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The Complete Motown Singles

Vol. 10: 1970 (Hip-O Select/Motown)

Detroit's Camelot ended Jan. 14, 1970, in Las Vegas, when Diana Ross deigned one last performance with the Supremes. Two years later, when Motown Records huckster Berry Gordy (Antony) relocated his Cleopatra (Ross) to Los Angeles for her close-up, so too went Motor City's assembly line of miracles. With The Complete Motown Singles march on box-set history coming to a halt the same year Ross starred as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues (1972), this 6-CD cliff-hanger begins winding down a tale that just won't quit. The dizzying, dazzling, star-studded plotline highs of '64, '65, '66, and '67 have long been resolved, the greatest hits of the Supremes, Vandellas, Four Tops, and Temptations behind them, which makes Vol. 10: 1970 all the more remarkable. Even on a downgrade, Motown produced Excaliburs. Consider the vinyl 45 housed in another hardbound scrapbook of the highest grade: "Tears of a Clown," music by Stevie Wonder, Pagliacci lyric and vocal by one William "Smokey" Robinson. "The Bells," from Marvin Gaye-produced protégés the Originals, then opens a set that never tolls anything less than heartwarming soul, funk, blues, even jazz. And just when you thought Martha Reeves had run out of gas, "I Should Be Proud" lashes out at her brother being a Vietnam casualty. Post-Diana Supremes' launching pad "Up the Ladder to the Roof," Jackson 5 "I Want You Back" response "ABC," Gladys Knight & the Pips sizzling Norman Whitfield's "You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)" – there's no stopping this juggernaut. Marvin and Tammi might be down to their last layer on "The Onion Song," but the lashing count-off into the Tempts' mushroom cloud of psychedelic soul, "Ball of Confusion," vaporizes any tears. On disc three, Mr. Wonder-full's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" posts into Edwin Starr's perennial "War," topped by the Spinners' silken "It's a Shame." CD four kicks off with Rare Earth's "(I Know) I'm Losing You," remembers girl groups in Yvonne Fair's "Stay a Little Longer" and even Diana Ross' pompous "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," before doing the reggae with Bob (not Marley) & Marcia (Griffiths) on "Young, Gifted and Black." Hard, otherworldly metallic funk from the Temptations, "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)," leaves no survivors. Hugh Masekela's Vanilla Fudge ("You Keep Me Hangin' On") and more true grit from Gladys Knight ("If I Were Your Woman" b/w "The Tracks of My Tears") get top billing on disc five, six coasting home on the Jackson 5's effervescent "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Christmas in July? You bet your monarchy.

****


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Karen Dalton

Green Rocky Road (Megaphone)

Posthumous output of the Ode Banjo cover girl now doubles her current discography with this solo set of banjo and 12-string acoustic guitar off the same tape reel as the ancient blues austerity of last year's 2-CD, Cotton Eyed Joe. The cold crystal folk of "Katie Cruel," from 1971 sophomore album In My Own Time, hisses equally primordial here, the better part of a decade before either Dalton (1938-1993) studio LP, entrancing on a vocal quaver half Billie Holiday, half Cherokee sharecropper (see "In Her Own Time," Feb. 8). Time-honored.

***


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Elton John

Elton John Deluxe Edition (Mercury)

Elton John

Tumbleweed Connection Deluxe Edition (Mercury)

Bennie jetted skyward with 1970's eponymous debut and its Tumbleweed follow-up, the former commercial ("Your Song"), rootsy ("Take Me to the Pilot"), and grandiose ("The King Must Die"), the latter disguising its sophomore paucity with Band-like Americana and stately EJ standards "Come Down in Time" and "Burn Down the Mission." A wealth of demos, piano run-throughs, and BBC treats make both "bonus" discs a main attraction, particularly future faves "Grey Seal" and "Rock and Roll Madonna" on Elton John and Tumbleweed's "Country Comfort." High interest vault yield.

(Elton John) ****

(Tumbleweed Connection) ***


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Billy Joel

The Stranger 30th Anniversary Edition (Columbia/Legacy)

Taking a long box from Sony's recent Born to Run reissue, 1977's similarly star-making vehicle for this pug-faced Long Island pianist contextualizes The Stranger's remastering with a tightly orchestrated audio triumph that same year at Carnegie Hall ("They're gonna have to drag me off this stage"). A DVD unveils 45 "New York State of Mind" minutes on The Old Grey Whistle Test, plus the principals documenting the sessions. "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" as an Abbey Road-cruising suite? "Everybody Has a Dream." ***.5


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Diana Ross & the Supremes

Motown Lost & Found: Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities (Hip-O Select/Motown)

Like Martha Reeves & the Vandellas' precursor Spellbound, this 2-CD set overflows with Supreme Rarities, 1960-69. From Flo Ballard-leaning Beatles cover "I Saw Him Standing There" to Diana Ross' coy reading of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Baby Love" precursor "It's All Your Fault," the treasure's in the shifting. Lots of dental floss ("Over the Rainbow"), but 24-karat fillings on the order of Norman Whitfield's "Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone" abound. Radio air checks remind you we've come a long way, baby.

****


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Liz Phair

Exile in Guyville (National Anthem/ATO)

"There are women who wouldn't be involved in music at all if not for being inspired by [Exile in Guyville]." So states noted feminist Steve Albini in Liz Phair's feature-length DVD doc on her "Fuck and Run" love note to Urge Overkill's Nash Kato. Rather than addressing indie rock's supposed Tapestry herself, the director exhumes Chicago 1993 ad infinitum through John Cusack and other scenesters, all cued to a notable absence of soundtrack. Three B-sides add to the you-had-to-be-there. Nice G-string, Lizzie.

**

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