CD Reviews for 01/28/05 (Sundazed Records reissues) by Dan Ferguson

Reissues are in the spotlight this week as we once again turn the attention to recent offerings from New York State-based Sundazed Music.

Seminal Country Rock

He’s oft-times referred to as the “Father of Country Rock”. Gram Parsons was his name and if he is the father of the subgenre, then that makes the album Safe at Home from the International Submarine Band, a band founded and fronted by Parsons, arguably the first country rock album. Released in 1968 for Lee Hazelwood’s LHI Records, not long after Parsons relocated the band from a Bronx dwelling to Southern California, the original release of Safe at Home was all of nine straight-up country songs as performed by a collection of long-hairs who at that point in the timeline defied the prototype country & western band. As if attempting to marry the then diverse styles of country and rock, the ISB broke the barrier by offering its country rockin’ slants on honky tonk staples like Merle Haggard’s “I Must Be Somebody Else You’ve Known”, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Still Miss Someone”, and the Porter Wagoner smash “A Satisfied Mind”. Add to that country-heavy Parsons original likes “Blues Eyes”, “Luxury Liner”, and “Strong Boy” and the album made for a daring bit of music making given the times. Unfortunately, the ISB was out of business before Safe At Home was released making it destined for record store cut-out bins. Parsons was already off to join The Byrds with the album Sweetheart of the Rodeo his contribution to that group, while at the same time carrying the country rock torch begun with Safe At Home. From The Byrds it was onto The Flying Burrito Brothers, which he also founded, before finally embarking on a solo career that was just beginning to flourish when an overdose ended his life in 1973. Whereas a relatively small catalogue of work, it’s hard to deny influential Parsons’ position in the annals of country rock. As country rock gave way to alt country, Parsons’ legend grew as did the status of the International Submarine Band and Safe At Home. Whereas the album saw reissue on vinyl in 1980s, Safe At Home had still never made it to the age of the compact disc. That finally comes to an end with Sundazed Music’s CD release of Safe At Home (Sundazed SC-6206). Taken for the first time from the clear, two-track stereo LHI label masters, featuring original artwork, rare photos, a revealing new essay by noted Parsons author Sid Griffin, and a bonus track to boot (a never-before heard cover of “Knee Deep In the Blues”), consider the reissue of Safe At Home nothing short of essential goods for country rock lovin’ types out there. For Parsons fans out there, this welcome reissue is a no-brainer.

Buckin’ for Pleasure

On the lookout for the motherlode of prime, 1960s albums from Buck Owens & the Buckeroos? Look no further Sundazed Records who have cornered the reissue market on CD re-releases of just about all of Owen’s fabulous circa-1960s albums for Capitol Records. With the recent re-release of the 20th and 21st additions to this reissue series, Sundazed brings the listener into the 1970s of the Owens experience. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Sundazed SC-6206) and Ruby & Other Bluegrass Specials (Sundazed SC-6206) were each released in 1971 and marked a significant departure from the hard-driving, Telecaster-fueled Bakersfield sound synonymous with Owens’ 1960s output. What with covers of songs from Paul Simon (both the title track and “Homeward Bound”), Dylan (“Love Minus Zero – No Limit”), and Donovan (“Catch the Wind”) to go with five originals which traded electric for acoustic guitars and steel for harmonica, the contemporary folk rock undercurrent of Bridge Over Troubled Water found Owens walking the commercial tightrope as far as his fans were concerned. In the original liner notes, Owens described Bridge Over Troubled Water as “country songs in disguise”. Whereas a stretch by 1971 standards, here in 2004 he is dead-on in his description of this album which to these ears has aged ever so gracefully.
On the flip side, Ruby & Other Bluegrass Specials was a complete one-eighty from Bridge Over Troubled Water. It was a return to hard-driving music, but of the fiddle and banjo variety as the band romped and stomped its way through ten numbers knee deep in bluegrass spanning from standards like the title track, “Uncle Pen”, “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Rocky Top” to Owens’ own bluegrass-styled composition “Heartbreak Mountain”. While not to slight bluegrass bands out there, Owens and his Buckeroos made it look easy which is nothing but a credit to the superb musicianship of the band and its boss man. Classify Ruby & Other Bluegrass Specials as a fine addition to any bluegrass collection.

Fire On the Strings

I have to say that as far as album titles are concerned, Dancehall Stringbusters: Crunchy Guitar Instros From the ’60s (Sundazed SC-11146) is a beauty. The music isn’t too shabby, either. This string-bending orgy of a compilation brings together some 13 rock ‘n’ roll reverb wizards of the six-string for a sum total of 20 tracks of instrumental bliss, not to mention some of the most monstrous twang you’ve ever laid your ears on. The entries are a mix of the revered – Link Wray & His Ray Men, The Fireballs, Al Casey, The Riptides – and the obscure – Kathy Lynn & the Playboys, Wes Dakus, The Buddies, Alan Pierce & the Tonekings, The Secrets. Famous or not, there’s no getting around the wall-shuddering wallop delivered by these sans-vocals tracks chock full of hot licks and honking sax. Simply put, slip this sucker in the CD player and it’s a party waiting to happen. Highly recommended.

Lone Byrd

Legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist for The Byrds, Roger McGuinn gets the Sundazed Records reissue treatment with the re-release of four 1970s solo recordings all taken from Columbia Records master tapes. They are the 1973 release Roger McGuinn (Sundazed SC-6201), its 1974 follow-up album Peace On You (Sundazed SC-6202), from 1975 Roger McGuinn & Band (Sundazed SC-6203), and the 1976 album Cardiff Rose (Sundazed SC-6203). McGuinn was not all that removed from his Byrds heyday when his self-titled solo debut Roger McGuinn hit the streets in ‘73. With that distinctive voice and 12-string guitar still his primary weapons, rather than easing away from the folk rock stylings that brought him his notoriety in the first place, the album found McGuinn heading in a variety of new directions. The album featured guests aplenty including Bob Dylan who contributes harmonica on a track, Byrds alumni David Crosby, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman, steel guitar hotshot Buddy Emmons, and Spooner Oldham. Bringing together the original 11 tracks from the album with two previously unissued (and I must say rather forgetful) numbers, this reissue will no doubt find favor among McGuinn faithful out there. And whereas it does have its moments, to these ears there’s just not enough of them.
By comparison, 1974’s Peace On You (Sundazed SC-6202) on the one hand proved a better segue out of the Byrds years, while on the other had a looking-for-a-hit sheen to too much of it. The blame for that can likely be placed on the enlistment of producer Bill Halverson (CSN&Y) and the fact that after McGuinn’s solo debut stiffed, Columbia Records wanted a hit record at all costs. A reissue which much like the self-titled affair is by no means essential, it too will likely be welcomed with open arms by McGuinn fans.
Featuring full-bodied rockers like “Somebody Loves You”, “Bull Dog”, “Lover Of the Bayou” and “So Long” all with plenty of heavy duty guitar, a reprise of the classic “Born To Rock & Roll” to go with a trippy cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, and a couple of country-flavored numbers in “Painted Lady” and “Easy Does It”, McGuinn sounded like an artist with a new lease on life on Roger McGuinn & Band. The inclusion of live versions of “Wasn’t Born to Follow” and the Rickenbacker bliss of “Chestnut Mare” as bonus tracks are nothing but icing on the cake. McGuinn’s 1976 follow-up called Cardiff Rose, which found him teaming with famed producer/guitarist Mick Ronson, came hot on the heals of a featured role as part of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and found the ex-Byrd hitting his stride as a solo artist. Like Roger McGuinn & Band, Cardiff Rose mixed folk rockers, straight-up ones, and even a touch of bluegrass (“Pretty Polly”) for an album which still wears fairly well on the ears. (Sundazed Music, P.O. Box 85, Coxsackie, NY 12051, or www.sundazed.c…