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Check It Out

Check It Out!: December 26, 2013

Top Ten Classic Artist Reissues — Part 1

Albert King — Born Under a Bad Sign (Stax) — Despite being one of the three Kings of blues, (alongside B.B. and Freddie — both no relation), Albert King was actually born Albert Nelson. While the Mississippi native’s earliest recordings date back to the 1950s, it wasn’t until he hooked up with Memphis-based soul outfit Stax/Volt that King enjoyed crossover success. Backed by Booker T. & the MGs, the imposing left-handed guitar slinger really dug in, serving up the stinging blues shuffle “Crosscut Saw,” affecting the requisite swagger throughout the brassy declarations of “The Hunter” and gently bobs along through a lightly swinging reading of “Kansas City.” Most surprising is King’s effectiveness as a balladeer, not only on Ivory Joe Hunter’s juke joint weeper “I Almost Lost My Mind,” but on a reading of pop bandleader Ray Noble’s 1934 standard “The Very Thought Of You” that works far better than you’d expect it to.

Fleetwood Mac — Rumours (Warner Brothers) — What Kramer vs. Kramer was to the state of divorce and broken relationships on the cinematic front is what Fleetwood Mac’s legendary 1977 album was to messy romantic breakups in a band. With couples Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks splitting, McVies John and Christine recently divorced and drummer Mick Fleetwood having problems with wife Jenny, there was no shortage of subject matter. And while stories of debauchery during the year-long recording session are legendary, the results wound up having the band’s eleventh studio outing become one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling nearly 20 million copies in the United States alone. Between the stellar harmonies, inescapable hooks and lyrically true couplets, songs like “You Make Loving Fun” (about Christine McVie’s lighting director boyfriend), “Dreams” (Nicks’ post-breakup optimism), “Go Your Own Way” (Buckingham’s post-breakup pessimism) and “Gold Dust Woman” (Nicks’ struggles living in Los Angeles) became radio staples and outright classics. A near-perfect serving of pop songs with heft, this Rumours reissue contains a bonus disc of live songs taken from the subsequent 1977 tour that’s rather anticlimactic and another CD containing outtakes from the recording sessions that are only paramount to the most diehard of Fleetwood Mac fans.

Huey Lewis & the News — Sports [30th Anniversary Edition] (Capitol) — The breakthrough album for the Bay Area-based outfit returns with a reissue commemorating its release three decades ago. Given the wealth of pop manna featured here, it’s no wonder that Sports went septuple platinum. Aside from the way-infectious Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn-penned “Heart and Soul,” the harp-blowing Lewis had a hand in cowriting most of the remainder of the album with News members, sans a closing Hank Williams cover (“Honky Tonk Blues”) and “Walking On a Thin Line.” While the pub rock, doo wop and R&B influences make for a perfect storm of slightly over-produced but otherwise stellar pop, guitarist Chris Hayes remains the band’s unsung hero thanks to his monstrously hard-hitting yet melodic contributions on staples like the aforementioned “Heart and Soul” and “I Want a New Drug.” Also included is a bonus disc of live versions of the album’s songs recorded from 1983 through last year.

Sly & the Family Stone — Higher! (Epic Legacy) — Even though Sly Stone is best known to music fans through a handful of hit songs that are standards on oldies radio, the fact is, this Denton, TX, native was a game changer. Not only did he lead a multi-racial co-ed band at a time when most rock bands were predominantly made of white male members, but Stone was a multiple creative threat — singer/songwriter/producer/all-around visionary. By virtue of the doors he kicked down in the music industry and pop culture, his immensely talented acolyte Prince was able to walk through and take everything to the next level. This 4-CD set does an excellent job burnishing the man and his group’s legacy in the year of his 70th birthday by way of 77 chronologically arrayed tracks that include 17 previously unreleased recordings. Capping it all off are excellently written liner notes by authorized Sly & the Family Stone biographer Jeff Kaliss and exquisite track-by-track annotations featuring insights from numerous people involved with the group, up to and including original band members Greg Errico, Larry Graham, Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson and Sly Stone himself.

Harry Nilsson — The RCA Albums Collection (RCA/Legacy) — Always an underrated talent due to his aversion to playing live, John Lennon’s favorite drinking partner nonetheless won Grammys, was widely admired by his fellow artists and managed to record 14 albums for RCA. This set is expanded by 65 bonus tracks including 26 previously unreleased songs, three newly-compiled CDs of bonus material totaling 58 cuts, 29 of them previously unreleased.