Tell Tale Signs
Will Bob Dylan ever run out of non-album material good enough to merit public release? Not as long as he’s living, it seems — a guess backed up by the eighth (yes!) installment of his Bootleg Series, Tell Tale Signs (Sony), a batch of alternate versions, live tracks, and the occasional soundtrack tidbit that focuses largely on two Daniel Lanois-produced masterpieces, Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind. Here we get (among many other things) a look at what some of those songs sound like when not as thickly draped in Lanoisian reverb, but the change isn’t just sonic — arrangements and delivery get reworked as well, to fascinating effect.
( Factory Records)
Dylan’s far from the only musical artist proving reissues aren’t dead yet. On the heels of single-disc releases that pay admirably bonus-packed attention to core albums by The Replacements and Creedence Clearwater Revival comes a handful of double-discers devoted to the Factory Records era of New Order. They’re a little late to ride the coattails of last year’s Joy Division mania, but that’s not bad: These five records stand ably as a self-contained body of work. Each package’s liner notes offer enjoyably colorful anecdotes about an increasingly hard-partying band, but don’t list any of the music-nerd data you might want about the tracks. I’d love to know more about Technique’s “Don’t Do It,” in which a rudimentary drum machine and dank-basement harpsichord sound evoke the band’s early style before quickly bridging into the synth-symphony and guitar sound of their heyday, but I’ll content myself with all the invaluable 12-inch remixes, some of which have come to seem more the authentic versions of songs than the album tracks.
With other bands releasing their catalog classics five and six at a time, what’s slowing R.E.M. down? The group has never been shy about issuing special editions and fan-oriented stuff, but the brilliant new Deluxe Edition of Murmur (A&M) is enough to make you wish they’d sit down and hash out a comprehensive early-years series. Here, their debut LP is joined by a second disc that skips the cute stuff and goes straight to an unreleased 1983 Toronto concert played when they weren’t yet stars. In addition to the pleasure of hearing them preview songs they wouldn’t commit to disc until a year or two later, fans get a great peek at what R.E.M. sounded like when they could barely fill a nightclub, much less the basketball arena near you. (Incidentally, a better-known live glimpse at a group’s formative years, U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky, has just come out in a CD/DVD that nearly completes Universal’s celebration of the period up to and including The Joshua Tree. Hey, when do we get The Unforgettable Fire?)
The Broadcast Sessions
Miles Davis All-stars Featuring John Coltrane
Acrobat Music has started a line of Premier Collection titles that range from Frank Sinatra to Ike & Tina and mostly focus on live performances that were broadcast on radio. The sexiest of the batch is probably one by the Miles Davis All-stars Featuring John Coltrane, a collection compiled from four 1958-1959 sessions that sports plenty-good sound quality and occasional interruptions from square announcers explaining why the star is “controversial.” (Wonder what they thought of him two or three decades later.)
A radio-live disc of more recent vintage features the complete John Peel Sessions (BBC) of Magazine, the short-lived but vibrant Buzzcocks spinoff. The group’s four studio discs were reissued last year, but post-punk fans who missed them could do a lot worse than this for an intro — a fiery 15-song performance spiced up by covers of Captain Beefheart and (in a really odd match-up) Sly Stone.
Songs for Beginners
Finally, the re-release of Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners (Rhino) could be a revelation for those of us who have lumped the post-’60s solo outings of Crosby Stills & Nash into one ungainly pile. Songs is brilliant folk rock, from the Kinks-y “Military Madness” to the Ben Folds-prescient piano intro of closing micro-anthem “We Can Change the World.” The second disc on this one offers multiple audio mixes, including a 5.1 surround sound version — that may be superfluous, but it’s no crime if it means getting the record back on shelves where folk-loving youngsters can find it for the first time. •