Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Best Of 2018: Out Of The Past

One probably unintended consequence of the development of high-fidelity recording is that many genres of music are now in direct competition with their own past. The CD era put this into overdrive, with the rise of remastered, deluxe editions of classic albums as well as the further reclamation of records that were out of print, because they were forgotten, or swamped by legal or economic issues. And now we have the vinyl revival going over much of the same ground. Small as it is, the return of 12” plastic represents the only growth area in physical media.

Some styles are more in danger of being overcome by their legacies than others - reggae, jazz, country and blues, come to mind. While it would be fascinating to explore why that is, in the interest of space I will simply point out that some of the examples below may provide more instant satisfaction than new releases in those genres. So dig in and feast - but remember to put in the effort with current artists to keep the music alive. 

First, catch up with this mid-year post that focused on reissues. 

Reggae Redux

Various Artists - The #1 Sound: From The Vaults, Vol. 1 Don’t judge this album by its cover as it is not your standard Studio One collection. Originally put out in a limited edition for Record Store Day, this really does deliver a “from the vaults” experience with one rare reggae single after another, most never compiled before. Each sounds like a lost classic, with only the slightest dip in quality in the 80’s tracks. Will the river ever stop flowing?

Justin Hinds - Travel With Love Speaking of great reggae, having Omnivore Recordings, one of the best reissue labels out there, turn its attention to Jamaica is something to celebrate. Their attention to sonic detail is present from the first notes of this beautifully remastered collection, most of which comes from 1984. It's amazing to think that was 20 years after Hinds recorded such genre-defining songs as Carry Go Bring Come, but you don’t even need to be familiar with that song to enjoy this smooth celebration of deep grooves and positivity. 

King Tubby with the Riley All Stars - Concrete Jungle Dub After Lee Perry, Tubby is really the only dub master who can hold your interest over a full album - and this is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Originally pressed in 1976 in an edition of 300, the fact that we can so easily access these cavernous epics is a jaw-dropping benefit of the age of streaming. Don’t take it for granted, though, just sit in awe as some of the best musicians on the island are put through some truly fascinating paces. 

Horace Andy - Exclusively I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of these 80’s Horace Andy reissues. This one contains the original version of Live In The City, later revisited by Massive Attack. 

Jazz Journeys

Charles Mingus - Jazz In Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden This four-hour-plus cornucopia of Mingus circa 1973 was taped, broadcast on WDET and then squirreled away in a suitcase by drummer Roy Brooks, where it stayed until its rediscovery and release last year. It's no wonder he grabbed it up because for that one night, he was one of the greatest drummers I've ever heard. His solos are bold, dramatic, positively Bonham-esque masterpieces and the rest of the time finds him goading on the superb rhythm section of Mingus on bass and Don Pullen on piano. The latter also turns in some stellar work, either sparkling solos or soulful comping for sax player John Stubblefield and trumpeter Joe Gardner. Mingus is maybe a little subdued (for him) but always swinging and I can only imagine his bemused expression when Brooks brought the house down with a musical saw solo for the ages. The sound is mostly very good, but be prepared to ride out some distortion at times. All of the tracks are of epic length and there's also a generous interview with Brooks. In fact, this release is perhaps even more crucial to his legacy than it is to Mingus's!

Thelonious Monk - M√łnk This concise and delightful Monk set from Copenhagen in 1963 was almost landfill when an intrepid soul reclaimed it and gifted it to the world. One of my favorite things to do when listening to Monk his really focus on his comping behind solos - it's so fractured and fun - and he was in fine form throughout. Charlie Rouse, John Ore and Frankie Dunlop (sax, bass, drums, respectively) were old hands with the master by this point and more than deliver. If you see a master tape in a dumpster, grab it!

Bubbha Thomas & The Lightmen - Creative Music: The Complete Works The invaluable Now-Again label has done quite the service in bringing these four LP's by Bubbha Thomas and The Lightmen back to, er, light. Spanning the years 1970 - 1975, Thomas leads his shaggy group down paths previously explored only by the likes of Sun Ra, creating his own cosmology of Afro-spiritual jazz-funk. While not every track is a stone classic, there is nothing less than fascinating to be found here and much that is stupendously involving. You might lose a little time listening to these, but when you resurface you will feel refreshed and ready to face new challenges.

Various Artists - Nicola Conte Presents Cosmic Forest: The Spiritual Side of MPS Conte is the Italian composer with big ears who put together the amazing Viagem collections of rare Brazilian music (must-haves, BTW). Here he's turned his discerning taste toward MPS (Musik Produktion Schwarzwald (Black Forest Music Production)), an important German jazz label. As the title suggests, there's an exploratory nature to what Conte has selected, but you also get some hard-swinging and even a sprightly Dexter Gordon/Slide Hampton cut that somehow fits right in.


Gecko Turner - Soniquete: The Sensational Sound Of Gecko Turner If you’re not already obsessed with Turner’s pan-Latin, Afro-Carib jams, filled with killer grooves and singing that alternates between honey and sandpaper, you probably just haven’t listened yet. This collection is a great starting place, cherry picking from his four albums and adding one new song, the infectious Cortando Bajito. Don’t come running to me when you don’t want to hear anything else but Gecko - unless it’s to say “Thank you.”

Basa Basa - Homowo This 1978 release is the third album by this Ghanaian band and from what I’ve heard it’s the best. Their grooves by the rhythm section of twin brothers Joe and John Nyaku are never less than deep but the addition of extremely creative synth wiz Themba Matebese lifts Homowo into the stratosphere. Prepare to dance and to be surprised by this crucial reissue from Vintage Voudou. 

Orchestre Abass  - De Bassari Togo This brief collection, now more widely available after a limited vinyl release, also rides keyboards to glory. But instead of synths it’s the wildly overdriven organ that stuns here. Polydor put out a couple of singles from these 1972 sessions, but half these tracks sat in a Accra warehouse for decades. Thanks to the intrepid work of Analog Africa, we now have the first approximation of what an album by this group would have sounded like. 

Funk, Soul & Hip Hop

Jerry Peters & Jerry Butler - Melinda OST Well, pardon me for not looking deeply enough into the credits of albums by The Sylvers or Friends of Distinction, just to name two artists Peters worked closely with as a songwriter and producer - because his name was completely unfamiliar to me. But one listen to the ultra-funky Part III on this obscure Blaxploitation soundtrack put him instantly in the pantheon of groove. Two chicken-scratch guitars mesh tightly to a Clavinet for a workout that will work you OUT. There are many other pleasures to be found here, too, including four vocals by “Iceman” Butler who gives it gritty or smooth, as the material demands, knowing Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were providing stiff competition in cinemas around the country. He more than holds his own, which can be said for this soundtrack in general. Get to it. 

C-Bo - Mobfather: The John Gotti Pack Go ahead, complain about this west coast veteran’s completely unreconstructed lyrical approach, I’ll be too busy nodding my head to his mesmerizing flow. Even in 2003, when the earliest material here first appeared, he wasn’t necessarily moving with the times. Look, one song is called I Like Gangster Sh*T - and so do I - so if you don’t, steer clear. His 2019 album, Animal, is even better, making him one of the few rappers that has sustained a career for over 25 years. 

Eric B. & Rakim - The Remixes (1987 - 1992) I’m not sure I would recommend listening to all 2.5 hours in one sitting, but it’s fantastic to have all of these expanded and exploded versions in one place. For all their grousing about what the Brits did with their Long Island boom-bap on the Seven Minutes Of Madness mix of Paid In Full, they were smart enough to engage some of the U.K.’s finest on subsequent remixes. So you get classics by Norman Cook, the Wild Bunch and Blacksmith alongside stellar work by DJ Mark “The 45 King” and others. Eric B. himself takes on Mahogany and gives it a new groove that shows he was listening keenly to the Bristol sound. Sprinkle these around your party playlists and astonish your friends. 

It’s All Classic Rock

The Beatles - The Beatles 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition Say what you want about the Apple machinery that keeps churning out new reasons for you to buy old Beatles, but at least they are doing a kick-ass job with it. Also, unless you can’t live without the visual component (I’ve heard the book is nice), you can listen to every track on Spotify, something you can’t say for every box set (ahem, Bob Dylan!). This set has more of the famous Esher (or Kinfauns) demos than I’ve ever heard, which allows you to hear how good the bones of most of these songs were. Then, when they get into the studio, there are a few terrifying moments when it sounds like they might lose the essence of a song - and then the thrill when they solve it and make it to the magnificent final take. Listen carefully to all the outtakes to hear Paul say "I was trying to do a Smokey - and I aren't Smokey."And the new stereo mix of the final album sounds really great, punchy and thick, without supplanting my favorite version, the 2014 mono vinyl remaster.  Fab gear, boys! Let’s see what they do with Abbey Road...

Jimi Hendrix - Both Sides Of The Sky and Electric Ladyland 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition The first of these is supposedly the final collection of studio outtakes - and there is some barrel-scraping in evidence as we get TWO tracks with Hendrix essentially a sideman for Stephen Stills. And one vocal performance by Lonny Youngblood is usually more than enough. But there are some glories here, too, especially the wonderful Things I Used To Do, with Johnny Winter. It makes you realize how rare it is to hear Hendrix with another guitarist, yet another reminder of what should have been. The Electric Ladyland box set is, in a word, magnificent. From restoring Hendrix’s choice for a cover photo to making the album sound better than ever, it feels like a true labor of love. Read my write-up in Rock & Roll Globe for more details.

Bob Dylan - Live 1962-1966: Rare Performances From The Copyright Collections There's been a lot of talk about the More Blood, More Tracks dissection of Blood On The Tracks, but it didn't move me. The final album is just too perfect. This, however, is a wonderful alternate history of his career from Folk City to the motorcycle accident. The electric cuts are especially essential.

The Doors - Waiting For The Sun 50th Anniversary Edition As I noted in my Rock & Roll Globe article, not every outtake or demo of interest from this period of The Doors was included here. But the extra tracks were certainly illuminating and occasionally hair-raising, like the spittle-drenched rough mix of Five To One. For more context, check this handy playlist of previously released demos and live takes. 

David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000 and Never Let Me Down (2018) It's easy to overlook all the Bowie product coming out just because there's so much of it. But having the legendary Glastonbury concert so easily available is not to be taken for granted. Even more worthy of attention is the reclamation of Never Let Me Down, with new string arrangements, less clutter and other sonic improvements, revealing a fine set of songs. It shouldn't work but it does! It's currently available as part of the Loving The Alien box set, which also has live albums and everything Bowie released from 1983-1988. Find Never Let Me Down on its own here.

The Allman Brothers Band - Bear’s Sonic Journals: Fillmore East February 1970 More Allman Brothers, you say? Another Fillmore East show, you cry? Yes, but this set has been out of print for some time and finds the ABB at a key point, connecting the dots between the rough and ready Ludlow Garage shows and the world-beating 1971 concerts recorded at the same venue. Do not ask for whom Duane’s slide guitar weeps - it weeps for all of us who miss him. 

Hiss Golden Messenger - Virgo Fool If you don’t already have the first three albums, by all means get the box set called Devotion: Songs About Rivers And Spirits And Children. But if you’ve already delved into M.C. Taylor’s rich catalog than this rarities collection will be a wonderful treat on its own. In fact, it hangs together so well, it’s almost like getting a new studio album from one of today’s finest songwriters, which is something to celebrate indeed. 

Fleet Foxes - First Collection (2006 - 2009) This beautifully packaged set puts that seismic first album in context, with demos, prototypes and early releases. Some of it reminds you how hard Robin Pecknold & Co. had to work to be great - and what a high level they reached in fairly short order. The facsimile notebook is a nice bonus and putting the bonus material on 10” discs helps you focus on each period of their development.

Public Image Limited - The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs From The Heart) There is so much brilliance here that I hesitate to say anything that will turn you off. BUT: the way the set is structured, with one disc of A-Sides, one disc of B-Sides, etc., mostly in chronological order, you take their journey from being unbelievably astonishing (1978-81) to merely good (and occasionally awful) over and over. I think I'll just make a playlist of all the best stuff and leave it at that!

Old Folk

Terry Callier - The Chess/Cadet Singles...Plus! This is a bit of a grab-bag, with classic tracks alongside outtakes that find Callier sometimes trying to be something he isn't. But when it works, say on City Side And Countryside, you marvel at what a unique talent he was. If you're unfamiliar with the man, try this career overview I put together in the wake of his death in 2012.

Beverly Glenn-Copeland - Beverly Glenn-Copeland Album This incredible jazz-folk excursion was recorded in 1970 and is a must for anyone who loves Tim Buckley, Vashti Bunyan or anyone who strums an acoustic guitar but doesn't play by the rules. Glenn-Copeland, now a trans man, has an extraordinary voice and equally magnificent control over it, a rich contralto that seems to have no weak spots. The album itself has one throw-away track (My Old Rag or the Hysterical Virgin - the name is a dead giveaway!) but is otherwise a complete masterpiece. Glenn-Copeland later recorded Keyboard Fantasies, an ambient/new age album, and is still working today, alone in his niche. Join him there.

Find tracks from all of these albums in this playlist or below. For more from out of the past, check out the 2018 Archive here and keep up with this year's rediscoveries by following Of Note In 2019 (Out Of The Past).

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