Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Old Records

I just did something I haven't done for too long: bought some records - meaning vinyl. Not that it's been months and months but it's been a while. Access to used vinyl around these parts has been more limited ever since Dynamite Records closed shop last summer (about which I blogged at the time). There are other shops in the Pioneer Valley but nothing else right in downtown Northampton that has quite the standing selection that Dynamite always had. And for a transportationally challenged guy like me (read: I don't drive a car) that's a big bummer.

Another used music shop is downtown, Turn It Up, but their vinyl collection has never quite had the depth to keep me sifting through the shelves on a regular basis - they've always specialized in CD's with LP's as a sidebar. It does seem though, that with Dynamite gone they've been making more space for records in the very crowded store. I still find their selection to be more miss than hit (and always suspect that they weed out most of the good stuff for themselves before they put anything out for general consumption) but on my recent trip I scored more than the usual array of good finds, coming home with four records to add to my collection.

Of course, shopping for used records always involves some complicated decisions about what counts as a worthy purchase. The desirability of the music as music rests alongside considerations of cost and of the condition of the record (both the disc itself and its cover material). When I buy used vinyl I find myself buying things I'd never buy on CD but that I find have a certain charm in the vinyl format, and that I'm willing to bring home if the price is right. In this case, all four of the albums I bought cost a mere $2 each, and all were in decent condition (covers a bit worn in a couple cases but the records themselves in good playable shape, with the expected cracks and pops here and there that vinyl fans believe to "add character").

So what'd I buy? Here's the rundown:

Journey, Infinity. An ironic purchase in light of my last post, Journey's first album featuring singer Steve Perry. First side is pretty fine, lots of short catchy songs strung together. Second side has hit "Wheel in the Sky" and then falls into less scintillating territory, almost prog-like at times.

Bonnie Raitt, Give It Up. Her debut album from the early 1970s. I've always meant to give her a closer listen so finally made the plunge. A nice album, bluesy and mostly acoustic but with great horn accompaniment on several cuts. Almost has a Little Feat kind of vibe at times which is okay by me.

Foghat, Fool for the City. This was my find of the day. I've been looking for a good copy of this for a while, as a supplement to their great Live which I've owned since I was a kid. After one listen, I like it but Live remains my go-to album, forty minutes of unrelenting rock. (I could write a whole other post on my fondness for live hard rock albums from the 1970s, and maybe I will some time).

Chic, Risque. I haven't listened to this one yet, but it's the album that contained the absolutely classic "Good Times," and even though I already own that song on a greatest hits collection, I'm eager to hear it in the context of the original full length LP.

Having begun to catalog my music collection a few years ago, I can say with ridiculous accuracy that these purchases bring my vinyl collection up to 992. I don't know why I care but I'm looking forward to breaking 1000 before summer's over.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm a little slower on the uptake than usual now that it's summer, but having watched the season finale of Glee last week, I was left wondering: what the hell is up with the Journey revival that's been going on in recent years?

When the makers of The Sopranos decided to end the series in the midst of "Don't Stop Believin'," you couldn't miss the irony, but at the same time Journey was clearly used because of how much the band stands so powerfully for a certain moment in time, and also for how they are an ultimate object of derision for hipster music snobs (which David Chase and co. clearly were - and so am I, but more on that below). It was like they were saying, this is Tony's idea of a great song, but we know it's a giant ball of cheese, and the fact that Tony would hear this as a song about faith is a sign that he in fact has no future to speak of.

But when the same song appeared as one of the big hits from the first half of the first season of Glee, that irony was more or less gone. Or maybe not gone, but seriously transfigured. Yes, Glee is campy as all get out, but it's also got a strong nugget of sentimental sincerity lurking not so far beneath its glittery surface. And that mix of sincerity and camp that drives the show is what makes the Journey repertoire so perfect for its singers to sing - thus the Glee season finale featured a long, protracted medley/mash-up of Journey songs, designed to let Lea Michele flaunt her high notes for all they were worth, like Steve Perry in drag. Journey was a schlock band comprised of a bunch of serious musos, guys who could play the hell out of their instruments - and often did - but that chose very self-consciously to play to the tastes of the top 40 audience. They perfected the power ballad and created songs with lots of aural drama. Whether their music had any "real" emotion in is harder to be definitive about but in their peak years (up to the Escape album, which has "Don't Stop Believin'") they sure knew how to go for the emotional jugular.

Now, lest I let my snobbery get the best of me, I'll admit that back when the band was creating most of its biggest hits I was smack dab in the midst of its target audience, and I bought it. I only own two Journey albums - the live Captured and of course, Escape - but I played the hell out of them when I was a kid and a lot of the songs are still pretty well fresh in my mind. And with all the Journey that's been in the air in recent years, I've been moved to go back to those albums and remind myself of what's there. And it ain't all bad. I won't wax on much more about the good and the bad of old Journey, but I will state my strong affinity for one of their songs that has largely been overlooked in the current revival.

"Stone in Love" is the second song on Escape and it probably stands as my favorite song by the band. It's a good, straight, hard rocking tune - not a power ballad - but it does have a twist, in the form of an instrumental coda that ranks with the best of another melodic hard rock band of the time, Boston. As a guitarist, Neal Schon had a tendency to overplay at times but here he creates a strong melody and builds a solo around it in the song's final minute that preserves its integrity but takes enough liberties to make things interesting and indeed, push them to the next level. For the last year or so I've been playing it often - it's usually the only song I play from the album - and I always get a rush from playing along with it on my guitar.