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Rhino Entertainment/Warner Records R1 1935 (LP), R2 655956 (CD)
Format: LP, CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****

The Grateful Dead’s eponymous seventh album has no official title. It’s often listed as Grateful Dead, but is better known to fans as Skull & Roses, after its unique cover art. The two-LP set, released in 1971, was the Dead’s second live album in what was then the band’s four-year recording career, and contains a number of tunes that would turn up regularly at Dead shows over the years. Drummer Mickey Hart’s three-year hiatus from the band began with Grateful Dead, and keyboard player Tom Constanten had left the previous year. As a result, the Dead sound leaner on Grateful Dead than on 1969’s Live/Dead, the band’s first live album, which was also a double LP.

New West Records NW5514
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Los Lobos are well respected for the quality of their songwriting, but throughout their career they’ve also excelled at bringing a fresh take to covers of other songwriters’ material. Their discography includes tribute albums to artists as varied as Fats Domino, the Grateful Dead, and Doc Pomus, and their recording of Ritchie Valens’s “La Bamba” was a big hit for them in 1987. Their EP Ride This (2004) comprised covers of seven songs by musicians and songwriters who had appeared on the concurrently released Los Lobos album, The Ride, including Dave Alvin, Elvis Costello, and Richard Thompson.

Pacific Jazz Records/Blue Note Records ST-70/B0032877-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

If you’re a vinyl lover and a jazz fan, this is a great time to be alive. Blue Note Records has its Tone Poet and Classic Vinyl series, while Acoustic Sounds and Verve Records are collaborating to reissue titles from Verve, Impulse! Records, and other labels held by Universal Music Enterprises that don’t fall under the Blue Note umbrella. I’ve covered quite a few releases from all three reissue series here, and I had been planning to look elsewhere this month to mix things up until I played Katanga!, a Tone Poet reissue of a 1963 Pacific Jazz session co-led by Curtis Amy and Dupree Bolton.

Verve Records/Impulse! Records B0033210-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Acoustic Sounds, Inc. and Verve Records/Universal Music Enterprises continue their reissue collaboration, the Acoustic Sounds Series, with the re-release of Ray Charles’s 1961 recording for Impulse! Records, Genius + Soul = Jazz. This album consists of ten tracks, three of them featuring Charles on vocals, with big-band arrangements by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns. Prior to the original release of Genius + Soul = Jazz, Charles’s 1959 album The Genius of Ray Charles had also featured big-band arrangements by Jones, among others, on one side—and Burns had provided the string arrangements on side 2.

Provogue Records PRD76431
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Steve Cropper is a guitarist many people know without actually knowing his name. His guitar riff opens Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” and he appeared on countless other recordings on the Stax Records label, and on sister label Volt Records, as a member of the Stax/Volt house band, Booker T. & the MGs. He cowrote a number of songs with Otis Redding, including the singer’s biggest hit, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” After the Stax/Volt years, he played on, or produced, records by Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon, to name just a few.

Blue Note Records B003313501, B003313402
Formats: LP, CD, 24-bit/96kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

Tone Poem is Charles Lloyd’s third outing as leader of the Marvels, the quintet that derives much of its unique sound from the combination of Bill Frisell on guitar and Greg Leisz on pedal steel. Lloyd’s stalwart rhythm section, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers, who have appeared on many of Lloyd’s recordings since the mid-2000s, completes the group.

EmArcy Records/Verve Records MG 36037/B0032412-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown was only 25 when he died in a car accident in 1956, but during the four years he recorded as a leader and sideman he developed a strong following among fans and fellow musicians. His sure tone and melodic inventiveness led critics to compare him with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but his greatest influence was Fats Navarro, who, like Brown, died young. Highlights of Brown’s short recording career include working with jazz drummer Art Blakey and sessions with West Coast jazz players—both as leader and as coleader with saxophonist Lou Donaldson—but he hit his stride in the quintet he cofounded in 1954 with drummer Max Roach.

Blue Note Records B0032112-01 / BST 84426
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff supervised countless recordings for Blue Note Records over the years, but some they decided not to release. Often, they were trying to avoid crowding the market, but sometimes Lion’s rigorous quality control standards caused him to shelve a session. Many of the performances on those shelved tapes are as good as anything Blue Note ever released, before the label was suspended in the late 1970s. When such recordings are eventually made available they give jazz lovers a fuller picture of a musician’s association with the label.

Anti- 87790-1
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½

The first time Portland, Oregon singer-songwriter M. Ward heard the Billie Holiday album Lady in Satin (1958), he was in a California shopping mall, more than 25 years ago. The sound came from a distance, on the other side of the mall. “I remember mistaking her voice for a beautiful perfectly distorted electric guitar,” he says in the press release for his new album, Think of Spring. He described what he heard as “some other-world thing floating there on this strange mournful ocean of strings” and he was “hooked for life.”

Verve Records B0032589-01
Format: LP

Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

“The sound of popular music in the third decade of the 21st century is predominantly electronic,” Stuart Nicholson writes in his liner notes to The Lost Berlin Tapes, a newly released live recording of a March 1962 performance by Ella Fitzgerald. Nicholson notes that while the current generation of singers frequently perform with the aid of electronic enhancements, Fitzgerald required only her voice, a microphone, and—for this performance—a jazz trio playing acoustic instruments. She’s so well known, even nearly 25 years after her death, that her first name alone is listed on the cover of the new album; just as it was in 1960, when Verve released Mack the Knife: Ella in Berlin.