Record Time: New & Notable Vinyl Releases (November 2020)

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Lloyd Miller: At The Ends of the World (FOUNTAINavm/EAST-WEST)

In the summer of last year, drummer/percussionist Adam Michael Terry invited Lloyd Miller, a multi-instrumentalist and an expert in Persian and Afghan music, to Salt Lake City to perform some shows. What blossomed out of that experience was a friendship and recording sessions that took place in Terry’s basement studio. Joined by bassist Ian Camp, their collaboration was completed earlier this year and released just this month, and it has quickly become one of my favorite jazz releases of the year. The music takes many shapes: a gentle post-bop swing that feeds Miller’s flute and dilruba solos, formless clouds of free expression, and piano ballads with rivulets of drone and the pling of a koto running through them. The notes on the back of the LP sleeve make clear that the work took multiple sessions, sectioning off the instruments played during their initial jams and those that they overdubbed atop them. In most cases, I would love to hear the alternate versions to get a sense of where the spirit moved them when they first joined forces. But even without those, this is a beautiful and moving album that pairs well with similar recent efforts from Ambrose Akinmusire and Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove.


John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey: Dance Hall At Louse Point (UMe/Island)

Before the dust had settled on her breakout 1995 album To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey returned with a new album—this time, a raw, blues-forward collaboration with friend and former bandmate John Parish. Apparently inspired by some music that Parish had written for a play, Harvey asked her friend to write her some music in a similar vein. What he presented her with was tapes of minimalist rock with a serrated edge to which she added lyrics of romantic and emotional tumult, and vocal turns that could either summon an armada of ships from across the ocean or one sailor to her bedchamber. Louse Point has been somewhat forgotten in the wake of the work that Harvey has done since, but this re-release, pressed to wax as part of an ongoing vinyl reissue campaign of the artist’s work, could help correct the record on its place in her history. It deserves to be spoken about in the same breathless terms that most folks reserve for the rest of her spotless discography.


Howlin Rain: Under The Wheels Vol. 2 (Silver Current)

Bay Area psych-roots band Howlin Rain once again provides iron clad proof that it is one of the best live acts going these days—something that takes on added poignancy when we’ve been deprived of the concert experience for so damn long. The second volume of this (hopefully) ongoing series compiles six tracks from throughout the group’s history, recorded at live dates in Washington, California and New York. There wasn’t space on one LP for much more as the group needs room to show off their improvisational streak that sends songs like “Alligator Bride” and “Calling Lightning” flying on the wings of their extended guitar breakdowns. In that way, Howlin Rain is further drawing from the well that fed equally jammy groups like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Hot Tuna. It’s just too bad neither of those acts had a wailer like Ethan Miller leading the charge. Fair warning: this does come pressed on black and white splattered vinyl, so you’ll need to give the volume a little extra boost to hear this music at its best. Chances are with jams like these, you’d be doing that anyway. This is music that begs to be heard loud.


Bob Marley: Uprising Live! (Eagle Rock/Tuff Gong)

The music featured on this new triple-LP release has been through a number of formats already. The concert from 1980—part of Bob Marley’s final tour before his death in 1981—was originally filmed and broadcast on the German TV series Rockpalast. The footage of that show was then released on DVD, and the audio from it transferred to CD. Now it has reached the world of vinyl with the music pressed on to translucent orange wax. Exciting as it is to have this full concert, complete with a short opening set by the I-Threes, the vocal group that included Marley’s wife, Rita, the source material for this pressing does the music no favors. It sounds like a copy of a copy, digitally touched up as best as mastering engineer Mazen Murad could. It’s not unlistenable by any means, but for a reggae recording, the low end doesn’t shake the spine. What comes clear is a touring band at the top of their game after months on the road, led by one of the most charismatic performers of all time.


Chiminyo: I Am Panda (Gearbox)

Drummer/producer Chiminyo (aka Tim Doyle) is one of the leading lights of London’s new wave of modern jazz artists. And as with many of his brethren, he uses the building blocks of jazz to create something vibrant and rich, drizzling elements of hip-hop, funk, R&B and electronic dance music into his heady compositions. The depth of this recording also comes from a stretch in Doyle’s life when he spent three months recuperating from a kidney operation. He spent the time learning new software and teaching himself the piano. So by the time he was let loose into the world, he came in the studio bursting with ideas and energy. I Am Panda benefits from that surge with multi-layered tunes that feel as if they are re-creating themselves in real time. This release is also part of a rush of new music from London-based label Gearbox Records. The imprint seems to take the quality of its vinyl very seriously as they’ve included information about the lathe that cut the master lacquer, right down to the model number for the tube limiter that was part of the process. The hitch there is that, no matter what equipment a pressing plant is using, there’s still a cloudiness that creeps in when translating a digital recording to an analog medium. A bit of futzing with your equalizer should clear things up a tad, but that haze is always going to be there.


Love Tractor: Love Tractor/1880 To 1920 + 100 (HHBTM)

Hot on the heels of the much crowed about boxed set celebrating fellow Athens band Pylon, Love Tractor has brought their 1982 debut full-length back into circulation with a lovely reissue released through Happy Happy Birthday To Me. For anyone with an interest into the fertile music scene that birthed icons like the B-52’s and R.E.M., this is essential listening. This quartet carved their own niche by writing tightly wound instrumentals that fell dead center in the post-punk milieu: blasts of new wave agitation tempered with elements of roots rock, surf music and avant garde synth textures. At the time of its release, the band was well-regarded enough to have its performances covered in the NY Times and to have a quick dalliance with major label subsidiary Big Time. But their work has since been pushed to the back pages of the Athens musical history books. Let the literal record show that they deserve to share top billing with their more famous friends like R.E.M.’s Bill Berry who co-produced this reissue and sometimes sits in with the band. Love Tractor is aiding the cause with the release of new music, including last month’s EP 1880 To 1920 + 100. While there are only two short songs on this 7” single, it proves that the group hasn’t lost a step in the 40 years since they joined forces. The music remains the perfect combination of tight and loose, marked by their signature understated, yet unforgettable guitar hooks.


Ben Rector: A Ben Rector Christmas (OK Kid)

Adult contemporary singer-songwriter Ben Rector takes the next logical step in his thriving career: recording a holiday album. And it’s everything fans of Rector and fans of Christmas music could ask for. There are fine original tunes like the warmly rendered opening “Thanksgiving Song” that prove that there is still hay to be made in writing fresh holiday tunes, and a lot of classic cuts recorded by Rector and a gaggle of fellow Nashville musicians that fit perfectly with his jazz/pop vocals and winning personality. The secret to success with a record like this is to either completely overhaul this material and reassemble it into something new, or to stick to the core of what made this material great in the first place. Rector wisely chooses the latter path, all the better to let his buttery vocals add a warm glow to familiar material like “Christmas Time Is Here,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”


The Chills: Submarine Bells/Soft Bomb (Fire/Slash)

Fire Records, the current home of The Chills, is taking fans back to the heady days of the ’90s when the New Zealand pop group dallied with the major label world. At that time, leader Martin Phillipps and co. aligned with L.A. imprint Slash Records, which gave them the budget and time to produce the glossy and glorious Submarine Bells and Soft Bomb. These new vinyl pressings—released, in part, to celebrate the 30th birthday of Submarine—bring a much-needed spotlight to one of the many career peaks for the embattled band. Leader Martin Phillipps couldn’t keep a consistent lineup of the group together during this time, but the music he produced along the way, including gems like the aptly named “Heavenly Pop Hit,” “The Male Monster From the Id,” “Double Summer” and “Don’t Be – Memory,” deftly combined his American psych pop influences and his earthy homegrown Kiwi aesthetic. Submarine Bells made the return to vinyl with ease, but there’s a bit of a dullness to Soft Bomb, likely the result of squeezing as much music as they did on to each side. A sensible move as it wasn’t a terribly long record, but the tight grooves deadens the otherwise multi-colored production work of Gavin MacKillop and some great performances by Phillipps and a band that included Peter Holsapple (The dB’s) on guitar and arranging help from Van Dyke Parks.


Draconian: Under A Godless Veil (Napalm)

Swedish Gothic doom metal project Draconian has been a going concern since 1994, but their latest album Under A Godless Veil is only the second recording they’ve made after vocalist Heike Langhans joined the fold to replace founding singer Lisa Johansson. Langhans was already an incredible addition to the group when they made 2005’s Sovran, and here, she truly comes into her own. Her singing is the perfect cleansing force to help soothe the soul after it has been pummeled by Anders Jacobsson’s growl and the supremely heavy rhythms that trudge through each track like a golem. The group continues to expand its sound on this new album, as well, bringing in a string section to add even grander drama to the mix to complement their bracing combination of brutal rock and the gorgeous, almost-dream pop shimmers that guitarists Johan Ericson and Daniel Arvidsson create.


Greg Lake: The Anthology: A Musical Journey (BMG)

Nearly four years after the passing of singer-songwriter Greg Lake, his long legacy in the world of psych and prog rock is given a loving coda with the release of this lovingly sequenced and assembled compilation. The double LP set mostly runs in chronological order, starting with a b-side from his early acid rock group the Shy Limbs and running through his time in King Crimson, the supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer and, on the fourth side, his underappreciated solo years. And while the most recognizable moments are represented (“21st Century Schizoid Man,” “From The Beginning,” the #2 U.K. single “I Believe In Father Christmas”), there are fantastic deep cuts and live material throughout that really speak to the breadth of Lake’s abilities as a player, composer and vocalist. There’s not a whole lot for the already established fan to really sink their teeth into, as everything here has been released in one form or other over the years, but for the uninitiated, this is a perfect place to get acquainted with a fairly sizable discography or find the perfect entry point to start one’s journey into the work of ELP, King Crimson or the man himself.


GWAR: Scumdogs of the Universe (Slave Pit)

There are a couple of ways to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of Scumdogs of the Universe, the appropriately over-the-top sophomore album from horror rockers GWAR. You could spring for the deluxe set that boxes together a vinyl version of the record with a slipmat, reproduction tour laminate, a cassette of demos and other assorted goodies. Or just do as I did and stick with the basic double LP reissue that has been nicely remixed and remastered by engineer Ronan Murphy. The original production by the late Ron Goudie (with an assist on one track by Al Jourgenson and Paul Barker of Ministry) was already strong, but Murphy gives an extra bone-crunching snap and bottom end that flies off this red vinyl pressing with authority. The whole presentation, from the hyper-stylized shots of the band members in their various blood-soaked costumes and the lyrics of sexual deviance and gore, is entirely silly, but the band treats it all with such reverence and some impressive musicianship. They had a great time making this and insist that you do the same as you listen to it. Keep your tongue planted in your cheek and brace yourself for the spray of fake bodily fluids.


Zazou Bikaye: Mr. Manager (Expanded Edition) (Crammed Discs)

The first full-length by Zazou Bikaye, a project pairing Congolese vocalist Bony Bikaye with French composer Hector Zazou, was a deeply political and deeply groovy collection of fusion pop released in 1985—a period rich with similar cross-cultural collaborations, or at least plenty of white artists finding influence in non-Western sounds. But the sound of this reissue, which pairs the five tracks from the original release with previously unreleased material from the same recording session, feels much truer to the spirit of African music of the time. Zazou’s production and programming owes a lot to European synthpop but that doesn’t overwhelm the passionate sounds of Bikaye’s vocals and lyrical messages of dissent and the inequalities that are still baked into the global economy. This reissue is a perfect companion piece to the 2017 reissue of Noir et Blanc, the album that put Zazou Bikaye in the studio with the duo Cy 1, and a must have for anyone looking to fill out their ’80s electro/city pop DJ sets.