Artist: Album (label; release date) 1-5 stars
The Fall: Complete Peel Sessions (Castle Us; June 28, 2005) *****
Rickie Lee Jones: Duchess of Coolsville: An Anthology (Rhino; June 28, 2005) *****
Dolly Parton: The Essential Dolly Parton (RCA; Jun 28, 2005) *****
Asia: Anthology [Bonus Track] (Inside Out Music; June 28, 2005) ****
A number of good compilations out there this week; among the more notable, on sale now, include:
The Fall: Complete Peel Sessions
Pity the poor Fall completist. Perennial cult band The Fall have released 40 albums, not including another 40-plus compilations, since 1979; they’ve amassed a mess of collectible records, from b-sides to live recordings to radio appearences. Led by Mark E. Smith of Manchester, The Fall have undergone many evolutions and lineup changes over the years, as well. Originally an abrasive post-punk indie band, they have retrospectively been recognized as forefathers of lo-fi with their rough hewn rockabilly-meets-Velvet Underground delivered with an almost art-rock sensibility; all recorded noisily on low grade equipment, which they exploited for its low grade sonic textures. In the 80′s, the band pursued a more radio-friendly indie pop sound, which was catchy but remained unpredictable. In the 1990′s, the band experimented with electronics and tape manipulation; in the 00′s they’ve managed to achieve a solid fusion of these distinct eras. Complete Peel Sessions, at 6 discs, is something only the completists are liable to buy, but it is one of those rare collections that contains enough consistent interest and scope to be a revelation to the adventurous newcomer who picks it up. It comprises of a total of 24 sessions recorded for the late John Peel’s influential program, recorded during the span of the band’s career, capturing them at distinct junctures that each have their own particular sound, vibe, and chemistry. Peel himself described the band as “always different, always the same”; it aptly describes the subtle evolutions from session to session with a certain core aesthetic always remaining. The recordings are, in many cases, cleaner than their conterparts on the original albums. Smith’s tendency to break-up and reassemble the band every few years (which also included hiring and firing his wife), makes this an especially interesting listen for the diehard fan; you can hear each lineup reach its own little mini-peak, and break down again, making this an epic saga. Those who simply can’t justify this purchase but want to experience this band should get the excellent 2004 compilation, 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats on Beggar’s Banquet. But for Fall fans who dreamed of this day, the day has arrived at last.
Rickie Lee Jones: Duchess of Coolsville: An Anthology
Jones has had something of a frustrating career; in some respects, she can be considered an underachiever who broke big with her 1979 self-titled debut and never quite fulfilled its potential. In other respects, her career is frustrating because it was often much better than it was given credit for; while she never again matched the commercial impact of her debut, and veered wildly from genre to genre on her releases, especially in the 1980′s, she often did come up with some excellent material; she also is an accomplished interpretor of others’ material. She hit the top-40 precisely twice, both with singles from her debut; “Chuck E.’s In Love” (#4; #79 on the Black charts) and “Young Blood” (#40). Her music has been in the style of neo-beatnik singer/songwriter, art-pop artist, jazz, synth-pop, cover-version balladeer, unplugged folkie/jazzbo, standards singer. If anyone needed a career retrospective, Jones did; there had been no attempt to compile her work before. Rhino does what it does best; it provides an extensive 3-disc overview of Jones’ career complete with excellent notes, essays, and photographs. All of her studio albums are represented here, as well as a generous helping of live material, rarities, and eight unreleased tracks. It’s a gorgeously packaged, lovingly assembled collection that instantly redeems many of her more dubious experiments of the past, and puts her greatest work into much better context.
Dolly Parton: The Essential Dolly Parton
As unchivalrous as it is to mention this, Dolly Parton is now 59; she’s well into the autumn years of a recording career that dates all the way back to 1967 (and a professional career that dates back much further). She’s been around so long and has been such a compelling public persona that it’s hard to conceive of a day when she’s not still out there, doing what she does best. This collection opens with “Dumb Blonde” from Hello I’m Dolly, her 1967 debut and concludes with “Shine” from Little Sparrow, from 2001. Therein lies the draw; this overview spans her entire career and includes her work from Monument, RCA, Columbia, and Sugar Hill records, making this the most thorough overview of her work available yet. For a very long time the 1975 compilation Best of Dolly Parton served as the best introduction to her career, even though it cut off before her crossover hitmaking years. Eight of the ten songs from that collection are on the first disc (the two Porter Wagoner ones are left off in favor of her own compositions), plus a couple of good additions from the era, including her version of “Mule Skinner’s Blues”. These are followed by a thorough overview of the 1976-1991 pop-oriented era on disc two, including all of her crossover hits, and a good slice of her country hits. “Shine” outshines the Collective Soul original, but it’s tacked on; nothing is represented between 1991-2001 (mostly on Columbia), the biggest quibble with this album. Still, this is the best place to get a broad overview of Parton’s career, which despite some missteps and clumsy commercial moves has always remained relatively consistent, and Parton always sounds sincere. The remastered sound is excellent, too.
Asia: Anthology [Bonus Track]
Quick, how many Asia tunes can you name? If you’re like most people, “Heat Of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” will come fairly quickly to mind. If you’re a big listener of 80′s arena rock, you might also recall “Don’t Cry” as well. Only an Asia fanatic is going to be able to recall much more than that; after the band’s second album, Alpha, reached #6, the band’s commercial fortunes plummeted in spectacular fashion; it’s a rare group that debuts with a number 1 album, follows it up with a top-10, and disappears so thoroughly from the map after that. What might come as a surprise to those who tuned out is that Asia has released albums right up through the 00′s, still titling them with single words beginning with “A” (a trick borrowed from America, who named their albums with H-words). Not only that, they have released mountains of arcana, from live albums to studio outtakes, a grand total of 26 studio, rarity, and live albums since 1982. The band was already a dinosaur when it was founded; a prog-rock band comprised of veterans of Yes, King Crimson, and ELP, it appeared just when prog-rock had gone out of style. Thus, while many dismissed their albums, they did manage to retain a few prog-rock fans who had relatively few alternatives in the 80′s; presumably it is they who are the intended buyers of all their releases. Anthology is a chance for anyone else to catch up with the band; the tracks span most of their career, from 1982-1999, and at 17 tracks, it isn’t larded out with filler. Anthology originally appeared in 1999 on Original Masters, the bonus track is a live version of “Time Again”.
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