Just for the record: Vintage gold-dust from the archives
A fortnightly review of music on vinyl
Rock legend time as Bob Dylan and Neil Young headline at two enormous outdoor events in July this year; the first, on the 14th, at Ireland’s Nowlan Park, outside Kilkenny, can be seen as a dress rehearsal for their appearance, on the 19th, at the British Summer Time Festival at London’s Hyde Park. In the interim, both will be releasing archival material of considerable interest to vinyl junkies.
On June 12, Netflix will premiere Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, which documents the October and November 1975 leg of the now-legendary carnivalesque tour Dylan undertook in little-known venues in the US north east along with a diverse array of guest artists that included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ronee Blakely, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Allen Ginsberg and Mick Ronson.
A number of these concerts were filmed, but little has been seen, other than what appeared in Dylan’s 1978 movie, Renaldo and Clara, a rambling, four-hour “alternative” road epic that, after limited cinema release, disappeared and is still commercially unavailable. Much of the concert footage turns up in the Scorsese film, which has been described as “part documentary, part concert film and part fever dream”.
The concert performances will be included in Bob Dylan – Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Columbia Legacy), a 14-CD box set released on June 7 that includes all five concerts from the tour that were professionally recorded, as well as rehearsal performances, one of which, One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below), can be heard here. At the same time, Dylan’s Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia, Legacy), the fifth volume in the acclaimed Bootleg Series, will be reissued on vinyl, in a triple-LP box set along with a 68-page book. This collection cherry-picked the best of the tour’s performances, including this version of Tangled Up in Blue:
Live 1975 was first released in 2002. Two very limited vinyl box set editions, on 140g and 200g vinyl, did appear, with a different cover, and a slightly different title, taken from a tour poster, Rolling Thunder Revue, Starring Bob Dylan. The release featured a number of interesting bonuses, including a seven single unavailable elsewhere, flyers and facsimile tour memorabilia. These sets are now quite rare, and mint copies are trading hands at hundreds of dollars a pop. The new edition will be widely available, and a fraction of the cost.
The second leg of the Rolling Thunder tour, in April and May 1976, was documented in the 1976 live set, Hard Rain (Columbia). Hardly an essential release, the album was reissued on vinyl in 2017.
Meanwhile, also on June 7, Neil Young releases Tuscaloosa (Reprise), as part of his ongoing archival reissue series. This one, a February 1973 live set with the Stray Gators, is Volume 4 of the archive’s Performance Series, and precedes last year’s Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live release.
At the time, Young had hit a decidedly purple patch. His two previous studio albums, 1970’s After the Gold Rush and 1972’s Harvest (both Reprise), were major hits, the latter in particular. Thanks to Heart of Gold, the chart-topping single off Harvest, the album was the year’s biggest seller in the US, and Young seemed set for superstardom, a situation that didn’t sit all too comfortably with him. So he set out to defy everyone’s expectations. As he later explained, “Heart of Gold put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people there.”
The apparent sabotaging of his own career began on the tour to promote Harvest, an arduous three-month trek that took in 65 arena dates and eventually descended into bleak sourness as the heroin-related deaths of friends, band fallouts over cash and marital problems took their toll on Young. His black mood would colour 1973’s Time Fades Away, the Harvest tour document that, along with 1974’s On The Beach and 1975’s Tonight’s The Night, make up Young’s so-called “Ditch Trilogy”, dark records haunted by drug dealer murders, the Manson killings, the dashed idealism of the 1960s’ hippie dream and a general weary cynicism.
All are now considered masterpieces of a certain cracked and harrowing beauty, but at the time they were hardly the easy listening that Harvest was. Tuscaloosa, a double LP set, was recorded early during the tour and contains a fair bit of material from Harvest. As a result, it’s not quite the downer that is Time Fades Away. Judging by the pre-released track, the autobiographical Don’t Be Denied, the one number that is common to both albums, there’s a lot to be said for a wee bit of optimism.
Meanwhile, Young has been working on a new studio album with Crazy Horse, his first with the band since 2012’s Psychedelic Pill (Reprise). “We just had the album playback,” he recently wrote on his Archives website. “Eleven new songs – ranging from three minutes to 14 minutes of music each – were played at full volume on our stereo system. We believe we have a great Crazy Horse album, one to stand alongside Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps, Sleeps With Angels, Psychedelic Pill and all the others.
“Untitled at the moment, our Crazy Horse album with Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot stands as one of the most diverse albums I have ever made and I can’t wait for you to hear it. That means there will be scheduled changes and release date adjustments as this new album finds its release in the early Fall of 2019 – displacing older re-release projects. Whatever label this brand new Crazy Horse album in on, it will be a proud moment for all involved, something we were not sure we would get to do. We did it though, and it rocks! I am so thankful.”
HERITAGE, HISTORY & ALL THAT JAZZ
On May 17, Blue Note Records will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the sessions that formed part of one of the pivotal albums in modern jazz, Miles Davis’ 1957 Capitol Records compilation, Birth of the Cool, with a new double LP expanded edition of this landmark release.
Recorded in three sessions during 1949 and 1950, the 11 songs laid down by Davis’s nonet for Capitol were originally intended to be released as 78 rpm singles, which accounts for the brevity of the tunes. Despite the time constraints, Davis and company skillfully merged the fluidity of bop with big-band arrangements to produce a relaxed, subdued collage that, even at the music’s most intricate moments, sounded hip, easy and elegantly detached. Hence the name: cool jazz. As the tunes all came in at the three-minute mark, the melodies were not lost to excessive virtuosity, and the results were short and sweet – and influential enough to go mainstream without losing their inventiveness or moody allure.
Eight of these tracks were first collected for a 1953 10-inch vinyl record as part of Capitol’s Classics In Jazz series. Four years later, three other pieces were added for the 12-inch LP release. Subsequently, a 1971 reissue of Birth of the Cool added a 12th cut, Darn That Dream, the only song on the album to feature vocals. Subsequent releases of the album have been based on this release.
The new release, The Complete Birth of the Cool, will be feature all 12 tracks remastered from analog tapes for the first time since the 1957 LP. The second LP in the package is a previously unreleased live recording of a 1948 concert, which features much of the studio material. Also included is an essay from Ashley Kahn, author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, and liner notes by saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and jazz historian Phil Schaap.
It was clear, right from the get-go, that New York’s Vampire Weekend were taking their musical cues from far beyond the shores of North America. Their eponymous 2008 debut skillfully married rock with the joyful strains of Afro-pop to create a new indie dynamic that propelled the band to Grammy success. With each successive release, the band’s music grew more diverse: in addition to African highlife, ska, hip-hop and 1980s pop influences have turned up in the mix.
Vampire Weekend’s acclaimed new album, Father of the Bride (Columbia/Sony Music), limited editions of which are available on orange vinyl, now adds Balearic piano, psych-pop, bluegrass and folk to create an absorbing sense of community from this multicultural melting pot. One track, Rich Man, stands out in particular, as it generously samples Please Go Easy With Me, a 1960s hit by the late Sierra Leonian singer SE Rogie. Hopefully the tribute will rekindle interest in this underappreciated African artist and introduce his work to a wider audience.
Sooliman Ernest Rogers was born in 1926 and began performing at an early age while supporting himself as a tailor. He turned professional in the 1960s, singing in four languages and using his nickname as his official surname. A big fan of country music, especially Jimmie Rodgers, Rogie fused elements of Western pop and folk with West African highlife which, coupled with his gentle acoustic guitar melodies and smooth baritone, resulted in a unique form of the palm wine music, or maringa, that was popular in Sierra Leone in the 1950s and 1960s.
Rogie emigrated to the US in 1973, but later moved to England where he started his own label, Rogiphone, and released two self-produced albums, African Lady, in 1977, and Mother Africa, in 1979, that are now quite rare. In 1986, he released the compilation, The 60s Sounds of SE Rogie, Volume 1, which gathered up his early singles in one neat dynamite package. This album, which captures a rough exuberance that matched Sierra Leone’s newly-independent postcolonial aspirations, is arguably the best of Rogie on vinyl. Happily, it’s quite widely available. In 1988, British indie label Cooking Vinyl reissued the album, giving it a different cover and retitling it Palm Wine Guitar Music.
Rogie recorded his last album, the enigmatically-titled Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana, in 1994 for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. He died later that year, aged 68, after collapsing during a performance in Russia. He’d undergone heart surgery a few months earlier but had started a tour of eastern Europe against medical advice. Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana, a terrific record, was sadly only issued on CD. But what better way to mark the 25th anniversary of its release than a new edition on 180g vinyl?
THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION
The idea was inspired: take British pop star Dusty Springfield to the US in 1968 and there, in the home of the music she had so skillfully mastered, let her work with the best of them in a bid to reinvigorate a stalling career and give her a bit of roots soul and R&B credibility.
The execution, however, was troubled. After signing with Atlantic Records, the US label of her idol Aretha Franklin, Springfield began recording with the legendary Memphis soul production team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin and working with musicians who had backed, among others, Elvis Presley and Wilson Pickett. The material chosen was excellent, written by the best songwriters of the day and much of it perfectly suited to Springfield’s delivery and vocal technique: So Much Love, Son of a Preacher Man, Breakfast in Bed, Just One Smile, Windmills Of Your Mind, I Don't Want to Hear About It Anymore and Just a Little Lovin’ among them.
The problem was that Springfield reportedly didn’t think too much of the songs. And she felt cowed by the fact that she was being compared with the soul legends who had recorded in the same studios. Wexler was surprised at this, given the singer’s talent. Adding to her anxiety was the pressure of working with outside producers for the first time, having self-produced her previous recordings. The sessions in Memphis broke down, and had to be later completed in New York. In short, Springfield did not much like the album that was eventually released in January 1969, Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic). It bombed in the US, only reaching number 99 on the US album charts before disappearing. In the UK, where it was released by Philips with a different cover, it failed to chart altogether.
With time, though, Dusty in Memphis has come to be regarded as a bona fide classic and a milestone of pop culture. It has frequently been named one of the greatest albums of all-time; Britain’s New Musical Express named it the 54th greatest album ever in their 1993 list, and in 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 89th on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album was last reissued on vinyl in 2017, by Atlantic in the US and by Mercury in Europe. The US reissue features the same dreadful artwork as the original Atlantic release. Happily, what’s between the covers is the stuff that counts.