Kelly Groucutt – Kelly

Kelly Groucutt - KellyReleased on vinyl in 1982, and then reprinted on CD circa 2001 as a fan club exclusive and again as a general release in 2009, Kelly is the sole solo outing for the late Kelly Groucutt, whose musical claim to fame was as the bassist and soaring backup vocalist for ELO and, later, ELO Part II / The Orchestra. Groucutt had the help of most of his bandmates in recording his album, with the most conspicuous holdout being Jeff Lynne himself; perhaps not surprisingly, the entire album is very much in the style of ELO’s halcyon days (namely the mid/late 1970s). Groucutt was already an integral part of the ELO sound from that period, and Kelly can almost be seen – or heard – as an audition for the opportunity to take an even wider role creatively within the group.

As always, Groucutt’s vocal range is beyond merely impressive, and his singing voice doesn’t thin out when he edges toward baritone or falsetto. Having seen him play live with ELO Part II, I can vouch for the fact that the man could, quite simply, belt out a tune – and with his vocal abilities, he could belt out nearly any tune you can think of. But Kelly also shows off his songwriting abilities, and it’s quite evident that Groucutt was paying very very close attention to how songs were put together in ELO’s signature style; much of this album could fit in seamlessly on nearly any ELO album between Face The Music and Time (the ELO album whose release immediately preceded Kelly).

Songs like “Am I A Dreamer” (presented here in both demo and finished recordings) and “Sea Of Dreams” seem like they could’ve been strong candidates to become classic ELO songs. Groucutt also clearly shared Lynne’s love of classic ’50s rock – his background vocal arrangements are very reminiscent of Lynne’s work, but they also have just a hint of doo-wop to them. “Midnight Train” and “Black Hearted Woman” show ’70s roots, but the former especially highlights the unique rapport between Groucutt and ELO violinist Mik Kaminski, who provides hoedown-worthy fiddle work as well as coaxing “train whistle” effects out of his violin. The two would later form OrKestra, which would later be absorbed by ELO Part II.

There is, however, one huge problem with the re-release of Kelly that’s distressing: the sound quality. I’m assuming that the original vinyl release of Kelly didn’t sound like this does: the CD winds up sounding like it was mastered from a very well-worn cassette tape. Disappointingly, most of the songs sound tinny and hollow, with almost no bass frequencies… which is almost a slap in the face to the memory of someone who was, in fact, a bass player. Actually, I have a confession to make: back in the heady days of Napster, before this album was re-released, I downloaded several individual tracks from someone’s vinyl-to-CD-R copy of Kelly because I’d heard of the album but had never actually heard any of the songs… and to be brutally honest, the commercially-released CD sounds like it was mastered from those very badly-recorded, lo-fi MP3 tracks.

I give high marks for the music: Kelly Groucutt was willing, ready, and capable of taking a more direct creative role in the future of ELO, but – again, to be brutally honest – by this time Jeff Lynne had almost certainly realized that his future fortunes rested with holding the publishing rights to ELO’s output, and therefore wasn’t about to let go of the “central / sole songwriter” role. Which is unfortunate, because his sideman was clearly ready to help out. (I have to say that this also makes me reconsider Lynne’s more recent complaints, in some of the remastered ELO catalog’s liner notes, about bearing the heavy creative burden of the group alone; having heard Kelly, I call BS. More creative energy was there if he had only permitted it. I’m not going to say that a Lynne/Groucutt songwriting partnership would’ve 3 out of 4been another Lennon/McCartney, but it might have kept ELO on track or extended the group’s life span.)

Now I’d just like to see someone honor Mr. Groucutt’s memory by carrying out a proper remastering of his one solo album. These are great songs – I’d just like to hear them in a sound quality that befits the quality of the songwriting and performance on display here. (Feel free to do the same with OrKestra’s unreleased-on-CD album too, while you’re at it.)

Order this CD

  1. Am I A Dreamer (3:45)
  2. Oh Little Darling (3:29)
  3. Dear Mama (4:33)
  4. You Don’t Need To Hold Me Tight (3:56)
  5. Black Hearted Woman (3:27)
  6. Midnight Train (3:52)
  7. Don’t Wanna Hear That Song Again (3:12)
  8. Anything Goes With Me (3:33)
  9. Can’t Stand The Morning (3:11)
  10. Old Rock & Roller (3:48)
  11. You’ve Been Telling Lies (3:10)
  12. Sea Of Dreams (4:47)
  13. I’ll Cry For You Tonight (4:06)
  14. Am I A Dreamer (3:42)

Released by: Renaissance
Release date: 1982 / reissued in 2009
Total running time: 52:31

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (Newly Expanded Edition) – music by James Horner

Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (Newly Expanded Edition)Maybe we should’ve expected a release like this in a year in which the Star Trek franchise is suddenly coasting along on both warp power and the goodwill of a receptive public thanks to its big-screen relaunch, but this CD’s release caught me completely by surprise, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Simply put, this CD gathers the complete score of James Horner’s celebrated, career-making music score from the second Star Trek film, in order, every note – even including material that was jettisoned after a studio-mandated reshoot required Horner to re-convene his orchestra and add more music at a late date. The soundtrack from Star Trek II has been released before, but this definitive remastered edition adds half an hour of music and represents every note heard in the course of the film. Add to that the usual lavish, well-researched booklet from Film Score Monthly, and you get a package worthy of one of the best scores in the franchise’s big-screen history.

Key passages of music that haven’t been heard before include – believe it or not – major movements in the movie’s climactic space battle, atmospheric tracks from early in the movie, and a brief piece of music that should be forever famous if for not other reason than underscoring William Shatner screaming “KHAAAAAAAAAAN!” Oh, and the death and funeral of one Mr. Spock. In short, the previously omitted tracks are not minor moments in the movie, and why they were left out on the original release is probably down to the fact that, in the LP-dominated days of the early 1980s, a 45-minute soundtrack album was considered more than enough unless, maybe, the movie’s title had “Wars” (rather than “Trek”) after “Star”. Even with that limitation in mind, some of the omissions from the original release are mind-boggling. This CD handily corrects that, and the improvement in sound quality is quite noticeable.

The booklet itself is worth the price of admission too: virtually everything you could possibly want to know about the movie’s music and its composer (including how he got the job and who else almost got the job) is here, lavishly illustrated, painstakingly researched, and the photos even reveal something I had never known about this movie: its composer can be seen in Starfleet uniform in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it walk-on part.

I’m literally praying to God (who may or may not need a starship) that Film Score Monthly isn’t going to be content to leave the Star Trek franchise alone after this release. The third through eighth films cry out for more fully fleshed-out soundtrack releases like this, and I 4 out of 4wouldn’t kick FSM out of bed if they wanted to do something crazy like venture into unreleased music from The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. A pipe dream? Maybe. But until FSM announced it, the expanded Star Trek II score seemed just as unlikely. It’s been worth the wait – great music finally getting a fitting treatment.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (3:08)
  2. Surprise On Ceti Aplha V (0:46)
  3. Khan’s Pets (4:20)
  4. The Eels Of Ceti Alpha V / Kirk In Space Shuttle (3:54)
  5. Enterprise Clears Moorings (3:34)
  6. Chekov Lies (0:42)
  7. Spock (1:13)
  8. Kirk Takes Command / He Tasks Me (2:08)
  9. Genesis Project composed & performed by Craig Huxley (3:17)
  10. Surprise Attack (5:08)
  11. Kirk’s Explosive Reply (4:03)
  12. Inside Regula I (1:37)
  13. Brainwashed (1:25)
  14. Captain Terrell’s Death (2:00)
  15. Buried Alive (0:58)
  16. The Genesis Cave (1:11)
  17. Battle In The Mutara Nebula (8:09)
  18. Enterprise Attacks Reliant (1:30)
  19. Genesis Countdown (6:35)
  20. Spock (Dies) (1:55)
  21. Amazing Grace (1:27)
  22. Epilogue / End Title (8:47)
  23. Epilogue (original version) / End Title (7:29)

Released by: Retrograde Records (Film Score Monthly)
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 75:16

Alan Parsons Project – Eye In The Sky (remastered)

Alan Parsons Project - Vulture CultureAs innovative as Tales Of Mystery And Imagination and I Robot were, and regardless of how forward-looking more recent works like A Valid Path have been, like it or not, for most people the epitome of the Alan Parsons Project is this album. Veering off the band’s prog rock path and into radio-friendly rock territory, Eye In The Sky is tame compared to some of the more literary-minded Project albums, but it still boasts some great songs, freshly-remastered until they’re nice and crisp for this release. As overplayed-by-radio as they were in the day, it’s hard to deny the staying power and just pure catchiness of the Sirius / Eye In The Sky combo, or the popular instrumental Mammagamma. Children Of The Moon, with its lyrics more relevant now than they were in 1982, may be better than all of them put together, but hasn’t had quite the exposure.

For this most popular Project, there are only a few bonus tracks, and how much you’ll get into them is really going to rely on how “into” the Project and its recording process you are. Early Eric Woolfson guide vocal versions of “Silence And I” and “Old And Wise” are presented here, the latter of which is interesting since he didn’t sing on the final recording. There are also rough demos of the instrumental “Sirius” and the unfinished Woolfson tune “Any Other Day,” which is heard here in such an early form that it doesn’t even have lyrics. The intro for “Any Other Day” became the intro to a big orchestral bridge section for “Silence And I,” though the liner notes say that Woolfson is just now finishing “Any Other Day” for inclusion in an upcoming stage musical.

The real meat and potatoes of the bonus tracks can be found in the form of two medleys, “The Naked Eye” and “Eye Pieces (Classical Naked Eye)”. The former presents stripped-down excerpts from the recording sessions, showing how some of the songs might have developed slightly differently (especially “Psychobabble” and “Mammagamma”). But the latter is an impressive collage of the orchestral and choral overdubs, heard here without any band tracks whatsoever and edited into a medley that’s almost a cohesive, self-contained composition. Starting with the foreboding brass of “Children Of The Moon” and taking in some of the more memorable moments from “Silence And I”, “Old And Wise” and “Mammagamma”, “Eye Pieces” is how these montages should be done from here on out. It’s no exaggeration to admit that the first time I heard this track, I put it on “repeat” for about an hour and just basked in it.

Rating: 4 out of 4The bonus features are a bit hit-or-miss, but combined with a solid album, they make this reissue worthwhile for both fans and casual listeners too. Though I’m hesitant to say this about a title from the first “wave” of Alan Parsons Project remasters, this may be as good as these reissues get.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Sirius (1:55)
  2. Eye In The Sky (4:36)
  3. Children Of The Moon (4:51)
  4. Gemini (2:10)
  5. Silence And I (7:20)
  6. You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned (4:22)
  7. Psychobabble (4:52)
  8. Mammagamma (3:34)
  9. Step By Step (3:54)
  10. Old And Wise (4:55)
  11. Sirius (Demo) (1:53)
  12. Old And Wise (Eric Woolfson vocal) (4:31)
  13. Any Other Day (Studio Demo) (1:41)
  14. Silence And I (Eric Woolfson vocal) (7:33)
  15. The Naked Eye (10:48)
  16. Eye Pieces: Classical Naked Eye (7:51)

Released by: Legacy / Arista
Release date: 2007 (originally released in 1982)
Total running time: 77:04

Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra

Steve Miller Band - AbracadabraSo…what if someone took the traditions of rockabilly and the blues and shoehorned them into a new-wave sound? Wouldn’t that be cool? This seems to have been the train of thought pushing the Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra down the tracks 20-odd years ago, and for those who picked it up on the basis of the truly cool title track (which, at the time, was a huge single, absolutely inescapable on radio), the bulk of the album may have been a major disappointment. In hindsight, it sure was for me.

That title track, though, deserves some praise of its own. “Abracadabra”, the song, is one of those staples of classic-’80s-stations playlists that simply can’t be removed without said station losing all credibility. Its combination of icy ’80s synths and red-hot guitar licks is hard to put away without a repeat listening. Some stations in more conversative areas of the country might have forgone this ’80s treasure due to the “black panties with an angel’s face” line in the lyrics, but for the most part this song got tons of airplay. And it sounded so cool, it earned every repeat it got. For the record, this is the slightly-extended version that didn’t get as much spin as the radio edit did (it’s got a longer solo), so if you know “Abracadabra” only from a best-of-the-’80s compilation, you’re in for a surprise here.

“Cool Magic” runs a distant second for songs with a similarly new sound on this album, but the rest of Abracadabra – the album, not the song – chafes a bit with me, reeking of lost potential. Dropping 2 out of 4some newfangled effects on traditional rockabilly and blues riffs does not a new sound make, and in any case, Dave Edmunds did it better on Information a year later. Still, this is a rare case where I’ll recommend an entire album to you if only on the basis of its one extraordinary single. It’s just too bad that Abracadabra the album wasn’t as beguiling as “Abracadabra” the song.

Order this CD

  1. Keeps Me Wondering Why (3:45)
  2. Abracadabra (5:08)
  3. Something Special (3:33)
  4. Give It Up (3:38)
  5. Never Say No (3:39)
  6. Things I Told You (3:20)
  7. Young Girl’s Heart (3:38)
  8. Goodbye Love (2:57)
  9. Cool Magic (4:26)
  10. While I’m Watching (3:26)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1982
Total running time: 37:30

Steve Winwood – Talking Back To The Night

Steve Winwood - Talking Back To The NightIn 1980, Steve Winwood carved out a persistent niche of the radio airwaves with several tunes from his Arc Of A Diver album – and that niche was well-deserved, given Winwood’s synth-driven (but still more rock ‘n’ roll than new wave) distinctive sound. Sadly, the follow-up to that, while it did yield hits of its own, lacked the “oomph” of Arc‘s originality; if anything, it smacks in a few places of reheated leftovers.

If anyone remembers one song off of Talking Back To The Night, it’s bound to be Valerie, a great song with a soaring DX-7 synth solo and some much-misheard lyrics. I never have gotten around to liking “Big Girls Walk Away” in the 20 years I’ve had to listen to it. The title track is a virtual carbon copy of Arc Of A Diver‘s lengthy “Night Train” single (a favorite of disc jockeys in gastric distress everywhere). The real gems aside from “Valerie” are “Still In The Game” and the joyful little number called “Help Me Angel”, 2 out of 4which has a chord progression that just gives me a good feeling.

A mixed bag, but with the exception of “Still In The Game”, the good parts later appeared on Winwood’s Chronicles compilation, saving me the trouble of having to hear the rest of Talking Back To The Night again just to hear the good songs.

Order this CD

  1. Valerie (4:05)
  2. Big Girls Walk Away (3:51)
  3. And I Go (4:12)
  4. While There’s A Candle Burning (3:11)
  5. Still In The Game (4:51)
  6. It Was Happiness (4:58)
  7. Help Me Angel (5:08)
  8. Talking Back To The Night (5:44)
  9. There’s A River (4:40)

Released by: Island
Release date: 1982
Total running time: 40:50

Tron (2002 remaster) – music by Wendy Carlos

Tron (2002 remaster)I’ve waxed rhapsodic about this outstanding, pioneering score which combines synthesizers, orchestra and chorus; long a favorite, Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack from Tron has never been officially available on CD. Bootlegs have been circulating for years, as have MP3s, both of them usually sourced from the vinyl LP. In the intervening years, Carlos restored and remastered the original tapes on her own time, patiently waiting to release it on her own label, or perhaps on Disney’s label. Fans eagerly awaited a release date for years, but considering that Tron, like The Black Hole, seemed to be a film that Disney was all but ashamed of, it didn’t seem like a good idea to hold one’s breath.

Fast forward with us now to late 2001. Disney has an eagerly awaited new collector’s edition 2-DVD set of Tron on store shelves, featuring some new material but also a lot of repurposed material from the highly sought-after laserdisc version. Even the toys have been re-released, and most improbable of all, director Steven Lisberger has been approached to write and perhaps direct a sequel to the original Tron. In short Tron is suddenly a hot property once again to Disney, which is looking to exploit that property in any way possible.

Someone at Disney must’ve asked, “What about the soundtrack?” And, as with the DVD extras, the studio was keen on taking the fastest and cheapest way out of that question – they called composer Wendy Carlos and asked if she just happened to have CD-ready masters of the music on hand that could be used to press a re-release.

As it just so happens, Carlos spent the late 1990s restoring the original analog tapes of the scoring sessions for Tron, and it was no easy task. As has been chronicled on her website, Carlos found that much of her late ’70s/early ’80s work was all but lost due to a serious quality problem with her chosen brand of reel-to-reel audiotape. The tape had all but melted, and had to be “baked” in carefully controlled conditions for there to be any chance of retrieving the material ever again. In the case of Tron, it worked, and as early as 1999 Carlos had a shiny new digital master of the tape ready to go – but Disney had a stranglehold on the rights, preventing her from rereleasing it on her own label. In other words, Disney’s last minute marketing decision finally brought Tron‘s soundtrack to CD.

And I, for one, thank them. This new CD is everything the fans had hoped – and there are even previously unreleased tracks, such as the wonderful “The Break-In” (for strings, cello and celeste), which added so much of the playful-cum-menacing atmosphere to the scenes where Flynn, Alan and Lora break into the ENCOM labs. Also included is an early version of “TronAction”, loaded with enough wild dissonance to scare off some listeners (this version was also used in some pre-release showreels sent to theater owners and distributors), and a harpsichord sketch of the movie’s main theme, played with “no gimmicks and no overdubs” by Carlos herself.

Surprisingly absent from the disc is the unused music from the light cycle chase; the music can be heard as an alternate scene on the DVD, but isn’t included here. It would’ve been nice to add that to the package as well.

4 out of 4Even the two Journey songs – “Only Solutions” and the instrumental “1990s Theme” (ha!) – are intact, and the original LP tracks are featured in the original running order.

It’s so nice to finally have a Tron soundtrack CD that didn’t come out of someone’s CD burner. The music has more than earned a real release, and now – at last – it’s got one.

Order this CD

  1. Creation Of Tron (0:49)
  2. Only Solutions performed by Journey (3:42)
  3. We’ve Got Company (2:19)
  4. Wormhole (2:30)
  5. Ring Game And Escape (2:57)
  6. Water Music and TronAction (2:25)
  7. Tron Scherzo (1:47)
  8. Miracle And Magician (2:41)
  9. Magic Landings (3:44)
  10. Theme From Tron (1:37)
  11. 1980’s Theme performed by Journey (2:08)
  12. Love Theme (2:08)
  13. Tower Music – Let Us Pray (3:48)
  14. The Light Sailer (2:37)
  15. Sea Of Simulation (3:24)
  16. A New Tron And The MCP (5:11)
  17. Anthem (1:40)
  18. Ending Titles (5:17)
  19. TronAction (Original Version) (1:29)
  20. Break In (for Strings, Flutes and Celesta) (5:35)
  21. Anthem For Keyboard Solo (1:09)

Released by: Disney
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 58:59

Wall Of Voodoo – Call Of The West

Wall Of Voodoo - Call Of The WestThis is a strange little album – that much is undeniable! The vocals are pure They Might Be Giants-esque 60s kitsch, and the instrumentation is firmly lodged in the early 80s explosion of synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines. Some may remember the obscure single “Mexican Radio” which sprang from this album, although there are more memorable songs here, among them the strangely hypnotic “Lost Weekend” and the hyper-kinetic “Tomorrow”, a hysterical ode to procrastination, but we’ll get to that later. My 3 out of 4personal favorite from this album is the rather short country-guitar-twanging instrumental “On Interstate 15”, a nice little piece with a syncopated beat that also manages to be relaxing somehow. This isn’t for everyone – it’s sure quirky!

  1. Tomorrow (3:03)
  2. Lost Weekend (4:58)
  3. Factory (5:33)
  4. Look At Their Way (3:18)
  5. Order this CDHands of Love (3:52)
  6. Mexican Radio (4:09)
  7. Spy World (2:41)
  8. They Don’t Want Me (4:31)
  9. On Interstate 15 (2:44)
  10. Call of the West (5:59)

Released by: I.R.S.
Release date: 1982
Total running time: 41:00