As I mentioned, there wasn’t tons of stuff going on for this year’s Record Store Day that really blew my skirt up. I got off especially light on the long players. My priorities were the Big Star, White Stripes, and Willie sets that we’ve looked at already. Built To Spill had a live thing that I was interested in. There were a ton of 7″ offerings that I thought would be cool, but I narrowed my list down to a few by Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell with Elizabeth Cook, and the Sir Douglas Quintet. I also grabbed a 10″ of Yuma by Justin Townes Earle. I have some reverse buyer’s remorse as I’d liked to have had the split 7″ of “Soul Kitchen” as performed by the Doors and X. McCartney had a 12″ single of various versions (stereo/mono) of “Maybe I’m Amazed” that’s probably pretty cool. And the only record that I wanted that I whiffed on was a 7″ of some live performances by Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels. I spent about five minutes in the store after waiting three hours for the doors to open. And I’m crazy enough to call that success. I’m really excited about the stuff I brought home.
Especially the double 7″ Sir Douglas Quintet set. I sent a confederate to the Country section for Willie and Justin Townes Earle (but, foolishly, not Gram) while I blazed through the Rock section for Big Star and the Stripes. Then, I headed straight to the Oldies section to snap up Sir Douglas. That may have been a tactical error as I seem to be the only person in the world who cares about it. Which is nuts. It’s got Doug Sahm singing four songs on it. In Spanish. Including “Mendocino.” What’s the hold up, folks? It’s presented in a miniature gatefold package with liners and a killer band photo. And it’s one of the coolest things in the world.
Cooley’s 45 includes two live takes that were not included on his recent long player, The Fool On Every Corner. The song titles (“Self-Destructive Zones” and “Get Downtown”) will be instantly recognizable to Drive-By Truckers fans, but the performances may not be. Cooley’s a fingerpicking maniac and it’s been a blast to see him step into his own spotlight with it. He seems to be having fun. This one’s on his own Cooley Records label and includes what is by now considered traditional Truckers artwork by Wes Freed along with a download coupon. He called it Too Pretty To Work. Super cool.
I’m unfamiliar with Elizabeth Cook, but her collaboration with Jason Isbell on a couple of Townes Van Zandt covers (31 Tigers Records) is a fun addition to the 45 crate. I didn’t hear much about this one leading up to RSD. It felt a little “last second” when Isbell announced it on the Facebook (where he has to rank among the most active participants). And it may have really been “last second” because the record’s labels are reversed. “Tecumseh Valley” is listed as “Pancho and Lefty” and vice versa. It’s an intimate recording of couple of Townes’ greatest.
Bloodshot Records did us a kindness by finally releasing Justin Townes Earle’s Yuma on vinyl. Orange vinyl, at that. It’s a 10″ EP that is much more in line with what I was hoping for when I bought Earle’s Midnight At The Movies a while back. It’s Earle and his guitar and a few killer tunes. You can’t argue with that. It also includes a download coupon of Yuma along with a sampler of other songs spanning the rest of Earle’s career.
All in all, it was a grand day. Some of the releases are priced reasonably on Ebay right now, especially the Sir Douglas Quintet set. I tend to think that now’s the time if you’re going to take that route. I guess that’s what folks have to do if they don’t have access to a local independent record store. It’s a sad state of affairs when you have to type sentences like that last one. I think the Record Store Day folks are providing us with an invaluable service and a great all-around experience. I encourage your support.
The Greenhornes “Live At Shake It Records Fall 2001” Shake It Records
It would be easy to forget about the Greenhornes if their music wasn’t so great. Their website is outdated, they don’t seem to tour much these days, and their Record Store Day entry for 2013 was not even on the official merchandise list. So, I didn’t know about it until I got home and a friend in Georgia texted me a photo of his copy. I began to plot and plan as soon as I’d stopped sobbing and had pieced my life back together. And I had a copy of the Greenhornes Live At Shake It Records Fall 2001 by the following week. It wasn’t too hard to get one, but it didn’t feel like as much of a RSD event for me. An Indy store still got my business so I guess all’s well, but getting a RSD record in the mail is like watching a concert on DVD. It’s fun. But it ain’t as fun as it could be. Anyway…
As the title suggests, this performance has been in the can for over a decade now. And the band’s sound has changed significantly since then. I wouldn’t have known a Greenhorne from a Bieber in 2001, and I may be better off for having found them later. Live is a lot punkier than 4 Stars (which was their masterpiece from 2010). As I understand it, part of the punk ethos, at least starting out, was to make music (loudly) even if you were completely incapable of playing instruments. (I’m glad that didn’t catch on in the medical field.) But the Greenhornes sounded perfectly capable in 2001, just not as refined as they did in 2010. In fact, it sounds like their primary technique was to write songs that sounded vaguely reminiscent of the Sonics’ version of “Have Love Will Travel,” and then to rock the hell out of those songs. This recording was made while Brian Olive was still in the band and the vibe reminds me of some of the Neckbones’ earlier work (I think they may still be together) with a bit of the Woggles thrown into the mix (go see them). If you like raw music played loudly, but with enough musicianship to border on respectability, the Greenhornes circa 2001 are for you. And me.
I had to order this record on the Monday morning following RSD from the Shake It Records website. I felt a little dirty. I got number 516 out of 700, and the site had sold out by the next morning. The recording is more than passable (it beats the pants off of last month’s Vault release from Third Man Records and it’s in Mono), and the packaging is super cool for those of us in the know. It’s designed to look like a ’60’s or ’70’s era vinyl bootleg from the Trademark of Quality label whose records sounded good enough for review by the likes of Greil Marcus. This one has the “Shake It Mark Of Quality” stamped right on the front. The record itself is not particularly heavy nor is it without some visible cloudiness. But it’s mine, and will be for a long time barring any unforeseen catastrophes. I now have three Greenhornes records in my collection and two of them (this one and a Third Man Vault release of demos) are ultra rare. That makes me cool. Get on Ebay and do your thing if you can’t scare one of these up at your local retailer. Then, go take a bath.
Big Star “Nothing Can Hurt Me” Omnivore Recordings
This year’s Record Store Day found me in a similar situation as 2011’s did. That is to say that I was waiting in line with a bunch of other freaks at 7:30am so that I could rush the doors of my independent retailer for a limited Big Star release. 2013 was not as dire as 2011 because Nothing Can Hurt Me is going to be released later this year on standard black vinyl. But I wanted the orange first pressing. And I didn’t want to wait. It’s not too hard to complete a Big Star collection. They barely released three records. And I have them all, but I need original copies of their first two long players. I’ve got an original pressing of Third as well as the RSD 2011 release (Third: The Test Pressing Edition). Nothing Can Hurt Me serves well as a summation of the whole gross thing.
For a band with so little output, they sure were efficient. Because all three of their official releases are bona fide Rock and Roll monsters. I typically go screaming for the exits when someone tries to engage me in a conversation about “Power Pop,” but it may be helpful for the uninitiated if we wade into those waters for a second. If there’s even such a thing, then Big Star set the template for all of it. To me, there’s very little difference between the greatness of Radio City and that of Abbey Road. And the thing that’s most interesting to me about Hurt Me is that it sort of gives you a look at what went on beneath the hood. You get some studio chatter, and some of the gloss gets stripped away too. Normally, that would be right up my alley. But I feel like Big Star works best when it’s all dolled up. Glitter, lipstick, satin shirts, all of it. Hurt Me kicks in with a gnarly demo version of “O My Soul,” and never really lets up. I’m not too great with song titles so I couldn’t really glean much by the track listing. But every song is instantly recognizable, and lots of them will make you want to sit right down and cry due in equal parts to melancholy and exuberance. Or melancholy exuberance which kind of sums Big Star up for me. There are a couple of missed opportunities. I got way up for an alternate version of “Stroke It Noel,” but then you only get the intro. Backwards. But a backwards intro to a missing song seems… backwards. “My Life Is Right” makes up for everything bad in life. It’s magical.
Nothing Can Hurt Me is not going to break down any walls for folks that are already familiar with the content. Most songs are simply “alternate mixes,” nothing too Earth shattering. But once you start a Big Star binge, you can’t stop until it’s all used up. So, if you’ve already got everything else you’ll want this too. Don’t put the cart before the horse though. This is the Clift’s Notes version of Big Star. Familiarize yourself with the original before you tackle the alternate mix of “When My Baby’s Beside Me.” The most exciting part of it all is that this is the soundtrack to a forthcoming documentary. Big Star is no longer a secret, but there are still plenty of mysteries to be unlocked. Nothing Can Hurt Me at least points you in a direction.
Willie Nelson “Crazy: The Demo Sessions” Sugar Hill Records
My Willie collection is deficient. I admit it. I get overwhelmed thinking about where to start. To me, he suffers a bit from Springsteen-itis. His songs are mostly all great, but the production on those songs might make your hair fall out. And I don’t know how to separate the wheat from the chafe. So I got pretty happy when I heard that Crazy: The Demo Sessions was going to be released as part of this year’s Record Store Day lineup. I figured that most of the kids would go straight for Willie’s “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” collaboration with Snoop Dogg on 7-inch green vinyl. I was right. The 45 was sold out when I made it to the Country section, but there were a stack of Demos waiting for me. I had a short list of must-haves this year and Demos was a no brainer. It fits in nicely next to my original Red Headed Stranger and my Impex reissue of that same title. Actually, the irony had never hit me until now. I had two Willie records in my collection and they were different versions of the same title. Nevermore.
I’ll say this for the man: Country music has morphed into something unrecognizable, but Willie’s been a rock throughout it all. His voice hasn’t changed since 1961 despite the fact that he’s probably smoked a silo of pot per day since then. I’m most familiar with “Crazy” and “I Gotta Get Drunk” as far as the Demos songs go. But there’s gold all around. Side one is comprised of songs performed by Willie on vocals and guitar. Mostly. Hank Cochran lends some harmony vocals to “What Do You Think Of Her Now,” and there’s a little pedal steel sprinkled around. But mostly you get unfiltered Willie. And that’s the best kind of anything good. (Except maybe Big Star.) I feel like Willie would have been playing these songs with the same feeling and empathy if he’d played them all these years alone in his bedroom. He doesn’t seem to have been influenced by anything. Sure, he’s been talked into doing some hokey-assed collaborations with the likes of Toby Keith. To me, that detracts from the legend rather than adding to it. And the legend was built on the very songs on Demos. Side two finds Willie with full band accompaniment. Most of these songs could be passed off as finished product to my ears. But they’re not as shiny as the Willie work that I’m most familiar with which makes me feel a little less crazy for standing in line outside a record store in the Haight at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. Speaking of “Crazy,” the liners suggest that the version on Demos is the very version that sold Pasty Cline on covering it. She’d have been crazy not to.
The back cover shows, in big red letters, that these songs have all been digitally restored. The liners (which seem to have been copied directly from a CD’s liners) also state that at least one of the songs was recorded in such a way that it only played back through a single speaker. So I guess I don’t mind folks tinkering with that a little. Further, the original tapes are no longer with us, these were found in 1994 on a single 1/4 inch reel. Take it all around, I think we’re fortunate to have access to these versions of Willie’s old tunes at all. He outlived the tapes. That’s something worth standing in line for, I’d say.