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

The Woggles "The Big Beat" Wicked Cool Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - August, 2013 - The Woggles

It's a miracle that I survived my time in Athens, Georgia, let alone that I actually graduated from college. I think my GPA was, like, 0.05 or something, but I finished and I got the piece of paper to show that I did. If I'd known about the Woggles, I'd have likely dropped out, started smoking Chesterfields, and contracted Lord knows what from whom until The End came rushing at me like a mutant bug towards a cosmic windshield. Luckily, I didn't find out about them until I'd moved away which is remarkable because Athens is a small, musically incestuous town. To think that I shared that town with the Woggles for ten consecutive years without ever seeing them play is a blessing and a travesty. I wasn't ready. They've been at it for more than 20 years now, and their latest is appropriately called The Big Beat. It's more fun than should be allowed. Lock up your daughters. Batten down the hatches. This is a Woggles invasion, daddy-o, and they've got you in the crosshairs.  

I finally found the Woggles while listening to Little Steven's Underground Garage about ten years ago when their "Got A Heat On" was voted "Coolest Song In The World" for a week. That one was off of 2003's Ragged But Right and that record made an impression, man. I saw the band play in Augusta, Georgia at the Soul Bar soon after and nothing has been the same for me since. There are lots of Rock bands these days, but they totally neglect the "Roll" part. The Woggles are a Rock and Roll band, and don't you forget it. There's a strong Soul component too. The sweaty, hip thrusting, singing-from-the-knees-while-someone-throws-a-sparkling-cape-around-your-shoulders variety. There are some Surf Rock leanings. Most of all, there's high octane, soul blasting, and brain frying Rock and Roll. And The Big Beat has it all. It's a studio recording that could have been made in front of a sweat soaked audience of thousands. Songs that implore you to dance, shout, twist, and get down. Songs with titles like "Take It To The People," and "Baby I'll Trust You When You're Dead." Fuzz guitars, and matching suits. The longest song on the record is three and a half minutes, and it wins by a landslide thirty seconds. Three chords and a tambourine. This is a band that could put the fear in the Sonics (with whom they've shared a bill). They could mop the stage with the blood of any band fool enough to open for them (except maybe for Johnny Cash who opened for them in Texas once just before his Rick Rubin records put him back in the mainstream). They've played the world over and can count Ray Davies as a supporter, Little Steven Van Zandt as an ambassador, and me as a googly-eyed devotee. To hear the Woggles play is to become a teenager again except this time being a teenager is actually cool. These guys have a sense of humor, but they are also 100 percent real. They are, basically, Rock and Roll.  

The vinyl version of The Big Beat comes with a CD of the album and two bonus tracks which are only sold with the LP. The choice is obvious. The single record is 180 grams strong with a somewhat cloudy appearance, but it sounds exactly like a Garage Rock record should. This stuff ain't perfect, but nothing cool is. And this record is nothing if not cool. Get it.

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Elvis Costello and the Attractions "Imperial Bedroom" Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - August, 2013 - Elvis Costello and the Attractions

It's been a minute since we've looked at any of the MoFi Elvis Costello reissues. I purchased the first two titles because I've loved My Aim Is True and This Year's Model since college. After hearing those, I felt like I'd started a collection and I'd have felt like a loser for not finishing the job. And it's been a wonderful, surprising journey. I lived with a guy in college that had grown up on his dad's Costello collection, but I didn't quite catch the fever from him although I was plenty exposed. For whatever reason, MoFi skipped Costello's fifth album, Trust, but they've released the others in chronological order. I've dug them all except for the Nashville record, Almost Blue, about which I am indifferent. This brings us to Imperial Bedroom and I am far from indifferent about this one.  

This record flies in the face of everything I hold dear about recorded music. (That's a total exaggeration, but I thought we could spice things up a bit here.) Costello's first few records were sort of minimalist although Armed Forces and Get Happy!! had a few more layers than the others. But they didn't have squat for layers compared to this stuff. This brings us back to my exaggerated opener. Normally, I go for the starker, more raw recordings every time, hands down. And I'm still not ready to say that I prefer Imperial Bedrooms to the earlier works, but it's in the ring and it's holding its own. I like it more every time I hear it, which means that by the time I reach 50 (God willing), I'll be deliriously telling anyone who will listen, including my college roommate, that Imperial Bedroom is a life changing record that we need to sit down and listen to over tea and scones immediately. (I have no explanation for that. It seems like the kind of record that requires tea and scones and a seated position. Once you hit 50, I mean. It probably has something to do with the symphonic accompaniment. Yep. I love a rock and roll record that involves symphonic accompaniment. Am I 50 yet?) The astute listener will pick up on the reggae influence on "Human Hands," but it might take a second because the reggae beat is buried beneath layers of piano and horns. Lots of disguises on Imperial Bedrooms. Slight of hand. Smoke and mirrors. And, hovering above it all, Elvis Costello's immaculate songwriting craft, and his deceptively strong vocals. This one's on a ton of "Best Ever" lists, and for good reason. They got it right this time. 

This was Costello's first record of original material that was not produced by Nick Lowe, and I think that's great. I'm not wild about the cleanliness of the Lowe records. MoFi softens them up a bit, takes the edge off. I prefer these reissues to the originals, at least the ones that I've had for comparison. I don't own an original copy of Bedrooms and I probably won't for as long as my MoFi version is up and spinning. This one was produced by Geoff Emerick who had previously served as a recording engineer on really obscure titles like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And there is somewhat of a layered, Beatles-y feel to Bedrooms as well. It still has some punk leanings, but Costello took the "spoonful of sugar" approach on this one and I think it paid off handsomely. Can't wait for what comes next in this series.  

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Mavis Staples "One True Vine" Anti-

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - August, 2013 - One True Vine

I reckon Mavis Staples had so much fun recording 2010's You Are Not Alone with Jeff Tweedy that she decided to go to the well another time. Why not? The formula is working perfectly for my ears, and I hope it catches on with other classic artists for whom the spotlight has dimmed some. On the surface, it seems like a simple plan. Write some solid tunes that fit the artist's aesthetic (or choose some tasty covers), record the songs honestly, and stand back to see if anyone takes the bait. No need for cameo appearances by today's brightest young stars. No "updated sounds." Just Mavis and her microphone, some capable accompanists, and good songs. How does that get so confusing for so many artists? Maybe it helps to not need the money at this point. It certainly helps to have been at this for almost 65 years. The result of this latest collaboration is the stellar One True Vine. It's a good one.

One difference between You Are Not Alone and One True Vine is that Tweedy and Staples seem to have reigned in the amount of musicians on Vine. Tweedy's 16 year old son handles most of the drums and percussion parts while Tweedy plays most other instruments. Mavis sings. At the ripe young age of 74, Mavis sings with power and restraint, emotion and clarity, and more power. Tweedy wrote a few of the tunes, Nick Lowe wrote one, and Mavis covers Funkadelic's "Can You Get To That" which was far and away the tune that I was most looking forward to exploring on here. And it does not disappoint. They play that one pretty close to the original, and that's for the best. I'd have loved to have been in the studio when Tweedy brought that one to her. Do you think she knows that it came off a record called Maggot Brain? Do you think she ever got a look at the original album cover? The outfit also covers Pops Staples' "I Like The Things About Me" which is a standout track. Its message is certainly relevant today, I think, and if you're unfamiliar with the tune, I'll let you explore its meaning on your own. It's worth it. The rest of the tunes on Vine are all old public domain songs with titles like "Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus)." Suffice it to say, this is going to be a heavy contributor to my Sunday Gospel listening sessions. It's a mostly relaxing listen with plenty of acoustic instrumentation, and that soul stirring voice that Mavis has refined over these many years. She's the type of performer that lights up a stage no matter what size the audience is, whether they are indoors or out. I feel so fortunate to have seen her and to have these two records to compliment the earlier Staples work in my collection. I think you'll agree if you give it a chance.

The folks at Anti- didn't press One True Vine on double 45rpm vinyl like they did for You Are Not Alone, but I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything as a result of it. In fact, I kinda like not having to flip the record every two minutes. The pressing itself is silent and black and the package includes a copy of the album on CD too. I'll never listen to it though. The record sounds too good. I wonder if the team has enough outtakes in the can to fill another record. I'll always be first in line to hear what they come up with next...

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

DJ Shadow "Endtroducing" Mowax Recordings

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - August, 2013 - DJ Shadow

I live in San Francisco. People have pretty strong opinions about the place for a wide variety of reasons. Most of them seem to involve politics, food, or homosexuality. I try my best to get out of political discussions in less than one sentence, I like food, and I support the right to love anyone you want. The hot button for me with regards to this town involves DJ's. The place is infested with them. I saw a good one once, and I've seen tons that induced sleep. They're at the gym. They're at the museum. They're blaring in your ear while you're in the dentist's chair. They're in public spaces that are normally reserved for quiet picnics and dog runs. Seriously, I went to Golden Gate Park a while back and some poor bastard was standing completely alone in a wide open field under a portable canopy that he must have drug out there by himself, playing his little CD's with a set of headphones held in place with one shoulder while he pressed some buttons on his little mixer for the benefit of no one. The whole production was powered by a generator that he presumably rented or bought for occasions like these, and the "performance" took place under threat of heavy rain. I support many aspects of hip-hop culture, but not the one that allows people to hack their way into the public discussion despite their lack of talent. Auto-tuners piss me off. Sampling does not. I think there's real talent in creating a compelling sample and DJ Shadow seems to have cracked the code. The fact that he did it in 1996 and I'm just finding out about it should surprise no one.  

Anyway, the DJ Shadow record is called Endtroducing..... and it's wicked. Shadow is reputed to have a record collection that tops out at around 60,000 discs, and Endtroducing..... was recorded with a sampler, a couple of turntables, some of those records, and not much else. Of the hundreds of samples used in the construction of this record, I recognize none. There's some high energy stuff, but nothing approaching the busy intensity of the old Public Enemy records, for instance. There's some scratching, but nothing as over the top as Mix Master Mike's work with the Beasties on songs like "Three MC's and One DJ." My favorite Endtroducing tracks are the more ambient, piano inflected tunes like "Midnight In A Perfect World." That one employs the ubiquitous hip-hop stuttering beats that I often find so seizure inducing, but Shadow buries them in the mix under some lush, relaxing synth textures that make the whole thing float. The album is mostly instrumental with only a few snippets of dialogue or vocals that are added here and there as garnish for the beats. The album works well as background mood music, but you could also sit down with a set of headphones and study every second of it and probably uncover a new layer with each listen. That equals art to me. I highly recommend the record. 

The two discs that comprise Endtroducing..... are not special. They're of pedestrian weight, they're a little cloudy visually, and I can't tell if they're silent or not. Some of the background noise I'm hearing may be in the samples. Having said that, it would be sacrilegious to have this in another format. It is, after all, a sonic homage to crate digging. Get the vinyl, it's still readily available. If you don't like it, you can give it to that guy standing in the field with his CD's. He needs it. 

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Bob Dylan "Blood On The Tracks" Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

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

It's a damn fine time to be a fan of Bob Dylan's, especially if you're a vinyl lover. Some folks might debate that with me, but some folks might lose. F you want to hear some truly great music, music that will be around for as long as music lives, and music the way it was meant to be heard, then you're going to have to get some of Dylan's catalog on vinyl. There's been a ton of it lately, and Mobile Fidelity just entered the fray. Between the MoFi stuff, the Bootleg Series business, The Original Mono Recordings, and his new material, I don't know that there's been a better time to dig into Dylan since the mid-'60's. And I was born in 1974, so this is as good as it gets for me. And I am beyond fine with that.  

I sat out the first round of MoFi releases because I had all the titles as part of the Mono box. Blood On The Tracks is the first MoFi title outside that box, and I got mine early. I first spent some real quality time with Dylan's music as a high schooler when the initial Bootleg collection was released as a three CD set. It was, quite literally, a life changer for me, and some of my favorite material was from the Blood On The Tracks era. I still prefer the version of "Idiot Wind" on the Bootleg box to the Blood version, and I prefer the Bootleg outtake "Call Letter Blues" to its Bloody twin, "Meet Me In The Morning." And that's really saying something because Blood On The Tracks is undisputedly, phenomenally great. Historically, it was seen as a return to form after what were perceived as Dylan's first misfires starting with John Wesley Harding. Time does some crazy things and I have no way of knowing what I'd have thought about Dylan's releases leading up to Blood, but I have a hard time imagining myself being disappointed with JWH. Self Portrait, maybe. Nashville Skyline? Who knows? What I do know is that, in retrospect, all of Dylan's records have plenty to offer if you listen to them with the right ears. You can listen to Blood On The Tracks with any kind of ears you want, and you'll get an ample return on your investment. This is considered one of the greatest "break-up records" ever although Dylan denies that it was autobiographical. But Dylan denies everything. At the very least, these songs are heavy with raw emotion, and most of them seem to address the fairer sex. If it's not a "break-up record," it missed a fine shot at being one, but the material stands on its own regardless of context. Any fool would tell you that. 

Dylan gave these gems the stripped down acoustic treatment which really suits the MoFi aesthetic perfectly. I don't have an original for comparison, and I won't feel obligated to remedy that any time soon. The warmth and clarity of this version makes for a truly moving experience. The record itself is heavy, quiet, and deep - not unlike the songs themselves. We don't need to get into a song-by-song dissection here, do we? This is Blood On The Tracks. It is to rock and roll what multiplication tables are to elementary math. Absolutely essential. I got number 543 and the release is limited. Get one while you have the option to.

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)