Box set bonanza led by Dean Martin, Heart
Owls Head — Dean Martin: Collected Cool (UMe, 3 CDs, 2:29:46, and 1 DVD, 51:50). Martin had two distinctive successful careers. The first was as straight man to Jerry Lewis in live performances and a series of films. Then, as his music career took off, he became a member of the Rat Pack. Often, he, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. would appear on the same bill. This wonderful box set is a tribute to Martin the singer -- he could croon as well as Bing Crosby -- and the on-stage performer.
Before stardom beckoned, Martin -- born Dino Paul Crocetti in 1917 -- had jobs as deliverer of bootleg liquor, a croupier in a speakeasy and a blackjack dealer, a steel mill worker and even a boxing sensation as Kid Crochet. He also liked to sing and one night his friends urged him to get up and sing at a club. Ernie McKay, the leader of the small combo, was impressed enough to offer Crocetti a job, but he turned it down because the pay was less than he was making at the gambling establishment (it was a cigar store, called the Rex, with the gambling in the back room). However, the Rex owners urged him to accept the singing gig, even sending him money to make up the difference in pay. For seven years, from 1939 through 1946, and now called Martin, he developed his style and made his first recordings for the Diamond, Apollo and Embassy labels. The same month he made his final Diamond recordings, Martin appeared at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, where a struggling, unknown comedian named Lewis was about to be fired. Within a week, the genesis of their comedy pairing had formed, resulting in a meteoric rise to fame.
The first disc of 19 tracks highlights Martin’s recordings for Capitol Records and covers the years 1949 through 1961. It opens with several spoken word introductions -- to be used by various record outlets as if Martin were there in the studio -- for the pretty ballad, “My Own, My Only, My All,” which was featured in the film “My Friend Irma.” The disc also has Martin’s first Top Ten hit, “Powder Your Face With Sunshine”; his first signature song. “That’s Amore”; the novelty song, “If I Could Sing Like Bing”; the lush “Sway”; the chart-topping “Memories Are Made of This”; his hit, “Volare”; and duets with Nat King Cole (“Long, Long Ago”) and Lewis (“Pardners”). Disc two covers 1962 through 1985, the start of which had Martin recording for Sinatra’s Reprise Records. One highlight is Martin and Sinatra’s take on “Guys and Dolls,” from the wonderful series of Reprise Repertory Theatre albums, each the entire score of a Broadway score performed by label artists (I have them on vinyl and treasure them). Another od Martin’s Number Ones is here in “Everybody Loves Somebody,” but you also see his growing infatuation with country songs in the likes of “Send Me the Pillow That You Dream on,” “Welcome To My World,” “Houston” and “My First Country Song” (sung with author Conway Twitty.).
The remaining two discs -- one CD, one DVD -- showcase Martin as an on-stage performer at two different points in his career. The CD is a July 27, 1962 performance at Cal-Neva Lodge (newly acquired by Sinatra) at Lake Tahoe in California. This was only five months after Martin had signed to Reprise and probably was intended for a live disc, but lay forgotten in the vaults for about 40 years. This also was a time in which Martin had no had a hit in three years and “Everybody Loves Somebody” was two years in the future. The concert features standards and a few of his old Capitol hits. He already had begun treating his old hits in the “drunky Dino” persona he was developing. Included in the show are seven bits of show banter. The DVD was recorded in June 1983 (about two years before Martin’s final recordings) and marked his first return to a London stage in 25 years, the previous time having been with then-partner Lewis. It opens with a medley of drinking songs, that is standards with lyric changes to reflect drinking , like “when it rains it rains, bourbon from heaven.” Throughout the show, Martin is very amusing, with his scripted miscues and double entendres, Pianist/musical director Ken Lane plays his straight man. It is apparent Martin’s vocal range is more limited, but it does not matter, the crowd is his. Again, the standards are subject to parody, while the more “serious” music is contemporary, especially his country songs, like “Drinking Champagne,” “Here Comes My Baby” and “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me.” Everything comes housed in a 64-page hardcover book. It’s all quite classy and delightful. Grade: box set A+
Heart: Strange Euphoria (Epic/Legacy, 3 CDs and 1 DVD). Four decades on in a stellar career, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson -- the heart of Heart -- have helped put together this box set, sharing their memories of each song in the 56-page booklet. Fans will be delighted that, of the set’s 51 songs, 22 are previously unreleased. These are mostly demos, but there also is a live version of “Never” (the song first appeared on their 1985 album) performed with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. (By the way, I always felt Ann Wilson was a female Robert Plant and she would do wonderfully on Led Zeppelin songs. In fact, Heart has covered “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “The Battle of Evermore” and “The Rover.”) Among the demos are early versions of such classics as “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You” and “Heartless.” We get the released versions of “Dreamboat Annie,” “Love Alive,” “Little Queen,” “Straight On,” “Bebe le Strange,” “These Dreams” and “Alone.”
There are live versions of “White Lightning & Wine,” “Barracuda,” “She Still Believes” and “Love or Madness.” Circa 1992, the sisters decided to return to their roots and created the side band, The Lovemongers, which can be heard in the film “Singles” by Nancy’s husband, director Cameron Crowe. The band is represented by three tracks on disc three, including “Kiss” and “Sand.” Ann Wilson’s solo “Little Problems, Little Lies” also is included. The DVD is a 57-minute concert from February or March 1976 for the KWSU-TV program “The Second Ending.” There is lots of Ann on flute at the beginning and later on. At the time, “Heartless” and “Devil Delight” were new songs. They also perform a trio of tracks from the “Dreamboat Annie” album. There is a lot of standout Michael Fisher guitar on the lengthy “Sing Child” -- he even plays the guitar with a bow -- and the show ends with “Magic Man,” including a Michael DeRosier drum solo. The band also include keyboardist/bassist Howard Leese and Bassist Steve Fossen. By the way, Legacy will release Heart’s 14th studio album, “Fanatic,” in October. Grade: box set A+
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Americana (Reprise CD). For their first album together in nearly nine years, Young has chosen a bunch of songs that children traditionally learn in school or are sung around campfires. However, only track features an acoustic guitar, the rest are punched up in typical Crazy Horse grungy distortion, often with a cheerful, bouncy beat. The Young goes further by rescuing some lyrics we never hear and adding some minor chords to make things darker (“Clementine” is an example of the latter).
The album opens with driving guitar on “Oh Susannah,” and a nice band groove is quickly established. Young’s vocal begins 55 seconds in and the band repeats the title as backing vocals. It is real bouncy and a lot of fun, especially when Young spells out “banjo.” “Clementine” also features big drums, but the minor chords make it seem more like a tragedy. “Tom Dooley” extends to 8:13 and has a “Down By the River” sound. The band again chants the title as backing. The middle may not be as much fun. “Gallows Pole” sounds way too happy with its bouncy beat and The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” is done doo-wop style. There is some nice guitar on “Travel On,” which opens simple and then turns bouncy and features a full vocal chorus.
One of my favorites is “High Flyin’ Bird,” a cover of the Elton John-Bernie Taupin song from John’s 1972 album, “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.” It is a bit heavy and ominous. The drumming on “Jesus’ Chariot” sounds a bit Native American and the backing vocals make you want to sing along. Young also covers “This Land Is Your Land” and “Wayfarin’ Stranger,” but the finale of “God Save the Queen” seems the album’s only miscue. Grade: B+
The Supremes: The Supremes at the Copa expanded edition (Hip-O Select, 2 CDs, 2:08:04). It is always a treasure to get more unreleased material by The Supremes. Disc one features the original stereo LP, plus alternate mono mixes. The notes in the booklet are very revealing. The original album was distilled from six shows, but had entirely new lead vocals recorded in the studio due to audio problems and distortions on lead singer Diana Ross’ track. In fact, on the final release, her voice is often doubled. The second disc here goes back to the original recordings, presenting the complete show with many of the audio problems fixed through today’s technology. This includes a rare performance of “Tonight” from “West Side Story,” which soon disappeared from their repertoire. This is the group’s original lineup of Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard.
As to the original recording, there is a strange intro to the hit “Baby Love,” followed by the 1:50 of glory that is “Stop! In the Name of Love.” The backing is more of a big band than in their Motown studio recordings, so “The Boy from Ipanema” does not pop as it should. Motown founder Berry Gordy was trying to broaden the group’s appeal to an older audience with the shows at the famous Copa and a repertoire that included American Songbook standards and show tunes, such as “Make Someone Happy/Time After Time,” which is a standout. Their hits “Come See About Me” and “Back in My Arms Again” (I’ve always loved its beat) are covered, as is a very nice Sam Cooke medley. On disc two, we also get “From This Moment On,” their hit “Where Did Our Love Go” and their then-new single “Nothing But Heartache.” Grade: A-
Diana Ross: Live in Central Park (Shout! Factory DVD). This legendary New York City concert finally makes its DVD debut. It was originally broadcast live in 1983 to benefit the Central Park playground built in her name. The concert, actually a make-up for a rained-out show on July 21, has rarely been seen since its original airing. The DVD contains that half-show as a bonus, along with audio commentary by director Steve Binder (he also directed “The T.A.M.I. Show” concert film, which included Ross as part of The Supremes). The show includes some of my favorite of her solo hits, including “I’m Coming Out,” “Upside Down,” “There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Endless Love,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” and her remake of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Dipping into The Supremes’ catalog, she sings “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby Love” “Love Is Like an Itching in M Heart” and “Stop! In the Name of Love,” along with a couple of hits by Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson for good measure. Grade: A
Return To Forever: The Mothership Returns (Eagle Rock, 2 DVDs, 113 min., and 1 DVD). The legendary progressive jazz fusion band Return To Forever, still headed by keyboardist/pianist Chick Corea, electric bassist Stanley Clark and drummer Lenny White, welcomed acoustic and electric violinist Jean Luc-Ponty (he’s played with Frank Zappa) and acoustic and electric guitarist Frank Gambale into the band last year. This live recording is that lineup’s recording debut, and it is a strong one. The original Return To Forever was a pioneer in the jazz fusion sound, along with Weather Report and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra (Luc-Ponty recorded two albums with them in 1974 and 1975), all three building on what Miles Davis had started (White was drummer on Davis’ seminal “Bitches Brew” album in 1969).
The DVD contains full live performances of “After the Cosmic Rain” and “The Romantic Warrior,” an elongated trailer for the upcoming film documentary, “The Story of Return To Forever,” and an hour-plus long bonus film, “Return To Forever: Inside the Music,” which includes the band members discussing the songs on the CD, songs that cover the band’s 40-year career and all four incarnations. There also are classic songs from the individual artist’s catalogs. Luc-Ponty is impressive on “Romantic Warrior,” the rocking “School Days” and the fine “Senor Mouse.” Gambale, an Australian who made his mark playing with Billy Cobham, is outstanding on “The Shadow of Lo/Sorceress” and “Beyond the Seventh Galaxy.” “After the Cosmic Rain” starts pretty and has a strong finish. Grade: A-