Record Label
and Music Spotlight 









/ TUTL - Hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, singer-songwriter Gudrid Hansdóttir brings her introspective brand of pop music to the world wide stage with the 2011 CD release of Beyond The Grey. Maybe it’s because she’s from Iceland that her music has such a pastoral, ethereal effect. Even so, most of Gudrid’s introspective songs here are sung in English, with some Icelandic words interspersed for effect, so there’s no problem getting her musical messages (and spectacular melodies) through to international listeners. Sounding, say for instance like a modern day pop version of Joni Mitchell, (fellow country woman Bjork is another signpost) Gudrid gets excellent support from her band including producer Mikael Blak, who adds in an a variety of instruments including bass, organ, mellotron, theremin and more. Also on hand on the album’s more uptempo pop-based tracks are Benjamin Petersen (guitars) and Derek Murphy (drums). Released on the German based Beste! Unterhaltung label—sister label to the eclectic Nordic Notes album—Beyond The Grey makes for a most illuminating, enlightening, international pop music experience. The packaging and accompanying booklet, is also top notch and overall, gives new meaning to the words 'CD release'.

- Egged on by singer-songwriter / guitarist Simon Bristoll, the English pop-rock group known as Captain Wilberforce has been garnering some well deserved accolades for their 2011 CD entitled Ghost Written Confessions. The CD catches you right away with a series of hard-hitting pop-rock tracks in the spirit of Todd Rundgren and XTC. Interestingly on their Facebook page, the group cites heroes like The Fab Four, The Who, Jellyfish and Queen and you can really hear how devoted they are to the art of classic pop-rock. The Captain gets solid backing from his cohorts who help carry these memorable tracks into the end zone.

- After way too long out of the public ear, rock legend Suzi Quatro returned in 2011 with the all powerful In The Spotlight. Harking back in style to her leather clad mid ‘70s sound, Suzi once again reunites with long time producer Mike Chapman and the result is a rock solid CD that takes no prisoners. Recorded in the U.K., In The Spotlight features Suzi’s vocals and big bass guitar sound getting amazing backing from producer Chapman and a number of players including Nat Allison (guitars), Jez Davies (keys) and powerhouse drummer Owen Martin. As producer, Chapman assumes a dominant role here writing a number of tracks that raise the roof in the spirit of mid ‘70s Sweet, Bowie and and of course, Suzi Quatro. There’s even a touching Elvis tribute track here entitled “Singing With Angels”, that also features guest appearances by long time Presley guitarist James Burton and the King’s backup singers The Jordinaires. The CD is superbly packaged and in the CD booklet, Suzi waxes philosophically about her lengthy career as an entertainer and how after coming back to Detroit in 2010 to celebrate her 60th birthday—after recording Back To The Drive in 2006 and writing her autobiography Unzipped in 2007—she felt free and at peace for the first time in her life. The result of all this peace? In The Spotlight—surely one of the great rock ‘n’ roll comebacks of 2010-2011 and resoundingly among the most kick-ass, powerhouse rock albums of the millennium.

- Guitar hero Steve Hunter is renowned world wide for his amazing work, live and on record, with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. Steve’s recent solo albums are also quite amazing and much the same could be said about his production on the 2011 album from his wife Karen Ann Hunter. Entitled Empty Spaces, the 11 cut CD is filled with glorious songs and stately melodies, with each track superbly fleshed out by Steve’s amazing electric and acoustic guitar work. With Karen’s songs and voice as the centerpiece, the Empty Spaces album is as close to heaven as you can get without actually dying! Commenting on the 2011 CD, Karen adds, ‘Empty Spaces is my second solo album, the first was more jazz and blues with much harder vocals. However, Steve heard me do some Sade and Norah Jones live before I moved over to marry him, and when he heard me sing them he thought I should do an album using my very soft voice and Empty Spaces was the result.’ There’s way too many highlights to discuss in a review yet (“Butterfly Blue” is pure sonic bliss) yet when pushed to discuss the title track Ms. Hunter adds ‘Empty Spaces, the title track, is about the memories that get buried deep inside as one gets older, it is meant to be reflective but not sad.’ Further discussing the album and Steve Hunter’s role in the recording, Karen further states, ‘Steve arranged, played or programmed, produced and engineered everything on the album and I wrote all the songs. He had never recorded vocals before but managed to get the most wonderfully warm sound on my voice. The production and songs have gained praise from a number of major producers, songwriters and engineers. Steve played mostly his Taylor acoustic, his Baby Taylor as well as an Oscar Teller nylon string along with his fave electric guitars.’ From start to finish, Empty Spaces is not quite folk, not quite rock, not quite New Age, yet the sound borrows from all three genres. Another musical signpost, perhaps a subliminal one, is the influence of Beatles guitar ace George Harrison and the album sounds quite astral in that respect. When pressed to explain exactly what kind of sound Karen and Steve were going for she also explains, ‘You asked what we set out to achieve, well that is easy, we just wanted to write and record a great album together, an album that was full of music that we would enjoy listening to. We both love melody, harmony and atmosphere so that is what we produced.’

- A subsidiary of Universal Music and sister label to Decca Records, Deutsche Grammophon released their first ever album from Tori Amos. The 14 track Night Of Hunters details Tori’s classical training and is as far as you can get from her late 1980’s, rock based solo debut on Atlantic. Even so, it’s rare an album from a pop artist underscores such a deep fondness and understanding of classical music. Sounding sort of influenced by artists such as Kate Bush and Enya, Night Of Hunters is a neo-symphonic masterpiece that features Tori on vocals and grand piano backed up by a symphony orchestra. Also on hand is her daughter Natashya Hawley. The sound is first rate and the packaging is really state of the art. Considering what actually happened (to the late Steve Jobs) in 2011, track seven here, “Job’s Coffin” is both haunting and revealing at the same time. An album that sounds better with each spin, Night Of Hunters is the most daring work yet by a truly pioneering and innovative artist.

- U.K. guitar hero Phil Manzanera gets back to his Latin roots with his 2011 CD Corroncho. Recorded with Colombian artist/sculptor Lucho Brieva, the 12 track Corroncho CD finds the esteemed Roxy Music guitarist sharing the vocal spotlight with Lucho. The two get further support from a fine band, with guest appearances from Robert Wyatt, Chrissie Hynde and Annie Lennox. The songs are all sung in Spanish and, even though these bouncy Latino flavored track may seem to have little in common with Manzanera’s progressive rock and rock roots, his pop side comes out to play on an album that blends a wealth of Spanish music sounds—from salsa, Cumbia, pop, ballads and low-fi chillout music. Manzanera’s guitar sound is everywhere as is his fondness for South American songs, rhythms and politics.

MANHATON RECORDS - Somewhat of a cult artist, Peter Bruntnell released Black Mountain U.F.O. in 2011. Bruntnell’s most recent album, Peter And The Murder Of Crows was released in 2010 and Black Mountain U.F.O. is just about as memorable plus you get that multi-panel cover art when you obtain the physical CD. Throughout, Bruntnell gets solid support from his band and he turns in a fine performance on a number of guitars and synth keyboards. Black Mountain U.F.O is one part alternative country, another part psychedelia delivered in a characteristically British fashion. Bruntnell may be unpredictable musically, yet spin for spin, there’s always something to marvel at on his various album releases. Of note is the “Black Mountain U.F.O.” title track which after hypnosis, Bruntnell admitted he had been abducted by an alien spaceship, whose inhabitants instructed him to write the song.

ROPEADOPE RECORDS - Some noted writer at one of the most prestigious guitar magazines in the world used to term schizophrenic (in a humorous way) to describe the 2011 CD release of Entre Nous by guitarist Clay Ross. Growing up in South Carolina, Ross was groomed to become a preacher—gving sermons over Sunday dinners with his family as a ten year old. The young guy they called “The Reverend” has done good on his latest album album on the Brooklyn Ropeadope Records label. With the 2011 CD release of Entre Nous, Ross splits his music craft into compartments combining forays into rock, jazz, funk, world beat, bluegrass and more. As a singer, Ross is quite adept at fusing a sound that is rock, but not quite rock, Brazilian sounding but not quite world beat. The record is split into instrumental and vocal sections and you’d be hard pressed to say which is more interesting. A number of musicians aid Ross on Entre Nous although, clearly the center stage spotlight here is on Ross, his excellent guitar sounds and of course his songs, which you can hum along with as they haunt you. There is a CD (perhaps for review only?) of the Entre Nous album, available with 17 cuts although it seems as though the download album currently on Amazon only features 13 cuts. What’s missing on the Amazon download page are some great instrumentals including an instrumental of an unforgettable track here called “Battle Hymn.” Clearly, Entre Nous should be made available on CD and not just as download only album, so write your congressman.

TVP - Turning the shock factor up to ten, NYC based singer-songwriter / keyboardist Kristeen Young puts it together in dramatic fashion on her 2011 album V The Volcanic. Sometimes considered a sign for victory, here it more likely signifies the name Visconti, as in legendary rock producer Tony Visconti. Simply put, on Ms. Young’s album, Tony has done another fantastic production job. Considering Kristeen’s dramatic vocal mannerisms, there’s a definite Bowie-esque vibe around. Think Bowie jamming with King Crimson circa 1981 or even Kate Bush in full synth rock mode and you get an idea of the scene here. While that’s clear, the whole thing is kicked up a notch with a post modern NYC attitude. Utilizing a range of top backing musicians, Tony Visconti also plays guitars and bass here while on several tracks, Downtown legend Lou Reed adds in his some of his own enthralling, metal machine music style rock rhythm guitar crunch. Even with Visconti and company supplying cutting edge and very dramatic etchings, the centerpiece here is Ms. Young’s soaring voice and keyboards. Mastering at Sterling Sound, Visconti once again pushes modern rock to the max on an album that sounds familiar yet is completely new.

YOUNG AND LOST CLUB - Wild name for a record company, but the U.K. based Young And Lost Club Records is keeping the progressive pop world alive with For The Shadows, the debut CD from the group known as Oh Minnows. Sounding like a modern day Brian Eno circa Another Green World, multi-instrumentalist Chris Steele-Nicholson is actually from the US and the album was recorded in various locations across the USA including Chicago, San Francisco and North Carolina. Interestingly, there is a CD of the album available yet Young And Lost Club are promoting it so far as a download release. There’s some great layered electric guitar sounds on the album that also sounds inspired by groups like Tears For Fears complete with ‘80s synths and effects boxes adding to the electronic backdrop.


- Based in Germany, the Acoustic Music Records label was founded by guitarist Peter Finger back in 1989. In the spirit of Finger’s eclectic approach to acoustic guitar instrumentals, his label released the critically acclaimed Compositions Pour Guitare(s) by French guitarist Michel Haumont. Echoing the approach of the great Pierre Bensusan, Haumont is skilled at extracting unique elements of sound and depth from the acoustic guitar. As far as acoustic based instrumentals, Haumont is more subdued than say Tommy Emmanuel for example, although there’s still plenty to marvel at here. Throughout his 14 track CD, Haumont receives fine backing by a wide range of acoustic guitarists—including label founder Peter Finger, Roland Dyans, Dan Ar Braz and many more. The CD booklet is printed in three languages including English. Also on Acoustic-Music in 2011 is Soleado by Sin Distancia Trio. An instrumental guitar trio, Sin Distancia Trio evokes some of Al DiMeola’s more Gypsy jazz stylings making them the samba / nuevo version of the California Guitar Trio. Also in 2011 on Acoustic-Music is Follow Through from acoustic guitarist Zane Charron. Pleasant enough, the solo acoustic CD features 13 acoustic guitar based vocals with a few instrumentals consisting of Charron originals and vocal covers of Fred Neil, Steve Miller and Jerry Garcia. /

/ DIGITAL NATIONS - Ever since guitar hero Steve Vai started up his Digital Nations label back in the early 2000’s, there’s been a roll back of sorts, all around, regarding releasing actual CDs, say compared to promoting music exclusively as download files. Even so, when FN releases an actual, silver disc CD, it’s usually a total winner and happily that’s the case with the 2011 CD release of Interstellar Groove Machine, from guitarist Chris Bullen. Fans of Steve Vai’s uncanny knack to bowl you over with a sonic barrage of hard rock / heavy metal instrumentals (and the occasional vocal) will totally enjoy Bullen’s CD. An all instrumental, electric guitar based tour de force, the 9 track Interstellar Groove Machine album just amazes from start to finish. Throughout, Bullen handles the writing and the guitars while receiving top drawer support from a range of gifted backing players, including bass ace Ric Fierabracci, Jim Cote (bass) and Shane Gaalaas (drums). The CD is superbly recorded and the artwork and packaging is truly mind expanding. Bullen waxes philosophically in the extensive album liner notes on an album that just sound better with each spin. Fans of Vai, Satch and the great rock metal instrumental guitarists who’ve gone before and have come since would be well severed by getting on board Chris Bullen’s Interstellar Groove Machine.

FAVORED NATIONS - It’s a pretty bold move in and of itself, yet covering The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as an all instrumental hard rock suite is the latest musical move from Texas guitarist Andy Timmons. Already getting accolades from guitar heroes such as Steve Lukather and Tommy Emmanuel, Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper features Timmons in the studio with his group Andy Timmons Band, also featuring Mike Daane (bass) and Mitch Marine (drums). Featuring note for note melodic translations, the album also features Timmons adding in some occasional riffs and leads that further takes the music into orbit. It’s great how Timmons closes out “For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” with a coda from another Lennon penned Beatles song “I Want You” (She’s So Heavy), yet it works. Many guitarists have steered clear of something like this yet Timmons possesses the chops and the insight to put melody and arrangement together in a way that does justice to the time honoured Beatles album classic.

- With the 2011 CD release of Organum, trumpet master Giorgio Li Calzi creates a sonic stew that is truly mind expanding. A student of ECM trumpet master Enrico Rava, Giorgio takes that spatial free jazz element of ECM in the mid ‘70s and really extrapolates with a wide range of electronics that adds in a truly futuristic touch. For instrumental electronic music and jazz fans, Organum is a must. Guitar fans will want to hear this for several tracks here that feature the guitar sonics of both Roberto Cecchetto and Matteo Salvadori. Several of the more jazz-rock tracks also features the solid rhythm section of Alessandro Maiorino (bass) and Enzo Zirilli (drums). The combination of Giorgio’s trumpet blasts and sonic landscapes perfectly mesh with the electronics of Marconi Union while the superbly packaged CD is further enhanced by the pair of vocal cuts that feature singers Haley Alker and Thomas Leer.

/ MPL - Always a master of classical flavored musical motifs involving orchestrations within the context of a rock group, Paul McCartney was also quite skillful about creating that classical kind of vibe in The Beatles. Paul has dabbled in non-rock classical type albums in the past with mixed results, yet he once again steps up to the plate for the 2011 CD release of Paul McCartney’s Ocean’s Kingdom—an innovative classical symphonic work commissioned by the New York City Ballet. Released by Concord Music Group, and issued on the Hear Music / Telarc label, the four part classical suite was produced by John Fraser and is performed by The London Classical Orchestra. Interestingly, the Ocean's Kingdom CD was released in late 2011—the same time Paul’s 1967 classical soundtrack to The Family Way saw its first ever official CD release by Varese. A quite different type of album from the man who helped pioneer the entire rock music genre, the music on Ocean’s Kingdom is pretty illuminating stuff, especially for a modern classical orchestral instrumental album, yet whether it will be readily accepted by Beatles fans is another matter.

- When it comes to speaking foreign languages, the art of instrumental rock guitar acts as a truly universal way of connecting people from all over the world. Case in point is a 2011 CD release from Italy’s Heart Of Steel Records called Metallo Beat, by the group Dolcetti, featuring guitarist Gianni “Jana” Rojatti. Rock metal guitar hero Alex Masi makes a cameo while throughout the album Gianni gets solid support from drummer / co-producer Erik Tulissio, with mixing / mastering handled by European rock crossover producer and bass player Fabio Trentini. Musically, the eight track Metallo Beat album is all over the map—borrowing from instro surf-rock as well as elements of the instrumental prog-metal that Alex Masi is well known for. There’s plenty of imaginative instrumental rock in play on Gianni Rojatti’s Metallo Beat CD to please the most ardent instro rock and surf-rock disciples.

/ REAL WORLD WORKS - A master of sonic manipulation and audio illusion, the music of Bob Holroyd is a lot like entering the musical twilight zone. Sort of more spatial and disturbing than other music that might qualify for New Age music, Holroyd’s 2011 CD Afterglow is a stunning follow up to Holroyd’s Re: series of releases from 2010. As opposed to the remix / World Beat music that was featured on that series, Afterglow serves as a relaxed, stately minimalist based sound collage that, minus drums is a work composed and constructed from Holroyd’s live and treated piano along with other musicians adding in various instrumentation including cello, trumpet and guitar loops—in essence producing a series of ambient textures and intimate musical spaces. Holroyd is well established in England as a composer of music for films and television and clearly, in the spirit of Eno's instrumental ambient music albums, such his classic Music For Airports, Holroyd’s Afterglow album is a worthy sonic investment that holds up well spin after spin.

RIDICULOUS RECORDS - Guitar maven and founder of England’s Pipeline magazine, Alan Taylor hipped his readers to the 2011 CD from guitarist Philip Pell. The 12 track release of Hopeless is actually as far from the implied title as you can get! Perhaps Pell is a hopeless guitar romantic, here at times channeling the sonic influences of guitar giants such as Duane Eddy and Hank Marvin. In addition to the classic sounds, Pell occasionally throws in some unique post ‘60s etchings, including what sounds like mellotron keyboards on, notably on track 3 “Drifting South” and the cool canned horns on track 9, “Breaking Wind” which sounds like instrumental John Fogerty jamming with The Shadows. The CD adds in a couple of vocal tracks, including a spoof on the early 1960’s hit “The Monster Mash” called “The Monster Crash” about PC computer crashes. Either way, Pell adds in a cool guitar solo at the end. Amid the mostly instrumental originals are Pell covers of one time Shadows guitarist John Farrar and the song writing team of Duane Eddy and Lee Hazelwood. The album is clearly a labor of love, say compared to a strategically implemented commercial release, yet the music is also uniquely English sounding jazz instrumental rock, with a couple vocals in places, that should appeal to surf-rockers and jazz-based, soundtrack music fans who keep an open ear for varied, eclectic guitarists with tasteful fretboard ideas. email:

- When it comes to the art of sonic guitar as written and performed within the realm of the New Age / Rock Fusion genre, few do it better than Ohio based Mark Dwane. The web site featured Mark’s 2009 album Other Worlds last time around and now in 2011, Mark has unveiled what some are already considering his ultimate recorded statement yet. Released at the close of 2011, The Singularity features ten original tracks, all composed, performed and produced by Dwane. Although the CD is self-produced, it is packaged within a truly amazing CD cover art that bespeaks of the music within. Dwane’s music is somewhat reminiscent of Jan Hammer’s late 1980’s, cinematic soundtrack music on Miramar, although clearly more omnipresent is Dwane's guitar sound, which although digitized, synthesized and computerized is still organic in its approach to guitar performance. Duane has listed George Harrison and Jimmy Page among his big guitar influences and clearly, fans of Harrison’s more adventurous instrumental guitar works (anyone remember George's Wonderwall soundtrack?) should give Duane’s latest masterpiece a spin. Check out The Singularity because of that cool cover art that conjures other worldly dimensions, but listen to it because of the music.

- Bay area guitarist Lee Vilensky blurs the lines between surf-rock and retro / instro guitar jazz with the 2011 CD release of Dirty Dealings On A Latin Moon. Released by Lee Vilensky Trio, the 13 track CD makes for a wild, yet thoroughly engaging guitar ride. One minute it sounds like Vilensky is reviving‘60s jazz guitar icon Howard Roberts, the next sounds like he’s jamming with The Ventures and the next it sounds like he’s working on some film music scores with soundtrack composer icon Henry Mancini. On his web site, Vilensky states, ‘Sometimes words just get in the way.’ No problem here as all the tracks on Lee’s fine CD are true guitar based instrumentals that should offer much inspiration and interest among guitar fans. On Dirty Dealings On A Latin Moon Vilensky gets solid support from his band mates Jamie Lease (drums) and Bill Macbeath (bass) but the spotlight is mostly on Vilensky’s wide screen, guitar based, highly charged musical imagination.


- Back in his native Sweden, guitarist / composer Janne Schaffer is rightly considered a hero. Composing and performing with his often involved band mate, Bjørn J:son Lindh, Schaffer has recorded some of the most memorable and durable instrumental jazz-rock and instrumental rock fusion albums of the past 40 years. The cream of Schaffer’s solo career can be found on his 2010 box set called Music Story, released on his own Earmeal label. Released on Lp in 1973, following years of backing numerous Swedish musicians, including pop legends ABBA, Janne’s first album, Halkans Affär was a total fusion affair featuring a hot band including J:son Lindh. That ‘73 album is featured here—paired with Janne Schaffer Schaffer’s Andra LP (1974)—as disc one of the 12 album (10CD) + 3DVD Music Story box set. The box set continues on, including a pairing of Katharsis (1975) + Earmeal (recorded with Toto in 1978), Presens (1980), Blå Passager Och Röda Vågor (1982), Traffic (1985), Electric Graffiti (1988), Ögonblick (1992), Av Ren Lust (1995), På Andra Sidan Månen (2000), and a bonus CD of tracks recorded circa 2010 entitled Bonusplatta 2010. Also rounding out the box are three DVD titles featuring Janne Schaffer live in concert— Hörselmat i Montreux 1980, Janne Schaffer - Kårhuset 1974 and a superbly produced Christmas type music concert from 2009, featuring Janne and his band backed up by strings and a choir, entitled Julstämning. Beautifully packaged, the Music Story box set features an extensive booklet with text (printed in Swedish) and while I was only able to program the DVD titles on my computer, they are truly enchanting and a sight (and sound) to behold. The overall CD sound throughout is excellent, making the box a fantastic overview of Schaffer’s brilliant career as a guitar trendsetter in Sweden. In November 2011, spoke to Petter Karlson about the inside story behind the Music Story box set (coming soon!).

/ PRIDE DVD - Musicologists will be discussing the music and history of The Beatles for centuries to come. An equally fascinating period is the decade following the break up of the Fab Four and that period is put to the test on a fascinating 2011, 139 minute DVD entitled Composing Outside The Beatles: Lennon & McCartney 1973-1980. A worthy follow up to the first volume—Composing Outside The Beatles: Lennon & McCartney 1967-1972—there’s plenty of archival footage and snippets of actual music on 1973-1980 to make this DVD well worth the time to watch and watch again. The cover art and packaging is superb while the actual scenes with John and Paul are enhanced by in depth interviews with Denny Laine, Klaus Voorman, Wings drummer Denny Seiwell and a host of esteemed rock critics—including Robert Christgau and other in the know scribes. Cofounder, along with Mike Pinder, of The Moody Blues, Wings great Laine in particular is quite effective at retelling the tale of McCartney’s early solo flights.

/ CLASSIC PICTURES - Back in mid 2005, U.K. based Classic Pictures released an excellent DVD featuring YES guitarist Steve Howe entitled Steve Howe’s Remedy Live. Howe and YES fans who might have missed that U.K. import can now find the same title as newly released Stateside by MVD. Released in 2011, the MVD version of the Remedy Live DVD features the exact same DVD complete with Howe performing with his group Remedy. The DVD features classic YES reworked by Howe backed his sons Dylan Howe (drums) and Virgil Howe (keys) along with guitarist Ray Fenwick (second guitar) and Derrick Taylor (bass). The CD Howe was promoting on that tour was Steve Howe’s Remedy Elements and fittingly, the DVD features several live renditions of key tracks from that album, along with other classic Howe-related moments from his vast YES history, his classic early solo years and, there’s even a cover of his Tomorrow classic “My White Bicycle”. With the concert footage backed up by some incredible bonus footage of Howe in rehearsal and live solo, Remedy Live remains essential viewing for progressive rock fans and especially YES fans.

- The best Australian CD reissue label, the extensive reissue catalog of Raven Records reads like a who’s who of musical royalty. One of the key founders of Raven is the still rockin’ Glenn A. Baker, who is considered one of the most informed musicologists in the land down under. It would take a whole lot more room to discuss the great things Raven has brought to the music world since the worldwide boom of the CD back in 1984, yet one 2011 CD release on Raven certain to bring a smile to the ears of music lovers is from ‘60s pop pioneers The Spencer Davis Group—entitled Somebody Help Me: The Best Of 1964-1968. Lately, Raven has been concentrating a lot on American country music reissues including titles by country music superstars like Loretta Lynn, Bobby Bare, Jerry Jeff Walker, Charlie Rich, topped off by a 2011 two on one CD release, featuring two 1970’s album releases from American country music superstar George Jones entitled We Can Make It / I Wanta Sing. Even with such a country music heavy release roster in 2011, it’s more than gratifying to see Raven put their usual midas touch on their 26 track Spencer Davis Group CD compilation. Kicking off their CD with “Keep On Runnin” (composed by Jackie Edwards), the CD packs in most of the classic Spencer Davis Group hits—all sung by pop music icon Steve Winwood, who left Spencer Davis Group in 1967 to form Traffic with Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi. Key to Raven’s huge success is the fact that their CD reissues always feature extensive booklets packed with rare photos and liner notes. In the case of their Spencer Davis Group CD, liner notes are penned by Aussie musicologist Ian McFarlane. For instance, who knew that Steve Winwood and the late great Traffic producer Jimmy Miller co-wrote the huge ‘60s chart topper “I’m A Man”? Several different U.K. / U.S. mixes of classic Spencer Davis Group hits are included while the CD closes out with a couple of post-Winwood Spencer Davis Group hits, including the great “Time Seller”, which was the single from the brilliant With Their New Face On album from April 1968. Spencer Davis Group, also featuring guitarist / rock pioneer Spencer Davis, would go on to make other albums, yet for a fleeting moment in the mid to late ‘60s, Spencer Davis Group, featuring Steve Winwood, broke all the rules and came up with a brilliant combination of R&B, pop and rock that music fans still come back to 45 years later.

RHINO RECORDS - Back in 1968, Iron Butterfly was surely a band to watch. Their huge single “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was everywhere and though they were never able to recapture the moment, the Iron Butterfly legacy is still something to marvel at. Leave it to Rhino and their Rhino Handmade division to unveil a double CD set of epic proportions, recapturing the first Iron Butterfly shows in NYC, which occurred at the Fillmore East on April 26 and 27, 1968. Visually, Fillmore East 1968 is truly something to behold. Sound wise, as indicated in the detailed liner notes, these 22 previously unreleased songs recorded at the Fillmore East catches the band with singer/organist Doug Ingle, bassist Lee Dorman, guitarist Erik Braun and drummer Ron Bushy just before their huge success. Over the two shows the group featured tracks from its first album Heavy, with songs that would appear two months later on the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album. The remastered sound is stellar and the packaging alone will surely make this double CD set an instant collector’s item.

SUNDAZED - The holy grail for CD and vinyl LP collectors, Sundazed is getting mucho plaudits for their 2011 CD remaster of Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina. Back during 1966, pop prodigies The Left Banke was a big deal on AM radio coast to coast and 45 years later, Sundazed goes all out on an exact Lp jacket style CD remaster of the album including exact reproductions of the original album cover art. The genius behind The Left Banke was pop genius / keyboardist / composer Michael Brown, and while The Left Banke was over in a flash, Brown kept his reputation alive, forming Stories with Ian Lloyd at the dawn of the 1970’s. Musicologist Scott Schinder does a fine job in his liner notes of explaining in succinct details the meteoric rise and fall of the Left Banke. Sundazed founder Bob Irwin does his usual top notch job on the mastering of the eleven track stereo mix. The band’s two big hits are here and Sundazed for sure should win some kind of grammy type award overall for this amazing historical relic brought to life again. Also available on CD (and on Lp) from Sundazed in 2011 is a reissue of the rare second album from The Left Banke, entitled The Left Banke Too. Recorded with and without songwriters Michael Brown and Tom Feher, the ten track album is for the most part a fitting show case for front man Steve Martin-Caro, Tom Finn (bass / guitar) and George Cameron (drums). Although Brown reunited with The Left Banke for the group’s third hit “Desirée”, included here too, the music on the Paul Leka produced The Left Banke Too was to be the last pop fans heard by the group up to and (so far) including their 2011 reunion. Sundazed was at the forefront of the CD explosion starting back in the late 1980’s and, as this reissue indicates, 25 years later Bob Irwin’s Sundazed Records continues to perfect the reissue CD art form.

SUNDAZED RECORDS - One of the most revered and respected names in American pop music history, Al Kooper was a central focus in the NYC based Blue Project and the group’s history is front and center againi on a 2011 CD mono remaster of the group’s 1966 breakthrough CD Projections. Part of the Sundazed mono remasters series, Projections is like a time capsule back to the heady, mid ‘60s psychedelic music upsurge. If you haven’t heard the nine cut Projections in its original mono glory, the Sundazed remaster is the way to go. Included is the original album artwork and original liner notes by the late, great Sid Bernstein as well as new CD liner notes by Tim Hibbs. Al Kooper, guitar aces Steve Katz (who would soon be joining Al Kooper in the original Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Danny Kalb in all their early glory are reasons enough to pick up on the mono mix remaster. Fans of mono remasters will also rejoice upon hearing the 2011 Sundazed CD remaster of the 1966 album debut from The Mamas And The PapasIf You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears. With every track a classic—including both “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreamin”—the original 12 track album put main songwriter John Phillips and company on the map, not only as a great singles band, but as one of the premier West Coast pop bands of the mid ‘60s. In addition to featuring the original mono mix of If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, the Sundazed CD cover art reinstates the original toilet cover art, which was airbrushed out of early editions of the CD, along with fresh liner notes detailing the group’s brief yet timeless and magical time at the top of the pop charts. Both of these mono mix CD releases on Sundazed, from the Blues Project and the Mamas And The Papas, underscores the fact that 1966 was nothing less than a totally groovy year in American pop culture history.

VARÈSE VINTAGE RECORDS - It’s a testament to The Beatles that, during their all time creative peak during the Autumn of 1966, they also experienced their busiest recording schedule too. In the midst of recording “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Paul McCartney was also able to prepare and see recorded his first ever solo album which was actually an orchestral instrumental soundtrack album for the U.K. movie The Family Way. It’s mind boggling to think it possible with Sgt. Pepper less than six months off, under the direction of George Martin, the Family Way movie score was recorded in November 1966 and released by Decca Records on January 6th, 1967. Looking back on the album McCartney stated, ‘John was away filming How I Won The War, so I had time to do it.’ Too bad Hank Marvin wasn’t around to lay down his guitar take on track seven here called “2M5”, and how about amazing track 9 “7M1”? All these tracks are titled after the music cues from the Family Way movie. All in all, The Family Way offers further proof that McCartney and Martin’s orchestral rock experimentations were truly ahead of their time. It's either that or that they were perfect for its time, while also considering that, back then the Family Way Lp release was for the most part, not even noticed by most of the teenybopper Beatles fans. Masters of the CD reissue world for much of the past 3 decades, Varese does a great job on the stereo mix of the album which is here remastered for the first time on CD from 1/4” tape. The Family Way CD did appear in 2003 on the French Canadian XXI Records, but that CD was actually a “needle drop” made from a vinyl LP so, kudos to Cary Mansfield and the crack crew at Varése for having finally reissued the first ever legit CD of one of the long lost canons from the vaults of The Beatles. The CD is capped off by a rare track by The Tudor Minstrels entitled “Theme From The Family Way” that was put together by Decca using the album's session musicians, and released as a 45 rpm release by Decca Records to promote the movie and music.

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