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ELTON ON FOR GRAMMY TRIBUTE. WHAT ABOUT THE BIG SHOW?
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Critics' Choice
RHINO GOES DEEP WITH THE CARS,
WBR REISSUES STEVE EARLE
8/16/17

By Bud Scoppa

 

Lavish box sets and career-overview compilations have long been the sexy attention-getters for catalog labels, but the album-by-album reissuing of the discographies of important artists is just as significant for music lovers who want to delve deeper.

Rhino, which has quietly been doing a quality job on this front, has begun working through the six LPs cut by The Cars for Elektra, releasing the band’s second and third albums, Candy-O and Panorama. Both were part of 2016’s The Elektra Years 1978-1987, remastered under the supervision of Ric Ocasek, but these two new reissues add outtakes, B-sides, alternate mixes and demos for a more in-depth look into the recording process of the great Boston band.

Candy-O’s seven extras include four songs cut at Northern Studios in Boston suburb Maynard, where The Cars had been demoing material since their formative stages. Early takes of “Candy-O’ and “Dangerous Type” underscore the band’s signature fidgety intensity, their dynamic immediacy comparing favorably to the more streamlined final versions produced by Roy Thomas Baker at Cherokee in L.A.

The three previously unissued Panorama tracks—“Shooting for You,” “Be My Baby” and “The Edge”—as well as B-side “Don’t Go to Pieces,” are suffused with the dark melancholy of the released album and performed with taut, sinewy energy, making the expanded reissue even more of a complete thought. If the CD rather than the vinyl LP had been the configuration of choice in 1980, all four might well have made the original album—they’re definitely strong enough.
          


Coming in September are a half-dozen albums Steve Earle released on E-Squared/ Artemis between 1999 and 2004, as Warner Bros. undertakes a reissue program on the writer/artist’s catalog following his return to the label. For my money, the essential LPs in this batch of extra-free re-releases are 2002’s Jerusalem and 2004’s The Revolution Starts…Now, each seething with the accrued frustration and bitterness that beset much of the nation during the first term of Bush the Younger.

Co-produced by Ray Kennedy and featuring a core band comprising guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, drummer Will Rigby, bass player Kelley Looney and percussionist Patrick Earle (Steve’s kid brother), the two records rock as hard as anything in Earle’s bountiful discography. Just as significantly, the sociopolitical payloads of songs like Jerusalem’s “Ashes to Ashes” and “Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)” as well as The Revolution’s title song and “F the CC” are startlingly relevant today.

So are Earle’s original liner notes. “We are a people perpetually balanced on a tightrope stretched between our history and our potential, one faltering step away from a headlong tumble from the most dizzying of heights,” he writes in the notes for Jerusalem. “But fear not—we’re working with a net.” That net Steve’s referring to is the U.S. Constitution.