Category Archives: vinyl

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.
* “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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Booker T. & The MG’s • The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962-1967) [CD, 2LP]

It’s pretty hard to beat the grooves that BOOKER T. & THE MG’S laid down back in the ’60s, and proof of that can be found in the grooves that make up The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962- 1967), a new compilation from Real Gone Music. This 29-track funk-a-thon is one hell of an intro to the Memphis group’s sound, muscular R&B instrumentals from a mixed race melting pot of organ/piano, guitar, bass and drums that basically defined the Stax sound.

The 1CD/2LP collection compiles the band’s early period sides for Volt and Stax, the former label morphing into the latter and becoming an indie powerhouse that gave us Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and many more. Made up of organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassists Lewie Steinberg and (later) Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. and his MG’s concocted a sound that was high on swinging, hard hitting grooves that to this day are the epitome of what makes Memphis music so irresistible. Pretty much anyone who’s ever turned on the radio has heard “Green Onions,” the band’s signature and first single, and all of the following records had the same basic ingredients. Despite their efforts to mix it up a bit by adding additional instruments here and there, the original recipe was so good that no amount of tweaking could alter its appeal. Yet, followup singles “Mo-Onions,” “Jellybread” (see video below) or the fabulous “Boot-Leg” and “Hip Hug-Her” never bettered that first side, charts-wise.

Real Gone Music’s 29-track compilation is 75 minutes long, generous as hell for one CD (or two LPs) and would be a lot to digest if it wasn’t for the fact that Booker T. & The MG’s music is so fun and uplifting that the vibe never really gets old. (It helps that the tunes are rarely more than a couple of minutes long.) I can imagine what it might’ve been like to hear these guys play them live, stretching out on a solo or groove and really getting down with it – I’m sure I would’ve totally dug it. As in “dig it,” you know, that phrase they said back in the Sixties and which some of us younger old farts still say on occasion. Worth the low price, for sure, The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 is all you need to get your own “MG Party” started.

4/5 (Real Gone Music RGM-0889, 2019)

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The Undertones • West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of [2LP]

America may have closed its borders to people traveling from Ireland, but that won’t keep legends like Derry’s THE UNDERTONES from invading our ears. West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of is a new compilation of the fab fivesome’s greatest hits, a 2 LP set that you can order up right now and have delivered to your door while that is still a possibility. If you already know about The Undertones then chances are great that you’ve got at least one record by them, and it’s highly likely that you’ve got some sort of best-of that includes much of what’s on this compilation. Still, old fans like me can always make room for a new compilation – perhaps affording a new way to look at their career, and newbies get a chance to discover a great band that still deserves their time on the turntable.

Most of the young punks’ great songs are here, from their debut “Teenage Kicks” – a perennial favorite – to “My Perfect Cousin” and later, more mature fare like “It’s Going to Happen!” and “The Love Parade.” Culled from the band’s first four albums and non-LP singles (effectively their career from ’78 until they disbanded in ’83; they reformed later with a different lead singer), West Bank Songs is chock full of the spirited, humorous yet edgy punk and new wave tunes they’re known for, along with the slightly distorted guitars and singer Feargal Sharkey’s nasal teenage vocals. What’s missing, though, is some of the B-sides that were as important as the A-sides they backed, such as their invigorating cover of the psychedelic nugget, “Let’s Talk About Girls” or their own tune, “Mars Bars.” Not that you can’t find those on other compilations, such as 1983’s All Wrapped Up double LP or Rykodisc’s The Very Best of The Undertones (from 1994), but they are important songs which for some reason were left off this latest compilation. Still, you can’t deny that The Undertones are one of Ireland’s greatest exports, no matter which random selection of their songs you happen upon. West Bank Songs is a 30 song affair, on purple and white vinyl, with fairly interesting (though not that in depth) liner notes and some pretty great photos, and a cover design that’s an homage to The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath album (UK version). It’s totally worth the dosh!

4/5 (BMG/Salvo/Ardeck SALVO426DLP, 2020)

 

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Blue Cheer • Vincebus Eruptum [LP, CD]

[Written by Marsh Gooch and originally published 2/2/2010 on 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.]
4/5 (Sundazed LP 5297, 2010)

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Young Fresh Fellows • A Tribute to Music [CD]

[Originally published 1/26/2010 on Skratchdisc]

This 1997 release on Rock ’N’ Roll, Inc. out of Spain completely slipped by me. Now, let me just say that YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS are probably the best band ever out of Seattle (sorry, Sonics were from Tacoma), and I’ve followed them since their inception. Why, I can remember many drunken gigs at the Rainbow (in Seattle), the Hollywood Underground (where I got asked onstage to sing “Give It to the Soft Boys” with them), and just about every good dive (oxymoron!) in town. A Tribute to Music is one of those foreign releases the Fellows have always been fond of: put out an entirely great CD on some tiny-ass label and let the hardcore fans have fun trying to find a copy. Well, I got mine used for $5.99 at Easy Street Records in West Seattle today, and I’m here to say I’m quite enjoying this 12 song, 29:39 disc.

Right off the bat there’s a real kooky intro—sorry, an “Invocation”—and then a super annoying “Louie Louie”-style tune with Scott McCaughey sounding quite demonic. Very next thing, they launch into a cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know,” which was a hit for Tracey Ullman. Soon you get “Ivar’s Theme” about our local fishmonger/marketing genius Ivar Haglund, and it just keeps rockin’ all the way to the end. I gotta hand it to Scott, Jim, Kurt and Tad for their ability to keep it real for so dang long. How I missed this one when it came out, I have no idea. But I’m glad I got it now. If only Jim Sangster would come by and get that Ampeg amp grill I snagged for him…
4/5 (Rock ’N’ Roll, Inc. R&RINC 013, Spain)

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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.

2.75/5 (Ominvore OVCD-338, 2019)

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Harry Nilsson • Losst and Founnd [CD, LP]

HARRY NILSSON died of a heart attack twenty-five years ago. That would seem to explain why it took so long to finish Losst and Founnd, the “new” album from pop’s coolest singer. But there’s almost always more to the story than the obvious explanation, especially with Harry. And so, here we are in 2019 with a finished version of the album he was working on when he passed away in 1994 and it’s just about everything you’d want out of a Nilsson record.

Why’d it take so long to find Losst and Founnd? It’s apparently a convoluted enough story that there’s a four part podcast series dedicated to it. I don’t have time to sift through that now, so take it from me, it doesn’t really matter. This is a new Nilsson record! As it’s sung on the title track, “Losst and Found, what a miracle!”

From the humor that is uniquely Harry’s on “U.C.L.A.,” to the die-hard fandom of “Yo Dodger Blue,” to his interpretations of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” and Jimmy Webb’s beautiful-yet-funny “What Does a Woman See in a Man,” this album’s completion means there’s one more really good Nilsson record (or CD) to have on your shelf. Yes, by now his voice wasn’t the instrument it once was – but he could still sing, and in fact the gruff in his voice quite suits the material. Sorta like how some of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings tracks (such as “Hurt,” the cover of Nine Inch Nails) benefited from the maturity and experience that only an old guy could emote. The arrangements, too, are of a similar quality level to what Harry accomplished with Richard Perry back in the early ’70s.

You may not go to Losst and Founnd as often as you do Nilsson Schmilsson or Son of Schmilsson, but it’s right up there with Pussy Cats and some of Harry’s other greats. Despite its twenty-five year incubation, it was really worth the wait. Kudos to Omnivore Recordings and producer Mark Hudson for allowing it to finally hatch.

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-346, 2019)

 

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The Damned • Black Is the Night – The Definitive Anthology [4LP, 2CD]

There’s no way in hell anyone would have ever guessed that a scruffy punk rock band called THE DAMNED would one day have their oeuvre compiled countless times by the year 2019, but it’s happened. Black Is the Night – The Definitive Anthology is the latest compilation, and it brims over with 39 songs over 4 LPs or 2 CDs that span from their first single, “New Rose,” released in 1976, to songs from their 2000s studio releases and even a brand new one (the title track)! That the band’s best stuff pre-dates the 21st century barely matters. I say barely… and if you read on you’ll understand why.

If you don’t know much about The Damned, you can see some of my other reviews of Damned-related releases to help fill in the blanks (click here). Let it be understood that I’m a BIG FAN – I tell people that I love ’em even more than The Beatles and that’s 50% true half the time – but I DO have misgivings about some of the material they’ve released in their nearly 45 years of anarchy, chaos and destruction. For instance, back in the ’90s, after numerous personnel shifts ’n’ changes, they released an album called I’m Alright Jack and the Bean Stalk (aka Not of This Earth) and I couldn’t find much of anything to like about it. And their latest album, Evil Spirits (2018), was such a letdown that I chose not to review it here because I didn’t want to “dis” on my favorite band! (“Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” from that release is included on this new compilation.) Yet. The Damned – Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian and all the others – are a many splendored thing. Whether it’s the early punk of “Neat Neat Neat” or “Love Song,” the punky new wave of “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” or “Bad Time for Bonzo,” the goth of “Grimly Fiendish” and “Shadow of Love,” or the sheer brilliance of “Stranger on the Town,” “Curtain Call” and “Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2),” the band is so much more than the sum of their parts or their discography. (Still, I don’t see how they chose “Fun Factory” for inclusion on this compilation but left off “Lovely Money.”)

Black Is the Night gathers most of their greatest moments in a very nice package. The initial copies of the 4LP set are pressed on gold vinyl, housed in a gatefold cover and cloaked in printed inner sleeves. A band family tree created by the late, great Pete Frame is featured on an included insert to help you keep track of just who was in the band at any given time, but it only goes up to 1982 so it’s woefully incomplete. The cover was designed by graphic design guru Phil Smee, the liner notes are kinda snappy (written by Vive Le Rock magazine’s Eugene Butcher), and the credits come up short of crucial information such as who produced the songs or who did the mastering. Considering the colossal difference in their records from 1976 to the most recent title track (available only on this collection), it would be nice to know who to praise or blame for that. It’s generally a pretty good mastering job, though the sound on some cuts is a bit muffled, and there are some jarring segues where one song slams into another (even chopping off the last few seconds of “Alone Again Or” as “Lively Arts” starts!), which leads me to believe that this collection was culled from digital and not analog sources. Of course, you’d expect that since the 39 songs come from various and disparate sources. Still, the songs aren’t in strict chronological order so the difference between, say, “Eloise” and “Plan 9 Channel 7” isn’t as drastic as you’d think it could be. As Dave Vanian says at the end of the liner notes, “The Damned have been on an epic musical adventure. To have spent years and years making the same album was never part of the plan.” That they would make so many great LPs and singles may not have been, either, but they certainly did.

4/5 (BMG Rights Management* BMGCAT409QLP, 2019)
* Such an un-punk rock name for a record label.

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The Muffs • No Holiday [CD, LP, DD]

When THE MUFFS’ lead singer Kim Shattuck died a few weeks ago, it was a sad day for alternative rock. On the one hand, it was great that the band were able to record one last, solid album before their leader passed away, but on the other, a bummer that their new No Holiday album would be viewed and reviewed with that event in mind.

Unlike many past Muffs releases, No Holiday is a mix of multiple indie rock strains, from the spare punk rock style they’re known for (like “Down Down Down,” “Pollyanna” and the slower “Earth Below Me”) to more poppy and even melancholy ditties like “The Best” and “A Lovely Day Boo Hoo.” I really dig “Lucky Charm” and “You Talk and You Talk,” too, with the lines “I am tired of you/and your ugliness, too/and I hear you can talk until forever.” In fact, there are 18 songs to choose from here, from really short (as in 23 seconds!) to not-as-short (face it: The Muffs don’t have “extended jam” in their vocab, which is a plus), but generally three minutes or less. Apparently, Shattuck and the boys picked out the songs from a batch of unused songs that go back as far as 1991 – basically the lifespan of the band – and luckily, these songs don’t sound like sloppy seconds. Kim said the songs had only been weeded out before to make for “super concise albums.”

No Holiday is still pretty concise and is available on CD and 2LP vinyl (with a laser-etched side four), and makes an excellent bookend to The Muffs’ nearly three decades creating some of the most uncomplicated, enjoyable pop-punk around. You’ll want to pick this one up, yup, and given that the band has now disbanded for the final time, hope that Omnivore or somebody continues reissuing their albums and maybe puts out a career-spanning comp. RIP Kim Shattuck!

3.5/5 (Omnivore OVCD-354, 2019)

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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.

4.5/5 (Apple/Universal 0602508007446, 2019)

* I know, wrong album.

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