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Album reviews: Girl groups, Elvis, and Jimi Hendrix

Here are some excellent reissues to check out this season.

Elvis Presley
1968 Come Back Special
Elvis Presley 1968 Come Back SpecialRead moreLegacy

Various Artists

Basement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground

(Numero *** ½)

Chicago reissue label Numero Group is an expert unearther that specializes in bringing talented might-have-beens out from obscurity and into the light of day. Rather than center on a specific scene or individual artist (as with 2017‘s fabulous Jackie Shane set), this double-disc collection with excellent liner notes by critic Jessica Hopper gathers 56 little-known girl groups from all over the U.S. in the pre-psychedelic 1960s. It’s a treasure trove of swoony, energetic, lovelorn pop from black, white, and brown groups such as Toni & the Hearts, Judy & the Affections, and the Dreamliners that sing their hearts out but that never achieved the fame of the Shangri-Las or the Marvelettes. Florida rock band the Belles sound positively punky on “Come Back,” and they turn a female gaze on the Van Morrison-penned Them hit “Gloria” with new lyrics about a cute guy named “Melvin.” Future soul star Lyn Collins is heard as a 14-year-old on Charles Pike & the Scholars‘ “Unlucky in Love.” Bernadette Carroll tries her darnedest to get a new dance craze going on “The Humpty Dump.” Basement Beehive is a high-haired, highly enjoyable alternative history of songs that sound like you must have heard them before but actually haven’t. — Dan DeLuca

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Electric Ladyland - Deluxe Edition

(Experience Hendrix/Legacy *** ½)

Can you dig it? Fifty years later, Hendrix’s third, last, and longest Experience trio set is still the sludgy psychedelic blues-rock mindblower whence sprang “Crosstown Traffic,” “Voodoo Chile,” and that radical remake of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” The book-bound three-CD+Blu-ray vid-disc celebration soars higher with bird’s-eye view extras — a sweet 12-pack of strummy guitar and vocal demos, sprinkling of studio outtakes, and the bootleg board tape of a loosey-goosey ’68 Hollywood Bowl show. Even better than lying on the floor between the speakers is engineer Eddie Kramer’s dynamic new magic carpet ride of a surround sound album mix (on Blu-ray) that plays well on a 5.1 channel home theater system but that isn’t as insightful as the Beatles boxed “White Album” surround treatment. An extended “making-of” video documentary, reprints of Jimi’s handwritten lyrics, and liner notes by Philly guy David Fricke add even more fuel for the trip. —Jonathan Takiff

Elvis Presley

’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition

(RCA/Legacy ****)

On Dec. 3, 1968, in one electrifying hour of TV, Elvis Presley rescued himself from irrelevancy. With what came to be known as The ’68 Comeback Special, it would be too facile to say the King of Rock-and-Roll had regained his throne — the world of 1968 was radically different from that of his 1950s ascendancy — but he did show indisputably that he could still be an artist to be reckoned with.

This five-CD, two-Blu-ray set collects all the audio and video from this historic project in one package (plus an 86-page book). It includes the original soundtrack album (with bonus cuts); the original NBC special; and uncut audio and video of the stand-up and sit-down performances — with Elvis famously clad in black leather — that were excerpted for TV; a disc of ultra-loose acoustic rehearsals with his old sidemen; and a disc of studio outtakes.

What emerges is a thrilling portrait of a singer and performer far removed from the neutered figure he had become in his increasingly ridiculous movies. He’s sexy, smart, funny, and soulful. In other words, you get an artist in his element and in command, reaching deep and summoning the best he has to offer — which is as good as pop music gets. — Nick Cristiano