SXSWAs I write this column, I'm just hours away from hopping a plane to Austin, Tex., for the annual South By Southwest Music and Film Festival ( Over the past decade, SXSW has become the premier spring music industry event for bands hoping to get seen and heard by the music industry, and for the music industry to parade its hopeful hit makers of the coming year in front of fans, managers and the pop music press.

The festival's independent film segment was added after the popularity of the music fest proved itself and this year, nearly 200 films and 1,300 bands will appear as part of the festival over a week. Watch this column the next couple of weeks for coverage of this amazing pop culture event.

Black 47Speaking of annual pop culture events, if you're looking for some original Irish rock music to play while celebrating St. Patrick's Day this week, consider the new disc from perennial New York Irish rockers Black 47. The band's new CD, Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes, is out on Gadfly Records (, and is meant to accompany leader Larry Kirwan's autobiography, "Green Suede Shoes," which recounts the events that led to his emigration from Dublin, to founding the political Irish rock band.

If you're more inclined to relive the days of Woodstock, Atlantic Records has teamed up with Rhino to issue Crosby Stills & Nash's Greatest Hits. From "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Wooden Ships" and "Just a Song Before I Go" to "Southern Cross" and "Wasted on the Way," the disc offers 19 of the classic folk-rock harmony band's best.

Tori AmosR.E.M.
Green (1982)
Out of Time (1991)
Automatic for the People (1992)
Monster (1994)
New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
Up (1998)
Reveal (2001)
The Best of R.E.M 1988-2003 (2003)
Around the Sun (2004)
(Warner Bros.)

Not so long ago, the music industry found a new way to re-sell us our favorite albums the compact disc. No more scratch, crackle and pop for your favorite overplayed tracks. What could sound better than an always clean digital copy of the original recording?

What, indeed.

That's a question the industry has been asking itself ever since the advent of the CD. And over the last couple of years, with the increased penetration of home theater systems, the industry finally found an answer.

How can you improve digital stereo sound? By remixing that digital sound to emphasize different musical aspects on different speaker channels, and issuing it on DVD. If you have a true home theater system, you'll get better reverb, fuller bass and a surround experience that a regular CD can't quite provide.

R.E.M. is not the first band to enjoy having its albums remixed and reissued specifically to take advantage of the 5.1 Suround Sound home theatre system, but it is certainly one of the first to have the bulk of its catalog reissued in the format all at once. Each of the listed new versions of R.E.M.'s albums will retail for around $25, and will include a regular CD for play on compact disc players, as well as a DVD that includes the Surround Sound mix of the album tracks.

They include the usual booklet of liner notes, as well as extra features, like photos of the band, its discography and video of the band ranging from previously unreleased documentary footage to MTV-aimed music videos.

Want to sample the format to see if you can hear the difference? Check out The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003. This disc features all of the band's latter day hits, from "Man on the Moon" "The Great Beyond," "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?," "Losing My Religion," "Orange Crush," Everybody Hurts" and "Nightswimming," among others. It also offers the video for "Bad Day, " the single from the compilation.

Or pick up the band's biggest pop breakthroughs Green, with its "Pop Song '89," "Stand," and "Orange Crush" or Out of Time, with the at-one-time nearly ubiquitous "Shiny Happy People," "Losing My Religion" and "Radio Song."

R.E.M. could never sound better or could it?

Only time will tell.