This year was a busy one for reissues! With the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and the flourishing of psychedelic rock, there was a particular urgency this year. Perhaps it was to keep things in copyright, or maybe the rights finally went through. Or maybe it’s just because there’s so many labels doing quality reissue work: what used to be the exclusive domain of specialty groups like Rhino, Rykodisc, Bear Factory, and Mosaic is now packed with major labels (Legacy, Rhino), limited-run issues (Real Gone, Grateful Dead) and indies who go the extra mile with packaging, liner notes and sound (Light in the Attic, Numero). And I didn’t even get into digital-only stuff, like the new Neil Young online archive.
But regardless, there was almost too much to keep up with: I’m sure any reader will see something overlooked (I never did get around to the Sgt Peppers reissue) or otherwise absent. But I make no apologies: after a year of listening to lots and lots of reissues, from labels big and small, this is what’s stuck with me as the year went on.
Ornette Coleman – Ornette at 12 / Crisis (Real Gone Music)
Coleman’s long-lost album Crisis finally got a proper reissue as part of a two-album set on Real Gone. While Ornette at 12 isn’t exactly a slouch, Crisis is a blazingly powerful live session from 1969 featuring his saxophone (and violin!) at their most powerful and freeform, with a backing band including Charlie Haden, Don Cherry, and Dewey Redman. An album so good, the Penguin Guide to Jazz gave it a shoutout, even though it’d been out of print for decades by that point. Now that it’s available again, no serious jazz fan has any excuse not to dive in.
Alice Coltrane – World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop)
The sort of albums music nerds heard about, but almost never heard, the private press tapes Alice Coltrane made throughout the 80s are finally available to a wide audience. And they’re even better than rumoured, powerful music that combines jazz and with spiritual passion: handclaps, chanting and choirs. It’s fusion of a sort that’s completely distinct, and equally compelling. Read my full review here.
Cream – Fresh Cream: Super Deluxe Edition (Polydor)
An epic set for the first supergroup, this deluxe reissue of Fresh Cream offers the album in mono, stereo, and a generous helping of extras: an EP, non-album singles and a lot of live tracks. There’s more than a few moments of transcendence here, and often a few outtakes showing how they got there. There’s even a DVD. Read my full review here.
Delaney and Bonnie and Friends – Motel Shot (Real Gone) / On Tour With Eric Clapton (ATCO / Rhino)
Two very different sides of the influential act, these two sets combine to show the rootsy, straight-ahead kind of rock Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett brought to the table in the late 60s and early 70s: blazing, horn-drenched rock and late-night, backroom jam sessions.
The four discs featuring Clapton might be his finest moment, with a backing band who’d become all-stars in Derek and the Dominoes, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen band, and even in the Rolling Stones. Motel Shot, meanwhile, takes the “jam session” vibe to a new level, with a newly-found session recorded in a living room added to the original album. Both are essential for any classic rock fan.
Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 – Trouble No More 1979-1981 (Columbia/Legacy)
Finally, the Bootleg Series covers Dylan’s most controversial period. Except for the one where he went electric, the one where he covered a lot of songs, the one where he hooked up with Johnny Cash, the one where… well, he’s courted a lot of controversy. But, as this set proves in spades, he never stopped being one of the most compelling performers of his generation, to say nothing of the stunning quality of even the songs he never got around to including on records. It’s enough to make a believer out of any Dylan fan. Read my full review here.
Bill Evans – On A Monday Evening (Fantasy)
A long-lost, forgotten show featuring Evans and his transitional lineup featuring Eddie Gomez and Eliot Zigmond, this set captures the Bill Evans Trio on what was probably an average night: Evans melodic, wonderful piano playing, Gomez’s soulful upright bass playing, and a nearly telepathic interplay between the three. Even with a lengthy discography, this period of Evans music has remained overlooked, making this set essential for acoustic jazz fans. Read my original review here.
Jerry Garcia – GarciaLive Vol. 9: Aug 11, 1974 (ATO/Round Records)
One of two Garcia archival reissues this year, GarciaLive Vol. 9 shows the overlooked Garcia-Saunders band right before Garcia hooked up with Ron Tutt and gave his side group a name: The Legion of Mary. This show, recorded live off the board in Aug. 1974, is loose and relaxed to the extreme: Saunders and Garcia push the jams way out there, regularly close to 20 minutes. It’s a welcome look at Garcia at the cusp of his creative peak.
Grateful Dead – Get Shown the Light: May 1977 (Grateful Dead/Rhino)
Every so often, the Dead release a box set that’s so good it sells out immediately. This was one of those cases, which means the All Music Edition is what I’m recommending, and that the music is so good, even jaded Deadheads are buying it. It’s not hard to see why: four shows from May 1977, perhaps their high-water mark as a live band, including Cornell 1977, often touted as the best Dead concert ever (that one’s also available in a stand-alone three-disc set). It’s massive, but for Deadheads it’s essential. And for everyone else, remember that it’s called the best show for a reason.
Isaac Hayes – The Spirit of Memphis: 1962-1976 (Craft Recordings / Stax)
On this massive four-disc set, which comes nicely packaged as a book, there’s a fascinating cross-section of Isaac Hayes’ output for Stax both as a songwriter/producer and as a performer. Either of the first two discs reads like the soul compilation of anyone’s dreams, while the last two offer looks into him as a live artist, in a session from 1972, and laying down earth-shattering grooves; on “Do Your Thing,” him and band go on for over half and hour.
Husker Du – Savage Young Du (Numero)
Years in the making, Savage Young Du is the definitive look at the formative years of one of the essential alt-rock bands. If that statement seems bold, read it again. This is the first time Husker Du has gotten a decent reissue treatment and it’s more than time. This set has it all: an alternate version of their debut LP, lots of live tracks and alternate takes and more, all remastered to exacting sound. It’s not only the best collection of Husker Du material, it’s the best sounding Husker Du collection out there. Highly recommended.
Thelonious Monk – Les liaisons dangereuses – 1960
A rediscovered soundtrack session, this two-disc set is a welcome look Thelonious Monk and his working methods: not only is the soundtrack itself included, but so are alternate takes and even a raw session reel showing him and band working through “Light Blue.” Read my full review here.
Jackie Shane – Any Other Way (Numero Group)
An interesting look at the forgotten soul trailblazer Jackie Shane, Any Other Way takes all the available material – a handful of singles and a lo-fi live album – and presents it in a definitive package. Recommended. Read my full review here.
Pete Townshend – Scoop, Another Scoop, Scoop Vol. 3 (uME)
Over the years, Townshend’s gotten a lot of mileage out of his demos: Who Came First, Odds and Sods and this trilogy of records. While three-plus hours of solo demos sounds like a little much, the thing about solo Townshend is not only was he one of the best songwriters among his peers, but his demos often sounded as good as most band’s finished tracks (maybe that’s why he’s released them so often). And while there’s a lot of weird odds and ends here, there’s also stripped down versions of songs so familiar it’s a revelation to hear the works-in-progress.
The Yardbirds – Yardbirds ’68 (JimmyPage.com)
Even though the band released their final record the year previous, throughout 1968 the Yardbirds worked in the studio and played live. And as this two-disc set shows, they remained a formidable live act right up until the end. Granted, it’s released through Jimmy Page’s own label, so it’s not a shocker that his guitar is mixed way up high and he’s all over the two discs. But it shows that even before he rose to fame with Led Zeppelin, he was one of the hardest and loudest guitar heroes in England.
Neil Young – Hitchhiker (Neil Young/Warner Bros)
Was this a lost album? Not really, since it was more a demo session where he got some songs down on tape, but Hitchhiker is essential Neil Young: 35 minutes of him playing in your living room, working on some soon-to-be classics, a couple excellent deep cuts and a few overlooked gems; there’s not a dud among the bunch. It has him in fine voice and his acoustic playing is in good shape. The retro-seeming cover’s a nice touch, too.
Frank Zappa – Halloween 1977 (uME)
Halloween was always Zappa’s favourite holiday and he treated it accordingly, with a home stand in New York. The 1977 run – the same series of shows featured in the Baby Snakes movie – is usually on the list of Zappa’s best shows and they’ve all been newly mixed and released on a box set. But this one-show distillation takes the Oct. 31 show (and some highlights from the night before) and shows what he, and a band featuring Adrian Belew, Terry Bozzio, Patrick O’Hearn and others, could do on any given night. But especially on Halloween.
Various Artists – Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk and Rock 1969-1973 (Light in the Attic)
An incredible set showing folk-rock wasn’t limited to just Pacific coastline. Taking a generous helping of artists, almost all of whom are unknown outside Japan, this set contains a world of sounds: the almost jazzy folk of Sachiko Kanenobu (I especially like “Anata Kara Toku E,” which could pass for a Joni Mitchell b-side, ), the hazy folk-rock of The Fluid and the startlingly contemporary-sounding “Mizu Tamari” by Fumio Nunoya, which opens with a toilet flush, kicks into a driving folk-rock groove and has some powerful singing. The eye-opening compilation of the year.
Various Artists – The Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1 (Real Gone Music)
Soul collectors are a notoriously picky bunch, often gravitating towards rare stuff regardless of quality. Thankfully this set covers sides both rare and good: a long-forgotten Warner Bros imprint from the late 60s, a time when even the Burbank label got into soul music. For me, the highlight here is Baby Lloyd’s dark, slow groove on “Something On Your Mind,” which comes complete with stabs of organ and horns, not to mention Lloyd’s pleading voice.
Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Hillbilly Blues (World Music Network)
When people think back to old-timey blues, chances are they’re thinking of Robert Johnson, Son House, or one of their peers. But it wasn’t exactly a blacks-only genre, as this set shows: in these early days, cross-pollination between musicians was rampant and white string bands laid the foundations for country and bluegrass, often with more than a little influence from blues artists along the way.
Jump in with the dueling guitars on Roy Harvey and Jess Johnson’s “Guitar Rag,” hear country coming into focus on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues” and stick around for the Williamson Brothers’ “Lonesome Road Blues,” which fits in alongside The Basement Tapes and Into the Purple Valley. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but open-minded listeners will hear genres starting to form and American music coming into it’s own. From here, it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to Bob Wills, Bob Dylan, and Ry Cooder.