The 25 Best Album Re-Issues of 2013

[16 December 2013]

By PopMatters Staff


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The Swimming Pool Q’s

1984-1986: The A&M Years

(Bar None)

25

The Swimming Pool Q’s
1984-1986: The A&M Years

The Swimming Pool Q’s started off as a darkly humorous, literary band with a penchant for songs with titles like “Rat Bait” and “The A-Bomb Woke Me Up”. By the time of 1984’s self-titled release and the follow up Blue Tomorrow in 1986, they were streamlined, melodic and accessible with a batch of first rate songs. With Anne Richmond Boston’s crystalline vocals and the chiming guitars of Bob Elsey and band mastermind Jeff Calder, they should have conquered the world. Or at least the college rock circuit then frequented by well-remembered contemporaries like R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs. It looked like they might for a while, getting rave reviews and opening for Lou Reed. But record label indifference (no money fronted for videos, for one thing) and the comparative unevenness of Blue Tomorrow translated to low sales and an undeserved descent into obscurity. Fueled by a Kickstarter campaign, the band re-released the two albums in 2013, with a bevy of bonus tracks and a DVD collection to boot. You can’t go wrong discovering, or re-discovering, the smart and snappy jangle-pop of the Q’s on 1984-1986: The A&M Years. Rob Caldwell

 


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Unwound

Kid Is Gone

(The Numero Group)

24

Unwound
Kid Is Gone

Unwound called it a career over a decade ago, but their influence seems stronger than ever. That state of affairs is all the more surprising since much of their work has been out-of-print in the intervening years. Now thanks to a licensing deal with Numero Group, it will soon all be available in a series of four vinyl boxed sets. The first of these re-issues, the triple-LP Kid Is Gone, was released this fall, and covers their initial burst of activity with recordings made between July of 1991 and May of 1992. It’s packed with unreleased demos, singles, compilation tracks, live recordings, and the material that became the 1994 album Unwound. It’s the sound of teenagers discovering their own path through punk and noise and emerging, hesitantly, into the abrasive post-hardcore band their fans hold dear. That the journey is this worthwhile and rewarding hints at the peaks Unwound would soon climb. But make no mistake, this set is for the fans. No re-issue of this magnitude and scope was ever meant as a beginner’s guide. It’s a statement. Erik Highter

 


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ZZ Top

The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990

(Rhino / Warner Bros.)

23

ZZ Top
The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990

A gimmick has quietly crept into the music industry, and it’s a brilliant one: if record store shelf space is limited, why not issue multi-album sets in neat, tidy, inexpensive compact box sets? Add the attraction of new remasters or rare versions, and you’ve got something fans won’t hesitate to scoop up. ZZ Top‘s chronicle of its first 20 years is particularly noteworthy because, unbelievably, it marks the very first time the original mixes of the albums ZZ Top’s First Album, Rio Grande Mud, and Tejas have been issued on CD, complete with Frank Beard’s original drum tracks, which were so heinously replaced by drum machine on 1987’s Six Pack box set. No, there are no new remasters of Degüello or the classic Eliminator (still the most successful image makeover in rock ‘n’ roll history), but this is nevertheless a tremendous chronicle of a career that went from a humble Texas boogie band to international superstars. Adrien Begrand

 


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Françoise Hardy

Midnight Blues: Paris London 1968-72

(Ace International)

22

Françoise Hardy
Midnight Blues: Paris London 1968-72

It’s almost too much for my puny human brain to comprehend… Françoise Hardy almost made an album with Nick Drake. Just imagine. Though that beautiful dream never materialised, the music Hardy did make during her late ‘60s/early ‘70s ‘Imperial phase’ is still eternally wondrous. With ‘68 Paris aflame, Hardy—the elusive muse of Dylan, Jagger, Gainsbourg and Godard—sensibly bid “Adieu” to her toe-tapping ‘Yé-Yé’ years at Vogue and decided to get real. For Françoise ‘Real’ meant independence and poetry but also a shy, enigmatic loneliness. The exquisite Midnight Blues compiles her English language recordings from 1969’s One Nine Seven Zero and 1972’s Françoise Hardy. The sound is timeless, delicately dreamy folk, brushed lush and velvety rich with romantic, dramatic orchestration and Hardy’s honey sweet vocals. An elegant, sparkling treasure trove of original material and expertly chosen covers from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Randy Newman, it fragrantly opens a door to another world. One sweet caress of “Sunshine”, “If You Listen” or “Bown Bown Bown” and you’ll be smitten. But buy this and Hardy’s 1971 ‘En Francaise’ masterpiece La Question and you’ll be hooked for life. Matt James

 


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Drive-By Truckers

Alabama Ass Whuppin’

(Caroline)

21

Drive-By Truckers
Alabama Ass Whuppin’

Though by now Drive-By Truckers is rightly considered a ferocious live act, the band captured on Alabama Ass Whuppin’ is of a different family. These 1999 shows display a band young and hungry and chomping at the bit, roaring from punk-rock influenced numbers like “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)” to penultimate ballad “Love Like This”. At this point in their career, Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood had been circling the country in a van for years in bands like Adam’s House Cat, and though it may have become a gut-punch of a live act, Drive-By Truckers were still two years away from their breakout in Southern Rock Opera, and the band sounds like it’s broke as hell and way too drunk to even remember. This reissue of the long-out-of-print original pressing completely revamps the sound, adding increased clarity and removing layers of grime that plagued the original release. Welcome to the rock show. Robert Rubsam

20 - 16


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Miles Davis Quintet

Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2

(Columbia/Legacy)

20

Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2

It’s not like those electric Miles Davis albums just fell from the sky. Lurking behind the Revolution there’s always a whole lot of work and plain old groping around, and this box set—four concerts, three of them audio and one video—captures a crucial moment in Davis’s search. Recorded between In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, these concerts reveal an era when Davis’s earlier bop bled into stuff that Stanley Crouch would totally hate. For instance, not every “‘Round Midnight” sounds like Chick Corea‘s tearing apart his Fender Rhodes, but this one does! (That’s an endorsement.) Whether they’re playing funk ostinatos or fast walks, tunes or vamps, changes or none, it’s all crucial to this band’s sound. They break into various configurations, so each long song contains several mini-songs, not necessarily related to one another, sometimes just a free rhythm section sparring with itself. Listen to Wayne Shorter blowing furiously through his own “Footprints”—previously a stately waltz with changes derived from the blues, now nearly unrecognizable. You’ll hear how continuous the electric era was with everything that came before, but also how desperate these guys were to reach someplace new. Josh Langhoff

 


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The Postal Service

Give Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)

(Sub Pop)

19

The Postal Service
Give Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)

When Give Up was re-issued this year, ten years after its initial release, I experienced two simultaneous reactions: eye-rolling and unbridled joy. In most ways, it’s that dichotomy that defines the Postal Service and their singular album. It’s a serious record for sensitive souls, a lyrically potent record for hipsters, but catchy enough for your parents to enjoy, too. Somehow (divine intervention?) it bridged the divide to become one of the most loved and biggest selling albums of the naughties. There is a bit of “scraping the barrel” here, some unnecessary remixes, and a few live session tracks across two discs. But there are also two new, worthwhile songs, and an aurally satisfying remastered edition of the original album. What it all amounts to is the sweetest of nostalgia trips. “The District Sleeps Alone” and “We Will Become Silhouettes” still make you teary-eyed, and overlooked gems like “Recycled Air” and “The Natural Anthem” sparkle with newfound shine. Don’t be ashamed or give in to regret, relive the best moments from your 20s with grace. Let the Postal Service be your guide. Scott Elingburg

 


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The Clean

Vehicle

(Captured Tracks / Flying Nun)

18

The Clean
Vehicle

The Clean made people wait for a while, releasing a bunch of singles and going on hiatus in the ‘80s before releasing Vehicle, the band’s debut/reunion album. And while it might have shined up the scuff on those singles, it was also clearly worth the wait. The album is a perfect distillation of not just the band’s sound, but also the Dunedin, New Zealand scene and the Flying Nun Records aesthetic. Flying Nun teamed with Captured Tracks to reissue the album, and now we can once again hear the tangled ring of David Kilgour’s guitars, the rumbling power of Robert Scott’s bass, and the airtight propulsion of Hamish Kilgour’s drums. The trio fires through classics like the lean “Draw(in)g to a (W)hole”, the bright surf-rock of “Bye Bye”, the moodier edge of “Diamond Shine” or the perfectly repeated hooks and triumphant chorus of “Dunes”. The album alone would make for a brilliant repressing on vinyl, but the new edition also includes the essential In-A-Live EP, which gives us the Clean on stage charging through great versions of stuff like “Anything Can Happen” and “Point That Thing Somewhere Else”. It’s not like we’ve forgotten about the Clean, but this reissue of Vehicle is still a great reminder of just how great a pop act they were, and how well this band we may remember for all those singles could put together a flawless album. The first of many, by the way, but still the best. Matthew Fiander

 


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David Bowie

Aladdin Sane (40th Anniversary Edition)

(EMI)

17

David Bowie
Aladdin Sane (40th Anniversary Edition)

These song aren’t about getting at what’s under the artifice so much as reminding us the artifice is there, that it is strong enough to keep those things hidden, if not entirely then effectively enough that won’t fully explicate them. This is the power of the best of David Bowie‘s work, and if Aladdin Sane isn’t his best record, it may be the best example of one of his central themes: the artifice not as something to break through, not as an impediment on the way to the real, but the artifice as its own sort of realness. Following Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane is a much more difficult character, a symbol in search of things to symbolize. These also fall into a series that both predates them (1969’s Space Oddity, 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World) and follows them with records named Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, “Heroes”, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and so on. They’re all records named after symbols, the mask presented to us not as the thing that hides the face but rather the face itself. If these are Bowie’s most fascinating moments – along with other albums like Low, which fractures but never exposes – it’s interesting to note that his self-titled debut sounds little like the artist he’d become. It’s also interesting to note that later albums with more straightforward, real-world titles like Let’s Dance and Tonight fall utterly apart. It’s when Bowie is hidden that he shows us the most, that his music is at its best. Aladdin Sane is the best example of this thread of his career, and perhaps a better place to look for a new angle on Bowie in 2013 over the self-conscious looking over his shoulder he does on The Next Day. Aladdin Sane can tell us more about David Bowie than David Bowie can.
Matthew Fiander

 


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Various Artists

Change the Beat: The Celluloid Records Story 1979-1987

(Strut)

16

Various Artists
Change the Beat - The Celluloid Records Story 1979 - 1987

Not even the pop avant-garde is immune to misplaced nostalgia. Celluloid’s website describes the romance of the label’s heyday: “New York City, 1984… a much wilder place than today, Ed Koch is in control and the streets are mean.” Sounds great, a real crucible of creativity! Glossing over a bunch of muggings and killings and shit is this admittedly wonderful two-disc compilation of rap, punk, jazz, reggae, makossa, French electronica, and whatever you call Ginger Baker’s ‘80s comeback. Most tracks mix up two or three of those genres, as when the Clash‘s Mick Jones backs up Futura 2000’s graffiti rap, or Hamid Drake and Herbie Hancock jam with West Africa’s Mandingo Griot Society. Bankrolled by Frenchmen with good taste and largely produced by Bill Laswell, whose bands Massacre and Material both appear here, these songs sound like the basis for all the hipster music of the past 30 years, except maybe metal and freak folk. Not a lot of beards on Ed Koch’s mean streets. Josh Langhoff

15 - 11


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R.E.M.

Green (25th Anniversary Edition)

(Rhino)

15

R.E.M.
Green (25th Anniversary Edition)

On paper, Green doesn’t seem to be the R.E.M. album most worthy of re-consideration. Most people are happy to leave it as “the one with ‘Stand’ on it”. Looking back now, it’s clear just how important this album was for R.E.M.‘s growth as a band. It’s the tentative step forward for a band that decided to use the gift of a major label contract to get even weirder. As the band found themselves playing arenas, they took the opportunity to challenge their audience, pairing pop-friendly material like “Stand” and “Orange Crush” with the obtuse folk of “Hairshirt” and slow, grungy dirge of “I Remember California”. In a few short years, groups like Nirvana would make millions by being confrontational about the notion of what pop was supposed to be, but they couldn’t have gotten there without R.E.M. and Green, one of the strangest hit records ever to be released. Kevin Korber

 


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Sly & the Family Stone

Higher!

(Sony/Legacy)

14

Sly & the Family Stone
Higher!

Higher! was released this year as a complete four-disc, career retrospective of Sly Stone’s output. The album contains Sly & the Family Stone‘s biggest hits along with lesser-known material and 17 unreleased tracks, including his earliest recordings when he was still going by Sly Stewart. The collection is an excellent summary of one of the most important groups of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and the band’s place in the development of pop and soul. Higher! shows the huge amount of ground the band covered during its existence as well as the band’s awesome amalgamation of funk, soul, pop, and rock music. The songs speak for themselves and the collection serves as both an introduction to Sly Stone for newcomers as well as a deep excavation of Sly’s catalog for longtime fans. Eric Goldberg

 


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Various Artists

Music for Dancefloors: The KPM Music Library (Deluxe Version)

(Strut)

13

Various Artists
Music for Dancefloors: The KPM Music Library (Deluxe Version)

This year saw an onslaught of “expanded” editions of albums that millions of people already owned. But Music For Dancefloors contained music that was never meant to be owned, and it was one of the best reissues of the year. KPM was one of several British “music libraries” produced and licensed music that was meant to serve as theme songs, jingles, and interstitials for television and radio shows. And, during its heyday in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it inadvertently turned out some of the best “rare groove” music ever. From R&B and Blaxploitation funk to samba to jazz and tropicalia, Music For Dancefloors came packed with a disc’s worth of previously hard-to-find highlights. And a 2000 live performance by the “KPM All Stars”, added as a separate disc, was a worthy bonus, featuring several immortal sports themes. In a perfect world, every reissue would be this essential, not to mention listenable. John Bergstrom

 


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The Mountain Goats

All Hail West Texas [Remastered]

(Merge)

12

The Mountain Goats
All Hail West Texas [Remastered]

All Hail West Texas is an album that could have been destined to be obscure or even non-existent. Recorded in an almost vacant house in Ames, Iowa, in 1999 while its creator’s wife was away at hockey camp with, mostly, just an acoustic guitar and the lonely voice belonging to singer-songwriter John Darnielle, the album is a paean to the state of decay, of a way of life somewhere buried in the past, and the willfully non-commercial. Indeed, you can hear the wheel grind of Darnielle’s dying Panasonic RX-FT500 recorder at the start and end of all of these songs, which gives the album a rough, raw and underground feeling, and even the mostly all-white cover “art” for the record provides it the quality of being almost a bootleg. It’s as though this is an LP that was never meant to see the light of day in the first place, let alone being worthy of the reissue treatment. We’re even lucky to have some of these songs: the tape would sometimes run out part-way during recording, or Darnielle would be interrupted by a ringing telephone, or perhaps a ditty would just be relegated to the non-inclusion bin not long after being recorded by the temperamental artist. However, the 14 songs that made it elevate the raggedly-recorded album to great heights. When Darnielle sings “Hail Satan!” on opening cut “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”, a chill might transcend down your spine. Ultimately, All Hail West Texas is one of the best lo-fi recordings ever made, and given its difficult gestation process, you walk away feeling quite lucky to have heard, if not paid witness to, these fine, transcendent songs. Zachary Houle

 


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Songs: Ohia

Magnolia Electric Co. (Ten Year Anniversary Edition)

(Secretly Canadian)

11

Songs: Ohia
Magnolia Electric Co. (Ten Year Anniversary Edition)

There have been reissues of earlier Songs: Ohia records. There have been reissues of stuff from Jason Molina’s high school band. Damien Jurado reissued his excellent Where Shall You Take Me and dedicated it to Molina. There’s been a lot of remembering and missing Jason Molina this year, but this reissue of Magnolia Electric Co. may be the most fitting tribute. The album saw the lean, spacious shadows of other Songs: Ohia work expanded into giant yet airtight classic rock compositions. And Molina’s lyrics were every bit as big and resonant as the sounds. This was a transitional record for Molina, both in sound and in searching for something better. It’s easy to see this as all too sad considering his passing, but there’s just too much subtle fight in the darkness of “Farewell Transmission”, too much cautious hope on “I’ve Been Riding With the Ghost”, and wide-open wonder and resilience of “John Henry Split My Heart”. The extras here are every bit as brilliant, as we get studio takes on live favorite “Whip Poor Will” and the brilliant epic “The Big Game is Every Night”, which nearly steals the show here. Also included are home demos of each track, which are both solitary and beautiful, revealing the seed of Molina’s excellent songwriting and voice that these songs grew out of. “It’ll get so quiet when this record ends,” Molina sings on “Big Game”, and he’s sadly right about this set, but to focus on that and not the heartfelt, bracing music that comes before is to miss the point. Molina left us with so much beautiful heartbreak, and this is perhaps him at his very best. Matthew Fiander

10 - 6


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Fleetwood Mac

Rumours (Expanded Edition)

(Warner Bros. / Rhino)

10

Fleetwood Mac
Rumours (Expanded Edition)

At this point, the narrative behind Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours has lost its impact every time Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham appear on stage together and aren’t giving one another the death stare. Revisiting the album has a way of re-airing that dirty laundry, though. By going back to Rumours, one is reminded of just how strange it is that an album this personal—and it gets really personal at times—could be such a phenomenon. It all comes down to the unique talents of Buckingham and Nicks, a folk guitarist with an unbelievable musical ear and a singer who brought a strong, feminine perspective in a world filled with dudes playing songs about being dudes. Combined with the traditional rock backbone of the rhythm section, and it makes for a record that hits every single listener’s sweet spot, even as the main songwriters are spilling their guts right before your ears. Kevin Korber

 


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Scott Walker

The Collection 1967-1970

(Universal)

9

Scott Walker
The Collection 1967-1970

On the heels of Scott Walker‘s brilliant, twisted, and triumphant Bish Bosch, five of his early solo albums were repackaged and reissued in a glorious box set. In a move so bold it’s astonishing he was able to get away with it, the 24-year-old pop heartthrob left the lucrative Walker Brothers, set off on his own, embraced the music of Jacques Brel and the films of Ingmar Bergman, and created music that was as enigmatic as it was sumptuous. It’s a fascinating journey, from commercial success to outright failure (1968’s Scott 2 was a UK chart-topper, Scott 4 flopped a year later), from Walker’s embracing of traditionalism to his increased dabbling in the avant-garde. One moment he’s breathing vibrant new life into Brel standards “Amsterdam” and “Jackie”, and yet at other times “Such a Small Love” and “It’s Raining Today” hint at the stark atonality he’d explore late in his life. This set is a compelling look at a budding genius finding his voice, and better yet, the music therein continues to improve brilliantly with age. Adrien Begrand

 


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Shuggie Otis

Inspiration Information / Wings of Love

(Sony / Legacy)

8

Shuggie Otis
Inspiration Information / Wings of Love

True story: Already an industry veteran although barely legal drinking age, Shuggie Otis was asked to join the Rolling Stones. Famously, he declined the offer. Had he accepted that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, two things are certain. One, he would have become wealthy and a household name. Two, many millions of people might have more easily discovered—and fallen under the spell of—his 1974 tour-de-force, Inspiration Information. There are a couple of basic questions fans, like this writer, have asked themselves for entirely too long. Why isn’t Shuggie Otis recognized by more people as a genius? And why isn’t Inspiration Information regarded as one of the best albums of the ‘70s? Otis, and his masterpiece, have belonged to the underground, enigmas that attract word-of-mouth followings each generation. Ultimately there are no good, or acceptable answers for why Otis has labored so long in semi-obscurity. He has, however, continued to work, and occasionally record. The arrival of this remastered version of Inspiration Information, along with an entire bonus disc of unreleased material, sheds overdue light on what he was doing while the time he could and should have owned ostensibly passed us all by. Sean Murphy

 


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The Breeders

(4AD)

7

The Breeders
LSXX (Last Splash 20th Anniversary Reissue)

The 20th anniversary reissue of the BreedersLast Splash only offers a reminder of how ageless a disc it is: So the LSXX package doesn’t include a remastered version of Last Splash because there’s no need to redo the classic album, considering that it still evokes that uncanny combination of sun-streaked glimmer and sweat-stained grit, intuitive craft and irreverent fun that you don’t need to enhance with after-the-fact studio trickery. What LSXX does represent is the ultimate document of a band that was actually in its prime when you thought it was just getting going at the time, as Kim Deal moved out of the Pixies’ shadow and the band restructured itself after Tanya Donnelly left to focus on Belly. While Last Splash obviously makes for the essential listening in the package, the bonus goodies served up on LSXX are hardly time-capsule ephemera, especially the short-form brilliance of the pre-Last Splash Safari EP and the 1994 10” Head to Toe. And that’s not to mention how the performances and demos provide snapshots of a vital live act both proficient and spontaneous, qualities that can’t help but still shine through after all these years. Arnold Pan

 


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The Velvet Underground

White Light/White Heat: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

(Universal)

6

The Velvet Underground
White Light/White Heat: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

This definitive edition of the Velvet Underground‘s second album was in the works before Lou Reed passed away earlier this year, but to hear this album again, and to hear it in the context of all these fascinating extras, is to find the best way to honor Reed’s legacy. It is a perfect distillation of Reed’s musical approach. It’s difficult but never (or almost never) intentionally so. It’s aggressive but never nihilistic. It’s noisy but within that noise is beautiful sounds, brilliant songs. In the wake of the more restrained Velvet Underground and Nico, White Light/White Heat must have been a perplexing record to hear upon its release in January 1968. Nearly half a century later we’re still trying to figure it out, but this new edition gives us the most material to sift through, and perhaps the best pathway through this era in the band’s history. It reveals the band’s thorny, excellent vision for the album, and reminds us why music will miss a presence like Lou Reed for quite a while. White Light/White Heat is less a lofty experiment that keeps the listener out than a curious twisting of structures and conventions that lures them in. It’s songwriting and storytelling. It’s melody- and noise-making. It’s high art and low-brow punk. It’s all these things and none of them at once, as incongruous and inventive and fascinating as the man at the center of it all, Lou Reed. And if he made harder records later, none of them spoke to who he was as an artist, and what he would become, more than this one did. Matthew Fiander

5 - 1


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Patty Griffin

Silver Bell

(A&M/Universal)

5

Patty Griffin
Silver Bell

The album no one thought would ever see the official light of day, arrived in October of this year and proved once again that there are few singer-songwriters, in any genre, as masterful as Patty Griffin. More than a decade later, after Silver Bell was egregiously discarded during the wake of a merger between A&M Records and Universal, Griffin’s gorgeous, “lost” recording remains as musically relevant as it would have been 13 years ago. The album is so startlingly brilliant, it’s a crime it’s taken this long for it it to arrive. Regardless of why it’s finally being delivered to the public, Patty is now being vindicated for all those hours she spent recording these beautiful songs in Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studios. Enlisting the talents of celebrated producer, musician and engineer Glyn Johns, Griffin wanted to ensure that her original artistic vision wouldn’t be compromised. Stripped of the glossy shine that marred it’s previous incarnation, this is how Griffin intended the record should sound. Stylistically varied but skillfully cohesive, Silver Bell is full of the deft, candid lyricism Patty has been known for since her riveting debut Living With Ghosts. Two of the album’s highlights, “Top of the World” and “Truth # 2”, wound up becoming some of the most successful songs of the Dixie Chicks’ career, and whether or not it would have similarly catapulted her into the mainstream, remains one of modern music’s little mysteries. Regardless, Silver Bell is as impressive as any of the records in her canon and as stunning a collection of songs as any artist could hope to compose. Ryan Lathan

 


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Woody Guthrie

American Radical Patriot

(Rounder)

4

Woody Guthrie
American Radical Patriot

This is a set that complicates the myth of Woody Guthrie. For one, much of this recording was done for the US Government, which in and of itself seems odd for a songwriter seen historically as so radical. But this set does something remarkable in juxtaposing these commissioned songs with his more rambling recordings with Alan Lomax. It shows us not the true Guthrie (in the Lomax recordings) and the Guthrie doing what he can to make some money (for the government), but a man who clearly understood and was fascinated by the works of man, by the force of labor, and by what little returns that labor was compensated. He was a man as eager to tell the story of his people and his land as he was eager to be a part of historically great projects. He was a true artist and, in the end, a man who was sold by RCA Records and the BPA and others because his radical streak fit a narrative they needed it to. He wasn’t used. He didn’t compromise. But those he worked for got what they wanted. In that way he was an American Radical Patriot. But he was also all three, sometimes moving from one to the other or bleeding them together. American. Radical. Patriot. Matthew Fiander

 


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Otis Redding

The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection

(Shout! Factory)

3

Otis Redding
The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection

Mono. That’s how Otis Redding and the other musicians heard their sessions in playback. That’s how their recordings were mastered and pressed and presented to the public. That’s also what makes The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection such a wonderful set, for never before have his singles been presented in mono on CD. There were no half-measures when it came to a Redding performance, and Shout! Factory has made sure that none were taken on this box set. From the first track Redding recorded, the man sang like each song, no each word, was the last he would put on 1” tape. It’s what makes this set so compelling; a lesser song like “I’m Sick Y’all” (the b-side to “Try a Little Tenderness”) gets as impassioned a vocal as the classic a-side. Though there are essential Redding albums like Otis Blue, but the singles are where the depth and breadth of his talents are most apparent. Erik Highter

 


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Townes Van Zandt

Sunshine Boy - The Unheard Studio Sessions

(Omnivore)

2

Townes Van Zandt
Sunshine Boy - The Unheard Studio Sessions

The market for posthumous releases is a bit ridiculous. Dead stars have new product out every year, mainly repackaging or offering just slight variations on existing material. This two-disc Townes Van Zandt release found me skeptical before I heard it; the songs themselves, as great as they all are, are mainly ones he recorded, once or several times. Then again, just hearing his voice again tends to cut right through your bones, especially when it’s stripped down, like on the second “demos” disc. It is true that Van Zandt’s studio albums tended to awkwardly overdress his songs, and his live albums (especially 1977’s Live at the Old Quarter, Houston Texas) find him at his best. That context is what makes these demos so vital, and as powerful as anything Van Zandt, a true American legend, recorded. Dave Heaton

 


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Nirvana

In Utero (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

(Geffen)

1

Nirvana
In Utero (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Never has it been more fitting to look back on an album 20 years later than with Nirvana‘s final album, In Utero. Two decades can, to put it mildly, alter our perceptions and, more importantly, our memories. So, is it possible for an album to be better now, than it was when it was first released? In Utero can answer that question: yes, it certainly is possible. One of the heaviest, cathartic, and brutal albums of its time, In Utero is also equally pristine, melodic, and mangled. Credit much of its sustainability to the well-oiled machine that Nirvana had become in 1993 and also to producer extraordinaire Steve Albini, whose newly issued mixes round out the extra tracks on this deluxe edition. In Utero was powerful upon its release. In the rearview it’s a towering indictment of fame and consumerism. In the long view, it’s a document of sheer raw aggression and a complete summation of the last decent musical high. And that makes it one of the few discs worth revisiting again and again. Scott Elingburg

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/177397-the-25-best-re-issues-of-2013/