Either there's something in the air, or record companies are as disenchanted with new music as much of the public. What was looking like a regular fall lineup of reissues now looks like an avalanche, thanks largely to - Bob Dylan, who has just been the recipient of a monster wave of attention, no fewer than 15 new editions of titles spanning his career with Columbia Records. Landmarks such as Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, less cherished titles like Street Legal and Planet Waves, all in digipaks emulating the original LP sleeves, all available individually or boxed up neatly together at a somewhat discounted price. Most important, obviously, is the fact that these titles have been remastered for the first time since their arrival on CD. Even on the lousy little computer speakers where I'm sitting, the sound is improved - on a real stereo, the difference is impressive.
Of course, Dylan is one of the rare artists for whom a reissue without bonus tracks is still a big deal. At the other end of the spectrum is Who's Next (MCA), which had already been remastered once before and is now sexed up as a "Deluxe Edition." What that means to the layman is that one of The Who's best-loved releases gets not only bonus tracks but a second full disc containing a live performance from 1971.
This keep-it-coming attitude reaches its zenith (or nadir, depending on your point of view) with Columbia's latest box set from Miles Davis, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. A formidable challenge for the most devoted listener, the set offers up as many as six takes in a row of the same tune, and includes the original A Tribute To Jack Johnson LP tracks only as an afterthought at the end of Disc Five. Readers who don't know this period in Miles' career may misunderstand the significance of that: The "original" album in discussion was a Frankensteined collage of snippets from this take and that, heavily manipulated by producer Teo Macero. What we have here, then, are the raw materials: Long rock-based grooves over which various instrumentalists introduced many of the ideas that would flavor jazz for decades, soloing quite differently on each take. It's fascinating stuff that produced not only the Johnson record but parts of four subsequent releases - just don't sit down with the idea of hearing it all in one marathon.
One of the key players on the Johnson sessions, guitarist John McLaughlin, is one half of a new reissue from Carlos Santana, Love Devotion Surrender (one of four new Santana titles from Columbia/Legacy). A groundbreaking record for both guitarists, LSD is part spiritual ecstatic freakout, part meditation, part a stepping stone in rocker Santana's journey through jazzland. Its most touching aspect is its reverence for John Coltrane, whose own early masterpiece Blue Train has just been given a makeover by Blue Note; their new "Rudy Van Gelder Edition" benefits from improved sound, but is problematic in that it drops some of the material included on a previous reissue of the same record. Go figure.
Veering out of the jazz world, Rhino has just delivered the entire studio output of one of rock's greatest bands that didn't last long enough to become household names. Television, the band to whom the Strokes owe so much of their success, released only two records, Marquee Moon and Adventure - if you don't count a '90s reunion - both of which have been spiffed up, adorned with bonus tracks, and put in nice paper sleeves. The first record will be of the most interest to longtime followers of the band: It includes "Little Johnny Jewel," the band's first single, which was on neither of their LPs. An epic of plinky guitars and geekily emaciated vocals, it was too long to fit on a seven-inch record, so the producers just did a fade-out on side A and started side B in the middle of the song. For those who don't know the band already, these are absolutely essential parts of any post-punk or new wave record collection, and go a long way toward explaining New York's recent rock scene. Buy 'em!
Rhino's Handmade imprint - the one devoted to limited editions of specialty or cult titles - just released a live disc to accompany the two studio records. Live at the Old Waldorf captures the band in 1978 just before they broke up, more fiery and fleshed-out than they were in the studio; it has been bootlegged plenty of times before, but this "official bootleg" will finally net the artists some cash.
Hey, why doesn't Columbia try something like that with the oft-bootlegged Bob Dylan? Oh, wait…