Eric Burdon and the Animals
The Animals, The Very Best. Song for song, at the start of the British Invasion no English band was better than the Animals. Singer Eric Burdon had gone to school on Ray Charles and learned his lessons well, and the way the group mixed blues and rock and roll cast a deep spell on all who listened. When they hit the monkey nerve on songs like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "It's My Life," it felt like the kingdom was theirs for the taking. Even when Burdon discovered the outer cosmos and found himself in the clouds there were still gems being created, but the singer was an entirely different Animal. But if anyone is ready for a comeback now, count Newcastle's favorite son as the chief contender.
Johndavid Bartlett, Falling Through the Universe. When the urge strikes to hear psych-folk's origins, Johndavid Bartlett is a real presence. Many of these recordings were made during the 1960s for the label home to the 13th Floor Elevators and Red Krayola, which is a good indicator of the singer's cred. Bartlett easily transgressed the cosmic divide, but never ended up in the cuckoo's nest. That he also covered several songs by the Elevators shows an inner belief that shines like lasers through his original visions. Not to be missed for those looking for the beginnings of Devendra Banhart and other present-day seekers.
Alvin Cash, Windy City Workout. One of the most irresistible dance discs of all-time remains "Twine Time," a funk freakout inspired by one man's ability turn a stage into a non-stop playground. Alvin Cash could work a room better than anyone in Chicago, and it didn't like long to grab the attention of promoters and local record moguls. When the single seared the charts, Cash and the Crawlers (later to be the Registers) were off to the races. Follow-ups like "Unwind the Twine" and "Twine Awhile" never quite captured the initial fever, but then again, anyone who'd also record "The Penguin (Tuxedo Bird)" belongs in the Smithsonian at the minimum. Uh-ah uh-ah, indeed.
Dion, The Complete Laurie Singles. He called himself the Wanderer, and truer words were never spoken. Dion has spent his musical life zigging and zagging all over the place, but always returning to the blues as a source of inspiration. Even when he was singing with fellow Bronx boys the Belmonts, you could tell Dion had been listening to the Mississippi masters. Through all the solo hits, including "Lonely Teenager," "Runaround Sue" and "The Majestic," the singer always kept his eye on the prize and likely knew he'd find a day to return to the source. Still, that didn't stop him from chasing songs up and down the charts during his Laurie Records period, and then going topical on later songs like "Abraham, Martin and John." For now, though, hearing these 36 releases spread over the entire 1960s is to rediscover one of America's most moving singers in his glorious prime. Again.
Electric Prunes, The Complete Reprise Singles. Marinate garage rock and white boy blues in California orange juice and the somewhat mesmerizing results might be the Electric Prunes. And even if later releases didn't include the original band members but were a studio hallucination of producer David Axelrod doesn't take away from what their first incarnation created. Did anyone top "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night" for sheer audacity at the time? The feedback lines alone assure the Prunes a sturdy place in the Book of Nuggets forever.
The Flatlanders, The Odessa Tapes. Talk about a prairie supergroup: Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock formed this crew during the early '70s in Lubbock. Not exactly a music hub then, but these Texans believed in themselves and never let the howling wind slow them down. Before recording their sole album in Nashville, which was only released on 8-track tape at the time, the Flatlanders recorded these demo tapes in nearby Odessa. What's most amazing is not how good they are—how could they not be—but it took 40 years for them to see daylight. Easily the surprise of the year.
Peter Gabriel, So. In 1986 the stage was set for a superstar to become even more super. Which brings up Peter Gabriel and this staggering album of hit songs and cutting-edge sonics. Co-produced by Daniel Lanois, it included decade-definining classics like "Sledgehammer" (still the most played MTV video), "Big Time," "Red Rain," "In Your Eyes" and "Don't Give Up," along with guests Laurie Anderson, Bill Laswell, Jim Kerr, Nile Rodgers and Stewart Copeland. Gabriel went on to other peaks, but none higher than this one. The reissue includes various DVDs, live concerts and other bells and whistles, but it's the original nine songs that continue to blow minds everywhere.
Bert Jansch, Heartbreak. The English folk hero came to America in 1981 and met John and Rick Chelew. Lucky for him the brothers couldn't wait to produce an album for a legend who was slightly drifting. Taking him into a small Los Angeles studio, magic happened and musicians like Albert Lee, Matt Benton, Randy Tico and Jack Kelly gathered around Jansch in a session that still rings strong. For good measure there is also a live disc included from a show then at a small club that will forever prove Bert Jansch pulled sounds from the sky and brought them down to Earth. Bless him.
Moving Sidewalks, The Complete Collection. Far back in the mid-'60s, guitarist Billy Gibbons saw the future and started a psychedelic band amid the oil refineries and Astroturf of Houston, with a dash of nearby NASA headquarters thrown in to include the stars. The sound was riveting, but also grounded in the gritty blues of the bloody Fifth Ward. Against all odds Moving Sidewalks had regional hit singles and looked like real contenders. Alas, it wasn't meant to be as the military snagged two of the members and Gibbons shifted gears by forming ZZ Top. This set collects the band's only album along with a ton of outtakes to show what could have been. Houston, we have liftoff.
St. Germain, Tourist. One of the best so-called electronic albums ever gets the remastered treatment, and it sounds like a new planet's been discovered. Maybe that's because French DJ and producer St. Germain, aka Ludovic Navarre, fashioned such a masterpiece in the first place that it sounds like it's permanently brand new. Seductive horn lines are woven in through propulsive percussion and an undercurrent of techno-pulses to turn the world into a stone cold groove, like Sonny Rollins got plugged into the wall and was allowed to wail. It's never been beat, which shows just how foward-thinking St. Germain was. Put this one on the time-capsule list to show how humans sometimes really get it right.
Ray Stinnett, A Fire Somewhere. American music sometimes feels like a mystery novel, as players start in one place, enter the crazy, mixed-up world of show business and come out the other end of the rabbit hole. Ray Stinnett is a prodigous guitarist and songwriter who somehow ended up in Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs during the "Wooly Bully" years. It soon became obvious that the world of "Little Red Riding Hood" wasn't his life quest and he spun off into the songwriter heard here. Executive producer Booker T. Jones believed in his fellow Memphian's music and got this album recorded in 1971. Unfortunately it never came out until now. Stinnett heard the future over 40 years ago and captured it on tape, and now posterity—and Light in the Attic Records—returns the favor.