Best Reissues of 2006 Part 2
Some “greatest hits” packages are good, most are regrettably cursory, but few examine their subject with the austerity and conviction that Collected brings to the career of Massive Attack. The “hits” disc is simply untouchable, an impeccable selection of highlights from a career studded with highlights—there’s even the obligatory new track that accomplishes the rare feat of actually sounding as good as anything else here. But pay a few bucks for the deluxe edition and get the bonus DualDisc. The bonus CD is packed with rarities (the stellar “I Against I” with Mos Def) and oddballs (such as their collaboration with Madonna on Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”). A good percentage of these obscurities could easily have fit on the first disc with no dip in quality, which is perhaps an indicator of how good Massive Attack is to begin with. But flip over the DualDisc and the DVD side features a collection of their groundbreaking music videos—every single one of them. Most “hits” collections, even the comparatively well-curated efforts, can seem like flabby exercises in nostalgia, last gasps from defunct or exhausted entities. Collected is that rarest of compilations that leaves the listener looking forward with relish, anticipating the future for a reinvigorated Massive Attack.
Massive Attack - Protection
That’s Entertainment: The Ultimate Anthology of M-G-M Musicals
(Rhino; US: 25 Apr 2006)
From here all the best work in American popular music is measured. Well, it certainly ought to be. MGM defined the gold standard for Hollywood musicals in the ‘30s through the ‘50s with some of the biggest stars on the studio’s roster: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, to name just a few (“More stars than there are in heaven” as MGM puts it). Nobody—from barely-can-stand toddler to barely-can-stand grandma (and all bodies in-between)—can resist this music. The most restrained will find the latent tap dancer within and at the very least, tap his toes (but best to push the furniture back, when putting these CDs on the stereo, just in case he really cuts loose); the vocalist we all long to be will sing along, joyfully unrestrained, no matter how off key she may be, because she knows the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern (just hitting the highlights, here) in her very bones. This new six-CD set includes highlights from some of the very best and most loved films, including Singin’ in the Rain, Easter Parade (with its jam-packed line-up of Berlin songs sung by Garland and Astaire), Gershwin’s An American in Paris and, simply wonderfully, much more.
Singin’ in the Rain - Gene Kelly singing and dancing the title song in the 1952 classic musical.
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
(Mercury; US: 24 Oct 2006; UK: 20 Nov 2006)
The two best songwriters America has ever produced are Bob Dylan and Lucinda Williams. Blending country music with rock, Cajun influences with folk and bluegrass, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is Williams’s Blood on the Tracks. Or perhaps her Blonde On Blonde. Comfortably one of the ten greatest records ever made, it was six years in the making as its creator changed cities, studios, and producers no less than three times in her single-minded pursuit of perfection. Thankfully, she achieved it. From the steamy sexuality of “Right in Time” to the roadtrip breakup misery of “Jackson”, these are rural songs of longing and loss performed by a remarkable storyteller who is at once both utterly vulnerable and immovably strong. Speaking plainly about deeply personal issues, Williams sometimes seems to be ripping back her bones and flesh to expose her heart and soul. While this remastered deluxe edition disappoints slightly by including only three of the many outtakes from the prolonged incubation of this most wonderful of records, it does also ship with an outstanding concert performance that was recorded during the tour to promote the original release.
Lucinda Williams - Drunken Angel
Outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings gets a fittingly grand tribute within this four-disc collection. It’s not just the first box set devoted to the man, but also one comprehensive enough to reveal many facets to his music. It includes everything from his earliest country-radio singles to his most famous rebel anthems after he broke from Nashville, from heartwrenching duets with his wife Jessi Colter to good-times duets with Willie Nelson, from stunning reinterpretations of others’ songs to memorable songs he wrote himself. Nashville Rebel presents a wide enough view of Jennings to show the many ways he was a rebel and the ways he wasn’t, to show the ways he fit into Nashville and didn’t, to illuminate the ways he steered country music back towards its own traditions while creating new ones for it.
Waylon Jennings - Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way
- “The Wurlitzer Prize” [Real audio stream]
- “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” [Real audio stream]
Considering that the stupendous reissues of Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain rank as two of the finest deluxe editions ever assembled, there was no way Matador could fail with the third installment, which had a generation of indie-rock fans drooling all year long in anticipation. Of course, this swanky two-disc set delivers, crammed with key b-sides (“Easily Fooled”), EP tracks (“Give It a Day”), soundtrack contributions (the hugely underrated “Painted Soldiers”), a few studio outtakes, and some excellent radio sessions, but the real draw remains the album itself. The homely wallflower to Slanted and Crooked‘s prom king and queen, it was a startling creative turn; the band audaciously and confidently hops from genre to genre, tossing hints of chamber pop, jazz, country, blues, and punk into its already musically varied repertoire. As an architect of a now-legendary indie-rock trifecta, Pavement simply could do no wrong back then, and with these reissues, neither can Matador.
Pavement - Rattled By the Rush
At San Quentin
(Legacy; US: 14 Nov 2006; UK: Available as import)
Live albums are tricky by nature. It’s hard to capture the spirit of the crowd on a piece of plastic, as opposed to actually being there. In this case, it’s safer to listen to the plastic. In 1969, Johnny Cash, fresh off a concert at Folsom Prison a year earlier, took himself and three other acts to one of the meanest prisons at the time, San Quentin. And in a room loaded with murderers, robbers, rapists, and prison guards—testosterone central—Cash had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand. Along with openers Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Carter Family (of which June was his wife), Cash put on a performance that put you as close to being there as possible. Songs of protest (his quickly penned “San Quentin” nearly did cause a riot, so Cash, who served time behind other bars, had the cojones to play it again) mixed with gospels, love songs, and tales of a boy named Sue for an intensity unmatched by other live recordings. The Legacy Edition of At San Quentin features the concert in its entirety, as well as a lovely 40-page booklet of memories and photos. But the coolest part of the package has to be the DVD of the concert, shot by Granada TV (England). What looks like a staged suspense thriller with music actually was suspenseful. But the late Cash was a sharp cookie: he knew how far he could go and pull back just a nanosecond before trouble erupted. Unquestionably, this is one of country music’s (when country WAS country) defining moments.
Johnny Cash - At San Quentin
There Is a Season
(Legacy; US: 26 Sep 2006; UK: Available as import)
With the 1990 self-titled box set out of print, Columbia/Legacy has been releasing expanded and refurbished versions of the Byrds’ back catalog, including essential outtakes and b-sides. There Is a Season plays out like a finale of the reissue campaign. By this point, the infinite and possibly immeasurable impact of the Byrds probably goes without saying; certainly it’s a lifespan that is difficult to properly encapsulate in any sort of box. New fans couldn’t ask for a more complete look at the expansive career than the 99 chronologically sequenced and incredibly remastered tracks here coupled with the 100-page booklet detailing the band’s complicated history; enthusiasts will appreciate the five previously unreleased live tracks and the bonus DVD featuring vintage performances of the band from American and European television shows.
The Byrds - I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Punk/alternative of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s had its share of poseurs, but Chrissie Hynde had two immediate strikes against her: 1) She was female, and 2) She dared to mix punk and ethereal beauty in her songs. Tough shit for the rest of the world. The Pretenders, which debuted in January of 1980, was startling in its intensity and ability to cut through all the walls that the genres were setting up. The music was accessible (a four-letter word at the time), catchy (another four-letter word), and loaded with genuine attitude. Hynde had the good fortune to have three of the best musicians at the time in her band, though two of them, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, only lasted through two albums before dying within months of each other due to drug overdoses. Underrated drummer Martin Chambers kept it all together with both sheer force and simplicity on the drums. Pop ditties introduced to the world show Hynde’s softer side (“Kid”, “Brass in Pocket”). That was countered by pure punk attitude mixed with slashing guitars (“The Wait”, “Tattooed Love Boys”, “Precious”), as well as a foot-stomping, fist-pumping closing anthem (“Mystery Achievement”). The Pretenders is a once-in-a-lifetime debut, and Hynde & Co. nailed it perfectly, which makes this a perfect album.
The Pretenders—Brass in Pocket
What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977)
(Rhino; US: 3 Oct 2006; UK: 13 Oct 2006)
How appropriate that the umpteenth cover (albeit, a durn slick one) of “Spinning Wheel” pops up on What It Is!, Rhino’s expansive treasure dig through the Warner Brothers archives. The reissue market, what Rhino brought its bread and butter up on, has reached impressively obsessive depths today, only to come back around to the label that influenced it all. Four discs of mostly unheard gems, ranging from known artists performing dramatic rearrangements of familiar material (Aretha Franklin’s alternate mix of “Rock Steady”) to lesser-known artists performing the works of name folks (Baby Huey crooning Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times”), cover an exhaustive range of modern rhythm and blues. Oliver Wang’s extensive liner notes and a thick, record sleeve-reminiscent packaging (adorned with Masaki Koike’s Shepard Fairey-like design) round out the set.
- Multiple song snippets [Streaming]
Legends of Country Music
(Legacy; US: 29 Aug 2006; UK: Available as import)
This box set makes it undeniably clear that Bob Wills was one of the saints of American music. Sadly, he is usually ignored by people who don’t want to understand country music; worse, you are more likely to hear the Ying Yang Twins on country radio than anything by Wills or any of his many imitators. But the man’s influence is all laid out here on four jam-packed discs and some of the year’s best liner notes. Not only did Wills make country music relevant by aggressively combining it with jump blues, torch songs (he covered Bessie Smith early and often), hot jazz, and Tin Pan Alley specials, but he set an early standard for gangsta livin’, pissing off important people and politicians, getting fired right and left, and refusing to let narrow-minded people get in the way of having a good goddamned time.
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys - Sittin’ on Top of the World