June 11, 2010
Over the past five years or so, the Chicago-based Numero Group label has established itself as one of the best reissue labels on the market. Numbering each release in a manner similar to the DVD giants at the Criterion Collection, the label’s crate-digging efforts have revived the excellent work of a few has-beens and a lot of never-weres. I am an unabashed fan of this label’s work, and I prize so many of their releases that it was hard to pick just four to feature, but here goes…
Eccentric Soul | The Capsoul Label
The first-ever Numero release introduces their most popular series, Eccentric Soul. The idea is simple: the folks at Numero find out about a creative soul-music record label off the beaten path (in the case of this collection, it was located in Columbus, Ohio) and they try to obtain as many master tapes (or, failing that, playable records) from the key figures at the label as they can. They also do their best to piece together the history of each label, which they retell in generous and picture-filled liner notes. This collection from the ‘70s highlights, among others, the supergroup-that-never-was Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr, the Sam-and-Dave-like Kool Blues, and deep-voiced ballad crooner Marion Black. By focusing on the best of each artist instead of going for completism, the album comes off sounding like a hits compilation of songs you just didn’t happen to hear before. That said, the vocal group The Four Mints from this collection inspired Numero’s first full-album reissue (of the Mints’ Gently Down Your Stream) on their Asterisk imprint.
Wayfaring Strangers | Lonesome Heroes
One of the other main types of music Numero also tends to feature apart from soul is obscure work by ‘70s singer-songwriters, more often as full-album reissues, although the Wayfaring Strangers series skims the cream off of assorted other releases. To be honest, even as a folk fan, the first two entries in this series – focusing on female folkies and on acoustic guitar soloists – were pleasant, but kind of a snooze. This third entry, Lonesome Heroes, features male folkies, and successfully cherry-picks a bunch of occasionally oddball, emotionally direct, and affecting songs. As a frequenter of New York open mic nights, I can tell you the success of this compilation is quite a feat, because no one can be more annoying than a belly-aching male singer-songwriter. Despite that, this album works both as a sampler of different artists’ work and as a top-notch folk mixtape with a sustained melancholic mood.
April 18, 2010
Yesterday marked the third momentous Record Store Day, and for those scratching your heads trying to remember what a record store even is, it’s one of those long-standing places of business being destroyed by this internet thing (no, not those places). Many people have gotten touchy about the demise of local record stores and for three years running have reserved April 17th to do the unthinkable: going out to buy music they could easily get for free from their computer. Because sometimes to keep something you love, you have to do irrational things like getting married or respecting copyright laws.
Since many musicians grew up in such boutiques and, not to mention, appreciate the idea of people paying for their music, tons of big names help out with the festivities by issuing special vinyl records; this year is no exception, and there is a ton of great wax to collect. A few of the highlights include: a double LP of Pavement’s recent Quarantine the Past compilation that even has a different track listing (now Pavement psychos can argue which is better), a sea foam green vinyl of the Flaming Lips cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, a vinyl reissue of Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica, the Hold Steady’s new LP Heaven is Whenever, a 12” of LCD Soundsystem’s new single “Pow Wow,” and get this, a 7” of Blur’s new single “Fool’s Day.”
All of this is pretty cool stuff, but Blur’s choice to premier “Fool’s Day” as a vinyl on Record Day is a hell of a gesture. This is the first song that the full band (including the brilliant Graham Coxon) has made in seven years, and it happens to not suck. A gritty little minor-chord chugger, it has that Blur charm of being simultaneously melancholy, a bit ragged, and damn catchy. Sure, the melody sounds a bit like the Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight,” but hearing Coxon kick out a sweet riff at the end will make any Blur fan happy. Sadly for us Yanks, the single is only being sold in record stores in the UK, so you will have to stick to the loads of other special records made available yesterday. But if really want to hear ‘Fool’s Day’ you could always find it on, well, the internet. Yeah… that’s a little awkward…. Happy Record Day everybody!
For a list of even more special releases here’s Pitchfork’s list.
by Geoff Anstey