Hallelujah! It's a Re-issue Revival Hallelujah! It's a Re-issue Revival
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Hallelujah! It's a Re-issue Revival

by Jessica Hundley

February 12, 2009

A slew of re-issue labels are bringing forgotten vinyl to the web.

Vintage vinyl seduced me early. First it was scraps from the family turntable-my mother's Joni Mitchell, dad's Bob Seger. Then it was scratched 45s culled from various neighborhood yard sales. By the time I was 12, I was making what amounted to religious pilgrimages to the only decent record store within bike range-a closet-sized shop manned by a white-haired, sway-bellied, Middle-Earth-type who preferred grumbling to conversation. Occasionally, he would take notice of me and spout some deep wisdom from high atop Audiophile Mountain: "Pentagram is like Black Sabbath... only they mean it," or "David Bowie made a crapload of albums before Let's Dance, you know..."I would spend hours there, sifting through stacks, staring at album covers, absolutely exhilarated, a thin film of grime forming on my fingers from the dusty cardboard. I would buy anything I had even remotely heard of; some Joni Mitchell record my mother didn't have, more battered 45s. I also started to base purchases solely on cover art, which lead to some spectacular revelations: a Raymond Pettibone illustration brought West Coast punk to my East Coast life, and my attraction to the spaceship/soulman on the front of Mothership Connection catapulted me directly into the acid-soaked vortex of Parliament/Funkadelic. It was a scavenger hunt, a treasure trail, a pirate's map to a remote and hidden island, and I felt like nothing less than a swashbuckler in that crappy little shop-embarking on a great adventure through musical territories unknown.I've been a digger ever since, shuffling through garage sale milk crates and big city record stores on an infinite quest for the next new (old) thing. But now, as the mom and pop record shops sadly disappear, and as corporate monoliths like Virgin and Tower Records topple, that quest is hugely facilitated-for myself and every other audiophile on the planet-by the vast miracle of the internet.Some insightful, primarily web-based record labels have found success in the rediscovering and re-issuing of lost vinyl classics, and in the process, they've resurrected some of the finest music ever forgotten. Forgoing major label methodology-mediocre "best of" anthologies and remastered big hits-these labels have instead done what true vinyl junkies have been doing for decades: They've sought out the unknowns, those songs and artists that somehow got caught and lost in the cracks.
Some insightful, primarily web-based record labels have resurrected some of the finest music ever forgotten.
Reissues labels explore a huge array of musical choices, from Afrobeat to jazz to experimental noise. The late, great guitarist John Fahey started Revenant Records in 1996 in order to reissue lost jazz classics. Now Again, in Los Angeles, offers everything from old school hip-hop unknowns to obscure 1970s funk ensembles. A curious listener can visit Sundazed for lost rock classics, Radioactive for rare new wave and punk, the United Kingdom's Ace label for some 1950s soul, or Italy's Akarma for a selection of 1960s pop.Then there's New York's Anthology Recordings, which focuses on psych-rock, folk, and heavy metal gems, but doesn't limit itself to the guitar realm. "We try to cover as much ground as we can," explains Anthology founder Keith Ambrahamsson, "people love all kinds of music and there's plenty of overlooked stuff existing in any given genre."
Anthology's website also serves as a distribution outlet for a number of other like-minded labels, including the Seattle-based, Light In the Attic, which specializes in lost funk, folk, and reggae. The label has found recent success with work from 1970s funk/spunk sex goddess (and Miles Davis ex) Betty Davis, as well as the brooding, ethereal folk from doomed genius Karen Dalton. "Simply put, good music is good music," says Light in the Attic's Matt Sullivan. "There's a reason why these records still continue to find an audience thirty or forty years after their initial release."And while many of these reissue labels stick to somewhat mainstream genres, there are others that prefer to mine the fringes. Chicago-based Locust, for instance, offers spoken-word albums from 1960s guru Allan Watts and Fluxist soundscapes from Gamelon Son of Lion. De Stilj Records, based in Minnesota, embraces more experimental rock and folk recordings."I find it super important that reissues democratize these rarities that have been elevated in status and price by the collector world," explains DeStilj founder Clint Simonson, "De Stilj releases are really arcane, which has, for me, come to mean that they're for serious listeners with well-traveled ears."
A band who scraped together milk money to press 200 copies of an album in 1965-then got married, found jobs, had kids, and retired-can now sell thousands of downloads and reunite for a sold-out tour.
What all these labels share, however, is the common digger obsession-to unearth that long-buried vein of pure gold. From time to time, they can grant a second chance to not only the music, but also to the musicians. A band who scraped together milk money to press 200 copies of an album in 1965-then got married, found jobs, had kids, and retired-can now sell thousands of downloads and reunite for a sold-out tour. Light In the Attic recently experienced an unprecedented response with the release of Cold Fact, a politically charged 1970 folk funk album from a Detroit artist known as Rodriguez. Thirty-eight years after its release, Rodriguez is playing club dates, doing interviews, and signing autographs in support of the record.In the end, this revival is about granting new life to old work. It doesn't matter if it's a download, a CD, or an honest-to-God 180 gram vinyl LP. Nor does it matter whether you come across it on a website, in a dusty record shop, or on some old lady's front lawn. The thrill of digging remains.MORE INFOA great resource for re-issues is Forced Exposure, an online store that carries most of the releases from the labels listed below. Go to Rockadrome for a more specialized selection of heavy/psych rock releases.Anthology Recordings: This all-digital reissue label (and distribution hub) has a massive selection of vintage sounds, among them the towering dirt rock of Sir Lord Baltimore, the groovy duets of Jade Stone and Luv and the poetic, and the John Peel-produced work of Bridget St. John.Sundazed: Some hits from this country/rock/garage/punk/and more reissue label include releases from ex-Moby Grape resident genius Skip Spence, frothy pop from 1960s masters Millennium and the rare soul sounds of Bobby Patterson.Subliminal Sounds: The place to dig for Swedish psych rock greats like Träd Gräs Och Stenar (Trees Grass and Stones) and the hard-rocking Scandinavian power trio The Baby Grandmothers.De Stilj: Specializing in both contemporary artists and eclectic re-issues, De Stilj's roster is carefully curated by founder Clint Simonson. It also explores the weird and wonderful world of artist Ed Askew, the avant-garde pysch of Roots of Madness, and the wildly exploratory rock of Michael Yonkers.Light in The Attic: Some stellar picks include the aforementioned Rodriguez, Dalton, and Davis, as well as the label's amazing series of reggae from a group of expat Jamaicans in Toronto.
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Hallelujah! It's a Re-issue Revival