Graded on a Curve:
New Releases from
Real Gone Music

Real Gone Music just keeps on rolling with the inspired reissues in 2023 and even finds time to include some new sounds in the mix. Dionne Warwick’s The Complete Scepter Singles 1962-1973 3CD (limited to 3,000 copies), Mary Mundy’s Mother Nature LP (1,000 copies), Roslyn & Charles’ Everything Must Change LP (1,000 copies), The Donnas’ Early Singles 1995-1999 CD, The Reverend Horton Heat’s Spend a Night in the Box LP, and NXTOFKIN’s Where Did We Go Wrong? CD are all available now. Sylvester’s Disco Heat: The Fantasy Years 1977-1981 2CD is out June 2.

That Real Gone has rounded up all the 45s Dionne Warwick cut with Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Florence Greenberg’s Scepter label is cause for sustained waves of good cheer, as it’s the first time that run of recordings has been available altogether in a retail capacity. The span covered is impressive commercially, as nearly every A-side included on The Complete Scepter Singles 1962-1973 charted in some capacity, with 20 songs making the Top 40 and seven rising to the top 10.

But more importantly, the collaboration was uncommonly successful from an artistic standpoint, as the principals adopted something of an “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” strategy, with the high quality of the songwriting and of course the strength and beauty of Warwick’s voice ensuring that the output didn’t stagnate.

In 1962 The Beach Boys released Surfin’ Safari. In 1973 Led Zeppelin unveiled Houses of the Holy. The point being that a whole lot had transpired in the period covered by The Complete Scepter Singles, but there’s a clear lack of trend hopping across the three discs. Instead, they just developed what came naturally, and as the boldness and confidence tangibly increases, the music blossoms throughout. The consistency is pretty remarkable, with disc three unusually strong for an extensive anthology. Often lush, but devoid of schmaltz.

Once tracked down and heard, rare records can often prove disappointing, though in the current era this scenario emerges far less frequently, as plenty of hard to find records are easy to preview via the very medium that hosts this review. Such is the case with Mother Nature, soul vocalist Mary Mundy’s only LP, released in 1980 for the Image label to little immediate fanfare but slowly having accrued cult status, so that original copies go for serious scratch when they turn up. And when it comes to Mother Nature, easy access to the contents has undoubtedly increased (or at least maintained) demand for vinyl copies.

If cut for a small label, Mother Nature is a bright-hued full-bodied effort, its contents touched by the influence of disco but not dominated by the style (pure funk is just as important to the instrumental equation). The music can even be described as polished (a remastering for reissue surely helped), though not overly slick. But as fervent (and surprising in construction) as the tunes can get, the record is ultimately held together by Mundy, a powerful singer with range.

If Mary Mundy dabbled in disco, Sylvester helped to define it and in relation to LGBTQ+ community in particular; in the late ’70s he was often called the “Queen of Disco” (by those with full knowledge that there was another disco queen named Donna Summer). Backed by The Weather Girls (when they were known as Two Tons O’ Fun), Sylvester remains terribly underrecognized as a groundbreaker both in terms of gender and as a vocalist-songwriter. Disco Heat: The Fantasy Years 1977-1981 does a superb job of encapsulating him as a pioneer of gay liberation and dance music of a consistently high intensity.

There’s been speculation over the impact of Sylvester on the career of Prince, and it’ll really only take a listen to Disco Heat to understand why. And it’s not accurate to describe Sylvester as an underground figure or even as a cult artist, as his 1978 album Step II was awarded gold status by the RIAA and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” was a Top 40 hit. But it is fair to say he hasn’t gotten his historical due. With 11 of Disco Heat’s 26 track’s 12-inch single versions, the contents reinforce Sylvester’s strengths. And even as the thrust gets a little slicker as the tracks progress, the musicality is still sharp.

Described by Real Gone as one of the most collectable of all gospel records, Roslyn & Charles’ Everything Must Change offers a listening experience that’s equal to the rarity (it pairs very nicely with Mundy’s Mother Nature). Originally issued on the Cheri label, Roslyn Johnson and Charles McCloud’s 1981 debut, the first of two LPs cut by the duo (its follow-up Spirit of the Living God is reportedly even harder to come by) is aptly described as an attempt at gospel crossover.

However, perhaps due to a surely modest budget plus an apparent connection to the great gospel label Nashboro, Everything Must Change avoids the overload of polish that reliably afflicts so many gospel LPs cut post-1980, even as there are numerous flourishes that do reflect the era of its making, particularly in the title track. Crucially, this record’s instrumental urgency matches the fervor of the vocalizing, with keyboardist Julius Brockington’s input a major plus, especially the canned strings that elevate the version of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” to an album standout.

Shifting stylistic gears, The Donnas’ Early Singles 1995–1999 is a very worthy roundup of the band’s initial high velocity scuzzy and raw Ramones and Runaways-indebted punk rock sound plus a few examples of their later, more mature hard rock indebted (but still quite punky) approach thrown in for good measure, including a cover of “Strutter” by KISS that, if not as killer as Unrest’s version from Malcolm X Park, is still quite sharp. The version of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” is also a sweet kick, and their take of “Keep on Loving You” by REO Speedwagon certainly bypasses the original.

But it’s the earliest of the early stuff, hitting like a cross between Shonen Knife and Bratmobile on three pots of strong coffee, that pulls my chain the best. Over the years I’ve encountered a few folks who’ve denigrated The Donnas as purveyors of schtick, but fuck those guys (and it was always guys), y’know? Early Singles 1995-1999 is a righteous burner that totally holds up.

My first taste of James Heath aka The Reverend Horton Heat came through his “Psychobilly Freakout” single that came out on Sub Pop in 1990. I thought that disc and his debut LP, Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, also released on Sub Pop the same year, were pretty happening excursions into roots scorch, but I’ll admit to digging each subsequent full-length less than the last, and after the disappointment of It’s Martini Time in 1996, I quit keeping track.

Which means that I didn’t hear Spend a Night in the Box when it came out in 2000 on Time Bomb Recordings, even as it was described as a return to the trio’s early blend of hard-edged rockabilly, pre-honky-tonk country a la Merle Travis, and the hillbilly boogie of Moon Mullican. Hearing it now on the occasion of its vinyl debut, I’m not exactly kicking myself with anger, but the set does remind me of what I initially liked about the guy. Psychobilly is often shackled by severe genre constraints, but Heath’s wider range of influence is an ace up his sleeve, and he acquits himself very nicely here.

Concluding this roundup is the brand spanking new release Where Did We Go Wrong? by NXTOFKIN, which is the duo of Gordon Anderson, who co-founded Real Gone Music in 2011 and who plays guitar here, with his teenage daughter Edie on drums; both sing. Those who checked out Anderson’s solo CD Moon Man from 2020 will recognize his voice, but this is a more energetic and catchier 15-song outing, in part because the contents are the result of jamming in the garage, with Edie co-writing some of the lyrics.

In stylistic terms, NXTOFKIN cite psychedelia, hardcore punk, power pop, alt-country, and even shoegaze, a wider than typical range that had me worrying that Where Did We Go Wrong? would connect as an unfocused COVID-era hodgepodge, but I needn’t have been nervous, as the whole is bonded by a ’90s indie sensibility that when combined with the youthful verve, is pretty charming. NXTOFKIN thrive through a unified aesthetic.

Dionne Warwick, The Complete Scepter Singles 1962-1973

Mary Mundy, Mother Nature

Sylvester, Disco Heat: The Fantasy Years 1977-1981

Roslyn & Charles, Everything Must Change

The Donnas, Early Singles 1995-1999

The Reverend Horton Heat, Spend a Night in the Box

NXTOFKIN, Where Did We Go Wrong?

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text