Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. This time, we’re checking out a new 50th Anniversary reissue of Townes Van Zandt’s debut, rereleased by Vinyl Me, Please.
Townes Van Zandt is an artist who occupies that most curious of middle grounds in terms of fame and respect. To internet music buffs he’s a legend – a revered singer-songwriter who still commands respect half a century after his debut, and over two decades since his death. To the average Joe in the street, however, he still remains something of an unknown; the major commercial success of songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Neil Young having evaded him. Far too many other artists for whom commercial success proved elusive ably demonstrate this point – but record sales are rarely indicative of talent. Particularly respected for his lyrical abilities, the meticulously-penned and commendably self-contained short stories found on Van Zandt’s 1968 debut ‘For The Sake Of The Song’ serve as either an efficient primer or a poignant reminder of his striking ability, depending upon previous familiarity with his work. While the album isn’t all great – ‘Talkin’ Karate Blues’ hasn’t aged very favourably and makes for something of a cringe-worthy listen 50 years on – it is, by and large, an album which impresses both lyrically and musically. More extensively produced and arranged than his subsequent, more-stripped back efforts, the album is appealingly time-stamped and really couldn’t have been a product of any era other than the one in which it was made. While the production could have been toned down at a few points, the power of the songs still shines through.
As is always the case with Vinyl Me, Please’s exclusive pressings, this reissue of ‘For The Sake Of The Song’ has been pressed by the Czech Republic’s GZ Media. As the single most popular pressing plant in the world right now, it’s far from uncommon to find a modern release with their distinctive matrix details in the deadwax, but it’s somewhat harder to know what to expect from them. Much like the very-nearly-as-popular Optimal Media from Germany, GZ have a somewhat inconsistent output. Some of their releases hugely impress and boast clean sound and tight quality control. Just as many, however, suffer from surface noise, crackle and even some popping. While there’s a little of both going on here, we’re happy to report that playback is by and large excellent throughout our copy of ‘For The Sake Of The Song’. We found the A-side run-in to be a little noisy, but this cleared up comfortably before the music began and from then-on-in sound was really clean throughout. We did pick up on the occasional errant crackle here and there, however these were really only audible in the background of the soundscape and were neither frequent or pronounced enough to mar enjoyment. Other than that, however, playback is very solid; our copy is free of pops or clicks and the noise floor is also minimal throughout. Fidelity is excellent and sound is free of distortion, however we did note some occasional issues with sibilance on the vocals, particularly on the first couple of songs – it seemed to settle down after that. Original pressings of the album are a scarcity these days and a tidy copy is likely to set back even the thriftiest of collectors quite a bit indeed. This 50th anniversary reissue is not the first time that the album has been released on wax in the modern age, but it is by far the most luxurious version of the album out there.
One thing that Vinyl Me, Please can never be accused of is an inability to attractively package an album. Every release we’ve seen from them has been really well presented, and their reissue of ‘For The Sake Of The Song’ is no exception – in fact, it may be the best packaged title of theirs that we’ve written about. The jacket is very high quality; made from heavyweight cardstock, artwork is pasted on à la the old-school North American sleeves of the ’50s and ’60s. This is a rare commodity in modern record collecting – finding such a sleeve on a new release is a real treat. The glossy paper stock looks and feels nice, even if it does pick up fingerprints, and the print quality is solid as well – with colours being similarly clear. A very nice accent on the presentation is the coloured foil with which the artist’s name and album title have been printed on both the front and back covers. This effect looks especially great if you tilt the sleeve under direct sunlight. The spine looks great as well, with chunky, colourful text allowing the album to remain obvious on a packed shelf (despite the relatively thin spine inherent with such tip-on sleeves). A cardboard Obi strip of sorts is included, and it wraps around part of the front and back covers, also covering the spine. It’s not an Obi in the strictest sense of the term (i.e. a wrap-around strip of paper, usually featuring Kanji and/or Hiragana), however it certainly approximates this design. Although it features a small write-up on the rear, as well as the recipe for a drink, it’s not an overly pleasing addition from an aesthetic perspective. Fortunately, there’s nothing to stop you discarding the card if desired, so there’s certainly no harm in including it in the package.
A further addition comes in the form of a full colour art print, specifically commissioned for this Vinyl Me, Please reissue. It’s a nice addition and such prints are something of a staple for VMP releases. Perhaps the most significant addition to the package is that of a multi-page booklet featuring newly penned liner notes. While we did feel that the notes leaned a little too much towards subjective critique rather than focusing on the artist himself and his recording process, it was still a worthwhile read and print quality was excellent throughout. The addition of multiple high-quality images was a real bonus, as well. The record itself deserves mention too; as per usual with VMP, it’s not on standard black wax. Instead, it comes in a kind of deep, almost purplish blue – it’s perhaps not the most dramatic or eye catching of coloured wax we’ve ever seen (truth be told, it more or less looks black while on the platter), but it does look great held up to the light. One final point of note is the inclusion of a generic black polylined inner sleeve. It’s a high-quality sleeve and one perfectly good for preserving the condition of the LP inside; it’s a refreshing addition because far from all modern releases observe such a basic courtesy. All in all, this is a very attractively presented release.
Vinyl Me, Please have carved out a really successful niche for themselves over the course of the past few years and, considering their eye for slick presentation, that’s of little surprise. Those who appreciate their bells-and-whistles will no doubt be bowled over by the genuinely deluxe feel that this reissue boasts, and the pressing is also very solid as well.
You can find Vinyl Me, Please’s version of ‘For The Sake Of The Song’ here.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!