The Best Reissues of 2014
Update: October 8th, 2014
The Allman Brothers Band, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
The jazz-tinged, blues-rocking, dependably mind-melding early apex of the Allmans’ 45-year career is captured on six discs documenting the four March 1971 shows from which the sextet’s live masterpiece, At the Fillmore, was culled. (Disk six contains the previously released June venue closer.) Though sadly lacking anything from the run’s horn-augmented opening night, Recordings captures a seriously road-honed band playing basically the same set until they get it righteous. There are magical moments aplenty, especially in four extended versions each of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Whipping Post” and “You Don’t Love Me,” along with the 35-minute “Mountain Jam” released on Eat a Peach. By Richard Gehr
Elvis Presley, That’s the Way It Is: Deluxe Edition
This deluxe edition of the 1970 concert film and soundtrack Elvis: That’s the Way It Is stands as the ultimate word on one of Presley’s finest hours. With 10 discs including the original album, six full concerts, nearly an hour’s worth of rehearsals, and two versions of the film, it’s the most comprehensive document of a crucial moment in the singer’s life. In 1970, Elvis Presley, still riding high on the wave of his stunning ’68 comeback special, had assembled the core of the backing band that would play with him until his death, cut a couple of hit records in Memphis and nestled himself deep into the Las Vegas residency that came to define all Vegas residencies since. When filmmaker Denis Sanders set about making this documentary, the 35-year-old icon was a Sin City showman still in the infancy of his white jumpsuit phase, one that could live up to the legacies of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin with a sense of humor that ran playful but not too cheesy. Both the film and the quasi-soundtrack capture Presley the adult, self-conscious enough to joke about needing to drink Gatorade at nearly every show but still nimble enough to throw himself about the stage with aplomb. The bonus concerts find him delivering impassioned renditions of everything from “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and “Sweet Caroline” to his Vegas-fied versions of his own hits like “That’s All Right” and “Love Me,” along with about 50 other songs. By Kory Grow
Marshall Allen Presents Sun Ra and His Arkestra, In the Orbit of Ra
Anyone unfamiliar with the work of the enigmatic pianist, composer and bandleader Sun Ra could do worse than achieve initiation this accessibly outré two-CD compilation curated by 90-year-old Marshall Allen. A member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra since the late Fifties, and the band’s leader since 1995, Allen focuses on the cultish combo’s most luminously focused performances, remastered from Ra’s original Saturn-label releases. They range from spare sonic excursions like “Somewhere in Space,” which finds the band’s horn section of Allen, Pat Patrick and John Gilmore soloing over a faux-Egyptian shuffle in 1960, to the 20-member Afro-symphonic orchestra navigating new musical dimensions in 1972’s “Astro Black.” The Arkestra’s peerless horns, their loping rhythm section, June Tyson’s space-goddess vocals and Sun Ra’s fifth-dimensional pianistic bebop will hook even the most earthbound ears into a profoundly unique gravitational field. By Richard Gehr
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Riding Your Way: The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music 1946-1947
Recorded in 1946 and ’47 with Bob Wills’ most famous band, this selection of more than 400 songs recorded for his Tiffany Music Company is a kind of Rosetta stone for the merge of urban and rural music — blending hillbilly songs, swing jazz, fiddle tunes and country blues into a sound both homey and highly commercial. The miracle isn’t how much stylistic ground they covered, but how casually, and with so little pretense: In 2014, the same project might come backed by grant money or an artist’s statement. Historians love noting how the sessions were designed for radio, allowing the band to stretch out past the 78 RPM record’s three-minute run time, though the most they ever make of the freedom is about four minutes — this is pop music, after all. Fifty songs discovered on a shelf in a vault at Warner Music, Riding Your Way presents another, equally essential companion to the first nine volumes. By Mike Powell
John Coltrane, Offering: Live at Temple University
This full recording of the long-bootlegged set is a jazz grail: no tunes, just a sonic storming of the heavens. By Colin Fleming
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Kenny Dope, The Wild Style Breakbeats
There are few rap documents more important than the 1983 film Wild Style, the most vivid documentation of early hip-hop culture ever produced. However, the breakbeats that Grand Wizard Theodore cut, Busy Bee rapped over and the Rock Steady Crew breakdanced to had never seen official release in America. Masterfully and seamlessly extended by DJ Kenny Dope from the master tapes, and pressed to seven individual audiophile-ready 45s, it’s by far the best way to appreciate the five funky compositions (and their eight mostly unheard siblings) that helped make history. By Christopher R. Weingarten
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George Harrison, The Apple Years 1968-75
Argument starter: Who was the most musically adventurous Beatle? (Hint: not Ringo.) The first three albums in this refreshingly remastered six-disc set make a strong case for the quiet one. George Harrison tapped into the Indian classical tradition on 1968’s Wonderwall Music, a delightfully eclectic soundtrack album that launched the band’s new Apple label with the first solo album by a Beatle, then followed it up with the white-noise-y Moog machine music of the following year’s free-form Electronic Sound. All Things Must Pass remains a stone masterpiece of heady pop spiritualism (Harrison is rock’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) and thick, rich Phil Spector production. However, despite their many inspired moments, however, mid-Seventies works like Living in the Material World, Dark Horse and especially the depressive Extra Texture (Read All About It) chart a slide into weepy-guitar self-parody. By Richard Gehr
The Seeds, Singles A’s & B’s, 1965 – 1970
Between the spring of 1965 and early 1968, the Seeds were the most prolific one-hit wonders in American garage-rock, stretching the pummeling minimalism of their signature mantra — “Pushin’ Too Hard,” cut in September of ’65, a Top 40 single in February, 1967 — across three uneven studio albums and a cool not-quite-live LP (actually cut in performance, then lathered in fake applause). But the Los Angeles quartet excelled at 45 RPM, shaving its simple gifts — guitarist Jan Savage’s terse, rusty-fuzz riffing, Daryl Hooper’s acid-circus organ and leader Sky Saxon’s irritated bray — into the concise, hypnotic fury of “Out of the Question” (1965), “No Escape” (’67) and “Satisfy You” (’68). This first, comprehensive collection of the Seeds’ seven-inch might goes long, following the increasingly loopy Saxon as he lost the great, original lineup and recorded odd, harder rock like 1969’s “Wild Blood,” which sounds like it could have shoved its way onto Iggy Pop’s Kill City. But the mid-Sixties Seeds were best when they stuck to their crisp, basic script. This set ends with the original, unedited take of “Pushin’ Too Hard” with an extra verse; after the rest of this killer pith, it almost feels like excess. By David Fricke
Smashing Pumpkins, Adore
In the late winter of 1998, I attended a recording session for the Smashing Pumpkins’ fourth album, Adore, issued that May. Co-produced with Rick Rubin, the song, “Let Me Give the World to You,” was a blast of hopeful, propulsive jangle, a hit-single-in-waiting and, ultimately, an orphan, left out of the final running order. Singer-guitarist Billy Corgan had darker matters to attend to — the recent death of his mother Martha and, with the firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, the advancing collapse of his band’s original lineup. The Pumpkins’ besieged, autocratic leader responded by letting his lifelong Cure fixation loose in a hermetic suite of pining and desperate promises, wrapped in gauzy strumming and gray-ice electronics. Coming after the multi-platinum, saturation-bombing art-rock of 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Adore was a critical and commercial hard landing, mistaken for unremitting defensiveness and brooding. The extreme forensics of this six-CD-with-DVD reissue actually show a secret classic — bleak, ambitious and quixotically moving — busy being born in demos, experimental arrangements and elegantly seething live-radio performances. The price of Corgan’s determination is evident in the discarded quality brought back to the fold: the plaintive folk-rock of “Do You Close Your Eyes?”; the ruined-church drone of “Blissed and Gone”; “Cross,” soaked in wah-wah sobs of guitar. “Let Me Give to the World to You,” later re-recorded for a best-of set, is finally issued in its original, hard-glow form, still sounding like the wrong glamour for this album — and the hit single that might have saved it. By David Fricke
The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music
On 2003’s Rainy Day Music, part of a reissue series with 1997’s dour Sound of Lies and 2000’s poppy Smile, the Jayhawks returned to their early, easeful prettiness, imagining a better yesterday where CSNY got along and Gram Parsons lived to spend the Seventies filling America’s station wagons with AM gold. By Rob Sheffield
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Jon McCallum, Surf Nazis Must Die (Original 1987 Soundtrack)
Vinyl reissues of Eighties exploitation flick soundtracks are splattering all over — this year alone saw reissues of Chopping Mall, Creepshow, The Slumber Party Massacre, Forbidden World, Street Trash and The Class of Nuke ‘Em High. But the long-awaited release of Surf Nazis Must Die, the inaugural release for Rochester’s Strange Disc and the first time it’s been commercial available, is the best of the batch. The soundtrack to the 1987 goof has a lo-fi, homemade feel towards Eighties shock schlock that contemporary bands have been trying to mine for years — lush blossoms of vintage synths and drum machines throbbing with the tense rhythms of action flicks. By Christopher R. Weingarten
Various Artists, Country Funk II 1967-1974
Dolly Parton sings “Gettin’ Happy” with a gospel choir, pedal steel and an amped-up, sample-ready drum beat; Kenny Rogers gets all funky outlaw on “Tulsa Turnaround” (“Oooh, Lord, I wish I had never been stoned. . . .”). Even Willie Nelson (“Shotgun Willie”) gets his greased groove on, alongside Townes Van Zandt (“Hunger Child Blues”) and Jim Ford (“Rising Sign”). By Will Hermes
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Various Artists, C86: Deluxe 3CD Edition
In 1986, the British magazine NME released a 22-song tape charting the post-post-punk diaspora we now call “indie rock,” from the jangly and sweet (the Pastels, Primal Scream) to the lopsided and weird (Big Flame, Stump). Capitalizing, maybe, on collective nostalgia, Cherry Red has expanded the album into a nearly four-hour-long box set, drawing a circle so wide that the compilation now feels less like an argument about music than an anthropological survey — the attempted full account of the English underground circa the late 1980s. In the end, the reissue’s depth is more impressive to behold than listen to, but the time is right: the shimmery, amateurish sound of labels like Captured Tracks are evidence that whatever lessons C86 offered to its first fans are still relevant. By Mike Powell