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

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 we help get you ready for RSD Black Friday by highlighting four exclusive releases out today and a bevy of other vinyl worth your time and money.


Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers: The First Mile of the Way (Specialty/Craft Recordings)

This lovingly crafted triple 10” collection spotlights the creatively rich but personally fraught period of Sam Cooke’s career as a member of the Soul Stirrers, the gospel vocal group he was a part of from 1950-1956, and as he prepared to leave the group to pursue a secular pop career. Each record represents a different step of that journey. The first collects a dozen of the Soul Stirrers’ best—rapturous music that hits the sweet spot where the spiritual purity of gospel and the bodily concerns of R&B consort. The second features three performances from the group’s shudderingly great 1955 performance at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium. The last disc finds Cooke exploring his options as a pop vocalist with demos of early singles like “I’ll Come Running Back To You” and “Loveable.” Matching the greatness of the music is the work David Gorman did to research and recreate ephemera from the era, including news clippings announcing the L.A. show, a glossy promo photo of the Soul Stirrers, and the correspondence between Art Rupe at Specialty Records, Cooke and his former group working out the details of his secular shift. It’s a tremendous package that should be atop your “To Buy” list for this RSD Black Friday.


The Staple Singers: The Twenty-Fifth Day of December (Craft Recordings)

If your local record shop is out of copies of the Sam Cooke release mentioned above, ask for this other gospel gem from Chicago legends the Staple Singers. Originally released in 1962, it’s a holiday album that doesn’t feel like a holiday album as it does away with all the jingle bell trappings and treacly cheer. This is, in spirit, a down and dirty gospel record with the barest of instrumentation (guitar, organ and drums) and a spotlight on the heart-stopping harmonies of Pops, Mavis, Pervis and Yvonne Staples. This family group turns “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” into a shadowy lament, and through their hands and voices, they find a smoldering sensuality beating at the heart of “Silent Night.” If this isn’t already in your regular holiday listening rotation, it’s time to correct that major oversight.


The Wrens: Secaucus (Grass/Craft Recordings)

As it has become apparent that The Wrens are never ever getting back together, us fans of the power pop group have to resign ourselves to what little joys we can still receive from the New York group. And luckily there’s a lot to be excited about both with the forthcoming release by Aeon Station, the project that rescues Kevin Whelan’s material from the Wrens’ long delayed fourth album, and this re-pressing of the group’s brilliant second full-length. Released in 1996, Secaucus is a damn great showcase for the Wrens’ ungodly facility with hooky guitar rock with a hearty splash of psychedelia keeping the quartet’s collective third eye engaged and on the lookout. This re-release corrects the previous error of squeezing its 54-minutes of music onto a single LP, stretching it out across two colored pieces of vinyl that sound impressively clear with only a hint of noise in the quieter passages. There is no love lost between the members of the Wrens right now, the success of this reissue may send a strong message that people still care about their music and it would be a damn shame if we’ve heard the last of the group.


Evanescence: Evanescence (Craft Recordings)

The release of the third album by goth metal group Evanescence in 2011 was something of a minor miracle. Though they began work on the record in 2009, it limped and crawled to the finish line after aborted sessions with Steve Lillywhite, label interference and an exhausting stretch of recording in Nashville. The band was rewarded for their efforts with a #1 album and gold record sales. Re-released on “purple smoke” vinyl to celebrate its 10th anniversary, this self-titled album is an impressive mix of vintage industrial and darkwave elements with modern heavy rock with vocalist/songwriter Amy Lee digging deep to meet the music with lyrics that touch on broken relationships, spiritual longing and other sources of emotional unrest.


The Beach Boys: Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf’s Up Sessions (1969-1971) (Capitol/UMe)

The psychedelic comedown was still lingering within the Beach Boys as the ’60s drew to a close, and that soul shaken, bone deep exhaustion crept evermore into their work. But what came out of that period is some of the group’s most fascinating and strange music. The two albums that closed that decade and began the next were recently treated to a multi-disc CD reissue that compiles copious amounts of studio outtakes, live tracks and unreleased goodies. This four LP vinyl issue is a condensed version of that set, and it is all the better and worse for it. Feel Flows is a great way to home in on the weird and wonderful material that made up 1969’s Sunflower and 1971’s Surf’s Up, like Brian Wilson’s achingly earnest “A Day In The Life of a Tree,” Dennis’ adorably awkward “Forever” and Mike Love’s truly bizarre “Student Demonstration Time.” The set also introduces some fantastic songs that didn’t make the cut of these albums, including the majestic “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice to) Live Again” and the heartbreaking Brian Wilson tune “Where Is She?” Where Feel Flows disappoints is in the mastering. It’s unclear what the source was for these recordings, but it often sounds digital. And that leads to some ugly sibilant tones through some songs and a post-production loudness that does no favors to the more textural moments within. A great addition to the collection but one that should merely augment original pressings of these albums, which are plentiful in the used market.


John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse/UMe)

Here’s a rare case where the impact of the music being pressed to vinyl far outweighs the somewhat questionable sonics of the finished release. Discovered in the archives of the late musician Joe Brazil were tapes that featured a live recording of John Coltrane and an expanded backing band performing all of A Love Supreme at Seattle’s The Penthouse in 1965. It is, to date, only the second known live recording of this monumental work of spiritual jazz. But unlike the many recent archival releases taken from live dates at the same venue, this wasn’t recorded with broadcast quality in mind. Instead, the two microphones were set up close to McCoy Tyner’s piano and Elvin Jones’ drum kit. So the work of Coltrane, his fellow saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Carlos Ward and bassists Jimmy Garrison and Donald Rafael Garrett is muted—discernible but entirely overpowered by the splashy attack of Jones and Tyner’s percussive flair. Does that matter? Yes and no. The whole recording plays like the bootleg it was, which might turn off some less patient listeners. But there’s no denying that the power and generosity of the moment comes through. With some audible coaxing, Coltrane pulls something deep from within his fellow musicians, sending Sanders into a frenzy of desperate groans on “Pursuance”, giving Jones space for a six minute solo and parting the curtain for Ward, a young alto player early in his career, to shine.


Pink Floyd: A Momentary Lapse of Reason: Remixed & Updated (Pink Floyd)

Pay attention to the subtitle. This is not a strict re-pressing of the original 1987 album, but rather the first vinyl edition of the new version of Momentary overseen by David Gilmour and producer Bob Ezrin for 2019’s Later Years boxed set. In addition to remixing the music, the pair brought Nick Mason in to record new drum parts and circled back on the late Richard Wright’s original keyboard tracks—to, as the liner notes say, “restore the creative balance between the three Pink Floyd members.” It’s not a dramatic change from what was released nearly 35 years ago though the music feels cleaner and clearer and strikingly modern. And the band treated it well with this release by pressing the album at 45 RPM to give the low end room to breathe and Wright’s work a chance to really shine. It’s a fitting execution for yet another of Floyd’s creative peaks on which the group proved able to survive and grow following the departure of founding member Roger Waters.


Cat Stevens: Teaser and the Firecat: Super Deluxe Edition (Island/Cat-O-Log/UMe)

Few trends in the reissue market are as welcome as the number of recent big boxed sets that allow fans to immerse themselves fully in the work of certain artists or certain albums. They take up a lot of space on the record shelves but offer a bounty of material worth revisiting frequently. A great example is this 50th anniversary re-release of Cat Stevens’ folk-pop masterpiece Teaser and the Firecat. In the pockets of one sleeve are a series of CDs and blu-ray discs featuring a remastered version of the original album, rehearsal tapes and studio outtakes and lots of live material. Accompanying them are two LPs: an alternate version of Teaser using demos and a new version of “The Wind” recorded in 2020, and a disc of choice live cuts that find Stevens in strong form as he performs songs from throughout his catalog. I was particularly delighted by the 7” included that featured the soundtrack, with narration by comedian Spike Milligan, for an animated Teaser film released in 1977, and the thick booklet that includes testimonials on Stevens’ greatness by Carly Simon, Rick Wakeman, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Melvins’ Dale Crover. A testament to how Stevens’ impact is still resonating far and wide, even after five decades.


Portico Quartet: Monument (Gondwana)

One of the more exciting groups to emerge from London’s roiling jazz community, Portico Quartet returns to our field of vision a mere six months after the release of their impressive album Terrain. On this go-round, the group—reduced now to a duo of multi-instrumentalists Duncan Bellamy and Jack Wyllie—are back in beat-heavy mode, producing work that feels more connected to the trip-hop scene of Bristol or the hip-hop productions of J Dilla than to any traditional jazz sounds. The key melodic force of these tracks remains Wyllie’s saxophone and keyboards, but the grounding element remains Bellamy’s molasses-thick grooves and some deep bass tones that rumble like an earth mover. Though the clear vinyl version is a tad on the noisy side, the 45 RPM pressing covers over some of the flaws with a big sound that, at the right volume, could be weaponized.


Usher: Confessions (Vinyl Me, Please/Sony Music/Arista)

Take the title of Usher’s fourth album at face value. This was the R&B artist’s attempt to spill the tea on the affliction that befell his relationship with TLC’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas mostly due to his failure to remain faithful while they were together. Even if he didn’t have a hand in writing much of the material on Confessions, his choice of songs and the passion with which he attacked each song, no matter if it was a ballad or a dancefloor burner, told the story with surprising detail and honesty. It remains the peak of Usher’s creative output, deserving of the deluxe treatment it is given on this Vinyl Me, Please Essentials reissue. The “gold nugget” vinyl is free of flaws, and manages to smooth over the digital creep of the production. The package also comes with a lovely lithograph of the man himself and some fantastic liner notes from Chicago Tribune critic Britt Julious. The complete package for one of the best R&B albums of the new millennium.