Digging for the deep gems from this year’s list so you don’t have to
The first Record Store Day of 2023 is upon us, with vinyl emporiums preparing to throw open their doors on April 22, 2023.
While marquee items always draw attention (The Doors limited edition mini-turntable; the John Lennon Gimme Some Truth box set of nine 10-inch records), here’s a select listing of other releases that shouldn’t be overlooked:
There’s a passel of good stuff from Liberation Hall, starting with Romeo Void’s Live from Mabuhay Gardens: November 14, 1980. It’s the first ever live album that’s been authorized by the band, and captures them before they were all over MTV with the likes of “Never Say Never.” It’s a great 11-song set, with Debora Iyall a powerful vocalist, and the band itself one of the strongest of the post-punk era, an act that deserves to be known for more than their glossier successes. On galaxy-blue vinyl.
Hollywood Blues Summit: Live at The Ash Grove, July 30, 1971 is a previously unreleased show by Muddy Waters, and shows the blues master in fine form, with solid renditions of iconic classics like “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and a six minute-plus version of “Got My Mojo Working” (which naturally lends itself to an extended workout). Waters was a spry man in his fifties at the time and is clearly enjoying himself.
Texas Tornado Live: Doug Weston’s Troubadour, 1971, Los Angeles, CA by the Sir Douglas Quintet, is another previously unreleased live goodie, taken from a soundcheck rehearsal that also featured an audience. The performance captures a mostly reformed Quintet and kicks off with their best-known number, “She’s About a Mover,” which strove to ride the 1960s Brit Invasion wave and did so quite successfully. The rest is more grounded in Tex Mex roots rock, and due to the performance’s brevity (just under half an hour), the record’s pressed at 45 RPM for better sound quality.
Phil Ochs The Best of the Rest: Rare and Unreleased Recordings, originally released in 2020 on CD, makes its vinyl debut this year. Most of the songs on this two LP set are drawn from demos Ochs made during his final years with Elektra, along with some real obscurities, like the bitter “Take It Out of My Youth.” You’ll also find a rare complete version of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” an attack on hypocrisy.
The Long Lost Bird Live Afro-CuBop Recordings looks at saxophonist Charlie Parker’s experiments in Afro-Cuban fusion — CuBop — and while all these recordings are previously released, they’ve never been compiled on one album before. The shows span the years from 1945 to 1954, and a number of other music legends also turn up, including Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, and Woody Herman. Parker is at the height of his powers, bursting with confidence, interlocking especially well with Gillespie throughout, and finding a nice groove in “Lament for the Congo.”
Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall transports you back to that rainy night of November 21, 1962, when a number of Brazilian musical legends made their way to the Big Apple to delight audiences with their irresistible rhythms. This album, long out of print, is packed with stellar performances from the likes of the Sergio Mendes Quartet, Carmen Costa, Sérgio Ricardo, and the Oscar Castro-Neves Quartet; it’s a primo party platter.
Dolly Parton’s The Monument Singles Collection: 1964-1968 (Monument/Legacy) is the first collection of the singles Parton released while on the label. It includes her first hit on the country charts, “Dumb Blonde” (in which the singer is anything but), which pairs nicely with her own song about suspected infidelity, “Something Fishy.” And while does a great job with weepers like “I’m Not Worth the Tears,” it’s better to hear her in feistier mode, as when she gives the heave-ho to a failed relationship in “Ping Pong.”
Meanwhile, over at Org Music, Vopli Vidopliassova’s Tantsi is a fascinating artifact of the Ukrainian punk scene of the late 1980s, released for the first time on vinyl. The songs were recorded during one hectic night in Kyiv, originally as a demo, but as fans got their hands on it and began dubbing their own copies on cassette, Tantsi took on a life of its own. Unless you’re fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, you won’t understand what they’re singing, but the raw energy of punk is the same in any language. “Krakoviak Rock” is pleasingly blistering; “Rassvet” is a droning folk-punk mashup; the title track (which means “Dancing”) strips rock ‘n’ roll to the basics. Molodtsi, khloptsi! (“Well done, lads!”).
VIDEO: Vopli Vidopliassova “Tanzi”
Willie Henderson and the Soul Explosions extend a hand to help you get up and get down with their hip shakin’ Funky Chicken. The grooves are thick and sweet, percolating through numbers like “Off Into a Black Thing” and “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You,” with a couple of bonus tracks thrown in for good measure, like “Loose Booty” (“another word for treasure,” we’re told). It’s the first time the record’s been on vinyl in over a decade.
The tenth volume in Org’s Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day has a sweet theme — love. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Howlin’ Wolf croons “I’ve Got a Woman” (complete with harmonica) but Patti Page (complete with country-esque band) is on hand to remind you that to avoid temptation, “Most People Get Married.” The Ad Libs swing as they pledge their love in “Ask Anybody,” while Linda Martell offers this sobering reminder in “Wedding Cake”: “Every woman knows a lot of give and take/comes with a wedding cake.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The strangest record in the whole bunch has got to be the self-titled titled album by The Happy Dragon Band. No, it’s not an album directed at children, but rather the creation of a Detroit resident named Thomas Court, who wrote and performed everything himself, self-released the album in 1977, then went on to other things. It’s very much of its time, with swirling synths and space age profundity, the kind of record that makes you shake your head and wonder, what exactly is going on here? But you can’t stop listening to it. Surely one of the most intriguing releases in this round of RSD offerings. And even with a limited run of 1000 copies, it’s the widest release this record has ever seen, and comes with two bonus tracks to boot.
Chet Baker aficionados have two releases to delight them this year. Blue Room: The 1979 VARA Studio Sessions in Holland (Jazz Detective/Elemental Music/KRO-NCRV) draws on two sessions recorded for Dutch radio, and marks the first time they’ve been heard since their initial airing. It’s a gorgeous set of recordings, mostly instrumentals, but with a few of Baker’s vocals (“Oh, You Crazy Moon,” “My Ideal,” “Candy”), that producer Edwin Rutten describes as “The microphone on Chet’s uvula” — up close and personal. There’s also a reissue of his 1959 album Chet (Craft Recordings), which I didn’t get to hear, but I can tell you that it’s the first mono edition of the album issued in the U.S. since its original release, and featured nine standards, including “If You Could See Me Now” and “September Song.”
And speaking of Craft Recordings, I did get to listen to some of their other RSD offerings, including the 40th anniversary reissue of the Violent Femmes’ self-titled debut album, which, in this iteration, is also the band’s very first picture disc! The Femmes’ idiosyncratic blend of punk and folk blend baffled the mainstream at the time, but the album eventually acquired the label of “cult classic” and went on to be certified platinum. And certainly treasures like “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up,” and “Gone Daddy Gone” retain their loopy potency today.
From Real Gone Music: Early Singles: 1995-1999 dives deep into the archives of the Donnas, serving up 14 tracks that have only previously appeared on singles, with great titles like “High School Yum Yum” and “Wig Wam Bam.” The early tracks are decidedly raw, sounding more like demos, but there’s nonetheless an appealing effervescence about them (and better production values creep in later). On gold metallic vinyl.
When producer Lou Adler wanted to give up-and-comer Randy Newman a master class in songwriting, he handed Newman a pile of Carole King’s demos. Now you can get that same insight from King’s The Legendary Demos (Rockingale Records/Legacy). The best songs are those that King didn’t go on to record herself, such as her “blueprint” for the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and another track recorded by them, “So Goes Love,” released post-breakup. Other high points are her versions of “Take Good Care of My Baby” (later a chart topper for Bobby Vee) and the dramatic “Just Once in My Life,” snapped up by the Righteous Brothers. On ivory clear vinyl.
And now, record collectors — start your engines and hit those bins!
AUDIO: Carole King “Pleasant Valley Sunday (demo)”