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CRITICS CHOICE
GETTING BETTER: SGT. PEPPER FRESHENED UP FOR ITS 50TH
5/25/17
By Phil Gallo Beatles fans, it’s geek-out time. The newly remixed and expanded edition of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band comes out Friday via  Apple Corps/Capitol/UMe, providing a thorough examination of how John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin created the landmark album 50 years ago. Gilles Martin’s stereo remix of the album alters the listening experience for anyone whose collection does not include the mono edition. Using that mono mix as a guide—it’s the only mix the Fab Four approved—he has delivered an album that pushes vocals to an imaginary center speaker, more clearly defined the instrumentation and given Ringo’s drums a more prominent and better defined spot in the mix. The bass, too, has a greater presence. (It boomed on the title track when played through this listener’s Cambridge Audio CD player and Triangle speakers powered by a Musical Fidelity amp). The set includes the mono mix of the album plus “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the single released in January 1967 as a placeholder between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Beyond that, the set includes multiple takes of tracks to demonstrate how songs came to be: There are six versions of “A Day in the Life,” for example, two of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” While wallowing in George’s echo-rich guitar on “Fixing a Hole,” the power of the instrumentation on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and the density of “Good Morning Good Morning,” here, in one man’shumble opinion, are the set’s revelations. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (new stereo remix). As the key to this exercise is creating a closer facsimile to what the Beatles actually played in the studio, “Lucy” stands out in that regard. Paul’s melodic bass lines, Ringo’s drums and George’s guitar are precisely defined, but so, too, are the instruments providing the flair—Paul’s Lowery organ, George’s tamboura, and John’s double-tracked lead vocals. “She’s Leaving Home” (new stereo remix, Take 12). An easy one to break down for its superiority to the original: The naturalness of the strings and harp; the humanity of Macca’s vocal and dream-like state of John’s singing; and a smart separation that was stereo’s raison d’etre to start. Take 12 on a bonus disc is the gorgeous instrumental track. “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Take 1). A bare bones take of John’s voice and guitar, a few harmony vocals and an effect here and there. It reveals the rather simple structure of the song, which gets lost underneath the finished product’s layers of effects and sound. Same can be said of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (Take 4). “A Day in the Life” (Takes 1, 2, 8-11). The first take is solely piano, guitar, John’s treated vocal and the clock alarm; the second adds maracas and a hint of bass. Other tracks demonstrate how hitting that final chord was not that easy a task. (Note the pinch of Gershwin being played before the recording on take 8). “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (Instrumental). The clearest indication that for all the experimentation, at their core they were still just four guys in a rock & roll band. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (Take 1). Every track on the bonus discs reveals how well formed all of the Sgt. Pepper songs were by the time the boys entered the studio. Here, though, we catch a glimpse of a song in a transition phase. Call it “Louie, Louie in the Sky With Diamonds.” “Within You Without You” (Take 1). Yes, the Indian instruments are indeed playing the melody. It’s not just the cellos. “Penny Lane” (new stereo remix). When A/B’d with the stereo vinyl reissue from 2009, the remix is brighter and fuller. Gone is the isolation of vocals and trumpets in a single channel, replaced with a broader palate of sound.   In addition, the bass is tightened up. Others can debate where Sgt. Pepper fits within the Beatles’ oeuvre, but it is important to look at where The Beatles sat artistically among their peers when they were recording Sgt. Pepper between December 1966-April 1967. They were surrounded by burgeoning psychedelic scenes and avant-garde classical music. The old guard was deciding what side they wanted to be on: The Beach Boys shelved their experimental SMiLE prior to the Sgt. Pepper sessions, choosing instead to stick with a more straight-forward approach to their new music; The Rolling Stones, ever so gently, dabbled in psychedelia on their early ’67 release Between the Buttons, an album hailed for its eclecticism. Pink Floyd was emerging as one of Britain’s leaders in its psychedelic scene of ’66 and ’67; their first single, “Arnold Layne,” was released in April ’67 and promptly banned by the BBC. John and Paul became exposed to acts moving rock forward at the time, taking in concerts by The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, who were emerging as one of Britain’s leaders in psychedelia; Paul met the composer Luciano Berio. On the singles side, where The Beatles charted with the commercial “Penny Lane” and the experimental ”Strawberry Fields Forever,” the competition was far less adventurous: Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me” held onto #1 to hold “Penny Lane” at #2 in the U.K.; and in the U.S., The Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” The Buckingham’s “Kind of a Drag” and Johnny Rivers’ “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’” were the Top 3 when the double-sided single entered the chart at #83. Essays and timelines in the book that accompanies the Sgt. Pepper expanded edition explain the milieu surrounding The Beatles in ’66 and ’67. Taken collectively, it shows how the world’s biggest band took chances that would likely be inconceivable nowadays. Just as other 1967 releases—The Velvet Underground’s debut, Aretha’s singles, Hendrix, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” among them—avoid the haze of nostalgia, so, too, does this new version of a record become an improved version of a timeless classic.
SINGLES, CHRIS AND ME
5/24/17
by Simon Glickman It’s almost unbearably bittersweet listening to Epic Soundtrax/Legacy’s new Deluxe Edition soundtrack to 1991’s Singles, the Cameron Crowe-helmed romantic comedy set amid the era’s Seattle rock scene. Not only because the film and its very influential ST meant a lot to me when I was half the age I am now, but because now it plays like a tribute not only to Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood (who died in 1990) and Alice in Chains Layne Staley (who left us in 2002) but also to Chris Cornell. The singer/songwriter and Soundgarden frontman, whose death last week sucker-punched us all, is the most prolific contributor to Singles, particularly in this new form. The original set, reproduced on disc 1 of the reissue, includes powerful work by ’90s heavies like Alice, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Paul Westerberg, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and more, not to mention Seattle forebears Jimi Hendrix and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart (who duet here, as The Lovemongers, on a Led Zeppelin cover). Cornell’s range is evidenced in the blazing Soundgarden track “Birth Ritual,” which showcases his pipes in full banshee fury, and the delicate solo song “Seasons.” Even this early in his career, Cornell was Janus-faced—a beguiling troubadour one moment, a rampaging rock deity the next. On disc 2, which is packed with previously unreleased material, we go much deeper. The riches include a passel of Cornell demos grouped as “The Poncier Tape.” Here Cornell, accompanying himself on guitar and percussion, sketches out “Spoon Man,” “Nowhere But You,” “Flutter Girl” and “Missing.” A live “Birth Ritual” demonstrates how intense his onstage delivery could be, while he further exhibits his versatility as a composer and musician with the solo closing cuts “Ferry Boat #3” and “Score Piece #4.” The rest of the disc expands the input of Alice, Westerberg, movie band Citizen Dick, Posies side project Truly and others. But the loss of Cornell feels like a huge shadow over this world. He was one of the greats.
LONG STRANGE TRIP: A ROLLER-COASTER JOURNEY WITH THE DEAD
5/23/17
By Erik Himmelsbach Perhaps it was by design, but Long Strange Trip, Amir Bar-Lev’s expansive documentary of the Grateful Dead, feels a lot like a Dead show. For starters, the film is long: four hours and a minute, divided into six acts, with an intermission at the mid-point. Beyond these superficial similarities, Long Strange Trip takes its audience on a roller coaster ride not dissimilar to the live Dead experience: transcendent peaks accompanied by long dirge-like passages that make perfect bathroom breaks. But in the end, you feel nothing but ecstasy. For card-carrying Deadheads, even those who think they know all there is to know, Long Strange Trip is a revelation–a holy grail of rare footage, revealing interviews with band members and groovy, non-linear storytelling. For the rest of the world, the doc begins streaming on Amazon Prime 6/2, enabling less obsessed fans to watch this all-encompassing film in shorter bursts. The film plays theaters one night only on Thursday with weeklong runs in New York and Los Angeles. The Dead’s story has been told again and again, but Bar-Lev’s improvisational, non-linear storytelling crams a lot into four hours, leaving us wanting more. He tells the story through the prism of Jerry Garcia, from his tragic childhood–rooted in the drowning death of his father when he was just five–and follows his journey through his Palo Alto coffeehouse days, where he first teamed up with songwriting partner Robert Hunter and became a bluegrass ace, his jug band with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, onto The Warlocks and the Dead. The first half focuses on Garcia and the band’s journey through the 1960s and early 70s, the collective improvisation that overtook the group both onstage and in life, some great footage from their first trip to Europe and comic relief from both former Warner Bros. honcho Joe Smith, who plays the long-suffering exec who can’t control the crazy Bay Area hippies, and Sam Cutler, an acerbic Brit who signed on as the Dead’s tour manager in 1970 after leading the Rolling Stones on the road. Cutler was ostensibly brought aboard to organize the chaos, but he left after four years, waving a white flag of surrender. Bonus points for the priceless story about the Dead entourage dosing the set of the TV series Playboy After Dark during the band’s 1969 appearance. Beside the band, roadie Steve Parish provides poignant commentary about the family/communal/utopian culture surrounding the band, and, during a segment on Deadheads, Sen. Al Franken discusses his obsession with “Althea” and why the 1980 Nassau Coliseum version is the best ever. In spite of the enlightenment­–the Wall of Sound PA system, the Acid Tests, the trip to Egypt, Long Strange Trip is also shrouded with at least a little darkness–the deaths of Pigpen, Brent Mydland and a handful of others in the crew along the way. As Long Strange Trip progresses, it becomes less about the band than about Garcia’s long, sad spiral. As the Dead grew in the 1980s, the more he turned inward, mostly through drugs, often heroin. The band had become a fast moving machine with dozens on the payroll whose livelihood depended the wheels turning on the road. Forward momentum came at the expense of Garcia’s health. With a hit record in the late '80s, the Grateful Dead became a stadium act, and Deadheads came to view the guitarist as a messianic figure. Add to that a parking lot scene that became diluted by frat-boy types who didn’t grasp the band’s essential message and just wanted to party and mess shit up. It wasn’t what Garcia had signed up for. He was looked upon to lead, but Garcia didn’t believe in leaders. He was in the band to have fun, and it was becoming a drag, man. To deal with the pressure, he checked out, keeping those he loved at arm’s distance, until it was too late. While there’s a bit to quarrel with–key moments in the band’s history are glossed over or ignored, while others are beaten into the ground–Long Strange Trip nevertheless mind-blowingly captures the essence of the Grateful Dead, and of a generation.
BEACH BOYS AND CAPITOL OFFER
AN EXTRA TASTE OF HONEY
5/23/17
A month after releasing a 50th anniversary edition of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Capitol/UMe is unearthing sessions from The Beach Boys from half a century ago. The two-CD 1967–Sunshine Tomorrow brings together a first-ever stereo mix of The Beach Boys’ Wild Honey, portions of the Smiley Smile sessions, alternative takes and live recordings from ’67. In total, it’s 54 rarities, including the shelved “live” album, Lei’d in Hawaii. It comes out 6/30. A little history: The Beach Boys’ abandoned the SMiLE project in May 1967 and started Smiley Smile sessions booked at Brian Wilson’s new home studio in June. Capitol released Smiley Smile on 9/18; Wild Honey on 12/18. In August, with Brian on organ, The Beach Boys recorded two concerts and rehearsals in Honolulu. After returning how to L.A., the Honolulu concert tapes were deemed unusable and they started re-recording the live set at Brian’s house and at Wally Heider Recording in Hollywood. After the Wild Honey sessions finished on 11/15, Mike Love, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston embarked on The Beach Boys’ Thanksgiving Tour. The Beach Boys: 1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow Disc 1Wild Honey (Stereo)(New stereo mix, except as noted *. Recorded September 15 to November 15, 1967 at Brian Wilson’s house and at Wally Heider Recording in Hollywood, California) Wild Honey (2:45) Aren't You Glad (2:16) I Was Made To Love Her (2:07) Country Air (2:21) A Thing Or Two (2:42) Darlin’ (2:14) I'd Love Just Once To See You (1:49) Here Comes The Night (2:44) Let The Wind Blow (2:23) How She Boogalooed It (1:59) Mama Says * (Original Mono Mix) (1:08) Wild Honey Sessions + Live Recordings: September-November 1967 (Previously Unreleased) Lonely Days (Alternate Version) (1:45) Cool Cool Water (Alternate Early Version) (2:08) Time To Get Alone (Alternate Early Version) (3:08) Can't Wait Too Long (Alternate Early Version) (2:49) I'd Love Just Once To See You (Alternate Version) (2:22) I Was Made To Love Her (Vocal Insert Session) (1:35) I Was Made To Love Her (Long Version) (2:35) Hide Go Seek (0:51) Honey Get Home (1:22) Wild Honey (Session Highlights) (5:39) Aren't You Glad (Session Highlights) (4:21) A Thing Or Two (Track And Backing Vocals) (1:01) Darlin’ (Session Highlights) (4:36) Let The Wind Blow (Session Highlights) (4:14) Wild Honey (Live) (2:53) - recorded in Detroit, 11/17/1967 Country Air (Live) (2:20) - recorded in Detroit, 11/17/1967 Darlin’ (Live) (2:25) - recorded in Pittsburgh, 11/22/1967 How She Boogalooed It (Live) (2:43) - recorded in Detroit, 11/22/196730. Aren’t You Glad (Live) (3:12) - recorded in 1970, location unknown Mama Says (Session Highlights) (3:08) Disc 2Smiley Smile Sessions: June - July 1967 (Previously Unreleased)(Recorded June and July 1967 at Brian Wilson’s house, Western Recorders, SRS, and/or Columbia Studios, except as noted *) Heroes And Villains (Single Version Backing Track) (3:38) Vegetables (Long Version) (2:55) Fall Breaks And Back To Winter (Alternate Mix) (2:28) Wind Chimes (Alternate Tag Section) (0:48) Wonderful (Backing Track) (2:23) With Me Tonight (Alternate Version With Session Intro) (0:51) Little Pad (Backing Track) (2:40) All Day All Night (Whistle In) (Alternate Version 1) (1:04) All Day All Night (Whistle In) (Alternate Version 2) (0:50) Untitled (Redwood) * (0:35)(Previously unreleased instrumental fragment. Studio and exact recording date unknown. Discovered in tape box labeled “Redwood”)  Lei'd In Hawaii “Live” Album: September 1967 (Previously Unreleased)(Recorded 9/11/67 at Wally Heider Recording in Hollywood, CA, with additional recording 9/29/67 (except as noted *). Fred Vail Intro   (0:24) The Letter (1:54) You're So Good To Me (2:31) Help Me, Rhonda (2:24) California Girls (2:30) Surfer Girl (2:17) Sloop John B (2:50) With A Little Help From My Friends * (2:21) Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring * (2:33)God Only Knows (2:45)Good Vibrations (4:13)Game Of Love (2:11)The Letter (Alternate Take) (1:56)With A Little Help From My Friends (Stereo Mix) (2:21)  Live In Hawaii: August 1967 (Previously Unreleased) (The following tracks derive from the original 1” 8-track master reels discovered in the Brother Records Archives.) Hawthorne Boulevard (1:05) Surfin' (1:40) Gettin’ Hungry (3:19) Hawaii (Rehearsal Take) (1:11) Heroes And Villains (Rehearsal) (4:45) Thanksgiving Tour 1967: Live In Washington, D.C. & Boston (Previously Unreleased) California Girls (Live) (2:32) - recorded in Washington, DC, 11/19/1967 Graduation Day (Live) (2:56) - recorded in Washington, DC, 11/19/1967 I Get Around (Live) (2:53) - recorded in Boston, 11/23/1967 Additional 1967 Studio Recordings (Previously Unreleased) Surf’s Up (1967 Version) (5:25) (Recorded during the Wild Honey sessions in November 1967) Surfer Girl (1967 A Capella Mix) (2:17) (Previously unreleased mix of Lei’d In Hawaii take from the Wally Heider Recording sessions in September 1967)    
THE RETURN OF ROGER WATERS
5/22/17
Roger Waters treated friends and family to a dress rehearsal of his Us + Them show at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena Sunday night, powering his way through two hours of solo work, new tunes and plenty of Pink Floyd classics. The tour starts Friday in Kansas City, stopping at Staples Center on 6/20-21 and 6/27 and 9/11-12 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The concert, divided into two sets, is heavy on extraordinary visuals beamed behind Waters and his 10-piece band and, during the second half, down the middle of the arena’s floor. The imagery ranges from scenes of wealth and poverty, classic Pink Floyd visuals and a healthy barrage of anti-Trump and anti-war sentiment. Us + Them is Waters’ first tour since the 2010-2013 run of “The Wall Live.” The set list includes “Money,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Welcome to the Machine” and “Brain Damage,” which is accompanied by a spectacular laser display. Columbia will release Waters’ first studio rock album in 25 years, Is This the Life We Really Want?, on 6/2.   Photos by Kate Izor      
AN EPIC LOOK AT ROOTS MUSIC
5/15/17
By Phil Gallo Isolation. If there’s one word that encapsulates and binds the music explored in the PBS series American Epic, which premieres Tuesday, isolation is it. Epic looks at the earliest recordings of music performed in rural settings such as Appalachia, the Mexican border, southwestern Louisiana, Native American territory and the Mississippi Delta and examines how that music, captured in its unadulterated form, received its initial distribution. It’s the story of music recorded in the 1920s by enterprising label executives, most of them associated with Victor and Okeh, who ventured into the South from major cities to find music rooted in tradition and unadulterated by any outside influences. While recordings were made in New York, St. Louis, Atlanta and elsewhere, only one urban area is covered here—Memphis—for its role in birthing the blues. As the series explains itself, these are “the sounds of working people.” Sony Legacy has released an impressive five-CD box set with music divided geographically that goes further into the stories of the music makers and the music industry’s leap into tapping regional markets with local music. Jack White and T Bone Burnett executive produced the series and led the follow-up concert film with contemporary artists, American Epic Sessions, which airs 6/6. This series is very much a deep dive into the vaults of Sony Music; considering White’s involvement and the amount of time devoted to Charley Patton, it’s surprising the doc does not delve into the impact of Paramount Records, which his Third Man Records has compiled in two box sets. Robert Redford, the other executive producer, provides the dry narration. In a manner similar to Ken BurnsJazz, director Bernard MacMahon has employed a Great Men in History style, positioning Ralph Peer, the Carter Family, Memphis Jug Band leader Will Shade, Lydia Mendoza, Patton and an obscure preacher, Elder J.H. Burch, as the most vital forces for their respective musical styles. The filmmakers save the best story for last, the tale of Mississippi John Hurt (pictured), or as Redford says, “the saga of American Epic in microcosm.” Okeh was looking for musicians to bring to Memphis and the road trip eventually led to Hurt’s hometown, the village of Avalon, Miss. He recorded 20 sides in two sessions, the first in Memphis in 1928 and the second in New York a year later. His songs “Candyman” and “Avalon Blues” were considered hit records, though the Depression put an end to his recording career. He worked on farms from the 1930s through the ‘50s, though his legend started to grow after Harry Smith included two of his songs on the 1952 compilation Anthology of American Folk Music. Hurt was rediscovered in the early 1960s, his comeback starting with the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. In an interview at the festival, Hurt notes that the Bible says “older men teach the younger ones. Glad that’s something they want.” Sharp listeners will realize Bob Dylan is introducing “Mr. Tambourine Man” in the background. To differentiate itself from similar docs, American Epic turns to relatives for their take on their ancestors’ achievements. In far too many cases the grandchildren are clueless; the tool works wonderfully when the descendants are actively involved in promulgating the music—Louisiana’s Breaux family and Ralph Peer II provide some of the strongest testimony. At times, American Epic connects dots from these early recordings to rock-era stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Nas and The Rolling Stones, but most of that exercise is left to the Sessions performances from Willie Nelson, Beck, Rhiannon Giddens, Taj Mahal, Elton John, White, Nas and others. Columbia is releasing the Sessions soundtrack on 6/9, three days after it premieres. The BBC is airing the series this month as well. Legacy has released 100-song (5-CD) and 15-song (1-CD) sets of original recordings featured on the series.    
WAXING RHAPSODIC ABOUT STING
5/15/17
From his 1985 solo debut album The Dream of The Blue Turtles to his most recent 57th and 9th, Sting is releasing his entire 12-album discography on vinyl. The Complete Studio Collection will be available starting 06/09, but it is available for preorder now. The set will include the albums he released via A&M/Interscope in addition to his work with Deutsche Grammophon. This marks the first time Sting’s entire solo studio catalog has been brought together in one package. For fans who purchased the original box set The Studio Collection, A&M/Interscope Records/Deutsche Grammophon have prepared a special supplement that includes the four most recent of Sting’s releases titled The Studio Collection: Volume II. All of the LPs were cut onto 180-gram vinyl at the world renowned Abbey Road Studios. Sting himself made the announcement of his catalogue release in a video you can see below. The former frontman for The Police is currently on tour with 57th and 9th, and will accept the 2017 Polar Music Prize on 6/15 in Stockholm, in the presence of the Swedish royal family. In other news of artists and dignitaries, Scott Baio joined President Trump for a hoagie last weekend.  
LOGIC PREMIERES EVERYBODY DOC
5/11/17
By Kenz MeadowsCoinciding with the release of his third full-length album, Everybody, Def Jam’s Logic premiered a documentary of the same name to the screams and accolades of an incredibly devoted fanbase at Los Angeles’ Wiltern last night (5/10). The doc follows the initial conception of the album, and introduces all of the many collaborators. It also serves as a uniquely personal window into the artist's creative process, and the roots of his music’s philosophy.In the film, Logic describes his vision for the story of his album as the story of a man named Atom, who discovers that every human that is living and ever has lived is really the same person having been reborn into different lives. This is a process of self-discovery. Atom realizes he is every person that’s ever lived, and only when he’s experienced life from every point of view, will he really be able to understand humanity. Each of the album’s tracks is intended to represent a different perspective.Logic talks about the perspective he most relates to in “Anziety,” which has a feature from folk/rock singer Lucy Rose. Here he raps about his experience battling anxiety everyday, calling out society for not wanting to be open about it. He utilizes spoken-word prose at the close of the song, telling the story of his very first panic attack that put him in the hospital. He describes the feeling, saying his mind was “full of clarity, but [his] body insisted it was in danger.” He admits to being human and therefore scared, implying the two are part and parcel to each other. The song is an honest expression of “how hard it is to live,” while being full of acceptance, as he explained at the event after the documentary in his live Q&A.The whole album, which could very well debut at #1 on the Sales Plus Streaming (SPS) Chart tomorrow, heavily references the duality of his perspective, being biracial but fair-skinned. That topic in particular serves as the force behind the infectious “Black SpiderMan,” while suicidal demons are probed on the goosebump-inducing “1-800-273-8255,” which features rising stars Alessia Cara and Khalid. (Yes, that is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.)Everybody is powerful and inclusive, which is made evident by the investment and commitment of his collaborators. Its power was also showcased by the multiple fans who took the mic during the Q&A literally fighting through sobs to express their gratitude for the man and his music, some referring to him as a savior, while others called him an inspiration, and one particularly affected fan said Logic is the closest thing he's ever had to a father figure. The documentary is a tribute to Logic’s unstoppable passion and portrays him as the creative tour-de-force he truly is. Logic has made it very clear his next album will be his last, but to expect plenty more art to come from him in other mediums as well as music.**Event photos courtesy of Liliane Lathan for Getty Images
SGT. PEPPER REMIXED AT 50:
AN HOMAGE TO MONO
5/1/17
Billy Shears has handed his center stage spot to Giles Martin in the act you’ve known for all these years. It’s Martin’s taste, technical skills and echoes of his father’s instructions that have guided him in creating a new version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  that Apple Corps/Capitol/UMe will release 5/26 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles landmark album. He and Apple Corps CEO Jeff Jones are traveling with the music, visiting New York last week and Los Angeles now, explaining motivations and techniques used during the 18 months the new Sgt. Pepper came to fruition. “The new mixes are an homage to what they did when they mixed the mono version. The stereo [mixes] were a throwaway,” Martin told a New York gathering old enough to remember what the album sounded like on transistor radios. Giles has the upper-crust air of his father George, whose euphonious speaking voice gave every subject he discussed an air of worthy intellectual pursuit. Martin's speech is so dignified, so scholarly, it helps sell the idea that a sacred artifact can indeed be improved, a fact some Beatles fans may find hard to swallow. Giles became George’s ears in the mid-1980s when his father’s hearing started to deteriorate, and he has played a central role in executing the wishes of his father as well as those of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison. With Steve Berkowitz, he artfully restored The Beatles mono catalog on LP and at the time, was able to often retell the story of how the mono versions were the ones that mattered to the boys; he had his chance to go off-roading with the Cirque du Soleil show LOVE, breaking down every original tape and reassembling them to create wholly new music. The new Sgt. Pepper relies on the spirit of the former and the technology of the latter. The result is a brighter, cleaner, more-defined edition of The Beatles’ classic 1967 LP. Martin returned to the original tapes of each instrument and vocal and remixed  according to instructions John, Paul, George, Ringo and his father had left when the album was first mixed in mono. (The Beatles did not attend mix sessions for their stereo albums). Martin mixed first generation recordings, actual drum, bass and vocal parts—or as he put it, we’re now listening to Ringo hit a drum as opposed to a second or third generation tape of Ringo hitting a drum. Most important in “paying homage to the mono”: Position the vocals in the middle. Before playing the album in full on McIntosh’s highest end equipment through Sonus Faber speakers that sell for five figures, Martin presented a few A/B examples of the stereo album available now and the new mix. He noted the separation between Paul’s voice and the cello on “She Leaving Home” in the current version and how the upcoming release will place McCartney’s voice in the center and leave the cello in the left channel. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was selected as an example of better overall clarity of the instruments; “Lovely Rita” is a prime example of Starr’s presence having a greater impact; and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” has a double-tracked vocal effect on it that was previously only on the mono edition. Martin said there were two troublesome tracks: “A Day in the Life,” which he remixed seven times, and “Fixing a Hole.”  He also played outtakes that will be on the deluxe version including a few that reveal how “A Day in the Life’s” final chord came to pass. The album will sit side-by-side on streaming services for at least a year at which point it will replace the older version as the new, definitive Sgt. Pepper
VERVE CELEBRATES ELLA AT 100
4/28/17
Catching their breath after attempting to scat their way through “Lullaby of Birdland” are, from left, Verve Label Group CEO and President Danny Bennett, Commissioner  Julie Menin, Tony Bennett, and the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation’s Fran Morris-Rosman and Richard Rosman. Tony Bennett helped the City of New York declare 4/25 Ella Fitzgerald Day at a ceremony on at the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center. Bennett saluted his fellow New Yorker Ella on what would have been her 100th birthday with “Our Love Is Here To Stay”;  vocal students from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts sang an Ella fave “Blue Skies.” Danny Bennett took over Verve a year ago and a Fitzgerald reissue project with Universal Music Enterprises is among its first major vault excavation. “I am truly humbled to now be the keeper of the flame and contributing to shine a well-deserved light on artists of the magnitude of Ella Fitzgerald,” he said. The jewel in the initial 100th celebration releases is the six-LP box Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbooks. With arrangements by Nelson Riddle, who wraps Ella in layers of comfort, the set comprises recordings made in nine sessions between January and late August 1959. The set, originally released as a five-LP set, was the ambitious follow-up to her songbook series that covered Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin. The sound of the LPs is the sort that makes vinyl aficionados and audiophiles swoon—a properly placed emphasis on the vocals, a precision in the reproductions of the strings and brass, especially in the lower and higher registers, and a feeling of air in the performance. Not only are these among Ella's best studio performances, the audio quality of the originals is a gold standard as well.  This is not jazzy Ella. There is an allegiance to melody and lyrics, swinging in spots such as the “That Certain Feeling,” “A Foggy Day,” "Our Love is Here to Stay" and “The Man I Love.” At its best—which is 90% of these cuts—the set is a divine example of elegance and grace. Even when some of the performances are loaded with formality and an emphasis on enunciation, they often still manage to shine: Her “Someone to Watch Over Me,” "Slap That Bass"  and “Bidin’ My Time,” to cite three examples, are carefully sung though stylistically rich and affecting whether they be uptempo and comic or heartfelt balladry.  And when the clanky “The Real American Folk Song” comes on, sounding out of place in this collection, its saving grace is in the revelation that Ella can make any lyric palatable.     The package, which includes prints of Bernard Buffet’s six illustrations that were used as album covers in the original 1959 release, features a book that dives deep into the details about Gershwins’ work, how this set of songs came to be and how the brothers worked together. Unfortunately, beyond personnel listings, the book lacks information on the Fitzgerald-Riddle dynamic. They’re story, as they say, is in the grooves.  
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