Seal: Seal Deluxe Edition (Warner/Rhino, 2 LPs + 4 CDs). Seal, who emerged from the United Kingdom’s rave scene, burst on the world’s music scene in 1991 when “Crazy,” the lead single from his eponymous debut album, cracked the Top 10 in the United States, U.K. and across Europe. In fact, the album debuted at No. 1 in the U.K. and later won Best British Album at the Brit Awards. This new edition includes that album, remastered for the first time on CD and three sides of vinyl, with three bonus discs collecting rare B-sides and remixes — including the original “premix” versions of key songs from early pressings and dance remixes — plus an unreleased concert recorded in Dublin, Ireland after the album’s release. The 12-inch x 12-inch hardcover book packaging contains rare photos and new liner notes from journalist Jim Farber. Original album producer Trevor Horn also has created a Dolby Atmos mix, exclusively available digitally.
Seal was born Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel to a Nigerian mother and Afro-Brazilian father in London. His voice recalls the great soul singers of the 1960s, but he matched it to the burgeoning house and rave scene in England. His debut single, “Killer,” also recorded for the album but originally recorded with DJ/producer Adamski, surged to the top of the U.K. charts in 1990.
In the 1980s, Horn, who signed Seal to his ZIT label, had emerged as one of the most innovative producers in pop music, putting his maverick instincts and high tech in the service of artists including ABC, Yes (where he also was a performing member), Grace Jones and the Pet Shop Boys. For Seal’s album, he brought many textures, including strummed acoustic guitar, liquid fretless bass, jazz piano, glossy disco guitars and Fairlight orchestral backings. For example, these are heard on the opening “The Beginning,” which has Seal wondrously singing, “The music takes you round and round and round and round and round/ Hold on to love.” It is the album’s one true link to disco, with its beat.
Other highlights are the aforementioned singles, “Killer,” with its atmospheric start and then heavier beat, and “Crazy,” the latter using trance synths and standout guitar, while being both bluesy and restrained. The song was inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Also fine are “Deep Water,” with its gentle electronic bossa-nova beat and acoustic and slide guitars, and “Whirlpool,” about dealing with the success “Crazy” had. “Future Love Paradise” is nicely layered, while the closing melancholy ballad “Violet” features barely heard dialogue from the 1987 film “The Sicilian” behind its synth pads and jazz piano.
The credits boast a remarkable array of talent from funk, soul and hip-hop, including bassist Doug Wimbish (Living Colour, Tackhead, the Sugarhill Gang Band), drummer Keith LeBlanc (Tackhead, Little Axe, the Sugarhill Gang Band), percussionist Paulinho da Costa (played on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Prince’s “Purple Rain”), drummer John Robinson (MJ’s “Off the Wall”) and keyboardist Guy Sigsworth, who wrote and produced for Madonna, Britney Spears and Björk. Wendy & Lisa of Prince & The Revolution, appear on “Whirlpool.”
Disc two contains mostly “premix” versions, including an instrumental “Crazy” and the non-album “A Minor Groove” (funky) and “Sparkle” (an extended version with a heavy beat). There is an acoustic version of “Deep Water.” Disc three contains single edits and remixes and has some fun stuff. There are three versions of “Killer” (two mixed by William Orbit), and five apiece of “The Beginning” (two are very hardcore for the dance floor) and “Crazy” (one is a spooky acoustic version).
Disc four is the 13-song, Dec. 16, 1991, Dublin show, with eight songs from the album, including “Deep Water” with an orchestral section, “Show Me,” “Whirlpool” and a 10-minute “Crazy,” with the crowd singing some portions. There also is the bluesy rocker original “Hide” and a cover of “Hey Joe.”
Overall, the strength lies in Seal’s voice and Horn’s arrangements. Seal is not the best lyricist here. Grade: box set B+
The Smithereens: The Lost Album (Sunset Blvd. CD). The 12 songs here were recorded from January to April 1993, when the band was between Capitol and RCA labels. Amazingly, despite the quality of these songs and performances, the music never saw the light of day until September of this year. The liner notes say the songs are only 80 percent finished, but still, they are worthy. The power pop quintet has not issued any new music since 2011, as primary songwriter/vocalist/frontman Pat DiNizio died in 2017.
The alternative rock band began in New Jersey in 1980, Jim Babjak (guitar) Dennis Diken (drums) and Mike Mesaros (bass) grew up together in Carteret and DiNizio hailed from Scotch Plains. As The Smithereens’ fame escalated, they were in heavy rotation on MTV and appeared on The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien, and Saturday Night Live.
In the liner notes, Mesaros writes that the album “showcases some of DiNizio and Babjak’s best writing and never better group empathy and collaboration. At this point we were really listening to each other and this was key in our individual styles meshing so well. A real band. We could be mean, sweet, joyful, or brooding. As need be. We still were in our prime — young, battle-scarred vets who were fluent in the lingua franca of rock ‘n roll but still not far removed from Jimmy’s garage and Pat’s basement. (We still aren’t.)”
The opening “Out of This World,” the first single, echoes The Who’s “I Can’t Explain,” while “Face the World” is Beatlesque. More Brit-pop is found in “Pretty Little Lies” (about a relationship faltering). There are lots of guitars on the rocking “Monkey Man” and a big guitar opening to “Stop Bringing Me Down.” A nod to the past, “Dear Abby,” mentions the advice columnist and is one of the softer songs. Grade: A-
The Jorgensens: Americana Soul (Paramour CD). Led by harmonizing duo Kurt and Brianna Jorgensen, this strong album features excellent musicianship, honey-soaked harmonies, and relatable lyrics, sometimes recalling Delaney and Bonnie. Kurt’s mix of vintage guitar, bouncy basslines and modern technology blends with Brianna’s classically trained multi-instrumental talent, as she plays keyboards, guitar, and mandolin, among others. Kurt’s slide guitar, in particular, is strong throughout the album, as is their use of horns.
Highlights include the first two of the 12 originals. “Old Black Crow” is the first single, while Brianna sings lead on “Miles.” When Kurt takes the lead vocal, it is for the playful “Boom Boom Boom.” Both “Old Black Crow” and “Out of My Mind” have a bit of a Latin groove. Also good are “Leave Your Light On,” “Dark Road” and “State Line,” a subdued breakup song. Grade: B+
Amazing Grace: Country Stars Sing Songs of Faith and Hope (Time Life, 10 DVDs, NR, 570 min.). Country music and gospel music have always gone hand-in-hand. This set presents 153 live performances from such stars as George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Marty Stuart, The Gatlin Brothers and The Statler Brothers.
Many of country music’s top artists were raised in the rural South, where the church was an integral part of life. In 1965, Loretta Lynn released her solo album, “Hymns,” the first of her many gospel projects. Throughout his career, Johnny Cash’s faith was dominant in his music, and he recorded several gospel albums, earning him a spot in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Many contemporary country music stars have released gospel albums, including Jackson’s “Precious Memories” (2006), an award-winning collection that became one of his best-selling albums. Josh Turner’s 2018 album, “I Serve a Savior,” was a natural expression as he has always been vocal about his faith. Alabama has recorded their favorite gospel songs on several albums. Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” remains one of his most beloved hits.
The set contains more than a dozen exclusive interviews, including Gill, Jones, Stuart, Turner, The Statler Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys. Two of the DVDs consist of historic “Opry Gospel Classics,” with performances by Cash, The Hee Haw Gospel Quartet, Lynn, Barbara Mandrell, Parton, Charley Pride, Porter Wagoner, and others. Bonus performances include Alabama’s Randy Owen singing “Amazing Grace” with his mother and Stuart singing “Keep on the Sunny Side” with the Carter Family. There also is a 36-page collector’s booklet with color photos, artist quotes and liner notes. The set is available exclusively at timelife.com. Grade: A
Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.