Sunday, February 21, 2021

Best Of 2020: Out Of The Past

Herein I end the Best Of 2020 series as it began, with a multi-genre roundup of some amazing releases from last year, the difference being these are all reissues or otherwise from out of the past. As usual, click play here or below to listen as your read. 

The Big Boxes

Lou Reed - New York If only the New York City Man himself could have lived to see this glorious super-deluxe edition, with the original album luxuriously spread across four sides of vinyl and a DVD of a brilliant live show from Montreal in 1989. You also get the album on CD and discs of live takes and sketches. If the latter are not as revealing as you might hope, it's only further proof of the laser-focus Reed brought to the creation of the album, which never wavered between thought and expression. The songs themselves have a remarkable double-life, as a catalog of the ills of the 80's (AIDS, urban decline, climate change) and and reminder of how far we have to go in addressing some of them. And that Reed-Rathke guitar interplay never gets old.

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Live In Maui In the electric church of rock & roll, I'm nominating Eddie Kramer and John McDermott for sainthood. This staggering box set, containing over 90 minutes of fantastic live performances from August 1970 plus a new documentary, Music, Money, Madness...Jimi Hendrix In Maui, is yet another tribute to their careful stewardship of Hendrix's work. While some of this material has come out in other forms (and bootlegs), their sonic and sequencing magic has made for a coherent and thrilling listening experience. Highlights are too many to mention, from a fire-breathing Voodoo Child (Slight Return) to the finest version of Villanova Junction I've ever heard, and the documentary puts everything in illuminating context. Billy Cox (bass) sounds sharper than he did some months earlier when the Band Of Gypsys rang in 1970, and Mitch Mitchell proves himself Hendrix's ideal drummer, even on the tracks where he had to overdub to help conquer wind noise. It's a new landmark on my groaning shelf of posthumous Hendrix releases and I vow not to be surprised if McDermott and Kramer wow me like this again.

Jamaican Sounds

Various Artists - Coxsone's Dramatic and Music Centre Smashing remastering on this reissue puts you right in the room as Clement "Coxsone" Dodd recorded these tracks in the early 60's. Falling somewhere between jazz, doo wop, mento, and ska, this is not just a great piece of history but a direct Rx for your pleasure centers.

Various Artists - Blue Coxsone Box Set Yes, the back catalog of Studio One is endless. Yes, the super-cute 6x7" box set, which faithfully reproduced these mid-60's rarities in physical form, is sold out. But that shouldn't stop you from getting to these delightful - and mostly unfamiliar - tracks.

Various Artists - Pirate's Choice, Vol. 2 Delightfully deep cuts from Studio One in the 70's, many of them alternates, like an especially shamanistic take on Door Peep by Burning Spear. But it's now-forgotten tracks like Black Is Black by The Freedom Singers that truly astonish.

Various Artists - When Jah Come Among those we lost in 2020 was legendary reggae producer Bunny "Striker" Lee and this stellar collection of rare and alternate takes is a fitting homage to his sound, which was sleek, propulsive, and hypnotic. Too many highlights to note, but if you like roots reggae and dub, you will be thanking the good people at Pressure Sounds for their curatorial expertise.

African Head Charge - Churchical Chant Of The Iyabinghi When British dub master Adrian Sherwood collaborates with percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, this is what happens - explorations of rhythm, bass, and studio sonics, arriving at what could be settings for unknown rituals. This collection of reworked outtakes will alter your mind in a purely organic fashion.

Mystery Music

24 Carat Black - III Dale Warren's legacy was mostly earned by the extraordinary Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth from 1973, but over a decade after Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday, Numero Group has given us another unfinished gem in these sparse jazz-funk-soul pieces from the late 80's. Using just bass, percussion and touches of other instruments, Warren conjures a late-night vibe of romance and mystery. Just as mysterious is why the three singers featured - Princess Hearn, Vicki Gray, and especially LaRhonda LeGette - are not household names.

Miles Davis - The Lost Septet I've had a bootleg of this 1971 Vienna gig forever (with an incomplete Sanctuary, however) and can attest to its majesty. Featuring a band that never recorded in the studio, it's an essential piece of the electric period. 

Beverly Glenn-Copeland - Transmissions and Live at Le Guess Who? 2018 The rediscovery of Beverly Glenn-Copeland's genre-defying work, whether the jazz/folk of his debut or the new age ambient of Keyboard Fantasies, has been a highlight of the 21st century. Transmissions is a wonderfully curated (and immaculately pressed) souvenir that spans his whole career, including triumphant live performances from 2018 and 2019. To hear more of his great touring band, featuring phenomenal drummer Bianca Palmer, grab the whole set from Le Guess Who?, which has been released separately. P.S. Early in the days of "shelter in place," MoMA PS1 shared an online screening of the marvelous documentary about Glenn-Copeland - keep an eye here and catch it if you can.

Ethan Woods - Mossing Around And Other Songs As I noted when this was originally released in 2018 (in a vinyl-only edition of 30), Woods creates "a mood that is alternately wacky and spiritual, spinning tales backed by his guitar, Aaron Smith's laptop, and Alice Tolan-Mee's keyboard and violin. Call it "chamber-freak-folk-tronica," if you must call it something." Now, we have a digital edition, which includes slightly enhanced "hyper-real" versions of each song, so everyone can experience this unique headspace and do some mossing around of their own.

British Folk Adjacent

Keith Relf - All the Falling Angels - Solo Recordings & Collaborations 1965-1976 While some of this is meandering and sketchy (or familiar from previous Repertoire reissues), taken as a whole, it makes the strongest case yet for Relf as a creative force outside The Yardbirds. Based on All The Pretty Horses from a BBC session and the spine-tingling 47-second demo of Only The Black Rose (later polished up for Little Games, the final Yardbirds album), he was a Joe Boyd production away from true Brit-folk godhead.

Trees - 50th Anniversary Edition Speaking of Brit-folk godhead, this four-LP compilation brings together The Garden of Jane Delawney (1970) and On The Shore’(1971), the two unjustly obscure albums by this band, alongside demos, BBC sessions, etc. Featuring the crystalline voice of the late Celia Humphris (she died in January 2021) and intersecting as much with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay as with the delicate side of King Crimson, this is essential listening if any of those are important to you. 

The Clientele - It's Art Dad Not every song lands with the acuity of classic Clientele, but atmospherically speaking this compilation of material from the mid-90's (available digitally for the first time) will give you all the reverb-drenched, 60's-inspired feels of Alasdair MacLean & Co. at their best. 

Michael Chapman - Sweet Powder & Wrytree Drift Often featuring the legendary guitarist, singer, and songwriter at his moodiest - even Hi Heel Sneakers is rendered as a swampy fever-dream - this reissue makes two excellent self-released albums (from 2008 and 2010 respectively) easily available. There's more from the Chapman motherlode, too, including an expanded version of Pleasures Of The Street, a smoking live set from 1975. Get your pick and shovel, and dig deep - the rewards will be many.

Rockin' Alternatives

Supergrass - The Strange Ones (1994-2008) While I can't attest to the super-deluxe edition of this career retrospective (I have seen complaints about the picture disc vinyl, however), the streaming version is a fab non-chronological career overview with some nice live and demo bonuses. It's a fun listen for this longtime fan and one I hope will convince others of the greatness of a band that is perpetually under-appreciated in the USA.

Ut - In Gut's House As I said when their 1986 debut was reissued in 2019, Ut were "were one of the best of the lot," when it came to New York no-wave, and this 1987 LP doesn't change that opinion one iota.

David Bowie - Originally released exclusively through his website in 1999, Bowie took performances mostly from Amsterdam, New York, and Rio (all 1997), and selected them for maximum excitement. Seamlessly sequenced and mastered so you never know the difference between venues, it makes for a thrilling listen. Clearly the best of the lot of 1990's performances with which the Bowie estate has been flooding the market as of late. 

Soundscapes And Cinema

Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd - Another Flower Recorded in 2013 but never released for some reason, Budd's death seems to have impelled Guthrie to gift us this swoon-worthy collection of jewel-toned ambiance. Swoon away...

Brian Eno - Film Music 1976-2020 While the two very familiar tracks from Apollo (as used in Trainspotting, etc.) threaten to eclipse some of the other pieces, this is a fine repository of strays from Eno's film and TV career. Notable tracks from Heat, Dune, and Top Boy demonstrate his unmatched ability to create atmosphere, and his cover of You Don't Miss Your Water (from Married To The Mob) shows off his unheralded skills as an interpreter.

Mort Garson - Didn't You Hear? This soundtrack from a 1970 art-house flick shows that the magic of Mother Earth's Plantasia was no accident - but is astonishing how quickly Garson mastered the Moog. Next time you're doing a gratitude exercise, send some love to Sacred Bones Records for this and other entries in their reissue series.

Ennio Morricone - Segreto If you're as big a Morricone fan as I am, you've likely heard some of these tropes before, whether hard-driving crime jazz or comically suave sex-comedy pop, but everything just sounds better here. The sequencing and mastering are both masterful, befitting the respect demanded by Il Maestro for both his work ethic and musical brilliance. Also, some of these are alternate takes or previously unreleased so this in no way a posthumous cash-in. If this is the start of a tsunami of Morricone retrospectives, I am so ready to surf that wave.

Find more from out of the past in the 2020 archive playlist and keep track of 2021's discoveries here.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2019: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2018: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2017: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2016: Reissues

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