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December 16, 2011

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In The Dust #12: The 10 Best Reissues of 2011

by @thoughtontracks

Once a week In The Dust rolls up its sleeves and digs to the back of the rack to find that record, the one you never knew you always wanted, the one that’s lost but not forgotten.

You’ve probably noticed a rush of lists lately, not only here at Thought On Tracks, but from every other music outlet. It’s that time of year, the output of new tracks slows and the critics begin to look back, not forward, as the calendar reaches its last page. We’ve seen the release of some brilliant new music this year, adeptly and diligently covered by our very talented authors, but as most of you may know, the eye of this piece looks not on the new, and this author’s sensibilities are dated and dusty. No release can better purse its lips and release one’s taste from the grime of age than the reissue.

Cleaned up, remastered, rediscovered, retooled, reordered, repackaged, revamped, the reissue is the music industry’s key weapon in the fight against time. Tastes change. Technology advances. Production slows and so does the heart. It is for all these reasons a reissue is necessary, to keep us from forgetting history in a society that is constantly looking forward, behaving as if it has none. Reissues, like Proust’s madeleine cake, re-invigorate a love that feels both lost and everlasting, tied to a period of life into which we are wholly thrust, through the channel of that love, and are allowed to somehow, indirectly, experience again. It is in this spirit that the best reissues are created: thoughtful, reverent, and comprehensive. It is in this same spirit that I present, in no particular order, for each is immortal in its own right, the 10 best reissues of 2011.

Brian WilsonThe Smile Sessions Box Set

What is there to say about an album that is at once completely incoherent and absolutely brilliant? Borne of utter insanity, Smile and its ancillary recordings are, not surprisingly, in large part utterly insane. Began by The Beach Boys in 1966 as an American answer to Sgt. Pepper’s, Smile held a reputation as one of the greatest and most fabled unfinished projects in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The Smile Sessions Box Set collects all the tape from the definitive Smile sessions, recorded with The Beach Boys in 1966-1967.

Inextricably tied to its mastermind, Brian Wilson’s, mythical antics, deteriorating emotional condition, abuse of LSD and general erraticism, Smile, Wilson’s “teenage anthem to God”, was widely believed to be dead, forever lost to the annals of rock lore, but with the help of original lyricist Van Dyke Parks and musician and composer Darian Sahanaja, Wilson was able to finally complete the album, rerecording it in its entirety and releasing it in 2004.

John FaheyYour Past Comes Back to Haunt You: The Fonotone Years (1958-1965)

Many will not have heard of John Fahey, but if you like M. Ward, you like John Fahey. Ward admittedly built the bulk of his guitar style on Fahey’s brand of minimalist folk fingerpicking, often crediting with spawning its own genre, American Primitive Guitar. Borrowing from a number of American music traditions, Fahey yoked traditional musical strands of American roots together with world and the avant-garde to create something familiar, yet entirely unique.

Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You: The Fonotone Years (1958-1965) chronicles what one might call Fahey’s early nativist period, before he ventured deeper into the avant-garde. The collection is full of faithful interpretations of American music, from old Delta blues to Appalachian string ballads, western rumbles and stomps and beautiful, soul-stirring folk gospel. It is Fahey at his most natural, connecting with the music that, like his blood, sits just beneath the surface of his skin, waiting to leap from it like Whitman’s yawp. It is American musicology, and an American education, in a box.

Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues BandHoodoo Man Blues [Expanded Edition]

This selection should come as no surprise. Subject of the 6th In The Dust, Hoodoo Man Blues, by Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band, is long an author’s favorite. Widely regarded as one of the greatest blues records ever recorded, the 2011 reissue of Hoodoo Man Blues includes one unreleased song, “I Ain’t Stranded”, and loads of studio chatter and alternate takes, giving you a direct look inside the “blues bar band” world of Chicago’s Southside. For more, please see In The Dust #6: Junior Wells’ Chicago Blues Band – Hoodoo Man Blues.

Marvin GayeWhat’s Going On [40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition]

In March of 1970, Tammi Terrell, Gaye’s long-time singing partner, died six weeks before her 25th birthday of a malignant brain tumor. Gaye was devastated. He felt responsible for her illness and death. Refusing to perform or record, he withdrew from music altogether and tried out for the Detroit Lions, hoping to begin a career as a professional football player. He was unsuccessful, but this tangent lead to working with songwriters Al Cleveland and The Four Tops’ Obie Benson on a track called, “What’s Going On”, co-written for The Originals. Cleveland and Benson convinced Gaye to record the song himself, eschewing in a newly social, political and further spiritually conscious period in Gaye’s music.

Now, Marvin Gaye’s 11th record, and arguably his most famous, gets the super deluxe treatment. Rereleased with a whopping 28 bonus tracks, 16 of which have never seen the light of day, including a stripped down test mix of “What’s Going On”, original mono mixes of the album’s singles, and a ton of spare parts, alternate mixes and jams, this is a bevy of information on a truly significant American artist at the crux of his career.

Miles DavisLive In Europe 1967:Best Of The Bootleg Vol.1

Bop. Live. In Europe.

As if that isn’t enough, this recording of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, the first in an intended series, features not only Miles Davis, the original cool cat, heir to Armstrong and Bechet’s thrones as king of the trumpet, it also boasts Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, all of whom are fully-realized legends with storied and celebrated careers. This was at the time, and is today, one of the greatest bands ever assembled, and here they are raw, off-the-cuff, unfettered and uninhibited, playing the way the best bands play, fearlessly, dangerously, and in the best of all conditions for jazz: live.

The SmithsThe Smiths Complete

First thing’s first, this is not technically “complete”, so this is not the end of the road for those who want to own everything. They did leave some things out, but this is almost everything: the four studio albums remastered, three compilations of the singles and one-offs and a live record.

For those who know The Smiths, this is a condensed representation of the long and tumultuous career of one of the best bands of all-time. For those who don’t know The Smiths, this is a dense, cavernous route to the essence of a legendarily depressive and hopelessly romantic Manchester alternative rock band, Johnny Marr, its innovative guitarist, and Morrissey, its lead singer, one of the most notorious and iconic frontmen ever, master of tragic beauty:

And if a double-decker bus / Crashes into us / To die by your side / Is such a heavenly way to die / And if a ten-ton truck / Kills the both of us / To die by your side / Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead

In the words of another poet, the French Dramatist, Jean Racine, “a tragedy need not have blood and death; it’s enough that it all be filled with that majestic sadness that is the pleasure of tragedy”.

The Rolling StonesSome Girls [Deluxe Edition]

In a lot of ways an oddball in The Stones’ oeuvre, Some Girls attempts to bridge The Stones’ trademark roughness and modern pop trends. The result is weird, commercial and excellent. The group tackles disco, very faithful country and several strange, punkish brands of western, echoing, as does its cover art, the rising punk movement in the U.S. and their native Britain.

Much more polished than their previous work, and unabashedly more commercially ambitious, Some Girls shows The Stones at a point of portage: crossover into the rage and the popular, or turn around and go the way they came. What resulted is the last great record they ever made. This reissue includes an entire bonus disc of unreleased recordings made during the Some Girls sessions, further document of a band in flux.

Lee “Scratch” PerryReturn of Pipecock Jackxon

Credited by some as the originator of “dub”, Lee “Scratch” Perry is a reggae legend, instrumental in the growth of reggae and its acceptance across the world. His production techniques are a thing of wonder, widely influential and totally innovative, but his personal life is truly stranger than all. Known to defecate in champagne flutes as an illustration of man’s primitive and animalistic nature and secret them around his house for his wife to later find, Perry’s insanity runs very, very deep, and on Return of Pipecock Jackxon he wears it on his sleeve.

The final album to emerge from Perry’s infamous Black Ark studio in Jamaica before burning it down in a fit of rage to “cleanse himself of his sins”, Perry recorded Pipecock Jackxon during a period in which he frequented Amsterdam and took LSD in bulk. This string of various “escapes” from mounting social tension and personal stress produced what many see as Perry’s darkhorse masterwork, a rich opus expanding on the themes of his past work, while also hinting at a strange and promising future for reggae, dub, and even soul and R&B to come.

Ray CharlesSingular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles

106 songs and each better than the last, such is Ray Charles’s radical contribution to ABC Records during his 13-year tenure there. Recorded during what is known as Ray’s “crossover” years, the ABC singles are famous for racially integrating country and pop music, and for Ray’s legendary contract, one including several noteworthy stipulations like ownership of his masters, which virtually no one in the industry had ever received, much less a black artist. During this period Ray also realized his power as interpreter rather than author, ceasing to write new material and growing into the iconoclastic and idiosyncratic master of the popular standards for which he was famous in his later years. For fanatics, the set includes both the A and B sides of all 53 singles, 30 previously unreleased songs, and 21 receiving, for the first time, the digital treatment.

Louis ArmstrongSatchmo: Ambassador of Jazz

OK. Many of you are probably saying that this is cheating. Satchmo: Ambassador of Jazz will not be released in the U.S. for another three and a half weeks, but it’s Louis Armstrong. The rules do not apply.

Armstrong’s influence on music and the world is incalculable. Pioneer of “hot jazz”, scat singing and the trumpet as a solo instrument, Armstrong was truly a visionary, one-of-a-kind, and one the first black performers to completely “cross over”. As a musician he was second-to-none, and as a personality, he was irresistible. His importance, his grandeur, cannot, by any stretch, be overestimated and, honestly, it makes this author’s heart ache to even think about it.

This collection streamlines the former 10-CD Armstrong retrospective into a 4-CD set. Most will probably never need the 10 CDs containing virtually everything he’s ever done, but all should have it. At the very least, all should have this, for it is the gospel, the Bible of music, a love letter to and a symbol of all things indispensable.

As is the nature of a limited list, some things get left out. Honorable mention for the best reissues of 2011 goes to:

Pink FloydDiscovery Box Set: The Complete Studio Recordings of Pink Floyd

NirvanaNevermind [Deluxe Edition]

Jesus & Mary ChainPsychocandy [Expanded Edition]

And, last but not least:

Iggy Pop & James WilliamsonKill City (Restored, Remixed, Remastered)

All are immortal albums and all require space in everyone’s collection.

Written by Ben Brundage

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