Just Played: A Column About Vinyl Records #50 | Features

In the autumn of 2019, the idea of a regular roundup of vinyl releases that actually considered the pressings and not just the music was made reality and your humble correspondent hasn’t looked back since. I like to think we’ve built a niche but alert community here, sifting through the shelves for the gold that is always there to be found. Thanks for reading, however long you have been, and for letting me know when you’ve loved something the column has praised. In trying times for retailers and artists alike, helping people spend their hard earned on the good stuff has always been the priority. Long may it continue to be the case!

Freshly Pressed:

The feeling experienced upon first hearing a voice you know instantly will become a firm favourite is one that never gets old. And so it proved with the remarkable debut by Amelia Coburn, ‘Between The Moon And The Milkman’. Having caught the ear of Mark Radcliffe and Tom Robinson, as well as reaching the finals of Radio 2’s Folk Awards, Coburn found her perfect foil in Bill Ryder-Jones, who produced, played on and co-mixed these ten striking songs. Originally written for the ukulele, the gloriously catchy tracks have been fleshed out to full arrangements that are at turns baroque, jazzy and oddly ornate. Elongated notes at the end of ‘Perfect Storm’, rampaging textures during ‘Sleepy Town’ and every last bit of ‘Dublin Serenade’ are just some of my many highlights from this distinctive listen. George Boomsma’s mastering gives heft to the bottom end while ensuring Cobrun’s unique voice remains the central focus. Despite looking a little murky, the disc via Press On played silently and it’s housed in a neatly spot-varnished sleeve. Magical. 

Somewhere between Ron Sexsmith and Hamish Hawk, along with a sprinkle of the more palatable aspects of Jack Johnson, sits the new album by Jack Francis, ‘Early Retirement’. A soulful, country-folk abounds across the eleven, neatly-arranged, comfortingly aching tracks. Whether offering melancholic mid-paced atmospherics on ‘Tired Of Trying’ or leaning towards the Spacebomb sound on the glorious ‘Mercy’, Francis’ voice is a lovely thing indeed. Archie Sylvester takes care of sympathetic production and the vinyl master is fairly decent, offering solid separation despite not reaching far beyond the speakers. The near-silent mustard yellow GZ pressing kept the attention on these bewitching tracks.

Acid Jazz are understandably delighted to have released the first new material from Dee C Lee in a quarter of a century. ‘Just Something’ is a joy from start to finish, the former Style Council member having co-written lead single ‘Walk Away’ with former colleague Mick Talbot and roped in numerous label bedfellows from the likes of the Brand New Heavies and James Taylor Quartet. The arrangements are magnificent, melding vintage soul touches with the vitality of impeccable musicians playing together in the here and now. ‘Anything’ has glorious backing vocals that drive the song as much as the sweeping brass. A near-silent GZ pressing does a fairly open mastering justice, the bottom end delivering just the right amount of swing. 

Your correspondent is rarely lost for words but listening to the new record from the Kaiser Chiefs is a confusing experience. Having enjoyed parts of its two, notably poppy, predecessors, ‘Stay Together’ and ‘Duck’, I’d assumed this would have similar intentions. The title, ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ Easy Eighth Album’, had already set my teeth on edge, but I still wasn’t fully prepared. Chintzy electro trickery is plastered all over some fairly flimsy songwriting that seems to strive all-consumingly for the GOOD TIMES. It’s hard to resist the sense that Ricky Wilson is giving ironic side-eye for most of these tracks, leaning into yelpy, falsetto excesses with abandon. ‘Sentimental Love Songs’ has a decent enough hook, but clichéd lyrics fail to deliver a successful concept. ‘Jealousy’, meanwhile – sadly not a cover of the Will Young classic – sounds like something Big Fun might have released. Honestly, I can’t tell if it’s a masterstroke or a CBeebies attempt at a John Grant electro record. The mastering is pretty flat and boxed in, with some light surface noise added to the mix with this GZ pressing. Artwork completed by Jim Moir using £99 of sweets, mind you. 

While the cover of the self-titled first collaborative release from Liam Gallagher & John Squire is undoubtedly terrible, what really matters is how it sounds. ‘Raise Your Hands’ starts off like a mid-Nineties Ocean Colour Scene record, just with Liam on vocals, and there’s an undeniably buoyant charm to the whole thing. It’s unashamedly nostalgic, striving for an era that’s long gone, but it does it rather well. Closer ‘Mother Nature’s Song’ manages to shake off its limply punning title to offer a naggingly melodic finale. Greg Kurstin’s nous in the producer’s chair keeps both personalities focused, carefully navigating Squire’s perfectionism in some speedy sessions. The mastering is, sadly, less concerned about vintage sounds, but there’s still some range beyond the speakers and Squire’s parts sparkle. Optimal have pressed most variants, including the standard black and obligatory Blood Records zoetrope picture disc. Just Played sampled the former and it’s a near silent pressing with a 24”x24” poster of, er, the sleeve. 

Just as the February edition was wrapped up, ‘Filthy Underneath’ marked the very welcome return of Nadine Shah. Her fifth album is also, arguably, her best so it seemed worth considering how it stacks up on vinyl. Plenty has been written about the circumstances around its creation and the lyrics certainly bear the weight of grief and a road to recovery. ‘French Exit’ is unflinchingly honest and Shah’s gift for linguistic incision remains as sharp as ever throughout. ‘Food For Fuel’ melds a nagging melody to a claustrophobic and swirling soundscape, while side one closer ‘Sad Lads Anonymous’ is a sensational spoken-word piece that fizzes with the beauty of carefully executed cadence. Ben Hillier does a typically excellent job of the production and Katie Tavini’s mastering is suitably enveloping. It’s a little bottom-end heavy on the vinyl cut, but plenty of nuance comes through. Unfortunately, the GZ pressing sampled – presented in one of the dreaded printed shiny inners – suffered with surface noise at various points, even after a second clean, so roulette is likely to come into play. 

We couldn’t mark a half-century for the column without featuring a few new titles from an enduring presence in this neck of the words, Precious Recordings Of London. Their BBC Session releases commenced in 2021 and the most recent 10” iterations are highly collectable, aesthetically pleasing celebrations of the magic of music in the moment. A pair of Peel appearances by garage-rockers The Flaming Stars joined the series this month, the first a truly live outing from when the inimitable host was covering for Mark and Lard in October 1996. Three of the four tracks featured were unreleased at the time of performance and the band’s approach, according to frontman Max Décharné’s sleevenote, was to “have a few beers, crank it up and see what happens.” The whole thing is, predictably, great and the tremendously-titled ‘Bury My Heart At Pier 13’ is percussive surf-rock that threatens to fall apart at any second. Their excellent final session for John, from February 2002, is also given the same treatment and Ian Button’s mastering ensures a sense of the live space transfers to near-silent GZ-pressed vinyl. 

‘Rooting For Love’ is Laetitia Sadier’s fifth solo album and her first since the much-vaunted Stereolab reunion and reissue programme. As ever, the subject matter and presentation are deliciously contradictory. The slow-moving synthscapes return and melodies of comforting beauty abound, maintaining an evident connection to that beloved band. ‘Une Autre Attente’ offers in microcosm the approach of the whole record, changing gear regularly and without warning, while ‘Don’t Forget You’re Mine’ is an especially harrowing lyric. The mastering at Calyx is excellent, keeping Sadier’s vocals vivid amongst the many textures. Your columnist sampled the standard black edition of the Takt pressing and it was mostly quiet throughout.

I think it’s fair to say that Donna Blue are quite fond of the records Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra recorded together. And by that, I mean ‘Aphrodite’, the second track on their second album ‘Into The Realm Of Love’, sounds like it is the product of some freakish cloning product involving harvesting the grooves from original copies of ‘Nancy & Lee’. The whole record has a similarly slinky, noirish narrative focus, playing off the smokily intertwined voices of Danique van Kesteren and Bart van Dalen. There’s a touch of ‘Moon Safari’, some Morricone plus a nod to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin also. It’s imaginative, splendidly produced and no mere pastiche. The soundstage for the vinyl edition is fairly open and the GZ pressing played quietly throughout.

It’s a tough gig, putting out sparse piano music on vinyl. There’s no hiding a rogue pressing of a solo performance and, thankfully, all is well for the latest Nils Frahm offering, ‘Day’. Created in the summer of 2022, it captures the esteemed ambient artist in contemplative mood and will feel pleasingly familiar terrain for those who came on board around the time of ‘Screws’ and ‘Felt’. The space in the recording is emphasised by the creaky pedals and occasional sounds of dogs barking outside. Side one closer ‘Butter Notes’ is an especially beguiling piece, gently shifting and repeating over five absorbing minutes. ‘Changes’ harks back to the period when he used more than just the keys of his piano to generate sound. A largely silent intakt! pressing from Berlin allows Andreas Kauffelt’s beautiful cut to fill the room.

Demon’s commitment to the Ocean Colour Scene catalogue continues with a fourth vinyl box set, tidying up the releases beyond the studio albums that were spread over the first three. This time, it’s live records and a trio are collected here, two making their debut on the format. As ever, Phil Kinrade has sorted the mastering and the music is presented across a selection of coloured GZ pressings. ‘Travellers (sic) Tunes – Live At Stirling Castle August 1998’ – neon pink – captures the band at the height of their success and they’re clearly enjoying themselves. Originally recorded by STV, it’s not the most nuanced concert mix you’ll ever hear but, with a decent crank of the volume, it opens up quite nicely. It closes with their endearing charge through ‘Day Tripper’. 

2006’s ‘Live Acoustic At The Jam House’ – neon yellow – is next, recorded in Birmingham in February of that year. Cherry-picking the less obvious selections from their catalogue, it offers an alternative reading of their music that is very well arranged. Mastering is solid enough, even if vocals feel a little veiled at the top end. Finally, 2LP set ‘Live At The Bridgewater Hall With Q Strings’ returns to vinyl after an initial RSD2015 outing, now on cherry wax. The tracklisting does a grand job of celebrating a career beloved to many and this is, perhaps, the most balanced soundstage of the lot, Simon Fowler’s voice given much more presence. The soaring version of underappreciated gem ‘The Circle’ will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing, most notably on the first burst of audience backing vocals. The discs are fairly quiet, although moments of surface noise intrude on some of the more stripped-back songs. 

All Kinds Of Blue:

The especially fine recent form of the Blue Note reissue series continued in March. First up, it’s the Tone Poet treatment for ‘Action’ by Jackie McLean, a 1967 recording featuring Charles Tolliver’s trumpet alongside the bandleader’s alto sax and the unmistakable presence of Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. That the same record can feature the frenetic improvisation of the title track and the luscious ballad ‘Wrong Handle’ is quite remarkable, but it highlights the versatility of these performers. Kevin Gray ensures a rich, open all-analogue cut and an additional sleeve note highlights a “tic” from the original tape that couldn’t be eliminated without digital tinkering. I think we can all forgive them, though it is worth pointing out that there are a few minor tape dropouts on this one. The impeccable RTI pressing is joined by another for this month’s second TP, marking its first standalone vinyl release.

Although recorded in 1968, ‘Tex Book Tenor’ by Booker Ervin didn’t debut until 1976, as part of combined set ‘Back From The Gig’ which mopped up several unused sessions. It now gets its own day in the sun, using the artwork from a 2005 CD release that neatly fits the style of the time. While clearly not a classic from the catalogue, it’s an often-frenetic performance benefitting from the involvement of Woody Shaw’s emphatic trumpet playing alongside Ervin’s tenor sax. Closer ‘204’ is quite the ride and offers a perfect distillation of the dynamic during this session. The all-analogue cut sounds excellent, although the stereo panning is pretty sizeable on this one. 

There are Blue Note Classics and then there are Classic Blue Note Classics and ‘A New Perspective’ by Donald Byrd is one of the latter. The band includes Hank Mobley, Kenny Burrell and Herbie Hancock, with arrangements by Duke Pearson. The combination of choral singing and Donald Best’s luscious work on the vibes makes for a tantalisingly immersive experience. Wallow in the sweet shuffle of ‘Beast Of Burden’ or lose your mind to the energy of ‘The Black Disciple’, the latter inspired by Byrd’s research into African rhythms. Things conclude with Pearson’s composition ‘Chant’, here in its full choral arrangement after an earlier version was shelved until the end of the Seventies. Kevin Gray has provided a cut that urges an increase in volume and Lex Humphries’ stick-work is drawn especially vividly. A near-silent Optimal pressing allows the focus to be solely upon the sound of this masterpiece. 

It’s joined in the racks by ‘Volume 2’ of Miles Davis’ recordings for the label. A 1956 release, it lacks some of the vivid sonic delights of many of the other titles and – on side one especially – Miles’ trumpet is cut very hot meaning that my pretty carefully tweaked setup found it hard to navigate without some distortion. Musically, it’s a lively mix of straight up bop and a little hard bop, while the beautiful ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ closes proceedings. It’s presented on a silent Optimal disc, potential tracking issues aside. 

Going Round Again:

Not all Kylie reissues are created equal, but when they’re good – they’re very good. The Sainsbury’s exclusive – honestly – of ‘Light Years’ is still worth a couple of hundred quid and several other titles from the later years – especially ‘Live at Abbey Road’ and ‘Aphrodite’ – are similarly costly. One album that didn’t command huge prices on vinyl was 2004’s ‘Body Language’, but that was only because it was never released on the format when it first came out. This injustice has finally been put right with a new ‘red-blooded’ edition in a neat gatefold and a pressing via Optimal. The sparse, crisp production of opener ‘Slow’ is presented magnificently, immediately putting the listener at ease about the mastering work on this one. ‘Red Blooded Woman’ concludes side one but Geoff Pesche’s excellent cut loses none of the detail despite proximity to the runout groove. It’s a silent disc and there’s even an art print, if you like that sort of thing. Tremendous stuff. 

Crass Records’ reissue programme continues with a further pair of 12”s via One Little Independent. First up is Flux Of Pink Indians’ ‘Neu Smell EP’, featuring their relative indie smash ‘Tube Disaster’. Remastered at Abbey Road by Alex Gordon, the whole thing sounds enormous but that track in particular truly explodes out of the speakers and delivers Colin Latter’s vocals with a visceral ferocity that’s genuinely striking. A silent Vinyl Factory pressing is housed in a 12”-sized replica of the original art. The same approach is applied to Annie Anxiety’s ‘Barbed Wire Halo EP’, work which producer Penny Rimbaud describes as “Dada in instinct, Monroe in affection, Rambo in inflection.” In short, it is a sincerely peculiar sonic collage that chops up samples, electronic trickery and often unsettling vocals. Brace yourself for the locked groove at the end of side one. While niche, these are beautifully done. The only slight concern is a price point of £20 each. 

New reissue label Unspun Heroes have set the bar very high with their first release, ‘Chance And Time’ by James Varda. A British folk artist who released only four albums only to receive a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer causing his death in the same year that this stirring record first emerged. This marks its vinyl debut and, having been mastered exquisitely by Matt Colton at Metropolis, Guy Davie at Electric delivers the cut. The soundstage is superb, Varda’s gentle but compelling voice prominently portrayed while plucked strings of acoustic guitars reverberate before you. Try ‘The Doctor Spoke’ or ‘One Thing After Another’ to get a sense of the honesty and humanity on show here: expect to be moved. Press On in Middlesbrough have handled the pressing and it’s near-silent throughout. These small run releases of over-looked gems will be well worth keeping an eye on as this nascent label builds up a head of steam. 

The Jazz Dispensary Top Shelf Series has been quietly delivering the goods for a little while now. Their latest addition is especially splendid, with a tip-on gatefold replica presentation of the 1969 Joe Henderson corker ‘Power To The People’. Kevin Gray provides an all-analogue cut which has, naturally, been pressed at RTI. Henderson’s band includes both Ron Carter – more on whom soon – and Herbie Hancock, which ensures things truly fizz. ‘Afro-Centric’ twitches and struts as it mutates, highlighting the unifying presence of Jack De Johnette’s vibrant drumming as the aforementioned pair play off each other and Mike Lawrence’s trumpet. Let’s not forget the blistering title track either. This is effervescent hard-bop that benefits from such superb treatment. A near-silent disc serves the bewitching mastering very well indeed. 

The Contemporary Records Acoustic Sounds series from Craft has ramped up expectations by dusting off Shelly Manne & His Men’s ‘At The Black Hawk Vol. 1’. Surely they can’t only give the first instalment this audiophile treatment? We shall see, but for now let’s delight in an outstanding edition of this 1960 set. The interplay between Joe Gordon’s trumpet and Richie Kamuca’s tenor sax on a smokily languid reading of ‘Summertime’ unfurls over twelve minutes, while side two opener ‘Poinciana’ is similarly expansive as it foregrounds the gleeful pace of Victor Feldman’s piano playing alongside Manne’s irrepressible drums. Bernie Grundman is responsible for the all-analogue cut that pours from the speakers and Quality Record Pressings in the US do exactly what their name suggests. Top-notch tip-on replica sleeve too. 

Demon’s half-speed series offered up a pair of Kirsty MacColl delights this month. Hot on the heels of an 8CD career-spanning box set are reissues of her two albums for Virgin, ‘Kite’ and ‘Electric Landlady’. Both are, arguably, essential titles for any serious collection, capturing a remarkable talent that would be so cruelly cut short. The former features two tracks written by Johnny Marr, a belting and sincere cover of The Kinks’ ‘Days’ and the superbly titled ‘Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!’ The crucial ingredients – strident acoustic guitar and that remarkable voice – are both presented beautifully thanks to the work of Phil Kinrade and Barry Grint at AIR, who have mastered from transfers of the original ½ inch tapes. The soundstage is open and nuanced, working at all volumes.

This remains the case for 1991’s ‘Electric Landlady’ which opens with the perpetually infectious ‘Walking Down Madison’ built upon a breakbeat sound that defined the era. Her Latin leanings are already becoming evident, more obviously on ‘My Affair’, and it finishes with the most affecting song called ‘The One And Only’ to be released that year. To be in this wonderful musician’s company once more would always prove a delight, but these near-silent GZ pressings, housed in poly-lined inners and accompanied by necessarily excitable sleevenotes from the wonderful Jude Rogers, do her justice. Keep an eye out for ‘Titanic Days’ for RSD next month too. 

In 1993, The Cure released two live albums in consecutive months. The first, ‘Show’, was reissued last year – for RSD and then on standard vinyl – and now the second, ‘Paris’, gets a refresh with Robert Smith in charge of the remaster alongside Miles Showell who, once again, provides the cut. Where the former was loaded up with hits, this set charts a less obvious course. Two bonus tunes feature for the first time, with ‘Shake Dog Shake’ and ‘Hot Hot Hot!!!’ topping and tailing the tracklist, but some fans may grumble at this still only constituting fourteen of the songs played over a trio of lengthy gigs at Le Zenith in the French capital. That said, it preserves its status as a companion piece to its predecessor. The sound is largely in line with other similarly treated titles. Vocal presentation is vivid and clear, with slightly boomy mids that largely add to the sense of listening to a band in a big venue. The audience participation towards the end of ‘Play For Today’ sounds glorious, positioned perfectly in the mix, while ‘Close To Me’ possesses a prominent bass throb. Unlike ‘Show’, ‘Paris’ has been pressed at Optimal and two near-silent discs can be found tucked inside the slightly rejigged artwork. 

Revered (mostly) jazz label ECM recently embarked upon their Luminessence series, marketed as high-quality audiophile reissues of select titles from their sizeable catalogue. “Many” are cut from the original analogue tapes, although mastering information isn’t readily available from the products themselves. Several emerged this month, including the Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek album that gave this project its name, ‘Luminessence’. The cover replicates the original embossing, although the pictures on the reverse have seen better days. Pressed at Record Industry, the disc proved fairly quiet during playback. Whatever the source or mastering detail, it sounds good, assuming improvised saxophone pieces, remarkably delivered by Garbarek and built out of Jarrett’s string-based compositions are your cup of tea. 

Back in October 2022, this column observed that a new release by Soyuz felt more like a rediscovered gem than a new release and so, clearly leaning into that, Mr Bongo decided to put their second album ‘2’ onto vinyl for the first time. Hailing from Belarus, the band name translates as ‘Union’ and they are a collective helmed by the gifted trio of composer, arranger and singer Alex Chumak, multi-instrumentalist Mikita Arlou and drummer, Anton Nemahai. Less sure of itself than what would follow, ‘2’ still has the hallmarks of their hybrid sound, with jazzy, Latin and library music influences all at play. Opener ‘Verocai’ is, rather splendidly, named after the Brazilian legend whose music has been reissued by the same label. In 2019, this earlier work was only available digitally, but the mastering for a physical format has been handled well, keeping a fluid, dextrous bottom end. A reasonably priced, utterly silent Optimal pressing makes this a very safe bet. 

Chrysalis continue to deliver a fascinating range of reissues, this time alighting upon Toumani Diabaté and BauakéSissoko’s remarkable ‘New Ancient Strings’. For its twenty-fifth anniversary, Phil Kinrade at AIR has delivered a fresh edition from the original 20-bit digital masters, produced using omnidirectional microphones connected to a pair of Nagra recorders, and Barry Grint has produced a stunning vinyl cut. For this album, recorded in just one night, the acoustics are vitally important and the sense of three-dimensional space captured on this near-silent Vinyl Factory pressing is beguiling. It feels like an exercise in mindfulness to concentrate on exactly where everything is coming from as the two remarkable kora players reacted to each other in the moment. Taking Malian standards and working out from there, the pair laid bare their souls on music that is often breathtaking. ‘Kita Kaira’ is your correspondent’s highlight, but you need to hear the whole thing. 

Last month, we featured the first of a series of Groove Merchant titles via the always-dependable Mr Bongo. Hot on its heels comes Lonnie Smith’s 1975 album, ‘Afro-Desia’, originally released five years after his final studio outing for Blue Note. This edition, replete with replica tip-on gatefold, is a first vinyl reissue and continues the high standards set with Feburary’s O’Donel Levy offering. George Benson, Joe Lovano and Ron Carter all put in an appearance across this intriguingly constructed record. Side one has a cosmic atmosphere, aspects of the fifteen-minute ‘Spirits Free’ sounding not unlike Can at points. The flip steers closer to the Latin soul-jazz listeners might be more likely to expect and ‘Straight To The Point’ is a real treat. This silent Optimal cut has a rich and open soundstage which, while not an all-anlogue endeavour, still manages an impressive percussive presence and taut bass. 

The agonisingly slow Girls Aloud vinyl campaign continues with their second record, ‘What Will The Neighbours Say?’ By 2004, the relationship with Xenomania was cemented and the formula that would make them one of the finest musical acts of a generation was in full flow. ‘The Show’, ‘Love Machine’, ‘Jump’, ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Graffiti My Soul’ all in one place, the latter one of a number of examples that prove they didn’t resort to throwaway album tracks as was so common for pop acts prior to this. The disc is, perhaps inevitably, blue but, in a shift from the debut, has been pressed at Optimal. Dick Beetham remains credited with the mastering and the vinyl cut is excellent. There’s a propulsive bottom end but with plenty of nuance, while the vocals have a decent amount of room in the soundstage. Mids are clearly defined too and playback was silent. An absolute must buy. 

The Original Jazz Classics series continues apace with a further trio of vintage delights given the Kevin Gray treatment from the original tapes. First up, it’s ‘Know What I Mean?’ by Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans. Having worked together as part of Miles Davis’ legendary sextet in 1958, this reunion came four years after that and it is everything you would want to it be given the combined pedigree. Evans’ piano work on ‘Who Cares?’ is absolutely sensational, given an enormous, three-dimensional presentation in this edition. Adderley’s alto-sax is similarly well-served, and nowhere more than on blistering side two opener ‘Toy’. For those coming to the genre cold, the sheer number of audiophile reissues peppering the market right now can be overwhelming but this is one to prioritise as it is simply faultless. A silent RTI pressing completes the package. 

Similar standards are upheld for the accompanying pair. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ ‘Caravan’ was recorded over two days in October 1962 and arrived as the hard-bop outfit’s first for Riverside Records. Blakey storms out of the blocks on the title track, which opens proceedings, and a nifty arrangement of ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’ is a bewitching side one closer. The band features Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter and, in especially fine form on ‘Skylark’, Freddie Hubbard, whose trumpet truly dissolves the speakers. It’s another quiet RTI/Kevin Gray product, as is ‘Where?’, from the same year, credited to Ron Carter with Eric Dolphy, Mal Waldron. Rather charmingly, this edition replicates the textured front cover that was a feature of the US original. Carter’s first album as a bandleader, with George Duvivier on bass and drummer Charles Persip completing the quintet, provided him with the chance to present the cello as an instrument suited to extended improvisations within the genre. Opener ‘Rally’ endorses this, as does his performance on the title track. While not as immediate as the other reissues, this is a welcome return for an unusual record that repays repeat listening. 

At the start of this year, Mr Bongo continued their Cuban Classics series with a reissue for an in demand Grupo Irakere record and they’re following it up with another of theirs. This time, it’s ‘Teatro Amadeo Roldan Recital’, their 1974 debut. Described as an “Afro-Cuban jazz-funk masterpiece” on the hype sticker, it certainly holds nothing back. Opener ‘Bacalao Con Pan’ and ‘Taka Taka Ta’ highlight the insistent energy in this ensemble’s gloriously intuitive playing. I have a particular soft spot for ‘Danza Ñañiga’, which is rather out of the step with the rest as a swooning, mid-paced soulful shuffle. A silent Optimal pressing delivers a robust master with a punchy bottom end and plenty of reach in the highs, despite the original recording hardly being audiophile. You didn’t know you needed it, but now you won’t want to be without it.

At The Front Of The Racks:

The magnificent early records by elbow were intense, emotional and often rather odd, meaning it took a little while for their star to ascend and their leap to national treasure status occurred when some of the rougher edges were smoothed. With ‘Audio Vertigo’, their tenth studio album, those instincts have returned, but bolstered with the confidence to know that they now have a sizeable following who’ll come with them. As a result, they’ve released what is arguably their best in fifteen years. Guy Garvey’s voice is rich and honeyed, but with some glorious weathering evident at times, while the band are in vibrant, even playful form. 

Listen to ‘Lovers’ Leap’ next to ‘Balu’ and you’ll get a sense of the willingness to let the songs go where they need to, the former a thunderous string-bedecked burst of Brazilian glam while the latter possesses topsy-turvy momentum that is instantly adorable. While much of it is pretty immediate, ‘Audio Vertigo’ grows with every play and that’s a process incentivised by the impeccable work of Craig Potter on production and Matt Colton’s typically superb mastering. In his hands, the cut is glorious. Garvey’s vocals have a noticeable depth and the definition of the instruments across the soundstage is often rather moving. ‘Knife Fight’, quite apart from being one of many evocative lyrics on the album, is a track with which to demo hi-fi equipment, so vivid is its imaging. Just Played sampled the pin-drop silent clear vinyl edition – replete with a mirror board sleeve – but black, blue and orange are out there too, with Optimal doing the work. 

Prices have risen considerably since the column began, with this coming in at a now fairly standard £28, but such galling financial implications wouldn’t be quite so hard to swallow if everything was as well cut and pressed as ‘Audio Vertigo’. Long may their sense of adventure remain undimmed.  

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)