Yes, Chicago, Bill Bruford, Glenn Frey, Chris Squire + Others: Preston Frazier’s Best of 2018 (Box Sets / Reissues)
Preston Frazier’s Best of 2018 list for box sets and reissues focuses heavily on the music and legacy of Yes. Whether it be in the form of a remarkable return to one of their late-career successes, or striking solo work from co-founding members Chris Squire, Bill Bruford and Peter Banks, this was quite a year for fans of one of prog rock’s best-known groups. But there was more to 2018 than Yes, as Frazier also celebrates recordings by Chicago, Glenn Frey and others …
No. 5. GLENN FREY – ABOVE THE CLOUDS: THE COLLECTION (POP/ROCK): There’s no denying the late singer’s impact on music and songcraft as a member of the Eagles. Above the Clouds: The Collection makes a case for Glenn Frey’s greatness as a solo artist. Sure, the R&B-infused pop songs are here such as “The One You Love” and “You Belong to the City.” The compilation also adds in deep cuts like “I’ve Got Mine,” which is as relevant today as it was in the early ’90s. Featured elsewhere is a remixed version of his pre-Eagles Longbranch/Pennywhistle album with J.D. Souther, in its entirety. Glenn Frey is missed.
No. 4. YES – FLY FROM HERE: RETURN TRIP (PROG ROCK): The world’s greatest progressive rock band released its last great album in in 2011. It was the only studio album featuring Benoit David on vocals and marked the return of Drama-era keyboardist Geoff Downes to the fold. For #Yes50 the band decided to re-release the album with all new lead vocals by producer Trevor Horn. Additionally, Return Trip is remixed and mastered and includes some new guitar and keyboard parts as well as a new Steve Howe-sung song, “Don’t Take No For an Answer.” If the original didn’t exist, Fly From Here: Return Trip would be considered one of the best prog-rock releases of the last five years. Still it’s a great revisit of an old friend who looks good after a face lift.
No. 3. CHRIS SQUIRE – FISH OUT OF WATER (PROG ROCK): Another Yes-related re-release, this Best of 2018 (Box Sets + Reissues) honoree is also another fantastic look back. The late bassist Chris Squire’s only rock solo album has been painstakingly restored by King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk, and it’s well represented. The results are stunning, as Jakszyk infused new life into the old analog recordings while retaining their essence. The new 5.1 surround and 96khz stereo mixes greatly enhance the greatness which was originally captured: “Hold Out Your Hand,” for instance, sounds astonishing. There are also singles versions of “Lucky Seven” and “Silently Falling” for the completist.
No. 2. CHICAGO – VI DECADES LIVE [THIS IS WHAT WE DO] (POP/ROCK): Chicago is done with greatest-hits packages and Christmas albums, Robert Lamm promised in a recent interview. Luckily, he didn’t say no more box sets! VI Decades Live is easily Chicago’s best box. What’s so great is that the original band is captured in all its glory on the first two discs at the Isle of Wright Festival in 1970. The songs you expect from that era are here, while Disc 3 surprises with the best live version of “A Hit By Varese” ever – as well as an outstanding version of “Liberation.” Disc 4 is a bizarre mix of songs from 1978-2014; however, the live version of “The Pull” (featuring Jason Scheff and Dawayne Bailey) and the “In The Midnight Hour Medley” (featuring Bill Champlin) are almost worth the price of admission alone. This compact-disc edition includes a strong DVD of the Rockpalast 1977 performance but, unfortunately, you don’t get any liner notes.
No. 1. BRUFORD – SEEMS LIKE A LIFETIME AGO 1977-1980 (JAZZ ROCK): Bill Bruford recently described himself on the Yes Music Podcast as the ever-enthusiastic young drummer for Yes, but his playing career has so many more highs than his very brief tenure in that group. My top choice for Best of 2018 in box sets and reissues actually covers just three short years as he led a solo band called Bruford, but it still demonstrates his prowess as a composer, arranger and band leader. (This jazz super-group also included Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Berlin and Dave Stewart.) Seems Like a Lifetime Ago features their albums Feels Good to Me and One of a Kind in their original mixes as well as 5.1 surround; elsewhere, we find unreleased Live at the Venue recordings, studio rehearsals and more. If you are a jazz drummer, and Allan Holdsworth fan – or a fan of Bruford’s post-Yes career – you should get your hands on a copy of this limited-release box set. Check out “Beelzebub” and “Hell’s Bells.”
BEST OF 2018 (BOX SETS + REISSUES) HONORABLE MENTIONS
STERLING BALL, JOHN FERRARO AND JIM COX – THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY (POP/ROCK): Sterling Ball, John Ferraro and Jim Cox are legends. Ball, the son of the great Ernie Ball, originally called ace drummer Ferraro and said, “Let’s make an album.” The two brought in Cox to play keyboards and collaborate on production, and The Mutual Admiration Society was born. While the trio provide the instrumental core, with Ball switching off on bass and guitar, some other familiar names drop by to provide a little help. “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” is pure joy, with Ball’s guitar and Cox’s Nord organ providing a sweet retro vibe. Steve Morse, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai all make weighty appearances. Albert Lee’s appearance on “Hey Good Lookin'” meets the expectations of the great that he is. All and all, these covers are played with a joyous enthusiasm not commonly put on record these days.
PETER BANKS – BE WELL, BE SAFE, BE LUCKY: THE ANTHOLOGY (PROG ROCK):This Best of 2018 (Box Sets + Reissues) honorable mention, a 30-song compilation of works by the late co-founding Yes guitarist, is quite a surprise. Banks was originally let go from Yes because they wanted a more versatile guitarist, but Be Well, Be Safe, Be Lucky features more writing and guitar-playing prowess over 30 tracks than he ever had a chance to demonstrate in Yes. The set moves effortlessly from progressive rock to fusion jazz, and even shows off his acoustic-playing chops. He was also an overlooked composer and arranger. Songs like “Dirty Little Secret” and “As Night Falls … and Continues” are memorizing – and the Peter Banks version of Yes’ “Astral Traveler” is downright jaw dropping.