Best Reissues of 2006

Artist: The Beatles

Album: Love

Label: Apple

Label: Capitol

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/beatles-love.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-11-21

UK Release Date: 2006-11-20

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List number: 20

I’d challenge anyone who’s not impressed by Love. In 2006, more than 30 tracks from the Beatles’ coveted catalog were specially mixed for a Cirque de Soleil stage production. The Beatles’ producer and arranger, Sir George Martin, and his son Giles conceived a stunning song cycle that, in execution, set a precedent for re-contextualizing a musical act’s body of work. Weaving together three dozen songs from the Beatles’ extensive song library is not a light undertaking and the Martins should be commended for their incisive ability to derive fresh meanings from standards like “Yesterday” and “Here Comes the Sun”. Most impressive is the overlay of different sound designs: how the harpsichord from “Piggies” and the coda of “Hello Goodbye” bubble underneath the strings and drums of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. To appreciate Love doesn’t take much work. Just press play.Christian John Wikane

The BeatlesLove teaserThe Beatles: Love

Artist: Kashmere Stage Band

Album: Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974

Label: Now-Again

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/k/kashmerestageband-texas.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-07-25

UK Release Date: 2006-07-24

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List number: 19

Houston, TX’s Kashmere High School undoubtedly played host to some of the most supremely funky school assemblies from 1968 to 1974.  Like many other school stage-band leaders of the time, Conrad O. Johnson recorded his prodigiously talented band, both in the studio and live, and had the results pressed on limited LPs and 45s; unlike some band leaders, Johnson welcomed the current funk trends into the program’s fold.  The band’s free-flowing swing builds gradually throughout the years documented on the disc of studio recordings in this two-disc reissue set (the other disc documents a live show), starting off with the rigid cop-show schematics of “Boss City” and eventually blowing the gymnasium roof off with atomic funk feasts like “All Praises”, “$$ Kash Register $$”, and “Do Your Thing” (dig the maniacal fuzz-faced guitar solo on the latter).  The kids in the Kashmere Stage Band would have inspired James Brown to launch into one of his mid-song filibusters, had he ever played with them; they inspire the rest of us to abject surrender, to stunned disbelief, to unending happiness.Zeth Lundy

Kashmere Stage Band: Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974

Artist: Karen Dalton

Album: In My Own Time

Label: Light in the Attic

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/daltonkaren-inmyown.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-11-07

UK Release Date: 2006-11-20

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List number: 18

Born in Oklahoma, Karen Dalton moved to New York City in 1960 to become a regular in the Greenwich Village folk scene. While uncomfortable with the comparison, her Billie Holiday-esque voice was one of the most revered of the coffeehouse stages, and earned notable fans in Bob Dylan and Fred Neil. Not a songwriter herself, Dalton was more an expert interpreter: her often-haunting translations of songs and heartbreaking delivery have continued to influence countless others in the new folk scene of today. While a timid performer, she was even more hesitant to enter a recording studio and, as such, few recordings exist of Dalton’s work. In My Own Time was her only official studio album, laid down over a six-month period in a Woodstock studio and released the following year. Sadly, problems with drugs and alcohol would prevent her from properly promoting the album; the album and the artist essentially slipped off the radar altogether soon after. Often referred to as Dalton’s “lost record”, the album was properly reissued this year with updated liner notes and comments from fans like Nick Cave and Devendra Banhart to finally shed some light on this extraordinary lost treasure.Dara Kartz

Karen Dalton – God Bless the Child

Karen Dalton: In My Own Time

Artist: Romica Puceanu and The Gore Brothers

Album: Sounds from a Bygone Age: Vol. 2

Label: Asphalt-Tango

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US Release Date: 2006-05-09

UK Release Date: 2006-03-06

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List number: 17

Listen to the Bygone Age series and you’re hearing the sound of a hermetic world being rescued from possible oblivion. These recordings were made in Communist Romania and meant for domestic consumption only. After the 1989 revolution the country opened up, influences from the outside crept in, and the scene altered; the musicians were dying, and the recordings might have sunk into neglect. Asphalt-Tango is the first western label to have given them any serious promotional backing. The results are superb. So why single out Vol. 2? Vol. 1 is all about the instruments, and in Vol. 3 the focus is on the singing, but Vol. 2 gives you the best of both worlds. Puceanu has a voice of cream and honey, and the band gallops next to her with the panache of men who recognize their own expertise and know enough to be proud of themselves. It’s terrific stuff.Deanne Sole

Romica Puceanu and The Gore Brothers: Sounds from a Bygone Age: Vol. 2

Artist: David Byrne and Brian Eno

Album: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Label: Nonesuch

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US Release Date: 2006-04-11

UK Release Date: 2006-03-27

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List number: 16

This welcome reissue of the collaboration between two of pop music’s most cerebral artists showed just how far ahead of the game they were. The overall feel was that of station-surfing on a vast radio as they sampled a range of diverse voices, religious incantation, and even a recording of an exorcism, to a background of richly textured ambient electronica and complex beats. The origins of the music of the Future Sound of London, the Orb, and Boards of Canada could be found right here in this dizzying cocktail of global sounds and looped samples. Often credited with inaugurating the popularization of ‘World Music’ that grew during the 1980s, there remains throughout the album a genuine fascination with the exotic, esoteric, and unknown that steers clear of either patronizing or diluting the source material. The reissue came with seven bonus tracks of a generally high standard, and was a thrilling lesson in genre-pushing, intelligent, and downright funky music.John Dover

David Byrne and Brian Eno – Mea Culpa

David Byrne and Brian Eno: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Artist: R.E.M.

Album: And I Feel Fine…: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987

Label: Capitol

Label: I.R.S.

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rem-andifeelfine.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-09-12

UK Release Date: 2006-09-11

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List number: 15

In the mid-1980s, R.E.M. had not yet sold out stadiums, taken over the airwaves, or performed with Bono at benefit concerts. It was just a group of young, smart, rock ‘n’ roll upstarts from Georgia who happened to release album after album of the coolest music of the decade.  This year’s collection, And I Feel Fine…: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987, is a long time coming, considering most R.E.M. collections tend to focus on its ‘90s hits.  The album features 21 of the most worthy tracks from Murmur, Fables of the Reconstruction, Reckoning, Lifes Rich Pageant, and Document, while a second disc (in the collector’s edition only) supplies band favorites, previously unreleased demos, and live recordings.  Though most die-hard fans have managed to get their hands on more R.E.M. material than they know what to do with, this album has the potential to seduce new listeners: those too young to know what indie rock sounded like before it was a brand.  Classics like “Begin the Begin”, “Radio Free Europe”, and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” fit well alongside lesser-known gems like the beautiful “Perfect Circle”, the country stomper “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”, and the raucous “I Believe” (which contains my all-time favorite Stipe lyric: “I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract”).  Listening to these songs all together, one can’t be anything but amazed.  R.E.M. was, at its best, a band bursting with so much talent that album after album was not only distinctly original, but always distinctly them.  It’s been 20 years, but the songs on And I Feel Fine… contain enough energy and brilliance to win over a whole new generation, and remind the rest of us what it takes to be a real rock band.Maura McAndrew

R.E.M. – Wolves, LowerR.E.M.: And I Feel Fine…: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987

Artist: Matthew Sweet

Album: Girlfriend

Subtitle: Legacy Edition

Label: BMG Legacy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/sweetmatthew-girlfriend.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-06-13

UK Release Date: 2006-06-26

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List number: 14

This splendid two-disc reissue of Matthew Sweet’s seminal alt-rock classic offers a detailed glimpse at one of the most pleasant, not to mention unlikely success stories of the early 1990s. An ingenious blend of power pop and dissonant guitar squalls, Girlfriend was accessible enough to reel listeners in with its ridiculously catchy hooks, yet loud enough to cater to the kids who had just discovered the distorted genius of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr. With minimal, no-frills production and benefiting greatly from the presence of legendary punk guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd, Girlfriend is kind of like Crazy Horse-meets-Big Star, melody and cacophony not so much meshing as simply bouncing off one another. The combination remains thrilling today, as Sweet’s gut-wrenching confessional tales (“You Don’t Love Me”, “Nothing Lasts”) are brilliantly offset by awkward come-ons (“Girlfriend”), nerdy odes to comic-book heroines (“Evangeline”), that combination of adult desperation and boyish charm (let us not forget a certain video that introduced animé to Middle America) making Girlfriend all the more appealing.Adrien Begrand

Matthew Sweet – GirlfriendMatthew Sweet: Girlfriend

Artist: The Cure

Album: Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

Label: Elektra

Label: WEA

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/cure-kissme.jpg

First date: 1987-05

US Release Date: 2006-08-08

UK Release Date: 2006-08-14

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Artist: The Cure

Album: The Top

Label: Elektra

Label: WEA

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/cure-thetop.jpg

First date: 1984-05-01

US Release Date: 2006-08-08

UK Release Date: 2006-08-14

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List number: 13

Another year, another batch of incredible Cure reissues.  This year, we get The Top, The Head on the Door, and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, along with the long-forgotten relic that is the Glove’s Blue Sunshine, a collaboration between Robert Smith and the one and only Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees.  The relative merits of the albums themselves can be debated (personally, I’ll defend The Head on the Door to the death), but there’s no debating that for any fan of the Cure, these re-issues are nothing short of essential.  The demos allow vital clues into the formative stages of some of the Cure’s most revered songs, and the stray rare tracks are always treats, even if the strength of those rare tracks isn’t often in the same league as the albums with which they are now associated.  The remastered quality of the albums is fantastic, finally allowing you to put them in a multi-disc changer without having to constantly adjust the volume as the discs change, and the fabulous liner notes only add to the experience.  Still, perhaps the greatest achievement that can be said of these reissues is the transforming of the Glove’s one and only album from a deservedly largely ignored one-off to an essential footnote to the Cure’s discography.  Hey, Rhino: Bring on Disintegration!Mike Schiller

The Cure – In Between DaysThe Cure: Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me|The Cure: The Top

Artist: Gram Parsons

Album: The Complete Reprise Sessions

Label: Rhino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/parsonsgram-completereprise.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-06-20

UK Release Date: 2006-06-26

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List number: 12

After leaving the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons gave us only two albums before dying of an overdose at 26. His legacy, though, looms large, influencing generations of bands from the Rolling Stones to Whiskeytown. The Complete Reprise Sessions offers those two albums, GP and Return of the Grievous Angel, as separate remastered discs with ten bonus tracks and interview snippets between them, as well as a third disc of alternate takes (including three cuts from 1976’s posthumously released Sleepless Nights collection of outtakes). Sessions is lovingly packaged, containing cardboard mini-sleeve reproductions of the original album covers, and adding a book with essays covering the circumstances surrounding each record. It’s the music that matters, though, and while the outtakes offer no startling revelations, they underscore not only the silky grace of Parson’s music even in its rough state, but also the unmatched rapport between Parsons and Emmylou Harris.Andrew Gilstrap

Gram ParsonsFallen Angel trailerGram Parsons: The Complete Reprise Sessions

Artist: Depeche Mode

Album: Speak & Spell

Label: Rhino

Label: Sire

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US Release Date: 2006-06-06

UK Release Date: 2006-04-03

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Artist: Depeche Mode

Album: A Broken Frame

Label: Sire

Label: Rhino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/d/depechemode-broken.jpg

First date: 1982

US Release Date: 2006-10-03

UK Release Date: 2006-10-02

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List number: 11

This is, once and for all, proof of how inaccurate it is to call Depeche Mode a “synth pop” group or an “‘80s band”.  Though issued non-chronologically, these first two salvos of long-overdue remasters include all the band’s seminal albums save 1986’s Black Celebration. 1990’s Violator is the one everyone knows, but take these albums together and you can hear the band outgrow the “synth pop” tag early on, evolving musically and emotionally and incorporating everything from musique concrète and Steve Reich to Eurodisco and Delta blues, producing some great songs in the process. A lovingly crafted, album-specific mini-documentary accompanies each CD, and the 5.1 audio mixes are revelatory. If you’re going to put a label on Depeche Mode, these albums make a good case for “One of the Most Important Bands of the Last 25 Years”.John Bergstrom

Depeche Mode – Never Let Me Down AgainDepeche Mode: Speak & Spell|Depeche Mode: A Broken Frame

Best Reissues of 2006 Part 2

Artist: Massive Attack

Album: Collected

Label: Virgin

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/m/massiveattack-collected.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-04-04

UK Release Date: 2006-03-27

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List number: 10

Some “greatest hits” packages are good, most are regrettably cursory, but few examine their subject with the austerity and conviction that Collected brings to the career of Massive Attack. The “hits” disc is simply untouchable, an impeccable selection of highlights from a career studded with highlights—there’s even the obligatory new track that accomplishes the rare feat of actually sounding as good as anything else here. But pay a few bucks for the deluxe edition and get the bonus DualDisc. The bonus CD is packed with rarities (the stellar “I Against I” with Mos Def) and oddballs (such as their collaboration with Madonna on Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”). A good percentage of these obscurities could easily have fit on the first disc with no dip in quality, which is perhaps an indicator of how good Massive Attack is to begin with. But flip over the DualDisc and the DVD side features a collection of their groundbreaking music videos—every single one of them. Most “hits” collections, even the comparatively well-curated efforts, can seem like flabby exercises in nostalgia, last gasps from defunct or exhausted entities. Collected is that rarest of compilations that leaves the listener looking forward with relish, anticipating the future for a reinvigorated Massive Attack.Tim O’Neil

Massive Attack – ProtectionMassive Attack: Collected

Artist: Various Artists

Album: That’s Entertainment: The Ultimate Anthology of M-G-M Musicals

Label: Rhino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/v/various-thatsentertainment.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-04-25

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List number: 11

From here all the best work in American popular music is measured.  Well, it certainly ought to be.  MGM defined the gold standard for Hollywood musicals in the ‘30s through the ‘50s with some of the biggest stars on the studio’s roster: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra, to name just a few (“More stars than there are in heaven” as MGM puts it). Nobody—from barely-can-stand toddler to barely-can-stand grandma (and all bodies in-between)—can resist this music.  The most restrained will find the latent tap dancer within and at the very least, tap his toes (but best to push the furniture back, when putting these CDs on the stereo, just in case he really cuts loose); the vocalist we all long to be will sing along, joyfully unrestrained, no matter how off key she may be, because she knows the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern (just hitting the highlights, here) in her very bones.  This new six-CD set includes highlights from some of the very best and most loved films, including Singin’ in the Rain, Easter Parade (with its jam-packed line-up of Berlin songs sung by Garland and Astaire), Gershwin’s An American in Paris and, simply wonderfully, much more.Karen Zarker and Sarah Zupko

Singin’ in the Rain – Gene Kelly singing and dancing the title song in the 1952 classic musical.Various Artists: That’s Entertainment: The Ultimate Anthology of M-G-M Musicals

Artist: Lucinda Williams

Album: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Subtitle: Deluxe Edition

Label: Mercury

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/w/williamslucinda-carwheels.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-10-24

UK Release Date: 2006-11-20

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List number: 12

The two best songwriters America has ever produced are Bob Dylan and Lucinda Williams. Blending country music with rock, Cajun influences with folk and bluegrass, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is Williams’s Blood on the Tracks. Or perhaps her Blonde On Blonde. Comfortably one of the ten greatest records ever made, it was six years in the making as its creator changed cities, studios, and producers no less than three times in her single-minded pursuit of perfection. Thankfully, she achieved it. From the steamy sexuality of “Right in Time” to the roadtrip breakup misery of “Jackson”, these are rural songs of longing and loss performed by a remarkable storyteller who is at once both utterly vulnerable and immovably strong. Speaking plainly about deeply personal issues, Williams sometimes seems to be ripping back her bones and flesh to expose her heart and soul. While this remastered deluxe edition disappoints slightly by including only three of the many outtakes from the prolonged incubation of this most wonderful of records, it does also ship with an outstanding concert performance that was recorded during the tour to promote the original release.Roger Holland

Lucinda Williams – Drunken AngelLucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Artist: Waylon Jennings

Album: Nashville Rebel

Label: Legacy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/j/jenningswaylon-nashvillebox.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-09-26

UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 13

Outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings gets a fittingly grand tribute within this four-disc collection. It’s not just the first box set devoted to the man, but also one comprehensive enough to reveal many facets to his music. It includes everything from his earliest country-radio singles to his most famous rebel anthems after he broke from Nashville, from heartwrenching duets with his wife Jessi Colter to good-times duets with Willie Nelson, from stunning reinterpretations of others’ songs to memorable songs he wrote himself. Nashville Rebel presents a wide enough view of Jennings to show the many ways he was a rebel and the ways he wasn’t, to show the ways he fit into Nashville and didn’t, to illuminate the ways he steered country music back towards its own traditions while creating new ones for it.Dave Heaton

Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way

Waylon Jennings: Nashville Rebel

Artist: Pavement

Album: Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition

Label: Matador

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/pavement-woweezowee.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-11-07

UK Release Date: 2006-11-06

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List number: 14

Considering that the stupendous reissues of Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain rank as two of the finest deluxe editions ever assembled, there was no way Matador could fail with the third installment, which had a generation of indie-rock fans drooling all year long in anticipation. Of course, this swanky two-disc set delivers, crammed with key b-sides (“Easily Fooled”), EP tracks (“Give It a Day”), soundtrack contributions (the hugely underrated “Painted Soldiers”), a few studio outtakes, and some excellent radio sessions, but the real draw remains the album itself. The homely wallflower to Slanted and Crooked‘s prom king and queen, it was a startling creative turn; the band audaciously and confidently hops from genre to genre, tossing hints of chamber pop, jazz, country, blues, and punk into its already musically varied repertoire. As an architect of a now-legendary indie-rock trifecta, Pavement simply could do no wrong back then, and with these reissues, neither can Matador.Adrien Begrand

Pavement – Rattled By the RushPavement: Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition

Artist: Johnny Cash

Album: At San Quentin

Subtitle: Legacy Edition

Label: Columbia

Label: Legacy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/c/cashjohnny-atsanquentin.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-11-14

UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 15

Live albums are tricky by nature.  It’s hard to capture the spirit of the crowd on a piece of plastic, as opposed to actually being there.  In this case, it’s safer to listen to the plastic.  In 1969, Johnny Cash, fresh off a concert at Folsom Prison a year earlier, took himself and three other acts to one of the meanest prisons at the time, San Quentin.  And in a room loaded with murderers, robbers, rapists, and prison guards—testosterone central—Cash had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand.  Along with openers Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Carter Family (of which June was his wife), Cash put on a performance that put you as close to being there as possible.  Songs of protest (his quickly penned “San Quentin” nearly did cause a riot, so Cash, who served time behind other bars, had the cojones to play it again) mixed with gospels, love songs, and tales of a boy named Sue for an intensity unmatched by other live recordings.  The Legacy Edition of At San Quentin features the concert in its entirety, as well as a lovely 40-page booklet of memories and photos.  But the coolest part of the package has to be the DVD of the concert, shot by Granada TV (England).  What looks like a staged suspense thriller with music actually was suspenseful.  But the late Cash was a sharp cookie: he knew how far he could go and pull back just a nanosecond before trouble erupted.  Unquestionably, this is one of country music’s (when country WAS country) defining moments.Lou Friedman

Johnny Cash – At San QuentinJohnny Cash: At San Quentin

Artist: The Byrds

Album: There Is a Season

Label: Columbia

Label: Legacy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/byrds-thereisaseason.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-09-26

UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 16

With the 1990 self-titled box set out of print, Columbia/Legacy has been releasing expanded and refurbished versions of the Byrds’ back catalog, including essential outtakes and b-sides. There Is a Season plays out like a finale of the reissue campaign. By this point, the infinite and possibly immeasurable impact of the Byrds probably goes without saying; certainly it’s a lifespan that is difficult to properly encapsulate in any sort of box. New fans couldn’t ask for a more complete look at the expansive career than the 99 chronologically sequenced and incredibly remastered tracks here coupled with the 100-page booklet detailing the band’s complicated history; enthusiasts will appreciate the five previously unreleased live tracks and the bonus DVD featuring vintage performances of the band from American and European television shows.Dara Kartz

The Byrds – I’ll Feel a Whole Lot BetterThe Byrds: There Is a Season

Artist: The Pretenders

Album: Pretenders

Label: Sire

Label: Rhino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/pretenders-1.jpg

First date: 1980

US Release Date: 2006-10-03

UK Release Date: 2006-10-09

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List number: 17

Punk/alternative of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s had its share of poseurs, but Chrissie Hynde had two immediate strikes against her: 1) She was female, and 2) She dared to mix punk and ethereal beauty in her songs.  Tough shit for the rest of the world.  The Pretenders, which debuted in January of 1980, was startling in its intensity and ability to cut through all the walls that the genres were setting up.  The music was accessible (a four-letter word at the time), catchy (another four-letter word), and loaded with genuine attitude.  Hynde had the good fortune to have three of the best musicians at the time in her band, though two of them, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, only lasted through two albums before dying within months of each other due to drug overdoses.  Underrated drummer Martin Chambers kept it all together with both sheer force and simplicity on the drums.  Pop ditties introduced to the world show Hynde’s softer side (“Kid”, “Brass in Pocket”).  That was countered by pure punk attitude mixed with slashing guitars (“The Wait”, “Tattooed Love Boys”, “Precious”), as well as a foot-stomping, fist-pumping closing anthem (“Mystery Achievement”).  The Pretenders is a once-in-a-lifetime debut, and Hynde & Co. nailed it perfectly, which makes this a perfect album.Lou Friedman

The Pretenders — Brass in PocketThe Pretenders: Pretenders

Artist: Various Artists

Album: What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977)

Label: Rhino

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/v/various-whatitis.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-10-03

UK Release Date: 2006-10-13

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List number: 18

How appropriate that the umpteenth cover (albeit, a durn slick one) of “Spinning Wheel” pops up on What It Is!, Rhino’s expansive treasure dig through the Warner Brothers archives. The reissue market, what Rhino brought its bread and butter up on, has reached impressively obsessive depths today, only to come back around to the label that influenced it all. Four discs of mostly unheard gems, ranging from known artists performing dramatic rearrangements of familiar material (Aretha Franklin’s alternate mix of “Rock Steady”) to lesser-known artists performing the works of name folks (Baby Huey crooning Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times”), cover an exhaustive range of modern rhythm and blues. Oliver Wang’s extensive liner notes and a thick, record sleeve-reminiscent packaging (adorned with Masaki Koike’s Shepard Fairey-like design) round out the set.Dan Nishimoto

Various Artists: What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977)

Artist: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Album: Legends of Country Music

Label: Columbia

Label: Legacy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/bob-wills-and-his-texas-playboys-legends-of-country-music.jpg

US Release Date: 2006-08-29

UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 19

This box set makes it undeniably clear that Bob Wills was one of the saints of American music. Sadly, he is usually ignored by people who don’t want to understand country music; worse, you are more likely to hear the Ying Yang Twins on country radio than anything by Wills or any of his many imitators. But the man’s influence is all laid out here on four jam-packed discs and some of the year’s best liner notes. Not only did Wills make country music relevant by aggressively combining it with jump blues, torch songs (he covered Bessie Smith early and often), hot jazz, and Tin Pan Alley specials, but he set an early standard for gangsta livin’, pissing off important people and politicians, getting fired right and left, and refusing to let narrow-minded people get in the way of having a good goddamned time.Matt Cibula

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – Sittin’ on Top of the WorldBob Wills and His Texas Playboys: Legends of Country Music

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