Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five - The Message - 1982

Primarily purchased for title track "The Message," there are other reasons to listen to this LP, and some reasons not to ever, ever, ever.  First, if you are reading this here blog, the VVers have confidence that you know "The Message" and don't have to indulge.  It is epic, with lyrics and beats that have been sampled over and over in the three decades since its release.  "It's like a jungle sometimes / It makes me wonder how I keep from going under."  For the first time, social commentary enters hip-hop; no longer just party/dance anthems a la the disco era.  Get reacquainted with "The Message," it handily surpasses your memory of the song.

Good reasons to listen to the rest of this LP:
"She's Fresh" starts with some energetic horns followed by some sweet synths over their name call-outs.  "Sock it sock it so I can sock it to ya!"  Most of these lyrics have been sampled a million times, but generally they are just plain bad.  "You're supposed to be on the dance floor not thinking about it," says VVer #1.

Next track, "It's Nasty," may just have you completely forget what you're listening to because it starts with a straight lift from Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love."  That sampled track, from only a year prior is prominently featured throughout this one.  "It's Nasty" manages to conjure Funkadellic with some disco and talking/laughing overdub.  This works well while also incorporating some pretty legit individual solos in a proto-Wu Tang style: everyone gets a solid verse and shout-out.

It's like hip-hop discovered the vocodor for the first time in "Scorpio."  This one is just completely relentless.  Vocodor!!!  Super computerized vocals with an abundance of laser-beams blasting your brains to putty leads to uncontrollable weird break dancing.  The dancing can't be stopped, but you may want to stop the music before this track is over to save your ass from getting hit by a laser-beam being shot out of your speakers.  Pyow pyow ZAPPP!

The Bad:
"It's a Shame" is mediocre.  It isn't good; the clap-track and weak singing really hold this one back.  There are some thoughtful lyrics, but meh.

"Dreamin'" and "You Are" start off the B-side and are worthy of a Kurtis Blow B-side.  This is not the sort of thing to be bragging about.  In fact, "Dreamin'" is actually worse than a KB B-side (the VVers almost went directly into a coma listening to it).  Thoughts that come to mind: mute buttons, dying cat, running into rush-hour traffic, testicular cramping.  The crooning on this is stupendous-horrendous.  Apparently, the group's got a monster man-crush on Stevie Wonder because they're "dreamin about you Stevie."  This song is a joke, right?  Why would they keep this on the LP?  GMF + FF: don't you have friends?  Maybe they should have stuck with the EP and skipped these filler tracks that were so common in the early days of the hippity-hop.  Following this up is "You Are": schmaltzy R and B at its worst.

These two tracks singlehandedly made the VVers want to listen to some bad KB B-sides because in comparison, it sheds a new positive light on them.  Were bad B-sides a thing in the early 80s?  VVer #2 wants to take knife to these two tracks so they can never be played again.  What's sad is that they hid "The Message" at the end of side B and you have to listen to all this shit before you get the goods.  Is this a metaphor for their socially conscious "message" that after a lot of bad could come good?  Ugh, furious VVers.  The VVers got the message, which is -- this LP has got to go.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DJ Sets at Bump N' Grind Silver Spring

Friday, May 29th 7pm - 9pm
Six Degrees of Separation

The Vinyl Vagabonds will be DJing by way of the six degrees of separation method -- tracing connections between the vast and varied selections from their collection.  Links, such as Run DMC to Aerosmith, might be very obvious while others will lead to some head-scratching, such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to St. Vincent.  Daunting as this all sounds, the VVers know it can be done!

Coming next:
Friday, June 5th 7pm - 9pm
The Vinyl Vagabonds Take Your Request Night (HAHA, PSYCH!)
A night of psychedelic music for your soul.  Silly, the VVers don't take requests.

These are free, metro-walkable, all ages, cosmically-relevant music nights at Silver Spring's newest (and only) record/coffee shop.  Also, they have an awesome staff, fine adult beverages, and delicious foods for eating.  YES!

Bump N' Grind
1200 East West Highway,
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

Be there!
  Stuff you probably already know:  
The Vinyl Vagabonds (who are Eric and Sara) is a music and art focused project inspired by the medium of vinyl records, going strong for over six years!  They like all kinds of music and are prone to play just about anything.

"So, uh, how does it work?  Do I just give you my records?"
"Yes, give us your records."

Friday, April 24, 2015


Vinyl Vagabond Apprentice Reporting from NY on Record Store Day Spring 2015

Normally, I turn into a 13 year old girl at a One Direction concert on Record Store Day.  My body tingles, my heart pounds, and my bank account evaporates.  Not so this time as I didn’t absolutely need any of the fancy limited edition special releases that are a hallmark of RSD.  Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of interesting releases this year that I was primed to purchase, but it was not a life or death situation if I did not score any … or so I thought.

A few days before, my New York RSD buddy and I laid out our plan of attack.  We would meet up no later then 6:30 AM at Bleeker Street Records, the most reliable shop in the city.  It was thought, we could hit that great spot and get to another three record stores before most of the best LP’s went bye-bye.

I woke up at 4:50 AM.  As you can tell, on RSD I don’t play around.  I threw on my clothes, jumped on the subway, and got to the record store by 6:10 AM.  Third in line; not bad for a Vagabond Apprentice!  Taped on the window of the yet-to-open record store, was a long list of RSD vinyl they would have available.  While waiting in the ever growing line, I casually made my decisions of what I wanted to buy.  Luckily, the weather was nice, and fellow vinyl addicts were friendly.  Entenmann’s cookies and donut boxes were being passed around making for a pleasant and relaxing morning.  I had a vinyl smile from ear to ear.  A paid record company lady came around giving out bags of mystery goodies. (More on that later.)

Next thing I knew, it was 10 AM, and the store started letting a single-file line through the door.  We were whisked in, navigating through the aisles towards the RSD area, as if we were candy in a Willie Wonka machine.

Since we were scrunched together, I could hear what the two guys before me were buying.  All of a sudden, I noticed they were both purchasing the exact same records I was looking to get.  Even being third on line for RSD can become a problem.  The record companies distribute the limited edition vinyl to record stores randomly and stores can get ten, two, or even ZERO copies of LP’s no matter how many the store orders.  I began to get scared.  It felt like a bucket of ice was poured on my head, my blood started to boil, and murder was on my mind.  What stared as a fancy free morning turned ugly real fast.  I saw these two guys as enemy combatants now.  I MUST HAVE THOSE RECORDS!  If I don’t get what I want, they better leave Manhattan real fast!  In the blink of an eye, it was my turn.  I meekly asked the clerk if they had any more of the LP's I most desired.  Thankfully they had one more of each.  RECORD STORE DAY IS NO JOKE!  I noticed that many of the best LP’s were gone after about fifteen people.  With over 100 people behind me, I thought there was going to be a vinyl riot.  As we left Bleeker Street Records, my buddy told me he still wanted a bunch more records from his list, so we journeyed to the next store, Rebel Rebel, which is a dank, hoarder-mess of a store, but in a charming NYC way.  No large line had started there yet, mainly because everyone was still waiting in line at Bleeker Street Records.  In a jiffy, my friend was able to swoop up the other LPs he was looking for.

Feelings of invincibility quickly faded when we realized we both forgot about the Citizen Dick 7” that we both wanted.  I know what you are thinking: Who is Citizen Dick?  Citizen Dick is the fictitious band in the 90's Cameron Crowe film Singles. The bogus band starred Matt Dillon on vocals and the members of Pearl Jam as his bandmates.  The RSD 7" consisted of one ridiculous song they created, "Touch Me I'm Dick," and the reverse side was an etched quote from Matt Dillon's character in the movie.  Sounds like a must have, doesn't it?   So we trekked to the snooty, stuck-up punk rock store, Generation Records, next, only to find a line of around 50 people.  After about a half hour, there was just one guy in line in front of me.  Guess what happened?  I heard him ask for the Citizen Dick 7” I wanted.  The store clerk told him “You got the last copy bro.”  I was floored.  Record Store Day agony was in full force.  My buddy and I estimated our luck in finding that 7” was fading fast.  We decided to go to one more store, the too-cool-for-school indie hub called Other Music.  As we walked across town, we noticed so many people had vinyl sized record store bags in their hands.  I’m happy to say, it looked like a vinyl parade had spread out all over New York City.  We got to Other Music as quickly as we could, but the 7” was long gone.  It had been just two hours, but we knew the RSD vinyl gold rush was over.  At the end of things we both spent way too many dollar bills.  My friend was now flat broke, and in deep trouble at home, for spending all that money.  I took pity on him and bought him a burger and cheese fries.  An exciting, frothing-at-the-mouth Record Store Day it turned out to be.

Curious about that bag full of promotional RSD stuff?  Was it cool goodies or garbage?  You decide.
  • Flaming Lips, Johnny Marr, Erasure, Royal Blood, Neil Young, Rush, Robert Plant, J. Mascis, Dr. Dog mini posters
  • Van Halen, Pink Floyd, Charli XCX, Death from Above 1979, Grateful Dead Stickers
  • Prince, Alt-J buttons
  • Jenny Lewis patch
    Heart shaped box ... of mints?
  • Muse turntable slipmat
  • Three Gary Clark Jr. guitar picks
  • Arctic Monkeys, Head or Heart temporary tattoos
  • The Raa bottle opener keychain
  • The Whigs refrigerator magnet
  • The Thermals, Justine Skye No. 2 pencils
  • A Plague Vendor coaster
  • A Trevor Jackson bookmark
  • A Lee Brice beer cozy
  • A Goo Goo Dolls coffee clutch
  • A Sarah Silverman comedy album reverse window sticky
  • And lastly, Kylie Minogue breath mints in a red heart shaped plastic pack  (I guess Kylie knew a lot of people were going to forget to brush their teeth on Record Store Day morning, thanks Kylie!)
And with that, Vinyl Vagabond Apprentice is signing off.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Outfitted for the Apocalypse

VVer #1 got out of work a little early and decided to stroll to and through Chinatown.  After a coffee break he got set to hit the metro before the full swing of rush hour.  On a whim he popped his head into the huge Urban Outfitters which is a mere minute from the metro entrance.  Why not check out what the kids are listening to these days?
Ugh, not Journey.  Ralph!

A little background: for years UO has been selling new vinyl and basic all-in-one turntables for the hipster set.  Prices are usually moderate to pricey (except for the extremely rare super-sale).  Selections are often interesting; heavily geared toward hipster and aging hipster alike (not a bad thing, but somewhat limited).  Quite a few years back the VVers picked up the Black Market Clash 10" -- a strange but solid addition to the collection.  UO is always good for a reissue as well.  An example being a not-long-ago purchase of Mr. Bungle California; said Pitchfork "one of those albums that you can't believe a major label had anything to do with."  A bizarre album to find at an UO in VVer #1's former neighborhood mall.  An aside: decades ago, this mall housed no less than three actual music stores.  Now the only place to find any substantial selection of music is the UO, which has filled the void of quasi-music stores similar to Hot Topic, Sears, or Woolworth's (that's going back a lot of years).  If you don't happen to live near one of the few remaining independent record stores, UO and the interwebs are pretty much it.  Most indie stores feature a large used section which affords the visitor to do a significant amount of digging (half of the fun), discovery (the other half), and hobnobbing with other music lovers (essential).  How does UO fit into all of this?  Since they have always stuck to new vinyl and newish artists, much of the records could just as easily be found on Amazon or the like (think Santigold Master of My Make Believe or Tune-Yards Nikki Nack, two examples of purchases by the VVers from UO in the past few years).  Less direct competition for the indie record store which can get wild with variety and keeping that used section flowing with goodies.

You dirty bastards.
Back to the mega-UO in Chinatown which has an equally massive vinyl display.  While this section isn't exactly set up in a user friendly manner it does present very prominently in the shop.  Form over function -- the upper racks are so high up off of the ground that you would either have to be a basketball player or sit on a friend's shoulders to check it out.  That aside it was an interesting passing of the time until VVer #1 spied two new wooden crates on a table, each slab in said crates marked with a massive orange sticker reading "vintage vinyl," i.e., used vinyl.  Used. Frickin'. Vinyl.  What in the name of Wilford Brimley's mustache does UO think they are doing messing with indie record stores bread and butter?  Aghast, VVer #1 proceeded to check out their offerings and it was a joke.  Not only were the prices stupid high, but the selection was just laughable.  One album in particular that really galls is Steve Martin Let's Get Small for thirteen bucks.  Really?  A copy of that can easily be had for a dollar, oh just about anywhere.   Oh well, suppose a sucker is born every minute.  VVer #1 pulls over a manager and politely asks "what's the deal?"  The guy, very nice, doesn't know much about it except that it is a pilot program isolated to just a few UO stores.  Other stores aren't doing it... yet.  He has no idea who is buying the records, where they came from, who prices them, etc.  Seriously UO, you are not allowed to further mess with indie record stores.  Back away from the used vinyl.  Whichever jerk in the UO business office decided this was a good idea; may you please fail miserably.

The VVers tolerate that UO is selling glossy new releases (to an extent), but delving into used vinyl is unacceptable, bandwagony, and horrifying.  This week's edition of Parade (the glossy, pulp-portion of the Sunday edition of the anywhere-USA newspaper) has a full spread on Record Store Day.  Why are the VVers not dancing the watussi about this?  The article doesn't say a whiff about a single actual record store (and proceeds to interview Barry Manilow and the likes; the VVers disapprove).  Mainstream stores, such as UO, and mainstream press continue in ignorance of the vital part of what makes music interesting, irreplaceable, and community-oriented.  Long live indie record stores!

RSD is this Saturday, April 18th.  Most shops, in addition to having extended hours and fancy special limited releases, also will have other fun things like live music, contests, freebies, used vinyl sales, etc.  The store closest to the VVers usually has free coffee and donuts as well as a store-wide sale.  For a solid list of stores, check here.  Most importantly, make it a point to go to your neighborhood record store and embrace it for all its friendly, knowledgeable, un-corporate glory!  If these stores are passed-over, all that will be left is the UO at the mall and Amazon.  Prepare for the apocalypse.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

DJing at Bump N' Grind is Now a Thing

Yes, there is a pizza record.  Yes, it will be played.  Yes, your mind is blown.
The VVers are at it again for three Fridays in the next three months.
From 7pm - 9pm they'll be rockin' the private stash of rare and tasty vinyl. The new zine (#6 Monster Edition) will be for sale, which is also in fact rare and tasty and probably more edible than any of our records because zines are made of paper which is organic and won't kill you.  Hooray!

April 17th 
Record Store Day Eve (yes the date was purposefully picked!)
Pulling from the many wild, weird, and wonderful RSD purchases

May 29th

June 5th
The VVers Take Your Request Night (HAHA, not really)

These are free, metro-walkable, all ages, cosmically relevant music nights at Silver Spring's newest (and only) record/coffee shop.  Also, they have an awesome staff, fine adult beverages, and delicious foods for eating.  YES!

Bump N' Grind
1200 East West Highway,
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

You outta be there!
  You probably know this already, but just in case your mind is still blown from the whole pizza record thing ... the Vinyl Vagabonds (who are Eric and Sara) is a music and art focused project inspired by the medium of vinyl records, going strong for sixish years!  They like all kinds of music and are prone to play just about anything.

"So, uh, how does it work?  Do I just give you my records?"
"Yes, give us your records."

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Strangers No More

It's pretty rare to hear a recording so amazing that the live act seems to pale in comparison.  Especially for loud, heavy bands, the experience of seeing said band crushing it (your face) on tour can be transformative.  Recently when the VVers went to Baltimore's Metro Gallery to see Brooklyn's A Place to Bury Strangers things were more in the reverse.  This is not a slight to the band (having only seen them once live) and instead has shed new light to how truly impressive their recorded work is.

The VVers have more than a few platters by these guys, but it is their second album, the titanic Exploding Head, first introduced by Brother VV as a gift, that has spawned such musical affection.  Even though drenched in feedback, the production values on Exploding Head (and most of the APTBS records, for that matter) are fantastic.  It's hard to get enough of that signature APTBS sound: crisp, echoey, devastating.  Exploding Head is a frenetic batch of songs with sonics so over the top that by the end it's not hard to imagine the recording studio being blasted off of the map.  Even more amazing is how the mix of sharp drums and direct guitar riffs easily sticks in your head.  That's right, high speed noise-rock that is catchy.  Exploding Head is on crystal-clear vinyl and the band often does a respectable job pressing their vinyl on fun colors; Strange Moon is bright tie dye yellow and the new single is translucent blue (read on)!

Back to the aforementioned concert in Baltimore, VVer #2 spied some highly unusual looking vinyl at the merch table and had to claim it as her own.  The packaging contains the equivalent of a solid quarter-inch thick metal trivet (this thing is really heavy!) for a front cover of the 45.  The single "We've Come So Far" is from APTBS' new album, Transfixiation.  It is a moody track that briefly enters the realm of radio friendly, but that thought is quickly atomized by the instrumental pulverizing that ensues.  Singer Oliver Ackermann takes an impressive vocal journey with female vocalist Emilie Lium Vordal through speeding guitars and CHAOS!  It is a fine melding of relatively calm vocals overlaid with serious reverb.  Somewhere mid-way dissonance overwhelms melody into disintegration, to reform back again just in time for the close of the track.  Yes, thar be serious loudness here, but it be quite pleasing to the spleen.  The sleeve notes indicate it was recorded for a cooperative in Etne, Norway.  Good job Norge on loving crazy music; the VVers have been to Norway and approve.  Hah!  On the B-side, "Resistance" combines patient industrial mayhem on what, at first listen, sounds like a purely instrumental track.  Credits to vocals beg another few listens.  The singing in question, which is 99% muffled that the lyrics might as well be about anything.  It's as if the vocals are transmitted over a CB, then beamed to Mars, and back again to be played over the speakers in a submarine in the Pacific Ocean.  Enter drums like thundering machine guns and done.  APTBS keeps this track short as it's more or less a fragment, but not in a bad way.   Nice tour purchase for VVer #2!

The VVers have plans to see APTBS in the near future at Austin Psych Fest, "Levitation."  The venues couldn't be more different: tiny club in Baltimore and giant outdoor festival in Austin. Fingers crossed that they play a night set and bring "the goods."  The Vinyl Vagabonds will be there; earplugs at the ready and eagerly looking for the merch table.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Six Street Vagabonds

VVer #1 was rolling solo out from a concert at the Black Cat the other night and out of the corner of his eye spotted a small stack of vagabond vinyl sitting against a nearby wall.  Since the Black Cat show had no vinyl for sale (boohoo), he had a little jonesing for the stuff.  "Sad vinyl out in the cold, it is I who will rescue you!"  In the dark it was hard to tell what was what, but it was definitely vinyl.  Here is what he found:

Rimsky-Korsakoff Scheherzade, Montreux Conducting the London Symphony Orchestra
This platter is loaded with all manor of flourishes.  Soft violins and flutes over gentle percussion lead to bombastic wind gusts of power.  Classy classic classical.  Though the VVers are by no means experts on classical, they know what they like and this is it.  Description on the back sleeve of Montreux as "the dean of living conductors," completing this recording at the age of eighty-six!  Welcome to the collection.

Bonnie Raitt Sweet Forgiveness 1977
This LP gets off to a "not entirely displeasing" start with two super bluesy numbers, the most interesting of which is a cutting rendition of the 50's Del Shannon hit "Runaway."  Things get sappy from here and little into gospel territory.  Ick.  Side B has a similar unevenness.  The title track is a touch sentimental, but ... "I don't know what my tolerance is for any more of this yelping," says VVer #2.  Thankfully, "Three Time Loser" and "Takin' My Time" both have more swagger and the second of the two tracks surprisingly goes briefly into epic "November Rain" territory.

Anne Murray Love Song 1974 Wow, this is not the sort of music that ever gets played in the house of VV.  Is it bad?  No, not really.  Ms. Murray has a rich, calming voice.  The music is soothing, mellow, slightly country, and no.  No.  The VVers don't really do this sort of thing.  "BLAH BLAH BLAH WHOO WHOO AGH!" said VVer #2, the sound of a dying wombat.

Charlie Rich Behind Closed Doors 1973
Basically the same album, but with a lot more dude.  The first two tracks on this one were so badly scraped that they cannot be played.  This may indeed turn out to be a blessing.  In this case, the less music, the better.  The back cover write-up is so ridiculously over the top about Mr. Rich, it is to the point of deification.

Don't do it Bonnie!
Bonnie Raitt Home Plate 1975
Ms. Raitt gets another chance here and just from the first glance at album cover things don't bode well.  Such a hokey pose Ms. Raitt.  VVer #2 is shocked that this is a cover for an album.  Horrible.  The music however starts off well.  The sound is a pleasing blend of funk, jazz, and blues with a decent amount of moxy stirred into the brew.  Ms. Raitt probably brought the house down at the small clubs.  This sort of music rarely makes the cut in the House of VV, but it's impossible to deny that Ms. Raitt has vocal chops for miles and a healthy slice of soul to boot.  Too bad most of it is kind of boring.  YER OUTTA HERE!

Orchestra Harlow Heavy Smokin' 1966
Whoa, what's going on in here?  This cover really is kind of scary.  Looking at the vinyl is also scary.  It looks like hell.  It looks like somebody attacked it with a sandwich full of gravel.  VVer #1 assumed it couldn't even be played, but surprisingly, with a significant amount of cleaning, it played nine of the twelve tracks with minimal skippage.  Heavy Smokin' is an enjoyable salsa album.  While it isn't exactly "heavy," "smokin'," or remarkable (except for the cover), "it isn't terrible" exclaimed VVer #2.  And like a puff of smoke, gone.

Moral of the story for picking up a stack of random vinyl off the side of the road; have low expectations and be pleasantly surprised if one is a keeper.  Enjoy crappy records for all their crappiness, then toss them back onto the side of the road for another vagabonder to discover, or a squirrel to go sledding on.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Brand Spankin' New Zine

Did the VVers mention how busy they have been arting it up for the release of their SIXTH (yes, you read that right) Vinyl Vagabonds Zine?! Featuring original musings about record collecting, original drawings, and an original lush screen-printed cover. You will want to buy it.
First chance to get your grubby mitts on a copy is at the zine release party at Bump 'N Grind, cafe/record store in Silver Spring, on Friday the 13th of March. The VVers will be DJing from their collection from 7pm-9pm. More info here.

Your second chance to score a copy directly from the source is the very next day at SMUDGE Comic Arts Expo at Artisphere in Arlington, VA on Saturday, March 14th from noon to 6pm. Buy comics, art, and zines!

Be there
For the new zine!
It's going to be
It'll blow your socks off!
It's one of those things
Where Cookiezilla versus zine
Zine versus comic
Comic versus vinyl record
Be there!
Intergalactic record battle
It's... instupituous!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Foo Fighters - Medium Rare - 2011

After hearing the sweet saxophone solos of the Gerry Raferty single "Baker Street" on a recent car ride, the VVers were reminded that they also have a different, but equally fantastic, version of it on Foo Fighters Medium Rare.  That's the best kind of way to be reintroduced to a record that has hidden in your collection for some years.  Why is this song on a Foo Fighters LP you might wonder?  Medium Rare, released in 2011, is a Record Store Day exclusive covers album, with all but two tracks previously available.  The Foo's have shown time and again that they have broad tastes that often veer into obscure gems as showcased nicely here.  This isn't some schmo covers album.  These thirteen tracks pay homage to the mostly 70's era originals with bravado.

Why not lead off the collection with the one tune on this album that challenges that whole obscurity thing?  "Band on the Run," the cover of Wings arguably most popular tune, proves that covering a mainstream hit can work if you've got the right intensity.  Dave Grohl and company absolutely slay this note-for-note cover.  They particularly master the vocal harmonies and tempo shifts here.  No small feat for this complex track.  "I Feel Free" is a lush redo of a Cream song that does a lot of the same to a slightly lesser extent.  "Life of Illusion" has some struminess and punchy drumming that work well.  It keeps the momentum moving while not necessarily being a standout.

The VVers were not familiar with "Young Man Blues," but this cover begs a listen to the original.  (Ok, the VVers couldn't help themselves and checked out the original Mose Allison track (spare, jazzy, and bluesy) as well as The Who's version, which bridges the gap.)  The Foo's recorded this one live at Austin City Limits.  Mid-track the blazing tempo pauses for a ridiculous guitar call and response.  Grohl's vocals occasionally veer into a shrill, wince-inducing yelp.  At the right volume (LOUD) it works extremely well.

"Bad Reputation" is a fun little charging number with some crunchy guitars.  It might as well be the proto-child for the next track--the Prince cover, "Darling Nikki"--as the two songs are basically about the same thing.  The difference being that "Darling Nikki" is just about the the most killer thing on this album.  Its lacerating guitars provide a punishing pace that will push you into jumping up and down territory.  It is always impressive when a band can take a song from another genre and totally make it their own as the Foo's do here.

"Down in the Park" is a nice weirdo track with some pleasing guitars shifting to and fro. At least the Foos are good at subbing out the synths of the original version with their versatile guitarmanship.  Its oddness leads nicely into the majestic Gerry Rafferty cover "Baker Street."  After you get over your shock that it is lacking that aforementioned infamous saxophone, you will realize that the whining guitar does an ample replacement job.  If only there were words for the whooo ouuu ouuuuwwws screeching in the climax of this one!

The ballad track "Danny Says" is a spot on cover of a Ramones song.  Mellow for a spell and then WHOOSH in blows "Have a Cigar" which sounds exactly how you would imagine the Foo's version of this classic Pink Floyd rocker; it is loud, gritty, screamy, and great.  The Foo's put an extra electrifyingness in all aspects of this recording.  Check out the meaty sleeve and lo and behold, the one and only Brian May is credited for lead guitars.  The VVers knew something was up!

"Never Talking to You Again" is a tight live Husker Du cover.  Short and sweet "oooh ooh oooh."  Even shorter, the 57 second "Gas Chamber" is the only track on this compilation recorded during the sessions for the first Foo's album.  The snotty sludge vibe certainly matches that LP perfectly.  Lastly, "This Will Be Our Year" is a sweet and poppy album closer.  It is... naptime.  Nice violins too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bump 'N Grind Zine Party

Join the VVers at Bump 'N Grind on Friday, March 13th from 7-9 for the release party of Vinyl Vagabonds #6.  This hand printed beauty can be yours and you'll get to join the VVers while they spin their vinyl favorites.

This is a free, metro-walkable, all ages, music night at Silver Spring's newest (and only) record/coffee shop. Also, they have fine adult beverages and snacks for eating. YES!

Also, how about a prize pack of vinyl endorsed by the VVers? Yes, that's a great idea. Doing that too.

See you there!  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sly and the Family Stone - A Whole New Thing - 1967

The cover before a giant sticker ruined it.

This reissue of the first SATFS album was rescued from a second hand bookstore in Rockville for fifty cents.  The sleeve is in lousy shape.  The bottom is totally ripped so the entire inner just falls right out (sad face).  The front has a cruddy sticker from a promotional company to direct radio stations to "suggested cuts."  This huge and unfortunate sticker covers half the album art which is (was) a nice bit of colorful collage and graphics.  What is miraculous is that the vinyl within is in pristine shape.

"Underdog" is the lead-off track and it will knock your socks off!  Starting off to the tune of French nursery song "Frere Jacques" makes the listener wonder what they've gotten themselves into until morphing into a blistering combination of funky horns and sing-a-long ready hooks.  All of that musical intensity fits nicely under the staccato punch of Sly Stone's rich vocals.  A focus on Sly for a moment.  He's a force of nature.  Throughout this hodge-podge collection he shouts, rocks, croons, scats, doo-wops, falsettos, preaches, and generally slays.  The rest of "the family" generally keeps up and manage to show their share of chops.  Although not a direct line forward, this LP is a prime example of the transition that music was making from the soul pop of the 50's, to the hippie psychedelia of the 60's, and what would become the funk of the 70's.  This abundance of pop, rock, and soul is sometimes more effective than others.  "Turn Me Loose" is a prime example of soulful, super blues that has so much boogie it's busting at the seams.  It's a mess, but not without its charms (the aforementioned Sly going through his entire vocal range to the point that his final verse ends with a "whoosh, I'm exhausted" sigh).  It sounds like a circus just marched through the speakers.  Follow that up with a soulful ballad a la Marvin Gaye?  Yes, Sly does that.

Side B has some interesting musical directionlessness happening.  This is early career time for these guys and they probably are living the rock and roll lifestyle.  That wildness shows in the eclectic styles on display and it's likely they were still hungry to "make it" which also probably helped feed their creativity.  Not that the music isn't compelling, but it's clear the band was very much exploring, jamming, getting to know one another, and A Whole New Thing has that all-ways-at-once vibe.  Lead vocals at times are handled by other Family Stone members which isn't the worst thing ever, but really what were they thinking?  Thankfully Sly blesses our ears with a masterful break-up ballad, "That Kind of Person" which is not quite James Brown, but not far off.  Final track "Dog" (flipside to "Underdog"?) is a punchy pop song that doesn't quite get going.  A Whole New Thing is exactly what the title implies, but you'll either want to move on to SATFS's more well known albums or at least imagine how seeing them live in their heyday must have been.

The opening drone in "Trip to Your Heart" very overtly is recognized to be the same "aahhhh ahhhhh ahhhhh ahhhhh" riff that LL Cool J samples for his 1990 comeback (not a comeback) single "Momma Said Knock You Out."  Sly and the Family Stone knocks you out!

Remember that tattered record sleeve?  It has a fairly thoughtful write-up on the back about the historical context of this debut album.  The language in it is a bit dated though.  For one, the author calls Mama Cass "portly" for no apparent reason.  As if just calling her Mama Cass, the singer of the insanely famous "Mamas and the Papas" wasn't enough.  It's interesting to read about Sly's early years as a record producer, radio disc jockey (that's a DJ in case you didn't know), and to learn the name of his first band, "The Stoners."  Unfortunately the rest of the write-up really dodges saying much about the actual LP.  Fleh.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vison Quest Motion Picture Soundtrack

VVer #1 hit the Wheaton Library Bookstore to run through their tattered collection.  Never heard of this awesome place?  Go figure.  The most info you'll find is on the county library webpage, buried at the bottom:
"The Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, MD also sells books and other materials at its bookstores in Rockville and Wheaton.  The bookstores sell both donated materials and materials that have been deaccessioned from the library collection."  What an understatement!  Those librarians were probably just psyched to use the word deaccessioned in a sentence (as are the VVers).  This enormous store is a treasure trove of Linda Rondstadt, Barbara Streisand, Dan Fogleberg, Joan Armstrong, and piles (literally) of classical.  Had one the notion to do so, they could easily clean house on the entire discography of Neil Diamond.  This VVer on the other hand had more elusive prey in mind.  If you're willing to sift through it, there are gems and other interesting oddballs to be discovered.  For just one dollar a slab it is the perfect place to spend freshly minted unemployment money.  Hence the Vision Quest Motion Picture Soundtrack review you are about to read was born.  Is it a gem or just some dull pebble?  The VVers had never even heard of this movie before, but it has two Madonna songs on it so how bad could it be (cringe)?

Journey "Only the Young"
The VVers are both retired bartenders so even the thought of listening to Journey is forever tainted by hearing that one song (you know the one) over and over sung by drunken idiots in the early AM hours.  That put, "Only the Young" is only mildly painful.  It might encourage you to take a cat nap.  Call it "pleasantly harmless."  The guitar solo ever so briefly enters territory resembling hair metal, but the rest is just tepid.  Something about wildfires, blah blah blah.  Fade=lame.

John Waite "Change"
This almost rocks for a second or two.  Strong female back-up singers "Change!" and  some decent drumming.  The guitarists work here is shameful.  They do nothing.

The Style Council "Shout to the Top"
Liberace and Tom Jones had a baby.  Nobody loved that baby.  Some tempo changes in here are interesting for a laugh.  Nope, it is really just awful and the fade-out can't come quickly enough!

Madonna "Gambler"
Hey, nice high voltage bipidipidipa pop!  Other than an appearance on the VQ soundtrack, this dance single was never released in the US or on any of her LPs.  Oddly it made it into the top ten abroad.  This is a fast paced dance song but ... VVer #2 disputes that: "It did not make me want to get up and dance."  A little pedestrian for Madonna, but not entirely displeasing to the ears.  When cranked it briefly enters the fun zone, but it needs something more interesting to happen and the weird whistling fade-out isn't it.

Don Henley "She's on the Zoom"
Not bad.  This former Eagle is a decent musician and it's clear he knows how to craft a pop rock hook.  Too bad this song is buried on this soundtrack.  It's alright and would easily be the highlight on a Huey Lewis and the News b-sides compilation.  The track has funny female back-up vocals and fairly amusing lyrics about going to home economics class and cooking "chicken a la king."  By the way, what does "on the zoom" mean?  Is that 80's slang that never caught on?  Does it mean another fade-out song?  Ugh.  Too much of that on this soundtrack.  VVer #2: "Can we... uh, listen to some good music?"

Dio "Hungry for Heaven"
The riff totally rips off "Baba O'Riley" by The Who, but hot damn does this song RULE!  No wonder it starts with the sound of angels singing!  But seriously, what a total rip off.  The majority of this song is great, but the chorus is just stupid.  Ok, it's so obvious now that it has to be an homage.  Oh, who cares? Listen to that guitar solo!  The tune ends with an impossibly long, overly drawn out fade-out.  It's as if they are rubbing it in.  MEGA-FADE!

Red Rider "Lunatic Fringe"
Hey, not bad!  This has a nice Pink Floyd a la The Wall vibe.  Nice "whoa ah oh oh" breakdown sing-a-long portion too.  Good one.  Oh... unnecessary sirens in the final synth metal segment.  Oh well.  At least no fade-out.  The VVers have never heard of these guys before and might just be on the lookout for an LP.  Nice surprise here.

Sammy Hagar "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"
This stinks.  Maybe for the purpose of a musical montage in the film it works, but... really this is dull.  Is anybody here even trying?  Oh crap, there goes the fade-out.

Foreigner "Hot Blooded"
Nobody really likes this song.  Maybe it would be cool at a strip club or something, but you would have to be absolutely hammered and it would have to be the 80's.  This is such an obvious half-hearted AC/DC rip.  The lyrics are just a joke.  "Are you old enough?  Will you be ready when I call your bluff?"  Dear lord, and fade-out.

Madonna "Crazy for You"
This is sort of a cute single.  Not Madonna's best and not really typical of her cannon of ballads.  Something about the corny instrumentation is so very 80's so it gets a bit of a pass.  At one point it sort of sounds like the theme to that Gummy Bears cartoon, and that's not a bad thing.  It's got a little bit of fun stuff from the backup singers during the chorus "bup bup bup bup ahhhh."  Nice directness where Madonna stops singing too and just plainly says "I'm crazy for you."  It's like she's talking directly to you.  That's kind of hot.  Here a fade-out sort of makes sense although really, it's a cheap shortcut and we all know this.  It must be STOPPED!

Final verdict for the Vision Quest Motion Picture Soundtrack?  Fade out of the collection.  Remove movie from Netflix queue.  Avoid associations with all parties involved.  Learn to live with feelings of shame.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 in Vinyl

Best New Vinyl
The Faint Doom Abuse
Doom Abuse is packed with ear worms galore.  It doesn't hurt that the VVers also got to see them crushing it in concert this year where they 100% delivered the goods.  No small potatoes for a band just shy of twenty years into their career.  Read the entire review here.
Ex-Hex Rips
Crocodiles Crimes of Passion

Worst Purchase for Completing a Musician's Run?
Kurtis Blow Back By Popular Demand 
There was really no reason to buy this album except for the sheer, demented, curiosity of the VVers to hear how bad it actually would sound, oh, and to complete the collection of all Kurtis Blow albums on vinyl.  Quite a feat, by the VVers, not KB.  He's really lowballing it here.  It's a shame because you can tell he still has skills... just zero things that are relevant to rap about.

This just doesn't look right. 
Most Confounding Cover
The Gauntlet Soundtrack
This painted cover by renowned fantasy artist Frank Frazetta is stunning.  If it wasn't Clint's squinty face attached to somebody else's over-muscled bod it could be a masterpiece.  As a crate digger this VVer never expected to find this soundtrack and sort of wishes it could be unfound.  Good luck trying to unsee it.  However, the bleating-horn jazz on the album is not what is expected from this cover; it's actually not bad.

Best Live Recording
Queen Live at the Rainbow '74
Early Queen is the best and anything involving Queen II has this VVer's attention.  These previously unreleased recordings meld Sheer Heart Attack with Queen II:  think a "Stone Cold Crazy" "Ogre Battle" with off-the-rails, exploratory guitar riffing jams!  It helps that the recordings are spectacular and allow the instrumentation to really come through.  The stage banter from Freddie Mercury is suitably ridiculous.  And it came with a free purple tote bag!

Biggest Vinyl Record (Literally)/Best Justification for Having a Back-Up Player
The Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia Vol. 2
VVer #2 was checking this out at Gerosa Records in CT, and noticed the record was hard to get out of the inner sleeve and hard to get back in after.  The vinyl was in good shape, so not much was thought of the packaging difficulties.  Regardless, it came home with the VVers and was taken out to play.  The LP wouldn't spin cleanly on the turntable and there was a weird scraping sound.  What was happening?  Oh, the outer area of the record was just cut too large and hitting on the base of the needle arm when turning.  How bizarre!  Out came the portable record player on which it spun with ease.  GIANT RECORD!!!
Photos this size don't do this sleeve justice!

Best Package (Art and Vinyl) {haha, best package, haha}
Big Business Battlefields Forever
This album has the most beautiful cut paper (and glitter!) assembled cover and a crazy looking inner sleeve to boot.  The vinyl itself is a sludgy, dark green tie-die looking splotch.  Totally suits the sound of this monster album.
Black Angels Clear Lake Forest
Upon a quick glance at the cover..."Ut, I just got high."  Swirly spinning record is pretty colors that you can taste with your eyes.

Best New Vinyl with Bells and Whistles
Jack White Lazaretto
Did you know there can be a hologram in a spinning record?  Did you know that depending on where the needle drops there can be two different openings, one acoustic, one plugged-in, for a track?  Who would have thought of a lock track at the end of a side of a record to actually MAKE you get up to flip it?  Mr. Jack White.  The VVers applaud your unparalleled use of bells and whistles to create a gem of a record.

Best Vinyl Not Purchased for $100
At the last DC Record Fair, VVer #2 was eying Mingus Ah Um from a vendor who had it in their rare section and said he would knock $20 off it and sell for just under $100... ah um, no thanks.  Instead a shiny reissue was found at the Sound Garden in Baltimore for around $20, the going-rate for new vinyl.  The music includes familiar tunes that you can't pinpoint where you know them from.  Spiffy arrangements and bass lines from Mingus.  The VVers aren't too sure why all the original copies of this recording are selling for astronomical prices (maybe they are just rare), but the music is certainly worth it and the VVers are happy they can listen to it on their favorite format without having to empty your pasta sauce jar.  Hooray for reissues!

Best Gift Vinyl
Neil Young + Crazy Horse Ragged Glory
(The LP was wrapped and then hidden beneath the fake cover for Milli Vanilli Girl You Know It's True, with an even faker sticker "Test Pressing - Brown Vinyl."  Genius.).
It would be hard to put into the words the shock of receiving a Milli Vanilli album as a gift and then the added happier shock of it actually being this hard to come by 90's era Neil + the Horse album.  Let's say it made for a relieved laugh.
A lot could be made of how great this album is; easily enough to fill a separate write-up.  For the sake of this "Best of" let's just focus on the song "Love and Only Love," a ten plus minute garage rock masterpiece of blissful guitar bluster stippled with the purest lyrical call to arms.  "Love and only love will endure.  Hate is everything you think it is.  Love and only love will break it down."  The rest of the album is great, but wowie-zowie ... this song has some mighty legs on it.  Frank Sampedro's guitar leads are the sort of crunchy goodness that must be heard to be believed.  Bravo!  If not for the rest of this fine LP you'd wish it was a twenty minute song.
Faith No More The Real Thing

Best Used Vinyl
Creedence Clearwater Revival
People don't really shine-on about their debut album, but it's got the goods.  Well worth adding to your collection.  Funny, the back cover has a massive write-up from a Rolling Stone editor about how San Francisco was the center of the popular music universe at the time.  The write-up contains exactly one sentence about the band.  Well, allow this VVer to shine-on for a second and state that this slab is a prime example of early heavy blues Americana.  Originals and covers duel for supremacy here with classic cover "Suzie Q" being the winner by a hair over original "Walk on Water."  Tough call.
Them Roots of Rock

Most Triangluar Record
Neil Young Re-act-or single
Eyeballed at Long in the Tooth in Philadelphia, this triangular shaped record sleeve was hanging on the wall.  "What is that!?!"  VVer #2 needed to know if the vinyl inside was in fact triangular and how much this crazy thing would set her back.  The price was right and the  translucent red, triple-pointed slab of vinyl in the sleeve was in nice condition, thus the whole pointy package got to come home to the House of VV.  The innovative sleeve assembles into a pyramid shape when fastened correctly.  Not sure what the purpose of this is... Neil?  Although the tracks are from Re-act-or which the VVers already have, this was a great one to add to the collection.  It's gorgeously weird.

Best Concert
DEVO (Hardcore Tour) - Rams Head Live
The concert that should have been ho-hum turned out to be yum yum!  Not only is this band well into their grey years (too much?), but they are down two members (this mini-tour was actually meant as a fundraiser of sorts for the family of recently deceased Bob 2) and they were playing a venue that generally has been sour for these VVers.  Top this off with the fact that the band played almost entirely their pre-"Whip-It" back catalog of songs that are just as weird as ever.  Songs such as "She Didn't Know I Was a Midget," "Mechanical Man," and "Soo Bawls" interspersed with a few well know hits like "Uncontrollable Urge," "Mongoloid," and crushing early single "Be Stiff."  Well guess what?  DEVO are super professional and have chops for miles.  Playing as a four piece, the band sounded lean and full of energy.  Not only that, but the crowd was totally engaged and a lot of folks seemed completely stupefied by how strange it was.  This was the second time the VVers have had the good fortune to see DEVO and they are an enigma.  The second concert was just as creative and entertaining as the first; these guys are outliers in that regard.
Crocodiles/Sisu/Shark Week - Comet Ping Pong
Queens of the Stone Age/St. Vincent/Brody Dalle - Merriweather Post Pavilion
The Faint - 9:30 Club
As you can see, it was a great year for live music.

Best New 45
Shark Week Santurce
This local band hasn't put out a ton of music yet.  The two impeccably catchy tunes on this 45 have these VVers salivating for a full LP release, which should be coming in 2015.  Santurce is a blissful blast of surfer rock played with swagger and abandon.  "Go West" from the A-side (oh wait, double A-side 45) is full of snakey tempo shifts and kick-ass drum work.  The VVers are going to burn this one out!

Most Relevant Development in the Filing Department
Moving the 10" records to their own section makes them easier to find.  The VVers discriminate by size.

Best Used 45
The White Stripes Conquest
Picked up at True Vine in Baltimore, this little disc packs a punch from Jack and Meg, with the help of some triumphant trumpeteering.  Beck (along with his living room) take credit on the B-side for the amusing ditty, "It's My Fault for Being Famous."

Artist Most Responsible for an Overcrowded Section of Storage and Depleted Funds
Mr. Neil Young
Almost an entire "cube" of the record shelf is devoted to a multi-sized collection of Neil Young vinyl: some flimsy 80's pressings and some giant, well packaged, triple-disc recordings (likely culprit of the depleted funds).

Most Divisive Record
Faith No More Motherfucker
VVer #2 does not want to hear this again in the house and very much dislikes the snarling wolf on the cover.
VVer #1 listens to it all the time when VVer #2 isn't home.  Granted, it is heavy, evil, and weird which is probably why VVer #2 enjoys it.

Upon reviewing the haul of 2014, the VVers realized that they have in fact done less vagabonding (aka crate-digging) and more new record purchasing over the past year.  This might just be a sign of the times; vinyl is back as a format and being pressed at such a rate that the few remaining record pressing factories can barely keep up.  While happy about the superior music format trending upwards the VVers have a budget to maintain; new vinyl isn't exactly cheap.  In the interests of getting back to basics, the VVers are going to try to concentrate on the pursuit of buried treasure in 2015.  Happy vagabonding!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Vinyl Bu$hleaguer

By The Vagabond Apprentice

As you know, I've been continually preaching that vinyl records are the absolute best way to hear music.  All other music formats sound flat, sterile, and dead.  Vinyl is "Alive!"  Which brings me to the reason I wrote this article.  Recently on eBay, I saw one of my all time favorite records for sale: Pearl Jam’s Live at Benaroya Hall limited edition, quadruple vinyl box set.  Only 2,000 were pressed, each individually numbered by hand.  The four LPs are a "Deep" "Blood" "Red Mosquito" color.  This record is the Holy Grail for Pearl Jam collectors.  The auction said it was "mint" and in "great condition."  Wow!  That grading was music to my ears.  I had been saving up money for many months, so I felt comfortable typing in my highest bid, and rolling "God's Dice."  Let me state, eBay has been my main avenue for buying hard-to-find records over the past several years.  I never had a single problem buying LPs on eBay, so I assumed this auction listing would be no different. While I was staring and salivating like an "Animal" at the eBay item photo, I had an audio epiphany:  Can a vinyl LP record ever be in "mint" and "great condition"?  Vinyl is a delicate, thin material.  When handling an LP, the slightest miss touch can scratch a record.  LPs also have static, which attracts dust and smoke particles, that can cause crackles, pops, and distortion in the fine grooves.  This is especially true of new vinyl which seems to be so full of static that it tends to attract factory and packaging scuzz (ewww!).  The way the vinyl is packaged when it is slipped into its inner sleeve also has occasionally left what looks like brush smudges on the record.  Hell, every time you play a record, it can wear down.  Why can't something so great last forever?  Ugh! My head is revolving like a 45 even thinking about all of this!

So back to the story:  "Hail, Hail!"  I did indeed win the eBay auction, and received the set in the mail days later.  Unfortunately, my disappointment hit me like a "Surprise Left."  Two of the eight sides of the LPs were scratched up, and you could hear the defects.  It kept going "Krickle, Krackle," and was lacking an “Even Flow” of sound as it should have.  Listen, I’m not some sort of whiner who is normally “Given to Fly” off the handle about a slight scratch, but this record was damaged!  "Rats!"  The vinyl was also missing the poster insert and smelled like tobacco smoke.  The grade I would give this LP set is “C - Average.”  Since I had a legitimate “Grievance,” I was able to send the records back for a full refund.  This Vinyl Vagabond wasn’t going to be treated like some “Jeremy”!  A better copy will have to remain on my “Wishlist.”

In conclusion, I don’t think a vinyl record could ever be in mint condition, or close to it.  Every time I look in the “Rearviewmirror” I realize that music perfection may be just an unreachable dream.  All audio formats have their downsides, but as a total experience, vinyl is still my favorite.  Like all the audiophile elites out there, I will never stop spinning that “Black Circle.”

P.S.  Just as soon as the seller got his record back and I got my refund, "Off He Goes" and offers to sell it back to me for half the price.  Not that I wasn't tempted, but having seen/played his copy in the condition it's in I know it's not even worth half the price.  I'm not an "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," or her "Daughter."  I'm going to be the "Better Man" and hold off till I find the copy that is right, but this an experience this Vagabond won't "Soon Forget."

Friday, January 2, 2015

Portland Vagabonds

Maine is full of vinyl records, it is true.  The VVers recently spent a long weekend in "The Pine Tree State" and for once, didn't put more than a token effort into seeking out record stores.  Even though our heroes were just there for the scenery and relaxation, in Portland the stores just seemed to magically appear everywhere!  Yeeeee!!!

It's a moose popping out of a record!
The trip began up the coast in Bar Harbor where Acadia National Park is located.  Not much up there in the vinyl department, but along the drive down Route 1, there was a strategic stop made in Brunswick where the VVers descended upon Bull Moose, one of several stores in this fantastic local chain.  They feature tons of new and used vinyl at really good prices and seeing as they are a  Blue Note 75th Anniversary authorized dealer, the VVers were compelled to buy a reissue, amongst other things.  Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage seemed like a good choice.  After a few listens, not much to say about the music other than "it's jazz alright!" 

While not technically vinyl, the air waves of Maine were also humming with good vibes.  On the drive back down Route 1 towards Portland, the VVers found WERU Community Radio which was playing fantastic reggae that morphed into some pretty interesting bluegrass.  Nice!

When the VVers made it to Portland, they checked out some live music at Blue which is on the main drag of Congress Street.  Whilst enjoying a night-cap they noticed a flyer for the bar's Sunday Vinyl Hour (actually it was their first ever Vinyl Hour).  Perfect; Sunday plans made.  The VVers found all sorts of other activities for the day and just made it to the tail end of the time.  Unfortunately, nobody but the VVers were there to groove to the tune-fest (the weather was quite nice; perhaps Portlanders [Portlandy-ites?] like to take advantage of that sort of thing?).  Luckily Blue's friendly bartender was into vinyl and not just a keen hand behind the bar.  With a dash of pride she was more than happy to share her eclectic vinyl collection with us while assisting in helping to slake the weary traveler thirst.  There was a distinct point during the conversation where she may have believed that the VVers made the trip to Portland for the sole purpose of seeking and writing about vinyl.  Yes, the VVers will write-off this trip as a business expense!

The Outfits - Just the Toe - 2013
While strolling along the edge of the historic Old Port district, this record was found at quirky local gift shop Pinecone + Chickadee.  Glow in the dark sleeve seven inch from a local band on translucent yellow/green vinyl?  Sure, what the hell.  The woman behind the counter couldn't really describe what it sounded like even though she said it was by her old band.  Real conversation went something like this:

  VVer #1 - Is it punk?
  Nice store lady - Wellllll...
  VV - Is it screaming at me or with me?
  NSL - Ummmmm...
  VV - Is it good?
  NSL - Sure, I guess.

Having given it the three minimum listens the VVers will concur that it is in fact music.  Giving it a fourth and fifth listen (for the purposes of the review) it can honestly be said that The Outfit sound somewhat like Patsy Cline being force-fed gravel by L7 recorded on scrappy gear.  Yay!

Last stop before zipping out of town was at a tiny basement bar, Maps, on the edge of the shopping district.  Really, the VVers didn't want their vacation to end and just wanted a happy hour drink before their flight home.  This bar (which was listed as a dive on some social media app, but was far from it) prominently featured records and a stellar turntable behind the bar.  Was this bar secretly modeled on the VVer's super-top-secret super-record-bar design?  Probably, since in addition there was a beautiful jukebox, warm atmosphere, great beverages, and a friendly tender of the bar.  After realizing what time it was and that there was a flight to catch, the VVers had to leave, but not before at least one send off song was played on the jukebox, as encouraged by the bartender.

A good way to end an unsuspecting "business" trip!

Friday, December 19, 2014

James Brown - Soul Power - 1971

Got-ta have it!
VVer #1 found this pathetic-looking 45 while crate digging at a cavernous used book store in the South Street area of Philadelphia.  The place resembled an old auto body shop and smelled about the same.  Scouring crates of 45s is not the usual thing, but VVer #1 was in the process of doing some traveling (sans car) and didn't want to load down too much with LPs.   Also it seems as of late that stacks of inexpensive 45s are everywhere these days.  Is this because so many of the jukeboxes of the world have been decommissioned in favor of those awful internet ones?  BARFFF!  The store in question had at least twelve milk crates full of these little guys just stacked to the gills.  Unfortunately "stacked" means literally vinyl to vinyl with no sleeves to provide protection between the little slabs.  BARRRFFF AGAIN!!!  After a good bit of persistent digging and some level of prayer, James Brown popped out with "Soul Power."   The somewhat faded paper label on it had a nice little logo "A James Brown Production" with Mr. Brown's trademark crooked grin at the center.  Alright.  Smashing Pumpkins did a super fuzzed-out cover of this song in the waning days of the original line-up of the band so this was at least a sort of known quantity, but not the JB original.  The disc was scuffed and scratched up pretty badly, but no deep gouges.   Looked pretty rough, but hard to say how deep the scratches were.  Would it ever play again?  What the hell?  After all that digging it made sense to shell out the dollar and walk out with at least a scrap of a thing.

After giving it several goings over with a brush and some cleaning fluid the scruffy 45 is as good as it's going to get.  Surprisingly, it plays and sounds pretty decent aside from a little pop and hiss here and there.  Are 45s built to take more punishment than LPs?  Records of this size and from this era typically had a weight of only forty grams (compared to the typical 120-gram weight of an LP) which doesn't really give you a lot of groove (don't tell Mr. Brown that!).   Maybe that's less surface area to get damaged?  Maybe all those years in the relatively safe confines of a jukebox lessened the potential for the accidental scratch?  Who knows, but the dang thing plays and that is all that matters.  In fact, the natural wear of repeat playing and poor storage actually lends a gritty sound to this type of music that works in its favor.

"Soul Power" is a ripping tune with a tight chugging bass; ready for booty shaking.  James Brown sings about soul power "we got to have it," "we want it," "we need it," and some other stuff he raps in his gruff shout/singing voice.  Most of it isn't particularly interesting lyrically; it's the way he performs it that makes the big impact.  James is throwing himself at this full force with the righteous assistance of his band, the original JBs.  The call-and-response between Mr. Brown and the band mirrors that of the back-and-forth within the horns section on this track.  All of that is ferried along nicely by a persistent blues guitar riff.  This single has a pretty slick B-side, "Soul Power Parts 2 & 3."  Are the parts really that different from one another?  Well, no but there is plenty more "let's take it to the bridge one more time!," "AAAOwwww!," "good god!," and "houuugh!."  Apparently there is a twelve minute complete version out there, but you'll never fit that onto a 45 for jukebox use.  At that speed you can only squeeze four and half minutes max onto a side.  That's rough for any musician who wanted to release an extended jam as a single.  Not happening.

Though Mr. Brown is the godfather of soul, these VVers admit that they are often mystified when they come across this soul/funk category, be it a record shops or a DJ night, mainly because it is unexplored territory.  Exploring it through a little crate digging seems like a reasonable approach.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Inner Sleeve of DOOM!

Garbage bag, meh.
Garbage bag:
Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Life - This record purchased at the DC Record Fair in Rosslyn,VA got the VVers one step closer to completing their 80's Geffen-era Neil Young collection.  Life is a decent album with a good variety of synth weirdness, pop, folk, and songwriting excellence.  The inner sleeve however looks like a black garbage bag and not even the heavy duty type of bag at that.  It's some super-thin scrap which would never protect that delicate vinyl.  Horse-apples!  It looks like hell and is probably disintegrating into the grooves at this very moment.  The thought process from the record label must have been "hey Neil, I hate you" and that's how the garbage bag happened.  Thanks David Geffen.

Sleeve shortage:
In the early days, the VVers were highly focused (really?) on gathering totally random and unusual looking records with little concern for what condition they were in (read: maximum a dollar per LP and often less).  Thrift shops and bargain bins provide plenty of fodder for the budding vinyl enthusiast if you don't mind the dust of a crumbling sleeve getting on your sweatshirt.  The vast majority of these early purchases got ejected from the VVers home stash very quickly, and those that made the cut were usually lacking an inner sleeve.  The cheap records probably melted them.  Bargain bin gems will do that you know!  So the VVer's asked at local Joe's Record Paradise to buy some replacement sleeves and what did Joe's provide?  Ten cents each for used sleeves in various states of decay.  Can't complain... but these modern day, upscale VVers have moved on to ordering brand new static free sleeves.  Classy!

An inch of paper:
Faith No More - The Real Thing - VVer #1 has been pining for this LP for so long.  He grew up on the CD and really wanted to get his pathetic, little, grease-stained mitts on it.  It's one of those albums that was practically the soundtrack for his sordid youth... and it's amazing so don't judge!  After many a failed attempt to get a copy in person VVer #2 took pity on VVer #1 and found a sharp looking promotional copy on Discogs.  YAY!  The inner and outer sleeve both look amazing until you actually try to remove the vinyl from the sleeve.  Alas, the inner sleeve is perforated on all sides by the LP.  Thin paper and sharp, skinny 80's vinyl don't seem to get along.  This is made more so when the paper is cheap "it's 1988 and we're a record company that could care less about vinyl anymore" quality.  About an inch of unripped paper on the corners is the only thing keeping this thing from splitting wide open.  Handle with care.

Plastic sleeves:
Just like handles on heavy paper grocery bags, plastic inner sleeves never hold up.  It's the absolute worst thing you could ever do to your beloved LPs.  It's like wrapping a freshly made sandwich in duct tape.  Yeah it holds it together, but would you ever try to put it back in?  Would you trust it to not leave residue all over the place?  Would you try and print liner notes on it?  Noooooo.  These things are wrinkly in every which way imaginable which makes inserting and removing your cherished vinyl a major chore.  It can be so frustratingly awkward to get the plastic to lay flat that most times the VVers just recycle the plastic and risk going "sleeveless" till they can get hands on a paper one.  It's the right choice.

Paper picture sleeve = perfection
Why bother!?!  How many times lately with new vinyl have you run into this?  It's such a pain to have to deal with these little, itty-bitty inner paper sleeves!  They are so mini it's like being trapped in the microverse.  Even worse with 45s is when the inner barely fits into the outer sleeve and gets all wiggly and caught on the edge of the outer sleeve!  This is just bad planning.  C'mon people!  This should not be so difficult.  All people want is a nice picture outer sleeve and the 45.  Double paper seems like a waste.

Overly complex sleeves:
Was this the precursor to those stupid CD security spine stickers that absolutely suck!  All you want to do is listen to the music!  Overly complex sleeves that you can't figure out which way is up and which side unfolds in what direction are the pits!  Sure, at first glance it might look fancy, but this is actually a deterrent to playing the dang record.  Too much thinking.

Outer outer:
So this particular blog is about inner sleeves, but it seems this is as good a place as any to mention outer plastic sleeves.  While there is some virtue in preserving the paperboard on a valued record it's got to be mentioned that plastic outer sleeves are highly annoying.  Not knowing a good alternative we vinyl enthusiasts are stuck with them.  What makes them so bad?  Well, for starters they almost always bunch up when being shelved.  When the shelves start getting tight this becomes a major bummer.  Think of a condom that won't stay where it's meant to.  It's sort of like that.  Ewww.

Tune in next time for "The Inner Sleeve of Greatness!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Do Your Thing aka Side Four

Hey, John Shaft (and Isaac too)!  Do your thing!
Side Four: "Do Your Thing" is the pinnacle of the Shaft soundtrack.  Somehow it has managed to stay in the collection ... for now.

Do what thing?  Do YOUR thing!

VVer #1 picked up the double LP soundtrack to this famous 1971 blacksploitation flick on the cheap.  It's in lousy condition (hence the cheap), especially the sleeve which is in full decay.  The vinyl is roughed up too, but manages to play all the way through (most of the time).  The VVers gave it a full listen to see if it would make the cut or go into the purge box (that sounds wrong).  After the spin, the only song that really stood out was ... guess which one ... mainly because VVer #2 could continually use it as an answer to anything VVer #1 would say.  
"I'm gonna flip the record" : "Do your thing"
"Time for a beer" : "Do your thing"
Pretty groovy until: "I'm not going to do the dishes tonight" : "Do your thing"
Haha, that's fun, but not enough to keep the thing.

Into the out-bin to go to music store mecca the Sound Garden in Baltimore to be sold the next day.  No reason to keep a record (much less a crusty double) with only two or three great songs on it, right?  Why not get a few bucks in store credit?  At least that's how these VVers roll.  Well, the Sound Garden passed this gem up, along with a number of other allegedly inferior platters, so around the corner the VVers went to quirky record store, Own Guru, to see if the man wanted the goods.  No go (on anything); "wrong titles, poor condition."  At least he sold these VVers a cool Leadbelly record.  Last chance for this record to have a new home in Baltimore was at great vinyl spot, El Suprimo!, where the owner took ZZ Top's Tres Hombres, but left poor Isaac Hayes and his Oscar/Grammy winning soundtrack in the box.  Thus, it went into the "garage sale" pile ... until the VVers couldn't get this damn song out of their heads and popped it on during Halloween costume paper mache-ing.

Side Four starts off slow; so slow that the VVers thought they had made their signature mistake: playing the record at the wrong speed. (The memory of this song was fast and funked-out.)  "Do Your Thing" just had to get warmed up first, right?  The song begins with some loose, but thought provoking lyrics sung over a slow burn funk line.  An example, "if there's something you wanna say, and talkin' is the only way, rap on, oh, rap on." After a few minutes things start to rev up with all sorts of drum jamming, psychedelic guitar, and horn section riffing that seem to go on for a good fifteen minutes or so.  Things are getting pretty warm up in here!  Still no tempo shift though.  You have to wait at least twenty minutes (it seems) till you get to that point, but oh is it worth it.  When it finally goes down, funk guitar leading the way, you'll be squinting and head shaking like an idiot in no time!  The instrumental jam gets layered with vocals repeating "do your thing" in a fast, echoey chant.  The track weaves in and out of tempo with several false returns then ultimately careens into several cosmic cascades of funky jamness (it's a word, look it up).  Distortion and apparent ambience leads to an abrupt screeching halt that sounds exactly like the needle just flew off the record (really!).  Thus closes out this epic.  Is it supposed to sound like the needle flies off?  No one knows, but record, you "do your thing!"  A few beats of silence and then gentle morph into the flute laden reprise of the Shaft theme song.  Solid.

"Side Four, you have earned our respect."