IT WAS INESCAPABLE! or Paul Simon – Graceland

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There was no escaping Graceland back in the world of 1986. Rock fans owned it. Folk fans owned it. World music fans owned it. Hell it sold 16 million copies across various formats as it has attracted and inspired music hipsters from various genres ever since. Yes Graceland was, and if its 2012 25th anniversary tour proved anything, remains, somewhat controversial but damn, it was a fine record.

So what is a vinyl fan to do? Crate digging will easily net you a copy, although getting a clean copy might cost you a few bucks, but what else is available? In 1997, a 180 gram edition was made and released from Germany. You can still find copies being sold for around $20.00.

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Then everything stayed digital until the recent 2012 anniversary. With the anniversary several deluxe sets hit the market including a 2 DVD, 2 CD set that also came with a 76 page book, notepad and poster. It has Amazon resellers asking over $300.00, but some used copies show up at discogs for a much more manageable $70.00.

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That same year also saw a remastered vinyl edition being released on 180 gram vinyl. Apparently, RTI did a great job with the vinyl and fans have been pleased with the sound quality.

Now, in 2015, three new editions have hit the vinyl market. The first was an HMV UK exclusive clear vinyl copy. Only 500 copies were released making it a little rarer than others. The resale market is asking $75 dollars or more.

Then Music On Vinyl produced Graceland for general release on 180 gram black vinyl… which will set you back about $25.00.

Finally, Newbury Comics in the US released a new edition of the RTI remaster on 180 gram maroon vinyl. Limited to 2000 copies each album was foil stamped and included a lyrics sheet and poster. You can still order copies from Newbury for $20 USD. Oddly, I noticed resellers asking over $85.00 dollars for it already… but, trust me, you can still get a great copy on coloured vinyl for way less. As it is RTI doing it, vinyl enthusiasts have again claimed it to be a great sounding record. My own sounds awesome. Anyway, it’ll make a great Christmas gift for some Paul Simon fans out there.

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City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You: A Transformative Work

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Dallas Green may have started City and Colour as a means to introduce his ‘rootsy’ brand of song craft, but those days are now more of an ‘origin story’ than the reality of where he is. Much like Wilco, who turned from alt-country to sonic experimenters, Green took his acoustic-based leanings and is now creating expansive tunes that, at times, owe more to blues, soul and even psychedelia than the modern ‘folk rock’ he was labeled with on earlier City and Colour records.

Signs of this transformation began on the last album The Hurry And The Harm, with a more conventional, harder edge brought in with the addition of electric guitars and organs. If I Should Go Before You not only expands on this addition, but takes on some new influences.

Opening the record is a nine minute blues epic “Woman” which mixes Muddy Waters with Pink Floyd and throws in a 60’s San Francisco twist. The result is a ‘listen with headphones’ dreamscape that shows his bands’ ability to improvise around their material. “Northern Blues” has subtle R&B underpinnings keeping a sonic improvisation steady as Green’s falsetto soars above.

Musically, this ‘Memphis soul base’ is played out on what would seem to be perfect for the two sides of a vinyl record. “If I Should Go Before You”, “Killing Time”, and the frickin’ amazing single “Wasted Love” finish off the R&B influenced ‘Side A.’ Even the sudden stop of “Wasted Love” on the songs’ conclusion gives definition to a change in direction. In a manner of speaking, it is the point when you flip the record.

‘Side B’ takes on tones that have their foundation in roots-rock, starting with “Runaway”, a song that recalls Blue Rodeo’s “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” with its majestic pedal steel guitar. From there, you move onto “Lover Come Back” with its blend of piano and organ which creates an atmosphere reminiscent of The Band.

The most appealing thing about If I Should Go Before You is that all the influences are merely reference points. Like most great, or even classic records, the listener finds a connection that resonates with a familiar sound, and then the music branches off into new and exciting places.

If I Should Go Before You isn’t just another City and Colour record… it’s a transformative work; the album when all potential and expectations are realized and then exceeded.

 

If I Should Go Before You hits stores on Oct 9.

Under an Alien Influence? or The Modern Lovers – Eponymous

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Somewhere between the end days of the Velvet Underground and the start of the B 52’s emerged The Modern Lovers, and their influence would stretch way beyond the world of limited record sales and closed minds. There was always something ‘otherworldly’ about Jonathan Richman and Co.’s take on music. Picture a baby-faced Lou Reed singing songs of optimism and fun while backed by a first rate garage rock band trying their hands at psychedelia and you get the picture. They weren’t just ahead of their time, The Modern Lovers 1976 eponymous record was completely outside of it, and to some extent, still is. Pre-Punk… proto-punk… whatever!!! It is an incredible album with Rolling Stone claiming it to be one of the 500 greatest records of all time.

As for the vinyl, well… like many of the great underground records of the 1970’s, it got great critical reception and sold next to nothing. In fact, The Modern Lovers was out of print on wax for more than 20 years. Of course, you have a few options in the here and now.

The original 1976 pressing can cost you upwards of $150 for a good clean copy in the resale market. You might get it for less, but that will take time and a lot crate digging to find a copy.

The last 20th century printings were in 1986 and 1987 with the German edition being printed on white vinyl. People are usually paying under $40 but resellers are asking upwards of $60 plus shipping.

If you are looking for a new copy, you are in luck. In 2009, 4 Men With Beards released a reissued version on 180 gram vinyl that is still widely available,

However, 2015 has brought two new versions out. The first was another of the Newbury limited editions. One thousand copies were printed on split black/blue vinyl and included a download card. The next version was for general release and printed on black 180 gram vinyl and also included a card for downloading. Both were released in August.

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Definitely worth having in the collection you just need to decide how much and where you want to pick it up.

 

Overshadowed or Overlooked? Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion

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It had been years since I last played a Screaming Trees record. Once a staple that sat by the CD player and saw pretty regular rotations in the carousel, it had moved to a secondary location for music seldom played. New music, new bands, new sounds had found their way into my imagination and I moved on. Then the other day I saw a post for an advance order of Sweet Oblivion on vinyl and my mind flashed back – “damn, it’s been too long” as I started to type my order.

A few weeks later the gold coloured vinyl is spinning on my turntable and it feels like an old friend has returned from a long trip away. The conversation flows easy as if no time has passed at all, and I’m at ease just listening when I hear the old familiar stories. Not epic like Soundgarden or angry like Nirvana, Screaming Trees were a pretty straight forward gritty rock band with a penchant for great song writing and one of the best vocalists of the era in Mark Lanegan. Unfortunately, like many of the great 90’s rock bands, they didn’t stay together past the turn of the century, and faded from view.

Anyway, for vinyl junkies you have three choices to spin Sweet Oblivion. The original ’92 release had a limited vinyl printing that came with the CD booklet and a sticker on the shrink wrap declaring it the “One Foot In The Grave” version. If you can find it, it will set you back a minimum of $50.00 plus shipping.

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In 2010, Music On Vinyl released a 180 gram version that had fans giving compliments for quality. You can still find it most anywhere.

Finally, Newbury Comics released a limited 1000 copies on 180 gram translucent gold vinyl. In addition to the foil stamped numbering on the cover it included new liner notes written by Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. They still have copies, so don’t go crazy ordering from resale sights asking for a $100.

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Overshadowed or overlooked, I’m not sure which, but Screaming Trees should have been bigger than they got. Regardless, Sweet Oblivion is sure appreciated and is once again sitting in a spot close to the stereo.

 

Buying New Vinyl (In Canada)… when the economy has gone to shit!

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“Are you sure you really needed that album” asks my wife as she looks at a recent credit card statement. Don’t get me wrong, we NEVER carry a balance from one month to the next, it’s just that the exchange rate has gone through the roof recently. So, what cost a dollar last year is costing a buck thirty plus shipping (which is also far more expensive because of the falling dollar). In other words, “OH WOE IS ME!” if you’re buying new vinyl from south of the border, you can quite easily go broke.

To make matters worse, some of the best music sites have yet to figure out how to ship items at anything near a reasonable cost. For instance, let’s take a look at the recent rerelease of Urge Overkill’s Stull EP on Touch & Go Records. The white vinyl edition of Stull sells for $16.00 USD, a price I’m willing to pay for a ten inch record. However, the shipping is $34.30 through the USPS (United States Postal Service), meaning the record is now triple its retail value. Then if you add the exchange rate the price jumps up to $66.89, making Stull’s cost quadruple the original asking price.

Now, not all sites use USPS to ship, and thank goodness for that. Recently, I ordered two albums from Newbury Comics and it was a better scenario. Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Modern Lovers eponymous record on coloured vinyl had asking prices that, combined, cost me $45.98 and another $16.00 in shipping for both. Newbury uses a courier service that charges only $14.00 for the first item and another $2.00 for each additional item. Of course, now with the current financial crisis sending the Canadian Dollar to an eleven year low, that small fortune I was spending is now an actual fortune and quite a bit more difficult to justify. My $62.97 USD bill shows up as $83.73 CAD on my credit card statement. OUCH!

When I first started ordering stuff from the US, the Canadian dollar was on par or better than USD. Now I’m looking at a huge markup that has made internet ordering direct from US record labels far less desirable.

Still, you do have options. First, if the label is using USPS, fire off a quick note to them expressing interest in their product, but not their shipping method. If they care about customer service, they will investigate alternate shipping methods. If that doesn’t work, go to your local record store to find out if they can order it in. It isn’t likely that you’ll get the “collector’s edition coloured vinyl” available only to fans making advance orders… but it is worth a shot. Finally, if that favorite artist of yours is coming to town, bring along some cash to their merch booth. Chances are, if they didn’t sell out during the advance order stage, it will be on the tour bus waiting for a chance to separate you from your money.

Regardless, even for a hardcore music buyer, the prices are now out of range. If only some entrepreneur with more brains than I could devise a way to distribute exclusive items in Canada, the costs would come down and music fans in the Great White North would be very happy. As it is, my vinyl orders will have to be filed under occasional – if at all. The vinyl revival may end not because of lack of interest, but instead because it is cost prohibitive… at least for us Canadian shoppers!

Not Afraid To Run With The Bulls or Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves

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Sometimes it’s just best to drop the whole genre tag and just say: “dude, it’s rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.” Langhorne Slim has elements of country, folk, soul and alt rock flowing through the speakers all at once, and like a good mixed drink, the end result is finer than any individual part. Slim boasts “I’m tough enough to run with the bulls,” and while my use of the metaphor is out of context with the songs, it does describe his song writing.

Slim is a bit of an eclectic master with themes of joy and misery intermingling with equal passion. Essentially, he is fearless in bending songs around multiple influences. Horns play on a number of tracks and in a different way each time. On “Spirit Moves” he uses them as a counter melody similar to Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring Of Fire” and then brings them back later for “Life’s A Bell” as a Memphis Horns/Stax/Otis Redding tool for emotional emphasis. With the ever present acoustic instruments some songs drift towards sounds reminiscent of Nick Drake and Cat Stevens but the album as a whole pulls everything back into that unique Langhorne Slim vision.

The Spirit Moves is filled with moments that seem both intimate and celebratory, resulting in a record that gives inspiring highs and tragic lows. As the needle rises off of side B, you find yourself flipping it back to side A for another listen… and things can’t get much better than that.

You can pick up The Spirit Moves on all the usual mediums or order it direct from Dualtone with extra swag. Unfortunately, the coke bottle green vinyl seems to be sold out.

 

Test Pressing Heaven! or Big Star – Third / Sister Lovers

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If you have the idea of starting your listening day by discovering Big Star for the first time, don’t start with Sister Lovers / Third. Both #1 Record and Radio City are power-pop masterpieces that also serve as great introductions to the “Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard.”

On the other hand, Third is the opposite side of the coin. While definitely a masterpiece in its own right, it is bi-polar in its dramatic swings between happiness and absolute despair. It drops all pretensions and attempts of being a great rock ‘n’ roll album and instead mines the depths of failed relationships in their darkest moments, and then snaps back to honest sentiment and joy. In its own way Third is like Big Star’s version of the White Album requiring a bit of context to appreciate the artistry. It isn’t just the album themes either, Alex Chilton was literally in a mood for self-sabotage.

Ardent Studio creator John Fry who had been very influential in Big Star saw his relationship with Alex Chilton breaking down and things between them had become increasingly antagonistic. It has been reported as so bad that when Fry complimented “Downs” as having “pop potential,” Chilton all but ruined it; using a basketball as a snare drum, some ill timed steel drums and turning it into a “Revolution #9” moment. Whatever Fry heard is completely submerged beneath a sonic ramble and talking as replacement for singing.

Don’t let that idea confuse you, Third may not be a collection of songs filled with anger turned into sonic hooks, like say Fleetwood Mac; instead it becomes either unwavering in its depictions of loneliness and despair or a drunken arm around your shoulder full of sloppy proclamations. It has brutal honesty as its companion which means that things can get a little dicey. One moment can be heartbreakingly beautiful and poppy (“Thank You Friends”) and another can be devastatingly cruel (“Holocaust”). Even the Christmas track “Jesus Christ” has an echoing feel that keeps Chilton separated from his sentiment.

Third isn’t an easy listen. Watching things fall apart never is. Yet, it makes for amazing artistic expression; songs that relate to you on a more personal level, and take you to places of personal tragedy. Hope and comfort are found in the idea that others have also hurt as badly as you have.

Now, as for vinyl, you have some great choices. The first is obviously hitting the resale market where you can find original pressings in great shape. For whatever reason, Big Star fans seem to have taken great pains to care for their records. However, I wish you luck finding them at a decent cost. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any of the original 1975 test pressings on the market. There were only around 200 printed and given out as promotional material to record executives and radio stations. The 1978 official release by PVC Records sells well over a hundred dollars, with some resellers fetching over $200.

In 1985 PVC reissued Third with a new cover and title dubbing the album Big Star’s Third: Sister Lovers.

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This edition is much more reasonably priced in the $40 range at Discogs.

1988 saw yet another cover change and a new record company releasing Third on white vinyl. This German edition from Line Records shows up being priced around $30 dollars but add at least that same price in additional shipping, as it is primarily European resellers offering it.

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Ryko got into the Big Star game in 1992, releasing Third on CD with another cover and a few added bonus tracks. It can still be found used or new at regular prices.

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In 2007 Four Men With Beards released a 180 gram vinyl edition that restored the original cover. It can still be found at around $30 at the usual places.

Then there is the last Omnivore edition released first on Record Store Day in 2011 and then later direct order. This “Test Pressing Edition” was a perfect example of how a treasured record should be treated by a record company for fans. Rather than simply putting out a new printing, they used 180 gram audiophile vinyl, had it remastered by the same people who did the original, in the same studio (Ardent) and packaged it with all kinds of memorabilia. All classic records should be treated this way when possible. Quite simply, the vinyl kills my CD copy. The people at Ardent Studios treated Third like an ancient holy scripture and restored it to something worthy of the heavens. The RSD release was limited to 2000 copies but five lucky people out there got an unexpected gift – an actual 1975 test pressing enclosed in their package signed by Big Star’s Jody Stephens and Ardent Studios head John Fry. I didn’t see any of these for sale. However the RSD edition does sell for over a $100 on the resale market.

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That edition never made it to all fans, so Omnivore offered another 500 copies in 180 gram clear vinyl to those fortunate enough to see the news and order it direct. Prices for this edition are over a hundred dollars with some resellers asking well over $200.

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OK, all cliché and hyperbole aside, it sounds fantastic and is a prize possession within my record collection. The only thing that I would hold in higher esteem is an actual 1975 test pressing, and I’m not expecting to run into any of those.

“Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In” or Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits

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The 90’s may have a lot of detractors, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t put out a nice bundle of compilation records. Near the top of my list was a whole ton of great artists giving a giant nod to my childhood – Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. Featuring the Ramones, Liz Phair, Violent Femmes, Matthew Sweet, Juliana Hatfield and a host of others, Saturday Morning featured covers of some of cartoons finest moments.

Frente! covers the Flintstones “Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In.” The duo of Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly blast through “Josie and the Pussycats” and the Ramones tackle my personal favorite “Spider-Man.”

The biggest problem is that there has been no reissue since its 1995 release, meaning that it can be a bit difficult to find and, in some cases, resellers have asked outrageous amounts of money for a disc. Getting it on vinyl is that much worse. Saturday Morning was released as a two disc wax set, but it is difficult to find anywhere close to home. Discogs has two on the resale market, but they are in Japan and Australia respectively. In these cases the asking price is near $50.00 plus shipping.

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Then you get others asking over $200.00 for the cassette.

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While I would love to get my hands on the vinyl, I guess my kids and I will have to dance around the house to the CD for the time being.

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Spider-Man Up A Lamp Post? or Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

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I’m willing to bet you didn’t realize that Peter Parker, you know – Spider-Man, is an Elvis Costello fan. Seriously, way back in 1981 the Purple Man, who has hypnotic abilities, told Spider-Man to climb up a lamp post and recite Shakespeare. Unable to recall any, he asks permission to sing a song and breaks into the Elvis Costello classic “Oliver’s Army.” Honestly… it took place in Marvel Team-Up Annual #4. Here’s another little bit of geek trivia for ya (whether you want it or not), that issue was written by Frank Miller; one of the biggest names in the comic business.

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Anyway, Armed Forces was adored by critics, fans, and Peter Parker. It has also appeared on lists as being one of the greatest all time albums. With those accolades you would expect that Armed Forces would have given the deluxe style treatment… and it has, sort of, but not to extent that perhaps it deserves.

The original 1979 UK release came with a bonus 7” named Live From Hollywood High which contained “Accidents Will Happen”, “Allison” and “Watching The Detectives.” Plenty are available on the resale market, but finding a copy that has both the bonus postcards and the 7” in good condition is a bit more difficult.

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In North America, the same offer was given, but the cover art and song order were different. “Sunday’s Best” was replaced with a cover of the Nick Lowe penned “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” Interestingly, it is the Costello version that became most famous and has appeared in the Rolling Stone greatest songs of all time list.

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It wouldn’t be until 1993 that the Armed Forces got a significant upgrade in the CD format. Rykodisc in the US did a complete remaster of the Elvis Costello catalogue and released it with bonus material. In this case, the original UK cover was restored and both “Sunday’s Best” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” were included. The bonus material included the Live From Hollywood High EP plus a few extra tunes.

In 2002, Rhino and Edsel released another remastered Armed Forces on two CD’s. This version brought back differing covers for North America and Europe as well as separating the album proper from the bonus material. The extras also expanded the Live From Hollywood High material to include 9 songs from that event.

Finally, 2010 saw Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab do a half speed 180 gram vinyl remaster with the original UK cover and the full 13 songs including “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” I’m hoping that by 2019, we may get both the album and the complete Live From Hollywood High concert on vinyl… but that is wishful thinking.

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I wonder if Peter Parker still has his original copy on vinyl and if Aunt May ever became a fan.

Delivering a Musical Journey: Led Zeppelin – Coda (Deluxe Edition)

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As record reviews go, this isn’t going to walk the normal path. Let’s face it, you don’t want another edition of Zeppelin’s last studio album. Jimmy Page had remastered that a while back and done a fantastic job. What you really need to hear are the companion discs. In essence, listening to those has caused me to re-evaluate how I view that entire record.

In 1982 when Coda was first released, I wasn’t interested. John Bonham had died and it seemed to me that Coda was a record put together without a focal point. Led Zeppelin had always been about releasing a full and cohesive album with every song being a part of a larger picture, and songs taken from past sessions throughout their career didn’t fit the bill. In fact, I didn’t own a copy of Coda until I bought the Complete Studio Recordings (1993). The 93’ version of Coda was expanded to include “Baby Come On Home”, “Travelling Riverside Blues”, “White Summer/Black Mountain Side” and “Hey, Het What Can I Do” from the 1990 Box Set, but hadn’t included anything to make me reconsider my previous position. That was a long time ago, and it took the Jimmy Page Listening Event on July 21st to totally reconsider my point of view.

Perspective is a strange thing. My original analysis of Coda still holds up if you place it up against Zeppelin’s previous work. However, if you tweak your thinking a little and look at Coda as an original soundtrack to a comprehensive biography – boom – it becomes mind blowing. The companion discs shine such a light.

Side one alone is stunning, containing alternate takes on some familiar songs. “If It Keeps On Raining (When The Levee Breaks)” has Robert Plant’s vocals take on a lower more ominous tone full of echo resulting in a more haunting impression. “Bonzo’s Montreux” is slightly deconstructed with a more earthy touch that allows for John Bonham’s power house drums to flow and show genius. “Baby Please Come Home” sees the whole band in fine form with John Paul Jones giving extensive Hammond flourishes while Plant exercises his inner Otis Redding.

As the album continues, it’s this perspective that allows for the full comprehension of what Led Zeppelin accomplished in only ten short years. The band has been history for 35 years now but this version of Coda, as its name suggests, is the best final statement Jimmy Page can give. It balances a line between showing a legendary musical legacy and just being one hell of an entertaining ride.

On July 21st, while at the Masonic Temple in Toronto, Jimmy Page suggested we would be taken on a “musical journey.” Coda and its companion discs definitely deliver on that promise.

You can hear Jeff Woods entire Jimmy Page interview on Q107 tonight between 9 & 10 pm.