By Todd Whitesel
It has been a great spring and summer for reissue vinyl releases. The good folks at Rhino Records have kept the presses busy with a banquet of 180-gram LPs, sourced from the original analog masters.
As David Lee Roth would sing, these are “guaranteed to satisfy.”
Stephen Stills: “Manassas”
The self-titled debut from Manassas is an often-overlooked country-rock classic that runs across two LPs. With Manassas, Stills formed his own supergroup, bringing in former Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young drummer Dallas Taylor, ex-Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, along with Joe Lala, Al Perkins, Fuzzy Samuel and Paul Harris.
He first assembled the crew in Miami, where they recorded 21 songs. Stills then took the band to his estate in England for six weeks of rehearsals to fully learn the material before touring. Excessive? Perhaps, but the results are undeniable. Four gorgeous sides of music, each themed but not locked into formula. Stills’ creative burst comes to bloom in the multi-colored petals of blues-funk (“Song Of Love”), country gospel (“Jesus Gave Love Away For Free”), folk-rock (“Colorado”) and the stunning interplay between Stills and Hillman on “Bound To Fall.” Bring it all home in a gatefold package with a full-scale replica poster and great sounding vinyl. That’s what you get here.
Alice Cooper: “Billion Dollar Babies”
It’s one thing to re-press a slab of vinyl and another to faithfully re-create the original album experience. Besides the great music, what made records such as “Led Zeppelin III,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” so cool was the packaging and the little extras.
Rhino doesn’t disappoint with its reissue of this Cooper classic. It’s all here, from the rounded cover corners, gatefold package and lyric sleeve to the $1 billion bill poster and punch-out band photos. After all, whose wallet is complete without a portrait of bare-chested guitarist Michael Bruce?
Black Sabbath: “Black Sabbath” and “Master Of Reality”
Is there a more ominous opening to an album than the rain, thunder and tolling bells that foretell the bone-shattering riff of the song “Black Sabbath” from its namesake album?
After wearing out my old copy, I’m grateful to have this upgrade. The three-part suite on Side 2 — “A Bit Of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” — sounds particularly good. The Sabs run through arrangements that incorporate classical guitar, jazz, blues and fiery rock. Thanks to the dead-quiet vinyl, all the nuances of Geezer Butler’s bass lines and Bill Ward’s drum fills and accents are sketched in fine detail.
I’ve always viewed the sound of “Master Of Reality” as akin to the La Brea Tar Pits. The sludge that coats “Sweet Leaf” and “Children Of The Grave” preserves the tunes like a bee in amber. Even as Sabbath influenced scores of bands with its heavy sound, it became something of a Sabbath trademark to offer a sonic “intermission.” Here, we get two Iommi instrumentals: the minstrel-like miniature “Embryo” and the J.S. Bach-influenced “Orchid.” This well-done MOR comes complete with raised cover letters and a fold-out poster of the band.
The Doors: “Absolutely Live” and “Live In New York, January 17, 1970″ (First Show)
When it comes to unpredictable and erratic live performer, the Doors’ Jim Morrison was up there with the likes of George Jones and Axl Rose. Thus, the four sides that comprise “Absolutely Live” were cobbled together from various shows between August 1969 and June 1970, representing some of the better live moments. “Live In New York,” meanwhile, is a complete account of a band at the top of its game and is a more satisfying album, in my view. On the heels of the soon-to-be-released “Morrison Hotel,” The Doors played a series of gigs in New York City’s Felt Forum that found Morrison on his best behavior and an NYC audience that was as receptive to the band as any. The Doors delivered white-hot performances of “Light My Fire,” “Soul Kitchen” and “Roadhouse Blues” along with scorching covers of “Who Do You Love” and “Little Red Rooster.”
Ray Charles: “The Great Ray Charles”
When your album covers and titles tout you as “Great” and “Genius,” you better be at least one of the two. That never was a problem for Ray Charles, whether he was belting out blistering blues or putting his stamp on country standards. Charles’ voice is unmistakable, so much that his keyboard playing is forgotten. This reissue of a 1956 instrumental release is a vivid reminder of Charles’ keen arranging, writing and interpreting abilities. Charles was pure soul, but his piano roots were in jazz, and the angular chords that dance around “The Ray” sound like a cocktail, equal parts Thelonius Monk and Fats Waller. Great sound, too, from Roosevelt Sheffield’s acoustic bass to the brush work by drummer William Peeples.
John Coltrane: “Coltrane Jazz”; “Coltrane Plays The Blues”; “My Favorite Things” and “Coltrane’s Sound”
This quartet of Coltrane reissues is a snapshot into one of the saxophonist’s most fertile periods: 1959-60. In fact, the material for the latter three albums was recorded during a remarkable October in 1960, when Coltrane and band mates McCoy Tyner (piano), Steve Davis (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums) laid down some of the hottest jazz of the day.
At the time of its release, “My Favorite Things” was a revelation. Coltrane took four standards and ran them through his saxophone until they emerged as something familiar but changed and new. In a few years Coltrane would turn the jazz world totally upside down; here, we get four LPs of expressive and melodic playing that set the standard. My recommendation is “Coltrane’s Sound,” the most overlooked of the bunch and full of lyrical and rapturous playing. The title is almost ironic, when you consider the path of Coltrane from Miles Davis’ bands to his own early ’60s work on through to “A Love Supreme” and “Interstellar Space.” No matter the time, place or composition, though, it really is Coltrane’s sound. That’s what’s here, and that’s all that matters.
For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• Buy the brand new edition of “Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records 1948-1991, 7th Edition”