Friday, 17 November 2017

"The American President" on BLU RAY - A Review by Mark Barry


"...And I Wanted To Be Better Than The Last Guy..."


Before the genius of "The West Wing" - uber-writer Aaron Sorkin gave us the prelude film "The American President" starring Michael Douglas as a handsome and popular POTUS - Andrew Shepherd. Opening with a 63% popularity approval rating after three years of office - Douglas plays a smart and restrained President who is widowed in his private life and trying to raise a young daughter while he runs a complex country and staves off war just about everywhere.

Martin Sheen is brilliantly cast as The President's pal and top advisor - A.J. - Sheen already displaying the dialogue subtleties that would endear him to the world when he took the big oval chair four years after the movie in 1999's TV winner "The West Wing" (a show he dominated for seven years until Season 7 brought it to a close in 2006).

Throw in quality actors like White House staffer Ana Deavere Smith (who would go on to be in the West Wing TV show), newspaper editor John Mahoney (from "Frasier"), Michael J Fox and David Paymer as the hopeful and driven writers and policy makers for Shepherd's administration and the outside menace - an effective bad-guy in a smugger than smug Richard Dreyfuss - a political opponent who spots that the President's 'new girlfriend' the environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade is an opportunity to be exploited in a re-election environment by claiming that she’s privy to too many secrets (beautifully played by a luminous Annette Bening). Combined you get a rom-com with brains, a modern-day political satire with heart and all of it washed down with state dinners, situation room pathos (someone somewhere dies under the guise of a proportional response) and the sheer sexiness of power in the hands of good guys actually trying to do something lasting with it. Deftly directed by Rob Reiner - 1995's "The American President" was slickly written, superbly played and classy to the hilt.

The BLU RAY has an immaculate print - the best I've ever seen the movie look (an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer). Re-watching it in this clarity has been a joy and makes me ache for the day someone-somewhere finally gives "The West Wing" a BLU RAY reissue akin to The Sopranos or The Wire - remastered and re-loaded. Disappointingly - and given that so much could have been expounded upon - the BLU RAY has zip in the way of Extras and Subtitles are only in English. At least there's a 5.1 Surround mix as well as the standard 2.0 Stereo.


So - beautiful to look at but let down by a lack of Extras that would have so enhanced this brilliant and underrated bit of movie magic. In the meantime enjoy this political feast - set back in a time when the words "American President" actually had some respect attached to them and not the buffoon presently disgracing the office on a daily basis...

Monday, 28 August 2017

"Skid/34 Hours + Bonus Tracks" by (Ireland's) SKID ROW (July 2017 Beat Goes On 2CD 'Expanded Edition' Remasters + Bonus Tracks) - A Review by Mark Barry...


This Review Along With 240+ Others Is Available In My
SOUNDS GOOD E-Book on all Amazon sites
1960s and 1970s MUSIC ON CD - Volume 3 of 3 - Exceptional CD Remasters  
Just Click Below To Purchase for £3.95
Thousands of E-Pages - All Details and In-Depth Reviews From Discs 
(No Cut and Paste Crap)



"...Explosive Sound..."

When Ireland's SKID ROW released their October 1970 "Skid" debut LP on CBS Records in the UK (December 1970 in the USA on Epic) - I had just turned 11 and was living in Dublin – hungry to trash my poor middle-class parents nice living room with some hairy-arsed Rock and fire-breathing fretful rebellion (you go young Baz).

As you can imagine - young Irish delinquents like Moi had few names to turn to – Rory Gallagher and his band Taste were an obvious choice of course – and what a stunning unit they were. But when the 17-year guitar-flash GARY MOORE from Belfast in Northern Ireland hit the Republic’s North/South gigging scene (helped by Dublin songwriter and Bassist BRUSH SHIELS and his drumming pal NOEL 'Nollaig' BRIDGEMAN) – Moore's incendiary playing and Skid Row’s tight three-piece live shows became a very big deal indeed.

As a solid touring support band Skid Row even impressed Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac who had their manager Clifford Davis take over the touring/recording reins. Greeny was apparently pencilled in to be the Producer for the debut LP - but it never happened with Davis stepping up to the console instead. Impressively – when the album did arrive - it charted at No. 30 in the UK on vinyl LP release - quite a feat given the decidedly speeded-up Blues-Prog-Rock nature of the music (it wouldn't have been everybody's cup of Darjeeling even then) and the vivid creature-creepy Nigel Watson mythical pencil-drawing artwork. Big things were indeed expected of this band...

But as much as my unbridled affection for them and all things remotely Thin Lizzy-related (Moore later joined the ranks) - this rather brill 2017 twofer from England's Beat Goes On has only shown up the dreadfully dated nature of the debut. The good news however is that LP No. 2 - "34 Hours" from June 1971 – shows a huge jump in songwriting craft and the six Extras on Disc 2 actually do warrant the word 'Bonus' – putting this reissue right up there for fans and a tasty temptation for those who like their early Seventies Rock a bit mad and wild.

There is a lot to get through - so once more unto the zippy licks and teenage kicks...

UK released Friday, 14 July 2017 (21 July 2017 in the USA) - "Skid/34 Hours + Bonus Tracks" by SKID ROW on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1302 (Barcode 5017261213020) is a 2CD Reissue and Remaster of their first two albums from 1970 and 1971 bolstered up with six 'Bonus Tracks' from the period - three non-album single-sides and three outtakes from the original LP sessions that were initially withdrawn (finally issued on vinyl in 1983 by CBS). Here are the details...

Disc 1 (38:29 minutes):
1. Mad Dog Woman [Side 1]
2. Virgo's Daughter
3. Heading Home Again
4. An Awful Lot of Woman
5. Unco-Up Showband Blues
6. For Those Who Do [Side 2]
7. After I Am Gone
8. The Man Who Never Was
9. Felicity
Tracks 1 to 9 are their debut LP "Skid" - released October 1970 in the UK on CBS Records S 63965 and December 1970 in the USA on Epic E 30404. Produced by CLIFFORD DAVIS (Fleetwood Mac's manager) - it peaked at No. 30 on the UK LP charts (didn't chart USA).

Disc 2 (57:33 minutes):
1. Night Of The Warm Witch (Including The Following Morning) [Side 1]
2. First Thing In The Morning (Including Last Thing At Night)
3. Mar
4. Go, I'm Never Gonna Let You, Part 1 (Including Go, I'm Never Gonna Leave You, Part 2) [Side 2]
5. Lonesome Still
6. The Love Story, Part 1 (Including The Love Story, Parts 2-4)
Tracks 1 to 6 are their second studio album "34 Hours" - released June 1971 in the UK on CBS Records S 64411 and August 1971 in the USA on Epic E 30913. Produced by CLIFFORD DAVIS and named after the amount of time it took to record - it didn't chart in either country.

BONUS TRACKS:
7. New Faces Old Places
8. Sandy's Gone (Part 1)
9. Sandy's Gone (Part 2)
10. Morning Star Avenue
11. Oi'll Tell You Later
12. Mr. De-Luxe
Tracks 7 to 11 were part of the original sessions in 1969 but abandoned for newer material on the 1970 released LP (Tracks 1, 4, 6 and 7 on Disc 1 to be exact – all the other tracks were re-recorded too).
Tracks 8 and 9 (from the original sessions) were salvaged as an A&B-side and issued as a non-album debut UK 45 - released 26 March 1970 on CBS Records 4893
Track 12 is the non-album B-side of their 2nd UK 7” single – an edit of "Night Of The Warm Witch" released 30 April 1971 on CBS Records 7181

SKID ROW was:
BRUSH SHIELS - Bass Guitar and Lead Vocals
GARY MOORE - Lead Guitar and Lead/Second Vocals
NOEL 'Nollaig' BRIDGEMAN - Drums

NOTES ON THE DEBUT LP "Skid" – 1969 Original vs. 1970 Re-Record:
Nine tracks were initially recorded in 1969 by the band with Producer MIKE SMITH at the helm - but that version (to be called "Skid Row") was scrapped with only a two-part single of "Sandy's Gone" emerging from the sessions. That rather mellow (and musically unrepresentative) two-parter was issued 26 March 1970 as a stand-alone British 45 on CBS Records 4893 - but sold little (both sides are included here as Bonus Tracks on Disc 2).

The whole album was then re-recorded (in eleven hours) with a rejiggered track list and new material in April 1970 and became the released LP known simply as "Skid" (all of CD Disc 1). However in 1983 - CBS Records UK decided to re-issue the initial recordings as a vinyl LP again in different artwork (to show it was different material) but confusingly using the same catalogue as the original release - S 63965. This was in turn re-issued in 1992 as a 'Rewind' issue on CBS 450623 1 (LP) and 450623 2 (CD).

That original 1969 version ran as follows...
Side 1:
1. Sandie's Gone
2. The Man Who Never Was
3. Heading Home Again
4. Felicity
Side 2.
1. Unco-up Showband Blues
2. Morning Star Avenue
3. Oi'll Tell You Later
4. Virgo's Daughter
5. New Faces Old Places

This 2CD reissue will allow at least some of that to be sequenced. It is of course a damn shame this BGO reissue didn’t think to include those remaining 1969 original recordings as Bonus Tracks on Disc 1 – but alas.

So what do you get? The outer BGO card slipcase adds a classy feel (as always) to this release and the 20-page booklet with new liner notes from noted writer JOHN O’REGAN offers a detailed history, original artwork (the inner gatefold of "34 Hours") – repro label shots of several rare British, Irish and Euro 45s and even 1971 concert posters from the Lyceum, The Marquee and The Winter Gardens at Great Malvern – very tasty indeed. But the big news is new ANDREW THOMPSON Remasters from 2017 that sound amazingly clean and powerful. Sure the rapidly recorded material is crude (especially on the debut) but man does it sound good. In September 2001 Repertoire of Germany issued a remaster CD of the 1970 debut album "Skid" with both parts/sides of the "Sandy's Gone" UK 7" single as its two Bonus Tracks. I've had that issue for years and the Thompson remaster is clearer right from the start of Side 1's "Mad Dog Woman". To the music...

Even though Moore was the centre of guitar attention in Ireland's Skid Row - Bassist Brush Shiels was the band's principal songwriter providing five of the nine debut tracks - "Mad Dog Woman", "Virgo's Daughter", "Heading Home Again", "An Awful Lot Of Woman" and "After I'm Gone" - while also co-writing "Unco-Up Showband Blues", "For Those Who Do" and "The Man Who Never Was" with Moore and Bridgeman. Moore alone provided the lengthy album finisher "Felicity". I have to admit that the initial "Mad Dog Woman" track is dreadfully dated (vocals, structure, the slightly clumsy playing) - but the following "Virgo's Daughter" is brilliant. With its twinned vocals-and-guitar opening refrain - the song feels like a sort of Prog Blues - like Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac circa "Green Manalishi" meets Vincent Crane's Atomic Rooster. Its clever yet accessible song-structure is perhaps why Greeny liked the Irish band so much. "Virgo's Daughter" is still on my fave tracks from their early years.

That rocking moment is quickly replaced with the plucked Country-Bop jaunt of "Heading Home Again" - Brush showing he could do melody as well as boogie. We're then hit with a track that probably introduced Skid Row to the masses - "An Awful lot Of Woman". It's complicated, short and speed freak verses with a pure Rock 'n' Roll guitar centre from Moore featured as Track 4 on Side 4 of the double-album CBS Records label sampler "Rock Buster" (with Arnie flexing those Austrian arms on the front cover). How many of us bought those cheap label samplers and were introduced to bands and artist we might never have listened to otherwise. For the end of Side 1 we then go into five and half minutes of slow Rock-Blues with "Unco-Up Showband Blues" where Gary gets to stretch out and show some fret skills. Nice...

Side 2's "For Those Who Do" shows the band's Prog even Jazz Rock leanings and it’s so easy to hear why Moore (as he races up and down the neck of his guitar) joined Colosseum II only a few years later on. That complicated jerky rhythm is evident again in the short but funkily brill "After I Am Gone" – Bridgeman and his crashing drums doing well to keep up with Gary who seems determining to chew gum really fast as he plays. Another LP highlight follows with the guitar-and-bass battle that is "The Man Who Never Was" – a song that is possibly too clever clogs for its own boots. Side 2 of the debut ends with nine minutes of Moore’s "Felicity" – a track I find hard to listen to now – like Jeff Beck forgetting economy and going off on a playing tangent just to suit himself.

Things had improved dramatically in the songwriting front by the time they reached album No. 2 "34 Hours" – so named for the amount of time it took to record. Both CBS Records UK and Ireland tried an edit of the brilliant “Night Of The Warm Witch” as a 45 in late April 1971. It’s nine-minute album length was shortened – starting the song at about 1:03 minutes when the drums and riff kick in. It’s an absolute crying shame that this brill edit isn’t included on here as a CD bonus track. But at least we do get its equally excellent and genuinely exciting B-side "Mr. De-Luxe" - the kind of kick-ass flipside I love – a little like the flip of Lizzy’s "Whiskey In The Jar" – the fab and cool "Black Boys On The Corner". For "Mr. De-Luxe" Moore and the boys get to boogie – Rock ‘n’ Roll the place – and I’ve loved it for years.

The short but speedy "First Thing in The Morning..." turns out to be another woman-troubles song that requires a wild guitar solo from Gary that sounds like he’s in the back of a school room sulking after teacher’s admonishment. Side 1 of "34 Hours" ends on the musically pretty "Mar" where vocally Shiels sounds like Terry Stamp of Third World War – weary, angry and containing the sad-and-glad with a cheery demeanour. For me Moore plays some of his best guitar on this track – a few effects first and then a solo that feels Blues-Soulful.

Over on Side 2 of "34 Hours" nine minutes of the hornary "Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You..." confirms how good the album is – great Rock and the production values are huge – as big as the riffs and musical ideas. Time for an unexpected Byrds-go-Country interlude with "Lonesome Still" coming on all Gram Parsons Pedal Steel Guitar – a misery shuffle in four-time pain. To end an accomplished second album were back to Skid Row’s trademark rapid boogie – the excellent "The Love Story..." – vocal scatting as Moore copies the staccato words. Amidst the Bonus Tracks "New Faces Old Places" is the prize for the album outtakes and those three great single sides are actually worth owning.

Sure there is a missed opportunity here (Disc 1 could have had the two versions of the debut album for the first time – one following the other - and how about a few of those Irish-only early single sides over on Disc 2 as well) – but whatever way you look at it – this is a classy release for the beginnings of a great band that imploded too soon - Ireland's Skid Row.

Top audio, quality presentation and a good price for rarities that are now so hard to find on original vinyl - old places with new faces indeed. Well done to all involved...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

"So What" by JOE WALSH (June 2015 US Audio Fidelity SACD Hybrid CD Reissue – Kevin Gray Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry and Comparison to Japanese Remasters...







This Review Along With 240+ Others Is Available In My
SOUNDS GOOD E-Book on all Amazon sites
1960s and 1970s MUSIC ON CD - Volume 3 of 3 - Exceptional CD Remasters  
Just Click Below To Purchase for £3.95
Thousands of E-Pages - All Details and In-Depth Reviews From Discs 
(No Cut and Paste Crap)



"...Open My Eyes Again..."

Originally vinyl released December 1974 in the USA and January 1975 in the UK on Dunhill/ABC Records – Joe Walsh's fabulous "So What" album has had something of a colourful history on CD reissue.

I think this will probably be the fourth time I've reviewed the American guitar hero's third studio album (this issue warrants another go round). But before I get into this lovely-sounding 2015 SACD-Hybrid reissue - some history first with regard to the reissue-audio surrounding this record...

“So What” has been available on a US CD for years but the original issue is an ok-only mid-90's non-remastered bog-standard version with a crap information-less slip of an inlay. And for an audiophile's dream of an album is a huge let down.

Things changed in October 2004 when Japan re-issued "Barnstorm" (1972), "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get" (1973) and "So What" (1974) on STANDARD CDs in 24-bit remastered form in full US REPRO MINI LP SLEEVES. As usual with Japanese reissues – the 5” card sleeve repro attention to detail dazzled. The “So What” issue came with its embossed outer and inner sleeves and both Smoker & Barnstorm in their hard-card gatefolds – all very tastefully done. I bought all three at the time and the sound was fabulous - especially on Smoker & So What. 24-bit remastered by HITOSHI TAKIGUCHI in Universal's Mastering Studios - not surprisingly they sold out almost immediately and across the next few years (with no equivalent domestic releases) quickly became very expensive collector's items.

22 April 2009 and all 3 of the above were reissued again in Japan - but now on the SUPER HIGH MATERIALS format (SHM-CD) - "Barnstorm" on Universal UICY-94062 (Barcode 4988005555113), "The Smoker You Get, The Player You Get." on Universal UICY-94063 (Barcode 4988005555120) and "So What" on Universal UICY-94064 (Barcode 4988005555137). There was also an additional title not in the original list - his 4th album - the 1976 live set "You Can't Always Argue With A Sick Mind" on Universal UICY-94065 (Barcode 4988005555144) – it came with 2009 Remastering and Card Outer/Inner Sleeves artwork. The repro artwork on these 2009 reissues (including lyric booklets) is exactly the same as the 2004 issues - as is the mastering - the ONLY difference is that the CD itself is a higher spec SHM-CD and each of the first three has a different catalogue number and Barcode.

3rd issue is the first 3 of the above 2009 SHM-CDs reissued on 23 February 2011. Again they’re Japan-only - same artwork - limited editions – but this time with a different catalogue number for each. "Barnstorm" is Universal UICY-75005 (Barcode 4988005644916), "The Smoker You Get, The Player You Get." is Universal UICY-75006 (Barcode 4988005644923) and "So What" is Universal UICY-75007 (Barcode 4988005644930). I’ve got a copy of that gorgeous reissue too and it was the best audio to that point (see separate review).

Which finally brings us to reissue number four - this 2015 American Audiophile version that I feel may be the best so far...

US released 29 June 2015 - "So What" by JOE WALSH on Audio Fidelity AFZ 214 (Barcode 780014221423) is an SACD HYBRICD-CD Reissue – a Limited Numbered Edition of 5000 Copies newly mastered by KEVIN GRAY at his recently-formed 'Cohearent Audio Studios' in California's San Fernando Valley (36:33 minutes total playing time).

1. Welcome To The Club [Side 1]
2. Falling Down
3. Pavane Of The Sleeping Beauty
4. Time Out
5. All Night Laundromat Blues
6. Turn To Stone [Side 2]
7. Help Me Thru The Night
8. County Fair
9. Song For Emma
Tracks 1 to 9 are his 3rd solo album “So What” - released December 1974 in the USA on ABC/Dunhill Records DSD-50171 and January 1975 in the UK on ABC Records ABCL 5055. Produced by JOE WALSH and JOHN STRONACH (except "Song For Emma" by BILL SZYMCZYK) – the album peaked at No 11 in the US LP charts (didn’t chart UK). All songs by Joe Walsh except “Pavane” which is “Pavane De La Belle Au Bois Dormant” from “The Mother Goose Suite” by Maurice RAVEL.

MUSICIANS:
JOE WALSH – Guitars, Keyboards and Lead Vocals
KENNY PASSERELLI – Bass on "Turn To Stone", "Help Me Thru The Night" and "County Fair"
JOE VITALE – Drums on "Welcome To The Club"

RON GRINEL – Drums on “Falling Down” and “Time Out”
RUSS KUNKEL – Drums on "Song For Emma"
GUILLE GARCIA – Congas on "Turn To Stone"
TOM STEPHENSON – Organ on “Welcome To The Club”, “Turn To Stone” and “County Fair”
LEONARD SOUTHWICK – Harmonica on "All Night Laundry Mat Blues"
JIMMIE HASKELL and BILL SZYMCZYK – Arrangements on "Song For Emma"
JAMES BOND – Acoustic Bass on “Song For Emma”
DON HENLEY, GLENN FREY and RANDY MEISNER of EAGLES – Backing/Harmony Vocals on "Turn To Stone" and "Help Me Thru The Night" (Don Henley also co-wrote the lyrics on "Falling Down" and sings Backing Vocals on "Time Out")
JOHN DAVID SOUTHER – Backing Vocals on "Time Out"
DAN FOGELBERG – Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals on "All Night Laundry Mat Blues"
BRYAN GAROFALO and JODY BOYER – Backing Vocals on "Falling Down"

PACKAGING:
The outer card wrap is numbered on the rear – a limited edition in gold of 5000. Beneath the die-cut card slipcase is a standard jewel case with a functional eight-page booklet that reproduces the artwork of the original LP including that lovely inner sleeve with all the musician credits. Both the Dunhill/ABC Records labels for Side 1 and 2 of the US LP fill up page 7 but disappointingly with all these AF releases – there’s no new liner notes. But the real deal here is the sound...

AUDIO:
So is 2015's AF release worth the spondulicks – yes it is. Kevin Gray's reputation as an Audio Engineer of real class is pretty formidable – 38 years of tape transfer experience with musical giants like Universal and Sony. I've reviewed and sung the praises of CDs sprinkled with his magic touch - “Second Helping” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “12 Songs” by Randy Newman and Walsh's own “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get”. He's done another fabulous job here and I notice the CD playing time is 10-seconds longer than my 2009 Japanese Remaster (quids in eh!).

To the music... Predating Joe Walsh joining the Eagles band in 1976 for their iconic “Hotel California” album – “So What” famously featured three members of the US Country Rock Vocal Supergroup – Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner. All three sing backing harmonies on Side 2's "Turn To Stone" and "Help Me Thru The Night" - while Don Henley not only sings on Side 1's "Falling Down" – he co-wrote the lyrics. Other notables are Tom Stephenson's Organ sound that adds so much to “Turn To Stone” and Henley and John David Souther's subtle oohing backing vocals to the wicked guitar groove of “Time Out” (Souther is practically an honorary Eagle too).

That slight hiss to the opener “Welcome To The Club” is still there - but the Vitale drum whacks and Passarelli Bass lines are much more evident too. The very audiophile Acoustic Rock of “Falling Down” is just stunning – chewing up my B&W speakers as that gorgeous melodic sound he gets swirls around your listening room like a ballerina enjoying herself. He plays everything on the classical interlude - the huge synths on the Maurice Ravel excerpt "Pavane Of The Sleeping Beauty" razor-sharp and full of emotional power. There won’t be many fans that won’t greedily flick to the punch of "Time Out" – only this time they’ll be treated to real muscle. What a thrill to hear this superb little Walsh melodic Rock tune get the balls it’s always deserved. The witty but silly Side 1 ender "All Night Laundry Mat Blues" is a short bit of fun - but beautifully produced nonetheless and it sounds awesome here.

Side 2 begins with the big one - the gorgeous "Turn To Stone". It must have been around February 1975 when I tuned into Bob Harris on the BBC Rock show "The Old Grey Whistle Test" and they ran a film of a clay Don Quixote character on a horse riding away into the animation sunset as those guitars swayed and the organ note kicked in. It was mesmerizing back then and is doubly so here – real punch and clarity to the transfer. "Help Me Thru The Night" was always an audiophile ballad – gorgeous guitar playing on both acoustic and lead electric – those swaying harmony vocals – it’s all so much better now. And "County Fair" surely has his best zippy licks and guitar work ever – that staggering end portion where the drums finally lift off and the guitars leap and moan in slide heaven.

In 1973 his 3-year old daughter Emma was tragically killed in a car accident (hit by a drunk-driver) and the resultant "Song For Emma" literally aches with that unimaginable pain. I’ve always found it difficult to listen to - but "Song For Emma" is incredibly mature songwriting - the strings sweeping up and down - a truly beautiful tribute and a crushing moment on an album that had mostly been fun prior. The Remaster here only adds to that dynamic – potent stuff indeed.

Should you opt for the 2009 Japanese SHM-CD with its great sound and beautiful repro artwork – or go for the more accessible 2015 Audio Fidelity issue with equally cool audio? It’s much of a muchness to some I know – but as a lifetime fan of the "So What" album - I find I’m playing the AF version almost exclusively. Open my eyes again indeed...

"Tiptoe Past The Dragon" by MARLIN GREENE (February 2009 Collectors' Choice CD Reissue - Bob Fisher Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




This Review Along With 240+ Others Is Available In My
SOUNDS GOOD E-Book on all Amazon sites
1960s and 1970s MUSIC ON CD - Volume 3 of 3 - Exceptional CD Remasters  
Just Click Below To Purchase for £3.95
Thousands of E-Pages - All Details and In-Depth Reviews From Discs 
(No Cut and Paste Crap)


"...Masquerade Ball..."

Marlin Green's lone album "Tiptoe Past The Dragon" was issued Stateside in the early summer of 1972 and as per their rather over-reaching jewel case sticker - this February 2009 US 'Collectors' Choice' CD would have us believe it's - 'One of 1972's Great Lost Albums!'

"Tiptoe Past The Dragon" is not a lost masterpiece despite what they claim (it has been notorious bargain-bin fodder for decades in second-hand shops – a strict no-no as a buy in) – but it has musical goodies on both sides worth rediscovering – especially if you like your Americana with a touch of Country Rock.

Musically we’re talking a sort of lesser America – or in Britain - a sort of sub Matthews Southern Comfort or Plainsong. There are even traces of Neil Young circa "Gold Rush" and "Harvest" with his backing band Crazy Horse when Greene goes all Country Rock on certain songs. And recorded down South in The Muscle Shoals Studios – the LP features a slew of notable session types like Eddie Hinton, Barry Beckett and Wayne Perkins (of Smith, Perkins, Smith).

For fans of this forgotten album - this rather ordinary CD Reissue does at least offers up two things worth noting - a fairly tasty audio remaster and it's physically cheap too (less than four quid on some sites). Here are the details...

US released 17 February 2009 - "Tiptoe Past The Dragon" by MARLIN GREENE on Collectors' Choice CCM-997 (Barcode 617742099720) is a straightforward CD Reissue and Remaster of the 11-Track 1972 LP and plays out as follows (34:49 minutes):

1. Grand Illusion [Side 1]
2. Masquerade Ball
3. Jonathan's Dream
4. My Country Breakdown
5. Forest Ranger
6. Gemini Gypsy
7. Ponce de Leon [Side 2]
8. Who's The Captain Of Your Ship Of Dreams
9. Fields Of Clover
10. Good Christian Cowboy
11. Tiptoe Past The Dragon
Tracks 1 to 11 are his debut album "Tiptoe Past The Dragon" - released June 1972 in the USA on Elektra Records EKS 75028 (no UK issue).

MARLIN GREENE - Lead Vocals
EDDIE HINTON, LARRY 'GIMMER' NICHOLSON and WAYNE PERKINS - Guitars
LEON La BLANC - Pedal Steel Guitar
BARRY BECKETT and CHUCK LEAVELL - Keyboards
DAVID HOOD - Bass
FRED PROUTY, LOU MULLINEX and ROGER HAWKINS - Drums

Typical of almost all Collectors' Choice CD Reissues - you get a functional gatefold inlay that at least has a summary of the man's career and the album by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT (done in December 2008). BOB FISHER - their resident Audio Engineer - did the Remaster and it sounds professional, full and at times rather beautiful - the swirling acoustic guitars and 'la la' singing on "Masquerade Ball" - the pedal steel twang of "Good Christian Cowboy" - all good.

Produced by Greene himself – the album hit the shops in 1972 hoping no doubt to catch the singer-songwriter craze sweeping everything in the early Seventies. Vocally he's close to say Ian Matthews and wrote all the songs except "Fields Of Clover" and "Good Christian Cowboy" which were penned by Wayne Perkins (later with Smith, Perkins, Smith over on Island Records in 1972 – an album that I hope to one day see on CD). But despite the strength of material like "Masquerade Ball" alas few noticed - and is now confirmed by Green in the liner notes that little promotion of the LP took place at Elektra. The label more closely associated with the Doors, Bread and Carly Simon did try a Radio Promo 45 for the jaunty Eagles-sounding Country-Rock of Side1's "Forest Ranger" on Elektra EK-45790 - but it didn't raise any interest and apparently stock copies were never pressed or pursued. 

The album opens with a gentle acoustic ballad "Grand Illusion" where dreamers find their own reality (could have been a single too). It then trumps up the rather excellent "Masquerade Ball" - a highly produced 12-string acoustic tune that is instantly likeable. Clearly reading 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull' (like everyone else at the time - that book was huge) - "Jonathan's Dream" is a rather aimless instrumental that starts with gulls and ocean waves lapping and doodles around on the guitar for about a minute and a half only to jump right into Flying Burrito Brothers territory with "My Country Breakdown" - not a particularly strong track either. I much prefer the Side 1 finisher "Gemini Gypsy" - so very Plainsong - and in a good way.

Over on Side 2 Greene rocks it up with the Dobro and Piano of "Ponce De Leon" and gets melodic Ian Matthews on "Who's The Captain Of Your Ship Of Dreams" - another potential single. Wayne Perkins of Smith, Perkins, Smith (and later two albums with Crimson Tide on Capitol Records) provides the two Country-Rock tunes - the very Neil Young ballad-feel to "Fields Of Clover" and the holy-roller of "Good Christian Cowboy" - both rather good. It ends on the short but Judy Henske/Jerry Yester strange title track - "Tiptoe Past The Dragon".

Not a masterpiece for sure but there is moments that impress hugely and on repeated listens - the music grows on you like crazy.

"...Why don't you look around..." - Greene sings in the hypnotic  "Fields Of Clover". 
I'd agree – worth a punt...

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

INDEX - Artists, Albums, Record Labels, CD Remaster Engineers, Liner Notes Authors, Links etc