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Todd’s Blues: Rundgren’s Live “Johnson” Captured On CD/DVD Set

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Todd Rundgren - Johnson LiveWhen Todd Rundgren’s Johnson was released in April 2011, the singer-songwriter’s longtime fans were forgiven for greeting the album with surprise.  While Toddheads have been trained to expect the unexpected, Johnson was a departure from even the artist’s most outré projects.  It was Rundgren’s first-ever all-covers album, and its subject wasn’t a songwriter whose influence was readily apparent in Rundgren’s own music.  (At various points in his career, a tribute to Laura Nyro or Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell might have seemed more appropriate, though the restlessly creative Rundgren was apparently never tempted.  1976’s Faithful featured one side of covers, and 1980’s Utopia release Deface the Music paid clever homage to The Beatles with all-original tunes.)   The subject was the late Delta blues legend Robert Johnson – hence, the rather unfortunately jokey album title.  But Johnson did give Rundgren the chance to utilize his own considerable guitar talents – and now, the artist is revisiting the album with Esoteric Recordings’ new CD/DVD release of Todd Rundgren’s Johnson Live, recorded in 2010.

Rundgren was approached to record the all-Johnson album by the distributor of his well-received 2008 rock record Arena.  He told journalist Graham Reid, “So it came time to do distribution for Arena and the company that made the deal also happened to administer the Robert Johnson music publishing. They made as a requirement to distributing Arena that I record an album of Robert Johnson tunes as well. They claimed to me that they were getting many requests for Johnson songs to be used in films and TV shows…[and] while they had the publishing, they had no recorded versions.”  He admitted, “I agreed to do it mostly because I wanted to get my record out and thought I would figure out how to deal with this later.”

Yet inspiration did strike Rundgren.  Speaking to Guitar World, he revealed that “The album is a tribute to the white players of the Sixties who were influenced by Robert Johnson — guys like Clapton, the Bluesbreakers and Michael Bloomfield.  It was modeled after the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album from 1966. That one really turned heads. It was like an atom bomb for guitarists.”  Johnson played like an off-kilter tribute to Robert Johnson filtered through the heavily-charged, amped-up sensibility of those pioneering blues-rockers.  Indeed, one of Rundgren’s earliest musical affiliations was with the band Woody’s Truck Stop, and the Woody’s sound took cues from blues-rock with a major twist of psychedelia.

After the jump: more on Johnson Live, plus the full CD/DVD track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 6, 2014 at 09:43

The Second Disc Buyers Guide: The 100 Greatest Reissues of All Time, Part 15 (#30-26)

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It’s time for another installment of our 100 Greatest Reissues list, taking Rolling Stone‘s list of the greatest albums of all time and investigating their many pressings and expansions as the catalogue industry has grown. Today, enjoy selections from three of the most beloved bands of all time, a pioneer in the blues field and our first selection, a singer/songwriter extraordinaire who proved that rock is not just for the guys.

30. Joni Mitchell, Blue (Reprise, 1971)

To read the entries that have come up thus far on the list, you’d think rock and roll was merely a man’s game. Not so, with Joni Mitchell’s fourth album Blue as an example. Inspired by a breakup with Graham Nash and a subsequent trip across the globe, Blue finds Mitchell embracing the most intimate arrangements and the most nakedly open feelings in her songwriting, from “Carey” to “River” to “A Case of You.” Add a host of legends from the 1970s West Coast music scene (James Taylor, Stephen Stills, Pete Kleinow, Russ Kunkel), and you’ve got an album that sounds as good as it looks on paper.

Blue bowed on CD in 1990 (Reprise 2038-2) and was remastered on gold CD by Steve Hoffman in 1996 (DCC Compact Classics GZS-1132); an HDCD version in mini-LP replica packaging followed in the 2000s (Reprise 7599-27199-2 (U.K.)/OPCD-8031 (U.S.)).

29. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin (Atlantic, 1969)

Led Zeppelin’s debut is a quickly-produced, self-funded killer of a debut that employed a lot of advances in the studio, from the “backward echo” present on Robert Plant’s vocals to the album’s release solely in stereo. That wasn’t enough to impress critics at first, who, post-Cream, were probably tired of being delivered overhyped British bands on a silver platter. Of course, time has since been kinder to the band and the album, widely regarded as a monster of a first effort.

As with previous Led Zep albums on the list, Led Zeppelin bowed on CD in 1990 (Atlantic 19126-2) mastered for CD by Barry Diament. Jimmy Page and George Marino at Sterling Sound remastered the entire Led Zep catalogue not long after; the final products ended up in the 1990 box set (Atlantic 7 82144-2) and its 1993 sequel (Atlantic 7 82477-2), the 1990 two-disc compilation Remasters (Atlantic 7 80415-2) and 1993′s The Complete Studio Recordings (Atlantic 7 82526-2), which sequenced all the material back into album order, ten discs strong. (Physical Graffiti, as mastered by Page and Marino, was released on its own in 1994, as Atlantic 82632-2.) A Japanese SHM-CD remaster used the same remasters (Atlantic WPCR-13130, 2008); those SHMs were compiled into The Definitive Collection in 2008 (Atlantic WPCR-13142; later released on standard CDs in America as Atlantic R2 513820).

Give a “yeeeeeeeeeeah!” after the jump for a great album by a killer British band, a blues icon and four Irish guys who became the biggest in the world.

28. The Who, Who’s Next (Track Records, 1971)

Built from the ashes of a failed rock opera, Lifehouse, Who’s Next is a rough and ready rocker that kept old and new fans under the band’s spell, from opening number “Baba O’Riley” to killer album closers “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” In typical Who fashion, it’s been reissued a few times. The first CDs came out on Polydor/MCA in 1983/1984 (Polydor 813 651-2 (U.K.)/MCA 37217 (U.S.)). Remasters from Andy MacPherson and Jon Astley followed in 1995 (MCA Records MCAD-11269), which featured seven bonus tracks (five of which were unreleased session takes and live tracks, two of which were previously released B-sides or outtakes from Odds and Sods). (That expanded program made it to a gold CD as well – Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD-754, 1999. MCA issued a gold CD in 1995 without any bonus tracks as release 11312.)

A 2003 Deluxe Edition (MCA/Chronicles 088 113 056-2) included all those bonus tracks (newly remixed, at that), adding two more studio outtakes and expanding the two live tracks from the Young Vic to an entire show. A Japanese SHM-SACD (Universal International UIGY-9022) followed in 2010. Future reissues are dependent upon location of presentable master tapes, as the originals are considered lost or destroyed (a fact that prevented the album from being included as downloadable content in the Rock Band video game series).

27. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia, 1961)

The two photographs and now-obsessively detailed mystique that surrounds blues legend Johnson, who died under mysterious circumstances at age 27, didn’t exist when Columbia hastily assembled King of the Delta Blues Singers in 1961. The image of the singer was merely a hazy painting, and the information provided in the liner notes was wildly inaccurate. But its popularity among a rising crop of British guitarists, including Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, can’t be understated. King of the Delta Blues Singers was the spark that lit a major flame under Johnson’s legend, which culminated in the Grammy-winning 1990 box set The Complete Recordings (Columbia C2K 46222), a double-disc set that featured all of these songs, as many alternate takes as could be found at the time and a far more academic stab at liner notes and discographical information.

While that was the definitive article, the original, 16-track King LP came out on CD twice: once in 1994 as a commemorative 24K gold disc (Columbia CK 52944) and again in 1998 (Columbia CK 65746) with – d’oh! – one alternate take that had been unearthed since the release of the box set. All 42 known recordings were compiled and released with new digital restoration and remastering by Seth Winner for The Centennial Collection (Columbia/Legacy 88697 85907 2, 2011).

26. U2, The Joshua Tree (Island, 1987)

It’s probably a coincidence that U2 were symbolically handed instruments by The Police – then the biggest rock band in the world – at a 1986 Amnesty International concert, one year before they released their iconic breakthrough The Joshua Tree. But there was no need for symbolism from the opening, ringing chords of “Where the Streets Have No Name” to the dark sorrow of “Mothers of the Disappeared.” This LP found U2 at a magical crossroad between European rock sensationalism and rugged American individuality, and the results were a gorgeous vista of sound.

The initial CD pressing of Joshua Tree (Island 7 90581-2) was known for one hideous visual anomaly: the striking, black and white panoramic shot of the band against the Mojave Desert was squished to fit most of the CD cover. That issue was first fixed with the 24K gold CD release (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 650, 1996), which also uncovered a bit of extra material from the master tape of “Mothers.” That extension remained on the remastered disc released for the LP’s 20th anniversary in 2007 (Island B0010285-02); that disc was also included in two deluxe editions: one (Island B0010286-02) which featured a bonus disc of non-LP B-sides and outtakes, and a box (Island B0010304-00) containing those two discs with a DVD featuring a live concert from Paris, a documentary filmed on the subsequent Joshua Tree Tour and several promo videos.

Monday: the final 25 kicks off with Joe and stone cold classics by Fleetwood Mac, James Brown, Chuck Berry and more!

Written by Mike Duquette

December 16, 2011 at 17:34

Clapton Sings the Blues: Vinyl Box Set to Anthologize Late Period Albums

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Vinyl enthusiasts are going to have Slowhand for the holidays. A report from fanzine Where’s Eric? announces the November release of Clapton Blues, a five-vinyl box set that encompasses three of Clapton’s great late-period blues albums.

First up is From the Cradle, Clapton’s first LP since the triumphant success of his MTV Unplugged appearance in 1992. It’s a raw, straight pass of a set (the liner notes detail only two overdubs and no editing) comprised of 16 classic covers of blues legends from Elmore James to Muddy Waters. Strange as it sounds, this was Clapton’s first true all-blues album as a solo performer, but it was just what folks wanted to hear, topping the Billboard 200 and earning a triple platinum certification.

Clapton’s next foray into the blues was 2000’s Riding with the King, a collaboration with – who else? – the one and only B.B. King. While the then-74-year-old guitarist had worked with Clapton before (they first met Clapton when he was Cream’s guitarist and worked together on King’s Deuces Wild in 1997), this was their first full-blown joint effort. The response was exactly what you’d expect from two giants of the genre getting together: strong sales, critical respect and a Grammy for each of their shelves for Best Blues Album.

Finally, while not a collaboration in the strict sense of the word, Clapton in 2004 tackled the work of late blues pioneer Robert Johnson for Me and Mr. Johnson. Of course, the guitarist was no stranger to his work – his interest in Johnson in the ’60s paved the way for the critical reassessment and resurgence that Johnson’s output would enjoy in the decades to follow – but the record was kind of an accident, the output of a studio session with no new written material. The loose sessions were turned into an album, and Clapton’s blues legend was further underlined.

The box will feature Cradle and King on double vinyl and Johnson on single vinyl. According to the report, an exclusibe online preorder will feature the discs on blue vinyl as well.

Clapton Blues is available November 22. Reacquaint yourself with the track lists after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

August 26, 2011 at 13:26

Release Round-Up: Week of April 26

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Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Universal)

The 2-CD remastered/expanded 40th Anniversary Edition (previously a Best Buy exclusive) and super deluxe 4-CD/2-LP/1-DVD box set of the seminal album both arrive in stores today.  Read more here.  (2-CD – Amazon, Box Set – Amazon)

Bob Dylan, The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 (Columbia/Legacy)

Murray Lerner’s film chronicling Dylan’s incendiary performances at Newport is released on Blu-Ray for the first time. (Amazon)

Ella Fitzgerald, Ella in Japan (Verve Select)

Hip-o and Verve resurrect two nights of previously unreleased concerts from January 1964 in Tokyo.  The Roy Eldridge Quartet supports the legendary jazz chanteuse.  Read more here.  (Amazon)

Florence + The Machine, Lungs: Deluxe Edition (Universal Republic)

An expanded edition of Florence + The Machine’s impressive 2009 debut Lungs arrives in America.  Read more here.   (Amazon)

Jefferson Airplane, The Worst of Jefferson Airplane (Vinyl) (Friday Music)

From “Somebody to Love” to “Volunteers,” this compilation offers the best of the San Francisco rock pioneers, remastered on 180-gram vinyl.  Read more here.  (Amazon)

Robert Johnson, The Centennial Collection (Legacy)

Robert Johnson would have turned 100 this year, and Legacy celebrates in style with this update of 1990’s The Complete Recordings.  42 tracks are included on two discs.  A deluxe box set is also available.  Read more here.  (Amazon)

Roy Orbison, The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964) (Monument/Orbison Records/Legacy)

This 2-CD/1-DVD set compiles on CD every A- and B-side from Orbison’s career-making tenure at Monument Records in original mono mixes, plus rare concert footage from 1965 on DVD.  A booklet with detailed discographical information is included!  Read more here.  (Amazon)

The Rolling Stones, The Complete Singles: 1971-2006 (Hip-o/Universal)

Yup, this 45-CD set (!) brings together 173 tracks representing the Stones’ singles output beginning in 1971, and 80 tracks debut on CD.  A 32-page hardback book sweetens the deal.  Read more here.  (Amazon)

Studio Cast Recording, On Your Toes (Masterworks Broadway/Arkiv Music)

Jack Cassidy and Portia Nelson star in this 1953 studio cast recording of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s great score.  Tracks include “There’s a Small Hotel,” “Glad to Be Unhappy” and “Slaughter on 10th Avenue.”  Available in mono as a disc-on-demand or download.  Read more here.  (CD – Arkiv, Download – Amazon)

Jimmy Webb & The Webb Brothers, Cottonwood Farm (Proper US)

Webb’s 2009 collaboration with his sons and other family members receives a belated American debut on Proper.  (Amazon)

Weekend Discussion: Box Set Cornerstones

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Here’s a topic for discussion for you, our awesome readers, as we head toward the weekend.

We’re getting close to about a quarter-century or more since the box set entered the CD era. (Bruce Springsteen’s Live 1975/85 and Bob Dylan’s Biograph would be among the first great examples of such anthologies.) Lately, we’ve started to see a strange pattern of artists who received great early box sets getting revisited yet again in new sets. The next few months will see boxes devoted to Derek and The Dominoes’ Layla (anthologized as its own anniversary set in 1991 and Clapton’s Crossroads box in 1988) and the works of Robert Johnson (whose Complete Recordings was an early, darling box in 1990). That upcoming Phil Spector box in June also has echoes of the classic Back to Mono set.

It’s easy (and perhaps common) to grouse about the recycling of material from the major labels, but I’d rather take the conversation in another direction. If you had to pick, say, up to five definitive box sets of the CD era, what would you pick? They could be from the early days of the format, they could be from the past few years – no matter. I’m interested in seeing everyone’s opinions. What makes them definitive to you?

Sound off in the comments! Looking very forward to seeing what everyone has to say.

Written by Mike Duquette

March 4, 2011 at 15:23

Blues in a Box: Legacy to Celebrate Robert Johnson’s 100th

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May 8 would have been the 100th birthday of Robert Johnson, arguably the most influential figure in blues music. Of course, Johnson did not live nearly that long – he died at 27 in 1938, leaving a legacy of stirring, influential recordings on 78 RPM records and a bizarrely ill-documented lifeline (only two pictures of him are known to exist, and there’s a legend that he gained his guitar prowess thanks to a deal with the devil himself) – but his legacy remains strong. The 1961 compilation King of the Delta Blues Singers was a massive influence on Eric Clapton, Robert Plant and countless others, and his signature songs (“Hellhound on My Trail,” “Crossroads,” “Sweet Home Chicago”) remain pop standards to this day.

1990’s The Complete Recordings, released by Columbia, was a watershed in the early history of CD box sets, winning a Grammy, going platinum and being selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. Columbia/Legacy now follows that tradition and ups the ante with The Complete Original Masters: Centennial Edition, a massive CD/vinyl box set available online April 26.

This limited, numbered set – 1,000 copies will be pressed – includes reproductions of the 12 original 12″ singles that Johnson released for the Vocalion label in between 1937 and 1939 (the discs play at 45 RPM). Also included are four compact discs: The Robert Johnson Centennial Collection – a two-disc collection of all 42 of Johnson’s known master takes (including alternates) – and two compilations, Rare Victor Blues – collating other blues sides from the Sony vaults – and Also Playing…, which features other rare tracks laid down during the same session dates that Johnson had in San Antonio and Dallas. Finally, a 1992 documentary, The Life and Music of Robert Johnson: Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl, will be included on DVD.

It is known that the Johnson CD set will be available separately. What is not known is whether or not the tracks will be mastered at different speeds, as recent evidence has indicated that the original singles were mastered slightly faster than intended.

Have a look at this impressive track list after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

February 17, 2011 at 13:51