the-30-best-album-re-issues-of-2015

The 30 Best Album Re-Issues of 2015

The music world saw amazing reissues from all over the genre map, spanning rock titans to indie upstarts and experimental to folk.

Artist: Patrick Cowley

Album: Muscle Up

Label: Dark Entries

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Patrick Cowley
Muscle Up

When considering the best music heard in any given year, one rarely gravitates to the realm of gay porn soundtracks. And yet, Patrick Cowley’s work heard in the illicit films released by John Coletti’s Fox Studio in the early ’80s is arguably some of the finest music ever synched to visuals. In his most famous pieces, namely “Menergy” and “Megatron Man”, Cowley helped forge the influential hardcore disco offshoot known as Hi-NRG, having previously launched Sylvester to international fame with his synthesizer work on 1978’s Step II. Channeling influence from contemporary synth masters Isao Tomita, Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos and Giorgio Moroder, the work he sent to Coletti was some of his most experimental. Recorded in a period between 1973 and 1980, the styles on Muscle Up range from sci-fi ambient and electro-funk to mutant-disco and proto-techno, utilizing instruments like the Putney, E-MU System and Serge from his student days in the Electronic Music Lab, which he co-founded at the City College of San Francisco, to his personal collection of synths, tweaked guitars, and hand-built gizmos. While its origins may be dubious, this is staggering evidence of the magnitude of genius the world lost when Cowley passed away from AIDS in 1982. — Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Faith No More

Album: Angel Dust

Label: Rhino / Slash

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Faith No More
Angel Dust

One year before Nirvana gave the world its abrasive, casual-fan-repelling statement, Faith No More gave listening audiences their own In Utero with Angel Dust. It was the band’s first album where lead singer Mike Patton was able to steer the band into his Zappa-meets Sabbath musical direction. Like the infamous inner sleeve art, showing a butchered animal, Angel Dust was brutal, ugly, and demanding of your attention. More than 20 years later, it has easily surpassed their commercial smash The Real Thing in terms of relevancy. The second disc may run a bit thin on content (a few above average live tracks), but the real reason to buy the reissue of Angel Dust is to simply revisit the gorgeous marriage of beauty and darkness in tracks like “A Small Victory”, “Midlife Crisis”, and “Everything’s Ruined”. — Sean McCarthy

 

Artist: Silkworm

Album: It’ll Be Cool

Label: Touch and Go

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Silkworm
It’ll Be Cool

It is a sweet mercy that most bands never get to make a ninth album. With their first idea often being their best, most are running on fumes by number two or three. Of course, in the case of Silkworm all usual orthodoxy goes out the window. It’ll Be Cool, Silkworm’s ninth and final full album, features songwriting and playing as intelligent, peculiar, delirious, and specifically ‘Worm as ever. Featuring among others, a rocker about Caesar that’s grand enough to accompany any conquest of Gaul, a brain-dissolving, narco-woozy acoustic number, and a song about hockey with a certifiably unhinged guitar solo, it’s the sound of this most vital band at the height of their creative powers, chasing down their own entirely unique muse. Originally released in 2004, November 2015 saw this classic album’s first ever vinyl release. Recorded by Steve Albini, It’ll Be Cool hits hard while being replete with warmth and space. It’s an album that deserves to be heard at last on the premium format. And finally it would be remiss not to give particular mention to “Don’t Look Back”, It’ll Be Cool‘s monumental opening track. Building itself up and up to an ecstatic height in the manner of Neil Young’s “I’m the Ocean”, it is as good as rock music gets. — Paul Duffus

 

Artist: Kenny Knight

Album: Crossroads

Label: Paradise of Bachelors

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Kenny Knight
Crossroads

The North Carolina-based label Paradise of Bachelors released some of the year’s best albums by interesting, innovative contemporary musicians: Gun Outfit, Jake Xerxes Fussell, James Elkington & Nathan Salzburg, the Weather Station and others. Yet they also continued their mission to unearth underheard classics of the past, like this stunning country-rock stroll co-released with Numero. A mechanic who played in garage bands, Kenny Knight released this in 1980, in small quantities, yet heard blind you’d assume it’s from the early ’70s.There’s a timeless quality to it actually, in musical style but also the subject matter, in the existential journeys of the songs’ protagonists, travelling through America in search of open doors and a sense of home. — Dave Heaton

 

Artist: Van Morrison

Album: Astral Weeks

Label: Rhino

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Van Morrison
Astral Weeks

Consider the world that Astral Weeks came into: it was a world in which Van Morrison was a teen heartthrob, the baby-faced singer behind “Brown Eyed Girl”. Who would have expected that man to respond to his commercial success with the kind of album that demanded to be taken as art? Astral Weeks both requires and rewards replays; each listen uncovers something new, be it some previously-unheard flourish from Van’s backing band or some inflection in his voice that gives “Cyprus Avenue” or “Sweet Thing” an entirely different meaning. Lyrically, Van moved on from teenage romance to dark character studies and dreamlike wandering through his consciousness. These are ideas that Van was able to filter through a more conventional songwriting lens later on in his career, but the ambition, scope, and majesty of Astral Weeks is something that few artists can ever match. — Kevin Korber

 

Artist: Alessandro Alessandroni

Album: Industrial

Label: Dead-Cert Home Entertainment

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Alessandro Alessandroni
Industrial

Lord only knows where Andy Votel and his pals keep digging up records like this, but one hopes they never stop. Produced in 1976 for a subscription imprint, yet remaining commercially unreleased until Dead-Cert got their hands on it, Industrial shows a dark side of Alessandro Alessandroni, the childhood pal of Ennio Morricone who would go on to craft dozens of brilliant film scores himself, as well as a wealth of library material. Recorded at Rome’s Sound Work Shop, the house Piero Umiliani built, Industrial bends the disparate timbres of teased guitars, dramatic strings, tape loops, treated grand and honky tonk pianos, and a modified EMS Synthi VC3 modular system into singular edgy, metallic visions that seldom, if ever, venture familiar ground, particularly in the context of their creation. If this had been widely released when it was made, Alessandroni would be earning as much of the pioneering praise that is currently placed at the feet of Throbbing Gristle. — Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Red House Painters

Album: Red House Painters

Label: 4AD

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Red House Painters
Red House Painters

Mark Kozelek has been writing songs long before he found critical acclaim with Sun Kil Moon’s Benji and critical derision by being an asshole in real life. For all of the merits of his recent musical work, though, his earlier work with Red House Painters might be his finest. Throughout the 1990s, Red House Painters quietly put out some of the best, most affecting music of the decade. These four hours, all released on 4AD, capture Kozelek at his most honest, long before his honesty became an affectation. Many of the songs from these four albums (“Mistress”, “Grace Cathedral Park”, and “San Geronimo”, just to name a few) are stone classics, and Kozelek’s vision is clearer when expressed in the environment of a full band. Hopefully, these albums won’t be lost to the fading mists of time, even if Kozelek himself seems intent on abandoning this form of songwriting for something closer to word vomit. Whatever the case, these four albums will stand as a reminder of just how great Kozelek can be. — Kevin Korber

 

Artist: Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Album: Press Color

Label: Light in the Attic

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Lizzy Mercier Descloux
Press Color

Making her way from France to New York’s Lower East Side in the late ’70s, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Patti Smith and Richard Hell, Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s debut album is improbably unique. Made in 1979 with drummer Jimmy Young and guitarists D.J Banes and Erik Eliasson, it’s all over the map stylistically, forging elements of disco, reggae, punk, and R&B into her brand of leftfield No Wave art-pop. We’re talking infectiously groovy covers of “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Lalo Schifrin compositions “Jim on the Move” and the “Mission Impossible” theme alongside warped originals like the creepy “Torso Corso” or the dubby, birdlike conversation piece “No Golden Throat”, while she replaced the titular word from the old Little Willie John standard “Fever” with “Tumor” to hilariously subvert its sexual tension. At a time when New York was dirty and crumbling, hence films like Taxi Driver and The Warriors, Press Color was a spark of humor and, indeed, color. Having been re-sequenced and enhanced by the inclusion of the entire Rosa Yemen EP as well as four bonus tracks, this album has only gotten better with age. — Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Loren Connors

Album: Blues: The Dark Paintings of Mark Rothko

Label: Family Vineyard

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Loren Connors
Blues: The Dark Paintings of Mark Rothko

Experimental guitarist Loren Connors has a massive discography filled with hidden treasures. This one was originally released in 1990, in a run of about 200, under the name Guitar Roberts.That was a decade or so into his recorded career, so his inherent sound was established. Yet this is an avant-garde musician who is always evolving. The especially minimalist approach here does represent something new, even within Connors’ world of perpetual newness: a greater step towards the haunting minimalist blues that is one of his many specialties. A six-string and a four-track are the tools, plus the hands of a maestro whose work can probe unexpected emotional depths considering how purposely primitive and spare it seems. That’s not unlike Rothko. The pairing implied by the title seems an obvious one in retrospect. Connors’ music contains infinity within so little, much like Rothko’s paintings. The depth in these seven instrumentals makes it jaw-dropping to consider that just a couple hundred people had likely heard this until now. That’s the true value of reissues; forget the endless repackaging of ‘canon’ albums meant to perpetuate big business. — Dave Heaton

 

Artist: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Album: Junk Culture (Deluxe Edition)

Label: Virgin / EMI Records

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Junk Culture (Deluxe Edition)

Junk Culture was not OMD’s most acclaimed album, but it just might be a perfectly efficient primer on what makes the British synthesizer band so special. Leaders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys positioned themselves exactly between the moody experimentalism of their early work and the saccharine professionalism of “If You Leave” and the like. The result was a trio of immaculate pop singles in “Tesla Girls”, “Locomotion”, and “Talking Loud and Clear”, set against an eclectic, equally-accomplished backdrop. “Never Turn Away” was beautiful, but beauty was only part of the story. Overlooked at the time was Junk Culture‘s willingness to look the unsavory aspects of the “Me Decade” square in the eye. “Love and Violence”, “White Trash”, “Hard Day”, the title track itself — these were not the sweetness or the sass expected of synthpop at the time. Delectable melodies and all, Junk Culture was wonderfully at odds with the world it was created in. — John Bergstrom

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Artist: Robbie Băsho

Album: The Falconer’s Arm I / The Falconer’s Arm II

Label: Takoma

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Robbie Băsho
The Falconer’s Arm I / The Falconer’s Arm II

If Robbie Băsho was the more mysterious Tacoma player next to John Fahey, than the reissue of his 1967 and 1968 records this year — The Falconer’s Arm, Vol. I and The Falconer’s Arm, Vol. II — retains and pays tribute to that air of mystery. There’s no clear label on the packaging for either, but the catalog numbers are the same as they were on the original releases on Tacoma Records. Someone has also taken great care to remaster these records, so they sound great. The two albums catch Băsho just as he’s realizing his strength, building on the promise of Seal of the Blue Lotus. Though the album’s most miss Băsho’s signature, eccentric singing, the busy layers of 12-string guitar are all him. It’s a musical world to get lost in, one that feels much larger, much less mysterious and more inviting than the man himself. Whoever is responsible for this small run of reissues deserves credit for bringing a classic solo guitar record back into the world. For those who haven’t got their copy yet, time is running out. — Matt Fiander

 

Artist: Pere Ubu

Album: Elitism for the People: 1975-1978

Label: Fire

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Pere Ubu
Elitism for the People: 1975-1978

That Pere Ubu took ample influence from the Velvet Underground, has been heavily documented. Less commented upon is the fact that David Thomas shares Lou Reed’s lifelong tech obsession. In other words, they’re both gear-heads, at least in terms of perpetually exploring new technologies with the purpose of making their music sound better. Fire Record’s Elitism for the People: 1975-1978 demonstrates the many benefits of this care. The Modern Dance, Dub Housing and the collected Hearpen Singles have never sounded better. As Thomas explained in a PopMatters interview with A Noah Harrison (file under: required reading), “We’ve always tried to use the best technology we could get our hands on, and over time, that technology evolves.” The remastering of these timeless songs translates the warmth of their analogue origins to the digital era in a way previous digital releases have not. And the bonus of this set is Manhattan, which collects the second set of their February 1977 show at Max’s Kansas City. The set, from the anti-“Roadrunner” isolation of “My Dark Ages” through classic “Life Stinks” captures this band of Cleveland outsiders showing the scenesters how it’s done. Thomas introduces “Sentimental Journey” as inspired by his childhood discovery of a Doris Day record in his parents’ attic, then leads a ranting, feedback-drenched version that surpasses the studio version, his howls for “Home!” audibly unsettling the crowd. “Over My Head” follows, its relative calmness more aptly heard as a coming-down from trauma, with Tom Herman and Allen Ravenstein blending clarity and distortion like a troubled mind’s incessant buzz. The standard question fans inevitably ask upon any given re-release is: “Do I have to buy this stuff all over again?” Yes, you have to buy this stuff all over again. — Ed Whitelock

 

Artist: Led Zeppelin

Album: Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition)

Label: Atlantic / Swan Song

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Led Zeppelin
Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition)

Much has been said about how disappointing the bonus tracks have been for much of the Led Zeppelin reissue series of 2014 and 2015, but to be fair the biggest reason to revisit these classic albums is to experience them both with the clarity of hindsight and a newly remastered treatment. Of the four final reissues to come out this past year, 1975’s Physical Graffiti is a slam dunk as the most essential. In addition to being one of the most seamless double albums in rock ‘n’ roll history (a very rare feat in itself) but Jimmy Page has overseen a remastering process that has the album sounding bigger and punchier than ever, without compromising the album’s dynamic range. As a result, from the menacing blues of “In My Time of Dying”, to the funk groove of “Trampled Underfoot”, to the pastoral beauty of “Bron-Yr-Aur”, to the mystic majesty of “Kashmir”, this masterpiece has never sounded more vital and vibrant. — Adrien Begrand

 

Artist: Unwound

Album: Empire

Label: Numero Group

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Unwound
Empire

Numero Group established itself long ago as one of the great working labels, putting together carefully, beautifully packaged and assembled reissues across a wide array of genres. They have spent two years, and several box sets, recounting the complete history of Unwound, and the results have been universally fascinating and stunning. Empire is the final piece in that large puzzle, and also possibly the finest. It captures Challenge for a Civilized Society and Leaves Turn Inside You, as well as outtakes and non-album tracks from that late ’90s to early ’00s period. The former album is considered the band’s outlier, the expensive-to-make let down, but in this context it still plays as interesting, a necessary step to get to their magnum opus Leaves Turn Inside You. This whole set is worth it just to have Leaves Turn Inside You on record. It is one of the most ambitious, challenging, and excellent rock records in the past three decades, and hearing it on Empire, freshly remastered, is just as thrilling as hearing it for the first time. In some ways, to applaud Empire is to applaud all four Unwound sets Numero Group put out, which is as it should be. In a time of “surprise” releases and snap judgments based on endless streams of disposable music, the label took its time telling the story of Unwound, and told it well. Not surprising, with Empire, the band’s story ends with their most patient, most rewarding work. — Matt Fiander

 

Artist: Son Volt

Album: Trace

Label: Rhino

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Son Volt
Trace

Twenty years ago Son Volt’s Trace sounded both of the moment and from somewhere deep in the past. Today, nothing has changed. The record, and more specifically the songs penned by Jay Farrar, who was then fresh a long run in Uncle Tupelo, touches on themes of loneliness, isolation, happiness, unity and love. It is both a reminder of the rewards of a solitary life and a companion to keep you company in the darkest hours. “Windfall”, “Live Free”, and “Ten Second News” would be exceptional coming from any writer, but Farrar had something to prove on this record and he did in spades. The original record is expanded now with surprisingly complete demos from Farrar’s private collection and a second disc that captures the group live in concert in early 1996. That set is proof positive that this was one of the great American live bands, one that never quite got the due it deserved for its power and uncompromising spirit. There is now and has only ever been one Jay Farrar. Use this as your key to deeper exploration of the Son Volt oeuvre. — Jedd Beaudoin

 

Artist: Various Artists

Album: Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics

Label: On-U Sound

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Various Artists
Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics

The On-U Sound collective was British producer Adrian Sherwood’s musical cauldron. Into it he put reggae, dub, punk, post-punk, industrial music, and an amazing slate of well-credentialed collaborators. Curated by DJ Jackson of Playgroup fame, Science Fiction Dancehall Classics was the definitive chronicle of an oft-compiled label. It featured 27 dips into the pot, each of which revealed something new and ear-bending. From better-known names like Tackhead, Neneh Cherry, and Bim Sherman, to one-offs from Missing Brazilians and pangender diva Al Pellay, this was the sound of the earth giving way under traditional boundaries, conventions, and limits. And yet most all of it was pretty groovy. Every indie label would like to claim an uncompromising, unflinching aesthetic. Science Fiction Dancehall Classics showed that On-U Sound was one of few that actually made good on that claim, in the process becoming one of the most important imprints of the last 30-plus years. — John Bergstrom

 

Artist: Françoise Hardy

Album: La Maison Ou J’Ai Grandi / L’Amitié / Mon Amie La Rose / Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour / Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles

Label: Light in the Attic

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Françoise Hardy
La Maison Ou J’Ai Grandi / L’Amitié / Mon Amie La Rose / Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour / Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles

The style employed by, or imposed on, many French yé-yé singers in the early ’60s tended to lean on the image of the Lolita nymphet, thanks in part to primarily male songwriters. Serge Gainsbourg famously wrote a song about lollipops recorded by France Gall, then 18 years old, which was rife with double-entendres alluding to oral sex. However, by the time Gall released that song, Françoise Hardy was already long into subtly subverting the genre to her will.

Hardy released her debut four-track single in 1962, also at the age of 18, and immediately distinguished herself with her world-weary voice, more attuned to Astrud Gilberto and Nico than her comparatively perky contemporaries, and the wherewithal to write most of her own material. The single was a hit, selling over a million copies and landing at #36 on the UK charts. Although admittedly shy, the proto-singer-songwriter would on to become a muse for mainstream rock stars and fashion designers alike, with a poem dedicated to her in liner notes to Another Side of Bob Dylan, her lasting appeal cemented by the use of “Le temps de l’amour” in Wes Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom.

Her first five albums, all self-titled as released between the years of 1962-1966, were collections of extended singles, unofficially referred to by their most famous songs, yet they combine to show her progression as an artist, from the stripped down Spector girl-group pop of Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour to the lush, harpsichord arrangements of La Maison Ou J’Ai Grandi. Remastered from the original tapes, these Future Days pressings mark the ideal starting point to become reacquainted with one of France’s all-time greatest talents. — Alan Ranta

 

Artist: Tony Bennett / Bill Evans

Album: The Complete Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Recordings

Label: Fantasy

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Tony Bennett / Bill Evans
The Complete Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Recordings

By the time Tony Bennett and Bill Evans came together to record these sides 40 years ago, their respective careers were more or less in the weeds, having long since fallen off the mainstream’s radar. With these gorgeously unadorned renditions of popular standards, Bennett and Evans succeeded in restating their case for continued relevance as both performers and artists, capable of highly nuanced, personal interpretations. In the case of Bennett, these sessions largely defined his later recorded output and served as a career renaissance of sorts after years in the proverbial wilderness. Functioning as a veritable master class in jazz interpretation, both Evans and Bennett are at the top of their respective games on The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings, each placing their inimitable stamps on the well-worn material. So successful was their first pairing that they quickly followed it with a second session. With both collected here in a lavish new vinyl reissue, listeners can experience the brilliance of these two iconic performers in the warmth of analog, catching all the subtle nuance of each performer’s phrasing, control and grasp of the material. — John Paul

 

Artist: Queen

Album: Studio Collection

Label: Hollywood

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Queen
Studio Collection

Really, why go for halfway measures? If you’re going to reissue your catalog, may as well do it in style, and Queen certainly did that. In September, they issued a new vinyl box with all of the albums on high-quality colored vinyl, including a double-LP version of Innuendo, which previously had only been available in abbreviated single-LP format. All of their albums are expertly reproduced, and the sound is fantastic. For the true die-hard, you could order the box of 18 albums plus a designer turntable made by Rega with the actual Queen logo. It’s particularly illuminating not only to revisit the classics like Sheer Heart Attack, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races and News of the World with lesser-known gems like A Kind of Magic, The Miracle and Innuendo. Some of their early ’80s work, like The Game and The Works really benefits the remastering. The set is a Queen vinyl lover’s dream come true. Unfortunately the set is not available on the CD format, but most of Queens CDs have been remastered and reissued in recent years and are available separately. — Chris Gerard

 

Artist: The Ocean Blue

Album: The Ocean Blue / Cerulean / Beneath the Rhythm and Sound (vinyl)

Label: Shelflife / Korda

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The Ocean Blue
The Ocean Blue / Cerulean / Beneath the Rhythm and Sound

Well before the Britpop wave crested in the mid-’90s, the Ocean Blue were the rare Yankees who could hang, so tuned-in were they to a distinctly Blighty-hued sense of melody. In 1989, the four preternaturally gifted high school students released their self-titled debut album on Sire Records, and most listeners at first assumed they were British. After all, Sire was the American home of both Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths, who the Ocean Blue were no doubt taking cues from. Sire would also release their subsequent two records, Cerulean and Beneath the Rhythm and Sound. Those three have been reissued this year, making their appearance on vinyl for the first time. If, for instance, the Captured Tracks catalog is any indication, the Ocean Blue’s pond-crossing sound has turned out to be almost surprisingly foresighted. — Ian King

10 – 1

Artist: Ride

Album: Nowhere 25

Label: Ride Music

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Ride
Nowhere 25

Ride made shoegaze rock, pure and simple. Even the lightest, airiest parts of Nowhere have a measure of aggression to them, something that, say, Lush or Slowdive can’t really say. Rather than rely on creating textured guitar sounds that wash over the listener, Ride use their layers of guitars to invigorate their songs, many of which have a traditional bent that puts them closer to psychedelia than twee. Purists may scoff at the album, noting correctly that many of its tracks were previously released as EPs or standalone singles, but that does nothing to lessen the impact of songs like “In a Different Place”, “Dreams Burn Down”, or the timeless “Vapour Trail”. The re-release adds another crucial dimension to the Ride experience with the Live at the Town & Country DVD, a film that underlines the power that Ride had (and still have) as a live act. Even after 25 years, Nowhere remains an essential shoegaze touchstone. — Kevin Korber

 

Artist: Various Artists

Album: Legends of Old-Time Music: Fifty Years of County Records

Label: County

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Various Artists
Legends of Old-Time Music – Fifty Years of County Records

Inspired by the work of John and Alan Lomax, Dave Freeman, Richard Nevins, and Charles Faurot founded County Records to collect examples of the still-thriving folk tradition to be found among the hills and hollers of Northern Appalachia. Legends of Old-Time Music: Fifty Years of County Records demonstrates their success, collecting 113 tracks recorded mostly between 1965 and 1975 and featuring a variety of master players with roots reaching deep into the 19th century. This is an anthology that deserves a place among the great and groundbreaking anthologies of early American recorded music. The original field recordings strove to capture the liveliness of the music in its place and time, and the remastering of these tracks is bright and engaging, with not a bum performance in the lot. Listeners not already familiar with such artists as Wade Ward, Virgil Anderson, Fred Cockerham, and Tommy Jarrell, and over a dozen others, will find inspiration for deeper searches into these master musicians’ recorded legacies. The liner notes are full of good humor and great stories about the performers and their songs, while the compilers are also careful to locate the songs in their traditions, illustrating connections that will remain of great value to scholars of American folk music. An absolute gift to listeners, start to finish. — Ed Whitelock

 

Artist: Various Artists

Album: Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco, and Mbaqanga 1975-1985

Label: Strut

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Various Artists
Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco, and Mbaqanga 1975-1985

The fourth edition in Strut’s series of vintage South African compilations has more personality — tighter grooves, more hooks and distinctive singers — than any volume since the first. The song “Khombo Ranga”, by Elias Maluleke and Mavambe Girls, is a straight-up mbaqanga stomp with chiming guitar, the Girls responding to Maluleke’s groans; you’ve heard this sound plenty of places (*cough* Graceland), though rarely rendered so catchily. But this volume also stretches further than previous installments. The synth-disco “Give”, from Sipho Mabuse’s band Harari, sounds like the older, less slobbery brother of Queen’s “Body Language”, which it predates by a year. To varying degrees, all 15 tracks experiment with fusing international influences to trad Soweto sounds; even The Drive’s instrumental soul jazz and Kabasa’s driving guitar rock sound rooted and specific to their homeland. Zulu Rock has less archival intrigue than Volume 1 — Harari’s song came out on A&M Records, after all — but it might afford listeners an even better time. — Josh Langhoff

 

Artist: Ministry

Album: Trax! Box

Label: Cleopatra

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Ministry
Trax! Box

Was Ministry main man Al Jourgensen a brilliant industrial music visionary, or just a shrewd appropriator of others’ sounds? In any case, in the ’80s he was the center of the industrial/alternative universe, and Trax! Box was the evidence. Over seven discs and a vinyl LP, the prolific mayhem Jourgensen and friends created for the seminal Wax Trax! label didn’t unfold so much as spew forth. It was a barrage of piledriver rhythms, left-field samples, mean hooks, and synergetic hookups. The Ministry tracks were just the appetizer. The real meat here was in the goofball/sicko yet compellingly rhythmic supergroup Revolting Cocks, Acid Horse with Cabaret Voltaire, 1000 Homo DJs with Jello Biafra and Trent Reznor, and PTP with Chris Connelly and Nivek Ogre. Best of all, though, was the Ian MacKaye-fronted Pailhead, a near-perfect fusion of industrial noise, primal funk, and hardcore energy. It’s rare to find an entire way of life in one box, but Trax! Box was just that, and what a thrilling way of life it was. — John Bergstrom

 

Artist: The Faces

Album: 1970-1975: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything

Label: Rhino

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The Faces
1970-1975: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything

1970-1975: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, or Anything is the rather clunky name of both the band’s final, disco-tinged 1975 single and the new box set collection consisting of their four studio albums plus an extra set of rare material. While diehard fans and collectors will savor the ability to consume each individual album, there’s reason for even casual observers or those new to the story of the Faces to dig in and explore, as well. The set moves chronologically through the catalog and while listening, it’s easy to observe the band gelling and soaring with confidence, cohesiveness, and clarity. The bonus material that caps off each individual proper album resonates stronger, and the source recordings are what will keep listeners returning for repeated listens. Again, the importance, craftsmanship, and legacy of the Faces cannot be overstated. When Ian McLagan sadly succumbed to a stroke last year, the outpouring of tributes came from countless musicians and artists across many different musical genres. It was little wonder as his generosity and good-nature kept him extremely busy playing on others’ albums and live shows frequently over the course of his post-Faces career. This joyful spirit and bountiful energy lives on through these releases. The Faces had it captured for this represented five-year period and regardless of what came next, this is material that has, and will continue to stand the test of time. — Jeff Strowe

 

Artist: David Bowie

Album: Five Years (1969-1973)

Label: Parlophone

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David Bowie
Five Years (1969-1973)

Finally, David Bowie’s extensive collection is getting the deluxe reissue treatment it deserves. Released this past September, Five Year is a beautifully executed box (CD or the beautiful vinyl set) which included all of this studio and live albums during the period covered in the title. It’s the first of what will be a series of box sets that will be the definitive library of his recorded work. There’s even a fantastic two-disc “rarities” compilation that includes b-sides, alternate takes, rare singles, and some surprises. And it hardly needs to be side that the music encompassed by this set includes some of the cornerstones of rock history: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane just to name a few. The albums have all been lovingly remastered, the packaging is faithful to the original releases, and there is a beautiful book with liner notes, essays and photos. As an added treat, there is an entirely new remixed version of Ziggy Stardust by the legendary engineer and producer Ken Scott, who worked on many of these original albums. If you buy one archive set in 2015, make it David Bowie’s Five Years (1969-1973 — it’s some of the most important music ever recorded, and it’s presented as works of art should be presented, with absolute care and reverence to the material. — Chris Gerard

 

Artist: Neko Case

Album: Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule

Label: Anti- / Epitaph

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Neko Case
Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule

When Neko Case first hit the alt-country scene back in the late ’90s, she could easily have been the posterchild for the DIY career artist. Her roles as a literal truck driver, performing act, manager, booking agent, and so forth acted as the inspiration behind the naming of this boxset; as such, it can only be deemed as apropos that it represents her collected works thus far. Case has gone from rising honkytonk-inspired singer to full-on innovator of the country scene with her clandestine, noir style, and all of it, from 1997’s The Virginian to 2013’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You is captured as essential listening here. For any fervent listener of Case’s, or just plain anyone that enjoys a good, inspired musical romp through the years, this particular complete set is a no-brainer. — Jonathan Frahm

 

Artist: Bob Dylan

Title: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966

Label: Columbia

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Bob Dylan
The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966

The continual unearthing of Bob Dylan’s colossal recorded archives is closing in on its 25th year, and each release has, in its own way, shed astonishing new light on the greatest composer of the latter half of the 20th century. The 12th installment, though, is particularly special, offering audiences an absolute treasure trove of outtakes from the sessions during Dylan’s most groundbreaking period. In 1965 and 1966 the man was on fire creatively, spawning rock’s most towering triptych of albums: Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Every one of those songs are so ingrained in popular culture that hearing new studio versions of them, in complete form or as works in progress, is a revelation, and we can only sit back in awe and listen to these classic works take shape. This is the most essential Bootleg Series volume in more than a decade. — Adrien Begrand

 

Artist: The Rolling Stones

Album: Sticky Fingers (Super Deluxe Edition)

Label: Universal

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The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers (Super Deluxe Edition)

The Rolling Stones couldn’t have ushered in the ’70s more aptly than with Sticky Fingers. Partly recorded in Muscle Shoals, where many of the band’s idols recorded their finest works, the album represented the band at their haziest, druggiest, unhinged peak. If you don’t have this record in your collection, you need to right that wrong. And if you do have it, this year’s deluxe edition makes a compelling case for a second purchase. While the standard two-disc deluxe edition lacks in insightful liner notes, it more than makes up with an actual relevant second disc of excellent material. The early versions of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Dead Flowers” only enhance the power of their final product. Outtake-wise, the real gem is hearing Eric Clapton’s slide guitar support in “Brown Sugar”. As for the obligatory live additions, it helps that it was taken at a time when the Rolling Stones had a legitimate claim to being the best live band on the planet, especially on the slow-burning, menacing “Midnight Rambler”. — Sean McCarthy

 

Artist: Lead Belly

Album: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

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Lead Belly
The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

Today American folk music is often viewed as a primarily white musical form with roots in the British Isles, but like most American genres, the most influential and consequential figure is an African-American. Lead Belly towers over American folk music as a thoroughly original artist. On his earliest recordings made in the South, record labels tried selling Lead Belly as a blues act and there’s no doubt that the blues inform his music very deeply. However, Lead Belly’s work was much broader than that and, indeed, it’s the folk music that he recorded in New York where he truly hit his stride and made the type of music that would go on to inspire Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and so many more. Lead Belly is the father of American folk music as a popular form and penned many classic standards, such as “Goodnight, Irene” and “Cotton Fields”. Archivist and producer Jeff Place described Lead Belly as an “encyclopedia of American music” in a mini-documentary made to accompany this important, historic collection and it’s 100% true. The Smithsonian Folkways Collection is the first time Lead Belly’s entire career is available on a single set and much research went into finding the very best recordings of every song included. This music is such a vital part of American cultural identity that any serious fan of American roots music should have this as a centerpiece in their collection. — Sarah Zupko

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