Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Case of the Soundgarden Vinyl

Some wisdom from a newbie---
Written by Jeremy R. NYC 2012

Four albums and seven songs ago, the Vinyl Vagabonds schooled me in the joys of spinning the black circle.
Listening to their vinyl records, I heard beats, rhythms, and melodies I never knew existed in my favorite songs.  Songs I thought I knew so well!
I became a changed man that weekend. CDs were dead to me. The era of Vinyl had begun.

I bought a turntable, two speakers, a receiver, and some plugs.
Now all I coveted were some of my favorite albums on wax.
After an internet search of record stores in the area, I found a half dozen were a subway ride away.
I got my wallet and my want list, and set out the front door.

After searching a few stores I discovered most of the LPs I craved were either out-of-print or hardly pressed at all.  Lame-o.
I couldn't find anything from my list. I searched high. I searched low.
My hopes dashed, I prepared to shuffle home empty handed when...
I found the mighty Soundgarden's studio album Badmotorfinger still in the plastic!
Wow, one of my favorite records from 1991. Too good to be true!
Without a moments hesitation I plunked down my cash for the LP and eagerly headed to home base.
The good stuff

I returned back to my place still excited by my find, when something caught my eye...
The album jacket appeared new; right out of the printing plant. It didn't look over 20 years old.  Not only that but the art seemed a hair fuzzy, not 100% clear to the naked eye.
There was a sticker on the cover that said "Made In Holland".
Something was definitely fishy....
Then it struck me-
Was I possibly holding a bootleg, an unofficial pressing of the record?  I'd had some experience with bootlegs in the past, many of which were from Italy.  Those boots were entirely concerts and unreleased material that the record labels were sitting on.  This was one of my favorite albums, available in any record shop!  Why would it be bootlegged?

I removed the plastic, and pulled it out of its paper sleeve so I could further inspect my purchase.
The album felt heavy (a good sign because I heard that the cheap stuff is usually pressed on thin vinyl).
I checked out the center label stickers.
It had the "A & M Records" logo, printing information, and the sticker looked sharp and official.
Was I just being a doubter? I began to change my mind; this could be the real deal after all! 
One way to know for sure; lay down that crooked arm, and drop a needle on it...
I'm happy to say the vinyl sounded AMAZING!  Every Cornell yelp, Thayil crunch, Shepherd baseline, and Cameron crash right where it should be.  Soundgarden-ing richer than ever!
Why the fuzzy art?  My guess is, the album jacket looks unclear because it was tough for the manufacturing plant to get the original artwork.  They just computer scanned an old jacket, and reprinted it.  It's not perfect, but it's a minor gripe.  The vinyl itself is likely a master tapes pressing, recently done in Europe.  A legal reissue with pristine sound.

As far as I'm concerned, it's the real deal.  Case closed.

This Blows

As the Vinyl Vagabonds most written about tune-smith, hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow holds a special place in our record loving hearts.  One thing we have repeatedly mentioned in past write-ups is his lame B-side shenanigans.  They are so off-putting and shockingly bad as to rapidly ruin the groovy vibe that Mr. Blow leads off with.  The frequency of this has led to a near universal fear of all his B-sides.  What follows here is a list of KB's absolute worst tracks, in chronological order.  Other than number eleven, do not let this list deter you from purchasing his albums.  I have no regrets for owning and enjoying them.  Even some of the B-side stuff!  It's just nice to know when to pick up the needle.  

Let the song names speak for themselves and judge away. Should you feel so masochistic that you want to intentionally listen to these tracks you might consider using one as a form of punishment for your housemate who may have her hands full at the time and cannot run to shut off the tune.  It is a highly effective form of torture. HAAHHAHAHHAHHAHA (cackle cackle cackle)!!!  Think of this as a PSA. I've taken the risks here so you don't have to.

Kurtis Blow (self titled)
1. All I Want in this World (is to find that girl) - This song is wrong in every single conceivable way.  Made more disturbing by the fact that the rest of this prescient record is just about perfect. On this particular cluster KB croons in a cheesed out falsetto that all he wants to do is "find that girl".  He then goes on to describe said girl.  A rich one, a poor one, a sly one, etc.  That girl?  Which girl?  He's just named completely opposite traits and oh my god it hurts!  It is mind blowing that somebody didn't grab the man during recording and slap him hard.  Nothing can prepare you for this. 
As a first taste of how bad KB can be it is the most shockingly painful thing ever to hear.

2. Takin' Care of Business - This tune (not in tune actually) is the exception to the last sentence I wrote.  While not quite as painful as the previous track (a fact; nothing is more punishing), it is indeed challenging to get through without going into seizures.  KB seems intent on doing a rock n' roll thing, and approaches it with brio.  Unfortunately he just botches it completely due to his utter lack of strong musical accompaniment, singing voice, and judgment.  I'll say that at least it's an interesting premonition to what Run DMC was able to accomplish with Aerosmith on Walk This Way.  Interesting and awful.

3. Starlife - This one just seems lazy.  It's weak and boring.  Campy and limp.  Disco without the fun and rap swagger without any direction.  It goes nowhere.

4. Rockin' - Another case of Mr. Blow trying to rock out and not having the musical chops to pull it off.  He's amply armed with the charisma and I'll give it to him that he seems determined to make it work.  Sonically it's his least offensive mishap, but that's being nice.  

5. Daydreaming - The VVers were "lucky" enough to get a copy of this one with both sides labeled side B.  F*@#!%*#!  Even if you want to dodge the B-side, you may get it anyways.  "Getting close to you, you're such a sweet sensation...Daydreamin' takes me where I want to be, Daydreamin' lets me have you here with me".  Ok, so he's going there with the balladry and it is what it is.  If you can get with that then it is kind of tolerable at first, with a solid bass beat and drumline.  The instrumentation is Xanadu synths and shimmering crap.  He manages to keep his voice from going sour for most of the way.  It's when he goes for the jugular in his finale of "Day day day day day skidela de da day, oh why why why oh why oooh why why..." scatting with reckless abandon.  It go on like this fer a while I tink, but it hard say 'cause my brian jus been purm damage by listen 2 dis track 'gain. Guh. Me am purty.

6. Baby, You've Got to Go - Another rocker; probably his best.  That isn't saying much.  It's actually more of a blues track and he's managed to get some competent musicianship with him on it.  I would imagine with the aid of a lot of booze or maybe after being hit over the head with something heavy this track might be a great finish to an album.  KB's the problem here.  He just sings like a goofball.  It's a good laugh; he just cannot pull it off as a real song.

Ego Trip
KB looks so happy Falling Back in Love Again.
7. Basketball - It's catchy for sure with a compulsively listenable chorus sung by lady backups.  Unfortunately the main lyrics are about as pedestrian as possible.  Let's try to remember for a second that this is from the guy who wrote The Breaks; arguably the best mainstream early hip-hop hit with serious lyrics.  "Basketball is my favorite sport, I like the way they dribble up and down the court, Just like I'm the King on the microphone, so is Dr. J and Moses Malone, I like slam dunks, take me to the hoop, My favorite play is the alley oop, I like the pick-and-roll, I like the give-and-go, Cause it's Basketball, uh, Mister Kurtis Blow".  Case closed.

8. Falling Back in Love Again - Like being stabbed in the eye with something pointy for three days straight.  Oh yeah, and it hurts your ears and soul also.  You will go sterile if you listen to this.  The track that convinced me that KB had been experimenting with some very bad drugs.  Avoid at all costs!

Back side of the sleeve - a good indicator of a what's to
hear on the B-side.
9. Super Sperm/Hello Baby/AJ Meets Davy DMX/Summertime Groove - These mostly instrumental tracks on America are just KB and his DJs goofing off.  The tracks aren't necessarily "bad", but they certainly do not warrant anything other than cutting room experiment status.  Semi-interesting sounds/lyrics with nothing to say in particular.  Gratuitous and pointless; they take up half the album. It's just filler.

10. Don't Cha Feel Like Making Love - The track hasn't even started playing yet and I'm already nervous.  There is no way this is gonna not hurt.  I imagine worst case scenarios and try to remember if I've written my last will and testament yet.  How many people are going to actually read this anyways?  Why am I taking these risks!?!  I have so much to live for!  Ok... calm down; it might not be as bad as I remember.  Hey, it just started... not bad!  Wow!  Total retraction.  Mr. Blow, I am sorry.  This one is awesome!  My bad.  Oh no.  Wait, he's starting to talk sexy and cooing and stuff.  I think I even heard some moaning.  Oh it's a train wreck and I'm right in the middle of the fade out, HELP!!!

Kingdom Blow
Something is not right here.
11. The entirety of the album Kingdom Blow with the exception of I'm Chillin' and the title track (both are pretty dumb, but generally fun enough).  This is where KB pretty much went off the rails.  Strange as it seems, this record features the most guest star heavy hitters, Bob Dylan and George Clinton.  Well it's basically a shit sandwich anyways and we wrote a review of the record because we were so deeply disappointed.  Why Kurtis?  Or to quote him better, "oh why why why oh why oooh why why...?" 

Back By Popular Demand

12. OK, so the VVers never actually listened to anything off of Back By Popular Demand.  We looked at it at a record store recently with the thought to complete our collection.  I personally am so scarred from Kingdom Blow that I immediately refused.  We may never know.  This could be his greatest blow yet.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Enter Our Hero:
One of the VVers comes home saying "Guess what?!" and then brings in a box full of records when there are already piles of unlistened to records from a recent record fair stacking up.  The other VVer just sits there in disbelief.  The other VVer, being slightly upset that there are MORE records in the house, assumes that the hero has gone dumpster diving.  Sadly these records were ignored until the true vagabond VVer that scored them starts pulling out some of what's in the crammed box.  First out, some Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here, Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life . . . then some George Clinton, Chuck Brown, Kurtis Blow single AJ Scratch/8 Million Stories!  DING DING DING!!!  This is some serious box.  Not just s scrappy junk pile!  Someone went through and discarded all their old, dusty albums.  Emphasis on ALL.  Digging deeper, we find lots of reggae, funk, and a bunch of international artists that we have never heard of before.  Other than a few tattered sleeves and a healthy portion of dust, we find the vinyl all in impeccable shape.  The former owner definitely took very good care of this collection and probably did not own a cat.  You can tell that these albums were well listened to and carefully selected to remain in said collection.  Why the big dump off then?  Well it's apparent that many vinyl folks of yesteryear have either buried their record players or been buried themselves. 

The Flashback:
The pile in question was sitting all on its lonesome on a mid-afternoon weekend.  While driving I saw a bunch of signs for estate sales in the area, but had to pass them up to go to work (boo-hoo).  By sheer luck I was driving a work van down a side street transporting some folks home at the end of our activity.  I spied a box of vinyl out of the corner of my eye and wrenched the steering wheel to the curb.  I shouted out "It'll just be a second, this is important!"  I started flipping through the stack and found each title seeming more interesting than the last.  When I hit upon Magical Mystery Tour I stopped.  This is a record that I already owned but my copy is in lousy shape.  I had to grab it.  The rest came along just in case.

Happy Endings:
Thank goodness for just in case!  We have since made our way through this box of records with most remaining in our collection.  There might need to be a new "International" section cornered out from our usual alphabetical categorization.  A contestant for our newly established International genre is Cuban congo drummer Mongo Santamaria's Afro Roots.  Probably will be writing about that one someday.

The major stand out from the vagabond take is a record by Sir Shina Adewale and the Super Stars International, titled Verse 7.  Circa 1979, this record hails from Nigeria.  Not a whole lot of information out on the web about this; virtually nothing in fact.  World music is not a subject I am very familiar with other than some Paul Simon and bits of David Byrne.  The genre in question here is dubbed "Juju," not the witchcraft type, but in fact, a strain of drum based music focused around the Iya Ilu or "talking drum."  According to my brief wiki search "Sir Shina" is actually afro-juju's most popular artist, Shina Peters.  So popular in fact, that when this strain of music was in its heyday it was dubbed "Shinamania."  That said, the tunes are easy to get into and the musicians are top notch.  There are plenty of drum break downs and quirky metallic percussion elements.  Moments are extremely calypso and others strike more towards Hawaiian.  Up pitched, guitar picking helps with the rhythms and lays a nice ground for the vocals.  The singers are often grouping and layering back and forth over each other.  It's extremely pleasing to the ears and highly danceable.  The VVers broke into spontaneous dancing the first two times this one spun.  No doubt, a keeper. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cat Scratch Fever

Our copy of Run DMC Raising Hell purchased at the legit Arbutus Record Show looks like a cat either competed in a dance off on this LP, and/or was tasked with ferrying it to the player in its mouth, repeatedly.

The Fat Boys self titled debut album we own also has its share of skips and fuzz, particularly on Side A.  A very obvious food stain on the label as well (irony?).  Purchased for fifteen cents I feel we got the better end of the deal.  Thankfully the major damage is the album sleeve.  It looks like a frenzied cat chased a mouse on the it and missed its target, instead clawing out a corner chunk of the cover art.

Perhaps cats are getting confused with the real record player in the house and this awesome and equally confounding item... why are we teaching cats to do this!?!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Mynabirds - Generals - 2012

This record came into my hands in true vagabond style - I won it - by way of Saddle Creek Records and local blog The Vinyl District, who do regular contests and give-aways.  Naming Queen II as my favorite "concept album" probably sealed the victory... or not, but nevertheless, this record is a welcome addition to the vinyl collection.

I first heard of The Mynabirds from following the lead singer, Laura Burhenn's, career evolving from local DC band Georgie James to the current band hailing from Omaha.  I got to check out The Mynabirds on a recent tour, when they played a stellar set at the Black Cat.  Heading into the concert I had no idea what to expect, as I hadn't heard any of the new album yet.  Thankfully, the entire band has such a well defined power to their music, that it made for a great concert.  Every song came through with a rare clarity -- the guitarist also doubling as the back-up vocalist, could have easily carried the band herself, as well as the drummer keeping the pulse of the music.  The interactive ditty "Generals" that counted on the crowd at the show carries through to the recorded version as well.  While not in the tune of DC go-go, it does pull from go-go's roots: rhythmic drum beats and call-and-response lyrics -- "to all my sisters-yeah-whatchu want? -- to all my brothers-yeah-whatchu got -- you want to fix it, or fuck it up?" This call-to-action vibe reverberates on most of the tracks on this album.  It is less of a call-to-arms, and more of a make-a-change-with-what-you-are-dealt undertone.  This is especially heard in the distorted pop-ish chants in "Radiator Sister."  Also of note is the stomp-clap beats and tempo change that create "Wolf Mother."  Despite the melodramatic lull of the ballad track "Mightier than the Sword," Generals is full of high energy songs that compile a cohesive album to be listened to in full, which, I find, is pretty rare to find these days.  Lyrically, Burhenn is looking for leaders to fight against all the wrong doing of our modern and maddening power structure.  Saying that we can do better in our corporate structure: quite appropriate for an election year.  With this artistic statement, she is being one of those leaders in a formidable fashion.

Oh, and did I mention that it's refreshing to hear such a good female vocalist from time to time?  Burhenn's voice is a rich, soulful punch.  Her full throated style is captivating regardless of the tempo of the tune.  She stands out as a woman in control of the swirling power of her sound.  It's a sonic statement and she rides the tidal wave of sound; leading the charge headlong.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fast vs. Slow

Gary Clark Jr. put out a spectacular 12" this year that the VVers picked up at The Sound Garden in Syracuse. Maybe you've heard of Mr. Clark? He's been playing the circuit of summer festivals and played at the White House recently with BB King, Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, and other blues rock legends. Well this guy is basically crushing it and comes from out of nowhere. He's been given the crown before raiding the castle. So we pick this up not really knowing what we're getting into at all. Drop the needle and it's like being transported to the first era of Black Sabbath. Pure thunder sludge (you get what I'm saying here, right?  No?  Oh... ). He. is. ever. so. patiently. crushing. it.  Right around the time when you can imagine sparking up the crack pipe things go a little funny. You see, this guy is all stoned out, distortion riffs and we have no real concept of what his voice sounds like. At first, the glances exchanged across the room were to the tune of, "is this guy doing a Barry White impersonation?" Pretty shortly into the vocals we recognize we've had it at the wrong speed for the first third of the song. Damn, but it sounded great like that! Not that he doesn't sound good normally, but it's hard to go there since we've gone there.  I still pretty much play it at the slow speed every time up till the vocals start.  As impressive as Mr. Clark is at "real" speed the crushing it just doesn't last as long.

Oddly enough, the opposite scenario recently played out where Beastie Boys 12" 3 MCs and 1 DJ was removed from the turntable and en queue was Duke Ellington's Daybreak Express, which has been on pretty good rotation for the past few years at the VVers house.  However, during this listen, there was a renewed "wow" factor in the sound, and I'm pretty sure there was some serious hipshakin' going on (most likely while cooking dinner).  Again, no vocals until a few tracks in, and POW... chipmunks.  Female vocals are NOT supposed to sound like that.  Having realized that I never changed the speed from the previously played 12", things started making sense.  I was so impressed by the jazz sounds flying from the speakers - they were on super speed and so were we.

Does it matter that the wrong speed is sometimes the right one?  Possibly, but it's all in good fun.  It's not like these records have a guide on them anywhere as to what speed you are supposed to use.  As the listener, you get to decide. This discovery was a happy accident; this ain't happenin on other music formats!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vinyl Goes Atomic

Get your grubby paws on it right now!!!  The hand printed, limited run zines of Vinyl Vagabonds #1, 2, and 3 are now available for purchase!!!  In an actual store!!!! Each issue includes many of your favorite blogs from the site, plus heaps of additional art, a hand printed cover, and even a sticker!!!!!!  I just fainted.

Pick 'em up at Atomic Books in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood.  Not only is Atomic one of the more interesting and well run comic stores I have ever been to, but it also happens to feature its very own record store.  That's right, a record store inside a comic store.  Celebrated Summer Records features primarily punk, hardcore, and indie rock vinyl.  No ebay; just a fun mini store with a chill owner.  All wedged into the back of a comic store!!!  I just fainted again.

Friday, July 27, 2012

This Forest and the Sea

Scott Key - This Forest and The Sea 1976

Picked up this obscure guitar record for fifty cents at the Montgomery County Thrift Shop.  I was initially drawn to the black and white cover art.  The lone nerdish looking hippie sitting with his guitar in a remote western landscape has a silverish tint to it.  The feel of the print is like something from the turn of the century and would still seem that way if not for Mr. Key's 70's jeans, thick modish glasses, and hang glider collared shirt.  Back cover is also in black and white; a white line drawing (or maybe it's a woodcut?) of a Japanese looking pine tree on the edge of a hillside.  This was all eye catching, but what really sold me (and at fifty cents it usually doesn't take much) was the odd poem/story at the end of the track listing.

Elroy snuck into the zoo one night and abducted a baby
antelope from its cell.  Whereupon, he proceeded to strangle
it to death and stalk away into the darkness dragging the
carcass behind him.  A few days later, the police came to
Elroy's apartment and soon discovered the deceased critter
cut up into bite-size pieces and stuffed inside a few lidless
jars in his cupboard.

Menacing enough for you?  Mind you, the poem seems not to be related to any specific track. When the needle gets to work I hear much of the same menace lurking through the spare minor chords.  Just the loner and his guitar.  He doesn't strike me as evil, more so intensely purposeful and introspective.  Tuned down with cycling chord progressions, most tracks take on the feeling of an Indian mantra or some sort of spiritual ceremony.  There are slow blurry string bends, playful chuckling strums, bottleneck slides, and plenty of tempo shifts.  "Goon Lagoon" has all of these jammed into under three minutes.  It's a standout track on an album full of bold and compulsively energetic tales.  I can't quite put my finger on how to classify the sound here.  It has moments that remind me of early Pink Floyd and others that remind me of the soundtrack to a trippy western.  He tends to keep it acoustic but when he plugs in it is seamless.  Parts of tracks have a sound like proto-alternative circa 1989.  Dark and looming moments in "Buzzard Blues" have a slacker charm that can be just a little spooky.

Key sings on just three tracks on the record.  His voice is somewhat atonal and the tunes suit a certain dark mood. Lyrics seem to be ruminations about alienation from the ways of the modern world of football players and politicians.  "It's a stone's throw away, today.  And it may just be your last."  Doom with a hint of optimism that better days must be a ahead.  Sounds like the 70's to me.

I've only found just a couple of mentions of this record on the internets.  A few bidding sites describe it as "Psychaedelic Folk" and I've seen one listing of a proposed rerelease.  I've asked the local record store guys as well as a gentleman who helps organize the massive collection of a local thrift store and nobody has ever heard of Mr. Key.  It seems that most of the world outside of Colorado never noticed the man, but those lucky enough to get a listen seem to be quite smitten.  I'd put myself in the category.  It's spare and perfect for contemplative days.

P.S. in the liner notes "Guitars recorded in Rush's sauna and elsewhere".

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Case for Vinyl

I find myself riding on the Metro on the way home from work listening to music on my iPhone. Playing is Streetsweeper Social Club, "Shock You Again" (full disclosure: not a great song) and thinking that maybe this is Tom Morello singing/shouting instead of normal lyricist Boots Riley on this duo's album. The voice on this track seems lower pitched and not rhythmic like Boots. Problem is, I have no way of knowing because there are no liner notes with digital music (or at least they remain on your computer not on mobile devices). Really, the point is that no one looks at digital liner notes. I immediately wish I had this album on vinyl so I could go home and look at the credits. And no, sadly, Wikipedia cannot tell you everything you want to know.

Would I have known that Peter Tosh's Bush Doctor was released on the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers label without looking at the record's liner notes? Possibly, but I bet I wouldn't have known that Mick Jagger provides vocal accompaniment on "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" and that fellow Stone Keith Richards appears on guitar on several key tracks. Moreover, would these VVers have known that Cat Mother's The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away was produced by Jimi Hendrix? I'm pretty sure that is the reason we bought that album in the first place, it seems a little risky to just buy a random Cat Mother album without knowing anything about it. A record sleeve with liner notes is the tree of knowledge for music enthusiasts and the curious listener. It is also a source of entertainment - as previously reviewed, Men at Work credits one of the band members, "Russell Deppeler, on the telephone and calculator" on their liner notes for the album Business as Usual.

Do you think some of today's newer artists even have anything to write on the sleeve of an album? Do people even play music on instruments anymore? "Instrument and musician credits to my computer, who I've named Steve." At the risk of being too harsh, who wants to even read that? Unless you are programming your own music it's mostly a waste.

Album artwork is an often superior feature on vinyl than any other format. Why even bother having anything cool on your cover when people are only going to view it on a tiny little i-device shrunken down to 1/16th or less the size of the real deal? You see it once and then move on because it looks like a shiny matchbook. A great example of something that just does not translate to other formats, the Devo album Oh No! It's Devo has a cardboard die cut fold out so you can prop the album art up on a table like a picture frame! Classy. Let's face it. Musicians are often trying to create art, in sound, but often visually too. Many of these musicians play music in person and the visual element just shouldn't disappear because an mp3 is cheap. Having a large image to enjoy is simply fantastic part of the vinyl experience.

Lastly, no one cares how many megabytes of mp3s you have downloaded on your computer. But a record collection! ... now that comes with bragging rights. No one can even tell what type of music you like via digital - unless you set up some sort of share network, but that often comes with having to share that music list with the entire world. I have friends that I know zero about when it comes to musical tastes, and if it weren't for concerts, I would still be in the dark. I love visiting friends and checking out what's on the shelf, not sitting at their console and clicking through the flat colorless playlist. Record sleeves spark music conversations, just like the tangible nature of books.

To be fair, here's a problem with records once they get too old...

Ravel's Bolero almost bought from an estate sale until the bottom half of it crumbled in my hands while pulling it out of its old packaging. Sadness.

All these reasons to appreciate vinyl and not even a mention of the sound of the actual music ... let's leave that for another discussion.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lenorable - The Prince - 2012

Picked this little disc up at the most recent incarnation of DC's "everything and the kitchen sink" art happening - Artomatic 2012 (full disclosure, VVer Eric has a show of paintings and sketches in Artomatic on the 11th floor).  Got to see the second half of this duo's set while stumbling around after a semi-chaotic "meet the artist" night.  I had been sketching portraits up at my art space for three straight hours, and after an hour or so of wandering and cheese sampling, I got to the stage area to check these guys out.  Exhausted, I fast became mesmerized by what I was experiencing and broke out the sketchbook for a little while longer.

This 7" (on clear vinyl!) has a full sound and is played at 33 1/2 speed not 45, which quickly became obvious once chipmunk vocals ensued.  The two tunes here are apparently based on Edgar Allan Poe stories ... have you ever heard that Alan Parson's Project album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination?  You might check that one out.  Hey back to the review over here! The lyrics don't make me think about lit much at all and I don't think I would have picked up on this fact at all if not for them mentioning it during the show and for the liner notes on the album sleeve.  This is not a slight on Lenorable; just a noting that this VVers literary knowledge might need some brushing up.  Maybe I should spend less time listening to records and more time reading literary classics?  Naaaaahhhh.  Lyrics here sound more to me like despondent laments of heartbreak from a very smarty arty lady.  That's three y's in  a row by the way.  "Follow me my prison lovelies, ... We will dance into tomorrow while your eyes grow gray."  Vocalist Lisa and guitarist Ian join forces to create a pulsing sonic bummer drone. Pulsing drum machine and low tone bass chords rumble menacingly underneath slightly off kilter, pop-ish moans on the b-side track "Ligeia."  The tune has a driving, march to the end of the world glory that just hits the spot.  It is already in heavy rotation on my 45 stack.  I can't help but to think of early Ladytron tunes while listening to The Prince. Lenorable is more sonically spare in their style, and I think that is to their benefit.  As much as I love Ladytron's gothic, multi-synth approach; sometimes it's just a bit too much layering.  Lenorable creates a lot of haunting echo in the spaces between and I like that I can actually distinguish the instruments from one another.  Spare should not be mistaken for plain.  Crunchy guitars, church bells, woodpecker drum loops, and multiple variant synth effects kick in at various points during this tight little death ditty.  The sound is straight ahead, powerful, and honest.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Best rapper on the scene?

Buying Kurtis Blow albums has long since been a sort of inside joke to the VVers. We know they can't get any better (or worse) than the first full length, yet there still exists that morbid curiosity. Recent additions to nearly complete our Blow collection are Kingdom Blow and Ego Trip.  Did people consider these albums a joke when they were released?  More to the point, did he in any way take his music seriously?

Let's start with Kingdom Blow hailing from 1986.  Seriously, there were zero expectations for this album.  At first glance we notice a few major strikes against: (1) the name of the album, my god; (2) the front cover art (probably art is an overstatement here) where the oversized Mr. Blow is leaning against the NYC skyline; and (3) the never failing back cover picture as being totally ridiculous - Mr. Blow donned in silk matching speedo and unbuttoned button down shirt ensemble (both are metallic blue with little white fishies on them, hah!)  in full recline with white Keds on, surrounded by scantily clad 80's women.  It's even crappier than a Kurtis Blow fan would normally anticipate (Kurtis: Vinyl Vagabonds are your biggest fans!!!).  I can only imagine that he was thinking, "How can I make the lamest back cover ever?"  After recording what amounts to be his worst album (so far) I guess it made sense to match it up with a back cover that is totally atrocious.

Noticeably absent from the Kingdom of Blow is frequent collaborator, AJ Scratch; uh oh.  I've learned from previous Blow albums that if there's going to be anything laughable, it'll most certainly reside on the B-Side.  Starting off the risky side is "Magilla Gorilla" which credits George Clinton with vocals.  That seems like it will be at least interesting and funky; unfortunately this dumb and dull track is anything but.  I imagine the two got together for an important confab about crappy 70's television and then went ahead with a no idea recording session for laughs.  It is followed with the fun dance number "I'm Chillin". This unusual track's hook strongly features a distorted lift from the Transformers theme song.  Was Blow trying to sneak a track onto the soundtrack to the animated Transformers movie released the same year?  Hard to say, but you've got to watch this.  "I'm Chillin" is really the only track on Kingdon Blow with any go-go roots which are what makes KB's other later albums memorable.  "Kingdom Blow" is actually a semi-listenable track.  Not good, but semi-listenable.  Here Blow is the self-declared King: "We all know James the king of soul, Chuck Berry is the king of rock and roll, I've got to say the Duke is the king of the swing, and when it comes rap, Kurtis Blow is the King" accompanied with fan-faring trumpets a-la Flash Gordon, ooomph.  This track and "Street Rock", the opening track, have some collaboration/influence from Run-DMC witnessed by the electric guitar riffs incorporated into the mix.  The year prior, Blow and Run-DMC worked together on the film Krush Groove, so it stands to reason.  Strangely, Bob Dylan guests on "Street Rock", trading a few lines with Blow, to little positive effect.  "The Bronx" features bits from Looney Tunes and He-Man.  It's pure garbage and he should forever regret having ever recorded it. Any person involved in its recording should be shunned unmercifully. "Unity Party Jam" is horrible and lazy. It is basically just background noise sounding like it was recorded during a pool party.  The occasional sultry female voice over-dubbed saying "Kurtis Blowwwww" does nothing but elicit cringes.  Lastly, "Sunshine" continues the bad streak with Kurtis SINGING the hooks from "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" and "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain".  This one is nothing short of punishment.  Kurtis, haven't you already learned from your tracks on Side-B of your first album that you should stick to rapping and NEVER try to sing?!  This is easily the worst Kurtis Blow record out there.  Put simply; Kingom blows.

What happened to Blow over the two years between Kingdom and 1984's far superior Ego Trip? Concept album America happened.  It must have short circuited poor mister Blow.

The cover of Ego Trip is a picture of Kurtis Blow taking a nap.  This immediately makes me nervous.  Thoughts of concern race through my head "Is this a tired album?  I should not be buying this!"  Flip this one over and the back actually breaks the streak of bad Kurtis Blow back covers.  A simple, small picture of him playing keyboards - and it looks like he is having fun.  Starting to feel safe again.

Speaking of collabs with Run-DMC, Blow hams it up with these rappers and their guitar riffs on the opening track "8 Million Stories".  It works here.  It's corny, but fun and fast paced.  This is followed with the solid track "AJ Scratch" named after his aforementioned stellar DJ who he has worked with (and given much props to) on prior albums.  Continuing on, you will immediately recognize "Basketball", its popularity from the many samples of this incredibly catchy soprano hook "They're playin' basssskeeetballlll, we love that bassskeeetballl". That riff gets done to death and that's the only thing going on here other than some positively mind numbingly stupid lyrics. Side-B starts strongly with "Under Fire" featuring good beats and some sweet 80's synths.  "I Can't Take It No More" is serious social commentary about the dark side of the city.  Blow does the classic story telling of hard living on the streets for the wino, the prostitute, and of course, the kid shot in gang violence.  It's actually pretty convincingly pulled off.  The title track comes next and is probably the best complete track on the album.  "Ego Trip" is stark, echoey, and just self deprecating enough.  Lyrically Blow hits it just right "you can't dance to my ego, you dance to my beat."  All the smart production and fun direction on this record can in no way prepare you for what amounts to be the only total stinker on the album; closing cut "Fallin' Back in Love Again".  What can a person say here?  Blow has made it a career suicide tradition of putting out at least one absolutely awful song on the B-Side.  He croons in such an earnest manor though.  He can't be kidding... which just makes it all the more sad.  Kurtis had no friend to tell him "No Kurtis, no."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Get your snazzy zines here!

April was a busy month for these VVers turning their blog into snazzy zines for Brooklyn Zine Fest!  These limited edition mini books feature block printed covers, loads of additional artwork, are pocket sized, and are ready made for trades and shares. Vinyl Vagabonds #3 is only $3 each + $1 shipping.  Backorders of Vinyl Vagabonds #1 and #2 also available for $2 each +  $1 shipping.  But wait, there's more! Get all three colorful zines plus a free sticker for $6 + $2 shipping.  It's all pretty convincing isn't it?  If you are interesting in purchasing your very own copies of our stellar Vinyl Vagabonds series (perhaps to accompany your record collection) email us at and we can arrange payment and shipment.

Save on shipping and come check out our zines and mini comics at the DC Zinefest on July 28! Mark your calendars!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bad, Very Bad

The Crusaders - Ghetto Blaster - 1984

New Year's Eve, Woodwards Auction House in Hampden, Baltimore:  I should have been suspect when I asked the salesman how much they charged for unmarked records - in this case "The Crusaders, Ghetto Blaster".  He took one look at the album, a sideways glance at me, then a pause.  He looked me straight in my eye, smiled, and said that the record was "on the house." Why didn't I throw that record as far away as possible and run in the opposite direction at that point?  I'm not sure.  Not only did I not accept his offer for a free record, but I insisted I pay him a quarter; making this a legit purchase.  A fun, if not entirely awkward transaction.  The second I walked out of that store sensed I might have crossed a line that I should not have.  Clearly I was not thinking straight.

This thing is downright horrendous.  I recognize I'm a sucker and I probably bought it because of the name Ghetto Blaster; it sounded like it had something going for it!  Also, it looked at least 5% interesting because the cover art.  Turns out the cover is the only thing about the record that doesn't spur me to gag.  The unusual piece, The Maestro, painted by rare combination NFL player and artist, Ernie Barnes, is spare and has a dark tone in its humor.  His stylized, elongated figures can also be found on the cover to Marvin Gaye's 1976 album, Sugar Shack.  That being said, the cover art is all this slab has going for it.  The VVers couldn't even get through all of the A Side without running for the stop button.  It sounds like elevator music with a beat.  I would imagine some incredibly shitty harmonized vocals also make up this album, but I don't remember getting that far into this one, and if I did, it has completely deleted itself from my C:\ drive.  No big loss.  Experiencing some of the really bad records that exist in this world of ours makes me appreciate quality records that much more.

Two things learned from this experience:
(1) If it is free (or if you have to convince the sales person to take your money), it is probably not good and buying random crap can sometimes bite you on the behind.
(2) Vinyl records sometimes have a way of piquing curiosity towards something equally (and in this case, more) captivating than the music itself.  Due to my self inflicted mistake of purchasing this dud, I got to read up on Ernie Barnes, someone I had never heard of before, who seems pretty interesting. A great deal more interesting than this record.

My apologies to whoever the next sad owner of this record will be. Perhaps a better next chapter for it will be to melt it, and turn it into pot for a cute plant.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Clear Days

New Clear Days - The Vapors - 1980

This is the first and last album I sought out at the old location of Joe's Record Paradise in Rockville. Joe's has since moved to the heart of downtown Silver Spring and the new location is absolutely jammed with goodies (read about the VVer's hometown paradise here). It certainly takes the cake as the most complete record store in town, but to be frank, there aren't that many record stores left in DC anyways.

The Vapors lead off with the impossibly catchy single "Turning Japanese", which will likely give you a nose bleed if played too frequently. The single is slightly cheesy, and has some dinky instrumentation. Put simply, it's dumb, pop fun. The remainder of the album on the other hand is mostly solid, fast paced, and easily tops the lead song. Strong influences from The Jam, The Stooges, The Clash, 60's pop, and a little ska can be heard as well (how dare I make comparisons to such stellar bands as these?). Each side has a great closing track: "Letters from Hiro" and "Bunkers" respectively. These are both downbeat pop rockers that have plenty of thumping rhythm, but none of the same peppy mood as "Japanese." These guys frankly seem depressed at the state of world (hey, it was 1980, things were looking pretty bleak. I mean, the hair styles alone made it seem like the world was going to end at any moment). "I've got no idea where we go from here, maybe that's why we're living in bunkers". The only dud on here is "Waiting for the Weekend" which is catchy, but not in a way that makes you want the weekend.

Every song on this disc has its charms. "Somehow" is an odd apology to a lover song. "Don't leave me now, I'll make it up to you somehow." It's tight and effective. Several side-B tracks have a Ramones style chug-a-lug, made even more complete with sing a long set to a drum track. The Vapors never really bring out the big guns though. They never wail or squeal vocally or on guitar. The heaviest thing they have going for them is lyrics and the aforementioned rhythm section. Pop all the way.

Album art work is strong here. The cover depicting a news weather man pointing at a blue screened weather map of the UK. Several of the typical storm clouds and suns have been replaced by a mushroom cloud and a nuclear fallout symbol. Pretty dark stuff. It perfectly matches the gallows humor and punkish pop of this 80's LP. Less effective is the back cover where you get to see the band members end of the world hair styles. AAAAGGGGGGHHHHH!!!

Old Stand Bys

Records that get frequent play time and are dependable for a good listen at a moment's notice.  Here is just a handful that we could write a whole lot about, but wouldn't it be a lot better if you just listened to them?

T. Rex - The Slider
The Doors - self titled
Run D.M.C. - self titled
Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction
Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Duke Ellington - Daybreak Express
CCR - Willy and the Poor Boys

Find these records.  You will be happy.  Then you can write a review, because we're too lazy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wood Glue?

Cleaning your Records with Wood Glue:
(1) Go to your local hardware store.
(2) Do not make eye contact with salesman.
(3) Buy large quantities of wood glue; do not discriminate between brands.
(4) Pay cash. Crisp bills only.
(5) Do not use coupons.
(6) Shove old ladies aside on your way out of store.
(7) Run directly home.
(8) Unplug phone and microwave.
Now you are set.

What? You want real instructions? Ok then, be that way:
(1) Choose record that seems it spent part of its life in a dust storm.  Things that wood glue can help with are pops and clicks that are deep within the vortex of your record grooves.
(2) Put on turntable.
(3) Set the turntable to spin, but do not apply needle.
(4) Apply wood glue.  Start from the center grooves making certain not to get any on the paper label. Work outwards using generous amount of glue. Do not get hypnotized by swirling white and black lines.
(5) Use a side of card stock paper, cardboard, or crappy album cover that you never want to see again, to smooth out glue to totally cover record.
(6) Power down your turntable and place record somewhere to dry for a few hours. Make sure to keep the record level while it dries.  Under a ceiling fan has worked well for us.
(7) Determine if glue is dry.  Clear glue = dry, white glue = wet.  Fear the white glue.
(8) When glue is totally dry begin peeling up an edge of the glue - this can be tricky at first, but you'll get it.  Once you get it going keep peeling.  Try to peal the whole thing in one go; practice on an orange and try to get the entire rind of as one piece (ok, that wasn't a real instruction).
(9) Make sure record is clean from any remaining glue.  You might need to use a cloth to remove any thin or cracked glue fragments.
(10) PLAY!

Thanks to Joe's Record Paradise for posting this mesmerizing video of a demo of how it's done, including a before and after listen to the glued record.  These VVers were convinced.  At least we could try it on a 15 cent record to start with, in case of impending doom.  Doom, however, has not ensued.  So far, we have experimented on only three records with mixed results, none of doom however, and all records remain playable.

First trial: Fat Boys debut album.  This thing was full of crackles and pops and some skippage.  The result was definitely a more clean sound with only very minor white noise; skippage remained, but that was expected.  "Human Beat Box" was unharmed and vastly improved.

Trial two: Queen II.  As discussed in our blog for this album, found here; when played at high volumes, the sound just got fuzzed out.  Maybe it could be from years of junk in the grooves (most likely not, but worth a try). Maybe some wood glue could help?  It sounds a bit crisper now, but still doesn't hold up well on high volume.  Could just be a poor fidelity slab.  In this case the VVers are on the lookout for a nice remastered edition.

Ravi Shankar Improvisations has absolutely no sheen to it and no scratches.  Give it a spin and it is full of hisses and pops.  Wood glue result: nothing.  Seems as if dull vinyl = poor quality vinyl.  Sadness.  Perhaps this  one was made from recycled tires?

So we are batting .500 with the wood glue.  I mean really, we have only tried three records; a pretty measly sample group.  It did give positive results to the one album we knew it could fix - Fat Boys.  Happy birthday.

It's fun to play with glue.  Try it and see for yourself.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Spinnerette 2009

You know that newish band Sleigh Bells that everyone is so damn excited about? The rah rah electro-propulsive metal sound? Well, Spinnerette crushes that with way more attention to craft. Several tracks on this explosive debut LP have very similar "rah rah rah" cheerleader chants backing up growling vocals and coupled with propulsive buzzsaw riffs. The big difference is that Spinnerette is far from being a one trick pony. Along with the aforementioned dose of the rah rahs (Ghetto Love, Sex Bomb, Baptized by Fire), you also get soulful death marches (Driving Song), noodly stoner chants (Impaler, Distorting a Code), and end of the world doom metal (Cupid, Prescription for Mankind, A Spectral Suspension). Way more ponies. Very catchy death dance metal ponies.

It all started when the VVers met a bartender who appeared utterly disinterested in just about everything whilst in Richmond last year.  She was playing this album during her day shift at Sticky Rice. I recognized the vocalist's raspy wails swimming in a skuzz of distorted techno skronk as Brody's and inquired with a "hwaaah?" Our aloof bartender transformed to chatty, surly, excited, and a little jaded at the world all at once. Needless to say, that experience stuck with the VVers and I ended up mail ordering this hot pink disc through the newly minted "The Record Exchange" (f/k/a CD Game Exchange) in the SS hood.

Brody Dalle, formerly of punk/alt rock band, The Distillers, unleashes a slew of gnarly vocal growls and haunting moans on this album. Those who know this band might expect something a little less popish, but frankly, Spinnerette is a much more accomplished and melodic effort than any Distiller's record; and they still cram in plenty of ear crushing vocals, chalk board scraping chords, and morbid metal to please this fan. The new sonic forays might be attributed to the input of collaborator Alain Johaness, working in Cali (instead of Distiller's home base Australia), the influence of recent hubby (and Queens of the Stone Age frontman) Josh Homme, and a host of other things. Likely the combination of growing up a tad and breaking free of a major label had a good deal to do with the powerful and more mature new musical direction. Hell, she's got a great voice and she doesn't need to waste her talent screaming away all day.

You'll be listening to this and not be the least bit surprised when you're dancing and rocking out at the same time. Most tracks are jammed with steady thumping rythym for the shaking of booties.  Think it's all fun and games? Noooo. Dalle has that rare combination of croon and snarl in her vocal chords. It soothes and the next second rends. It's a real bastard.

Spinnerette's soundscape is permeated with odd blorps and beeps that sound like they've been fed through the doom machine a few times. Imagine it's a warm and sunny day just before the world ends and you're listening to a Devo song that's been covered by Joan Jett, and then remixed by Satan. Hooray!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Play The Clash! [blup blup blup]"

Call us crazy, but our little fish tank dwellers tell us when they like albums we play.

The small six gallon tank is right next to the turntable so they have a bird's eye view (fish eye view?) of all the action. Certain records clearly insight a playful curiosity and fanciful swimming. The main residents of the aquarium are guppies. Their phonic tastes are a bit hard to decipher though. They are almost always in a state of bopping around with their fluffy colorful tails... but if I were to guess, they mostly like early hip hop (read Kurtis Blow, Fat Boys, Run DMC). Water carries sound waves incredibly well so with enough bass the little guppers are bouncing up and down as if they were at a night club.

The king of the tank however, is an algae eater, named Giuseppe, who lives in a castle. Being vastly larger than the guppies, he has a more refined and developed taste in music. He speaks Italian, enjoys playing chess in his castle, and absolutely digs The Clash. His favorite Clash album from the collection is definitely Combat Rock. He actually requested we buy it for him! Weird right? Play this one and he comes out of his castle and cleans the entire tank, has a starring contest with the nearest VVer, or relentlessly chases the guppies around. He's a good fish. I'm pretty sure he was excited when we walked in a few weeks ago with a copy of The Ramones - Leave Home. GIUSEPPE IS A PUNK ROCKER NOW!

P.S. - We have a little white foofy dog next door that cries for hours when his parents leave him home alone. Guess what happens on our side of the wall? VERY LOUD Black Sabbath. In fact, we hope the little foofer likes any type of VERY LOUD music. We always make sure to really crank it when he's at home by himself. One would think that the pooch would learn by now that his parents will return; they always do. My theory is that the dog now secretly likes to howl to the sound of blaring Sabbath early on a Saturday morning. This is why he keeps up his whining as a prompt to "PLAY MASTER OF REALITY!(AROOO-ROOO)". Smart dog, at least I like to think so.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Queen II - 1974

Queen - Queen II - 1974

Where to start: the white or black side of the album? No one knows. What is known is that this album is simply amazing. Queen's second, a so called concept album, will absolutely blow your mind and singe your ear drums when spun for the first time. It continues to build intensity with every spin. The vocals and chords are insanely catchy.

"Did you just hear a sitar?" No...
"I'm pretty sure that was a sitar."

This is not an album that you pick up and know any hits from, which might make you hesitate if you see it in the store - but DON'T BE A FOOL. Buy it! This is an album that needs to be played from start to finish without skipping tracks; no one-off singles here. Songs morph together and are smartly interconnected. It's as if Queen later took this whole album and (less effectively) smushed it down to create their best known track Bohemian Rhapsody. The sonic experimentation, soaring choral vocals, and scintillating riffage are infinitely better enjoyed over an entire full length album. Bohemian Rhapsody, while fun in its lunacy, is too full of grandiose ideas for one song. Queen II lets those ideas out to play in the most joyous and strange ways. Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody - the video and most iconic band imagery is based on the cover of this album. The morose, shadowy cover is theatrically bleak, then open the sleeve and ...
MY GOD! Feathered hair! The airbrushed glamour-shot is like turning on a spotlight inside a crypt ... the black and white sides; equally menacing.

"What was that?" "Slide-whistle." "Oh..."

Starting off the white side: "A word in your ear, from Father to Son..." sounds like Freddie's got something poetic to say in high dramatic style. Lyrically speaking it would be easy to read into what's going on, but who knows? Freddie is talking about a lot of kings, ogres, nymphs, titans, and of course queens (black and white). Is he talking about real people in the fantasy land of clubs and bars? Is he just really into dungeons and dragons? When music is pummeling you this much it really doesn't seem to matter.

Side black starts with Brian May delivering crushing riffs from another dimension. It's also a signature musical flourish from the queens of flourish. Of course, the fact that it takes place in the context of being invited to an "Ogre Battle" is totally appropriate. It makes so much sense that these guys did the soundtracks to Highlander and Flash Gordon. Oddly satisfying combinations rule on the black side, which was written entirely by Mercury. You get to hear the intensely chaotic "The March of the Black Queen" followed by the seemingly playful "Funny How Love Is."

"Was that a gong?" Probably.

Only one unfortunate thing about this record is the fidelity. Upon cranking, which often occurs, the highs and the lows don't really go there without an apparent fuzzed out static. I don't think it's the state of the record; it's likely the mastering or thin tinny vinyl. This is one album that I would seek out the remastered "audiophile" 180 gram vinyl (stay tuned for a future blog on fidelity; we're still sussing this stuff out) and it would be worth every penny and its weight.

"Did I just hear a harpsichord?" Yes!

Queen II is a fun, but intensely dramatic album; full of balladry, and strut. Seek it out immediately.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Party Time?

Party Time? EP - Kurtis Blow - 1983

This is the current go-to Blow album in the VVers ever expanding collection. Several factors have led to this:

Let's put the obvious out there: The album title is amazing and is often put into this context:  "What record should we listen to? Party Time?  What time is it? Party Time?  Should we get another round?  Party Time?"  You get the idea.

Party Time? taken as a whole is the only Kurtis Blow album to date that is great from start to finish. Granated it's only an EP, but maybe that's the format that suits him best.  No cringe inducing tracks on side two (see prior reviews here and here), which makes flipping the record repeatedly a pleasure instead of a terror.

Opening track, "Party Time?" is way ahead of its time as a fusion of musical genres, hip-hop and go-go (It's a DC thing. Don't know about it? Keep reading). It has a bouncing tempo that instantly gets you moving. Lyrics are a straight up thank you to the good that having great tunes around can do, especially when times are tough. Conveniently enough, at just over eight minutes long it is the perfect length for a morning abs workout. Nice! The track also features wailing horns that will rapidly transport you to the opening credits theme music of Saturday Night Live. The fact that Beastie Boys lift one of their more well known samples from this track (see, Hey Ladies) gives this disco synth sing-a-long track some major additional cred. Not that it needs it. It is a dance floor classic in this apartment.

Blow collaborates with early champions of DC based musical cornucopia known as go-go, EU (Experience Unlimited) for the majority of tracks on this platter. The go-go sound is a hypersmorgasbord of rhythm, funk, call and response shout outs, conga drums, and general R & B mayhem. For the uninitiated it can be a tad overwhelming, but in the case of this EP, Blow manages to get the manic vibes to compliment his old school style. "Party Time?" is the purist example of this but, "Gotta Dance" is a potent funk and synth jam that will have you moving fast as well. Blow pulls out all the verbal tricks and the slinky synth hook matches well with the gut punch bass lines.

All dancing and good tunes aside, Blow makes a concerted effort to point out that things are tough out there for the average American. The album cover art is a straight look into the audience eye with Kurtis standing in front of a line of folks waiting to pick up unemployment checks; perhaps it is not yet party time. Maybe that's a simplistic touch but I think it would have been mighty easy for the fun loving rap star to focus on the bling and disco sheen that was still common in his time. Instead he shines a light on inequities around. "Nervous" talks a lot about how the world is a constantly litany of dangers for folks. He rails about politicians, the legal system and "missiles every place," but in a way that isn't mean or nasty. He's a story teller at heart. Closing jam "One-Two-Five" is a classy funk shout out to the main drag in Harlem. Lyrically he manages to name drop Fidel Castro, The Count, The Duke, and Doctor J amongst many others. It's an impressive ode to his home and a great send off for the EP.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Silver Spring is Record Paradise

Joe's Record Paradise back room
By a total stroke of coincidence Silver Spring, MD (the VVer's homebase) - on the northeastern tip of the DC diamond - has become what the VVers think is the epicenter of the DC metropolitan vinyl universe. Easily accessed by metro, bus, road, or bike trail, this fair town's record stores are worth your visit.  Silver Spring has always had a handful of interesting thrift and second hand shops to root around in, but now, with last year's inclusion of former Rockville store, Joe's Record Paradise, it is a vinyl Mecca.

Joe's Record Paradise has been in the DC area since 1974 and in their new stupefyingly huge location on Georgia Avenue, they absolutely put away any contenders.  For a record store, the sheer magnitude of the place is baffling.  At least ten giant rows of mixed cheap records lead you into the store (along with CDs, DVDs, tapes, etc.) and that is only the opening foyer!  The main store-donned in shocking bubblegum pink is just enormous (granted it was the location of the former Legends Billiards).  They occasionally have cool old school bands playing at the far end of the shop.  Joe's collection of rare, new, used, and basically everything under the sun, is thorough in almost every conceivable way.  It is extremely well organized unlike most used shops these days (read: Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, and Barry Manilow all have their own separate sections which can easily be bypassed).  The staff is friendly and full of character; saying that they know their music would almost be an insult.  I love that they have several nice turntables on site for buyers to check out what kind of shape things are in.  Prices run the gamut, but it is hard to imagine ever walking out of this place empty handed.

Roadhouse Oldies has also been around since 1974 specializing in 50's, 60's, soul, R&B, and doo-wop.  They also have an uncatagorizable $3 bin, which often has a few golden finds.  I'll never forget the rainbow covered record (maybe it was a 60's boy band?) we let slip away.  It was the most oddball/amazing looking thing ever.  This is the place where you are most likely to find a record you have never seen or heard of before.  Obscure isn't even touching it.  The store is a little cramped, but the vibe is clearly for true music lovers.  People here know their stuff. It's a warm, cozy shop.

CD/Game Exchange rounds out the bunch.  Also started in the early 70's (in Ohio) this store seems the most modern of the stores.  For vinyl prices they cannot be beat.  They have a pretty regular rotation of material, and records are as cheap as fifteen cents.  You read that right.  CHEAP!  Most of the decent records will set you back about two to five dollars.  The VVers have picked up some really unusual stuff at this shop just because it is so inexpensive that it's worth a little experimentation.  It's a stellar shop and the staff are all really helpful.  They do special orders and have a frequent buyers club as well.  Staff seem pretty honest; they've told us straight when they cannot order us records from certain labels.  They have also looked at price competitors on the web with us.  We've traded in many a pile of records, CDs, and DVDs here and always get enough store credit to score us more random records.

Silver Spring is a vinyl town.  This trifecta of record stores has led to the purchasing of larger shelving units for you know what.  Fun.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Nightwatchman - World Wide Rebel Songs

World Wide Rebel Songs - Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman - 2011

This third album from Tom Morello as his folksy singing and strumming persona, The Nightwatchman, furthers his credibility as a stellar solo musician. Coincidence that the release of World Wide Rebel Songs comes following the Arab Spring and right before Occupy protests were being established? I think not. Both Morello and his music energetically rally behind the cause of social justice. During Wisconsin's uproar about collective bargaining, Morello played "Uniontown", a bonus track for the digital download of this album, in support of the ocean of protesters at the foot Madison's city hall.

For this album, Morello has evolved/devolved away from The Nightwatchman's acoustic only approach. When asked why he plugged back in he responded, "I figured I can play guitar like that, so I should." Right on. In most cases as The Nightwatchman, I prefer his acoustic material (this preference in no way applies to his guitar as a WMD playing in Rage.) His acoustic style seems less showy and lends itself to a genuine and natural sounding story-telling. The Woody Guthrie-esque sound is honest from the tip of Tom's commie baseball cap to the soles of his union made boots. Tom's voice has a medium rasp that travels neatly between Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Sure, he's not the vocal talent that those two are, but when he starts to wail on his electric guitar you won't give a rat's behind. "The Dogs of Tijuana" and "The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse" are heartfelt unplugged songs. Guitar riffs in "It Begins Tonight" are loud, heavy, and alive, yet are totally in sync with the rest of the work on the record. Tom has that rare gift that he can meld the two disparate styles and still convey such powerful material. Star tracks here are the harmonica heavy, call and response "Speak and Make Lightning", "Stray Bullets", and the passionate war cry lament "Save the Hammer for the Man", featuring Ben Harper.

Mr. Morello puts on an awe inspiring performance. The VVers have seen him a few times over the past few years in various sized venues, but most recently touring on this album at the oddball, sit-down Birchmere back in September. The very first time we saw The Nightwatchman perform, we had a sing along to "This Land is Your Land". This time around he invited everyone (yes, everyone) to join his band on stage and sing "World Wide Rebel Songs". Pretty sweet! What's more is that he called out everyone trying to record the performance on their smart phone to put them away and designated ONE person from the audience to record the clip and post it on Youtube for all to view. Respect. During the show he told a lead-in story for each song, be it funny or serious. He told us that the song "Black Spartacus" is about his guitar by the same name, and was inspired by Mick Jones from the Clash who called his guitar a "heart attack machine". It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who names inanimate objects...

Speaking of inanimate objects - the record itself is super dense and feels like it is the weight of a small puppy. This thing is so thick and strangely the edges are squared off instead of tapered. It resembles a small tire.

One suggestion Tom - bring vinyl to your shows to sell! How dare you only have CDs? Luckily Ka-Chunk!! Records in Annapolis happened to have this record waiting to be snatched up.