Gregg Allman, Bob Dylan and Motown Hits Reassessed

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A pair of Gregg Allman discs dating back to 1973 and ’74 are being reissued.

(Photo: Neal Preston)

With the gift-giving season upon us, music lovers have a multitude of options when it comes to reissues, deluxe editions and box sets. As record labels eagerly raid their vaults, a couple of industry trends continue to blossom. First, a “more is more” aesthetic often is at work, with voluminous amounts of music being presented. Secondly, in 2019, elegant design remains essential. If you’re going to go to the trouble of buying music in a physical format, the packaging should be stunning, right?

In keeping with the DownBeat motto of covering “Jazz, Blues & Beyond,” below are descriptions of some intriguing titles from the worlds of country, rock, r&b and hip-hop.

A generation ago, every jazz fan had a strong opinion about director Ken Burns’ 10-episode film Jazz, which aired on PBS television in 2001. Many viewers scratched their heads because the first nine episodes covered the period from the late 19th century up until 1960. Then the concluding episode had the audacious title “A Masterpiece by Midnight: 1960 to the Present.” (Forty years of multiple sonic revolutions surveyed in 109 minutes?) This approach was a way for Burns to remind viewers, quite clearly, that his film was about history, not the current scene.

Burns’ recent eight-episode film Country Music has thrust roots-music critics into similar debates about the time period that the documentary covers. No matter whether one was genuinely moved by the film or deeply disappointed by it, one topic where viewers might find common ground is the soundtrack. The five-CD set Country Music—A Film By Ken Burns (The Soundtrack) (Legacy), which includes 105 tracks, would not be a bad place to start for novices seeking a broad overview of the art form.

Disc 1 includes tracks that helped give birth to the genre, such as The Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” (1929) and Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now” (1928). Disc 5 features high-quality tearjerkers, such as Kathy Mattea’s “Where’ve You Been” (1989) and Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” (1994), the most recent studio cut in the collection.

Burns used more than 3,200 photographs in his film, so there was plenty of visual material from which to choose for the colorful, 69-page book housed with the soundtrack. Essays by country music historians Bill C. Malone, Colin Escott and Tamara Saviano provide context for the music.

Among the artists who are represented with multiple tracks are Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yoakam.

Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan’s duet version of “Girl From The North Country” (from the latter’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline) pops up on Disc 3 of Country Music. Fans who revere that track certainly will want to check out the next installment of Columbia/Legacy’s ongoing Bob Dylan Bootleg series.

The 50-track set Travelin’ Thru, 1967–1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 focuses on Dylan’s recording sessions in Nashville for the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait. Among the 47 previously unreleased tracks are numerous collaborations with Cash. Rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins stops by to add his twangy guitar to a handful of tracks, too.

Travelin’ Thru is a three-CD set, which is but a tasty snack for the obsessive Dylan fan, whose appetite seems insatiable. (These are the Dylan die-hards who bought the epic 36-CD set that Legacy released in 2016: The 1966 Live Recordings.)

Last year, Legacy delivered a six-CD deluxe edition of Vol. 14 of the Bootleg series: More Blood, More Tracks, which documents all the sessions that yielded Dylan’s 1975 classic Blood On The Tracks. The first two tracks on that LP—“Tangled Up In Blue” and “Simple Twist Of Fate”—made it onto the set list for Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue Tour of 1975.

During the first leg of that tour, which stretched from October to December, The Bard performed several songs that he had not yet released, such as “Hurricane,” “Isis,” “One More Cup Of Coffee,” “Romance In Durango” and “Sara.” Those songs are on his album Desire, which would be released in early 1976.

The hefty 14-CD set The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings documents five complete concerts, as Dylan surrounded himself with an amazing cast of players that included folk icon Joan Baez, Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, violinist Scarlet Rivera and bassist Rob Stoner. How did the sprawling ensemble work out the set list? Well, hardcore fans seeking a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint can check out the rehearsal sessions documented on Discs 1–3.

Far more modest in scope, but free of extraneous material, is the three-CD deluxe edition of Van Morrison’s 1997 gem, The Healing Game (Exile/Legacy). This is an exemplary reissue. Disc 1 has the original album’s 10 tracks, plus five bonus cuts. Disc 2 has alternate takes and collaborations with some of the singer’s heroes, such as Carl Perkins, skiffle master Lonnie Donegan and blues titan John Lee Hooker.

Disc 3, chronicling a transcendent concert, is the most potent catnip here. Morrison was infused with explosive charisma during his show in Montreux, Switzerland, on July 17, 1997, as he explored tracks from The Healing Game (“Rough God Goes Riding,” “Fire In The Belly,” “Sometimes We Cry”), as well as covers and classics from his catalog. All 14 concert tracks are previously unreleased.

After commercial and critical successes with the Allman Brothers Band, in 1973, lead singer Gregg Allman released his solo debut, Laid Back, which yielded the hit single “Midnight Rider.” He also teamed with a 24-piece orchestra (featuring members of the New York Philharmonic) for a road jaunt, which was documented on the 1974 live album The Gregg Allman Tour. Fans now can revisit both chapters of Allman’s career, thanks to reissues from Mercury/UMe.

The two-CD deluxe edition of Laid Back includes demos, rehearsal tracks, alternate mixes and a solo acoustic live version of “Melissa.” The Gregg Allman Tour—which is being reissued on vinyl for the first time since 1987—was recorded at Carnegie Hall and the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. The set list for the double album has some interesting twists, as Allman tackles Elvis Presley’s 1961 hit “I Feel So Bad” and the traditional tune “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

The mid-’70s was a time of tremendous popularity for the Steve Miller Band, which shot up the charts with the hits “The Joker,” “Rock’n Me,” “Fly Like An Eagle” and “Jet Airliner.” All those tracks are included on the three-CD/single-DVD set Welcome To The Vault (Sailor/Capitol/UMe). Of the 52 audio tracks, 38 are previously unreleased, including demos, rehearsal sessions, live takes and some blues tunes. The DVD compiles 21 live performances, ranging from 1967 to 2011. The accompanying 100-page hardbound book features a 9,000-word essay by rock journalist David Fricke.

Fans of Motown have had plenty to celebrate in 2019, the 60th-anniversary year for the label. An expanded version of Motown: The Complete No. 1’s (Motown/UMe) has a whopping 208 tracks on 11 CDs, packaged in a replica of Motown’s original Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters in Detroit (now home to the Motown Museum). The box set also includes a 100-page book with rare and classic photos.

Tracks include Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” The Jackson 5’s “ABC,” The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Tears Of A Clown,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” Rick James’ “Super Freak,” Boyz II Men’s “End Of The Road” and Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady.”

Early hits by the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” are the focus of Mary J. Blige’s HERstory, Vol. 1 (UMe), a compilation available Dec. 6. In addition to the CD, two-LP and digital versions, it is packaged as a set of eight 7-inch vinyl singles housed in a sleek carrying case with a handle.

Fans can spin the 1992 track “Real Love” and then flip the vinyl over to hear the remix featuring The Notorious B.I.G. Other artists appearing on the remixes include Keith Murray, K-Ci and Method Man. DB



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On Sale Now
February 2020
Nicholas Payton
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