Review: Bonus tracks, new packaging highlight 13 reissue
“13 featuring Lester Butler” is available again. The reissue, out March 22 on RockBeat Records, features new art, new liner notes and three bonus tracks previously available only on bootleg.
We are on record with our love of “13,” so the quality of the music is not in doubt on this reissue. Instead, let’s look at what’s new here:
BONUS TRACKS: The three “new” live cuts will be of most interest to Butler fans — though they’ve been in circulation for years. The liner notes wrongly (and incompletely) claim the songs are from the “Tamines Festival, France, 1997.” In fact, “I Wish You Would,” “Boogie Disease” and “So Mean to Me” were actually recorded Aug. 29, 1997, at the 7th South Blues Festival in Tamines, Sambreville, Belgium.
The bonus cuts show the “other” 13 — the live unit of Alex Schultz, Eddie Clark and Mike Hightower that took Europe by storm in 1997-98 with its wild, expansive blues explorations. Amazingly, the three bonus tracks clock in at more than six minutes each, making them the three longest cuts on the reissue by far. The 19 additional minutes are literally half the length of the lean, mean original album.
Considering complete, “new” Butler live songs — including “Night”/”Devil’s Daughter” or “Down in New Orleans” — it’s a little surprising that these three cuts were chosen for the package. However, they are a great document of the lean and loose, adventurous version of 13, a far cry from the 2-minutes-and-out style of the original record.
“I Wish You Would” has a meaner feel than The Red Devils’ version, less bluesy and more gnarly. The main difference is Clark’s drumming, where he substitutes an insistent, pounding rumba for the rat-a-tat Billy Boy beat of the Devils’ Bill Bateman. Butler’s harmonica solo on this is much more free-form and jazz oriented than what one might expect from the Devils, but he has a killer band providing a solid canvas, egging him on.
“Boogie Disease” and “So Mean To Me” bear little resemblance to the album versions, other than the lyrics. Here, “Boogie Disease” goes from Sun Records simple to ZZ Top aggressive. Beginning with Butler’s harp — intro’ing as he would “The Backstreet Crawler” — the band falls into John Lee Hooker mode for the duration. “So Mean To Me,” in this iteration, is a swinging shuffle, the kind of Cali blues groove that would have been second nature to this band. The star here is Schultz, who takes the spotlight for a loose-limbed, jumping solo.
PRODUCTION: A straight reissue, there doesn’t seem to be a new mix or master here on the original album. “13” is as you remember it — loud, edgy and raw. No muscle was lost on round 2. To our ears, there might be more space between tracks, but only the most fanatic would even register a detail like that. The bonus tracks may not have come from an original source, judging by the stereo separation. The bonus cuts are a little jarring coming after the perfect finale of “Baby Please Don’t Go,” but fit sonically into this new package.
PACKAGING: When you think back to Butler’s vision for “13” — with its bizarre cyber-symbolism cover — it’s a bit jarring to see his face on the cover of the new version, with a blue “13” logo. The back cover is almost retro in its blue-on-white simplicity, a stark contrast to the original packaging. Even the simple CD spine is clean and utilitarian. The entire package has a blue duotone look, giving it a nice overall feel. New or alternate versions of the 13 band photos are real treats, — the one on the disc tray, especially, for the band posing like rock stars.
Unlike the original artwork, this clean, uniform packaging won’t be a hindrance to selling the record.
LINER NOTES: Reissue producer James Austin provided the liner notes, and he quickly tells the Lester Butler story. The information here doesn’t go much deeper than Butler’s Wikipedia entry (“Lester was born in Virginia”) and some facile observations (“Very few white blues bands have been able to take the blues to a new level without sounding, well ‘white.'”). The notes don’t include track-by-track players as the first disc did, but the production credits are much more clear.
Certainly, these are somewhat minor quibbles with an overall winning package. If you’re on this blog, good chance you’ve got the original “13,” the Tamines bootleg, the “Legendary Last Gig” DVD and about a dozen other recordings. No, this is for the new fans, with an accessible package and some bonus material to push it over the top.
And, of course, Lester Butler diehards will also enjoy having a back up copy of one of their favorite albums.