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The First Drop of Craft Recordings Record Store Day 2021 LPs

06-13-2021 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 116

Record Store Day 2021 has two summer dates this year, June 12 and July 17, and Craft Recordings has no fewer than twelve RSD exclusive releases to offer this go around. Last year's RSD was the craziest ever, what with the pandemic and everything, but 2021 seems to be bringing new hope for some kind of return to normalcy—God knows we could use that! Among the first couple of titles in Craft's group of releases to get to me are the follow-up to last year's smash release from the Jazz Dispensary, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2, along with goth-metal group Evanescence's sophomore effort, The Open Door. Both are offered with deluxe packaging and in really cool colored vinyl, and are strictly limited to a small number of RSD pressings, enhancing their collectability exponentially. With a goodly segment of the populace having been vaccinated, and the relaxation of mask and social distance requirements nationwide, this summer's RSD drops should be much more of a celebratory event than last year's. Good hunting!

Jazz Dispensary, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2

Jazz Dispensary specializes in albums infused with vibes from jazzily funky grooves that are collected from Fantasy Records and their associated labels. While some of the tracks here feature more mainstream artists like Ray Barretto and Cal Tjader, many are culled from lesser-known gems from underappreciated artists like Charles Earland, Leon Spencer, Esther Marrow, and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers. While Jazz Dispensary's focus is on LP reissues, they also are offering these outstanding titles through the major streaming services, and the files for The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 will be available to stream online a week after the RSD drop. So if by some misfortune, you can't find a copy of this excellent LP, you can still enjoy the music via Qobuz or Tidal, among others. 

As with this album's predecessor, the master of ceremonies is Jazz Dispensary guest curator Doyle Davis, a.k.a. D-Funk, co-proprietor of Grimeys, Nashville's premier independent record store. For the previous incarnation of the series, Davis stuck firmly to funkalicious rare grooves from the Prestige vaults, but with The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2, he's expanded his musical reach and ventured into more adventurous territory that spans the breadth of Concord and Fantasy's jazz, funk, latin, soul, and jazz fusion artists from their vast catalog of labels. 

This record is the personification of hip, but some of the hippest grooves belong to the most obscure artists. Like organist Charles Earland's "Letha," a propulsive, driving number that was taken from his 1970 album Black Drops. The track was recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio, and features a brass section fronted by Jimmy Heath on tenor and soprano sax. Along with a killer guitar solo from Maynard Parker—and did I mention that Jimmy Turner absolutely crushes it in a drum break at the six-minute mark? Following is another relatively unknown organist, Leon Spencer, who offers a jazzy take on Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" from his 1971 album Louisiana Slim. Spencer lays down a solid Hammond foundation; none other than Grover Washington, Jr. jumps in with a typically tasteful tenor sax solo—there's such an air of familiarity here that I'd swear I've heard this tune before, though I'm sure it's very unlikely. When Queen Esther Marrow belts out a steeped-in-the-blues, gospel-inflected "Things Ain't Right"—she tells you that "even a blind man can walk around, and feel that things ain't right"—and you don't doubt it for a minute. The large-ensemble group Pleasure churns out "Joyous," a nearly seven-minute romp that features a full horn section, multiple vocalists, a string orchestra, and Marlon "The Magician" McClain takes it to the house with a scorching guitar solo.

The Craft Recordings release of The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 will easily be one of the most sought-after LPs in this year's RSD drop. Mastered from the original analog tapes by Philip S. Rodriguez at Elysian Masters, the LP was pressed at the legendary Memphis Record Pressing on stunningly gorgeous 140 gram orange fire translucent vinyl. It's an impressively beautiful package, with a high-gloss, embossed, tip-on cover designed by Argentinian artist Mariano Peccinetti. Who also designed the cover for the previous entry in the series; the 3D effect of the embossed globe image on the cover is visually quite striking. That impression extends to the printed inner sleeve, which continues the outer sleeve's cool artwork and supplements it with tons of information about the artists and the music. Based on musical content and looks, I'd give this album an 11 on a scale of 10—The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is not to be missed!

Evanescence, The Open Door

Goth-metal band Evanescence originated as a duo between vocalist and pianist Amy Lee and guitarist Ben Moody, who met at a summer camp and developed a bond over music. That bond grew over a period of years throughout the mid-to-late nineties, and the duo mostly played coffee shops and other small venues in their native Little Rock, Arkansas area. They expanded the lineup with bassist Will Boyd, guitarist John LeCompt, and drummer Rocky Gray, and eventually coalesced into Evanescence. Moody and Lee were the principal songwriters and controlled the band's artistic direction. Their 2003 debut album Fallen was a massive surprise hit, selling over 17 million copies worldwide and garnering two Grammy Awards for the band. Fallen became one of only eight albums in Billboard chart history to remain in the top fifty for an entire year, and the record spun a seemingly non-stop stream of hit singles that kept them in the public consciousness. That success came at a price, when guitarist and founder Ben Moody split during the European phase of a grueling world tour, citing creative differences within the band. Moody was quickly replaced by Terry Balsamo of the band Cold.

This complicated the release of a yet-unnamed follow up album, and with Amy Lee now the de facto leader of Evanescence, she expressed to the media that her relationship with Ben Moody had always been somewhat contentious. Lee declared that she was liberated by the departure of Moody; she was the more adventurous half of the songwriting team, and that Moody was too focused on creating music that was commercially viable. She found a kindred spirit in guitarist Terry Balsamo, who became her new writing partner, and they spent almost eighteen months writing and recording new material for the album, which now had a name, The Open Door. The sessions took place at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, but before the album could be released, more drama ensued; bassist Will Boyd announced he was departing the band, and Terry Balsamo suffered a mild stroke. This delayed the album's release by almost six months, but when it finally arrived in September, 2006, it debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts and eventually sold over five million copies worldwide. The tour for the album began in October, but midway through, guitarist John LeCompt announced he had been fired from the band. Drummer Rocky Gray quickly followed, leaving Amy Lee as the only remaining original member of the band.

The Open Door is undeniably the Amy Lee show; only in the barest sense does it at all resemble its immensely popular predecessor. I'd even venture to say that Evanescence's new genre would be something closer to theatrical or operatic goth metal, though even the metal part is completely questionable. On many of the songs, Amy Lee's piano is featured much more prominently than any of the guitars; their placement in the song structures almost seem like an afterthought compared to the debut album, Fallen, where Ben Moody's guitars were imaginative and effective. And Lee's vocals tend to get a little out of control, and strike me as being somewhat self-serving; for example, there's the bloated excess of "Lacrymosa," which is musically based on a movement from Mozart's Requiem Mass. Yeah, it's different and kinda cool, but with its choir of massed vocals and Amy Lee's vocal histrionics, the point remains—is this metal? Yes, there are high points, like "Call Me When You're Sober," which is a high-profile take down of Lee's ex-boyfriend: "You never call me when you're sober, you only call me 'cause it's over." And "All That I'm Living For," which features an uncharacteristically edgy and aggressive vocal from Lee, and—wait for it—some actually punchy, crunchy guitars!

Craft Records' RSD release of The Open Door celebrates the album's fifteenth anniversary, and this reissue appears to be only the second LP repressing since this title's original issue in 2006. While pre-billed as a 180 gram release, the set arrived as two 140 gram LPs in marbled gray vinyl. The LPs were pressed by Memphis Record Pressing, and both the LP's and jackets are beautifully done—I've never gotten an LP from the Memphis plant that wasn't artistically and functionally perfect. The outer jacket features the original's hyper-stylized artwork on a tip-on type, dual-LP single outer sleeve, with printed inner sleeves featuring more of the cool album artwork, along with lyrics and extensive credit information. Collectability based on looks alone is a 10/10, but the sound quality of the LPs is also nearly perfect, making The Open Door a very desirable LP package for collectors and fans alike. I had one minor quibble about the packaging; upon arrival, I found that both LPs had a massive static charge, such that I was unable to get either LP out of the inner sleeves! I've never encountered this once in decades of record collecting—at least, not to this extent! A couple of blasts from a Zero-Stat gun eliminated the static charge and freed the LPs, and I was then able to insert them into Mo-Fi rice paper inner sleeves and back into the paper originals as is my normal practice. 


The sound quality of the LPs was never less than superb. The vinyl for each release was perfectly flat, and there was no appreciable surface or groove noise. My listening was done through my usual analog front end, which features a ProJect Classic turntable fitted with a Hana SL moving coil cartridge, with the signal fed into a Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+ phono preamp that's powered by a Michael Yee linear power supply. That signal is then fed into my PrimaLuna EVO 300, EL-34 based tube integrated power amplifier, with the sound output via my Zu Audio Omen loudspeakers. I chose the tube amp's ultralinear setting, which I felt was more appropriate to the hard-driving nature of the music on both LP packages. 

No MSRPs were given for any of the items under review, but I've seen prices for The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 at around $25 online, with the 2-LP The Open Door selling for around $30. I'd personally purchase the Jazz Dispensary disc all day, every day, but the Evanescence title will probably be more of a matter of personal taste in the music—while not particularly my cup of tea, it's a good record, and for fans, probably an essential one. The album packages are impressively well-done and are pressed in beautifully colored vinyl—these two reissues are a record collector's dream. I can't wait to hear the rest of Craft Recordings' RSD offerings as they continue to drop over the next week or so. Highly recommended!

Jazz Dispensary, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2. 140 gram orange fire translucent colored-vinyl LP.

Evanescence, The Open Door. Two (2) 140 gram gray marbled colored-vinyl LPs. 

Available from Craft Recordings.