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, that includes a deluxe re-release of a folk classic, a boxed set honoring a jazz legend and some new doom metal from Denmark
The hulking boxed sets that Vinyl Me, Please have been putting together to celebrate a single artist or a label check all the boxes for the modern vinyl collector. It’s a great way to quickly build a library of essential albums and to have an investment to hand down as an heirloom (or to resell to help pay for a vacation). And the size of these sets make them a great conversation piece when guests are over. VMP’s most recent set — The Story of Quincy Jones — hits all those marks. The eight albums squeezed into each box were chosen by Jones himself to serve as an overview of his career as a songwriter / arranger / producer. The earliest, 1957’s This Is How I Feel About Jazz, sets the stage with tunes that connect the big band era with small ensemble bop with an incredible roster of players (Mingus, Paul Chambers, Hank Jones, Herbie Mann and Art Farmer, among them). The most recent, Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux, is from 1993 and finds Miles Davis, performing with the Gil Evans Orchestra, finally returning to past peaks like Sketches of Spain and MIles Ahead. Between the bookends are explorations of new jack swing and hip-hop (Back on the Block), quiet storm soul (The Dude) and the soundtrack to The Wiz. Each record is well-mastered, pressed on colored wax and resting in glossy sleeves befitting a legend like this. Just make sure you have a good shelving unit that can bear the weight of this beast.
It’s difficult to listen to Karen Dalton’s music casually. As Nick Cave recounted in a recent documentary, when he heard Dalton’s “Something On My Mind” one day while driving, he had to pull over because the music and the haunting quiver of her voice made him cry so much. The two records that Dalton recorded in the late ’60s and early ’70s have left countless listeners and her fellow artists shaken. Though she never got the success she deserved during her life (she died in 1993), Dalton is being more thoroughly appreciated these days. Proof positive is this deluxe re-release of her second album In My Own Time. The package is glorious. The remastered version of the album was cut at 45 RPM for a better range of sound, and it is augmented by a selection of live recordings and outtakes. Also included are two 7”s, a CD version with all the same material, and a booklet featuring contributions from Cave, Devendra Banhart and Lenny Kaye. It’s a dream to spin these records and to rejoice in the unworried decay of her singing voice as she takes on traditional folk tunes, Motown classics and blues standards alike.
The rise of Ben Rector from a John Lennon Songwriting Contest winner to an AC pop superstar rubbing elbows with Oprah and Steve Winwood feels like an inevitability when spinning his latest album The Joy of Music. The Oklahoma native has an unearthly ability to spin out a memorable pop hook and his lyrics maintain that sometimes tricky balance of personal and universal. They cut right to the quick and will either activate some sense memory within you or send you scurrying to rip the tone arm off the record. Rector flexed a bit on this new LP, bringing in big guests like Snoop Dogg, Kenny G and Mandy Moore’s husband Taylor Goldsmith to lend their talents to the proceedings. Those marquee names never get in the way of the song and Rector’s open armed approach to pop. They follow his lead, skipping merrily down the yellow brick road in his heart.
If you don’t know how beloved Marianne Faithfull is, search for the social media response to the news that she was laid low by COVID. The artists of the world joined in a collective prayer to bring her back from the brink. Or you could spend some time skimming the liner notes of Faithfull’s many albums and see the names that have leapt at the chance to work with her. On her gorgeous 1999 album Vagabond Ways, she was joined in the studio and in spirit by Emmylou Harris, Roger Waters, Elton John and Daniel Lanois. With their help, Faithfull continued to adapt to the times by giving her perfectly weathered voice a backdrop of dark synthetic pop and leathery torch songs like her snaking version of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” and the combustible original “Electra.” A moody and beguiling work worthy of the grand dame of British music.
The sigh of relief that the members of Liverpool trio Good Grief have exhaled after finally releasing their debut full-length will likely change weather patterns over the Pacific. Life and the pandemic kept throwing fresh obstacles in the way of this group finishing this record. They powered through and kept their shaken faith and their hard work has resulted in an LP bursting with ragged melodicism and lived-in lyrics that are in short supply in the worlds of power pop / indie. Highlights are many on this lovely little record: the corrosive “Line By Line,” the dreamy yet tense “Kissing Through Curtains,” the live wire glam pop of “Statement Brickwork.” I pray that the momentum that Good Grief are hopefully experiencing following the release of this album will help carry the trio back to the studio very soon.
Colin Blunstone had resigned himself to being through with the music business after leaving his band, the Zombies, in the late ’60s. But before he could get away completely, that group’s song “Time of the Season” became a fluke hit, inspiring him to try once more for pop success. Blunstone began in 1971 with One Year, a brilliant collection of muted folk-pop that featured support from fellow former Zombies Rod Argent and Chris White. Having that original LP back in circulation with this marvelous remastered edition is great enough, but included with the original album is a second LP of demos — some fully fleshed out with piano and classical guitar; others in raw form with just guitar and Blunstone’s caramel-y vocals — that owe a handsome debt to the U.K. folk scene that fostered Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. Bask in this like a late afternoon sunbeam.
Austria’s Napalm Records continues to impress with both the care that the team behind the label put into their vinyl releases and in choosing artists to work with. The latest release from Danish doom metal quartet Konvent continues both trends. The group is merciless in their collective incursion on the mind and body and soul. The music on Call Down The Sun is a dank molten sludge clearing a path for vocalist Rikke Emilie List to growl and screech about the pain and burden she carries on her shoulders. It’s a sound that finds its ideal medium through a vinyl pressing like this, which bears the earth-cracking weight of the rhythm section with ease. Napalm treats it well with a handsome textured sleeve that emphasizes the stark, unsettling wonder of Mads Berg’s artwork.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab continues to be the gold standard for deluxe vinyl reissues of great albums, and the company has taken a big leap forward with the development of SuperVinyl™, a vinyl formula that is carbon-free and promises, as the ad copy says, “the closest approximation of what the label’s engineers hear in the mastering lab.” There may be a touch of hyperbole in that, but the proof of their efforts is right here in this new edition of ELO’s 1974 album Eldorado. This record sounds huge, emphasizing Jeff Lynne’s rolling basslines and, naturally, the grandeur of the string players’ multi-tracked melodies. While we were sent the single LP version to review, the album likely sounds even better in the double disc version cut at 45 RPM. As with all MoFi releases, these aren’t cheap, but you most assuredly get what you’re paying for.
The collaboration between Swiss artist Simon Grab and Italian sociologist / music Francesco Giudici is an intentional provocation. The four songs on [No] Surrender are droning distress signals, inspired by the imbalance of power in our capitalist society and the injustices being meted out upon the working class, the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, and the women of the world. It intends to agitate in the grand tradition of sonic warfare, but the music also generates a beauty within tracks like “Wolves,” which pushes squiggling electronic tones up against the pluck and hum of Giudici’s electric guitar. This album is certainly not for everyone, and may very well send some listeners hurrying to pull the tone arm away from the vinyl. But for fans of artists like Wolf Eyes or the late Philip Jeck, or anyone who can see the intent behind Sonic Youth or Animal Collective’s noisier moments, this record will find a comfortable place within your collection.
When Irish folk group Planxty split up in late 1975, its members viewed the split with no small measure of relief. But as founding member Andy Irvine put it, “the relief began to turn into a slight fear as to what we would do without” his former group. He soon after joined forces with another ex-Planxty member Paul Brady and began gigging around Ireland. Their momentum landed the pair in a Dublin studio where they recorded an elegant and heartfelt collection of traditional folk tunes that fast achieved classic status when it was released in late 1976. Surprisingly for how well-regarded it is, the album has been out of print on wax since 1981 — a situation rectified earlier this month by Compass Records. Gingerly remastered by Randy LeRoy, the music sounds revivified and entirely present, capturing every detail of these spirited reels and yarns.
The semantics surrounding the release of this Son House session gives me pause. The music was recorded in 1964 at a solo performance the Delta blues legend gave at a men’s college in Indiana — some months before he entered a New York studio to record his debut album for Columbia. The music here is without equal as Son House peels off devastating classics like “Death Letter” and “Levee Camp Moan” with a beguiling ease and stormy spirit. What has me baffled is the hype sticker affixed to each copy that calls this an “all-new album,” and, on the back cover, says the music was produced by Easy Eye Sound owner (and Black Keys member) Dan Auerbach. Neither claim really fits. This isn’t new music and all Auerbach seemed to do was make sure the tapes for this set got in the hands of an audio restorer and a mastering engineer. It has to be incredibly hard to cut through the flurry of new vinyl releases and find some way to get the average Barnes & Noble shopper to give this a try. But this sets a weird precedent to make it appear as though the late House has been resurrected and plopped in a modern studio. Do enjoy this, fellow collectors; just don’t ignore the fine print.
The radio shows that rising country star Hank Williams recorded in 1951 were a mixture of his many talents, bringing together his playful side, his romantic yearnings and his spiritual calling. For this three LP set, overseen by Omnivore Recordings head Cheryl Palewski, those sessions are cherry-picked, using only the plumpest religious tunes that Williams and his various collaborators laid down for Mother’s Best Flour Company and broadcast on Nashville’s WSM radio. While hearing these tunes in the context of the full show would be great, they sound mighty fine all alone with the quaver of Williams’ voice leading the way and touches of banter between he and the musicians surviving the editing process. And for sessions that were originally cut to cheap acetates, these recordings sound as spectacular as if they were made last week rather than seven decades ago.
Drake Margolnick went through a lot leading up to the recording of his debut solo album, and a fair amount during the process. The former vocalist for Flagship wrote these songs with the intent of giving into his most poppy intentions, working with a variety of equally talented folk like Joey Waronker and Eddie Jenkins to realize that. And though he was halfway through the sessions, he gained some renewed focus when he decided to give up drinking. It can be hard to hear when that switch was flipped, and when the sessions for the album moved from London to Los Angeles, but that’s only because Margolnick’s vision for this record was so strong. The rich sweep of ’70s-style singer-songwriter sound that his collaborators designed is brought into sharp relief by the romantic regret and spiritual aspirations within Margolnick’s unadorned lyrics.
As hard-hitting and razor sharp as X and The Blasters could be, the music of those two L.A. bands was always cut through with the spirit of country and blues. So much so that when John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake of the former and Dave Alvin of the latter decided to join forces for a light-hearted project covering some of their favorite country tunes and giving a twangier spin to tunes from their catalog, the sidestep felt natural. Though the band played live frequently, they haven’t recorded much with only this 1985 gem and a follow-up made 20 years later. Both records are great, but I lean toward the stony edged quality of this debut release. These versions of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” and X tunes like “The New World” and “Love Shack” sound ragged and blissed out, as if they were made by a band at the end of a four-hour, beer fueled set at a roadside honky tonk.
The mining of the tape archives belonging to Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs continues with this set of tunes plucked from various appearances by guitarist John McLaughlin. The two-LP collection serves as a fine shortcut into the work of this jazz icon from the mid-’80s onward as it features a late period lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, his ensembles The Free Spirits and the 4th Dimension and two tracks from a 1987 set he played with flamenco artist Paco De Lucia. McLaughlin blazes throughout, landing firm strikes and darting solos no matter if the song was a watery ballad or an electrified funk workout. My favorite side of this set is the one devoted to his performance with De Lucia. McLaughlin possesses audible reverence for his fellow guitarist, often staying out of the way to let his cohort solo and soar. Their chemistry remains unmatched.