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.