Sheldon Allman "Folk Songs for the 21st Century" (Modern Harmonic)
Born in Chicago, Sheldon Allman moved to Canada when young, joining the Canadian air force and being wounded overseas. While convalescing, he got into comedy, later appearing in movies and television series, including a voice role as the talking horse in TV's "Mr. Ed." But his true love was singing, and in 1960 he released this crooner album of lyrically whacked-out, futuristic lounge songs with titles such as "Univac and the Humanoid," "Schizophrenic Baby," and the atom bomb-era classic, "Crawl Out through the Fallout" — which WFMU fans may know — featuring lines such as "When you hear me call out, baby, kick the wall out and crawl out through the fallout back to me."
Allman, who sings in an operatic baritone, meant for these swinging songs to provide a glimpse into possible 21st century compositions. Now a cult classic, the album gets the nice reissue treatment here with pressings made from a master cut on a German lathe and released on lime-green translucent vinyl. I know people who hate colored vinyl and think it sounds worse, but for something like this, it's kind of cool in a radioactive way. Listeners may look back on these numbers as kitsch, but it's a little disconcerting how prescient a song like "Big Brother" has become, thanks to social media and advertising surveillance methods happily welcomed into every crevice of public and private life. Allman sings: "Be careful what you say. … When you watch that TV screen remember it works both ways. … You'll disappear in a wink, unless you can doublethink. … One slip and you know you're through/Big Brother is watching you."
Enlightment "Faith is the Key" (Nature Sounds)
This lost album by a little-known Washington soul and gospel outfit was meant to be a big debut in 1984, but the distributor and pressing plant went out of business. The original 500 vinyl copies wound up highly sought after by collectors.
From the opening notes of the title track, the music takes you back to the slick, crystalline production of the '80s with funky slap bass, synth and horns sounding like a polished disco album with spiritual lyrics. Founder Larry H. Jordan, formerly of the '60s R&B group, the Intrepids, wrote most of the songs and says in the liner notes that he wanted gospel to sound more sophisticated than "a bunch of hollering." The original release came when the digital medium of compact discs was taking off and Enlightment never could catch a break — though the album clearly shows an innovative willingness to blend genres, which now has become common among gospel acts.
Some of the songs can sound derivative, but there are scattered moments of raw vocal passion from singers Sheila Stubblefield, Rhonda Lathon Holmes and Marilyn Monroe. These include DJ favorite, "Burning Flame," with rhythms indebted to Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," and closing track "Him That's on Top of the World," which shows off Johnson's complex vocal arrangements. Reissued here on heavy vinyl, this is an enjoyable, breezy ride that feels like a soundtrack for a post-church, roller-skating '80s party with really good Kool-Aid. And for those who can't get enough of that heavenly groove, a 45 is included with instrumental versions of "Burning Flame" and "Agape Love," a nice bonus.
The Rolling Stones "Satanic Majesties Request: 50th Anniversary Special Edition" (ABKCO)
Forever remembered by some fans as the Stones' silly attempt to capture a little bit of the Beatles' "Sgt. Peppers" magic — Keith Richards even called it a "put-on" in his book — this 1967 album's reputation has improved some over the years, featuring as it does some of the Stones' most experimental and psychedelic work in songs such as "Citadel," "2000 Man" and the space rock of "2000 Light Years From Home." Legend has it the band may have been trying to stretch out studio time to annoy manager Andrew Loog Oldham, so there are a lot of gimmicks included, but that kind of gives it its charm (though "She's a Rainbow" often takes credit).
Beautifully repackaged, this is a limited-edition, hand-numbered set that likely would make any major Stones fan's cartoonish lips tremble with envy: Here you get deluxe double vinyl remastered by Bob Ludwig (mono and stereo versions pressed at Abbey Road Studios), double hybrid super audio CD, with Michael Cooper's original 3-D lenticular cover photograph and eight-panel gatefold that folds out to a massive, trippy square. (Just so you know where your money is going at around $75 a pop).
It is a shame, however, that no demos or outtakes are included, especially with the compact disc additions. So how does it sound? I prefer the mono version, but there's a lot to be said for listening to the stereo effects of the super audio CD on a Blu-ray player. Not a major Stones work, as it moves away from their strengths, so this is likely only for hardcore fans, completists (you know who you are), or the merry tripsters.
Chet Atkins "Chet Atkins' Workshop" (Modern Harmonic)
Chet Atkins "Hi-Fi in Focus" (Modern Harmonic)
Multi-instrumentalist Chet Atkins once was the guy in Nashville, a respected guitarist and producer who basically defined the Nashville sound by expanding country music's reach into the top tiers of pop music. Two of his best '50s albums, what is generally considered his finest period, get the vinyl reissue treatment here and the results are impressive — both crisp-sounding records were cut from the original masters to premium vinyl from Record Technology, a company in California — and "Hi-Fi" is a mono recording with Atkins' guitar really standing out.
If you're a fan of relaxed, guitar instrumental albums that refuse to be pigeonholed by genre, both these albums still pop. Not only is the sterling finger picking by Atkins amazing, but his brilliance in the hi-fi production booth remains a wonder, particularly on "Workshop." The first album, chronologically, was 1957's "Hi-Fi in Focus," which showcased Atkins in diversity mode featuring toe-tapping takes on standards from "Ain't Misbehavin'" to Johnny Smith's "Walk, Don't Run" (a version that inspired the Ventures' pop hit) even to composer Johann Sebastian Bach's "Bouree," all backed by a legendary rhythm section featuring Floyd Kramer on piano, Bob Moore on bass, and Buddy Harman on drums. It's an audacious effort, stylistically.
But I'd have to give the sonic edge to the stereo version of "Chet Atkins' Workshop," his best-selling album released a few years later in 1961, utilizing his home studio with its cutting-edge reverb and echo capabilities. Mixing jazz standards ("Lullabye of Birdland") and pop hits such as Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)," the album is a primer on how the guitarist was able to effortlessly inject his own unique country phrasing; whereas "Hi-Fi in Focus" contains a greater diversity of styles, including Latin and classical, "Workshop" feels like a return to his rural roots, with sparkling clear production.
Maybe it's me, but something about these albums reminds me of holiday music. Try decorating your tree to one or enjoying eggnog by the fire, and see if you feel the same.