December, 2000 
CD Reviews



Plastic Ono Band
Double Fantasy

Listen to RealAudio sample: Help Me To Help Myself 

It was 20 years ago to the day that John & Yoko released their final musical statement. Double Fantasy was the long promised musical breath of life that Lennon and Ono had been promising their fans since Lennonís mid-70ís Rock & Roll album. Just two weeks after itís release in November of 1980, Lennon was gone, the victim of a mad assassins bullet. The musical, philosophical and political void that Lennonís passing created remains as deep and wide as ever. Itís also been said that Lennonís passing forced the Beatle baby boomers to grow up, albeit under extreme circumstances. What remained following the loss of Lennon was obvious: a musical legacy that will not and cannot ever be surpassed. As for the Double Fantasy sessions itself, the music Lennon recorded in his final year has simply gotten better with the passage of time. Although first released on Geffen Records, Capitol Records, Lennonís original label during the Beatles years, has just reissued a 20th Anniversary edition of the Double Fantasy album. Those who have picked up the CD in itís various incarnations, including the now out-of-print Mobile Fidelity CD, will surely want to hear Capitolís new Double Fantasy because of the inclusion of a never before heard Lennon song entitled "Help Me To Help Myself". A great rediscovery for Lennonís fans, "Help Me To Help Myself", while not a burnished gem along the lines of "Woman" or "Watching The Wheels", nevertheless offers a brilliant insight into the greatest musical mind of the 20th Century. Other reasons for long-time Lennon fans to hear Capitolís new Double Fantasy reissue include the superbly crafted CD booklet filled with poignant photos captured forever during Lennonís final year on earth.

At the same time that Double Fantasy gets the upgraded treatment, Capitol has also reissued a 30th Anniversary edition of Lennonís first official post-Beatles studio solo album simply entitled Plastic Ono Band. Perhaps the most important album from the Autumn of 1970, Plastic Ono Band was as much a philosophical statement as it was a turning point musical moment from Lennon. The only Beatles member on hand for the sessions was drummer Ringo Starr. Other musical luminaries appearing include long time Beatles associates Billy Preston and Klaus Voormann with Phil Spector and Ono assisting wisely on the production and advisory side. An album that will be forever etched into the minds of those who listened with baited breath after they took the Lp home from the record shops, Plastic Ono Band has now been tastefully remixed at Abbey Road Studios in London under the supervision of Yoko Ono. Although the album was perfect in the first place, the addition of two bonus cuts recorded from the same period, the politically charged "Power To The People" and the surreal rave up "Do The Oz", adds in some infinite way to the original greatness of the trend setting Plastic Ono Band album, which now includes a splendid reconfigured CD booklet. 


Pleasures Of The Harbor
Tape From California
Gunfight At Carnegie Hall
Rehearsals For Retirement
(Collectors Choice)

Listen to RealAudio sample: Outside of a Small Circle of Friends 

During the American tragedy known as Vietnam, many voices sung out with raging alarm about the most unjust war in U.S. history. One of finest of those brave singers had to be the late, great Phil Ochs. A protest singer who later journeyed into the realm of highly produced baroque-rock and folk-rock albums for A&M Records and more before he met his untimely end, Ochs made his mark with early albums on Elektra Records. Now with political turmoil in the air again it appears to be an apropos time to reexamine Ochsí A&M output once again. The reissue leaders at Collectorís Choice have just reissued three new Ochs CD titles including his first A&M release, Pleasures Of The Harbor (1967), Tape From California (1968) and the double CD set of Rehearsals For Retirement (1969) w/ Gunfight At Carnegie Hall (1970). While each of Ochsí A&M albums were still seasoned with the folk-rock and protest music anthems of his Elektra years, by the time 1970ís Gunfight At Carnegie Hall was released Ochs had seemingly given up the fight and had returned to his love of Ď50s rock and rollers like Elvis and Buddy Holly. Each of these new CD reissues on Collectors Choice proves that Ochs was a major talent with a gallant voice and songwriting skills that put most of his Ď60s contemporaries to shame. His untimely passing in 1976 no doubt left many of his fans to ponder the words what if? For those pop and folk fans curious enough to trek back to the politically treacherous days of the late Ď60s and early Ď70s, they need look no further than these essential Ochsí reissues. 


In The Beginning

Before Beatlemania and all that Fab Four stuff, The Beatles were a struggling rock and roll band. Arduous months of live gigs at the Star Club in Germany primed the band for the greatness that soon followed. In a trip back into the musical time-tunnel, Polydor recently upgraded and reissued these very first recordings featuring The Beatles. Made back when The Beatles were working with singer Tony Sheridan, these recordings were the idea of pop conductor and Polydor A&R head Bert Kaempfert. Recorded in Hamburg between the Summer of Ď61 and January Ď63, the music herein displays the shared affinity of early rock and roll by both The Beatles and Sheridan, who sings up quite a storm with the Fabs in tow. Beatles fans who have followed the various incarnations of the In The Beginning album will tell you that major highlights are John Lennon, who sings up a storm on "Ainít She Sweet" and "Cry For A Shadow", a timeless guitar instrumental penned by Lennon and guitar ace George Harrison. These pre-Fabs took a back seat by letting Sheridanís Presley-sounding vocals dominate most of these tracks, but nevertheless, the album will always be revered by Beatles collectors. Polydorís new CD features improved sounding remastering, upgraded artwork including 1970 liner notes from Sheridan and 1985 notes by early Beatles promoter Bill Harry. As always, In The Beginning provides an essential missing piece to the early Beatles. 


Listen to RealAudio sample: I'm Talking About You 

In honor of his 60th birthday on May 8th 2000 and in remembrance of his tragic passing in Ď85, Capitol Records has just issued a new four CD box set saluting the spirit and brilliance of rock and roll icon Rick Nelson. Kicking off with his 1957 Top 10 hit, a cover of Fats Dominoís "Iím Walking", Rick Nelson - Legacy takes in 100 tracks spread over four CDs. The set highlights music Nelson recorded for various record labels including Verve, Imperial, Decca, Capitol and Epic Records. Nelson will always be remembered for his most popular song "Traveling Man" and itís b-side "Hello Mary Lou", and that fact was unmistakable when the box was sectioned into four separate parts. Those parts include: Disc 1 - I Donít Mess Around, Boy, disc 2 - Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Imperial, disc 3 - Easy To Be Free and disc 4 - Rave On. The 48 page booklet is highlighted by remembrances from Nelsonís four kids as well as various top players and producers who worked with the rock and roll legend. Elvis Presley once said that "If James Dean sang, he would sound just like Ricky Nelson". Rick Nelson - Legacy proves that - from his Ď50s rock and roll years when he was a member of the Ozzie & Harriet cast, up through Ď60s classics like "Itís Up To You" and "Iíve Got A Woman" and the Ď70s country-rock hit "Garden Party" - Rick Nelson remains a pivotal player in rock and roll history. In the following interview Rickís son Gunnar Nelson describes how the Rick Nelson - Legacy box set came to fruition: "Honestly itís taken fifteen years to get a definitive piece of work done for a variety of reasons. The estate was a mess for 10 years after our dad died. Basically it was the first time in history that we were able to get MCA and Capitol / EMI together on a definitive piece of work. MCA and Capitol had done their own little collection albums. But they had never been able to co-release a box set that would span Rick Nelsonís entire career. They either had the early years, the Rockabilly years, or they had the Stone Canyon Band years. Since we got the green light about two years ago, itís really been a labor of love and a ton of work that really involved a combination of things. It took (brother) Matthew Nelson and I talking to at least a hundred different people that had known our father throughout the years to track down a garage in the middle of Hollywood, just plain garage that I guess Ozzie had rented out in the Ď50s, and had stored a bunch of tapes in there. I opened up the door and looked inside and sure enough, wall to wall racks of the original session tapes. No one had ever seen them before. They were covered in 30 years of dust. Basically there are a bunch of things on the box set that have never been heard before, like stereo versions of some of his biggest hits. Back then, mono was really the defacto standard. So the stereo versions of them were never released and never heard. And for the first time ever I mean, in that tape vault we found the stereo versions of songs like "Poor Little Fool" and "Traveliní Man". I mean the fact that I was holding "Hello, Mary Lou", the original master tape, in my hand, it made me cry when I found them. It was just an incredible find. They were all in that tape vault. We were really concerned because this thing wasnít really a tape vault at all, it was literally just a garage. And we thought, ĎOh, my god, this stuff has been here for 50 years!í When we played the tapes back they played back perfectly. Iím actually stunned that we were able to coordinate the hundreds of people that were involved in putting the box together. To actually make it a reality. The box set was really a jumping off point. Over the next five years we have a comprehensive plan to work with MCA and Capitol to reissue the original albums on CD." 

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
(Experience Hendrix)

Listen to RealAudio sample: Message to Love

On September 12th, 2000 Experience Hendrix released the long-awaited new box set from guitar icon Jimi Hendrix. A lavishly packaged box, Jimi Hendrix Experience is released as both a CD set and as a limited edition 8 LP box set. Since Experience Hendrix, under the supervision of Jimiís kid sister Janie Hendrix, took over the helm as the caretaker of Jimiís recorded legacy, long time fans have been treated to not only a superb revival of Jimiís time-honored catalog, but also to an ongoing reissue series of newly rediscovered gems from the extensive Hendrix library of tapes. Jimi Hendrix Experience is an incredible collection of rare and unreleased tracks. The eighty page CD book is filled with insightful essays and never published photos. Beginning with the start of the Hendrix legend in Paris 1966, the four disc set spotlights an array of alternate takes, instrumentals as well as insightful music from Jimiís final sessions at his own Electric Lady studios recorded before his demise in September 1970 at age 27. In the words of the box setís co-producer John McDermott, "These live and studio recordings showcase Jimiís amazing growth as an innovative musician and composer," adding, "I hope Jimiís fans come away with a new appreciation for his remarkable talent." Jimi Hendrix Experience is one experience no Hendrix fan should miss. 


Cosmic Smile
(Radio Phoenix)

Listen to RealAudio sample: Compromise 

One of the greatest Ď60s progressive rock and roll bands, Spirit was guided by the talents of the amazing singer-songwriter and guitar great Randy California. In a tragic twist of fate, California perished while swimming off the coast of Molakai, Hawaii on 1/2/97, just at the time when Sony/Legacy was in the process of upgrading all the classic Spirit albums from the Ď60s. Although Spirit was all but written off by a number of record labels following their late Ď60s/early Ď70s heyday, Californiaís musical vision stayed true to the bandís reputation for being one of the most creative musical entities of all time. As Cosmic Smile aptly portrays, California remained a creative force right up until his passing a few years ago. 15 tracks featuring some of Randyís last musical moments have been compiled on this historic new CD released by NYC-based Phoenix Gems. Several legendary members of Spirit, including Jay Ferguson, Matt Andes and long-time Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy appear here, although through the art of studio multi-tracking, California performs many of these songs on his own. Recorded between 1991-95, Cosmic Smile is a fitting testimony to Californiaís genius and is an essential spin for any fan of Spirit. In addition, the CD features top liner notes and track data. 

The Essentials

As we await the official Columbia / Legacy rollout of the Bob Dylan back catalog, due around Summer 2000, the label releases a fresh Bob Dylan retrospective. Spanning two CDs, the set includes all the best of Dylanís folk, rock and country hits. The thirty track set winds itís way through Ď60s smashes from "Blowing In The Wind" (1962) to "Like A Rolling Stone" (Ď65) and then moves on compile numerous hits from the past three decades up until today, 2000. Color photos are quite effective in the abridged CD booklet which also offers a two page color montage blending every Dylan album cover. All in all, The Essentials is worth checking out by the Dylan completest while also representing a concise introduction for the novice looking to (no doubt) explore the roots of these musical milestones in Dylanís ongoing musical legacy. 

Candyís Waltz

It was quite apparent from their very first recordings on Elektra Records that Love would be a force to be reckoned with. Featuring the singing and songwriting skills of both Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean, Love recorded some amazing albums during the mid-late Ď60s. As solo artists, neither MacLean or Lee was able to completely revive the incredible magic they conjured so magnificently in Love way back then. Ironically, MacLean sadly passed away almost two years ago, but Upstate New York-based Sundazed rekindled interest in the pop great with their acclaimed compilation ifyoubelievein from a couple years back. Sundazed now follows up with a new 20 track MacLean compilation of mostly acoustic demos recorded between Ď71-84. Also highlighted is a 13 minute radio interview with MacLean from 1998. Even on these acoustic demo tracks, which are now almost too painfully honest and revealing to take in, you can clearly detect the same MacLean genius responsible for classic Love gems like "Orange Skies" and "Alone Again Or". For pop fans, MacLeanís loss was immense, but all the same, itís still estimable that Sundazed continues to keep his name out there with these intimate, close-up reflections of the artistís last and most candid songs. A heartfelt musical statement indeed, Candyís Waltz also spotlights reflective liner notes from Bryanís sister and fellow artist Maria McKee. 

Ultimate Collection

The sister of the late, great pop songwriter Bryan MacLean, singer-songwrtier Maria McKee was also the lead singer in the country-rock group Lone Justice. Although Lone Justice received accolades for their tasty countrified pop-rock albums, McKee sought out her muse in the form of an acclaimed solo career. By the time McKee released her Ď96 album, Life Is Sweet, she had transformed her country-rock inclinations to a more focused artistic style clearly inspired by the musical high drama of David Bowie, for instance. McKee has been threatening to release a follow-up to Life Is Sweet and in the liner notes for her new Hip-O Records collection she adds that her upcoming album will be "a more intense version of Life Is Sweet. Itís more direct and penetrating." In the interim, those whoíve missed any stage of her musical development is advised to hunt down McKeeís Hip-O CD. 17 tracks, including a number of Lone Justice cuts and tracks from Life Is Sweet and other McKee titles round out the disc, which is accompanied by extensive liner note and arresting photos. 

The 7th Song

Commenting on the concept of his new compilation, guitar great Steve Vai says, "Singing, swooning guitar has always touched my heart very deeply, and I thought it would be interesting to leave the 7th track on each one of my records to that sweeping guitar ballad." Recording numerous solo albums since his first CD, Flex-Able in 1982, Vai finally compiled enough number 7 album tracks to make his first 7th song collection. The guitarist also says, "Hopefully in the next 20 years, Iíll have a Volume II of The 7th Song." Although heís recorded seven solo albums to date, The 7th Song is further fleshed out by several newly recorded bonus tracks. Vai is well known for his blazing guitar chops and fiery rock/jazz arrangements, yet the emphasis on The 7th Song is on the guitaristís love of guitar-based instrumentals filled with atmospheric melodies. Vai adds, "The most profound musical statement you can make is with melody. The guitar is the most soulful and expressive instrument when properly wielded." Some of the great sidemen who helped Vai record these tracks include Mike Keneally (keyboards) as well as drummers Terry Bozzio, Gregg Bissonette and Mike Mangini. Vaiís session work with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth and Alice Cooper is well documented. Accompanied by track by track notes by Vai, The 7th Song offers new appreciation of the guitar greatís solo catalog. An imaginative release by one of the preeminent guitarists around today, The 7th Song is the first in a series of 12 archival CD projects planned by Vai.  / 

Metal Machine Music

In the liner notes of the 25th Anniversary edition of Metal Machine Music, rock great Lou Reed sums it up best when he adds, "I wasnít just squealing and making noises. But if you just like loud feedbacking guitars - well, there it is." Considered an enigmatic avant gard statement by pop fans at the time, MMM owes more to Reedís fondness of the free-form jazz of Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman or John Cale then it does to Velvet Underground albums like Loaded or even Reedís all-time classic Transformer. A bizarre yet meticulously crafted instrumental recording, the album depicts Reedís fascination with turning four electric guitars into a disturbing/engaging sonic barrage, a wall of unrelenting sounds and feedback of sorts. John Cale, Reedís onetime bandmate in Velvet Underground recorded a couple intense, highly experimental albums back in the early Ď70s, but some of Reedís fans werenít quite ready to absorb the avant gard trip of MMM. Perhaps in an effort calm the critical uproar created by the album, Reed shot back tactfully with the doo-wop flavored Coney Island Baby. Carefully remastered by record engineer legend Bob Ludwig (whoís also interviewed in the engrossing liner notes), the Buddha Records 25th anniversary of MMM sounds great on CD and is topped off with enhanced album packaging. If anything, the sounds Reed created on MMM during the strange days of the mid-70ís are more intriguing today than it might have first been perceived 25 years ago. In addition to MMM, Buddha Records have upgraded several other CDs from Reedís late Ď70s Arista Records years including Rock And Roll Heart, Growing Up In Public and The Bells. 

Reflections From The Firepool

Maryland-based Cuneiform Records should be applauded for releasing several new albums and an assortment of archive CDs from the legendary California-based avant-gard space rock group Djam Karet. In the spirit of Cuneiformís recent reissues of Suspension & Displacement and Burning The Hard City, two vintage Djam Karet titles simultaneously issued in Ď91, comes a recent CD reissue of the bandís 1989 title Reflections From The Firepool. Considered the first real Djam Karet album, Reflections has held up quite well since itís Ď89 release. Guitarist Gayle Ellett & company have gone onto record some great music since Reflections was first released, yet upon hearing Cuneiformís new CD reissue itís obvious that the album clearly remains one of the best prog-rock albums from Ď89. Described by fans as sounding like an instrumental cross between Pink Floyd, The Dead and King Crimson, Djam Karet can always be counted on to merge inventive sonic textures into a progressive instrumental rock setting. Complete with new cover art, Reflections From The Firepool remains essential listening for fans of instrumental progressive rock. Fans should keep an eye out for a new Djam Karet CD due out on Cuneiform in Spring 2001. 

Dick Bartley Presents:
On The Radio Vol. 5&6

Listen to RealAudio sample: Testify 

Back in the Ď60s pop and R&B sat side by side in the singles racks. Radio was just as kind to pop fans, with the sound of Motown and Merseybeat sitting on the same musical fence. L.A.-based Varese Vintage have assembled another two on the radio series. While On The Radio volumes 1-5 spotlighted some of the best pop and folk-rock sounds of the Ď60s and early Ď70s, these latest additions to the series spotlights some of the great R&B and pre-disco dance music so popular back then. A highlight of volume six has got to be the inclusion of the great Top 25 song hit "(I Wanna) Testify" by The Parliaments (1967-written by George Clinton). Also on volume six are The Isley Brothers (with 1969ís "Itís Your Thing) and Archie Bell & The Drells to name just few of the 16 tracks here. Almost as interesting is volume five which includes the great Ď60s AM soul smash "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols along with 15 other soul music classics. If you dig classic chart-topping R&B and soul music from the heyday of the Ď60s then On The Radio 5&6 is definitely your thing. 

Zabkaís Themes From Television
(Big Island Music)

Anyone interested in Television music composers from the Ď60s should check out the new reissue by TV theme music composer Stan Zabka. Zabkaís talents as a pop orchestrater are quite apparent. Recorded in Paris with a 43 piece string orchestra and first released in 1964, the album features 12 of Zabkaís sublime easy listening pop jewels including music he composed for various television shows like the original Tonight Show theme, "Chimes". With all the interest in Ď60s retro easy listening music, soundtracks and television music, Zabkaís Themes From Television is a rare treat worth checking out by collectors and newcomers alike. The album features liner notes by Zabkaís former boss, the Tonight Showís own Johnny Carson. 



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