Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adventures in Lo-Fi

I had been looking for a cheap AM transistor radio for listening to Giants games when I came across this Sony TR-1829. It was designed in 1967 and produced in Japan between 1968 and 1970. About the size of a beer can, the design can't be more elegant. There's a large dial on top that controls the tuner, a small display on the side shows the station, and a small dial below the display that turns it on and controls the volume. The speaker is located on the bottom. Radial fins raise the speaker above the surface on which it sits. This allows the tabletop to amplify the sound. The radial fins disperse the sound. Neat!

The radio runs on 3 AA batteries. I wasn't sure it worked when I bought it, but for $3 it didn't matter. When I opened up the battery compartment by twisting off the bottom, I found a hard coating of green battery acid on one of the contacts. I sanded off the dried acid, applied an electronic contact cleaner I had on hand, and placed in new batteries. Voila! It works like a charm. The Giants station comes in strong. Now, I just need some baseball games to listen to.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Album Cover Gallery: Changing Dirty Covers

Obviously the banned cover is on the left and the replacement on the right.

What's wrong with a photo of a topless adolescent girl playing with a phallic plane? Apparently Atlantic Records didn't have a legal department

Guns N' Roses didn't win over many people by trying to raise public awareness of the problem of robot rape in this world

Nudies OK in England and Germany, but not so in the USA. Hendrix reportedly hated the nudie cover for Electric Ladyland.

A different kind of raciness: Miles was livid when he saw the cover of Miles Ahead had a white woman on it. He demanded the cover be replaced, but a few thousand of the first run made it to the public. All subsequent women on Davis's album covers were black, including his wife on Someday My Prince Will Come and his friend actress Cicely Tyson on Sorcerer. I like this juxtaposition of the two covers--it looks like an angry Miles is trying to blow the white woman off the boat with his trumpet.

rocky's favorite album of 2011

Wooden Shjips, West (Thrill Jockey 279). There's really nothing new under the sun in terms of rock music. West is derivative as all get out. The drone-like guitar riffs, the simple organ lines, the fuzzed-out guitar solos, and echo-laden vocals remind you of the VU (electric White Light/White Heat era), The Doors and other psych bands of the 60s, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Wooden Shjips mines the same rock territory as The Black Angels, but is heavier on the boogie factor. (One song on West even sounds like early ZZ Top covered by VU.) That counts for a lot in rocky's book. It ain't original, but it's really catchy, blissed-out stoner rock.

(Note: The sound quality is overly compressed like a lot of modern recordings, but it does come on orange vinyl.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hit Repeat

With so many albums to listen to, I rarely listen to an album more than once in a short period of time. Here are a few that got repeated spins at Chez Rocky recently:

Diana Krall, Live in Paris (45 rpm ORG LP and cd). Krall isn't the most adventurous jazz musician to put it mildly, but what she does she does well. My main problem with her studio albums is their overall listless pacing. No such problem with this live show recorded at the Olympia in Paris. She keeps up a nice pace throughout. A thoroughly enjoyable set. And the sound quality is topnotch.

Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 (Karajan '62, Karajan '77 LPs). I've become a little obsessed with this symphony lately. Listen to it and you become convinced of the immense grandness of life. In college I read a poem by Adrienne Rich that reduced Beethoven's music as an expression of sexual frustration. I suppose you can view anything through the lens of gender politics. But why would you? Don't be such a downer, Adrienne.

Bobby Hutcherson, Happenings (45 rpm Music Matters LP and Blue Note cd). A while ago I realized that Hutcherson was a sideman on some of my favorite jazz albums. So I started picking up albums he led. Happenings is one of the few in which he doesn't play with horns; it's just him and a rhythm section including Herbie Hancock. If there is such a thing as lyrical free jazz, Hutcherson would be the master.

There must be a German word for this

For the first time in years I listened to Born to Run, one of the formative albums of my youth. From the opening notes of "Thunder Road", an unusually strong feeling overwhelmed me. It wasn't like the strong reaction I had to the album in the distant past, shrouded in the untouchable romanticism of youth. Forty years makes a difference on how one perceives things. But I had the memory of that feeling. At the same time, I was listening to the album in current time in which the album means something different. It was as if I was simultaneously experiencing the album from two separate perspectives simultaneously, not one dominating the other.