17 February 2008

Peter Tosh - The Toughest

"Featuring the Wailers, Skatalites, Upsetters". This 19 track CD consists of 2 parts: track 1 to 13 are "the Coxsone years" and the rest is "the Lee Perry years". Studio One, 1963 to 1966. A claim from the linernotes: "This compilation of Peter's work for the producers Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd and Lee Perry is very nearly a complete overview of Tosh's recordings for them."

Neville 'Bunny Wailer' Livingstone and Bob Marley were looking for a third singer to complement their voices, and the person they found was a musician with a deep baritone. A musician, guitar player who could also play piano, who later also recorded as a session musician on numerous Reggae albums. A singer too and the Wailers were indeed a great vocal trio where Bob Marley was the natural lead and Peter Tosh dark, low and raw voice made a great backing. Peter Tosh was also a strong politically motivated person, on social and racial issues, and being fairly radical. (The definition of politics or radical isn't fixed in general of course and it's impossible to know exactly what it meant on 1960's Jamaica but it's likely Peter Tosh would be a political radical today too.)
This also leads to the sadness that is Peter Tosh: beatings by the police while in custody severely harmed his fingers (and thus his guitar playing) and in 1987 he was shot in his own home in what's called a robbery.

What's not interesting about this release? You may have many tracks already as some can be found on cheap Wailers or reggae compilations. A focus on Peter Tosh in his early years can't possibly be as interesting as a compilation of his solo years. If it shows one thing it's that Peter Tosh was a good singer but Bob Marley was the best vocalist of the Wailers.

So then, what is interesting about this release? 19 tracks by one of the most influential Jamaican artists, produced by two of the most influential Jamaican producers from one of the most formative periods of Jamaican music. A side by side comparison of Coxsone and Scratch, starting with ska tracks moving into the world of rocksteady. Did I tell you that Bob Marley is a great singer? He sure is, on numerous backing vocals. The temperament of Peter Tosh can be heard in a gospel like 'Sinner Man' or a political song like '400 Years' and it makes for unforgettable performances. He re-recorded a few tracks for solo albums, the originals are on this release. A collection focused on the work of Tosh brings out the talent of Peter Tosh which otherwise blends in with the Wailers' recordings. And it's just a good set of great songs.

This set's compiled by Coxsone and Chris Wilson. The linernotes contain a short bio about Tosh, very interesting background information on the songs, a list of musicians and a few pictures. Good package, easily one of the better productions. If you're interested in purchasing this CD, pay attention since there are more Peter Tosh releases under the name "The Toughest". Despite its age it's still not cheap afaik.
Heartbeat / Rounder, 1996

Peter Tosh - The Toughest

11 February 2008

Clydie King - The Imperial & Minit Years

I'm going to do a bit of guessing. About *you* but it really tells something about me so don't be offended if I'm completely wrong. I guess: you've heard the name Clydie King before but you don't have an instant mental picture with the name. You've heard some of her songs before, you have some of her songs in your collection and you've been humming along happily with some of her songs. You've heard some songs by other artists that she's on, you have some of those songs in your collection too and you'll be amazed to find Clydie King's involved with them.

Enough with the mistery. Clydie King is a soul artist from the 60's who's featured on quite a number of compilation albums I own. Her songs are a bit poppy so they never made a huge impression on me as some other artists did and it wasn't until I played this CD when I discovered how well I knew her music. She's been a 'Raelette', a backing singer for Ray Charles, and from the linernotes I found she also sang on albums by The Doors (Full Circle) and Rolling Stones (Exile...) among (many) others. It also helps she started her professional singing in her teens and she hopped labels frequently, although that probably didn't help her career much. Her recording career was from the late 1950's to early 1980's and there's probably much fascinating material still to be released (she's been romantically and musically involved with Bob Dylan...).

The material on this CD is from the 1965 to 1968 time frame, with 8 previously unreleased tracks (out of 22). The music's typical for the period, most songs are up-tempo tracks with a hint of Spector and Motown. The unreleased tracks aside, this CD is valuable because the concentration of Clydie's work makes it possible to properly appreciate what a great artist she was/ is. The linernotes add to the joy, originally compiled for 'In The Basement' magazine with plenty of information and quotes from Clydie, and a few nice pictures. I've made some harsh comments about EMI/$tateside releases before but I must say this one is superb, great content and a recommended purchase. Final guess: You're going to like it.
EMI / $tateside, 2007

Clydie King - The Imperial & Minit Years

05 February 2008

Waldeck - Ballroom Stories

Waldeck is Klaus Waldeck, an Austrian trip-hop / lounge / down-tempo / blah artist. He's made a few albums with a group of regular contributors and his work's been remixed before. Ballroom Stories, his latest album, is a sort of break in his reportoire. His usual vocalists Joy Malcolm and Brian Amos are less prominent on this album in favor of 'Zeebee' and the music style is influenced by interbellum era music. Long term Waldeck fans may be disappointed by this twist but in me he found a new fan.

The result is not a musical time travel and not completely un-Waldeck either, the beats and the dub effects are still there. On the other hand, mixing contemporary music with ancient styles, re-created or sampled, has been done before. Ballroom Stories works on both sides: Waldeck reinvents himself and manages to make that trick with the old and new interesting again. Anyway, you can read the idea behind it in a manifesto (PDF): http://www.waldeck.at/ballroom.pdf

The release comes in a digipack with scarce info and a small poster of Waldeck. Zeebee is an interesting artist in her own right with a website.
Dope Noir, 2007

Waldeck - Ballroom Stories

Waldeck's Gramophone Vol.1 "Swing & Champagne"

Which brings us to this. I don't know exactly what the idea is behind it, the style of the artwork suggests a close relation to Ballroom Stories and the musical content affirms that but it's not so close that I could see direct references. Perhaps we can take "Waldeck's Gramophone" as this is what he listened to when making Ballroom Stories or what inspired him to do so.

This album contains mostly 1930's and 40's swing, most noticeably bands including Django Reinhardt but it also has more contemporary music, including 2 tracks by Waldeck himself. I can see the old songs have a place as an "explanation" of Ballroom Stories, then there are (contemporary) bands like Freebidou playing a sort of traditional French music and it's quite obvious how that influenced the making of Ballroom Stories. Other musicians are featured with music like Waldeck: definitively recent but with stylistic elements refering to pre-second worldwar times.

It makes sense in the light of Ballroom Stories but then it's strange Waldeck put his own music on this album too. The digipack has trackinfo but no explanation on the selection or background of this release. Perhaps it all becomes clear if there's one or a few releases following this volume 1. The musical selection is odd but not bad, quite a few interesting tracks can be found on this CD. I'm not sure if it really has a reason of existence without Ballroom Stories, I'd prefer a real sampler of old swing or contemporary swing influenced musicians. There's no relation in the sense that if you liked Ballroom Stories then you're guaranteed to like "Swing & Champagne" too, but you might aswell give it a try.
Dope Noir, 2008

Waldeck's Gramophone Vol.1 "Swing & Champagne"

ps: "pipo" was just a test... ;-)

02 February 2008

Swamp Dogg's Southern Soul Girls Sandra Phillips - Bette Williams

I bought this CD a couple of months ago but haven't paid much attention to it. The reason I bought it is because of the name Swamp Dogg, the great soul producer known for fine soul like Charlie Whitehead or Doris Duke for example. The reason I haven't listened to it extensively is that the singers Sandra Philips and Bette Williams aren't very familiar to me. This now is exactly why this CD was released.

Sandra Philips is the bigger name, more as actress than as singer. Her fame as vocalist seems to be mostly thanks to the 'northern soul' crowd who discovered her past the time this material was recorded. Of Bette Williams and her career very little is known at all. Details about the what and why can be found in the linernotes that come with the CD; it's a Kent release and the setting and background of the recordings are insightful as usual. A little wrong management, wrong record labels, competition from other artists, unwilling radio stations, etcetera, plenty of reasons why these women never had a big breakthrough. Whether they deserved that breakthrough or not is up to us, we're in the fortunate position of having access to the material. For evaluating the talent of the singers and the quality of the performances it's convenient that they've recorded some songs that you may know from other artists (particularly Doris Duke) and there are also a few songs Bette and Sandra recorded both. See (hear) for yourself.

The CD has 21 tracks: 12 by Sandra Philips, her 'Too many people in one bed' album, 8 by Bette Williams and 1 'bonus' instrumental track. The instrumental track is the backing track of the first Bette Williams track, 'He took my hand'. "Too many people in one bed" gives already a hint of what to expect in the lyrics, nicely explained by Jerry 'Swamp Dogg' Williams Jr. in the text by Sandra Phillips' album, reprinted in the linernotes with the CD.

Plenty of quality imho, the lack of quantity is probably the reason why Sandra Phillips and Bette Williams have been paired on one CD. There's more ofcourse: the Swamp Dogg production, the time of the recordings (1970 / 1971), the songs they both recorded but there's also a similarity in vocal qualities. It's not a weak point that these singers have been combined on one CD, it may have been a decision borne out of necessity but it works great, also because there's a small difference in style with Bette Williams a bit more up-tempo. I dare to say this is a must-try for lovers of mature southern / deep soul of the early 70's. Buy this CD if you like, for the music, for the effort by Kent, for the linernotes and the production / composition details of the recordings but the pictures aren't worth it. Sound quality of the remasters is excellent as usual and the folks of Kent managed to unearth 3 previously unissued Bette Williams tracks for our pleasure. This release is part of the "Swamp Dogg series" which also includes the Doris Duke and Charlie Whitehead albums among others.
Kent / Ace, 2007

Swamp Dogg's Southern Soul Girls