Reissues (April 30): How Is The Air Up There?, Z.Z. Hill and Marlena Shaw

Reissues (April 30): How Is The Air Up There?, Z.Z. Hill and Marlena Shaw

Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases. This week we take a look at a collection of 'mod, soul, R&B & freakbeat nuggets from down under', The Complete Kent Recordings of Z.Z. Hill and Marlena Shaw’s Go Away Little Boy: The Columbia Anthology…

How Is The Air Up There? (RPMRPMBX 539)

If this album’s sub-title - ’80 Mod, Soul, RnB & Freakbeat Nuggets From Down Under’ - leads you to believe that it contains music from Australia, think again – the ‘down under’ in question is New Zealand, which occupies almost three times as much space as the UK but has a population little more than half of that of London. Despite that, it has a vital and varied music scene, on the evidence of the tracks here, which were recorded between 1964 and 1969. Curated by local expert Grant Gillanders, who also provides lengthy and informative liner notes, it certainly gives a flavour of the time, with upwards of 50 acts represented, with 19 tracks to CD for the first time, and most of them making their UK debut. The album opens in rip-roaring style with the title track – a cover of a song by US band The Changin’ Times – given an energetic garage rock makeover by The La De Da’s. Originally from Auckland, they were one of the top local acts, and were also enormously successful in Australia. With five tracks on the album, they are the band to have the biggest presence but to my ears The Action are the best of the bunch. A terrific mod band from Wellington, their songs include Somethin’ Fresh – which does exactly what it says on the tin – and, rather confusingly, an excellent note-for-note cover of Never Ever, by…The Action, their exact UK namesakes. Of the rest, Larry’s Rebels have probably got the highest profile overseas, and have already been the subject of their own RPM compilation, I Feel Good, but it is also worth checking out The Pleazers, The Bluestars and The Smoke – in fact, the entire album is sufficiently good to play in one 200 minute sitting, which is what I have just done.     
Z.Z. Hill
That's It! - The Complete Kent Recordings 1964-1968 (Kent CDTOP 2476)

As the liner notes rightly point out, Z.Z Hill was the go-to guy for blue-tinged soul, and there's a heap of it - all good - on this collection. The first CD contains all 27 sides he released on singles, in chronological order of release, and in original mono. They achieved very little success at the time but add up to an impressive body of work that, thankfully, has become widely appreciated more latterly. The rolling and raunchy Have Mercy Someone - a b-side - is excellent. Ditto What More, the first track on which his vocals are augmented and sweetened by backing vocals. Both were penned by Hill himself, but he is also a good interpreter of songs by others, including Tim Hardin's oft-recorded but rarely improved Don't Make Promises (You Can't Keep). CD2 consists of Hill's only Kent album, A Whole Lot Of Soul - a fine pot-pourri of Stax tracks and Sam Cooke songs but no originals - and bonus tracks. Fourteen of the 49 tracks are on CD for the first time, and all are worthy of inclusion.

Marlena Shaw
Go Away Little Boy: The Columbia Anthology (SoulMusic SMCR 5170D)  

A recording artist for a decade with stints at Cadet and Blue Note, Marlena Shaw’s distinctive style and unique phrasing had earned her a considerable following by the time she landed at Columbia in 1977. This musically rich 2CD anthology features 28 of her finest recordings for the label, including the camp half-spoken/half-sung fully fabulous Yu-Ma/Go Away Little Boy, a phenomenal reworking of an old Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, to which Ms. King’s reported reaction was a stunned ‘wow!’. A disco remake of Diana Ross’ hit Touch Me In The Morning also hits the spot, as does the similarly hustling medley of It Was A Very Good Year and I’m A Foster Child. The excellent string-swathed Best Days Of My Life makes its CD debut, and Shaw provides insightful information for the liner notes. Excellent.   

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