Reissue: James Talley’s “Tryin’ Like the Devil”

By Ken Paulson

A lot of us who were fans of  Jerry Jeff Walker, Rusty Wier, Michael Martin Murphey and others in the mid-70s were pleasantly surprised by a newcomer named James Talley. He released four albums on Capitol Records in that decade, including the highly admired Tryin’ Like the Devil.

That album is now back in a 40th anniversary edition, released by Talley’s own Cimarron Records. This edition comes with extensive liner notes and full lyrics, and is available at Talley’s site.

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Re-issue: Lesley Gore’s “Love Me By Name”

By Ken Paulson

Real Gone Music remains a great friend to fans of ’60s pop music queens, with a fine catalog recognizing the legacies of Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Jackie DeShannon, and recently,  Lesley Gore. Following up their reissue of her Someplace Else Now, Real Gone Music has issued an expanded edition of the 1976 album Love Me By Name.

This adventurous album with a sci-fi cover reunited Lesley Gore with producer Quincy Jones, who recorded all of her early “It’s My Party”-era hits. Lesley hadn’t had much success in the ’70s, and this was a stab at giving her a contemporary sound.

It succeeded in doing that, though the album didn’t find an audience. Love Me By Name features an all-star group of players (Herbie Hancock, Harvey Mason, Jim Keltner and  Dave Grusin among them) , and includes “Sometimes,” a performance with the then-emerging Brothers Johnson.

Lesley co-wrote the songs with Ellen Weston, and they ‘re well-crafted. I’ve long admired “Immortality,” the single from the album. It’s about reincarnation or more precisely bouncing back from death. It is the peppiest song ever about the afterlife and features an 11 syllable hook: “Im-im-im-im-im-mo- mo – Imortality.”

Lesley Gore had a rich writing and recording career long after the “party” was over. This new collection captures some of her most ambitious later work.

Re-issue: Petula Clark’s “Natural Love”

petulaBy Ken Paulson

Petula Clark is about to release a new album. Yes, at age 83, she has a new collection called From Now On, set for release on September 30. That will mark an astonishing 74 years since she first stepped to a microphone to sing on the radio at age 9 during World War II.

Most of us know her from her amazing run in the ‘60s, turning out some of the finest pop singles of all time, including “Downtown,” “I Know a Place,” “My Love” and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway.”

Yet after that chart-topping success, there were relatively fallow years, even though she kept recording. Natural Love, a new collection from Real Gone Music captures an intriguing chapter of her career in the early ‘80s when she was signed to Scotti Brothers Records and was recording songs with a country flavor.

That made sense. Olivia Newton-John had enjoyed extraordinary success blending pop and country. Surely Petula Clark could do the same.

The career move started promisingly with “Natural Love,” a top 20 country hit in 1981. But there were no more hits in a country vein and the label didn’t even issue an album.

Natural Love remedies that, with 11 tracks from the Scotti Brothers years. There’s a notable cover of the Fred Rose song and Willie Nelson hit “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and the playful “I Like What I’m Looking At” should have been a hit in an era of Janie Fricke and Barbara Mandrell.

Included are two songs written by Clark – “Because I Love Him” and “Darkness” – and a cover of “Edelweiss,” a song Petula Clark performed at the time in a revival of The Sound of Music.

Natural Love is a worthy addition to the recorded legacy of one of the most successful pop singers of the 20th – and now 21st – century.

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Re-issues: Survivor – The Definitive Collection

By Ken Paulson

survivorOn one level, Survivor: The Definitive Collection is a rich anthology chronicling the best moments of a hard-working rock band from the ‘80s. On the other, it’s a testament to the talents of Jim Peterik, an under-recognized rock songwriter whose hits span decades.

As lead singer and writer for the Chicago-based Ides of March, Peterik’s “You Wouldn’t Listen” just missed the Top 40 in 1966, followed four years later by the monster hit “Vehicle.” In 1978, Peterik founded Survivor, which recorded 18 charting singles in a 9-year span, including 5 in the Top 10.

All of the hits are here, including the Rocky movie themes “Eye of the Tiger” and “Burning Heart,” “Is This Love,” “High on You” and “The Search Is Over.”

Survivor played straight-ahead rock and the occasional power ballad. The music holds up well, largely because of the craftsmanship of Peterik  and co-writer and guitarist Frankie Sullivan.

The new collection includes Survivor’s recording of “Rockin’ Into the Night,” an initially rejected song that made its way to .38 Special, who turned into it their first hit in 1980.

The liner notes for this Real Gone Music release include an interview with Peterik and an album-by-album recap of the band’s history.

Here’s the video from Survivor’s biggest hit, with 197 million views on YouTube:

Review: Steppenwolf’s ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection

By Ken Paulson

steppenwolfsinglesThis Wednesday I’ll have the privilege of presenting the Free Speech in Music award to Buffy St. Marie at the Americana Music Association’s Awards and Honors event at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

I’m particularly honored to be presenting the award with John Kay, founder and lead singer of Steppenwolf. Though many associate the band with the biker culture (“heavy metal thunder”) the truth is that Steppenwolf was one of the most socially conscious and politically engaged groups of the ’60s.

A new collection from Real Gone Music reminds us of the depth and impact of the band. The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection includes largely mono recordings of the band’s output for the label, plus all of Kay’s solo singles.

By definition, all of the hits are here: “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me,” “Move Over” and “Hey Lawdy Mama.” But the singles also included a stirring cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Snowblind Friend,” the driving “Who Needs Ya” and “Monster,” a powerful political anthem included here in its full version because Kay objected to the truncated version released as the single.

Kay’s solo albums were outstanding and largely overlooked, and it’s good to have a sampling included here, particularly his versions of “You Win Again” and “I’m Movin’ On.”

Kay participated in the Real Gone Music collection and his comments inform the comprehensive and fascinating booklet included here.

It’s an impressive collection and it was good to reconnect with the band’s many worthy B-sides. I seem to recall Steppenwolf performing “Berry Rides Again” from their first album on American Bandstand, but there’s video proof of their performance of the song in 1968 on “Playboy After Dark:”

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Early Nashville rock: Ronnie and the Daytonas

By Ken Paulson

daytonasMuch is made these days of Kings of Leon and Jack White living in Nashville, but rock has long thrived in Music City.

The new Real Gone Music release of Ronny and the Daytonas’ The Complete Recordings reminds us of the Top 10 success of this Nashville band 51 years ago. Their debut single “GTO” echoed the Beach Boys’ car songs, but had a vitality all its own.

The hit was written by “Ronny” – John “Bucky” Wilkin – the son of legendary Nashville songwriter Marijohn Wilkin. She was a very big deal. She wrote country classics “Long Black Veil” and “Waterloo,” the inspirational “One Day at a Time” and even the Eddie Cochran (and Rod Stewart) track “Cut Across Shorty.” The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame calls her one of the three most successful female songwriters in country music history, along with Dolly Parton and Patsy Walker.

There must have been something in the DNA. While the younger Wilkin only had two Top 40 hits with the Daytonas, he wrote both, along with about half the band’s output.

The Complete Recordings is a fascinating two-CD set. Much of the first disc is formulaic car and surf music of widely varying quality, but just as Brian Wilson moved past those genres to a more sophisticated sound, so did Wilkin.

The turning point was “Sandy,” a 1965 hit single co-written with Buzz Cason, another young Nashville rocker who went on to write “Everlasting Love.” This was Wilkin’s “Please Let Me Wonder” and a huge leap beyond the early material.

From “Sandy” on, the songs became more adventurous and the arrangements more ambitious. But there were no more big hits.

By 1968, Wilkin was a solo artist with RCA and released a single about the day in the life of a solder in Vietnam, co-written with his mom and Kris Kristofferson. (Yes, you read that right.) It failed, despite the intervention and support of Chet Atkins. Yet it’s somehow the perfect bookend to a recording career that began four years earlier with “G.T.O. “ The sixties moved just that quickly.

The Complete Recordings include four unreleased songs, for an astounding total of 48 tracks from a band whose work went largely unacknowledged for decades. The new collection is an important historical document – and a lot of fun.

“Drifted”: Celebrating the Continental Drifters

By Ken Paulson

driftersI last saw the Continental Drifters in a club in Columbia, Missouri more than a decade ago. The show wasn’t widely publicized and the turnout was disappointing, with the band barely outnumbering the fans.

But that didn’t matter to the Drifters, who played a great set, punctuated with one-on-one banter with audience members. Good people. Great band.

Drifted: In the Beginning and Beyond, set for release this Friday,  is a testament to the Continental Drifters’ range and talent. Like the Band, the group tapped multiple lead vocalists, songwriters and players to creative a compelling collective.

The two-disc set showcases some rare and early Drifters recordings, reminding us that this was an Americana band well before the genre had a name.

Over time, the band expanded to include Susan Cowsill, the dBs’ Peter Holsapple, and the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson, and their recordings grew more melodic and pop-oriented.

As serious about their music as the Continental Drifters were, they were also playful. That’s captured on multiple covers on the new collection, including Mike Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues,” Neil Young’s “When You Dance I Can Really Love” and “I Can’t Let Go,” recorded by the Hollies and written by Chip Taylor. They nail every song.

Most remarkable is their live rendition of the early Beach Boys track “Famer’s Daughter.” It opens with the James Bond Theme, shifts into tight harmonies from Cowsill and Peterson, and absolutely soars.

The album also includes tracks from the band’s 2001 EP Listen, Listen, a celebration of Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention.

Drifted is a fascinating overview of an underappreciated band and is an extraordinary gift to longtime fans.

Reissue: Paul Williams’ “A Little on the Windy Side”

By Ken Paulson

windyThe 2011 documentary “Still Alive” purported to “find” the lost Paul Williams, the highly successful composer who was also a mainstay on talk shows of the ‘70s. It’s an odd premise.

Paul Williams lost? The same Paul Williams who in 2009 was elected president and chairman of ASCAP? The same Paul Williams who was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001?

No, the man who wrote “Rainy Days and Mondays,””We’ve Only Just Begun” and many more pop classics wasn’t missing, but some of his music was. His ninth album – A Little on The Windy Side – was so scarce that the asking price on Amazon was in excess of $100.

That’s been remedied with the release of the 1979 recording by Real Gone Music and Second Disc. The album, produced in Nashville with Williams’ brother Mentor, featured some of the era’s finest session players including guitarists Reggie Young and Troy Seals and keyboardist David Briggs. Despite the Music City origin, it’s not a country album. Instead, it has some very gentle funk underpinnings to make it sound contemporary in the late disco era.

The material here is solid and showcases Williams’ strengths, most notably on  “A Brand New Song” and “Here’s Another Fine Mess.”

The real treats are two songs that Williams wrote for the film “One on One” in 1977.

“My Fair Share” and bonus cut “Love Conquers All” were performed by Seals and Crofts on the soundtrack, and propelled the film in joyous fashion. It’s great to have the songwriter’s renditions on this long-overlooked collection.

Reissue: “Nils Lofgren”

nils lofgrenBy Ken Paulson
It’s not unusual for a first solo album to be among an artist’s best. After all, most singer-songwriters have a young lifetime of work from which to select those first 10 or 12 tracks. But that wasn’t the case with Nils Lofgren, just reissued by Real Gone Music.

Lofgren had already put out several albums with his band Grin and toured with Neil Young. The material for this 1975 collection had to be fresh and striking, and Lofgren delivered on both counts.

It’s remarkable to see how many beloved Lofgren tracks show up on this first record, from the blistering “Back It Up” to the wistful “Can’t Buy a Break” and the inventive cover of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back.”

The highlight may well be “Keith Don’t Go,” the celebration of his “main inspirer” Keith Richards. That plea to Keith to stay in the Rolling Stones must have worked; Keith is still on board four decades later.

Nils Lofgren offers a portrait of an absolutely confident young musician. Teamed with Wornell Jones on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Lofgren aced his debut with consistently strong songs and stellar work on guitar and piano.

Tony Joe White: Complete Warner Bros. Recordings

Tony Joe WhiteBy Ken Paulson

Tony Joe White will always be associated with his swamp-rock hit “Polk Salad Annie,” but a new collection from Real Gone Music reveals an artist of greater depth and breadth.

The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings includes 40 tracks released between 1972 and 1974, including three albums and six songs issued on singles. White had enjoyed his greatest commercial success on Monument Records, and these recordings were largely overlooked and underappreciated.

You can’t say Warner Bros. didn’t try. They paired him with some of the hottest producers of the era and sent him to three iconic music towns to record.

Tony Joe White was produced by Peter Asher in Memphis in 1970. It’s a mixed outing, with “Polk Salad derivatives (“They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas”) and the autobiographical “A Night in the Life of the Swamp Fox.”

“The Change” could have used one more draft. The drawled narrative: “It’s about a time of the year we call the fall.”

The gem here is “The Daddy,” a message to a teen-aged girl about finding an understanding with her father.

The Train I’m On found White in Muscle Shoals working with Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd. “Take Time to Love,” written with Donnie Fritts, reminds of us of White’s way with a ballad, exemplified by his earlier “Rainy Night in Georgia.” The album also features “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby,” a Top 40 hit in Elvis Presley’s hands in 1974.

Another Presley single – “For ‘Ol’ Times Sake” – is a highlight of Homemade Ice Cream, a 1973 album recorded with Dowd in Nashville. It’s the most satisfying of the three albums, with a laid-back feel and a fine collection of songs.

White continues to tour and record, a testament to his enduring talents as both a performer and songwriter. The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings is compelling evidence of both.

Review: The Very Best of Stories

By Ken Paulson

storiesStories’ “I’m Coming Home” was a fresh burst of pop on AM radio in 1972, rivalled only by Emitt Rhodes’ “Fresh As A Daisy” for simple exuberance. Unfortunately, it aired on too few stations and the single stalled at number 42 on the Billboard chart.

But the band, build around the talents of the Left Banke’s Michael Browne and vocalist Ian Lloyd,  soldiered on, turning out hook-laden rock for years to come, including the huge hit single “Brother Louie.”

They weren’t always consistent (their “Louie” follow-up “Mammy Blue” was a baffling choice), but they could be very good, as evidenced on Stories Untold: The Very Best of Stories on Real Gone Music.

The package is comprehensive, beginning with two obscure Brown tracks recorded under the name “Steve Martin” and concluding with a cover of the creepy-in-retrospect “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” the Gary Glitter hit.

It’s a fine collection for fans of the band, spanning almost a decade of album cuts and near-hits.

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Reissues: Lulu and Cass Elliott from Real Gone Music

By Ken Paulson

LuluLulu and Cass Elliott, two of the sixties’ most prominent pop vocalists, found themselves at career crossroads at the close of that decade.

Lulu, known in the U.S. for “To Sir With Love” had left producer Mickie Most, hungering for a more substantive recording career. Mama Cass was pursuing a solo career following the dissolution of the Mamas and Papas. Both women had enjoyed success with their own television shows and saw themselves as entertainers rather than just pop singers.

Two Real Gone Music releases – Lulu’s Atco Sessions 1969-1972 and Elliot’s Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore – document the paths of both women in the early ‘70s.

The Lulu collection is particularly impressive. Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler brought Lulu to Muscle Shoals to work with the region’s famed musicians, apparently hoping to capture the same kind of feel found on Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. The resulting album New Routes, contained here, is smooth and souldful, , fueled by the playing of Eddie Hinton, Jimmy Johnson, Duane Allman, Barry Beckett, David Hood and Roger Hawkins. It yielded “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool for You Baby), one of Lulu’s handful of U.S. Top 40 hits.

The follow-up Melody Fair, was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami, and had more of a pop feel, opening with the Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine.” The title track was written by the Brothers Gibb (she was married to Maurice at the time) and she even covered Randy Newman’s “Vine Street.” The single “Hum A Song” (From Your Heart) stalled in the Hot 100, but deserved better.

The collection also includes a full disc of rarities, a number of which were presumably recorded for a third Atco release that would never come. Highlights include Lulu’s versions of Elton John’s “Come Down in Time” and Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song.”

The Atco Sessions find Lulu at the top of her game, accompanied by some of the finest studio players in history. Little wonder that New Routes and Melody Fair would be prove to be the two best LPs of her career.

cassDon’t Call Me Mama Anymore is a live recording capturing Cass Eliott at Mr. Kelly’s nightclub in Chicago. It was an era in which pop and soul artists – most notably the Supremes and Temptations – would gravitate to high-end nightclubs in an effort to broaden their appeal beyond the Top 40 audience.

The album reveals a charming, determined-to-please performer that doesn’t just rely on her hits to entertain. There’s a torch song medley, a cover of Paul McCartney’s then-new “My Love” and a comical turn that implores people to stop calling her “Mama Cass.”

Bonus tracks include a medley of her solo hits and the previously unreleased “Don’t Make Me a Memory.”

Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore is a sweet souvenir.

 

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Reissue: Spanky & Our Gang’s “Complete Singles”

SpankyBy Ken Paulson
Spanky and Our Gang, a harmony-driven group whose best moments rivaled the Mamas and Papas, are celebrated in The Complete Mercury Singles, a new collection from Real Gone Music.
Lead singer “Spanky McFarlane” and the group had eclectic musical tastes, but their singles were often transcendent pop, beginning with the 1967 hit “Sunday Will Never Be the Same.”
In a two-year span, Spanky and Our Gang had four more Top 40 singles: “Making Every Minute Count,” “Lazy Day,” “Sunday’ Mornin’” and “Like to Get to Know You.”
There are some revelations here, including a spirited cover of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Echoes,” an early recording of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” later a hit for Nilsson.
Their socially conscious “Give a Damn” stalled at #43, in part because radio programmers were startled by the use of a four-letter word. It was a call to action and a thought-provoking record that deserved a better fate.
The group never regained its commercial momentum and member Malcolm Hale died from pneumonia at the age of 27. The group disbanded before the end of the ‘60s.
It was a short, but often brilliant run of pop music. The Complete Mercury Singles truly captures the best of Spanky and our Gang.

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Reissues: The 5th Dimension’s “Earthbound”

earthboundBy Ken Paulson

Real Gone Music continues to do justice to the recorded legacy of the 5th Dimension, a groundbreaking, yet underrated group of vocalists. First came re-issues of albums by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, followed by a McCoo solo album.

Just released is Earthbound, the only 5th Dimension album never to make its way to CD. It was the final album for the original quintet and marked their reunion with Jimmy Webb as songwriter and producer. It was his “Up, Up and Away” that ignited their careers in 1967 and led to the stunning The Magic Garden album, recorded the same year.

Webb’s songs anchor the album – most notably “When Did I Lose Your Love” –  but the covers are unexpected and well done: George Harrison’s “Be Here Now,” the Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling” and a lush take on the Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile.”

The oddity is Webb’s cheery “Walk Your Feet in the Sunshine,” a primer on podiatric care and the perfect companion piece to the Beach Boys’ 1971 song “Take a Load Off Your Feet.”

Earthbound wasn’t a hit in 1973, but was both ambitious and adventurous. It’s good to have it back.

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Reissues: David Ruffin’s first four albums revisited

David RuffinBy Ken Paulson

David Ruffin, the man who sang lead on the Temptations’ “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” died of a drug overdose at age 50, the epitome of squandered talent.

Yet two new releases from Real Gone Music remind us of the richness of his early solo career, when for a time it looked like he might match the success of his former group.

Each of the two discs contains two Ruffin solo albums on Motown: My Whole World Ended and Feelin’ Good from 1969 and David Ruffin and Me ‘n Rock ‘n’ Roll Are Here to Stay, from 1973 and 1974 respectively.

The first album is a stunner, fueled by the title hit and the similarly despairing “I Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved.” This is classic Motown with driving and inventive songs from a wide range of writers, including Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua and Pamela Sawyer, plus a soaring cover of “Everlasting Love.”

Feelin’ Good is much of the same, though there were no breakout pop hits. “I Could Never Be President” is both topical and goofy; this guy could solve all the world’s problems, but he’s too busy being in love.  It appears the writers skipped civics class: “Congress would veto the first bill I would pass.”

Less impressive, but still worthy, are the third and fourth albums. It’s odd that after an army of writers on the first two releases, Motown opted to have Bobby Miller produce and write most of David Ruffin.” “The Rovin’ Kind” and  the audacious “Go On with Your Bad Self”  are highlights.

ruffin rockI was a young music writer and college radio station programmer when Me and Rock ‘n’ Roll Are Here to Stay was released and remember being surprised by the odd packaging. The orange cover with a large jukebox graphic suggested something from Starland Vocal Band or Dawn, and certainly not the work of a soul great.

Norman Whitfield’s production was ambitious and sometimes intrusive. Otherwise compelling versions of “Superstar (Remember How You Got to Where You Are) are marred by pumped-up audience noise.  The album didn’t even crack the Top 200.

Both collections capture the vibrancy of early ‘70s soul,  and the first two albums are a must for fans of Motown’s golden era.

Reissues: Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Complete Columbia Singles

BST8By Ken Paulson

From 1969 through 1971, it looked like horn bands might rule the world. Blood, Sweat and Tears had three top 10 singles in 1969, the Ides of March went to #2 with “Vehicle” in 1970 and Chicago broke through with three hit singles the same year.

44 years later, Chicago is on the Grammys with Robin Thicke, the Ides of March play occasional dates in Chicago and a reconstituted Blood, Sweat and Tears still tours under the direction of original drummer Bobby Colomby .

Blood, Sweat and Tears was hot – and then was not. What once was the hippest horn band lost its footing with multiple personnel changes and direction shifts.

That’s captured beautifully on Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Complete Columbia Singles on from Real Gone Music. The two-disc, 32-track set offers up both the A-sides and B-sides that document the evolution and  unraveling of the band.

The first disc opens with “I  Can’t Quit Her,” the near-hit recorded by the Al Kooper-led version of the band. By the next album, Kooper was gone, David Clayton-Thomas joined as lead vocalist and the band exploded into the Top 40 with “Spinning Wheel, ” “And When I Die”  and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” The original mono and edited versions are in this collection

The retrospective offers some revelations. “Lisa, Listen to Me” was a brilliant record that should have been a much bigger hit. The band’s final charting single – “Got to Get You Into My Life” in 1975 foreshadowed the Earth, Wind and Fire cover in 1978.  And despite a constantly-changing cast, the musicianship stayed strong even when the material wasn’t.

Predictably, the first hit-laden disc is stronger than the second disc, which largely features Clayton-Thomas’s successors. Still, it’s a fascinating and fulfilling collection and a must for fans of Blood, Sweat and Tears.

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Review: “Woody Guthrie American Radical Patriot”

GuthrieBy Ken Paulson

I thought I had a pretty good sense of Woody Guthrie. I’d read the books, listened to the music and even watched a mediocre film biography starring David Carradine.

But all of that pales next to Woody Guthrie: American Radical Patriot, an extraordinary box set that chronicles Guthrie’s work for the U.S. government.

While you wouldn’t expect the politically restless Guthrie to embrace the government, he saw that government could do some good for the poor and he clearly appreciated the paycheck.

The most revelatory aspect of this project is the opening interview with Alan Lomax of the Archive of American Folk Song on a recording made for the Library of Congress. This is Guthrie before he stepped onto the national stage and he talks candidly about his childhood, musical influences and stunning personal tragedies.

The 6-CD collection sounds great, and includes a wide range of performances, including those he wrote while working for the Bonneville Power Administration, plus some venereal disease prevention songs.

Included in this limited edition box is a DVD of “Roll On Columbia,” a fascinating University of Oregon documentary about Guthrie’s stint as a songwriter trying to convey the importance of the Woody Bonneville Dam Project .

The box set also features a 60-page booklet (and a full-length version on an included PDF) and a 78 of Bob Dylan singing Guthrie’s “VD City” and Guthrie’s home recording of “The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done.”

This Rounder Records release epitomizes a great box set: rare recordings, insightful documentation, multi-layered content and artful packaging. Highly recommended.

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Reissues: Soulful pop albums from Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis

MarilynBy Ken Paulson

The summer of 1967 saw the release of one of the best (and most underrated) pop albums of the decade. With Johnny Rivers producing and Jimmy Webb contributing songs, the Fifth Dimension literally soared into the charts with Up, Up and Away and the big single of the same name.

Over the next eight years, the Fifth Dimension dominated the singles charts, drawing on great songwriters like Laura Nyro (“Sweet Blindness, “Wedding Bell Blues”) and Webb to deliver a very hip brand of mainstream pop.

In 1975, Marilyn McCoo and husband Billy Davis left the group to pursue a career as a duo, scoring immediately with “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (to be in my Show.)” The sound was a little funkier than the Fifth Dimension, but the vocals were immediately recognizable.

Unfortunately, that album was the duo’s commercial peak. Two more albums followed, but sold modestly and have been largely unavailable.

That’s changed with Real Gone Music’s release of The Two of Us (circa 1977) and Marilyn and Billy (1978.)

Both offer their own rewards, but on very different terms. The Two of Us kicks off with “Look What You’ve Done to My Heart,” an up-tempo track that briefly put the duo back on the charts.   It sets the tone for the entire album, largely one song after another celebrating a really good relationship. “Wonderful,”  “My Reason to Be is You” and “My Very Special Darling” are representative.

Marilyn and Billy, recorded as the pair moved to Columbia Records, is more ambitious and ultimately more satisfying. Disco was dominant and McCoo and Davis had to make their sound more contemporary. They pulled that off in part by working with producer Steve Cropper, the legendary guitarist from the MG’s.  Yes, it has a disco influences, so it’s a bit dated. But the cover of Sam and Dave’s hit “I Thank You” is timeless and the vocals are strong throughout.

The Two of Us and Marilyn and Billy will be welcome additions to the collections of ‘70s pop and soul fans.

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New releases: Willie Nile, Randall Bramblett, Go Jane Go

nile2By Ken Paulson

We’ll have what Willie Nile is having.

35 years on, Nile is making some of the most ambitious and rewarding music of his career.

American Ride builds on the spirit of his fine 2011 album The Innocent Ones and its anthemic  “One Guitar.” This time around, the rousing  “This is Our Time” is the opening call-to-arms.

There’s a duality evident throughout the album. Tracks like “Sunrise in New York City” and “There’s No Place Like Home” couple reassuring sentiments to sing-along arrangements. But then there’s “God Laughs,” a striking and irreverent song that will provoke reflection, indignation and laughter, but not from the same people. And in the middle of all this is a sterling cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.”

American Ride is all over the road, but in a very good way.

hot club

Rendezvous in Rhythm –Hot Club of Cowtown – Gold Strike Records

The Hot Club of Cowtown – Elana James, White Smith and Jake Erwin – has delivered a thoroughly charming collection of jazz standards, with a nod to Left Bank influences. It’s just fiddle, bass, guitar and vocals, intimate and energetic at the same time. Favorite tracks: “Avalon” and “The Continental.”

 Go Jane Go – Dead Reckoning Records

Fans of Kieran Kane, the Dead Recknoers and David Francey are in for a treat with the release of Go Jane Go. This collaboration teaming of Kane, Francey and Lucas Kane grew out a tour of Australia. It’s stripped down and as basic as Americana music comes, delivering strong songs in an intimate setting.

bramblettThe Bright Spots – Randall Bramblett  – New West Records

 Here’s an impeccably soulful album by Randall Bramblett, a storied session musician and former member of Sea Level. He’s also a fine writer and vocalist, bringing to mind Bonnie Raitt and late-period Nick Lowe.  Favorite tracks: “Til the Party’s Gone” and “My Darling One.”

 A Date with the Everly Brothers – The Chapin Sisters – Lake Bottom Records

Cribbing the title of this collection from a classic Everly Brothers LP, the Chapin Sisters deliver faithful covers of some of Don and Phil’s best work.  It’s a fun listen that includes some surprising song selections.

More new releases:

Rule the World – Max GomezNew West Records

Todd May – Rickenbacker Girls – Peloton Records

Jerry Miller – New Road Under My Wheels – Signature Sounds

Bovine Social Club – Eclipso Records

Steven Casper and Cowboy Angst – Trouble – Silent City Records

Sweeter Songs – Craig Jackson Band – Green Records

No Regrets – Juliet and the Lonesome Romeos – Tree O Records

Gold Boots Glitter – Wheeler Brothers – Bismeaux Records

Blanket of Stars – Glen Eric – Dodu Records

 

Reissue: Don Nix’s “Living by the Days”

Don NixBy Ken Paulson

–The reissue of Living By the Days, Don Nix’s second album, is something of a revelation. It barely charted in 1971 and the single “Olena” just cracked the Hot 100. But 42 years later, the album sounds fresh and soulful.

Nix was signed to Leon Russell’s Shelter Records and they had similar musical sensibilities. Nix is backed on the album by Mussel Shoals’ best, including David Hood, Barry Beckett, Wayne Perkins, Roger Hawkins and Jimmy Johnson.

Highlights include “Three Angels,” written with Lonnie Mack, “She Don’t Want a Lover (She Just Needs a Friend)” and a heartfelt cover of Hank Williams’ “I saw the Light.”  It’s very good to have Living by the Days back in print (Real Gone Music.)

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