Burnside full-length I’d planned on getting. I’m hoping the latter title is available during my next store visit. I’m not paying $25 for the Crowes/Page thing. Ever. Mom’s coming out for a visit soon, and she’ll love having some new Bowie to explore. I’m pretty excited about it too.
Let’s go ahead and say, out front, that this is not audiophile faire. Mostly because of the recording itself. This extravaganza happened in a 6,000 seat amphitheater, and there’s a good amount of distance between the performers and the listeners on playback. I don’t mind it. I just turn it up. I love outdoor shows, and some of the best sounding bootlegs I’ve had (mostly recorded on DAT in the ‘90s) came from exactly these types of venues. The whole thing feels appropriately “airy,” which I much prefer to a cavernous, echoing, mud bath. Some folks would debate me on this, and some folks can’t be pleased. This happening was part of the Diamond Dogs Tour, and I love the material although I wish he’d included more from the soon-to-be-released Young Americans LP. The performances are predictably unpredictable. There are lounge piano intros to many of the tunes, and more songs still are jazzed up in comparison to their studio counterparts, especially “The Jean Genie.” We’re not talking about Bob Dylan-level makeovers or modifications to the point of anonymity, just interestingly altered takes to keep what were then pretty fresh songs fresher. One gets the idea that Bowie was easily bored, and entertaining himself by any means necessary. Makes me wonder what he’d have played if he didn’t have label execs and ravenous fans to consider. That level of self indulgence came later, I guess. After the checks were cashed, maybe…
The records themselves are very well pressed, and the tri-panel gatefold is sturdy with some neat photos and a shiny gloss finish. Highly appropriate. High quality (black) inner sleeves too, and no extras as far as downloads and that type of thing are concerned. There’s an etching on the sixth side, which I’m sure some folks love. I’d have preferred a radio interview from the era or something, but will settle for having one less side to clean. Price was reasonable relative to some of the other offerings this year, and the other Bowie set, specifically. I absolutely do not regret reaching for this one or keeping it. For a split second, I considered reselling my copy to knock some off of this year’s hefty bill. They’re selling like hotcakes online, but my notion was fleeting. I’d have felt like a mule, but, at 2017 prices, I can understand where some might be tempted. Flies in the face of the Spirit of the Thing though. No one makes us pay RSD prices, and these titles should go to the fans. Mine’s staying right where it is. Mom’s got a lot to look forward too.
Of all the titles on this year’s docket, I may have been most excited about the first ever vinyl release of Vic Chesnutt’s masterpiece, West of Rome. I don’t know if he still counts as a Hidden Gem or Underground Sensation, really. I think the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Actually, some of Chesnutt’s vocals on this record suggest nothing so much as a cat clawing its way out of the… something. I’ve been retroactively trying to snap up all his available vinyl, but his stuff can be hard to come by. It’d be lovely to get his collaborations with Widespread Panic out on wax, but not if they were pressed like the last round of Panic reissues. West of Rome (a New West Records production) is mostly fine in that arena except for a little no-fill at the end of side one. Which is tragic because it renders the last two songs on that side unlistenable. Drives me nuts. I’ve had issues with New West titles previously, but those were all pressed at United. This was not. I may just have bad luck. Vic Chesnutt had some of that too, it seems. It’s nice to be here with him now. And to be here with him too. This is really great. If it weren’t for that one pressing gaffe, this would be sonic perfection.
Mobile Fidelity or Analogue Productions could work some real magic with this one. The recordings are perfect for the audiophile treatment. Lots of acoustic instrumentation, including cellos and violins. Intimate as all hell. Michael Stipe produced this winner, and Chesnutt’s former label (not New West) insisted that “Latent/Blatant” be the lead tune, while Vic and Stipe didn’t even want it as part of the set list at all. In retrospect, they were right. I never really considered it, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the original release’s material. It’s included in this set as a bonus track along with some demos and live recordings – every one of them great. (I’m still glad “Latent” made it onto the initial release. It has enriched my life for many years. Every time I’ve heard it.) The liners in this package are especially engaging and enlightening, much of them (hilariously) written by Chesnutt himself. He recounts the origins of some tunes, riffs on his collaborators, and outs himself as a man unafraid of drinking Tequila while tear assin’ through the San Joaquin Valley. Ironically, he spent much of his life in a wheelchair as a result of a previous car wreck. West of Rome was recorded in a home studio with a novice (albeit famous) producer and a green engineer. Chesnutt himself was no studio veteran either. It all reminds me of El Mariachi, the first film by Robert Rodriguez, which he made as a rookie flying by the seat of his chaps on a $7,000 budget. That one won the big trophy at Sundance. West of Rome should occupy a similarly prestigious perch atop Music Mountain, but somehow I get the impression that Vic wouldn’t have approved. Or survived.
This one came with a download code, and you’ll need it to get past that pressing issue. I think it’s worth it. Just know what you’re getting yourself into. A mess of genius. Warts and all.
We’re going to have to combine some releases in a couple of these reviews in the interest of efficiency and time. Luckily, a few of this year’s RSD titles can be categorized loosely according to semi-viable similarities. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the Drive-By Truckers, and the Magpie Salute all released records that were recorded live in the studio, for instance. Here goes…
The Magpie Salute involves many remnants of the Black Crowes band. Rich Robinson and Marc Ford are together again, which is exciting for all us Guitar Geeks. Johnny Neel once described Ford as a “genius” due to Ford’s exemplary guitar tone. (Neel does not have the benefit of sight. I trust his ears and his experience. And mine.) These are also the last recordings that the players made with Eddie Harsch before he passed away as part of 2017’s Purge of the Badasses. It’s a quick listen involving two songs on a 10-inch disc. The songs are two of my favorite Classic Rock deep cuts: “Comin’ Home” by Delaney and Bonnie, and “Glad and Sorry” by the Faces. How lucky can I be? Both are appropriately rocking and well-recorded. The marbled pressing is great too. I’m thrilled to have grabbed this one in lieu of the pricier Crowes/Jimmy Page collaboration in the same format. (That one kinda chapped my ass, in case the reader needs clarification on that point.)
The Truckers and Isbell releases are single discs in the traditional 12-inch shape. Kind of ironic that both groups trotted such similar releases out given their history together. (Sorry gentlemen, y’all made this too easy for me. I’ll stay away from comparisons, just not the affiliation. It’s too rich.) Unfortunately, the other similarities involve really well-done recordings on crappy vinyl pressings. Snap, Crackle, and Pop are present throughout. Bigly. Isbell’s record is composed of covers plus his own “Never Gonna Change,” which he originally recorded as a member of the Truckers. One of the covers is “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’.” Another is “Sway.” I got to see him and his band play the former at the Fillmore once. Or maybe it was the Fox in Oakland. Regardless, they crushed it, and this is a fine representation of what it sounded like that night. I seem to remember reading that he intended to retire the tunes on this release from his live repertoire (except for the original). If so, I think he had a pretty nifty idea to get physical versions to his fans before doing so. Hat’s off. Guitars up. Sounds like 1969, but was recorded at a studio called Welcome to 1979.
The Truckers record involves all original material, mostly newer, along with “One of These Days” from their second full-length album released in another century. It sounds fresh as a (raging) mountain stream today. I never thought I’d type these words, but many of the songs are quiet enough to expose the inferior pressing. Which is, of course, too damn bad. Luckily, this one came with a download code. Never thought I’d type those words either. I’m happy to have it. I have a complete DBT vinyl collection, right down to their first 7-inch single. I’m in the throes of an irresponsible binge, and I’m not letting one Bush League pressing pull me out. The performances on this disc are appropriately phenomenal. I can’t wait for what comes next…
For our next combo, we’ll look at a couple of 3-record sets by some forefathers of their respective genres. In the sepia toned corner, we have Robert “King of the Delta Blues Singers” Johnson. And in the red, yellow, and green corner, from New Orleans, the Meters. Let’s get ready to rumble…
I harassed the owner of my independent record store back home in Georgia for so many months about the oft delayed Robert Johnson set in the early ‘90s that he gave me a job so that I could track the damn thing’s release date myself. I’d never heard of Johnson until I read about him in Hammer of the Gods. I think. Maybe it was a Stones book. Anyway, I got my hands on some sort of off-brand single CD comp after that, and then I wouldn’t shut up until I had the Complete Recordings on vinyl. I made the mistake of loaning that set to a friend in college, and he somehow managed to lose one of the three records. Just one. Out of a box. I’ve never loaned a record to anyone since. That set was flawed, as was every reissue of it for 21 years until Columbia rebranded the set as The Centennial Collection in 2011. Until then, all of Johnson’s alternate takes were sequenced immediately after the versions that were originally released. Which meant that you had to listen to the same songs consecutively for most of the set. In all that time, no one thought to remedy that. The Centennial Collection didn’t see a vinyl release for another six years, which brings us right up to present day. In the interim, I found a second pressing of King of the Delta Blues Singers from 1963 in surprisingly great condition, and a sealed original pressing of King Vol. 2 from 1970. I’ve been like a terrier chasing a rat since 1990, and now I’m done. Unless further recordings are unearthed. Or someone releases corrected versions of the tunes that almost certainly were sped up on the original releases. Until then, I’m frigging done. Because this RSD release is about as good as you can hope for. The originals have more depth, and life, and hiss. The Centennial Collection takes some hiss out, along with a little life, and has the alternate takes. In a logical order. Pressings are great. If you’re a fan, get it. That simple.
Real Gone Music did A Message from the Meters, and they got it right the first time. The first three sides are in glorious mono, and the set comprises almost every Meters single from their time on the Josie, Reprise, and Warner Bros. labels (1968-1977). They found the original tapes for all but five songs, and mastered the release specifically for vinyl. I’d like to have a reputable reissue or pristine original of Rejuvenation, but I could get by quite nicely for the rest of my life with just this set if forced to. The red, yellow, and green records are all really well pressed (especially the red one, somehow), and both of these sets have extensive, smart liner notes. The Meters, for the uninitiated, are amongst the original progenitors of Funk. Many of their early singles were instrumentals. They worked closely with Allen Toussaint in their heyday, and backed up Dr. John on some of his most popular work, and a million others on theirs. They are worldwide legends, and could not have come from anywhere but New Orleans. Their music drips. Check out “Cissy Strut” if you’re unfamiliar. If you like it, get this set somehow. There are only 510 of them. Happy hunting.
Alright, y’all. We got one more deep dive to get us past this most recent installment of Record Store Day 2017. I was not going to be denied my copy of the Wild Wild Love box set by the Flat Duo Jets. I ran over women, children, and women who were pregnant with children to get to it, and I’d do it with more vehemence next time if given the chance. Like the band itself, this set is mostly dazzling with some treacherously blown opportunities that keep it from scaling the heights it should have. It’s a beautiful mess.
The Flat Duo Jets released their self-titled masterpiece on Athens, GA’s Dog Gone Records label in 1990. I remember seeing the album at the record store where I worked, this around the same time that I was dogging Robert Johnson’s ghost. Years later, still in Athens, I’d pay $45 for an original copy in near mint condition after haggling the vendor off his $50 asking price. His logic was sound: “I’m doing you a favor, I could easily get more.” It’s like a psycho-billy rocket ship from the planet Zoltan, or something. Raw and firing, teeth kicking Gut Rock. I love it so. This RSD release involves the first ever reissue of said record, with an extra album’s worth of outtakes from the same sessions. And a 10-inch reissue of the band’s first commercial release – an EP formerly only available on cassette. It’s that kind of party. The outtakes are cool because they’re mostly piano based as opposed to the guitar rave-ups the band was known for. It’s no wonder they didn’t make it onto the original release. They just don’t fit. The EP is somehow more igneous and wild than either of the other two discs. It’s exhausting and dangerous to confront without a proper warm-up and focused mental preparation. Do some shadow boxing in the dressing room before making your way to the ring kind of thing. The content is undeniably great, the presentation is where the folks at Daniel 13 whiffed in a couple of spots.
Mostly around the pressing of the original’s reissue. It’s not great. It might not be in as good a shape as my original, in fact. The bonus tracks are a little better off, and the 10-inch is fine. No great tragedy here, but the flaws are audibly and visibly noticeable. The set broke the $60 barrier. It comes in a telescoping box, but the individual records aren’t housed in traditional covers, just cheap paper sleeves. A reproduction of the original cover or a gatefold containing both full-lengths would have been lovely. The 10-inch should have its own sleeve with the original cassette’s artwork, absolutely. The full-sized booklet has extended essays including interviews with all the major players. It contains the band’s entire history from inception to the self-titled release, and then glosses over the rest. One writer in particular is very opinionated about what material he considers meritorious and what he does not. He and I disagree bigly in spots. There are a couple of other bits of ephemera that I’d have gladly traded for album covers, but I’m thrilled to have this set, overall. It’s likely to set me off on a Duo Jets jag for the foreseeable future. And that’s a magically delicious place to be if you have a seatbelt or grab bars. They made 800. Get one.