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 newly-found collection of live blues recordings from 1969, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll during his Vegas heyday, early experiments from a post-punk pioneer, and much, much more.
Fifty years ago, Elvis Presley was still humming from the success of his televised “Comeback Special,” and was hungry to get on stage again after an eight-year hiatus. The most natural fit for an outsized, glitzy talent was Las Vegas. So in August of 1969, the King and the first iteration of the TCB Band did a blistering run of shows at the newly-opened International Hotel that cemented his return to the spotlight and reasserted his power as a live performer. While the completists among you might want to spring for the 11-CD Live 1969 set that presents 11 concerts from his initial Vegas stint, listening to that full collection is a bit of a slog. There’s little variation between the sets or Elvis’ between song patter, even if the performances are fantastic. If you just want a taste of action, try out this vinyl release of the midnight show from August 26, 1969. It’s everything you’d want: Elvis and a crackerjack ensemble tearing through the hits (I’m particularly taken by his “Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel” medley) and some choice cover tunes (another great medley is his combo of “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”). And the midnight shows were the ones where Elvis was at his most playful. The infamous version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” where he breaks out laughing is from this show, and throughout he gets bawdy and goofy, messing with the lyrics of his most familiar songs and toying with the audience. His obvious joy is infectious.
Let’s talk for a moment about sending records in the mail. If you’ve purchased a used recently, you may have been lucky to have the seller send you the record outside of the album’s sleeve. I say lucky because in some instances, like with the copy of this John Lee Hooker reissue, the package may get jostled in transit, pushing the LP through both the inner and outer sleeve. When I popped open the package from Craft Recordings for this release, I was a little shocked to see an arc of black vinyl poking out of the bottom of the jacket. A bummer, yes, but hardly a deal breaker. It may have diminished the value of this album a grade or two but the record itself wasn’t damaged. And the music on it is as pungent and dusty and stinging as it was when it was first released 60 years ago and sounds present and clear thanks to the steady mastering work of Kevin Gray. Hooker was already a vital presence in the blues scene with electric singles like “Boogie Chillen” and “Crawlin’ King Snake” already under his belt. This session, recorded in Detroit in early 1959, was proof that he had just as much bite and grit when using an acoustic guitar. The wail and moan of the blues idiom was ever-present, but swimming alongside it is a musing quality that turns “Behind The Plow” and “Church Bell Tone” into haunting expressions of Hooker’s past as the son of a sharecropper and preacher. A vital document for anyone with an interest in the history of Delta blues and this once-in-a-generation talent.
The instrumentation on this album—highland bagpipes and drums—suggests the sound of a military tattoo, all stiff-backed and regimental and meant to stir the regiment to victory. The two long pieces here are cut from a much different tartan. “Exhale,” the track that takes up the entirety of side two is a deconstructivist version of the traditional Scottish sound, with David Watson leaning into the low drone that is foundational to the bagpipes and letting free jazz trills dart out from the murk, while drummer Tony Buck (a member of the brilliant Australian trio The Necks) backs it all up with a simple, undulating snare roll and some percussion clatter. Chaos looms but never touches down admit their holy accord. This is much that begs patience and deep listening to reveal the overtones and dramatic arc that these men manifest from their age-old musical machines and to feel the exertion that they put into each moment. The sweat and heat from this session, recorded in 2017 and now being released by the L.A. label besom presse, is palpable and admirable.
This isn’t the first time Jefferson Airplane’s Sunday afternoon set at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair has been released into the world. In 2009, the performance was packaged with their 1969 studio album Volunteers as part of an ongoing Woodstock Experience series. (It’s also included in the massive boxed set compiling every scrap of audio from the 50-year-old event released by Rhino this month.) But theirs was a magisterial, intoxicating set that deserves its own spotlight turn. That said, it’s a little hard to get completely spellbound by it, due to the dull realities of listening to music on vinyl. The peaks and delights of their 21-minute long version of the David Crosby composition “Wooden Ships” and the opening triad of “The Other Side of This Life,” “Somebody To Love,” and “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” are quickly shaken free by having to trudge to the turntable to flip the record over. What shouldn’t get lost even in those grumbling moments of inconvenience is how revelatory the Airplane could be live (even their slapdash version of “Volunteers” has a coiled fury at its center) and delighting in the smashing run they were on in the late ‘60s that culminated in this performance. They wouldn’t be the same band after this, but we have this document to keep that period of their career close at hand.
Music is a great outlet for folks in stressful jobs, but it rarely survives outside of a garage or home studio. Singer-songwriter Suzie Brown is a wonderful exception. During the day, she is a cardiologist specializing in heart transplants and heart failure, on top of helping raise two kids. On evenings and weekends, she turns her attention to her artistic endeavors, which yielded this, her sixth full-length of lived in and lucid Americana. Brown’s songs mine the various facets of her life as she juggles her homebound responsibilities and dual careers as well as she can, owning up to the reality that she drops the occasional ball. But there’s a steely determination in songs like “Masterpiece” and “Waiting on the Call” that acknowledges her exhaustion but doesn’t let it define her. The grounding element is Brown’s voice. It’s earthy and twangy enough to fit well into her chosen genre yet colored with a sweetness that keeps her sometimes downcast tunes from feeling like a heavy burden. She means it when she sings, “Sometimes I wanna scream like a three-year-old child/Stomp my feet, throw all my things in a messy pile,” well aware of the strange almost blissful glow that comes from such an outburst.
When Janet Jackson signed an estimated $40 million contract with Virgin Records in 1991, it made the R&B superstar the highest paid musician in the world. And she responded to this enormous show of faith on the part of her new label with a big album. Typical of the CD era, janet. ran over 75 minutes long, complete with between song interludes and cover art that, on some editions, folded out to reveal the famous, almost topless photo of the singer shot for Rolling Stone. She and frequent collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis expanded her musical palette to incorporate some deadly funk and the influence of hip-hop (Public Enemy’s Chuck D makes a memorable appearance on “New Agenda”), as well as an unabashedly front-facing sexuality that felt downright scandalous at the time. By any measure, the result was a commercial and creative triumph. Yet, on this new vinyl pressing, all of that—the size of the ambition and the breadth of the music—gets completely muted. The sound quality is deadened, taking all of the swing and sensuality out of these productions. It’s worth repeating that Jackson is one of the many artists whose original masters were destroyed in the much talked about 2008 fire at Universal Studios Hollywood, which is surely a sad factor for how dull this once throbbing masterwork comes across here.
Since the band’s inception, Howlin Rain has issued live albums in both physical and digital form. It’s a logical callback to the hallowed bootleg tradition of the group’s forebears, but it also acknowledges that, as wonderful as their studio output has been, this modern psychedelic outfit kicks up the most righteous storm on stage. The latest installment is a series of live compilations culled from multi-track recordings captured at the band’s shows over the past few years. The first volume includes portions of sets played in New York and California. The result has us salivating to hear the rest of these shows as Howlin Rain is scorching on these five tracks. Their toxic blend of soul, rock, and blues is a lightning strike to the skull, conjured by Ethan Miller and Dan Cervantes’ bending, squealing guitar duels. Something inevitably gets lost in the translation to recorded form; the experience of absorbing the full blown sensual assault of a live show just can’t be replicated. But, unless you’re following Howlin Rain on the road Deadhead-style, this is the best way to stir up the sense memory of giving your mind and body over to them in concert. All you need to do is pick up the tone arm and start all over again.
In 1964, The Strangeloves would have pop music fans believe that they were three brothers from Australia that grew up raising sheep before becoming musicians. In reality, this short-lived group was the construction of three U.S. songwriters—Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer—who wanted to draft off the momentum of the British Invasion. They were rewarded with three Top 50 hits and a marvelous album of bubblegum pop that is seeing a reissue (on candy apple red vinyl, no less). Like the vast majority of records released in the ‘60s, I Want Candy didn’t signal a seismic shift or inspire a 1,000 young people to pick up instruments. What it remains is a fun little lark to frug around the living room to; a minor gem that gave us an early version of “Hang On Sloopy,” a forthright cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and of course that indelible title track that has gone on to be covered by dozens of other artists. Drop the needle on this, turn off your mind, relax and shake your damn hips.
As the heat gets turned up on the jazz scene in London, a group like Nérija seems like the perfect entity to bubble over into the mainstream consciousness. They have a great hook as the septet is made up almost entirely of female musicians and they’re signed to the tastemaking label Domino Records. And, yes, friends, they’ve got the songs to back it up. The group’s debut full-length is a horn-heavy blast that serves as a fine counterbalance to the broken beat and brass band ends of the U.K. jazz spectrum. Nérija puts the emphasis on their group dynamics. There are plenty of solos throughout, but none shoot for the moon or try to pull focus from the rest of the song and the rest of the band. They wander off alone with intention, usually bouncing off the other players in the group (as when guitarist Shirley Tetteh enters into an electric tug-of-war with drummer Lizy Exell on “Riverfest”). Where they do try to praise individual achievement is by pointing out the composer of each song and which player gets the solo. It’s a reminder that these sisters are literally doing it by themselves in a still male dominated field.
It’s been a marvelous time for fans of post-punk and industrial as labels like Beggars Banquet and Mute have been mining their archives on the regular to reissue important works by some of the most significant artists of those particular genres. This month, that is represented by these two choice collections from early industrial trio Cabaret Voltaire. 1974-76 was originally self-released by the group on cassette in 1980 and captures early experiments that Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk and Chris Watson were getting into prior to the release of their first singles. The germs of their thudding brilliance were there, grown out of tape edits, early synth drones, early sampling ideas, and the group’s distended vocals. Much the same intention forms the basis of Chance, which was conceived as a soundtrack for a film by Dutch artist Babette Mondini. The improvised 1979 work has never been heard in its complete form until now and it is a minor marvel by the band; 47 minutes of ambient groan and shimmer, shortwave radio static and a light dusting of drum machine interruption. If these two releases reach the right people, an entire new generation of noise and experimental artists might be born. God willing.
While the Ann Arbor Blues Festival never received the hype that another cultural event from 1969 received this month, this Michigan-based celebration of the genre had arguably the better lineup and might have a far deeper cultural impact. It was one of the last times this many groundbreaking blues artists were brought together in one place, boasting a mind-boggling line-up: B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, Pinetop Perkins, Otis Rush, Shirley Griffith, Big Mama Thornton, Roosevelt Sykes and many others. Until now, this event was known only through photographs and the memories of the attendees, but a trove of recordings made on a portable cassette recorder by one audience member was uncovered by Third Man Records and has been restored and cherry-picked for this two-volume set. The sound quality is often rough, but that shouldn’t diminish the vitality of these collections. This festival represented a crucial pivot point in blues as the old guard stood alongside young bucks with electric instruments and a bevy of white musicians building off their foundational work. Pointing out highlights feels near to impossible, but I would direct you to spend some time with Son House’s growling performance of “Death Letter Blues,” the sultry “Key to the Highway” by drummer/vocalist Sam Lay and his band and the prickly guitar solo on the track from Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins’ set. From there, drink in the whole thing slow and easy. You won’t be disappointed.
Hausu Mountain is primarily known as a tape label. So much so that when the imprint does dabble in other formats, it must be for a Very Important Album. This 2015 debut album from Eartheater certainly fulfills that criterion. This burbling, exploratory work funneled Alexandra Drewchin’s multi-tiered voice and intricate guitar work through layers of dead computer languages, faulty samplers and other electronic deadstock. At times, she wins the battle, as on the lovely closing track “Infinity,” but more often, she concedes defeat, resulting in thrilling epics like the 10-minute squlechfest “Orbit” and the pixelated psychedelia of “The Internet Is Handmade.” At the time of its release, Metalepsis felt like a missive from a not-too-distant future. Nearly five years later, the rest of the experimental music world is still trying to catch up with what Drewchin did then and has done since.