Nina Simone – Nina Simone Sings the Blues (1967) Japanese K2 remastering

nina

As a rule I avoid weddings and funerals. They both represent transitional stages for which I’m not ready, and – if I had my way – would put off indefinitely. However I’ve often sat around thinking about what music I would like to have playing at both of them, should I be so unfortunate as to have them occur. In particular, *who* would play, since of course it would need to be live music. Having ruled out Madonna and Roberto Carlos as outside of my budget, I content myself with fantasies of being serenaded from beyond the grave. Disembodied spirits are relatively inexpensive. Sure, obtaining the necessary components for the blood sacrifice to get them to show up on time can be a lot of work, but think of all the money you will save on lodging and air transportation. Having established at least this much, I can move on to selecting which resident of the afterlife will perform at my wedding/funeral. Now is when it gets really tricky, because a lot depends on who I am marrying and/or the manner of my demise. Isaac Hayes, for example, would seem an ideal choice but I’m not sure I could live up to the turned-on expectations he would no doubt incur in my bride. She might even run off with him, across the great divide. And Black Moses singing at my funeral would be just, well, kind of weird. Then there are the artists whose palettes are truly universal. John Coltrane would work perfectly at either of these life ceremonies, for example. The list of these candidates is few in number, but among them is definitely my High Priestess, Nina Simone.

Nina could change from Broadway show tunes, to gospel, to blues, to soul and funk without making a big deal about it, without a lot of stylistic pomp to say “hey, look at me, I am going to sing some blues for you now.” Everything she did was done with conviction. It didn’t surprise me to learn recently that Nina suffered from some variety of bipolar disorder, what used to be called manic-depression. The electrically-charged highs and lows of her emotional range and vocal register were one and the same. Whether or not she is coyly telling you how fun it is to be kissed in the dark, or asking for more sugar in her bowl, you know better than to second-guess her sincerity. Whether she is singing Gershwin, or a twelve-bar blues arrangement, or the scandalously secular gospel-cry of “Real Real,” she is never anything less than completely present, in the moment, at the piano, on the microphone, transforming a studio into a dimly-lit smoke-hazed jazz club or a back-country house party. The empress between the pillars of light and dark, her suffering is also her wisdom, and you should thank the universe for being lucky enough to have HEARD her in your short lifetime.

nina

This album was the first long-player for Nina’s tenure with RCA/Victor after leaving the Philips label. If the studio staff had anything to do with assembling the backing band for this one –and I believe they did, as Rudy Stevenson is the only musician here that had been regularly playing with her, if I’m not mistaken — well, then they deserve some mighty thanks. Bernard Purdie. Bernard Purdie! Bernard PURDIE!! The man. ‘Pretty’ Purdie once again shows his ability to play to the song, hanging back in the mix. And one of my favorite under-rated guitarists, Eric Gale, was also on the sessions. There is also a collaboration with Langston Hughes on the socially-topical “Backlash Blues.”

This record isn’t exactly obscure, but if you are thinking, ‘Meh, I’ve already heard this one,” then think again. This is a Japanese pressing made using the proprietary K2 technology developed by JVC to avoid digital artifacts in the analog conversion and reduce jitter — meticulous care is taken at every step of the mastering and duplication process, held to very exacting standards. If all that doesn’t mean anything to you, just know this: the Japanese are obsessively and famously crazy about good audiophile-quality CD pressings, and have by and large not succumbed to the “loudness wars” that have plagued CD remasters in ‘The Occident’ wherein all dynamics are made ruler-flat so that everything will sound “good” (read: the same) on your Mp3 player or in your car. I’ve heard several CDs of this material and this one is by far the most sonically stunning.

There are few things quite as annoying to me than having the same music endlessly repackaged. This goes for many of the “new” high-definition formats being shoved down consumer’s throats lately (with little knowledge at the consumption end about the realities of any actual differences), but in fact it is part of a game the music business has played for at least a half century: how to milk the most revenue out of the same piece of recorded music. In the 1990s this took the form of CD reissues that threw together a bunch of material by an artist to give you the impression that you were getting something you didn’t already have, perhaps something previously unreleased. Such was the case with a European RCA/Novus collection of Nina Simone called simply “The Blues,” which has all the tracks on “Sings The Blues” with an additional seven songs. If I had been paying closer attention when I bought it impulsively, I might have been more wary of the fact that the first half was even in the same running order as “Sings The Blues,” but I was hell-bent on getting my hands on some kind of rarities, unreleased outtakes or live recordings or some such. In fact, the CD is just a repackaging of this album with some extra material thrown in. (To be fair, perhaps the original “Sings The Blues” was not available on CD at that time, but the packaging is ambiguous to put it mildly, and this title should probably have been deleted after proper reissues saw the light of day..) There is also a recent 2006 remaster that includes two bonus tracks. As a favor (if not quite a guide) to the perplexed, I am going to compile this material into another separate post, but for now let’s just enjoy Nina Simone Sings The Blues as it was meant to be enjoyed. The booklet for the 2006 pressing, which contains both original and new liner notes, is included just for kicks here.

nina

1. “Do I Move You” (Simone) – 2:46
2. “Day and Night” (Stevenson) – 2:35
3. “In the Dark” (Green) – 2:57
4. “Real Real” (Simone) – 2:21
5. “My Man’s Gone Now” (Gershwin, Heyward) – 4:16
6. “Backlash Blues” (Hughes, Simone) – 2:31
7. “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” (Simone) – 2:32
8. “Buck” (Stroud) – 1:52
9. “Since I Fell for You” (Johnson) – 2:52
10. “The House of the Rising Sun” (Traditional) – 3:53
11. “Blues for Mama” (Lincoln, Simone) – 4:00

* Nina Simone: vocal, piano
* Eric Gale: guitar
* Rudy Stevenson: guitar
* Ernie Hayes: organ
* Bob Bushnell: bass
* Bernard Purdie: drums, timpani
* Buddy Lucas: harmonica, tenor sax

Jimmy McGriff – Soul Sugar & Groove Grease (1971)

Jimmy McGriff
Soul Sugar / Goove Grease
Two albums both released 1971 on Groove Merchant
Reissue on Groove Hut Records 2007 (GH66704)
McGriff

1 Sugar Sugar
2 Ain’t It Funky Now
3 Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours
4 Dig on It
5 Bug Out
6 Now Thing
7 You’re the One
8 Fat Cakes
9 New Volume
10 Spirit in the Dark

McGriff

11 Groove Grease
12 Bird
13 Plain Brown Bag
14 There Will Never Be Another You
15 Canadian Sunset
16 Mr Lucky
17 Moonglow
18 Red Sails in the Sunset
19 Secret Love

I think the only way these two records could make me happier is if they opened up with a soul version of “Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love in My Tummy.” Since it does not I suppose I can accept “Sugar Sugar” in its place. If this disc was any more fun it would be illegal. Before Jimmy Smith thought of covering pop and soul hits with marvelously funky results, Jimmy McGriff was already laying down cuts to make the jazz purists wince while turning up their erudite noses. McGriff didn’t care and doesn’t seem to have been restrained by such labels, often positioning himself as more of a blues player anyway. I have been meaning to do a post here about another fabulous Groove Merchant disk he did with soul-blues singer Junior Parker that is just amazing. All in good time, even though I’ve been thinking about doing that post for over a year now…

Since a great deal of songs on these two albums are all-instrumental covers of hit songs, you can feel free to use it at your next karaoke party. That is if you are not only prepared to tread the same musical ground as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Aretha Franklin, but also spar with the infectious chops of Mr. McGriff. My guess is that he will upstage you. But feel free to give it a go.

A glance at the lineup on these two platters may not cause any names to jump out at some of you. But his musicians here all have a pretty impressive pedigree, having played with the likes of Nina Simone, Eric Dolphy, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, B.B.King, Lonnie Liston Smith, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, among others and many more. Particularly noteworthy is bassist Richard Davis who just dominates these two albums like the monster he was. He sometimes plays with a phasor enevelope-follower effect on his bass that adds a nice subtle twist to his tone.

Both albums also have fabulously tacky blaxploitation jackets, the better to arouse you with.

Weird side note: according to a friend of mine, the first three tracks of Groove Grease on this reissue are HDCD encoded. Although it’s not uncommon to find HDCD coding on discs that don’t mention it on the packaging, it is somewhat mysterious why they would encode three tracks and stop. I actually have an HDCD player packed away in a storage shed full of audio gear but I am not about to drag it out to verify this. I will take my friend’s word for it, and pass it on to you for what it’s worth.

I think anybody with a pulse will find themselves enjoying this music. And I promise I will have that collaboration with Junior Parker here before the year is out..

McGriff

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Gwen McCrae – Rockin' Chair (1975) & Something So Right (1976)

This one goes out to Agnieszka in Atlanta, may this record steam your windows up babe.


Gwen McCrae

Rockin’ Chair
1975 Cat Records (CAT-2605)

1 Rockin’ Chair (Reid, Clarke) 3:25
2 Move Me, Baby (Alaimo, Casey) 4:55
3 He Keeps Something Groovy Going On (Reid, Kitts) 3:02
4 Let Them Talk (Thompson) 2:55
5 For Your Love (Townsend) 2:58
6 It’s Worth the Hurt (Reid) 2:21
7 90% of Me Is You (Reid) 2:52
8 It Keeps on Raining (Reid) 3:09
9 He Doesn’t Ever Lose His Groove (Hale) 2:59
10 Your Love Is Worse Than a Cold Love (Reid) 2:44 [single, CD bonus cut]


Something So Right
1976 CAT Records (CAT-2608)

1 Something So Right (Simon) 5:24
2 Tears on My Pillow (Lewis, Bradford) 4:00
3 Love Without Sex (Reid) 4:50
4 Mr. Everything (Reid) 3:42
5 Iron Woman (Reid) 4:12
6 Damn Right It’s Good (Reid) 4:00
7 Let Nature Take Its Course (Reid) 3:30
8 I’ve Got Nothing to Lose But the Blues (Reid) 4:42

Florida-native Gwen McCrae is best known for disco club rug-burners from the early 80s, but her first few long-players were cut for the southern soul label CAT records (subsidiary of TK Productions). And Southern Soul doesn’t get much better than this. It was hard for me to believe that the first of these, ‘Rockin’ Chair’, was not conceived as a cohesive record but as a collection of previously-released sides and some new material hurriedly assembled to follow up on the enormous success of that boisterous single. Let me be your rocking chair, indeed. There is not a dull moment on this record but by anyone’s reckoning “90% of Me is You” stands out in jaw-dropping soul-dripping sonic viscerality. An earlier 1973 single that did not appear on the album, “Your Love Is Worse Than a Cold Love” is a blistering anthem for anyone who has found themselves loving somebody who doesn’t know what or who they want, perhaps dividing them with someone else, and all the ambiguity, frustration, and tension that ensues. Just a beautifully perfect soul cut.

‘Something So Right’ is a much more downbeat, mellow affair that was put together in a more traditional way as an album. Two cover songs — the Paul Simon title cut, and Little Anthony & The Imperials “Tears on My Pillow” – open the album. Following that is the revolutionary “Love Without Sex” which, while written by a man and not nearly as flamboyant as Betty Davis’s work, is still a pioneering cut as far as articulating an assertive female sexuality in an industry and society dominated by men. It’s also a bad-ass song. The track “Mr. Everything” may have been written by producer Clarence Reid but it owes a flute chart to Isaac Hayes “Rock Me Easy Baby” released the same year (it could perhaps have flowed the other direction, I am not sure of the exact release dates..). The fine liner notes from Tony Rouse in this CD reissue argue that “Something So Right” is Gwen at her best, yet I still find the hodge-podge of the “Rocking Chair” LP to be a more exciting listen, especially when the non-LP singles are included with it as on this collection. Both albums are stunning and phenomenal, so much so that they testify to the injustice embedded in the politics of the record industry and its dependence on sexual and economic inequality that would keep an artist like Gwen McCrae from having – without one exceptional exception – much chart success and being lauded as the soul sensation she should have been in the 1970s. Don’t miss this one, most of the world did the first time around.

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Betty Davis – Is It Love or Desire? (1976)


Release Date: Oct 6, 2009
Recording Date: 1976
Label: Light In The Attic

I have been sitting on this one for a while, waiting until I had something “profound” to say about it. Since that day seems to be adrift in the unforeseeable future, I thought it would just post about it and let you, the listener, decide what is or what is not profound about the “lost album” from Betty Davis. Without doubt, it deserved to be released and not confined to a record companies vault for thirty years (there were never even any bootleg copies that made it out). This is the last stand for Betty Davis and her backing band Funk House. Recorded in the middle of a swamp in Louisiana, the wonderful liner notes narrate the whole story about the making of the record. In the eyes of the musicians involved (although not necessarily in Betty’s judgment, for the careful reader) this was the best album they made and the most creative thing they’d ever been involved with. Some of the critics, like the hacks at AMG, have been agreeing with their promo kits, *cough*, I mean independently-thought-out music reviews…

I am still listening to this album and sizing it up but for me, it is not as good as “They Say I’m Different”, which I think will always reign as Betty at her best for my money. But that isn’t to say this is a disappointment by any means. It just lacks something of the excitement and energy found on her first three albums. I find some of the lyrics a bit dubious, and not in the good way of her first two albums, but I don’t want to piss on anybody’s parade who is rightfully excited to get their hands on an album that has been wondered about for years. And if the wonderful Light In The Attic label had not reissued her earlier albums, sparking a revival of interest in Betty Davis, this one may never have seen the light of day.

Betty Davis – Is It Love Or Desire? (1976) in 320kbs em pee thwee

Betty Davis – Is It Love Or Desire? (1976)in FLAC Lossless Audio

Fatback Band – People Music (1973) vinyl rip



The Fatback Band
“People Music”
Perception Records 1973 (PLP 043)

A1 Njia Walk (Street Walk) 4:00
A2 Gotta Have You (Day By Day) 2:30
A3 Fatbackin’ 3:12
A4 Baby Doll 7:10
A5 Clap Your Hands 3:15
B1 Soul March 3:27
B2 Soul Man 4:14
B3 To Be With You 4:11
B4 Kiba 2:56

Flabbergasted Vinyl Transfer Specs:

Virgin vinyl repress on Perception Records -> Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable / Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge / Pro-Ject Speedbox power supply -> Creek OBH-18 MM Phono Preamp -> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 soundcard. Recorded at 16-bit / 96 khz resolution to Audacity*. Manual click removal only using Audition, and I left a lot of stuff in rather than risk removing wanted audio. Track splitting in Adobe Audition 3.0. Resampled and dithered using iZotope M-Bit noise-shaping. Converted to FLAC and mp3 using DbPoweramp. ID tags done with Foobar2000.

*Some of you are probably saying, “16/96khz, wtf??” Well Audacity was actually set to 24bit. I did not know, however, that Audacity does not actually record in TRUE 24 BIT, at least not in Windows. Since somebody brought this to my attention, I’ve zoomed in on the individual samples and seen that its true — Everything I recorded using Audacity is actually in 16-bit, albeit in 96khz sampling… Still sounds pretty damn good though, and this pressing is very full, punchy, and dynamic. Since this album is locked in my vault in the Kayman Islands, I can’t rerecord the audio anytime in the near future, so this will have to do.

Quote:

Biography by Ron Wynn

A seminal funk ensemble, the Fatback Band made many great singles through the ’70s and early ’80s, ranging from humorous novelty tunes to energetic dance vehicles and even occasional political/message tracks. The original lineup featured drummer Bill Curtis, trumpeter George Williams, guitarist Johnny King, bassist Johnny Flippin, saxophonist Earl Shelton, and flutist George Adam. Synthesizer player Gerry Thomas, saxophonist Fred Demerey, and guitarist George Victory were integral parts of the group during their peak years. They began recording for Perception in the early ’70s, and had moderate luck with “Street Dance” in 1973. They moved to Event in 1974, and while funk audiences loved such songs as “Wicki-Wacky” and “(Are You Ready) Do the Bus Stop,” they didn’t generate much sales action. Their first sizable hit was “Spanish Hustle” in 1976, which reached number 12 on the R&B charts. They shortened their name to Fatback in 1977, and landed their first Top Ten R&B hit with “I Like Girls” in 1978. Their 1979 single “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” is widely considered the first rap single in many circles. But their biggest year was 1980. They scored two Top Ten R&B hits with “Gotta Get My Hands on Some (Money)” and “Backstrokin’,” their finest tune. Fatback kept going through the mid-’80s, landing one more Top 20 hit with “Take It Any Way You Can Want It” in 1981. They were backed by the female vocal trio Wild Sugar in 1981-82, and Evelyn Thomas also provided the lead vocal for “Spread Love” in 1985, their last song for Spring. Fatback also recorded a pair of LPs for Cotillion in 1984 and 1985.

This album is a solid listen of classic Fatback. The first side is all-killer-no-filler funk and soul joy for the ears. There is even a reference to the mythical Bertha Butt of Jimmy Castor fame if you listen closely… The first time I heard Jimmy King sing “Baby Doll” I found his voice kind of hard to get used to — he sounds like he’s 17 years old (maybe he was?) and the low parts are sort of out of his range — but the chord changes and the groove are so GOOD that its impossible not to like it, and eventually you realize his voice is just perfect. The second side doesn’t quite hold up, with the instrumental tracks seeming uninspired compared to those on the first, and the unfortunate inclusion of a cover of Sam & Dave’s ‘Soul Man’, which isn’t terrible but also just not that interesting. Oh and the first side features the song “Fatbackin’ ” which has a classic break in it, been sampled a bunch of times.

The Fatback Band – People Music (1973) in 320kbs em pee three

 in FLAC LOSSLESS AUDIO

Jimmy Smith – Black Smith (1974)


Jimmy Smith
Black Smith
Pride Records PD 6011Ripped from a new reissue on Pride Records (Atlantic) only played once prior to transfer

1. Hang ‘Em High
2. I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More
3. Joy
4. Ooh Poo Pah Doo
5. Why Can’t We Live Together
6. Groovin’
7. Pipeline
8. Wildflower
9. Something You Got

Producer – Jerry Peters , Michael Viner
Cover painting by Klaus Voormann

I doubt Jimmy Smith was aiming for irony but this record is basically tailor-made to piss off the jazz purists. I know that’s like shooting fish in a barrel but he really tries on this one. There aren’t too many jazz organists who can, with aplomb and grace, mix up Western soundtrack music (“Hang ‘Em Hang”, which sort of makes sense being that Clint Eastwood is such a jazz fan), Barry White (“I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More”), Johann Sebastian Bach (“Joy”), surf rock (“Pipeline,” previously recorded by The Chantays and The Ventures), and The Young Rascals (“Groovin'”). But more surprising is the indisputable fact that he can pull it off, with no small credit going to arrangers Jerry Peters and Michael Viner, the later of whom must have had a big hand in the repertoire selection. The one song that falls flat here is Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doh,” although I am biased because its a song that I just don’t like. It might have done better here if Smith had not made a stab at singing it — Hell, if I don’t like it when Tina Turner sang it, I’m not going to dig Jimmy Smith giving it a turn. I am guessing that the first mix of this tune probably used an arrangement like some of the other tracks here that have a few female vocalists singing only some parts from the choruses and leaving the rest instrumental; ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doh’, for all its New Orleans glory, just doesn’t have that much going on in it musically and so I can imagine Smith and company being frustrated at the mixing desk and decided to record a take or two of lead vocals for the entire song. Bad move.

I suppose another reason for jazz snobs to hate on this album would be the use of uncredited session musicians.

This may not be the landmark that ‘Root Down’ was a few years before it, but this is still a cool album, long-cherished by crate diggers and beat seekers.
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REVIEW FROM DUSTY GROOVE:
A record that’s way way different than the sound of Jimmy Smith Blue Note work — and a much-loved set by fans of 70s funk! Jimmy’s organ is still very strongly out front of the arrangements — but it’s soaring over the top of grooves done by Jerry Peters and Michael “Incredible Bongo Band” Viner — tracks that have a harder, hipper style than most of Smith’s other recordings from the time — in a groove that often comes close to the best blacksploitation soundtracks of the time! The drums are plenty heavy on many numbers here — kicking in a hard and heavy bottom that gives the record a few key breaks — and other numbers even use a bit of chorus vocals, but in a way that never overwhelms the tracks, just supports them with a nice righteous edge. Titles include the classic break version of “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Babe”, plus “Something You Got”, “Wildflower”, “Hang Em High”, “Groovin”, “Pipeline”, “Why Can’t We Live Together”, and “Joy”.

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VINYL RIP specs. Ripped in December 2008 on the old rig ->
Music Hall MMF.5 Turntable with Goldring 1012GX cartridge, Gyger II diamond stylus, and MK II XLR Ringmat –> Projekt Speedbox II -> Parasound Z Phono Preamp -> Marantz PMD 661 digital recorder at 24/96khz. Declicked on very light settings with Click Repair -> DC Offset and track splitting in Adobe Audition 2.0

Dithering to 16-bit in Isotope Rx (I think! Honestly don’t recall). Converted to FLAC and mp3 with DbPoweramp