The sun's a demon, school's out and there's nothing on TV but reruns. So now that summer's officially here, you can use all that downtime to get lost in music. This week's playlist column is devoted to recent reissues: a deluxe edition of a rock masterpiece, two volumes of unearthed soul, an overlooked jewel of a record by a celebrated pop stylist and a newly discovered jazz album by a diva supreme.
The Allman Brothers Band
Eat a Peach
Call me a young fogey if you want, but I'm a bit tired of the noisy, snarly garage punk sound that many rock critics seem to favor these days. Although some of it is solid, I generally prefer my rock with more soul and less forget-you attitude. But until mainstream rockers get back to swingin' and groovin' with more bluesy flavor, I'll mine evergreens, such as Eat a Peach, just reissued by Universal Records as a two-disc set. It's part of the label's excellent Deluxe Edition series. The 1972 classic is brilliantly remastered with informative liner notes. Although the original album has long been available on CD, this version is worth the price because of Disc Two.
On it, you get the oft-bootlegged June 27, 1971, show of the Allman Brothers Band at New York's Fillmore East. It was the last concert the original lineup played before its guiding force, masterful guitarist Duane Allman, died in a motorcycle accident Oct. 29, 1971. The concert's Southern-fried tunes - "Statesboro Blues," "One Way Out" and "Hot 'Lanta" - are about as funky as it gets. Lead singer Gregg Allman sounds assured, even jubilant during the show as brother Duane and Dickey Betts trade and interlock fiery riffs on their guitars. It's a sharp contrast to the singer's mournful performance on "Melissa," the hit from Eat a Peach, which takes up Disc One. (The album, made up of studio and live tracks featuring Duane, was originally released four months after his death.) The music on both discs brims with smart, jaw-droppingly good musicianship.
Various Artists, Atlantic Unearthed
Soul Brothers and Soul Sisters
I'm sure the vaults of Motown and Atlantic, two towering labels in classic pop and R&B;, are packed to the rafters with unbelievable recordings that have never seen the light of day. For these two volumes from Rhino Records, British producer and music historian David Nathan combed Atlantic's masters for cuts that were either long forgotten or never issued. Similar compilations have been done on Motown recently: 2001's A Cellarful of Motown and 2005's A Cellarful of Motown, Vol. 2. As was the case with those releases, the songs on Atlantic Unearthed either match or bested the singles officially released by the company.
What were the suits at Atlantic thinking when they decided to can Aretha's raw, sanctified 1970 take on Frank Sinatra's "My Way"? What were they smoking when they decided not to release "What a Woman Really Means," a gorgeous, sun-lit number Donny Hathaway recorded in 1973? Those two joints alone are worth the price of admission. But tracks by lesser-known artists, such as the great Margie Joseph (a funky 1972 rendition of the Temptations' "It's Growing") and the late Walter Jackson (the moving "Coldest Days of My Life" from 1970), are just as riveting.
Just Being Myself
Although this hard-to-find album was reissued last year, I finally got a copy about two weeks ago. And what a find. When this ironically titled record first came out in 1973, the New Jersey-born vocalist candidly told the press she didn't like it, that it wasn't "quite Dionne Warwick." Perhaps that's true since the album, produced by the great Motown team Holland-Dozier-Holland (Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland) was a departure from what she had done in the '60s with Burt Bacharach and Hal David. But Just Being Myself is far from a bust; it's among the multi-Grammy winner's most adventurous, soulful outings. The opening track, "You're Gonna Need Me," was generously sampled on "Throwback," a prime track on Usher's mega-selling 2004 CD, Confessions.
With its immediate fuzz guitar line and Warwick's urgent vocals, the song is a standout. The album, in fact, teems with muscular grooves and interesting orchestral flourishes. If you are a fan of Dionne Warwick or lush, uptown '70s soul, you should check this out.
In 1972, with unwavering support from former lover and Motown chieftain Berry Gordy Jr., the Boss Miss Ross became one of that year's hottest crossover acts. She had ditched the Supremes two years earlier and notched her first No. 1 pop single, the classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Soon afterward, she also became a major movie star, playing Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, a role that garnered her an Oscar nomination for best actress in '72.
The movie soundtrack made its debut at No. 1 on Billboard's pop album charts. A logical follow-up would have been Blue, which was recorded at about the same time as the soundtrack. But Motown (well, Gordy) wanted Ross to return to pure pop, so the jazz album was canned. Recently uncovered in the company's vaults, Blue is a shimmering artistic statement flowing with pristine, thoughtful arrangements by Gil Askey. Ross doesn't imitate Lady Day. Rather, she brilliantly suggests her style (the languid, behind-the-beat phrasing, the sensitive lyrical interpretation) on songs associated with the jazz-pop genius. Highlights include the almost-hypnotic "But Beautiful" and the silken "Little Girl Blue." A sterling set from one of the few in the pop biz who deserve the "diva" tag.