Let's just get this out of the way. The record labels live for autumn. In the lead-up to the consumer gluttony called "the holiday season," their intent is to fill up record stores with as many "must-have" titles as possible. What that means is that in addition to all the top-shelf "product" that keeps the industry afloat, there are scores of other, less high-profile releases that are more deserving of your attention. And here, folks, is where we come in. Utilizing our vast network of sources (namely, uh, press releases and the Internet), we've cobbled together a roundup of some of the best CDs due to hit shelves this fall. Now, this isn't all of them -- it's not even close -- but it's most of the good ones, and that should be all that matters in the end. (Caveat emptor: CD release dates are always subject to change, so don't get pissed at us if some of these dates wind up being wrong.)
Feeding the beast
We've got to acknowledge the fact that these albums are coming out; not because we like them, but because, for some reason, they matter to a lot of people out there. Join the herd.
There's more -- Britney Spears, anyone? -- but really, what's the point? You're gonna hear plenty about all of 'em, so let's just move on to the more interesting releases.
No introduction necessary
Pay attention. "Despite the overwhelming mediocrity of the "hit product" coming down the pike, lots of great music is forthcoming this fall. In fact, you may not even know it yet, but your new favorite record is probably one of these 20.
The best of the rest
A few artists abandon the shells that made them famous this fall. The self-titled album from The Fire Theft (Rykodisc, Sept. 23) features three former members of Sunny Day Real Estate (Jeremy Enigk, William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel) exploring their lush, classic-rock jones; "Out of Season" (Sanctuary, Oct. 7) is a collaboration between Portishead vocalist Beth Gibbons and "Rustin Man" (aka Talk Talk honcho Paul Webb) that was released last year in the U.K.; former sadcore star Mark Kozelek (from Red House Painters) starts a new life for himself with Sun Kil Moon, who release "Ghosts of the Great Highway" on Nov. 4.
Quality hip-hop gets a shot in the arm on Oct. 7 with new releases by Jean Grae ("The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP," on Babygrande) and Jaylib ("Champion Sound," on Stone's Throw, is the long-awaited collaboration between Jay Dee and Madlib). But the day will certainly be won by the jaw-droppingly expansive "Later That Day" by Lyrics Born (Quannum Projects).
Lest you think that pop-punk and garage rock have displaced noise as a legitimate form of musical extremism, new releases from K.K. Null ("Atomik Disorder," Neurot Recordings, Oct. 7), Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo ("Out Trios Volume One: Monsoon," Atavistic, Oct. 7) and the ever-freaky West Coast ensemble Estradasphere (Quadropus, Mimicry, Oct. 28) should set you straight.
Though the "15 Year Reunion" set from Russian free jazz legends The Ganelin Trio (Leo, Oct. 21) and a new album from AACM mainstay Malachi Thompson ("Blue Jazz," Delmark, Oct. 21) are noteworthy for proving that noise and jazz are old bedfellows and that old freaks are really never done being freaks, the reissue of Sam Rivers' 1964 debut as a leader, "Fuchsia Swing Song" (Blue Note, Oct. 7) goes even further to show that 40 years isn't enough time for the truly creative to get all their ideas out. On the opposite end of the creative spectrum, the enormously skilled Cassandra Wilson unleashes a covers album, "Glamoured" (Blue Note, Oct. 7), that finds her approaching "modern pop standards" by the likes of Sting, rather than her typically impressive repertoire. (Guitarist John McLaughlin splits the difference with his "Thieves and Poets" `Verve, Oct. 14`, which is half standards and half original "thematic suite.")
Of course, there are buckets of classic rock reissues forthcoming this fall, as the labels try to squeeze that much more out of their quickly depleting catalogs. Although occasional gems pour forth -- Epic/Legacy releases a double-disc presentation of the Allman Brothers' complete Atlanta Pop Festival performances on Oct. 21 -- "deluxe editions" have become the rule of the day. These two-disc expansions of "classic" albums are fleshed out with extra material that's either revelatory or superfluous. Getting the good treatment: "Live at Fillmore East" by the Allmans (Mercury, Sept. 23), "Tommy" by The Who (Geffen, Oct. 21), "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John (Island, Nov. 11). Filed under unnecessary: a 2-CD "Grease" soundtrack (Polydor, Sept. 23) that shows just how insubstantial the original was.
What's more interesting, classic rock-wise, is a clutch of mid-period reissues from Santana -- "Moonflower, Caravanserai, Welcome and Love Devotion Surrender" were Carlos at his spiritual freaky-deakiest, fusing guitar overdrive with some noxiously post-hippy paeans to the beauty of love. These four albums are remastered wonderfully, with just the right amount of bonus material (Columbia/Legacy, Sept. 30).
On the old-enough-to-be-classic-rock-but-too-fey-to-count front, years of apathy (and near-antipathy) between David Sylvian and Caroline Records have finally ended and his art-pop legacy will be restored on October 7 with the release of remastered versions of several Japan albums (including "Tin Drum, Oil On Canvas" and "Gentlemen Take Polaroids") as well as the long out-of-print "Rain Tree Crow" masterpiece.
You wanted the best
If you want to feel old, just check out the batch of "best of" and "greatest hits" compilations hitting the streets this fall. That bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. are on their second such collections (both on Warner Bros., Nov. 11 and Oct. 21 respectively) is bad, but has enough time passed to warrant retrospective looks at TLC (Arista, Oct. 14), Stone Temple Pilots (Atlantic, Nov. 11) and Tori Amos (Rhino, Nov. 18)?
Solely for the purpose of repackaging under the aegis of "sonic improvement," there will also be new collections from the Grateful Dead (Rhino, Sept. 16), Eagles (Rhino, Oct. 21) and Bonnie Raitt (Capitol, Sept. 30). After all, baby boomers have unlimited funds, yes?
And, expanding the unlikely success of "Harry Hippie" onto two discs of gut-bucket soul, Bobby Womack gets a long-overdue double-disc "Anthology" (Capitol, Sept. 30).
Put it in a box
Fall just wouldn't be fall without a bunch of Santa-ready box sets hitting the shelves, and this year is no different. Though some -- four CDs of Joni Mitchell's "Geffen"-era work? (Sept. 23) -- are questionable, most fall into the "why haven't they done this before" category. F'rinstance, Talking Heads -- the freakin' Talking Heads! -- finally get properly boxed with the 3-CD/1-DVD "Once In A Lifetime" (Rhino, Nov. 11). And the completist expansionism of the Miles Davis catalog continues with the electri-funk of "The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions box" (Columbia, Sep. 30), while Nat "King" Cole's underappreciated role as America's first black pop star is documented on "The Singles Collection" (Capitol, Oct. 7).
On the heavier end of things, "Soundtrack To The Apocalypse" collates the best of Slayer's two-decade career (American, Nov. 18), while the mighty Motörhead releases "Stone Deaf" (Sanctuary, Oct. 7), a five-disc romp through their oft-reissued catalog, and Cannibal Corpse (of all bands) will be anthologized with the 3-CD/1-DVD "15-Year Killing Spree" set (Metal Blade, Nov. 4). But the big news is that, after years of suffering with the sub-standard sound quality of the American editions of Black Sabbath's oeuvre, the classic Ozzy-era albums have finally been remastered for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, they're initially being released in an 8-CD/1-DVD box set, "Black Box" (Rhino, Nov. 4), that lists for $99.98. Ouch! That's heavy.