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.

3 Responses to “Review: Bonus tracks, new packaging highlight 13 reissue”

  1. Feelgood Says:

    Where to order?
    Especially for European die-hards.

  2. hey guys- something funky with those bonus tracks…no bass!!!! sounds like the bass track was deleted (as well as lester’s introduction of hightower) they jacked the drums to cover (especially kick) and boosted the bottom on guitar but the band sounded way heavier live..still great but more like a stripped down 13!

  3. Nick Sahakian Says:

    Man o man, James Austin is STILL THE MAC DADDY-O KING OF FINDING THE DEEPEST COOL THAT SETS THAT SHOUT FACTORY ON TOP OF THE CATALOG FOOD CHAIN. I used to work with James at Rhino. I went to KING KING on 6th and LaBrea EVERY TUESDAY NIGHT – Closed up shop EARLY – Hopped in my Hot Rod. Busted down the door to watch Lester, Bill, Johnny Ray destroy it! I am a bass player – Johnny used to let me play the last set several times, when I could fight my way to the stage and it was WORTH IT. I loved Lester’s style. His OLD DELTA BLACK MAN vocal sound and that distorted huffing and puffing and KILLER HARP PHRASING THAT MADE HIM MY HERO – This one is WAAAAAAY WORTH IT. Hot blonde Anika at the door……blast down 2 beers and SWING baby, swing…….!!!! Jammed with the likes of some big names who showed up for those last sets – Watched Rick Rubin out front in his Rolls, meditate – before he signed them – when they were the BLUE SHADOWS………. This was a golden moment in my life. Now some unreleased biz? I am all over it like a bum on a baloney sandwich!

    – Nick (Hey James – You are my hero……still)

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