John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Roillins get 'Definitive'

Following up on the success of The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, Concord Music Group  has assembled three new titles in the Definitive series showcasing some of the most influential figures in modern jazz. The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside; The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside;The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary not only put the spotlight on the monumental work of three individual jazz players of the 1950s, but also provide an overview of the hard-bop period, one of the most significant chapters in the evolution of jazz. Each of the 2-CD collections is set for release on August 24, 2010.

The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside tracks Coltrane’s artistic development from his first Prestige recording session in November 1955 for Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet to his last sessions for Prestige (for Bahia) in December 1958.

Trane’s career was marked by various shifts in style throughout the ’50s and ’60s, “but if you like straight-ahead, yet inventive, hard-bop playing, then this collection of recordings from the mid- to late ’50s is definitely one of the sweet spots,” says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group’s Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the Definitive series. “And yet some of what you hear in these tracks gives hints about what was to come from this restlessly creative artist.”

Extensive liner notes by veteran music journalist and Coltrane biographer Ashley Kahn provide an in-depth look at the tracks and the circumstances surrounding their genesis. “The Definitive John Coltrane offers a best-of culled from these early recordings,” says Kahn, “offering an inspiring listening session that allows for much to be gleaned: Coltrane’s talent at recasting decades-old themes with a modern touch; a penchant for brooding, minor-key melodies; the uncanny rate of his personal development — building on his strengths, articulating a signature sound; an increased ability born in the one-take fire of three-hour recording dates to toss together timeless performances.”

The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside covers an even broader span of the ’50s, beginning with trio sessions in New York featuring bassist Gary Mapp and drummer Art Blakey in October 1952 and stretching to sextet dates in San Francisco with trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor saxophonists Harold Land and Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore and drummer Billy Higgins in April 1960.

“This is some of the most amazing Thelonious Monk on record,” says Phillips. “Whether he’s playing a standard or one of his own compositions, he sounds uniquely like Thelonious Monk and nobody else. All of the tunes in this collection that Monk wrote have become jazz standards. Conversely, he plays standard tunes like ‘Caravan’ and ‘Tea for Two’ with such distinctive genius that you’d swear he had written them himself.”

But Monk was no overnight sensation. He made “a long, slow climb from underground to mainstream adulation, and the ten-year period represented by this collection captures that ascent,” says Kahn in his liner notes. “The one constant — creatively, promotionally, and economically — was his recordings. First for Prestige Records from 1952 to ’54, then for the Riverside label from ’55 to ’61, Monk was afforded the chance to create new music and work with a number of significant jazz peers in a number of contexts — from solo piano, to trios, to quartets, even a big band . . . Most importantly, what Monk composed and recorded during the ’50s amount to the definitive versions of some of the most enduring, joyous melodies in modern jazz.”

The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary comes out a few weeks ahead of Rollins’ 80th birthday on September 7. Like the Thelonious Monk release, the Sonny Rollins set also covers almost an entire decade, from a December 1951 session in New York for Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet to an October 1958 session in Los Angeles for Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

“That was such a significant period in the development of jazz in general, and Sonny Rollins was at the heart of all that was going on during that decade,” says Phillips. “Just look at the Miles Davis session where he recorded ‘Airegin,’ ‘Doxy’ and ‘Oleo,’ for example. Those are all tunes that he penned, and all remain indelible jazz standards. That’s a whole lot of jazz history that was made on just a single day in the summer of 1954.”

Liner notes for The Definitive Sonny Rollins are provided by music journalist Bob Blumenthal, co-author with photographer John Abbott of the forthcoming book, Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins.

“That the marks of [Rollins’] genius were fully apparent in the music he made over a half-century ago has been obvious to all who have followed the trajectory of his unprecedented career,” says Blumenthal. “As a contract artist with Prestige Records between 1951 and 1956, and through his work on various labels from 1957 until the beginning of an extended sabbatical two years later, Rollins laid the foundation for his status as a master improviser, saxophonist and composer; an influence far beyond his chosen instrument and idiom; and a living icon of affirmative creativity. Concord Music Group is the steward of many of the finest Rollins performances of the ’50s, and has culled them well in presenting this short course in what made Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins.” released in October 2009.

Allan Sherman's Warner Bros. LPs reissued on Collectors' Choice

If Stan Freberg owned the ’50s when it came to song parodies, Alan Sherman owned the ’60s. His string of three #1 albums in a row (My Son, the Folk Singer; My Son, the Celebrity; and My Son, the Nut) remains unmatched by any comedian before or since. Yet in what would qualify as a fershlugginer state of affairs, those very same classic albums have never been released on CD in their original form — appearing only on a now out-of-print Rhino Handmade box set. Collectors’ Choice Music will reissue Sherman’s eight Warner Bros. Records albums from 1962-67 on September 7, 2010 — one day before Rosh Hashanah in the Hebrew calendar year 5771.

The digitally remastered albums include My Son, the Folk Singer; My Son, the Celebrity; My Son, the Nut; Allan in Wonderland; For Swingin’ Livers Only!; My Name Is Allan; Allan Sherman Live! (Hoping You Are the Same); and Togetherness and feature newly written liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen.

Sherman’s musical career started when his career as a television producer (“The Steve Allen Show,” “I’ve Got a Secret”) came to a close. He had recorded a handful of Borscht Belt song parodies in the ’50s for Jubilee Records in his native New York and decided to take up where he’d left off. Having relocated to Los Angeles, Sherman was signed to Warner Bros. Records by A&R man and arranger-conductor Lou Busch. The recording session for what would become My Son, the Folk Singer took place where his next six albums would be recorded — Radio Recorders on Hollywood’s McCadden Place, where he was joined by six musicians, six singers, and a live audience of 100, seated in folding chairs, who noshed and imbibed. “I wanted it to be like a party,” he later wrote in his autobiography. The crowd laughter became an essential part of the Allan Sherman sound. The eight Allan Sherman reissues on Collectors’ Choice Music are as follows:

• My Son, The Folk Singer: Sherman recorded his #1 debut album one night on August 6, 1962 with arranger Lou Busch at Hollywood’s Radio Recorders before a live audience of friends including Johnny Mercer, Theo Bikel and Pat Carroll. As reissue annotator Dr. Demento writes, “He had developed a style that somehow preserved the soul of Jewish humor but made it sound all-American.” The album contains such Sherman gems as “Sarah Jackman” (based on “Frère Jacques”), “My Zelda” (“Matilda”), “The Streets of Miami” (“The Streets of Laredo”), “Seltzer Boy” (“Water Boy”) and “Oh Boy” (“Chiapanecas”). The album sold so fast that when Warner Bros. ran out of album jackets, they continued to sell the vinyl alone.

• My Son, The Celebrity: At 37, Allan Sherman, the portly ex-TV producer, was suddenly famous. In the space of three sessions in late 1962, he and Busch again invited friends to the studio, supplying folding chairs, hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. The resulting album featured “Harvey & Sheila” (set to the tune of “Hava Nagila”), painting a portrait of the emerging suburban Jewish upper middle class (“They bought a house one day/Financed by FHA/It had a swimming pool/Full of H20/Traded their used MG/For a new XKE/Switched to the GOP/That’s the way things go”). The second album, which also reached #1, also included “Mexican Hat Dance,” “The Let’s All Call Up AT&T and Protest to the President March,” “Won’t You Come Home Disraeli” and “Barry Is the Baby’s Name/Horowitz/Get on the Garden Freeway.”

• My Son, The Nut: Sherman’s fan base now including President John F. Kennedy and Harpo Marx. The parodist once told Busch he wanted to record with a full orchestra, which Busch thought was indeed nuts, but agreed to add concert strings and brass to the mix for this 1963 album. Featured here is “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” sung from the vantage point of a malcontented kid at overnight camp. The Los Angeles Times called it “pure craft . . . Sherman clearly tapped not only his son’s experience that summer but the  . . . terror of a child separated from his parents.” Other tracks included “You Went the Wrong Way Old King Louie,” “Automation,” “I See Bones,” “Hungarian Goulash No. 5,” “Here’s to the Crabgrass,” “Rat Fink” and “Hail to Thee, Fat Person.” The album held the #1 spot for eight weeks.

• Allan in Wonderland: Sherman’s 1964 album didn’t reach #1 — the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan three weeks after its release, thereby changing the pop charts forever — but Allan Sherman’s fourth album stood up well against its chart-topping forebears. In fact its humor might even have been a little more pointed, most notably “The Dropouts March,” which took a particularly cynical look at educators’ well-meaning efforts to keep kids in school. With psychiatry a popular topic for comedians in the early ’60s, Sherman provided “You Need an Analyst,” based on “I’ve Got a Little List” from The Mikado. The album maxed at #25 on the album chart.

• For Swingin’ Livers Only: The album title was an homage to Frank Sinatra’s famous 1956 album Songs For Swingin’ Lovers. And indeed Sherman made no bones about on which side of the popular music divide he stood with “Pop Hates the Beatles” (to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”). Also included are “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas,” “Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb,” “Your Mother’s Here to Stay,” “Pills,” “Shine On Harvey Bloom,” ”Beautiful Teamsters” and “Bye Bye Blumberg.”  Although one of his most fertile periods for parody, the November 1964 release reached only #32 on the charts. Sherman kept himself in the public eye, appearing on the “Tonight Show” and authoring articles that year for Playboy, TV Guide, The Saturday Evening Post and New York Magazine.

• My Name is Allan: The fad nutrition book of 1965 was The Drinking Man’s Diet, which advanced the peculiar notion that consuming alcohol would ease the stress of dieting and therefore promote weight loss — a notion that Sherman ran with on this, his final charting album. Featured were “The Drinking Man’s Diet” (not a song parody buy rather an original penned by Sherman and arranger Neil Hefti, who also composed the “Batman” theme), “It’s a Most Unusual Play,” “Peyton Place, USA,” “The Laarge Daark Aardvark Song” and “The Painless Dentist.” The humor also extends to the album title and cover — being Jewish is about the only thing Allan Sherman and Barbara Streisand had in common. The album stalled at #88 on the Billboard chart, and was the last album recorded at a Hollywood studio with invited guests in folding chairs.

• Allan Sherman Live! (Hoping You Are the Same): Sparks, Nevada’s Nugget hotel/casino was not exactly Carnegie Hall. But after years of recording before invited guests at recording studios, this 1966 release was his first recorded in concert. This was not a rehash of greatest hits, however. Sherman premiered new material — much of it a minute or less in length — alongside a few of his best-loved songs. Included are “How Van Nuys Got Its Name,” “Smog Gets in Your Eyes,” “The Learner’s Brassiere,” “Mononucleosis,” “Scotch and/or Water,” “Sorry ’Bout That” and “In Which I Finally Admit That I Won World War II Single-Handed” and “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh — Nevada Style,” complete with a shout-out to the casino’s owner. Overall it was not a good year for Sherman; his 21-year marriage came to an end, and he’d added fame — which had begun to dissipate — to a list of addictions that included alcohol and carbohydrates. He relocated from Los Angeles to back New York, setting his sights on creating a Broadway musical.

• Togetherness: Allan Sherman’s last album, from 1967, was the only one he made without an audience of any kind, and he and musical director Peter Matz (who he’d met an overnight camp) took full advantage of the studio environment with such effects as singing in the shower. The album’s single was “Westchester Hadassah,” a parody of the New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral,” itself something of a novelty record. He sang it in what Dr. Demento describes as “somewhere between the quaintly nasal sound of the New Vaudeville Band and the nagging woman of a thousand Jewish comedy routines.” Many of the songs were written by Sherman and composer Albert Hague for their Broadway show Birth Is the Coward’s Way Out (retitled The Fig Leaves Are Falling). Sadly, the production lasted a total of two days on Broadway.

Sherman moved back to L.A. and began work on a book. By the time it was published in 1973, Sherman was in poor health, suffering from emphysema (after a lifetime of smoking) and increased weight. He died on November 20, 1973 at the age of 47.

Forty-plus years after his heyday, with the re-release of his catalog, Sherman proves that good comedic music can have timeless appeal.

This Will Destroy You Heading on Tour

If they haven’t already destroyed you, Texas post-rockers This Will Destroy You, will do just that. After conquering Europe with their cinematic brand of post-rock, the quartet — comprised of with a line-up of guitarists Chris King and Jeremy Galindo, bassist/keys Donovan Jones and drummer Alex Bhore — returned to the U.S. newly invigorated. They went straight to the studio and began recording their much-anticipated album, Tunnel Blanket, with critically acclaimed producer John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, Modest Mouse, Chairlift). The Congleton sessions found the band taking an evolutionary step forward from their previous release, S/T. The end result, Tunnel Blanket, explores darker, more challenging territories than their previous releases.

Performing new material from Tunnel Blanket, This Will Destroy You is heading on the road this summer. Kicking off in their home state of Texas on May 26th, the band will perform a series of dates on the East Coast and in the South.

This Will Destroy You Tour Dates

05/26 DENTON, TX @ The Boiler Room

05/27 AUSTIN, TX @ The Mohawk

05/28 SHREVEPORT, LA @Silver Lake Ballroom

05/29 BIRMINGHAM, AL @ Bottletree

05/30 TAMPA, FL @ New World Brewery

06/01 JACKSONVILLE, FL @ Jack Rabbit’s

06/02 ATLANTA, GA @ The Drunken Unicorn

06/03 NEWPORT, KY @ Southgate House

06/04 CHICAGO, IL @ Lincoln Hall

06/05 TORONTO, ON @ Rivoli Cabaret

06/06 MONTREAL, QC @ Petit Campus

06/07 ALISTON, MA @ Great Scott

06/08 BROOKLYN, NY @ Knitting Factory

06/09 NEW YORK, NY @ Mercury Lounge

06/10 WASHINGTON, DC @ DC9

06/11 PHILADELPHIA, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie

06/12 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA @ Random Row Books

06/13 CHAPEL HILL, NC @ Local 506

06/15 CHARLESTON, SC @ The Oasis

06/16 KNOXVILLE, TN @ Pilot Light

06/17 NASHVILLE, TN @ The End

06/18 NEW ORLEANS, LA @ Saturn Bar

06/19 HOUSTON, TX @ Mango’s

Denver-Based Guitarist Grant Gordy To Release Debut Album May 11

Grant Gordy, the Denver-based guitar player whose lifelong study of music, from Bill Evans to The Beatles and beyond, has informed his own writing and arranging, will release his self-titled debut album on May 11.

“[He] belongs to the new elite family of American acoustic practitioners who are pushing the ever-expanding envelope of a musical frontier … Bluegrass, newgrass, jazz, classical and even ‘dawg’ are all audible influences in Grant’s musical vision,” says David “Dawg” Grisman, whose David Grisman Quintet Gordy subbed in and would ultimately join as guitarist. “[His] guitar stylings offer a rare blend of flat-picking virtuosity, jazz exploration and classical sensibility …”

“Pterodactyl,” “Grapes” and “Lila” are just three of the compositions on the new CD, which also includes Gordy’s “Blues to Dawg” that he invited Grisman to contribute his signature mandolin playing to. Each song in the collection exemplifies Gordy’s spirit of adventure and sense of self.

Gordy describes himself: “At heart, I'm really an improviser; that's what very first drew me to playing music — the idea that you can make things up as you go along — but I'm also very interested in composition. I like the idea of a group of musicians having as much room and freedom to explore and improvise as they want, but within a context of a compelling arrangement that can be exciting for, and draws in, the listener.”

Gordy’s touring behind the release include:

Friday, June 11, KRFC Radio-Fort Collins, “Live at Lunch” show
Saturday, June 12, Brewgrass Festival, South Pearl Street, Denver
Saturday, June 12, Little Church in the Pines, 536 Gold Run Road, Salina
Wednesday, June 16, Dazzle Jazz Club, 930 Lincoln St., Denver
Thursday, June 17, Bongo Billy’s Cafe, 300 W. Sackett Ave., Salida
Wednesday, June 23, Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge, Mass.
Thursday, June 24, Caffe Vivaldi, 32 Jones St., New York City

COLLECTORS’ CHOICE TO REISSUE ABKCO’S CAMEO-PARKWAY CLASSICS

On June 22, 2010, Collectors’ Choice Music in conjunction with ABKCO Music & Records will begin a rollout of six reissues and compilations from the legendary Cameo and Parkway Records masters. The initial six CDs, including four twofers, are Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites, Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones/Rydell at the Copa, Chubby Checker’s It’s Pony Time/Let’s Twist Again, The Orlons’ The Wah-Watusi/South Street, Terry Knight And The Pack/Reflections plus the compilation Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1 which features The Lydells, The Dovells, The Tymes, Lee Andrews, Billy And The Essentials and more.

For some time ABKCO had been looking for the right team with whom to delve into its vaults to create an ongoing Cameo Parkway reissue program.  ABKCO found the right mix in Collectors’ Choice Music and have entered into an exclusive arrangement, ensuring that a flow of reissues and compilations will be available over the next few years. All releases will be curated by Teri Landi, ABKCO’s resident engineer and catalog archivist, and annotated by respected music journalists.

Jody Klein, CEO of ABKCO Music & Records commented, “We are delighted to have Collectors’ Choice Music onboard for these releases of great historical relevance. Their expertise in this area will ensure that the music that made Cameo-Parkway such a cultural touchstone will be enjoyed by music fans who have long awaited these collections.”

Much of the material has not been available since its original release on vinyl some 45-50 years ago. Both companies have approached these reissues with careful A&R, annotation, package design and sound engineering. Said Gordon Anderson, Sr. VP of Collectors’ Choice, “The opportunity for our company to release this material represents the culmination of a career-long dream for me, and a fervently-held dream for thousands of our Collectors’ Choice Music customers.”

Founded by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann in December 1956, Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway was one of the great American indie labels during the late ’50s and ’60s.  It was home to big pop-rock and R&B stars like Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker and The Orlons, as well as to all manner of styles and artists both famous and obscure. It also represents the last great, largely untapped repository of vintage pop music from the rock ’n’ roll era.

It has been argued that popular culture was forever changed by the impact of Cameo-Parkway hits. Cameo-Parkway was one of America’s leading independent labels during the era that preceded the British invasion, offering a breathtaking range of pop, soul, rock, novelty and dance records that have continued to resonate with fans over the past five decades.  The label’s biggest claim to fame is the string of dance craze hits that followed in the wake of “The Twist.”  These included “Mashed Potato Time,” “The Wah-Watusi,” “Bristol Stomp,” “Do the Bird,” “Hully Gully Baby,” “Pony Time,” “The 81,” “Limbo Rock” and, of course, “Let’s Twist Again.”

Beyond the dance songs — most of which originated in Philadelphia — Cameo-Parkway issued garage rock classics from the Midwest including ? And The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” as well as early tracks by Detroit’s Bob Seger, The Rationals and Terry Knight And The Pack. The label even embraced the British invasion, releasing sides by The Kinks and Screaming Lord Sutch. Soul played a significant role with singles by The Tymes, Patti LaBelle And Her Bluebells, Frankie Beverly And The Butlers, The Five Stairsteps, and Bunny Sigler. Beyond those, Cameo was the label home of Bobby Rydell, who transformed from “swingin’ pop idol” to a mature vocalist and was accepted by both teen and adult audiences with such hits as “Wild One,” “Kissin’ Time” and more adult fare such as “Volare” and “Sway.”  

Collectors’ Choice’s initial rollout of six CDs includes the following:

• Bobby Rydell — Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones/Rydell at the Copa. These two 1961 albums — presented here in their original stereo mixes — represented an effort by Rydell to move beyond the limitations of his teen idol persona. The title of Rydell’s Cameo LP, Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones, works on two levels.  It is an early tribute to the performers the young singer admired all his life, as indicated by the little caricatures of Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the upper corner of the LP’s cover, and the “great ones” in the title refers to songs from the Great American Songbook such as “Mammy,” “That Old Black Magic” and “All of You.”  By recording a live album at the Copa, Rydell was following a well-trodden trail left by other pop male vocalists like Bobby Darin and Paul Anka.  Jim Ritz contributed liner notes.

• Chubby Checker — It’s Pony Time/Let’s Twist Again: This twofer includes two albums from the height of the Chubby Checker twist phenomenon that he and Cameo-Parkway had spawned, virtually ruling the music charts in 1960 and 1961. The first album’s title track, “Pony Time,” went to #1, his only chart-topper besides “The Twist,” while Let’s Twist Again, his fourth album, hit #11, shortly followed by three Top 10 albums in a row. Also featured here are “We Like Birdland,” “The Watusi,” The Hully Gully,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Let’s Twist Again” and more.  Jim Ritz penned the liner notes.

The Orlons — The Wah-Watusi/South Street. Discovered by high school classmate and future Cameo labelmate Len Barry, The Orlons (Shirley Brickley, Marlena Davis, Rosetta Hightower and Stephen Caldwell) were one of Cameo-Parkway’s most popular vocal groups and certainly the label’s top girl group. This twofer presents their only two charting albums from 1962 and ’63 respectively, and both featuring Top 5 title tracks. Heard here in their original pristine mono with notes by Gene Sculatti that contain quotes from Caldwell (he of the ultra-low “frog” voice), this reissue contains the title hits plus “Dedicated To The One I Love,” “Tonight,” “Cement Mixer” and more.

• Terry Knight And The Pack — Terry Knight And The Pack/Reflections. Although Cameo-Parkway was best known for rock ’n’ roll, pop and R&B, these albums (originally released on Cameo’s Lucky Eleven imprint) illustrate the label’s embrace of Midwestern rock. Flint, Michigan’s Knight And The Pack were a garage band with many regional hits that never broke nationally; they might have become stars but for the fact that band members Mark Farner and Don Brewer left to form Grand Funk Railroad, with Knight producing. In his liner notes, Jeff Tamarkin tells the story of their 1966-67 fuzz-laced sounds featured in “Numbers,” “You’re a Better Man Than I,” “The Lovin’ Kind,” “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” “Dimestore Debutante” and others.

Clint Eastwood — Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites: Oscar-winning actor Clint Eastwood has demonstrated a musical streak throughout his acting and directing career, and this 1963 album catches him at the beginning. Fresh from his success on the TV series Rawhide, he croons (and quite convincingly so) a collection of cowboy favorites. The set includes the 1962 single “Rowdy” b/w “Cowboy Wedding Song,” as well as “San Antonio Rose,” Bouquet of Roses,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” “The Last Roundup,” “Sierra, Nevada” and more.  Jim Ritz contributed liner notes.

Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1: There are collectors and there are doo-wop collectors, which is why Collectors’ Choice devoted its very first compilation in the series to the vocal groups whose recordings defined Cameo-Parkway during its earliest years. Heard here are The Gainors’ “You Must Be An Angel,” Billy And The Essentials’ “Remember Me Baby,” and never before released tracks by The Dovells and The Tymes, “Short On Bread” and “Did You Ever Get My Letter?,” respectively.  Also featured are rare tracks from The Anglos, The Defenders, The Exceptions, The Expressions, The Gleems, Pookie Hudson And The Spaniels, The Impacs, The Rays, Rick And The Masters, The Sequins, The Skyliners and The Turbans — 24 tracks in all. Annotated by Ed Osborne.

AUSTIN’S STONE RIVER BOYS FLEX THEIR BRAND OF “COUNTRY FUNK”

After tearing it up in the Lone Star State and across the country for nearly two years, Austin’s Stone River Boys will issue their recording bow Love on the Dial on June 1 via Northampton, Mass.-based Cow Island Music.

The Texas-based quintet features the talents of two well-traveled roots music practitioners — guitarist Dave Gonzalez, formerly a driving force in the Hacienda Brothers and the Paladins, and vocalist Mike Barfield, “The Tyrant of Texas Funk” and onetime leader of the Hollisters. Together, Barfield and Gonzalez have fashioned a gutsy crossbreed of country and R&B they’ve labeled “country funk.”

The Stone River Boys’ sound extends the direction of Gonzalez’ previous band, the Hacienda Brothers, who recorded three studio albums with producer and country-soul legend Dan Penn. Gonzalez was partnered in the Haciendas with Southern California-bred singer Chris Gaffney.

After Gaffney was diagnosed with liver cancer in early 2008, Gonzalez organized a benefit tour for his ailing bandmate, drawing musicians from Austin’s fertile talent pool. One of the principal members of the touring group was Barfield, whom Gonzalez had known since the early ’80s, when he fronted the top Southern California rockabilly band the Paladins and Barfield led the Houston bands the Rounders and the Hollisters.

Gaffney succumbed to cancer in April 2008, but the tour went on. “We went and did it anyway, and sent the money home to his wife Julie,” says Gonzalez. “A buddy of mine had a recording studio up in Nebraska, and while we were out on tour he invited us to come over there. We went in and cut a couple. I said to Barfield, ‘If you want to do a record, I’d love to, man.’ And we just started making a record.”

Barfield says, “We really naturally just started keeping it going. The name of the band came from the first place we rehearsed for that trip, in this little subdivision in deep South Austin, on a street called Stone River.”

Gonzalez recalls, “When I hooked up with Barfield, he had a whole pocket full of tunes. I felt, ‘We need to record these things right away.’ We wrote a couple right on the spot together. He had a few that were unfinished I kind of helped him with. But he wrote the majority of the material on the record.”

Produced by Gonzalez, the album was recorded during several sessions in 2008-09 with a band that included bassists Scott Esbeck (formerly of the way-out instrumental combo Los Straitjackets), Hank Maninger (Hacienda Brothers) and Kevin Smith (Dwight Yoakam), pedal steel whiz Dave Biller, and drummers Justin Jones and Damien Llanes. It extends the seamless fusion of country and soul influences essayed by both the Hacienda Brothers and Barfield, whose over-the-top funk shows at Austin’s Continental Club have become the stuff of legend.

“Chris Gaffney was a great Western singer,” Gonzalez says, “but he also had a knack for singing R&B and soul tunes, too. When I hooked up with Barfield, it was the same thing. He’s a country bro’, but he’s a funky soul bro’, too. In that sense, it does lean toward the way the Hacienda Brothers were. Dan Penn called our music ‘Western soul.’ Mike is real funky; I was telling everybody it’s more country soul. Lately we’ve been calling it ‘country funk,’ because we’ve got a little more funk and a little more up-tempo material in this new band than we did with the Haciendas.”

Barfield sees a natural connection between the sounds of country and R&B: “There’s a picture of Solomon Burke and Joe Tex, and maybe James Brown, and they all had cowboy hats on. A lot of those soul performers will talk about how they used to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. Some R&B songs, especially the ballads, are very close to some of the honky-tonk ballads. To me, it’s all very similar.”

Love on the Dial features 10 original songs written or co-written by Gonzalez, Barfield, Esbeck, and Biller, plus four musically diverse covers — the late Stephen Bruton’s “Bluebonnet Blue”; a cover of Tyrone Davis’ 1968 hit “Can I Change My Mind”; Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Take a Giant Step” (recorded by the Monkees, the Rising Sons, and Taj Mahal); and Nashville hitmakers Jerry Foster and Bill Rice’s “Special.”

Gonzalez says of the new unit, “I feel really refreshed. We have a different take on the country side of things. Mike is a Gulf Coast country Texas boy, and at the same time he’s got this funky up-tempo R&B thing going. I’m working a new style of guitar that I’ve always loved, but I’ve never had the opportunity to play it. People are saying they love the new band, and they’re glad to hear me playing a lot of guitar again.”

“This is the first band where I’ve had a full-time steel player,” says Barfield. “That’s something in this band I like — there are so many voicings. It gives you what a horn section might do or an organ might do.”

Gonzalez, Barfield, and Esbeck are joined in the current edition of the Stone River Boys by pedal steel guitarist Gary Newcomb and drummer Mark Patterson, who both played with Esbeck in Austin singer-songwriter Bruce Robison’s group. The band will support the release of Love on the Dial with a summer 2010 tour of the Southwest and the West Coast.

Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere reunite for new album, 'Midnight Flyer'

Steve Cropper, guitarist for Booker T. and the MGs and one of the primary architects of the unmistakable Stax sound of the 1960s, and vocalist/keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, the voice of the Rascals and the pivotal figure in the blue-eyed soul movement of that same era, have reconvened for their second collaborative recording. Sparks fly at the crossroads of Memphis soul and East Coast R&B when Stax Records releases Midnight Flyer on June 15, 2010.

Midnight Flyer, recorded in Nashville and mixed by the legendary David Z, is the followup to Nudge It Up a Notch, the 2008 maiden voyage by Cropper and Cavaliere that scored critical acclaim from the music and mainstream press. The San Francisco Chronicle called Nudge It Up a Notch “an unexpected delight,” while Blues Wax heralded the project as “one of the great surprises of 2008, and further evidence of Concord’s genuine commitment to the revamped Stax imprint.”

The Stax legacy — and Concord’s commitment to it — are very much alive in Midnight Flyer, an album that once again showcases the songwriting prowess of two towering figures from one of the most seminal periods in the history of American pop music. Assisting with the songwriting throughout most of the album’s 12 tracks is drummer/percussionist/vocalist Tom Hambridge, who also lent a hand with the crafting of the previous album.

“Felix and I come from pretty much the same musical school — but from different geographical locations,” says Cropper. “He’s a Jersey boy at heart, and I grew up in Memphis, but when soul meets soul, what can you say? There are no borders. There are no boundaries.”

But geography does play a role in the making of great songs, says Cavaliere. “Steve has that Southern vernacular, which is something I really like,” he says. “It’s almost like another language to those of us from the East Coast. It has a certain folky quality to it. Some of those idioms are part of the hit songs that Steve has written and recorded over the years, and they’re part of this record as well.”

The impact of both of these musicians and songwriters on pop music is nearly impossible to quantify. As part of Booker T. & the MGs — the house band for the Stax label in its original incarnation during the 1960s — Cropper co-wrote and produced classics by artists like Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”), Wilson Pickett (“In the Midnight Hour”) and Otis Redding (“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”). In subsequent decades, he lent his instrumental and production skills to a range of artists including Jeff Beck, the Blues Brothers, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and many others.

Cavaliere came to prominence in the mid-’60s as vocalist/keyboardist/songwriter for the Rascals (initially known as the Young Rascals). Cavaliere wrote and/or sang several of the band’s biggest hits, including “Good Lovin’” (1966), “Groovin’” (1967), “It’s a Beautiful Morning” (1968) and “People Got To Be Free” (1968). The phrase “blue-eyed soul” was coined during the Rascals’ heyday, due in large part to the group’s highly successful forays into R&B and soul — styles that had been developed and previously dominated by African-American artists.

Co-produced by Cropper, Cavaliere and Hambridge, Midnight Flyer captures the synergy and brilliance that can only emerge when two powerful forces of nature come together. The result is a range of styles and shades, from heartfelt ballads like “When You’re With Me” to the soul-charged “I Can’t Stand It,” a churning vocal duet featuring Cavaliere and his daughter Aria. “Sexy Lady” harkens back to the soul stylings of the ’70s, while the funky instrumental “Do It Like This” digs into a tight groove and makes plenty of room for Cropper’s tasty riff work to close out the set.

“The main thing we both take away from this record is how much fun we had making it,” says Cavaliere. “We may have used a lot of new technology that didn’t even exist when Steve and I were recording back in the day, but the songs themselves are still the most important part of the process, and we just had a blast writing and recording them. I think that spirit comes through on the record.”

Cropper notes a timelessness about Cavaliere that serves as a metaphor for the music itself. “Felix is ageless,” he says. “Sure, you can look at him and see that he’s gotten older since those early days, just like we all have. But if you close your eyes, he sounds as young and energetic as he did when he was making records back in the ’60s . . . Working together on records like this reminds us of the kinds of things that go into the making of a good song. We’re still doing that, and we’re still having fun doing it.”

Performing Artist Jill King To Release New Album RAIN ON FIRE

Songstress Jill King releases on April 6 a new studio album, RAIN ON FIRE (Foundher Records), which the artist describes as life-changing for its renewal of her passion for music and for life and as a gift for listeners who might need a similar lift upward.

The new CD is a collection of heartfelt and thought-provoking love songs and ballads written and co-written by King that mesh blues, pop, R&B, country and jazz into her solid folk-rock sound, elevated by her stunning vocals and the slide and steel guitar vibe of Australian Michael Flanders, who produced the album with King.

It includes “Beautiful World,” “California” and “I’ll Keep Loving You” — three songs that reflect King’s life journey through joy and sorrow — as well as “Mark on Me,” which features a spoken-word intro and outro by Steven Johnson, the grandson of blues legend Robert Johnson, and the sensual “Undertow,” which was featured in the February 26 episode of the Web soap “Venice The Series.”

King and Flanders were joined in the studio by an array of respected musicians and friends including Congress House Studios’ Mark Hallman on bass, drums, loops, percussion, B3 and piano as well as Brady Blade (drums, percussion), Victor Broden (bass), Jason Millhouse (fat guitars), Bruce Holloway (guitar), Phil Madeira (piano, accordion, B3), Savannah Jo Lack (violin, string arrangement & performance), Rob Mackay (strings, tenor ukulele), Denise Locke (keyboards), Alex Torrez and Ben Flanders (percussion), and Thom Flora, Doug Stokes and Nels Andrews (background vocals) and a gospel choir made up of Marsha Hancock, Alana Griffith, Christina Taddonio.

A special-edition version of the CD includes a fascinating book by King that intricately details the impetus behind each of the songs, an essay on the making of the album and documentary photography by Nashville-based artist Whitney Jones.

King will put together a band for extensive touring behind the album that includes shows through August across the Southeast and California and Texas.

Born and raised in deep-South Arab, Ala., King was singing solos in church at 3 and was playing guitar and writing songs by age 10, when she made her first record at a local studio. Being surrounded by heaven-and-hell ideologies and later her brother’s death from cancer have influenced her life, her songwriting and her sound: a mix of genres, moods and messages.

Otis Taylor's new album, 'Clovis People,' set for May 11 release

Otis Taylor digs the past. Whether it’s the songs he wrote a decade ago, or ancient civilizations that lived more than 10,000 years ago, he’s drawn to stories from another time, and he’s compelled to retell them in a way that’s relevant in the modern day. On Clovis People, set for release May 11, 2010, on Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group, Taylor writes his own history.

It’s the ideal project for the architect of a sparse and hypnotic style that has come to be known as “trance blues.” Taylor has spent his career crafting songs that are wide open to interpretation — thematically as well as structurally. “I give people a starting point, and then they can take it where they want to take it,” he explains. “That’s true for the people playing my music as well as the people listening to it. That’s how art should be. A person looking at a painting should be able to interpret it in whatever way he wants. The more words you put into a song, the less freedom the listener has to decide what it means.”

The album title is inspired by a recent scientific discovery very close to Taylor’s home in Boulder, Colorado. Barely 100 yards from the edge of his property, archeologists dug up a cache of tools and other implements belonging to a civilization known as the Clovis people, who walked the earth briefly about 13,000 years ago and then mysteriously disappeared.

“That’s amazing to me,” says Taylor. “There have only been four or five sites like this found all over the country. That means these people probably walked on my property. My music only goes back about ten years, but there’s something about reaching back to an earlier time and revisiting the stories of the past from a new perspective that I find compelling.”

Helping to shape that new perspective is a crew of players who lend a variety of shades and voices to the mix. Among them is guitarist Gary Moore, a guest musician on two of Taylor’s previous recordings (Definition of a Circle in 2007 and Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs in 2009), who moves in and out of the tracks with a hard riff here, a subtle accent there, and just the right atmospherics wherever he appears. Also on hand for nine of the twelve tracks is pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell — a member of the Campbell Brothers, the African-American gospel group that has developed a sound commonly known as “sacred steel.” In addition, Clovis People features cornetist Ron Miles and bassist Cassie Taylor (Otis’ 22-year-old daughter).

The set gets under way with the haunting “Rain So Hard,” a bluesy number that employs an intriguing mix of pedal steel, cornet and theremin as the backdrop to Taylor’s unsettling lyrics about a hard rain turning to snow and falling on a scene of betrayal and deceit.

“Little Willy” and “Lee and Arnez” are two previously unreleased songs. The former is a fictional tale of a school shooting — a song Taylor wrote in 1990s, but then shelved in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting of 1999. “Lee and Arnez” tells the story of a couple that Taylor remembers from the neighborhood where he grew up. “They were my parents’ best friends, and they had a boxer dog that I really loved,” says Taylor. “This would have been the 1950s, which were still a difficult time for black people, but I have great memories of this couple and their beautiful dog.”

“It’s Done Happened Again” is built on an urgent rhythm that plays like a frantic heartbeat. “The song is about that moment when someone who got his heart broken hears about someone else who got his heart broken,” says Taylor. “It’s that moment when pain and empathy converge, and you say, ‘Oh yeah, I know where he’s coming from.’”

“Harry Turn the Music Up” recalls Taylor’s memories of the Denver Folklore Center, a place he frequented when he was a boy in the early ’60s. “The song follows a groove that’s deep in the pocket, and it’s really powerful,” says Taylor. “The Denver Folklore Center was a place where nobody cared if you were black or white, skinny or fat. It was a place where everyone was accepted.”

“Babies Don’t Lie” rides on a single chord and speaks to the profound vulnerability of innocents. But somewhere underneath the simple and recurring lyrical line is the question of how and when dark forces take hold and turn some innocents into monsters.

“Think I Won’t” is a showdown-flavored track that captures the moment when a mother confronts a drug dealer in a schoolyard. “There are some badass moms out there,” says Taylor. “Sometimes people don’t realize how tough black women can be. It’s a matriarchal culture, and there are some moms who’ll kick your ass in a half-second if you threaten their children.”

Indeed, some instincts are eternal, whether the frame of reference is 2010, 1950 or some time before recorded history. Clovis People is in some respects a vehicle for Taylor  — an archeologist of a different kind — to re-examine some of the truths he’s uncovered in his own era and preserve them for listeners in some future time.

“I went back to my musical past with these songs — all the way back to my first album,” says Taylor. “I like finding different ways to retell the old stories. They continue to mean something — to me, to the people who hear them, to the musicians who play with me — many years after I first told them.”

Collectors' Choice introduces CCM Live label: J. WInter, Hot Tuna, Poco. J. Denver

Collectors’ Choice Music, the label that’s come to be known for compelling and often unexpected CD reissues, has announced the launch of Collectors’ Choice Music Live, a new label devoted to releasing great live performances, most of which have never previously been commercially available.

The series will launch April 20 with the release of four CDs: Johnny Winter And’s Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70; Poco’s Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood 9/30/71; Hot Tuna’s Live at the New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA September 1969; and John Denver’s Live at Cedar Rapids, 12/10/87.

According to Collectors’ Choice Music GM Gordon Anderson, “After some 15 years of reissuing albums and compiling artists, we’re convinced that some of the biggest remaining veins of gold in the vaults are the live shows that a lot of labels recorded of their artists in their prime, particularly those who made their reputation with improvisational prowess and/or ever-changing set lists. These first four releases on our new Collectors’ Choice Music Live label certainly fit that description.”

Johnny Winter And — Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70: To commemorate the release of his Johnny Winter And album, Texas blues guitarist/singer Johnny Winter played some shows at New York’s Fillmore East, some of which were compiled on 1971’s Live Johnny Winter And, a classic live album of the era to which this release makes a nice bookend. He had just formed a new band consisting of former member of the McCoys (“Hang on Sloopy”) including Rick Derringer on guitar, bassist Randy Jo Hobbs, and drummer Randy Zehringer. Although the McCoys were none too familiar with Winter’s work, they proved quick studies and entered the studio to make the album Johnny Winter And within three weeks. The New York Times reviewed the Fillmore show, citing “a considerable improvement over Winter’s previous band. Winter and [Derringer] played solos back at each other, simultaneously and in alternation.” The live album contains the Winter hit “Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo” and his take on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61” alongside  blues classics “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “It’s My Own Fault” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”

•Poco —Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, 9/30/71: In the fall of ’71, Poco was arguably the most popular of the first generation country-rock bands. By then, their album Deliverin’ had cracked the Top 30 and Poco thanked its label, Epic Records, with a private showcase at the CBS Records’ Hollywood studio.  “We just set up as we would have for a small club,” recalls frontman Richie Furay, whose bandmates included guitarist/singer Paul Cotton (from the Illinois Speed Press), bassist Tim Schmidt (later of the Eagles), pedal steel player Rusty Young and drummer/vocalist George Grantham. By this time, Poco was evolving from country-rock towards an edgier rock sound. Says Furay, “Though we were innovators of the L.A. ‘country-rock’ sound, we weren’t going top be pigeonholed into being a one-sound band.” The 14 songs they performed for label employees that day were a solid cross-section of tunes that had appeared on its first four albums including the medley “Hard Luck Child/Child’s Claim to Fame/Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” plus “I Guess You Made It,” “A Man Like Me,” “Ol’ Forgiver,” “Heart That Music,” “Hurry Up,” “You Are the One” and more — an hour of music in all.

Hot Tuna: Live at the New Orleans House, Berkeley, CA September 1969: Hot Tuna was, of course, the blues band-within-a-band side project of Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady that outlasted the parent band and continues to this day. Interestingly, the duo’s first commercial album, which made it to #30 on the Billboard pop album chart, was recorded live at Berkeley’s New Orleans House, but a lot more material was taped than was released. Much of it is issued for the first time on this 68-minute CD, which consists entirely of previously unreleased recordings. Explaining why they recorded their debut album was recorded live, Kaukoken says, “We tend to go places . . . and you lose a bit of that when you work in the studio. And it was cheaper too!” Of the 13 songs on this CD, six — “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” “Winin’ Boy Blues,” “Uncle Sam Blues,” “I Know You Rider,” “Don’t You Leave Me Here” and “How Long Blues” — were included on the first Hot Tuna album, though the versions here are selected from different performances than the ones used on that LP.  Other songs include Blind Boy Fuller’s “Keep On Truckin’,” Rev. Gary Davis’ “Keep Our Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and “Candy Man,” and Blind Blake’s “That’ll Never Happen No More.”

John Denver: Live at Cedar Rapids, December 10, 1987: What is the sound of an audience eating out of the palm of a performer’s hand? Utter silence. And that’s what was heard during the two-hour-plus Iowa concert that comprises this two-CD set.  By 1987, Denver’s days as a Top 40 hitmaker were a decade in the past, but he remained a solid concert draw as a beloved, thoroughly American artist with a permanent place in the history of pop. It says much about Denver’s songwriting that, with the exception of half a dozen songs on which he’s accompanied by string quartet, he delivers two hours of solo music just his voice and 12-string guitar. The hits are here but so are new songs, some early-repertoire nuggets and a well-chosen cover or two.  Included are “Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning,” ”Take Me Home Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Annie’s Song,” “Love Is the Master,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “Blow Up Your TV (Spanish Pipe Dream),” “Shanghai Breezes,” “Ohio” and more.