Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dear Record Executive

Dear Sir or Madam Record Executive,

Please consider green lighting a B-Sides and Rarities compilation for the legendary Mr. Kurtis Blow.  He continues to be musically active and is considered one of the founders of hip-hop.  In addition he most assuredly could use the money.  Evidenced here:  His discography has many high points that justify digging in the vaults (with all seven LPs in their collection, the VVers know what they are speaking of), yet there are some low points.  For instance: his last few albums were decidedly his worst, his somewhat corny rapping style became dated, and most surely of all he was "born again" in the early 90s and The Jesus does not like rap.  It's true.

Not convinced?  Perhaps a live album?  Even a legitimate "Greatest Hits and Misses" collection with a few bonus tracks might do it.  The few compilations (CD and digital only) that have come out to date don't feature a single bonus track.  Where are the deep cuts?  Where are the diamonds in the rough?  Mr. Blow probably has whole concept albums that have never seen the light of day!  Even an all B-Sides collection (ha, this is evil) would be acceptable... perhaps even useful?  The U.S. military would probably be first in line to underwrite it.

The VVers do not deny their shameless KB love.  No matter how bad this new compilation is, the VVers will buy it.  That put, please ensure this release is a plushly designed, picture disc, triple album pressed to minimum 200 gram vinyl, packaged with a chrome collectors download card, foil embossed lyric sheet, deluxe life size door poster, and flier advertising how to join his fan club.

Suggestions for a title:
B-Sides Both Sides
This Blows
Blowin' Again
Tough Deuce, America
Falling in Love ... Again?
Breaks, Blows, and B-Sides
B-Movie Beasts? Nah, B-Side Blowin'!

In conclusion, KB is an international treasure who deserves to be recognized for his talent.  The VVers are willing to pay.


The VVers

P.S. The VVers have made it a tradition of harping on about bad B-sides by Mr. KB, and that is not really fair.  The man has made a number of great B-side cuts such as:  "Throughout Your Years" (with crazy jazz pianos and funspirational call and response), "Do the Do" (featuring a fat drum rolls and bass lines and some very silly call and response), "Daydreamin'" (the only tolerable singing Mr. KB has ever done over a well-composed track), "Under Fire" (a sonic assault of echo, braggadocio, and laser beam effects, also a favorite of VVer #2), "I'm Chillin (the Transformers theme song co-opted as an anti-sexism track), and "If I Ruled the World" (probably his most recognizable late-career track, famously swiped by Nas for his single of the same name).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dead Moon - Unknown Passage - 1989

Strange Dead Moon: A Backwards Discovery

Many a Record Store Day ago (actually 2013 in NYC), the VVers picked up a copy of Strange Moon by A Place to Bury Strangers, not knowing much about what it was except that: (1) they like APTBS; (2) the EP was on bright yellow vinyl; and (3) the songs were all covers of some band called Dead Moon.  As it turned out, Strange Moon is a lovely, loud album full of fuzzy reverb energy.  A+!  This can stand alone as a fantastic EP, however, it thrilled the VVers so much they became curious to listen to the original versions.  Surprisingly, this EP isn't a cover of just one of Dead Moon's albums, but what could be considered more of a favorites collection for APTBS.  How apropos that a three-member band from Brooklyn is covering an obscure, three-member band from Portland, OR.  The VVers are intrigued.... they need to find some Dead Moon records.

While occasionally perusing record bins, as the VVers do, they procured a later career album, Crack in System, from End of an Ear in Austin.  Several tracks have repeating bonehead riffs a la early Beastie Boys while others have a decidedly lo-fi Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe.  Although good (and strange), VVer #2 really wanted to hear the original songs that APTBS covered, none of which were on this LP.  While the VVers cannot for the life of them remember where they found it, Unknown Passage is the album from 1989 that has the majority of the APTBS-covered titles on it.  It was bought, listened to, and squeezed into the record shelf for another day.  Not a recollection of its first listen, other than a "hmm" APTBS did straight covers, more or less, adding a touch of their own particular sound.  Looking back, it's hard to say what the VVers expected from the original.  It's not like APTBS was remaking something far afield like a Peggy Lee or James Brown song or something; both bands have a similar sound palate.  Regardless, this record was ignored for a few months.  Upon a recent re-discovery, the VVers realized just what captured APTBS' imagination.

Outstanding originals that were covered on Strange Moon include "Dead Moon Night" and "54/40 or Fight."  Opening track "Dead Moon Night" is full of Fred Cole's fierce, warbling, grating voice over churning guitar crescendos mid-track that give way to an ominous close out.  "54/40" is a speedy, garage-punk track that is the real deal.  It's raw and energetic, but oh those little extra drums are a nice touch.  "ALLLLLLLRRRIGHTTT!"

The only track out of the few on Unknown Passage that is outdone by its cover is "I'm Wise."  Dead Moon's has a much more melancholy tone created by angsty vocals where APTBS comes off much more creepy, menacing, and threatening.  APTBS add a bit of their typical reverb to pay homage in the best way on this one.

Side B of Unknown Passage comprises outstanding tracks, none of which were covered on Strange Moon.  The intense "Time has Come Today" is super raw and loud.  It all breaks down a few minutes in to just a clock-like tick, then echoing this beat, a sludgy guitar re-enters to morph back into the original song.  "On my Own" closes out the album with a shambling, lo-fi Stooges vibe.

This is the sort of music that feels like it comes from the edge of forgotten places from people who do not care in the slightest about what you might think about it.  Every song has enough honest and raw fury to capture curiosity and then smash it to little itty bits.  Even the calmer tunes feel desolate enough to make your palms a little sweaty.  This self-recorded and self-produced second album makes the most of Dead Moon's sparse sound.  Their DIY ethos is displayed in every facet of the the music on this record.  Originally released on Fred and Toody Cole's own label, Tombstone Records, this mono recording has been long out of print.  Thankfully, fellow Portland label, Mississippi Records reissued and remastered this one from the original tapes.  A perfect candidate for reissue.  Thank you Mississippi Records and APTBS for leading the VVers down an unknown passage to rediscover some great music.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Baltimore and Washington DC Zine Premiere

The VVers have triumphantly finished issue #8 of their zine.  You could call issue #8 the "Baltimore Edition" and still maintain your integrity -- the cover was screenprinted at Baltimore Print Studios and the zine features write-ups on the VVer's favorite Baltimore record shops.

Find the VVers pedaling their new zine and lots of newly acquired vinyl for you to buy at...

Sunday - June 25, 2017
12pm-6pm @ The Windup Space
Baltimore, 12 W North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201

and just a few miles down the road and a several weeks later...

Saturday - July 15th, 2017
10am-4:30pm @ St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church
1525 Newton St NW, Washington DC 20010

DC Zinefest 2017 will feature 50+ zine vendors from the DC area and from afar!  Bring $$$ to buy zines, mini comics, prints, pins, and more!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Upcoming Record Fair Happenings

Vinyl Vagabonds want you to buy their records!
You have two chances to catch up with the VVers at Baltimore Record Bazaar:

April 9, 2017, and June 25, 2017
12pm-6pm @ The Windup Space
Baltimore, 12 W North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201

The VVers will be there slinging records and zines.  Word on the street is that there could be a new issue of Vinyl Vagabonds zine out by the June date!  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Justify Buying Records When You Don't Need Them

When a single reason to buy a record exists, you buy it, even if you don't need it.  Need of course is relative.   Who really needs records (the VVers obviously)?  Isn't it nice to have a little extra push when it comes to trying out new music?  Even better is a trifecta of reasons.

In this case, two weeks out from Inauguration this past January, the VVers were feeling pretty down about the state of the world.  In response to the White House travel ban, online music community Bandcamp, announced they were donating 100% of their proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union to support its work for immigrants and refugees.  [Reason #1: Your money goes to a good cause.]

While using Bandcamp rather frequently (usually to stream albums from new artists), the VVers recently noticed that you can actually buy vinyl from them (WHOA!).  In the meantime on social media, Savannah's Graveface Records & Curiosities also posted about the Bancamp/ACLU event.  This got VVer #2 thinking that there was new music on Graveface's label that looked interesting.  Since going to the label tour last year, the VVers have followed Graveface a bit.  They are a plucky little label that not only puts out interesting music, but also oddball horror soundtracks from yesteryear, and even the occasional zine.  [Reason #2: Supporting a small, indie label.] 

Coincidentally, Closeness, which is a collaboration of Todd Fink (The Faint) and his wife Orenda Fink (Azure Ray) released their debut EP, Personality Therapy, this month on Graveface.  With no idea what they sound like, what risk is there when you are sure that you like half a band's music (The Faint)?  In this case, the 50/50 chance paid off.  Personality Therapy is a strong, six-song set of driving, well-produced tunes.  The EP has a nice blend of romance, darkness, and even a hopeful streak.  There is a very atmospheric quality running throughout several tracks.  "End of the Maze" is a standout that mixes the duo's futuristic, distorted harmonies and pairs them with doomsday synths.  [Reason #3: Familiarity with half the band.]

Boom! Added bonus, it's a limited edition color 12", buttttt .... this one nearly breaks the Naked Butt Rule in the House of VV.  You see, there is an awesomely horrific cover to this EP, which is not full-on butt nakedness, but comes damn close.   This VVer heroically overlooked this arbitrary rule to support a few good causes (and the vinyl is good stuff too)!  "Need" fulfilled.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Community Service vs Self Service

VVer #1 spent a recent Sunday doing a solid for local community radio WOWD-LP 94.3fm in Takoma Park by helping the new, nonprofit station organize piles of donated vinyl.  With friend and fellow enthusiast along for the ride, VVer #1 culled through the mountain (not an exaggeration), throwing away the moldy stuff (more than you want to know), and cleaning anything salvageable.  The goal was to make a pile of "the good stuff," so the station could make some bank at their next fundraiser.

Here are four that looked interesting enough to "borrow" and write about:

Elton John S/T 1970
This uncharacteristic looking album, his second LP, immediately stood out from the crates.  First of all, Elton is serious, dark, moody...   Knowing him mostly from his more flamboyant 70s' persona and the modern, more refined bloke, this appeared very different.  It sounds different as well, hedging closer to James Taylor (most of the album) or Leonard Cohen ("First Episode at Hienton") in tone, with a few pop numbers and a pretty spot on Rolling Stones sounding number ("No Shoe Strings on Louise").  Some tracks even call Led Zeppelin to mind ("Sixty Years On"), minus the ripping guitars of course.  Heavy?  Yeah, Elton gets heavy.  Side B has a few clunkers, but nothing that will make you poke your own ears out.  Thankfully the final track is strong and encourages a bit of repeat listening.

The Sprouts of Grass Ring the Bells for the Federals, Washington Federals Official Bluegrass Fight Song 7" 1984
Yes, there was a time when the Washington D.C. area had two professional football teams.  The USFL Washington Federals played for two pathetic seasons, 1983-84.  Apparently somebody actually was excited enough about this and decided to spread that excitement using the power of bluegrass.  And... it's awesome.  A straight ripping tune, singing the praises of the new team.  It's a dark sound with lyrics far too optimistic for how bad the team actually was.  It shouldn't work, but dagnabit it does!  This VVer likes it, he does!  Fun fact, the USFL lasted only three years and was more or less destroyed by the overzealous business acumen of President Orange-head McDipshit.  "There's a new force a risin' on DC's horizon!"  One lyric you'll wince at: "Hurrah for the Feds, fly their banners overhead!"

Adding to the appeal of this curio is the quick pickin' second song, "East West Highway Blues."   These VVers have been living on or near East West Hwy for years and years.   This ode is a nice little ditty about a cabbie just barely scraping by running fares up and down "Montgomery to Prince George's, just to pay this taxi's dues."  It gets a little surreal at the end, but that's probably just the driver being tired from a long shift. 

Of the four-song 7" three of the tracks are pretty sharp.  The final song, "Winter Storm" is dark and resonant with beautiful instrumentation and some delicate banjo pluckage.  There is something the VVers never have typed before.

Michael Jackson Dirty Diana 12" 1987
Laser beams!!!  Really not much needs to be written about this song.  Michael yelps through it and the production values are a little ridiculously of the era.  At least the back cover picture gives us something special.  Wow!

The Fugs S/T 1966
Weirdo freakshow music from people that need a bath!  This is the sound of the counterculture in full on revolt against USA hypocrisy of the 60s.  Most of the album is not the sort you would ever enjoy to hear, except "Kill for Peace," a pleasant hippie hootenanny about Vietnam, replete with racial slurs and a gun-riddled finale.  Things get even more un-groovy during the eleven minute album closer, which definitely inspired "The End" by the Doors except that this is entirely unlistenable.  Says VVer #2, "I'll be totally fine not hearing that last song again."  The liner notes on the back of the sleeve are by Allen Ginsburg; so there's that.  There is also a note on the back cover written in Esperanto to send $5.98 for a copy of the record.  This is confusing and made even more confusing by the fact that it is in Esperanto.  Apparently the record label, ESP-Disk, was primarily a label supporting Esperanto music.  So now you know that.

Looking forward for another opportunity to dig through a mountain of totally random vinyl (for a good cause of course).  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Clash - Sandinista! - 1980

When a band goes into the studio and records whatever they want, it can sometimes freak-out their fans.  Trying out a new sound!  Total creative diversion!  Panic!!!  Welcome to the epic-in-scale, Sandinista!  Three records, thirty-six tracks.  Six sides of sonics from the Clash.  All written in a year and self-produced.  Some of the tracks are great, classics even.  Some are too much to handle, practically horrific, many leaning towards a painful all band sing-along.  Writing about every song would be droll and demand many repeated listens ... wait, that just happened.  A run down of some of the best, worst, and strangest:

"Magnificent Seven" takes the lead as the stellar opening track.  (If you don't know this song, then shame on you, you are not magnificent.)  VVer #2 is more familiar with the Live at Shea Stadium extended mix, which is hard to top, so it is nice to hear the studio track.  Most excitingly, and to her gracious surprise, the shout-out to "Cheesebouger!" mid-track is on both versions.  This track seems to make a comeback on Side 3's "Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)."  The two songs couldn't be more similar.  Same beat and tempo makes you think you will hear "MAGNIFICENT!" shouted out in the middle of the former track.

"Junco Partner" from Side 1 is a reinterpretation of an American blues tune by the same name and makes for a classic Clash reggae track.  It's full of blurted, incomprehensible lyrics and whacky sound effects.  This is mirrored in the dub version, "Version Pardner," on Side 6 which is laden with experimental noises.  Nice balance; only a six-sided concept album could include both!

Further pursuing Side 6 (possibly the most consistent side of the six, if one must choose), a distorted talking track fades into "Version City" to reveal catchy, yet structured, flatly-tuned stanzas backed by a bluesy harmonica.  It's droning, yet optimistic.

The xylophone on "Silicone on Sapphire" hints that this track is a reprise of the state-of-the-world commentary track "Washington Bullets."  The dubby, calypso version on "Silicone on Sapphire" lacks any structured singing found in the former, and instead loops futuristic, computeresque program talking.  It is novel and it totally works.

Best Honorable Mentions:
"Crooked Beat," "One More Time," "One More Time Dub," "Police on My Back," "The Equaliser," "Living in Fame"

"Hitsville U.K." is certainly music, but the sing-along, high-range harmonization and chimes aren't too appealing.

"Lose the Skin" isn't that bad, isn't good, but so memorable.  It barely sounds like a Clash song; that's because it was written and performed by Tymon Dogg, a Strummer collaborator.  This is common on Sandinista! as there are more than a handful of guests appearing (sometimes multiple times) on this triple.  The only Clashy thing about "Lose the Skin" are the drums, otherwise you get an oddly, high-pitched voice over fiddling strings.  Please no.

"Career Opportunities" is unfortunately re-imagined from their first album at the end of Sandanista! to really provide no added benefit to this album.  Another instance of children singing gone awry.  The message in the song is there, but the VVers don't want to listen to the musicality of this message.  

"Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" might be played at what you would call a discotheque.  Not sure what is happening here, but there are plenty of lasers to go along with the political lyrics.  Most importantly, are Ivan and G.I. Joe figurine size?  People want to know.

"Look Here" channels some zoot suit dancing with good use of a xylophone.  Odd, but not horrendous.  This might be evened out by the similarly-paced, rockabilly tune "Midnight Log."

"Mensforth Hill" is an instrumental cacophony with overdubs gluing it together.  Apparently the forgettable "Something About England" from the first side of the album is recycled backwards to help with the chaos.  Turns out "Something About England" actually sounds better backwards.

If you've heard Hardcore DEVO, which coincidentally was recorded several years before Sandinista!, you can't help but make the obvious connection to "Junkie Slip" on Side 5.  It is sparse, has oddball chanting, and bloopy instrumentation.

Strangest Honorable Mentions:
All of Side 3 except "Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)"

Somehow, this is a weirdly cohesive album.  After multiple, multiple listens, many of the tracks are exceptional, and are re-imagined versions of other tracks on the album.  The Clash embrace a recycling of sounds that make this massive production circularly connected.  Like most albums, this one is better when you fully immerse yourself in its sonic experimentation.  Sandanista! rewards the patient listener.  For the VVers, it has aged well over multiple spins, where at first the album just sounded like disjointed cacophony.  It is politically aware, yet subtly brilliant.  The tracks not listed here are still interesting in their own way, but outdone by others on the album.  There is so much music, how is it all crammed into this one project?  Perhaps it is the sheer quantity of music that makes this an under-appreciated triple, despite its compelling complexities.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Portion Control vs Full-On Lunchin'

Some albums have exactly the right balance of pop and weird.  A magical convergence of diverse sounds and lyrics, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale by the Casket Girls is just that sort of album.  The LP is a lush assortment of bright pop synths with a somber gothic tone, highlighted by twin female lead vocals that shudder in their synchronicity.  Think 60s' girl groups, pulsing along with a nice dollop of retro self-awareness.  The production is very sharp and often loaded with scuzzy keyboards.  A dichotomy, crisp and dirty at the same time.  Even the lyrics try to be in two places at once: "We are the preacher, we are the choir, nobody is getting any higher" from the mesmerizing opening track, "Same Side."  Also, "You and I are like water and fire.  Opposites only exist with each other," from the standout track "Chemical Dizzy."

While some people don't give a damn about packaging and album art, every time this LP comes off of the shelf it's a joy to experience, as the packaging of is absolutely gorgeous.  It's wowy!  The outer sleeve is a starry sky-scape, with an O'Keefe palate and central to this is a gigantic white symbol, like an ancient math formula.  The inner sleeve is just black paper which perfectly sets up to reveal the LP, on tie-die pale blue/lime green.  This thing glows in light in the most eerie way.  A lovely font adorns the entire package.  You will want to stare.

These VVers were fortunate to pick this up at a Graveface Records Label Tour.  The concert at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe (yes, such a place exists) featured choreographed dance moves, a legit light show, matching outfits for the band, masks, wigs, the whole nine.  For a small venue it's fantastic to be that up close and personal with that level of performance.  After the show, VVer #1 went to chat with Mr. Graveface (also the keyboardist/co-songwriter in Casket Girls) about the vinyl and other offerings, of which were many.  A friend had already purchased the newest LP, so VVer #1 got a recommendation on what was "the best one" and home came this album.  Also picked up a split Casket Girls/Stardeath White Dwarf (co-headliners of the tour) because, well, duh.

One very noticeable thing about the music on True Love Kills the Fairy Tale is just how much fuzz there is.  Too much distortion?  Is that possible?  Is this a symptom of digital recording transferred to analog vinyl production?  Is this just what the band sounds like (live, they indeed bring the fuzz, but in a good way)?  At times it's like the band is surrounded in a cocoon.  After a few spins the VVers realized that their ears were exhausted by a few specific spots on the record.  What is going on here?  Upon a tiny shred of research, a new term appeared: Inner Groove Distortion.  It's hard to explain without getting overly technical, but the gist is that the center grooves on a platter (figure the last tracks on each side of a typical LP) play with less clarity.  The inference is that because the rings at the center have less diameter, the needle has more work to do to track the grooves correctly.  This can become more of an issue if the songs have a lot going on (lots of instrumentation, high loudness, excess bass) and can lead to things sounding worse off.  What other record comes to mind when thinking about distorted fuzzed out tracks towards the end of a record but Queen II.  Is this the answer to why "The Seven Seas of Rhye" makes VVer #2 run screaming to turn off the record on both her pressings of this album?!  Does this offer an explanation for why sound-conscious artists are more into the practice of putting out double LPs?  Possibly, and the VVers will look at those in a new light instead of immediately dismissing them as taking up too much room on the record shelf.  Music with this much layering in it suffers unless you happen to be in possession of a top of the line needle/cartridge/turntable set-up.  In the case of True Love Kills the Fairy Tale it's not unbearable, but it does encourage the listener to take breaks in between side A and B, otherwise you might get fuzzy bummed.  That is a real term.  For this LP, take a little break between sides, like waiting twenty minutes after the meal to have dessert, you'll be glad you did.

Much of True Love Kills the Fairy Tale is like a chaotic dream; wave after wave shimmering back and forth over voices in steady decomposition.  It can be a lot for the ears to take at times.  This is not an excuse to stay away.  This is a warning that the rewards of the album take some patience.  Dive in all at once at your own peril.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016, meh


Come and check out the VVers while they say good riddance to 2016 at everyone's favorite coffee shop/record store/hang spot, Bump 'n Grind.  Kick back for a coffee or a pregame beverage before the night gets rowdy.
VVer #1 spinning futuristic sounds 3-4 and VVer #2 spinning all lady 45s 4-5.

B n' G will be celebrating their 2nd anniversary 8am - 1am.  10% off everything; DJs all day and $5 beer/wine; champagne toast at midnight.

Music and Art, Living Together in Harmony

Seen at Artomatic 2016 in Potomac, Maryland.  A classy little gallery set up with a suitcase turntable and box of beat-up records to listen to (in this case, a crackly Meters single) while you admire some sharp stencil artwork.  The artist write-up in the gallery space was simple.  To paraphrase: these records look like hell, but play fine; enjoy them before they get turned into art.

This VVer had a genuinely good time at the show, particularly the artist's concept of giving the viewer some quality time with rescued vinyl that he will eventually transform.  Way to vagabond Greg Benge; quality work.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Download Card Conundrum

The Download Card: You love it and you hate it!  Well, which one is it?

You buy a new record, rip off the shrink wrap, pull out the record sleeve, and one of three things might happen: (1) a little card comes floating out onto the floor, inconspicuously never to be seen again, you don't even care because you are so focused on your new vinyl; (2) a little card comes floating out onto the floor, you pick it up, you are happy, you return to be focused on your new vinyl; or (3) you shake the record sleeve in disappointment looking for that little flimsy slip of paper, but alas there is none.  In the last scenario, you panic.  Wait, maybe it fell out when you took out the record?  Where is it!?!   In actuality, most new vinyl will advertise this special bonus with a sticker on the front.  Some artists (for example, Puscifer) never include them.  Is this a problem?  A statement?  Are they just lazy?  Where is that little f^%@ing card!?!  Have the VVers spent too much time thinking about this?  Clearly.

Room for Debate: Why include the download card?

Portability.   The "free download" included with many newly pressed records is a nice gesture, a little extra incentive that appeals to those that want their music to travel with them.  Once you've got your greasy little mitts on those little ones and zeros (00101101011101001111) you can get more familiar with them anywhere and on any device!  The sound is often wildly different based on the media, but whatever, right?  The VVers have found that digital versions tend to sound faster compared to the vinyl version; it's also possible the VVers need a new turntable.  More importantly, why shell out for music on vinyl if you are going to spend most of your time listening to those digitized and compressed tunes on lackluster earbuds that sound awful?  This is a surefire way to make you forget how good the music is.  Isn't this the main point to your vinyl devotion?  Good acoustics and nice plush cover art.  You aren't seeing that from a download card or on the screen of your mini device.  Music in the car does have its merits...  Music on the go has its merits...  But is this really why you bought the vinyl?  With the advent of smart phones, streaming music, and cloud-based systems, music is everywhere at all times.  You bought the vinyl because you care about something more.  Nice job.

Familiarity.  If you listen to an album so much digitally because you love the music, you may forget to listen to it on record, so what is the point of having the record?  This happens to VVer #2 often.  She will listen to those albums she loves that are in the vinyl collection that also have a download: Jack White Blunderbuss, Crocodiles Crimes of Passion, The Faint Doom Abuse.  The VVers are glad that they reside on an iPod to jam out to when on the train/bus/walking, but sometimes feel it takes away from how much time is spent appreciating the vinyl itself.  It is actually a treat to listen to these records on vinyl, they really do sound different.  Not having a download card will force you to listen to the album on vinyl.  Not the worst thing.  Not at all.

Source Material.  If the album was recorded digitally anyway, ok, include the download.  But then ask yourself why you are buying the vinyl in the first place?  There better be some damn good art work, plush packaging, or snazzy colored wax.  A download card included with an analog recorded record makes less sense.  Unless you are getting access to high fidelity versions of the digital, you're basically getting garbage.  Record labels give you low bit versions of digital on purpose so there remains more than just a lingering incentive to get the physical media.  Shop wisely.

Lasting Value.  When re-selling vinyl online, on Discogs for example, people want the download card that came with the album.  This is silly in the VVers' view for three reasons: (1) it's damn hard to keep track of those cards and they are often lost or recycled years after the record is bought; (2) the download codes often times expire either after a period of time or after a certain amount of downloads; and (3) are you paying for the vinyl or the digital?  The download card itself is usually a scrap of paper with not much going on.  There are some exceptions that are slightly artful, and even occasionally a bit exciting.  Still... more than the vinyl itself?  Never.

Example.  The VVers are big The Faint fans.  They recently went to see them and danse at 9:30 Club.  Spectacular.  The Faint has a new(ish) album just released, CAPSULE: 1999-2015, which is essentially a greatest hits, plus one new track and a bonus 45 of two additional new songs.  Why not buy it?  Score! VVer #2 found a little download card floating out and took the initiative to download it; ever since, it has been on constant repeat on the iPod getting to and from work.  Songs are oh so addictive and must be listened to again and again.  What is nice is that some songs were familiar, but VVer #2 has developed a newfound appreciation for them.  This sparked an interest in listening to the older vinyl from whence the songs came.  For example, "Paranoiattack," "I Disappear," and "Southern Belles in London Sing" are constantly stuck in her head, and all happen to be from the album Wet From Birth, which the VVers have on their record shelf, but are not entirely familiar with.  Upon revisiting, not only are these particular songs great, but the rest of the album has a newfound fantastic-ness.  Wet From Birth still has The Faint's electronic sounds, but also strings and orchestra instruments throughout.  What should be taken from this?  Sometimes digital is good for a re-invigorated interest in all of that other vinyl sitting on the shelf.

Words of Wisdom: If the digital version is so important for you to have, just buy it digitally.

For the VVers, there is no conundrum.  The vinyl is what they want and if there is also a download, that's ok.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bad Brains for Breakfast? Better ask Bella!

Another in a long-running series in which the Vinyl Vagabonds attempt to determine what record to play based on the opinion of a pet, house plant, or inanimate object.

As we all know, breakfast record selection can be tricky.   The Vinyl Vagabonds sympathize with you.  While VVer #1 typically goes with any old platter, VVer #2 has far less tolerance in the wee hours of the morning.  This aural sensitivity may very well be the product of the actions of the prior night.  Out late?  One cocktail too many?  Too energized to sleep?  Insomnia?  Up early and ready to conquer the day?  Ok, the last one rarely occurs.

This is how the VVers have come to trust Bella, their fish (a Bushy Nose Plecostomus), for her record selecting acumen.  She serves as a neutral party, blessed with stellar musical taste (and impeccable taste buds).  On a recent morning while sprinkling flakes in for the guppies, VVer #2 almost certainly heard Bella bubbling over the gurgling filter, "blurp blurp, Bad, blurp, Brains."  What, what, huh?  Bella wants to hear Bad Brains Rock for Light over breakfast?!  The VVers usually don't take requests... but... why the heck not?  Ok!

Luckily, the fishy-face knows a thing or two!  She knows that VVer #2 does enjoy crazy, loud punk with her hand-ground coffee.  Slow down for a second though, aren't intense vocals in the morning a bit rough?  What helps is that those vocals are screamed so you can barely decipher them; that's a different story.  Bella also knows that this particular Bad Brains album has a few calmer reggae tracks to balance the start of the day.  Nice choice fishy!  Now if the VVers could just train you to help flip the record...

Rock for Light is Bad Brains second full-length album.  The Washington D.C. band has a fairly tumultuous reputation for highs and lows but this album came at a time (1983) of experimentation and transition that worked very much in their favor.  Each and every hardcore, proto-metal, and reggae track on Rock for Light seems totally unencumbered by thoughts of what the outside world might care for.  Bella knows this and makes sure the VVers are aware it's her fave.  She loves the soulful flow of "I + I Survive" just as much as she gets her flippers flipping for the frenetic "Banned in D.C."  Who could blame her?  Tracks blend seamlessly from genre to genre in total sonic precision.  The LP was produced by Ric Ocasek of pop act The Cars, lending it a crispness that is often lacking from low budget punk recordings.  Bad Brains are masters of the mixed genre.  No band handles punk and reggae so equally well--The Clash, of course, being a close second.  When the first calm track, the (comparatively) lengthy "Rally Around Jah Throne" morphs effortlessly into the riotous "Right Brigade," which features three distinct tempo sections, you start to get an idea of what these guys are capable of.  Starting off with a riff that would easily be the envy of any grunge band, going into full-on shit-kicking punk, and ending with earworming guitar solos.  All showered with the growls, yowls, and belted yelps of H.R. totally losing his mind.  Beautiful.

This album has enough churning guitars to pulp your juice, tempo-shifting drums to get you chugging your coffee, and multiple personality vocals from H.R. to jam your toast.  It's "got that attitude" to get you amped up for your day.  Every good fish knows it.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Four Randos and a Red Broom

How is it that VVer #1 always stumbles across randomly discarded records (aka vinyl vagabonds) in the street?  Seems that someone has eyes like a hawk for these...
The Strays:
A free, pristine, four-record set begging to be brought home was sitting in front of Som Records (honestly, that place always has a weird box of free stuff out front).  The set in question is Dance Du Balai No 1-4 by Jo Privat et son orchestre musette and pressed by Les Industries Musicales et Electriques Pathe Marconi in Paris, France.  At first glance there was a level of fear; why would someone just discard a pristine set of something so lush with warm colors, smiling wedding guests, and some guy holding a red broom?  This VVer had to know more.  He spent time studying the more unusual aspects of the covers (the red broom on in every photo for instance) and began to imagine what these records might sound like.  Into the bag and homeward bound.

The Plan:
On the journey home an idea started to percolate... why listen to them at all?  VVers don't typically go in for orchestral wedding music ya' know.  Why even do any research?  Why not just try to Sherlock Holmes this jam and figure out as much as possible to guess what they will sound like?  Sounds like a good enough MacGuffin to get writing!

The Research:
Each cover prominently features a semi-burly man in a dress shirt, blue slacks, striped socks, and sandals (Jo?) playing a blue-marbled accordion with gold trimmings.  On accompaniment is always his buddy with the skinny mustache (Steve?) playing a rustic looking acoustic guitar.  Both look very happy, focused, and possibly a bit inebriated.  Even though the records are all French productions, the well-dressed wedding attendees all look slightly Greek, maybe Polish or Italian?  Except for the bride (a blonde), everyone has dark hair.  There is something old-world, rustic/country about the pictures.  The front cover upper section features an illustration (Ekta Jean Mainbourg?) of a dapper gentleman with a bowler cap dancing with ... you guessed it, a giant, red broom.  The color photos are soft and saturated all at once.  They look a bit like hand-colored black and white, but it's probably just cheap printing of the era from whence they came.  Regardless of the fact that these are old records... no year is printed on the sleeve or the vinyl.  The VVers guess 1963 based on fashion choices (conservative but hip), decor (bamboo curtains), hair styles (greased and up), and lettering on the sleeves (quirky but clean).  Fascinatingly, each cover features the same wedding couple in four totally different scenes.  Did these covers get shot at four different fake weddings?  That's a lot of fake wine to drink!  The couple looks to be in pure bliss as they bask in each other's joy.

What the music sounds like is tough to guess even though there is a great deal of evidence to soak up.  Described as a potpourri of one-steps, valses (waltzes?), rumbas, tangos, marches, and even a few polkas--it's just about impossible to figure.

 "Special Danse" (see picture) music has never been so intriguing!!!  The back of each record advertises others from the set, with the exception being No. 1 which also has an ad for Jo Privat's album "Petanque a Nogent" which is sort of like French bowling/bocci (the VVers have cousins in France so therefore know about Petanque... and in the picture Jo and his buddies are all are pointing at balls).  What's really awkward is that the balls are all around Jo's accordion, which is clearly a staged and awkward photo.  Balls.  The VVers refuse to show this picture here.

Looks like each album sold for twelve or twenty-six francs at ye'olde Samartaine BG (see picture again!) which sounds like a pretty good deal.  All four LPs are marked Series Pilote with a corner image of an aquatic ship steering wheel logo, implying a nautical motif.  Are these anthems of the Mediterranean French Navy!?!  What about that red broom?  Are there satanic witches?

So about that broom.  In each case the person holding the magical red broom is pictured looking intently at a dancing couple (in two cases it's the bride and groom, in one it's another attractive couple, and in the last, the guy is admiring his glass of scotch or possibly he is about to drink a candle) and appears to be waiting for his chance to cut in.  Is this the old-world equivalent of the swap scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark?  "Here man, hold this magic broom for a second while I hold your wife/bridesmaid/drink."

Some Fun Songs (Probably):
One Step "Avec les pompiers" which sounds like evacuate the pampers
Valse "Les Nuits" which is a song squirrels would like
Valse "Le grande frise" which is about a big salad
One Step "Ma Femme est morte" which sounds a bit dark for a wedding song
Rumba "Quizas, quizas, quizas" which is a nice little ditty about anxiety for pop quizzes
March "March du bonheur" ... don't ask
Polka "Joyeuse tourterelle" a swell tune about a happy, dancing tortoise

Perhaps the VVers are ready to listen...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Get to the Chopper(!)

Recently rediscovered in the Vinyl Vagabonds cache of 45s, this little gem should see the light of day more often!  "Get to the Chopper" is a pink 7" within a no frills black and white xerox cover.  Where did this pink slab o'vinyl come from and why is it staying in the House of VV?  Many moons ago, while in the oasis of fun that is Northampton, MA, VVer #2 picked it up and couldn't put it down.  For a few bucks at tiny basement store, Turn It Up!, VVer #2 was excited to own a record that would inspire her to say in her best AHRNOLD impersonation "Get to the Record Playah!" "Do it! DO IT NOWWW!!!"

Apparently the music on it wasn't bad either since it has remained in the collection for so long.  Upon re-listen it's immediately a household fave.  The music could be described as grind noise, doom-esqe, or experimental.  A grungy churn starts things off, but things get really weird from there.  Guitars echo in a siren-like alarm, distortion ensues, then the screaming.  What can only be discerned as "Oh my God!" "Oh my God!" see-sawing back and forth, only lasts long enough for you to look around and make sure ears aren't bleeding.  Hang on tight for tempo shifts aplenty and more incoherent screaming.  Then the finale, pure thrash hardcore and noise leading into echo and dissonance with a little bit of that familiar blaring siren.  This is the sort of song you play for your Grandma if you want to see her hair catch on fire.  The only disappointment to the 45 is that the B-side is the exact same track (maybe?).

A nice kicker is the four little xerox inserts that came in this package.  We learn that the band is from PA and that the first pressing of this 45 (from 2005 with a run of 150 copies) was on black vinyl with a Predator screen-printed on the B-side in different colors.  Sounds awesome, the VVers want to run into a copy of that!  A quote: "The beauty of the DIY community is that any one of you reading this insert now could have done this yourselves.  Start a band, put out a record, write a zine, set up a show; all of those things are available to every one of you if you just put forth the effort."  There are even several emails and web links for getting advice on how to do such a thing.  Bravo say these VVers.  Bravo.

P.S.  There's even a shout out to BURGERTIME as being the greatest video game ever.  OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Baltimore: Maryland Music Mecca

As Silver Spring reconfigures from being dubbed a record paradise a few years ago (the Record Exchange moved to an upgraded location and Joe's Record Paradise is in limbo while trying to move--both still in downtown Silver Spring), these Vinyl Vagabonds have been spending more and more time (and money) in Baltimore.  A few exceptional, shared traits of Baltimore record shops: the owners are usually there working, the shops are in convenient locations, the prices are good, and each shop covers its own niche market.  The first point deserves some explanation.  The owner's presence makes a world of difference as they know their inventory, the music, and make savvy (and sometimes cryptic) recommendations.  For owners to open and close up shop daily takes some serious commitment.  The VVers experience over the years has been that these Baltimore store owners really care about what they do.

Here are four of the Vinyl Vagabonds' favorites in no particular order:

Celebrated Summer Records
Hand-painted Thrash Cat action figure
Celebrated Summer just celebrated their ten-year anniversary and the VVers were on the scene to salute.  What makes this place so great?  Tony, the owner, just published a fantastic zine, "I've Wasted My Life," about the ten-year history of the shop, which really gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes this place so special.  He even had limited edition action figures made for the anniversary party.  Now that is classy!  There are always creative Celebrated Summer t-shirts and great store promotionals (such as a Record Store Day poster printed in collaboration with MICA using their iconic Globe Poster letterpress collection).  The store has occupied a few different locations and currently resides in Hampden next to their symbiotic neighbor, Atomic Books (buy your Vinyl Vagabonds zines there!).  Celebrated Summer specializes in new and used punk, metal, and hardcore, but also has a good selection of reggae, jazz, and rock.  Notably, it is an impeccably organized, clean, and well-curated shop.  When asked, Tony offers up his deep catalogue of music knowledge.  VVer #2 has definitely thought twice about an unknown record she wanted to buy based purely on the cover art.  Words of wisdom from the shop owner about the quality and style of music (and offering to pop it on for a spin) steered her in the right direction.  A+ store.  Super-fantastic records purchased from Celebrated Summer over the years include Misfits Collection II, Melt Banana Cactuses Come in Flocks, Bad Brains Rock for Light, and Root Radics At Channel One Kingston Jamaica, to name a few.

The True Vine
Also in Hampden, this two-room store on a side street off of "The Avenue" is loaded with used LPs, mostly in the rock, international, and experimental genres.  True Vine's small international bin is so well maintained that you can just literally close your eyes and pick up something random and it will be a new musical experience.  There is a plethora of records you've never seen, heard, or even heard of before.  This can sometimes be intimidating; a shop full of mystery records.  Thankfully co-owner Jason is often there when the VVers roll in.  He is very engaging, super chill, and he really knows about his inventory.  It's just so incredible to speak with someone who has such an encyclopedic knowledge of music from such varied genres. 

El Suprimo!
El Suprimo! boasts an organized, hole-in-the-wall basement location in Fell's Point which is stocked with used records of all stripes that features strong jazz and classic rock sections.  No new records here.  This is the type of shop that you can walk in and just ask owner Jack what he has recently priced and recommends, and buy it without regret.  When VVer #2 was in a recent jazz slump and needed something new (to her), she asked for some advice and home came some newly priced Lee Morgan and Bill Evans LPs.  More recently Thelonious Monk Quartet Five by Monk by Five was recommended, but the VVers expressed some convictions about Monk being too mellow.  He guaranteed this one was not mellow-Monk and delivered.  This is also a place where you immediately notice great music playing over the hi-fi that you might not have heard before.  This exact scenario happened a few years back while flipping through some records and there was this intense blues playing in the shop.  The VVers didn't recognize who it was, and upon inquiring, were introduced to the pre-pop iteration of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.  They done learnt something that day those VVers.

The Sound Garden
The Sound Garden is a mecca for new vinyl in Fell's Point.  They always have a comprehensive selection of new releases, excellent prices, and (more recently) a respectable used vinyl section.  Compared to the other shops on this list, the Sound Garden isn't exactly a Mom and Pop shop, but it is definitely run right (their other location is just as stellar in Syracuse, NY).  As one would expect from the city where Record Store Day was conceived, they put on an unparalleled event; lots of giveaways, well organized records, and tons of vinyl special releases and backstock.  They host frequent in-store performances/signings and are a must-visit for any vinyl head.  As a larger store experience, it is unparalleled for selection, customer service, and general awesomeness.  It should also be noted that they carry a wide array of movies, music of the non-vinyl variety, and all sorts of other thingers.  You'll also do pretty well if you should decide to trade in for cash or credit.  Places like this are fewer and fewer these days and it is refreshing to find yourself in a shop that really is the total package.  The amount of records that have come from the Sound Garden in the VVer's collection amasses to a list too long to enumerate.  High-five!

Looking for a music mecca?  Baltimore is where it's at.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Zines!

Vinyl Vagabonds #7 is now for sale!
Plush with a tactile, hand-printed cover, original artwork, and of course the music musings you would expect from the VVers.  Thirty-six pages of vinyl goodness can now be yours for a mere $7.00.  Email the VVers for it to be shipped to you or find it at these fine independent shops:

Smash! Records
2314 18th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009

Atomic Books
3620 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD 21211

1854 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60622

Floating World Comics
400 NW Couch St., Portland, OR 97209

Flyer by VVer #1, so you know it's good
Wait, there's more!  The 6th annual DC Zinefest is happening July 23rd at St. Stephen's Church between Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights from 11am to 5pm.  It's a totally rad fest.  Swing on by and pick up some Vinyl Vagabonds from the VVers themselves!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Godzilla v. Mothra

The VVers have been very modest on this here blog about their love/obsession with Godzilla and his cohort monsters from Toho Studios.  Just take their word for it and spare the details.  What prompted VVer #2 to order a Godzilla record from Discogs last year?  A good guess would be for DJing a Halloween party where monster soundtracks were needed, oh, and her costume for the night: Mothra.  Regardless of the reasons (the VVers do not need to justify their record purchases!), a plush-packaged, 1978 Toho Godzilla Original Soundtrack arrived.  Behold, the iconic Godzilla-eating-a-train scene gracing the cover sleeve, foldout Godzilla poster, info sheet (all in Japanese), and record with an adorable illustrated Godzilla gracing the label, and all in pristine condition!  Holy monster party!  Pop it on the turntable and hear classic sounds from a smattering of Godzilla movies' scores (not soundtracks): Gojira, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla.  Most tracks on this collection are from monster entrance scenes or battle sequences which heavily feature monster sound effects (which are in fact AMAZING).  Only problem is that the VVers do not read Japanese (yet) and have no idea what they are listening to (again, the ENTIRE track listing is in Japanese).  Some tracks are recognizable, like the original 1954 Gojira theme and "RRRRAAAAARR" noises, but most leave you wondering what movie they are from.  Never has there been a more perfect time to try out the Google Translate app that VVer #2 never uses!  Just choose Japanese, snap a picture, and let the app do its thing.  While the translation is less than perfect, the VVers (using their extensive and in-no-way-useless knowledge of Godzilla movies) were able to get the gist of the track info.  The liner notes are plush with battle scene pictures, a nice touch, but the true kicker is the included poster... which is totally ridiculous.  For one, it is huge (actual poster size).  Upon closer examination, the VVers notice that Godzilla is holding a lady-person a la King Kong.  What is this horse shit?!  That didn't happen in the movies!  Everyone wants to know who is responsible for such a historically inaccurate depiction of Godzilla on this poster!  Regardless, the whole package is a fine purchase to ogle at and to use for backing music to a Mothra Halloween costume (and just general listing, because, you know, GODZILLA).

Who cares about the score anyways?  Well, you should, especially that of the original Gojira.  The emotionally charged score is beautifully laden with string and horn instrumentation making it dramatic and spare in all of the right ways.  Akira Ifukube pretty much created Godzilla via the original entrance and theme music, which continued to be used throughout much of the Toho Godzilla franchise.  In addition, he went on to create original scores for many other regarded films (including the Japanese Godzilla movies made through the 1990s).  However, his most indelible contribution may be the idea to use musical instruments (not recorded animal noises) to create that iconic Godzilla "RRRRAAAAARR."  Kaiju fans everywhere are forever indebted to Ikukube's monster sounds.

In the months since Halloween, the VVers finally watched the original 1961 Mothra movie (SPOILER ALERT: Godzilla doesn't show up in this one folks -- and in no way is that a problem).  Besides the namesake giant moth monster, two of the main stars of the film are tiny, magical twins who provide much of the music for this soundtrack.  The actresses are actually twin sisters, Emi and Yumi Ito, a musical duo that performed under the name The Peanuts.  Their melodic and hypnotizing voices make for some pretty catchy tunes in Mothra that the VVers had stuck in their heads for days.

A month or two passes again, and the VVers find themselves in the tiny, yet wonderful, Musique Plastique in Portland, OR.  Near closing time, VVer #1 is poking around the store and pulls out a record.  Handing it over to VVer #2, "Interested?"  Gracing the cover is Godzilla (in color) on a Deluxe Edition Godzilla record.  VVer #2 thinks to herself, "Meh, I just got a Godzilla record, how many do I need?"  The inner sleeve this time is only 98% in Japanese, save a handful of track names, so she opens it to see what is written on the vinyl.  "RRRRAAAAARRR!"  The vinyl A side is a picture disc with the B side as a painted Godzilla/King Ghidorah/Rodan scene.  Pretty sweet (is the understatement of the year).  At what is now an 85% certain purchase, a study of the tracks looks promising.  There is at least one track, "Infantians" which VVer #2 is certain comes from the original Mothra movie (Mothra lives on Infant Island and there were more than a few song/dance scenes summoning Mothra).  Well, looks like Mothra has sealed the deal and this deluxe 1985 Godzilla record made the journey home with the VVers.

The music on this one is far more "musical" than the other Godzilla record.  Side A includes quite a few "overture" type songs from the film series as well as the mecha-goofy "whhaaaa whaaa whaaa" clown music entrance to Godzilla.  This stupid trombone entrance theme was featured in later movies when the King of the Monsters transitioned from foe into friend of humankind.  Thankfully, this is followed by a surfer-esque track which temporarily erases the memory of that.  Side B features a few songs by The Peanuts from the Mothra movie.  One is the magical "Mothra" song the twins sing which starts off acoustic and is later accompanied by some taiko drums, harp, and percussion.  The somber "Infantians," as sung by The Peanuts in the movie is about the natives from Infant Island and their idol Mothra.  "Native Son" is from the elusive King Kong v. Godzilla movie which similarly to Mothra, includes natives from the island of King Kong's home chanting/praying to their monster. The last song "GODZILLA" is pretty horrendous and sounds like it is entering the 1980's musically.  There are synths, bad female vocals, and bad lyrics.  At one point you realize the lyrics are in English and then hear "Godzilla is our friend" or something to that effect. 

Godzilla, he spans many a generation and many a genre.  Combined, the two records cover over thirty years of Godzilla films and there isn't overlap between the two.  "RRRRAAAAARR!"

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Johnny B. Goode

You know "Johnny B. Goode": ripping guitars, punchy pianos, and that rags-to-riches story of the original guitar hero.  There's well over a hundred cover versions and tributes.  The VVers realized that they have lots of variations on the same song from various decades of vinyl.  Here is the round-up:

Chuck Berry - The original, written and performed by Berry in 1958, is perfect.  Quite stellar.  It was even selected to be a Voyager Golden Record, sent to space on the Voyager I launch in 1977 as a  representation of culture on planet Earth.  No more need be said.

DEVO - Q; Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO - 1978
"Come Back Jonee" is a tribute, not a cover, marrying DEVO's new-wave punk vibe to Berry's core song.  This one has impressive, whistling synths, rapid fire drumming, and galloping guitars to pay homage to the original.  Differing from the original tune, the lyrics speak of a guitar guy who breaks his lady's heart and then runs off to be famous, but instead drives his Datsun into an oncoming truck.  Bravo.

The Nighthawks - Jacks and Kings Full House - 1979
Local Silver Spring-area band, the Nighthawks, provide a very respectable cover called "Little Queenie" to start off this LP.  They credit Mr. Berry in the appropriately title-switched track.  It starts with original lyrics as if singing to an onlooking female listener/dancer to basically the same tune of "Johnny," then awkwardly switches back to the Berry lyrics two-thirds through the song.  Good piano scales and horns to accompany the scintillating guitar lead make this a rockin' blues track.

Men at Work - Business as Usual -1981
"Be Good Johnny" again, not a cover, is a reference to the original and is also super 80s and super Australian.  Lyrically, this one is about a daydreaming kid who keeps getting reminded to "be good."  The chorus is catchy, but it's not enough to save this one, nor to justify it as any kind of homage to the original.  Meh.

Peter Tosh - Mama Africa - 1983
A good way to cover a song is to take the original and adapt it to the music you know and perform best, which is what Mr. Tosh does here.  Straight covers of songs are boring.  The reggae-ized version of this features some creative touches such as a bleating horn section, the echoed "Go Johnny" in a peppy female voice, and some appropriately changed lyrics "leader of a reggae band."  Exceptional guitar work from Tosh helps this track keep true to Berry's original.

Judas Priest - Ram It Down - 1988
Dear Judas Priest, why?  It has nothing on the original, yet somehow the chugging guitar of K. K. Downing and screeching Rob Halford play nice to make a good/bad, near-straight adaptation.  It sounds like a spoof.  It also seems totally out of place on this album of halfway decent originals.

The Spiders - Big Lizard Stomp - sometime between 1966-1969
This version is extra surfy sounding and a decent straight cover.  The singing is pretty atrocious, but consider it is a live recording by a Japanese rock group and you might give them some credit for effort.  Judging by the intensity exuding from this cut, you can tell that they are having fun covering this classic song.

Other artist's versions that could be promising include: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and the Sex Pistols.  Is this a prompt to run out to get these on vinyl?  No.  It is just a total coincidence that so many versions of "Johnny B. Goode," spanning many decades and musical styles, are in the VVers collection.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reissues Issue ... Tissue?

Vinyl Vagabonds are not well-to-do, glutinous, gilded fatcats (not yet at least).  They scrimp and save in the effort to acquire "the good stuff," and are always looking for a deal (We are Vinyl Vagabonds: Just give us your records).  However, some records are just never ever going to enter into affordability.  Why is this?

For starters, coveted albums are often "known," meaning that other lovable record slobs aren't letting them go.  Another reason is that super sought after albums are from early parts of the artist's career before big labels and even bigger pressings.  What this primarily means is that there are just not as many of those records in existence for everybody to have an original copy.  Especially for musicians working outside the studio system, you should expect that original copies are not easy to come by.  But why doesn't the record label just make more when they have a hit on their hands (aka supply and demand)?  Well, in some cases this does happen, but the law of diminishing returns applies.  This law states (does it?) that the more times things get repressed, the lower the quality will be (really?).  Possibly.  Also, in this day and age, you may very well be seeking out a record made in the time of vinyl scarcity, aka 1988 to 2004, or something like that.  Lastly, back to the rare, original record: it may very well be played out.  Those tiny grooves do have a limited number of spins you know.  Why not just go the safe route and pick up a repressing on heavy vinyl so you can spin that sucker any time you feel like it?  For affordability, sound quality, and playability--a repressing is the only answer.

Repressing vs. Reissue:  Repressing usually involves the record label realizing it's got a hit on its hands and just making more.  As this happens (usually shortly after the initial release), quality has a way of declining as attention to detail in the pressing process tends to wander.  Therefore, repressing can have a bad connotation; in the past, these were done on the cheap using low quality vinyl, poor master tapes, crummy mastering, or weak quality control.  This still happens today, mostly bigger record labels trying to squeeze a quick buck off of a back catalogue.  They might tout heavy vinyl or color or even a picture disc.  None of that means squat if the process isn't done with care.

Alternatively, a reissue involves some sort of upgrade to the quality, heavier vinyl, deluxe/enhanced packaging, extra music, remastered tunes, etc.  Color vinyl and picture discs count as well, but they don't necessarily improve the quality.  Sometimes this extra fluff just enhances the price.  The VVers are looking for sound and value in a nice, clean package.  Nuff Said.

A recent positive example from the VVers own collection is a reissue of The Misfits' first LP from 1982, Walk Among Us.  Take a look on Discogs or Ebay to see what an original copy will run you, $350 bones!  With something that expensive you might be afraid to even play the thing.  The reissue, purchased for around $20 at Smash Records in DC, was and is the right choice.  It's on heavy black vinyl, how heavy?  "Where's the gram scale?"  Vinyl Vagabonds get to listen to it all of the time, it looks and sounds fantastic, and so what if it isn't the original!?!  Since it is a new pressing, it sounds crisp (something a secondhand copy of the original probably wouldn't at this point) and the sleeve is perfect with all of the original artwork intact.  Most times you find something used and parts are either damaged, missing, or covered with a half torn sales sticker that mars the artwork.

In some cases, reissues are something to really get excited about.  In 2014, Blue Note began to reissue hundreds of their remastered jazz icons titles for their 75th anniversary.  Many of these milestone records (and recordings for that matter) are pretty old; this is a perfect way to preserve them.  Blue Note proclaims, this initiative is "dedicated to the proposition that our catalog should  be readily available at a low cost, featuring high quality pressings and authentic reproductions of Blue Note's iconic packaging."  Isn't that everything you want out of a reissue?  Bravo Blue Note.  Even independent record stores are "Blue Note Authorized Dealers" to give shoppers extra incentive to go out and support them.  The Sound Garden in Baltimore, Gerosa Records in Connecticut, Bull Moose in Maine, and Everyday Music in Portland, OR have all been the recipients of the VVers' cash for some of these records.   Of the standout purchases, Dexter Gordon Our Man in Paris, from 1963, is one of the best.  Though playing all standards, Gordon, by no accident, teamed up with the Three Bosses (Bud Powell, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke) to record this session in Paris.  Mostly high tempo, featuring stellar solos, and narrated by Gordon's impeccable tenor sax, this is an excellent recording that deserves a new audience welcomed by Blue Note's reissue series.

Even though you are buying a reissue, do not assume to buy it online.  Go to your local record store and see if they have it in stock or if they can order it for you.  Case-in-point, the VVers recently decided that they should own Rage Against the Machine's 1996 epic Evil Empire on record to crank so their neighbors give them dirty looks.  The original is barely in circulation (it was the 90s!), so the reissue is the way to go.  The Record Exchange in Silver Spring easily ordered the "Music on Vinyl" version from Germany, based on the owner's advice that their stuff is quite good.  The record swiftly showed up at the store for pick-up and the VVers don't feel guilty giving the pristine vinyl many spins!  The store gets a profit while the VVers save on shipping and get a punch on their frequent buyers card.  Quick, run to reissues!

On the flip-side, for diggers scouring shops for original vinyl, it is super satisfying when you come across an original pressing of something from your wantlist.  Hooray!  Whereas, coming across a reissue in the stacks of records lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.  Do you buy it so you have it and can enjoy the music, or do you keep searching?  Scenario: VVer #2 was looking for Nina Simone's 1965 album, Pastel Blues, while traveling to the Pacific Northwest.  Nary a sighting until she came across the Music on Vinyl reissue at Easy Street Records in West Seattle.  Well, shoot.  Hold out for the original, which is nowhere to be found, or splurge for the reissue (on a well-respected label) to hear the hypnotic sounds of "Sinnerman" play from the turntable?  After some consultation with the store owner (who also validated Music on Vinyl's reputation, and added in that he was thinking of taking that copy home with him), the reissue entered the luggage of VV.  The right decision?  Yes, the sound is crisp and the price was about half what the original would have cost.

This is just the tip of the iceberg that is the reissue discussion. The VVers do not encourage going out and buying any old reissue. Here are a few rules of thumb: Make sure it’s on a good label! Beware of bootlegs! Seek advice from your record store clerk or the back of the sleeve for information on how the reissue came to be. Seeing as you are reading this here blog, it is implied that you are a smart person and the VVers know that you wouldn’t go out and buy a $20 reissue of Blue Oyster Cult Fire of Unknown Origin or Madonna Like a Virgin that can be found in the dollar bin of nearly every record store in the US of A. Be discerning with your reissue purchases otherwise you’ll need a tissue for your nozzle!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016