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, we get you ready for tomorrow’s RSD Black Friday and feature some new spiritual jazz and Gothic doom metal as well as reissues of alt-pop classics and a massive jam band set.
As psychedelic rock became the world’s soundtrack in the late ’60s and flower children found their way back into the fold of the Christian church, worship bands started to get loud and funky as a result. This new collection, put together for RSD Black Friday by the folks from music and culture site Aquarium Drunkard (where I am an occasional contributor), takes a dive into this rich and varied period of underground music and surfaces with some absolute gems. Wilson McKinley’s “Almighty God,” for example, features an amazing wandering guitar solo and a mood that would fit in comfortably with early CSNY. The marvelously named U.S. Apple Corps gave the familiar “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” a Santana-like acid-funk makeover. And “Walk On The Water,” a Hendrixian track from Out Of Darkness, is as heavy as anything you’d find on one of Riding Easy’s Brown Acid comps. While I would loved to have gotten some more info about the individual artists on this collection, I certainly cannot complain about the smart song selection by Josh Swartwood, Justin Gage and Doug Cooper, and am thoroughly excited for future volumes in this series.
Resonance Records has, since its founding in 2008, established itself as the preeminent archival label for jazz. For all the great new music the imprint has released, it has truly dazzled with some of the treasures it has dug up. This year alone that has included a breathtaking set by Sonny Rollins recorded in the Netherlands in 1967, a collection of unheard Bob James sessions from 1965 and this marvel that is being released on vinyl for RSD’s Black Friday. Rescued by label co-founder Zev Feldman, from the tape archives of drummer Jack DeJohnette, these multi-track recordings were made during the trio’s July 1968 run of shows at London club Ronnie Scott’s. While the tapes themselves have some unignorable hiss, mastering engineer Bernie Grundman did a great job making sure that the music pulls focus here. And what great music it is. All the musicians (Evans, DeJohnette and bassist Eddie Gomez) are in fantastic form throughout, cushioned into a collaborative comfort zone that allows them to settle into each standard with cool and guile. Give especial attention to the interplay of Evans and Gomez. The mutual respect and love those two musicians had for one another comes across beautifully in this push and pull, advance and retreat that they engage in throughout. That DeJohnette finds his way into their shared headspace and commands the attention that he does is further proof of the drummer’s unmatched skills.
Joining the Bill Evans release mentioned above on RSD Black Friday this year is a live set from pianist Monty Alexander, captured at Florida jazz club Bubba’s in the summer of 1982. If you’re not familiar with the Jamaican born Alexander, he arrived on the scene in the early ’60s, serving as a bandleader and backing up luminaries like Milt Jackson and Dizzy Gillespie. And throughout his career, he has stayed true to his Caribbean roots, either recording with reggae legends like Sly & Robbie or infusing his own performances with some island rhythms and spirit. The latter elements come into play throughout this lovely recording, mastered for this vinyl release by Bernie Grundman. Over two LPs, Alexander and a wonderful rhythm combo that included percussionist Robert Thomas, Jr. try their hands at a smattering of standards (“Body and Soul,” the Ellington-composed title track), a pop hit (the theme from the film Arthur) and originals like the shape-shifting “Reggae Later” and the sultry “Blues For Edith.” The only knock on this recording is that engineer Mack Emerman kept a microphone way too close to drummer Duffy Jackson’s hi-hat, which tends to overbear the recording. It’s easy enough to temper with some adjustments to your equalizer but still an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise sterling live album.
Jazz Dispensary’s work to connect music fans with repressings of vintage soul, funk and jazz albums to compliment listeners’ pot smoking continues this RSD Black Friday with a new compilation of mellow grooves culled from Craft Recordings vast archives. As with previous installments in this ongoing series, the selections on Orange Sunset are just about perfect with slow burning tunes from Donald Byrd’s proteges the Blackbyrds, a trio of tunes produced and arranged by the great David Axelrod, a criminally underheard slice of 24-Carat Black’s masterful album Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (reissued last year through Stax), and, my personal favorite, a tasty flute-heavy jam led by Roger Glenn but with key support from brothers Larry and Fonce Mizell. As ever, the colored wax for this compilation looks wonderful—a splatter mixture of oranges, yellows and reds—but does add a little unwelcome background noise to the whole comp. Hopefully by the time you drop the needle on this set, you’ll be too stoned to notice.
The fifth album by Georgia metalcore quintet Norma Jean turns 10 this year, and the band, with the help of former label Razor & Tie, are celebrating the birthday on RSD Black Friday with a double LP reissue. Something, at the very least, to help put a dent into the exorbitant prices that original pressings of Meridional have been going for (as of this writing, the median price on Discogs is $120). I’d be curious to hear how this new one compares with the OG version, though, because the edition that I was sent to review—on blue-ish wax—was incredibly noisy right out of the sleeve. The effect is similar to a record covered in paper scuffs with persistent shuffling sounds on each spin of the LP. I couldn’t see anything under a direct light, so perhaps the colored vinyl is behind it all or I got a bum copy. The music—a high volume mix of heavy sludge and impassioned emo vocals—only hides that scratch and rumble so much. Even the experimental interludes that appear throughout sound as if it’s covered in paraffin and a thin layer of muslin.
If you need a little holiday cheer to throw into the stack of records you’re picking up on RSD Black Friday, you can’t go wrong with this 7”. Pressed on lovely clear green wax is the adorable jazzy “Christmas Time Is Here,” that will be instantly familiar to viewers of A Charlie Brown Christmas along with an alternate take of the track that was originally released as part of the 2006 reissue of the TV special’s soundtrack. The music also works well as a melancholic farewell to the 70th anniversary year of Peanuts, Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip that brought us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and the whole gang that help bring about that delicious bit of nostalgic ache every time this animated special is broadcast. (Please direct all complaints about A Charlie Brown Christmas airing on Apple TV+ and PBS this holiday season to our TV department.)
Subscription service and reissue label Vinyl Me, Please continued their Anthology series recently with the release of The Story of the Grateful Dead, a mammoth eight-LP set that endeavors to provide a pocket history of the jam band for the uninitiated. They’ve done about the best job possible, starting where the group hit their creative/commercial stride (American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead, both from 1970), including the period where their roots-rock roots gave way to a slick almost AOR sound (1973’s Wake of the Flood and 1977’s Terrapin Station) and making multiple stops along their storied history as a live band (1969’s Live/Dead, 1972’s Europe ‘72, 1981’s Reckoning and 1990’s Without a Net). For context, there’s a gorgeous booklet with essays on each album by well-known fans like Jim James, John Darnielle and Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists. As with other Anthology sets, VMP did a masterful job. The colored vinyl pressings are crisp and lively. And the box it’s all packaged in is sturdy and handsome. It is, however, a big ask for anyone just dipping their toes into the world of Dead to commit to a set of this size and price ($449). Chances are this set is only going to get snapped up by completist collectors of the group’s discography. That said, if it is within your budget, this is potentially the best way to ease into the group’s history and legacy (VMP produced a lovely podcast to listen to along your listening journey), and certainly a much more manageable path than an immersive dive into their vast discography of studio releases and both official and bootleg live recordings.
As we look toward the upcoming holidays, you might be scanning this column for potential gift ideas for your friends and family with a mind toward those presents that you can safely get to them through the mail. One fine suggestion would be to buy your loved one a Vinyl Me, Please subscription. Every month, they’ll ship out an exclusive pressing of a classic album to their doorstep. And they have a trio of options to fit the tastes of your favorite music lover: Essentials, Classics, Rap & Hip-Hop. What does that mean? This month, that meant either a stunning audiophile pressing of saxophonist Coleman Hawkins’ 1957 bop masterpiece The Hawk Flies High cut from the original analog master tapes, a reissue of L.A. hip-hop duo People Under The Stairs’ 2002 breakthrough album O.S.T., and a 20th anniversary edition of Erykah Badu’s sophomore studio album Mama’s Gun. The latter two are particularly noteworthy as they are both on colored wax, but the pressings are blessedly free of any awkward noise that, as regular readers of this column know, can mar even the most well-intentioned reissue. That alone is reason enough to consider a VMP subscription as a holiday gift. Music this good deserves to be treated this well.
German musician Michael Rother’s greatness was never in question. He was, after all, a founding member of Kraftwerk and a key part in equally important Krautrock ensembles Neu! and Harmonia. Still, every now and again, Rother re-states his case for beatification with the release of new music. The 70-year-old’s latest full-length Dreaming is another fantastic piece of evidence to that cause. It’s the perfect evolutionary step for this artist that takes into account the possibilities of new technology and the current state of electronic music while also feeling deeply connected to his past work. Perhaps his best decision was bringing in vocalist Sophie Joiner to lend her talents to these sessions. Rother uses her voice much like his synthetic instruments, returning often to just one vocal melody or phrase. It’s smart and tasteful and allows every facet of this album to flow together into a gorgeous, impressionistic whole.
The second album by Irish alt-rockers The Cranberries sent the group soaring. Already riding a wave of success from their debut, the dual effect of No Need To Argue’s brutal single “Zombie” and the band’s relentless touring schedule turned them into superstars. This is the period being revisited this month by a welcome reissue of the album available in a double LP set or a multi-CD version that compiles demos, live sessions, and b-sides. If you want to do the band’s work justice, you might be better off with the latter set. Not only do you get more bang for your buck but it also surely sounds better than this vinyl pressing. Much like the blown up picture on the cover taken from the original CD version, there’s a fuzziness around the edges of every song that seems to get better or worse depending on the track’s original volume. So a quieter song like “Dreaming My Dreams” fares far better than the intense “Zombie.” Could these issues be related to the delays that pushed the release of this set back from September to this month? Or Universal using a Czech pressing plant rather than the German one that helped produce the stellar PJ Harvey reissues?