Egon's 5 Favorite Reissues Of 2010

Chicago soul artist Syl Johnson saw his entire discography reissued this year by The Numero Group record label. i i

hide captionChicago soul artist Syl Johnson saw his entire discography reissued by the Numero Group record label in 2010.

Courtesy of The Numero Group
Chicago soul artist Syl Johnson saw his entire discography reissued this year by The Numero Group record label.

Chicago soul artist Syl Johnson saw his entire discography reissued by the Numero Group record label in 2010.

Courtesy of The Numero Group

My shelves are filled with original albums from the 1960s through the present day, so a reissue had better be damn good if it's going to fit between an original Solar press of Lula Cortes and Ze Ramalho's Brasilian psychedelic masterpiece Paebiru and the solid, mid-'70s funk of the Turner Brothers' Act 1 (on the Brothers' MB label, of course). Or at least that's what I tell myself to keep the small Los Angeles house I share with my wife from turning into the next episode of Hoarders.

While 2009 added a small, excellent trove of African reissues to the racks — as well as a few well-packaged American and Middle Eastern albums — 2010 was, by comparison, empty. I'd heard rumors that the great Ghanaian guitarist, composer and arranger Ebo Taylor would be feted with a thorough anthology. By the end of the year, hopes dashed, I found myself spending hundreds of dollars on original copies of his rare albums on eBay — and returning to Soundway's crucial 2009 Ghana Special. The fact that Ghana Special hasn't left my car's seat pocket in a year says something about the quality of 2010's crop.

That said, it wasn't hard to pin down five albums as must-haves for music fans of all ages and backgrounds. I've purposely left off major-label releases like the fine West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology so as to focus on smaller, passion-driven imprints. And I've left off the murky Iranian and Turkish bootlegs that have flooded the market in the past year. As interesting as they are — and I bought them all — I hope they inspire a generation to seek out the original artists, or their heirs, and properly document the musical heroes of those hard-to-penetrate '60s and '70s scenes.

The 5 Best Reissues Of 2010

Omar Khorshid

Omar Khorshid, 'Guitar El Chark (Guitar Of The Orient)'

  • Song: Guitar El Chark [Guitar of the Orient]

Sublime Frequencies -- the reissue label helmed by onetime Sun City Girl Alan Bishop -- has produced some of the most challenging and fulfilling reissues in the past 10 years. From Choubi Choubi: Folk and Pop Sounds From Iraq to official reissues of Indonesian '70s icons Koes Plus and Dara Puspita, you get a taste of what makes Bishop tick -- and the man's taste is eclectic and commendable. This past year saw the release of Sublime Frequencies' anthology of the Egyptian-born, Lebanon-loving guitarist and movie star Omar Khorshid. While the issue's liner notes rightfully assert that Khorshid "received criminally little international acclaim," if one were to ask Krautrock guitarist Roman Bunka about Khorshid's talents, he or she should expect to hang about for a while. Before he died in 1981, Khorshid set the bar for Middle Eastern electric guitar virtuosity and experimentation. This album swings with polyrhythms; it bows around swirling synthesizers; and it, above all, screams with Khorshid's fierce guitar solos, which are impossible to adequately praise.

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  • "Guitar El Chark [Guitar of the Orient]"
  • Album: Guitar El Chark (Guitar of the Orient)
  • Artist: Omar Khorshid
  • Label: Sublime Frequencies
  • Released: 2010
 
Syl Johnson

Syl Johnson, 'Complete Mythology'

  • Song: Different Strokes

It's hard to believe it's been 12 years since I lost a coin-flip for a copy of Chicago soul great Syl Johnson's Dresses Too Short album in a Tennessee used-record store. (Rest assured: I won it back a few years later.) I found a sealed copy of Is It Because I'm Black -- the second album he issued on Twinight, the label he co-founded and led to great heights in Chicago's '70s -- a bit later, in the "Rare Groove Sale" bin in a Kyoto shop. I left it sealed. Why? Well, I knew the album well enough by that point -- there had been numerous bootlegs and quasi-official reissues of Johnson's material -- and I figured that someday someone would do Johnson right, justly issuing an anthology that would settle him in the soul pantheon and allow me to file my artifact next to a remastered reissue that I could play in good conscience.

Finally, here it is: Numero Group's finest reissue yet, a collection of Johnson's Twinight albums and singles -- alongside everything else Johnson recorded in Chicago before his departure to Memphis and Hi Records -- packaged as a six-album, four-CD box set called Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology. Johnson's nasal-inflected twang never sounded so good; it would be worth the price of admission for the seven minutes of prestigious funk that is the singer's introduction to his Pieces of Peace band, "Right On."

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  • "Different Strokes"
  • Album: The Complete Mythology
  • Artist: Syl Johnson
 
The World Ends

Various Artists, 'The World Ends: Afro Rock And Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria'

  • Song: Mr. Bull Dog [45 Version] [Version]

I cannot write enough good things about Miles Cleret and his Soundway label. I've followed Soundway's trajectory since its early Ghana Soundz albums, so I gushed with pride when Stones Throw, the label I manage, could issue a J. Dilla-produced track that sampled Soundway's reissue of Ghanaian funk master Rob's "Make It Fast, Make It Slow," knowing that Rob was aware -- and paid -- for the use of his music. That Cleret only had a handshake deal with Rob never worried me: He is one of the few ethical Europeans delving into the murky waters of the '60s and '70s West African recording circles.

The World Ends: Afro-Rock and Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria couldn't be more thorough in its presentation of the scenes that sprung to life after the 1970 armistice in the Nigerian Civil War, of the bands influenced by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and, later, the Lagos sojourn of Cream drummer Ginger Baker. This owes largely to Cleret's partner on this release -- the Nigerian-born, Boston-based Comb & Razor blogger Uchenna Ikonne. Cleret and Ikonne make a good team: Cleret's early forays into Nigeria yielded some of the only known copies of the records contained within this 2CD, 6LP anthology, while Ikonne's liner notes impart a Nigerian's sensibility into the music. You haven't heard psychedelic funk music until you've plugged into the 45 version of the Mebusa's "Mr. Bulldog," the existence of which was a rumor until the issue of the album.

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  • "Mr. Bull Dog [45 Version] [Version]"
  • Album: World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria (Vinyl Part A)
  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Label: Soundway
  • Released: 2010
 
California Funk

Various Artists, 'California Funk: Rare Funk 45s From The Golden State'

  • Song: What Goes Around Comes Around (Pt. 1)

In the interest of full disclosure, I distributed the North American version of this compendium on the label I own, Now-Again Records. But, try as I did to find a soul and funk compilation as essential as California Funk -- the product of an obsessive decade of work from Gerald "Jazzman" Short and  drummer/collector Malcolm Catto -- I couldn't. So here I am, insisting, perhaps dubiously, that there need to be more compilations like this. The American funk sub-strata has barely been mined, and there are more veins of California gold like this one.

This is not the California of Sly Stone and his Family; it is the California of the apocalyptic, Sacramento-based gospel-funk outfit Water Color and its "All Bundled Into One." This is not the California of Charles Wright and his band of polished session players; it's the California of the unhinged Arthur Monday and the powerhouse drummer Edward "Apple" Nelson and their "What Goes Around Comes Around." As a result, this California is one in which dreams easily shift to nightmares -- as some of the godfathers who established the basis for this anthology lived to attest.

As I write this, Monday convalesces in a Louisiana assisted-living community, telling anyone who will listen to him, as he screamed on his solitary 45: "From the top, it goes to the bottom, it goes around! It's gotta be funky. All day long!" Nelson still plays drums in his church -- he lost his personal set of skins years ago -- and pines for the days when his Sagittarius imprint was active, when his every release could be the one that pulled him from obscurity. At the very least, Monday, Nelson and their compatriots can rest knowing that their music lives to be heard another day.

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  • "What Goes Around Comes Around (Pt. 1)"
  • Album: California Funk: Rare Funk 45s From the Golden State
  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Label: Jazzman
  • Released: 2010
 
Pastor T. L. Barrett

Pastor T.L. Barrett And The Youth For Christ Choir, 'Like A Ship (Without A Sail)'

  • Song: Like A Ship (Without A Sail)

When Light In The Attic reissued this Chicago gospel rarity -- originally supervised by Chess/Cadet Records producer Gene Barge, backed up by stalwart Windy City session players Philip Upchurch and Richard Evans, and released by Barrett's M.Z.G.P. imprint -- I paused. Was this album really worth the attention now being paid to it? Wasn't it just an interesting footnote in the gospel-soul genre, largely due to the lush Chess/Cadet sound that Barge's participation imparted?

As the year winds down, I'm happy to report that the answer is. no. This album is nourishing, spiritual fodder -- just as powerful now as it was when it was issued some 40 years ago. I'm not the church-going type. The only gospel records I have in my collection are those that tend toward the psychedelic or flirt with funk. But this year hasn't been an easy one -- for reasons I can't hope to delve into in a column dedicated to unheralded reissues -- and I'm sure I'm not the only person who grooved to Barrett's uplifting take on the standard "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" and thought, "You know, I've been through worse, and I'll make it through this." Glory, hallelujah indeed!

 

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