Solomon Burke – Blue & Soulful

ARTIST: Solomon Burke 

TITLE: Blue & Soulful

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 10: Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms) (#24, #7 R&B), Cry to Me (#44, #5 R&B), If You Need Me (#37, #2 R&B), You’re Good to Me (#49, #3 R&B), Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye) (#33, #8 R&B), Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (#58, #4 R&B), The Price (#57, #10 R&B), Got to Get You Off My Mind (#22, #1 R&B), Tonight’s the Night (#28, #2 R&B),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: He covered songs like “He’ll Have to Go”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, and “Maggie’s Farm” (!!!)

LINEUP: Solomon Burke and session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The singer that bridged between 50’s and 60’s R&B. Burke was crowned “The King of Rock & Soul” in 1963.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Solomon Burke was larger than life. He was a large man, a reverend, an entrepreneur, and a consummate showman. While he didn’t chart as high as his other Atlantic Records, his influence was felt through the company and the R&B community.

Burke had a touch of country in many of his songs, and specialized in pleading songs (torch songs, breakup songs, etc.), many with spoken introductions. He could definitely could rip up the joint, and be tender and sweet, depending on the song.

Burke was less of a priority of Atlantic as time went on. He didn’t always get the best material or the best production compared to the other stars of the label (except for the songs he wrote it seems). He left the label and drifted around a bit – but was always hustling and performing.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had to hustle. He had at least 21 kids. He owned an early Mountain Dew distribution outlet, funeral homes, and other businesses. He also was an honest-to-goodness man of the cloth.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: This is about everything you need,

 GRADE A-: It’s an important collection, though a few tracks are superfluous.

Wilson Pickett – Pick It Wilson

ARTIST: Wilson Pickett 

TITLE: Pick It Wilson

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 10: It’s Too Late (#49 US, #6 R&B), In the Midnight Hour (#21 US, #1 R&B, #12 UK), Don’t Fight It (#53 US, #4 R&B, #29 UK), 634-5789 (Soulsville USA) (#13 US, #1 R&B, #36 UK), Land of 1,000 Dances (#6 US, #1 R&B, #22 UK), Mustang Sally (#23 US, #6 R&B, #28 UK), I Found a Love (Pt 1) (#32 US, #6 R&B), Soul Dance Number Three (#55 US, #10 R&B), Funky Broadway (#8 US, #1 R&B, #43 UK), I’m in Love (#45 US, #4 UK), She’s Looking Good (#15 US, #7 R&B), I’m a Midnight Mover (#24 US, #6 R&B, #38 UK), Sugar Sugar (#25 US, #4 R&B), Engine No. 9 (#14 US, #3 R&B), Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You (#17 US, #2 R&B), Don’t Knock My Love (Pt. 1) )(#13 US, #1 R&B), Call My Name, I’ll Be There (#52 US, #10 UK), Fire and Water (#24 US, #2 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do), Everybody Needs Someone to Love, Stagger Lee, Hey Jude

LINEUP: Wilson Pickett. Most were recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sixty (count ‘em) gritty soul man whose influence outweighs his chart performance (which was surprising to examine).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Wilson Pickett’s voice was always a little raw for middle America, so it seems. Two songs that everyone knows (“Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and “Everybody Needs Someone to Love”) didn’t chart in the Top 10 in pop nor R&B, and those are two standard non-Motown soul classics. But his influence and power are undeniable.

This collection, part of Atlantic Records’ 60th Anniversary releases, is full to the brim of almost all of the singles he released in the 60s, a couple of ones that stretched before his time at the label, and some other great cuts.

Often compared to label mate Otis Redding, Pickett was a bit more untamed, a bit more emotional, and at times unrestrained. His work at Atlantic lasted until 1972, when he moved to RCA and his fortunes diminished.

This is just a must have collection for music fans, especially those who want to know about one of the biggest influences in rock and R&B from the mid 60’s forward.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He first took the track “If You Need Me” as a demo to Atlantic Records, who released it…by Solomon Burke. Despite that, he was signed after a couple of hits on another label.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Sixty isn’t enough?

GRADE A+: Raw and gritty!

Dionne Warwick – The Dionne Warwick Collection: Her All TIme Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Dionne Warwick

TITLE: The Dionne Warwick Collection: Her All Time Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 10: Anyone Who Had a Heart (#8 US, #42 UK), Walk on By (#6 US, #9 UK), Message to Michael (#8 US), I Say a Little Prayer (#4), Do You Know the Way to San Jose (#10 US, #8 UK), I’ll Never Fall in Love Again (#6 US), Theme from “Valley of the Dolls (#2 US, #28 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart), Trains and Boats and Planes, There’s Always Something There to Remind Me, Promises Promises

LINEUP: Dionne Warwick. Produced and orchestrated by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Tasteful and dignified smashes from the pen of Bacharach and David and the voice of Dionne Warwick.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: For almost all of the 60’s, like clockwork, Dionne Warwick collaborated with Burt Bacharach and Hal David and made pop masterpieces. They were orchestrated, well-produced, and Warwick interpreted the songs and made them her own.

You’ve no doubt heard at least some of these tracks, and probably as grocery store or dentist office music. Yet they deserve more than being put in that category. This may be adult pop, but it moved people and deserved its spot on the charts.

Bacharach and David’s tunes were complicated, with all kinds of vocal challenges, and Warwick handled them with aplomb. For any fan of pop music, this is a must collection.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Of course, she made music (and still is I believe) after she left Scepter,  but  her career was a bit more spotty without the tunes she received from the songwriting duo.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, there are a couple of tracks missing that you can find on other collections. That doesn’t take away from this.

 GRADE A: Tasteful and elegant.

Blond – The Lilac Years

ARTIST: Blond

TITLE: The Lilac Years

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: I Wake Up and Call, Deep Inside My Heart, The Lilac Years

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sailing Across the Ocean was on a few comps

LINEUP: Goran Lagerberg, Lasse Svenson, Anders Topel, Danne Larsson. Anders Nord and Bjorn Linder replaced Topel and Larsson and Mats Landahl joined after this was recorded, but before release. They’re on the bonus tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Four of the Tages form their own band after the lead singer of that Swedish band quit. It’s obscure, sure, but good all the same.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Tages were a Swedish pop and rock band that were big in Scandanavia, but nowhere else. They had some interesting tracks but never made an inroad in the rest of Europe. The lead singer of Tages left in 1968, so the leftover musicians formed Blond.

What came out was a pretty solid psychedelic pop / rock record that features some interesting tempo changes (Tages had a few tracks like that) and some hooks and melodies. Goran Lagerberg was the main songwriter for Tages, so he carried forward to this project.

There are some standout tracks here that could have made an impact if they were promoted somewhat in the UK or US. (They were signed to Fontana, which wasn’t much of a label in the US). Though a few tracks fall into some overly twee psychedelia – it is 1969 after all – some tracks remind me of good old fashioned power pop.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this was recorded, two of the members left, and were replaced by two others that were then on the US album cover.Then they added another singer (Lagerberg was the main singer for the album) but petered out soon after a single.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: On CD, their last single, and a Swedish song broken into two parts.

 GRADE B+: If you’re into the psychedelic power pop thing, you’ll dig this. I did.

Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey

ARTIST: Van Morrison 

TITLE: Tupelo Honey

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION:  #27

SINGLES: Wild Night (#28), Tupelo Honey (#47), (Straight to Your Heart) Like a Cannonball (#119)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Moonshine Whiskey

LINEUP: Van Morrison, Ronnie Montrose, Bill Church, Rick Schlosser, Connie Kay, Jack Schroer, Mark Jordan, Gary Mallaber, John McFee, Ted Templeman, Bruce Royston, Luis Gasca, Boots Houston, Ellen Schroer, Janet Planet

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A love song album to his wife, Janet Planet, after they moved to California.

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Moving to California at the behest of his wife, Janet Planet, Van Morrison’s Tupleo Honey is filled with songs about love and their new adventure, while reflecting on their old life in Woodstock, NY.

Morrison’s songs this time were fairly straightforward in their subject matter, for a change, but the way Morrison sings them, the arrangements he and Ted Templeman came up with, and the evocative playing by the band is what makes them special. The feeling it puts into songs like the title track, “Moonshine Whiskey”, or “Old Old Woodstock” is almost incomparable.

I can’t find a fault with this album, to be honest. It’s an album of love songs, but it’s not goopy or cloying. It’s heartfelt.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Tupelo Honey is a honey made in Mississippi from the pollen of tupelo trees.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. This isn’t even streaming, as Morrison doesn’t like it since it’s about his now ex-wife Janet Planet.

 GRADE A+: This one hits me right in the heart.

Van Morrison – His Band and Street Choir

ARTIST: Van Morrison

TITLE: His Band and Street Choir

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION:  #32 US, #18 UK

SINGLES: Domino (#9), Blue Money (#23), Call Me Up in Dreamland (#95)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe Street Choir

LINEUP: Van Morrison, Alan Hand, Keith Johnson, John Klingberg, John Plantania, Jack Schroer, Dahaud Shaar. Judy Clay, Emily Houston, and Jackie Verdell sang some backing vocals. Shaar, Janet Planet, Larry Goldsmith, Andrew Robinson, Ellen Schroer, and Martha Velez were the street choir.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After an aborted vision of an a cappella album, Morrison regroups and releases a loose follow up with a few leftover songs from earlier efforts.

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Morrison’s follow-up to Moondance was originally conceived as songs with a small choir backed by acoustic guitar. But as the original recordings went on Morrison was displeased, and then decided to call in his backing band to salvage the songs and sessions.

With some leftovers from his last two albums, and some new ones in the mix, this album of shorter songs felt relaxed. The musicians, most of them having spent time on the road with the singer, knew what he wanted and what he liked, and the feel of the songs is loose yet sympathetic to the melody and lyrics. The album has an R&B feel feel, led off by his tribute “Domino”.

The issue is that some of the songs aren’t on the level as his other two albums. There are some fantastic performances, but some perfunctory. It’s a good record, but not great and after two outtasite ones, a bit of a let down.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The record company renamed the album. It was originally called Virgo’s Fool. That coupled with the aborted a cappella sessions left a bad taste in Morrison’s mouth about the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some outtakes again.

 GRADE B+: Not quite up to the standard he set with his last two albums, but those were hard to follow.

Van Morrison – Moondance

ARTIST: Van Morrison

TITLE: Moondance

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION:  #29 US, #32 UK

SINGLES: Come Running (#39)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: There are so many that are known from this record.

LINEUP: Van Morrison, John Klingberg, Jef Labes, Gary Mallaber, Guy Masson, John Plantania, Jack Schroer, Collin Tilton. Judy Clay, Emily Houston, and Jackie Verdell added backing vocals.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: “…one has to live.” That quote was from Morrison about making of Moondance, which toned down his stream of consciousness and distilled his vision into a jazz-folk-rock concoction that was right in the public’s wheelhouse.

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Van Morrison started this project in mid-1969, writing songs in Woodstock, NY, in a distinct effort to make his music more palatable to the masses without sacrificing too much artistic vision. What he came out with was an album that was folk songs with jazz arrangements sung by a rock singer.

Some of his material was still out there, lyrically. It may have taken some sleuth work to determine what “And It Stoned Me”, “Caravan”, or “Into the Mystic” was really REALLY trying to say. But a lot of the album celebrates joy and love; peace and nature. He sounds as happy and joyous as he can in delivering the vocals.

Now, I’ve heard this album a bazillion time (a couple of girlfriends really loved it) but in trying to pick something new out of it I noticed that in simplifying his music he took a bit of the wonder and surprise out of the music and lyrics. Just a little bit, but it knocked it down a notch.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He got out of Woodstock after the concert since everyone congregated there. Also, the vocals were delivered live (for the most part).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A few outtakes, and there’s a mongo edition that has most of the session tapes.

 GRADE A: A staple of FM rock in the 70’s and a lasting legacy for Morrison.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

ARTIST: Van  Morrison 

TITLE: Astral Weeks

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION:  #55 UK

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Cypress Avenue, The Way Young Lovers Do, Madam George

LINEUP: Van Morrison, Jay Berliner, John Payne, Richard Davis, Warren Smith Jr., Connie Kay, Larry Fallon, Barry Korfield

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After a nasty contract dispute with Bang! Records, Morrison is free to express his muse and eschews his previous hit-making style. He made an album that’s unique too this day.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Follow your muse. That’s what musicians are always told. (Also, they’re told to make hit records, but that’s the dichotomy of the music biz). Van Morrison definitely did that, throwing off “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” and making something that’s a symbiosis of the lyrcis and music following each other.

Recorded over three (maybe two) sessions (with some string overdubs that Morrison HATED after the fact), the musicians, seasoned jazz studio cats, were in one room, together, and Morrison in the vocal booth with his guitar. The band just followed his lead and created on the spot. Edits were made to tighten up the songs, but basically the performances were as they happened on that take.

This was never meant to be a hit (it never did chart in the US despite selling over 500,000 when all was said and done), but an artistic statement. That was the philosophy of Warner Brothers – have great artists do their work and it will pay off. The story about how Warner’s received his contract and the recording of this album can fill a book.

I’d love to say that I love every track on this album, but I can’t quite get my head around track two “Beside You”, yet that may be one I haven’t cracked yet. Yet this is a great record to put in your ears, read a tome, and sip some cabernet. It fits that kind of mood.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This is personal, but when I was in elementary school we had these magazines that Scholastic put out. Dynamite and Bananas were the names of the ones I received, and in one of them they named the best albums of all time. Now you’d think that magazines for tweens in the 70’s would have more current records on there appealing to that demo. But they listed Astral Weeks. I just can’t see anyone at 11 years old wanting to groove to “Madame George” or unpack “Slim Slow Slider” or “Astral Weeks”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Some alternate cuts.

GRADE A+: Now I don’t get one cut, but I’m taking the rap on that. I mean, everything else is perfect, from the lyrics inspiring the singer inspiring the musicians and so on. This album works on so many planes of existence (ethereal and astral, if you would).

Haim – Women in Music, Part III

ARTIST: Haim 

TITLE: Women in Music, Pt. III

YEAR RELEASED: 2020

CHART ACTION:  #13 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Now I’m in It (#9 Rock), Hallelujiah (#38 Rock), The Steps (#24 Rock), I Know Along (#29 Rock), Don’t Wanna (#26)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You don’t but you should. And see the Deluxe Version below.

LINEUP: Danielle Haim, Alana Haim, Este Haim. Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij were their main collaborators again and Tommy King added some keyboards as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A breakthrough, written and recorded despite travails all around them. They produced one of 2020’s classic works.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sometimes personal tragedy brings great art. Each sister of Haim had struggles and tribulations with death, cancer, and diabetes. Also, they had enough of gender roles and attitudes by the music machine.

So, they got to the studio, and expanded their sound greatly, and had songs inspired by many genres and artists. The sound palette put form by the sisters and their producers fits each song on the button. While there is still a bit of their breezy, summery pop in there, Haim is head on addressing a lot of issues and does so with tremendous aplomb.

This is my favorite album from 2020 thus far, and it is deserving of the accolades.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were nominated from Grammys for Album of the Year and the song “The Steps” for Best Rock Performance.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yeah, oh yeah. Deluxe issues have  a new version of“3 AM” with Thundercat collaborating. The single “Summer Girl” (#27 Rock) was appended as well, and the most recent addition is “Gasoline” with Taylor Swift.

 GRADE A+: It’s an incredible work and definitely speaks to the misogyny of the record industry and press, along with working through their various personal hurdles.

Haim – Something to Tell You

ARTIST: Haim 

TITLE: Something to Tell You

YEAR RELEASED: 2017

CHART ACTION:  #7 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Want You Back (#10 Rock, #56 UK), Little of Your Love (#24 Rock), Nothing’s Wrong

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not much else got out in the zeitgeist.

LINEUP: Danielle Haim, Alana Haim, Este Haim. Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij were their main collaborators.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A similar record to their debut, with some darker corners shading their work.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Haim didn’t rest on their laurels from their debut. Sure, some tracks on their second album continued the guitar-based glow with sisterly harmonies. But there were some elements of sadness and want adding to the mix on the album, which diversified their sound enough to make the work not just a rote followup.

The album has hooks, and gloss, but also adds a grit due to the guitar sounds. Seemingly worshiping at the altar of Fleetwood Mac at times, Haim harks back to those days while keeping the sound modern-ish.

The production now added effects and found sounds that fit the tracks. It’s good to hear a band that wants to grow and change while maintaining their sound and ideals.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Lizzo opened up for them on the tour for this album

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Just one track in Japan.

 GRADE B+: A worthy follow up with some definite pop-rock appeal.