Remember when Record Store Day generated annual excitement? When it gave you something to anticipate and plan for? Which rack would you head to first? Which of your selections stood the best chance of being available ten minutes after the horde barged in? Which impulse buys would inevitably make their way into your bag and onto your shelves?
Was I the only one who went from giddily anticipatory to consistently apathetic over the years?
I mean, there were a multitude of reasons, but the most obvious were the ubiquitous quality control issues. Rushed productions led to shoddy discs with varieties of imperfections to lament. Those types of things seemed a bit better controlled as the event aged, but then the very process of generating all of the limited releases had a deleterious effect on vinyl production, in general, which sort of soured the waters a bit too.
And more recent releases generally lacked luster. It became progressively more difficult to find titles to get stoked on. Hell, I skipped one of last year’s events entirely. Didn’t even bother getting out of bed. Not enough there to draw me in.
Not so in April of 2023.
I knew I was going broke during this year’s installment. Had more titles on my list than I’d bring home, for sure. There was handwringing and some gnashing of teeth as I identified which “first releases” I could wait on, which I needed now, which exclusives were non-negotiable, and so on. I sold some records at the buyer’s counter the day before, came away with way more store credit than I’d imagined I would, and still blazed past my monthly vinyl budget as if I were the prince of some oil-rich nation with a surplus of disposable income and an expanse of personal space in which to house my collection.
I bought ten records. My Jazz Dispensary selection was a bust. Warped beyond playability. Multiple online commenters confirmed that the issue was widespread. So that sucked. But I had pretty great luck beyond that. Mostly, I looked for names I trusted that were associated with titles that seemed interesting. Bernie Grundman mastered a Galt MacDermot soundtrack (first release) with great sonics, but music that is more quirky than outright enjoyable. At least upon first listen. Kevin Gray mastered an exclusive Eric Dolphy set that spans three discs and sounds pretty great, if just a little thin at times. Soul Jazz did an exclusive Gospel Funk set that I’m getting lots of mileage from on Sundays. My copy of Wilco’s Crosseyed Strangers (also an exclusive release) is still sealed. Didn’t realize that I already had most of the tunes on other sets. Picked up another Hillbillies In Hell set that was an exclusive on the EU/UK list, but somehow was available at my local shop. And I snagged a copy of Newport Rebels that Grundman mastered for Candid Records. It sounds clear and detailed, but the pressing isn’t as great as it could be.
The New York Sound, by Flash and the Dynamics, was one that got pushed back from a prior RSD, and I’d been anticipating it ever since. Mostly because I don’t have a ton of Latin music on the shelves, and I knew that Craft was bringing a high degree of professionalism to this series. Mastered and lacquered by Kevin Gray, pressed at RTI (on some silly, purple-swirled vinyl, but whatever), and engaging from start to finish. My pressing is flawless and flat, which counts as a minor miracle today. If the delay in availability was to address quality control concerns or to avoid having to rush the manufacturing process, the wait was worth it.
There’s precious little info about the band online, and this appears to have been their lone release. Tico Records had been a division of Roulette Records and recorded Tito Puente before later being acquired by Fania Records. So, there are some bona fides to consider going in. The New York Sound is electric, driving, and muscular. Gray shines a soft light on all the right players in all the right places, and the mood is firmly established within the first few bars. The album sounds celebratory and determined. The fuzz-toned Funk butting up against the more traditional Latin rhythms results in a compelling listen that ends too soon, and often elicits an encore spin.
The New York Sound was a “blind buy,” and it paid off handsomely. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming wider release, and snag one if you missed the RSD variant. It’ll have the same superb sonics, and pressing quality, but might not be purple. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t let that dissuade you. This one’s a keeper.
It’s impossible to imagine that it’s been more than a decade since I was reviewing Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones right here.
It’s equally strange to imagine that I thought I was going to skate by without eventually investing in the Analogue Productions version, which was pressed (obviously) at QRP (as opposed to Rainbo!) and mastered by Kevin Gray. I mean, give me a break. I never stood a chance.
The review also alludes to a 10-inch EP of remixes that I’d recently acquired as part of an RSD haul, which makes the live version that we’re here to discuss (also an RSD release) the third album in my collection devoted to Little Broken Hearts. But it’s actually the fourth Little Broken record I’ve purchased since I also had the original Blue Note release at one time. All of that to say: I like Little Broken Hearts a whole lot. I could have passed on this initial RSD run of 2,500 copies and just grabbed one when the wider release became available, but… hell no.
I wanted it now, and now I have it, and I’m not letting it go.
Because it’s one of the more stellar pedestrian vinyl releases that I’ve purchased in some time. By that, I mean that there was no mastering info detailed as part of the album’s marketing plan, nothing about who cut the lacquers or where it was pressed. Regardless of all that, the sonics are superb, and the vinyl is close to perfect. Lots of depth and detail, and a clear separation between the instrumentalists’ contributions. So much room to spread out and explore. I believe it was supposed to be on pink vinyl, but mine’s white. If you can imagine such a travesty of justice. Can someone please think of the children?!
I kid. This material isn’t for children. This is a grown-up affair. The lyrics might even reference an actual affair, but I don’t want to put my thoughts in the artist’s mouth. Check out “Miriam,” and come to your own conclusions. I’ve concluded that Little Broken Hearts: Live At Allaire Studios is as essential as the original studio version.
There’s a tighter roster of players on the Live take. Four of them to be exact, which means that the string quartet from the original is absent. And this actually felt less than Danger Mouse’s truancy. He was, after all, a major contributor to the studio version’s sonic bubble bath, a co-creator along with the featured performer. But there are aspects of the newer version that are lacking in the original too.
Live benefits from the addition of a pedal steel guitar, which adds some especially tasty atmospherics to the title track. In general, the synthetic sounds that worked so well in the studio are muted to account for a more human feel achieved by a quartet of musicians playing together in real-time. There are still drones and some bleeps and electronics, but that damn pedal steel really ties the room together and allows Live At Allaire to ride in on a gentle breeze that’ll tickle your scalp and lull you into a wistful reverie so that you’re floating somewhere between the narrator’s regret and their pointed, but somehow still soft, antagonism towards the lover that jilted them.
Guitar parts that would seem obvious for an acoustic presentation are performed on an electric. In fact, Jones’s piano is the only true acoustic instrument on the record, and that’s supplemented by the sounds of a Wurlitzer at times too. Bass lines are rendered in the traditional way and also via a synth. All of these sounds are deployed in a way that adds some grit and anchors a buoyant attack that might float out of our atmosphere without the added weight of electricity. It’s a deft sleight of hand.
Little Broken Hearts is like its own ecosystem by now. It’s way more captivating and cinematic than anything the major movie studios have achieved with their attempts at “universe building.” Between the studio take, the remix EP, and this latest live installment, this itch is resoundingly scratched. Nothing left to do now but to bathe in the luxury of Jones’s sonic world of hurt and healing.
(Looks like there’s a 3-LP anniversary deluxe version set for release in June. It will include the remixes from the aforementioned EP as well as an unreleased live run-through recorded in 2012. Mercy.)
Craft Recordings reissued four of Chet Baker’s titles from his time on Riverside Records a couple of years back, and I snagged a copy of each. They were affordable, cut by Kevin Gray from the original analog masters, and pressed at RTI. The series was one of the best bargains in the world of audiophile vinyl collecting that I’ve seen in years.
There was a hiccup though. I remember reading lots of complaints about a pressing issue on the Chet record, specifically, although I don’t recall exactly what the problem was. Might have been as simple as some non-fill spots. I waited for the corrected repress and was rewarded with an album of moody Jazz that was absolutely up to the standards of the titles (In New York, It Could Happen To You, and Plays The Best of Lerner and Loewe) in the series that preceded it.
But it was in stereo, and I most often prefer mono.
Which is why I got so juiced for the mono-take released as an exclusive for RSD last month. Same specs as the other releases: “all-analog mastering from the original mono tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio,” pressed on grown-ass adult black vinyl at RTI. This was technically an exclusive release, as opposed to a “first release,” which would indicate a more widely available pressing to come. However, they pressed ten thousand of the damn things, more than half of which were slated for sale in the US. I probably overplayed my hand by getting in line at 5:30 am, but this is serious business. I do what circumstances require. Or what they might require. I got a copy. That’s the main thing.
And my copy is pretty superb. As with all new records, I ran it through the Degritter prior to playing. So, I can’t comment on what it might sound like without having undergone that treatment, but Chet is a quiet recording. It would not do to have Snap, Crackle, and Pop show up unannounced. When they arrive, they usually come early and stay late. But not on Chet. My copy has a repeatable tick on the last song of the first side. Lasts for 20 miserable seconds. The issue is visible and appears to be a result of mishandling rather than an actual defect. It’s a scratch, basically. Which is a nightmare, but it’s nice to know that others likely haven’t suffered the same degradation.
This is the sonic equivalent of huddling up beneath the most luxurious blanket you can imagine, and staring into the flame of your favorite scented candle for about 40 blissful minutes. Baker’s playing is legendarily lyrical. Kenny Burrell’s playing on “September Song” is especially tasty and serves the song almost like a harp might. Nothing rushed, everything was allowed to unfold and breathe in its own time. Herbie Mann’s flute is allowed to breathe a little too liberally at times for my taste, but that’s just me. Overall, this is one of my favorite installments in Craft’s quartet of Baker reissues.
And they’re all still readily available from many retailers. Maybe not the mono versions, but the stereo takes can still be had at a relatively palatable price, especially considering the obvious care that was taken in bringing these titles to the market. If you’re hoping to feel the brushes of Philly Joe Jones against his skins and your own, this is a good shot at doing so without having to pay through multiple noses to do it. Now’s your time. The prudent collector will seize the day.