Culture Factory: Stellar vinyl and vinyl replicas

By Dave Thompson

It’s always a pleasure to welcome a new player into the vinyl reissue market, and especially so when it’s one that clearly pays as much attention to detail as Culture Factory. A slew of new 12-inchers have descended in the last six months, headlined by Ted Nugent and the Ohio Players (three and two LPs respectively) reviewed in previous issues.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Culture Factory has already earned a pile of plaudits for their series of vinyl replica CDs — deluxe packages that effectively shrink to CD-size everything you’d hope to find in a full-sized album, including a playing surface that looks so close to old wax that you could easily mistake it for the real thing.  At least until you try to play it.

From a completists point of view, Culture Factory has already proven a winner, with career (or, at least, era-)encompassing collections of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver and John Cale already to their credit.  More recently, no less than 10 Blue Öyster Cult vinyl replicas were delivered, all looking and sounding just as fabulous as you’d hope.

Indeed, across the first three albums and the first live double, they arguably sewed the seeds for all that the ‘80s had in store for us — and across the last six and the second live set, they harvested them as well, which left the rest of the pack with nothing to do but follow where the Cult had led.

No one ever conceived a better live album title than “On Your Feet Or On Your Knees”; and while “Don’t Fear the Reaper” might now be one of the most over-played songs in radio history, the first time you heard it, you have to admit… it was one of the greatest singles you’d ever met.

The first three studio albums are the Cult in extremis, truly going hell for leather-trousers and living every slathering syllable that they drooled out above the noise. From “Agents of Fortune” on, they start to settle down a bit, but they could still spit blood when they wanted to. Yes, “Godzilla” was way too self-conscious to really match their earlier icons, but it remains the King Kong of metal monsters regardless; and if “Fire of Unknown Origin” was a bit too Patti Smithed for some fans, well she also wrote “Career of Evil,” and no one has ever dared knock that.

The Cult are not alone on our Culture Factory shopping list. Vinyl replicas of two 1973 Stax masterpieces, Chico Hamilton’s “Chico” and Frederick Knight’s “I’ve Been So Lonely For So Long”; and Ike Turner’s 1980 “The Edge” (featuring magnificent versions of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom”) maintain the label’s reputation for digging into some really distant corners in search of fresh treasures.

And if the vinyl replicas fill you with joy, wait till you sample their vinyl!

Coincidentally released just as its maker succumbed to the prostrate cancer he’d been battling (on February 23 this year), Leon Ware’s “Musical Massage” was released in 1976 on Gordy, during that period when the Motown empire was still coming to terms with the new (disco) currents sweeping into the R&B market.  Of course it didn’t take long, as“Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Sexual Healing” and “Love Hangover” proved, and Ware’s album comes close to duplicating those successes.

Sultry horns and soaring strings are the signature sounds, with Ware’s delectable voice almost out Teddying Pendergrass across the album’s best tracks.  Which is a lot of them, but most of all, the opening “Learning How to Love You,” the swirling “Phantom Lover,” and a tremendous Minnie Ripperton co-write, “Turn Out the Light.”

Equally welcome is the reissue of Hot Tuna’s “The Phosphorescent Rat,” a 1973 album that is rarely ranked among their finest moments but is, in fact, one of the most solid post-psych psych albums around. From the fuzzed guitars that open “Easy Now,” through the solo that audaciously opens “I See the Light” and on, on, on, the glowing rodent leads us through some truly classic, and naturally idiosyncratic Jorma Kaukonen jewels. 

But you’ll have to be quick. Culture Factory vinyl is almost criminally limited — 2,000 copies of Nugent, the Players and Ware, and just 1,000 of the Tuna. Meaning, no matter how difficult it might be to find a pristine copy of the Grunt original, it’ll soon be even harder to unearth a sealed example of this.

••••

Tapping a sometimes bullish collectors market, too, are three reissues by Welsh hard rockers Budgie: “Never Turn Your Back on a Friend,” “In For The Kill” and “Bandolier” (all MCA, U.K.)… a good couple of hundred bucks worth of wax, as you’ll know if you’ve been hunting.  And worth every penny.

Three albums with which it’s impossible to play favorites. From “Breadfan,” which opens the first-named, to “Napoleon Bona Parts One and Two,” which closes the last, Budgie stand revealed as the most visionary; the most versatile and, when the mood strikes them, the heaviest bunch of noise-makers it has ever been your privilege to crank up to eleven and let rip.

Plus, they had the greatest song titles ever. “In the Grip of a Tyre-Fitter’s Hand,” “Crash Course in Brain Surgery,” the aforementioned “Napoleon.” One look at them and you know what you want Budgie to sound like. They will not disappoint.

Neither will Memphis International’s release of producer and pianist James Luther Dickinson’s “I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone: Lazarus Edition.” It’s a live set, largely recorded in 2006 with the North Mississippi Allstars (featuring two of his sons, Luther and Cody), plus two more cut in 1983 with a raft of vintage Sun session men, and what a sterling slab of rocking blues it is.

The original album of this title appeared in 2012, but there is no duplication beyond a (this time, unedited) version of  the seething “Redneck, Blue Collar” and, of course, that seething, timeless, bluesy roar that was forever Dickinson’s imprimatur. An autobiography of, yet again, the same title is fresh on the streets as well — meaning, whether you know his music or not, there’s never been a better time to get acquainted.

Although fans of Big Star, Aretha Franklin, Ry Cooder and the piano solo on the Stones’s “Wild Horses” probably won’t need any prompting whatsoever.

Time for some classic R&B, with Varèse Sarabande’s reissue of one of the crucial albums of the mid-1960s, Dobie Gray “Sings for ‘In’ Crowders Who Go ‘Go Go.’” Of course the (nearly) title track is the key moment, but the whole album is terrific fun, a time capsule of dance and delirium that’ll have you doing the monkey jerk; which will see you at the go-go; and which will blow you away with the bonus inclusion of “Out on the Floor,” tagged onto the end of side two.

Albums from this era, once past the usual suspects, can sometimes feel a little weak — “here’s the hit, and a ton of B-sides, too.”  Gray, however, bucks that trend; blasting through the album, almost any track here could, and should, have been a whopper. For Northern Soul Mod Rockers everywhere.

From the same label, John Phillips’ debut (1970) solo set “The Wolfking of L.A.,” returns on wax to remind us what a great songwriter Phillips was. Great singer, not so much. But a great songwriter and, with a band that matches the Wrecking Crew to the Taking Care of Business boys, any other shortcomings are more-or-less irrelevant. 

“Mississippi” and the glorious “Let It Bleed, Genevieve” highlight the scruffy, bare bones bonhomie of the album, but there’s a grimy mood throughout the set which captures the time (and place) as sharply as any other LP of the age.

“Nighthawks” (Varèse Sarabande) is the late Keith Emerson’s 1981 soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone movie of the same name — a clunker on the screen, unfortunately, but the music was stellar, and this limited edition vinyl repress looks and sounds as good as it ought to.

There was always so much more to Emerson’s musical vision than his “best-known” outings, and little here is going to send you rushing to play your old Nice albums afterwards. But, if you want to immerse yourself in a genuinely atmospheric mood piece, just turn out the lights and drift through Nighthawk. It’s one of Emerson’s best.

Back to the disco era for a moment, and a fabulous new release from Soul Jazz. “Hustle! Reggae Disco” is a 13 track digest of period funk, soul and disco classics, as seen and squeezed through the reggae factories of Kingston, Jamaica. And it is glorious!

Three discs strain to contain the grooves; from the Blood Sisters’ chunky romp through “Ring My Bell,” to Sharon Forrester’s “Love Don’t Live Here Any More,” and onto Risco Connection’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” Original 12-inch mixes are preferred whenever they’re available, the sound quality and packaging are traditional Soul Jazz perfection, and one hopes there’ll be plenty more volumes to come.

But enough of these CD replicas and triple album comps — back to basics we go with a brand new single by Cat Stevens.

I’ll repeat that. A BRAND NEW SINGLE BY CAT STEVENS.

Recorded at, and for, Jack White’s Third Man Records, two new versions of his very first two singles, “Matthew and Son” and “I Love My Dog,” are drawn into earshot and, if there’s no surprises in the arrangements, there’s no disappointment, either.

Recorded direct-to-acetate on the Blue Room studio’s 1955 Scully lathe, the sound is crystal clear, the atmosphere electrifying. This is Stevens au naturale, and in every way as glorious as you’d want it to be.

Leave a Reply