A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile – July, 2011

The Beastie Boys “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” Capitol Records

  • Performance:
  • Sound:

The Beastie Boys

I love good hip-hop. Good hip-hop only accounts for about five percent of all hip-hop, but when it’s good there’s not much I’d rather hear. And when it’s good, it’s often by the Beastie Boys. Hip-hop is my generation’s rock and roll. No one was in more of a hurry to see this fad disappear than my mom, and no purveyors of the style were more reviled than the Beasties. She hated them. Until she met Adrock in New York and told him about the time she wouldn’t let me go see his band play in Augusta, Georgia. His reaction was something along the lines of, “Well, you should have let him go because we’ll never play there again.” And why would they? After that meeting, the Beasties were alright, even with my mom. (“He’s such a nice young man.”) And that’s kinda how it’s worked in America as a whole. N.W.A. freaked folks out with their scowls worse than Elvis did with his hips. Now, Ice Cube is making Disney movies, and hip-hop has absolutely taken over popular American culture. If you don’t believe me, look around. Turn on your radio. That should pretty much end the discussion. I heard that we sell more DJ set-ups than guitars nowadays. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. But the Beastie Boys’ longevity has shocked even me. I bought “Licensed To Ill” off the display wall at my local record store in the sixth grade because I knew the band’s name from their cameo in the movie “Krush Groove.” (I haven’t gone back to watch that one since. I bet it’s really good.) I loved “Paul’s Boutique” no matter what anyone else said, and the punk leanings that came later turned me off not a bit. For me, the only thing more agonizing than waiting for a new Beasties record is waiting an extra month for the vinyl version’s release when the digital formats are already out there. I can’t figure out why that’s happening, but it’s not uncommon now. Whatever. It’s mine now. And, while it might not be as glorious as “Hello Nasty,” it’s better than most anything else out there, hip-hop or not. It should hold me over for the next seven years or so which is about how long it takes for the trio to turn out a record. So it goes.

Unfortunately, the wait for “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” was extended even further when MCA, my favorite Beastie, announced he had cancer a couple of years ago. Shows were cancelled, including their headlining slot at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival, and the album was shelved indefinitely. And, to my understanding, it didn’t just sit there. The band actually went back and tweaked it and reworked it and did whatever else the Beastie Boys do to records to make them great. I was fool enough to think they might over think things and worried that the record might come off as lifeless when it finally saw the light of day. Apparently, I was the one doing the over thinking. This one’s as clever and fresh as you’d expect. It’s the Beasties doing everything they do best, and condensing it down to a manageable whole. Even “Hello Nasty” went on a while longer than I thought was necessary. “Hot Sauce” hits you where it feels good and leaves you wanting more. The most endearing trait of the band, and the one that I think will sustain them for as long as they care to continue, is that they pay no attention to anything happening outside the confines of their laboratory. Their sound has evolved, devolved, and revolved since “Licensed,” but never once have they cowed to what’s popular or expected. In fact, they set it up from the beginning so that you couldn’t rightly expect anything from them. Their lack of predictability, established from the start, has prevented them from dealing with the types of backlash that Dylan or Neil Young got for expanding on their sounds or exploring other modes of expression. If you think I’m nuts for comparing the Beastie Boys to Dylan, I would remind you that the Beasties were formed in 1979 which means they’ve been at it for about as long as Dylan had been when he released “Time Out Of Mind” in 1994. That’s freaking crazy to think about. The most immediately impactful tune on “Sauce” has been around in one form or another for a couple of years now, and was even nominated for a Grammy last year. It’s called “Too Many Rappers” and features Nas who is universally respected in hip-hop while I’ve been completely unfamiliar with his work until now. It’s a straight hip-hop tune and the fact that it didn’t win the Grammy makes it even better for me. The Beasties don’t go nuts with “featuring” other artists on their songs. The artists are genuinely integrated into the songs when they do – but they never take over. Besides blurring the lines that separate hip-hop from punk – again – the most noticeable thing to me on “Sauce” is that I’m entirely unfamiliar with any of the songs the Boys sampled for the record. I’m not suggesting that my knowledge of popular music is encyclopedic, but it’s a little remarkable. These guys go deep when they go, and now I’ve got a whole new batch of artists to explore just by following the “Hot Sauce” liner notes map. That’s giving your listeners something extra, and that’s drawing your audience into your art in a very real way. Not what most folks think of when they think of rap music, I’m sure, but that’s the caliber of artists we’re dealing with here.

Speaking of extras: the vinyl package comes with a 7″ record included. And an iron-on. Seriously. For your t-shirt. (Mine’s supposed to be a knight, but looks nothing like Sir Gawain and the gang.) The two 12″ discs, as well as the single, are pressed on white vinyl. The whole colored vinyl thing seems to be catching on (although the Beasties have been at it for a while). More importantly, including a 7″ record seems to be catching on as I can think of four records off the top of my head that I’ve bought in the last two months that have come with a bonus 45. Let’s hope that trend remains strong. I’m not holding out much hope for iron-ons. Maybe someone will include some “shrinky dinks” too, remember those? Me neither. Well, barely. I’m old. Anyway, as I mentioned, “Hot Sauce” on vinyl came out a month after the digital release, and the vinyl version comes without a digital copy of any kind which makes me wonder if the delay was a means of trying to sell the unit twice. Not gonna work, even on me. It looks like there are some packages on the band’s site that include download coupons, but they come with a bunch of useless stuff, the prices are exorbitant, and I just got burned on a “deluxe set” so never mind. You can come to my place if you want to listen ’cause I can’t take it with me. Don’t worry, I’ll always be happy to give “Hot Sauce” a spin. Until their next one…

My Morning Jacket “Circuital” ATO Records

  • Performance:
  • Sound:

My Morning Jacket

Following My Morning Jacket is like being a kid again. The band’ innovation keeps its fans giddy with anticipation wondering what the intrepid Yim Yames and crew will unleash next. Makes you think about how many shows you can catch on the next tour and how many days off from work you might need to take to make that happen. In short, they make you think about doing crazy things that you haven’t considered doing since you were, like, eighteen. One of those crazy things would be to buy the new “Circuital” box set instead of just buying the double-disc 45 r.p.m. vinyl like a big boy. I’ve eyed a couple of “deluxe sets” in recent years, but neither the Rolling Stones nor the Stone Roses nor any combination of rolling or rosy Stones with guns or without have coerced me into parting with my hard earned $100 or so. Until My Morning Jacket released their “Circuital” box. I thought this would be the best time to jump in the kiddy pool and pay extra for a bunch of extras that I’ll probably never use or look at or read or iron on to my t-shirt or whatever. And I learned a valuable lesson which is something like, “nine times out of ten, you need to make the most age appropriate decision when it comes to vinyl.” Spice that up a little however you see fit. Unfortunately, it’s more true than fun, but that’s part of its age appropriateness, maybe. All I know is, I’ve got an extra $80 tied up in a cheap book and a weird bookmark, and there’s not enough room on my record shelf to accommodate the behemoth box that this set came in. Maybe I could make some extra space if I were willing to turn a cardboard box on its side and call it shelving, but I’ve moved a little beyond that level of austere comfort at this point, and apparently past the age when a “deluxe set” is going to provide any extra value to my experience. I can save that extra money. Put it in savings or something equally responsible and boring.

That’s not to say that I’ve outgrown the music or the desire to rock for rocking’s sake. Hell no. I caught these guys playing the “Circuital” songs live in Oakland a couple of days ago and I’m surprised my head stayed on my neck. The music is there. These guys aren’t going anywhere for a while. Why would they? They’re making some seriously fun music and they clearly enjoy performing. Yim Yames, especially. These new tunes afford him every opportunity to do the running knee slides, and the flying leg kicks, and the jump up on the drum riser move and the hold your guitar up to the crowd while you do the “lemme hear ya” move with your hand cupped behind your ear. He can do all these moves while enjoying the complete support of the new tunes even if they’re a little quieter on record than in person. That’s nothing new. But these tunes are especially sneaky. The danger of “Victory Dance” is easy to acknowledge on record, but hard to miss in concert. “You Wanna Freak Out” at least gives you the option of not doing so in your living room. It’s freak out time for real when the band turns loose live. And it cuts both ways. “The Day Is Coming” includes the most intimate studio vocal performance that I’m aware of in Yim Yames’ career so far. It almost feels like an old friend that suddenly says something so direct that it makes you uneasy. And it’s not even the slowest tune on the record. That title belongs to “Slow Slow Tune.” The experimentation that made folks so antsy on “Evil Urges” is mostly absent on “Circuital,” except maybe where “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” is concerned. It was born of a legendarily strange musical inspiration, and I’ll let the more adventurous readers research that for themselves. Mostly, though, you get a more direct My Morning Jacket experience than you have since “It Still Moves.” “Circuital” is not my favorite of their records, but it’s the newest and it’s the one I’m getting the most out of currently. Now, if only I could get that extra $80 back…

Initially, the most troubling aspect of the added expenditure was the noticeably sloppy vinyl pressing. Part of the allure of the “deluxe set,” for some folks at least, is that the two 45 r.p.m. discs are pressed on clear green vinyl. But my first copy sounded as bad as any pressing I’d heard in recent years. I was not annoyed by this. I was angered. But then I got an email from the band’s management explaining that they were mailing me and every other weirdo that ordered the “deluxe set” brand new discs to compensate for the warped records that went out in the first run. Good enough. My issue wasn’t so much that my records were warped, but that they were noisy which really stood out in the numerous quiet passages on “Circuital.” The new discs sound great, actually, so no harm no foul on that one, I guess. But none of the extras are worth having. I knew I wasn’t going to do anything with a 20-panel fold-out poster, but it would have been nice to at least check it out. Mine wasn’t included in the box. The hardcover book was, but it’s flimsy and I feel like I could have made a better one myself. It also contains photos of Yim Yames in flip-flops which is a major disappointment to me. A two-panel poster was included, but it’s a condensed version of everything that’s in the book! (No lie.) A download coupon was included with the set, not a physical CD, and I got an immediate digital download of the album when the set was released. So we doubled up on that too. I did, however, get the bookmark and a lithograph that will never see the light of day as well as a DVD documenting preparations for a show in the band’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I should have bought the standard vinyl package, and so should you. The bass is incomparable to what’s on a digital copy which would be reason enough on its own. The band plays it a little closer to the bone on “Circuital” and an analog copy really shows the organic textures in sharp relief. Put that extra money towards concert tickets to see the band live. That’s fun for all ages.

Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir “Like A Ship… (Without A Sail)” Light In The Attic Records

  • Performance:
  • Sound:

Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir

I get all geared up for certain bands’ releases. I start doing research, listening to what they were listening to when the inspiration for their new work found them (if I’m privy to that info), and generally dorking out in anticipation of the new work. So, as if buying the “deluxe set” for My Morning Jacket’s latest weren’t silly enough, I also chased down “Like A Ship… (Without A Sail)” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir because that’s what I heard Yim Yames and company were listening to when they went into the studio to make “Circuital.” A little online hunt uncovers this record as a super-rare lost nugget of truth in the Gospel/Soul canon. The Numero Group played a hand of some sort in the reissue so I didn’t think I could miss. And I didn’t miss. But I didn’t hit a homer either. I’d say this one went for a stand-up double, at best. I’m not a religious man, but I love some heartfelt Gospel when I can find it. In some ways, it’s like Bluegrass in that most of the essential work seems to have been done by one artist or group. For Bluegrass, I listen to Bill Monroe. In the Soul/Gospel corner, it’s The Staples Family. Now, I’m not expert on either genre. I’m sure there are thousands of obscure artists in both camps that could make my head spin if I knew they were there. But Monroe and Mavis sure make finding the groove easy, and it’s hard to get motivated to do much crate digging when I can cut to the chase by listening to them. That’s where the Numero Group comes in. They licensed this release to a small Indy called “Light In The Attic Records.” I’m glad they did, but I still need more, and I’m not convinced that this record is the acknowledged masterpiece that most see it as. Still, it’s mighty fine, and one more bullet in my chamber at Sunday Gospel Brunch time. (I’m mixing metaphors, I realize. Bullets and brunch and Gospel Sunday may not make the most sense. Oh, well. People are strange.)

I don’t know what I was expecting from Pastor Barrett and his youth choir. I think it was something more along the lines of what I’ve found in the Soul Jazz Records Gospel compilations. Clearly, they picked the litter and came away with the best from a variety of sources. Barrett recorded “Like A Ship” on his own and released it independently too so picking from the best of what was out there didn’t factor into his process at all. And maybe I don’t know what a Gospel choir is supposed to sound like, but his sounds a little lifeless at times to me. I’m not looking for polish or Hollywood. Part of the allure of what Numero and labels like it do is hearing real, live talent without benefit of handlers or developers of any kind. What you hear is what the artists were capable of, not what their corporate teams could dream up. I will say this: Pastor T.L. Barrett was capable of playing the dickens out of a piano. No two ways about that. But I was really excited about the choir when I bought this one, and the choir doesn’t quite get me where I’d hoped it would. Maybe I need to get right with God and go home, but they sound a little pedestrian to me. Maybe that’s by design. The choir, after all, was made up of little pedestrians, and the kids are all over “Like A Ship.” They kind of show up in the songs, always singing in the same monotone drone like they’ve been at it for days. I’m not trying to be too harsh on the children. Understand that I’m going to get lots of play out of this one as it’s a more than competent addition to the Gospel collection. Plus, the collection is still pretty small at this point so Pastor Barrett won’t have any trouble muscling his way into the Sunday rotation for now. I think songs like “Wonderful” are, uh, wonderful in their simplicity. These folks are praising their Lord, and they don’t need a cluttered message to get their collective point across. “The Lord is wonderful.” “He’s so wonderful.” “I wanna know if anyone out there knows that He’s wonderful,” and on and on like this. The problem, if there’s a problem at all, is that I’m just not getting the emotional response that I’d anticipated. That’s probably the real problem: my own expectations. Expectations can ruin almost anything. It appears that I’m the only person in the history of the world that hasn’t lavished unmitigated praise all over this record so expectations are my prime suspect for why I didn’t turn back flips after hearing the first tune. I nodded my head a little and tapped my feet some instead. Not a bad day at the office, but not the budget-shattering sale I was gunning for. Furthermore, this doesn’t sound like what was supposed to be one of MMJ’s prime influences while recording their latest. I don’t hear it. Simple as that. I mean, they use a similar choral effect on “Holdin’ On To Black Metal.” Big deal.

Despite what my lackluster description might suggest, I’d say you should check this one out if you’re interested in this type of thing. As my grandmother would say, “It’s good if you like it.” That’s about where I’m at with it. I came into the game wanting to like it, and so I do. The vinyl package is super cool and comes with a bonus 7-inch along with semi-extensive liners (though not the tome that Numero liners past have been). The music itself is pressed on a single heavy disc with a very low noise floor which is nice, but it doesn’t disguise the substandard quality of the actual recording. There’s not tons to recommend as far as audiophiles go on “Ship,” but that’s precisely what I find endearing about these types of grooves. This is music made by real folks doing the best they could with the resources they had at the time. Those make for the most interesting listens to my way of thinking. Try to lay your expectations aside and come at this one open-minded. You’ll like what you hear even if it doesn’t change your life. And it might. Apparently, I’m on an island alone with my expectations while everyone else is rejoicing and shouting about “Like A Ship.” Put your tithing in the collection plate and join the party. That’s what I’m gonna do when my ship comes in.

Brian Olive “Two Of Everything” Alive Records

  • Performance:
  • Sound:

Brian Olive

There’s a perfect storm brewing in Nashville, Tennessee, folks. I used to think of bloated, shiny hot new country music when that town came to mind, and it was disagreeable to my pallet. Because I like good music. But now I think of Jack White and the miracles he’s working daily through the lifestyle-making brand that is his Third Man Records. And there’s another sheriff in town too. He is Dan Auerbach. Hopefully, Nashville’s big enough for the both of them. And their studios. Auerbach, if you’ll recall, produced an amazing couple of records by a young San Antonio band called Hacienda over the last couple of years. A guy named Brian Olive just released one on the same label that brought Hacienda to us, Alive Records, and it’s much in the same vein as Hacienda’s last one as far as production and textures go. And it’s not too far off in spirit either. It’s called “Two Of Everything,” and it’s a rock ‘n roll record. Remember those? Finding one is like playing “Where’s Waldo” these days. Well, I found Waldo. He’s standing naked on a rooftop in Nashville throwing buckets of fish heads at Kenny Chesney. And he looks a lot like Brian Olive.

Olive is a former member of The Greenhornes so he already had that working for him when my man in Nashville emailed me about Olive’s pending record release. The Greenhornes are often affiliated with Mr. White as his Raconteurs project employs their rhythm section. Add Olive’s history with the Greenhornes to his current arrangement with Auerbach, and you’ve got a guy that damn near can’t miss. And he didn’t miss. Not on “Two Of Everything,” at least. It rocks. Start to finish, it rocks even when it’s not rocking. It’s tempting to try to figure out the influences in the sound, but that does him an injustice. Olive deserves to be seen as the original artist that he is rather than filtered through a lens looking back. Still, he sounds a little like Detroit to me. And maybe a little like Joe Walsh vocally in a couple of spots. But, really, he sounds like a vibrant artist unleashing his sound on a public that might not be ready for a sound so simple. A public that just won’t get it. Today’s musical gimmicks are noticeably absent on “Two Of Everything” while catchy choruses and fuzz tone guitars are readily apparent. “Left Side Rock” kicks things off with a crunchy guitar riff and a couple of surprising horn blasts, and the guy just never lets up from there. He may vary the tempo, but the rock remains no matter how many beats per minute are involved. (I think “beats per minute” is a relatively young concept, foisted on us by electronic musicians with an eye towards keeping folks moving in the club. Olive may have never heard of such, and I wonder how I have. Lord, help me.) Olive played at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Festival last weekend with Auerbach and Dr. John. You got Dr. John on your side, you’re on the winning team. That’s my philosophy. So, this guy will get his name out there, I feel confident with that prediction, but I don’t hear any radio rockets on this one. I’d be right at home in a universe where the spooky “Go On Easy” oozes out of car windows on hot summer days, but that’s just my imagination running away with me. Still, it’s nice to dream. Right now, it doesn’t look like he has many dates booked in support of this gem, but that’ll change. It has to. And, when it does, I will be all up in the closest venue tuned in to see how he pulls these tunes off live. There are lots of sounds on the record that would be hard to duplicate with a small travelling band. There are synthesizer credits on the back cover, and Olive himself plays something called a “tone generator” so that should help. (Do you play a tone generator or crank one or just turn one on?) There’s precious little info about the man online which is just adding to the mystery for me, but it seems he’s a former member of a trio called the Soledad Brothers which I’d heard of previously through… Jack White. I will be exploring their catalogue post haste. Let the games begin.

Go get this one. It’s that easy. Actually, it might not be. I ordered mine online as I couldn’t find it locally. It came quick, but not quick enough. I didn’t know what I was missing at the time so it wasn’t too painful. I’ll try not to be too far from this one if I can help it from this point on, but, for some reason, this one doesn’t come with a digital copy of any kind. I think that’s odd for someone trying to get their point across without benefit of an established name in the market. I sprung for the 180-gram version of the record. There aren’t many, and mine sounds great. No surface noise to speak of and the single disc is pretty enough too. Not a “ten,” but not a “six packer” either. No liners, just credits on the back cover. There’s also a colored vinyl version that weighs and costs a little less if you’re on a budget. Personally, I’d rather have the heavier disc. The proof, as they say, is in the sound. Brian Olive has proven himself to be a capable maker of records. I can’t wait to see how he does it live and to hear what’s next. Bring it.

Various Artists “Delta Swamp Rock… Vols. 1 and 2” Soul Jazz Records

  • Performance:
  • Sound:

Delta Swamp Rock - Vols. 1 and 2

Put together, my stack of vinyl compilations is less than eight inches tall including three box sets. They are a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of my loved ones. But when I heard that Soul Jazz Records was releasing “Delta Swamp Rock – Sounds From The South: At The Crossroads of Rock, Country And Soul” (they’re not into the whole “brevity thing”) I suspected I wanted in. When I saw the picture of Duane and Gregg Allman on the cover, I knew. Not that I needed their tunes that were included in the set as I had those already. Obviously. But it seemed like a good time to check out Joe South for the first time, and to add some Tony Joe White to my collection. I should have handled that already. I still don’t have enough, but I have a good start. Finding the records was not without frustration, but the payoff was large. Like the feeling you get after eating all the Louisiana crawfish you could handle. The effort was worth it.

I love what Soul Jazz does. They’re renowned for their reggae and dub sets. I have a couple of their New Orleans comps (with one in my eBay watch list that’s out of print… and pricey), and a Gospel/Funk job. Their liner notes are exquisite, often in the form of what amount to small books. “Delta Swamp Rock” is no different, but here’s the thing I can’t understand: the vinyl set comes in two volumes – which isn’t uncommon for Soul Jazz releases. What is uncommon, and downright confounding when you think about it, is that the artwork on “Vol. 1” is identical to the cover of “Vol. 2.” Due to my lack of attention to detail, and my apparently off target assumption that they would take time to delineate the two releases as they’ve done in the past, I ended up in the record store twice. I may have never caught my error were it not for the aforementioned liners which are included with “Vol. 1,” but chronicle both volumes. Are you with me? Am I being dumb? Whatever your verdict, I’m glad I took the time to go back. “No vinyl left behind,” I reckon. (I can say “I reckon” when we’re discussing swamp rock, right?) Beyond all that, the roster reads like a trip through Southern heaven with regards to the heavy hitters like the Allmans, Lynyrd Skynyrd (duh), Johnny Cash, and Big Star (although “swamp” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I hear their “Thirteen”). But the nuggets that I’ve not explored are most exciting to me. I mean, having all the songs in one place makes for a fun listen, but discovery makes for a total experience. While Waylon’s “Big D” is funnier than good, it’s still a fine song. (People will slaughter me for that. I can take it. I’d have preferred “The Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” to rep for Waylon. But nobody asked me.) Linda Ronstadt’s “I Won’t Be Hangin’ ‘Round” is full-on killer with the stellar Muscle Shoals rhythm section backing her up. They’re all over these sets with lots of Eddie Hinton and Duane on guitars. Barefoot Jerry’s “Come To Me Tonight” is vaguely familiar and completely psychedelic and cool, while Bobbie Gentry’s “Mississippi Delta” smokes way more than her “Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You” which is also included. Cher, of all people, has a first rate version of “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” backed by Hinton and the gang which almost altered my worldview. Cher? Alright, I’ll go with it. Nothing can diminish the impact of this find, I reckon. That’s really saying something…

To me, a truly great compilation should cannibalize itself. I mean, you can use it to gauge interest in the artists it covers, and find their individual records starting with the songs on the comp. Once you’re done, do you still need the comp? If you’re a nut like me, you do because a great compilation also sequences the songs in an engaging way that enhances the listen. The verdict is still out on that one with regards to “Delta Swamp Rock” because I still don’t know who let Billy Vera in here. He’s the guy we can all thank for the “What did you think I would say at this moment” ’80’s song from Family Ties. Lord, have mercy, at least his song is at the end of a side. And I will be going back for Leon Russell’s “Carny” whose cover always scared me as a kid browsing around The Record Bar (but not as bad as the “Maggot Brain” artwork). I’ll get some Joe South stuff, and maybe some of Ronstadt’s earlier stuff depending on the extent of the Eagles’ influence on those recordings. (According to the liners, her song on “Delta” was from a one-off session in Alabama that I guess Glenn Frey and the gang weren’t invited to.) The quality of all eight sides is flawless. No surface noise, and no scuffs of any kind. You get no digital copy. Get it anyway. Quickly. It’s a European import and they don’t stick around for long. It even has the theme song to The Old Grey Whistle Test by Area Code 615. That’s in Nashville. Get it?