Best Album Reissues of 2012 - Rolling Stone
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Best Album Reissues of 2012

The Velvet Underground, R.E.M., Blur and more

10 Best Reissues, Blur, Can, Grateful Dead, Bill Withers

It's been more than 20 years since Columbia's classic Robert Johnson box set kicked off the reclamation project in earnest. Judging by another bumper crop of reissues, including revelatory sets from the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, R.E.M., Blur and more, the rock & roll archives are as fertile as ever.

By David Fricke

Taj Mahal, Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal

Courtesy of Legacy


Taj Mahal, ‘The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973’

For Taj Mahal (born Henry St. Clair Fredericks), the blues have always been a mutable feast. These two CDs come from his early years at Columbia, when his LPs zigzagged between country funk, electric-combo grind and the truly heavy breath of Mahal’s famous four tubas band. These recordings are outtakes (including a 10-track live show from 1970). They are also fantastic, further evidence of the progressive verve and rugged poignance with which Mahal, at 70, still messes with cliché and orthodoxy.

Listen to ‘The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973’:

Golden Gate Groove

Courtesy of Sony Legacy


Various Artists, ‘Golden Gate Groove’

The sound of Philadelphia International Records was studio perfection: steady, honed propulsion, rigorously crafted hosannas and silken, orchestral rapture. But live, the singers – including Billy Paul, the O’Jays, the Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, all present at this party, subtitled The Sound of Philadelphia, Live in San Francisco 1973 – shook off the polish, fusing the passions of the church and bedroom with raw magnificence. This album was taped at a record-label convention – proof of how much fun the music industry used to be.

Listen to ‘The Sound of Philadelphia, Live in San Francisco 1973’:

Blur, 21

Courtesy of EMI


Blur, ’21’

Britpop is not a big enough word to cover the ambition and pop-smart achievement in this career summation: seven studio LPs and an ocean of extras across 21 discs. Blur's main competition, Oasis, pinched heavily from the Beatles; Blur changed and matured with Beatles-like velocity, from the shoe-gazer psychedelia of 1991's Leisure and the modern-Kinks irony on 1994's Parklife to the hip-hop nerve of 2003's Think Tank. You can get the original albums in separate two-CD sets – a good value – but this box is the entire story. It is not overkill.

Street Corner Symphonies, Doo Wop

Courtesy of Bear Family


Various Artists, ‘Street Corner Symphonies, 1956’

This is what it was like to be glued to the radio in doo-wop's crowning year, soaking up the deep-blue romance, randy vocal desire and pavement-choir harmonies of the Five Satins ("In the Still of the Nite"), the Dells ("Oh What a Nite"), the Drifters ("Ruby Baby") and even the young James Brown ("Please, Please, Please"). This CD, jammed with 32 tracks, is part of a multidisc project from the Bear Family label covering the roots and bloom of black vocal R&B. There is no low year in the series. But 1956 is primal golden soul all the way through.

Can, The Lost Tapes

Courtesy of Mute


Can, ‘The Lost Tapes’

This German band taped everything it played in the late Sixties and Seventies – jams, live recordings, studio collages. Can then used the raw materials to build its pioneering avant-rock albums. These outtakes, improvisations and gig extracts, left behind during construction, are as gripping as anything on the original LPs. The sequencing is a jolting montage of eras and voices (singers Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki), but there is consistent risk and pull in the long throb of “Spoon” and the frantic psychedelia of “On the Way to Mother Sky.”

Listen to ‘The Lost Tapes’:

R.E.M., Document: 25th Anniversary Edition

Courtesy of EMI


R.E.M., ‘Document: 25th Anniversary Edition’

The Athens, Georgia band’s fifth album was its biggest to date, thanks to guitarist Peter Buck’s meaty riffing and singer Michael Stipe’s convincing obsession in “The One I Love,” a Top 10 hit. But Document, made in the Reagan era, has a sociopolitical tension – a rage against conservative righteousness in songs like “Exhuming McCarthy” – that still sounds current and necessary. This two-CD set includes a full concert from ’87 that reminds you what we lost, for good, when R.E.M. broke up.

Listen to ‘Document: 25th Anniversary Edition’:

Bill Withers, The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums

Courtesy of Sony


Bill Withers, ‘The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums’

With his debut hit, 1971's "Ain't No Sunshine," Withers seemed to come from nowhere – a blue-collar job in the aerospace industry – fully formed, with a grainy, lyrical voice and earthy songwriting that was both folk and soul, warming yet emotionally direct. This nine-CD box has Withers' entire LP output. The 1971-75 albums are his best – a graceful grit, loaded with hits. By the time Withers left the business in the late Eighties, his records were a smoother, sweeter turmoil, another kind of quiet storm.

The Velvet Underground, Nico, 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

Courtesy of Universal


The Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition’

The full story of the anti-Sgt. Pepper (actually made a year before its release in 1967) is told over six CDs that stand up to the repetition (mono, stereo and alternate versions). The January ’66 rehearsals are rough audio but key history: the Velvets in embryo, shortly after mentor Andy Warhol first saw them play. The two live discs from late ’66 (long booted) are the classic lineup, with the icy blond Nico, at an avenging black-drone peak.

Listen to ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition’:

Grateful Dead, Spring 1990

Courtesy of Rhino


Grateful Dead, ‘Spring 1990’

The Dead‘s six-city, 16-show tour in the spring of 1990 was “the high point of that era,” according to guitarist Bob Weir – a last, sustained hurrah onstage before the passings of keyboardist Brent Mydland that summer and guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995. In this generously packaged 18-CD set (one full gig from each town), everyone is in fine health and improvising with vigor. The Dead trotted out new covers for this run and reintroduced long-gone oldies. A special high here: the knockout second set in Atlanta, which covers 20 years of top Dead repertoire.

Listen to ‘Spring 1990’:

Rodriguez, Searching For Sugar Man

Light In The Attic / Legacy


Rodriguez, ‘Searching for Sugar Man’

The reissue of the year is the soundtrack to one of the most compelling music documentaries ever made, about a comeback so improbable it seems like fiction. Searching for Sugar Man follows two South African fans as they solve the mystery of the Hispanic, Detroit-born singer-songwriter Rodriguez: a charismatic phantom who vanished into working-life obscurity after his quietly urgent, elegant-R&B classics, 1970’s Cold Fact and 1971’s Coming From Reality, crashed on release in the U.S. (They were Springsteen-size smashes in South Africa, though Rodriguez never saw a dime.) The soundtrack combines the best tracks from those LPs in a greatest-hits display of Rodriguez’s supple Dylanesque voice; his fluid, lyric swing between sympathy, need and righteous candor in “Sugar Man,” “I Wonder” and “I Think of You”; and the music’s unhurried, funky delicacy. You can get the original records in full, reissued by Light in the Attic. But the Sugar Man album is a precise introduction to a gentle genius who is still here (now 70), still singing, and finally reaching the audience he always deserved.

Listen to ‘Searching for Sugar Man’:

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