Our Christmas holiday season in England (part Charles Dickens and part British rock) continues with some recent reissues, DVDs, CD/DVD packages and CDs.
The following are released primarily as box sets and are perfect for Boxing Day.
Along with the Derek & the Dominoes Layla box, released earlier this year, 25 Years (A&M) from Sting is one of the best box sets of 2011. The beautifully packaged box contains three CDs of music from Sting’s solo career, including rarities and live performances. There is also a lavish hardcover book and a DVD of a recent concert from Irving Plaza. This collection primarily features Sting’s solo rock music and not his classical or holiday/winter music. Hopefully, a collection of his non-rock music will also be released with rarities. It’s hard to believe that Sting’s solo career is so much longer than his short seven years with the Police.
Two Deluxe Edition two-CD box sets not to be missed are Quadrophenia (Geffen) from The Who and Achtung Baby (Island) from U2. Both releases appear in other various configurations.
Achtung Baby is now 20 years old and is arguably the group’s best work, although certainly The Joshua Tree must also be given serious consideration. Along with the original release, there is a 14-song bonus disc of B-sides and rarities. My favorite rarities are covers of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.” On its most recent tour, the group played more songs from this album than from any other album it released through the years.
Fans of The Who could certainly argue Quadrophenia from 1973 is the group’s best album, although Tommy, Who’s Next and even Live at Leeds would also be in the running. What makes Quadrophenia so fascinating to explore is the unreleased material. The unreleased tracks give insight into the genesis of this mod epic. Eight previously unreleased demos of Pete Townshend’s original ideas for his second rock opera are illuminating. These often bootlegged gems are long coveted by serious Who collectors. It’s amazing to listen to Townshend’s demos and hear how fully realized his ideas were long before The Who took them into the studio. Also included are two books and essays written by Townshend.
A reissue of more recent music is Sigh No More (Glassnote) from Mumford and Sons. This beautifully packaged, three-CD set includes the original album from 2008, a concert disc, Live At Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London and a DVD. The DVD is the documentary Gentlemen of the Road, Parts 1, 2 & 3.
A CD/DVD package not to miss is Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Columbia) from Adele. 2011 was Adele’s year and this London concert captures her at her peak. The music is primarily from her two solo albums. Along with her originals are some covers. The best of the covers is her version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Adele makes great recordings, but she is a powerhouse performer.
Another recent CD/DVD set is Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues – Live From Lincoln Center (Reprise) from Eric Clapton and Wynton Marsalis. This once-in-a-lifetime concert finds one of the great champions of jazz (Marsalis) and one of the blues (Clapton) finding common musical ground. Since a blues song can be jazz and a jazz song can be bluesy, it’s not much of a stretch for these two artists to make beautiful music together. Other than keyboardist Chris Stainton, the musicians here are mostly from the jazz world of Marsalis, with Taj Mahal handling vocals on “Just A Closer Walk With Me” and also banjo on “Corrine, Corrina.” This is a living, breathing musical concert and not a stuffy, museum-piece approach to making music. These are two artists who keep moving in new directions while also preserving and exposing to a larger audience great roots music.
Peter Gabriel has two separate, yet connected projects out on CD and DVD. New Blood (Real World) is his second orchestral covers release. His first, from 2010, Scratch My Back, is orchestral covers of other artist’s music and with repeated listens becomes engaging. This new release of his own compositions is more readily likeable. Gabriel’s more intimate knowledge of his own music and by a subtle use of rhythms, he better evokes the inherent musical intention of the original, with new musical ideas. On the DVD New Blood Live In London (Real World/Eagle) Gabriel masterfully conveys his new orchestral approach to his music and others. Gabriel is an electrifying performer. The DVD draws from performances culled from two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo London, in March of 2011, with the backing of a 46-piece orchestra. This extraordinary, 22-song, nearly three-hour concert disc, with bonus features, is yet another Peter Gabriel music video that raises the home concert viewing experience to its highest potential.
A Saucerful Full of Reissues
The most ambitious reissue project of 2011 is Capitol’s massive, complete Pink Floyd catalog overhaul. The group’s entire catalog beginning with The Piper at Gates of Dawn in 1967 and ending with The Division Bell in 1994 are been reissued in various configurations. This is for the Floyd fan who simply wants the latest CD remasters of the group’s 14 albums, nicely packaged in affordable editions that are easy to find. These discs may be the final re-mastering of the group’s classic catalog. For the fan who wants a bit more, check out the Experience versions of two of their best releases Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Dark Side of the Moon includes a bonus disc of an entire live performance of the album recorded in 1974 at The Empire Pool, Wembley in London. The reissue of Wish You Were Here includes three more live performances from the Wembley show, an alternate version of “Have A Cigar,” a track from the rare Household Objects project and a version of “Wish You Were Here,” with Stephane Grappelli.
A Collection of Acoustic Curios
A single-disc compilation, Acoustic Gold (Witchwood Media), from the Strawbs gives a wonderful overview of the music of the group from the past ten years. Primarily headed by Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert, the group eschews its heavier, synthesizer sound and is primarily now featuring acoustic guitars. While the classic sound of the band still sounds great on the old vinyl records, this new approach is also excellent.
Live In Concert
Live at the Mar Y Sol Festival ‘72 is Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s third vintage live release on Shout Factory. While A Time and a Place is a massive, career-spanning live box and Live at Nassau Coliseum ’78 featured the band in its waning days, this single-disc release, previously available only on the group’s six-disc definitive box From the Beginning, reflects the group’s earliest live sound. Of particular note is the more dominant presence of Greg Lake’s vocals in the band’s earlier music. This is a must-have for Prog-rock fans.
Paul Rodgers continues to make solo albums, while reuniting with Bad Company, performing with the surviving members of Queen and of course as part of other bands such as The Firm and The Law. Along with his first band, the celebrated Free, and his blues releases, Rodgers is as good as just about any British contemporary front-man in rock. On Paul Rodgers & Friends Live at Montreux 1994 (Eagle), Rodgers performs songs from the many different periods of his long career. The backing band is a supergroup made up of such players as Jason Bonham, Brian May and many others. It’s nice to see this concert finally available on CD.
From the British Invasion DVD series through Reelin’ In The Years comes The Hollies Look Through Any Window 1963-1975 (Eagle). This series contains the best DVDs of British music of the 60s. There are 22 performances here from the Graham Nash period and from after he left during the group’s 70s hitmaking peak. There are also film clips of the band in 1967 recording at Abbey Road studios, home movies, backstage tour footage and interviews. This is a must-have DVD and runs more than three hours.
Also from Eagle is Live at the Union Chapel filmed in December of 2003 from Procol Harum, which was originally released in 2004. The concert was taken from one of the last tours when organist Matthew Fisher was part of the band. There are 21 songs from the group’s entire career, including music from its most recent studio album, The Well’s On Fire. There is an interactive interview with Gary Brooker and other special features. This disc makes an excellent companion to the group’s previous Procol Harum: In Concert with the Danish National Concert Orchestra & Choir.