As it happens, this is – as much as such a thing exists – my area of expertise: a significant proportion of the music I review each year is actually of the “it came out before but you probably missed it, so here it is again” type. So choosing four was exceedingly difficult. I should make special mention of the work done by four labels: The Numero Group, Real Gone Music, Rock Beat, and Omnivore Recordings. All have a near-fanatical dedication to unearthing fascinating music that previously hasn’t gotten the hearing (and/or presentation, and/or marketing push) it richly deserves. It’s no overstatement to say that their logos are effectively a trademark of quality: one can hardly go wrong picking up any of their releases.
That said, on this particular list, only one of their titles appears. And that’s a personal/sentimental favorite, for reasons that will become clear presently.
Oscar Peterson — Exclusively for my Friends
For me, this one’s all but inevitable to show up on the list. It’s Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist. It’s him and (usually) crack sidemen in the most intimate of setting, with an audience. It features renowned German attention to detail in its production values. It’s beautifully packaged. And…it’s vinyl. It’s also essential for any jazz fan.
Jethro Tull — A Passion Play: An Extended Performance
In addition to his work on solo albums and such, Steven Wilson has made a name for himself as the go-to guy when a 70s progressive rock group wants to revisit their catalog. His remix/remaster projects are the stuff of legend: check out his work for King Crimson and Caravan, for example. The four-disc set covering A Passion Play is magnificent, and might just cause you to reevaluate the album.
The Soul of Designer Records
The funny thing is, I don’t even particularity like gospel music. And make no mistake: The Soul of Designer Records is mostly just that. But from the liner notes to the brilliantly creative packaging to the music itself, this set is both an important historical document and a fine collection of music, whatever one’s spiritual bent. My prediction that the set would be nominated for a Grammy turned out to be wrong, but then I’m an unreliable predictor of such things: I would have thought Paul Revere and the Raiders would’ve gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by now. Speaking of which…
Brotherhood — The Complete Recordings
In 1967, the famed “power trio” of Drake Levin (guitar), Phil Volk (bass) and Michael Smith (drums) jumped ship from the massively popular Raiders. What happened next? They formed a group, added a keyboard player, and promptly sank into oblivion. They did cut three albums, but few knew about those, and fewer still ever heard them. I learned about Brotherhood in my early research writing about the Raiders. And working behind the scenes with Real Gone Music, I helped bring their three albums back to the world. My extensive history of the group is included in the 2CD set’s liner notes. The music isn’t exactly rock’s version of The Missing Link, but it’s solid stuff, and the group’s story is a compelling, often heartbreaking one.
Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve. Failing that, just have a safe one.
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