CULT CLASSIC: HORACE SILVER QUINTET-FURTHER EXPLORATIONS BY THE HORACE SILVER QUINTET.

Cult Classic: Horace Silver Quintet-Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet.

By 1950, composer and pianist Horace Silver was twenty-two and living in Hartford, Connecticut, where he had formed his own trio. They were already a familiar sight in the local clubs and are were quickly establishing a reputation as one of the up-and-coming jazz combos. 

That was why when Stan Getz was booked to play in one of the clubs in Hartford, Horace Silver’s trio was booked to back him. The saxophonist was so impressed by the trio that he hired them to accompany him on tour. This was the big break that Horace Silver had been looking for.

The trio spent the rest of 1950 touring with Stan Getz, and in December he had a session booked to record a quartet album. This was Horace Silver’s recording debut but he wasn’t fazed and his career continued on an upward spiral. That was despite being replaced in Stan Getz’s group after a year.

Horace Silver moved to New York where he worked as a session musician. During this period, he established a reputation as a gifted composer and his bluesy piano playing was in demand. He worked with Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Lou Donaldson who he credited with helping develop his understanding of bebop.

In 1952, Lou Donaldson had signed to Blue Note Records and was about to record his debut album. It was a quartet recording at Van Gelder Studio that featured drummer Art Taylor, bassist Gene Ramey and Horace Silver. Little did he know how important a session this would be.

Later in 1952, Lou Donaldson was scheduled to record another quartet album for Blue Note Records. It was a slightly different lineup that made their way to the Van Gelder Studio. Art Taylor had been replaced by Art Blakey. However, someone else was missing…Lou Donaldson. The saxophonist had withdrawn from the session which presented a problem for Alfred Lion who had booked the studio. He offered Horace Silver the opportunity to record a trio album. History had just been made.

Horace Silver would go on to spend twenty-eight years with Blue Note Records. During this period, the bandleader recorded thirty-six studio albums and three live albums. This includes Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet.

Having made his recording debut, Horace Silver divided his time between his nascent solo career and his work as a sideman. His services were in demand and in 1953 he played on sessions for albums by Sonny Stitt, Howard McGhee and Al Cohen. The following year, 1954, he worked with some of the biggest names in jazz including Art Farmer, Miles Davis and Milt Jackson. Horace Silver also won Down Beat critics’ new star award for piano players in 1954, and was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet at the first ever Newport Jazz Festival when he stood in for John Lewis. The twenty-six year old had come a long way in a short space of time.

Whilst he was living in New York, Horace Silver cofounded the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey. In late 1954 and early 1955 the nascent group recorded two ten inch albums under Horace Silver’s name. They were later repackaged and reissued as Horace Silver and The Jazz Messengers in October 1956. It featured The Preacher which gave Horace Silver his first hit single.

Horace Silver was also a member of the Art Blakey Quintet when they recorded A Night at Birdland Volume 1. It was originally released as a ten inch album in 1954 and repackaged and reissued in 1956. It’s regarded as an important album in the development of hard bop.

So were At The Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2 which Horace Silver recorded during his time with The Jazz Messengers. These albums feature the original lineup of the group and nowadays, are regarded as jazz classics. However, by the time the albums were released in 1956, Horace Silver had left The Jazz Messengers.

The last time Horace Silver recorded with The Jazz Messengers was in May 1956. Later that year, he left the band. He had been a Jazz Messenger for eighteen months and recored several important and influential albums during that period. However, towards the end of his time with the band, some of the members were becoming increasingly reliant on heroin. This was something he didn’t approve of and wanted no part of, so he  left The Jazz Messengers and formed the Horace Silver Quintet.

This made sense for Horace Silver. While he was still a Jazz Messenger he had been contacted by club owners who had heard his albums and wanted to book him. Joining him in the first lineup of the Horace Silver Quintet was drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Doug Watkins, trumpeter Art Farmer and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. However, the lineup was fluid and changed over the next few years.

Silver’s Blue.

By the time that Silver’s Blue was recorded on July the ‘2nd,’ ‘17th’ and ‘18th’ of July 1956 the group’s lineup had evolved. Only Hank Mobley and Doug Watkins reminded from the original lineup. During the three day session, they were joined by drummers Art Taylor and Kenny Clarke and trumpeters Joe Gordon and Donald Byrd. They recorded a total of seven tracks which were produced by Carl Lampley.

When Silver’s Blue was eventually released in August 1957 and was an innovative album of funky jazz. It was an album that was ahead of its time which the critics didn’t understand. They  gave the album mixed reviews and it was only much later that the album’s importance was recognised. 

6 Pieces Of Silver.

Three months after the Silver’s Blue session, the Quintet made their way to Van Gender Studio on November the ‘10th’ 1956.  The lineup was drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Doug Watkins, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and trumpeter Donald Byrd who played on five of the seven tracks. This was essentially the previous year’s lineup of The Jazz Messengers. This multitalented and versatile combo were joined by engineer Rudy Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion. During the session, the Quintet continued to develop their sound and recorded a track that launched Horace Silver’s career.

This was the Horace Silver composition Señor Blues which went on to become a jazz standard. He also went on to write lyrics which were recorded for the first time in 1958 by the Quintet with vocalist Bill Henderson. However, when 6 Pieces Of Silver was released in January 1957 it was to critical widespread critical acclaim. This time, the Horace Silver Quintet had over critics with an album of hard bop. It was the start of a fruitful period for Horace Silver.

The Stylings Of Silver.

On May the ‘8th’ 1957 the Horace Silver Quintet journeyed to Van Gelder Studio to record what would become The Stylings of Silver. By then, the Quintet and their charismatic leader were a crowd pleasing combo who were already a popular draw in jazz. No wonder with such a talented lineup.

Horace Silver was joined by drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Teddy Kotick, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and trumpeter Art Farmer. Five of the six tracks were written by Horace Silver with My One and Only Love the only cover version. Just like the scions for 6 Pieces Of Silver, it was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and produced by Alfred Lion.

When The Stylings Of Silver was released later in 1957, this album of swinging hard bop was well received by critics. It was a  consistent and enjoyable album of finger popping and toe tapping hard hop that showcased Horace Silver’s skills as a composer, bandleader and pianist. He and his Quintet were going from strength-to-strength.

Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet.

Another eight month passed before the Horace Silver Quintet returned to Van Gelder Studio on January the ’13th 1958. By then, Horace Silver was a successful bandleader and composer and was no longer working as a sideman. This was unusual as many successful jazz musicians still worked as sidemen. It was another source of income and allowed them to keep up with new developments in jazz. That was something that Horace Silver did throughout his career as his music evolved and he recorded everything from bebop and hard bop to soul-jazz and fusion.

When he recorded Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet he was joined by drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Teddy Kotick, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan and trumpeter Art Farmer. Alfred Lion took charge of production and Rudy Van Gelder engineered the album which eventually feathered six tracks.

This included five Horace Silver compositions, The Outlaw, Melancholy Mood, Pyramid, Moon Rays and Safari which had been released as Horace Silver’s debut single in 1952. They were joined by a cover Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s Ill Wind on Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet.

Two months after the recording session, Blue Note Records released Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet was released in March 1958. The reviews of the album were positive with critics won over by another substantial and impressive album of hard bop that revealed the considerable talents and versatility of the Quintet. While the album was slightly more restrained than previous albums it had one thing in common…quality. 

Side One.

Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet featured a band that was firing on all cylinders from the opening bars of The Outlaw. The rhythm section power the arrangement along, and it sashays along fusing elements of reggae and bebop. Meanwhile, the horns are to the fore and play a starring role. Horace Silver is no slouch and gives an impressive performance during the solos and as he leads the Quintet on this irresistible future hard bop classic. 

Very different is Melancholy Mood a much more understated and quite beautiful piano-led track which allows time to reflect and contemplate. 

There’s a degree of urgency as the horns unite and open Pyramid. They’re joined by stabs of dramatic piano before the arrangement unfolds and there’s a fluidity to the trumpet and then the sultry tenor saxophone as they soar above the arrangement. Meanwhile, drummer Louis Hayes and Horace Silver piano play with freedom. He goes from jabbing and stabbing the piano to adding a slinky accompaniment before his fingers dance across the keyboard during a fleet fingered solo. He’s then joined by the horns and they reunite and play a starring role as he once again jabs and stabs his keyboard before the this Horace Silver composition reaches a crescendo and closes side one.

Side Two.

Initially, Moon Ray is slow and mournful and at times dramatic as it unfolds. Partly this is because of the horns which add a mournful sound while the drums and piano add a degree of drama. Soon, it’s all change as the Quintet kick loose and it’s as if the sun has come out after a thunderstorm as the horn carries the melody. Clifford Jordan sounds as if he’s enjoying himself before the baton passes to Art Farmer who unleashes one of his best solos. So does Horace Silver whose fingers effortlessly glide across the keyboard playing with speed on accuracy before he’s joined by the rest of band. By now, the joyous sounding arrangement is swinging. That’s until the last minute as the tempo drops but the quality remind on a track that would become a Horace Silver classic.

Safari bursts into life as scrabbling horns inject urgency as drums pound, hi-hats hiss and the piano punctuate the arrangement. The quintet is like a boy racer as they go from nought to 100 in the blink of an eye. It’s a case of sit back and enjoy the ride as play with urgency and invention on a track that epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop circa 1958.

Closing Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet is a cover of the standard Ill Wind. The tempo drops and straight away, the arrangement seems to hark back to earlier era. The melancholy horns are to the fore with the piano playing a supporting role Drummer Louis Hayes adds occasional bursts of drama and with bassist Teddy Kotick drives the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Horace Silver showcases his versatility his piano stuttering before becoming slinky and fluid. He then joins the sultry, late night horns as the Quintet take their leave and close the album with a truly memorable track.

When Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet was i n March 1958, it was well received by critics. However, the album was never regarded as one of the Quintet’s classic. By then,  they had released their first classic, 6 Pieces of Silver. Over the next few years, the Quintet would release Blowin’ The Blues Away, The Tokyo Blues, Silver’s Serenade and Song For My Father which nowadays are regarded as jazz classics. 

Meanwhile, Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet has been reevaluate by critic and while it’s not regarded as a classic it’s an oft-overlooked and underrated album. There’s not a weak track on the album where the Quintet are firing on all cylinders as they showcase their talent and versatility. This includes tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan whose playing was sometimes underrated. He plays a starring role on Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet where he joins forces with Art Farmer to create a potent front line. They’re part of a Quintet where there’s no weak links. The result is a stunning, soulful and swinging album of hard bop that for too long was overlooked and underrated, but thankfully that’s no longer the case with Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet.

Cult Classic: Horace Silver Quintet-Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet.

CLASSIC ALBUM: DR JOHN-IN THE RIGHT PLACE.

Classic Album: Dr John-In The Right Place.

Very few musicians or bands can be accurately described as an overnight success. That is something that hardly ever exists except in the minds of a few tabloid journalists . The reality is that most bands need to do the hard yards and hone their sound before commercial success comes their way. That was the case with Dr John.

Commercial success eluded him until he released his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs on August the ’31st’ 1971. That was despite him having already released future classics like Gris Gris and Babylon. Sadly, neither album was a commercial success and it was only much later that critics reappraised both albums and they started to find a wider audience. However, The Sun, Moon and Herbs fared better spending five weeks on the US Billboard 200 peaking at 184 . It was a start for Dr John, and something he could build on.

Things improved when Dr John’s Gumbo was released on April the ’20th’ 1972, and spent eleven weeks on the US Billboard 200 reaching reached 112. Gradually, Dr John’s music was starting to find the wider audience it deserved.

When he released his sixth album In the Right Place on the ‘25th’ of February 1973 it was a gamechanger and transformed Dr John’s career. Not only was did it become his biggest selling album,  it featured his biggest hit single which became one of his classic songs. Those that were unaware of the Dr John story and didn’t know that the thirty-one year old had been a professional musician since he was thirteen.

The future Dr John was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr, on November the ‘20th’ 1940, in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He grew up in the Third Ward of New Orleans, and music was always around him. 

His father Malcolm John Rebennack ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, where he repaired radio and televisions and sold records. He introduced his son to the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. However, one of the people who inspired Mac Rebennack was his grandfather who he heard singing minstrel songs. So did hearing his aunts, uncles, cousins and sister playing the piano. Despite this, Mac Rebennack wasn’t inspired to take music lessons. 

This only came later when he was a teenager. He also joined a choir, but was soon asked to leave. However, over the next few years Mac Rebennack learnt to play the guitar and later piano, and through his father’s contacts in the local music scene was soon playing alongside some well known names including Guitar Slim  and Little Richard. This was just the start for Mac Rebennack.

When he was thirteen, he met Professor Longhair and he was instantly impressed by the flamboyant showman. Mac Rebennack was soon playing alongside his new hero, and  this was the start of his professional career.

Around 1955 or 1956, Mac Rebennack made his debut in the recording studio when he was signed as a singer and  songwriter by Eddie Mesner at Aladdin Records. The future Dr John’s career was underway and towards the end of 1957  with the help of Danny Kessler, he joined the musician’s union. That was when he considered himself to be a professional musician.

By the time he was sixteen, Mac Rebennack had been hired by Johnny Vincent at Ace Records as a producer. This led to him working with Earl King, James Booker and Jimmy Clayton. This was all good experience for the young, up-and-coming musician 

Despite his new career, Mac Rebennack was still a student at Jesuit High School. This didn’t stop him playing in night clubs and forming his first band The Dominoes.  The Jesuit fathers weren’t happy with Mac Rebennack’s lifestyle and issued him with an ultimatum. He was to either stop playing in nightclubs or leave the school. Not long after this, he was expelled from the school. It turned out to be the best thing that happened to him as he was able to concentrate on music full time.

By the late-fifties, Mac Rebennack was playing with various bands in and around New Orleans. This included his own band Mac Rebennack and The Skyliners. However, the young bandleader had also embarked upon a career as a songwriter.

In 1957 Mac Rebennack cowrote his first ever rock ’n’ roll song Lights Out. It was recorded by New Orleans based singer Jerry Byrne, and released on Specialty Records later in 1957 and give him a regional hit. 

Two years later, in 1959, Mac Rebennack also enjoyed a regional hit single when he released Storm Warning, a Bo Diddley inspired instrumental on Rex Records. This was the first hit he enjoyed in a long, illustrious and eventful career.

After Storm Warning, Mac Rebennack and Charlie Miller joined forces and recorded singles for various local labels. This included Ace, Ron, and Ric. They continued to release singles until Charlie Miller decided to move to New York to study music. Mac Rebennack stayed in the Big Easy and continued his career.

Around 1960, Mac Rebennack was playing a gig in Jacksonville, Florida, when his career was changed forevermore. That night, his ring finger on his left hand was injured by a gun shot during an incident. This was a disaster for a right handed guitarist and when he recovered he made the switch to bass guitar. However, after a while Mac Rebennack switched to the instrument he made his name playing, the piano.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had developed a style that was influenced by Professor Longhair who he had met when he was thirteen. It looked as if this was a new chapter in Mac Rebennack’s musical career.

That wasn’t the case and Mac Rebennack ended up getting involved in the dark underbelly of The Big Easy. He was using and selling illegal drugs and at one point, running a brothel. It was almost inevitable that Mac Rebennack was going to have a brush with the law. 

He did. In 1963, when Mac Rebennack was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institution, in Fort Worth, Dallas. By the time his sentence ended and he was released in 1965, New Orleans was a different place.

There had been a campaign to rid the city of its clubs, which meant that musicians like Mac Rebennack found it hard to find work. That was why he decided to move to LA where he knew he could find work as a session musician.

It turned out to be a good decision, and it wasn’t long before Mac Rebennack was one of the first call session musicians in LA. That was the case for the rest of sixties and the seventies. He was also a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew and worked with some of the biggest names in music. This was the new start Mac Rebennack had been looking for when he left New Orleans.

Growing up Mac Rebennack had developed an interest in New Orleans voodoo. This was something he revisited during his early years in LA when he began to develop the concept of Dr John, which initially he thought could be a persona for his friend Ronnie Barron. The concept was based on the life of Dr John, a Senegalese prince, a witch doctor, herbalist and spiritual healer who travelled to New Orleans from Haiti. He was a free man of colour who lived on Bayou Road, and claimed to have fifteen wives and over fifty children. It was believed Dr John also kept a variety of lizards, snakes, embalmed scorpions as well as animal and human skulls, and sold gris-gris, voodoo amulets which were meant to protect the wearer from harm. This Mac Rebennack incorporated into the project he was working on for Ronnie Barron.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had decided to write, produce and play on an album and stage show based on his concept with Dr John emblematic of New Orleans’ heritage. It was meant to feature Ronnie Barron. However, when he dropped out of the project Man Rebennack took over the role and adopted the identity of Dr John. This was a turning point in the life and career of the man born Mac Rebennack.

Dr John became the name that he found fame as and won five Grammy Awards. However, that was still to come.

Having adopted the moniker Dr John,The Night Tripper he was signed by Atco Records and recorded his debut album Gris Gris. It was his his own “voodoo medicine” and marked the start of what’s now regarded as a golden era for Dr John.

Gris Gris.

When a copy of Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris, which was sent to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun he disliked the album so much, that he was reluctant to even release the album and said: “how can we market this boogaloo crap?” This wasn’t the response that Dr John had been hoping when he recorded Gris Gris which was a combination of psychedelia, blues, free jazz, R&B, soul, funk, jazz. Add to this psychedelic stew the authentic music of the melting pot that is New Orleans and the voodoo image that Dr John had carefully cultivated  and Gris Gris was like no other album that Atlantic Records had released. That presented the label with a huge problem. 

Atlantic Records’ PR department had idea to promote an album like Gris Gris, as they had no cultural reference points, nothing to compare the album to. Despite the best efforts of Atlantic Records PR department, when Gris Gris was released on January the ’22nd’ 1968 and introduced the world to Dr John The Night Tripper, it failed to trouble the charts and neither critics nor record buyers understood Dr John’s groundbreaking debut album. However, like so many albums that fail to find an album on their release, Gris Gris was later reappraised and belatedly, was recognised as a seminal album that was the start of a rich vein of form from Dr John.

Gris Gris was the start of a six-year period when Dr John could no wrong, and released seven innovative albums that are among the his finest work.

Babylon.

This included his sophomore album Babylon on January the ’17th’ 1969. It was a powerful, cerebral and innovative genre-melting album which socially had much in common with Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris. 

Sadly, critics didn’t ‘get’ Babylon and the album which failed commercially. However, just like Gris Gris, Babylon was later reappraised by critics and nowadays is regarded as one of his finest albums and a minor classic.

Remedies.

Following the commercial failure of Babylon, things went from bad to worse for Dr John, before he could begin work on his third album Remedies. This started when a deal went south, and he was arrested by the police and ended up in jail. It was a worrying time for Dr John who was parole, and if he ended up with a parole violation, he knew he might end up in the infamous Angola jail. That didn’t bare thinking about, and already Dr John was desperate to get out of the local jail. However, he needed someone to post bail, so contacted his managers who he remembers: “were very bad people.” This proved to be an understatement. 

Not long after this, Dr John’s managers had him committed to  a psychiatric ward, where he spent some time. By then, it was obvious to Dr John that his managers were no longer playing by the rules. All he wanted to do was make music, and everything that had happened recently were nothing to do with music. Instead, it was all connected to Dr John’s increasingly chaotic lifestyle, which made it all the more frustrating for those that realised just how talented the Gris Gris Man was.

Eventually, having managed to put his problems behind him, Dr John wrote the six tracks that became Remedies using his real name Mac Rebennack. Among the tracks Dr John had written was What Goes Around Comes Around which later became a favourite during his live shows and Mardi Gras Day which paints pictures of New Orleans when it comes out to play. Very different was Angola Anthem which was inspired by a friend of Dr John’s who had just been released from Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary after forty years. Dr John paid tribute to his friend with an eighteen minute epic that took up all of side two of Remedies. It was produced by one of the most successful producers of the day.

Although Harold Battiste had produced Gris Gris and Babylon, he was replaced by Tom Dowd and Charles Greene who were tasked with transforming Dr John’s career. However, although Tom Dowd was enjoying the most successful period of his career, he had never worked with anyone like Dr John. 

When Remedies which was released in the spring of 1970, just like his two previous albums, critics didn’t seem to understand Remedies, which was credited to Dr John The Night Tripper. Remedies was another ambitious album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced album where Dr John The Night Tripper through everything from psychedelia, blues, R&B, soul, funk and jazz into the musical melting pot and gave it a stir to create an album where the music was mysterious, otherworldly and haunting. 

By the time Remedies was released on April ‘9th’ 1970, some FM radio stations had picked up on the album, and were playing it on their late shows. Despite the radio play Remedies had received, the album never troubled the charts, and it was only much later that record buyers realised that they had missed out on another important and innovative album from Dr John. 

The Sun, Moon and Herbs.

Despite Dr John’s first three albums failing to find an audience, many of his fellow musicians were fans of his music, and were only too happy to feature on his fourth album The Sun, Moon and Herbs. This included Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bobby Whitlock, Graham Bond, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and Doris Troy. They were joined by The Memphis Horns as Dr John and Charles Greene took charge of production. 

They were responsible for a dark and swampy sounding album that is rich in imagery and paints of New Orleans on a hot, sticky night as thunder crackles and rumbles in the distance like the drums on The Sun, Moon and Herbs. When it was released on August the ’31st’ 1971, still critics struggled to understand Dr John’s music, but this time, The Sun, Moon and Herbs which featured an all-star cast, spent five weeks in US Billboard 200 and peaked at 184. At last, Dr John’s music was starting to find a wider audience.

Dr John’s Gumbo.

Buoyed by the success of The Sun, Moon and Herbs, Dr John decided to record an album of cover versions for his fifth album. These weren’t just any cover versions. Instead, they were covers of what were New Orleans’ classics.  These tracks became Dr John’s Gumbo.

The recording took place at Sound City Studios, in LA with Dr John playing guitar, piano, cornet and taking charge of the vocals. He was joined by drummer and percussionist Fred Staehle, bassist Jimmy Calhoun and guitarist Ken Klimak. They were joined by percussionist Richard Washington, a horn section plus backing vocalists Shirley Goodman, Tammy Lann, Robbie Montgomery and Jessica Smith. Producing Dr John’s Gumbo were Harold Battiste and Jerry Wexler. 

They produced what was Dr John’s tribute to the music of the city of his birth. It was a very different album to his four previous releases. Dr John’s Gumbo marked a move away from what his persona Dr John The Night Tripper. Some critics didn’t understand Dr John’s musical alter ego and certainly didn’t “get” the voodoo references. Despite that, he had a cult following. That was about to change.

When Dr John’s Gumbo was released critics called it one of Dr John’s finest albums. They preferred and understood the music on the album which was much more straightforward, accessible and steeped in New Orleans’ R&B traditions. Especially, tracks like Iko Iko, Dr John’s new composition Somebody Changed The Lock, Mess Around, Let The Good Times Roll, Junko Partner, Those Lonely Lonely Nights and the Huey Smith Medley. These songs were part of what was akin to a homage to the Big Easy that showcased Dr John’s considerable talents. It was  also Dr John’s most accessible album.

Dr John’s Gumbo was released on April the ‘20th’ 1972, it spent and spent seven weeks in the US Billboard 200. On June the ‘24th’ 1972 it reached 112 in the US Billboard 200 and became Dr John’s most successful album.  However, that would change with the release of his next album In The Right Place.

.

In The Right Place.

Following the success of Dr. John’s Gumbo, Dr John began work on the followup album which eventually became In The Right Place. It was a very different album from its predecessor which was an album of covers of New Orleans’ classics. The only song  that Mac Rebennack aka Dr John had written was Somebody Changed the Lock. This time things were different.

Mac Rebennack had penned seven new songs for his sixth album including Right Place, Wrong Time, Same Old Same Old, Just the Same, Life, Such A Night, Shoo Fly Marches On and Cold, Cold, Cold. He joined forces with Jessie Hill to write Qualified and the pair wrote I Been Hoodood with Alvin Robinson. The other two tracks were covers and included James Waynes’ Travelling Mood and Allen Toussaint’s Life. These eleven tracks became In The Right Place which was recorded in Miami, Florida.

Dr John travelled to Criteria Studios, in Miami, where he recorded In The Right Place with songwriter, musician, arranger and producer Allen Toussaint. He was one of the most influential figures in the New Orleans’ music scene and was able to bring out the best in Dr John. Especially with The Meters acting as his backing band. Their lineup included drummer Joseph Modeliste, bassist George Porter Jr, lead guitarist and organist Art Neville. They were joined by The Bonaroo Horn Section, Gary Brown on acoustic and electric saxophone and Allen Toussaint who showcased his versatility as he switched between a variety of instruments. Adding backing vocals were Jessie Smith and Robbie Montgomery while percussionist Ralph MacDonald and David Spinozza made guest appearances. They augmented the all-star band that accompanied Dr John on In The Right Place as Allen Toussaint took charge of production. He was the perfect foil for Dr John and the result was one of his finest albums.

Once In The Right Place was completed, Dr John and Allen Toussaint returned to the Big Easy and Atco began preparing for the release of In The Right Place. 

It was a fusion of blues, funk and New Orleans R&B. There’s also elements of gospel, jazz, New Orleans rock, soul and voodoo funk on another Dr John album where musical genres melted into one. 

Side One.

That was the case with the album opener Right Place, Wrong Time. It bursts into life and there’s a degree of urgency as funk, New Orleans R&B, rocky guitar licks and soulful, soaring backing vocals combine and accompany Dr John on a track that would become a classic and a staple of his live shows. Same Old Same Old has a slow, moody and swampy sound that features on previous albums. This is the backdrop for a despairing vocal about the mundane reality everyday life and especially the 9-5 grind. Very different and quite beautiful is the ballad Just The Same where gospel-tinged and soulful harmonies accompany the heartfelt vocal. Then as Qualified unfolds Dr John showcases his peerless piano playing before  he and his all-star band deliver a breathtaking performance. They combine funk, jazz,  New Orleans R&B, rock and soul  on a track that has made in the Big Easy by Dr John and has his name written all over it. Traveling Mood is a tale of love gone wrong which still swings. Horns punctuate the arrangement which features a complex bass line as Dr John’s piano plays a leading role as he contemplates his future. The tempo drops and the Dr is accompanied by soulful backing vocalists as he delivers his message Peace Brother Peace “all over the world.”

Side Two.

It’s a cover of Allen Toussaint’s Life that opens the second side, and gives way to another Dr John classic, Such A Night. This hook-laden song is instantly recognisable and is without doubt one of his finest and most popular songs. Just like it Right Place, Wrong Time it was always on the setlist when Dr John played live. Shoo Fly Marches On is another genre-melting track where blues, funk, jazz and R&B combine with a searing a rocky guitar and soulful harmonies. They’re the perfect accompaniment to the lived-in and impassioned vocal on a track that was way ahead of its time. I Been Hoodood has a moody, swampy sound that is best described as voodoo funk and is one of the album’s highlights. Cold Cold Cold features a vocal full of hurt from Dr John who discovers his partner has been cheating on him. Soaring harmonies, horns, washes of Hammond organ and piano accompany his soul-baring vocal on this tale of love gone wrong. It brought to a close In The Right Place which was a gamechanger of an album.

Critics on hearing In The Right Place which was a fusion of funk, blues and New Orleans R&B hailed the album as one of his finest. Later, the album would regarded as one of Dr John’s classic albums and the album that transformed his career.

Right Place, Wrong Time was released by Atco as the lead single from In The Right Place and it gave Dr John the biggest single of his career. It reached nine on the US Billboard 100, six in Canada and ninety-eight in Australia. Then when In The Right Place was released on February the ’25th’ 1973, it spent thirty-three weeks on the US Billboard 200 and peaked at twenty-four on June the ’23rd’ 1973. This meant that In The Right Place was the most successful album of Dr John’s career.

What Ahmet Ertegun had foolishly described as: “boogaloo crap” just a few years earlier, was now proving profitable for his company. Dr John was having the last laugh. In The Right Place was the sixth of seven albums that Dr John released via Atco Records between 1968 and 1974. While these albums weren’t always appreciated or understood by critics, they’re now regarded as part of what was a golden era for Dr John. 

He was at his creative zenith during his Atco Records years and was often misunderstood even by the supposed experts who ran the label. It was only much later that critics reappraised the albums that  Dr John released for Atco Records and realised that he was recording and releasing ambitious, imaginative and innovative albums of genre-melting  music. That describes perfectly the music on his first four albums Gris Gris, Babylon, Remedies and The Sun, Moon and Herbs. 

Ironically when he returned to what was a much more traditional R&B sound for his fifth album  Dr John’s Gumbo, Dr John enjoyed the most successful album of his career. That was until he followed this up with In The Right Place which featured two classic tracks Right Place, Wrong Time and Such A Night. They would go on to become staples of his live sets over the next four decades. They would prove eventful for Dr John.

He only released one further album for Atco, and that was Desitively Bonnaroo on the ‘8th’ of April 1974. It was the much-anticipated followup to In The Right Place. It was also produced by Allen Toussaint and found The Meters backing Dr John. However, the album only spent eight weeks on the US Billboard 200 and peaked at 105 on June the ‘1st’ 1974. This brought the curtain down on Dr John’s Atco Records’ years.

Nowadays, the Atco Records’ years are regarded as a golden era in Dr John’s career which lasted six decades. One of the finest albums of Dr John’s Atco Records’ is In the Right Place a genre-melting epic produced by Allen Toussaint who coaxed, cajoled and brought out the best in Dr John and in the process transformed his career.

Dr John enjoyed a long and illustrious career,  and released thirty studio albums and nine live albums. He also won six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. However, it wasn’t always been smooth sailing for Dr John who battled heroin addiction but eventually he conquered his demons and continued to released albums and tour.  

Sadly, Dr John  passed away on June the ‘6th’ 2019 aged just seventy-seven. Dr John was a truly talented and versatile musician who was a mercurial maverick who left behind a rich musical legacy. This includes the seven albums he recorded during his Atco Records years which includes his classic album In The Right Place which was Dr John’s most successful album and introduced his music to a much wider audience. .

Classic Album: Dr John-In The Right Place.

CULT CLASSIC: JACKIE MCLEAN-IT’S TIME!

Cult Classic: Jackie McLean-It’s Time!

When Jackie McLean and his band journeyed to Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on August the ‘5th’ 1964, it was his fourteenth solo session for Blue Note Records and resulted in the album It’s Time! It which featured a new band and saw him revisit his old hard bop sound.

For the It’s Time! session, Jackie McLean had put together a new band. It still featured drummer Roy Haynes who at thirty-nine was the elder statesman of the band. The rest of the band were newcomers. This included thirty year old bassist Cecil McBee, pianist Herbie Hancock who was twenty-five and twenty-two year old trumpeter Charles Tolliver. They were due to record six new compositions that became It’s Time!

This included Das’ Dat, It’s Time and Snuff which were Jackie McLean compositions. They were joined by Cancellation, Revillot and Truth which were written by Charles Tolliver. The It’s Time session was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and was produced by Alfred Lion and on August the ‘5th’ 1964.

The producer and engineer listened to what was a quite different album from Destination…Out!, which was regarded as one of the most innovative, progressive and experimental albums that Jackie McLean had recorded. He embraced the avant-garde on an album which was a fusion of post-bop and free jazz. It was thought that the followup would see him embrace free jazz fully. Instead It’s Time was an album of driving, swinging hard bop from his new band.

It’s Time! opened with Cancellation which is best described as an advanced example of driving hard bop. Horns add a fanfare while the rhythm section provide stop time rhythms and Herbie Hancock pounds his piano. Meanwhile, the almost abrasive sound of Jackie McLean’s alto-saxophone soars, wah wahs as his playing becomes fast and fluid. Charles Tolliver’s playing starts with the same fluidity but later heads in the direction of free jazz. It’s accompanied by a piano which veers between abstract, ruminative to dramatic, fluid and urgent as it’s played with speed and accuracy. Later, the band join forces and head for home never missing a beat during this breathtaking example of hard driving, angular and swinging hard bop.

Das’ Dat bursts into life and the quintet  play as one on what’s a more traditional example of hard bop. Its bluesy roots can be quite clearly heard as Jackie McLean revisits his part. The horns and piano that play leading rolls as the rhythm section ensure the track swings. When the solos come around, up first is a sultry swinging solo from the composer and bandleader. Next up is trumpeter Charles Tolliver who plays like a veteran. So does pianist Herbie Hancock whose fingers dance across the keyboards as the rhythm section provide a subtle backdrop. Then when the band reunite and head for home combining to create what can only be described as swinging, high kicking and hard bop par excellence.

It’s Time is another of the more progressive tracks on the album and the influxes of modal jazz can be heard. The quintet play at breakneck speed before it’s time for the solos and effortlessly Jackie McLean plays with speed and fluidity. Next up, is Charles Tolliver whose solo is inventive and imaginative before he builds up a head of steam and plays with speed accuracy All the time, the piano punctuates the arrangement and then Herbie Hancock delivers a fleet-fingered solo his fingers caress, jab, stab and dance across before he accompanies Cecil McBee’s bass. When  drummer Roy Haynes unleashes a solo his playing is subtle as he takes a polyrhythmic approach and plays an important part in the sound and success of what’s one of the album’s highlights.

Side Two.

Horns unite, blaze and soar on Revillot before uniting with the rest of the band playing with speed and an inventiveness. From the get-go the horns go head-to head and it’s akin to a musical duel with two master craftsman showcasing their considerable skills. They deliver spellbinding solos and everyone else plays a supporting role. Even Herbie Hancock whose play with speed, jabbing, stabbing and adding flamboyant flourishes before his playing becomes fluid and sometimes abstract. Despite that, it’s the horns that steal the show.

On Snuff the horns lead the way as drums punctuate the arrangement. Soon, it’s time for the solos and Jackie McLean steps up and plays his alto-saxophone with speed, fluidity and an inventiveness during a complex solo where it bobs, weaves and winds. Herbie Hancock accompanies him and plays a supporting role. He rises to the challenge and goes toe-to-toe with the bandleader answering the saxophonist’s call and does the same with trumpeter Charles Tolliver who unleashes one of his finest performances during a complex solo takes twists and turns. Herbie Hancock is inspired and raises his game adding further flamboyant flourishes and when his solo comes around he plays with speed, accuracy and inventiveness during a breathtaking performance. All too soon, the band reunite and it’s a race to the finishing post. It’s not hands and heels going into the final furlong. Instead, it’s a sprint finish and after a performance as good as this there’s only one winner…jazz.

Closing It’s Time! is the melancholy ballad Truth which was written by Charles Tolliver. Sometimes, the truth hurts and that seems to be the case here. His trumpet playing it emotive and has a worldweary soul-baring sound. Meanwhile, the rest of the band provides a sympathetic backdrop on this beautiful ballad that shows another side to the quintet.

Having recorded It’s Time! Blue Note Records scheduled a release for the summer of 1965. In late-June, early July It’s Time! was released in a Miles Reed album cover that would later be regarded as a design classic. The album was well received by the majority of critics who had expected Jackie McLean to fully embrace free jazz on It’s Time! They were surprised to hear an album of hard bop but welcomed its familiarity of  It’s Time. Sadly, the album passed jazz fans by, and they never heard Jackie McLean’s new quintet in full flight.

It was only much later that jazz fans discovered Jackie McLean’s It’s Time! By then, it was one of the hidden gems in his back-catalogue and one the most underrated albums that he recorded at Blue Note Records. It’s Time! is an album of hard driving and swinging hard bop from Jackie McLean that features a series of breathtaking performances and is bristling with energy that somewhat belatedly is starting to receive the recognition it so richly deserves.

Cult Classic: Jackie McLean-It’s Time!

KEITH MANSFIELD-VIVID UNDERSCORES.

Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.

Label: Be With Records.

Format: LP.

Composer, arranger and musician Keith Mansfield nowadays is recognised and regarded as one the doyens of library music and original copies of his albums are now highly collectable. This includes Vivid Underscores which was released in 1977, a year after his other genre classic Contempo. Both albums were part of the legendary KPM 1000 series and were recently reissued on vinyl by Be With Records. These are welcome reissues as original copies of Contempo and Vivid Underscores are now rarities like so many of the KPM Records’ releases. That’s no surprise

Everyone from sample-hungry hip hop producers and crate-digging DJs to film producers collect library music. They remember hearing  library music in cartoons, documentaries and quizzes as they growing up in the seventies and eighties. So will many other people who listen to a KPM Records’ releases including Vivid Underscores which was released  nearly two hundred years after the company was formed.

The Rise and Rise Of KPM.

Robert Keith founded a comp[any in 1780, to make of musical instruments, and fifty years later, in 1830, entered into a partnership with William Prowse, a music publisher. The newly formed partnership was named Keith Prowse Music (KPM), and over the next hundred years, the company grew and expanded into other areas,

By the early twentieth century, Keith Prowse Music was selling sheet music and concert tickets, but it was  the invention of the gramophone that proved to be a game-changer.

Demand for sheet music and concert tickets grew, and in 1955, Keith Prowse Music was decided to diversify, into one of the most profitable areas of music, music publishing.

One of the reasons behind the decision to diversify into music publishing, was to feed the demand for soundtracks for radio, television and film. Previously, music libraries supplied classical music, which was what was required.  By the mid-fifties, and the birth of television, the world and music were changing, and changing fast.

Four years later, in 1959, Associated Rediffusion bought another music publisher Peter Maurice and merged it with Keith Prowse Music. The newly merged company became Keith Prowse Maurice, which became known as KPM Music.

The newly named KPM Music was a much bigger player in the world music publishing. However, in the mid-sixties, a new name took the helm at KPM Music, and transformed the company into one of the biggest names in library music.

When Robin Phillips joined KPM Music in the mid-sixties, he proved to be an astute and visionary businessman. Two decisions Robin Phillips made demonstrate why. His first decision was that KPM Music should switch from the old 78 records to the LP, which made sense, as LPs were what people were buying. They were less prone to breakage, which meant less returns and more profit. LPs could contain more music, and could be released in limited editions of 1,000. The other decision he made was to hire the best young British composers and arrangers. 

Among the composers Robin Phillips hired were Keith Mansfield and Johnny Pearson, whose talent and  potential as composers he recognised.  Robin Phillips managed to hired them before they’ had established a reputation,  although they were known within music publishing circles.

Later, Robin Phillips managed to hire some of jazz musicians of the calibre of John Cameron, Syd Clark, Alan Hawkshaw and Alan Parker. Their remit was to provide him with new music, which was referred to as production music. Many of their remits was to write music which matched themes or moods, which initially, wasn’t isn’t easy, but soon, the composers were able to do so. Almost seamlessly, the composers created themes for many well known television shows and films.  

For the composers and musicians involved in writing and recording library music, they were part of what was one of the most lucrative areas of music. When EMI realised that KPM Music had one of the best and most profitable music libraries and decided to buy the company. Executives at EMI had spotted the profitability of library music and the consistency, quality and depth of KPM Music’s back catalogue. However,  not everyone within the music industry approved of library music.

Other songwriters looked down on writers of library music, and the British Musician’s Union wasn’t fan of library music. They banned their members from working on recording sessions of library music. Somewhat shortsightedly, the Musician’s Union thought that eventually, there would come a time when there was no need for any further recordings. Their fear was that the sheer quantity of back-catalogue would mean no new recordings would be made, and their members would be without work. Fortunately, KPM Records thought of a way to subvert the ban.

KPM Records would fly out composers, arrangers and musicians to Holland and Belgium, where local musicians would join them for recording sessions. This meant that often, the same musicians would play on tracks that were penned by several composers. For the musicians involved, this proved lucrative and some were reluctant to turn their back on session work for companies like KPM Records.

Still the Musician’s Union’s draconian ban continued, and it wasn’t until the late seventies that they lifted their ban on new recordings of library music. By then, the Musician’s Union realised that they were fighting a losing battle and had no option but to concede defeat.

Meanwhile, the music that was being recorded in Europe and once the ban was lifted in Britain, found its way onto albums of library music released by KPM Music. Again, KPM Music were innovators, and  released limited editions of library music. Sometimes, only 1,000 albums were released, and they were sent out to film studios, television and radio stations and advertising agencies. However, by then, interest in library music had grown. 

Although the albums of library music  were never meant to be commercially available, a coterie of musical connoisseurs had discovered KPM Music’s albums of library music and were determined to add each release to their collection. They weren’t alone.

Later, DJs and sample hungry hip hop and house producers discovered the world of library music. This was a boon for many of these producers who were musically illiterate, and could neither read music nor play an instrument. with lots of practise the musically challenged “producers” were eventually able to sample albums of library music for their latest “production” and very occasionally, this resulted in a hit single for the musical pirates. However, most of the credit should’ve gone to those who made the music that had been sampled.

This included Keith Mansfield who recorded some of the best library music was ever recorded in the UK. Especially the music they recorded for KPM which has ‘inspired’ several generations of musicians. One of the albums of library music that Keith Mansfield recorded for KPM was Vivid Underscores, which is part of the legendary KPM 1000 series.

Vivid Underscores features Keith Mansfield at his best on a cohesive and truly timeless album of library music. The music is funky, soulful, sometimes dramatic,  mesmeric, joyous and uplifting. Strings and horns are deployed and put to good use during a series of cinematic and filmic soundscapes from a musical master craftsman, Keith Mansfield.

Side One.

Opening Vivid Underscores is High Velocity where  driving horns join forces with wah-wah guitars, a funky bass and synths to create a dramatic and filmic all-action track that transports the listener to the seventies. 

Crash Course is akin to a mini soundtrack in three parts. The first part paints pictures as the drama builds and jazz, funk and fusion combine as what could be the backdrop to a car chase. It’s the type of track that could be heard during The Sweeney after a blag. Echo is added to the horns during the second part before the big finish in the third part where the good guys say: “you’re nicked.” 

Horns play an important part during Matter Of Urgency.  It’s a slow burner that’s uber funky, jazz-tinged and cinematic with aggressive undertones.

There’s two parts to Dawn Of Aquarius which is  a futuristic sounding track with sci-fi sounds. It sounds like the type of soundtrack that Kraftwerk would’ve written circa 1977 and has plenty of material for sample hungry producers. During the second part, the drums and percussion drop out leaving more room space-age and sci-fi sounds.

Staying Power is very different from the two previous tracks. It’s dramatic, moody and almost menacing as elements of funk, jazz and rock are combined by Keith “The Man” Mansfield.

Side Two.

The second side opens with the first of four parts of Trucking Power. This is the introduction and akin to a scene setter. The tempo rises as synths and strings combine and take centrestage. This is highly effective. So is the addition of echo during the Part A while Part B is an alternative mix and a captivating variation on a theme. Then during Part C the tension is gone as the gorgeous middle section breezes along. The result is what can only be described as a thing of beauty. 

There’s plenty of tension and drama during Hot Tempo and Espionage which sound as if they’re part of a  late-seventies Cold War spy thriller.

Then  the tempo drops on Interplay which is a much more understated track. Flutes flutter above a shimmering piano which is almost hypnotic and is quite beautiful.

Very different is Omen which is dark, dramatic and menacing. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a seventies detective series.

It’s all change with Perpetual Motion which flows and meanders revealing an intricate arrangement where keyboards, synths, percussion and lush sweeping strings combine with woodwind to create another beautiful, cinematic track. Keith Mansfield closes Vivid Underscores on a high.

During the seventies, Keith Mansfield was without doubt one of the finest purveyors of library music. His 1976 album Contempo and the followup Vivid Underscores which was released as part of the KPM 1000 series in 1977 are both genre classics and a reminder of a truly talented arranger, composer and musician.

He combines everything from jazz and funk to jazz-funk, fusion and rock on Vivid Underscores. Strings, synths and horns are deployed during this cinematic opus by one of the doyens of library music on Vivid Underscores .

Sadly, nowadays original copies of Vivid Underscores rarities and very few copies come up for sale. When they do, the prices are beyond the budget of most collectors of library music. However, Be With Record recently reissued Keith Mansfield’s library music classic. Vivid Underscores is just the latest reissue from the KPM 1000 series and is a reminder of the golden age of library music and features Keith Mansfield at the peak of his powers.

Keith Mansfield-Vivid Underscores.

PORCUPINE TREE-LIGHTBULB SUN.

Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

Label: Transmission.

Format: CD.

Between 1987 and 2010 progressive rockers Porcupine Tree released ten studio and twelve live albums. Their sixth studio album was Lightbulb Sun which was released  on May the ‘22nd’ 2000 and was the much-anticipated followup to Stupid Dream, which was released in March 1999. It marked the start of a new chapter in the Porcupine Tree story.

Stupid Dream was the first Porcupine Tree album to feature a much poppier sound. This was very different to their abstract instrumental sound of their prior albums, Signify and Stupid Dream which was their most successful album.

Stupid Dream.

The three singles Porcupine Tree released from Stupid Dream were Piano Lessons, Stranger By The Minute and Pure Narcotic and they all enjoyed mainstream exposure. Especially in the US and Europe where the group toured extensively. They knew it was a case of putting in the hard yards like so many other bands before them.

Porcupine Tree also toured the UK in support of Stupid Dream and watched the three singles charted in the independent charts during 1999. Piano Lesson reached thirty-four, Stranger By The Minute thirteen and Pure Narcotic forty-six. Each of the singles found their way onto radio station playlists and it looked like Porcupine Tree were about to make a commercial breakthrough after five albums and twelve years of trying.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be and Stupid Dream failed to trouble the UK albums charts. This was hugely disappointing given the success of the singles. The members of Porcupine Tree hoped that their next album would see them make a commercial breakthrough.

Lightbulb Sun.

When Steven Wilson and the rest of Porcupine Tree began to write Lightbulb Sun, little did the group know that the album found them still at a crossroads. 

 Just like Stupid Dream, the album that Porcupine Tree were about to write and record would also have a much more commercial, poppier sound. Once again, the group turned their back on the abstract instrumental sound of their first four albums on Lightbulb Sun. However, after their sixth album the group changed direction and their music took on a heavy metal for the rest of the noughties. In a way, Lightbulb Sun was the end of an era for Porcupine Tree.

Of the ten songs on Lightbulb Sun, Steven Wilson penned eight of them and cowrote the other two. He wrote Hatesong with Colin Edwin. Then the pair joined forces with Chris Maitland and Richard Barbieri to write Russia on Ice Chris Maitland. These tracks would eventually become Lightbulb Sun.

Recording of Lightbulb Sun took place at Foel Studio-No Man’s Land between November  1999  and January 2000. The rhythm section featured drummer Chris Maitland and bassist Colin Edwin who Gimbri and was experimenting with a drum machine. Keyboardist Richard Barbieri played Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, mellotron and synth. Meanwhile bandleader, producer and vocalist Steven Wilson played guitars, piano, hammered dulcimer, mellotron, banjo, harp and used samples during the recording of Lightbulb Sun. 

Augmenting Porcupine Tree were rhythm guitarist Eli Hibit, cellist Nick Parry and Stuart Gordon who played viola and violin. During the recording session, The Minerva String Quartet were brought. Violinists Katy Latham and Lisa Betteridge plus cellist Emmeline Brewer and Sarah Heines on viola added the all-important strings to Lightbulb SunIt was completed after just three months recording and was the quickest album that Porcupine Tree had recorded.

Having completed Lightbulb Sun in January 2000, the album was scheduled for release on the ‘22nd’ May 2000. Before this, Porcupine Tree planned to release a single and nervously awaited the verdict of the critics. 

Four Chords That Made a Million was released as the lead single in April 2000 and reached eighty-four in the UK charts and sixteen in the UK Independent Charts. This built upon the success of the triumvirate of singles released from Stupid Dream.

When Lightbulb Sun was released on the ‘22nd’ May 2000 it feature a much commercial, poppier sound that should’ve appealed to wider audience than the he abstract instrumental sound of their first four albums. However, Lightbulb Sun was also an album of two parts.

Lightbulb Sun is divided into two parts between Rest Will Flow and Hatesong. However, the first part focuses on a more melodic, poppy style. Then the part allows Porcupine Tree to showcase the experimental side of their music. The group was hoping there was something for fans old and new. 

The majority or critics were won over by Lightbulb Sun which was released to mostly critical acclaim. They praised the standard of songwriting and musicianship with some critics calling the album Porcupine Tree’s finest hour. 

No wonder as Porcupine Tree mixed unique brand of progressive rock with melodic pop, metal and experimental music. After six albums and thirteen years Porcupine Tree had come of age with a career-defining album. It featured dense harmonies, captivating arrangements, melancholy melodies that tugged at the heartstrings and sometimes the tracks referenced Pink Floyd. Two of the highlights of Lightbulb Sun were the Steven Wilson compositions Feel So Low and The Rest Will Flow. They were part of what was the most consistent and complete album of Porcupine Tree’s tree.

Unlike many progressive rock albums Lightbulb Sun wasn’t a concept album. However, Steven Wilson explains that some of the songs relate to different subjects: “There are at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship. Russia on Ice, How Is Your Life Today, Shesmovedon, Feel So Low, I mean, the last track of the album. The period in a relationship, where the relationship is kind of… still exists, but it’s in that period where, really, there is nothing left but hatred and despise-Hatesong is the other one.”

He goes on to say: “But then on the other hand, there are groups of songs on the album which are all about various childhood… nostalgic childhood reminisces, Lightbulb Sun and the first part of Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth, Where We Would Be. So there are kind of groups of songs.” 

Later he explains: “And then there’s a couple of songs that don’t have any relation to anything else. Four Chords That Made A Million doesn’t have any relation to anything else on the album, or anything else I’ve ever written. It’s just that.”

Lightbulb Sun was regarded as the best and strongest album that Porcupine Tree had recorded and released. Surely their sixth album would be the first to chart and see the group make a commercial breakthrough after thirteen years of touring, recording and doing the rounds of press, radio and television?

The members of Porcupine Tree watched as Lightbulb Sun reaches 161 in the UK album chart where it stalled. Although this was disappointing, it was still  the most successful album of the group’s six album career. 

Then in July 2000 was released as the second single from Lightbulb Sun and reached eighty-five in the UK charts and twenty-four in the UK Independent Charts. This was a small crumb of comfort for Porcupine Tree as Steven Wilson believed that it was: “our best work to date.”

Nowadays, Lightbulb Sun is regarded by critics as one of the finest albums of Porcupine Tree’s long career. It’s also the album that got away and should’ve transformed Porcupine Tree’s.  

When they released Lightbulb Sun it was also a much more accessible album than their previous albums. Steven Wilson made a conscious decision not to write lyrics about abstract concepts like war and religion. Instead, he drew on his own person experiences and wrote songs with much more personal and emotive lyrics. However, some of the songs he wrote especially Hatesong and Feel So Low featured negative lyrics. Despite this, many record buyers would be able to relate to the subjects that the lyrics dealt with on what was without doubt the most accessible album of Porcupine Tree’s six album career.

Lightbulb Sun should’ve been a much bigger success and introduced the group to the wider audience that their music deserved. Sadly, as is so often is the case Lightbulb Sun was an album that passed record buyers by when it was released by Snapper. 

Maybe Snapper was the wrong label for Porcupine Tree and their music would’ve found a wider audience if signed to another indie or major label? They left Snapper after Lightbulb Sun and signed to Lava who released their seventh studio album In Absentia on the ’24th’ September 2002. That was the start of Porcupine Tree’s progressive metal years. Lightbulb Sun was the end of an era for the group.

Although Lightbulb Sun wasn’t a commercial success when it was originally released in May 2000, it had started to find a wider audience by the time it was reissued in 2008. Recently, Lightbulb Sun was reissued by the Transmission label and this is an opportunity to discover or rediscover what’s one of Porcupine Tree’s most accessible albums and what was a career-defining album when it was released to widespread critical acclaim twenty-one years ago in May 2000.

Porcupine Tree-Lightbulb Sun.

SLY AND THE VISCAYNES-YELLOW MOON: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS 1961-1962.

Sly and The Viscaynes-Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

By 1960, there were only two high schools in the city of Vallejo which is situated in the northeastern corner of San Francisco Bay. St Vincent’s and the Vallejo High School which was where the members of The Viscaynes would matriculate.

This included Charlene Imhoff who was born and brought up in the city and was a student at Vallejo Junior High School. In 1958, she was invited to sing with a vocal group that had been formed at the local junior high school, The Viscounts. 

At the time, its lineup featured drummer Herb Schouse, pianist Mike Stevens. Charlene Imhoff was the first of several new additions.  Soon, the nascent group was joined by Art Bignoria and Frank Arellano who at the time was in a group called The Whinchats at Franklin Junior High. The two new additions were keen music fans and spent their evenings listening to groups like The Platters and Five Satins on the radio.

By the autumn of 1958, the members of The Viscounts had moved to  Vallejo Junior High School where they were joined by Charlie Gebhardt who was a friend of Frank Arellano. This new lineup featured in the Hi-Laffs school show on the ‘22nd’ of May 1959. 

That night, the competition was fierce with The Webs and The Avondales two of the top bands. However, The Viscounts’ cover of the doo wop favourite You Are My Girlfriend was well received and their nascent career continued.

It was without Art Bignoria and Mark Kennedy who both left The Viscounts. Jim Kozier was recruited and joined the group as a new chapter in their career began.

One day The Viscounts were rehearsing for a talent contest when a student entered the room and started to listen. After a minute Sylvester Stewart said: “doesn’t anyone here sing harmony? You’re all singing leads.”

When Charlene Imhoff heard this she said to the rest of the group: “Why don’t you ask Sly if he wants to join our group?”

Frank Arellano went and asked Sly Stewart: Can you give us your opinion” and then after he worked with the group for a short time asked: “Maybe you would like to sing with us?” 

After thinking about this for just a short time he returned and agreed to join the group. The new lineup agreed that they should rehearse regularly and then made their debut at the Vallejo Rangers Hall.

Straight away, Sly Stewart became the unofficial bandleader and the  group’s lives revolved around rehearsals. Soon, the group had the confidence to enter a contest for groups in the Bay-Area which was sponsored by Dick Stewart’s Dance Party.

By then, Dick Stewart was working six days a week and needed someone to help organise the contest. He was friendly with record promoter Pete Martino who also represented various record labels and agreed to help organise the contest. When he was looking for the most talented singers and groups he organised coattail parties. This  where presidents of junior high schools and high schools would recommend the most talented singer and groups their school had to offer. The Viscounts were one of the best bands at Vallejo High School.

The Viscounts were selected for the contest on the ‘3rd’ of March, and were due to appear in the Solano County heat on March the ‘13th’ 1961, However, Charlene Imhoff wasn’t available when the newly named group made its debut in the contest. They were now called The Original Viscounts and featured Maria Boldway. She was part of a vocal sextet which was still accompanied by pianist Mike Stevens

 When The Original Viscounts entered a regional heat of the talent contest hoping and dreaming that they would be the lucky ones who progressed to the next round. This they knew would only be  the start of a long journey.

After The Original Viscounts won the regional heat on the ‘13th’ March 1961 and then made their debut on Dick Stewart’s Dance Party in San Francisco where they encountered Joe Piazza and The Continentals. They backed The Original Viscounts as they sang Blue Moon during the first round of what was a victory parade.

The Original Viscounts needed to win their way through a number of rounds before they reached the final. However, this wasn’t going to easy as there were so many other talented vocal groups in the area and they had all entered the competition. The competition was fierce which wasn’t surprising given what was at stake. 

All the groups wanted to win the first prize which was a recording contract and a trip to Hollywood. They knew that music offered them an escape route from small town America and the opportunity to enjoy a better life. 

Having made their way through the various rounds, The Original Viscounts made it to the final which was held at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium in May 1961. Just before the final Jim Kozier was replaced by Charlie Gebhardt’s brother Vern. The group had also changed their name to The Viscaynes because there were other groups called The Viscounts. This avoided any confusion in the future and was something they had been advised to do when they signed with Martino Enterprises.

The Viscaynes won the final at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium and the recording contract and trip to Hollywood. This the group hoped would transform their lives and be the start of a career in music.

Before that, Pete Marino had another of his signings Gary Stites coach The Viscaynes before they entered the studio for the first time. After this period of preparation they would journey to San Francisco to make their recording debut.

The recordings they made in San Francisco are among those that feature on the new Sly and The Viscaynes compilation Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 which was recently released by Ace Records. 

Having journeyed to San Francisco, The Viscaynes made their way to Dick Camp’s studio A-V Productions. At its hearts was a two track tape recorder. Charlene Imhoff sang the lead vocal on Stop What You’re Doing and the rest of the group then overdubbed their vocals. Then Charlene Imhoff and Maria Boldway duetted on I Guess I’ll Be. Other tracks recorded at the session were Don’t Cry Soldier. These tracks feature on Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 and are a reminder of The Viscaynes first recording session.

Later in 1961, The Viscaynes released Stop What You Are Doing on the Tropo label with I Guess I’ll Be on the B-Side. On the second pressing Real, True Love featured on the flip side. However, this doo wop single failed to find an audience and it was an disappointing start to the group’s career.

In September 1961, The Viscaynes with the first version of the novelty record Uncle Sam Needs You which was released on VPM. On the B-Side was Yellow Moon. However, there’s  second pressing of Uncle Sam Needs and Yellow Moon which also features on the compilation. It was one of the tracks recorded when The Viscaynes rerecorded at a session in LA. Sadly, after the trip that was the end of the group.

Still Yellow Moon was released as a single on VPM, with the romantic sounding Heavenly Angel on the B-Side. It’s also included on the compilation. After this, it was another two years before The Viscaynes released any more music.

Meanwhile, Charlene Imhoff and Maria Boldway recorded the single  Hully Gully Papa which featured I’m Coming Home on the B-Side. They released the single on VPM in November 1961 using the moniker Jasper Woods. The single is a rarity and is welcome addition to the compilation.

By then, Danny (Sly) Stewart as he was billed embarked upon a solo career and released A Long Time Alone as a single in November 1961. On the B-Side was I’m Just A Fool which was another L and M Production. However, just like The Viscaynes’ singles commercial success eluded the group’s unofficial bandleader.

In June 1962, Sylvester Stewart as he was now billed as released Help Me With My Broken Hear with Long Time Alone on the B-Side. However, still commercial success eluded this slice of poppy soul when it was released on G&P. It was back to the drawing board.

By 1963, Sly Stewart had severed his ties with the Motola-Page production team. Despite that, an alternate version of Danny (Sly) Stewart’s Do You Remember aka I’m Just A Fool featured on a compilation released by the Sutton label. So did The Viscaynes’ You’re My Only Love. This brought to an end a two year period where The Viscaynes and Sylvester Stewart enjoyed their introduction to the music industry. However, it’s not the end of Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962.

There’s also five previously unreleased tracks on the compilation. This includes The Viscaynes’ Don’t Cry, Soldier which they recorded in 1961. It’s joined by Goodnight Brown Eyes which was recorded by vocalist Gary Stites who was hired to school The Viscaynes before they made their recording debut.The other unreleased track is Sylvester Stewart’s While I’m Gone which is the only track to feature the singer’s real name. It’s also the start of what would be a long and successful career for a man who would become one of the most innovative musicians in the history of modern music. That was all in the future.

During his time with The Viscaynes fame and fortune was something that Sylvester Stewart and the rest of the band dreamt about. They  managed to win their way through the contest for groups in the Bay-Area which was sponsored by Dick Stewart’s Dance Party. The first prize was a recording contract and the trip to LA. This they hoped would change their lives forevermore. 

Sadly, that wasn’t the case and by 1962 The Viscaynes had split-up. By then, they had released several unsuccessful singles which only found an audience after Sylvester Stewart became Sly Stone and found fame with Sly and The Family Stone. 

All the tracks that The Viscaynes recorded feature on Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 which was released by Ace Records. They’re joined by the tracks Sylvester Stewart recorded as well as contributions from Jasper Woods and Gary Stites. Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962 is the most comprehensive retrospective of Sly and The Viscaynes’ music. 

This lovingly compiled compilation is also the story of a group of young  friends who met at high school and bonded over their shared love of music. They time they spent making music and in pursuit of commercial success was akin to a musical apprenticeship for five members of the group. Charlene Imhoff turned her back on a career in music although she occasionally sang in public. The rest of The Viscaynes continued to make a career out of music. 

Sixty years after The Viscaynes released their debut single Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings is a welcome  reminder of the group’s two year recording career and the music they made.

Sly and The Viscaynes-Yellow Moon: The Complete Recordings 1961-1962.

ROCKSTEADY GOT SOUL.

Rocksteady Got Soul.

Label: Soul Jazz Records.

Format: CD.

When Soul Jazz Records was founded by Stuart Baker in London, in 1993, the nascent label began to draw “cross cultural connections between various music genres.” This included Brazilian, dub, jazz, Latin, soul and reggae which is one of the genres the label has specialised in since then.

Three decades later, and the label has established a reputation for consistently releasing quality reggae compilations. This includes those in the Soul Jazz Studio One Series. The most recent instalment in this long-running and successful series is Rocksteady Got Soul. It features eighteen uplifting and soulful reggae tracks which were released between the late-sixties and early seventies. There’s a contributions from the great and good of reggae on Rocksteady Got Soul.

The compilation opens with It’s True which was written and recorded by Alton Ellis’ for his 1970 album Sunday Coming. It was released on the Coxsone label in Jamaica and by Bamboo in the UK. One of the highlights of the album was It’s True with its hurt-filled and soul-baring vocal as harmonies seemingly sympathise at Alton Ellis’ plight.

It was 1970 when British reggae fans first heard The Heptones’ You Turned Away. It featured on the B-Side of their single Message From A Black Man which was released on the Bamboo label. Later that year the song featured on their Black Is Black album. It’s another song about betrayal with a vocal full of hurt and heartbreak.

Lee Perry moved to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1961 and his first job in the music industry was as a record seller for Coxsone Dodd. In 1963 he began working with Jackie Mittoo. Initially, he played  percussion on recordings and later, helped with arrangements. By 1966 he had started recording vocal sides and was billed as King Perry and The Gaylads when Run Rudie Run was recorded. This hidden gem which features the rhythm to Hugh Gidfrey’s You’re My Baby was relegated to the B-Side of Roy Richard and Jackie Mittoo’s Half and Half when it was released in 1966. It’s a welcome addition to Rocksteady Got Soul and is a reminder of the early work of maverick producer Lee Scratch Perry.

Jackie Mitoo was just twenty-two when he released his Macka Fat album in 1970. One of the highlights was Good Feeling which borrows the rhythm from The Heptones’ I Hold The Handle. Despite that, it’s an uplifting slice of soulful reggae with a sunshine sound.

Very little is known about Calvin Marshall who released  I Need Your Loving as a single on Studio One in 1969. It’s one of just two songs he wrote and recorded for the label. Here, he delivers a needy, hopeful vocal but one that’s deeply soulful on what’s a beautiful hidden gem.

I’ll Be Waiting is the second contribution from Alton Ellis. He wrote this beautiful ballad for a friend, and it was originally released by the Techniques label in 1970. Two years later the Studio One version featured on the Jamaica All Stars Vol. 1 compilation. This is another welcome addition and one of the highlights of Rocksteady Got Soul.

Sound Dimension became the Studio One house band in 1968, and two years later in 1970 Travelling Home featured on the B-Side of The Freedom Singers’ cover of Give Peace A Chance. This is an oft-overlooked and timeless instrumental that showcases the band who played such a big part in the sound and success of Studio One.

In 1967, Ken Boothe became the first person to record My Heart Is Gone. Three years later, in 1970, John Holt released a cover on Studio One. Later that year, this impassioned and soulful cover featured on his album A Love I Can Feel. It was one of the highlights of an album from one of the giants of reggae.  

The Ethiopians were formed in 1965 and in 1966 an early version of the group released Let The Light Shine as a single. It features an emotive vocal from Leonard Dillon which is delivered against The Soul Brothers’ Hot and Cold rhythm. This was the start of a long career for one of reggae’s most important and influential groups.

Closing Rocksteady Got Soul is Loose and Gain which was released as a single by The Viceroys on Studio One in 1967. It’s one of the most soulful songs on the compilation. Compiler Stuart Baker has kept one of the best until last.

For anyone with even a passing interest in reggae and especially rocksteady, then Rocksteady Got Soul is an album that they should add to their collection. Many of the tracks are uplifting and soulful. Others feature heartfelt, impassioned and soul-baring vocals where the vocalist lives the lyrics and brings them to life. It’s as if they lived, experienced and survived what they’re singing about. 

That’s no surprise as Rocksteady Got Soul features contributions some of reggae. They contribute singles, B-Sides, album cuts and hidden gems to Rocksteady Got Soul which is another lovingly compiled reggae compilation from Soul Jazz Records.

Rocksteady Got Soul.

CULT CLASSIC: ENO/CALE-WRONG WAY UP.

Cult Classic: Eno/Cale-Wrong Way Up.

Brian Eno and John Cale first worked together in 1974, when they also recorded the album June 1, 1974. When it was released twenty-seven days later on the ‘28th’ of June 1974 it was credited to Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico. Two of the three men who played on the album became friends and worked together on several occasions.

Sixteen years after Brian Eno and John Cale took to the stage at the Rainbow Theatre in London to record June 1, 1974 the two friends were reunited. Unsurprisingly there was sign of Kevin Ayers at Brian Eno’s Wilderness Studio, in Woodbridge, Suffolk when recording began in April 1990. The pair had history.

It’s alleged that the night before the recording of June 1, 1974 that John Cale found Kevin Ayers sleeping with his wife. That was why there was a tense atmosphere as the all-star band took to the stage and also explains the bemused stare that John Cale is giving Kevin Ayers on the album cover. The Velvet Underground cofounder took his revenge the following year.

When he was recording his solo album Slow Dazzle he included he wrote Guts which opens with the line: “The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife.” It was no surprise when Brian Eno and John Cale decided to record an album together Kevin Ayers played no part.

Instead, it was just Brian Eno and John Cale that began recording Wrong Way Up in April 1990. By then, they had written nine new tracks and Brian Eno had penned The River. These eleven  tracks were recorded between April and July 1990 and would eventually feature on Wrong Way Up.

At Wilderness Studio, Brain Eno sang lead and backing vocals and played bass, guitars, Indian drum, keyboards, little Nigerian organ, Linn M1, rhythm bed, Shinto bell and Yamaha DX7 synth. John Cale added backing vocals and played bass, dumbek, harp, horn, keyboards, piano, Omnichord, strings and viola. During the session, Brian Eno and John Cale were augmented by some of their musical friends.

This included drummer Ronald Jones who also played tabla, bassists Daryl Johnson and Dave Young who played guitar and rhythm guitarist Robert Ahwai. They were joined by violinist Nell Catchpole and Bruce Lampcov who added backing vocals and engineered John Cale’s vocals on Wrong Way Up.

The songs often took shape late at night as Brian Eno locked himself away and developed lyrics through singing sing nonsense words so he could create cadences which he then developed into syllabic rhythms. The next stage was to create phrases and then melodies. It was the way that Brian Eno worked and it worked for him.

So did the way the arrangements were crafted and complimented the vocals. A sequencer and synths were used and combined with what was an eclectic selection of traditional and ethnic instruments. They feature on Wrong Way Up which was produced by Brian Eno while John Cale only was given a co-producer’s credit. This raised eyebrows when the album was released in the autumn of 1990.

By then, the two men were openly admitting that they hadn’t gotten on during some or even much of the recording sessions. It also came to light that Brian Eno had allegedly called John Cale “irrational.” The sessions seem to have been difficult.

Later, John Cale recalled how Brian Eno: “would listen to what you said, but he really didn’t have much patience with it…I haven’t figured out yet what Brian’s notion of cooperation, or collaboration, is.”

John Cale also admitted during the session he was missing his wife and young daughter. He was suffering from “cabin fever” and the tension between made things worse. Things came to a head when John Cale alleges that he saw an irate Brian Eno coming towards with a chopstick clenched in his hand. After this, a panic-stricken John Cale phoned his manager to tell him he needed to book into a hotel. This Brian Eno has no memory of disputes. However, given all that had happened it was no surprise that with Wrong Way Up complete there was no plans to record a followup to the album that was released thirty years ago.

On the ‘5th’ of October 1990 Brian Eno and John Cale released their first collaboration Wrong Way Up to critical acclaim. Only a couple of contrarian critics found fault with what was a carefully crafted album of mainstream album with commercial appeal. Maybe the contrarian critics thought that Brian Eno and John Cale were selling out?

If that had been the case, Wrong Way Up wasn’t a particularly profitable venture as it failed to chart in Britain or America. Things didn’t improve when Been There, Done That was released as a single in America and failed to trouble the Billboard 100. However, it reached number eleven on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. That was as good as it got became when Word was then released in Britain and America it failed to chart. Brian Eno and John Cale’s collaboration Wrong Way Up had passed record buyers by.

It’s an album that was made despite the personality clashes between two musical icons. It could’ve been a recipe for disaster putting two strong willed characters in the same studio for three months while they recorded an album. However, the album was finished although there was no followup. That was a great shame.

Wrong Way Up featured music that was atmospheric, cerebral, hopeful and sometime cinematic and beautiful. It was an accessible album that featured elements of ambient stylings, art pop, art rock, electronic music, pop and progressive rock that features mainstream music that should’ve appealed to a wide audience. Proof of this is the album opener Lay My Love and Spinning way which are poetic pop penned by Brian Eno and both feature peerless electronic arrangements with the latter augmented by sweeping strings .

Very different is One Word where John Cale sings a line and is answered by Brian Eye. Then during the refrains, John Cale’s voice soars high above a choir of Eno’s on this thought-provoking and experimental track where art pop and electronica combine on a track that has an eighties sound.

In The Backroom was written by John Cale and is a mini-drama in four minutes. The arrangement is atmospheric, moody and cinematic as he paints pictures with his lived-in and weary vocal. It’s one of the highlights of the album.

Although Empty Frame was recorded in 1990 Empty Frame has an eighties sound in parts. This includes the drums and synths that feature on a track rich in imagery. It’s about a never-ending journey on a ship and ironically features the line: “We have no single point of view.” It’s part of what’s an incredibly catchy and memorable track that sounds a bit like OMD who were influenced by Brian Eno.

Cordoba came about after Brian Eno read Hugo’s Latin-American Spanish In Three Months. This inspired this chilling, cinematic song about two men planning to plant a bomb on a bus. John Cale’s delivery is haunting and the scenes unfold in front of the listener’s eyes and they’re left wondering did they plant the bomb or not?

Cinematic describes Footsteps which is a three mini drama written by John Cale who delivers the lyrics. He sings of slight of hand, danger, drama and double dealing on what sounds like

the soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made.

One can’t help wonder what inspired Been There, Done That which was written by John Cale? It’s upbeat and catchy from the get-go as synth pop and art rock combine as he reflects on his life and what he thought were the best o times: “Thinking we were having a ball.” It’s only when someone says: “Been There, Done That” does his older and wiser self realises: “Been there, don’t wanna go back.”

Boogie woogie piano opens Crime In The Desert and drives this John Cale composition along. He paints pictures about Tucson and  Guadalajara and tells the story of a mysterious lady murdered and her ideas stolen. All this is part of another catchy and cinematic track from the pen of John Cale.

Closing Wrong Way Up is the ballad The River which features one of Brian Eno’s finest vocals. It’s a quite beautiful and haunting song with an understated arrangement that is the perfect accompaniment to the vocal.

For anyone yet to discover Wrong Way Up, which was Brian Eno and John Cale’s one and only collaboration it’s recently been reissued to mark the album’s thirtieth anniversary. There’s also two bonus tracks Grandfather’s House and Palanquin which were recorded during the Wrong Way Up session.

It was a session beset by personality clashes and where chopsticks were perceived as a dangerous weapon by John Cale.  The recording of Wrong Way Up was no ordinary recording session and the pair didn’t get on. Despite that, they spent three months locked in Brian Eno’s Wilderness Studios and drew on their past experiences to record their first collaboration. To do that, they combined elements of ambient, art pop, art rock, electronic music, pop, progressive rock and synth pop on Wrong Way Up. It wasn’t the album critics and record buyers were expecting from the two musical icons.

Brain Eno and John Cale released what was an accessible album of mainstream music that should’ve had commercial appeal.Sadly, Wrong Way Up failed to find the audience it deserved. It’s only thirty years later that Wrong Way Up is starting to receive the recognition it deserved and that record buyers are embracing an album that music’s odd couple spent three months recording. It turned out to be time well spent.

Cult Classic: Eno/Cale-Wrong Way Up.

CULT CLASSIC: KELLEE PATTERSON-MAIDEN VOYAGE.

Cult Classic: Kellee Patterson-Maiden Voyage.

When pianist Gene Russell and percussionist Dick Schory founded Black Jazz Records in Oakland, California, in 1971, the nascent label’s raison d’être was “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.” This was only part of their vision for their new label.

They were determined that Black Jazz Records would released an alternative to what they saw as the old school jazz that was popular at the time. They wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz, and this included albums that featured political and spiritual influenced music. However, spiritual jazz was just part of the Black Jazz Records’ story and the label between 1971 and 1975 it released twenty albums that included everything from free jazz and funk to soul-jazz.

Fittingly, Black Jazz Records’ first release was Gene Russell’s sophomore album New Direction which was released in 1971. This was just the start of a prolific year for the label.

In their first year, Black Jazz Records also released Walter Bishop Jr’s Coral Keys, Doug Carn’s Infant Eyes, Rudolph Johnson’s Spring Rain, Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse and Calvin Keys’ Shawn-Neeq. By the end of 1971, the new label had released six albums in its first year. Other labels must have looked on enviously.

Cofounder Dick Schory had founded Chicago-based Ovation Records, which was a successful country and western label which  was providing funding for Black Jazz Records and distributing its releases. This gave the label a helping hand and meant it had an edge on its competitors.

The cofounders were determined that as wide an audience as possible hear the albums that the label was releasing so Gene Russell organised a promotional tour, In September 1971, Gene Russell and his Ray Lawrence who was his marketing consultant toured America giving interviews to newspaper journalists and featured on radio and newspaper where they showcased Black Jazz Records and its artists. This resulted in valuable publicity for the label.

By 1972, Black Jazz Records was adding new artists to their roster and signed Henry Franklin who released his album The Skipper later that year. This wasn’t the only new signing made that year. However, a familiar face returned with another album.

This was organist and pianist Doug Carn who was accompanied by his wife on his sophomore album Spirit Of The New Land. He would go on to release four albums between 1971 and 1975 and they were Black Jazz Records’ most successful releases.

The other album Black Jazz Records released in 1971 was The Awakening’s debut Hear, Sense and Feel in 1972. It wasn’t as busy a year as 1971, but Gene Russell and Dick Schory were concentrating on quality not quantity. However, the following year, 1973, was a much busier year for Black Jazz Records.

Cofounder Gene Russell returned in 1973 with Talk To My Lady which was his second album for Black Jazz Records. This was followed by Rudolph Johnson’s new album The Second Coming. However, the label’s third release of 1973 was Maiden Voyage the debut album from a new signing Kellee Patterson.

By the time Kellee Patterson signed to Black Jazz Records the young singer had achieved a lot during what was already a varied career.

Kellee Patterson was born Pat Patterson in the Midwest on the outskirts of  Chicago, but grew up Gary, Indiana. She started singing aged five, and growing up, won a number of local talent contests with her neighbours The Jacksons. While they won the male awards Kellee Patterson won the female awards. Given the success she enjoyed in the talent shows nobody was surprised when she became a professional singer.

When she was sixteen, Kellee Patterson made her professional debut as a singer, and by time she was at college she was singing with a group called Groovy and The Electra’s. Although they were essentially a rock group, Kellee Patterson sang covers of Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin songs. However, after a while she parted company with the band.

Not long after this, Kellee Patterson entered the 1971 Miss Indiana pageant under her real name. She became the first black woman to win the title and qualified for the Miss America pageant in 1972.

This turned out to be the boost that Kellee Patterson’s career needed. She made some television appearances in the Chicago area and also featured in The Streets Of San Francisco in 1972. However, after Kellee Patterson’s appearance in the Miss America pageant, word started spreading that she was a talented singer. Soon, several record companies began to offer recording contracts. This included Motown who she turned down to sign with Black Jazz Records in 1973.

Having signed with Black Jazz Records Kellee Patterson began work on her debut album which became Maiden Voyage. It was an album of eight cover versions. This included Earl DeRouen’s Magic Wand Of Love; John Lehman’ Look At The Child and Be All Your Own; Don Sebesky’s Soul Daddy (Lady) and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. They were joined by Gordon Parks’ Don’t Misunderstand; Flip Nunez’s See You Later and Lani Hall’s You. They were recorded by Kellee Patterson and a talented band.

Maiden Voyage was recorded in Hollywood Spectrum Studios, Los Angeles, and produced by Gene Russell. The band featured double bassist John Heard, bassist Henry Davis, Sajih on congas and triangle which Billy Osborne also played. The rest of the band included pianist Ernest Van Trease, flautist George Harper, trumpeter Everett Turner and John Lasalle on tambourine. They  accompanied Kellee Patterson on her debut album Maiden Voyage.

When Maiden Voyage was released later in 1973, the album failed to attract the attention of critics and record buyers and  became of the of hidden gems in Black Jazz Records’ back-catalogue.

That was despite Maiden Voyage being the most mainstream and commercial sounding album that was released on Black Jazz Records between 1971 and 1975. However, compared to Kellee Patterson’s later albums, Maiden Voyage is very different. It has a tougher sound and is a more challenging album. Having said that it’s also a rewarding album of laidback and mellow jazz that’s also soulful. This is down to Gene Russell’s production and the band that feature on the album.

That’s the case on Magic Wand Of Love where the rhythm section provide an understated backdrop as a flute flutters above the arrangement accompanying Kellee Patterson’s heartfelt and impassioned vocal as she delivers lyrics full of social comment. One of the most beautiful songs on the album is the cover of the piano-led, jazz ballad Look At The Child. Very different is the boogaloo of Soul Daddy (Lady) which shows another side of Kellee Patterson. So does an atmospheric reading of Maiden Voyage which features lyrics written by Herbie Hancock’s sister. It meanders along shimmering keyboards, bass and stabs of trumpet accompanying the vocal during this journey in search of love.

One of the best ballads on Maiden Voyage is Don’t Misunderstand with its late-night, jazzy sound and a wistful vocal from Kellee Patterson. The tempo rises on See You Later which features a much more powerful, soulful and sultry vocal that’s full of emotion. Meanwhile, the arrangement sashays along and provides the perfect accompaniment for the vocal on this relationship song. Then the tempo drops on You as a flute flutters and ushers in the vocal on this beautiful paean and is the perfect showcase for Kellee Patterson’s vocal. So is Be All Your Own which closes Maiden Voyage where her vocal is soulful and impassioned and is accompanied by an understated arrangement that allows the vocal to take centrestage.

For Kellee Patterson, her debut album Maiden Voyage was the one that got away. Despite the quality of music on the album it failed to attract the attention of either critics or record buyers. It was a disappointing start her to recording career and she must have wondered whether she had signed to the right label?

Kellee Patterson must have wondered if things would’ve been different if she had signed to Motown who she rejected before signing to for Black Jazz Records? It was regarded as a much more fashionable label and one who wanted: “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers” like her. The label also wanted to release an alternative to traditional jazz. Black Jazz Records must have seemed like an attractive alternative to Motown and the perfect label to launch her career.

On Maiden Voyage, Kellee Patterson there’s songs full social comment, beautiful ballads and mid-tempo tracks on what was a carefully crafted album that veers between jazz, soul and soul-jazz. It’s an album with no weak tracks and where Kellee Patterson showcases her vocal versatility. She breathe life, meaning and emotion into the eight tracks on Maiden Voyage which was the only album she released on Black Jazz Records.

Gene Russell closed the doors at Black Jazz Records for the last time in 1975, and by then, the label he had cofounded had released twenty albums. The most successful albums were the four released by Doug Carn which featured his wife Jean. Apart from these four albums, the remainder failed to find an audience until much later.

In the nineties, DJs and record collectors rediscovered the twenty albums released by Black Jazz Records. By then, many of the albums were rarities that changed hands for large sums of money. Those that owned the Black Jazz Records’ back-catalogue cherished what was a groundbreaking collection of albums and were reluctant to part with them. This includes Kellee Patterson’s debut album Maiden Voyage which is the perfect introduction to a prodigiously talented vocalist who is another of jazz music’s best secrets.

Cult Classic: Kellee Patterson-Maiden Voyage.

CULT CLASSIC: QUICKSAND-HOME IS WHERE I BELONG.

Cult Classic: Quicksand-Home Is Where I Belong.

Musical history is littered with examples of groups who only ever released one album during their what proves to be a short-lived career. Especially, during the late-sixties and early seventies when many record companies had unrealistic expectations.

All too often, when a band’s debut album failed to find an audience they were unceremoniously dropped by their record label. This was yet another example of short-term thinking in the music industry. 

There could’ve been any number of reasons for an album to fail, and often the blame lay fairly and squarely at the door of the record company. In Britain and America there were many smaller labels that were run by enthusiastic amateurs who talked a good game but couldn’t deliver. Sadly, that’s still the case today and getting mixed up with these dreamers and fantasists can damage a band’s future prospects. 

Many bands who signed to smaller labels or imprint in late-sixties and early seventies would soon regret their decision. Often, a band was so desperate to release an album that they signed a one album deal, with the option of a second album. Straight away, this put the record label in a stronger position. If the album did well, they picked up the option and if it failed the band were dropped. All to often, bands didn’t understand that contract they had signed or knew the questions to ask before signing on the dotted line. They just wanted to release an album.

Fast forward a few months and the album has been recorded, mixed and mastered; the album cover designed and the LPs are being produced at the pressing plant and are due to be sent to the distributor. By then, the band has realised that all isn’t well behind the scenes at the label. It lacks the financial muscle and marketing expertise to properly promote an album. The owner is out of their depth and is floundering, and the band know that the album that they had spent so long working on had no chance of success. This they know was their one and only chance to release an album and if it fails to find an audience their dream is over and it’s back home and to the 9 to 5 life in the factory or office.

When the album is eventually released their worst fears come true when it sinks without trace. At the post mortem, the label owner blames the distributor, the PR company, retailers who failed to stock the album, critics who failed to review it and DJs who failed to play it. The band listen and know that the only person to blame is the label owner and wait to be told there won’t be a second album. They’ve just joined the ranks of the groups who only ever releases one album.

This includes Quicksand who were formed in Port Talbot, in South Wales, in 1969 and featured drummer Robert Collins, future Man and The Neutrons bassist Will Youatt, guitarist Jimmy Davies and keyboardist Anthony Stone. The group started life as a covers band but the time they signed to the Carnaby label in 1970 their music was evolving. 

Having signed to the Carnaby label Quicksand went into the studio with producer Terry Britten and recorded two Will Youatt compositions. Passing By was chosen as the single and Cobblestones relegated to the B-Side. Quicksand’s debut single saw the group move in the drection of psychedelic rock. However, the single wasn’t a commercial success and it was their only release on the Carnaby label.

Not long after this, Will Youatt left and was replaced by Phil Davies. This new lineup of Quicksand Mk II would go on to release their sophomore single.

Having left the Carnaby label, Quicksand concentrated their efforts on playing live and were familiar faces in clubs and concert halls all over Britain. Quicksand were putting in the hard yards and honing their sound in the hope that one of the many A&R men would spot them playing live. 

Their luck was in and they were signed to Dawn Records which was Pye’s “underground and progressive” label. This seemed the perfect home for Quicksand.

After signing to Dawn Records, Quicksand went into the studio with producer Tito Burns to record two Phillip Davis compositions for their sophomore single. The song chosen for the single was the joyous and optimistic sounding Time To Live which features the band’s trademark harmonies as they combine the West Coast Sound, fusion and progressive rock keyboards. On the B-Side was the hidden gem Empty Street, Empty Heart which is a quite beautiful folk rock track with a country influence that shows another side of Quicksand. These two tracks showed what the Dawn Records’ latest signing was capable of.

Sadly, when Time To Live was released later in 1973 the single failed to trouble the British charts. This must have been a disappointment for Quicksand who by then, had been together for over four years.

Despite the commercial failure of Time To Live, Quicksand returned to the studio to record six more tracks for their debut album Home Is Where I Belong. Hideaway My Song, Sunlight Brings Shadows, Overcome The Pattern/Flying, Home Is Where I Belong and Hiding It All were also written by Phillip Davies. The other track was Seasons/Alpha Omega which was written by former band member Will Youatt. Taking charge of production this time round were Geoff Gill, Glyn Jones and the members of Quicksand. The result was an eclectic sounding album.

It’s hard to believe that the track that Hideaway My Song which eventually opened the album Home Is Where I Belong was recorded by a group from Port Talbot, in South Wales. It has a  feelgood sound that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the California Sound which was popular at the time the album was recorded. 

Very different is Sunlight Brings Shadows where the tempo rises as Quicksand change direction and unleash an unrelenting example of heavy progressive rock. Key to its success are the driving rhythm section, blistering rock guitar, banks of keyboards and Quicksand’s trademark harmonies. 

Then Overcome The Pattern/Flying shows different sides to the group. It starts off as a progressive rock track with some stunning psychedelic guitar playing from Jimmy Davies before heading into freak out territory at the midway point. There’s a trippy sounding interlude before things become even more spacey, psychedelic and way-out. Lysergic doesn’t even come close to describing the second part of this musical trip. 

Home Is Where I Belong is one of the most commercial sounding tracks on the album. It’s rocky and progressive in parts, and is an uplifting song with a feelgood sound and strong hook. 

It’s all change on Seasons/Alpha Omega which is another track that lasts over eight minutes and allows Quicksand to showcase their considerable talents. Especially during the solos. Initially, there’s a nod to Pink Floyd before the band spring into action and the tempo rises. Soon, searing guitar, banks of keyboards, a galloping rhythm section and harmonies that compliment the lead vocal make an appearance.What follows is a masterful and majestic example of progressive rock. To non believers, the music may sound overblown and pompous but give it a chance and it’s soon apparent that this is the album’s progressive epic that shows just what Quicksand were capable of.

Quicksand have saved one of the best on Home Is Where I Belong. Hiding It All close a quite beautiful and moving progressive folk anthem that is sure to tug at the heartstrings and should’ve been released as a single. 

When Quicksand’s debut album Home Is Where I Belong was released in February 1974 there was no single to proceed it. The previous single Time To Live had been released in 1973 and hadn’t troubled the British charts. Home Is Where I Belong would’ve been a tantalising taste of the delicious main dish. However, Dawn Records decided just to release the album without a single to proceed or accompany it. This backfired badly when Home Is Where I Belong sunk without trace. For the members of Quicksand this was a disaster, and they must have feared for their future.

Sadly, Quicksand’s time at Dawn Records was at an end and they never returned with a followup to Home Is Where I Belong.  

Worse was to come when Quicksand split-up not long after the release of Home Is Where I Belong. By then, they had been together for five years and had released two singles and one album, Home Is Where I Belong. It’s the highlight of a career that promised so much.

Quicksand were a hugely talented and versatile band, and Home Is Where I Belong is proof of that. It’s usually described as a progressive rock album but it’s much more than that. There’s elements of the California Sound, country, folk rock, fusion, progressive folk, psychedelic rock and the West Coast Sound on Home Is Where I Belong. They seamlessly switched between and fused genres on a carefully crafted album that should’ve found a much wider audience.

That was despite being signed to Dawn Records which was Pye’s “underground and progressive” label. Maybe Dawn Records was the wrong label for Quicksand and they would’ve succeeded on a bigger label? 

Especially if the had played the long game by signing Quicksand on a longer deal and helped them break into the lucrative American and European markets. Quicksand were ostensibly a progressive rock band but could also write radio friendly anthems and beautiful ballads. Maybe their music would’ve been more successful in America? Given the American influences on the album and the popularity of progressive rock in early 1974 maybe record buyers in the land of the free might have embraced, enjoyed and appreciated Quicksand’s debut album Home Is Where I Belong?

Sadly, the album was never even released in America in 1974. This was an own goal from Dawn Records who could’ve licensed Home Is Where I Belong to an American label. However, as is often the case after an album fails commercially the label moves on to the next project. Sometimes labels lose interest and other times they’re reluctant to spend any more money or even invest any more time on an album that wasn’t a commercial success. That’s a great shame and is frustrating and heartbreaking for a band.

That must have been the case for the four members of Quicksand who never recorded a followup to Home Is Where I Belong. Sadly, very few record buyers, even fans of progressive rock discovered the delights of an album that had something for everything. Progressive rock epics and psychedelic freakouts rub shoulders with anthems and beautiful ballads on Quicksand’s long-lost Magnus Opus Home Is Where I Belong which rather belatedly is starting to find a new and wider audience.

Cult Classic: Quicksand-Home Is Where I Belong.

HEDVIG MOLLESTAD TRIO-DING DONG, YOU’RE DEAD.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio-Ding Dong, You’re Dead.

Label: Rune Grammofon.

Format: CD.

Just nine months ago award-winning Norwegian guitarist, vocalist, bandleader and composer Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen released her critically acclaimed debut solo album Ekhidna.  By then, she was one of the leading lights of Norway’s vibrant music scene. She had founded the Hedvig Mollestad Trio in 2009 and by then, they had already released five live albums and one live album Evil In Oslo. Now one of Norwegian music’s most explosive and expansive groups make a  welcome return with Ding Dong, You’re Dead which was recently released by Rune Grammofon. They’ve come a long way in twelve years.

Ever since the Hedvig Mollestad Trio was founded in 2009 this they’ve been pushing musical boundaries and creating inventive and innovative genre-melting music. They hit the headlines when they played at the prestigious Molde International Jazz Festival in 2009. The newly formed band won the Jazztalentprisen award for the best “young jazz talent.” This was the start of the rise and rise of the Hedvig Mollestad Trio.

Two years later in 2011, they released their critically acclaimed debut album Shoot on Rune Grammofon. With their unique and inimitable genre-melting sound the future looked bright for the Hedvig Mollestad Trio.

They returned in 2013 with their sophomore album All Of Them Witches in 2013. It was released to the same critical acclaim as Shoot and also won a Norwegian Grammy in the rock category. This set the bar high for the Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s next album. 

The group returned a year later in 2014, with their much-anticipated third album Enfant Terrible. This genre-melting album was regarded by many critics as the finest album of the Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s five year career. By then, the group’s popularity was growing across Europe and beyond.

After a two year absence, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio returned in 2016 with two new albums. This included their fourth studio album Black Stabat Mater  which is: “a genre-melting opus that brings back memories of the golden age of rock.” The other album is Evil In Oslo, which is the Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s first ever live album. It’s a tantalising taste of one of the band live shows.

For the next couple of years much of the Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s time was spent playing live, and they shared the stage with jazz and rock royalty including John McLaughlin and Black Sabbath. Still they found the time to record their fifth studio album Smells Funny. It was released to widespread critical acclaim in February 2019 and cemented the group’s reputation as one of Norwegian music’s finest and most successful group. Hedvig Mollestad Trio had come a long way in ten years.

In 2019, the organisers of the prestigious Vossajazz festival wrote to Hedvig Mollestad to commission a new work. She accepted and the completed commission became Ekhidna, which is a figure from Greek mythology that is half woman, half snake. Backed by an expanded band that was akin to a supergroup Ekhidna was premiered at the Vossajazz festival in April 2019. Critics were won over by what was spellbinding performance of the new piece which lasted seventy-five magical minutes.

After the success of the performance at Vossajazz, it was decided to release Ekhidna as an album. To make it suitable for album release the full festival version was edited, tightened up in places, and then the band recorded Ekhidna earlier in 2020 at Amper Tone studio in Oslo with Hedvig Mollestad taking charge of production. Once the album was complete, it released to plaudits and praise in the summer of 2020. By then, the world was a very different place.

By the spring of 2020, the global pandemic had struck and governments across the world imposed stringent lockdowns.  Meanwhile, shocked citizens struggled to comprehend what was happening as the world was changed beyond recognition almost overnight. So did the music industry. 

Touring was no longer possible and concert tours and festivals were cancelled. Many bands and musicians watched as one of their major sources of income dried up. In many countries, studios were forced to close during lockdown but reopened in the autumn. Many bands were keen to record a new album. This included the Hedvig Mollestad Trio who began recording Ding Dong, You’re Dead in September 2020.

Ding Dong, You’re Dead.

They would record seven tracks over the next three months. Bandleader and riffmeister extraordinaire Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen wrote All Flights Cancelled, Ding Dong, You’re Dead, Gimbal,  The Art Of Being Jon Balkovitch and Four Candles. Bassist Ellen Brekken wrote Leo Flash’ Return To The Underworld and Magic Moshroom. These tracks were recorded at Ampler Tone, in Oslo.

That was where the Hedvig Mollestad Trio recorded their sixth studio album with recordist Bård Ingebrigtsen recorded and later mixed Ding Dong, You’re Dead. The usual lineup of guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad and bassist Ellen Brekken spent three months recording the seven tracks which were  completed by November 2020. Once mixed Helge Sten mastered the album at his Audio Virus Lab. 

In March 2021, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio released their much-anticipated sixth studio album Ding Dong, You’re Dead. It’s another album that’s guaranteed to find favour with  rock and jazz fans alike. During the seven soundscapes the trio also combine elements of avant-garde, free jazz, heavy metal and progressive rock. 

Similarly, an equally eclectic selection of artists have influenced the Hedvig Mollestad Trio during the recording of Ding Dong, You’re Dead. This includes King Crimson, Frank Zappa,John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Sonic Youth, AC/DC as well as the late, great John Martyn and Terje Rypdal. Sometimes when the Trio are rocking hard they seem to channel the spirit of classic Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin on Ding Dong, You’re Dead. It’s is a potent and powerful musical potpourri that’s certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Ding Dong, You’re Dead opens with the genre-melting Leo Flash’ Return To The Underworld. It finds the Hedvig Mollestad Trio combining early seventies fusion and hard rock with metal and progressive rock. Blistering, scorching, searing and soaring licks are unleashed by bandleader and riffmeister Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen as she takes centrestage and the rhythm section power drive the arrangement along.

It’s a similar case on All Flights Cancelled which features a masterclass from the virtuoso guitarist. She’s accompanied by thunderous drums and a pounding, rumbling bass. They play a supporting role as the riffmeister struts her way through the track. Later, her stunning guitar solo heads heavenwards where the guitar gods reside and they welcome it with open arms and give thanks for its peerless quality.

Straight away, there’s a dark, eerie and experimental sound to the title-track as it prowls almost menacingly along. All the time, one wonders if and when the soundscape is going to explode into life? It’s dark and sometimes dubby, moody and broody and has a cinematic sound. Later, a rocky guitar cuts through the slow, dark arrangement on this filmic soundscape that shows another side to the Trio.

The tempo increases slightly on Gimbal which is a rockier sounding track. It’s dark, dramatic and even haunting and is another captivating track where one wonders what direction it’s heading? Sometimes as the soundscape is driven along the Trio play with a ferocity unleashing and spraying effects as the arrangement buzzes becomes busy and grows in power taking on a psychedelic rock sound. Playing a leading role is guitar hero Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen whose ably assisted by the rhythm section who fill in the gaps but don’t overplay before the arrangement reaches a dramatic crescendo. 

Then on Magic Moshroom the influence of the late Frank Zappa can be heard as the track heads in the direction psychedelic-jazz. A fleet-fingered guitar solo is to the fore as the track is driven along and also combines elements of progressive rock, jazz and hard rock. It allows the Trio to showcase their considerable skills and versatility on this spellbinding genre-melting track.

From the get-go the guitar plays a leading role on The Art Of Being Jon Balkovitch. However, the rhythm section more than play their role the bass playing with confidence and with the thunderous drums powering the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen is unleashing a blistering solo that’s flawless. She adds effects and machine gun licks to what’s a virtuoso performance that is over after just four memorable minutes. 

Closing Ding Dong, You’re Dead is Four Candles which is a beautiful ballad. Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen playing is much more understated and the washes of shimmering guitar seem to have been influenced by John Martyn’s Solid Air. The rhythm section play with a similar subtlety and take a less is more approach on what’s the highlight of the album. Maybe the Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s next album should be an album of music like Four Candles?

Ding Dong, You’re Dead is Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s new opus and is an album with its roots in the past and present. Sometimes they should’ve been around at the same time as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Sonically and stylistically, the Trio’s music is a reminder of the golden age of rock, and its possible to imagine the Hedvig Mollestad Trio playing at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles or Fillmore East in San Francisco. However, the similarities between some of the legends of music and the Hedvig Mollestad Trio are no coincidence.

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen who founded the Hedvig Mollestad Trio in 2009, grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Their influence can be heard on Ding Dong, You’re Dead. So can the influence of progressive rockers King Crimson, legendary fusion guitarist John McLaughlin and Miles Davis as well as everyone from Frank Zappa and Terje Rypdal to  Sonic Youth, AC/DC and John Martyn and Terje Rypdal. Closer to home, one can’t help but wonder whether Moster! and Motorpsycho have influenced the Hedvig Mollestad Trio? These bands have a similar genre-melting sound to the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. 

To create this genre-melting sound, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio fuse elements of rock with hard rock, fusion, progressive rock and jazz with with avant-garde, free jazz and psych-jazz. Sometimes, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio seamlessly switch between musical genres mid track. Other times, disparate genres melt into one on Ding Dong, You’re Dead as the Hedvig Mollestad Trio throw a musical curveball as they take the listener on their magical mystery tour where they reach new heights on this captivating, genre-melting epic album.

 Hedvig Mollestad Trio-Ding Dong, You’re Dead.

CULT CLASSIC: THE BATHERS-KELVINGROVE BABY.

Cult Classic: The Bathers-Kelvingrove Baby.

The Bathers were formed in Glasgow, in 1985, by singer, songwriter and troubled troubadour Chris Thomson and released six albums between 1987 and 1999. Their fifth album was Kelvingrove Baby is a a minor classic that’s one of the finest Scottish albums ever released. Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby and The Bathers is a story of what might have been.

With Chris Thomson at the helm, the Glasgow-based band could’ve and should’ve been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. After all, The Bathers music is articulate, beautiful, dramatic, ethereal, elegiac, emotive, languid, literate and melancholy. This is music for those that have loved, lost and survived to tell the tale.

Sadly, The Bathers never reached the heady heights their music deserved. As a result, the six albums The Bathers released between 1987s Unusual Places To Die and 1999s Pandemonia, never reached the audience it deserved. For Chris Thomson, history was repeating itself.

The Bathers were formed in Glasgow in 1985. They formed after Chris Thomson’s previous group Friends Again split up. Initially, The Bathers were a vehicle for singer-songwriter Chris Thomson. However, in 1987, The Bathers secured their first record deal with Go! Discs Records, and released their debut album Unusual Places To Die.

Unusual Places To Die. 

For their debut album Unusual Places To Die, Chris Thomson penned ten tracks. These tracks were recorded by The Bathers’ original lineup. This included bassist Sam Loup, drummer James Locke and Chris on guitar and keyboards. Joining The Bathers, were Michael Peden of The Chimes, Douglas Macintyre and James Grant of Love and Money. They played walk on parts on Unusual Places To Die, which was released later in 1987.

When Unusual Places To Die was released in 1987, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Chris Thompson’s songs seemed to strike a nerve with critics. They described the music as variously engaging, emotive and dramatic. One critic went as far to wonder whether Unusual Places To Die was the work of a genius? Despite this critical acclaim Unusual Places To Die wasn’t a commercial success. This was nothing to do with the music though.

Instead, Unusual Places To Die fell victim to the internal politics within the record company. As a result, sales of Unusual Places To Die were poor. Given the critical response to Unusual Places To Die, this was disappointing. So, it wasn’t a surprise when The Bathers switched labels for their sophomore album, Sweet Deceit.

Sweet Deceit.

After the Go Discs! internal problems sabotaged the release of Unusual Places To Die, The Bathers moved to Island Records, where the recorded Sweet Deceit.

Sweet Deceit was an epic album, featuring fifteen tracks. Chris wrote thirteen of the tracks, and cowrote the other two. He co-produced Sweet Deceit with Keith Mitchell, and the album was released in 1990.

Three years had passed since Unusual Places To Die was released. The Bathers were back, and according to critics, better than ever. Sweet Deceit was described as impressionistic, beautiful and spellbinding. One critic, quite rightly referred to the album as a mini masterpiece. However, The Bathers had been here before with Unusual Places To Die.

On Sweet Deceit’s release, lightning struck twice for The Bathers. Sales of Sweet Deceit were disappointing. Despite the critically acclaimed reviews, Sweet Deceit seemed to pass record buyers by. For The Bathers, this was a huge disappointment. 

Especially when Island Records didn’t renew The Bathers’ contract. There would be another gap of three years before we heard from The Bathers again. However, Chris Thomson was still making music.

Following Sweet Deceit, Chris Thomson joined with two former members of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Stephen Irvine and Neil Clark, to create a Scottish supergroup, Bloomsday. They released just one album, Fortuny, which is now regarded as a classic Scottish album. Just like The Bathers two previous albums, Bloomsday’s debut album, Fortuny, was released to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, commercial success eluded Fortuny. However, a more fruitful period was round the corner for The Bathers. 

Lagoon Blues.

After signing a record contract with a German record label Marina, the group released three albums in a four year period. In 1993, they released Lagoon Blues which was their Marina debut.

Just like Sweet Deceit, Lagoon Blues was another epic album penned by Chris Thompson. It featured sixteen songs, which were the perfect showcase for Chris Thomson’s vocal. Accompanied by what was essentially The Bathers and friends sixteen tracks were recorded at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh and mixed at Palladium Studios and Cava Studios, Glasgow. Once Lagoon Blues was completed, it was released in 1993.

On its release in 1993, critics remarked that Lagoon Blues was a more eclectic album. There were diversions into jazz-skiffle on Pissor, while the album opener Lagoon Blues showcased a string quartet. The strings would play an important part on Lagoon Blues, which was hailed as poetic, elegant, sumptuous and intense. The same critical acclaim accompanied Lagoon Blues, however, this time The Bathers’ music found a wider audience. It seemed after three albums, The Bathers’ star was in the ascendancy.

Sunpowder.

For The Bathers’ fourth album, and followup to Lagoon Blues, they returned with Sunpowder. It marked the debut of a new lineup of The Bathers. 

Sunpowder marked The Bathers’ debut of drummer and percussionist Hazel Morrison, keyboardist Carlo Scattini and string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. These new additions would change The Bathers’ sound greatly. Many people refer to this as the classic lineup of The Bathers. This classic lineup, plus guest artist ex-Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser, who features on four tracks, made its debut on Sunpowder.

For Sunpowder, Chris Thomson had written eleven new songs. They were recorded a at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh. Chris Thomson and Keith Mitchell produced Sunpowder, which was released in 1995.

When Sunpowder was released, it received the same critical acclaim as The Bathers’ three previous albums. Sunpowder was called sumptuous, sensual, dramatic and ethereal. Liz Fraser, an honorary Bather was the perfect foil to Chris Thomson forever the troubled, tortured troubadour. The result was, what was The Bathers most successful album, Sunpowder. That however, would change with Kelvingrove Baby.

Kelvingrove Baby.

Kelvingrove Baby would be The Bathers’ Marina swan-song. They were certainly eaving the German label on a high.

Chris Thomson had written thirteen new songs for Kelvingrove Baby, which was recorded in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was at these locations that The Bathers’ expanded lineup reconvened.

Picking up where they left off, were The Bathers’ new lineup, plus a few friends. The Bathers’ rhythm section included bassists Sam Loup, Douglas MacIntyre and Ken McHugh, drummers Hazel Morrison and James Locke, who also played percussion. Joining them in the rhythm section were guitarist Colin McIlroy. They were joined by accordionist, pianist and and organist Carlo Scattini, string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. Fermina Haze plays organ, James Grant of Love and Money plays acoustic guitar and with with Hazel Morrison and Justin Currie of Del Amitri, adds backing vocals. Chris Thomson plays acoustic guitar, piano and adds his unmistakable vocals. He produced most of Kelvingrove Baby, apart from Thrive, which was produced by James Locke. Once Kelvingrove Baby was completed, it was released in 1997.

Just like each of The Bathers’ four previous albums, Kelvingrove Baby was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. Kelvingrove Baby was hailed The Bathers’ finest hour. It seemed everything had been leading up to Kelvingrove Baby.

Opening Kelvingrove Baby, is the James Locke produced Thrive. Just a strummed acoustic guitar takes centre-stage, while subtle washes of keyboards flit in and out. They provide the backdrop for Chris Thompson’s vocal. For the first time on Kelvingrove Baby, he dawns the role of troubled troubadour, playing it to perfection. It’s as if he’s experience, lived through, and survived someone leaving him. His vocal is full of emotion of swells of strings sweep in. They’re the perfect accompaniment as he delivers the lyrics “up on the west coast waiting, I wear the rain like tears.” In doing so, the hurt and loneliness is there for all to see and hear.

Girlfriend is akin to a devotional from the pen of Chris Thomson. A piano and bass probe, while a cymbal is caresses. This sets the stage for a tender, emotive vocal and there’s almost disbelief in his voice that he’s found someone to call his own. He’s fallen head over heels, hence lyrics like “I’m the kind of guy, whose dreams rise unashamed, who will love you ’til the end, cos you’re my girlfriend.” With just a subtle,  meandering piano, understated drums, washes of ethereal harmonies and crystalline guitar, Chris Thomson delivers a heartfelt devotional.

If Love Could Last Forever is the perfect showcase for The Bathers’ unique brand of cerebral, literate and poetic pop. After all, who apart from The Bathers write: “they flutter down like fireflies, tugging at your sleeves, somehow rise to shame you, bring you to your knees?” It’s a beautiful, soul-searching song about love. That’s the case from the opening bars, when an acoustic guitar is strummed, a guitar chimes and drums mark the beat.  Then, longingly and hopefully, Chris, accompanied by cooing harmonies, sings “ If Love Could Last Forever, forever and a day.”  Effortlessly, Chris Thomson breathes life, meaning and emotion into what’s a timeless paean.

While East Of East Delier has an understated arrangement, it allows Chris to unleash his full and impressive vocal range. Drums are caressed and a piano meanders. Meanwhile, a bass adds an element of darkness. This  is reflected in the hurt, loneliness and regret in Chris Thomson’s vocal. His vocal soars above the arrangement, with frustration omnipresent at the love he once had and lost.

Accompanied by firmly strummed acoustic guitar No Risk No Glory, unfolds. A guitar chimes as fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Meanwhile, Chris Thomson’s vocal is a mixture of power, emotion and hurt. The hurt is obvious from the moment he sings “I was born to love her,” it’s a case of infatuation and unrequited love. With harmonies, an accordion and guitars for company he delivers a cathartic outpouring of hurt. He wouldn’t have it any other way, singing ruefully “no risk, no glory.”

Dramatic and moody describes the dark, but sparse piano lead introduction to Once Upon A Time On The Rapenburg. If a picture tells a thousand stories, so does a piano. It sets the scene for Chris Thomson as once again, he dawns the role of troubled troubadour. With shimmering strings and a deliberate gothic piano for company he remembers the love affair that almost was.

Kelvingrove Baby is the centre-piece of Kelvingrove Baby. It’s a seven minute epic about an unnamed femme fatale from Glasgow’s West End who toyed with Chris Thomson’s affections. From just a strummed guitar and subtle piano, the arrangement builds. The piano plays a more prominent role, adding an element of drama. After ninety seconds drums pound and ethereal harmonies sweep in. They give way to a worldweary, lived-in vocal. Meanwhile, Hazel Morrison adds ethereal, elegiac harmonies. This seems to spur Chris Thomson on and using his wide vocal range, he unleashes a needy vocal tour de force. Hopefully, he sings “someday I know, that you’ll be back…I don’t know, maybe then you can be my Kelvingrove Baby.” Behind him, the epic, ethereal and dramatic arrangement is the perfect accompaniment for what’s without doubt, The Bathers’ finest hour on Kelvingrove Baby.

Memories come flooding back to Chris Thomson on Girl From The Polders. Instantly, he’s transported back to another time and place. That’s when they first met, and where “I first kissed you.” With the rhythm section and piano providing a backdrop he delivers another hopeful, needy vocal. He hopes that when summer returns, and heads back to Poolewe, his “songbird, melodious and pure,” is there. 

Against a backdrop of quivering strings, Chris Thomson delivers a vocal on Lost Certainties that’s equal parts power, passion, frustration and sadness. Below the vocal and strings, the rhythm section drives the arrangement along, adding to the drama and intensity of this soul-baring refrain about a bewitching woman.

After the intensity of Lost Certainties, Dial has a much looser, laid-back sound. Chris Thomson eschews the power of the previous track, as The Bathers deliver an understated, spacious, melodic track. Hazel Morrison, James Grant and Justin Currie add harmonies as Chris Thomson almost croons his way through Dial.

Orchestral strings and a pounding rhythm section set the scene for the vocal on The Fragrance Remains Insane. There’s an intensity in Chris’ lovelorn vocal, on this tale of love gone wrong. He’s struggling to come to terms with the breakup of his relationship, despite his claims “that I’m not crazy about you.”

If Chris Thomson had been born twenty years earlier he would have been a crooner. That’s apparent on Hellespont In A Storm, where he literally croons his way through the track. Accompanied by washes of accordion, swathes of strings, a subtle rhythm section and acoustic guitar. As Chris croons, emotion and regret are omnipresent. Especially when he sings “spread your wings, above you, the time has come to fly away, where I can’t follow.” Given this is the ultimate sacrifice, the beauty and emotion is almost overwhelming.

The piano lead Twelve, closes Kelvingrove Baby. Chris lays bare his soul, accompanied by his trusty piano. Later, swathes of lush strings sweep in. They provide the accompaniment to a telephone conversation, on this story of everlasting love.

For The Bathers, Kelvingrove Baby was a musical coming of age. It’s as if everything they’d been working towards was leading to Kelvingrove Baby. The music was variously atmospheric, cerebral, dramatic, ethereal, heartfelt, hopeful, literate, needy and sensual. It’s also tinged with pathos, regret and sadness. No wonder, given the tales of love found and lost. They’re brought to life by The Bathers’ very own troubled troubadour Chris Thomson. Along with the rest of The Bathers, they’re responsible for Kelvingrove Baby, a truly enthralling album.

On Kelvingrove Baby, the music is captivating. So much so, that you’re drawn into Kelvingrove Baby’s lush, atmospheric sound. Having captured your attention, The Bathers don’t let go. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to Chris Thomson’s peerless vocal performances. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. As a result, Kelvingrove Baby is akin to a snapshot into Chris Thomson’s life, and very soul. Indeed, Kelvingrove Baby sounds a very personal album from The Bathers’ troubled troubadour, Chris Thomson. Kelvingrove Baby was a career high from The Bathers. However, two years later, somehow, The Bathers managed to top Kelvingrove Baby.

Pandemonia, which was released in 1999, was The Bathers’ swan-song. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, the critically acclaimed Pandemonia, should’ve transformed The Bathers’ career. Sadly, despite oozing quality, The Bathers’ cerebral, literate and melodic brand of chamber pop failed to find the wider audience it deserved. As a result, The Bathers remained almost unknown apart from loyal band of discerning music lovers. 

After Pandemonia, most people expected The Bathers to return after a couple of years with their seventh album. That wasn’t to be. Two years became three, became five, ten and fifteen. Now, twenty years have passed since the release of Pandemonia. Throughout the last twenty years, there have been rumours that another Bathers album is in the pipeline . However, Chris Thomson who nowadays is working as a gardener in Glasgow said in a recent interview that a new album from The Bathers was forthcoming and hopefully would be released in 2021. Let’s hope that’s the case for a band that could’ve and should’ve been one of Scotland’s most successful bands. 

Alas, The Bathers are unlike most bands. They’re enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. Quite simply, The Bathers aren’t exactly your normal band. Not for them the rock “n” roll lifestyle favoured by other bands. In many ways, musical fashions and fads didn’t affect them. Their attitude was almost contrarian. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically. It was as if The Bathers were striving for perfection. On Kelvingrove Baby and Pandemonia, they almost achieved the impossible. What’s more they did it their way.

This means The Bathers aren’t willing to jump onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or starlets. Quite the opposite. It seemed to be their way or no way, in the pursuit of musical perfection. By perfection this means music that cerebral, dramatic, emotive, ethereal, literate and melodic. That describes The Bathers’ fifth album Kelvingrove Baby perfectly where  The Bathers strive for perfection and very nearly achieve the impossible. 

Cult Classic: The Bathers-Kelvingrove Baby.

CULT CLASSIC: DOUG CARN FEATURING THE VOICE OF JEAN CARN-SPIRIT OF THE NEW LAND.


Cult Classic: Doug Carn Featuring The Voice Of Jean Carn-Spirit Of The New Land.

Doug Carn was one of the first artists that Gene Russell and Dick Schory signed when they founded Black Jazz Records in 1971. His debut solo album Infant Eyes was the nascent company’s third release and featured vocals from his wife Jean Carn. Infant Eyes was the most successful of the six albums the label released during 1971. Buoyed by this success the Doug and Jean Carn began work on the followup.

This was Spirit Of The New Land, which was released in 1972 and billed as Doug Carn Featuring The Voice Of Jean Carn. It was a new chapter in the story of Doug Carn who was still only twenty-for when he released Spirit Of The New Land.

Doug Carn was born on July the ’14th’ 1948, in St. Augustine, Florida, and growing up music was all around him and was part of the culture around him at home. His mother was a musician, while his uncle was a bebop DJ who could scat the Dexter Gordon solos. It was no surprise that growing up, Doug Carn started listening to jazz and later, decided to learn an instrument.

Initially, Doug Carn took piano lessons and proved to be a quick learner and was soon able to play Bach Two-Part Inventions. That was when it was discovered that he wasn’t reading music and playing by ear. This resulted in Doug Carn being given an alto saxophone which he also mastered was able to play well. Already he was well on his way to becoming a multi-instrumentalist and it was no surprise when Doug Carn decided to study music at university.

He enrolled at Jacksonville University in 1965, and for the next two years studied oboe and composition. When Doug Carn graduated in 1967 he headed to Georgia State University where he completed his musical education in 1969. Later that year he made his recording debut as bandleader.

The twenty-one year old multi-instrumentalist was still living in Georgia and had founded the Doug Carn Trio. However, the new combo needed gigs and the young bandleader decided to visit a friend who ran a booking agency. When he entered the office he was greeted by the receptionist and secretary who was also a singer. This was Jean Carn who later become his wife. Before that, she started singing with the Doug Carn Trio who were about to make their recording debut.

Through the owner of the booking agency, Doug Carn was introduced to Herman Lubinsky the founder and owner of Savoy Records. This introduction turned out to be a gamechanger for the bandleader.

It turned out that the label had a session booked in Atlanta which was going to be produced by Fred Mendelsohn, the President of Savoy. He explained that there was every chance that there might be some spare time after he had recorded the gospel album, and if there was, they would use the time to record the Doug Carn Trio. That turned out to be the case.

That day in 1969, the Doug Carn Trio recorded what became their eponymous debut album. It was released later in 1969 on Savoy Records but wasn’t a commercial success. However, for Doug Carn recording the album was an invaluable experience as he prepared to move to LA as the sixties gave way to the seventies.

When he arrived in LA, Doug Carn started spending time with the members of Earth, Wind and Fire and this resulted in him playing on their first two albums. He played Hammond organ on Earth, Wind and Fire which was released on February 1971 and was certified gold. Doug Carn also played on The Need Of Love which was released in November 1971. By then, his solo career was well underway.

Earlier in 1971, Doug Carn had signed to Black Jazz Records and recorded and released his debut album Infant Eyes which featured his wife Jean Carn’s vocal. Infant Eyes was the most successful of the six albums that the nascent label released during 1971. Buoyed by the success of his debut album Doug and Jean Carn began work on the followup Spirit Of The New Land.

For his second album for Black Jazz Records Doug Carn wrote Dwell Like A Ghost, My Spirit, Arise and Shine, Trance Dance and New Moon. He also covered Miles Davis’ Blue In Green and  Lee Morgan’s Search For The New Land which he added lyrics too. These tracks became Spirit Of The New Land which was recorded with tight, talented and versatile band.

Recording of the album took place at Bell Studios, in New York, with Gene Russell taking charge of production. The band featured drummer Alphonse Mouzon, trombonist Garnett Brown, Earl McIntyre on tuba and Charles Tolliver played flugelhorn while George Harper switched between bass clarinet, flute and soprano saxophone. Jean Carn added vocals and Doug Carn played Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ and piano on Spirit Of The New Land.

When Spirit Of The New Land was released later in 1972, the album was billed as Doug Carn Featuring The Voice Of Jean Carn. For the first time, the Carn’s received equal billing on an album that was well received by critics and became Black Jazz Records’ best selling album of 1972.

That was no surprise given the standard of music on Spirit Of The New Land. It showcased the songwriting and keyboard skills of Doug Carn and provided a platform for Jean Carn’s impressive five octave vocal which breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics on what was an eclectic album. There were elements of jazz, funk and soul as well as jazz-funk, free jazz, fusion and soul-jazz on the seven tracks on Spirit Of The New Land.

It opens with the dramatic and atmospheric Dwell Like A Ghost where Jean Carn’s five octave vocal soars high above the arrangement as drums pound and power the arrangement along. This adds to the drama. Meanwhile, Doug Carn interjects and eerie, otherworldly sounds combine with free jazz horns on this ambitious genre-melting album opener.

Jean Carn’s vocal is soulful and impassioned as a shimmering Fender Rhodes combines with wailing horns and thunderous, pounding drums. Briefly, the arrangement becomes understated and the urgent vocal enters as the arrangement to this ten minute epic rebuilds and reveals its secrets. This includes a breathtaking saxophone solo which is accompanied by the Fender Rhodes and drums. Soon, the baton passes to the trombone before bandleader Doug Carn unleashes a fleet-fingered solo. His fingers dart across the keyboard and along with Jean Carn whose vocal heads in the direction of spiritual jazz he plays a leading role in the sound and success of this jazz opus. It  also features elements of jazz-funk and fusion and is one of the album’s highlights.

Sharp bursts of horns open Arise and Shine before Jean Carn’s joyous, jazzy vocal enters and she delivers lyrics full of social comment. Her vocal is a mixture of power and passion and soars above the arrangement before being replaced by the soprano saxophone and then bass clarinet take centrestage. Meanwhile, the tight talented and versatile band match them every step of the way. This includes washes of Hammond organ and drummer Alphonse Mouzon who unleashes drums rolls and pounds the hi-hat. Soon, it’s time for Doug Carn’s blistering solo which heads in the direction of soul-jazz. It’s one of his finest and when Jean Carn returns she’s joined by the bass clarinet and delivers the spiritual lyrics as the arrangement swings and then some.

Blue In Green was written by Miles Davis and features lyrics written by Doug Carn. They’re delivered by Jean Carn on this beautiful ballad which has an understated arrangement that features a flute, Fender Rhodes and drums. A less is more approach is taken and this allow the vocal to shine. It’s without doubt Jean Carn’s finest on Search For The New Land.

Very different is Trance Dance which is best described as avant-garde jazz which also features elements of African music, fusion and even elements of free jazz, funk and soul-jazz. Soon the tempo is rising and Doug Carn and his band allow the opportunity to stretch their legs and showcase their considerable talents as genres melt into one.

Search For The New Land was written by Lee Morgan and features lyrics that were written by Doug Carn. From the opening bars, there’s a degree of drama as Jean Carn unleashes a powerhouse of a vocal. It’s impassioned as she delivers lyrics that are full of social comment and sometimes spiritual. Meanwhile, Doug Carn interjects hopefully and stabs at the piano as the bass clarinet soars above the arrangement. They prove a potent combination before the saxophone replaces the clarinet and goes toe-to-toe with the jangling piano which Doug Carn then pounds, jabs stabs and adds flamboyant flourishes as he takes centrestage. Soon, Jean Carn rejoins and adds an impassioned plea on this twelve minute opus that is the centrepiece of the album.

The piano led New Moon closes Spirit Of The New Land and  joins forces with drums and bursts of quivering horns as the arrangement cascades and sometimes seems to race along. In doing so, it provides the perfect showcase for Doug Carn and his band who save one of their best performances for last.

When Spirit Of The New Land was released in 1972, it built on the success of Doug Carn’s debut solo album which was released in 1971. It was the most successful album that Black Jazz Records released that year, and so was Spirit Of The New Land. However, neither album sold tens of thousands of copies but both were successful for a small independent label. That was what Black Jazz Records was. It was also a label that had a vision.

Black Jazz Records that wanted “to promote the talents of young African American jazz musicians and singers.”  Doug Carn was only twenty-four when he released Spirit Of The New Land and his was Jean Carn was twenty-five. They had created an album that was an alternative to what Gene Russell and Dick Schory referred to as old school jazz. Spirit Of The New Land was a very different and new type of jazz album and featured everything from avant-garde, free jazz, funk, jazz-funk, fusion, soul, soul-jazz and spiritual jazz. These genres were combined by Doug Carn and Jean Carn who unleashed her five octave vocal on Spirit Of The New Land which at the time was their finest hour and set the bar high for future albums.

Cult Classic: Doug Carn Featuring The Voice Of Jean Carn-Spirit Of The New Land.

CULT CLASSIC FOUND: THELONIOUS MONK-PALAIS DES BEAUX ARTS 1963.

Cult Classic Found: Thelonious Monk-Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963.

Nowadays, Thelonious Monk is regarded and recognised as one of the greatest ever jazz pianists. However, in the past, he wasn’t without his critics. English poet and jazz critic Phillip Larkin cruelly dismissed him as: “the elephant on the keyboard.” He didn’t appreciate Thelonious Monk’s innovative approach to jazz music which features on Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963 which is a recording that lay unreleased until 2020.

Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963 features five of Thelonious Monk’s own compositions. However, he only composed seventy pieces during a career that spanned thirty-three years. Despite that, he’s now the second-most covered jazz composer of all time. 

These compositions and improvisations featured dissonances and what are best described as angular melodic twists, which are an accurate  representation of his unique approach to the piano. Initially, it was described as hard swinging, but evolved over the next twenty years.

Those that had followed Thelonious Monk career watched his style evolve, and his extremely percussive attack which featured abrupt and dramatic use of switched key releases, silences, pauses and hesitations, which divided the opinion of jazz critics and fans. What they forgot, was that Thelonious Monk was a relative latecomer to jazz, and had started his career accompanying a touring evangelist on an old church organ. In some ways, Thelonious Monk was making up for lost time, as he was already twenty-four before he first started playing jazz.

Despite arriving to the party late, Thelonious Monk was soon making up for lost time, and from the early fifties, was working as bandleader, sideman and collaborating with other future giants of jazz. 

He had started off at Blue Note Records between 1948 and 1952, before moving to Prestige Records where he spent two years between 1952 and 1954. After that, Thelonious Monk moved to Riverside Records which was his home between 1955 and 1961, and by then, his star was in the ascendancy.

This was quite remarkable given everything that Thelonious Monk had been through since the early fifties. He had his New York cabaret card revoked in 1951, when he became the latest victim of a trumped narcotics charge. This meant that he was unable to play in New York’s club’s for six long years. During that time, Thelonious Monk signed to Riverside Records in 1955, which was his home until 1961.

Although Thelonious Monk was held in high regard by critics and commentators, sadly, for someone so talented, his records weren’t selling well. In 1955,  he agreed to release an albums of jazz standards, Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington in the hope that this would increase his profile and record sales. However, later in 1955 tragedy struck for Thelonious Monk.

Towards the end of 1955, Thelonious Monk’s mother passed away, and the following year, 1956, a fire destroyed the pianist’s apartment in West ‘63rd’ Street, New York. Thelonious Monk and family were left destitute, and his family of five had no option but to stay with friends for several months, with fifteen people shoehorned into a three room apartment. Meanwhile, Thelonious Monk continued to live with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which nobody was aware at the time. Despite this, he released Brilliant Corners an album of hard bop in late 1956, which was one of the finest albums he released for Riverside Records.

In 1957, Thelonious Monk’s run of bad luck continued when he was involved in a car accident, and when the police discovered him unresponsive, took him to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, where he spent three weeks. By then, Thelonious Monk was unaware that his father had been living in a psychiatric hospital for the past fifteen years

Things got worse for Thelonious Monk in May 1957, when his wife Nellie became ill, and required a thyroidectomy. After the operation, she became frail and depressed, which affected Thelonious Monk’s wellbeing.  The last two years had been hard on the couple, but at least Thelonious Monk was about to get his New York cabaret card back, and could start playing live in the Big Apple.

By then, Thelonious Monk had a manager, and started a six-month residency at the Five Spot Café, and had formed a friendship with John Coltrane. This was a coincidence as many of John Coltrane’s band had served their music apprenticeship Five Spot.

During Thelonious Monk’s residency at the Five Spot Café during 1957 and 1958, the sharp dressed and sartorially elegant pianist took to the stage with his carefully cultivated look. Thelonious Monk wore suits, hats and had taken to wearing sunglasses which hid the window to his troubled and weary soul. Still, he dazzled patrons with his unique playing style as he switched between standards and his own compositions. Thelonious Monk was back in the Big Apple, after a six-year absence.

With Thelonious Monk’s albums still not selling well by 1958, he was asked to release a second album of jazz standards. It was hoped that The Unique Thelonious Monk would increase his profile and record sales. Ironically, later, in 1958, Thelonious Monk’s face was all over American newspapers, after his latest brush with the law.

Thelonious Monk had been hired to play for a week at the Comedy Club, in Maryland, and on his way to the gig, he and Nica De Koenigswarter were stopped by the police in Wilmington, Delaware. When Thelonious Monk refused to answer or cooperate with the police officer, who beat him with a blackjack. During an authorised search the car drugs were found, and suddenly Thelonious Monk was looking at some serious jail time. Fortunately, Judge Christie of the Delaware Superior Court ruled that the pair had been unlawfully detained, and that the beating of Thelonious Monk meant that the consent to the search void as given under duress. Forty-one year old Thelonious Monk survived to fight another day.

As the fifties gave way to the sixties, Thelonious Monk’s relationship with Riverside Records had gone south, after a disagreement over royalty payments. While Riverside Records released two live albums recorded in Europe, Thelonious Monk hadn’t recorded a studio album since 5 By Monk By 5 in June 1959. Fortunately, Columbia Records one of the four major labels were keen to sign Thelonious Monk.

The negations between Thelonious Monk and Columbia Records, were protracted, and it wasn’t until 1962 that a contract was signed. At last, Thelonious Monk could get back into the studio and do what he did best…make music.

In March 1963, Thelonious Monk released his Columbia Records’ debut Monk’s Dream to widespread critical acclaim. It was a return to form and was a reminder of his considerable powers as a performer and composer. So was the followup Criss-Cross which was almost completed. However, before that, Thelonious Monk and his regular quartet embarked upon a European tour. 

On the ‘10th’ of March 1963 Thelonious Monk was scheduled to play at the prestigious Palais Des Beaux-Arts in the Belgian capital Brussels. That night, the concert was recorded by the Belgian broadcast company BRT/RTB. They had brought along the best recording equipment to record Thelonious Monk and his quartet. 

Thelonious Monk was always a showman and when he shuffled onto the stage he was wearing, a suit, sunglasses and his trademark grey wool Papakha hat. Meanwhile, drummer Frankie Dunlop, bassist John Ore and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse were waiting for him. They watched as Thelonious Monk waved his arms around which was their signal to get the show underway.

Side One.

The set opens with the jaunty sounding Bye-Ya from his latest album Monk’s Dream. The rest of this experienced  quartet’s playing is tight as they provide the backdrop for Thelonious Monk. He showcase his ability to improvise and his avant-garde flair. It’s a similar case on Monk’s Dream which is a reaffirmation that he’s one of the great jazz pianists. Not to be outdone, Frankie Dunlop showcases his considerable talents on Drum Solo and unleashes a spellbinding and inventive solo that lasts a minute. 

Side Two.

Thelonious Monk gives a sneak preview of the title-track of his second Columbia album Criss-Cross. This album of post bop featured complex melodies and harmonies and his stride piano style. It was also showcase for his theories on pitch qualities for his improvisations. Criss-Cross was one of the highlights of Thelonious Monk’s next album as well as Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963 and later became a standard.

From there, Thelonious Monk and his band work their way through Epistrophy before closing the set with one of his favourites Just a Gigolo. For most pianists it would be a challenging piece. However, almost effortlessly Thelonious Monk manages with ease what seem like impossible chords and deploys his trademark halting delivery which he seems to exaggerate. Later, he enjoys his moment in the spotlight during a stunning solo where his hands glide over and caress the keyboard before he and his band take their bow.

After Thelonious Monk’s appearance at Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963 the set lay in BRT/RTB’s vaults for forty-two years. Since then, a team of dedicated archivists and musical technicians have spent their time restoring digitising the tapes so future generations can enjoy them. 

This includes Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963 which is a reminder Thelonious Monk who nowadays is regarded as of one of greatest jazz pianists of his generation. Backed by his quartet Thelonious Monk plays an almost flawless set on this cult classic which was rediscovered fifty-seven years after it was originally recorded.

Cult Classic Found: Thelonious Monk-Palais Des Beaux Arts 1963.

 

CULT CLASSIC: DR JOHN-REMEDIES.

Cult Classic: Dr John-Remedies.

Although Dr John eventually won six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2011, commercial success and critical acclaim didn’t come overnight for the great showman who released thirty studio albums and nine live albums during a career that spanned six  decades where his music fell in and out of fashion. Dr John it’s safe to say enjoyed a roller coaster career and made an impression on anyone who saw him live.  

His theatrical stage show was inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes and voodoo ceremonies while his inimitable genre-melting sound was a fusion of blues, boogie-woogie, funk,  jazz, pop, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. Dr John in full flow was a spellbinding sight as he mixed music and theatre. However, it took time for Dr John’s albums to find the audience they deserved.

Dr John’s first three albums failed to  trouble the charts. This included  his third album Remedies which was released by Atco on April the ‘9th’ 1970. It was a frustrating time for twenty-nine year old Dr John who must have wondered whether Atco was the right label for him? He was releasing music that was variously ambitious, dark, otherworldly, powerful and poignant. However, very few people had heard his first three albums including Remedies which was the latest chapter in the  Dr John story.

The future Dr John was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr, on November the ‘20th’ 1940, in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He grew up in the Third Ward of New Orleans, and music was always around him. 

His father Malcolm John Rebennack ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, where he repaired radio and televisions and sold records. He introduced his son to the music of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. However, one of the people who inspired Mac Rebennack was his grandfather who he heard singing minstrel songs. So did hearing his aunts, uncles, cousins and sister playing the piano. Despite this, Mac Rebennack wasn’t inspired to take music lessons. 

This only came later when he was a teenager. He also joined a choir, but was soon asked to leave. However, over the next few years Mac Rebennack learnt to play the guitar and later piano, and through his father’s contacts in the local music scene was soon playing alongside some well known names including Guitar Slim  and Little Richard. This was just the start for Mac Rebennack.

When he was thirteen, he met Professor Longhair and he was instantly impressed by the flamboyant showman. Mac Rebennack was soon playing alongside his new hero, and  this was the start of his professional career.

Around 1955 or 1956, Mac Rebennack made his debut in the recording studio when he was signed as a singer and  songwriter by Eddie Mesner at Aladdin Records. The future Dr John’s career was underway and towards the end of 1957  with the help of Danny Kessler, he joined the musician’s union. That was when he considered himself to be a professional musician.

By the time he was sixteen, Mac Rebennack had been hired by Johnny Vincent at Ace Records as a producer. This led to him working with Earl King, James Booker and Jimmy Clayton. This was all good experience for the young, up-and-coming musician 

Despite his new career, Mac Rebennack was still a student at Jesuit High School. This didn’t stop him playing in night clubs and forming his first band The Dominoes.  The Jesuit fathers weren’t happy with Mac Rebennack’s lifestyle and issued him with an ultimatum. He was to either stop playing in nightclubs or leave the school. Not long after this, he was expelled from the school. It turned out to be the best thing that happened to him as he was able to concentrate on music full time.

By the late-fifties, Mac Rebennack was playing with various bands in and around New Orleans. This included his own band Mac Rebennack and The Skyliners. However, the young bandleader had also embarked upon a career as a songwriter.

In 1957 Mac Rebennack cowrote his first ever rock ’n’ roll song Lights Out. It was recorded by New Orleans based singer Jerry Byrne, and released on Specialty Records later in 1957 and give him a regional hit. 

Two years later, in 1959, Mac Rebennack also enjoyed a regional hit single when he released Storm Warning, a Bo Diddley insprired instrumental, on Rex Records. This was the first hit he enjoyed in a long, illustrious and eventful career.

After Storm Warning, Mac Rebennack and Charlie Miller joined forces and recorded singles for various local labels. This included Ace, Ron, and Ric. They continued to release singles until Charlie Miller decided to move to New York to study music. Mac Rebennack stayed in the Big Easy and continued his career.

Around 1960, Mac Rebennack was playing a gig in Jacksonville, Florida, when his career was changed forevermore. That night, his ring finger on his left hand was injured by a gun shot during an incident. This was a disaster for a right handed guitarist and when he recovered he made the switch to bass guitar. However, after a while Mac Rebennack switched to the instrument he made his name playing, the piano.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had developed a style that was influenced by Professor Longhair who he had met when he was thirteen. It looked as if this was a new chapter in Mac Rebennack’s musical career.

That wasn’t the case and Mac Rebennack ended up getting involved in the dark underbelly of The Big Easy. He was using and selling illegal drugs and at one point, running a brothel. It was almost inevitable that Mac Rebennack was going to have a brush with the law. 

He did. In 1963, when Mac Rebennack was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institution, in Fort Worth, Dallas. By the time his sentence ended and he was released in 1965, New Orleans was a different place.

There had been a campaign to rid the city of its clubs, which meant that musicians like Mac Rebennack found it hard to find work. That was why he decided to move to LA where he knew he could find work as a session musician.

It turned out to be a good decision, and it wasn’t long before Mac Rebennack was one of the first call session musicians in LA. That was the case for the rest of sixties and the seventies. He was also a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew and worked with some of the biggest names in music. This was the new start Mac Rebennack had been looking for when he left New Orleans.

Growing up Mac Rebennack had developed an interest in New Orleans voodoo. This was something he revisited during his early years in LA when he began to develop the concept of Dr John, which initially he thought could be a persona for his friend Ronnie Barron. The concept was based on the life of Dr John, a Senegalese prince, a witch doctor, herbalist and spiritual healer who travelled to New Orleans from Haiti. He was a free man of colour who lived on Bayou Road, and claimed to have fifteen wives and over fifty children. It was believed Dr John also kept a variety of lizards, snakes, embalmed scorpions as well as animal and human skulls, and sold gris-gris, voodoo amulets which were meant to protect the wearer from harm. This Mac Rebennack incorporated into the project he was working on for Ronnie Barron.

Soon, Mac Rebennack had decided to write, produce and play on an album and stage show based on his concept with Dr John emblematic of New Orleans’ heritage. It was meant to feature Ronnie Barron. However, when he dropped out of the project Man Rebennack took over the role and adopted the identity of Dr John. This was a turning point in the life and career of the man born Mac Rebennack.

Dr John became the name that he found fame as and won five Grammy Awards. However, that was still to come.

Having adopted the moniker Dr John,The Night Tripper he was signed by Atco Records and recorded his debut album Gris Gris. It was his his own “voodoo medicine” and marked the start of what’s now regarded as a golden era for Dr John.

Gris Gris.

When a copy of Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris, which was sent to Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun he disliked the album so much, that he was reluctant to even release the album and said: “how can we market this boogaloo crap?” This wasn’t the response that Dr John had been hoping when he recorded Gris Gris which was a combination of psychedelia, blues, free jazz, R&B, soul, funk, jazz. Add to this psychedelic stew the authentic music of the melting pot that is New Orleans and the voodoo image that Dr John had carefully cultivated  and Gris Gris was like no other album that Atlantic Records had released. That presented the label with a huge problem. 

Atlantic Records’ PR department had idea to promote an album like Gris Gris, as they had no cultural reference points, nothing to compare the album to. Despite the best efforts of Atlantic Records PR department, when Gris Gris was released on January the ’22nd’ 1968 and introduced the world to Dr John The Night Tripper, it failed to trouble the charts and neither critics nor record buyers understood Dr John’s groundbreaking debut album. However, like so many albums that fail to find an album on their release, Gris Gris was later reappraised and belatedly, was recognised as a seminal album that was the start of a rich vein of form from Dr John.

Gris Gris was the start of a six-year period when Dr John could no wrong, and released seven innovative albums that are among the his finest work.

Babylon.

This included his sophomore album Babylon on January the ’17th’ 1969. It was a powerful, cerebral and innovative genre-melting album which socially had much in common with Dr John’s debut album Gris Gris. 

Sadly, critics didn’t ‘get’ Babylon and the album which failed commercially. However, just like Gris Gris, Babylon was later reappraised by critics and nowadays is regarded as one of his finest albums and a minor classic.

Remedies.

Following the commercial failure of Babylon, things went from bad to worse for Dr John, before he could begin work on his third album Remedies. This started when a deal went south, and he was arrested by the police and ended up in jail. It was a worrying time for Dr John who was parole, and if he ended up with a parole violation, he knew he might end up in the infamous Angola jail. That didn’t bare thinking about, and already Dr John was desperate to get out of the local jail. However, he needed someone to post bail, so contacted his managers who he remembers: “were very bad people.” This proved to be an understatement. 

Not long after this, Dr John’s managers had him committed to a psychiatric ward, where he spent some time. By then, it was obvious to Dr John that his managers were no longer playing by the rules. All he wanted to do was make music, and everything that had happened recently were nothing to do with music. Instead, it was all connected to Dr John’s increasingly chaotic lifestyle, which made it all the more frustrating for those that realised just how talented the Gris Gris Man was.

Eventually, and having managed to put his problems behind him, Dr John was discharged from the psychiatric ward. By then, he was worried about violating his parole and ending up back in jail. Especially the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary, where one of his friends Tangleye had spent forty years.

When Tangleye was released he told Dr John: “I’m gonna sell you this song. Got it in Angola, but ain’t nobody ever cut this song.” This was Angola Anthem which he recorded during the Remedies sessions. It featured on the second side of the album. Forty years after he recorded the song Dr John said: ” Even now guys I know getting out of Angola know this song. It’s still a horrible place to be.” 

Having bought Angola Anthem Dr John wrote the other five songs that became Remedies using his real name Mac Rebennack. Among the tracks Dr John had written was What Goes Around Comes Around which later became a favourite during his live shows and Mardi Gras Day which paints pictures of New Orleans when it comes out to play. They’re very different to Angola Anthem which became an eighteen minute epic that took up all of side two of Remedies. Just like the rest of Remedies, it was produced by one of the most successful producers of the day.

Although Harold Battiste had produced Gris Gris and Babylon, he was replaced by Tom Dowd and Charles Greene who were tasked with transforming Dr John’s career. However, although Tom Dowd was enjoying the most successful period of his career, he had never worked with anyone like Dr John. 

When Remedies which was released in the spring of 1970, just like his two previous albums, critics didn’t seem to understand Remedies, which was credited to Dr John The Night Tripper. Remedies was another ambitious album of genre-melting, voodoo-influenced album where Dr John The Night Tripper through everything from psychedelia, blues, R&B, soul, funk and jazz into the musical melting pot and gave it a stir to create an album where the music was mysterious, otherworldly and haunting. 

The songs  on side one were loose, swampy, expressive and lysergic and as Dr John delivers photo raps, humorous rhymes and uses New Orleans’ street slang and lyrics that are full of innuendo. As he chants and raps his incantations take on a mysterious and otherworldly sound. It’s a spellbinding and inimitable sound. Meanwhile,  the rhythms were funky, fluid and slinky as the horns bray and blaze lazily through an acidic haze. Then on side two there’s the eighteen minute epic Angola Anthem where Dr John retails the terror of life in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. This he does against a backdrop that features Afrobeat inspired drumming and understated instrumental parts that add to the drama, horror and terror of forty years in the pen. This was a powerful  and poignant way to close Remedies which Dr John hoped would be his breakthrough album.  

By the time Remedies was released on April ‘9th’ 1970, some FM radio stations had picked up on the album, and were playing it on their late shows. Despite the radio play Remedies had received, the album never troubled the charts, and it was only much later that record buyers realised that they had missed out on another important and innovative album from Dr John. 

Remedies was the third of seven albums that Dr John released for Atco Records between 1968 and 1974. While these albums weren’t always appreciated or understood by critics, they’re now regarded as part of what was a golden era for Dr John. 

He was at his creative zenith during his Atco Records years and was often misunderstood even by the supposed experts who ran the label. It was only much later that critics reappraised the albums that  Dr John released for Atco Records and realised that he was recording and releasing ambitious, imaginative and innovative albums of genre-melting  music.

This included Remedies which was one of the finest of the seven albums that Dr John released while signs to Atco Record. It’s also one of the best albums of a career that spanned six decades. It was  long and sometimes illustrious career. Other times, it was a roller coaster career lows following highs.  

It wasn’t always been smooth sailing for Dr John who battled heroin addiction but eventually he conquered his demons and continued to released albums and tour. By the time of his death on June the ‘6th’ 2019 aged just seventy-seven, Dr John had released thirty studio albums and nine live albums. This includes the seven albums he recorded during the six years he was signed to Atco Records. Looking back, these albums set the bar high for the rest of Dr John’s career.

It was only much later when Dr John’s Atco albums were reappraised that critics and cultural commentators realised their importance and what he was trying to achieve. Dr John was way ahead of his time, which and is part of the reason why his first three albums, including Remedies failed to find an audience. On its release, Remedies passed record buyers by and critics failed to understand what’s nowadays regarded as one of the finest and most ambitious albums Dr John released on Atco. Remedies showcases Dr John’s inimitable genre-melting sound and is part of his rich musical legacy and is a reminder of a truly talented, maverick musician and flamboyant showman during what was one of the most productive periods of his six decade career.

Cult Classic: Dr John-Remedies.

CULT CLASSIC: AMBIANCE-INTO A NEW JOURNEY.

Cult Classic: Ambiance-Into A New Journey.

During the seven year period between 1979 and 1986, Ambiance led by Nigerian born multi-instrumentalist Daoud Abubakar Balewa released six albums on the LA-based private press label Da Mon Records. It was a self-financed business that released short runs of Ambiance’s albums during a time when many smaller independent labels were unable to gain access to parts of the distribution networks. 

In 1982, Da Mon Records released Ambiance’s fourth album Into A New Journey. It was an ambitious album of spiritual jazz that included elements of Afrobeat, Bossa Nova, Latin, modal that also had a soulful quality. Into A New Journey was without doubt the finest of the four albums that Ambiance had released. Sadly, the album failed to find an audience and for Ambiance it was a case of what might have been? 

It was only much later that Into A New Journey was rediscovered a by a coterie of discerning DJs and record collectors. However many of them were unaware of the story behind this cult classic.

Ambiance was founded by Nigeria-born Daoud Abubakar Balewa who moved to Los Angeles where his career began. He had studied composition and jazz improvisation and was inspired by Jackie McLean and Frank Mitchell of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Although he was a saxophonist and could play alto, soprano and tenor sax he was equally comfortable playing flute, clarinet, keyboards, and Latin and Brazilian percussion. By the time Daoud Abubakar Balewa founded the jazz collective Ambiance, he was a talented multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer who had worked as a photographer.

In 1979, Ambiance released their debut album Ebun on Da Mon Records. It showcased what was a tight, talented and versatile group. Especially Bob Selvin who played keyboards and synths. He was part of a group that combined funk, fusion, jazz-funk and Latin on Ebun’s eight tracks which was a mixture of original material and covers. Sadly, very few people heard Ambiance’s oft-overlooked debut which was the first of six private presses they released during a seven year period.

They followed this up with Drift Up To Space in 1980. It was another album where Ambiance combined funk and fusion with jazz-funk and Latin. One thing that changed was Ambiance’s lineup. Daoud Abubakar Balewa shuffled the pack and brought onboard new musicians that suited the style of music he was recording and would bring something new to the session.  However, just like on Ebun, keyboardist Bob Selvin played an important part in the album’s sound. When Drift Up To Space was released Ambiance remained one of jazz music’s best kept secrets.

The problem with releasing an album via a small label like Da Mon Records was they couldn’t access the distribution networks that the larger indie labels and majors could. And smaller labels lacked the expertise and marketing budget to promote an album. In reality, the best a group like Ambiance could hope for was that their album was heard by a bigger label who either signed the group or licensed the album. Neither happened to Ambiance who would soon return with a third album.

Ambiance returned in 1981 with their third album (Gida-Gida) “Tight and Tidy.” Just like their sophomore album, there were several changes in the lineup and there was no sign of keyboardist Bob Selvin. One of of the news addition to the group was Curtis Robertson Jr, who at the times, was married to Syreeta Wright. She added backing vocals and finger cymbals on one of  Daoud Abubakar Balewa’s compositions Gida-Gida, which she co-produced with Curtis Robertson Jr. It was part of another carefully crafted album that combined fusion, jazz-funk and soul. However, just like Ambiance’s two previous albums it slipped under the radar. This was a great shame as Ambiance’s third album deserved to find a wider audience.

Into A New Journey.

For Ambiance’s fourth album Daoud Abubakar Balewa wrote and the title-track Into A New Journey. They were joined by covers of Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus; Danny Newark and Monife Balewa’s Something Better; Jim Lum’s Eastwind plus Chick Corea’s 500 Miles High and Windows. These tracks became Into A New Journey which was recorded by a new lineup of Ambiance.

Joining multi-instrumentalist Daoud Abubakar Balewa was Japanese drummer Danny Yamamoto, bassist Randy Landis and guitarist Jim Lun. They were joined by Danny Newmark Fender Rhodes, keyboardists Jim Thornburn and Kimo Cornwell, Rick Smith on African Drums, June Kuramoto on Koto and Tyrone Ponder played the Apito. Adding vocals on Into A New Journey were Monife Balewa and Atiji Malomon. Once the album was completed it was released later in 1982.

When Into A New Journey was released in 1983 it was a familiar story when the album passed record buyers by. They had missed out on what was the finest album of Ambiance’s career. 

Into A New Journey opens with Arrival, which is a joyous, celebratory and genre-melting track that’s akin to a call to dance. This is followed by Ambiance’s interpretation of Joe Henderson’s modal classic Black Narcissus which is the perfect showcase for Daoud Abubakar Balewa’s saxophone. He leaves room for Kimo Cornwell’s piano and the two play leading roles in the sound and success of this oft-covered classic. Something Better features vocalists Atiji Malomon and Monife Balewa who showcases her three octave vocal while a sultry saxophone adds the finishing touch to this beautiful and hopeful jazz ballad. Quite different is Into A New Journey, which is a percussive jazz-dance workout that draws inspiration from African and Latin music.  

Cinematic describes the introduction to Eastwind before Ambiance combine jazz-funk, fusion, Latin percussion and ethereal harmonies. Daoud Abubakar Balewa’s flute and tenor saxophone also play a part in the sound and success of this slice of musical sunshine. Two Chick Corea covers close the album. The first is a remake of 500 Miles High where Ambiance spring a few surprises as they take the track in a new direction. It’s a case of expect the unexpected during this captivating cover.  Closing Into A New Journey is Windows where Monife Balewa’s vocal seamlessly combines with the saxophone and creates a cosmic twist to this soulful fusion classic. In doing so, Ambiance closes the album on a high.

Although Ambiance released two more albums, 1985s Come To Tomorrow and 1986s Colours In Space neither surpassed the quality of Into A New Journey. It was their finest moment and it was as if everything had been leading up to it. 

Ever since Ambiance released their debut album Ebun, Daoud Abubakar Balewa had continued to shuffle the pack and the lineup continued to change. The new lineup that featured on Into A New Journey was perfectly suited to play the original material and reinvent the cover versions on the album. They take familiar tracks in new direction and breath new life, meaning, energy and emotion into them. There’s another generic or predictable about these tracks on Ambiance’s genre-melting album.

Throughout Into A New Journey Ambiance combine disparate genres and influences. This includes fusion and jazz-funk with elements of African, Brazilian and Japanese and Latin music on Ambiance’s lost spiritual jazz gem. Into A New Journey still sparkles brightly and is undoubtably a captivating album of spiritual jazz that’s full of beauty, energy and warmth that belatedly is starting to find the audience it so richly deserves and is without doubt Ambiance’s finest hour.

Cult Classic: Ambiance-Into A New Journey.

THE SONGS OF LEON RUSSELL.

The Songs Of Leon Russell.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Leon Russell embarked upon a career as a professional musician in the late-fifties, and over the next six decades, the versatile singer-songwriter worked with some of the biggest names in music when he worked as a touring musician and session player. He worked with everyone from The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and Elton John who called Leon Russell his “mentor” and “an inspiration.” 

The pair would collaborate on the Grammy Award winning album The Union in 2010 which was certified gold in Canada and Silver in Britain. This was one of many albums Leon Russell collaborated on. 

In 1979 he recorded One For The Road with country music legend and future Outlaw Willie Nelson. The album was certified gold in America and Canada.

So were 1971s Leon Russell and The Shelter People, 1972s Carney, 1973s Leon Live and 1975s Will O’ The Wisp. In total, Leon Russell released thirty-three studio and live albums. His debut album Leon Russell was released in 1970, and in 2017 On A Distant Shore was released posthumously. 

Sadly, Leon Russell died on November the ‘13th’ 2016 aged just seventy-four. He had toured during 2016 and had recorded his final album On A Distant Shore. Music was in mourning at the loss of the two time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He was a prolific songwriter whose songs were covered by the great and good of music. This included everyone from Elton John, Joe Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends to Donny Hathaway and Randy Crawford to Bobby Whitlock and Maria Muldaur right through to Freddie King, Nazareth, California and George Benson. They’re just some of the artists who feature on The Songs Of Leon Russell which is the latest instalment in Ace Records’ long-running and successful Songwriter Series.

Opening the compilation is If It Wasn’t For Bad which is a track from Elton John and Leon Russell’s 2010 Grammy Award-winning collaboration The Union. It reached number three in the US Billboard 200, twelve in Britain where it was certified silver and gold in Canada. Despite having not spoken for over thirty years the two friends had recorded a critically acclaimed, commercially success and and award-winning album. One of the album’s highlights was If It Wasn’t For Bad.

Delta Lady was covered by Joe Cocker for his eponymous  album and released on Regal Zonophone in 1969 and certified gold in America. This blues rocker was later released as a singe by the Sheffield-born singer and reached number ten in Britain but stalled at sixty-nine in the US Billboard 200. Despite this, Joe Cocker was enjoying one of the most successful periods of what was a long and illustrious career.

In 1969, Groupie (Superstar) was released as a single on Atco by Delaney and Bonnie and Friends featuring Eric Clapton. He takes charge of the lead vocal while Rita Coolidge adds backing vocals on this moving ballad which features an all-star band.

José Feliciano covered Me And Baby Jane for his Compartments album which was released by RCA in 1973. He had produced the album with Steve Cropper and delivers a tender and heartfelt vocal on this beautiful ballad.

By 1981, Randy Crawford was signed to Warner Bros and released her fifth album Secret Combination to widespread critical acclaim. It was certified double platinum in America and was the most successful album of her career. Nowadays Secret Combination is regarded as a classic album and that’s no surprise when it features beautiful ballad like Time For Love which is one of the highlights of the album.

Leon Russell and Donna Washburn penned Raspberry Rug which was covered by Bobby Whitlock in 1968. He released it as a single on the HIP label but commercial success eluded a track that combines pop rock and psychedelia. 

My Cricket was covered by Rumer for her Boys Don’t Cry album which was released on Atlantic in 2012. It features as subtle and understated arrangement that allows the soul-baring vocal to take centrestage. It’s a reminder of one of British music’s most talented singer-songwriters who sadly hasn’t enjoyed the commercial success her talent deserves.

Make Love To The Music was reworked by Maria Muldaur on her 1978 album for Warner Bros, Southern Winds. This familiar songs is transformed into a sensual shuffle with arranger and producer Christopher Bond adding sweeping strings which sweeten the arrangement.

Scottish hard rockers Nazareth covered Alcatraz for their third album Razamanaz. It was released on the Mooncrest label in 1973 and was the group’s first album to chart. Lead vocalist Dan McCafferty struts and swaggers his way through the song delivering one of his inimitable vocal powerhouses.

In 1978, California released a disco version of The Beach Boys’ I Can Hear Music as a single on the RSO label. Those who turned over to the B-Side found a funky and soulful cover of Leon and Mary Russell’s Love’s Supposed To Be That Way. It’s a hidden gem and a welcome addition to The Songs Of Leon Russell.

The final song on The Songs Of Leon Russell is This Masquerade which is reinvented by George Benson. Jazz and funk combines on what’s one of the highlights from his 1976 classic album Breezin’ which was released on Warner Bros. This eight minute genre-melting opus is the perfect way to close the compilation.

These tracks are just a few of the many highlights of The Songs Of Leon Russell. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records’ long-running Songwriter Series and the twenty-one tracks feature the period between 1966 and 1979. To do it justice to such a long and illustrious career would require further volumes. 

That’s the case with so many of the songwriters that have featured in the Songwriter Series. They were prolific and enjoyed a longevity that many other songwriters didn’t enjoy. 

Other songwriters were prolific but their career only lasted a relatively short period. That wasn’t the case with Leon Russell whose career as a singer and songwriter spanned six decades. His songs were covered by the great and good of music and even today his songs are heard on radio every day. This includes many of songs on The Songs Of Leon Russell which are a reminder of one of the greatest and most successful songwriters of his generation sadly passed away in 2017 but left behind a rich musical legacy.

The Songs Of Leon Russell.

SHE WANTS YOU! PYE RECORDS’ FEMININE SIDE 1964-1970.

She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Between 1964 and 1970 Pye Records and its sister label Piccadilly Records were housed in London’s West End. Both labels had an enviable roster of artists and included some of the top British female pop singers. Two of the biggest names were Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw. They were enjoying commercial success at home and abroad and were just two of many British female singers signed to Pye Records.

Among the other signings were Billie Davis, Lorraine Silver, Sandra Barry, Anita Harris, Tammy St John, Jackie Trent, Sharon Tandy, Dana Gillespie, Glenda Collins and Mally Page. They were joined by groups like The Ferris Wheel, The New Faces, The Breakaways, Margo and Marvettes, The Satin Bells, Pickettywitch, The Feminine Touch. These singers and groups all feature on an eclectic new compilation released by Ace Records, She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970.

There’s twenty-five tracks on She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970. This includes everything from pop and psychedelia to blues, folk jazz and even bubblegum pop. This is a truly eclectic compilation that’s guaranteed to bring back memories of one what was one of the golden ages of British music. 

Opening the compilation is a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s Rain which is taken from Petula Clark’s 1966 album I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. It was produced by Tony Hatch and features an impassioned vocal powerhouse from one of the greatest British female vocalists of her generation.

Lionel Bart’s Reviewing The Situation was the title track to Sandie Shaw’s fifth studio album which was released on Pye 1969. She produced the album  with composer and trumpeter Ken Woodman. Sadly the album failed to replicate the success of her earlier albums. However, the hook-laden title-track is one of the album’s highlights and is a reminder of a truly talented British vocalist at the peak of her powers. 

I Can’t Break The Habit was the title-track to The Ferris Wheel’s 1967 album. The album marked the group’s debut, and the title-track is a stunning fusion of pop, soul and psychedelic rock that’s stood the test of time. 

When Lorraine Silver recorded Lost Summer Love in 1965 it was arranged and conducted by Johnny Harris. Although it was played a couple of times on Radio Luxembourg, this soulful stomper wasn’t a commercial success. Things changed in the late-eighties when the song became a favourite on UK Northern Soul scene and Lorraine Silver started appearing at weekenders across the country.

Before signing to Pye and embarking upon a musical career Sandra Barry was a child actor. In 1965 she recorded a cover of Harold Logan and Lloyd Price’s Question. It’s delivered with energy and enthusiasm but sadly failed to find an audience.

Blackpool-born Julie Grant signed to Pye in 1962 and three years later in 1965, released Stop as a single. This dramatic rendition of a Moody Blues’ song was arranged and produced by Tony Hatch. Sadly, it wasn’t a a commercial success and the eighteen year old left the label later that year.

Another single from 1965 was I Run To Hide which was recorded by Anita Harris. This jazzy track was produced by Mike Margolis and showcases a versatile singer who during her musical career could seamlessly switch between genres. 

The Breakaways were an American group who signed to Pye and also sang backing vocals for many solo artists signed to the label. In 1965, then covered Marty Wilde’s Your Kind Of Love which was produced by Tony Hatch. It’s a beautiful ballad which features a tender, almost wistful vocal. It’s one of the hidden gems on She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970 and is a welcome addition to the compilation.

Jackie Trent was not just one of Pye’s most successful artists, she was also a successful songwriter. She wrote Hollywood with Tony Hatch who arranged and produced this Bacharach and David inspired. Sadly, when it was  released as a single in 1968 it failed to replicate the success of earlier singles.

Sharon Tandy only released two singles for Pye. The first was Now That You’re Gone which was released in 1965. It featured Hurtin’ Me was the B-Side which nowadays is a favourite of fans of freakbeat and is regarded as a genre classic. 

When Dana Gillespie was signed to Pye she was a folk singer. It was only later that she reinvented herself as a blues singer. However, in 1967 Surrey-born singer covered The Hollies’ Pay You Back With Interest. Tucked away on the B-Side is the oft-overlooked and underrated Adam Can You Beat That.

In 1966, Glenda Collins was signs to Pye and recorded three singles for the label. Work began on an album which Run To Me. The title-track was produced by Joe  and is a poppy stomper with a feisty vocal. However, when the producer shot himself Glenda Collins decided not to continue her recording career.  Run To Me lay unreleased until 1997 when it featured on the album This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’. It’s a reminder of a talented singer and also one of the great British producers.    

When You’re Ready was featured on the B-Side of The Satin Bells’ single Da-Di-Da-Da which was released in 1968. It’s a catchy and melodic track from the group from Liverpool.

Hurry On Home by The Feminine Touch closes She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970. This slice of bubblegum pop was released as a single in 1970 just two years after changing their name from The Dollies.

The twenty-five tracks on She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970 will be walk down memory lane for many record buyers of a certain age. It’s a compilation that’s sure to bring back memories of what was a golden age for music in Britain. 

During this period, Pye was one of the most successful British labels. Three of their most successful singers were Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw and Jackie Trent who all feature on this lovingly curated  compilation. It features familiar faces who are joined by some old friends as well one hit wonders and what will be new names to many music fans. 

Sadly, not all these artists and groups on She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970 enjoyed the commercial success their talent deserved. Sometimes, commercial success was fleeting and other times it eluded talented artists. This lead to careers that’s were all too brief. As a result, the twenty-five tracks are a mixture of hits, near misses, B-Sides and album tracks. However, each of these songs have one thing in common…quality, and She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970 is a reminder of one of the great British labels during its heyday and what was a  golden age for music.

She Wants You! Pye Records’ Feminine Side 1964-1970.

BIRTH OF SOUL-LOS ANGELES SPECIAL.

Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

Nowadays, the compilation market is hugely competitive and it’s unlikely that many new series will still be going strong after twenty-five years. Sadly, most new compilation series are short-lived affairs and run out of steam after a few volumes.However, Kent Soul’s Birth Of Soul compilation series is still going strong after twenty-five years.  

The most recent instalment in this long-running and much-loved series is Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special was released by Kent Soul. It’s a welcome addition to the series which began in 1996.

The first instalment in the series was Birth Of Soul which was released by Kent Soul in May 1996. It featured an impressive all-star lineup that included many of the giants of soul. Bobby Bland rubbed shoulders with Otis Redding, Jerry Butler, Etta James, Sam Cooke, William Bell and The Impressions. With a such an impressive track listing it was no surprise that Birth Of Soul was released to critical acclaim and was one of Kent Soul’s most successful compilations. 

Despite having released a successful compilation nearly two years passed before the release of Birth Of Soul-Volume Two in February 1998. It featured a mixture of old friends, familiar faces and new names. However, just like Birth Of Soul the emphasis was on quality, on a compilation that featured old favourites and hidden gems. The new compilation proved popular not just amongst the soul community, but with music fans dipping their toe into soul music. 

The Birth Of Soul was a perfect place to start and became an important part in many a newcomer to soul’s musical education. Veterans and newcomers to soul compilations eagerly awaited the next instalment in the series.

Over three-and-a-half years later, Birth Of Soul-Volume Three was released by Kent Soul in October 2001. Just like the two previous volumes in the series it featured contributions from familiar faces and new names. Old favourites joined hidden gems on lovingly compiled compilation where dancers and ballads rubbed shoulders. The compilation was released to critical acclaim and welcomed by soul fans young and old.

2,059 days later, and Birth Of Soul-Volume Four was released in May 2007. Ady Croasdell had dug deep for the twenty-four tracks on Birth Of Soul-Volume Four. There were rarities, hidden gems and the usual smattering of familiar faces and old friends on what was a welcome addition to the Birth Of Soul family.

So was Birth Of Soul: Special Chicago Edition, which was released in 2009. This was a celebration of the Windy City’s soulful past.  It had been home to Veejay, Kent, Okeh, ABC-Paramount, One-derful, Brunswick, Curtom, Chess and Cadet. The compilation was a celebration of Chicago’s soulful past and featured an all-star lineup. This fifth instalment in the Birth Of Soul series proved a popular addition to Kent Soul’s long-running and successful series. 

Despite the success of the series there were no further instalments in the Birth Of Soul series until April 2017. That was when Kent Soul released Birth Of Soul: Special Detroit Edition 1961-64. This soulful feast featured twenty-four cuts from one of America’s musical capital and was welcomed by soul fans.

So will Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special which was recently released by Kent Soul. It’s a veritable feast of soulful music from labels like Modern, Combo, Flash, Flip, Mirwood, Money, Doré and Era. There’s twenty-four tracks including four that have never been released before.

Opening Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special is Don Wyatt’s previously unissued track But What About My Broken Heart. The song was recorded in Nashville for

Gary S Paxton’s Garpax label in 1962 during a six month spell the producer spent in the country music capital. Ray Stevens is responsible for arrangement while the vocal that is full emotion, hurt and regret.

Richard Berry was a familiar face within the LA R&B scene when he recorded William Green’s Everybody’s Got A Lover But Me with producer Gary S Paxton and the single was released by the Smash label 1962. The singer started working with the producer two years earlier in 1960. By then, he had already spent time signed to Flip and Modern labels but commercial success eluded him. This dry spell continued when the radio friendly and soulful sounding Everybody’s Got A Lover But Me failed to find an audience.

By 1964, Billy Watkins was signed to Modern Records when he covered Irving Berlin’s How About Me? Sadly, this heartachingly beautiful ballad lay unreleased until it made its debut on Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special.

Robert Jackson cowrote I Want A Boyfriend (Girlfriend) with Hal Davis who produced the song for The Soul-Mates. It was released on Era in 1963 and features an uber soulful vocal powerhouse from Brenda Holloway.

San Diego-born Kent Harris penned and produced Let Me Be Your Little Dog which was recorded by The Phillips Sister. It was arranged by Jerry Long and this raunchy sounding single was released on the Swingin’ label in 1963. 

Darlene Love recorded Let Him Walk Away which was written by Jackie DeShannon and Jack Nitzsche who also the arranger and producer. This demo lay unreleased until 2008 when it made its debut on the Ace Records’ compilation So Much Love: A Darlene Love Anthology 1958-1998. It’s a reminder of the unmistakable Wall Of Sound which was pioneered by Phil Spector with the help of his friend Jack Nitzsche. 

Have You Heard by The Vows was produced by George Motola and released as a single on the Markay label. Soul and doo wop melt into one on this beautiful ballad which has stood the test of time.

Another ballad is Help Me by The Classicals and The Rockets Band which was released on the Prudential label in 1961. Producers Cris Christensen, Spellmon Ward and Bob Orrison take a less is more approach to the instrumentation on arrangement. Instead, harmonies accompany a needy, heartfelt and emotive vocal on this oft-overlooked ballad. 

Marty Cooper and Bobby Day produced Let’s Go Home which was released on Dore in 1960 and credited to Vic Granton. However, that may have been a moniker for the vocalist and the his identity is not known. That’s despite having a distinctive voice and delivering a soul-baring vocal on this Jules Castron composition.

Way before he found fame with Sly and The Family Stone, Sylvester Stewart still struggling to make a breakthrough and forge a career as a successful singer-songwriter. His career began in 1956 and by 1962 he was signed to the G&P label. He wrote Help Me With My Broken Heart which was produced by George Motola. This was the only single that Sylvester Stewart released using his own name. Although very different from the groundbreaking music he went on to release it’s a melodic and memorable track from a man who became one of music’s legends.

Sneaking And Cheating was recorded by a LA-based singer Esko Wallace and released as a single on the Hangra label in 1963. This dancefloor friendly R&B track is another hidden gem and a welcome addition to the compilation. 

Closing Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special is Don’t Leave Me Baby by Joe Lover and The Gaylads Band. It was produced by Kim Fowley and Gary S Paxton and released on the Parliament label in 1961. They play their part in a quite beautiful and moving example of gospel-tinged soul.

Four years after the last instalment in the Birth Of Soul series, Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records released Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special. It’s the third special edition that’s been released and features  the music of the LA. It’s a city that had so much to offer musically during the sixties and seventies.

Many small labels had sprung up across the city, and Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special features releases from these labels. While some of these artists went on to bigger and better things, others enjoyed never quite reached the heights their talent deserved. Sadly, some disappeared after releasing just one or two singles. They’ve all played a part of LA’s musical history and make a welcome comeback of Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special.

It’s the seventh instalment in Kent Soul’s occasional series, Birth Of Soul. It began in 1996, and twenty-five years later is still going strong. Recently, Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special was released, and features songs from old friends, familiar faces and new names. They contribute unreleased songs and a myriad of über soulful singes to Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special, which marks the welcome return of this long-running and much-loved series.

 Birth Of Soul-Los Angeles Special.

NORTHERN SOUL’S CLASSIEST RARITIES VOLUME 7.

Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7.

Label: Kent Dance.

Format: CD.

Nowadays, Northern Soul compilations are two a penny and hardly a week goes by without yet another Northern Soul compilation being released. That has been the case for the last few years, and nothing has changed recently.

The compilations can be described as the good, the bad and the ugly. Sadly, many of the compilations that are released are third-rate at best. They’re nothing more than hastily compiled cash-ins where labels old and new jump on the Northern Soul bandwagon which has been rolling along for many years and shows no slowing down. 

It’s a similar case with the disco bandwagon with record companies continuing to clamber aboard ever since the latest resurgence of interest in the genre that once sucked. This has resulted in the release of countless disco compilations, including compilation of bloated remixes by DJs who have spent the last forty years playing the same set. Just like the record companies who have jumped on the disco bandwagon, the remixers rehash the same tired songs that they pass off as ‘classics.’

Sadly, the same fate has befallen many Northern Soul compilations with the same tracks being rehashed on numerous compilations. Especially many of the compilations that are advertised as: “featuring songs played at the Wigan Casino or Blackpool Mecca. With these compilation it’s a case of caveat emptor. After all, not every track played Wigan Casino or Blackpool Mecca was a classic. Far from it,  and in many cases it’s a case of: “don’t believe the hype.”

There’s several ways to separate the wheat from when the chaff when it comes to Northern Soul compilations. Who compiled the compilation is hugely important, and so is the label that released the compilation. Some labels have established a reputation for releasing quality Northern Soul compilations, while others are just jumping on the bandwagon and looking to make a quick buck. They neither care about the music nor the people that made it. However, labels like Ace Records care about Northern Soul and the about the people who made it.

That has been the case for the last three decades. Through their Kent imprint, Ace Records have been releasing Northern Soul compilations for over twenty years. Their most recent was Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7, which was released by their Kent Dance subsidiary. It has everything you could want in a Northern Soul compilation. 

That’s not surprising as Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7 was compiled by veteran compiler Ady Croasdell. He’s a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things soulful and is steeped in the Northern Soul scene. 

Ady Croasdell has put his knowledge of Northern Soul to good use when compiling the latest addition in the series. It combines classics and collectors items with future classics, hidden gems, obscurities, rarities and unissued tracks. The result is Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7 which is a welcome addition to this long-running and critically acclaimed compilation series.

Opening the compilation is Carolyn Crawford’s Ready Or Not Here Comes Love. It was recorded for the Stevenson International label in 1971 but lay unreleased until it made its debut on a single released by Kent Records in 2019. This soulful stomper makes welcome return and is a reminder of a truly talented vocalist who is best know for her 1965 hit single on Motown My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down).

Kim Weston’s It Takes A Lotta Teardrops is one of the unreleased tracks on the compilation. It was written by  Motown staff writers Vicci Bassemore and Leon Ware who later worked with Marvin Gaye. The song was  recorded for the Stevenson International label in 1967 and makes it debut on Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7. This hook-laden hidden gem has been influenced by the Motown sound and is a dancefloor filler in waiting.

By 1968, Rocky Gil and The Bishops were signed to Huey P. Meaux’s Tear Drop label.  They had already released a single when they entered the studio to record their Soul Party album. One of the tracks they recorded for their debut album was It’s Not The End. It epitomises e everything that’s good about Northern Soul and is a tantalising taste of what’s now an incredibly rare album which was one of just three released by Tear Drop. 

Little Nicky Soul recorded You Said which was written Lucille White and Sydney Barnes who produced the single. It was released on the short-lived label Shee Records in 1964 but failed commercially. Nowadays, it’s a favourite of DJs and dancers on both the Northern Soul and rare souls scenes.

In 1968, the Night Owl label released a fifteen track compilation entitled Badger A Go Go. One of the tracks that featured was You Don’t Care which was written by Betty Moore and had recorded by The Esquires earlier in the sixtes. By 1968, they were a successful group and You Don’t Care had never been released. It features a vocal full of hurt and emotion on a track that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the Harvey Scales recordings for Cuca.

I Need Your Love  was recorded by Brothers Of Soul for Galaxy in 1969 but was never released until now. It’s a soulful hidden gem with a soul-baring vocal from frontman Fred Bridges who cowrote the song with Bobby Eaton and Richard Knight. 

I’ll Fly To Your Open Arms was written by  Jack Ashford and George Rowntree and in 1976 was covered by The Family Brick for Just Productions. However, this recording lay unreleased until 2019 when it featured on  Jack Ashford’s Just Productions. Two years later and this funky, soulful dancer with a feelgood sound makes a welcome return. 

Lee Young produced Love Is Such A Funny Thing for  John Wesley and The Four Tees which was released on Melic in 1966. It features a stunning bass line on a track that’s sure to test the stamina of even the fittest dancers. 

The tempo drops on Crazy Things which was the B-Side of Joe Douglas’ single  Something to Brag About when it was released on the Playhouse label in 1965. The vocal is wistful, emotive, heartfelt and always soulful.

Love In My Heart was recorded by Cats ‘n’ Mouse for the Antler label in 1967 but never released. It’s a tale of betrayal with of soul-baring vocal full of hurt and heartache. 

One of the best known names on the compilation is Major Lance  who contributes Girl, Come On Home. It was produced by Don Davis and was his debut single for Stax imprint Volt in 1970. It features a needy, pleading vocal on another of the hidden gems on Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7.

Closing the compilation is Under The Street Lamp by The Exits who were based in LA. It’s a beautiful and uber soulful single that was released by the Gemini label in 1967.

There aren’t many compilations are still going strong after seven volumes. By then, the compiler is usually struggling to find new material that warrants another instalment in the series. However, that isn’t the case with Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume y which literally oozes quality, It features album tracks and collectors items rubbing shoulders with future classics, hidden gems, obscurities, rarities and unissued tracks. They play their part in what’s a must-have compilation for anyone with a passing interest in Northern Soul. There’s a reason for this compiler, Ady Croasdell.

Just like previous instalments in the series, Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7 was compiled by veteran compiler Ady Croasdell. He’s a man steeped in Northern Soul, and has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of all things soulful. His knowledge of Northern Soul and all things soulful has been put to good use when compiling the latest instalment in this long-running and successful compilation series 

While other compilers are happy to rehash the same tracks for the umpteenth time, Ady Croasdell knows that there’s still mountains of soulful delights awaiting discovery and that it’s just a case of discovering them. Like a musical version of the Man From Del Monte, Ady Croasdell goes in search of hidden gems for the Northern Soul’s  Classiest Rarities series. Some of these make a welcome appearance on the seventh  instalment in the series. 

The success of Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities series is down to its compiler Ady Croasdell. He knows that in the cutthroat world of compilations that competition is fierce, so  digs deeper than other compilers of Northern Soul compilations. 

Often there’s a myriad of delights awaiting discovery within a record company’s vaults. Ady Croasdell knows that a hidden gem could be hidden in a mislabelled tape box. Within that box could be a killer track that crate-diggers spend a lifetime searching for. Ady Croasdell puts in the hard yards and spent hours, days, weeks and months searching for the twenty-four tracks that feature on Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7 which is one of the finest instalments in this long-running compilations that has long been a favourite of dancers and DJs.

Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities Volume 7.