The Best Reissues of 2014

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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

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »