Music shoppers have good reasons to visit the "lost and found" department this week to dig out newly uncovered (or revamped) relics from Bruce Springsteen, Quincy Jones, Norah Jones, Jerry Garcia, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
A BRUCE BONANZA: In his perfectionist youth, Bruce Springsteen recorded far more material than he put out. Fans became frustrated by his delays as other musicians earned hits from his castaways. And sometimes a bootleg of a "lost" Springsteen album slipped out. Kinda crazy.
Belatedly, Bruce has now opted to release "The Promise" (Columbia, A-), a newly polished (where necessary), double-disc set of material originally sketched, etched and rejected by the artist between the release of "Born To Run" (his painfully birthed, 1976 breakout) and the two-years-later "Darkness On the Edge of Town."
Why were these songs canned? In liner notes, Springsteen suggests that some didn't meet the heaviness criteria he was then striving for, in a time when punk rock was in ascendancy and his own life and career seemed fraught with dark peril.
Please to note, for example, the flatter, less aggressive tone to the rejected alternate version of "Racing in the Streets" that opens "The Promise," or his relatively wimpy crooning of "Because the Night" (made popular by a howling Patti Smith).
Some of the official 21 (plus hidden track) songs found here almost sound like parodies of other Springsteen works. Take the title tune, which name checks "Thunder Road" and likewise strives for pop opera grandeur, with some success.
Also newly rescued from oblivion are several that obviously emulated his heroes. You may hear the ghost of Buddy Holly in the tones and rhythms of "Outside Looking In" (with Clarence Clemons honking like role model Lee Allen). And is that Bruce, Neil Diamond or one of the Righteous Brothers growling on "Gotta Get That Feeling"?
The Boss is also doing his best Phil Spector wall o' sound thing on "Someday (We'll Be Together)," newly buffed with a chorus of female backing voices.
Yet even at its weakest moments, this set is still guaranteed to plaster a grin on a fan's face. "The Promise" delivered is akin to finding a stash of cash buried in a sock drawer. The bills may be old, but they're still good!
Springsteen's long-overdue official versions of "Fire" (a hit for the Pointer Sisters) is purr-fection. Even more of a joy, "Wrong Side of the Street" (dig the George Harrison-like guitar work), the keyboard-vamped "Talk To Me" and the anthemic "Breakaway."
A limited edition, three CD/three DVD amplification of this set ("The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story") also lands in stores today, adding a remastered version of the "Darkness" album, the video documentary that's been playing on HBO, a slab of period performance clips and a slamming, three-hour 1978 concert.
Sure to top most 2010 box set wrap-ups.
IS THAT Q AGAIN? The stars have lined up around the block to help producer/composer Quincy Jones bring new attitude (and fans) to his catalog on "Soul Bossa Nostra" (Interscope, B). Yeah, that's Akon out-shugging Shuggie Otis on a remake of "Strawberry Letter 23," T-Pain and Robin Thicke auto-tuning "P.Y.T." (Q did that one first with Michael Jackson) and Amy Winehouse turning the time machine to "way back" for "It's My Party." Also rapping/singing for the man: Talib Kweli, Ludacris, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx and Three 6 Mafia.
Sadly, Messers Jackson and Sinatra were unavailable, yet they do play roles in a new companion book, "Q On Producing" (Hal Leonard, B+), bundled with an instructive DVD.
NORAH CAN'T SAY NO: Never one to let success go to her head, Norah Jones has generously lent her voice and good name to a huge crop of recording projects. Now she's reclaiming a bunch of those cameos on " . . . Featuring Norah Jones" (Blue Note, B+).
The languid queen of countrypolitan, Norah is in her element joining Dolly Parton on "Creepin' In," duetting with Willie Nelson on "Baby It's Cold Outside," swooning at the piano with Ray Charles on "Here We Go Again," helping Herbie Hancock (from "The Joni Letters") ignite "Court & Spark" or belting the bluesy "Ruler of My Heart" with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Why, that Jones girl even does OK in alt-rock settings with the Foo Fighters and Belle & Sebastian. But Jones as the sultry chick who drops into the midst of a hip-hop production with Q-Tip or Outkast? Now that's a stretch.
MORE FROM THE VAULTS: The old-timey-music-celebrating Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band had a brief life, from summer 1987 to the summer of '88 and released just one album, "Almost Acoustic," recorded largely during a historic stint on Broadway.
Now at last there's a second, looser set of those, um, show tunes, the aptly named "Ragged But Right" (Garcia Family LLC, B). It was cut in part at a matinee, and Garcia lets on he's usually snoozing at that hour. But about 20 minutes in, everybody finally wakes up with a jamtastic take on "Deep Elem Blues."
Get a jolt from electric blues? Give a look and listen to "In Session" (Stax, A) a scorching, December 1983 meeting of the minds (and voices and guitars) of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who'd clearly jump through fire if King asked him.
While a CD-only version of this summit has been available, the new two-disc CD/DVD bundle lays on previously unheard gems - "Born Under a Bad Sign" (King's signature song), the title track of Stevie Ray's first album, "Texas Flood," and an equally pumped "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town."