Category Archives: box set

The Replacements • Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) [3CD/1LP]

THE REPLACEMENTS’ Pleased to Meet Me isn’t celebrating an obvious anniversary. The 1987 release isn’t 30 or 40 – it’s 33 (and not even 33-1/3!) – so the release of this Deluxe Edition is a bit surprising. Housed in the now standard Warner Music/Rhino LP-sized “book” format (a la Ramones, The Doors, Love), the Minneapolis band’s (arguably) greatest album is now surrounded by a coupla CDs of demos, rough mixes, outtakes and alternate takes that tell a much more complete story about this record, (arguably) the first or second album that should’ve turned them into a major band. Whether that would’ve been a boon or a bitch for these rock ’n’ roll loudmouths isn’t that hard to figure out if you know The Replacements’ story and trajectory.

Without diving deep into all of that last bit – after all, if you’re reading this you probably know the basics of their back story – Pleased to Meet Me was a turning point for the band. The Replacements had already been touted as the college rock band of the moment and after 1983’s Let It Be they seemed destined to hit the big time. Their first major label release, Tim (1985) had some great material but somehow missed the mark and so a lot was riding on this one. What a great time for the band to have to fire their lead guitarist (bassist Tommy Stinson’s brother Bob), just as they were on the precipice of Rock Mountain, about to go into the studio with a solid satchel of songs that was sure to do the trick. Paul Westerberg, Tommy and Chris Mars got together with producer Jim Dickinson at Memphis’ famous Ardent Studios and – long story short (it’s all in the included book) – put together this amazing record.

At the time I remember seeing “digitally recorded” on the album cover and wondering if Pleased to Meet Me was the inevitable sell-out every band eventually makes when they sign a deal with the (major label) devil. And then I heard it! What a powerful record! It didn’t sound “clean” like digital was supposed to – it just sounded like a ballsy, blistering batch of Westerberg’s best stuff. Opening with “I.O.U.,” cruising into the brilliant “Alex Chilton,” careening into “I Don’t Know” and “Shooting Dirty Pool,” with breathers like “Nightclub Jitters” and “Skyway” along the way, Pleased to Meet Me was everything Tim should’ve been and even better than Let It Be. How could it be?! Well, it was, it is, and it forever shall be. Somehow Jim Dickinson and his assistants at Ardent got what they wanted out of the band, either by coaxing, cajoling or outright strong-arming – whatever. They got it.

Pleased to Meet Me was the last, great Replacements album so it’s natural that there’d be a version of it like this one. And yet, nowhere on this 12″ x 12″ package do they note “deluxe edition,” “33rd anniversary” or anything that announces why this, now. Regardless, what you get on this 3CD + LP set is a new master of the original album (on CD only), a slightly different tracklisting for the “rough mix” version – which appears on both one of the CDs and on the vinyl – and another disc of further versions. (The singles B-sides appear on the CD with the 2020 master of the original album.) Of the many, many mixes and demos, there are a few that are remarkable: “Awake Tonight” sounds like a Faces/Rod Stewart outtake, except with more of a Replacements swagger; “All He Wants to Do Is Fish” is drummer Mars’ lone songwriter/ lead singer credit and is quite good; and the bulk of the Blackberry Way (recording studio) demos. Though it’s clear that Westerberg had many of the songs basically ready to go once the band got all the way to Memphis, the lyrics changed considerably and multiple times between those first demos through to alternate takes and on to the rough mixes and final versions. There are plenty of demos here, too, that aren’t all that exciting, I have to admit. But in its entirety this Pleased to Meet Me, from the music to the illuminating (in words and pictures) book, is definitely a pleasure. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Rhino/Sire R2 643412, 2020)

And fer God’s sake don’t miss this video:

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John Prine • The Atlantic Albums [4LP Box Set]

Coronavirus deaths are definitely a drag, for sure. The April 2020 passing of folk singer/legend JOHN PRINE was a big bummer, whether – like me – you’re relatively new to his stuff or a longtime fan. The Atlantic Albums, a 4 LP box set of his first recordings, came at a great time (though clearly already in the works before he became sick from the virus) for me, as I had only a copy of his debut album (John Prine) on vinyl and was really starting to crave more.

I’m not particularly well-versed on Prine’s history, having first given him a try only a year or so ago when my partner gifted me a copy of a best-of CD, Prime Prine. I had heard of him, of course. But I hadn’t paid him no never mind until – I’ll admit it – I felt obligated to give him a go. So I’ll let you research things on your own, if you’re of a mind to, with a hint to start with maybe his Wikipedia page, his official website, or just go YouTube some videos (a couple are included below). Rolling Stone aptly called him “the Mark Twain of songwriting,” and singers like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters have trumpeted the man’s way with words. Dylan said in 2009, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” I was first tickled by some of his song titles, such as “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” “Sour Grapes,” “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You,” and so on. I’m naturally drawn to humor and that’s what I heard first in Prine’s songs. Then comes the poignancy and his ability to illuminate issues with a keen eye and a wisdom that was beyond his years: “Hello In There” is one of his best loved tunes, about old folks and how we kinda look right past ’em without considering that “old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say ‘Hello in there… hello.’” Whether you’re a fan of folk music or not – and Prine’s is adorned with instruments beyond guitar and mandolin or dulcimer – his lyrics’ll get ya. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t usually home in on the words right outta the gate.

The Atlantic Albums is a pretty basic box set, with four albums in a sturdy slipcase with a pair of funky black ’n’ white photos of John back in the day. You get 1971’s self-titled debut, ’72’s Diamonds in the Rough, ’73’s Sweet Revenge, and his last album for the label, Common Sense (1975). They’re reissued in old-style covers with the original artwork, complete with lyrics inserts. The 180-gram pressings sound incredible with no notable surface noise, and benefit from mastering and lacquers cut by Kevin Gray (whom I’ve praised before; see this review and this one). This Record Store Day release is limited to 2,000 copies and prices right now (a week after RSD) are pretty high, but that price might go down some. (There’s also a 7CD box on the horizon that includes these four albums and the next three he did for Asylum Records.) This set is a great way to get those original albums on vinyl, as the first issues can fetch pretty good money online (especially if you’re after those lyric sheets), but if this box is priced too high you can probably expect that very soon these albums will be made available separately. Of course, if you haven’t yet jumped into John’s pond, where better to start? This is pure Prine right here. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Rhino/Atlantic 603497848294, 2020)

 

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Paul McCartney • Flaming Pie [3LP, 2CD]

PAUL McCARTNEY’s Archive Series is now ten years old. In 2010 he started releasing deluxe packages of his non-Beatles work with perhaps his greatest post-Fabs album, Band on the Run. Here we are in 2020 and Macca’s reissued Flaming Pie, the 1997 solo outing that was hailed as his best since 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, which was hailed as his best since… probably Band on the Run. At the time of Flaming Pie’s release we were all glad that he’d put out something that surpassed his previous studio album, 1992’s so-so On the Ground, which wasn’t bad but not nearly as good as the aforementioned Flowers. As his Archive Series has matured, so has the way McCartney and his business associates have packaged the man’s legacy.

This time, the various formats of the campaign include the customary, flagship “deluxe” box set (usually a number of CDs, a DVD or two, and a handful of books, posters and other memorabilia recreations) – in this case, 5 CDs, 2 DVDs, some books and other stuff – followed by a 3LP box set (consisting of the original album spread across two records and a third LP with various demos), a standard 2LP release (just the album tracks), and a 2CD set featuring the original album on disc one and a generously populated (21 tracks) disc of demos, etc.* Because Flaming Pie came out in the mid ’90s and vinyl hadn’t yet begun its comeback, the 14-track, 54-minute album was primarily a CD release, though it came out in limited quantities in the UK and USA on single-record vinyl that was both rare and not of a very high-fidelity nature. (The more time per side of vinyl, the lesser the quality of the audio.) This time it was decided to spread it out over two records – a wise choice – and the half-speed mastering job is amazingly good. The 3LP box set features this 2LP album (in a gatefold cover) along with a single bonus LP (in a standard record cover, and pressed in standard fashion) both housed in a slipcase complete with Japanese-style “OBI” strip. The slipcase’s cover is very minimalist and is quite tasteful, allowing the actual album’s cover to carry the release’s identity as it originally had (albeit with the title written in bright red rather than black, as it is/was on the current 2LP/initial 1LP release). An almost-dozen tracks make up that bonus LP, being “home recordings” and demos of eleven of the album’s 14 tracks. They make up a nice “alt” version of the album.

If you go for the 2CD reissue of Flaming Pie, you’ll get a high-value set with 21 bonus tracks (comprising disc two) that’ll be great for your ears and your wallet. The tracks on the 3LP bonus record are all there, as are more slices of alternative Pie and some of the B-sides that were originally released with the album’s singles (“Young Boy,” “Beautiful Night” and “The World Tonight”). Being that this is a digitally mastered set, you might expect it to sound a little less warm compared to the vinyl and it probably does; I have always had a hard time A/B’ing formats due to having to switch back and forth between them and trying to compensate for the typical difference in volume between CD and vinyl. I think both the 3LP and 2CD sets sound surprisingly good and they both make me want to really savor Flaming Pie today the way I never really did back in ’97. Wanna get into the deluxe edition?

Well, I haven’t yet sprung for that. As it currently costs beyond $200, it’s outside of my budget for now. What I can tell you is that it is clearly a gluttonous serving of Flaming Pie, with: an oven-full (two CDs) of the aforementioned demos and home recordings; a CD with an item called “The Ballad of the Skeletons” featuring McCartney with Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass (what a trio!) and a more-or-less complete episode of Oobu Joobu (a syndicated radio series McCartney hosted in the ’90s); a CD with a tour of, and samples of the instruments Paul keeps at his Hog Hill Mill recording studio (including the mellotron The Beatles made massive use of back in the day); and two DVDs with a documentary of the making of the album (called In the World Tonight), videos for the album’s singles, a few EPKs (electronic press kits) and even an interview with David Frost. AND a bunch of bespoke books and other ingredients to pad out the box and the price of it. Phew! Sure, 200-ish bucks might not seem so much for all of this, but keep in mind: like most baked items, it’s highly unlikely you’ll want to enjoy all of this more than once, so you gotta really consider what kind of monetary outlay you’re willing to make for such a rare, probably-to-be-enjoyed-once treat.

And THAT’s where that * asterisk way up above in paragraph two comes in! Because: There is an even grander version of Flaming Pie available, the Collector’s Edition. Limited to 3,000 units worldwide, it contains everything in the Deluxe Edition plus the 3LP vinyl set, half a dozen art prints featuring the album cover and other Linda McCartney photos, a Flaming Pie plectrum (what we guitarists in the USA call a pick), even more printed ephemera, and the ability to download the album at 24-bit/96kHz HD resolution. (And probably some other stuff that I was unable to make out from the various editions’ ingredients lists!) This all comes in a box that is “.6 of a metre long by about half of a meter wide” (according to Paul Sinclair in his unboxing video over at my favorite music site, SuperDeluxeEdition) – don’t ask me what it weighs ’cause, not only can I definitely not afford this version, but there’s no weight info anywhere on the web that I can find! Apparently, though, this one’s gonna set you back a good $400+ (not including a highly likely hefty shipping price). If you’re salivating heavily right now, here’s some comfort for ya: it’s probably already sold out by now so if you didn’t already know about it and order it you’re not gonna get a taste of this one any time soon.

Did you wanna hear about the music? Well, as mentioned way back at the start of this review, Flaming Pie was a critically acclaimed release that many considered to be a collection of classic McCartney styles. From the rocking songs like the title track, “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy,” to the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” that he wrote and played with Steve Miller, to the poppy, slightly melancholy sounding “The Song We Were Singing,” and a number of other flavors that you expect from Paul, this one’s got songs to recommend to just about every kind of Macca fan. But, unlike on many of his other releases, nearly all of these songs sound like McCartney in top form. None of it sounds phoned in. So, musically, it’s definitely worth looking into, either for the first time or once again. Now, naturally, I have some minor issues with the release, but this time – you lucky devils! – there’s nothing worth bothering to bitch about. And that means you can go enjoy yourself some Flaming Pie without having to think about me while doing so. That’s my gift to you. Go ahead – have a slice. – Marsh Gooch

4.75/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe [various catalog numbers], 2020)

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Buzzcocks • Sell You Everything 1991-2014 [8CD]

Is 8 CDs too much for a one-artist box set? It depends. 8 CDs of who? How about BUZZCOCKS? If that’s a resounding “Not at all,” then you’re gonna want Sell You Everything 1991-2014, an all encompassing set of (I’m pretty sure) every last minute Manchester’s finest punk band ever recorded up until then. Though this set starts after the legendary group’s heyday, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Sell You Everything’s first disc is called The 1991 Demo Album and is just that: thirteen demos the band recorded prior to their reunion album (and Disc 2 of this set), 1993’s Trade Test Transmissions. These demos sound really rockin’ and it’s surprising that they actually went and re-recorded them. (This disc has also been released as a standalone vinyl album.) Some of the demos were featured on a preceding EP (’91’s Alive Tonight) and the rest turn up on the ’93 album mentioned above. That album is a great one and was a welcome addition to the band’s oeuvre. The next few discs are all of varying quality – and that is, good to great – and include 1996’s All Set, ’99’s Modern, 2003’s eponymous Buzzcocks, and 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy. All of the albums themselves feature some beefy, bang-up Buzzcocks material, and all of these discs contain bonus tracks culled from various singles and other sources.

2011’s A Different Compilation, despite the excellent songs themselves, is a mixed bag. Buzzcocks had already released two albums on Cooking Vinyl and someone had the bright idea at this point to have them re-record some of their greatest tunes. Maybe it was a case of the band wanting to have control of their classic material for use in other media (movies, television, etc.), maybe it was, “if this sells we’ll be willing to let them record all new material for the next album,” maybe it was any number of other semi-plausible ideas. Whatever the case, it’s another example of interpretations (basically, cover versions) that are too much like the originals to warrant their existence for all but the band’s biggest fans. I mean, it’s not like you can’t get the original recordings on any number of compilations that are still available if you don’t already have them. Hearing the band thirty-something years later doing “Boredom” or “Why Can’t I Touch It?” for instance, is jarring because though they’re trying to sound like they did back then, their voices just don’t sound like what they once did and so the songs end up sounding like inferior versions of classic tunes. And who wants to listen to that? (For the record, I’ve heard bands like Blondie, Squeeze and Cracker cover their own material and I’ve not been impressed by any of them, either.)

Thankfully, for the band’s final album represented here, 2014’s The Way, Buzzcocks are back to doing new music. It’s another fairly solid album; “Keep on Believing” is a good song with trademark razor sharp guitars, but “People Are Strange Machines” is a bit on the pedantic side. In other words, there’s some good stuff here and some okay stuff, too.

Buzzcocks’ Sell You Everything is a twenty-five year survey that gives you all of the studio material from the second half of their lifetime and it’s eight discs of some damn good punk rock from one of the top British punk bands. Yes, it might be easier to sift through, say, a 3CD compilation of the best of that material, but as usual Cherry Red gives you so much value for the money that you might as well get the complete albums and their singles’ b-sides in one handy box set. After all, one person’s “best of” choices aren’t everybody’s so you may as well decide for yourself what’s great and what’s just good.  — Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Cherry Red CRCDBOX93, 2020)

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NRBQ • High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective [5CD Box Set]

First released in 2016 and now freshly repressed, High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective is the NRBQ collection to end all collections. Unlike numerous one- and two-disc packages that have tried to sum up the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet’s unique take on rock ’n’ roll, this set does the job nicely. The fact that it took five CDs to do it means that this was no easy feat. Trying to describe NRBQ in one review, likewise, ain’t gonna be easy. And yet, I’m gonna try.

NRBQ are like the tastiest stew you’ve ever had. With every spoonful you get a taste of something different. You might get something rockabilly inspired like “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” you might get a country funk like “Flat Foot Flewzy,” you might get a power pop classic like “Me and the Boys,” or you might get a sweet little pop ballad like “This Love Is True,” or any other of the many different flavors NRBQ adds to the pot. They are one of the few bands who can play about any style you’d care to hear. They’re also hard to classify, genre-wise, because even when they’re doing “rockabilly” they’re adding something to make it seem like a whole new style. From song to song, album to album, and especially era to era, there are elements that are always there: musicianship, humor, exuberance and zeal. Whether it’s Terry Adams’ crazed clavinet or piano playing, Al Anderson’s killer guitar picking, or any of the other members’ talents (too many over 50 years to name here), NRBQ never fail to deliver… whatever it is they’re trying to deliver.

Curiously, Omnivore’s superb look at the 50 year old group starts somewhere toward the end (or present-day, I should say, since NRBQ is still together), goes back to the beginning (1966!) and then works its way back to where we started. Not so curiously, I began back in ’66 with Disc 2, being pretty familiar with the band’s early stuff, then through the ’70s and ’80s material – the ’Q I like the most – and up to where High Noon ends in the 20-teens. I’m still digesting the band’s last two decades (what with the multiple personnel changes, even more stylistic turns, etc.) and High Noon gives me a good way to do that, with Discs 1 and 5 covering the second half of their history (1989-2016). So far I really like the Buck Owens flavored “Fightin’ Back” and “21-50 to Headquarters.” With 116 tracks, you’d think this behemoth would be overkill. Not so. In a way, it just begins to tell the NRBQ story. I mean, there are classic cuts in their canon that aren’t even here (hello, “When Things Was Cheap” and their covers of “Wild Weekend” and “Tonight You Belong to Me”)!

Knowing that a 5 CD compilation might be too much commitment for some, the record label took the liberty of putting out High Noon in a two disc “highlights” version and a 2 LP set, too. The track list on both of those looks worthy of your time if you’re not sure you’re up to the task of digesting so much NRBQ, but seriously, if you go that route you’ll probably end up buying this package anyway. And maybe that was Omnivore’s idea all along.  — Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-190, 2016/2020)

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Frank Zappa • The Hot Rats Sessions [6CD Box Set]

Out of all the FRANK ZAPPA albums a newbie could start with, Hot Rats might not be the best choice. “It’s jazz,” I hear you cough. [Careful!] “Ick.” That’s what I thought the first time I heard it, anyway, back in the late ’70s after discovering Joe’s Garage and then The Mothers’ Fillmore East–June 1971. Besides one song with then-unknown-to-me Captain Beefheart kinda narrating, it was all instrumental and fairly difficult for my 16 year old music brain to comprehend. No humor – which does belong in music – no lyrics or singing, no obvious hooks for me to catch. Fast forward nearly forty years and 50-something year old me is, like, “This is a damn good album!” And now, at the landmark album’s 50th anniversary, there’s way more to get into than the original six cuts that made up Frank’s first proper solo album. The Hot Rats Sessions is a major box set, comprising six CDs, a nice book with lots of photos and notes about the sessions, a set of guitar picks and even a board game. Hot rats, indeed!

Hot Rats was the first non-Mothers of Invention record from Zappa – though a few Mothers played on it – if you don’t count Lumpy Gravy, which he wrote but didn’t play on, and the first time the guitarist/bandleader put something out generally lacking words. It was also, though, the first time his guitar soloing was given such a front seat, and that is something guitarists all over the world can dig, even if they can’t quite fathom the semi-jazz chord patterns or the soloing by violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. (I’m not huge on that part, myself, though I am a fan of Harris’ early work as part of Don & Dewey.) Though Zappa is credited with the bulk of the playing on Hot Rats, Mother Ian Underwood played piano, organ, sax, clarinet and flute, and others played here and there on the sessions (Ron Selico, John Guerin, Jimmy Carl Black, Art Tripp III and Paul Humphrey on drums; John Balkin, Max Bennett, Roy Estrada and Shuggie Otis on bass; Bunk Gardner on sax; Harris on violin). Those sessions took place over a couple weeks in July 1969 with the finished LP released in October. With catchy (for jazz!) tunes like the tasty “Peaches En Regalia,” “Willie the Pimp” (which The Mothers did on Fillmore East), the sweet “Little Umbrellas” and others, it was yet another Zappa classic at the time – but who really knew what to make of it?

Well, now it’s available in super long form for all of us to figure out, and since many of us have so much time on our hands right now, there’s never been a better time to give it a try. The Hot Rats Sessions comes in a 12″ x 12″-ish box housing the six CDs in a gatefold LP-style folder, a 28-page book with notes from Underwood and Matt Groening (he did not play on these sessions!), and the aforementioned game, Zappa Land, which has a 12″ x 24″ board and many colorful game pieces. Needless to say you may want to make color copies of those so as not to destroy the value of this super deluxe box set! In all, there’s much to recommend this baby. Sure, some of the lengthy jamming may get tedious after awhile (though the 32-minute “Big Legs” is scintillating throughout*), and let’s face it: no matter how good a box set is, you’re only likely to dive into the deep end on rare occasions anyway. But if you really like your Rats Hot, you must partake. Find it on sale somewhere and dig in while the diggin’s good. — Marsh Gooch
* “Big Legs” in severely edited form is “The Gumbo Variations” on the final released album.

4/5 (Zappa Records ZR20032, 2019)

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Hank Williams • Pictures from Life’s Other Side [Book/6CD Set]

Hey friend, did you say there’s a HANK WILLIAMS revival going on? Did I miss the memo? Well, there’s no need to print one out because Pictures from Life’s Other Side has just hit the stores and it’s the second big release in half a year celebrating ol’ Hank’s legacy. That’s close enough to a memo to me.

“The Man and His Music in Rare Photos and Recordings” is the tagline of this behemoth, which consists of a 272 page hardcover book (inside a nice slipcase) loaded with great photos and housing six CDs of the music Hank made for yet another syndicated radio program, this one sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour. There is a bountiful dozen dozen (144) songs here, many that Hank & His Drifting Cowboys or alter ego Luke The Drifter never recorded for MGM Records in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Before we get to the music, let’s talk about the book. It’s beautiful, with an exhaustive and exhilarating selection of photos – many never published – in both black and white and (a handful in) color. Some are staged, studio shots, some are fans’ photos of the star and those very fans. Even the familiar pictures are reproduced clearer than ever before. The book itself is so fancy that it’s even got a red ribbon attached so you can mark your place; I mean, there’s no way you’re gonna get through this tabletop book in one go! It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the book is worth the price alone.

As for the music on Pictures from Life’s Other Side, the songs were cut throughout 1951 in a recording studio, “live” with Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys current lineup. One of the things that makes this collection so cool is that, unlike on last year’s Health & Happiness Shows release (reviewed here), Hank and his band mates sound natural and off-the-cuff between songs. It’s a bit jarring when the banter is snipped off or quickly faded, but it does cut down on the hokey dialog that sometimes makes that other radio show release kinda corny. Many of Williams’s greatest hits are here, of course, but there are loads of not so obvious cuts, such as one version of “Dear Brother,” which Hank sings with his then-wife Audrey (I’ve noted how bad a singer she is before, most recently in that aforementioned review). On this particular take it’s like you’re listening to Hank & Audrey channeling thirty years into the future to John Doe & Exene Cervenka of punk band, X. I gotta say, though, that I’d much rather hear John & Exene sing “Los Angeles” than Hank & Audrey singing anything at all. (Maybe one day John & Exene will cut an album of Hank & Audrey hits! It’d be sorta like a second volume of X alter ego band The Knitters’ Poor Little Critter on the Road.)

Considering the hugeness of this Hank volume, you could likely find yourself on a lost highway going through Pictures from Life’s Other Side – I’ve only made it through the first three CDs and two quick runs through the book – and that means that the true fan will find lots to like about this massive book and music set. Cheryl Pawelski of Omnivore Recordings fame can again be thanked for producing yet another Hank Williams treat, and it’s Michael Graves who did the big job of restoring and remastering the music. (A host of others also should be thanked, including Hank historian Colin Escott, who assembled the book [and who wrote the definitive biography on our subject a few decades ago].) Three cheers for Hank Williams, his Drifting Cowboys, and the fans-in-high-places who keep the man’s fire stoked year after year. — Marsh Gooch

5/5 (BMG, 2020)

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The Beatles • Abbey Road – Anniversary Edition, Pt. 2: Sessions [Multiple Formats]

Phase 2 in which Doris gets her oats…* (Part 1 is here.)

What many of us are interested in most with THE BEATLES’ new Abbey Road Anniversary Edition is the unreleased material. These Sessions, as they’re being called, are the biggest excuse for shelling out mega bucks on an album that many of us know backwards and forwards and have probably bought more than once. With this 50th anniversary release there are two discs of demos, alternate takes, etc., and whether you buy the super deluxe edition (1 Blu-ray, 3 CDs) or vinyl box set (3 LPs), you get the same material. (There is also a 2 CD version, which gives you some of the Sessions, and the single CD or LP versions with just the 2019 stereo remix.)

The 3LP box set of Abbey Road comes in a high-gloss clam shell box, with the 2019 stereo mix on record one (and in its own album cover), followed by the two records of sessions in their own non-gatefold cover. (The Bluray/CD set comes in an LP-sized hard cover book within a high-gloss slipcase.) In all, the Sessions cuts amount to barely 90 minutes of material. Hardcore fans will have heard much of this material – The Beatles have been bootlegged more than just about any other rock artist in history – though it is nice to have it in a better sounding and official, annotated set. Many of us could never quite conjure up the necessary bucks to pay for those inferior boots and so even people like me are bound to find lots of music to be wowed by here. The fact that Abbey Road is one of the band’s most beloved releases means there’s a big, built-in audience for things like studio demos of “Something” (George singing along with just piano and guitar), Paul’s home demo of “Goodbye” (not recorded by the band but given to singer Mary Hopkin for a future Apple Records release) and his studio demo of “Come and Get It” (on which he played all the instruments, later instructing Badfinger to record just as he demoed it). The bulk of the rest of the cuts are in-studio early takes, trial mixes and edits of the songs you’d expect, including an instrumental version of “Because,” a strings-only track for “Something,” and a strings ’n’ brass one for “Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight.” It’s great to finally hear alternate takes of “Come Together” and “I Want You (She’s so heavy)” complete with Billy Preston’s amazing organ that was all-but-obliterated by the white noise that builds up in the last half of the original side one closer. Interesting, too, is a trial edit and mix of “The Long One,” i.e., the side two medley that makes up the last third of the album. Here you hear “Her Majesty” in its original placement, smack dab in the middle of “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” It was wise of them to snip it out of there and move it elsewhere on the LP, as its stark acoustic guitar and voice completely destroys the momentum building up to “The End.” (And that’s not to mention how “ironic” it is to have “The End” at, ummmm, the end of the record – if only to be followed by the originally unlisted little ditty that eventually closed the album out.)

On the one hand, it feels like there’s not quite the bulk here you’d expect to celebrate The Beatles’ penultimate release and greatest success, but on the other, it’s nice to give Abbey Road a tight super deluxe edition to fête its 50th. Each year they’ve done these releases (since Sgt. Pepper in 2017) they’ve been honing in on just the right way to present them, and I can only hope they keep it up and don’t blow it with next year’s inevitable Let It Be extravaganza.  — Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Apple/Universal 0602508007446, 2019)

* I know, wrong album.

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The Beatles • Abbey Road – Anniversary Edition [Multiple Formats]

It’s kind of wonderful, this worldwide wankfest over a 50 year old rock ’n’ roll album. All kinds of people, everywhere, getting all hot ’n’ bothered over THE BEATLES’ Abbey Road, the last album they recorded together but the penultimate release during their actual time together as The Fab Four. The cynical among us probably consider it another greedy cash grab, the romantic might think it’s a real sweet thing, and I’ve heard there are even those among us who don’t care! Whatever, I’m devoting some column inches to it (as they would’ve said in ’69), so I must care.

Once Giles Martin and his boys remixed Sgt. Pepper for its fifty year anniversary, all of us in Pepperland and beyond looked forward to the day when The Beatles’ other top-ranker would get its turn. Martin and co-conspirator Sam Okell have taken the highly lauded long player dad George Martin produced and given us another way to listen to Abbey Road. It was the last recording of the band’s career and the first in the modern multitrack era – you know, on a big whopping EIGHT TRACKS! – but was mixed the way they did back then, with exaggerated panning seemingly employed to prove it was in stereo. This time, the pans are much more nuanced, making more sense to our ears, and many of the instruments have been brought out in the mix. You can hear much more detail in the guitars (like on “Here Comes the Sun”), the organs (Billy Preston’s on “I Want You (She’s so heavy)”) and even the drums (listen for the actual hit of the snare or kick drum) in many of the songs. The vocals, especially the harmonies, are much sweeter, too. I’m not as impressed by any differences to the sound or prominence of the bass guitar, and as a matter of fact, find that sometimes McCartney’s playing (on “Something,” for instance) sounds more ad-libbed than is comfortable to me.

In terms of formats, well of course there are more than you can shake a stick at. You can get Abbey Road on single LP, double LP, picture disc LP, single CD (which is what I’m basing this post on), double CD, or the 3 LP and 3 CD/1 Bluray box sets (coming in the mail later this week!). As I’ve said in the past, what’s gonna work for you is largely a function of how big a fan you are. Take the guy on the left in the photo at left: he’s probably not going to get any of these, but was nice enough to play John Lennon to my McCartney (I couldn’t be bothered to take my shoes off, though) when we entered a Seattle area record store yesterday to pay our respects. But (his sister) Shirley there must be an edition that will work for you, so I suggest you get on down to Abbey Road at your earliest convenience and see what son Giles has done to dad George’s recording of The Beatles’s first or second greatest moment.  — Marsh Gooch

I’ll be diving into the bonus tracks (called Sessions on the discs) next time… Right here.

4/5 (Apple/Capitol/UMe B0030901-02, 2019)

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The Kinks • The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition) [Box Set]

There have been many 30, 40 and 50th year anniversary reissues in the last decade, despite physical media being given its theoretical death sentence some time ago. The record companies, though, realize that the kids may go for downloads and streaming but us older fans must have something to hold onto. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is 50 years old now and THE KINKS’ “record label” has regaled us with an over-the-top box that can barely be held with two hands, and it’s worth whatever backache you may incur upon its arrival.

You wanna talk about a sleeper of an album? Village Green Preservation Society (from here on out VGPS) died a quick death when it was released in late 1968 (January ’69 here in the US). Maybe it was The Beatles’ heralded White Album that kept people from realizing VGPS’s greatness, maybe it was that The Kinks hadn’t exactly been hot on the charts at the moment. Hell: Maybe it was all the turmoil in the world. After all, ’68 wasn’t exactly the most peaceful year of the decade. And maybe it’s that Ray Davies’s “rock opera” (before Tommy even!) was of such a pastoral, low-key nature that the pop press and record label PR types had no idea how to whip up a frenzy around its release. Or maybe it was just an album that – like The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle – needed time to incubate in the zeitgeist before it could be truly appreciated. Whatever the reason, VGPS gets more and more of the spotlight every year, and deservedly so.

I first learned about this great lost Kinks album in the early ’90s thanks to two local bands who were already tuned in. The Young Fresh Fellows covered VGPS’s “Picture Book” and Flop did “Big Sky,” both excellent covers by great Seattle groups. (If you don’t already know the Fellows or Flop, stop right now and look ’em up. I’ll wait…) Being the intrepid music fan I am, I found a copy of VGPS (not easy back then, actually) and was instantly transformed into not just a kasual Kinks fan, but a full-fledged one. What wasn’t to like about it? Those two songs, “Do You Remember Walter?” “Last of the Steam Powered Trains,” “Animal Farm,” “People Take Pictures of Each Other”… Every track a good one, full of Ray Davies’ unique viewpoint on life in his England home, and every track soaked in the band’s first great incarnation’s particular, spectacular arrangements. In hindsight, twenty five years after I discovered it, the only thing that is a possible negative is the slightly shoddy recording quality of the record. Though that ding definitely stands out on this new edition, it’s of little consequence because the album itself is so damn good. It’s not as gimmicky as Sgt. Pepper, not all over the place like The Who Sell Out (both albums that I absolutely adore), and not as lofty. And that’s the point! Davies wasn’t going for lofty — he was going for little. As in, small-screen vignettes about the people and places that then populated his life. I wonder how Ray feels now about that vanished Britain.

This big deal VGPS box obliviates the album’s quaintness, what with three LPs, three 7″ singles, five CDs, a nice book full of photos of era memorabilia, and a packet of reprints of posters, sheet music and more. (Initial orders through The Kinks web site got you a fourth 45!) And yet, if any great album deserves such a gala presentation, this one does. I can tell you, being the huge Beatles fan I am, that I was looking forward to this even more than the White Album box that comes out later this week.

The lowdown goes like this. Vinyl-wise, you get two LPs of the original UK mono and stereo mixes (in their then Davies-sanctioned 15 track configuration), an LP with the 12 track version sent to Europe and Down Under without Ray’s permission (some months before the 15 track iteration), and three 7″ singles from the era in replica sleeves. (The one that, errrr, reprises the US Reprise 45 is kinda lame – they don’t use the record company logo or fonts or anything, so it looks like someone forgot to include the actual artwork!) As for CDs, the first two are of the mono and stereo mixes (15 track version) along with period singles*, single mixes, B-sides, etc.; a disc of sessions recordings (early versions, work versions and demos, including a killer instrumental called “Mick Avory’s Underpants”!); a disc called Village Green at the BBC (guess); and a final CD of demos, sessions and live versions. Then there’s all the replicated memorabilia. And a big ol’ (picture) book. It all comes in a nice, substantial box that I only very slightly damaged trying to open. (I’ll get over that in time. Maybe.) All of it is good – if not great –and there’s more than enough here for dozens of listenings over the rest of your life.

After all this, all I can say is: God Save the Village Green Preservation Society; Long Live The Kinks!

* Here’s where I add that one of the singles here, “Days,” is included in numerous versions and never outstays its welcome. That’s because it might just be the most poignant, perfect song of all time. Listen to the words and the arrangement and tell me there’s not someone who was once in your life (a mom, a brother, for instance) who fulfills the role of the person in this song who is longed for, memorized, cherished. This paragraph – “Days” – is for Nel Blurton and Dana Gooch, my mom and my brother. Thank you for the days.

5.5/5 (BMG BMGAA09BOX, 2018)

 

 

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