Friday, 30 September 2016

"Gentle Giant/Acquiring The Taste" by GENTLE GIANT (2012 Beat Goes On 2CD Remasters by Andrew Thompson) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...A Tall Tale..." 

Talk about keeping it in the family – Portsmouth brothers and multi-instrumentalists Derek, Ray and Phil Shulman teamed up with classically trained guitarist Gary Green, keyboard whizz Kerry Minnear and drummer Martin Smith in 1970 to form GENTLE GIANT. Abandoning their Sixties Simon Dupree & The Big Sound pop sensibilities entirely – they powered full tilt into the emerging sound of the day – Progressive Rock. Eleven albums later and England's Prog heroes were still there in 1980 – giving it loads of difficult syncopations and selling bugger all records.

This first double-disc reissue of their extensive back-catalogue put out by England’s reputable Beat Goes On label remasters the South Coast boy’s first two Prog outings at Vertigo in 1970 and 1971 – home of many'd the eye-catching gatefold sleeve. Not dissimilar in style to King Crimson and Yes but without perhaps the same (dare we say it) commerciality – Gentle Giant nonetheless built a steady and fiercely loyal following - and on the evidence presented here you can understand why that affection still endures today. Amazing playing virtuosity - clever classical interludes and layered harmony vocals sat on top of a trademark guitar sound not unlike Robert Fripp enjoying himself - it's all here - sounding and looking great too. Here are the tall tales and the bearded technicalities for their first two steps…

UK released November 2012 – "Gentle Giant/Acquiring The Taste" by GENTLE GIANT on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1095 (Barcode 5017261210951) offers their first two studio albums remastered onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Gentle Giant" (37:05 minutes):
1. Giant
2. Funny Ways
3. Alucard
4. Isn't It Quiet And Cold
5. Nothing At All [Side 2] 6. Why Not
7. The Queen
Tracks 1 to 7 are their debut album "Gentle Giant" - released November 1970 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 020 (it was not issued in the USA). Produced by TONY VISCONTI.

Disc 2 "Acquiring The Taste" (39:07 minutes):
1. Pantagruel's Nativity
2. Edge Of Twilight
3. The House, The Street, The Room
4. Acquiring The Taste
5. Wreck [Side 2]
6. The Moon s Down
7. Black Cat
8. Plain Truth
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd studio album "Acquiring The Taste" - released July 1971 in the UK on Vertigo Records 6360 041 (not issued in the USA). Produced by TONY VISCONTI.

GENTLE GIANT was:
DEREK SHULMAN - Lead and Backing Vocals (some Bass), Alto Sax, Clavichord and Cowbell
RAY SHULMAN - Bass, Violin, Electric Violin, Viola, Spanish Guitar, 12-String Guitar, Organ Bass Pedals, Skulls, Tambourine Percussion and Backing Vocals
PHIL SHULMAN - Alto and Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Clarinet, Recorder, Piano, Claves, Maracas, Lead and Backing Vocals
KERRY MINNEAR - Electric Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Vibraphone, Moog, Piano, Celeste, Clavichord, Harpsichord, Tympani, Maracas, Bass, Cello, Lead and Backing Vocals and Tuned Percussion
GARY GREEN - Lead Guitar, 6 and 12-String Guitar, Wah-Wah Guitar, Donkey's Jawbone, Cat Calls and Vocals
MARTIN SMITH - Drums, Gongs,Tambourine and Percussion

Guests:
CLAIRE DENIZ - Cello on "Isn't It Quiet And Cold" on the "Gentle Giant" LP
PAUL COSH - Tenor Horn on "Giant" and played Trumpet and Organ on the "Acquiring The Taste" LP
TONY VISCONTI - Recorder, Bass Drum and Triangle on the "Acquiring The Taste" LP

The outer card slipcase gives the release a classy feel (now generic with all BGO releases) while the 16-page booklet is packed with original details (the Tony Visconti 'A Tale Tale' liner notes that graced the inner gatefold of the debut LP) and properly in-depth assessments of the albums and the band by noted writer DAVID WELLS (done in 2012). The final few pages give you the lyrics to both records - all of it centred by a black and white photo of the original six-piece band. ANDREW THOMPSON has carried out the new Remasters at Sound Performance in London and while the 1st LP is undoubtedly hissy in places - both records are full of presence and power - the second album "Acquiring The Taste" in particular shining like a new sixpence (there were mastering issues on the first run of these CDs but I've experienced none of that in 2016).

Defiant in their musical vision - you're struck at first by their playing - Gentle Giant was an accomplished band right from the off with musical adventure and boundary-breaking forcably built into their DNA. The debut album is ragged around the edges for sure – but it’s mighty in scope and daring. A doomy church organ hisses in for "Giant" and you're in ELP territory before Derek Shulman comes roaring in the vocals like the younger brother of Roger Chapman from Family. Things get really interesting with "Funny Ways" - a fantastic amalgam of beautiful cello, acoustic guitar, electric wah-wah and even a lone brass instrument all combining into a delicate choral rock track - Phil Shulman's lead vocal softer and more suited to the song. "Alucard" (Dracula spelt backwards and a label name used for GG reissues) is proper Prog - huge synth chords - phased vocals - brass jabs and lyrics about 'terror fills my soul' - nice. Side 2 opens with the Emily Bronte Baroque of "Isn't It Quiet And Cold" - whimsy vocals dancing daintily above a violin, harpsichord, cello and timpani plinking. Hardly surprising that the nine-minute "Nothing At All" was chosen as the representative track of the album on the 2005 Vertigo 3CD Box Set "Time Machine" (see separate review) - it's stunning - beautiful - surprising and the playing/arrangements are so damn accomplished like Yes meets Jethro Tull by way of Family (the Bass and that ever-present Acoustic Guitar
are particularly sweet and clear on the remaster). The guitar Prog of "Why Not" is superb too but the mock 'God Save' "The Queen" tests your patience a tad.

If the first album was an announcement and more-than-promising start - the largely improvised 2nd album delivered on that Prog entree. Like "Nothing At All" from the 1st LP - "Pantagruel's Nativity" was chosen as the representative of "Acquiring The Taste" for the "Time Machine" Vertigo Box Set - another near seven minutes of wickedly good mellotron and guitar. Inspired by the French Author Francois Rabelius and his tale of jousting giants 'Gargantua and Pantagruel' - it has fabulous audio especially on this chunky guitars and layered vocals. You're then thrown by the sheer prettiness of "Edge Of Twlight" as sounds flit from speaker to speaker - a pretty Prog ditty as I say but with menace provided by big kettle drums and phased voices. "The House The Street The Room" feels like Family meets Genesis somewhere between 1968's "Music In A Doll's House" and 1970's "Nursery Cryme". The short synth pavane of "Acquiring The Taste" precedes "Wreck" which has an almost catchy Uriah Heap chorus of 'hey yeah'. But for me the album is sealed by the final three - "The Moon Is Down", "Black Cat" and "Plain Truth" - all of which display more clever breaks than you can shake a stick at. At seven and half-minutes and opening with some wicked wah-wah guitar not unlike Hendrix having a doodle on his Strat - the longest of the three "Plain Truth" is very cool Prog indeed and leaves you impressed by an unsung hero of an LP (fans consider ATT a gem).

In the liner notes for "Acquiring The Taste" - GENTLE GIANT collectively stated that their music should be '...unique, adventurous and fascinating...' even '...at the risk of being very unpopular...' Job done boys...

"Highway" by FREE (2016 Universal/Island Remasters CD Reissue - Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...I'm The Stealer...Gonna Steal Your Love..."

This is the kind of CD reissue that does my nut in - one step forward and two steps back. Some explanation is needed...

FREE fans will know that the February 2002 CD reissue campaign of all seven of their albums (five studio and one live) came with great Peter Mew remasters, decent bonus tracks and expanded booklets to match - and were mid-price at the time. But here we are in September 2016 with another reissue campaign of all seven albums accompanied by "The Free Story" compilation (a 2LP set onto 1CD) that strips away those brilliant bonuses entirely – and unwisely substitutes the hugely informative liner notes for band photos.

But – these 2016 reissues do offer us one genuinely worthy consolation prize - new 2016 ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM Remasters that breath wonderful naturalistic vitality back into the albums. With the eight being offered on Amazon at a less than five pounds sixty-five pence per CD reissue – you can of course argue that the price is right and with their generic 'Island Remasters' see-through side panelling on the jewel case – they look good too. But what real fans are essentially getting is great new sound - but lesser discs (one step forward etc). Here are the neutered nadges...

UK released Friday, 9 September 2016 - "Highway" by FREE on Universal/Island Remasters 473 181-9 (Barcode 602547318190) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 9-track late 1970 UK LP and plays out as follows (36:02 minutes):

1. The Highway Song
2. The Stealer
3. On My Way
4. Be My Friend
5. Sunny Day [Side 2]
6. Ride On Pony
7. Love You So
8. Bodie
9. Soon I Will Be Gone
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 4th studio album "Highway" - released December 1970 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9138 and February 1971 in the USA on A&M Records SP-4278. Produced by FREE and engineered by Andy Johns - it peaked at No. 40 on the UK LP charts (didn't chart in the USA).

The six missing bonus tracks on the 2002 Island Remasters version are "My Brother Jake (7" Single Mix)",  "Only My Soul" (April 1971 non-album B-side to "My Brother Jake" released in the UK on Island WIP 6100), "Ride On A Pony (BBC Session)", "Be My Friend (BBC Session)", "Rain (Alternative Version)" and "The Stealer (7" Single Version Edit)". As you can see from this list of missing extras - your loss is considerable - every one of these bonus tracks adding huge punch to the overall vibe of the 2002 reissue.

The new booklet is 12-pages with a Tape-Box Photo of "The Stealer" on Page 2, other band photos and reissue credits on the centre colour spread (both guitarist Paul Kossoff and bassist Andy Fraser get a page each) - but there's no liner notes giving history, details etc. Beneath the see-through CD tray are pictures of the seven reissued albums with the eight being "The Free Story" double-album compilation from 1974 (for catalogue numbers see notes below). But a fabulous new remaster from ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM – who did such great work on Pentangle, Frankie Miller, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, the 2012 Rory Gallagher CD remasters for his Polydor and Chrysalis catalogue and most recently the 2016 3CD Budgie Box Set for their MCA LPs and the Emerson, Lake & Palmer 'Deluxe Editions' for their Island catalogue (see reviews for them all) - resoundingly compensates for all of that distasteful compromise. 

I've had the 2002 remaster and the Japanese 2008 SHM-CD reissue – both of which rock – but this version is better to my ears. There's suddenly staggering naturality and presence to the whole LP. Pearce and Wortham let things breathe (it's a trademark of their work). For sure there's trace amounts of hiss and the new result is possibly louder than the other pressings – but its not loudness for loudness sake – not shrill so to speak – just in your face – huge power and presence - like an original tape should be. Buggering thing is I'll now need the lot if they all sound this good...

As an album December 1970's "Highway" has always been second fiddle to the mighty "Fire And Water" from earlier in the year (May 1970) with it's all conquering "All Right Now". But I'd argue it's the band's "Powerage" or "Communiqué" or "Goat's Head Soup" or "Tusk" - a record that followed monsters and therefore gets unfairly overlooked and slagged off. Granted a tune like the dreadfully weedy "Bodie" is not classic Free no matter how well the Acoustic Guitars now leap out of the mix. But check out the opener "The Highway Song" and suddenly that ramshackle British Rock thing The Stones and Mott The Hoople had in spades starts to fill your living room with trouser-filling swagger (look out ladies). The album cut of the truly fabulous "The Stealer" at 3:16 minutes is actually better than the slightly longer single mix at 3:23 minutes which has different guitar parts and a more accentuated Andy Fraser bass. Here the 2016 LP Version has amazing power - that fantastic 'she stood on the corner' riffage now has the gonads it’s always cried out for (surely Free at their best). Side 1 shows the mellow side of singer Paul Rodgers and songwriting bassist Andy Fraser when they end the A with two superb mid-tempo tunes "On My Way" and "Be My Friend" - massively underrated Free songs – beautiful remasters for both cuts too.

"Sunny Day" opens Side 2 in the same mellow mood - it's a song I honestly didn't think much of at first but now dig - especially as it's followed by the album's other nugget - the fab "Ride On A Pony" which should have been the follow-on single from "The Stealer". The remaster has given it oomph in every area. The Mellotron that featured on "Be My Friend" returns for the pretty and affecting "Love You So" - a very sweet Free ballad. I never could abide "Bodie" but it's followed by an epic "Soon I Will Be Gone" which sounds utterly amazing on this remaster.

Across the seven reissues we probably loose thirty to thirty-five genuinely cool bonus tracks and all that enlightening info in the booklets too - so buying their catalogue yet again may become a chore for fans (docked a star for less instead of more). But we do gain fabulous new audio - and for many that's probably going to be the deciding factor.

Bugger but Universal/Island wins again - because if they all sound as good as "Highway" - I'm gonna have to own the lot...

PS: FREE titles in the 9 Sept 2016 Island Remasters CD Reissue Series are:
1. Tons Of Sobs (March 1969 Debut UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-5 (Barcode 602547318152)
2. Free (October 1969 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-1 (Barcode 602547318718)
3. Fire And Water (June 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-4 (Barcode 602547318749)
4. Highway (December 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-9 (Barcode 602547318190)
5. Free Live! (June 1971 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-6 (Barcode 602547318763)
6. Free At Last (June 1972 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 183-9 (Barcode 602547318398)
7. Heartbreaker (January 1973 UK Final Studio LP) - Island Remasters 473 182-6 (Barcode 602547318268)
8. The Free Story (March 1974 UK 2LP Compilation) - Island Remasters 472 262-9 (Barcode 602547326294)


There is also a VINYL Box Set called "FREE - The Vinyl Collection" on Universal/Island 473 187-9 released 9 September 2016 with seven LPs (Barcode 0602547318794)

Friday, 16 September 2016

"Physical Graffiti: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition' by LED ZEPPELIN (2015 Atlantic/Swan Song 3CD Reissue – Jimmy Page Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"…I Like Your Custard Pie…"

Zeppelin fans have been licking their lips for this one - and almost 40 years to the day (the original double-album was released 24 February 1975) - here it is on Monday 23 February 2015 - clambering up the ascending ledges of my stereo with the big balls of a well-hung King Kong primate sporting a naughty look in his brownstone-sized die-cut eyes (and that's just Side 1). This "40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" is not without its problems though in my opinion (packaging and questionable extras) - but it is still a thing of double-album beauty - it really is. Here are the forty years gone...

Worldwide released 23 February 2015 - "Physical Graffiti: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" by LED ZEPPELIN on Atlantic/Swan Song 8122795794 (Barcode 081227957940) is a 3CD reissue set in Card Repro Art Packaging and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (Sides 1 and 2 of the original 2LP set) - 39:25 minutes:
1. Custard Pie
2. The Rover
3. In My Time Of Dying
4. Houses Of The Holy [Side 2]
5. Trampled Under Foot
6. Kashmir

Disc 2 (Sides 3 and 4 of the original 2LP set) - 43:34 minutes:
1. In The Light
2. Bron-Yr-Aur
3. Down By The Seaside
4. Ten Years Gone
5. Night Flight [Side 4]
6. The Wanton Song
7. Boogie With Stu
8. Black Country Woman
9. Sick Again
"Physical Graffiti" was released 24 February 1975 in the UK on Swan Song SSK 89400 and Swan Song SS 2-200 in the USA. It went to Number 1 in both countries and shipped over 8 million copies in the USA alone.

Disc 3 COMPANION AUDIO - 41:32 minutes:
1. Brandy & Coke (Trampled Under Foot) (Initial Rough Mix)
2. Sick Again (Early Version)
3. In My Time Of Dying (Initial Rough Mix)
4. Houses Of The Holy (Rough Mix With Overdubs)
5.  Everybody Makes It Through (In The Light) (Early Version/In Transit)
6. Boogie With Stu (Sunset Sound Mix)
7. Driving Through Kashmir (Kashmir) (Rough Orchestra Mix)

The CD Repro packaging was always going to be a problem on this reissue and in my opinion they've gotten it only half right (at least it's an improvement on those awful Euro repros we had back in the Nineties with their piddly slips of paper on the inside). Let's be blunt about this - arguably "Physical Graffiti" had the most gorgeous LP packaging ever devised for a rock LP and the visceral impact of that for those of us who bought it in 1975 cannot be understated. That's why I find this latest offering so naff in comparison. Aligned with the other reissues - we get an awful blackened rear sleeve where someone has simply blocked out the artwork with blurred images and laughably called it alternate artwork. It's ruined the look of the rear - and the same crap has been done for CD3 on the inside. I also have to stick that peel-off track-list that was on the shrinkwrap onto the back of the cover and it just doesn't look right. The 16-page booklet of black and white and colour photos is over as soon as it starts with barely two pages of credits at the end - no appraisal, no liner notes and no history (you have to fork out huge money for the Super Deluxe Edition to get that). It does feel chunkier with the 3CDs inside and the booklet (I reversed the inner to get the white windows on the rear) but you can't help think that a reissue label of repute like Ace, Edsel, Beat Goes On, Repertoire or Esoteric would have gone to town on this prestigious release and finally given fans something they could really get their teeth into.

And what is this disclaimer bull that Page is putting in the booklets referring to the Companion Audio as being "new material recorded at the time" when its bleeding obvious that these are simply backing tracks with new guitar bits mixed in. Disc 3 has only two genuine outtakes - the short instrumental 1973 version of "Sick Again" and the February 1974 early version of "In The Light" which was originally called "Everybody Makes It Through". The others sound almost identical to me with very slight guitar changes - "In My Time Of Dying" being the worst offender where you have to wait almost the whole song to realise that the first guitar solo bit is the only change - and it's a lesser version. You can't help feel that much of Disc 3 is an elaborate con. There's also been complaints about the quality of the Download/Auto-Rip not being Hi-Res and the vinyl variant containing the same compromised artwork. But let's get to the remaster that is at least better than what went before...

The moment "Custard Pie" hits your speakers - the power of the band wallops you over the noggin - and the new Jimmy Page remaster helps. There's more clarity in the guitar and the whole thing swings better than it did before. "The Rover" has hiss in it that seems more accentuated but it also seems more muscular (what a powerhouse of a song). But then we get the big mother fuyer. "In My Time Of Dying" is a 1928 Blind Willie Johnson Spiritual called "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed" on Columbia 14276-D (78") - but Zeppelin massively rearranged it - enough for the boys to naughtily claim it as their own (plundering the Blues and not for the first time either). There's even a few seconds of dialogue at the end - "That's The One!" Bonham exclaims knowing he's blasted that sucker as far as it can go. It's a truly awesome piece of Rock and when that guitar solo first kicks in - the drums, the guitar and the bass - at that moment the whole band were undeniably the best in the world. Side 2 opens with "Houses Of The Holy" and again that very subtle remaster difference is evident - and with the drums so forward and loud in the mix - I swear I can hear the squeaking of Bonham's pedals more than I did before (nice). John Paul Jones gets to make his presence known on the funky keyboard backdrop he gives "Trampled Under Foot" (especially in his wicked solo) - but what I can hear more is the overdubbed guitar parts and Plant's ballsy vocals. Bonzo's moment finishes Side 2 "Kashmir" and honestly it sounds much like the "Mothership" remaster to me - huge of course - but I can't honestly say it's any better.

I've always loved the Eastern vibe to "In The Light", the wafting treated acoustic guitars of "Bron-Yr-Aur" and the happy-go-lucky almost childish feel to "Down By The Seaside" - all of which sound much improved. But I'm thrilled to say that the best track on the album seems to have been improved the most - the stunning "Ten Years Gone" which ended Side 3. It's clean, present and powerful - that gorgeous guitar strumming and bass combined sounding so good. And when it goes into that huge riff - wow is the only appropriate response (surely this is Zeppelin at their very best). Can't say I hear a huge improvement in "The Wanton Song" but I'd swear it was produced that way - sounding ever so slightly muffled or contained so that the last passage sounds clearer - doesn't look like that can changed no much you remaster it. "Boogie With Stu" and "Black Country Woman" now sound huge and such fun...

So there you have it - like "Blonde On Blonde", "The Beatles", "Second Winter", "Exile On Main St.", "Manassas" and "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" - "Physical Graffiti" is one of those vinyl double albums that retains its cool, mystery and magic. And despite some personal misgivings about presentation on this 3CD 40th Anniversary Reissue - isn't it the business to see it back at Number 1 where it belongs...

PS: see also reviews for the 2CD Deluxe Edition versions of "I", "II", "III", "IV", "Houses Of The Holy" and the 3-Disc version of  "Mothership: The Very Best Of" 

"Houses Of The Holy: Deluxe Edition" by LED ZEPPELIN (2014 Atlantic/Swan Song 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' Jimmy Page Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"…Many Dreams Come True…" 

Robert Plant once ruminated that Led Zeppelin waited 5 months before releasing their 5th album “Houses Of The Holy” because they wanted to get the album artwork right. And when he saw the 1990s CD reissue in its 5” puniness minus that “HOTH” title bandana that came with 1973 originals – he wondered was it worth the wait? Well the album is back in a brand new 2014 reissue and with its title wraparound restored – properly remastered this time and sporting some rather cool 'extras' too. Here are the crunges, quarter oceans and songs that remain (roughly) the same…

Released October 2014 - this review if for "Houses Of The Holy” by LED ZEPPELIN - the 2CD DELUXE EDITION on Atlantic 8122795827 (Barcode 081227958275) which breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (ORIGINAL ALBUM – 40:59 minutes):
1. The Song Remains The Same
2. The Rain Song
3. Over The Hills And Far Away
4. The Crunge
5. Dancing Days [Side 2]
6. D’yer Mak’er
7. No Quarter
8. The Ocean
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 5th album "Houses Of The Holy" – released 23 March 1973 in the USA on Atlantic SD 7255 and in the UK on Atlantic K 50014

Disc 2 (COMPANION AUDIO Unreleased Studio Outtakes – 36:13 minutes):
1. The Song Remains The same (Guitar Overdub Reference Mix)
2. The Rain Song (Mix Minus Piano)
3. Over The Hills And Far Away (Guitar Mix Backing Track – No Vocal)
4. The Crunge (Rough Mix – Keys Up)
5. Dancing Days (Rough Mix With Vocal)
6. No Quarter (Rough Mix With JPJ Keyboard Overdubs – No Vocal)
7. The Ocean (Working Mix)

For a supposed DELUXE EDITION the 16-page booklet is adequate at best - colour live shots, the inner sleeve reproduced in the centre pages and a few basic reissue credits on the last few pages. For such an iconic band and prestigious catalogue - you think Atlantic could have pushed the boat out a bit more. It's noticeable also that the track list stick-on sheet that was pasted on to the rear sleeves of I, II and III is now on the outside of the shrinkwrap for you to place wherever you want. It's also irritating because you can barely read the writing on it. But to the really good news...

Like “Led Zeppelin IV” (that also came out Monday 27 October 2014) the much-lauded JIMMY PAGE remaster is properly excellent and a definite improvement on what we had before. Right from the first few seconds of “The Song Remains The Same” the guitars rattle your speakers with renewed power and British machismo. But then I get to what I’ve been after for years (and surely many fan’s favourite track on the record) – “The Rain Song” in gorgeous remastered form. It is hissy for sure in certain places but the acoustic guitars and JPJ’s Mellotron are more to the fore (and in a good way). The Plant vocals and Page Guitars sing now on “Over The Hills And Far Away” while I still laugh at the final “Where’s the confounded bridge?” gag at the end of the rhythmically awkward “The Crunge” (a song that stills sounds to me like its chancing its arm). The Side 2 openers “Dancing Days” and the silly “D’yer Mak’er” both pack a huge wallop (especially Bonham’s drums) while “No Quarter” is hissy for sure during that warbling Mellotron intro and onwards but you forgive it because it’s a Zeppelin I love (as I suspect many do). It ends on “The Ocean” with its witty intro – another rocker that sounds like it’s on the way to somewhere but never really getting there. Then you’re hit with a real surprise – a storming Disc 2…

After the slightly irritating extras on “IV”(the so-called 'works in progress') – these outtakes are actually quite brilliant. While you’d be hard pressed to hear the differences in either “Dancing Days” of “The Crunge” - some of your favourite songs are stripped of their vocals and allow the listener to concentrate on the great chucky rhythms and clever guitar parts. The two that leap out are “Over The Hills And Far Away” and an astonishing almost Prog version of “No Quarter” with John Paul Jones giving it some fabulous keyboard flourishes and arrangements. The “Minus Piano” Mix of “The Rain Song” sounds lovely too with its gorgeous acoustic guitar playing and JPJ’s Mellotron underpinning the song like a well thought out string arrangement. I'm kind of shocked at how good Disc 2 is actually.

Somehow as the years have passed “Houses Of The Holy” has been seen as the runt of the Led Zeppelin LP litter  – and I’m genuinely glad to say that this reissue makes a strong case for major assessment. Why I almost forgive them that pervy sleeve and the photo of them on the inner gatefold of this 2CD set standing by their LED ZEPPELIN jet with their chests bared for the ladies. Thems was the dancing days indeed boys. Roll on the mighty “Physical Graffiti” next year…yummy.

PS: be careful removing the title bandana – it’s snug and will rip easily…

PPS: see also reviews for the 2CD Deluxe Edition versions of "I", "II", "III", "Physical Graffiti" (3-Discs) and the 3-Disc version of  "Mothership: The Very Best Of" 

"Led Zeppelin IV: Deluxe Edition" by LED ZEPPELIN (2014 Atlantic/Swan Song 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' - Jimmy Page Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"…Gonna Make You Sweat…Gonna Make You Groove…"

I remember walking up to Dolphin Discs in Talbot Street in Dublin in November 1971 and seeing the long-awaited album sleeve to Led Zeppelin's new album be given pride of place in their window display. Even at the tender age of thirteen and twelve - my sister Frances and I were devoted Zeppelites - so I drew closer to ogle. Someone in the shop had made a white cardboard star, drawn "LED ZEP IV! IT'S HERE!!" in the album's inner sleeve calligraphy and stuck the card star on the top right of the untitled matt sleeve. People were stopping to gawk - what's the big deal? But I remember thinking only one thing. Cheeky buggers - the Zeps are now so big they haven't even put a bleeding title on it! How very...well...Rock and Roll!

Fast-forward to 2014 and another reissue and yet another (far better) remaster. Here are the levees breaking, hops on misty mountains and the May Queen bustling in your hedgerow...

Released October 2014 - "Led Zeppelin IV: Deluxe Edition” by LED ZEPPELIN on Atlantic/Swan Song 812279446 (Barcode 081227964467) is a 2CD Remaster and breaks down as follows:

Disc (ORIGINAL ALBUM - 42:38 minutes):
1. Black Dog
2. Rock And Roll
3. The Battle Of Evermore
4. Stairway To Heaven
5. Misty Mountain Hop
6. Four Sticks
7. Going To California
8. When The Levee Breaks
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 4th LP “Led Zeppelin IV” – released 8 November 1971 in the USA on Atlantic SD 7208 and Atlantic 2401012 in the UK. Officially their 4th album was ‘untitled’ but of course is often referred to as "Led Zeppelin IV", "Four Symbols" or "Runes" or "ZoSo" (after the four symbols that appear at the top of the Atlantic Records label - Zodiac letters for each member of the band).

Disc 2 (COMPANION AUDIO Unreleased Studio Outtakes - 40:35 minutes):
1. Black Dog (Basic Track With Guitar Overdubs)
2. Rock And Roll (Alternate Mix)
3. The Battle Of Evermore (Mandolin/Guitar Mix From Headley Grange)
4. Stairway To Heaven (Sunset Sound Mix)
5. Misty Mountain Hop (Alternate Mix)
6. Four Sticks (Alternate Mix)
7. Going To California (Mandolin/Guitar Mix)
8. When The Levee Breaks (Alternate U.K. Mix)

For a supposed DELUXE EDITION the 16-page booklet is adequate at best - colour live shots, the inner sleeve reproduced in the centre pages and a few basic reissue credits on the last few pages. All the original LP artwork is there – the second hand painting Plant bought in Berkshire and stuck to the wall of a derelict building to get the cover shot – the four symbols of the Zodiac for the boys along with Sandy Denny’s on the inner sleeve – the lyrics to “Stairway To Heaven” that we used to all pour over. But for such an iconic band and prestigious catalogue - you think Atlantic could have pushed the boat out a bit more. It's noticeable also that the track list stick-on sheet that was pasted on to the rear sleeves of I, II and III is now on the outside of the shrinkwrap for you to place wherever you want. It's also irritating because you can barely read the writing on it. But to the really good news...

The much-lauded JIMMY PAGE remaster is excellent and a definite improvement on what we had before - especially on the beautiful acoustic tracks "The Battle Of Evermore" and "Going To California". But it's when we hit "Black Dog", "Rock And Roll" and especially the monster "When The Levee Breaks" that the real sonic punch kicks in. The harmonica on "Levee" threatens to run amuck in your living room while that acoustic break in "Four Sticks" after the guitar intro is absolutely huge. It has to be said that there's noticeable hiss on some of the quieter parts in "Stairway" but not enough to be intrusive or detract. The same applies to the John Paul Jones keys in "Misty Mountain Hop" and Bonzo's drums just so powerful. But for me the sonic jewel on here is the mandolin/guitar battles and vocals in the stunning "Battle Of Evermore" with SANDY DENNY guesting so sweetly.

The liner notes for the 'Companion Audio' give it some waffle about 'new material' recorded for the 'works in progress' - it's deliberately ambiguous because you can't feel that a lot of these 'outtakes' were done in the studio with Pro Tools in the last few years and bear little resemblance to 1971. Having said all of that - they are irritatingly brilliant! You'd be hard pressed to spot the differences in either the Basic Track of "Black Dog" or the Alternate Mix of "Rock And Roll" but the Headley Grange version of "The Battle Of Evermore" is fabulous stuff - guitar bits coming at you've never heard before. Having become so accustomed to the finished take of the album's goliath "Stairway To Heaven" - the Sunset Sound Mix feels oddly unsatisfying - even though that beautiful electric guitar break remains virtually intact (and still has the power to thrill). But I'm taken aback yet again by the sheer Zep power of "When The Levee Breaks" where there's more echoing on the guitars and harmonica to a point where it feels like its going to get out of hand (but it doesn't). And that little guitar flourish at the end is Production genius. Wow!

So what we have is a five-star album given five-star sound and four-star presentation (don't get me started on the rip-off Uber Deluxe Edition). I can remember the excitement their albums used to engender on arrival - and this morning - tingles returned - and that's good enough for me (name or no name)...

PS: see also reviews for the 2CD Deluxe Edition versions of "I", "II", "III", "Houses Of The Holy", "Physical Graffiti" (3-Discs) and the 3-Disc version of  "Mothership: The Very Best Of" 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

"Survival" by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD [feat Mark Farner] (2002 Capitol 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry




"…I Can't Get Along With Society…"

With three studio efforts - “On Time” and “Grand Funk” in 1969, “Closer To Home” and the double “Live Album” (both in 1970) under their Capitol Records belt – GRAND FUNK RAILROAD finally delivered what most feel was their best 'studio' album ever – “Survival” (credited simply as GRAND FUNK). It comes complete with the band literally looking like society outcasts and not-to-be-messed-with Neanderthals on the front cover. And with 5 cracking bonus tracks actually worthy of inclusion – this cheap-as-chips CD remaster is a fantastic way into this most American of Rock bands. Here are the cave men details…

Released November 2002 – "Survival" by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD on Capitol 5417252 (Barcode 724354172526) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster and breaks down as follows (73:14 minutes):

1. Country Road
2. All You’ve Got Is Money
3. Comfort Me
4. Feelin' Alright
5. I Want Freedom [Side 2]
6. I Can Feel Him In The Morning
7. Gimme Shelter
Tracks 1 to 7 are their 5th album “Survival” – released April 1971 in the USA on Capitol SW 764 and June 1971 in the UK on Capitol E-SW 764
BONUS TRACKS (all Previously Unreleased):
8. I Can’t Get Along With Society (2002 Remix)
9. Jam (Footstompin’ Music)
10. Country Road (Unedited Original Version)
11. All You’ve Got Is Money (Unedited Original Version)
12. Feelin’ Alright (Unedited Original Version)

The CD remaster on all of their early albums was always going to be tricky – notoriously recorded with no sense of audiophile – but every sense of 'how it feels'. This is down 'n' dirty American Rock with hiss levels that takes no prisoners. EVREN GOKNAR has 24-bit remastered from original tapes and while the hiss is still there – he’s given more muscle to the overall sound. These tracks come at you with renewed power – not dampened down – but allowed to breath. The all-over-the-place vocals are there – as are the guitar/drum combos – and keyboard interludes – but with more punch. It’s well done.

“All You’ve Got Is Money” sounds like Ten Years After unleashed and wild. Once again it’s rough and raw production is the song’s making – this is gritty unapologetic American Rock and is very much the better for it. The remaster lifts up the great duet vocals between Mark Farner and Don Brewer on the near seven-minute ”Comfort” (even if it is hissy) – an unusually ‘soft and melodic’ song in many ways for GFR and one of Side One’s highlights. We hit the album’s first single – their cover of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” (Capitol Records 3095 in April 1971 – reached No. 54). Written by Dave Mason – its staggering Soulful-Rock crossover potential was spotted almost instantly and covered by a slew of huge artists in a very short period of time – Joe Cocker, David Ruffin, Lulu, Rare Earth, Three Dog Night, The Chairmen Of The Board and even Jazzers Hubert Laws and Wade Marcus all had a go. Grand Funk start the song out slow but build into that fantastic groove with Don Brewer’s drums shining throughout.

The near two-minutes of in-studio pissing about at the beginning of the Side 2 opener “I Want Freedom” sounded cool back in the day but irritates now. Better is when the actual song kicks in with Farner’s keyboards to the fore and that cross-speaker drum thing at the end sounding just great. “If you’re bad…you’ll die when you die…” echoes after children explain God and what it means to be ‘good’ at the beginning of “I Can Feel Him In The Morning”. It’s a fabulously over-the-top track but next to their wild finisher – one of my favourites. Speaking of which – their fuzzy-up manic guitar version of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is Grand Funk Railroad” in full sway – boogieing like mad men – to hell with the critics – damn the musical torpedoes.

But what puts this CD into special is the quality of the Bonus Material. “I’ll tell you mister you’d better watch your mouth or you’ll get busted by the police…” Farner sings on the Alternate Mix of the censorship song “I Can’t get Along With Society” which features a more prevalent upfront guitar. “Jam (Footstompin’ Music)” is an early version (they re-recorded it for the “E Pluribus Funk” album in late 1971) and it’s a five-minute fast boogie with a driving Bass line. But the real prizes for fans are three-in-a-row newly reassembled 2002 mixes. First up is “Country Road” which restores the 2nd verse, middle eight and a Guitar solo edited out of the released version (now runs to 7:38 minutes). “All You’ve Got Is Money restores a Guitar solo, harmonica parts and several extra verses pushing the tune to nearly eight and half minutes. The “Feelin’ Alright” extended versions restores the third verse and features an Alternate Vocal on the first verse (it now stretches to just under six minutes).

Derided by critics and beloved by fans in equal measure – Grand Funk Railroad were huge back in the day – and on the evidence of this cool reissue – it’s easy to hear why…

"Grand Funk" by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD [featuring Mark Farner] (2002 Capitol 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"…Inside Looking Out…"

With their debut “On Time” released only months earlier in August 1969 (a slow burner that eventually charted in October and rose to Number 27) – their second platter simply called "Grand Funk" followed only months later at the tail end of December 1969 – days away from the beginning of the new decade. Capitol Records saw their investment in Michigan’s finest deliver a Number 11 placing on the Rock LP charts – and hearing its heavier than lead-piping tunes in 2015 (a mere 45 years after the event) - it’s easy to hear why ”Grand Funk” with its garish 'red' cover was both lauded and derided in equal measure (much like the band itself really in certain quarters). But I’d argue if you want gutsy Hard Rockling American Rock ‘n’ Roll – then there’s a lot to love about GRAND FUNK RAILROAD. And featuring two rather excellent Bonus Tracks with sympathetic 24-bit Digital Remastering - this still-as-cheap-as-chips CD remaster is a fantastic way into this most American of Boogie bands. Here are the hard-hitting details…

Released November 2002 – "Grand Funk" by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD on Capitol 5393812 (Barcode 724353938123) is an ‘Expanded Edition’ and plays out as follows (59:46 minutes):

1. Got This Feeling On The Move
2. Please Don’t Worry
3. High Falootin’ Woman
4. Mr. Limousine Driver
5. In Need [Side 2]
6. Winter And My Soul
7. Paranoid
8. Inside Looking Out
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 2nd album "Grand Funk" – released January 1970 in the USA on Capitol SW 406 and February 1970 in the UK on Capitol E-ST 307

BONUS TRACKS (both Previously Unreleased):
9. Nothing is The Same (Demo)
10. Mr. Limousine Driver (Extended Version)
Track 9 (along with most of the album) was recorded on 20 October 1969 and is an early attempt at a song that would eventually surface on their 3rd LP “Closer To Home” in June of 1970. This early-take features a different arrangement and Don Brewer on vocals in the middle section.
Track 10 is a 2002 Remix with Alternate Guitar and an Extended Ending

The 12-page booklet is a rather visually pleasing affair – a centre-page spread of Ticket Stubs, Fillmore East Posters and Hand Flyers, uber rare Japanese 7” Single Picture Sleeves and even Studio Track Sheets. Beneath the see-through plastic tray is a picture of their 2nd-only British 45 for “Inside Looking Out” in its Capitol Records label bag. It was belatedly released in good old Blighty in January 1971 on Capitol CL 15668 with “Paranoid” as its B-side (I believe it played at 33 1/3 because of its lengthy playing time). The informative, witty and affectionate liner notes are by STEVE ROESER feature interviews with the band’s main men MARK FARNER (who wrote all the songs) and DON BREWER.

GRAND FUNK were:
MARK FARNER – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica & Vocals
DON BREWER – Drums And Vocals
MEL SCHACHER - Bass

The CD remaster on all of their early albums was always going to be tricky – notoriously recorded with no sense of audiophile – but every sense of 'how it feels'. This is down 'n' dirty American Rock with hiss levels that takes no prisoners. EVREN GOKNAR has 24-bit remastered from original tapes and while the hiss is still there – he’s given more muscle to the overall sound. These tracks come at you with renewed power – not dampened down – but allowed to breath. The all-over-the-place vocals are there – as are the guitar/drum combos – and keyboard interludes – but with more punch. It’s well done.

It opens with the “baby let the good times roll” of “Got This Thing On The Move” – a funky groover with a huge Bass Line and fuzzed-up guitar. Things slink into Free territory with “Please Don’t Worry” with Brewer’s cymbals and drum kit way up in the mix. Capitol put out the double-boogie-commercial “High Falootin’ Woman” as the flip of the equally catchy “Mr. Limousine Driver” on Capitol 2691 in November 1969 – weeks before the album’s late December release (it scraped the Top 100 at Number 97). The audio on both tracks is wickedly good even if the solo guitar separation on “Mr. Limousine Driver” is pretty harsh.

The near 8-minute “In Need” has always been a fave of mine sounding not unlike the Faces circa “Long Player” (dig that natty little Harmonica/Bass battle half way through followed by great grunge guitar). The Funksters get a bit Bluesy on “Winter And My Soul” – even if the vocals let the vocal down somewhat. Another near 8-minute chugger comes in the shape of “Paranoid” where our boys notice “men outside...come to take you away...” (and with the amount of drugs they were doing – that was probably true). It ends on the 10-minute monster “Inside Looking Out” which features the best vocal on the album.

The Bonus Material may seem lean at only two cuts – but they’re both worth owning. “Nothing is The Same” is an early version of a track that would eventually surface on album No. 2 “Close To Home” in June 1970. Audio and structure-wise it feels pretty much the same as the album material – guitars harshly in the left while the drums and vocals linger on the right and centre. The extended “Mr. Limousine Driver” adds on another minute at 5:29 duration and sounds incredible – much cleaner and just as driving with that great guitar boogie in the left channel. That same guitar goes into wild soloing towards the run out...

So there you have it. "Grand Funk" won’t be everyone’s cup of Darjeeling for damn sure but that’s the nature of 'awkward' bands. Derided by critics and beloved by fans in equal measure – Grand Funk Railroad were huge back in the day – and on the evidence of this cool little reissue – it’s easy to hear why…

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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