Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Swing Out Sister - Blue Mood, Breakout And Beyond - The Early Years Part 1

Blue Mood, Breakout And Beyond - The Early Years Part. 1 is an outstanding new box set from Swing Out Sister that, over the course of eight CD's, covers the first eight years of the band and includes their first three studio releases, the live album Live At The Jazz Café, three discs of mixes, remixes and instrumentals and a disc of B-sides and edits.  

Initially a three piece consisting of Andy Connell (The Immediates, A Certain Ratio) on keyboards, Martin Jackson (Magazine, The Chameleons) on drums and vocalist Corinne Drewery, Swing Out Sister hit the scene with the single “Blue Mood”, and while it didn’t chart, the follow-up “Breakout” exploded and hit number 4 in the UK and 6 in the US.  Due to its huge success the band immediately went into the studio and recorded their debut album, It’s Better To Travel, an infectious collection largely consisting of jazzy, horn-driven, electronic dance pop highlighted by Drewery’s vocals and including the hits “Twilight World”, “Surrender”, “Fooled By A Smile” and the aforementioned singles.  Among the other highlights are the slower, atmospheric “After Hours” and “Theme (From - It's Better To Travel)”, an impressive instrumental that sounds like it’s right out of a Bond film.

Although he did contribute some drum programming and is credited on a couple songs, Jackson left the band partway through the recording of their follow-up release Kaleidoscope World.  From the opening strains of the outstanding opener “You On My Mind” it’s apparent there was also a slight shift in their sound.  Drawing from their mutual admiration for the work of John Barry they moved in a more orchestrated and cinematic direction and even worked with the legendary Jimmy Webb on the arrangements of the gorgeous, laid-back “Forever Blue” and “Precious Words”.  There are a few tunes that are more of a throwback to the debut, most notably “Waiting Game”, but overall this is a stunning collection that has really stood the test of time.      

Get In Touch With Yourself, their third release and last studio album in this collection, moves in more of a groove oriented soul direction, thanks in part to the influence of artists like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, both of whom they were listening to at the time.  Along with their infectious cover of the sixties tune “Am I The Same Girl” (originally recorded by Barbara Acklin and Dusty Springfield a little later) and “Notgonnachange”, which became a big club hit, are highlights like “Everyday Crime” with its funky groove that sounds like it would fit in on a Shaft soundtrack, the jazzy “Circulate” and the title track.  While to me it’s a bit more polished and not as charming as its predecessor, there is still plenty to like about this album.

When they toured in late 1992 most of the song arrangements in the live show had largely evolved to suite the players.  Since no one would pay to record them, the band self-financed the recordings in December of that year that ended up becoming Live At The Jazz Café, which at the time was only released in Japan.  To me this album is the highlight of the whole box set.  The songs absolutely come to life with lively jazzy arrangements that strip away a lot of the studio gloss and replace it with refreshing organic instrumentation, exploding with improvisation.  Tunes like “Breakout”, which starts with a loose, jazzy instrumental section before moving into a funky take on the song, “Circulate”, with its Latin percussion, and “Notgonnachange”, with its slow burning groove, are given a whole new life. 

Over the course of thirty-eight tracks, the next three discs contain a variety of mixes and remixes of twelve of their songs.  While there are some mixes that are interesting and some completists will like having them all together, most people probably will skip over these discs after an initial listen or two with so many mixes of the same songs.  The last disc contains eleven b-sides and bonus tracks, plus a couple edited tracks and a live version of “Circulate”.  For the most part the b-sides are strong cuts that could have easily been album tracks.  Some of the really interesting songs include “Dirty Money”, which was the first track they ever recorded and interestingly has a bit of a funk groove that wasn’t really present on that debut album, “Fever”, a cut that emphasizes the electronic side of their sound and has a bit of a New Order vibe and "Taxi Town", one of my favorites here that is over half instrumental and really sets a mood with a movie soundtrack feel.  Other highlights are the Burt Bacharach flavored “Coney Island Man”, “Spirit Moves”, a soulful, laid-back tune with a funk groove and the gorgeous vocal and piano cover of “Windmills Of My Mind” that was recorded for a radio station appearance. Rounding out this outstanding box set is a very comprehensive booklet with interviews with Drewery and Connell that give great insight into this era of the band, the releases and also the remixes and b-sides.  While the band failed to hit the charts anymore after these three albums, they are still together and have released eight more studio albums, so hopefully there are more box sets to follow.  

(Cherry Pop)

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Before The Day Is Done - The Story Of Folk Heritage Records 1968-1975

As British folk music took off in the late sixties, Alan Green founded the label Folk Heritage with the purpose of releasing albums by musicians who were primarily from the north-west England folk scene.  The releases from the label and its associated labels (Midas, Sweet Folk & Country, Westwood and Real) were very limited, no more than 2000 copies and often 200 or less and were only available at the club where the performer was a resident.  Due to this, many of these releases are extremely collectible today.  Grapefruit Records’ Before The Day Is Done (their third collection of British Folk following Dust On The Nettles and Sumer Is Icumen) collects together sixty-eight tracks from these albums, covering a diverse range from pop-oriented folk and folk rock to singer/songwriters and more traditional folk.  Unlike the prior two collections, which contained selections of better known and lesser known artists, no one here became a household name (a few of the artists here, like The Minor Birds, Folkal Point, Parke and Music Box also have tracks on those releases), but having said that you would be hard pressed to find one bad track in the bunch and you will most likely find yourself scouring the internet looking for more songs from many of them.  Also included is an outstanding booklet loaded with details on all the bands and the songs.  There is so much good music here and it’s a crime that these entire releases are not easily accessible to the masses.  Hopefully the next step will be for someone to start reissuing some of these releases in their entirety (HINT HINT!!!)


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The House of Love - State Of Grace

Nine years after their last release, 2013’s She Paints Words In Red and hot on the heels of Burn Down The World, their recently released and highly recommended eight-disc box set covering their time on Fontana Records, 
The House of Love is back with a new lineup (with the exception of Guy Chadwick) and a new album State Of Grace.  Along with the new lineup, which was initially put together before the pandemic for an American 30th Anniversary tour, there is a bit of a new direction musically for the band.  It is a more eclectic collection and the first of their albums to contain harp, pedal and lap steel guitar, banjo and violin.  While there are moments like the upbeat title track, the heavy, wall of guitar blasts of the hard hitting “Melody Rose” and “Clouds”, an easygoing track with swirling guitars, hooks galore and great backing vocals that all harken back to their classic sound, they are largely an exception to the rule.  Right out the gate with the opening harmonica blast on “Sweet Loser” you can tell things are different.  It’s a slow, swirling tune on the mellow side, with hypnotic guitars that languidly twist and turn, interspersed with more harmonica.  The harmonica shows up again, along with some banjo, on the next track “Light Of The Morning”, a catchy, upbeat, psychedelic, country blues track.  Things get a little mellower on the next two cuts, the ballad “Into The Laughter”, which includes a great guitar solo, and “Hey Babe” with its hints of country and even a little twang.  They kick things back into high gear with “Sweet Water”, a straight-ahead rock tune with some bluesier guitar and lots of harmonica that gives it a bit of a Stones feel.  “Queen Of Song” is an easygoing country-tinged track with a bit of a bounce, while “In My Mind” has a laid-back, very relaxed pace, meshing a classic The House of Love influence with a bit of country, and “Dice Are Rolling” is a more upbeat song that has a hook-filled drive that lulls you in and is mesmerizingly hypnotic.  “Just One More Song” is a mellow, bluesy country tune that closes the disc out perfectly.  Acoustic guitars, pedal steel, violin and singalong vocals turn it into what sounds like a welcoming campfire singalong.  Even though it's not what long-time fans will be expecting from The House Of Love, State Of Grace is an outstanding addition to their discography that’s well worth checking out.  

The Hoodoo Tones - Three Steps To Evil

While Northern France most likely isn’t the first place you think of when it comes to rockabilly, Three Steps To Evil, the fourth release from The Hoodoo Tones is out to change that.  Having said that, even though their music is rooted in rockabilly, there is plenty more to their sound.  For proof of that you need go no further than  the opening track “DRAG!”, an extremely catchy surf instrumental with a bit of a spaghetti western groove and a little spacy reverb.  Next up are three tracks that stick to the rockabilly sound, but still manage to mix things up and keep it fresh.   “I Need A Confessor (Boom Boom Boom)” has an intensity to it and a bit of twang, while “Grey Sky” adds some classic old school guitar and a hypnotic groove, and “Jitterbuggin’” is just good ol' straight-ahead rockabilly.  The diversity is on full display on the next two tracks with “The Fool”, a hard hitting cut that meshes garage rock with a little Chuck Berry R&B, but also maintains a bit of the rockabilly rhythm and “Too Wide Ocean”, a song that does a great job of capturing the spirit of Buddy Holly.  “Behind The Leather” is a simple little tune that’s a little quirky, but with a really fun, infectious beat, and “Coolest Cats” is a throwback to some Elvis styled rockabilly from the fifties.  On “The Way It Is” they virtually throw everything that’s come before out the window with a really cool track that is a darker and more hard driving, full of atmosphere and even showing hints of The Doors. Shifting things back slightly they close out with some Outlaw Country courtesy “The Last Of Our Kind”.  Three Steps To Evil is proof positive that roots and rockabilly is alive and kicking in France.  

(Rhythm Bomb Records) (The Hoodoo Tones - Facebook)

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Derrick Procell - Hey Mojo! 

Even though Derrick Procell made his first recording on a single almost fifty-five years ago at the age of sixteen (he was the lead singer of Mother’s Worry), Hello Mojo! is just his second solo album.  Having said that, it definitely doesn’t mean he was resting on his laurels.  In the ensuing years he was an in-demand vocalist and in the late seventies and early eighties was a member of the award-winning band Arroyo.  In the nineties he shifted to working in the studio and has done vocals and voiceovers for a multitude of ads, which have included McDonalds, Chevy, Ford, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and numerous beer commercials.  He has been writing songs for over forty years and has had his songs recorded by the likes of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Melissa Manchester, Big Llou Johnson, The Cashbox Kings and Grammy nominee and BMA Album of the Year winner Shemekia Copeland.  He has also had numerous songs that he has written, performed and produced in TV shows and movies including True Blood, Criminal Minds, The Office, This Is Us, King Of the Hill and the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird.  Produced by his Catfood label mate Zac Harmon, who also played guitar on three tracks, the album does an outstanding job of showcasing Procell’s warm and inviting vocals and songwriting.  It should also be noted that you can hear his enjoyment in what he’s doing come through in in his vocal performance throughout the disc.  He wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs, including four co-written with Grammy winner Terry Abrahamson, who is known for his work with Muddy Waters, and three with Catfood Records owner Bob Trenchard).  Kicking the album off is “Skin In the Game”, an energetic, soulful blues tune with some killer guitar work and horns.  The title track is up next and is an upbeat, extremely catchy, blues tune with a bit of a funk groove, exploding with everything from organ (courtesy Procell) and horns to sax and trombone, all rounded out with some great call and response between him and the backup singers.  “The Contender” is a definite album highlight, a tight, ripping blues rocker that really sets itself apart from the rest of the album, and “Broken Promises” is an easygoing blues tune that really showcases Procell's harp playing.  Driven by some great funky Clavinet, “A Tall Glass Of You” has a catchy, laid-back blues groove, and is followed up by “I Can’t Say No”, a bluesy tune that maintains a hint of the funk with some more great horns and call and response vocals.  “Color Of An Angel” and “Baby I’m Lost” are a couple of laid-back, soulful ballads, the latter of which once again highlights his harp.  The lone cover track is his take on The Kinks’ “Who’ll Be The Next In Line”, which is turned into an infectious blues shuffle with a bit of a funky groove and some really great guitar work.  Closing the disc out is “Bittersweet Memory”, a soulful R&B ballad that wraps things up perfectly with horns, subtle keys and a nice guitar and sax solo.  Whether you are a fan of the blues or just good music in general, do yourself a favor and give this disc a listen.  

(Catfood Records)