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. 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 includes a collection of albums by an underappreciated ’70s folk singer, a re-release of a Cuban jazz classic and some of the loveliest ambient music you’ll ever hope to hear.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of Buena Vista Social Club, the ensemble whose self-titled 1997 album revived the careers of a number of Cuban artists (Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo, Ibrahim Ferrer) and sparked a welcome craze for music from this island nation. With the 25th anniversary of that momentous release, originally issued by Nonesuch, BMG has unveiled this deluxe edition. Packaged like a great coffee table book, the reissue includes a remastered version of the original LP on both vinyl and CD with the latter containing a wealth of unheard material from the album sessions. As well, there’s a lovely booklet featuring extensive notes on each song and some fantastic behind the scenes photos of the recording process. It’s a majestic collection worthy of the enlivening, stirring music found within. Producers Ry Cooder and Nick Gold allowed the personalities of these various musicians to come blazing out and captured the ardent breadth of these tunes.
Composer and producer Frank Maston has the spirit and sound of his current French home possessing his musical mind. In collaboration with the Swiss ensemble L’Éclair, he has composed a fresh EP of material that floats in the dreamy netherworld created by artists like Serge Gainsbourg, Air, Stereolab, and electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey. Each song is gooey and soft, oozing with a sensuality that skirts the edges of pure eroticism. In other words, in the wrong (or very right) hands, this could be an alternate soundtrack to Emmanuelle or some other delicate softcore film from the ’70s. The 45 RPM pressing is ideal for this music, goosing the low end and smearing Sébastien Bui’s synthesizer tones across the stereo field like Vaseline on a camera lens.
The 10th anniversary re-release of The Milk Carton Kids’ debut looks back to those frenzied days when the California folk duo had first joined forces and spent their first years together on stage and on the road. Inside the booklet that accompanies this three-LP set is a US map that tracks their movement from one side of the country to the other in 2011 and 2012—hundreds of shows. And the bonus discs of demos and live tracks that join a lovely remaster of the original album reveal the effort that the pair put into songwriting, harmonizing and winning over a suspicious audience. Their efforts clearly paid off. The duo’s songwriting were so well-considered and their vocal parts so well-honed from the jump. They’ve only gotten better since but if they slipped from the scene after this one LP, we’d still be feeling the impact from Prologue a decade later.
The latest in Blue Note Records’ Tone Poet Series, the label’s high end reissues of classic albums, couldn’t be more different. The collection that brought together saxophonists Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan is a classic of the West Coast sound. Recorded in 1953, this group, which also boasted a young Chet Baker on trumpet, applies its easygoing charms and casual solos to a delightful selection of standards like Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good” and a particularly lovely “I’ll Remember April.” Shorter’s 1966 album is far more agitated and aggressive. The swing is still there but cut through with harder edged playing that sounds like Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Chambers and Freddie Hubbard are letting out some deep-seated anger on their instruments. What these reissues share is a spotless sound overseen by producer Joe Harley and mastering engineer Kevin Gray. Thanks to their sharp ears, the music is as gripping as ever.
Also out this month were two more entries into Blue Note’s more budget-conscious Classic Vinyl Series. This run of releases has been marked by some pressing issues with several albums marred by non-fill, the flaw that leaves some wax out of individual grooves. The result is jarring interruptions in the music that sound almost digital in nature. It remains to be seen if this is the case for all copies but these new editions of Eric Dolphy’s finest hour as a bandleader and one of Herbie Hancock’s loveliest collection of tunes have almost no problems to speak of. Through multiple spins, I could only detect brief flickers of fuzziness that might have slipped by me entirely if I wasn’t listening for them. This bodes well as Blue Note recently announced a new slate of releases for this series that will continue monthly through at least April of 2022.
One of the more welcome surprises within the flood of recent vinyl reissues is this appropriately weighty box celebrating singer-songwriter Laura Nyro. Tucked into each limited set is remastered re-pressings of Nyro’s first seven full-lengths and a collection of single tracks, demos and live material. Tracing her full story in this short amount of space is impossible, but in her late ’60s and ’70s heyday, Nyro was one of the most popular songwriters around, penning big hits for the Fifth Dimension and Blood Sweat & Tears. On her own albums, she went wherever the muse directed. On 1970’s Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, Nyro recorded with both the Muscle Shoals Band and a jazz ensemble that included Alice Coltrane, and on Gonna Take A Miracle, she recorded a set of soul/R&B tunes with help from the vocal trio Labelle. The emotion and depth she could bring to a single lyric and to her dynamic vocal performance put her on the same ground as contemporaries like Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Yet, she’s not often talked about in the same glowing regard as her fellow songwriters. The size of American Dreamer may be too daunting to serve as an immediate corrective to that oversight (especially as original copies of her work are easily found used) but if it’s a full immersion you want, this is the way to go.
The equipment used on ??Jardin des Étoiles, the latest album from Blue Glass, is humble: a guitar and two synthesizers. But what this Seattle artist has created is far from simple. Each of the seven tracks is a humid fog of electronic sound where every gentle wave of drones and melody feels like they are slowly coating the room with color and texture. Michael Shunk, the man behind Blue Glass, places each stratum of these pieces with such tenderness, as if he’s handling some delicate sculptures made by his namesake material. The vinyl pressing of this album could have be treated with similar thoughtfulness. The otherwise lovely translucent orange wax is surprisingly noisy right out of the sleeve. Hopefully something a quick cleaning will clear up as these gorgeous compositions deserve to be experienced free of surface noise.
If you have even a passing interest in post-rock, you know the work of Bundy K. Brown. He was a former member of Tortoise and logged time in vital Midwest outfits like Basto, Gastr del Sol, and Pullman. For a brief stretch in the ’90s, he also led a group called Directions, which released a lone LP in 1996 and an EP the next year. It’s the latter that saw a welcome reissue this month, with the original release augmented by a demo version and a dizzying remix concocted by Deadly Dragon, a DJ crew that included Brown, his Tortoise bandmate John Herndon and Liz Phair collaborator Casey Rice. All four tracks on this EP are great, but I keep coming back to the remix which takes the woozy jazz-dub of the two versions on side A completely apart and reassembles them with a delirium worthy of Lee “Scratch” Perry or fellow Chicagoan Sun Ra.
The current school of young jazz talent emerging on labels like Gearbox and International Anthem has a catholic embrace to their chosen genre. No one seems particularly interested in sticking to one style or approach. Emma-Jean Thackray, for example, attacks jazz from all angles on her debut full-length. She’s just at home writing in a psychedelic/spiritual mode as she is dipping into the dance grooves marking much of London’s broken beat scene, post-bop splay, brass band shuffles and sultry R&B-influenced downtempo. Thackray also wisely chose to press this music to two LPs rather than squeezing it all on to one disc. (This vinyl release is out via her Warp-associated imprint Movementt.) What could have sounded like a lovely back garden now sprawls out like a lush, wild park in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
Just in time for the opening of Third Man Records’ London outlet comes an archival collection of material from criminally underheard UK post-punk/psych dynamos Magic Roundabout. Pale Saints founder Ian Masters spins a likely apocryphal tale on the hype sticker that this recording from 1987 was unearthed “during a search for a lost newborn in Manchester’s slums,” but it befits the muddy quality and noisy bliss found on this LP. The group bears the thudding, feedback-soaked influence of forebears like The Jesus and Mary Chain on the glorious “Cast Your Sadness Away” and the dopesick rattle of the Pastels on “She’s A Waterfall.” And within the muck is the shining jewel of Linda Jennings’ vocals. Just don’t forget the side-length “Alice’s Paperplane,” a 20-minute symphony of guitar exploration, organ shrieks and double-tracked vocals reminding the world, “It really doesn’t matter.”