You can feel it in the air-summer’s out of reach. Now all that’s left to do is pack up the summer-share coffee maker and wallow in that brief but exquisitely melancholy moment between the aimless drift of summer and the forward propulsion of autumn in New York. Below, Manhattan Music’s reviewers help you feed that ache with their picks of the past: 20th-century music that’s been remastered, repackaged and re-released in the year 2000.
Louis Armstrong-The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings
Completists will have a field day-actual Hot Five alternate takes!-but for the rest of us, this four-CD collection offers a chance to look at the Big Picture. The small-group recordings that Armstrong made from 1925 to 1929 are the Bible of jazz, arguably the Bible of all American popular music that swings. Columbia went to obsessive lengths in the remastering, especially in correcting the pitch problems that dogged even the original recordings. All the better to appreciate Pops’ luminous trumpet solos, little concerti that follow their own rules of tension and release as the rhythm section chugs on. A bonus: the box packaging is as fancy as a first-class Storyville whorehouse, a milieu well evoked by the abundance of sepia period photographs.
Ella and Louis
This being Armstrong’s official centenary year, it’s only fitting he get a slice of the reissue action enjoyed by last year’s birthday guy, Duke Ellington. Indeed, in a more logical world, the reissue to have would be Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington (Verve), their 1961 summit meeting. But that session was a rather tossed-off affair and sounds like it. The keeper this year is Ella and Louis , an equally tossed-off 1956 pairing of Satchmo with Ella Fitzgerald that turns out to be an occasion for serendipity. The chamber setting couldn’t be more unlikely-the Oscar Peterson–led rhythm section essentially hides behind the drapes, leaving Armstrong and Fitzgerald to work through a collection of romantic Tin Pan Alley ballads as if they were sweethearts on a date. This is nicely suited for Fitzgerald and her silvery pipes, but for Armstrong, who was more accustomed at the time to bringing down the house with marathon trumpet solos, well, who knew his gravelly parlando would be so well suited to such longing?
The Carter Family
Can the Circle Be Unbroken
The Carters were long ago dubbed the “First Family of Country Music,” and the 20 songs collected on Can the Circle Be Unbroken- 17 recorded in 1935, three in 1940-remain, alongside Jimmie Rodgers’ work, part of the Alpha and Omega of country music. Pre-Carters hillbilly recordings were largely of instrumental string bands. But via the title cut, along with “Wildwood Flower” and “River of Jordan” (or “Jerrrrden,” as they pronounce it), the Carters’ arid close-harmony singing and Maybelle Carter’s chicken-scratch guitar accompaniment had as seismic an effect on aspiring country musicians as Shakespeare had on playwrights.
Johnny Cash at San Quentin (The Complete 1969 Concert)
Johnny Cash had played three San Quentin Prison concerts (his first engagement in 1958 was seen by an incarcerated Merle Haggard) by the time he recorded this live album in 1969, which became his only No. 1 record. This expanded version is different from the original LP in that it presents the entire concert in chronological order and contains seven additional songs, including “I Don’t Know Where I’m Bound.”
Onstage, Mr. Cash was accompanied by rockabilly legend Carl Perkins on guitar and the latter-day Carter Family-including his bride June Carter-on vocals. And from the opening chords of “Big River,” all of the pieces of the storied Cash sound were in place: jaunty boom-chick-a-boom rhythms, hot licks from Mr. Perkins and Bob Wootton, the Man in Black’s weather-beaten baritone and cheeky stage patter.
Indeed, a good part of this album’s appeal is the deft way in which Mr. Cash works this truly tough crowd. Introducing “Starkville City Jail,” Mr. Cash tells the crowd that it’s the story of how he was busted picking flowers after curfew. “You can’t hardly win, can you?” he says, before dedicating the song to the inmates “to kinda get back at whoever you want to out there.”
Then he follows up with two back-to-back performances of the freshly written “San Quentin.” Each time Mr. Cash spits out the line “San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell,” a roomful of hardened criminals roars to life and you can feel the cold sweat rolling down the backs of every prison official on the premises.
But after “Wanted Man,” which he co-wrote with Bob Dylan, Mr. Cash defuses the tension with Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley,” a medley of hits and some kidding around. At one point, he thanks prison officials for letting him play, and the inmates respond with a chorus of boos. “Aww, you don’t really mean that now,” Mr. Cash says. The laughter that follows is big-the sound of every trigger finger in the joint relaxing.
Trumpeter Don Cherry died in 1995, and while he is in no danger of being forgotten, it’s too easy to remember him as Ornette Coleman’s right-hand man on those seminal 1959-1961 Coleman quartet recordings and not, for instance, as the composer and improviser responsible for some of the most satisfying avant work of the 60’s. Those albums were forgotten-at least until Blue Note reissued Symphony for Improvisers a few years back and now, this year, a 1965 session, Complete Communion . The album consists of two extended Cherry compositions, the second of which, “Elephantasy,” is too drone-ish and redolent of Coleman for my taste. But the title piece is a joy. Cherry (here on cornet) and drummer Ed Blackwell generate a storm of rhythmic interest, and tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri provides the macho low-end punch, which will surprise those who know him for his more recent slick stuff.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
A wise man once said it’s better to burn out than fade away. Creedence was proof of that. John Fogerty’s group released five Top 10 albums in 1969 and 1970, and by 1972 the band was no more. But 30 years down the road, Creedence’s swamp-roots rock still sounds vital. As commercial as the band was, there’s something primal at the bottom of Mr. Fogerty’s music-something that three decades of radio airplay couldn’t kill.
Fantasy recently remastered the band’s entire catalog, save for its greatest hits package, Chronicle , using something called the 20-bit K2 Super Coding System. Whatever the hell it is, it makes the music sound close and clear.
These two albums, both released in 1970, represent, respectively, Creedence’s apogee and the beginning of its descent. Cosmo’s Factory , which arrived in July of that year, became the band’s biggest seller and yielded “Travelin’ Band,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” the band’s cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the transcendental “Long As I Can See the Light.” Pendulum was out in time for Christmas and, though its only immediately recognizable tunes were “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and “Hey Tonight,” the album holds up even though, while it was being recorded, the band’s flameout had already begun.
This Is Easy: The Best of Marshall Crenshaw
Back in the 80’s, when Detroit-born, New York–based Marshall Crenshaw was turning out power-pop gems like some sort of musical De Beers, the rest of the world was caught up watching Michael Jackson dance with zombies and Cyndi Lauper cavort with Captain Lou Albano. It didn’t help, either, that Mr. Crenshaw’s videos tended to be as edgy as his Doogie Howser looks.
Mr. Crenshaw deserves to be rediscovered; Rhino’s just-out 22-track compilation of his greatest hooks is a good start. Mr. Crenshaw’s got a voice as sweet and clear as 7-Up, a jangly guitar sound, a true love of pop music-be it the kind made by Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Gene Vincent or Phil Spector-and a knack for writing it. And most of Mr. Crenshaw’s best work, including “Cynical Girl,” “Mary Anne” “Little Wild One (No. 5),” “What Do You Dream Of?” and his cover of Ben Vaughn’s “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee),” is collected here. Completists will want Rhino/Warner’s reissue of Mr. Crenshaw’s debut album, which is larded with bonus tracks. And someone should start badgering the labels to give Downtown , Mr. Crenshaw’s best album to date, the same treatment
The 5th Dimension
Up Up and Away (1967)
The Magic Garden (1968)
Stoned Soul Picnic (1968)
The Age of Aquarius (1969)
The black equivalent of the Mamas and the Papas was never hip, but now that the group’s contemporaries, the Free Design, have been resuscitated with the hipster Now Sounds movement, it’s reassessment time. The 5th Dimension’s backing band can be heard on Phil Spector and Beach Boys albums, so why was it considered kitschy on the albums that Ms. McCoo, her husband, Billy Davis, and company put out? Now that Buddha has released five of them for the first time on CD, you can make up your own mind. If you’re looking for a starting point, the Jimmy Webb song cycle Magic Garden is sweet and moody enough for Nick Drake fans. Or there’s The Age of Aquarius , the band’s biggest commercial success, which includes a cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” that is certainly no more ridiculous than Madonna’s take on “Fever.” Loosen up and let the sun shine in.
Once Bitten Twice Shy
Frizzy-haired, dark-goggled Ian Hunter doesn’t just look like an eccentric. The British Mr. Hunter is best known for singing a David Bowie song, “All the Young Dudes,” with his band Mott the Hoople, but his own tunes have been covered by Barry Manilow (“Ships”), the dreadful L.A. puff-metal band Great White (“Once Bitten Twice Shy”), and the Presidents of the United States of America for the Drew Carey Show theme (“Cleveland Rocks”). The two-disc Once Bitten Twice Shy attempts to make sense of Mr. Hunter’s 25-year solo career, but is ill-advisedly split into halves covering “rockers” and “ballads.” Many of the cuts also suffer from dated production: David Sanborn’s icky sax break mars “All American Alien Boy,” and each late-80’s cut is mired in dynamics worthy of a Richard Marx record. Still, Mr. Hunter’s strong traditionalist songwriting and his distinct adenoidal voice give this collection a beguiling backbone, and such songs as “Bastard,” “Standing in My Light” and the title track make the case that Mr. Hunter deserves a chapter in the secret history of classic rock.
The History of Rock
Despite the best efforts of the Beastie Boys, the half-remembered 3rd Bass and Kid Rock himself, the corny specter of Vanilla Ice still haunts the white boys of rap. On The History of Rock , Bob Ritchie, a.k.a. Kid Rock, seems intent on showing that cuts from his out-of-print albums-1993′ s The Polyfuze Method and 1996’s Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp -were more “real” than Vanilla Ice’s work. But more importantly, Kid Rock shows that even back then he was rocking the party-something that distinguishes him from his tortured Detroit pal Eminem.
Rock has re-recorded most of the tracks on this album, which in addition to being disingenuous, makes this a bit of a stretch as a straight reissue. (1992’s “3 Sheets to the Wind,” which was not updated, benefits from its anachronistic electro sheen). But it’s hard to resist a guy who manages to combine and synthesize his fondness for Southern rock, classic country (“Prodigal Son,” “Abortion”), metal (“American Bad Ass,” “Dark & Grey”) and hip-hop as well.
Expensive Shit / He Miss Road
Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti was the James Brown of Africa, taking from funk what funk took from Africa. In the process, he became enough of a political force that the Nigerian government defenestrated his mother. More than 20 years after the originals were released, MCA Records has put out 10 remastered twofers that combine two of Kuti’s albums in one package. For some reason, the label has overlooked such cornerstones as 1977’s Zombie , but Expensive Shit / He Miss Road, both from 1975, show Kuti at his peak. The drummer and bandleader on most of these releases was Tony Allen. His trip-hop world fusion CD, Black Voices , was the finest release of 1999, and the Japanese label P-Vine has reissued two CDs of his late-70’s work. Hunt them down .
The Meters (1969)
Look-Ka Py Py (1970)
Cabbage Alley (1972)
Fire on the Bayou (1975)
Trick Bag (1976)
New Directions (1977)
Until this year, you couldn’t buy any of the original albums from this New Orleans quartet, whose influence on funk music is only slightly less significant than oxblood polyester pants. Essentially songwriter-producer Allan Toussaint’s house band, the Meters churned out copious instrumentals during the late 1960’s, syncopating weaving organ, chicken-scratch guitar and ricochet drums. The first three records are absolutely essential (the band also shows up on two excellent Lee Dorsey CD’s recently put out by Sundazed). In the early 70’s, Warner Brothers came calling, Mr. Toussaint became the enemy, organist Art Neville (more recently of the middlebrow Neville Brothers) added vocals and the band started covering Neil Young and James Taylor. The best record from this much-sampled period is Rejuvenation . A spot on the Rolling Stones 1976 tour exposed the group to a whole new audience, but unfortunately, the last couple of albums are worse than spotty. Maybe Mick Jagger is the devil.
That’s The Way It Is Special Edition
That’s The Way It Is was originally a single-LP recording of a 1970 Elvis Presley concert that was made into a film. But RCA has reissued it as a deluxe three-CD package that includes an expanded version of the original album, a second live disc of Presley’s Aug. 12 midnight show at the Las Vegas Hilton, and a third disc of rehearsals and other odds and ends. It’s a lot to listen to, but it captures Elvis at the beginning of his wacky slide into parody, when he was wearing a white jumpsuit, demonstrating karate moves on stage and saying things like, “Somebody just tore my lei up-first one I had since I been here.” Fortunately, the old, postage-stamp-worthy Elvis hadn’t left the building yet and, especially on the first disc, you can hear him take easy-listening fare made famous by the Righteous Brothers, Paul Simon and Neil Diamond and make them his for the night. Same went for the ladies in the audience, who can be heard getting all orgasmic when Presley doles out big sloppy kisses during “Love Me Tender” on the second disc.
Unheard Music Series
Joe McPhee: Nation Time (1970)
Fred Anderson Quartet: The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 1 (1980)
Mount Everest Trio: Waves from Albert Ayler (1975)
Peter Brötzmann Sextet/Quartet: Nipples (1969)
Most of the creative jazz of the last 40 years is on tiny, vanished labels. But Atavistic has unearthed some obscure and wonderfully flatulent avant-garde gems. Mr. McPhee’s album is seriously wild and funky. Mr. Brötzmann is dada and abrasive. Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson is as underrated a saxophonist as ever was. But the Mount Everest Trio, a bunch of dirge-loving Swedes in their mid-70’s, is the true discovery.
Music of My Mind (1972)
Talking Book (1972)
Fullfillingness’ First Finale (1974)
Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
Hotter than July (1980)
Some notes on the Stevie Wonder of my youth-the one who hadn’t yet grown dreadlocks and gone Vegas. 1. Mr. Wonder played drums (and almost every other instrument) on his albums with an impeccable and joyous sense of jazzy timing. 2. Mr. Wonder and his patch-cord production crew, Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, created a warm breadth of synthesizer tones unequaled even on today’s equipment. 3. Despite the upbeat nature of most of the singles-“Superstition,” “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke”-the best tracks on these records possess a druggy, interior quality. 4. Mr. Wonder wrote some nutty lyrics about astral projection and, of course, The Secret Life of Plants , an LP that has yet to be reissued.
The Complete Lester Young Sessions on Verve
Tenor saxophonist Lester Young and singer Billie Holiday were like brother and sister in the intuitive genius of their phrasing as well as their personal waywardness. It’s a critical commonplace that the art-song gravity of Holiday’s later recordings makes up for the loss of range and rhythmic bounce. With Young, the jury now seems to be moving in that direction as well. At any rate, this eight-CD collection of Lester’s albums from 1946 to 1959-some never before having seen the light of CD-gives us more than enough evidence to sift. Young in his later years, after the disastrous army experience, after the drinking and malnutrition, invites us to hear a kind of bluesy, after-hours beauty in his own exhaustion. His horn tone is heavier, the tunes are taken at lugubrious tempos, but such is Young’s melodic gift and the power of the image-the saxophonist drinking himself to death in his room in the Alvin Hotel-that I couldn’t be happier. The shock, then, is when Lester turns up in an interview on the final disc, in 1959-his final year-to say, “I stay by myself, so how the fuck do you know anything about me?” He really existed. We didn’t just make him up.