Here are three of the most exciting older recordings we discovered — or rediscovered — in 2017.
The Gits, “Frenching the Bully” (1992): After Chris Cornell’s death in May, I tumbled down a Northwest rock wormhole and revisited the 1996 documentary “Hype!” In it, Seattle punk rockers the Gits are seen performing “Second Skin.” Lead singer Mia Zapata sounds like a punk-rock Janis Joplin. The song appeared on the band’s debut album, “Frenching the Bully,” a 30-minute mosh pit elevated beyond punk tropes by Zapata’s presence; she practically vibrates with vitriol, not just for others but herself as well. Tragically, she never was able to figure things out; “Frenching the Bully” was the only album the band released before Zapata was murdered in Seattle in 1993.
— Chris Kelly
Lone Justice, “Lone Justice” (1985): Maria McKee was 20 years old, a charismatic country-rock ingenue (and the younger sister of Bryan MacLean of the 1960s cult band Love) with a miraculous voice, when her band Lone Justice released its debut in 1985. “Lone Justice” was supposed to make her a superstar, to bridge the gap between underground cowpunk bands like the Blasters and X, and mainstream lunch pail rock stars like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen; “Lone Justice” drew equally from both. It had everything: a maiden single, “Ways to Be Wicked,” co-written by Petty, and a track list so strong that a custom-made Bob Dylan song didn’t even make the final cut. A twangy mix of Saturday night rave-ups and Sunday morning devotionals, it was ferocious and joyous, plaintive and devout. Reviewers often used the word “spunky” to describe it, and they weren’t wrong. After it sold underwhelmingly, McKee stripped her band down to the studs, made a synthy pop follow-up, and has since struggled to find a sound worthy of her voice. But without the cultural reconsiderations that get afforded to countless other mediocre old albums — no reunion tour, no deluxe reissue, no oral histories — “Lone Justice” remains an orphan.
— Allison Stewart
Minnie Riperton, “Perfect Angel” (1974): Even for a period of pop history that was remarkably unsettled, the late Minnie Riperton’s musical coordinates were hard to pinpoint. Her sweet, insanely acrobatic soprano would inspire some vastly more famous divas, but she cut her teeth singing with the rough-and-ready stable of roots musicians at Chicago’s Chess Records. Stevie Wonder became a champion and co-produced this ecstatic, trippy, warmly optimistic set. (He also brought along Michael Sembello, whose fuzzy electric guitar mingles with Riperton’s vocal lines to terrific harmonic effect.) Like Riperton’s vocal register, the range of music and sound here is staggering. “It’s So Nice (To See Old Friends)” is a smooth countrypolitan cocktail. “Reasons” evokes raw Isley Brothers funk. The sophisticated Wonder-penned “Take a Little Trip” sounds like Becker and Fagen on a dry run for “Aja.” When “Every Time He Comes Around” arrives, Riperton’s voice, tragically silenced by breast cancer in 1979, seems as if it has spookily morphed into a theremin.
— Scott Galupo