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 collection of ’60s ska classics, a deluxe boxed of Southern rock and an album of lullabies from a member of Nickel Creek.
The importance of Island Records cannot be overestimated. It was, after all, Chris Blackwell’s label that introduced the world to icons like Bob Marley, U2, Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. Now in its sixth decade of operations, Island is looking back to its earliest days when founder Chris Blackwell brought the operation from Jamaica to London and brought a number of recordings by now-legendary reggae and ska acts with him. This well-curated compilation pulls together 14 of Island’s greatest singles, including now canonized anthems like Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop,” Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” and Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle.” Wisely, Blackwell and co-producer Suzette Newman keep the energy up throughout with rocksteady beats and punchy soul gems. Even better, the liner notes include some rich details into the story of each artist and how they came to work with Island Records. It’s the perfect little history lesson and a great starting place for folks just starting a vinyl collection.
More than most genres, Americana can be a difficult world for an artist to distinguish themselves. You either have to have truly outstanding material or fill your songs with surprising details. Hudson Valley singer/songwriter Ryan Martin is a rare double threat. The songs on this collection—released originally late last year but finally available on vinyl this month—are mini epics of personal storytelling exploring fresh wounds and those that have long since scarred over. Through it all, Martin opens this material up to sounds and instruments that plant these songs in fresh ground. “I Want You To Dance” swirls with penny whistle and marimba melodies, and on closing track “Warm Lakes,” the pedal steel and acoustic guitar is underpinned by some soft electronic loops and drones. And throughout the album, Mikaela Davis keeps returning with perfect harmony vocals and the thrilling sound of her harp. Martin is confidently forging new paths through the well-trod ground of roots-rock. Here’s hoping more folks follow his lead.
Color me surprised. As much as I loved the Black Crowes’ meaty blues-rock, I wasn’t entirely sure that there was enough of a demand to warrant reissues of the group’s catalog. But seeing how quickly tickets for their pandemic-affected reunion tour sold last year was heartening—as was the arrival of this multi-disc set that includes a remastered version of the original album, a collection of b-sides and demos and a recording of the Crowes’ smoking December 1990 “Homecoming Show” in Atlanta. This well-designed set captures that lightning with well mastered vinyl pressings of all this material, a booklet filled with photos and ephemera and some charming reproductions of a tour pass and a poster from an early gig when they were known as Mr. Crowe’s Garden. The beauty of this collection is that Chris and Rich Robinson, the brothers and creative braintrust behind this group, aimed for a Southern rock sound that completely ignored the trends of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Heard 30 years later, Money Maker still sounds timeless.
A decade or so ago, it seemed like every adult alternative artist was seeking a sideline in making music for kids. While those lateral moves have become fewer and fewer, some folks like Nickel Creek/I’m With Her member Sara Watkins are still dipping their toes into hopefully delight younger listeners and inspire a lifetime of musical curiosity. This charming, hushed album, which pays tribute to the songs and songwriters that captured Watkins’ attention as a kid, was constructed for nighttime listening—a post-bath cuddle collection for quiet singalongs and good tidings before bed. And each side of this album was edited to flow together like one continuous song, getting softer and calmer as it goes and ending with the lovely, spare rendition of The Beatles’ “Good Night” that had this listener wiping away tears. Even if you don’t have any kids young enough to need an album like this in their nighttime routine, this could become a staple of your own evening music rotation.
In 2001, From Here On In, the debut album from London trio South burst forth from the surprisingly fertile ground where Britpop and trip-hop were cross-pollinating freely. It’s the same region that birthed artists like Badly Drawn Boy, Elbow and Gorillaz. What South had above them all was the assistance of James Lavelle, the producer, musician and DJ who helped start the incredible electronic label Mo’Wax. With his mentorship and sure hands on the mixing desk, this collection of folk-flecked psych-pop was given a dubby low end, Bernie Worrell-like keyboard frippery and a cinematic scope. This pair of reissues takes an even broader look at this period of South’s history. In addition to wonderfully remastered reissue of the original album, the band is releasing a companion set that gathers up b-sides and demos from the same period to emphasize how strong the trio’s material was and how moldable it was when placed in the hands of a remixer like Death In Vegas. Act quickly: South has pressed up only 500 copies of each set.
The latest album from this stomping blues-rock ensemble was, as its title spells out, created under duress. Band member Breezy Peyton apparently suffered from a mystery illness, and for a long stretch, the Peyton home in rural Indiana was without power. Mixed with the barrage of bad news that has been flooding our personal feeds for the past 18 months, is it any wonder that the Big Damn Band would have “hard times” on its mind? The core message of this album, though, is one of joyous survival. The shamelessly, defiantly repetitive lyrics speak of holding on to loved ones when the bills are piling up and the world keeps raining down misery—and finding those moments of bliss where we can, be they dancing around the living room or a rowdy rumble in the bedroom. The BDB’s music doesn’t dare hint at any sorrows either. As ever, this trio sounds about three times as big, with the good Rev.’s guitar grinding and humming like an industrial lathe while his goodly wife Breezy and drummer Sad Max Senteney thunder away. Shake off the wintertime rust with this one on the turntable.
When discussing the difference between the work of songwriter Peter Milton Walsh and what he and Go-Betweens co-founder Robert Forster did, Grant McLennan said, “We’re sun, he’s rain.” Where the Go-Betweens embraced hope and starry-eyed romanticism, Walsh and his ongoing project The Apartments was far more despairing and brutal. Even within the swooning melodies and pop leanings of A Life Full of Farewells, an album originally released in 1995 and getting reissued this month through French imprint Talitres, the music teems with loneliness and self-recrimination. In that way, the closest corollary this Australian group has is American Music Club. But on this record, the nerves feel so much rawer and exposed as Walsh places his own achievements up against his newly retired father’s (“I wanted to turn out as good as you/I cut my teeth on disappointment”) and his various broken relationships while his bandmates churn and smolder behind him. A lost classic of the 90s ripe for rediscovery.