Tag Archives: Craft Recordings

Listening Report: 1975 Bill Evans Trio Concert, On A Friday Evening, 180-Gram Vinyl, Qobuz / Tidal Streams

There is often a great divide between “audiophiles” and “fans” when it comes to archival releases. The former want their music to sound as good as possible with the performance often being only of secondary importance while the latter appreciate the full performances delivered in any format possible, warts ’n all…

I really first came to understand this notion back in my days as active Dead Head and collector of their live concerts. It was always a joy to get new shows but when you got a tape of a great performance that also sounded amazing, well that was the heavenly crossroads everyone dreamed about.  

In recent years there have been some wonderful archival releases issued as producers and archival sleuths like Zev Feldman dig deep into the recesses  of private collections and other previously unknown or long-rumored archival treasures which have presented themselves to the universe. 

I’ve reviewed a number of them by no less than Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Bill Evans. To read some of those reviews, click on the artists names to jump to the reviews I’ve done over the years.

Regarding the last name on that list, there happily seems to be a well spring of great recordings surfacing of late. Last year I wrote about the fabulous and rare 1968 set from Ronnie Scott’s club in London (click here for that) and there have been numerous others over the years.  In May, my associate Ken Micallef wrote about the new Bill Evans CD boxed set — Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956-1980) — which includes a 1975 live set of very high quality.  You can click here to read Ken’s review of the set but in short I concur with his perspective on the recording and performance. 

The good folks at Craft Recordings kindly sent me the new two-LP 180-gram vinyl version of that concert — recorded at Oil Can Harry’s in Vancouver, B.C. — which has been released separately, titled On A Friday Evening.  It is a wonderful recording which sounds to my ear like it was professionally engineered through a mixing board and onto analog tape (this was years before digital tape, folks). I can tell its not an audience recording because there is stereo panning on Evans’ piano apparent at times.  

However, part of the reason On A Friday Evening sounds as good as it does is because of a restoration step the producers wisely used from Plangent Processes.  This is a terrific technology and service that has been used by no less than Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead and many others to correct issues — often significant issues — with the original tape due to motor speed fluctuations in the original recording, electrical variances (which can, again, affect motor speed) and other anomalies inherent to the tape and specific machines on which it was recorded. 

The result is a very tight sounding and in-tune recording that effectively brings the listener that much closer to what the original performance sounded like.  I have written about Plangent Processes before but if you want a fairly technical dive into it click here to read an article our former Editor Steven Stone wrote several years ago.

Kudos to Jamie Howarth at Plangent Processes for his work and to mastering engineer Paul Blakemore who clearly did an exemplary job on this nearly 50 year old recording. 

The whole set here is excellent but I particularly like “Saren Jurer,” “T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune)” and Miles Davis’ “Nardis” (Eddie Gomez’ bowed bass solo is wonderful!)

The 180-gram vinyl pressing made at RTI is dark, well centered and quiet, so no problems on that front either.

If you don’t have a turntable but are into the high resolution streaming experience and have both a DAC plus certain subscriptions, you can find On A Friday Evening streaming on Tidal in MQA format and on Qobuz Hi Res (both stream at 192 kHz, 24-bits). The music sounds exemplary there and very warm as digital streams go (click here to jump to it on Tidal and here for Qobuz).  

Both the streams and vinyl versions have their pluses and minuses so I’m not going to rank one over the other. But for a couple quick examples, on the streams the stereo separation seemed more distinct to where it becomes very apparent that Evans’ piano was likely mic’d in Stereo, allowing you to hear the pan of his playing across the keyboard (left to right across your speakers). However, I preferred how the drums sounded on the vinyl version, particularly how the cymbals decayed.  So, not surprisingly there is a give and take on different platforms and services. Use your ears and go with what ultimately feels best to you. 

All that said, On A Friday Evening  should be high on your must get list if you are fan of Evans’ music or if you are simply an audiophile seeking high quality live recordings to show off your system.  This one is a keeper. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Dedicated To You, Record Store Day Lowrider Vinyl Love From Craft Recordings

I assume that most of you have heard the classic soul hit by War from 1975 called “Lowrider.” If not, you should skip to the end of this review and watch the promo video from this iconic hit song which will give you an idea about what the lowrider scene is about. 

But it goes back much further to the 1940s and 1950s. From the Wiki, we learn

“The lowrider car serves no practical purpose. Lowrider car culture began in Los Angeles, California in the mid-to-late 1940s and during the post-war prosperity of the 1950s. Initially, some Mexican-American youths lowered blocks, cut spring coils, z’ed the frames and dropped spindles. The aim of the low-riders is to cruise as slowly as possible, “Low and Slow” being their motto. By redesigning these cars in ways that go against their intended purposes and in painting their cars so that they reflect and hold meanings from Mexican-American culture, low-riders create cultural and political statements that go against the more prevalent Anglo culture.” 

Lowrider culture grew and through the 1970s had an initial peak. By the 1990s, low-riders were associated with West Coast hip hop and its even expanded to Japan!  And I know it is alive and well in California as I’ve seen massive lowrider parades happening in some small cities near Monterey and Santa Cruz, safe spots where people clearly want to have fun showing off their cars. Its fun and makes me want to get my own lowrider someday soon!

The music of choice played in many low-riders when cruising is equally low and slow, often from the Doo Wop era of the 1950s and some slow soul jams from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. And if you don’t know about the joys of Doo Wop music, you owe it to yourself to do a little research as it is one of the backbones of a lot of pop, soul and rock ’n roll sounds as we know them today, often popping up in seemingly unexpected places — Frank Zappa and Lou Reed were huge Doo Wop fans! 

I’m using all this history to set up my review of a new release that came out on Record Store Day which you may have overlooked if you weren’t up on the vibe. Dedicated To You : Lowrider Love is a pleasant surprise from the good folks at Craft Recordings, culled from the archives of legendary labels in the catalog of parent company Concord Music, including Vee Jay, Fania, Double Shot Records and more. 

Mastered by George Horn and Anne-Marie Suenram at Fantasy Studios the album is a fun listen, presenting a lot of sides I’ve not heard before. I really liked The Tempree’s slow 1972 take on the classic “Dedicated To The One I Love.” 

Ralph Robles’ version of The Chantels’ “Maybe” is beautiful. “Oh What A Night” by The Dells is a classic and an early Curtis Mayfield side from the Abner Records label is a special treat, “That You Love Me.” 

So, all this is great on its own. However, it may also help some of you to appreciate the intrinsic value of a curated set of rare sides like Dedicated To You : Lowrider Love when you poke around on record collecting marketplaces like Discogs to see what it might cost you to get some of the original 45 RPM singles included here.  The Serenaders’ “Two Lovers Make One Fool” starts at $25 and goes up from there.  There are exactly zero copies available of that early Curtis Mayfield / The Impressions single I mentioned earlier. There are two copies of that Ralph Robles single which begin at $66 and go upwards in price!!

The point is: this collection is a great value and it is a fun listen.  Plus it looks super cool too — the special smoke-colored vinyl is actually quiet and well centered. So colored-vinyl-phobic collectors needn’t worry.

If you like vintage sounds, Dedicated To You : Lowrider Love should be a no brainer for you to pick up. Of course, all you need now is a turntable in the back of your low rider…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Chicago/The Blues/Today! from Craft/Vanguard RSD | Jazz Files

Every generation of music lovers should find a way to listen beyond their generation. If you fail to do the (enjoyable) listening work required to appreciate classical, blues, Brasilian, and other, more esoteric styles of [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Record Store Day Preview: Jazz Dispensary’s Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2

I’ve written about the fine Jazz Dispensary sampler series from Craft Recordings in the past. These are thoughtfully curated collections of rare funky soul-jazz sides culled from the label archives of parent company Concord Music which controls the catalogs of Fantasy, Prestige, Milestone, Fania and many other labels. 

Why do you need to own these collections? Well as a budding collector of soul-jazz and groove jazz titles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s I can attest to several things:  

  1. These albums are often hard to find and if you do they can be pricey in decent condition
  2. If you do find them used, they are often in “well loved” to downright beat up and abused condition. These records were great party albums often played on average to low quality automatic record changers of the day, so people grooving and dancing to the tunes didn’t much think about taking care of their vinyl.  and… 
  3. Many of these albums are good but usually have one or two standout tracks which is what DJs tend to zero in on, those grooves with the killer beats and drum breaks and a combination of strong songs and good production vibes. 

So, the concept underlying Jazz Dispensary’s series is useful. It gives you the intrepid soul-jazz collector a chance to hear some of these great grooves in a form that makes for a fun party album in its own right, without breaking your bank for pricey rarities.  On this latest edition, guest curator Doyle Davis (of Grimey’s, a used records and books store in Nashville) offers up a second dose of his Dank D-Funk Blend

While the first edition focused on the Prestige Records vaults, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 taps into other labels in the company’s roster.

You’ll hear the Afro-Cuban beats of Ray Barretto’s peace love plea “Together,” Charles Earland’s fiery “Letha” and Leon Spencer groovy take on Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” Esther Marrow breaks out a funky “Things Ain’t Right.”

I really loved the title track of Pleasure’s 1977 LP Joyous, one of those groups I’ve never heard of before or even seen out in the wilds of crate digging.  Cal Tjader surprisingly good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” gives way to  Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers 1968 smoker “Heat!” 

There is even a solid Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune here from 1973 — “You’ve Got a Hard Head” — before he descended into the the disappointing DJM Records disco era.

All tracks on The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 are reportedly mastered from their original analog tapes. The only one of these I already had in my collection is the Pucho track which sounds very comparable to my original pressing, with perhaps a bit more crisp detail on the high end. It is also mastered a bit more quietly than my original pressing so I had to turn up my amp a bit after switching albums. 

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is pressed on surprisingly quiet and — happily —well centered orange-red swirl, fire-colored vinyl which was made at Memphis Record Pressing.  A limited edition of 3800 copies, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is packaged in a quite stunning jacked featuring embossed artwork by Argentinian artist Mariano Peccinetti, who designed the previous volume’s cover.  

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is a fun jam. Put it on your Record Store Day list and be sure to grab a copy if you can. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Do I Need To Be Collecting Original Pressings Of Old Records Anymore?

One of the reasons I first started collecting original pressings of LPs when I was but a wee lad in Junior High School was — believe it or not — audio quality. It was the mid 1970s and the oil crisis was on resulting in poorer quality vinyl for new releases. In retrospect, I suspect that the major labels were both growing and starting to feel the pinch of economic responsibility as they were evolving into corporate giants with profit incentives to meet.  So, corners were increasingly cut… at least so it seemed to many of us on the front lines buying records. 

Vinyl quality was often poor, records became thinner, warps more common, album graphics on older titles were compromised, sometimes with washed out printing and reduction of gatefold covers to single pocket budget line editions. 

I had grown quickly frustrated by the preponderance of cruddy quality LPs I was getting even at that early period In my life. Now, it’s not like I had a big fancy uber high end stereo system or anything folks… We had some decent gear around. My older brother had a Fisher 500 receiver and Smaller Advent speakers, for example.  My middle brother was busy experimenting fixing old amps he found on junk day. We also had this futuristic-looking Panasonic receiver with built in cassette recorder around for a while. Plus there was this great old idler drive Rek-o-Kut Rondine Jr. turntable he’d restored a bit (which I eventually used all through college, btw). Still, my ear was pretty keen and I could tell when something sounded good or didn’t sound right.

Add to that the thrill thrill of discovery of used record shops as well as thrift shops, garage sales and flea markets and soon I realized that I could stretch my nonexistent teenaged budget quite a bit. 

Then the 1980s happened and the compact disc came along (my first CD player was a Sony CDP 110). But, guess what:  I didn’t purge my vinyl!  One of the first CDs I bought was Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and I returned it the next day — it sounded awful!  A few other CD purchases made me realize we had a ways to go before the CD would truly deliver on its “perfect sound” promise — digital disc media later improved dramatically with 24-bit mastering, and expanded capacity disc formats like SACD, DVD Audio and Blu-ray). 

Fast forward and here I am decades later still (happily) rooting around in thrift shops and used record stores. I am still collecting vinyl (and some CDs and surround sound Blu-rays when I can). I’m still enjoying the thrill of the hunt for the elusive rarity: from a Beatles “butcher cover” or some rare Blue Note jazz gem from J. R. Monterose (which I found at an estate sale for $2 just five years ago!).  

In the 1980s and ‘90s there was a great series from Fantasy Records called “Original Jazz Classics” (commonly known among collectors as “OJC”). And while those aren’t fancy packages like the new Tone Poet and Acoustic Sounds reissues, they do re-create the original artwork/ labels and tend to be of excellent quality even though they are on standard weight vinyl. From what I have heard from industry friends, much of that series was mastered in the analog realm so there is a genuinely warm and inviting sound there.

The OJC series was a great step in the right direction for creating high quality and affordably priced reissues. I still buy those periodically especially for titles that are difficult to find out in the wilds of record hunting. I recently picked up a mint used copy of a Teddy Charles & Shorty Rogers album from 1956 on an OJC reissue for $10. On all of Discogs there are exactly one original copies of that album available (and it is $200). The last one sold on Popsike went for $141. So, I think I am ok with my OJC edition which sounds terrific.

Especially in the jazz world, the quality of reissues from the major labels have proven to be generally very good in the past couple of years. Universal Music’s Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet series are excellent as have been many of the reissues from Concord Music’s Craft Recordings series (Prestige, Fantasy, World Pacific catalogs). The latter’s recent Chet Baker reissue series was top notch.  I have been reviewing many of these here on Audiophile Review so do use our search feature to seek out those reviews if you are interested in learning more about them.

As owners of the catalogs of Verve Records, Impulse Records, Decca Records and many others, Universal has hired outside experts from the Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet boutique reissue labels to curate the reissue series. Most of these are rare enough records that I couldn’t have even begun to even consider getting them in their original form unless I found them out in the wilds of collecting (garage sales, thrift shops, flea markets, etc.).  

These new reissues are often superior to the originals – – many are pressed on 180-gram vinyl, featuring laminated covers, gatefold packaging, original label artwork and most importantly high-quality mastering and pressing, etc.

At least a couple of these reissues have eclipsed originals in my collection in terms of fidelity and almost always in terms of condition. In some instances, I am getting rid of my originals because there is simply no need for it anymore. It is a case by case thing, really. I talk about that at the end of my review of the recent Ray Charles reissue on Impulse Records (click here to read that). I have already purged my “OG” copy of The Band’s Stage Fright because the new reissue is far far superior in every way (click here for my review of that new boxed set)

My Frank Zappa collection is very interesting because the new re-issues are generally excellent, some with expanded versions of the performances, high-quality remastering, great pressing quality and original cover art and so on. Perhaps the only anomaly is that they don’t use the original label designs because those are owned by another entity… I’m OK with that because I could (and probably will) hold onto my originals of those favorite albums. However, when it comes to regular play, some of those re-issues sound at least as good if not better than my originals and will be my go-tos for basic listening.

All this raises a conundrum for me (and perhaps some of you, Dear Readers), thus inspiring this little thought piece here today here at Audiophile Review.  That question is:  with the record labels finally understanding what collectors want and mostly delivering on those demands, do we need to keep searching for certain original editions? 

I probably couldn’t afford buying a whole a whole batch of Grant Green original Blue Notes but the reissues are certainly lovingly crafted. Each sells for about $25-$30 a piece which while not exactly “cheap” (like the $10-15 OJCs) it is also nowhere near as expensive as finding certain first pressings (especially those in great condition).

Whats a dedicated collector to do?

In this instance, I think it would be wise for all of us to be snapping up these great reissues while they last. Original pressings are elusive for a reason. Many from the 1950s especially were produced and/or sold small quantities. I suspect that distribution centered on major Jazz markets of the time (NY, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and some important secondary cities like New Orleans and Kansas City). 

Many of these records were played hard, often beat up on lower quality record players and automatic changers. Many were used in party situations — if some of those albums could talk, I bet they’d have some great stories to tell! 

It is really really hard to find any that are in even halfway decent shape that are fairly affordable. Now, I personally don’t mind a light scratch or two… a click here and there, a pop, crackle or occasional snap… I’ve even written about the joys of a Mono cartridge which can minimize the surface noise of certain pre-1958 Monaural records (click here for that article). 

But, if I can get a pristine reissue that looks and feels like the real thing and more or less sounds like the real thing if not better – – and in many cases they do sound technically better because they’re not compressed as much —  then why not just buy them, enjoy them and be done with it?  It makes good sense to me. 

That said, I look forward to seeing you out in your favorite record stores picking up those latest Blue Note Tone Poets, Verve Acoustic Sounds and Craft Recordings special editions.

Grab ‘em while you can!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Violent Femmes, Add It Up (LP Reissue) | The Vinyl Anachronist

I’ll always remember the first time I heard Violent Femmes because it was such a cool place to be, browsing through the bins at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard. This is back in the summer [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band–The Ultimate Collection | Jazz Files

If you’re an analog, aka vinyl lover, I’ll cut to the big magilla: John Lennon’s remastered solo debut LP, Plastic Ono Band, humiliates the original 1970 US pressing. The new pressing, which I assume was [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956-1980)

Concord’s Craft Records imprint is renowned for their excellent CD and LP reissues and frowned upon (by some) for their $100-per-LP, “one-step,” “Small Batch Series,” limited edition vinyl packages. With Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956-1980), Craft returns to what it does best, creating interesting compilations–with a twist. June 25th is the release date for this five-CD set, available for $69.99 preorder from craftrecordings.com. The set includes both familiar material and a previously unreleased live recording of a later period Evans trio.   

Arguably the greatest jazz piano influence of the 1960s, the immediate forebearer of Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Jacky Terrason, and many others, Bill Evans epitomizes the tortured artist syndrome, the musician as isolated, difficult genius, Evans’ legacy as important to jazz as such equally heroic but troubled musicians as Charlie Parker, Jaco Pastorius, Bix Beiderbecke, and Billie Holiday. Evans’ music still resonates deeply with jazz aficionados today, his passing on September 15, 1980 at age 51, not that distant, and seemingly endless reissues and documentaries keeping his work alive and accessible.

Regardless of recording, Bill Evans’ creativity shines as art, his melding of engrossing melodies, brilliant technique, unique phrasing, and sure swing–coupled to a certain interior darkness—remains rare and rewarding. 

His reissue sales on par with John Coltrane and Miles Davis (whether from domestic sources or sketchy EU labels), Evans’ profound lyricism, lovely compositions, and innovative trios still resound with listeners. Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956-1980) culls from prior Riverside, Milestone, Fantasy, Verve, Warner Bros., and Elektra/Musician CD titles. It’s kind of a primer for those not already in possession of such comprehensive Bill Evans’ offerings as 1991’s 12-CD set, The Complete Riverside Recordings; 1996’s 9-CD The Complete Fantasy Recordings; 1997’s 18-CD The Complete Bill Evans on Verve, and 2005’s The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings. In an era of downloads and streaming, the 60-plus remastered tracks of Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans confirm our fondness for physical product and the public’s endless fascination with Bill Evans.

The 5-CD box set arrives in a beautiful, fabric-wrapped, hard-cover portfolio style book (12” x 10” with a foil-stamped cover). The case feels and looks like velour, a favorite material of ‘60s and ‘70s designers of then-trendy clothes and furniture. The 48-page book features rare photos and liner notes by writer, Neil Tesser, including an overview of the box set’s tracks. Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans was produced by Nick Phillips and includes newly remastered audio by engineer, Paul Blakemore.

Disc one, “Trialogues, Vol. 1,” (not “Triologues”?) partially covers Evans’ trio sides with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro. The unique interplay and shared sensitivity of this first trio as heard on the Riverside titles, New Jazz Conceptions, Portrait in Jazz, Explorations, Waltz for Debby, and Sunday at the Village Vanguard, still towers above all other Evans’ releases. Where later Evans’ trios seemed to bring out the muscle and flash of his collaborators, seemingly drawing on earlier jazz trio templates, the Evans, LaFaro, and Motian trio created an exceptional way of listening and interpreting which had its ultimate fruition in the roster of Manfred Eicher’s ECM label. The first trio’s thoughtful, deeply empathetic approach, as well as its innate chemistry, is what makes their music so compelling some 60 years later.   

Disc two, “Trialogues, Vol. 2,” focuses on “Evans’ trios from the mid-60s onwards, as he resolved the loss of LaFaro and began collaborating with such sidemen as Eddie Gómez, Eliot Zigmund, Joe LaBarbera, and Marc Johnson,” stated the liner notes. Disc three, “Monologues,” focuses on Evans’ solo performances, including such seminal works as “Peace Piece,” “Waltz for Debby,” and the Miles Davis-penned “Nardis,” which Evans made entirely his own. Evans’ solo work is the next logical destination after you’ve imbibed his major trio recordings.  

Disc four, “Dialogues & Confluences,” highlights Evans’ collaborations with Tony Bennett, guitarist Jim Hall, bassists Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson, and an excerpt from Marian McPartland’s long-running NPR show. Additional work with Freddie Hubbard, Cannonball Adderley, Toots Thielemans, Zoot Sims, and Lee Konitz round out disc four. 

A newly discovered live 1975 performance by Evans, Eddie Gómez, and Eliot Zigmund from Oil Can Harry’s in Vancouver, BC, makes up disc five, “Epilogue.” Audio restoration by Plangent Processes and meticulous mastering bring you to what sounds like the third row of an intimate club, and the results are masterful. Gomez left, Evans center, Zigmund right, it’s a deeply swinging performance of such gems as “Nardis,” “Blue Serge,” “Quiet Now,” “The Two Lonely People,” plus others. The concert will be available on two 180-gram vinyl LPs as On A Friday Evening. It’s prime Evans in many ways, especially when the pianist plays solo, though it lacks the telepathic synergy and subtlety of the first Evans, LaFaro, Motian trio. For all that’s played by Evans’ later trios, it’s perhaps what’s not played that makes his first trio, to many ears, perfect.      

For those new to Bill Evans or who call themselves completists, Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956-1980) is a worthy purchase.  

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Bill Evans concert from 1975 gets first release on 2xLP

An evening with the legendary jazz pianist.

A Bill Evans Trio concert recording titled On A Friday Evening, is being released for the first time, via Craft Recordings this June.

The recording captures the trio’s concert at Vancouver club Oil Can Harry during 1975, with Evans joined by Eddie Gomez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums

“In the history of 20th-century piano, the music of Bill Evans constitutes an inflection point,” shares Zigmund. “There have been only a handful of pianists … whose innovations so strongly altered the prevailing aesthetic that the timeline breaks down into ‘before’ and ‘after.’”

On A Friday Evening follows Craft Recordings’ reissue of Yusef Lateef’s 1961 album Eastern Sounds.

Pre-order On A Friday Evening here in advance of its 25th June release, check out the artwork and tracklist below.

Tracklist:

Side A

1. Sareen Jurer (live)
2. Sugar Plum (live)

Side B

1. The Two Lonely People (live)
2. T. T. T. (Twelve Tone Tune) (live)
3. Quiet Now (live)

Side C

1. Up With The Lark (live)
2. How Deep Is The Ocean (live)

Side D

1. Blue Serge (live)
2. Nardis (live)

Photo by: Phil Brey

Original Resource is The Vinyl Factory

Are Super Limited Editions Vexing The Vinyl-verse?

I get it…

Times are tough and everybody is struggling to make a buck and a dime… and vinyl is a hot and highly visible commodity these days… But I fear there is a tipping point where short term profit motives may undermine the industry over the long-haul.

I’ll stop vague-blogging and zero in on what seems to be upsetting many vinyl collecting fans. I’m talking about the “limited edition” release concept which has escalated to fairly ridiculous levels.

I’m talking about rare albums which are reissued as special colored vinyl editions or on super duper, uber-audiophile versions… or special web exclusive sets…. or a previously unreleased concert or studio recording by a famous artist… These kinds of releases have become almost events unto themselves. And if you are a marketer of these products, you are probably excited about that factor. However, if you are the consumer, the excitement may be waning…

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m OK with having these special versions.  In fact, I like them, especially when issued around the time of Record Store Day which helps to drive fans into the stores and ultimately helps keep the retail infrastructure afloat… When the process works it can be fun. I’m good with that level of exclusivity as it gives fans a fair chance to get their hands on a copy — especially if enough copies are manufactured — this is a key thing, folks. 

But it doesn’t always work that way and in these pandemic times many labels have taken to leveraging the Internet to sell these special editions… and this is where the problems seem to be creeping in… For example, in recent years there have been a number of fine specialized, niche audiophile boutique labels popping up which have been doing some great work generally. These labels (some backed by major label entities) are offering affordably priced high quality editions which is indeed helping to inspire new generations of collectors and music fans. It is allowing them to experience classic recordings that have long been out of reach for most people due to high prices — and relative rarity — on the collectors resale market.

Those things are all good, as they say… Blue Note Tone Poet and Verve Acoustic Sounds… heck, even basic Mobile Fidelity’s limited edition runs are popular but I haven’t really heard any significant grumbling. Most people seem to be able to get what they want without too much hassle. I even purchased a recent reissue of a popular MoFi edition which sold out initially, Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach’s Painted From Memory. I even wrote about that experience (click here to read it)

But then you have new technologies driving development of even more specialized and more limited edition releases such as Mobile Fidelity’s Ultradisc One-Step pressings. These releases often put classic albums out as two LP sets, spinning at 45 RPM and charging more than $100 per set. Typically, these albums seem to sell out quickly. Perhaps too quickly. Concord Music’s Craft Recordings label has started a similar series — called “Small Batch” — that is already upsetting many fans because many fans can not get their hands on them. They sell out on pre-order. Several people have grumbled to me about these and others, in part prompting this thought piece.

The reason for the vinyl fan upset is similar to the reason that concert goers get mad at ticket scalpers: they feel like they are getting the short shrift, burned even. Many true fans of their favorite artists are not able to get through on the pre-orders because of circumstance or lack of sophisticated online buying strategies.  

I have heard speculation from some people that “bots” are snapping up the titles before the fans. Apparently this was an issue in the sneaker collecting market (click here for an old article on Wired exploring this).  I’ve heard stories that this kind of thing is going on in the video games universe as well. And the “flippers” (as they are known in collecting circles) seem to be putting them up on places like eBay and Discogs at enormously inflated prices. Don’t believe me?  Click here for eBay and here for Discogs. 

This process is seemingly self defeating. Sure, the labels make a bit more on each sale but they are also LOSING money because the flippers are making as much if not more in the aftermarket resale. Are extra wealthy collectors willing to pay those premium prices for the convenience or just to be in that exclusive group who get the albums first (ie. bragging rights)?

Copies of the recently released Small Batch version of John Coltrane’s Lush Life are up on eBay for upwards of $700! (click here for a recent search on that) and they begin on Discogs at $500 going up from there (click here for that search).  Mobile Fidelity’s One Step series releases are also seemingly fetching some coin there (click here for a recent search). The copies of Santana’s Abraxas on that disc format begin at $800 and go upwards on Discogs (and they go way up!!). 

And this issue is not just limited to these super high end editions. Paul McCartney’s new half-speed mastered edition of RAM has already sold out on pre-order on his website! And yes, people are already offering them for double that amount on eBay (click here for a recent search)

As I wasn’t able to get one of the Record Store Day half speed mastered edition of Sir Paul’s first solo album, this latest process was more upsetting than it needed to be. And I hear you cynics in the back row saying “awww… boo hoo…” These are “first world” problems, I know. (I did ultimately find a way to pre-order RAM online from an independent record store in Grass Valley, California!). 

If this process makes me, a lifetime music collector, feel crummy, I can imagine younger collectors getting discouraged. And that is ultimately what bothers me. It shouldn’t be this difficult. I wouldn’t be surprised if limited editions from Billie Eilish or Doja Cat or whomever are also hard to come by…  At least Billie is selling her posable dolls at Target so hopefully fans can get them there… I’ve read online and heard from some friends that Bowie fans have been going through vinyl collector gyrations lately as well.

Is it any wonder that streaming music services thrive, many shafting artists out of proper royalties due to low pay out structures? 

Again, I think these super special editions are at their root a good thing. That isn’t the problem here. The issue is that the industry is not serving the marketplace well, and it seems to be priming a secondary market for price-gouging flippers.  

The industry should consider the impact it may have over the long-haul. I know that’s easier said than done because for many executives if they don’t make their numbers they get laid off. 

But if everybody takes that short term profit center attitude, there may not be much of an industry left…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review