I know there’s virtue in living in the moment. We could all stand to put down our phones and more fully appreciate what’s happening right in front of us. Then again, escaping the present is pretty damn attractive these days. Nostalgia is a thriving racket, and to be fair, not all musical blasts from the past are about wishing for a time machine. From archival releases that uncovered hidden gems to reissues that made owning a piece of history a little easier, here are some noteworthy old sounds that were made new again in 2018.
Duck Baker — Les Blues Du Richmond
I picked up some pretty snazzy Record Store Day stuff this year, but this is a clear favorite. I didn’t actually get it on Record Store Day, though; it wasn’t really on my radar, but the more I read about Duck Baker and his Richmond connections, the more intrigued I was. Fortunately, a copy was still available a few days later. This set ranges from highly templated tunes like “Maple Leaf Rag” to discursive compositions that wander to unexpected places before reemerging. Really interesting, really fun. The folks at Tompkins Square do really great work with archival releases like this one. So glad I didn’t miss out on this.
Jack DeJohnette — Hudson
A blast from the recent past. This was released just last year, but it got a snazzy new vinyl reissue on Record Store Day in April of this year. I’m crazy for John Scofield’s guitar tone, so getting to hear him “sing” on creatively constructed versions of Dylan, Hendrix, and Band songs is a real treat.
Jonny Greenwood — Bodysong. OST
For a number of years, I’ve had a 45 with two “extras” from the Bodysong. score, so I was thrilled to see they were reissuing the score itself, which is wonderfully varied, creepy, and intense. Now I just need to see the film…
Hiss Golden Messenger — Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children
This was one of those “Whoa they made this just for me!” moments. Early Hiss. A rarities disc. Liner notes by Amanda Petrusich. I couldn’t resist, though parting with my old copies of Haw and Bad Debt wasn’t easy, even if it was the sensible decision. I think that copy of Bad Debt might still be at Deep Groove, if anyone’s interested. (And dammit you should be! It’s an incredible album.)
Jason Isbell — Sirens of the Ditch
I’d been meaning to get to know this album better, and I was happy to see some non-album tracks included here. While the new-old songs are well worth a listen, “In a Razor Town” remains a masterstroke.
Jess Sah Bi & Peter One — Our Garden Needs Its Flowers
An absolute gem from the gang at Awesome Tapes from Africa. This album radiates a powerful sense of warmth, even as it deals with themes as weighty as Apartheid. I have the proprietors of Small Friend Records & Books to thank for this being on my radar. I saw it on their Instagram, listened, loved it, and zoomed to Shockoe Bottom to pick it up. I have a feeling it’s going to be an even more radiant listen in the spring.
Ben Kweller — Sha Sha
I’ve written about why Ben Kweller occupies such a special place in my heart. It has to do with my dad’s recommending Kweller’s old band Radish when I was young and in the process of learning how to play the guitar, and how the meaning of that recommendation has grown over time. I hope reissues of On My Way and Changing Horses are also (forgive me) on the way. The latter exists on vinyl, but I’ve never seen a copy in real life.
Joseph Spence — Bahamian Folk Guitar
While the reissue game can seem like a cash grab at times (especially when there are plenty of reasonably priced used copies available online), this is a great example of how upping supply can make spinning something really special — and Joseph Spence’s loose, complex playing is truly a wonder — less of a pipe dream. What a wonderful album to put on at home. If you have this on as background music, the air in the room feels lighter. If you listen intently, it’s like following discursive but gripping storytelling.
Sufjan Stevens — The Avalanche
If I could magically conjure stats on which I’ve listened to more — Illinoise or The Avalanche, I’m not sure The Avalanche wouldn’t win out. As far as extras albums go, it’s uncommonly strong. And I’d consider it an essential part of a full appreciation of Stevens’ gift. His is a story of impossible productivity, and few artists throw away ideas of this quality.
Gillian Welch — Soul Journey
I jumped on the Gillian Welch bandwagon with both feet when The Harrow & The Harvest came out in 2011, and I ended up ranking it as my favorite album of that year. But I’ve been slow to listen backwards in the Welch-Rawlings universe; so slow that — and I know I’m writing this on the Internet but please don’t tell anybody — I confused the announcement of the Soul Journey reissue with news of an upcoming album. WHATEVER. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Welch and Rawlings perform a number of these tracks live in the last few years, though I’m not sure any of them tug at my heartstrings like “Back in Time” does. “I wanna go back” is right, am I right?
More 2018 in Review: