Recent Ace Records Releases by Ian Johnston

Another quick round up from Ian Johnson of recent releases from one of the best reissue labels in the world: Ace. As you’ll know Ian has done numerous such round ups for us in the past & we recommend you use the search box to find some more if the reviews below pique your interest.

Gil-Scott Heron – The Revolution Begins

Recent Ace Records Releases by Ian JohnstonThe late, great Gil-Scott Heron (1949-2011) was one of the most incisive, sophisticated, intelligent and passionate commentators upon the Afro-American experience of the late 20th century. The singer/poet produced some of the most vital ever created in black US music. Heron’s songs and words encompassed the personal and the political, not in a crude, didactic fashion, but as truly poetic and witty satirical observations upon the numerous indignities, inequality, oppression, blind prejudice and naked violence that he and millions of other African Americans had to endure. Compiled and noted by Dean Rudland, this superb triple-disc package comprises three albums and every other piece of work Gil Scott-Heron (together with his musician partner, Brain Jackson) recorded for Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label.  Based upon the original master tapes, these timeless compositions and poems sound better than ever and just as relevant, 40 years on.

Heron first came into view in 1970 as the young author of a novel, The Vulture, and of poetry entitled Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. Through a publishing contact he got in touch with Bob Thiele, the visionary former head of the jazz label Impulse, which had recorded many of the great John Coltrane albums that Heron admired. Thiele wanted to issue Heron on record but at the time could only afford a spoken word album. The result was the 1970 LP Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (named after his book of poems), and recorded with just Heron and three percussionists. Channelling the urgency of proto rap collective The Last Poets (but with less machismo and more humour), Heron’s Small Talk at 125th and Lenox album (recorded live in a small studio in front of an audience) transmits his informed communiqués to black America:  the amusing, propulsive and sardonic classic ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (“The Revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions”), the critique of the American government’s spending upon space exploration while millions of blacks languished in poverty (‘Whitey On The Moon’),  ‘No Knock’ (the law which enabled the police to enter homes without warning), the title track (a snap shot of black street voices), ‘Billy Green Is Dead’ (a comment upon the insensitivity of those in the ghetto towards their neighbours) and the haunting blues, ‘The Vulture’.

Heron’s Small Talk at 125th and Lenox sold enough copies for Thiele to commission a 1971 studio LP, Pieces Of A Man. Featuring the renowned bassist Ron Carter, Brian Jackson on piano and Pretty Purdie on drums, together with Hubert Laws on flute/sax and Burt Jones on electric guitar, Pieces Of A Man is a solid gold jazz/soul masterpiece which cemented Heron’s reputation. The compositions on Pieces Of A Man would feature in Heron’s set for the rest of his life – the celebration of ‘Lady Day And John Coltrane’ and the redemptive power of music in general, the harrowing depiction of junkie life ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ (covered by Anita Lane on her 2001 LP Sex O’clock), the driving, full band version of ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and the moving title track which delineates how a man’s life can disintegrate by losing his job.

Together with Heron’s fine 1972 Free Will album (an alternative version of Free Will is also included in this set, together with an amazing rare track with Pretty Purdie & The Playboys – ‘’Artificialness’, which features Heron as George Washington Brown Esquire writing a letter to President Nixon; a criticism of the Vietnam War couched in an allegory of domestic violence), The Revolution Begins provides the perfect presentation of the great poet/singer’s abiding early work.

Red Sovine – I’m The Man: A Starday Singles Anthology

Recent Ace Records Releases by Ian JohnstonUnjustly, the rich baritone country music singer Red Sovine is never held in the same regard as Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. Yet there is so much more to Red Sovine than the huge hits ‘Teddy Bear’, ‘Giddy up Go’, ‘Phantom 309’ (memorably covered by Tom Waits on his exceptional 1975 live album, Nighthawks At The Diner), ‘Vietnam Deck Of Cards’ and several other emotionally overwrought recitations he recorded in the 60s and 70s for Starday Records (‘If Jesus Came To Your House’). Noted by Tony Rounce, this follow up to Ace’s previous Sovine Starday Records compilation, the aptly named Honky Tonks, Truckers & Tears, provides further selections of his work that concentrates on the singles he made during his first lengthy tenure with the Nashville independent label – which lasted, with a few brief breaks, from 1960 to 1971.

As well as Sovine’s great late 60s revivals of the 1940s hillbilly standards ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’, ‘I’m Waiting Just For You’ and ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’, I’m The Man features his early 60s covers of contemporary songs which measure to the originals by Charlie Rich (a transcendent rendition of ‘Sittin’ And Thinkin’’) and many by the magnificent George Jones (including the buoyant ‘No Money In This Deal’ the sombre ‘Color Of The Blues’, the sardonic ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ and the jaunty ‘Why Baby Why’). On these and other songs featured here crucial Nashville musicians, including pianist Pig Robbins, bass player Junior Huskey and steel player Pete Drake back Red Sovine.

Some honky tonk shuffles, including ‘I Hope My Wife Don’t Find Out’ and ‘Don’t Let My Glass Run Dry’, together with more familiar Sovine material (included one tear jerking recitation (‘I Think I Can Sleep Tonight’) and one mighty fine truckin’ song (‘King Of the Open Road’) makes I’m The Man the perfect introduction to an underrated Country music legend.

Various Artists – Rolling With The Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook

Recent Ace Records Releases by Ian JohnstonThe great African American New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint is saluted by Ace with a compilation, noted by Tony Rounce, celebrating his work. Remarkably, between 1960 and 1980, hardly a week passed without an Allen Toussaint composition being covered by a musician and becoming a hit on the R&B or Hot 100 charts.

The numerous highlights include Ernie K-Doe’s jubilant 1971 single ‘Here Come The Girls’ (revived by a Boots advertising campaign in 2007, sampled by The Sugerbabes for their 2008 hit ‘Girls’, all too late, unfortunately for K-Doe who died in 2001), Benny Sellman’s 1962 B-side classic ‘Fortune Teller’ (covered by The Rolling Stones, The Who and Iggy Pop with his first band The Iguanas), Don Convay’s ultra funky 1970 reading of ‘Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) and the magnificent funk of The Meters 1970 version of Lee Dorsey mid 60s hit, ‘Ride Your Pony’.

Including the country mother and daughter duo The Judds’ 1985 version of the 1966 Lee Dorsey hit ‘Working In The Coal Mine’ might be taking this eclectic overview a bridge too far, but there can be no arguments about the inclusion of the late, great Solomon Burke’s barnstorming 1968 version of ‘Get Out Of My Life Woman’ (the opening drum beat having been sampled on countless hip hop recordings), The Pointer Sisters 1973 funky strut ‘Yes We Can Can’ that launched their career, Arron Neville’s simply beautiful 1961 interpretation of ‘Let’s Live’ and Lee Dorsey’s amusing 1966 hit, ‘Holy Cow’.

Various Artists – Feeling High – The Psychedelic Sound Of Memphis

Recent Ace Records Releases by Ian JohnstonTurn on, tune in, freak out! Vigilantly compiled, researched and noted by Alec Palao, this excellent compilation focuses on the years 1967-1969 in Memphis and primarily upon the warped rock music produced there by two celebrated iconoclasts from the city; the late great James Luther Dickinson (this CD is respectfully dedicated to Dickinson, who worked with Alex Chilton/Big Star, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, The Rolling Stones, The Cramps, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and others, and who died in 2009) and fellow individualist James Parks.

As Palao explains in the notes, there were not many live venues in Memphis who were prepared to host full on, whacked out, English Invasion influenced psychedelic rock (music to dance to was the preferred local music of choice); consequently much musical experimentation was limited to within the city’s recording studios. Dickinson served his apprenticeship as a producer-engineer at Ardent Studios in the late 1960s, where he was responsible for many of the most deranged and crazy sessions ever held in Memphis.  Examples of Dickinson’s demented influence on Feeling High include a truly berserk reading of The Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ by The Honey Jug, the proto punk sound of the Goatdancers ‘Eat Me Alive’ and ‘We’re In Town’ (produced by the band’s leader Terry Manning), the fervent ‘I Need Love’ by The Poor Little Rich Boys (arranged by Dickinson), the trippy ‘Dancing Girl’ by The 1st Century and the spooked bad craziness of ‘Secret Storm’ by Knowbody Else (later to achieve fame as Black Oak Arkansas).

James Parks, then a very young renegade who took the controls at his uncle Stan Kesler’s Sounds Of Memphis studio in 1968, also produced inspired work to rival Dickinson’s. Featured here are numerous inspired Parks productions, including the wigged out, fuzz guitar saturated ‘Blue Music Box’ by the archly named Changin’ Tvmes, Sealing Smoke’s echo drenched, freaky ‘Rubber Rapper’, a soulful Brain Auger style psych version of Bobby Blue Bland’s ‘Rockin’ In The Same Old Boat’ by Triple X (featuring feedback guitar by Dickinson) and the B3 organ/feedback driven deconstruction of The Beatles’ ‘Ticket To Ride’ by Mother Roses.

If you dig Feeling High – The Psychedelic Sound Of Memphis, also check out Ace’s 2008 double disc set, Thank You Friends – The Ardent Records Story, Ace’s compilation of The Jesters (the first band Dickinson was involved with and the last great group released on Sam Phillips’ Sun label), entitled Cadillac Men, and James Luther Dickinson’s incredible 1972 solo album, Dixie Fried. You will not be disappointed.

Various Artists – The Ace (USA) Story Volume 5

Recent Ace Records Releases by Ian JohnstonAce UK continue to update their five late 1970’s and early 1980’s vinyl compilations, originally assembled by Ted Carroll, Ray Topping and Roger Armstrong, of the famous Jackson, Mississippi rock ‘n’ roll/R&B label with this superb and comprehensive final CD (up-dated with nine extra tracks, and noted by Tony Rounce).   In fact it was Ted Carroll’s close professional links with the USA Ace owner Johnny Vincent that enabled UK Ace to enter the reissue licensing business in the first place and issue the Ace USA back catalogue from 1954 to 1964 on a series of five LP’s.

Johnny Vincent’s label was a couple of hundred miles and a state away, but Ace USA captured the sound of New Orleans during the 1950’s into the 1960’s. The master of New Orleans R&B and the lynchpin of the Ace USA stable, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith & The Clowns, is well represented here with the rollicking’ ‘Educated Fool’ (1962, featuring Danny White on vocals) and the amusing ‘If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another’ (1962). New Orleans living legend Mac Rebennack, who found international fame as Dr. John, is featured with the 1962 song that started his whole career, as the aptly named Ronnie & The Delinquents playing ‘Keeps Dragging Me On’ and backing up Sugar Boy Crawford with Mac Rebennack’s Orchestra’s1961 version of the New Orleans standard, ‘Jockomo’ Tragically, songwriter Crawford received no financial recompense when the Dixie Cups had a 1965 hit with the re-tiled ‘Iko Iko’ version. Dr. John revisited the song on his superb 1972 New Orleans cover album, Dr. John’s Gumbo.

Other numerous highlights include Lee Dorsey’s self explanatory ‘Rock’ (1959), Elton Anderson’s moody ‘Roll On Train’ (1958), the legendary Eddie Bo’s quintessential New Orleans 1956 shuffle ‘Roll ‘Em Back’ and Earl King’s jumpin’ ‘I’m Packing Up’ (1956), while Frankie Lee Sims delivers first class, tough Texas rockin’ blues with ‘Well Goodbye Baby’ (1958) and ‘She Likes To Boogie Real Low’ (a coruscating 1958 Louis Jordan cover).

Collect all five The Ace (USA) Story volumes; satisfaction is guaranteed.

Ace Records website can be found here. They are on Facebook here and are also on Twitter.

All words by Ian Johnston. More Louder Than War articles by Ian can be read here.

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