Friday, 31 July 2015

"Labi Siffre" by LABI SIFFRE (2015 Edsel Expanded CD Reissue – Phil Kinrade Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Make My Day…"

Labi Siffre's self-titled debut album "Labi Siffre" was released in the UK on the Pye International label (NSPL 28135) in the summer of 1970 (probably July). But even though both it and the follow up album "The Singer And The Song" from July 1971 made waves ("Singer" even grazed the charts at 47 for one week) – it would not be until October 1972's "Crying Laughing Loving Lying" LP which contained the two huge hits "It Must Be Love" and the album title track – that Siffre finally impacted the English LP and single charts in any real way and arrived as a revered singer-songwriter. That's not to say that his debut is meritless – very, very far from it. In fact when I re-listen to "The Singer And The Song" from 1971 (also in this CD reissue series) – I'm struck by how much stronger the debut is in its melodies and it had obvious winners that should have made a dent on Top Of The Pops and him an early star...

This UK released Friday 31 July 2015 Edsel CD reissue on EDSA 5039 (Barcode 740155503932) is essentially a re-run of the June 2006 EMI CD remaster that’s been deleted for years now. It even has the same six bonus tracks and runs to exactly the same playing time of 55:46 minutes. What is upgraded is the 12-page booklet of old into a new impressive 32-page version inside a rather lovely digipak. It offers  – there are full lyrics (including the bonus track), a colour photo of Siffre playing live and a new ALAN ROBINSON interview with Siffre in 2015. PHIL KINRADE at Alchemy Mastering has transferred the fabulous Audio remastering done by EMI in 2006 and the results are stupendous – each track beautifully clear, muscular and a real revelation. Here are the debut details…

1. Too Late
2. Words
3. Something On My Mind
4. Maybe Tomorrow
5. You And I Should Be Together
6. I Don’t Know What's Happened To The Kids Today
7. I Love You [Side 2]
8. Make My Day
9. A Little More Line
10. Maybe
11. River
12. Love Song For Someone
Tracks 1 to 12 are his debut album "Labi Siffre" - released July 1970 in the UK on Pye Records NSPL 28135 (no USA issue).

13. Why Did You Go, Why Did You Leave Me? – the non-album B-side to "Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying" released March 1972 as a UK 7" single on Pye International 7N.25576
14. I Just Couldn’t Live Without Her – first issued as a Previously Unreleased outtake on the June 2006 EMI CD remaster
15. Last Night Tonight – the non-album B-side to "Give Love" released January 1973 in the UK on Pye International 7N.25602
16. Maybe When We Dance - first issued as a Previously Unreleased outtake on the June 2006 EMI CD remaster
17. Ask Me To Stay - first issued as a Previously Unreleased outtake on the June 2006 EMI CD remaster
18. Here We Are – the non-album B-side to the stand alone 7" single "Watch Me" released July 1972 on Pye International 7N.25586

The original vinyl LP was a single matt sleeve with the lyrics filling the entire back cover. Unfortunately this new CD reissue repeats the lack of musician credits on the LP (doesn’t say who played what) but the booklet is a massive improvement over the 2006 CD (the disc itself is light blue in colour to reflect the original UK Pye Record label - a nice touch). There’s a photo of EMI Tape Boxes on Page 2, lyrics from Page 4 to 18 (including the bonus material) and a new interview from Pages 20 to 30. Siffre opens up about his childhood, his struggles as a black gay singer trying to get his material listened to and the recording process which seemed to be largely out of his inexperienced hands. It’s a fascinating read and illuminating. But the best news was and is the fabulous remaster – gorgeous audio on the mainly acoustic tracks – all of it beautifully realised. This CD sounds glorious and the album is far better than I remember it – possibly even a bit of a lost classic...

In the spring and summer of 1970 – Pye Records was more familiar to the British public through Petula Clark and Max Bygraves - rather than The Kinks, Man and Status Quo. So a young black singer with Folk-Soul affections hardly got a look in. Born in London in 1945 to a Belgian/Barbadian mum and Nigerian father, Labi had his demos sent to a music publisher in late 1969 – which resulted in a publishing contract. His style for the first 5 albums he did on Pye is more singer-songwriter than Soulster - though the tracks themselves are often very soulful in their nature - sort of a 'Bill Withers meets Gilbert O'Sullivan' vibe. Many were just Labi, Acoustic Guitar and his high falsetto voice. He's often lumped in with the Easy Listening genre here in the UK that frankly does his superb song-writing talents a huge disservice. And like Gilbert O'Sullivan – Siffre is another 'soft' songwriter of the Seventies not given nearly enough credit for his brilliance in penning a truly touching tune, but beloved still by fans and those who like their singers to be on the side of Gordon Lightfoot and James Taylor.

10 tracks on the debut are Siffre originals with the other two being inspired cover version choices – "Words" by The Bee Gees and Harry Nilsson's "Maybe" – both of which Siffre emphatically makes his own. Of his own compositions the brilliance and acoustic simplicity of "Maybe Tomorrow" and "Too Late" stand out immediately (both on Side 1). Flutes, Piano and Electric Guitars mix well on "You And I Should Be Together" initially - but then Producer, Arranger and Conductor Ian Green kind of overdoes it with the strings (trying too hard to impress). The falsely acidic "I Don't Know What's Happened To The Kids Today" is done in the voice of an old man riling at the young (..."I can't say that I fought for kids like you in the war..." Over on Side 2 standouts are "Make My Day", the lovely Nilsson ballad "Maybe" and the warm finisher "Love Song For Someone" with complimentary string arrangements. Kenny Young's American group Moonshine had a go at covering Siffre's "A Little More Line" on RCA Victor 1954 in 1970 calling it "Just A Little More Line" (it was reissued in September 1973 on RCA 2408). And in Germany Polydor put out Siffre's original as "A Little More Line" in December 1970 on Polydor 2001 065 with the gorgeous "Words" as its flipside (its rare 7" picture sleeve is shown on Page 9). Pye released just one single off the album in the UK by pairing "Too Late" with "Make My Day" in July 1970 on Pye International 7N.25528 but it failed to do any business which is a shame because the whole album is far more cohesive than its patchy follow up "The Singer And The Song".

The 6 bonus tracks consist of three rare non-album B-sides and three outtakes – the pretty ballad outtake "I Just Couldn't Live Without Her" being shockingly good while he goes piano on the equally impressive "Maybe When We Dance". The ukulele strum of "Ask Me To Stay" is like Joe Brown meets George Fornby – a very pretty ditty that would have made a great B-side.

Increasingly his songs are being name-checked and used by R'n'B soul boys of the last few years who have realised that Labi's songs offer a wealth of good source material - KAYNE WEST sampled "My Song" from "Crying Laughing Loving Lying" on his "I Wonder" track from 2007's "Graduation" - while both JAY-Z and EMINEM have famously sampled the stunning bass break that happens half way through "I Got The..." track on the "Remember My Song" LP from 1975. Siffre retired for a few years but then returned in 1987 with "(Something Inside) So Strong" on China Records - a magnificent Anti-Apartheid anthem - and as moving a song as you're ever likely to hear.

So there you have it. A largely forgotten album that shouldn’t be – a 70s gem that’s genuinely ripe for rediscovery methinks.

Well done to Edsel for getting these reissues out there once again and in such classy presentation too...

The 31 July 2015 EDSEL Expanded CD Remasters for Labi Siffre are:

1. Labi Siffre (1970)
Edsel EDSA 5039 (Barcode 740155503932) with 6 Bonus Tracks
2. The Singer And The Song (1971)
Edsel EDSA 5040 (Barcode 740155504038) with 8 Bonus Tracks
3. Crying Laughing Loving Lying (1972)
Edsel EDSA 5041 (Barcode 740155504137) with 8 Bonus Tracks
4. For The Children (1973)
Edsel EDSA 5042 (Barcode 740155504236) with 1 Bonus Track
5. The Last Songs (1998)
Edsel EDSA 5043 (Barcode 740155504335) no bonus tracks

His 5th album "Remember My Song" from March 1975 on EMI was reissued on CD in 2006 but for some undisclosed reason is not included in this 2015 reissue campaign.

There was one last album in the Seventies for EMI called "Happy?" released in November 1975 and its 10-tracks are available on CD albeit in a round about way. The EMI CD compilation called "The Music Of Labi Siffre" contains all but one song of the "Remember My Song" album and the full "Happy?" album (see separate review) – so you acquire that budget-priced CD to get the guts of both albums at a reasonable cost.

The 14 new tunes of "The Last Songs" was recorded live on Tour in 1998 and released on CD that year. It was reissued in 2006 and is once again in this 2015 Edsel campaign (no bonus tracks). It’s beautifully recorded and songs like "Sparrow In The Storm" and "Why Isn't Love Enough?" show Siffre has lost none of his singer-songwriter magic...

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