So I've been gently persuaded to do another end of year review. I'm planning to keep the format much the same as last year, starting with reissues and compilations before moving on to a top 50 new albums and 'best of the rest' summary. As ever, the order here is largely arbitrary outside my personal top ten, although I sometimes give extra weight to the need for the reissue in addition to the musical quality.
80. Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir - Do Not Pass Me By Vol II (Numero)
A preacher and social activist in Chicago, but also deliver of essential gospel music - this is 1973 the follow up to the mighty Like A Ship, originally distributed directly by Barrett himself from his church pulpit.
79. Rev. Lonnie Farris - A Night At The House Of Prayer (Social Music)
This vinyl reissue already seems to be out of stock in many outlets, but fortunately the stirring, devotional music is widely available on other compilations.
78. Wilco - AM/Being There (Rhino)
Wilco's early albums may have been superseded by the post-'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' sense of adventure, but these albums deserve close listening in their own right. Within the limitations the group set themselves at the time, 'Being There' is a particularly adventurous record from a band demonstrating genuine versatility - able to explore a wide range of mood and feeling. The songwriting quality is consistently high, and 'Misunderstood' hinted at some of the refractions yet to come.
77. Various Artists - The Original Sound of Mali (Mr. Bongo)
A great selection showcasing the depth and range of Malian music, going well beyond the so-called 'desert blues' sound.
76. Various Artists - Agrim Agadez (Sahel Sounds)
An excellent compilation of contemporary field recordings from Niger, celebrating the role of the guitar.
75. Yishak Banjaw - Love Songs Vol. 2 (Teranga Beat)
Recorded in 1986, this is the first international release from this composer and keyboard player from Addis Ababa, originally released on cassette by an Eritrean label. This is spacious and mesmerising music.
74. Hiroshi Yoshimura - Music For Nine Postcards (Empire of Signs/Light In The Attic)
Gorgeous, luminous 1982 ambient composition inspired by a series of window views.
73. Various Artists - Tokyo Flashback (Black Editions)
Regrettably, this immersive world of Japanese psych-noise is still an area of music I know little about (although, predictably, Keiji Haino and Ghost are present and correct here). In a sense, this is an extreme take on some of the experimental tendencies already present on the Light In The Attic compilation of Japanese psych-folk music (14 on this list). You can here the influence of this music in the likes of Earth and Jesu.
72. Leroy Hutson - Anthology 1972-1984 (Acid Jazz)
Perhaps still best known for replacing Curtis Mayfield as lead vocalist in The Impressions, Hutson was also a skilled writer, producer and arranger. His own music tended towards smoother grooves (albeit with elaborate arrangements that lend his songs a strong narrative sense) and this excellent, although not quite comprehensive anthology, sits very comfortably on the Acid Jazz label.
71. The Other People Place - Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe (Warp)
A humane (and influential) take on cold, austere electronica from 2001, this is sensual, gently physical and riveting.
70. Jon Hassell - Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Vol 2 (Glitterbeat)
A superb slice of anthropology-inspired musical manipulations from Hassell, who uses the resources of the studio to abstract old sounds and create new ones.
69. Midnight Oil - Full Tank: The Complete Albums (Sony)
Not perhaps a band that will ever be considered cool and, indeed, Peter Garrett is among the most earnest of frontmen. But there's qualities in abundance here too, and a steadfast sense of commitment and determination that cuts through in the music as well as the lyrics.
68. Marijata - This Is Marijata (Mr Bongo)
Debut album from this driving, intensely groovy drums, organ and guitar trio from Ghana, recorded in 1976.
67. Various Artists - Spiritual Jazz 7: Islam (Jazzman)
Jazzman's Spiritual Jazz series seems to have passed me by until now, but this seems a particularly significant release for which to rectify that. With so much corruption of Islam in the world, including extremists who seek to deny access to music, this is an important document of the intersection between faith, art and expression. A reminder also of the intertwining of the civil rights movement in America with Islamic belief.
66. Various Artists - Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya on Reunion Island 1975-1986 (Strut)
Superb compilation charting the Maloya scene on Reunion Island - essentially a variety of musical fusions blending western and traditional instrumentation and incorporating funk, soul and blues. This music feels triumphant and joyful.
65. Various Artists - Singles OST Deluxe Edition (Sony)
It's odd to find soundtrack albums getting the reissue treatment - particularly ones that (mostly) collated material already available elsewhere at the time of original release. Nevertheless, along with the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, this collection was a particularly influential part of my teenage years. It's overblown for sure, but I still can't quite resist Mother Love Bone's Chloe Dance/Crown of Thorns and 'State of Love and Trust' remains one of Pearl Jam's best songs.
64. Johnny Cash - The Original Sun Albums 1957-1964 (Charly)
Repackaged many times now, but still essential.
63. Om Alec Khaoli - Say You Love Me (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
An all too brief EP, but this poptastic set from South Africa is completely irresistible. There are other works from Om Alec Khaoli available and I'm very keen to explore them. Khaoli clearly had real entrepreneurial and artistic drive during the most turbulent of political times.
62. Pauline Anna Strom - Trans-Millennia Music (RVNG Intl)
Compiles material composed and recorded between 1982 and 1988, this is serene, amorphous, subliminal music that feels gloriously detached from the practical realities of life.
61. Chuck Jackson - Big New York Soul (Kent)
A vocalist of considerable depth and quality I first encountered through Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures compilations gets a well deserved compilation of his own.
60. Various Artists - Studio One Presents Black Man's Pride (Soul Jazz)
Excellent roots reggae compilation featuring a number of great vocalists - Dennis Brown, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis among them.
59. Various Artists - Boombox 2: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 19790-1983 (Soul Jazz)
Sequel to last year's excellent compilation still manages to find surprises and chart burgeoning trends and developments.
58. Various Artists - One Way Glass: Dancefloor Prog, Brit Jazz and Funky Folk 1968-1975 (Rpm)
A fruitful and challenging three disc set crossing the boundary between the 60s and 70s, an open-minded and searching period of popular music.
57. The Art Of Noise - In Visible Silence Deluxe Edition (Warner Music)
Revisiting this 80s slice of pranksterish art pop is a lot of fun. On a serious level, Art Of Noise's manipulations of the human voice here are innovative and exciting. For the jokey dimension, there is Max Headroom suffering from a virulent bout of insomnia (still one of my favourite pop records of my childhood if I'm honest).
56. Super Furry Animals - Radiator 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (BMG)
OK, let's not get in to the Fuzzy Logic vs. Radiator debate here, as both albums inspire devotion in their adherents and both clearly have quite different merits. It can at least be said that Radiator offered ample evidence that SFA were a band capable of going well beyond the quirky, modern psychedelic exterior. The album found them exploring imaginative hybrid forms, mercilessly concise power pop and deeper explorations. This lavish edition also provides all the B sides, the essential Ice Hockey Hair/Smokin' double A sided single, a set of demos and some unreleased tracks.
55. R.E.M. - Automatic For The People 25th Anniversary Edition (Warner Bros)
One of the albums that, much like OK Computer, it is tempting to try and revise down because of its ceaseless ubiquity. And yet, Automatic is an album which is all the more remarkable because its overarching success is quite surprising. Beyond the bouncy, lightweight Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite and the obvious healing power of Everybody Hurts, this is actually a dark and challenging album confronting grief and death. There are some of the band's most remarkable and haunting songs (Try Not To Breathe, Nightswimming, Find The River) and a southern gothic sound that briefly threatened to at best pigeonhole them, at worst overwhelm them (cue Peter Buck's ceremonial disposal of his mandolin and the more divisive glam-grunge of Monster in 1994). This is only not higher in the list because the unreleased tracks don't really amount to much (unless one values very sketchy, often out of tune vocal takes from Stipe). There doesn't really seem to be that much of note in the R.E.M. vaults.
54. Paul McCartney - Flowers In The Dirt Deluxe Edition (Universal)
One of Sir Paul's most underrated moments this, featuring writing collaborations with Elvis Costello and a plethora of honey-drenched melodies and zesty wordplay. There's a fascinating feedback loop in effect at times here too - 'My Brave Face' sounds very much like Paul imbibing Andy Partridge channelling Paul McCartney. The deluxe version features some great demos, free from the baggage of late 80s production values, but it sadly unaffordable.
53. Bob Marley and The Wailers - Exodus 40 (Island)
The original album, plus 'the movement continues', a set of new versions by Ziggy Marley and a live set from London's Rainbow Theatre in 1977. This is still vital and urgent music.
52. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Lovely Creatures - The Best Of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (BMG)
That a comprehensive career overview has been a long time coming is perhaps evidence that Nick Cave is an artist too easily taken for granted. Certainly his leap in to substantial arenas over the past 18 months, promoting material seemingly (but in fact not) ill suited to the environment, has been something wondrous to behold. Stretching to 45 tracks, Lovely Creatures does not exactly push the boundaries in terms of track selection, but it does demonstrate the increasing versatility of Cave's songwriting and the new ways in which he has sought to create intensity and danger in his music.
51. Various Artists - Diggin' In The Carts: A Collection Of Pioneering Japanese Video Game Music (Hyperdub)
Here is one of the year's genuine surprises and delights - a collection of Japanese video game music that makes a disarming case for this music being artful and innovative in its own right. The music here is inventive, transportive and even, at times, poignant, all the while offering all the zany bleeps and bloops one might expect.
50. CAN - The Singles (Spoon/Mute)
Whilst part of this collection is 7" edits of some of Can's most famous long form jams, The Singles also demonstrates that brevity could be a virtue for the band as well. There is also evidence of other facets to the band's career - for example, the soft jazzy patter of 'She Brings The Rain', which pretty much entirely eschews the trance-like groove for which they are known.
49. Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu of Ethiopia (Strut)
Mulatu Astatke's crucial statement in Ethiopian jazz from 1972, presented here in both stereo and mono masters. The vinyl edition offers even more, with an extra disc devoted to outtakes and an extra track. The music gently simmers with quiet intensity.
48. kd lang - Ingenue 25th Anniversary Edition (Nonesuch)
Ingenue sits alongside Emmylou Harris' great late albums (Wrecking Ball, Red Dirt Girl, Stumble Into Grace) as a work drawing from a background in traditional country music but reshaping it into something wholly different and unique. Combining a certain twang with elements drawn from cabaret and torch song (the use of both tuned and untuned percussion is particularly effective), Ingenue was a sophisticated and subtle work thoroughly deserving of its immense success. The additional disc here is the excellent MTV Unplugged performance. Lang remains one of the greatest living vocalists.
47. Kraftwerk - 3-D: The Catalogue (Parlophone)
This box set collates live performances of the group's entire catalogue recorded between 2012 and 2016. Whilst the differences in the audio between these recordings and the original albums can often be subtle to say the least, the Blu Ray set is inevitably remarkable, although prohibitively expensive (a choice edit is available).
46. Husker Du - Savage Young Du (Numero)
The sad loss of Grant Hart added poignancy to Numero's superb and essential overview of Husker Du's raucous first three years.
45. Helium - Ends With And (Matador)
A welcome discovery for me - Mary Timony (Wild Flag, Ex Hex) and her excellent mid-90s band. This is a singles and rarities set - Matador also reissued a couple of the albums as well. This is a band that ought to have made a more substantial impact.
44. Buffalo Tom - Let Me Come Over 25th Anniversary Edition (Beggars Banquet)
Buffalo Tom are actually due to return with a brand new album in early 2018 but, until then, it's worth remembering that they made some of the finest guitar music of the early 90s ('Taillights Fade' remains vital), despite being overshadowed by the grunge explosion. This edition comes with a bonus disc featuring a full live set from London's ULU in 1992. Incidentally, the new single sounds very much like Sugar, which is encouraging.
43. Nick Lowe - Nick The Knife/Party Of One/Pinker and Prouder Than Previous/The Abominable Showman/The Rose Of England (Yep Roc)
These reissues plugged a substantial gap in the availability of Nick Lowe's catalogue. Whilst the 80s production values are distinctly variable, there's some characteristically sharp songwriting on display, demonstrating Lowe's expert knowledge of a range of pop forms. 'Party Of One' is the clear standout, including as it does two of Lowe's very finest songs ('What's Shakin' On The Hill' and 'All Men Are Liars').
42. Bill Evans - Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (Resonance)
The Bill Evans vault would appear to be bottomless - here is another superb concert performance capturing his artistry in full flight in a trio with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette.
41. Kitchens Of Distinction - Watch Our Planet Circle (Caroline International)
I remain hopeful that history will afford Kitchens Of Distinction much more than a footnote in indie rock history, not least because of the candid nature of openly gay frontman Patrick Fitzgerald's lyrics. This 6CD set brings together their four studio albums with One Little Indian with additional discs covering B Sides and BBC sessions.
40. Fleetwood Mac - Tango In The Night Expanded Edition (Rhino)
In which Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie explored the furthest depths of their desire to achieve crystalline pop perfection, in large part succeeding.
39. Various Artists - Tropical Drums of Deutschland Compiled by Jan Schulte (Music For Dreams)
Those who favour 'authenticity' as the high beacon of musical integrity might prefer to look away now. Schulte claims he selected the work for this compilation on the basis of having a 'general fascination for music that describes places the artists have never been'. Frankly, who knew that so much of this music existed in Germany at all? The selections are meditative and inward looking.
38. Dion - Kickin' Child - The Lost Album 1965 (Columbia)
Whilst not quite as 'lost' as its title suggests (most of the tracks were released on singles and can be found on existing compilations), Kickin' Child now appears, some fifty years late, in the album format originally intended. Apparently tied up in bad blood between Dion and Columbia, the music is vibrant and exciting and elucidates an actual gradual tradition between Dion's pop roots and later more ambitious projects such as Born To Be With You. 'Now' is particularly wonderful.
37. Elliott Smith - Either/Or Expanded Edition (Universal)
Still greatly missed, this expanded version of what was arguably Smith's finest album celebrates his melodic gifts and soft, vulnerable delivery (usually double tracked in a way that achieves a distinctive, characteristic sound). Smith had an uncanny knack for reshaping classic songwriting influences in a way that sounded individual and modern.
36. Mary Lattimore - Collected Pieces (Ghostly International)
Harpist Mary Lattimore has produced some of the most eerie and beautiful music of recent years. This compilation gathers some previously unreleased recordings made between 2011 and 2016. These seem to be leftovers from her outstanding 'At The Dam' album, again relating to travels in Philadelphia. The titles alone are wonderful ('We Just Found Out She Died', 'It Was Late and We Watched The Motel Burn'). 'Wawa By The Ocean' is a prime example of her artistry, beginning in childlike innocence (sounding much like a music box) but evolving into something densely layered, rich in sensation and imagery.
35. Various Artists - Pop Makossa - The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984 (Analog Africa)
Wiry, hypnotic, minimal disco-esque grooves from Cameroon in this excellent latest instalment in the Analog Africa series. Infectious backing vocals, percussion solos and scratchy rhythm guitar abound.
34. Various Artists - Habibi Funk: An Eclectic Selection of Music From The Arab World (Habibi Funk)
Jannis Sturtz has developed the Habibi Funk label to celebrate funk and soul music from the Arab World. It's an obvious but important challenge to preconceptions of what music from this part of the world might be, and it's interesting that these compilations appear to be reaching an audience in the Middle East as well as in the west.
33. Pentangle - The Albums: 1968-1972 (Cherry Red)
This one does what it says on the tin, collating Pentangle's long playing recorded output. Who could object to music of this quality being made available for a limited budget?
32. Lesley Duncan - Sing Lesley Sing: The RCA and CBS Recordings 1968-1972 (Rpm)
With her homely, understated vocal style and the often earnest subject matter of her songs, Lesley Duncan is never likely to be reappraised as cool. She's undoubtedly a neglected songwriting talent, however, and this CD reissue of her first two albums is long overdue (surely it should have happened during her lifetime). Before she embarked on her own career, she had worked as a backing vocalist for artists including Elton John, Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers. Elton John contributes piano to a number of songs here and a young Kate Bush sings backing vocals on Sing Children Sing. Amidst the comforting folksiness and environmental concerns, there's the rousing, unifying Mr. Rubin (an open letter to the radical activist Jerry Rubin, although today it could easily be directed at the current President), the gospel drive of Help Me Jesus and the more mysterious Fortieth Floor. Duncan's skills with melody were considerable, and her music developed further on the albums Moonbathing and Everything Changes, which are surely worthy of similar reissue treatment.
31. Acetone - 1992-2001 (Light In The Attic)
The tragic suicide of Acetone's Richie Lee at the age of just 34 may have inspired Spiritualised's poignant 'The Ballad of Richie Lee' (by far the best thing on the otherwise stale and derivative 'Amazing Grace' album) but Acetone's music has, until now, languished somewhat in relative obscurity. Light In The Attic step in with a set that celebrates the band's core strengths - patience and subtle development, slow tempos and languid dreaminess.
30. The Beach Boys - 1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow (Universal)
A typically exhaustive set that continues to help rehabilitate post-Smile Beach Boys. It perhaps feels like we've been here before with the material drawn from Smiley Smile - but the new stereo mix of Wild Honey is a punchy, celebratory delight.
29. Various Artists - Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In The Age Of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79 (Soul Jazz)
This certainly wins the award for most cumbersome title of the year. Appearing to tie in with the acclaimed Tate Modern exhibition, this outstanding compilation from Soul Jazz draws from a wide range of politically engaged, civil rights music from the obvious (Gil Scott Heron's 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised') to the much less well known (Philip Cohran, Sarah Webster Fabio). A superb contextualisation of some vital music. The official Tate Spotify (yes, there appears to be one) curated an even broader and more impressive playlist there too.
28. Pharaoh Sanders - Tauhid/Jewels Of Thought/Summun Bukmin Umyun - Deaf Dumb Blind (Anthology)
Not as significant as 'Karma' or 'Black Unity', perhaps, but these vinyl reissues of the second tier of Sanders' peak period are still essential. I've never been entirely comfortable with the 'spiritual jazz' label, as that has always seemed to underestimate the musical skills and knowledge of a number of musical traditions that this music draws from. There is little denying that Sanders' catalogue is a deep world that demands careful listening.
27. The Necessaries - Event Horizon (Be With)
Just when you thought it might be safe to consider the Arthur Russell archives exhausted, another reissue (vinyl only this time) emerged. This is much more of a collaborative band project (with Ernie Brooks, Jesse Chamberlain, Ed Tomney and Peter Zummo), although Russell has writing credits on a few tracks. It pulsates with driving, new wave energy and the integration of the three vocalists is intricately designed. Bob Blank's production is crisp and clean. The band in fact made another album for Sire in 1981 - 'Big Sky' - let's have that as well please!
26. Radiohead - OKNOTOK 1997 2017 (XL)
The pivotal albums of one's adolescence celebrating their 20th anniversaries is one of the modern world's painful reminders of the inevitability and rapidity of ageing. OK Computer remains one of those albums it is always tempting to try and reassess or undermine, in part because of its ubiquity, and in part because of the stubborn persistence of the narrative that it remains Radiohead's pivotal achievement (In Rainbows and King of Limbs both mean more to me personally now). Nevertheless, it remains an exceptional album in the breadth of its ambition and the confidence of its execution. OKNOTOK presents a remastered version of the album alongside some of the excellent B Sides from the period and a handful of unreleased material, perhaps abandoned only because it didn't quite fit the overarching mood and themes of the album. I Promise, in particular, is disarmingly beautiful.
25. Zazou Bikaye - Noir Et Blanc (Crammed Discs)
The reappearance of this stunning, inventive collaboration between Bony Bikaye (from Kinshasa but then living in Belgium) and French composer Hector Zazou is most welcome. It's a nervy, angular work full of strange electronic sounds and intricate rhythmic detail. Fred Frith contributes violin to a few tracks and sounds completely at home here. Some of it actually resembles the early work of Yello, which is no bad thing.
24. Richard Horowitz - Eros In Arabia (Freedom To Spend)
Composer Richard Horowitz has enjoyed an interesting musical double life, working on relatively conventional film scores and also creating bizarre, forward thinking modern composition such as this. Composed for a striking combination of flute and Prophet 5 (with other instruments also introduced), Eros In Arabia combines the worldly and the spiritual, the natural and the ritualistic.
23. Culture - Two Sevens Clash 40th Anniversary/The Congos - Heart Of The Congos 40th Anniversary (VP)
Anniversary vinyl reissues of the greatest of all roots reggae albums. They have both been reissued several times (and it would be hard to improve on the Blood and Fire presentation of 'Heart of the Congos') but these albums should be essential parts of any serious collection of popular music.
22. Thelonious Monk - Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam)
Thelonious Monk delved into the finest corners of his songbook for this soundtrack for Roger Vadim's film. The music ended up unused and the tapes were considered lost until now. These takes feel imbued with a carefree breeziness and playful wit, Monk's improvising brimming with typically idiosyncratic ideas, with a nimble but unobtrusive rhythm section.
21. Various Artists - Outro Tempo: Electronic and Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992 (Music From Memory)
A strange and absorbing 2 disc compilation that charts the practices of a set of Brazilian musicians embracing developments in technology alongside the traditional rhythmic, harmonic and melodic qualities of Brazilian music. These works frequently succeed in sounding otherworldly, as if they are communications with far flung civilisations.
20. Various Artists - Metaphors: Selected Soundworks From The Cinema Of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Well this is really interesting (with thanks to Michael Ewins for pointing me in its direction). Metaphors compiles a series of 'sound works' from the remarkable films of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasthekal, sounds that are so utterly enmeshed with the somnambulant fabric of his films that it is hard to imagine how they might exist in isolation. And yet they do - and they work remarkably well as ambient mood pieces.
19. Animals That Swim - Workshy (Caroline International)
Always a personal favourite of mine during the 90s, Animals That Swim's songs-as-verbose urban legends are more than worthy of rediscovery. They are melodic in a drab and mordant way, a more musically and thematically honest take on Britpop. Workshy was their debut album, and arguably their best (certainly the most structurally and musically elaborate). This CD reissue is expanded with two B sides and seven previously unreleased tracks. Let's hope the same treatment is afforded to the also excellent 'I Was The King, I Really Was The King'.
18. Fairport Convention - Come All Ye: The First Ten Years (Universal)
A goldmine of some of the most important British popular music of all time, Come All Ye offers seven CDs chronicling the crucial first ten years of Fairport Convention. 55 of the tracks are previously unreleased, including live recordings and alternate takes. The set includes a remarkable full concert from Croydon Fairfield Halls in 1973.
17. PP Arnold - The Turning Tide (Absolute)
With production from Eric Clapton and Barry Gibb, this was to be Arnold's first album for RSO (following the collapse of the Immediate label) before financial and industry politics caused it to be locked in the vault for decades. Now recovered and restored, it's a fantastic example of Arnold's authoritative, striking delivery, accompanied by often lavish, towering arrangements.
16. Midori Takada - Through The Looking Glass (WRWWTFWW)
Japanese percussionist Midori Takada's 1983 recording displays a careful concern for the properties and possibilities of sound. Takada deftly explores texture and timbre and, with its hints of birdsong, the music feels palpably connected with nature. Takada cites Brian Eno as an influence on this absorbing music, but she has definitely constructed a world entirely of her own.
15. Various Artists - Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares (Numero)
This set of turn of the decade music demonstrates how the 60s turned from hippie dream into turbulent nightmare. The music itself, however, is less psychedelic and more proto-heavy metal, all furious energy and impressive technical prowess.
14. Various Artists - Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk and Rock 1969-1973 (Light In The Attic)
This is one of Light In The Attic's very best compilation sets, and that is saying a lot. This is music unknown to me before this year but richly rewarding both in and of itself and for its context. The sleeve notes are detailed and superb, providing insight and information on each and every track.
13. Prince - Purple Rain Deluxe Edition (Rhino)
There can't be all that much more to say about the album itself - part of Prince's run of great albums stretching from Dirty Mind through to Lovesexy and, together with its accompanying film, the work that turned him in to a huge star. Although of its time, the production remains remarkable, Prince continually demonstrating his ability both to draw magic from the most minimal of ingredients (particularly on When Doves Cry) but also to deploy the full range of his instrumental and arranging skills. The expanded edition features some thrilling, previously unreleased long jams ('Dance Electric' and the very subtly titled 'We Can Fuck'). It's possible to argue with the way this reissue campaign is being conducted (digitally distributed in spite of Prince's objections), but the content remains essential.
12. Brenda Holloway - Spellbound: Rare and Unreleased Motown Gems (Soul Music)
Another example of a strangely neglected and undervalued soul singer, Brenda Holloway only issued one album for Motown, but many recordings remained in the vaults. Spellbound is an irresistible two CD compilation, including nine previously unreleased tracks and many others previously only available digitally, all recorded between 1963 and 1966. It eschews her five charting singles in favour of lesser known tracks.
11. Various Artists - Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From The Horn of Africa (Ostinato)
A revelatory compilation from Ostinato, drawn from cassette tapes and exhibiting the remarkable vitality of Somalian music in the 1970s and 1980s, before the onset of civil war. Amazingly, these tapes were rescued from radio stations and buried deep underground to preserve the heritage of Somalian music during bombing campaigns. The music is a fascinating blend - drawing from Arabic and Indian scales but also from funk, soul and reggae.
10. Various Artists - Mono No Aware (Pan)
A slightly agonising decision as to whether to include this as a compilation or as a stand alone new release, this set collates unreleased material from ambient artists working with the Pan label. The title, variously translated, can mean 'the pathos of things', 'an empathy towards things' or a 'sensitivity to ephemera' and the unifying theme here seems to be the ideas of meditation and transience. There have certainly been few more conceptually and sonically coherent new music compilations in recent years and 'Mono No Aware' works as a brilliant hive mind of electronic music's vanguard.
9. Jackie Shane - Any Other Way (Numero)
Now here is one of the year's most fascinating rediscoveries, a collection of extraordinary work from a superb singer with a compelling story, a transgender woman now being rediscovered for her vitality and commanding presence. The second disc constitutes a scorching live set, the first disc collates various loose 45s and studio recordings. The opening 'Sticks and Stones' is particularly thrilling, with both Shane and the piano soloist seemingly struggling to keep up with the frantic pace. In the event, their slightly delayed phrasing gives the recording greater impact.
8. Neil Young - Hitchhiker (Warner Bros)
Together with the launch of his online archive and last year's official vinyl reissue of Time Fades Away, it seems that Young is finally issuing some of the many 'great lost albums' in his catalogue. Originally recorded in one night at Indigo Ranch in Malibu during August 1976 (Wikipedia claims that Young's occasional sessions at IR were always on nights of the full moon, a detail that, if true, is quite wonderful). Perhaps left unreleased for so long because Young felt he was too under the influence and that this was audible in the recordings, Hitchhiker actually has that raw and slightly vulnerable quality that characterises Young's best recordings. Many of the songs are familiar, having ended up on 'Rust Never Sleeps' in different versions, but this specific session is worth the investment alone for the previously unreleased Give Me Strength, actually one of Young's best songs of the period. Now we just need the original 'Chrome Dreams' and 'Toast'.
7. Neil Ardley - On The Radio: BBC Sessions 1971 (Dusk Fire)
The last fifteen years have been gradually bountiful for the reappearance of most of the music of the great composer, arranger and bandleader Neil Ardley (who also had a successful sideline in writing science books for children). Most recently, the classic New Jazz Orchestra recording Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe finally re-emerged on CD and now, the superb Dusk Fire label (dedicated to this most exciting and important period in British jazz) steps in with recordings of Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra made for BBC Radio. Many of the great British jazz musicians feature in the ensemble. Sadly, we have now lost many of them but a few remain active today (Henry Lowther, Mike Gibbs, Jon Hiseman). The regular NJO repertoire does not actually foreground Ardley as a composer - instead we have his arrangements of two Mike Taylor pieces (segued together), Gibbs' masterful and dramatic 'Tanglewood '63', Paul Rutherford's jubilant arrangement of 'Stratusphunk' and Barbara Thompson's kinetic, majestic 'Tierre de Miel'. The considerable highlight here is the major, extended composition 'The Time Flowers', an imaginative, daring and patiently evolving work co-written by Ardley and the electronic composer Keith Winter. The package comes with sleeve notes from Observer jazz critic Dave Gelly, who played on these performances. The BBC announcements are kept intact, making this a fascinating document of broadcasting at the time as well as of the superb performances. This music means a lot to me personally and I was fortunate to play some of it when the Guildhall Jazz Band ran an Ardley/NJO project.
6. The Undisputed Truth - Nothing But The Truth (Ace)
Astonishingly, this is the first time on CD for the first, third and fourth albums from producer Norman Whitfield's pet project, often unfairly neglected as a second rate Temptations. Whilst they initially recorded a lot of the same material, the Truth also demonstrated darker and more tempestuous sides to Whitfield's trademark 'psychedelic soul'. The interaction between male and female lead vocals also lent the Truth a more distinctive force and clarity. Smiling Faces Sometimes remains one of the all time great soul recordings and other highlights of this set include the infectiously percussive 'Help Yourself' and 'Big John Is My Name' and the lavishly arranged, intoxicating 'I'm A Fool For You'. This package from Ace comes with some excellent sleeve notes and the co-operation of lead vocalist Joe Harris, the only member to have survived multiple line-up changes over the course of the group's existence (they actually continued recording until 1980). It's a shame that Ace didn't secure the rights to Face To Face With The Truth, the group's second Motown album (and perhaps their best), although some of the tracks from that era appear as bonus tracks in their edited single versions.
5. Mike Westbrook Concert Band - Marching Song 1 and 2 (RPM)
What initially looked like a fairly bog standard budget repackaging of this essential music actually turned out to be a loving and thoughtful presentation. It may not look like a treasure from its cardboard slip case, but inside is a facsimile of the original liner notes together with highly extensive new notes from Duncan Heining and a postscript from Westbrook himself. There's also a third disc, 'When Young', featuring a modest amount of bonus material. The music itself is so richly designed, but with a tempestuous freedom that only jazz musicians could bring - a remarkable, vivid work of clarity and purpose.
4. Lal and Mike Waterson - Bright Phoebus (Domino)
Long unavailable, Bright Phoebus is considered by many to be one of the holy grails of the British folk rock movement and this reissue is one of the year's biggest and best surprises. It's actually an eccentric and unusual work that revels in its many detours and unexpected mood shifts. It's rare to find music this loose and playful that also succeeds in being artful. That the evocative imagery of 'The Scarecrow' (surely King Creosote picked up a lot from this?) can somehow sit alongside the quirky, oddly phrased 'Magical Man' or the ebullient oom-pah of 'Rubber Band' is remarkable. Lal Waterson's unconventional, sometimes biting vocals are compelling.
3. Bob Dylan - Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol 13 1979-1981 (Columbia)
In many ways, Trouble No More is the most fascinating instalment in The Bootleg Series for some time, delving deep in to a divisive and confusing part of Dylan's career. It lacks some of the more exhaustive and academic qualities of, say 'The Cutting Edge' (there's no plotting the full evolution of one song through multiple studio takes) but, in its own way, it is remarkably comprehensive. The live performances are particularly satisfying, conveying how Dylan's evangelical fervour imbued his voice with new purpose and force. Whilst there are already signs of its gradual ravaging, this only serves to heighted the sense of passion and righteousness in the performances, ably supported by an often stirring and compelling band (perhaps also the tightest engine Dylan ever assembled). Mark Knopfler's production arguably smoothed the rougher edges of Dylan's sound at this time but the live takes offer much greater intensity. The rehearsal with pedal steel take on 'Caribbean Wind' (with very different lyrics from the version on 'Biograph' and sounding much less in thrall to Bruce Springsteen) is also a major highlight, magical and evocative in an entirely different way, and an enlightening new way to experience one of Dylan's most underrated and mysterious songs ('I hear a voice crying Daddy, I always think it's for me...'). For those unable to afford the expensive deluxe package, it's worth noting that a full digital edition is available.
2. Various Artists - Running The Voodoo Down: Explorations of Psychrockfunksouljazz 1967-1980
The great genre cross fertilisations of the late 60s and 70s once again seem to be back in fashion (see also The Undisputed Truth set) and it would be hard to find a compilation better directed at my particular musical preoccupations. I love the open-minded musical spirit of this time, with artists able to offer deep social and political engagement alongside celebratory energy. Highlights here include the dreamy Buddy Miles take on Neil Young's 'Down By The River', the extraordinary, protracted Isley Brothers version of CSNY's 'Ohio', a bizarre piece of hippie-ish folk rolk early Keith Jarrett (unlike anything else in his vast catalogue) and Don Cherry's magnificent 'Brown Rice'. Some more obvious selections also feature, but a compilation of this nature could hardly be considered complete without Sly & The Family Stone or Funkadelic.
1. Alice Coltane - World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop)
Too often discussed solely in terms of her relationship (both professional and personal) with John, this release is the latest chapter in the belated recognition of Alice Coltrane's individual artistry. This compilation marks the first time that Coltrane Turiyasangitananda's devotional music has been released to the wider public, previously available only on private cassette tapes distributed through the spiritual community at her Ashram. Whilst some of these found their way to YouTube, here is a detailed and loving presentation from the Luaka Bop label, with improved sound quality and compiled in collaboration with Coltrane's children. Whilst there is some common ground with her spiritual jazz albums (not least in the use of keyboard drones and percussion), most notable here are Coltrane's pure and transporting vocals, and the sound world of this music is distinctive, consistent and hypnotic. Whilst inspired by traditional Indian Vedic songs, there is little doubt that plenty of Coltrane's own musical preoccupations also break through, creating a world at once impassioned and serene, functional and transcendent, a world of intriguing cultural and musical exchange. The vinyl edition contains two additional tracks, repaying the investment.