Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases currently flooding record stores around the world, and all the gear that is part of the ongoing surge in vinyl culture. 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 prepare you for Record Store Day (April 23) with a rundown of some of the exclusive releases out on Saturday, as well as a listen to some fresh new wax from 50 Foot Wave, Marvin Gaye and Sparks.
This remains one of the best times to be a jazz fan and a record collector. The reissues never seem to stop, and archivists seem to be unearthing new marvels every day. In 2020, for example, producer Cory Weeds was sent a pile of reel-to-reel tapes featuring a 1972 performance at the University of Alberta by baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams backed by the Tommy Banks Trio. As he explains in the liner notes, the tapes had been sitting in a garage for many years and were subject to the wild weather swings in the Canadian province, which explains the occasional volume drop and moments of flutter scattered through this double LP. Everything else about this release is picture perfect. Adams is in his usual fine form and urged to go a little harder on originals like “Patrice” and the hazy ballad “Civilization and Its Discontents” by the flame fanning push of pianist Banks and his crackling trio.
Jazz fans may have heard some portions of these live recordings on a 1974 release from the French label Shandar, but they’ve only heard part of the story. Uncovered in the archives of the French Institut National de l’Audiovisuel were the full picture: every moment of two concerts that Albert Ayler and his band played at the Fondation Maeght in late July 1970. It’s an incredible find by archivist extraordinaire Zev Feldman. The sound of these performances is, as the title spells out, revelatory. Ayler taps into a deep vein of emotion and spiritual hunger that is intimate and, at times, discomfitingly terrifying. His message is, ultimately, a positive one with material that speaks to the healing power of music and the possibility for reaching enlightenment, but it is translated through the unholy squeals of Ayler’s sax and the avalanche of sound coming from the rest of the ensemble.
During the last years of Chet Baker’s life, it was impossible to guess what kind of performance the trumpeter / vocalist would give. There were times he would touch the hem of God’s garment and others that found him writhing in the muck, straining to be understood. Which makes buying any recording from his years in Europe, where he lived for the last decade or so of his life, a tricky proposition. Then again, producer Zev Feldman’s quality control should always be trusted. All that is to say that this three-LP set compiling two performances by Baker, backed up by bass and piano, originally broadcast on Radio France are divine. The ravages of time and abuse are still evident, especially on his vocals, but he sounds clear-headed and present. His run through “But Not For Me” starts off on a wobbly foot before finding balance through his charming scatting and an excellent trumpet solo. On J.J. Johnson’s “Lament,” Baker stumbles into the melody at first, but steadies himself and breaks the heart of everyone within earshot.
This early release from Philly psych rock pilgrims Bardo Pond has been in and out of circulation since it was first released in 1995, including a vinyl version on Fire Records from 2010 that tacked on an extra track. Newly pressed on white wax for Record Store Day, Bufo alvarius has been returned to its original track list, but it is joined by a second LP featuring “Amen,” a nearly 30-minute jam of guitar noise, amp hum, and Isobel Sollenberger’s occasional vocal tones that all combine to form a pulsating, oozing mass of sound. Far be it for me to question the judgment of Fire Records, but considering the cosmic lanes this album travels, saving this for RSD and not dropping this on either Bicycle Day or 4/20 this month instead feels like a missed opportunity.
Originally released on CD in Japan in 1998 (and in limited numbers in the band’s native U.K.), Bustin’ + Dronin’ is a collection of material from Blur’s self-titled album remixed by an all-star cast of producers and musicians like Moby, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Adrian Sherwood, John McEntire and future collaborator William Orbit. As with remix albums of its ilk, the mood changes from moment to moment as the aforementioned folk bend and twist the original material to their own ends. Orbit, for example, turns “On Your Own” into a squiggling 15-minute dance workout while McEntire applies a downtempo glaze to “Theme From Retro” with a little guitar help from his Tortoise bandmate Jeff Parker. My favorite of the bunch remains the “Well Blurred” version of “Death of a Party,” which has been slowed to a creepily dubby crawl by Sherwood.
At the same time that The Roots were busking on Philly street corners and giving hip-hop an organic spin using live instrumentation, British combo the Brand New Heavies decided to capitalize on the acclaim of their 1990 debut by recording an album that finds them backing up a gaggle of hot U.S. rappers with their liquid grooves. The finished product didn’t catch fire in the way it should have, scraping the bottom of the Billboard album charts upon its release in 1992. The cult of Heavy Rhyme Experience has only grown over the past three decades as it proved to fit in perfectly with the jazzy productions of contemporaneous albums by A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr, the latter of which makes a memorable appearance on “It’s Getting Hectic.” It’s a treat to hear the various rhymers on this record — Masta Ace, Kool G. Rap and Black Sheep, among them — adjust their flow and lyrics to meet the laid back funk of the Heavies. As fun to listen to as it surely must have been to make.
A few years before Tim Kasher and Conor Oberst began making substantial waves with Cursive and Bright Eyes, respectively, they were high school kids in Omaha, playing in a ragged punk band called Commander Venus. Some attention fell their way as they were lumped in with the growing emo contagion taking over the underground scene, and thanks to some positive reviews of the group’s second (and final) full-length The Uneventful Vacation. In the context of Oberst’s work since, this curio, now back in print for RSD, feels like the product of a songwriter still forming his outlook. He catches little lyrical sparks here and there, and the music has an undeniable drive, but there’s a quaint embarrassment to it, akin to looking at a decades’ old yearbook.
The timing of this release couldn’t be better, following, as it does, the release of a fantastic documentary about the tormented life of folk-blues artist Karen Dalton and last month’s deluxe re-release of her second album In My Own Time. But its arrival in the world would be welcome no matter when it happened. In 2018, three reel-to-reels of live performances by Dalton and her then-partner Richard Tucker at The Attic, a folk club in Boulder, Colorado, were discovered — a rare glimpse into this crucial period of Dalton’s development as a performer. Producer Mark Linn chose some of the best moments from those tapes to compile this set, trying to capture a typical set of folk and blues standards by the pair. The quality isn’t perfect; there’s tape hiss throughout and ghosts of the other side of the reels creep into the background. But the historical significance of this release far outweighs any concerns about the sounds. Dalton sounds at peace here, audibly enjoying these moments to release her inner torment through song.
I’ll never look askance at any artist considered a “one-hit wonder.” Considering the amount of music released every year, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 is something to be celebrated, no matter how lightweight the song might be. That’s why I can’t knock Louisiana singer John Fred for doing the impossible with his 1967 single “Judy In Disguise,” a faint but charming knock off of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” anchored by a swinging horn section and a catchy as hell vocal hook. Nor do I want to completely dismiss the album Fred and his Playboy Band released that same year. It’s not a masterpiece but there are touches of true psychedelic weirdness dropped into each bubblegum pop tune, like the backwards tracked sounds on “No Letter Today,” the acid rock guitar solo on “Little Dum Dum” and the adorably wonky raga influence on “Lonely Are The Lonely.” Not the most essential release for RSD but a worthwhile pickup for students of ’60s pop.
It’s been a good two decades since The Knack has released any original music. But back in 2001, the group had some promotional work to do in support of Normal As The Next Guy, an album of strong power pop and garage rock tunes that could have been written at any point during the last 60 years. That album is what brought the band to the House of Blues in Hollywood and where this fine live release was recorded. If you’re not already an acolyte of the Knack and pick this up on a whim tomorrow, do yourself a favor and listen to it as intended. There’s no denying how great “My Sharona” is but you’d be well served to immerse yourself in the equally wonderful material like “Harder On Me,” “Seven Days In Heaven” and the cheeky “That’s What Little Girls Do.” And stick around for their fabulous take on The Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville.” When you’re done, hit me up so we can talk about the spelling mistakes on the back of the album sleeve.
This long overdue collection gathers up chestnuts from throughout the career of folk-pop artist Mary Lou Lord. Since the ’90s, she’s been amassing an unpretentious discography that, at first, was touched by the twee-indie sound of Olympia but has since blossomed to include fuzzy power pop and country. And through it all, Lord opts for tackling other people’s material — songs that she loves written by friends like Elliott Smith and The Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman or those written just for her. It makes for a winning compilation, even as it bounces from era to era and from lo-fi home demos to sleek studio recordings. What it’s missing is some deeper context for where Lord came from and developed her sound, as the liner notes merely scratch the surface of her fascinating story and rare talent.
Trevor Lucas is best known for the mark he left on the U.K. folk-rock scene through his tenures in Fairport Convention and Fotheringay, the latter of which was the fantastic short-lived band he formed with his wife Sandy Denny. His introduction to that community, on record at least, was this hard-to-find 1966 album — reissued on orange wax for RSD — on which Lucas brought along the songs and sensibilities from his home country of Australia. It’s a well-balanced collection of jaunty sea shanties and humbly performed solo tunes. My ears prefer the latter as they make a better use of Lucas’ rusty tenor vocals and his soft touch with his acoustic guitar, but there’s no denying the ardor that he brought to each.
Zev Feldman strikes again, once again producing a never-before-heard treasure of jazz history. This particular release comes from a two-night stand Charles Mingus and his band held at London club Ronnie Scott’s, recorded by a mobile unit to eight-track tape in 1972. The intent was to eventually release the music in some form as, according to the liner notes, Mingus can be heard directing his band to redo certain moments with the plan to splice things together later. Co-producer David Weiss has done just that and the rest of Feldman’s team have laid careful hands on an indelible document of a period when Mingus was wandering farther into avant garde territory but bringing with him the blowsy big band sound he adored. The unfortunate realities of the vinyl cutting process come to bear on this set however, as twice, engineer Bernie Grundman was forced to cut longer tracks in two as they would have been too lengthy for one side of an LP. An entirely understandable decision considering the strength of the sound throughout. To cut into the splendor of these recordings even a smidge by squeezing too much music into a fixed space would have been unforgivable.
The purported story behind this treasure of an album has become something of a legend in the jazz world. At the time of the session, alto saxophonist Art Pepper was struggling with an addiction to drugs and, before setting foot in Contemporary Records’ studio, hadn’t touched his instrument in some time. And to add a little more anxiety to the proceedings, Pepper was about to play with three musicians he’d never worked with before and who were already well established as Miles Davis’ rhythm section. This mix of factors obviously pulled at something deep within Pepper as he poured his whole self into this session, which is being reissued in a sparkling mono edition. His solos are balletic and graceful and respond with delight at the work of his collaborators, in particular the wizardly piano work of Red Garland. They make for a perfect match that unfortunately never managed to meet up again.
It’s releases like this that give Record Store Day a bad name and might very well ruffle the feathers of the RHCP fans that this is supposed to be serving. Less than a month after the release of the Peppers’ 12th studio album, the band is releasing it again. The draw? Silver vinyl and an exclusive poster. Vinyl that, it should be said, sounds crackly and noisy right out of the sleeve and a poster that’s just an enlarged version of the cover art. It’s bad enough when artists try to make their most ardent fans double dip with the release of a deluxe version of an album that was first on the shelves a mere six months earlier. This move by the Peppers feels downright fraudulent.
The Modern Lovers, the rock group fronted by quirky singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman, went out on a high note. The last incarnation was a power trio featuring guitarist Brennan Totten and drummer Johnny Avila that reduced these hip-shaking tunes down to the bare minimum with an emphasis on their doo-wop-esque vocals and rockabilly rhythms. It was all Richman needed to write some of his finest work of the ’80s, including the indelible “I Love Hot Nights,” the charming “Gail Loves Me” and an unexpected cover of the theme from the 1952 film Moulin Rouge. This new edition of the album is the latest in an ongoing reissue campaign of Richman’s work for Rounder Records and sounds as snappy as can be on this fresh blue vinyl pressing.
This past February, Tegan & Sara released Still Jealous, a digital album that finds the twin sisters revisiting the songs on their successful 2004 album So Jealous, but with a couple of twists. All the material was recorded acoustically and each sister “covered” the other’s songs. A fun little exercise and one that, from the sound of this record, was something that the Quins clearly enjoyed tackling. Two months later, the pair and their label have brought this album out physically in the form of a limited vinyl release. Another fine idea that stumbles at the finish line as the opaque red wax has a great deal of noise in the quiet parts, of which there are many.
Once again, Craft Recordings has partnered with Jazz Dispensary, the imprint that focuses on soul, funk and jazz albums that pair well with certain herbal infusions, for a compilation of psychedelically-inspired (and sometimes induced) jams from within the archives of labels like Prestige and Fantasy. This may be my favorite entry in this series as it draws in some unexpectedly dank tunes from the likes of Cannonball Adderly and Woody Herman alongside sticky moments, including the Bar-Kays’ nasty take on Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright,” and the deep Latin soul of the wonderfully named combo Rabbits & Carrots. Make sure to have Discogs at the ready when you spin this one. If you’re anything like me, once you hear how great these individual cuts are, you’ll be dying to hear the albums they were pulled from.
Well into his career as an R&B superstar and lover man extraordinaire, Marvin Gaye underwent a shift in his consciousness. Inspired by letters he was receiving from his brother on the frontlines of the Vietnam War and the churn of the civil rights struggle, he decided to use his platform as a beloved artist to speak truth to power on his 1971 album What’s Going On. The result is Gaye’s magnum opus; a record that maintains his desire to keep dancefloors alight while sparking greater discussions about inequality, the inhumanity of war and poverty. This album has been re-released multiple times on vinyl over the years, but this new reissue is now the definitive version. Mastered by Kevin Gray from the original analog recordings, What’s Going On sounds enveloping and provocative and devastating. Added to this new pressing is a second disc with rough cuts of two songs and the mono versions of the singles released from the album. I don’t like to play favorites in the column, but if there was a gold medal winner among the selections in this month’s edition, this would be it.
Listening to the first two albums saxophonist Ornette Coleman released under his own name today, it can be a little challenging to surmise exactly what about this then-young player made his peers in the late ’50s lose their minds. But his approach to melody and structure upset the status quo so much that, as legend has it, Max Roach socked Coleman in the mouth after hearing him play. Jazz, and Ornette, have gone to far more challenging places since Contemporary Records released these records but their initial appearance sent a small shockwave through the musical community that modern players are still feeling the aftershocks of. This lovingly constructed set offers a chance to hear just how important these albums were and still are. Bernie Grundman used the original analog tapes for these sharp new pressings of both Something Else!!!! and Tomorrow Is The Question, and Craft Recordings packaged them in a handsome blue box with a booklet, featuring masterful liner notes from Ashley Kahn, tucked inside.
2022 is a great year to be a Roxy Music fan. Not only is the band reuniting for a short tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their debut album but they are overseeing a vinyl reissue campaign over the next few months that begins in April with repressings of that debut and its equally brilliant follow-up, 1973’s For Your Pleasure. When Roxy arrived in the greater pop consciousness, they were glam personified with their spangled outfits, meticulously styled hair and a sound that added a sci-fi sheen to their British pop influences through Brian Eno’s modular synths and guitarist Phil Manzanera’s array of effects. Standing at the center of it all was vocalist Bryan Ferry who looked ready to take any and all willing bodies on a metaphorical walk in space within his boudoir. Their debut album is still a five star masterwork of sensual delights that sounds better than it ever has on this new vinyl edition.
Just in time to join the victory lap that Ron and Russell Mael, aka Sparks, are currently on as they tour the world in celebration of their dual cinematic victories (Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers and the musical Annette) comes a series of vinyl reissues of work they recorded in the new millennium. The first three — repressings of albums released from 2000 to 2006 — drop next Friday, representing the Maels’ further interest in electronic dance music (“It’s Educational” from Balls sounds downright Moby-esque), a playful embrace of heavy rock and a growing symphonic bent. My favorite of the three is Lil’ Beethoven, an album featuring some of the best songs the brothers recorded during this stretch — “The Rhythm Thief,” “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” — that have become mainstays of their live setlists. As with all of Sparks’ work, though, you can’t go wrong no matter what album you choose. Collect ’em all or pick and choose as you see fit.
Kristin Hersh has always had a restless spirit. That’s what has sent the artist around the country, living in various cities around the U.S. but never seeming settled no matter where she pauses. That disquiet is evident in her music as well, as she’s spent her career firing off songs for her best known project Throwing Muses or for her growing solo discography or, on occasion, for her steaming power trio 50 Foot Wave. Hersh has been returning to that latter group with more frequency over the last few years, and likely for good reason. There’s no better way to respond to these untethered times than playing some sludgy rock with some close friends. Black Pearl is the trio’s gooiest work yet. Hersh marches into the tar pit, trailing behind her slowly corroding riffs and a rhythm section that matches her ever trudging step. Before she’s completely subsumed, she growls out some words of desperate love and psychic pain.
The process of creating an album isn’t a particularly mysterious one. A few minutes of Googling will give you a baseline of knowledge that is fairly applicable to most recording sessions. Still, it always seems as though some kind of alchemical magic is happening that us mere mortals don’t have access to. Walter Martin, a former member of The Walkmen, goes out of his way to further peel the curtain back on the work of making an album with his latest solo release The Bear. Tucked into each copy of this limited run vinyl is a zine that walks through each step of the journey from writing in a one-room schoolhouse in upstate New York to sessions in L.A. and beyond. Every little detail Martin reveals only deepens the experience of listening to these soft-spoken tunes constructed using his finger-picked guitar and lyrical snapshots pulled from his personal history and legends and simply looking out the window of his home waiting for the titular creature to pass by.
It’s been about two years since we’ve last heard from Sweden’s “adventure rock” purveyors Hällas. In that time, the band has further developed their prog-psych sound, dialing up the volume on Nicklas Malmqvist’s keyboards and adding a little more boogie to the mix. Both are welcome developments that add new shades and color to the group’s already multi-hued music. Highlights include “Stygian Depths,” the story of an ill-fated adventurer set to a constantly shifting tune that includes a mighty guitar duel and sweeping beams from Malmqvist’s synth, and “Earl’s Theme,” which struts and peacocks with the spirit of early Scorpions and late Thin Lizzy to set the scene for front man Tommy Alexandersson’s tale of a cruel, god-like royal.
This may be a multi-artist collection, with tracks recorded individually over the course of last summer, but the finished release is sequenced like a roundtable discussion happening in real time with one piece responding to the one before and moving the conversation forward. The subject is the roots, current plight, and hopeful future of the global Black community. And the voices driving this musical discourse come from all over the map: America, the Caribbean, all the way to Africa. As such, some pieces make stronger arguments than others. Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins pops up on the first disc for a pair of haunting duets with guitarist Marvin Sewell that explore and deconstruct familiar blues patterns, and bassist Reggie Washington has a playful repartee with turntablist DJ Grazzhoppa on two tracks that are dynamically contrasted via vocal turns from Alicia Hall Moran and Oliver Lake. What is never in doubt, even within this collection’s faltering moments, is the collective power of these voices. Together, they’re rattling our collective cages, shattering our preconceptions and ensuring we never forget the names of the fallen.
Here at Record Time HQ, we celebrate the working class musicians of the world. The hired guns that make your favorite superstars sound as good as they do when they’re in the studio or on tour. This L.A. band is full of those folks — a supergroup of background players that have logged a ton of credits playing behind the likes of Tom Petty, Justin Timberlake, James Taylor and Hall & Oates. Led by singer Woody Mankowski and keyboardist Jeff Babko, Ebunctions offers up a combo platter of pop and rock styles with heartfelt piano ballads nestled among polished funk, rootsy anthems, Stax soul and swinging blues. This is music for grown ups with calloused hands, soft hearts and wisdom to spare.
Johnny Ray Daniels is musical royalty in his native North Carolina. A former rock ‘n’ roller, this humble artist underwent a religious conversion on stage one night and has spent the rest of his life making impassioned gospel for the flock at his home church and for us lucky sinners who get a chance to hear it. Working with Memphis mainstays Will Sexton and Bruce Watson, Daniels has cut a soul-stirring collection of vintage-sounding paeans to the Lord meant to shake the rafters and spark a fire within. Joining Daniels throughout is his son Anthony, himself a vocalist of some power and a member of an equally fantastic ensemble Dedicated Men of Zion. That group has also released an album recorded with Watson and it gently updates the sound of Southern gospel through more upbeat rhythms and simmering balladry worthy of Memphis’ most beloved son Al Green.