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HITS Daily Double
Critics' Choice
WORTH THE WAITE
10/16/22

Gravitas Ventures will premiere the documentary feature John Waite: The Hard Way on 12/06. Filmed during the pandemic, the doc offers an intimate look at the life of '80s British rocker Waite—from his time with the pioneering rock-video band The Babys in the 1970s to touring with Ringo Starr and fronting the supergroup Bad English.

It also features lost and rare archival music videos and photos, interviews with songwriter Diane Warren and songwriter/guitarist Neil Giraldo, among others, feature footage from Waite’s tour with Starr and his collaboration with Alison Krauss.

Mike J. Nichols, who helmed ZAPPAEcho in the Canyon and The Play at Shea, directed the feature and co-produced with Scott 'Shadow Steele' Wright and Michele Farinola (Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My VoiceDavid Crosby: Remember My Name). It will be available on multiple streaming platforms, including Apple atat TVAmazonRoku and Google Chromecast as well as DVD and BluRay Discs via Amazon. 

“Opening the front door at the crack of dawn in my boxers to a film crew signified how the documentary would go,” Waite said. “It’s an unvarnished take on my life, just the cold hard truth.”

Throughout the course of his career, Waite penned a dozen Top 40 singles—including the #1 hits 'Missing You” and “When I See You Smile'—and sold a total of approximately 10m copies. Waite’s greatest hits album Singles and four-song EP Anything arrived via No Brakes Records earlier this year. He's currently on a U.S. tour in support of both. Find the dates here and trailer here while we try and correct our own bad English. 

CAN’T LET GO: MY ENDURING
MIXTAPE OBSESSION
1/4/22

By Bud Scoppa

For some of us, making lists of the movies, TV series, books and records that capture our attention is more than a pastime—it’s an addictive way of expressing ourselves through our taste.

In that sense, my interactive relationship with music has changed very little over the years. As soon as I got my first Sony stereo cassette deck in the early ’70s, I began assembling mixtapes of songs that grabbed me. I was obsessive about this activity, spending hours meticulously transferring tracks from vinyl albums to tape, giving each compilation a title and decorating each J-card with ink and highlighters. The fact that I knew and often worked with the musicians whose music I was compiling made the process that much more intimately involving.

A few months back, my vinyl-collecting grandson’s purchase of a Walkman inspired me to dust off a bunch of the scores of cassettes in my garage, buy a new tape deck and revisit them. Some of them still sound surprisingly good and bring the memories flooding back.

With the advent of iTunes in the early aughts, the process became much less labor-intensive, as I made playlists, burned them onto CDs and gave them to friends. Now, it’s practically effortless to make and share playlists, thanks to Spotify.

Even so, a part of me is still drawn to collecting what’s now referred to, inelegantly, as “physical product,” and admiring those increasingly uncommon bands and artists whose ambition leads them to create coherent albums. In 2021, there were five LPs that conjured worlds I wanted to explore from one end to the other—records that magically compressed the distance the 1970s and the 2020s for me: The War on DrugsI Don’t Live Here Anymore, Big Red Machine’s How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night SweatsThe Future, Robert Plant & Alison KraussRaise the Roof and Kings of Leon’s unexpected return to peak form, When You See Yourself. Haven’t spent enough time with Lindsey Buckingham’s self-titled LP yet, but from the echoes of Tusk and and Out of the Cradle in the delectably twisted tracks I’ve sampled, I suspect it’ll make the cut as well.

Diving deeper, I also found the box set Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal—containing renditions of 41 songs from the discography of the last artist I signed during my years at Zoo Entertainment—to be a consistently moving tribute to this gifted, sensitive artist, who died in 2019. And Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers (Alternate Versions) hits me just as hard. Can’t believe those guys are gone.

All of the above and more are represented on—what else?—a playlist of my go-to tracks released in 2021.

 

DYLAN IN THE '80S REDUX
9/18/21

If there is a consistent element in the bulk of Bob Dylan studio recordings released in the first 15 editions of Columbia/Legacy’s Bootleg Series it’s the sense that had Dylan had an astute command of when a song was finished.

Particularly when one listens to alternate takes of the songs from the mid-1960s when he added electric instrumentation to the mix and his ‘90s material when he was on the brink of churning out a series of brilliant albums, there’s evidence that Dylan was just a hook, a new tempo or an altered chorus or arrangement away from a definitive take.

That’s not the case with Springtime in New York, 1980-1985, released Friday as a five-CD set with a fabulous book of photos and as a two-CD “best of.”

In Vol. 16, Springtime in New York, we’re treated to outtakes that may as well be titled Another Side of Bob Dylan were that title not already taken. Through covers of blues, gospel and folk old songs plus rehearsals and alternate versions of songs that appeared on Shot of Love, Infidels, and Empire Burlesque, the five-CD set provides a thorough reappraisal of an oft-dismissed period that came on the heels of his Christian-themed albums and finds the Bard adapting to recording styles that prevailed at the dawn of the MTV era.

The revelation from the Christian era Bootleg Series was how strong a band Dylan employed for those tours and recordings and it continues on Springtime’s offerings with bands that included Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr and the reggae masters Sly & Robbie. Similarly, over the five years covered here, Dylan’s voice is remarkably consistent in timbre; he alters the intensity rather than the range to make point, song after song.

Since each recording is a full take, the five CDs feel like complete artistic statements; it’s one of the most listenable editions of the Bootleg series featuring studio recordings. And from start to finish, it’s a great sounding set.

Particularly revelatory are the sparse reading of “Lenny Bruce”; “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love)” stripped of its au courant 1985 production sheen; a striking reading of The Temptations’ hit “I Wish It Would Rain”; a haunting piano-guitar version of “Blind Willie McTell”  with Knopfler; “Clean Cut Kid” run through the throwback machine that landed at an early Chuck Berry Chess session; and “I and I” sounding like it was pulled from a choir’s hymnal. The truly never-before-released gem “Julius and Ethel,” from 1983, is a post-“Hurricane” romp and precursor for the more recent “Murder Most Foul,” a sign Dylan never lost his story-telling abilities.

The set closes with two of his best songs of the decade, “New Danville Girl” and “Dark Eyes” in versions that resemble the Dylan his fans loved in the ‘60s and again in the 21st century: Raw, urgent, vibrant records that out the songs and the singer at the fore.

 

KEYS TO THE HILL COUNTRY BLUES
5/11/21

By Bud Scoppa

Spotify’s scintillating new playlist Hill Country Blues is now streamable, with the inaugural list co-curated (in collaboration with either humans or algorithms) by The Black Keys. The Hill Country Blues playlist illuminates the history and heritage of an exotically funky subgenre indigenous to Northern Mississippi that inspired The Black Keys back in their Akron days and comes full circle with their new covers album, Delta Kream, out Friday on Nonesuch.

The playlist includes two tracks from the LP, including a kickass falsetto reimaging of from R.L. Burnside’s “Going Down South” featuring incendiary slide work from local hero Kenny Brown, alongside classic and obscure cuts from the likes of Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Little Jr. Parker, Jessie Mae Hemphill, T-Model Ford and Robert Belfour

If we’d been co-curating with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, we would’ve insisted on a selection or three from modern-day perpetuators the North Mississippi Allstars, but perhaps they’ll get a shot when the list turns over. 

'There would be no Black Keys without this music,” Dan and Pat readily acknowledge. “Hill Country Blues represents the concentric circle where we crossed over musically as teenagers. Artists like Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell and T-Model Ford are heroes to us. We made Delta Kream with Kenny Brown and Eric Deaton to remember where we come from and celebrate the music we love. The raw sound of Hill Country Blues and songs represented on this list are some that kept us going in those early days of touring, driving all night in the van. We hope fans can do a deep dive on these artists and realize how important they are to the canon of American Music.”


AN A-MAYS-ING DAY
5/6/21

Willie Mays, the personification of perfection on the ballfield, turns 90 today and scribes across the land are weighing in on the distinct qualities of the spectacular home run-hitting, base-stealing centerfielder for the Giants and Mets from 1951 to 1973. ESPN has this; a NY Times piece is here.

The jump blues combo The Treniers, led by identical twins Cliff and Claude Trenier, were among the first to introduce the word “rock” in their material and in 1955 they released a tribute to Mays, who had a spectacular season the year before. After losing two prime seasons to Army duty, 1954 was the year of The Catch and a World Series victory for the New York Giants.

 

GEARBOX HITS NEW MILESTONES
2/24/21

Black-owned indie label Gearbox has operated with a vinyl-first ethos since being launched by Darrel Sheinman in 2009.

The London-based label, which focuses on jazz, electronic, funk, Americana, ambient and lo-fi soul, has accumulated over 50 releases in its 12+ years and is hitting new milestones this year, including opening its first office in Japan. 

“This is the second-largest music market after the U.S., and our music and products are a good fit there. Having a local presence will help us exploit the nuances of that market,” shared Sheinman.

Additionally, Gearbox inked its first Japanese artist, Chihei Hatakayama, released a series of 15 Japanese Editions with Japanese liner notes and obi strip, which are available in the U.S. with the last few arriving in March, as well as other limited vinyl series available on their direct shop.

The series includes new pressings of vinyl from legends likes Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich and Abdullah Ibrahim, newcomers like Theon Cross and Butcher Brown, as well as a Don Cherry 1965 session that was previously unreleased until a 2019 limited Record Day Store release, which included three new compositions and will be available via standard edition and Japanese edition LP in the U.S., plus more.

They also dropped a limited edition pressing of London duo Binker & Moses’ live album, Escape the Flames.

Mentored by Blue Note engineer Rudy Van Gelder, Sheinman has amassed the same gear that Van Gelder previously used, including a Studer C37 valve reel-to-reel tape machine. The studio also has direct-to-disc capabilities.

Audiophiles can learn more about Gearbox here.

A SURPRISE FROM RHIANNON GIDDENS
2/11/21

Rhiannon Giddens has a surprise new album They're Calling Me Home (Nonesuch) featuring Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi that will be released 4/9. Giddens has released a video for the title track.

Giddens and Turrisi have been holed up in Ireland since March due to the pandemic. Drawn to the music of their native and adoptive countries of America, Italy and Ireland, Giddens and Turrisi decamped to Hellfire, a small studio on a working farm outside of Dublin, to record 12 songs over six days.

TOWER OF POWER: FUNKY AT 50
2/11/21

Tower of Power’s celebration of its 50th anniversary—a two-night performance in Oakland in June 2018—will be released on video and various audio formats via Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group.

The Hi-Res digital edition of 50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater–Oakland, CA–June 2018  will be available for streaming and download on Qobuz on 2/26; a three-LP set, a two-CD/DVD combo, a standalone DVD and digital offerings are set for 3/26.

For the shows, band leader/saxophonist Emilio Castillo invited several ToP alumni, among them saxophonist Lenny Pickett, keyboardist Chester Thompson, guitarist Bruce Conte and singer Ray Greene, who showed off his trombone prowess. The current lineup includes co-founder Stephen “Doc” Kupka on baritone sax and longtime drummer David Garibaldi.

The setlist includes the classics “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “Don’t Change Horses” to songs from recent albums on Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group, Soul Side of Town (2018) and Step Up (2020).

“You can take the boy out of Oakland, but you can't take the Oakland out of the boy,” Castillo says. “We always called the East Bay, where we were from, the dark side of the Bay. It was more ethnic, with a lot of blacks, Hispanics and Asians, and soul was the thing there. So, we called our first album East Bay Grease and put a map of Oakland on the cover, which proved to be a really smart move. People all over the world started saying that we represent the Oakland soul sound.”

ELVIS COSTELLO'S FORCES
TO BE RECKONED WITH
10/2/20

Elvis Costello has long been personally involved in reissues of his catalog, but he takes it to a new level by enhancing his revered and essential 1979 album, The Complete Armed Forces.

UMe is releasing on 11/6 a super deluxe edition box set with nine pieces of vinyl—three 12-inch LPs, three 10-inch LPs and three 7-inch singles—that includes a new remaster of the album, B-sides, alternate versions and outtakes, demos, and live recordings. Costello’s shows in ’78 and ’79 with The Attractions were explosive and the set includes –23 unreleased live tracks from three concerts.

Available today are three live performances—“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?,” “Goon Squad” and “Pump It Up.”

The lavish box set embraces Barney Bubbles’ epic pop-art packaging, including the paint-splattered cover artwork by Bubbles and Bazooka (used for the American release and included in the fold-out U.K. version) and features a unique origami cover that folds out to display the bold art and graphics and the six vinyl LPs.

This set contains seven custom notebooks with newly updated liner notes from Costello, facsimiles of first-draft, handwritten lyrics and rare photos, memorabilia and concert ephemera.

“Most of this record was written in hotel rooms or on a tour bus, scribbled in a notebook which rarely left my side or failing this, from fragments and phrases scrawled on paper cocktail napkins or hotel notepaper,” Costello writes in the liner notes.

The comprehensive set also includes a print of the vintage grenade and gun poster and the four original postcards of each band member. Additionally, Costello commissioned acclaimed artist Todd Alcott to create pulp novel book covers of songs from Armed Forces starring himself as the protagonist in a variety of precarious situations.

 

JOHN WAITE DOC BEING SHOT
9/22/20

Former HITS loser and radio semi-legend Scott Wright (Shadow Steele) is directing the feature documentary John Waite—The Hard Way, a no-holds-barred look at the life and career of the British rocker. Waite rose to fame as the front man of The Babys in the late ‘70s, found bigger success as a solo artist in the ‘80s, and again with supergroup Bad English. Wright invites artists and execs who have John Waite stories to tell, or who simply admire his talent, to reach out to [email protected] for possible inclusion in the film. The photo is of Waite and Wright filming a poolside chat.