Record Store Day, the annual celebration of independent record stores – those havens for music fiends that have become so rare in recent years – has a different schedule than normal this year, but it is happening.
A sea of interesting and rare special releases will also cascade into indie record stores around the globe on July 17. You can see a list of them at recordstoreday.com.
In the spirit of and in honor of RSD and PVC-lovers like myself, here is a look at some great recent vinyl releases – in most cases not Record Store Day exclusives – which have been hitting retailers.
It’s a quirky mix of things, which is how a lot of us lifelong vinyl addicts like it.
Paul & Linda McCartney – Ram
After recording his debut largely at home amid the cascading debris of the dissolution of the Beatles, McCartney went to New York to record the followup with his wife Linda and a slate of session cats. This one served up McCartney’s first U.S. No. 1 without the other Fabs. Though there’s a deluxe edition with extra tracks out there, this new half-speed remaster sounds great and having the original LP in its original packaging feels newly exciting.
Couch Flambeau – Bunny Hideout
(It’s Only a Record Records)
When this EP was released a couple months back, I jokingly called it “Tales From Couchagraphic Oceans,” for its stunning Roger Dean-style artwork recalling the great YES sleeves of the 1970s. This one, however, is the work of Couch Flambeau’s own Jay Tiller, drawn back in 1981. The eight-song, 12” set is the legendary Milwaukee band’s first PVC since 1989’s “Ghostride,” and its as catchy, quirky and hard-edged as ever. Of course, Tiller’s trademark wry delivery and dark humor elevate another couple notches, too.
Harold Land – Westward Bound
(Reel to Real)
This two-record set of previously unreleased live performances by West Coast hard-bop tenorman Harold Land is a revelation. Why these top-notch live sets never made it to wax before is curious. Recorded in 1962, ‘64 and ‘65 with incredible sideman – think pianist Hampton Hawes and drummer Philly Joe Jones – some of these recordings also include long-time Milwaukee resident Buddy Montgomery on piano and his brother Monk on bass (both were brothers of Wes), making this especially intriguing and enjoyable for Brew City jazz fans.
Various Artists – Impulse Records: Music,
Message and the Moment (Universal/Impulse!)
In every area of music, there are a few labels that were a cut above all the others. In the world of jazz, Impulse! – founded by Creed Taylor in 1960 and packaged in instantly recognizable sleeves – was one of them. While it recorded some straight-ahead jazz by legends like Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and Coleman Hawkins and even some with commercial aspirations (see below). But Impulse! really made its name by capturing the "New Wave of Jazz," by championing the Afrocentric free jazz of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane and Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. In celebration of its 60th anniversary comes this lavish set with four LPs that attempt to capture the breadth of the output at "The House That Trane Built," but wisely focus on the "new thing." The discs are packaged in two gatefold sleeves that nestle inside a die-cut museum-quality box with a turntable mat and a magazine-format booklet with essays, photographs, reproductions of vintage advertisements and more. At $140 it's not cheap, but it's money well spent for this loving tribute to a revolutionary label that can also serve as an introduction to some of the most groundbreaking music of the 20th century.
Albert Ayler – New Grass
One of the many, many gems to emerge on Creed Taylor’s Impulse! imprint was this quirky, challenging set from “new thing” saxophonist Albert Ayler, who unique style made him an icon of the free jazz era. Thanks to its mix of jazz, R&B and rock – there are even vocals on some tracks – his fans did NOT love “New Grass” – recorded in 1968 – which was reportedly the result of record label pressure to create something more commercial. In retrospect, however, the record’s genre-fusing explorations, regardless of how they came to be, feels like a harbinger of a musical world to come, where boundaries would continue to expand and genre walls kicked through.
Various Artists – Brighter Days Ahead
Folks of a certain age (read: me) will remember the $2 double-albums offered on the inner sleeves of Warner Brothers and Reprise releases of the 1970s, which were compilations of tracks from the labels’ recent releases and were dirt cheap to help sell other, full-price records. The design of those “Loss Leaders” was clearly the inspiration for the artwork of this two-record comp from the vibrant Colemine Records. There’s even a riff on WB’s classic “promo copy” label stickers on the front. Twenty-two tracks from the same number of artists released during the pandemic to brighten our outlook on life. And this mix of everything from retro soul to ‘70s-style pop to rocksteady, with an album representing the Colemine stable and another from its sister label Karma Chief’s roster, does the trick quite nicely.
Ethiopian & His All Stars – The Return of Jack Sparrow
One of the many great voices of Jamaican music belonged to Leonard “Sparrow” Dillon (aka The Ethiopian) of The Ethiopians, who passed away in 2011 after a career of more than 40 years. One of his later records was made for St. Louis’ Nighthawk Records, which produced a second session that went unreleased. Now that Nighthawk is part of the Omnivore Recordings family, which has been reissuing some of the label’s music, that long-lost second set is here. The double LP has 20 tunes – a mix of new and old tunes (including remakes of “Train to Skaville,” “I’m Gonna Take Over” and “Band Your Belly”) recorded in 1992 with an all-star band of Rock Steady stalwarts like guitarist Lyn Taitt, bassist Jackie Jackson, keyboardist Winston Wright and drummer WInston Grennan. The star of the show, as always, is Dillon’s plaintive, expressive tenor, which embraces the listener like the return of an old friend.
Various Artists – Coxsone’s Dramatic and Music Centre & Afrikan Blood
As part of a deal with Yep Roc, pioneering Jamaican record label Studio One has been reissuing classics, often for the first time on quality pressings, as well as putting together new compilations. These two recent releases are a bit of both. “Coxsone’s Dramatic and Music Cenre,” was the label’s first full-length LP, released in 1961 as the music scene in Kingston was still in the thrall of Caribbean-tinged R&B. The raw and rollicking R&B you hear here – in tunes by Owen Gray, the Blues Busters, Clancy Eccles and others – was beginning to morph into ska and this set, available again in its original form for the first time in 60 years, is a great way to get a feel for that moment. “Afrikan Blood” is a new compilation of ‘70s-era Studio One roots reggae packaged in a sleeve that looks like its from those days. Most of the 14 hard-hitting conscious tunes – by the likes of Freddie McGregor, Wailing Souls, Alton Ellis, The Viceroys and others – are previously unreleased or previously uncollected on any LP.
Bob Marley – Songs of Freedom: The Island Years
When the four-CD box set “Songs of Freedom” was released in 1992, Marley fans rejoiced for finally having some hard-to-find tunes on CD and the career-spanning retrospective was also a boon to newcomers and casual fans, who could have all the key moments from a long and varied career in one go. For the first time on vinyl outside Jamaica, Tuff Gong/Island has issued this six-LP riff on the box, spotlighting Marley’s years on Island, 40 years after his passing. The set is an attractive one, with three gatefold double-LPs and a booklet inside a slipcase, and there is a black vinyl pressing, as well as one with two red, two green and two gold vinyl LPs. The music sounds as fresh as ever on wax and there are some 12” and alternate mixes to spice things up as well.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.