musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Kent Records’

Rosanne Cash Returns!

My worship of Rosanne Cash began in 1980 when I heard her debut album, Right or Wrong. I was working at a branch of Record Mart in Orlando, Florida at the time and we had a promo vinyl copy of that album that I played every day. I was totally smitten and have since bought every album that she’s recorded. I cherish them all. Last month she released her long-awaited new album, The River and the Thread. This one is another jewel. I need to give it more time to digest, and time to reflect, before offering a final judgment, but this could be her finest work yet. And that’s saying something!

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On the new album Rosanne’s voice sounds as effortlessly warm and comforting as ever, the lyrics are poetic and moving, and her astute song choices, mostly originals plus a couple of “bonus” covers (including Jesse Winchester’s classic “Biloxi”) are once again brilliant. This woman takes her time between albums, never content to churn out “product” on an annual basis. The quality and craft that goes into every album, this one included, is always impressive. Being the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash must have felt like a huge burden at times, but Rosanne has courageously forged her own career path, never watering-down her music or trying to be something she’s not. It’s difficult to categorize her music, and I like that about her. You can’t pigeonhole her as “country” any more than you call her “folk” or “pop.” She has that unique ability to both straddle and transcend specific musical genres. No matter how you want to label her music, Rosanne Cash continues to be one of America’s greatest musical treasures. For those of us that still enjoy the thrill of “real” packaging, as opposed to sterile downloads, the deluxe version of the new CD comes with a beautiful 36-page booklet that contains song lyrics, photos, and comments from Rosanne about the new project. Well done!

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Meanwhile, here are a few other marvelous CDs keeping me company during Bangkok’s recent turbulent days of political protests and “mob” mentality:

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Jaco Pastorius – Punk Jazz: The Anthology

Jules Shear – Longer to Get to Yesterday

Various Artists – Soul in Harmony: Vocal Groups 1965-1977

Change – Greatest Hits & Essential Tracks

Aimee Mann – @#%&! Smilers

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Two Things In One – Together Forever: The Music City Sessions

Cut Copy – Free Your Mind

Tommy Keene – Excitement At Your Feet: The Covers Album

Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Forte Label

Brendan Benson – You Were Right

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Various Artists – King Northern Soul Vol. 3

Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This

Brass Construction – Movin’ & Changin’

Hank Mobley – Workout

Babyface Willett – Mo Rock

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George Jackson – Old Friend: The Fame Recordings Vol. 3

Merry Clayton – The Best Of

Gram Parsons – The Complete Reprise Sessions

Chumbawamba – Readymade

Peter Green – In the Skies

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Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Live at the Haunted House

Terry Edwards – Cliches

Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory

Van Morrison – Common One

Bread Love and Dreams – Bread Love and Dreams 

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Nils Lofgren – Acoustic Live

Guided By Voices – The Bears For Lunch

O.M.D. – History of Modern

Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces

Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt – Soul Summit

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Skids – Sweet Suburbia: The Best Of

The Bongos – Phantom Train

Mikal Cronin – MCII

Dead Boys – We Have Come for Your Children

Pete Donnelly – Face the Bird

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Various Artists – The Divas From Mali

Prince Phillip Mitchell – Make It Good

J.J. Jackson – The Great J.J. Jackson

Antena – Camino Del Sol

Camera Obscura – Desire Lines

The World needs Swamp Dogg!

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Jerry Williams is Swamp Dogg, one of the most unsung recording artists and producers in the last half-century. All Music.com had a great description, calling Swamp Dogg “Raunchy, satirical, political, and profane … one of the great cult figures of 20th century American music.” I’d rank Swamp Dogg up there with great soul and jazz artists/producers like Curtis Mayfield and Quincy Jones. Really, this guy is that good and his recording output that voluminous. But Swamp Dogg was also more than a bit unconventional when it came to the topics of some of his own songs, not to mention his outrageous and hilarious album covers. Based on his stage name, the funny album covers, and his “I don’t give a shit, I’ll record whatever I like” attitude, I think he got a bum rap as “too weird”, which pigeonholed him and forced his music underground. It was unlikely, for instance, that you’d find Swamp Dogg records for sale in suburban shopping malls in the 1970s or 80s.

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But the scarcity of Swamp Dogg albums has been rectified in recent years thanks to compilations of his music released on CD by Kent and Ace Records, as well as reissues on his own label, SDEG (Swamp Dogg Entertainment Group). And just this year there have been several more vintage Swamp Dogg albums reissued on the Alive Records label. All of those recordings show the world what they’ve been missing; an artist with the ability to write catchy tunes, but also songs that addressed political, racial, societal, and environmental issues. Ahead of his time, or too damn timely? The soul version of Frank Zappa? Whatever the case, it’s never too late to discover this amazing artist, a man who is still alive and well and recording music in his seventies. The world needs Swamp Dogg!

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My introduction to Swamp Dogg was a vinyl copy of I’m Not Selling Out, I’m Buying In that I discovered in the early 1980s. I couldn’t resist an album cover like this one; the mighty Swamp Dogg, dressed head-to-toe in white (complete with top hat and cane), and standing on top of a table in a boardroom, surrounded by grumpy looking white businessmen. The songs had gloriously goofy titles such as “The Love We Got Ain’t Worth Two Dead Flies”, “Low Friends in High Places”, and “California is Drowning and I Live Down By the River.” But beneath those silly song titles, were songs with grooves and hooks. Soul music with some kick to it. From that point on, I was hooked; a Swamp Dogg fan for life.

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Williams may have gained initial fame in the soul and R&B, but he acknowledges a debt to country music too. In an interview with NPR he talked about how much country music influenced him in his youth, when he listened to the radio at night: “Black music didn’t start ’til 10 at night until 4 in the morning and I was in bed by then … if you strip my tracks, take away all the horns and guitar licks, what you have is a country song.”  In addition to his own recordings, Williams has produced singles and entire albums for the likes of Gary “US” Bonds, Johnny Paycheck, Doris Duke, Irma Thomas, Z.Z. Hill, and Arthur Conley. The album he wrote and produced for Duke, I’m A Loser, is widely considered by “Deep Soul” fans to be one of the very finest albums of that genre ever recorded. Another one of his productions, In Between Tears by Irma Thomas, was finally released on CD earlier this year. This 1973 recording was considered somewhat of a radical departure for the soul singer at the time, offering songs with more lyrical bite than she had previously recorded. I haven’t heard that album yet, but I have a copy on order.

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Last month I picked up one of the new reissues, the very first album as Swamp Dogg, 1970’s Total Destruction To Your Mind.  If I had to compare his style to anyone, the closest I can think of is Joe Tex, particularly the way that Swamp Dogg fuses elements of melodic yet funky soul and country in his songs. In addition to the original compositions, Swamp Dogg co-wrote three songs with Gary “US” Bonds, recorded two Joe South tunes (including the classic “Redneck”) and also one by Bobby Goldsboro. Seemingly still suffering an identity crisis, Swamp Dogg credited Jerry Williams for the piano parts on the album. Besides his keyboard skills, and organ contributions from Paul Hornsby (any relation to Bruce?), some lively horn arrangements by the Maconites had to the funky groove factor. Many soul fans rate this album as a classic and I think the praise is justified.

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Another album that was reissued on CD this year was the equally adventurous Rat On, first released back in 1971. And check out that cover! The album was recorded at TK Studios in Florida and featured guests such as Betty Wright, Al Kooper, Lonnie Mack and a young employee at TK named Harry Wayne Casey, a guy who would gain fame a few years later as leader of his own band, KC & the Sunshine Band. Rat On included several Swamp Dogg originals, along with covers of songs by Joe South, Mickey Newbury, and even the Bee Gees. The most controversial song on the album was “God Bless America For What?”, a provocative tune that reportedly landed Swamp Dogg on Richard Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List.”

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It’s All Good, is a 24-track singles collection released by Kent/Ace Records that offers highlights of Swamp Dogg’s solo recording career from 1963 to 1989. If you want to immerse yourself in all facets of the Swamp Dogg experience, this is the one to start with. You get a total of 75 minutes of funky soul music, all of it garnished and spiced by Swamp Dogg’s trademark wit and wisdom. Another compilation, the 24-track Blame It On the Dog, was also released by Kent/Ace Records, and is billed as “The Swamp Dogg Anthology” but it consists mostly of artists that Williams produced, performing songs that he wrote, along with a few Swamp Dogg originals. The lineup includes artists such as Z.Z. Hill, Ruth Brown, Pattie Labelle & The Bluebelles, The Drifters, and Gary “US” Bonds.

http://www.swampdogg.net/

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Soul Music Legend: George Jackson

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One of the legends of soul music, George Jackson, passed away on Monday this week. If you never heard of George Jackson, that’s not really surprising. He earned most of his fame as a songwriter during his long career in the music business and released only a handful of songs in the 1960s. But many of his old recordings were unearthed and released for the very first time in recent years and reveal that in addition to being an ace songwriter, he was also an outstanding singer and performer.

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Reading online obituaries, it’s not clear how old George Jackson was; Wikipedia and All Music list him as 78, while the New York Times and several other wire services gave his age as 68. However, most sources give his birthdate as 1936, so if that’s the case he’d certainly have been in his late seventies. But what is undisputed is how talented this man was. While he was signed to Fame Records in the 1960s, Jackson only released two singles, but he spent most of time at that label as a songwriter and producer.

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Whether you realize it or not, if you are over the age of 35 you’ve probably heard some of the songs that George Jackson wrote, most notably “Minnie Skirt Minnie,” “One Bad Apple” (a hit by the Osmonds), “Old Time Rock and Roll” (a huge hit for Bob Seger), and “The Only Way is Up” (a hit for the electro/new wave act Yaz). He also wrote hit songs for Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Z.Z. Hill, Candi Staton, and other artists, most of who recorded for the Fame and Atlantic labels. As a singer, he recorded more than 100 solo tracks for Fame, but strangely, those recordings were never released and sat in the archives for nearly 40 years until they were finally put on various CD compilations by the UK reissue label Ace/Kent.

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The first release of vintage George Jackson material came in 2009 with In Memphis: 1972-1977, a CD containing 21 tracks, some of which were recorded for the legendary Hi Records label. But, like his 60s output for Fame, these excellent songs also sat on the shelf for several decades. As a music fan, I’m both shocked and saddened that music of this quality went unheard for so many years. But luckily the music junkies at Kent Records realized what a goldmine they had, and continued to release more George Jackson compilations. The second in their series, released in 2011, was Don’t Count Me Out: The Fame Recordings, Volume 1. This collection contained 24 tunes, all of them delicious soul gems. Last year Kent followed that one up with another compilation, Let the Best Man Win: The Fame Recordings, Volume 2. Like the previous set, this one also contained 24 songs rescued from the vaults, every single one of them an expertly crafted soul gem. Honestly, the quality of these recordings is extremely high and the tunes are thrilling. But what elevates them all to a higher level is Jackson’s scintillating vocals and soulful performance. He sounds a bit like Percy Sledge with some Tyrone Davis thrown in the mix; heartfelt southern soul with an irresistible backwoods country vibe. I’m telling you, this guy should be ranked up there with Otis Redding, James Carr, Wilson Pickett, and other great soul vocalists of the era. He was that outstanding. Obviously, he had the rep as a great songwriter, but hearing him sing these songs it’s painfully obvious that he was also a first-rate singer. All the more shameful that these songs were never released and promoted when they were first recorded.

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In addition to those solo collections, a few more George Jackson songs can be found on recently issued compilations such as Hall of Fame: Rare and Unissued Gems from the Fame Vaults and Lost Soul Gems from Sounds of Memphis, both put together by the fine folks at Kent/Ace. Lost Soul Gems has two wonderful Jackson tunes, one of which is a rough mid-80s demo, just Jackson on piano and singing, an achingly beautiful tune titled “It’s Hard to Say No.” Once again, I find it mind boggling to think that music this special was shelved for so long. Did someone once say that the people running record companies were idiots? Well, here’s the proof.

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For an interesting interview with George Jackson, check out this link:

http://www.soulexpress.net/georgejackson_tribute.htm

Sadly, George Jackson wasn’t the only soul music legend to pass away in recent months. Last month we lost Bobby Smith, one of the main vocalists for the Spinners. He’d been singing with Spinners since their days with Motown in the 1960s, and of course during their hit run with Atlantic in the 70s. In February we lost soul-jazz pioneer Donald Byrd, the unheralded singer-guitarist Lou Bond (check out his self-titled CD that was recently reissued by Light in the Attic, the same label that revived the career of Rodriguez, the singer/star of the “Searching for Sugar Man” documentary), Cecil Womack (brother of Bobby, and member of Womack & Womack with his wife Linda, who was Sam Cooke’s daughter!), two members of the Temptations (Richard Street and Damon Harris), and the oldest sister in the Staple Singlers, Cleotha Staples. Back in January, Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner of the Ohio Players also passed away.

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Neglected Southern Soul

Here are yet more examples of immensely talented soul singers who have mysteriously remained under the radar for far too many years. In the case of Candi Staton, she actually enjoyed a bit of success with the 1976 hit single “Young Hearts Run Free” (later covered by Rod Stewart, among others) but for most of her recording career she has been ignored by the titans of the music business. Part of that may be by choice — at one point Candi Staton dropped out of the pop world to record gospel music — but there’s no doubt that over the years, her labels dropped the ball in promoting her songs to the masses.

 

A few years back I picked up a copy of The Best of Candi Staton (part of the Warners Archive reissue series) that I found in the sale bin of a shop in Bangkok. That compilation contained “Young Hearts Run Free” along with 14 other tracks, including goodies such as “Six Nights and A Day” and “Victim.” The material on this album runs the gamut from sultry soul to funky disco. This is a strong collection of songs, mostly culled from her mid to late 1970s Warner Brothers period. But recently I bought a new Candi Staton compilation that is even more stunning; Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters. Spread out over two CDs are 48 tracks of heartfelt southern soul that she recorded in the 1960s and early 70s, songs positively dripping with love and heartache. In one review I read, her vocals were called “achingly vulnerable,” which I think is a very apt description. To my ears, Candi Staton’s voice sounds as soulful and powerful as that of Aretha Franklin. Really, she’s that damn good. Songs like “I’d Rather Be an Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than a Young Man’s Fool)” and “You Don’t Love Me No More”, as well as covers of famous tunes like “In the Ghetto” and “Stand By Your Man,” are nothing short of brilliant. If you like Aretha, Etta James, or southern soul in general, you should treat yourself to this CD. This set includes 12 previously unreleased tracks, and they are all strong ones. Another excellent reissue from the folks at Kent.

 

Many of the songs on Evidence were written by George Jackson, a very talented songwriter whose songs were covered by a staggering variety of rock, pop, and soul artists in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Jackson also recorded some very fine albums of his own during those years. I recently found a copy of a George Jackson compilation called In Memphis: 1972-77. It was also compiled by Kent Records, so you can trust the quality is top-notch. But the songs themselves are what is worth raving about: 21 tracks of superb southern soul, ranging from smooth ballads to more funky numbers. I hear this album —as well as the Candi Staton compilation — and marvel at how music this amazing could have been ignored for so long. But hey, it’s never too late to discover incredible artists like these. Kent released another George Jackson collection late last year; Don’t Count on Me: the Fame Recordings. I’m already salivating just thinking about getting that one. Can’t get enough of that sweet soul music!

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