Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2017’s Reissues, Part One

What was said yesterday regarding the year’s box sets also applies to 2017’s less expansive reissues. Who could listen to them all? Not us. Not you, either. But amid the deluge, many worthy releases emerged, some exceptional even, and here’s a list of a few.

Find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

10. Jackie Shane, Any Other Way (Numero Group) + OST, Ciao! Manhattan (Light in the Attic) Any Other Way is one of the out-of-nowhere finds of the year, though unsurprisingly, heavy soul heads have long been in the know regarding the slim discography of 1960’s transgender pioneer Jackie Shane. Lighting out from her hometown of Nashville, she landed in Toronto and developed a career singing soul as a transwoman, even if the culture wasn’t ready for full acknowledgement of this fact.

However, Canadians (and some US residents) were eager to purchase her ’62 version of the William Bell song that titles this collection, making it a regional hit that bubbled under on the Billboard chart at #124; in the context of this comp, it resonates like a smash. Any Other Way collects her studio recordings and the serious fun of her ’67 live album, and if there’s occasional unevenness, Shane’s talent is undeniable. Though her career was brief (she turned down deals with Motown and Atlantic and the opportunity to join Funkadelic), Shane is a survivor; she currently lives in Nashville.

Edie Sedgwick did not survive, and like many of the figures primarily known for their association with Andy Warhol, her life, which was alternately captivating, exasperating, lurid, absurd, and ultimately tragic, has been the subject of scorn. Often, this is little more than small-minded hostility over the Warhol scene’s aura of cool, though quintessential underground flick Ciao! Manhattan’s blending of unfinished B&W footage of Sedgwick and Paul America in ’65 NYC (the good times) with color photography from California in ’70 (the downward spiral) provoked understandably diverse reactions.

I was conflicted after my now long-ago viewing, and through snippets of dialogue, the first-time reissue of this soundtrack (in any form) initially stirred up similar feelings. Mingling those audio bits with a synth score by Gino Piserchio and post-hippie singer-songwriter selections by John Phillips, Skip Battin, and a handful from Richie Havens, this OST is wildly imperfect; individually, the threads aren’t much, but weaved together, the whole becomes messy, uncomfortable, still sometimes frustrating and yet quite striking. Put another way, I keep coming back to it, which is something I doubt I could do with the film.

9. Television Personalities, …And Don’t the Kids Just Love It, Mummy Your Not Watching Me, They Could’ve Been Bigger Than the BeatlesThe Painted Word (Fire) + Acetone, 1992-2001 (Light in the Attic) Although the utility of digital has made it easier to at least hear records that are physically out of print (it was once not so easy), what gets chosen for reissue is still something of an arbitrary process.

That can lead to pleasant surprises, but it’s better when attention gets paid to chunks of worthy discographies in a timely fashion. That’s what’s happened with Television Personalities, as the first four killer LPs by Dan Treacy’s post-punk outfit saw reissue throughout 2017 by Fire Records. Blending twee elements and neo psychedelia with bursts of jangle-pop, TVP offered up a distinct strain of post-punk that’s been enduringly influential; the availability of these LPs is sure to reinforce this circumstance.

But regarding those pleasant surprises, few have been more agreeable in 2017 than the arrival of 1992-2001, a 2LP anthology of the ’90s Los Angeles-based outfit Acetone. Light in the Attic’s assemblage combines selections from the trio’s output for the Vernon Yard and Vapor labels with unreleased material sourced from tapes stored in shoeboxes and retrieved from a shed behind the drummer’s digs, so for those already clued-in, this is still a worthwhile pickup.

The ‘90s produced a gush of music so massive that it was inevitable some worthy acts would slip through the cracks, and that’s exactly what occurred here; even though Vapor was co-founded by Neil Young, Acetone received no national press coverage, at least prior to bassist Richie Lee’s suicide. But upon soaking up this record, which frequently weaves a third-album VU obsession into neo-psych (Jason Pierce and Hope Sandoval dig them for a reason) and slowcore (making them fitting labelmates with Low), I’m stunned it took this long for Acetone to get retrospective attention.

8. Marisa Anderson, Traditional and Public Domain Songs (Mississippi) + Glenn Jones, This is the Wind That Blows It OutAgainst Which the Sea Continually Beats (Thrill Jockey) As one of the main instruments in the landscape of modern music, the persistence of the guitar can understandably inspire bouts of fatigue. While its appearances in the pop sphere ebb and flow, when digging beyond the ditties of the day the guitar is not only regularly present but historically crucial.

Mississippi’s reissue of Anderson’s solo set, initially released in 2013 on Grapefruit, is a prime example, illuminating the guitar as an interpretive machine for well-worn songs, with a few so deeply ensconced in society’s DNA (“Amazing Grace,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) that you’d be forgiven for doubting her ability to turn them into something vibrant. But that’s just the thing; the guitar is also an extremely malleable tool in service of personal expression and heightened aptitude, and Anderson’s got both to spare.

Glenn Jones does, as well. A fingerpicker so expert in communicating the fathoms deep richness of the American Primitive that he’s aptly described as the current scene’s primary extender of the legacy of John Fahey, Jones inhabited this territory only after spending time as a member of the superb Boston post-rock unit Cul de Sac.

His newer stuff, especially 2013’s masterful My Garden State, integrates enticing biographical steams into the equation, but if less personal, the man’s early solo recordings are possessed with uncommon beauty, enough so that I can’t imagine a lover of solo guitar not wanting them around. Prior to this year, if you had his ’04 debut and ’07 follow-up near at hand, it was on CD or digital, but as they’ve done with Jones’ more recent material, Thrill Jockey has brought the vinyl. What a bunch of good eggs.

7. V/A, ANDINA: Huayno, Carnaval and Cumbia – The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968​-​1978 (Tiger’s Milk – Strut) + V/A, Outro Tempo: Electronic and Contemporary Music from Brazil 1978-1992 (Music from Memory) The stream of global retrospectives continued its healthy flow in 2017; these two offerings, both issued on 2LP, underline the diversity of South American sounds, both in contrast with each other and individually.

Compiled by Andres Tapia Del Rio, Martin Morales, and Tiger’s Milk co-founder Duncan Ballantyne, ANDINA dives deep into the mix of styles outlined in the set’s title, with the unifying thread an emphasis on rhythmic intensity (with some cool tangents), though the impact of jazz, from small group to big band, is refreshingly felt amongst the Latin grooves. Consisting of recordings cut by Peruvians for Peruvians, richness of execution is evident throughout.

As the sounds heard on ANDINA remained largely unknown outside its borders, the global community established a long relationship with the music of Brazil, especially with bossa nova and samba, and to a lesser extent tropicália, and as these genres attained varying levels of popularity they were sometimes conceived with an international audience in mind.

This sort of broad focus is the unavoidable byproduct of cultural dialogue, but it can lead to generalizations, which is one reason comps like Outro Tempo are so welcome. The result of diligent digging by the London-based DJ John Gómez, his efforts spotlight an aspect of the Brazilian scene, specifically the use of electronic instruments in deviation from traditional norms, that deepens our understanding of the country’s musical landscape as its military dictatorship wound down. Historically indispensable for globally inclined listeners, the sounds are always interesting and often striking.

6. V/A, Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988 (Ostinato) + V/A, Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa (Ostinato) Having commenced operations last year with Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti 1960-1981, the NYC-based Ostinato (objective: “Afrophone stories from the Atlantic to Indian Ocean”) rolled into 2017 by offering two geographical collections of substantial import.

Synthesize the Soul’s historical focus is quite timely, for its contents detail the musical aftereffects of a wave of immigration that occurred in reaction to political and economic uncertainty, specifically the end of Portuguese colonial rule of the Cape Verde islands in 1975, which saw thousands migrating to various cities across Europe and beyond. The musicians in this surge employed electronic devices of various types, and these newfound possibilities are doubly enlightening, for as on Outro Tempo, they provide electronic music with another sweet historical wrinkle.

Describing the contents of Synthesize the Soul as unearthed is figurative, but regarding the selections offered on Sweet as Broken Dates, the adjective is literal. In 1988, on the brink of civil war, Somalis with access to a trove of recordings documenting a half century of Somali music buried the cassettes and master reels deep under the ground in neighboring Djibouti and Ethiopia to safeguard them from being destroyed.

The Somali civil war lasted two decades, and those tapes were dug up and brought home only recently. This collection, nominated for a 2018 Grammy for Best Historical Album, is the 15-track distillation of the Ostinato Team’s efforts at digitizing a large portion of that archive, and let me put it this way; if you haven’t heard this and think you know what it sounds like…you don’t know what it sounds like. Hopefully, this is only the first of numerous volumes illuminating the contents of this excavated archive.

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  • magnussveningsson

    Sweet as broken dates is a truly amazing compilation. Reissue of the year!

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