The 25 Best Album Re-Issues of 2016

by PopMatters Staff

9 December 2016

 

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Various Artists

Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music

(Numero Group)

9

Various Artists
Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music

Numero’s latest Wayfaring Strangers compilation, Cosmic American Music gathers 19 tracks from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that are too outsidery to be country-rock, although that’s the closest genre you’d find to lump them under, had Gram Parsons not rejected that label in favor of the one that names this set. The disc contains a variety of sounds, but it maintains a steady west coast brightness, sometimes folkie, sometimes hippie, and sometimes cowboy-hatted rocker (and often with a pedal steel guitar). The Byrds and Parsons certainly have an influence on the artists presented here, but it’s an assortment of people going their own ways, usually a little weird, but always effectively. Some of the performances, like “Not Down This Low” could have become AM radio staples, but others, like Bill Madison’s eight-minute buffalo epic push the cosmic enough that no explanation is needed for their underground status. Taken together, it makes a stellar case for the vibrancy of one detour off rock’s Highway One.—Justin Cober-Lake

 

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Various Artists

Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959

(Dust-to-Digital)

8

Various Artists
Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959

Housed inside a cigar box decorated with Arabesque print, Dust-to-Digital’s Music of Morocco offers what is perhaps one of the most definitive experiences of North African music yet recorded. This is the North Africa of novelist Paul Bowles, and the music of these four discs strangely captures a very close and intimate feeling of traditional Moroccan sounds while engaging in the music at an observational remove. Recorded by the writer between the summer and winter of 1959 in Morocco, what can be heard on this release are the clandestine sounds of a culture completely in tune with nature. Music of Morocco is the sound of the many diverse ethnic and regional styles of Moroccan music, and it is a fully rounded overview of what this part of North Africa has to offer. Here, there is a wealth of stories to be told by hand in the rough and raw drumming of the bendirs and tabls (Berber percussion); the landscapes are arid and the sounds feel caked with the dust rising in the fervour.—Imran Khan

 

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Various Artists

Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph 1890-1900

(Archeophone)

7

Various Artists
Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph 1890-1900

This collection of 102 performances originally recorded and released on wax cylinders provides an object lesson in how the information revolution has opened up a window into the archaic technologies of the past. Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph 1890-1900 represents the culmination of over a decade’s work in compiling both the songs and the stories behind them. Producers Richard Martin, Meagan Hennessey, and Michael Devacka have created a masterpiece of curatorship and scholarship here. The three CDs are divided into three categories: first, commercial sacred music recorded by professionals and marketed by the industry’s early labels; the second disc contains “celebrity” recordings, hymns sung by the best-known among the traveling preachers and singers of the great camp meetings, anchored by all of the surviving recordings of Ira D. Sankey, Dwight L. Moody’s renowned hymnist; finally, and most interestingly, the third disc offers a collection of sacred amateur recordings including the only known recording of the blind hymn composer Fanny Crosby. Martin’s scholarly essays, collected in the 400-page book that houses the CDs, are exemplary and enlightening works of scholarship. A true gateway into the Victorian parlor, if these scratchy but well-preserved old songs don’t figure into your daily listening, the stories behind them and the miracle of their preservation will leave a lasting impression.—Ed Whitelock

 

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Fleetwood Mac

Mirage (Deluxe Edition)

(Rhino)

6

Fleetwood Mac
Mirage (Deluxe Edition)

Of the Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac albums, Mirage had long been overlooked because it lacked much of a backstory. Without the interpersonal intrigue of Rumors or the drug-fueled excess of Tusk, Mirage dutifully went to the top of the charts in 1982, but had always been viewed as something of a placeholder. This reissue, though, showed that time had been kind to it. The clean, streamlined production meant the album sounded surprisingly fresh and free of synthesized early ‘80s trappings. “Hold Me” and “Gypsy” turned out to be two of the era’s most sublime singles. In hindsight, one could hear how they managed to influence the sound of indie dreampop as well. The rest of the album more than held up. Relatively few reissues offer a truly new perspective, but Mirage was a timely reminder of how easy it was to take Fleetwood Mac’s considerable strengths for granted.—John Bergstrom

 

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Michael Jackson

Off the Wall

(Sony/Legacy)

5

Michael Jackson
Off the Wall

Pop music does not get any better than the 41 minutes of perfection that comprise Michael Jackson’s epochal solo breakthrough. His first of three colossal collaborations with Quincy Jones, the 21 year-old Jackson liberated himself from his Motown and Jackson 5 past with a dazzling exploration of funk, disco, soul, and pop, and its impact has not diminished one iota in the decades since. It’s young, pure, full of life, and in Jackson’s case, a snapshot of a happy time, on the cusp of mega-stardom that would happen three years later, and eventually cast a pall over the rest of his life and music. The new reissue of Off the Wall is a splendid one, accompanied by a DVD featuring Spike Lee’s documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, a loving testimonial to one of the greatest albums ever made.—Adrien Begrand

 

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Various Artists

Close to the Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984

(Cherry Red)

4

Various Artists
Close to the Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984

“The music… is from a time that will never be repeated. It is raw and uncompromising, angry and desolate, the antithesis of rock ‘n’ roll. Music by and for a blank generation.” That’s how music critic Dave Henderson describes the formative period of UK electronica, in the introduction to a new and impressively curated four-CD compilation of the period (spanning 1975-1984). Close to the Noise Floor charts the emergence of proto-synthpop, techno, and ambient exploration, featuring 60 of the period’s seminal musicians and tracks. Released through Cherry Red Records, and coupled with a gorgeous book of notes and commentary from Henderson, the compilation reminds listeners of the importance of an “exciting”, “shambolic” period, one in which today’s music was born.—Hans Rollman

 

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Steve Reich

The ECM Recordings

(ECM)

3

Steve Reich
The ECM Recordings

Steve Reich turned 80 this year. ECM celebrated by reissuing his first three LPs for the label in a new box that allows listeners to immerse themselves in the master’s awe-inspiring style. Music for 18 Musicians is probably his most oft-cited work and for good reason: It’s a piece that simply rewires our brains with its gorgeous pulses, expansions and contractions. Though nearly one-hour in length, it feels like it’s over all too soon. Octet is comprised of three deep-reaching compositions, including the titular piece, which will probably resonate with fans of the avant rock that was emerging from New York City on the cusp of the 1980s. Tehillim, probably the composer’s holiest of pieces, rounds out the collection and gives clues to the full reach of his wide, wide imagination. This collection is as good a place as any to start embracing Reich and the period that saw him fully connect with his particular vision.—Jedd Beaudoin

 

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Otis Redding

Live at the Whisky a Go Go: The Complete Recordings

(Stax)

Review [30.Nov.2016]

2

Otis Redding
Live at the Whisky a Go Go: The Complete Recordings

James Brown may be considered the Godfather of Soul, but Otis Redding is and always will be its king. For further proof, look no further than these exceptional, historically invaluable recordings showing 24-year-old Otis Redding fully in command of the music, the stage and, most crucially for 1966, the audience. While 1968’s posthumously released In Person at the Whisky a Go Go cherry-picked some of the highlights from the run, Live at the Whisky a Go Go: The Complete Recordings affords 21st century listeners the chance to experience the whole of each night in real time, warts and all. He may be nearly half a century gone, but the music of Otis Redding remains in 2016 as thrillingly vital and perfect as the moment in which the words first left his lips. Live at the Whisky a Go Go is a testament to his brilliance and status as the King of Soul and is thus, in a word, essential.—John Paul

 

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Big Star

Complete Third

(Omnivore)

Review [19.Oct.2016]

1

Big Star
Complete Third

Big Star’s calamitous, shambolic, beloved third album has been the subject of record geeks and obsessives for decades, and Complete Third is a collection worthy of their mania. What’s more, the collection completely recontextualizes the crazed recording sessions that birthed one of the strangest records ever released. From demo to final product, Complete Third offers a portrayal of Alex Chilton not as a drug-addled lunatic stumbling his way into broken brilliance but as the sharp, determined songwriter that he was, wrestling to find a way to express his inner demons. Third is challenging, difficult and ultimately rewarding because that’s what it was always meant to be. While certain things changed as a result of different collaborators or Chilton’s evolving muse, the album’s most impactful moments are presented on Complete Third practically unchanged from demo to final product. Here, Third is shown for what it really is: a deliberately crafted work of mad genius.—Kevin Korber

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