Category Archives: reissue

Utopia • Deface the Music [LP]

My friend Steve once uttered, “You’re the only guy I know who, when he’s not listening to The Beatles, is listening to something that sounds just like The Beatles.” I don’t remember for sure what was playing in the car that day but it could very well have been UTOPIA’s Deface the Music. This 1980 album by Todd Rundgren’s rock group, an homage to the music of The Fab Four, sounds so much like Liverpool’s Finest that you could be forgiven for thinking it was some long lost long-player of theirs. Of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like them, but it’s an incredible simulation that’s close enough for many a Beatlemaniac to enjoy.

I’m not sure what the impetus for creating and releasing something like Deface the Music was. Perhaps Todd & Co. were feeling nostalgic for the music they grew up on, or maybe it was that, when one of the group’s songs was turned down for a soundtrack because it sounded too much like The Beatles, they decided to do an entire album of soundalike music for fun. I’d guess the record company thought it was a mistake for Utopia to put it out but – it being the beginning of the anything goes ’80s – it might just catch on. It’s not like The Beatles’ popularity had waned at all even ten years after they’d called it quits, considering the success of compilations like Rock ’N’ Roll Music and the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 best-ofs. Regardless of why they did it or why it was released, Utopia did Deface the Music and yet they actually didn’t deface it at all. From the opener “I Just Want to Touch You,” an “I Want to Hold Your Hand” parody, through “Take It Home” (a la “Day Tripper”), “Hoi Poloi,” the gentle “All Smiles” and closer “Everybody Else Is Wrong” (hello “Strawberry Fields Forever”), the album is a baker’s dozen of grin-inducing singles that may have even made the Mop Tops themselves smile. (Even if it was only with visions of suing for copyright infringement in their collective head.)

While Deface the Music is full of songs that sound like The Beatles, there are some clues that 100% homage wasn’t necessarily what Utopia had in mind. For one thing, the instrumentation that would have been strings in the ’60s is definitely played on late ’70s synths and so don’t sound authentic. Likewise, the production value (or what you could call the sound) is clearly of 1980 and not that warm but shimmery glimmer of Abbey Road circa ’66 or so. I always thought the mix was a bit murky and lacked some of that high end sizzle you’d expect, but this 2020 reissue, put out by Music On Vinyl from the Netherlands, nevertheless sounds really good. There’s no notation as to what the source material was for this limited edition vinyl pressing (MOV has never been clear about their sources), but Deface the Music sounds at least as good as an original US Bearsville/WB copy. If you’re a Beatles or Todd nut, you should have this one. Limited to 500 copies on silver vinyl (perhaps black wax will follow), this record is worth wrapping up and taking home. Or having delivered to your door by international courier. Or however the hell you can get it.

4/5 (Music On Vinyl MOVLP 2519, 2020)

 

 

 

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The Box Tops • The Letter/Neon Rainbow–Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions [2CD]

I approach these “lots of albums on one or two CDs” collections kind of cautiously. After all, if the albums were so damn good, wouldn’t people be willing to pick them up as separate discs? Case in point: THE BOX TOPSThe Letter/Neon Rainbow– Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions. This new 2CD, four album release comprises all of the band’s studio albums in one handy set, and it’s definitely a hit and miss affair.

You may remember a few of The Box Tops’ bigger hits, such as the once ubiquitous ’60s AM radio staples “The Letter” (“Give me a ticket for an aeroplane…”) – a Number One, mind you – and “Cry Like a Baby,” both of which we still hear today in movie soundtracks in order to set the time period or to establish some sort of emotional vibe for people of “a certain age”. The band weren’t a slapped together group or a studio concoction, exactly, but were made up of a Memphis group called The Devilles who added 15 year old local Alex Chilton as lead singer, recorded a cool new song in a local studio, and then went on to fame (but apparently not much fortune) and the pop radio tour circuit. Chilton himself later joined Big Star, another Memphis group that went on to acclaim as a cult power pop band. (See my coverage of them here.) After that, Alex went solo and on to college radio stardom (as in, culter-than-cult status) before the 1990s when Big Star finally had its day. All types of fame are relative, of course, so what you know about any of these groups’ band or solo discographies depends on how you like your pop music. Regardless, Alex Chilton was one of those guys who had fame on about every level a musician can – except maybe without the cold, hard cash that typically comes with it. Anyway, back to The Box Tops…

The four albums that make up this set are of your typical Sixties variety, being made up of a hit single or two and then another ten or so songs good enough to help pad out an LP. A few songs on each of these records stand out a bit more than the rest, but basically, after the hit singles there’s not a lot here to get your everyday music fan excited. Sure, guys like me will be interested in, for instance, other songs that the guy who wrote “The Letter” wrote, or The Box Tops’ version of Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (not that different from the Fudge’s), but after that even I have to call “time” on things. Yet, for £9.95 plus shipping, this 2CD is worth the price. IF you really dig Alex Chilton, that is.  — Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Beat Goes On BGOCD1400, UK, 2020)

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The Velvet Underground • 1969 Live with Lou Reed, Vols. 1 & 2 [LP]

[This review originally posted 4/22/10 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Another reissue on account of Record Store Day 2010, 1969 Live with Lou Reed comes in two separate volumes, both on vinyl only. These 180-gram pressings are very nice, with deluxe gatefold covers, handy black insert to protect you and the kiddies from the DRAWING of the closeup of a lady’s tight behind on the cover, and are sealed for added security.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND had splintered by 1969 and their initial glory was waning, thanks to all sorts of reasons. In fact, the dubious birth of these two live releases, stemming from shows in Dallas and San Francisco in the fall of ’69, is only the start—by the time these actually came out in 1974 the band had already disappeared. The quality of the recordings is pretty good, though, apparently having been done by some hardcore VU fans with decent gear. The playing is a little less exciting. I’m not sure if this is quintessentially what one of the band’s shows sounded like or not, having been but a wee boy of six at the time, but I can see how some people wonder what all that hot fuss is about. Now, before you scream “SACRILEGE!” and hold your fingers up in a cross at me, let me just say that I think Lou Reed’s songwriting is really something else. I can appreciate the band for many reasons; unfortunately, there are some pretty good reasons why they’re not in my Top Ten. For starters: Nico. Good God, Andy Warhol, what in the hell were you thinking? I don’t care how good looking she was, that woman couldn’t sing her way out of a wet paper bag. Put her in a fucking go-go cage without a mic and she’s alright, but please don’t let her sing. Second: Lou’s singing. This man isn’t God’s gift to vocals, either. And this is coming from a guy who likes Elvis Costello! Third: Guitars are almost always out of tune, even on the studio albums. Having bitched that, I don’t dislike the Velvets.

But enough of my Marty DiBergi-esque yakkin’! These two live albums, containing songs from the two aforementioned shows, are a great document of the band at the time. The song selection is quite good, too, even featuring some that Lou would go on to record solo, plus a nice cross section of the band’s discography up to that time. Big fans may already have these, true, but the nice pressings are worth the cost, Volume 1 is on white vinyl, and they’re supposedly quite limited. So if you see ’em, pick ’em up. Disregard my comments if you have no idea what I could be talking about, and if you, like, totally dig what I’m puttin’ down, then leave ’em for those who will appreciate them more.  — Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Mercury/ORG ORG-036 and ORG-037, 2010)

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The Idle Race • The Birthday Party [2CD]

There was so much going on in pop music in 1968, the year THE IDLE RACE’s The Birthday Party, their debut album, was first released. It’s not hard to understand how something this good could have been overlooked; luckily one of the band’s leaders, Jeff Lynne, went on to a level of fame that meant anything he had a hand in creating would arouse interest for decades to come. England’s Cherry Red Records, under their Grapefruit imprint, have just released a two disc celebration of that album, complete with both the mono and stereo mixes and the album’s attendant 45 releases.

What kind of pop music are we talking about here? Well, like so much of what made – and didn’t make – the charts then, there are definitive Beatles vibes going on, but there’s some good ol’ British style pschedelia going on, too. How else to explain the abundance of mellotron, sing-song melodies, double-tracked harmonies and songs about guys sitting in trees, ladies who think they can fly and other psilly psubjects. My favorite tunes on The Birthday Party are “Sitting in My Tree,” “Don’t Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward,” “On With the Show” and the album’s natural closer, “End of the Road.” You also get (on Disc 1) singles “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree,” which was given to the Idle Race by The Move, who went ahead and recorded it and then released it before Liberty Records could get Lynne & Co.’s version out. Too bad, too, because it’s about as good as The Move’s version so it could have been the goosing that the Idle Race’s career needed. Another good one is the alternate take of “Follow Me Follow,” which is less straight ahead than the album version and actually better than that. “Days of the Broken Arrows” is a non-LP A-side that definitely makes for a great single (and its B-side is great, too, that being “Worn Red Carpet”).

Jeff Lynne left The Idle Race after the group’s second album (Idle Race) for The Move, spent a couple years with that group and then started ELO with fellow Mover Roy Wood (with both groups running simultaneously for a year or two). Listening to The Birthday Party is a good way to see how Lynne worked his way from nascent popster to world renowned producer (he went on to produce, besides his own Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, Traveling Wilburys and The Beatles, among many others). This is a 2CD set jam packed with tunes that you’ll want to hear again and again. — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Grapefruit QCRSEG065D, UK, 2020)

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Harry Nilsson, Fred Wolf • The Point [Blu-Ray]

You could say that, in these modern times, there’s no real point to reissuing Harry Nilsson and Fred Wolf’s THE POINT animated TV special on home video, but that would be missing the, ummm, point. This hour-plus show was cooked up by Nilsson, who not only came up with the idea but – naturally – wrote and performed the songs that crop up throughout. MVD Visual has just released it on Blu-Ray video and though it’s not perfect, it’s pretty dang good.

The Point is a fable about a boy named Oblio. Boy is born, boy is different, boy is ostracized, boy is found guilty of being born “without a point,” but “the law is the law, and without the law there’d be no lawyers, and well, it just goes on and on and on,” boy is banished, meets a bunch of weirdos in the Pointless Forest (including The Rock Man), boy comes back from his travels (not exactly the prodigal son, since he is basically a smart, good boy), boy is celebrated because everyone finally gets it: We should all be treated nicely and fairly because, after all, people are people so why should it be… oops, my bad, that’s Depeche Mode.

Anyway, the animated show ran on ABC TV here in the US in 1971, supposedly the first animated full length movie to air on television. Many of the animated sequences and concepts owe a debt to Nilsson’s pals, The Beatles, and their Yellow Submarine movie of just a few years earlier. Nilsson himself wrote all the songs and performed them, including the hit single “Me and My Arrow” (about Oblio’s dog) and the then-overlooked but now fêted “Think About Your Troubles.” The “soundtrack” album came out a few months before the TV show and featured Harry’s own narration. When The Point ran on TV the first time it was narrated by Harry’s pal, Dustin Hoffman, as a one-off. After that it was narrated by another guy, and then when it was coming out on home video (originally VHS), Harry got another pal, Ringo, to handle narration. That’s what we have here, and Ringo’s a capable narrator. (Supposedly there are no copies [of replication quality, at least] of Hoffman’s narration available.) This new Blu-Ray is what I’ll call gently restored. It’s not a pristene, frame-by-frame restoration but they apparently got rid of the most egregious bits of bother (don’t let the very beginning seconds fool you). The color quality has been made consistent and the sound is pretty good, too.

MVD Visual has loaded The Point with lots of extras, including mini-documentaries about Nilsson and including some of the voice talent and director Fred Wolf. I’m sure it was cheaper to film and edit the extras than it would have been to do a first class restoration, being that this isn’t exactly going to be a huge money maker, and the extras are interesting, so it’s all (pretty) good. Besides, any time you get a chance to check out an old favorite – either The Point, itself, or Harry, himself – that makes it worth it. — Marsh Gooch

3/5 (MVD Visual 2668BR, 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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Blue Cheer • Vincebus Eruptum [LP, CD]

[Review originally published 2/2/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc]

“BLUE CHEER were an American psychedelic blues-rock band that initially performed and recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and were sporadically active from that point on until 2009. Based in San Francisco, Blue Cheer played in a psychedelic blues-rock style, and are also credited as being pioneers of heavy metal (their cover of “Summertime Blues” is sometimes cited as the first in the genre[3]), punk rock[4], stoner rock[5][6], doom metal[6][7], experimental rock[8], and grunge[9]. According to Tim Hills in his book, The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom,[10] ‘Blue Cheer was the epitome of San Francisco psychedelia. The band is named after a street brand of LSD and promoted by renowned LSD chemist and former Grateful Dead patron, Owsley Stanley.’ [11] Jim Morrison of The Doors called the group, ‘The single most powerful band I’ve ever seen’[12].”

Well, that’s what Wikipedia says. Indeed, the progenitor of heavy metal but so much more, Blue Cheer is being served well by Sundazed. Who better to release the band’s first two albums again on vinyl? In fact, Vincebus Eruptum is out in MONO and the grandiose power of the trio’s debut is right there in your face… not meant to spread around either side of your head, but to smack you right in the noggin like you deserve! How a major label record company decided to put this out in early 1968 is beyond me – hell, I was only 5 at the time – except that they must have all been on some form of blue cheer themselves. It’s like the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper and then all of the sudden EVERY LABEL HAD TO HAVE PSYCHEDELIC BANDS ON IT. And so Verve signed the Velvet Underground and The Mothers, and Philips (now linked with Verve but not at the time) got them some Blue Cheer. These guys couldn’t have been that accepted in San Francisco, at least not if you trust the revisionist rock history we’re used to reading… I mean, if CCR was pop and Jefferson Airplane was psychedelic, what was this band? OUT OF THIS WORLD. And they are still. Today. In 2010. [Also released by Sundazed is the band’s second album, Outsideinside. And RIP Dickie Peterson, Blue Cheer bassist, who passed away very recently.]  — Marsh Gooch
4/5 (Sundazed LP 5297, 2010)

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Marshall Crenshaw • Miracle of Science [CD]

What do many MARSHALL CRENSHAW fans dream of? Reissues! Apparently MC got the memo, and here’s the first in a series, Miracle of Science. Originally released in 1996 on Razor & Tie Records (on CD only, though), it was the first studio album of Crenshaw’s brand of power pop after his contracts with Warner Bros. and Paradox/MCA ended. At the time it probably made sense for Marshall to move to the environs of the indie world, and he ended up making all of the rest of his albums that way. Major fame and fortune eluded him despite his ability to craft tunes that you’d be humming for days and weeks.

I instantly fell in love with Crenshaw’s music when I first heard his self-titled debut, Marshall Crenshaw, in 1982. Sure, I dug the fact that he has the same name as me (not too many of us Marshalls in the world, then or now), but it was more about the mix of pop, rockabilly and girl group rock that he played. That mix of genres continued through all of his albums, and here on Miracle of Science you get a good dose of his kind of rock ’n’ roll. From his practically patented power pop style, epitomized on “What Do You Dream Of” and “Only an Hour Ago,” full of melody and Stratocaster guitar tone, to the rockabilly of “Who Stole That Train?” and his instinct for interesting covers (“The ‘In’ Crowd”), this album is packed with a punch that is seldomly witnessed. Marshall’s added some interesting bonus tracks to this reissue on Shiny-Tone, (I believe) his own label and a guarantee he’ll get to keep doing it his way. An interesting track, “Seven Miles an Hour,” is featured in both forward and backward versions, and MC decided to include the backward version first (as a standard track) and the forward version (which was the one originally released in ’96) as a bonus track. Curious.

Anyway, let’s keep the Crenshaw reissues coming! The severe lack of tune in today’s “tunes” means we need Marshall’s tunes more than ever. — Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Shiny-Tone 020286-23000, 2020)

 

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Big Star • In Space [CD, LP]

If you started with BIG STAR’s In Space and worked your way backwards through Third/Sister Lovers, Radio City and then #1 Record, you’d feel like you’d quickly worked your way to an easy jackpot. Sorta like playing the slots and winning with the first lever pull (okay, these days, button push), then winning some more, then winning A LOT more, and then BOOM! Lights flash, slot machine makes all kinds of exciting noise and then the attendant comes over to give you buckets and buckets of coin. That may be exaggerating the point, but the final album in Big Star’s four album trajectory (not counting live stuff) is a winner, it’s just nowhere near as great as the others.

The rock critic in me feels bad making such a statement about In Space, as I know both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow in real life and they’re a couple of great guys – AND they’re talented as hell! When they hooked up with remaining Big Stars Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens in the early ’90s all of us in the Seattle music scene were excited for these founders of The Posies, perfect youngbloods, to bolster the once brilliant band. They did some live concerts, eventually releasing a few (Columbia, Live in Memphis) and doing some short tours. When it was announced that Big Star Mk IV were in the studio recording an album of new material, it came as a pleasant surprise, tempered by the likelihood that whatever they recorded wouldn’t match the excellence of the original band’s (as in Mks I, II & III) near-immaculate output. Okay, maybe what turned out to be In Space might equal Third/Sister Lovers in awesomeness, but even that was likely not gonna happen. What I’m saying is, In Space turned out to be a pretty nice little album. Not necessarily essential listening, but in a way, exactly where you’d have expected Big Star to land if they’d stayed together. AND… it could’ve been a disaster. That, my friends, is why the Posies/Big Star merger made total sense: Because it didn’t end in disaster.

The album starts with the four best tracks, “Dony,” “Lady Sweet,” “Best Chance” and “Turn My Back on the Sun,” all songs that sport that patented Big Star power pop mixture: catchy tunes, tough but melodic guitars, hard pounding drums and killer harmonies. There’s even a Brian Wilson tribute (“Turn My Back”) with vocals that deserve to be heard on their own (which is just what you get as a bonus track). In Space also includes a pair of funky workouts like those Alex Chilton favored in his mid ’80s solo phase (“Do You Wanna Make It” and the Archie Bell & The Drells-inspired “Love Revolution,” which works as a nice mid album change of pace). Did you know that Ken Stringfellow is a real good bass player? Dig his playing here!

I can’t say all of the album is that good. I could live without “Aria, Largo,” which is an instrumental cover of baroque composer Georg Muffat’s original that sounds like the guys are still learning it, and the remaining songs are alright but not essential. But what the album lacks in all-out Big Star goodness it makes up for in a lighthearted, fun vibe that permeates the entire disc.

Omnivore’s 2019 reissue includes a rocking epic called “Hot Thing” that they ought to have included when the album was originally released in 2005, some demos and a rough mix, and the aforementioned a cappella take. The CD version sounds muscular and dynamic, and I’d assume the vinyl (initially available on clear blue wax) is going to sound similarly swell. It’s a worthwhile purchase, especially if you don’t have the original Rykodisc issue. Basically, in my dad’s words, In Space is “not too shabby.” Not superb, but NTS. — Marsh Gooch

2.75/5 (Ominvore OVCD-338, 2019)

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Linda McCartney • Wide Prairie [LP, CD, DD]

Lots of insults have been lobbed at LINDA McCARTNEY since the day she entered husband Paul’s life. “She broke up The Beatles,” “she can’t sing,” “she’s a bleedin’ vegetarian,” etc. This reissue of the posthumous compilation Wide Prairie may not go far in turning that tide, but it will – at the very least – go a ways to helping the Macca nerds of the world fatten up their collections a little more.

This 16-track album was first released in 1998, and 21 years later it’s still an interesting yet slightly troublesome undertaking. There’s a number of great songs here, including “Seaside Woman” (recorded in ’72-’73 during Wings’ Red Rose Speedway sessions), “Cook of the House” (which first appeared on Wings at the Speed of Sound in ’76) and album closer “Appaloosa,” but the rest of the material is cute yet not crucial. A few songs are just not good, like “The White Coated Man,” a screed against lab testing of animals (not a bad cause, mind you) and the bulk of the rest is just fair-to-middling. I do like “I Got Up” and “The Light Comes from Within,” both dust-yourself-off-and-get-back-up-on-the-horse ditties, and “B-Side to Seaside” (another previously released track, the [ahem] B-side to “Seaside Woman”), but at 16 tracks this album is a handful of tracks too many. It’s highly likely that this compilation consists of every single track Linda finished before her death, six months before Paulie first put out this collection.

Wide Prairie has a nice lightness to it, with humor abounding, and some nice cover versions (“Mister Sandman,” “Poison Ivy”), too. You even get two tracks that were co-produced by reggae legend Lee Perry (reggae is actually part of the foundation of this elpee)! Whether you care for Linda McCartney’s girlish singing (flawed but fun) or not, it’s not a bad record at all. It’s just not that great. As for the Macca collectors out there, they’ll want the milk/blue vinyl limited edition (may already be sold out), but there’s also a regular black vinyl version and a compact disc. However, there are no more tracks on this reissue than there were on the ’98 release, so you’re gonna have to be an accomplished aficionado to want to pick this version up.

2.5/5 (Capitol 7728542, 1998/2019)

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