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Vinyl Cave: Short takes with Earl Hooker, Shoes, Gene Clark

The big buzz in the vinyl reissue world the last few months has been the return of The Beatles to LP, as the last U.S. run was pressed in the mid-'90s. I haven't heard any of those -- and might not for awhile, as the reports of production problems are somewhat scary -- but there are lots and lots and lots of other reviews of that campaign all over the internets anyway. Here's some notable vinyl reissues from the recent past that haven't received as much ink.

Earl Hooker: The Genius of Earl Hooker
Though label head Jim Kirchstein has been gradually making catalog titles available on CD, it's not every day that a release from Sauk City's own Cuca Records gets a deluxe vinyl reissue. The Genius of Earl Hooker has been out for several years, but it's taken me a while to pick one up since I have most of the material on an ABC/Bluesway LP (Do You Remember the Great Earl Hooker). But I finally caved, as there's just about no way I'm ever going to luck into a Cuca original, an extremely valuable rarity. I've lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and have never even seen an original copy.

Sundazed has done a straight reissue of Hooker's debut LP, reproducing the original cover art and track lineup. Musically, it's a loose, relaxed set of mostly uptempo blues instrumentals featuring his distinctive slide playing. Fans of guitar playing should definitely check this out -- and that goes for about any Earl Hooker you can find, really. (Sundazed LP 5206, 2007)

Shoes: Bazooka
Just across the Wisconsin border is tiny Zion, Illinois, home to power pop true believers Shoes. In 2012, the group released its first new album in many years, Ignition, and it's most excellent -- but not yet available on LP. Another album by Shoes did make a vinyl debut in November, but in this case it's one dating from the self-taught group's DIY days, recorded in 1975 and shelved at the time: Bazooka. Gary Klebe, Jeff and John Murphy and drummer Barry Shumaker recorded the album at home, following Klebe's return to the Midwest from a year studying abroad. The band does sound energized, and Bazooka is a very solid set of crunchy rock 'n roll. Since my personal taste leans toward rougher rockin', I almost like this more than some of the group's later, much slicker international releases, though on Bazooka the group is still finding its songwriting voice.

For fans, this is an essential look at the group's early days; for the uninitiated, it will be an entertaining slice of mid-'70s Midwestern pop. Three more vinyl reissues appeared concurrently: the band's first release, the very rare self-released One in Versailles; a straight reissue of the original version of the classic Black Vinyl Shoes; and, an album of demos from their first Elektra album. All are released by Chicago's Numero Group, so they're top flight packages all around. (Numero Group, 2012)

Gene Clark: Roadmaster
A more recent release from Sundazed, Roadmaster could be considered the Great Lost Gene Clark/Byrds Album. The tracks were gathered mostly from some 1972 album session, along with a couple earlier ones recorded by all five original Byrds and producer Jim Dickson for a potential single release. For whatever reason, Clark's then-label A&M didn't release any of it in the U.S., and it crept out on the market in 1973 only in the Netherlands (though it has been reissued occasionally here and elsewhere on CD since then).

Approaching four decades since it was recorded, Sundazed's LP is the vinyl debut of Roadmaster in the U.S. On finally getting to hear it, I can't understand why either the Byrds reunion tracks or the projected LP project were abandoned at the time. It's certainly not due to quality, as Roadmaster is prime Gene Clark -- if mostly super mellow -- with good original songs and a couple excellent covers, including a majestic reading of "I Really Don't Want to Know." As is typical with Sundazed LPs, quality is top notch all around, though some liner notes would have been a nice addition. For Byrds or Gene Clark fans, this is an essential pick-up. (Sundazed LP 5346, 2011)

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