Three years after the reissue that marked the 20th anniversary of Lenny Kravitz’s debut album, Let Love Rule, we have a similar two-disc set—packed with bonus tracks—commemorating the 21st anniversary of his sophomore effort, Mama Said. Like the earlier reissue, this deluxe edition offers immaculately remastered audio. The album sounded great back then, with a big, round, bottom end and intimate, full-bodied vocals. It only sounds better now, with even more definition among the various instruments, most of them handled by Kravitz himself (one of rock’s most underrated one-man-bands).
The album, of course, spawned the huge hit “It Ain’t Over til It’s Over,” a slice of Philly soul-styled R&B that sounds every bit as sweet today as it did 21 years ago (when it already sounded like a joyful throwback to the prevailing sounds of two decades prior). It’s not hard to see why this is still one of Kravitz’s most popular tunes, as it’s one of the hookiest he’s written. Slash’s guitar work on the opening one-two punch of “Fields of Joy” and “Always on the Run” remains as startlingly energizing as it ever did (the guitarist co-wrote the latter song).
Another collaboration on the album is heard on the song “All I Ever Wanted,” which was co-written by, and features the piano playing of, the then-16-year-old Sean Lennon. Reissue producer Mathieu Bitton tells (in the new liner notes) of a planned third collaboration for the album that unfortunately never came to light. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was supposed to play on “What Goes Around Comes Around,” but illness prevented the legend, who passed away six months after the album’s release, from participating.
The most common charge against Kravitz as an artist has always been that he lacks originality, merely copying the styles of other artists. When revisiting Mama Said, there’s no denying that artists such as Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Sly and the Family Stone, and Stevie Wonder served as models for his overall style and approach. But if Kravitz was a mere revivalist, would he still be going strong in the third decade of his career? Anyone with good instincts in the studio can approximate the late ‘60s and early ‘70s atmosphere that permeates this (and other) Kravitz albums. Not everyone can infuse those aural recreations with genuine passion. His ability to do so is a vital key to his longevity.
This reissue adds a whopping 21 bonus tracks. On the first disc is a pair of previously unreleased remixes of “It Ain’t Over til It’s Over” meant for a 12” single. Also on disc one are a trio of studio B-sides. The centerpiece of disc two is the previously unreleased, five-song live set, recorded November 15, 1991 in Rotterdam. Kravitz’s band really cooks, turning “More Than Anything in This World” —arguably one of the album’s slighter tracks—into an emotional, slow-burn, eight minute epic with plenty of crowd participation.
The three live B-sides, recorded in Japan on July 10, 1991, are better recorded, with the band up front and the audience deemphasized when compared to the Rotterdam tracks. Eight previously unreleased demos will be fascinating for the hardcore fans, with three versions of a song that never quite came together, “Riding on the Wings of My Lord” (a great title, but Kravitz dum-dums the lyrics through two very different versions before presenting the song as an instrumental). Home demos of “It Ain’t Over til It’s Over,” “What the … Are We Saying?,” and “The Difference is Why” are sonically primitive, but interesting windows into his creative process.
Packaged in a tri-fold digipak with a booklet containing lyrics (to the original album tracks only), the text of the Virgin Records press release announcing the album, interesting photos, and a brief introduction written by Kravitz, the 21st anniversary reissue of Mama Said is a very worthy release.