Reflections on Rock Music: Remasters, Reissues, and Bootleg Releases…

Originally posted 2009-03-16 23:51:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In lieu of a video tonight, I’d like to take a moment and review one of the music industry’s favorite ways to make an extra dime on previously released material — also known as “remastered” and/or “reissued” albums.  And, just because it feels right, I’d like to incorporate some thoughts on the release of previously unreleased material, or “bootleg,” “b-side,” and/or “rarity” collections.

Remastered Recordings

What is a remastered recording, really?  Now, in some cases, a remastered recording can be the most exciting release in an artist’s catalog, particularly for longtime fans and audiophiles.  For instance, there really is no substitute for the fully stereo-version of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.  This remastered disc created quite a controversy when it first came out, as you had purists who claimed it should remain mono, as it was originally intended and released by Brian Wilson and the boys.  Others embraced the all-new expansion of the sound on this classic album.  As for me, I cannot understand how anyone in possession of the Pet Sounds CD could refrain from skipping to track 14 every time to begin with the stereo recording of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  Compared to the mono recordings, the second set of stereo-mixed tracks are crisp and clear as they pop out around your ears.  You can hear each instrument and truly appreciate the minute instrumental and harmonic details that are present in this Beach Boys masterpiece, as compared to the mono versions which have a tendency to crackle and feel claustrophobic when turned up to any reasonable volume.

This, unfortunately, is probably the exception in the world of “remasters.”

Beware music fans when you pick up a CD or read online that a disc has been “remastered.”  The trick here is to read into the fine print and ascertain to what degree the recording has actually been altered.  For instance, the classic packaging/marketing trick has been for a sticker on a CD case to read “Digitally Remastered.”  That sounds great!  I have to have this new and improved recording for my collection!…

Well, perhaps so, but half the time all this means is that someone converted the analog tracks into a digital format.  Depending on the artist, producer, remixer, and age of original recording, there has often been no real improvement to the sound of the recording.  I’ve certainly been burned a few times by this “Digitally Remastered” marketing…

That being said, there really are some truly great remastered recordings out there if you’re careful to ascertain the degree of thought and effort that has gone into the apparent “remastering” (Like the re-issue of the main albums in Bob Dylan’s catalog a few years ago — and you better appreciate the improvement in sound quality, because there’s no booklet or bonus tracks to speak of!)

Reissues

Not to sound bitter here or anything, but reissues can also be just another waste of money.  Or they can offer any amazing addition to your collection.  How can you tell the difference?  Well, here are a few tips:

  • If it is a reissue of a recently released album, it’s probably just the same old material with a couple of shoddily recorded demos or tracks that didn’t make it to the album (usually for a reason) attached;
  • If it is an album that never made it to CD, then you must ask yourself: How much do I love this artist? If the answer is anything other than “very much,” then stay far, far away from this type of reissue!!  On the other hand, if the answer is “very much,” then what are you waiting for?  Some of my favorite CD purchases have fallen under this category, most notably Warren Zevon’s The Envoy.  I can’t believe that, previous to the reissue of this album in 2003, I wouldn’t have been able to hear such songs as “The Overdraft” or “Hula Hula Boys.”
  • If it is a reissue of a live album, you need to seriously question what has been improved since the initial release.  After all, what level of improvement can there really be in terms of sound quality?  It’s a live album.  It better have lots of additional tracks or an amazing, detailed booklet with updated interviews, etc.  Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison reissue is an excellent example of a worthwhile purchase in this category.
  • If it is an anniversary edition of a studio recording, some of the same criteria apply as above.  For instance, have the tracks been remastered?  (I mean, really remastered!)  Is there a decent array of bonus tracks added for the collector who already has the original album?  Is there a seriously detailed booklet with a decent number of pages?  I mean, after all, if this is an album worthy of a reissue, there must be a good deal of back story, historical importance, and/or artists from that band or other bands that are excited and willing to talk about it!
  • Finally, there is the enigmatic multiple format reissue.  What is this, you may ask?  This is when an album or collection of tracks is released and there are multiple options for the consumer.  For instance, when Pearl Jam re-releases their debut album Ten later this month, there will be three different packages available.  There’s the “Legacy Edition” with two discs — one with the original tracks, one with a newly remixed version of the album by original producer Brendan O’Brien and six bonus tracks.  There’s the “Deluxe Edition” with the aforementioned two discs and a DVD of Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged performance from 1992.  Then, there’s the “Collector’s Edition” with the aforementioned two CDs and one DVD, four vinyl discs (one with the original album, one with the remixed and bonus tracks, two with a live concert), a cassette version of Pearl Jam’s original “Momma-Son” demo, and “Package also includes an Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook filled with replica personal notes, images and mementos from the collections of Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament, a vellum envelope with replicated era-specific ephemera from Pearl Jam’s early work and a two-sided print commemorating the Drop in the Park concert.”  Wow.  Now that’s some selection.  For most people, the “Legacy Edition” really should be enough.  For me, the intermediate Pearl Jam fan (and the ultimate fan of CD packaging), I will consider the “Deluxe Edition” based on the price difference.  If it’s a reasonable amount more, I would really be interested to watch the unplugged performance.  As for the “Collector’s Edition” (valued on Amazon.com at $124.99), you truly need to be a Collector with a capital “C.”  Now, don’t get me wrong; they have really done it up with some amazing elements, but as much as I love and appreciate CD packaging, I’m not about to drop that much money on a single album reissue.  If my memory serves me well, this was the price for buying all the Dylan reissues at one point (again, admittedly without any booklet, bonus tracks, or memorabilia to speak of).

Bootlegs (and B-sides and Rarities)

A final category in this collection of corporate cash cows (and music lovers’ delights!) are officially released bootleg recordings.  For convenience, I’ll lump in B-sides and rarities.  Bootlegs, of course, are tracks that have not been officially released but are circulated underground among fans.  Perhaps the most famous release of a bootleg was Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes.  Worth every crazy, weird minute of sound, my friends!  Dylan’s celebrated Bootleg Series is dedicated to releasing unheard tracks and live concerts that have been — almost without exception — wonderful and worthwhile purchases.  Again, I would ask that you apply that aforementioned question to the purchase laid out before you:  “How much do you like this band/artist?”

Most bands, at some point or another, release a collection of unreleased tracks, b-sides, and rarities.  These are sometimes mediocre at best (Hootie and the Blowfish’s Scattered, Covered, and Smothered) with a minimum of only somewhat interesting liner notes.  However, these are sometimes wildly fascinating and rewarding, such as the Beach Boys’ Endless Harmony soundtrack, Warren Zevon’s Preludes, or Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs (the latter incorporating a detailed and interesting read of a booklet).

The trick here, to be repeated once and only once more, is to evaluate how much you like the artist or band, and then to take a calculated risk.  In this writer’s opinion, half the fun of surfing the racks (or the web) and buying new albums — whether they be standard releases, remasters, reissues, or bootlegs — is the risk involved.  You may be — and perhaps most often will be — unimpressed or only somewhat entertained.  But it’s all worth it when you have those moments of revelation as you discover a truly worthwhile addition to your music library!

The Weekend Review: May 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-12-29 13:51:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It has recently come to my attention that the “box” format I’ve used on all my Weekend Review posts thus far this year is somewhat incompatible with at least the iPhone Safari browser, possibly with other smart phone interfaces as well.  What was intended to provide organization and aesthetic pleasure actually ended up cutting off my words from clear view on many devices.  So, my thanks to those who pointed that out, and rest assured I’m already brainstorming a format for next year.

As it is, my Weekend Reviews have fallen by the wayside in a year that has seen a significant format change — a blending, as it were, of my full-length reviews (which were, admittedly, perhaps too long) and my “Yes, No, Maybe So” one-sentence reviews (which started out simpler, but ended up having much of the complexity of my five star scale in the full-length reviews; I also pushed the definition of “one-sentence” to the extreme).

I’m excited for the new year to come for me to rededicate myself to the new music reviews in a more manageable manner and on a more regular schedule, yet I couldn’t let the latter two-thirds of the year’s new music slip by without comment.  So, without further ado, here’s my reviews (and many they are!) for May 2011, and I’ll be back soon to squeeze in the remaining months before the end of 2011.  As you can tell, brevity is a virtue as I rush to meet the 1/1/2012 deadline, and I am all the more excited for my end-of-the-year lists, which will be unveiled throughout the first weeks of January 2012.

 

The Schnozzle Sessions (Mike Fusco)

Producer: Mike Fusco

Released: (limited edition)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Adore You” & “Do You Have a Sister”

Simply put, The Schnozzle Sessions oozes potential and makes a listener anxious for the blend of catchy tunes, clever and poetic lyricism, and passionate vocalizing that will surely be highlighted on Fusco’s next full studio album, a promise already made good on the “Modern-Day Pocahontas” single released this summer.

 

Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes)

Producer: Phil Ek and Fleet Foxes

Released: May 3, 2011

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Helplessness Blues” & “Blue Spotted Tail”

I don’t think the Fleet Foxes are bad, I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about.  I don’t understand the Beach Boys comparisons they’ve been drawing since their breakthrough to the mainstream, a likeness clearly supportable in their lush, gorgeous multi-layered vocals, yet undeserved on the level of the song as a whole.  Fleet Foxes, like many recent bands, seem content to develop sections and lines – what Brian Wilson might have referred to as “feels” in the mid-sixties – and yet to develop no further.  There seems to be little of the creativity in composition that Wilson demonstrated early.  Of course, it was this quest for artistic development and perhaps even perfection that likely drove Wilson off the deep end, so Fleet Foxes are probably smart to keep to their formula, breaking out here and there in standouts like the poetic urgency of the title track and the understated, emotive beauty of songs like “Blue Spotted Tail.”  One might take “The Shrine / An Argument” as sign of greater aspirations, so there is indeed reason to pay hopeful attention for future developments…

I Am Very Far (Okkervil River)

Producer: Will Sheff

Released: May 10, 2011

Rating: 2/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “The Rise” & “Piratess”

There is something about the overall composition of I Am Very Far that smacks of two sticks struck together only a bit too slowly or at a slightly incorrect angle to achieve a spark.  Okkervil River is unsurprisingly strong in their lyricism here, very ambitious and coherent in their instrumentation, and yet something falls flat.  There is passion, but it fails to translate.  In too many places, the album falls into a march and trudges forward, having failed to achieve authentic momentum.  Still, the haunting aura of the album closer “The Rise” hangs over the whole as it fades, leaving an echo of what is possible.

 

Move Like This (The Cars)

Producer: Jacknife Lee & the Cars

Released: May 10, 2011

Rating: 4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Too Late” & “Sad Song”

Having picked up this album as a passing fancy, feeling badly for how few units seemed to have moved before I found it on the CD store racks, the consistent quality of Move Like This was a pleasant surprise, a shock even.  In an odd way, the synthetic soundscape that the Cars not only rode but also helped to define over two decades ago has resurfaced and provided for this album to be released years after the band’s prime yet still sound remarkably fresh and modern.  The production quality is clear and crisp, the band keeps a fast pace, and Ric Ocasek (returning for the first time since 1988) sounds as vital as ever.

 

Give Till It’s Gone (Ben Harper)

Released: May 10, 2011

Rating: 2/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Don’t Give Up on Me Now” & “I Will Not Be Broken”

If anyone has been guilty of dragging out too little for too long, it is Ben Harper on this album.  Following his significant contribution to last year’s masterful Fistful of Mercy debut, Harper opens with “Don’t Give Up on Me Now,” easily the top track of the release.  However, much of the music that follows is emotive yet more than one track suffers from not knowing when to quit (“Get There From Here,” “Dirty Little Lover”), others from a whiff of autopilot (“Rock N’ Roll is Free,” “Pray That Our Love Sees the Dawn”), most from a feeling of drifting between the patterns of blues and its close relatives and an urge to be more.

 

Rome: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi)

Producer: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi

Released: May 16, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Season’s Trees” & “Two Against One”

As a soundtrack, this album is held to a slightly different standard, one which is frankly difficult for me to calibrate, particularly without having seen the film for which it was designed.  As I had hoped for and expected, Danger Mouse’s presence is clearly felt and the songs with vocals are true gems, particularly “Season’s Trees” and “Two Against One.”  The choice of collaborators is ideal, Norah Jones taking lead on the former and ex-White Strip Jack White on the latter – both provide their unique vocal sound and distinct presence to their respective tracks, which serve to elevate Rome above background music — wonderfully quirky though that background music may otherwise be.

 

The Graduation Ceremony (Joseph Arthur)

Producer: John Alagia & Joseph Arthur

Released: May 23, 2011

Rating: 4/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Face in the Crowd” & “This is Still My World”

Particularly in this solo release, it becomes clear just how much Joseph Arthur’s presence was felt on last year’s excellent Fistful of Mercy debut release.  Unlike his bandmate Ben Harper, who seems to delight in a mixture of electric distortion and melancholia, Arthur captures an even deeper sense of loss on this album with a much more finely wrought sense of layering that results in an apparent mastery of mood.  There is a warm, personal atmosphere about this record, one not often achieved outside a live venue, and one that benefits from a multi-layered manipulation of the studio.  The ultimate result, on superbly rendered tracks like “Horses,” is of some pleasing middle ground being achieved between the simple and the overproduced.  Adding a quasi-rock romp like “Midwest” three quarters of the way in is just one of the many winks Arthur makes, hinting at his potential while remaining in the bounds of his project, his sound.

 

Demolished Thoughts (Thurston Moore)

Producer: Beck

Released: May 24, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Benediction” & “Illuminine”

Beck’s presence in the producer’s slot should come as no surprise given the feel and sound of Demolished Thoughts, though leading off with what are arguably the two strongest tracks somehow seems a frantic, freshman move.  Still, on these two tracks alone, and certainly throughout the record, Moore makes good on the laurels he has earned as guitarist for Sonic Youth, among other side projects.  His use of orchestration to accompany him throughout creates a beautifully murky mood and often works as an intricate counterpoint to his acoustic guitar.  Still, the brilliance of “Benediction” and Illuminine” are rarely achieved again, perhaps only fully in “Mina Loy” and “January” at the close of the album.

 

Codes and Keys (Death Cab for Cutie)

Producer: Chris Walla

Released: May 31, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “You Are A Tourist” & “Stay Young, Go Dancing”

While it is pretty much par for the course for me to hate on Death Cab for Cutie, most often via less than cleverly concealed observations of their mediocrity with relation to the praise they invariably receive, and while I initially lumped Codes and Keys in with the bulk of their catalog, I would be remiss if I did not admit that this latest album has softened my typical stance.  There is a certain mastery of atmosphere, a blend of guitars, still prominent in the mixes, with the other, more typical keyboard-based instrumentation of experimentation.  Perhaps their strongest product since Transatlanticism, Codes and Keys consistently maintains a clarity of purpose that is admirable, each track contributing to a sort of unity of effect.  You won’t find me helping to hoist it onto the “Best Album” bandwagon, but I won’t be kicking it off into the ditch either.

 

Ukulele Songs (Eddie Vedder)

Producer: Adam Kasper & Eddie Vedder

Released: May 31, 2011

Rating: 3/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:

Allow me to begin by expounding on my respect for Eddie Vedder both as a performer and as a presence.  If anyone can pull off an album of solo ukulele songs, it is Eddie Vedder.  Of course, had anyone predicted twenty years ago that he would actually put out such a record, most would have laughed.  Or spat.  However, here we are two decades post-Ten and scanning through a 16-track, one-man-ukulele-band album heavily weighted with Vedder-penned tracks, and hardly a Pearl Jam cover among them.  While there was a sort of artistry to the Into the Wild soundtrack, Vedder’s first solo release, that is lacking here, there is also a sense of ownership lacking from that effort that oozes forth here.  It’s hardly the first disc that comes to mind when I get in the car, Ukulele Songs is a stark yet striking effort that fits in just right in the fading twilight of a weekend evening.

CD Review: Songwriter Sheryl Crow’s New Music is Personal on “Detours”

Originally posted 2008-02-10 21:44:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  2 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

As an album, Detours is certainly not what its title would imply. If anything, this is a further return to form for Sheryl Crow – equal parts acoustic and electric, serious and carefree. At every turn, it surprises and engages and, above all, denies the listener the opportunity to get too comfortable. She is concerned about a series of social issues, yet she does not stop there—she shares some advice for getting back on the right track and, of course, some relevant personal tales.

The songs on this album can essentially be divided into three main categories—topical songs, songs about love and peace, and personal songs. The album kicks off with a selection from the first category, the acoustic-only “God Bless This Mess.” With lines like, “The president…led us as a nation into a war based on lies,” Crow establishes early on that she will not be pulling any punches. Then, if there was any question in the listener’s mind as to whether or not this album would be too simple, she thunders into “Shine Over Babylon,” spewing lines about teachers’ hands being “overrun,” cities “drowning under boiling fountains,” and scavengers handing us “all the junk that should have damned” us. Upon a first listen, I was happy to hear that someone else is very much unhappy with the state of affairs in our nation and in our world. She goes on to address, as the title implies, “Gasoline” and the priorities that some place in parties, reality-TV, and the like in “Motivation.”

If this was her only focus, then Detours may have been quite a downer indeed. However, true to form, Crow compliments her darker songs with an equal helping of tunes calling for us to embrace peace and love. In an almost hippie-esque fashion, she declares “Everybody’s making love ‘cause love is free” and later calls upon us to invoke the refrain, “Peace Be Upon Us” At times, these songs can end in a repetitive manner or come across as too simple, but overall they seem sincere and not so out of place on an album that asks us to strip everything down to the surface, from social issues to romantic relationships. And, if the protest song-undertones of songs like “Out of Our Heads” isn’t your cup of tea, then it is hard to ignore a catchy and upbeat rocker like “Love Is All There Is.” Ringo Starr would be proud.

What really brings this album home for me is the final category of songs, namely the personal tales that inhabit this release. Both the title track and “Make It Go Away (The Radiation Song)” come across as deeply personal and, again, very sincere. Coming on the heels of her recent treatments for cancer, these songs translate as authentic glimpses into her mindset as an individual. For instance, as she explained in a recent interview, detours is a term she uses to describe experiences that force us to reevaluate our priorities and our lives. Physical health isn’t her only concern; on the contrary, the emotions of new love shine through on “Drunk With the Thought of You” and the gloom of love gone wrong can be heard in every breath of “Diamond Ring.” I thought it very fitting of her to put “Lullaby for Wyatt” last in the track listing. After an album’s worth of sorting through the world’s problems and both advocating the importance of and considering the realities of love, she ends with the realization that she loves her son, but “love is letting go.”

When she released C’mon, C’mon in 2002, I had difficulty finding merit in its pop-based sound and mentality, and I wondered what her future albums would be like. It only took a few guitar strums and the first line of track one, “I Know Why,” from her subsequent 2005 album Wildflower to put any concerns out of my mind entirely. Now, Detours has reaffirmed my interest in Crow’s music, if only for its ability to cover so much ground—political, social, interpersonal—in such a sincere manner.

** EDITOR’S NOTE **

The 2 star rating (out of five) was added after the review was written.  This is an album that had very little staying power, and I was admittedly much more enthusiastic about the release than I should have been, most likely due to events in my personal life — i.e. the decision to buy more CD’s in 2008 to really experience a broader range of new music.  I hope you enjoy the album, as I did when I first wrote this review.  However, the rating should act as a warning from a wiser listener.  :-)

“Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam – Chords, Tabs, & How to Play

Originally posted 2009-09-28 22:16:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“Just Breathe”
Pearl Jam

C                                                                G
Yes I understand that every life must end, aw huh…
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, aw huh…
I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love…
Some folks just have one, others they got none, aw huh…

Am
Stay with me…
F
Let’s just breathe.

Practiced are my sins, never gonna let me win, aw huh…
Under everything, just another human being, aw huh…
Yeh, I don’t wanna hurt, there’s so much in this world to make me bleed.

Stay with me…
You’re all I see.

G                     Dm
Did I say that I need you?
G                     Dm
Did I say that I want you?
F                           Am
Oh, if I didn’t I’m a fool you see…
F                                             G
No one knows this more than me.
G
As I come clean.

I wonder everyday as I look upon your face, aw huh…
Everything you gave and nothing you would take, aw huh…

Nothing you would take…
Everything you gave.

Did I say that I need you?
Oh, did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn’t now I’m a fool you see…
No one knows this more than me.
As I come clean.

(Fingerpicking over verse chords)

Am
Nothing you would take…
F
Everything you gave.
Hold me till I die…
Meet you on the other side.

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **