If the Record companies are looking for "BIG NAMES" to bring in those holiday spending dollars in the music stores this month, so even if there isn't any new material by those big names, there are albums coming out by them.

What am I talking about? There's a new "old" hits set from U2 The Best 1980-1990 on Island and a hits package from Mariah Carey on Columbia titled Ones (featuring two new duets). There's also a comprehensive two-CD "greatest hits" album by George Michael on Epic called Ladies & Gentlemen The Best of George Michael that actually has TV ads promoting it.

Of course, some acts already have too many greatest hits packages on the shelves, so from them we get live recordings. Two acts led by the men with the biggest lips in rock 'n' roll The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith now have live discs on the shelves. What you might not immediately guess from the covers (which don't say "live" anywhere on them) is that these are simply live albums of the bands' last tours. The Stones disc, No Security, on Virgin, is heavy on live takes of recent material, running through "You Got Me Rocking," "Memory Motel," "Thief in the Night" and others along with old classics, "Gimme Shelter" and "Waiting on a Friend." The Stones sound well-rehearsed on this disc (they've had four decades of practice, after all) but did we need another live album from them? There are guest appearances from Dave Matthews on "Memory Motel" and Taj Mahal on "Corinna," but ultimately, the songs don't vary much from their original versions so there's not a lot of reason to own this disc.

The Aerosmith set, Little South of Sanity on Geffen, is a double album that runs the gamut of the band's three-decade history from "Sweet Emotion," "Walk This Way," "Eat the Rich" and "Same Old Song and Dance" to "Love in an Elevator," "Janie's Got a Gun," "Rag Doll," "and "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)." There's more of a live sound and crowd presence on this live recording, but that also means that Steve Tyler occasionally sounds drowned out by the band and the audience.

 

Throwing Muses
In A Doghouse
(Rykodisc)
      ½


Here's an offbeat collection for those 1980s alternative college music fans (I have to raise my own hand here). Rykodisc has put out a set that Throwing Muses fans have thirsted after for years: In A Doghouse is a two-CD set that collects the now-defunct band's first album, 1986's Throwing Muses, as well as its 1987 difficult-to-find Chains Changed EP and even more rare Doghouse demo cassette from 1985. The Doghouse recordings are what got the band signed to the prestigious and eclectic English 4AD label, and basically follows the same track listing as the band's first album. It's fascinating to hear the difference between these more spare '85 recordings and the thicker, heavier rerecordings a year later that made up the bulk of the band's first album. The song "Fish," which appeared on a 4AD compilation Lonely is an Eyesore, also appears on the Doghouse recordings, as does "And a She Wolf After the War," which later appeared on the band's second EP (and 1987 Sire Records debut) The Fat Skier. The video for "Fish" is also included on the CD for viewing on multimedia computers and there are also a handful of songs written by Muses leader and current solo artist Kristen Hersh back in 1983 (including "Doghouse," which oddly, didn't make the original Doghouse cassette) that were recorded in 1996.

The Muses psychobilly folk-punk style never quite caught on beyond a limited cult audience, but the band's early edginess remains tantalizingly dark a decade later. The band did spawn the successful career of Tanya Donelly, who has released a solo disc as well as albums with The Breeders and Belly (who hit with "Feed the Tree"). And leader Hersh scored a minor duet hit "Your Ghost" on her own with Michael Stipe a couple years ago. But these early recordings are a time capsule treasure truly capturing the risk-taking alternative underground atmosphere of the mid- to late-'80s.

 

New Original Master Recordings on gold CDs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MFSL):

Don McLean
American Pie
1971

Don Henley
The End of the Innocence
1989

The Moody Blues
Seventh Sojourn
1972

James Taylor
Dad Loves His Work
1981

Various Artists
Saturday Night Fever:
Original Movie Soundtrack

1977

MFSL's releases over the past few months have all been of great classic albums, and the label's trademark system of going back to the original master tapes of the albums and remastering them to a higher standard than that which was released by the artists' original labels pays off well on its latest reissues from McLean, Henley, The Moody Blues, Taylor and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

Henley's disc arguably his best solo release is the most recently recorded of these discs, and so you would expect it needed the least "cleaning up." But in playing the Geffen version next to the MFSL remaster, it's obvious that some beneficial tweaking was done. The tape hiss that is audibly present on the opening piano strains of the title track are diminished on the new version and the bass presence of songs like "How Bad Do You Want It?" has been improved to provide a "wider" sound. It's the little things like these that improve the overall listening experience of an album. The average listener might not even notice the difference unless the old and new versions of the album were played side by side. But the end impression is that the MFSL pressings are "brighter and broader" sounding. Background bells and cymbals are sharper, voices are maybe slightly crisper, drum hits tighter. If you're a fan of the album in question, the difference is worth the gap in cover price between the standard CD version of the album and the "Original Master Recording."

Don McLean and James Taylor sound like they're right there in your living room as their hits from these classic albums roll out of the speakers McLean's "American Pie" and "Vincent" and Taylor's "Her Town Too" and "Hard Times" (though there is still a tiny bit of tape hiss that apparently couldn't be cleansed from the Taylor masters.) The Moody Blues' Seventh Sojourn, featuring "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)" is the last of the band's series of late '60s, early '70s blockbusters (they would return a decade later as '80s hitmakers with a new sound). MFSL, as it has with the Moodies' other early albums, manages to find some of the brightness that was mixed out of the original pressings of the albums. That work is especially noticeable in the cleanness of the guitar strumming on songs like "New Horizons" and "For My Lady." The Saturday Night Fever album which spawned an incredible 10 hit singles (the majority by the Bee Gees) is the premier "disco" album of all time and so it's long overdue for retouching, given the last few years' '70s nostalgia. MFSL has tweaked all those little background rhythm beds so the cymbals and bells and other chunk-chunka sound effects are crisper than ever on songs like "Night Fever," "Stayin' Alive," "How Deep is Your Love," "A Fifth of Beetoven," "If I Can't Have You" and others.

OK, one more oldie: Van Morrison's classic solo debut, 1967's Blowin' Your Mind! album spawned the all-time classic "Brown Eyed Girl" and has now been reissued from Epic Record's Legacy arm (though Legacy hasn't gone through the MFSL process of "upgrading" the album's sound). The album also includes a version of a traditional song that would become a hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival "Midnight Special." The reissued CD offers alternate takes of five of the album's songs that weren't included on the original release.