Reviews

VARIOUS; The Motown 7” Vinyl Box Vol. 3 (UMC/Motown)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 09:48 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOnce upon a time soul fans in general and Motown collectors in particular were regularly treated to archive releases that made available countless long lost treasures and generous helpings of previously unissued material. Over the last few years the stream seems to have slowed but as Autumn beckons, UMC are about to release a gorgeous box set of seven 7" vinyl singles offering enough vintage Motown to keep the most discerning Motown addict happy as the nights draw in.

Seven discs, two sides, of course, means 14 tracks and , as a long time collector, of those 14, five are new to me and I'm so pleased to be able to add these rarities to my archive. Pride of place goes to Marvin Gaye's wonderful version of Tom Jones' 'It's Not Unusual'. The cut starts with a happy sounding Gaye ordering, "Roll the tape... I'm gonna kill this!"... and he does! 'It's Not Unusual' is a great song and it lends itself beautifully to a soul setting and this is a remarkable version... check out those soaring strings! The "other side" of 'It's Not Unusual' (we're talking old fashioned vinyl, remember) is another new one to me. It's a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell outing, 'We'll be Satisfied', that's right up there with their better known recordings. And speaking of dear old Marvin, another new one to me is 'Show Me The Way' from J J Barnes... who, as fans of the Detroit icon know, "does a great Marvin Gaye".

Of the cuts that I was familiar with, I never tire of hearing Patrice Holloway's look at 'A Touch Of Venus' (to my knowledge, the only soul song to reference Botticelli!) while Jimmy Ruffin's treatment of 'The In Crowd' will remind you of what a great soul stylist Jimmy was. There's the opportunity to compare him with his big brother here as David offers a typically husky, macho 'It's Gonna Take a Whole Lot Of Doing'.

Amongst the other featured artists are The Spinners, The Monitors, Kim Weston, Four Tops and Barbara Randolph whose offering is a sweet take on 'My Love Is Your Love Forever', a song more usually associated with the Isleys.

Richard Sealing's notes fill you in with all the details while the box comes with the usual download card allowing you to access the music digitally. Retail price is around £55 and the box will be available from October 21st.

(BB) 5/5

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 09:59

 

HERB ALPERT & THE TIJUANA BRASS: Assorted Reissues (Herb Alpert Presents)

Saturday, 24 September 2016 09:55 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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The co-founder of A&M Records (Alpert was the 'A' in A&M and his business partner Jerry Ross the 'M'), 82-year-old HERB ALPERT rose to fame in the 1960s as the trumpet-playing leader of an popular, easy listening instrumental combo, Tijuana Brass, who racked up a pile of hits for his own label and sold millions of albums around the globe. On the eve of releasing a brand new studio album, 'Human Nature,' Herb Alpert has elected to reissue his entire back catalogue (24 albums in all) via his a new label he's founded, Herb Alpert Presents. Reviewing the whole set would be something of a Sisyphean task for even the most diligent and enthusiastic of writers so instead, we've cherry-picked a few good ones for your delectation.

Alpert's Tijuana Brass first made their mark in 1962 with their Hispanic-flavoured hit single, 'The Lonely Bull,' which also spawned an album of the same name. The first album in the set of Alpert reissues, it established a blueprint for the distinctive Tijuana Brass sound with its faux Mariachi aesthetics (ironically, none of the band were Latinos nor hailed from south of the border). They wrote some original material but also covered jazz standards and familiar popular songs of the day, reimagining them in the Tijuana Brass sound. Listening to the album now, it's hard to imagine that this was the epitome of cool for some people, but then anything was possible in the swinging sixties. Delivered without the merest hint of irony, some of the music sounds positively cheesy to cynical 21st century ears but it also has an undoubted charm, reflecting more innocent times, perhaps.

In 1964, Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass offered more of the same on their third album, 'South Of The Border,' whose best track is the catchy 'Mexican Shuffle.' The LP acknowledges the rise of The Beatles,  with a cover of the Fab Four's 'All My Loving' and includes an unorthodox take on Antonio Carlos-Jobim's 'The Girl From Ipanema,' which is delivered as a march. Throughout, Alpert's cool, laconic trumpet is a dominant presence. His style is staccato-like with short phrasing but he knows how to deliver a melody in a memorable way. Of course, he was no virtuoso jazz improviser  but he certainly had his own sound.

'65's 'Whipped Cream & Other Delights' is arguably the best and most satisfying album of the early Tijuana Brass albums. It shows the band getting groovier and contains a great uptempo version of Bobby Scott's 'A Taste Of Honey.' Other highlights include the jaunty title song and the wonderfully smooth 'Lollipops And Roses.'  If you're thinking of acquiring one Tijuana Brass album, then this unquestionably the one to get.  Realising they were on a roll, Herb and his cohorts issued their second long player of 1965 in the shape of 'Going Places!' It continued where 'Whipped Cream' left off, opening with the classic 'Tijuana Taxi' and including the equally catchy 'Spanish Flea,' a song that epitomises the cool lounge sound of Tijuana Brass.

Their momentum continued into 1966,with 'What Now My Love,' another groovy set of MOR grooves, whose title track was a big hit on the US Adult Contemporary chart. Other highlights include the wistful 'Memories of Madrid' and the ultra-catchy 'Freckles.' By this time, Tijuana Brass were a slick, well-oiled machine, which is reflected in the precision and polish of their arrangements. Alpert also shows that he can play ballads with deep feeling, exemplified by an emotive 'It Was A Very Good Year' and 'The Shadow Of Your Smile.'

Moving forward to 1968, 'The Beat Of The Brass' was Alpert and Tijuana Brass' tenth album together and though the majority of it was the musical equivalent of 'business as usual' what was truly surprising was the album's final cut, 'This Guy's In Love With You,' a pensive ballad from the redoubtable pen of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It featured Alpert on vocals and was originally recorded for a television special but due to public demand was released as a single, reaching number one in the USA (it was A&M's and Alpert's first chart topper). Sounding as fresh as the day it was recorded, this tmeless song remains a high point in Herb Alpert's canon. 

Significantly, Tijuana Brass would disband a year later and Herb Alpert would go on to launch a successful solo career but these reissues - all remastered by noted sound engineer Bernie Grundman and issued in gatefold mini LP sleeves - take us back to the dawn of his life in music. It's an epoch that is evocatively brought back to life by these six vintage albums, whose music has lost none of its lustre and appeal over time. 

(CW) 4/5

 

THE METERS: 'A Message From The Meters' (Real Gone)

Friday, 23 September 2016 07:18 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

altSubtitled 'The Complete Josie, Reprise & Warner Bros Singles 1968-1977,' this superlative 2-CD/40-track retrospective chronicles the life of one of New Orleans greatest soul and funk bands. Originally a quartet comprising drummer Ziggy Modeliste, bassist George Porter Jr, guitarist Leo Nocentelli and keyboardist Art Neville, The Meters started off as the Crescent City's answer to Memphis' Booker T & The MG's before discovering their own sound. Boasting lean, syncopated grooves featuring interlocking  guitar and organ riffs, their forte was catchy R&B instrumentals. For the New York Josie label (a subsidiary of Jubilee Records)  where this compilation's story begins,  they notched up ten US R&B hits between 1969 and 1971. Their biggest was the brilliant 'Cissy Strut,' closely followed by 'Sophisticated Cissy,' 'Look-Ka Py Py,' and 'Chicken Strut.'  Those four memorable R&B hits are featured here along with their flipsides and a slew of other Josie 45s which fill up the first disc in this collection.

The second disc begins with the group's eight singles and their B-sides for Reprise (all produced by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn), a label they stayed with between 1972 and 1976. They didn't enjoy as much success with Reprise, and could only muster three US R&B hits - the biggest being the strutting, brassy vocal cut, 'Hey Pocky A-Way' in 1974. Though some of their singles undoubtedly fell on deaf ears, this collection shows that the band were consistently creative during this period and hadn't forgotten how to make the musical equivalent of a piquant Crescent City Filly gumbo. By this time, Cyril Neville had joined on vocals and percussion, helping to expand the band's tonal palette. Highlights from their Reprise stint include the infectious 'Cabbage Alley,'  the mesmeric 'Africa' and the super-funky 'Chug-Chug-Chug-A-Lug.' Interestingly, the group's final Reprise hit in the States, the high-energy 'Disco Is The Thing Today,' finds them chasing the mirrorball dance floor dollar. In 1977, The Meters joined Warner Bros. It was a short-lived liaison, yielding a solitary single, 'Be My Lady,' a mid-tempo romantic ballad with jazzy nuances fronted by Cyril Neville's plaintive voice. Its B-side, the uptempo 'No More Okey Doke,' brings down the curtain on this collection, concluding what is a fine singles-oriented overview of a band whose distinctive brand of Crescent City soul and funk music has too often been overlooked and under-appreciated.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 23 September 2016 15:47

 

HERB ALPERT: 'Rise' (Herb Alpert Presents)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 15:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Herb_-_RiseHerb Alpert, the Californian trumpeter and the co-founder of A&M Records, rose to fame fronting the popular easy listening mariachi combo, Tijuana Brass, in the 1960s. They released a slew of albums and scored memorable instrumental hits in the shape of 'The Lonely Bull' and 'A Taste Of Honey' but ironically, Alpert's biggest hit of that decade was when he reinvented himself as a vocalist on his 1968 smash-hit version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'This Guy's In Love With You.'  But come the late '70s as the public's taste and music styles inevitably changed, Alpert began moving in a funkier direction. Released in 1979, 'Rise' - both the single and album - took Herb Alpert into the US R&B charts for the first time (it was also the first digitally-recorded album on A&M Records). Now, as part of a large reissue campaign undertaken by the trumpeter's own new label, Herb Alpert Presents, 'Rise' is back in the shops again, this time remastered and presented in a gatefold mini-replica LP sleeve.

It's not hard to see why 'Rise' lit the R&B charts up. Alpert surrounded himself with some brilliant west coast jazz, soul and funk musicians - including James Jamerson Jr, Louis Johnson, Harvey Mason, Abe Laboriel, Tom Scott, Emil Richards, and Joe Sample - and put together a contemporary set of grooves and moods. The infectious title track with its sinuous, Hispanic-tinged trumpet melody and throbbing, dance floor beat with a hint of strutting street-funk sounds better than ever on this newly remastered edition. The more meditative 'Rotation' is also noteworthy while 'Behind The Rain' begins with an atmospheric intro before morphing into a thundering disco-powered tone poem with orchestrations by Tom Washington (in the guise of his alter ego, Tom-Tom 84). It's back to the dance floor on a faithful trumpet-led version of The Crusaders' 'Street Life' - with its co-writer Joe Sample's piano featuring prominently. Less successful is a pallid cover of Bill Withers'  'Love Is,' with Alpert doubling on vocals on trumpet. There's also a rendition of ex-Procul Harem member, Gary Booker's 'Angelina'  and to close, Alpert serves up a mirrorball re-styling of Spanish composer Rodrigo's guitar concerto, which is not as cheesy as it sounds and features some terrific Andalusian-flavoured orchestration from Barry White's arranger, Gene Page.

Though it may not be perfect, 'Rise' is nevertheless a commendable example of chilled, jazz-inflected disco-funk, and its title track undoubtedly remains a classic of the genre.

(CW) 3/5

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 September 2016 07:08

 

THE ISLEY BROTHERS: 'Groove With You...Live!' (Real Gone/Second Disc)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 11:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

Isleys_Live_albumHere, for the first time ever, a lost Isley Brothers' album is retrieved from the archives and makes its debut on CD. Exciting times, then. Recorded in October 1980 at Bearsville Studios, it was originally slated for release in 1981 but was inexplicably shelved, superseded in their discography by a replacement album, 'Grand Slam,' and then got lost in the shuffle. Until now. Those who shelled out on Sony Music's humungous 23-disc Isley Brothers' box set, 'The RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters 1959-1983' (reviewed by SJF here: http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/reviews/3539-the-isley-brothers-the-rca-victor-a-t-neck-album-masters-1959-1983-sonylegacy.html) released last year will have encountered the album in the guise of CD 19, dubbed 'Wild At Woodstock.' It comprised the same tracks cut in Bearsville studios but in a different order and without the simulated crowd noises that were part of the group's original plan. This release restores the album to its intended state, complete with audience screams and cheers.

Though the crowd noises are faux (in true James Brown style), the album really was recorded live, capturing the band delivering an incendiary in-concert-style set in the more controlled confines of the studio. But I must confess that after hearing the unadorned, 'naked' box set version, the obvious artificiality of the overdubbed crowd noises grates a tad at first. Even so, their presence doesn't diminish the potency of the Isleys' performance, which opens with a souped-up version of 'That Lady,' featuring some blistering Hendrix-influenced lead guitar work from Ernie Isley. Mellower but just as brilliant is the groove ballad 'Here We Go Again.' Taking a stroll through their '70s repertoire, the band also serve up energised takes on their classic songs 'Summer Breeze,' 'Voyage To Atlantis,' 'Fight The Power,' 'Groove With You' and 'It's A Disco Night (Rock Don't Stop'). Ronnie Isley's seraphic lead vocals are superb throughout, while siblings Rudolph and O'Kelly support him with smooth background harmonies. The rhythm section - with Chris Jasper on keys and Marvin Isley on bass - is formidably cohesive, providing tight but fluid grooves. For Isley fans, then, this is a great addition to the band's canon, capturing them during a significant juncture of their storied career.

(CW) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2016 11:35

 

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