George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (50th Anniversary Edition) [Capitol]
It would seem strange that a 50th-anniversary issue of an album that is widely recognized as not only one of the best Beatles solo records but also one of the best records of all time would meet with controversy. But some fans were disappointed with the new remix of George Harrison‘s 1970 magnum opus, claiming it sacrificed the gauziness of Phil Spector’s massive wall-of-sound production. In any case, what didn’t change was the excellent, timeless quality of the songs themselves.
It seemed Harrison had been building toward All Things Must Pass for his entire Beatles career. Indeed, he had a large trove of songs, many of which didn’t make the final three-record set (the third record, full of extended jams sessions, has long been all-but-disregarded in the discussion of the album). Though widely bootlegged, most of those songs make their first official appearances on this reissue. Most are worth hearing, as are the demo versions of tracks that did make the album.
Here, with nearly all the production stripped away, the sublime, nearly transcendent nature of the songs is still self-evident. Also, session outtakes and highlights actually accentuate the Spector effect. While Harrison, especially as a solo artist, had a rather serious, sometimes mystical image, some of the outtakes are great reminders his sense of humor and vigor remained intact. Through it all shines a sense of accomplishment and confidence that Harrison never really recaptured, making this immersive reissue a poignant and rewarding project, controversy and all. – John Bergstrom
PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea – Demos [UMC/Island]
On Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea – Demos, PJ Harvey follows up three other demo versions of albums from her extraordinary catalogue, incorporating Dry, To Bring You My Love, and Is This Desire? This time, though, we get to hear the previously confrontational English singer create the bare bones of her most polished and commercial work by far. One which won her critical acclaim and mainstream success upon its release in October 2000, together with her first Mercury Music Prize win. And while there isn’t anything revelatory here (no alternate lyrics, or lost verses), it’s pure joy to find these 12 thrilling and often romantic songs, born of the singer’s intoxicating nine-month stay in New York in 1999, in a more intimate and unpolished light than we’re used to. Even without the presence of Thom Yorke.
Opener “Big Exit” sounds even more urgent in this minimalist context, stripped of its production sheen and standing proud as a slice of raw, elemental rock. “A Place Called Home” is more alluring, with its lo-fi beats and prominent accordion taking it into wonderfully strange territory. “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore”, meanwhile, has the ferocity of an adrenalized live performance, demonstrating the untamed power of Harvey’s vocals. The same goes for the dramatically intense “Kamikaze”, while the closer, “We Float” sounds absolutely gorgeous with its trip-hop beat and resounding piano. Harvey’s best set of demos yet, then, and a fine companion to the finished product. – Adam Mason
Eddie Hazel – Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs [Real Gone Music]
Much like Leo Nocentelli, the late Eddie Hazel’s name often comes up in association with hip-hop samples, though his case is slightly different. As a ground-floor member of Funkadelic who contributed the bulk of the guitars to the group’s first three albums, as well as Parliament’s Up For the Downstroke, Hazel is one of the pillars of P-Funk history. More specifically, he was crucial to the acid-rock style that initially distinguished Funkadelic so sharply from the cartoonish funk of Parliament. Hazel quit Funkadelic in 1971, though he kept working with P-Funk mastermind George Clinton on efforts by both groups.
Tellingly, his first solo outing, 1977’s Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs features Clinton along with key P-Funk figures Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, and Brides of Funkenstein Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva. Clinton actually wrote most of the songs here, but Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs spotlights Hazel and leaves him room to be subtle in ways that he wasn’t afforded by Funkadelic’s chaotic swirl. An obscure psych-rock gem, Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs provides another angle for guitar aficionados and P-Funk scholars to understand what Hazel brought to the table. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
L7 – Wargasm: The Slash Years 1992-1997 [Cherry Red / HNE]
Apparently, not being anointed as poster children for a movement has its benefits. Decades after the fact, we’re left to enjoy L7‘s catalog without the intrusion of clunky narratives. If certain blockbuster 1990s acts are the musical equivalent of tourist traps, L7’s work beckons listeners to get off the beaten path and avoid the stampede. There’s never been a bad time to revisit how essential L7’s classic material was (and still is), but since pretty much all of their albums have languished in out-of-print limbo, now is as good a time as any. The new three-CD set Wargasm bundles the titles the band released on Slash Records—1992’s Bricks Are Heavy, 1994’s Hungry for Stink, and 1997’s The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum—along with a handful of extras, including a re-interpretation of the infamous Guns N’ Roses track “Used to Love Her” turned on its head and re-worked as as “Used to Love Him”.
In the Pretend We’re Dead film, Sparks refers to The Beauty Process as the “record we all got our shit together on”. Its inclusion side-by-side with the two records that precede it is vital to getting the full picture of the band’s journey. Just to put things in perspective, none of the band’s videos from its time on Slash have been posted to YouTube in an official capacity. Thankfully, the band’s entire catalog is up on Spotify. Still, with all three of the Slash albums no longer widely available otherwise, any music fan with a shred of interest in ‘90s guitar rock who wants to own this music in physical form should consider Wargasm an essential purchase. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: The Ultimate Collection [Capitol]
There’s a multitude of configurations of the 50th-anniversary edition of John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band album to choose from. It just depends on how committed you are to the singer’s first and best post-Beatles solo work, famously made under the influence of Dr. Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy (interested? very interested? or utterly obsessed?). The main prize, in any case, is the six-CD Ultimate Collection box set, which allows for the deepest dive imaginable into the iconic LP by way of 159 tracks (87 of which are previously unheard) and a revealing hardback book with lyrics and rare photos. It seems crazy that such a raw album of 11 songs should carry so much baggage. But it quickly becomes clear that Lennon and bandmates Ringo Starr and Klaus Voormann put a huge amount of effort into getting these songs, variously about abandonment, disillusionment, and love, exactly right.
Of huge value on the boxset, particularly with the “evolution mixes”, is the insight it provides into just how incredible and incendiary the three major players were as musicians and the chemistry between them in evolving these tracks. The many versions of the angry “I Found Out” showcase Voormann perfecting his distinctive brand of rumbling bassline, Lennon entering a whole new realm of abrasive guitar noise, and Ringo at his explosive and inventive best, never repeating himself on those fills.
It’s also fascinating to hear them try to nail “Remember”, with its complex tempo changes, as well as to hear “Love” turn from a guitar ballad into a tender piano ballad. Then there’s the hugely enjoyable studio banter, with Lennon expletive heavy, self-deprecating, and entertainingly frank about what he thinks of each take. All this while he proves, again and again, that he’s the greatest rock singer who ever lived. – Adam Mason
Eugene McDaniels – Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (50th Anniversary Edition) [Real Gone Music]
An unsung treasure of the classic soul era, Eugene McDaniels’ Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse belongs at the same table as all the familiar game-changing releases from revolution-minded heavyweights like Marvin Gaye, Gil-Scott Heron, Bob Marley, etc, etc. Billed by Real Gone Music as “perhaps the most nakedly political album ever released by a major label”, this firebomb of a record made such a strong statement that President Richard Nixon’s administration pressured Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun to stop promoting it and pull it from the shelves.
Luckily, its message wasn’t lost on artists like Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, Aloe Blacc, and Chicano Batman, all of whom offer their thoughts in liner notes newly assembled for this deluxe edition, which also features an essay from Duke University professor and Left of Black podcast host Mark Anthony Neal. Backed by Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon and bassist Miroslav Vitous, McDaniels was remarkably limber in both his compositions and performances, able to ease from soul to gospel to fusion to hard-hitting psychedelic rock, often in the same breath. Headless Heroes has been sampled by A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, the Beastie Boys, and Pete Rock, but it simply must be heard in its original form. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Joni Mitchell – Archives Volume 2 [Rhino/Warner Music Group]
While they’re not strictly reissues, since they comprise material that hasn’t been officially released before – the Joni Mitchell Archives volumes are still, in essence, back catalogue products and thereby eligible for our Best Re-Issues list (for reissues in the stricter sense of the word, check out the concurrently-released studio Archives box issued in the summer, covering Mitchell’s first four albums, with the first, Song to a Seagull, presented in a brand new mix).
With Volume 2, it’s time to buckle up because we’re now at the really exciting stage of the series. Volume 1 was an illuminating journey through Mitchell’s early, pre-record-contract years. It documented a period in the 1960s when Mitchell was just starting to find her feet as a songwriter but hadn’t yet carved out her own identity as a singer. Her performances were marred by a heavy-handed, artificial vibrato and her act, especially as revealed on the first couple of discs, was folk-singer boilerplate. On that volume’s vast array of home tapes, demos, and live recordings, she sounded like someone mimicking Joan Baez. Lucky us, it didn’t take her long to start becoming herself.
Volume 2 covers the Seagull-to-Blue era, 1968 to 1971, during which Mitchell exploded into the national consciousness of several countries. It includes a Carnegie Hall concert, an appearance at Ottawa’s Le Hibou coffee house, over 30 BBC recordings, and – most excitingly – studio outtakes from all four albums. Finally, we get to hear “Hunter” (in terms of its musical character, it’s a bit of a sister song to “All I Want”) as it would have sounded had it been included on Blue. Volume 2 also provides an intriguing insight into the way Mitchell’s albums were planned and structured; songs that ended up on Clouds (1969) and Ladies of the Canyon (1970) were first recorded for consideration for Mitchell’s debut and these early studio versions of “Both Sides Now” and “Conversation” appear on disc one.
Praise should go to this series’ design and clarity of concept, photography and the engaging Cameron Crowe interviews printed in the perfect-bound, glossy, square-shaped booklet. Everything – right down to the Joni Mitchell Archives logo – shows that a disciplined aesthetic is at play. In an effort to distinguish themselves visually from conventional studio releases, the archives series of some of Mitchell’s contemporaries have ended up with bootleg-style artwork. Mitchell’s archives boxes, on the other hand, are things of beauty. – Charles Donovan