miércoles, 30 de septiembre de 2009

The Ikettes: Soul the Hits (1965) ... plus:

The Ikettes really should stand beside such as the Supremes, the Ronettes and the Shirelles as one of the greatest of girl groups in the ‘60s. That they have been largely overlooked could be due to a number of factors. Because they are best known as the glamorous backing singers and dancers for Ike and Tina Turner, their role as artists in their own right probably had less impact. Also, they lacked the focus of an identifiable lead singer, as their line-ups were in a state of constant flux as Ike Turner hired and fired them, or they chose to leave because of low wages or other reasons, and indeed it is hard to know who sang what on which record. Lead singers over the years included Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith, Venetta Fields, Dee Dee Johnson (aka Flora Williams), PP Arnold and Joshie Armstead. As well as the singles, the Ikettes had one album to their name, The Ikettes Soul the Hits, originally released in 1966 on Modern Records, which included a number of popular hits of the day as well as their own hits and some original material mostly written by Ike Turner. At that time The Ikettes were Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith and Venetta Fields. It only takes one listen to this album to realize how much better this trio was than many of the other girl groups around, working with a depth and tightness that's way more than simple girl pop. The voices of all three singers are wonderful, and many of the tunes have the same sort of energy as the best grooves of the time from Ike & Tina: upbeat and snapping, and almost with a trace of Northern Soul at times, but a grittier undercurrent at others. Tracks include the super ‘Peaches 'N Cream’, ‘Sally Go Round the Roses’, ‘I'm So Thankful’, ‘Lonely for You’, and ‘Not That I Recall’. This Japanese reissue expands the original 1965 album tremendously, from 12 tracks to 29, with the addition of lots more singles and material issued by some group members as solo artists. Bonus tracks include ‘How Come’, ‘Your Love Is Mine’, ‘Sha La La’, ‘You're Trying to Make Me Lose My Mind’, and ‘Fine Fine Fine’ by The Ikettes, plus ‘I'm Leaving You’, ‘You're Still My Baby’, ‘Give Me a Chance’, and ‘Through with You’ by Venetta Fields; ‘Blue With a Broken Heart’ by Flora Williams; and ‘Easy Living’ by Dee Dee Johnson. http://infoman16.tripod.com/, http://www.dustygroove.com/
The Ikettes singing live 'Sweet Inspiration' and below, 'Everyday People':


sábado, 26 de septiembre de 2009

Judy Henske: Judy Henske (1963) / High Flying Bird (1964)

Success is a matter of luck as well as talent. Given different circumstances, Henske could have certainly been a much bigger star than she was. Instead she's a hazily remembered figure, known if at all for some recordings that faintly prefigured folk-rock, and tangential associations with more famous performers. Her strong, bold, and versatile delivery would have been well-suited for the folk-rock era; her timing was just a bit off. Signing to Elektra as a solo artist, she released her eponymous debut in '63, following it up in '64 with the album that is generally accepted as her best Elektra release. Judy's 1963 debut for the label was a live affair recorded in front of a well-oiled studio audience, the perfect venue for not only her passionate singing style but also her irreverent between-song patter. Henske belts out numbers that most folksingers of the period approached gently and reverently, as though they'd break, and the arrangements, acoustic guitar and bass with harmonica and the occasional presence of a trombone, interspersed with some brassy orchestrations. This wasn't the G-rated side of the folk revival, either, as Henske makes more mentions of sex, whores, whorehouses, and other subject matter not suitable for children than one usually heard on records from this period. As she would throughout most of her career, on this album Henske eludes easy categorization. There's barrelhouse blues with a touch of Broadway belting, there are folk standards, and even Dixielandish jazz. She's at her best when she eschews the jivey jazz for a more straight folk-blues approach (on 'Wade in the Water,' 'Love Henry,' and 'I Know You Rider'). High Flying Bird offers a somewhat more restrained presentation, without the same level of humor and, generally, more conventional blues arrangements — Henske does a version of the title-track that blows the Jefferson Airplane's rendition right out of the sky, and she may give us the most distinctive performance of 'Columbus Stockade' this side of Darby & Tarlton's early-'30s recording, interspersed with works by Hoagy Carmichael and Billie Holiday. High Flying Bird virtually prefigured folk rock, featuring as it did guitars, bass and drums (played by legendary sessionman Earl Palmer). I added a live version of 'House of the Rising Sun' as a bonus track here. As these two recordings show, Judy Henske should have been a major star, rather than the hazy cult figure that she has become. http://www.allmusic.com/

jueves, 24 de septiembre de 2009

Rosetta Hightower: Hightower (1971)

Rosetta Hightower made her primary mark as the lead singer of the classic Philly girl group the Orlons, who rolled off a series of girl group soul hits in the early '60s. After the Orlons broke up, Rosetta Hightower moved to England. Alongside other Yankee transplants like Geno Washington and Doris Troy, Hightower played the club and casino circuit that was in the early stages of developing into what would eventually be called Northern Soul. There she recorded a few singles and released a couple similarly titled albums. ‘Hightower’ (1971) was by far the best of these, merging rock, soul, and folk-rock with stellar session musicians like Rick Grech, Harold McNair, Jim Price, and Bobby Keys. Although the song selection leans far too heavily on familiar recent soul hits like ‘Tracks of My Tears’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ her vocal prowess is undeniable: rather than showy over-souled histrionics, Hightower's restraint becomes her trademark, lending an elegance to these smartly arranged pop-soul interpretations. It's the four pre-album single sides that are a revelation, however: in particular, the energetic ‘Pretty Red Balloons’ is a lost classic with a killer chorus featuring a swooping string section in the classic bubblegum tradition, and her stormy break-beat cover of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Big Bird’ goes gritty and psychedelic in the manner of contemporaneous Temptations singles. Although the other LP, the self-titled ‘Rosetta Hightower’, was also well done and well sung, it was devoted to Motown covers, rather than to more distinctive material that might have helped her make a name for herself as a solo artist. ~ Stewart Mason, Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide.

sábado, 19 de septiembre de 2009

Ethel Ennis: Change of Scenery (1957) / Have You Forgotten (1958)

One of my all-time favourite singers, Baltimore jazz institution Ethel Ennis was born November 28, 1932; beginning her vocal career while a pianist in a high school jazz group, she quickly went on to sing with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to Count Basie. Ennis' debut LP Lullabies for Losers appeared on Jubilee in 1955, with the follow-up, Change of Scenery, issued two years later on Capitol; around the same time, she toured Europe with Benny Goodman, but finding the grind of the road too intense she returned home to Baltimore, and — much to the detriment of her rising fame — rarely played outside of the Charm City area in the decades to come. After 1958's Have You Forgotten?, Ennis did not resurface until six years later, landing at RCA for This Is Ethel Ennis; three more LPs — Once Again, Eyes for You and My Kind of Waltztime — quickly followed before another eight-year studio hiatus which finally ended with the 1973 release of the BASF album 10 Sides of Ethel Ennis. That same year, she also sang the National Anthem at the re-inauguration proceedings of President Richard Nixon. Ennis next turned up on vinyl in 1980 with Live at Maryland Inn; a self-titled follow-up was 14 years in the making, with If Women Ruled the World appearing in 1998 and Ennis Anyone? Ethel Ennis Live at Montpelier on Jazzmont, in 2005. This compilation gathers her two fantastic albums for Capitol Records, Change of Scenery (1957) and Have You Forgotten? (1958), on one single release. Highlights include 'My Foolish Heart,' 'The Song Is Ended,' 'Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,' 'A Little Bit Square But Nice,' 'For All We Know,' and 'The Things I Love' . I hope you enjoy it!! http://www.allmusic.com/
A lovely clip of Ethel Ennis singing 'I've Got That Feeling':

miércoles, 16 de septiembre de 2009

Fontella Bass: The Very Best of Checker/Chess (1965-1968)

The 1965 classic ‘Rescue Me’ is widely regarded as the greatest record Aretha Franklin never made. The song in question was instead cut by Fontella Bass, who, like Franklin, was a singer who channeled the power and passion of her gospel roots to create some of the finest music of soul's golden age. This set is the most comprehensive anthology ever assembled of the great sides the St. Louis-born vocalist recorded for Checker/Chess Records in the mid-'60s. It includes the entirety of her 1966 The New Look album - largely consisting of contemporary covers -, as well as three duets with Bobby McClure - much in the mode of some of the more famous duets coming from Detroit or New York -, plus ten tracks from singles not previously included on album. There are indications that Checker were slightly caught out by the runaway success of ‘Rescue Me’ and weren't sure quite what to do with her, as some of these subsequent singles sound like blatant attempts to capitalize on her hit by sounding as much like it as possible. Some of her best material, conversely, was buried on B-sides, for example ‘The Soul of a Man’ and the duet with Bobby McClure ‘Don't Jump’, which became a big favourite despite being consigned to the other side of flop single ‘You're Gonna Miss Me’. This compilation also shows an evolution in music, as Bass sings in styles that include deep soul ala Atlantic, sweet soul ala Motown, uptown soul ala Wand and soaring soul ala Brunswick. I added ‘Don’t Jump’ as a bonus track, which was not originally included here. http://www.answers.com/, http://www.dustygroove.com/, http://www.amazon.com/

Fontella Bass' classic performance of 'Rescue Me' on Shindig (1965):

sábado, 12 de septiembre de 2009

VA: It's So Fine - Pye Girls Are Go! (2005)

For connoisseurs of obscure girl group pop, the ten-volume Here Come the Girls series remains a landmark. Focusing largely on the oft-overlooked work of British producer Tony Hatch, best known for his hits with singer Petula Clark, the series unearthed a staggering number of lost classics from otherwise forgotten acts like Val McKenna, Lorraine Silver, Tammy St. John and Tawney Reed, proving the London girl-pop scene just as fertile, breathlessly romantic, and enduring as the American classics created under the supervision of Phil Spector and Shadow Morton. Most if not all of the original Here Come the Girls discs are now out of print, but many of their best tracks have been revived for It's So Fine: Pye Girls Are Go!, a 51-track extravaganza that also picks up where HCTG left off, with dozens of singles making their debut. Petula Clark performs two tracks here (‘Gotta Tell the World’, ‘Life and Soul of the Party’), while one of her hits (‘Color My World’) is here via a cover by Two of Each, a four-member group that included Mally Page, sister of Jackie Trent. Mally is represented via a solo recording (‘You Can Be Wrong About Boys’) while her more famous sister is here on two tracks (‘Only One Such As You’, ‘Such a Small Love’). Another song first recorded by Petula (‘Have Another Dream on Me’) is here covered by Dilys Watling. Of the other artists featured, the most famous among them are Helen Shapiro (‘Silly Boy I Love You’, ‘Take Me for Awhile’), Anita Harris (‘London Life’), Billie Davis (‘Ev'ry Day’, ‘Last One to Be Loved’), Pickettywitch (‘You Got Me So I Don’t Know’), the Paper Dolls (‘Something Here in My Heart Keeps a-Telling Me No’) and Jackie Lee (‘Everybody Needs a Little Loving’). Songs you might have heard before include ‘Pay You Back With Interest’ (originally by the Hollies, here covered by Dana Gillespie), ‘B-A-B-Y’ (originally by Carla Thomas, here covered by Ferris Wheel), ‘Take Away the Emptiness Too’ (also recorded by the Foundations, but here sung by Tina Tott) and ‘L David Sloane’ (a top ten American hit for Michele Lee, here covered by Kay Garner). You probably haven't heard ‘Words Written on Water’ (here performed by the Baker Twins) as the original was also an obscure track by the Avons. If you enjoy music by female singers of the ’60s and you are not preoccupied with charts, you will surely love this. http://www.amazon.com/, http://www.allmusic.com/
A teenager Tawney Reed singing, with her energetic vocal style, the Velvelettes hit 'Needle in a Haystack', 1966:
The Breakaways not only backed most of Pye Records artists, but also made some great records themselves, like 'That Boy of Mine', 1963:

martes, 8 de septiembre de 2009

The Flirtations: Sounds Like the Flirtations (1969) ... plus

Although they never recorded for Motown Records, the Flirtations should have, because they sounded like nothing so much as a more energetic version of the Supremes, and by all rights, this exciting vocal trio should have been continually at the top of the pop charts during the late 1960s and early 1970s. They did have a big hit with 1969's ‘Nothing But a Heartache,’ a record that has had an enduring shelf life and actually might be better known now in the 21st century than it was 40-some years ago. Originally formed in 1962 in Alabama, the three-vocalist line up (Ernestine Pearce, Shirley Pearce, Vie Billups) relocated to the UK in 1968 where they picked up with producer Wayne Bickerton and writer Tony Waddington, and a deal with Decca. They recorded the album Sounds Like the Flirtations in 1969 plus six singles released through the Deram imprint between 1968 and 1971, before leaving for Polydor Records in 1972. This set collects the Deram album and adds in four additional tracks from the same time period to make an ideal introduction to this fun group. Among the gems here are the undeniably classic ‘Nothing But a Heartache,’ the bursting-with-energy ‘Need Your Loving,’ the autobiographical ‘South Carolina’ and the why-wasn't-this-a-hit ‘What's Good About Goodbye My Love,’ but everything here falls into the same groove, with upbeat arrangements, spirited singing and insistent, racing and almost unhinged horn arrangements. I added 8 bonus tracks, consisting on three songs recorded for Josie and Festival between 1966 and 1967, two more on Polydor and RCA in the early ‘70s, plus their late disco hits, the 2008 recording of ‘Run for the Exit’ included. 27 songs in total. It's fun stuff, and fans of Motown and Northern Soul are going to love this. The Flirtations are one of my favorite ‘60s girl groups. ~ http://www.cherryred.co.uk, http://www.answers.com/

I have three rounds of video clips from this great soul trio for you today. First of all, a rare performance of the Northen Soul classic 'Nothing But a Heartache', filmed in colour at Tintern Abbey at Monmouthshire, South Wales:

Second, a performance of 'Someone Out There' on a Spanish TV Show conducted by Joaquin Prat, who embarrass the girls asking them about their marital status and the name of the boys they have in mind (being one of The Fantastics and Steve Wonder for the Pearce sisters). This was the third time they visited Spain and, after that, probably the last one!:

And last, but not least, a clip of 1972 Polydor single 'Hold on to Me Babe'. It's anyone's guess what the girls are doing in a sawmill, but it's pretty safe to assume that health and safety regulations wouldn't enable this clip to be made these days!:

sábado, 5 de septiembre de 2009

Judee Sill: Abracadabra - The Asylum Years (2006)

A singer/songwriter with deeply religious overtones and a penchant for the occult, Judee Sill is one of rock's more interesting and lesser-known stories. She led a wild life as a teenager and in her early 20s, spending time in both reform school and jail in the mid-‘60s and developing a nasty drug habit that was to haunt her for the rest of her life. In the late ‘60s she attracted attention for her work within Los Angeles’ folk rock fraternity. An early composition, ‘Dead Time Bummer Blues’, was recorded by the Leaves, whose bass player, Jim Pons, later joined the Turtles. He introduced Sill to Blimp, the band’s publishing company, the fruit of which was ‘Lady O’, their finest late-period performance. The song also appeared on 1971’s Judee Sill, the artist’s debut for Asylum Records, which was largely produced by Pons in partnership with another ex-member of the Leaves, John Beck. Graham Nash supervised the sole exception, the beautiful ‘Jesus Was a Cross Maker’, which drew considerable comment over its lyrical content. 1973’s Heart Food continued this uncompromising individual’s quest for excellence and deftly balanced upbeat, country-tinged compositions with dramatic emotional ballads. A gift for melody suggested a long, successful career, but Judee Sill subsequently abandoned full-time music and died of an overdose in 1979. Sill’s first two albums (a third one was recorded in 1974, but never released at the time) resurface here with extensive bonus tracks, including an almost uncomfortably intimate live version of ‘Jesus Was a Cross Maker’ which stands as a testament to its incredible compositional elegance. For those seeking the perfect addition to early ‘70s female singer-songwriters, such as Carly Simon, Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell, the little known Judee Sill will be a remarkable surprise. Essential. http://www.boomkat.com/, http://www.allmusic.com/, http://www.oldies.com/

Judy on a live performance of her classic 'Jesus Was a Cross Maker':

This was recorded in London on February of 1973 for the "Old Grey Whistle Test" TV program on the BBC. Just outstanding:

martes, 1 de septiembre de 2009

Esther Philips: Burnin' - Live at Freddie Jett's Pied Piper, L.A. (1970)

Originally released on Atlantic in 1970, Burnin': Live at Freddie Jett's Pied Piper, L.A. is a stunning live set which marked Esther Phillip's move from being a loud young R&B singer called Little Esther into an older, more mature interpreter of material in a more jazzy style. She is backed here by a good group that includes Jack Wilson on piano, Richard Tee on organ, Chuck Rainey on bass, and Cornell Dupree on guitar. Esther moves through a heartbreaking set of material that heralds her later 70's recordings for Kudu. http://www.dustygroove.com.

Here’s the track list:
1. Don't Let Me Lose This Dream
2. And I Love Him
3. Cry Me a River Blues
4. I'm Gettin' 'Long Alright
5. Release Me
6. Makin' Whoopee
7. If It's the Last Thing I Do
8. Shangri-La
9. Please Send Me Someone to Love
An amazing live performance of Esther Phillips from around the same time this LP was released (even the dress she is wearing seems to be the same of the album cover). She sings 'Misery' here: