The first round appears to have been released in 2009, but they made another go of it in 2011. Different colors of wax were used in some instances, and most of these sell for upwards of $80 online now. I was tooling around a few weeks back and found myself at the ORG site when I noticed that they were still selling copies of MTV Unplugged in New York City for $25. I jumped. Might as well.
I’ve had a copy of this one as done by Simply Vinyl for years now. Audiophiles will slaughter Simply Vinyl’s releases, but it’s really hard to argue with the quality of that company’s pressings. It’s equally hard to figure out their sources. I’ve had some real issues with Pallas pressings over the last couple of years so I was really interested to see how this competition would shake down. I’m thrilled to report that my ORG Music version is pressed every bit as flawlessly as my older Simply Vinyl copy. But the ORG variant has way more depth and three-dimensionality, and the differences are immediately obvious. The SV version has some added hiss that sounds positively overwhelming with the two discs available for a side-by-side comparison. “Pennyroyal Tea” sounds much more immediate and intimate as done by ORG. Cobain flubs a chord in there that I’d never even noticed before. There’s so much bass and airy high end on the cymbals in ORG’s version, and there’s an enormous soundstage to frolic in between the two. We know that the quality of the material and performance was there from the jump. This album found me in an era when I would play the same record relentlessly over the course of an entire season or semester. And I did, man. I wore this one out. It was one of the last of that kind, actually. After all this time, I am in danger of falling back into a reckless Unplugged binge due to the quality of this release. I thought that I may have lucked into finding a lone copy that was uncovered at the ORG warehouse or something, but it’s still available as of this writing. If you like Nirvana and vinyl, this is your time. For Unplugged, anyway. I’m still searching for an affordable ORG version of In Utero. I have Simply Vinyl’s take on that one too, and now I know the difference. It’s significant.
Unplugged has never sounded better to my ears. Maybe it’ll get me through what is shaping up to be a cold, wet winter. I can’t recommend it enough.
Analogue Productions had a sale a few weeks back, and I took the opportunity to stock up on a couple of their titles that we will be exploring in the coming weeks. They’re doing some good stuff right now, and I am especially excited about their mono Beach Boys titles. But I don’t get nearly as excited about the Beach Boys as I do Muddy Waters. AP has done a double take on his Folk Singer. They did a 45rpm version on two discs a couple of years ago, and a single 33rpm more recently. I went for the latter as I get tired of flipping and cleaning 45s. Rolling Stone magazine described Folk Singer as a rare Blues audiophile recording for whatever that’s worth to you. I guess it depends on who you ask. It’s an interesting record. I’ll say that much. I’m happy to have this version in my collection.
As the title implies, Folk Singer was released with a mind towards capitalizing on the Folk boom that was in full swing circa 1964. We love our categories, don’t we? I mean, how are we going to pedal our wares to unsuspecting marks if we can’t dictate where they’re going to place their records? Folk Singer is not what I think of when I think of Folk music. To me, this is a Blues record. But it’s presented in an acoustic format so I reckon we get to call it “Folk.” Whatever. Chess Records put Muddy in front of a Psych-Rock band for Electric Mud, and Howlin’ Wolf in front of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood for The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. So we knew already that they weren’t averse to experimentation in the interest of furthering their artists’ reach. (Years later, Fat Possum Records would remix R.L. Burnside titles with dance beats so the tradition didn’t exactly die after Folk Singer.) The most interesting thing about this title to me is getting to hear Buddy Guy wear out an acoustic guitar. Muddy’s vocals are really heavy on the reverb which should sound familiar to fans of today’s acoustic-based music. I believe we can thank Jim James for that. He’s been doing it for the better part of 15 years now, and Father John Misty and others have followed him right through that cavernous sonic doorway. Folk Singer doesn’t quite get around to detailing the immense power that Muddy Waters could conjure up vocally, and the reverb kinda covers up some of the details that might have been revealed in this format, but where else do you get to hear Muddy and Buddy cut heads on acoustics? “You Gonna Need My Help” gives you a chance to hear Muddy’s more traditional licks under Buddy’s blazing fingers, and that would make the whole thing worth it on its own. If you fancy yourself a Blues fan, then Folk Singer belongs in your collection for those rainy days when you don’t quite feel up to plugging in.
AP did a fine job with this one overall, but my pressing is a little “ticky” in spots. Nothing overwhelming, but it’s noisier than what you’ll find from a MoFi pressing or certainly from what you get from Music Matters. And the quiet nature of these recordings brings those little noises out in sharp relief. Still, I’d recommend it due to the historical nature of the recording if nothing else.
I’m amassing a pretty decent little Jazz piano collection. The older I get, the more necessary it becomes. I started a few years ago with Ellington’s Piano In The Foreground (Classic Records) and Nat Cole’s Penthouse Serenade (Pure Pleasure). Later, I moved into Bill Evans’ work with Waltz for Debby (Analogue Productions) before getting completely blown away by Herbie Hancock’s Blue Note titles that Music Matters reissued. Then, there’s Monk’s Something in Blue (Pure Pleasure). These are just some piano-based titles as performed by soloists or small combos. I have many more in Classical and Big Band settings. I love listening to the piano as a music fan, and it’s a seductive instrument for a musician because it exposes the guitar for the torture device that it is. The keyboard is laid out really nicely, in order, right in front of you. The folks that learned to make it talk are the folks that we’ve mentioned in this review so far. And Tommy Flanagan. Someone in The Know recommended his Overseas to me a couple of months ago. And I’m a better man for it.
This is a trio recording, made in Sweden, with Elvin Jones on drums. Add that to the fact that Flanagan was the featured pianist on Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus and that Overseas is another Analogue Productions title, and I’m sold out already. With good reason. Overseas jumps out of the gate with “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” which is about as relaxing as a bull fight. The gap between title and mood is so abrupt that I knew there had to be a story. The story is this: “Camarillo” is a Charlie Parker tune, and the title references his stay in a California hospital where he was recovering from a breakdown. So, both the pace and the title make sense when you come by that info. Ellington’s main man, Billy Strayhorn, has a tune on here too, but Flanagan’s originals make up the bulk of both sides. And his playing fits his compositions as well as those little black keys fit next to the larger white ones. He’s pretty percussive, but still fluid. His fingers seem at times like hammers, but they turn feathery for all the right notes. He can club you with chords down low or tickle you with trills up high. We all know that Elvin Jones was a badass (who’s given plenty of room to lay out on “Verdandi”), but Wilbur Little on bass is a revelation to me. His walking lines and punchy stops fill in any gaps that a combo this size might produce, and the whole thing feels like a nice night out of the rain in a warm club with dim lighting and dangerous women. If, like me, you are a fan of small piano combos recorded simply and in good taste, then Overseas is for you. Don’t wait.
This is a pristine AP pressing. I wish my copy of Muddy’s Folk Singer were this silent. If AP’s output was as consistently dazzling as their version of Overseas is, they’d be in danger of taking over my collection in the way that Music Matters actually is. For now, we’ll celebrate the victories and move past the minor annoyances found on records like Folk Singer. Overseas is a runaway win. I’m glad it found me.
Speaking of Elvin Jones and Music Matters, both are major contributors to one of the finest Jazz titles I’ve heard in a while. MM’s take on Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil is sublime. Regular readers may have grown weary of hearing me extol this company’s virtues. Much like I’m sure sports writers get tired of lauding LeBron James. Until recently, you’d have had to vote for James as league MVP for close to a decade straight. Folks get tired of hearing about James. They may want a new champion, but, if you’re voting based on performance alone, LeBron was the only logical choice until Steph Curry’s emergence. I feel the same way about Music Matters. I’d love for the vinyl reissue version of Steph Curry to usurp their throne as the finest purveyor of vinyl around. I’d blather on for months on end about them too. But I don’t see that happening because I simply can’t imagine what that would even sound like. Maybe the company could hire these (mostly deceased) musicians to come perform in your home with the purchase of every new record. That’s about what it would take. Until then, I’m left with no choice but to collect all of these titles while they are available. And to tell you about how great they are. Speak No Evil is no different. It’s another MVP submission. If you’re voting based on performance alone…
Every composition on Evil is Shorter’s and most follow a similar format. There’s typically an introductory theme that is clearly composed before the players are given time to take off and spread out, then there’s a reformation for an arranged landing. Shorter’s tenor sax work is more languorous than what one might expect to hear on a Coltrane recording, for example. Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet provides the right counterpoint as he jabs and flurries around Shorter’s bobbing and weaving. It feels a little like Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” technique that he used to slay George Foreman in Manila. It’s a luring in of the opponent that transpires just before the knockout blow. And Speak No Evil is full of knockouts. It helps to have the 1966 version of Herbie Hancock in your corner during bouts like these. And the aforementioned Elvin Jones. Hearing Hancock float just beneath the weight of the horns is a joyful workout on its own. His sparse solos feel that much more impactful when he finally takes his swings. This record straddles a fine line between laconic and leaden and it’s up to the listener to keep up. The coordinated horn lines are always tasty, and the talent in the room for these sessions is undeniable and legendary. The liners give you inkling into Shorter’s creative process, but I don’t see how you could do much with it unless you can translate his fascination with fairy tales and cadavers into a cohesive sound. I can’t. All I can do is sit back and appreciate what all those weird ingredients produced. It was this: another Blue Note masterpiece for Music Matters to sink their teeth into.
If you’re a Blue Note fan and a vinyl enthusiast, this is your time. You will regret not having these titles in your collection and you will pay through the nose for them later. Might as well cut to the chase while the cutting is good. These are the Alis and LeBrons of our vinyl times. World champs. Undisputed.
Next up, we’ll take a look at the new and only record by… Thunderbitch. It’s called… Thunderbitch. That’s right. We have left the arena of the audiophile, gang. Do not doubt that. It took me three times to find the band’s website (not Thunderbitch, not Thunderbetch, but thundabetch.com), and I am no better informed for having done so. This is Punk-ish Rock. If you don’t like that, then you don’t like this. If you do like that, you might like this. That’s as good as I’ve got. You’ll have to risk it at some point if you’re going to find out. I think it’s worth it. Right now, I do. Not sure how I’ll feel about this record next week. Or if I’ll remember that I have it at all. Let’s see…
Here’s the deal: this is Brittany Howard’s band. Her other band is the Alabama Shakes. In this outfit, she is called “Thunderbitch.” The other members are Matt Man, B Bone, ThunderMitch, Char Man, and A Man. Their bio says, “Thunderbitch. Rock ’n’ Roll. The end.” There are no tour dates. If you’ve ever seen Brittany Howard, or if you’ve ever seen a picture of her, you’ll know right away that she looks a lot different as Thunderbitch than she does as Brittany Howard. This is leather jacket music. Thus, the first song is called “Leather Jacket.” There are also songs called “I Don’t Care” and “I Just Wanna Rock N Roll.” And “My Baby Is My Guitar.” I will kiss someone’s a$$ if they can prove to me that any of these songs took longer than five minutes to compose in their entirety. I do not say that to criticize. There’s a ‘50s vibe that seeps out of these grooves on occasion just as it did out of some Ramones records in the ‘70s. And I know it’s romantic to imagine that the Ramones’ songs presented themselves to that band as finished products in less than five minutes, but I suspect that they tried a little harder. Thunderbitch is a fun record. It’s a funny record at times too. Alabama Shakes fans know that Brittany Howard is a monster talent with a huge voice, giant guitar chops, and a stage presence to match. She does a bunch of hollering and carrying on as Thunderbitch. The Shakes’ sophomore album was a nuanced, layered affair that reveals itself to the listener after repeated sessions. Thunderbitch is way less sneaky. It sounds like the band played each song one time through and that was the take that you get on the record. Had the songs ever been played previously? We would have no way of knowing as best I can tell. This record has a ton of energy, and I may come back to it at some point. It’s fun. The astute reader will notice that I am having a hard time committing to it though. I imagine a good time was had in the studio. Fans of Howard will likely want this one in their collection, but I honestly don’t know if the record would stand up on its own without her name to support it. There are worse problems in the world. Comes with a download code. Proceed with caution.