Since much has already been written here (see: Phil’s top 50 records, Brandon’s Best and Worst of 2014, Jeremy’s Top Ten Most Annoying song of 2014, and Daniel’s year-end list) about the year’s best new music and I’m something of the resident reissue writer around here, instead of presenting yet another list of the same dozen albums you’ll read about everywhere, I’d like to take a moment to write about some of the year’s best new, old music. Aka: reissues and archival releases.
The Best Reissues of 2014
The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Super Deluxe Edition)
The third Velvets album isn’t their grittiest nor their loudest, but it’s just as good as their first two ALBUMS, with songs like “What Goes On,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” and “Candy Says” ranking among the best they ever recorded. People who love this album will love all the different versions: mono versions, alternate mixes, even a bunch of demos. But the real meat here is the live material from The Matrix, a small club in San Francisco: two CDs worth of previously unheard live Velvets! They were a formidable live band and these discs are them at the top of their game: a jammed out “Sister Ray,” an early version of “Rock and Roll,” a rocking “There She Goes Again.” The price tag’s a little steep, but you’ll probably never need to own a physical copy of this album again!
Jerry Garcia: Garcia Live Vol. 4: March 22, 1978
Garcia once said his music was like black licorice: not everybody liked it, but people who did liked it a lot. I like both and bought this CD without hearing a note. And it was worth it, too: two CDs of prime Jerry Garcia, before his voice fell apart and drug addictions played havoc with his health. The music’s slow and a little stoned-out (he probably was, too), but played with passion: for example, his cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is slowed to a crawl and drips with emotion. Throughout the CD, Garcia unleashed a wide range of styles – bluegrass, Bob Dylan, Motown and 50s rock – and makes each unmistakably his own.
Bob Dylan and The Band – The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 – The Basement Tapes RAW
What happens when four aging hippies who couldn’t get along decided to tour across the world together? Besides heavy cocaine abuse and hotel room debauchery, some transcendent music. The thing about these individual shows is there always seems to be a little filler; Rhino got around that by taking choice selections from all of this tour’s shows, showing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young alternately rocking, harmonizing, blasting through old favourites and trying out new songs in front of packed stadium crowds. Sure, they’re arrogant, intoxicated, and insufferable, but 40 years ago, all four were at the top of their game, too.
Various Artists: Country Funk Volume II (Light in the Attic)
Okay, so maybe the title promises a little more than it delivers: this is more soul-influenced country than Funkadelic meets Johnny Cash. But man, it’s a great collection: who knew Bobby Darin, Willie Nelson, or Kenny Rogers had this in them? But for all the big names, it’s the less remembered people who just about steal the show: Willis Alan Ramsey’s twangy and rootsy ode to “Northeast Texas Woman” (with the cast-iron curls) and Jim Ford’s sizzling Sly Stone-meets-Nashville “Rising Sun,” in particular.
Miles Davis: The Bootleg Series Volume 3: Fillmore East, 1970
Various Artists: Native North America (Light in the Attic)
This compilation, which I’m planning on writing about at more depth after the holidays, is a great cross sample of rock, country, and folk from native artists, mostly from Canada. Some of this music marginalized on release, I’m not even sure some was even commercially available: the CBC recorded a bunch of these artists just so their northern radio stations would have something to play. Calling this music overlooked is an understatement; it took a boutique reissue label to actually get these songs on CD. For now, I’ll restrict myself here to saying it’s great: it’s great this music is finally getting the exposure it deserves, it’s great to listen to and even the packaging is great.
Frank Zappa: Roxy by Proxy
Keith Jarrett Trio: Hamburg ’72
These days, Jarrett might be best known for his time with Miles Davis and not for his many solo albums. Which is too bad, since some of them are killer (see: The Koln Concert). And even with dozens of albums to his credit, for some reason this 1972 set – originally recorded for German radio – went unissued for over 40 years. But ECM finally released it earlier this year and it’s worth the wait. Musically, it’s a little out of step with it’s peers: when Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles were playing electric, rocking jam sessions, Jarrett’s trio keeps acoustic and traditional: Jarrettt’s understated piano (and soprano sax!) playing fits into Charlie Haden and Paul Motian’s grooves. The interplay between these three is amazing: Jarrett’s playing was capable of going anywhere at any moment, but Haden and Motian are always there, sometimes even taking the reigns themselves!
Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.