By Howard Whitman
Sometimes, a reissue of an old out-of-print album is like a great gift from out of the blue.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all about the new stuff. I try to be wide-open to new progressive artists, as well as fresh releases from the ones who’ve been creating this kind of music for years (sometimes decades). Progressive rock is a genre that’s all about what’s new.
But there are those albums—you know the ones—that you loved when they first came out, and for whatever reason (breakups, theft, flooding, etc.) are no longer in your collection. Or perhaps you own it in a format you no longer use (8-tracks, anyone?) and would jump at the chance to get a new, sealed LP or CD of it. Or maybe (as with the Beatles reissues that I go for every time), you want to experience the newly remixed/remastered/5:1/Dolby Atmos/whatever version—the latest iteration of an old classic.
Whatever the case, we have enormous bandwidth for reissues (at least, I do). And in the case of this month’s crop, I’m going to discuss four out-of-print albums that were recently rereleased, happily saving us all from having to hunt down a used copy for $100 or more.
When I interviewed Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford for Goldmine magazine in 2017, I asked if he was ever going to rerelease his long-out-of-print debut solo album, Smallcreep’s Day, to which he replied “Maybe we should … Yeah, why not? I haven’t heard it in years. The long side was good—adventurous. It worked.” It sure did, and I had selfish motives for asking about it—I really wanted to buy a copy! I’d owned the original vinyl since it came out in 1980, but that was long gone.
Miracle of miracles, 2022 has seen the issue of a new CD version on the Music on CD label. It’s no-frills—there are no bonus tracks, no remix was done—it’s simply the original album reissued on compact disc. That’s fine with me, because it always sounded pristine to these ears. And the music? Utterly superb. I think of it as the great lost Genesis album, as it’s had sporadic availability since it first came out on the Passport label.
But it’s magnificent; the songs are sweeping and symphonic—think …And Then There Were Three/Duke-era Genesis. This was done at the point when Rutherford had successfully taken over lead guitar duties in Genesis following Steve Hackett’s departure, and he used Smallcreep’s Day as a showcase for his playing on 12-string, electric lead, acoustic, and bass guitars, along with the requisite bass pedals. The stunning musicians on this album included founding Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips on Tony Banks-like keyboards, Simon Phillips (later of The Who and Toto) providing fantastic drumming, and singer Noel McCalla, who provided a soulful, yearning voice for Rutherford’s beautifully constructed songs.
The first side, as Rutherford mentioned in our interview, was the “long” one—a full album side devoted to a storyline based on the 1965 novel Smallcreep’s Day by Peter Currell Brown, an allegorical tale of Mr. Smallcreep and the journey he takes in the factory he’s worked in for 40 years. It’s a wonderful album, not diminished or dated one bit, even though it’s over 40 years old at this point. I’d suggest getting it fast before it goes out of print again!
Gentle Giant never got stadium-huge like contemporary bands such as Genesis or Yes did, but they are still considered one of the finest prog bands ever, and a pivotal one in the development of the genre. For such an important band, however, they’ve had spotty treatment in terms of their back catalog. Classics like The Missing Piece are readily available, but some are harder to find. The band’s 10th and final album, Civilian, has been virtually impossible to get since it came out in 1980. 2022 sees a newly remastered CD of the album (with vinyl to follow) from Alucard Records.
This is actually the first-ever CD release of this LP, and for the occasion, an unreleased track, “Heroes No More,” has been added. The album itself, engineered by Geoff Emerick of Beatles fame, found the band stripping back its style for a more commercially viable, less ornate sound. At times, it brings to mind the work of Supertramp from this era. But there are some more proggy pieces, such as the keyboard-driven “Shadows on the Street” and the Jethro Tull-like “It’s Not Imagination.” “Inside Out” is another very fine, melodic track with an almost Genesis-like feel. Civilian is, of course, an essential purchase for Gentle Giant fans, but if you’re not familiar with this often-overlooked band, it’s a fine intro.
When Kansas released Somewhere To Elsewhere in 2000, it should’ve been a bigger deal at the time than it was. The album represented a full reunion, for the first time since Audio-Visions in 1980, of the original Kansas lineup, including guitarist/keyboardist/main songwriter Kerry Livgren. All of the songs for the 2000 reunion were written by Livgren, and terrific pieces such as “Icarus II” (a sequel of sorts to “Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel” from 1975’s Masque) showed how much the band had missed his writing in the intervening years. Trouble was, Somewhere To Elsewhere came out on the somewhat obscure Magna Carta label, which went out of business soon after, relegating this superb album to lost-classic status—until now.
Recently reissued on CD by Cleopatra Records (while acknowledging the Magna Carta label), it’s also received a welcome, first-ever LP version on red vinyl. As with the Rutherford release, there are no bonus tracks and it doesn’t appear to have been remixed, but the sound quality is excellent, retaining the original release’s focus, front and center, on the excellent instrumental work from the band and hearty vocals from Steve Walsh (along with Robby Steinhardt and latter-day Kansas bassist Billy Greer).
Speaking of Walsh, his solo album from the same period, Glossolalia, also originally released on Magna Carta and also long out of print, has gotten the same treatment from Magna Carta/Cleopatra. A collaboration with late Magellan keyboardist/songwriter Trent Gardner, it’s pretty out there (as is its extremely odd cover art by Dave McKean, cover artist for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels series). But Glossolalia (a term for “speaking in tongues”), also out in 2000, found Walsh at his most creative juncture as a solo artist, and the album has powerful playing, emotive vocals from Walsh, and vital, energized songwriting.
I can only say good things about both the Kansas and Steve Walsh reissues—with one exception. The Kansas CD back cover lists founding Kansas bassist Dave Hope as “Dave Rope.” Oops. But this small blunder barely diminishes what is otherwise a well-done, welcome return of an incredible pair of releases from the most American of prog bands.