PURPLE RAIN Prince (NPG/ Warner Bros.) *****I don’t know about you, but this was my first Prince album – in fact I still have the Purple Rain single on see-thru purple vinyl. This deluxe double disc reissue includes the official 2015 Paisley Park Re-master of the original tapes, presenting an unheard of version of the soundtrack overseen by Prince himself before his death in 2016. There is also a disc of bonus tracks, including 6 cuts never heard before- even on bootleg. 11 songs on this disc, clocking in at just over twice the time of the original album.With all the music Prince put out during his lifetime, the only stuff of his I have include the original version of Purple Rain, a 2 disc Greatest Hits that came out in the early 90’s, plus his soundtrack to the first Michael Keaton Batman movie… so calling myself a ‘fan’ would be a bit of a stretch. His music has always been hit and miss with me, with the exception of Purple Rain, which I dug all the way through from day one. Even the movie, cheesy as it is, is rather enjoyable.On the original Purple Rain, at least 4 of the songs were hit singles; Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U, and the title track. Not sure if Take Me With U, originally written for the Apollonia 6 album was a hit, but it’s my favorite track on the disc. This is an album with an impressive track record; moving more than 22 million copies it’s the sixth best selling soundtrack album in history, one of those records that people know even if they’re not into Prince.Playing this re-mastered version of Purple Rain next to my original CD copy was a revelation. The songs on the re-master are more detailed and they pack more of a wallop too, particularly the title cut, for which Prince will be eternally remembered. It’s the song all the other bands played or quoted in the days and weeks after his death, even Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.Still, for an album as well known as Purple Rain, the draw here has to be the 11 bonus tracks on disc 2. As mentioned above 6 of these songs have never been heard before, not even as bootlegs, including; an ’83 solo version of Possessed, a studio version of Electric Intercourse, a full 5 minute version of Father’s Song, a 10 minute version of We Can Fuck, and a finished master of Katrina’s Dolls. 11 songs in all on the disc, all but one claiming to previously unreleased- officially, one would assume. They are sparse, funky workouts and adventures in grooving, occasionally sexy, and are frankly more entertaining than expected- and some of them get pretty wild. An exception is the instrumental piano ballad Father’s Song, a delicate piece that layers in synth sounds as the song progresses. These bonus tracks will appeal to those that are already fans while those of us whose relationship to his music is much more casual likely won’t be moved- but don’t dismiss them without giving a listen. I’m pretty impressed.This re-mix of Purple Rain makes one of the best albums of all time sound even better, and the disc of bonus tracks is a cool look behind the wizard’s curtain.
ESSENTIAL CUTS: Take Me With U, Purple Rain, Wonderful Ass, We Can Fuck
BETTER DAYS Willa & Company (Building Records) ***+This is the solo debut for this former member of The Chris O’Leary Band. Powerful, soulful and empowering, Better Days is a funky and uplifting experience.Better Days showcases Willa’s songwriting skills and dynamic vocal range, and she has a great band behind her too. This disc feels like a throwback to the 70’s for its power and passion. It’s an eclectic mix of blues, soul, rock, funk and occasional pop that you don’t hear all that often these days, a powerful tonic for when you need music to lift you up and carry you away to that safe place where you can recharge your batteries.Too many musicians involved on Better Days to list here, but her old band mate Chris O’Leary drops in to lend voice and harp to Hey Little Sister. Fans have compared Willa to Susan Tedeschi, Shemekia Copeland and Bonnie Raitt, with a twist of Janis Joplin thrown in, which is to say her voice is quite powerful and virtually impossible to ignore. I also dig how stylistically mixed this record is, from the gentle folk/ pop of Caroline to the rolling blues/ funk of the opening track Love Looks Good On Me. Each song is enjoyable from many angles; how it makes you feel, how it makes you want to move, to paying attention to the inspiring musicianship.As a singer Willa is a force of nature and the command she wields over her formidable instrument is impressive. Stepping out on your own after having been part of a band can be chancy, but not for Willa Vincitore… Better Days is a confident first step to a bigger and brighter future. This is a record with heart, guts and balls.
ESSENTIALS: Love Looks Good On Me, Hey Little Sister, Crazy Man
BIG BEETS Martin Goyette (Ad litteram) ***Who knew Quebec was a hotbed of blues talent? Goyette, placing 2nd in The Toronto Blues Society’s talent search in 2006, is hard not to notice. Whiskey soaked vocals that recall a cross between John Fogerty and Howlin’ Wolf are powerful and urgent, and his band as a superior sense of groove.Born in St.-Henri, Goyette started out listening to Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, inspiring him to start playing harmonic at age 18. In 1997 he shook the Quebec blues world with his group The Dirty Blues Band. They won awards at the Montreal Blues Festival in 2002, then toured France as opening act for the legendary Bob Walsh.Big Beets (don’t you love that title) is a series of well crafted numbers, 9 original tracks and one cover, that harken back to an older style while Goyette puts a modern stamp on them. While I really enjoy his raspy vocal style, I do have a problem with it. Maybe it’s a picky thing to say, but there’s a sort of casual slurring of syllables to his delivery that really rubs me the wrong way. Once in awhile sure, no problem… but it’s an affectation that he employs constantly (like Zakk Wylde’s harmonic squeals) and it’s distracting.Big Beets has a great energy with a touch of jazz, and for that reason alone this is a disc very much worth having. Throw it on at your next party and watch the room jump.
ESSENTIALS: That’s The Way She Does It, St- John Morning Blues, No More Room
SONGS OF A RENEGADE Greg Sover (Grounded Soul Records) ****+When some people pick up a guitar (like me), they have to work hard to merely suck. Others like Greg Sover were born to play it, having an almost empathetic relationship with the instrument. It’s no wonder too- he taught himself to play by watching videos of Hendrix and SRV, starting at age 5. Songs of A Renegade is the debut album for this Philly blues/ rock guitar slinger, and it’s pretty impressive.This is an excellent sounding, expansive record. Produced by Sover along with Garry Lee and engineer Pete Tramo, Songs Of A Renegade sounds deep and wide, at times like a semi-recent King’s X record. Greg Sover often has the same guitar tone as Ty Tabor, and his vocals very much recall Dug Pinnick. Sover’s playing is bluesy for sure, but a better label might be ‘emotional’- when he cuts into a solo, you can really feel what he’s trying to put across.Lots of shining moments amongst these 10 songs (9 originals), the height of which is a riveting cover of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone that will have the hair on the back of your next standing up. Every song this band plays here packs a wallop, all led by Sover’s nimble guitar work. The band also includes bassist/ co-producer Garry Lee, Allen James on 2nd guitar, Tom Walling on drums and Wally Smith on keyboards. Lots of different grooves here, from straight up rock stuff to the reggae vibe of Déjà Vu. Songs Of A Renegade is way more than ‘just another blues album’- the great tunes and exquisite playing make it unforgettable.
ESSENTIALS: Ain’t No Sunshine, Déjà Vu, Quicksand
CRACK-UP Fleet Foxes (Nonesuch/ Warner) *I keep seeing mentions of Fleet Foxes in music articles and, when presented with their latest album to review I figured it was time to jump in and see what this indie folk band from Seattle is about. They’ve raised the art of navel gazing to a whole new level.It sounds to me like these guys listened to Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters and thought “Can we make a more depressed, nebulous sounding album than this? Gosh- let’s try!” The production on Crack-Up is horrific, lots of echo and reverb rendering a good portion of the vocals indecipherable and leaving the instruments in a wash of formless goo, except for some monotonous acoustic guitar. I looked these guys up on Wikipedia to find out who they are and what they’re about, and frankly the fact that their earlier work received much critical praise genuinely baffles me.I think I’ve made it clear how I feel about this album – I won’t insult fans by trying to figure out new ways of saying how much Crack-Up sucks, nor will I bore others who feel as I do about this vastly overrated band. If you love Fleet Foxes and think their new album is the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, good on ya- turn it up loud enough that your neighbors end up calling the cops. As for me, I’ll be curled up in the corner, punching myself in the head repeatedly.
ESSENTIALS: Sorry- I can’t tell one song for another so it’s a big ‘pass’ for me