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 reissues of late ‘60s demo recordings by David Bowie, a massive boxed set of John Coltrane material, a crucial ‘90s neo-soul album and one of U2’s peak recordings.
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you likely have a small or large collection of records at home. And no matter what the size of your personal library, the question of how to store your LPs becomes a serious concern. Milk crates? IKEA shelves? Stacked up in a dusty corner of the apartment? A handful of companies have arisen in recent years offering up a more stylish solution to this particular problem, and one of the best that we’ve seen is prathermade, a family-owned operation based in Ohio. The couple behind it design and craft shelves, stands and display ledges that are as lovely to look at as the big 12” sleeves you’ll soon fill them with. And they take seriously the impact of their work, making sure to only use small businesses local to them for supplies and offsetting their efforts by donating 1% of their profits to the National Forest Foundation. Their storage solutions aren’t cheap, but considering what you get in return, it’s a completely worthy trade off.
The Zombies’ time within the swell of the British Invasion was short-lived and ill-fated. One of their biggest chart successes—”Time Of The Season”—came after the band had already broken up. And during their brief six years together, the original lineup yielded only a pair of albums and a smattering of singles. Yet, heard in total, as you can now do via this tremendous five-LP boxed set, the quintet’s discography proves to have a much higher batting average than the rest of their cohorts in the ‘60s pop universe. The trick, as with The Beatles, was to have no less than three fine songwriters in their midst: keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Chris White and vocalist Colin Blunstone. All three men helped the group move quickly past the abundance of R&B covers that made up their 1965 debut album (this set features the U.S. self-titled version of that LP, which omits/replaces a number of songs putting the lie to the “Complete” claim of this set’s name) into more musically and lyrically complex territory. The firm proof of that lay in the original lineup’s final album together, the unqualified masterpiece Odessey & Oracle. It was there that The Zombies allowed their starry-eyed love songs to sit next to the psychedelic joys of “Hung Up On A Dream” and a deeply felt tune about the plight of a WWI vet (“Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)).”
Joining those two full-lengths in this collection is a repressing of a compilation released in The Netherlands and Japan that pulled together a bunch of assorted singles tracks and two other compilations that aim to plug the other holes in the discography like the inclusion of the three songs the band recorded for the 1965 psychodrama Bunny Lake Is Missing. The key is that, with those last two discs, one features all the stereo recordings, the other all in mono. A minor detail, maybe, but one that gives them both a clean, consistent sound. Same goes for Zombies and Odessey, the former rendered in mono and the latter in stereo. For fellow enthusiasts of The Zombies, I’m happy to report that the set boasts one of the best sounding pressings of Odessey that I’ve ever heard, with a full low end and a spectacular midrange. It does justice to the acuity and richness of one of the peaks of the ‘60s rock universe.
Hitting the 50th anniversary of 1969, a year when many seminal albums and singles were released, means we’re going to be seeing a wealth of archival re-issues and lavish boxed sets over the next 12 months. Which makes this new David Bowie collection feel like a surface scratch in comparison. The boxed set tucks nine early recordings from the future Thin White Duke on to four 7” singles. Many have been bootlegged and anthologized in the past, but the appearance of a couple of unheard tunes make up for the often shoddy sound quality on display (Bowie was an aggressive acoustic player on these demo tracks). Rough as they are, these tracks provide a crucial bridge between his fanciful recordings from the mid-’60s and the earthier, more thoughtful material that would comprise Man of Words/Man of Music and his breakthrough single “Space Oddity” (found here in two demo forms). It doesn’t fully complete the picture of this era, but at least helps clarify that Bowie had his songwriting well in control and set for the good things to come.
As the estate of the late musical polymath Prince has been doing a pretty commendable job figuring out what to do with his vast discography thus far, with the wonderful deluxe reissue of Purple Rain in 2017 and, this month, bringing a trio of his ‘00s era albums to vinyl for the first time. Purple vinyl, natch. These records represent the period of Prince’s career when he was dipping his toes back into the water of the major label system, and they also prove to be another creative high point for Mr. Rogers Nelson. Musicology, originally released in 2004, and 3121 from 2006, are delightful and cohesive records, with the former bearing the deeper influence of hip-hop (which, here, results in some bass fuzziness on certain tracks) and the latter giving him the right space to get sassy, sexy and sultry from song to song. Not all the songs are perfect, but his batting average was higher here than it had been in years. 2007’s Planet Earth, on the other hand, takes far too long to find its stride. Even with the welcome return of Revolution members Wendy and Lisa and Sheila E., the tunes feel underbaked. That is until the trio of songs—”Chelsea Rodgers,” “Lion Of Judah” and “Resolution”—that close out the album, which feels like a marathon runner putting that final kick in to get over the finish line. It’s a small suite that allows his religious faith and his body-centric intentions to coexist without either side suffering as a result.
To celebrate the band’s 25th year of existence, Jeepster Records is releasing Snow Patrol’s second album on vinyl for the first time. It’s a small gesture but one that serves up a nice reminder of the days when the band was a humble trio, getting assists from their fellow Scots in Belle & Sebastian, and long before “Chasing Cars” shot them into a different tax bracket. The music, therefore, is almost entirely lacking in the bombast of their more recent work, set instead with the simple goal of making emotional pop that had the pungent odor of post-punk’s ever-reliable influence and a healthy dose of shoegaze to help hide the stench. The blend is a potent one, as far from the twee jangle of their B&S buddies and the darker explorations of their fellow labelmates as they could get. This new vinyl version comes with a bonus 7” single on gold wax featuring two unreleased jams that nestle into the same comfy sonic zone and should have fans grinning madly with joy.
Traversing the discography of John Coltrane can be a treacherous journey. For example: though he recorded a wealth of material while under contract with Prestige Records in 1957 and 1958, much of it wasn’t released until he had left the label for Savoy and Atlantic. So, many of the recordings from those late ‘50s sessions didn’t come out until years later, and Prestige kept finding novel ways to repackage and reissue them for years to come. This new eight LP set that is about to be released by Craft Recordings aims to wrestle together all the work the great saxophonist did in 1958 through sessions he did with Rudy Van Gelder with future superstars like Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell and Freddie Hubbard. Arranged in chronological order according to the session dates, this massive and handsomely appointed set is a wonderful deep dive in this early part of Coltrane’s career as a bandleader and sideman, even if he doesn’t reach the dizzying heights that he reached a year earlier with Blue Train and two years later with Giant Steps. The bulk of these recordings feel simply like he is in practice mode, trying out various combinations and styles to see if they fit. That resulted in pleasant tunes like the 18 minute “Sweet Sapphire Blues,” which is dominated by Byrd and pianist Red Garland, and conflagrations like “Goldsboro Express,” a Coltrane hard bop original where he’s backed up only by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor, which gives him plenty of room to vamp and swing. The joy of a set like this is being able to track Coltrane’s artistic progression from the start of one year to its close. In fact, these eight discs work like bookends as the first was taken from a session in January of ‘58 and the last comes from December. The differences over a 12 month period are subtle but a close listen reveals some extra muscle strength driving the session and improvisation at the end of ‘58, as well as some melodic decisions that presage his modal period. Combined with the illuminating liner notes from Coltrane biographer Ashley Khan, the music in this set is a treasure.
Born from the ashes of a British garage band called The Knack, The Gun was a proto-metal/psych rock powerhouse that existed for the shortest of whiles, but long enough to produce two beloved albums of paint peeling guitar work and compositional complexity that would help fuel the prog movement that was on the horizon. Their self-titled debut, released in 1968 and brought back to vinyl through a limited reissue on Real Gone Music, is the product of a gloriously ambitious band that dared to throw everything they had at this recording, bringing in strings and horns and wild-eyed arrangements that stretched their abilities as players to their absolute limits. How they keep the entire album from tumbling into oblivion is one of the great wonders of the psychedelic rock era. This new pressing does a fine job of bringing its daring to life even with the unnecessary colored wax that, on my copy anyway, had a small warp that gave the early tracks on either side a small bump.
With consumer desire for vinyl still as hot as ever, legendary jazz label Blue Note is wisely taking advantage of the warm waters by embarking on an ambitious reissue campaign, plucking gems from their vast archives for their “Tone Poet Series.” The run of records (to be released two at a time through 2019) is named after Joe Harley, the producer tapped to oversee the reissues. With his expert ears, each release will be remastered from the original analog tapes and cut to wax by the good people of Record Technology Inc. And if this first reissue in the series, saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s 1965 classic Etcetera is anything to go on, this is going to be a wonderful thing for jazz fans and audiophiles. While the new mastering job by Kevin Gray has taken a bit of the analog warmth out of the music, the performances sound as clear as day, with drummer Joe Chambers and pianist Herbie Hancock sounding especially crystalline and sharp, and Shorter reigning o’er all with some of his coolest compositions and steadiest and most unflappable playing.
Fat Possum Records is doing the Lord’s work in helping to bring the first four albums by seminal, and still active, punk band X back into the vinyl markets in remastered form (and blessedly on black wax). Their spotless debut Los Angeles came out this month, and follow up Wild Gift drops at the end of March, and if these are missing from your vinyl library, this is the perfect chance to rectify that oversight. Both records have never sounded better. John Doe’s bass playing gets a much needed boost in the mix and D.J. Bonebrake’s drumming has a little more clarity and drive as a result of Jason Ward’s work on these remasters. The reissues also prove how X’s music has not lost a step in the nearly 40 years since these records were first released. Doe and singer Exene Cervenka’s work exploring the underbelly of the Southern California landscape still resonates as does the band’s rockabilly-flecked attack. These are records to help push you out the door with authority in the morning or to kick the house party up to the next level. Just don’t keep any valuables around when you do drop the needle. They’re gonna get smashed or stolen.
Gary Numan has long been of the slipperiest of pop artists to emerge from the post-punk era. Unwilling to stay in the darkwave vein that yielded his biggest successes, he started applying elements of jazz and funk to his chilly compositions in the early ‘80s. This approach reached its zenith on I, Assassin, an album originally released in 1982 and getting a nice vinyl reissue this year from his former label Beggars Banquet. Leaning heavily on the contributions of bassist Pino Palladino, Numan writes with a slinky charge here, seemingly inspired by the equally heady and sexy work of contemporaries like Japan and The Associates. But with the analog whine of Roger Mason’s keyboards and Numan’s distinctive vocals, the album feels entirely unique, like the product of an alien intelligence trying to relate to humans through music. Not as readily accessible as the Tubeway Army-era albums or the U.K. #1 The Pleasure Principle, Assassin’s return to the mass marketplace on vinyl should hopefully secure its long overdue position in the ranks of Numan’s finest and as one of his most perfectly close-knit collection of songs.
A decade ago, U2 had already found its way back into the good graces of the world’s music fans after their late ‘90s dalliances with dance music and experimentation. They were a rock band once more, aiming their shots straight for the listener’s cores rather than their brains. It reached the end of a sustained peak in 2009 with the release of No Line On The Horizon, their 12th studio album and one that found the group melding electronic textures and programmed beats into their work as comfortably as they did with Achtung Baby and Zooropa. Those more synthetic qualities and the digital sheen of the sessions wrestle awkwardly with the analog medium that is this 10th anniversary vinyl repressing (the heavy bass tones are, at times, overwhelming) and the three remixes on the fourth side of this double LP feel like an afterthought. But the new edition of the album can also feel as massive and enveloping—particularly the one-two combination of “Get On Your Boots” and “Stand Up Comedy”—as seeing the band in concert.
The vinyl reissue of this 1994 neo-soul classic from the duo known as Zhané should have been something to celebrate. A platinum-seller when it was released 25 years ago, it’s a record that has fallen by the wayside in the wake of artists like Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. But this new release from hip-hop/R&B-centric imprint Urban Legends treats the music that Jean Norris and Renée Neufville and their various producers created carelessly. The pressing is uncomfortably loud as if it was mastered using the same software that turned Death Magnetic into a sonic nightmare, with a wowing hum lying just below the surface of each track. (Doesn’t help matters either that the copy I received had a small crack that gave the opening tracks on the first LP an ugly pop for the first 45 seconds.) This is music that needs to simmer rather than go for a full on rolling boil as it does in this new vinyl edition, especially since they cut this as a double LP rather than the single disc version that came out in ‘94.
Correcting the tactical error that Matthew Sweet’s label Zoo Records made when pressing his breakthrough album to vinyl in 1995, including cutting off the last three songs to keep it to one LP, and finishing off their run of fantastic reissues by this power-pop giant, Intervention Records has blessed the world with a new edition of Girlfriend. As with every album the label has laid its golden touch to, every second of this album sounds as beguiling and sparkling as ever through their adherence to 100% analog process and the tender mastering work of Ryan K. Smith who did wonderful things with the reissue of John Lennon’s Imagine last year. If you don’t know this record, just know that Sweet abandoned a decent showing as an early adult alternative act in the late ‘80s to dive deep into his love of ‘60s and ‘70s pop and rock and came away with a near-perfect collection of Cheap Trick-level riffage and Boyce/Hart-style melodic smarts. It kicked the commercial door open for him and started a run of marvelous albums for this singer-songwriter that, if we’re honest, hasn’t really stopped. An added attraction to this vinyl reissue is the inclusion of three demos from the era, including the future No Alternative gem “Superderformed,” all of which were released on a CD-single back in the ‘90s.
The Freedom label was started as an offshoot of Black Lion Records in the early part of the ‘70s as a way to give adventurous jazz artists like Noah Howard and Dollar Brand an outlet for their daring sounds. Eventually the imprint got a deal with Arista Records, giving them a much bigger platform and distribution network for their releases. ORG Music has already dipped into this deep well before of Freedom Records before but these two new reissues that they unveiled in February represent some of their grandest achievements and serve as tributes to pianist Cecil Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, both of whom passed away last year. Tutankhamun comes from the period when a gaggle of American musicians expatriated to France where their free jazz sounds were more welcome by audiences and studios. The Art Ensemble recorded the four tracks found on this reissue in a whirlwind one day session that found the quartet splashing and flailing about joyously free of rhythm and structure. The connections to the titular king about as flimsy as their collective connection with reality. Taylor’s recording was captured live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, a blast of solo piano with an internal logic that only its creator truly understood. You don’t need a road map for this one. Just wander through the craggy landscape and appreciate the dark corners and crumbling infrastructure.