Bill Withers
(Reel Music/Columbia)

It's hard to underestimate the grace and power of Bill Withers, a guy whose head-spinner confessionals are so rich in empathy ("Better Off Dead," "Grandma's Hands," etc.) that they can get you easily at the knees. His melancholic mojo wasn't easy to sustain, but this 1974 album — aided by the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band — nearly matched song-for-song his landmark '71 debut, the Booker T.-helmed Just as I Am, and its follow-up Still Bill, while adding a heightened sense of pre-disco dance-floor groove; his low-slinging Southern soul is intact, as is his patented ability to fashion a narrative into a hip shake. But it's "Liza" that's the heartbreaker here, maybe his best. 

This first-time-on-CD release is sonic gem too, mastered from original tapes with its aural and musical integrity intact. More, this set's crammed with photos and complete, in-depth liners.

Alice Cooper 
(Collector's Choice/Warners)

The most underrated album in Coop's canon and created when his booze intake was an all-day, all-night affair, 1983's Dada —titled after his daughter's first words as much as it was the art movement — reunited the singer with Detroit guitarist Dick Wagner and longtime producer Bob Ezrin, after a number of lost years. The results, which sound less like a band and more like a "studio album," often astonish. The single "Dyslexia" did nothing at radio but should've — you cannot deny its giant chorus and cockeyed spin on quixotic attraction. "I Love America" foreshadowed the cartooning of white trash America — by years — in this satire that pairs the protagonist with a lifting patriotic antiphon and such lines as, I love that mountain with those four big heads/I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder Bread/I love a commie ... if'n he's good and dead, yup ... 

It's easy to forget how gifted the singer was/is, and Dada ain't some Coop curio — no, it's free of feeble songs and you can count it alongside Welcome to My Nightmare ... at least. Collector's Choice issued this and Cooper's other early and lost '80s Warner albums Special Forces and Zipper Catches Skin; each remastered, the latter two with bonus tracks. (R.I.P. Renfield).

More by Brian Smith

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