Media

A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013

Dawes "Stripped Down At Grimey's" Hub Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Dawes

Record Store Day's Black Friday event came and went with a whimper this holiday season.  There weren't a ton of compelling releases on the docket and this might have been reflected in the length of the line outside Amoeba Records in San Francisco yesterday morning.  I was fifth through the door, and I achieved that status with minimal effort.  I arrived a little past 8am for a 10:30am opening and breezed through the sales floor piling up every release on my short list only to put most of them back before finally settling on my little $150 pile of loot.  I'm starting to get a better feel for the nature of RSD releases and where best to allocate my funds.  I came away with a couple of clunkers this time, but, as always, I'm glad I participated and I am in full support of the cause.

A friend of mine recommended the band Dawes to me a while back, but I've been a bit slow on the uptake until now.  They released Stripped Down at Grimey's on a single 12-inch clear orange platter yesterday, and I thought that summed up the spirit of RSD perfectly.  Nashville's Grimey's is one of the finest examples of an independent record store available, and I love in-store concerts.  My Morning Jacket released a recording of one of their in-stores from Ear X-Tacy a few years back and it's one of the coolest records in my collection - let alone one of the coolest RSD releases ever - let alone the coolest requiem for an independent record store around.  Unfortunately, Stripped Down doesn't carry the same weight.  The recording is good enough.  And I don't think any reasonable person is going to come into this game expecting a band's finest live document from this type of performance.  But you may reasonably expect a quieter vinyl pressing.  In this instance, you might reasonably expect a download coupon to be included with the record.  

I like what Dawes is doing well enough.  The lead singer sounds a lot like that guy from America at times though.  Especially on the version of "From a Window Seat" included here.  I kinda can't get past it.  It's the only thing I think about for the duration of the tune, in fact.  "Time Spent in Los Angeles" furthers the whole laid back Laurel Canyon '70's vibe, and makes clear why Dawes is championed by the likes of Jackson Browne.    I believe they also served as Robbie Robertson's backing band when he played in support of that crap album he foisted on us all a couple of years back.  But I'm not holding that against them.  The sound on Stripped was clearly created by a group of professionals that are supporting themselves on the strength of their songwriting and musicianship.  And I'll take that, man.  Even if I'm not pinned to the back of my listening chair with eager anticipation of what's coming next.  Even if the vinyl pressing is shoddy.  Because I think the band may have simply wanted to put out a cool little artifact for their fans in support of a killer cause on Black Friday 2013 without necessarily catering to the audiophile.  And they pulled that off, at least.  There's a great crowd shot from the show on the back cover with some of Grimey's box sets visible along a shelf on the store's back wall.  Three Bruce sets, one each by the Stones, Hank, and Muddy Waters.  Beats the hell outta Wal-Mart.

Josh Tillman "The History of Caves: Original Score" Sub Pop

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Josh Tillman

I didn't have huge expectations for Josh Tillman's Record Store Day release.  I'm more interested in what Tillman does as his alter ego, Father John Misty.  I saw the latter perform on consecutive nights in San Francisco as part of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this year, and he did not disappoint.  I'd have liked to have seen him play with his band for one of the two nights, but he played solo with his acoustic guitar for both shows.  Something he said during the first evening's set leads me to believe that he may not have a band at all for the moment.  Which lead me to believe that Tillman's score to his wife's film, The History of Caves, might not be a full band recording either.  I got it in my head that this was likely to be atmospheric acoustic music sans vocals.  Somehow, after all the assumptions and leaps in logic, I landed on "exactly right."  And I'm still looking forward to the next Father John Misty record.  Sooner the better.

If the Dawes record's quality was a little lacking in luster, the Tillman record is as lumpy as a stocking full of coal.  You could almost take that literally.  The thin record is warped to the point that my tonearm scrapes it during the first song.  The effect is jarring to the point of ruin.  I admire drummers, in general.  If one can sing and play at the same time, I'm in awe.  If that same drummer is also an accomplished guitarist, I get especially giddy because I find their timing on an acoustic guitar to be particularly inspiring, and all of this is true of Tillman's playing.  His acoustic work is engaging without flash, locked in but still fluid.  He also makes use of alternate tunings and a capo which keeps things interesting even when he's just strumming or picking without a clear direction.  Which makes up the bulk of what's happening on The History of Caves.  These quick ten songs provide a pleasant ambience with sparse instrumentation and plenty of drop tunings to give the songs some extra heft.  The bass is tight and clear on the recording, the strings lively and full of air.  The recording seems straightforward enough with the guitar way out front and the found sounds and percussive bits a little further back in the mix.  The music itself is great for mindlessly drifting.  Or reading.  Or any activity that doesn't require focused study or deep attention.  Here's the rub (in addition to the rubbing that takes place between my equipment and the actual record): the vinyl sucks.  It's transparent and clear which really shows up the many imperfections in the vinyl itself.  Looks like it came out of one of those play ovens that my sister had when we were little kids.  There's noise at every turn no matter how well or how many times you clean the record.  This helped me to notice a disturbing trend...

I bought a Stones 7-inch for RSD a while back and the center hole was centered in name only.  The record is unplayable as a result.  Add that to the questionable quality of some of this year's 7-inch offerings (more on that later), the noisy Dawes record and the static infested, warped Tillman disc, and one may start to wonder if RSD releases are rushed into production or given the same care that other releases are.  Maybe I'm just in the middle of a bad run.  Let's see...

Queens of the Stone Age "...Like Clockwork (Black Friday Edition)" Matador

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Queens of the Stone Age

Blind Boys of Alabama / Jason Isbell and John Paul White "Christmas In Dixie" Lightning Rod Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Blind Boys of Alabama

Uncle Tupelo "I Wanna Be Your Dog" Legacy Recordings

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Uncle Tupelo

Band of Horses "Acoustic at the Ryman" Brown Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Band of Horses

A while back, we took a look at Queens of the Stone Age's latest called ...Like Clockwork.  If anyone was paying attention, they may remember that my copy sounded like someone had gone over both sides of the first record with a particularly abrasive batch of steel wool.  This was devastating to me because I was absolutely smitten with my new musical discovery.  So much so that I plunked down almost $50 to get a replacement copy that was pressed at Pallas in Germany as part of the "Deluxe Edition" of the record.  Then, I damaged that record during the cleaning process.  (No questions, please.)  So, I needed a third copy, but one might imagine my lack of motivation for buying one.  Until I realized that a Record Store Day edition was forthcoming with black on black artwork.  I swear, the artwork for this release is almost as compelling as the music (the comic book style insert in the deluxe edition is worth the financial hassle if you can avoid damaging the vinyl), and the RSD edition is especially rocking.  So, I was somewhat less than gleeful when I bought this one, but I could see the finish line.  I was ready to put this project to bed.

I listened to the first two sides of this 45rpm set, and was blown away by the clarity of the recording and the depth of the soundstage.  The disc was even quieter than my Pallas version had been pre-disaster.  Then, I took out the second record only to be confronted by a scratch on side three that was about the size (and shape, oddly enough) of Texas.  It was not silent.  And it's now sitting behind a counter in the store where I'd initially bought it while I'm at home listening to my fourth copy of ...Like Clockwork.  And I couldn't be happier, dammit.  It's tempting to lump this scratched copy in with the rest of this season's RSD quality misfires, but I'm not going to give in to that inclination.  I think this was bad luck.  My (fourth!) replacement copy is all right in every way, and that weird scratch on my last (third!) copy could have happened to any record during shipping or packing.  It just happened to be mine.  Again.  I'll let my tenacity speak for the quality of the music on these discs.  I feel strongly about it.

Record Store Day is typically a fine event for shoring up your 7-inch collection.  The format is consistently popular amongst RSD patrons, and the offerings are often novel including, but not limited to, split offerings between bands.  This year, Black Friday gave us a Christmas themed split single between the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Jason Isbell/John Paul White.  The Blind Boys took on "Christmas In Dixie" while Isbell/White recorded "Old Flame."  Both tracks are from a tribute album for the band Alabama.  Both performances are serviceable, both sides sound like ass.  Too much noise on this little disc.  Unfortunately, the same can be said about Uncle Tupelo's single.  Except their performances of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and CCR's "Commotion" aren't' quite serviceable.  The latter, in particular, sounds half-baked and listless, a wasted opportunity.  Didn't get much for my $10 (!) on that one.  "Feeling gouged," as my Facebook friends might say.  But Acoustic at The Ryman by Band of Horses gets the job done!  The record is appropriately quiet and the recordings are well done.  The group's cover of Gram Parsons' "A Song For You" is pretty stellar and the single comes with a download coupon too.

As I alluded to earlier, I picked up every record I thought I might want on my first pass, and then put the extras back upon further review.  Some of those extras included a 2013 remix of Nirvana's In Utero which was expensive, a live set by the Grateful Dead whose cover art disavowed the quality of the recording (something about the use of non-professional equipment and tape hiss), and a Townes Van Zandt set that should be readily available for some time.  I also gave a look to an under-promoted set by X which included their first four albums along with photos and the like.  I'm only after their first three records and I already have two so I couldn't justify the expense on that one.  I left all of those for others to enjoy, and everyone was snapped up promptly before I left the building.  Happy Black Friday!

Bob Dylan "Side Tracks" Columbia Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Bob Dylan

I didn't read the info around Dylan's RSD offering, Side Tracks, closely enough.  I didn't realize that the bulk of the non-album tracks compiled here were originally released on the Biography box.  I fully intend to own Biography for myself one day soon so 19 of the 30 songs on Side Tracks will be repeats in my collection at that time.  Add those repeats to the Side Tracks songs that I already own on Greatest Hits Vol. II or on any number of Bootleg Series installments, and Side Tracks becomes less essential than it seemed at first glance.  But I bought it.  And I'm glad I did.  Here's why...

Side Tracks has "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" on it.  A former RSD release had this song on a 7-inch, but I passed on that one due to the expense involved.  And while Side Tracks might be a little redundant, it's still a nice compilation that basically serves as a Biography sampler sprinkled with a bunch of killer songs that I have lesser versions of elsewhere.  My Greatest Hits Vol. II is a little sandy, for instance, so it's nice to have these versions of "Watching The River Flow" (one of Dylan's live favorites of late) and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" handy.  Thankfully, Columbia housed this set in a triple gatefold package rather than in another box.  My Dylan box sets dominate my collection's real estate as is so space is at a premium now.  The records in this set have plenty of depth and clarity even if a couple of the recordings seem a little thin in spots.  And, finally, the set plays well as far as sequencing is concerned.  Regardless of whether or not you own these individual songs in other places, I think it's cool to have them here and in this order.  

These records are heavy with deep sonic blacks which is most certainly a welcomed change from the records we've looked at in this batch so far.  They came housed in high quality inner sleeves too as opposed to the sandpaper liners that the Queens of the Stone Age record came in, for example.  (Perhaps the Queens inner carved the image of Texas into the third side's vinyl?  Couldn't have helped...) here's something that I find strange: there was no digital copy of any kind included with this set.  Every Dylan record that I've purchased from Columbia in the past five plus years has come with either a download coupon or a CD of the entire work included.  That's true of the Bootleg Series installments, the new records, the Mono box, all of it.  And somehow this compilation is screaming for it.  Feels like there's a giant hole in by digital Dylan files.  But I can live with that.  At this point, I should probably just be glad that one of these three discs didn't have a giant hole in it.  Piss poor attitude, I know.  I don't get up at the crack of ass on the day after Thanksgiving to go buy a bunch of records that I don't want to enjoy, I promise.  This year's haul was a little rough, but that won't stop me from doing it again next April.  Especially if Nick Cave gets involved…

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds "Live From KCRW" Bad Seed Ltd.

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - December, 2013 - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Oh, man.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds knocked one into next week with this one.  Easily the strongest of my Record Store Day purchases this holiday season.  The kind of record that will set you off on an entirely irresponsible collecting quest.  It's called Live From KCRW and I'd prefer to not listen too much else from this point on.  At least for the rest of this evening.  Maybe.  I do have that Queens of the Stone Age record waiting in the wings.  The one without the steel wool accompaniment or the etching of Texas in side three.  But I've heard that work before while the bulk of the material on KCRW is entirely new to me.  Gloriously new.  A whole new door, in fact.  This could lead to something big and expensive.  And great.

I was turned onto Nick Cave right around the time of his Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! record in 2008.  It's wonderful.  As is the Grinderman record that came out shortly after that.  Readers at this site might remember the hoops I jumped through to express my enthusiasm for that Grinderman record.  I bought a bunch of 12-inch remixes of the songs from that one, for crying out loud.  But KCRW is different.  It involves a "pared down" band line-up and was recorded in California before an audience of 180.  It's moody, but it's immediate.  It's intimate, but enormous.  There are pianos and fiddles, loops and stage banter.  But mostly, there's a collection of really strong songs.  The kind that you're lucky to get exposed to because, God knows, you're not going to hear anything like this with any degree of consistency on the radio.  A few of the songs are from Cave's most recent full length, Push The Sky Away, but not as many as I'd have guessed based on the timing of the release.  This collection doesn't seem to be in support of Sky so much as it seems to assimilate the texture of that work throughout.  Sky was a pretty intimate record too with lots of cool sonics, and I'd have guessed that KCRW was a live retelling of that work.  But a little research shows that the songs on KCRW span the bulk of the Bad Seeds' run with a little extra attention paid to The Boatman's Call (1997) and No More Shall We Part (2001).  I'll start looking for the former record now, and I'll supplement with the rest of Cave's catalog as time and money and circumstances allow.  I've learned enough about Cave to know that he has Punk roots which informed his later works.  That might be surprising if we hadn't seen it so many times with so many different artists.  Perhaps the Beastie Boys did it most famously.  And I like plenty of Punk music, but the kind I like mostly sounds like good old Rock and Roll.  I like it when musicians can play their instruments and when singers sing.  Nick Cave has a distinctive singing voice, but I don't think that's why people pay to hear his work.  I think we're mostly in it for the lyrics and the moods the guy can create.  And he's clearly surrounded himself with some serious players to help him with that.  Live From KCRW shows that up in sharp relief.

These heavy records are well pressed and silent.  The set comes with a download coupon so you can harass the hell out of your friends with it until they see things your way.  Shouldn't take too long.  This is the stuff that Record Store Day dreams are made of.  Makes all my prior whining and complaining sound like a distant rumor.  And I don't think it's gonna be too hard to get your hands on KCRW if you act now.  Act now.  This one's a prize.