Vinyl Corner : Bill Stone ‘Stone’

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. For today’s Vinyl Corner, we’re spinning a seldom-heard private press folk rarity from 1970 in honour of its recent reissue from US indie institution Drag City records.

The Music:

As fascinating as the world of daringly new cutting-edge music can so often be, there remains much to be said for the peculiar thrill of stumbling across some half-forgotten private press release from who knows how many years ago and realising with a sense of pleasurable surprise that it is, in fact, very good indeed. Of course, for the majority of us, such discoveries are ultimately second-hand; they come through well-timed reissues and full-album uploads from increasingly niche YouTube channels. No matter how such buried treasure may be unearthed, however, it’s always an intriguing experience to be amongst the first to hear a barely-remembered and newly-rediscovered obscurity lost to the mists of time. American post-psychedelic troubadour Bill Stone is one of the latest figures to benefit from the inquisitive ears of digital crate-diggers the world over. ‘Stone’, his sole album – privately released in 1970 – resurfaced online within the past few years, gaining acclaim from collectors’ circles for its woozy atmospherics and gauzy arrangements. Now reappearing on vinyl courtesy of the venerable Drag City records, this sonic time-capsule can be easily acquired by all those with a penchant for the likes of Pearls Before Swine, Gandalf The Grey and Leonard Cohen

The Pressing:

Long-time readers of Vinyl Corner will doubtless recall the many times we’ve covered Drag City releases in the past; not only do the American indie stalwarts boast one of the most consistently engaging rosters in the business, they also offer some of the most reliably excellent vinyl releases from any label decent enough to offer their titles at a reasonable, mid-tier price range. ‘Stone’ is certainly no exception in this regard; indeed, it is – if anything – an immediately impressive release, boasting a weighty slab of black wax which sits flat upon the platter during playback and also enjoys tidy surfaces free of the visual imperfections which all-too-often appear on new releases from certain pressing plants. Initial signs are promising, then – but what of the audio itself? Well, thankfully, that’s every bit as stout as the LP’s visual quality; endowed with a low noise floor – an essential for any record as quiet as this – we picked up on not a single audible defect anywhere across either side of our copy. That’s an impressive achievement for any release but especially one which reissues an album as scarce as ‘Stone’. Sonically, the album is innately lo-fi; yet in that comes a certain charm – and, ultimately, it’s never difficult to pick out the often admirably nimble lead guitar parts as they glide atop Stone’s huskily soulful voice and softly-strummed guitar parts.

The Packaging:

If Drag City’s reissue of ‘Stone’ sets a commanding precedent in regards to the cleanliness of its audio, then it’s one readily matched by the quality of its presentation. Presented in a faithful reproduction of the original release’s cover, this reissue is wrought from mid-weight cardstock which feels reasonably sturdy in hand and that boasts print quality both sharp and well-defined throughout. As is thankfully commonplace with Drag City releases – yet all-too-rare in general terms – the barcode has been relegated to a hype-sticker attached to the shrinkwrap, rather than being printed directly onto the cover. This is, of course, a welcome touch which only serves as testament to the label’s evidently genuine respect for the music they release. Best of all, though, the record itself is sleeved in a high-quality polylined black generic inner sleeve – a thoughtful inclusion frequently eschewed by even those reissues boasting a far higher price-point than this release.

Final Thoughts:

Those intrigued by the gentle psychedelics and soothingly mellow sonics of the the late ’60s’ and early ’70s’ private press singer-songwriter zeitgeist will very likely find much to enjoy in Bill Stone’s ‘Stone’. A unilaterally lilting, soft-spoken endeavour lent new life by Drag City – any interested parties would do well to acquire this first-time vinyl reissue whilst it remains available, as original pressings are essentially impossible to come across and likely to only grow more sought-after with time. As is typical of the label, Drag City have done sterling work here, offering their buyer-base a dependably stout vinyl pressing replete with presentation faithful to the covetable original release.

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 martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!