Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases. This week, we run the rule over releases from Gary McFarland, Roger James and The Southern-Hillman-Furay Band
The In Sound/Soft Samba (Ace CDTOP 130)
A talented vibraphonist and a distinctive vocalist, Gary McFarland upset many in the jazz world with his back-to-back Verve albums, Soft Samba (1964) and The In Sound (1965). An acclaimed composer and producer, who was to die tragically early at the age of 38 in 1971, McFarland combined Latin rhythms and vocalese – a largely wordless note-by-note emulation of the melody with the voice – for the two albums, with the 12 track Soft Samba made up entirely of covers, and The In Sound showcasing five of his own compositions alongside a further five covers. Newly remastered, squeezed onto a single CD, and accompanied by an informative 20 page booklet, they are sequenced in reverse order of release but we’ll start with the earlier album, Soft Samba, which delivers very much what it promises. McFarland seemed to be under the thrall of The Beatles, and the album includes his utterly distinctive takes on She Loves You, A Hard Day’s Night, And I Love Her and I Want To Hold Your Hand, as well as a playful version of the curio Ringo, Won’t You Marry Me, and a sublime partly whistled version of the Jolson favourite, California, Here I Come. There are no Beatles songs on The In Sound, but there is a mellow version of The Rolling Stones’ hit I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction), an even more laidback version of Burt Bacharach’s lovely but little-known Here I Am, and Cole Porter’s I Concentrate On You. Of McFarland’s own songs, the slightly bluebeat feel of Wind And Bread – on which he breaks out of vocalese with a more traditional vocal, albeit one with lyrics like “ten plus one equals nine” – is engaging. Maths may not have been his strong point, but music was, and the re-release of these two albums, will bring pleasure to many.
Riding Free (RPM RETRO 1001)
Previously a respected live musician, who accompanied the likes of Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Brown on tour, and later a writer of library music, Roger James released his one and only solo album, Riding Free, for Chapter One in 1971. Never previously available on CD, its original 10 tracks are supplemented by a further 13 here, some from Chapter One singles, others from earlier NEMS single and still more from a 1974 compilation. Riding Free is a pleasing, beautifully executed album, of the singer/songwriter variety with strong songs, many of which have a slight country flavour. The songs from the compilation are even more full on country, which is not surprising, as they were part of a country-themed album. The most commercial tracks, however, are those that comprised either side of two NEMS singles. Penned like much of the rest of the material here, by Evesham boy James, they are bright, brassy and uptempo with an undeniable period charm, with the anthemic If I Didn’t Have You the pick of the bunch.
The Southern-Hillman-Furay Band
The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (Man In The Moon MITMCD 36)
The only album by the trio of JD Souther, Chris Hillman and Richie Furay – best-known for solo work, The Byrds and Poco respectively – was released in 1974, and reached a highly respectable No.11 in America without creating much of a stir. The combination of three such talented soft rock/country talents in one supergroup promised much and delivered a pleasant but unremarkable album which is about to become available again, having already seen identical, bonus free, releases from Wounded Bird in 2002 and Rhino in 2005. It is very easy to listen to but unremarkable, though there’s some fine pedal steel guitar, impeccable harmonies and the smooth, honeyed voice of JD Souther to admire. Destined to sell at around £6.99, it is pitched at a level that should flush out potential purchasers.