Best Album Re-Issues of 2021
Image by Bruno Germany from Pixabay

The 35 Best Album Re-Issues of 2021

The year gave us spectacular album re-issues spanning rock legends, foundational R&B/soul artists, classic pop, post-punk, alternative rock and so much more.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle [Impulse]

John Coltrane A Love Supreme Live in Seattle

In 2021, it would be easy to assume that most jazz fans with a respectable music collection would say, “I have no need for another rerelease of A Love Supreme.” A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle proved most of these fans wrong as Impulse Records unveiled one of the only recorded live performances of John Coltrane‘s masterpiece.

For decades, the concert — recorded on a sparse two microphone set-up in the Penthouse club, and captured on five seven-inch reels of quarter-inch tape thanks to saxophonist Joe Brazil, who died in 2008 — was well-maintained but sat essentially untouched. The performance, which featured one of the first with Pharoah Sanders, came as Coltrane was already deep into his next reinvention with the expansive album Ascension. Broken down, stretched out, reimagined, and given a fresh perspective thanks to some of the most revolutionary figures in jazz, condensed into one magical night, A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is a miracle of a discovery. – Sean McCarthy

DJ Notoya Presents – Tokyo Glow [Nippon Columbia / WeWantSounds]

DJ Notoya Presents Tokyo Glow

For most of us, Japan isn’t the first place that comes to mind when we think of R&B, disco, and funk, but those forms fueled a burgeoning Japanese movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This 18-track compilation documents the period, with tracks by the likes of Midori Hara, Hatsumi Shibata, Hitomi ‘Penny’ Tohyama, and others curated by DJ Notoya. Dedicated crate-diggers will immediately appreciate the alternate-universe quality here, with some of the most quintessentially familiar R&B production stylings applied in a Japanese-language setting. Most of the material on Tokyo Glow has never been released digitally or in physical form outside of Japan, so the DJ-nerd appeal is high. If you’re looking to go way off the beaten path to satisfy your R&B fix, Tokyo Glow will do the trick. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Donnie – The Colored Section: Deluxe Edition [Motown / UMe]

Donnie The Colored Section- Deluxe Edition

Over the decades, R&B as we had once known it has undergone a radical revitalization thanks to an infusion of ever-advancing hip hop production techniques that eventually became synonymous with the form. Atlanta-based R&B vocalist Donnie‘s 2003 album The Colored Section represents the apotheosis of the “neo-soul” sound, updating the epic sprawl, melodic majesty, and social conscience of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On for a whole new generation of listeners. Make no mistake: Donnie’s verve as a performer puts him in a class entirely by himself. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that he was able to find the sweet spot between a direct, uncompromising message and commercial appeal. 

Right off the top of the album, Donnie exhorts listeners to remember how foundational black culture has been to the American enterprise. On song after song, he delivers lines like “When I become a ‘n****r’, I’ll let you know” and “Who are we to give up on anyone?” over opulent arrangements that take your breath away as the music swoops through soul-stirring chord changes. This album already offered plenty to sink your teeth into in its original form. Now expanded by an additional 16 tracks, it’s been re-molded as an epic that sounds every bit as vital and necessary as it did in 2003. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Willie Dunn – Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology [Light in the Attic]

Willie Dunn Creation Never Sleeps

The sins of Canada’s colonial past came back to shake the nation to its core in the summer of 2021 with the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former Indian Residential School sites across the country. The more undocumented bodies that were found – far more than was estimated years ago – and the more it was revealed how much the Catholic Church tried to avoid compensating victims’ families, the more Canadians realized how deep the hurt, the intergenerational trauma runs among the Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis to this day.

It’s sadly fitting that such harrowing news coincided with Light in the Attic’s remarkable collection of songs by Willie Dunn, but as the year unfolded, the anger, sadness, and prescience of the Mi’kmaq singer, songwriter, and activist was a much-needed wake-up call. Possessing a warm baritone voice that brilliantly contrasts with his brutally honest poetry, comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash are apt, but the directness of his songs packs a brutal, devastating punch.

His most famous songs, namely “The Ballad of Crowfoot” and “I Pity the Country”, fully deserve veneration for their honesty and compassion, but the deeper you go into this 80-minute collection the more you hear Dunn’s versatility, soulfulness, and even humor. Beautifully packaged with extensive liner notes, this album is a revelation. One can only hope more white Canadians hear it sooner than later, and maybe start to bring some positive change to a broken country. – Adrien Begrand

4 Mars – Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura [Ostinato]

4 Mars Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura

In the first installment of Djibouti Archives, their most recent Horn of Africa-related series, Ostinato Records spotlights 4 Mars, a 40-member ensemble founded in 1977 by the Djiboutian government in honor of the newly independent state. History and geography are both audible in these archived tracks. Pops, warbles, and hisses are ever-present, the fundamental notes of a soundscape shaped by Djibouti’s position at Bab-el-Mandeb strait joining the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Tones of reggae, funk, jazz, and soul are all part of the sound 4 Mars presents as emblematic of Djibouti as a nation, signifying global flows between the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, the Caribbean, and far beyond, all landing in Djibouti for remixing and recirculating.

Ostinato has spent years working with the Djiboutian government to release new and archived materials in conjunction with the state-run media outlets, and the results have been groundbreaking, giving us some of the first Djiboutian music to be released outside of Djibouti in the nation’s history. Super Somali Sounds is yet another record of the cosmopolitan sounds of Djibouti. – Adriane Pontecorvo

Garbage – Beautifulgarbage [UMe]

Garbage Beautiful garbage

Though the first Garbage album of the new millennium went largely underappreciated during its initial release, it holds up well today. With songs exploring gender fluidity (“Androgyny” and “Cherry Lips”), attacking rape culture (“Silence Is Golden”), and generally espousing more raw emotion than the band’s first two albums, Beautifulgarbage was ahead of its time in 2001. On UMe’s 20th anniversary reissue, the album gets its flowers at last. Packed with remixes, demos, previously unreleased alternate takes, and other b-sides, this is a truly deluxe edition that celebrates one of the band’s most well-balanced releases.

Sincerity triumphs over pure polish, but there’s still a finesse holding together the blues-rock licks, Shirley Manson’s vocal emulations of ’60s girl groups, hip-hop beats, and catchy hooks. The bonus content offers even more dimension, with the vast range showing how well the band fit into scenes as diverse as orchestra pits (as in the Broadway Project Remix of “Shut Your Mouth”), go-go clubs (Eli Janney’s take on “Cherry Lips”), and ’80s lounges (“Confidence”). This is a tribute to a Garbage both fully unfolded and unafraid. – Adriane Pontecorvo

Nikki Giovanni – Truth Is on Its Way / Like a Ripple on a Pond / The Way I Feel [Modern Harmonic]

nikki giovanni truth is on its way

Dubbed as “The Poet of the Black Revolution”, Nikki Giovanni has left a monumental imprint in the realm of poetry over the last six decades. A professor of English at Virginia Tech who has been heavily decorated with awards and written over two-dozen books, Giovanni is widely lauded for her poetry work but isn’t as well-known for her contributions to music. The re-release of her first three albums—Truth Is on Its Way (1971), Like a Ripple on a Pond (1973), and The Way I Feel (1975)—should go a long way towards changing that. (As should her upcoming album with saxophonist Javon Jackson, due out in February.) 

Having first made a splash in the late ‘60s as part of Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts Movement alongside fellow poets Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, and Haki Madhubuti (AKA Don L. Lee) Giovanni took a cue from the inherent musicality of Langston Hughes’ wordplay. And as we hear on these three albums, her words blend seamlessly with the music. We could even say her words are music—and that she was, in a sense, the embodiment of soul music in the form of language. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni