Archive for the ‘Vinyl Review’ Category

Recent Vinyl Reissues from Varese Sarabande

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Although vinyl LP sales hit a 28-year high in 2016, tallying $416 million in sales. CD sales, while still much larger, decayed as digital downloads, and then streaming, displaced physical media. Vinyl has spread from independent record stores to major retailers, from independent labels to the majors, and from reissues to new releases. Even novelty picture discs are making a comeback. And whether this is a transitory hipster fad, or a long-lasting inroad into the psyches of digital natives, it provides an interesting intersection between format and material, providing a medium for reanimating not just the music, but the experience of catalog material.

Varese Sarabande, an independent label whose work is split between film scores and pop music reissues, has spanned the LP, CD, MP3 and streaming eras. Tracing its lineage back to the early ‘70s classical label Varese International and a late-70s merger with the Sarabande label, the combined Varese Sarabande, in addition to releasing modern film soundtracks, sources reissue material from a number of catalogs, and is distributed by the Universal Music Group. Each of these recent album reissues is pressed on 180 gram vinyl, with the original, full-size front- and back-cover art, and in a couple of cases, bonus tracks.

Wynn Stewart – The Very Best of Wynn Stewart 1958-1962

Varese’s vinyl reissue of their 2001 CD compilation is unusual, in that it was originally released on CD, making this vinyl reissue really a first pressing. That said, the eighteen tracks provide an excellent introduction to one of the Bakersfield Sound’s primary architects. Alongside Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Stewart shares credit for creating the west coast country sound. Harder hitting than then-contemporary Nashville, and with some sting from electric guitars, Bakersfield planted the seeds for later country-rock marriages and any number of roots revivals.

Stewart’s sound, especially his singing, had a drama that neither Owens or Haggard matched. From his earliest rockabilly work (represented here by 1958’s “Come On”) to fiddle-and-harmony driven weepers (“How the Other Half Lives” and “Wishful Thinking”), and country pop (“Above and Beyond (The Call of Love)” – a hit for Buck Owens), Stewart ranged over a variety of styles and emotions with incredible ease. His chart success was sporadic, but the brilliance of his recordings was anything but. These tracks were cherry-picked from his years with Jackpot and Challenge, and provide a terrific sampling of his early work.

Dobie Gray – Sings for “In” Crowders That Go “Go Go”

The son of sharecroppers, Dobie Gray launched two iconic singles in a career that spanned more than forty years, and included numerous lesser-charting highlights. This 1965 album for the Charger label was his breakthrough, capitalizing on the minor success he’d generated with 1963’s punchy “Look at Me” by launching Billy Page’s “The ‘In’ Crowd” onto both the pop and R&B charts. The album includes the lower-charting follow-up “See You at the ‘Go-Go’,” but is stocked with superb album sides written by Gray and selected from period songwriters. Jackie DeShannon’s “Blue Ribbons” stands out with its Brill Building feel, as does the autobiographical “In Hollywood,” the country-gospel waltz “That’s How You Treat a Cheater” and the euphoric “Feelin’ in My Heart.” Gray is equally at home with crooned pop, string-lined ballads and up-tempo R&B, lending the album a see-what-will-stick variety. Varese’s reissue augments the album’s original dozen tracks with the soulful non-LP single “Out on the Floor.” This is a sweet treat for lovers of mid-60s pop, soul and R&B.

Aaron Neville – Tell It Like It Is

Aaron Neville’s 1966 album debut is both his most famous and his most obscure. Famous, because the title track remains his most emblematic hit, and obscure because other than a low-profile 1990 reissue and abbreviated collections, Neville’s recordings for Par-Lo have never received the archival treatment they deserve. Varese’s vinyl reissue isn’t the complete Par-Lo recitation one might dream of, but it does return the original eleven tracks (including two swinging George Davis instrumentals) to vinyl with a pair of bonuses: a stereo version of “Tell It Like It Is” and the B-side “Those Three Words.” Neville’s tiny label couldn’t capitalize on the single’s meteoric success, and quickly fell into bankruptcy. Neville recorded a few singles for other labels, but it wasn’t until he united with his brothers in the 1970s, and guested with Linda Ronstadt at the end of the ‘80s that his profile really took off. Those who know Neville for his softer hits of the ‘90s may be surprised by his early New Orleans soul sides. Now who will put together the complete Imperial, Minit, Par-Lo, Bell and Safari collection?

John Phillips – John, The Wolf King of L.A.

Following the 1969 break-up of the Mamas & Papas, Phillips quickly began working on this 1970 solo release with many of the same ace Los Angeles studio musicians who’d backed his group. Though it didn’t gain much traction at the time – in part due to a reported lack of promotion – it’s country-rock sound remained fresh, and the album’s reputation has grown over the years. Though it had been reissued in the UK in 1994, its critical re-evaluation was spurred by Varese’s bonus-laden 2006 edition. Varese’s LP reissue puts the album back on vinyl for the first time in more than forty-five years, with the original ten-track lineup.

For those accustomed to Phillip’s background singing in the Mama & Papas, his voice may be higher than you would have guessed and without the star quality of Cass Elliot or Denny Doherty. Still, he was an evocative singer, and his songs offer up a melancholy in keeping with the post-Altamont transition from the 1960s into the 1970s, and his personal transitions from group leader to solo artist and from husband to singleton. The album’s lone U.S. single, “Mississippi,” charted in the Top 40, but left album dwelling at the bottom of the Top 200. It’s a wonder this didn’t become a freeform radio staple alongside other FM favorites. But it’s not too late, and the full-sized cover gives you a place to clean your pot.

Linda Ronstadt – Silk Purse

Originally released in 1970, Ronstadt’s second solo album was reissued on CD in the mid-90s, and then seemed to have fallen out of print. Varese remedied this with a straight-up CD reissue last year, and now reaches out to vinyl collectors with this LP edition. The album bubbled under the Billboard Top 100, but managed to launch the single “Long, Long Time” into the Top 40. Recorded in Nashville, Ronstadt mixed pop and country material, including Hank Williams’ take on the Tin Pan Alley standard “Lovesick Blues,” Mel Tillis’ “Mental Revenge,” Goffin & King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (which bubbled under the Top 100) and Dillard & Clark’s “She Darked the Sun.” Ronstadt returned to California for her self-titled third album, but this Southern sojourn was an important way-point in her development from a singer in the Stone Poneys to a full-blown solo star. Varese’s 180 gram vinyl reissue includes the album’s original ten tracks, and reproduces the original front and back covers. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Josh White: Josh at Midnight

Monday, September 5th, 2016

JoshWhite_JoshAtMidnightJosh White’s 1956 folk-blues classic returns to vinyl in grand fashion

By the time Josh White began recording for Elektra in 1955, he’d reached heights that few other African-American entertainers had attained. He’d become a recording, concert and radio star, a civil rights activist and confident of FDR, and appeared in mainstream and avant garde films. But he’d also run afoul of both the left and the right by voluntarily testifying in front of the HUAC, ending up blacklisted (officially by the right, unofficially by the left) and unable to make a living in the US. But Jac Holzman bucked both sides of the political spectrum and offered White an opportunity to record for his fledgling Elektra label, releasing The Story of John Henry… A Musical Narrative as a double 10-inch album and 12-inch LP.

The following year saw the release of Josh at Midnight, an album that helped restore White’s career and boosted Elektra’s commercial fortunes. Recorded in mono with a single mic (a classic Telefunken U-47), the sound is spontaneous, lively and crisp. White is backed by bassist Al Hall and baritone vocalist Sam Gary as he works through material drawn largely from the public domain. Many of these songs were, or became, favorites of the folk revival, but even the most well-known are fresh in White’s hands. The material ranges from the sacred (“Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”) to the profane (“St. James Infirmary” “Jelly Jelly!”), with several humorous stops in between.

Ramseur’s reissue was supervised by Jac Holzman, prepared by Bruce Botnick and mastered by Bernie Grundman. The front cover reproduces the original, but with Ramseur’s logo slotted in place of Elektra’s. The back cover includes new liner notes by Holzman and song notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein, and the record labels mimic the look and color of Elektra’s. It’s a shame this vinyl-only release leaves those in the digital world with inferior MP3s, or a CD or two-fer of unknown provenance, but LP, MP3 or CD, this is an absolute classic, and a must-have for anyone whose original (or thrift-store) copy has been worn out from repeated play. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Ramseur Records’ Home Page

Marshall Crenshaw: Stranger and Stranger

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

MarshallCrenshaw_StrangerAndStrangerSecond in a six-EP series features a new song, a remake and a cover

After a less-than-satisfying engagement with his last record label, Marshall Crenshaw’s taking his music straight to the people. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, Crenshaw’s developed a subscription project that will turn out a series of six three-song 10” vinyl EPs, each featuring a new song, a cover and a remake from the singer-songwriter’s rich catalog. The EPs also include a code with which the analog-deprived can download digital versions of the recordings. The first EP was delivered earlier this year, and this second entry features a new A-side, “Stranger and Stranger,” filled with lyric uncertainty and underlined by Bryan Carrott’s  vibraphone. The B-sides include a superb acoustic remake of Crenshaw’s “Mary Anne,” that was originally recorded for the 2008 film God is Dead, and a fully orchestrated cover of the Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” The latter is played straight, with smooth choral backing vocals and a trumpet solo by Steven Bernstein. The EP with digital download, as well as a one-year three-EP subscription, is available through Crenshaw’s on-line store. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Marshall Crenshaw’s Home Page
Marshall Crenshaw’s Radio Show on WFUV-FM

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

BigStar_NothingCan HurtMeMotherlode of previously unreleased Big Star mixes

The slow catching flame of Big Star’s belated renown has recently been stoked by a feature-length documentary, and now by this Record Store Day double-LP of period demos and alternate mixes, and a few remixes made for the film. Depending on your viewpoint, the new mixes may be revelatory and revisionist, or both. The period material, however, will be welcomed by all of the band’s fans. For those who’ve been wearing out copies of #1 Record, Radio City and Third since their original appearances on vinyl, even the slightest variations in these tracks will prick your ear with something new. The quality of the original recordings and the condition of the tapes remains impressive, and the opportunity to hear these variations on much loved themes (decorated in a few spots with studio chatter) is a rare opportunity. What appeared to the public as highly polished diamonds turned out to be – perhaps unsurprisingly if you ever stopped to think about it – the results of a lot of intention and hard work. The seeds of the final tracks are here, even in the demo of “O My Soul,” but not in the balance that’s been etched into fans’ ears.

Robert Gordon’s liner notes from Big Star Live capture the feeling perfectly: “You find an old picture of your lover. It dates from before you’d met, and though you’d heard about this period in his or her life, seeing it adds a whole new dimension to the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table. You study the photograph and its wrinkles, looking for clues that might tell you more about this friend you know so well–can you see anything in the pockets of that jacket, can you read any book titles on the shelf in the background. You think about an archaeologist’s work. When you next see your lover, you’re struck by things you’d never noticed. The skin tone, the facial radiance–though the lamps in your house are all the same and the sun does not appear to be undergoing a supernova, he or she carries a different light. As strikingly similar as the way your lover has always appeared, he or she is also that different. You shrug and smile. Whatever has happened, you like it. That’s what this recording is about.” CD, CD/DVD and double-LP black vinyl editions are forthcoming. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Three Hits: Pressure Dome

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

ThreeHits_RSD13Reissue of obscure 1985 Hib-tone single + bonuses

Three Hits was a short-lived mid-80s band with some very special credentials. The band was co-founded at Appalachian State University by Sheila Valentine and Michael Kurtz, the latter of whom later co-founded Record Store Day. The group’s jangly new wave fit easily into a North Carolina scene that included Glass Moon, Arrogance, X-Teens and others. The group’s second single, “Pressure Dome” b/w “Numbers” was produced by Don Dixon at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio and released on Hib-Tone, a label better known for R.E.M.’s debut. The group played shows at CBGB and Maxwell’s, and recorded an eight-song LP, Fire in the House, with the Records’ Huw Gower producing several of the tracks. In celebration of Record Day, the Hib-Tone single is being reissued on a 12″ purple vinyl EP with the previously unreleased Dixon-produced “Picture Window,” and two Gower-produced tracks, “Cage of Gold” and “Lori (Last Girl on the Beach).” A digital download card provides two additional previously unreleased tracks: “Just One of the Guys” and “Wild Volcano.” A really welcome, and really obscure, blast from the past. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Marshall Crenshaw: I Don’t See You Laughing Now

Friday, February 1st, 2013

MarshallCrenshaw_IDontSeeYouLaughingNowSix-EP series kicks off with a new song, a cover and a remake

After a less-than-satisfying engagement with his last record label, Marshall Crenshaw’s taking his music straight to the people. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, Crenshaw’s kicked off a subscription project that will deliver a series of six three-song 10” vinyl EPs, each featuring a new song, a cover and a remake from the singer-songwriter’s rich catalog. The EPs also include a code with which the analog-deprived can download digital versions of the recordings. The first EP was delivered in November 2012 as a brick-and-mortar exclusive for Record Store Day Black Friday, and it’s now being more widely issued through additional retailers. The record’s A-side is a new song recorded with Andy York and Graham Maby that chronicles Crenshaw’s reaction to the amoral sharks of Wall Street. Given the financial misdeeds of the past decade, it could just as easily have been written about Enron’s greedy traders or deceptive practitioners of imaginary investment funds. The B-sides are a cover of Jeff Lynne’s “No Time,” sung in harmonies that suggest CS&N more than the Move’s original, and a remake of “There She Goes Again” recorded live with the Bottle Rockets. The EP with digital download, as well as a one-year three-EP subscription, is available through Crenshaw’s on-line store. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Marshall Crenshaw’s Home Page
Marshall Crenshaw’s Radio Show on WFUV-FM

Big Star Tribute to Alex Chilton

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

A couple of months after Alex Chilton’s passing in May, 2010, the latter-day lineup of Big Star (Jody Stephens, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow), along with a number of special guests, played a tribute concert at Memphis’ Levitt Shell. Though the entire concert was recorded, clearing the performance and song rights for release has proven too difficult to undertake all at once. Instead, Stephens, along with mastering engineer Larry Nix and Big Star’s engineer, John Fry, have released an initial EP of John Davis’ three performances: “In The Street,” “Don’t Lie To Me” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.” Fortunately, the sound is terrific; unfortunately, it’s only being released on 7″ vinyl at this point. You can pick it up from Ardent Music, and hear a sample of the music on the video, below.

Stream the release on Muxtape

Towerbrown: I Wanna Know (What You’re Gonna Do)

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Wild ‘60s Boogaloo and Freakbeat from France

This fantastic French foursome is back with a new EP of 1960’s-inspired boogaloo, freakbeat and swinging R&B. Isabelle Lindqwister (from Rodeo Massacre) provides the title track’s guest vocal, but it’s the hot, soulful Hammond and driving rhythm section that really heats things up with the instrumental “Emma’s Theme.” There’s a new dance step stomp, “Do the Jungle Jane,” that perfectly transplants a riff from the Munster’s theme, and though the tempo slows for “Lion Club Boogaloo,” the temperature doesn’t drop a degree as the ride cymbal adds a soul-jazz backing to the organ’s heavy chords and throaty stabs. This band has so authentically recreated the mood of mid-60s discothèque, it’s almost scary. Available as a vinyl 7” (email the band for info) as well as a digital download. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Towerbrown’s Facebook Page
Towerbrown’s MySpace Page
Towerbrown’s Blog

Rod Rogers and the Travis Jay Jones Orchestra: Las Vegas Souvenir

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Las Vegas-themed song-poem concept album

The world of song-poems is one in which an amateur songwriter’s lyric (or “song-poem”) is run through a music mill’s assembly line of melody, arrangement, performance and recording. The result is a stack of singles, albums, cassettes or CDs delivered to the aspiring songsmith, and not much else. These are vanity recordings for which the recording company has no marketing plan and no expectation of profit beyond the few hundred dollars “seed money” paid by the lyricist. A deep underground of song-poem collectors have churned out album compilations [1 2 3 4] and websites like the American Song-Poem Music Archives, that collect the best (and the best of the worst) records and shine some much deserved light on the industry’s more interesting characters.

The genre’s unparalleled superstar is Rodd Keith, an arranger, musician and vocalist whose productions often managed to transcend the banal lyrics with which he had to work. Keith recorded under a number of aliases, including this album’s Rod Rogers. This full-length LP appears to be a vanity recording, but it’s not entirely clear for whom. The bulk of the songs are credited to combinations of Jones, Riley and Vandenburg. Bandleader Travis Jay Jones is also listed as the president of the record label, Planet Earth, itself a division of Travis Jay Jones Enterprises. So one might guess that Jones was the recording mill’s proprietor, and Riley was the funding songwriter; or Jones was the songwriter and Riley or Vandenburg were the arrangers. In a large sense it doesn’t matter, as part of the charm of song-poem records is their everyman anonymity.

These are top-notch song-poem productions, featuring a tight pop combo of guitar, bass, drums, piano and odd instrumental touches likely produced by Keith’s Chamberlin. The lyrics are notable for their lack of polish – phrases that don’t quite fit the rhythm, moon-spoon-June rhymes, half-baked similes and oddly fantastic word choices. But wedded to catchy melodies (several of which lean to country-and-western) and Keith’s talanted singing, these productions are surprisingly memorable. The song cycle finds the album’s protagonist welcomed to Las Vegas with an invitation to gamble and drink that quickly leads to empty pockets. Along the way he encounters Sin City staples: lucky charms, neon lights, nightlife, quickie weddings, and (twice, yet) fortune tellers. There’s little here to make you forget “Viva Las Vegas,” but you’ll be hard-pressed to get “Lucky Vegas Gamblin’ Man” out of your head. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

See the PBS documentary Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story