Smiles Through the Tears (06/23/2000)
Eric Idle, Sings Monty Python (Restless 2000) - Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame, is now on tour throughout America, described as a "Silly Palooza," complete with old favorites, Python footage, lumberjacks, sheep, and Spam. If you are a fan of Monty Python, this 22-track collection will tickle your funny bone.
Sings Monty Python was recorded on July 9, 1999, at Idle's sold-out "Concert at the Getty Museum." While there has been no live Python on the U.S. stage since 1981 (at the Hollywood Bowl), Idle's set comes the closest, as it ranges from the "Spam Song" to the "Bruces' Philosopher Song" to "Always Look on The Bright Side of Life" (the concluding song from the film, "Life of Brian").
Born in 1943 in South Shields, County Durham, Eric Idle was educated at the Royal School in Wolverhampton and at Cambridge. Idle was elected president of the Footlights at Cambridge in 1965, and founded Monty Python in 1969 with his mates, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the late Graham Chapman. In addition to the classic BBC series, the Pythons also released five movies, including "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
Idle's post-Python work has included appearances in the films "Casper," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," and the American TV series, "Suddenly Susan." Eric now lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Tania, and their daughter.
Most of the album is songs, with occasional spoken bits. "I Like Chinese" is a hoot, as is the old favorite, "Sit on My Face."
Idle provides lead vocals and guitar, and is joined by the Rutland Sympathy Orchestra, featuring John Du Prez on keyboards, Thomas Scott on sax, Johnny Friday on drums, Tim Landers on bass, and Danny Ferrington on guitar and violin.
Also making guest appearances are Sir Dirk McQuickly from the semi-legendary Ruttles, and the Australian Philosophy Department, the Bruces.
If you grew up enjoying Monty Python, you'll be sure to get a kick out of Sings Monty Python. (And unlike some comedy albums, you'll come back to this one more than once.)
Lynyrd Skynyrd, All Time Greatest Hits (MCA 2000) - All Time Greatest Hits boasts 14 tracks from Lynyrd Skynyrd. Clocking in at more than 70 minutes, the new release will replace your old copy of Platinum and Gold.
Formed in Jacksonville, Florida, Lynyrd Skynyrd was fronted by the charismatic singer/songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, and included guitarist Allen Collins and Gary Rossington. Linked with producer Al Kooper, the band's debut release in 1973 included the rock classic, "Gimme Three Steps," as well as "Simple Man."
But the band, rounded out by guitarist No. 3, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell on keyboards, Leon Wilkeson on bass, and Artemis Pyle on drums, was anything but simple. The members of Lynyrd Skynryd lived hard-partying lives, and were as threatening as Led Zeppelin.
While the band only scored one top ten single, it was a smash: "Sweet Home Alabama," from 1974's Second Helping. Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (represented on All Time Greatest Hits by the studio version and the live recording from One More From the Road) ranked along "Stairway to Heaven" as an FM radio standard of the 70s.
The new package includes a colorful booklet with complete song credits, extensive photographs and a lengthy historical overview by renowned Skynyrd historian/reissue producers Ron O'Brien.
The Skynyrd saga came to a sad end with a plane crash in October 1977 that killed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines (a backup singer with the group) and Dean Kilpatrick (their original tour manager). The remaining members forged on in various incarnations (including the Rossington-Collins Band) before reuniting a decade later for their highly successful Survivor's tour.
The songs on All Time Greatest Hits include "That Smell" (from their final 1977 release, Street Survivors), as well as "Call Me the Breeze" (an outstanding version of the J.J. Cale song), the anti-gun rocker, "Gimme Back My Bullets," and the playful "What's Your Name?"
Lynyrd Skynyrd was an American original. With such tag lines as "Watergate does not bother me," Skynyrd struck a responsive chord that extended far beyond their Southern roots. Enjoy the rock and raunch of All Time Greatest Hits.
Carpenters, Singles 1969-1981 (A&M 2000) - Singles 1969-1981 brings together 21 songs, and is the worthy successor to their huge-selling greatest hits collection, Singles 1969-1973 (certified seven times platinum). With all ten of Richard and Karen's gold singles, the new album will appeal to all fans of well-crafted pop.
And the Carpenters certainly created great recordings. During a 13-year recording career under the gentle hand of label president Herb Alpert, the brother and sister pair made gorgeous pop songs, highlighted by Karen's lovely voice.
Singles 1969-1981 expands on the previous hits collection, adding the 1975 gold No. 1 cover "Please Mr. Postman," as well as 1972's Top 20 "I Won't Last a Day Without You," 1975's No. 4 hit, "Only Yesterday," and 1981's "Touch Me When I'm Dancing," their final Top 20 hit.
Also included is a 46-second reprise of "For All We Know," taken from a 1972 TV special and arranged by young Marvin Hamlisch. While Richard Carpenter included it as "a little bonus," it adds nothing to the collection.
Herb Alpert recalled the first time he heard Karen's voice on a demo tape: "It just jumped right out at me. It felt like she was in the room with me." Added the late Henry Mancini, "Karen had a quality about her that was so vulnerable, so exposed, that she just demanded attention. Whatever she sang came right from the heart."
Yet brother Richard more than held his own, as his arrangements have been studied at such prestigious institutions as Stanford University and the Berklee College of Music. Adds Herb Alpert, "Richard knew how to surround her voice with the right tapestry, the songs that would work best for her. And he wouldn't settle for anything less than he thought was right."
And the hits were huge, including "(They Long To Be) Close to You" (1969, their first No. 1 single), "We've Only Just Begun" (No. 2), "For All We Know" (No. 3), "Sing" (No. 3), "Hurting Each Other" (No. 2), "Rainy Days and Mondays" (No. 2), "Superstar" (No. 2), "Top of The World" (No. 1), and "Yesterday Once More" (No. 2), all gold singles.
The arrangements are lessons in understatement, always built around a core of keyboards (Richard Carpenter), bass (Joe Osborn), and drums (hitmaker Hal Blaine). All sessions were produced by Jack Daugherty, with engineering by Ray Gerhardt.
Adding to this easy listening background were additional flourishes, such as English horn on "For All We Know," flute on "It's Going to Take Some Time," oboe (Earle Dumler) on "Superstar," and guitar (Tony Peluso) on "Goodbye to Love," "Top of The World," and "Yesterday Once More."
Karen Carpenter died at age 32 in 1983. Yet her music still holds a strong place in contemporary pop music, as her voice melded vulnerability and confidence, optimism and nostalgia. And the collection certainly makes you wonder what happened to pop music: it's impossible to name one artist who has established a similar career in the past ten years.
The liner notes are straightforward and complete, as they include brief background information about each of the tracks, together with complete recording information, including the names of the musicians and production staff.
My one quibble: the crummy photos, including the awful cover image (even if it was taken by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz). There's no reason that the collection didn't include a better set of photos.
But that's a small complaint. The music is delicious, and stands the test of time.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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