Reissue Roundup: Summer Sets From Eric Clapton, Motorhead and More
Summer is typically time for new albums, not reissues, bulky box sets and expanded archival releases. Things usually pick up in the fall, as most folks prep for the holiday season with these often pricey and fan-targeted collections.
Still, the past three months yielded some great reissues and archival sets for fans of all genres, including a new box from late R&B legend Ray Charles, an expanded Eric Clapton album, a rare concert record from singer-songwriter Laura Nyro, a bulked-up version of one of Motorhead's best albums, an expanded edition of the soundtrack companion to one of the most popular rock 'n' roll movies of the past 25 years and a revised version of one of the greatest reggae compilations ever released.
The seven sets detailed below in our summer 2021 Reissue Roundup aren't for the mildly curious. Each release goes deep into a specific era or style – the Charles and reggae boxes aren't definitive and really don't aim to be – while covering more than just the expected hits and favorites.
And that's pretty much the key to the reissues below. They offer extensions and further explanations as to what made the artists or, in a few cases, a particular style of music so important then and why they still matter so much today.
Ray Charles, True Genius
What It Is: Not quite the "Ultimate Ray Charles Collection" promised, since none of his landmark '50s material on Atlantic is here. But the R&B great continued to make excellent records after that era. Those are the ones found on this six-disc box.
What's on It: Following his split from Atlantic at the top of the '60s, Charles went on to make classic LPs like Genius + Soul = Jazz and two volumes of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. That period rightly gets ample space here.
Best Song You Know: "Georgia on My Mind" and "Hit the Road Jack" were big hits and rank among Charles' all-time greats. They come early on True Genius, which eventually gets around to later duets with Billy Joel and Norah Jones.
Best Song You Don't Know: Previously unreleased songs from a 1972 show in Stockholm make up the last disc, and they're a great reminder of Charles' legacy. He tears through early hits "What'd I Say" and "I've Got a Woman" with force.
Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton – Anniversary Deluxe Edition
What It Is: Clapton's first solo album, from 1970, gets the deluxe treatment in a four-CD, one-LP box that spotlights different mixes the record went through, including Tom Dowd's original U.K. one and another by Clapton himself.
What's on It: The mixes will draw in longtime fans to Eric Clapton, but it's the disc of singles, alternative versions and session outtakes that holds the most appeal here. Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett and sax great King Curtis make appearances.
Best Song You Know: A cover of J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" helped launch Clapton's solo career after gigs with the Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos. Delaney Bramlett's mix here gives it new life.
Best Song You Don't Know: Clapton's LP mix has never been heard in full (only one song made it onto the Dowd-overseen original), so his version of favorites like "Blues Power" are personal. The 10-minute "Blues in 'A'" outtake jam delivers what it promises.
Laura Nyro, Live in Japan
What It Is: This concert album was released only in Japan in 2003, six years after the Bronx-born singer-songwriter died of ovarian cancer. The 21 career-spanning songs come mostly from a 1994 show at Kintetsu Hall, with others from On Air West.
What's on It: In addition to her own songs (like "And When I Die," "Save the Country" and "Wedding Bell Blues"), the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer covers classics like "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Walk on By." All are exquisite.
Best Song You Know: Unless you picked up Live in Japan as an import sometime in the 18 years since it was released, these versions are probably all new to you. Nyro's takes on "And When I Die" and "Wedding Bell Blues" remind you of her greatness.
Best Song You Don't Know: The set-opening cover of the Shirelles' "Dedicated to the One I Love" recalls her classic 1971 album with Labelle, Gonna Take a Miracle, in which the artists teamed up to pay tribute to some of their favorite early-'60s songs.
Motorhead, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith Box Set
What It Is: Motorhead's 1981 concert album wasn't just a quick cash-in; it helped establish the band's fan base among punks, metalheads and old-school rock 'n' roll fans. This 40th-anniversary set expands on that room-shaking sound.
What's on It: The original record has been remastered and extended with more songs, including soundcheck recordings. The best part: The three shows from which Hammersmith was culled (none actually in Hammersmith) are here in their entirety.
Best Song You Know: Classics like "Ace of Spades," "Overkill" and "Bomber" were among the highlights of the 11-song LP. They're still the go-to tracks on this four-disc set. And yes, there are four killer versions of each to choose from.
Best Song You Don't Know: Bonus tracks widen the set list a bit, but a previously released "Train Kept A-Rollin'" and an unheard soundcheck recording of Overkill's "Limb From Limb," neither of which made the shows, are ferociously fast and great.
Buck Owens Reissues
What It Is: Nine albums from the late country legend, recorded between 1968-74, in newly remastered form update these records for digital formats for the first time. The sound is pristine, like many from the era, even if some of the music can be dated.
What's on It: Owens helped pioneer the Bakersfield sound in the early part of the '60s, when his records consistently reached No. 1 on the country charts and netted him fans like the Beatles, who covered "Act Naturally." This later period wasn't as stable.
Best Song You Know: "Tall Dark Stranger," from the 1969 album of the same name, reached No. 1. So did "How Long Will My Baby Be Gone" (Sweet Rosie Jones) and "Made in Japan" (In the Palm of Your Hand). Other LPs had Top 10 hits, too.
Best Song You Don't Know: None of the reissues is expanded, so no bonus tracks here. But since they're all making their CD debuts, many of the deep cuts are probably unfamiliar. Check out his 1974 cover of "Cover of the Rolling Stone."
Various Artists, Almost Famous Expanded Soundtrack
What It Is: The soundtrack to one of the best rock movies of the 21st century gets a major overhaul. Five CDs include demos by the movie's fictional band Stillwater and outtakes from the original score by Heart's Nancy Wilson. Oh, and lots of classic rock.
What's on It: Songs by some of the era's biggest and best artists are here, including the Allman Brothers Band, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Yes and Neil Young. It's an excellent playlist on its own, while doubling as a movie promo.
Best Song You Know: Really, pick any track here, but it's Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," given new life in Almost Famous thanks to a famous scene in which an entire tour bus erupts in a joyous sing-along, that stands out. A truly iconic film moment of the '00s.
Best Song You Don't Know: Previously unreleased versions of the Who's "Amazing Journey/Sparks," Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years" and Young's "Cortez the Killer" are all exclusive to this set. And some of those Stillwater demos are pretty good.
Various Artists, The Trojan Story
What It Is: The 50th-anniversary edition of one of the first (and still best) reggae collections revises its track listing a bit to accommodate for some copyright issues, but the three discs still contain some of the greatest Jamaican music ever made.
What's on It: The 1971 anthology gathered four dozen songs (it's an even 50 now) by many of the reggae pioneers on Trojan Records' roster. Legends like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Lee "Scratch" Perry and the Maytals are all here.
Best Song You Know: The Maytals' 1969 single "Pressure Drop" got a bigger boost in 1972 when it was included on the groundbreaking The Harder They Come soundtrack. It remains one of the greatest songs ever recorded in any genre.
Best Song You Don't Know: Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, a Message to You" was a minor hit in 1967. A dozen years later the Specials pretty much launched their career with a slightly retitled Top 10 U.K. cover. The inspiration is immediately obvious.