BEST OF 2023 The Best Reissues of 2023 By Dean Van Nguyen · December 13, 2023

Reissues can reframe an artist’s legacy, deliver their work to fresh ears, and re-energize the commercial value of their archives. Every year, Bandcamp offers a platform for these vital releases. Some are beloved classics from celebrated masters; others are mined from decaying LPs pressed in small numbers and at risk of being forgotten, their re-release ensuring preservation. Skidding across eras, genres, and continents, here are some of the best new oldies of 2023.

The Al Tanner Quintet
Happiness Is… Takin’ Care Of Natural Business… Dig?

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

To put it simply, when it comes to the reissues game, Jazzman Records’s Holy Grail series is always essential. The label broke a two-year hiatus last summer to release a pair of new projects in its extremely selective series: Prof. James Benson’s gorgeous, joyous The Gow​-​Dow Experience and Al Tanner’s Happiness Is… Takin’ Care of Natural Business… Dig?, the album we’ll be talking about now.

Released in 1967, Happiness Is… is the sole LP recorded by the short-lived Al Tanner Quintet and the first of just three albums released by the Touché label over a 20-year period. The Bay Area pianist is joined by flutist/trumpeter George Alexander, tenor saxophonist Roy Henderson, bassist Edgar Williams, and drummer William “Smiley” Winters. Tanner frequently positions himself as the driving undercurrent of the arrangements. He keeps the underlying melody going for most of “The Magi” before the soloing brass melts away, leaving space for the leader to finally express himself. Showing compatibility, there are the dimly lit whispers of “Bronson’s Blues,” while “Kuba” is reminiscent of the Afro-Cuban excursions of Dizzy Gillespie. Throughout the band illicit polite clapping from a small audience present. And the audience stayed small as Happiness Is… fell into obscurity. This new reissue five and a half decades later ensures the applause can belatedly become more rapturous.

Chet Baker
Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland 

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland comprises two sessions recorded for Dutch public broadcasting company KRO-NCRV in 1979. With the sets laid down seven months apart and featuring a different band of side players, this double disc release could pass for two distinct albums: the first, an April 10 session, saw Baker joined by Phil Markowitz (piano), Jean-Louis Rassinfosse (bass), and Charles Rice (drums), while the November 9 recordings were with Frans Elsen, Victor Kaihatu, and Eric Ineke on the same instruments respectively.

Across both collections, the quality of the recording is absolutely pristine: hit play and Chet is blowing his horn in the room with you. More importantly, both sessions find him in top form. Laidback but assured, he performs like he has all the time in the world. The sad play of “Oh You Crazy Moon” is complimented by Baker’s dusk-ish vocals—a brave choice given the standard had been sung by such powerhouses as Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. Later, his version of “Candy,” made famous by Big Maybelle, includes some relaxed scat. And on “Blue Giles,” Baker blows for almost a minute and a half unaccompanied—you can make out his breath hitting the brass—before the cinematic noir of his band’s piano, bass, and percussion enter, epitomizing the light tone and easy-breezy tempos of this impressive release.​​

Kath Bloom
Finally

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Richard Linklater’s appreciation of Kath Bloom’s music ran so deep that the filmmaker not only prominently featured her song “Come Here” in his much-loved 1995 romantic indie flick Before Sunrise, he placed one of her album covers in the hands of Julie Delpy’s character Céline before she and Ethan Hawke’s Jesse share a moment in the listening booth of a Vienna record store. “No, I’m not impossible to touch,” Bloom sings sweetly as the young pair’s connection blossoms over the music, “I have never wanted you so much.”

Thing is, the LP seen in Before Sunrise did not actually exist. Now, this new reissue of Bloom’s 2006 compilation Finally has been redesigned with the same image Linklater used for the fictional album. It’s fitting that Bloom’s most significant pop culture moment be connected to Finally, the best collection her distinctive folk music (the digital version of this reissue adds five bonus tracks to the original release). The Connecticut native’s voice resides in the upper register as she sings songs of love and life over rustic acoustic guitar playing. On “A Homeless Dream,” Bloom describes prayers uttered for one of her children. And she slides back into own her adolescence “In School”, recalling the lessons she learned and the lessons that she wishes she had learned—like how to recover from heartbreak—while, like a child, being sure not to swear: “I’m so um um sick of/ Sitting on my um um.”

​​Everyone Asked About You
Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Cassette

Everyone Asked About You sprouted from Little Rock, Arkansas’s busy ’90s DIY scene—the same scene that produced cult punk disruptors like Soophie Nun Squad, Trusty, Chino Horde, Hatful Day, and The Big Cats. Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts gathers and remasters the band’s entire catalog, including their only album Let’s Be Enemies. Everyone Asked About You’s punky power-pop sound invokes feelings of high school romance and insecurity in equal parts. The title to “It’s Days Like This That Make Me Wish The Summer Would Last Forever”—from their raw, four-song, self-titled debut—just affirms a song that belongs in a low-budget, coming-of-age teen dramedy. This mood is perhaps born out of a relationship formed in high school—band members Collins Kilgore, Chris Sheppard, and Lee Buford would jam at Buford’s family home, when they weren’t playing N64. Add in vocalist Hannah Vogan’s dovelike performance, which teases juvenile emotions over guitar lines as comfortable as an old parka.

The Free Music
Free Music (Part 1)

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

A mercurial figure, Libyan composer and producer Najib Alhoush is said to have released as many as nine albums with his group, The Free Music, that don’t even show up on Discogs. But fans of Habibi Funk will remember “Ya Aen Daly” (essentially a cover of the Bee Gee’s “Stayin Alive”) appearing on the Arabic music label’s second compilation, and now there’s Free Music (Part 1), a set of lush pop belters built on skyrocketing guitars, vibrant melodies, and bouncing basslines that slaps, slaps, slaps. There are many highlights: “Hawelt Nensa Ghalaak,” with its velvety, game-show horns, runs smooth as a luxury cruise liner. The rhythms of “Free Music I” most clearly display the band’s disco influences. And there’s the exuberant vocals of “Law Yom Saalak Had,” yelled loud and proud, over an arrangement that’s—like everything here—glitzy and glam.

Mort Garson
Journey to the Moon and Beyond 

Merch for this release:
Vinyl Box Set, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Bag, T-Shirt/Shirt, Button/Pin/Patch

Mort Garson had a career worthy of celebration before he ever laid his hands on a Moog. The Canadian spent the 1950s and early 1960s working as a session musician and co-writer of hits for Cliff Richard, Brenda Lee, and Ruby & The Romantics, including the latter’s “Our Day Will Come,” later returned to popular consciousness by Amy Winehouse. But it was Garson’s marriage to early synthesizers that made him a true pioneer. Journey to the Moon and Beyond is a new compilation of scattered pieces he wrote for film, television, and advertisements. Assembled and released by Sacred Bones—a label in the business of preserving Garson’s legacy with a number of reissues—it’s an effort to capture a variety of his sonic impulses.

So you get a song like the opening track “Zoos of the World” from the soundtrack accompanying a 1970 National Geographic special of the same name. It’s a wig out of bleeps, blips, and majestic strings that call to mind old Hollywood. In contrast, “The Big Game Hunters See the Cheetah” is funky and playful, reminiscent of 1960s Italian beat music. Garson’s soundtrack to the live broadcast of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing is included, first heard on CBS News and once thought to be lost. Garson clearly understood that the Moog could portray a sense of interstellar awe and majesty, but a wacky section also emerges, as though he also felt a sense of absurdity in the assignment. There’s also a couple of cuts from the blaxploitation movie Black Eye, full of wah-wah guitars and blustering brass. And if you like those, the entire soundtrack has been reissued by Sacred Bones.

Grain
We’ll Hide Away: Complete Recordings 1993​-​1995

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Vinyl

Out of the Midwest’s 1990s post-hardcore scene—alongside groups such as Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, and Boys Life—sprouted Grain. Formed in Cleveland from the shards of other broken bands, they originally came together as a three-piece consisting of Brian Strazek, Dean Eshleman, and Jason Kuebler; Ryan Rinella and Brian Noga later completed the lineup. Grain largely went undetected in broader American indie, releasing two 7-inches, a split 7-inch with Harriet The Spy, and three songs that appeared on a couple of different compilations. New release We’ll Hide Away gathers all these recordings, preserving the band’s gnarly sound of trashy guitars, slow-to-loud builds, flashes of melody, and vocals that are so low in the mix they’re barely intelligible like Rinella is trapped singing in a plexiglass cell.

Grandaddy
Sumday: Excess Baggage / Sumday: The Cassette Demos

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette, , Button/Pin/Patch

Grandaddy’s Sumday is classic fare—a crucial project by one of the definitive American indie bands of the 1990s and 2000s, now granted a major 20th-anniversary re-release. Sumday: Excess Baggage and Sumday: The Cassette Demos are two component parts of the four-LP box set Sumday Twunny. All 12 of the original songs can now be heard in their four-track demo versions, laid down by leader Jason Lytle. No surprise, this songful record of rich melodies and Lyle’s comforting performance proves entirely listenable when stripped down to rough guitar and drums. Excess Baggage, meanwhile, compiles rarities and B-sides, and to reach for an old truism, you know the album is good when this is the stuff they threw away. To pick just one highlight, the AM radio-evoking “The Town where I’m Livin Now” features hand-clap percussion under an acoustic guitar, keyboard, and a piano motif that comes in and out, but Lytle’s evocative songwriting flips the American ideal on its head, describing a town with a welcome sign decorated with images of skulls, and residents who can cry but not smile.

Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah

Merch for this release:
Vinyl Box Set, Compact Disc (CD), Button/Pin/Patch, Poster/Print

Though he died a year before its release, Pharoah Sanders participated in the production of this reissue by granting an interview for the in-depth accompanying booklet. It had taken the label Luaka Bop some time to convince the legend of the merit of the album that bore his first name. The eternally self-critical Sanders didn’t hold much affection for Pharoah, perhaps because of creative disunity with its producer, Bob Cummins of the record company India Navigation. But Pharoah found an audience after its 1977 release and this new edition ensures it takes its rightful place in Sanders’ legacy.

Side A consists solely of “Harvest Time,” a classic Sanders spiritual jazz piece, with the master’s tenor sax sounding low and hypnotic as a drumless backing band that includes his wife Bedria Sanders on harmonium—an instrument she’d never laid eyes on before the session—form a gorgeous, almost translucent blur of sound. (Included here are two live versions recorded in Europe with different musicians backing Sanders, though neither recaptures the spectral magic of the original.) Side B features the brighter R&B of “Love Will Find a Way,” and although Sanders’ singing might be ragged around the edges, the sense of joy and jubilee are a lovely counterpoint to the vocal incantations of his acclaimed 2021 Floating Points collaboration Promises. Finally, there’s “Memories of Edith Johnson,” dedicated to Sanders’ aunt. Driven by an organ with bursts of drums and wordless falsettos, it constantly feels on the brink of take-off, lingering like a dream that won’t fade after you wake.

Various Artists
Tokyo Riddim 1976​-​1985

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

The 1970s and ’80s saw an emerging scene of Japanese artists producing reggae with a sense of authenticity, with the likes of Mute Beat and Masahito “Pecker” Hashid (Bob Marley is said to have been a fan) leading the way. Tokyo Riddim 1976-1985 is not that scene. Instead, it’s a compilation of more pop-oriented, pseudo-reggae music made by producers who pulled Jamaican influences into Japan’s own city pop sound—a genre that itself has received renewed attention in recent years. So you get Miki Hirayama’s “Tsukikage No Nagisa”: a smooth, sophisticated city pop vocal and bassline that stretches like taffy is matched with some very lazily strummed reggae guitar patterns. “Coffee Break” even works in some of the era’s new-wave influences. At just eight songs, this is a mere glimpse of this odd corner of the city pop sound, but one that deserves attention.

NOW PLAYING PAUSED
by
.

Top Stories

Latest see all stories

On Bandcamp Radio see all

Listen to the latest episode of Bandcamp Radio. Listen now →