Remember December: The Old Grey Cat’s Top Archival Releases of 2021

A case could be made that I shared my Album(s) of the Year candidates and honorees a few weeks too soon. Hank Erwin’s gritty The Copper Album and Sheila Simmenes’ graceful Love Was Easy would definitely have landed in my Top 20 and maybe even the Top 10 if I collated the lists today, as would Neil Young’s Barn—I’ve hit replay on each many times these past few weeks, at any rate, and whatever flaws I once heard I hear no more. I’m not sure what they would have replaced, mind you, and have no desire to re-litigate the pros and cons of 20+ albums with myself, so I’ll let it be.

Alongside those three albums and a few others, of late I’ve been replaying many archival treasures that were released over the past 12 months. The five picks below are my favorites. (Clicking on the titles will take you to my original reviews, generally written within days of my first listening to the works.)

1) Neil Young – Young Shakespeare. Neil Young released not one, not two, but three archival albums in 2021—plus, in theory at least, was one-fourth of CSNY’s 50th anniversary Déjà Vu box set. My favorite of the bunch is Young Shakespeare, which spotlights a magical show at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in January 1971. His high lonesome vocals are a thing of wonder. (The DVD of the same show is a treat, too.)

2) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts. The Boss and his band are at the top of their game in this best-of-breed release, which features tracks from his two headlining appearances at Madison Square Garden in support of the No Nukes movement. (The DVD, I should mention, is even better.)

3) Roberta Flack – Quiet Fire. Rhino re-issued Roberta’s Chapter Two and Quiet Fire albums on the same day in June. Chapter Two adds a bonus track, a version of the Joni Mitchell-penned “Midnight Cowboy,” and is highly recommended, but Quiet Fire features eight additional tracks, including her spins on “What’s Going On,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” and “O-o-h Child,” plus contains her spellbinding rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It’s the sound of time stopping, just about. (It’s a perfect album for early mornings, late nights and every hour in between.)

4) The Salvation Army – Mind Gardens (40th Anniversary Edition). This four-song blast from the past foreshadows the many highs found in 1980s and none of the lows.

5) The Beatles – Let It Be (Super Deluxe). I still have mixed emotions about this multi-disc set due to what was left out—the complete rooftop concert, primarily. That said, it’s the Beatles. It’s not as revelatory as the three-part Get Back documentary, yet contains great songs and performances. Plus, the set contains what was once a holy grail of mine: the Glyn Johns-mixed and -sequenced Get Back album. 

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