An Eclectic Gastronomy of Sound
Well, okay, you don’t really need to hear them. Don’t you hate those kinds of click bait headlines? That kind’s not as bad as something like “The Ten Best Reissues of 2017 – I Couldn’t Believe #3!” That type of click bait headline makes me want to stop reading whatever it is I’m reading, unsubscribe from anything associated with it, and at all costs avoid reading #3. In short, it has the exact opposite effect on me than what’s trying to be achieved. Ah well, maybe it’s just my contrary nature when it comes to mass media and advertising.
So, here are four older albums that were reissued this year that I thought were really good. You might like them, you might not. How’s that for the soft sell? (Hmmm…maybe a little too soft…you’ve probably moved on to another webpage by now…)
Okay, let’s move on the incredible four!!!
Clear Blue Sky – self titled
British power trio Clear Blue Sky issued their self-titled doozy of a debut on the adventurous Vertigo label in 1970, almost as an unintentional bridge between two other power trios – Cream and Rush. Combining the hard rock and blues influences of the prior with the prog rock tendencies of the later (complete with a very early Roger Dean album cover, prior to the artist’s work illustrating Yes covers), they also shared some similar sound with Black Sabbath.
Only 18 years old at the time, the band ended up cutting the album in only a couple of days in the same studio where Led Zeppelin was recording Led Zeppelin II in the adjoining room. This quick recording, as guitarist John Simms says in the reissue liner notes, didn’t allow them time to develop the tracks the way they would have liked. Yet, despite the occasional resulting moments that could have been honed and polished a bit more, the playing and attitude is hungry and enthusiastic. The lyrically odd “Birdcatcher” has appeared on various collections over the years and the band brings in Jade Warrior’s Jon Field for a bit of atmospheric flute at the end of the track. “Sweet Leaf” (a different song than the later Black Sabbath song of the same title) is part of the conceptual side 1 of the album entitled “Journey to the Inside of the Sun” and is the driving, riff-heavy instrumental showpiece of the album with groovy staccato synthesizer breaks as the guitar gets all dreamy before diving back into the thundering groove.
Lesley Duncan – Sing Lesley Sing: The RCA and CBS Recordings 1968-1972
A series of singles through the 60s and a regular gig as one of Dusty Springfield’s backup singers led to the long-time-coming release of Duncan’s first solo album, Sing Children Sing, in 1971. Housing the classic “Love Song”, the track she’s most remembered for that even David Bowie covered (but best known via Elton John‘s version), the album was an accomplished early example of the singer-songwriter fare which would soon dominate the airwaves. Duncan’s warm and wise voice a perfect vehicle for her introspective songs.
Earth Mother followed in 1972, maybe not quite as strong an album as its predecessor, but injected with some light soul and gospel influence. The title track is notable as one of the first overtly ecology conscious songs. Yet, it’s “Fortieth Floor,” with its portrayal of the shallowness of the cutthroat corporate music world, that would foretell her future. After a few more albums in the 1970’s (Everything Changes and Moonbathing especially strong) and some guest appearances with Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons and others, she tired of the biz by the early 80’s and retired early, passing away in 2010. Though she’s unjustly forgotten now by most, this reissue- which also contains a handful of great late 1960s non-album singles including an early version of “Love Song” – is long overdue. Let’s hope it leads to more of her work coming back to light.
Sing It High, Sing It Low: Tumbleweed Records 1971-1973
Two refugees from the L.A. music business escape to utopian early 1970’s Denver, CO to start their own label. Running their new hippie venture out of an old Victorian house, Bill Szymczyk and Larry Ray only put out nine albums before their label folded, but proved that quality is more important than quantity. Tumbleweed was extremely eclectic in their roster, with acts ranging from the country rock of Danny Holien to the heartland rock of Michael Stanley to the blues of Albert Collins. And let’s not forget the unclassifiable strangeness of Pete McCabe (whose album cover is worthy of framing).
Szymczyk was busy at the same time producing Joe Walsh’s first solo album and working with the J. Geils Band. Walsh would play on “Rosewood Bitters” on Michael Stanley’s Tumbleweed album and later record the song himself. Szymczyk would find fame and fortune producing the Eagles after Tumbleweed blew away. Sing It High, Sing It Low is a sampler of tracks from all the Tumbleweed albums, with the exception, for some reason, of Albert Collins. The booklet has an extensive write-up on the history of the label with archival photos helping to transport the reader back to those heady days of yore.
Delaney & Bonnie and Friends – Motel Shot [Expanded Edition]
Delaney & Bonnie were revered by their contemporary musicians, from Duane Allman to George Harrison to Eric Clapton, all of whom played with the duo at times. Clapton was especially enthralled, touring with the band (released on album as Delaney and Bonnie & Friends with Eric Clapton- On Tour) and having Delaney Bramlett produce and co-write the majority of his first solo album in 1970. Later that year, when Motel Shot was recorded, D&B and Friends intended to get back to their roots and make a collection of tracks recorded loose and informally, aiming for the feel of after show jam sessions in motel rooms. Sort of a “snapshot”, as it were. According to the reissue’s liner notes, the album ended up not being recorded in motel rooms (it would take a few years and Jackson Browne to do that with his Running on Empty album) but in the Doors’ engineer Bruce Botnick’s living room. These tracks, however, were mostly shelved or overdubbed with sessions recorded in a studio. This reissue presents the original album in improved sound, along with those original undoctored living room sessions.
The songs are a combo of covers of blues and gospel tracks – the meat and potatoes of D&B’s sound, with some of Delaney’s best self-penned tunes. In fact, Delaney’s “Never Ending Song of Love” ended up being the group’s highest charting single. Along with stalwart D&B friend Bobby Whitlock, other musicians on various tracks include a checkered cast of some of the best around in those days: Gram Parsons, Duane Allman, Leon Russell, John Hartford, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Joe Cocker banging on the side of a piano to create a bass drum sound, and Buddy Miles playing a briefcase.
The only quibble I have with this reissue of Motel Shot is the new album cover.
In the booklet, the original cover [above] is shown with the caption “The original less than compelling front and back cover of Motel Shot.” Yet, they replaced it with a mediocre concert shot of Delaney and Bonnie accompanied by cheesy “70s” style pink and green lettering. How is that an improvement? The original cover showed a motel room door and motel room. Which made sense with the title and theme of the album! You don’t mess with original album art on a reissue, even if you don’t personally like it. Oh well, the rest of the package is well done (and even includes the alternate original European cover art…which also has nothing to do with the title, unless it was intended as a subliminal message for pyromaniacs with motels in their sights….)