Sunday, January 30, 2011

Recent Acquisitions: Smiley Smiles

It wasn't conscious, but you can spell the most recent batch of records f-u-n.

The Beach Boys, Wild Honey (Capitol, original stereo pressing, $9). This album and Smiley Smile are the last two Beach Boys albums I wanted. For some reason, they've been elusive until now.

The Beach Boys, Smiley Smile (Brother Records, original stereo pressing, $9). The sound is pretty bad. I think it's because the stereo effect is fake, what they call reprocessed stereo. The only way to find out for sure is to compare it to a mono pressing. It never ends.

Ramones, Ramones (Sire, original pressing, $9). Gabba gabba score! This fills a big void in my punk library.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation (Sire, original pressing, $9). See above.

Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, Ella & Duke at The Cote D'Azur (Verve, original stereo pressing, 2 LPs, $9). This wasn't even on my radar until I read about a recent Mosaic Records 3-LP box set that includes this album and Ellington's Soul Call with no extras. Mosaic puts out interesting jazz compilations, but the Ella-Duke set costs $100. I'd rather pony up a tenner for a clean original. I've never heard Ella so exuberant than on this record, although her voice isn't in top shape. Ellington's band swings as usual, although there aren't any special moments like Paul Gonsalves's miraculous solo on the Newport record. Overall, it's just a fun listen.

Gabor Szabo, The Sorcerer (Impulse!, black-and-orange label original stereo pressing, $7). Tell me: How could I pass up this minty original pressing for the price even though I have a perfectly fine second pressing? You just don't understand.

Love, Forever Changes (Elektra, gold label original stereo pressing, $5). You are right, I shouldn't have bought this copy when I have a perfectly fine second pressing of the album. You're right only because this copy looks like it got into a fight with a feral cat and sounds all wounded and shit.

From the dollar bins:

Stanley Turrentine, Sugar (CTI, original pressing). I think this record got abused by the same feral cat, but for some reason, it still sounds good. You just never know.

Modern Jazz Quartet, Concorde (Prestige, yellow label, original pressing). These old 50s jazz pressings on heavy vinyl can look thrashed, but with a good cleaning on the ol' vacuum record cleaning machine, they can sound pretty swell.

Johnny Griffin, Grab This! (Fontana/Riverside, Dutch pressing). A new Johnny Griffin album for my collection and a new catchphrase for rocky to confuse the folks at work. On second thought, it could lead to trouble with HR.

Pat Metheny, Rejoicing (ECM, original pressing). I'm not really into Pat Metheny, but he's backed by Ornette Coleman's rhythm section and plays tunes by Coleman and Haden. It could be interesting.

Casino Royale soundtrack (Colgems, original stereo pressing). Believe it or not, this is the most valuable record of the lot. Or it used to be. It was on The Absolute Sound's list of the best audiophile records. A few years ago, insane audiophiles were paying upwards of $200 for a mint copy of this relatively rare record. The price has come down dramatically though. Do you really want to listen to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in high fidelity? Yes!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Alternate Worlds: Musical Points of Interest Off the Beaten Track

Dave Alexander, Dirt on the Ground - Amazing blues piano from this little-known blues man from Texas by way of Oakland, CA. Recorded a couple of albums on the Arhoolie label in the early 70s, before he changed his name to Omar Shariff. Which gives me an idea--from now on, I will only answer to the name Dr. Zhivago.

Johnny Griffin, The Kerry Dancers - If jazz musicians from Chicago had joined the Axis powers to conquer the British Isles, all English folk songs would sound this awesome.

And we would've had Amon Duul II instead of The Grateful Dead

Amon Duul II, Yeti - If they ever make a horror movie about hippies taking over the world, this should be the soundtrack. Two thumbs up!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Happy Thought

There seems to be a lot written these days about happiness. There's a burgeoning cottage industry in happiness studies and guides. The underlying premise is that happiness is a goal of life. You're not happy? Well, you gotta do something about it.

Yesterday I was driving home from a trip to Berkeley and put Jackie McLean's Destination Out! in the car CD player. Although, McLean is the nominal leader on this set, it's really a Grachan Moncur III album. Three of the four songs are penned by Moncur. I've become a real Moncur fan lately. It's too bad he didn't play a different instrument. It had to have been hard to make it as an avant-garde trombonist.

The first song on Destination Out! is Moncur's "Love and Hate". It is the most plaintive song I've heard in a long while. While I was listening to it, I heard a message as clear as if the song had lyrics, maybe even clearer considering how deeply I understood it. It was this: "Sadness is a part of life. You just have to accept it." That thought filled me happiness.

While happiness studies and psychological guides to happiness tend to have the opposite intended effect by filling you with anxiety as you worry about and focus your energies on achieving a perhaps unobtainable goal, music, especially the blues, by focussing on the sadness of life, can relieve you of it, if only momentarily.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Goodbye, Scout

Down to two turntables and no microphone (sad face).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Craigslist Tale

This was the turntable I bought in the late 90s when I returned to playing vinyl. It's a Music Hall turntable made in the Czech Republic, maybe it was still Czechoslovakia then. It was considered an entry level audiophile deck. It sold for $299 when I bought it. I don't remember if I paid full price. The stylus had been replaced once. The anti-skate counterweight was lost when I took the turntable to work for a Halloween skit involving me playing a DJ. It plays fine without the counterweight. Still, the 'table was unused over five years, except for the Halloween gig.

Somehow I had ended up with four turntables in the house. I decided to sell two of them. I placed an ad on Craigslist for the Music Hall 'table. The asking price was $90, which I knew was an attractive price, even for a 12 year old table with a missing counterweight (which can be replaced for $15 from Music Hall). Try selling a 12 year old CD player for any amount of money. They usually end up at Goodwill or the dump. Digital technology is based on planned obsolescence. Analog provides a much longer life span. Some of the most sought after turntables today are vintage makes from the 1960s.

Within a few hours of posting the ad I got three offers. I called the first guy back, Robert, who said he could show up that night to pick up the 'table. We agreed to meet the following day. Robert turned out to be interesting guy. He could identify my other turntables and the rest of my audio gear. When I asked what kind of music he liked. He answered that he mainly listened to 70s German rock and listed some bands he enjoyed, about half of which I recognized. He told me I should pick up anything on the Brain label. I thought that was good advice, based on the few albums I had on the Brain label. This was the music he listened to growing up in Bosnia. I asked him whether he was there during the civil war. He had been. His face grew dark and he told me how horrible it was. He changed the subject to myself and asked where I was from. When I told him I was from Michigan, he said, "Wow, that's a big change." I had to laugh out loud. He laughed too when he realized how absurd his statement was considering his own history.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Recent Acquisitions: 1-6-11

A new year and new records!

Tegan and Sara, The Official Vinyl Collection (box set containing 5 of their albums plus an exclusive album of home recordings, WB/Sire, $85). Just call this my personal Lillith Fair.

Waylon Jennings, Are You Ready for the Country (RCA, tan label, original pressing, $2). Waylon looks real bad ass on the cover. I kind of had to get this at the same time as the Sara and Tegan box set to salvage my manhood at the cash register. It turned out the clerk, with a shaved head and black leather vest like the one Waylon's wearing on the album cover, who rang me up got all excited seeing the Sara and Tegan box set. I can't figure these kids out.

The Rolling Stones, Now! (London, boxed red label, mono pressing, $2). See above.

The Temptations, Psychedelic Shack (Gordy, original pressing, $4). The Temptations liberated from the Motown factory sound. More great early 70s R&B.

Duke Ellington, Duke's Big 4 (Pablo, white label promo, $2). I really enjoy Duke Ellington playing with a small group. Even if the group includes Joe Pass, who usually plays too many notes and annoys me. Where was Kenny Burrell for this date?

How Google, Wikipedia, and the Web Kill Conversations Before They Start

Last night after work I stopped by the thrift store on the way home, where I came across this album, Rock 'N Roll with "Scat Man". The back cover confirmed what I thought--it's "Scat Man" Crothers. Then I was stumped. I knew he was on a television show back in the 70s. That's how I knew him. But I couldn't think of which TV show. Twenty years ago, I would've had to call a friend to get the answer to such confounding questions. It's one of those trivial things that would gnaw on your mind. You had to get the answer if you wanted your mind to move on to other things. Now, there's Google and Wikipedia and the rest of the worldwide web to answer all your questions. You don't have to rely on the collective knowledge of your friends to put your mind to ease. I could just go home and look it up. I realized that this is not such a good thing. I remember such questions about trivia were launching pads into longer conversations. For example, the "Scat Man" question might raise the story of how we all went to see The Shining together and one of us (not me) screamed like a little girl during the scene where "Scat Man" gets an axe in the chest. Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, we get all the facts, but none of the colorful personal details that a call to a friend may have raised.

And how is the "Scat Man" album? It's rollicking fun. He reminds me of Louis Jordan, although "Scat Man" doesn't quite have Jordan's vocal range. He makes up for it with joyous exuberance. I'm constantly amazed at how these 50s records sound. (This one was recorded in 1956.) The sound is so full and alive. Last night I was listening to a CD from Ornette Coleman's Beauty Is a Rare Thing box set (absolutely great by the way) and was impressed by how good it sounded for a CD. I played it again after listening to the "Scat Man" LP, but this time it sounded thin and washed out. Do I have to get original pressings of Ornette's Atlantic albums now? I think we all know the answer.

Oh, the TV show was Chico and the Man in case you didn't know. Now you don't have to Google it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Album Cover Tragicomedy

One music genre that's not been subject to the inflation of used record prices is country and western. Hardly any country albums sell for more than $10 and a lot of gems can be had for a couple of dollars, like the Loretta Lynn album pictured above. I'll snap up classic country albums by the likes of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, and Loretta Lynn when I come across them in good shape and priced cheap. Although country music isn't challenging or progressive, some of it possess excellent, expressive singing and musicianship. It's essentially a conservative genre. The same can be said about the blues.

When I came across this Loretta Lynn album, I just inspected the vinyl to make sure it was in good condition and tucked it under my arm without giving it much thought. It wasn't until I got it home that I started to think about it. This album was released in 1967 in the middle of the hippie movement, but Lynn looks completely oblivious to it on the cover. It was a seminal year for rock music with the release of Sgt. Pepper, Are You Experienced, The Doors' first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Judging by the cover Loretta had larger, more personal issues to confront than the cultural revolution taking place.

First, the title of the album is bold and intentionally or unintentionally funny: Don't Come A Home Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind). This is a universal feminist statement if ever there was one. The idea of a woman withholding sex--one sure power women have over men--to assert her will on a man goes back at least to the classical Greek era, as shown in Aristophanes' play Lysistrata. Perhaps, Lynn isn't oblivious to the cultural revolution after all, or at least the feminist movement at the time. The title, though, couches the feminism in homely country rhetoric. "Stand by Your Man" it ain't.

Then you look further down on the album and you see a list of featured songs. Those song titles begin to raise doubts about whether it's a countrified feminist album. Each of the listed songs could be the chapter of a psychological melodrama. After reading the title, your eyes glance down at "There Goes My Everything", "I'm Living in Two Worlds", "I Can't Keep Away From You", and finally "I Really Don't Want to Know". Oh no. So much for feminist enlightenment. The album cover contains an entire drama. That perhaps is the point. Lynn expresses personal conflict. She's not making a statement or a manifesto. In the end, this is what separates art from politics.