Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases. This week, we take a look at a group of Janis Ian re-releases, a set of classics from The Ohio Players and an adventurous soft rock compilation from UMOD.
Stars (Sony Music/Legacy 88985448762)
Between The Lines (88985448712)
Miracle Row (88985448722)
Night Rains (88985449012)
Janis Ian is one of the star attractions at the 2018 Cambridge Folk Festival, which is staged in August (2-5). Ahead of that, her core 1970s albums are the subject of newly remastered CDs and 180gram vinyl editions, both of which are refreshingly presented as was, with no bonus content. Ian rose to fame as a 16-year-old in 1967, with the self-penned hit Society’s Child, which tackled the thorny issue of an interracial relationship. Her fortunes faded, until she signed to Columbia, whereupon her renaissance began. Stars (1974), the first of the albums from that period, is a sublime delight, with intimate, confessional songs, most memorably the seven-minute title track, and The Man You Are In Me, which was a minor hit in America. 1975’s Between The Lines cemented Ian’s return to prominence, with the jazzy, literate and angst-ridden At Seventeen becoming her signature song, and a major hit. Aftertones (1976) and Miracle Row (1977) contain some wonderful observational songs and were also highly successful, especially in Japan, where her songs were synced regularly to local TV dramas. The decade ended on a high with Night Rains, a somewhat lighter, seemingly less personal album, which includes the delightful Other Side Of The Sun and Fly Too High, both of which were British hits. The latter, which was written for the film Foxes and has a melody penned by Giorgio Moroder, is a superb jazzy sub-disco romp with exquisite muted trumpet.
The Ohio Players
The Definitive Collection (Robinsongs ROBIN 21 CDT)
The Ohio Players had few peers in the worlds of funk and soul at their peak, racking up 16 Hot 100 hits and many more R&B hits in the 1970s. The problem is that they dodged around from label to label, recording for Capitol, Westbound, Mercury, Arista and Boardwalk – a restlessness that has legislated against a comprehensive compilation of their hits… Until now. Robinsongs are to be applauded for getting their hands on not just their hits – with the solitary exception of Rattlesnake – but also a great deal more, fleshing out this excellent 3CD set with important album cuts and solo tracks by band members Junie, Shadow and Sugarfoot. Divided into individual discs covering The Early Years, The Golden Years and The Later & Solo Years, this is everything a fan could hope for and more, with an informative 28-page booklet giving further insights into a terrific collection. As you might expect, The Golden Years disc houses much of their best work, including both of their US Hot 100 No.1s – Fire and Love Rollercoaster - wherein their funky side is dominant. But perhaps their best song is the gorgeous Sweet Sticky Thing, which opens with subdued synths, whistling and whispering, which eventually give way to excellent falsetto vocals, parping sax and a pretty melody. Humour is never far from the surface either – Granny’s Funky Rolls Royce is as corny as you might expect, with chipmunk voices, a shaky voiced old lady and a vocoder all part of the mix, while Jive Turkey is similarly amusing. A tight rhythm section, blazing horns and an infectious enthusiasm colour everything they tackle, even making their pleasant Christmas song Happy Holidays palatable at this unseasonal time of year.
Soft Rock Forever (UMOD 5382589)
Gathering together 60 songs that fit the soft rock banner, each by a different act, this new UMOD compilation actually strays a little from its brief. It embraces the stadium rock of U2 (With Or Without You), the disco rock of Kiss (I Was Made For Loving You), the yacht rock of Christopher Cross (Sailing), the folk rock of Cat Stevens (Oh Very Young), the country rock of The Bellamy Brothers (Let Your Love Flow) and the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sweet Home Alabama), to name a few. Overall, however, the collection hangs together very well, and it is nice to see the compilers sidestepping usual standbys Toto, Journey & REO Speedwagon, thus allowing space for cuts like Mark Cohn’s piano-led masterpiece Walking In Memphis; The Marshall Tucker Band’s rarely-compiled but excellent Can’t You See and T’Pau’s debut smash Heart & Soul. The 1987 hit draws a magnificent multi-dimensional performance from Carol Decker, with deadpan rapping, full throttle main vocal and intricate counter melodies all part of her armoury.