As we are reminded with almost clock-like consistency, we live in an era of the reissue. As such, with any justifiable (or simply available) reason, record companies and artists continue to revive their catalogs, and the luster of a past gem, by giving us yet another version- remixed; remastered; expanded; et al- to consider. It’s so pleasing when they get it right. Sure as sugar, Little Feat, and the Warner Bros.’ imprint, Rhino, with this simultaneously-released pair of two-CD, 50th anniversary sets, commemorating Sailin’ Shoes and Dixie Chicken, get it exactly right.

In its time as a Warner Bros. recording artist, Little Feat was a bit of a branding challenge. The label knew, after the quartet’s 1971 eponymous debut, that it had something special in Lowell George, the band’s creative epicenter. By 1972, that opinion found greater strength as the group issued the follow-up, Sailin’ Shoes, which furthered trafficked in the debut’s subversive and cerebral underground blues and country-rock; a greasy and endearing hybrid of Howlin’ Wolf and stoned Southern California surrealism. It also marked the first appearance of many by Neon Park as a Feat album-cover artist; this iconic one with its swinging, suggestively-sliced cake, and Mike Jagger outfitted as Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy.

Dixie Chicken arrived a year later, sporting a rather different musical approach and an overhauled lineup. George remained as its hub, but now embracing New Orleans’ second-line rhythms and melting pot stylings of the South. Keyboardist Billy Payne and drummer Richie Hayward returned, as well, welcoming a trio of ace newcomers- guitarist Paul Barrere, bassist Kenny Gradney, and percussionist Sam Clayton- that produced a group dynamic propelling what became Little Feat’s classic period.

The songwriting and performances on Dixie Chicken were more refined and eclectic than their predecessors. The title track became almost synonymous with the sextet and its new tack.  In concert, Feat was growing into a cult band of legendary acclaim, admired by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. Still, to Warner Bros. and the band’s puzzlement, no hits.

Five decades later- and one year after Rhino gifted Feat fans with an immaculate, 45th anniversary box set of the band’s best-selling live album, Waiting for Columbus, and the full concerts that contributed to its composition- here, now, are two Little Feat albums distinguished not for containing any chart-toppers, but simply as great records integral to the bigger picture. So, what does Rhino do with these reissues that gets them exactly right?

Granted, any and all of the following contentions are matters of opinion. 

One such opinion is how nice it is that Rhino, in either collection’s case, kept the proper, remastered record housed on a standalone disc. Disc one of each set is just the album, itself- sans any outtakes or live tracks- replicating the original listening experience, without the distracting addendum of bonus material. Those extras are reserved for disc two which, in both cases, contains much-appreciated, contemporaneous live excerpts.

On disc two, the outtakes and rarities are sequenced almost like a second, alternate album- akin to what Page did with the Zeppelin reissues- offering a wholly new and revelatory idea of the record, rather than just as extraneous filler. As well, the aforementioned live material is derived from tapes that have been previously bootlegged to mythical, loving degrees. Keeping to George’s penchant for naming the band’s bootlegs- these from L.A. in 1971 and Boston in 1973- are so titled: Thank You! I’ll Eat It Here and Icepick Eldorado, respectively.

These may seem like minor points barely worth noting, but to many, who likely have owned the albums in their previous versions and formats, these conscientious touches suggest the label is paying attention to what fans want, and giving them valid reasons to purchase, once again. Yes, these remastered versions sound terrific. The booklets and liner notes are detailed and fresh, with rare photography and artwork. And, yes, there is plenty of previously unreleased musical candy to enjoy. 

Yet, it’s the way that all of this is treated, and presented, with those conspicuous choices adding up to reissues that get it. Well done, Rhino. Well done, Little Feat.