CD Reviews for 04/15/05 (Roky Erickson,Solomon Burke,Herb Alpert) by Dan Ferguson

Only existence since 2003, Los Angeles-based Shout! Factory has quickly established itself as one of the coolest outlets for those yearning for a little retro in their life be it music, animation, yesteryear television ranging from the black & white days to the more recent, and as of late, even films. Begun by a collection of castoffs from the Rhino Records label which has held top dog honors for years dishing out the same type of nostalgic goods, Shout! Factory appears well on its way to eclipsing Rhino. In just its first full year of operation, Shout! released such classic TV collections as two complete volumes of SCTV, The Jack Paar Collection, Here’s Lucy, and episodes from Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. There was plenty of variety on the music side as well with items as William Shatner’s Has Been, a terrific 4-CD box set focusing on the many flavored sounds of New Orleans (Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol’ Box Of New Orleans), and the 6-CD Lenny Bruce collection Let the Buyer Beware. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
This new year finds the label not slowing down in the least bit what with the launch of the Herb Alpert Signature Series, a brand new album from soul giant Solomon Burke, a two-CD anthology focusing on Texas psych legend Roky Erickson, and another installment of SCTV. This week’s Compact Capsules takes a look at some of fine releases from the music side of the Shout! Factory ledger. A DVD spotlight of the label’s offerings is planned for some time in the coming weeks.

Lone Star Legend of a Different Stripe

Call him a cult legend, let alone a Lone Star one. When talk turns to Texas music legends, it’s cats like Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan whose names typically pop up. Right up there with the high priests of the Texas tune set has to be Roky Erickson. A voice equal parts primal and beautiful, as lead singer for the Austin-based band The 13th Floor Elevators Erickson set the Texas music scene on its head in 1966 with the mind-blowing classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me”. In the garage scheme things, the song is viewed as pure cream. It was also chiefly responsible for catapulting The 13th Floor Elevators into those legend waters. Straddling garage and psychedelia, The 13th Floor Elevators with its trippy musical maneuvers was right for the time. A little LSD probably didn’t hurt the experience, either. Erickson’s 1969 drug bust for marijuana possession brought an end to The 13th Floor Elevators. Opting for an insanity plea over hard jail time landed Erickson in a mental institution where electroshock therapy would be administered with regularity. When he emerged three years later, suffice to say he was a very different, and unstable, person. Music would not enter into the picture until 1975 when after steady encouragement by a small groups of friends that included Texas music maverick Doug Sahm, he formed the band Bleib Allen. A lone single featuring one of Erickson’s prettiest songs in “Starry Eyes” was all he had to show for that brief chapter. What it did do was rekindle the juices and barely two years later the Aliens were born with the album Roky Erickson & the Aliens the culmination of his comeback. The Aliens would remain an entity through 1981 releasing two albums in that time. From ther, it was onto a solo career which yielded a hodge-podge of albums through the middle of the decade and during which time Erickson’s mental condition continued to deteriorate. By the end of the decade, Erickson was back in a mental institution after being charged with mail fraud. Once again, it was friends to the rescue in hopes of resurrecting Erickson once more. It culminated with the 1990 tribute album Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye on which 19 different artists ranging from R.E.M. to ZZ Top rallied to raised money to help the cult legend. By 1995, Erickson was back in the studio once again teaming with a group of Austin followers to make the album All That May Do My Rhyme. Pound for pound, it was one of Erickson’s finest moments with his voice as strong as ever. Recording-wise, it was all she wrote as Erickson would soon after relocate to his brother’s Pennsylvania home in attempt to rehabilitate himself even further. By 2002 he’d be back in Austin where he remains to this day. It all brings us to the new 2-CD set I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology (Shout D2K 32556). An artist whose musical travails have not always been served right in the reissue age, the 42-track I Have Always Been Here Before finally does justice to the Erickson legacy. It takes the listener from one of Erickson’s earliest recordings from 1965 with a band called The Spades to prime tracks from both the Elevators and Aliens days and onto a most representative sampling of the 1980s and ’90s solo material which would yield some of Erickson’s most melodic and accessible work. The first collection ever to span Erickson’s entire career, the beautifully packaged set also features a 32-page booklet with notes by Erickson expert Bill Bentley (who is also in the process of penning the Erickson biography), plenty of rare photos, and complete discographical information for all of the tracks. In a nutshell, it does Roky right!

Modern Mariachis

Here’s thinking that if you played a trumpet back in the mid-to late 1960s, you were all over Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. That certainly was the case with this circa-1967-68 grade school horn blower. In a nutshell, Alpert and crew took traditional Mariachi music and injected a suave and contemporary flare into it with the end result Latin-flavored pop tunes for hipsters and swingers. As evidenced by such gaudy statistics as 75 million records sold, seven Grammys, 14 platinum and 15 gold records, Alpert and the Tijuana Brass obviously struck a nerve in music lovers. For those whose Tijuana Brass vinyl has seen better days, Herb Alpert Nirvana is now upon you thanks to Shout! Factory’s launch of its Herb Alpert Signature Series. The series will eventually see the reissue of 10 classic albums on CD along with a new collection of 22 previously unreleased and rare recordings. Each reissue will feature remastered sound, to go with deluxe packaging and detailed liner notes featuring an introduction by Alpert himself. The series kicks off in high style with the reissues of the 1962 debut from Alpert & the Tijuana Brass called The Lonely Bull (Shout DK-32771), the 1964 release South Of the Border (Shout DK-32772), and that aforementioned 22-track compilation of rarities and previously unissued material called Lost Treasures (Shout DK-32867). A co-founder of A&M Records, Alpert’s The Lonely Bull was the inaugural release for the label. What with both the title track and the album making the Top 10 on the singles and albums charts, respectively, it got both Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and A&M Records off to a flying start. Mixing horn-infused songs from the pop realm with Spanish love songs, South Of the Border followed just a couple of years later and like The Lonely Bull also struck gold as far as album sales were concerned. By far the cream of the crop in this first wave in the series is Lost Treasures. The collection finds the band all over the map putting its unique stamp on such pop fare as “Fire and Rain”, “And I Love Her”, “Alone Again (Naturally)”, “Tennessee Waltz”, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, “Flowers On the Wall”, and “Killing Me Softly”. As smooth as silk as far as the arrangements and playing is concerned, Alpert and the boys pull it all off in fearless, and utterly tasteful fashion.

King of Soul

Label him, arguably, the King Of Soul. And as evidenced by his brand new, Don Was-produced album called Make Do With What You Got (Shout DK 34357), Solomon Burke is aging quite well, thank you. The recording finds Burke in exquisite voice putting his indelible soul stamp on a wide range of works from artists spanning The Band (“It Makes No Difference Now”) to the Stones (“I Got The Blues”) to Dylan (“What Good Am I”) to Van Morrison (“At the Crossroads”) to Coca Montoya (“Need Your Love In My Life”) to Dr. John (the title track), to even Hank Williams (“Wealth Won’t Save Your Soul”). Following 2002’s Grammy-winning album Don’t Give Up On Me, the highly recommended Make Do With What You Got continues Burke’s reemergence as one of the most potent voices in soul music today. (Shout! Factory, 2042-A Armacost Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90025, or