Five of the following artists I am featuring have built a legacy in the music business. For some performers there comes a time when they become an Icon and an inspiration for others. They have made such an impact with their work that it defines a decade and even a genre of music. Some artists of this magnitude survive their entire career changing with the times and some stick with what they do best and still gain the respect well deserved. Wrong choices are sometimes made and they fall out of public favor and sadly have only themselves to blame. With luck “that all revealing comeback” sets the tone for a moment, but doesn’t tarnish their overall contributions.
BRIAN WILSON – NO PIER PRESSURE – CAPITOL MUSIC
The Beach Boys defined the 60’s Surf Music Sound and also made a major impact in Pop Music. Through 1967 they were on top consistently. For me their last great song was Good Vibrations. Due to Brian Wilson’s personal issues, after that their music was sporadic and that special feeling they once carried just wasn’t the same. Sure there were a couple of outstanding Beach Boy tracks that echoed back to the heyday, especially “Kokomo” in 1988 (in which Brian was not involved with).
That same year Brian launched his solo career with his self titled debut. There were a lot of expectations and compared to his success with the Beach Boys and their current formation without him, it didn’t fair well. The album peeked at #54 on the Billboard Albums Chart and the lead single “Love And Mercy” didn’t even make the Hot 100 Singles Chart.
In my opinion the songwriting was there, but vocally alone he sounded strained to me. In the next 20+ years 11 more albums followed (his follow-up, Sweet Insanity from 1990, was shelved by the record company) with less than half of the releases containing new compositions. The Beach Boys were always a favorite of mine, so I stuck with Brian and listened to each disc and I found the same problem, his vocals. I couldn’t figure it out. I thought maybe it’s just me looking for a sound that was no longer possible, but I decided after hearing him live at different points his vocals were still strong, so it just might be the production, arrangements or song choices. This really bothered me because how could such a great American songwriter keep missing the mark continuously.
Then this year, “No Pier Pressure” was released. What a turnaround. This released was planned post to the Love And Mercy film to add interest, but to be honest it stands alone well on its own. Like the Beach Boys Stars & Stripes country project from 1996, it features guest vocalists, but that is the only similarity. No Pier Pressure is filled with new Wilson compositions. The guest artists are like a who’s who is today’s rock pop market. Geared more towards critical acclaim than top charters, the set features She & Him, Nate Ruess of Fun, Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities, and long time Beach Boy alumni Al Jardine.
The harmonies are so strong that this could have been a phenomenal Beach Boy album if record solely by the group. What sets this aside from other Wilson releases is that he sounds comfortable and smooth. No Pier Pressure is the perfect title.
OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN – HOTEL SESSIONS – ONJ PRODUCTIONS MUSIC
Livy’s connection to Dance Music has never been a mainstay in her catalog aside from a handful of 12” remixes from pop singles and the unnoticed soundtrack to 2012’s “A Few Good Men.” The Hotel Sessions is collection of demos recorded a few years back peppered up for official release.
Not a full album, this EP of 5 songs plus two remixes clocks in barely over 30 minutes. Highlights are ‘The Best Of My Love” which has been floating around the internet for years as a bootleg and Newton-John’s cover of Mr. Mister’s Broken Wings, which probably would have been better served as a ballad. Even though Hotel Sessions doesn’t add up to a career highlight, for any Olivia Newton-John die hard fan it’s a must buy.
In addition Olivia has teamed up with daughter Chloe for a rehash of Xanadu’s Magic re-titled “You Have To Believe” with new lyrics featuring producer/mixer Dave Aude, which at this time is unannounced if it will appear on a Dave Aude mix release or solo project from Chloe herself.
KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND – FEELING YOU THE 60S – BFD MUSIC
There was a time when H. W. Casey founder of KC & The Sunshine band could do no wrong. In 1973 while working in a record store and part time at TK records he formed the band originally called KC & The Junkanoo Band. Their sound was similar to Chicago’s Jazz inspired Earth Wind & Fire due to the horns section, but KC’s group always had a “party” feel and developed their own Miami Florida style that would be referred to as the Sunshine Sound.
In 1975 they broke big on the US Charts with the suggestive songs “Get Down Tonight” and “That’s The Way I Like it,” both hitting number one on the singles chart. Then in 1976 another number one, “Shake Your Booty,” which is still played today at practically every party. More hits followed including I’m your Boogie Man (number one in 1977) and Boogie Shoes, which was featured in the film and soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. KC & The Sunshine Band were established as part of pop history.
Since then the hits have been scattered partly due the ban on disco in the early 80’s and a car accident which left Casey partially paralyzed involving six months of recovery in which he had to relearn how to perform mobile tasks and playing music. This happened at a time when the group should have been experimenting with new sounds and exploring different styles to stay current.
When I first found out there was going to be a “new” KC & The Sunshine Band release I was filled with anticipation. The last full album of new recordings was 2001’s latin-inspired “I’ll Be There For You,” which still held that Sunshine Sound. The new album “Feeling You The 60’s” sounded intriguing because it was to be an album of covers. Imagine the KC Sound with Bob Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind, Judy Collins’s Both Sides Now, The Kinks You Really Got Me, or The Bee Gee’s Words. That is just 4 of the 17 tracks covered and… sadly not well.
I have no idea what they were thinking. The concept seemed probable, but the production sounds like karaoke to me and KC’s vocals are simply not aged to perfection. Where is the Sunshine Band on this record? I found a sliver on Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. Where’s the studio magic? If they can make Paris Hilton sound good, couldn’t the production team have done something to assist H. W. Casey? The whole album plays like an oldies circuit live Las Vegas act.
Only one track seemed to be done right and I’m being generous with that statement. The song “Dreams,” originally titled Dream’s I’ll Never See, by The Allman Brothers and later covered by Molly Hatchet. On this cut there is evidence of studio manipulation (KC’s turn at sounding like Cher’s vocals in Believe) and that is the only thing that saved it. Maybe the audience they are targeting are the 50-60 Summerfest crowd who can’t tell good from bad after many mid-day cocktails. If that’s the case, mission accomplished.
GIORGI MORODER – DEJA VU – RCA MUSIC
We had a little glimpse of Giorgio’s return to music guesting on Daft Punk’s 2013 release “Random Access Memory.” It’s hard to believe that it has been 30 years since a full Giorgio Moroder project has been released. The new album “Deja Vu” reads like a who’s who in pop music with guest vocals from Sia, Charli XCX, Kylie Minogue, Kelis, Britney Spears, and Zedd collaborators Foxes and Mathew Koma.
Moroder has always had a knack for being in-touch with current trends when active. “Deja Vu” is today’s sound at its finest and sadly over exposed. With all the star-power enclosed the only thing that really sounds fresh are ironically the three solo Giorgio songs, “4 U With Love,” “74 Is The New 24,” and “La Disco.” I was hoping for a possible Donna Summer lost gem, but no trace of her is found on this outing.
One trademark that is really missing is that he is well known for having a song stretch way past the 8 minute mark, but everything on Deja Vu is relatively short and very radio friendly. I’m guessing this was thought of as a “pop” project so he stayed in that territory. Most likely remixes will follow that will let him explore his own magic in the studio. If you are a fan of Giorgio’s electronic work stay with his songs, for guilty pleasures you won’t remember next year, then tap into the rest.
VAN MORRISON – DUETS REWORKING THE CATALOGUE – RCA MUSIC
Van Morrison’s latest is very clever and I would even dare to say genius. What’s so special about a Duets album you wonder, there are ton’s of them and many artists that have rehashed their stuff for a buck. What makes Morrison’s latest unique is that you won’t find Gloria, Brown Eyed Girl, Domino, Wild Night, Jackie Wilson Said, Moonlighting or Wavelength here. His song choices hold true to the title, “Reworking The Catalogue.” The hits have been respected and a fresh look has been given to his catalog titles. What a marvelous way to introduce new explorers to his body work which began in 1964 with “Them.”
Also the selection of partners is just as unpredictable. Instead of riding the wave with new folksters or well-established peers. Morrison chose noteworthy artists in various genres, like British Jazz Singer Georgie Flame, Gospel legend Mavis Staples, California’s Grammy winning Jazz singer Gregory Porter, Blues musician Taj Mahal, and the late R&B vocalist Bobby Womack. There are also some heavy hitters included such as Natalie Cole, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, George Benson, and blue-eyed-soul meets blue-eyed-soul with Steve Winwood on my favorite selection, Fire In The Belly.
The only collaboration that breaks the flow is Real Real Gone with Michael Buble. It’s just a bit to bubbly (no pun intended) and tears at the smooth bluesy feel of the rest. Luckily it’s number 15 out the 16 cuts, so its disturbance is near the end. This is a landmark effort from Van Morrison and not to be missed.