The Best Re-Issues of 2007

Artist: Fennesz
Album: Endless Summer
Label: Editions Mego
US Release Date: 2007-01-09
UK Release Date: 2006-12-11

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List number: 20

With great releases by acts like the Field and Burial and Stars of the Lid, 2007 has been a pretty great year for electronic and ambient music fans. But, with all that is going on the present, it never hurts to delve back into the past. And though its original release happened only six years ago, Endless Summer is a classic record that deserves to be revisited. In light of what’s going on now, it might be difficult to see just how ahead of its time this record really was. Coming after the Elephant 6 movement, which had all those Athens bands lacing their Brian Wilson jones into indie pop tunes, Fennesz took his love of the Beach Boys in a wholly different, expansive direction. Endless Summer, in all its fuzzed-out, blissful glory, really does sound like a preamble to the electronic records we’re hearing now. It’s warm and inviting, but on tracks like “A Year in a Minute” and “Badminton Girl” it can really challenge you to follow along with its ramblings. Those that did six years ago were richly rewarded, and now a whole new batch of fans gets the chance to dive into one of the most innovating and inviting electronic records in recent memory. Matt Fiander

Fennesz – Caecilia

Fennesz: Endless Summer

Artist: John Phillips
Album: Jack of Diamonds
Label: Varese Sarabande
US Release Date: 2007-07-10

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List number: 19

It’s not a cohesive pop-rock novel like John Phillips’ first solo album John, the Wolfking of LA, reissued in 2006, but Jack of Diamonds’s release is nonetheless an important event. As a grab-bag of early ‘70s songs that might have been on his second album, it’s musically all over the map, from jazz-rock to drunken blues to attempts at rock theatre. But that fits the central subject matter: the wandering life. In this period Phillips was a wandering soul, personally and artistically. Jack of Diamonds is an extended meditation on the pains and pleasures of that freedom. It’s a treasure from the past that’s as rough as the years it covers. Dave HeatonJohn Phillips: Jack of Diamonds

Artist: Lee Perry & the Upsetters
Album: Ape-ology
Label: Trojan
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
UK Release Date: 2007-06-18

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List number: 18

After establishing himself in the early 1970s as a star reggae producer, Lee “Scratch” Perry stepped out from behind the boards to record his own classic dub albums. The two-disc Ape-ology collects remastered versions of his three best late ‘70s LPs, along with a fine batch of bonus tracks. On 1976’s Super Ape, beats seem to spill over one another, spare bass lines burble up and duck out mid-measure, and horns flow hazily into the mix. This set also offers Perry’s first album as a lead singer, 1978’s Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Cornbread. This platter features a fuller mix, but the arrangements and production are just as inventive, as Perry’s sounds vibrate and sproing. His vocals can sound unhinged at times, but that just adds to the crazy appeal. Stylistically, Return of the Super Ape falls in between its two predecessors and is equally great. Ape-ology is essential dub. Michael KeefeLee Perry & the Upsetters: Ape-ology

Artist: Various Artists
Album: Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-09-24

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List number: 17

The fourth volume of Rhino’s Nuggets series was heresy to more than a few listeners. While volumes two and three had their tangents into freakbeat and power-pop, they managed to keep one foot in the garage guitar slop that was synonymous with the series. But San Francisco? Hippies? Be not afraid: this box is as addicting to the ear as its older brothers. In fact, by widening its lens, this volume is more listenable at high doses than the others ever were. Folk, jazz, blues and soul rub shoulders with the occasional garage rock track (The Count Five’s first volume favorite “Psychotic Reaction” makes a curtain call). The Nuggets series can now be appreciated for what it is: a lovingly assembled collection of rare gems (Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Santana notwithstanding) with detailed liner notes. Here’s to hoping that they tackle New York City 1975-1980 next. Robert Short

The Count Five – Psychotic Reaction

Various Artists: Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970

Artist: Charles Mingus Sextet
Album: Cornell 1964
Subtitle: with Eric Dolphy
Label: Blue Note
Contributors: Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Jaki Byard, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Coles, Dannie Richmond
US Release Date: 2007-07-17
UK Release Date: 2007-07-02

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List number: 16

On this frequently brilliant and warmly recorded concert from March 18, 1964, Charles Mingus reasserts his intense genius. His bass playing, sprightly yet forceful, fast yet tempered, is a wonder to behold. Yet it’s almost impossible to take your attention off everyone else. Jaki Byard, perhaps the most underappreciated pianist in the history of jazz, plays with a flourishing grace that feels like dancing on water. Dannie Richmond’s drumming pays attention to ride, hi-hat, snare, tom, and kick with equal focus, and provides an equal level of striking and skittering. Then there’s Clifford Jordan and Johnny Coles, whose sax and tumpet, respectively, blow and bleat with a tendentious ease usually reserved for Coltrane and Miles. Never mind that they have to play next to Eric Dolphy, whose work on the bass clarinet and flute are mind-blowing. And never mind that nobody knew this concert was recorded, nor that anyone but the people there even knew it existed. Tal RosenbergCharles Mingus Sextet: Cornell 1964

Artist: Lewis Taylor
Album: The Lost Album
Label: HackTone
US Release Date: 2007-01-30
UK Release Date: 2005-02-21

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List number: 15

Autonomy never sounded as majestic as on Lewis Taylor’s The Lost Album. Many years after Island Records dismissed a batch of early ’90s demos, Taylor re-recorded the songs and released them in 2004 on his own imprint in the UK. The US-based HackTone gave The Lost Album a stateside release this year, which perked up the ears of those who knew Taylor for his excursions into psychedelic soul. In comparison to the critically acclaimed Stoned (2005) album, The Lost Album is something gloriously different. Lewis Taylor orchestrates sprawling, vivid soundscapes that owe much to late ’70s Boston and Supertramp yet still retain Taylor’s own distinct style. From the sparkling keyboards that open “Listen Here” to the incendiary guitar solos on “Yeah”, The Lost Album is a masterful work that stirs sensations in the listener long after the last note. Christian John WikaneLewis Taylor: The Lost Album

Artist: Various Artists
Album: The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 7: 1967
Label: Hip-O Select
Contributors: diana ross & the supremes, the temptations, the four tops, marvin gaye, tammi terrell, stevie wonder, smokey robinson & the miracles
US Release Date: 2007-07-31
UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 14

Forty years ago, Aretha Franklin arrived, Otis Redding died, and Motown, the pop-soul juggernaut with an obscene amount of contracted talent, entered its eighth year. Behind Motown’s façade of factory-line efficiency, things were changing: greater emphasis was placed on the emergence of the superstar at the expense of the collective, edging Florence Ballard out of the Supremes, and the company’s premier songwriting and production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, left due to royalty disputes and started their own label. At the same time, 1967 saw artists like Stevie Wonder begin to assert some artistic independence, Marvin Gaye found his musical soul-mate in Tammi Terrell, and Motown’s if-it-ain’t-broke philosophy was challenged numerous times by songs like the Supremes’ “Reflections”, which recognized the influence of psychedelic experimentation. As a comprehensive account of the year’s music, The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 7 places the well-known next to the lesser-known, offering equal time to the staples of oldies radio, the B-sides that have led unjust lives in obscurity, and the tracks that haven’t held up so well over the years. Here, in a box of five CDs, is one of the most distinctive pop methodologies of the 20th century, caught in a flux and at a crossroads. Zeth Lundy

The Supremes – Reflections

Various Artists: The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 7: 1967

Artist: Faust
Album: IV [Remastered]
Label: Caroline
US Release Date: 2007-09-18

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List number: 13

I’m a sucker for expanded reissues, it must be said, but there’s nothing at all superfluous about this package. Faust may be only the third most important German rock band of the 1970s, but if you consider that the first two are Kraftwerk and Can that’s hardly a dishonor. (Fans of Amon Duul II, take heart.) Krautrock, for all its disrespectfully shaggy connotations, begins here — more or less with the song of the same name, a 12-minute long epic of distortion, feeback and droning rhythm. “Krautrock” is offered twice, first on the pristinely-remastered album itself, and again on a second disc of rarities which include the group’s BBC radio Peel Sessions. German noise rock may not be the most populist genre in the history of music, but listening to these 1973 recordings there can be no doubt that the music carries importance far beyond the rarified company of rock critics. This stuff still sounds pretty far-out, and the open-ended questions represented by these curious, investigative recordings still have yet to be answered. Whether you’re talking about Japanese noise-pop or microhouse or prog rock or dub reggae, there’s something irreducible in the DNA of modern pop music that can only be traced back to a handful of long-haired German mad-scientists. Faust IV is an essential album whose influence cannot be easily reckoned, and this carefully compiled package is a treat for old fans and new. Tim O’NeilFaust: IV [Remastered]

Artist: Robyn Hitchcock
Album: Storefront Hitchcock
Subtitle: Music from the Jonathan Demme Picture
Label: Noble Rot
Label: Collectors’ Choice
US Release Date: 2007-06-26
UK Release Date: 2007-07-09

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List number: 12

Storefront Hitchcock is a perfectly-timed document, as it shows Hitchcock’s two biggest elements — his quirky songwriting and his paranoid, pretentious persona — rising and converging. In between songs in this performance from the 1998 Jonathan Demme film of the same name, Hitchcock treats the recording like an artifact, constantly talking into the camera to the people of the future. His ramblings on consumer culture and politics are hilarious and self-aware, but also revealing and heartfelt, using the same dichotomy that makes his songs so wonderful. And the set he plays here shows off both the height of his songwriting powers — many of these songs come from his fantastic Moss Elixer album — and his often overlooked guitar skills. While this album was not always that hard to find, it was often overpriced. So to have this lovely digipak reissue come with a reasonable sticker price, there’s almost no excuse for any Hitchcock fans without this to go and pick it up. Maybe if we’re lucky, people of the future, a DVD reissue of the film will follow. If not, at least we have this audio document to study. Let the poking and prodding begin. Matt FianderRobyn Hitchcock: Storefront Hitchcock

Artist: Nick Drake
Album: Fruit Tree
Label: Fontana Island
US Release Date: 2007-11-20
UK Release Date: 2007-11-19

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Artist: Nick Drake
Album: Family Tree
Label: Tsunami
US Release Date: 2007-07-10
UK Release Date: 2007-06-19

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List number: 11

Before Elliott Smith, before Jeff Buckley, there was Nick Drake. In the period from ’69 to ’72, he modestly released three albums, then committed suicide at the age of 26. His albums hadn’t sold particularly well, mostly due to his fear of performing live, and he died believing himself to be a failure. Ironically, his combination of rare talent and early death elevated Drake’s name beyond cult figure to mythological hero; his genius acknowledged more each year, while Donovan, funnily enough, becomes more obscure. The underappreciated blend of orchestral sweeps, acoustic folk, and sweetly melancholic vocals exhibited on Nick’s first two albums have become a template for all the Badly Drawn Boys to follow. His Pink Moon finale — recorded in two hours during the last workable depths of his depression — sent generations of disillusioned baby boomers running for their pills and acoustic guitars one by one. With Fruit Tree reissuing his three studio works this year, Family Tree compiles all of Nick’s suitable work from before his first album, including special moments with his mother and playing the clarinet in a Mozart trio. Now fans finally have a definitive glimpse of the legend, his works, and his roots. Filmore Mescalito HolmesNick Drake: Fruit Tree|Nick Drake: Family Tree

Artist: Pink Floyd
Album: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Subtitle: 40th Anniversary Edition
Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-09-03

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List number: 10

The July 2006 passing of legendary Pink Floyd founding frontman Roger “Syd” Barrett from complications due to his long, silent battle with diabetes, marked the sad end to a life equally shrouded in marvel and mystery. But while Barrett may have disappeared from the public eye following the release of his eponymous second solo album in 1970, his influence as a pioneer of progressive and psychedelic rock has given him a mythical stature far beyond his own physical form. And no album had sealed his epic iconoclasm as such more than Floyd’s 1967 debut Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which was beautifully packaged this year as a three-disc deluxe edition by Capitol Records to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its initial release, featuring the stereo and mono version and a third disc containing a variety of Syd-era outtakes that have been floating on the bootleg circuit for many a year. Little did anyone know that this essential reissue would also serve as an all-too-fitting last goodbye to its primary architect as well. Ron Hart

Pink Floyd – Arnold Layne

Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Artist: Betty Davis
Album: They Say I’m Different
Label: Light in the Attic
US Release Date: 2007-05-15
UK Release Date: 2007-05-07

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List number: 9

A deliciously satisfying gumbo of sensual funk, blues-drenched soul, and bad ass rock, Betty Davis’ They Say I’m Different brings the noise on the sonic and lyrical front. Living up to all of the hype surrounding its reissue, the 1974 recording proves why the reclusive musician’s significance extends beyond her marriage to and influence on Miles Davis. Leaving the topics of love and domesticity to Aretha and Gladys, Betty Davis chartered new lyrical waters by openly confronting the power of the erotic, flaunting her sexual prowess, and even signifying on former lovers (“He’s a Big Freak”). Such bold expressions carried numerous risks, but Davis readily engaged the freaky-deke with grace, power, and bravado. If you’re interested in the multidimensionality of black female sexuality or the historical links that connect audacious blues women like Bessie Smith to modern voices like Tennessee Slim Joi Gilliam, Betty Davis’ They Say I’m Different definitely deserves your attention. Claudrena N. Harold

Betty Davis – Shut Off the Light

Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different

Artist: Young Marble Giants
Album: Colossal Youth
Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-07-09

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List number: 8

Long before quiet got to be the new loud, the Moxham brothers, Stuart and Phillip, took post-punk down to a whisper. They crafted ominous, post-nuclear grooves out of scratchy, pick-heavy guitar, primitive drum machines and the icy pure singing of Allison Statton. Their Colossal Youth, released in 1980, was a dramatic rebuttal to late ’70s sweaty, agitated, politically-charged post-punk, a record that Simon Reynolds (in his excellent notes to this three-album set) described as containing “some of the ‘rightness’ of things found in nature –- leaves, snowflakes, pebbles, sea-shells –- that are at once miraculous yet commonplace”. This superlative reissue makes the milestone Colossal Youth available again for the first time in decades, along with 26 tracks from singles and EPs and five Peel Session cuts, and a long passionate essay by Reynolds. It’s strange, wonderful music, masterfully presented to a new generation of admirers. Jennifer Kelly

Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth

Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth

Artist: The Stanley Brothers
Album: The Definitive Collection (1947-1966)
Label: Time Life
US Release Date: 2007-04-03
UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 7

Brothers Carter and Ralph Stanley made supreme American music together, a twangy confluence of banjo, guitar, and those two voices — Ralph’s high tenor teetering atop Carter’s anchor — that spoke of a profound lonesomeness and tangible countryside, of blue moons and midnight trains, of sins committed and penances sought, of life full of green grass and star-spotted night and of death, looming and indiscriminate. Time Life’s generous three-CD collection is the first to offer up a cross-section of all five labels that the Stanleys made seminal bluegrass recordings for, including Rich-R-Tone, Columbia, Mercury, King, and Starday. When you’re talking the roots of American music, think of these things as thick bits lodged below ground in some deep, dark expanse of soil. Zeth LundyThe Stanley Brothers: The Definitive Collection (1947-1966)

Artist: Laurie Anderson
Album: Big Science
Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2007-07-17
UK Release Date: 2007-06-18

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List number: 6

Laurie Anderson’s debut album, Big Science, sounded like no other when first released in 1982 and remains a uniquely compelling work 25 years on. Not too many musicians change the way we look at the use of language, but Anderson is one of its great manipulators. She turns airplanes into comic nightmares on “From the Air” and her hit single, “O Superman”. Anderson also skewers relationships on “Let X = X” and “Sweaters”. Musically, Big Science is perfectly off-kilter, as well. Joining Laurie’s treated violin are jagged saxophone lines, eerie synths, and syncopated drums. All of this coalesces into adventurous pop music that extends beyond the fringes of art rock and new wave. With bonus tracks, new liner notes, and a warmer sound, the amazing Big Science is bigger than ever. Michael Keefe

Laurie Anderson – O Superman

Laurie Anderson: Big Science

Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: Daydream Nation
Subtitle: Deluxe Edition
Label: Geffen
US Release Date: 2007-06-12
UK Release Date: 2007-07-02

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List number: 5

In 1987, many Gen-Xers scoffed at the over the top nostalgia by the baby boomers over the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and the so-called “Summer of Love”, but fast forward to today, and my, how the shoe is on the other foot. Of course the expanded Daydream Nation is aimed at well-off folks in their 30s and 40s who can more easily afford to shell out 35 bucks for it, but if there was any album in this ongoing series of reissues that deserved such a treatment, it’s Sonic Youth’s groundbreaking 1988 masterpiece. Beautifully packaged, complete with well-written liner notes and a full second disc of key live performances and obscure covers, it’s still all about that great album, which has been tastefully remastered, and which still creates that twinge of euphoria upon hearing “Teen Age Riot” for the thousandth time. To hell with what the kids say; this nostalgia thing is fun. Adrien Begrand

Sonic Youth – Teen Age Riot

Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation

Artist: Fire Engines
Album: Hungry Beat
Label: Acute
US Release Date: 2007-10-02
UK Release Date: Available as import

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List number: 4

Another short-lived, radically daring post-punk band resuscitated, this one revived, at least partly, by its vocal fans in Franz Ferdinand. This single CD repackages nearly everything that Fire Engines ever recorded during a brief period from 1980 to 1981: one album and a handful of singles. Abrasive, atonal, primitive, the Fire Engines were prone to feral grooves and sudden starts and stops, yelps and howls and off-tuned instruments. The CD traces their accelerated evolution from the guttural robot funk of “Get Up and Use Me” through the surprisingly slick, string embellished final single “Big Gold Dream”. The disc includes alternate takes and live versions of the band’s studio hits, as well as an extended historical essay by Bob Last. Still, it’s hard to imagine any amount of verbiage putting this band in context. They seemed to exist outside of any trend known to music fans. Jennifer Kelly

Fire Engines – Get Up and Use Me

Fire Engines: Hungry Beat

Display Artist: Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers
Artist: Gram Parsons
Artist: the Flying Burrito Brothers
Album: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969
Label: Amoeba
US Release Date: 2007-11-06

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List number: 3

After many, many years of independent record shops ripping off their customers with shoddily manufactured live bootlegs, the mother of all mom and pops, California’s Amoeba Records, finally repents for the sins of its retail brethren. And how did they remedy that long-standing sting you felt from that screechy, hissy, alleged “soundboard” Pink Floyd ’72 show you picked up for $50, in spite of the cheesy Xeroxed cover art and CD-R-quality discs? Well, at least for fans of Gram Parsons, by acquiring the soundboard tapes of two killer sets by the Flying Burrito Bros. back when they opened up for the Grateful Dead at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in 1969 from legendary Dead archivist Owsley “Bear” Stanley and packaging them in a beautifully hardcover-bound case as a two-disc set with rare photos and insightful liner notes, as an officially released live document. Thanks to Amoeba, this wonderful find is as essential an addition to any fan of Gram, The Byrds, the Burrito Bros. or California country rock in general, as Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Gilded Palace of Sin and Grievous Angel, both in sound and packaging, which is a lot more than I can say for that copy of Outcesticide I got at Lloyd’s in Wantagh a few years back. Ron Hart

The Flying Burrito Brothers – Six Days on the Road [Live at Altamont in 1969]

Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969

Artist: Miles Davis
Album: The Complete On the Corner Sessions
Label: Columbia
Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2007-09-25
UK Release Date: 2007-09-29

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List number: 2

Preparing to hear a Miles Davis box set is like getting ready to see Michael Jordan play basketball: you know your going to have your brains blown out. Over six hours of material, ranging from the actual On the Corner recordings to unedited takes to tracks off of Get Up With It and Big Fun, plus unreleased pieces never before heard, not to mention it comes in citrus packaging and a shiny gold box. Sequenced chronologically, you could sit down with the whole thing and not realize you’ve just spent your day rolling in sewage. Oh, the music? Well, if you like your jazz charming and nimble, go somewhere else. The pieces contained in this box are the rawest bits of gutter funk this side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Miles’ trumpet squeals and skronks through distortion, guitars chew steel, and Michael Henderson’s bass oozes groove that would make Sly Stone snap out of his heroin daze. Tal RosenbergMiles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions

Artist: Sly & the Family Stone
Album: The Collection
Label: Sony
Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2007-04-10

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List number: 1

From the zoom-zoom drum pattern that propels “Underdog”, the opening track of 1967’s A Whole New Thing, to the complacent chamois-funk that closes out 1974’s Small Talk, Sly & the Family Stone’s seven-album discography is a decisive entry in the pantheon of contemporary musical hybrids. Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart and his multiracial band were pop alchemists, funk titans, and prescient advocates of the genre mash-up that continues to evolve today. They sang about social and cultural change, about falling victim to change’s disillusionment, and they sounded like change, a wild tuft of confidence that stuck out from the pack of progressives. It’s joyous and angry and triumphant and vanquished stuff, a roller coaster of highs and lows that breathes possibility and bleeds transcendence. After years of poor CD transfers and out-of-print titles, all seven albums have been reissued at last, and the music is as fresh and devastating as it ever was, even if the band’s choice of outfits has since gone out of style. Ain’t none higher, indeed. Zeth Lundy

Sly & the Family Stone – Medley from The Kraft Music Hour

Sly & the Family Stone: The Collection

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