The gift of music: classics reissued

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday December 20, 2022
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The gift of music: classics reissued

With the winter holiday season rapidly wrapping up, you may be considering a last-minute yet appreciated gift. Music is always a popular and appreciated gift, and with some recent exciting reissues from which to choose there's virtually something for everybody on your list.

It's hard to believe that this Christmas, George Michael will be gone six years. Almost as hard to fathom is that Michael only released four studio albums of original material during a solo career that began in 1987. "Older" (Epic/Legacy/ÆGEAN), the latest in the ongoing series of George Michael reissues that began in 2010 with "Faith" and continued in 2017 with "Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1/MTV Unplugged," shines a spotlight on the 1996 album available in various expanded formats.

The original album, for which Michael kept fans waiting six years (due to a legal battle with a record label), opens with the ballad (and first single) "Jesus to a Child." The song was a good indication of the direction in which Michael was moving, as much of the album moves at a slower place, including the dance tunes (second single "Fast Love" is a good example).

Jazz and Brazilian influences dominate, but that doesn't mean it's not a George Michael. On the contrary, his voice remains the impressive instrument it always ways, it's just that "Older" requires a little more patience, which was fittingly the name of his next album, released in 2004.

People are still talking about Joni Mitchell's surprise appearance at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival, performing with Brandi Carlile and others. In her first public appearance in 20 years, following years of serious health problems, Mitchell stole the show and demonstrated why she is the ultimate diva goddess.

Further reminders of that fact can be found in the latest "The Definitive Albums" box set reissue "The Asylum Albums (1972-1975)" (Rhino/Asylum). Featuring a note by Neil Young, remastering by Bernie Grundman, and a cover painting by Joni, the set includes "For the Roses" (1972), "Court and Spark" (1974), the live album "Miles of Aisles" (1974)," and "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" (1975). The significance of the three studio albums can't be emphasized enough.

In addition to being audio illustrations of Mitchell's growth as a singer/songwriter, these records also featured commercial breakthroughs including hit singles "You Turn Me on I'm A Radio" (from "For the Roses") and "Help Me" (from "Court and Spark"). Mitchell also won her second Grammy for "Court and Spark."

Also worth noting is Mitchell's turn toward jazz arrangements which reached its fruition on "The Hissing of Summer Lawns." Mitchell fans are also sure to love the way the CD box set recreates some of the distinctive aspects of the original artwork, including the matte finish of "Court and Spark" and the raised graphics of "The Hissing of Summer Lawns."

Before we get to the musical creatures on the delayed 2022 reissue of the 2018 James Guthrie remix of prog rock deity Pink Floyd's 1977 album "Animals" (Pink Floyd Music/Sony), it's best to address the elephant in the room. Roger Waters is a damaged genius. Who else could have helped create dark masterworks such as "The Wall," "Wish You Were Here," and "Dark Side of the Moon?"

Waters was recently again in hot water for saying something inappropriate. This time it was pro-Russia/anti-Ukraine comments that forced him to cancel concerts in Poland. Of course, anyone the least bit familiar with "Animals" in particular, is well aware of Waters' political leanings. A concept album based loosely on George Orwell's "Animal Farm," the five songs, with three clocking in between 10:20 and 17:04 apiece, are serious indictments of capitalism (which is humorous considering how well-off the members of Pink Floyd were by 1977).

Nevertheless, the album, available in a variety of formats, holds up well 45 years after its release, with the band's members at peak musicianship. It's also worth noting that, at the time that "Animals" initially came out, prog rock had fallen out of favor and the first-wave of punk rock was the rage. While there may not be much punk in Pink Floyd's music, the angry messages could clearly be seen as such. Additionally, there are a few funky moments on the album that can be read as nods to the disco sound of the period.

San Francisco punk band Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 (a year after PF's "Animals" was released). Led by Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys released its debut album "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" (Manifesto), newly reissued with a Chris Lord-Alge remix and a new 28-page booklet.

Propelled by political outrage shared by their British brethren, nothing was sacred to the DKs as you can hear on songs such as "Kill the Poor," "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "Stealing People's Mail," and of course "California Über Alles," all of which earned them a subversive reputation, as well as gaining them a large following. Dead Kennedys even had something of a hit single with "Holiday in Cambodia." You can hear the DK's influence on a cross-section of bands, from Rage Against the Machine to Pansy Division.

If ever there was a perfect example of the idiocy and ignorance of the "suits" who run major record labels, it would have to be the bungling of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (Nonesuch) by Wilco. Rising from the ashes of alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, Wilco stuck with that genre's sound on its 1995 major label debut "A.M." But on the albums that followed, especially 1999's poppy "Summerteeth," it was obvious that Jeff Tweedy and company were interested in greatly expanding their musical horizons.

The stunning "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," succeeded in doing that, earning a Wilco a 10 out 10 from prickly Pitchfork, and garnering the band almost universal acclaim. But this also resulted in the band leaving Reprise, which was in flux and being run by fools, for the more welcoming Nonesuch.

Now available in a super deluxe edition featuring the remastered original album and including 82 previously unreleased tracks, such as alternates, outtakes, and demos, as well as a deep dive into the making of the record. "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" stands the test of time, from the stunning album opener "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" to the radio-friendly pop of "War on War" and "Heavy Metal Drummer" to the retro rock of "I'm the Man Who Loves You."

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