Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reissues Issue ... Tissue?

Vinyl Vagabonds are not well-to-do, glutinous, gilded fatcats (not yet at least).  They scrimp and save in the effort to acquire "the good stuff," and are always looking for a deal (We are Vinyl Vagabonds: Just give us your records).  However, some records are just never ever going to enter into affordability.  Why is this?

For starters, coveted albums are often "known," meaning that other lovable record slobs aren't letting them go.  Another reason is that super sought after albums are from early parts of the artist's career before big labels and even bigger pressings.  What this primarily means is that there are just not as many of those records in existence for everybody to have an original copy.  Especially for musicians working outside the studio system, you should expect that original copies are not easy to come by.  But why doesn't the record label just make more when they have a hit on their hands (aka supply and demand)?  Well, in some cases this does happen, but the law of diminishing returns applies.  This law states (does it?) that the more times things get repressed, the lower the quality will be (really?).  Possibly.  Also, in this day and age, you may very well be seeking out a record made in the time of vinyl scarcity, aka 1988 to 2004, or something like that.  Lastly, back to the rare, original record: it may very well be played out.  Those tiny grooves do have a limited number of spins you know.  Why not just go the safe route and pick up a repressing on heavy vinyl so you can spin that sucker any time you feel like it?  For affordability, sound quality, and playability--a repressing is the only answer.

Repressing vs. Reissue:  Repressing usually involves the record label realizing it's got a hit on its hands and just making more.  As this happens (usually shortly after the initial release), quality has a way of declining as attention to detail in the pressing process tends to wander.  Therefore, repressing can have a bad connotation; in the past, these were done on the cheap using low quality vinyl, poor master tapes, crummy mastering, or weak quality control.  This still happens today, mostly bigger record labels trying to squeeze a quick buck off of a back catalogue.  They might tout heavy vinyl or color or even a picture disc.  None of that means squat if the process isn't done with care.

Alternatively, a reissue involves some sort of upgrade to the quality, heavier vinyl, deluxe/enhanced packaging, extra music, remastered tunes, etc.  Color vinyl and picture discs count as well, but they don't necessarily improve the quality.  Sometimes this extra fluff just enhances the price.  The VVers are looking for sound and value in a nice, clean package.  Nuff Said.

A recent positive example from the VVers own collection is a reissue of The Misfits' first LP from 1982, Walk Among Us.  Take a look on Discogs or Ebay to see what an original copy will run you, $350 bones!  With something that expensive you might be afraid to even play the thing.  The reissue, purchased for around $20 at Smash Records in DC, was and is the right choice.  It's on heavy black vinyl, how heavy?  "Where's the gram scale?"  Vinyl Vagabonds get to listen to it all of the time, it looks and sounds fantastic, and so what if it isn't the original!?!  Since it is a new pressing, it sounds crisp (something a secondhand copy of the original probably wouldn't at this point) and the sleeve is perfect with all of the original artwork intact.  Most times you find something used and parts are either damaged, missing, or covered with a half torn sales sticker that mars the artwork.

In some cases, reissues are something to really get excited about.  In 2014, Blue Note began to reissue hundreds of their remastered jazz icons titles for their 75th anniversary.  Many of these milestone records (and recordings for that matter) are pretty old; this is a perfect way to preserve them.  Blue Note proclaims, this initiative is "dedicated to the proposition that our catalog should  be readily available at a low cost, featuring high quality pressings and authentic reproductions of Blue Note's iconic packaging."  Isn't that everything you want out of a reissue?  Bravo Blue Note.  Even independent record stores are "Blue Note Authorized Dealers" to give shoppers extra incentive to go out and support them.  The Sound Garden in Baltimore, Gerosa Records in Connecticut, Bull Moose in Maine, and Everyday Music in Portland, OR have all been the recipients of the VVers' cash for some of these records.   Of the standout purchases, Dexter Gordon Our Man in Paris, from 1963, is one of the best.  Though playing all standards, Gordon, by no accident, teamed up with the Three Bosses (Bud Powell, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke) to record this session in Paris.  Mostly high tempo, featuring stellar solos, and narrated by Gordon's impeccable tenor sax, this is an excellent recording that deserves a new audience welcomed by Blue Note's reissue series.

Even though you are buying a reissue, do not assume to buy it online.  Go to your local record store and see if they have it in stock or if they can order it for you.  Case-in-point, the VVers recently decided that they should own Rage Against the Machine's 1996 epic Evil Empire on record to crank so their neighbors give them dirty looks.  The original is barely in circulation (it was the 90s!), so the reissue is the way to go.  The Record Exchange in Silver Spring easily ordered the "Music on Vinyl" version from Germany, based on the owner's advice that their stuff is quite good.  The record swiftly showed up at the store for pick-up and the VVers don't feel guilty giving the pristine vinyl many spins!  The store gets a profit while the VVers save on shipping and get a punch on their frequent buyers card.  Quick, run to reissues!

On the flip-side, for diggers scouring shops for original vinyl, it is super satisfying when you come across an original pressing of something from your wantlist.  Hooray!  Whereas, coming across a reissue in the stacks of records lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.  Do you buy it so you have it and can enjoy the music, or do you keep searching?  Scenario: VVer #2 was looking for Nina Simone's 1965 album, Pastel Blues, while traveling to the Pacific Northwest.  Nary a sighting until she came across the Music on Vinyl reissue at Easy Street Records in West Seattle.  Well, shoot.  Hold out for the original, which is nowhere to be found, or splurge for the reissue (on a well-respected label) to hear the hypnotic sounds of "Sinnerman" play from the turntable?  After some consultation with the store owner (who also validated Music on Vinyl's reputation, and added in that he was thinking of taking that copy home with him), the reissue entered the luggage of VV.  The right decision?  Yes, the sound is crisp and the price was about half what the original would have cost.

This is just the tip of the iceberg that is the reissue discussion. The VVers do not encourage going out and buying any old reissue. Here are a few rules of thumb: Make sure it’s on a good label! Beware of bootlegs! Seek advice from your record store clerk or the back of the sleeve for information on how the reissue came to be. Seeing as you are reading this here blog, it is implied that you are a smart person and the VVers know that you wouldn’t go out and buy a $20 reissue of Blue Oyster Cult Fire of Unknown Origin or Madonna Like a Virgin that can be found in the dollar bin of nearly every record store in the US of A. Be discerning with your reissue purchases otherwise you’ll need a tissue for your nozzle!

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