Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases. This week we take a look at Chuck Jackson, Wild Silk and a Christmas Songs compilation.
Various: Christmas Songs
Crimson (CRIMCD 611)
The fact that scores of Christmas albums still get released physically every year is proof that there is still a healthy demand in the streaming era. One of the most eclectic additions to the range in 2017 is this 57 song, 3CD set that comes in an attractive slim digipack and retails for less than £10. Housing many of the festive period's most-loved songs, including When A Child Is Born by Johnny Mathis, It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year by Andy Williams, Walking In The Air by Peter Auty and Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt, it goes off-piste to include some less frequently compiled but similarly seasonal selections, among them Daryl Hall & John Oates' take on Jingle Bell Rock, It's Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas by Dana and German one hit wonders Freiheit's haunting ELO-style 1988 smash Keeping The Dream Alive.
Chuck Jackson: Big New York Soul
Kent (CDKEND 465)
British chart history is full of Americans who underachieved in their own country and were massively successful here - Odyssey and Randy Crawford are just two that spring to mind - but Chuck Jackson is not one of them. In fact, Jackson's rich soulful vocals made him a US chart fixture for much of the 1960s, when he racked up more than 40 Billboard hits, but he never once breached the UK charts. Now 80, his talent has not gone unappreciated here however, with a 'best of' and all eight of his Wand label albums being released here in recent years by Kent, whose latest Jackson album is Big New York Soul, which is, according to the liner notes, a collection of 'hits, new songs, alternates (and) favourites' from the singer. That might sound like a recipe for a weak album, but Big New York Soul is anything but, with everything that's here appearing on merit, with great productions and musicianship and complex arrangements suggesting that a great deal of time and expertise went into these recordings. Among the highlights are Little By Little, a rousing brass-driven Northern soul treat that was recorded in 1965, and has only previously seen the light of day on an out-of-print 1987 LP; King Of The Mountain, a commercial pop cut from 1963, penned by future Four Seasons hit providers Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio; and Anymore, one of eight tracks on the album that have not been released in any form hitherto, which finds Jackson and Wand labelmate Dionne Warwick proving a perfect match as they trade vocals on an uplifting song that they apparently wrote together. Copious liner notes, liberally sprinkled with illustrations complete a winning package.
Wild Silk: Visions In A Plaster Sky: The Complete Recordings 1968-1969
(RPM RETRO 995)
One of the areas in which the splendid RPM label excels is unearthing obscure but worthy artefacts of the pop/psych era, which flourished only briefly in the late 1960s leaving behind a legacy of fine recordings. Luton band Wild Silk are one of the lesser know acts in the pantheon but Visions In A Plaster Sky provides ample evidence that they were one of the best. Together for eight years before an acrimonious 1971 split, Wild Silk released a trio of singles under that name, one as Little Big Horn and another as Cotton Socks. All are here - many in previously unreleased stereo mixes - alongside tracks that were recorded for an album that was never released and various outtakes, with a playing time of 80 minutes across 24 tracks. Newly mastered and packaged with extensive liner notes featuring contributions from four band members and reissue producer Alex Palao, they include the (almost) title track (Vision Of A) Plaster Sky and its single flip Toymaker, both superb examples of the genre. with the former in particular being a delight - a lilting, melodic track that opens the album and sets a benchmark for what follows. Although many of the tracks were penned by group members, there's a surprisingly effective, smooth makeover for The Kinks' spikey Tired Of Waiting For You, which has a great string arrangement; and a less successful, rather lightweight version of Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight that invokes The Lettermen's earlier recording of the track. By contrast, a version of Randy Newman's Burn Down The Cornfield is a loose, slightly trippy and wholly successful adaptation. The band's effortlessly melodic harmonies evoke The Hollies, particularly on the ballad Poor Man - which is like a less dramatic The Air That I Breathe - and Break Down Juanita, and it really is a mystery why they weren't more successful.