It’s with much sadness today that we report the passing of legendary soul composer, singer and musician Bill Withers. He passed on March 30th from heart complications. His hits included what have become modern popular music standards including “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and perhaps his most well-known song, “Lean On Me,” with over 100 cover versions to date. Withers released his final album in the mid 80s, Watching You Watching Me, and abruptly quit the music business soon after, not having recorded or toured since that time. Bill’s life story was released as a video memoir in his Still Bill video.
Category: Artist Feature
Album of the Week: “Hearts of Fortune” by Immaculate Fools
Immaculate Fools did not make much of an impression in the US, but their unique blend of alternative rock, folk and Celtic music made an impression in the UK, landing Hearts of Fortune at #65 on the UK albums chart. They would find even greater success in Germany and Spain, and eventually moved to Spain themselves.
The band consisted of brothers Kevin Weatherill (vocals, guitar, bass, harmonica) and Paul Weatherill (bass, backing vocals, percussion), and brothers Andy Ross (guitar) and Peter Ross (drums). The Ross brothers could boast of the late Ronnie Ross, a popular saxophonist (Matt Bianco, The Beatles “Savoy Truffle,” and others) as their father. The band would become a college radio favorite and remained popular in Spain, and remained together until 1997.
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Nara Leão and “5 Na Bossa”
I stumbled across 5 Na Bossa quite by accident, as part of a search for Edu Lobo’s recordings. For those unfamiliar with it, this album is a live recording on the Philips label from 1965, at the Paramount Theatre in Sao Paulo, featuring Nara Leão, Edu Lobo, and the Tamba Trio (Luiz Eca, Bebeto, Ohana) as a quintet, each being featured in turn. This performance comes at the tail end of the Bossa Nova movement in Brazil, when artists like Lobo and Leão began to drift towards the Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) movement in Brazilian music.
Nara Leão (b. 1942) began playing guitar at age 12 to overcome childhood shyness, and after singing and performing for a few years, turned professional in 1963 and began touring. She called Bossa Nova “alienating” in 1964, and was one of the early proponents of the MPB movement. The change in Brazilian government to a dictatorship in the mid 60s, Leão’s music began to take a more political stance as a means of protest, and relocated to Paris. By the mid 70s, she set music aside to raise a family. She began recording more prolifically in 1979 when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and passed away in 1989.
As we are naturally inclined to do, there are a handful of A&M connections here. First, Edu Lobo not only recorded an album for A&M (Sergio Mendes Presents Edu Lobo), he penned many of the tunes which Sergio Mendes and others would record for the label. And speaking of Sergio Mendes, Leão toured with Mendes as a vocalist back in 1963. Finally, Tamba Trio appeared on the A&M/CTi label with two albums and a commercially unreleased single. All are featured in turn on this album.
Sadly, the sound quality is rough on 5 Na Bossa, made even worse on the digital release I have by very heavy-handed noise reduction that muffles the sound. Amazon has this available as an MP3 download, as does iTunes, for the curious; I have not checked it for sound quality. Notable here are inclusions of Lobo’s popular track “Reza,” and the vocal pairing of Lobo and Leão on “Aleluia.” Also, Tamba Trio’s two features utilize the same arrangements of “Consolação” and “O Morro Não Tem Vez” which would appear a few years later on We and the Sea.
While this isn’t exactly an essential recording, it does highlight a lesser-known Brazilian artist, and exists as an important document of Brazilian music at the time, Brazil beginning to weary of Bossa Nova and move to the more personal expressionism of MPB.
Explore more of Nara Leão’s recordings on Amazon and iTunes. And don’t forget to hop over and visit our World Music Forum, where comments are welcome.
Album of the Week: Jim Diamond’s “Double Crossed”
Hailing from Scotland, singer-songwriter Jim Diamond first broke through on the UK Top 5 with the 1982 hit “I Won’t Let You Down,” as part of the group PhD (featuring keyboardist Tony Hymas and drummer Simon Phillips). On 1984’s Double Crossed, our album of the week, the track “I Should Have Known Better” became a Euro-pop UK and Australian No. 1 hit, and entered the Top 5 in three other countries (but surprisingly, not in the US).
Diamond was first discovered by Alexis Korner. After leaving Korner’s group, he formed a band (Bandit) with AC/DC member Cliff Williams, and later moved on to Los Angeles and formed another group called Slick Diamond with guitarist Earl Slick. After disbanding PhD, Diamond would record Double Crossed for A&M. He would follow this up with the Top 5 hit “Hi Ho Silver” from the soundtrack to the British crime drama Boon.
In later years, Diamond would make guest appearances on a handful of other artists’ albums, and release a few more himself, including City of Soul from which all proceeds went to charity. Diamond passed away in 2015.
This album is available as an import CD, and selected tracks are featured on the Best of Jim Diamond anthology.
Surf Punks, A&M, and Dragons?
Here’s a group you don’t hear about every day: the Surf Punks. This was a California-based group that mixed surf music with a punk rock attitude, documenting the beach and wave wars of southern California, punctuated by some of their notoriously uninhibited live shows. A&M-related? Actually, there is some interesting family lineage.
Surf Punks was a group led by Dennis Dragon who not only drummed and sang for the group, he also wrote the songs for the group, as well as producing and engineering. As a child, he played drums while his brothers Daryl and Doug played keyboards. Yes, the same Daryl Dragon who was “The Captain” with (Toni) Tennille. The Dragons were actually the offspring of the famous Hollywood symphony conductor Carmen Dragon. When Daryl went in to cut the Love Will Keep Us Together album, he called on his brother Dennis to engineer the album, and play drums on it. The album went on to earn a Grammy award.
The Surf Punks were signed to Epic records, but one lone track almost made it to A&M via the film Urgh! A Music War: the title track from their My Beach album. Unfortunately, the track only exists in the film (briefly released on video) and never made it to the soundtrack album, likely due to licensing issues or time constraints. Still, Dennis had a hand in one of A&M’s biggest hits, before Surf Punks ever released their first album. And, his engineering has graced many popular releases over the years.
Take a peek at the band in their early days: