From Bob Dylan to War, a good year for reissues

'Let It Be' returned and became a million-seller

Music: in concert, CDs

January 01, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

There was something warm and real about the sound of vinyl: the pops and hisses. Placing the needle down on the groove made you feel as if you were part of the music.

But some of us wouldn't know anything about that, because the compact disc has been around for more than two decades. For those of us who remember LPs and how versatile the cover could be (a wall decoration, a fan, a dust pan), we experience something new and exciting when we hear our old records digitally remastered. (Was that guitar line always so resonant? Wow, was that a vocal crack?)

Over the years, major labels have established subsidiaries whose sole purpose is to raid the vaults and repackage the albums we loved. Universal has Hip-O; Sony keeps the Legacy alive. Then there's Rhino, an independent label that puts out fabulous reissues and award-winning, sometimes elaborately assembled box sets.

It's always a treat to get bonus cuts on reissued albums and informative liner notes. In 2003, we got a wealth of reissues. Some gave us much more than we expected in regard to sound and additional tracks, which took us inside the studio as the classics were being formed. With some projects, however, artists tried to "correct" the old work we grew to love, stripping it down to give us a "naked" listen.

Here are some of last year's top reissues:

* Bob Dylan, Limited Edition Hybrid SACD set: As appreciation for Dylan's catalog deepens every year, Legacy wisely reintroduces us to some of the artist's most acclaimed efforts -- Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964), Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Blonde on Blonde (1966), Blood on the Tracks (1975), Love and Theft (2001) -- in magnificent sound -- hybrid SACDs, playable in both regular CD players and Super Audio CD stereos. Each title -- there are 15 in all -- features the original artwork. Dylan fanatics are likely to purchase such a massive, expensive box. But each remastered album is sold separately, which is ideal if you want to replace the muffled-sounding CDs you already own.

* Miles Davis, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions: A Tribute to Jack Johnson, the original 1970 album, contained only two tracks -- "Right Off" and "Yesternow" -- and each jam rolled on for more than 25 minutes. The record is one of Miles' most revered but difficult works, a masterpiece of jazz fusion that presaged everything from spacey ambient music to the electric, chunky productions of the Neptunes. On this five-disc, handsomely packaged set, you get the complete sessions -- outtakes, remakes and all -- that went down in New York City between Feb. 18 and June 4, 1970. Five albums were culled from these sessions, the others being Live-Evil, Get Up With It, Directions and Big Fun, and all of them have been re-released. (It seems as if Legacy puts out a repackaged Miles disc every other week.) It's long and arduous, listening to all five Jack Johnson discs in succession. But the set is a fine, essential documentation of how grand jazz and rock sound when thrown together.

* The Folk Years: A Singers and Songwriters Collection: This set, which gathers 120 songs, chronicles the rise and influence of folk music from the '50s and the '60s. But not all the songs fit strictly in the idiom. Some tunes -- Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," the Mamas and the Papas' "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'," for instance -- show how the reflective lyrics and confessional singing influenced pop and rock at the time. An appealing, sweeping set that educates as well as entertains.

* Donna Summer, Bad Girls (Deluxe Edition): Often dismissed today as simply a disco diva or a nostalgia act, Donna Summer blazed some musical trails back in the '70s. Her songs were always beat-driven, but there was often much more going on in the productions. And Summer's voice could add a steely edge or a feathery touch to a groove. This album, originally released in the spring of '79, was one of the most successful that year, spawning two classic, platinum-selling hits: the title track and "Hot Stuff." On the deluxe edition, Universal added the original demo of "Bad Girls" and a bonus disc of hits including "MacArthur Park Suite," the complete 17-minute version, "On the Radio" and "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)," the campy dueling diva duet with Barbra Streisand.

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