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Craft Recordings Record Store Day LP Releases for April, 2023

04-21-2023 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 127

Craft Recordings is bringing an impressive slate of limited-edition LPs to stores for 2023's first celebration of Record Store Day (RSD), which takes place on Saturday, April 22. Craft's noteworthy offering of rarities and specialty releases are just a smattering among the hundreds of records from a multitude of record labels. Craft's seven releases include a picture-disc LP that commemorates the 40th anniversary of the eponymous debut album Violent Femmes from the very same, irrepressible alt-rock darlings. Proto-punk and folk-rocker Jonathan Richman's Jonathan Goes Country (1990) provides another off-kilter dose of Richman's trademarked eclecticism, and arrives pressed on cowboy-boot red colored vinyl. 1971's The New York Sound is a Latin/psych/funk rarity from Flash & The Dynamics; it was their debut (and only) album, and is being offered for the first time in decades pressed on purple vinyl. And composer John Powell's soundtrack for How To Train Your Dragon 2 rolls in as a double album, pressed on a pair of red-splatter colored vinyl LPs. 

I received three of the seven available titles for review. Those included Chet Baker's classic Chet [in Mono], which is presented here as a first-ever American reissue in mono; the album hasn't been reissued as such since its original release in 1959. Also included is Hotel Jolie Dame, which is the latest compilation installment from Craft's funk/groove/psych boutique label, Jazz Dispensary. Hotel Jolie Dame is pressed on psych-sunset, marbled orange vinyl; it further explores Concord Music's deep catalog of sixties and seventies rarities. Finally, Scottish alt-rockers Travis provide The Invisible Band Live, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of this seminal album. Travis plays the album in its entirety live before a raucous hometown Glasgow audience. It's a double-album that's pressed on a pair of beautiful, jewel-like, crystal-clear vinyl LPs. 

You can click on my name in the header above for more information about the systems I used to evaluate these albums. One other note: Craft Recordings allows a certain amount of latitude in RSD pricing to the independent and online outlets participating in the event, so the prices I've listed are recommended MSRPs, and the actual prices for these albums may differ slightly at the point of sale. 


Chet Baker: Chet [in Mono] - 180 gram LP: $32.99 MSRP

I reviewed the stereo version of this LP when Craft reissued it two years ago; I'll avoid boring you with a rehash, and you can read my full review HERE to get more background on the recording. The main importance of this reissue is that it's in the original mono, and a lot of listeners (especially jazz hounds like myself) have a certain proclivity for mono albums of vintage recordings. 

I know, a lot of you are probably shaking your heads—"why mono?" especially in this day and age. I have a second turntable setup reserved strictly for mono playback that's fitted with a mono cartridge, and believe me, using a true mono cartridge for playback of mono albums makes all the difference in the world! A mono cartridge eliminates any crosstalk, phase errors, and tracking errors, and greatly reduces any groove noise from imperfections that might exist in a particular mono LP. And surprisingly, mono is capable of presenting a wide and realistic soundstage that simply has to be heard to be believed! I have a growing collection of mono LPs; many LPs (including albums by The Beatles and Rolling Stones) continued to be released in both mono and stereo up into the mid-seventies. And many of them sound amazing—The Beatles in Mono box set is a great example of how fantastic mono LPs can sound.

So that brings us back to Chet [in Mono]; as much as I love the stereo version, I love this new mono version equally. Riverside Records was based in New York, and they tended not to record their albums as very "hard left-hard right" as so many other jazz labels did around the dawn of the stereo LP in the fifties. That said, classic mono jazz albums often offer a remarkable level of sound quality that—in my opinion, at least—approaches that of stereo, and occasionally exceeds it. Back in the day, albums were often recorded with the intent of releasing them first in mono, with a stereo release to follow. And some of the stereo releases were gimmicked, or mixed badly, yielding an inferior performance to the original mono release. The mono release of this classic album has a very vintage feel to it, that on a decent mono setup offers a superior listening experience.

Chet [in Mono] was remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, and was pressed on a single, black 180 gram LP at RTI. The remastering was an all-analog, AAA process, and the lacquers were created from the original master tapes. The album is strictly limited to 10,000 copies worldwide; I highly recommend this release for its superb sound quality, and it will obviously have great appeal to collectors.

Hotel Jolie Dame - 140 gram marbled orange LP: $25.98 MSRP

Hotel Jolie Dame is the latest installment from Craft Recordings funk/groove/psych boutique label, Jazz Dispensary. Their compilation albums are mix-ups of classic grooves that Jazz Dispensary mines from the riches of Concord Music's jazz, funk, soul, and fusion recordings from their Prestige, Fantasy, and Milestone imprints from the mid-60s through the mid-70s. The backbone of these albums tend to be rarities and obscure tracks from even more obscure groups, and a somewhat lo-fi approach is often taken in mixing the albums. Jazz Dispensary has generated a string of LP compilations that are danceable, cerebral, and enjoyably listenable.

To quote from Craft's press release: "Hotel Jolie Dame transports listeners back to the summer of 1978, where a party awaits deep in the heart of the French Riviera at Hotel Jolie Dame. This fantastical resort welcomes cosmic groovers of all forms to check in for a day (or a week) of love, abandonment, and sunshine, while a psychedelic soundtrack—featuring unexpected cuts from Dizzy Gillespie, The Blackbyrds, Dorothy Ashby, and more—keeps the vibe elevated all night long." The key words here are "psychedelic soundtrack," and that's exactly what makes Hotel Jolie Dame such essential listening.

The opening track "A Beginning Dream" features a wash of shimmering percussion that's soon overtaken by a subterranean synth figure that will shake your home's foundation! That segues into what may be the best track on the entire album from the very obscure Latin fusion group Opa, the sprawling "Tombo/La Escuela/Tombo/The Last Goodbye." Opa is made up of Uruguayan players that are augmented by another relative unknown, Hermeto Pascoal, and members of his ensemble. Pascoal is an underground legend, and his albums are apparently nearly impossible to find in the US, but I've been told they're well worth seeking out, and if this standout track is any indication, I'll definitely be on the lookout! "Ozone/Madness" from Dizzy Gillespie follows with an all-star cast of supporting players and a pounding beat that propulsively pushes Hotel Jolie Dame forward. 

There's a bit of a break in the action with more mellow readings of "Summer Love" from the Blackbyrds and vibraphonist Cal Tjader's take on "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight." But then the psychedelic strangeness gets right back on track with Flora Purim's "Light As A Feather," which features a Return To Forever-ish accompaniment to Purim's otherworldly vocals that features George Duke on keyboards and Stanley Clarke on bass. That segues into sixties electronics wizard Jean-Jacques Perry's "In The Heart of a Rose" that features a Theremin accompaniment that you'd swear was a ghostly female vocal. The album then again abruptly switches gears with harpist Dorothy Ashby's "There's A Small Hotel" that features a pretty swinging flute solo from Frank Wess. To say that Hotel Jolie Dame is an album of strange and interesting transitions is definitely an understatement! 

Hotel Jolie Dame is pressed on beautiful, psych-sunset, marbled orange vinyl and is limited to 5000 copies worldwide; my review copy was perfectly centered and flat, and exhibited no appreciable surface noise. The cover illustration from Callum Rooney adds a serious measure of psychedelia to the proceedings, and the packaging is in keeping with the off-kilter nature of previous releases in the series. The Jazz Dispensary compilations are an interesting departure from the ordinary, for sure, and this excellent album is well worth seeking out. Highly recommended!

Travis: The Invisible Band Live - (2) 140 gram clear vinyl LPs: $37.99 MSRP

Scottish alt-rockers Travis became mega-stars with the release of their sophomore album, 1999's The Man Who, which spent nine weeks at Number One on the UK album charts and was certified 9x platinum in the process. Following up such a monster hit seemed like a tall order, but they duplicated that success with their third release, 2003's The Invisible Band. The album debuted at Number One on the UK charts, boasted 4x platinum sales, and yielded the band's highest charting single ever, "Sing."  The Invisible Band scored significant worldwide success as well, cracking the US Top 40 charts and Top 10 charts across many continents. In the US, it enjoyed significant airplay on indie and college radio stations.

I've loved that album from its original release. Upon learning of Craft's RSD issue celebrating The Invisible Band's 20th anniversary with The Invisible Band Live, it immediately became my top choice out of everything else available on Record Store Day. Travis decided to honor the album's success by embarking on a massive tour, where they'd play the entire album at each stop. The Invisible Band Live captures a homecoming date in front of an adoring audience, recorded at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall in May, 2022. 

Upon seeing that Craft's release for The Invisible Band Live was a double album with the same song selection as the original single LP, I also assumed it was a 45 rpm release. Finding out in the pre-release information that it's being pressed on clear vinyl was the clincher—I love colored vinyl releases, but clear vinyl has a special sort of added mystique. Not to mention that clear vinyl LPs theoretically have the potential to produce better sound quality than standard black LPs, which are actually tinted with a black carbon colorant. 

Anyway, this title shipped much later than the other two I received for review, and upon receipt, I tore into the package with delight—and let me tell you, this two-LP set is absolutely gorgeous. The clear vinyl LPs are literally crystalline in appearance, and the gatefold LP jacket and packaging are perfection incarnate, and the photography on the inner sleeves of the album is breathtakingly beautiful. This is a beautiful LP package at any price! As I grappled the first LP to place it on my table's platter, I happened to think, and looked to confirm that it was indeed a 45 rpm release. Nope—it's clearly a 33.3 rpm LP. I then examined the groove geometry, to try and determine if the sides were just particularly short—I've encountered that with some audiophile pressings, but no, the sides appeared to be full length. 

The album opens with Travis' biggest charting hit, "Sing," which also happens to be the lead track on The Invisible Band (they're playing the entire album, remember). It's a completely irresistible tune, and an all-out singalong with the hometown Glasgow audience ensues. And following the tune, singer Fran Healy cajoles the crowd with tales of the ongoing tour and the backstory of the album—and this goes on with just about every song on the album. It's almost like being at a live concert with the band—okay, wait, I get it—that's why the album was split into two LPs and the run times for each side are so long, because you're getting all the in-concert chatter from the band. That totally explains it, and it's a remarkably enjoyable concert experience—I actually sat and listened to the entire album, only getting up to flip the records and give them a quick dust before playback. 

The Invisible Band Live is, in my most humble opinion, one of the true gems of this year's first Record Store Day. It's a beautiful album package that's only being released in physical form as LPs, and they're strictly limited to 5000 copies worldwide. The LPs were pressed in the Czech Republic, and these are some of the quietest album pressings I've ever encountered. But above and beyond all that, it's one of the most movingly enjoyable concert recordings I've ever experienced—I can't begin to express how much I'm jonesing to see this band live. Don't hesitate with this one, it comes very, very highly recommended!

Record Store Day is Almost Here!

In addition to the vinyl releases available on Record Store Day, most of these albums are either currently available, or will soon be available for digital streaming on most major services. Craft Recordings has knocked it out of the park with this group of releases—you should definitely try and grab as many of these as you can get your hands on!

All images courtesy of Craft Recordings and Record Store Day