Author Archives: Steve Matteo

Graded on a Curve:
The Who,
The Who Sell Out Super Deluxe Box Set, 2LP Stereo Version

The third album from The Who (Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon), The Who Sell Out, released in December of 1967, has continued to grow in stature as the years go by. While the group’s sprawling concept albums Tommy and Quadrophenia are regarded as masterpieces, their Who’s Next was lauded as their best single album and Live at Leeds was considered maybe one of the greatest, if not the greatest, live album in rock history, The Who Sell Out, while often acclaimed, didn’t reach the lofty heights of the aforementioned.

Continuing to bolster the claim about what an important album it is, there are several recent reissues of the album put out by Universal Music, including a 2CD deluxe edition, a 2LP colored vinyl edition in mono (only available on the group’s web site), and the two we will cover here: the 2LP black vinyl version in stereo and the Super Deluxe Box Set. The Super Deluxe Box Set features 5 CDs, 2 7-inch 45 RPM vinyl singles, an 80-page hardcover book and nine posters and inserts, all housed in a slip-case box.

The Who Sell Out was in some ways a concept album—an approach to long playing records that had become in vogue after The Beatles did Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June of 1967, followed in 1968 by such albums from other British groups as Odyssey and Oracle and from The Zombies, S.F. Sorrow from The Pretty Things, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks, and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake from The Small Faces, which all came out after The Who Sell Out was released in December of 1967.

The Who Sell Out also showed the group continuing to work in a pop framework musically, but also borrowing from the pop art world in appropriating images from popular culture in the same way people like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg were doing it in the visual art world. The Who very specifically targeted the world of advertising as an influence for some of the songs on the album that Pete Townshend wrote, but the group also formatted the album to give the impression that one was listening to a radio station with station IDs and jingles.

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Graded on a Curve: George Harrison,
All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary

All Things Must Pass was not the first solo release that George Harrison recorded outside of The Beatles. He recorded the soundtrack album for the film Wonderwall in 1968 and released the experimental instrumental music album Electronic Sound in 1969. All Things Must Pass came out in November of 1970 after The Beatles had broken up and included some songs Harrison initially wrote or demoed while in The Beatles or even in some cases had played on sessions with The Beatles but which, for whatever reason, never made it on to any of the group’s albums.

The album was a huge commercial and critical success and could arguably be considered one of the four best solo albums from any of The Beatles, alongside The Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, and Band on the Run. For me, it’s the best. This new 50th anniversary reissue of the album on Capitol, through Universal Music was delayed because of the virus and has been met with mixed reactions, not because of the unanimously praised music, but due to the price and formatting of some of the editions.

The release comes in various configurations, including standard 2CD, a 3CD Deluxe Edition, Super Deluxe Edition 5CD/Blu-ray, standard 3LP black vinyl, 3LP E-Commerce Exclusive Edition pressed on green and black splatter color vinyl, 5LP Deluxe Edition, Super Deluxe 8LP, and limited Uber Deluxe Edition. For this review, we will be covering the 8LP and 5CD/Blu-ray editions.

The original release included three albums housed in a box, unheard of at the time for popular music. That release contained two albums that represented the traditional song-based cuts and one album called “Apple Jam.” All of the new configurations include a new mix by recording engineer Paul Hicks. The new editions include a size variation of the original poster. They also include either an insert or a booklet. The deluxe 5CD/Blu-ray edition (housed in a seven-inch, 45 RPM-size, lift-off box and the 8LP version includes a 60-page book, with the LP version’s being album-sized and hardcover. The 5CDs and 8 LPs contain the same music. The Blu-ray only contains the new mix of the original three-album track listing and, like on previous Beatles and solo Beatles releases, contains an imaginative and seamless on-screen menu. The Uber Deluxe Edition contains many unique items that have been reviewed elsewhere.

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Graded on a Curve:
Joni Mitchell,
The Reprise Albums (1968–1971)

After reports that her death was imminent in 2015 after she had an aneurysm, Joni Mitchell has risen, phoenix-like, to resume a somewhat normal life and even make public appearances, although she has difficulties walking.

Through Rhino Records, Mitchell has now embarked on the most ambitious and thus far fruitful archival reissue series of her long and illustrious career. She has never been a fan of greatest hits or archival releases, as she feels they can lead to a halt in sales of individual albums.

The initial batch of archival releases included Live At Canterbury House 1967 as a three-album vinyl set, recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Early Joni as a single vinyl album; and Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963–1967), which included radio, television, live recordings, tapes, demos, and more previously unreleased material as well as the Live at Canterbury House 1967 performances available as a 5-CD set. There has also been the “Joni Mitchell Blue 50 (Demos & Outtakes)” Digital EP Flac release, which includes five previously unreleased recordings from the 1971 Blue sessions.

The latest release is Joni Mitchell The Reprise Albums (1968 – 1971) available as either a 4-CD set, or a limited edition of 10,000 copies, four-LP vinyl box set. The limited edition vinyl box set is beautifully packaged in a slip-case and features authentic gatefold replicas of her first four albums on 180 gram vinyl: Song To A Seagull (1968), Clouds (1969), Ladies Of The Canyon (1970) and Blue (1971).

Mitchell’s debut album is presented in a brand-new mix by Matt Lee, overseen by Mitchell, and all the albums have been remastered by Bernie Grundman. The cover art of the outer box is by Joni Mitchell and there is an essay included by Brandi Carlile. Carlile will actually be performing the entire Blue album at Carnegie Hall on November 7th. She has done this once before in Los Angeles at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2019.

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Graded on a Curve:
Fleet Foxes,
Shore

The Seattle-based Fleet Foxes has only released four albums since 2008 on three different record labels, yet they must be considered one of the most engaging groups on the scene today. There have only been three members of the band who have been on all four albums—Casey Wescott, Skyler Skjelset, and the group’s de-facto leader Robin Pecknold.

The group shares some similar characteristics with such bands as Iron and Wine (the brainchild of Sam Beam) and fellow West-Coasters Calexico (led by Joey Burns and John Convertino). All of these groups feature an ever-shifting cast of contributors, making for a musical collective. In fact, Iron & Wine and Calexico have even made albums and toured together. All the bands also share an organic, honest approach to music-making that is refreshing, especially given what’s on the charts these days. This method has also earned these groups a growing and devoted following.

Fleet Foxes has continued to change from release to release, but their latest project Shore (Anti) may its best yet. The music was released digitally on September 22nd, 2020, but recently, it became available as a two-LP, vinyl, gatefold package, complete with a poster. There are 15 tracks on three sides, with side four featuring etched vinyl and no music. Vinyl is the ideal way to listen to this music and the group would have been just as beloved if it was around during the heyday of vinyl albums in the late 1960s through most of the 1970s.

This new album is very much Pecknold’s show, as he sings lead vocals throughout (except for “Sunblind”), produced it and wrote all of the songs other than one he co-wrote. Recorded in three different studios in New York, one in Los Angeles and one in Paris, the release includes 19 different musicians.

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Morrison,
Latest Record Project, Volume 1

Few artists can rival the scope of the musical output and talent of the Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison. He is arguably one of the best vocalists of the pop/rock era. While many music critics would not put him in the same exalted place as a Frank Sinatra or an Ella Fitzgerald, it is the mastery of those singers that Morrison has strived to reach. The influence of Ray Charles and other R&B and jazz artists has also set the bar high for Morrison. Morrison’s talents also include his writing almost all of the material on his 42 albums, along with playing a variety of instruments.

It’s unfortunate that Morrison’s early works, particularly his albums Astral Weeks and Moondance and such hits as “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria,” have overshadowed some of his other extraordinary albums and songs. Accurately describing Morrison’s music as a whole is a challenge. It’s obviously based on pre-rock styles such as R&B, jazz, folk, country and the crooner’s American songbook. However, there is also a distinctly unique rock ‘n’ roll sound that Morrison himself created and sometimes still explores, that was part of the foundation of much of the rock music that came out in the early ’60s and was at its popular album peak in the ’70s.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Morrison’s recent music is that, even at 75, his voice has not lost any of the luster, power, or sheer splendor that puts him in a class all by himself. This is evident on his latest release, Latest Record Project, Volume 1. The 28-track release is available as a two-CD set, or as a three-album, tri-fold vinyl package with a perfect-bound lyric book through Exile/BMG.

While musically the album is an uncluttered, live-sounding trip through Morrison’s rapturous R&B/jazz bag, lyrically some of the songs reflect a side of Morrison’s music that is honest but that doesn’t always endear him to a record industry and corporate media showbiz machine, of which he has been typically scornful. This is nothing new for Morrison. He can be a cantankerous, bitter and angry man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s not so much a diva as he is so dedicated to his art that any intrusion by the record business and the media is reason enough for him to become thoroughly disgusted.

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Graded on a Curve:
John Lennon,
John Lennon/Plastic
Ono Band–The Ultimate Collection

The Plastic Ono Band album, released in 1970 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, is a monumental album in the annals of rock history. It was the fourth album John and Yoko released, but it is often credited as Lennon’s solo debut.

There were so many facets to what made the album so iconic right from its initial release. First and foremost, it signaled Lennon’s complete break with The Beatles and the 1960s, spiritually and philosophically. It was a sharp severing of all the bonds that tied him to that earth-shattering decade as well as to his place in the band that defined the era. It was also his divorce from Paul McCartney, his songwriting partner and co-equal in The Beatles.

Emotionally and psychologically, the music was the result of Lennon’s time in primal scream therapy with American Dr. Arthur Janov, a psychologist and psychotherapist who developed the therapy in the early 1950s. It is this therapy that informs Lennon’s use of raw and sparse music backing as a foundation for his direct, unflinching and often wrenching lyrics. Lennon, unlike most rock stars (except for maybe Pete Townshend), sought to shatter the mythology and invincibility of the group he was in, especially after the breakup of The Beatles. George Harrison didn’t exactly seek to do that, but he felt the burden of being an ex-Beatle the heaviest.

The album has always worn well through the years and artists from punk to grunge and others, have claimed the album as an influence. Many listeners have viewed the album not merely as an artifact from the past, but as an album ahead of its time, with a depth and timelessness akin to those achieved by Neil Young and Leonard Cohen on a few occasions. U2 on its often-maligned album Rattle and Hum, from 1988, even had a song called “God Part II” that, not so much musically, but lyrically updated The Plastic Ono Band’s “God.” It was a worthy answer song from a band who equally felt the spirit of rock and its contradictions.

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