Tag Archives: vinyl

Classy

As Ron Burgundy would end his broadcasts, “Keep it classy,” and arguably that’s what Dolly Parton, whose exaggerated presence is such that it provides a whole extraordinarily level to that state of being, proved she lives in that manner as when, this past week, she gave a pass to her nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The first definition for “Hall of Fame” in the Cambridge Dictionary is:

“a building that contains images of famous people and interesting things that are connected with them:

You really know you’ve made it when they enshrine you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” [italic in the original]

Which seems rather unusual from the intuition that numbers Stephen Hawking, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin and Sacha Baron Cohen among its alums.

You might think that they would have had it “when they enshrine you in the UK Music Hall of Fame.” The problem there is that the UK Music Hall of Fame, founded in 2004, ceased to exist in 2008. However, it wasn’t a real building on the Thames or the Cam, but, rather, simply an awards show that was broadcast on Channel Four.

Perhaps the Brits know something that those in Cleveland don’t.

Continue reading Classy

Salmagundi: Random Bits

Driven

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is, in a word, grand.

One of the striking things about it (no, not that it has 4×4 capability that allows the vehicle, which has civilized comfort, to drive the Rubicon Trail, which is something that is simply unimaginable unless there is a certain level of desire for potential catastrophe that one has) is the fact that it has a McIntosh audio system with 19 custom-designed speakers (including a 10-inch / 25.4-cm subwoofer), 950 watts of power and a 17-channel amplifier.

All vehicle manufacturers, nowadays, have high-end audio companies providing equipment for their vehicles. Many of these audio systems come from Harman International. Brands like: AKG, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, and Revel. (And Samsung owns Harmon.)

But Jeep is now the only auto brand on the planet with McIntosh.

What is interesting about the deployment in the Grand Cherokee is that on the 10.25-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard you can see a simulated image of the classic McIntosh dial with the needle sweeping up and down across the face.

Because of that recent experience, while flipping through The Absolute Sound, looking at audio equipment I’ll never afford, I spotted an item titled “McIntosh Announces MC35000 Vacuum Tube Amplifier Mk II,” which is a contemporary execution of “McIntosh MC3500 Vacuum Tube Amplifiers that exclusively powered the sound system used at Woodstock.”

Yes, that Woodstock.

Some quick math puts it 52 years ago.

Who knew that vacuum tubes would still be used today? While it might be like a carburetor in a 2022 Jeep, apparently it isn’t.

Continue reading Salmagundi: Random Bits

Cars, Turntables & Physical Objects

Last week I had the opportunity to drive a 2022 Honda Civic. It was the top-of-the-line Touring trim. It is an all-new, 11th generation Civic. It has leather seats, Bose audio with 12-speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an array of sensors for safety, moonroof, 180-hp turbocharged engine. . . and a lot more stuff.

It is really an impressive vehicle, and being a Honda Civic, I would imagine that whoever buys one is likely to have it for some years in reliable operation. A value play.

This morning I read piece by Jacob Heilbrunn in The Absolute Sound about his quest for getting a custom reference stand for his turntable. He contacted the chief engineer at a Buffalo, New York-based company, Harmonic Resolution Systems, about getting the company’s VXR stand. As things went, Heilbrunn obtained a custom VXR Zero stand.

It cost $52,000.

The Civic has an MSRP of $28,300.

I suspected that I was missing something.

So I looked at the turntable that Heilbrunn needed this very specific stand to accommodate.

A TechDAS Air Force Zero turntable.

According to Hideaki Nishikawa, who designed the reference turntable, “The goal of the project was to develop a truly groundbreaking product, building on our expertise and knowledge and incorporating new ideas and insights. To achieve this goal, the project had to be cost-no-object. And it had to have whatever technologies would be best suited for sonic performance, no matter how much it would cost.”

The result is a unit that weighs 727.5 pounds and measures 35.5 x 26.6 x 13.2 inches.

According to a recent review in Stereophile, the TechDAS Air Force Zero has a base price (i.e., there are models above it in the TechDAS lineup) of $450,000.

Continue reading Cars, Turntables & Physical Objects

The Model 500 and the Physicality of Music

Western Electric invented the Model 500 telephone. That’s the telephone with a handset cradled on the top of the device and a rotary dial on the front. It is the telephone that is the pre-21st century dictionary image of what a “telephone” would look like.

It brought the Model 500 out in 1950. The classic desk phone.

But Western Electric also invented something that is more pertinent to this space: the method by which music could be recorded with a microphone, amplified, then used to create records. Columbia and Victor licensed the technology from Western Electric and began producing records with it in 1925.

And in time, the recorded disc, which became commonly known as “vinyl” became the dominant musical recording medium.

Then it suffered the fate of the Model 500.

However, unlike the Model 500, the vinyl disc is having a resurgence. Last week Sony Music announced that for the first time since 1989 it is going to begin pressing records again.

Continue reading The Model 500 and the Physicality of Music

Vinylology 101: How to buy Boston’s debut LP

Vinylology 101: Boston’s debut LP, 1976, Epic Records

When you listen to the celebrated first LP by Boston, it’s obvious that the band’s leader Tom Scholz was a studio geek and a major control freak, which anecdotal evidence seems to bear out.  The songs are perfectly constructed; not a note is out of place.  The guitars chime with crystalline precision, and the massive amount of echo and reverb that they were able to apply never comes off as contrived or artificial.  It’s a miracle that the music sounds as natural as it does, considering that the album also seems to be so obsessively crafted.  The album is chock-a-block full of timeless classics; it boasts “More Than A Feeling” and “Foreplay/Long Time”, as well as “Peace Of Mind” and “Hitch A Ride”.

Since Boston cared so obsessively about its sound, here are some tips to help you find the most ideal LP copy of Boston’s debut LP, so you can hear for yourself the album as it was originally intended to sound.

Continue reading Vinylology 101: How to buy Boston’s debut LP

Jack White in Detroit

Jack White was born in Detroit. He went to Cass Tech High School, which numbers among its alum people including Diana Ross, Alice Coltrane, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, and Regina Carter. Good company.

Although White moved to Nashville, once a Detroiter, always a Detroiter.

In 2001 White established Third Man Records. In Nashville.

But what may be more important is the establishment of Third Man Pressing. In Detroit.

Jack White’s company is producing LPs in Detroit. It is a 10,000-square foot factory that “officially” opened on February 25.

It is a production facility that presses hot vinyl between a set of dies into discs that has a capacity of 15,000 records a day.

Although “Detroit” is known for cars, in actuality, there are only two automotive plants in the city limits proper, the Jefferson North Plant where Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos are produced, and the Conner Avenue Plant, where the Dodge Viper is manufactured. Viper production ends this year. So there may be just one car plant.

Detroit. One car plant. Imagine.

(And the company that runs that plant, FCA US, is a part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is owned by Fiat, which is based in Italy. That car that Eminem drove in that Chrysler commercial a few years back? It was built in Sterling Heights, Michigan, not Detroit. Close though.)

Continue reading Jack White in Detroit

My Vinyl Solution #0005: Atlanta Rhythm Section – Champagne Jam

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Atlanta Rhythm Section - Champagne Jam
Atlanta Rhythm Section, Champagne Jam

How do you go from playing a gig for the President of the United States on the South Lawn of the White House to nothing in three years? Because if I’m reading the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s bio correctly, these hillbillies from Georgia were an even bigger bust than Jimmy Carter, managing to squander a top ten album that went platinum in just six months in 1978 to have all but disappeared by the time Ronald Reagan took over in Washington.

Champagne Jam is worthy of every bit of its sales success, as it’s perhaps the smoothest blend of southern rock and pop ever recorded. That ARS began careening into obscurity immediately after releasing it only makes sense in the way that a redneck lottery winner can find himself broke after just a few years of living the good life – and have nothing to show for it but a monster truck and a Jet Ski.

Putting this one on my turntable, the first thing I notice is that the sound is fantastic. Champagne Jam was recorded at what was perhaps the pinnacle of analog recording technique and you can certainly hear it. Whatever you do, avoid firing up Spotify to listen to this, because it will not sound good. I wouldn’t even dream of owning this album in a format other than vinyl, not any more than I would consider drinking beer out of a plastic bottle.

The sound here is so live and real that it’s hard not to want to listen to Champagne Jam just to admire the precision of the recording. It’s no wonder, as this is a band that had made its living as session players, and they were bona fide studio pros. The guitar and bass tones are out of this world, fat and punchy. The vocals have that high-in-the-mix quality that I associate with 80’s Top 40 music, like Madonna and Wham. And the drums! On this album they sound rounded and full, like you can actually hear the air moving.

While not every cut on the record is worthy of as much praise as its overall sonic qualities, there are plenty of standouts. “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” may not be a lyrical masterpiece, but anyone who can’t get behind the notion that the solution to all our problems is to get out and have a good time should probably be listening to a different band. The title track is as catchy as a bass fishing tournament, with some nice little drum, bass, guitar and keyboard solos that really show off the tightness of the group. A shame that we have to wait until the end of side one to hear it.

Side two is even stronger, opening with “Imaginary Lover,” the group’s big hit, which charted as high as seven. It’s a medium-tempo track that’s so perfectly calibrated to the Lite Beer From Miller era that it sounds like any number of pop crooners could have paid to dub in their vocals. “The Ballad of Lois Malone” borrows that same great blues riff that powers ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and AC/DC’s “Ride On.” The final two tracks, “The Great Escape” and “Evileen” provide some measure of understanding for why Pandora will inevitably spit out Steely Dan within the first few songs of a newly created ARS station.

But please, don’t go that route. Yeah, I know, finding some modern way to listen to ARS might be more convenient or even put a few pennies in the pockets of these guys, but no matter how bad I feel about their blowing it 30 years ago, that’s no reason to compromise the joy of dropping your stylus on this album.

Runout Groove: A record as records were meant to be. The medium is the message.

Atlanta Rhythm Section - Champagne Jam
Polydor PD-1-6134, 1978

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEmULpVgH5I&w=560&h=373]

Atlanta Rhythm Section: allmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

My Vinyl Solution #0004: Cannonball Adderley Sextet – Planet Earth

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Cannonball Adderley Sextet - Planet Earth
Cannonball Adderley Sextet, Planet Earth

So after fighting through not one, but two Asia albums in a row and peeking ahead at the next slab of vinyl on the shelf and realizing it’s a record that actually belongs to my wife, I have decided to throw the first curveball and grab an “A” record out of the jazz bin.

I have far fewer jazz albums than rock by a factor of maybe 10. But I grew up listening to jazz, because my dad is a huge jazz expert and has an amazing collection. So I know enough to be dangerous and I certainly have my favorites, which tend more towards the great albums from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, especially the stuff from the ’60s and, in the case of Miles, the ’70s.

I bought Planet Earth in college for not much money, during a confusing time where I was trying to listen to jazz on my own and not really liking it much because I hadn’t yet figured out the whole chronology and evolution of jazz, and couldn’t understand why when I liked, say, John Coltrane on A Love Supreme, I would get bored with some of his earlier, more traditional work. I think what attracted me to this record was as much the hippy dippy cover art as anything, other than a vague notion that “Cannonball” Adderley’s unique name resonated with me as “one of those guys my dad likes, so he has to be good.”

As I found out after bringing it home, as much as Planet Earth is a Cannonball Adderley Sextet album, four of the cuts are Yusef Lateef songs. (The other was written by Joe Zawinul, Adderley’s longtime piano player, and is literally tacked on to the end.) I immediately developed a liking for Lateef, one of those tenor saxophone players that I believe deserves far more respect than he gets outside of hardcore jazz circles, given how much of an influence he was on Coltrane’s later free jazz period. Lateef’s playing here sounds free enough to inspire, but without all the noise that can make listening to later, more atonal free jazz so difficult. He does play oboe on two tracks on Planet Earth, “Brother John,” a wild tribute to Coltrane (who was still very much alive when it was recorded), and “Syn-anthesia.” They are my two favorites on the album, because, well, how often do you hear anyone playing an oboe, let alone wailing on one?

Jazz is about improvisation, and live jazz is really where it’s at when it comes to developing an appreciation for the art form. It’s taken me years to grasp even the most basic ideas behind jazz, but this is one that even rock fans should be able to appreciate: “Live music is better bumper stickers should be issued!” These cuts are all live (save for the Zawinul song at the end) and full of energy and thus contribute to this being an outstanding collection.

Planet Earth is, like so many vintage jazz albums, a reissue of stuff designed to put cash in the record company’s pocket. Released on the “Riverside” label in 1969, roughly six years after the real Riverside Records went under, the album was actually a product of ABC Records, the music division of the TV network. The back cover liner notes, although interesting and written by Down Beat Editor Dan Morgenstern, conveniently don’t mention where any of these tracks appeared earlier. While my personal Cannonball discography is bereft of any other titles, likely sources include live albums released from the Sextet’s 1963 Japanese tour and a live album recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City a year earlier. While I tend to eschew these sorts of compilations when it comes to rock music, the jazz world is so seedy that they’re unavoidable. And I’m just not that much of a purist when it comes to my jazz collection anyway.

Runout Groove: It may be a dodgy reissue, and I may have paid just 50 cents for it, but a compilation of this quality that’s never been released on CD is the best kind of keeper.

Cannonball Adderley Sextet - Planet Earth
Riverside RS-3401, 1969

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoAtTi_u2u8

Cannonball Adderley: allmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Yusef Lateef: official websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini

Losing Touch With My Mind: Socks, Spacemen 3 and Iowa’s No Fault Divorce Law

I found some socks in my drawer that I didn’t recognize.

With clear mind, I knew that they weren’t mine. I also determined that they weren’t my wife’s that happened to find their way into my sock drawer. They looked familiar, but they weren’t her style. What would she need in a  pair of argyle socks when she didn’t even own a pair of khakis?

I think of socks as a utilitarian article of clothing, something that should relatively match in color the other aspects of the wardrobe, while not distracting from the ensemble through pattern or design.

So, whose fucking socks are these?

I’m happily married now, but there was a time that I wasn’t happily married, albeit to someone different. I know that every divorce is different, but those who have experienced it understand its toll. And part of that is your mind’s ability to block out moments of time in your life while still remembering that there are big gaps in your mind that are still accessible.

It’s unfair to deny yourself your own history, but it’s a defense mechanism that prevents you from ultimately remembering the outcome of that part of your past: the divorce. With a little bit more focus, I remembered how these curious pair of socks was left behind in a bedroom set that I moved with me after the divorce was final. I didn’t think about it at the time, I just threw them in a laundry basket while I removed the shelves from the highboy to make carrying that monstrosity much easier.

The walnut bedroom set was that of my grandmother, so I dutifully wrote it down on my list of things that I felt I was entitled to when we began the process of identifying property ownership. I also put down the musical instruments (except the longhorn bass I bought for her and the SWR amplifier), the memorabilia from various rock shows, my library desk and chair, and, of course, the entire remnants of our music collection. It was easier to identify “her” titles, but I found a bit of resistance when she tried to claim that those records that she actually purchased for me were actually hers since she paid for them.

I successfully pointed out the lunacy of such a claim, secretly worrying that she would be walking away with my rare copy of Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby–a record she most assuredly wouldn’t appreciate.

Thankfully, we compromised on all of this quickly. I was in no mood to communicate with her, let alone barter, and I understood how utterly ridiculous this would all look from the outside.

We would be arguing over records.

Months later, when the collection was secured and transported to my new home, I took time in making sure everything was in its right place. I alphabetized the collection, taking mental inventories of the various artists and putting their catalog in chronological order.

In some instances, it’s harder to do this, particularly if the artist was short-lived, but their posthumous catalog kept growing.

I found this out when getting to the Spacemen 3 section.

Spacemen 3 weren’t together all that long, releasing around a half-dozen records during their actual existence while watching their offerings increase after they broke up, thanks to the introduction of live recordings, demos, and unreleased material.

Should I put For All The Fucked Up Children Of This World before Sound Of Confusion since it features demo recordings from before those sessions, but was released well after the debut? Should I put my copy of Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To ahead of…

Wait a second.

Where was my copy of Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To?

I went through every title in my entire collection again to see if I had misfiled it. All of this must sound incredibly compulsive, but trust me, it is so much easier to find if you suddenly have an urge to hear the demo version of “Feel So Good” instead of the proper studio version. It’s right there, no waiting, no searching.

Several months later, my newly christened ex-wife called me in my new home one evening. I would typically let calls like these go directly to voice mail after discovering that we really didn’t need to communicate, except through lawyers, and that any attempt at rational conversation would just escalate into her screaming at me.

For some reason, I answered the call.

She was moving out of our old house, and that meant we’d need to sell it.

“I found an old Spacemen 3 record in the computer room,” she told me.

“I’ve been looking for that!” my voice blurted with obvious relief. “Can you send it to me?”

It was obvious to her how important this record must have been to me and this clearly gave her some additional power.

“It’s mine!” she shot back.

My head filled with rage as I understood completely what she was doing. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to quiz her on the history of Spacemen 3 (“What’s Sonic Boom’s real name?!”) and point out that she had no clue to who they were before meeting me.

“But I bought it for you,” she fired back, “and now I’m keeping it because I paid for it.”

There were miles between us during this phone call, but I could see her smile with delight as if she were right in front of me. She had me. She began to suggest that I had obtained all of the items I was entitled to. There would be no discussion of additional possessions that I failed to acquire when I moved out.

I could hear her laughing as I sputtered out excuses at how this had turned into a very immature dispute. “What could you possibly want from the 1985 demo sessions by the Spacemen 3?” I desperately asked.

“I’m fucking with you!” she offered after a good chuckle. “I’ll put them in the mail on Monday.”

Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To sits next to the other titles in my Spacemen 3 collection today, a rare title where the incidents around the record are more notable than the music contained within it. It may not be the case for other listeners, but for me, the act of possessing it far outweighs the performance. I’d heard these songs before, and in most cases, much better versions. But if you’re a completist, that’s beside the point.

The original intent of the record was to fill in the gaps, but it turned into a verifiable battle of the sexes. A footnote to a failed marriage as recalled by a stray pair of argyle socks found in my drawer this morning.

My Vinyl Solution #0003: Asia – Alpha

My Vinyl Solution is simple: I’m listening to my records. As my collection has grown, I’ve realized that I’ve been spending too much time amassing lps, to the point that I have no idea of what I even own. Hence, this column.

Asia - Alpha

When we last left off, I was saying that the Asia album you want is the one with “Heat of the Moment” on it. Well, this is not that album. But from about the first 15 seconds of Alpha, I’m thinking this one might just be a keeper.

The opening track is a fast-tempo, synth-driven rocker, “Don’t Cry,” that sounds so familiar I must have heard it a million times on the radio when I was a kid. Or maybe it just sounds enough like REO Speedwagon that I think I’ve heard it. John Wetton could win a Kevin Cronin sound-alike contest in a heartbeat, I think. This is not a good song, really, but it hints at being something I might want to listen to again.

The next track, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” opens with a synth piano riff that’s similarly cut from the Top 40-friendly, REO ballad playbook. This is not good music in any way, shape or form, and it’s so thin and weak sounding from a production standpoint that I wonder what the hell the guys recording this album were thinking. There’s just no depth to the sound and very little bass.

Thankfully, this album seems to move pretty quickly. Indeed, for a group of guys hailing from prog rock bands, it’s pretty amazing that six of the 10 cuts on this lp clock in under the magic four-minute mark. Clearly they were trying to make pop music here.

The third track on the “alpha” side of Alpha, “Never In A Million Years” at least has some nice guitar playing on it, and it’s this – Steve Howe’s contribution – that makes me like this record better than Astra.

The next track still hasn’t solved my problems with the production any, but “My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want)” does have a nice chorus and for some reason, it’s getting me to thinking about the similarities between Asia and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Both were “supergroups” composed of guys who were really successful in other bands. Neither ever lived up to their promise. But the big difference between CSN and Asia is that by the time Asia showed up on the scene, the whole supergroup thing had already been played out. CSN had lost their way and other assemblages of star power had fizzled, like Blind Faith and Bad Company. I don’t know much about the history of Asia, nor do I really care, because it just seems like this was a bad idea from the start. I suppose as far as bad ideas of the early 1980’s go, there were far worse ones, like Reaganomics and the Cadillac Cimarron, but I digress.

“The Heat Goes On” is the rocking-est song on the first side of the album, and again, it’s Steve Howe who really shines amidst this lot of really mediocre songs. But I can’t really tell if it’s the songs or the recording, because I can’t really hear anything other than a blast of synthesized noise, even while I sit and intently listen. Picking out the instruments is damn near impossible, and there’s absolutely no sound stage to this record. I may as well be listening to it on a clock radio, rather than my stereo.

The “Beta” side opens with “Eye to Eye,” which is probably the best track on the album. It’s a legitimate hard rock song, and Wetton actually sounds kind of angry here. There’s a proggy sort of keyboard part with a change in tempo that’s backed up against a cheesy Beach Boys-style chorus, but it all kind of works. I really like this song, and it’s the first track that I’m really wishing was actually recorded well.

But that’s the thing, all of this album just sounds like crap. Checking out the liner notes while listening to the slow ballad, “The Last to Know,” I see that the album was recorded at Le Studio in Quebec, on two 24-track tape machines (Two? Really? Who in the hell needs 48 tracks?), and then mixed digitally. The result is like trying to stuff 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. And a really bad bag, at that.

Digital gets a bad rap among audiophile types (yes, I’m sort of one), but the more I delve into this subject, I realize that it’s not digital itself that sucks but how digital recording and playback are poorly used and implemented that’s the problem. Clearly this is an example of an album that, because of being digitally mixed, sounds bad, even on an analog playback system. I’m not listening to a CD, which would probably just compound the problems with the compressed and brittle sound, but a good old-fashioned record. And it still sucks.

“The Last to Know,” turns out to be a great epic track, which grows into something that I wish I would have slow danced to in middle school. The next song, “True Colors,” however, just tries too hard and winds up sounding like a bad soundtrack cut from movie about an amateur sports team. “Midnight Sun” might as well be album filler, a slowish song about who the hell knows what, but at least Howe gets a solo on it.

I’m really tired of listening by the time the album closes with “Open Your Eyes,” the only truly long song on the album, at 6:26. But it’s not the big delicious prog rock mess it should be. It’s just a bad pop song with an electric piano and guitar “interlude” that doesn’t belong – but does waste a good minute of your life.

Runout Groove: There’s a pair of 24-track master tapes out there begging to be remixed in analog with more Steve Howe. I’ll keep this around for comparison, just in case that ever happens.

Geffen GHS 4008, 1983

Asia: official reunion websiteallmusic.comWikipediaAmazon
Original photos copyright 2012 Jeff Sabatini