Any music critic worth his salt fears the year-end list where it’s time to go back and sift through that bottomless collection of promos to produce a list of the year’s “best” albums. For one that obsesses over music and listens to just about everything, this is no easy task. This year saw more than a few exceptional new releases from a wide range of artists and genres, making it feel pointless to single out however many albums as being the “best.” With so much great music, it can feel painful to leave certain albums out, and if there is one area that is overlooked and snubbed by critics each year it’s the almighty reissue.
Sure, it may seem logical to not pay as much attention to reissues simply on the grounds that the music was previously recorded, in a different year than this one. However, it feels unjust not to acknowledge the work that goes into a record label giving special attention to a forgotten or underappreciated piece of music. To be fair, some of these albums were previously unreleased, which may not technically make them a reissue if you want to be a stickler, but all of them contain music well worth your attention. Not only that, but every album on this list comes with a historical context that makes them valuable artifacts just based on the story behind them. Like any year-end list, there are plenty left out and I encourage you to comment with your own favorites. After all, this is not a declaration of what Glide Magazine says is the best, but rather a recommendation from this critic highlighting ten releases essential enough that you should seek them out. This list is not in any particular order because it would be difficult to attach a ranking to albums all special for their own reasons.
Queen – Live at the Rainbow ‘74
Ok, this is a live show and was previously unreleased, but generally speaking it falls into the reissue category. Back in 1974 Queen was on the cusp of becoming the phenomenally huge arena rock band history remembers them as. The most interesting thing about this release is that it features the band playing the same venue months apart. Disc one combines November 19 and 20 while the second disc is a show from March of the same year. Each recording lets you hear one of the most epic bands of all time beginning to tap into brilliance and harness their true power. Freddie Mercury’s banter between songs also makes it a worthwhile listen just to hear the vocalist still getting a grasp for performance with his modest, at times nervous, quips, which is fascinating on its own. For anyone who’s even a slight Queen fan this release is a must have.
Secret Stash Records Presents: The One-Derful! Collection
You know what the best part about this reissue compilation is? It’s the first of six. That’s right, the first edition came out in late October, but over the course of 2015 Secret Stash Records will release five more. Like the other five coming our way, the first release is a double album covering an extensive collection of music recorded in the 1960s and 70s under the African-American owned One-Derful! label. The first album is loaded to the gills with the kind of soul, funk and gospel that could never exist at any other point in time, and listening is both an enlightening and educational look into a magical period of American music. If reissues and compilations were permissible on best-of lists, this release would be my album of the year.
The Soul of Designer Records Box Set
Releases like this deserve to be enshrined, and in reissuing this collection Mississippi-based the folks at Big Legal Mess Records are doing God’s work, literally. Spanning four discs, this box set includes songs from too many acts to list. All of these acts were recorded by a fellow named Style Wooten under his Designer label between 1967-1977. During this time gospel groups from around the country made their way to Memphis where Wooten gave them a chance to record their songs. Pretty much every song is about the lord, but what stands out is the way these groups used gospel as a foundation while incorporating R&B, soul and rock and roll into their music. Most of these groups weren’t much different than other acts in those genres in their attitude, energy, and approach to music. They just happened to be singing about God. Lucky for us, Style Wooten was there to record it and Big Legal Mess is now here to give it back to the world.
Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain
The world is a colder place without Jason Molina in it, but since the revered singer-songwriter’s tragic passing in 2013 his longtime label Secretly Canadian has been reissuing his earlier work to ensure his legacy will not be forgotten. The press release I received for this album started with this sentence: “Didn’t It Rain is Jason Molina’s first perfect record.” That statement is completely accurate. Molina’s work with Songs: Ohia is poignant and hauntingly beautiful. The loss of this brilliantly talented soul is enough to bring tears to your eyes while listening, yet it’s hard not be swept up in the rich, gorgeous songs and be happy that the music exists at all. The reissue also includes eight previously unreleased home demos, giving us a more intimate look inside Molina’s artistic process.
Yo La Tengo – Extra Painful
December 2014 marks thirty years since New Jersey couple Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley formed Yo La Tengo. To celebrate they’ve reissued one of their landmark albums, 1993’s Painful. The album is significant for being the first of many things; it was their first release on Matador Records, first time working with producer Roger Moutenot, and the first album with bassist James McNew playing on every song. In other words, Painful is a foundational part of Yo La Tengo history for establishing the band’s distinct, shoegazing indie rock. Besides being loaded with new liner notes, artwork and pictures, the reissue features a bonus disc containing demos, live acoustic tracks, and unreleased tunes, making it a Yo La Tengo fan’s wet dream.
Love – Black Beauty
It’s easy to forget just how mind blowing Love was. 1973’s Black Beauty was indeed a masterpiece of scorching, psychedelic rock and roll, and it’s a travesty that somehow this record sat in the vaults unreleased before High Moon Records discovered it and put it out on vinyl in 2012. That same label has now packaged the album along with photos and in-depth liner notes telling the story behind one of rock music’s most underrated acts of all time. Obviously Love’s magic was best experienced live, and the bonus live tracks will melt your face. The disc also has a recorded interview with Love front man and mastermind Arthur Lee, a fascinating listen to say the least.
Gene Clark – Two Sides to Every Story
The term “alt-country” was coined in the early 90s and used to reference bands like Uncle Tupelo for their hybrid version of country music and rock and roll. In actuality, that style of music had already been done decades earlier by the Byrds. Much of the band’s hugely influential sound came from founding member Gene Clark, who wrote a sizeable chunk of their songs, but Clark also had a successful solo career after the Byrds and Two Sides to Every Story is one of his very best. With appearances from the likes of Emmylou Harris and a slew of other big names, the album is a stunning work of alt-country. The best part though is the bonus download, which features raw but high quality live recordings of Clark and his band from 1975 as well as a previously unheard radio interview with this pioneer of country-rock.
Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete
Some of these recordings have circulated for years as bootlegs, but now that the almighty Dylan has given it his blessing, the treasure trove that is the Basement Tapes has finally been unearthed and shared with the world. Over the course of six discs, each containing over twenty tracks, we are given Bob Dylan and The Band’s outtakes and demos from their legendary sessions at Big Pink, raw and unfiltered. It’s exciting to hear them fooling around on soon-to-be classics like “Tears of Rage” and “This Wheel’s On Fire,” playing rowdy covers of Johnny Cash tunes, cutting tracks that end abruptly in laughter, and just having an all around damn good time while making music history. This set is a must-hear for even the most casual Dyan fans.
Mike Cooper –Trout Steel/Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper
I’m not ashamed to say I had no idea who Mike Cooper was before this trio of reissues was sent my way, and chances are I’m not alone in that. Hearing the “English-born, Rome-based” musician for the first time was revelatory and felt like discovering a wonderful secret about the world. Originally released in 1970, ‘71 and ‘72, these three albums have long been out of print and luckily for us the fine folks at the Paradise of Bachelors label were given the consent from Cooper himself to give the albums reissue treatment. Much like the Ghetto Brothers or Rodriguez, Cooper is one of those acts that somehow managed to slip below the radar of the masses while crafting masterful folk rock that is perfect in every way. Grab these albums on vinyl if you can.
Sid Selvidge – The Cold of the Morning
While we’re on the subject of hugely talented musicians falling below the radar, Sid Selvidge is another incredible singer-songwriter to mention. If the name Selvidge sounds familiar, it’s because Sid’s son Steve is the former guitarist for Lucero and currently plays with the Hold Steady. Between founding his own Peabody Records and being a member of famed producer Jim Dickinson’s Mud Boy & The Neutrons, this Memphis legend managed to record a brilliant record of simple, acoustically strummed Southern folk in 1975. Selvidge made more records throughout his life (he passed away in 2013 after a battle with cancer), but there is a certain loose, rambling spirit in The Cold of the Morning that was a common trait in Memphis music of the 1970’s and much of the work produced by Jim Dickinson. The reissue is fairly bare bones, but the music stands alone and Omnivore Recordings dug up six tunes to add as bonus tracks, giving us just a little bit extra that you’ll be craving after hearing the whole album.