The Joshua Tree
I still remember the first time I heard The Joshua Tree (Island/Universal).
Living in a podunk Gulf Coast town, my best access to new music at the time was a radio show out of Houston that, every Sunday at midnight, played extended chunks of upcoming albums; I was half asleep on a school night when “Bullet the Blue Sky” woke me up but good. This is the album that elevated U2 from moderate popularity to absolute superstardom, and tracks such as “With Or Without You” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” remain synonymous with the band.
At long last, U2’s landmark 1987 album is getting the landmark treatment. A new three-disc box offers the original album, one CD of extra tracks, and a bonus DVD with a live show, a documentary, and two videos. (There’s also a slew of nicely reproduced photos in the package.) This late-arriving package would be near the top of my Christmas list, if I wasn’t already listening to it.
The Nightfly Trilogy
Nostalgia for radio turns up in another new box, The Nightfly Trilogy (Reprise). Collecting the three solo records made by Donald Fagen, the cleaner-cut, vocalizing half of Steely Dan, the set evokes the bygone pleasures of late-night FM while wholeheartedly embracing new technology: The discs are something called MVIs, which wrap DVD audio and video content up with digital files pre-formatted for your iPod or other MP3 player (so much for record labels trying to keep you from ripping your music!). Happily for those of us who mistrust experimental formats, the set also gathers all the music (the three individual albums and a 10-track bonus disc) on plain old CDs for no extra charge.
Fagen, whose band was one of rock’s most jazz-friendly, would likely appreciate two other box sets that just hit stores: Mosaic Records has gathered The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941 and The Quincy Jones ABC/Mercury Big Band Jazz Sessions on five discs each. Personally, however much I appreciate Jones’ production work, I’m partial to the former; Hampton’s pearly vibes just don’t get old, and these early sides come wrapped in a pleasing fog of pre-war Americana.
Strung Out on Something New
I might make a cheap joke about Lee Hazlewood’s foggy states of consciousness, but the title of a new collection celebrating the work of Nancy Sinatra’s favorite producer makes the druggy joke for me: Strung Out on Something New, from Rhino’s boutique label Rhino Handmade, compiles the weird folkie’s Reprise recordings onto two discs that hold three original LPs, assorted oddball tracks (like a great version of “Ode to Billie Joe”) and a bunch of fun stuff from other artists (Duane Eddy, for instance) that Hazlewood wrote, produced, or both.
Last but not least in this batch of underexposed multi-disc sets is
Nigeria Special (Soundway), a rocking double platter of “Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds, & Nigerian Blues” from the first half of the 1970s. I don’t know when small record companies are going to run out of African grooves that haven’t been on CD here, but based on releases like this I hope it isn’t any time soon — from the irresistible bass lines of the “Nigerian Police Force Band” to The Hykkers’ acid-tinged guitar solos, these fantastic tracks make you grateful to crate-diggers like Special producer Miles Cleret for their globe-hopping search for forgotten 45s. •