REVIEW: “The Motown 7s Box Volume 2″ (7 x 7” 45 box set)

 photo Motown7sV2_cover_zps3fe9113b.jpg Another gem for Motown fans, a new box set of seven 7″ singles exploring the side of music that was not released in a proper fashion at the time they were recorded and mixed. The Motown 7s Box: Rare And Unreleased Vinyl Volume 2 (Motown/UMC) shows how well the Motown and Northern Soul still holds up, as artists today are dipping into it and making a killing from the style of music that was popular 45+ years ago. All of these songs are not the big hits we know and love, so it’s a chance to hear these artists in a way that is unfamiliar to most of us. This includes Stevie Wonder’s “I Want My Baby Back”, Jimmy Ruffin’s “He Who Picks A Rose”, and Brenda Holloway’s “We’ll Keep On Rolling”. Other mixes here include songs made/mixed for box sets and compilations, including a 1994 box set version of “Angel Doll” by The Temptations, an outtake of “I Know Better” by Barbara McNair, and a 2004 anthology mix of “That’s A Funny Way” by The Velvettes. Considering all the mono/stereo variations and outtakes/alternate takes that exist, there is still something worthy here for even the completist, plus it’s all on vinyl to boot, some being released in that format for the very first time. Overall, a very nice set and a perfect companion to the first volume released late last year.

(The box set is available from Amazon.co.UK.)

SOME STUFFS / RECORD CRACK: Light In The Attic to release MoWest Records retrospective

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“Go west, young man”, and after a decade that moved and grooves millions of people around the world, Berry Gordy did just that by expanding Motown Records to the West Coast. While Motown already has a number of subsidiary labels (Gordy and Tamla among many), MoWest was a way to stand out from the norm to say “now let’s make a presence in the West”, which was not only geological, but also economical. Motown had been an independent label that ruled the charts as if they were a major, so it was only right for them to explore as many different possibilities as they could, as they did in the 1960’s.

About 15 years ago, I offered a suggestion to both Universal and Rhino to do a compilation for the MoWest label. I knew of MoWest because they were often listed on Motown inner sleeves. Universal said they were not interested, and Rhino were more into “other things”. This was of course at a time when Rhino wasn’t Warner Bros. reissue left nut, and Rhino worked with everyone in order to come up with some incredible compilations and reissues. I learned early on that a lot of labels don’t really want “outside A&R”, despite my pleas that it would be a worthy project. They more or less said “we need projects that sell”, even though British reissue labels were more than willing to dip into American music and reissue it like crazy. Out of nowhere, the good people at Light In The Attic have come up with the idea to do a comp on MoWest, and to the label, I have to say “thank you’.

Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love: Motown’s MoWest Story 1971-1973 is the first (but could’ve been second had Universal or Rhino taken my idea in 1996) MoWest retrospective ever released, and it features a side of Motown only the deep diggers and collectors known about. Here’s the official track listing:

1. You’re A Song (That I Can’t Sing) – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
2. Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love – Odyssey
3. Give Me Your Love – The Sisters Love
4. Act Like A Shotgun – G.C. Cameron
5. I Love Every Little Thing About You – Syreeta
6. Black Maybe – Syreeta
7. Sun Country – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
8. Battened Ships – Odyssey
9. I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You – Suzee Ikeda
10. Don’t You Be Worried – The Commodores
11. You’ve Got To Make Your Choice – The Sisters Love
12. Broken Road – Odyssey
13. A Heart Is A House – The Nu Page
14. I Hope I See It In My Lifetime – Lodi
15. The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
16. I Ain’t Going Nowhere – Thelma Houston

By looking at the track listing, it might seem simply enough, but for a number of artists, these were their first releases, specifically The Commodores. Believe it or not, the label was also a brief home for Lesley Gore and The Crusaders, but after two years of not being able to come up with a solid hit, MoWest closed shop. Both The Commodores and Thelma Houston moved to Motown proper, where they ended up with very prosperous careers.

The compilation will be out on June 14th, and will be released on both 2LP vinyl and a single CD.

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REVIEW: Charito’s “Heal The World”

Photobucket The passing of any singer or musician will follow with an endless amount of tributes, either in music/album form or in live performances. Sometimes the results are good, other times they are just a mess but in the case of jazz vocalist Charito, it is very much the former. Heal The World (Zoho) is a nice-sized 10-song tribute to the late singer, and it shows vocal and musical tribute to a man whose music continues to make an impact. They’re done with a lot of respect, and I could see myself listening to this, pulling out the album at any given point and wanting to listen to this.

The songs here range from all major eras of MJ’s music, from early Jackson 5 songs to his solo classics, Charito’s Latin jazz twist to “I Can’t Help It” is perfect and I could easily see some of today’s and tomorrow’s producers using this as sample fodder (and decent fodder at that). “Rock With You” are slowed down a bit to become a very romantic ballad, and that goes back to how basic yet useful the original song was back in 1979. Hearing “Ease On Down The Road” (the song Jackson did with Diana Ross for the film The Wiz updated for 2011 is really good. All of the songs should and deserve a lot of airplay on jazz and smooth jazz radio, perhaps allowing fans to hear these songs when they might have avoided MJ in a normal context. In a way that’s dumb, because away from what MJ represents to people, the songs are still very good and that’s due to the original songwriters, everyone from Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett to Rod Temperton, Stevie Wonder and Clifton Davis, so it’s very much a tribute to their work to. Regardless of the representative umbrella, Heal The World is simply a very nice jazz tribute album to a pop singer the world may never experience in the same away again.

(The original pressing of Charito’s Heal The World was released last summer, but will be reissued to a wider audience on April 12th via Zoho.)

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REVIEW: Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic It’s funny how some Beatles fans thought that their recent remastered box sets and The Beatles Rock Band video game had something to do with the death of Michael Jackson, as a means for someone to cash in. MJ would have cashed in regardless, and yet people want to create a scenario that only exists in their mind. I say this because arguably, the same can be said for a new Jackson 5 compillation called I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters (Motown/Universal).

But let’s get to the real deal. The Motown catalog is worth A LOT, and its owners, Universal, have been going out of their way to exploit it. No, that’s not a harsh way of saying it, that’s a word that you can find in any and all record contracts. Motown released an incredible series of karaoke discs where fans were not only able to sing over the original instrumentals, but it became a great pool of music for producers to sample from, and DJ’s to get creative and make some incredible mixes. There are many Motown-related remix projects in Japan, and the Motown Remixed compilations from a few years ago tapped into the catalog where hip-hop and electronic-based producers got a chance to reconstruct cherished gems.

I would consider I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters to be less about raiding the vaults to cash in, but merely a continuation of what they’ve been doing for years, which is giving fans new ways of hearing the familiar. You’ll hear “TV tracks” that were meant for television appearances, or alternate tracks where you’ll hear a different vocal track or different backing. The alternate versions of “ABC”, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, and “”Dancing Machine” are incredible, although the mix of “ABC” might shock a few people because the vocals are completely different and it’s a song that’s ingrained in our minds. If anything, it reveals a demo-like quality to these songs that most people never heard or associated with the Jackson 5, whose music has always been about creating perfection in our minds. If anything, these alternate versions show that they were kids and young men, five brothers, just having fun without knowledge of the business that they were involved in. When you hear Michael Jackson ask his brothers to spell out the alphabet, it’s a bit more innocent than hearing him say “shake it baby, shake it” in the well known version. For a brief moment, we can imagine them still in Gary, Indiana just kicking it on the corner.

I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters simply offers a different twist of the J5 perspective the world has loved for 40 years. It has the hits, forgotten album tracks, and if there’s any track that might show a few revelations, it’s “Buttercup”. The song was written specifically for the group by Stevie Wonder in 1973 and very much sounds like the album Wonder released that year, Innervisions, and Michael sounds incredible, offering a confidence that he found himself growing in for the rest of the decade until he broke out with Off The Wall. The song was scheduled for release but was called back, and upon hearing it, you’ll find out why it could have been one of the best songs of the decade, period. That’s not me throwing hype just because this is the Jackson 5, it’s an incredible injustice because the song is that good, and because Michael was not able to know what fans thought of it. If there is justice, perhaps a younger generation of fans will take this song and turn it into their own.

With luck, maybe Motown will turn Unreleased Masters into a new reissue series.


SOME STUFFS: “Motown: The DVD” released today

Image and video hosting by TinyPic If you are a fan of Motown and its history, you’ll wan to pick up Motown: The DVD, which comes out today.

With the label celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, it’s the perfect time for the label to celebrate and what better way than to do it with a new DVD compilation, right? RIGHT?!?!?

Anyway, the DVD consists of 18 classic and often rare television performances from 1965 through 1971 featuring some of the label’s greatest artists performing their biggest hits. Most of these have not been released in the DVD format or anywhere, or if you have seen them on television, the quality on this surpasses it. What they did as a collective on Motown will most likely never happen again, so watch the magic and feel the greatness of these artists and songs. Don’t forget Motor City.

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SOME STUFFS: New Jackson 5 compilation CD ready for pre-order

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Just in time for the holidays, and it’s not your typical Jackson 5 compilation with the same 12 songs. It’s called I Want You Back: Unreleased Masters (Motown), featuring twelve never-before-released tracks including should have been hits and unique versions of well-known classics. This means a few alternate takes previously unheard. It will be released on November 3rd, and you can pre-order it now through Amazon by clicking the box below.

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OBITUARY: Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

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There will be well over ten million words said about the man, and I realize you can read opinion anywhere and everywhere, but these are mine.

I probably got into his music first in the period they moved from being The Jackson 5 to The Jacksons. I loved to dance but never had any dance ambitions, but here was this young kid who was doing some incredible moves on TV, one couldn’t help but be impressed by someone dancing like a robot to “Dancing Machine”, it seemed futuristic. But the music was funky. “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” and “Blame It On The Boogie” was everywhere in the second half of the 70’s. But then came Off The Wall.

It was not his first solo album, in fact it was his fifth, but it was his first as an adult. It would become the biggest album of his career up until late 1982, but from the summer of 1979 to the fall of 1982, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”, “Rock With You”, “She’s Out Of My Life”, “Girlfriend”, and of course the title track, plus a number of album tracks, including “I Can’t Help It”. That album was considered to be the equivalent of Stevie Wonder‘s Talking Book, an artist known for being a child star but progressing into adulthood with a string of hits and a wave of success that no other young artist had at the time. Growing up in Honolulu, my radio listening habits were the Top 40 stations on AM radio (KKUA and KIKI respectively) and as much as they played MJ, these songs were great. It was a world before MTV, before Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous, before TMZ, and obviously before Thriller.

Once Thriller came out, things would never be the same. It was superhype at its very best, but… most albums have a shelf life of six to nine months, a year if you’re lucky. Thriller held up for three years, and people were still buying it. I don’t need to tell you what happened during and after Thriller, that story is well documented, but some have argued that pop success brought him the world. In the end, the world would eat him up.

He was not perfect, but the moment actress Elizabeth Taylor called him “The King Of Pop”, it was as if he had taken advantage of it and created a pedestal for himself. To be famous… it’s a concept that’s interesting but not something I would want, at least not on an MJ level. But I don’t know if I would’ve built the pedestal and walls so high. He did eccentric things in the last half of his life, much due to his enormous success, and it has almost become the main focus of the entertainer. By 1984 he reached a level that everyone wanted to aspire to, and he was truly one of the most successful musical artists in the world. That kind of fame seemed powerful in the 60’s and 70’s, but things moved to sinister levels when it seemed the public demanded (and perhaps deserved) more. I think in the end, he just couldn’t take it. To paraphrase the man himself, he didn’t want to stop but this time I think he had enough.

When the news of his death was official, I found out about it online. I was in the car soon after running some errands and I was trying to find a radio station locally that would stop and speak of Michael Jackson. It was NPR who broke the news, but on the other radio stations, it was business as usual. It would be a few minutes before I heard one of the big Top 40 “urban” stations stop and tell everyone that he did. Then the DJ goes on to say “we don’t have any Michael Jackson songs in the system, but I’ll find a way to get some songs to play”. In case you don’t know, most big stations no longer have any physical records or CD’s, everything is a digital file and stations can run itself uninterrupted for a week or two without anyone knowing. 15 minutes later, the station played its first MJ song, about 75 minutes after the official word of his passing. It was an embarrassment, but then again I do live in a “small market” town. I am certain that if I lived in a bigger city, I would have heard everything from tributes to phone dedications to interviews. Then again, maybe it wasn’t a surprise that local coverage was close to nil.

Michael Jackson was an incredible performer, an artist, musician (he did play on his albums), and producer who was a perfectionist. But he wasn’t able to control the imperfections of a world he always seemed to love, with occasional bursts of hate that showed he was indeed human. He allegedly did things that no one should be proud of, but those may have been some of the demons that pulled him down. At least now, he doesn’t have to show and prove when he had already done more than enough to mark his place in history.

r.i.p.