1. Aretha Franklin with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, A Brand New Me (Warner)
The Royal Philharmonic just overdubs its sumptuous bits to the original recordings, which is either lazy (she’s still alive, why not get her in to re-record with the orchestra?) or clever (you are not going to improve those vocal takes!). I lean towards the former. Yes it’s just the same performances, but God what performances they are! The strings add their own beauty to a voice from heaven. On vinyl it is an aural treat!
2. Northern Soul: All Nighter Anthems (Rhino)
The Northern Soul scene was a music scene in the Northern UK where DJ’s played old 60’s R&B tracks, few of which had ever been hits. Yet it fuelled a vibrant, highly energetic scene that foreshadowed ‘Madchester.’ Frankie Valli, Gloria Jones and bands like The Blossoms reigned supreme. Feel good factor is off the clock
3. Pete Tong Ibiza Classics, The Heritage Orchestra and Jules Buckley (Universal)
Unlike the Aretha Album these tracks are re-recorded with guest vocalists and the orchestra. That shouldn’t work. Roisin Murphy should not be replaceable with Becky Hill on Sing it Back and Sebastian Tellier should not be replaceable with Will Heard on la Ritournelle, but they are. These are the tracks that made made Tong, you can see why. If you only buy one of these albums this might be the one! Candi Staton is replaced, naturally, by ..em, Candi Staton.
4. Prince/The Revolution: Purple Rain (deluxe edition)
Hard not to feel a little moved listening to this. He was twenty-five when he was recording it and at the top of his game. The band are great too, with Wendy and Lisa to the fore. He was such a one off. Apparently, the curator of his estate, going through his house after his death, found no ‘non Prince’ type clothing in his house, no T-shirts, jammies or comfies. Even in bed, he was dressed as Prince.
5. Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1984 - 2014)
This is the year in which Nick Cave graduated to Arena tours. He’s not your secret favourite artist anymore. Listening to this lovingly curated collection, culled from a back catalogue that is deep and rich you wonder how it didn’t happen sooner? It’s obvious that as much thought and love has gone into putting these tracks together as would go into a new original album, something that is not always the case on best of’s.
6. Neil Young, Hitchhiker (Warner)
An unreleased solo album produced by David Briggs (his long-time producer) and recorded over one, you suspect eventful, evening (“we stopped only for beer, weed or cocaine”) in August 1976, this is a remarkable album. Most of the songs made it to other albums eventually, but to hear songs like Powderfinger and Campaigner played so honestly and left so unadorned is wonderful. It’s Neil at the peak of his powers and recording just made for vinyl.
7. REM, Automatic for the people (25th Anniversary Edition), (Universal)
Read ‘em and weep. This is peak REM and a testament to the fact that there is no guitar band as remotely talented making music today. The album itself is so startlingly good, you wonder was it been somehow magically augmented? And great as it is it pales beside the live album, included here as part of the package. It’s the one live show, from the 40 Watt club, that they played in support of the album. Stipe claims they are under rehearsed. “The name of this band is REM” he announces, before they tear the roof off.
8. The Smiths, The Queen is Dead (30th anniversary edition)
Another album, like the REM one, that will have you scratching your head and wondering ‘did we really live through the initial release of something as good as this?’ There is a Light That Never Goes Out, Some Girls are Bigger than Others, the title track and Cemetery Gates are pop classics. Marr’s guitar and innovative ideas and Morrissey’s funny, insightful, playful lyrics combine to rival any band before or since. Our Beatles, our Abba. Packed with extras, demos and live versions you will marvel that one album could take up so much of your day.
9. Liam Gallagher, As You Were (Warner)
“He wrote them, but I made them.” Liam said recently at a live show in reference to his brother’s songs in Oasis that he still performs. Listening to this album, where he has wisely entrusted the song writing chops to a professional (or even a few professionals) you can see what he means. The album is great, standouts include Wall Of Glass, For What I’m Worth and I’ve all I Need. Its success has returned Liam to Rock God status, the only environment where he is comfortable in his skin. Any fool can make tea, very few can command a stage like Liam.
10. Robert Finley ‘Goin Platinum’ (Warner)
Produced by Dan Auerback (The Black Keys) and using the band Dan has assembled in the style of the muscle shoals house band this album will introduce Robert to a new and hopefully huge audience. He is 64, blind and this is only his second album. He lost his sight in 2015 and it left with just two things he could do: Sing and play guitar. He is a force of nature. Dan has boxed possibly a little too clever with the arrangements, but the performance shines through.