Monday, December 31, 2018

Robert Kinsler's Favorite Reissues, Live Albums and Special Editions of 2018

There is little doubt that 2018 was an amazing year for those who love deluxe editions and reissues, and special concert recordings (including those audio-only titles, as well as multi-format releases that came via Blu-ray, DVD and digital). Here are my 15 favorites I heard during a fantastic year...

Artists: The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade
Title: 3 X 4 (Yep Roc Records)
Tell me more: Los Angeles' so-called "Paisley Underground" was an exciting genre blending garage rock, jangly power pop and psychedelic rock that emerged at the dawn of the 1980s. The movement's best-known proponents  the BanglesRain Paradethe Dream Syndicate and the Three O'Clock  have joined forces on a must-hear collection where each group performs one song from each of the other three outfits  hence the clever title 3 X 4. Every cut on the 12-track disc is fantastic, capturing the individual talents of the groups and strength of the songwriting. The Dream Syndicate brings an almost Neil Young and Crazy Horse muscular approach to Rain Parade's "You Are My Friend." Rain Parade brings a Beatlesque touch to Three O'Clock's atmospheric "As Real As Real." Susanna Hoffs' shimmering lead vocals help propel the Bangles' lovely take on Rain Parade's dreamy "Talking In My Sleep." The Dream Syndicate offers up a rollicking take on the Bangles' classic "Hero Take a Fall," the version bolstered by the lush harmonies of Vicki Peterson and Linda Pitmon. The melancholy-drenched "Real World" finds Rain Parade bringing new depth to the Bangles favorite. 3 X 4 is one of the most glorious releases of 2018. Information:

Artist: The Beatles
Title: "The Beatles" White Album / Super Deluxe edition (Capitol Records)
Tell me more: This writer considers The Beatles' 1968 album best known as the "White Album" the greatest rock album of all time, so the release of the six-disc Super Deluxe 50th Anniversary edition earlier this year is likely an essential addition to any music lover's collection. The diverse and intoxicating range of brilliant songs include the eloquent "Blackbird," sweeping "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," blistering "Helter Skelter," poignant "Julia" and ethereal "Long Long Long." In addition, it features Ringo Starr's first solo contribution as both singer and songwriter, the wistful "Don't Pass Me By." The inclusion of the acoustic "Escher" demos is a revelation, showcasing early and sparse takes on many of the "White Album" classics. For more casual lovers of the Fab Four, a three-disc version is also available. Information:

Artist: Big Star
Title: Live at Lafayette's Music Room (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: For long-time fans and new followers of Big Star, the release of the Memphis' band's Live at Lafayette's Music Room is a true revelation. Recorded in the uncertain aftermath after co-founding member Chris Bell had left the pioneering power pop outfit in January 1973, singer-guitarist Alex Chilton, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer-singer Jody Stephens were captured during an opening slot for Houston R&B ensemble Archie Bell & the Drells. The live recording has been newly-remastered from Grammy-winning Michael Graves (the concert set was previously only available as disc 4 on the Grammy Award-winning Keep an Eye on the Sky box set released in 2009). Highlights on Live at Lafayette's Music Room abound; a rollicking "When My Baby's Beside Me," a raucous "She's A Mover" complete with extended fiery guitar work from Chilton, a lovely "The Ballad of El Goodo" and artfully reworked covers of classics from The Flying Burrito BrothersThe KinksTodd Rundgren and T. Rex to name a few. Information:

Artist: The Choir
Title: Artifact: The Unreleased Album (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: The 10 tracks featured on the Choir's aptly-titled Artifact: The Unreleased Album were recorded back in 1969 and each bristle with a timeless energy and creative approach that will never be dated. Things begin with the stirring British Invasion-spirited "Anyway I Can" and quickly extend with sonic seams that include psychedelic (especially "Ladybug" and the instrumental "For Eric"), as well as art-, folk- and melodic- rock styles. The rollicking "If These Are Men," the lovely baroque-styled "Have I No Love to Offer," the majestic "It's All Over" and vertiginous "Boris' Lament" could have all been radio hits at the time. The Choir was among the leading artists in Cleveland during the 1960s, and several of the musicians in the quintet would soon go on to help form the Raspberries. How wonderful it is that Artifact: The Unreleased Album has found new life almost 50 years after its creation. Information:

Artist: Gene Clark
Title: Gene Clark Sings for You (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Omnivore Recordings has recently released previously unheard post-Byrds recordings from Gene Clark. The good news for fans of the Byrds' early material as well as of Clark's solo work is this is an exciting new collection (Gene Clark Sings for You) that celebrates and expands the legacy of an important artist whose groundbreaking solo work was often overlooked in his lifetime (he died at the age of 46 in May 1991). Clark was the principal songwriter in the Byrds from 1964 to early 1966, writing classics such as "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," "Set You Free This Time" and "She Don't Care About Time." Comprised of tracks recorded in 1967, Gene Clark Sings for You explore folk rock with beauty and insight. The opener "On Her Own" features Clark's signature vocal styling and taps into a wistful '60s sound. The follow-up "Past Tense" is even stronger, an upbeat folk rocker that captures the magic of his work with the Byrds but also foreshadows the alt-country movement of that latter part of the '60s and early '70s. Other nuggets on the album include the wistful "That's Alright by Me" and baroque-flavored "Down on the Pier." In addition to the eight actual tracks pulled from the "Gene Clark Sings for You" acetate in the aftermath of his departure from the Byrds, there are an additional five songs from another 1967 acetate given to the Rose Garden for that band's consideration (Omnivore have simultaneously released their 1968 album; it is reviewed later in this column). A final track, a lovely acoustic demo of "Till Today," features Clark running through the song for the Rose Garden. Information:

Artist: Thomas Dolby
Title: Hyperactive (BMG)
Tell me more: As Thomas Dolby prepared to set out on a rare tour last summer fans of the groundbreaking English musician, producer, author and university professor were rewarded with a two-disc audio CD collection Hyperactive. Casual fans may know Dolby best for his timeless hits "She Blinded Me With Science" and "Hyperactive" but this collection focused renewed light on Dolby's master strengths as a recording artist. The range of material on the essential set includes the buoyant "Hyperactive!", New Wave-flavored "Europa and the Pirate Twins," the lovely synthesizer foray "Valley of the Mind's Eye" and funky "Airhead — and that's just on the first disc. Moving on to disc two includes the bewitching "One of Our Submarines," the genre-defying "The Flat Earth," the soulful ballad "Beauty of a Dream," and melodic "Close But No Cigar." Information:

Artist: The Kinks
Title: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (Sanctuary Records)
Tell me more: The 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Kinks' 1968 masterwork The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is amazing. It features both stereo and mono mixes from the HD masters, bonus tracks and a previously-unreleased new single titled "Time Song." The two-disc audio CD version reviewed here also comes with a 20-page booklet and extensive liner notes. Lead singer-songwriter Ray Davies penned a slew of outstanding nostalgia-drenched songs exploring life and death, growing up and growing old, and wove those works together via a mix of musical styles that work perfectly. Indeed, pop-rock ("Starstruck"), psychedelia ("Wicket Annabella"), blues ("Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains"), chamber pop ("Big Sky," "Village Green"), and an intoxicating dose of British Music hall ("Sitting By The Riverside," "All Of My Friends Were There") are among the styles used by the Kinks on the wide-ranging title. Casual rock fans who only know the Kinks via the band's radio hits should consider delving into this wondrous title that was sadly overlooked at the time of its release in November 1968. Information:

Artist: Lone Justice
Title: The Western Tapes, 1983 (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: It's clear listening to the glorious 6-track EP The Western Tapes, 1983 featuring groundbreaking country roots rockers Lone Justice's earliest demo recordings that the band was decades ahead of its time. The strength of these early tracks  five of which are previously unissued  led the troupe on a glorious path to being signed to a major label and releasing several memorable LPs later that decade. The original lineup of Lone Justice (singer-guitarist Maria McKee, lead guitarist-vocalist Ryan Hedgecock, drummer Don Willens and bassist Dave Harrington) carved out a handful of songs that sound as potent today as they did 35 years ago; the rollicking "Working Late," aching "Don't Toss Us Away" and no-holds-barred "The Train" are among this writer's favorites on the disc. The stylish package is excellent and includes liner notes penned by producer Marvin Etzioni, who is spot-on when he writes "I believed we were creating a 21st century country band."  Information:

Artist: Buck Owens
Title: Country Singer's Prayer (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: More than 40 years after it was recorded, Buck Owens' last Capitol Records album has finally been released. Recorded in 1975, Country Singer's Prayer was never released by the label – likely because of widespread indifference to the title of the single of the same name. Listening to the stellar expanded edition of Country Singer's Prayer issued by Omnivore Recordings in 2018 is to wonder what the heck Capitol executives were thinking 43 years ago; the album is a stunning reflection of Owen's groundbreaking Bakersfield country music (an inspiration and influence on artists ranging from Ringo Starr and Gram Parsons to Dwight Yoakam). In addition to the album's original track listing, the new release features both B-sides from Owens' final two singles from the 1975-unissued LP. Fans of Owen's authentic country-western brew will be swept up by the disc's riches; dance-minded material ("John Law," "The Battle of New Orleans") and potent ballads (notably "A Different Kind of Sad" and "How's Everything") make this a rewarding listen from start to finish. The release is bolstered by new liner notes by Scott B. Bomar with interviews with long-time Buckaroos piano player Jim Shaw and Robert John Jones ("Rocky Topp"), who together co-wrote the memorable single "Country Singer's Prayer." Information:

Artist: Tom Petty
Title: An American Treasure (Reprise Records)
Tell me more: Filled with previously-unreleased studio songs, live cuts and spellbinding alternate takes of beloved favorites taken from throughout his career, the aptly-titled An American Treasure' captures the singular sound that Tom Petty carved out over forty-plus years. The four-disc set is broken down by decade with cuts from the 1970s, '80s, '90s and 2000s featured. Things kick off with the Byrds-flavored "Surrender," recorded by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 1976. Listening to the track is to be instantly transported back to the exuberance of the ensemble's early days. Live performances of "Listen To Her Heart" (from April 1977), and "Anything That's Rock 'n' Roll and "Breakdown" (from a November 1977 set) also capture that spirit. The power of this collection thrills with each cut, and across the expansive set. The soulful "Lost in Your Eyes" (from 1975), power pop-meets-psychedelic album track "You and I Will Meet Again (1991), lush "Crawling Back To You (1994) and a live version of "Southern Accents" are among the super cuts on this 63-track collection. My favorite track is the previously-unreleased melodic rocker "Gainesville," an autobiographical track recorded in early 1998. Information:

Artist: The Rose Garden
Title: A Trip Through the Garden: The Rose Garden Collection (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Gene Clark, the Hollies, Sonny & Cher
Tell me more: Just listening to the expanded reissue of the Rose Garden's eponymous album is to hear why the best music from the 1960s continues to resonant so strongly a half century later. A Trip Through the Garden: The Rose Garden Collection shines a bright light on the Rose Garden, a troupe best known for their hit single "Next Plane to London." The group's full talents are on display on the expansive 26-track collection issued last summer. John Noreen's nuanced 12-track guitar adorns the pretty "I'm Only Second," while everywhere the lead vocals of Diana DeRoseand James Groshong entice the listener. Beyond the sterling original material there are memorable covers of material by the celebrated likes of Gene Clark ("Long Time"), Neil Young ("Down to the Wire"), Bob Dylan ("She Belongs to Me") and the Byrds ("So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star"). There is also an outstanding 20-page, full illustrated booklet that further completes a complete re-introduction to the Los Angeles-spawned Rose Garden. Information:

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Title: Springsteen On Broadway (Columbia)
Tell me more: The audio companion to the acclaimed film currently showing on NetflixBruce Springsteen's Springsteen On Broadway features the complete audio recording of the Netflix special. Running the full length of two audio CDs (or also available as a 4 LP vinyl set), Springsteen On Broadway is a mix of intimate performances and spoken stories leading up to the presentation of the songs. The winner of a Tony Award, Academy Award and 20 Grammy Awards, Springsteen brings the rich mix of songcraft and storytelling featured in his autobiography "Born to Run" to his performance captured at the Walter Kerr Theatre featured on Springsteen On Broadway. There is a mix of humor, wit and life's lessons that compel the recording at every turn. Songs include "Growing Up," "My Hometown," "The Promised Land" and "Born to Run." Information:

Artist: Styx
Title: The Mission — CD + Blu-ray (UMe)
You might like if you enjoy: Styx, Boston
Tell me more: When Styx released The Mission on June 16, 2017, few saw the album coming. The band's first new studio album in 14 years, The Mission was a creative and commercial triumph. Among the notable songs featured on "The Mission" are the rocking "Gone Gone Gone," expansive "Radio Silence" the Neo-classical "Khedive" and anthemic "The Outpost." Fast forward to 2018 and Styx rewarded rock fans with a deluxe two-disc edition that includes the album on audio CD and a second Blu-ray Disc loaded with essential content. Not only is listening to the immersive 5.1 Surround Sound mix a great experience but there are stellar visualizations for each of the album's 14 songs based on the original album artwork. Among the bonus content on the Blu-ray Disc are music videos that add insight into the concept album and its creation. "Gone Gone Gone" is featured as both a concert-minded video and a secondary video created by NASA using the space agency's considerable resources, and a terrific live version of "Radio Silence" performed in Syracuse, NY.  Also included is "Making The Mission" where Tommy Shaw discusses the making of The Mission as a 5.1 mix (he even showcases some of the specific guitars he used on the album). Information:

Artist: Henry Townsend
Title: Mule (Omnivore Recordings)
Tell me more: Armed with a potent baritone voice and keyboard and guitar skills to match, Henry Townsend's talents shine across the expanded reissue of his 1980 album Mule. The late bluesman was born in 1909 and his spirit and sound emerge as fresh and enthralling today as when the disc was recorded nearly 40 years ago. Townsend's recording career dated back to the early 1930s and Mule marked an effort to put Townsend front and center on a full-length recording. The album is worth discovering, with the artist artfully pounding away on keyboards and plucking on guitar across the disc. As detailed in the album liner notes, Townsend would improvise while recording; the result is the performance of tracks that are vibrant and fully unique. The Delta-flavored "Tears Come Rollin' Down," rollicking piano-anchored "It's A Hard Road To Travel," spot on "Talkin' Guitar Blues" and the joyful romp "The Other Night" (a bonus track) ring out with an immediacy and power that are as much a tribute to Townsend as American blues music itself. Information:

Artist: The Zombies
Title: Greatest Hits (Varèse Sarabande Records)
Tell me more: The Zombies were an early member of the British Invasion and the new completely-remastered collection Greatest Hits showcases why the English quintet is bound for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2019. Completely remastered, the new 16-track Greatest Hits set features many of the band's most beloved songs. Early hits such as "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" as well as late '60s gems (notably "Time of The Season" and "This Will Be Our Year" from the group's masterwork Odessey and Oracle) are here; of equal interest are the terrific selections that expand the legacy of The Zombies including the soulful "Whenever You're Ready," intoxicating "I Love You" (still a key part of the band's concert sets), the cinematic thriller "Just Out of Reach" and the stirring "The Way I Feel Inside" (the latter a mostly a cappella track featuring lead singer Colin Blunstone). The colorful booklet includes outstanding liner notes penned by Andrew Sandoval that add insight about each of the songs included on the outstanding collection. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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