Home Geek LifeCulture Vinyl Me, Please September Edition: The Lightmen Plus One – Energy Control Center

Vinyl Me, Please September Edition: The Lightmen Plus One – Energy Control Center

by Patrick Phillips

Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives. With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club, it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month … in their living room.

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The Skinny

Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (plans start at $25/month) and they send you one meticulously selected album they feel is an Essential addition to any record collection. Easy, right? Each custom pressing (often on colored vinyl!) also comes with killer special features like original artwork, informative booklets, and even a recipe for a companion cocktail. You’ll have membership privileges in the VMP shop too, which means you can grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including August’s gorgeous pressing of Sleater-Kinney’s flawed but fascinating new album The Center Won’t Hold – not to mention a bevy of rare releases pressed exclusively for the folks at Vinyl Me, Please. The store is open, and Team VMP are dropping fresh new selections to their stock every single week. Do not miss out.

Word to the wise, while the store is open to the public, most of its more covet-worthy stock is only available to members, so you’ve gotta sign up to get your mitts on them. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection over to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you don’t like for a past AOM (or other VMP Exclusive pressings) that’s a little more your speed. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.

So, what’s in September’s box? Get ready for a heavy dose of funky, spiritual jazz from Texas icons The Lightmen Plus One.

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The Lightmen Plus One

For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Texas jazz)

So, if you guys have been paying attention to Vinyl Me, Please’s release announcements, you know that Energy Control Center is not the Essentials pick for September. That honor when to largely unheralded country-tinged folkie Jim Sullivan and Light In The Attic’s spectacular reissue of his debut album U.F.O., which is the sort of obscure (and out of print) treasure that’s been very much up my alley in recent years.

If you’re wondering why I pulled a swap this month, it’s because I happened to pick up a copy of U.F.O. on a whim at Light In The Attic’s physical shop in Seattle a couple years back. As much as I love VMP’s fresh new packaging and the colored wax inside, I didn’t feel the need to replace my current copy (which has found its way into heavy rotation over the years). The good news is, that swap allowed me to get acquainted with a true Texas original who’d been on my radar for a few years now.

The Texas original is the The Lightmen Plus One’s de-facto frontman (and drummer) Bubba Thomas, and his name is one that frequently popped up in my research when I moved to Houston a couple years ago. Somehow, I’d yet to catch up with the man’s music since making The Lone Star state home, so it seemed like as good a time as any to correct that egregious oversight. One I was more than happy to use a swap to rectify.

Regarding my first trip into the wild world of Bubba Thomas’ The Lightmen Plus One, I can tell you that it’s been of the transcendent sort. So much so that I’m having trouble finding the right words to describe my experience with Energy Control Center. To put things mildly, it’s sort of just been blowing my mind that music like this – enthralling, politically charged, visceral, ethereal, danceable, and funky as f**k jazz – was actually made by Texas natives … and that they were doing it back in the early ’70s.

And of Energy Control Center, I’ll simply say that it’s a wild ass jazz record so boldly original and experimental that it’d hold up to even the weirdest works of a Pharaoh Sanders or Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Only Thomas and Co. were working well outside the usual jazz friendly stomping grounds of those greats (i.e. Chicago, New York, etc). Houston, unsurprisingly, was hardly a city known for birthing great jazz music or even jazz musicians.

Point of fact, in the ’60s and ’70s, jazz barely even existed in Thomas’ hometown of Houston. Thomas and The Lightmen quickly shifted that conversation when they started gigging in the late ’60s. By the time they’d added their “Plus One” in pianist Marsha Frazier (who boldly refused to become one of the Lightmen) for Energy Control Center, they were ready to stake their claim as both a musical and political force of nature in The Lone Star State.

That didn’t exactly happen, with Thomas and his wily crew never really making a wave outside the borders of Texas. Still, the legacy of Thomas and his band remains very much engrained in consciousness of generations of Texans who simply appear to be waiting for the world to catch up to the genius of their fiery, homegrown jazz clan. It’s high time the world did just that. Here’s hoping they get to do it with this dazzling reissue of Energy Control Center.

Cover Matters

As was the case with May’s release of Experience Unlimited’s Free Yourself (another killer Now Again/Vinyl Me, Please collaboration), sometimes cover art is a legit piece of art. And as with that release, we’re gonna let you absorb this beauty on your own terms.

The Lightmen Plus One

There’s a few things you’ll want to take note of on the back of Energy Control Center as well. Like this bravura bit of poetry form The Lightmen collaborator Muntu Melancon.

There’s also a full list of artists and producers who worked on the album’s original release, and this reissue … if those sorts of things matter to you.

There’s also a shiny bit of stamping denoting Energy Control Center forever and always a VMP Classic. You’ll also want to note the Now-Again Records label there too, ’cause they remain one of the most rewarding collaborators Team VMP has yet found.

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Of course, before we get too far along in our unboxing, let’s take a second to ingest the impressive info on this little sticker.

Double LP, 180g pressing. Heavyweight Gatefold Tip-On sleeve. Mastered from Original Tapes. A bevy of unreleased/alternate takes. Exclusive listening notes. Yeah, that’ll easily qualify this pressing as the definitive release of Energy Control Center – not to mention a reissue treatment truly worthy of a Classic.

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Now, once you’ve got that pesky plastic sleeve out of the way, take a few more moments to  absorb the info on the VMP OBI strip.

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Flip it over if you want a little taste of what’s to come in that listening guide.

That little synopsis should more than get you excited to learn a little more of Bubba Thomas’ and The Lightmen’s history. Luckily that listening guide has a full 13 pages of intriguing nuggets about Thomas and his infamous band, courtesy of music historian Lance Scott Walker (whom you can learn a little more about in the book’s final page).

The Lightmen Plus One

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Now, before you dig that wax out of those sleeves, take another quick moment to dig the gloss black reflectiveness of that inner sleeve. Frankly, I’ve never seen a gatefold like this one, but it somehow suits the release to a T.

It also matches the glossy black goodness of the vinyl inside.

The Lightmen Plus One

Which is certain to bring the fiery heat of a Texas summer to any turntable.

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How’s it sound? Look, I could spin some fancy, poetic yarn here about Energy Control Center here. Frankly, the album itself all but dares one to do so. I’d rather keep it simple this month, though. So I’ll simply say that Energy Control Center is a deeply immersive collection of jazz/funk flash with a heavy dose of societal insight and a not so subtle take on the complex racial politics of the time. Quite frankly, whatever you bring to an album like that is exactly what you get out of it. So make sure you bring an open mind … and an open heart to match.

Give It a Spin

Look, I’ve said it a million times over the years, and I’m bound to say it a million more, but part of what I love about seeking out and listening to music is the chance for discover. For discovering something you might have overlooked, or never even have heard of. Something that could change the way you think about life, or love, or even yourself. I’m not gonna claim that The Lightmen Plus One’s Energy Control Center will have that effect on you … or even that it’s had that effect on me. But I can tell you you’ve never heard anything quite like it, and you owe it to yourself to discover this spiritual jazz marvel. Thanks to Vinyl Me, Please (and their partners at Now-Again) for helping discover yet another classic treat. And for helping me do so via the only format that suits The Lightmen’s sound.

A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the official Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each and every month! Here’s hoping they send another crispy banger our way for October!

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