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 25th anniversary release of an alt-rock classic, spiritual drones from Sweden and two masterpieces from the P-Funk universe.
If the price tag on that remastered edition of The White Album you picked up last year wasn’t obvious enough, vinyl ain’t cheap. There are still too few pressing plants in the world, and many are backlogged with orders. Plus there’s the added cost of producing all the variant colors and special artwork that some collectors covet. The marketplace has been adjusting to these realities, however, with organizations like Run Out Groove (ROG). A startup funded by Warner Music Group, ROG produces limited edition runs of albums that receive the most votes on their website. Or Qrates, a Japanese venture that allows indie artists to press their work on wax through crowdfunding. As the two operations are basically circling around the same core concept, it was only natural for them to join forces. Part of this partnership involves Qrates distributing WMG’s vinyl releases, but the pair are also working together to bring back some catalog titles that didn’t win their respective rounds of voting at ROG.
The first batch of LPs representing the beginning of this collaboration is a rather unexpected collection. The majority come from Elektra Records’ back catalog, including two gems from the ‘60s folk revival (Hangman’s and Bleecker) and the third album by ‘90s alt-rockers Better Than Ezra. Not your typical fare, but apparently the ones that were voted on enough that WMG felt confident to get back into circulation. The album that will likely pull focus is Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, an already canonized collection of dense, lysergic folk rock, recorded during ISB’s incredible ‘60s run, and the early album by Ronnie Hawkins (featuring a very young Levon Helm on drums) that sits on the dusty trail from rockabilly and blues to rock ‘n’ roll. But don’t ignore the gem that is Friction, Baby. The album may have marked the end of the trio’s commercial success, but it was also a huge creative leap forward, with songs like “Hung The Moon” and “Happy Endings” balancing the heartfelt and the vicious with aplomb.
The world will someday catch up to the greatness of singer-songwriter Chuck Cleaver. The Ohio-based artist has been grinding away for decades, with the now-defunct angular rock outfit Ass Ponys, and his current band Wussy, which finds him sharing the lead role with Lisa Walker and bringing smoke-stained romanticism and rootsier influences into the mix. The two groups have collectively amassed a sizeable enough discography that it feels downright rude to keep ignoring them. Maybe this solo recording from Cleaver will be the fuse to reignite some interest in his brand of heart-on-sleeve, dishes-in-the-sink, ache-in-the-soul songwriting. Send Aid is a perfectly imperfect collection with ample use of drum machines, jaw harp, and overdriven sounds that sound as if the speakers or stylus are shredded. According to the liner notes, many of these tunes were rejected or discarded Wussy tunes, which accounts for their cracked chest lyrics and Cleaver’s slightly strained vocal tones. But even without the rest of the band charging along in the background, the spirit and message of each song sink in like a fanged bite or the acid tang of well whiskey neat.
With Woodstock and the moon landing dominating the anniversary economy, other milestone cultural moments are getting left in the discourse dust, like the release of Alice’s Restaurant. The Arthur Penn film dramatized Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” and was a healthy box office success in 1969. At least one entity—Omnivore Records—is paying attention and has issued an expanded version of the film’s soundtrack. The double-LP, well mastered for wax by Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl, includes the original soundtrack release and a second disc of heretofore uncollected tunes from the film, including some Woody Guthrie classics performed by his son Arlo and his friend Pete Seeger. For fans of Arlo, the attraction will surely be side four, which boasts a 1968 recording that is a kind of sequel to the original “Massacree” that tracks the travels of the multi-colored rainbow roaches that were part of the backdrop of the restaurant. It’s loose as all get out, with Arlo clearly making it all up as he goes along and, at times, breaking up laughing. It’s exactly in keeping with the shaggy spirit of the original album and film. There’s some political commentary threaded into the mix, but otherwise, it’s all stoned escapism.
Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris, the two Brooklyn singer-songwriters that serve as the core of Charming Disaster, have a penchant for dramatic eyeliner and fashion forward outfits, both nice visual representations of their creative work. The ensemble’s woozy folk-pop plays around the edges of the Gothic and, yes, the ritualistic, but marked by a homegrown quality that could only come from two longtime friends who have spent time sharing records and song ideas for years and years. The music carries this forward with songs that are dark in subject matter but performed with a stomping liveliness that comes with the occasional smirk and punctuated, on songs like “Baba Yaga,” by Bob Wills-like hollers and yips. They clearly have a sharply-attuned sense of humor to go along with their occasional tarot readings and occult interests. The two sides of their personalities have melded perfectly on their latest album, which throws steampunk signifiers (“In the dirigible’s gondola/The clouds fog up your monocle”) and dusty storytelling in a simmering potion with Harris/Parsons-style vocal harmonies, easy breezy swing rhythms, and a healthy dose of unusual instrumentation (glass jars and ratchet sets).
Light In The Attic’s continued exploration of the vast world of Japanese music has brought them to the doorstep of folk artist Sachiko Kanenobu. That pathway was set early on thanks to the label’s work reissuing the albums of Haruomi Hosono, who produced this 1972 release, and her appearance on their lovely compilation Even A Tree Can Shed Tears. Still, having this album back in circulation, and sounding as good as it ever has thanks to Dave Cooley at Elysian Masters, is something to truly celebrate. While she denies being a folk artist in the wonderfully detailed interview included with the reissue, the music Sachiko made tells a much different story. The influence of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Joan Baez is evident throughout. But with Haruomi’s production, they are deepened through some psychedelicized touches and instrumental additions that crackle through the songs like small electric shocks. Sachiko’s material, though, was more than enough to stand on its own. She has a crystal clear, almost angelic voice and a thorough knowledge of melody that uses those vocals so wisely, floating and jumping octaves on a whim and letting her tones lingers even when she has gone silent.
American Primitive artist Joseph Allred says that when he recorded the six tracks on his third vinyl release, he didn’t have any intention toward releasing them or thinking that they added up to an album. But as he listened to the material that came out of him over the course of one evening, “a narrative came together really quickly.” You can follow his storyline in the song titles if you want, but it isn’t really necessary or vital to enjoying this record. These expressive and splayed instrumentals—played on finger-picked acoustic guitar and banjo—are the personification of the folk idiom that Allred’s forefathers (Basho, Fahey, Lang) spent years exploring. His playing is just on the right side of virtuosic, while still maintaining that rough-hewn edge of practice sessions and experimentation. And when he gets completely lost in the music, as on a tune like “The Porch In The Morning…,” Allred just narrowly avoids tumbling into free jazz territory. Every moment of this masterpiece is pitched for reaching some level of ecstasy.
Released in 1994, Live’s third album Throwing Copper was the next logical step in the grunge-fueled commercial rise of alternative rock. The York, PA quartet had already established their jam band-informed sound in the world of college radio via previous LP Mental Jewelry, but this record felt more taut and almost overfilled. There was more agitation, more starry-eyed spirituality and more of everything packed into every second. With the help of their Top 20 single “Lightning Crashes” and a lot of touring, they soared, selling millions of copies of this record. A deluxe reissue was, then, an inevitability. The positives: the ample room that they give to the music by stretching it over two LPs, a handsome package with photos from the era displayed within, the addition of CDs that include the band’s full set from Woodstock ‘94. The negatives: for fresh out of the box vinyl, these records are crackly and a little fuzzy during the louder moments (of which there are many). Some of the songs are markedly quieter and less dynamic than others, sometimes within the same side of a record. The photos are nice but there’s no accompanying essay or booklet to talk up the importance or history of Copper. And the copy we were sent is a tad warped. Not enough to affect the play but enough to have us convinced that only so much care was put into the pressings of this re-release.
For the past 15 years or so, one of the best sources for throwback soul and R&B was, of all places, Helsinki, Finland. It’s in that Nordic nation that Sami Kantelinen and Jukka Sarapää have run their label Timmion Records, an imprint that has released tasty treats from homegrown artists (Bobby Oroza, Pratt & Moody) and from here in the States (Wanda Felicia, Willie West) that all serve to bring back the warm glow of the ‘60s heyday of Stax and Motown. Unless you want to dive deep into the label’s catalog, your best point of entry is this collection of some of their best sides as chosen by the sharp ears at Daptone Records. At 10 tracks, Bad Education is an easy to swallow and absorb compilation that flies by before you know what hit you. All the songs are marked by a laid back, smoothed out quality that lends even Latin funk heaters like the title track, recorded by Chicano Batman leader Bardo Martinez and his side project the Soul Investigators, a soft cushion to absorb your hip shaking and finger popping.
While Head Automatica fans wait patiently for the eventual release of the band’s third album Swan Damage, they’ll have to make do with little delights like the vinyl re-release of their 2004 debut Decadence and its 2006 follow-up Popaganda. The group’s first record (the only one of the reissues we were sent) is a surprisingly coherent threading of a needle that sewed together the agit-punk of vocalist Daryl Palumbo’s other band Glassjaw and the still-exciting disco-rock scene that was giving pale, skinny New Yorkers a reason to get their long backs on the dancefloor. The x-factor for Decadence was the work of Dan The Automator, who served up beats and pieces for Gorillaz, Deltron 3030 and Handsome Boy Modeling School. As producer and programmer and co-writer for the majority of the tracks on this collection, he helps Palumbo and co. ease off the throttle and lay into some nasty grooves that feel like Arthur Baker remixing Cymande or some of A Certain Ratio’s best jams. Palumbo keeps it from becoming a pale carbon copy of those sounds, however, as his voice still carries the pure bite of a rocker even as he croons come ons on the one-two punch of “Disco Hades II” and “Solid Gold Telephone.” Now that the band owns these albums outright after prying them out of the hands of Warner Bros. and setting up this new label to reissue them, could Swan Damage be too far away? Time will tell.
With George Clinton, the majordomo of the Parliament-Funkadelic universe, on the road for his final go-round as a touring artist, the time has never been more right for a dip into the back catalog of the groups that he led to great acclaim in the ‘70s. The first stop that Universal and Mercury are making in that mining is with fresh vinyl pressings of the first two albums Parliament released for Casablanca Records (the first album by this project was out in 1970 on Invictus Records). While sister act Funkadelic maintained a harder edge thanks to the influence of guitarist Eddie Hazel, Parliament laid into tight funk grooves and rode them to the point of exhaustion. That’s the driving force behind 1975’s Chocolate City, a near-perfect party album comprised of roaring dancefloor fillers (“Big Footin’,” “Ride On”), a nice sultry bedroom jam in “I Misjudged You” and a playful riff on the Beatles with “Let Me Be.” Down Stroke, released in ‘74, is more varied and textured. The funk cuts are there (if the title track doesn’t get you moving, you may be paralyzed from the waist down) but the second side of the LP is spotted with a wavy take on pop and “Whatever Makes Baby Feel Good,” a psychedelic blues that lets Hazel spill molten lava all over the damn place. To Universal’s credit, these pressings sound great as—if the insert for Chocolate is to be believed—they had the actual master tapes to work from. These aren’t just necessities for your soul/funk/R&B collection, they are requirements.
If you’re lucky enough to have an extra $800, you can snap up a 38-disc CD set that compiles nearly every note of music played at the Woodstock music festival back in 1969. There are variants to be had that pull together the choicest cuts from the three-day event, but that’s massive box is the only way to hear the whole dang thing. Or you could hold out hope that your favorite artist from the fest will release their performance on their own. That’s just what Creedence Clearwater Revival has done with this double LP (or single CD or digital) issue of their Saturday night performance at Woodstock. CCR was at the top of their game in the summer of ‘69. They’d already released two fantastic albums (Green River and Bayou Country) and were set to drop a third—Willie and the Poor Boys—before the year was out. And, as every note of this release spells out, they were a peerless live act; taut and well-rehearsed, yet still capable of riding their songs past the 10 minute mark when the mood struck. Listening to this set, it feels as though the boys in CCR knew that they had to leave a lasting impression at this clearly major event. They rose to the occasion and then some. This is as fiery as they ever got, with John Fogerty taking his guitar solos on a journey through the southern psychedelic rock and blues universe before returning to his hen peckin’ roots of the Bakersfield country sound. And the three-piece rhythm section that made up the rest of CCR is arguably the best in the business that wasn’t recording for Stax or at Muscle Shoals. Full marks must be handed down to producers Andy Zax and Brian Kehew who treated the original eight-track recordings with care and precision, and to George Horn and Anne-Marie Suenram at Fantasy Studios who mastered this for vinyl. It sounds, to put it bluntly, incredible.
In the early ‘70s, after a long stretch working alongside band leaders like Miles Davis, Rashaan Roland Kirk and Pharoah Sanders, keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith struck out on his own, putting together a dream team of players, dubbed the Cosmic Echoes, and recording some deep Afrofuturist jams that hit the sweet spot where jazz, funk, psychedelia, experimental sounds and global rhythms joined forces in sweaty bliss. It all started with a pair of now classic releases—1974’s Cosmic Funk and 1973’s Astral Traveling—that are now being reissued on wax by Real Gone Music. Your appreciation for this music depends on your patience for such spacey decisions like adding lyrics to Coltrane’s “Naima” and turning the fusion grime Smith rolled around in on On The Corner and Big Fun into something taffy-like and glittery. As spectral and ethereal as Smith gets with his piano and Rhodes playing, the emphasis throughout is on percussion. Both albums boast five musicians playing drums, tambourine and tabla, all working around a rhythm rather that resorting to anything as gaudy as a beat. Their combined efforts, when colored in by the saxophone of George Barron and, on Astral, Joe Beck’s guitar, takes on the form of “the shimmer” that was threatening absorb the world in 2018’s Annihilation. Only this time with this music, that cosmic immersion feels welcome.
One of the more surprising releases that ORG Music has applied its colorful logo to is this collection of live material, recorded in 2014 and 2017, performed by monumental minimalist composer Terry Riley and his son Gyan. The material is party composed and partly improvised, though without that explanation on the back of the album sleeve, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which is which. That’s the beauty of the natural connection that this father/son pair have and how their individual talents work so beautifully in tandem. That’s particularly true with the material that Gyan wrote that highlights his rapturous electric guitar work and his dad’s tasteful melodica melodies. My favorite moment on this double-LP set remains “Deep Night,” a traditional Indian raga arranged for voice and guitar that was recorded at a festival in Victoriaville, Quebec in 2017. Their love for the music of that nation is apparent in every swaying drone that the elder Riley intones from his crystalline voice and the dancing tones that Gyan plucks from his guitar for the first half. By the midpoint, Terry switches to piano and the piece evolves into something like the haunting duets recorded by Charlie Haden and Hank Jones. The Rileys are reaching for the divine but with the full awareness of how firmly their bodies are still planted on the ground. They’re daring to bring heaven down to them rather than the other way around.
One band that has long served as part of American music’s sturdy backbone is Louisville-born group NRBQ. They’ve gone through a healthy amount of change in recent years with only co-founder and keyboardist Terry Adams remaining from the original lineup. What hasn’t changed is their firm belief in the power of a well-written, well-played rock tune. That’s as clear as ever on this new release, which compiles two radio sessions NRBQ recorded in 2015 at SiriusXM and two years later at WFMU. Over two LPs, the band runs through a joyously rough and tumble set of tunes; some familiar fare (“Red River Rock,” “RC Cola and a Moon Pie”), some pop standards (“Don’t Worry Baby,” “Don’t Ever Change”), and plenty of material that may not be easily recognizable but proves how much gas these gents still have in their collective tank. And how easily they can shift from hard-driving power pop to honky-tonk to surf breakdowns. Each copy comes also with a DVD featuring a filmed version of the WFMU performance. Because if there’s one thing better than hearing NRBQ perform, it’s watching the bubbly joy and winking comedy they bring to their every set.
Formed in Sweden in 1976, The Deontic Miracle was inspired, in part, by composer Catherine Christer Hennix’s experience working with modern musicians/theorists La Monte Young and the Theater of Eternal Music. But primarily, it was an outlet for Hennix’s original compositions, which aimed to achieve transcendent states through sound. In the four works on this archival release from the fantastic modern music label Blank Forms Editions, that comes by way of sine waves and amplified Renaissance oboes played by the composer herself and her brother Peter, and their friend Hans Isgren playing the Indian instrument known as the sarangi. These live improvisations, recorded at the Modern Museet in Stockholm appear at first blush to be a formless fog of drones reveals subtle, but important shifts. The vibrato thrum of the reed instruments. Small snatches of melodies. The glorious dissonance of instruments moving in and out of phase and harmony with one another. It takes on the effect of a huge harmonium pumping away with the intent of helping clear the mind for meditation. At the right volume and under the right chemical influences, the music swaddles and squeezes, eliciting calming massages and spiritual cleansing. Don’t be surprised if you feel 30 lbs. lighter when the last track fades into silence.