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 collection of jazz classics, the latest from an emo mainstay and a lot of Record Store Day releases.
The 80th anniversary of Blue Note Records is a milestone worth of a big celebration. This was the label that set the tone for what jazz music was around the world, codifying the major shifts in the genre along the way. And, even today, the imprint is still holding strong, releasing some fantastic new work from young artists like Kendrick Scott and GoGoPenguin. To help tell the story of Blue Note, the label hit on a novel idea: releasing a boxed set of key recordings from throughout their eight decades, each one representing an evolutionary step in jazz: bebop, hard bop, post bop, soul jazz, fusion and modern. And to make it a reality, they’re partnering with subscription service Vinyl Me, Please for the design and fulfillment of these sets. (Full disclosure: I’ve been an occasional contributor to VMP’s editorial vertical.) The records will be released in waves, starting with fresh pressings of a Horace Silver Trio release from 1952 and Dexter Gordon’s 1961 album Dexter Calling, with the next titles arriving biweekly after that. In total, you’ll get six albums and as comprehensive a look at what Blue Note has accomplished in 80 years outside of spending thousands of dollars to find everything the label has released. As of this writing, the limited edition set is sold out, but you’d do well to keep an eye on the website that VMP has set up for the anthology as I would imagine the demand for this collection will be huge enough to warrant another pressing.
Originally released as part of the 2004 deluxe edition of Weezer’s debut, better known to the world as The Blue Album, this collection of b-sides and rarities captures the early days of the alt-rock band You know, back when they were fresh-faced kids from California making quirky videos with Spike Jonze and looked to keep alive the glories of love bitten guitar rock. What this Record Store Day release (pressed on decent sounding blue vinyl) unveils is how the band’s most annoying tendencies were present from the beginning, especially on the adorably messy Kitchen Tape demos, which find the quartet squeezing silliness and indifference into the corners of the tracks. That nonsense was pretty well wiped clean with the help of Ric Ocasek, who helped clarify Weezer’s vision into something much more palatable and delightful. The tracks that he left a stamp on, like the wonderful b-sides “Jamie” and “Mykel and Carli” are the true dusty gems in this otherwise scattershot compilation. Will this be pure candy for the band’s legions of fans? Without question. In fact, I’d be surprised if you could find this one cheaply at your local record shop this long after RSD 2019.
For all of the work that the late jazz musician Bob Dorough did in his career, performing and recording with the likes of Blossom Dearie, Miles Davis and John Zorn, he will always be remembered for his role in the creating of Schoolhouse Rock, the series of educational animated shorts that played on ABC in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The first run of those cartoons, from 1973, Multiplication Rock was also commemorated with an LP release that earned Dorough a Grammy nomination and made him beloved of several generations of listeners. Jackpot Records, the record shop and label from Portland, Oregon, is doing its part to extend that influence with their Record Store Day re-release of Multiplication, sourced from the original master tapes and pressed onto colored wax. Heard today, the music within does sound a little dated and like watered down versions of what Dorough’s contemporaries in groups like The Crusaders and The Meters were up to. But there’s no denying the charm of these tunes and the unimpeachable intent of these tracks that worked to help keep young listeners (and viewers) on top of their math game. What this reissue is missing is some notes that would have put these recordings in a greater context of both Dorough’s career and the state of children’s television at the time (this series definitely feels like a reaction to the impact of Sesame Street), as well as going even further into the influence this had on the jazz and pop world. That’s a minor grievance, though, in relation to the unfettered magic that pours out of these chirpy, chipper tunes.
One of the best parts of the recently released boxed set celebrating John Lennon’s Imagine was a disc featuring the raw material that the former Beatle, his wife and producer Phil Spector added to land on the finished album and unkempt takes on the songs we know and love. If you didn’t want to spring for the set, this standalone vinyl edition, created for Record Store Day, is really all you need to get a more fuller picture of what Lennon was striving for with this solo album. It’s occasionally a messy good time with rumble-tumble versions of “I Don’t Wanna Be Soldier, Mama” where he was joined by eight additional musicians, including his former bandmate George Harrison, pianist Nicky Hopkins and two acoustic guitarists. Other times, it is a peek behind the curtain at the pre-reverb/orchestral overdub versions of songs like the title track and “Jealous Guy” that lose none of their gravitas and ache in these stripped-back takes.
The return of American Football, one of the foundational artists of that wide-ranging genre known as emo, was a surprising cause for celebration earlier this decade. Surprising at least for this writer. I had no idea how hungry fans young and not-so-young were for this quartet’s chiming, melodic rock. For the band, the excitement surrounding their reunion tours and their 2016 album clearly put some fire in their collective belly as they have graced the world with a third self-titled LP. The new album doesn’t venture far from the path they’ve carved out for themselves, but instead augments their sound with a wealth of additional instrumentation (strings, copious appearances by guest vocalists) and arrangements that lean toward what we’d usually call maturity. That somehow doesn’t seem fitting for American Football as their sound and Nate Kinsella’s lyrics always stood apart from the manchild emo pack. His romantic and existential crises were marked by a directness and an understanding of the role that he plays in each. That continues on LP #3 and is given a slightly washed out, exhausted quality through Jason Cupp’s smeared production style. The almost unbearable beauty of this record is given a crystal clear platform on Polyvinyl’s vinyl pressing, remarkably undimmed by the baby blue colored wax the music is set into. If you pick this up soon, you might want to sit it on your shelf until autumn. This isn’t a record for beautiful, sunny days.
Picture discs aren’t really meant to be played. They’re show-off items in a collection that should sit in one of those record cover frames you can get with a cheap turntable at Target. Or to just take off the shelf and giggle about with your fellow vinyl collectors. The reason being is that they tend to sound like garbage, suffering from a lot of underlying surface noise and rumbles that can ruin quiet moments in a song. Take this 40th-anniversary repress of Rush’s transitional album Hemispheres. The opening moments of the closing instrumental “La Villa Strangiato” are barely audible over a low thunderous roll. And the side-long suite that takes up the first half of this record isn’t treated any better. This new edition doesn’t even need to exist as the band already oversaw a fine reissue of the album on good ol’ black wax in 2015 and then in a deluxe boxed set last year. If you’re a Rush superfan (and really is there any other kind?), this is something to tuck away on the shelf or prominently display. Either way, leave it in the shrinkwrap and dig out one of the other vinyl pressings and hear this prog epic the way it was meant to be heard.
Fire Records continued their saintly work reissuing the albums of British psych-rock/proto-metal masters The Groundhogs on Record Store Day this year with a 50th anniversary re-release of the band’s third LP Thank Christ For The Bomb. The pseudo-concept record takes on the tone of the times with one side featuring songs reckoning with the terrifying threat of nuclear war and the other telling the story of a well to do gent and his slow descent into homelessness and ignominy. The two halves of this vinyl may seem completely separate but are actually a full-throated, blues-flecked reflection of the desperation seeping into the U.K. through foreign policy and the poor decisions by then-Prime Minister Edward Heath. What is slightly dismaying is that there are two versions of this RSD release floating around. The “Private Press Edition” features a fine remaster of the album packaged in a nice slipcover with a booklet that includes a historical essay with quotes from the band members, whereas the “Major Edition” comes with a second LP of live tracks and a radio session and a big poster. You get what you pay for, I suppose, but even if you can only find the single-LP version, this is an album worth the attention of heavy rock scholars. Even if you look past frontman Tony McPhee’s stinging lyrics, the music is smoking hot. Be forewarned, though, my copy of the album (the single-disc version) had an audible scratch in the wax that was there when I took it out of the shrinkwrap.
One of the more coveted releases in Frank Zappa’s vast discography was a cassette-only compilation that was previously only available via mail order and to subscribers of Guitar World magazine. As part of the Zappa Estate’s ongoing excavation of the late artist’s archives, it has now been remastered for vinyl was released in an edition of 4,000 for Record Store Day. The all-instrumental collection was, naturally, a showcase for Zappa’s redoubtable skills on guitar, from the almost John Fahey-like acoustic opening track “Sleep Dirt” to the various excerpts from live performances where he shreds the light fantastic, held aloft every step of the way by his always on point backing band. Your interest an album like this truly depends on your patience for the kind of guitar flamethrowing that Zappa gets into throughout. If you’re more attuned to his song-based material, there’s not a lot here for you. But if you fancy yourself a Guitar Center hero and want to bask in the glow of his red hot axemanship, this is a must-have for your collection.
The debut album from Paisley Underground ensemble The Dream Syndicate has been issued and reissued many times over since its initial release in 1982, including a CD version that came out as recently as 2015 via Omnivore Recordings. The Record Store Day release of this LP from Fire Records, though, purports to be the definitive reissue, and it’s hard to argue that bit of hype sticker hyperbole. While it doesn’t feature the bonus tracks from that 2015 version, this does offer a more full portrait of where this young band stood in the early ‘80s. Included with a lip-smacking remaster of the original album is a second disc featuring the band’s debut four-song EP and a 7” single recreating the sole release by 15 Minutes, the project from TDS leader Steve Wynn that recorded an early version of “That’s What You Always Say.” Everything about this is perfectly done, from the remastering of all the music to its packaging and accompanying liner notes that even includes some comments from the notoriously reclusive Kendra Smith.
The Charlatans were probably the one band that was ill-served by being folded into the Madchester craze of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, this quintet looked far beyond the psych-garage influences that helped foment that scene by the time they hit their second album Between 10th and 11th. By 1999, when Us And Us Only was originally released, they were one of the only bands from the Madchester crew still working at a high creative level; a place where they weren’t a slave to their ‘60s and ‘70s influences. Instead, they were using those to augment their crystalline pop tunes. This album also marked a small shift in the band’s lineup with original keyboardist Rob Collins having left two years earlier and replaced by the equally talented Tony Rogers. That pushed guitarist Mark Collins and bassist Martin Blunt to the foreground, serving these fleshy, enveloping tunes. Having them on a nice, if crackly clear vinyl pressing only makes Us And Us Only feel that much better as it resonates through our bones and muscle,
Fat Possum Records continues its campaign to reissue the work of L.A.’s finest native sons and daughter X with new editions of the quartet’s third and fourth LPs. At this point, the band was starting their slow crawl away from their punk assault towards a sound that emphasized their rockabilly and R&B influences. But on their way there, they continued their peerless run of controlled burns and the lovingly messy harmonies of singer Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe and their booze-fueled visions of life in the City of Angels. Their high water mark as a collective was Big Black Sun, a whip crack collection, anchored by Billy Zoom’s rumbling guitar and songs about working-class citizens that are lived in and tender. The members of this group weren’t so far removed from the barstools where the underemployed passed their days and the streets where hungry wolves roamed. New World is a little shaggier but no less effective. The songs this time around were getting more personal to expose heartbreak, regret, and a little political anguish about Reagan’s America. As with the previous reissues of Los Angeles and Wild Gift, Jason Ward has done a spectacular job remastering these nearly 40-year-old recordings so that still feel red and raw even when placed under a clearer lens.
The cover art for this collection is alone worth the price of admission: a Warhol-like array of outtakes from the photo shoot that yielded the iconic pin-up-style shot that graced the cover of Roxy Music’s first album. Because truth be told, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy a lick of the seemingly superfluous remixes of tracks from that aforementioned LP. But these new editions of “Ladytron,” “2HB” and “Chance Meeting” as reimagined by electronic producers like Leftside Wobble and Johnson Somerset are a blast. Idjut Boys turn “Ladytron” in a dubby workout worthy of Massive Attack, and the spare, beatless version of “2HB” turned in by London-based Leftside Wobble brings out the deeper melancholy of that otherwise lovelorn track. Don’t know why I was skeptical about this as, apparently, Bryan Ferry was overseeing these remixes, commissioned amid the creation of the deluxe reissue of Roxy Music. A guy with his impeccable taste wouldn’t have let this turn into a dubstep wreck.
Of all the material that Portland label Jackpot Records has reissued by their local punk heroes Wipers, somehow it took until now to bring back the group’s 1980 7” EP Alien Boy. Whatever the hold up for this one was, it is finally here and sounds as cutting and crisp as it did when it was released nearly 40 years ago. These four songs are the template that every young punk band should adopt: crackling, barely contained energy given over to expressions of urban ennui and isolation. It’s music for those on the outside, looking in at society and wondering why it has nothing to offer them. And it’s a much healthier outlet of these feelings than the shit show that is social media. Track down copies of this and give them to the teen boys in your life and help steer them away from the echo chamber of the internet and into a life of slashing guitar chords and sing along choruses.
Whenever anyone levels complaints against Record Store Day or the current vinyl revival, it’s releases like this that they often point to, an entirely unnecessary reissue of the soundtrack to Mike Judge’s still fantastic workplace comedy from 1999. And who can blame them? Was anyone clamoring to have a Swingline stapler red wax version of a soundtrack that can surely be had on CD for a few bucks? Was it really worth clogging up the pressing plants and delaying the production of new music or more important documents for this? At its best, this soundtrack serves as a time capsule for ‘90s hip-hop, a period after the genre was brushed aside for a stretch by the rise of grunge but was climbing back into cultural domination riding the long tail influence of albums like The Chronic and Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death. This collection kept a foot in that mainstream gangsta world with appearances by Geto Boys and Ice Cube but the other stayed in the underground scene as heard on tracks by Kool Keith and the J. Dilla-led Slum Village. Forget the inclusion of a silly Junior Reid track and the pair of Perez Prado mambos that close out this soundtrack, this is just another stepping stone on the path to hip-hop’s long reach and its steady spread into every corner and cranny of pop culture.
Though born in Colorado, Josephine Foster sounds like she came out of the U.K. folk scene that brought the world Steeleye Span and Sandy Denny thanks to her steely instrumentation and pleasing warble. It’s a sound that is as divisive as early Joanna Newsom, but far more bound to earth. One of her strongest efforts was her 2005 debut, which has been out of print on wax for years and was reissued by Foster’s label Fire Records. Recorded the winter in Madison, Wisconsin, the music throughout feels as snowbound and shivering as the temperatures surely were outside the studio. And the songs reveal a deep love of the American folk traditions with odes to “Hominy Grits” and a slight Christian bent, as well as a fine reading of the British style, which planted deeper roots in the natural world and more metaphorical lyrical ideas.
In 1979, at one of the many peaks of his success, Elton John embarked on A Single Man tour, a solo jaunt where he was joined for only part of the shows by percussionist Ray Cooper and found himself touring for the first time the U.S.S.R., supposedly the only major pop star from the West to do. His last performance in the region, in Moscow’s Rossiya Hall was broadcast on BBC’s Radio One and captured for posterity, and this past Record Store Day, it was committed to wax for the first time. Being a radio recording, the music sound spectacular, blending in the rowdy responses from the Russian crowd perfectly and giving plenty of space to Cooper’s often unnecessary percussive interjections. It’s also the perfect representation of John at the peak of his powers as a pianist and vocalist. From the ballads to the rockers, he sounds loose and inspired, having fun on an extended version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and closing out the set with a medley of his own “Crocodile Rock” and The Beatles’ “Get Back” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.” It’s a lot of music packed on to these records, though, especially the fourth side, which suffers from a huge drop off in sound quality toward the end. A noticeable fuzziness starts to take over. That, though, is the aforementioned medley and probably the most throwaway moment of the set. The rest sounds wonderful.
Jackpot Records’ other Record Store Day release this year comes hot on the heels of Sub Pop’s recent reissues of Green River’s studio output, which hopefully helped fuel some interest in folks looking to hear how the proto-grunge band fared in a live setting. This concert recording comes from early in the group’s history when future Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner was still in the fold and they had yet to issue their debut EP. And it is everything that made Green River great presented in stark relief: their mixture of classic rock (the band covers KISS’s “Strange Ways,” introducing it as a rare Sex Pistols tune), punk and post-punk; the above-average instrumentation of bassist Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard; Mark Arm’s ability to keep everything at an ironic remove; and their unbeatable onstage energy. How this was able to remain so pristine sounding some 35 years after it was taped by engineer Drew Canulette is a minor miracle.
Marty Stuart may not be spoken of as often as his contemporaries but this singer-songwriter is just as important to country music’s evolution into a commercial juggernaut. And this collection, originally issued on CD in 2012 and now on vinyl for Record Store Day, is proof positive of that. The material compiled on Icon comes from Stuart’s late ‘80s and ‘90s run on MCA Nashville when, like Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson, he was bringing country’s rockabilly roots back into the fold as well as pop sensibility that was sleek and gritty in equal measure, as heard on songs like “You Can’t Stop Love” and “High On A Mountain Top.” It scored him some solid radio hits and some well-deserved attention but he was often snowed over by the arena rock intentions of Garth Brooks. As country continues to get deeper into the hip-hop-influenced weeds and continues to truck in all manner of whiskey-swilling cliches, listeners would do well to circle back to this period of the genre’s history when writers and performers like Stuart had romance and honky tonkin’ on the mind.