An American Trilogy – Mickey Newbury (Cargo Records UK; Saint Ceclia Knows/Mountain Retreat – 5/24)
There may be many reasons for the release of Mickey Newbury’s An American Trilogy Box Set and I’m sure all of them will be valid. Finding the master tapes in the Electra Records vaults is a good start, but I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason to release a box set with embossed gold-leaf archival paper cardboard and an elaborate booklet for three albums that came out in succession from ’69-73 to rave reviews but limited sales.
“But from here where I lie I can see….”
There is only one word that comes to mind for making this package so detailed, so intimate, and so passionate in the little things that made Newbury’s music so endearing to those who got it – and that word is Love. It’s produced by Newbury’s label Mountain Retreat that his family administers in collaboration with Cargo Records from the UK. They got Grammy engineers Steve Rosenthal and Jessica Thompson to do the re-mastering honors.
“He’s tellin’ me about love, he says that we’re all one
On a spec of dust that’s revolving around the sun.”
– Flower Man, Newbury demo
Love from Kris Kristofferson who still credits Newbury for being the largest influence on his own writing. Love is everywhere here but no greater than those of us who receive his music as balm for the weariness inside our souls, who received it when it came out 40 years ago on vinyl – or 8-track tapes as was the media of choice for travelers in the day, and for those who may just be finding it now. I myself felt of an overwhelming spiritual power just as I was opening the package as it arrived in just 2 days from Village Records.
Please do not dismiss the remastering in this case as just another ploy to purchase another version you may already have. Previously, the original box set that came out 10 or so years ago was culled from virgin vinyl, as the masters were purportedly lost at the time. They possessed too many unwanted artifacts and were sonically out of touch for a digital release even though it still holds up well these many years for the amazing amount of content it offered. Also, digital was not kind to Newbury’s ambitious thematic sound. But not any more. Using the technology available in today’s studios, these orignal tapes were re-mixed from the mulit-track source, if I’m not mistaken. This is vastly different from just ‘re-mastering’ off of the 2-track finals. In any event, it shines like silver.
For starters, Newbury’s voice was never sweeter, more powerful, touching, or achingly transparent. It especially treats the synthesizers of the early 70’s well – one of the most compromised sounds from the first box set. In stunning fidelity, and, dare I say even better sonically than the originals, it offers us these 3 albums, what Newbury himself called The Trilogy: Looks Like Rain, Frisco Mabel Joy, and Heaven Help the Child. Of course for me and many others Frisco Mabel Joy was and is the Holy Grail of songwriting but now I see them for what they were intended to be: One.
Then there’s the wild card – the fourth disc: Demo, rarities, and live radio performances from the specific era that the Trilogy was made in. It is most revealing for being an immediate reflection of Mickey’s music from the time these seminal recordings were created. This fourth disc is like getting a new Mickey Newbury record and the quality is suberb. If ever the engineers’ fine skills were most needed, it was here. These recordings – and the songs contained herein are as good as anything released today.
Wow, could he play. Newbury was an orignal; he used a nylon stringed guitar and his chops were untouchable. He sang with a Voice – from far away yet inside us all. He wrote – with skill and dedication to his craft. But please forgive me, I’m going to stop here. There is so much more written about Newbury, his music, Cinderalla Studios where Wayne Moss produced The Trilogy, that is far more researched and comprehensive than what you’ll read from me. Trust me, it’s true. Begin with the 93 page booklet from the Box Set that will give you a start in understanding his music – or read other posts like Razing the Bar.
Cargo Records made only 1000 copies of the Box Set and their web site says it is ‘sold out’ but I’m sure that is because they’ve shipped them to all their distributors. Furthermore, they are releasing a standard DigiPak 4-CD version and, drum roll – a 4 record version on new vinyl!
All for love.