me this, Martin!

sábado, 2 de mayo de 2009

Lesley Gore: Some Place Else Now (1972)

The most commercially successful solo singer to be identified with the girl group sound, Lesley Gore reeled off a number of big hits all through the ‘60s. But, after six years and eleven Top 40 hits on Mercury Records, she found herself at the end of the decade without a record contract. Bob Crewe, who had produced some of her last Mercury singles, signed her to his own label, but nothing clicked. Exit Lesley Gore, hitmaker. And enter Lesley Gore, composer. It wasn't a new role, exactly -she had written before- but something spurred her to write, write, write during those early days of the ‘70s. In 1972, producer Joe Porter brought Lesley Gore back to the studio and Someplace Else Now was released. The songs scarcely resemble Lesley's classic girl-group items. ‘Out of Love’ would have fit nicely into an early Carly Simon album. ‘She Said That’, the single, is what's left when you drain all the smarm out of something like Charlene's ‘I've Never Been to Me’. These songs remind us that Lesley Gore’s art was always based on a certain anguished undercurrent, even as a teenager. Some of the cuts on Someplace Else Now reinforce the artistic personality that Gore had already projected. There haven't been that many teen-idols who have been able to express themselves deeply within their pop/corporate framework and then be able to take this sense of style into adulthood. Lesley Gore’s sense of style resided largely in the ability to raise most of the songs she sang up into the range of believable emotion. The best example of that on Someplace Else Now is ‘What Did I Do Wrong,’ which she sings with as much flair as her hit ‘You Don’t Own Me.’ The album also shows Lesley attempting to extend her string of hits on songs like ‘Don’t Wanna Be One,’ ‘Mine’ and ‘Be My Life’. Not quite ‘60s pop, yet not really a standard ‘70s singer-songwriter effort, the album baffled the few that heard it and went ignored by the rest. But in Lesley’s case it reminds us that some of her best moments have been on songs that weren’t hits, and it was on these non-hits, perhaps, that her personality most clearly stands out.,