Sunday, May 08, 2022

Best Of 2021: Out Of The Past

According to a report in Music Business Worldwide from January 2022, consumption of "catalog" music (i.e. stuff older than 18 months) is not only the majority of listening overall, but actually increased  between 2020 and 2021. They speculate that some of this might be due to older listeners flocking to streaming services during COVID and staying in their comfort zone when they get there. As someone who is constantly in a state of near-overwhelm trying to keep up with new releases (and filter the best stuff to you), I get it! But, perhaps ironically, my consumption of reissues was lower than usual in 2021, which makes it easier for me to create a more concise list of what rose to the top. So here are a mere dozen of the best releases from out of the past. Two of them you'll have to find on vinyl, but you can listen to tracks from the others here or in the playlist below. 


Bob Dylan - Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985 Just in case you think I’m a total Dylan Stan, take note that not only didn’t I buy the last two volumes in this series (More Blood, More Tracks and Travelin’ Thru), I didn’t even review them. I listened, of course, and found them wanting. It could be that I was just still rushing on that run from Volume 13: Trouble No More, which was my 2017 reissue of the year. That ecstatic sound continues almost unbroken on the first two discs here, which bring to light the sessions that led to Shot Of Love, revealing that what became a good album could have been a great one. With the same core band that made Saved and toured that album and Slow Train Coming (most notably Fred Tackett (guitar), Tim Drummond (bass), Jim Keltner (drums) and backup singers Clydie King, Carolyn Dennis, and Regina McCrary), these recordings find a well-oiled machine able to respond to Dylan's every wish and whim with passion and professionalism. This leads to jaw-dropping moments like Price Of Love and Borrowed Time, where Dylan makes up songs as he goes along, the band follows, and you nearly get a master take - if he had bothered to record them again, they might have become classics. Dylan also assays a number of covers, dispatching classics like I Wish It Would Rain and Fever with casual mastery. He even has a run at Sweet Caroline, investing that crappy song with more feeling and depth than Neil Diamond possesses on his best days.

Discs three and four jump ahead to the making of Infidels, it's ultra-clean digital soundscape a world away from the road-hardened greasiness of the earlier material. But a band with Mark Knopfler, Mick Taylor, and Sly & Robbie (guitars, bass, and drums respectively) is incapable of doing wrong, even when the songs go awry, like Julius And Ethel, a tuneless and tone-deaf tribute to the Rosenbergs. But most of it is magic, especially the spine-tingling full-band version of Blind Willie McTell, recorded on the first day of the sessions. Singers, songwriters, and musicians might be ready to sell part of their souls to be involved with something like that. For Dylan, it was just another day at the office. There are other revelations here, including great versions of Foot Of Pride, Lord Protect My Child, and a storming live take on Enough Is Enough, a song that never made it into the studio. The only complaint I have about this phenomenal set is that the compilers didn't include all three songs Dylan played with The Plugz on Late Night With David Letterman in March 1984. But that's a minor quibble about a major achievement.


Lee Morgan - The Complete Live At The Lighthouse I know, I know, there was that great John Coltrane discovery last year, which was certainly a more than worthy document that needed to come out. But this Lee Morgan material is so furiously, gloriously, compelling and alive that I just keep coming back to it. My relationship to the original Live At The Lighthouse double album started over 30 years ago with some very personal crate digging: in my brother's collection. I was looking for anything early 70s that rode the line of fusion, progressive jazz, spiritual jazz, what have you. I was partly on a mission for Mike D., who was in constant need of new grooves to mine for the Beastie Boys. So anything of interest I would tape twice and send him a copy. While I'm not sure what he thought of LATL, I became obsessed, listening to the tape on repeat. Auto-reverse was definitely employed. I could not get enough of each long, luxurious track, with sparkling interplay between Morgan's fluttering and soaring trumpet and his genius band of Bennie Maupin (sax/flute/bass clarinet), Harold Mabern (piano), Jymie Meritt (bass), and Mickey Roker (drums). All of the compositions were new and had great introductory sections and chord changes that inspired the best from everyone. The music was much knottier and explosive than the soul jazz Morgan was known for, approaching free jazz at times, such as the oozing majesty of Maupin on  Neophilia. I even got hooked on Morgan's laconic introductions: "This is one composed by Harold Mabern...very bright, busy, and the title is The Beehive." 

I never spotted that album in the wild but one day in 1997, I was walking past Academy Records and did a double-take: there in the window was a three-CD set of Live At The Lighthouse. I did a U-turn, walked in, and snapped it up. I was in pig heaven with that thing, which had more songs than the original four, all of which were as good as the ones I had been listening to for years. But it quickly became clear that Blue Note had used different takes at times; intricate solos that I knew as well as my own soul were different - as was the intro to The Beehive. But it was only slightly frustrating as the music was so fantastic, especially the Latin-tinged and exquisitely melancholy I Remember Britt. But now, finally, we have it all, 12 sets of music recorded over three days - over seven and a half hours of music, and not a half-hearted note to be heard. Sometimes I dive in and listen to an individual set, or swap through different recordings of the same song, never tiring of any of the variations. I have even worked eight-hour day listening to nothing else and been a happy man, cursing only the interruptions of meetings and phone calls! - thank you, Blue Note. Thank you, Lee Morgan.


Sonny Greenwich - Sun Song I'm fairly convinced that there is no better fan community than that of the Beastie Boys. The most recent "Exhibit A" being that of Fred Heff, someone I met online through that world who has now turned me on to the extraordinary, Montreal-based reissue label Return To Analog by sending me a stack of recent releases. All of them were distinguished by masterful pressings, gorgeous remastering, and quality design and packaging. These are the kind of LPs you invite people over to listen to and this 1974 album by Canadian guitarist Greenwich may have been the best of the lot, a dose of spiritual jazz that really delivers on the promise of the genre. Greenwich's questing single-string solos, played with a fat tone just this side of distortion, are perfectly accompanied by the warm pool of sound created by Don Thompson (piano), Rick Homme (bass), Terry Clarke (drums) and Clayton Johnson (percussion). I fell in love at first listen and now give the album pride of place alongside things like In A Silent Way by Miles Davis and Journey to Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane. You'll likely never find an original copy - and this one probably sounds better - so consider this a public service from Return To Analog.

Nico - Drama Of Exile Long out of print and still absent from streaming services, Nico's penultimate album gets a much-needed reissue from Modern Harmonic. Don't kick yourself for missing the translucent red and black marble limited edition, just get the black vinyl and be happy you can listen to Nico's brilliant entry into post-punk. Angular guitars, pumping bass and drums, icy keyboards, and occasional sax create perfect frames for her songs, which are typically dark, but more melodic than some of her other stuff. She also covers I'm Waiting For The Man and Heroes, attacking both with iconoclastic energy, as if she actually could better the originals - the fact that she gets as close as she does is a minor miracle. 


Carroll Thompson - Hopelessly In Love (40th Anniversary Expanded Edition) Available on vinyl for the first time since its release in 1981, this reissue throws a spotlight on one of the greatest lovers rock albums of all time. In fact, the whole genre, a romantic, British-born offshoot of reggae, could be explained by Thompson's sweet voice floating over these languid grooves, which have just a touch of the burgeoning sound of digital dancehall. The expanded version adds material from various 12" singles, including Make It With You, a divine duet with Sugar Minott from 1983. If you're unfamiliar with Thompson or lovers rock, press play and fall hopelessly in love.

Various Artists - Different Fashion: High Note Dancehall, 1979-1981 This collection of 33 early dancehall 12-inches (11 released here for the first time) came out last December, when barbecue season seemed but a dream or a half-forgotten memory. Now, the time to fire up the grill is here, and this expert overview of Sonia Pottinger's High Note singles is here for you to provide the perfect soundtrack. Featuring some familiar names, like Ansel Collins and Marcia Griffiths, and many that are less so - Zara, Tony Tuff, Lee Van Cleef, Sonya Spence, etc. - singing over killer cuts by The Revolutionaries, Roots Radics, and others, this is a nonstop groove-a-thon. After all, who wants to keep picking the music, when there's BBQ to tend to?

Bob Marley & The Wailers - The Capitol Sessions '73 After being removed from their opening slot on a tour with Sly & The Family Stone - for being too good - BMW made use of their time on the west coast by booking an in-studio set, which was recorded and filmed in front of a small and extremely lucky audience. Finally coming to light (at least officially), it's another precious - and smoking hot - document of the band just on the cusp of Peter Tosh's departure. Bunny Wailer was already home in Jamaica, having found that life on the road was not for him. As on Talkin' Blues, the 1991 collection which included material recorded a week later at The Record Plant, Joe Higgs sits in for Bunny Wailer and sounds great, although Marley and Tosh are front and center. But perhaps the true stars are the Barrett brothers, Aston and Carlton, whose bass and drums provide a ceaselessly inventive and intricately funky foundation for everything that transpires. 


The Beatles - Let It Be (Super Deluxe) Everything you need to know about this forensic and deeply moving document of the Beatles semi-last album (and the accompanying Get Back documentary) can be found here. Where will the Fab Four reissue train stop next? 


Ike & Tina Turner - The Bolic Sound Sessions This collection of alternate takes, previously unreleased songs, and live material from the closing years of Ike & Tina's musical and personal partnership, is a pointed reminder of the musical alchemy they created together. Ike named their studio Bolic Sound in tribute to Tina's maiden name, Bullock, and perhaps also to her hyperbolic power as a singer and performer. While there are a few unnecessary moments (there was no need to remake their versions of River Deep-Mountain High or Proud Mary), much of this is furiously funky or hypnotically bluesy stuff. The backings show Ike's skill as an arranger as they manage to meet Tina's unholy power without ever pushing her to the background. There is no debate that Ike was an often reprehensible person, but we likely would never have had Tina as we knew her without him.

Leslie Winer - When I Hit You - You'll Feel It This is one of those axis-correcting collections, detailing the last 30 years of a unique career by an artist last compiled a decade ago. A literal black-market baby, Winer carved her own path from the beginning, turning a provocative way with words and her intense appearance into friendships with William S. Burroughs and Jean-Michel Basquiat - and a notable modeling career. As the 80s came to a close, she began recording, completing Witch, her first album, in 1990. While it was ahead of its time in its combination of spoken word, samples, programmed drums, and dubbed-out bass, Witch was delayed for three years and subsumed on release by music Winer had anticipated, like Portishead and Massive Attack. But Winer was probably never going to fill stadiums or soundtrack your local Starbucks; she's just a little too edgy for that. But her commitment and strength of personality (or even personhood) shine through every fascinating track here. Naturally, Light In The Attic do a wonderful job with the packaging, so you might want to track down the vinyl - Popmarket has it for a reasonable price. 

Perrofláuta - s/t First digital release for the 1998 debut by this Spanish band, which featured Gecko Turner alongside Markos Bayón and C´sar Inn. Five years before Gecko's epochal Guapapasea!, you can hear his blissful blend of south-of-the-equator sounds in nascent form. As we approach the eighth year without a new record from him (save for a compilation), this is doing a nice job of filling in the gaps.

Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band - Tezeta Awesome Tapes From Africa once again live up to their name with this reissue of an album originally released on cassette in 1975. All instrumental, it features those wonderfully watery Ethiopian harmonies at full strength, led on by Mergia's fanciful organ playing, which is supported by mesmerizingly mellow rhythm tracks and beautiful horns. Though expertly remastered, there's still a trace of evocative murkiness - and if you want to amplify that you can buy it on cassette!

For more reissues and excavations from 2021, dig into this playlist, and keep up with with what 2022 brings to light here

You may also enjoy: 
Best Of 2020: Out Of The Past
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
Best Of The Rest Of 12: Out Of The Past

No comments:

Post a Comment