LOST GEMS AND REISSUING NOSTALGIA
One of the features of the last few decades has been the ever increasing proliferation of reissues. They come in all forms – remastered, remixed, re-pressed and expanded and thankfully the world of Americana music is no exception.
Reissues serve two important purposes. Firstly they cater to the nostalgia crowd who have disposable incomes and/or obsessive collector tendencies. They need to have all versions of their favourite album or artists and their collections are incomplete without them. The second and perhaps most important role of reissues is to either make available for the first time, or breathe new life, into lost or underrated albums from the past.
Specialist labels play a big part in uncovering artists who were blips on the musical radar when they were first performing and releasing music. The dedication of those labels to first discover the music and then research, restore and package it sympathetically shows great love for the music and not just the monetary gain they earn from it.
Bear Family Records are an independent German label who have been reissuing a large number of country and rock ’n’ roll albums and curated compilations for 40 years. Their collection is huge, ranging from the just-released 20-CD At The Louisiana Hayride Tonight to the George Jones: Birth Of A Legend – The Truly Complete Starday And Mercury Recordings 1954–1961 box set, exclusive Wanda Jackson 10” records to the essential Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels: The Blissed Out Birth Of Country Rock series that documents both the obvious and obscure architects of Americana music.
Light In The Attic Records takes a two prong approach, fostering new talent and bringing new attention to classic forgotten recordings by artists such as Karen Dalton, Lee Hazlewood, Bobby Charles and Spooner Oldham. Their compilations are highly respected, with volumes dedicated to Country Funk and Native American music. In 2016 they released the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Heartworn Highways, the soundtrack to the film that documents the Texas outlaw country scene centred around Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle and others. The dedication to the project resulted in a package that included coloured vinyl, a DVD, 80 page book and more, all housed in a hand crafted wooden box.
Tompkins Square Records places its focus on folk, country and jazz, often with artists that blend those categories. Their acclaimed eight volume Imaginational Anthem series is a wonderful anthology of American Primitive finger-style guitarists that includes Jack Rose, Sandy Bull and John Fahey. An example of a forgotten gem being rescued from the dusty corners of history and subsequently reviving the artist’s career is William C. Beeley’s Gallivantin’, of which only 200 copies were self-released in 1971. Now, in 2018, Tompkins Square will release Beeley’s first new album in nearly 40 years.
In 2017 there were a number of high profile reissues that I can wholeheartedly recommend as worth the time and money to delve into. Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979–1981 is a fascinating 9-CD, 2-CD or 4-LP collection that forensically examines the songwriter’s gospel years. At the end of the year, Wilco and Rhino reissued the band’s first two albums, A.M. and Being There – complete with alternate takes and live material. k.d. lang released a 25th Anniversary Edition of her landmark album Ingénue, Eagles pushed for even more album sales with a 40th Anniversary Edition of Hotel California and the Johnny Cash Unearthed box set received a 9-LP vinyl reissue with a 60-page coffee table book and Cash and Rick Rubin’s comments on very track. Elsewhere, on what would have been John Lee Hooker’s 100th birthday, the occasion was marked with the 5-CD box set King Of The Boogie on Craft Recordings and Gillian Welch finally began her long-awaited vinyl reissue campaign starting with The Harrow & The Harvest.
It all amounts to a healthy and bottomless well of musical recycling and resurrection. The winners may be the labels and hopefully the artists but for the collector and obsessive fan it’s the gift that keeps on giving.