These are very nice and well-put together reissues by Jade Tree of the best Avail albums. As it says in the liner notes, "this trio of discs really cemented the band's place in the legend and lore of the underground, artfully fusing hardcore, `80s punk, and classic rock, with a hint of old-school country." Each has basically all-new artwork and packaging because Lookout! lost the original art files.
As a hardcore Avail fan, I think the $38.50 I spent on the pre-order to get all 3 CDs (plus a cool t-shirt and poster) was well worth the money. These 3 CDs actually "replace" 4 CDs, a 10"/CD, and 2 7"s (plus a couple compilation tracks). Each one has a small piece of 2 Avail logos, so if you get all 3 and line them up it creates the whole logo image on your CD shelf. Small, but nice little detail. All have identical liner notes by A.C. Thompson with some additional, very short comments by Tim or Beau Beau about the specific recording(s) on the CD. Expanded lyric booklets with new and/or additional photos are included in all, as well as new CD art (the same CD art is actually on all 3, but in different colors with a `94, `96, or `98 indicated in the disc to reflect the original release year). I like the "series" touch Jade Tree put on these 3 releases.
The remastering has improved the sound on all the releases somewhat, but I wasn't blown away by any vast improvements over the original releases. So, if you're basing your repurchase decision on only improved sound quality, I wouldn't say that alone is worth replacing your original CDs. But, if you've never picked these up before, I would whole-heartedly recommend buying the reissued versions over the originals.
Including the Attempt to Regress 7" and the bootleg-quality Live at the Kings Head Inn, Dixie is another solid Avail release, albeit a slightly different sounding band than what they evolved into on 4AM and Over the James. It was a huge step forward from Satiate, though (which wasn't reissued). The Live at the Kings Head 10"/CD was only recommendable to the most hardcore of Avail fans, so the extras on this disc aren't enough to recommend a re-purchase, and I would say pick up this album last (of the three) if you're just discovering Avail.
4AM Friday is a great value not only because it is a great album, but because it also includes the Live at the Bottom of the Hill CD. Seeing Avail live is an amazing experience, and that disc captured it well. One of the highlights of the set was "Nameless," an anti-violence anthem where a fight breaks out at the show mid-song ("Uh, are you guys not listening to this song or what?"). Even though I still found no super-appreciable difference in sound quality, this is definitely the most worthwhile pickup if you never bought either release originally and could serve as a fine introduction to the band, as well. I'm sure there is some argument over whether 4AM or Over the James is the best Avail record (hell, I've also heard some crusties say Dixie is their favorite).
Over the James
Not only my favorite Avail album, but one of my all-time favorite albums period. The mostly acoustic version of "Lombardy St." from the Fall of Richmond 7"/CD|EP included here has also always been my favorite version of that song. The 3 covers -- Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" (from the Return of the Red Menace (AK Press) comp), Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" (from the Fall of Richmond EP), and Embrace's "Said Gun" (Land of Greed World of Need comp) aren't essential, however. Even though the extras aren't overwhelming, Over the James would be my pick for the first album someone should check out if they're interested in Avail.