Even in the assumed twilight of the CD era, there is no moment or aura in rock, pop, jazz or R&B history too small to be noted — or boxed. Now that the 2015 top-10-reissue sweepstakes is settled, here is a bigger roll call of the best anthologies, deluxe editions and mega-sets that you might have missed in 2015, many featuring increasingly distant bands and voices still awaiting their time in the sun.
Sly and the Family Stone, Live at the Fillmore East October 4th & 5th, 1968 (Epic/Legacy)
Two nights and four sets in the pre-stratosphere life of a rainbow-funk fireball: These previously unissued shows catch singer-leader Sly Stone on the verge of glory, onstage with the Family Stone a year ahead of their explosive crossover on Stand!, still filling out the set with covers (Otis Redding, “St. James Infirmary”). But the turbulence is ready for prime time. Rose Stone burns bright in her vocal feature — “Won’t Be Long,” originally a 1960 R&B hit for a young Aretha Franklin — and the extended workouts (“Love City,” “Music Lover”) have everything Stone and his family will soon detonate at Woodstock.
Frank Zappa, Roxy: The Movie (Zappa, DVD and Blu-ray)
This isn’t a reissue — it’s deliverance. Frank Zappa recorded and filmed his late-’73 Mothers – a compact, swinging combo with saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock, keyboard player George Duke, percussionist Ruth Underwood, Bruce and Tom Fowler on trombone and bass respectively, and drummers Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey — over three nights at the Roxy club in L.A. for a TV special that never materialized. Portions of the music surfaced on Zappa’s 1974 road album, Roxy & Elsewhere, but this audio-visual package (with a soundtrack CD) is all Roxy — a top-era Mothers in tight focus and playful spirits. The latter especially goes for Zappa, who leads this band with as much glee as command: sitting down with a cigarette, enjoying Brock’s sax break, in “Cosmik Debris”; sliding over to an extra drum kit to keep some wild time with Underwood, Humphrey and Thompson in “The Dog Breath Variations,” then jumping back to guitar for a solo turn. You’ll wish you’d been there. Now you are.
Led Zeppelin, Coda (Swan Song)
This was the runt of the litter when it was first issued in 1982, two years after drummer John Bonham’s death. Led Zeppelin’s last studio album — originally a half-hearted mop-up of sidelined music — is now the revelatory triumph in guitarist Jimmy Page’s deluxe restoration program, fattened with 15 additional tracks that include an early, alternate treatment of “When the Levee Breaks” (more blues, less boom), the first-album-session grenade “Sugar Mama” and the fabled Bombay adventures with strings. It’s hard to believe anything else of similar worth is left to release — but then, it took Page more than three decades to go this deep. Let’s check back with him in 10 years.
Motorpsycho, Supersonic Scientists: A Young Person’s Guide to Motorpsycho (Rune Grammofon)
The subtitle is an arch paraphrase, borrowed from a well-known King Crimson anthology. It is also higher truth — a superb beginner’s history to this Norwegian psychedelic-art-metal trio across two LPs, 15 tracks and more than two decades. There is some inevitable trimming; there isn’t enough room for 2008’s entire, thrilling “Little Lucid Moments” suite (you get the heated, glowing “Part 1” here). But the spread, from the raw, bawling “Nothing to Say” on 1993’s Demon Box to the sunrise charge of 2014’s “Cloudwalker,” is furious, informative and, for those already in the know, still a solid listen. For those just walking into the maelstrom, it will be the start of something loud — and long.
Link Wray, 3-Track Shack (Ace)
Between this Native American guitarist’s invention of the power chord on his 1958 single “Rumble” and his New Wave–sidekick limelight riding shotgun with singer Robert Gordon, there was Link Wray’s truly wildnerness Seventies, when he cut three albums of gritty and sublime proto-Americana on his brother’s Maryland farm: 1971’s Link Wray, a ’72 follow-up issued under the psuedonym Mordecai Jones and a ’73 roundup of odds and sods first issued only in the U.K., Beans and Fatback. It’s all one hearty meal on this two-CD set — blues, country, rockabilly and wood smoke, rendered by an originator with no frills in a setting even more down-home than the Band’s Woodstock basement. This is as close to the ground as roots rock gets.
Ron Nagle, Bad Rice (Plus …) (Omnivore)
Singer-songwriter Ron Nagle was a man out of time in psychedelic San Francisco as the singer-keyboard player in the defiantly Who-ish pop-art band the Mystery Trend. He maintained his distance from local convention, as the acid gave way to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, on his critically acclaimed but commercially doomed 1970 solo album for Warner Bros., Bad Rice. Produced by Phil Spector associate and Crazy Horse pianist Jack Nitzsche, the original 11 tracks veered from the country-rock brawling of “61 Clay” and “Marijuana Hell” (note Ry Cooder’s guitar in those) to the grand, surrealist balladry of “Frank’s Store.” A second disc of demos and eccenticity from 1968–1973 doubles the meal.
Karin Krog, Don’t Just Sing, An Anthology: 1963–1999 (Light in the Attic)
The Norwegian vocalist — a pioneering figure in contemporary Scandanavian jazz — roams wide in this single-disc introduction, her first-ever U.S. release. A supple alto with a beguiling articulation and no fear, Karin Krog, born in 1937, was as comfortable and quietly electric next to hard-bop sax titan Dexter Gordon in 1970 as she with the experimental British saxophonist John Surman, her longtime partner. Krog covered Joni Mitchell in 1974, ahead of that singer’s own immersion in jazz; adapted Gertrude Stein’s “As a Wife Has a Cow” for voice and electronics in 1972; and literally took John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme to church, in a recording with pipe organ in 1980. This is a rich life, compressed for entrance — jazz by association but compelling at every turn.
The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (Omnivore)
Recorded in September 1982 and impatiently released a few weeks later, this enduring debut sounds as freshly etched in its middle age — a furious ecstasy of rusted-sword guitars, minimalist propulsion and singer-guitarist Steve Wynn’s exuberantly confrontational songwriting. Velvet Underground comparisons were all the rage at the time. But in our first interview, in February 1983, Wynn insisted to me that there was just as much Neil Young (specifically the Crazy Horse albums) and the Fall in this turmoil. Hear it for yourself, along with two striking, bonus rehearsals of songs destined for 1984’s Medicine Show, thrashed by the original lineup.
Neil Young and the Bluenotes, Bluenote Café (Neil Young Archive Series/Reprise)
Young’s short-lived big band was a lot more fun — and loaded with bold, solid writing — than most historical accounts allow. The problems on 1988’s This Note’s for You: The production flattened some of the brawn in the horns, and it didn’t have what proved, on tour, to be his best material for this ensemble — “Ordinary People,” Young’s working man’s “Desolation Row,” finally released on 2007’s Chrome Dreams II; and “Crime in the City,” resurrected the next year for Freedom. But Young’s brass-balls experiment flourished on the road, and this two-CD argument — including tracks from the New York shows I saw — bears sumptuous witness. The 19-minute “Tonight’s the Night” from one of those gigs, at Pier 84, is worth the price of admission alone.
John Renbourn, The Attic Tapes (Riverboat/World Music Network)
Various Artists, Dust on the Nettles (Grapefruit/Cherry Red)
Here are two views — at once broad and intimate in their own ways — of England’s progressive-folk dreaming in the Sixties and early Seventies. The lack of recording information for The Attic Tapes, other than a general carbon dating to the three years before Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn’s first solo album in 1965, is a drawback; more specifics would have clarified the lines of exploration and collaboration suggested by the variety of covers (the traditional “Portland Town,” the straight blues “It Hurts Me Too”) and the guest appearances by guitarist Davy Graham and Donovan associate Mac MacLeod. But Renbourn, who died last March at 70, was a pivotal figure in the British folk renaissance — this set is a stirring treasure of beginnings.
Dust on the Nettles is a three-CD anthology that charts that scene’s course of change — through heritage to electricity and original expression — largely in rarities but with effective sequencing and annotation. Stars abound, of a sort: Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, Trees, Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex. But the renewed life in British folk, with the advent of psychedelic release, is better expressed by the multitude of strivers here — hazy names like Dando Shaft, Folkal Point and Frozen Tear — who make a lot more of their short spotlights than you expect.
Lee Michaels, Heighty Hi: The Best of Lee Michaels (Manifesto)
Lee Michaels, The Complete A&M Albums Collection (Manifesto)
If you think power-blues duos started with the White Stripes and the Black Keys, listen here: In 1969, after making two albums of under-selling acid-flecked hard rock, singer-organist Lee Michaels stripped his sound back to keys and a bear-ish drummer named Frosty; cut his self-titled third album in one night; and immediately led the biggest two-man band in the land when the final track on that record, “Heighty-Hi,” became a weed-party smash on FM radio. The best-of set named after that song reflects Michaels’ strengths — good, uncomplicated writing; a white-R&B voice with arena-show weight — and his popularity at the time, drawing turntable hits from across the seven albums in the box set. The LPs that will make you consider the upgrade: the ornate garage rock of 1967’s Carnival of Life; the meaty basics on 1970’s Barrel; and the jamming extremes on 1972’s Space and First Takes, which got scathing reviews at the time and now sounds like a late-night Bonnaroo set.
Weather Report, The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978–1981 (Columbia/Legacy)
Jaco (Slang East/West, two-DVD set)
Curated by drummer Peter Erskine, the four newly excavated CDs of Weather Report’s stage life with the incendiary bassist Jaco Pastorius justify that lineup’s supergroup aura — protean soloing framed by assured, inventive composition. Pastorius’ rubbery assertion belies his supportive instincts — he serves the tune before ego — and saxophonist Wayne Shorter is the group’s zen center, certain in his soloing paths and melodic poise. The avant-galactica of the original 1971–72 Weather Report was more revolutionary; this band pleased large crowds with improvising authority and irresistible verve.
Jaco is Pastorius’ life in great and tragic full, a documentary that affirms the bassist’s stature as an original voice on his instrument while tracing Pastorius’ descent, after Weather Report, through commercial disappointment and mental illness. Jaco was produced with a loving but honest grip by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, who has marshaled his own supergroup of narrative voices — including Erskine, Shorter, Joni Mitchell and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — and is seen, near the end of the film, playing Pastorius’ legendary “Bass of Doom” on stage with his own band. It is, like Jaco itself, a fitting gift of afterlife.
Streetwalkers, I’m Walkin’: Complete Streetwalkers 1974–1977 (Madfish/Snapper Music)
In mid-Seventies Britain, Streetwalkers were a band of substantial pedigree and promise: the second act of howling-wolf singer Roger Chapman and guitarist Charlie Whitney of the psychedelic-turned-prog stars Family. The new group, like Family, had a devout patron in BBC DJ John Peel; one of the 12 discs in this genuinely complete recorded history is entirely given over to Streetwalkers’ BBC performances. Their popularity on the road is affirmed by five more CDs of concert work, including the 1977 double album Streetwalkers Live. There, and in the studio prime on 1975’s Downtown Flyers and 1976’s Red Card, Streetwalkers were torrid British-blues eccentricity — charged by Chapman’s flamethrower vocals — with a funk in their step that suggested a pub-brawl Little Feat. Lavishly packaged with an LP-sized hardbound book, I’m Walkin’ is an impressive monument to a band that fell short of legend but made the most of its place and time.
Soft Machine, Switzerland 1974 (Cuneiform CD/DVD)
Here is rare game indeed: the last great lineup of this British jazz-rock institution — with guitarist Allan Holdsworth and sole founding survivor Mike Ratledge on his distinctively nasal Lowrey organ – live on record and film at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 4th, 1974. I saw this band a few months earlier on a U.S. tour; this is the souvenir I always wanted. It is easy and common to dismiss any Softs after original drummer Robert Wyatt’s enforced departure in 1971. It is also a mistake, at least up to this point in the group’s life. Bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall were an empathic backfield, tenacious and fluid; Holdsworth was a fresh, catalytic, instrumental voice. The Softs’ first golden era — as the house band at London’s UFO club, Britain’s psychedelic ground zero — was nearly a decade past, but they had not yet run out of risk. The opening suite here, saxophonist Karl Jenkins’ 16-minute “Hazard Profile,” is fusion with a capital F — and a vengeance.
Tages, Go! The Complete Singles (RPM)
The Sports, Reckless (Expanded Edition); Don’t Throw Stones (Expanded Edition) (Festival)
This is collector-mania run wild in the right direction — backwards and abroad. Tages were Sweden’s most determined Beatles wannabes, recording enough aspiring-Liverpool pop, folk-rock, hyper-mod R&B and psychedelia for the local Platina company and the Beatles’ own Parlophone label to fill 23 singles in five years. Admittedly, some of those were issued by Platina as spoilers after Tages split for the bigger company. But that was just politics, and there are more than enough killers to warrant completion. Also, the sequencing saves those for the later half of the second disc of Go!, so you get the jumps ahead in the right historical order. You can also dig it all from this perspective: Without Tages, no Hives.
Founded in the thick of Melbourne’s punk ferment, the Sports were a sharper, soulful variant, arriving in Britain on Stiff Records in 1979 in time to be acclaimed as an Australian Rockpile. They were even better than that, actually closer to the vintage, brawny exuberance of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, boasting a master belter in singer Stephen Cummings and a strong, original song bag that drew hard on Fifties-R&B forms and Sixties-garage urgency. The group’s 1978 and ’79 albums, Reckless and Don’t Throw Stones are super-sized here in two-CD sets with the kind of live joints and studio rarities that warrant the expanse — great party records now as long as the best bash you can throw.
Various Artists, Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded (Ace)
This is how the world sounded at this time 50 years ago: at the starting gate of a revolutionary paradise. The heaven didn’t last, but that’s a bummer for another anthology. Author-critic Jon Savage’s soundtrack to his new 600-page study of the 52 weeks that transformed popular culture for the next quarter century — 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, issued in Britain last November by Faber & Faber — is nearly as hefty as the book: 48 tracks on which the Who, the Seeds, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett and the Velvet Underground (who issued their first single that year) rush to glory with inspired understudies like Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers (“Sock It to ‘Em, J.B.”); the Human Expression (“Love at Psychedelic Velocity”); and a very pre-Ziggy David Bowie (“The London Boys”). It is now action of such advanced age. In this compression, it still sounds like a future in which everything seems possible — and much is left unfinished.