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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.

Thelonious Monk, 'Les Liasons dangereuses 1960'

Thelonious Monk, ‘Les Liasons dangereuses 1960’

It is a rare and wonderful day, in any year, to receive the blessing of nearly 90 minutes of previously unreleased – actually, forgotten – Monk. This two-CD set, on the 100th anniversary of the pianist’s birth, is a unique gift: Monk in spirited form on a single day, July 27th, 1959, at a New York studio leading a one-off unit with two tenor saxophonists, regular sidekick Charlie Rouse and a French guest, Barney Wilen. The occasion was a soundtrack commission – Roger Vadim’s contemporary adaption of the 18th-century novel of sexual manipulation Les Liasons dangereuses. The repertoire was Monk’s greatest hits, including new takes on “Rhythm-a-Ning,” “Crepescule with Nellie” and “Pannonica,” performed solo as well as with the band. Monk’s score was never used (Vadim hired Monk’s ex-drummer Art Blakey); the tapes finally surfaced in 2014. It is only one day in the life of a genuine American master, but what a day.

'At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight ...'

‘At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight …’

Americana begins here. From 1948 to 1960, Louisiana Hayride was the rougher cousin, on radio and television, to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the show where the beginners and unknowns, the bad boys and strong women in country music, first came to make friends and become family. Produced at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, the Hayride gave early exposure – in many cases, broadcast debuts – to Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, June Carter and George Jones, all of whom are at the mic in this mammoth box, across 20 CDs with the usual, encyclopedic Bear Family annotation in a hardbound book as heavy as an antique wireless. Note the house band, which includes future Nashville piano star Floyd Cramer – a Shreveport native who joined the Hayride right out of high school – and guitarist James Burton, another Louisiana kid who was playing on the Hayride at 14, on his way to Ricky Nelson’s band, the solo on Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” and, in the Seventies, Elvis Presley’s TCB Band. 

Lal and Mike Waterson, 'Bright Phoebus'

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'

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.


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'

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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