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Throwbacks: Reissues from Led Zeppelin, Flesh Eaters and more

Pop critic Randall Roberts tips reissues from Arthur, the Flesh Eaters, Led Zep, Stax and Jellyfish

In this flattened music world, old and new rest alongside one another, equally valid files within databases that have little regard for chronology. Finely tuned search engines scour for recent uploads unconcerned with recording date, vintage or genre.

Finding an obscurity or outtake on YouTube is as easy as downloading the newest Ed Sheeran song, which creates a wonderfully unstable realm between present and past. This is especially true when labels are reacting to throwback trends by uncovering increasingly obscure work and placing it in new contexts. Below, five coming this winter to anticipate.

Arthur, "Dreams and Images" (Light in the Attic). Whether one "anticipates" this reissue depends on how you like your music. Me, I almost gagged when I first heard "Dreams and Images," the debut by '60s proto-twee singer Arthur Lee Harper. Softer than soft, it makes Bread’s “If” seem like Throbbing Gristle.

Issued by Light in the Attic Records, “Dreams and Images” comes out Jan. 13. It was produced by Lee Hazlewood and released in 1967 on his LHI Records imprint. The record showcases a singer whose delicate whisper, according to the release notes, masked a debilitating stutter, a fact that adds an element of melancholy to the work.

Padded with string-section gauze and a melodic sadness so desperate it needs its own Kickstarter fundraiser, this music literally made my teeth hurt -- and I love Light in the Attic's fellow romantic softie, Lewis. Where his "L'Amour" thrives on a touch of unintentional weirdness, though, Arthur's "Dreams and Images" is soft like fois gras cotton candy. Aggressively -- admirably -- soft. The kind of soft that causes existential pain.

The Flesh Eaters, "A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die" LP (Superior Viaduct). The great, if lesser known, Southern California avant punk band The Flesh Eaters was the creation of poet Chris Desjardins, who as Chris D. gathered together a rotating band of Los Angeles musicians to release a string of tough, uncategorizable rock records. 

"A Minute to Pray" was reissued by the terrific label Superior Viaduct last year, but on Jan. 10 the Flesheaters will return to perform the album at the Echoplex with its original lineup.

Big deal, you say? That lineup consists of some of the city's great rock exports: Chris D. on vocals, John Doe (X) on bass, Dave Alvin (the Blasters) on guitar, Bill Bateman (the Blasters) on drums, DJ Bonebrake (X) on marimbas and drums and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on sax. When "A Minute to Pray" came out, its stunning lineup only performed live a few times together in '81. Thirty-plus years later, they'll do it again.

Various Artists, "The Complete Stax Soul Singles, Vol. 2" (Stax/Concord). The second of a three-volume series of boxes devoted to the essential work of Memphis' Stax Records, the nine CDs here capture Stax at a key moment in its life: after it had split from its mutually beneficial alliance with Atlantic Records to become an independent label again.

Atlantic's essential 9-CD "The Complete Stax/Volt Singles, 1959-1968," was released in 1991, and the second and third sets originally came out a few years later, but then went out of print. Stax's alliance with Concord is a win for fans of the greatest soul label of the 1960s, as the reissued, repackaged boxes are deep with gems.

Yes, classics from the Staples Singers, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & MGs are well represented, but so are lesser known soul serenades from Eddie Floyd ("California Love," about a Los Angeles lover "living in a different world"), the T.S.U. Tornadoes (the totally funky, break-heavy "My Thing Is a Moving Thing") and Lee Sain. The latter's ridiculous "Hot Pants" could be your new favorite ode to short-shorts. 

The new Stax initiative commenced with the December release of this Vol. 2. The third, and final, multidisc set will arrive on Feb. 3. Perhaps even better, the labels have promised that "these box sets will kick off a renewed Stax reissue initiative at Concord Music Group and we’ll have some exciting announcements shortly." Great news all around.

Jellyfish, "Bellybutton" and "Spilt Milk," (Omnivore). Best known to the general public for featuring two members, Jason Falkner and Roger Manning, who'd go on to be key members of Beck's longtime band, Jellyfish was a could-have-been huge rock band whose tripped out power chords sprang from a post Paisley Underground, pre-grunge Los Angeles whose biggest non-rap export at the time was Jane's Addiction.

The band, co-founded by Manning and drummer/singer Andy Sturmer, only lasted a few years, and in that time issued the records being revisited by Omnivore. The better of them, "Spilt Milk," came out in 1993, two years after Nirvana's "Nevermind" and its kindred spirits had pushed poppier, less grungy bands like Jellyfish to the side. "Spilt Milk" sold less than "Bellybutton," and helped spell the demise of the band. The music remains.

These deluxe reissues feature remastered versions of the original records, and bonus discs filled with live recordings, outtakes, demos and cover versions of artists including Paul McCartney, the Archies and Harry Nilsson.  

Led Zeppelin, "Physical Graffiti" (Swan Song/Rhino). Rhino Records’ ambitious Led Zeppelin reissue program has hit the band’s midlife peak after rolling out deluxe releases earlier in the last year. Next in line: Zep’s ambitious fifth album, the two-LP record “Physical Graffiti.” 

Like those first projects, the upcoming set, which will arrive Feb. 24, has been newly mastered by the band's guitarist, Jimmy Page, and will feature previously unissued music from the period.

It will arrive in six different incarnations: Double CD; deluxe 3 CD edition with unreleased audio; double LP; deluxe edition 3 LP vinyl with unreleased audio; and digital downloads in both standard and high-definition formats. 

The sixth will be a "super deluxe boxed set" to include the remastered double album on CD in vinyl replica sleeve; companion audio on CD featuring new alternate cover art; remastered double album on 180-gram vinyl in a sleeve replicating first pressing; companion audio on 180-gram vinyl in a sleeve with new alternate cover art; high-definition audio download card of all content at 96kHz/24 bit; a hard-bound, 96 page book filled with rare and previously unseen photos and memorabilia; a high-quality print of the original album cover, the first 30,000 of which will be individually numbered.

Most important, all versions feature "Kashmir," the band's greatest effort. 

Looking for music tips? Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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