Music » Music Etc.

Music All ears



The record business is a tough one. It's getting so that rereleasing a long-lost or much-loved album just isn't enough; if your reissue doesn't contain at least two discs (sometimes as much as quadrupling the original LP's running time), you risk looking like a cheapskate label out to fleece the fans.

Sometimes, you run that risk anyway. Rhino's super-fantabulo-deluxe Elvis Costello series, which follows an earlier bonus-heavy series of the same albums by Ryko, has been seen in some quarters as milking Costelloheads dry. But is the retread Rhino's fault - after all, their overstuffed two-discers retail for the price of a single new CD from the White Stripes or Coldplay - or Costello's, for holding so much bonus stuff back the first time around?

Regardless, the label's EC series is drawing to a close with King of America, the 1986 album that many (including the artist himself) see as one of his best. Forsaking the Attractions for American roots producer T-Bone Burnett, he went acoustic and delivered gems like "Brilliant Mistake" and "Indoor Fireworks." On the new second disc, an album's worth of solo demos precede some full-band outtakes and a seven-song live set.

Rhino now turns its attention to a band whose records, far from being over-reissued, have sometimes been available only as pricey imports: The Cure, whose lasting influence is such that a whole festival (last year's Curiosa) was spawned to showcase new bands aspiring to the group's circa-1980 sound. Four titles have hit stores, from the group's 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys to the gloomy landmark Pornography. Expect a big surprise if you only know the band's mainstream breakthroughs like Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me - this Robert Smith, wailing atop a glacier of sound, is no candy-goth teddy bear.

Universal has been in the double-disc business for a while now, and has just given the treatment to a '90s masterwork. Endtroducing..., the debut by DJ Shadow, is just shy of a decade old now. But it still sounds amazingly fresh, even after being followed by an entire genre of turntablist/sampledelic albums. Even the artist himself lives in his debut's, um, shadow - none of his efforts since have had quite the wow factor of this disc. The new edition boasts "Excessive Ephemera" - that is, it offers many alternate mixes of the record's songs. Stripped down, built up, or doubled in length, the tracks are familiar sounding but still fun - especially the "Stem" remix featuring dialogue from the DeNiro/Pacino film Heat.

A couple of Columbia/Legacy's new "Legacy Editions" have a particularly organic approach to adding value. With George Jones' My Very Special Guests, for instance, producers take the original 10-track album from 1979 and make it a 37-song extravaganza that carries the duet concept through the '80s and '90s. The more recent guests aren't as genre-bending as those on the old album: Where the vinyl edition had James Taylor, Elvis Costello, and (yikes!) Dr. Hook, the expanded one sticks with the Tritts, Jacksons, and Gills of the world - with an occasional giant like Merle, Johnny, or Buck sharing the mic.

On Janis Joplin's Pearl, the label expands what was already a posthumous album with a bigger stab at capturing the singer's last days. In addition to the original album's tracks, all recorded in the month before her death, they've included a second, all-live disc that uses songs recorded that summer to more or less reconstitute a full live set.

There's no unreleased material on the new Belle and Sebastian reissue, but in a way it's more welcome than many collections. Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (Matador) belongs to that delightful discographical genre in which fans who aren't compulsive enough to buy all of an artist's singles are rewarded for waiting: The very inexpensive double-disc set is a straightforward assembly of the seven EPs the band recorded in its first few years, featuring tons of great songs (not simply outtakes, but tunes recorded with EPs in mind) that never popped up on the LPs.

It is a very rare reissue that actually creates new material to generate interest in the old stuff. But that's what Frank Black has done for his SpinArt release Frank Black Francis. Disc one is the kind of hardcore relic fans drool for: the contents of a cassette demo Black made - playing solo acoustic - the day before the Pixies went into Fort Apache studio to record their debut, Come On Pilgrim. Disc two is the result of Black's theory that releasing disc one alone might make "a potential new fan feel a bit ripped-off." The singer re-recorded Pixies chestnuts by himself in 2003, then turned the tapes over to a producing duo who put them through all sorts of electro-manipulation. The result is an enjoyable twist on very familiar material, even if Black fears critics will think he's "messing with the gospel." Since when was Black Francis afraid of that?

By John DeFore

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