Category Archives: vinyl

David Bowie • Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) [3LP, 2CD]

Last year for Record Store Day we enjoyed the release of DAVID BOWIE’s triple LP live album, Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74), a superbly recorded and dynamically played concert. You either plunked down for a 3LP vinyl copy, or (as it turned out) waited two months to buy it as a 2CD, sensibly priced package. Many weren’t surprised at the release of the compact disc version, despite it not being announced when the RSD vinyl was. This year – no surprise this time – we got Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), another 3LP RSD release trailed by a 2CD standard version. The vinyl, like last year’s release, comes in a double-gatefold package with photos from the concert and 180-gram LPs inside. (I’m assuming, pre-CD release, that that will be similar to last year’s CD package.) The concert itself was recorded at the end of Bowie’s 1978 post-Low tour, and features yet another band lineup.

I’m not as bowled over by this one as I was by Cracked Actor. The band is quite good, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t seem to gel as well as the ’74 group did and the mix isn’t as compelling. That being said, unless you’re the most curmudgeonly of Bowie fans, you’ll find a lot to like about Blackout, even if it’s just that the audio is much better than what has been available on bootlegs for years. The set list is quite good, anchored by a lengthy instrumental intro (Low’s “Warszawa”), and then mostly working backwards, song-wise, through DB’s catalog. You get a number of newer songs for the first half of the show, followed by inspired renditions of some of the man’s hits, including “Fame,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” et. al. Welcome to the Blackout ends on side six with “TVC15,” “Stay” and “Rebel Rebel” – a song I’ve never grown tired of and a great tune to wrap up the show with.

If Bowie’s estate keeps doing this every year, releasing great concerts most of us have never heard, I’m okay with that. I can’t imagine a time when they’d put out so many releases (reissues or new titles) that I’d get burned out on David Bowie’s music. (Check back here from time to time for updates on that prediction.) I’d much rather that than just see countless reissues of his back catalog remastered for no good reason.

3/5 (Parlophone DBRSD 7782, 2018)

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Nick Lowe (& Los Straitjackets) • Tokyo Bay [2×7″, CD, DD]

Hey kids, hop in the car! It’s time for another quality collaboration between NICK LOWE and LOS STRAITJACKETS, and this time we’re off on a whirlwind trip to Tokyo Bay. In the front seat are A-sides “Tokyo Bay” and “Cryin’ Inside,” while our companions “Travelin’ Light” and “Heartbreaker” occupy the backseat.

Lowe & Los started their group discography with a great live Christmas record, The Quality Holiday Revue Live, a 2015 release with a few non-holiday tunes thrown in for good measure. The man and band toured that release (got to see them at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA), both that year and the next, and then the masked men did an album of Lowe’s songs, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets, on which Lowe made a guest appearance (2017). Now we’re treated to a 2×7″ EP with two Lowe originals and two covers, making me hope they’ll be doing a full length collab one of these days.

Tokyo Bay is a return of sorts to Lowe’s early ’80s solo career, in which he played a hybrid of new wave, rockabilly and power pop that really suited both his songwriting and his voice. Typically backed by a crack team of musicians (including Paul Carrack, Martin Belmont and Dave Edmunds), Nick turned out some compelling records. As has always been his wont, he wrote some great originals and placed them among some swell cover tunes (“7 Nights to Rock” and “Born a Woman” come immediately to mind). Here we get originals “Tokyo Bay” and “Cryin’ Inside”, both kinda popabilly country tunes, and covers “Travelin’ Light” (recorded by the likes of Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and Van Morrison) and “Heartbreaker,” written by the Bee Gees. Don’t worry, you’d never know it was a Brothers Gibb creation if you didn’t see the credits – Lowe makes it his own, like he always does with the songs he loves. This release again shows that Lowe also knows how to pick a band that can do justice to the material; Los Straitjackets have always been perfect sidemen (I’ve seen them back both Lowe and El Vez [at separate events!], and last summer they played with Marshall Crenshaw).

The 2×7″ comes in a nice gatefold cover, and though my records have mismatched labels on ’em, the four songs are all there and accounted for. Tokyo Bay’s available as a limited vinyl release as well as on CD and download and is out now.

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2589, 2018)

 

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Pink Floyd • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (50th Anniversary Mono Ed.) [LP]

Just over fifty years ago, PINK FLOYD’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released. Like so many of the records issued in the mid ’60s, it was put out in both mono and stereo versions. Since stereo eventually became the de facto standard, the mono version eventually faded away and was never reissued, except as part of the 40th Anniversary 3CD box set from 2007 (see red image below). Finally, that epochal original mono mix has been reissued on vinyl.

A Record Store Day 2018 release, this limited edition puts Piper back into the dawn it was born in, when an experimental English band – led by a mercurial guitarist named Syd Barrett – played at the UFO Club amid projected light shows that really added to the goings-on, especially if you were tripping. (I’m going by all the things I’ve read over the years – I was only four in ’67.) The album starts off with a lengthy almost-instrumental called “Astronomy Domine” (“Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon Miranda and Titania / Neptune Titan, stars can frighten…”), ascending to Barrett’s telecaster trickery and keyboardist Richard Wright’s imaginative meanderings. Next comes a short one, “Lucifer Sam,” about a Siam cat who is “something I can’t explain.” Another descender but with much more of a pop hook, it’s the should’ve-been single that wasn’t. (The English believed a single shouldn’t also be on an album; huh?) Following from there, “Matilda Mother,” “Flaming” (two nursery rhyme-esque Barrett tunes), “Pow R. Toc H.,” and side closer “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk,” bass player Roger Waters’ first solo writing credit on a Floyd record and a percussive popper.

Flip over the record and The Floyd shift into “Interstellar Overdrive,” at once ascending and descending into space, a song that has since become a staple of alt-rock bands wanting to prove their Pink prowess. (I saw Camper Van Beethoven do it at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA a few years ago.) The rest of the album is dominated by Barrett material, with a few more kiddie corkers like “The Gnome” (“a story about a little man… called Grimble Gromble”) and “Bike” (“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house, I don’t know why I call him Gerald / He’s getting rather old but he’s a good mouse”). Fans of the album will wonder why I haven’t mentioned “The Scarecrow” (which has a pretty cool “video”) or “Chapter 24,” though now I have so they can quit wondering. (See how I did that?)

Its place in the great rock albums hall of fame can’t be denied, and not just because The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the first album by Pink Floyd and the start of their illustrious career. Piper came out when pop groups were actively trying to push out the boundaries, before they became rock bands, and still somehow managing to chart (although not with their most out-there stuff). Barrett & Co. managed to do just that. This version of that album comes in an engaging outer box (pictured at the top of this column) with a new design based on the original’s back cover image, and a replica version of the actual cover inside the box sleeving up a heavy vinyl record with Columbia labels (that was their record company in England), and a poster depicting the band – Syd way up front and Roger all the way in the back. (Did Waters approve that? Good on ya, Rog!) Probably already sold out in your local record shop, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in magnificent mono is one I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a few extra bucks for.

5/5 (Pink Floyd Records PFRLP26, 1967/2018)

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Neil Young • Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live [CD, LP]

Another Record Store Day release, although I got the CD (non-RSD) version, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live is this month’s new NEIL YOUNG release. Seems the guy has always got another album up his sleeve, which comes as no surprise since he’s had over fifty big years in the business, ladies and gentlemen. You could say he oughta lighten the load of releases coming from NYA (Neil Young Archives), and you’d basically be right. But at least he’s not as slow and redundant as Sir Paul “Molasses” McCartney.

This live one was caught one night at the Roxy in L.A. back in September 1973, just weeks after Young and Crazy Horse finished recording Tonight’s the Night, an emotional album that Neil then waited a few years to release. Such was the loss he suffered after both Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry had died the way so many involved in rock ’n’ roll do – “out on the main line” – that Young couldn’t bear to put out the excellent LP he dedicated to them. But before that decision was made, the remaining Crazy Horse guys, plus Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith, became the Santa Monica Flyers and helped christen the new Sunset Strip club with a near-complete Tonight show. (The album was eventually released in 1975.)

If you’re not a fan of the harrowing, beautiful Tonight’s the Night, then you’d be excused for skipping this live release. But, as you know if you’re crazy about Neil, sometimes his live versions add extra meaning and bravado to what was done in the studio. Roxy is full of them. Granted, you don’t really get much more than what was on the album these songs came from, but it’s a decent length gig and a very nice recording, too. The fact that the band sounds like a cross between Crazy Horse’s ragged glory and the Stray Gators’ country kick is something very definitely in its favor. I could do without some of the chit chat in between songs – Neil says “welcome to Miami Beach” a few too many times, which might have been topical to the set decor but which is lost in an audio recording – but that’s a pretty minor complaint considering how generally brilliant this show is.

If you didn’t pick it up on Record Store Day you won’t have to shell out big bucks for it online because it’s been released as a readily available double vinyl set. The only difference between the two is the standard version lacks an “art print” that you probably wouldn’t have hung up anyway (why ruin the value of your highfalutin RSD purchase?). Again, I went with the CD version both as an austerity measure and because I assumed it would be something I’d wanna crank in the car. And I was right. It happens sometimes – tonight’s the night.

4/5 (Reprise 567390-2, 2018)

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The Who • Live at the Fillmore East 1968 [CD, LP]

Live albums from most acts are pretty much a dime a dozen. Nowadays, when I hear of a new live release from a band I’m into, I assume it’s probably gonna be crap. But. Not with THE WHO. When they put out one of these things I instantly hit “buy.” Live at the Fillmore East 1968 has just been released and it is nearly literally the bomb. Recorded in April of ’68 at Bill Graham’s  not-yet-fabled NYC venue, it’s a warts and all program of the band’s live set at the time. The Who weren’t quite to the Live at Leeds level of 1970, but they were well on their way.

What this 2CD/3LP release has that Leeds lacks is glorious grit. Not only is the performance loose (and somehow, as The Who were so good at, tight) but the recording is, too. Live at the Fillmore East is like a really good soundboard bootleg. You get all the instruments in pretty good quality, even somehow in stereo, but it’s definitely not perfect. At least, not by the standard definition. But as The Who have proven with prior releases like Leeds and Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, they were fucking on fire from about ’68 to ’72, whether or not they incorporated the entire Tommy program (like on the Isle of Wight set list). Missing are the first two songs of the show (“Substitute” and “Pictures of Lily,” sadly), but what’s left is incendiary. On disc one you get thirteen songs, including an eleven minute “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” a twelve minute “Relax,” and a triumvirate of Eddie Cochran covers. We’re used to hearing The Who tear apart “Summertime Blues” and “C’Mon Everybody,” but what you don’t usually hear is their insanely killer “My Way” (as in, “I’m an easy-goin’ guy but I always gotta have my way”), which is a rarity in their cannon (and I meant to spell it ”cannon”). Good gravy, that is almost worth the cost right there! But. Then there’s disc two, with a (hold your breath this long if you can) 33:02 version of “My Generation.” Of course, your hardcore Who fan knows that they don’t stick to the basic arrangement for half an hour, they veer off into all kinds of themes and vibes that are about as jazz as any haaaaaaarrrrddd rock band has ever done. Townshend, Entwistle and Moon feed off each other so effortlessly, they surpass Led Zeppelin, The Move, everybody in that way. So, jazz in the sense of free-form jamming and instruments not only working with and off of each other but intuitively sensing where the whole thing is going. And when they get there, oh, what a trip it’s been.

I’m having a hard time deciding if I like Live at the Fillmore East 1968 better than Leeds. They’re both so great, we’re gonna have to call it a draw.

5/5 (Polydor 6744485, 2018)

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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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Robyn Hitchcock & His L.A. Squires • “Insanely Jealous” [7″]

ROBYN HITCHCOCK, never content these days to play with any one group of musicians for too long, lest his muse abandon him, conjured up His L.A. Squires last year and was wise enough to capture a gig for posterity. Three songs from their gig at The Troubadour in Los Angeles last May make up this 7″, another winner from YepRoc Records and a Record Store Day “first release.”

“Insanely Jealous” is the A-side, a song Hitchcock originally performed in The Soft Boys (from their stellar Underwater Moonlight album). The B-sides are “I Pray When I’m Drunk” (from last year’s eponymous release, see my review here) and “If You Were a Priest,” the lead-off track from Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians’ Element of Light (from 1986). Though none of the arrangements veer very far from Robyn’s originals, it’s fun to hear him sing the songs with a very capable, current combo. I hope there’s a complete album in the offing, as it would make a fine companion to this 45.

3/5 (YepRoc YEP-2586, 2018)

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Elvis Costello • “Someone Else’s Heart” [7″]

Weird timing for this one. ELVIS COSTELLO (with Roger Bechirian) produced Squeeze’s 1980 album East Side Story. The record was lauded then as a “new wave masterpiece” and it still holds up extremely well, even without the new wave tag. “Someone Else’s Heart” is one of the songs on that record, and it must’ve made quite the impression on EC that he would do his own version 34 years later. Just released for Record Store Day, the 7″ on YepRoc features that on the A-side and an instrumental mix on the B. It’s a more chilling arrangement than Squeeze’s, which relied more on the quirky, Farfisa organ style they’d used on their previous album, Argybargy. Costello recorded this with ?uestlove of The Roots, the “hip hop” band he worked with on the 2013 Wise Up Ghost project, and a few other heavy hitters. What they serve up here has a loping heavy bass line courtesy of Owen Biddle, some gritty guitar from Kirk Douglas and ?’s trademark drumming and loops, and it’s a fine version of the song. Leave it to Elvis to not cover the obvious songs (though “Tempted” would have been pretty interesting, I’ll bet). The instrumental version on the B-side is great for hearing the individual bits the band is playing (especially the clavvy keyboard part from Ray Angry), since EC sings both lead and layered backing vocals on the regular mix that cover some of the nuances of the arrangement.

A worthwhile 45 to pick up, and supposedly available beyond Record Store Day. I originally had this on my “save it for later” list, but my inner Costello fan ghost whispered to me something like, “what if they run out?” and “what if it’s awesome,” so I gave in and got it. You might want to get in on this action, too. Or no action. Your call.

3/5 (YepRoc SI-YEP-2558, 2018)

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Wreckless Eric • Construction Time & Demolition [CD, LP, DD]

“All your records are shit, except maybe one…” So goes one of the lines in a song on the new album from WRECKLESS ERIC, Construction Time & Demolition. If you were around in the late ’70s you might remember a few of Eric’s releases on Stiff Records, home then to names like Elvis Costello, The Damned and Nick Lowe. Or maybe you’ve heard the cover of his biggie “Whole Wide World” (by Cage The Elephant). Eric was an oddball – he sang in a low register squeak that sounded like some weird guy’s speaking voice – and appears to have stayed one. But not all of his records are shit…

His new album is a beautifully ragged semi-lo-fi collection of remembrances of things like his childhood in Hull, England, and how the (whole wide) world seems to have been continually constructing and demolishing itself ever since. The opener, “Gateway to Europe,” tells of his hometown becoming that when a bridge was built that spanned the Humber Estuary and Britain became part of the European Common Market. (Look it up, I’m not a history teacher.) The arrangement of this song, as well as the rest of the eleven songs that make up Construction Time & Demolition, is one that sounds like it’s building up, getting denser and denser, while simultaneously kind of falling apart. Jagged guitars, weird organs and fuzz bass are at home among drums, percussion, and a “horn section” led by a brilliant trumpet blowing whenever some musical bit needs underlining. As Eric himself says, “I wanted the music to sound as though it was demolishing itself as it went along, and at times I wanted to actually hear it destroy itself, fuzz in and out until all that was left was the flat tone of a heart that’s stopped beating.” Well, now. That’s a grand concept and I think Wreckless Eric has achieved it. His lyrics remain wearily wistful in a jaded sort of been-there-done-that way, making canny observations about how getting older isn’t always easy (“life is all the same old lessons / until you learn ’em / And I’ve got so many lessons left to learn, I wish I could burn it all! / I’m coming unraveled here!”).

So how did Wreckless Eric fall off my radar? I mean, I loved his new wave records back then (see the clip below with his magnificent “Whole Wide World”), but he’s kind of come and gone over the last forty years. (I actually got to see him perform in NYC in the early ’90s during a New Music Seminar – met Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys at a bar down the street before the show and bought him a beer. Cheetah, not Eric. On my company’s dime.) Wreckless Eric’s had a few albums out in the last decade or so but I guess I just missed them. Meanwhile, he’s now stationed here in the States and has a pretty good thing going with this new record. You can catch him on tour if you live on the East Coast or in Britain. I hope he’s got a full band with him, and one that can deliver the goods and bads that make up Construction Time & Demolition. Meanwhile I’ll be looking into some of the records of his that I missed over the years. My bad.

4/5 (Southern Domestic)

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NRBQ • NRBQ [CD, LP]

Omnivore put out an epic five disc box set last year, trying to somehow encapsulate the fifty year history of NRBQ. There was no way for the label to summarize just what makes this band so amazing in a mere five CDs, so they’re forgiven for missing a mark that really no one could hit. The fact that they even tried earns them major kudos. This time around they’ve reissued the band’s first album, NRBQ. Released in 1969, this record introduced to rock fans the wide world of the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet, a band name that also tried to encapsulate just what these guys were all about. It’s a wonder that Columbia Records signed these guys and put out a few records by them in the first place. Because you can’t pigeonhole NRBQ. They’re primarily a rock band, sure, but where do they stand in that strata? Hard rock? No. Country rock? A little. Jazz? Well, how many rock bands have covered Sun Ra (besides MC5)? Rockabilly? Sometimes. A mixture of all of those sub genres and more – that’s what NRBQ does. Imagine what a tough job the marketing department had trying to figure out who to sell this record to!

On NRBQ, the band – fronted by vocalist Frank Gadler, Steve Ferguson on guitar/ vocals and Terry Adams on keyboards/ vocals – demonstrates much of what made them so amazing. From covers of Eddie Cochran (“C’mon Everybody”) and Bruce Channel (“Hey! Baby”) to their hard rockin’ take of the aforementioned Sun Ra’s “Rocket Number 9,” to their own slightly countryish tunes like “Kentucky Slop Song” and the MOR-y “You Can’t Hide,” plus a neat little traditional ditty called “Liza Jane” that induces someone’s hound dog to bark along with it – phew! – the genres and influences on this record make it a hard sell on paper. So you gotta put this motherfucker on and let it do its thing! It comes down to this: you either get NRBQ, or you don’t. That’s been the problem since day one, because if you say that to the Q virgin you’re gonna sound like an asshole. But it’s the truth. And you don’t wanna be called a liar, do you?

Judging from the pre-release digital download, and comparing that to my ’80s vinyl pressing, Omnivore’s done a great job with NRBQ. They’ve expanded the cover to a gatefold, added some historical photos, and likely created new liner notes. (The original release’s back cover is nothing but liner notes, and they’re very much of the era in their language and longwindedness.) Considering the album’s never been out on CD, this reissue is important to longstanding NRBQ fans. For those who haven’t gotten into them yet, well, why not start here? You could try the box set or the one disc highlights release, or grab one of the other compilations that can be found on the internet, but don’t (yet). Just get this and give it a shot. You may just find you get it. If you don’t, then wait a few years and try again. Maybe by then Omnivore will have put out NRBQ’s second album, the one they did with Carl Fucking Perkins!

3.5/5 (Omnivore, 2018)

 

 

 

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