Category Archives: colored vinyl

Frank Zappa • The Hot Rats Sessions [6CD Box Set]

Out of all the FRANK ZAPPA albums a newbie could start with, Hot Rats might not be the best choice. “It’s jazz,” I hear you cough. [Careful!] “Ick.” That’s what I thought the first time I heard it, anyway, back in the late ’70s after discovering Joe’s Garage and then The Mothers’ Fillmore East–June 1971. Besides one song with then-unknown-to-me Captain Beefheart kinda narrating, it was all instrumental and fairly difficult for my 16 year old music brain to comprehend. No humor – which does belong in music – no lyrics or singing, no obvious hooks for me to catch. Fast forward nearly forty years and 50-something year old me is, like, “This is a damn good album!” And now, at the landmark album’s 50th anniversary, there’s way more to get into than the original six cuts that made up Frank’s first proper solo album. The Hot Rats Sessions is a major box set, comprising six CDs, a nice book with lots of photos and notes about the sessions, a set of guitar picks and even a board game. Hot rats, indeed!

Hot Rats was the first non-Mothers of Invention record from Zappa – though a few Mothers played on it – if you don’t count Lumpy Gravy, which he wrote but didn’t play on, and the first time the guitarist/bandleader put something out generally lacking words. It was also, though, the first time his guitar soloing was given such a front seat, and that is something guitarists all over the world can dig, even if they can’t quite fathom the semi-jazz chord patterns or the soloing by violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. (I’m not huge on that part, myself, though I am a fan of Harris’ early work as part of Don & Dewey.) Though Zappa is credited with the bulk of the playing on Hot Rats, Mother Ian Underwood played piano, organ, sax, clarinet and flute, and others played here and there on the sessions (Ron Selico, John Guerin, Jimmy Carl Black, Art Tripp III and Paul Humphrey on drums; John Balkin, Max Bennett, Roy Estrada and Shuggie Otis on bass; Bunk Gardner on sax; Harris on violin). Those sessions took place over a couple weeks in July 1969 with the finished LP released in October. With catchy (for jazz!) tunes like the tasty “Peaches En Regalia,” “Willie the Pimp” (which The Mothers did on Fillmore East), the sweet “Little Umbrellas” and others, it was yet another Zappa classic at the time – but who really knew what to make of it?

Well, now it’s available in super long form for all of us to figure out, and since many of us have so much time on our hands right now, there’s never been a better time to give it a try. The Hot Rats Sessions comes in a 12″ x 12″-ish box housing the six CDs in a gatefold LP-style folder, a 28-page book with notes from Underwood and Matt Groening (he did not play on these sessions!), and the aforementioned game, Zappa Land, which has a 12″ x 24″ board and many colorful game pieces. Needless to say you may want to make color copies of those so as not to destroy the value of this super deluxe box set! In all, there’s much to recommend this baby. Sure, some of the lengthy jamming may get tedious after awhile (though the 32-minute “Big Legs” is scintillating throughout*), and let’s face it: no matter how good a box set is, you’re only likely to dive into the deep end on rare occasions anyway. But if you really like your Rats Hot, you must partake. Find it on sale somewhere and dig in while the diggin’s good.
* “Big Legs” in severely edited form is “The Gumbo Variations” on the final released album.

4/5 (Zappa Records ZR20032, 2019)

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Booker T. & The MG’s • The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962-1967) [CD, 2LP]

It’s pretty hard to beat the grooves that BOOKER T. & THE MG’S laid down back in the ’60s, and proof of that can be found in the grooves that make up The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 (1962- 1967), a new compilation from Real Gone Music. This 29-track funk-a-thon is one hell of an intro to the Memphis group’s sound, muscular R&B instrumentals from a mixed race melting pot of organ/piano, guitar, bass and drums that basically defined the Stax sound.

The 1CD/2LP collection compiles the band’s early period sides for Volt and Stax, the former label morphing into the latter and becoming an indie powerhouse that gave us Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and many more. Made up of organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassists Lewie Steinberg and (later) Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. and his MG’s concocted a sound that was high on swinging, hard hitting grooves that to this day are the epitome of what makes Memphis music so irresistible. Pretty much anyone who’s ever turned on the radio has heard “Green Onions,” the band’s signature and first single, and all of the following records had the same basic ingredients. Despite their efforts to mix it up a bit by adding additional instruments here and there, the original recipe was so good that no amount of tweaking could alter its appeal. Yet, followup singles “Mo-Onions,” “Jellybread” (see video below) or the fabulous “Boot-Leg” and “Hip Hug-Her” never bettered that first side, charts-wise.

Real Gone Music’s 29-track compilation is 75 minutes long, generous as hell for one CD (or two LPs) and would be a lot to digest if it wasn’t for the fact that Booker T. & The MG’s music is so fun and uplifting that the vibe never really gets old. (It helps that the tunes are rarely more than a couple of minutes long.) I can imagine what it might’ve been like to hear these guys play them live, stretching out on a solo or groove and really getting down with it – I’m sure I would’ve totally dug it. As in “dig it,” you know, that phrase they said back in the Sixties and which some of us younger old farts still say on occasion. Worth the low price, for sure, The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1 is all you need to get your own “MG Party” started.

4/5 (Real Gone Music RGM-0889, 2019)

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The Undertones • West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of [2LP]

America may have closed its borders to people traveling from Ireland, but that won’t keep legends like Derry’s THE UNDERTONES from invading our ears. West Bank Songs 1978-1983: A Best Of is a new compilation of the fab fivesome’s greatest hits, a 2 LP set that you can order up right now and have delivered to your door while that is still a possibility. If you already know about The Undertones then chances are great that you’ve got at least one record by them, and it’s highly likely that you’ve got some sort of best-of that includes much of what’s on this compilation. Still, old fans like me can always make room for a new compilation – perhaps affording a new way to look at their career, and newbies get a chance to discover a great band that still deserves their time on the turntable.

Most of the young punks’ great songs are here, from their debut “Teenage Kicks” – a perennial favorite – to “My Perfect Cousin” and later, more mature fare like “It’s Going to Happen!” and “The Love Parade.” Culled from the band’s first four albums and non-LP singles (effectively their career from ’78 until they disbanded in ’83; they reformed later with a different lead singer), West Bank Songs is chock full of the spirited, humorous yet edgy punk and new wave tunes they’re known for, along with the slightly distorted guitars and singer Feargal Sharkey’s nasal teenage vocals. What’s missing, though, is some of the B-sides that were as important as the A-sides they backed, such as their invigorating cover of the psychedelic nugget, “Let’s Talk About Girls” or their own tune, “Mars Bars.” Not that you can’t find those on other compilations, such as 1983’s All Wrapped Up double LP or Rykodisc’s The Very Best of The Undertones (from 1994), but they are important songs which for some reason were left off this latest compilation. Still, you can’t deny that The Undertones are one of Ireland’s greatest exports, no matter which random selection of their songs you happen upon. West Bank Songs is a 30 song affair, on purple and white vinyl, with fairly interesting (though not that in depth) liner notes and some pretty great photos, and a cover design that’s an homage to The Rolling Stones’ Aftermath album (UK version). It’s totally worth the dosh!

4/5 (BMG/Salvo/Ardeck SALVO426DLP, 2020)

 

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Linda McCartney • Wide Prairie [LP, CD, DD]

Lots of insults have been lobbed at LINDA McCARTNEY since the day she entered husband Paul’s life. “She broke up The Beatles,” “she can’t sing,” “she’s a bleedin’ vegetarian,” etc. This reissue of the posthumous compilation Wide Prairie may not go far in turning that tide, but it will – at the very least – go a ways to helping the Macca nerds of the world fatten up their collections a little more.

This 16-track album was first released in 1998, and 21 years later it’s still an interesting yet slightly troublesome undertaking. There’s a number of great songs here, including “Seaside Woman” (recorded in ’72-’73 during Wings’ Red Rose Speedway sessions), “Cook of the House” (which first appeared on Wings at the Speed of Sound in ’76) and album closer “Appaloosa,” but the rest of the material is cute yet not crucial. A few songs are just not good, like “The White Coated Man,” a screed against lab testing of animals (not a bad cause, mind you) and the bulk of the rest is just fair-to-middling. I do like “I Got Up” and “The Light Comes from Within,” both dust-yourself-off-and-get-back-up-on-the-horse ditties, and “B-Side to Seaside” (another previously released track, the [ahem] B-side to “Seaside Woman”), but at 16 tracks this album is a handful of tracks too many. It’s highly likely that this compilation consists of every single track Linda finished before her death, six months before Paulie first put out this collection.

Wide Prairie has a nice lightness to it, with humor abounding, and some nice cover versions (“Mister Sandman,” “Poison Ivy”), too. You even get two tracks that were co-produced by reggae legend Lee Perry (reggae is actually part of the foundation of this elpee)! Whether you care for Linda McCartney’s girlish singing (flawed but fun) or not, it’s not a bad record at all. It’s just not that great. As for the Macca collectors out there, they’ll want the milk/blue vinyl limited edition (may already be sold out), but there’s also a regular black vinyl version and a compact disc. However, there are no more tracks on this reissue than there were on the ’98 release, so you’re gonna have to be an accomplished aficionado to want to pick this version up.

2.5/5 (Capitol 7728542, 1998/2019)

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R.E.M. • In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 [2LP]

It’s easy for us old school R.E.M. fans to dismiss the post-IRS Records era of the band. Those fabled times were unique in our music experience: Band comes out of nowhere – that is, Athens Georgia – and takes over the college radio airwaves, steadily builds a fanbase with their amazing records and compelling yet elusive videos (you had to look pretty hard to find them at first), and eventually signs to a major label. It’s also easy to say, “they were better before they sold out,” but of course, most of us also realize that R.E.M. didn’t actually do that, since their label switch was on their own terms. Still, I definitely prefer the albums up through Document over the Green-and-on elpees. I certainly didn’t stop buying their albums, though, but aside from Automatic for the People, I’d rate the post-1988 albums lower than those before that.

One listen to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 tells you that Buck/Mills/Stipe(/Berry) & Co. didn’t really lose the plot – they just matured and morphed into a different monster. Their sonic palette got bigger, better, engulfing the scruffy, indie R.E.M. they once were. In this later personae the band gave us epics like “Man on the Moon,” “The Great Beyond” and “Everybody Hurts,” as well as burners like “Bad Day” and the absolutely gorgeous “At My Most Beautiful.” Even the band doesn’t quite know how to sum it all up; Peter Buck wrote the liner notes to each song and he himself is frequently unsure what the songs mean or where they came from. But one thing is sure: R.E.M. weren’t even close to finished having something to say when the ink on the Warner Bros. Records contract had dried.

In Time was first released in 2003, available in a few different formats (including vinyl), but the 2LP version was hard to find. It’s now been reissued by Craft Recordings in a standard double black vinyl version and a blue colored set offered exclusively by Barnes & Noble. The mastering job on this reissue was done well, and it’s nice to have the 18 songs spread over two records. But I do have a minor issue with B&N’s colored vinyl: the transparent blue could’ve been matched better to the color of the blue moon on the cover. It plays and sounds lush, though, so don’t pay too much attention to that part of my critique. The takeaway from this review is that R.E.M. were one of the great American bands of the ‘80s and In Time is the perfect summation of their latter days.

4/5 (Craft Recordings CR00166, 2003/2019)

 

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Devo • Turn Around: B-Sides & More (1978-1984) [LP]

Limited to just 3,256 copies, the latest Run Out Groove release is a collection of semi-rarities from Akron’s finest, DEVO. Turn Around: B-Sides & More (1978-1984) features fifteen tracks on one slice of tomato red marbled vinyl and is something for the devotee who must have everything. I say this because most of the tracks here will be on the hardcore Devo collector’s record shelf and so this limited edition release would be superfluous if it weren’t for the album’s own likely future rarity.

About half of the tracks on Turn Around are B-sides, such as the title track, “Social Fools,” “Penetration in the Centrefold” and “Growing Pains.” A bunch more are remixes, either for single release or as extended mixes, such as “Snowball (Remix),” “Through Being Cool (Dance Velocity)” and my favorite, “That’s Good [extended version].” And then there’s “Working in a Coal Mine,” which is here presumably because it was originally released as a bonus 7″ single that came with the New Traditionalists vinyl album. It’s not very rare, at least not like “Mecha-Mania Boy,” which was the B-side to “Jerkin’ Back and Forth” and is new to me. (I’m not as hardcore as some Devo fans, for sure.)

Turn Around’s fifteen tracks make for an enjoyable listen, yes, and though it’s running time may seem a bit long for a one record set, the mastering job is good and the record itself was pressed at Record Industry in the Netherlands. Mine’s got some surface noise between tracks but that will presumably wear away after a few listens. The cover is definitely of a 1980 vibe, with a painting that looks like something from a 1930s WPA billboard (not counting the energy domes) and was “adopted for commercial release,” whatever that means. To purchase Turn Around – paraphrasing from “Nu-tra Speaks” – “…is not like spending money, but rather it is an investment in the future and a blow against the empire.” Or something.

3/5 (Run Out Groove ROGV-043, 2019)

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The Band • Music from Big Pink (50th Anniv.) [2LP]

It’s taken me awhile to get to some of the current batch of reissues of great rock albums from 1968. One, THE BAND’s Music from Big Pink, has been remixed for its big anniversary and sounds better than ever.

Now, Big Pink is one of those albums that in many people’s books you’re supposed to like. Most folks who aren’t big Band-ophiles will know “The Weight,” a song that was featured in the celebrated movie, Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. You might also know “Long Black Veil,” “I Shall Be Released” and possibly “This Wheel’s on Fire.” That’s half the album right there – why not get to know the rest of it?

Well, I was one who felt I should at least give it a try, some twenty or so years ago as a slightly arrogant college radio DJ who’d seen Easy Rider (didn’t get it then) and whose parents (mom and stepdad) had the soundtrack. That album had songs from the movie in it but – very lame – did not include The Band’s version of their own “The Weight,” which was the one used in the movie. The album cover said only “specially performed for this album by Smith”; no explanation of why the correct version wasn’t included. (It was probably stupid ’60s record company politics that kept The Band off the actual record.) But, as I later learned, it was on their own album, Music from Big Pink, which I had seen in record stores but knew nothing about. Eventually I pieced together that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s backing band for a few years, and that they had written some of the songs on Big Pink, their debut album, with Sir Bob. Alright, so The Band had great credentials. But what about the band itself? What were they like? You could say they were country rock or even “Americana before it was called ‘Americana’”. To call The Band rock ’n’ roll is a bit of a stretch, but they do fit in there at the country/folk end of the spectrum, and “Chest Fever” certainly has a killer rock groove. Whatever you call them, The Band were an interesting group of guys playing a unique version of rock that embraced country, folk, blues and gospel in a big way. Wiki it if you wanna.

This 50th Anniversary release of Music from Big Pink has been remixed by renowned producer/mixer Bob Clearmountain, who has clarified the, errr, mountain of elements that went into the original mix for a very nice listen. The vinyl version has been pressed on two 45 rpm records, giving more room for the songs to breathe (and giving you a slight workout from getting up to turn over the records a few times). These new mixes really do the record justice, though I don’t have a copy of the original to do a strict A/B comparison. (My memory rarely serves me well!) As pictured above, there is a special version available at The Band’s web site on pink vinyl, which was naturally the version I wanted. It may be sold out by now, but whether it’s pink or black, the vinyl Big Pink is a worthwhile purchase. For a deeper dive into The Band’s most celebrated album, the box set features numerous outtakes, a 5.1 mix of the entire album and the new stereo mix in 96kHz/24-bit high resolution (on a Blu-ray disc), as well as a bonus 7″ of “The Weight” b/w “I Shall Be Released.”

4/5 (Capitol/UMe B0028420-01, 1968/2018)

 

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Various Artists • 3X4 [2LP, CD]

Record Store Day usually brings with it some interesting, if not must-have, releases. This one, 3×4, is definitely the former and quite possibly the latter. With tracks by seminal Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” bands BANGLES, THE DREAM SYNDICATE, RAIN PARADE and THE THREE O’CLOCK, these dozen tracks make a unique set of a batch of great songs.

The idea was actually pretty simple. Each band involved covers songs by each of the other three groups: 3 tracks by 4 bands. As all four groups were contemporaries and fans of each other (frequently playing together on club dates and more back in the day), the concept makes sense and it offers – when it really works – an additional level of appreciation of the original tune or band. I say “when it works” because there are a few here that just feel like straight covers (see the video at the end of this review), adding next-to-nothing to the original tune’s stature. I should also mention that my two favorite bands here, Bangles and The Dream Syndicate, are not as impressive as I had hoped they’d be. The Three O’Clock does a nice job of interpreting “Tell Me When It’s Over” (Dream Syndicate) and Bangles’ “Getting Out of Hand,” the opening track of the album, but it is Rain Parade that actually carries 3×4. Not only are the covers of their songs quite good (Dream Syndicate does a nice “You Are My Friend”), but their versions of the others’ songs are the best tracks here. “When You Smile” is a more somber take of Dream Syndicate’s early tune, while their “Real World” adds some beautiful psychedelia to the Bangles song and their “As Real As Real” is a super sweet version of The Three O’Clock’s neo-psychedelic track.

3×4 is a must-have for fans of Rain Parade, for sure. If you’re not as big on them as the other bands, you might want to get the CD and not splurge so much on the vinyl. For Record Store Day, the release is available as a double purple swirl vinyl set and a single CD, and in January 2019 the album will receive a wider release that will include digital formats. Being a sucker for colored vinyl (especially purple!), I may seek out that version. On the other hand, the CD is a good economical way to go, and holding out for downloads wouldn’t really be as real as real.

2.5/5 (YepRoc YEP 2596, 2018)

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Paul McCartney • Egypt Station [LP, CD]

It’s a given that I’d have both vinyl and CD copies of PAUL McCARTNEY’s new album, Egypt Station, on its release date, because it’s no secret that I hold Macca in the highest regard and have for most of my life. (Visions of “Junior’s Farm” on Apple playing over and over, ’74, or the wall-size Wings poster hung up in my room, flood my brain.) I’ll admit, from the late ’80s into the ’00s I let my fandom slip, but that just happens when you’ve been with a musician or band for decades. Thing is, I initially missed some great McCartney albums then (hello, Flaming Pie!), and once I realized that there are few indispensable records in the man’s canon, I retraced my steps and picked up the ones I missed. This one, his first new work since 2013’s excellent, ahem, New, is quite a good one.

Obviously, at this point in history, there are few who don’t know Paul McCartney by name and probably fewer who haven’t at least heard half a dozen of his songs (especially with The Beatles) countless times. Then again: I stop in my local Barnes & Noble on release day (9/7/2018) to buy the exclusive 2LP red vinyl version they’re selling, one hour after they opened, and they were already sold out. Dang. So the lady at the help desk offers to find me one at another local B&N, which was nice, and she makes the call and says, “Do you have any more copies of the Paul McCarthy Egypt Station vinyl?” I correct her: “Paul McCartney.” She says on the phone, “Yes, the red vinyl Paul McCarthy album.” I think to myself, you’re older than me and you don’t know how to say this guy’s name?? She does secure me a copy, though, so I try not to dwell on this. Next, I go to my local Target because their exclusive CD has two bonus tracks that aren’t on the vinyl or the standard compact disc version. They have plenty of copies and I exit happy.

But there’s always the nagging feeling that I’m gonna be let down. This guy has put out so many absolutely brilliant records, for as long as I’ve been alive, that he can’t possibly top Band on the Run or Ram or “Girls School” or… and on and on. So I have to accept where the man is at 76 (76!), try to remove the new release from the grand historical context it falls in, breathe, and then insert the disc or plop the record down and hang on.

I’m happy to report that Egypt Station is another quite good McCartney album. It’s neither mired in Beatles-era harmonies and descending chord progressions, nor sadly soaked in the sounds of today (autotune, etc.). What’s extra cool about this one is that, though it’s not a concept album, it does have a cohesiveness that New lacked. Where that 2013 release had some excellent songs (“Save Me,” “Queenie Eye”), it felt a little flat as an album. Here we have great songs peppered throughout a lengthy opus that plays extremely well. Of course some songs are kind of forgettable, but it is a long album. And, again: there’s nearly no way to hear anything McCartney does without subconsciously comparing it to everything else he did. Egypt Station’s first “singles” (released online but with no physical counterpart) seemed just okay on their own, but when you hear “Come on to Me,” “I Don’t Know” and “Fuh You” together on the album with “Confidante,” the epic “Despite Repeated Warnings” and “Hunt You Down,” there’s a much stronger case for McCartney to keep putting out new music as long as he can.

Now, there are multiple formats of Egypt Station to consider. And you know I did! I went with the two detailed above to get the most songs, and yeah, because I like colored vinyl. (UK readers, that same Target version is available at HMV where you live.) There is also a 2LP, 2 colors vinyl version with deluxe packaging (accordion sleeve) available via McCartney’s web site, standard double black vinyl, deluxe 2LP and CD (available everywhere), and an upcoming “super deluxe box set” that hasn’t been finalized yet. (And digital download at all the usual sites.) I guess what you pick depends on how big/gullible of a fan you are. You know where I stand in that spectrum!

3.5/5 (Capitol B002874402 [Target CD], B002874601 [Barnes & Noble 2LP])

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The Rolling Stones • Their Satanic Majesties Request [LP]

Why don’t we sing this song all together: I know many are calling this and other recent reissues cash-grabs, but I don’t care. I like Record Store Day and I don’t apologize for it. I’ve always wanted a copy of THE ROLLING STONES Their Satanic Majesties Request with the lenticular cover, but it always costed way too much – at least if you wanted one in decent shape. Now that the album’s hit 50 years old the powers that be issued last year’s deluxe edition (2LP+2CD, mono and stereo mixes only, no bonus tracks, beaucoup bucks), and for RSD 2018, this single record, stereo mix on groovy blue splatter vinyl. Yes!

Released in December 1967, the Stones were late to the psychedelic table – and they moved on pretty quickly, too. For Satanic Majesties was a one-off (along with the single that preceded it, “We Love You”), and the band moved on to their most storied late ’60s/early ’70s/Mick Taylor period. But the delights of this oft-disparaged album are many. From the beginning of side one and “Sing This All Together,” through the rocking “Citadel” and on to Bill Wyman’s “In Another Land” (they must have been short on material; they rarely did any of Bill’s songs), through the sort-of-reprise “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” the “front side” of the album is worth repeated listenings. “Back Side” (side two) takes off with the exquisitely awesome “She’s a Rainbow” and its strings arranged by one J.P. Jones (who became the bassist for Led Zeppelin!), the illuminating “The Lantern,” which has been stuck in my head for a week, and then proceeds to conclusion with “2000 Light Years from Home” and album closer “On With the Show.” Satanic Majesties gets short shrift from many quarters but it’s not a bad album at all. It just sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s nothing like what came before it or after.

Whether you go for the RSD version pictured and reviewed here, the deluxe version or just a CD, Their Satanic Majesties Request really ain’t too shabby. I like it more today than when I first heard it, so for it I carry the lantern high.

4/5 (Abkco NPS-2, reissue, 1967/2018)

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