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I.B. BAD: AN EPIC TALE
Contemplating scenarios in an extremely fluid situation. (5/26a)
BRYSON TILLER'S SURPRISE DROP
The latest nontraditional release shakes up chart picture. (5/26a)
LIL YACHTY, MEET
LIL JIMMY
Look who toured Hollywood Blvd. Thursday...all the way from the Capitol Tower. (5/26a)
YTD MARKETSHARE SCORECARD
...slice by slice (5/26a)
HOMB2: HE'S DeMANN
Right, said Freddy. (5/26a)
A&R IN THE AGE OF STREAMING
You know you were wondering.
LORDE'S NEXT LEVEL
How Melodrama took shape.
NASHVILLE BIG CAT
His last album made him a star. Will this one explode?
APPLE'S NEXT MOVE
The plan for domination.
Critics' Choice
GETTING BETTER: SGT. PEPPER FRESHENED UP FOR ITS 50TH
5/25/17

By Phil Gallo

Beatles fans, it’s geek-out time. The newly remixed and expanded edition of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Cub Band comes out Friday via  Apple Corps/Capitol/UMe, providing a thorough examination of how John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin created the landmark album 50 years ago.

Gilles Martin’s stereo remix of the album alters the listening experience for anyone whose collection does not include the mono edition. Using that mono mix as a guide—it’s the only mix the Fab Four approved—he has delivered an album that pushes vocals to an imaginary center speaker, more clearly defined the instrumentation and given Ringo’s drums a more prominent and better defined spot in the mix. The bass, too, has a greater presence. (It boomed on the title track when played through this listener’s Cambridge Audio CD player and Triangle speakers powered by a Musical Fidelity amp).

The set includes the mono mix of the album plus “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the single released in January 1967 as a placeholder between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Beyond that, the set includes multiple takes of tracks to demonstrate how songs came to be: There are six versions of “A Day in the Life,” for example, two of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”

While wallowing in George’s echo-rich guitar on “Fixing a Hole,” the power of the instrumentation on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and the density of “Good Morning Good Morning,” here, in one man’shumble opinion, are the set’s revelations.

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (new stereo remix). As the key to this exercise is creating a closer facsimile to what the Beatles actually played in the studio, “Lucy” stands out in that regard. Paul’s melodic bass lines, Ringo’s drums and George’s guitar are precisely defined, but so, too, are the instruments providing the flair—Paul’s Lowery organ, George’s tamboura, and John’s double-tracked lead vocals.

“She’s Leaving Home” (new stereo remix, Take 12). An easy one to break down for its superiority to the original: The naturalness of the strings and harp; the humanity of Macca’s vocal and dream-like state of John’s singing; and a smart separation that was stereo’s raison d’etre to start. Take 12 on a bonus disc is the gorgeous instrumental track.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” (Take 1). A bare bones take of John’s voice and guitar, a few harmony vocals and an effect here and there. It reveals the rather simple structure of the song, which gets lost underneath the finished product’s layers of effects and sound. Same can be said of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (Take 4).

“A Day in the Life” (Takes 1, 2, 8-11). The first take is solely piano, guitar, John’s treated vocal and the clock alarm; the second adds maracas and a hint of bass. Other tracks demonstrate how hitting that final chord was not that easy a task. (Note the pinch of Gershwin being played before the recording on take 8).

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (Instrumental). The clearest indication that for all the experimentation, at their core they were still just four guys in a rock & roll band.

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (Take 1). Every track on the bonus discs reveals how well formed all of the Sgt. Pepper songs were by the time the boys entered the studio. Here, though, we catch a glimpse of a song in a transition phase. Call it “Louie, Louie in the Sky With Diamonds.”

“Within You Without You” (Take 1). Yes, the Indian instruments are indeed playing the melody. It’s not just the cellos.

“Penny Lane” (new stereo remix). When A/B’d with the stereo vinyl reissue from 2009, the remix is brighter and fuller. Gone is the isolation of vocals and trumpets in a single channel, replaced with a broader palate of sound.   In addition, the bass is tightened up.

Others can debate where Sgt. Pepper fits within the Beatles’ oeuvre, but it is important to look at where The Beatles sat artistically among their peers when they were recording Sgt. Pepper between December 1966-April 1967.

They were surrounded by burgeoning psychedelic scenes and avant-garde classical music. The old guard was deciding what side they wanted to be on: The Beach Boys shelved their experimental SMiLE prior to the Sgt. Pepper sessions, choosing instead to stick with a more straight-forward approach to their new music; The Rolling Stones, ever so gently, dabbled in psychedelia on their early ’67 release Between the Buttons, an album hailed for its eclecticism.

Pink Floyd was emerging as one of Britain’s leaders in its psychedelic scene of ’66 and ’67; their first single, “Arnold Layne,” was released in April ’67 and promptly banned by the BBC.

John and Paul became exposed to acts moving rock forward at the time, taking in concerts by The Who, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, who were emerging as one of Britain’s leaders in psychedelia; Paul met the composer Luciano Berio.

On the singles side, where The Beatles charted with the commercial “Penny Lane” and the experimental ”Strawberry Fields Forever,” the competition was far less adventurous: Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me” held onto #1 to hold “Penny Lane” at #2 in the U.K.; and in the U.S., The Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” The Buckingham’s “Kind of a Drag” and Johnny Rivers’ “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’” were the Top 3 when the double-sided single entered the chart at #83.

Essays and timelines in the book that accompanies the Sgt. Pepper expanded edition explain the milieu surrounding The Beatles in ’66 and ’67. Taken collectively, it shows how the world’s biggest band took chances that would likely be inconceivable nowadays. Just as other 1967 releases—The Velvet Underground’s debut, Aretha’s singles, Hendrix, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” among them—avoid the haze of nostalgia, so, too, does this new version of a record become an improved version of a timeless classic.

SINGLES, CHRIS AND ME
5/24/17

by Simon Glickman

It’s almost unbearably bittersweet listening to Epic Soundtrax/Legacy’s new Deluxe Edition soundtrack to 1991’s Singles, the Cameron Crowe-helmed romantic comedy set amid the era’s Seattle rock scene. Not only because the film and its very influential ST meant a lot to me when I was half the age I am now, but because now it plays like a tribute not only to Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood (who died in 1990) and Alice in Chains Layne Staley (who left us in 2002) but also to Chris Cornell. The singer/songwriter and Soundgarden frontman, whose death last week sucker-punched us all, is the most prolific contributor to Singles, particularly in this new form.

The original set, reproduced on disc 1 of the reissue, includes powerful work by ’90s heavies like Alice, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Paul Westerberg, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and more, not to mention Seattle forebears Jimi Hendrix and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart (who duet here, as The Lovemongers, on a Led Zeppelin cover).

Cornell’s range is evidenced in the blazing Soundgarden track “Birth Ritual,” which showcases his pipes in full banshee fury, and the delicate solo song “Seasons.” Even this early in his career, Cornell was Janus-faced—a beguiling troubadour one moment, a rampaging rock deity the next.

On disc 2, which is packed with previously unreleased material, we go much deeper. The riches include a passel of Cornell demos grouped as “The Poncier Tape.” Here Cornell, accompanying himself on guitar and percussion, sketches out “Spoon Man,” “Nowhere But You,” “Flutter Girl” and “Missing.” A live “Birth Ritual” demonstrates how intense his onstage delivery could be, while he further exhibits his versatility as a composer and musician with the solo closing cuts “Ferry Boat #3” and “Score Piece #4.”

The rest of the disc expands the input of Alice, Westerberg, movie band Citizen Dick, Posies side project Truly and others. But the loss of Cornell feels like a huge shadow over this world. He was one of the greats.

LONG STRANGE TRIP: A ROLLER-COASTER JOURNEY WITH THE DEAD
5/23/17

By Erik Himmelsbach

Perhaps it was by design, but Long Strange Trip, Amir Bar-Lev’s expansive documentary of the Grateful Dead, feels a lot like a Dead show. For starters, the film is long: four hours and a minute, divided into six acts, with an intermission at the mid-point. Beyond these superficial similarities, Long Strange Trip takes its audience on a roller coaster ride not dissimilar to the live Dead experience: transcendent peaks accompanied by long dirge-like passages that make perfect bathroom breaks. But in the end, you feel nothing but ecstasy.

For card-carrying Deadheads, even those who think they know all there is to know, Long Strange Trip is a revelation–a holy grail of rare footage, revealing interviews with band members and groovy, non-linear storytelling. For the rest of the world, the doc begins streaming on Amazon Prime 6/2, enabling less obsessed fans to watch this all-encompassing film in shorter bursts.

The film plays theaters one night only on Thursday with weeklong runs in New York and Los Angeles.

The Dead’s story has been told again and again, but Bar-Lev’s improvisational, non-linear storytelling crams a lot into four hours, leaving us wanting more. He tells the story through the prism of Jerry Garcia, from his tragic childhood–rooted in the drowning death of his father when he was just five–and follows his journey through his Palo Alto coffeehouse days, where he first teamed up with songwriting partner Robert Hunter and became a bluegrass ace, his jug band with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, onto The Warlocks and the Dead.

The first half focuses on Garcia and the band’s journey through the 1960s and early 70s, the collective improvisation that overtook the group both onstage and in life, some great footage from their first trip to Europe and comic relief from both former Warner Bros. honcho Joe Smith, who plays the long-suffering exec who can’t control the crazy Bay Area hippies, and Sam Cutler, an acerbic Brit who signed on as the Dead’s tour manager in 1970 after leading the Rolling Stones on the road. Cutler was ostensibly brought aboard to organize the chaos, but he left after four years, waving a white flag of surrender. Bonus points for the priceless story about the Dead entourage dosing the set of the TV series Playboy After Dark during the band’s 1969 appearance.

Beside the band, roadie Steve Parish provides poignant commentary about the family/communal/utopian culture surrounding the band, and, during a segment on Deadheads, Sen. Al Franken discusses his obsession with “Althea” and why the 1980 Nassau Coliseum version is the best ever.

In spite of the enlightenment­–the Wall of Sound PA system, the Acid Tests, the trip to Egypt, Long Strange Trip is also shrouded with at least a little darkness–the deaths of Pigpen, Brent Mydland and a handful of others in the crew along the way.

As Long Strange Trip progresses, it becomes less about the band than about Garcia’s long, sad spiral. As the Dead grew in the 1980s, the more he turned inward, mostly through drugs, often heroin.

The band had become a fast moving machine with dozens on the payroll whose livelihood depended the wheels turning on the road. Forward momentum came at the expense of Garcia’s health. With a hit record in the late '80s, the Grateful Dead became a stadium act, and Deadheads came to view the guitarist as a messianic figure. Add to that a parking lot scene that became diluted by frat-boy types who didn’t grasp the band’s essential message and just wanted to party and mess shit up.

It wasn’t what Garcia had signed up for. He was looked upon to lead, but Garcia didn’t believe in leaders. He was in the band to have fun, and it was becoming a drag, man. To deal with the pressure, he checked out, keeping those he loved at arm’s distance, until it was too late.

While there’s a bit to quarrel with–key moments in the band’s history are glossed over or ignored, while others are beaten into the ground–Long Strange Trip nevertheless mind-blowingly captures the essence of the Grateful Dead, and of a generation.