2020 in Review Part 6: Blasts from the Past

Part 1: Duos
Part 2: Covers
Part 3: Survival Sounds
Part 4: Jazz
Part 5: Live
Part 6: Blasts from the Past (You are here!)
Part 7: RVA
Part 8: 31 Favorites

So many excellent compilations, reissues, and lost albums came out this year. And they were right on time; who didn’t want to escape the present in 2020? Then again, the more the archival release market heats up — and it shows no sign of cooling off — the more essential this category feels each year. There’s so much to learn from albums like these, whether they’re filling in a musical blind spot (as is the case with Light in the Attic’s endlessly awesome exploration of 20th century Japanese music) or helping you delve deeper into an album or artist you already loved. I’ve chosen five to highlight, but be sure to comb through the bonus list below them. So much retrospective fun in there.

Brother Theotis Taylor — Brother Theotis Taylor

I would recommend this to absolutely everyone. The joy it brings — the way it changes the air in your house when it starts spinning — is in a class all its own.

Various — How the River Ganges Flows: Sublime Masterpieces of Indian Violin, 1933​-​1952

I look at compilations curated by Chris King much the same way I look at John Coltrane’s work — I may not hear all of what more trained ears are able to hear, but the mere fact that I’m engaging with the texts and working toward a deeper understanding of them makes me feel like I’m growing. Like I’m inching taller by continuously grasping at something just out of my reach. I may jokingly call King’s earlier Third Man comps “stressful Greek music” to get a laugh out of Mrs. YHT, but I spin them often and am constantly amazed at the depth of feeling in the recordings. How the River Ganges Flows inspires and amazes in the same way.

Various — Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972​-​1986

Dancing in the kitchen. Dinner on the stove. This is the stuff that comes to mind when I see the (totally gorgeous) cover art for this second installment in Light in the Attic’s excellent Pacific Breeze series. It’s so fun. This has been my go-to album for celebrating something, whether it’s actual good news or just the elusive event that four cooped up family members are in a good mood at the same time. LITA’s ongoing reexamination of 20th-century Japanese music is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Various — The World Is a Cafeteria: American Soul Music (and one song from Ghana) 1955-1998

Time and time again, Cairo Records manages to put together soul collections that are otherworldly in terms of their impact. These compilations hit hard, in a way that reminds me of the supernatural quality folks often cite when describing Harry Smith’s work on the American Anthology of Folk Music. It’s like the tracks gain power by being next to one another. This is the fifth comp from Cairo, and while each one is utterly brilliant, the last side of this set is a cut above — the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” gone Ghanaian, Nina Simone’s version of “Suzanne,” and a downtempo version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that may actually eclipse the original version Prince’s estate finally released a couple years back. Don’t believe me? Listen below:

Gillian Welch — Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs

This would be a stunning set of songs regardless of how they came to be. But once you know the backstory for Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs — how these compositions were whipped up quickly to satisfy an unwanted publishing contract (Hanif Abdurraqib’s New York Times piece is a great place to read more) — listening to them is like looking directly at the sun, or trying to imagine how many times you’ve blinked in your life. The scope of her talent is just incomprehensible.

Case in point: I picked “Here Come the News” as the opening track for one of my Bandcamp Friday mixes simply because it has the word “here” in the title and therefore fits a dumb naming scheme I’ve been trying to keep going each month. I’ve since gotten to know “Here Come the News” inside and out and am convinced of two things: 1. It could be the best song on just about anyone else’s album from the last 50 or 60 years, and 2. I would reach that same conclusion if I were to arbitrarily obsess over any of the other 47 songs on Boots No. 2.

While I eagerly made my way through Vol. 1, I’m taking my time with the second and third. The sun lets you look a little at a time, right?

Other reissues/archival releases I enjoyed this year:

Robbie Basho — Songs of the Great Mystery
Bon Iver — Blood Bank (Having the whole thing on one side at 33 1/3 RPM with live versions on the other side is A+.)
John Coltrane — Giant Steps 60th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition
Bill Evans — Live At Ronnie Scott’s
Joni Mitchell — Live At Canterbury House – 1967
Oneness Of Juju ‎– African Rhythms 1970-1982 (more to come on this one)
Tom Petty — Wildlflowers & All the Rest
The Replacements ‎– The Complete Inconcerated Live
Various — A Little Bit at a Time: Spacebomb Family Rarities
(more on this to come on this one as well)
Wilco — Summerteeth
Neil Young — Homegrown

Fiddlin’

Y’all make it out to the Folk Festival this weekend?

Our weekend was packed, but I made it out for two sets I was especially invested in: Petroloukas Halkias and Vasilis Kostas playing traditional Greek music from the Epirus region (the style Christopher C. King focuses on in his book Lament from Epirus), and a performance by the Galax, VA-based Willard Gayheart Family, which included a mini-set from the namesake patriarch’s granddaughter, Dori Freeman. (If you haven’t heard Freeman’s excellent new album Every Single Star, make that the very next thing you treat your ears to.) Both groups were excellent — well worth the hectic micro-scheduling that seeing them required. As a side note, if you happened to see a grown “adult” running in plain clothes around the festival grounds in the neighborhood of noon on Saturday, Sunday, or both, just know that he felt exactly as undignified as he looked, and that he regrets nothing. (Keep an eye out for YHT-branded “Will Run for Folk Music” bumper stickers.)

As luck would have it, we’re zooming toward another opportunity for Richmond-based old-time fans to enjoy the sounds of Galax. Tomorrow (Oct. 15) evening at 7:15, the Byrd Theatre will be showing a new documentary about the Old Fiddler’s Convention, the multi-day competition that brings old-time instrumentalists from all over — and outside — the country to Galax each August. The film is called Fiddlin’, and it’s billed as “a foot-stomping celebration of true Americana and artistic expression.” I’ve never been to the convention myself, though I’ve seen a few clips and spoken to folks who are involved. It’s already on my Virginia music bucket list, and I bet it’ll be a few notches higher after tomorrow. Did I mention Dori Freeman is listed among the Fiddlin’ cast?

The showing is free (presented by JAMinc) and open to the public. Best of all, if you leave your house early enough, you won’t have to run from your car to the theater to catch the start!

Hope to see you there.

 

2016 in Review: Blasts from the Past

Easing into the numbered lists with Blasts from the Past — the reissues and archival releases I had the most fun with this year.

1. John Prine — In Spite of Ourselves

john-prine

I once found myself outside a recording studio talking to a very large and friendly stranger about how much we both loved “In Spite Of Ourselves,” trading the verses we could remember off the tops of our heads and laughing hysterically. The power of John Prine’s songwriting, y’all. I think about that dude every time I hear the song. I think about you too, Mrs. YHT, just [adjusts collar nervously] not just you. I’m going to stop typing about this now.

John Prine — “In Spite Of Ourselves” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. Allen Toussaint — Live In Philadelphia 1975

Allen Toussaint

The Last Waltz introduced me to Allen Toussaint The Arranger, and Matthew E. White’s interviews and Spotify listening feed helped me get to know Allen Toussaint The Influence, but I hadn’t really met Allen Toussaint The Performer until Record Store Day, when this live set was reissued. Predictably, that part of his personality is like the other parts — charming, entertaining, and close enough to flawless that you find yourself wondering if he ever makes mistakes. (Just a few months later, when I grabbed a copy of American Tunes while in Chicago for a wedding, I got to meet Allen Toussaint The Technician-Historian — he’s pretty great, too.)

Allen Toussaint — “Last Train” (live) [Discogs]

3. Gillian Welch — Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg

gillian-welch

If you buy into the Gillian-Welch-as-self-styled-Southern-person narrative, you’d probably call this album evidence of a crucial turning point in her persona definition. I tend to think we’re all constructs of the people we want to be, with varying degrees of consciousness about the whole deal. Having grown up in Norfolk — large military presence, friends’ families moving away and moving back, not all that rednecky but right near the North Carolina border — I understand how it feels to embrace Southern-ness consciously, selectively, and gradually, and I tend to feel a little defensive when people talk/write about her origin story. It’s weird, and I can’t tell whether I like this Boots album because of or in spite of that defensiveness. Probably a little of both.

Gillian Welch — “Dry Town” (demo) [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Various — Why the Mountains Are Black – Primeval Greek Village Music: 1907-1960

why-the-mountains-are-black

Spooky tunes compiled and analyzed by legendary 78’s collector Chris King? Check. Cover art by R. Crumb? Check. Release party at Steady Sounds with King spinning 78’s from the second floor? Check. Something to play whenever we want to make Greek food and/or remember our trip there? Check.

Kalamatianos” (“Dance of Kalamata”) [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Jack White — Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

jack-white

[knock, knock, knock] “Hi, I’m here for the alternate version of ‘Carolina Drama,’ and I’m not leaving until I understand the critical plot points.”

Jack White — “Carolina Drama (Acoustic Mix)” [Spotify/iTunes]

BONUS: Bob Dylan — The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert

bob-dylan

I hadn’t planned on buying this, but that giant 1966 box set has been looking more interesting by the day, and a used copy popped up on BK Music’s Instagram feed. I figure this’ll keep the box set at bay. For now.

Bob Dylan — “Tell Me, Momma” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

Seen/Eaten/Heard

Greek Night 1

I picked up a copy of collector/producer Chris King’s latest project (pictured above) at Steady Sounds two Sundays ago. While I was there, I also picked up King’s signature (pictured below), a completely delicious slice of baklava, and a copy of the Anthology of American Folk Music: Volume III, which I learned about from Amanda Petrusich’s book Do Not Sell at Any Price, which I bought at a signing that was hosted by Steady Sounds and DJ’d by… Chris King. Pretty sure the universe folded in on itself. But in a good way.

I decided I’d wait to play Why the Mountains Are Black until Mrs. YHT and I could whip up a proper Greek feast. Could not recommend the full experience highly enough. Made sure to snap a few crappy iPhone photos:

Greek Night 2

Back cover

Beginnings of a Greek salad

Beginnings of a Greek salad

Greek Night 4

Baked feta with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and a bunch of olive oil

Greek Night 6

Marinated shrimp, grilled halloumi, pita

Greek Night 5

Mythos, which someone who won’t be named drank lots of while traveling in Greece with Mrs. YHT

I’ll spare you the selfie I took while wearing the Kosta Koufos jersey I bought while we were in Athens. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find on Why the Mountains Are Black:

Kalamatianos” (“Dance of Kalamata”) [Spotify/iTunes]