Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases currently flooding record stores around the world. Rather than run down every fresh bit of wax in the marketplace, we’ll home in on special editions, reissues and unusual titles that come across our desk with an interest in discussing both the music and how it is pressed and presented. This month, that includes a must-have collection of vintage Afrobeat, spiritual jazz and songs rescued from the long delayed Wrens album.
Fela Kuti: Box Set 5 (Knitting Factory/Partisan)
If the liner notes to the latest entry into this vital series of boxed sets celebrating the work of Fela Kuti are to be believed, we have Brian Eno to thank for introducing the music of this Afrobeat legend to not only Talking Heads, but also Coldplay. We can argue all day about which alt-rock band better absorbed the groove-heavy sounds of Fela and his various ensembles. What can’t be debated is how important these collections are to further disseminating Fela’s funky, politically-charged work. And if having Chris Martin’s name on the box entices some curious music fan to snap up a copy of this seven-LP set, then the Coldplay frontman is truly using his celebrity for good. What that hypothetical listener will find inside is another fantastic overview of Fela’s deep discography. Included are a fiery 1971 collaboration with Cream drummer Ginger Baker (Why Black Man Dey Suffer…), a late period burner featuring blazing guitar work from Soji Odukogbe (O.D.O.O.), a 1976 record that boasts a downright nasty flow on its b-side (Excuse O) and an out-and-out classic from 1975 (Noise For Vendor Mouth).
Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O: Umdali (Mushroom Hour Half Hour)
There’s a huge heart beating at the core of this album. It belongs to South African jazz trombonist Malcolm Jiyane. The storied musician leads a fantastic ensemble of players, including the versatile drummer Lungile Kunene and pianist Nkosinathi Mathunjwa, on Umdali with a delicate touch and with little interest focus from his many collaborators despite his name being the only one on the spine of this LP. This is a group effort through and through. Their collective expressions are low key and lush, built from heaving waves of horn melodies, quietly crackling drum and percussion webs and, on the soothing album closer “Moshe,” the beguiling vocals of Tubatsi Mpho Moloi. I listened to this for the first time watching what looked like tiny ice crystals float from the heavens and coat everything outside my window in a shiny, dazzling blanket. It suited the calm, chill and beauty of the moment perfectly.
U2: Achtung Baby (Island/UMC)
U2’s seventh studio album was already the subject of a major reissue a decade ago to celebrate its 20th birthday. This version is simply a repressing of the 2018 bare bones remaster free of bonus material and released with a lot less fanfare. Does it matter? Not particularly. Achtung Baby still represents one of the greatest about faces by a band in rock history as U2 shook off the messianic bullshit of The Joshua Tree and its subsequent world tour, giving their heartfelt sound a thrillingly modern overhaul. With sleazy tracks like “The Fly” and “Until The End of the World” nestled lasciviously up against the tender expressions of “One” and “Love Is Blindness,” the Irish quartet found a creative gear that sped them to even greater fame and critical plaudits. Heard here in this fine-tuned remaster, the music retains its bleeding edge delights and lets the finer details (Adam Clayton’s dubby bass work, the strings snaking around the edges of “One”) blossom.
Aeon Station: Observatory (Sub Pop)
The Wrens are no more. That’s been made abundantly clear by the sniping going on in the press between former bandmates Kevin Whelan and Charles Bissell. Thankfully, Whelan has rescued the material he had socked away for his former band’s long-delayed fifth album and given them new life with his project Aeon Station. Fun as it might be to imagine how these tracks would have fit into the expanse of a new Wrens album, it’s best to appreciate the music on its own terms. Whelan’s brilliance hasn’t dimmed one bit. Observatory approximates the feeling of growing wings and taking to the air for the first time through its enveloping vocal harmonies and guitar pop that soars easily from torrid to frosty, agitated to sheet metal smooth.
Marshall Crenshaw: #447 (Shiny-Tone)
When Marshall Crenshaw released #447 in 1999 he was almost 20 years removed from a smashing debut that introduced the world to an artist that strengthened new wave’s connection to power pop with insta-classics like “Someday Someway” and “Mary Anne.” Nearing the turn of the century, Crenshaw had fully incorporated rootsier influences just as he had completely shaved away the twang in his ever-amiable vocals. Put another way, this is Crenshaw sounding all grown up; still tangling himself in knots over a lady, but, on brilliant tracks like “Glad Goodbye” and “Ready Right Now,” with an outlook tempered by maturity and resolve. Issued on wax for the first time, this collection still sounds charming and earthy, with a caramel-y richness provided by Greg Calbi’s mastering work. Tucked into each copy is a 7” featuring two tracks recorded in 2020 that reveals Crenshaw sounding more wizened but still capable of unearthing tangy pop hooks with little apparent effort.
Shakespeare & the Blues: e.g., rhapsodic (Nouveau Electric)
The most pleasant surprise to come across the Record Time desk this month comes via the debut album by a tremendous three-piece from New Orleans with an awkward name and a slightly unusual instrumental lineup: concert harp, bass and drums. Being a thoroughly modern act, all three instruments are augmented and manipulated by electronics, which lends a shiny psychedelic overlay to their jazz/hip-hop hybrid sound. The ballast on this album is the clean, unfettered sound of their instruments; a calm center around which the trio paints these songs with bright splashes of sonic color and the occasional interjection of a sample (often a small chunk of someone’s standup act). The latter element is the only piece of the album that doesn’t quite fit, and the trio could use a little help fleshing out the finer details of their compositions. That doesn’t make me any less besotted in what this group has done and anxious to hear where they go from here.
Calvin Keys: Proceed With Caution! / Doug Carn: Adam’s Apple (Black Jazz/Real Gone)
The end is drawing near for Real Gone’s reissue campaign for the catalog of Oakland label Black Jazz—a realization that comes with both a pang of sadness and sigh of relief. Disappointing as it is to know there may be no more releases in this series soon, we can still delight in the fact that these underheard soul/funk/jazz gems from the ’70s are now readily available. If you’re just now catching up with these reissues and need an entry point, you’d do well to begin with these two. Calvin Keys’ 1974 album is liquid mercury: loose, slick and malleable with enough of an internal structure (provided by drummer Ndugu Leon Chancelor and bassist Nyimbo Henry Franklin) to remain firm and substantial. Keys’ guitar work cuts between both liquid and solid with moments of sparking friction. He’s also part of the large ensemble that recorded Doug Carn’s ’74 release Adam’s Apple. The keyboardist sets the foundational grandeur of this album from the jump with the stomping “Chant” and only builds out from there with his audaciously swinging version of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Mighty Mighty” and his spoken entreaties laid atop Wayne Shorter’s galactic composition “Sanctuary.”