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Thursday, Dec 16, 2010
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Legacy Edition - Sony Legacy [$22.98]

This brew tastes as good as it ever did. And regarding the stylistic and cultural changes that have ensued since late ’69, what might have once sounded scary should seem almost accessible. To listeners who have absorbed progressive rock, world music, trip-hop and the ambient dreamscapes that drugs and technology have helped create, this experience might impart the shock of recognition: this is the primordial stew that all of these advancements oozed out of. (For the full and unfettered experience, you need to acquire the box set that includes the complete Bitches Brew sessions, which was released several years back.)


Miles was clever enough to understand the new possibilities being made possible by James Brown, as well as Sly Stone and especially Jimi Hendrix. Miles, always trusting his ever-keen instincts, incorporated some of this freedom into his approach; he just happened to have the biggest and boldest freak flag, and as such he was able—and obliged—to fly it higher than anyone else. In the process he dragged jazz music, kicking and screeching, into the ‘70s—and beyond.


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Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010
The Beatles - 1962-1966 / 1967-1970 - EMI [$24.99 each]

The double-CD sets 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (colloquially referred to as the “Red” and “Blue” albums due to their packaging colors, respectively) remain the ultimate assemblage of the utter best of the Beatles’ magnificent catalog. Originally released in 1973 and now reissued by the band’s boutique label Apple as part of its extensive remastering campaign (in the sort of tight, environmentally-friendly slipcases that nevertheless invite the threat of packaging tears every time one attempts to remove a disc), both collections were sorted out by Beatles manager Allen Klein, who rounded up all the band’s canonical self-penned singles and cherry-picked the highlights of its album cuts. His choices remain impeccable: you can quibble that these sets don’t include your favorite Beatles tune (it doesn’t include mine), but all the group’s high points are accounted for and each album save for the underwhelming Yellow Submarine soundtrack is represented.  Expansive without being unwieldy, the combined sets yield a sum total of over two-and-a-half hours of music spread over four CDs.  That’s admittedly still a ton of music to get through, but it’s realistically as ruthless an approach to trimming the band’s output down one can implement without excluding anything vital.


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Monday, Dec 13, 2010
Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 -Columbia/Legacy [$18.98]

In all his various iterations—from folk troubadour to sunglass-clad, plugged-in contrarian to born-again Christian rocker to bluesy, plainspoken elder statesman—Bob Dylan’s artistic persona has always come across as one of clear vision. There’s no waffling in the moment, no tiny cracks of indecision or reticence. Bob Dylan picks his path—often blazing it for others to follow behind—and he doesn’t look back.


The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964, however, show us a new side to Dylan. They show us the Dylan who is just starting out, frantically writing songs, but still feeling for his own ground. At times, he’s as in command as ever, and in others, he feels a little green still, a little untested. Part of this comes from the fact that Dylan was a gamble for Columbia Records. Most of the Greenwich Village folk crowd ended up on smaller labels, like Folkways, and targeted smaller crowds. Dylan, though, was getting coverage in the Times as early as 1961, and John Hammond over at Columbia took a flier on him.


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Friday, Dec 10, 2010
Antony and the Johnsons: Swanlights [$35.00]

Antony Hegarty presents a visual companion to his excellent new album, Swanlights. Containing thought-provoking dreamscapes composed of paintings, drawings, photography, collage, song lyrics, and writings, these images create an interesting dialogue with Antony’s mournful, delicate music. Fans and collectors alike will relish this lavish volume, which also includes a copy of Swanlights on CD.


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Thursday, Dec 9, 2010
Next Stop… Soweto - Vols. 1-3: Limited Edition Box Set

Compiled by Duncan Brooker and Francis Gooding, the Next Stop… Soweto series represents one the widest-ranging compilation projects ever undertaken on South African music. Over three volumes, this limited edition box set covers early mbaqange and township jive, through the late-‘60s “Soultown” scene, and the rich jazz happenings of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and beyond. Featuring bands like the Movers and jazz-greats Dudu Pukwana and Early Mabuza, this collection provides a unique snapshot of South Africa’s homegrown music scene under apartheid and the incredible diversity of sounds from the era.


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