Record Time: New & Notable Vinyl Releases (March 2021)

Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases that are 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 boxed set of post-punk classics, new music from a freeform psych rock ensemble and reissues of some vintage cool jazz.


Gang of Four: 77-81 (Matador)

Is it too early in the year to anoint a release as the Best Reissue of 2021? Because, for my money, it’s going to be hard to beat this archival release that gathers together almost all the material released by the first—and best—incarnation of this post-punk lodestar Gang Of Four. With the band finally taking ownership of their music, the quartet and Matador Records have the chance to give it its due with this handsome box. Inside are remastered editions of the band’s first two albums-—1979’s Entertainment and 1981’s Solid Gold—as well as a collection of singles, a recording of the band putting in a typically smoldering live performance in 1980 and a cassette of demos. The set puts Gang of Four’s music and legacy in context with a booklet packed with ephemera and testimonials from the band members and their many fans while also re-aggravating the calcified wounds that they exposed through slashing and brazenly funky songs of class warfare, unfettered capitalism and rampant inequality. It’s little wonder that the half life of this era of Gang of Four was so short. No group could burn this hot and expect to survive for the long haul. This set fans those embers anew, right when we need it most.


The Wedding Present: Locked Down and Stripped Back (Scopitones/HHBTM)

Surviving the pandemic lockdown that blocked their ability to hold their Brighton-based festival At The Edge Of The Sea the only way they knew how, The Wedding Present took the internet, putting together a socially-distanced performance that streamed last summer. Keeping their neighbors and the state of the world in mind, the legendary group dialed back the usual intensity of their live sets and translated the agitation of their ’80s-era work, like “Granadaland” and “Blonde,” for the more reserved sound of recent albums like 2016’s Going, Going… Even in their “stripped back” forms, these songs are still potent and clever, and the restrained approach only further accentuates songwriter David Gedge’s sharp turns of phrase and preternatural facility for unforgettable pop hooks.


Chet Baker: It Could Happen To You/In New York/Chet/Plays The Best of Lerner & Loewe (Craft Recordings)

It is a great time to be a collector of jazz vinyl with Blue Note’s ongoing archive raids, the Acoustic Sounds/Verve team-up and Craft Recordings mining their extensive catalog. In the latter case, the reissue imprint has graced the world with a set of four classic recordings that trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker made for the Riverside label in 1958 and 1959. With engineer Kevin Gray working from the original analog masters, these sessions sound lush and decadent. Baker was at the peak of his craft and a master of slow, candlelit balladry, and he surrounded himself with an unbelievable cast of players, including guitarist Kenny Burrell, drummers Connie Kay and Philly Joe Jones, saxophonist Zoot Sims and pianist Bill Evans. The bulk of these reissues put the emphasis on Baker’s trumpet and arranging skills, both of which are in fine form as he swings through a take on Miles Davis’ “Solar” and lends the right notes of mournful longing to the Kurt Weill classic “September Song.” It’s only on It Could Happen To You that we get to hear his inimitable voice—a wispy high tenor that sounds like it is coming across the ocean from some faraway isle. This album is not even his best turn as a singer, but it still pierces the heart to hear him explore standards like “Old Devil Moon” and “It Could Happen To You.” He has the heart of a pure romantic and it comes bursting out in all its tender glory on this lovely album.


Slow Crush: Aurora (Quiet Panic)

Originally released in 2018, the debut album from Belgian shoegazers Slow Crush has gone through multiple pressings with indie label Holy Roar Records seemingly unable to keep up with the demand. Working with a new imprint, Quiet Panic, the band is reissuing the LP once more in two limited edition runs of colored wax (our review copy is the “Moon Phase” version, which features swatches of purple on otherwise clear vinyl). If you’re a regular Record Time reader, you know I’m not the biggest fan of colored vinyl, but there’s something about the marshy quality of this pressing that works for this music. Slow Crush’s sound is gauzy enough on its own, with vocalist Isa Holliday cooing through a storm of processed guitars and thundering drums. The extra layer of sonic gossamer added to this edition of Aurora puts the music even further and more tantalizingly out of reach.


Mia Doi Todd: Music Life (City Zen)

It’s been nearly 25 year since Mia Doi Todd released her first album and, for some reason, she is still nowhere near as revered as she should be. While I’m often content to keep certain artists that haven’t broken through to the mainstream as personal treasures, there’s something about the unhurried grace and intoxicating vivacity of this L.A. artist’s work that should be celebrated far and wide. Allow me then to shout from the rooftops about Music Life, her latest album and her first collection of original songs in about a decade. Working primarily with her husband Jesse Peterson and a galaxy of musical stars from her hometown (Jeff Parker, Sam Gendel and Laraaji, among them), Todd has written deeply human songs about treasuring the creative spirit and the pain that so many women and children are too often forced to carry on their backs. There’s such tenderness in her approach to this material as expressed through her delicate jazz-pop arrangements and her unforgettable soprano that warms and calms the soul like a soft, purring cat.


Gerry Beckley: Keeping The Light On: The Best of Gerry Beckley (Blue Élan)

Singer-songwriter Gerry Beckley doesn’t need to make solo albums. He’s been comfortably and lucratively leading the band America for 50 years and has a humble sideline contributing to albums by Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb and Low. But since 1995, Beckley has been quietly building a solo discography reflective of his boundless curiosity and pure pop instincts. This double LP collection pulls select highlights from Beckley’s solo catalog—material that ranges from the soft rock expressions you might expect from the man behind “Tin Man” to some surprisingly meaty power pop that, by all rights, should be included in a new Yellow Pills collection. Even more impressive is how legitimately solo many of the songs on this set are. In many cases, Beckley played all the instruments, produced the tracks, and released the material on his own label Human Nature. An impressive feat by any artist, not just one whose name has already been canonized in rock history.


The City Champs: Luna ’68 (Big Legal Mess)

The three members of The City Champs—organist Al Gamble, drummer George Sluppick and guitarist Joe Restivo—are plenty busy in their hometown of Memphis, working steadily as session musicians and as members of various touring bands. Somehow the trio has some energy in reserve to devote to this project: a funky, jazzy organ trio in the mode of Medeski Martin & Wood, Jimmy Smith and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Their third LP is the group’s first in over a decade and it is a simple return to form with nine new tracks built from a collective mindset that emphasizes the dynamics of sticking to a deep, steady groove and only firing off on solos when absolutely necessary. There is still room within those strictures for moments like the organ/synth space out that cuts through the middle of “Voyage To Vega” and the closing half of the title track that reveals a psych-pop interest. But otherwise, these gents are in full groupthink, “Let’s set the dance floor on fire” mode.


Tower of Power: 50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater, Oakland, CA – June 2018 (Mack Avenue Group/Artistry Music)

As we all wait patiently for live music to start happening again, groups that have subsisted on touring have been doing their best to replicate the concert experience any way they can. For Bay Area soul/funk icons Tower of Power, that means releasing this document of the group’s 50th birthday celebration. The shows were a proper event with former members sitting in with the current lineup and a hometown crowd having their minds blown for two hours straight. If anything, this triple LP edition might cause some small frustrations at having to keep flipping and swapping out the records right when it feels like you’ve settled into a comfortable groove. But if you can suffer the inconvenience of heading to the turntable on the regular, you’ll be rewarded with a white hot performance with awe-inspiring turns from longtime drummer David Garibaldi, vocalist Marcus Scott and, of course, that legendary horn section.