Record Time: New & Notable Vinyl Releases (July 2023)

Music Features R.E.M.
Record Time: New & Notable Vinyl Releases (July 2023)

Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases currently flooding record stores around the world, and all the gear that is part of the ongoing surge in vinyl culture. 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 boxed set of releases from a classic label, new thrash and dub, plenty of jazz and a little bit of folk music from northern Africa.

African Head Charge: A Trip to Bolgatanga (On-U Sound)

Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and Adrian Sherwood’s long-standing collaboration African Head Charge remains their unbroken string of greatness with new album A Trip to Bolgatanga. The trick seems to be knowing when to call for reinforcements, which the pair did throughout the LP. Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish is a constant presence throughout, bringing a respectable bounce and nervy spark to several tracks. A revolving door of added percussionists, including Mensah Akaa and Akanuoe Angela, root the otherwise dubby float of this material right in the project’s titular motherland. The most inspiring figure to join the fray was apparently King Ayisoba, the Ghanaian singer and kologo master whose energy on the pair of tunes on which he’s featured borders on the unhinged. He’s kept gently in check by Sherwood’s boxy production but puts some much needed strain on that well-established framework.

Drive-By Truckers: The Complete Dirty South (New West)

Rewriting history, even of something as relatively insignificant as a record album, always strikes a sour chord within me. Especially when the artist doing the revisions insists, as Drive-By Truckers mainstay Patterson Hood does on the hype sticker on this slight return of the group’s 2004 album, that this new version “is the way it was always intended to be heard.” In the case of The Complete Dirty South, that simply means a minor reshuffling of a few songs, the addition of three tunes initially intended for inclusion and a bit of remixing. All reasonable enough adjustments. It’s the decision, though, to re-record the vocal tracks on “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and “Sands of Iwo Jima” that rubs me the wrong way. The original takes, to these ears anyway, were fine as they were. But if Hood ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. The new vocals sound just fine, even if there is an audible change in the timbre of a voice that has aged nearly two decades since Dirty South was initially released. The album as a whole, even with the tweaking, has only improved with age. Hood, Dave Cooley and Jason Isbell’s songs remain powerful and pointed, exposing the festering wounds of generations of citizens living in oft-ignored small towns in the so-called flyover states to the tune of Southern rock as thick and sweet as a slice of cornbread or slug of bourbon.

Hamza El Din: Al Oud (Real Gone / Vanguard)

The late Hamza El Din was one of the few African artists to make any kind of dent in the Western music market thanks to his appearance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and his association with the Grateful Dead (he supported the band at their famed 1978 concerts in Egypt). Early on that landed El Din a contract with Vanguard Records, the top-flight folk label for which he produced two albums including the 1965 masterpiece Al Oud. The music on this LP, named after one of the artist’s instruments of choice, floats above the ground like a mist and seems to shift the mood of any space that it’s played. One spin of this clear vinyl disc and I could feel my muscles start to loosen and my heart rate settling into the same quiet calm that El Din brought to his honeyed vocals and elliptical oud melodies.

Evile: The Unknown (Napalm)

U.K. thrash revivalists Evile have, like most metal bands, gone through a world of changes and interregnums since they got rolling in 2002. The lineup has shifted a couple of times, with the biggest move being guitarist Ol Drake leaving the fold for a few years, returning and then taking over as vocalist when his brother Matt bowed out in 2020. What never ceases to amaze me is how a band can maintain any kind of consistency with all that happening behind the scenes. Damn if Evile hasn’t done just that. If anything, the quartet has only gotten more focused as a result. New album The Unknown is a defining statement by the band, lean and sinewy with a nicely judicious application of Drake and Adam Smith’s superlative guitar skills. The solos throughout feel as clean and precise as calligraphy. Lyrically, Evile looks without and within, touching on rarely explored subjects like dementia (“Beginning of the End”) and anxiety. For all that this band owes to titans like Metallica and Megadeth, they are continuing to make thrash sound fresh and inspiring.

Johnny’s Uncalled Four: The Lost Album (Wick / Daptone)

If you’ve purchased any music released on Sub Pop, SST, Matador or any one of the dozens of indie labels scattered around the U.S., you’ve likely seen the name John Golden listed as mastering engineer. It’s only the most recent stop in a career that has veered from cutting lacquers for the likes of Eno and the Fifth Dimension to teaching his son the ropes of mixing and mastering music. But way back in early ’60s, John Golden was just another rock ‘n’ roll striver, fronting a surf / British Invasion inspired combo called the Uncalled Four that played teen dances and gigs around the Midwest. Only recently did Golden decide to transfer the tapes of his old group and share them with the folks at Daptone who helped release this collection. The tunes are what you’d expect from a hopped up show band besotted with the Ventures and the Dave Clark Five. The music is well-played, chipper and reflective of the early rock music and R&B making moves on the charts at the time. A lovely little time capsule.

The Lost Generation: Young, Tough and Terrible / Jackie Wilson: Higher and Higher (Brunswick / ORG Music)

The always-reliable label ORG Music is doing a huge service to fans of Black American music by dipping into the catalog of Brunswick Records, the label that has been in operation in one form or another since the start of the 20th century. ORG has narrowed its focus on the imprint’s efforts from later in that century, re-releasing a pair of crucial documents from the late ’60s / early ’70s. The stronger of the two is from Chicago soul ensemble the Lost Generation that featured future Chi-Lite Fred Simon and the smooth tenor of his brother Lowrell. Their 1972 album is the equal of anything the Isley Brothers or the Temptations released around the same time in terms of keeping a strong balance of funk-forward jams and quiet storm balladry. Head straight for their take on Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” or “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” a slow jam originally recorded by the Persuaders that simmers here like a heat mirage. All of that isn’t to dismiss the great work found on Jackie Wilson’s fantastic 1967 album Higher and Higher. It holds a little too firmly to the crooning soul that marked the early work of this Michigan legend, but his command of both song and his distinctive voice shines throughout each track. Don’t stop with the title track. Dig the growl and dust that he adds to the Van McCoy gem “I’ve Lost You” or the exultant joy within his performance on “Soulville.” He could do it all.

Lonnie Liston Smith: Jazz Is Dead 17 / Tony Allen: Jazz Is Dead 18 (Jazz Is Dead)

A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge have, in three short years, done more to help revive the careers of aging jazz artists than any number of reissues or prime bookings at festivals. Their ongoing series of album releases and performances, all kept under the umbrella of Jazz Is Dead, has given a new lease on creative life to oft-overlooked legends like Gary Bartz, Jean Carne and João Donato. The latest entries in this campaign put the spotlight on a pair of true titans: keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith and percussionist Tony Allen. The former’s session is a true psych funk / jazz trip with Smith moving from windswept piano melodies to sprinklings of Fender Rhodes stardust through Muhammad and Younge’s springy rhythms. Joining the session was singer / songwriter Loren Oden who brought a touch of interstellar travel to tunes like “Cosmic Changes” and “A New Spring.” The sessions with Allen were undertaken by Younge in 2018 but were left unheard until this year (Allen passed away in 2020). As expected, the mood of these recordings leans toward the Afrobeat grooves that the drummer laid down during his time playing with Fela Kuti, yet the reins feel much looser in their hands. The tracks, apparently built from long jam sessions, take on solid form only briefly. The music tends to morph with amoebic shifts and splits that Younge’s bass and keyboard work, and a big horn section, are playfully forced to reckon with and adapt to.

Pernice Brothers: Overcome By Happiness: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (New West / Sub Pop)

Released initially in 1998 during one of Sub Pop’s commercial lulls, the debut album by Pernice Brothers left critics bowled over by frontman Joe Pernice’s literate lyrics and arrangements that recalled the pop peak of artists like Jimmy Webb and Harry Nilsson, and made reasonably large waves among the listeners of the world. Enough to help justify the creation of this deluxe LP set, at least. It may be asking a lot of newcomers to dive in so deeply right out of the gate, but they are given a guiding hand via the detailed and brilliant liner notes by journalist Stephen Deusner that includes commentary from nearly everyone involved in the album’s creation. For longtime fans of the group and the album, this is a delightful indulgence. Included in the deluxe reissue is a second LP of material that includes some singles and rough demos of the material from Overcome. Tucked into the bookbound package is a small envelope of lovely photos of the band, suitable for tacking to your cubicle wall or framing up nicely.

R.E.M.: Collapse Into Now / Around The Sun (Craft Recordings)

R.E.M. are the rarest of rare bands. They broke up on their own terms in 2011 with the release of their final document, Collapse Into Now. Since then, they’ve stayed broken up and haven’t given into the gobs of money they’ve surely been offered to reunite or at least play their greatest hits in some capacity. Instead, the Athens alternative giants have kept their legacy alive tastefully with regular explorations of their archives and welcome re-issues like the two fresh vinyl editions of Collapse and 2004’s Around the Sun. The latter found the band settling into musical middle age. The music had nicely mellowed, even with the wild card appearance of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip on “The Outsiders,” with hammock swing tempos and some of Michael Stipe’s most searching, ruminative lyrics. Collapse throws a match in the gas tank on R.E.M.’s way out the door, inviting over friends like Peaches and Eddie Vedder to warm themselves on the flames. The moments of beauty are counteracted by punky rave-ups like “That Someone Is You” and “All The Best.” R.E.M. went out at the top of their game and have thankfully done nothing since to tarnish their legacy. Name me another band that could say the same.

V/A: Raised By Rap: 50 Years of Hip-Hop (Legacy / Mass Appeal)

One of the most encouraging signs of this year has been seeing the world step up to honor the 50th anniversary of the creation of hip-hop. The genre has become the main driver in popular culture, leaving a deep impact on the global music community that is still being felt today. For those who are maybe catching up to what hip-hop has wrought on the world, a primer like this new double-LP set from Legacy will do a fine job getting them up to speed. The timeline represented here is hugely truncated, jumping as it does from 1981 to 1994 on the first side alone, and is reduced to only including representative tracks from the artists that fall under Sony Music’s umbrella (that means no Jay Z or Eminem or Queen Latifah or Beastie Boys or Megan Thee Stallion). But as a quick, dirty overview that takes listeners from the chipper, Tom Tom Club-sampling “Genius Rap by Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde to Bia’s broiling “WHOLE LOTTA MONEY,” it does the trick handily and is a blast to listen to.

V/A: The Story of Cadet (Vinyl Me, Please)

The latest installment in Vinyl Me, Please’s Anthology Series takes a run through the history of Cadet Records, the label born in 1955 as the jazz arm of Chess Records that, as all good imprints do, evolved to meet the sounds of the times before closing its doors in 1974. As such, a hefty set like this can only tell so much of the story. Executive producer Stephen Anderson wisely chose to concentrate on Cadet’s impact on the history of Black popular music, tucking re-releases of classic titles by Ramsey Lewis, Muddy Waters, Dorothy Ashby, Terry Callier and others into this big box. The album choices were clearly well thought through as the set includes Waters’ wild attempt at psychedelic blues (Electric Mud), the lone full-length by Chicago funk group Shades of Brown, a very welcome reissue of Callier’s 1970 folk-soul concept album Occasional Rain and the final LP by Charles Stepney’s daring ensemble Rotary Connection. As with other editions in this series, VMP does an impressive job linking these records to one another and the history of the label via the extensive liner notes from Anderson, as well as treating the music with the white glove approach it deserves.

Mal Waldron Sextet: Mal/2 / Bill Evans Trio: Waltz For Debby (Original Jazz Classics / Craft Recordings)

Craft Recordings’ new series of re-releases connected to the Original Jazz Classics series continues this month with a pair of albums led by two great pianists of the post-bop era. Mal/2 is perhaps most noteworthy due to the company that Mal Waldron kept in this 1957 session. This version of his sextet included the great John Coltrane, drummer Art Taylor, saxophonists Sahib Shihab and Jackie McLean and trumpeter Idrees Sulieman. And the music they made helped set off the wave of minimalist jazz that crested a few years later with Kind of Blue. Everyone plays with restraint and cool, helping to set a tone best suited for last call strolls or late night contemplation. Waltz For Debby, released five years later, is the deepening of the sound that Waldron inculcated. Bill Evans was far more interested in swinging on this session, and a desire to more fully lead his ensemble (rounded out by drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro). The pianist dashes and spins along a rare wavelength of fluid electricity or kundalini energy channels, leaving his rhythm section to respond and react with an almost Ginger Rogers-like approach — doing everything Evans does but backward

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