This release, Vault Package #36, by Jack White’s Third Man Records has caused a bit of a buzz amongst fans not least because of the way it had to be pre-ordered on subscription via the label’s website and at $60 it was not cheap. Understandably the cost put many people off but plenty more battled with the website and signed up for it.
Third Man Records blurb:
In full partnership with the Zappa Family Trust and to celebrate the relaunch of the seminal Bizarre label imprint, Third Man Records is proud to announce its 36th Vault package focused squarely on Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica.
Out of print on vinyl for nearly ten years, this remaster was helmed by industry legend Bob Ludwig and cut by the estimable Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. Utilizing crystalline-quality safety masters kept in the Zappa family vault for decades by the trustworthy Joe Travers, the audio here is positively glorious. Every last skronk breathes full life into the room. Every twisted guitar figure uncurls onto paths previously unpaved. Every last bark and howl shines resolute through the vast emptiness of your mind.
Radar Station overview:
Eventually shipped at the end of June 2018 this was a satisfying heavy package when it arrived. But what of the contents?
Third Man Records seem to be keen on merchandising so even this release comes with several pieces of ‘merchandise’. Yes, I’ve put that word in quotation marks because I’m not convinced by these extras but then I am an old cynic.
- There’s a Tote Bag decorated with a line drawing of the iconic Trout Mask album cover which I suppose might raise a few eyebrows down at the supermarket.
- A small round coloured patch, again of the album cover. Okay but not getting my pulse racing!
- A Trout Mask Replica replica card mask to cut out and wear. A bit daft.
- A silkscreen printed copy of the poem, Epitaph to Don Van Vliet, by Jack White written when Don died. This originally appeared in MOJO magazine back in March 2011 and is a nice tribute by one musician to an artist he obviously admires.
Plus there’s a double-sided card listing all the contents of the package and the blurb about it as included on the website and in other promo material.
So, those are the extra bits that fill out the package. Nice enough but I could live without them.
Before taking a closer look at the Trout Mask album itself there is one other extra item to assess – a facsimile copy of the Pachuco Cadaver / Wild Life single. Now this knocks all the other ‘merchandise’ into the proverbial cocked hat. Much sought after by collectors this single featuring two tracks from the Trout Mask album was only released in France in 1970 and has a stunning photo of Don and Bill Harkleroad on stage at the Amougies Festival. Okay this isn’t an original and it isn’t an exact facsimile but it’s still nice to have and the pure white vinyl looks cool.
Let’s now move on to the meat of the package…
The album cover is a wonder to behold. Bright and shiny with crisp colours it is beautifully printed on good quality card. The best looking version of the cover so far. It’s an old friend that has an a sympathetic makeover! Beefheart collector Paul Dickinson was able to provide the original cover photo which is why the front cover in particular looks so good.
I’m pleased to say the lyric sheet is included which is something that was missing from the original UK release and most other releases since 1969.
The vinyl itself looks amazing. I think the idea was for it to look like fish scales – it’s described as fruitcake fish-scale – but it’s more like paint trails and daubs which is just as appropriate. Although it does look weird without a Straight label even if it does come under the Bizarre imprint. The discs are pressed side one/side two and side three/side four.
And the sound? Well, this is pressed from the 2012 remastered version that was originally only issued on CD by by the Zappa Family Trust. The remaster by Bob Ludwig is a great subtle job of cleaning up the sound so all the elements of each song are more distinct with the drums and bass being given a little more prominence. The overall sound of the album hasn’t been botched or abused for the mp3 generation. It sounds mighty fine. As this comes from the same source tapes as the CD release there are minor issues with two songs, Frownland and Hair Pie: Bake Two, due to damage to the original master tapes but this doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the album at all.
If you want a vinyl version of Trout Mask Replica then, at the time of writing, this is the best one. Unfortunately, if you missed out getting this direct from Third Man Records copies will only now be available on ebay at grossly inflated prices from those who did buy purely to sell on at a profit. Hopefully a more accessible release of this remaster will appear sometime, maybe for the album’s 50th anniversary.
A couple of other items of note:
Drumbo is included in the list of band members, Hurrah!!!
In small print on the back of the album and on the lyric sheet there is reference to a new website – www.captainbeefheart.com (not to be confused with our own fair site) – which currently has no content but allows you to sign up for ‘news and updates’. I believe it has been set up by the Zappa Family Trust but what is its purpose? Intriguing …
2018 US double vinyl on Third Man Records Bizarre TMR-546
2018 US 7″ single on Third Man Records Bizarre TMR-559
One of the big questions is who/whom is getting money from this? Is Jan getting anything? Do members of the original band get any of the proceeds? And what about Jack White and the Zappa Family Trust?
Jan will get Don’s songwriter’s dues but the band will not get any money as usual. The ZFT and Third Man Records will have come to some financial arrangement between themselves. It looks like Jack White may be releasing more stuff under the Bizarre imprint but I’ve no idea what.
From what I know, Third Man treats most projects like this as production/distribution deals. They’re not the ones actually publishing the music, just making the albums and kitsch to go with them.
The vault packages, while inflated in cost, don’t seem to generate a lot of income because of the small run cost to do so (stamping vinyl, printing covers, etc).
Like many things TMR releases this way, I wouldn’t be surprised that if this mix sees a broader release outside of the package, it wouldn’t be through them.
Steve, the band ARE getting paid for this release, (after John and Ahmet cut a deal). It’s a small percentage, on what is a limited release so the amount, will be peanuts. However this is an infinite percentage increase upon what they received prior to this. Let’s hope the ZFT keep paying that from now on especially as there will likely be a 50th Anniversary reissue next year!
Thanks for that information, Rupert. Good to hear they’re getting something. I wonder how many copies were sold by Third Man?
Appreciate the write-up. Well said.
And that said, I’ve been ‘watching’ a fraction of the ebay listings on offer and not bad at all in the scheme of things. Here in the Colonies, at least.
Sub price = 60 w/free ship.
Ebay: 7 separate listings: 61.00 average. Lowest: 54.