Saturday, January 6, 2018

Frank Sinatra - Original Takes From 'The Voice' Box Set (1986)

This is going to be a pretty esoteric post. And a potentially confusing one too. So pay attention if you care about Ol' Blue Eyes.

This is a collection I put together that features eight original recordings that Frank Sinatra did for Columbia Records that have become pretty rare. They were originally released as 78 records, and then were put on the 1986 box set The Voice: The Columbia Years 1943-1952, which brought them to a whole new generation of listeners, including me.

But in 1993, Columbia Records released a more definitive box set called The Columbia Years 1943–1952: The Complete Recordings, and it made The Voice obsolete. Or so we thought.

Turns out, the 1993 box set contained alternate takes of these eight songs instead of the versions that were originally released. See the track listing below for the titles. In the case of two of the songs, "Nancy (With The Laughing Face)" and "Poinciana," the '93 box set contained two alternate takes of each, neither of which were the originals featured on The Voice. (How do I know for sure? I lined them each up side-by-side in a WAV file editing program and compared them. They're definitely different.)

Not a lot of people have The Voice box set anymore, but I kept MP3s of these rare tracks, so here they are. Over at the Sinatra Family Forum, producer and archivist Chuck Granata says these original takes weren't included in the 1993 box set because they were "unusable" and better recordings were found. He also wrote in a post that the differences between the recordings are "negligible."

I'll agree with that. But I have two points to make. First, even if the sound was substandard, I think these original recordings should have been put somewhere on the 1993 set because they're part of history. People who buy music recorded in the 1940s don't expect state-of-the-art quality anyway.

And second, maybe casual listeners can't tell different takes apart from one another, but obsessive listeners can. And when you become really familiar with a specific recording, differences do become apparent. I played the version of "It Never Entered My Mind" from the '86 box set so much that I could easily differentiate it from the one that appeared in '93. The earlier one has a much more legato vocal and creates a sadder, more mellow mood, which I prefer. I still play it to this day.

All that said, the Sinatra people have done an excellent job keeping his material before the public eye, so if they're reading this, it isn't a slam about their decisions. It's just a way to get some now-obscure takes back in circulation for the people who like this stuff.

The bad news is that I ripped these tracks almost twenty years ago @128 kbps from a CD box set I no longer own. Back then I had limited digital storage, so I kept bitrates low. Funny enough, I kept the vinyl box set, but not the CDs. Still, I don't feel like doing vinyl rips of this, so if anyone has these MP3s from The Voice @320, feel free to get in touch. Update: These files are now @320, thanks to a generous reader of this blog, imwalrus, who shared his high-quality copies. Much appreciated, imwalrus.

Finally, there's a ninth track here: "Someone To Watch Over Me." Both box sets contain the exact same take, but the newer one has some digital distortion starting at around 1:27, so I included the cleaner, older one here.

Related posts:
The De Castro Sisters - Teach Me Tonight (1954-58; 1999 Collection)
Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955; 1998 UK Remaster)
The Four Grads - From This Moment On (1956)
Eydie & Steve - Cozy (Mono Mix, 1961)
The King Sisters - The Answer Is Love (1969)
Rosemary Clooney - Girl Singer (1992)

Track list:
1. Nancy (With The Laughing Face)
2. Try A Little Tenderness
3. Poinciana (titled "Poinciana (Song Of The Tree)" on the 1993 box set)
4. Mean To Me
5. I've Got A Crush On You
6. It Never Entered My Mind
7. Body And Soul
8. Why Was I Born?
9. Someone To Watch Over Me

Monday, December 18, 2017

Clay Allison - King Kong Club, College Park, MD (5-14-1984)

Here is the third and final post of rare Kendra Smith music, which I'm doing as a way to celebrate her return to the music world after a two-decade absence in the wilderness. I mean that literally. According to various online reports, Smith left civilization as we know it following the release of her second and final solo album, the presciently titled Five Ways of Disappearing from 1995.

But just over a decade before that release, Smith had started her professional career with the psychedelic revival band the Dream Syndicate. It was with that group that she recently re-united in the studio and on stage. Her original stint with them, however, was over by late 1983. That's when she joined up with Rain Parade guitarist David Roback to form the dream pop band Clay Allison. Soon after, they changed the band's name to Opal, then Mazzy Star, and the rest is history.

This is a recording of a Clay Allison gig from the spring of 1984. At the time, I was actually attending college about twenty minutes away from where it happened. Unfortunately, I didn't know anything about Clay Allison or Kendra Smith. Yet.

That summer, I first heard Smith's voice as part of Rainy Day, an album that featured members of Los Angeles' Paisley Underground scene performing covers of old '60s and '70s tunes. Specifically, it was her vocal on the version of the Buffalo Springfield's "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong." Hearing this song on my local alternative radio station was one of the defining moments of my musical youth. I still remember what I was doing (delivering pizzas!) and which road I was traveling on (northbound Route 29). This was in the days before pay phones, and I remember getting home that night and calling the disc jockey and asking "What in the world was THAT?!" Come fall, I was able to track down a copy of the Rainy Day album and became a lifelong fan of Kendra Smith and psychedelic music, among other things.

Speaking of all things nostalgic, the restaurant/concert space where Clay Allison played still stands. It's actually a Chinese restaurant that used to host live music. You can see it in the photo above, which I got from Google's "Street View" feature.

I was hoping I could find some press on this group. No such luck. All I could locate was a small blurb in the digital archives of the University of Maryland College Park's student newspaper, The Diamondback (see below, right). The blurb is in the second paragraph; the one above it is the final 'graph of a review on DC-area '80s sensations The Slickee Boys. For more info on Smith, Clay Allison, and Opal, see my links below.

Related posts:
Clay Allison - Live At McCabe's Guitar Shop (3-16-1984)
Clay Allison - Live At The Electric Banana (5-22-1984) 
Opal - Early Recordings Vol. 2 (1984-87) 

Track list:
1. Grains Of Sand
2. Lisa's Funeral 
3. My Only Friend
4. Hear The Wind Blow
5. Freight Train
6. Fell From The Sun
7. Cherry Jam
8. Lullabye
9. All Souls
10. Ballad Of A Crystal Man
11. This Town

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Clay Allison - Live At McCabe's Guitar Shop (3-16-1984)

To celebrate Kendra Smith's return to the concert stage after a two-decade absence, I'm putting out some rare bootleg concerts of one of her old bands, Clay Allison. The group was named after an obscure 19th century cattle rancher and gunfighter.

Her and collaborator Dave Roback must have realized that a name related to the Old West didn't quite fit the spaced-out mood of their music, so they changed it to Opal, and then to Mazzy Star. For more info, see my links below.

Related posts:
Clay Allison - Live At The Electric Banana (5-22-1984) 
Opal - Early Recordings Vol. 2 (1984-87)

Track list:
1. Grains Of Sand
2. All Souls
3. This Town
4. Lullabye
5. Fell From The Sun
6. My Only Friend
7. Freight Train

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Clay Allison - Live At The Electric Banana (5-22-1984)

Here's some good news on the musical front: Kendra Smith has emerged from the wilderness. I mean that literally. Smith was a founding musician of Los Angeles' Paisley Underground scene in the mid-1980s, but about ten years after than, she left music (and society) behind to live in the woods somewhere in rural California.

However, the elusive singer-bassist-songwriter recently appeared on the reunion album of one of her old groups, the Dream Syndicate. Then a few days ago, the Dream Syndicate announced on its Facebook page that Smith will be joining the group on stage at the Historic El Rey Theater in Los Angeles (December 15) and the The Independent in San Francisco (December 16).

To mark this occasion, I've posted a rare live bootleg featuring music by another one of Kendra Smith's groups from the 1980s, Clay Allison. This recording is from a live gig at the Electric Banana, which was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania punk rock club. 

Clay Allison was the group that Smith formed with Rain Parade guitarist Dave Roback after leaving the Dream Syndicate. Both were pioneers in the aforementioned Paisley Underground scene, which helped launch the psychedelic music revival of the '80s and '90s and were a big influence on Prince (who named his record label Paisley Park Records and signed L.A.'s Three O'Clock). Smith and Roback also helped invent dream pop as we know it, since Clay Allison morphed into Opal, which morphed into Mazzy Star.

The performance featured on this recording shows that Smith and Roback had their ideas focused even at this early a stage. Their formula was a recipe of spaced-out rhythms mixed with swirling slide guitar and topped with Smith's other-worldly singing. It's an intoxicating mixture that picks up where Nico and The Doors left off, but also points towards Beach House and Lana Del Rey. 

This is a subject I've written about before. So if you want more history, check my post linked below on Opal.

I can't remember where I got this bootleg from. But for the uninitiated, I tried to annotate it as much as possible, putting in songwriting credits (when they're known) and other notes. I'm pretty sure about one thing, though. Their song "No Easy Way Down" is an original and not a cover of the Gerry Goffin-Carole King classic (famously sung by Dusty Springfield on Dusty in Memphis). Also, I credited good old Syd Barrett on "Cherry Jam," since both the versions by Clay Allison and Opal interpolate the riff of his "Astronomy Domine."

Related posts: 
Opal - Early Recordings Vol. 2 (1984-87)
Nico - The Peel Sessions (1988; Recorded 1971)

Track list:
1. Grains Of Sand
2. Lisa's Funeral
3. Lullabye
4. Hear The Wind Blow
5. Freight Train
6. Fell From The Sun
7. Cherry Jam
8. No Easy Way Down
9. Indian Summer

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The De Castro Sisters - Teach Me Tonight (1954-58; 1999 Collection)

I listen to a lot of online radio, and one of my favorite places to hear vintage sounds is Oldies Radio 1620, an independently-run station based in Pennsylvania. It features a crazily eclectic blend of music and the sound quality recalls the old AM dial. Back in July, I included the station as part of my playlist of Internet Radio Stations, which a lot of people seem to like, since the post is pretty popular.

One of the songs Oldies Radio 1620 took to playing this past summer was a tune by the De Castro Sisters called "The Things I Tell My Pillow." After hearing it a couple of times, I found I couldn't get the melody out of my head. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the title. I hate it when that happens. Thankfully they played it a third time and I was able to figure out what it was.

I had never paid the De Castro Sister much mind, since I've never been a big fan of any of the "sister acts" that were big before your mother was born (the Lennon Sisters, the Andrews Sisters, etc.). But this tune got me researching the group, and I was surprised to learn that "The Things I Tell My Pillow" was not a hit for them, but a B-Side to a flop single.

Specifically, it was the flip to "Teach Me Tonight Cha Cha," which got to #76 in early 1959, according to my Billboard chart book. The song was a syncopated remake of the De Castro Sisters' signature hit, "Teach Me Tonight," which made it to #2 in 1954.

How the people at Oldies Radio 1620 dug up "The Things I Tell My Pillow" I'll never know. But I'm glad they did because it led me down the path of discovering the De Castro Sisters. Turns out they're pretty good, even if you don't take to this style of music.

They were also way ahead of their time in the style department, as the cover of this CD makes explicitly clear. The sexy bustiers they poured themselves into were actually less modest than one Madonna wore in her infamously racy 1986 video to "Open Your Heart." Funny how a simple old photograph can recast a modern artist like Madonna from innovator to imitator.

But that's not why we're here today. This isn't a fashion blog. This is a music blog and there's a lot of De Castro Sisters sounds -- in high quality -- to be had. Ironically, the fab "The Things I Tell My Pillow" wasn't included on this "best of" CD. So I found the old 45 and did one of my clean-up jobs. It's now a bonus track. As for the rest of this music, judge for yourself. Their story is also told in the liner notes, which are very comprehensive. And if you don't like any of that, well, there's some great pics too.

Related posts:
Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955; 1998 UK Remaster)
Anna Maria Alberghetti - I Can't Resist You (1957)
The Four Grads - From This Moment On (1956)
Eydie & Steve - Cozy (Mono Mix, 1961)
The King Sisters - The Answer Is Love (1969)
Rosemary Clooney - Girl Singer (1992)

Track list:
1. It's Love
2. Boom Boom Boomerang
3. To Say You're Mine
4. The Wedding Song
5. If I Ever Fall In Love
6. I'm Bewildered
7. Teach Me Tonight
8. Give Me Time
9. Too Late Now
10. Cry Baby Blues
11. Let Your Love Walk In
12. Cuckoo In The Clock
13. Cuban Love Song
14. I Can't Escape From You
15. Rockin' And Rollin' In Hawaii
16. No One To Blame But You
17. Cowboys Don't Cry
18. It's Yours
19. I Never Meant To Hurt You
20. I Hear A Melody
21. Don't Call Me Sweetie
22. Flowers On The Hillside
23. I Know Plenty
24. Blue And Broken-Hearted
25. Where Have You Been My Love
26. That Little Word Called Love
27. Old Timer's Tune
28. Biddle-Dee Bop
29. What A Relief (Hoop Ah Hoop Ah, Bah Dah Dah)
30. You Take Care Of Me (I'll Take Care Of You)
31. My Sweetheart Left Me Behind
32. The Things I Tell My Pillow [Bonus Track]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Jenson Publications - Marching Band '85 Summer Edition (1985)

And now for something that's really, truly, and completely different: A CD-length sampler of school marching band arrangements from the Reagan Era. It was put together to give music teachers an idea of hip, new arrangements they could use.

That makes it somewhat ironic to listen to, since it's sure to summon nothing but nostalgic feeling for anyone who came of age back then. Nothing brings back the feeling of high school better than hearing old favorites like Madonna's "Into The Groove" and "Angel" done up with trumpets, tubas, and xylophones. If only John Hughes were around to hear this...but I digress.

These arrangements actually remind me a bit of the music on Frank Zappa's Orchestral Favorites album, which made me realize that those high school band experience he often talked about really were an influence on his music. And why not? Music teachers, for all the ribbing they get, are usually pretty cool and sometimes very influential to students who were willing to listen.

On another note (heh) you also have to give credit to one of the arrangers here, Paul Lavender, sicne he picked up on the tune "Macarena" more than ten years before it became a dance craze. Of course, the actual song here isn't the hit "Macarena" we'd all come to know and get tired of in the 1990s. It's either an original or a traditional melody. But still.

The tracks here are listed according to who arranged them. Composer credits weren't included, but I looked all that up and included info in the tags. The only issue I have with this CD is that most cuts are just snippets of songs and I wish they were longer. But since it runs a generous hour and twenty minutes, it looks like they crammed in as much as they could onto it.

One final thing. The song titled "Strutt" (an arrangement of a Sheena Easton hit) is actually spelled "Strut." I left in the misspelling for accuracy's sake, but if this were a high school spelling test, I'd have graded them down for that. Guess the school band teachers didn't consult with the English teachers before going to press with this one.

Track list:
1. Amadeus
2. Fanfare From E.T.
3. I.O.U.
4. Rerun Mania
5. Crazy For You
6. Here We Come A 'Caroling
7. Freedom Forever (A Patriotic Color Celebration)
8. I, Don Quixote (From "Man of La Mancha")
9. Those Were The Days
10. Can Can
11. The Way We Were
12. Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers
13. The Arkansas Traveler
14. Espirit Cadence Set No. 2
15. The Goonies 'R' Good Enough
16. Smooth Operator
17. Walking On Sunshine
18. Things Can Only Get Better
19. Raspberry Beret
20. Into The Groove
21. Sussudio
22. All She Wants To Do Is Dance
23. The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)
24. High On You
25. The Goonies 'R' Good Enough
26. Angel
27. When The Saints Go Marchin' In
28. Strutt
29. Dallas
30. Macarena
31. Material Girl
32. Battle Hymn Of The Republic
33. High School Cadets

Friday, November 24, 2017

Tommy Keene - Strange Alliance (1981)

Like everyone else in the music community, I was shocked to hear about the death of beloved power pop/new wave singer-songwriter Tommy Keene. Last May, I wrote extensively about Keene and his popularity in the Washington, D.C. area, so there's no need to repeat that here.

Strange Alliance was his first album and came out after he left the D.C.-based group the Razz. Although it wasn't as popular as his next release, Places That Are Gone, it did get a lot of local airplay, especially the title track. As a high school listener, I assumed this song was a post-punk hit that was British in origin, and was very surprised to learn later on that Keene was local. This album now sells for crazy prices. It's been circulated online before, but this rip is likely to be cleaner than you've heard it previously. R.I.P. Tommy.

Related posts:
The Attractions - Mad About the Wrong Boy (1980)
Color Me Gone - Color Me Gone (1984)
Marshall Crenshaw - U.S. Remix (1984)
Tommy Keene - Places That Are Gone (1984)

Track list:
1. Landscape
2. All The Way Around
3. Don't Get Me Wrong
4. I Can't See You Anymore
5. It's All Happening Today
6. Strange Alliance
7. Another Night At Home
8. Northern Lights

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Martin Carthy With Dave Swarbrick - Byker Hill (1967)

Looking back through the catalog of the rock band Traffic (who I posted about recently), I started to wonder how they came across the folk standard "John Barleycorn." This album might offer a clue. It turns out that British folkie Martin Carthy recorded it three years before Traffic on an album he did with master fiddler Dave Swarbrick, Byker Hill.

Now, before any Steve Winwood experts jump in to tell me I'm wrong about this, let me say this is just a theory. For all I know, Chris Wood could have brought it to the band after hearing a great-uncle play it at family gatherings (or something of the sort). But hearing the Carthy-Swarbrick recording does lend some insight into why the Traffic version is so much better known (besides the fact that Winwood became a major star, of course).

In short, Traffic brought a rock "voice" to the folk standard and in the process made it a whole lot more accessible than when folkies sang it. The version on this album might be more authentic, but comes off as less immediate and way less commercial since it's sung in a traditional folk style.

But that said, this album gives a good view of where traditional British folk music was at in the mid-1960s. If you're looking for the roots of Nick Drake or Fairport Convention (with whom Swarbrick played), they're here.

Related posts:
Traffic - Single Mixes and Rarities (1967-74)
Traffic - These Three Men: Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY (1970)
Traffic - Over the Rainbow (5-17-1974)
The Steve Winwood Autodiscography - Trouser Press Magazine (May 1981)

Track list:
1. The Man Of Burnham Town
2. The Fowler
3. Gentleman Soldier
4. Brigg Fair
5. The Bloody Gardener
6. The Barley Stew
7. Byker Hill
8. Davy Lowston
9. Our Captain Cried All Hands
10. Domeama
11. The Wife Of The Soldier
12. John Barleycorn
13. Lucy Wan
14. The Bonny Black Hare