Formed in 2017, Run Out Groove is a vinyl-only and fan-engaged music label. Each month music lovers vote to decide which title will become the next limited edition one-time pressing. An imprint of Warner Music Group, Run Out Groove has access to recordings going back several decades—in other words, a treasure trove of music. As a result, the label is free to wander far and wide stylistically, with genres as diverse as garage/punk (MC5, The Stooges), alternative rock (Morphine, Luna), folk (Judee Sill), soul (Betty LaVette, Solomon Burke), and jazz (Bill Frisell).
Along with reissuing record albums, ROG also includes, as the second disc of some 2-LP sets, rare, out of print, or previously unreleased recordings connected to the original album. Examples include expanded editions of Delaney & Bonnie’s Motel Shot and Baby Huey’s The Baby Huey Story. On a slightly different note, Professor Bizarre’s Funknology is split between choice cuts from Dr. John’s Atco LPs and some previously unreleased studio outtakes.
Run Out Groove also releases albums previously only available on compact disc, including Ministry’s Greatest Fits and Bill Frisell’s Nashville. And it has taken on projects like Juliana Hatfield’s Only Everything, which in vinyl form was previously limited to a rare and out-of-print import. Most ROG long-players are double albums, and because CDs usually run longer than most two-sided LPs, the four sides the label devotes to releases that were previously CD-only help eliminate groove compression. Also, some releases consist entirely of previously unreleased material, examples being Morphine’s Live at the Warfield 1997 as well as a Judee Sill LP containing demos, alternate takes, outtakes, and live recordings.
Having established that Run Out Groove has the goods musically, we should also note that the label quickly established itself as a record company that combines a passion for music with high production standards. Where some labels feel impersonal, ROG establishes a strong connection with music lovers and consults with the musicians who performed on the albums. It also places an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship, and the stack of ROG releases I sampled for this article impressed me visually, sonically, and artistically. A veteran cratedigger, ROG’s director of content development, Matt Block, long ago developed an appreciation for the high production standards we associate with classic early LP labels, and he recently explained how that worked its way into ROG’s modus operandi.
“Attention to detail and quality seem to have taken a back seat to convenience and disposability,” he emailed, “so it was important to me that Run Out Groove differentiated itself by focusing on quality, detail, and creating records that collectors desired and could become cornerstones in their collections.”
Among other things, that involves taking the right steps to ensure that the sound is as good as possible.
“What I’ve learned in a short period of time is that the two most important factors in a record sounding good is quality of the source and the mastering,” Block said. “We strive to use the best possible source available to us for every title we do regardless of analog or digital.
“Luckily I found two mastering experts in Pete Weiss at Verdant Studios and Jeff Powell at Sam Phillips Recording Studio. Pete does the pre-mastering and Jeff cuts the lacquers on his lathe that was used to do Big Star records at Ardent Studios.
It was essential that ROG find a reputable pressing plant: “All of our raw vinyl has been produced at Record Industry in the Netherlands. They have great QC, always bring issues to my attention before something becomes a big problem and their turn times have been excellent.”
The packaging for ROG also stands out, and here again ROG found inspiration in classic labels from the early days of vinyl.
“Another important piece of the puzzle is the quality of the materials we use,” Block said. “I was determined to use paper-wrapped jackets like the kind used by Blue Note and Impulse back in the late 1950s and 1960s.
“So while most companies have shied away from the paper-wrapped jacket because of higher cost, we dove head first into it and have established a very nice relationship with Stoughton Printing Company that does the best old-style tip-on paper wrapped LP sleeves.”
While much of this article has focused on technical matters, the payoff for the attention to detail is ultimately emotional, as I was reminded after dropping a needle on the opening track of Judee Sill’s Songs of Rapture & Redemption: Rarities & Live and getting goosebumps. The sound was so vibrant and the sense of immediacy so undeniable that I imagined myself sitting in Boston Music Hall on October 3, 1971, the night the music was recorded. Heartfelt and passionate, sweet and soulful, Sill’s performance that evening deserved to be preserved according to the highest standards, and fortunately it was. Whether returning to an album they explored decades ago or hearing something for the first time, other listeners will have plenty of their own “wow” moments while exploring ROG’s discography.