Volume 6, Number 1 - April 08, 2009
Lindsay Planer
 
   

 
Roy Orbison - The Soul of Rock and Roll
(Monument/Orbison Records/Legacy Recordings)
 

This stunning four-disc anthology is the first all-inclusive collection to pay homage to the great and criminally-underrated talents of rock music pioneer Roy Orbison.  Every phase of his 30+ year career is represented within the package's 107 selections. Additionally, the contents include no less than a dozen previously unissued songs. These range from his humble pre-rockabilly days through Orbison's very last live performance, which took place in Akron, Ohio on December 4, 1988 -- two days prior to the artist's untimely death.

Taking a primarily chronological overview, the earliest recording dates back to 1955 and a cover of The Clovers' R&B hit "Hey! Miss Fannie," by Orbison's very first band, The Wink Westerners, out of Dallas, Texas. It is sandwiched between a rare early version of "Ooby Dooby" and a handful of additional seminal sides by the Teen Kings -- a combo that were produced by the legendary Norman Petty at his studios in Clovis, New Mexico -- and capped off by the Teen Kings' unissued cover of Little Richards' "Tutti Frutti".

From there, Disc One samples Orbison's essential Sun Records platters. Notable inclusions are hits such as the double-sided charting 45 of "Ooby Dooby" b/w "Go! Go! Go," "Rockhouse," "You're My Baby," "Mean Little Mama," "Problem Child," "You're Gonna Cry," as well as a brilliant update of the Chuck Willis blues standard "It's Too Late." Likewise, interspersed are Orbison's simple, yet emotive demos -- including the remarkable "Guitar Pull Medley: I Want You, I Need You, I Love You/I Was The One/That's All Right/Mary Lou/You're My Baby" as well as "One More Time," "Claudette," "You Tell Me," Night Owl," "Bad Cat," "I Give Up," "Love Struck," "Baby Don't Stop," Defeated" and "Love Storm".
Disc Two picks up the story as Orbison is signed (or, actually given away) to another Nashville-based label, Monument Record. With the artistic freedom that ensued -- and aided immeasurably by producer Fred Foster -- Orbison began to create some of the most memorable music of the early 1960s. Among the best-known and loved of their collaborations are the definitive Orbison classics "Love Hurts," "Blue Bayou," "Only The Lonely," "Crying," "In Dreams," "Uptown," "Running Scared," "I'm Hurtin'," "Lana," "Candy Man," "Working For The Man," "The Crowd," "Leah," and his Top 20 charting cover of Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper".

The momentum of the Monument-era continues on Disc Three with several signature tunes, such as the Top Ten entries "Mean Woman Blues," It's Over," as well as the chart-topping "Oh, Pretty Woman." He continued with the label through the middle of 1965 and racked up the Pop hits "Goodnight," "(Say) You're My Girl" and "Crawling Back" before moving over to MGM for whom he continued to place the occasional single in the Top 40 Pop chart and even starred in the motion picture The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967). From that soundtrack are the film's title composition and the Orbison-penned "Pistolero". Keeping with the cinematic motif is "So Young" -- a tune that was included in Michelangelo Antonioi's Zabriskie Point (1970) and co-written by Mike Curb and one-time Brian Wilson collaborator Roger Christian. Other points of interest are the live remakes of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" circa 1965 and Chris Kenner's "Land Of 1,000 Dances" from 1972. Plus, an otherwise unavailable late '60s demo for a song titled "Precious" and another cinematic nod thanks to his 1981 Grammy-winning duet with Emmylou Harris on "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again," which was featured in the cult classic film Roadie (1980).

Ever the renaissance man, Orbison's output in the 1980s was typically prolific and varied. Likewise, the decade found him largely in collaboration with other artists. As part of the Class Of '55 (1985) he joined Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins on "Waymore's Blues" and is featured on "Coming Home" -- a number that Orbison wrote with Waylon Jennings and J.D. Souther. The mid '80s overhaul of "Oh, Pretty Woman" backed by Coral Reefer Band mainstay Michael Utley and the T Bone Burnett/David Lynch co-produced update of "In Dreams" -- as used in Lynch's noir masterwork  Blue Velvet (1987) -- sit well beside Orbison's mid-to-late '80s material. From the all-star Travelling Wilburys project is the emotive "Not Alone Anymore," as well as his return to the Top Ten with "You Got It." Another celeb-studded affair was the venerable Black And White Night (1989) and from that musical gala are fresh renderings of "(All I Can Do Is) Dream You," and "Oh, Pretty Woman." The duet rendering of "Crying" with k.d lang and the movie tunes "Wild Hearts Run Out Of Time" (Insignificance), "You May Feel Like Crying" (The End Of Violence) and "Life Fades Away" (Less Than Zero) are but a few of the highlights from Disc Four.

The four CDs are housed in an impressive linen-covered box adorned with an equally striking and appropriately black and white image of Orbison. The music is visually accompanied by a 96-page liner booklet filled with rarely (if ever) published photos. Surrounding the otherwise eye-catching vintage memorabilia is an extensive text with quotes and notes from such luminaries as producer Fred Foster, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Dolly Parton, Glenn Danzig, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Lemmy Kilmister, Chris Isaak, Clint Black, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, k.d. lang, Elvis Costello, Neil Diamond, son Roy Orbison Jr., as well as Orbison's widow Barbara -- who is also the executive producer of The Soul Of Rock And Roll (2008) .

 

 
Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition
(Columbia/Legacy Recordings)
 

To refer to this three disc -- two CD/one DVD -- package as a 'holy grail' of sorts would be the definition of the term 'understatement'. Nearly a decade after expanding At Folsom Prison as a part of their 'American Milestones' series, Sony has reopened their vaults to present both concerts that Johnny Cash played on lucky January 13th, 1968. Inmates were treated to not only Cash -- who was backed by his omnipresent Tennessee Three -- but in essence, a typical full-length Cash Family concert to boot. In fact, much of the previously unissued material features June Carter Cash and the Carter Family, fellow rockabilly forbearer Carl Perkins, as well as the Statler Brothers vocal quartet. The first show became the basis for the 1968 16-song long player and scored Cash a Number One Country LP and even placed into the Top 15 on the ever-fickle Pop Album chart. The Legacy Edition restores the original early (literally, at 9:40am) set to include the warm-up songs from Perkins ("Blue Suede Shoes"), the Statlers ("This Ole House") and Cash with June (on a cover of Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman") and without ("I'm Just Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail"). However, it is Ms. Carter-Cash's recitation of "June's Poem" that is perhaps the most inspired selection from the first show that had never seen the light of day, until now.

By in large, the second show was not as wrought by the same palpably kinetic energy built up and unleashed during the previous one. However in light of its historic nature -- and the fact that very little could rival the spontaneity of the first time out -- it is a fascinating document all its own. Both of the opening acts are given the chance to increase their respective offerings. Perkins' serves up "The Old Spinning Wheel" and "Matchbox," while "You Can Have Your Kate And Edith, Too," "Flowers On The Wall," and the sacred spiritual "How Great Thou Art" are equally timeless Statler Brothers' entries. With the notable exception of June's "Give My Love To Rose," "Long-Legged Guitar Man" and Johnny's "I Got Stripes" -- the remainder of their segment mirrored what they had played earlier in the day. Notably, they also reprise the song "Greystone Chapel" not once, but twice. The significance of the tune -- which was penned by a concurrent Folsom inmate named Glen Sherley -- is more deeply revealed within the DVD's two-plus hour Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison documentary.

Speaking of, the film -- which was co-created by award-winning director Bestor Cram and Cash's biographer Michael Streissguth -- delves far beneath the grooves of the recording. It traces the importance of the project, both in the history of popular music and as the single key event to have triumphantly reignited Cash's career. There are interviews with members of the Tennessee Three, as well as Cash's son John and daughter Rosanne, one-time Folsom inmate Merle Haggard and extended Cash Family friend and musician Marty Stuart. Plus, a real treat is being able to watch the great Bob Irwin at the mixing desk as he discuses the perils and pitfalls of trying to create this Legacy Edition for modern ears.

Accompanying the thoroughly remastered and upgraded audio CDs and the DVD is a liner booklet with 40 pages of newly-penned text -- with reproductions of Cash's hand-penned liner notes, just as they had been on the first pressings of the vinyl release. The eye candy also boasts many otherwise unpublished images from the show and subsequent 'on location' photo shoot. Without question Cash enthusiasts and the curious are advised to add this piece of true American musical history to their libraries.

 

 
Nina Simone - To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story
(RCA/Legacy Recordings)
 

Even though Nina Simone gained a fair amount of notoriety during her lifetime, her music seems to have skipped a generation or two. Thankfully there is a proactive approach in reissuing much of her back catalogue. And this innovatively-packaged multi-media box set may well be the crowning achievement in respect to RCA/Legacy Recordings' thoughtful treatment of Simone's own considerable musical legacy. The three audio discs contain 51 selections -- eight of which are previously unreleased -- from throughout her 35+ year active recording career. All that music is complemented by a similarly impressive 52-page booklet containing a track-by-track analysis by the one and only David Nathan -- the 'British Ambassador of Soul -- and an essay by NPR's Ed Ward. While the text is surrounded by a bounty of photos, the real visual treat can be found on the supplementary DVD, which boasts the half-hour Emmy-nominated documentary Nina: A Historical Perspective (1970).

Suitably the set commences with a trio of tunes from her brief, but formidable stint on the jazz-oriented Bethlehem label. Her nuance-enhanced cover of "I Loves You Porgy" landed Simone a  sizable hit stateside, while across the Atlantic, her version of "My Baby Just Cares For Me" scored the artist her first of many UK chart entries. In 1959 Simone joined forces with Colpix Records and as she entered her most prolific decade, from the highly influential Nina At Town Hall (1959) comes "You Can Have Him" and "Wild Is The Wind". Interestingly, the latter is presented here as a studio recording with audience applause added later. The following year Nina Simone At Newport (1960) would yield the update of "Trouble In Mind" -- another Top 25 R&B hit. One of the definite highlights of Disc One is the otherwise unavailable medley of "When Mailindy Sings" and "Swing" from her appearance at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival.

The landmark and groundbreaking 'Nuff Said (1968) is well represented and provides the transition to Disc Two. The unnerving, edgy "Mississippi Goddam" not only jump starts the second CD, but reemphasizes Simone's unflinching passion. North American enthusiasts will also find rarities in the form of the inclusion of an alternate U.K. mix of "Ain't Got No- I Got Life," from the musical Hair! as well as the live "The Other Woman," "I Think It's Going To Rain Today," "Save Me" and "Revolution" -- all from the recommended German-only A Very Rare Evening (1969) album. Continuing the trend of concert performances are the timeless renderings of "Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair," "Westwind," and "Who Knows Where The Time Goes". While these songs were included on the Black Gold (1969) LP -- recorded live at Philharmonic Hall in New York City -- the same gig yields a pair of the box set's best unreleased tracks. Simone's stirring interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," concludes Disc Two, while Disc Three's opener revisits Ritchie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed."

While on the topic, there are an additional three exclusive nuggets found on the final CD. First among them is an original studio outtake circa the sessions for Here Comes The Sun (1971) titled "Tanywey." Sharp-eyed Simone fans should note that the tune is not an early take of the similarly-named "Thandeway" from the artist's early '80s Fodder On My Wings (1982) release. A show for military personnel in Fort Dix, New Jersey was the basis for the Emergency Ward (1972) project. From that late November '71 concert comes the medley of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," with Simone's own "Today Is A Killer," a studio recording "Poppies," and the formerly vaulted live rendering of "Let It Be Me". Returning to the location where Black Gold had been so successfully mined several years earlier, Simone and company would capture her RCA Records swansong, the appropriately monikered It Is Finished (1974). Her update of Babatunde Olatunji's "Zungo" -- which Simone had recorded a few times as far back as 1961 -- and the improvised "Nina" are stunning gems that are otherwise unavailable elsewhere. Here is hoping that an expanded and complete edition of It Is Finished might be in the offing!

But until then, To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story will suffice nicely as a touchstone for any and all parties interested in her incomparable musical legacy.

 

 
Chuck Berry - You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966
(Hip-O Select/Geffen)
 

This impressive four-disc package picks up right where its predecessor -- the equally engaging Johnny B. Goode/His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings (2007) -- left off. Chronicled within are 108 sides that Berry documented during the first half of the 1960s for the legendary Chicago-based Chess imprint. The specific long players that Berry issued during the era include such classics as Rockin' At The Hops (1960), New Juke Box Hits (1961), the pseudo-live Chuck Berry 'On Stage' (1961), Bo Diddley/Chuck Berry: Two Great Guitars (1963), Chuck Berry In London (1965) and Fresh Berrys (1966). A scouring of the label's voluminous archives has turned up no less than a dozen-and-a-half previously unreleased tracks. Chief among these rarities are the recovery of a cache of live recordings -- circa October of 1963 -- that were initially meant for a concert album that never materialized.

The six-plus minute rave-up on "Johnny B. Goode" is especially inspiring as the audience shout along word-for-word as Berry repeats the verses at their audible delight.  The decade began on a sour note for Berry, who ended up serving time behind bars after a conviction for violating the Mann Act. Yet despite being out of circulation for 20 months, his influence was still being felt far and wide. Nowhere more so than across the pond as Berry's inspiration for the impending British Invasion was immediately evident. A cursory glance at the tune stack reveals familiar titles such as "Bye Bye Johnny," "Down The Road Apiece," "Route 66," "I’m Talking About You," "Come On," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Promised Land" -- all of which were covered ad nauseum  by the likes of the Rolling Stones and The Animals, among countless others. Similarly, the cuts "No Particular Place To Go," "Nadine (Is It You?)," "Want To Be Your Driver," "St. Louis Blues" and "It Wasn’t Me" would become rock songbook staples for Berry and future generations alike. Modern digital remastering means the contents sound more potent than ever before and nowhere is that as noticeable as the various stereo remixes which first surfaced on the mid '80s Rock And Roll Rarities (1986) and More Rock And Roll Rarities (1986) compilations.

Another satisfying listen that demonstrates the breadth of Berry's instrumental prowess can be heard on the April of '64 session that brought together some of Chess Studios finest. The confab boasted Berry (guitar), Bo Diddley (guitar), Lafayette Leake (piano) and Diddley's own percussionist Jerome Green (maracas), among others. Although the severely truncated versions of "Chuck’s Beat" and "Bo’s Beat" were originally included on the aforementioned Bo Diddley/Chuck Berry: Two Great Guitars (1963) project, they are included here in their full-length ten-plus minute glory.

The music is visually complemented by a 24-page liner notes booklet replete with an exhaustive overview by Berry's biographer Fred Rothwell. His text is supplemented by complete recording session credits, as well as rarely published photos and an annotated ’60 -’66 single discography. Interested parties are encouraged to point their internet browsers to www.hiposelect.com for additional information on how to secure one of only 5,000 non-numbered copies being offered in the limited CD edition.

 

 
Little Walter - The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967)
(Hip-O Select/Geffen)
 

While seasoned fans might not correlate the name Marion Walter Jacobs with any specific instrument, one needn't be an aficionado to equate Little Walter with the reinvention of the mouth harp (aka harmonica) as a formidable and expressive constituent in rhythm and blues. Or, perhaps more simply stated: Little Walter single-handedly reintroduced the harmonica as an essential component of R&B. His association with Chess Records yielded an impressive legacy that has been lovingly restored within the 126 sides that comprise the aptly-titled Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) five CD retrospective.

During the height of his 17-year run with the label, Walter became a noted force in Chicago's thriving musical community. His influence quickly resonated beyond the Windy City as he racked up an impressive run of 14 Top Ten R&B singles -- punctuated by the chart-toppers "Juke" and "My Babe". The opener "Evans Shuffle," predates Walter's solo career, incorporating the talents of the song's author, Muddy Waters. By 1952 however, it was Waters who was playing behind Little Walter -- as heard on the Number One hit "Juke" as well as the song "Can't Hold Out Much Longer". Although unable to maintain a consistent presence on the national music scene -- especially after such an auspicious start -- in retrospect it is certainly easy to trace the influence of Little Walter's performance style and his aggressive, no-nonsense harp blowin' technique.

This set is not only the home for every one of Walter's solo masters for Chess Records, but finally all known alternate takes have been chronologically restored. These include variations on "Juke," "Can't Hold Out Much Longer," "Blue Midnight," "Fast Boogie," "Driftin'," "Off The Wall," "Blues With A Feeling," "I Got To Find My Baby," "Last Night (first version)," "My Babe (overdubbed version)," "Hate To See You Go (extended version)," "Temperature," "Ahw Baby," "I've Had My Fun," "Walkin' On (Rock Bottom alternate)," "You Gonna Be Sorry" aka "Someday Baby" (take 5)," "My Baby Is Sweeter," "Crazy Mixed Up World," "Worried Life," "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," "Mean Old Frisco," "Blue And Lonesome," "Feel So Bad" and "Make It Alright". Nine of these alternates are being made available for the first time, notably "Feel So Bad" and "Make It Alright" which are from a 1967 confab between Little Walter and his legendary label mate Bo Diddley (guitar). The compilation is suitably bookended with Walter's last platter for Chess, a remake of "Juke" from the same '67 date as the Bo Diddley meeting. However, "Juke" was the only one issued on the Super Blues (1967) album that, incidentally contained backing by Otis Spann (piano) and Buddy Guy (guitar), among others.

The 36-page booklet is jammed with info and images, such as the exhaustive track-by-track credit listings and rarely (if ever) published photos of the man in action. Best of all is the thoroughly researched essay from the team of Tony Glover, Scott Dirks & Ward Gaines, the authors of the definitive Little Walter biography, “Blues With A Feeling/The Little Walter Story.”

As with all Hip-O Select releases, those whose interests are piqued should check out the  www.hiposelect.com website for details concerning the procurement of their very own limited CD edition.

 

 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

Copyright 2002-2009 Matthew Rowe.
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"Even though most of the people I knew in my youth are gone, I still reach out to them..." Norman Maclean - Paraphrase

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