The Best Reissues of 2017
Five favorites from this year that had a story to tell and music to back it up.
The delicate balancing act for any truly excellent reissue is a presentation that includes both a compelling story and incredible music. It’s a rarer feat than one might think. Multitudes of artists that have been repackaged and recontextualized have so often been subjugated to one silo or the other. Take the wildly imaginative enigmatic tinkerer whose revisited music is, objectively, just OK. Not worthy of multiple spins, or the expansive four-CD set. Or the skilled artiste with a pedigree and no real story to tell. You might not even read the thin, floppy booklet in the LP box. The best reissues hit that sweet spot where story and substance crossover. Which is to say: The best reissues of 2017 have both, and in abundance. Here’s a look at five favorites.
Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa
The tapes for this compilation of funky Somali music from the 1970s were, quite literally, buried underground for decades, an act of defiance by local radio station employees who felt a patriotic duty to preserve its recorded musical heritage in the face of a crushing civil war and its commensurate cultural evisceration. The songs are musically complex, vocally hypnotic, and infectiously danceable, transmitting themes of women’s empowerment and economic prosperity. For the first time, there’s an easily accessible compilation that serves as an introductory bridge to formerly lost sounds of this East African nation. The narrative is rich. The music stands on its own.
This monumental release is the first authorized and comprehensive retrospective of the legendary, and legendarily fractured, Hüsker Dü, covering its earliest days as a band. It’s packaged with a twelve-thousand-word essay (which, full disclosure, I wrote), chronicling the band’s background, formation, early tours and recording sessions. The book also has dozens of previously unpublished photos, and a complete early works discography. The songs in this box set were remastered from original demos, soundboard tapes, and live recordings—many from the personal archive of Terry Katzman, an early supporter of the band who eventually helped to found its New Alliance label. Savage Young Dü is an essential collection for Hüsker Dü fans and punk rock scholars alike. It was created in collaboration with all three founding band members—Grant Hart (RIP), Bob Mould, and Greg Norton—and is a testament to the sheer ingenuity and iron will of three friends dedicated to displays of unbridled energy and artistic expression in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a largely unheard of feat in the hinterlands of Minnesota, and in the looming era of Reagan.
World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
This set is the first and only compilation of jazz legend Alice Coltrane’s spiritual works, created for the Sai Anantam Ashram she founded outside of Los Angeles in 1983. It’s the first time fans are treated to Coltrane’s singing voice on a recording, sounds that rang out from a heart broken by the passing of her late husband John, and then mended by the meaning she found with the help of a guru and a spiritual community in California. The material was culled from privately released cassettes for use within the ashram’s confines. It was remastered from the original session tapes stored in the Coltrane family archive, a process overseen by Baker Bigsby—the man who recorded them in the ’80s and ’90s. Liner notes by Ashley Kahn and transcriptions of original interviews with the folks who knew Coltrane best round out the comprehensive package, which checks all of the required boxes for a stellar reissue.
LIGHT IN THE ATTIC
For anyone into the twangy, jangly psychedelia of the Paisley Underground, this collection of lost tapes and albums cuts from the most underrated LA band of the ’90s is essential. And for anyone interested in a broader cultural survey of Los Angeles, through the lens of three outsider musicians, it’s a must. I’m not certain of the order of events during the ideation of this project, but am sure that this compilation would be a fraction of itself without the work of Los Angeles–based culture writer Sam Sweet. He wrote album notes for the LP box set, but also offered his book about the band and its place in the Angelino underground, Hadley Lee Lightcap, as a deluxe bundle.
Lal & Mike Waterson
Bright Phoebus: Songs by Lal and Mike Waterson
After a number of bootlegs and shoddy pressings, the first proper reissue of this revolutionary 1972 album finally arrived in August. Considered the Sgt. Pepper’s of the conservative British folk scene, siblings Lal and Mike Waterson shed the yolk of their traditionalist roots with The Watersons by creating this wildly imaginative and essential entry in the canon of folk-rock, criminally underpressed in its day, and fetishized by hoards of record collectors and folk enthusiasts in the decades that followed. Domino worked with Lal’s daughter to remaster the material from the session tapes, the first time that’s happened since the album was pressed. Extras include twelve intriguing demos that encapsulate the spirit of the largely unscripted session, some that didn’t make it to the finished record, and a slim set of liners by Pete Paphides. FL