Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #46

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

It’s expensive reissue season, folks. As well as a selection of fancy bits virtually screaming “Gift Me!” at you, there are plenty of other splendid titles that have emerged this month for your consideration. As ever, we’ll endeavour to flag up the good stuff. 

Freshly Pressed:

If ever there was a modern artist who might have been weaned on KPM Music releases as well as mushed up vegetables, it’s Matt Berry. The warmth and heft of so many of his albums lends them an endearingly audible connection to a different era and so a collaborative project between the legendary library music label and his normal home, Acid Jazz, has gifted us ‘Simplicity’. Artwork follows the conventional style and it is absolutely irresistible. It grooves, it swings, it swaggers and it has more than the odd wry smile. In the way that so much of Keith Mansfield’s sensational recordings still do, this set makes everything better. The soundstage is huge, nuanced and utterly absorbing. Listen to the predictably grand build in ‘Widescreen Features’ or the impeccably observed brooding intrigue of ‘Telescopic’ to get a sense of what to expect. It’s a fairly quiet GZ pressing and Nick Stebbings’ mastering is excellent. 

For their third full-length, ‘Me Chama De Gato Que Eu Sou Sua’, Brazilian artist Ana Frango Elétrico teams up with Mr Bongo. It seems to be a very logical fit for an album that sounds like a satisfying rummage in the racks of an exceptional record shop. Both sides open with relative calm, ‘Electric Fish’ and ‘Camelo Azul’ highlighting the ornate mastering, while ‘Boy Of Stranger Things’ is one of best tracks I’ve heard all year. Starting like a quirky, vintage kids’ TV theme that would have been nicked for a rave track in the early-Nineties before executing a balancing act between funk and indie, it’s absolutely joyous. Be sure to check out the lyrics in the splendid accompanying fanzine. A pin-drop silent Optimal pressing, this has a deservedly impeccable cut. Great cover too. 

Returning from a much-discussed and band-threatening case of writer’s block with two albums in seven months is quite the story and The National may well have saved the stronger of the two sets for last. While ‘First Two Pages Of Frankenstein’ is excellent, ‘Laugh Track’ has an energy and presence that seems to encapsulate the renewed sense of purpose felt by vocalist and lyricist Matt Berninger. Indeed, ‘Smoke Detector’ was created following a newfound interest in improvising during soundchecks. Highlights abound, including ‘Crumble’ featuring Rosanne Cash, the title track with Phoebe Bridgers and ‘Space Invader’ with that drum sound. It’s a Joe Nino-Hernes cut via Sterling and this column sampled the pink 2LP edition, pressed at Optimal. The soundstage is pleasing, with an open top end and a sturdy presentation of the rhythm section. Silent discs too, as befits a very fine second instalment of 2023. 

‘Sample The Sky’ is the debut album from London-based artist Laura Misch and its passionate celebration of the natural world is evident from the title, artwork and even disc colour. The “synth wizardy” of William Arcane sparked the textures of this record and they’ve co-written and produced it together. The majesty of ‘Light Years’ draws to mind ‘You Make It Easy’ from Air’s ‘Moon Safari’, while side two opener ‘Widening Circles’ is a lulling delight. The recycled vinyl edition this column sampled matches the hues of a cloud-dappled summer sky and the soundstage is superb, reaching well beyond the speakers. Takt’s pressing was a little noisy and featured a small edge-warp that didn’t affect playback; the imperfections, thankfully, didn’t disguise the music’s beauty. 

There’s something irresistibly joyful about the self-titled debut collaboration from Raze Regal and White Denim Inc. Soul-drenched rhythmic indie with an AM-radio steer is the order of the day. The percussive frisson of ‘Before The Fact’ is an especially infectious taste of their combined capacity, James Petralli’s vocals as languid as an August Sunday while Regal’s guitar work fires up the synapses. The jazzy inflections, euphoric flourishes and frankly sensational vibes from Sean Harvey reveal themselves more with every listen. I probably wouldn’t have released it in November, as it’s such a windows-open kind of record, but it should offer escapism as the boiler clings to life. The soundstage is solid, if a little cluttered in the mid-range. The GZ pressing – in a poly-lined inner – is near-silent throughout. 

The monochromatic design of ‘Black Out The Windows/Ladies And Gentlemen’, a career box set for The Twilight Singers, is a remarkable thing to behold. All five studio albums from the band formed by Greg Dulli after The Afghan Whigs pressed pause, plus 2006 EP ‘A Stitch In Time’, are included, along with additional 2LP compilation, ‘Electra’, containing previously unreleased and rare material. Upon lifting the magnetised lid of the package, itself featuring a debossed interpretation of the debut’s imagery, it’s immediately clear that the concept is all consuming, with every album presented in a new embossed white interpretation of its original look. That artwork can be found in the accompanying 12”x12”, fifty-six-page book along with a number of sincerely effusive essays. The late, great Mark Lanegan, who collaborated with Dulli at regular intervals, provides an early endorsement, written in the early stages of this sizeable collection’s creation. 

As manager Keith Hagan states in those pages, “if you listen to any two of his projects back-to-back, they never sound close to being a sequel to the previous one. But, they are distinctly him.” Taking in all of this intensely personal, often-heartbreaking music in one go is overwhelming. The raw grief of ‘Blackberry Belle’ is no less potent than when first experienced in 2003, while a hypnotic take on Björk’s ‘Hyperballad’ – one amongst many less-than-obvious choices – from covers set ‘She Loves You’ fully stopped me in my tracks. Dulli’s unvarnished, honest and emotive vocals are the central lure for this catalogue. Continuing the uniformity of the box, each album – cut magnificently by Jeff Powell to ensure vast, inviting soundstages – is presented on near-silent clear vinyl with an etched final side. This leads to the one criticism. The presentation is undeniably high-end and the pressings are excellent, but six etchings mean the customer is getting twenty sides of music for £400. It is an undeniably luscious product and clearly has been made with the already initiated in mind, so the cost may feel acceptable to get a body of work in such majestically-executed fashion. 

A new compilation of Osmo Lindeman’s 1969-1974 home studio recordings, ‘Electronic Works’, may have somewhat niche appeal, but it’s a fascinating and enveloping listen. A Finnish jazzer, Lindeman opted to experiment in a different direction during this period of his life. Often sparse, these burbly, bleepy soundscapes are pleasingly calming; Sähkö Recordings deserve a lot of credit for Frederic Stader’s technicolour cut and Record Industry’s flawless pressing. As a result, the focus is solely placed upon the music that ranges from a final orchestral piece – ‘Variabile’ – which hinted at the shift in approach to follow, to the bewitching final pair of ‘Ritual’ and ‘Spectacle’. One to sample first, but it’s an excellent release if it pleases your ear. 

There’s some new-old Bob Dylan just in time for the festive market. Two of eight nights played at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Hall during the spring of 1978 were recorded in full and previously cherry-picked for a 2LP release later the same year. Many of the original team from that release have been reunited, remixing and remastering the 24-channel multi-tracks for a double-vinyl set entitled ‘Another Budokan’ which selects sixteen previously-unreleased tunes from a 4CD (or Japan only 8LP) box set of ‘The Complete Budokan 1978’. The sound is excellent on the cut by Katsutoshi Kitamura and Record Industry’s impeccable pressing is silent throughout. A rich, warm bottom end presents Dylan’s live band, while his vocals have real depth at the heart of the soundstage. There’s an obligatory obi, of course, and the cover art is neatly executed. There’s an especially punchy ‘All Along The Watchtower’ among the numerous highlights. 

It’s hard not to feel that Andrew Bird should be rather more well-known, given his superlative output to date in a recording career of more than two decades. 2022’s delightful ‘Inside Problems’ is now followed by a collection of improvised instrumental pieces recorded during the landscape of lockdown. The music of ‘Outside Problems’ pre-dated that material and careful listening will reveal hints of what would later be constructed. ‘Epilogue’ is an especially splendid listen and ‘Mo Teef’ does what it almost says on the tin. A largely quiet RTI pressing conveys a fairly open mastering from Eric Boulanger. A curio, sure, but there’s plenty of beauty in here. 

Mixing the worlds of Florida and Bristol, home to Jay Myztroh and Ben Dubuisson respectively, Cosmic Link is a duo that intertwines cosmic soul and conscious jazz to absorbing effect. On this self-titled debut, the sequencing is absolutely perfect, allowing the pace to ebb and flow hypnotically. ‘Karma’, at the heart of side one, is especially striking, channelling some of the almost malevolent bottom end that propelled Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ while deploying an ornate array of layers that make repeat plays inevitable. The quality doesn’t let up and Shawn Joseph’s mastering is excellent, keeping bass rich but precise and vocals warmly resonant. A fitting sleeve houses a pretty quiet disc from Press On Vinyl. 

RSD Black Friday:

Feelings are often mixed when it comes to this particular event, but there are a few notable titles for your consideration this time around. The sensational soul box ‘Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos’ remains one of 2023’s most enjoyable releases and a cherry-picked, single-disc compilation has been committed to vinyl at RTI. Thirteen cuts barely skim the surface but it sounds very, very good, in no small part thanks to Jeff Powell’s cut via Take Out Vinyl in Memphis. Homer Banks delivers a glorious early ‘If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)’ prior to its association with The Staple Singers and just listen to Deanie Parker’s ‘I’ve Got No Time To Lose’ in its pre-Carla Thomas incarnation. It’s on bright orange wax, should that matter to you, but the crucial aspect of this compilation is the sound quality. It’ll make you want to spend more on the CD package, mind.

Craft also served up a purple-marble pressing marking the fiftieth anniversary of Chico Hamilton’s ‘The Master’. Cut all-analogue from the original tapes by the aforementioned Jeff Powell, it has a glorious soundstage with a really tangible depth from the listening position. The press release described it as “a funk-infused, R&B tinged take on post-bop jazz,” and I can’t disagree with a syllable. Working with rockers Little Feat, drummer Hamilton steers a frenetic performance that is finessed by Sam Clayton’s absolutely tingling percussion. This propulsive instrumental boogie gets a pleasingly quiet RTI pressing, poly-lined inner and vibrant tip-on sleeve. 

While Rilo Kiley’s peak was pretty much inarguably ‘More Adventurous’, I’ve always maintained a soft spot for 2007’s ‘Under The Blacklight’ and it finally returns to vinyl for RSDBF having previously been US only. A pretty quiet, translucent-purple GZ pressing is housed in a vivid gatefold for this edition and Chris Bellman has been tasked with the cut. As a result, the soundstage is much more open and forgiving than regular CD listeners will recognise and the top end is pleasingly opening considering when this was recorded and mixed. There are plenty of highlights, including ‘Dreamworld’ and ‘Smoke Detector’, but ‘Breakin’ Up’ remains an absolute world-beater. What a pleasure to finally place it on the turntable. 

Finally, the latest Joni Mitchell Archives vinyl excerpt is the ‘Court and Spark Demos’, following 2022’s ‘Blue Highlights’. As ever, material is selected from the 5CD parent box and these early versions of a classic album certainly offer an engaging look behind the scenes. The mastering from Bernie Grundman is excellent, giving Joni’s piano a sizeable presence despite these not being final studio masters. The GZ pressing isn’t without surface noise, despite a poly-lined inner. It’s a little frustrating given the sparse nature of the music. The sleeve design is superb and ‘The Piano Suite’, comprising four nascent songs, is an especially great listen, but you might be better off putting the £30 entry price towards the ‘Archives: Vol 3’ and getting an awful lot more wonderful music. 

All Kinds Of Blue: 

On the Tone Poet front this month, the first offering is ‘K. B. Blues’ from Kenny Burrell, a 1957 recording that went unreleased until the Japanese outpost of the label put it out in 1979. The guitarist is in typically evocative form, playing with palpable expression alongside a stellar team including Horace Silver on piano and the tenor sax of Hank Mobley. ‘Out For Blood’ lingers, but this ultimately feels like a good rather than great set considering Burrell’s other work. The other title caught my ear rather more: Jack Wilson’s 1967 album, ‘Easterly Winds’. The pianist is rather less well known than many of those covered in this section over the years, but no less enjoyable. Listen to his vibrant performance during ‘On Children’ for a sense of what he can do and then stay for the presence of Lee Morgan on trumpet, Jackie McLean on alto-sax and Bob Cranshaw on bass. This is some ensemble and they find their own spaces across the whole record, but there is something absolutely sublime about ‘Nirvana’. One advantage of flying below the radar is that the tape appears to be in pristine condition and Kevin Gray has delivered an astoundingly three-dimensional cut. Need selling on the series? Try this. Both are silent RTI pressings, as ever. 

The Classics certainly lived up to billing in November, with ‘Night Dreamer’ by Wayne Shorter and ‘True Blue’ from Tina Brooks. The former is an emphatic slice of hard bop, Shorter’s tenor sax pairing perfectly with Lee Morgan’s trumpet and Just Played favourite McCoy Tyner on piano. A broad soundstage gives Elvin Jones plenty of room on the drums and side two opener ‘Black Nile’ managed that audiophile delight of making me lean in towards the speakers. It’s another excellent Kevin Gray cut, with a silent pressing from Optimal. The ‘True Blue’ disc has the same credentials and its genuinely iconic sleeve looks splendid. As well as Brooks’ rich tenor sax, we’re treated to Art Taylor on drums and Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet. A slightly more reserved listen than its shelfmate, it nevertheless deserves its reputation. The only album released during his lifetime, Brooks wrote the lot and executes some neat gear changes here. The title track is special, but sample the Latin swing of ‘Theme For Doris’ too. The rhythm section is a little more recessed on this one, but the trumpet and sax really pour into the room.

Going Round Again:

Across October, to mark Black History Month, Universal presented the superb ‘Black Story’ collection, designed to celebrate an array of UK music pioneers. There are ten albums in total and Just Played sampled the majority, from which I’ve picked out a selection of highlights. All titles have been pressed at Takt in Poland with mastering and cuts from Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road. Pleasingly sturdy sleeves replicate the artwork with care and Madeline Bell’s 1969 corker ‘Doin’ Things’ nudged ahead of several others to be first on the turntable. It sounds excellent and proves that the oft-featured backing vocalist was more than capable of some sensational funky soul of her own. Just listen to ‘Hold It’! Enormous and reason enough to purchase. 

‘The Best Of Millie Small’ captures an artist equally at home with girl-group pop and ska, best known for ‘My Boy Lollipop’, and those mid-60s Island recordings still fizz in the red grooves of this new edition with the effervescent treble of the times. Meanwhile, Ms. Dynamite’s Mercury Prize winning debut, ‘A Little Deeper’, is restored to our favourite format for the first time in two decades. Two purple discs deliver an hour of distinctly British soul and R&B with subterranean bass and dextrous handling of the vocals as Pesche does well to handle a 2002 master. ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’ may be the obvious pick but sample the production on ‘Anyway U Want It’ and ‘Brother’. 

‘Forces Of Victory’ was Linton Kwesi Johnson’s 1979 debut on Island and it is presented here in a delightful gatefold with a bonus disc. ‘Independent Intavenshan’ is a great taste of what to expect, with enormous sonics and scathing lyrics. Dennis Bovell took care of production for this arresting but melodic dub classic. There’s a little surface noise here and there on these releases, but nothing especially distracting. Expect to hear about a few more titles in next month’s roundup, with its additional focus on last minute musical gifts. 

The phrase “Pallas-pressed 45rpm 2LP anniversary edition” is truly music to the ears but far less common than we might wish. It is, however, the case for Pearl Jam’s second, 1993’s ‘Vs’. Levi Seitz at Black Belt provides an impressively open cut, highlighted by ‘Daughter’ and consistently discernible via the particularly impressive clarity on the rhythm section throughout. There are those who moan about having to visit the turntable every three tracks, but conduct even the most rudimentary shootout between the sound of this new edition and the streaming platform of your choice and you’ll surely feel less troubled by those extra disc-flips. Even heavier onslaughts like ‘Blood’ and ‘Leash’ still possess considerably more nuance in this incarnation and it’s hard not to want so many other albums to be given such respectful treatment when being dusted off. And on that note…

It’s twenty-five years since the release of ‘Up’, a magnificent R.E.M. album that suffered from being oversold in much of its coverage on sentiment rather than songs after Bill Berry’s departure. Synths, drones and textures abound, the pace whatever it needs to be in service to the song. We’re still here if you are, it seemed to say. Its shirt was untucked and it lacked the self-confidence to know exactly when to shut up, but it was raw, honest and a little wounded. The unashamed beauty of ‘At My Most Beautiful’, the electronic hum of ‘Hope’ and the absolutely stunning conclusion, ‘Falls To Climb’, all contribute to a unique moment in the band’s career. 

After the superlative reissue afforded to ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi’, hopes were high for its follow up. Bizarrely, US customers get a Kevin Gray endeavour, but European fans receive an edition that looks likely to have been an in-house cut from GZ, who have pressed it. Your intrepid correspondent hastily imported a US edition to explore the difference – I know, just buy me a pint at the Christmas party – and, while it’s not night and day, there’s noticeably more space in the top end and vocal sounds on the Gray cut, the mid-range also having greater separation. In short, the European release sounds decent in and of itself – although GZ roulette may be required based on the copy sampled – but there’s a better version out there. Annoying. 

In a pause from the aesthetically pleasing but wallet-torturing album box sets, New Order turn their attention to one of the greatest compilations of all time, ‘Substance’. A pretty faithful job has been done of replicating the sleeve, inners and labels, with Frank Arkwright continuing a long-standing association by delivering an involving cut across four sides of this silent, Optimal-manufactured set. There’s some extra, rather lovely, embossing on the cover, as well as the chance to purchase an edition with red and blue discs to match the corresponding artwork inside. 

Capturing the magic of the band’s releases between 1981 and 1987, the standard is remarkable. The passage from ‘Ceremony’ to ‘True Faith’ is quite something. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ remains an untouchable work of perfection and that’s before we get to you-know-what. Bottom ends are, of course, much beefier these days but some high-end sparkle is still captured here. However, when comparing an original pressing, the difference is pretty clear. While there’s plenty of attack, it’s a little like seeking the perfect standing spot at a gig where the sound suddenly opens up fully. The synth stabs and various additional textures on pieces like ‘BLT’ are noticeably more three-dimensional and present in the room on the 1987 discs, even though the new cut is still pretty pleasing on the ear. 

Few and far between are those who believe that the mid-Nineties represent a creative highpoint in the career of Bryan Ferry, however an intriguing reissue of 1994’s ‘Mamouna’ has been unleashed containing the previously-unreleased studio album ‘Horoscope’. The record was his first original work in seven years, following hot on the heels of the hit and miss covers project, ‘Taxi’. The half-speed mastered Abbey Road cut provides an expansive soundstage for songs that suggest an artist willing to challenge himself again. Eno even pops up on ‘sound treatments’, while Nile Rodgers contributes some guitar. The project had been worked on from the end of the Eighties, initially under the name of the newly restored bonus disc, and aspects of the production do date it a little. 

It’s worth noting that ‘Horoscope’ features alternative versions of two of the parent album’s tracks and a ten-minute take on Roxy Music’s ‘Mother Of Pearl’. It’s interesting, but its hitherto-untroubled place in the vault makes sense. A silent Optimal pressing is housed in a vivid gatefold that also provides separate artwork for each album on the inner sleeves. Sample ‘Chain Reaction’ for one of its highpoints. In related news, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera’s ‘Roxymphony’ has been reissued this month, including its widespread debut on vinyl. Get past the truly horrific cover art and you’ll find a genuinely thoughtful, often-surprising exploration of their former band’s catalogue with a twenty-piece orchestra and the Owl Parliament Choir. ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ will give you a sense of the scale and intent – it’s pretty emphatic stuff. The Takt pressing is largely quiet and mastering is solid, if a little skewed to the bottom end. 

For a second month in a row, an early-Noughties youthful jazzer gets a double-vinyl reissue and this time it’s ‘Call Off The Search’ by Katie Melua. Her distinctive vocals were everywhere twenty years ago and ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’ will likely be lodged somewhere in your long-term memory if you were listening to the radio in 2003. A collection of originals by Chief Womble Mike Batt and a self-penned pair are mixed with expertly chosen covers of ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’, ‘Crawling Up A Hill’ and ‘Lilac Wine’. Bonding over a shared appreciation of the space in Eva Cassidy’s music, Melua and Batt formed a musical partnership that quickly laid siege to the UK charts and beyond. The expressive vocals and innovative phrasing made for captivating performances and the organic arrangements let them shine. Matt Colton has delivered a fine remaster for this expanded edition and the Optimal pressing is silent throughout. The bottom end is ever so slightly too hefty for my liking, but the top end is nimbly done with a wide, open soundstage. The bonus tracks include a stunning demo of Kurt Weill’s ‘September Song’ that, as explained in Pete Paphides’ engaging sleevenotes, convinced Batt of her star quality. 

The Acid Jazz Albariko Store archive programme continues with another title from T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, ‘Le Sato 2’. It’s especially notable as it was originally sold in the same sleeve as the first volume with the new catalogue number simply written on the back. Thankfully, this revived, fully-licensed reissue tweaks the colour and amends the tracklisting so that it’s possible to easily differentiate between this and its predecessor’s 2021 reissue. Nick Robbins has done a very fine job of the audio and the soundstage is pretty open and broad considering the nature of the source. These are heady pieces that explore rhythms with a simmering intensity. ‘Gendemou Na Wili We Gnannin’ perfectly highlights both the mood and the mastering, given plenty of texture in this cut. It’s a near-silent GZ pressing and another tempting title from this special label. 

The fiftieth anniversary of Bob Marley And The Wailers’ first set for Island, ‘Catch A Fire’, is marked with a four-disc edition. It features the main album, contemporary concert recording ‘Live From Paris Theatre London’, a ‘Sessions’ disc with alternative and instrumental versions and a 12” of three tracks from The Sundown Theatre, previously only available on bootlegs, the reverse of which features an etching of the album’s initial artwork prior to the famous shot of Marley being preferred. These quiet Optimal pressings are housed inside a wide sleeve with a gatefold panel and an aperture in the centre rather than on the outside. It’s aesthetically pleasing, as is the glossy booklet that contains a new essay from Chris Salewicz and plenty of evocative imagery. Sound is excellent, unsalvageable bootleg audio aside, with a sizeable but controlled bottom end. 

Craft’s reboot of the Original Jazz Classics programme continues with several titles. First up is ‘Jazz At Oberlin’ by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Its five tracks were recorded live in 1953 and capture the four-piece in effervescent form. ‘Perdido’ and ‘How High The Moon’ are irresistibly full-bodied, Paul Desmond’s alto-sax provoking raptures from the audience while Brubeck’s work at the piano is inspired. The lacquers were cut from the original tapes – though seemingly by Matthew Lutthans rather than Kevin Gray, as stated on the obi – and the RTI pressing is silent. For a seventy-year-old recording, the soundstage is still pretty impressive. 

The other OJC is a must-have: ‘Sunday At The Village Vanguard’ from the Bill Evans Trio. The initial release from the same sessions as the recently reissued ‘Waltz For Debby’, it presented the final performance by Scott La Faro, Evans’ bassist who died less than a fortnight after the concert. It is a majestic, lyrical recording with truly sensational sonics. The low-level hubbub of the room is tucked away in the three-dimensional space and the sense of digits on instruments is palpable throughout. LaFaro’s composition ‘Gloria’s Step’ is a special opener and ‘Alice In Wonderland’ is a glittering demonstration of what these three utterly in-sync musicians could achieve together. Another silent RTI pressing delivers a sublime Kevin Gray cut. The replica sleeve is a tactile delight too. Don’t miss it. 

Two further Craft jazz titles popped up in November. Firstly ‘Portrait of Art Farmer’ joined the Contemporary Records series with a near-silent QRP pressing of an all-analogue Bernie Grundman cut. A neatly-executed tip-on replica sleeve holds a pleasant if not overly remarkable album on which Farmer is in fine form but soon-to-be Thelonious Monk drummer Roy Haynes proves most interesting. Secondly, ‘Hot House – The Complete Jazz At Massey Hall Recordings’ presents a 3LP Seventieth anniversary edition of a legendary and incendiary performance featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Some line-up, eh? The audio restoration was clearly not an easy task as crowd levels are especially noticeable for the way they chop and change, sometimes quite jarringly, between tracks. Aspects of the set have been previously released in different forms but this represents their first collective outing and Kevin Gray has done a superb job of cutting what was assembled. The original release featured bass overdubs by Mingus and that version is on the third disc, while the untinkered tapes form the first. Additional material from only Powell, Mingus and Roach fills LP2. It’s a blast to listen to, even if the soundstage fluctuates somewhat over the different aspects. Packaging is superb, with a triple gatefold housed inside a slide-on plastic casing.  

Before we abscond from jazz corner, don’t miss the latest project from the impeccable folk at Gearbox Records. Johnny Griffin’s ‘Live At Ronnie Scott’s 1964’ has been mastered from the original tapes and cut on the label’s exquisite analogue kit. Over three sides of immaculate Optimal-pressed vinyl, we are provided with a trio of extended pieces and a short finale that captures a quartet on fire. The outrageously frenetic reading of ‘(Back Home Again In) Indiana’ is a particular highlight, but Griffin’s tenor sax is a force of nature here, ably assisted by Stan Tracey’s majestic presence on piano. Richard Williams’ sleevenote is almost as illuminating as Darrel Sheinmn’s rich soundstage for this emphatic performance. 

Although a fairly uninspiring single disc red edition of Cast’s ‘All Change’ was released in 2015, it’s only now that we are offered a meticulous replica of the sonically superior 2LP approach that was favoured back in 1995. Proper are building quite the reputation for their attention to detail, and so it proves with this one. The Polydor inner-bags are present, along with the shiny booklet and crystal clear gatefold artwork. Pressed at The Vinyl Factory, both discs are silent and the soundstage is decent, with a well-sculpted rhythm section and a fairly open top end. ‘Walkaway’, ‘Fine Time’, ‘Alright’ and ‘History’ are amongst tracks to have held up rather well, proving Cast certainly had some magic in their early days. It’s not cheap, but it has been very well done indeed. 

The latest instalment of Arthur Baker’s ‘Dance Masters’ box set series via Demon considers John Luongo. Across six, near-silent, GZ-pressed discs, we’re treated to his reworkings of a huge array of artists, including Cher, ZZ Top, Patti Labelle, Bananarama and Soft Cell. A signed print is housed in the lift-off tray along with a booklet containing Baker’s introduction, Luongo’s track annotations and some pure enthusing from Alexis Petridis that incorporates a new interview. Nick Robbins’ mastering is consistent and satisfying, allowing listeners to bask in the nostalgia of this rummage through late-Seventies and Eighties pop. From the thundering bassline of the opening extended mix of Tina Turner’s ‘The Best’ to the final euphoric stabs of Dan Hartman and Loleatta Holloway’s enduring classic, ‘Relight My Fire’, this is a set full of unadulterated joy. 

Hot on the heels of last month’s outings for the first two Delta Goodrem albums, Music On Vinyl turn their attention to 2007’s ‘Delta’ and 2020’s festive offering ‘Only Santa Knows’. The former is on gold and black marbled vinyl, while the latter has a snowy-white effect. Both are pressed at Record Industry, as ever for this label. The earlier recording makes its debut on the format, driven by a quite deliberately upbeat approach that is best highlighted by lead single ‘In This Life’. The original artwork is neatly adjusted for the accompanying booklet and the soundstage is crafted in a similar fashion to the previous pair, with a more considered high end. The Christmas set is expanded with four additional favourites and the intention is basically female Bublé. There’s some over-emoting on ‘Silent Night’ and all-out party bombast for ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and the title track. It’s a little bass-heavier than the others and the snowy effect precipitates a little noise here and there but, with a festive postcard thrown in for good measure, it’s a well-executed package.

At The Front Of The Racks:

The worst kept secret in music finally went public as October breathed its last: The Beatles’ red and blue compilations were getting dusted off and the latter would now feature their purportedly ‘final’ song, a MAL-aided return to Anthology-fodder ‘Now And Then’. Within a week, we’d heard it and barely seven days thereafter came freshly expanded takes on the two legitimately iconic collections. As well as being deployed for the new track, Peter Jackson’s machine-learning audio separation software had also allowed new remixes for the majority of the ‘1962-1966’ volume and it’s quite the ride. While CD releases feature a rejigged tracklist, inserting additional songs in chronological order, turntable fans find the extras on a separate third disc. Some are happy to preserve the original sequence, others find the timeframe reset jarring, but your columnist will let them fight it out elsewhere. 

Miles Showell delivers half-speed masters for both and Optimal has done a very fine job of the pressings. For this review, Just Played listened to the red and blue coloured editions, but standard black is also available. There’s no escaping the mushy presentation of ‘She Loves You’, rather shrill aspects of ‘From Me To You’, and controversial ending of ‘I Am The Walrus’ but, this handful of blips aside, the project is unexpectedly excellent. The attack at the start of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the pure spirit of ‘Day Tripper’ and Ringo’s role on ‘Ticket To Ride’ are all immediately striking. Purists may complain, but how can we not be intrigued by fresh takes on some of the most famous and addictive music of all time? 

‘1962-1966’ is of arguably more interest than ‘1967-1970’ thanks to the quantity of new mixes, the majority of the latter drawn from the variety of Giles Martin re-workings released since 2015’s ‘1’ reissue. Of course, ‘Now And Then’ has been inserted into the second set – curiously starting the third disc – and it sounds rather more nuanced here than in its initial digital release. A fresh listen, quiet discs and new music. The only sour note is the price point of around £70 for each 3LP set. 

All 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 or Bluesky)

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