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Monday, 07 January 2013 08:00

Best of 2012: Memphis to Manchester's top 15 reissues (soul, folk, country and rock 'n' roll edition)

Best of 2012: Memphis to Manchester's top 15 reissues (soul, folk, country and rock 'n' roll edition)
Written by John Wendland

I thought 2012 was a really strong year for new music releases and I found the same to be true for reissues and compilations.

Listed below are 15 of my favorite compilations and/or reissues from 2012. Looking for hours and hours of fun-filled, action-packed and rewarding listening? I submit the following for your music-listening consideration.

1. Woody Guthrie - "Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection" (Smithsonian Folkways)

Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 in 2012, and Smithsonian Folkways paid tribute by issuing this three-CD compilation and hardcover book which includes some of his lyrics, photos, letters, etc. This is a beautifully put-together package and combines some of his well-known songs with rare, previously unreleased tracks. If you want an overview of one of America's greatest songwriters with a personal glimpse of the man behind the songs, this is a terrific place to start.

2. Various Artists - "Eccentric Soul-Omnibus" (Numero Group)

Words almost don't do this one justice. The Numero Group has put out some of the most elaborate, exquisitely-packaged reissues of the last few years. Owners of some of their sets like the "Light on the South Side" and Syl Johnson box sets can attest to this. However, this is their most ambitious project to date. This set is made up of 45 (!) 7" singles of rare '60s and '70s funk and soul and comes housed in a case along with a hardcover book of detailed liner notes and pictures.

3. Dan Penn - "The Fame Recordings" (Ace)

So many well-known soul songs were written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. In the '60s he recorded many demos at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Most of these demos included backing by Spooner Oldham on keyboards, Jimmy Johnson on guitar and Roger Hawkins on drums and have never been officially issued until now. This is a mother lode of southern soul featuring the soulful vocals of Dan Penn and to hear the original interpretations of songs like "It Tears Me Up" and "I'm Your Puppet" are a revelation.

4. Various Artists - "Holy Spirit: Spiritual Soul & Gospel Funk From Shreveport Jewel Records" (Harmless)

This two-CD compilation is made up of '60s and '70s southern gospel soul and funk. Whether the tracks are originals, traditional gospel songs or secular songs with re-written spiritual lyrics, the performances just tear it up, and there are so many amazing vocals to be found on this 41-song collection.

5. Carole King - "The Legendary Demos" (Hear Music)

This single-disc collection is made up of previously unreleased demos recorded by Carole King. Some from the early Brill Building days where she was writing for other artists and some right before her 1971 solo "Tapestry" release. These intimate and stripped-down performances are beautiful.

6. Various Artists - "Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul" (Kent)

An almost perfect collection of country soul. This compilation is made up of '60s and '70s recordings of country songs recorded by the likes of soul artists such as James Carr, Ann Peebles, Al Green, Esther Phillips, Solomon Burke, Joe Simon, Bettye Swann and Little Milton. Sublime throughout.

7. Various Artists - "Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan" (Amnesty International)

This sprawling four-CD, 76-track compilation of various artists performing Bob Dylan songs was released to honor Amnesty International's 50th Anniversary. The wide array of musical genres represented and collection of artists from all over the world will likely result in a number of songs that don't resonate with every listener, but anybody should be able to find a whole lot of tracks to like on this. All of these performances are previously unreleased which adds to the specialness of this collection.

8. Various Artists - "Fender: The Golden Age 1950-1970" (Ace)

Really fine single-CD compilation of various artists who used Fender guitars and an overview of how much they shaped the sound of popular music. Extensive liner notes about Leo Fender are included along with songs by some of the most influential artists from 1950-1970. Includes everything from songs by Dick Dale and the Beach Boys to songs by the Yardbirds and the Velvet Underground to songs by Booker T. and Otis Rush to songs by Buck Owens and Johnny Cash -- all compiled in a way that makes sense.

9. Earl Van Dyke - "The Motown Sound - The Complete Albums and More" (Hip-O Select/Motown)

Earl Van Dyke played keyboards on a ridiculous number of Motown hits and also released a couple of solo instrumental albums. His band was originally billed as Earl Van Dyke and the Soul Brothers but these musicians are more commonly known as the Funk Brothers. This two-CD collection is made up of the instrumental backing tracks to many Motown hits along with their two solo albums plus 21 bonus tracks. In other words, an instrumental collection of the highest order that can, finally, be found in one place.

10. Shorty Long - "Here Comes Shorty Long: The Complete Motown Stereo Masters" (Kent)

Shorty Long may not be too well-known because he died at the early age of 29 in a boating accident, but he released two strong albums on the Motown label, and they are both included on this compilation along with a couple of bonus tracks. He was a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter. He co-wrote and recorded the original version of "Devil With the Blue Dress On," and his version is the definitive version, as far as I'm concerned. He could be funny, funky ("Here Comes the Judge" and "Function at the Junction"), and there is one musical surprise after another on here. You'll never want to hear "Chantilly Lace" any other way after you hear his version.

11. Various Artists - "Country Soul Sisters: Women in Country Music 1952-1978" (Soul Jazz)

It's unusual for the Soul Jazz label to make a foray into country music, but this two-LP compilation is really well-done and combines well-known tracks with lesser-known surprises. Some of the artists represented are Bobbie Gentry, Sammi Smith, Billie Jo Spears, Tanny Wynette, Jean Shepard, Lynn Anderson, Norma Jean and Jody Miller.

12. Amy Winehouse - "Amy Winehouse at the BBC" (Republic Records)

This single-CD/single-DVD set of previously unreleased live performances made for radio and television between 2004-2009 shows what a talent she was when not ravaged by addiction. Some of this is absolutely brilliant.

13. Various Artists - "Death Might Be Your Santa Claus" (Sony Legacy)

Now a little something for Christmas music aficionados: Almost every one of these early Columbia and Okeh pre-war recordings can be found on CD collections put out by the Document and/or Dust-to-Digital labels, but where else can you find them on vinyl where it wouldn't cost a small fortune? This was made available as a Black Friday Record Store Day offering and they only made 3,000 copies. Maybe not readily available, but well-worth seeking out if you are into this kind of thing (and I, most decidedly, am).

14. George Jackson - "Let the Best Man Win" (Kent)

George Jackson is one of the best soul singers and songwriters that you have never heard. He was a staff songwriter for the Fame studio and wrote songs for artists such as Wilson Pickett and Candi Staton. He also wrote "Old Time Rock & Roll" but that's another story. This is the second volume of demo recordings made by George Jackson at Fame Studios that has been released by the Kent label and both collections are gems. One listen to this and you'll be astounded as to why he wasn't a star in his own right.

15. Various Artists - "Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios" (Ace)

First-ever compilation of '60s and '70s recordings that came out of the Memphis-based American Studios. Every track on this is stellar. Joe Tex, Dusty Springfield, the Box Tops, James Carr, Bobby Womack, James & Bobby Purify, Sandy Posey, Wilson Pickett, Joe Simon, Elvis, Danny O'Keefe -- they are all on here.

But, wait, there's more….

In case the above hasn't satiated your 2012 reissue/compilation appetite, all of the following are also highly recommended:

Wendy Rene - "After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles & Rarities 1964-65" (Light in the Attic)

"Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974" (Light in the Attic)

"Never to Be Forgotten: The Flip Side of Stax 1968-1974" (Light in the Attic)

"V12LP" (Tower Groove Records 2-LP Compilation) (Tower Groove)

"Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul 1968-1975" (Kent)

"Something Good From the Goffin & King Songbook" (Ace)

"The Fame Singles Box" (Ace)

"TV Sound and Image" (Soul Jazz)

"Country Funk 1969-1975" (Light in the Attic)

"Searching for Sugar Man" (Light in the Attic)

"Hard to Handle: Black America Sings Otis Redding" (Ace)

"The Man With the Iron Fists - Original Soundtrack" (Soul Temple)

"Rolling With the Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook" (Ace)

"The Oxford American Southern Music CD #14" (Oxford American)

"Complete Pop Instrumental Hits of the Sixties, Vol. 2: 1961" (Hasmick)

"Delta Swamp Rock: More Sounds From the South 1968-75" (Soul Jazz)

"Live At KDHX Volume X" (KDHX)

Happy listening!

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