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Release Round-Up: Week of May 19

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Oasis Definitely MaybeOasis, Definitely Maybe: Chasing The Sun Edition (Big Brother/Ngrooves)

Oasis’ debut album is remastered and expanded; the first in a planned series of multi-format reissues from the legendary Britpop band.

1CD remaster: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP remaster: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3CD deluxe edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3CD/2LP/1 x 7″ box set: Amazon U.S.Amazon U.K.

Billy Joel - BD BoxBilly Joel, A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia (Columbia/Legacy)

The Piano Man’s 1987 sojourn to the USSR is chronicled anew, with expansions of both the original KOHUEPT album and video program and a newly-filmed retrospective documentary on Billy’s trip.

2CD/1DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD/1BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
DVD: Amazon U.S.
BD: Amazon U.S.

Deep Purple Made in Japan boxDeep Purple, Made in Japan: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Editions(Universal U.K.)

No less than six formats of the band’s breakthrough live album are now available overseas. All together now: “Smooooooke on the waaaaaater”!

1CD remaster: Amazon U.K.
2CD deluxe edition: Amazon U.K.
4CD/1DVD box set: Amazon U.K. / Amazon U.S.
2LP remaster: Amazon U.K.
9LP box set: Amazon U.K.
Blu-Ray Audio: Amazon U.K.


REM Unplugged CDR.E.M., Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions (Warner Bros.) / Complete I.R.S. Rarities 1982-1987 (I.R.S./UMe)

Originally released as a vinyl box on Record Store Day, both of R.E.M.’s trips to MTV Unplugged are now available as a more affordable two-disc set. Also, a digital compilation nets just about every B-side and bonus track the band put out for their first label.

Unplugged: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
I.R.S.: Amazon U.S.

Roy Orbison - Mystery Girl DeluxeRoy Orbison, Mystery Girl Deluxe (Roy’s Boys/Legacy)

Released weeks after Orbison’s sudden passing, Mystery Girl rightfully restored Roy’s legend and even got him onto pop radio with “You Got It.” It’s expanded with unheard studio demos, an unreleased song completed by Roy’s sons with John Carter Cash, and also available with a DVD packed with a new documentary and rare and unseen promo videos.

Deluxe CD/DVD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Expanded CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Deluxe 2LP: Amazon U.S.Amazon U.K.

Hank Williams - Garden SpotHank Williams, The Garden Spot Programs 1950 (Omnivore)

Long-lost radio rarities from one of the kings of country are uncovered for the first time!

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Doors - Weird ScenesThe Doors, Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine (Elektra/Rhino)

A double-disc 1972 Doors compilation gets its premiere release on CD. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

The Essential R KellyR. Kelly, The Essential R. Kelly (RCA/Legacy)

Love him or hate him – yes, we’ve been listening – the 35 tracks on this two-disc set do a good job of pointing out Kellz as one of the best male R&B performers of his generation. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Aaron Neville Toussaint SessionsAaron Neville, For the Good Times: The Allen Toussaint Sessions (Fuel 2000)

Fuel collects 22 vintage sides from two New Orleans legends: vocalist Aaron Neville and songwriter-producer Allen Toussaint! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Miles Blue NoteMiles Davis, Take Off: The Complete Blue Note Albums (Blue Note)

Blue Note’s 75th anniversary program continues with this release collecting Davis’ small but important output, from the period of 1952-1954, for the venerable label. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Someething Else for EverybodyDevo, Something Else for Everybody (Booji Boy)

Fresh factory rejects from the band’s most recent studio album! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

This One Goes Out: R.E.M.’s Early B-Sides Collected on Digital Set

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REM - Complete Rarities

On Tuesday, May 19, the same day that Warner Bros. Records issues R.E.M.’s 2-CD Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions, UMe will offer a digital-only package for fans of the Athens, Georgia band’s earliest days.

Complete Rarities: I.R.S. 1982-1987 collects 50 previously released odds and ends from Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry.  These rarities have been culled from such releases as the 1987 Dead Letter Office (originally released in the wake of the success of Lifes Rich Pageant, prior CD reissues of the band’s I.R.S. albums, compilations, and non-LP singles and B-sides.  Though the track listing for the release is broken up as Disc One and Disc Two, no current plans for a physical release have been revealed.

The one-stop-shopping set includes all 15 tracks from Dead Letter Office, plus a selection of diverse covers (Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River,” Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Tighten Up,” The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream”), non-LP singles and B-sides, variant mixes, alternate takes and live performances from Boston, Seattle, Santa Monica and The Netherlands.  The rare material from 2006’s compilation And I Feel Fine… The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 is collected here, as are the band’s two contributions to the soundtrack of the film Athens, GA: Inside/Out, recently reissued on CD by Omnivore Recordings.

There’s nothing new here for longtime collectors, of course, but a physical CD release would make a fine companion to the deluxe reissues of R.E.M.’s I.R.S. catalogue (Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Lifes Rich Pageant, Document) that have arrived in recent years.  In the meantime, just click on the jump to check out the complete track listing with discographical annotation for Complete Rarities.  The collection will be available from the typical digital service providers tomorrow, May 19, from Universal Music Enterprises.  No pre-order links are active yet, but we will update as soon as they are working! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 15, 2014 at 13:12

The Second Disc’s Record Store Day 2013 Essential Releases

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RSD 2013

Raise your hand if you’ll be joining 2013 Ambassador Jack White tomorrow to celebrate Record Store Day 2013!  Yes, on Saturday, April 20, independent record stores everywhere will offer an eclectic roster of limited edition releases of all kinds – most on vinyl, but some on CD, too.  As usual, the labels participating in RSD ’13 have a number of surprises on the way, previewing future releases, revisiting past titles and even curating completely new packages.  As is our tradition here, we’re taking the occasion to count down the titles to which we’re most looking forward! I’ll take my turn first, and then after the jump, you’ll find Mike’s picks for some of the finest offerings you might find at your local independent retailer!  Around these parts, of course, every day is Record Store Day – so, after you’ve picked up your share of the year’s collectible releases, don’t forget to browse the regular racks, too…you never know what you might find!

You’ll find more information and a link to a downloadable PDF of the complete Record Store Day list here, and please share your RSD 2013 experiences with us below. Happy Hunting!

Miles Davis - Someday My Prince

1.            Miles Davis, Round About Midnight / Milestones / Someday My Prince Will Come (Columbia/Legacy)

Last year, the team at Legacy feted the famous trumpeter with Forever Miles, which collected rare sides recorded between 1956 and 1970.  This year, Davis is the recipient of three 180-gram mono vinyl reissues from his classic early Columbia Records period.  1956’s ‘Round About Midnight, Davis’ label debut, showcases the artist at the epoch of his hard bop period.  His Quintet includes John Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums and Paul Chambers on bass.  Davis’ muted horn makes magic on Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” which remained in his book for years, and breathes new life into “Bye Bye Blackbird.”  For 1958’s Milestones, Davis foreshadowed the modal jazz breakthrough of the following year’s Kind of Blue with his title track as well as with another Monk composition, “Straight, No Chaser.”  The sextet recording adds Cannonball Adderley to the lineup on alto saxophone.  Milestones marked the final time Jones, Garland and Chambers would play on a Davis album.  Lastly, 1961’s Someday My Prince Will Come blended Davis originals (tributes to producer Teo Macero, Columbia President Goddard Lieberson and wife Frances) with standards including a blazingly reworked title tune from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Though credited to the Miles Davis Sextet, only “Someday” featured all six players – Davis, Chambers, Hank Mobley and John Coltrane on tenor sax, Wynton Kelly on piano, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.  Coltrane made a cameo on tenor on “Teo” (dedicated to Macero) with Mobley playing the instrument on the album’s other songs.

These three LPs remain among Davis’ finest accomplishments.  With crispness and clarity, they pack quite a punch in their original mono sound.  Legacy has lovingly recreated the original artwork for each individually numbered release.  There’s still quite a thrill in holding these objets d’art from a master at the top of his game, restlessly conquering each stylistic shift even as he planted the seeds for the next revolution in jazz.  These small group records, which alternated with the big-band sessions teaming Davis with arranger Gil Evans, shouldn’t be missed.

Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle

2.            Van Dyke Parks, Song Cycle (Reprise/Rhino)

Composer, arranger, producer, singer, musician, actor, author, historian, raconteur and bon vivant: Van Dyke Parks has carved out a niche in popular music truly unlike any other.  The renaissance man comes to RSD 2013 both with a new release (Super Chief: Music for the Silver Screen) and a 180-gram mono vinyl reissue of his solo LP debut, 1968’s Song Cycle.  As produced by the great record man Lenny Waronker, Song Cycle was a natural progression from the modular songwriting of Parks’ storied collaboration with Brian Wilson, SMiLE.  Creative, offbeat, and altogether unencumbered by any notions of conventionality, Song Cycle took in Parks’ varied originals along with compositions from Randy Newman and Donovan.  The cinematic, orchestral tour de force is played by a stellar cast of musicians including Wrecking Crew pros Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Lyle Ritz, Earl Palmer, Jim Gordon and Jay Migliori, plus Newman and The Beau Brummels’ Ron Elliott.  A kaleidoscopic journey through California pop, Song Cycle retains its power to surprise and enchant, and those hearing it for the first time in mono will be in for a mind-expanding treat.

McCartney - Maybe I'm Amazed single

3.            Paul McCartney and Wings, Maybe I’m Amazed (Hear Music)

Last year, Macca used the annual Record Store Day campaign to preview his deluxe Archive Collection release of 1971’s Ram with a vinyl replica single of “Another Day” b/w “Oh Woman, Oh Why.” This year, the RSD reissue of the 12” “Maybe I’m Amazed” live EP previews this year’s Archive presentation of Wings Over America.   As on the original 12” release, Side One includes “Maybe” in full and edited versions in mono, and Side Two presents the full and edited versions in stereo.  When “Maybe I’m Amazed” first appeared on 1970’s McCartney, a lush standout on a rather spare collection of homemade songs, it quickly gained popularity, but McCartney declined to officially release it as a single. It wasn’t until the 1976 live version from Wings Over America came along that McCartney relented. His ode to the lovely Linda then scaled the charts to No. 10 in the United States and No. 28 in the United Kingdom.

And Hear Music’s replica “Maybe I’m Amazed” isn’t the only offering this year to excite Beatlefans.  Universal Music is collecting three vintage Ringo Starr singles in a lift-top box.  Ringo’s Singles Collection includes 7-inch editions of “Photograph” b/w “Down and Out,” “It Don’t Come Easy” b/w “Early 1970,” and “(It’s All Down To) Goodnight Vienna” b/w “Oo-Wee.”  All singles are packaged in replicas of their original artwork!

Old 97s and Waylon

4.            Old 97’s with Waylon Jennings (Omnivore)

Omnivore’s 2012 reissue of 1997’s Too Far To Care from Old 97’s added more than a disc’s worth of bonus tracks from the Rhett Miller-fronted alt-country band, and now the group returns to Omnivore with more previously unreleased goodies. And they’ve brought along a guest: the late, great Waylon Jennings.  Way back in 1996, Jennings joined Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond, Rhett Miller and Philip Peeples in Nashville to cut two tracks. Yet “Iron Road” and “The Other Shoe,” the two songs completed by Jennings and the 97’s, never saw the light of day…until now.  This RSD-exclusive release offers the Jennings/97’s collaborations plus the band’s demos of “Visiting Hours” (a live version of which appeared on 2011’s The Grand Theater Vol. 2) and “Fireflies” (re-recorded by Rhett Miller for his 2006 album The Believer). All four songs will be available as a double yellow vinyl 7-inch release, housed in a gatefold sleeve with art from Jon Langford and even liner notes from Rhett Miller! The package also includes a download card, offering digital files of the four tracks.  For an opportunity to hear an iconic talent paired with some of his most authentic heirs, Old 97’s with Waylon Jennings is a rare pleasure, indeed.

Jimi Hendrix - Hey Joe Mono

5.            Jimi Hendrix, Hey Joe b/w Stone Free (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)

Jimi Hendrix isn’t one to be left out – so he’s joined the “back to mono” revolution, as well, with Legacy’s individually numbered reissue of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut U.K. single!  This 45 features the explosive trio of Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, backed by the trio of British songbirds The Breakaways.  Originally released in December 1966, “Hey Joe” rose to No. 6 on the U.K. chart; the U.S. release failed to chart, replacing “Stone Free” with B-side “51st Anniversary.”  This single represents the ground floor of Hendrix’s blazing, all-too-short career, and makes a fine companion to Legacy’s recent mono LP reissues of the U.S. and U.K. editions of the 1967 debut LP Are You Experienced.

Honorable Mentions: Frank Zappa’s “I’m the Slime/Montana” 7-inch (Zappa Records/Universal) is newly remastered from the original 1973 analog source.  “I’m the Slime” is presented in a single edit, and “Montana” is a 2013 edit with 25 additional seconds.  Grateful Dead’s Rare Cuts and Oddities 1966 compiles, well, rare cuts and oddities from that year in early Dead history!  Originally released on CD in 2005, it’s making its vinyl debut on two 180-gram platters for RSD!

After the jump: Mike has another five titles for ya!

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Think About Direction, and R.E.M.’s Deluxe Reissue of “Green”

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REM GreenNot long after R.E.M.’s last 25th anniversary edition was released, they’re already prepping the next archival project: Rolling Stone reports an expanded edition of 1988’s Green is on its way May 14.

The Athens, Georgia quartet’s sixth album in as many years was a notable event for them. After a healthy run ascending to the upper echelon of the alternative rock scene on I.R.S. Records, the band took on a new contract with major label Warner Bros., with whom they’d stay for the remainder of their career. The sound of Green, which, like predecessor Document was produced by Scott Litt and the band (an association that would continue through 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi), was still familiar enough to endear itself to their current fan base but also peppy and accessible enough to attract new fans.

The results – which hewed more toward acoustic sounds than they’d previously done – were satisfying to both critics and audiences. Singles “Orange Crush,” “Pop Song 89” and “Stand” almost entirely dominated both Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock tracks (“Pop Song 89” only peaked at No. 14 on the mainstream chart), and the groovy, simple-but-effective “Stand” crossed over into the U.S. Top 10, helping the record to its eventual double-platinum sales status.

Once again, this deluxe reissue comes with a live show – and details on that are after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

March 6, 2013 at 10:12

Posted in News, R.E.M., Reissues

Release Round-Up: Week of February 12

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Merle - SinglesMerle Haggard, The Complete ’60s Capitol Singles / Wanda Jackson, The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles / George Jones, The Complete United Artists Solo Singles (Omnivore)

Joe’s review of all three of these new country/rock singles anthologies from Omnivore speaks for each of them pretty well!

Merle: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Wanda: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
George: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Billy Joe Shaver - Complete ColumbiaBorderline, Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires/The Second Album / Sam Dees, The Show Must Go On / Kenny O’Dell, Beautiful People / Pozo Seco, Shades of Time / Sam Samudio, Hard and Heavy / Billy Joe Shaver, The Complete Columbia Recordings /Rick Wakeman, No Earthly Connection (Real Gone Music)

The latest from Real Gone (some of which is on tap in the preceding link), including a solo LP from Sam The Sham, all of Billy Joe Shaver’s Columbia work and a solo disc from Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman.

REM Original Album SeriesR.E.M., Original Album Series / Yes, Original Album Series (Rhino U.K.)

Two new entries in Rhino’s “Original Album Series” sets, budget boxes packaging five albums by the same artist together, with a minimum of frills. R.E.M.’s set includes their final five albums, all recorded as a trio after drummer Bill Berry retired (Up (1998), Reveal (2001), Around the Sun (2004), Accelerate (2008) and Collapse Into Now (2011)), while Yes’ box includes their final works for Atlantic/Atco (Going for the One (1977), Tormato (1978), Drama (1980), 90125 (1983) and Big Generator (1987)).

R.E.M. Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Yes: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Joni boxJoni Mitchell, The Studio Albums 1968-1979 (Rhino)

Already available in the U.K., this domestic new release features the iconic singer-songwriter’s first ten albums in one box. Nothing new in the way of packaging or remastering, just a quick way to snag ’em all at once. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Shabooh ShoobahINXS, Shabooh Shoobah/The Swing (Friday Music)

From Friday Music comes the Australian band’s third and fourth albums on one compact disc. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Aretha - In the BeginningAretha Franklin, In the Beginning: The World of Aretha Franklin 1960-1967 (Wounded Bird)

A 1972 compilation of Aretha’s oft-overlooked early days on Columbia gets reissued by Wounded Bird. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

sepia1216Pat Boone, I’ll See You in My Dreams/This and That / Jane Morgan, What Now My Love/At the Cocoanut Grove / Tony Mottola, Roman Guitar 2/Spanish Guitar / Original Soundtrack Recordings, The Road to Hong Kong/Say One for Me (Sepia)

Some special two-for-one albums, many with bonus tracks, making their CD debuts from this British reissue label.

Holiday Gift Guide Review: R.E.M., “Document: 25th Anniversary Edition”/Various Artists, “Athens, GA. – Inside/Out”

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Document 25Even a year after R.E.M.’s sudden dissolution last fall, it’s hard not to be enthralled by their music and their message. Even before they said goodbye, their discography was a considerable sacred text of modern rock and roll – sustained success on both a strong independent and major label, songs that provided a fresh take on a classic musical formula and a singular, uncompromising vision as to how they were going to follow their art – a vision that happily rewarded them as one of America’s most popular ensembles.

This year, 25 years after R.E.M.’s ascension into the big leagues with the Top 10 hit “The One I Love,” two new catalogue titles offer intriguing looks into how they got there. The first, and more obvious, would be the expected 25th anniversary edition of Document (Capitol 50999 972306 2 8), newly remastered and expanded with a concert recorded on the band’s Work Tour of 1987.

“The time has come/to be engaged,” lead singer Michael Stipe sings at the start of opening track “Finest Worksong” (arguably one of the band’s most underrated tunes). And while it’s not a stretch for the always-aware R.E.M. to think that way, it certainly is something to hear them wear that declaration so clearly on an album. Indeed, Document is in some ways bolder than its predecessors; Murmur and Reckoning established the band’s trademarks – bright pop/rock with jangling guitars and propulsive if simple rhythms combined with Stipe’s oblique, stream of consciousness poetry – while Fables of the Reconstruction and Lifes Rich Pageant added further flourishes, beefing up the production value (Fairport Convention producer Joe Boyd John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman produced each of those albums, respectively) and focusing the sometimes confounding lyrics into richly metaphoric tales of anything from the American South to adverse environmental conditions.

Document’s clean production by Scott Litt, who’d oversee the band’s next five LPs, is complemented by some of the most striking R.E.M. songs on record. A growing sense of Reagan-era discomfort is implicit on tunes like “Exhuming McCarthy” (which samples Joseph Nye Welch’s famous “have you no sense of decency?” quote during the Army-McCarthy hearings) and even the kinetic, almost intentionally discombobulating “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” As upbeat as the album is, Stipe betrays a sense of weariness throughout, most famously the bait-and-switch of “The One I Love,” in which he sings not of a real lover, but “a simple prop to occupy my time.”

While expanded editions of Fables and Pageant featured lengthy bonus discs of demos, the expanded Document adds a live set from the 5,000-capacity Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Holland. Despite the decent sound quality, owing to a decent radio broadcast feed, this bonus disc is arguably the most disappointing of the R.E.M. 25th anniversary edition sets thus far. For one, the show doesn’t stray too far from the band’s typical fare (although much of Document is played). Far worse, however, is the deletion of several songs from the set list – mostly covers (including Wire’s “Strange,” as recorded on Document), which is a pretty weak way of saving on publishing royalties, but also the full, previously-released “Time After Time (AnnElise)/Red Rain/So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” which closed the set. (The arresting vocal-and-guitar closer of “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” remains; the other half is available only on the original “Finest Worksong” vinyl single.) Packaging enthusiasts, however, will enjoy the EMI-standard lidded box, sturdy photo inserts of Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry and the large, fold-out poster inside the set as well.

After the jump, take a fascinating trip to Athens, Georgia – the birthplace of R.E.M. as well as the home of a truly unique local scene that’s expertly captured in a rediscovered documentary!

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Written by Mike Duquette

December 19, 2012 at 17:48

Finest Worksongs: R.E.M. to Expand “Document” with Unreleased Concert

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Not long before R.E.M.’s surprise breakup last year, the iconic Athens, Georgia-based quartet had just put out the latest in an ongoing series of 25th anniversary edition packages, pairing 1986’s excellent Lifes Rich Pageant with a disc of unreleased demos. After the split, surely there were fans worrying whether that series would continue – particularly since the next album on the list was their fifth album Document (1987), not only one of their best works but one of their first brushes with major commercial acclaim.

Happily, it was revealed late last week that an expanded Document is indeed coming out this September. The bonus disc looks to be an unreleased but heavily bootlegged concert from the band’s Work Tour of 1987, one that sees the band playing their biggest hits at the time before a captive audience in Utrecht, Holland. (The show is, unfortunately for superfans, not complete, missing four covers, including fan favorite “Superman” – originally performed by The Clique and recorded for Lifes Rich Pageant – and punk group Wire’s “Strange,” recorded for Document.)

From the thunderous, pulsating opening of “Finest Worksong,” it’s easy to see why David Fricke called Document “the sound of R.E.M. on the move.” It was urgent and angry, reacting to the twilight of the Reagan presidency on tracks like “Exhuming McCarthy,” but the jangly guitar figures and propulsive hooks that made the band the darling of American college radio were still there, aided for the first time by co-producer Scott Litt, who would collaborate with the band on their next five LPs.

While R.E.M. were no stranger to critical plaudits during their tenure on the I.R.S. labelDocument yielded a heavy payload on the sales side of things. Lead single “The One I Love,” an upbeat track hiding lyrics of emotional abuse, became the band’s first of three U.S. Top 10 hits; the LP itself went platinum, further strengthened by radio-ready tunes like iconic, rapid-fire rocker “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” Bolstered by its success, the band would part ways with I.R.S. Records and sign to Warner Bros., where they remained for the rest of their careers.

Like R.E.M.’s previous deluxe expansions with Capitol/EMI, both discs are housed in a lift-top box with four art prints on postcards. Look for this one (as well as a vinyl reissue from Mobile Fidelity) on September 25, and hit the jump to pre-order your copy.

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Written by Mike Duquette

August 6, 2012 at 12:34

Posted in News, R.E.M., Reissues

Reissue Theory: R.E.M., “Holiday”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as you likely know, and we’re celebrating with a recently-departed group of rock legends who made a few nights not-so-silent with a long running assortment of Christmas-oriented giveaways.

Not too long ago, I took part in a lively chat with my fellow Popblerd! writers/occasional co-podcasters Mike Heyliger and Zack Stiegler about various covers of Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” (Indeed, as the chat indicates, my favorite is the U2 version. Fire away in the comments!) It was a total surprise to discover that R.E.M. covered the song for what ultimately seems to be their last Christmas fan club single, with vocals from bassist Mike Mills instead of lead singer Michael Stipe.

Indeed, that led to a pretty predictable trip down the rabbit hole to remember just how much interesting stuff R.E.M. put out solely for their fan club. I think you can guess where this is going: a Reissue Theory in which Athens, Georgia’s favorite sons make with the holly and the jolly.

When R.E.M. made their transition to major-label act, signing with Warner Bros. from I.R.S. Records in 1988, they had the idea to release, as a gift to fans, a special, limited-edition single for the holidays. Typically, there would be a cover of a Christmas tune on one side (usually a classic carol, although there were some originals in the mix, along with covers of songs by Slade, The Beatles, Big Star and Vince Guaraldi). The other side would typically feature an unrelated cover or some other bonus.

While a vast majority of the singles were released on vinyl, some were released on other formats. 1997’s gift, for instance, was a VHS consisting of two performances from Washington, D.C.’s Tibetan Freedom Concert, featuring collaborations between R.E.M. and Radiohead, and most thereafter were either released on CD or DVD. (A notable exception: 2000’s blue-vinyl 45, featuring a take on The Beatles’ “Christmas Time is Here Again” and two original songs.) From 1995 to 1999, in 2001, from 2003 to 2006 and once more in 2008, none of the singles had any Christmas material at all, opting instead for otherwise-unavailable live material and the like.

There’s already been one R.E.M. compilation this year – and while even I’m tempted to believe it won’t be the last, even I can’t imagine it’d ever come to a holiday album made from years of rarities. But ’tis the season, after all, so hit the jump for a look at how that might look, with some links to hear some of the tunes as well.

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Written by Mike Duquette

December 14, 2011 at 12:56

Review: R.E.M., “Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011”

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R.E.M.’s Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage 1982-2011 (Warner Bros. 529088-2) marks the fourth compilation by the Athens band in my collection. As a young teen, I fell in love with their melodic, confident pop/rock with In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 – but that was only part of the picture. The rest would be filled in by the 2006 release of And I Feel Fine…The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987, which captured the quartet at what may be their creative peak. (The third compilation was 1988’s Eponymous, picked up used to get the three alternate or rare tracks I didn’t already have.)

This music lives with me, as it should live with any self-respecting American who enjoys rock music of the last 40 years or so. When R.E.M. came of age in the mid-1980s, it seemed as though America, the nation that filtered country and blues stylings into a slick, satisfying musical hybrid that defined a generation, would never ascend to the top of the pile again. We had Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Doors and others, but England gave us The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin – essentially 2/3 of the modern rock pantheon. (Even Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix got his best breaks across the pond.) By virtue of The Smiths or U2 alone, it looked for awhile like the ’80s were going to be another decade of playing second to the Europeans.

And then along came a simple quartet: a bookish guitarist with the cleanest, most melodic tones you could dream up, a killer rhythm section replete with whip-crack drumming and insistent bass lines and a spindly vocalist whose throaty tones were so captivating, audiences almost ignored the fact that, all too often, they had no idea what the hell he was singing. R.E.M. knew nothing of formula or convention; they did nothing to be popular, even as the gut-wrenching “The One I Love” gave indie label I.R.S. Records one of its biggest hits of all time or 1991’s iconic video for “Losing My Religion” became an MTV staple. By the mid-’90s, they were strong contenders for biggest band in the world (at a time when that seemed to mean something) and firmly situated in the canon of alternative rock, which had blossomed from a whisper to a scream by the end of the century.

Then, crazy things started to happen. In 1997, the band became a trio, losing drummer Bill Berry to retirement. A credited co-writer on the band’s catalogue, his drumming was difficult to replace – and the resultant songs seemed to be missing…something. Was it the urgency? The effortless hooks? Whatever it was, R.E.M. took the logical next step as rock stars: they, willingly or not, entered the point on their timeline where whatever they put out was neither universally adored nor uniformly excoriated. As a live act, they didn’t buoy themselves on hits like, say, The Rolling Stones, but nobody clamored for “Imitation of Life” or “Supernatural Superserious” the way they did for “Radio Free Europe” or “Stand.”

This year, though, the craziest thing happened. Rather than continue making serviceable if not classic albums like this year’s Collapse Into Now, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills walked away. This double-disc, 40-track set is the period with which they (and Berry, too) intend to finish the R.E.M. sentence. It spans, for the first time, both the I.R.S. and Warner years, making it the easiest way to get an overview of the group’s entire discography in one $15 set.

And, despite being the latest (and likely not the last) in an endless string of R.E.M. hits documents, there’s still stuff to learn. With these discs, we learn that 13 tracks of I.R.S. songs is not enough. (No “Cuyahoga” or “Welcome to the Occupation”?) We find that perhaps some of R.E.M.’s throwaways (to us) mean more to them (“Shiny Happy People” and “New Test Leper” make the cut while an underrated beauty like “Daysleeper” does not.) What the post-Berry material lacks in hooks, it makes up for in vocal beauty (the layers of Stipe are what stand out on even the lesser tracks at the end of Disc 2) or noise – and that almost intentional lack of focus, rock stars throwing toys around the room, so to speak, is more than a little interesting.

The three new tracks – “A Month of Saturdays,” “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” and “Hallelujah” – are incredibly forgettable, even by the lofty standards of extra tracks on compilations. (Mills recently made a decent argument that the three serve as reminders of R.E.M.’s major facets as a band, but I’d rather get my silliness from “Stand” and my heavy poignance from “Nightswimming.”) Even the liner notes, featuring commentary by all four band members, seem kind of rote. (Buck penned the bitingly funny notes for most previous compilations, and those are easily the definitive word for liner notes junkies out there.)

Ultimately, though, that’s not what the set is about – and those of you who are already stocked to the brim with R.E.M. material are definitely going to be fine with skipping this one. But it might be worth giving to someone who needs to understand or be reminded anew what all the fuss was about concerning this crazy quartet. For better – and even for worse – R.E.M. are one of the brightest patches on the quilt of rock and roll, and Part Lies Part Heart Part Truth Part Garbage is a great way to end an illustrious career: by reminding us of just how important – and truly great – it all was.

Written by Mike Duquette

November 17, 2011 at 14:02

Posted in Compilations, News, R.E.M.

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Release Round-Up: Week of November 15

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A brief note before we kick off the Release Round-Up: first, an apology for missing the last one. And second, a moment of crowd-sourcing from you, our beloved readers. As nice a service as the Round-Up is, it also seems….boring. Do you agree? How might one change it up? Sound off in the comments.

The Who, Quadrophenia: The Director’s Cut (Geffen/UMe)

Four discs of Quadrophenia goodness: the remastered album, demos, vinyl, a book of liner notes and, heaven knows why, part of the album remixed in 5.1 surround.

Ray Charles, Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles (Concord)

Five discs of the Genius’ single sides of the ’60s and ’70s, including “Georgia on My Mind,” “One Mint Julep,” “Hit the Road Jack,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “America the Beautiful.”

Frank Sinatra, Best of the Best (Capitol/Reprise)

The first compilation to span the Chairman’s best-loved eras, available as a single-disc set or a deluxe set with a rare live show.

The Supremes, More Hits by the Supremes: Expanded Edition (Hip-o Select/Motown)

The original album in mono and stereo plus scores of rarities for the discerning fan.

R.E.M., Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1981-2011 (Warner Bros.)

The American rock legends put a period on the end of their career with their first double-disc compilation, spanning both the I.R.S. and Warner Bros. years.

Various Artists, Cameo-Parkway Holiday Hits (Real Gone)

Eighteen rockin’ holiday hits from Bobby Rydell, The Cameos and…Bob Seger? A must hear in a slightly weaker season for Christmas catalogue titles.

Wall of Voodoo, Lost Weekend: The Best of the I.R.S. Years (Varese Vintage)

The first career-spanning compilation from the “Mexican Radio” band, bringing a lot of latter-day tracks to CD that many have probably not heard much, if at all.

Original West End Cast, The Phantom of the Opera: 25th Anniversary Box Set (Decca)

The cast albums for Phantom and its not-nearly-as-good sequel, Love Never Dies, plus a bonus DVD.

Written by Mike Duquette

November 15, 2011 at 09:19