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 Wilson – The 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.
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 Band – Hoodoo 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 Gaye – What’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 Davis – Live 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 Smiths – The 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 Stones – Some 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” Perry – Return 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 Charles – Singular 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 Armstrong – Satchmo: 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:
Nirvana – Nevermind [Deluxe Edition]
Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy [Expanded Edition]
And, last but not least:
Iggy Pop & James Williamson – Kill City (Restored, Remixed, Remastered)
All are immortal albums and all require space in everyone’s collection.
Written by Ben Brundage
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.
1. Magic healing and control, especially in African-based folk medicine in the United States and the Caribbean. Also called conjure.
2. a. Bad luck.
b. One that brings bad luck.
Almost mystically so, Hoodoo Man Blues, Junior Wells’ first full-length record as a bandleader, began with a feeling.
Bob Koester, a Record Producer and founder and Chicago label Delmark record, had heard Don Kent, of Yazoo Records, and others whisper about a kid who played the harp. They said he’d been playing since the age of seven. They said he learned it from Sonny Boy Williamson II. They said he was good, so good, in fact, that he replaced Little Walter to blow for Muddy at 18. Koester knew he had to find this kid. He remembers his first encounter with Junior well:
I first heard Junior Wells on the States 78’s of “Hoodoo Man“, etc. during my days in St. Louis. I later heard the Muddy Waters band on a trip to Chicago, at the Club Zanzibar c.1957 and was perturbed that Little Walter had left and a new guy had taken his place but when I requested Key To The Highway and Muddy said, “I think Junior Wells does that better than I do.” Junior certainly cut Walter in the vocal department.
By the time Koester found him, Wells had stirred more than just a whisper, but had yet to record a full record. He had already made a name for himself within the Chicago bluesman scene, blowing for The Aces, Muddy Waters and solo for labels such as States, Profile and Chief, where his single, “Little By Little” rose to #23 on the Billboard R&B charts, but he was still relatively unknown outside of those who played the blues on Chicago’s South Westside.
Wells had a few scattered singles under his belt but nothing in which Koester could find the confidence to give him his own record. Wells was only 21. Koester was not sure if Wells could carry 2 sides, 30+ minutes, 10+ tracks. He also doubted that Wells’ music would find the audience necessary to fund the expense of sidemen and ample recording time, given their unusually crisp, urban style, one that featured band uniforms and synchronized movement, which was, of course, a world away from blues, bordering more closely on Motown.
But Koester had a feeling about Wells, one he kept with him since the first moment he saw him blow with Waters in ‘57. Wells’ voice, musicianship, and sense of movement made him a naturally infectious performer, and Koester liked it too much to resist.
He gave Wells the record, and even allowed Wells’ to choose his own band and his track list, without restrictions. The sessions followed resulted in what is one of the greatest blues records ever made, and one of the most genuine, accurate documents of the Chicago blues sound in existence today.
The track list Wells selected is about half original and half blues standards, of which it featured “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” a song written by his mentor, Sonny Boy Williamson II, “Hound Dog,” by Leiber and Stoller, “Early In The Morning,” a traditional, and “Yonder Wall,” by fellow Chicago axe-man and “King of the Slide Guitar,” Elmore James.
Perhaps the most noteworthy decision of the entire session, Wells’ invited a 29-year old Buddy Guy to play guitar. This, as it was for the 21-year old Wells, Guy’s first crack at a full studio album. Wells’ rounded out the rest of the group with top-notch session men and Southside bar bluesmen.
The pair of Wells and Guy proved to be an unstoppably ebullient and explosive combination. From the first hit of the first track, “Snatch It Back And Hold It”, the pure force their relationship is palpable. The guitar, drums and bass play in unison a fanfare of a single note, but in this single note is more confidence, attitude and pure ferocity than many whole records of the time. This cocky snarl is accentuated by Koester’s, and all of the Delmark people’s, urge to bring the purely carnivorous Chicago blues sound out the bar and into the perfect acoustics of a recording studio, while leaving its spirit unadulterated. The sound is so raw, so live, so pure, allowing Wells’ natural charisma and masterful harp, Guy’s guitar and the innate infectiousness of their particular blend of Chicago blues-funk-soul to carry itself. “Somebody help me! / I can’t help myself,” Wells screams, as if under his own spell. As with classic blues lore, Wells must seek a way to shake off his hoodoo. The band is just too nasty, the music has a mind of it’s own, and Wells is caught in the undertow. The only way he can release himself is to wail and blow it out until the tidal wave spits him out.
“Hound Dog,” the Leiber and Stoller classic that launched the careers of, first, Big Mama Thornton and, later, Elvis Presley, is re-imagined as a crisp, frenetic sweat-storm and platform for Wells’ electrified harp lines and Guy’s masterful picking. Clocking in at an astonishingly lean 2:11, it is more a display of Wells’ Chicago Blues Band’s mastery of their craft than homage to the blues itself. In the energy of “Hound Dog” and the dogged efforts of his drummer Bill Warren, there is a certain trance-like quality, which is echoed by Guy’s repetitive complimentary guitar, peaking the album’s energy, solidifying that the listener is under his hoodoo, before it brings it back down in preparation for the record’s slowest, smoothest number, “In The Wee Hours.”
Bring with it the sizzling, sultry swing of the Southside Chicago barroom, “In The Wee Hours,” is the finer of Wells two attempts at slow-groove on the record. Following the frantic intensity of “Hound Dog,” “In The Wee Hours,” functions as a sleepy, hypnotic lobotomy, slicing the crown from the listeners head and slowly sinking its long, dark fingers deep inside to slice and tweak and toy, destroying in the process any previous conceptions of how profound a sub-four minute song can be, how good Chicago blues can be and how indescribably hot Junior Wells and his Chicago blues band can serve it up. Wells’ harp wafts lightly over the steamy, clean lines of Guy’s sensual and cryptically suggestive guitar. The delicate, light touch of Warren’s drums and Jack Myers’ subtle, driving bass add indispensible accoutrement to the midnight-moonlight atmosphere in which Guy and Wells are free move. Almost completely devoid of lyrics, the song has Junior, as in “Snatch It Back And Hold It,” pleading for help. He sings “I just need somebody / Somebody got to help me / Oh, Lord, to sing these blues / Lookie here, Lookie here, baby,” before embarking on a mournful, ethereal harp solo. Guy lends as much help as he can muster, summoning a lean, choppy solo that stands as one of his finest licks on the record, but the tone Wells’ harp is so lost, forlorn, spectral it is clear that Wells is still hopelessly under the spell, beyond assistance, hoodoo’d by the blues and desperately trying to play his way out.
The album’s title track comes soon after, leading off side A with another fanfare, a classic blues turn around in which the band bangs out together, compounding the swinging 4/4 blues rhythm to create a rambling, tumbling feeling that propels the listener into the center of the groove, where it is instantly apparently that Buddy Guy’s guitar sounds remarkably different. Guy’s amplifier stopped working part way through the Hoodoo Man Blues sessions, and so they chose to wire his guitar through the Leslie speaker of a Hammond B-3 organ, the effect of which is distinctive and has since inspired guitarist for generations. It adds a welcomed mystically to the track, in line with the spirit of hoodoo, and a poignant juxtaposition to Wells’ lyrics. Wells’ past pleads for assistance have fallen on deaf ears, and in “Hoodoo Man Blues,” he is determined to explain his case to, hopefully, sympathetic and potentially loving ears:
“Lord, I wonder, what’s exactly the matter / Child you know the time / It seemed like hours / Everything had changed / But I hold up my hand / Lord, I’m trying to make you understand / Lord, now, everybody tell me / Somebody done hoodoo’d the hoodoo man”
Wells is reaching out, as the hoodoo has consumed his life and he can no longer keep it to himself. The blues has grown to rule him and distort his sense of time, state of being and relationships. Somebody truly done hoodoo’d the hoodoo man.
Wells is truly afflicted, as is Guy, Wells’ band and Koester. Hoodoo Man Blues stands as, until recently, Delmark’s best-selling release of all-time, inflicting with the hoodoo man blues Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, the author and many more.
In the remainder of the record, Wells never does relieve himself of the hoodoo, though he still tries. Perhaps this is the perfect sentiment for the debut record of an artist who would spend a lifetime under its spell: a hoodoo man chasing the blues.
Written by Ben Brundage