By Dave Thompson
If you need any indication of how healthy the market for vinyl now is, Record Store Day’s Black Friday stands as the perfect example. No matter how alluring the limited editions may have been (and some of them were), there were twice as many regular releases in RSD BF 2018 that were equally enticing.
For example… we were a little late making a traditional pilgrimage to Rainbow Records in Newark, DE; the place had been open for 30 minutes, and already there were empty spaces where who-knows-what prizes once had awaited. And then you hear about the collector who arrived a full 12 hours early, and sat out in the cold night waiting for the doors to open. And another who joined him at 1am. And the rest who were lined up well in advance of opening time, swooping in and cleaning out the place.
It’s lucky we weren’t really looking for much.
Those replica Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson 10-inchers (“Cross Road Blues” and “Black Snake Moan”—both Traffic Entertainment) look and sound great. But are they as nice as Confessin’ The Blues (BMG), which folds five 10-inchers into old style 78 “album” packaging, and 42 original blues numbers chosen for the purpose by The Rolling Stones (Ron Wood even painted the cover art).
Johnson’s included, of course (“Love in Vain Blues”), alongside a wealth of other cuts that the Stones themselves have either covered (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster,”, Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” Robert Wilkins’ “Prodigal Son,” Bo Diddley’s “Mona”) or otherwise been influenced by (Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone”), while the accompanying booklet offers artist bios and some fabulous photos. A genuine work of beauty.
Sticking with the Stones, a 12-inch repressing of Keith Richards’ “Run Run Rudolph” solo single (BMG), with the original “Harder They Come” B-side, plus the later “Pressure Drop,” was RSD’s gift to Stones collectors and more than welcome it was.
But a three LP recounting of The Roling Stones’ 1994 tour, Voodoo Lounge Uncut (Eagle Rock), proves just as spellbinding, the full November 25 Miami concert capturing the Stones in absolutely stunning form. True, purists could probably live without Sheryl Crow popping up for “Live With Me,” but when Bo Diddley joins the fun for “Who Do You Love”—even writing that sentence makes the heart skip. Nice to see the likes of “Monkey Man,” “Doo Doo Doo” and “Dead Flowers” in the set list, too, and that “Not Fade Away” opener is itself a Stones classic.
Sonically, it’s a little disappointing compared to others in the series (the drums are too loud, the guitars too quiet), but it’s an exciting listen regardless. And, if you need more, there’s a Blu-ray of the full show, and a CD with five extra tracks from Giants Stadium, but six sides of cool voodoo are hard to beat.
Another smartly packaged 10-inch celebrates the 60th anniversary of Bert Stern’s movie of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival (Charly). Two LPs, a CD and a DVD of the film itself round up cuts by Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day and more, again with stunning sound and glorious visuals.
The movie was, after all, one of the touchstones of ’50s jazz documentation, and both the music and movie, and the 44-page booklet celebrate the anniversary with painstaking remastering and period style. It reminds us, too, what a broad church “jazz” was back then, too, as Mahalia Jackson, Chuck Berry and Big Maybelle all step out on stage, while the movie itself proves that 10 years before Monterey Pop supposedly “invented” rock cinematography, Bert Stern had been there, done that and designed a really cool T-shirt.
Similarly lush, and equally replete with late ’50s jazz (and more besides), The Complete Cuban Sessions is a five LP collection reissuing (naturally) the five Cuban Jam Session albums released by Panart between 1956-1964. The box art, sensibly, echoes the style of the original albums.
The sessions themselves are legendary; and, if you don’t know the story, a 24-page booklet serves up deeply detailed background to both the musicians and the music. In essence, however, what we have are some of the most important Cuban musicians of the era, tearing out across both highly stylized standards (“Perfida,” “Cha Cha Cha,” “Mambo”) and sheer improvisation.
Taking over the Panart studio, it’s the sound of the players simply letting rip—all evening long, they’d been entertaining the tourists in the nightclubs and hotels of Havana; this was their opportunity to entertain themselves, and the modern listener’s only regret is that so little of the music they made was actually released—there must be hours of further jamming still sitting in the archive.
What we get, though, is incredible, beautifully remastered LP after LP that effectively tell the story of Cuban music, skimming through styles and fashions without a care in the world, and so gloriously uplifting that you don’t need to have heard a note of it before, you will be converted when you do.
Jimi Hendrix made his traditional RSD appearance with a mono 7-inch EP of “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” (Sony), but of course it was but a trailer for the main attraction, the 50th anniversary of Electric Ladyland. A beautiful box set celebrates the event across 12 sides of vinyl, divided equally between the original LP, twenty early takes and demos, and the full Hollywood Bowl show from September 1968. Plus a ‘making of’ Blu-ray, plus an absolutely breathtaking 5.1 mix of the album.
The sheer quality of modern Hendrix reissues does not need to be dwelled upon—these sets are uniformly magnificent, although perfectionists will note the pressing flaw that lurks on side four, in the silence between “House Burning Down” and “Watchtower.”
It’s minimal; indeed, a simple audible click is scarcely noticeable when compared to some of the foul-ups that now seem an intrinsic part of the modern deluxe box set experience. But one does wonder, once again, whatever happened to quality control?
Nevertheless, Ladyland itself has not sounded this good since the original U.K. LPs rolled off the presses, while the other material comes close to that same standard. Certainly, anyone who remembers the decades we spent listening to increasingly ropey bootlegs of Hendrix out-takes and live shows will certainly be celebrating this set, while the booklet packs a treasure trove of ephemera, too. It’s a joy to behold.
Of course, RSD did bring a few treats that hang in splendid isolation. That Julie Driscoll/Brian Auger live album, Berlin Jazztage, for example.. Spin Cycle missed out on that one, but we did pick up The Dead Kennedys’ Iguana Studios rehearsal Sessions (Manifesto), thirteen rough and ready moments from the original five-man lineup, but with the band’s excoriating vision already firmly in place.
A picture disc for the once impossible-to-find mono edition of The Mothers of Invention’s We’re Only In It For The Money (Universal) brought a smile to the face too, even though the music itself is now readily available on the Lumpy Money Project/Object box. This is, after all, one of the key early Zappa albums, not only for the Beatle-baiting artwork that still seems to attract so much attention, but also as home to some of the Mothers’ most enduring material.
But Zappa, too, has been well-served in the reissues marketplace of late, with fresh visits to Chunga’s Revenge and Burnt Weeny Sandwich proving hard to resist, and an anniversary edition of Zappa in New York. Again, RSD tries hard, but the regular releases still glitter just that little bit brighter.
A pristine all-analog remastering of the first Joan Baez album (Craft Recordings), for example, reminds us just how influential this record was when it originally appeared in 1960—pre-Dylan, pre-Ochs, pre-Peter, Paul and Mary… in terms of the folk revival, pre-almost any hitmaker bar the Highwaymen.
A lot of the songs here were already standards when Baez got hold of them, but she raised them higher than that—would anyone have touched “House of the Rising Sun,” for example, had Baez not delivered it so deliciously? She breathed fresh life and interpretation into the Child Ballads canon (“Henry Martin” and “Mary Hamilton”), and has any album ever packed a more dramatic opener than “Silver Dagger”? As Maynard Solomon’s 1960 liner notes so rightly remark, “in its four short verses loom enough tragic characters to populate an 18th century novel.”
Finally, from more recent times, another reissue that reminds us what magnificent times we live in, so far as vinyl is concerned. When Tiger Army frontman Nick 13 released his self-titled solo debut in 2011 (Craft Recordings), it shocked a lot of that band’s psychobilly followers. Calmer, gentler, countrified waters lapped the darkness that traditionally clung to 13’s muse. But dig deeper and the roots that both forms share shine through it all.
Nick 13 is no stranger to vinyl. It was released as such the first time around. But the Sugar Hill original is a beast to find today—Discogs records one sale that topped $150. Well, here it is at regular price and worth every penny it is.
Note: Look for any leftover 2018 RSD Black Friday releases while visiting your local record store!