Record Store Day rolled right up on Thanksgiving disguised as Olivia Rodrigo’s purple chauffeur this year. Gram Parsons and Nas both tried to hitch a ride but were conspicuously overshadowed by the younger artist. Hers were the t-shirts that the patrons had donned for the occasion, and crestfallen were the faces of the youthful shoppers who came away without her wares. The author’s desires simmered at a manageable temperature for this Black Friday event. There were a few that I was hoping to acquire but none that would have caused me to push aside any geriatrics or ladies with small children while diving for the bins.
At this point, Craft Recordings is one of the only labels that I trust to actually turn out a serviceable RSD product and a few of their titles were the ones I was most interested in. There were others, but we’ll start with Craft’s reissue of Chico Hamilton’s The Master, a title I’d have passed over entirely had Craft’s work not specifically been on my radar. Here’s why…
I’m more familiar with Hamilton’s name than his catalog. He plays drums on a Billie Holiday record I have, and that’s the extent of his credits in my collection. But when I dug into this year’s list a little more closely, I found that The Master was essentially a Little Feat record with Hamilton behind the kit. Some research revealed that the work didn’t cause much of a commotion upon its release in 1973. Critics of the time thought of it as inessential, and reviews written in retrospect were not much more enthusiastic. Mine will land somewhere above all that.
I think there’s a place for The Master in most any real rocker’s collection, and certainly in the collection of any dyed-in-the-wool Little Feat fan. The songwriting is only slightly less lukewarm than my excitement around this event’s list of titles, but the lack of vocals allows ample opportunity to explore Lowell George’s guitar work from a front-row vantage point. That’s something, right? I was borderline disinterested upon first listen but was able to get a little deeper into the action after spending additional time with the material.
A “grower,” as they say. Perhaps abetted by my increasing fondness for instrumental music, which seems to be outpacing any interest in lyrically driven work at this advanced stage of my game. Some of that is down to an inability to focus on what I’m reading when someone is singing. More of it has to do with the Jazz Takeover that I’ve experienced over the prior decade. Hamilton made his name drumming with Mingus, Ellington, Basie, and a million others, and I love Little Feat, so it only stands to reason that I’d move towards The Master in time.
“One Day Five Months Ago” kicks things off with what feels like an extended studio warmup. As if the players were stretching out in anticipation of a bigger workout that never really materializes. Even so, the song has its own momentum. It just stays in a comfortable third gear. The scenery has some highlights though. Sam Clayton’s congas are especially lifelike and energizing. Lowell George’s tone is already established and poised to inflict swampy, gut-bucket damage.
The intro to “Feels Good” actually feels more like a mashup of “Black Magic Woman” and George’s own slide work on his band’s “Got No Shadow” from the year before. From there, the band starts to get a little looser, the structures a bit more chaotic, but the music is still more suggestive of Jazz than actually inhabiting the form. If the album was initially marketed towards Hamilton’s fans, it’s easy to see how they may have passed on it as the focus is not on his work. If it wasn’t marketed towards Little Feat enthusiasts, it’s likely that they just whiffed on it in an age where direct broadcasting to one’s audience was inaccessible.
The Master has its musical moments, marketing be damned. Some lovely tones are floating out of the mix during the decidedly subdued “Stacy,” for example. Overall, the production is a bit sterile, and the playing a bit lacking in color, but the song is not without merit. Stu Gardner’s organ sounds especially whimsical. It feels nurturing, like stepping out of a shadow into the sunlight to warm up a little while waiting for your local independent record vendor to open their doors on a cold day in November.
And Craft continues a pattern of strong manufacturing quality for their RSD titles here. The record is flat, the mastering allows for easy communion with what was on the studio tape. Jeff Powell cut the lacquers directly from the original master, and the pressing is all but flawless. I got about seven seconds of static at the tail end of side two, but complete silence beyond that. The Master might not require the most focused listening but can easily be enjoyed passively at a party or while engaging in other activities. I’ve got room for that on my shelf, certainly.
I was stoked at the idea of Jerry Lee Lewis At The Palomino Club, but something told me to be cautious. This was actually scheduled for release during a prior RSD and got pushed back. In theory, that should allow additional time for increased quality control. We all know that it’s become more difficult to schedule pressings due to a boom in business coinciding with a dearth of manufacturing facilities. But, for the love of all that’s decent in the world, take advantage of your time when you get it. And stop foisting inferior discs on unsuspecting – or, in this case, suspecting – collectors. You’re just clogging up the marketplace.
The Palomino recordings are surprisingly clear and of a good enough quality to make having the record well worth Lewis fans’ time. The pressing negates that goodwill. It’s crap. Very much in line with rushed RSD productions, in general. Maybe another run through the ultrasonic cleaner will help, but I doubt it. This one is a blown opportunity to get something special into the salivating public’s hands. It was supposed to come with a poster and Charly Records couldn’t even pull that off. The 2,000 pressed copies were 2,001 too many.
So, let’s pivot. RSD is, after all, supposed to be fun. Like the Faces were fun. I considered skipping their Had Me A Real Good Time At The BBC: In Session And In Concert 1971-1973, but that would have denied me the pleasure of typing out that title in its entirety. Columnists who get paid per word should rejoice in this offering from one of Rock ’n’ Roll history’s most overlooked ensembles. It’s as much of a revelation as the Jerry Lee record was a disappointment.
I’d initially assumed that all of these BBC recordings were also found on 2004’s incomparably engaging 4 CD set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar…, but they’re assuredly not. They’re new to me, and if they’re available elsewhere as an official release I’m unaware of it. And all of that’s beside the point anyway. This is an impulse buy that reminds one of how much enjoyment can arise from an event that’s become somewhat bloated and overcooked across the years. There are inevitably diamonds to be found on any RSD list, and Real Good Time was mine for Black Friday 2023. Easy.
The goods are in the seemingly loose, rollicking runs through some stellar Faces material recorded live in intimate settings during the early ‘70s. If that doesn’t draw the listener in, then it’s too late anyway. Go on without them. For a band notorious as a unit of extreme drinkers, the Faces rocked with a deceptively skillful swagger that always sounds like it’s on the edge of collapse but is foundationally unbreakable upon closer inspection. Like a rustic cabin constructed by a wino getting sucked into a British tornado and landing unscathed in Muscle Shoals.
Ronnie Wood’s playing is way out front in the mix, driving the party into a frenzy by the time the band’s romp through the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” closes things down. That’s true of the “in session” material that comprises side one and the “in concert” recordings on the second half. Rod Stewart’s voice is as distinctive and powerful as ever while Kenney Jones really shines in ways that are easy to overlook outside of a focused listen.
Despite having been unfairly compared to the Stones throughout their existence and after, the Faces fearlessly tackle “Love In Vain,” an interpolation of “Street Fighting Man,” and “It’s All Over Now” across the relatively brief set, and they energize each in a way that the Stones could sometimes… not. To be fair, the Stones have had decades to slide into occasional complacency, but I still doubt that they’d have wanted for the Faces to open their shows in the early ‘70s. They clearly took notice though. After all, they co-opted the lesser-known band’s lead guitarist and kept him until the present day.
Barry Grint cut the lacquers for this set, which was a pleasant thing to learn. I’m most familiar with his work in the Hip-Hop realm, but I’ve also got some titles that he did for Radiohead, Springsteen, and TV On the Radio. They all sound great. Real Good Time involved some tape restoration, it’s not a AAA affair, and the recordings are edgy and rough, but this is very much something that more pedestrian RSD releases could aspire to even with a spot or two of surface noise in the pressing. We don’t expect the world from this event, but neither do we deserve a hastily assembled product that doesn’t make the grade. Hats off to Rhino on this one.
As the immortal John Peel is quoted in the liners: “There may have been better bands, but there was never a band to make you feel so good.” This release lets you feel all of it.
And speaking of RSD releases that are not necessarily cut from analog masters but still maintain the good time feel and presentation of an above-average, tangible product that collectors can enjoy, we’ll circle back for the latest release from Craft’s Jazz Dispensary series now. Their programming has become an RSD staple that folks look forward to every year, often with good reason. This year’s Black Friday offering is Jazz Dispensary: At The Movies. The title isn’t quite descriptive enough though. It suggests that you could get a rehash of any number of soundtrack selections, right? Footloose, perhaps? The Big Chill? O Brother, Where Art Thou? Not quite. Not this time. This one’s billed as “an irresistibly funky selection of songs from midnight movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s.” Cool deal. I’m in. Let’s see…
The midnight movie trend had mostly dissipated by the time I was old enough to engage with it. I remember having the chance to take in The Rocky Horror Picture Show but never availed myself of the opportunity. In fact, I don’t think I remember ever seeing a “midnight movie.” So, I’m no expert on the subject, but the songs on this set seem to come mostly from movies that I imagine were targeted by marketing departments and studio heads at Black audiences of the era.
I don’t think it’s controversial to recognize that there was less crossover in the entertainment industry in the 1960s and ‘70s. This was way before Hip-Hop smashed every conceivable cultural boundary and became a global juggernaut. Thankfully, the imaginary lines are blurrier now. There’s work to be done, and there are forces trying hard to undo fair gains and to maintain a playing field that’s not level, but at least we’re free to support and enjoy cultures that are not always our own. We’re better off for that. Cast your votes wisely and keep an eye on what’s happening. Can we at least agree on that?
Alright. At The Movies is a groovy collection of tunes by some heavy hitters like Booker T. and the MG’s who provide “Time Is Tight” from the motion picture Uptight, which sounds like it could be Christmas music somehow – probably as a result of prolonged exposure to seasonal music at this point. Isaac Hayes gives us both “Joe Bell” from Tough Guys and his gloriously titled “Pursuit of the Pimpmobile” from Truck Turner. Interestingly, Tough Guys was reissued in a AAA presentation by Vinyl Me, Please in early 2021, but I didn’t bite. Listening again, I’m thinking I might circle back for it. I also didn’t watch Truck Turner when it was streaming on the Criterion Channel a while back, but I’m starting to wish I had. Neither of the Hayes tunes on the JD comp are going to move cultural mountains on their own, but they certainly add to the festive feel of this set, and they’re amongst the strongest material on either side.
True to Jazz Dispensary form, they also include a bunch of stuff that most of us probably would not have found without help. The bulk of these tunes are instrumentals but are structurally composed in accordance with pop music tradition. So, this does seem more like a soundtrack than a score despite the lack of vocals. It’s fun to think of the shiny, clean, and made-for-mass-consumption Earth, Wind, and Fire collaborating with Melvin Van Peebles on material for something as relentlessly uncompromising as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Given Maurice White’s somewhat obscured history as a drummer on some of Cadet Records’ whackier releases, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
At The Movies is a fun listen. It’s a blast, in fact. Greater than the sum of its parts. The individual tunes are fortified by their proximity to each other, and by having received the Jazz Dispensary’s imprimatur. The mastering might not result in a true “audiophile” presentation, but there is some depth and dimensionality. The pressing is solid, the record sounds pretty good, and a listen brings a smile. I’m glad to have a copy and I bet you would be too. There are 5,400 of them out there. Get you one.