Friday, February 22, 2013

Richard Barone

Richard Barone Cool Blue Halo (25th anniversary edition)
About the only people who noticed the 1987 debut of former Bongo co-founder Richard Barone were the critics who, at the time of its release, were rightfully effusive in their praise; and while the album slowly gained a bit of cult status it never garnered much in the way of sales or long term momentum.  Which remains a darn shame; it’s one of the finest albums of its time, and one that sounds even better with age. Making your debut album a live one was a bold creative move, but not such a great marketing strategy. Released on the fledgling PVC label-just weeks before it went belly up-I first encountered Cool Blue Halo in a dollar cassette bin a year or so later. It became one of those impulse buys-I was barely familiar with Barone but intrigued by anyone willing to cover both David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World” AND The Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry”-that has repaid my meager investment again and again.

Barone shifted from the snappy power pop of his New Jersey band (also critical darlings) to atmospheric but never indulgent chamber styled pop, and he did so with confidence and authority. He traded his backing band-a traditional ensemble of bass/drums/guitar, for the innovative percussion of Valerie Naranjo and Jane Scarpantoni’s magical cello; he also added acoustic guitar to his own stripped down electric with brilliant results. The sound remains as unique 25 years after the fact as it was that May 31st evening at New York’s famous Bottom Line club. Difficult to obtain in the CD era, it has now been resurrected with remastered audio from the original tapes and eight bonus tracks for what is the definitive version of this overlooked gem. Barone mixes some Bongos tunes, and new (at the time) originals with the aforementioned covers of Bowie, The Beatles, and T Rex; everything is imaginatively rearranged for his backing musicians, in an iridescent, occasionally rocking, always inspired outing.  The result is mesmerizing, a layer upon layer masterwork of shimmering delights the like of which is rarely heard.  This deluxe reissue includes a companion two CD/DVD live package (released simultaneously but available separately) that finds Barone back in a different small New York City club in 2012, fronting the same stripped down band from way back when. He then adds guests Garth Hudson (accordion and piano), original producer Tony Visconti (on bass) and others that barely squeeze onto the tiny stage, rolling through some new songs and terrific versions of the Stones’ “Child of the Moon” and the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” for a two hour set, beautifully captured on the DVD.

A bonus 30 minute documentary reveals the history of the album and the recent concert, providing fascinating behind the scenes details to what is already an absorbing back story. It’s an invigorating concert that shows Barone remains as creative, vital and youthful looking as ever. Despite a solid solo career Barone has never matched the transcendent glow of Cool Blue Halo, and I doubt he ever will. If you missed it the first time around, which nearly everyone did, it’s never too late to latch onto the singer/songwriter’s magnetic, challenging and often dazzling art pop masterpiece. Even better, Barone now owns all rights to the record, so why immersing yourself in some fabulous music you’ll also be putting some well deserved dollars into his pockets.

James Cassara


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