Friday, April 19, 2019

RSD 2019: Bushwick Bound

As my wise friend Alex Smith pointed out last year in Flaming Pablum, his amusing and erudite blog, for the serious music fan, "EVERY DAY is Record Store Day" Or at least it has the potential to be. I know I don't need much of an excuse to visit a music emporium, it's just a matter of finding the time. That said, I do like to hit the streets on this day of worldwide devotion to purchasing music in its physical form, if only to see what other people are doing.

This year, the date of RSD converged not only with a free Saturday, but comes just a few weeks after the opening of a new store in Bushwick, the Brooklyn Record Exchange. I would have been interested in visiting BRE even if hadn’t come with the fine pedigree of Co-Op 87, a fine store in Greenpoint, whose owner Ben Steidl collaborated with the indie label Mexican Summer to make the new spot happen. Also, BRE is located in the same building as Elsewhere, a performance venue I’ve been meaning to get to for some time. Even if I wasn’t going to stay for a show, at least I would lay eyes on the site. 

Another part of my strategy on RSD is to avoid crowds, which I usually do by steering clear of stores that stock the “exclusives” that clog up the pressing plants and later flood eBay with overpriced fetish objects of varying musical interest. Last year, there were more exclusives of interest so I was happy to find a couple at late, lamented Iris in Jersey City. This year, the only thing I was really interested in was Jeff Tweedy's Warmer, a companion to his wonderful 2018 album, Warm. I have a feeling I'll be able to hear it some other way in the near future. Like Iris, BRE opened at noon but would be offering zero exclusives, greatly reducing my chance of encountering throngs of fair-weather vinyl geeks. 
Brooklyn Record Exchange is big, beautiful and perfect for browsing.
My plan worked perfectly. I got to BRE about a half-hour after they opened and ascended the one flight of stairs to find their gorgeous, light-filled space occupied by only a few people - and tons of records along with a shelf or two of videos on DVD, Blu-Ray and VHS. They also had a teeny selection of books and vintage magazines that looked highly curated. After taking in the full layout, I made a beeline for the New Arrivals section, which is where I always go first, especially when I don’t have anything specific in mind. I like the way New Arrivals mixes the genres, starting up an eclectic shuffle play in my mind as I flip through the discs. 

Worth $1.99 a few years ago, it now goes for $30.

My heart sank a little as nearly everything in BRE’s New Arrivals section was $20 or more, with a few at $15 or so. If this was representative of their stock, my budget was going to be put to the test. A copy of The Mack, Willie Hutch's classic Blaxploitation soundtrack, was a perfect illustration of the revaluing of vinyl that's happened over the last decade or so. Over a sticker from Saint Mark's Sounds pricing it at $1.99 there was a new sticker: $30.00. There was also a raft of Iggy Pop/Stooges bootlegs in there, which amused both me and the guy flipping to my right. I said, “Wow, somebody just dumped their whole collection!” “I know,” he said, “It’s wild!” He also agreed when I pointed out that while much of that material is phenomenal, a lot of it has been released many times over so you have to be careful not to buy two of the same concert or studio session. I also spotted a copy of a legit Iggy album, 1979's New Values, which was priced at $20 - I wonder how much my autographed copy would go for? I'm looking forward to revisiting the album for a 40th anniversary write-up for Rock & Roll Globe - coming soon!

The only potential selection I pulled out of New Arrivals was something called The Ornette Coleman Songbook by Jocques & Le Scott on the Theater of the Evolving Arts label. Maybe this one should have evolved a little more as it turned out to be sort of a spoken word album with sparse musical accompaniment, very loosely interpreting some of Coleman's greatest compositions. Not for me - thank goodness for preview turntables! BRE has two of those, by the way, and they're brand new with excellent headphones, always an asset to a store.

Another sign of a good store is staff that's willing to help without judgement, which I observed in action when another shopper approached the counter, holding two albums from the New Arrivals section. One was dubstep classic Untrue by Burial and the other was Halcyon Digest by the long-running indie rock band Deerhunter. I almost couldn't believe my eyes and ears when he held the records high and asked the employee which one he should get. "Yeah, I've literally heard nothing from either of these albums and I'm not sure which one I would like better. Got any advice?" There was a beautiful madness to this approach as sounds from either album are easily accessible on YouTube, Spotify, etc. There was also a turntable mere feet away, so he could've checked them out for himself. Without hesitation, the man from BRE  helped him make up his mind by enquiring about his tastes and giving concise and knowledgeable descriptions of both records. Even though this exchange was incredibly anachronistic, it's also one reason people go to a retailer in the first place.

Suddenly remembered there WAS something specific I was looking for, namely Illusion, the second album by Renaissance, which was also the last one to feature Jim McCarty and Keith Relf of The Yardbirds. I know I could probably find it online, but for now I'm enjoying the chase while I'm still getting to know the first album. No dice at BRE, so I started working my way around the room, going genre by genre, mainly looking in the miscellaneous sections of each letter of the alphabet. I started striking gold in the funk/soul area and pulled out a bunch of records to preview. Fortunately, they were all priced around $5, quelling my earlier fears. I pulled out the one and only album by South Shore Commission since I have a 45 of the "Disco Mix" of their hit Free Man. It's already on Spotify so I slid it back into the rack - but it is a more than solid collection of 70's disco. One I had I high hopes for that didn't make the cut was Deadeye Dick, the 1978 follow-up to CJ & Co.'s killer Devil's Gun album. Like the first, Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore were heavily involved with every aspect from writing to producing, but the magic seemed to have departed, with tempos that were too fast and gimmicky attempts to reproduce their earlier success.

Putting Deadeye Dick back in the reject bin, something another shopper had stuck in there caught my eye. The album cover featured an urban landscape akin to some of my photos (check me out on Instagram) and the title was Surge, a 1977 album by the New York Jazz Quartet. Intrigued, I flipped it over and saw Frank Wess's name, which immediately made my hopes quickly ascend. Ever since I fell in love with Johnny Hartman's version of Jobim's Wave, I've been a huge fan of Wess, especially his flute playing. He's kind of a perpetual underdog as far as the canon goes, which means he has a lot of stuff that's out of print, like Flute Juice, a fantastic 1981 album I picked up last year. The NYJQ album also featured bassist George Mraz and the other players were pianist Roland Hannah, who founded the group, and drummer Richard Pratt. The previews did not steer me wrong - it's an excellent record, with sparkling interplay and two great Wess compositions. The recording is also out of this world, with a sharp, fizzing presence that put the group right in my living room.

The next album I checked was almost surefire: Lee Dorsey's Night People, his last album from 1978. I already knew the almost delicately funky title track and Soul Mine, his canny update of Working In The Coal Mine. All the wax I saw at BRE looked clean so this wasn't so much a condition check but just a chance to confirm my suspicion that with Allen Toussaint behind the boards the rest of the album was at least good. Confirmed! Even though Toussaint occasionally faltered in the 70's, sinking into sappiness, Dorsey always seemed to bring out his best. Further listening has proved Night People to be a great album, a fitting capper to the two-decade career of a unique singer.

Next up was a wild card, something from 1976 called Street People, "a Suite" by The Bob Crewe Generation. I was surprised to see it was on Elektra, as I had known Crewe's disco/funk period from the Hollywood Hot album on 20th Century Records - and Elektra wasn't exactly known for making noise at Studio 54. Turns out Street People grew out of a single by the same name, which came out earlier that year on 20th Century. Whatever the reason for the label switch, Elektra's budget assured that Crewe didn't stint on this orchestral disco album that tells the story of a small town boy who comes to the big city and becomes a target for all kinds of desires. Much of it is mixed by Tom Moulton and the first side goes down so easy that, before I knew it, a BRE employee was tapping me on the shoulder and asking me to free up the turntable for someone else! In the end, while the album does falter a little on Side Two, I can imagine dropping a song like Menage A Trois or the title track at a party and watching people dance like crazy.

Called out of my dance floor reverie, I remembered one other thing I was looking for: Stretch or any of the Scott Walker albums from his "wilderness years." They're going for wildly inflated prices on eBay so I'm hoping to stumble on one here or there. BRE didn't have any of those, but they did have mint condition copies of Tilt and The Drift, going for about $60 each. I picked them up, just to feel the heft of Walker's achievement. Then I put them back and burned my way through BRE's well-stocked Soundtracks section. While I didn't buy the beautiful copy of Route 66 Theme and Other Great TV Themes by Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra, it did remind me of this terrific album, which I have on cassette and look forward to revisiting on Spotify

I cruised through their reggae section, once again reminding myself of the one regret I have in life: that I didn't buy two copies of every Jamaican 12" I could find back in the 70's and 80's. With many of them going for $12 or more, it's a return on investment any hedge fund guru would respect. I found a couple of things to follow up on, mainly Horace Andy and Leroy Sibbles, but nothing that wasn't available to stream.
My three purchases!
I was starting to feel the call of java so I paid for my three albums and headed out, setting the controls for AP Café, which turned out to be a fine coffee destination indeed. Brooklyn Record Exchange has been officially added my mental list of stores to put in rotation and, while it is pretty far on the L train, I could see combining it with a trip to Superior Elevation, another great store. Or maybe the move is to catch a show at Elsewhere and arrive a little early to do some digging. I'm putting Wand's July 5th gig on my calendar - they're playing the Rooftop, which should be a blast!

Bonus Beats
Vintage Vinyl, Fords, NJ - Large? Yes. Legendary? Not so much.

The day after RSD, I found myself on the Rutgers campus (my son was in a Smash Melee tournament - parenting!) so I dialed up nearby stores and ended up at Vintage Vinyl in nearby Fords. It describes itself as "NJ's Legendary Independent Record Store Since 1979," which got me excited. While it is definitely distinguished by its size (massive) I would also say it's a few notches below legendary as a shopping experience. One thing I didn't really appreciate was the sticker on every the sleeve protector of every used record that said something like, "This is near mint. You may inspect at the front counter only." So, no preview turntable, obviously - and they didn't even want to you to look at the record or inner sleeve without adult supervision. One of the perils of their size, I suppose. In the end I almost bought the debut album by The Silkie, a fascinating bit of Liverpool folk-rock, which has The Beatles themselves helping out on a great cover of You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. But at $20 and without a way to try before buying, I slid it back into the rack.

Rare live Scott Walker

Before I was called away by my son who needed a quick pizza infusion, I took a quick look for some Scott Walker and struck gold in the CD's, finding a copy of Live On Air 1968, a fascinating collection of audio from the two pilot episodes of his never-aired BBC-TV show. While the sound is a little rough, it's simply astonishing to hear how incredible his voice sounds live, an endlessly rich baritone that he wielded with complete control over its every nuance. It's also fun to hear his intros, such as when he says: "I'm very pleased to be able to have a gentleman with me tonight that produces all my records, Mr. Johnny Franz. John and I are both sort of musically frustrated people mainly because he's an A&R man at Phillips and he never gets to play piano anymore, and that used to be his living, you see. And I'm extremely lazy so I never work (chuckle). So, it's very frustrating, as you can imagine. On certain nights I go over to his place and we take it out on his poor wife - and it sounds something like this." Then he launches into an immaculate version of I'll Be Around, the Sinatra standard, with sublime piano accompaniment from Franz. Worth the price of admission - and a trip to Vintage Vinyl. 

How has your shopping been going, either on RSD or otherwise?

You may also enjoy:
#RSD2018: Iris Blooms In Jersey City
Vinyl And Grit: RSD 16
Everybody, Get In Line: RSD 2015
RSD 2014
A Bronx Cheer For RSD

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