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Soul Coaxing: The Many Moods of John Schroeder

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Album Review

Like some other successful pop and rock producers of the 1960s (particularly in his native Britain), John Schroeder was given the opportunity to record orchestral instrumental records. These were released under several different names, most often the John Schroeder Orchestra, though some were billed to the City of Westminster String Band or Sounds Orchestral. Tracks originally credited to all three of those names are on Soul Coaxing: The Many Moods of John Schroeder, a two-CD, 43-song collection, drawn from recordings originally released between 1964 and 1974. This stuff belatedly got some hipster recognition among collectors, but truthfully it's quite erratic easy listening instrumental music (albeit sometimes with muted, distracted-sounding vocals), from the most banal to the most soulfully atmospheric that genre had to offer. There are a lot of easy listening-meets-Swinging London-a-go-go arrangements of contemporary soul, pop, and rock hits, from "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "Back in the U.S.S.R." to "Wichita Lineman," "Spinning Wheel," and "Superstition." Those are the numbers — mostly grouped on disc one, titled "Soulful Grooves" — that tend toward the banal, though it's odd indeed that Uriah Heep frontman David Byron provided the lead vocals on "Witchi Tai To" and "You've Made Me So Very Happy." Far more interesting, and original, are the non-pop covers — sometimes co-written by Schroeder himself, and mostly grouped on disc two, titled "Themes & Dreams — which have the dramatic and wistful qualities of the better European late-'60s and early-'70s soundtracks. "Soul Coaxing" (actually a cover of a Michel Polnareff tune) has a most appealing combination of mid-tempo piano and high, haunting wordless vocals, for instance. There are some cool off-the-wall touches of Hammond organ and fierce fuzz guitar amidst the orchestral sweep, and some numbers have the devious foreboding quality associated with spy thrillers, though they tend to be on the lush side of that style. If you do go for that kind of thing, "Image" is a real quality effort along those lines, its jazzy stuttering piano dovetailing with gossamer strings. Perhaps listeners might have been better served by two separate compilations, one for his "soul" outings and another for his dreamier easy listening soundtrack-like ones. But both sides of the man's prolific output are sampled here, with lengthy historical liner notes to put it all in context.

Biography

Born: 1935 in London, England

Genre: Religion & Spirituality

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Arranger/conductor/producer Schroeder does have a few pop/rock credentials: he wrote a number one U.K. hit for British singer Helen Shapiro ("Walkin' Back to Happiness") in the early '60s, made the first licensing deal for Motown product on British shores, and formed Sounds Orchestral, which had a Top Ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1965 with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." To the current space-age pop crowd, however, he's known as one of the chief exponents of what the British call "easy"...
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Soul Coaxing: The Many Moods of John Schroeder, John Schroeder
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