Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review: 'Peppermint Trolley Co.' Vinyl Reissue

Redlands, California's Peppermint Trolley Company had one wild resume. After getting their start as Mark V in 1966, brothers Danny and Jimmy Faragher formed a light baroque-pop act very similar to Too-era Left Banke. The group made appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies and Mannix, backed Sammy Hagar on his 1967 duo-debut with Samson and Hagar, and cut the original version of the Brady Bunch theme song! (Their voices were later replaced with the kids'.)

The recordings they made as The Peppermint Trolley Company are no less interesting. Along with that late-Left Banke sound that dominates their self-titled 1968 LP, there are flashes of hard psych in "Beautiful Sun", which melds the Who of "I Can See for Miles" with the Who of "Bucket T." and vocal scatting straight off a Manhattan Transfer record. "I Remember Long Ago" sounds like S.F. Sorrow-era Pretty Things stripped of their menace. Among the love songs and tunes about how nice bells sound, there are gently delivered but firm-minded criticisms of war, religion, racism, capitalism, and simple-minded patriotism. Their detractors may dismiss them as bubblegum, but The Peppermint Trolley Company were hardly mindless. "Fatal Fallacy" takes the light experimentation of the rest of the album too far with its meandering structure, dissonance, and lack of a strong melody, but the rest is so breezy, pretty, and imaginative that I think you can forgive the guys one over-reaching folly. And since it's appears at the end of Peppermint Trolley Co., it's super easy to skip.

As reissued on vinyl by Out-Sider Music with Guerssen, Peppermint Trolley Co. mostly sounds superb despite a somewhat off-center spindle hole that doesn't affect the sound. Oddly, only the single "Baby, You Come Rolling Cross My Mind" sounds like it was taken from an inferior source. The rest of the record sounds like the PTC cut it last week. As usual for Guerssen, the package includes a spiffy color insert with extensive liner notes.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Review: 'The Wicker Man: The Original Soundtrack Album' on Transparent Yellow Vinyl

What The Rocky Horror Picture Show is to glam, The Wicker Man is to Wyrd folk, that quaint and creepy strain of Olde English acoustic music that conjures images of Maypole reveries and pagans in animal masks. Robin Hardy's enchantingly eerie 1973 film is the paragon of folk horror pictures, and Paul Giovanni's outrageously bawdy and outrageously beautiful songs such as "Gently Johnny" and "Willow's Song" are as integral to the spell it casts as "Time Warp" is to Rocky Horror's. Any fan of Hardy's film would not be caught in a flaming wicker man without a copy of its soundtrack album. 

A Wicker Man soundtrack album first arrived via Trunk Records 25 years after the film's theatrical debut. The tracks on that version were pulled directly from the film's soundtrack, and though the disc was very complete (right down to the inclusion of lots of sound effects and dialogue bits), the sound quality was hardly optimal. It was not until 2002, when Silva Screen Records paraded out the original master tapes for eleven tracks, that The Wicker Man really sounded up to snuff on CD and vinyl. A clutch of the most essential pieces of music not found on the original master tapes were included as pulled-from-the-film bonus tracks on both editions.

Unfortunately, those bonuses are absent from Silva Screen's latest reissue of The Wicker Man: The Original Soundtrack. Like each reissue since 2013, only the pristine-sounding eleven from the original masters are present. That means you don't get the mesmerizing version of Robert Burns's "The Highland Widow's Lament" that opens the long edit of the film, but you do get such outrageously bawdy and outrageously beautiful things as Giovanni's "Gently Johnny", "Fire Leap", "Corn Rigs", "Maypole", and the utterly spellbinding "Willow's Song", which contains some of the rudest lyrics that do not resort to expletives. You get the voices of Giovanni, stars Christopher Lee and Diane Cilento, and Lesley Mackie subbing for Britt Ekland on "Willow's Song".

Britt, however, does appear in all her own bawdy glory on a newly designed inner sleeve complete with libretto. The gatefold still features conductor Gary Carpenter's notes from Silva Screen's 2002 edition of the soundtrack, but the design of it and the front cover are new. So is the use of transparent, yellow vinyl, which has a well-centered spindle hole and is pretty quiet. The music sounds as warm and unsettlingly inviting as ever. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Review: 'Dune' Blu-ray

Dune was the one major outlier when I first fell in love with the films of David Lynch. I hated it. Although I could not honestly say I completely understood Eraserhead (even though I totally said that), complete comprehension didn't matter when it came to such a purely experimental piece. That I didn't understand the byzantine plot of Dune mattered more since it had the bones of a completely conventional film. It is a space opera like Star Wars. It has a hero's journey. There are clearly defined good guys and bad guys and laser guns and made-up planets and giant monsters. Perhaps I was also offended that an ARTIST such as Lynch had played on the blockbuster field field at all. That Lynch, himself, had completely disowned the film because producer Dino De Laurentiis insisted on a rather ruthless edit justified my serious Dune aversion and made me feel I didn't need to work to love it as much as I loved Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Fire Walk with Me, and every other non-Dune picture Lynch made.

And yet, I still returned to Dune every few years. And oddly, it got a little better each time I watched it, while certain other Lynch movies (The Elephant Man, Lost Highway) drop in my estimation each time I revisit them. After multiple viewingsand still never having read the entirety of the Frank Herbert novel on which the film is basedDune's plot seems so lucid I feel like a dum-dum for not understanding it upon my first viewing. While it seemed to sorely lack Lynch's experimental verve all those years ago, I now can't understand how I didn't always recognize how far-out Dune is, with its disconcertingly fascistic hero and disgusting, pustule-plagued villain, who at one point, tries to force a captive to milk a cat duct-taped to a rat. I mean, did Lynch ever even devise anything weirder than that?

Monday, September 6, 2021

Review: 'The Vinyl Series Volume Two'

With its joyous mélange of ska, reggae, soul, and Spencer Davis Group, the theme of Chris Blackwell's The Vinyl Series: Volume One could be summed up as "Mod Party." Volume Two is a little harder to pin down. On first blush, Blackwell seems to have gone down more of a singer-songwriter alley this time, what with its very personal tracks by Cat Stevens ("Lady D'Arbenville"), Nick Drake (the sublimely somber "River Man"), John Martyn (somber ode to pal Drake "Solid Air"), Jimmy Cliff (lovely "Many Rivers to Cross"), and even Traffic (Dave Mason mumbles "Feelin' Alright" like he's playing to his chest in a coffee bar). 

So then where does Free's Classic-Rock-101 staple "All Right Now" fit in? Or The Heptones' group-effort "Book Rules" or Toots and the Maytals' extroverted "Pressure Drop"? And is it a true singer-songwriter song if the singing and songwriting are split between two individuals, even (formerly) married ones such as Richard and Linda Thompson? And what about that woozily exuberant Mariachi band on "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight"? Nick Drake never used one of those.

Perhaps Blackwell's theme is "terrific songs from the Island Records archives," which is valid enough from a guy with such fine taste. Each of these songs is a classic, and though "All Right Now" does sound out of place, hearing it sandwiched between the Thompsons' night-on-the-town gem and Cliff's soul-stirrer make it sound fresher than it does between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foreigner during a musty Classic Rock Radio Rock-Block. 

As mastered by Alex Abrash, The Vinyl Series: Volume Two also sounds pretty fresh. Cat Stevens thumping the hollow body of his acoustic and The Heptones' bongos sound almost disquietingly present on flat, quiet vinyl. I wonder what the theme of Volume Three will be...

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Review: 'Paul McCartney: The Stories Behind the Songs'

Mike Evans's new book probably should have been called Paul McCartney: The Stories Behind Some Songs. With the title Paul McCartney: The Stories Behind the Songs, I assumed the book would go through the entirety of McCartney's substantial post-Beatles body of work, explaining the inspiration behind well-documented hits like "Silly Love Songs" and obscurities like "Monkberry Moon Delight". Instead Evans mainly focuses on the hits, first providing a very swift and general overview of a given album before zooming in on one or two of the more popular songs contained therein (as well as some stand-alone singles, such as "Another Day" or "Wonderful Christmastime"). 

I guess digging deep into songs McCartney usually admits were inspired by nothing more than a decent-sounding yet nonsensical rhyme might not have been too edifying. Evans might not have been the guy to do it either since he is saw awed by McCartney's talent. A fair yet critical sort is the ideal chronicler of a catalog that is way better than many critics would have you believe but pretty rich in toss-offs too. Look, I enjoy "Magneto and Titanium Man" as much as anyone, but I'd hardly describe its slight comic-book lyric as "rock solid storytelling" as Evans does. On the odd occasion the author seems to criticize a song, he rarely owns that criticism, prefacing it with phrases like "Some critics believe..." Granted, this book is not called Paul McCartney: Picking Apart the Songs either, but since Evans does offer some personal judgments, his fairly one-track view of McCartney's Wings and solo work is worth noting. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Deluxe Editions of The Beatles' 'Let It Be' Coming This Autumn!

Well, we all knew it was coming, but Covid-19 threw a year-long curveball into the release of the deluxe edition of The Beatles' Let It Be/Get Back sessions. So what was surely planned to be a fiftieth anniversary release will now be a fifty-first anniversary release when several iterations of The Beatles' final album arrive on October 15.

The biggest is a "Super Deluxe Special Edition" available on both vinyl and CD. This set features five discs that include Giles Martin's remix of Phil Spector's production of the original Let It Be album, the first official release of producer Glyn Johns's proposed 1969 Get Back album, a disc of sessions, a disc of rehearsals and jams, and a bonus 12" E.P. of Glyn Johns mixes from 1970 and new ones from Giles. Tracklistings of the vinyl and CD sets are identical, although the CD version includes a bonus Blu-ray with Stereo, 5.1, and Dolby Atmos mixes. In a welcome new twist, the bonus hardback book is not limited to the CD edition this time.

Let It Be will also be available as a more economical 2-disc edition on vinyl and CD featuring the new remix of the featured album and a single bonus disc of selections from the big box, as well as standard single-disc editions on CD, black vinyl, and vinyl picture disc.

Here's what to expect from the "Super Deluxe Special Edition" box and the 2-disc highlights versions:

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Farewell, Charlie Watts

The Rolling Stones became one of the top rock and roll acts on the strength of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' songs, Jagger's way with a crowd, and Richards' way with a chord, but none of it would have meant a lick if Charlie Watts didn't hold it all together. Watts is best known for his simple, ever-so-slightly behind-the-beat beat that complimented so many Stones classics. However, he was also stealthily versatile, which will become rather obvious to anyone who ventures into the Stones' mid-sixties albums. More so than Richards' riffs, Charlie Watts's lyrical drum figures provide the main hooks in tracks such as "Get Off Of My Cloud", "My Obsession", and "Complicated" (he really shines throughout Between the Buttons).

In the decadent, often petty world that Jagger and Richards constructed, Watts was also a true gentleman.  There are plenty of gross stories involving The Rolling Stones (don't get me started on Wyman), but Charlie Watts always seemed like a decent guy. And on the odd occasion he lost his composure, he apparently tended to unleash his wrath on deserving parties. Many a Stones fan's fave Stones story (which will surely get repeated a lot in the coming days) is the one that finds Jagger in a rare state of drunken sloppiness, phoning Charlie in the middle of the night to shout, "Where's my drummer?" at an Amsterdam hotel. Watts slipped out of bed, donned one of his natty suits, headed over to Mick's room, and punched him in the face, responding, "Don't ever call me your drummer again. You're my singer."

Sadly, we have lost that beat and that wit. Charlie Watts recently bowed out of an upcoming Stones tour for health reasons. He died today at the age of 80. Specific details are not available as of this writing.

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