On The Record: Dexys Midnight Runners, plus Jethro Tull & an Eric Andersen Tribute

Dexys’ Do-over

Kevin Rowland’s overlooked 1999 album, My Beauty, got a deserved second chance with its 2020 rerelease. Now Too-Rye-Ay, the sophomore LP from Rowland’s band, Dexys Midnight Runners, is getting another shot in the spotlight as well, thanks to a recently issued three-CD 40th-anniversary edition.

Unlike My BeautyToo-Rye-Ay didn’t go unnoticed when it first appeared. On the contrary, the 1982 album was a worldwide hit, and it included the single “Come On Eileen,” which rose to No. 1 on U.S. and U.K. charts. That single’s flip side, “Geno” (which isn’t on the original LP), also topped charts in Britain, and the group additionally scored there with the album’s Van Morrison cover, “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” and “The Celtic Soul Brothers.”

It’s an excellent LP whose influences are summed up in that latter title. Employing a horn section that prominently features trombone as well as violins, banjo, and such other instruments as tin whistle, flute, banjo, and accordion, it serves up a fresh-sounding combination of traditional Irish folk music and soul that also draws on rock and roll. The exhilarating, musically complex “Come On Eileen” – which describes lustful feelings while name-checking fifties singer Johnnie Ray and a classic Irish-American song – ranks among the best singles of the eighties, and it’s not the album’s only high point.

Still, Too-Rye-Ay has previously been reissued with assorted bonus material no fewer than four times – in 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2007 – so you may wonder why we need yet another rerelease. One answer is in the title of the new edition, which is called Too-Rye-Ay (As It Should Have Sounded). It turns out that Rowland never liked the way the original LP was mixed. Even before it was first issued, he asked the record company if he could remix it but according to the liner notes for this latest release, the label responded, “No, sorry, we’ve spent enough on this. Move on. It sounds good enough to us, Kevin.”

The album’s flaws continued to nag at Rowland, however, and when he inquired again four decades later, the label responded more favorably. So, he remixed the album with the assistance of original producer Pete Schwier and violinist and backing vocalist Helen O’Hara. As Schwier says, “All the material on the remix is from the original recordings, nothing new has been added.” However, some of the arrangements have been changed and certain elements have been emphasized or deemphasized, resulting in significant differences from the original release. The new version sounds brighter and more powerful and puts more emphasis on Rowland’s vocals. 

The improved sound may offer enough justification for fans of the album to replace copies of the original LP but there are other reasons as well to buy this anniversary edition, whose discs are packaged in a 32-page hardcover book that contains liner notes and photos. The set embraces a CD with 13 bonus tracks and another with a newly remixed 80-minute October 1982 concert from London’s Shaftesbury Theatre. The former includes three previously unreleased outtakes, plus the single version of “Come On Eileen” and a variety of B-sides, among them a cover of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s “T.S.O.P.,” the 1974 Philly soul hit by MFSB. The concert features potent readings of “Come On Eileen” and seven of the other nine songs on Too-Rye-Ay, plus more Dexys originals and a rendition of Otis Redding’s “Respect.” The show leaves no doubt that the band could deliver the goods on stage just as well as it did in a studio. 

‘Thick as a Brick’ Turns 50

“Really don’t mind if you sit this one out,” sings Jethro Tull prime mover Ian Anderson at the very beginning of 1972’s Thick as a Brick. Not many fans did, however, as the album became the group’s first No. 1 LP in the U.S. and spent nearly a year on the charts.

Half a century later, the record is the subject of the latest in a series of anniversary box sets from the group that has also featured such releases as Minstrel in the GalleryToo Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!, and Stand Up. The new release, though, isn’t really new: it’s a reissue of 2012’s 40th  anniversary CD and audio DVD edition, which contained the original recording as well as remixes, among them a surround-sound version.

The discs are packaged in a 100-page book that reproduces the original album’s spoof newspaper and additionally features recording and tour reminiscences by Anderson and others as well as vintage photos. Compared with some of Jethro Tull’s other box sets, though, this one comes up a bit short: it includes no video, for example, nor does it embrace the previously released audio from a 1978 concert recording of the album’s contents.

“Thick as a Brick” – an approximately 44-minute composition that originally filled both sides of a vinyl LP – still sounds like an inventive blend of traditional British folk and progressive rock, though some of the music is less grand than grandiose. That was probably intentional, however, as Anderson has suggested that he intended the album as a joke designed to make fun of such then-popular prog-rock bands as Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The lyrics, while probably also written in jest, are certainly abstruse. “Your sperm’s in the gutter, your love’s in the sink,” Anderson sings, before concluding that “your suntan does rapidly peel, and your wise men don’t know how it feels, to be thick as a brick.”

Such lyrics may themselves be “thick as a brick,” but much of the music – and especially Anderson’s flute work – is compelling. Moreover, the record’s strengths really stand out in this release’s surround-sound mix.

Eric Andersen Gets His Due

The disappearance during the 1970s of the tapes for what likely would have been a key album and a move from New York to Norway in the following decade may be among the reasons folk singer/songwriter Eric Andersen has never received the attention he deserves. Today, he remains known – to the extent that he is known – mostly for two early and often-covered classic compositions, “Violets of Dawn” and “Thirsty Boots.” In fact, though, he has been writing and performing emotive, introspective material for around 60 years. You can get a good sampling of his wonderful catalog on 2020’s spectacular three-CD live set, Woodstock Under the Stars

Now comes another three-disc collection – this one from some of Andersen’s luminous admirers – that will perhaps garner him more of the attention he merits. Tribute to a Songpoet: Songs of Eric Andersen features mostly new recordings of some of the finest compositions from throughout his career. Among the many contributors are Bob Dylan (“Thirsty Boots”), Willie Nile (“Rain Falls Down in Amsterdam”), Janis Ian (“Hills of Tuscany”), Wesley Stace aka John Wesley Harding (“Time Run Like a Freight Train”), Linda Ronstadt (“(I Ain’t Always Been) Faithful”), Rick Danko (“Blue River”), and the Kennedys (“Waves of Freedom”). 

Unfortunately, you can’t quite get the complete 44-track setlist on either the CD or download edition of this release, as two tracks are only on the former while another two – including a live reading of “Thirsty Boots” by Andersen himself – are only on the latter. (The Dylan number, also, is available only on disc and from certain download stores.) But that’s likely to be your only complaint about this superlative release, whose consistently fine performances underscore the brilliance of Andersen’s catalog while adding a fresh spin to much of it. If you’re already an admirer of his work, you’ll likely love Tribute to a Songpoet and if you’re not, this anthology should put you on a path to fandom.

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and EncountersLennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonLeonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.