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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.

Tina Turner – Foreign Affair (Deluxe Edition) [Rhino]

Tina Turner Foreign Affair Deluxe Edition

By 1989, Tina Turner‘s sound shared more with the Day-Glo aerobic throb of the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, and the adult-contemporary stylings of aging rockers of the day, than with her classic R&B roots. That said, even at her poppiest, Turner was still a charismatic force to be reckoned with, not to mention that her new formula had propelled her to superstar status—a remarkable re-invention and career resurgence two and a half decades removed from the days when the vocal icon had been widely known as the Queen of Rock and Roll. When Turner wore the crown, the term “rock and roll” connoted an amped-up form of rhythm and blues that was still seen as an African American art form. At the cusp of the ’90s, Turner was injecting a much-needed touch of soul to the bloated corporate enterprise that big-budget pop-rock had become.

This deluxe package does justice to the original Foreign Affair album, her third solo outing, with a fresh remastering job along with a disc’s worth of odds and ends, including a demo version of her smash hit “The Best” that actually highlights the depth and richness of Turner’s voice far more than the finished version ever did. Also included is a complete live show, released at the time as the Do You Want Some Action—Live in Barcelona home video, that spans two CDs and a DVD.

While the sound, for better or worse, certainly reflects the era, it was professionally recorded and filmed, unlike the glorified bootlegs that clutter so many box sets. Even when you listen without the video when Turner purrs, “You want some action?… I’ll give you some action” to the Spanish crowd, there’s no question as to why she broke a European touring record, surpassing the Rolling Stones by performing for four million European fans in 1990. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


Various Artists – Cold Wave #1 [Soul Jazz]

Various Artists Cold Wave 1

Some of the best dance music of the last few years took innovative approaches with technology to pay homage to the sounds of the 1970s and (especially) the 1980s. During the era of Reagan and Thatcher, clubs pounded out songs that sported mile-wide bass, slippery synths, robo-drum machines, and slapping percussion. For its collection Cold Wave #1 (the first in a series), Soul Jazz Records compiles a roster of innovative and inventive artists who look to tech and studio tools to create ultra-modern sounds that look to club music of the 1980s to highlight the kind of fruitful talent that’s out there right now.

The title refers to the movement in dance music from the late 1970s, marked by the affected, stylized synth sound. A large part of cold wave is its blue moodiness, atmospheric and melancholic. The artists on Cold Wave #1 create a soundscape of cool, distant music that marries the iciness of cold wave with the buzzy sullenness of ’80s synthpop. The artists represented on this record cite a wide range of influential dance and club artists that emerged from the stylish, fertile grounds of European dance clubs. Soul Jazz Records – a London institute of indie music, book publishing, and DJ’ing – does a fantastic job curating a definitive set of contemporary cold wave-influenced dance artists. – Peter Piatkowski


Various Artists – The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four [Gill Music]

The Problem of Leisure A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four

The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four is a rarity in the space it occupies, inasmuch as it’s a tribute album that’s consistently good. These projects are often curated by people with the best of intentions, which turn into curate’s eggs almost immediately. Not so here. Some of the tunes are played straight, some are – whisper it – deconstructed, but at the very least, they’re all interesting.

The project was originally started by Gang of Four‘s guitarist Andy Gill to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their debut record, Entertainment!, but following his untimely passing in February 2020, it was completed by his widow, Catherine Mayer. What a bittersweet task that must have been.

Although some of the “hits” are missing from this project – there’s no “At Home He’s a Tourist”, “Cheeseburger” or “Call Me Up” here – and a few tunes are repeated, this is an outstanding release. It’s a broad and satisfying collection, and given the diversity of the artists – from Helmet to La Roux – it doesn’t sound like a malfunctioning jukebox. That’s quite an achievement. However, the sad news is that using R.E.M. as the yardstick, it’ll be 2025 before everyone wakes up and buys it. – Ian Rushbury


Various Artists – Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records [Craft Recordings]

Rip It Up The Best of Specialty Records

In 1994, when not only compact discs ruled the music industry, but deep-dive box sets were still all the rage, Specialty Records’ Art Rupe released The Specialty Story, an exhaustive five-CD, 130-song overview of the seminal label. Although that collection was reissued in the early summer of 2021 for the first time on streaming platforms, an all-killer-no-filler sampler of the label’s crème de la crème was compiled and released through Craft Recordings as Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records just a couple of months later digitally, on vinyl and CD.

This condensed collection does hit the highlights of the boxset. Yet, it also stands on its own as a strong introduction for the more casual rock ‘n’ roll listener, the uninitiated but curious, or the long-time fanatic that wants another slab of vinyl emblazoned with that iconic Specialty label. (The vinyl comes in two versions: classic black and a limited-to-500-run of opaque yellow.)

As for the music, what’s found on Rip It Up: The Best of Specialty Records is undeniable, inarguable, incontestable. There are the pre-rock ‘n’ roll hits of Roy Milton & His Solid Senders (the strolling groove of “R.M. Blues”, the shuffling, jumping swing of “Information Blues”, the late-night kiss-off “Best Wishes”) and brothers Jimmy (“Drunk”) and Joe Liggins (“Pink Champagne”). Also, there are early soul burners by the fantastic Percy Mayfield (the incomparable and prescient “Please Send Me Someone to Love”, the smooth sway of “Lost Love [Baby Please]”) and the legendary Sam Cooke (with his Soul Stirrers on the stirring, “I’ll Come Running Back to You”). Rip It Up doesn’t let up once throughout its 18 tracks, and it whizzes by in its less than 50-minute running time. – Michael Elliott


Various Artists – Shake the Foundations: Militant Funk and the Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984 [Cherry Red]

Shake the Foundations Militant Funk and the Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984

If you were an American citizen and fancied a little bit of dancefloor action with an edge in the late 1970s to early 1980s, you knew exactly where to go. Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban’s ZE Records catered for all your esoteric disco needs and made you feel incredibly cool while doing it. They even gave this hipper than hell genre a name to die for – Mutant Disco. Just imagine dropping that into an animated hipster conversation. In the UK, however, everything was a bit more cut and paste and rough and ready. You could still strut your stuff to some edgy tunes, but you had to dig a bit deeper to find them. If only Shake the Foundations: Militant Funk and the Post-Punk Dancefloor 1978-1984 had been around then.

Over three tightly packed CDs, you get a long, hard look at what the Ray-Ban-wearing cognoscenti were shaking their skinny asses to in the cooler clubs in Britain in the period between disco and Live Aid. Over 49 tracks, you get examples of the hits, the misses, and the curiosities. The good, the bad, and the ugly. But every track is a little bit fascinating.

Unusually for a compilation like this, the big hitters of the “movement” are represented here. Simple MindsA Certain Ratio, and Visage are aided and abetted by a bunch of names that only the uber-hip would know – take a bow C Cat Trance, Wide Boy Awake and Vee VV among (many) others. Although it’s a pretty disparate bunch, all the artists share a similar aesthetic in as much as they’re making rhythmic music that owes as little to the blues as possible. Guitars are used judiciously. Synthesizers, drum machines, and recording studio techniques are pushed front and center and bonus points were given to bands with the most peculiar names. – Ian Rushbury


Various Artists – The Sound of Philadelphia International Records: Volumes 1 and 2 [United Souls / Legacy Recordings]

The Sound of Philadelphia International Records

It’s impossible to overstate the lasting impact that Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff have had on music. As the founders of the Philadelphia International label, Gamble, Huff, and producer Bunny Sigler were instrumental in the development of what became known as the “Philly Soul” sound. Much like Motown mastermind Berry Gordy set up a kind of music factory, Gamble and Huff (who started out as session musicians) worked with a stable of artists whose finely orchestrated, funk-inflected take on soul music has reverberated down through the ages. 

This year, Sony Music’s Legacy imprint commemorated Philadelphia International’s 50th anniversary with a heap of reissued titles by the likes of Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, Phyllis Hyman, and Teddy Pendergrass,  crowning the reissue campaign with two lavish, eight-CD box sets. Get on Board the Soul Train: The Sound of Philadelphia International Records Volume 1 includes pivotal works by the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Intruders, and Billy Paul, while Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Sound of Philadelphia International Records Volume 2 features other titles by those same acts alongside albums by Spiritual Concept and the Three Degrees. – Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


Various Artists – Staring at the Rude Boys: The British Ska Revival 1979-1989 [ Cherry Red]

Staring at the Rude Boys The British Ska Revival 1979-1989

Ska was born in Jamaica in the late 1950s, with its roots being in the popular Caribbean music of the day as well as American jazz and R&B. Gradually, ska slowed down and evolved into reggae, with both genres gradually spreading around the world. Now, a new compilation, Staring at the Rude Boys, presents a fascinating look at the British ska revival of 1979 through 1989.

With the iconic 2 Tone record label and its flagship band, the Specials, leading the way, ska became an integral part of the British music scene throughout the 1980s. Appropriately, the Staring at the Rude Boys opens with the Specials, as they add some Stonsey swagger to the ska mix on “Little Bitch”. From there, Staring at the Rude Boys works its way through another 68 songs, spread over three compact discs, showcasing the breadth and depth of the British ska scene.

In addition to the Specials, the leading lights of the British revival are represented by classic tunes like “Bed and Breakfast Man” (Madness), “Street Feeling” (The Selecter), “Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret” (The Beat, known in the US as the English Beat), and “Inner London Violence” (Bad Manners). These songs are all great, of course, but ska fans surely already have key albums and compilations by these bands. It was essential that Staring at the Rude Boys acknowledge the big bands of the era, but the great service that Staring at the Rude Boys provides is to gather the one-hit wonders, obscurities, and oddities of the 1979-1989 era. It’s an enlightening and educational collection for sure, especially if a listener is only casually familiar with British ska but Staring at the Rude Boys is also a hell of a good time. – Rich Wilhelm


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