Leo Nocentelli – Another Side [Light in the Attic]
Whether you know it or not, chances are you’ve heard Leo Nocentelli’s playing before. As a founding member of the seminal funk outfit the Meters, Nocentelli’s spartan, inimitable guitar work on Meters classics such as “Cissy Strut”, “Look-Ka Py Py” and “Cardova” has appeared in countless hip-hop samples. (He’s also appeared on hits by the Supremes, the Temptations, and Lee Dorsey.) Between 1970 and 1972, Nocentelli recorded enough material for a full-length solo album that never saw the light of day.
Nocentelli and everyone else involved, in fact, were under the impression that the recordings had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Somehow, a master tape reel surfaced more than a decade later at a swap meet in California, and—voila—the public finally has a chance to hear what Nocentelli was hoping to share with the world five decades ago. Another Side does indeed showcase a more acoustic-oriented, more melodic, and expansive approach that will likely take Meters fans by surprise. On the other hand, with the legendary Meters rhythm section of George Porter, Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste on hand, longtime followers—or anyone who’s interested in the evolution of funk music—should consider this album required listening. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture & Morality: The Singles [Virgin]
It was not necessarily shocking that in 1981 an art-pop band with a name like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark would release an album with a title like Architecture & Morality. Nor was it shocking that said album made heavy use of Mellotron tape loops of choral singing and featured not one but two singles entitled “Joan of Arc”. What was surprising was that album was a worldwide hit which sold millions of copies, both “Joan of Arc” singles made the UK Top Ten, and the entire endeavor became a touchstone for OMD‘s subsequent career.
Such was Architecture & Morality‘s enduring impact that 40 years later it warranted a new collection of singles and attendant material. “Joan of Arc”, “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)”, and the album’s lead single, “Souvenir”, are the natural centerpieces. With those haunting, ethereal choral loops, striking integration of electric and electronic instrumentation, and heartfelt melodies and lyrics, they are three of the most unique yet indelible singles of the classic synthpop era.
Here, they are given extra context with demo versions, contemporaneous live recordings, some worthy b-sides, and a newly-revealed instrumental outtake. While the single versions remain the prime attraction and the original album is essential, Architecture & Morality – The Singles is a thoughtful package that gives insight into a band’s creative process and reinforces the idea that a great song is a great song in any rendition. – John Bergstrom
The Pretenders – Pretenders / Pretenders II [Rhino]
Rhino’s release of the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Pretenders‘ first two albums, Pretenders (1980) and Pretenders II (1981), puts the focus back on the original foursome. Each collection comprises three CDs and a 20-page booklet. The first CD contains the original album (plus B-sides, in the Pretenders box). The other two discs feature demos, rarities, and live recordings contemporary to their respective albums. Each three-CD edition is available singly or as a bundled pair. In addition to the CD sets, each LP reissue is available by itself on limited edition colored vinyl.
These sorts of reissues are geared toward the superfans, those of us whose collections must be complete. Speaking as a member of the target audience, they deliver. Even though I’ve heard most of these tracks over the years, it’s nice to have them all in one place. The real value of the Anniversary Edition for me, though, is in its physicality. Each set is housed in a 12-inch book, with the albums’ original artwork on front and back. Each edition’s graphic design is color-coordinated, with black and white for the first album and blue and black for the second. The booklets are printed on substantial glossy stock and peppered with previously unpublished archival photos, session outtakes, and performance shots. As an objet d’art, the whole package feels — dare I say it — precious. – Cheryl Graham
Radiohead – KID A MNESIA [XL]
KID A MNESIA expands, re-illuminates, and somewhat redefines Radiohead‘s Kid A and Amnesiac, without ever demystifying those two most ground-breaking of albums. We can now fully appreciate them, two decades on from their initial release, as part of the same project on which the band broke free of the constraints of being the unit-shifting rock outfit of The Bends and OK Computer. We, therefore, get the two original albums (as a double album?!), together with a third disc of previously unreleased offcuts. Not just doodly synthesizer stuff, either, but a decent helping of fully realized songs that fell by the wayside simply because they didn’t fit with the experimental vibe of the band’s 1999-2000 recording sessions.
Chief among the newly unearthed material is “If You Say the Word”, a shuffling and creepy number that comes with a haunting Thom Yorke vocal, a deeply ominous groove, and a macabre lyrical display of devotion. There’s also the stripped-back, intimate, and scarily neurotic “Follow Me Around”, now rightly enjoying the status as a single, after having been around, unofficially, since 1998. Elsewhere there’s a beautiful (yes, beautiful) alternate take of “Like Spinning Plates (‘Why Us’? Version)”, without the backward vocal effects and with an organic-sounding Yorke singing powerfully over a piano about being “torn to shreds”. Together with a deeply affecting “Fog (Again Again Version)” and “Pulk/Pull (True Love Waits Version)”, there can be no accusations of barrel-scraping or padding here. – Adam Mason
The Real Thing – The Anthology 1972-1997 [Cherry Red]
From 1976 to 1980, Liverpool, England’s the Real Thing released four full-length albums—The Real Thing, 4 From 8, Step Into Our World, and ….Saints or Sinners?—all of which are compiled here in expanded versions, along with three whole discs’ worth of b-sides, seven-inch single edits, 12-inch extended mixes and their EMI-era singles which pre-date the debut album. The band’s most well-known single “You to Me Are Everything” epitomizes the era where soul, funk, and disco all merged into one flow.
Over the course of these four records, the Real Thing balanced all three with exceptional smoothness, gradually leaning into a slicker dance style as disco rose in popularity. As far as bang for the buck goes, box sets just don’t come any more thorough than this. The first four discs alone are stocked with a combined 27 bonus tracks, and that’s before you even get to the remaining three discs. If you’re unfamiliar with how the soul movement unfolded on the other side of the Atlantic, this is a fine place to start. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
R.E.M. – New Adventures in Hi-Fi (25th Anniversary Edition) [Craft Recordings]
The Monster tour was a cruel reminder of everything R.E.M. didn’t like about touring. It was a grueling, lengthy tour, made worse by the band not having toured to support two of their biggest albums: Out of Time and Automatic For the People. Road life literally became life-threatening to the band as drummer Bill Berry suffered a cerebral aneurysm onstage. Packing all of this into a year, you would imagine the last thing a band like R.E.M. would want to do is head right back in the studio. Unless, of course, the band knew they were riding another creative high.
New Adventures In Hi-Fi was recorded during soundchecks, written between small breaks, and captured the sound of R.E.M. coming precariously close to burning out while at the same time harnessing the high-flying euphoria that could only come with a continent-spanning tour. Though it sold nearly a quarter of their previous album Monster, New Adventures In Hi-Fi is arguably the band’s most “R.E.M.”-sounding album. And though the album’s length was a record for the band, it’s one of the breeziest 65-minute listens you’ll encounter on record.
The 25th-anniversary reissue is primarily a chance to revisit one of the “best aged” albums of the 1990s. Wisely shunning the impulse to pack such a release with multiple discs of different versions of the tracks, the bonus disc is a lean collection of great live versions of “Leave” and “The Wake Up Bomb” as well as some well-suited covers like “Wichita Lineman” and “Wall of Death”. The commercial peak of R.E.M. ended with this album, which is appropriate since New Adventures in Hi-Fi was a near-perfect representation of the band’s early era fearlessness. – Sean McCarthy
Nancy Sinatra – Start Walkin’ 1965 – 1976 [Light in the Attic]
Long overshadowed by the towering legacy of her father, it always felt that Nancy Sinatra never truly got her due, despite considerable success in the late 1960s. Thanks to an ambitious and lavish reissue campaign by Light in the Attic – the best reissue label in America right now – that seems to have finally started to change. Kicking off the reissue series is Start Walkin’, a wonderful double album collection of Sinatra’s strongest work. Placing a strong emphasis on her daring and idiosyncratic collaborations with Lee Hazlewood, it includes the usual suspects (“These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”, “Bang Bang”, “Some Velvet Morning”, “You Only Live Twice”) but it’s less a “greatest hits” and much more of a “best of”, digging deep into her surprisingly rich catalog.
Sinatra’s partnership with Hazlewood remains one of the strangest in pop music history, but their chemistry was extraordinary, and you hear it on “Summer Wine”, “Lady Bird”, and their playful back-and-forth on the cover of “Jackson”. Elsewhere, more obscure tracks as the hazy folk of “Hook and Ladder”, the psychedelic “Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham”, and a harrowing rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Down From Dover” show just how versatile Sinatra was. She might have been raised among the Hollywood elite, but she put her background to good use, becoming a singular artist in the process. – Adrien Begrand