Music » Bonus Tracks

New Rubble

This year's reissue catalog offers gems amid rocks.


The hot reissue in 2005 wasn't the catalog but the act. Comebacks are out. Repackaged credibility — an artist reaching back to the sound of his or her prime, coached by an admiring junior — is the new remastering.

Impossibly precious singer Vashti Bunyan — whose one previous album (1970's Just Another Diamond Day) went from curio to cause thanks to impossibly naifish curio cause Devendra Banhart — was harried out of retirement for the generously reviewed virtual reissue Lookaftering. Bunyan's aesthetic still conjures a certain bucolic isolation — the kind last seen hacked to death in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs — and freak folk now has its own Ass Pocket of Shrill Honky.

The trick works better with a real master. For Bettye LaVette's scorching I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, producer Joe Henry (whose own fine solo albums draw on soul inflections as much as painterly songwriting abstractions) refines the formula he used to resurrect Solomon Burke on 2002's Don't Give Up on Me: Give a neglected legend a clutch of high-octane numbers by name-brand writers, record on a fugitive's schedule, and mike the voice so close you can hear the singer's fillings vibrate.

On the gritty I Believe to My Soul, Henry performs CPR on a record bin's worth of talent — Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples, Ann Peebles — then excites his patients into making an album that equals or betters much of their individual catalogs.

For inspiration, Henry and crew might have listened to the second volume of Night Train to Nashville (1945-70), a sawdust-floors-and-brass-knuckles trip through the end of segregation. Its black honky-tonk could put a Klansman off Clorox.

And all of them probably just bought Rhino's Ray Charles collection, which assembles the Genius's Atlantic recordings (including "I Believe to My Soul," the starkest awakening to cuckoldry ever recorded) alongside demos, live tracks and studio run-throughs. In fact, just send Rhino a blank check; the label's other big-ticket fourth-quarter release is the Talking Heads "Brick," housing all of the band's studio albums, each having been given a dizzying sonic makeover. Both sets are musts.

But keep funds available for The Band: A Musical History, a gorgeous book that happens to come with five CDs and a DVD loaded with essentials from Bob Dylan's only overqualified collaborators.

The other trend in reissues that aren't really reissues is the unfortunate indulgence of the bonus disc amended to a record that's not old enough to eat solid food. Thanks, Elvis Costello, for putting one great song ("She's Pulling Out the Pin") on a "limited edition" of 2004's middling The Delivery Man. Guess EPs are for pussies — unless you're Belle and Sebastian, an EP-loving group (though hardly a Diana Krall-sexing bunch) that released its best album this year by gluing together its nonalbum Matador sides to make the two-disc Push Barman to Open Old Wounds.

British label Radioactive added more live Jimi Hendrix to its catalog but made a stronger statement with its New Rubble discs, two volumes of exhumed '60s UK pop singles that flatter and complement era staples such as the Kinks like raisins in a bowl of bran.

Capitol Jazz's The Edge compiles late-'60s recordings by the patron saint of samplers, producer-writer-arranger David Axelrod. Nothing about these sessions, including contributions by Wrecking Crew drummer Earl Palmer and bass player Carol Kaye, is edgy, unless you count a sound so reverb-heavy it would echo in a room carpeted in shag from floor to ceiling, but a handful of the tracks evoke Dirty Harry-era Lalo Schifrin. (Others evoke Austin Powers in a room carpeted in shag from floor to ceiling.)

EMI continued its Rudy Van Gelder Editions with, among other reissues, Bobby Hutcherson's ecstatic Oblique and McCoy Tyner's blazing Time for Tyner (on which Hutcherson plays).

Good news for Motown fans with deep pockets: Hip-O Select is already on the third volume of its year-by-year survey of every single issued on the label and its subsidiaries.

Bad news for Eurythmics fans: The much-anthologized duo, attempting a pilgrimage from nearly two decades of $11.99-dom to top-tier pricing, has just unleashed souped-up versions of its albums (except the still out-of-print 1984 soundtrack), along with yet another compilation — with new songs.

Good news for Genesis fans: The budget-priced Platinum Collection offers a taste of remixes that the band's catalog will get over the next few years. Bad news for Genesis fans: Some of the mixes sound compressed and tinny through two speakers (the eventual reissues will be 5.1 jobs), and only one of the songs from the group's self-titled 1983 album has been treated for what was always a subpar mastering.

Bad news for people with Stooges, T. Rex, Run DMC or Can CDs, owners of any of three previous CD pressings of Elton John's best album (1975's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy), and people who paid eBay prices for obscure folkie Bill Fay's first album or For Against's December: All are — you guessed it — on shelves in new editions. Why buy any new album the day it comes out?

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