One of the best signals that an artist’s old-catalogue album is finally going to be released in compact disc is news that the same artist is about to put out a new album.
The record company with the rights to the old albums figures the artist’s fans will be going to the store to buy the new album, so why not try to pick up some extra dollars by having the old ones available? This rule is especially true for artists who are returning to the pop scene after a lengthy absence.
Current examples: Arista Records has just released in CD the first four albums by Patti Smith, the influential poet-rocker whose “Dream of Life” is her first album in nine years. Also, Columbia has just made available in CD the 1978 debut album by Steve Forbert, the acclaimed folk-flavored singer-songwriter whose new “Streets of This Town” is his first album in five years. The Smith albums are part of Arista’s “Affordables” budget series (about $12 in stores), while Forbert’s is in Columbia’s “Collector’s Choice” budget line (under $10).
And don’t forget Brian Wilson. Now that the mastermind behind the Beach Boys’ sound has just released his first solo album, Capitol Records promises it will release on Nov. 16 the CD of the Beach Boys’ 1966 classic “Pet Sounds.”
How do the old albums stand up? Smith’s first and third albums--"Horses” and “Easter,” respectively--best showcase the way her poetic images and primitive, punkish persona led many to call her the “high priestess of rock in the late ‘70s.” She contributed most to building credibility for females in rock.
“Horses” (1975) introduced Smith’s striking original vision and still carries a jolt of individuality, but “Easter” (1978) is a more accessible and fully developed rock album. Rating (on a scale of four checks): “Horses” *** 1/2, “Easter” ****.
Forbert’s easy folk melodies, keen sense of rhyme and engaging glimpses of youthful innocence and idealism in “Alive on Arrival” (1978) led to the “new Dylan” comparisons of the period. The album hasn’t worn as well as those by Smith, but there is still a sense of wonder and craft to the best songs. Rating: ***.