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Platter Chatter: 4 Men With Beards Do Vinyl Right

Up there in the world of strange label names with “Sympathy For The Record Industry” and “What Are Records” is 4 Men With Beards. That’s not the only thing unusual about the San Francisco–based label.

By Tim Neely

Up there in the world of strange label names with “Sympathy For The Record Industry” and “What Are Records” is 4 Men With Beards. That’s not the only thing unusual about the San Francisco–based label.

For one, it specializes in vinyl. Second, it does only reissues. But it does some wonderful reissues.

The label is so low-key that it doesn’t even have its own Web site, except as part of the company that distributes it, Runt Distribution (www.runtdistribu But it is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its founding. In that time, 4 Men With Beards has done some really nice albums that sound good and are reasonably priced, too. Its LPs usually sell for about half the price of other labels that cater to audiophiles.

At first, the label had a pipeline to the late-1960s Atlantic catalog only. One of its first reissues was I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin’s incredible first album for Atlantic. In the years since, 4 Men has done five of her other LPs as well.

But the label has gone beyond reissuing the Queen Of Soul and Atlantic pressings only. Among 4 Men With Beards’ reissues are some classic early punk albums by The Saints, The Slits, The Buzzcocks, and Television, to name four. It also has done some jazz (Art Blakey, Nina Simone) and soundtracks (Zabriskie Point).

A nice thing the label does is put the necessary bar code on a sticker on the front of the album’s shrink-wrap rather than mar the original LP back cover, all of which were first issued in the pre–bar code days.

What spurred me to write about the label was the reissue of Richard and Linda Thompson’s album Shoot Out The Lights, one of the all-time classics. It was the last album recorded before the two divorced, and you can hear the tension in the grooves.

It seems as if 4 Men With Beards is the record-label equivalent of the annoying radio tagline for the “Jack” radio format: “We reissue what we want.” Unlike the radio format, enough other people like what the label is doing for it to survive and even thrive. Here’s to many more.

4 Men With Beards Vinyl Discography

4M 101: Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (Aug. 6, 2001)

4M 102: Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Swiss Movement (Aug. 6, 2001)

4M 103: Sonny Sharrock, Black Woman (Aug. 6, 2001)

4M 104: Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Bap-Tizum (Aug. 6, 2001)

4M 105: Otis Redding, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (Feb. 25, 2002)

4M 106: Eddie Harris, The Electrifying Eddie Harris (Feb. 25, 2002)

4M 107: Les McCann, Layers (Feb. 25, 2002)

4M 108: not used?

4M 109: Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Fanfare For The Warriors

4M 110: Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk (Aug. 26, 2002)

4M 111: Aretha Franklin, Soul ’69 (Aug. 26, 2002)

4M 112: Dusty Springfield, Dusty In Memphis (Aug. 26, 2002)

4M 113: Nico, Desertshore (Aug. 26, 2002)

4M 114: Aretha Franklin, Spirit In The Dark

4M 115: Aretha Franklin, Aretha Live At Fillmore West (Dec. 22, 2003)

4M 116: not used?

4M 117: not used?

4M 118: Young-Holt Unlimited, Oh Girl

4M 119: Charles Lloyd Quintet, Love-In (Feb. 17, 2003)

4M 120: Judee Sill, Judee Sill (Dec. 6, 2004)

4M 121: Judee Sill, Heart Food (Dec. 6, 2004)

4M 122: Soundtrack/Herbie Hancock, Blow-Up (Feb. 17, 2003)

4M 123: Soundtrack, Zabriskie Point (Dec. 22, 2003)

4M 124: Soundtrack/Nelson Riddle, Lolita (April 26, 2004)

4M 125: not used?

4M 126: Nina Simone, The Amazing Nina Simone (Dec. 27, 2005)

4M 127: Eddie Gale, Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music (Sept. 1, 2003)

4M 128: Eddie Gale, Black Rhythm Happening

4M 129: Nina Simone, Nina At Town Hall (Jan. 9, 2006)

4M 130: Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul (Jan. 9, 2006)

4M 131: Aretha Franklin, Aretha Now (Jan. 9, 2006)

4M 132: Tim Buckley, Goodbye And Hello (Dec. 27, 2005)

4M 139: Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out The Lights (Dec. 19, 2005)

4M 501: Television, Marquee Moon (June 21, 2004)

4M 502: The Saints, (I’m) Stranded (Nov. 24, 2003)

4M 503: Contortions, Buy (July 21, 2003)

4M 504: James White And The Blacks, Off White (July 21, 2003)

4M 505: Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady (Dec. 27, 2005)

4M 506: The Slits, Cut (May 2, 2005)

4M 507: Television, Adventure (June 13, 2005)

From The Stacks O’ Wax

On the subject of reissues, several have arrived recently.

Every new release by The Flaming Lipsis met by a relatively small but eager audience. A couple of their old LPs have received new life on vinyl on the Plain Recordings label, which has the same mailing address as 4 Men With Beards! (It’s another Runt Distribution label. I didn’t plan it that way, honest.) Two I’ve been able to obtain are Hear It Is (Plain 111, white vinyl) and Oh My Gawd!!!... The Flaming Lips (Plain 112, clear vinyl).

Also, Nine Inch Nails debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, was on vinyl from TVT Records for a long time. With a change in rights, the LP has been reissued by Rykodisc (RLP 10836-1).

Now to some newer material by two bands whose heyday was in the 1970s.

I can’t remember the last album of new Deep Purple material to have a vinyl release, but the 2005 album Rapture Of The Deep has one (Eagle Rock ER 20083-1, two records). Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, and Roger Glover are still there; it’s amazing that the band has been around for 37-plus years now.

The group Big Star, led by Alex Chilton,is legendary among fans of power pop. Few people bought their albums or 45s in the 1970s, but like those who purchased Velvet Underground records, it seems as if everyone who did went on to form a band. In fact, two members of today’s version of Big Star, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, were in another band influenced by the 1970s version (The Posies). For the first time in 30 years, the group, still led by Chilton, has an album of new material, In Space. It has received mixed reviews, but you can find it on vinyl (DBK Works DBK 115).

More and more new LPs come packaged in loose, audiophile-style bags rather than the standard skintight shrink-wrap. Longtime vinyl friend Matador Records is leading the way here, as two of its key 2006 albums were pressed at RTI in California, considered among the top record-pressing plants in the world.

We start with the new release by Belle And Sebastian,The Life Pursuit (Matador OLE 687-1, two records). If not everything, then almost everything the duo ever released is on vinyl. Not as well known but breaking into the mainstream is Cat Power.Also known by her real name, Chan Marshall, her first album was released in 1996, but she’s never been more popular. Cat Power’s new album is The Greatest (Matador OLE 626-1), which has an extra track not on the CD. Alas, it’s not her version of The Nerves/Blondie’s “Hanging On The Telephone” that was used in a Cingular cellular phone commercial. That remains unreleased. If you like this album, Cat’s other four albums remain available on vinyl from Matador, What Would The Community Think (Matador OLE 202-1), Moon Pix (OLE 286-1), The Covers Record (OLE 426-1) and You Are Free (OLE 427-1). There is also a 45 of “The Greatest” (Matador OLE 688-7) available for 99?. There’s no picture sleeve, however.

I’ve mentioned Robert Pollard,the brains behind Guided By Voices, before. He has a couple of new solo works on vinyl — one on LP, one on 7-inch. The album is From A Compound Eye (Merge MRG 272, two records). I love the sticker on the shrink-wrap, which advertises a free digital download of the entire album with a purchase of the LP (details inside). The 7-inch is an EP, Music For “Bubble” (Fading Captain Series 36), which is music from the Steven Soderbergh movie of the same name. The Fading Captain Series is Pollard’s own label, and it’s been my past experience that the FCS vinyl releases disappear quickly.

Arctic Monkeys,a British rock band who had two #1 singles in England in 2005, have released their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino DNO 086). They built some buzz by releasing material over the Internet before ever signing a record deal. It worked, because the album debuted on Billboard at #24, a ridiculously high position for a true indie record.

The return of Bjorkto vinyl continues. The latest is Gling-Glo, an album from her pre-fame days that was originally released in Iceland only. In fact, the LP is such a faithful reproduction of the original that the entire cover is in the original Icelandic except for the label credits (One Little Indian OLI 061).

From the mainstream, we have a couple of hip-hop records. First is the debut album by Dem Franchize Boyz, On Top Of Our Game, which includes the hit, “I Think They Like Me” (So So Def/Virgin 0946 3 42484 1 9, two records). Second is a various-artists collection, Ludacris Presents Disturbing Tha Peace (Disturbing The Peace/Def Jam B0005786-01, two records). It has six new Ludacris tracks and assorted songs from the DTP stable.

Finally, Chatter closes with a preview 7-inch single from Matisyahu, “King Without A Crown”/“Youth” (Dub Version). It’s from the album Youth, which should be out by the time you read this. The single, which has a small hole, comes with a nice picture sleeve (Epic 82876 78718 7).