Saturday, October 24, 2009

Early: The Late Edition

Unlike some of my fellow Star Makers, I do not have a collection of rarities to draw upon. So I have had to approach this theme differently. But just as rarities have their stories, so, sometimes, do first albums. Before we leave our early theme, let’s hear some of those stories.

Michelle Shocked: (Don‘t You Mess Around With) My Little Sister


Michelle Shocked made her recording debut, quite by accident, in 1987. She never knew she was making an album until she heard that, not only had it been released, but it was charting in England. The album was The Texas Campfire Tapes. Shocked attended the Kerrville folk festival in 1986. She brought her guitar, and was singing and playing for her own pleasure when she was overheard by a producer named Pete Lawrence. Lawrence asked Shocked if he could record her, and made a tape of 21 songs with Shocked’s comments. Given that the recording was made on a cheap cassette recorder, (with low batteries, it turned out!), Shocked had no reason to think the tape would ever be released.

But Lawrence chose a sampling of the songs, left out all of the comments, made up his own titles to songs he didn’t know the names of, and released the album without Shocked’s consent. Eventually, Shocked gained possession of the tapes. And in 2003, she released the full recording, with the sound adjusted to compensate for the low batteries, and with all of her comments restored, as The Texas Campfire Takes.

One song included in both versions was (Don’t You Mess Around With) My Little Sister. If you are familiar with Shocked’s career, you may know the full band version she recorded on the album Captain Swing.

Billy Joel: Falling of the Rain


Billy Joel made his debut as a solo artist with Cold Spring Harbor in 1971. He had previously been in two unsuccessful bands, The Hassles and Atilla. His bad luck would continue a little longer. There was a mistake in the mixing of Cold Spring Harbor. It was released at the wrong pitch, giving Joel’s voice a high whiny sound. The album was the first of a ten album contract with Family Records. Family owner Artie Ripp, (who I hasten to add is no relative of mine), owned the master tapes. Cold Spring Harbor, as originally released, went out of print fairly quickly, and remained that way for many years as Joel’s popularity grew. Finally, in 1983, Joel’s contract with family was running out. Ripp decided to capitalize by releasing a remastered version of Cold Spring Harbor. Ripp stripped out the original orchestration and added synthesizer and drum machine parts to “give the album a more up to date feel”. This was done without Joel’s consent, and is the version of Cold Spring Harbor that we have today. Despite this, the songs are worth hearing. The album features the original recording of She’s Got a Way, as well as Falling of the Rain and several others that are as good as anything Joel ever wrote.

Jane Siberry: The Mystery at Ogwen‘s Farm


Jane Siberry is a Canadian artist. Far too many worthy Canadian artists never have there work released here in the United States. Others have their work released here, but without real marketing support. Siberry was luckier than most. Her self titled debut, which includes The Mystery at Ogwen’s Farm, was originally released only in Canada. She debuted in the United States with her second album, which established her here as an artist with a “cult following”. And her third album cemented this status. Her American label decided that that was enough to justify releasing her Canadian debut here, and I for one snapped it up immediately.

The debut is different from anything else of hers that I have heard. It is mostly acoustic, and has an innocence and simplicity to it that I find quite refreshing. Where her later work would often make my jaw drop in amazement, this one always makes me smile. And sometimes, that is all that is needed.

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