November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Music: New Releases

Shiny New Apples for Fall

By Jeff Katz
Music Editor

The history of Apple Records is inextricably linked to the demise of The Beatles. Not a businessman among them, The Fab Four started Apple Corps Ltd after the 1967 death of  long time manager Brian Epstein. The idea was that the groovy ‘60’s vibe of freedom could be translated into the board room. It couldn’t. Money troubles ensued and, with John, George and Ringo hiring Allen Klein as their manager, and Paul sticking to the Eastmans, his lawyerly in-laws, the Beatles went kaput.

Lost is the indisputable truth that Apple was a vibrant and innovative label, giving new artists a chance to show their wares. At a Lennon-McCartney press conference heralding the new enterprise, John sneeringly said Apple was created to make sure that artists “don’t have to go on their knees in somebody’s office” to, as Paul added, follow their dreams. Apple provided a different path.

With October 25 comes the release of newly remastered CDs from the remarkable roster of Apple artists: Billy Preston, Radha Krishna Temple, John Tavener, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Doris Troy, Jackie Lomax, Mary Hopkin, James Taylor and Badfinger. Beatles appear on many of these records; Stephen Stills, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards pop in as well.

I eagerly ripped open the press package. This was my first effort to obtain advance copies of new releases and I knew what I was getting: Badfinger’s No Dice, Straight Up and Ass, Mary Hopkin’s Postcard and MJQ’s Under the Jasmin Tree and Space. I admit I’d hoped for the Lomax and Troy discs, but I was thrilled to make EMI’s distribution list in any capacity. I don’t have much muscle to flex: I’m not Rolling Stone.

Ass is the final Apple release by a non-Beatle artist. With Badfinger ready to bolt their Beatle-y home for greener grazing at Warner Brothers, Ass was rush released by a ticked off Apple board, and has been often vilified as the weakest work in the power pop group’s canon. It is unjustly maligned. Pete Ham’s “Apple of My Eye,” the lead track that lays bare the bittersweet break between the band and their Beatle mentors is beautiful and sad, the aching harmonies unified, but distinct. The guitar interplay rings, showing the band’s strength at its aural best. “Get Away,” the following track (I detect a theme here), features the chewy horns that were a staple of many Beatle solo works. The slashing guitars of “Blind Owl” burst through the speakers. The final song, Ham’s grand, opulent “Timeless” ends the disc with an extended guitar coda crashing, like the band’s career, into a wash of feedback. The Ass remaster does what all great remasters do; it gives listeners the chance to reappraise a lost work. Kudos.

Can’t review any more Badfinger and here’s where it gets weird. My copy of No Dice has two songs on it, Straight Up is similarly incomplete. As to the translucent-skinned Ms. Hopkin, all I got was 4 versions of the international smash “Those Were the Days,” in Italian, Spanish, German and French. The Teutonic take was my favorite. I’d hoped to get a look at the packaging as well, but all my CDs came in a sterile white wrapper.

I certainly have no kick against modern jazz, to quote the famed musicologist Mr. Charles Berry, unless they try to play it too darn slow. The Modern Jazz Quartet’s antiseptic chamber music sound has never been a favorite of mine. What the Beatles saw in them is lost on me. It’s a strange pairing.

The twofer CD of Under the Jasmin Tree and Space sounds remarkable; Milt Jackson’s vibraphone shimmers. “Bags” has always been what makes MJQ work for me, when they do work for me. Connie Kay’s percussion showcases a pinging sound that, in its pristine remastery, had me constantly checking my iPhone for text messages. “The Jasmin Tree” closes album one with a nice prayer meeting groove, complete with hand claps, John Lewis boogie piano solo and Bags wailing away. Space is a terrible album, though still worth a listen in its new incarnation. That’s one of the issue with remasters: does the reviewer review the content, or the new presentation of old songs. I don’t know. Often Space veers to avant-garde, perhaps more suited to the Beatles experimental label Zapple. There are bits where Jackson moved me, but they were little bits. The one bonus track, a light, swinging take on McCartney’s “Yesterday” proved that maybe the match between The Modern Jazz Quartet and The Beatles was not so odd after all.

Is there an audience out there for magnificent sounding remasters of mostly forgotten artists? Surely James Taylor’s debut will pique some interest, as will MJQ’s hard to find Apple performances. But who out there is looking for Doris Troy and Jackie Lomax? Or early Billy Preston?

Hopefully many. Reclaiming the roster of the great Apple era is long overdue and a worthwhile endeavor. Look for them.