In a reissue year loaded with round-number anniversaries — the Beatles’ psychedelic apex in 1967; the Jam’s avenging-mod blitz a decade later; U2’s ’87 voyage of American-desert discovery — Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series scores again with a vivid, compelling reappraisal of his brief, Christian fury. Large boxes stand at the extremes (vintage country radio, America’s hardcore uprising); missing links are found (Montrose, Artful Dodger); and the Rolling Stones play the blues on jump street in the first official release of their Brian Jones—era BBC sessions.
15. Tim Buckley, ‘Venice Mating Call’ / ‘Greetings From West Hollywood’
These companion releases — the first on two CDs; the second on two LPs — revisit a September 1969 engagement at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, previously treated on a 1994 set. There is no duplication here with the earlier album. And these packages, while sharing a body of songs, are mostly comprised of different performances, reflecting Buckley’s improvising will and the restless momentum of his singing and writing that year: out of baroque psychedelia, through folk-jazz trance; on the verge of the dramatically experimental LP, Lorca, recorded two weeks after these shows, and the impressionist delicacy of Blue Afternoon, out that November. There are passages of instrumental turbulence suggesting the electric Miles Davis; “Gypsy Woman,” taken at varying lengths in Venice and West Hollywood, is Buckley in thrilling vocal flight. He soon turned again — into a perplexing white-soul convention — before dying in 1975, at 28. This music, in comparison, is rarely easy listening — and never less than ascension.
14. Artful Dodger, ‘The Complete Columbia Recordings’
This two-CD set contains three albums by a mid-Seventies power-pop quintet that, if fortune had been the least bit kinder, you would find listed in the historical record with Big Star, Badfinger and the Raspberries. Instead, Artful Dodger hit every possible landmine in the road out of Fairfax, Virginia: booking agents that put them on shows with Iron Butterfly and Ted Nugent; a label distracted by the sudden, runaway success of another artist (Bruce Springsteen); a parade of surefire FM-radio hits — three alone on 1975’s Artful Dodger: the Aerosmith-from-Liverpool action of “Wayside,” the ’67-Who-ish “Follow Me” and the ballad-with-balls “It’s Over” — that couldn’t get past the station receptionists. This story should have turned out differently; here is everything you need to understand why.
13. Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’
Metallica’s third album, released in March 1986, was the first classic four’s creative breakthrough — the point at which they discovered how to write the lightning as well as ride it — and a terribly scarred triumph with the sudden death of bassist Cliff Burton that September, in a tour bus accident after a concert in Stockholm. The three-CD version of this instalment in Metallica’s reissue march will be sufficient, advanced mayhem for most headbangers. Garage demos of “Battery,” the title track and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” chart the evolution in drummer Lars Ulrich and singer-guitarist James Hetfield’s episodic composing with the early-days spirit and cassette fidelity of 1982’s No Life ‘Til Leather. An hour-plus of live buffet from Burton’s last tour honours his might and memory. Personally, I’m glad for the beast box — with 10 CDs, six sides of vinyl, DVDs and a cassette of Burton’s last show — because one of the previously unissued gigs comes from the night I first saw and met Metallica, on April 21st, 1986, in New Jersey supporting Ozzy Osbourne. It sounds as hot and frantic as I remembered it.
12. Lal and Mike Waterson, ‘Bright Phoebus’
Two of the three siblings in the Watersons, a watershed vocal group in the English folk revival of the Sixties, Lal and Mike Waterson made this record at the movement’s early-Seventies intersection of traditional vernacular and progressive impulse. There was stark, original writing by the two; daring instrumentation (cello, oboe); and an all-star complement of younger admirers from Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, including the former’s founders — singer Martin Carthy and bassist Ashley Hutchings — and the latter’s guitar star Richard Thompson. Financial problems at the Watersons’ label limited the release, in 1972, to 1,000 copies; the U.K. folk press, unnerved by their turn into modernism, panned or ignored the album. This reissue — with a double-disc edition including unreleased demos — is justice at last. It entered the British album chart in August — in the Top 30.
11. ‘At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight …’
Americana begins here. From 1948 to 1960, Louisiana Hayride was the rougher cousin, on radio and television, to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the show where the beginners and unknowns, the bad boys and strong women in country music, first came to make friends and become family. Produced at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, the Hayride gave early exposure — in many cases, broadcast debuts — to Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, June Carter and George Jones, all of whom are at the mic in this mammoth box, across 20 CDs with the usual, encyclopedic Bear Family annotation in a hardbound book as heavy as an antique wireless. Note the house band, which includes future Nashville piano star Floyd Cramer — a Shreveport native who joined the Hayride right out of high school — and guitarist James Burton, another Louisiana kid who was playing on the Hayride at 14, on his way to Ricky Nelson’s band, the solo on Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q” and, in the Seventies, Elvis Presley’s TCB Band.
10. Thelonious Monk, ‘Les Liasons dangereuses 1960’
It is a rare and wonderful day, in any year, to receive the blessing of nearly 90 minutes of previously unreleased — actually, forgotten — Monk. This two-CD set, on the 100th anniversary of the pianist’s birth, is a unique gift: Monk in spirited form on a single day, July 27th, 1959, at a New York studio leading a one-off unit with two tenor saxophonists, regular sidekick Charlie Rouse and a French guest, Barney Wilen. The occasion was a soundtrack commission — Roger Vadim’s contemporary adaption of the 18th-century novel of sexual manipulation Les Liasons dangereuses. The repertoire was Monk’s greatest hits, including new takes on “Rhythm-a-Ning,” “Crepescule with Nellie” and “Pannonica,” performed solo as well as with the band. Monk’s score was never used (Vadim hired Monk’s ex-drummer Art Blakey); the tapes finally surfaced in 2014. It is only one day in the life of a genuine American master, but what a day.
9. The Jam, ‘1977’
Here is that British blues boom detonated again, a decade later, with renewing, literate force and a ferocious, class-war impatience. All of the confrontation in this five-disc box was lit and thrown inside 10 months, from the February, 1977 demos that swiftly led to the Jam’s April debut, In the City, to the November TV performance on the DVD promoting the rapid-fire followup, This Is the Modern World. Singer-guitarist-songwriter Paul Weller was not yet 20, still writing his way out of Who-ish R&B provocation to the original, flammable voice on All Mod Cons (1978) and Setting Sons (1979). Of special note here: a previously unreleased London-club date in September of ’77, combining songs from the first two albums and high-speed joy rides through the Who’s “So Sad About Us” and Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” — vintage mod in a new nutshell.
8. The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’
Until someone turns up with long-hidden soundboard reels from those mad nights at the Crawdaddy Club, this may be as close as we ever get to the Stones’ gigging infancy in London as they took their covers, attitude and tightening attack to BBC Radio, often with live audiences, between 1963 and ’65. The writing emerges too at the tail end of this spell (“The Last Time,” “Satisfaction”). The bigger fun, though, is in hearing the Stones fire up original inspirations and set-list nuggets they set aside on the way to the Decca singles and LPs: Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” Bo Diddley’s “Cops and Robbers,” Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae.” Some tracks betray age and origin issues; a February ’64 zoom through the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” sounds like an off-air recording (the BBC famously wiped master tapes for reuse). But there is no mistaking the sting and shiver of Brian Jones’ slide guitar — white-blues Britain in motion and determined revolt.
7. Alice Coltrane, ‘The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’
After the death of her husband, saxophonist-seeker John Coltrane, pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane continued their mutual, spiritual pursuit on solo LPs such as 1968’s A Monastic Trio and 1971’s Journey in Satchidananda, then in a full-time retreat into devotion and service. In 1975, Coltrane founded the Vedantic Center in southern California, performing at the ashram and recording cassettes of chants and electronic meditations into the mid-Nineties. This compilation, the first substantial release of that music into the secular world, binds the certainty of John’s quest on 1965’s A Love Supreme with spatial, electronic improvisation and group-vocal exchanges that connect field hollers and black-church testimony to Parliament-Funkadelic and the harmony heat in Earth, Wind & Fire. Created in seclusion, here is healing without walls, calm for all.
6. Montrose, ‘Montrose’
In more than one way, this October 1973 debut album by former Edgar Winter Group guitarist Ronnie Montrose’s namesake quartet was the start of the Van Halen story, five years ahead of schedule: a hard-rock cyclone built on a taut, muscular rhythm section, hot-rod hooks, the leader’s supercharged effects-laden riffing and big, exuberantly macho lungs. Van Halen covered the last track on the original LP, “Make It Last,” in their formative club sets; tapped Montrose producer Ted Templeman to do the honours on their first six albums; and, in 1985, hired original throat Sammy Hagar to replace David Lee Roth in large part because of Hagar’s vocal impact and co-writing chops on Montrose. In his opening remarks to the April 1973 radio concert on the second disc here, KSAN-FM icon Tom Donahue isn’t even sure the band has a name yet. Everything else — chops, songs, combined might — is roaring and ready. (Note to completists: Another crackin’ KSAN broadcast from December ’74 comes with a reissue of the second, less metallic Montrose LP, Paper Money.)
5. ‘American Epic’
Co-produced by roots zealots Jack White and T Bone Burnett and shown on PBS last spring, American Epic was a multi-part documentary on the early-20th-century miracle of the record business: the native, immigrant, underclass and aspiring voices given permanence and respect, for the first time, on disc. The companion soundtrack — available in assorted vinyl and CD formats for every budget and will to explore — expands the film’s attention on select savants (the Carter Family, Mississippi John Hurt, the singing miner Dick Justice) to a truly national chorale of storytellers and enchanters: Appalachian singers, Cajun dance bands, blues genies, gospel firebrands, Native American chanters and Hawaiian serenaders, many of whom only passed by a microphone between their struggles and labours. You want to hear America be great again? Drop the needle here — anywhere.
4. Hüsker Dü, ‘Savage Young Dü’
Released in the unintended wake of drummer Grant Hart’s death, the title of this boxed four-LP whiplash through the Minnesota trio’s first phase of hardcore dominion — from the earliest chunks of soundboard tumult in 1979 to the 1982 studio album Everything Falls Apart — is a sly, apt pun on a Sixties anthology of the Beatles’ first, rough studio work in Hamburg. Indeed, a late-’79 packet of demos sounds more like Ramones-at-the—Star Club than Black Flag-at-your-throat. But the Hüskers soon shed that convention, hitting the airtight velocity and bullet-tune invention of the live-’81 recordings here that provide an alternate look to the breathless apex of Land Speed Record (unavailable for this set). The band’s exploratory fury for SST and its psychedelic-power-trio era at Warner Bros. deserve the same treatment. Extra points for the blizzard-color vinyl, in honour of those cruel Midwest winters.
3. U2, ‘The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition)’
U2’s full, live 2017 performances of their fifth album were 30th-anniversary retrospection with warning: a stadium-rally celebration of that record’s now-endangered idealism and American-pioneer dreaming. The September 1987 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden included in the two-CD version of this reissue — as well as a bumper-crop box set — was the Irish band at a thrilling peak of discovery, connecting the adolescent rush to communion in “I Will Follow” to the invigorating risk and redemptive promise spread out across the mythic desert of The Joshua Tree. That show is the concert document of U2’s matured urgency that Rattle and Hum wanted to be, while the B sides in the Super Deluxebox (carried over from a 20th-anniversary package) sum up the rich spillover in the studio.
2. The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition’
Fifty years on, this much is undeniable: The Beatles’ eighth studio album (by the British count) was a perfect synchronicity — the biggest pop band in the world with an unlimited license to thrill, in the Sixties’ most euphoric year. The new stereo mix (by Giles Martin, son of George) definitively counters the complaint that Sgt. Pepper was the advent of rock without roll — Ringo Starr’s Cavern-forged drumming is pressed to the front of the bandstand — while the outtakes expose the depth of jubilant experiment and determined craft. The Beatles had two more creative highs ahead — the White Album and Abbey Road — but they were never this free, colourful and bonded in ecstasy again.
1. Bob Dylan, ‘Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: 1979—1981’
This instalment of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, covering his rocky passage through evangelical Christianity, confronts the hardened judgement on that era — that his turn in faith and censure lacked nuance, charity and groove — with an emphasis on the contrarian vigor and evolving force of that righteousness in soundchecks, rehearsals and war-time touring. A full June 1981 concert in the nine-disc edition, as Dylan gradually returned to his secular songbook, affirms the constancy in moral and judgement from “Blowin’ in the Wind” to “Gotta Serve Somebody,” propelled by a road band of hardened R&B killers (guitarist Fred Tackett, drummer Jim Keltner, pianist Spooner Oldham) and black vocal angels.