Record Time: New & Notable Vinyl Releases (January 2021)

Music Features
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Jazz Dispensary x Vinyl Me, Please Reissues

Craft Recordings’ weed-themed sub-label Jazz Dispensary is moving away from compilations and into curating reissues of vital albums of soul, funk and jazz fusion from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Partnering with Vinyl Me, Please, they have begun their efforts with a five LP drop that will fill the hearts and record crates of DJs and producers. Included in this initial run is Where I’m Coming From, the final album by organist Leon Spencer that includes a white hot rendition of Steve Wonder’s “Superstition” and some particularly heated drumming by Idris Muhammad; the second album led by session drummer extraordinaire Bernard “Pretty” Purdie that boasts an overdriven, mean take on “Everybody’s Talkin’;” Muhammad’s own bandleader session Black Rhythm Revolution; and Sorcery, a proggy album from drummer Jack DeJohnette with snaky guitar work from Mick Goodrick and John Abercrombie. The crown jewel of this batch is the first reissue in 20 years of David Axelrod’s 1974 album Heavy Axe. Relying heavily on the deep tones of the Moog synthesizer, as played by Rudy Copeland, this LP is a journey to the center of a consciousness in the throes of an ego shattering psychedelic trip set to freaked out originals and wild deconstructions of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” and “You’re So Vain.” Save this one for late nights hangs or post-marathon come downs.


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Rats On Rafts: Excerpts From Chapter 3: The Mind Runs A Net Of Rabbit Paths (Fire)

If you act fast, you could be one of the lucky 400 people to snag the “Dinked Edition; of the new album by Dutch post-punk quartet Rats On Rafts. This version of the album comes pressed on green wax and wrapped in an elaborate fold-out sleeve that includes a 7” single (with two bonus tracks) tucked directly into the packaging. Asking the average listener to carefully unsheathe the album within may be tough, but the music is worth the effort. Chapter 3 is an expertly constructed work where every detail—from the track sequencing to the swirl of elements in each psych-fueled rocker and razor wire pop screed—feels carefully placed, or at least worried over so much that it can’t help but feel deliberate. The colored vinyl does a small disservice to the music, clouding it over and interrupting the flow of their agitated songs with crackling and noise. I’ll happily display this in my vinyl library but I’m likely gonna chase down a CD or a digital copy of the music to listen to instead.


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Rhino Records’ Start Your Ear Off Right Series

Rhino Records, the archival label that has driven the conversation about music’s history since its inception in 1978, kicked off 2021 with a series of limited edition reissues staggered through the month of January. Their choices run the gamut from a half dozen albums from prog-pop group Dire Straits to three from the late John Prine to an always welcome repressing of the original Nuggets comp. The four albums that the label supplied for this column reflects that breadth. In the package were reissues of two Phil Collins-led Genesis LPs (A Trick of the Tail and Duke), The Cars’ fourth album Shake It Up and the Buffalo Springfield greatest hits collection Retrospective. Even though the first three are on colored wax, they all sound great due to Rhino’s decision to use a German pressing plant for them. And the compilation by the band that boasted both Stephen Stills and Neil Young among its membership is as crisp and full as it surely sounded when it was first released in 1969. While limited, the majority of the titles in this series are being pressed in batches of 2,000 or more so your odds at snagging one of these online or at your local ship are pretty solid.


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George Thorogood and the Destroyers: Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert (Craft Recordings)

Still going strong nearly 50 years, George Thorogood and the Destroyers have secured their bag thanks to their legendary live shows and now-ubiquitous single “Bad To The Bone.” Both that song and the group’s reputation for high energy, no holds barred performing are found in their purest form on this 1982 performance. Originally released in truncated form on CD in 2010, this deluxe four-LP set features the entire lengthy set from opener “House of Blue Lights” to a long, speedy take on Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ and Rockin’.” No matter what your feelings on this kind of boogie-blues is, there’s no denying how remarkable this set sounds and how remarkable the Destroyers are on it. The quartet was road tight and out for blood, keeping up a breathless pace that few blues acts at the time would dare. Shout out to Craft Recordings as well for packaging all four LPs in an easy to manage fold out sleeve rather than a clunky box. After all, if you’re a Thorogood fan, quick, easy access to these records for multiple listens is a necessity.


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Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Welcome To The Pleasuredome/Liverpool/Bang!... The Greatest Hits (UMC/ZTT)

Critic Simon Reynolds called Frankie Goes To Hollywood “the disco [Sex] Pistols,” a reference both to their driving hi-NRG sound and the work going on behind the scenes by their label ZTT to stir up hysterical levels of hype for the band. The result: Their first three singles went to #1 in the UK and their 1984 debut album Welcome To The Pleasuredome sold over one million copies before it was even released. The band flamed out as quickly as the Pistols did, too, producing only one more album, 1986’s Liverpool, before infighting and singer Holly Johnson’s desire for a solo career split the band up. These well-pressed vinyl reissues tell Frankie’s story in one hard arc. Pleasuredome is an exciting if cumbersome double album constructed almost entirely by producer Trevor Horn. It’s stuffed with epic length songs, left field covers of “Born To Run” and a creepily synthetic feel. Liverpool found the band finally free to play their own instruments, lending the music a tougher, tighter feel. And the greatest hits comp Bang! was the first of many, many attempts to capitalize on their first flushes of success. If you’re already familiar with the band’s work, the repressings of their albums would be a very welcome addition to your collection, but if you’d like to wade in only up to your ankles, Bang! is a solid overview that hits all the high points.


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Between The Buried and Me: Colors (Remixed and Remastered Edition) (Craft Recordings)

The original vinyl pressings of Colors, the fourth LP from proggy metalcore band Between The Buried and Me, already felt like a weird sell. The music is meant to play as if it is one nonstop song, with interludes and transitional pieces between the individual tunes. The cumulative impact is effectively lost when forced to flip sides and switch out one piece of vinyl for the other. The inconvenience doesn’t deaden the surprising and uneasy ambition of the album. Few bands in this scene were swinging for the fences as hard as BTBAM were (and still do). Still, it’s an odd sell with strange Yes-like organ and guitar solos, a didgeridoo feature, bluegrass and polka breakdowns and an overall bloated feel. The whole thing feels like weird Mr. Bungle cosplay that almost entirely misses the mark. Maybe pressing it on wax is meant to give listeners a chance to cool down from the overwrought assault of this album.


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Brian Eno: Film Music 1976-2020 (Opal/UMC)

This two-LP set is not to be confused with Brian Eno’s epochal 1978 release Music For Films. In that case, he was writing music for potential inclusion in future feature films. The material here was written on commission or by request of filmmakers like Peter Jackson, Jonathan Demme and Michael Mann (or their music supervisors, at least). And some of it is seeing release for the first time. As it covers a long stretch of Eno’s career, the set varies widely from singer-songwriter fare to the more abstract work he is perhaps best known for. It helps to know what films each piece is connected to—all the better to understand the mood he was trying to set for Heat or the NASA documentary For All Mankind. But even without that knowledge, this collection is sequenced well, moving smoothly from moments of intensity to placid soundscapes with all manner of moods and shades in between.


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Mary J. Blige: My Life (Republic/UMe)

On her second album, 1994’s My Life, Mary J. Blige continued to work with producer Sean “Puffy” Combs as she did two years earlier on What’s The 411?. But flush with the success of her debut, the soul singer asserted herself more, co-writing nearly all the original material on the follow-up and using these sparkling R&B jams to explore her struggles with substance abuse and the fallout of being in an abusive relationship. Nearly 30 years after its release, My Life hasn’t lost one bit of its lustre nor has the weight of Blige’s lyrics lost any of their power. That’s especially true of this vinyl reissue, released late last year to sort of coincide with the record’s 25th anniversary. Universal pulled out all the stops, pressing it on translucent blue vinyl, adding on a third LP of remixes (including the tough-as-nails reworking of “I Love You” with help from rappers Smif-n-Wessun) and slapping a lenticular cover on the front. It’s the perfect package to highlight the work mastering engineer Alex Abrash did to smooth out the digital sheen of the original sessions while keeping the boom and slap of the music intact.