By Todd Whitesel
John Coltrane, Giant Steps: Giant Steps is where Coltrane’s musical ambition and vision started truly coming to fruition. The record was the first to feature all self-penned compositions and saw the saxophone master veering away from the cool jazz he had played with Miles Davis on Kind Of Blue and on his own Blue Train. Coltrane set sail for uncharted waters, where his soon-to-be-dubbed “sheets of sound” approach would turn the jazz world upside down. The title track more than hints at where Coltrane would take his music over the next years of his too-short life, with its angular lines and dazzling intensity — a sonic breeze that whispers and howls across the first six tracks. His gentle side comes through, too, on the mellow “Naima,” a breather after the dizzying ascents of the previous songs. Rhino’s treatment of Giant Steps is a real treat, aurally and visually. The double-LP limited-edition numbered set (just 2,500 in all) was mastered from the original analog masters and cut at 45 rpm. It’s presented in a gatefold with heavy cardboard and beautifully reproduced cover art. An insert with each side’s label and the edition number is also included. A slipcase simulating the original tape box keeps everything safe and sound.
Ray Charles, The Genius Of Ray Charles: Two of the many sides of Ray Charles are in full blossom on The Genius Of Ray Charles. Side A is a big-band-backed effort full of jump, jive and soul. Side B features Charles as balladeer, applying his velvety vocals and gossamer piano touch to a half-dozen tunes. This time capsule captures Charles at 27, when his voice had become a formidable instrument of its own, capable of the most unexpected twists and turns. As Van Morrison told Rolling Stone, “As a singer, Ray Charles doesn’t phrase like anyone else. He doesn’t put the time where you think it’s gonna be, but it’s always perfect, always right.” To hear Charles put the time down everywhere but where you think it’s gonna be, check out “Let The Good Times Roll,” as his voice sails around the arrangement like a kite. Then contrast it with the languid “It Had To Be You” or “Just For A Thrill” with its late-night jazzy vibe. The Side B closer “Come Rain Or Come Shine” may be the best portrait of Charles’ singing, where he reaches into the clouds, and like Sly & The Family Stone, wants to takes you higher. And he does. The reissue is a good one, vibrant and full of energy.
Stephen Stills, Just Roll Tape April 26, 1968: The story goes that Stephen Stills was hanging around during a Judy Collins studio session; afterward, he sat down with guitar in hand and, with tape rolling, proceeded to knock out 13 new songs. Among those are “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Helplessly Hoping” and “Wooden Ships.” It’s fascinating to hear the nascent versions of each, particularly “Wooden Ships,” with its broad, open chords ringing naked under Stills’ strumming. The tracks aren’t polished and have a in-progress feel, but what’s most impressive is Stills’ confidence as he delivers each tune with a certainty that only he could have felt and known. He was just 23 at the time.
Steel Pulse, True Democracy: You may not associate reggae records with great sound, but spin Rhino’s True Democracy and you will. Steel Pulse never really got their due, in my opinion. Maybe their political and social messages turned off those who wanted the good-time ganja grooves of Eek-A-Mouse; still, Steel Pulse’s music can’t be denied, and if there was ever a witness to take the stand for vinyl’s case, this reissue should be first in line.
Twisted Sister, Stay Hungry: Beyond the radio hits “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry is a very dark record, presaging the more extreme metal that would follow down the road. The ominous two-part “Horror-Teria (The Beginning)” is one of rock’s most disturbing songs — lead Sister Dee Snider dedicated the tune to Stephen King and thanks him for inspiring the tale. The music is married expertly to the macabre lyrics. Folks that dismissed the band as a one-trick made-for-MTV pony should give this LP an entire spin. Guitarist Jay Jay French was an underrated player, as was drummer A.J. Pero. The record comes pressed on mottled pink vinyl and includes a full-size poster of the band in their glam glory.
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, On Tour With Eric Clapton: A supergroup of supergroups playing a white-hot live set is the calling card of this superbly soulful offering. Dave Mason, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock and Rita Coolidge join together in the band behind Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett and Eric Clapton. Like Clapton’s landmark performances with Derek And The Dominos, these tunes have a timeless grace thanks largely to a group of musicians who seemed joined at the musical hip. That hip was first made strong with “Layla,” then shot full again with HGH (Human Guitar Hormone) — listen to Clapton rip through “I Don’t Want To Discuss It,” as Delaney Bramlett gives the vocal performance of his life. Then there’s the horns, the arrangement. The results are best heard than discussed. Bonnie Bramlett’s vocals on the opening “Things Get Better” reaches such a fevered pitch that you wonder if she’ll need smelling salts after the final note. She doesn’t, of course, but simply belts it out like Janis Joplin’s Siamese vocal twin. The Robert Johnson tribute “Poor Elijah” is a perfect slice of American music, bringing blues, country and rock together into some cosmic back-porch hoedown. Those are Side 1 highlights and enough for most records, but this isn’t one of them. Bonnie’s vocal on the R&B slow burner “That’s What My Man Is For,” is captivating, falling somewhere between Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. As if in response, Delaney steps it up again on “Coming Home,” climbing the ladder of his own vocal range to amazing effect. The closing “Little Richard Medley” is a wild slab of good-time rock.
Faces, A Nod Is As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse: The Faces’ third album with Rod Stewart on vocals is arguably the band’s best. “Stay With Me” ranks alongside the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” as one of the most gloriously sleazy guitar moments in the rock catalog, oozing booze and sweat. While “Stay With Me” and raunchy brethren “Miss Judy’s Farm” and “You’re So Rude” burst from the speakers here, it’s Stewart’s remarkable vocal on “Love Lives Here” and Ronnie Lane’s aching reading of “Debris” that stays with me. It’s the great lost Faces’ song. This is a rich- and full-sounding reissue, with particularly good vocals and organ and drum sounds. It could only be vinyl.
Cool bonus: Tucked in the record jacket is a full-size reproduction of the poster originally included with the album — a montage of hotel dressing-room shenanigans committed by the boys in the band.