Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #52

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

It’s May, so we’re back to ‘normally priced’ records in readily available quantities that don’t involve men of a certain age with camping chairs. Some tremendous stuff has emerged since we last communicated; warm up the amp and brace for some impulse purchases. 

Freshly Pressed:

You already know that Jessica Pratt is great, right? You’ve swooned to her debut with the black and white cover and lo-fi charms, as well as being in thrall to the two that followed. And, after a five-year wait, you’re beyond excited by the arrival of her fourth, ‘Here In The Pitch’. Just in case she has passed you by – apologies, somebody should have told you – then brace yourself for a genuinely unique voice who writes timeless, ethereal tracks that can sometimes seem like they’re beamed in from another planet. This latest album is her best yet, which is saying something. Sashay to ‘By Hook Or By Cook’, get pulled close to the speaker by the atmospherics of ‘Nowhere It Was’ and just stand up and applaud the sheer perfection of closing track ‘The Last Year’. The vinyl cut is impressively open and these very special songs lay siege to the space before them. It’s a pin-drop silent pressing from Optimal and, at under £25, it’s affordable too. 

The news that the Pet Shop Boys had returned to Parlophone augured well for their fifteenth studio album, ‘Nonetheless’, but who amongst us expected something quite this good? Recruiting James Ford as producer and moving away from the strictly electronic approach of the Stuart Price trilogy, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have created their best album since ‘Behaviour’. ‘A New Bohemia’ and ‘Love Is The Law’ are perfectly constructed, stately delights with sumptuous string arrangements that have the Pet-Heads purring, but your correspondent is currently obsessed with ‘Why Am I Dancing?’ In some respects a spiritual cousin of ‘I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing’, it has a big, parping brass riff and lyrics to break your heart while up on your feet. Matt Colton has mastered it and, while the highs shimmer splendidly, the bottom end is a little excessive at times. The soundstage reaches beyond the speakers but prepare for some sizeable heft. A near-silent Optimal pressing is housed in typically endearing artwork. 

Speaking of iconic British duos, we’ve a second reunion album from Arab Strap. ‘I’m Totally Fine With It (y) Don’t Give A Fuck Anymore (y)’. The lyrics are as direct, evocative and alert to the power of prosody as ever. In ‘Summer Season’, we are told that the “sun is shining, let’s pretend my lockdown didn’t end. I’m cordial, not keen, unseen in this summer season in the city, where everyone’s so fucking pretty.” So much imagery and narrative drive explodes from a sentence or two, a defining characteristic of the Moffatt-Middleton axis. The beats are often weighty, with an ugly guitar sound for opener ‘Allatonceness’ as the anger cascades, but the mastering – from Sam John at Precise – keeps everything deliciously taut and distinct. The soundstage reaches out and up from the speakers, with the near-silent Optimal pressing keeping the focus on the music. 

Two years ago, Marina Records blessed us with beautiful 2LP reissues of The Pearlfishers’ catalogue and they were a pick of the month. It’s now time for a brand new album, ‘Making Tapes For Girls’, their first since 2019. The delicious similarities to Teenage Fanclub at their most swoonsome and Prefab Sprout at their most melodic remain, the vintage equipment of La Chunky Studio in Glasgow only adding to the wistful warmth of this utterly enchanting record. ‘Kisses On The Window’ is an early highlight, gently sashaying drums grounding a stirring string arrangement. David Scott’s voice purrs and creaks endearingly throughout – just listen to ‘Until I Knew Happy’ – and Bo Kondren at Calyx has delivered a glorious master and cut. Turn it up and it soars, but it’s no slouch at low levels either. The soundstage is vast and open on a fairly quiet Optimal pressing, tucked in a simple but effective sleeve design.

Thankfully, no Nineties-style single-word review putdowns are required for the debut album by the riskily named FINE. The Leeds-based producer doesn’t hold back on ‘Then, Now, Until’, with jazzy, soulful beats and sonic experimentation that conjure its own world almost immediately on ‘Intro’ and you may well know recent single ‘Empty Space’, with vocals from Molly Rymar and Jonah Evans. There are bits of Burial, The xx and Four Tet amongst many other references here. Max Murphy’s mastering is really quite something, enabling a superb soundstage, reaching out at all angles from the speakers and presenting all sorts of tricksy components with a taut precision. Just listen to the widest elements of ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ to get a sense of the scale. Manufactured at Press On in Middlesbrough, the disc is near-silent through.  

It’s lucky thirteenth for A Certain Ratio, whose new album ‘It All Comes Down To This’ is a lean but looming delight. They’re in a prolific phase of their career, releasing their third of the decade so far. Functioning now as the core trio of Jez Kerr, Martin Moscropp and Donald Johnson, they turned to Dan Carey for production duties. Known for his work with Black Midi, Wet Leg and Kae Tempest, he has focused the band on achieving an ominous, visceral and potent soundscape that still swaggers with their inimitable sense of rhythm. The title track, ‘Out From Under’ and ‘Dorothy Says’, inspired by Dorothy Parker, are the most striking moments, but it works wonderfully in one sitting. Jason Mitchell at Loud has done a fine job of the mastering, keeping the almost dubby bottom end chunky but defined, while allowing the mids and percussive elements to really sparkle. On top of that, it’s a near-silent Optimal pressing on BioVinyl in a compostable outer bag. 

Acid Jazz’s ‘The Best Of Rare Mod’ does what it says on the sleeve, compiling particular highlights from the label’s series of the same name. Richard Searle and Dean Rudland tell the story of these selections on the printed inner, recalling the discovery of a blistering take on Eddie Floyd’s ‘Big Bird’ attributed to Dog Soul and adding context to Riot Squad’s fabulously chaotic version of ‘I’m Waiting For My Man’. Maxine’s stomping ‘A Love I Believe In’ and Mike Berry’s strident ‘Soul Ride’ tip the balance in favour of side two, but there’s no chaff amongst these fourteen tracks. The orange GZ pressing is near-silent and mastering is decent, preserving some of the energetic, almost-overloaded effervescence of their original 7” incarnations. 

How lovely to have Camera Obscura back in our lives. Eleven years after ‘Desire Lines’ and nine since the tragically young death of Carey Lander, they have completed a new album that was first mooted pre-pandemic. ‘Look To The East, Look To The West’ reunites them with producer Jari Haapalainen who worked on 2006’s glorious ‘Let’s Get Out Of This Country’. As ever, Tracyanne Campbell’s voice is the crucial ingredient, no less beguiling and heartbreaking than it was in the past. ‘We’re Going To Make It In A Man’s World’ is an instant earworm and ‘Big Love’ – sadly not a Pete Heller cover – adopts a gleeful country stomp. Håkan Åkesson at Nutid Studio’s mastering is fairly focused on the mid-range but still allowing some discernible dynamic shifts as part of a soundstage that ventures up and out of the speakers a little. It’s a GZ pressed disc, housed in a poly-lined inner, but still struggling with some light surface noise at various points. 

For her seventh solo studio album, St Vincent opted to self-produce and ‘All Born Screaming’ feels like a record where the artist is in total control. Aspects of it call to mind Annie Clark’s splendid collaborative effort with David Byrne, ‘Love The Giant’, and it certainly seems to have a more direct, intense feel than some of the constructs and concepts that have been applied to her more recent work. You’ll know the excellence of ‘Big Time Nothing’, but the layers of ‘The Power’s Out’ are especially striking. Ruairi O’Flaherty’s mastering has painted each section of the soundstage with vivid fluidity and that track exhibits it more than most. Just Played sampled a near-silent red vinyl edition pressed at MPO and it was a far more satisfying listen than the version you’ll find on streaming. 

Richard Hawley has never made a bad record, but some of his work is utterly majestic. Grounded in Sheffield, so often represented in the titles, his releases are full of human spirit and deep-rooted affection for those around him. ‘In This City They Call You Love’, his tenth if we allow his expanded mini-album debut, belongs up there with beauties like ‘Coles Corner’ and ‘Truelove’s Gutter’. ‘Heavy Rain’ could be drawn from the former, so luscious and lilting is its melody and ‘Prism In Jeans’ has a lightness of touch despite many alluring textures that highlights Hawley’s carefully honed instincts. ‘Do I Really Need To Know?’ might just be the highlight, with multiple Richards and an endearingly slinky rhythm. Noel Summerville cut the lacquer for this German pressing and your columnist played the transparent blue edition. A near-silent disc, it has a sensational soundstage with one of the most striking vocal presentations of recent times. This is especially pleasing as he has spoken about this record being all about the voice and keeping solos to a minimum. So very nearly pick of the month. 

Given the run Paul Weller has been on, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by how good his latest, ‘66’, really is. Released a day shy of his titular birthday, it highlights the instinctive, restless and roaming spirit he has applied to the last decade and a half of his work. As if always getting out in front of the writer’s block that skewered him in the early-Noughties, he now seems liberated and willing to wander. There’s folk, disco and chamber-pop on this gorgeous album. The Peter Blake cover returns to his favoured internal-gatefold-pocket approach for housing the fairly quiet, GZ-pressed disc, replete with a poly-lined inner. ‘Flying Fish’, ‘My Best Friend’s Coat’ and ‘A Glimpse Of You’ offer a fairly representative and rather wonderful sample of what to expect. While the mix is a little heavy at the bottom end, more acoustic sounds sparkle and Matt Colton has delivered a pretty rich vinyl soundstage of his own mastering. 

The sleeve art for Sean Khan Presents The Modern Jazz & Folk Ensemble’s self-titled debut suggests a long-lost pastoral treasure and it certainly traces its influences back through the decades. By transplanting the British folk sounds of the late-Sixties and early-Seventies into a fresh jazz setting, they offer up a joyous celebration of beloved music. John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’, Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Know Where The Times Goes’ and a pair of Nick Drake tracks – ‘Parasite’ and ‘Things Behind The Sun’ – are at the centre of this fascinating project. Accentuating aspects that were always there, these new readings include Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee on several pieces and a pair of exciting talents: Yorkshire-based vocalist Kindclan and Rosie Frater-Taylor, whose album ‘Featherweight’ is also worth hearing. There’s no point judging them against the originals but as cross-genre re-workings they offer fresh perspectives on the instantly familiar. Mastering is excellent, with crisp percussive sounds and rich presentation of those voices, and the GZ pressing is pretty quiet. 

Your columnist is always pleased when pop albums are given a decent vinyl treatment and it’s certainly true of Dua Lipa’s third, ‘Radical Optimism’. Chris Gehringer at Sterling Sound has delivered a fairly chunky mastering as is the current vogue, but it keeps some life in the top end which Miles Showell at Abbey Road has coaxed into a rather lively soundstage for the numerous variants put out into the world to really annoy Billie Eilish. Musically, it’s a pretty relentless onslaught of gargantuan hooks, where synths and acoustic guitars add masses of colour. ‘Training Season’ still sounds enormous, while ‘Whatcha Doing’ feels like an imperial phase Kylie beast and ‘Falling Forever’ has strong Steps energy. Just Played sampled the Curaçao blue edition, a sort of transparent aquamarine, and the Optimal pressing was near-silent throughout. One minus point for fake vinyl crackle on ‘Maria’. 

Hot on the heels of 2022’s ‘Dear Scott’, Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band deliver ‘Loophole’, continuing to work with producer Bill Ryder-Jones. Fans will notice the joins from the end of that album and this, via opener ‘Shirl’s Ghost’. ‘Ciao Ciao Bambino’, also the name of a forthcoming autobiography, finishes with a beautiful Love-indebted flourish, but that lived-in voice could only ever be Head. Having been to a very dark place with alcohol around the time of Covid, he has found himself once more, thanks in no small part to a pair of devoted fans who encountered him during an attempted recovery and a recent marriage. ‘Tout Suite!’ is a beguilingly sincere love song that captures where Head is now, whereas ‘Coda’ wraps up proceedings by returning to a riff originally used during live performances of Shack classic ‘Comedy’ thirty years ago. It’s a rich, emphatic conclusion to a record that seems full of momentum and propulsion. The mastering is very good, with sizeable, three-dimensional presentation of the vocals and plenty of width to the soundstage on a pretty quiet GZ pressing. 

While unmistakably possessing his own sound, Bright Light Bright Light’s new record ‘Enjoy Youth’ quickly assures the listener they’re in safe hands with opener ‘You Want My…’, which melds an Erasure verse to a Pet Shop Boys chorus. It is glorious and marries disco-electro-pop with a narrative around the break up of a relationship. Rod Thomas has built a loyal following as BLBL, but it’s hard not to feel he should be better known given his encyclopaedic grasp of the past five decades of pop. Neat piano house flourishes, vintage drum machines and gargantuan chorus hooks are deployed with a precision that reveals a very skilled songwriter indeed. ‘Heartslap’, ‘Down To One’ and ‘Every Emotion’ – featuring Ultra-flipping-Nate are instantly familiar and, frankly, exhilarating. Berri and Beth Hirsch (from Air’s ‘All I Need’) also feature in this celebratory package. The fairly quiet pink GZ pressing has a decent soundstage, keeping the bottom end firmly in check and giving the highs a natural clarity without ever feeling too harsh. Marvellous cover too. 

James Ford is involved in not one, but two of this month’s best releases. Beth Gibbons’ solo debut, ‘Lives Outgrown’ has been in production for the best part of a decade and the attention to detail is evident. ‘Floating On A Moment’ is a divinely arranged track with Ford adding dulcimer, vibraphone, Hammond organ and flute amongst other aspects. The slow build towards its conclusion is hypnotic and elevates its rather prosaic repeating refrain “all we have is here and now” to somewhere special, tapping into Gibbons’ reaction to the mortality of those around her. The strings on the record are dramatic without being bombastic, paired with the instrument-like quality of the vocals. Matt Colton’s work on the soundstage is impressive, delivering vital precision at some points and summoning subterranean washes of intensity at others. ‘Rewind’ is a hell of a track to subdue into the inner grooves at the end of side one, but Colton is up to the challenge. You can choose between deluxe or standard packaging, but a near-silent Optimal pressing resides in both. 

Demon have put together a sumptuous Holland-Dozier-Holland multi-disc set, ‘Detroit 1969-1977’, that explores the music produced by the legendary Motown songwriters over the years that followed their association with the label. Drawing on their connections, often anonymously due to legal disputes with their former employers, the trio developed their own hit factory production line, assembling Chairmen Of The Board around the sensational voice of General Norman Johnson. Early single ‘Give Me Just A Little More Time’ is a true classic and there’s much to explore across 4LPs. Glass House’s ‘Crumbs Off The Table’, Barrino Brothers’ ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’, Honey Cone’s ‘Sunday Morning People’ and Freda Payne’s ‘We’ve Got To Find A Way Back To Love’ are just a handful absolute stone cold belters ready for re-discovery.

Phil Kinrade has done a fine job of the mastering, tackling a wide array of sources and keeping a consistent presentation that gives proceedings a strong bass throb without smearing the mid-range and preserves the top-end sparkle of soul music from that era. The soundstage reaches out from the speakers a little and it’s a crankable, absorbing listen. The quartet of largely-quiet GZ discs comes in a chunky gatefold which then nestles in a slipcase alongside a glossy twenty-four page 12×12 booklet. For some, this will feel like unearthing a long-lost Motown treasure trove, as the quality is right up there, while others will enjoy the nostalgic journey through some untouchable tunes. 

All Kinds Of Blue:

RSD coverage squeezed last month’s perusal of the Blue Note campaigns, so it’s a bumper selection this time around. Firstly, April’s Tone Poets came from The Horace Silver Quintet and Anthony Williams. The former is a corker from 1963 with a gloriously designed cover, gleeful Francis Wolff studio photography inside the gatefold – although check the spine typo – and sensational trumpet work from Blue Mitchell alongside Silver’s dextrous piano and Roy Brooks’ big-hearted drumming. ‘Let’s Get To The Nitty Gritty’ does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a pin-drop silent RTI pressing with plenty of presence, much like the latter, Williams’ ‘Life Time’, from a year later. This one has a remarkable cast, including Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson and Sam Rivers, but proceed with caution if you don’t know the artist’s work. This jazz is pretty free and you can expect plenty of ebb and flow, alongside sizeable drum solos from the leader. Kevin Gray does an excellent job of managing the dynamic bursts present in work like this and ‘Memory’ is an especially striking trip. 

As the months changed, one of the very special occasional extra titles in the series emerged, with Sonny Rollins’ ‘A Night At The Village Vanguard: The Complete Masters’ delivering a 3LP exploration of the full recording restored from the original, recently rediscovered and never previously issued 7.5ips tapes. Project manager Joe Harley’s sleevenote tells of his shock at discovering the source from which Rudy Van Gelder had assembled his 15ips master. The original album occupies the first disc, with extra material across a pair of additional records. A chunky, glossy, three-panel sleeve houses everything along with wonderful additional Franics Wolff photography and a sixteen-page booklet. Kevin Gray’s cut from the barely touched spools is exemplary and the bonus bits include a remarkable take on ‘Get Happy’. It’s not cheap, but it is beautifully executed. 

The first Tone Poet for May is Bobby Hutcherson’s magnificent ‘Total Eclipse’. The vibesman is a long-time favourite of your columnist and this 1969 set features Chick Corea’s piano, Reggie Johnson on bass, Harold Land on flute and tenor sax and Joe Chambers with the sticks. It’s a fiery quintet and they more than deliver over five wonderfully varied tracks. Play the epic ‘Same Shame’ for a sense of their scorching majesty. Alongside it sits Donald Byrd’s ‘Byrd’s Eye View’, originally a Transition Records release from 1956. While not a gatefold, the original packaging is replicated right down to the sticker on the rear of the jacket stating ‘Album Notes Inside’ and the miniature credits booklet. The earlier recording means it’s not quite as vivid and Byrd’s trumpet is a little hot at points, but it’s still a fine hard bop session. Both lengthy pieces on side one are quite the ride, ‘El Sino’ just edging it for simmering energy.

The Classics offer up two familiar names, starting with Hank Mobley’s ‘Workout’. The 1962 quintet release is another with one of the label’s iconic cover designs and the music lives up to that reputation with Grant Green and Paul Chambers amongst the personnel, alongside Wynton Kelly’s piano and Philly Joe Jones’ unmistakably expansive, frenetic drumming. The title track opens proceedings and bursts out of the speakers, conjuring a soundstage in the centre of the room. A silent Optimal pressing, it is one of those especially sonically pleasing titles in this series and Kevin Gray’s all-analogue work shines similarly on Stanley Turrentine With The Blue Hour’s ‘Blue Hour’. The 1961 set captures the mood of a very early morning, assisted by the trio of Gene Harris on piano, Andrew Simpkins on bass and Bill Dowdy on the drums. The typographic arrangement on the cover is as aesthetically on point in its use of space as side two opener, Buddy Johnson’s ‘Since I Fell For You’. A soulful, delicate record, it’s a good primer for those considering dipping a toe in the world of jazz.  

Going Round Again:

Originally available for RSD, New Land have now released further copes of their typically beautiful mono reissue of Kenny Dorham’s ‘This Is The Moment: Sings And Plays’. The 1958 title originally appeared on the Riverside label and marked the first public outing for Dorham’s voice. As well as his effervescent trumpet, he’s joined by Curtis Fuller’s distinctive trombone and Sam Jones on bass, with Charlie Persip and GT Horgan sharing drumming duties. The languid croon may not be to everybody’s taste and it’s no surprise that his brass playing was his trademark. It remains an intriguing historical document and the reverse-board sleeve and artwork quality are especially pleasing. Kevin Gray delivers the master from the original analogue tapes and his cut gets a pretty quiet pressing from Pallas. A neat run through of Cole Porter’s ‘From This Moment On’, which closes side one, offers a sense of what to expect.  

Pleasingly, AV8 Records have afforded Martin Carr’s originally download-only 2009 album ‘Ye Gods (And Little Fishes)’ a vinyl release. Having been trading as Brave Captain in his post-Boos years, this was a first under his own name. Awash with melody and some really tender vocal performances, these ten songs certainly deserve more attention. Charlie Francis, keys player on the record, has delivered a fresh remaster for this near-silent Press On-manufactured edition. Mary Wycherley adds an alternative voice for the beautifully arranged ‘Why You Gotta Bring Me All This Rain?’ while ‘Goldrush ‘49’ is a head-nodding, narrative-driven delight that navigates a gentle ascension to somewhere serene. The soundstage is absolutely glorious, allowing the instrumentation to fill the room while Carr’s presence at the centre is distinct and spacious. The fresh artwork adds a signed card too, but its limited nature means it won’t be around for long. 

Craft’s two audiophile series continue in fine form. First up is an Original Jazz Classics title from The Red Garland Trio, ‘Groovy’. This 1957 release does what it says on the centre-label, with Paul Chambers and Art Taylor completing the triumvirate. Matthew Lutthans (despite the OBI mentioning Kevin Gray) has delivered a superb all-analogue cut that gives this mono recording plenty of presence, Garland’s piano sounding huge throughout, and be sure to witness the euphoric sprint of ‘Gone Again’. A near-silent RTI pressing is housed in a tip-on sleeve and, while the pressing plant is QRP, similarly high standards are applied for the latest Contemporary Records Acoustic Sounds LP, ‘For Real!’ by Hampton Hawes. Bernie Grundman has cut this one and the stereo soundstage is vast and buttery smooth. The cruelly cut-short talent of Scott La Faro radiates from his integral bass playing and Harold Land’s tenor sax repeatedly locks in with Hawes’ piano, their back and forth on ‘Crazeology’ especially delightful. 

It feels faintly ludicrous to discover it’s been two decades since Keane released their debut album, but ‘Hopes And Fears 20’ is an expanded reissue of that superlative statement of intent, with a second disc of the corresponding b-sides and bonus bits. Early singles ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, ‘Everybody’s Changing’ and ‘This Is The Last Time’ still sound glorious, while ‘We Might As Well Be Strangers’ and ‘Bedshaped’ retain their glimmering beauty, Tom Chaplin’s velvety vocals having lost none of their charm. The b-sides mostly serve to remind the listener of why they were b-sides, although ‘Love Actually’ finally gets a release having initially been written in the hope of sneaking into that film thanks to their manager having a connection to Richard Curtis. This gently inoffensive track appears hear via a fresh recording, as they never finished the original incarnation. Frank Arkwright, who also cut it at Abbey Road, has remastered everything, but your correspondent prefers the 2017 reissue both in terms of sonics and pressing. The new rendering is a little more boomy and the highs don’t reach quite as freely from the speakers. Add in a notable degree of surface noise across a pair of coloured vinyl GZ discs and it’s a somewhat frustrating listen. 

Mr Bongo have dusted off another Lonnie Smith title from the archives, this time treating us to 1977’s ‘Funk Reaction’. After two releases on Groove Merchant, this was his first on that label’s successor, Lester Radio Corporation. The original gatefold is vividly replicated and it is, as ever, a very well mastered and cut Optimal pressing housed in a poly-lined inner. The bottom end is nimble and tangible as the jazz funk veers into the world of disco. ‘When The Night Is Right’ perfectly demonstrates the collision of genres and it extends substantially from the speakers, both outwards and to the side. Be sure to check out the oh-so-Stevie wonder that is ‘All In My Mind’. The copy sampled had a little light noise here and there, but nothing that distracted from this life-affirming music. 

Two artists continued their half-speed catalogue excavations this month. Firstly, Pete Townshend’s grandiosely titled 1985 release ‘White City: A Novel’ gets the Miles Showell treatment. Cut from the Jon Astley masters, it has a chunkier bottom end than was customary for pressings at the time and the production of that decade is all over it. ‘Face The Face’ is simultaneously great fun and preposterously dated in a Bowie/Jagger ‘Dancing In The Street’ fashion. Some more breathing room in the mids and high end would be preferable, but anyone who has sampled previous titles using Astley’s masters will be prepared. This one has been pressed at GZ and the shiny inner sleeve means a good clean is necessary in order to achieve fairly quiet playback. Meanwhile, Demon move onto a fourth Labi Siffre, with 1973’s ‘For The Children’ up next. As ever, Phil Kinrade and Barry Grint have collaborated on the mastering and cut to give a broad, nuanced soundstage from the original tapes. The piano of opener ‘Somesay’ has a jaunty vim and vigour that is hugely appealing, while the rhythm section on ‘Odds And Ends’ is truly uplifting. It’s a pretty quiet GZ pressing in a sturdy gatefold with a pointless OBI and rather more pleasant four-page insert. 

Regular readers may recall the hullabaloo around the Proper/Universal reissue of The Wedding Present’s 1994 outing ‘Watusi’ last year, which surprised the band and prompted Gedge to observe that he’d have been more than happy to be involved in giving it a proper anniversary edition. Well, what do you know? We now have the same parts from the main album pressed to green vinyl alongside a second orange LP containing bonus tracks and alternate versions from the era. Artwork has been retooled to create a gatefold sleeve for this edition and all of the audio content is also included on a free CD copy tucked inside. It’s all of the tracks from disc one of Demon’s glorious 2014 3CD/DVD reissue, so the main appeal will be having all of this stuff on vinyl. As before, I’ll point you to ‘Gazebo’ and ‘Spangle’ as tasters, and ‘Him Or Me (What’s It Gonna Be?)’ is one of the non-album highlights. The GZ pressing is pretty quiet throughout, with a solid and clear soundstage, but this will set you back around £50. 

Proper’s exploration of the Universal archives delivers another Del Amitri title and this time it’s the highly sought-after ‘Twisted’ from 1995. Their established capacity for textured rockers alongside more thoughtful acoustic laments was at its peak here, including the small but perfectly formed Atlantic 252 ever-present ‘Roll To Me’, kicking off side two. It’s a heavyweight reissue adhering to the details from the original, including the fold-open sleeve and accompanying booklet. ‘Tell Her This’ and ‘Driving With The Brakes On’ seem evergreen and the GZ pressing is fairly quiet throughout after a good clean. Mastering is solid, with some space across a wide soundstage. It doesn’t extend far beyond the speakers, but it should keep most people happy in lieu of a very expensive first pressing.

To have the new Beth Gibbons album at almost the same time as a freshly expanded remaster for Portishead’s sublime live record ‘Roseland NYC’ seems almost decadent. The 1998 tracklist has been tweaked to add in ‘Undenied’, ‘Numb’ and ‘Western Eyes’, trimmed from the original audio release but featured in the accompanying film. In addition, where the versions of ‘Sour Times’ and ‘Roads’ were previously flown in from other performances, they now feature as captured on the night. In short, this is a far more accurate document of an orchestrated amalgamation of material from the band’s peerless first two albums. It remains utterly bewitching, from the natural heft of ‘All Mine’ to the simmering malevolence of ‘Glory Box’ and that take on ‘Strangers’; this is one of those rare concert albums that actually evolves the music and adds to the catalogue. The soundstage is beautifully defined, achieving an especially nuanced mid-range, and it’s presented on two silent red vinyl discs pressed at Optimal. 

Acid Jazz have given a first vinyl reissue to The Ballistic Brothers’ 1995 debut, ‘London Hooligan Soul’. Using the original master DATs, the band have worked with Nick Robbins at Sound Mastering to create new high-quality transfers and the effort has paid off. Across two pretty quiet GZ-pressed discs, the twelve tracks sound enormous without sacrificing any impact at the bottom end on pieces with house, jazz and dub inclinations. ‘Sister Song’ neatly highlights the separation within a fairly open soundstage, Amy Simmons’ flute rising out of a big-beat carnival atmosphere. The striking sleeve design by Blue Source has been lovingly restored and it all comes in at under £30. Fans of this may also be pleased to hear that Proper/Universal present another Photek vinyl reissue, with 2000’s ‘Solaris’ getting the replica treatment this time. Drum and bass alongside downtempo excursions are the order of the day and these near-silent GZ discs have an impressively wide soundstage for the electronic textures. The beats are certainly robust, but not smeary. Artwork is carefully mirrored from the original and poly-bags are added to the inners for a set costing around £40. 

At The Front Of The Racks:

Conor O’Brien’s distinctive, intimate vocal style is the one unifying factor across his six studio albums as Villagers, the latest – ‘That Golden Time’ – continuing his tendency to bend the shape of his music from one record to the next. The summery heft of 2021’s ‘Fever Dreams’ yields to a far more delicate presentation that shares a little of the mood of 2016’s genuinely majestic live re-recordings project ‘Where Have You Been All My Life?’, one of your correspondent’s very favourite albums. The space around O’Brien’s voice pulls focus to the centre of the soundstage, while the intricate, mostly acoustic instrumentation is so vividly painted across each side of the stereo spectrum that it feels a little having the outside of your ears tickled. In a good way. This is one of those cuts for those who trot out the “what’s the point of a digital recording being pressed to vinyl?” grumble, because this sounds truly special. 

Matt Colton has overseen the exquisite mastering and you owe it to yourself to hear the strings build in ‘First Responder’ and the acoustic guitar thrum of ‘You Lucky One’ on big speakers. As ever, there is a slow-burning charm to O’Brien’s writing, the record at risk of seeming a little slight on first listen only to lock in and envelope you after a few more visits to the turntable. The backing vocal on the title track is so perfectly, mistily positioned in the mix as to evoke the uncertainty and nostalgia of the line “who am I to say?” Truly, there are many, many highlights and the A5 lyric booklet is a neat but important touch. A near-silent Optimal pressing and a spot-varnished sleeve confirm the attention to detail. Beautiful.

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)

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