Vinyl Reviews; Hendrix, Dr John, Delaney & Bonnie, Amy Rigby, Ben Vaughn, Harry Potter, Wolf Roxon

One day, they will reach the bottom of the Jimi Hendrix archive.  One day, they will release an album of unreleased material, and the faithful will play it and then say “oh.”

Thankfully, however, that day has yet to dawn.  Although none would ever rate Both Sides of the Sky (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) among the most significant Hendrix albums ever unleashed, even among the posthumous collections, there’s enough music spread across its four vinyl sides to ensure that half of it, at least, deserves long-term rotation, and the remainder ain’t bad, either.

The release itself is a thing of beauty.  Heavy, clean, vinyl with a packed eight page booklet, and though it appears to hail from a digital master, it’s a good one.  Which, we all know by now, is not always the case.  Delving deeper, ten of the thirteen tracks have never seen daylight in this particular form before, and that includes a fiery version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” with Stephen Stills and Buddy Miles completing Hendrix’s bass-driven power trio.  There’s a terrific, if brief instrumental take on “Cherokee Mist,” and a three minute sketch of “Jungle,” featuring Hendrix and Miles alone.

For the most part, we’re listening to rehearsals and jams. Nothing seems to leap out of an even halfway complete studio recording, and that might be a problem for some listeners.  Other tracks (“Lover Man” especially) have already seen their definitive versions released elsewhere, rendering one more a shade redundant.  

But it’s hard ever to tire of “Hear My Train A Coming,” no matter how or when it was taped, and the Band of Gypsies’ takes on “Stepping Stone,” “Lover Man” and “Mannish Boy” are all hot-wired for happiness.

One day, a new Hendrix album will be boring.  But not yet.

Let’s listen to some Dr John. He was, after all, arguably the one artist of late sixties vintage who could truly match Jimi for post-psychedelic atmospherics and invention, and his magic is exquisitely encapsulated here. Professor Bizarre’s Funknology (Atco/Run Out Groove) is a two LP collection, half comprising an admittedly selective “greatest hits,” and half devoted to the out-takes from 1970’s The Sun, Moon and Herbs, from a time when the good Doctor was planning to make it a triple album.

Recorded in London with Derek and the Dominoes (Eric Clapton included), Graham Bond, Mick Jagger and a cast of many, it was a fabulous album in its released form. This just shows what an even better set it could have been, had Dr John’s original scheme been fulfilled.  And maybe, if we all wish hard enough (and this package does its job), the full set might well be on the horizon.  

For now, though, eight tracks include just one (“Craney Crow”) that appeared on the original LP (albeit in alternative form), and a few others (“Wash Mama Wash,” “Tipitina,” “Quitters Never Win”) that would turn up on sundry later albums, again in different shape, and never with the power that they evince here.. 

The “greatest hits” portion of the set, meanwhile, delights via the inclusion of the 45 versions of “Such a Night” and “Wang Dang Doodle,” alongside two tracks apiece from Gris Gris and Remedies (no “Gilded Splinters,” though), “Iko Iko” and “Such a Night.”

It’s a marvellous collection, a must for hoarders and an eye-opener for everyone else.  And while we’re on the subject of Eric Clapton, check out another of his period doings, in the form of a beautifully expanded reworking of Delaney and Bonnie’s Motel Shot (Atco/Run Out Groove).

Seldom ranked among their greatest triumphs, Motel Shot was further confused by the belief that the entire album had already been recorded, in a motel (or thereabouts), prior to a studio shiny remake putting in an appearance.  What we get now, as it sprawls across sides three and four, are a glimpse into those earlier tapes, including three alternate takes, five unheard numbers, and the revelation that the original sessions were actually recorded in producer Bruce Botnick’s living room.

It sounds like it ought to – live, raw, energetic, fun.  One take for the most part, one microphone, no overdubs, no superstars.  Just a constant stream of friends and family passing through, playing for a while and then leaving.  In another world, this could have been Delaney and Bonnie’s Basement Tapes and, in a way, it still is.  So again we hope that one day soon, we might be granted the opportunity to hear the entire shebang.  But for now, this will do nicely.

So will this. Amy Rigby’s The Old Guys (Southern Domestic) is her first solo album in a dozen years,but the nature of time is such that such a span passes in the blinking of an eye, and twenty, as well.  “Are We Still There Yet” talks old times with an old acquaintance – “when you’re around, it’s like the nineties all over again,” and they still can’t decide between CDs and cassettes.  So it’s smart that she has released this on vinyl.

Reflection does flavor the album, but there’s no sense of loss here… except for that song, maybe.  To a lot of would-be listeners, after all, Rigby herself is a reminder of the decade her music helped shape.  But across the album as a whole, she is smarter, sharper, and maybe even more melodic than she was way back when, when mod housewives kept diaries and danced with Joey Ramone.  And she revels in the freedom that not having to be that Amy Rigby allows her.

Largely acoustic, The Old Guys is liquid and livid in equal parts. “Back from Amarillo” is pure, “Bob” is even purer.  But “Playing Pittsburgh is pointed, and “Leslie” is what the Shangri-Las would sound like if somebody had that same idea today, and it hadn’t been done before.  And then there’s “New Sheriff,” which feels like it could have been recorded in the shower-stall with a one-woman band playing everything at once.  There’s only a handful of outright rockers on The Old Guys, but “New Sheriff” remedies any deficit you can think of.

Sticking with names we know from the nineties, Ben Vaughn’s Instrumental Stylings has just resurfaced (Bar None), a fine set that Vaughan himself saw as his route into composing TV and film music – which indeed it was.  But other ears heard, and still hear it as an eclectic of not-always-Americana themed pieces, bolstered for its reissue by four bonus tracks, and remastered to within an inch of perfection. 

And inching even further ahead in time, if you’ve ever wondered how to get the youngest generation onto vinyl, a box set of the first five Harry Potter movie soundtracks (Rhino), each lavishly sprawling across four picture disced sides, might well be the start.  You’ve read the movie, seen the book, used the CD as a reflecting glass to ward off evil spells… now relax within a box set comprising twenty sides of John Williams-and-co powered vinyl.

The jury is still out on whether vinyl picture discs are the ideal vehicle for conveying the true power and glory of music – particularly when it’s as stirring and involved as the best of the Potter themes.  The pressings sound okay, though, and the silver-on-black slipcase looks fabulous.  Plus, it’s great to finally hear the music without all those children jabbering over it.

Finally, Reflections from the House of Buttermilk: The Demo Tapes 1970-2013 (WR) is the first volume in a proposed series of albums rounding up the music of Wolf Roxon, veteran of sundry scenes as far apart as St Louis, Hollywood and New York City.  

The bulk of the music appears to date from throughout the first decade or so of that span, but it’s hard to tell – though Roxon’s liners namecheck five different bands (the Moldy Dogs and Walkie Talkie among them), they neglect to tell us who, where or even when the twelve tracks within were taped.  So are these primal flashes of pre-punk sentience dating from decades gone by?  Or do they hail from more recent times?

It’s hard to say, and maybe that’s a problem.  Lyrically and otherwise, the opening “Punk is Dead” would have been a remarkable offering in, say, 1975; and a nicely ironic one in 1977-78.  But its impact dissipates with every passing year since then, in the same way that the Beatles were amazing in 1962, but if they’d come along in ’82, they’d have been just one more retro revival band.

The music here is great, punky poppy rocky fun, and both sound quality and pressing are fantastic.  The packaging is exquisite, a tip-on gatefold, a four page insert, lots of pix and background.  But context is often as important as content, and there, The House of Buttermilk seems wanting.  It’s a shame, because if we knew exactly what we were listening to, this could be next to perfect.

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