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All Ears

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All Ears

By John DeFore


Reissue Roundup, Part 2

Of the various bands left off that British Invasion box set discussed last week, one is getting its due elsewhere. Come See Me (Shout Factory) is a big, tough testament to The Pretty Things, a band as nasty and threatening, and just about as great, as the Stones once were. The comp errs on the side of comprehensiveness, with a handful of tracks around 1970 that don't quite fit, but the rest of the disc - garage rock fans who haven't heard this stuff will flip - more than makes up for it.

(Also on the Brit Invasion front is The Who's Then and Now comp (Geffen), yet another best-of disc which pulls the shameless stunt of tacking on two new songs. The Who Sell Out, indeed...)

Same era, different continent: Vol. 6 of the official Bob Dylan bootleg series, Live 1964 (Legacy), is a whole lot more enjoyable than the last chapter: This solo acoustic show (with an appearance by Joan Baez) at NYC's Philharmonic Hall is a fantastic performance, spirited and good-humored, with the songwriter giving the audience a peek at the big changes (in terms of lyrics, not instrumentation) he had up his sleeve for his next album.

A similar foreshadowing appears on One From The Heart (Legacy), the film soundtrack by Tom Waits and guest vocalist Crystal Gayle: By and large, the songs grow out of the lounge-singer territory Waits had trod in his '70s records. Then comes "You Can't Unring A Bell," featuring thunder-on-the-horizon drumming that sets a mood for Waits' almost menacing speak-singing - without breaking the album's mood, the songwriter gives us a glimpse of the sonic and artistic metamorphosis he's about to go through in the next couple of years with Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years.

Soon, Waits would be channeling fire and brimstone alongside Jack Kerouac. One place he could have gone for inspiration is to the Reverend J.M. Gates, the sermonizing shouter whose records were more gravelly speeches than songs. Are You Bound for Heaven or Hell? compiles some of the most impassioned of these, including the always-timely "Good Bye to Chain Stores," in which Gates rails, decades in advance, against Starbucks and Wal-Mart. The new comp is one of four from Legacy this month that dig way back: Mamie Smith, allegedly the first black vocalist to make a commercial recording in America, is featured on Crazy Blues; and pioneering string band The Mississippi Sheiks are featured on Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down.

For artists a little better represented on CD than Gates and Smith, Bluebird has figured out a way to differentiate its reissues from the pack. Their Centennial Collection bundles each disc with a DVD of rare old film clips, some exerpted from feature films, some shot as stand-alone shorts. Their Fats Waller package is particularly interesting, with five performances showing Waller playing and singing while pretty girls perch atop his piano.

There is still such a thing as a plain-old Greatest Hits record, of course. Rounder's new High Lonesome and Blue is a great introduction to bluegrass badass Del McCoury, who put out quite a few records before registering on the crossover radar. And Young Girl (Legacy) is undoubtedly all anyone needs from Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, that hyper-dramatic late-'60s San Diego band that dressed up in Civil War uniforms and delivered slickly earnest ballads like "Woman, Woman" ("...have you got cheating on your mind?") and "Young Girl" ("...get outta my mind, my love for you is way out of line...") Those overachievers at Rhino are leapfrogging the basic Greatest Hits stage for Grant Lee Buffalo, combining one disc of hits and one of rarities for Storm Hymnal. This is a postmortem collection, but it arrives coincidentally with the latest solo release from Buffalo leader Grant Lee Phillips, the lovely Virginia Creeper (Zoë).

Moving finally into the current century, Yep Roc reissues a record that was never quite issued in the first place: The Minus 5 mastermind Scott McCaughey once wrote a whole bunch of songs in a day to play with Wilco for an impromptu show at Chicago's soon-to-close Lounge Ax. After the gig, he hooked up with his regular band mates and bashed those songs out for In Rock, a DIY sell-it-from-the-stage disc that is now a proper album on a real label. It rocks, not in spite of its hasty execution but because of it. Vive le rock-et-roll ephemerale! •

By John DeFore


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