Elvis CostelloThroughout his career, Elvis Costello has been a phenomenally prolific songwriter and recording artist, and Rhino Records has been steadily reissuing Costello's album catalog over the past two years.

Since Costello always records many more tracks than end up on the albums, Rhino has been able to add bonus CDs to each reissued album with previously unreleased material, as well as outtakes, B-sides, live tracks and more. Generally there are more songs on the bonus CDs than appear on the original albums they complement!

The latest Costello albums to undergo this treatment are Kojak Variety, a 1995 album of cover songs, and two albums from Elvis Costello & The Attractions: 1981's Almost Blue (an album of country cover songs) and 1983's Goodbye Cruel World, the latter of which featured the hit "The Only Flame in Town."

Among the bonus material on these discs are Costello's versions of the Grateful Dead's "Ship of Fools," the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," and recordings featuring George Jones, Johnny Cash, Nick Lowe and Madness.

Universal Music has an interesting series of CDs going called "Artists Choice." The idea is that well-known musicians select their favorite songs by other artists to appear on a collection. The latest in the series is Artists Choice: Diana Krall, Music That Matters to Her. Billed as a chance to "Spend an hour with Diana Krall's record collection," the CD includes Elton John's "Burn Down the Mission," Lucinda Williams' "Blue," Joni Mitchell's "Amelia," Count Basie's "Splanky," Randy Newman's "Cowboy," the Band's "The Weight" and more.

REO SpeedwagonREO Speedwagon now has its own hits disc in Epic/Legacy's "Essentials" series. The Essential REO Speedwagon is a 33-song, two-disc set that includes "Golden Country," "Keep Pushin'," "157 Riverside Avenue," "Roll with the Changes," "Time for Me to Fly," "Back on the Road Again," "Keep on Loving You," "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Love Is a Rock," and more.

Columbia Records asked icon Tony Bennett to sit down with his own 50 years of recordings and pick his favorites. The result is a series of reissues and "best ofs." His latest pick to be reissued is Cloud 7, an album originally recorded in 1955 and now available for the first time on CD. The 10-song disc ranges from "I Fall in Love Too Easily" to "Darn that Dream," and was a turning point in the early career of the singer.

Velvet CrushVelvet Crush
Stereo Blues
(Action Musik/Parasol)
    


Velvet Crush's history started two decades ago on the east coast, but have since always had strong roots in the Champaign-Urbana, Ill., music scene, where core members Paul Chastain and Ric Menck played with a variety of acts in the '80s. The two ultimately hooked up with Matthew Sweet and have served for years as part of his touring band, though they've never stopped releasing albums as Velvet Crush.

Sweet's releases obviously have received far more attention than Velvet Crush's independent offerings, but the band's garage-rock output has always been formed by a pop sweet tooth.

Stereo Blues is its most radio-friendly album to date, thanks in part, no doubt, to guitar pop maven Adam Schmitt's presence at the production console and Nick Rudd's guitar help, among other guests. The disc features a hypnotic dose of chiming guitars, upbeat guitar lines and perfectly melded harmonies.

The influence of Matthew Sweet's songwriting and recording style is probably more evident on this album than ever before. The opening tense guitar and vocal lines of "Rusted Star" are right out of Sweet's songbook, as are the chorus's high-energy background "ahhhhs." And if you heard "Get Yourself Right" on the radio without foreknowledge, you'd swear it was a new Matthew Sweet recording.

They do betray other influences throughout the disc, from the Byrds to Neil Young ("The Connection"). And "Do What You Want" starts out with a buzz reminiscent of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmonds' Rockpile project.

Fans of Sweet and guitar-driven power pop, in general, will love this disc. Stereo Blues is one of the summer's best "driving" albums. It's meant to be played loud on the car stereo.

The band promises a tour later this year where it will serve as the opening act for Matthew Sweet (who will perform as a backing member of Velvet Crush) before it turnsabout to become his backing band.