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15 Best Reissues of 2017

The return of ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ Bob Dylan’s gospel-years trove, Metallica’s deluxe ‘Master of Puppets’ and more

15 Best Reissues of 2017

Read David Fricke's round-up of 2017's best reissues, including Bob Dylan's latest Bootleg Series set, and a new edition of 'Sgt. Pepper.'

In a reissue year loaded with round-number anniversaries – the Beatles’ psychedelic apex in 1967; the Jam’s avenging-mod blitz a decade later; U2’s ’87 voyage of American-desert discovery – Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series scores again with a vivid, compelling reappraisal of his brief, Christian fury. Large boxes stand at the extremes (vintage country radio, America’s hardcore uprising); missing links are found (Montrose, Artful Dodger); and the Rolling Stones play the blues on jump street in the first official release of their Brian Jones–era BBC sessions.

Lal and Mike Waterson, 'Bright Phoebus'
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Lal and Mike Waterson, ‘Bright Phoebus’

Two of the three siblings in the Watersons, a watershed vocal group in the English folk revival of the Sixties, Lal and Mike Waterson made this record at the movement’s early-Seventies intersection of traditional vernacular and progressive impulse. There was stark, original writing by the two; daring instrumentation (cello, oboe); and an all-star complement of younger admirers from Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, including the former’s founders – singer Martin Carthy and bassist Ashley Hutchings – and the latter’s guitar star Richard Thompson. Financial problems at the Watersons’ label limited the release, in 1972, to 1,000 copies; the U.K. folk press, unnerved by their turn into modernism, panned or ignored the album. This reissue – with a double-disc edition including unreleased demos – is justice at last. It entered the British album chart in August – in the Top 30.

Metallica, 'Master of Puppets'
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Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’

Metallica’s third album, released in March 1986, was the first classic four’s creative breakthrough – the point at which they discovered how to write the lightning as well as ride it – and a terribly scarred triumph with the sudden death of bassist Cliff Burton that September, in a tour bus accident after a concert in Stockholm. The three-CD version of this installment in Metallica’s reissue march will be sufficient, advanced mayhem for most headbangers. Garage demos of “Battery,” the title track and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” chart the evolution in drummer Lars Ulrich and singer-guitarist James Hetfield’s episodic composing with the early-days spirit and cassette fidelity of 1982’s No Life ‘Til Leather. An hour-plus of live buffet from Burton’s last tour honors his might and memory. Personally, I’m glad for the beast box – with 10 CDs, six sides of vinyl, DVDs and a cassette of Burton’s last show – because one of the previously unissued gigs comes from the night I first saw and met Metallica, on April 21st, 1986, in New Jersey supporting Ozzy Osbourne. It sounds as hot and frantic as I remembered it.

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Artful Dodger, ‘The Complete Columbia Recordings’

This two-CD set contains three albums by a mid-Seventies power-pop quintet that, if fortune had been the least bit kinder, you would find listed in the historical record with Big Star, Badfinger and the Raspberries. Instead, Artful Dodger hit every possible landmine in the road out of Fairfax, Virginia: booking agents that put them on shows with Iron Butterfly and Ted Nugent; a label distracted by the sudden, runaway success of another artist (Bruce Springsteen); a parade of surefire FM-radio hits – three alone on 1975’s Artful Dodger: the Aerosmith-from-Liverpool action of “Wayside,” the ’67-Who-ish “Follow Me” and the ballad-with-balls “It’s Over” – that couldn’t get past the station receptionists. This story should have turned out differently; here is everything you need to understand why.

Tim Buckley, 'Venice Mating Call' / 'Greetings From West Hollywood'
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Tim Buckley, ‘Venice Mating Call’ / ‘Greetings From West Hollywood’

These companion releases – the first on two CDs; the second on two LPs – revisit a September 1969 engagement at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, previously treated on a 1994 set. There is no duplication here with the earlier album. And these packages, while sharing a body of songs, are mostly comprised of different performances, reflecting Buckley’s improvising will and the restless momentum of his singing and writing that year: out of baroque psychedelia, through folk-jazz trance; on the verge of the dramatically experimental LP, Lorca, recorded two weeks after these shows, and the impressionist delicacy of Blue Afternoon, out that November. There are passages of instrumental turbulence suggesting the electric Miles Davis; “Gypsy Woman,” taken at varying lengths in Venice and West Hollywood, is Buckley in thrilling vocal flight. He soon turned again – into a perplexing white-soul convention – before dying in 1975, at 28. This music, in comparison, is rarely easy listening – and never less than ascension. 

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