Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #40

An in-depth look at the vinyl marketplace...

Last month’s RSD preview necessitated an early publication, so read on for highlights from the second half of April and the whole of May. You’ll not be disappointed. 

Freshly Pressed:

To adapt a well-worn phrase, there are those who know BC Camplight is great and those that haven’t heard him yet. It was 2007’s ‘Blink Of A Nihilist’ that first caught my attention, but a large pause followed before a reboot via Bella Union began in 2015. A run of fantastic albums has ensued and he’s just released his best yet with ‘The Last Rotation Of Earth’. The synth-driven single ‘Kicking Up A Fuss’ is an effective taster of what you might expect, but the ambition is considerable. Concept track ‘The Movie’ is about twenty-five ideas in one, including a superb line about Louis Theroux. Lyrically, a long-term relationship has ended and addiction is rearing its ugly head, but Brian Christinzio (BC) continues to show his capacity to turn more than his fair share of unfortunate circumstances into musical gold. The cream vinyl pressing, cut at SST and manufactured by Pallas, sounds phenomenal. If he’s passed you by till now, make this the album where you put that right. 

The good folk at Press On Vinyl in Middlesbrough are developing a rather fine reputation and they’ve done a sterling job for the new Tim Arnold record, ‘Super Connected’. A concept album of sorts that explores the impact of social media on our mental health and the power of the tech giants, it was recorded over four years and three countries. Towards the end of its completion, Arnold received an autism diagnosis and UK charity Help Musicians awarded him a grant to assist with realising the final product. And what a product it is. The striking gatefold maximises the power of the format, including a poster for the ‘Twelve Steps Of Screentimers Synonymous’ and that arresting cover photo. 

Opening track ‘Start With The Sound’ is a complex, angular synth-pop masterwork, hooky enough to be immediately appealing and sufficiently odd to be genuinely fascinating. Be sure to check out the video too, which features the fictitious ‘iHead’ device for which Stephen Fry voices a wry streaming platform spoofing advert to conclude side one. Arnold’s genre-hopping is endearing, ranging from Bowie and Byrne manoeuvres to the indie-rock grandiosity of Keane in their early days, with ‘Everything Entertains’ having breakthrough hit written all over it. A largely quiet pressing delivers a substantial, three-dimensional soundstage.

Anticipation is high for the new Arlo Parks album, following her excellent 2020 debut ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’. As with that initial release, ‘My Soft Machine’ contains meticulously constructed atmospheric soul that can seem a little slight on first listen but which quickly entrenches itself in your affections. Fine early singles ‘Weightless’ and ‘Blades’ fit neatly in context and Phoebe Bridgers is a fine foil on ‘Pegasus’. The mid-paced swing of ‘Dog Rose’ is a particular highlight, while ‘I’m Sorry’ conveys a heartfelt admission of trust issues atop a gloriously nuanced soundstage. It is clear that Parks revels in the detail and she makes deeply personal music as a result. Once you’re a few plays in, a headphones listen is a particular joy. Transgressive have ensured a detailed, open cut from Matt Colton at Metropolis which gets the bass sound just right. The same parts have been used by Optimal for the black pressing and Takt for the indie green. There’s little difference – yes, I tried both. Dedicated, eh? – other than a bit of light surface noise on the latter, but nothing to be concerned about. 

Indie duo Panic Pocket know their way around a hook, delivering an album full on their debut ‘Mad Half Hour’. The title track pays tribute to one of the architects of girl power, seeming to tell the story of Geri’s time after leaving the Spice Girls. ‘Say You’re Sorry’ evokes memories of the majesty of The Ronnettes’ ‘Be My Baby’, along with a general nostalgia for The Pipettes, while more reflective moments call to mind one of their influences, Aimee Mann. These are great songs, dashing along at quite the lick and with fantastically narrative-driven lyrics. This largely quiet GZ pressing has made repeated trips back to the turntable since I first listened, its euphoric sincerity making it ideal company for the summer months.

Dependable Welsh label Bubblewrap Collective follow up having recently given Georgia Ruth’s superb debut ‘Week Of Pines’ its first vinyl release with Sock’s second record. A self-titled affair, it builds substantially on 2018’s ‘Fresh Bits’ with a much more rounded and fleshed out sound. Their slightly lopsided indie jangle will resonate with fans of Real Estate and Nada Surf. A self-recorded pandemic project, it avoids maudlin introspection and delivers the riffs. The soaring ‘Change Your Mind’ highlights what they can do. The vinyl master is excellent, providing a rich and full-bodied sound on a quiet disc pressed at Mobineko in Taiwan. Known for their quick turnarounds on small orders, they’ve done a very fine job here. Nice cover too. 

Mark Barrott’s beautiful new album, ‘Jōhatsu (蒸発)’ sets up camp somewhere between Eno, Frahm and ‘Spirit Of Eden’ Talk Talk. I know, right? You may recall some of his past work under the name Future Loop Foundation, but this is a very different beast. Starting life as a commission to soundtrack a Japanese documentary, ‘Jōhatsu – The Art Of Evaporation’, this music was placed in stasis when the project ground to a halt thanks to the onset of Covid. The film having not surfaced by the end of 2021, Barrott was now free to revisit the music for his own purposes and he found expansive, emotive and atmospheric pieces that worked as a unit. The superbly dynamic mastering from Lopazz has been manufactured at Press On and the mostly quiet pressing operates far beyond your speakers. Try ‘Icarus’ and time how far into the track you are when you decide to purchase. 

Two-Tone legend Rhoda Dakar has released her first album in half a decade and it’s an ambitious covers project that brings a dozen tunes from across many genres into the reggae and ska landscape. ‘Version Girl’ may feature many well-known titles, but few have previously received such readings and hopping from Morrissey’s ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ to the Louis Armstrong classic ‘What A Wonderful World’ is quite the trip. The key riff of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ is so obviously ideal for this sort of treatment, that one wonders why it hasn’t already been done a million times. A closing, laidback take on ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ underlines the euphoric intent in this charming project. Her band are tight and Dakar’s clear love of these songs neatly ties the set together. Mastering is a little lacking at the top end, confining much of the nuance to the mid-range, but the neon violet GZ pressing was near-silent throughout. The artwork from Sheffield legend Pete McKee all adds to the experience. 

Topic Records presents a second collaboration between a pair of folk guitarists, Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay.  2018’s ‘The Hawksworth Grove’ revealed their instinctive interplay, but this self-titled follow up is on another level. Tim Hay’s sympathetic mixing and mastering captures a truly three-dimensional sound, ensuring plenty of space in pieces that nevertheless somehow coalesce two guitars and four hands into one. ‘Swale Song’ is a good taster, but I wouldn’t want to advise you to miss the rest. The near-silent UK pressing is a delight, as is the inimitable Andrew Male’s personal, effusive sleevenote. Seek it out. 

The third LA Priest album, ‘Fase Luna’, has arrived via Domino and it’s hard to disagree with the pithy summary of “wobbly-pop” from the press release. Presenting as a less samey Mac DeMarco, ‘Silent’ careers about like a young child on a bike, despite holding down a neat rhythm section. Formerly one of Late Of The Pier, but now trading under this striking moniker, Sam Eastgate’s delicate but mellifluous vocals twist around these songs, which are relatively sparse in their construction. The hazy wash of sound is well drawn on the Matt Colton mastered soundstage of the vinyl cut, pressed through Optimal. The undeniably funky ‘It’s You’ foregrounds the neat presentation of the bottom end alongside impressive clarity for the treated vocal. A lyric insert and lossless download seals the deal. 

When the first volume of Gary Crowley’s ‘Punk And New Wave’ was released in 2017, Demon Records weren’t in the habit of deploying their sizeable CD box sets in vinyl formation but things have moved on since. Volume 2 gets a lavish 6LP treatment in a sturdy box with a lift-off lid and a thirty-two page booklet that proffers passionate and purposeful sleevenotes from Crowley and his radio colleague Jim Lahat. The pair have assembled an even more comprehensive exploration of a scene and its associates than last time. While a double-disc highlights package is also available, the whole seventy-seven-track project – with vinyl mastering by Phil Kinrade – is an absolute treasure trove for those wanting to dig around in the archives. The GZ pressings are largely silent during playback and housed in paper sleeves that include further thoughts from some of the featured artists. Considering the variety of sources from a distinctly non-audiophile genre, Kinrade has managed to ensure a pleasing sonic signature for this glorious set. 

As the figureheads of the Scissor Sisters, both Ana Matronic and Jake Shears were very much PROPER POP STARS and that band’s absence for more than a decade has made the musical landscape a less enjoyable place to be. Shears released his self-titled debut solo album in 2018 and, despite a rather frustrating vinyl edition, it had its moments. However, its follow up, ‘Last Man Dancing’, is a sensational disco record that channels an array of influences into twelve songs that feel timeless. The title track could easily nestle with the early releases from his previous endeavour while ‘Radio Eyes’ is a sparkling delight with hints of a higher BPM Kraftwerk in its refrain. Little moments like the percussive breakdown in ‘Really Big Deal’, a track with a tremendous lyric, and the torch-song piano opener to recent single ‘Do The Television’ signal the quality. The good folk at Mute know what they’re doing, so this disc has been pressed at Pallas and it’s sensational. A lively, forthright soundstage reaches out from the speakers and keeps the basslines striking. The clear was near silent and there’s a smoky orange edition too, if you fancy it. 

This column made favourable noises about the initial releases in BMG’s Trojan Records ‘Essential Artist Collection’ series and their efforts continue in stellar fashion with another pair of corkers. Ken Boothe and John Holt are both on the receiving end of 2LP anthologies, plucking some of the finest ska and reggae from their substantial catalogues. The former gets transparent red discs, the latter orange and both releases are pressed at Optimal. The team at 360 Mastering has ensured an open, dynamic soundstage that carves the compelling lower frequencies with precision. The wonderfully quiet records serve the music well, Holt’s ‘Ali Baba’ immediately warranting a cranking of the volume while his slower paced pieces like ‘Let’s Get It While It’s Hot’ retain their nuance even at quieter levels. Boothe may be best known for ‘Everything I Own’ and ‘Crying Over You’, but the quality of his work is explored in much more detail over four charming sides. 

The first Number One album for May came from The Lottery Winners, with their fifth album proper, ‘Anxiety Replacement Therapy’. After more than a decade, the band finally gained momentum just prior to the start of the pandemic and have gone from strength to strength since. 2021’s ‘Something To Leave The House For’ tapped into the desire for normality and got a foothold in the charts via a substantial number of different editions. A similarly generous range of options assisted with the latest record’s ascent and Just Played sampled the pink vinyl edition. This GZ pressing was largely quiet during playback and had a solid if unspectacular soundstage. These are gloriously unabashed indie-pop tracks, with Boy George adding a slightly gravelly but richly soulful contribution to ‘Let Me Down’ and Shaun Ryder delivering some hard to define nostalgia on ‘Money’. Good fun. 

All Kinds Of Blue…and beyond:

Freddie Hubbard is the subject of May’s first Tone Poet with his 1967 album ‘Blue Spirits’. Two different sessions produced the five tracks contained within, featuring – amongst many other quality names – James Spaulding on alto sax and flute, McCoy Tyner on piano and Joe Henderson on tenor sax. Despite these striking credentials, it may take you a few plays to unlock all of its charms. A Stoughton tip-on features the usual beguiling studio photography inside and Kevin Gray has done a typically riveting job of giving life to these musicians. The ranging interplay on the title track is quite the experience. 

‘Great Jazz Standards’ by the Gil Evans Orchestra is one of the World Pacific Tone Poets, which means no gatefold but you do get a fresh sleevenote instead. The spacious ensemble are arrayed across a wide but not disorienting soundstage for material that is a relatively easy ride for the listener, lacking some of the intensity of Evans’ later work. Despite this, the superior audio quality of these all-analogue Gray cuts affords us the opportunity to focus in on the many wonderful performances present. The straightforward virtuosity of the take on Bix Beiderbecke’s ‘Davenport Blues’ is a delight, while the expansive reading of John Lewis’ ‘Django’ is captivating. A couple of forewarned tape glitches aside, this is a pristine title.

This month’s Blue Note Classic titles dig a little further back into the archive, presenting the 1955 Miles Davis compilation ‘Volume 1’, which expanded its original 10” outing as the label moved to the standard LP format, and 1957’s Fats Navarro set ‘The Fabulous Fats Navarro – Volume 1’ that collected recordings from three sessions at the end of the 1940s. As a consequence, neither is quite the immersive experience that these all-analogue beauties can sometimes be, but they sound about as good as they can. Navarro’s emphatic trumpet rises out of the rather more recessed rhythm section, while Miles’ early, unmistakeable hard bop has a bit more space in it and some light but understandable tape hiss. Both discs are Optimal pressed, housed in the standard poly-lined inners and near-silent during playback. 

Craft are getting in on the premium jazz reissues with a reboot of the Original Jazz Classics range. Forgive the repetition, but these are all-analogue cuts by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, pressed at RTI and presented in rigid, tip-on jackets. The OBI is a little less exciting than a gatefold full of studio photography but these are otherwise quite a familiar prospect. First up came Miles Davis’ ‘Workin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet’, an album not immune to a high-end outing. You may blanche at the £40+ price ticket, but it was only last year that people with deep pockets and questionable priorities were spending almost £500 on the Electric Recording Co’s edition of this title. It’s all relative, I suppose. Crucially, it sounds fantastic and the Tone Poet comparisons extend to the sonics. You can hear the air moving through Miles’ trumpet and just listen to the presentation of the bass from Paul Chambers. Dave Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ swings especially sweetly on this cut and it does not disappoint. 

The second choice is ‘Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane’, which does what it says on the tin. Having been part of Miles’ band on the previous release, here Coltrane’s tenor sax goes toe to toe with Monk’s instinctive command of his piano. The whole thing is a joy, but ‘Nutty’ is always a delight if you’re unfamiliar with the material. Wilber Ware’s bass playing on ‘Trinkle Tinkle’ feels wonderfully present in the room and Monk’s role is almost as strident, despite yielding to Coltrane regularly. It’s another wonderful soundstage and a fine way to experience this music in 2023. 

Going Round Again:

Working with the band, BMG deliver colour-coordinated vinyl reissues of The Undertones’ initial pair of albums using the 2016 master from the original tapes. Noel Summerville cut the discs at 3345 Mastering and they sound excellent, with the run-out info identical to the previous black editions and, therefore, the lure here being how seriously you take matching the hue of your records to their sleeves. To be fair, the green and red deployed for the self-titled and ‘Hypnotised’ respectively are neatly matched and look rather nice. On the off chance you’re not familiar with anything beyond ‘Teenage Kicks’ then brace yourself for two albums packed with tracks that could almost all have been singles. ‘Hypnotised’ may not always get mentioned with the same reverence as the very recognisable debut, but there’s no drop in quality. 

The end of April brought a first vinyl release for The Wombats’ 2007 debut ‘A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation’. ‘Kill The Director’, ‘Moving To New York’ and ‘Let’s Dance To Joy Division’ were everywhere that year and 12” art prints for the single covers of the latter pair are tucked inside the sleeve of this Optimal-pressed pink disc. It’s very excitable jangle with a neat interest in quirky vocal arrangements that elevates it above the ordinary, despite some questionable lyrical calls. There’s still some filler here and the mixing habits from that time mean the soundstage is relatively hemmed in. In particular, the drums lack a three-dimensional punch and the children’s choir on that single are a little lost in the mid-range. It’s a pretty quiet disc and it sounds a lot better than an original CD, so those who still believe should be pretty happy. 

Some records are undeniable time capsules, welded to the period of their creation by fully embracing the contemporary trends and production. ‘Bunkka’ by Paul Oakenfold is one such album. The early-Noughties big beats and dramatic strings are all over these four sides, opener ‘Ready Steady Go’ coming on like the Bond franchise wanted a theme inspired by the Big Brother music, an Oakenfold co-construction. Even when it came out in 2002, it felt a little like it was clinging to the coattails of a scene, despite ambitiously massive soundscapes and a wealth of collaborators. 

Ice Cube graces ‘Get Em Up’, the wonderful Emiliana Torrini guests on ‘Hold Your Hand’ and Hunter S Thompson even pops up for ‘Nixon’s Spirit’. You’ll remember ‘Starry Eyed Surprise’, with its vocal from Crazy Town’s Shifty Shellshock, and Nelly Furtado and Tricky’s work on closer ‘The Harder They Come’. This lot form a high-calibre ensemble and individual tracks still hold up but it’s hard to imagine listening for anything other than a burst of nostalgia. A fresh cut from Beau Thomas at Ten Eight Seven Mastering does a fine job of manhandling some thunderous bottom end and the various vocals occupy their own distinct space across this excellent, near-silent Vinyl Factory pressing. 

Regular readers will recall the first instalment of Demon’s Ocean Colour Scene catalogue vinyl boxes, ‘Yesterday Today’, which covered their Britpop-assisted peak. The ‘1999-2003’ volume’ is now upon us, capturing the melancholic conclusion of their imperial phase with ‘One From The Modern’ and then presenting the first two albums from the less chart-busting years, ‘Mechanical Wonder’ and ‘North Atlantic Drift’. While the soulful musicianship of their final release of the twentieth century was a little marred by some impenetrable lyrics, it still captured the effortless, organic interplay between that particular set of musicians. ‘One From The Modern’ gets a yellow outing in this set and Phil Kinrade at Alchemy continues to deliver sympathetic, open mastering. Singles ‘Profit In Peace’ and ‘July’ still stand up, but why go from a 2x45rpm set to a single 33rpm disc now?

Of the other two, I’ve long had a fondness for ‘Mechanical Wonder’ because superb opener ‘Up On The Downside’ has a lithe, jangly heart that comes on like an obscure delight dug from a box of Seventies sevens. An instant earworm, the rest of the record – on strangely brown vinyl – can’t quite match it and the band left their label soon after its release. Popping up again with Sanctuary for 2003’s ‘North Atlantic Drift’, released just prior to Damon Minchella’s departure, the acceptance that they were no longer a Top Of The Pops act freed up their writing and allowed them to explore a more bluesy, heavier sound. Mint green feels a slightly odd hue for this one, but the sonics are solid. Each of these titles will set you back at least £100 for strong originals, so this is quite a neat way to add them all in one go at a fraction of the price. 

Acid Jazz’s ongoing thirty-fifth anniversary celebrations continue with a fresh remaster of The Brand New Heavies’ 1994 compilation ‘Original Flava’. The material was intended for the band’s debut album and mostly dated from 1990, with a few tracks hailing from 1988. It wasn’t to be, but as the band were experiencing chart success with FFRR Records their original label offered some archive. Decent originals can still be tracked down for about a tenner, so £25 for a white vinyl reissue might need a little persuasion. The artwork is nicely done and there was almost no surface noise across this GZ pressing. The audio, spruced up from the original tapes, is very good indeed. The nimble bass of ‘Put Yourself In My Shoes’ is striking and the breadth of the soundstage throughout is very satisfying. 

Several months ago, this column speculated that Eels’ imperial run might have ended with the 3LP set ‘Blinking Lights And Other Revelations’. Rather conveniently, that 2005 release is next up for the reissue treatment. Many fans missed its original vinyl release at it was only available in a very costly deluxe, numbered box set from the US, that added an unnecessary live album and a hardback book. Having resigned myself to never owning it on my preferred format, the news of a rather reasonably priced purple pressing that includes a 32-page 12×12 booklet was very welcome indeed. 

If you don’t know it, it’s arguably E’s magnum opus and somehow captures the purest distillation of what he does despite being thirty-three tracks long. Exploring religion, family and reasons for our existence, it is big in every sense of the word, not to mention adding in Peter Buck and Tom Waits as guests. Pressed at Takt, these discs are largely quiet and sound great. The mastering is hearteningly open, given how crunchy those Noughties CDs could sound. Take beloved single ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’ as an example. Its many textures, including jovial backing vocals, handclaps, sax and who knows what else, are wonderfully clear as part of a nicely balanced soundstage. The wait has been worth it.  

Before ABBA were ABBA, they were Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frida. The only album they released without any mention of the distinctive four-letter moniker was 1973’s ‘Ring Ring’. It has many of the hallmarks of what would go on to make them the sort of band that would pack out performances by their holographic ABBA-tars fifty years later, but remains a little way off the finished model. Debut single ‘People Need Love’, ‘Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’ and the English version of the title track pack a melodic punch that most songwriters would nab in a heartbeat, highlighting how much delight is to be found in formative albums by artists where vast chunks of their catalogue are ubiquitous. 

While it’s only a year since the album’s last outing as part of the largely satisfying ‘Vinyl Album Box Set’, this is actually a continuation of a series of 2x45rpm half-speed mastered reissues. Once again, Miles Showell has undertaken the process and you still get the obligatory certificate and obi-strip that ramp up the printed matter quotient of this Optimal pressing, if nothing else. Sonically, it sculpts the previously rather warm and slightly murky bottom end rather niftily. Several from this series have become rather scarce of late, so don’t hang around. 

At the end of April, British electronic act Rudimental marked the tenth anniversary of their debut album, ‘Home’, with a 2LP reissue pressed on ‘gold’ vinyl by Optimal. The singles that announced their arrival were everywhere in 2013, with ‘Feel The Love’, ‘Not Giving In’ and ‘Waiting All Night’ still standing tall a decade on. The album proper is spread over three sides and the fourth presents a quartet of new and previously unreleased remixes, which may add a little extra allure for those in need of persuasion. Barry Grint delivers an appealing, fairly dynamic cut that does a fine job of ensuring the bottom end is weighty but precise. As I have found on a number of occasions with this particular colour of wax, there’s some low-level rustling surface noise at various points that is only marginally distracting but still a little frustrating. 

Amongst this month’s Proper excavations is 1972’s ‘Henry The Human Fly!’ by Richard Thompson. Its striking cover mixes neon colours, a hypnotic mise-en- scène and distressingly dated typography. As ever, the label have taken the time to get everything just right, replicating both the Island inner bag and centre labels. A splendid, quiet, beautifully open pressing from The Vinyl Factory ensures the magic is sustained. Sandy Denny’s distinctive backing vocals can be detected on ‘Shaky Nancy’ and ‘The Angels Took My Racehorse Away’, while Andy Roberts’ dulcimer playing on ‘The Poor Ditching Boy’ rings out sublimely from this excellent cut. It’s a fittingly well-executed reissue for an artist in fine form. 

The Proper collaboration with Universal yields another pair of 10CC titles, 1975’s ‘The Original Soundtrack’ and ‘Bloody Tourists’ from three years later. They pick up where the previous reissues left off, delivering joyously expansive soundstages, an aspect most noticeable on the various sonic effects that open the first of the two titles. Each album contains one of the band’s signature tracks, ‘I’m Not In Love’ securing them a five-year record deal on its own. A song known for its layers, it serves as an excellent test of a vinyl master. It’s a test this new, UK manufactured edition passes with ease, carving out space for floating piano notes, keeping bass refrains wonderfully fluid and preserving the dynamics of those distinctive vocal washes. ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ opens the later release and demonstrates the nuance in the bottom end of this pair of silent discs. As ever, Proper’s commitment to meticulously recreating the details of the original pressings ensures an aesthetically pleasing experience right down to the centre labels and paper inserts. 

The final bit of Proper/Universal business involves the trio of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions titles.  In the summer of 2020, Tapete brought the ‘Collected Recordings 1983-1989’ set to vinyl and it included fresh cuts of all three albums: ‘Rattlesnakes’, ‘Easy Pieces’ and ‘Mainstream’. They sounded pretty good, even if the artwork looked a little washed out. However, it’s time to go again. Colour has been restored for these fresh Vinyl Factory pressings and, to these ears, the 2023 versions edge it on the sonics too. The band’s debut is a true classic that belongs in every collection and this is a decent way to add it, should you need to do so. The acoustic guitar presentation is rich and deep, the rhythm section similarly well etched alongside. 

Across all three titles, labels, inner sleeves and cover art are handled superbly. ‘Easy Pieces’ seems a touch more open at the top end and ‘Mainstream’ has more attack right from the off, the chiming guitar and emphatic piano of ‘My Bag’ really extending into the room. Of course, the box had plenty of additional material to make it a tempting purchase regardless and the differences between these versions are hardly night and day, but it’s pleasing that these readily available editions do justice to such highly regarded music.  

Increasingly the label most likely to do something unusual, Demon Records have launched a new Singles Club. Bi-monthly 7” and 12” releases will genre-hop gleefully, but with a particular commitment to revisiting plenty of Nineties classics. This column has sampled a few titles to get a sense of what to expect and the signs are positive. Part-time singer and government employee William DeVaughn suddenly found himself recording what would be his 1974 breakthrough hit – the soulful masterpiece, ‘Be Thankful For What You Got’ – with members of MFSB. The famous Massive Attack cover is, you’ll notice, very faithful to the original version. It’s mastered for vinyl by Phil Kinrade and you may be surprised that the disc plays at 33rpm, but it’s a decision taken with sound in mind and you’ll not be disappointed. 

A four-track selection from Urban Cookie Collective is headed up by 1993’s chart triumph, ‘The Key, The Secret’, along with three subsequent singles from the next few years. It plays at 45rpm and delivers a pleasingly open sound that serves the vocals especially well. Mid-Nineties stormer ‘Closer Than Close’ by Rosie Gaines gets a whole 12” to itself, presenting the original version and three alternative mixes including some Frankie Knuckles handiwork. Finally, a double A-side positions Strike’s ‘U Sure Do’ on one face and Lovestation’s ‘Teardrops’ on the other, tucking them both in a Fresh Records branded outer-bag. A 33rpm disc, it features two versions of each track, including the previously ubiquitous 7” mix of the former and a superb Joey Negro mix of the latter. All are pressed at GZ and near-silent. At around £17, they’re not cheap, but they are clearly being done with love. 

The Madness reissue campaign is nearly complete as it reaches 2012’s ‘Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da’. Whereas the original spread the album over two discs, this new edition squeezes it onto two and a bit sides and adds seven bonus tracks in the space conjured. It’s not especially detrimental to the sound, which was always quite central and busy in the bottom end. Continuing where they’d left off with the revered ‘The Liberty Of Norton Folgate’, this record was similarly effusive and ebullient in its nature, highlighting a band with no intention of slowing down. As ever, it had a complex gestation and the regular highlights of Stevie Chick’s accompanying sleevenotes and interviews flesh out the story to a splendid degree. 

Continuing the recent trend, this one has been cut and pressed at Takt in Poland and playback was pretty quiet after a clean. The inner sleeves contain the reading material and a fold out insert delivers the lyrics. Despite its bizarre title, ‘My Girl 2’ is a belter and well worth a revisit, so too ‘Death Of A Rude Boy’. As was the case with its predecessor, the bonus material isn’t throwaway, but squashing the main album to fit it in does seem a little counter-intuitive. That said, both band and label clearly understand the merits of giving fans value for money. 

At The Front Of The Racks:

Having been rather taken with Ivan Moult’s previous album, 2018’s ‘Longest Shadow’, I was warmly predisposed towards his latest, ‘Songs From Severn Grove’. But even this justified anticipation was surpassed by the truly beautiful record that emerged. Moult has performed, recorded, engineered and mixed the whole thing himself, suiting the deeply personal nature of the music. Possessed of a gorgeous voice, somewhere between John Martyn, Tim Buckley and Ray Lamontagne, he knows when to foreground it, when to add layers and when to interweave it with the shimmering instrumentation. 

As with so many recent releases, work began during the pandemic months and tackles the emotional intensity flagged by going to ground, as well as the first stages of fatherhood and its impact upon a relationship. ‘Home & Dry’ presents multiple Moults as he explores the arrival of a little one and the instant shifting of the axis this presents. It highlights how evocative his electric guitar playing can be, alongside the fluid, dextrous use of the acoustic that defines much of his material. The textures of ‘Tell Me When’ are gloriously rendered in the mastering by Charlie Francis. Indeed, the whole album is a hugely moving triumph that could be perfect company for summer evenings and beyond. Another winner from Bubblewrap Collective, it has a near-silent Mobineko pressing that sounds superb, living up to the promise of the tremendous artwork. Don’t hang around though, as it’s a limited pressing of only 100.  

All of the titles reviewed above were cleaned before playback using the ultrasonic record cleaning machine, Degritter. A full review of its capabilities can be found in a previous column and you can find local dealers at www.degritter.com

Words: Gareth James (For more vinyl reviews and turntable shots, follow @JustPlayed on Twitter)

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