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
For many years, friends have relied on me as the music guy and constantly asked me the question of “What music should I be listening to right now.” While humbly embracing this distinction, I have been left mildly insane. This question drove me crazy. It was like a persistent sliver of Indiana Oak between my left toe, sock, and Converse. I am the executioner and enjoy delivering on the spot, but this constant thorn in my side left me thinking: “I am really into 11 bands right now, how do I pick just a few? “They know I am not just listening to buzz bands, are they searching for a deeper answer?” “Is there any way I can track the music I have been listening to the past 10 business days and send a report in .xls format?” Feeling exhausted, I search for easy remedies. Then stories like this form and make my job easier. I wish the Dum Dum Girls directly reported to me…they would make me look like the best manager of all time.
San Pedro-based, Sup Pop-backed, beach chicks Dum Dum Girls delivered their second full-length album this September with Only in Dreams. The production quality is astounding and takes all the yummy elements of their first release, I Will Be and bakes them out to deliver a delicious touch of sweetness. This makes sense though right? This album was produced by song-writer Richard Gottehrer who crafted such classics as “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back.” It is my best guess that if the Dum Dum Girls were in formation in 1963 Gottehrer would of subbed them in for Smash Records’ trio The Angels. Dee Dee Penny would have entered with her howling guitar and The Angels would have cut a double. 4 chicks v. 3? I will take the numbers.
The Dum Dum Girls are one of those bands this year that has accomplished tremendous things in the indie-rock scene and established themselves in a way that make it easy for me to tell all my readers that you should be listening to them right now. No Brainer. During my “Best Cover Songs of 2011” post, I slated their interpretation of The Smiths “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” as the best cover song of the year. I confidently gave them this honor because this was not just a cover song I liked, it was more than that. It was song that I really liked. Dum Dum Girls carried this sense of establishment onto their latest LP Only in Dreams and have sold me on their sound. Hook, line, and sinker – I am mesmerized and California dreaming. The Dum Dum Girls shine the summer sun in the fall. Aligning the timing with their geographic location was never their thing – that is why I dig on them.
The first song I heard from this glorious record was “Coming Down.” It was the first track of theirs that hit the blogsphere and I was hearing a different Dum Dum Girls. At first I had to take a step back and reflect.
This was a band I really enjoyed but they were simple. They offered me the luxury to listen to a group of girls beat out songs about heartbreak on their electric guitars. I knew the Dum Dum Girls as a band that delivered simple songs that were easy, quick, and exciting. They owned a special spot in my listening experience – so simple that I underestimated them.
“Coming Down” provided such a powerful impression that I was taken aback. I had no idea these girls had the capabilities to deliver a song that spanned 6 minutes and 30 seconds. It sounded nothing like them, and was still able to attract my attention. After I got use to this song the Dum Dum Girls had me on a platter. The meat and potatoes of the Dum Dum Girls were the next course and all I can say is MAN ‘O MAN! “Bedroom Eyes” is the hottest song going right now and rightfully so. It is so catchy, so “My Boyfriend’s Back”, so Dum Dum Girls. This song has the potential to rise above great tracks such as M83’s “Midnight City”, Cults’ “You Know What I Mean”, Cold Cave’s “Confetti” and SBTRK’s “Wildfire” to become my favorite song of 2k11. Only time will tell, but it owns a longboard that is being driven straight into my heart. “Wasted Away” backs out the lower end of the album and lines like “I would rather waste away then see you only in dreams” resonate with me.
The Dum Dum Girls are not controversial and they continue to find ways to extend their sound. I appreciate these gals because of their authenticity and willingness to take chances. Although the problem will never be completely solved, at least I can thank The Dum Dum Girls for providing me an easy response to questions for at least the next 6 months. Wishful thinking, right? Only in Dreams.
Written by Brett McGrath.