Happy 2020 and welcome to The Second Disc’s 10th Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards!
It’s time once again to recognize this year’s cream of the crop – those exemplary reissues and box sets big and small that proved to be truly outstanding products for music lovers worldwide. There was no shortage of great reissue titles in 2019; in fact, by our count, we covered over 700 releases in all! And after much deliberation, we’re excited to unveil our favorites. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Top 10, however. To cover as much ground and spotlight as many titles as we can, we’ve organized 26 of our favorites from A to Z, and included some honorable mentions that were just too good to leave out. (And while our own Second Disc Records releases were, of course, ineligible, we hope some of those made your own personal best-of lists!) As always, The Gold Bonus Disc Awards are dedicated to the labels, the behind-the-scenes players, and the artists who continue to prove the value in physical releases of catalogue music. We also want to thank all the brick-and-mortar stores that bring these fantastic titles to listeners everywhere. And most importantly, we want to recognize you, our readers, for your lasting support and good conversation as we move towards celebrating our tenth anniversary on January 11, 2020.
So without further ado, here’s our A-to-Z list of our favorite reissues of the year!
– Joe, Sam, Randy, and Mike
Art Pepper, Promise Kept: The Complete Artists House Recordings (Omnivore)
This five-disc set from Omnivore contextualizes the recordings the great saxophonist Pepper made for John Snyder’s small Artist House label in 1979. Between his stints at Contemporary Records and Galaxy Records (a division of Fantasy), Pepper had agreed to make an album for Snyder, a producer who was interesting in getting him to tour more. A few recording sessions in 1979 would yield enough material for four albums, released all the way through 1985, three years after Pepper’s death. A mix of standards and originals, these 50 recordings offer a look into Pepper’s late-career resurgence. Combining the original albums, tracks released in other various places over the years, and unreleased songs, this set is the definitive look at these recordings that no jazz fan should want to miss. Read more here! – RF
The Beatles, Abbey Road: Anniversary Edition (Apple/UMe)
Apple continued its super deluxe presentations of The Beatles’ late-period albums with their second-to-last released (but last-recorded) LP: Abbey Road. The basics from the previous box sets are the same with this set: a new Giles Martin and Sam Okell remix, copious outtakes, and a Blu-ray featuring hi-res audio and a surround mix. While this may be the slimmest of the recent releases at only 4 discs, the results are no less revelatory. Not only will you likely hear something new in the remix, but the two discs of sessions sometimes make you feel as if you are in the studio with the band. And the 100-page hardcover book would nearly be worth the price of the set itself. While the Fab Four were certainly going in different directions at this point right before their break-up, this new set reveals that things weren’t fraught at all times. With this being the third of these reissues, some may say they are becoming predictable. But after so many years of not having an official, in-depth look at these albums, each new Beatles set like this is a highlight of the year. Read Joe’s review here. – RF
Country Greats (Omnivore/Real Gone Music/Bear Family)
This year, country fans were treated to a wealth of fantastic reissues. Omnivore Recordings continued their celebration of Bakersfield’s Buck Owens with The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971-1975. The third and final installment in the series, this double-disc set features every side – that’s 42 tracks – laid down by the legendary guitarist, songwriter and singer through to the end of his tenure at Capitol. During this time, Buck explored all the possibilities of his home studio, which he built to get away from Capitol’s rules. Here, Buck was able to call up the band at any time and experiment more than ever. From bluegrass, country-pop, and ballads, to novelties and contemporary covers, Buck and his band The Buckaroos (along with his son Buddy and singer Susan Raye) embraced new styles, new creative opportunities, and the new successes that came with it. As usual, Team Omnivore delivered an excellent set. Well-researched, newly remastered, superbly designed, and with in-depth notes. This one ticks all the boxes!
Speaking of boxes and Buck Owens, Bear Family Records delivered a doozy with The Bakersfield Sound, a beautiful celebration of the sounds that made the California city great. Via 10 CDs, almost 300 songs, and a hardcover 224-page tome, this tribute to the “Country Music Capital of the West” delivered in every way possible. While the sound of Bakersfield came to signify a raw, grittier honky-tonk country style (as opposed to the lush strings and choirs of The Nashville Sound as pioneered in the 1960s by Chet Atkins and others), folk, western swing, and so-called “hillbilly music” all figured into the embryonic Bakersfield Sound. Once Bakersfield was established, its artists touched on further genres like rock, pop, and even psychedelia. All of these genres and more are touched upon in this massive set, featuring all of the city’s great artists including Owens, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens, Billy Mize, Bill Woods, and even some unexpected names like Liz Anderson, Barbara Mandrell, Wanda Jackson, and even Arlo Guthrie. To call this box essential to any serious collection of American popular music may be an understatement. Read Joe’s review here.
Omnivore Creative teamed up with BMG to deliver a trove of classic Hank Williams radio performances. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings, brought together all eight of The Hillbilly Shakespeare’s Health & Happiness episodes in their entirety. These radio shows marked the start of Williams’ meteoric rise to fame and feature a wealth of priceless content, including versions of “Lovesick Blues,” “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave),” “I Saw the Light,” “I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the only known recording of Williams performing “The Tramp on the Street,” and the earliest known recordings of the Nashville-era lineup of The Drifting Cowboys, who backed up Williams. This 2-CD or 3-LP set features new transfers of the shows, each painstakingly restored and remastered by Michael Graves from original transcription discs to sound better than ever. Listeners will be hard pressed to believe that these stunning performances are 70 years old. Add to it the usual copious notes and excellent design, and you have the ultimate presentation of this crucial material.
Meanwhile, Real Gone Music released an excellent 2-CD set collecting Janie Fricke’s most successful country sides, called It Ain’t Easy: The Complete Hits. The Indiana-born vocalist started out as a jingle singer before moving out to Nashville where she got work with Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Crystal Gayle, and Tanya Tucker. She signed as a solo act to Columbia in 1977 and scored six No. 1 hits and won two CMA awards for Female Vocalist of the Year by the decade’s close. This definitive, career-spanning collection compiled by Gordon Anderson and Timothy Smith brings together all of Fricke’s charting tracks, including enduring duets with Charlie Rich, Johnny Duncan, Larry Gatlin, and Merle Haggard, plus a handful of later hits under the name Janie Frickie. Fricke penned the liner notes for the collection, which are supplemented with previously unseen photographs, and extensive discographical notes, all presented in a beautifully designed package by John Sellards. Whether you’re a newcomer to Janie Fricke’s country classics or a longtime devotee, this collection delivers! – SS & JM
Bob Dylan, Travelin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 (1967-1969) (Columbia/Legacy)
Bob Dylan was recognized in 2019 with not one, but two, major archival releases. In June, Columbia/Legacy celebrated the electrifying sounds of Dylan’s star-studded yet happily ramshackle 1975-1976 Rolling Thunder Tour with a 14-CD box set that captured the raucous and freewheeling sounds of that tour via five concerts plus various rehearsals and bonus cuts. Then, November saw the release of the fifteenth installment of Dylan’s long-running Bootleg Series. Travelin’ Thru chronicled the troubadour’s Nashville sessions for John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline in much more modest form: two CDs or three LPs. This set – while incomplete (two more discs of equally fascinating outtakes were released in an unfortunately limited physical edition available to only a small handful of lucky collectors, serving to engender ill will from the dedicated fans who would have happily purchased it in a wide physical or digital release) – finally unveiled Dylan’s sessions with Johnny Cash in authorized, superior-sounding form, and illuminated how deftly the artist paid tribute to the country genre while growing as a songwriter and a singer. Sometimes bigger is better, as a 4-CD version of Travelin’ Thru with all of the “copyright collection” tracks would have been most welcome. But both of 2019’s archival releases from the Dylan camp proved that, even for this most-explored of artists, there’s still more to discover. Our full review can be found here! – JM
Edsel box sets from Bobby Darin, Judy Collins, Michael Nesmith, Kiki Dee, and T Rex (Demon/Edsel)
Demon Music Group and Edsel Records released a number of exemplary archival projects in 2019, including but not limited to fine box sets from Bobby Darin, Judy Collins, Michael Nesmith, Kiki Dee, and T Rex. Darin’s The Direction Albums returned his groundbreaking, folk-oriented LPs to print on vinyl in a handsome box set. The two volumes of Collins’ The Elektra Albums were bare-bones in terms of bonus material but top-notch in sonics and presentation, making for the definitive and essential survey of the genre-defying singer’s most significant works. Michael Nesmith’s Songs, likewise, didn’t present any new material but was deluxe one-stop shopping for fans and collectors looking to dive deep into the remarkable solo body of work from the once and future Monkee. As such, it was deserving of the highest recommendation. Kiki Dee’s The Rocket Years collected the chanteuse’s recordings for Elton John’s Rocket label in high style, premiering “Snow Queen” for the first time on CD outside of Australia as one of its ten bonus tracks. Edsel also continued to revisit the relatively small but still powerful discography of T Rex with reissues and box sets including the recent 3-CD hardcover book-style set of Dandy in the Underworld. Over 53 tracks (a whopping 20 of which were previously unreleased) and a book including a nearly 10,000-word essay, the Dandy in the Underworld reissue was just the latest in a string of stellar T Rex projects from the label. – JM
Fania reissues (Craft Recordings)
2019 was a great year for fans of classic Latin music. Craft Recordings’ Craft Latino branch began a comprehensive digital campaign to release classics from the Fania vaults. Fania was originally founded by musician Johnny Pacheco and lawyer Jerry Masucci in 1964, and it would soon become one of the most significant imprints in Latin music as a home for all sorts of Latin music, from traditional to the psych-soul “boogaloo” fusion, through to the explosion of salsa in the ’70s. Aside from brining in individual titles from Fania’s catalog to digital for the first time (including material from Alegre, Cotique, Tico and other imprints), Craft Latino also debuted a new collection on digital, Fania Goes Psychedelic, a crate-digger’s fantasy of excellent Latin psych-soul.
Craft Latino also released a handful of vinyl reissues, all excellent, and all-analog remastered. Celia Cruz and Tito Puente’s Alma con alma (1970), Willie Colón’s The Hustler (1968), The Fania All Stars’ Live at Yankee Stadium (1973) all saw a return to vinyl. A further Vinyl Me Please-exclusive edition Celia Cruz-Johnny Pacheco duets album Celia & Johnny (1974) and RSD Black Friday version of Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe’s Christmas classic Asalto navideño (1970) was also released. These titles were chosen as the ideal introduction to the eclecticism of Fania. Each title was cut in an all-analog workflow by Kevin Gray, and, where applicable, presented in a replica of the original tip-on sleeve. While TSD didn’t have access to the exclusive titles, we were able to give a listen to The Hustler, Alma con alma, and Live At Yankee Stadium, and the results are thrilling all the way through.
The Hustler was Willie Colón’s breakthrough. The singer, songwriter, trombonist, and producer joined forces with singer Héctor Lavoe and an incredible band to deliver energetic jams, sultry ballads, even a heartfelt a love letter to Havana. The band is on fire throughout, locking into complex grooves with intensity and fire, while Lavoe’s soulful vocals elevate the lyrics. Meanwhile, the piano licks by Markolino Dimond are studies in syncopation. In all, the album brims with personality, full of thrilling performances that still hold up fifty years on.
Meanwhile, the Afro-Cuban classic Alma con alma: The Heart and Soul of Celia Cruz and Tito Puente brings together two of the most enduring forces in Latin music. Stateside, there are few musicians as revered as this pair and their exuberance shines throughout. Puente stuns with hypnotic polyrhythms (check out “Guiro 6/8,” “Elegua,” or the energetic opener “Cuyi”) while Cruz demonstrates her versatility, chanting commandingly on “Elegua” and “Chango,” bringing the drama on “Alguien vendrá,” and delivering a impassioned, jazzy delivery on the radio-friendly “Murmullo del mar.”
The legendary salsa album Live at Yankee Stadium by the Fania All Stars was also given an all-analog remaster on 180-gram vinyl. Originally released in 1976 as individual albums, the two-volume set documented historic 1973 performances at the treasured New York ballpark and at Roberto Clemente Coliseum. Here, the two albums are presented together in a deluxe gatefold sleeve for the first time ever. There’s no shortage of greatness on the four sides of vinyl. Fania’s best had united for the performances: vocalists Ismael Miranda, Pete Rodriguez, Héctor Lavoe, and Celia Cruz; keyboardist Larry Harlow, bongo maestro Roberto Roena, conga player Ray Barretto, along with guest stars Mongo Santamaría, Bobby Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, and Ricardo Ray. Keeping them together was talented bandleader and Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco. From Ismael Miranda’s jazzy opener “Qué rico suena mi tambor,” Pete Rodriguez’s gripping “Pueblo latino,” the uplifting “Diosa del ritmo,” and Celia Cruz’s 12-minute “Bemba colorá,” to Héctor Levoe’s moving take on Johnny Pacheco’s “Mi gente” and the hypnotic “Congo bongo” featuring Mongo Santamaria, all the strands of Latin music to that point are present. Meanwhile, Live at Yankee Stadium points to the future, as well. It’s a marker of the explosion of salsa, an epic recording showing the genre at its peak. Now, over forty years on, listeners can enjoy the set together for the first time, impeccably remastered, and presented lovingly in a beautiful package.
So, it’s been an exciting year for aficionados of classic Latin music. Thankfully, Fania fans won’t have to wait long for more goods from the vault, as Craft Latino promises more exciting titles on the way in 2020! – SS
Real Gone Music reissues (Real Gone)
Naturally, we at Second Disc HQ are a little biased towards Real Gone Music, as we’re about to enter our sixth year partnering with the label on our Second Disc Records titles. But the fine folks at Real Gone also release a heckuva lot of amazing and eclectic music without TSD’s participation! On the ’60s pop front, Real Gone delivered a wealth of exciting titles in 2019. One of the most unexpected was I Want Candy, the 1965 album by the one-hit-wonder British Invasion-sounding send-up group The Strangeloves. A gem from the Bang Records vault, I Want Candy claimed to be an album by Australian brothers named Giles, Miles, and Niles Strange. But the real faces behind The Strangeloves were Brooklyn music moguls Richard Gottehrer, Jerry Goldstein, and Bob Feldman, who had written The Angels’ hit “My Boyfriend’s Back” a few years earlier. The sham group found success with the title track, which would later be turned into a new wave classic by Bow Wow Wow before being covered by pop phenoms The Candy Girls (1996), Aaron Carter (2000), and Melanie C (2007). This issue arrives on red vinyl and is the first appearance of the original mono mix in over thirty years!
Real Gone also released The Definitive Archies: Greatest Hits and More! It’s a brand-new compilation of hits by The Archies, another manufactured band whose Jeff Barry-produced bubblegum pop featuring Ron Dante and Toni Wine continues to endure. The blue vinyl pressing features 14 songs from Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie, including “Sugar, Sugar,” the No. 1 hit from 1969, and six other, equally infectious chart hits. Unlike other compilations which have proliferated in recent years from various labels, the tracks here aren’t dubbed from discs, but mastered from original tape sources. Add to it the in-depth liner notes from Ed Osborne, and you have a collection that’s oh, so sweet. – SS & JM
Curt Boettcher and Friends, Looking for the Sun (High Moon Records)
One of the year’s most truly exquisite releases was High Moon Records’ salute to the late Curt Boettcher. Looking for the Sun is a vibrant reminder of the late artist-producer-songwriter’s singular gifts as a pop visionary who used the studio as his palette, bringing to life rich soundscapes in a variety of styles. It features tracks by Sandy Salisbury, Gordon Alexander, Eddie Hodges, Sagittarius, and others. Boettcher’s fame notably grew after his death, with comparisons to Brian Wilson inevitably cropping up. The 21 gems here, all recorded between 1966 and 1968, show just why Boettcher is indeed worthy of being spoken of in the same breath as The Beach Boys’ leader. Packed with rarities and previously unreleased material, Looking for the Sun was a labor of love for those involved, including producer-designer-author Steve Stanley of Now Sounds and Boettcher historian Dawn Eden Goldstein (both of whom contributed liner notes to the release). Without a doubt, this was one of 2019’s most shimmering, spellbinding offerings. Read our review here. – JM
Cilla Black reissues (Cherry Red/Strike Force Entertainment)
Cherry Red’s Strike Force Entertainment continued their comprehensive Cilla Black reissue campaign this year with another three 2-CD, 2-album collections: Cilla (1965)/In My Life (1974); Sher-oo!(1968)/Modern Priscilla (1978); and Especially For You Revisited/Classics and Collectables. The first two compilations have a total of 31 bonus tracks between them, featuring outtakes, singles, EPs and other miscellaneous recordings, many new-to-CD. The third compilation could almost be considered all bonus material: the first disc is a new remix of Cilla’s 1980 album for K-tel and the second disc is a new collection of material from 1976-1993. Taken together, the three releases give you a nice, broad overview of Black’s career, from her debut to later recordings. While some may quibble at the non-chronological album pairings, Cherry Red’s reissues are definitively gathering up Cilla’s catalogue titles and putting them into compelling packages filled with extra material and boasting superior sonics from her mixing/mastering collaborator Ted Carfrae. We always look forward to each new release. Read about the most recent release here. – RF
John Coltrane, Blue World (Verve/Impulse!/UMe)
Verve and Impulse once again stunned jazz fans with another incredible find from within the John Coltrane vault. Blue World is a lost 1964 album that show Coltrane and his classic quartet – as recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio – looking back and reinterpreting selections from their past. The previously unreleased session was commissioned by Gille Groulx, a Coltrane aficionado and filmmaker who begged the sax giant to score his newest film. Groulx took the master tape of the session – a 1/4″ mono reel as mixed by Van Gelder – back to Canada and used just ten minutes of music in the final edit of his film, Le chat dans le sac. Blue World marked the official debut of this material on CD, digital, and LP. The full session is accounted for, including two takes of “Naima,” three takes of “Village Blues,” and a take each of “Like Sonny,” “Traneing In,” and “Blue World.” As usual, the set also features in-depth notes from Coltrane historian Ashley Kahn. If you’re a jazz fan, you won’t want to miss this out-of-this-world collection, Blue World. – SS
Nat “King” Cole, Hittin’ the Ramp – The Early Years (1936-1943) (Resonance)
Resonance Records is well-known for its high-quality releases from jazz musicians of every stripe, but the label undertook its most ambitious release ever with Nat “King” Cole’s Hittin’ the Ramp – The Early Years (1936-1943). Before Cole took the world by storm at Capitol Records as one of the premier vocalists of pop’s Golden Age, he was a gifted jazz pianist, pioneering the piano-led trio format and bringing invention and seemingly effortless style to each composition he played. Hittin’ the Ramp is an exhaustive 8-CD or 10-LP box set which leaves no stone unturned in exploring Cole’s formative years as leader of the King Cole Trio. It’s beautifully researched by producers Zev Feldman, George Klabin, Will Friedwald, Seth Berg, Jordan Taylor, and Matthew Lutthans, and stunningly designed by John Sellards, making for one of the year’s most significant and exhilarating historical finds. Read our full review here. – JM
Pamela Polland, Pamela Polland/Have You Heard the One About the Gas Station Attendant? (BGO)
One of our favorite features this year was our piece about Pamela Polland and her once-lost album for Columbia, Have You Heard The One About The Gas Station Attendant?, which was released for the first time ever on BGO Records alongside her wonderful solo debut. The gifted singer had broken into the industry as a songwriter before forming the psych-pop duo The Gentle Soul, then toured with Joe Cocker and friends as Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and finally earned a solo contract on Columbia. In 1972, Polland released her self-titled debut with appearances by Dr. Hook and Taj Mahal and guidance from Clive Davis. But when Davis left Columbia, Polland’s Gus Dudgeon-produced follow-up – featuring the Elton John Band, Joan Armatrading, members of The Beach Boys, and more – was lost to time. Now, almost fifty years on, compiler-annotator Charles Donovan and Pamela Polland present this excellent two-disc set. It’s a must for fans of that singer-songwriter sound. For more on this amazing and unlikely release, check out our feature, including new interviews with Polland and Donovan! – SS
The Sound of Music: Original Broadway Cast Recording (Craft Recordings)
In 2019, Concord Music Group acquired the original Broadway cast recording of 1959’s The Sound of Music (starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel) from original label Columbia Records and reissued it on both CD and vinyl on the Craft Recordings imprint. If it was odd seeing the classic album adorned with a logo other than that of Columbia, Craft quickly dispelled any doubts with the very first track. When Columbia first brought the classic by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse to CD in 1986, the reissue producer replaced the bells in the opening “Preludium” with an alternate version. Those alternate bells have been heard on subsequent CD reissues in 1993, 1998, and 2009, but now, in 2019, reissue producer Mark Piro has finally restored the original bells as heard on the 1959 LP to a CD issue. In both CD and LP formats, this reissue is worthy of the beloved musical. The LP version (identical to the Analog Spark limited edition pressing from the 2017) replicates the original, deluxe packaging – The Sound of Music was Columbia Records’ first gatefold release – while the CD takes its visual cues from the 2009 Columbia/Masterworks Broadway CD but in a jewel case instead of a digipak, and with new liner notes by Ted Chapin of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound has beautifully mastered, so even those who already own a Sound of Music on CD or vinyl will want to pick this essential reissue up. Read more here! – JM
Nighthawk Records series (Omnivore)
This year Omnivore Recordings dug into the Nighthawk vaults, unearthing a trove of reggae classics by legendary reggae act Culture and a wide-reaching compilation of Nighthawk’s best crucial reggae tracks as compiled by label founder Leroy Jodie Pierson. The Culture LP The Nighthawk Recordings collects all the band’s Nighthawk sides, beginning with the 1976 cut “This Time,” a Jamaican obscurity that’s surely a crate-digger’s delight. That track, “Dem a Pakaya,” and the catchy “Calling Rastafari” were originally included on the 1982 Nighthawk comp Calling Rastafari, while “Can They Run” and “Mister Music” remained in the vault until this year.
Culture figures prominently on the fantastic 20-song compilation Send I A Lion: A Nighthawk Joint, which arrived this November from Omnivore. Founded in 1974, Nighthawk was envisioned to be a blues label, but five years later, label founder Pierson had switched gears, moving to Kingston to record local talent. Luminaries like Culture, The Gladiators, Ethiopian, Junior Byles, Justin Hinds, Winston Jarrett, Itals, Ronnie Davis, and more are present on the outstanding Send I A Lion. It even includes an unreleased audition track by The Mighty Diamonds called “4,000 Years.” Adding crucial context to the tunes is a new essay by Pierson, who dug into his own archives to unearth the fascinating photos that fill the booklet. If you’re even a casual fan of reggae, you won’t want to pass on this excellent collection. – SS
The Replacements, Dead Man’s Pop (Rhino)
On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, Minneapolis rockers The Replacements revisited their 1989 album Don’t Tell a Soul, but with a twist. Rhino’s 4-CD/1-LP box set Dead Man’s Pop afforded original producer Matt Wallace the opportunity to remix the album in a more organic and timeless fashion, removing the ’80s excesses applied for a radio-friendly sheen by original mixer Chris Lord-Alge. In addition to this ear-opening new mix, the set also presented the jettisoned Bearsville sessions for the album (recorded with producer Tony Berg) in full for the first time as well as a rare jam session with Tom Waits, a full concert from the era, and more. The title of the set comes from Paul Westerberg’s observation that “by the time we made that record, the band had been around for ten years. Everything had changed. It seemed like we had two choices. One was to be punks on our way out the door…the other was to follow suit and get a hard rock sound – which we weren’t really about. The truth was, we liked pop music: catchy melodies and simple songs. But to write real pop music in that era, you were dead. You were makin’ dead man’s pop.” The time has now come for the ‘Mats’ edgy, raw brand of pop to rise again. Read our review here! – JM
David Bowie, Conversation Piece (Parlophone/Rhino)
Fans of the late David Bowie were thrown a curveball when his ongoing series of albums box sets (each collecting the original albums from a particular era plus a bonus disc of contemporaneously-released bonuses) was halted this year for a very different set. The 5-CD Conversation Piece was, primarily, a collection of previously unreleased material (some of which had been previewed earlier in the year on vinyl) leading up to the recording of the David Bowie/Space Oddity album which was presented in the box in both its original mix and a 2019 remix by Tony Visconti. Not only was much of the material fascinating and revelatory even to longtime Bowie collectors, but the packaging was lavish and museum quality, a kind of companion to the David Bowie Is exhibit catalogue. If this de facto super deluxe edition for Space Oddity is a taste of things to come pertaining to future albums of Bowie’s, we can only say: bring it on! Our full review can be found here. – JM
The Stan Getz Quartet, Getz at the Gate: The Stan Getz Quartet Live At the Village Gate – November 26, 1961 (Verve/UMe)
This long-on-the-shelves concert finally saw release this year on a 2-CD or 3-LP set. Tenor saxophonist Getz was joined in his quartet for this show by pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist John Neves, and drummer Roy Haynes. Getz had recently completed the Focus and Recorded Fall 1961 albums. Recently returned from a 3-year stint in Europe, Getz was eager to find his place in the current jazz scene. That place would come the next year with the release of his Jazz Samba album, bringing Brazilian bossa nova to the mainstream. It is that change in sound which saw Verve shelve this concert, recorded on the fourth and final night of a stand at the famed New York nightclub. But there is much to enjoy here, right on the precipice of Getz’s next phase (although you hear nothing of that here). Getz is in fine harmony with the other three players during the 139-minute set. Of special highlight are the numbers where this is Getz’s only known recording: Dick Robertson’s “Yesterday’s Gardenias,” Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme,” and Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright with Me.” This is another highlight of the year that jazz aficionados would do well to check out. Read Joe’s review here. – RF
Ben Bagley’s Revisited series (Kritzerland)
For decades, late producer-impresario Ben Bagley was dedicated to mining the lesser-known gems of the Great American Songbook with his long-running series of anthology albums each spotlighting a particular composer (or, occasionally, a theme). Bagley’s Revisited albums were originally released on labels including Columbia, RCA, MGM, and Crewe Records, and finally, on his own Painted Smiles label. These all-star affairs boasted the most eclectic “casts” imaginable, with talents including Katharine Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Anthony Perkins, Margaret Whiting, Jerry Orbach, Barbara Cook, Kaye Ballard, Rosemary Clooney, Cab Calloway, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Rod McKuen, Elaine Stritch, Roddy McDowell, Chita Rivera, Lynn Redgrave, and Bobby Short all having entered the studio with him for one album or another. While once ubiquitous in big-city record stores, the Painted Smiles CDs are now long out of print, with many fetching top dollar prices on the secondhand market. Happily, Kritzerland has been reissuing the best of Bagley’s catalogue throughout the year, including tributes to George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Noel Coward, Kurt Weill, Frank Loesser, Rodgers and Hart, and others. These releases add up to a library of some of the greatest music ever written and recorded. – JM
Smithsonian Folkways collections (Smithsonian Folkways)
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released a trio of fantastic box sets this year. The first is The Social Power of Music, a four-CD and 124-page book set examines the pivotal role of music as a unifying force to “bind, incite, memorialize, and move” people worldwide and over hundreds of years. The 80-track set set is divided into themes. Disc 1 features songs of struggle, while Disc 2 examine’s music’s role in religion with a set of sacred sounds. Disc 3 shines a spotlight on the often joyous sounds of social gatherings, and the fourth disc explores global movements and the place music had worldwide.
SFW also put the spotlight on the world-famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in celebration of the fest’s fiftieth anniversary. Entitled Jazz Fest, the 5-CD box is presented in a 136-page, 12″x12″ book full of essays, photos, and discographical details. Founder George Wein wrote the foreword while Jeff Place and Huib Schippers wrote the notes. There are also contributions from New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation archivist Rachel Lyons; WWOZ’s Director of Content, Dave Ankers; and The New York Times‘ Jon Pareles. As for the music, the collection totals over 300 minutes, spanning from 1974 to 2016. Disc 1 is devoted to jazz, while the second and third discs feature R&B, blues, and gospel. Disc 4 celebrates regional music traditions like Zydeco and Cajun music, while the fifth disc features rock, popular blues, and hip-hop performances. Along the way, you’ll hear from New Orleans legends like Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, The Dixie Cups, The Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint (appearing solo and with Bonnie Raitt), Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. John, Terence Blanchard, and Trombone Shorty. In all, it’s a fantastic celebration of a landmark New Orleans institution that’s worth every penny.
Another exciting release was Pete Seeger: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection. Completing the trilogy that included celebrations of Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, this 6-CD set marks the centennial of Pete Seeger’s birth. The activist, singer, banjo picker, lyricist, and humanitarian left a legacy that is still felt today, and SFW celebrates the many strands of Seeger’s career with a whopping 137 songs recorded in the studio and on stage; solo or with his many collaborators, from the early ’50s to the late ’90s — this includes 20 previously unreleased tracks from the Folkways vault. Tying it all together are the thoroughly researched and beautifully written, now Grammy-nominated liner notes by Jeff Place, which makes up the bulk of the beautifully designed 200-page book. There are also countless rare photographs, and a remarkably comprehensive discography section. Altogether, these notes offer valuable new information about a legendary figure in music; the six CDs delight in showing the breadth of Seeger’s talents and influence. It’s a must-have for any music fan’s library, alongside the other excellent boxes that Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released this year. – SS
Troubadours: Richard Thompson, James Taylor (Real Gone Music, Rhino)
Real Gone released one of our favorite recordings of a beloved guitar-wielding troubadour. Recorded on a stop in Ontario, Across A Crowded Room: Live At Barrymore’s 1985 is a 2-disc live album that sees Richard Thompson and his backing group performing in support of the studio album of the same name. Though many of the performances were released on Laser Disc in the decades past, Real Gone’s CD set now features all 20 songs that Thompson and the band performed. Produced by Bill Levenson, mastered by Tom Lewis at Studio, and annotated by Scott Schinder, this album ticks all the boxes for quality and perfectly captures all the magic of Richard Thompson live on stage.
Over six years at Warner Bros. Records, James Taylor laid the groundwork for a career that is now in its sixth decade. The Massachusetts native’s records were key exponents of the early Laurel Canyon sound, not to mention the entire confessional “singer-songwriter” movement that today is synonymous with the 1970s. The six albums he released at Warner Bros. were collected over the summer in one essential CD or vinyl LP box set from Rhino, The Warner Bros. Albums 1970-1976, as sublimely remastered by Bernie Grundman under the supervision of Bill Inglot producer-manager Peter Asher. While we would love to hear unreleased material from this era, this set was a textbook example in how to do an album collection the right way. – SS & JM
Harry Nilsson, Losst and Founnd (Omnivore)
Harry Nilsson was recording material for a new album when he passed away in 1994. Over the ensuing years, songs from that session have shown up on a publishing promo and numerous bootlegs, but they have never been officially released until this year. Original producer Mark Hudson went back and finished the tracks, enlisting the help of Harry’s friends Jimmy Webb, Van Dyke Parks, and Jim Keltner, as well as son Kiefo Nilsson. While Harry’s voice might not be what it was in his prime, his skills as a songwriter and interpreter had certainly not diminished by the end of his life. The 11-song, 43-minute album contains plenty of the famed Nilsson wordplay, such as on the wonderful “U.C.L.A.” and the upbeat opening track “Lost and Found,” which would have made for a great single. The two covers are well-chosen, too: Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and Jimmy Webb’s “What Does a Woman See in a Man” (featuring Webb on piano). Hearing the album makes you wish it hadn’t taken so long to be released…but it has been worth the wait. And hopefully there will be more in the future, as not everything from those final sessions was included here. Read Joe’s review here. – RF
Elvis Presley, Live 1969 (RCA/Legacy)
Elvis was riding high after the success of his 1968 NBC television special and the single “In the Ghetto.” He decided he wanted to return to live performing and began a residency at Las Vegas’ International Hotel. That initial stint serves as the basis for this 11-CD set, presenting all of Presley’s concerts from August 21 to August 26, 1969. Energized to be back on stage and with new material, including “Suspicious Minds” (the single of which was released on the last date represented on this set, August 26), Elvis gives enthusiastic performances to songs ranging from his earliest hits to new covers. As with most of Presley’s catalogue, these shows have been mined for numerous collections and releases over the years. And while the amount of material may seem a bit daunting, it is worth it go through it show by show. Legacy also released a collection of studio material from 1969: American Sound 1969, taken from January and February sessions from that year. It is available digitally and was released as 5-CD set from Follow That Dream. It is also worth your time to check out. – RF
Margaret Whiting, Let’s Fall in Love: The Lost Recordings Vol. 2 (Sepia)
One of the talents featured in Ben Bagley’s Revisited series was Margaret Whiting. One of the greatest interpretive singers of her time (or any other!), Whiting was celebrated in 2019 with a second volume of lost recordings drawn from her radio appearances. Let’s Fall in Love: The Lost Recordings Vol. 2 premiered 56 songs on two CDs. All were recorded in 1946-1947 for the syndicated Barry Wood Show, and a full 30 of the songs had never been commercially recorded by the artist. This dreamy and romantic collection was one of the happiest treats of the year with its silky renditions of classic tunes by Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, and the Gershwins, proving that great music never goes out of style. Read our review here. – JM
Various Artists, Woodstock 50 – Back To The Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive/Experience (Rhino)
Some will argue over what is the best reissue/catalogue title of the year and opinions will be varied…but it would be hard to fault anyone naming Rhino’s massive 38-CD/1BD set containing the audio from the famed Woodstock festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. (And it is nearly all of the audio from the shows, minus a couple of tracks from the Jimi Hendrix set and a lost song from Sha Na Na). The set, housed in a wooden crate with other memorabilia featured 432 songs, 267 of them previously unreleased. The festival itself was a cultural milestone which came to define an era and the musical talent on display (too numerous to go into here) for the three days was legendary. This set, the result of years of painstaking work by producers Andy Zax and Steve Woolard and an audio team including engineer Brian Kehew, was nothing short of breathtaking. It is something that you thought would never happen. And while the price was certainly high, did you ever think you could recreate listening to the whole Woodstock festival in your house? And for those who felt the set was too costly or who could not get their hand on one of the 1,969 limited edition copies, Rhino also released various highlights versions of the set, including an excellent 10-CD edition. – RF
Pink Floyd, The Later Years (Pink Floyd Records/Legacy)
Pink Floyd and Legacy Recordings once again stunned fans with a massive, era-spanning box set. Following up on 2016’s The Early Years, 2019’s The Later Years 1987-2019 is a true treasure trove of audiovisual marvels. With 5 CDs, 5 DVDs, 6 Blu-ray discs, and the pair of 7″ singles inside – not to mention the impeccably designed photo books, reproduced tour programs, concert tickets, and posters – this box set is a remarkable celebration of a sometimes overlooked era when David Gilmour took the reins. There’s a new, less-’80s-sounding mix of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, a remixed and updated look at Delicate Sound of Thunder, the official CD debut of Pink Floyd’s Knebworth 1990 show, and a clutch of unreleased and hard-to-find studio jams and live material. The concert film Delicate Sound of Thunder has also been re-edited, as has PULSE, for the new box, while further discs dig deep into the band’s video vault to uncover unreleased live films, rare music videos, and screen films from across the years. If that weren’t enough, there’s footage of the reunited three-man Floyd rehearsing and performing “Arnold Layne” at The Barbican in London, 2007; behind-the-scenes looks at album cover shoots and tour preparations; ads and EPKs, and even an unreleased music video for the Endless River album. The massive set is sure to crush a porch or two, but that will be forgiven by any fan of Gilmour-era Floyd. – SS
Ace’s Songwriters & Producers series including Yesterday Has Gone: The Songs of Teddy Randazzo (Ace)
For years, Ace has reliably released entries in their Producer and Songwriter Series, spotlighting both familiar and rare works (with an emphasis on the latter) from some of the greatest names in pop and soul. This year, the roster grew even more wide-ranging than in the past, with stellar entries from such boldface names as Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Van McCoy, and Teddy Randazzo. The Randazzo volume, in particular, gave much-deserved attention to the talented composer whose style defined “uptown soul” as it showcased lush orchestrations, powerful use of staccato phrases, and moving melodies that frequently built to dramatic crescendos. Featuring artists like Little Anthony and The Imperials, Frank Sinatra, Timi Yuro, Dionne Warwick, Tony Orlando, Mel Tormé, The Delfonics, and The Stylistics, Yesterday Has Gone: The Songs of Teddy Randazzo left listeners wanting more. – JM
And we’re not ending with the alphabet, recognizing titles with numbers and symbols, too!
7a Records releases (7a)
7a Records – the label dedicated almost exclusively to all things Monkees – outdid itself in 2019 with a slate of amazing releases including Davy Jones’ Live in Japan and Michael Nesmith’s Cosmic Partners: The McCabe’s Tapes with pedal steel guitarist Red Rhodes. (Watch this space for a full review of the latter soon!) 7a’s meticulously researched, copiously annotated, and strikingly designed titles all prove that there was much more to The Monkees than just the big hits everybody knows. Each title shows off a different side of the artist, and is placed in proper context of their individual careers, the group’s, and music history at large. We can’t wait to see what the label has on tap for 2020! – JM
Prince, 1999: Super Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros.)
2019 was a good year for fans of Prince’s music with several excellent reissues hitting store shelves. But the highlight had to be Rhino’s 5-CD (or 10-LP)/1-DVD boxset celebrating his 1999 album from 1982. Prince’s fifth studio album, 1999 was a major breakthrough for the artist featuring an embryonic version of The Revolution and containing three major crossover hits: “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious.” The new box set features the original album remastered for the first time, 18 promo mixes and B-sides, two unreleased concerts (one on audio and one on video) and most excitingly, 24 outtakes. These unreleased tracks feature material that fans have wanted to hear for years and the material certainly warranted it with a fascinating look at Prince’s creative process. In addition, fans may want to check out some of the other Prince projects from 2019 including Warner’s Originals featuring 15 demos and several from Legacy: the Ultimate Rave set and reissues of Chaos and Disorder, Emancipation and The VERSACE Experience (PRELUDE 2 GOLD). – RF
Hootie & The Blowfish, cracked rear view 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino)
This 3-CD/1-DVD edition of Hootie & The Blowfish’s major label debut was an excellent view into the gestation of the album. The group had been together for nearly a decade before they were signed to Atlantic. As such, they had self-released several EPs and the material on cracked rear view was drawn from that. The second CD here presents those EPs together with outtakes from the album sessions. Those tracks, together with the concert on the third disc, illustrate how tight musically Hootie & The Blowfish were by the time the album was released. And the hi-res and surround audio options on the DVD are also excellent. This set causes you to take another look at one of the most successful and ubiquitous albums from the 1990s and was one of the surprise highlights of the year. Read our review in the Rhino Round-Up right here! – RF
Don’t see one of your favorites listed above? While we hope the above list represents a cross-section of the remarkable releases offered in 2019, there were many, many other titles equally worthy of inclusion from artists such as Frank Zappa, Dana Gillespie, Dollar, The Hollywood Stars, Jeffrey Foskett, Van Morrison, The Band, Gene Clark, The Kinks, Roger C. Reale and Rue Morgue, The Steve Miller Band, Gregg Allman, Mike McGear, Travis, Ronnie Lane, and The Searchers – not to mention amazing soundtrack releases like John Williams’ The Disaster Movie Collection and Nevada Smith: The Paramount Westerns Collection from La-La Land and Howard the Duck and Return from Witch Mountain from Intrada.
Lastly, we’d like to take a moment to remember all of the greats who left us in 2019, though their music will live on forever in our hearts. Here are just a few of the artists, songwriters, producers, musicians, and industry leaders whom we will never forget. We dedicate this year’s Gold Bonus Disc Awards to them.
Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John