Last Saturday marked the first time I purchased vinyl records in over 15 years. As per my previous post, I visited Star Records in Oshawa, one of the last true record stores still standing in Southern Ontario. I had a good haul consisting of new and old albums. Yes, vinyl records are still being issued today and have seen a 40% surge in sales since 2013. A lot of new recordings can be found in both analog and digital formats. What is old is new again.
A new LP will run about $25 CAD, somewhat more expensive than a CD, but a much better value in my opinion. These records are pressed on 180 gram vinyl, which is heavy, durable and acoustically superior to those thin shitty records that were sold in the 1980’s and early 90’s. As CD’s become more popular, record companies made LPs thinner and pressed them on inferior vinyl to save money on a dying medium. 180 gram vinyl is very high quality, however, the real kicker on this deal is new records contain a voucher for a digital download of the same album. This is a great idea and once home, I downloaded the 320 KBPS MP3 files of the new records. I prefer the sound of the record, yet I really appreciate the convenience of getting the MP3 files for use in my car, motorcycle and NAS drive for streaming music, etc. I would prefer lossless FLAC files, however, 320 KBPS is practically CD quality anyway.
It was really good to rediscover the joy of record shopping again. There is a sense of anticipation when arriving home because you really want to give them a spin. That is an experience I do not get with digital downloads. It is far more gratifying to find obscure or well known records by hand instead of typing a phrase into a search engine. What digital has going for it is convenience and predictability, a proper MP3 or FLAC file made from a digital source will invariably be clean and noiseless. The same cannot always be said when buying used records though. I gave all the used records a deep cleaning before playing them and only one of them was in poor condition. The rest sounded great.
Los Straitjackets – Jet Set
This is a brand new record that was recorded in 2012. Los Straitjackets is an instrumental combo consisting of 3 guitar players, bass and drums. I have seen them perform many times when I lived in the USA and they rank as one of my favourite live bands. They have a great tongue in cheek sense of humour, the Mexican wrestling masks are very cool and head honcho, Danny Amis, always introduces the band and songs in anglo accented Spanish. They are top shelf musicians with a deep respect for the roots of American rock and roll. Straightforward good times rock and roll without any darkness or maliciousness.
The record sounds fantastic, warm, full and true with a big sound stage. The retro themed album cover is also great for a smile and chuckle.
The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace with God
The seminal album from a legendary Irish band fronted by Shane McGowan, a notorious brawling drunkard with famously bad teeth. Over the years, I enjoyed listening to this band, but often on radio or crappy 128 KBPS MP3’s downloaded from the internet. This album is a modern re-issue of what is arguably their best known recording. It was time to finally listen to this music as it was meant to be heard. The instruments are all acoustic, so it is perfect for playing on a good analog source. Hearing it this way took me into a different world, I was totally enveloped by every instrument heard, each in perfect detail against a lush and rhythmic background. I must have downed three shots of whiskey while listening to it, somehow the music gets to you that way. Time to buy some more whiskey and raise a toast to Shane McGowan.
Los Muchucambos – Mucho Gusto
Here’s a creepy blast from the past. I vividly remember this album cover from my Dad’s record collection.
As a kid, the cover always creeped me out, there is something very eerie about these dolls. I almost expected them to come to life and terrorize the house. In hindsight, they would have been a Spanish version of Chuckie the murderous doll in “Child’s Play”. Except these three figures would taunt you with castanets and then kill you with razor sharp Tortillas Espaniola.
I found this album in the “Audiophile” section of Star Records, priced at a paltry $5 I could not resist. The LP is in good condition and was recorded on the famous “Phase 4” label based in London, England. Phase 4 Stereo albums were known for very high quality pressings and offered up the best audio quality of the 1960’s and early ‘70s. They were sought out by old school audiophiles, like my father, and today have seen something of a renaissance with resurgence of vinyl. Why it cost only $5 is probably because nobody else knows about this obscure music, or those who bought it mysteriously vanished in a bloody mess.
Once I got past the album cover and gave it spin, my jaw hit the floor. Not only did it evoke a flood of childhood memories, it was also in nearly mint condition and sounded amazing. Phase 4 records are top notch quality.
Robert Gordon – Rock Billy Boogie
A true rockabilly legend and a classic album. I saw Robert Gordon perform at This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton two years ago and the years have not treated him well. He shows the marks of a hard life and a pickled liver, but his baritone voice was still in good form for a man in his sixties. It has dropped an octave or two and he can no longer croon those high notes. No matter, he’s still a fine performer.
Back in the day, his voice was moving, versatile and powerful. This 1978 album was on the cutting edge of the early ’80s rockabilly revival. Today it is still masterful work of voice, guitar, slap bass and drums. Why Robert Gordon never became a big legend is beyond me. That said, he is a cult favourite of rockabilly fans.
Moe Koffman – Plays Bach
Now we head into the land of relative obscurity. If you are a Canadian jazz fan, there is a chance you have heard Moe Koffman. Among hard core jazz fans, he is a legend. If you not Canadian or a hard core jazz aficionado, I doubt his name rings any bells. Moe was a very talented sax and flute player who would often cross musical boundaries whilst retaining a solid jazz anchor. In the 1960’s some of his recordings seemed to herald jazz fusion, such as Moe Koffman Goes Electric, and later on he recorded two albums playing Bach’s compositions with his jazz band.
This is a recording that probably never made it to CD and even if it did, it was worth $5 to listen to this slice of historic Canadiana on a well preserved record.
Gordon Lightfoot – Summertime Dream
Unlike Moe Koffman, Gordon Lightfoot is a world famous Canadian whose songs are still heard on radio. His best known composition is the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which is why I bought this album. Shame on me as a Canadian as this is my first Gordon Lightfoot purchase. I have always enjoyed listening to his songs on radio and this album finally brings it home.
I am really pleased this legendary album is in excellent condition. The production values and engineering are top notch and Lightfoot penned some hauntingly beautiful songs.
The Guess Who – So Long, Bannatyne
A quintessential Canadian band famous around the world. However, this is one of their lesser known albums. Unlike earlier Guess Who recordings, Randy Bachman is absent from this incarnation of the band. Only one song really made it big from this record, namely “Rain Dance” and the other songs are lesser known and appreciated. I have to confess that it was the striking retro cover and cool Chevrolet that lured me to this relatively rare album.
Unfortunately, the album is in poor condition. Even after a deep cleaning in a record washing machine, it is full of pops and clicks. Only during the loudest passages is it tolerable. I wish there was a way to remove the audio fuzz from it.
Gino Vanelli – Brother to Brother
As I was rummaging through the Canadian section of Star Records, I stumbled on Gino Vanelli’s “Brother to Brother” album (1978). Hitherto, I never bought any Gino Vanelli, because in my mind I had unjustly condemned him to the realm of bad pop music. However, I thought it might be worth purchasing because the cheese factor could make this worth a listen and it was only $10. Also, it is the album with the hit, “I Just Wanna Stop” that was brilliantly satirized by Eugene Levy on SCTV. Check out the linked video about 3 minutes in.
Well, this album surprised me, it’s actually quite good. It has some great session players from the era, including percussionist Manolo Badrena, who played with Weather Report and jazz horn master Ernie Watts who played with the likes of Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye, Doc Severinsen and Frank Zappa. The music is really tight, with a jazzy feel that reminds one of Steely Dan’s albums from the same era, such as “Peg” and “Gaucho”. Maybe Gino Vanelli has more depth than I thought or my wop genes are getting stronger as I get older.
“I Just Wanna Stop” is the most commercial song on the record and it’s best for satire and cheese. The other tunes are much better and show some real musical talent and depth. Give it a listen and keep an eye on your hair.
I find it sad that music has become so devalued these days. Many downloaded songs are often obtained illegally, we are all guilty of that (myself included). The real travesty is that they seldom get a meaningful listen, songs are treated as acoustical wallpaper or just skipped over after several seconds of play. The music has been ripped out of its home, namely the album and orphaned into arbitrary playlists. Not so with records, they have intrinsic value and are complete bodies of work, besides buying them is heaps of fun 🙂