JANIVA MAGNESS - Love is an Army (2018)
After Janiva Magness added a 2016 Grammy nomination to her 27 Blues Music Award nominations - with seven wins, including Entertainer of the Year - she might have taken at least a short rest on her laurels. Instead, one of the preeminent voices in contemporary American roots music has raised the bar for herself. Magness' fourteenth album, Love Is an Army, is a brilliantly crafted bridge between the past and present, blending the echoes of classic soul and country music with timeless themes of love and the very contemporary sound of protest. Love Is an Army's dozen songs reverberate with the timeless character of the Memphis rhythm & blues patented by the Stax and Hi Records studios, especially in tracks like "Back to Blue," which opens the album and sets it's tone, and "Hammer," which features Grammy Winner and multiple Blues Music Awards winner Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. Another Tennessee music city, Nashville, is the geographic touchstone for the title number, a duet with Texas singer / songwriter Bryan Stephens, and for "On and On," with Poco frontman Rusty Young on pedal steel guitar. Like Magness, both Stephens and Young are on Blue Elan Records. Other guest artists include the legendary R&B singer Delbert McClinton, Mississippi hill country blues torchbearer Cedric Burnside, bluegrass guitar and banjo virtuoso Courtney Hartman of the band Della Mae.
SAM COOKE- 8 Classic Albums Plus Bonus Singles (2013)
Sam Cooke was the most important soul singer in history, he was also the inventor of soul music, and its most popular and beloved performer in both the black and white communities. Equally important, he was among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of the music business, and founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. Yet, those business interests didn't prevent him from being engaged in topical issues, including the strle over civil rights, the pitch and intensity of which followed an arc that paralleled Cooke's emergence as a star his own career bridged gaps between black and white audiences that few had tried to surmount, much less succeeded at doing, and also between generations; where Chuck Berry or Little Richard brought black and white teenagers together, James Brown sold records to white teenagers and black listeners of all ages, and Muddy Waters got young white folkies and older black transplants from the South onto the same page, Cooke appealed to all of the above, and the parents of those white teenagers as well -- yet he never lost his credibility with his core black audience. In a sense, his appeal anticipated that of the Beatles, in breadth and depth.
Samuel "Sam" Cooke was an American recording artist and singer-songwriter, generally considered among the greatest of all time. Collecting the albums the soul singer made as he transitioned from gospel to the world of secular music, Eight Classic Albums gathers up a massive collection of both albums and singles of the great Sam Cooke. Featuring his work between 1957 and 1960, this four-disc set contains Sam Cooke, Encore, Tribute to the Lady, Hit Kit, I Thank God, Cooke's Tour, Hits of the Fifties, and Swing Low. The compilation doesn't contain much in the way of liner notes or supplemental material, so while it makes for a great Sam Cooke starter kit, it doesn't provide much in the way of extra information.
PHIL MANZANERA & ANDY MACKAY - Complete Explorers (2001)
The arty progressive rock of Roxy Music slid into a decidedly poppier direction when former members Phil Manzanera (guitars, keyboards) and Andy MacKay (sax, oboe, keyboards) collaborated as the Explorers. After Roxy Music's demise in 1983, MacKay moved to Ireland, developing a fondness for traditional Irish music. Wanting a respite from the studio, MacKay formed the Explorers with Manzanera and vocalist James Wraith. The Explorers started recording a year later, debuting with the snappy synth-pop track "Lorelei" in June 1984. On "Lorelei," Manzanera and MacKay peeled away Roxy Music's lush, dreamy arrangements but retained their original band's funky grooves. The Explorers performed for BBC Radio One in December 1984, the group's first concert. In 1985, Virgin Records released the Explorers' self-titled LP; the band also toured the U.K. However, the Explorers couldn't sell records; the group began recording a second album at Gallery Studios in October 1985, but the band's lack of success had it shelved. The Explorers split up in 1986. In 1989, Manzanera's Expression Records issued the Explorers' second LP, Manzanera & MacKay; the album was credited to Manzanera & MacKay as well and not the Explorers. After the breakup of the Explorers, Manzanera and MacKay started solo careers.
This two-CD set is almost a complete collection of all of the studio output of the Explorers. There are no tracks from their live CD, and Manzanera opted to include two 12" mixes instead of the standard album/single versions. Thus, it is somewhat incomplete. The Explorers were formed by Manzanera and MacKay during a planned two-year break from Roxy Music following the huge success of Avalon (this hiatus lasted for 18 years). The music here is second-rate Roxy Music sung by a singer who drifts between sounding like Bryan Ferry and Erasure's Andy Bell. Also, given the talent used for the recording (Tony Levin, Paul Carrack, and Steve Gadd, to name just three), one would assume this music would be creative, unique, and exciting rock. Sadly, the opposite is true. The songs are predictable, boring, and dated with an '80s big, heavy beat sound. As far as this CD is concerned, it is an excellent way for fans to obtain the motherlode of Explorers studio catalogs. However, the songs are not arranged in chronological order or even kept in the groupings of the original album releases. A true picture of the original albums cannot be obtained. Also, there is absolutely no need for 12" versions of "Lorelei" or "Falling for Nightlife." The original, shorter versions would have sufficed and, in fact, sound better. Fans and collectors will want this album, but casual listeners will find little of interest in this package.
WAYLON JENNINGS - Nashville Rebel (2006)
It may be hard to believe, but it's true: Legacy's four-disc 2006 box Nashville Rebel is the first comprehensive, multi-label Waylon Jennings retrospective ever assembled. During the peak of the CD box set reissue boom of the late '80s/early '90s, Waylon did receive a quasi-box in the form of 1993's Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line: The RCA Years, an excellent double-disc set that was housed in a box yet fell short of being a true box set. Starting in the late '90s, his catalog began to be overhauled -- Buddha reissued classic individual albums like Honky Tonk Heroes, Bear Family put out two huge box sets that chronicled all of his RCA work up until 1973, then the rest of his '70s work came out as two-fers overseas, while Hip-O assembled a collection of both his earliest recordings and his '80s work for MCA -- but he still lacked a set that covered his whole career, from 1958 through 1995. That's exactly what Nashville Rebel does, and it does so in superb fashion. Any career with as much great work as Waylon's is inevitably hard to condense, even at the length of a four-disc set with 92 tracks, but Nashville Rebel does the job right, providing an accurate, compelling narrative of Jennings' career, while offering all of his biggest hits along with sharply chosen lesser-known songs and rarities that help complete the picture. Any hardcore fan might find favorite songs missing, but nobody can complain about what's here -- and that applies not only to the first three discs, which trace the prime of Waylon's career, but even the fourth, which is the rare final CD on a multi-disc set that is solid, perhaps not as gripping or timeless as the music that precedes it, but it does present a convincing case that Waylon continued to make strong music right up until the later stages of his career. And this is how Nashville Rebel is like those classic box sets of the late '80s and early '90s: there is no fluff, no needlessly chosen rarities; it simply and cleanly gives the listener the essential items from a truly great artist. There is plenty of other great music within Waylon's catalog, but if this is all somebody heard from him, they would know exactly who he was and what he meant musically. That's the goal of all lavish box sets such as this, and this is one of the few that truly achieves that goal. It's an essential item, not just for country fans, but for anybody who cares about American music of the 20th century.
TEN YEARS AFTER - Ten Years After 1967-1974 [10CD Box Set] (2018)
The English blues-rock / hard rock band TEN YEARS AFTER were most successful during the period 1968-73 — then they scored eight Top 40 albums on the UK Albums Chart. But the basics of the band go back to circa 1966 when Alvin Lee & Leo Lyons founded Ten Years After from the remnants of dying projects the Jaybirds/Jaymen. The musicians moved from their Nottingham / Mansfield base to London, to be near harmony group “The Ivy League”, which they supported. They came into being “Ten Years After” the most successful year of Elvis Presley’s career, said to be 1956. In 1970, the band released “Love Like a Man” which was the group’s only UK hit single, it reached #10. The band split after their last Columbia album in 1974, although they occasionally met to play festivals and they briefly reunited in 1989 to record the album About Time. Recently, the remaining members have joined up to write and perform.
Alvin Lee died in the mid-2010’s. But original keyboard player Chick Churchill is still with the band, as is the founder drummer Ric Lee. Currently, guitarist and vocalist Marcus Bonfanti and the talented “Alexis Korner” bassist Colin Hodgkinson play with the band and together they have released a 50th Anniversary album, produced by Bonfanti, and titled A STING IN THE TALE. During the period 1967-1974 the band recorded ten albums. To coincide with the anniversary of their first release, Chrysalis Records now present a 50th Anniversary 10 CD Box Set.
CHARLIE - 1976-1979 [Remastered, 2011]
Charlie was a British rock band that was formed in 1971 by singer/songwriter Terry Thomas. The group was most active as a recording unit from the mid-1970s through 1986. Charlie never charted in their home country, but had four minor hits in the US: 1977's "Turning To You"; 1978's "She Loves to Be In Love"; 1979's "Killer Cut" and 1983's "It's Inevitable". The band debuted as a recording act in 1973, issuing the non-charting single "I Need Your Love" on Decca in their native UK. Although the band had a contract for four singles with Decca, only one more ("Knocking Down Your Door") was recorded, and it was never released. Three years later, Charlie returned to record stores with their debut album Fantasy Girls. Thomas was Charlie's primary songwriter for this and all future albums, although he would also collaborate with other band members from time to time. Charlie supported The Who at their 1975 Hammersmith Odeon Christmas shows and toured the UK in the spring of 1976 as support act to the Dutch progressive rock band Focus to promote the album. Smith left after the first album and was replaced by keyboard player Julian Colbeck.
The group's second album, No Second Chance, began the practice of featuring a photograph of a female model as the album's cover. "Turning To You", off that album, became Charlie's first chart hit, peaking at US #96. Terry Thomas also took the reins as producer for this album, along with John Anderson; all future Charlie releases would be produced by Thomas, usually in association with one or more band members. Eugene Organ was added as a fifth member on guitar for the following two albums, 1978's Lines and 1979's Fight Dirty. The band had their biggest hit to date in 1978 with "She Loves to Be In Love," which peaked at #54 in the United States. The following year, the band again had a minor hit with "Killer Cut", which rose to US #60. By this time, Shep Lonsdale had been added as an official sixth member, playing drums and percussion alongside Gadd on all of Fight Dirty.
TOTO - Greatest Hits: 40 Trips Around The Sun (2018)
Toto was the Steely Dan of pop music. Top-notch session musicians who went the route of pop music when they formed a band. Very L.A. and very commercial and always very good. To celebrate their 40th anniversary, the classic and current lineup of the band has recorded three new songs to be included on their new Greatest Hits compilation, Greatest Hits: 40 Trips Around the Sun. This means: Steve Lukather (guitars and vocals and original member), David Paich (keyboards and vocals), Steve Porcaro (keyboards) and Joseph Williams (lead vocals). The truth is, Toto has never broken up and continues to tour and record new albums. Their last album, Toto XIV, was released in 2015. But what this new compilation does do is bring together many of their career highlights while alerting older fans that this is still a viable band. It may be difficult getting fans to listen to a new album, but if you include three new songs with a ‘best of,’ you reach many more people. This collection is not sequenced in chronological order, which I prefer as it gives one the chance to hear a band evolve over time (The Beatles 1 is a good example: “Love Me Do” to “The Long and Winding Road,” and you can hear the band grow over those eight years). You do get the hits from their debut album (1978’s Toto), such as “Hold The Line” (my favourite), “I’ll Supply The Love”, and “Georgy Porgy,” to their latest studio release. Their first album features Bobby Kimball on lead vocals. Their debut album proved to be a huge commercial and critical success, but from 1978 until 1982 the band saw declining record sales and declining interest. The three new songs are quite a welcome addition to this album. “Spanish Sea” has a slight “Africa” vibe going on for it, and that is more than welcomed by me. It is a great song and should be a hit. The other new songs, “Alone” and “Struck By Lightning,” show a band still in their prime. A little experimentation with the pop format, some great playing, and strong vocals. Toto has been around for 40 years and while their lineup has been somewhat fluid, their sound has not been. When you hear a Toto song, you know that it is Toto.
McGOUGH & McGEAR - McGough & McGear (1968) 
As members of Liverpool comic poetry group The Scaffold, Roger McGough and Mike McGear (a pseudonym adopted by Mike McCartney – brother of Paul) had signed to Parlophone Records in 1966 and had begun working with producer George Martin. The McGOUGH & McGEAR album was the result of recording sessions at various studios in London in 1967. Paul McCartney assisted in the production of the record and a host of well-known musicians guested on the sessions, albeit uncredited. Alongside Mike’s elder brother, the musicians included such luminaries as JIMI HENDRIX, GRAHAM NASH, DAVE MASON (Traffic), JOHN MAYALL, SPENCER DAVIS, PAUL SAMWELL SMITH (Yardbirds) and VIV PRINCE (Pretty Things). Even in those enlightened and experimental times, the sheer diversity of styles on the album was notable. From the psychedelia of ‘So Much’ and ‘Ex-Art Student’ (both featuring Jimi Hendrix on guitar) to the poetry of ‘Summer With Monika’ and the satire of ‘Little Bit of Heaven’, McGOUGH & McGEAR is a joyous listening experience. The album’s reputation (and impressive cast of contributors) has led to the original vinyl albums changing hands for huge sums of money. This Esoteric Recordings edition has been re-mastered from the original master tapes and features both the stereo mix and the mono mix of the album over two CDs for the very first time. The reissue restores the original album artwork and liner notes by Beatles’ biographer Hunter Davies and also features a new essay with an exclusive and extensive interview with Mike (McGear) McCartney.
A joyous potpourri of late 60s psychedelic rock, poetry and humour, McGough & McGear is a highly sought after album from a free thinking era in British culture.
THE SOFT MACHINE - Volume One And Two (1989)
Soft Machine were never a commercial enterprise and indeed still remain unknown even to many listeners who came of age during the late '60s and early '70s, when the group was at its peak. In their own way, however, they were one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones. One of the original British psychedelic groups, they were also instrumental in the birth of both progressive rock and jazz-rock. They were also the central foundation of the family tree of the "Canterbury Scene" of British progressive rock acts, a movement that also included Caravan, Gong, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, not to mention the distinguished pop music careers of founding members Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers and the jazz and jazz-rock explorations of saxophonist Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper. Considering their well-known experimental and avant-garde leanings, the roots of Soft Machine were in some respects surprisingly conventional. In the mid-'60s, Wyatt sang and drummed with the Wilde Flowers, a Canterbury group that played more or less conventional pop and soul covers of the day. Future Soft Machine members Ayers and Hopper would also pass through the Wilde Flowers, whose original material began to reflect an odd sensibility, cultivated by their highly educated backgrounds and a passion for improvised jazz. In 1966, Wyatt teamed up with bassist/singer Ayers, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and Australian guitarist Daevid Allen to form the first lineup of Soft Machine.
Re-issue of the ground breaking first two albums from one of the most unusual outfits of the 60s featuring Mike Ratledge's crashing organ sound and topped with Robert Wyatt's unique near-falsetto vocals.
BEE GEES - Bee Gees' 1st (1967) & Horizontal (1968) & Idea (1968) & Odessa (1969) [Expanded & Remastered, 2006/9]
The Bee Gees are the most successful band of brothers in music history and remain the only recording artists to write and co-produce six straight #1 singles. Their legendary career includes seven platinum albums, over 60 charting singles, eight Grammys, and induction into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame. Born in England and raised in Australia, the group was signed by Robert Stigwood and rose to global superstardom with the five-man lineup featured on their early classics: harmonizing brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, and Australian instrumentalists Vince Melouney and Colin Petersen.
Originally released in 1967, Bee Gees' 1st is a harmony-heavy, rock-flavored masterpiece that instantly put the group at the forefront of the wave of hit music coming out of the U.K. The album delivered a trio of Top 20 smashes: "To Love Somebody," "New York Mining Disaster 1941," and "Holiday." The first disc of this lavish expanded edition contains both mono and stereo versions of the original album. The second disc features 14 previously unreleased tracks, including alternate versions of most of the album cuts, plus the recording debuts of "Gilbert Green," "House Of Lords," "All Around The Clock," and other rarities.
1968'S Horizontal boasts adventurous arrangements and production and features the signature hit "Massachusetts," a chart-topper in Britain that went to #11 in the U.S. Also features the standouts "World" (a global hit), "And The Sun Will Shine," "Harry Braff," and the psychedelic title tracks. Disc 2 features thirteen rarities including nine previously unreleased tracks, among them "Out Of Line," "All My Christmases Came At Once," plus the seasonal medley "Silent Night/Hark The Herald Angels Sing."
Idea followed in August '68 and the Bee Gees cracked the Top 10 on the U.S. Billboard singles chart for the first time with the classics "I've Got To Get A Message To You" (#8) and "I Started A Joke" (#6). Disc 2 includes alternate mixes of "Idea," "Kitty Can," and "Let There Be Love," the film songs "Chocolate Symphony" and "Gena's Theme" and many more rarities and previously unreleased picks including two rare Coca-Cola commercials, "Another Cold And Windy Day," and "Sitting In The Meadow."
Odessa is the sixth studio album by the Bee Gees, originally released on 30 March 1969. Regarded as the most significant of the group's Sixties albums, it was released as a double vinyl record initially in an opulent red flocked cover with gold lettering. An ambitious project, originally intended as a concept album on the loss of a fictional ship in 1899, it created tension and disagreements in the band regarding the album's direction; finally, a dispute over which song to release as a single led to Robin Gibb temporarily leaving the group. The album was not well received by the public or the music press on release, and led to a decline in the group's fortunes until their disco period in the mid 1970s. Released in March 1969 by Polydor Records in the UK and Atco Records in the US, it was the group's fourth album released internationally, their sixth overall, and their only double album of original music. Odessa would be the final album for the band's original incarnation, and this was the last album to include guitarist Vince Melouney.
JEFF CHRISTIE - Anthology 1967-1978 (2011)
Leeds-born Jeff Christie entered music by way of a skiffle band that eventually moved into rock & roll, emulating the Beatles' sound (after a fashion) under the guise of the Outer Limits. They eventually cut a pair of singles, one ("Just One More Chance") issued on Deram and the next ("Great Train Robbery") released on a small independent label. After their breakup, Christie decided to try his luck as a songwriter and cut a demo tape that passed through the hands of Tremeloes guitarist Alan Blakely and into those of his brother, drummer Mike Blakely, formerly of the Epics and the Acid Gallery. Mike Blakely was impressed enough with Christie's songs to arrange a recording session in London where the Tremeloes participated as Christie's backing band none of the sides from that session saw the light of day, but inspired by Blakely's faith in his songs, Jeff Christie decided to put together a group of his own. This ended up as a trio of Christie on bass and lead vocals, Blakely on drums, and his ex-Acid Gallery bandmate Vic Elmes on guitar and vocals. The group decided to use Jeff Christie's family name designated Christie; they were signed by British CBS. Their debut single, "Yellow River," featured Christie and Elmes' voices dubbed over the Tremeloes' backing track cut at Christie's first session. Whatever its origins, it did the job, riding the U.K. pop charts for 22 weeks and reaching the number one chart spot in several countries. Even in the United States, where it faced the stiffest competition, the Epic Records-released single reached number 23, a very respectable showing for an act that was nowhere near ready to tour the U.S. Their follow-up, a group recording this time called "San Bernadino," reached number one in Germany and number seven in England, though it never climbed beyond the lowest reaches of the Top 100 in America.
The group carried on for two years, going through several lineup changes leading into 1971, including the departure of Mike Blakely, who was replaced by Paul Fenton. Their second LP, For All Mankind, abandoned the commercial, pop-oriented sound of its predecessor in favor of a harder, higher-wattage, more blues-oriented sound, and the band's fortunes rapidly declined. They regrouped, with former Unit 4+2 guitarist/singer Howard "Lem" Lubin expanding Christie to a quartet. The professional clashes between Elmes and Christie signaled an end to the group's recording history in 1972. Jeff Christie cut songs for Mercury Records in the mid-'70s and kept using the group name as an alias on material recorded for the Epic and Wizard labels, and took back his full name for records on the RK label in the 1980s. There were disputes over the use of the group name in the 1980s, though Jeff Christie appeared to be using it most recently, while Vic Elmes has sometimes fronted a band called "Christie Again" in Europe.
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