Category Archives: vinyl

Little Richard • Southern Child, Omnivore Reissues [CD]

This Fall Omnivore Recordings undertook a five-prong LITTLE RICHARD reissue campaign that culminates in Southern Child, a not-released-at-the-time album receiving standalone LP reissue for Record Store Day’s Black Friday 2020 event. (A CD will follow.) That record and the other four were all recorded for Reprise and Warner Bros. Records between 1970 and 1986, but this 1972 album went unreleased until Rhino Handmade issued it as part of a multi-album retrospective in 2005. Southern Child, a funky little country album, was handed to the label and promptly shelved for The Second Coming, recorded at about the same time but very different from the shunned LP it was birthed with. Strangely, both albums have some real good material on them so it’s not clear why one was picked over the other, although maybe it was the former’s titillating cover, which was concocted and approved at the time (the album even had a catalog number and release date on the books) but wasn’t exactly commercial. But backing up a bit… 

Little Richard was signed to Reprise at the beginning of the ’70s and enlisted Bumps Blackwell and FAME Recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record The Rill Thing, which spawned a Top 40 single in “Freedom Blues,” but failed to do much more than that, despite critical acclaim. Album tracks included back-to-back covers of both The Beatles and Hank Williams as well as some funky R&B that showed Richard wasn’t sticking to the ’50s style rock ’n’ roll that he pioneered. Undaunted, in 1971 the true King released King of Rock and Roll, similar in vibe but with a more varied handful of covers (The Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, CCR, Hoyt Axton/Three Dog Night, Hank Williams again). Despite its absolutely awesome cover it failed to chart or sell much.

For 1972’s The Second Coming, Little Richard and Blackwell decided to record in L.A. at The Record Plant. The album has a very funky sound, sorta pre-disco in places with some great horn charts, clavinet and more. The musicians assembled represented both Richard’s past (Lee Allen, Earl Palmer) and L.A.’s present (Sneeky Pete Kleinow, Chuck Rainey). Alas, the album – bolstered here by bonus tracks including single edits – did just about nothing to boost our hero’s visibility and it wasn’t until 1986 that Little Richard came back to rock with Lifetime Friend (he had done one gospel-focused record in the meantime) for Warner Bros. (Reprise’s parent label). The album was a mix of rock ’n’ roll music and pseudo-spiritual lyrics – even some rap! – and had the original version of “Great Gosh A’Mighty,” co-written with Billy Preston and, when recut for the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills, a near-Top 40 single. Most of the songs have a decidedly Eighties sound that is a bit off-putting today, sorta the way those ’70s records sounded dated to us in the Nineties (though they now sound pretty cool).

Omnivore’s seen to it to add plenty of bonus tracks to those four CDs, and for Southern Child’s CD issue they’ve provided some early takes of album track “In the Name” and an outtake of a little thing called “Sneak the Freak.” (The yellow vinyl Record Store Day version lacks these extras.) Whether you’re going to want these depends on a lot of things at this juncture in time, but I’d say big fans of Little Richard will find them pretty fun to put on for a change of pace from “Tutti Frutti” and the other classics we’re so used to hearing. Casual fans may not find these releases to be, ahem, the rill thing when it comes to Richard Penniman’s alter (or is that altar?) ego… – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings, 2020)

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Young Fresh Fellows • Toxic Youth (Back to the Egg) [LP, CD]

Record Store Day “Drop 3” is the last of the RSD 2020 triad that make up what would have been last April’s normal single-day event. One of the two records I am/was hoping to get is YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS’ Toxic Youth (or as it is also known, Back to the Egg). Recorded three years ago but only now seeing the light of day, it’s a great addition to the Fellows’ discography.

To start with, Toxic/Back is both a first and a last. It is, indeed, the first YFF record in eight years. Just as important, Youth/Egg is the last album recorded at Seattle’s legendary Egg Studio, the nest in which many Fellows releases were laid (or is that hatched?). The story is that in 2017 Conrad Uno, Egg’s patriarch (or is that rooster?), had decided to retire and close the studio, word got back to the Freshies, and they  booked one last weekend there before Egg went the way of the dodo bird. Since they’d gone in with just three songs and came out with seventeen, you’d be tempted to call it a success. Yet it took another three years for those results to show up on wax… was it delayed because of subpar quality? Band member Scott McCaughey’s stroke in late 2017??  Who knows??? One thing we do know: Once it finally got a release date – the original Record Store Day, April 2020 – Toxic Youth got delayed again thanks to that pesky coronavirus pandemic. Well, it’s finally out this Saturday (knock on wood) and it’s an honor to get to share my own opinions about it just slightly ahead of time.

As Mott The Hoople once said, rock ’n’ roll is a loser’s game, and it’s a game the Young Fresh Fellows have been winning (or is that losing?) for (gag! I feel old!) nearly 40 years. GULP. Regardless of, or despite their relative obscurity, from their very first outing back in the early ’80s, Seattle’s Fab Four have been creating kooky, clever cult rock for the masses – it’s just that the masses never got the memo. Too bad! Those of us who did get it, we got it. Whether it was with “Rock ’N’ Roll Pest Control,” “My Friend Ringo,” “Taco Wagon” or any number of other hooky, cheeky tunes, the Fellows could always be counted on for a great time.

Young Fresh Fellows say “Vote!”

Times changed throughout the Eighties and Nineties and though they didn’t exactly stay young they pretty much stayed fresh on their handful of sporadic releases. And that was okay with the fans. But when the YFF guys took on other projects (playing with their original groups [Fastbacks, for instance], playing with big name rock bands [R.E.M., for instance]), we lamented what we thought might be the end. So today we have Toxic Youth – I don’t really know what the title means – and I can tell you it’s a killer record! Opening with “November” and heading into quintessential Fellows stuff like “Never Had It Bad,” “Gear Summer 2013” with its ’60s organ, “Alien Overlords” and drummer Tad’s “Black Boots,” this release was worth the waits. THEN there’s Side 2 and that’s where Back to the Egg really fries! “She’s By Request” has this wobbly, eerie lead vocal from Scott, telling the story of of a late night TV encounter with some actress that I can’t figure out. I really like this one and figured it was gonna be my favorite on this toxic green vinyl record until I got to the grand finale, “Bleed Out.” OMG. This is like the YFFs detailing their own career and demise, explaining “I’m married to this life / Gave my body and soul / When I take the final knife I will bleed out rock and roll.” Yes, I honestly believe that Scott, Tad, Jim and Kurt will and DO bleed rock ’n’ roll.

If Toxic Youth/Back to the Egg were the final Young Fresh Fellows album you could truthfully say – based on this album alone, let alone Topsy Turvy or Totally Lost or Gleich Jetzt – they played a loser’s game and won. Cleaned up. Mopped the floor with almost every other band there ever was. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2722X, 2020)

P.S. – It may be a bit late in coming, but having known Conrad Uno of Egg Studio and Popllama Products fame for 30-something years – and having worked for and recorded with him at Egg myself – I’d like to thank you, Uno, for your contribution to the Seattle music scene and the rock ’n’ roll world at large. “What a humble guy.” Cheers! And say hi to Emily.

 

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show (45th Anniversary Soundtrack) [LP]

Anyone who’s experienced THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW has likely got a story or more about their experience with the titillating 1975 cult movie musical. I know I do. I worked at the Neptune Theater in Seattle’s U-District in the early ’80s as a janitor, cleaning the closed balcony on Friday and Saturday nights while the movie was shown to the patrons on the main floor. I say “shown” but, as you may already know, you don’t just watch Rocky Horror. You participate! In the case of Seattle fans at that time, you in the audience may have noticed the shadow of my broomstick or mop float across the screen here and there. Or maybe you heard someone joining in the fun from up in the balcony. That was probably me. In my year or two in that janitorial position I learned all of the audience partici-“say it!”-pation responses – and once the movie was over and the auditorium cleared out, I learned how to sweep rice, playing cards, raw hot dogs (i.e., frankfurters) and more from underneath theater seats. Oh, I got an education from Dr. Frank N. Furter & Company, alright.

For its 45th anniversary, Ode Records has reissued the soundtrack to Rocky Horror on a very cool picture disc. Yes, vinyl fans, you can now learn to do the Time Warp in the creature comfort of your very own home while gazing into the eyes of Tim Curry as the sweet transvestite he will always be associated with. Picture discs don’t lend themselves to high fidelity listening, of course, but it’s likely you’ll be cranking this baby up while dusting off your dance moves (“Say, do any of you guys know how to Madison?”) and not paying attention to the surface noise inherent in such vinyl pressings. You can always hunt down a proper vinyl or CD copy for critical listening; this pic disc was designed for fun!

The front of this Rocky Horror picture disc shows Curry-as-Furter in a pseudo-pscary pose which I guess is more exciting than the iconic red lips (at left) that have accompanied advertising and VHS/DVD covers over the years, while the back of the record is a collage of movie theater marquees where the film’s played countless times during its rise to being perhaps the (c)ultimate horror/sci-fi/comedy musical of our time. This release will certainly make a great gift for the Rocky Horror fan in your life (even if you’re buying it for yourself), and with Halloween coming right up it’ll make for some great listening, too. I mean, you’ll probably want to just go ahead and watch the movie, yes, but since you can’t do that 24/7 between now and 10/31, – or maybe you can! – you could at least toss this baby on the ’table and toucha, toucha, touch yourself while getting down with Frank, Riff Raff, Brad, Janet (yay, Janet!), Magenta, Columbia, Eddie and the rest. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Ode 000011, 2020)

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The Replacements • Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) [3CD/1LP]

THE REPLACEMENTS’ Pleased to Meet Me isn’t celebrating an obvious anniversary. The 1987 release isn’t 30 or 40 – it’s 33 (and not even 33-1/3!) – so the release of this Deluxe Edition is a bit surprising. Housed in the now standard Warner Music/Rhino LP-sized “book” format (a la Ramones, The Doors, Love), the Minneapolis band’s (arguably) greatest album is now surrounded by a coupla CDs of demos, rough mixes, outtakes and alternate takes that tell a much more complete story about this record, (arguably) the first or second album that should’ve turned them into a major band. Whether that would’ve been a boon or a bitch for these rock ’n’ roll loudmouths isn’t that hard to figure out if you know The Replacements’ story and trajectory.

Without diving deep into all of that last bit – after all, if you’re reading this you probably know the basics of their back story – Pleased to Meet Me was a turning point for the band. The Replacements had already been touted as the college rock band of the moment and after 1983’s Let It Be they seemed destined to hit the big time. Their first major label release, Tim (1985) had some great material but somehow missed the mark and so a lot was riding on this one. What a great time for the band to have to fire their lead guitarist (bassist Tommy Stinson’s brother Bob), just as they were on the precipice of Rock Mountain, about to go into the studio with a solid satchel of songs that was sure to do the trick. Paul Westerberg, Tommy and Chris Mars got together with producer Jim Dickinson at Memphis’ famous Ardent Studios and – long story short (it’s all in the included book) – put together this amazing record.

At the time I remember seeing “digitally recorded” on the album cover and wondering if Pleased to Meet Me was the inevitable sell-out every band eventually makes when they sign a deal with the (major label) devil. And then I heard it! What a powerful record! It didn’t sound “clean” like digital was supposed to – it just sounded like a ballsy, blistering batch of Westerberg’s best stuff. Opening with “I.O.U.,” cruising into the brilliant “Alex Chilton,” careening into “I Don’t Know” and “Shooting Dirty Pool,” with breathers like “Nightclub Jitters” and “Skyway” along the way, Pleased to Meet Me was everything Tim should’ve been and even better than Let It Be. How could it be?! Well, it was, it is, and it forever shall be. Somehow Jim Dickinson and his assistants at Ardent got what they wanted out of the band, either by coaxing, cajoling or outright strong-arming – whatever. They got it.

Pleased to Meet Me was the last, great Replacements album so it’s natural that there’d be a version of it like this one. And yet, nowhere on this 12″ x 12″ package do they note “deluxe edition,” “33rd anniversary” or anything that announces why this, now. Regardless, what you get on this 3CD + LP set is a new master of the original album (on CD only), a slightly different tracklisting for the “rough mix” version – which appears on both one of the CDs and on the vinyl – and another disc of further versions. (The singles B-sides appear on the CD with the 2020 master of the original album.) Of the many, many mixes and demos, there are a few that are remarkable: “Awake Tonight” sounds like a Faces/Rod Stewart outtake, except with more of a Replacements swagger; “All He Wants to Do Is Fish” is drummer Mars’ lone songwriter/ lead singer credit and is quite good; and the bulk of the Blackberry Way (recording studio) demos. Though it’s clear that Westerberg had many of the songs basically ready to go once the band got all the way to Memphis, the lyrics changed considerably and multiple times between those first demos through to alternate takes and on to the rough mixes and final versions. There are plenty of demos here, too, that aren’t all that exciting, I have to admit. But in its entirety this Pleased to Meet Me, from the music to the illuminating (in words and pictures) book, is definitely a pleasure. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Rhino/Sire R2 643412, 2020)

And fer God’s sake don’t miss this video:

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NRBQ • In-Frequencies [CD, LP]

Just the fact that NRBQ has been around for over fifty years is pretty amazing. Can you believe they’ve never put out a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks? It’s true. In- Frequencies remedies that dour predicament with sixteen recordings that fell through the cracks (or were lucky enough to roll off the chopping block the first time around).

You’ve got to hand it to the ArQive 50 crew because they somehow put together a cohesive collection of tunes from a band that has never been able to settle on a style long enough for any rock critic – let alone fan – to pigeonhole them. As I have said in previous NRBQ reviews (and as any fan will attest), that’s a big part of what makes the Q so great. Why settle for one flavor of ice cream when you can have 31? In-Frequencies covers not only the various Q styles, but the different lineups of the band. There’s plenty of cuts representing the Big Al Anderson era, like “Let Me Tell You ’Bout My Girl” and a soundcheck recording of “It’s a Wild Weekend” that’s better than the album version, as well as a good helping of tracks from both the original and latest lineups. There’s also a cut by the legendary Dickens, “Sho’ Need Love,” which is not only super rare but has an awe-inspiring backstory (click here!) that you’ve got to check out. From the humorous (“Sourpuss”) to the super sweet (“April Showers”) to the just plain weird (an alternate version of “Everybody’s Smokin’”), it’s all here.

It’s highly likely that In-Frequencies is the first in a series, since it’s a sure thing that NRBQ has a lot more in the can than just a single CD’s worth. It might be wise to focus further volumes on, say, live cuts or the real out there material that was too Q for a standard album, if only to make those collections more pigeonhole-able than this one. Regardless, this single CD (also available on vinyl and limited edition colored vinyl) is a pretty good selection of rare NRBQ stuff for that rare fan who doesn’t have everything. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore OVCD-393, 2020)

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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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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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Pretenders • Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 [LP]

Once released as an LP sent to radio stations only as a promotional item to help sell the band’s debut album, Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 is PRETENDERS at their livest best. The show was recorded on March 23 of that year just a few months after Pretenders was released to critical acclaim. Already the band was touring the USA, and within a year or so they’d released a stop-gap EP and then their second full length, the imaginitively-titled Pretenders II. To say things seemed to be happening for them is an understatement – and yet that momentum came to a pretty swift halt soon after. The stories have been told elsewhere of how guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon went down the well-traveled drug death road that so many rockers have, so let’s just say there’s no telling what the band would have done had the original lineup stayed intact. Not that the Pretenders didn’t end up achieving a pretty solid career…

Anyway, for Record Store Day 2020 (Drop 1), Sire/Warner Bros. has issued that for-broadcast-only concert on a real cool clear/red vinyl LP that comes in a clear PVC cover*. The 11-song set list is made up primarily of tracks from the band’s first album, so you’ll hear “Precious,” “Kid,” “Mystery Achievement” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” for instance, and early versions of “Talk of the Town” and “Cuban Slide.” Recording-wise, Live! At The Paradise Theater is of a quality I’d call “better than soundboard,” as in it’s lacking some shimmer in the high end and could stand a little more bottom, but otherwise much better than if you’d taped it from the radio back in the day. Of course, big time (real?) Pretenders fans would have looked for a copy of the original promo release, but those are fairly rare and not exactly on the cheap side. So now RSD comes to the rescue – or to the delight of those who had no idea this item ever existed at all. I don’t tend to listen to live albums all that regularly, but this one I’ll put on more frequently than, say, this RSD’s live Bowie release (the 1974 tour recording, reviewed here). If you’ve been trying to hunt down that original release, it is time for you to stop all of your sobbing and grab one of these.

3.5/5 (Sire RCV1 114, 2020)   * Do yourself a favor and keep the record itself in a regular paper or audiophile sleeve; over time records get baked into PVC sleeves and become unplayable.

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