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The Best Blues Reissue Albums of 2012


You kind of get spoiled when, year after year, the labels scour their vaults for old, but by no means moldy gold to reissue on CD and vinyl for us hardcore punters to cough up our hard-earned coin to purchase. Last year was a bumper crop of archival releases, but 2012 proved to be equally delightful for reissues, because any year with Albert King, B.B. King, Little Willie John, and Skip James, to name but a few, is a great year! Here are our choices for the "best blues reissue albums" of 2012. Want more? How about our "Best Blues Albums 2012" or "Best Blues-Rock Albums 2012" lists!

Albert King – 'I'll Play The Blues For You' (Stax Records)

Albert King's I'll Play The Blues For You
Photo courtesy Stax Records

Considered the crown jewel in Albert King's considerable catalog, I'll Play The Blues For You is widely recognized as one of the seminal albums in the blues, influencing artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Roy Buchanan. Originally released in 1972, the album has received 24-bit remastering, a fresh set of liner notes courtesy of music journalist and blues historian Bill Dahl, and the addition of four previously unreleased bonus tracks. The performances firmly rooted in the blues but incorporate elements of Stax's trademark funk and soul in creating a fresh and electrifying sound. A "must have" for any fan of blues guitar!

B.B. King – 'Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. B.B. King' (Universal Records)

B.B. King's Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. B.B. King
Photo courtesy Universal Records

A B.B. King fan's dream come true, this ten-disc collection celebrates the 50th anniversary of the guitarist's signing with ABC-Paramount Records. The big set comes packaged in a deluxe box including a 72-page gilded hardback book. Two discs document King's early recordings for labels like Bullet, Modern/RPM, and Kent Records while the other eight CDs cover the enormous wealth of material the prolific artist recorded for ABC-Paramount, Bluesway, and Impulse Records as well as highlights from his years with MCA/Geffen Records. For those of us with less disposable budgets, a four-disc version will be released later.

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Big Brother & the Holding Company – 'Live at the Carousel Ballroom' (Legacy)

Big Brother & the Holding Company's Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968
Photo courtesy Legacy Recordings

A previously unreleased performance by Big Brother & the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, taken from the archives of legendary San Francisco scene soundman Owsley "Bear" Stanley. Stanley would often record the shows he worked as a way to improve the listening experience, recordings he called his "sonic journals," and Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 was mixed by Stanley, who also oversaw the album's mastering before his death in March 2011. The first of "Bear's Sonic Journals" is a red-hot performance from Big Brother and Janis, the tracklist for Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 including all of the band's well-known songs at the time as well as more obscure material.

George Smith & the Chicago Blues Band – 'Blues With A Feeling' (BGO Records)

George Smith & the Chicago Blues Band's Blues With A Feeling
Photo courtesy BGO Records

George "Harmonica" Smith is one of the underappreciated masters of the instrument in the modern era. The talented harpist played with Muddy Waters in both the 1950s and the '60s; played with the band Bacon Fat, mentoring harpist Rod Piazza; and backed up Big Mama Thornton for a number of years before his death in 1983. Originally released in 1969, Blues With A Feeling was a tribute to Little Walter, a major influence on Smith. Backed by a band that included guitarists Waters and Luther Johnson, and pianist Otis Spann, Smith roars through these tracks like a freight train.

Howlin' Wolf – 'Message To The Young' (Get On Down)

Howlin' Wolf's Message To The Young
Photo courtesy Get On Down Records

You just gotta love these hip reissue labels like Get On Down or Light In The Attic Records, who are working to rescue a lot of cool music that was thought lost to the ages. The latest from the good folks at Get On Down is a long-overdue reissue of the too-often-maligned 1971 Howlin' Wolf album Message To The Young. Another of Chess Records' attempts to "contemporize" the great Chicago bluesman for a youth audience with a blend of psychedelic-blues and funk (much like 1969's This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album), it's worth checking out Message To The Young if only for Wolf's spoken-word title track. The album is also available on both compact disc and vinyl, remastered from the original tapes for that extra authenticity.

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Jimi Hendrix – 'Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At Berkeley' (Legacy Recordings)

Jimi Hendrix Experience's Live At Berkeley
Photo courtesy Legacy Recordings

A reissue of the second set from the Saturday, May 30th, 1970 concert by Jimi Hendrix's re-formed Experience band, held at the Community Theater in Berkeley, California. Released as a stand-along CD as well as an audiophile double-LP set pressed on 200gram vinyl, the set includes Hendrix favorites like "Hey Joe," "Stone Free," and "Purple Haze." A full-length DVD and Blu-Ray, titled Jimi Plays Berkeley, was also released on the same day. Created from a new, digitally-restored transfer from the original 16mm film negative, the new video release includes 15 minutes of previously-unseen footage. Highly recommended for any Jimi fan!

Little Willie John – 'Complete Hit Singles A's & B's' (Real Gone Music)

Little Willie John's Complete Hit Singles A's & B's
Photo courtesy Real Gone Music

One of the rhythm and blues world's most overlooked, yet influential artists, Little Willie John was small in stature but big of voice. His tragic death in prison of pneumonia at the age of 30 kept him from reaching the status of a Sam Cooke or James Brown in the soul world, but John's influence can be heard in the work of artists like Al Green, Jackie Wilson, and B.B. King, and Brown recorded a tribute album to the singer after his death in 1968. Complete Hit Singles A's & B's is a two-disc, 32-track collection that offers up all of John's great songs for the King Records label as well as the B-sides, as well as liner notes from the always-insightful Bill Dahl and rare photos from the King Records archive.

Long John Baldry – 'It Ain't Easy' (Stony Plain Records)

Long John Baldry's It Ain't Easy
Photo courtesy Stony Plain Records

This timely reissue of British bluesman Long John Baldry's 1971 album It Ain't Easy by Canada's Stony Plain Records is just too cool for school! Produced by friends Rod Stewart and Elton John, who each took a side of the album, Baldry threw off any pretense of being a mainstream pop star and cut loose with an electrifying blues-rock collection that nonetheless resulted in a minor hit with "Don't Try To Lay No Boogie On The King of Rock 'n' Roll." The album also includes inspired covers of songs by Leadbelly and Willie Dixon as well as guest performances from future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood and singer Maggie Bell. Also reissued this year, the slightly-less-great Everything Stops For Tea, which includes covers of Bo Diddley and Neil Young among its bluesy fare.

Omar & the Howlers – 'Essential Collection' (Ruf Records)

Omar & the Howlers' Essential Collection
Photo courtesy Ruf Records

Essential Collection is a two-disc, 30-song compilation album that takes a look back at the lengthy career of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Omar Kent Dykes and his band the Howlers. A career-spanning retrospective, the first CD of the set features 15 fan favorites, including gems like "Hard Times In The Land of Plenty," "Muddy Springs Road," and "Jimmy Reed Highway" from Dykes' 2008 collaboration with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. The second CD of Essential Collection offers up 15 of Omar's favorite moments with the band, performances on the two discs culled from both studio and live albums.

Skip James – 'Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers' (Sutro Park Records)

Skip James' Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers
Photo courtesy Sutro Park Records

Delta bluesman Skip James was "rediscovered" during the early 1960s folk-blues boom and had his coming out party at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Shortly thereafter, producer Dick Spottswood coaxed the singer into the studio to record the tracks which would become Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers. James reprised several songs from his 1931 sessions for Paramount, along with several new songs, and you'll never go wrong with material like "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" or "Devil Got My Woman." Sutro Park reissued this rare album in 2012 on glorious 180-gram vinyl along with the incredible hand-drawn cover artwork; this is essential blues listening!

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