Home Music Music Lists

10 Best Reissues of 2015

Massive sets from Dylan, Springsteen and more

10 Best Reissues 2015

SGranitz/WireImage/Getty, Val Wilmer/Redferns/Getty, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The year in reissues is, again, another year in Bob Dylan — a body of work that keeps on giving in new instructive, desirable ways. That the biggest sets in this Top 10 of 2015, in sheer weight, are by Jerry Lee Lewis, from rock & roll's creation years, and the Isley Brothers, one of black American music's most successful family bands, shows that there is still much to learn from familiar history. There is also much here that is truly new in excavation and revelation: legacies that fall farther behind with every passing year — Jackson C. Frank, guitarist Rory Gallagher's new-Cream years in the trio Taste, the short solo tale of the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb — but feel utterly present in these releases, with renewing lessons.

Bonus Track: The Velvet Underground, The Complete Matrix Tapes
Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes here. But this is not promo: I have been asked to mention this set. And I would have bought it as a citizen. Recorded on November 26th and 27th, 1969 at the San Francisco night club originally founded by Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin, these performances are the second, classic Velvets — bassist Doug Yule, guitarist Sterling Morrison, drummer Maureen Tucker and Lou Reed on guitar, vocals, songwriting and attitude — at their live peak, in a compelling intimacy caught on the Matrix's in-house four-track deck. Songs that would soon appear on the Velvets' last studio album, Loaded — "Sweet Jane," New Age" — are still in lyrical and structural development. Concert standbys during Yule's tenure like "I Can't Stand It" and "What Goes On" go long; ballads such as "Pale Blue Eyes" resonate in the small room and respectful applause. A few Matrix tracks first surfaced on the 1974 double album, 1969: The Velvet Underground Live. This set is all that survives from those nights and it is arguably the last truly revelatory addition to the Velvets canon: the most provocative rock group of its day, heard as a working band.

'Ork Records: New York, New York'

Various Artists, ‘Ork Records: New York, New York’

New York City was a war zone in September of 1975 — violent and bankrupt, told to go fuck itself by Washington — when a flamboyant, economically reckless emigré from Tulsa, Oklahoma via hippie California, Terry Ork, launched his own record label with a 45 by the enigmatic local band Television. "Little Johnny Jewel," seven minutes of quicksilver noir and guitars spread over two sides, was not the first independent punk single; Patti Smith's "Hey Joe" came out a year earlier. But Ork's potshot entrepreneurship with cohort Charles Ball — less than two dozen 45s across three years by CBGB-renaissance icons and strivers like Richard Hell, singing critic Lester Bangs, the Box Tops-Big Star refugee Alex Chilton and future dB's Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple — left an indelible account of the mounting excitement I found when I moved to the city in 1978, just in time to buy Chilton's new "Bangkok" single at Bleecker Bob's. This Ork Records memorial has early, unreleased work by the Feelies and comes in a hard-bound box rich in recollections and period photos. Ork was casual in his financial obligations, did jail time in the early Nineties and died in 2004, leaving behind a lot of myths, bruised relationships and the eccentric, concentrated idealism here.

The Rolling Stones, 'Sticky Fingers (Super Deluxe Edition)'

The Rolling Stones, ‘Sticky Fingers (Super Deluxe Edition)’ and ‘Marquee Club, Live in 1971’

It is hard to believe that for a reissue of their landmark jump to decadent-Seventies blues aristocracy, an album that took the Rolling Stones a year to record, re-record and finesse, they could only find five acceptable session outtakes for this set. They are blessings enough — a stripped-down-country "Wild Horses"; the studio-party "Brown Sugar" with Eric Clapton — but the greater attraction is the prime live action from the 1971 British tour across the extra discs. Relative new kid Mick Taylor is thoroughly embedded in the "ancient art of weaving," as Keith Richards described the Stones' two-guitar empathy at its best. The ultra box includes a teaser DVD of another March '71 show filmed for television. The Eagle Rock release is the entire show — the bravado in full close-up: If you go for the box, you might as well go the distance.

Bruce Springsteen, 'The Ties That Bind: The River Collection'

Bruce Springsteen, ‘The Ties That Bind: The River Collection’

The River, issued in October 1980, was the last album in Bruce Springsteen's late-Seventies ascension trilogy. It was another turn in his songwriting — from the tenaciously held teenage dreams on Born to Run and the endangered American ideals on Darkness on the Edge of Town to a tighter focus on the trials and joys of working-class life and close-to-home passions. The sessions were also the usual drama of furious productivity and indecision. The deluxe edition of this reissue includes Springsteen's early single-album sequence, named after the subsequent opener "The Ties That Bind," and 22 outtakes, many of which became hits nevertheless on stage, B-sides and bootlegs: "Where the Bands Are," "Paradise by the C," "Restless Nights," "Held Up Without a Gun." For another artist — and less ferocious editor — there were a few great albums here. The extra discs, in fact, affirm Springsteen's original choices (including The River's rescue of Darkness-era orphans like "Point Blank") while laying on everything we were missing at the time, proving that — as Springsteen wrote, then gave away to Dave Edmunds — "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)."

Bob Dylan, 'The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12'

Bob Dylan, ‘The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12’

In every variation — two CDs, three LPs, a deluxe six-CD set and an 18-CD megillah that is literally the history as it happened — this is Bob Dylan at the crucial pivot of his songwriting life, at the turning point of electricity, full-fledged rock & roll stardom and explosive lyric adulthood. That he completed the trio of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde inside 18 months is staggering enough; that he recorded more than ten times that amount of music in demos, alternate arrangements, stand-alone singles and discarded songs is a lesson in herculean creative drive and the largesse that once came with life at a major label, especially one with its own studios. The full CD in the highly recommended six-disc edition (deep enough for both maniacs and new students) given over to the full two-day session for "Like a Rolling Stone" shows Dylan still writing the song — its body and force; his vocal aim — as the takes accumulate. Other marvels: a January, 1965 piano blues, "California," from which Dylan shuffles key lines over to Highway 61 Revisited's "Outlaw Blues"; a version of Blonde on Blonde's "Visions of Johanna" with Levon and the Hawks, later the Band; and Take One of "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," tentative but at full length and just around the corner from posterity.