Record Store Day Black Friday Preview From Craft Recordings: Lost Soul & Under Appreciated Jazz (review)

Various Artists – Written in Their Soul – The Hits: The Stax Songwriter Demos (Stax/Craft Recordings)

These lost treasures debut on vinyl for Record Store Day

Written in Their Soul was an absolute goldmine – a 7-CD box set of newly-unearthed soul demos from the Stax Records archives.  For information on it, read our review here.  The Hits is a small sampling of these treasures, making their first-ever appearance on limited edition, orange vinyl, for Record Store Day.

The set leads off with “634-5789 (Soulsville, USA),” a song made famous by Wilson Pickett, but here, featuring writer Eddie Floyd on vocals, and Steve Cropper on guitar, plus some background vocals.  It’s rough and lacks drums, but there’s a joyfulness that just permeates the track.  Some of the artists here you may not be familiar with but they were key players in the Stax sound – like Deanie Parker, who’s “I’ve Got No Time to Lose” became an R&B hit for Carla Thomas, or the spine-tingling Homer Banks and his “I’ll Be Your Shelter (In Time of Storm).”

Mack Rice, who wrote “Mustang Sally,” is featured here with a killer, infantile version of the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself” – it’s gritty, distorted, and his guitar is definitely out of tune, but damn, it’s so funky, that you just don’t care.  Or how about Henderson Thigpen singing “Woman to Woman” from the perspective of a woman?

Some tracks are bare-bones, but others are fairly complete – dig that wah wah guitar on Shelbra Bennett’s  “I’ll Be the Other Woman.” You’ll probably recognize the title “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” either from Luther Ingram or Barbara Mandrell, but you’ve never heard it with so much passion, coming from the song’s composer, Homer Banks.

This LP contains a mere 13 tracks, while its parent box set has 146.  Which means, if you like what you hear, there’s a whole lot more to dig into.   

Gil Evans – Gil Evans & Ten (Prestige/Craft Recordings)

Mono edition sounds fabulous on vinyl

Gil Evans had already made a name for himself, working with Miles Davis on the Birth of the Cool and Miles Ahead albums, and writing songs for Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett.   But, Gil Evans & Ten is the first release to showcase Evans’ as a leader by himself.  Here, he puts together an 11-piece ensemble that really shines.  

The album opens with the sound of Evans’ own piano on Irving Berlin’ s “Remember,”  but then his “Ten” show up, and it’s a lush sound, akin to what he and Miles had been brewing as of late.  I love the heavy use of things like the trombone and French horn, less common as solo instruments in jazz.

Evans’ takes inspiration from just about anywhere, as “Ella Speaks” shows – it’s a Leadbelly song, followed by Leonard Bernstein’s “Big Stuff,” which features gorgeous bass trombone, played by Bart Varsalona.  Whatever the material, Evans’ arrangements make things exciting.  

Evans’ gift was finding the middle ground between jazz and classical, and Rodgers and Hart’s “Nobody’s Heart” shows this off perfectly, again led by that buttery smooth trombone, but then, a few minutes in, the track begins to swing.

This mono version is a super quiet, all analog pressing, done by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio – these guys are getting a reputation for churning out high-quality material.  I love that they recreated the classic, yellow Prestige record label for the LP.   –Tony Peters

Jazz Vinyl That’s Actually Worth the Extra $ (review)

Bill Evans Trio – Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside/Craft)

You’ve never heard this album sound this good

When you make a list of the greatest jazz albums of all time, this needs to be on it.  Just issued by Craft Recordings as part of their newly-resurrected Original Jazz Classics series, Sunday at the Village Vanguard has never sounded better.

I have a recent, but standard pressing from Fantasy Records that sounds ok.  That is, until you compare it to this new OJC version.  In every possible way, this new version is far superior.  While the music on the original sounds good – this new version immerses you.  Scott LaFaro’s bass is rich, deep, and his fingers click on the neck, while Paul Motian’s drums are crisp, and the warmth coming off the keys of Bill Evans’ piano is amazing.  

This was the first of two albums culled from the trio’s performances on June 25, 1961, just ten days before LaFaro was tragically killed in an auto accident.  The second set, Waltz For Debby, we already raved about here. This album was meant as a showcase for the late bassist, so there’s lots of room for him to stretch out.  No band had ever had this much freedom between all three members – it truly was a three-way conversation.  

As LaFaro is pouring his soul into these dazzling solos, you can clearly hear people having a conversation. We can forgive them for not realizing that they were witnessing a fleeting moment of sheer greatness.  But, that’s how phenomenal this vinyl sounds – you literally hear things you’ve never heard before.  

You do not have to have great ears to tell the difference.  It’s just that good.  Sure, this copy is going to probably cost you about double what your standard version would….and, it’s 100 percent worth the price.

I noticed that the mastering job is different as well.  While my standard copy segues quickly between tracks, there are pauses between tracks here.  

Even the cover art gets a badly-needed overhaul.  Comparing my repressing to the new OJC, my version looks like a bad Xerox copy – strictly black and white, while this new one has a rich, grayish brown hue.  

The job the team at Craft Recordings is doing with these Original Jazz Classics albums is very impressive.  Finally albums that truly take advantage of the analog format.  You will not be disappointed. —Tony Peters

The AM Radio Side of Yes (review)

Yes – Yessingles – (Rhino/Atlantic)

Collection examines the radio-friendly side of Prog Rockers

On the surface, this is one of the strangest compilations ever.  Take Yes, arguably the most successful band of the Progressive Rock genre, known for their extended songs, and put together a list of their singles, meaning the drastically-edited versions that were handed to AM radio and put on 45 rpm singles.  Seems crazy, right?  Yet, it’s a great compilation.  

What has always set Yes apart from all other Prog Rock bands, is their uncanny knack for writing great melodies.  Sure, they could stretch out and solo endlessly with the best of them.  But, they also knew how to write hooks.

The album opens with “Your Move” – essentially part one of the fantastic “I’ve Seen All Good People” suite, it’s just missing the end, about half the song. You wait for the next part to come in, and it isn’t there. Same with “Starship Trooper: Life Seeker”  – an oddity, since it’s in mono, and also about 1/3 the album track’s length.  It’s basically the first 3 minutes of the song, and then it fades out.  

“Roundabout” was the song that put Yes on the map, due in part to a highly-edited version that climbed to #13 on the Billboard singles chart.    They did a better job of truncating this one. Sure, it cuts an eight-minute track down to three, but it still hits all the high points.

Yes would then issue the strange Simon & Garfunkel cover, “America” – as a single only.  The album-length version is somewhat of a rarity, showing up from time to time on reissues and clocking at more than 10 minutes in length.  Another example of Yes’ brilliant melodicism is “And You And I” – the album version runs again around 10 minutes, but the single is tight at 3 1/2 mins. 

As the band’s music became more expansive, the singles were a great place to keep things concise.  The bloated, 22-minute, “The Gates of Delirium,” was condensed into the beautiful “Soon.” Although truncated, “Sound Chaser” is a mess – noisy, lacking melody, it’s an odd choice for a 45 rpm.  “Wonderous Stories” is the first Yes single that was included in its full length (in this case, 3:50), same with “Don’t Kill the Whale,” which clocks in at a mere 3:55. 

“Into the Lens” is an interesting oddity – a single cut without singer Jon Anderson.  Instead, Trevor Horn and Chris Squire handle the vocals, but it still has that distinct Yes quality.

But, after that proved unsuccessful, the band asked Anderson to rejoin.  Now, with guitarist Trevor Rabin in the fold, they scored their biggest hit to date, the forward-leaning, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Full of synthesizer tricks, it would climb all the way to #1 on the charts.  Oddly, even though this is touted as a singles collection, this is, in fact, not the single version, which is shorter than what’s included here.  The album closes with the mostly-acapella “Leave It.”  

While it is nice to have many of these single edits in one place, there’s no clear definition for this track list.  Yesingles is not the “best of Yes” (it’s missing some of their biggest songs:  “It Can Happen,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “Rhythm of Love,” come to mind).   It’s also not a “complete” singles collection, as there were many songs issued as 45’s that were left off (“Going For the One” and “Lift Me Up” are two more omissions). 

Yesingles is a nice summation of many of the high points of Yes, albeit in abbreviated versions.  —Tony Peters  

419 – Popa Chubby – New Live Album, Live at G. Bluey’s Juke Joint NYC

Roaring out of New York City comes Popa Chubby with his unique blend of blues, rock and soul.  Born Ted Horowitz, he cut his teeth on the late Seventies’ NY punk scene, even joining Richard Hell & the Voidoids for awhile.  He issued his first album in 1994, and he’s never looked back – 38 albums to his credit. 

For his latest album, Live at G. Bluey’s Juke Joint NYC, Chubby took an unique approach: do a live record in a studio, and invite only 50 friends. The result feels like you’re onstage with the musicians. Chubby decided to let those friends help pick some of the songs, resulting in an eclectic mix of hits and rarities, some he hadn’t played live in years.

No overdubs, just Popa Chubby and band. We chat with the guitar slinger, who was in the middle of touring Germany during our talk, about stretching out on some of the songs, interacting with the great musicians, and how he feels about rap music and its lineage to the blues.

Celebrating 45 Great Years of Rhino Records With Exclusive Vinyl (review)

Rhino Records Celebrates 45 Years with New Rhino Red Editions of Classic Albums

Each album comes with a bonus 45 rpm single

Rhino Records is the most important record label of the last 50 years.

While that might sound like hyperbole, the fact is, no other record company has done more to promote the rich history of music than Rhino.  From their humble beginnings issuing novelty records, the little label from California soon began to repackage forgotten hits of the past. Imagine what the genres of garage rock or girl groups or soul would be like without Rhino’s fantastic reissues.  They’ve also overseen countless classic album remasters, each with their meticulous attention to detail.  

In celebration of 45 great years, Rhino has started a Rhino Red campaign, taking a variety of legendary albums from their catalog and reissuing them on translucent red vinyl, along with a bonus 45 single.  Some are straight reissues, while others are special editions.  These exclusive editions are only available at rhino.com

The Doors – Golden Album

A recreation of a 1968 Japanese compilation that covers the band’s first three albums: The Doors, Strange Days, and Waiting For the Sun.  Mastered by Bruce Botnick and lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman Mastering, the album was pressed at Third Man in Detroit.  The deluxe gatefold jacket comes with a lyric booklet and photos of the band.  

I don’t think you can name a single LP Doors’ collection that features “Light My Fire” AND both epic pieces, “The End” and “When the Music’s Over.”  I’m surprised at side two’s track listing.  When you total all six of the songs, you’re at roughly 27 minutes, which is pretty full for an album side.  While one might quibble over the choices – “Moonlight Drive” seems an odd omission – but it’s a pretty killer, no filler look at the early days of the Doors.

The 7-inch single is an interesting one, a 33 rpm single featuring 5 songs also available on the album: “Hello, I Love You,” “Strange Days,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Light My Fire,” and “People Are Strange.” Odd choices, since “Strange Days” especially wasn’t a single.  But, it’s maybe the only time that the full, album-length version of “Light My Fire” has been available on a 7-inch single.  

Todd Rundgren – Runt (early version)

Todd fans will delight with this discovery: a rare, “early mix” of the Runt album.  The biggest surprise is a full version of what became the Runt “Baby Let’s Swing Medley.”   I also hear echo on some of the tracks that isn’t on the later, more-common mix.  They’ve faithfully recreated the inner sleeve with the lyrics and band photos.

The 45 rpm single is the mono mix of “We Gotta Get You a Woman” backed with the “Baby Let’s Swing” Medley – also in mono.  They used the Bearsville logo for the LP, but they paid homage to the Ampex logo, but substituting the word “Rhino” instead.  

Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute

Although this is touted as a straight reissue, this is sonically different from my 1978, OG LP.  “Here to Love You” seems compressed, while the kick drum and bass on “What a Fool Believes” seems louder.  Also, the claps on “Depending on You” also seem more prevalent.  They did faithfully recreate the album’s inner sleeve, complete with the giant doobie!

The 45 single is “What a Fool Believes” backed with the excellent, “Don’t Stop to Watch the Wheels.”

Chicago – V

Probably the best packaging of this series.  Two, large, black and white posters of the band.  Gatefold cover (but what band would literally not list the song titles either on the front or back cover 0R even the inside cover??

Chicago V was really a triumph considering it immediately followed the bloated, 4-LP live At Carnegie Hall box set, and the band’s previous studio album, Chicago III didn’t contain any major hit singles.  Chicago V also marked the first time the band issued a single LP – everything before that was a double album or the aforementioned live set.  

Side one is absolutely flawless.  Robert Lamm is on fire as a songwriter.  As some of Chicago’s previous releases featured a lot of styles of music, especially excursions into jazz and experimentation.  Here, the band seems focused.  But, make no mistake, this is still very much the classic, Chicago sound.  With the very next album, the band would find success in ballads.  “Dialogue Part 1 & 2” is the perfect fusion of melody and improvisation.  Guitarist Terry Kath has a killer solo at the end. 

Side two starts with a funky, jazz number called “While the City Sleeps.”  I love Cetera’s bass on this.  It’s followed by the quintessential Chicago song, “Saturday in the Park.”  The horns sound somewhat muted here on this new vinyl version for some reason.  It is truly one of the greatest pop songs in history.  “State of the Union” is a great, slinky rocker.  The album ends with “Alma Mater,” giving Kath an opportunity to show off his acoustic guitar skills over some rather unique chord changes.  

Foreigner – Agent Provacateur

A side-by-side comparison of the new, Red version to an original album shows this new one to be warmer, with more low end.  This album is very digital sounding in any format, they were using the tools of the moment, including synth drums. Their previous album, 4, was a huge success, but also introduced a more pop element.  Here, Foreigner sounds trapped between two worlds.  They started out as a hard rock outfit, but every rocker here sounds forced.  “Reaction to Action” and “Tooth and Nail” suffer from mid-Eighties production, so lack the punch of their earlier work (even though the guitars are meaty, they’re wrapped in echoed drums and a gloss that isn’t necessary).  

By contrast, the pop side of things really shine.  “That Was Yesterday” is still a fabulous single, “I Want to Know What Love Is” is the heartfelt ballad follow up to “Waiting For a Girl Like You.”  Some of the album’s best songs are on side two, like the sleeper album cut “Love in Vain,” while “Down on Love” perhaps should’ve been a bigger hit.  Both are synth driven, but still sound great.  

The 45 rpm single included is the single version of “I Want to Know What Love Is” backed with “Street Thunder,” an instrumental which sounds like it came from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.  It isn’t really memorable though.  The 45 Atlantic label is actually incorrect.  I believe it had the “F” Foreigner logo.

The original album sleeve featured a raised letter “F” but that was probably too pricey to recreate.  

Also available is Love’s second album, De Capo, in its rare, mono version.  The accompanying single has “7 & 7 Is” backed with the non-LP “No. Fourteeen”; Love Man, Otis Redding’s third posthumous album, here in stereo, along with a promotional EP featuring four songs in mono from the same album; and Aretha Franklin’s fifth Atlantic album, Soul ’69, featuring the single “Gentle on My Mind,” backed with the non-LP “I Can’t See Myself Leaving You.”

Rhino Red offers a chance to grab unique copies of some of the classic albums in the Rhino catalog.  Some, like the Doors and Todd Rundgren, are worth getting because they offer different versions.  Either way, this is an excellent way to celebrate the many accomplishments of Rhino Records.  Here’s to another 45!  —Tony Peters

Darkness – Permission to Land…Again! (review)

Darkness – Permission To Land; 20th Anniversary 5LP Super Deluxe Box (Atlantic/Warner Music)

The Darkness breakthru record ‘Permission To Land just turned twenty and was re-released by Warner Music as “Darkness – Permission To Land; 20th ANNIVERSARY 5LP SUPER DELUXE BOX.”  I started with LP2; I Believe in a Thing Called Love DEMOS. The vox and instruments on each cut were far in the background, very flat sounding, low and unremarkable. Definitely needed something. 

Next it was LP3 – Singles and B-sides, which contain the radio cuts of each track, including the Smash Radio Single “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and the 2003 holiday track “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End).” Also, it has the harder to find explicit cuts: “Get Your Hands Off my Woman,” “Makin’ Out,” “Physical Sex,” and “Bareback,” which eluded radio play for some reason. Between the Demos and Singles the difference in clarity and punch on each song is amazing.

Next, I spun to the remastered (LP1) versions of each song which brought lead guitar and vocals even more front and center, focused, with added effects, doubled vox in spots and tightened up the overall track. They again improved the width of the tracks allowing each vocal and instrument to break thru more cleanly, while adding amazing clarity and balance. 

And lastly, I played the two live records LP4 – Live At Knebworth 2003, and LP5 – Live At Astoria 2003. These are two amazing recordings of two epic performances from the Worldwide 2003 Permission To Land tour. 

With this amazing box set we can compare the Demos, Studio cuts, Unreleased versions, Live cuts and a brand new Remastered versions of each track. It is a deep dive into the history of each song and an inside glimpse of the recording process not often offered up for fan consumption. I really dig it and you will too. The Darkness are currently touring the 20th Anniversary of this amazing record, Go check ’em out, coming soon to a venue near you.  – Ric Stewart

The Rolling Stones release a surprisingly fantastic new record (review)

Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds (Universal)

Mick & Keef get a little help from their friends on their best album in over 3 decades

What do the Rolling Stones have left to prove?  Well, apparently a lot.  Their 26th album is very good, and certainly worth a listen.

I’m not sure how he does it, but Mick Jagger sounds fantastic – still very much Mick – screaming, yelping, pleading.  Keith Richards’ guitar is very hot in the mix, and that slinky, behind-the-beat drumming, is still very much a part of things.  Only this time, with the passing of Charlie Watts, it’s handled by Steve Jordan. There’s also some very nice guest appearances.

The album opens with the fierce “Angry” – Jordan does his best Watts’ imitation.  I dig when the song breaks down, we hear producer Andrew Watts’ piano, then a fine Ronnie Wood solo.  Next comes “Get Close,” propelled by a funky groove, and a great sax solo near the end, and guest piano by Elton John.  This is vintage-sounding Stones.  

“Depending on You” is a fantastic ballad led by lightly-strummed guitar and piano, and Benmont Tench on organ.  “Bite My Head Off” features Paul McCartney on bass – the verses are aggressive, but it features a great chorus.  

The one thing that stands out from Hackney Diamonds is that it’s melodic.  “Whole Wide World” has somewhat bland verses, but the chorus and great guitar solo save it.  Same goes for “Driving Me Too Hard” – the verses are just ok, but the dreamy chorus with a slinky guitar is fantastic.  

The stripped-down “Dreamy Skies,” with its acoustic and slide guitar, and piano could’ve been an Exile outtake.  I love Richards’ background vocals here.

“Mess It Up” is an absolute wonder.  One of only two tracks featuring late drummer Charlie Watts; it’s his phenomenal rhythms, heavy on the hi hat, that makes this the most danceable Stones’ track since “Miss You.”  And dig Jagger’s falsetto on the “I won’t lie” part near the end.  They would be foolish to not release this as a single.

“Live By the Sword” sees the return of original bassist Bill Wyman on a Stones’ record for the first time in 35 years.  That, coupled with this being the other track featuring Watts, makes this the most complete Stones’ band song in a very long time.  It’s another track with tasty piano from Elton John.   Great guitar solo on this one too.

“Tell Me Straight” is a surprisingly good ballad from Richards.

“Sweet Sounds of Heaven” features Lady Gaga on vocals and Stevie Wonder on organ and piano.  This is an obvious ode to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” not only in the chord progression, but also in the way the song builds, and its length.  Jagger and Gaga trade “oh yeahs” near the end, and it’s good fun.  

“Rolling Stone Blues” is the absolutely perfect way to end.  This is the Muddy Waters’ song that brought Jagger and Richards together as youths.  Unbelievable that they’ve never put this on record before, it’s just Richards’ electric guitar and Jagger on vocals and harmonica.  It’s chilling in its immediacy – reminding us where these guys came from, albeit an eternity ago.  

There’s word that the band recorded enough tracks to fill up an additional album.  So, the possibility that we’ll have yet another Stones’ record soon is certainly good news.  Especially if it’s as great as this one.   

In the Rolling Stones’ long history, they’ve only recorded a handful of albums that are solid, from start to finish – there’s usually filler in there somewhere (think “Continental Drift” on the otherwise pretty-good Steel Wheels).  With Hackney Diamonds, they’ve created an excellent album, brimming with excitement and swagger, that can proudly stand next to the band’s finest work.  —Tony Peters

The Replacements’ Best Album Gets a Badly-Needed Remix, and More

Replacements – Tim (Let it Bleed Edition) (Sire/Rhino)

New remix is how this album should’ve sounded when it came out

I’m a huge Replacements’ fan and I hated Tim when it came out.

I had purchased their previous album, Let it Be, in 1984, after hearing “I Will Dare” on the Duke college station, WXDU.  I remember the DJ mentioning that R.E.M.’s Peter Buck had played on the track and that was enough for me.  Soon, I became enthralled with that entire album.  Punk nonsense like “Gary’s Got a Boner” rubbed shoulders with the gut-wrenching “Unsatisfied.”  There was the vicious “We’re Coming Out,” and the drunken piano “Androgynous,” and even their roughshod cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.”  It was raw, and somehow both flippant and sincere.  

And then, the ‘Mats (as they’re affectionately known) signed with a major label, Sire Records. The ensuing album, Tim, lacked the aggression that I had come to love from the band.  I remember first noticing how the drums sounded like cardboard, and the guitars were tinny.  Everything was awash in this reverb, like an old Elvis record, but muted.  My worst fears had been realized – The Replacements had signed to a major label and had indeed sold out.  Produced by Tommy Erdelyi, aka Tommy Ramone – I question what this guy was thinking back then.

There were good songs – I remember liking “Left of the Dial” – an ode to college radio, the rocker “Bastards of Young,” and the catchy “Kiss Me on the Bus” – but I couldn’t get past the lousy sound.  Only the bleak, “Here Comes a Regular,” seemed to rise above the sonic flaws.

Tim is the only Replacements album I don’t own on LP.  I did finally grab it on CD, but, it actually sounded worse than I remembered (there’s a reason – see below).  

Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one unsatisfied with the sound of Tim.  Rhino Records has just issued Tim (Let it Bleed Edition), a 4-CD, 1-LP box set, the highlight being a fresh remix from Ed Stasium, who had worked on albums from the Ramones and Smithereens.  

It’s about damn time.

These fantastic songs are finally put in the correct light.

The first thing you notice is that the godawful echo is gone.  Also, the original mix is mostly mono (why?).  Here, Stasium chose to spread out the guitars, so everything packs a big punch, and the drums are meatier.  Take the catchy “Kiss Me on the Bus” – the original mix is flat, listless, mostly mono.  This new version is superior in every way.  There’s an audible acoustic guitar in one channel, while an electric guitar chugs in the other.  And, the bass – completely buried before, is fat and driving.  The guitars on the original “Bastards of Young” sound like needles.  Here, Stasium gives them balls.  

I saw the ‘Mats twice, so I always knew what they were capable of – but their studio output just doesn’t show it.  This new mix really does sound more dangerous, unbridled.  

For some of the other songs, it’s like a film has been peeled off, revealing the actual music.  “Waitress in the Sky” is one example – the new mix exposes guitars and really good harmonies that you barely make out in the original.  The anthemic “Let of the Dial” just jumps out of the speakers in the new iteration.

“Swingin Party” is the band’s most-streamed song (in large part due to a 2013 Lorde cover).  The original has a strange percussion sound which has been corrected.  In the new mix, the instruments are spread out, giving the track more life.  “Little Mascara” has an additional minute added to the new version, which features an out-of-his-mind guitar solo from Bob Stinson.

Perhaps the most revealing improvement is “Here Comes a Regular.” Stasium decided to mix out the dated synth, instead finding a forgotten piano part, which adds an additional level of sadness.  The synth finally emerges in the middle, building more tension.  Westerberg’s voice is more upfront – you really feel the melancholy in his delivery.

Every CD version of Tim, and thus, streaming as well, was pulled from an inferior tape which made everything sound even more brittle.  Disc 2 of this box set is an attempt to correct this.  They’ve taken the original album mix and tried to make it sound as good as possible.  Most notably, it seems they’ve tried to boost the bass, but I still prefer the remix!  

Disc 3 features outtakes and alternate versions, including several cut with the legendary Alex Chilton producing.  Strangely, the band attempted “Can’t Hardly Wait” numerous times – fast, slow, even one with cello, and Westerberg wasn’t happy with any of them. It would eventually come out on their next record, Pleased to Meet Me.

Disc 4 features a previously-unreleased concert from Chicago from early 1986.  Sloppy as usual, but good fun.  The first track sounds muffled, but eventually they get the sound right.  Bob Stinson really does shine here – you really do get to appreciate his unbridled approach to guitar.  Some of the covers, including “Hitchin a Ride” are kinda goofy, although “Black Diamond” is really good.  Actually, as the set goes on, you can tell that the band is just ad libbing everything and running on pure adrenaline.  Westerberg asks for requests as the band will literally play anything.  Their early anthem, “Kids Don’t Follow” is followed by the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man.”  The covers are there, but they actually play them all the way through for a change.  The guys sound completely out of their minds by the last track, “Go.”  28 tracks – it’s a dizzying testament to how great this band (sometimes) was live.

The box comes with a big booklet with a lengthy essay by “Mats historian Bob Mehr.  You really do get a blow-by-blow account of the band, and their penchant for fucking up, time after time.  Truth is, Tim’s bad mix had nothing to do with them – it just wasn’t representative of what these songs should’ve sounded like.  This new mix is the real deal.

Tim finally sounds like the greatest Replacements record it always should’ve been.  —Tony Peters

Rhino Records Introduces a Hi Fidelity Vinyl Series – Is It Worth It?

Van Morrison – His Band and the Street Choir – Rhino Hi Fidelity Vinyl Review

Ever since the vinyl “resurgence” began about ten years ago, there’s been a debate about quality. You just don’t know what you’re going to get with a newly-pressed vinyl LP.  Some great, but often not so great, or even awful.  It basically comes down to quality control, as the few remaining vinyl plants work overtime, trying to meet the growing demand.  

Rhino Records has recently attempted to remedy this, by ushering in their Hi Fidelity series: each release features an intense attention to detail.  This means heavy grade album jackets, glossy covers, and extra bonus essays and booklets, unique to these reissues.  But, the biggest selling point is that the vinyl is supposed to be really good quality.  Each title is numbered and limited to 5,000.

The kind folks at Rhino sent us Van Morrison His Band and the Street Choir for review.

In a side by side comparison to an original, Warner Bros pressing that we have in the office, the first thing you notice is how heavy the weight of the album jacket is.  Very thick, kinda old school in that regard.  Much thicker than my original.  Next, the outer cover is a high-quality gloss, not common these days.  There’s also an OBI on the left hand side of the outer packaging. These are more common in Japanese releases, giving info about the album, but is a nice touch. Oddly, my original copy has the album title emblazoned across the top, while this one does not.

So, about the actual vinyl.  Dropping the needle, it’s super, super quiet.  Bass is warm.  The guitar in the left channel of “Domino” jumps out of the speakers.  I really hear the cowbell on this version.  

In a side by side comparison to an original, Warner Bros pressing – this new Rhino Hi Fidelity version wins out – hands down. Although the original has nice bass, everything else is somewhat muddy.  You really don’t notice this until you play this new, Hi Fi edition.  This version has clear highs, and is really more balanced all around.  I have to admit being skeptical, yet this new version is really that good. 

The extra pocket in the gatefold cover contains a light brown foldout of the original lyrics from the album.  Another booklet features an interview with producer Elliot Scheiner, revealing a great deal not only about this album, but the Moondance LP that preceded it.  Also, a nice touch is the photos of the original master tape boxes.  

A few other insights – the acoustic guitar on “Blue Money” really jumps out at you, while “Virgo Clowns” features a fantastic mandolin, and it’s really crisp here.  I got goosebumps listening to the last track, “Street Choir.”  The organ just hits you in this high quality vinyl version.  

I think this is an excellent album for the Hi Fidelity series – full of acoustic instrumentation that just thrives in the analog environment.

They also sent us Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth.  

Honestly, we don’t have an original copy to compare this one to.  However, I’m not sure you could pick a more sonically-challenging album to reissue on vinyl.  And, it just sounds awesome.  

Pastorius’ Word of Mouth project was an attempt to revisit the Big Band idiom, but with a modern (circa 1981) update.  He basically assembled a who’s who of jazz players, including Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, Tom Scott, Jack DeJohnette, Chuck Findley and others.  In addition to the horns playing leads, he also incorporated harmonica player Toots Thielemans, which adds an interesting twist.  There’s also elements of funk and fusion here too.  

Pastorius’ fretless bass is deep and full in this analog format. Yet, the horns, steel drums, percussion, and flutes are all crisp and bright.  Fair warning, the opening cut, “Crisis,” is a difficult listen.  But, once you get past it, there’s plenty to love. ”3 Views of a Secret” is gentle, while “Liberty City” is reminiscent of Weather Report.

Side two opens with a solo piece for Jaco called “Chromatic Fantasy,” which morphs into quite possibly the most inventive cover of a Beatles’ song in history: “Blackbird” features the melody played by Thielemans, Pastorius’ exploratory bass, all the while random percussion bangs on in the background.  Suddenly, with an abrupt edit, Pastorius switches to a heavily-distorted bass, accompanied by frenetic drumming.  It’s an exhilarating ride.

The packaging is top notch: heavy-grade album jacket, glossy cover, and a gatefold sleeve with cool photos of Jaco.  There’s also a bonus booklet, featuring an essay by Ricky Shultz, who was a record executive at Warner during the time of this album’s release.

The verdict on the Hi Fidelity series?  Thumbs up.  Although more expensive than a standard vinyl edition, the attention to detail and quality of the vinyl makes purchasing these editions truly worth every penny.  I may go an seek out a few more for myself.  —Tony Peters

418 – Jock Bartley of Firefall – New Album, Friends and Family Features Fresh Renditions of songs by The Doobie Bros, Poco, etc.

Formed in 1974 in Boulder, Colorado, Firefall had several big hits on AM radio in the 1970’s with “You Are the Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” and “Strange Way,” but also were known for their excellent musicianship, which got them played on FM radio, with tracks like “Cinderella,” and “Mexico.” 

The band’s latest project, Friends and Family, puts a unique twist on the tribute album.  Firefall’s former and current members have played with many other bands over the years – so you get songs by the Byrds, Spirit, Heart and the Flying Burrito Brothers.  They also tackle songs by bands that they toured with, like the Doobie Brothers and Poco. 

Ultimately, these versions were recorded with the idea of adding something different to the arrangements, turning these familiar tunes into Firefall classics.   

We talk again to founding member, Jock Bartley, about the care that went into choosing each song and why they were chosen.  He also reveals that a Friends and Family 2 is already in the works.

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