Stones, Miles, Solomon, Mose, Tijuana Brass and other old school box sets
Don't ask why it's taken so long - this is one of the most fetishized bands in history - but Abkco records has finally gotten around to doing for the Rolling Stones what has been done for New Wave bands aplenty: The label has released three box sets that together contain facsimiles of every Stones single from 1963 to 1971. The CDs themselves are black, looking as much like 7-inch vinyl as a compact disc can; the packaging recreates original picture sleeves; and cute little fan-club-like mini posters round out the sets. Let the fanboy drooling begin.
Abkco had previously released a three-CD set that gathered this material for convenient listening; here, they're nostalgically recreating the original experience. Columbia/Legacy does something similar with their latest Miles Davis reissues, taking the material from their Complete Seven Steps box and, with the exception of a few bonus tracks, breaking it into its original release form. Most are live albums - Miles in Tokyo, Miles in Berlin, et cetera - and all are from the period during which the trumpeter built his "second great quintet."
While Legacy is committed to eventually give Miles' fans every note he put on tape for them, other jazz labels are exploring the less legendary artists in their vaults. Blue Note's Connoisseur series, for instance, has new-to-CD releases from cult favorites like Sam Rivers (Contours) and Andrew Hill (Dance With Death) and little-known players like pianist Jack Wilson (Easterly Winds).
Speaking of rare platters, fans of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass are in for a mammoth treat: While it's never been hard to find a copy of Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Shout Factory has embarked on a whole series of releases from the band whose success was once in league with the Beatles. The first batch of discs includes Lost Treasures, a rarities collection including oddball covers like "Flowers on the Wall" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"; Whipped Cream, meanwhile, is in the batch due next month.
Slightly less hard-to-find are the albums R.E.M. made for Warner Bros., which have just been repackaged as double discs. In an odd move, each release (from Green through last year's Around the Sun) contains the CD as originally issued and a DVD of the same material remastered in 5.1 "advanced resolution" sound. Fans might hope for troves of rare songs or at least that each album would be accompanied by the videos made for it, but no such luck. Aside from little "documentaries" that were made for promo purposes, some of which contain full-length MTV tracks, there isn't a lot of extra stuff to be found.
There are lots of other ways to make this jump to fancy-pants new sonic technology. Universal, for instance, released its recent Elton John Super Audio titles as single discs that play in both CD and SACD players; unlike the R.E.M. titles, these discs (including Tumbleweed Connection, Honky Chateau, and three others) contain tracks not on the original LPs.
For value, though, it's hard to beat the two-fer. Collectables is one of the few labels that still releases these, and its new package from Solomon Burke, containing his 1968 albums King Solomon and I Wish I Knew, is a welcome arrival from the recently rediscovered soul artist. Burke's latest, the Don Was-produced Make Do With What You Got, was recently released on Shout Factory, and even if it lacks the spooky grandeur of Burke's Joe Henry-produced comeback record, it finds the giant in fine voice. (Collectables, incidentally, also just released the old Mose Allison favorite, Hello There, Universe, which features some of Allison's most clever tunes.)
Another development in the world of soul comes from an unlikely source: Astralwerks, a label best known for thoroughly modern pop. Astralwerks' "Honest Jons Records" imprint has a modern pedigree, though - Blur frontman Damon Albarn is helping curate the series. The micro-label has released several interesting international discs, but their two latest are compilations from little-known soulsters: Bettye Swann, the Louisiana-based singer who put a Southern Soul spin on country classics like "Sweet Dreams," and Willie Hightower, a Sam Cooke-like tenor whose singles like "Walk a Mile In My Shoes" became cult favorites on the London dance scene decades after they were recorded.
Roky Erickson has also benefited from periodical rediscoveries, and the latest comes courtesy of Shout Factory: I Have Always Been Here Before is part of a long-brewing effort to replace bootleg Erickson/13th Floor Elevators records with ones that will actually funnel some money to the artist; the two-disc collection stretches from pre-13th Floor band The Spades, through hits like "You're Gonna Miss Me," all the way up to his 1995 album for Austin's Trance Syndicate label.
Finally, a more conventional but very welcome retrospective via Matador: Prisoners of Love combines a two-disc package of Yo La Tengo's best-known songs with a third of outtakes and rarities. The compilation is of obvious value for a band that's been together more than 20 years, but the third disc is a real treat for fans, who will dig hearing the group cover Stevie Nicks and Sun Ra on a single disc. What makes the set a real bonanza is that all three discs can be had for just a hair more than a full-price new CD - and a few dollars less than the one-album-played-two-ways reissues of those R.E.M. records.
By John DeFore