EDITH PIAF – LA VIE EN ROSE RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4137
France’s greatest popular singer and ‘the soul of Paris’, Edith Piaf, is still revered as an icon decades after her death. Her voice had a distinctive vibrato filled with raw passion and emotional power so that her singing, even when verging on the melodramatic, wrung every drop of sentiment from a lyric. Her songs were mostly melancholy, dealing with heartache, tragedy and poverty, reflecting her own experiences amid the harsh reality of life on the streets and the dramatic twists and turns of her turbulent life. From humble beginnings in Paris, living with her grandmother in a brothel, singing on the street to avoid prostitution; Piaf’s life, loves and losses only served to make her rise to fame and glory even more triumphant. This double CD celebrates the life and work of the wonderful ‘Little Sparrow’ with a fine collection of recordings made between 1935 and 1957, all skilfully re-mastered. They include classic songs like the million-selling La Vie En Rose (with lyrics by Piaf herself), Hymne a l’amour (dedicated to the love of her life, boxer Marcel Cerdon), Les Trois Cloches (with her protégés, Les Compagnons de la Chanson), and Les Amants de Paris, as well as rarities such as the utterly French L’Accordioniste, Les Amants d’un Jour (lovers for a day), the jaunty La Java de Cezique, and Autumn Leaves (touchingly sung in English). Over two and a half hours of music in all, these evocative performances are timeless and the voice of this fearless yet vulnerable woman continues to mesmerise. Formidable!
JOSEPHINE BAKER – DIS-MOI JOSEPHINE RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4270
Joséphine Baker was a vivacious, vibrantly youthful personality who had a most extraordinary life. Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, she left the USA for France because of racial discrimination to continue her career as a dancer, becoming one of the most celebrated performers at the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation when her costume consisted of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace. An idiosyncratic, elastic-limbed dancer, she became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. Funny, sexy and smart, she was adored by famous artists and intellectuals of the era, who dubbed her the ‘Black Venus’. She renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to a French industrialist Jean Lion and worked with the French Resistance during the Second World War, for which she was awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military for her tireless work as a nurse and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur for her bravery by General Charles de Gaulle. She returned to the United States several times but always refused to perform for segregated audiences.
Joséphine Baker became the first black woman to star in a film, opened her own Parisian cabaret, appeared in an operette (La Belle Creole), made many successful international tours, and visited Britain, appearing on TV’s The Good Old Days and playing the London Palladium. She also adopted a ‘Rainbow Tribe’ of 12 children from around the world. In 1963, she was the only woman to speak at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. This definitive CD collection features 27 remastered original recordings from Baker’s 30s heyday, including her heartfelt theme song J’ai deux amours (‘I have two loves, my country and Paris’), and such favourites as La petite Tonkinoise, Love is a Dreamer, and the title track Dis moi, Joséphine. Most of the songs are sung in her seductively American French – including cheerfully gallicized versions of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin and Easy To Love – as well as songs in English, such as Fats Waller’s My Fate Is In Your Hands and You’re Driving Me Crazy. Joséphine Baker has a sweet, natural soprano voice and this collection is the perfect introduction to one of the twentieth century’s most endearing, magical and captivating performers.
THE MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES
Blues music evolved from African American spirituals, work songs, shouts and chants, and has been a massive influence on modern Western music styles. In the 1940s and 1950s, electric blues predominated, with artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. In the 1960s, a remarkable surge of interest in the blues took hold among young white audiences, especially in the UK. This comprehensive new Matchbox Bluesmaster Series explores the roots of a music that has been the back-bone of popular music from rhythm and blues to reggae, rock and roll, Motown and gospel music. This series of seven 6CD sets traces the origins of American blues recorded between 1926 and 1934, when race record companies such as Okeh sent out talent scouts to find black singers, many of them ‘singing for nickels’ on street corners. The songs are sometimes raw and primitive in character, but outstanding performances shine through these recordings captured on 42 original LP albums released by Saydisc Records in the 1980s.
These rare originating 78s were provided by several collectors under the editorship of Austrian collector, Johnny Parth, and have here been restored and digital remastered by Nimbus archivist Norman White. The Matchbox Bluesmaster Series releases the recordings for the first time on CD in these seven box sets, plus all digital platforms. Putting the music into perspective are the invaluable notes by Paul Oliver, a world authority on early jazz and blues. Along with the work of other field collectors and researchers, we gain a rare insight into the world of black musicians of the day. MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES: SET 1 (MSESET1) features music written between 1927-30 and includes six albums – Country Blues – The 1st Generation, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Bo Weavil Jackson, Ragtime Blues Guitar, Peg Leg Howell, and Texas Alexander Vol. 1, featuring one of the most popular blues singers on record with songs such as Corn Bread Blues and the moaning Bell Cow Blues, with Lonnie Johnson.
MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES: SET 2 (MSESET2) includes Skip James, Coley Jones & The Dallas String Band, Great Harp Players (with some great railroad harmonica instrumentals, including Palmer McAbee’s frantic Railroad Piece and Freeman Towers’ extraordinary Railroad Blues), Leroy Carr, the mysterious Tommie Bradley-James Cole Groups (good time music such as Adam And Eve – ‘surely must have shook that thing’, often with jug and washboard in the mix), and Charlie Lincoln. These rare recordings reveal the sublime musicianship, inventiveness and exuberance of early blues artists, showing how this music is designed to make people feel better. As well as being of interest to blues enthusiasts and collectors, the Matchbox Series will remind younger people that ‘black music matters’ now more than ever.
FAY HIELD – WRACKLINE TOPIC RECORDS TSCD608
Fay Hield is a core member of the English folk scene and has been acclaimed over the course of her career. ‘Classy and entertaining’ – The Guardian. She is also an academic, lecturing in Music at the University of Sheffield and specializing in the role folk music plays in the construction of communities. With The Full English, a folk supergroup which included legendary players Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and double bassist Ben Nicholls, she toured for two years including many major festivals. The group’s self-titled album on Topic Records in 2013, won Best Group and Best Album at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and earned her a nomination for Folk Singer of the Year. This new album, Wrackline, looks at traditional stories involving the ‘otherworld’ of fairies, ghosts and the animal kingdom, exploring our emotional responses to the space between their reality and our own. Fay Hield (vocals, banjo, percussion) is accompanied by some of the best folk musicians around – Rob Harbron (concertina, guitar, harmonium, percussion, vocals), Sam Sweeney (fiddle, viola, nyckelharpa, percussion, vocals), Ben Nicholls (double bass, vocals) and Ewan MacPherson (vocals, jaw harp).
‘Wrackline is split into 6 themes, including my interpretations of songs from within the tradition and contemporary responses. It’s my first foray into songwriting but it is firmly within the realms of folk music – drawing heavily on traditions but looking at how they are still relevant for us today. Perhaps in these strange times it’s particularly important to understand how stories can help us make sense of the world around us, both the world we can see and also those darker, less tangible things.’ – Fay Hield. Highlights include the title track, where debris on the beach marks the peak of high tide, Hare Spell (taken from Isobel Gowdie’s witch trial confessions of 1662, where she shares this spell to become a hare), Night Journey (inspired by a passage of poetry by Terri Windling on the importance of trusting in the unknown knowing of nature), Sir Launfal (exploring the values of love, loyalty and generosity over lust and vanity), Pig Song (capturing different states of judgement through the eyes of strangers and based on a music hall song), the traditional Sweet William’s Ghost, and When She Comes (returning to the hare theme, looking outwards from the perspective of the hare). The album features sensitive performances of songs that are personal and often poignant. Listen to Hare Spell, the first single from the album.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS – GOOD SOULS BETTER ANGELS THIRTY TIGERS H2006
Three-time Grammy Award winner Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and started playing guitar at the age of twelve. Her first two albums for Folkways – Ramblin’ (1979) and Happy Woman Blues (1980) – received little attention but after moving to Nashville she gradually started getting more notice for her work as a singer and songwriter of rock, folk and country music. She made a series of acclaimed albums and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, released in 1998, broke her through into the mainstream when she toured with Bob Dylan. Following the reissue of her self-titled 1988 album, Lucinda Williams, to mark its 25th anniversary, she released the excellent Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. Her latest album, Good Souls Better Angels, has resonated far and wide with two top 30 charts so far in Europe, and proves in no uncertain terms that art and speaking out are essential. Recorded in Nashville, this is her most rocking and bluesiest music yet, with splendid support from Butch Norton (drums), Stuart Mathis (guitar) and David Sutton (bass), with Mark T Jordan – (organ). Now an unlikely 67 years old, Williams has lost none of her passion or quest for new means of musical exploration. Highlights include the majestic Man Without a Soul, which may be about Donald Trump or any other hypocritical politician, the poignant Big Black Train, soulful Shadows & Doubts (‘These are the long dark days’) the righteous anger of Bone of Contention, and the gentle Good Souls. Lucinda Williams’s strong, emotional voice confirms that she will never lose heart even When The Way Gets Dark in a world where lies are venerated. Highly recommended.
JOHN MAYALL – THE FIRST GENERATION MADFISH SMABX1140
Born in 1933, John Mayall was a pioneer of blues music for more than 50 years, earning himself the title, ‘The Godfather of British Blues’ as a hugely influential singer, guitarist, organist and songwriter. The elder statesman of British blues is best known as the founder in the 1960s of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band which was a finishing school for some of the most famous blues and blues rock musicians of the erahas, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Hughie Flint, Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser (of Free) Walter Trout and Buddy Whittington. Mayall’s ilustrious personnel have sometimes overshadowed his own remarkable abilities as a performer of Chicago-style electric blues. This spectacular 35 CD Limited Edition box set, to be released on 29 January 2021, documents John Mayall’s early years. Not only does it have all the albums from his much lauded formative career but it includes unreleased tracks aplenty. Featuring Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Blue Mitchell, Jon Mark and many more superlative musicians, this mammoth package also contains a beautiful hardback book and much more to please his many discerning fans.
For a short but compelling time in the ’60s and ’70s John Mayall recognised raw talent when he saw it, took it in and nurtured it so everyone thrived and benefitted. Many of the best musicians of the period passed through the hallowed ranks of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and all are on show here in a stunning set crammed with musical highlights. Put together with John Mayall’s full co-operation, the list of contents includes 35 discs – newly remastered versions of the original Decca & Polydor albums – as well as music from seven unreleased gigs, 28 unreleased BBC tracks featuring Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, an individually signed photograph, two books (including rare photos & memorabilia), and two replica posters. Watch the video