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 trio of reissues from Blue Note Records, a full-album cover of a dream-pop and some truly scary noises from a band with a controversial name.
By all practical measures, Traffic should not be appreciated as much as they are today. While their albums sold remarkably well for a jazz-influenced prog-pop band in the ‘70s, with three gold records and one platinum record (1971’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys) here in the U.S., and were a reliable concert draw in their time, they don’t have a presence on modern classic rock radio (still the driving force behind the legacy of their contemporaries) and haven’t been lured into the nostalgia touring circuit. All that makes the arrival of a boxed set pulling together new pressings of their studio output from their initial seven year run something of a surprise, but a very welcome one all the same. Universal and Island did a mostly great job presenting the six full-lengths by this group, re-creating the U.K. pressings down to the correct era labels, gatefolds and the optical illusion die-cut covers for High Heeled and 1973’s Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory. They’ve also tucked a poster into each album recreating promotional material of the time. And the remastering work is cloudless and dynamic, particularly on the more rare early material by the group when they leaned heavily psychedelic and toyed with bubblegum.
I can understand the decision to skip over the three live albums the band produced during this time as that would have ballooned the costs of each set considerably. But what is sorely missing from this set is a booklet or liner notes of some sort that might help the curious buyer understand the history of this group, which included a break up in ‘68 and various lineups that included celebrated singer-songwriter Dave Mason shrunk to a trio at one point and ballooned to an octet on stage. Again, my guess is that it was a matter of cost that precluded Island from trying to make the historical case for Traffic within the walls of this boxed set; the logic likely being that if you’re spending the cash on this, you must already be on board with the band. There’s some sense to that, I admit, because, again, this isn’t a band with a popular greatest hits album still in circulation. The historians of British prog and rock are the ones looking to A/B test the intricacies of the 11 minute long “Dream Gerrard” from their 1974 album When the Eagle Flies or arguing that their original, snaky 1968 version of “Feelin’ Alright?,” the song popularized by Joe Cocker just a year later, is the superior recording (a sentiment I would agree with).
All I really need to tell you about metal band Nitro is that their guitarist—the wonderfully named Michael Angelo—once wielded an axe onstage that had four, count ‘em, four necks, and that in the liner notes for their debut album, they featured a screed letting the world know that this record featured “absolutely no harmonizers, pitch transposers, sampling, or VSOing…no tricks, no bullshit.” Oh, and the title of this 1989 LP stands for “Out-Fucking-Rageous.” Everything about this borders on parody, but, friends, they were dead serious about trying to be the next great glam metal band of the late ‘80s. Things didn’t work out quite that well, but their music remains a heavily-compressed and wailing tribute to a sound that was roughly pushed aside by the ascendance of grunge and hip-hop in the early ‘90s. And honestly, they might only have themselves to blame. Their core strengths (Angelo’s fleet-fingered solos and the piercing wail of frontman Jim Gillette) had a surprisingly hard time co-existing on this record. The band needed one of them to pump the brakes here and there. Because, some 30 years later, even though they succeeded in sonically evoking the title of the record, the music is exhausting to listen to.
Intentional or not, the timing of this full-album cover of the 1993 debut album by The Cranberries is fairly perfect. The final album by the Irish dream-pop band was just released, marking the end of their world-beating run that came to an unceremonious end with the accidental death of frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan. It’s the ideal moment for a band—San Francisco’s No Vacation—that marks The Cranberries as a vital influence to keep the torch lit and carry the sound and ideals forward into the ‘20s. By and large, No Vacation don’t mess with the original material, adding only a new layer of wispiness and modern shimmer aided by digital technology and recording. That leaves vocalist-guitarist Sabrina Mai to carry the weight of the album. She doesn’t dare to try and scrape the ceiling or recreate the brogue that O’Riordan proudly led her performances with. Mai’s tone is much more throaty and, well, American, but she adapts it to the material so well. It adds a earthy sensuality to “Pretty” and “Linger,” and brings “Waltzing Back” into the shoegaze world that The Cranberries always hinted at in their work. The push-pull of the original album and this loving recreation is gentle but it amplifies all the alluring qualities of Everybody to lend a gorgeous late evening summer haze to your life all year round.
Originally released in 1958 on the New Jazz label, this collection is the perfect introduction to the work of Dorothy Ashby, a true trailblazer in the world of jazz. She was one of the first musicians to introduce the harp as a serious instrument in the genre, and the mere fact that she was an African-American woman doing so helped crack the door open for the likes of Alice Coltrane and Brandee Younger. She’s paired well here with flautist Frank Wess, a former member of Count Basie’s orchestra who had already contributed to Ashby’s two previous albums and got co-billing on Hip Harp, a record released by Prestige earlier in ‘58. Maybe this was a case of the jazz world wanting to grasp onto the novelty of a harpist in their midst, but there’s nothing chintzy about what she and Wess do here. This is pure swinging pleasure that sits nicely with the cool jazz of the era even as it still plays around with some of the tempos and grooves of pure bop. The restraint that all the players evince here, particularly the otherwise tempestuous drummer Roy Haynes, keeps things well grounded and joyful.
Blue Note Records continues the label’s 80th birthday celebration with a new trio of vinyl reissues, with this latest batch including two of the crown jewels in their vast discography and a more recent gem from a future superstar. In the case of 1962’s Takin’ Off, this was pianist Herbie Hancock’s debut album as a bandleader after establishing himself in sessions with Donald Byrd and onstage with Al Grey. And he sets the tone immediately by recording a full set of originals and by pulling one of the sharpest ensembles on the scene at that time, including saxophonist Dexter Gordon and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. It’s a bop album with a bluesy sense of cool and a playfulness that can only come from young people making a joyful noise together. That mood extends to Gordon’s Blue Note debut Doin’ Allright, one of two albums he released on the label in 1961. The music throughout is almost entirely unselfish, with Gordon sitting out for long stretches to let the spotlight blaze on his cohorts like Hubbard and the underappreciated pianist Horace Parlan. When Gordon does lean into a solo, though, the clouds part and the sun blazes through. The more modern of the three re-releases comes from pianist Robert Glasper, an artist best known now for his contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s work and the hybrid sound he established on his Black Radio releases. On Canvas, originally released in 2005, he stays mostly in piano trio mode, spilling out solos with an almost modern classical bent to them and revealing a deep romanticism. There are hints of his future brilliance via appearances by the singer Bilal and an early broken-beat experiment, but otherwise, it’s his pure jazz heart that serves as this album’s core.
Don’t let the name of this band scare you off. Let their music take care of that for you. Originally released on Siltbreeze back in 1996 and being re-released on HP member Bill Orcutt’s label Palilalia, this purposefully poorly recorded nightmare of an album is not for the faint of heart. According to legend, confrontational live recordings of guitarists Orcutt and Mark Feehan with drummer Adris Hoyos making an unholy racket was captured on a Sony Walkman and a Tascam Portastudio before being filtered through a distortion pedal and fucked with even further using an early digital editing program. What pours out of the grooves of this record is a collage of wails, squalls, and various noises that don’t dare to cohere into something you might call a groove or even a song. For stretches of the album, these frazzled planets align into a sound that resembles some of Autechre’s more rumbly moments. Everywhere else, it’s a deluge that should delight fans of Sonic Youth’s more experimental moments or those delightful ne’er-do-wells in Wolf Eyes.
Seattle-based three-piece Spirit Award is fairly new on the scene, having just released their debut album Muted Crowd last year. But their dreamy psych-pop sound that evokes mid-period Ride and the best of Straitjacket Fits is one that should be on the playlists of music fiends around the world before we know it. Their collective goodness extends to what they are doing with the release of this new single. The band is partnering with Share It Music, a non-profit enterprise that helps band release and distribute new music while allowing them to donate the majority of the money they make to the organization of their choice. In this case, Spirit Award is handing the cash over to Mary’s Place, an enterprise that provides shelter and services for women, children and families dealing with homelessness in the Seattle area. The band has responded in kind with these two sparkling tunes that use the title of this single as a leaping off point to talk about income inequality and greed. A powerful record for a great cause.