The Rev goes deep for his picks of this year’s choicest archival offerings
The Reverend’s musical tastes have always skewed towards, shall we say, the more eclectic side of rock ‘n’ roll.
So it should come as no surprise that any list of “best recordings” compiled by this particular spiritual advisor should be suspect and inspected for signs of brain chiggers before reading. What you will find in this arbitrary round-up of the “Top Ten Rock ‘n’ Roll Reissues” of 2021 is a lot of great music that potentially fell through the cracks and/or was overshadowed by another needless Beatles reissue (really, how many times are you guys gonna buy the same tunes over and over again?). The Rev doesn’t cater to any budget-busting box sets with discs full of repetitive studio takes, but there are a couple of worthwhile multi-disc sets below that are both affordable and as entertaining as watching your dog frolic in the park.
1. Be Bop Deluxe Live! In the Air Age (Esoteric Recordings)
Not as glammy as Bowie, nor teen heartthrobs like Bolan, not even suspender-wearing, plaid-clad working class yobs like Slade, 1970s-era rockers Be Bop Deluxe found modest commercial success at the time with an exotic, proggy sound based on frontman Bill Nelson’s shimmering guitar intricacies. They sold enough vinyl flapjacks that they were able to record several shows on their 1977 U.K. tour in support of the previous year’s Modern Music album, the results released later that year as Live! In the Air Age, the band’s only Top 10 U.K. charting album. But that album told only part of the story. This three-disc version of Live! includes the original ten-track album with three John Peel/BBC performances tacked on, while discs two and three offer up a compleat (as the Brits would say) Be Bop Deluxe concert from The Hammersmith Odeon in London circa March 1977. Although there is a super-duper-deluxe sixteen-disc version available that costs a week’s beer money, this budget-minded smaller set is the perfect introduction to one of the best bands that you never heard. (Thanx and a hat tip to Prof. John Dougan!)
2. The Beat Farmers Tales of the New West (Blixa Sounds)
The San Diego-based Beat Farmers have never received the credit they’re legitimately due for the band’s role as true-blue Americana pioneers. Often-overlooked in favor of (equally-deserving) outfits like Jason & the Scorchers, the Blasters, Rank & File, and even the Long Ryders, the Beat Farmers’ unique gumbo of roots-rock, blues, rockabilly, and country was delivered with a fair amount of musical virtuosity and lyrical intelligence, all infused with humor and no little audacity courtesy of frontman ‘Country Dick’ Montana. The band’s 1985 debut, Tales of the New West, fell through the cracks between records from the Scorchers and, afterwards, Uncle Tupelo but its reckless country soul and crackling energy place it firmly at the head of the cowpunk class. This deluxe two-disc reissue features the long out-of-print album in its entirety, which is reason enough to invest your time and money, but also includes a full-length 1983 Beat Farmers performance from some dive SoCal honky-tonk that will have you hanging from the rafters in joyous abandon.
3. Marshall Crenshaw The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw (Sunset Blvd Records)
Rock ‘n’ roll deity Marshall Crenshaw delivers value for your dollar, his archival release The Wild Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw a reasonably-priced two-disc set comprised of previously-unreleased live performances. So, what do you get for your double-sawbuck? Disc one offers sixteen tracks with Crenshaw’s early band circa 1982-83 featuring delightful performances of some of his best-known songs like “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “Rockin’ Around In NYC,” “Cynical Girl,” and “Someday Someway,” all of ‘em performed with energy and youthful enthusiasm. Disc two stirs in a couple of lovely solo acoustic numbers and a 1991 performance of “Walkin’ Around” with friends like Mitch Easter and Brad Jones. The album closes with six songs performed with the Bottle Rockets and recorded by Eric Ambel (The Del-Lords), an engaging performance sitting comfortably at the intersection of Beatlesque power-pop and rootsy Americana. Save your silver dollars, kids, ‘cause with Crenshaw currently mining his back catalog for other unappreciated gems, there’s going to be plenty more fab tunes where these came from!
4. The dB’s I Thought You Wanted To Know 1978-1981 (Propellor Sound Recordings)
The dB’s – Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder, and Will Rigby – were so far ahead of their time musically that they ended up signing with the British pub-rock label Albion Records for their first two albums. I Thought You Wanted To Know 1978-1981 is an ‘odds ‘n’ sods’ type collection that reflects the band’s earliest songwriting efforts, the compilation including a bunch of songs that didn’t make their way onto either 1981’s Stands For Decibels or 1982’s Repercussions, as well as a handful of vintage live performances. There’s a lot to like here for longtime fans, the dB’s electric hybrid of psychedelic pop and jangly rock nearly fully-formed at this early date, and if you dig Big Star and/or R.E.M. this should be right up your alley. Holsapple and Stamey offer song-by-song commentary in the liner notes, providing history for each track. In an interview I did with Holsapple for the Nashville Intelligence Report zine way back in 1984, he described the dB’s as “the hottest, cookingest little outfit I’ve heard in a long time.” Friends, he wasn’t lying!
5. The Del Fuegos Boston, Mass. (Music On CD/Warner Music)
Formed in 1980 by the Zane brothers – Dan and Warren – the Del Fuegos were another one of those hard-working ’80s-era bar bands that, like fellow travelers the Del-Lords and the Iron City Houserockers, got signed to a major-distributed indie label but would whose records would be overshadowed by hipper, more buzzworthy MTV bands (the sorry precursor to today’s Tik Tok ‘artists’). The Fuegos’ rootsy, guitar-rock sound was ingrained with vintage ‘60s garage-rock vibes – you could practically smell the cold concrete stained with engine oil and the sound of Marshall stacks reverberating off the walls – but also offered that intangible and unique magic they shared with fellow Boston bands like DMZ, Buffalo Tom, and Anastasia Screamed. Their second Slash Records release, 1985’s Boston, Mass., has long been out-of-print and while it’s a tad bit weaker in the song department than the previous year’s debut, The Longest Day, it more than makes up for it with a raucous soundtrack guaranteed to deliver the pure rock ‘n’ roll thrills you crave.
VIDEO: The Del Fuegos “Don’t Run Wild”
6. Global Village Trucking Company Smiling Revolution (Esoteric Recordings)
Probably the most obscure band on this list of the damned and discarded, Global Village Trucking Company’s Smiling Revolution is another quality set from the U.K. archival label Esoteric Recordings (really, those guys were busy this year!). The Global Village Trucking Company was a tragically short-lived early ‘70s band that nevertheless performed a whopping 390 gigs in roughly three years, earning them the sobriquet of Britain’s Grateful Dead. The band only released a single album – a self-titled, posthumous 1975 platter for Virgin Records’ Caroline imprint that was recorded at the storied Rockfield Studios – but those nine songs are brimming over with tantalizing performances and free-thinking musical ideas. Although there’s a bit of Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service vibe going on, it’s distorted through a uniquely British lens, so you get a soupçon of jazz, hippie-ish folk-rock, soaring instrumental improvisation (similar to contemporaries Man), and blue-eyed soul. Smiling Revolution includes the band’s lone album, with a tenth bonus song, as well as a second disc filled with odd live performances and long-lost studio tracks. A hefty booklet includes liner notes with the band’s history and a lot of photos, while a second booklet offers up song lyrics. What more could you ask for?
7. Gypsy Comes A Time: The United Artists Recordings (Esoteric Recordings)
Not to be confused with the American prog-rock band led by James Walsh, the British version of Gypsy (contemporaries of the aforementioned Minnesota band) formed in 1968 and were quickly signed to United Artists on the basis of their electrifying live performances. After a pair of albums – 1971’s self-titled debut and the following year’s Brenda & the Rattlesnake – came and went without making much of a splash commercially, in the U.K. or elsewhere, the label dropped the band without releasing their completed third album. Comes A Time, a deluxe, remastered two-disc set, includes both of those aforementioned albums as well as both sides of a non-album single, twenty-two songs highlighting Gypsy’s intricate instrumentation and California-influenced, hippie folk-psych-rock leanings – think Moby Grape and Buffalo Springfield, but as British as ‘tea time’. Liner notes for Comes A Time include a lengthy interview with founding member John Knapp, providing a perfect encapsulation of the band’s too-short career. Whatever happened to that unreleased UA album, tho’? Enquiring minds want to know…
AUDIO: Gypsy “Comes A Time”
8. Spirit Sunrise & Salvation (Esoteric Recordings)
This huge, budget-priced eight-CD import box set collects every note that Randy California and his pioneering band Spirit laid down on tape for Mercury Records between 1975 and 1977. Although the band is best-known for its run of early ‘70s Ode Records releases that culminated in the classic cult-rock album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, California kept the band going in one form or another until his tragic drowning death in 1997. Spirit released four albums for Mercury Records – the double-LP Spirit of ’76, Son of Spirit, Farther Along, and Future Games, which was really just a California solo LP re-branded to take advantage of Spirit’s stout reputation. The Sunrise & Salvation box set includes all of these, as well as dozens of previously-unreleased live and studio recordings showing that, while not as innovative as they once were, Spirit still had a lot of good music to share in the latter half of the ‘70s and California – mentored by Jimi Hendrix as a teen – was an underrated guitar hero.
AUDIO: Spirit “Like A Rolling Stone”
9. True West Kaleidoscope of Shadows: The Story So Far (Bring Out Your Dead Records)
California rockers True West are usually lumped in with so-called SoCal “Paisley rock” bands like the Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade, but they were really weirder, darker, punkier, and more avant-garde than their so-called contemporaries, more Television than Big Star, if you will. With the band all but lost to history, Kaleidoscopes of Shadows is a three-disc, career-spanning set compiled by True West’s brilliant guitarist and songwriter Russ Tolman and noted producer Pat Thomas that revives and reminds of the band’s sorely-overlooked, but considerable musical legacy. Disc one features the band’s self-titled 1983 EP alongside their 1984 album Drifters, which was originally released by the France’s New Rose Records. Disc two includes True West’s 1986 album Hand of Fate, originally released by the SF Bay Area label CD Presents and appearing here on CD for the first time, along with a slew of other cool, previously-unreleased studio tracks while disc three is dominated by various livewire concert performances. True West boasted of a pair of true six-string virtuosos in guitarists Tolman and Richard McGrath, and a sound that was rooted in classic rock ‘n’ roll with all the innovation, improvisation, and inspiration that implies.
10. Tommy Womack 30 Years Shot To Hell (self-produced)
It’s hard to believe that singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tommy Womack has been kicking around the Music City for better than three decades now – first with Bowling Green KY rockers Gov’t Cheese, then as a critically-acclaimed solo artist – but nevertheless, here’s the obligatory career retrospective, 30 Years Shot To Hell, two discs and 42 songs full of enormous joy and incredible pathos. Although Womack is far more obscure than his artistic talents deserve, he’s quietly knocked out a lengthy and impressive career, with a half-dozen albums to his credit, and three more with the critically-acclaimed band Daddy with guitarist Will Kimbrough. 30 Years Shot To Hell was exclusive to Womack’s crowdfunding efforts for his new album, I Thought I Was Fine, and it includes rare photos and artwork to accompany gonzo Womack tunes like “Camping On Acid,” “I’m Never Gonna Be A Rock Star,” “Whatever Happened To Cheetah Chrome,” and the rambling Ginsberg/Ferlinghetti joint “Alpha Male & The Canine Mystery Blood,” which hits your ears like a shotgun blast of confetti. Find a copy, if you can!
Honorable Mention (i.e. after you’ve bought all the ear candy mentioned above, sink some money into these babies): John Du Cann – The World’s Not Big Enough; Rory Gallagher – Rory Gallagher (50th anniversary edition); The Gun Club – Fire of Love; The Heartbreakers – LAMF: The Found ’77 Masters; Help Yourself – Passing Through; Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space; and Various Artists – Punk and Disorderly: The Albums.