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July 2023 CD reviews

Looking for something new to listen to? Simon Evans reviews the latest CDs.

Nina_Simone_Youve_got_to_learn_CD_coverNina Simone - You’ve Got To Learn - (Verve)

Released as part of a year-long celebration of what would have been Nina Simone’s 90th birthday, this recently discovered recording captures the great jazz singer and pianist’s six-song set at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 2, 1966.

It captures Nina in her prime, and includes a powerful rendition of You’ve Got To Learn, as well as a swinging performance of Mississippi Goddam and show-stopping encore Music For Lovers. There are also informative liner notes by Shana L Redmond, a respected scholar and author who has written extensively on Simone’s life and legacy.

Alice_Cooper_Schools_Out_CD_coverAlice Cooper - Schools Out: Deluxe Edition - (Rhino)

Alice Cooper (the band) started out as garage band avant-gardists under the watchful eye of Frank Zappa before becoming a theatrical hard-rocking outfit that, with this unashamedly kitsch fifth album, fitted in perfectly with early Seventies British glam-rock. The title track – once a staple of common rooms and dormitories on the last day of term – is a stone-dead classic, although even here the tongue is firmly in cheek, with its self-conscious puns and “we can’t even think of a word that rhymes” cop-out. Elsewhere the theatrical nature of the album is enhanced by overt lyrical and musical references to West Side Story and a diversion into cocktail-lounge jazz on Blue Turk – not to be taken too seriously in other words, despite all the huffing and puffing of Mary Whitehouse et al at the time. It’s great though, and only the singles-laden Billion Dollar Babies that followed comes close in Alice’s catalogue. A preview of that album appears here in a storming early take of Elected, there are also single edits, alternate versions and a recording of a May 1972 show that captures the band at its outrageous best.

Laura_Cantrell_Just_Like_A_Rose_The_Anniversary_SessionsLaura Cantrell - Just Like A Rose: The Anniversary Sessions - (Propeller Sound Recordings)

This collection was originally intended for release in 2020, to mark the 20th anniversary of country star and former John Peel favourite Laura’s debut album Not The Tremblin’ Kind, but was derailed by the pandemic. Finally seeing the light of day, with a host of all-star guests on board, it is described by Laura as “more of a celebration than a traditional album”. Drawing on songs both old and new, and working with a number of different producers, it still holds together wonderfully well, with stand-outs including a duet with Steve Earle on the 2002 track When The Roses Bloom, and the collaboration with former Bob Dylan band pedal steel player Dave Mansfield on the wistful Unaccompanied.

David_Bowie_Laughing_with_Liza_The_Vocalion_and_Deram_Singles_1964-1967_CD_cover.David Bowie - Laughing with Liza: The Vocalion and Deram Singles 1964-1967 - (Universal)

Before he finally hit the charts with Space Oddity in 1969, David Bowie tried on for size a number of different pop styles from beat group R&B to Anthony Newley-inspired music hall and Scott Walker-esque balladeering. This treasurable collection features his early singles, all in wonderful replica vinyl and with original sleeves, ranging from Liza Jane and Louie Louie Go Home, recorded with his original band The King Bees, to the wonderfully arch Love You Till Tuesday and Did You Ever Have a Dream as well as the 1967 novelty record The Laughing Gnome, that would return to haunt David at the height of his glam-rock fame in 1973. There are also rare versions of Space Oddity and Laughing Gnome included in the set.

The_Teardrop_Explodes_Culture_Bunker_1978-1982_CD_coverThe Teardrop Explodes - Culture Bunker 1978-1982 - (Mercury)

Perhaps because, almost alone, they have always resisted the temptation to get back together and cash in on endless money-spinning ‘reunion’ tours, The Teardrop Explodes have become one of the great lost bands of the early Eighties. That’s a pity because, although their legacy essentially boils down to the two albums and handful of singles recorded during the band’s turbulent, and all-too-brief existence, the group produced some of the most astonishing and enduring music of their era.

The singles Reward, Treason and Passionate Friend have an endearing swagger while Tiny Children, a minor hit in the summer of 1982, was possessed of a heart-breaking nostalgia. All four singles, and many more, feature on this box set, a rare dip into the nostalgia market by the group’s lead singer and creative driving force, Julian Cope. Having voiced cynicism at the vogue for deluxe editions and other ways of re-marketing old albums, Cope was moved to release this collection of singles, B-sides, off-cuts and rare live recordings simply because he was surprised at how good it still sounded.

He’s right, of course, but some of it isn’t for the faint-hearted, especially the rather eccentric B-sides. For the more casual listener I’d direct you to the wryly-titled The Greatest Hit collection or simply the brilliant second side of the 1981 album Wilder, starting with Passionate Friend.

All the featured albums are available on CD and to stream on Spotify and Amazon Music


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