Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Music in Brief

Ho-diddly-ho, it's the most wonderful time of the year for those of us tired of the endless flood of new music: the time when record labels, looking to capitalize on the holiday shopping rush, trot out the best of their back catalogs in reissued, repackaged glory. Or, in the case of reissue label extraordinaire Rhino Records, they pull out all the stops to roll out one of their most elaborate reissues yet: The Doors' Perception 40th Anniversary Box. Between CDs and DVDs, this monster packs a total of 12 discs, with each of the audio recordings remastered and padded with alternate takes, unfinished tracks, 5.1 Surround mixes, and rare vocal outtakes that show frontman Jim Morrison in all his naked, poetic glory. Heck, it's almost enough to make us forget that this is the second time every Doors album has been reissued in one package—if nothing else, it'll make us forget the band's recent attempt to continue sans its iconic frontman… A

Since its original 1969 release, Johnny Cash At San Quentin has also been around the block a few times, but never in as elaborate a package as Columbia/Legacy is rolling out this season. Housed in a beautiful rectangular box, the new edition features two audio discs whose 13 bonus tracks make up for the deleted songs on the 2000 CD version, as well as a DVD containing the 1969 British documentary Johnny Cash In San Quentin. Raw, rollicking, and even rowdier than the legendary Folsom Prison concert that preceded it (see Walk The Line's opening and closing sequences), San Quentin trumps Cash's best studio material and proves why the Man In Black remains country's most iconoclastic performer even after his passing… A

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Long before Rush Limbaugh misappropriated one of their finest singles as theme music, Pretenders were erecting sharp, deceptively complex bridges between British post-punk and American new wave. Fortunately for those of us who've long admired the band's first two albums but hated the way CD technology has surpassed their mixes, 1980's brilliant Pretenders and 1981's only slightly less-perfect Pretenders II have resurfaced via Rhino in expanded, remastered, lavishly packaged new editions. From the jagged time signatures of "Tattooed Love Boys" to the MTV hit "Day After Day," the band's classic original lineup (featuring guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, who OD'd in 1982) finally gets its due on CD… A-

Rock history contains its share of obtuse, unwieldy concept albums, but Def Leppard built its 1987 full-length, Hysteria, around a much simpler idea: The band not only wanted to make an entire album's worth of perfectly constructed pop-metal hits, it wanted to do it with a recently one-armed drummer. (Rick Allen lost his left arm in a 1984 auto accident.) Hit-wise, the band missed the target, but not by much: The record has gone platinum 15 times over, with tunes like "Love Bites," "Armageddon It," "Hysteria," and the strip-club staple "Pour Some Sugar On Me" firmly imbedded in pop-culture consciousness. And as the 15 bonus tracks on Hysteria's two-CD deluxe edition (Mercury/Universal) prove, Def Leppard had better songs in the scrap pile than most of its contemporaries sent to the mastering plant… B+

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Though she'd been releasing albums since 1979 and even won a Grammy for her grocery-store-PA staple "Passionate Kisses," country-informed singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams evaded mainstream popularity until 1998, when her breakout album, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, swept damned near every critical year-end poll and sent her out on the road in support of Bob Dylan. Now remastered and re-released in a Mercury/Lost Highway/Chronicles deluxe edition, Car Wheels—a warm, empathic collection of grown-up observations on love and life—feels almost too big for its own good. Luckily for those fans who'd rather just hear the excellent original album remastered, most of the bonus material sits on a separate live disc. B-

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