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R&B - Released January 10, 2012 | Hip-O Select

In between his run of gold in the first half of the '70s and a pre-comeback sabbatical in the '80s, Barry White produced this top-notch album in 1976 as one of a long line of releases on the 20th Century label. While not full of any Top Ten pop hits, the six tracks do feature minor successes in "Baby, We Better Try to Get It Together," "You See the Trouble with Me" (co-written with White's guitarist at the time, Ray Parker, Jr.), and the title track. White's disco arrangements are of the highest order here, full of sophisticated orchestrations and silky but solid funk-lite rhythm tracks. The lyrical content, though, does not speak of the endless nights of lovemaking and blossoming relationships addressed in earlier songs, but instead focuses on the hurdles and downside of love. White expertly couples his subtle vocal delivery with just the right amount of pathos to highlight the lover on the outs. Something of an overlooked gem, Let the Music Play is a must for Barry White fans and qualifies as a fine choice for listeners looking for something beyond the singer's base of hits. © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2012 | Hip-O Select

Hip-O Select's triple-disc 2012 set The Killer Live (1964-1970) fills a bit of a gap in Jerry Lee's archival discography by rounding up his four officially released live albums for Smash and Mercury: Live at the Star Club, Hamburg and The Greatest Live Show on Earth, both released in 1964; By Request: More of the Greatest Live Show on Earth from 1966; and Live at the International, Las Vegas in 1970. The Killer Live expands these four LP by adding 16 bonus tracks, ten of which are previously unreleased, all of which are equally as good as the finished albums -- and that means they're terrific, as good as rock & roll music gets. That is particularly true of Live at the Star Club, by many measures a serious contender for the best live album ever made, and if the other three records aren't quite as galvanizing as this furious set -- so heated that the Killer berates his backing band the Nashville Teens for not quite keeping up -- well, that's an unfair comparison as so few sets could measure up. The two Greatest Live Show on Earth LPs and Live at the International showcases are different affairs. The Greatest Live Show LPs are a shade less frenzied but in a similar vein to Star Club -- they're hard rock & roll albums tempered with a bit of R&B and country. Conversely, the Vegas LP appropriately showcases a Killer with a bit more showbiz pizzazz, rooted in country -- his big hits are bypassed in favor of his honky tonk late-'60s hits and his covers, both classic ("San Antonio Rose") and contemporary (Tom T. Hall's "The Ballad of Forty Dollars"), are country -- but given a slightly splashy rocking spin, all sounding unmistakably like Jerry Lee, just like the harder-rocking boogie of a few years earlier does. There's not a bad performance here -- it's all on a sliding scale from great to transcendent, so don't let the transportive stuff let you overlook the merely excellent music. Just bask in the glory of the Killer and enjoy every precious note on this superb set. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
25

Rock - Released March 6, 2012 | Hip-O Select

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Released to commemorate the band's quarter-century anniversary, 2012's 25 is a double-disc compilation that digs deep into Blues Traveler's career. The first disc contains the hits and album tracks -- not all of them, with the 1997 Top 40 hit "Most Precarious" being the most conspicuous absence -- but the core of the jam band's canon is here, including "But Anyway," "Run-Around," "Hook," "The Mountains Win Again," and "Carolina Blues," topped off with a newly recorded cover of Sublime's "What I Got." That's just the beginning of the collector bait: the rest of the retrospective is devoted to B-sides, rarities, and outtakes, including such nuggets as an early version of "Run-Around" called "The Poignant and Epic Saga of Featherhead and Lucky Lack," a brand new Gunslinger Remix of "Run Around," a version of "But Anyway" from 1988, and all four cuts from the 2000 EP Decisions of the Sky: A Traveler's Tale of Sun and Storm, including the 20-minute saga "Traveler's Suite." Combined, the hits and the rarities may not have one specific targeted audience -- the casual fans will like the first, the hardcore the second, and neither may necessarily have the need for the other -- but taken together the two discs show Blues Traveler at both their most accessible and their most adventurous, so, in a sense, it is a representative introduction. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Blues - Released October 24, 2011 | Hip-O Select

After issuing Complete sets dedicated to Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, and Bo Diddley, Hip-O Select finally got around to the titanic Howlin’ Wolf in the fall of 2011, releasing Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960, a 97-track, four-disc limited-edition box set containing everything the Wolf cut in his first decade of recording. Although the first years of the ‘60s treated him exceptionally well -- many classic sessions arrived in the first few years of the decade, many showcased on 1962’s peerless “rocking chair” album -- this is where his legacy lies: with the spooky, primal howl that kicks off “Moanin’ at Midnight” and the scores of earthy boogies and down-and-dirty grinds that followed. Smokestack Lightning stacks up plenty of alternate takes, a good chunk of them never released in the U.S., but the repetition doesn’t slow the set down or turn it repetitive. Instead, the repeated alternate takes sit well with the treasures -- many justly celebrated, some unearthed -- all adding up to a testament to Howlin' Wolf’s unearthly, mighty force. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
25

Rock - Released March 6, 2012 | Hip-O Select

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Released to commemorate the band's quarter-century anniversary, 2012's 25 is a double-disc compilation that digs deep into Blues Traveler's career. The first disc contains the hits and album tracks -- not all of them, with the 1997 Top 40 hit "Most Precarious" being the most conspicuous absence -- but the core of the jam band's canon is here, including "But Anyway," "Run-Around," "Hook," "The Mountains Win Again," and "Carolina Blues," topped off with a newly recorded cover of Sublime's "What I Got." That's just the beginning of the collector bait: the rest of the retrospective is devoted to B-sides, rarities, and outtakes, including such nuggets as an early version of "Run-Around" called "The Poignant and Epic Saga of Featherhead and Lucky Lack," a brand new Gunslinger Remix of "Run Around," a version of "But Anyway" from 1988, and all four cuts from the 2000 EP Decisions of the Sky: A Traveler's Tale of Sun and Storm, including the 20-minute saga "Traveler's Suite." Combined, the hits and the rarities may not have one specific targeted audience -- the casual fans will like the first, the hardcore the second, and neither may necessarily have the need for the other -- but taken together the two discs show Blues Traveler at both their most accessible and their most adventurous, so, in a sense, it is a representative introduction. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 2011 | Hip-O Select

A blistering live album, especially in mono, cut by Bo Diddley and company in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on July 5 and 6, 1963. This album contains 30-plus minutes of the best live rock & roll ever issuedd on record. Diddley and company are "on" from the get-go with a killer instrumental erroneously credited as Chuck Berry's "Memphis" (which it isn't), that's a showcase for Diddley's attack on his instrument and a crunching assault by the rest of the band (all in that shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits beat), cymbals on top of an overloaded bass, and what sounds like every rhythm guitar in the world grinding away. And even that instrumental seems to "talk" to the audience, telling a story. Once Diddley's voice comes in on "Gunslinger," the picture is complete, and perfection is achieved on the frantic, gyrating "Hey, Bo Diddley." The crowd is driven into an audible frenzy as the thundering band crunches in time to Diddley's sometimes shrieking punctuation around his rhymes. Some repertory here may elude modern listeners; this was a dance, and any tune that could be turned into one was fair game, even "On Top of Old Smokey" as a slow number, which leads into the frenetic "Bo Diddley's Dog." Diddley does even better adapting the Larry Verne novelty tune "Mr. Custer," making it his own, and has some fun on "Bo Waltz" before switching gears to the softer, ballad-like "What's Buggin' You," all of which leads to the roaring finale on "Road Runner." Diddley and the band show off most of their bag of tricks amid the man's joyous, buoyant laughter. Apparently, the shows weren't entirely a laughing matter: the police threatened to arrest the band when Jerome Green leaped into the audience with his maracas waving and the female members surrounded him; this all happening in the still-segregated south of 1963. Mishaps, provocations, and non-musical spontaneity aside, this is some of the loudest, raunchiest guitar-based rock & roll ever preserved for public consumption, and it captures some priceless moments. "I'm All Right" was lifted wholesale by the Rolling Stones for their live sets, from 1964 until as late as the end of 1966. The whole approach to music-making here lay at the core of practically every note of music that the Stones recorded or performed for the first three years of their history; indeed, no Stones collection is truly complete without this record attached to it. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2011 | Hip-O Select

What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin’? (1979), Sweet Sensation (1980), and Stephanie (1981) didn’t appear on CD until a 2008/2009 Universal Japan program. On Feel the Fire: The 20th Century Collection, they’re finally given wider recognition and distribution, anthologized in full with the addition of five mostly essential 12” versions. This represents Stephanie Mills' artistic peak. For all three albums, the singer worked extensively with producers James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, who transitioned from jazz firebrands into sought-after R&B collaborators once they wrote “The Closer I Get to You,” a Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway duet that topped Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart in early 1978. Each one of these albums crossed into the Top 30 of the Billboard 200, propelled by the breezy, fully ornamented disco-soul of “What Cha Gonna Do with My Lovin’?,” “Sweet Sensation,” “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” and the Teddy Pendergrass duet “Two Hearts,” as well as the proto-Hi NRG stomper “You Can Get Over” and the synthesizer-bass-anchored club hit “Put Your Body in It.” The albums don’t merely hold up; they hang together. Mtume and Lucas brought their instrumental skills and utilized their core studio unit -- keyboardist Hubert Eaves, drummer Howard King, bassist Basil Fearrington, guitarist Ed Moore, and vocalist/arranger Tawatha Agee, among others -- throughout the sessions, making the albums play out like a true, unified trilogy. This set is essential for any lover of late-‘70s/early-‘80s R&B. Stephanie Mills was in the top tier, while Mtume and Lucas were heavyweights, wholly deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as the Chic Organization's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, their more popular contemporaries. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2011 | Hip-O Select

The Fillmore East show captured on this Authorized Bootleg occurred on November 7, 1970, not long after Gram Parsons and Chris Ethridge left the Flying Burrito Brothers and were replaced by Rick Roberts and Bernie Leadon. Head Burrito Brother Chris Hillman rounded out this lineup with Byrds drummer Michael Clarke and legendary steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow, all of which means that while this lineup lacked the star power of Parsons, it nevertheless packs considerable musical punch, the band sounding assured, in no way suggesting it's a group whose lineup is in flux. Apart from a few covers -- the storming closer “Six Days on the Road,” the instrumental “Dixie Breakdown,” and a nicely grooving “Willie and the Hand Jive” -- and the Roberts original “Feel Good Music,” the set list is culled entirely from the first two Burrito albums, slightly emphasizing faster material that suits a band whose playing is as propulsive as a motorcycle. And that’s the truly distinctive thing about this performance: its sheer velocity. The Burrito Brothers play like they have something to prove, hitting the chords harder on the rockers and never mellowing on the ballads. For those who love the 1972 live LP Last of the Red Hot Burritos, this is arguably a bit better; for anybody who tends to write off the post-Parsons Burritos, it’s a revelation. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2011 | Hip-O Select

From a commercial perspective, the era covered on Let Yourself Go: The ‘70s Albums, Vol. 2, Hip-O Select's follow-up to This Is the Story: The ‘70s Albums, Vol. 1, does not represent the Supremes' most successful phase. The group’s ‘60s and early-‘70s albums routinely reached the Top Ten of Billboard’s R&B Albums chart. None of the three albums central to this set -- The Supremes (1975), High Energy (1976), and Mary, Scherrie and Susaye (1976) -- saw the Top 20. Five 1975-1977 singles charted, with only “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking” likely to be recalled by casual radio listeners. During these years, the Supremes were more popular on dancefloors; three singles peaked in the Top Ten of the disco chart, and some album cuts -- the white-hot “Come into My Life” especially -- deserved more attention. While none of the three albums is a lost classic, the same can be said for all of them, and they are given a predictably lavish overhaul by Hip-O Select. The package, containing dozens of stunning photos and extensive liner notes, devotes a disc to each album, with over two hours of previously unreleased and rare material divided between the discs. Among the most notable rarities: “Bend a Little” (a would-be disco single so stellar that it must have been shelved due to some form of label politics), the discarded Russ Terrana mix of the High Energy album (which packs a little more rhythmic punch and reverb than the released version), and alternate versions of several songs featuring leads from different members. Naturally, this is aimed at fanatics, who should be overjoyed to have these unfairly disregarded recordings handled with such care. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Released in conjunction with the silver screen dramatization of the Runaways’ saga, Hip-O Select’s The Mercury Albums Anthology rounds up the group’s four albums - 1976’s The Runaways, plus Live in Japan, Queens of Noise, and Waitin’ for the Night, all released in 1977-- in a slick two-disc set. Anybody won over to the Runaways via the charms or Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning will find this to be much too much -- really, they’ll be satiated by a quick download of “Cherry Bomb” -- as this is intended for connoisseurs of sleaze and those under the impression that the female foursome were pioneers not at all under the skeevy thumb of Kim Fowley. Both groups may find what’s contained on Mercury Albums Anthology somewhat underwhelming: the Runaways plodded as much as the plundered, hammering out three-chord riffs that had more to do with frizzy-haired metal than any kind of proto-punk. Live, they had a modicum of energy, as evidenced by Live in Japan, but they wound up being highly polished and packaged in the studio, with Fowley steering them ever so slightly toward sticky, disposable bubblegum. Joan Jett eventually wound up digging in her heels, asserting control on Waitin’ for the Night, but by then, the band was straining under Fowley’s direction, and the end was near. All this is, of course, apparent on this de facto complete recordings -- they knocked out another record after leaving Mercury -- but the lasting impression of this double-disc set is that the Runaways’ myth is always better than their music. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Country - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Hip-O Select’s 2010 double-disc set Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Masters (1960-1963) gathers all of the 51 master takes Patsy Cline recorded with Owen Bradley after she left 4 Star Records for Decca in 1960, running right until her tragic death in 1963. This is the first time all these master takes have been issued in a complete set, which is hard to believe because they form the core of Cline’s legacy. Patsy had been recording frequently since 1954 when she first signed a deal with 4 Star, but the label’s president, Bill McCall, insisted that she only recorded songs for which he owned the publishing rights, a restrictive deal that resulted in only one hit, the classic career-making “Walkin’ After Midnight.” This was a fluke not due to Cline’s talent, but to the dross she had at 4-Star, material that couldn’t be saved even with her increasing partnership with producer Owen Bradley. Once at Decca, Cline continued to work with Bradley and the pair soon hit upon what became Cline’s signature sound: a lush, gorgeous, string-laden setting, equally indebted to Nashville and classic big-band pop, one that pushed her supple vocals to the forefront. It was a sound that wasn’t classically country, at least in the honky tonk sense, but it pushed country closer to pop, providing the blueprint for generations of crossover country singers. This lasting legacy gives the impression that Cline was more popular -- and recorded more music -- during her prime than she actually was, when she really had about two years of popularity, highlighted by the singles “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” and “Sweet Dreams (Of You).” All these are here, along with a 1961 remake of “Walkin’ After Midnight,” sitting alongside a bunch of big band (“The Wayward Wind,” “You Belong to Me,” “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way,” “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home”) and country standards (“San Antonio Rose,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Faded Love,” “Crazy Arms”), with the former slightly outweighing the latter, sometimes overshadowing the newer country originals by Harlan Howard, Mel Tillis, and Don Gibson, among others. As a whole, these master takes surprisingly favor the big band over country, paying enough of a debt to her influences (particularly Jo Stafford) to suggest a talent in ascendance, not full-fight, but in away that only makes Cline’s legacy resonate more deeply. Given time, she would surely have achieved more, but what she did in the 28 months documented here is create the sound and style of the modern country-pop singer, an achievement that resonates strongly throughout the big-band echoes here. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Ambient/New Age - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Part of Hip-O Select's exhaustive and terrific James Brown reissue series, 2010’s The Complete James Brown Christmas is a double-disc set that rounds up his three seasonal albums for King -- 1966’s Christmas Songs, 1968’s A Soulful Christmas, 1970’s Hey America -- and a handful of non-LP singles and single edits. Unlike most artists who bend themselves to fit the standards of the season, Brown didn’t abandon his carefully crafted style for Christmas: he made records that sounded like his hits, they just happened to be about Santa Claus and Christmastime. And his three holiday LPs were not interchangeable, either. Each reflected the sound of the year, so Christmas Songs was steeped in dramatic, string-laden uptown soul; A Soulful Christmas dug deep into the grooves, going so far as to include “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud” in the thick of the proceedings; and Hey America was powered by deep, heavy funk. Because so much emphasis is on the grooves, it doesn’t take long for the Christmas themes to become incidental, but that’s fine; these three albums were recorded while James Brown & the JB’s were at a peak so it’s a pleasure just to hear them play anything. This may be a disappointment for some looking for more JB that is as clearly Christmas as “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” but the entirety of The Complete James Brown Christmas is a joy that could be shared at any time of the year. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

James Brown continued to record until his death some 30 years down the road -- and even had a sizeable comeback a decade later via “Living in America” -- but the 45s collected on The Singles, Vol. 9: 1973-1975 effectively are the final act of his career: his last burst of innovation, the last time he set the scene. JB was headed out of a rough patch in 1972, a time where he adjusted to his new New York surroundings by ceding significant ground to Fred Wesley, with the end result of the JB’s sounding jazzier than ever. On the singles chronicled on The Singles, Vol. 9, quite a bit of grit goes back into the funk but there’s also a cinematic grandeur derived in no small part from the blaxploitation swagger of “The Payback,” a song written for Hell Up In Harlem in 1973 but pulled from the film when a producer mistakenly believed it wasn’t funky enough. “The Payback” is the masterpiece that anchors this entire era: it’s as down and dirty as anything the stripped-down JB’s cut at the dawn of the ‘70s but it’s as nimble and flowing as their recent jazzified sessions. Echoes of these Hell Up In Harlem sessions are heard throughout these two discs -- “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” is an outtake that turned into a number one R&B single in ‘74 -- but even before the JB’s knocked out this masterpiece they had gotten into this groove, knocking out the mesmerizing “Same Beat” (released under Fred Wesley & The JB’s) and they extended it to 1974’s “Funky President,” powered by the drumbeat that would later fuel dozens of hip-hop records. Prior to “The Payback,” James Brown had some fun experimenting -- there’s a snazzy salsa-fied duet on “Let It Be Me” with Lyn Collins (it was backed by an infectious version of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s All Right”) and another duet with Lyn on the slow, soulful “You Can’t Beat Two People in Love” (both singles were canceled before they saw release) -- but after this flash of greatness, JB hit the wall quickly struggling to come to terms with the rise of disco by re-recording “Sex Machine,” taking young upstarts to task on the sputtering “Dead On It” then diving head-first into disco on 1975’s “Hustle!!! (Dead On It).” The smooth, glitzy surroundings of disco didn’t suit James Brown or the JB’s and pretty soon his trusted band started jumping ship with Wesley leaving in ’75. In the style that now is standard to the series -- excellent annotation by Alan Leeds, terrific sound, handsome packaging -- The Singles, Vol. 9 documents this last gasp of greatness and the sudden fall, with the latter hardly dampening the brilliance of the former even if it does illustrate why Brown would fade into the background in the latter half of the ‘70s. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Three albums after the departure of Smokey Robinson, the Miracles were performing respectably, chalking up a sizable hit in 1974 with the sexually charged “Do It Baby,” but they had no real blockbusters to their name until the sequined, spangled 1975 concept album City of Angels. As its title makes plain, this is a record about Los Angeles in the mid-‘70s, a place where everybody is on the prowl and there ain’t nobody straight. Such gay-friendly sentiments were groundbreaking for 1975 but they weren’t exactly uncommon in the days of disco, an era this album evokes effortlessly with its pounding four-four beats and swishing sheets of polyester strings. A large part of the appeal of City of Angels is as a period piece, how the album vacillates between the syrupy satin of the title track and the TV-theme disco of “My Name Is Michael,” peaking with the go-go good times of “Love Machine,” the single that gave the Miracles their biggest hit in the post-Smokey era. Like City of Angels, “Love Machine” is a quintessential slice of ‘70s glitz, and if the rest of the album lacks a single song as galvanizing as that anthem, it captures its time and place in a way few records ever do. [Hip-O Select’s 2010 reissue contains an instrumental version of “Love Machine” as a bonus track.] © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

With neither Ruffin brother experiencing significant success in the wake of their non-simultaneous departure from the Temptations, Jimmy latched upon the idea of recording a duet album with the younger David -- partially as a way to pay tribute to their recently passed parents, partially as a way to jump-start their stalled careers. In regards to the latter, 1970’s I Am My Brother’s Keeper was no great shakes, barely scraping the pop charts and its lead single “Stand by Me” only reaching 24 on the R&B charts, but as a testament to the familial talents of the Ruffins, the LP succeeds, proving that these two great voices could enliven familiar tunes. It's a knack that’s needed here, for much of I Am My Brother’s Keeper consists of splashy, sequin-studded and polyester-draped covers of pop and R&B hits. Just under half of the album consists of versions of tunes by the Hollies, Ben E. King, the Delfonics and Tyrone Davis, with the rest of the record coming from in-house Motown writers and elsewhere, including the rousing Gloria Jones co-write “When My Love Hand Comes Down.” This is one of five Bobby Taylor productions on the LP, and he gives the Ruffins soulful, funky sounds that showcase them at their best, with Henry Cosby, Duke Browner, Frank Wilson and Al Kent responsible for the songs that edge a little closer to the pop charts. Combined, all the producers provide a sampler of Motown sounds at the dawn of the ‘70s -- sometimes things are deeply funky, sometimes things are slick enough for a televised variety revue -- but the Ruffins pull it all together, sounding comfortable in every setting, always commanding attention. Perhaps its underwhelming commercial performance is understandable -- there are no true knockouts here, just a bunch of strong soul -- but I Am My Brother’s Keeper is an album that seems stronger in retrospect, as it was the last time one of the great brother teams in soul sung together so joyfully. [Hip-O Select’s 2010 reissue adds the excellent unreleased “You’re What I Need (Not What I Want)” -- produced by Bobby Taylor and co-written by Gloria Jones and Pamela Sawyer -- and a mix of “Stand by Me” that removes the fake live overdubs of the original.] © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Following an unsatisfying three-year stint at Mercury Records, Chuck Berry returned home to Chess in 1969, just like Phil Chess predicted. Heading home didn’t necessarily mean retreating, as the four-disc Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 illustrates. During his time at Mercury, Chuck followed the kids wherever they went, aligning himself with the psychedelic ‘60s in a way none of his peers did. This shift is immediately apparent on “Tulane,” the very first song he cut upon his return to Chess. An ode to a couple of kids who dealt dope underneath the counter of a novelty shop, “Tulane” puts Chuck on the side of the counterculture, and over the next five years, he never strayed back to the other side of the fence, often singing about getting stoned, dabbling with a wah-wah pedal, rhapsodizing about rock festivals, cheerfully telling smutty jokes. All these elements, along with his propensity for playing with pickup bands -- he cut 1971’s San Francisco Dues with amiable garage rockers the Woolies outside of Lansing, MI, and roped Elephant's Memory into the studio to knock out much of 1973’s Bio -- defined the last act of Chuck’s career. But the big difference between the five years documented here and what came afterward is that Berry was still active as a writer and record-maker during the first years of the ‘70s, conscious of his legacy but not encumbered by it, still attempting to graft new fads onto his three-chord boogie while spending more and more time playing the blues and ballads of his youth. Have Mercy chronicles all of this and more, putting his final Chess recordings into CD circulation for the first time, and adding 22 unreleased cuts to the mix. If there are no major revelations among this unheard material there are at least minor ones in the form of a studio version of “My Ding-A-Ling,” which is lighter in touch and marginally more charming than the live hit, and the preponderance of loose, instrumental blues jams culminating in an extended studio version of “Turn on the Houselights,” the song he used to play toward the end of concerts. All these blues -- and there are many with vocals, too, including a very good take on Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” and a ripping live version of Big Joe Turner’s “Roll ‘Em Pete” -- find Berry coasting somewhat, preferring to rework standards instead of write new ones, which is a sentiment that also applies to how “My Ding-A-Ling” re-jiggers Dave Bartholomew’s song, but Chuck always did turn blues tropes into something of his own, so what’s new is how infrequently Berry was writing during this final stretch. The originals may not have flowed freely, but he did pen a handful of classics: “Tulane,” its slow sequel “Have Mercy Judge,” the dreamy spoken poem “My Dream,” and the cracking autobiography “Bio” all belong in his canon. But the thing about Have Mercy is that it proves that an artist as great as Chuck Berry has pleasures that lay outside the canon, that his sly touch invigorates classics from “Jambalaya” to “Swanee River Rock”; that it’s good to hear him just lay back and riff, that there’s a delight in hearing him affect an absurd Mexican accent on “South of a Border.” Sure, these are pleasures only for the committed, but in light of the lack of new recordings following this -- just 1979’s Rock It, which did produce the minor classic “Oh What a Thrill” -- it’s easier to cherish this music for the minor, yet lasting, pleasures it provides. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Clyde McPhatter jumped ship from Atlantic Records in 1959, persuaded by a hefty advance to sign with MGM Records. MGM was pouring time and money into reaching a rock & roll audience and McPhatter, riding high on solo hits like “A Lover’s Question” and his dynamite leads for the Drifters, seemed like a sure bet but things didn’t quite work out that way, as the light, string-laden numbers Clyde sung for MGM didn’t storm the charts. The label let him go and he went to Mercury where he recorded consistently, finally scoring a genuine Top 10 hit in 1962 with Billy Swan’s “Lover Please” before once again finding himself on the outside looking in. Hip-O Select’s excellent double-disc set Lover Please: The Complete MGM & Mercury Singles is the first extensive chronicle of these post-Atlantic recordings containing every side of every single he recorded for the two labels between 1959 and 1965. If the quality of these 44 songs are certainly more inconsistent than McPhatter’s classic Atlantic sides, blame it partially on MGM pushing him toward lightweight pop numbers that couldn’t quite be saved by Clyde’s vocals. He had a few songs at MGM that provided him a proper showcase -- the lively “Twice as Nice,” his slow bluesy original “When the Right Time Comes Along” is very good and he soars on “The Glory of Love” -- but generally the arrangements were too syrupy and the songs too sweet for them to stick. Often, his Mercury singles were also recorded with a pop audience in mind but producers Clyde Odis and Shelby Singleton keep things light, which helps quite a bit on the frivolous numbers. And that’s what McPhatter was often given to sing at Mercury -- sprightly pop songs, slow dance tunes and supperclub soul, all produced and performed impeccably but often not memorable outside of McPhatter’s vocals which remain wonderous even on the generic. Fortunately, he didn’t just sing the generic on Mercury, he was given some cracking tunes like “Lover Please,” a jumping rocker he didn’t want to record but provided him with one of his best singles. The singles he cut after “Lover Please” tended to have a greater variety of styles and sounds with the sleek uptown sound paying the greatest dividends commercially and artistically: he had a minor hit with the “Spanish Harlem” rewrite “Deep in the Heart of Harlem” and had his last R&B hit with the terrific “Crying Won’t Help You Now.” The latter suggests that McPhatter may have had greater luck in the latter half of the ‘60s, after Motown illustrated how pop crossover could be done without losing a soulful groove, but the cards didn’t break that way for Clyde: once he left Atlantic, he was stuck in a time where an R&B star of his magnitude had hopes of crossing over and while that might not have always made for compelling music, it’s hard not to listen to the singles on Lover Please and not marvel at McPhatter’s pure talent, even if you do wonder what might have been. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

"I'm not Bob Dylan, but I never miss a beat" sings Nils Lofgren on 1977's I Came to Dance, a very polished collection of nine songs produced by the guitar virtuoso and drummer Andy Newmark. There are lots of backing vocalists. including Patti Austin on the title track. and three others, five years before she would hit number one with James Ingram; Luther Van Dross (with the last name Van Dross separated on the inner sleeve) does the backing vocal arrangements and sings with a different crew on the five remaining titles, including on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Happy," as well as Lofgren's own "Code of the Road" and "Happy Ending Kids." "Happy Ending Kids" and "Goin' South" are both so quirky they could've fit on an album by Boston '70s act Orchestra Luna, and as adventurous as that sounds on the surface, it is that innovation which holds the LP back. The music here is not as accessible as that on 1979's Nils -- the Bob Ezrin produced album -- or Flip from 1985. Everything is in tune, played to perfection, and without a bum note, but therein lies the problem. It's all too perfect when rock & roll needs a little mayhem. "To Be a Dreamer" is very studied progressive pop, not as ostentatious as the group Yes, but too borderline Toto for a guy who splashed brilliant guitar on music by rough-around-the-edges personalities like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Lofgren's personality gets lost in the "tried to take it serious" approach he writes about in "To Be a Dreamer." There's just not enough dreaming in that title, rather it goes with the flow of the other tracks here; the solid playing and color-by-numbers production making for songs that don't take hold. However, the re-working of Jagger/Richards' "Happy" does inject some excitement into the grooves, a plodding, funky, and very cool rendition with Lofgren's best vocal on the record, surrounded by other singers who take a cue from Jimmy Miller's party atmosphere on "Tumblin' Dice." This final track is where the assembled cast finally gets it -- they cut loose and have fun with Mick and Keith's lyrics (probably more Keith's, come to think of it) never sounding so direct. This arrangement is even more appealing than Randy California's fun and esoteric romp on the Spirit of '76 album cut two years before I Came to Dance. It's not just that this is a cover on an album of OK material, it's that it is a superior look at a Rolling Stones classic with Nils Lofgren being the performer he needed to be on the eight previous compositions. The entire album would have come to life if all involved stopped being so precise and just let it rip. © Joe Viglione /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Hip-O Select’s 2010 set Come on and See Me: The Complete Solo Collection rounds up everything Tammi Terrell recorded on her own at Motown: the first disc contains 14 songs she recorded under the name Tammy Montgomery plus the Irresistible LP and two non-LP singles, “Baby Don’tcha Worry” and “There Are Things,” while the second disc has 18 cuts of Rare Motown capped off by Live at the Roostertail. Terrell’s trajectory is not dissimilar to other Motown artists of the ‘60s -- some of her earliest singles bear a bit of a heavy pop crossover bent, a trait amplified by the live supperclub showcase tacked on the end of this set, and she got looser and funkier as the decade rolled on, but even those early uptown shuffles are elevated by Terrell’s authoritative stamp. Surely, she was one of the few female soul singers who could take James Brown on and get a TKO, as she did on 1963’s “If You Don’t Think,” and some of the other early Montgomery sides are every bit as funky, but the centerpiece of this set is the Irresistible LP, where Terrell brought that spirit to snazzy, sophisticated pop-soul productions. Irresistible boasts some of the thickest productions Motown issued in 1967, but it's underpinned by a heavy groove and graced with Terrell’s terrific singing. Apart from that perfectly fine, not necessarily compelling, live performance, the second disc has more unissued gems in this vein: it’s big, bright, lush, and powerful, the sound of Motown in full flight. On the basis of her duets with Marvin Gaye alone, Tammi Terrell’s reputation is quite high, but this dynamic set proves that she was equally good as a solo act. Truthfully, sometimes she was even better on her own. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

Live at the Forum contains two previously unissued performances from the Jackson 5. On June 20, 1970, the brothers were popular enough to attract well over 18,000 people -- many of whom screamed, some of whom rushed the stage -- to the Inglewood, CA venue. They had two albums to draw upon but threw in some covers, like a somewhat ragged version of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and a loose take on Sly & the Family Stone's “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin.” Unsurprisingly, the dynamically performed hits generate the loudest response. Given the hysteria from note one of “The Love You Save,” which had just hit number one on the soul chart, the group could have been forgiven for spinning out of control, but they fed off the energy of their fans, awestruck yet realizing their power. When the Jacksons returned on August 26, 1972, they were a full-blown pop culture phenomenon and had released four additional albums. There is not much overlap with the 1970 show; some of the older material is incorporated into medleys and they roll through everything with professional finesse without losing their connection to the crowd. The scripted banter sounds more natural, too. Michael, who gets a significant chunk of the set for his solo material, struggles a little with his changing voice, but those who know the studio versions inside-out will find the issue more charming than awkward. Also containing an additional live cut at the end of each disc, Live at the Forum is a treat for J5 fans, essential for those who picked up Hip-O Select's In Japan! (the first U.S. release of a 1974 Osaka gig). The packaging here is more elaborate, featuring in-depth liner notes from professor and author Mark Anthony Neal, several photos, and a set of detachable black-and-white photo cards. © Andy Kellman /TiVo