Valleys Of Neptune
Legacy/Experience Hendrix (88697 64056 2)
This album kicks off a new series of Jimi Hendrix releases with a bang and is especially exciting as all tracks are previously unreleased.
Most are from the final recording sessions of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, including sizzling versions of “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Fire.” Billy Cox then replaced bassist Noel Redding, resulting in a bluesy reworking of “Stone Free” on this album and a great version of the title track.
The confidence Hendrix exudes in both his instrumental and vocal skills is clearly evident, as is the joy he has in working in the studio. It’s a key reason why there’s been so much material available for posthumous release; any spare time Hendrix had he evidently felt was best spent in the studio. His fans are the beneficiaries, and there are sure to be further surprises on the upcoming reissues of Hendrix’s core catalog.
— Gillian G. Gaar
Jerry Garcia Band
Let It Rock
Suffice it to say, the only thing more plentiful than Grateful Dead archival recordings may be quibbling politicians in Washington. Nevertheless, this 1975 concert by the Jerry Garcia Band is something of a standout in that it features an all-star lineup consisting of Garcia, veteran keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, bassist John Kahn and drummer Ron Tutt.
The material is consistent throughout — not always the case with these vintage offerings — but given that it culls Chuck Berry, the Stones, Holland/Dozier/Holland and a handful of Garcia’s staples (“Sugaree,” “Friend of the Devil”), the selection really shines.
Hopkins’ performances, especially on his own “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo,” alone are worth the price of admission.
Consequently, Let It Rock constitutes a superior live set, thanks to an equal emphasis on both structure and improvisation. Anyone interested in essential Garcia would be well-advised to start with this.
— Lee Zimmerman
Leave Your Sleep
Easily Natalie Merchant’s most ambitious album, Leave Your Sleep is an impressive opus that finds Merchant turning the lyrics, lullabies and nursery rhymes of classic literary authors into a varied hybrid of pop, folk, jazz, zydeco, reggae and classical melodies.
A sprawling two-CD set, it finds her collaborating with an equally impressive cast of musicians — Wynton Marsalis, The Klezmatics, the New York Philharmonic, Medeski, Martin & Wood, among them — and defying preconceived notions about genre-specific sounds in the process. Merchant’s pliable vocals have always allowed her to cross parameters, although anyone clinging to a previous impression of her as the spinning front woman for 10,000 Maniacs may find this grab bag difficult to embrace.
Regardless, there’s no denying the charms inherent in “The Land of Nod,” “No One Ever Marries Me,” “Crying My Little One” and “The Walloping Window Blind,” songs that blend a child-like charm with an elegiac musical view.
— Lee Zimmerman
Iggy And The Stooges
Raw Power: Deluxe Edition
Columbia/Legacy (88697 65714 2)
This latest reissue of Raw Power has enough extras to entice anyone who’s a fan of this proto-punk classic to buy it once again.
The two-disc Legacy Edition features the original album with beautifully remastered sound, reaffirming that the initial mastering job — not David Bowie’s mixes — was the culprit in muddying the sound. The second disc has a previously unreleased show from 1973, with Iggy Pop at his brawling, bratty, take-no-prisoners best, along with two other previously unreleased studio tracks.
In the four-disc Deluxe Edition, there’s a third disc of outtakes and alternative mixes, most previously unreleased (the Raw Power outtakes of “I’m Hungry” and “I Got A Right” are especially impressive); the fourth disc is a DVD with a “Making Of” documentary. The Deluxe Edition also includes a 48-page book and bonus single, making this the choice of Raw Power devotees.
— Gillian G. Gaar
Capitol Latin/EMI (50999 3 08043 2 6)
This first-ever box set chronicling the career of the Tejano singer, who was tragically murdered at age 23, provides an excellent overview of her music.
The four-CD version of the set is naturally the most comprehensive, each CD covering a different area: “Cumbias y Pop,” “Tejano y Rancheras,” “English” and “Live.” To those only familiar with Selena’s posthumous, English-language hits like “I Could Fall In Love” and “Dreaming Of You,” the Spanish-language CDs are key to revealing the talent that had her on the verge of becoming a major crossover star.
Selena was the kind of vocalist whose singing appeared effortless, a major factor that made hits like “Como La Flor” and “Fotos Y Recuerdos” (her cover of The Pretenders’ “Back On The Chain Gang”) so appealing. And she really shines on the live disc, kicked off with the “Disco Medley” that opened her record-setting appearance at the Houston Astrodome on Feb. 26, 1995. La Leyenda (“The Legend”) is also available in two-disc and single-disc editions.
— Gillian G. Gaar
Not sure why bands do this. Apparently covering their own songs allows them to keep more of the pie if people buy these versions instead of the originals – always a big if. This is all about layers of irony and nostalgia.
Anyway, Celebration is a punchy re-recordings album, the current lineup (and most significantly as these things go, vocalist Bernie Shaw, 22 years with the band) blazing through tracks like “Gypsy,” “Look At Yourself” and late rocker “Free ’n’ Easy,” plus two tracks that could have fit the excellent recent studio album Wake The Sleeper.
In general, the band attack these songs, percussively slamming them, vocally articulating them (thespian to the max), Hammond grinding them, accenting relentlessly. In other words, there’s an ebullient on-fire aspect to the exercise, which I suppose was required but nonetheless is emphatically there.
It’s weird. It’s almost as if, sonically, Heep is raising the stakes against their chief rival Yes in the soul-replenishing positivity well-of-good tidings department, and like I say, accomplishing it through performance, because they aren’t re-writing the old songs in the image of their more direct and succinct philosophy of spiritual bathing.
So, yeah, Wake The Sleeper did it with the full arsenal, and this is doing it through tight, punchy, energetic performance of old chestnuts picked from a bewildering kaleidoscope of albums and their attendant vibes. Highlights: “Bird Of Prey” and “Sunrise,” but bloody ’ell, I know the Germans like it, but please, no more “Free Me.”
— Martin Popoff
Funky Midnight Mover: The Atlantic Studio Recordings (1962-1978)
Rhino Handmade (RHM2 07753)
Wilson Pickett established a vital connection to rock ’n’ roll with his first R&B chart-topper “In The Midnight Hour.” Co-written by Pickett and guitarist Steve Cropper, “In The Midnight Hour,” along with three-chord teen anthems “Louie Louie” and “Gloria,” provided the musical foundation upon which emerging 1960s garage bands developed their chops. Pickett also added discotheque favorites “Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” to a string of uptempo numbers that rock and soul showbands worked into their acts.
A colossal achievement, Funky Midnight Mover: The Atlantic Studio Recordings (1962-1978) compiles 154 tracks, beginning with “I Found A Love,” a Top 10 vocal-group single with Pickett singing lead for The Falcons. The classy, elaborate six-CD volume opens to a 92-page book with essays, track-by-track commentary, and recording and discography details. The sound remastering is impeccable both on the 68 mono tracks and the stereo recordings, which encompass all studio efforts since January 1968. The sixth disc features 18 rare and previously unreleased cuts, stretching from soul and gospel to later disco recordings so obscure that some songwriter credits are listed as “unknown.”
With nearly four dozen R&B chartmakers, Funky Midnight Mover captures Pickett injecting an unmatched raw-edged soulfulness into the top studios of the era: Stax and American in Memphis; Sigma Sound in Philadelphia; Fame in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Wherever he recorded, Pickett epitomized gritty intensity whether on upbeat grooves, deep soul ballads, blues, funk, gospel or, most famously, southern-based R&B.
He also cultivated his connection to rock and pop on such titles as “Hey Joe,” “Sugar, Sugar,” “Born To Be Wild” and “Hey Jude,” which introduced guitarist Duane Allman to many radio listeners. Negotiating the crosscurrents of rock and soul, Pickett’s final Top 5 R&B smash, the blistering “Fire And Water,” had been the title track to a 1970 album by the British blues-rock band Free. It’s one more example of Pickett’s unique ability to enrich music from a wide variety of sources. www.rhino.com
— Joseph Tortelli