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 10th anniversary repressing of Matt & Kim’s indie-pop classic, a pair of contemporary classical masterpieces, a remake of a Beach Boy solo album by a modern L.A. artist and Gram Parsons’ final stand with The Flying Burrito Brothers.
The photos of Rickie Lee Jones on her first two albums are as revealing as any verse she sings within. On her self-titled debut, she exudes confidence and good humor as she takes a pull of a cigarette. The music matches that with jazzy, Beat poetry-inspired visions of late night conversations in diners and standing alone on a street corner after last call. Her follow-up Pirates finds her, on the back cover, leaning on a friend for support, her gaze steely and tinged with bitterness. Again, it’s the perfect complement to songs that pick apart the bones of a failed relationship and a deeply sorrowful tale of an ill-fated couple on the way to the hospital. Even the most loose-fitting tunes have some ugly memories buried underneath the snappy music and scat singing. These canonical L.A. pop records both sold very well upon their initial release, which calls into question the necessity for new pressings since used ones are ubiquitous. On the other hand, they’re treated with the appropriate level of loving care as they both sound as fresh as the day they were first committed to tape.
When the second album by husband and wife duo Matt & Kim was released a decade ago, they were posed as the saviors of an alternative rock world on the wane. Or least the act that could bridge the gap between the more high-minded indie scene and those unapologetically pop-centric acts aiming for high chart placement and licensing syncs. Things didn’t work out quite that comfortably but you can’t fault this pair’s efforts, especially when listening to this new pressing of an old favorite. The songs feel as spunky as ever, cutting a rough path between the smoking section where the punks hang during lunch hour and the bleachers where the cool kids are cheering on the football team. And the new vinyl edition helps strengthen the album’s core with deeper bass tones and a sharper tone that lets the refracted tone of Matt’s keyboards dance like dust motes.
The last Flying Burrito Brothers album to feature singer/songwriter Gram Parsons in the lineup might also be the group’s finest collective statement. Without question a debatable point considering the greatness of their debut The Gilded Palace of Sin. But for my ears—with the help of this sumptuous reissue from the always reliable Intervention Records—there’s something clearly broken at the base of this album, a growing darkness within even the sunniest songs that the band had to excise by kicking Parsons out following its release and some awful live performances. That’s evident in their woozy version of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and in the low slung, drooping style that Parsons brings to his original compositions. The rest of the Burrito Bros. keep their ill-fated bandmate from staggering off into the twilight with some career-best performances by pedal steel legend Pete Kleinow and guitarist Bernie Leadon.
Did directors Aram Avakian and Bert Stern know that they were training their cameras on something special when they decided to make a concert documentary at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival? Looked at some six decades later, the lineup for this annual event is stacked, with appearances from Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson and Chuck Berry. Even if they were unaware, their efforts are still much appreciated and justly celebrated with this deluxe release that includes a DVD of their 1960 film and the soundtrack on both CD and two 10” records. While there is some slight inconvenience with having to switch sides of the vinyl version more frequently, the performances are, to a person, spectacular and blaze like Roman candles. Of particular interest is the recording of the Monk Trio, which included bassist Henry Grimes, all of 23 at the time, slipping in and around the perfectly ragged piano melodies and drummer Roy Haynes’ free-flowing playing.
Last year, Smithsonian Folkways, without question one of the world’s most important record labels, undertook a reissue campaign to celebrate the imprint’s 70th birthday. It was a venture that proved so successful that it is carrying forward into 2019 with the re-release of some albums from the ‘50s that look at the blues from very different angles. One perspective comes from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, two men from the South that were in their forties and had lived hardscrabble lives up to that point. Their folk-blues sound was steeped in their struggles while also celebrating the little pleasures that help us all get through the day, which in their case meant female companionship. New Yorker Dave Van Ronk may have been dealt a much better hand in his life, but he played and sang with such conviction that it’s hard to fault him for dabbling in a language and sound that wasn’t his own. This first album from the musician, released initially in 1959, is a treasure marked by growling, lived-in vocals and ardent acoustic guitar playing. Smithsonian Folkways and sound engineer Pete Reiniger treat these albums with the white gloved care of a rare painting as these vinyl pressings are close to perfect; quiet and succulent and beguiling.
The Turntable Kitchen series, wherein a modern artist covers a favorite album in its entirety, has been a haven for indie acts to cut a little loose or dive deep into their particular obsessions. For this latest installment, featuring Local Natives member Nik Ewing taking on the 1977 solo album from Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, the mood cuts both ways. The multi-instrumentalist works through his phone contacts, inviting his bandmates and members of Cults, Pop Etc. and Evan Voytas to give the original material’s frayed and burnt pop a glitchy, glistening makeover. Noble though his efforts are, Ewing’s interest seems to lay in reinventing these songs through his own lens, without fully recognizing the exhausted and bruised energy that Wilson brought to his songwriting and performance. The Local Native just hasn’t lived as hard as the Beach Boy did during his sadly short life. He’s play acting a role through an array of laptop beats, pixelated synth tones and overly affected vocals. In a strange way, it comes back around again to being a success as it does wind up doing as the original Pacific Ocean Blue does, in musically capturing what Los Angeles feels like. In Wilson’s time, it was hollowed out and fried; today, far more sleeker but still as empty at its core.
Since 1977, Lovely Music has built a strong platform for avant-garde composers and experimental artists to present their wares, keeping alive the legacies of such beloved figures as Joan La Barbara and Alvin Lucier. This year, the label is dipping back into its abundant archives to bring some profound work back into circulation, starting with two albums that were part of the first six albums Lovely issued. The bulk of the attention about these reissues is being rightfully being directed at Robert Ashley’s monumental 1978 LP Private Parts. The centerpiece of the composer’s seven-part TV opera Perfect Lives, this minimalist work is led by Ashley’s speaking voice that keeps up a flat, mannered patter elucidating the harried inner thoughts of a pair of characters and is accompanied by synth drones and bounding tabla rhythms. That may read as dull but it immediately settles a warm calm over the room and is filled with curious asides and unexpected spurts of humor that still surprise after multiple listens. Berhman’s work is entirely instrumental but just as measured and euphoric. On the two side long suites, the producer and composer plays with rough-hewn electronics that glow and sputter while, on the title track, a flute and bassoon float through and on “Figures In A Clearing,” the steady hum of a cello. Both LPs require patience which can be hard to come by these days, but the rewards they yield are absolutely worth it.
The final album from trip-hop duo Bowery Electric seemed to signal an end to that soon-to-be resurrected genre, and a time when most groups of their ilk stuck to the formula of a mysterious female vocalist singing over beats and soundscapes produced by a brooding gent. What separated this New York pair from the black-clad pack was the more delicate vocals of Martha Schwendener that brought a breathy calm a la Nico to these burbling dance-pop tunes. Her smokey-lidded allure helped paper over the sometimes questionable choices by her bandmate Lawrence Chandler (even by the year 2000, when this was originally released, the “Funky Drummer” loop was overused). The music may sound dated at times but you should consider this album more for the atmosphere than originality. They’re breaking no new ground; they’re setting the mood for your late night dalliances or substance-fueled comedown.