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 early album from a solo Beatle project, hearty bluegrass, a long awaited soundtrack release and Moog freakouts.
Paul McCartney’s early solo career felt a conscious repudiation of his former band’s last batch of albums, which were worked and re-worked and worked over once again in the studio. 1970’s McCartney and 1971’s Ram sounded as if they were knocked out in the better part of a stoned afternoon. The same goes for Wild Life, the first album by fledgling project Wings. Macca and his missus welcomed some new folks into the fold — guitarist Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell — and decided to take them out for a spin in the studio. What came out was a lightweight batch of songs and covers that were written and recorded quickly. It all adds up to not very much at all, but there’s a perverse kind of charm hearing one of the world’s biggest pop stars be as loose and carefree as McCartney is here. And these sessions sound better than ever on this new half-speed mastered vinyl version, cut from the original master tapes by Miles Stovall. This wouldn’t have been my first choice of Wings album to get this treatment, but it may presage further reissues of the band’s discography.
In spite of the very vocal demand for it, Cat Stevens was, until recently, adamant that there not be a soundtrack to Harold and Maude. Though the film was filled with his music, the singer / songwriter didn’t feel it fair to make fans purchase an album that featured only two new songs to go along with previously released tracks. Cameron Crowe changed all that in 2007 when he released a limited edition version of the soundtrack on his label Vinyl Films. 15 years later, Island Records has finally given this music a wide-release with this 50th anniversary edition that has been expanded to include snippets of dialogue and some incidental music from the film. While my heart of hearts would rather have just the Stevens tunes, including the film’s joyous theme “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out,” this is a great package that sounds fantastic and is packaged with a thick booklet that details the experiences of bringing the music to the movie and its lingering impact on pop culture.
Released last November, the debut album by Swansea Sound is a recorded reunion of sorts, with Huw Williams and Amelia Fletcher, former collaborators in The Pooh Sticks, joining forces once again under the guiding hand of Fletcher’s partner and longtime bandmate Rob Pursey. With a tougher sound and Williams’ snotty vocal tone, Pursey was inspired to vent his spleen a bit with songs like “Corporate Indie Band,” “I Sold My Soul On eBay” (“I need some money / don’t need a soul / so monetising is my goal”) and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Void.” But with the sweet syrup of Fletcher’s voice dripping all over the proceedings and Pursey’s superhuman skills at writing catchy hooks, Swansea Sound can’t help but be a pure pop project no matter how much fuzz and corrosion gets applied to the guitar. The continual tug-of-war between the band’s soft and rough sides makes for one hell of a glam rock bash.
How does one survive being the child of a musical legend, especially when trying to cut a path of one’s own in the recording industry? That must have weighed heavily on the shoulders of Natalie Cole when, in 1990, she left behind her successful career as an R&B / soul artist and recorded an album of jazz standards as a tribute to her father, Nat “King” Cole. Luckily, the pressure isn’t evident on Unforgettable. Natalie sounds loose and joyous on snappy tunes like “Route 66” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and properly subdued on the record’s many ballads. And, naturally, you can hear the care she took when approaching the studio-constructed “duet” with her dad on the title track. The success of this album (7x platinum, and six Grammy awards) allowed her to easily switch lanes and spend much of the rest of her career as a jazz vocalist. This vinyl reissue is a nice reminder of how comfortable and delightful that transition was.
My heart is always going to go out to the lifers who keep cranking out music with little regard for critical acclaim or commercial laurels. Ben Crum, the singer / songwriter behind New York fuzz-pop band Great Lakes is one such career artist. Since dropping that band’s debut some 22 years ago, he’s kept plugging away at his craft, managing to grow stronger with each step into the underground. Contenders, the group’s seventh full-length, is yet another sterling installment in the discography. With able support from longtime compatriots Suzanne Nienaber and drummer Kevin Shea, Crum calls upon the spirits of ’50s R&B, ’70s rock and ’90s indie to regenerate the body of guitar pop and transplanting into it a lyrical heart that has been slightly hardened by experience and the news of the world.
Barring an early ’10s reunion, Arizona dreampop quartet Half String only lasted about seven years, and in that time, only managed to complete one full-length album, 1996’s A Fascination With Heights before splitting up. The plain truth is, they didn’t need to say anything more. As heard in this deluxe vinyl reissue from Independent Project Records, the vision that principal songwriter Brandon Capps had for his ensemble was clear and strong. He and his bandmates absorbed the lessons imparted by multiple U.K. shoegaze releases and applied them to a dustier, American sound like a fireworks display slowly revealing the desert below. This new lovingly packaged edition of the LP includes seven bonus tracks from the era including a gorgeous remix of the title track and a live take on “Skin of My Teeth,” an explosive song that never got a studio version, as well as a 7” featuring two tracks from radio sessions the reunited group recorded for KXLU’s Part Time Punks.
The members of Gypsum clearly love playing together. The three women that make up the group are plenty busy elsewhere with Jessica Reed drumming for Rosie Tucker (a former member of Gypsum), and singer/guitarist Sapphire Jewell playing with Illuminati Hotties and her side project Cuffed Up. But the trio’s innate chemistry, built from regular jam sessions during their music school days, keeps drawing them together and they seem to pour so much of themselves into Gypsum. The sensation the full-length creates with Jewell and Anna Arboles’ intertwining African-inspired guitar work and the thick cloudy atmosphere courtesy of the band and engineer Marik Rains — combined with their allusive, heart-on-sleeve lyrics — is akin to the euphoria after a long, deep cry or post-marathon high.
Craft Recordings deserves some kind of award or citation for the work they are doing to bring classic albums from legendary Latin label Fania back into circulation. It’s one of those above and beyond projects that will surely reap rewards in the decades to come once younger artists, producers and DJs get their hands on albums like this treasure from vocalist Ismael Rivera. At the time, the Puerto Rican vocalist was coming off a long stint with Rafael Cortijo’s band and a short stint in prison for drug possession. Not wanting to waste any time, Rivera moved to New York and linked up with percussionist Kako and his band to cut an album full of party jams. The finished product is a straight up burner of uptempo salsa tunes shot through with gallows humor, lust and chest beating emotion.
California’s Film School has stayed true to the shoegaze cause, even as it floats in and out of fashion, for over two decades. And in fighting the good fight, the group has been moving closer and closer to something like perfection. They are almost there on their latest full-length We Weren’t Here. Recorded in pieces, with almost all the band members working alone, during the pandemic, the album still sounds like the product of a superconnected group joining chakras in their quest for musical enlightenment and mental nirvana. Helping elevate the proceedings even higher is the work of newest member Adam Wade (ex-Shudder To Think) who, as he did on 2018’s Bright To Death gives this material a forceful lift, and the cooling qualities of Noël Brydebell’s icy guest vocals. Bonus points awarded for the vinyl version’s sweet die cut sleeve, but a deduction given for the rather noisy opaque wax the record is pressed on.
L.A. artist Don Julian followed the path so many of his peers did, starting his career in the doo wop trenches and following the changes in soul and R&B closely. So that by 1974, he and his backing band The Larks were getting plum gigs to score Blaxploitation films and released an album meant to prove that their skills as instrumentalists and singers and groovemakers were just as finely tuned as the better known folks at Stax and Motown. That record Super Slick bears that out. It’s packed with hot shit originals like “A Woman Ain’t Nothing But A Stone Trip” and the theme to Shorty The Pimp and their breezy takes on established classics (“Let’s Stay Together,” “Just My Imagination”). This reissue is a welcome relief to collectors unwilling to fork over triple digits for an original, even if the master runs a little hot and fuzzy at times.
It does my heart good to know that there is a healthy contingent of artists that haven’t given up on the no frills sound of classic bluegrass / old time folk. One of the best of that abundant bunch is The Wooks, a quartet from Kentucky. They call their music “progressive bluegrass,” but what I hear is a bunch of gents who — at least on their albums — don’t resort to filling their music with nods to current pop culture or spiff up their studio sessions with electronic instruments. The only cover on their latest full-length Flyin’ High comes from fellow folk troubadour John Prine (“Iron Ore Betty”). The rest are originals that settle comfortably into the traditional themes of love, loss, living off the land and the caprice of the Lord above. An album to curl up within like a sunbeam.
From the start of her dynamic career, Marianne Faithfull established herself as one of the premier interpreters of other people’s material. (With all respect to the Stones, I’d much rather hear Marianne sing “As Tears Go By” than Mick.) Her originals are as strong as anything, but it is a blast to hear her apply that withering purr of a voice to material by Neko Case, Van Morrison or Duke Ellington. This two-LP compilation of performances captured during Faithfull’s many appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival puts her skills on full display. Backed by a solid crew of musicians, led by the great Barry Reynolds, she gives an acidic tinge to Case’s “Hold On, Hold On,” sends John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” arcing into the night sky and approaches the Stones’ “Sister Morphine” with a knowing sense of despair and hunger. What I would love is to hear all of these performances in full, or, at the very least, get the names of all of the musicians who contributed to these festival gigs. They deserve as much shine as the goddess on the front cover.
William S. Fischer is best known for working in the shadow of big names in jazz and R&B like Roberta Flack, Herbie Mann and Bette Midler. Real heads know that the multi-talented artist made a few records of his own in the ’70s and that each one has some rare delights cut into the grooves. His 1970 debut, recorded with heavy hitters like drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Ron Carter and five cellists for Mann’s Embryo label and newly reissued by Real Gone, sticks to a New Age funk vibe with songs like “Circle” and “Chains” speaking to spiritual transcendence and personal freedom. But the truly fascinating moments on Circles are the two tracks where Fischer cuts loose on a Moog synthesizer for extended instrumental interludes that are far gone and out. I’m not sure how easily they mesh with the watertight beats and hip-swiveling rhythms on the rest of the LP but I am so happy they are there to shock me out of my sweaty dance party glow.
Doo-wop is one of the most maligned and underappreciated cornerstones of rock ‘n’ roll, relegated to PBS pledge drive fodder or the soundtrack to gangster films set in the ’50s. But there is an easily tracked line between the close knit harmonies and heart-on-sleeve romanticism of groups like The Flamingos and modern masters like Bruno Mars and The Weeknd. This re-pressing of Flamingo Serenade, the second album from the group, bears that out even when the vocal group is weaving through some treacly pop standards. Still, this album also holds one of the crown jewels of the doo-wop era: “I Only Have Eyes For You,” a knee-buckling expression of pure adoration and lust that still burns hot some six decades after it was recorded.