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 look at a batch of albums being released for tomorrow’s first Record Store Day Drop, both classic and brand new jazz recordings, reissues of ’90s alt rock, and fresh tunes from a bluegrass/hip-hop hybrid.
Nat Turner Rebellion released only a few singles during their all-too-brief existence. The understanding was that, eventually, their label would use them to anchor a full-length album. As those 45s never caught fire outside of their home, the band dissolved, with its members leaving to join the Delfonics and the Spinners. This collection, originally released last year through Vinyl Me, Please, attempts to bring that promised LP to life by compiling those singles and other sessions that were found when Sigma Sound Studios donated its archives to Drexel University. Laugh finds the band’s interests split between Afrocentric messages of empowerment and straightforward love songs—with the music cutting from hard-charging funk to smoother, string-soaked soul. The grooves of this red vinyl release may not be as deep as an original 45, but he still brings out the snap and boom of each track. Once you can safely hold a house party again, this should be on the turntable.
Released in 1971, Dennis Hopper’s second directorial effort The Last Movie did not get the luxury of an accompanying soundtrack, even though the film is filled with music from Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen and John Buck Wilkin. Pat Thomas (who also wrote the liner notes for the Black Jazz reissues featured elsewhere in this column) and Jessica Hundley have corrected this oversight, but did so following the same editing principles and surreal narrative of the film. Using restored audio, the pair, with help from engineer Sean Hoffman, stitched earthy on camera musical performances from some of the aforementioned artists together with scenes and dialogue from the movie. Heard on this yellow vinyl pressing being released for Record Store Day, it gets as close to an audio approximation of the psychedelic experience as any acid rock concept album.
Previously only available on CD, Mia Doi Todd’s seventh studio release GEA is receiving its first-ever vinyl pressing as an RSD exclusive, and not a moment too soon. Not only because several of the musicians that accompany the singer-songwriter, such as Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Joshua Abrams, have become well-known in recent years for their own albums, but also because the calm, measured psych-folk of GEA is a much-needed balm for our feverish present. The bucolic mood is strengthened by Atwood-Ferguson’s tasteful horn and woodwind arrangements, and Andres Renteria’s use of hand drums and percussion rather than a trap set. Both men help cushion hazy vocal turns and melodies by Doi Todd that flicker like a gas lamp and evoke the feel of a crisp autumn afternoon.
Earth Records continues their invaluable efforts to keep the music of Bert Jansch in circulation with the RSD release of this 1977 live recording from the Teatro Corso in Venice. Joined throughout by Martin Jenkins, Jansch’s entire performance is a master class. As a folk guitarist, he was often without peer, as proven here by the fluttering fretboard patterns on “Avocet” and his more delicate finger-picking throughout “Alimony,” and as a songwriter, he hewed to the wit and emotion that he found in his studies of roots music. An additional treat is tucked away at the end, with Jansch and Jenkins joined by fellow guitarists Leo Wijnkamp Jr. and Sam Mitchell for an unrehearsed take on Appalachian tune “Cluck Old Hen” and an improvised jam. Though the latter is taken from a much rougher recording than the rest of the LP, hearing these master musicians trade licks and push one another to greater heights feels like being let in on a particularly juicy secret.
One of the best regular features on music and culture site Aquarium Drunkard (a publication that, full disclosure, I occasionally contribute to) is their Lagniappe Sessions, which finds the site’s owners inviting artists to record cover tunes of their choosing. This compilation brings together a handful of recent contributions from musicians that lay somewhere along the spectrum of psychedelia (Six Organs of Admittance, Mikal Cronin), Americana (RF Shannon, Joan Shelley) and indie (the Mountain Goats, Nap Eyes). It’s an appropriately motley collection that finds Six Organs turn the Melvins’ “Night Goat” into an aching drone piece, singer/songwriter Scott Hirsch rendering Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” as a primitive demo and Erin Rae sending Scott Walker’s “Duchess” to a honky tonk on Sunday afternoon. As it often goes with comps like these, not everything works perfectly, but the batting average is high enough to make this a worthy addition to your RSD shopping list.
Raymond Pettibon is best known for his distinctive artwork that often sets blank verse poetry or jagged maxims against hand-drawn cartoons. You might recognize his work from the covers of albums like Foo Fighters’ One By One or Sonic Youth’s Goo. Being so close to the music world, Pettibon has also maintained a sporadic, yet steady recording career, which is getting a new boost with the release of this collection of art-punk tunes recorded with longtime pal Mike Watt (Minutemen, the Stooges). The music, out under the name Sock-Tight, on this RSD release captures the blend of precision and chaos found in Pettibon’s art, with him rattling out agitated, profane poetry over a series of instrumentals that range from lumbering African post-punk to dubby nonsense. Their combined efforts are decent enough, if inessential, even with the contributions of legends like Steve Mackay and Dirk Vandenberg. But the ill-defined boundaries of the music and Pettibon’s meandering (and sometimes self-satisfied) spiels makes for an often difficult listen.
Black Jazz Records was founded in 1971 by pianist Gene Russell with the simple, but vital remit to only release music by young, Black artists—applying the forward-thinking, genre-bending principles of their spiritual cousins in the AACM to the few dozen records the label released during its short lifespan. Real Gone Music is carrying that torch with this new series, reissuing gems from the Black Jazz catalog. The trio of records we were sent for review represent the breadth of the label’s scope. On Coral Keys, pianist Walter Bishop Jr. found a space where modal jazz and soul-funk could co-exist with the help of brilliant accomplices like drummer Idris Muhammad and versatile woodwind player Harold Vick. The Awakening took inspiration from the AACM-connected Art Ensemble of Chicago with unapologetically political aims for their music. But this group’s sound was far more approachable and, at times, smoother—even with a touch of cosmic, Sun Ra-like energy in the mix. The second album by Doug Carn is far less interested in accessibility. His fusion compositions, and lucid takes on well-known songs from Lee Morgan and Miles Davis, make great use of his wife Jean’s gritty vocals and contributions from Alphonse Mouzon and trumpeter Charles Tolliver.
Singer-songwriter Amelia Baker is steeped in the history of folk music. She currently resides in County Clare, where she has gone to study traditional Irish music and has spent much of her life learning Appalachian classics and keeping tabs on her fellow modern American artists. That crumpling together of eras and idioms serves as the core of Baker’s latest album. Recorded under the name Cinder Well, this self-produced collection feels as spacious and haunted as the converted church in which it was recorded. The natural reverb of the building and the cool air blowing in from nearby Rosario Strait feels palpable within each song (sometimes literally, as with the short sound piece “The Doorway”), as does the deep well of feeling that Baker pulls from for plain spoken gems like “From Behind The Curtain” and the shattering title track. This one will rattle your bones and shake your soul but good.
The recently announced partnership between the Verve Label Group and audiophile company Acoustic Sounds was rightfully celebrated by fans of both jazz and vinyl. The intention is to produce new pressings of classics from VLG’s deep catalog, using an all analog process, starting with the original master tapes. The first fruits of their labors have just been released and the mastering engineers at AS have achieved some astonishing results. The Armstrong/Peterson collaboration is spotless, with a presence that makes it feel like drummer Louis Bellson is playing in the same room, and a clarity that lets little details and noises from these 60+ year old sessions float to the surface. The groundbreaking collaboration between saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist/vocalist João Gilberto is perhaps even better. The spell that this album of cool bossa nova casts feels as heady and intoxicating as ever, with guest vocalist Astrud Gilberto popping up throughout to curl around every note like a rich green vine. These are, without question, the definitive pressings of these albums and have me hungry to hear the Coltrane and Nina Simone reissues planned for later in 2020.
Just as the world celebrates the 50th birthday of Fun House, the Stooges’ gloriously nasty sophomore album, so too shall we honor the final gig played by that band’s original lineup. Captured in a soundboard recording by live sound engineer James Cassily, and recently unearthed by his son, this Third Man release puts listeners right in the thick of a two-day music festival that the Stooges played at Michigan’s Goose Lake Park and, with blinding clarity, reveals how great and messy the group could be as a live act. Apparently bassist Dave Alexander had gotten his nostrils around some particularly potent ketamine, and it sent him spiraling. So much so that he’s barely playing through much of the set, and when he is, he’s rarely in the same key as guitarist Scott Asheton and front man Iggy Pop. But when the stars align and all five men are in sync, they sound unstoppable—oozing lava and sexual ferocity all over the attendees of this outdoor event.
Welsh rock quartet Man was part of a new wave of bands making a relatively smooth transition from psychedelia to prog. Their 1969 debut was a perfect pivot point with the band attempting an ambitious (and very loose) acid rock concept album about the evolution of humanity. Whether you buy that or not is beside the point as their lyrical ideas are often the least interesting thing about the album. Instead, listen to this fine repressing of the original LP (complete with replica flipback packaging) through a good pair of headphones and let its dense production take you away. Each song makes great use of strange sound effects and the full force of the stereo field, and the whole affair is lifted off the ground by the dual guitar wizardry of Roger Leonard and Mike Jones. Also, listening to it in a more intimate fashion will help avoid some uncomfortable questions about “Erotica,” the side one closer that features a young woman simulating sexual satisfaction for four full minutes. Save the public airing of that one for your next DJ gig.