Friday, December 21, 2007
Disco Delivery #49:
Grand Tour - On Such A Winter's Day (1977, Butterfly/RCA)
Grand Tour - The Grand Tour
Grand Tour - Let's Go Boating
Grand Tour - Still I'm Sad
Grand Tour - Flight From Versailles
Grand Tour - Late November
Grand Tour - California Dreamin'
Updated and re-uploaded 1/15/09
I had originally gotten a few requests to cover this back in June, when I had posted about Guenther/Morrison's excellent Southern Exposure LP. Given the feel and the title of the album, plus the fact that it was the beginning of summer at the time, not to mention also that I didn't really have a decent copy of it then, it never really became a priority at the time. Now that it's December and close to Christmas, with the season much more in tune with the mood and the music of this album, I figured now would be a much better moment for this..
The disco off of this album, in so far as one could classify it as typically so, is perhaps the sort of disco that's unlikely to be trendy these days.. For one thing, it's a fairly moody record; no heavy, driving four-on-the-floor beats at the top of the mix; the orchestration, while extensive, isn't in the dramatic, collossal style of Costandinos nor of it's sister production THP Orchestra; there are no heavy electronics à la Moroder or Soccio, nor are there any extended bass or percussion breaks funked up and ready for harvesting.. There's just a kind of gentle, low-key approach to everything on here, with parts of the album sounding perhaps slightly MOR in that old time pop orchestra kind of way (not that that's a bad thing), and given the background of one of it's producers, perhaps slightly arty/folk-influenced in others (not that that's a bad thing, either).. Even if calling some of these tracks folksy might be stretching things a bit, this is anything but a typical disco album.
Regardless of how one approaches it, there's a sheer artistry and musical beauty to this record that's absolutely undeniable. It's just another reason why I've come to respect the work of it's producers, Toronto-based duo Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison (AKA Three Hats Productions/THP) so much.. The cover, looking like the front of a Christmas postcard paired with the overall winter mood and theme of the songs make this one of the most, if not the most conceptual disco record ever produced by Guenther and Morrison.
Given the theme and the fact that Guenther and Morrison are, at least in my mind, one of the most celebrated Can-Con Disco producers, it's no small irony that an album like this one was not recorded in Canada, but for their American label, Butterfly (as opposed to their Canadian one, RCA) in Hollywood, California (at Rinder & Lewis' home-base, Producer's Workshop), no less. It's somewhat lamentable in a way, that this wasn't recorded in Canada, since it would have made such a great mythology.. An exquisite piece of orchestral disco, recorded in the middle of a cold, grey Canadian winter, evoking the hopes, dreams, wishes and moods that such a season brings. Fantastic dreams of escape, faraway travel, and ultimately resignation and surrender to it's inevitable realities. A perfect winter soundtrack. Perhaps their working jaunt to California gave them a unique perspective on those things.. Regardless of the circumstances behind it's recording or whether my own imagined mythology doesn't quite fit, musically, as a perfect winter soundtrack, the album is faultless.
The opening track, "The Grand Tour," appropriately sets the stage for things, as perhaps one of the most exquisite things Guenther & Morrison ever did. With a beautiful, understated string section opening what would be one of the most memorable, dreamlike melodies I've heard from them, with a heavenly vocal (unfortunately anonymous and uncredited) so light and airy, it makes the perfect compliment to the strings and lyrics. The sweet, gentle interpretation in those vocals - like the lyrics, evoking love and pain and ecstasy and sun, rain and mystery, it's enough to seduce even the coldest of hearts to her beautiful, romantic fantasies ...
"The Grand Tour" was also released as a 12'', however the 12'' version identical to the album version, in this case (thanks to commenter Erik Kuyl for the confirmation).
Between the horns and castanets, the instrumental richness of "..Grand Tour" is elevated to new heights on "Let's Go Boating." An absolutely sublime instrumental, it's melody is so beautifully memorable, you'd swear you could have heard it somewhere else.
Aside from those, some of the most exceptional tracks on the record would have to be the two closing tracks, a cover of The Yardbirds' "Still I'm Sad" (thanks to the anonymous commenter for this info.) on Side A and yet another cover, their faithful, sublime version of the classic pop standard "California Dreamin' " on Side B. Nothing quite exemplifies the melancholy mood of this album quite like these two tracks.. "Still I'm Sad" is perhaps the most stirring of the two, as the track with the most sparse, moody, atmospheric arrangement on the album. It's an intriguing piece, elegantly complimented by it's wonderful lyrics and especially the haunting female vocals, which interpret the mood of the song with such graceful, ethereal feeling, that it even exceeds the original (not to mention Boney M's cover version, as well).
Having peaked on the Billboard Disco Charts at #9 in early '78 (along with the other two tracks on Side B), and having been the first to appear on CD, the Side B opener, "Flight From Versailles" is perhaps one of the better known tracks on here. Opening with a light popping synth and those exquisitely swirling strings, it's perhaps the closest thing on this album to the epic orchestral productions that likely come to mind when one thinks of THP's best known work. A kind of disco odyssey, there's a real fantastical, adventurous quality to this as well, with they way the track takes one through various changes, highs, lows, peaking with an exquisite string solo/break at the 4.30 mark.. Truly a standout on the record. Curiously, on both the Canadian and US pressings I have, it's mislabeled as "Flight To Versailles" on the sleeve, but entitled "Flight From Versailles" on the label. Since the latter seems to be the more common usage, I'll just go with that..
The track that follows it, "Late November" is perhaps one of the more unassuming, but ultimately one of the most rewarding on the record. Yet another instrumental, it starts off decievingly sparse and basic, all the while gently building, completely engaging the listener once the refrain kicks in.. The organ (?) and those understated, stirring strings totally carry this track, subtly weaving together an engaging, peaceful atmosphere...
The album is beautifully closed by their cover of "California Dreamin' ", the de-facto title track, which effectively recreates the longing of the original, complimenting it with some wonderful extended instrumental passages. With it's moody elegance, it's the perfect conclusion to an album like this, summing up the feelings, moods and sounds of the album in one single production..
Overall, this album is ultimately one of the finest things the THP duo ever put together. Even compared to their other work, there is a feeling, an atmosphere about this record that totally separates it from practically every other disco production they ever did. Perhaps the change of locale had something to do with it? Either way, it's unfortunate that the credits are rather economical, with no credits for musicians, vocalists or otherwise, which would most likely shed some light on the record's sound.. That said, a great deal of the credit for this record's sound would likely have to go to the album's prolific, award-winning arranger and conductor Jimmie Haskell, whom they apparently used in place of their usual arranger/conductor, Pete Pedersen. Having worked on records by the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Etta James, The Moody Blues, Dusty Springfield and many many others, this seems to be the first and last time Haskell would work with Guenther and Morrison.
As well, Jim Taylor, who is somehow credited on the 12'' of "The Grand Tour," but nowhere on the album, is yet another person who likely deserves credit for the finished product here. A producer and mixer, Taylor was apparently a major contributor to many of Butterfly's releases. Taylor, according to his posting on Discomusic.com's interview with Butterfly Records' founder A.J. Cervantes, claims he worked on half of the product released by Butterfly in the late 70's. Evidently, in an unfortunate, but all too common music industry story, Taylor was left largely uncredited for some of his major contributions, such as the sixteen minute version of THP Orchestra's "Two Hot For Love," and as well, for the final mix of this very album.. Taylor later produced his own project for Butterfly entitled "Bernadette," as the J.T. Connection.
Although Grand Tour is rather earlier on in their canon of disco productions (one of the first outside of the THP Orchestra), it amazes me how Guenther and Morrison were able to go from orchestral disco like this, Southern Exposure and the early THP Orchestra, to club flooring fare like Sticky Fingers, rock disco like the Skatt Bros. all the way to cold, epic electro like The Immortals and beyond. Despite this record being anything but your typical four-on-the-floor disco album, it's quite nice to know that it wasn't passed over at the time, with a good half of the record charting quite well in the US discos. In my opinion, it's records like this which speak highly, not only of the talent involved, but of disco at it's best, as a genre of unparalleled diversity..
Gentle and emotional, yet exquisite and intricate with it's winter disco theme, this album is nothing less than a truly sublime record.. Looking at my Canadian pressing here, I remember being intrigued by the writing on the cover when I had picked it up.. I usually hate seeing writing scrawled on the cover like that; in this case however, it couldn't have described things more perfectly.. Night Magic, indeed..
Note: This album was evidently released on CD in Italy (which I don't have yet) by a label called Vintage Classics. That label also did a CD reissue of another Can-Con Disco album, the John L. Usry, Jr. production Stratavarious, which, from what I recall, was of somewhat marginal sound quality. So no telling how good the quality of this reissue was, however it is out there (albeit somewhat hard to find) should you ever decide to track it down.
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #42: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE - HEADIN' SOUTH (1979, RCA) (MONDAY JUNE 4, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #25: RINDER & LEWIS - WARRIORS (1979, AVI/QUALITY) (SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 17, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #23: DUNCAN SISTERS (1979, RCA) (SUNDAY JUNE 25, 2006)
GRAND TOUR - ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
GRAND TOUR - THE GRAND TOUR 12'' @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
GRAND TOUR @ DISCOGS
IAN GUENTHER @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
IAN GUENTHER @ DISCOGS
WILLI MORRISON @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
WILLI MORRISON @ DISCOGS
WILLI MORRISON & IAN GUENTHER @ DISCOGS
JIMMIE HASKELL @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
JIMMIE (JIMMY) HASKELL @ DISCOGS
JIMMIE HASKELL - OFFICIAL WEBSITE
JIM TAYLOR @ DISCOGS
INTERVIEW WITH BUTTERFLY RECORDS' A.J. CERVANTES @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, CAN-CON DISCO