David Bowie – Space Oddity (Tony Visconti 2019 Remix)
David Bowie’s Space Oddity has something of an oddity of a history; Bowie’s first album, David Bowie, was on the Deram label, but didn’t make much of a splash with the record-buying public and he was dropped by the label in 1968. He shopped labels for his next album, landing on the Philips (UK) imprint; and in the meantime, the single “Space Oddity” was released to worldwide acclaim, reaching the number 5 position on the UK singles chart. Producer Tony Visconti felt that “Space Oddity” was simply a novelty record intended to cash in on the Apollo 11 lunar mission, so he handed the production job for the single down to Gus Dudgeon. An album was soon ordered by the label, and Visconti felt the album should also be eponymously named David Bowie.
Here’s where the confusion comes in: released in the UK as David Bowie, it was simultaneously released in the US as Man of Words/Man of Music on the Mercury label. The initial release of the album—despite good reviews and the popularity of the single—was a commercial failure, and at some point the rights were transferred to RCA. The record was repackaged and re-released as Space Oddity, probably to capitalize on the still-popular title track. Which was re-released as a single, and made it to number 16 on the US charts, and eventually, number 1 on the UK charts! The album has been known by the RCA moniker ever since, although a couple of remasterings in recent years have reverted to the David Bowie title. Everything all clear now?
Session musicians employed for the album included the likes of a young Rick Wakeman (soon part of Yes) on keyboards and mellotron; Herbie Flowers on bass; Tim Renwick, guitars; Terry Cox on drums; Paul Buckmaster, cello; and multi-instrumentalist and producer Tony Visconti. The genesis of the song “Space Oddity” had begun years earlier, and its production by Gus Dudgeon gave it a very different sound from the remainder of the Visconti-produced album. Giving the record an overall disjointed kind of feeling, and probably contributing to its poor performance on the charts. The reissue on RCA gave the record new life and an opportunity for the public to reconsider the work; it also received a significant performance boost, also reaching number 16 on the US charts.
The album features such classics as “Unwashed and Slightly Dazed,” “Letter to Hermione” and “Memory of a Free Festival,” as well as what’s widely regarded as Bowie’s first true masterpiece, the rambling “Cygnet Committee.” All in addition to the classic “Space Oddity.” The original tapes included two…oddities; “Don’t Sit Down,” a hidden (and unnamed) 48-second instrumental that appeared following “Unwashed and Slightly Dazed” and “Conversation Piece,” which was cut from the LP original release due to time restrictions, but later released as a single B side. The former is still missing in action on this new release, but “Conversation Piece” makes its first appearance here in its original album context.
I actually like the new remix/remaster; it’s a tad compressed, but in the spirit of the Beatles’ 50th Anniversary reissues, there’s a much greater clarity imparted to all the vocals, and the instruments are less congested and more visibly placed in the soundstage. Visconti’s mix perhaps takes a few more liberties with the original intent than Giles Martin did with the Beatles—especially on the title track, which is waaaaay more spaced-out than the original release. I guess he wanted to put his own stamp on Gus Dudgeon’s original job. My listening was done via the 24/96 MQA version available on Tidal and the CD-quality transfer on Qobuz; they both sounded pretty fantastic. This 50th anniversary reissue is very highly recommended!
Rhino/Parlophone, CD/LP (download/streaming from Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music, Apple Music, Spotify)
Big Band of Brothers – A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band
When I first laid eyes on this new album, my initial response was whaaaaaaaaat? I know there’s been a recent trend with all the “pickin’ on” albums that do bluegrass takes on Metallica, AC/DC and the likes, but a big-band tribute to the Allman Brothers? Let me tell you—from the opening notes of “Statesboro Blues,” it’s completely obvious that this new record is no joke—it totally sucked me in, like, instantaneously! The playing is just over-the-top ridiculous, crazy good, and Marc Broussard’s soulful vocal on the opening track does Gregg Allman proud—this is as well-considered a tribute album if there ever was one. Then you go straight into their cover of the “Don’t Want You No More/It’s Not My Cross To Bear” medley with Texas blues maven Ruthie Foster screaming out a hyper-authentic offering of this classic—could it possibly get any better? Wait—that’s immediately followed by a heavily horn-infused “Hot ’Lanta” that swings hard, with an even ridiculously good drum/conga break that would get both Jaimoe and Butch Trucks up and clapping! Right into another Marc Broussard over-the-top vocal on “Whipping Post,” with a wicked trombone solo in the bridge, and—somebody pinch me—then Broussard absolutely screams out the final chorus. It’s freaking unbelievable!
New West Records is a Nashville-based label, and the sessions were recorded in Alabama’s Bates Brothers Recording, with Eric Bates handling the engineering and mixing chores. All of which strikes me as an even more odd source for a collaboration like this to spring from, but, hey—one listen will provide all the proof you need. As I’m writing this, “Dreams” is playing in the background, where trombonist Chad Fisher’s instrument replaces the vocal parts, and absolutely slays it. He’s just one of a cast of shockingly talented musicians who help make this album a must listen for fans of the Allmans, big-band jazz, and just remarkably well-recorded, really great music. Wait—you have to hear the crazy good horns on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”—you just want to lunge for the remote and crank the volume, especially in time for the drum break at the end. And then try and manage to keep your seat—I wanted to get up and dance with just about every track!
My listening was done via the 16/44.1 version on Qobuz and the sound was magnificent and incredibly dynamic. And hey, there’s a limited edition peach-colored vinyl release available! When was the last time you heard an album you just couldn’t get enough of? For me, this is it; A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band comes very highly recommended!
New West Records, CD/LP (download/streaming from Bandcamp, Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music, Spotify, Deezer)
Jimi Hendrix – Songs For Groovy Children
Prior to hitting the big time with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jimi had done session work as a studio musician in 1965; about the time he decided to carve a name for himself, he signed what he thought was a release form from his session obligations. In actuality, buried deep within the legalese was a contract that bound him for three years to PPX Industries. Jimi was made beholden to it from the point he broke onto the charts with Are You Experienced in 1967, but a one-album deal was eventually brokered with PPX, with Capitol Records handling distribution. PPX and Capitol were bearing down hard on him to deliver the record, and in late 1969, Jimi decided to give them a live album. Much earlier in the year, Jimi had sold out Madison Square Garden, but the Fillmore East was determined to be a better location acoustically for a live concert recording. The concerts would span two shows on New Year’s Eve, 1969, and two shows on New Year’s Day, 1970.
Jimi’s meteoric rise with the Experience had already come to a close prior to his legendary performances at the Woodstock festival mere months before the Fillmore shows. And for his set at Woodstock, Jimi had assembled a large ensemble group that happened to include longtime friend Billy Cox on bass. Jimi split the large band afterwards, retaining Cox and adding Buddy Miles on drums to form a new group he christened Band of Gypsys. This was the band he showed up with at the Fillmore to finally get out from under this nagging contractual obligation.
Four shows over two days seems like a lot of material to fulfill a single-LP contract, but Jimi—ever the showman—didn’t just fill the shows with rehashes of previous material. He debuted almost a dozen new songs that had never been commercially released; songs like “Machine Gun,” “Izabella,” “Ezy Ryder” and “Burning Desire.” Hey, and if you were lucky enough to be at the New Year’s Eve late show, you got to hear Jimi play “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight! To round out the shows he played reworkings of classic, older material like “Stone Free” and “Purple Haze.” And there were numerous opportunities for Buddy Miles to spotlight his body of work, especially his hit, “Them Changes.” The original live shows were recorded by Wally Heider with Eddie Kramer at the control panel.
The result of these remarkable shows, the original Band of Gypsys album, was eventually edited and mixed to include only six(!) songs from the forty-three songs that comprised the four shows. Many of the extended jams had to be significantly edited for space considerations on the LP, and the song selection was also chosen to help reflect the flow of Jimi’s then-current live shows. Capitol Records and PPX couldn’t have been happier, and the record peaked at number five on the US charts, going gold in just two months and eventually reaching double platinum sales status.
This 5-CD or 8-LP collection marks the first time the series of four concerts in their entirety have been made available commercially. Now within the provenance of Experience Hendrix, the project was co-produced by Jimi’s step-sister Janie Hendrix, original recording engineer Eddie Kramer, and John McDermott. This is the trio that has been responsible for every Experience Hendrix project that’s been made available since their formation in 1995. And the set was mastered by multiple Grammy-winning Bernie Grundman, so you know the results are completely legit. It’s a whole lot of Hendrix to take in, but with the exception of a handful of tracks scattered across a couple of releases, most of these tunes have never seen the light of day. And they’re presented in what is undoubtedly superior digital sound, especially compared to the original, truncated LP and CD releases.
I did all my listening via Qobuz’s outstanding 24/44.1 PCM stream—the sound was magnificent. True Hendrix fans will want to get either the LP or CD box sets, both of which include a large-format booklet with tons of rare photos from the concerts. But for strictly streaming, the Qobuz experience was incredible, and there’s enough variation from show to show to keep things completely interesting. Very highly recommended!
Sony Legacy, 5 CDs/8 LPs (download/streaming from Amazon, Qobuz, Google Play Music, Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music)
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/AVRO.