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
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
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
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
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
[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
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]