Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes 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. This month that includes live recordings from a gospel/R&B legend and two very different glimpses into the Japanese music scene in the ‘80s.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Live In 1960 (Southland/ORG Music)
Tucked into the bottom of this year’s list of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who will be added to the pantheon as an Early Influencer. It’s a long overdue accolade for the late gospel artist whose combination of her soul-shaking vocals and oft-distorted electric guitar playing illuminated the pathway for a generation of blues/R&B/early rock players. The potential excuse for her being skipped over for so long might have something to do with the spiritual nature of her work—rock has long aimed to feed the body rather than the soul—but her scattershot discography isn’t doing her any favors. In her lifetime, she released work on dozens of labels, and few have succeeded in getting her work back in wide circulation.
This vinyl reissue is a nice step in that direction. Originally released by Southland on CD in 1992, Live In 1960 captures Tharpe during a European tour, one which she embarked on as a solo artist. So each one of the 12 tracks features nothing but her driving playing, eyes clenched vocals and the stomp of her foot on stage. It’s blushingly intimate, putting her proselytizing efforts front and center. The feeling is deepened with this vinyl remaster. The wax is mixed on the quiet side, and a bit of surface noise hangs in the background, but with a little volume push, all that gets brushed aside with every stinging, pleading note.
ABBA: ABBA: The Album (Polar/Universal Music Group)
In the current vinyl gold rush, there are going to be that small cadre of labels that try to outdo each other to prove that their pressings are the cream of the crop. That could explain why this new edition of ABBA’s 1977 album comes with an entirely unnecessary certificate, complete with gold foil stamp, that ensures that Abbey Road Studios’ half-speed mastering technique “produces a master of the highest quality that enables the pressing plant to produce a superlative record.”
For those who don’t know, half-speed mastering sounds like its name: the engineers cut the plate that they use to press each album at half the usual rate, which allows the lathe to cut more information into each groove. This also means the grooves can take up more space, which is why many of these reissues, like this one, are stretched out to two or more discs, and often cut to be played at 45 rather than 33 ?. A bit of a drag to get up and flip the platters more frequently, but damn if it isn’t worth it. The music on ABBA is so full and clean, which is just how the sparkling pop compositions from Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus should be experienced. As heard on this vinyl issue, “The Name Of The Game” and the brutal “Hole In Your Soul” engulf the senses.
High Rise: High Rise II (Black Editions)
One of the most talked about releases of 2017 was the vinyl pressing of Tokyo Flashback, a 1991 compilation that highlighted the growing psych rock underground in Japan, that was brought into the world by L.A. imprint Black Editions. It was a brutal delight, with artists like Ghost, Verzerk and Fushitsusha brandishing knives and Gibson SGs. The label is continuing their efforts to make these crucial sounds more accessible to the world with the release of the second full-length by High Rise, one of the acts featured on Flashback.
Originally released on P.S.F. Records in 1986 in a small run of 700 LPs, the record feels like it can barely contain the music within. The trio, led by bassist/vocalist Asahito Nanjo and virtuoso guitarist Munehiro Narita, plays with such overdriven fury that sounds like it is slowly peeling off layers of your speakers with each rotation of the turntable. Neither original recording engineers Kenji Nakazawa and Kazu Hama nor Nanjo Asahito, who remastered it for this new edition, attempted to clean up the group’s sound, choosing to instead present the tinnitus-inducing effect of one of High Rise’s live performance. You don’t listen to this album so much as you hold on for dear life as waves of molten psychedelia flood the room.
Greg Ruby & the Rhythm Runners: Syncopated Classic (4 Culture)
Frank D. Waldron isn’t a name that’s likely terribly well known outside of folks with a deep knowledge of early jazz or the history of the music scene of the Northwestern U.S. But for those in the know, the late multi-instrumentalist and teacher (one of his students was future legend Quincy Jones) from Seattle looms large. Waldron worked regularly around Washington and Canada playing and writing New Orleans-style jazz that swings and promenades, as well as publishing a songbook that included several original compositions intended to be a teaching tool for young players.
His legacy is getting a helping hand in 2018 thanks to the efforts of Greg Ruby, a guitarist who leads a hot jazz outfit called the Rhythm Runners. With funding from arts organization 4 Culture, he is releasing a new folio of Waldron’s Syncopated Classic as well as a recording of 11 of the composer’s little-heard tunes. The LP is an entirely laidback affair, but filled with life and an abundance of spirit. Ruby and his group have such an understanding of these compositions, highlighting their roots in European folk traditions and letting them sway and saunter as needed. It’s also a showcase for these very adept players, especially Ruby, clarinetist Dennis Lightman and guest Mike Marshall, whose mandolin work on some of the ballads is nothing short of captivating.
Various Artists: Tokyo Nights: Female J-Pop Boogie Funk—1981 to 1988 (Cultures of Soul)
The ‘80s were a period of rapid economic growth in Japan, buoyed by a robust stock market and lucrative exports of their autos and electronics. As happens in such flush times, the pop culture of the region started to reflect the country’s positive feelings and the neon-lit glow of its metropolitan core. The music culled for this new double LP set by Eli Cohen and Deano Sounds for the reissue label Cultures of Soul is a quick glimpse into an era of Japanese pop that embraced American R&B and early hip-hop, while retaining its homegrown flavor.
As the title of this comp indicates, each track here features a female vocalist—including pop divas like Junko Ohashi and Yumi Seino in her native language, and each one plays the role of a eager lover, even when the partner they’re singing about isn’t being faithful. By and large, though, the overarching tone is sensual and chipper, with glossy, synth-heavy music to match. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics, their meaning is laid bare through the expressiveness of the singing and the mood of each tune. Heard today, Tokyo Nights is gloriously retro, ripe for discovery alongside the swell of Italo disco reissues and U.K. sophisti-pop.