Thursday, August 27, 2015

Major Van Morrison Reissue Campaign Coming from Sony and Rhino

A couple of days ago, Sony/Legacy recordings announced it would be remastering and expanding 33 Van Morrison albums.  I lost my enthusiasm for relaying that news here on Psychobabble when I found that Astral Weeks would not be among those reissues. Along with His Band and Street Choir and Tupelo Honey, Astral Weeks is the only Morrison disc that has never received a domestic sonic upgrade since it's original CD release in 1989. As the album is nearly unanimously considered Morrison's best--and one of the best, period--this was a major problem, if not a surprising one considering well-known rights issues. Well, a couple days later I'm very happy to report that Astral Weeks and His Band and Street Choir will be joining the new glut of old Van Morrison albums courtesy of Rhino Records, which gave Moondance the deluxe treatment in 2013. 

Both Astral Weeks and His Band and Street Choir are coming on October 30. Astral Weeks will include alternate takes of "Beside You", "Madame George", "Ballerina", and "Slim Slow Slider". His Band and Street Choir will have alternates of "Call Me Up in Dreamland", "Give Me a Kiss", "Gypsy Queen", "I've Been Working", and "I'll Be Your Lover, Too". No word yet on release dates for the Sony discs, though the first wave is to include Saint Dominic's Preview, Hard Nose the Highway, It's Too Late to Stop Now, and Enlightenment. Hopefully there will be a similar announcement regarding Tupelo Honey soon...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: 'Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73'


Don Gardener? Little Charles & The Sidewinders? Jackye Owens? The Soul Shakers? I hadn’t heard of them either, at least not until I heard Rock Beat’s new crate-diving collection Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73. Not every artist on this 4-disc, 112-track box set grooved and grinded in obscurity. Along with the head scratchers are Ike & Tina Turner, Carla Thomas, Kenny Gamble (pre-Huff), Big Dee Irwin, Bettye LaVette, and certainly others who will be familiar to soul scholars. However, even those artists are represented by deep cuts. In fact, Rock Beat’s goal was to only collect tracks that had never appeared on CD before. That’s a pretty massive challenge to take on in the waning days of the medium when rarity collections like these are a jukebox-dime a dozen. I’m not sure how close the compilers came to their goal, but I can at least say I’ve never heard a single thing in this set, though I’m no soul scholar.

I will say this: normally when I review a collection of songs I’ve mostly never heard before, I keep a running list of stand-out tracks to single out in my review. I gave up doing that with Groove & Grind when I realized I was writing down every track. Despite the obscurity of these songs, they are really consistent, and the compiler’s decision to mix up the chronology ensures that Groove & Grind rarely lapses into saminess. Each disc adheres to a theme (Urban Soul, Group Soul, Southern Soul, Funky Soul), but the first three themes are so general that the running remains eclectic and surprising. Things only get intermittently samey on the James Brown-worshipping funky fourth disc. There are also some refreshing splashes of humor, like when The Soul Shakers ill-advisedly challenge Muhammad Ali in “Big Train” or Chet “Poison” Ivey ill-advisedly demands to be called “The Poo Poo Man” in “The Poo Poo Man”.

My only knock is the sound, which is pretty harsh. The liner notes warn that some master tapes couldn’t be recovered and those tracks had to be ripped from 45s. That’s all fine and good, but almost everything on this set kind of sounds like a 45 rip. Perhaps this was a mastering decision to retain consistency, but recordings taken from master tapes should sound better than this, especially when they demand the weight and depth that soul demands.

The song selection and packaging (a mini-box format with extensive track notes), however, are superior. Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63 – ’73 is a four-disc instant party. Get it on Amazon.com here:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: 'House of Bamboo' Blu-ray


When an American army sergeant is killed during a Japanese train heist, the U.S. military and Tokyo police hook up to find out what happened. Unfortunately for this review, to reveal much more about House of Bamboo is to spoil its numerous deceptions and surprising developments. Fortunately for anyone who watches the film, those deceptions and development make it riveting viewing. 

Sam Fuller is the mastermind behind this 1955 mash-up of noir mystery, gangster, military, and romance movie elements. With a genius for injecting soft-boiled humanity into hard-boiled genres, the director delights in confounding our expectations from the broad points of who our characters are to the smaller details, such as when a traditional Japanese dance suddenly mutates into a wild jitterbug. 

Fuller also luxuriates in ravishing locations and sets and the bright colors that undermine the noir clichés that all but melt away by the Hitchcockian climax atop a rotating globe high over Tokyo. While Fuller usually worked in black & white during this period (though he’d just come off the color Hell and High Water), the locations and sets in House of Bamboo are simply too vibrant and detailed to reduce to monochrome. Star Robert Stack brings similar vibrancy and detail to a character who enters the film as a cliché-spouting and rather charmless thug, and ends up taking unexpected turns in keeping with so many of the film’s other elements.

Twilight Time’s new blu-ray really does justice to the DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope breadth of House of Bamboo. Presentation is natural and devoid of a single blemish. This is a beautiful picture. Bonuses include Twilight Time’s standard isolated film score and commentary track with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, as well as an additional commentary from filmmaker and noir historian Alain Silver and his frequent collaborator James Ursini. Units are limited to 3,000, and you can purchase one on Twilight Time's official site here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Farewell, Yvonne Craig

As you probably deduced from the headline of this post, there is sad news to report. Actress Yvonne Craig died this past Monday. While Craig's foundation was in ballet, she became known and loved by my fellow geeks for her appearances on such TV classics as "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Star Trek", and of course, "Batman". As Batgirl, she was the last regular character to join the Bat-family, injecting much needed life into the show's formula during its hit-and-miss final season. 

Craig's ballet training was very apparent in the fight scenes that gave the opportunity to flaunt her impressive high-kicking skills. She also got a chance to twirl on screen as the icon green alien dancer Marta in the final season of "Star Trek", sparking rumors that Captain Kirk had a thing for inter-species romance, which persist to this very day.
Aside from appearing on a lot of very cool TV, Craig was a very cool person who devoted her time to supporting worker's unions, advocating free mammograms, and calling for women's right to equal pay. In fact, she stepped into her Batgirl gear for a PSA for that latter issue in 1973.

Sadly, Craig died relatively young at 78. She had suffered from breast cancer, which passed to her liver, for over two years. She will be missed by those who knew her and those who never had the pleasure.
 

Monday, August 17, 2015

'Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back' Coming to Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection

On November 24, the Criterion Collection will be releasing Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker's brutal portrait of Bob  when he was at his most brutal. Watch the Big D lay waste to Donovan and hotel managers in high-definition Blu-ray! 

Along with all the great music and delicious nastiness will be  a slew of bonus features:
  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, approved by director D. A. Pennebaker, with newly restored monaural sound from the original quarter-inch magnetic masters, presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 1999 featuring Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth
  • 65 Revisited, a 2006 documentary directed by Pennebaker and edited by Walker Lamond
  • Audio excerpt from an interview with Bob Dylan in the 2005 documentary No Direction Home, cut to previously unseen outtakes from Dont Look Back
  • New documentary about the evolution of Pennebaker's filming style, from his 1950s avant-garde work to his '60s musical documentaries, including an excerpt from the filmmaker's footage of Dylan performing "Ballad of a Thin Man" during his 1966 electric tour
  • Daybreak Express (1953), Baby (1954), and Lambert & Co. (1964), three short films by Pennebaker
  • New conversation between Pennebaker and Neuwirth about their work together, from Dont Look Back through Monterey Pop (1967) and beyond
  • Snapshots from the Tour, a new piece featuring outtakes from Dont Look Back
  • New interview with musician Patti Smith about Dylan and the influence of Dont Look Back in her life
  • Conversation between music critic Greil Marcus and Pennebaker from 2010
  • Alternate version of the film's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" cue card sequence
  • Five uncut audio tracks of Dylan songs from the film
  • Trailer
  • Pre-order on Amazon.com now here:
 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: Deluxe Editions of The Seeds' Debut Album and 'A Web of Sound'


They couldn’t claim a string of international hits, but The Seeds were LA garage rock royalty, and sitting on the throne was yowling, howling spaceman Sky Saxon. He and his horde—rippling electric pianist Daryl Hooper, fuzz-faced guitarist Jan Savage, and slamming drummer Rick Andridge—spun out two-chord songs simple as nursery rhymes and monstrous as Grimms’ fairy tales. Their eponymous debut is a work of pure excitement, and though they’ve been accused of recording the same song over-and-over, there’s enough blood running through The Seeds to make it a killer record in the Ramones-vein. In fact, tracks such as the single-minded “Pushin’ Too Hard”, the mesmeric noise “Evil Hoodoo”, and the chanting “No Escape” are as punk as anything The Ramones and their brethren did a decade later. The debut single “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” contrasts the prevailing speed and stomp with a dreamy pace, but it also has Saxon’s most intense vocal as he erupts into anguished primal screams. I wonder if John Lennon was listening.

The Seeds’ second album further deflates accusations of monotony as it moves the band’s signature songwriting style into less crazed, more varied and psychedelic vistas. Consequently, A Web of Sound is not as visceral as The Seeds, but it burns with explicit references to sex and drugs and memorable tracks such as “Mr. Farmer”, the Kinky “Tripmaker”, the rainy “A Faded Picture”, and the horny epic “Up in Her Room”.

GNP Crescendo records issued The Seeds in 2012 and A Web of Sound the following year as deluxe editions with all sonic planes distinguished brilliantly. Just listen to how much the rhythm section booms on “Evil Hoodoo” and how effectively the highs of Saxon’s wails and harmonica cut through that din. Both discs were also loaded with bonus tracks, The Seeds containing an assortment of outtakes and alternate takes, such as a funny Little Richard pastiche called “Daisy Mae” on which Saxon sounds a bit like Tiny Tim and “Evil Hoodoo” in an extended version even longer than “Up in Her Room”.

A Web of Sound offered even more with both the album’s stereo and mono mixes (guess which one’s better), a selection of boss alternates and outtakes (led by the baroque and rather demonic early version of “The Wind Bows Her Hair”), and A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues in its entirety and in its previously unissued mono mix. The album is better than its reputation because The Seeds play as well as ever and their style translates nicely to pure blues, but the material certainly isn’t very memorable and it does feel like a step backward, like if the Stones had followed Aftermath with The Rolling Stones. Sky does too much grumbling and mumbling, rarely getting into the manic zone that made him worshipable. While A Full Spoon might not be worth the admission price on its own, it is a very nice bonus to include on an album as good as A Web of Sound. The liner notes on both discs— oral histories with all surviving Seeds (Saxon died in 2009) —are also outstanding. Next month, Crescendo is apparently reissuing its deluxe edition of The Seeds in the UK next month, but they can both be purchased now through Amazon.com in the US here:

Monday, August 10, 2015

1,100th Post: Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Songs of the 1980s!


Like, gag me with a spoonful of Mr. T cereal, my tubular valley Smurf! I’ve totally posted, like, 100 posts here on Psychobabble since my 1000th post when I ran down my personal favorite 100 songs of the seventies. That means it’s, like, time to do the same for my 100 faves of the eighties! It’s gonna be non-stop Leon Neon references, Pee Wee Herman quotes, and close ups of Madonna’s navel as I bag your face through a massive mass of mint tunes! Where’s the beef? Probably somewhere in my 1,100th post, Poindexter! So take a chill pill and bang your head to Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Songs of the 1980s! Totally!

100.Nasty” by The Damned

“Oh, you’ve got a video?” Only a total nerd would have answered this question in the negative in the eighties. There was nothing more awesome than going to the video store to rent some shitty movie from the horror section, but if you were English, that awesomeness hit a serious snag when professional prig Mary Whitehouse spearheaded the prosecution of 39 “video nasties,” including Flesh for Frankenstein, Driller Killer, and Cannibal Holocaust. As always, it was Rat Scabies, Dave Vanian, and the aptly named Captain Sensible who called for a little rationality amidst the witchhunt. They did so with three minutes of high-speed punk professing their romance with video nasties. That they recorded the track specifically for one of the best episodes of “The Young Ones” makes “Nasty” all the awesomer.

99.Hungry for You (J’aurais Toujours Faim de Toi)” by The Police

One of the neat surprises of Ghosts in the Machine is how proficient Sting is with a horn in his mouth. Throughout the record, he fattens out the core Police sound with overdubbed saxophone arrangements. The chart on “Hungry for You (J’aurais Toujours Faim de Toi)” is particularly simple, but those two note blasts say more than a million over-bloated eighties saxophone solos. The songs message—mostly delivered in French—is equally fat-free: “No matter what I do, I’m still hungry for you.” That there is real lust.

98.Automatic” by Prince and the Revolution

“Automatic” pretends to be a message of love, but I have a feeling it has something more akin to “Hungry for You” on its dirty mind. Like that Police song, “Automatic” derives its power from a mesmerizing beat, but it also builds a tangible world: the seventh circle of sex hell. Prince’s vision is kind of disturbing because of the explicit threats (“I’m going 2 have 2 torture U now”) and the robotic quality of it all (“A-u-t-o-matic”). Sexy, disturbing, futuristic, uncompromising. Prince in a nutshell.

97.Kiss Off” by The Violent Femmes
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