Saturday, March 18, 2017

David Bowie "Bowpromo" (2017 Record Store Day special release)

As of this writing, we are still awaiting the complete official list of special releases for Record Store Day 2017. However, details of some of the releases have been reported. Two David Bowie recordings have been excavated from the vaults, and will be issued on limited edition vinyl by Parlophone. One of them, titled Cracked Actor, is a previously unreleased 3-LP set documenting a 1974 live show performed in Los Angeles. (The concert figured into a 1974 Bowie documentary film of the same title, which was never released commercially). The other Record Store Day item is a reissue of a rare 1971 promo LP called Bowpromo.

Thr RSD edition of Bowpromo is a single-sided 12-inch LP, limited to 5,000 copies, containing alternate mixes of seven Bowie songs from the early ‘70’s: five songs that were released on his classic 1971 album Hunky Dory, an outtake (“Bombers”) from that same album, and “It Ain’t Easy”, Bowie’s glam-rock rendition of Ron Davies’ blues song which was released on the 1972 Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album.

“It Ain’t Easy” sounds the same to my ears as the Ziggy Stardust version, but the Hunky Dory songs are notably different than the versions on the album. “Oh! You Pretty Things” and especially “Eight Line Poem” have “unfinished” sounds, noticeably missing a production layer or two: the difference in the former is not significant, but the latter has a different vocal track, and has a Velvet Underground-like feel without its production sheen. On this mix of “Kooks”, Bowie’s vocals and the instrumentation both sound farther away – not necessarily a bad thing, because this version of the song has a warmer sound than the album version, and has its own Kinks-like likability. Bowie’s vocals on “Queen Bitch” also have a farther-away sound – not exactly a good thing, because he is overpowered by Mick Ronson’s guitar raunch and the song loses a bit of its attitude.

Surprisingly, the last two tracks actually sound far superior to the versions that were released. The ballad “Quicksand” has a mix that draws more attention to the orchestration and to Rick Wakeman’s piano, giving the song a whole new level of ethereal beauty. The outtake “Bombers”, which has a faster tempo than most Hunky Dory tracks, eventually turned up as a CD bonus track on the 1990 Rykodisc edition of that album. The Bowpromo mix has clearer and more appealing sound than that other version, and the added effects help Bowie’s final high note come across better at the end. A snippet of the intro from “Andy Warhol” can briefly be heard at the end.

So, why are all seven tracks crammed onto one side of this LP? The original pressing of Bowpromo dates back to 1971. It originally had no official title, although "Rough Mix" was scrawled on the plain white sleeve; "Bowpromo" was part of the matrix number imprinted in the dead wax. The disc reportedly only had 500 copies pressed, and was used to promote Bowie’s work to record labels before he was signed to RCA. The seven Bowie tracks were contained on the first side, while the second side contained five tracks by English singer/actress Dana Gillespie. These five songs turned up on Gillespie’s 1973 album Weren’t Born A Man and/or her 1994 compilation CD Andy Warhol: The Best of the Mainman Years.

It may seem exploitative to turn the disc into a strictly-Bowie title for this Record Store Day edition, but Gillespie’s tracks were not likely to be of much interest to Bowie fans, especially in America, where Gillespie is not well known. The exception would be the song “Andy Warhol”, which Bowie wrote for Gillespie. Gillespie’s version of the song is livelier and more straightforward than the odd version Bowie recorded for Hunky Dory, and the Bowpromo mix was even better, without the excessive production effects of her album version.

How were Gillespie’s other Bowpromo tracks? “Mother Don’t Be Frightened” sounded the same as her album version (which was produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson); it’s a heartfelt ballad built on piano and strings, made strong by Gillespie’s soulful vocals. The same description applies to her album version of “Never Knew”, although the Bowpromo mix sounded like a demo, with piano but no orchestration. The Bowpromo mix of “Lavender Hill” also sounds like a piano-based demo, with awkward vocals; the much-improved studio version was not heard until it was released on the Andy Warhol compilation in 1994.

David Bowie - Bowpromo

David Bowie “Bowpromo” (Parlophone) 2017

Track Listing:

1. Oh! You Pretty Things
2. Eight Line Poem
3. Kooks
4. It Ain't Easy
5. Queen Bitch
6. Quicksand
7. Bombers / Andy Warhol Intro

David Bowie & Dana Gillespie “Rough Mix” (Gem BOWPROMO 1A-1/1B-1) 1971

Track Listing:

1. Oh, You Pretty Thing/Eight Line Poem (Bowie)
2. Kooks (Bowie)
3. It Ain’t Easy (Davis)
4. Queen Bitch (Bowie)
5. Quicksand (Bowie)
6. Bomber (Bowie)
7. Mother Don’t Be Frightened (Gillespie)
8. Andy Warhol (Bowie)
9. Never Knew (Gillespie)
10. All Cut Up On You (Gillespie)
11. Lavender Hill (Gillespie)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Distractions "Kindly Leave The Stage" and "Go Dark" (2017)

The Distractions were an unjustly overlooked band from Manchester, England, who recorded only one full-length album, 1980's Nobody's Perfect, during their original run. They broke up in 1981 after failing to achieve commercial success, but there have been a number of Distractions reunions in recent years, featuring original singer Mike Finney and original guitarist Steve Perrin. A new lineup released a second Distractions album, titled The End Of The Pier, in 2012 -- 32 years after the debut album. And now, the Distractions are about to issue their third -- and, they say, final -- album, titled Kindly Leave The Stage, on May 12, 2017.

Although the album’s official release date is two months away, the album can be pre-ordered from the Occultation Recordings website. Some of the packages offered also include a 10-inch vinyl EP called Go Dark, which is limited to 250 copies. There might still be time to obtain one!

Kindly Leave The Stage was recorded over the course of three days in September of 2015. It was produced by Nick Halliwell, the head of Occultation Recordings, who also played guitar. The rhythm section consisted of Arash Torabi from Granite Shore on bass, and Ian Henderson from The Puddle on drums.

Kindly Leave The Stage lies in the same basic mellow pop vein as The End Of The Pier, but is even more laid back, suggesting that Finney and Perrin had mellowed even further with age during the few years in between. The first two tracks (“A Few Miles More” and “Last To Leave”) have just a minimum of adult-alternative vigor. The rest of the tracks have a mostly understated tone, a middle ground between American country music and indie pop. The instrumentation moves at a relaxed and deliberate pace for most of the album. Aside from one striking side trip into baroque pop territory (“Wake Up And Kiss Me Goodbye”), most of the songs are of a melancholy nature, which has always been the Distractions' forte. But where vocalist Mike Finney once came across like a heartbroken young man, he now seems to sing from the point of view of an older man who has lived and learned, and who now realizes that heartaches will eventually pass. On songs such as “The Fire” and “Nowhere”, Finney sounds calmly accepting of the fact that passion fades away over time. The latter song possibly alludes to one of the early Distractions singles, with the lyrics: “I know we used to think that time went by too slow, Now there’s nothing left to do and there’s nowhere left to go”. Finney comes on like a moody Johnny Cash on “The Connection’s Dropped Again”, whose title sounds like a modern variation on “Still It Doesn’t Ring”. The overall tone of the album does support the claim that it is meant to be the Distractions' swan song, but it is not an overly emotional goodbye. Rather, it is painted as a sad but expected part of life. When the opening track contains a line like “I haven’t felt like this since Elvis Presley died”, it would suggest that Finney and Perrin certainly do hate to see the Distractions come to its final end, but they seem grateful to have been given the opportunity to issue a proper farewell. True to its title, Kindly Leave The Stage serves as a quiet and graceful exit.

Go Dark is a 10-inch vinyl-only EP limited to 250 copies, sold only through internet orders by Occultation and the New Zealand label Fishrider Records. The three songs on Side A are Kindly Leave The Stage outtakes, recorded in September 2015. Surprisingly, those three tracks sound quite reminiscent of the original Distractions. In fact, “Nothing Lasts” was written by original member Adrian Wright, shortly before the band’s 1981 dissolution; it has a throbbing bass line that gives it a new-wave-like tension, and it brings out some of the old emotional intensity in Finney’s singing. Finney shows some of that same zest in the 18-string version of “Last To Leave”, which has a faster tempo and a fuller, more jangly guitar sound than the version on the album. An even bigger surprise comes when Perrin takes the lead vocal on the moody ‘60’s-style ballad “Skin”; he doesn’t have Finney’s soul, but Perrin’s crooning does have a haunting quality of its own.

The three songs on Side B are acoustic renditions of songs from The End Of The Pier, recorded in June 2011 by Finney, Perrin, and Halliwell. Former Spooky Tooth drummer Mike Kellie (who passed away this past January) played a bodhrán on “Too Late To Change”, giving this rendition a distinct Celtic flavor. The acoustic version of “Girl Of The Year” is equally as effective as the album version at conveying the loneliness of the title character. “Wise”, which was written by Halliwell, is sung as a duet between Finney and Perrin, making them sound like gently bickering bandmates.

If you’ve been wishing that the newer Distractions material sounded a little more like the older stuff, then the Go Dark EP may be just what you're looking for.

The Distractions "Kindly Leave The Stage" (Occultation YMIR7E1050) 2017

Track Listing:

1. A Few Miles More (Perrin)
2. Last To Leave (Perrin)
3. Talking To Myself (Perrin)
4. What The Night Does (Halliwell)
5. The Fire (Perrin/Halliwell)
6. Wake Up And Kiss me Goodbye (Perrin/Halliwell)
7. Nowhere (Perrin)
8. The Connection's Dropped Again (Halliwell)
9. Tell Them I'm Not Here (Perrin)
10. The End Of The Pier (Halliwell)

The Distractions "Go Dark" EP (Occultation YMIR7E1051) 2017

Track Listing:

1. Last To Leave (18-string version)
2. Nothing Lasts
3. Skin
4. Too Late To Change (acoustic)
5. Girl Of The Year (acoustic)
6. Wise (acoustic)