New Music Monday: Rush, Tom Tom Club, Motorhead, Eric Clapton, Rainbow, Bill Evans

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A pair of lavish reissues arrive just in time for the Christmas buying season, one a classic Eric Clapton release — maybe his very best — and the other a signature effort from Rush, only days after their induction into a certain hall of fame.

The Slowhand box features a newly discovered cover of a Gordon Lightfoot tune, whereas 2112 revisits arguably their most important single work.

Elsewhere, there’s another chance to catch up with the Tom Tom Club, featuring the Heads’ rhythm section, as they return with a cool-rocking EP. We also recommend new looks back at vintage albums by pianist Bill Evans and guitarist Wes Montgomery.

For the old-school hipsters, we have a vinyl version of Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy, one of his countless “comeback” triumphs.

For those more interested in heavy metal thunder, we have Rainbow and Saxon, as well as a sprawling retrospective into the early years of Motorhead.

Finally, there is one of the most overlooked efforts from Stevie Wonder’s golden era.

Alas, this will be our last New Music Monday until after the first of the year, as labels take a break for the holidays. Until then, we wish you and yours the very, very best …

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Alicia KeysGirl On Fire [Vinyl] (R&B)
Art PepperMeets the Rhythm Section (Jazz)
AsiaAsia (Pop/Rock)
B.B. KingBlues Is King; Live & Well; Blues on Top of Blues; His Best: Electric B.B. King; Midnight Believer; In London; Indianola Mississippi Seeds; Live at the Regal; Completely Well; Live in Cook County Jail; Live in Japan (Blues)

BILL EVANS – PORTRAIT IN JAZZ (JAZZ): Evans spent much of 1959 going through a multitude of drummers and especially bass players. Finally, he settled on old friend Paul Motian and a young, innovative bass player Motian had suggested, Scott LaFaro. This unit soon clicked, as heard on these amazing first sessions — marked the beginning of a fatefully brief but historically important eighteen month period in which these three men made an immense impact on the piano trio format. Never before had a trio played so tightly together and freely at the same time. While the leader at the piano remained more than equal than the other two, the role of the drummer and bass player grew enormously in stature. It’s as if the whole trio concept took a quantum leap on those final days of the 1950s. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

BOB DYLAN – OH MERCY [VINYL] (POP/ROCK): Maybe it was the clinging New Orleans nights, or the burgeoning talents of producer Daniel Lanois (who was at the same time working on a very fine solo debut and perhaps the Neville Brothers’ most realized studio effort, Yellow Moon). But Dylan’s bitter introspection sounds refreshingly in focus here, in what could be called his Second Comeback. Dylan’s biblical and lore-laden turns of phrase get a punching up from the Nevilles’ rhythm section — and the spherical keyboard and guitar musings of both Lanois and Malcolm Burn. Even the outtakes from this album, “Dignity” and “Series of Dreams” (both later included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3), were gems. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Bobby “Blue” Bland and B.B. KingTogether for the First Time: Live (Blues)
Buddy GuyLive At Legends (Blues)
Clifton ChenierThe King of Zydeco (International)
Dani ShayOne: The Winter EP (Pop/Rock)
Dire StraitsDire Straits (Pop/Rock)

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ERIC CLAPTON – SLOWHAND [35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (POP/ROCK): Highlighted by a newly unearthed Eric Clapton track that finds the guitarist offering his own quietly weary take on “Looking at the Rain,” a Gordon Lightfoot deep cut from 1972. Clapton’s guitar, unsurprisingly, becomes a singular focus on his take from five years later, though he doesn’t take the expected solo turn. Instead, the focus is squarely on Clapton’s vocal — a ragged and resigned echo of Lightfoot’s caramel smoothness, something that adds a darker sense of loss to the track. Elsewhere, there is much to be enjoyed from one of Clapton’s most consistent albums. Produced by Glyn Johns, the No. 2 smash Slowhand included future radio staples like “Wonderful Tonight,” “Lay Down Sally” and “Cocaine,” not to mention a favorite album track in “The Core.” (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

Frank ZappaFiner Moments; Läther (Pop/Rock)
Jack DeJohnetteSpecial Edition (Jazz)
John FaheyVoice of Turtle (Folk)
John Lee HookerPlays and Sings the Blues (Blues)
Keith EmersonThe Christmas Album (Pop/Rock)
Lightnin’ HopkinsFirst Meetin’ of Blues Giants (Blues)
Mike OldfieldTubular Bells (Pop/Rock)
Miles DavisSwiss Radio Days 31 (Jazz)

MOTORHEAD – THE COMPLETE EARLY YEARS (POP/ROCK): This 17-disc box set pretty much covers Motorhead’s early years about as well as you can — eight complete albums, CD versions of seven singles and EPs, a 300-page collectors book and a box in the shape of the band’s skull logo with eyes that light up red. Granted, you’d have to be hardcore and a little crazy to spend $500 for this when you can get all of the music on it for much, much less, and Lemmy’s not happy about it because the band had no input. But it’s out there. — Fred Phillips

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RAINBOW – LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (POP/ROCK): Though I personally prefer the band’s debut album, there’s some great material on this one. The title track is probably one of the greatest rock anthems ever written, in my opinion. — Fred Phillips

Robin TrowerFor Earth Below (Pop/Rock)

RUSH – 2112 [Deluxe Edition] (POP/ROCK): A must buy, if for no other reason than the titanic 20-minute what-if-they-banned-music themed title track. I’m not sure — even now — that this seven-part concept-suite (with its crazy-good instrumental interludes, crazy-ass screeching and sometimes plain-crazy Neil Peart theme) isn’t the best thing Rush ever did. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

SAXON – HEAVY METAL THUNDER: THE MOVIE (POP/ROCK): Metal legends Saxon celebrate their 30th anniversary with a documentary film that was funded by fans. The film features interviews with past and present members of the band, as well as celebrity fans like Lemmy and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. There’s also a bit of unreleased archival footage and some vintage concert film. — Fred Phillips

Sonny RollinsSaxophone Colossus (Jazz)

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STEVE WONDER – INNERVISIONS (R&B): This album arrived amidst an almost-unfathomable run of important recordings from Wonder, but it may well be his best — if only because it delves so deeply into the failure of the 1960s, even while constructing a path out of that crushing disappointment. That decade’s promise of peace, its promise of prosperity, its promise of racial justice must have seemed very far away to Wonder in 1973, yet he was steadfast in his faith, unwavering in his thrilling creative experimentation, and unflinching in his willingness to lay bear the challenges and remaining opportunities. Innervisions didn’t just portray Wonder as visionary on its cover (in a striking painting by Efram Wolff), it proved that he, in fact, was — with all of the attendant sense of revelatory mystery that comes with that. All of it sounds brand new again, and the steadfast message still resonates. (More here.) – Nick DeRiso

Suzanne VegaSolitude Standing: Live at the Barbican (Pop/Rock)
The-DreamTerius Nash: 1977 (R&B)

TOM TOM CLUB – DOWNTOWN ROCKERS (POP/ROCK): This groove-based, very 1970s six-song EP finds former Talking Head rhythmnists Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth digging back into their earliest influences. To prepare for this project, the group jammed for several days in the couple’s home studio — but only after they relived some of the legendary grooves put down by the Stax stable of R&B stars. “To watch Booker T & the MGs, Sam & Dave, it was a real return to realizing it all and saying, ‘Now, this is exciting!,’” Weymouth told MusicRadar. Downtown Rockers was then mixed by Ed Stasium — who worked on Talking Heads ’77, among many other signature projects. Feature tracks include a remake of “Love Tape” by the Spanish electronica group Pinker Tones. (More here.) — Nick DeRiso

WES MONTGOMERY – THE INCREDIBLE JAZZ GUITAR (JAZZ): Montgomery fully emerged as the most important jazz guitarist after Charlie Christian with a set of great songs and performances that are truly … incredible. (More here.) — S. Victor Aaron

Wolfgang RubsamChorale Preludes (Classical)

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