Dig The Old Breed

Rolling Stones, Saint Etienne's Soft Rock, Thom Bell, Beatles Songbook and Other Reissues

Saint Etienne Presents Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room

The Fountain Coffee Room is a real place, a restaurant tucked away in the Beverly Hills Hotel. It opened in 1949 and it exists to this day but Saint Etienne assembled Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room with the 1970s in mind, specifically the satiny portions of that decade. Ace's promotional copy says it's the soundtrack for "the kind of place where Warren Beatty and Julie Christie might meet in the afternoon for a secret rendezvous between shooting scenes for Shampoo," a description that rings true even if the facts don't quite jibe. Hal Ashby's film, which was set in 1968, came out in early 1975, and a good portion of Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room date from the back half of the 1970s, a situation that's bound to confound any listener looking for strict history. Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room isn't an almanac, though. Rather, it's an impressionistic portrait of an era, one that's half-remembered, half-imagined. Everything here is mellow but unlike so many soft-rock retrospectives, this contains a good number of R&B acts. Swapping out America's original "Tin Man" for a cover by soul singer John Edwards is not only a clever move, but it also illustrates how so much mainstream music of the 1970s was united by its warm, soothing vibe. Despite the presence of Daryl Hall & John Oates, this music can't be called yacht rock; the focus is too soft and hazy for that, plus there's a greater variety of sounds and rhythms than there typically is within the world of yacht. This is soft rock, the kind that flourished in the heyday of leisure suits, ferns, and perms, the kind that continued to echo through the 1980s, then faded away as the years passed. Songs For The Fountain Coffee Room brings back the sound of that time with style and verve. 

Ready Or Not: Thom Bell's Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978

Considering how he's one of the pivotal figures in 1970s soul, Thom Bell is surprisingly underserved in terms of compilations. Ace's Ready Or Not: Thom Bell's Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 goes a long way in righting that wrong. Ready Or Not shouldn't be seen as a definitive retrospective—it's missing too many smashers, particularly from the Spinners and the Delfonics—but through its progression of early sides, obscurities and hits, the compilation illustrates the breadth and depth of his work. It's fascinating to hear his lush, intricate arrangements on the likes of Lesley Gore and Connie Stevens—two singers who aren't associated with soul—and hearing Bell refine his approach during the 1970s progressed is also instructive; this may not be heavy on the hits, but it does illustrate his achievements. But Ready Or Not isn't a textbook, it's a warm, enveloping collection of some of the richest, smoothest soul ever recorded. It's a pure pleasure by any measure. 

Looking Through A Glass Onion: The Beatles Psychedelic Songbook 1966-1972

Most Beatles songbook compilations play upon the notion that the compositions of Lennon & McCartney (and sometimes Harrison) are modern classics that transcend time. Looking Through A Glass Onion: The Beatles Psychedelic Songbook 1966-1972 flips that notion on its head by rounding up three discs worth of Fab Four covers from the height of psychedelia and prog-rock. The term "psychedelia" might suggest everything here is trippy and that's true. There are simple folk variations, vaudevillian japes, and Vera Lynn crooning "Good Night," sounds that evoke the period every bit as much as the phased guitars and overdriven organs that propel so much of the music here. What's striking is that even when the Beatles' original is used as a blueprint for the cover—and that doesn't happen too often, with the Hollies' "If I Needed Someone" being perhaps the most prominent example—there's a palpable verve to the performances. Still, the comp is at its most fun when it's at its most ridiculous, like when the Mirage sweetens "Tomorrow Never Knows," or when Affinity turn "A Day In The Life" into soul-jazz or when Brian Bennett strives to find some funk in "Rocky Raccoon." These moments when heard in tandem with Yes puffing up "Every Little Thing" to inflated portions underscores how the Beatles weren't treated as sacred during this period—they were peers and it was fine to turn their tunes inside out, either for fun or profit. The result is a comp that's a lot more fun than many of its earnest cousins. 

Peephole In My Brain: The British Progressive Pop Of 1971

A sequel to New Moon's In The Sky: The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1970, Peephole In My Brain: The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971 also benefits from narrowcasting. By digging deeply into a particular year, it's possible to hear all the different directions music moved over the course of twelve months. Often, the "progressive" overwhelms the "pop" but not always. Sure, there are a lot of groups that sound a bit like Jethro Tull and more than a few to incorporate far-out fuzz guitars, but some of these bands do sound a bit like psychedelic bubblegum...and that's not just Sakkarin, who cover the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" to thudding, tribal rhythms that sound a bit like proto-Gary Glitter. They also sound a bit like John Kongos, whose "Tokoloshe Man" (later covered by Happy Mondays, one of two songs of his they recorded) is here. "Tokoloshe Man" is one of the few songs here that could be called a hit (it did go to number four in the UK) and while there are a handful of recognizable names (Kevin Ayers, the Hollies, Barclay James Harvest, the Move, Status Quo, the Kinks), the nice thing about this comp is how these groups seem to be swimming in the same waters as everybody else. Maybe they're they ones navigating the rapids but they're not renegades, they're part of the fleet. That's a subtle but notable shift of perspective which helps make Peephole In My Brain such an enjoyable trawl through the past.

The Rolling StonesGoats Head Soup [Deluxe Edition]

The disc of bonus material contains only three unreleased songs, the heavily-bootlegged live set Brussels Affair saw its first official release several years back and the album itself is not exactly beloved, even though it has its share of Stones standards. Nevertheless, this deluxe edition of Goats Head Soup is very worthwhile all the same. Brussels Affair alone is worth the price of admission, proof positive that when the Rolling Stones called themselves the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World it was no idle boast. The three new songs are good, too: rockers one and all, "Scarlet" is so rubbery that Jimmy Page slides in comfortably and "All The Rage" works up a convincing head of steam. As good as they are, Goats Head Soup had better rockers in "Silver Train" and 'Star Star," and much of the album's charm derives from its slippery funk and foggy ballads. Those qualities were accentuated by the album's original murky mix, a thick melange that required the listener to succumb to its viscous viciousness. This remix strips away almost all of that darkness, so it's easier to appreciate a pretty strong set of Stones charms and a production with such period charms as a heavy reliance on clavinet. As neat and crisp as this mix is, I'll probably still default to the original mix since it'll be awfully difficult to think of Goats Head Soup without thinking of its sense of dread. Perhaps that dark vibe was accidental, but it was there in the original mix and it's pushed to the backburner here. 

Andrew GoldLonely Boy: An Anthology

Andrew Gold's catalog has been reissued a ton, either as expanded editions, two-fers, or four-fers. Lonely Boy: An Anthology trumps all these by offering all his Asylum albums augmented by bonus tracks, bonus CDs, and a disc of live material. It's been a while since I've listened to these records but Omnivore's Something New: Unreleased Gold—a collection of demos recorded just prior to his signing to Asylum in 1975—whetted my appetite for this collection. This time around, what strikes me is how Gold was an utter pro operating on two different tracks: he mastered the studio but also marshaled those pros into giving tight, lively performances.