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Friday, January 05, 2018

Big Blasts from the Past

Written by  Gregg Shapiro
Billy Idol Billy Idol

Depending on your generational perspective, the late soul goddess Minnie Riperton is either the mother of actress / singer / SNL alum Maya Rudolph or the singer with the five-octave vocal range best known for the timeless 1975 hit single “Lovin’ You,” co-written by Riperton and her husband Richard Rudolph. You can hear Riperton, who died of cancer in 1979 at 31, paying a “lovin’” homage to her daughter Maya at the end of “Lovin’ You.” The double-disc deluxe edition expanded reissue of Perfect Angel (Capitol / UMe), Riperton’s second album and the one on which “Lovin’ You” can be found, is a long overdue celebration of an artist we lost too soon. Riperton and Rudolph co-wrote seven of the songs on the original album, including the standouts “Reasons,” “The Edge of a Dream,” “It’s So Nice (To See Old Friends),” and “Our Lives.” The presence of Stevie Wonder, playing electric piano and harmonica, as well as contributing the title track and “Take a Little Trip,” only served to increase Riperton’s artistic and hip factors. The abundant bonus material includes 11 additional tracks that go a long way in further cementing the album’s legendary status.

No, you’re not hearing things. That’s the Ramones’ cover of “Little Bit O’ Soul” playing in the Fidelity Investments commercial. Yes, we’ve gotten to that point in our culture. Nevertheless, that should not diminish our appreciation of the American punk progenitors, who, in 1977 released two (!) phenomenal albums. Rocket to Russia (Sire / Rhino), the second of the two, has been reissued in a limited edition 40th anniversary deluxe edition, and contains Ramones classics such as “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Cretin Hop,” the queer “We’re A Happy Family” and the band’s distinctive covers of “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Surfin’ Bird.” The reissue consists of engineer/mixer Ed Stasium’s remastered original and tracking mix on disc one, two dozen bonus cuts on disc two and a previously unreleased 1977 live recording from a concert in Glasgow, Scotland, and the original LP on 180-gram vinyl.

Would the Ramones have existed without The Who? After all, The Who’s teen / counterculture anthem “My Generation” has been cited by some as one of the first punk rock songs. “My Generation” is one of 86-tracks to be found on the five-disc The Who box set Maximum As & Bs: The Complete Singles (Polydor / UMC). Each of the singles, including “I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute,” “I Can See For Miles,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Join Together,” “Squeeze Box,” “Who Are You,” “You Better You Bet,” and “Eminence Front,” is immediately followed by the B-side, many of which are not heard very often. The box set also includes a booklet featuring photos, memorabilia and track-by-track annotation.

In the late 60s and early 70s, The Who’s Roger Daltrey probably got a lot of attention from gay fans due to his stunning physique – smooth, pumped up pecs and rippling abs. Years later, sneering bleached-blonde Billy Idol, who started out in the punk band Generation X, gained a reputation for putting his shirtless body on display. Why not? He was in good shape, especially for a punk rock/new wave guy. Idol’s first two albums – his eponymous 1982 debut and 1983’s Rebel Yell (both on Chrysalis / Capitol / UMe) – have been reissued on high-quality vinyl, along with the two-LP hits compilation Idolize Yourself: The Very Best of Billy Idol (Capitol / UMe). Listeners can expect to find songs such as “White Wedding,” “Hot In the City,” “Eyes Without a Face,” “Flesh For Fantasy,” “Dancing With Myself,” “Mony Mony,” and “Cradle of Love,” among others, on Idolize Yourself.

The story of UK psychedelic/progressive rock band The Moody Blues, which continues to this day, has some fascinating chapters. Early on, The Moody Blues had a hit single with the song “Go Now,” which doesn’t really sound like anything that came after it. In fact, it was the follow-up album 1967’s Days of Future Past (Deram / UMC), newly reissued in a 50th anniversary double-CD set, that set the tone for The Moody Blues’s greatest successes. Of course, when it was first issued 50 years ago, it was something of a peculiarity, because it was recorded with the London Festival Orchestra, conducted by Peter Knight. The album did fairly well on the British charts, as did the single “Nights In White Satin,” but it took another five years for both the album and single to make the impact it did in 1972. The reissue includes the original 1967 stereo mix (available for the first time on CD), along with nine bonus tracks on the first disc. The second CD contains the 1972 stereo mix, four bonus tracks and six mono single mastsers. Additionally, a DVD features a 5.1 Surround Sound Mix & 96 kHz/24-bit 1967 stereo mix, along with visual content.

If you didn’t get your fill of psychedelic sounds with The Moody Blues reissue, you owe it to yourself to check out The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language (Smog Veil Records) by “Cleveland’s mythical prog rock improvisors” Hy Maya. Members of the short-lived band include Robert Bensick, Albert Dennis, Scott Krauss and Allen Ravenstine. The double CD set includes studio and live recordings dating back to 1972 and 1973.

The above-mentioned Smog Veil label has prided itself on its esoteric roster of artists for more than 25 years. Similarly, Blue Thumb Records, in its brief ten years of existence, introduced listeners to its own impressive line-up of artists, including Sylvester and the Hot Band (featuring the fabulous gay music icon Sylvester in his pre-disco phase), The Pointer Sisters, The Crusaders, Leon Russell, word-jazz innovator Ken Nordine and many others. Originally released in 1995, the 2017 reissue of All Day Thumbsucker Revisited: The History of Blue Thumb Records (Verve / UMe) is as enjoyable for the stunning array talent, such as T. Rex, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Ike & Tina Turner, and Love, as it is for being a music history lesson.

Eighties music legends Tears for Fears is one of those bands that has almost as many hits compilations as it does studio album. To be fair, TFF’s hits, including “Mad World,” “Change,” “Pale Shelter,” “Shout,” “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” “Head Over Heels,” and “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” to mention a few, are sensational and deserve to be heard by ears new and old. Rule The World (Mercury / UMe) is a 16-track compilation that includes the aforementioned songs, as well as two brand new songs. t

Leave it to a nice Jewish (bisexual) girl such as Rachael Sage to come up with one of the most delightful holiday recordings of the year. Her five-song EP Joy! (MPress) opens with a reading of “Joy to the World” that is pure Sage, right down to her distinctive phrasing and vocals. A radio mix of the songs also closes the EP. In between, it’s a festival of lights and light pop. The originals, including the lighthearted “Tchatchkes & Latkes” and the beautiful “Hanukkah in the Village,” are among Sage’s most appealing compositions. The disc’s centerpiece, in which  Sage sings in Yiddish, is the song “Umru Meine,” featuring lyrics by the modernist poet Moyshe-Leyb Halpern.

The 10th anniversary edition expanded reissue of Josh Groban’s Noel (Reprise), described as “one of the biggest-selling Christmas albums of all time,” now boasts six additional songs, including four newly recorded selections. The original 2007 album by the classical crossover superstar played it relatively safe with a few exceptions. A duet with Brian McKnight on “Angels We Have Heard on High” soars. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is made more poignant because of the inclusion of holiday greetings from soldiers and their families. “Thankful,” co-written by Carole Bayer Sager, is the newest of the original disc’s compositions. Of the newly recorded songs, the duet with Tony Bennett on Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” on which Groban is joined by a children’s choir, are especially pleasing.

A cappella outfit Pentatonix are the new reigning kings and queens of holiday music, topping the Christmas (records) list for the last three years. The quartet’s platinum-selling 2016 album has been reissued with five new songs and retitled A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe (RCA). In addition to interesting renditions of “Up on the Housetop,” as well as covers of Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter” and Nsync’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” from the previous version, the expanded edition includes “Let It Snow!” and a duet with Jennifer Hudson on “How Great Thou Art.”

As career transformations go, Gwen Stefanis is one for the record books, so to speak. Over the course of about 25 years, Stefani successfully morphed from the belly-baring lead singer of OC ska act No Doubt to full-fledged diva and fashion icon. Continuing the “feels like” theme of her previous studio album, Stefani’s first Christmas album, You Make it Feel Like Christmas (Interscope) combines her interpretation of holiday standards (from “Silent Night” to “Santa Baby”) along with half a dozen new tunes. Thanks to Stefani’s gay co-songwriter Justin Tranter, it’s the new tunes, including “My Gift Is You,” “When I Was A Little Girl,” “Under The Christmas Lights” and “Christmas Eve,” that are the real gift here.

The 2017 double-disc edition of Broadway’s Carols for a Cure: Volume 19 (rock-itscience.com) serves a dual purpose. First and foremost, it’s a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (broadwaycares.org). Secondly, the 20 selections give listeners a chance to hear artists from some of Broadway’s hottest tickets – including Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Kinky Boots, War Paint, Groundhog Day, Anastasia, Waitress, to mention a few, perform traditional and new Christmas songs.

This Christmas, the Latter Days Saints have a leg up, as well as a piano, a cello and a violin, on the competition. Mormon musical acts The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling have newly released holiday albums. On “Angels From the Realms of Glory,” the opening number on The Piano Guys’ Christmas Together (Portrait) album, they are joined by fellow LDS members David Archuleta and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra, as well as Peter Hollens. Other guest artists on the album include Placido Domingo (“Silent Night, Holy Night”), The King’s Singers (“O Little One Sweet”) and Lexi Walker (“O Holy Night / Ave Maria”).

Fiddler and Dancing With the Stars competitor Stirling bows with her first holiday album Warmer In the Winter (Concord). More than half of the songs are instrumentals in which the plucky Stirling shows off her accomplished string skill on Christmas standards including “Carol of the Bells,” “I Saw Three Ships,” “What Child Is This,” and even Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas.” What separates this disc from the others are the Stirling originals including “Christmas C’Mon” (with vocals by Becky G), the title track (featuring Trombone Shorty) and “Time To Fall In Love” (sung by Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low).

Elvis Christmas (RCA / Legacy) is the latest in a series of Elvis Presley releases in which The King’s songs and recordings are reimagined with his vocals backed up by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Elvis Christmas has everything from “Blue Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me” to “The First Noel,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

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