Friday, 19 May 2017

"Songs From The Wood: 40th Anniversary Edition - The Country Set" by JETHRO TULL (May 2017 Parlophone/Chrysalis 3CD + 2DVD Reissue - Steve Wilson Remixes and Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Ring Out, Solstice Bells..."

Lavish and Loony are the words that come to mind.

I must admit by the time Tull's 10th studio album came out in February 1977 - my mind and musical interests were elsewhere. As I recall I bought the UK Chrysalis Records LP as an afterthought later that year and reckoned it was good rather than great. But my God this extraordinary 2017 five-disc reissue has made the country squire in me sit right back up and take notice (pass the jugs of mead boys).  Everything about this fan-pleasing '40th Anniversary Edition' Reissue is utterly exceptional and at an opening gambit of twenty-two pre Brexit quid represents genuinely good value for money in my manure patch. Time to ring out those Solstice Bells methinks...

UK and USA released Friday, 19 May 2017 - "Songs From The Wood: 40th Anniversary Edition - The Country Set" by JETHRO TULL on Parlophone/Chrysalis 0190295847876 (Barcode 0190295847876) is a 3CD + 2DVD Reissue and Remaster with Stereo and 5.1 Surround Remixes by Steven Wilson in a 96-page Hardback Book Pack that plays out as follows:

CD 1 (76:55 minutes):
A Steven Wilson Stereo Remix
1. Songs From The Wood [Side 1]
2. Jack-In-The-Green
3. Cup Of Wonder
4. Hunting Girl
5. Ring Out, Solstice Bells
6. Velvet Green [Side 2]
7. The Whistler
8. Pibroch (Cap In Hand)
9. Fire At Midnight
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 10th studio album "Songs From The Wood" - released 4 February 1977 in the UK on Chrysalis CHR 1132 and 21 February 1977 in the USA also on Chrysalis CHR 1132. Written and Produced by IAN ANDERSON - it peaked at No. 13 in the UK and No. 8 in the USA

Associated Recordings
10. Old Aces Die Hard - Previously Unreleased Studio Outtake (Take 3) recorded October 1976 (working title was "Dark Ages")
11. Working John, Working Joe - Previously Unreleased Studio Outtake (Take 5) recorded September 1976
12. Magic Bells (Ring Out, Solstice Bells)
Track 12 is a Studio Outtake recorded September 1976 - first appeared on the November 2016 "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" UK 7" double pack on Chrysalis CX 40 - a Record Store Day Limited Edition Reissue (2000 Copies only) with Different Tracks to the December 1976 UK 7" double-pack originally on Chrysalis CXP2.
13. Songs From The Wood (Unedited Master)
14. Fire At Midnight (Unedited Master - Previously Unreleased)
15. One Brown Mouse (Early Version - New Mix)
16. Strip Cartoon - non-album B-side to the UK 7" single for "The Whistler" released 4 February 1977 on Chrysalis CHS 2135
17. The Whistler - Original 1977 US Stereo Single Mix - released March 1977 in the USA on Chrysalis CHS 2135 (peaked at No. 59)

CD 2 - Live In Concert 1977 (Part One) – Mixed to Stereo by Jakko Jakszyk (52:09 minutes)
1. Wond'ring Aloud
2. Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day
3. Jack-In-The-Green
4. Thick As A Brick
5. Songs From The Wood
6. Instrumental
7. Drum Solo Improvisation
8. To Cry You A Song
9. A New Day Yesterday
10. Flute Solo Improvisation/God Rest Ye Merry gentlemen/Bouree
11. Living In The Past

CD 3 - Live In Concert 1977 (Part Two) – Mixed to Stereo by Jakko Jakszyk (59:49 minutes):
 1. Velvet Green
2. Hunting Girl
3. To Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die
4. Minstrel In The Gallery
5. Cross-Eyed Mary
6. Aqualung
7. Instrumental Improvisation
8. Wind-Up
9. Back Door Angels/Guitar Improvisation/Wind-Up (Reprise)
10. Locomotive Breath
11. Land Of Hope And Glory/Improvisation/Back Door Angels (Reprise)

DVD 1 (Audio) - NTSC, Region 0 Coding (All Regions)
(i) Contains "Songs From The Wood" album with all associated recordings on CD1 except Tracks 13, 14 and 17 - Remixed to 5.1 DTS, AC3 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and 96/24 LPCM Stereo
(ii) "Songs From The Wood (Unedited Master)" and "Fire At Midnight (Unedited Master)" as 96/24 LPCM Stereo
(iii) The original 9-Track Album as 96/24 LPCM Stereo
(iv) Original Quad Mixes for "Songs From The Wood", "Jack-In-The-Green", "Velvet Green" and "The Whistler" with DTS 4.0 and Dolby Digital AC3 4.0 Surround Sound

DVD 2 (Audio/Video) - NTSC, Region 0 (All Regions)
(i) Jethro Tull live on video for almost two hours at the Capitol Centre, Landover MD, 21 November 1977 - Mixed to Stereo, 5.1 DTS and AC3 Dolby Digital Surround
(ii) Beethoven's Ninth (Original Audio)
(iii) Promotional Footage of "The Whistler"

Like all of these Jethro Tull Book Packs so far - the visuals are truly spectacular and put most other reissues from major labels firmly in the 'D' for dunce corner. A 96-page booklet attached to a Hardback Book Pack assaults your senses with essays and a memorabilia collection that borders on 'W' for worry. Using lyrics from the title track - Pages 8 to 51 start proceedings with a lengthy and definitive new set of liner notes entitled "Let Me Bring You..." It features reminiscences on the mythology surrounding the songs (Anderson living as a 'country squire' in the UK and how the set would be written in-between gigs and influenced by books he was reading whilst on the road), the record's launch, public and press reaction (good and bad) and the subsequent US Tour – all of which was told to MARTIN WEBB by principal band members Ian Anderson (Lead Vocals, Flute, Principal Songwriter), Martin Barre (Guitars and Vocals), David 'Dee' Palmer (Keyboards) and Barrie Barlow (Drummer).

The memorabilia stuff is amazing and exhaustive - Barrimore Barlow draped in suitable Tull attire in front of his kit for a full-page advert selling 'Rose-Morris Ludwig' Drums - differently designed Backstage Passes for Detroit, Toronto and Maryland's Landover (where the live gig on CDs 2 and 3 was recorded) - trade adverts for the album that played on the pun of trees - colour photos from the tour, the lyrics in suitably pretty script, repros of reviews, master-tape boxes, foreign picture sleeves, Chrysalis promotional photos, Dee Palmer's orchestration charts, a day-by-day tour date guide and finally interviews with Trevor White and Jakko Jakszyk about the 21st Century problems of remastering 1977 tapes with inherent audio faults (the live stuff). They've even got a photo of Morgan Studios and the mixing desk used.

But for most fans it will be the STEVEN WILSON Remixes and Remasters that draw. And once again his legendary empathy with Prog Rock and a mixing desk do his growing legend proud. I had the 2003 variant for a while but sold it and I honestly can't A/B this. But I'm thinking I don't need to because my ears are opened. The Acapella voices that begin "Songs From The Wood" are beautiful - the madrigal instruments that usher in the song so clear - those Prog Rock keyboard flourishes from John Evans and David Palmer are everywhere. "Jack-In-The-Green" is sensational - Anderson's slightly echoed vocals perfectly aligned with those acoustic strums - it sounds just huge. "Cup Of Wonder" is the same - the instruments alive and swimming in your speakers - amazing to think that this much musical complexity and precision was Take 1. Synth sounds open "Hunting Girl" which for me is the most Prog sounding romp on the LP - those rattling Barrie drums - that flanged guitar - now right up and in your face. You feel that Bass in the festive "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" - kitchen prose and gutter rhymes indeed. "Velvet Green" is probably the most impressive of tracks improvement-wise - that final Flute and Piano battle - those acoustic strums that hark back to "Living In The Past" Tull - brilliant. At 3:32 minutes and sporting a vaguely usable melody (treated vocals and a bop-Irish beat) - "The Whistler" was issued as a 45 in March 1977 and amazingly its Gordon Giltrap vibes pushed it all the way up to No. 59 on the US singles charts. The mad Prog guitars that open "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)" take no prisoners - floating in and out of the soundstage until they settle into a familiar Tull shuffle. The album ends on the ethereal drums of "Fire At Midnight" - so eccentrically Jethro Tull.

Fans will flip for the near nine-minutes of the Previously Unreleased "Old Aces Die Hard" - gorgeous acoustic guitars - brilliant vocals and choppy rhythms alternating between Folk and Prog. It's almost like an "Aqualung" outtake as the electric guitars build and build towards the end in a very Yes kind of way (nice touch to include the lyrics on Page 64). Someone sawing wood opens the second genuine outtake offered here - "Working John, Working Joe". Again it's shockingly good with fantastic guitar chops from Martin Barre – the character in the song waxing angry about how he slaves while others sloth - working thirteen hours when most work only eight. And as far as I know this is also the first CD appearance of the November 2016 Record Store-only 7" single track "Magic Bells (Ring Out, Solstice Bells") – a rarity in itself after less than a year in the vinyl marketplace. "Old Brown Mouse" is a great Anderson acoustic jangle and if it is 'probably a Demo' as the liner notes suggest – it's an amazingly accomplished one. Fans will appreciate the B and A-side singles of "Strip Cartoon" and "The Whistler" - both of which bring a near perfect CD1 to a close.

I suspect that some judicious editing was done on the two live CDs (not that I'm complaining) because they work so well thematically and the Audio is also shockingly good. Introducing every song with his customary witticisms and broad English squire voice - Ian Anderson opens proceedings by announcing himself as the support act 'Arnold Stirrup'. He then promptly thrills the crowd with a one-two of Acoustic goodies - "Wond'ring Aloud" and the US hit single "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day". Even though the audience seems miles away if not entirely removed from the tapes - the band and the instrumentation feel live and in your living room - superbly cleaned up and with their playing prowess as impressive as ever - something that becomes very evident when they go into the complexities of "Thick As A Brick" (announced with a Led Zeppelin jab) and the Medieval Acapella beginning of "Songs From The Wood" (John Evans has Bronchitis so he’ll be crap Anderson teases). The same applies on Disc 2 with the "Aqualung" tracks "Cross-Eyed Mary" and "Wind-Up" eliciting frenzy. Jakko Jakszyk did the Stereo masters and Audio transfers and I think Tull fans will be licking their lips at the thought of "Bursting Out - Live" Part 2 – because that’s what this 100-minutes of primo JT feels like.

After the high of the three CDs - DVD 2 comes as a slight letdown. The Audio is the same top-notch job but the video is blurry (so very Seventies) and is best described as a really good bootleg rather than anything better than that. With his red bowler hat, half beard, acoustic guitar and mad bug eyes - Ian Anderson's witty ad-libs between songs suddenly start to make sense when you see what accompanied them - his band looking like a troupe of woodland gypsies that have gorged on too many wild mushrooms or extras from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest". But the concert is great and it also allows you to pick three Audio options from the Menu - Stereo LPCM, DTS 5.1 Surround and Dolby AC3 5.1 Surround.

To sum up - Jethro Tull are very much a Marmite band - they engender true collector's passion amongst fans whilst others will develop a fatal Ebola rash at the mere mention of their Minstrel Name. But there's no doubting in my mind that like 'em or no - this is already a contender for 'Reissue Of The Year' 2017. Well done to all involved and please apply the same lavish lust to 1972's "Living In The Past" double-album - 45 years young this very year.

"...Let me bring you love from the field..." - Ian Anderson sang on the title track to "Songs From The Wood". Job done mate...

"One Step Beyond... - 35th Anniversary Edition" by MADNESS (October 2014 Salvo '35th Anniversary Edition' CD+DVD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...The Heavy, Heavy Monster Sound..."

Ah the 'heavy heavy monster sound'. There are some LPs that make you grin from ear-to-ear just looking at them - "The Undertones" debut on Sire - "The Specials" on 2-Tone and that other sweaty beauty from 1979 - "One Step Beyond" by London's Madness on Stiff Records.

But what CD variant of their debut do you buy? Virgin have had two - a 1989 basic issue and a Remaster in 2000 - while Union Square stumped up a '30th Anniversary Edition' in 2009 that received mixed reviews. I'm going to argue that this 2014 '35th Anniversary Edition' on Salvo's Sound and Vision is the four-star one to get (some poorly recorded cassette tape rehearsals masquerading as Bonus Material on Disc one lose it a star).

You get new Remasters from the original quarter-inch tapes of the 15-track album as well as a further 14 Previously Unreleased Demo and Rehearsal Versions on Disc 1 (29 tracks in all) with 10 Videos over on Disc 2 - the non region-coded DVD. To compliment these is an upgraded digipak and booklet featuring new interviews with the men who were there - original Producer and Engineer Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Overall it's impressively presented and exudes that sense of fun the band had. Here come the Night Boats To Cairo...

UK released 13 October 2014 - "One Step Beyond..." by MADNESS on Salvo SALVOSVX034 (Barcode 698458063427) is a '35th Anniversary Edition' CD + DVD Reissue and Remaster with Previously Unreleased material that plays out as follows:

CD (78:53 minutes):
Original Album
1. One Step Beyond... [Side 1]
2. My Girl
3. Night Boat To Cairo
4. Believe Me
5. Land Of Hope & Glory
6. The Prince
7. Tarzan's Nuts
8. In The Middle Of The Night [Side 2]
9. Bed And Breakfast Man
10. Razor Blade Alley
11. Swan Lake
12. Rockin' In A Flat
13. Mummy's Boy
14. Madness
15. Chipmunks Are Go!
Tracks 1 to 15 are their debut album "One Step Beyond..." - released October 1979 in the UK on Stiff Records SEEZ 17

Fab Toones! Rehearsal Tape, 1979
16. Nutty Sounds
17. Mistakes
18. Sunshine Voice
19. My Girl
20. Memories
21. Believe Me
22. Lost My Head
23. Razor Blade Alley
24. Land Of Hope & Glory
25. Mummy's Boy
26. In The Middle Of The Night
27. You Said
28. Stepping into Line
29. Bed And Breakfast Man
Tracks 16 to 29 recorded on a portable cassette recorder so sound quality varies.

DVD – NTSC, Region 0 (No Coding), Aspect Ratio 4:3 PAL, English
1. One Step Beyond... (Video)
2. Bed And Breakfast Man (Video)
3. My Girl (Video)
4. Night Boat To Cairo (Video)
5. One Step Beyond... ('Top Of The Pops' appearance 1979)
6. The Prince ('Top Of The Pops' appearance 1979)
7. My Girl ('Top Of The Pops' appearance 1980)
8. Bed And Breakfast Man ('Old Grey Whistle Test' appearance, 1979)
9. Night Boat To Cairo ('Old Grey Whistle Test' appearance, 1979)
10. "Young Guns" Documentary (BBC, 2000)
Tracks 5 to 10 are all BBC Recordings

SUGGS (Graham McPherson) - Lead Vocals
LEE 'Kix' THOMPSON - Lead Vocals, Tenor and Baritone Saxophones
MIKE BARSON (Monsieur Barso) - Keyboards
CHRIS FOREMAN (Chrissy Boy) - Guitars
MARK BEDFORD (Bedders) - Bass
WOODY 'Woods' WOODGATE (Don Woodgate) - Drums and Percussion
CHAS SMASH (Cathal Smyth) - Backing Vocals etc

The card digipak folds out into three flaps with both the CD and DVD see-through trays having that famous cover photo of the six dancing underneath each disc. Both sides of the inner sleeve that came with original British LPs is spread across two of the flaps - that collage of black and white Polaroids - the band - fans and friends - it's all here. The 16-page booklet is a cleverly laid out and pleasingly in-depth affair. Around the text we get all that black and white Madness/Stiff memorabilia that surrounded the band - buttons, shaped discs, picture sleeves, tour passes, 2-tone label bags, a Madness watch with the cover as a face dial, cassette tapes, different variant label repros of the LP and a very fetching Japanese 7" single picture sleeve of "One Step Beyond" with a different B-side to the British issue - "Tarzan's Nuts" (the UK copy has "Mistakes" - included here in Rehearsal form on Disc 1).

There are new May 2014 liner notes from music-lover and author STEVE CHICK that include reminiscences from Chrissy Boy (the Bass player) and Producer Clive Langer and Engineer Alan Winstanley. Clive tells of the band working all hours to get the album done - Lee Thompson a semitone out of tune but because his playing had great feel - they left it as is - and of course became part of their homemade rough 'n' tumble Carry On Up The Khyber sound. Although the sticker on the shrinkwrap assures us that a new remaster appears here - neither the digipak nor booklet confirm this. Yet to my ears the core album sounds brighter and more alive than it did on the 30th Anniversary issue I had. And there is more bottom end too which beefs up the audio without making it into loudness wars. Let's get to the music...

"...Hey You! Don't Watch That! Watch This! 
Move Your Feet To The Rockinest Sound Around!" 

How many of us have bopped to the brilliant opening declaration that is "One Step Beyond..." - quietly tearing up a dancefloor somewhere as worried older types looked on in muted suburban disapproval. They follow that corker of an opener with more wit - "...My girl's mad at me...she takes it all the wrong way..." - we sang along to "My Girl" - giggling like loons as we did the Monster Mash with our 2-tone badges and pencil ties. My memories of "Night Boat To Cairo" is a heaving dancefloor with half cut students, afterhours office types and leather-bound rockers all letting loose – abandoning the buffet and bar for the Saxophone joy of Madness Ska. Both the loafer on the sofa "Bed And Breakfast Man" and the school to your home danger of "Razor Blade Alley" all speak of social realities in 1979 – ordinary people trying to make it through life on the estate. The piano-instrumental Swan Lake cover lifts the spirit and is a hoot - but much better is the cup of tea and geezers bop of "Rocking In A Flat". Then it all ends on the Prince Buster cover of "Madness" that started it all when it was released as the B-side to their own composition "The Prince" - their debut UK 45 in August 1979 on 2-Tone – 60ts Ska alive and well in Putney and Camden Town.

It has to be said that the new unreleased "Fab Toones!" rehearsal material is very lo-fi and reflects a hissy cassette tape source (they clearly state on the packaging that the sound isn't state-of-the-art) – but once you get used to the less than stellar Audio then things like "Mistakes" and "Sunshine Voice" have a certain charm. But in truth I'm not sure how many will want to return to these no matter how much of a fan they are. The DVD disc is a far better value item and captures the sheer fun and street-savvy wit of this band in a way that the weedy cassette can't.

There is something wonderfully British-nutjob about Madness that has engendered them into the hearts of the music buying public - giving them a 40-year career that proves they are way more than a novelty act being fondly remembered here. Like The Undertones and The Clash and The Stranglers – their music grew and the singles only got better and better.

O.K. – those demos slightly let the side down for sure but the Remaster and the DVD more than make up for those shortcomings. 1979's "One Step Beyond..." is where it all started for MADNESS and I remember the album (as do so many others) with genuine tearful affection and this reissue (35 years on) has only brought that rock-steady beat back home again.

My girl's mad at me. No she's not Suggs...

"Graham Bonnet/No Bad Habits" by GRAHAM BONNET (2016 Cherry Red/HNE Recordings Ltd 2CD 'Expanded Edition' Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...It Ain't Easy When You're Going Down..."

Hindsight can be a great thing - or in the case of Lancashire's Graham Bonnet - a little bittersweet too. Before he joined the ranks of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow as Lead Vocalist for their 1979 "Back To Earth" LP on Polydor Records (following the departure of Ronnie James Dio) - Skegness Hard Rocker Graham Bonnet made a failed bid in the late Seventies for the White Soul Boy market with two albums  - "Graham Bonnet" from 1977 on Ringo Starr's Ring O'Records and "No Bad Habits" – a 1978 Euro LP on Mercury.

Virtually ignored in Blighty – the albums and several singles off them were big however in Australia and Europe and in a very roundabout twist of fate - his rocked-up cover of The Shirelles hit "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" got him the Rainbow audition (and subsequently stints with hard rock bands like The Michael Schenker Group and Alkatraz). Blackmore wanted the singer to "Only One Woman" – a Bee Gees tune sung in 1968 on Polydor Records by Marbles. Bonnet was that vocalist. And that's where this twofer CD Reissue on HNE Recordings Ltd (part of England's Cherry Red) comes stomping in...

It has to be said that neither record is a gem by any stretch of the wildest imagination - and the while the new Andy Pearce Remasters for both LPs 'Rock' (as all his transfers do) - the bonus cuts on this double suffer from truly crappy sound never mind their utterly dismissible musical quality. The presentation is top notch though - so a case of oranges and lemons I'm afraid. Here are the habitual details...

UK released May 2016 - "Graham Bonnet/No Bad Habits" by GRAHAM BONNET on Cherry Red/HNE Recordings Ltd HNECD968D (Barcode 5013929916821) is an 'Expanded Edition' 2CD Reissue and Remaster offering two albums and 12 Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (63:09 minutes):
1. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue [Side 1]
2. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
3. Tired Of Being Alone
4. Wino Song
5. It Ain't Easy
6. Goodnight And Goodmorning [Side 2]
7. Danny
8. Sunday 16
9. Rock Island Line
10. Soul Seeker
Tracks 1 to 10 are his debut LP "Graham Bonnet" - released September 1977 in the UK on Ring O'Records 2320 103.

11. Heroes On My Fortune Wall - Non-album B-side to "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", a UK 7" single released June 1977 on Ring O'Records 2017 105
12. Goodnight And Goodmorning (Single Edit) - A-side to a UK 7" single released November 1977 on Ring O'Records 2017 110. The full album version is 5:31 minutes; the 7" single edit is 3:21 minutes
13. I Who Am I
14. The Loving Touch
15. Do What You Gotta Do (Demo)
16. It Ain't Easy (Demo)
17. You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling (Demo)
Track 12 is Previously Unavailable on CD
Tracks 13 to 17 are Previously Unreleased

Disc 2 (63:22 minutes):
1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight [Side 1]
2. Won't You Join Me
3. Warm Ride
4. Is There A Way To Sing The Blues
5. Can't Complain
6. Givin' Up My Worryin'
7. Pyramid [Side 2]
8. Only You Can Lift Me
9. Stand Still Stella
10. High School Angel
11. Cold Lady
Tracks 1 to 11 are his second studio album "No Bad Habits" - released in the Netherlands in late 1978 on Mercury 6304 504.

12. 10/12 Observation - Non-album B-side to the 7" single for "Warm Ride" - UK released March 1978 on Ring O'Records POSP 002 (2017 114)
13. Only You Can Lift Me (Single Edit)
14. Such A Shame
15. Warm Ride (12" Long Disco Version)
16. Warm Ride (12" Long Version)
Tracks 13, 15 and 16 are Previously Unavailable on CD

The 16-page booklet is packed with rare 7” single picture sleeves, period photos and typically great liner notes from noted writer MALCOLM DOME that include new interviews with Bonnet and Producer/Songwriter Pip Williams. The Remaster is carried out by one of my favourite Engineers ANDY PEARCE and MATT WORTHAM and the albums are great. But something's gone horribly wrong with the Bonus Tracks most of which sound like they were taken off a stretched cassette tape - horrible sound. You wouldn't mind if they were worth your time - they're not. Let's get to the core albums...

"Graham Bonnet" is seriously top-heavy with cover versions with only the weedy "Wino Song" and "Soul Seeker" being originals. Ring O'Records tried the Bob Dylan cover of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" as a UK 7" single in June 1977 before the album's release (it's non-album B-side is one of the Bonus Tracks on Disc 1 but in crap sound quality). It didn't take in England but became a huge hit in Australia. Some of the covers work - the amazing orchestration on the Soul-Rock of "Goodnight And Goodmorning" (a Hall & Oates song) and his rocking version of Ron Davies fabulous "It Ain't Easy" - a song Three Dog Night covered and called an album after and a tune most people know through David Bowie who covered it on "Ziggy Stardust" in 1972. It's one of the few places Snafu guitarist Micky Moody gets to shine. "Danny" first showed in Presley's "King Creole" movie in 1958 - but far better would have been Conway Twitty's version in the Sixties that changed the title (not the music) to "Lonely Blue Boy" - a song used to end a Mad Man episode (a sure sign of cool). Bonnet hams up the Rock 'n' Roll elements of "Danny" but his return to cod Rock 'n' Roll on Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line" doesn't far any better either. The John Kongos track "Sunday 16" isn't anything memorable ("Jubilee Cloud" would have been better) and despite a fairly good Sax solo in Al Green's "Tired Of Being Alone" - his version just feels opportunistic rather than inspired. Perhaps with better song choices - the LP "Graham Bonnet" might have tapped into that Robert Palmer market but instead he comes across as a weaker version of Steve Gibbons. Still - those good tunes are great.

The second LP opens strongly on a radically re-worked "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" - a funky Rock jaunt through another Bob Dylan classic. His vocals are stronger too. "Won't You Join Me" begins a run of three John Kongos covers - the other two being "Pyramid" and "Only You Can Lift Me". England’s hottest hitmakers in 1978 The Bee Gees provided "Warm Ride" - but it's a turgid Disco-Rock song that's best left in Hades from whence it came. "Is There A Way To Sing The Blues" is the big ballad that half works. English eccentric John Otway becomes the unlikely recipient of a cover with "Can't Complain" - but it feels like badly recorded Elvis Costello. The Quo even get a look in on the identikit-sounding "Givin' Up My Worryin'" and Pip Williams rocks the LP to a close with "Cold Lady" - another love me or leave me alone tale of male woe.

Despite my reservations about those dreadful-sounding hissy extras (most should have been left in the can because they detract rather than add to this otherwise good reissue) - fans of the albums and Bonnet's great voice will want it. But for all others I'd advise a listen first...

Thursday, 18 May 2017

"Rebel" by JOHN MILES (March 2008 Lemon Recordings 'Expanded Edition' CD - Tim Turan Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...The Man Behind The Guitar..."

Jarrow's JOHN MILES popped out his debut album "Rebel" in March 1976 on Decca Records and promptly took his native Blighty by storm (and everywhere else for that matter as evidenced by the number of picture sleeves to the "Music" single on Page 2 of the gorgeous booklet).

Produced by studio whizz Alan Parsons who’d steered Pink Floyd’s "The Dark Side Of The Moon" to global domination in 1973 and containing the reasonable hit "Highfly" from the preceding year (No. 17 in October 1975) - "Rebel" the album had one further absolute ace up its tootin' sleeve - the single "Music".

Clocking up a whopping 10 failed singles on Orange and Decca Records since 1970 - Miles had been around for years - writing and slugging away. But the six-minute "Music" released in the same month as the album (March 1976) caught the public's imagination and heart completely. I remember it was absolutely huge - people basking in its sentiment, brilliant slow-to-funky structure and those epic Andrew Powell string arrangements. Tapping into that Elton John "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy", Wings "Venus And Mars" and 10cc "How Dare You" marketplace for sophisticated rock - "Music" pushed up to No. 3 on the UK pop charts and would come to define John Mile's song legacy for decades after. 

But there's other goodies on this album worth seeking out and that's where this rather superb Lemon Recordings CD reissue comes shooting in. Here are the details...

UK released March 2008 (May 2008 in the USA) - "Rebel" by JOHN MILES on Lemon Recordings CD LEM 105 (Barcode 5013929770522) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Reissue and Remaster with Two Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows (49:53 minutes):

1. Music [Side 1]
2. Everybody Wants Some More
3. Highfly
4. You Have It All
5. Rebel [Side 2]
6. When You Lose Someone So Young
7. Lady Of My Life
8. Pull The Damn Thing Down
9. Music (Reprise)
Tracks 1 to 9 are his debut album "Rebel" - released March 1976 in the UK on Decca SKL 5231 and April 1976 in the USA on London PS 669. Produced by ALAN PARSONS - it peaked at No. 9 in the UK and No. 171 in the USA. John Miles and Bob Wallace wrote all songs except "Music" and "Lady Of My Life" by John Miles.

10. There's A Man Behind The Guitar - non-album B-side to the UK 7" single for "Highfly" released September 1975 on Decca F 13595
11. Putting My New Song Together - non-album B-side to the UK 7" single for "Music" released March 1976 on Decca F 13627

JOHN MILES - Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
BARRY BLACK - Drums And Percussion
The Maggini Quartet - Strings on "Music"
Phil Kenzie - Saxophone solo on "Lady Of My Life"
Andrew Powell - String Arrangements

The 16-page booklet is a feast of foreign pictures sleeves for the albums two big hitters "Highfly" and "Music" - rare issues from around the word - sheet music and more. You also get the lyrics and new decently in-depth liner notes from STEPHEN CARSON. The foldout poster that came with original copies of the British vinyl LP was the front sleeve photographed by Terry O'Neill but because of the cover art to the booklet is exactly that - it's kind of superfluous to requirements so Lemon have left it out. TIM TURAN - who handled the Nazareth catalogue to such great effect - has taken a beautifully produced album and given it the CD upgrade it deserves. This disc sounds great and fans are also going to appreciate those two rare non-album B-sides in such rocking audio.

The album opens and closes on the epic "Music" - his piano gently leading in the song before funk and strings take it to another level. Overplayed a tad on radio these days - it still holds up and you can so hear why it was so huge 40 years ago. That's followed by another one of the album's genuinely great tracks - the very 10cc-meets-ELO "Everybody Wants Some More" where his great vocals soar up and down to complimentary strings and clever arrangements. The incredibly Pilot-meets-The Hollies sounding "Highfly" was an obvious single and came out as far back as September 1975 and was rewarded with his taste of chart action - No. 17. The side ends on the seven-minute "You Have It All" and feels so Captain Fantastic Elton John it's not true - all guitars and keyboards that funk and boogie like they're making a Prog record.

I've always felt that "Rebel" was the hammy overdone moment on the record - better is the touching "When You Lose Someone So Young" which is almost done for by strings but gets through. Hall & Oates fans might like the keyboard slink of "Lady Of My Life" which has a very "Abandoned Luncheonette" feel to it. It ends on the seven-minute "Pull The Damn Thing Down" - a ecology song about over-building that rocks to the finish with a segue into a "Music" Reprise. Of the two B-sides I prefer the rocking "Putting My New Song Together" where words and music are going around his head while riffage threatens to do your speakers in.

I've always wondered why "Rebel" receives so many five-star reviews - it just isn't that great an album (a good one yes, a great one, no). In fact I think his follow-up "Stranger In The City" from February 1977 also reissued with Bonus Tracks by Lemon was a better record overall. But if you've any love for the "Music" of 1976 - then this is most definitely the version of "Rebel" to let into your living room. Well done to all involved...

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

"Pretenders: 2CD + DVD Deluxe Special Edition" by PRETENDERS (October 2015 Edsel/Rhino 3-Disc Reissue/Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Got Brass In Pocket...Gonna Use It..."

Prepped for a whole year by killer 7" singles like "Stop Your Sobbing" (January 1979), "Kid" (June 1979) and the total winner that was "Brass In Pocket" (a UK No.1 in November 1979) - The Pretenders incendiary self-titled debut album finally arrived on Real Records (Sire in the USA) in the first week of a new decade - January 1980. 

And the public went quietly doolally for it. In the same organic way the sassy "...I'm so special..." single of "Brass In Pocket" had captured a nation's heart, hips and head-shakers in those last months of 1979 – the Pop, Rock and New Wave musical combo that was "Pretenders" went to No. 1 in Blighty and even cracked a No. 9 slot in Chrissie Hynde's own USA. It remains one of the great debut LPs of all time in my books and holds a special place in fan's hearts...

But which CD variant of it do you buy? I'd argue there are two real contenders in 2017 - the Rhino 2CD Remaster from October 2006 in a gatefold card sleeve with 16 Bonus Tracks - or this - Edsel's October 2015 upgrade on the Rhino issue that offers 19 music tracks across 2CDs (three more than before) and a 3rd disc - a DVD with 9 Videos some of which is Previously Unreleased. I'm gonna suggest that the Edsel reissue edges it on several fronts - here are the tattooed love boys...

UK released October 2015 - "Pretenders: 2CD + 1DVD Deluxe Special Edition" by PRETENDERS on Edsel EDSG 8047 (Barcode 740155804732) is a 3-Disc Reissue/Remaster that plays out as follows:

CD1 (67:46 minutes):
1. Precious [Side 1]
2. The Phone Call
3. Up The Neck
4. Tattooed Love Boys
5. Space Invader 
6. The Wait 
7. Stop Your Sobbing 
8. Kid [Side 2]
9. Private Life
10. Brass In Pocket 
11. Lovers Of Today 
12. Mystery Achievement 
Tracks 1 to 12 are their debut album "Pretenders" - released January 1980 in the UK on Real Records RAL 3 and January 1980 in the USA on Sire Records SRK 6083. Produced by CHRIS THOMAS ("Stop Your Sobbing" only produced by NICK LOWE) - it peaked at No. 1 in the UK and No. 9 in the USA. 

13. Swinging London
14. Nervous But Shy
Tracks 13 and 14 are two non-album B-sides to "Brass In Pocket" (both instrumentals) - a UK 7" single released November 1979 on Real Records ARE 11
15. Cuban Slide
Track 15 first appeared as the non-album B-side to "Talk Of The Town" - a UK 7" single released March 1980 on Real Records ARE 12. It was also one of five tracks on the March 1981 American "Extended Play" 12" EP on Sire MINI 3563. 
16. Porcelain 
Track 16 first appeared as the non-album B-side to "Message Of Love" - a UK 7" single released February 1981 on Real Records ARE 15. It was also one of five tracks on the March 1981 American "Extended Play" 12" EP on Sire MINI 3563. 
17. Precious (Live in Central Park, 30 August 1980) - one of five tracks on the March 1981 American "Extended Play" 12" EP on Sire MINI 3563. 
18. Kid (1987 Extended Remix by Bob Clearmountain) - first released October 1987 as the A-side to a UK 7" single on Real/WEA YZ 156   

CD2 (48:26 minutes):
1. The Phone Call (Late 1977)
2. Brass In Pocket (Air Studio, 6 February 1978)
3. Precious (Regent’s Park, 12 April 1978)
4. The Wait (Regent’s Park, 12 April 1978)
5. Stop Your Sobbing (Regent’s Park, 12 April 1978)
6. I Can't Control Myself (Regent’s Park, 12 April 1978)
7. Tequila (Regent’s Park, 12 April 1978)
8. Kid (Olympic Studio, 7 December 1978)

9. Sabre Dance (The Marquee, London, 2 April 1978)
10. I Need Somebody (The Kid Jensen Show, BBC Radio 1, July 1979)
11. Mystery Achievement (The Kid Jensen Show, BBC Radio 1, July 1979)
12. Precious (The Paradise Theatre, Boston, March 1980)
13. Tattooed Love Boys (The Paradise Theatre, Boston, 23 March 1980)

DVD (NTSC, No Region Restrictions):
1. Stop Your Sobbing 
2. Kid
3. Brass In Pocket 

1. Stop Your Sobbing (Top of the Pops, February 1979)
2. Kid (Top of the Pops, July 1979)
3. Brass In Pocket (Top of the Pops, November 1979)
4. Brass In Pocket (Top of the Pops, December 1979)
5. Kid (Swap Shop, December 1979)
6. Brass In pocket (Top of the Pops, January 1980)

The stocky and chunky digipak on Edsel EDSG 8047 certainly looks the part. It folds out into four flaps and pictures the black and white theme on the three discs that was on the original labels of the English Real Records album (RAL 3). The 16-page booklet features lyrics - front and rear picture sleeves for key singles like their cover of The Kinks classic "Stop Your Sobbing" (from their 1964 "Kinks" debut album on Pye) and Chrissie Hynde's own "Kid" as well as a more interesting foreign pic sleeve for "Brass In Pocket" than the rather plain black and white UK issue. There are a couple of photos of the four-piece band looking suitably biker-moody - Ohio-born American Vocalist, Guitarist and Principal Songwriter Chrissie Hynde leading with her equally spiky British cohorts - Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, Bassist Don Farndon and Drummer Martin Chambers. Although it looks good (see photos provided) and apart from the usual reissue credits - disappointingly Edsel have taken the lazy way out and provided no new liner notes. 

But Audio-wise they have used Warners Tape Archives for those 'Special Deluxe Edition' multipacks and their resident Engineer PHIL KINRADE has done the transfers at Alchemy Mastering. I loved the Rhino Bill Inglot and Dan Hersch Remasters from 2006 that featured extra oomph given to a notoriously long and cramped debut album sonically compromised by the limitations of a single vinyl LP. Here we get more of the same - all of it sounding fabulous - even those great B-sides like the groovy "Cuban Slide" and the sexy "Porcelain". I'm also thinking the visuals are a huge bonus too over the Rhino twofer. The DVD authoring was done by LARA RUFFLE at Sony DADC. 

Amped up and ready to let rip - "Precious" opens the album with Chrissie screaming and off we go into a lethal Punk slasher riff. What I loved about The Pretenders was their 'sound' that seemed to straddle Rock and New Wave and Punk - like it was all three - and with the most ballsy, sexy and expressive woman singer out front giving the Clash boys a run for their White Riot money. A dial tone opens the aggressive riffage of "The Phone Call" where the band sound lean and mean and hungry - but "Up To The Neck" gives the first real indication of that 'Pretenders' sound Chrissie gets as the notes ping and chime across her shimmering voice. It takes of waking up in a strange room but as lust turns to anger - she takes jabs as he previous chap's bedroom abilities. "Tattooed Love Boys" has always been a stormer for me. Here is the anger of Punk corralled like The Clash into a new rocker - that crazy pace - stunning lyrics and that brilliant guitar solo that now roars out of your speakers. I used not think much of the Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott instrumental "Space Invader" but as the years have passed it's wormed my way into heart. I'm honestly not a huge fan of "Stop Your Sobbing" - but "The Wait" is a whole different buttered bun. What a fantastic little rocker and always a crowd-winner live. 

Side 2 opens with the very Nick Lowe-esque "Kid" but is soon blown out of the water by the magnificent "Private Life" - six and half minutes of female rationalising as some dweeb bemoans his fate with drama and crisis tactics that aren't working on savvied Chrissie. Grace Jones would of course take this most ballsy of songs and almost immediately make it her angry own on the May 1980 "Warm Leatherette" LP over on Island Records. The remaster keeps that strummed menace just sizzling on the surface until those guitar jabs come roaring in - no sentimental gestures here. The mood is lightened with the irresistible "Brass In Pocket" - surely a contender for one of the Top 20 singles of all time. The last two tracks "Lovers Of Today" and "Mystery Achievement" are the overlooked bedfellows - both lifted up from vinyl cramp into something more expressive as Chrissie's voice warbles on "Lovers" and the rhythm section anchors the chugging guitars of "Mystery Achievement". It’s a fantastic end to a fab album. 

Of the Bonus Material I can live without the dismissible instrumental "Nervous But Shy" - but the two studio B-sides "Cuban Slide", "Porcelain" and a further Live in Central Park version of "Precious" (August 1980) from the American "Extended Play" 5-Track EP are superb extras (stuff I find as exciting as anything on the core album). The very Patti Smith sounding demo of The Troggs track "I Can't Control Myself" is close to "The Wait" in structure and again another brilliant inclusion but the 5:19 minute Remix of "Kid" is an 80ts tinker I can do without. The BBC stuff (which was Previously Unreleased in 2006) also has some corkers too like "I Need Somebody" and a more fulsome "Mystery Achievement". But their safe studio sterility is trashed by another version of "Precious" this time recorded live 23 March 1980 in Boston along with "Tattooed Love Boys". The band and the audience are on fire - so tight - so frigging exciting - barely taking a breath between songs. And as far as I can see all of the BBC TV Appearances are new to this release – best of which is band having a laugh enjoying the hit "Brass In Pocket" in three different studios as adults and children look on bemused and ever so slightly turned on at one and the same time. 

They would return with "Pretenders II" in August of 1981 cementing the reputation they’d struggled for years to achieve - followed in 1984 with the stunning and svelte "Learning To Crawl" LP – a bit of a 1-track unsung hero in our New Wave boudoir. 

"...Gonna use my arms...gonna use my legs...gonna use my style..." – Chrissie Hynde sang nearly 40 years ago. And I for one am still listening...

Releases in the October 2015 
PRETENDERS 'Deluxe Special Edition'
 Reissue Series by Edsel/Rhino:

1. "Pretenders" (January 1980 debut) - Edsel EDSG 8047 (Barcode 740155804732) - 2CDs + 1DVD
2. "Pretenders II" (August 1981) - Edsel EDSG 8048 (Barcode 740155804831) - 2CDs + 1DVD
3. "Learning To Crawl" (January 1984) - Edsel EDSG 8049 (Barcode 740155804930) - 2CDs + 1DVD
4. "Get Close" (October 1986) - Edsel EDSG 8050 (Barcode 740155805036) - 2CDs + 1DVD
5. "Packed!" (May 1990) - Edsel EDSX 3022 (Barcode 740155302238) - 1CD + 1DVD
6. "Last Of The Independents" (May 1994) - Edsel EDSG 8051 (Barcode 740155805135) - 2CDs + 1DVD
7. "The Isle Of View" (September 1995) - Edsel EDSX 3023 (Barcode 740155302337) - 1CD + 1DVD 
8. "Viva El Amor!" (May 1999) - Edsel EDSG 8052 (Barcode 740155805234 - 2CDs + 1DVD
9. "Pretenders 1979-1999" - Edsel PRETBOX01 (Barcode 5014797892620) - 22-Disc Card Wrap Box Set with all of 1 to 8 above (no extra booklet)

Monday, 15 May 2017

"Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy: SACD Version" by ELTON JOHN (June 2005 Island Chronicles/Rocket SACD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Very Clearly A Case Of Cornflakes And Classics..."

Arguing the merits of a 1975 album that smashed the top spot in the USA is a mute point (it was the first LP to enter at No. 1 in American chart history). But which version does a punter buy on CD? In 2017 there are four or five variants and it's this I want to address...

Although Elton John's "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" cropped up on British CD as early as 1984 (the very first vanguard of issues on the format) - the first decent Remaster is acknowledged as the 'Elton John The Classic Years' version by TONY COUSINS in July 1995. Mercury 528 160-2 (Barcode 731452816023) came armed with a massively expanded booklet, John Tobler liner notes and Three Bonus Tracks.

The UK and Europe 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' then followed as a '30th Anniversary Edition' in September 2005 on Mercury 0602498317242 (Barcode 602498317242). This upgrade offered the thirteen tracks of the 1995 issue in newly Remastered sound and a Previously Unreleased 12-song "Midsummer Music" concert on Disc 2 recorded at Wembley Stadium 21 June 1975. That Deluxe Edition 2-disc variant was itself reissued in Mini LP Repro Artwork on the (superior) SHM-CD format in Japan September 2008 on Universal UICY-93674/5 (Barcode 4988005525833).

But the one I want to concentrate on is the reissue in-between - the 2004 American SACD. Here are the Towers of Babel...

USA released June 2005 - "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy: SACD Version" by ELTON JOHN on Island Chronicles/Rocket B0003606-36 (Barcode 602498241202) is a 13-track SACD (Super Audio CD) that plays out as follows (62:40 minutes):

1. Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy [Side 1]
2. Tower Of Babel
3. Bitter Fingers
4. Tell Me When The Whistle Blows
5. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
6. (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket [Side 2]
7. Better Off Dead
8. Writing
9. We All Fall In Love Sometimes
10. Curtains
Tracks 1 to 10 are his ninth studio album "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" - released May 1975 in the UK on DJM Records DJLPX 1 and May 1975 in the USA on MCA Records MCA-2142. Produced by GUS DUDGEON - it peaked at No. 2 in the UK and No. 1 in the USA.

11. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
12. One Day At A Time
Tracks 11 and 12 are the non-album A&B-sides of a 7" single recorded with JOHN LENNON. Released 15 November 1974 on DJM Records DJS 340 in the UK and on MCA Records MAC-40344 in the USA - Lennon is credited on some label A-sides as 'Dr. Winston O'Boogie & His Reggae Guitars'. The A-side is a cover of the famous "Sgt. Peppers" track from 1967 - while the B-side is a Lennon song from his 1973 Apple Records LP "Mind Games". It peaked at No. 1 in the USA and No. 10 in the UK on the singles charts.

13. Philadelphia Freedom
Track 13 is a non-album A-side of a 7" single released February 1975 on DJM Records DJS 354 and in the USA on MCA Records MCA-40364 (as The Elton John Band). It peaked at No. 12 in the UK and No. 1 in the USA.

The jam-packed 24-page booklet is the 1995 version that featured (then) new liner notes from noted British writer and musicologist JOHN TOBLER. The original vinyl album was a fantastically elaborate and fancy affair with no less than two substantial booklets, a huge foldout poster of the cover art and all of it housed in a stunning gatefold sleeve. The booklet makes a good fist of trying to repro much of this - you get the lyrics to every song spread across many pages, some of the memorabilia photos like the framed lyrics for "Your Song" and pictures of a young Reg Dwight at an electric piano giving it some "Empty Sky".

On the second-last page of the booklet are the Mastering credits (a team of four eventually) – TONY COUSINS did the original Stereo Mixes Remastering in 1995 – further to those are Digital Transfers by RICKY GRAHAM – DSD (Direct Stream Digital) Editing done by GUS SKINAS and finally Surround Sound Mixed, Produced and Mastered by GREG PENNY at Flower Sound in California. You get a SACD Stereo layer – an SACD Surround Sound layer and finally a simple Audio CD layer for play on all machines (the SACD and Surround variants require specific equipment). Whatever your machine is capable of – the disc will default to that once loaded. In short I find the Audio on this particular beast to be the best of them all.

I can recall my first listen to the title track "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" and thinking 'sophistication' and given the extraordinary packaging - that this was an LP old Elton was clearly proud of. That fantastic guitar break with Davey Johnstone on rocking form - the autobiographical lyrics about a rocket ride from sessions on Top Of The Pops cover version LPs to international stardom. Following quickly are two winners - the Sodom meets Gomorrah of "Tower Of Babel" versus the grumpy musical agents in Denmark Street of "Bitter Fingers". I've always loved a bit of Rock-Funk and it comes in the slinky shape of "Tell Me When The Whistle Blows" (fabulous string arrangements by Gene Page). Side 1 then ends of the overwrought ballad "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" - a song I've always thought was too puffed-up on its own importance somehow.

Side 2 opens with a fantastic bit of guitar riffage "(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket" - a song about losers hoping to strike lucky on Skid Row - where in order to survive you've gotta find a way towards that meal ticket - rise about the King’s Road pimps. The barrelhouse piano on "Better Off Dead" sounds huge and again Tauzin’s lyrics are amongst his best - cigarette hazes and greased-streaked windows of all-night cafes - characters come and go - live and die - then go out and do it all over again. The whimsical "Writing" offers a respite with its salsa beat - affectionately remembering stifling yawns on Sunday morning - will the things we wrote today still sound good tomorrow  (yes they will boys). The album ends on a duo of big-ballads - "We All Fall In Love Sometimes" and "Curtains". I prefer the near seven-minute "Curtains" of the two - the kind of epic tune Elton seemed able to tap into once given the Taupin words - cultivating flowers and thinking of treasure-children and the future...

Like Paul McCartney & Wing's "Venus And Mars", 10cc's "The Original Soundtrack", Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks" and Joni Mitchell's "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" - Elton John's "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" seemed to confirm 1975 as Rock's most sophisticated and musically productive year. And this glorious-sounding SACD of it only hammers than point home.

"...Very clearly a case of Cornflakes and classics..." – The Captain and The Kid from Putney sang on the title track. Nicely put boys... 

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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