The Hard Copy

Written by Imran Mirza

Stemming from the first of LF’s take on the ‘future’, #1 of this podcast series saw us debating the future of music – how we currently listen to it and how we may end up doing so in the future.  For LF, I’ve long waved the flag, perhaps curiously so, for people buying the hardcopy.  Maybe best attributed to my overall obsessive nature, perhaps I’m just old school in that I like to rummage through the inlay card of a new album?  Either way I thought this would be a great way to maybe segue into a different perspective - something of a celebration of the CD: it's packaging, it's artwork.  There are actually some fairly incredible albums out there that beg a hardcopy purchase from fans: be it excellent album artwork, overly detailed inlay card and liner notes info, or packaging that you never knew existed or was possible for the simple CD.  

I’ve raided my collection and have included some details below of some of my pride and joys.

‘True Soul: Deep Sounds From The Left of Stax’, Volumes 1&2 [Now-Again Records, 2011]

Released in 2011, this two-volume compilation – probably more aptly dubbed an anthology – took thirteen years to compile(!) and comprises of rare and unreleased funk and soul music from the legendary independent Arkansas record label amidst the 1960s and 1970s.  Music-wise, Volume 1 boasts brilliance like ‘Follow the Rainbow’ by Thomas East, and ‘The Real Thing’ by The Conspiracy, while Volume 2 counters with ‘You For Me and Me For You’ by The Right Track and two gems by Portrait in the form of ‘Springtime Smile’ and ‘Love You For Now On’.  
The volumes are each beautifully-presented in matt-laminated hardback cases containing a CD and DVD (which features live performances by the True Soul All Stars captured from 1973’s True Soul Revue television program), as well as a 56-page colour booklet containing photos and interviews.  Frankly, these volumes are about as essential hardcopy purchases as it gets!

‘Sun’ by Mario Biondi [Sony Music Classical, 2013]

Italy's very own soul singing crooner, Mario Biondi, released his new album for 2013, 'Sun', which, among the many boasts it can claim to make, recruited Incognito's Bluey for production duties for the whole project.  Ranking fairly highly amongst 2013 'best of's upon its release, in part due to the dream team line-up of guest artists, including soul heavy-hitters, Al Jerreau, Chaka Khan, Omar, James Taylor and Leon Ware - the string-heavy, anthemic soul musical landscapes, married with Biondi's Barry White-esque vocals was always going to be a surefire hit.
It's inclusion within this list however is specifically due to the excellent album packaging - presented as a hardback coffee table book, the shiny gloss cover and flat spine really only house pictures of Mario Biondi posing in a fair amount of fly gear and jumping around, so the pages themselves aren't used as effectively as, say, the True Soul compilations are but beautiful presentation is beautiful presentation, as you can see for yourselves.

‘Home Grown! The Beginner’s Guide to Understanding The Roots, Volumes 1&2’ by The Roots [Geffen Records, 2005]

In an effort to complete their contract under then-record-label-home, Geffen Records, The Roots agreed to release a dual album 'best of' containing an inspiring selection of, not only their hits but also fan favourites, remixes and exclusive live recordings of their songs as well.  It's very much an exemplary way of releasing a 'best of' - why provide fans with music they already have and throw a new price tag on it?!  Further to that, however, the reason this compilation has found a place within this series of articles is due to the exhaustive liner notes prepared by the band's leader and drummer, Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson.  Always one for finding ways to connect with his audience - hence the very reason exists - it was the liner notes that made fans of The Roots salivate in anticipation of these releases.  Detailed stories are outlined for each of the songs on the tracklist, including the stories behind the shockingly long list of singers that were approached, and in many cases, actually recorded their parts, for 'Break You Off' (D'Angelo, Bilal, Erykah Badu, Gerald Levert, Claudette Ortiz, among others...).   Essential reading for Roots fans.

‘One nite!’ by Prince & The New Power Generation [NPG Records, 2002]

A glorious 3-disc opus spanning recordings from Prince's tour in 2002 in support of 'The Rainbow Children' (2001), and the internet-only album release, 'One Nite Alone' in 2002.  Prince, live, is as good as it gets!  If there's any doubt about that fact then the brilliant funk of '1+1+1 is 3' to the intimate playfulness of 'Adore' will prove this is the release to convert you, and then there's the bonus of the aftershow performance as well, featuring guests, George Clinton and Musiq Soulchild.  Thinking about it, it's surprising that this is the only official live release that there is to purchase (DVDs aside)(?). 
The CDs are presented amongst two jewel cases within a nicely-packaged box set.  The full-colour booklet acts like a scrapbook of the performance containing fan testimonials, media concert reviews, plus comments and input from the band (a dream team line-up including Maceo Parker, Greg Boyer, Candy Dulfer and Renato Neto) regarding their favourite moments from the US tour.