Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #42

Your in-depth guide to the vinyl marketplace...

It’s a delightfully mixed bag for you this month, dear reader. From chart-toppers to buried treasure and a bit of everything in between, there have been some treats released during July. Prepare for your next trip to the record shop by reading on. 

Freshly Pressed:

Regulars may recall a period of almost two years when PJ Harvey reissues were a near-constant presence here. Well, it’s finally time for a new one, with ‘I Inside The Old Year Dying’. Firstly, let’s just admire the decision to have only one vinyl edition. No coloured variants, no splatter, no deluxe, no box set, no alternative art – just a reasonably priced LP, pressed at Optimal. If we needed an ambassador for Just Played, I’d like to think Polly might be up for it. I’ve seen record shops and fans alike delighted by the simplicity and, thankfully, it’s an excellent product. Musically, it’s at the sparser, less racket-in-a-junkyard end of her spectrum and lyrics are adapted from her recent poetry collection, ‘Orlam’. 

A glossary is provided on the insert for the lyrics that incorporate archaic words, as was the case in her published work. The disarmingly eerie, though easier to follow, “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo” refrain which opens the album sets the scene for the beautiful ‘Prayer At The Gate’ and a spacious soundstage that deploys all manner of textures from trombone to variophon, steel string guitar to ‘sonic disturbance’ – the last being credited to co-producer Flood. The vinyl cut by Jason Mitchell at Loud continues where those remarkable reissues left off, delivering a truly 3D array of music. Your correspondent’s copy had a couple of light clicks here and there but was, otherwise, a total pleasure. 

From the moment the needle drops on the latest album from The Lilac Time, ‘Dance Till All The Stars Come Down’, it’s obvious that Stephen Duffy’s beloved band are in superb form. ‘Your Vermillion Cliffs’ is a truly gorgeous acoustic meditation on ageing and living a good life. The final lines, “Can’t promise you a rainbow, all I can say is this: we can leave tomorrow, for your vermillion cliffs,” drip with warmth and experience. The plaintive country twang brings to mind Richard Hawley at his most confessional and Duffy has a hard-earned track record in documenting the human condition. These are songs bursting with heart that make magical use of space. ‘On The Last Day Of The Last Days Of Summer’ spells out its game plan in the title, but it is a deeply moving track that plays its seasonal metaphor with bewitching subtlety. The soundstage is excellent, capturing guitar decay like the instrument is in the room and giving the vocals their own distinct placement. This Czech pressing is largely silent and the artwork must be experienced at 12×12” size. Don’t hesitate. 

Chances are you already know the remarkable voice of Jacob Lusk, who fronts Gabriels. Their Glastonbury set was rightly lauded as essential viewing amongst the BBC’s sizeable coverage and vinyl copies of last year’s similarly titled mini-album that preceded this full debut are changing hands at inflated prices. ‘Angels & Queens’ is an emphatic soul record that channels the brooding rhythm of early Seventies Stax, without sacrificing the incessant melody of Motown. It’s all wrapped up in thoroughly modern production, in which the band are themselves involved. Listen to the different phases of ‘Great Wind’ to get a sense of the emphatic gearshifts at the heart of their sound. It’s no wonder that their live performances are so impactful. The excellent news is that Matt Colton at Metropolis has cut this beautifully, sculpting a rich but nimble bottom end, stirring piano sounds and a velvety vocal presentation. There’s a 2x45rpm edition available too, but the standard LP sounds excellent to us. 

Are you thinking black? Red? Silver? Blue? Zoetrope picture-disc? Too late. Smokey black and clear deluxe then? Oh, there are a lot of different vinyl editions of the new one from blur, ‘The Ballad Of Darren’. Thankfully, Matt Colton at Metropolis, who mastered it has also taken care of the cut for this splendid sounding Optimal pressing. At a little over thirty-five minutes in length, it is ideally suited to the LP format and it has rather more nuance than the fairly loud – though not totally brickwalled – digital version. ‘Barbaric’, one of their finest songs ever, extends further into the room via this format, having compared with CD, blu-ray and digital. I know, I should get out more. Not only that, but when backing vocals come in, they have a much more clearly defined presence. And then there’s Alex’s bass. Pick your edition, but rest assured you’re getting a very well produced record – and a superb album, as I’ve explained elsewhere. 

The Penguin Café project is well into its second decade of producing excellent modern classical music helmed by Arthur Jeffes, the son of the original Orchestra’s founder Simon Jeffes. ‘Rain Before Seven’ is their latest and it should certainly please those fond of the band’s recent endeavours. The capacity to conjure movement and intimations of change is really quite something, side one closer ‘Galahad’ feeling like a sweep through the seasons and the sense of not simply soundtracking nature but actively engaging it in some sort of dialogue radiates from this often-majestic record. ‘Find Your Feet’ could very easily be an orchestrated indie song waiting for a vocal and that lyrical quality is a key characteristic of the act’s work. Andreas Kauffelt’s lacquer-cut sounds tremendous, with a large, textured soundstage delivering vibrant instrumentation before you. The Optimal pressing is largely quiet, a little patch of noise to kick off side two aside, and it lets the beguiling music take centre stage.

We’re accustomed to raving about excellent Acid Jazz reissues but they’ve also released a pair of rather charming new titles this month. First up is the debut album by Mama Terra, a project conceived during lockdown by Scottish composer and pianist Marco Cafolla. ‘The Summoned’ was transformed from a sample-heavy solo endeavour in its demo form into a glittering ensemble performance recorded in both New York and Glasgow. A concept album about life, the universe and everything, it opens with its own big bang, ‘Ruptura’, and the slinky but robust ‘A Mind Supreme’ brings to mind the more accessible end of Kamasi Washington’s work. There are classic nods throughout but the whole thing feels full of promise. The GZ pressing is well mastered, slightly boomy bass aside, and only suffered with a few patches of light surface noise. 

Secondly, incorporating both sides of a 7” released last year to mark thirty years since their debut, Corduroy offer up new mini-album ‘Men Of The Cloth’. After a lively Nineties, the band was put on ice for almost two decades before returning in 2018. Now very much at ease with their sound, the quartet pack a swinging, soulful punch driven by the triumphant keyboards of Scott Addison and Richard Searle’s fluid basslines. Side two opener ‘Hypnotoad’ is irresistibly slinky, while ‘The Gemini Theory’ is a fantastic piece of music just waiting for a high-concept crime caper to soundtrack. The black-and-white-splatter vinyl pressed at GZ is largely silent during playback and looks striking enough to win over even this old cynic. It’s a splendid, well-mastered package guaranteed to put a smile on your face. 

It’s been a while since Arthur Baker’s ‘Dance Masters’ series kicked off with a collection that explored the mixing CV of Shep Pettibone and it is rebooted with an in-depth exploration of the revered producer and DJ’s own work. Baker’s retooling of work from artists as wide-ranging as Fine Young Cannibals, Carly Simon, Neneh Cherry and Bob Dylan is arrayed across twelve sides of vinyl in a GZ-pressed 6LP box set from Demon. Remastering has been undertaken by Nick Robbins at Sound and the sonic presentation is easy on the ear. The Eighties drum machine effects are delightfully full-bodied, avoiding that metallic thinness so often present in old CD masters. An accompanying booklet offers a contextual essay from Bill Coleman and fond annotations from Baker himself. The packaging is a little on the perfunctory side, and several of the individual inner sleeves had seam-splits, but a signed print of the artwork sweetens the deal. At £100, it’s one of the better value box sets you’ll find out there right now; there’s a 2LP highlights set if you’d prefer a lighter touch. 

The wonderful new Netflix documentary charting the career of Wham! is accompanied by a fresh dusting off of the archive, with ‘The Singles – Echoes From The Edge Of Heaven’. There’s a deluxe 7” box featuring a hardback book and cassette for those who like trinkets and frequent trips to the turntable, but most will likely be considering the 2LP edition. John Webber at AIR has mastered this set, but it’s a slightly frustrating listen, even beyond residual surface noise aided by GZ’s shiny inner sleeves for this standard black pressing. The main disc, featuring the original ten UK singles along with ‘Where Did Your Heart Go?’, sounds a little thin. Aspects of the tracks stand out but they don’t cohere into an especially satisfying presentation. Things are similar on the bonus disc, where a selection of remixes and bonus bits like ‘Blue (Armed With Love)’ and ‘Battlestations’ lurk. The soundstage isn’t awful, but it simply doesn’t move outwards or upwards enough in the way these songs deserve. The multiple Georges towards the end of ‘Everything She Wants’ get close but the mid-range is recessed. 

While the sad loss of Tony Allen in 2020 still resonates, he certainly made the most of his years. A collaboration with Adrian Younge, recorded five years ago, has just been released as ‘Jazz Is Dead 18’ and who doesn’t want to hear more of the Afrobeat kingpin’s sublime playing? One of the most distinctive drummers in recorded musical history, he was somehow able to be both frequently inventive and instantly recognisable. At his best when working with similarly creative partners, here he seems free to go where the mood takes him. ‘No Beginning’ starts unusually and builds from there, while ‘Don’t Believe The Dancers’ locks Allen in the groove with Younge and his accomplices. The Pallas pressing looks a little murky but sounds excellent removed from its fabulous die-cut sleeve. 

The Poet Laureate has left his shed again for a second album by LYR. Recorded in Devon but occupying a far wider musical terrain that traverses several decades of indie history, ‘The Ultraviolet Age’ is an oddly arresting listen. Over its first side, the album lurches from electronic onslaught to finger-picked acoustic, pitching Simon Armitage’s distinctive spoken word lyrics alongside the caramel vocals of Richard Walters. The latter often sounds eerily like Tom Chaplin from Keane and the juxtaposition of their respective roles on ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Presidentially Yours’ is especially effective. Multi-instrumentalist Patrick J Pearson completes the trio, constructing some atmospheric backdrops for these curious songs. It’s a largely quiet GZ pressing and the mastering is pretty decent, even though Walters’ voice would benefit from a little more definition at times. I keep coming back to this record and the aforementioned pair of tracks will give you an idea of what to expect. Delightfully confounding. 

Occasional Weller collaborators White Label have worked together for many years but only now deliver their debut album, ‘Other Voices’. The Modfather puts in a brief appearance on opener ‘The Sea’s Out At Night’, but headlines might also be grabbed by the presence of soul legend Linda Lewis and one of Bim Sherman’s final vocal performances, dating back to a recording session in 2000. Add in some sampled backing vocals from The Associates’ Billy MacKenzie on ‘Turn Down The Noise’ and this is a project unlike any other. Jill O’Sullivan and Syann are the core singers and they are both superb, anchoring beautifully produced tracks that nod to Sixties-inflected dream pop and the spacious, languid nature of Air at their best. The duo – Anth Brown and tremendous music writer Tom Doyle – pay great attention to detail and the mastering is excellent on a quiet pressing manufactured by Middlesbrough’s Press On. 

All Kinds Of Blue:

The Blue Note Classic series offers up Ike Quebec’s ‘Heavy Soul’ from 1962, his tenor sex facing strong competition from Freddie Roach’s organ playing to be the dominant force on the recording. ‘Que’s Dilemma’ is a particular treat, presenting the quartet in full flight on a record which largely fluctuates in pace from track to track. As ever, Kevin Gray delivers a deliciously immersive all-analogue cut and the Optimal pressing is pretty quiet. But, as good as this is, don’t sleep on July’s pair of Tone Poets. 

Despite a rather murky looking disc, everything else about the self-titled Sonny Clark Trio album is crystal clear. The cover art glistens and the customary studio photography inside the gatefold manages to project some of the energy conveyed in this session. A silent RTI pressing, Gray’s work leaps from the speakers as he presents the ecstatic interplay between Clark at the piano and Paul Chambers on bass, while ‘Philly’ Joe Jones does considerably more than just hold down a beat. While 1950s titles can sound a little less full-bodied than their Sixties counterparts, this one bucks that trend and really grabs the attention. Just listen to the gradual build of ‘Tadd’s Delight’ to get a sense of what this release can do.

‘A Caddy For Daddy’ may have a faintly distressing title, but Hank Mobley assembled quite the ensemble for our second Tone Poet. Curtis Fuller’s hefty trombone pairs perfectly with Lee Morgan’s trumpet, while the Bob Cranshaw and Billy Higgins rhythm section is exceptionally tight without losing its sense of mischief. Add in column-favourite McCoy Tyner on piano and this is a blast. The smoky waltz of ‘The Morning After’ warrants some volume and the mastering preserves the unique placement of these magnificent individuals across the soundstage. Closing track ‘3rd Time Around’ is Fuller’s time to shine, but this is one of those where everyone is absolutely lost in the moment. Check that photo of Morgan in the gatefold too! A real joy. 

Singles Bar:

This column has raved about the work of My Only Desire Records before and they’ve just embarked upon a new 7” series entitled Brit Jazz 45.  Each release will see a contemporary act pluck two compositions from the Sixties or Seventies scenes and deliver a fresh reading. They begin with saxophonist Kevin Figes and his accompanying group, You Are Here. Drawn from the spectacular contemporary Bristol scene, they deliver intense performances of Elton Dean’s ‘Seven For Lee’ and Keith Tippett’s ‘Green And Orange Night Park’. Striking artwork houses a poly-lined inner sleeve for a silent GZ pressing of a Gearbox cut, courtesy of Caspar Sutton-Jones.

The Demon Records Singles Club continues with a mixture of 7” and 12” titles. Having sampled a selection, the latter format was more consistently impressive in terms of sound quality and I can heartily recommend the music on the Travis Biggs release, which plucks three tracks from the 1979 ‘Solar Funk’ album and is fronted by the notably-sampled ‘Tibetan Serenity’. A lengthy instrumental workout, it has a very well balanced soundstage and excellent control of the upper mids and top end. While these GZ-pressed twelves come in at around £18, they do play well and one of a number of SAM Records titles getting a dusting off in replica outer bags is Doris Duke’s sensational take on Marlena Shaw’s ‘Woman Of The Ghetto’. Slightly incongruously paired with the enormous disco track ‘Free’ by Rhyze, it makes for a pretty untouchable piece of wax. 

Precious Recordings Of London continue their noble work excavating vintage BBC sessions from yesteryear. Each 10” EP presents a different recording, colour-coded by presenter and augmented with artwork postcards and a fresh sleevenote from the acts concerned. Recent releases have included a fine pair of Peel appearances from One Thousands Violins and a charming Janice Long recording by The Dentists that opens with an unexpected cover. However, the one you should drop everything and dash to Bandcamp to order is a 1998 Evening Session outing from Swansea’s finest, Helen Love. A punk-pop act with outrageously endearing lyrics coupled to an astonishing quantity of hooks, they are still going strong now but truly exploded out of the radio during the increasingly bleak times of the late-Nineties. Steve Lamacq invited them in for a rapid burst of their very best. A corking cover of The Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’ gets us underway, while side two opens with the magnificent ‘Shifty Disco Girl’. However, the highlight is one of their most enduring singles, ‘Does Your Heart Go Boom?’ If you were there originally, this will take you back to a very happy place and if you weren’t, it’ll still enhance your life immeasurably – all for only £14! 

Going Round Again:

Out of the ashes of Unrest came Air Miami. Bridget Cross and Mark Robinson stayed united and added Mike Fellow and Lauren Feldsher. After a couple of cassette-only releases, they delivered their sole full album, ‘me. me. me.’, in 1995. 4AD and TeenBeat have remastered it from the original tapes and now present it as a 2x45rpm set on ‘Floridian Aqua and Orange Vinyl’, as you do. Cheery, jangly indie is the prevailing trend, with lingering shoegaze hints and occasional angular bursts of post-punk. Three additional tracks from the sessions have been added to the mix too. Cut and pressed at GZ, it sounds pretty good with a relatively spacious soundstage for the slightly dry, thinner Nineties indie production. No single track encapsulates the mood, but ‘Seabird’ and ‘Neely’ should give you a pretty good sense of what to expect. 

It’s always a delight to receive a new release from Arc Records, the label through which Gilles Peterson selects titles from the Warner/Atlantic archive with the assistance of British Jazz Explosion mastermind Tony Higgins. Their latest pick is Max Roach’s 1968 album ‘Members, Don’t Git Weary’ and it’s a pure pleasure from the carefully replicated artwork on in. Bernie Grundman delivers a fresh mono remaster from the original tapes and the Vinyl Factory pressing is silent throughout. The cacophonous conclusion to the first side, ‘Effi’, is blistering, Roach’s drums battling with Charles Tolliver’s trumpet to steal the show. The presence of Andy Bey’s glorious vocals on the title-track is another reason to pick up this stellar edition. It truly is a golden age for jazz reissues and this is at the very reasonably priced end, despite an audiophile cut and an excellent insert featuring insightful fresh sleevenotes. Highly recommended. 

It is, perhaps, a thoroughly stupid point to observe that Madness really sound like Madness on 2016’s ‘Can’t Touch Us Now’, their most recent studio record and the last in BMG’s thoroughly enjoyable reissue series. This edition follows the structure of the extended 2LP formation that was initially released the year after a more condensed original. Produced by the band along with Liam Watson, Charlie Andrew and long-time collaborator Clive Langer, this is a triumph for those who know what they want from this band. The rich vein of form commenced by ‘The Liberty Of Norton Folgate’ is still very much evident here, with Suggs in superb voice and the band leaning into their many strengths without feeling too much like an exercise in grasping nostalgia. Lyrically, there are many, many characters to get to know with ‘Mr Apples’ and ‘Herbert’ chief amongst them. ‘Another Version Of Me’ is glorious, vintage songwriting that acts as a fine way in. This largely silent Takt pressing uses the original mastering, the soundstage offering decent separation and a strong vocal presence. The Stevie Chick sleevenotes are, as ever, a blast. 

There is little in life as lacking in subtlety and unwilling to leave anything to the imagination as Prince in sexy mode. Along with a re-reissue for several belters – ‘For You’ and ‘Lovesexy’ – comes ‘Come’. This 1994 release opens with the eleven-minute title-track featuring a selection of noises best described as moist and lyrics such as “with my tongue in the crease, baby I go round” and “I wanna suck you baby.” It’s musically terrific, and the whole album is very well produced, but you might long for some of the more intricate imagery of those earlier works. A dispute with Warner ensured the promotional campaign never reached its climax in America, but it topped the UK chart despite its singles barely causing a shudder. For this edition, you get a replica inner as well as a silent Optimal pressing housed in a poly-lined inner. If you’re in the market for it on vinyl, this will hit the spot. 

The already-hefty prices on the reboot of the Original Jazz Classics series have somehow risen. I’m about to explain just how great their edition of Bill Evans Trio’s ‘Waltz For Debby’ sounds, but I completely understand if, at £45 for one disc, you want to skip this paragraph. Of course, the Tone Poets have crept up too and these are legitimately audiophile, all-analogue delights, but it’s quite the commitment, whatever the music in those grooves. A quite beautiful, oft-reissued album, drawing on a performance at the Village Vanguard in June 1961, it captured the final recordings with bassist Scott LaFaro who died in a car accident ten days later. Kevin Gray has, once again, delivered the goods and this pin-drop silent RTI pressing has much to commend. Some may consider the rhythm section a little too present in the mix, but I found that exhilarating and captivating. Some very, very minor evidence of tape decay aside, this as good as you’re going to hear this without dropping a grand on the Acoustic Sounds Riverside Recordings box set. 

Proper Records’ collaboration with Universal quietly produced a fresh reissue of Embrace’s debut album, ‘The Good Will Out’, that has been manufactured by The Vinyl Factory and carefully replicates all aspects of the original edition. All apart from the spacing of each side, preferring much more deadwax than on the Hut/Virgin release which was cut a little hotter and has a more sizeable soundstage than the 2023 incarnation. However, the latter isn’t a disappointment, especially after the dreadful 2020 version that added plenty of surface noise to a muddy presentation. Here, percussive sounds are well controlled and Danny McNamara’s vocals have plenty of presence. I did find myself wanting it to cut loose a little more – and not just on tracks like ‘One Big Family’ and ‘You’ve Got To Say Yes’ – as this remains in second place behind that first outing, but the discs are quiet and it still sounds decent if you’re after a copy. 

Also newly refreshed as part of Proper’s archive explorations are the first four Fairport Convention albums. Originally released across only eighteen months, they chart a remarkably rapid evolution in the superb folk-rock band. The self-titled debut featured Judy Dyble as primary vocalist before Sandy Denny’s jaw-dropping voice became integral to their sound for the first of three albums delivered in 1969. They began with ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ before a very different sounding pair of classics – ‘Unhalfbricking’ and ‘Liege & Lief’ – followed. 

For the purpose of this column, let’s consider a few useful points of reference. The laminated cover that switches to basic gloss on the back for that first Denny-featuring record is beautifully reproduced and the soundstage reaches out beyond the space between the speakers, most notably on ‘Book Song’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge’. We’ve come a long way from those soul-destroying 4 Men With Beards reissues of the late-Noughties. An early pressing’s still preferable, and the difference is fairly noticeable, but good copies are far from cheap. This new edition is, therefore, a worthy project. 

Are they all dependable? Let’s try ‘Unhalfbricking’. Taking ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ as our focus, the mid-range detail was excellent and percussive aspects were crystal clear but Denny’s all-important vocals were a little recessed and less present in the room compared to an early copy – but still more than they were on the 2017 edition. It has sufficient warmth and, though the cover is a little washed out compared to originals, it’s a decent way to get a strong sounding LP without breaking the bank. These Takt pressings are largely quiet and replicate the original sleeves and centre labels rather well. The debut sounds similar in its sonic presentation, while the artwork on ‘Liege & Lief’ looks a little more purple than it should for its colour scheme and was pressed slightly off-centre. Most, however, are well worth a listen. 

Mr Bongo always deliver quality reissues but, when they consider something especially significant, they give it the half-speed mastered treatment and so Miles Showell has been called into action for the fiftieth anniversary of Gal Costa’s ‘Índia’. A Brazillian classic, this edition is a meticulous replica of the original with its gatefold, centre labels and credits insert mirroring the Brazilian release from 1973. An A2 poster and now-obligatory OBI are added to the package and the audio has been reproduced with great care. The clarity of the soundstage is marvellous, separating out the mid-range and high end wonderfully while giving the lows hefty definition on ‘Ponots De Luz’ and closer ‘Desafinado’. At £25, it’s a reminder that superlative reissues can be done without taking the piss. 

The Contemporary Records Acoustic Sounds series has taken it up a notch this month with Ornette Coleman’s instantly recognisable ‘Something Else!!!!’ This 1958 release is a pugnacious burst of bop with early hints of the free jazz that would increasingly define his sound, more fully explored in last year’s sublime Tone Poet box set, ‘Round Trip’. As ever for these titles, Bernie Grundman has delivered an all-analogue mastering from the original tapes and a gorgeous, over-sized tip-on sleeve contains a silent disc manufactured by QRP. The incendiary interplay between Coleman and Don Cherry on trumpet is often breath taking and this cut is a pure joy to experience, the soundstage occupying so much space in the room even as the needle nears the centre on the superb ‘Chippie’. Even sixty-five years on, it is a record that demands your full attention.

Marking thirty years since its release, Demon have gone all in on anniversary editions of Suede’s ‘Suede’. As well as blu-ray audio, picture-disc and 2CD deluxe edition, it also joins their on-going half-speed vinyl series. Original producer Ed Buller has overseen a fresh mastering by Phil Kinrade at AIR Studios using the original ½ inch tapes and production masters. Famously a rather thin sounding record, it was always at its best on an original Nude LP pressing. As well as delivering the best sounding CD edition of it I’ve ever heard, this new vinyl cut – via Barry Grint – offers a pleasingly balanced presentation that sculpts a more natural bottom end. Several tracks still seem rather muddy thanks to baked-in mixing decisions, but ‘So Young’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’ feel pretty different here. Brett and Bernard, nevertheless, shine more for me on the 1993 edition, but this is – by some distance – the best vinyl version since. The GZ pressing is housed in a poly-lined inner and plays with only minimal surface noise. You’ll need to ensure accurate cartridge alignment to avoid a little distortion on closing track ‘The Next Life’, mind you. 

Chrysalis continue their acclaimed Ultravox reissue programme with a very fine 2LP half-speed cut of 1982’s ‘Quartet’, originally produced by George Martin. His attention to detail plays some part in this being a very tightly focused set. Singles ‘Hymn’ and ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ hold up well, even if other moments can feel somewhat dated. For those less familiar, there’s definitely more than a hint here of where Maxïmo Park headed after their more angular early records. The bonus disc contains single mixes and relevant b-sides for those wishing to dig a little deeper. Alchemy at AIR Studios handle the mastering and deliver a sizeable soundstage which keeps the top end in check splendidly. Poly-lined inners are provided for a near-silent GZ pressing. An extended package adds two further discs with the ‘Live At The Hammersmith Odeon 1982’ performance also found in a 6CD/1DVD box set.  

While it may now be styled as ‘Bad Blood X’, the latest Bastille release is a deluxe, tenth anniversary edition of their 2013 debut. Centred around Dan Smith’s narrative-driven songwriting, it drew some snark upon its original release for sounding a little too focus-grouped and meticulous in its pitch for festival adoration. It’s still easy to see why: while ‘Pompeii’ remains an utterly unimpeachable belter, side two opener ‘Icarus’ feels hugely dated and oddly synthetic despite the MASSIVE DRUM SOUND. It’s hard to escape the sense that several of these tracks are thin ideas fed through an ‘epic’ filter. However, fans will be interested in the photography and annotations found in an accompanying sixteen-page booklet along with a bonus 7” housing two genuinely rather interesting early demos. The mastering on this Pallas pressing is pretty decent, ensuring that the foregrounded vocal sound still has lots of definition and noodly electronic parts, as on ‘Oblivion’, have three-dimensional presence. There’s a little bit of noise on this clear vinyl edition which, while not especially offensive, is disappointing given the £45 price tag!

At The Front Of The Racks:

Two years ago, Be With Records made a lot of people very happy when they restored Lewis Taylor’s classic self-titled debut album to the racks. It sounded superb and prompted many calls for the rest of his neglected catalogue to receive similar treatment. Well, declare the Summer of Lewis underway as the same label has only gone and done it! Six releases over a matter of weeks ensure that the five remaining studio albums are now on vinyl, along with a compilation of the first record’s B-sides. This could prove a little overwhelming for the uninitiated but I’m afraid to say that the consistent quality makes it hard to cherry-pick. 

‘Lewis II’ emerged at the turn of the millennium, a full four years after its predecessor, although the story behind that delay will occupy us in a moment. Some may have found this album thanks to its closing cover of Jeff Buckley’s Prince-while-Prince-doesn’t-want-to-be-Prince ‘Everybody Here Wants You’, but it built on that 1996 debut’s rich sound. Sample ‘My Aching Heart’ and ‘Satisfied’ to get a sense of the impeccable songwriting on show here. To these ears, this new edition has considerably more pleasing mastering too, the vinyl cut sounding much less compressed than the original CD. The aforementioned collection of bonus tracks is an interesting diversion, but completists will surely find it hard to skip.

‘Stoned Part 1’ is a breezy listen, operating in a world of psychedelic soul that allows his complex arrangements to shine. The incessantly buzzing synthline, Chic guitar and stop-start euphoria of ‘Lovelight’ sounds better than ever and it’s no surprise that it caught Robbie Williams’ ear. Unfortunately for Taylor, his cover ended up on ‘Rudebox’, the one album by Williams that flopped and ended up in landfill. Surely it should have ensured more attention for this criminally overlooked talent regardless? ‘Stoned Part 2’ added further gloss and there are some similarities with the mature mid-paced pop soul that George Michael mastered with ‘Older’ and parts of ‘Patience’. And if that feels like high praise, rest assured that Taylor is worthy. 

‘The Lost Album’ eventually appeared in 2004, despite having been recorded and then mothballed between his first two records. Leaning into American AM rock a little more than Marvin or Sly Stone, it nevertheless still had that voice and a truckload of ambition. ‘Send Me An Angel’ seems beamed in direct from 1976 and should have been a massive hit, while ‘Let’s Hope Nobody Finds Us’ is more than a little indebted to ‘God Only Knows’. 

The final title in this batch is last year’s sixth album, ‘Numb’: his first in almost two decades. Its DNA is clearly allied with all that came before, with little attempt to fit into a current scene. Taylor’s voice has lost none of its range nor potency. ‘Feels So Good’ would be dominating the Radio 2 playlist (in the nicest possible way) with a different artist’s name attached while other parts evoke Terry Callier’s work with Massive Attack. This absolute treasure trove of music repeatedly conjures ideas of what might have been and, thankfully, Be With have ensured these are high quality pressings, near silent across the many, many Record Industry-pressed discs. Be sure to dip a toe in the water, but be prepared for full immersion soon after. 

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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