`Genius' tops list of latest reissues


September 29, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

In this week's playlist, we go back in time, reviewing newly reissued music by the Genius of Soul, a pioneering hip-hop trio and one of the most successful pop-rock groups to come out of England.

Ray Charles, Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959): Rhino Records has a long, award-winning reputation for its box sets. And this recent release on Brother Ray is another cleverly designed package. You get seven CDs plus a DVD of his performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, all housed in a camel-colored replica of an old-school, all-in-one record player. There's an elaborate hardcover book, too, with historic shots, detailed track information, album liner notes and an in-depth essay by one of my all-time favorite music writers, Ray's biographer David Ritz. With the exception of Disc 7, which features a full-length 1953 rehearsal session with producer Ahmet Ertegun, all of the material on the box set has been previously issued. At a suggested retail price of $149.98, Pure Genius is for the hardcore Ray Charles fan, not the casual listener.

The collection, spectacularly remastered, centers on the most revolutionary period in the legend's career when he married the profane and the sacred, juke joint blues and the holy rhythms of the black church, to create what we know today as soul. Between '52 and '59, a time that produced classics such as "What'd I Say," "(Night Time Is) The Right Time," and "I've Got a Woman," Ray also explored his jazz prowess. Although he was more proficient on the keys, the Georgia-born musician could blow a mean alto sax as heard on "X-Ray Blues," a 1961 date with Milt Jackson. Presented in chronological order, Pure Genius traces the artist's quick and marvelous musical evolution. He wasn't even 30 when he left Atlantic in 1959, and Ray's legend was already cemented.

His time with the company that later nurtured the genius of Aretha Franklin is my favorite chapter in Ray's 50-plus-year career. The music is fun, refreshingly unpretentious and funkier than a pot of old chitlins. There's a playfulness in the recordings that brings on a smile.

Run-D.M.C., King of Rock, Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather: With these albums, the trio of Joseph "Run" Simmons, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell helped build hip-hop. The albums appeared between 1984 and 1987, when the genre was still on the periphery. Cuts such as "It's Like That," "You Talk Too Much" and "It's Tricky" filled the muggy summers of my childhood in the projects. These joints were always blaring from somebody's ride or mammoth boom box.

The productions on the reissues remain stellar, powerful in their simplicity. The trio's energetic fusion of rock and rap -- especially on Raising Hell, Run-D.M.C.'s finest album -- hasn't been surpassed. Yes, the rapping style on these sets sounds dated, though the excitement of the interplay is still palpable. (Check out "Peter Piper," a cut from Raising Hell, which Missy Elliott sampled to great effect on her brilliant 2002 smash "Work It.").

Jay's masterful beats and scratches make these records as irresistible today as they were 20 years ago. Since Jay's unsolved 2002 murder, Run-D.M.C.'s legacy has received its rightful due. And these clearly remastered reissues, with bonus tracks and insightful liner notes, remind us of what made them rap pioneers. They seriously take us back to the days before mainstream hip-hop became so unabashedly whorish.

Genesis, Platinum Collection: Here's a three-disc set on the band that spawned the great careers of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. Although three discs may seem like a lot of material, the collection won't overwhelm casual fans. Not every rarity, B-side or outtake is included. In fact, there are some notable omissions, such as "No Reply at All" and "Anything She Does." Platinum Collection is presented in reverse chronological order, starting with cuts from the band's 1991 album, We Can't Dance.

The synth-heavy '80s productions that dominate Discs 1 and 2 are fun, if potentially nerve-grating trips down memory lane. The third disc, which delves into Genesis' progressive rock period in the '70s, showcases some overreaching moments ("Carpet Crawlers" comes to mind). But all in all, it's a tight showcase of the band's adventurous musical spirit.


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