Record Time is Paste’s new monthly column, taking a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases that are currently flooding record stores around the world. Rather than run down every fresh bit of wax in the marketplace, we’ll home in on special editions, reissues, and unusual titles that come across our desk with an interest in discussing both the music and how it is pressed and presented. For our inaugural installment, that includes repressing of a Latin jazz classic, a radio session from a legendary post-punk group and an exploration of guitar music from east Africa.
Murray Head: Nigel Lived (Intervention Records)
One of the freshest names in the vinyl reissue game, Intervention Records, comes from a fairly unlikely source: Gig Harbor, a small bayside city about 90 minutes south of Seattle. Started by former editor of Sound & Vision magazine Shane Buettner, the imprint is the audiophile’s dream. Since 2015, they’ve produced a handful of worried over repressings of albums from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s that aim to let listeners “always hear the full range of the master with rich but detailed bass, beautiful midrange textures and shimmering high frequencies.”
It’s an admirable goal considering the number of shoddy reissues of top tier records that have been arriving in the wake of the resurgence of interest in vinyl. And while the label’s selection of albums to upgrade has included a number of dollar bin staples (Joe Jackson’s Night & Day, the first two Stealer’s Wheel LPs), there’s no denying the results of their hard work. Their most recent release—a repressing of Murray Head’s ambitious 1972 debut Nigel Lived entirely worthy of its hefty price tag ($38).
Nigel Lived especially benefits from the work that remastering engineer Kevin Gray did bringing it back to its original glory. It’s an ambitious opening salvo from Head; a concept album that presages the themes explored two years later by Genesis on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. On this album, the titular Nigel leaves his small town to stake his claim in a nameless metropolis where he finds success but then succumbs to a drug addiction. Head matches every step of his journey with music that leaps between styles and moods, all the better to showcase his malleable vocals. The pastoral folk of “Ruthie” sits right next to the hopped up rock of “City Scurry” while the closing pair of tunes (“Religion” and “Junk”) are multi-tiered prog epics. It sounds as fulminating and engrossing as Head surely intended, a feeling only amplified by the decision to master this release at 45 RPM instead of 33.
Various Artists: Jesus Rocked The Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951-1965) (Craft Recordings)
The influence that gospel music had on doo-wop and R&B has been well-documented by scholars and critics, sending many a crate digger down a rabbit hole searching for rare sides of stomping spirituals. But if you’re looking to get a quick and dirty glance at the tasty intermingling of holy and secular sounds, the recently released three-LP set Jesus Rocked The Jukebox is all you’ll need.
Compiled by Mason Williams and Fred Jasper, two record company lifers who have attempted to set the musical canon through their work on releases by Black Sabbath and Earl Scruggs, this collection pulls from a variety of singles and LPs originally issued by Specialty and Vee-Jay Records. And it leans heavily on those artists who soon after these recordings sought mainstream success like Sam Cooke, featured here with the Soul Stirrers, the quartet he joined in his early teens; The Staple Singers; and The Highway QC’s, at the time led by future Stax star Johnnie Taylor. While clearly and quietly mastered from digital source material, the power and joy of these six sides of music is not diminished as a result. Staying true to its title, this collection is light on ballads, as the goal seems to be to lift one’s spirit through danceable grooves and vocal harmonies as tightly wound and flexible as a bridge cable.
Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers: Jungle Fire! (Jazz Dispensary)
One of the most coveted records among collectors of rare groove and Latin jazz is finally getting a reissue worthy of the music featured on it. Released initially in 1969 via Prestige Records, Jungle Fire! is a mere five songs but the band, led by timbales master Pucho Brown makes hay with the raw material of Motown hits (their take on The Temptations’ “Cloud 9” is a hallucinatory wonder) and originals. And for that we have to thank a ultra-talented ensemble that includes drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Billy Butler and the brick heavy basslines of Seaborn Westbrook.
Reissue label Jazz Dispensary does incredible work with this. Using the original masters and the work of Kevin Gray, these songs leap out of the speakers with a richness and sturdiness that manages to improve upon the already fantastic sound of the original LP. Even better: you don’t have to pay $200+ to get a solid copy of this LP to add to your library or your DJ crate.
Pylon Reenactment Society: Part Time Punks Session (Chunklet Industries)
There’s never going to be a proper Pylon reunion, with all the original members touring the world and celebrating the music of the Athens, Georgia band in front of hungry fans. Though the post-punk quartet did play a scattered bunch of shows over the years after their initial split in 1983, the possibility of a full-fledged revival ended with the death of founding guitarist Randall Bewley. Their music still lives on thanks to the work of vocalist Vanessa Hay and the tribute project she and a number of young Athens musicians started in 2014, the Pylon Reenactment Society.
The PRS have been a steady touring outfit, setting off dance parties all over the U.S. and Europe, but it wasn’t until last month that we were treated to the first recorded document of their efforts. Cut to vinyl with the assistance of graphic designer extraordinaire and head of Chunklet Industries Henry Owings, this six-song beast captures the group during a tour stop in Los Angeles last year where they recorded a session of classics at public radio station KXLU. And it perfectly captures the tireless energy of this outfit, as they crack through some of Pylon’s best known tracks, like “Beep” and “Feast On My Heart,” with fangs exposed and thick dance grooves cut deep into the wax.
George Mukabi: Fuhara Wenye Gita / Various Artists: Usiende Ukalale: Omutibo from Rural Kenya (Olvido Records/Raw Music International)
In these odd economic times, folks with an artistic bent are expected to multi-task and spread their interests as widely as they can afford to. Cyrus Moussavi, for example, is primarily known as a filmmaker behind a series of documentaries capturing glimpses of the underground music community in some of the world’s hardest to reach regions. Gordon Ashworth, on the other hand, is a celebrated noise and black metal artist. But these days, both men are putting their efforts into releasing rare and beautiful music from around the globe via their record labels Raw Music International and Olvido. With the help of Portland stalwarts Mississippi Records, the pair have released new finely detailed and designed collections of music, focusing on the rich musical legacy found in the East African nation of Kenya.
These records focus on a traditional music style known as omutibo, which centers on finger-picked guitar patterns and unhurried vocals that sing plainly of the world around them. Your journey into this genre is best served by Usiende Ukalale (or “Don’t Sleep”), a collection of material recorded by Moussavi during his travels to the rural parts of Kenya. The songs are deceptively simple: travelogues recounting a search for employment, pleas for blessings, and reminders of one’s history. The underlying message of each one is clear, expressions of deep poverty and struggle, where the only salve is the connections with one’s family and neighbor, and an abiding religious faith.
The jewel among these LPs is the collection of recordings made in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s by George Mukabi. He was a talented and troubled man but also a star in East Africa, selling thousands of copies of his singles. Ashworth took particular interest in this fresh take on guitar music, which connected elements of calypso and jazz with the more traditional omutibo style, and set about compiling as much of Mukabi’s discography as had been found by collectors and archivists. Like the best of this music, the joy and energy belies the dour messages of the lyrics. Bouncy opening track “Sengula Nakupenda” is ostensibly a love song but ends with the couplet, “I seem to be getting tired with your behavior/And I better send you back to your parents.” It’s a canny choice to kick off this LP as Mukabi was a notoriously abusive husband who wound up being killed by his wife’s family in 1963. A dark story but the perfect summation of the somber and sweet found in his life and music.
Derek Bailey & Greg Goodman: Extracting Fish-Bones From the Back of the Despoiler / Greg Goodman & John Gruntfest: In This Land All the Birds Wore Hats and Spurs (The Beak Doctor)
Started in 1978 by musicians Greg Goodman, Larry Ochs and Henry Kaiser, The Beak Doctor helped capture the essence of the Bay Area free jazz and improvisation scenes during its initial run. And though the label’s discography may be diminutive—only eight releases through 2003—the music on them is mighty, like the devastating duets performed by Goodman on piano and British saxophonist Evan Parker (released as Abracadabra in 1978) and a wild set captured at the Metalanguage Festival of Improvised Music that brought together Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey and trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, among others.
With little fanfare, The Beak Doctor has jolted back to life this month with the unveiling of two new releases. Both LPs are showcases for the limber and exploratory work of Goodman, and how he is able to adjust and adapt to meet the expectations and styles of another player. On Extracting Fish-Bones…, that partner is Bailey. Recorded at a tour stop in Eugene, Oregon in 1992, they wind and bend around each other, with Goodman employing the strings of the piano and found objects and Bailey’s unbound squeaks and hums insolently moving through the stereo field. The other LP, released in a handsome and pricey box that comes with an original painting, includes pieces of three sessions (from 1984, 1986 and 2008) with tenor sax player John Gruntfest. The work is more musically forgiving than the duets with Bailey, evoking the subdued glide of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the pleasant agitation of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.