Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983

 

Title: Piano & A Microphone 1983
Artist: Prince
Label: NPG/Rhino/Warner Bros.
Release Date: September 21, 2018
Formats: CD, LP, Digital

 

In what is among the first of presumably many collections of previously unreleased material discovered in Prince’s vault after his death, Piano & a Microphone 1983 contains 34 minutes of demos and rehearsals he recorded in the early 1980s. Following on the heels of April’s release of Prince’s stirring original recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and the digital-only Anthology: 1995-2010 of previously released material released in August, Piano & a Microphone 1983 is a set of what sounds like single-take live demos, complete with mixing chatter, improvisations, and vocalized arrangement details. While it is certainly not a set of polished recordings, this compilation is a snapshot of one of the 20th century’s greatest artists in the midst of the creative process.  Continue reading

Nina Simone – The Colpix Singles

nina

 

Title: The Colpix Singles

Artist: Nina Simone

Label: Rhino (U.S.)/Stateside (UK)

Formats: 2-CD set, LP (1 disc, 14 tracks), digital

Release date: February 23, 2018

 

In continuation of our focus on one of the industry’s greatest blues/jazz singers, Nina Simone’s The Colpix Singles showcases her pre-civil rights activist era releases. Simone’s professional career began in 1958 at a mere age of 25 with Bethlehem Records, but after the initial success of her hit “Porgy ( I Loves You Porgy), she moved on Columbia Picture’s recording company, Colpix Records. Simone’s forthcoming induction into the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has now spurred Warner Music into releasing a collection of the 7” singles Simone cut for Colpix. Remastered in mono, seven of the tracks are available in their original edits for the first time since the 1960s.

In this 27 track, two-disc offering, one can easily hear how her previous musical experiences fostered both her voice and performance maturity, as the songs recorded with Colpix reflect smoother, more controlled renditions of a diversified pool of well-known ballads. The first single from Disc 1, “Chilly Winds Don’t Blow,” was written by Hecky Krasnow, who was best known for Columbia’s novelty scores of “Frosty the Snowman” and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Live recordings made at The Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan in September, 1959 include “The Other Woman” and “It Might as Well be Spring,” which originally appeared on her Colpix debut album, The Amazing Nina Simone.  The Archives of African American Music and Culture provided Warner Music with a rare copy of Simone’s “If Only For Tonight” and “Under The Lowest” (Colpix 156) for inclusion on this disc. Simone also showcases her blues prowess on the release “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” and the B-side “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair,” which would become one of her signature songs.

Disc 2 includes a hauntingly whimsical rendition of “Cotton Eyed Joe,” complete with Simone’s piano stylings running in the background. Soon after, she croons of lost respectability and newfound reliance on “You Can have Him.” From the opening strains, Simone’s powerful alto flows from the speakers, meandering its way into the ears and hearts of its listeners via its audial and lyrical flows.

Two more offerings, “Work Song” and “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” echo Simone’s early years in Atlantic City bars, pounding the ivories and belting out fast tempo blues. Her original tune, “Blackbird,” closes out the collection, showing her growing artistic maturity while revealing a glimpse of her future in social justice.

Simone would eventually compose and perform two of the most influential anthems of the Civil Rights Era, “Mississippi Goddam” and “Young, Gifted and Black.” That Simone participated in the Civil Rights Movement is an understatement. Nina Simone, from her formative years in Atlanta’s music scene to her eventual position as an outspoken social activist for Black rights, is one of the most influential activists and gifted artists of all time. Many thanks to The Colpix Singles compilers Nigel Reeve and Dean Rudland, and assistant Florence Joelle Halfon, for releasing this wonderfully remastered set. Simone’s listening audience will certainly reap the benefits.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi

More Box Sets – Wilson Pickett, Dinah Washington, Various Artists

Wilson Pickett
Title: Complete Atlantic Albums Collection

Artist: Wilson Pickett

Label: Rhino

Format: 10-CD Box Set, MP3

Release date: December 1, 2017

 

 

This new box set from Rhino UK appears to be a fairly straightforward reissue of Wilson Pickett’s albums for Atlantic, drawing primarily upon versions remastered in 2007. The albums include: In the Midnight Hour (1965), The Exciting Wilson Pickett (1966), The Wicked Pickett (1967), The Sound of Wilson Pickett (1967), I’m In Love (1968), The Midnight Mover (1968), Hey Jude (1969), Right On (1970), Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia (1970), and Don’t Knock My Love (1971).  A nice set if you don’t already own any of Pickett’s albums, but there is no bonus material to entice fans and collectors.

 

Dinah Washington
Title: Divine Miss Dinah Washington

Artist: Dinah Washington

Label: Verve

Formats: 5-CD Box set, 5-LP Box set

Release date: December 15, 2017

 

Verve is releasing a 5-disc set, available on both CD and vinyl, of classic Dinah Washington albums from the 1950s.  Though Washington could sing in many styles, including blues, R&B, gospel and pop, the focus here is primarily on her vocal jazz repertoire recorded for the EmArcy label. This is another straightforward reissue project, most likely attractive to those who wish to own pristine 180 gm. vinyl copies of these albums. Among the five discs are two arranged by Quincy Jones—For Those In Love (1955) and The Swingin’ Miss D—and two featuring American songbook standards—After Hours With Miss D (1954) and Dinah Jams (1954). The final album, What a Diff’rence a Day Makes (1959) released by Mercury, was arranged by Indiana native Belford Hendricks in a pop-oriented rhythm and blues style.

 

peace_love_and_fishing_cover
Title: Blue Note Review Vol. One – Peace, Love & Fishing

Artist: Various

Label: Blue Note

Formats: 5-CD Box set, 5-LP Box set

Release date: December 15, 2017

 

Curated by Blue Note president Don Was, the limited edition Blue Note Review Peace, Love & Fishing is the inaugural offering of a bi-annual “luxury subscription box set” designed to appeal to jazz collectors with deep pockets.  Volume One includes a double LP containing new and unreleased recordings by the likes of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Gregory Porter, Kandace Springs, Terence Blanchard, and Derrick Hodge—plus a vinyl reissue of the previously out-of-print 1963 Step Lightly album by trumpeter Blue Mitchell. Also included are items that can be shared with other members of the family: artist lithographs, a silk scarf, turntable mat, and the self-published Notables jazz zine. Only registered subscription members are eligible to receive the set; each volume of Blue Note Review costs $200, including shipping to the US or Canada.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

 

 

Brook Benton – Rainy Night In Georgia: The Complete Reprise & Cotillion Singles A’s and B’s

brook benton_rainy night in georgia

Title: Rainy Night In Georgia: The Complete Reprise & Cotillion Singles A’s ad B’s

Artist: Brook Benton

Label: Real Gone Music/Rhino

Format: CD

Release date: July 1, 2016

 

Brook Benton enjoyed much success in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a Mercury Records artist. His soulful crooning, and adaptability to changing styles, led to a string of songs making the pop and R&B charts from 1958 through the end of his Mercury contract in 1965. His subsequent short stint with RCA records netted a few mid-chart placements, but no big hits.

This 2-CD set picks up in late 1967, after Benton signed with Reprise Records. His first single for that label, “Laura” (b/w “You’re the Reason I’m Living”), hit #78 on the Billboard pop chart, but nothing else from his subsequent Reprise output moved the needle. In this era, Benton continued in the soul crooner style he honed at Mercury, and the Reprise singles often featured somewhat syrupy strings and backing vocal choruses.

In 1968, Benton signed to the Cotillion imprint. Under the legendary producer Arif Mardin, Benton’s sound moved toward the funky side of soul. He still sang beautiful ballads, but between Mardin’s tight arrangements and the input of musicians in the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, Atlantic’s studio in New York City, and Criteria Studios in Miami (nicknamed “Atlantic South”), the beat and sway of the songs loosened up. Because he was an adaptable singer, Benton was able to stay hip and modern sounding, like the cool adult in the room.

During his years with Cotillion, Benton enjoyed chart success with six out of 13 singles, including #1 R&B hits with “Nothing Can Take the Place of You” in 1969 and “Rainy Night in Georgia” in 1970, which also shot up to #4 on the pop chart.

Benton’s style in the early 1970s was somewhat akin to what Elvis Presley was doing at the time, in fact both men covered some of the same tunes.  However, where Elvis went for the soaring show-stopper approach, Benton stayed cooler and more intimate.

For this set, original mono single master tapes were located for 28 of the 31 tracks. Gene Sculatti’s liner notes detail the chronology of the singles and Benton’s pre-history to the time period covered by the set. Remastering engineer Mike Milchner achieved an overall good sound quality, definitely an upgrade to how these songs sounded coming out of AM radio speakers at the time of their original release.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Live at the Haunted House

Title: Live at the Haunted House
Artist: Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Label: Rhino Handmade (limited edition)
Catalog No.: Rhino 7771
Date: 2008

Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were a popular L.A. group in the 1960s. Heavily influenced by James Brown, Otis Redding, and groups such as Sly & the Family Stone, they were known for performing R&B covers as well as original songs that helped to define the emerging funk genre and forge a distinctive L.A. sound. They first achieved national recognition as the back-up band on the Bill Cosby albums Silver Throat: Bill Cosby Sings (1967) and Hooray for the Salvation Army Band (1968), and were signed to Warner Bros. Records shortly thereafter.

From 1965 to 1968, Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were regulars at the Haunted House, a popular Hollywood nightclub. Though known as a venue for upscale bands, the interior of the Haunted House was high kitsch, with monster props and a stage configured as the giant head of a beast that spouted steam from its nostrils (perhaps not coincidentally, this was the same period when the Munsters and Addams Family were TV hits). Wright wanted some live tracks for the bands’ next album, and convinced Warner Bros. to record an entire set at the Haunted House on May 18, 1968. Three songs would appear later that year on the bands’ sophomore album, Together, including “Something You Got,” “Knock on Wood,” and a cover of James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” However, none of the other material from this live concert was ever released, and the three tracks from Together were heavily edited.

The Rhino Handmade two-CD set, Live at the Haunted House: May 18, 1968, features 37 tracks with complete, uncut performances that were remastered from the original 4-track tapes. In addition to Wright on guitar and lead vocals, band members include Bill Cannon and John Rayford on tenor sax, Melvin Dunlap on bass, Al McKay (who later joined Earth, Wind & Fire) on guitar, James Gadson on drums, Gabriel Flemings (a former member of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm) on trumpet, and Ray Jackson on trombone and congas.

Disc One opens with “The Joker,” the only original song by Charles Wright. The remaining tracks are all covers, ranging from T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” to Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (this concert was just a few months after Otis’s tragic death). As one might expect, some of these covers pale in comparison to the originals. Many others, however, are much more creative, like the funky instrumental version of the Supreme’s “Come See About Me,” the rock guitar laced version of Willie Bobo’s “Fried Neck Bones,” a far-out improvisation on the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” and a medley on “Stand By Me” that morphs between the vocal stylings of Ben E. King, Jackie Wilson, David Ruffin, Chuck Jackson, and Howlin’ Wolf, with a little Roy Rogers thrown in for good measure.

Live at the Haunted House offers listeners a chance to experience the late 1960s L.A. club scene and revel in the sound of a proto-funk jam band performing before a live audience. Though there is some unevenness between tracks, overall the album is a great blast from the past.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss