The Best Reissues of 2014

A frequently updated round-up of our favorite deluxe box-sets, lovingly curated compilations and recently unearthed treasures

Elton John Led zeppelin Oasis Johnny cash
Courtesy of Island Records; Atlantic Records; Big Brother; Columbia/Legacy
Elton John, Goodbye 'Yellow Brick Road: 40th Anniversary Box Set'; Led Zeppelin, 'Led Zeppelin III (Deluxe Edition)'; Oasis, 'Definitely Maybe'; Johnny Cash, 'Out Among the Stars'
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5 Stars:

Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: 40th Anniversary Box Set
At times, Elton John's diverse but filler-free 1973 double album's vivid Technicolor tunes – from the mournful prog-rock of opener "Funeral for a Friend" to the sunny, symphonic pop finale "Harmony" – suggest what the Beatles might have created had they stuck together a few more years. This welcome five-CD-plus-DVD expansion adds several non-LP singles; a new, nine-cut tribute set featuring contemporary fans from Miguel to Fall Out Boy; a vintage documentary about the album's creation; and, best of all, an explosive London concert that demonstrates how hard John and his kickass band could rock between eloquent ballads like "Your Song. By Will Hermes

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Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin III (Deluxe Edition)
It's easy to forget at this distance that Led Zeppelin's first three albums, the foundation of their titanic legacy, were the most divisive hit records of their day. III shook fans and enemies alike with its dedicated swerve into acoustic textures and restraint. The music is now beyond reproach. III was a masterful union of ballads and bruising, and a giant step in the songwriting ascent toward, later, "No Quarter" and "Kashmir." A bonus disc adds nine tracks that help expose that maturation. "Jennings Farm Blues," an electric run at the folk gallop "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp," shows Zeppelin exploring options, and the medley "Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind," by Page and Plant, feels like a deep-blues breath before the next rush forward. By David Fricke

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4.5 Stars:

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, CSNY 1974
Forty summers ago, North America's greatest dysfunctional supergroup patched things up for a while, filled stadiums and left behind tales of backstage excess and shaky vocal harmonies. The first-ever set of recordings from those shows is fittingly over-the-top – three discs and one DVD with footage of eight songs. The two electric-set discs have a crackling, wired-on-something energy: Check how Stephen Stills and Neil Young trade unhinged solos on Young's "Revolution Blues." The often exquisite acoustic disc finds all four lending harmonies to solo songs like Stills' "Change Partners" and reveling in a compatibility that often escaped them offstage. By David Browne

John Coltrane, Offering: Live at Temple University Resonance
This official, cleaned-up release of Trane's frequently bootlegged November 11, 1966 show is 90 minutes that pushes free-jazz expression to its furthest: There are points where the sax swami drops his instrument and simply begins hollering, mirroring his horn phrases, pounding on his chest to modulate the tones. The band includes Pharaoh Sanders, playing 2nd tenor and piccolo with butane-torch intensity; wife Alice Coltrane on piano; bassist Sonny Johnson; Jimmy Garrison on bass; Trane's latter-day musical soulmate Rashied Ali on drums; and a handful of guests, some invited, some not. By Will Hermes

Miles Davis, Miles at the Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
In June 1970, with the Joshua Light Show melting colors behind them, Miles Davis's septet played four sets in as many nights at New York's Fillmore East. Originally edited down by producer Teo Macero to 20-minute medleys (released as the Miles Davis at Fillmore double album in August), these thrilling spelunking sessions into the heart of electric Miles are heard here in their crisp eight-track entirety. A masterful editor tasked with tough choices, Macero naturally emphasized the trumpeter's titanium-terse phrases and leaping epiphanies at the expense of Steve Grossman's Coltrane-inspired saxophones or the gnarled electronic interplay of keyboardists Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Listening intently to one another, the septet bridge the gap between Davis's earlier acoustic quintet and the big electric group that recorded his 1970 masterpiece Bitches Brew. By Richard Gehr

Oasis, Definitely Maybe
Twenty years on, Oasis' debut remains one of the most gloriously loutish odes to cigarettes, alcohol and dumb guitar solos that the British Isles have ever coughed up. This deluxe three-disc reissue includes unreleased demos and live treasures, along with essential 1994 singles and B sides like "Fade Away" and "Listen Up," where Oasis first hinted at the dreamy depths behind all the lager-swilling bravado. By Rob Sheffield

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4 Stars:

Michael Bloomfield, From His Head to His Heart
"Hotshit player" doesn't begin to describe the underappreciated blues-rock guitar hero Mike Bloomfield, as this beautiful four-disc set makes clear. The 1964 demos here show a twentysomething fluent in urban and rural blues, country and jazz, with a sweet, breakneck attack. Tracks with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band circa 1965-'66 (like the fierce 13-minute "East/West") show off style that nearly every hippie-era slinger would mirror; later jams with the Electric Flag and the Super Session band pushed into R&B and jazz territory. Three months after Dylan – who called him "the greatest guitarist I ever heard" – invited him to guest at a 1980 show, he was dead of an overdose. By Will Hermes

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Mike Cooper, Trout Steel
Mike Cooper's little-known 1970 masterpiece was of its time: the sound of a folk-rooted prodigy navigating the rapids of psychedelia with a handsome voice somewhere between Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin. But what puts his music in a league of its own (and likely doomed him to commercial failure) is his taste for free-jazz-style instrumental play, with his own slithery slide guitar darting through abstract arrays of horns, strings, piano and percussion. Here, his singer-songwriter and experimental sides form a gnarly yin-yang marriage that you figure won't last, but burns bright. By Will Hermes 

 Nils Lofgren, Face the Music
There are "musician's musicians," and there's Nils Lofgren, whom Neil Young drafted at 18 to play piano on After the Gold Rush, and who's been the E Street Band's hottest guitarist since the mid-1980s. This 10-disc anthology reprises an unsung singer-songwriter career, beginning with his Seventies band Grin (the sweet Cali-style soul of "Like Rain") through sharp, solo semihits ("Back It Up," "I Came to Dance") and beyond. By Will Hermes

Morrissey, Your Arsenal
Produced by former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, with fits of glam flamboyance and a raw rockabilly bluntness, Moz's third solo LP made clear what Smiths fans already knew: Here was a new kind of superstar. For more proof, check this remastered reissue's must-see bonus DVD, filmed at a raucous 1991 show where the singer gets repeatedly rushed by lovesick fans, capturing the American peak of Morrisseymania like nothing else. By Barry Walters

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Nas, Illmatic XX
The 1994 rap classic by which all rap classics get judged, now with a second disc featuring all the remixes from the 12-inch/cassingle B sides. Nothing exactly essential is appended, save the unearthed, unreleased "I'm a Villain" which could have been an excellent track 11, with its knotty rhymes about being stressed on street life. By Christopher R. Weingarten

Professor Longhair, The Last Mardi Gras
This two-night 1978 set is an excellent entree to an artist whose live dates were often more vital than his studio ones. The storied New Orleans pianist leads his band through 18 songs that codify blues, jazz, boogie-woogie and rock & roll into a language familiar and yet quintessentially regional. 

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R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions
No band but Nirvana made more breathtakingly transformative use of MTV Unplugged than R.E.M., the only act to headline the show twice. This set of 33 songs, 11 of which never aired, revisits both sessions, boiling their magical greatness down to two base elements: achingly sugared melodies and Michael Stipe's potent voice, in all its deep grain, swooning vibrato and radiant empathy. By Will Hermes

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Slint, Spiderland
The year punk broke, 1991, was also the year Slint broke punk. Where Kurt Cobain screamed angsty poetry collage over speaker-ripping riffs, this Louisville group's frontman, Brian McMahan, told intricate parables about loneliness over downtempo jazz-rock and the occasional post-post-punk crusher. The album's original six tracks all sound crisp and clear, but the group went the extra mile and dug up outtakes, demos, rehearsal-tape riffs and even a reverent live cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer." As close to an inside look at the making of one of alternative's most quizzical records as Slint are willing to let listeners go. By Kory Grow

Small Faces, Here Come the Nice
There wasn't a more playfully revolutionary delight in British pop between 1967 and 1969 than a Small Faces 45. Originally a pure-mod squad, the Small Faces rapidly bloomed into something brighter and deeper – an R&B-ravers spin on the Beatles' studio exploration and the Beach Boys' California grandeur – in the punchy mono singles filling the first disc in this lavish four-CD box. The session outtakes across much of the set show how they built that perfection, while five late-'68 live tracks show the blues power at the base of it all. By David Fricke

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Soundgarden, Superunknown Deluxe Edition
The defining moment from an unclassifiable band remains brilliantly off-kilter as metal, crushingly moody as alternative and strangely reassuring as classic rock. A disc of demos and rehearsals let you hear Chris Cornell's powerful voice go occasionally out of tune – a Nineties benchmark even if the extras aren't particularly illuminating. By Christopher R. Weingarten

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Uncle Tupelo, No Depression: Legacy Edition
Pitched as "Hüsker Dü meets Woody Guthrie," Uncle Tupelo's 1990 debut made the countrypunk notions of the Mekons, the Meat Puppets and others into a raison d'être, furthering a major movement. This expanded reissue adds Not Forever, Just for Now, the 1989 demo tape that got them signed. Its 10 songs, recorded in an attic in Champaign, Illinois, were beefed up for the album, but Not Forever shows a vision startlingly complete, and its scrappiness occasionally serves the songs better. By Will Hermes

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Various Artists, Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997
The towel-snapping snares, ribcage-ravaging bass, and relentlessly, cartoonishly hiccupping arcade effects of Chicago's Dance Mania is deliriously and hilariously less is more; it's lovely and obscene; it's rhythmically innovative yet intentionally moronic; it's sweatily sexy and drily synthetic; it makes a glistening bauble out of garbage parts; it features a suave gentlemen intoning, "Feel the motherfuckin' bass in my face," and a sensual woman exclaiming, "You got me sweatin', motherfucker." The producers who made record-store owner Ray Barney's label a legend – Marshall Jefferson, Farley Keith Williams, Lil Louis, Deeon Boyd, Robert Armani, DJ Funk, and countless others, were fearless in catering to the dance floor while simultaneously blowing it to bits. By Charles Aaron

 Various Artists, Lou Adler: A Musical History
Adler was the quintessential L.A. music biz polymath, a songwriter (with pal Herb Alpert) in the late Fifties who evolved into a producer (most famously, of Carole King's game-changing Tapestry), label chief (Dunhill, Ode), film director (Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains) and club owner (the Roxy). Part of an excellent compilation series from the U.K. Ace label devoted to producers and songwriters, this features Adler's finest moments in both chairs. Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" (co-written by Adler with the late soul icon) is followed by the Mamas & the Papas "California Dreaming" (which he produced). King's signature "It's Too Late" shadows crate-digger gems like "Gimme Shelter" by Merry Clayton (who sang backing on the Stones' original; see 20 Feet From Stardom) and "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," a Donovan cover by Mod Squad actress Peggy Lipton. By Will Hermes

Various Artists, PUNK 45: Sick On You! One Way Spit! After The Love & Before The Revolution Vol.3: Proto-Punk 1969-77
The 2012 documentary about Detroit's circa-'74 bruisers Death entranced even non-record geeks with the idea that you could accidentally invent punk rock, even if you were 600 miles away from CBGB's. This comp – of which Death is dutifully included – tells similar stories from further reaches of Chichasha, Oklahoma and Montpelier, France (and, of course, hitting all the proto-punk hotbeds like art-rocking Cleveland, pub-rocking London and glam-rocking NYC). Starting in 1969 (it should be noted, right after Nuggets ended) this gaggle of sonic reducers includes original drafts for the Clash's Joe Strummer and the New York Dolls' Arthur Kane and loads of blown-out, abrasive stuff that predates punk's attitude, if not sound – see the Hammersmith Gorillas turning a Kinks song into a glass-gargling tantrum or the Hollywood Brats writing a song about puking on an ex-lover. By Christopher R. Weingarten

Various Artists, Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978
This exquisite two-CD compilation produced by Hugo Mendez captures Haiti's criminally overlooked merengue and compas direct sounds at the height of their sophisticated and naturally danceable complexity. Amid poverty and oppression, and years ahead of the international curve, "mini jazz" groups like Les Ambassadeurs, Les Vikings and Les Loup Noirs were blending hurry-up-and-slow-down Afro-Caribbean rhythms with jazzy horns, psychedelic guitars and idiosyncratic personal touches. While also touching on rara parade music and folkloric twoubadou singing, Haiti Direct revels primarily in several-minute variations on compas direct, the syncretic Haitian anticipation of slinky West African funk and Latin American cumbia. By Richard Gehr

Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams
Finally back in print, every song on Lucinda Williams' 1988 LP burns hot as ever: the indie jangle-twang of "Passionate Kisses" (which won a Country Song of the Year Grammy via Mary Chapin Carpenter's inferior version), the incandescent sexiness of "Like a Rose," and "The Night's Too Long," which could nearly be an outtake from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. The live bonus disc features non-LP tracks, a crack band and a riveting singer. By Will Hermes

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3.5 Stars:

The Brothers and Sisters, Dylan's Gospel
A one-off project helmed by producer and music-biz legend Lou Adler. The dubious idea: Gather L.A.'s finest background singers into a makeshift Baptist-style gospel-soul choir to cover classic Dylan songs. The result: a largely ignored but delicious 1969 LP. By Will Hermes

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Johnny Cash, Out Among the Stars
In Cash: The Autobiography, Johnny Cash admitted that as his sales fell off in the Eighties, he became apathetic. He'd relapsed into some destructive habits, too. Recalling his sessions with producer Billy Sherrill, Cash wrote, "We tried, sort of, but we certainly didn't give it our best." You might expect Out Among the Stars – a set of unreleased songs he cut with Sherrill in 1981 and 1984 – to be a contract-fulfilling sleepwalk. (Cash put out several mostly mediocre LPs in those years, but left this material unfinished; it was discovered after his death.) Instead, it proves that even at his most uninterested, Cash couldn't help but make a record with weight, moral complexity and grim humor. By Rob Tannenbaum

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Jack Ruby, Hit and Run
This two-disc set gives an essential art-skronk band from mid-1970s New York its due, down to an oral history in the liner notes. Could there be a modern cult object more perfect than a comprehensive reissue from a band that broke up before releasing a full album? By Ned Raggett

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Craig Leon, Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting
Folklore and futurism intersect in these synthesizer compositions by punk producer Craig Leon (Suicide, Blondie, the Ramones) – a unique collision of ambient, synth-punk, and new age. Originally released on guitarist John Fahey's Takoma label in 1980, Nommos imagines the pulsing, buzzing, and clattering music that aliens from the Sirius star system might have left behind with the Dogon people of northern Mali, whose ancient art represents meetings with remarkable man-things. Two years later, on Visiting, Leon revisited his earlier album in track-by-track responses that paint a more serene and reflective picture of this ancient encounter. Here Leon's music is newly collected with one important difference: Having lost his Nommos masters, Leon re-created the album, with longer tracks, using the same equipment and following his detailed studio notes. By Richard Gehr

Bob Mould, Workbook 25
This 25th-anniversary reissue of the 1989 solo debut from Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould features an accelerated and raging live rendering of the album that adds a few Hüsker classics – acoustic and disarmingly tender. By Barry Walters

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Various Artists, Calypso: Musical Poetry In The Caribbean 1955-69
Decades before hip-hop became black America's most visible news source, Caribbean and British calypso stars were singing about current events in lilting tunes so seemingly carefree you barely noticed how sharply they were sticking it to the man. With chatty and conversational voices front and center, carnival stars like Viper, Lord Hummingbird and Lord Flea delivered their sass amid suave, jaunty horns and percolating Afro-Caribbean percussion. This collection focuses more on pop culture than on politics: Lord Cobra's enthusiastic account of the 1969 moon landing, for example, is followed by Young Growler's bawdy celebration of James Bond consort "Pussy Galore." Calypso's predominant voice, Lord Kitchener, is represented by the hilarious "Love in the Cemetery," wherein a resident warns him, "Mister, you be brave / To be bringin' your girlfriend atop me grave." By Richard Gehr

Hank Williams, The Garden Spot Programs, 1950
The way Hank Williams digs his wail into the word "care," causing it to dip precipitously, well, that's enough right there to justify this reissue of collected 1950 radio transcriptions, a.k.a., sponsored, taped "live" performance sent to radio stations. Not as essential as 2012's The Lost Concerts Limited Collector's Edition, these recordings still help to sketch a more palpable depiction of "The Ol' Lovesick Drifting Cowboy himself" (as the announcer puts it here). Soberly full-voiced and steadily nuanced as he runs through alternate versions of "Lovesick Blues," Williams coaxes you over to his mournfully steely worldview on "Mind Your Own Business" and "Wedding Bells Will Never Ring for Me" like a savvy pro. The pedal steel sparkles warmly, the fiddle sprints, the frontman hawks the product ("You can find this one on wax, if you care to") and there's a near three-minute ad for the sponsor a Waxahatchie, Texas mail-order plant nursery. You can practically smell the hydrangeas and heartache. By Charles Aaron