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 a reissue of a Queen classic, a modern folk troubadour playing live at Third Man Records, fresh pressings of underheard noise rock masterpieces and a collection of tunes from a jazz guitar legend.
Queen – A Night At The Opera (Vinyl Me Please)
This reissue, as you may have surmised, was timed to coincide with the release of the hugely successful Queen biopic. It is the record that has “Bohemian Rhapsody” on it, after all. It’s also a testament to the power of this vinyl subscription service in the market that they were able to land such a blue chip release. We just wish they’d chosen a better Queen album to put their weight behind. The reasoning for this reissue is sound, and true to form, it looks and sounds great. But this isn’t one of the band’s best full-lengths. The highs, like the hella sexy “I’m In Love With My Car” and the insta-classic “You’re My Best Friend,” go far into the stratosphere. The lows skid across the earth, bloodied and muddied and broken. Queen was starting to realize their ambitions; the songwriting just wasn’t all the way there yet, and arguably wouldn’t be until 1977’s News Of The World. No matter your feelings on it, this is a great piece to have in anyone’s rock record collection.
Grateful Dead – Wake Of The Flood/From The Mars Hotel/Blues For Allah/Steal Your Face (Rhino/Grateful Dead)
At this point in the run of the Grateful Dead, the psych-jam masters were a hot enough commodity that they were able to start their own titular record label. It was a short-lived venture, yielding three studio albums and a collection of live material recorded during a 1974 run at the Winterland in San Francisco. These records capture the band at a interesting transitional stretch during which their second drummer Mickey Hart finally found his way back into the fold and, after a grueling tour schedule in ‘74, the band took an indefinite hiatus. It was also a period when the band started embracing some futuristic textures through the synthesizers of Ned Lagin, which mixed in surprisingly well with their singular acid rock meets roots music aesthetic (listen to him swoop in and upend the flow of Bob Weir’s “Unbroken Chain” on Mars Hotel). As with a lot of these reissues, the Deadheads among you probably already have original copies of these albums in your collection. But if you’re looking for an upgrade, you can do no better than these. Engineer David Glasser having access to the original master tapes was key to ensuring that all four sound crisp and dynamic.
Television – Marquee Moon (Rhino/Elektra)
Pressing plants must have figured out how to handle colored vinyl pressings as the last few that have crossed our desk here at Record Time HQ have sounded particularly great, with only a minor amount of rumbling that befalls many rainbow-hued records. This expanded edition of one of the greatest debut albums ever made is a great example. Pressed onto a lovely light blue wax, the quartet’s modern jazz-influenced rock sounds as vivid as it did in 1977, the limber-limbed guitar solos bending and twisting into knots, Tom Verlaine’s vocals sneering and leering anew. An especial treat is the inclusion of Television’s debut single “Little Johnny Jewel,” in all its wiggly lo-fi glory, tacked onto a second record that also features alternate versions of the album tracks. A perfect album deserves considerate treatment like this.
Bill Callahan – Live At Third Man Records (Third Man)
Recorded last year, this spotless recording of a live performance by singer-songwriter Bill Callahan at Jack White’s musical hub in Music City is remarkable for at least two very distinct reasons. One is hearing how Callahan’s voice is changing as he is getting older. The depth of his tenor is still there but there’s a thickness to it that has grown around it over the past decade. Squint your ears a bit and you might mistake him for Jimmy Dean or another country crooner of yore. His songs wouldn’t fit well in that mold, as they continue be darkly funny ruminations on live, sex and the beasts within us all. Secondly, this is a great showcase for guitarist Matt Kinsey. His work throughout serves as complement and counter to the humble strum of Callahan’s acoustic. Kinsey plays with the delicate chaos of a splatter painting.
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out/50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’/Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords (Urban Legends)
I go back and forth between loving the fact that these classic hip-hop records are remaining in print on vinyl and rolling my eyes a bit at the concept behind these re-releases. The music is the same, but the original artwork has been replaced by “variant covers” featuring Marvel Comics characters. In the case of these two, LL Cool J has been replaced by The Punisher, 50 Cent is now Iron Man and there’s some kind of epic battle happening on Liquid Swords. Silly stuff but it could be a kick for fans of comics and rap, a cross-section of pop culture that is a lot more fluid than you might first suspect. The pressing of Mama Said Knock You Out could have used a little more love, however. The hour long album has been squeezed on to a single LP, thereby putting a bit of a muzzle on LL’s often snarling performance and Marley Marl’s tense, snaky production. 50 Cent’s debut and the second solo effort by Wu-Tang member GZA are treated much better, properly spread over two records. The latter is represented best with full credit due to RZA’s diamond-hard productions covered in lo-fi grit and ropey soul.
Dio – Sacred Heart/Dream Evil/Lock Up The Wolves/Strange Highways (Reprise/Rhino)
These four albums represent the last records that the late Ronnie James Dio and his revolving door of collaborators would record for a major label, brought back into circulation as part of Rhino’s big “Rocktober” reissue campaign. Each one is pressed on colored wax, or, in the case of 1985’s Sacred Heart, on clear vinyl, all suffering from the rumble and crackle of non-black LPs. The records are already significantly different from one another. Dio, for some reason, could never keep one guitar player around for very long during this period. The four albums feature four different axe slingers that bring an entirely different bag of tricks to the sessions. The first guitarist Vivian Campbell gamely kept one foot in the doomy bombast of Dio’s former gig leading Black Sabbath and the flash of the glam metal scene dominating the landscape. Successive players would venture further into unabashed shredding territory, culminating in the appearance of 18-year-old speed demon Rowan Robertson on Wolves and Tracy G on Highways, both of whom seem to stir something within Dio as both of those albums find him pushing to the limits of his vocal range and eschewing anthemic lyrics for either deep personal yearnings or the kind of fantastical nonsense he was best known for.
Laughing Hyenas – Life of Crime/Hard Times (Third Man/Touch & Go)
Third Man’s interest in mining the vaults of the world for music to reissue is as thoughtful and curatorial as the work they do supporting new artists. That’s truer than ever with their efforts to bring the discography of the Detroit garage scuzz band Laughing Hyenas back into circulation. This quartet, led by former Negative Approach vocalist John Brannon and guitar hero Larissa Strickland (RIP), fit well into the history of Motor City rock, influenced as they were by the bluesy drive of The Stooges and the local punk/hardcore scene. The last two albums they put out before dissolving into a mess of drug and personal issues crystallized their sound, with Brannon’s throat shredding performances rubbing like a match against the sandpapery sound of Strickland’s filthy guitar tones. (The label is releasing all the Hyenas’ work but only supplied us with these two.) The rhythm section changed between these two albums, and for these ears, the original players—bassist Kevin Strickland and drummer Jim Kimball—were the better foils, forcing themselves into the mix with gargantuan thumps. Great as they continued to be after their departure, hearing these back-to-back only proves that rock this noisy deserved a brutalist foundation.
Vanessa Daou – Zipless: Songs From The Works of Erica Jong (DRKR)
Vanessa Daou was once hyped as a potential star, the new face of the acid jazz and trip hop sound that dominating the headspace of music writers on both sides of the Atlantic. The catalyst for that buzz was her 1994 album Zipless, a sensual collection that matched the heated words of poet and novelist Erica Jong up with arrangements that pulsed with electronic life, hoisted aloft by the analog musicianship of Daou’s then-husband (and Jong’s nephew) Peter. Some 25 years later, the album only sounds marginally dated as it feels not too far removed from the work that artists like Makaya McCraven and the broken beat scene in the U.K. The difference is Vanessa as listening to her vocals and spoken word performances throughout feels downright sinful. Surely we’re going to get in trouble for listening to this or dancing around our living rooms as this spins on the turntable, right?