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Billy Preston

Billy Preston

The Best of Billy Preston: The Millennium Collection

A&M/Universal

Now, how cool is this motherfather? Well, he did play for Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Mahalia Jackson; and when The Beatles were on the verge of committing their circle jerk suicidal break-up, they called up this man to set aside the swords. Even though they made up to break up — and blame everything on Yoko — they did calm down long enough to lay down their funkiest song, “Get Back,” with Preston’s help.

Preston and his electric piano were pioneers of the funk. The “spacey” Afro-spangled brother had a happy-go-lucky church-inspired sound that put the spirit in ya. And this is one funk-stank good time. his music rings down from the rafters with the thunder of the Holy Ghost. “Will It Go Round In Circles,” “Nothing From Nothing,” the legendary “Outa-Space” (which was featured in Boogie Nights) and the slightly less stellar “Space Race” are funk classics. “Slaughter” ain’t about no jive-ass turkey. Everybody knows “You Are So Beautiful” (admittedly made famous by Joe Cocker). And for the full fire-and-brimstone, Mahalia-Jackson-fanning, glory-in-the-Spirit, gospel good time, “You’re So Unique” and the live version of “That’s the Way God Planned It” will have you thumping the Bible all the way to whichever chu’ch you desire — whether carnal or ethereal.

Universal Music: http://www.universalchronicles.com

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Music Reviews

Supertramp

Supertramp

The Very Best of Supertramp

A&M / Universal

Unless you’re a diehard fan or geeky collector of progressive ’70s rock, this is the only Supertramp album you’ll need. Fifteen tracks clocking in at a generous 79 minutes, traipse through their mid-late ’70s prime years (two early and thankfully out-of-print albums from 1970 and 1971 are not-surprisingly omitted), hitting most of their best, and all of their most popular material. Track by track liner notes with snappy quotes from the band add extra value to this quality recap. Beating Genesis to the punch, Supertramp — named after a cult classic book, W.H. Davies’ The Autobiography of a Supertramp — meshed their prog-rock with intricate pop, goosing it with a bit of jazz and blues courtesy of John Helliwell’s spotlight stealing woodwinds. They crossed over in a big way on 1979’s mega-platinum Breakfast In America, which sold over 18 million copies worldwide, but first achieved a strong US following with 1977’s Crime of the Century, their most fully realized work. The end came quickly, as the Breakfast follow-up live double set Paris (which is MIA here) and 1982’s appropriately titled …famous last words tanked, sending reedy singer/guitarist/songwriter Roger Hodgson, best known for his vocals on the ubiquitous “Take the Long Way Home,” scurrying to a solo career which he’s still trying to get off the ground. By 1985’s unexpectedly solid Brother Where You Bound, the end was calling, even though the band continued to soldier on, releasing a few nondescript albums until 1997, none of which are represented on this collection. In fact only 12 minutes (two tracks) are devoted to Supertramp’s post-Breakfast work, an indication of the popularity, but not necessarily the quality of their later albums. Certainly the progressive elements that made Crime, Crisis What Crises?, Even in the Quietest Moments, and Breakfast so refreshing in their multi-genre appeal, are all but absent on their later work, showing that founder Hodgson’s input was missed. Speaking as someone who lived through the Breakfast years and swore off the band forever after that album ruled the airwaves, hearing this music again after twenty some years is a startlingly enjoyable experience. Beautifully produced and often meticulously constructed, the songs — some might say mini-suites — flow between tempos and unique pop construction. From the drama of the young schoolchild screaming just before the opening crescendo of “School,” which leads off this disc, to the faux-blues of “Ain’t Nobody But Me” to the epic “From Now On,” with its classical piano riffs and the pop smarts with crafty wordplay of “The Logical Song,” Supertramp’s music remains more than a crusty curiosity from quarter century old progressive rock has-beens. With a distinctive sound, a knack for melody and a reach just within their grasp, they’re a band worth rediscovering. The Very Best of Supertramp contains all the reasons why.

Supertramp: http://www.supertramp.com

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Music Reviews

The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers

A&M/Universal

No less than the third anthology on the band released by the same label (and that’s not counting the recent double album from Rhino of Burrito leader/guiding spirit/doomed troubadour Gram Parsons’ hits, which unsurprisingly includes almost everything here), is still an excellent cut-rate introduction to the group. As the cliché goes about The Velvet Underground, not many people purchased the only two Flying Burrito Brothers albums with Parsons aboard when they were released in 1969 and ’70, but everyone who did started a band.

Certainly the strains of The Eagles, Poco, his compatriot Emmylou Harris, and later, The Jayhawks and Son Volt can be easily heard in these 12 tracks. If those artists are already in your collection, you simply cannot be without something from the Burritos. And if you’re on a budget, this is going to fill the bill. But not for long. Once you hear Parsons• plaintive voice and memorable, often weepy but never maudlin songs, you•ll want more. This 41-minute compilation (which interestingly includes a handful of rarities) is a decent place to start. It’s an adequate sampler for those who need just a taste of the roots of country rock, or “Cosmic American Music,” as Parsons dubbed it. Once you’ve saddled up this pony, it’s probable you’ll want to ride this horse additional times around the track. Similar to the most legendary American icons, just about everything Parsons touched was worth hearing.

Those who think country rock leaves a dusty taste in their mouth need only to wrap their lips around these timeless tracks. They may not turn you into a fan, but you•ll undoubtedly have an appreciation for one of the most respected, and ultimately tragic figures in the history of Americana music.

Universal Records, 17555 Broadway, New York, NY 10019

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Music Reviews

Flying Burrito Brothers

Flying Burrito Brothers

Hot Burritos – Anthology (1969-1972)

A&M/Universal

“They didn’t sell many records in their time, but everyone who bought one started a band.” That quote — in reference to the Velvet Underground — might as well have been describing the original Flying Burrito Brothers. Or, more specifically, its legendary founder and resident tortured genius, Gram Parsons. It was arguably through the vision of Parsons, with often under-recognized assistance from fellow-ex Byrd Chris Hillman, that alt-country, if not the entire field of country rock (a term Parsons notoriously hated) was born.

Call it what you will, Parsons and Co. were the first country group to push the C&W genre’s then-strict boundaries into rock and roll — and just as importantly, soul — as well as exposing it to the long-haired late ’60s hippies who never heard of Buck Owens or Merle Haggard. The troubled Parsons died at the age of 26 from a mixture of fast living and a personality that favored excess (hanging out with then-heroin addicted Keith Richards didn’t help, either), but his influence is felt daily in the guise of the “Americana” sound he devised. And what classic music it was. Although the band’s non-traditional collision of country, honky-tonk, rock, and soul sounds tame today, there’s no denying the heartbreaking quality of Parsons’ vulnerable tenor, Sneaky Pete’s over-driven, often distorted pedal-steel, and a catalog of durable songs which are as stirring now as they were 30 years ago.

Although he released a pair of highly respected post-Burrito solo discs, Parsons’ most potent and groundbreaking studio work was done with the Flying Burrito Brothers on two albums, some singles and B-sides, recorded in the incredibly short span of two years. That catalog, in addition to the third Parsons-less Burritos album (the last one that retained some of the original members and inspiration), is finally available on this double, 43 track release. Not as concise or focused as Farther Along, a 1988 single slice of the “best” of Parsons’ work with the band, Hot Burritos! simply throws all the songs at you, letting the listener decide which are the keepers. And there are a lot of them.

It also gives a full portrait of Parsons, warts and all, and of the band who is rightfully held in such high esteem in the alt-country world. As such, it’s a bit much for the average listener to absorb, especially since the self-titled third album simply isn’t as essential (let alone as historically important) as the first two. In fact, it’s likely the only reason the compilers included it was to flesh out the rest of disc two, or sucker in Burrito fans to this previously-unavailable-on-CD release.

Regardless, neither of the first two albums are currently in print individually, so this is the ultimate Parsons tribute simply due to its unflinching completeness, and fills a long vacant gap in the catalog of one of America’s most important bands. An 18-page booklet with two smartly written essays, stunningly remastered sound, and hard-to-find pics rounds out a set that’s about as essential to what Parsons dubbed “cosmic American music” fans as they come.

A & M Records, 10900 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 1230, Los Angeles, CA 90024