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.

20 - 11

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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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

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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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

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