Back with the Master (05/07/99)
Paul McCartney & Wings, Band on the Run: 25th Anniversary Edition (Capitol 1999) - Originally released in 1973, Band on the Run is Paul McCartney's best known solo work, as it topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and went gold in the U.S. in less than two weeks.
The 25th Anniversary limited edition double-CD set features the original album, plus a second disk with previously unreleased acoustic versions, interview clips, and rehearsal, sound check and live takes recorded during McCartney's world tours of 1975, 1989-90 and 1993, resulting in a must-have for fans.
With classic tracks like "Jet," "Helen Wheels," and the title track, Band on the Run stands as a landmark achievement. The album was recorded by the trio of Paul, his wife, Linda McCartney, and Denny Laine: the other two Wings quit when they heard that Paul was traveling to Lagos, Nigeria, to record the album.
The highlight of the set is the second disk, which includes insightful interview clips discussing recording of the album, how songs were put together, and the famous cover shot (which includes actor James Coburn) was photographed.
If the limited edition set were a bootleg, you'd pay $50.00 for it. Paul masterfully assembles cast and crew to discuss the album: listen as Capitol sales executive, Al Coury relates in his New York accent how he pushed the album up the charts. Also included is a clip with Tony Visconti, who discusses how he charted the sax and instrumental arrangements.
While Band on the Run may have been born out of adversity, the result is a pop classic. Fly with Wings on Band on the Run.
Van Morrison, Back on Top (Point Blank Records 1999) - With a new label and a new band, Van Morrison has a new attitude, as reflected by Back on Top. With ten tracks reflecting Van the man's unique brand of rhythm and blues, Back on Top finds Van returning to a more pop-oriented sound (as opposed to 1991's fine but introspective, Hymns to the Silence).
A little history. Van Morrison (born in Belfast in 1945) first recording with the Irish band Them in 1964. A year into his recording career, Van recorded the rock and roll classic, "Gloria." Van then moved to New York to pursue a solo career, launched with the classic Astral Weeks (1967).
Van's move to California brought such favorites as Moondance (1970) and Tupelo Honey (1971). Van's more contemplative 80's releases included No Guru No Method No Teacher (1986) and Poetic Champions Compose.
Then followed an incredibly productive ten-year association with keyboardist and bandmaster Georgie Fame, which resulted in such solid recordings as Avalon Sunset (1989) and Enlightenment (1990).
Back on Top marks Van's first album in a decade without Georgie Fame. The band includes Geraint Watkins on piano and keyboards, Mick Green on guitar, Ian Jennings on base, Bobby Irwin on drums, Pee Wee Ellis on sax, Matt Holland on trumpet, and Brian Kenny on backing vocals.
Back on Top has engendered strong feelings among fans, with some finding a return to pop form, others feeling that Van is simply retreading familiar ground. I'm with the first group, and am refreshed by such liberating songs as "High Summer" and "New Biography." For those who favor the contemplative Van, listen for "In the Midnight" and "Philosopher Stone." But Van's new swing doesn't end, as "Precious Time" continues with an uptempo, horn-oriented sound.
Van Morrison is one of the best live performers in the business, and is known for refining his studio tracks through live performances. Back on Top is an album that sounds fresh from the get go, and is a treat for fans.
The Mama's and the Papa's, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (MCA 1966/1998) - California classics, The Mama's and the Papa's released a sterling debut in If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. Newly reissued, the album contains the chart-topping hits, "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'".
The Mama's and the Papa's consisted of John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Michelle Phillips, and Cass Elliott, all with roots in the "new folk" movement of the late 50's and early 60's. In 1965, the foursome headed to the Virgin Islands to write and rehearse. The group decamped to California, where they recorded If You Can Believe with some of Los Angeles' finest session musicians.
The quartet broke up due to infighting in 1968, reunited briefly in 1971, and disbanded again. Mama Cass pursued a successful solo career, but died of a heart attack in 1974. John and Michelle were divorced in 1970, and Michelle went on to a successful acting career.
Creating a classic California harmony sound, the band mixed old and new, with covers of such familiar songs as "Spanish Harlem" and "Do You Wanna Dance." Musicians include P. F. Sloan, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, and Joe Osborn. The album was produced by Lou Adler.
If You Can Believe went to number one, and stayed on the album charts for an incredible 105 weeks (more than two years).
The reissue features the original cover artwork (though the toilet was covered by a stickerlike box due to controversy at the record company.) A 60's standout, If You Can Believe deserves to be heard again.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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