Monthly Archives: September 2020

Paul McCartney • McCartney (50th Anniversary Half-Speed Master) [LP]

It’s just about Record Store Day 2020 “Drop 2” (Sat. 9/26/2020) and here we have my main purchase, PAUL McCARTNEY’s McCartney, released for the album’s 50th anniversary. This reissue – coming just three years on from the red vinyl edition – begs the question: How many copies of this (or any) album do we really need? (Which is followed by the companion question: How many times do we have to reconsider the first question?)

Well? Do you already have a copy? On vinyl? How much do you like the album? Do you play it on a regular or even once-in-awhile basis? Let me see: I already have – we’ll call it – a few copies of McCartney on vinyl. (Don’t ask how many copies including CDs…) And yes, I do like the album and play it at least a few times a year. Oh yeah, don’t forget this question that’s crucial to us older (read: 50 and above) dudes: How many more times will I be able to play this before I die, and if it’s not very many, will this new version noticeably enhance my listening experience or would the other copy(ies) I have suffice? Okay, now that we have these rhetorical considerations out of the way (or eating away!), here’s what you need to know about the new half-speed mastered McCartney.

For its 50th anniversary, Macca has decided to issue his first solo album again on vinyl, and this time the mastering really is top notch. Completed at Abbey Road by Miles Showell, who has worked on many Beatles-related projects, the record was cut from a presumably (very) high resolution file that came from the analog master tape.* Many of us would prefer it to be all analog but that kinda thing rarely happens these days, since everyone who still has original masters of their work (or entrusts them to a large conglomerate who hasn’t allowed them to fester or burn while in storage) wants to keep them safe and intact. The thing is, the method for completing a remaster isn’t as important as the care and ears that go into the process. Stay all-analog, go digital, one or the other or both, I don’t really care as long as the people involved have a good idea of what sounds good and achieve that goal. In this case, I think this McCartney sounds better than any other version I know of. (Many people would point to the UK first pressing as the holy grail, but of course, good luck finding one at a reasonable price. I don’t have one.) It was pressed on 180-gram vinyl for a deep groove, which means more info gets transferred to your speakers and therefore your ears, but the half-speed mastering process can tend to weaken the bass frequencies and I do feel like McCartney may be missing the oomph it needs to really knock it out of the park. BUT… what you do hear sounds incredible and the bass – though it may be a bit low in the mix – at least sounds distinctive.

I haven’t even got into the music itself, but I imagine anyone with even a modest interest in McCartney’s solo stuff knows what McCartney is about. It’s about 35 minutes of really good songs, with only a minor clunker factor, all played by Paul himself and joined by Linda Mac on the harmonies. My picks on this LP are “Every Night,” which really should have been a single, the rockin’ “Oo You,” and the gentle ditty “Junk.” Don’t forget “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which wasn’t released as a single in 1970 but instead became a hit when Wings did it on their 1976 live album, Wings Over America. Still – most everyone’s familiar with the song and this version isn’t much different than the band’s. The rest of the songs are primarily snippets, such as opener “The Lovely Linda” and “Valentine Day,” or interesting instrumentals that allowed Macca to flex his muscles and do something beyond what was typically allowed on a Beatles album (not counting The White Album).

This RSD version of McCartney is a limited edition (supposedly 7,000 copies worldwide) so you’d better high-tail it to your indie dealer and grab one before they’re gone or garnering higher prices once they’re made available on the internet. You can go to the Record Store Day website to find your closest dealer. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe 602508 464720 0, 2020)

* Here’s what it says on the insert inside: “This half-speed master closely references the 2011 remaster by Steve Rooke and Guy Massey. It was made as a vinyl specific transfer in high resolution and without digital peak limiting for the best possible reproduction.” That tells us this pressing comes from a new lacquer, which was cut from a hi-res digital copy that was struck from (presumably) the original analog master tape.

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Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters • Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters [LP, CD]

Well, it sure is a mighty long title for an eponymous release. TONYA DONELLY AND THE PARKINGTON SISTERS’ new album of cover versions doesn’t have a clever title but it does have an interesting vibe/concept. I must confess a few things at the outset: I was a big fan of Belly, Donelly’s ’90s alternative rock band, back in the day; I was drawn to Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters due to that first confession and the track listing of this release; and, I had no idea who these Parkington Sisters were until I looked ’em up on the internet.

Donelly was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with Belly, who put out one excellent album, Star, and a very good album, King, plus a host of compelling singles for 4AD Records (or Sire here in the States). The Parkington Sisters are Rose, Sara and Ariel (plus sometimes Lydia; I mean, she’s always a sister of theirs but not always in the group), and have been putting out light pop/indie music together since 2010. Donelly was approached by American Laundromat Records to make a covers album and decided that these Parkington Sisters would bring the right vocal and instrumental vibe to whatever songs got chosen, and so, here we are.

This 9-song excursion into other people’s music opens with a moody, violin-heavy version of The Go•Go’s album cut, “Automatic.” Already knowing that song gave me the idea that this might be an interesting album, with the songs included being mostly cunning and not cloying choices. (I’m very glad they didn’t go for “We Got the Beat”!) That’s followed by a Leonard Cohen tune I’m not very familiar with (actually, most of them fall in that category), “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Others are covers of songs by Echo & The Bunnymen (“Ocean Rain”), Crowded House (“Devil You Know”) and Mary Margaret O’Hara (“You Will Be Loved Again”). The ones I was more interested in were “Let Me Roll It,” first done by Paul McCartney & Wings on Band On The Run (1973), a more uptempo and electric tune than most of this album – and though it’s not one of Wings’ most obvious songs, it’s ultimately a safe – but enjoyable – choice. Two other covers I felt were definitely obvious choices. One is “Kid” by the Pretenders, though Donelly’s reasoning for choosing it makes sense: “[It] was [considered] actually on the heels of a conversation that we’d been having about children.” I initially would’ve gone for a Chrissie Hynde tune with a little more balls but then that wouldn’t have fit this lighter-vibed album (imagine “Tattooed Love Boys” with violins!). The other is The Kinks’ “Days,” a Ray Davies tune that is probably his most-covered song and definitely a no-brainer. I think Donelly could have given “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” or “See My Friends” a real go, though she’s the kind of singer who’s not going to cover a song if it doesn’t have a personal meaning to her, so maybe my choice doesn’t speak to her the way her choice does. What do I know? I’m just a rock critic. Finally, I do like the version of the Mike Nesmith song, “Different Drum,” first done and made into a hit by Linda Ronstadt when she was still with The Stone Poneys. It is kinda soft, true, but it’s a sweet song and it’s nice that Tanya and the Parkingtons wanted to pay tribute to Ronstadt.

American Laundromat is covering all the bases by offering this album in a variety of colored vinyl versions, as well as on CD and even cassette. You’ll have to go to the website to figure out what is still available and where.

Overall, Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters is a nice album, with light fare that’ll be great to put on at dinner and serve as enjoyable background music. That’s not meant to be a “dis,” just that, once you’ve given it a first listen it’s not gonna be a go-to album when you wanna rock out. Put it on when you want to relax, however, and it’ll be just fine. – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (American Laundromat ALR-0051, 2020)

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L7 • Smell the Magic [LP, CD]

These days I feel like I could start every review here on NuDisc.net with something like “Jeez! It was 30 years ago… boy, do I feel old!” And it was, indeed, three decades ago that L7’s Smell the Magic was unleashed upon the rock world. But unlike much of what we cover here, this one isn’t a record that I ever owned (neither on vinyl nor CD) or got into heavily so I can’t talk about it like it’s figured that greatly in my life. This is one I thought might be worth checking out again to see if my tastes had changed. Have they? Have I? Let’s see.

L7’s second big release – though it was initially a 6-song EP on vinyl – the record was also their second for Sub Pop, who had already put out a singles club 7″ of “Shove” b/w “Packin’ a Rod” (both on this release). At the time I didn’t pay much attention to their records because L7 was more rawk than I typically went. Sure, I was into punk of the British variety (and some US stuff like X and Ramones), but this branch of it was more sludgy, dare-I-say grungy (before the term was coined and overused) than I got into. Basically, slower rhythms and screamy vocals kinda turned me off. Over the years my intake of music has broadened on all fronts, though, and so, just like I have developed quite a taste for jazz and dub, I have also taken to some harder indie rock. What’s great about doing this is that Smell the Magic is practically like a new release to me. I’m not listening to it and remembering who I was seeing at the time, where I worked, or what drama I may have been going through. So I’m hearing the band’s smart ass, humorous stuff like “Fast and Frightening” and “(Right On) Thru” and digging the words, maybe because I’m not getting stuck on the basic, simple arrangements. OR: Maybe it’s just because, after years of therapy (!), I don’t automatically freak out when it sounds like someone’s yelling at me!

For the 30th Anniversary version, initial 12″ copies – or as Sub Pop calls them, Loser Editions – of Smell the Magic are on clear-with-orange/blue/grey-swirl vinyl (and Amoeba Music and Easy Street Records have a clear blue version) and CD, “remastered [doesn’t say by whom] for maximum impact.” As stated earlier, I don’t have an original copy so I can’t vouch for that claim!

L7’s energy is great, the recordings are what you’d expect for a raw indie release, and Smell the Magic is a nine song, thirty minute blast of good hard rock. Or sludge punk. I don’t know, what would you call it? Regardless, it’s a great way to bust thru the bull shit and enjoy something simpler and primal-er. How does that sound? – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Sub Pop SP 1379, 2020)

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Robyn Hitchcock • The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities [CD, DD]

ROBYN HITCHCOCK ought to pay me for reviewing as much of his music as I do. (Seriously: look at all this!) I guess you could say I’m a fan. And that’s why The Man Downstairs: Demos & Rarities warrants both my possession and dissection. Limited to 1000 copies on CD only, this ten song release is sort of a companion to 2014’s The Man Upstairs. The idea then was to record half Hitchcock originals and half cover songs, “a kind of Judy Collins 1965-era album.” Well, I’m not a fan of that folksinger’s, but since it’s always interesting to hear how Robyn hears some of his favorite songs, the concept is a good one. And in this current age of DIY, a good idea. (You can get it on CD or as a digital download on Robyn’s Bandcamp page.)

These, being demos, aren’t as ornate as the ones Upstairs, but that doesn’t matter much. Hitchcock plays mostly guitar, with few overdubs (most being backing or doubling vocals) in a cozy atmosphere. Naturally I’m really into his version of “Arnold Layne,” one of the great early Pink Floyd tunes penned by the “mad genius” Syd Barrett and practically purpose-built for Robyn Hitchcock. I’m not as fond of the Nick Drake tune “River Man” (though I now know where ’90s UK band The Lilac Time got their name) or Dylan’s “Born in Time,” but I like the Townes Van Zandt tune, “The Tower Song.” Of Robyn’s own tunes, a few of them really strike a chord at this moment in time: “All Love and No Peace,” “Recalling the Truth” and especially “The Threat of Freedom.” I’m glad they saved this stuff!

The Man Upstairs was a good record, with stellar versions of The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” and The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and so this serving of the demos that led to that Joe Boyd-produced outing makes a great companion piece. The Man Downstairs may not make it into your collection, physically (if it’s sold out by the time you read this), but you’ll still be able to conjure his presence via download. Downstairs download. I like it. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Tiny Ghost [no cat. #], 2020)

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John Prine • The Atlantic Albums [4LP Box Set]

Coronavirus deaths are definitely a drag, for sure. The April 2020 passing of folk singer/legend JOHN PRINE was a big bummer, whether – like me – you’re relatively new to his stuff or a longtime fan. The Atlantic Albums, a 4 LP box set of his first recordings, came at a great time (though clearly already in the works before he became sick from the virus) for me, as I had only a copy of his debut album (John Prine) on vinyl and was really starting to crave more.

I’m not particularly well-versed on Prine’s history, having first given him a try only a year or so ago when my partner gifted me a copy of a best-of CD, Prime Prine. I had heard of him, of course. But I hadn’t paid him no never mind until – I’ll admit it – I felt obligated to give him a go. So I’ll let you research things on your own, if you’re of a mind to, with a hint to start with maybe his Wikipedia page, his official website, or just go YouTube some videos (a couple are included below). Rolling Stone aptly called him “the Mark Twain of songwriting,” and singers like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters have trumpeted the man’s way with words. Dylan said in 2009, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” I was first tickled by some of his song titles, such as “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” “Sour Grapes,” “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You,” and so on. I’m naturally drawn to humor and that’s what I heard first in Prine’s songs. Then comes the poignancy and his ability to illuminate issues with a keen eye and a wisdom that was beyond his years: “Hello In There” is one of his best loved tunes, about old folks and how we kinda look right past ’em without considering that “old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say ‘Hello in there… hello.’” Whether you’re a fan of folk music or not – and Prine’s is adorned with instruments beyond guitar and mandolin or dulcimer – his lyrics’ll get ya. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t usually home in on the words right outta the gate.

The Atlantic Albums is a pretty basic box set, with four albums in a sturdy slipcase with a pair of funky black ’n’ white photos of John back in the day. You get 1971’s self-titled debut, ’72’s Diamonds in the Rough, ’73’s Sweet Revenge, and his last album for the label, Common Sense (1975). They’re reissued in old-style covers with the original artwork, complete with lyrics inserts. The 180-gram pressings sound incredible with no notable surface noise, and benefit from mastering and lacquers cut by Kevin Gray (whom I’ve praised before; see this review and this one). This Record Store Day release is limited to 2,000 copies and prices right now (a week after RSD) are pretty high, but that price might go down some. (There’s also a 7CD box on the horizon that includes these four albums and the next three he did for Asylum Records.) This set is a great way to get those original albums on vinyl, as the first issues can fetch pretty good money online (especially if you’re after those lyric sheets), but if this box is priced too high you can probably expect that very soon these albums will be made available separately. Of course, if you haven’t yet jumped into John’s pond, where better to start? This is pure Prine right here. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Rhino/Atlantic 603497848294, 2020)

 

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Paul Collins with Chuck Nolan • I Don’t Fit In [Book]

Not exactly the kind of book that makes most people’s summer reading lists, PAUL COLLINSI Don’t Fit In: My Wild Ride Through the Punk & Power Pop Trenches with The Nerves & The Beat (co-written with Chuck Nolan) is, indeed, a wild ride through the rollercoaster rock ’n’ roll scene of the late ’70s/early ’80s. Not only is it that, it’s a pretty quick and exciting read that’s full of the kind of anecdotes that make you wonder why anyone, ever, wanted to get into the music business in the first place.

Paul Collins first met some fame – albeit on a small scale – as the drummer for The Nerves, a San Francisco-then-L.A. band that also featured Peter Case (later of The Plimsouls) and Jack Lee, the guy who wrote one of Blondie’s greatest songs (“Hanging on the Telephone”). That band didn’t so much implode as it just came to a slow, indeterminate stop. Collins ’n’ Case switched to guitars and tried a new version of the band, called The Breakaways, that didn’t go anywhere, and then each went his own separate way. Collins kept writing songs (The Nerves had already recorded his “Working Too Hard”) and quickly assembled The Beat, who were almost instantly signed to Columbia/CBS Records, given a big name producer (Bruce Botnick, who had worked with The Doors and Love), and started what they hoped would be a swift ascension into the ranks of the great rock bands. Well, you already know that didn’t happen, right? DESPITE a killer debut album, which included power pop classics like “Rock ’N’ Roll Girl,” the book’s title track, “Don’t Wait Up for Me,” – hell, just about every song on The Beat is a winner. But sometimes a great record can’t survive things like: record company politics, promotions mixups, band name issues (you remember The English Beat? Well, they’re called The Beat outside the USA), band member squabbles, lovelife issues, etc. etc.

Without giving too much of the book away – ’cause there are some real juicy stories in here, good, bad, ugly – one thing is true: Paul Collins is a fighter. He hasn’t always been right, hasn’t always been wrong, but boy, could he write a great song! I Don’t Fit In tells his story very well and is the best rock memoir I’ve read in a long time. It’s first printing of 500 copies has already sold out but it’s available in its second printing from HoZac Books and you can order it directly from them. Power pop fans will want to snap it up, pronto. If you wait too long and they’re gone, to recall one of Paul’s great songs, you won’t be happy. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (HoZac Books HZB-009, 2020; available from their website)

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