Sunday, December 21, 2014

My favorite reissues of 2014: Old 97's, The Jayhawks, Paul McCartney & Wings, Big Star

As 2014 rapidly draws to a close, I am taking a welcome look back at 2014 in anticipation of compiling my list of top 10 (20? Who knows…) albums. But this has been such a rich year in terms of reissues, I couldn't help but shine a light on these masterful collections on a list filled with rediscovered riches...

Artist: Old 97's
Title: Hitchhike to Rhome (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: The Jayhawks, Wilco, the Bottle Rockets
Tell me more: As great as Hitchhike to Rhome was upon its initial release way back in 1994, the 2-disc 20th anniversary reissue of the seminal Old 97's debut is even better. One of alternative country's most prolific and consistent artists over the past two decades, the Dallas, Texas-spawned outfit gets it right on every track on the album, which was recorded over a mere three days. Now masterfully remixed by Rip Rowan, Hitchhike to Rhome boasts nuanced tracks ("St. Ignatius," "Wish the Worst"), flat-out barn burners ("504," "4 Leaf Clover") and groundbreaking songs that masterfully blend bluegrass or honky tonk with indie rock stylings (the mandolin-anchored "Doreen" and "If My Heart Was a Car") and rousing covers (including a killer take on Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"). The plethora of bonus tracks and demos that fill the second disc provides loads of icing on the sonic cake. Information:
Purchase 'Hitchhike To Rhome (2-CD Set)' here

Artist: The Jayhawks
Titles: Sound of Lies (pictured), Smile, Rainy Day Music (UMe)
You might like if you enjoy: Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams, Big Star
Tell me more: Formed in Minneapolis back in 1985, the Jayhawks have issued eight studio LPs dating back to their eponymous debut released in 1986. But 2014 was a particularly great year for fans of the Jayhawks thanks to the release of deluxe editions of three of their most beloved albums (1997's Sound of Lies, 2000's Smile and 2003's Rainy Day Music). For those who love authentic power-pop (think Big Star), tuneful alternative country (the Flying Burrito Brothers come to mind) and folk rock (classic is-their-any-other-kind Buffalo Springfield), the Jayhawks explored a vast region of Americana across six-year span and created some of the best songs in memory along the way. A myriad of bonus and previously-unreleased tracks filled all three expanded releases (released on audio CD in July and two-LP vinyl sets in September). Southern California audiences can catch the Gary Louris-led Jayhawks when they perform in Los Angeles (Jan. 10), Solana Beach (Jan. 11) or at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano (Jan. 12). Information:
Buy 'Rainy Day Music' on CD here

Buy 'Smile' on audio CD here

Purchase 'Sound of Lies' on Vinyl here

Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings
Titles: Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound (Hear Music)
You might like if you enjoy: The Beatles, Paul McCartney and Wings
Tell me more: While it is often a tough pill to swallow purchasing the same album twice, fans of Paul McCartney and Wings' classics Venus and Mars (1975) and Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976) can't go wrong with the terrific sounding remastered versions of those essential albums. Among the gems on Venus and Mars is the rocker "Letting Go" that really benefits from the enhanced remastering, and the buoyant "Listen to What the Man Said." While everybody knows Wings at the Speed of Sound's hits ("Silly Love Songs," "Let 'Em In"), the re-release is a great excuse to get to re-listen to the original album (love "Wino Junko") and hear bonus tracks such as an alternate take of the rocker "Beware My Love" featuring the late John Bonham on drums. Information:  
Purchase 'Wings at the Speed of Sound' on audio CD

Buy 'Venus and Mars' on audio CD

Artist: Big Star
Titles: #1 Record (pictured) / Radio City (Stax Records / Concord Music Group)
You might like if you enjoy: Cheap Trick, The Replacements, R.E.M.
Tell me more: Big Star is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential bands of all time, having enjoyed a short run in the early 1970s that met with universal critical praise but limited commercial success due to the failure of the Memphis, Tennessee outfit's label to successfully market and distribute their albums. Time has nonetheless been kind to Big Star's legacy, with the Replacements, R.E.M., the Bangles and Wilco all citing the influence of the band. Earlier this year, Stax Records reissued Big Star's first two albums, with both the debut #1 Record and sophomore effort Radio City boasting a mix of rousing rockers and reflective ballads adding up to a sonic brew often credited as the birth of power pop. Highlights abound on each of the albums, with the introspective “The Ballad of El Goodo,” bewitching “Thirteen” and joyful “My Life Is Right” among the great tracks on #1 while the shimmering “September Gurls” and melodic “Way Out West” are among the standouts on “Radio City.” The informative liner notes on the reissues were penned by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills.
Buy '#1 Record' here
Buy 'Radio City' CD here

Robert Kinsler

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