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 the first U.S. vinyl edition of a Tropicalia masterpiece, crucial reissues by three of the finest Black artists of all time and a well-conceived but poorly executed solo debut from a Rolling Stone.
If Curtis Mayfield never released a solo album in his lifetime, he would have already cemented his legendary status through his work with The Impressions and the many hit R&B and pop tunes he wrote and produced for other artists. But he truly achieved God Mode in 1970 with the release of his album Curtis, an insta-classic featuring the irresistible epic “Move On Up” and seven other marbled slabs of psych-soul. From there, Mayfield connected with another gear for the rest of the decade: the soundtracks for Super Fly and Claudine, albums with Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin and some killer live albums. This newly-released set only collects a fraction of the material from the ‘70s, but they are still essentials for any self-respecting vinyl collector. Curtis and Roots (the latter from 1971) set the tone of poignant yet groovy expressions of self-preservation and Afrocentrism that he slowly pulls apart on the other two studio efforts included in this set, 1973’s Back To The World and 1974’s Sweet Exorcist. Mayfield’s hopes for the future of Black Americans and the country as a whole aren’t terribly positive, which may account for his desire to get as much of his music out into the world as he could before things fell apart. But as with all of his best work, Mayfield renders his bleak outlook with bright shades and some of the funkiest, trippiest music of that time. The psychedelic era did a number on his mind, body and soul and the world was all the better for it.
If this were the product of any other artist, this album would never have seen the light of day. The first solo effort from Keith Richards has the feel of a loose recording made with an unnaturally talented dad band that includes Ivan Neville, Waddy Wachtel, Bernie Worrell, Joey Spampinato and even ex-Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. It’s the kind of mess that only a big rockstar could make and still earn glowing reviews from Rolling Stone and a reputation that far outweighs its quality. But as it has reached its 30th birthday (which technically hit last October), it is now being anointed with a reissue appearing in multiple formats, including a big boxed set with bonus tracks, 7”s and a big book and a simple re-creation of the original 1988 release on vinyl and CD. No matter your feelings on the music, there’s zero argument that the new pressing of Talk sounds great. It hasn’t been remastered so far as I can tell and probably for good reason as that likely would have revealed further flaws in the fuselage of this rusty tanker of an album.
While the debates continue on the removal of Black artist Lil Nas X from the Billboard Country charts, let’s look back at a time when one prominent African-American musician dared to blur genre lines and wound up with one of his biggest crossover successes. Ray Charles was an avowed fan of country music and felt he could add something to the rootsy sound that he grew up with. So as his success was heading towards its peak and his power in the industry grew, he took the daring move to record 12 of his favorite country tunes, infusing them with the blues and jazz swing he was already known for and exposing how all these genres were influencing one another through the first half of the 20th century. The hit album and its sequel have been in and out of print since their initial release in 1962, with the most recent pressings arriving last month. And the first volume (the only one we were sent to review) has a nice sheen to it. Bob Fisher’s remastering work is subtle, gently turning up the lights on Charles’s inimitable vocals and bringing the rhythm section further out of the shadows. The ache of ballads like “Born To Lose” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and the winking joy of “Bye Bye Love” are still present, protected behind glass. Fisher just gives it once over with a fine chamois.
Unavailable on vinyl until this year, the much-vaunted 1994 reunion album by these soft-rock legends is on readily-available wax at last. If you’re into that sort of thing. The calling card for this is the four new tracks the band recorded for this LP. The rest is live performances, made for an MTV special, of many of the group’s biggest songs. Hell Freezes Over, though, has always felt like a release for Eagles superfans as the newer songs are a complete wash of gooey sentimentality and Don Henley playing angry grandpa. The set is anchored by some fine moments, like an arcing take on “In The City” and a warm rendition of “I Can’t Tell You Why,” but otherwise it provides nothing of the same faded denim comfort that the original versions had in spades. The music does make the transition to the vinyl format comfortably. The engineers that pressed this likely used the same source material that helped create the LP versions previously only available to European markets as it survives transitioning a digital recording to an analog medium better than a lot of contemporary releases.
Post-punk enthusiasts are truly reaping the benefits of the vinyl revival, particularly when labels like Beggars Banquet are plumbing their vast back catalog. This has been especially great for fans of The Fall as much of the catalog from their marvelous ‘70s and ‘80s period is getting remastered and officially reissued, with much care taken to provide the most complete versions of the albums while dipping into the band’s past, which is littered with singles, radio sessions and rarities. This re-release comes from one of The Fall’s many peaks, when they managed to score some surprise U.K. chart placement with a cover of The Other Half’s “Mr. Pharmacist” and featuring the more pop-centric influence of guitarist Brix Smith. Beggars Arkive wisely returns Bend Sinister back to its original tracklisting, which was butchered for the U.S. release, and tacks on a second LP of tunes from singles released around the same time. With the original analog tapes at their disposal, Andy Pierce and Matt Wortham did remarkable work building even more of the scratchy energy and sputtering experimentalism into these tracks. From the sound of this release, that may have only extended to the Sinister album as the single tracks included sound comparatively muted. That feels like a rather empty complaint, however, as it’s just great to see labels like Beggars and Superior Viaduct treating the Fall’s work with the care and regard that its mercurial leader Mark E. Smith wouldn’t have dared. Now if they could do something about the flood of crummy live recordings that are about to hit the market this Record Store Day…
Much like the country’s cinematic output, navigating the scores of Indian music that has been released in physical format is a task best left up to experts or, at least, people who reside within the country. Western audiences are only privy to what some curators or label folks deems commercially viable or at least trippy enough to connect with the heads among us. That’s where short-lived indie imprint Mushroom Records came into the picture. In the early ‘70s, the label brought into circulation a number of fascinating works from India, including these two albums that are getting fresh pressings via Manufactured Recordings. Curiously, both of the artists highlighted on these releases were expats from India, living in London and bringing the traditional/classical sound of their country to new listeners. The most readily accessible of the two is the album from Pandit Kanwar Sain Trikha, as it is isn’t too far removed from the work of the already world famous Ravi Shankar. The three pieces on the album are irrepressible and damn near poppy. Throw a few breakbeats behind the grooves of “Rag Desh In Dadra,” and Trikha could have a dancefloor hit on his hands. Nitai Dasgupta’s plainly titled album requires a little more patience and attention to get fully immersed in the music within. The album features new songs written in a classical style, expressing laments for lost loves as well as devotional songs meant for worship. The centerpiece is the side-long “Bhairava,” an improvisational raga that slowly groans to life and maintains a steady flow as it builds toward an uptempo conclusion spurred on by Natver Soni’s fluttering tabla playing and Dasgupta’s ecstatic singing.
At a remove of five decades, Caetano Veloso’s second album, and first solo effort, sounds like light entertainment with its hip-swinging Latin rhythms and frothy performances. At the time of its release in Veloso’s native Brazil, though, albums like this and the music being made by his cohorts in the Tropicalismo movement were viewed as one of the biggest threats to the military dictatorship in the country. And it wasn’t just infusing the traditional sounds of the region with psychedelia and pop. Veloso’s lyrics are brash and razor-sharp, delivered in a smooth tenor that only makes the medicine of lines like, “Before the permanent night spreads through Latin America/the name of the man is the people” and “In the faces of presidents/in big kisses of love/of teeth, legs, flags/bombs and Brigitte Bardot” sting even more. This album has never before been giving a proper vinyl release here in the States, but thanks to the good people at Third Man Records and their careful, almost artisan-like treatment of recorded music, this vital document of a cultural movement and one of the most important figures within it has not lost an iota of its artistry and urgency.
As with a lot of prolific artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s, James Brown’s discography is a messy thing. His dozens of albums and singles have been combined and anthologized to death as the rights for the music continued to change hands and Brown himself looked to get the biggest buck for his banging funk and soul tunes. The original 1988 compilation being reissued with some bonus material never before pressed to vinyl is but one example of this practice. Arriving just before a small torrent of similar releases, Motherlode is a scattershot portrait of Brown’s career from 1967-1976, with tracks taken from singles, the soundtrack to Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off and some live material tossed in for good measure. That may sound like a thoughtless cash grab, but the ‘88 release and its 2003 CD counterpart (the tracklist of which is being replicated here) is a dance party waiting to get started. This is Brown and his many cohorts at their finest, with sexy grooves to spare and further evidence of their prowess as a live act. The version of “Say It Loud (I’m Black & I’m Proud)” captured at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia in 1969 is marked with coiled fury and joyous explosiveness that the Black community sorely needed in the year since MLK’s assassination. As Brown and co., their gloves were off and there were ants in their pants. Dancing away the heartbreak in defiance of the Woodstock generation and the powers that be was the only way to survive. These songs were the instruction manual for joyous revolution.