Friday, April 26, 2013

Willie Nelson 80

On April 30, Willie Nelson will turn the big 80.  With the passing of George Jones, the last of the true country artists, namely Willie Nelson along with the ageless Ray Price and Merle Haggard are the last of the dying breed of country stars who were big back in the 60s and 70s.

It's hard to know how many actual albums that Willie Nelson has released in his lifetime but a good guess is somewhere between 250 and 300 not counting countless cheapo compilations that you see in the 2 dollar bins.  But he started all the way back in the very late 50s and if it wasn't for Faron Young and Pasty Cline to record Hello Walls or Crazy, Willie may have been a great behind the scenes songwriter in the tradition of Harlan Howard.  Even back then when he first recorded for Liberty Records, Willie Nelson had a style of his own that defined Nashville.  Although he's country influenced his music was also tin pan alley as well.  Moving on to RCA, Willie toiled in just about obscurity until the hippie influences of Austin and Waylon Jennings gave him a new life as an outlaw country singer and after RCA gave up on him, Willie moved to Atlantic to become their first best known country singer with the conceptual Phases And Stages.

The Columbia years started with Red Headed Stranger to which it was stripped down Willie and he had a big hit with Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain and for the next 20 years Willie would record just about anything that came to his mind.  In 1978 Stardust, an album of old crooner standards was a huge seller.  Anybody who was country Willie would record with, Ray Price, Leon Russell, Hank Snow, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce and of course, Waylon Jennings, or the Lennon/McCartney of country music.  But the onset of so many albums from Nelson, he'd record at least two or three per year it seemed and not only that he started in a movie Honeysuckle Rose which is worth watching.

Like Waylon in the 1980's his albums begin to sell less and less although he would record all the time.  His Columbia albums tend to be spotty even on the best ones Me And Paul, or Stardust.  The first Greatest Hits (and some that will be) remains a fine introduction although there's too much filler to really recommend it, but I think I prefer it to the Essential Willie Nelson.  While he was raking up success with Columbia, RCA reissue some of his albums, the classic Yesterday's Wine predates Red Headed Stranger and Felton Jarvis who produces keeps it fairly simple unlike other albums (Laying My Burdens Down 1971, hard to find on LP but I like it fine). All Time Greatest Hits Volume 1 is a good companion piece to the 1981 Greatest Hits set.  Flashback's cheapo cheapo Whiskey River And Other Hits cherry picks the best of the two Atlantic albums that Nelson did.

After two uneven early 90s albums attempts to cash into the new country scene (the lackluster Born For Trouble and Horse Called Music) Don Was produced the final Columbia album Across The Borderline to which Willie sang with the likes of Paul Simon (Graceland) cowrote a song with Bob Dylan (Heartland) and did a duet with Sinead O'Connor on the Peter Gaberial Don't Give Up song.  When the album tanked, Nelson moved to Island Records to make one of the best latter day albums in his career with Spirit, which is basically an acoustic album and beautiful in its own way.  Teatro, on the other hand has Daniel Lanois producing and Emmy Lou Harris helping out on vocals but it's an odd sounding album.  Milk Cow Blues has Willie hanging with B B King and playing the blues. After which, Universal after buying out Island, reassigned Willie to Lost Highway but he continue to defy the odds and play whatever came to mind. Countryman is Willie doing Reggae with help from Toots Hibbert, and after that did a tribute album to Cindy Walker the songwriter with the very good You Don't Know Me.  The only album that I end up buying after that was Moment Of Truth, to which Kenny Chesney co produced and Willie begin to add songs from his sons in the process.

Last year, Willie Nelson returned back to Sony Music for the uneven Heroes to which Luke Nelson gets plenty of daddy loving but the best songs are by Willie alone or with Jamey Johnson singing.  The new Willie Let's Face The Music And Dance is laid back fun, even though his voice is a bit more ragged he still enjoys revisit the oldies and standards that he loves the best.  At age 80, Willie Nelson continues to do things his way and still touring and still playing and its best to see him while you can.  For one day he may depart like George Jones did the other day. 

Happy birthday Willie Nelson!

It's basically hard to grade all of the Willie Nelson so I'll just compile it down my suggestions of what to get.

Whiskey River And Other Hits (Flashback) B+
Greatest Hits And Some That Will Be (Columbia 1981) B+
The Troublemaker (Columbia 1978) A-
The Sound In Your Mind (Columbia 1976) B
Shotgun Willie (Atlantic 1974) B+
Phases And Stages (Atlantic 1973) B
Laying My Burdens Down (RCA 1971) B+
Yesterday's Wine (RCA 1972) A-
Red Headed Stranger (Columbia 1975) A-
Stardust (Columbia 1978) B-
All Time Greatest Hits Volume 1 (RCA 1989) A-
RCA Country Legends (RCA 2002) B+
Naked Willie (RCA 2009) B+
Me And Paul (DCC/Columbia 1985) B+
Island In The Sea (Columbia 1987) C
Tougher Than Leather (Columbia 1983) C+
Horse Called Music (Columbia 1989) B-
Born For Trouble (Columbia 1990) C+
Across The Borderline (Columbia 1993) B+
Spirit (Island 1996) A-
Teatro (Island 1998) B+
Healing Hands Of Time (SBK/Liberty 1994) C-
Milk Cow Blues (Island 2000) B-
Rainbow Connection (Island 2002) B
Countryman (Lost Highway 2005) B
You Don't Know Me (Lost Highway 2006) B+
Songbird (Lost Highway 2006) B-
Moment Of Forever (Lost Highway 2008) B+
Country Music (Rounder 2010) B
Heroes (Legacy 2012) B-
Let's Face The Music And Dance (Legacy 2013) B

Monday, April 8, 2013

Andy Johns

The music world lost one of the best recording and producer Andy Johns on Sunday.  He was 61 and may have died from liver failure.

If you listened to FM radio and classic rock, you'll hear some of Andy's best known recordings from the likes of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Mott The Hoople, Free and countless other bands up till the tail end of his life, Andy continued to work with L A Guns on their albums and even Godsmack figures into this.

A selected listings of Andy's work  (incomplete)

Mott The Hoople-S/T, Mad Shadows, Wildlife, Brain Capers
Jethro Tull-Stand Up
Free-Highway, Heartbreaker
Rolling Stones: Get Your Ya Yas Out, Let It Bleed, Exile On Main Street, Sticky Fingers etc
Bonzo Dog Band-Urban Spaceman
Cinderella-Night Songs, Long Cold Winter
Pepper's Ghost-Shake The Hand....
Led Zeppelin-III, IV, Physical Graffiti, Coda

Other groups of note:

Stephen Stills
Jack Bruce
Ginger Baker's Air Force
Blind Faith
Eric Clapton (Derek And The Dominoes)
Spooky Tooth
Sandy Denny
Van Halen
West, Bruce & Laing
Los Lonely Boys

and many more.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Del Shannon

In essence Del Shannon next to Don Gibson are two of my favorite singer songwriters of the music era that I grew up in although in the case of Del, his first big hit Runaway became so popular he would never follow it up like that again.  But his songs were based on the paranoid it seems, Keep Searching  and Stranger In Town come to mind.

There was more to Del than just Runaway and the Rhino Best Of Del Shannon combined the majority of his big hits but stops at Sister Isabelle his failed 1970 single for ABC Dunhill.  The best overall retrospective was the Raven Anthology which came out in the mid 90s and Raven Records, an Australia label manages to get most of his well known hits for Big Top, Amy, Island, Liberty, United Artists, Elektra/Network and Silvertone/MCA Gone Gator.

While Del's albums have fallen out of print in the US, across the pond most of his album are available in 2 on 1 CDs.  Taragon pairs his Runaway album alongside One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty One seconds which came out on Amy, the latter album featuring Dennis Coffey who later go on to Motown and later Sussex and had a major hit with Scorpio in 1971.

His Liberty albums were spotty at best, and paired with pop producers didn't help either although The Liberty Years cherry picks the best of the bunch as Del worked with Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell and Dallas Smith later on.  In 1967 he worked with Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones producer on Home And Away with sounded like a fascination with Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound sound. Or Pet Sound.  The two albums beforehand Total Commitment and This Is My Bag didn't work, Liberty  saddled him with some subpar hits of the 60s and they pretty much all bombed.  The Liberty Years pretty much has Home And Away as a complete album as well as collected singles, and even though Shannon was perceived as a pop singer, some of his darker content was more compelling, check out the You Don't Love Me to which Del works up into a frenzy towards the end of song.  A curio album The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover shows Shannon going more toward hippy dippy and to me it's the best of Liberty years, no commercial potential but gallant effort of doing something different.

Del really didn't make albums all that much but he co wrote a few songs with former teen idol Brian Hyland to which Hyland scored a big hit with a remake of Gypsy Woman for UNI in 1970 and Smith, a band featuring Gayle McCormick got a hit with Baby It's You to which Del produced.  In 1981 a big fan of his music Tom Petty, produced and The Heartbreakers played on Del's comeback album Drop Down And Get Me, one of Del's finest moments but it didn't sell and the singles came out in the offshoot Network label. When that failed, Del went country and did a batch of songs for Warner Brothers but outside of a few singles, nothing came of that either.  But Del remained popular on the oldies circuit and there was even a rumor going around that he was going to replaced Roy Orbinson in the Traveling Wilburys till depression took hold his life and ended it on a shotgun blast on February 8, 1990.  Before that he was actually back in the studio with Tom Petty and another big fan Jeff Lynne to which Del would score a posthumous single with Walk Away in 1991, originally on Silvertone in the UK but when the one in the US refused to release it, Tom Petty released it on his Gone Gator imprint.  A good follow up to Drop Down And Get Me, Rock On did have some excellent stuff on it, Who Left Who, Walk Away and a revisit of I Go To Pieces.

The spirit of Del lives on, in the music of The Smithereens, The Townedgers and countless others.  The Rhino Best of covers the bases but the Raven Anthology is the home run of a complete overview.  The Varase 25 Greatest Hits does offer the last two Shannon albums and is better than the Rhino comp.  And there's plenty of imports that do a good job as well.  Either way, everybody at least needs a Del Shannon best of in their collection.  That's what I think.

The Albums (incomplete)

Runaway (Big Top 1962) B+
One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty One Seconds of Del Shannon (Amy 1965) B+
(Both albums are on a 2 on 1 CD from Taragon)
Sings Hank Williams (Big Top 1964) B+
Total Commitment (Liberty 1965) B-
This Is My Bag (Liberty 1966) B-
Home And Away (Liberty 1967) B
The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover (Liberty/BGO 1968) A-
Drop Down And Get Me (Elektra 1981) A-
The Best Of Del Shannon (Rhino 1988) B+
Rock On (Silvertone UK/Gone Gator/MCA USA 1991) B+
The Liberty Years (EMI 1991) B+
The Anthology (Raven Import 1995) A+
25 All Time Greatest Hits (Varase 2001) A-
The Essential Collection (Music Club Import 2012) A-
The Complete UK Singles (and more) (ACE Import 2013) B+