Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Rod Stewart: Gold (Mercury, July 26, 2005) *****
Traffic: Gold (Island, July 26, 2005) *****
Joan Armatrading: Gold (A&M, July 26, 2005) ****
Cameo: Gold (Mercury, July 26, 2005) ****
This week there are four entries in Universal Music Group’s Gold series. Gold is a generally good quality series of double-disc compilations by UMG artists. These releases are well-packaged, contain good notes, and a satisfying inclusiveness in song selesction; most are excellent introductory overviews to an artist, or all you’ll ever need from an artist. They are the rough product equivalent of the currently running Sony BMG “The Essential” series, although unlike The Essentials, the collections aren’t fully career-spanning; no work recorded for non-Mercury labels are included.
Rod Stewart: Gold
This isn’t exactly a career overview, as it is limited to Stewart’s Mercury years, from 1969 to 1974 and contains nothing from his huge hitmaking Warner Brothers years. This is fine; Stewart’s whole musical approach changed when he left for Warners, taking on a less band-oriented, more hits-driven approach. Younger listeners might be unaware of just how great he was at his early 70’s peak; his name routinely came up with Mick Jagger and Robert Plant when people named great frontmen. Both his albums with The Faces and solo were notable for their excellent musicianship and Stewart’s interplay with his bands. Gold makes an excellent case for this, rounding up all his noteworthy solo singles and album cuts between The Rod Stewart Album (1969) and Smiler (1974). Stewart’s greatest album, Every Picture Tells A Story (1971) appears in its entirety. No material from the Faces’ albums appear, although the Faces get to shine on the thunderous version of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” from Every Picture. Anyone who bought previous Mercury compilations of this material won’t need this, but this is a swell place for new listeners to jump in.
This release represents the most comprehensive compilation of Traffic’s music ever, surpassing the fine 1991 collection Smiling Phases. This covers all of their albums from their 1968 U.S. debut, Mr. Fantasy to When The Eagle Flies from 1974; missing are selections from the 1994 reunion album, Far From Home, which appeared on Virgin. Traffic was one of the premiere English bands of the late 60’s/early 70’s. They began life in 1967 as a psychedelic band fonted by 18 year old Steve Winwood, already a recording veteran after his successful stint with the Spencer davis Group. A teenaged white soul shouter whose uncanny soulful voice could recall ray Charles’, Winwood ultimately dominated the group, but all of the members brought the goods to the table, including drummer/singer Jim Capaldi (who died earlier this year), singer/guitarist Dave Mason, and Chris Wood’s flute and reeds. Ric grech joined on bass in 1971, by which time, Traffic’s sound had changed, turinging into a long-form semi-jazz-rock band, featuring long, complex instrumental jams. Traffic was also adept at folk-rock and blues-rock; all of their 60’s albums are worth owning, and the somewhat spottier 70’s releases all contain gems. Gold is an excellent jumping in point, for those who want to dig a little deeper than the band’s well-known hits.
Joan Armatrading: Gold
Joan Armatrading isn’t well remembered now; despite critical acclaim and a cult audience, she was never really able to sell very many records in America. Her biggest release was Me Myself I in 1980, which peaked at #28 on the album charts; her biggest single in the States was “Frop The Pilot” which reached #78 in 1983. The prospect of a 43-cut double-disc anthology may seem daunting to a first-timer, but it is a splendid opportunity to get to know a fine underappreciated artist. Born on the island of St. Kitts, West Indies, Armatrading was a versatile singer/songwriter/guitarist who combined elements of folk, pop, reggae, and soul into a distinctive style that did produce some hits in the U.K., “Love And Affection” from 1977 being the biggest. This collection skips her 1972 debut, a collaboration with fellow Hair castmember Pam Nestor, picking up the story with her 1975 sophomore disc Back To the Night. Track Record, from 1983, is the last album represented, which is an odd choice, since she released an additional five albums for A&M through 1992. Still, 1975-1983 was by far her greatest era, and in addition to the hits, “Show Some Emotion”, “Down To Zero”, “I’m Lucky”, and “(I Love It When You) Call Me Names” are particular standouts.
Cameo Gold is really the same as the 2002 Mercury release Anthology, with a different cover but same track listing and liner notes. Cameo, from New York, were one of the most influential and important funk bands of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Known for their flamboyant stage shows and image, they mined a similar approach as George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic with bigger commercial results. Gold spans from their 1977 debut through 1986, and includes such hits as “Rigor Mortis”, “Find My Way”, “I Just Want To Be”, “She’s Strange”, and “Word Up!”. Their commercial fortunes began to decline in the late 1980’s, but released new albums through 2000; by focusing on their peak, Gold captures them at their funkiest and most outrageous. Lead singer Larry Blackman eventually became vice-president of A&R at Warner Brothers, who signed the group in 1992. Whether you get Gold or Anthology, there’s enough here to keep old-school hardcore funksters happy.
Among other re-issues this week, some of the more notable are:
Rhino’s 10-disc attempt to archive the 1990’s, Whatever: The ’90s Pop and Culture Box. This also marks the first major sign of 90’s nostalgia creeping in (by all indications, nostalgia for the 90’s is enormous already, well ahead of schedule. O these times we live in). Whatever‘s admirably inclusive track listing leans towards alternative rock and soul and goes light on electronica, hip-hop, and pop, but does make efforts to represent everything. Thus, we get 130 songs by R.E.M., Collective Soul, Sinead O’Connor, Black Crowes, Moby, Mudhoney, Des’ree, Pantera, C&C Music Factory, Divinyls, Belly, Hanson, Social Distortion, Helmet, Oasis, Wilco, Sneaker Pimps, LEN, and a similar mix of others all in one package, which is an admirably eclectic, but listenable melange. Missing are some big names: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Britney Spears, Smashing Pumpkins, Elliott Smith, Public Enemy, Metallica, Phish, and others that are at least as indicative of the 90’s as Marcy Playground, Snow, and Michael Penn. However, like the Rhino 70’s series Have A Nice Day, this leaves the door open for future editions. It’s intersting to listen to this collection and hear huge hits you somehow missed at the time, or dimly remember. Great care has gone into the 90-kitsch packaging, as is the traditional norm at Rhino. Do you need it? If you’re just beginning to buid a 90’s library, it’s indispensible. If your tastes are fairly narrow, it’ll be a bumpy listen.
Disky records has re-issued a 2001 Arrested Development compilation, Greatest Hits. The Southern hip-hop/alternative rap group Arrested Development was seriously championed as Next Big Thing after the 1992 smashes “Mr. Wendal”, “Tennessee”, and “People Every Day”. What followed was one of the more spectacular failures of the 1990’s as their next two albums tanked big-time; the group broke up in 1994. The 18-cut Greatest Hits is probably all you’ll ever need. Also on Disky, the long-out-of-print Race With The Devil from U.K. all-female metal band, Girlschool. Originally released in 1986 on Raw Power, it came towards the end of their career. Another disky re-issue is The Collection, a 2002 Belinda Carlisle best-of.
Sony Japan has re-issued Radio K.A.O.S., an undistinguished and largely incomprehensible concept album about a deaf-dumb-blind and handicapped kid who communicates telepathically, or something like that, from Roger Waters. The album peaked at #50 in 1987 and vanished quickly, while Waters’ erstwhile bandmates Pink Floyd made millions with A Momentary Lapse of Reason and its accompanying tour. Waters has only released one studio album since, Amused To Death in 1992.
Unidisc has put out four hard to find Del Shannon releases, Hats Off To Larry (1963), Little Town Flirt (1963), Handy Man (1964), and Drop Down And Get Me (1981). Some mistakenly classify Shannon under “teen idol”, but in fact Shannon was one of the most credible rockers during rock’s great pre-Beatles dry spell. The first three albums represent his first three original releases and all are good period pieces in the manner of his hits “Runaway” and “Hats Off To Larry”. The 1981 release is a fine comeback effort produced by Tom Petty and featuring the Heartbreakers as backing band; Petty fans should check it out.
And: Doo Wop 45’s on CD Vol. 13-16., on Collectibles, for the hardcore collector. Tropicalia master Caetano Veloso’s 1971 self-titled effort, on Universal International, an unusually downbeat album. Two 70’s albums from Jackie Lomax, former Apple recording artist who never fulfilled predictions of stardom, Home Is In My Head and Three, on Water records. Very Best of Lonnie Johnson on Collectibles, a fine overview of the legendary jazz-blues performer. Also look for Shake Some Action, the classic 1976 power-pop album from the Flamin’ Groovies, their first (and best) after relocating from San Francisco to London. The title cut is maybe the greatest little rock tune ever.
Weekend Reissue Roundup usually appears on Saturday mornings.
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