Before I reveal my top five new albums to a grateful public, I wanted to highlight some of the great old or previously unreleased material that came out this year:
LUNCH - RUTLES - The Rutles, the brilliant Beatles parody band, are back, but in an unofficial capacity. The Rutles, also known as the pre-fab four, were the comical '70s take-off on the Beatles music and colorful legend. The Beatles' own late '90s release of their "Anthology" sets inspired the Rutles to reform for a new album called "Archaeology". Now a fan has taken it upon himself to use music from both releases to create "Lunch", a response to "Love", the mash-up Beatles soundtrack to their Cirque du Soleil smash. The result is a satisfying, craftily engineered romp through a Beatlesque fantasy. It's available streaming online at RutlesLunch.net.
APPLE REISSUES - The Beatles launched Apple Records in 1968 as a label for both their own music and for artists that they would discover and produce. The results ranged from the successful (Badfinger) to the still obscure (Sundown Playboys). While their have been reissues over the years, this year's near wholesale remastering and re-release of the catalogue is unprecedented. Brought to you by the team that remastered the Beatles for 2009, the project includes 14 albums and a two-disc singles compilation. The CDs, almost all of which have bonus tracks, can be purchased separately or as a massive 17-disc box set (which is now under $200 on Amazon, which ain't bad). A nice overview of the CDs and tracklistings can be found here.
JOHN LENNON SIGNATURE SERIES - When these came out in October, I had a whole post about them, which amounted to something of a half-hearted recommendation. While I still have issues with specific aspects of the project, overall I think it's a good thing to have these in-print and all together. It's something we've seen for George, at least theDark Horse Years. We'll never see a complete box for Paul (too profilic) or Ringo (too much detritus). It's almost sad that we've got a complete box for Lennon, who never got the chance to be profilic. We've just got his eight albums, of varying quality, with the last one before he died kicking some major songwriting a**.
THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL.9: THE WITMARK DEMOS: 1962-1964 - BOB DYLAN - In 1962, a few months after singing with Columbia Records, Dylan signed a music publishing contract with M. Witmark & Sons. He would cut demos of his songs for them, which they could then try to sell to other artists to cover, such as Peter, Paul & Mary. The resulting tapes are a record of a young singer/songwriter who quickly transformed into a prolific genius. Most of the 57 songs found their way onto his live peformances and his first three albums. Some are heard here for the first time. This is essential listening for lovers of early Dylan.
THE PROMISE - BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - I'm an odd Springsteen fan in that I came to him late (1995's "Ghost of Tom Joad") and have been remiss in picking up his back catalog. So, while it's a huge deal to Boss fans that he's reissued "Darkness on the Edge of Town" as a new box set, I've never heard it (or "The River" or "Nebraska", but shhhh...don't tell). So, in my backwards way I've bought "The Promise", a two-disc collection of rare tracks he cut when he was recording "Darkness" but never released. It's available as part of the box or, thankfully, on its own. Some artists record only the songs they'll need for the album, maybe a couple extra for B-sides. Springsteen, unsure of what he wanted, recorded 70 songs. The result is an interesting historical document, a peephole into the studio. It's a satisfying mish-mash of full on E-Street Band jaunts a la "Born to Run" to the more introspective "Darkness" (or so I'm told). Some of these we've heard already on Tracks, his 1998 four-disc box set of rarities, but now they're in context, reunited with brothers from their era. The real promise of "The Promise" may be that it shows "Tracks" was not exhaustive and there's plenty in those vaults for future reissues.