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UMG chief is sitting on top of the world. (9/16a)
Let's be Frank. (9/16a)
And not just in Canadian dollars. (9/16a)
A close reading of star-crossed (9/10a)
The Toronto Raptor strikes again. (9/16a)
A chronicle of the inexplicable.
We make yet more predictions, which you are free to ignore.
2022 TOURS
May we all be vaxxed by then.
Power pop, global glam and the return of the loud.
Critics' Choice

Our resident would-be music critics have some suggestions for you, drawn primarily from the handiwork of our friends at the catalog labels. The advantage of physical product, as we say in the biz, is that you can gift wrap it.

The Byrds, Live at the Fillmore – February 1969 (Retroworld/Floating World): Roger McGuinn had the core of his second and final long-running lineup in place when The Byrds took the Fillmore stage in February 1969 behind their just-released seventh LP, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. Live at the Fillmore documents the initial phase of McGuinn’s reboot, as the wildly original guitarist Clarence White wends his way into the mix. (Bud Scoppa)

Sonny Clark Trio, The 1960 Time Sessions (Tompkins Square): A Black Friday Record Store Day release, Josh Rosenthal’s Tompkins Square has unearthed a forgotten session of all originals from the post-bop pianist best known for his Blue Note classic Cool Struttin’. (Phil Gallo)

The Doors, Strange Days 50th Anniversary Edition (Rhino): Enthusiasts of the L.A. trailblazers’ sophomore set, which dropped mere months after their eponymous 1967 debut, will rejoice at this package, which boasts both stereo and mono mixes. You’ll find hits (“Love Me Two Times,” “People Are Strange”), quintessential deep cuts (“Moonlight Drive,” “When the Music’s Over”) and flat-out strangeness (“Horse Latitudes”); taken together, it’s a dazzling snapshot of one of rock’s most adventurous bands challenging—and transforming—the mainstream it had only recently breached. (Simon Glickman)

Bob Dylan, Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 (Columbia/Legacy): An overview of the most unexpected period of Dylan’s career, his spiritual years during which he exclusively wrote and performed songs of praise, worship and devotion. At the time he alienated much of his fan base, but in retrospect, the work is often deep and strikingly well performed. (PG)

Electric Light Orchestra, Out of the Blue: 40th Anniversary Picture Disc LP (Epic/Sony Legacy): Jeff Lynne’s 1977 masterpiece is impossible not to associate with its spaceship cover art, and that striking imagery is right on the vinyl of this gorgeous two-platter set. But nothing is more transporting than the music itself, a glorious marriage of art-rock ambition and swooning pop bliss. Even if you’ve never heard Blue in its entirety, you know the singles—the sublime “Mr. Blue Sky,” the propulsive but bittersweet “Turn to Stone,” the infectious “Sweet Talking Woman”—but there are plenty of other gems amid the chugging cellos, sci-fi synth bloops and choirboy harmonies. For the pop nerd on your list, the return of this extraplanetary craft is as exciting as The Last Jedi. (SG)

Husker Du, Savage Young Du (Numero Group): Gloriously well-packaged set collects the Minneapolis/St. Paul trio’s 1979-82 recordings, when they were the rising stars in the city’s hardcore scene. Land Speed Record and Everything Falls Apart receive much-needed sonic upgrades. (PG)

Morphine, Live at the Warfield 1997 (Run Out Groove/Ryko/WMG): Warner Music created Run Out Groove this year to issue out of print or never-released records based on fan voting, the Morphine collection becoming its second limited edition set. Set captures this unique trio—Mark Sandman on two-string bass, Dana Colley on saxophones, Billy Conway on drums—on a powerful night, two years before Sandman tragically died. (PG)

Chris Price, Stop Talking (Omnivore): The L.A.-based indie Omnivore, co-founded and headed by longtime Rhino mainstay Cheryl Pawelski, is primarily a catalog label specializing in classic power-pop bands like Jellyfish, The Raspberries and, most obsessively, the Big Star family tree. So it would be understandable if you mistook Chris Price’s album, with its ornate arrangements, elegant melodies and beguiling vocals, for a newly discovered gem from the golden age of SoCal recording in the 1970s. In fact, Stop Talking is the work of a 32-year-old Miami transplant steeped in the sacred texts of Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Emitt Rhodes—whose comeback album Price produced. L.A. Times writer Randall Roberts has listed Stop Talking as one of his top 10 L.A. albums of 2017. I have it in my top five of this year’s releases overall. This record is a stone revelation. (BS)

The Ramones, Rocket to Russia: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino): This 1977 set, featuring “Rockaway Beach,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Teenage Lobotomy” and other classic cuts, gets the deluxe treatment with Rhino’s typically meticulous packaging. Featuring three CDs containing multiple album mixes, bonus tracks and a live show recorded in Glasgow as well as an LP boasting the new “Tracking Mix,” it’s a reminder of the raw energy and devotion to the foundational virtues of rock that made this band such a vital corrective to the glossy, self-involved pop excesses of the period. (SG)

The Rolling Stones, On Air (UMe): The young Stones in all their scrappy glory—covers of the blues and R&B tunes they cut their teeth on, along with some early originals recorded live between 1963 and ’65 for various BBC radio shows. Spring for the deluxe version, a two-disc comp containing 32 tracks, eight of them never cut for any of their studio LPs. The set, a quintessential slab of rock & roll that vividly captures the Brian Jones lineup, is held together by the sublime drumming of Charlie Watts, who maintains behind-the-beat order amid the threatened chaos. The only knock is the seemingly random sequencing—a puzzling decision when a chronological running order would’ve intriguingly documented The Stones’ evolution. (BS)

Luther Russell, Selective Memories: An Anthology (Ungawa/Hanky Panky): Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for this comp, released by a Spanish label. Here’s a snippet: Known by musical scholars and A&R veterans as the former frontman of The Freewheelers, a terrific if laughably unrecouped L.A. band that burned through a pair of major-label deals in the early ’90s, Luther Russell has been dreaming up and crafting high-end music, mostly far below the radar, since his teens—a mountain of it, much of it unreleased until now. Of the 41 cuts on Selective Memories: An Anthology, 25 have remained in his cache since they were recorded, heard by only his inner circle. Selective Memories opens, fittingly, with a tangle of static, as 17-year-old Luther jams the jack into his amp and fires off a fusillade of staccato riffage. It closes a more than two and a half hours later with “The Sound of Rock & Roll,” from now-47-year-old artist’s current work in progress, Medium Cool, which comes across as both lament and celebration. Between these bookends is a wildly varied array of lastingly immediate, deeply heartfelt, self-revealing music, from self-flagellating dirges to ecstatic anthems, each preserving a moment in time. (BS)

The Scorpions, Born to Touch Your Feelings: Best of Rock Ballads (RCA Legacy): If you only know the Scorps’ blazing hits, you might be surprised by the tenderness on display here—and a musicality that betrays the band’s fondness for older European song tropes (holy shit, is that accordion?). Sure, there are fiery guitar solos galore, but what comes through most strongly—on the title track, “Still Loving You,” “Always Be With You,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “Gypsy Life” and other cuts—is the sturdiness of the melodies. Some may find the metal ballad vibe cheesy, but as I revisit these songs, they feel surprisingly apt for the holidays—by turns as crisp as a snowy night and comforting as a fireside—even if the sensibility is more Viking than Christian. (SG)

Various artists, Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Deluxe Edition (Epic Soundtrax/Legacy Recordings): Cameron Crowe moved from SoCal to Seattle in the late ’80s, giving him a first-hand view of the city’s grunge explosion, which so inspired him that he decided to write and direct his third film with the vibrant scene as its setting. The film and Crowe’s astutely assembled soundtrack didn’t just ride grunge’s momentum, they pumped up the volume by capturing the scene in context. The expanded reissue adds 18 previously unreleased tracks to the original album, which includes Alice in ChainsPearl Jam, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone in all their early fury. (BS)

Wilco, A.M.: Deluxe Edition, Being There: Deluxe Edition (Rhino): When Jeff Tweedy cobbled together Wilco in 1994 out of Uncle Tupelo’s spare parts, nobody expected much. But the fledgling band’s 1995 debut album A.M. revealed that UT’s low-keyed former second banana had something to say and a character-rich vocal instrument to get it across… (read more) (BS)

Teddy Wilson, Classic Brunswick & Columbia Teddy Wilson Sessions 1934-42 (Mosaic Records): A seven-CD set of swing's most important pianist, beginning when Wilson was 22 and working with an assortment of small bands and as a solo. Loren Schoenberg wrote the booklet. (PG)

Yes, Topographic Drama (Rhino): These 2016 live recordings are part of “The Album Series,” finding survivors of the prog troupe—which lost co-founder/bassist Chris Squire in 2015—revisiting some of the more polarizing material from its catalog. Even for hardcore Yes fans (of which I’m one), it sounds like a big ask, as only Steve Howe and Alan White are here to represent the band’s glory days. Singer Jon Davison emulates Jon Anderson’s clarion high notes gymnastically, while Billy Sherwood fields the bass with assurance, though he lacks Squire’s rumbling inspiration. But since the Buggles-infused 1980 outing Drama is on the menu, it’s fitting that Geoff Downes handles keys. That album occupies a knotty perch between the band’s pomp-rock excursions and the streamlined pop that revitalized their career in the ’80s, but it holds up reasonably well—even if placing its six rangy tracks next to stone classics like “And You and I” and “Heart of the Sunrise” removes some of the luster. Still, the real meal is a meaty chunk from Yes’ most indulgent, sprawling and intermittently staggering creation, the 1973 double-LP Tales From Topographic Oceans. The nearly 22-minute “The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn),” which kicks off disc 2, is stellar, and “Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)” remains on the loveliest Yes daydreams of the era. Cap it off with live perennials “Roundabout” and the sublime “Starship Trooper” and you have a pretty satisfying proggy adventure. Howe remains one of the most exciting guitarists of the form, and really stretches out here. It may not be prime Yes, but the players handle this challenging material with energy, feeling and finesse. (SG)

Neil Young, Original Release Series 5-8, Original Release Series 8.5-12 (Reprise): Remastered from the original analog master studio and approved by the notoriously exacting Mr. Young, the first set includes Time Fades Away, On the Beach, Tonight's the Night, and Zuma; set two is Long May You Run (from The Stills-Young Band), American Stars 'N' Bars, Comes a Time, Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust. Vital recordings across the board, the sets are limited to 3,000 each. (PG)


Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (UMe): John Scheinfeld’s finely detailed documentary on the influential saxophonist’s impact on a wide collection of musicians, intellectuals and fans. The DVD includes 43 minutes of bonus footage. (PG)

Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony de Curtis: The definitive biography of New York’s rock & roll sage, de Curtis goes deep into Reed’s life to reveal the truths that informed his art. (PG)

Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen by Bill Bentley: Drummer/journalist/label exec and all-around good guy Bill Bentley provides the text accompanying stellar concert photographs of rock & roll heroes. A rare mingling of the work from pro and amateur shooters. (PG)