Albums Hip Hop

Ultramagnetic MCs – Critical Beatdown (FFRR 828137.1) (1988)

This consistently good record isn’t quite as novel as generally more lauded “Golden Age of Hip Hop” Lps by De La Soul, PE, Pete Rock, Gang Starr, etc. It might be a sign of my age that I tend these days not to listen to any Hip Hop recorded after ’97 (the early Rawkus Records stuff being my cut-off point)–or, more likely, that Hip Hop, like rock & roll, psychedelia, boogie-woogie, free jazz and other popular music sub-genres, had a certain shelf-life, which expired around that time. Discuss.

Another excellent find in Hythe, this time at the bootfair on the green

"Sixeventies" Rock Albums

Little Feat – Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974) and Sailin’ Shoes (1972)

It can only bad luck that prevented Little Feat from becoming massive selling in the early/mid 70s, such is the embarrassment of rich playing and writing on these two albums of surreal boogie and intelligent party music. I’d been warned off the band after getting a deluxe CD reissue of the live Waiting For Columbus a decade ago–finding it chocka of dreary overplaying and parched humor, I gave it to a friend who’s a fan. It was only the £1 price tag at a boot fair at the Hythe Cricket Club that convinced me to invest in this pair, produced before they succumbed to competence and cocaine–I’m glad I did, they’re absolutely great. 

Albums Classic Rock Folk

Bob Dylan – New Morning (1970)

“Features The Hit Single ‘If Not For You’”, so says the gold sticker of the single which didn’t chart anywhere apart from the Netherlands, though the album itself went to No. 1 in the UK and was Top 10 in America.

I’m no Dylanologist, but even I know that our lives hang in the balance of the smallest gestures. Had I not ventured, on a whim, into Chaser’s Wine Bar to crash a University of Exeter Gilbert & Sullivan Society party, I would likely have never met my future wife, never moved back to England, never had the children I do and, more’s the point, not be writing about a seersucker-suited Bob Dylan album to my legions of Thrifty Vinyl aficionados.

And so it is with New Morning, a minor release in the Dylan canon, but a keystone which has largely, though not completely, defined the man’s career from 1970 on. Until this point, Dylan had been on the offensive. Of course, I mean that in both senses: he aggressively asserted his art, pissing people off in the process. This is true of all his 60s releases; even his missteps, the mild Nashville Skyline (1969) and the vindictive Self Portrait (1970), were the acts of a man of intent. But it isn’t so here, no, on the still-charming New Morning (released just a few months after Self P) he’s just another romantic singer-songwriter in retreat and, in my mind at least, the fact that he’s largely relegated behind the piano confirms this view. There’s some obvious stuff on the record (the title track, for a start) and the blues songs aren’t surreal enough, but the side closers, “If Dogs Run Free” and “Father of Night”, are and confirm he’s still got some offhand magic left. It is the desire to somehow capture off-handedness which, as I said, defined Bob’s game plan from hereon out.

“I once said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing heavily,” ran Greil Marcus’ famous dismissal of Self Portrait. “But not an album of Dylan breathing softly.” I would argue that nothing so spiteful could be accused of soft breathing; rather, it is New Morning, in which the gently exhaling Dylan, with a small gesture, points the way he had to go with modest, yet pivotal purpose.

Albums Uncategorized

Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (PCSD 105) (1988)

One of a small handful of albums (e.g. Neu!’s first) that sounded like nothing else when first issued. Having seen them open up for Elvis Costello on the Imperial Bedroom tour in their earlier, pedestrian New-Wavy guise, I was uninterested in Talk Talk until English friends opened my eyes to their first post-pop Lp. Spirit of Eden has little to do with New Wave and more to do with In A Silent Way and Tago Mago whose cut ‘n’ paste improvisation production techniques were appropriated to make an atmospheric haunting masterpiece.

EDIT: I should mention that the vinyl issue of Spirit is somewhat less than satisfactory for two reasons: first, though my copy is relatively clean, any surface noise is a problem given the hushed nature of many the record’s passages and second, the pressing is curious in that, despite clocking in at over 40 minutes, there is a huge run out groove. Now, my limited understanding of the mechanics of record pressing leads me to believe that, due to so-called “groove cramming” there is a degradation of sound as the needle nears the center label; it’s possible then that to avoid this problem for their gossamer creation, the album was pressed with the extra space surrounding the label resulting in much tighter banding. So copies of the album which received any amount of play suffered correspondingly. As a result, I usually listen my CD copy. [There are audible gasps and calls of “You Bounder!” and “You Cad!” from the Thrifty Vinyl peanut gallery.]

Both Spirit and its like-sounding follow-up Laughing Stock have recently been re-issued on vinyl–perhaps this problem has been corrected.

Cool looking label, but dig the run-out groove more appropriate to a 5 minute 12″ single.

Albums Soul Wimpy Ass 70s Folk Rock

Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (CBS 63346) (1967)

A Winchester bootfair record that had been on “the list” since I first heard it a few years ago at friend’s late-night listening session. Compellingly (and compulsively?) unorthodox rhythmically, Eli is more Off-Broadway than off-its-head, betraying few hallmarks of its “Summer of Love” vintage (apart from an adventurous spirit) and more of the pop-soul vibe of a few years hence. Suffice to say, Nyro’s songwriting, vocal, arranging and instrumental talent is as prodigious as it is unique. An influence on a generation of quirky female singer-songwriters (and Todd R.) by effectively defining left-field in this context, a little Laura goes a long way, her idiosyncratic vox turning a bit shrill and precious at times. Still, this wilful, wonderfully alive, red wine record is perfect if you’re in the right mood. Which is right now.

Albums Beatles Related

Paul McCartney – McCartney (Apple PCS 7102) (1970)


In a move seen to have little or no consequence, local music geek Norman Eclaire has purchased McCartney, former Beatle Paul McCartney’s  first solo album, for a third time, this one at the Hythe Demelza House charity shop for one pound. Ironically, Eclaire first bought the Lp at a thrift store in his native Ohio sometime during the mid to late 1970s. “I used to practice drums along with the record for hours,” Eclaire recalled fondly. “It was pretty scratchy and  ‘Kreen-Akrore’ had some white gunk spilled on it or something so it sounded like white noise for the last minute. I’m not sure what ever happened to that copy.”

“Paul played all the instruments on McCartney and recorded it himself at home on a Studer 4-Track, making it a true solo album,” he added, showing the pitiless and absurd attention to trivial pop music detail which has served only to alienate him from humanity, apart from those who share his ultimately meaningless and practically useless obsession.

What makes the recent acquisition even more inane is the fact that the friendless collector currently owns a mint 1992 Japanese, 24k gold-plated DCC compact disc re-issue, remastered by no less than Steve Hoffman.

“There’s just something about size and feel of vinyl, not to mention the warmth of the sound,” Eclaire enthused, as the tiny flicker of light which danced behind his cold, dead eyes slowly extinguished itself. “I like the cosy feeling of the deliberately ramshackle performances and lo-fi production, especially on ‘Every Night’ and ‘Momma Miss America.'”

Others were less impressed with the recent buy. Greg Posnac, another joyless nerd, dismissed it with the faintest of praises: “Big whoop, it’s a VG+ condition British first press McCartney. Show me an initial promo copy of the album with the notorious interview sheet included and I might be impressed. And, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty patchy record, apart from the glorious ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and even that would have sounded better as an Abbey Road production.”

Eclaire was also pathetically keen to share an (actually very good) oversized, hard-back first edition with dust jacket of Linda’s Pictures, which he picked up at a village hall tabletop sale while on holiday last summer in Cornwall.

Albums Country AND Western

Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon (RCA PL 12317) (1977) and Waylon & Willie (RCA AFL1-2686) (1978)

The painting on the right can also be purchased as a limited edition plate suitable for wall-mounting and Greek weddings.

These two Chip Moman produced, songwriting showcase records, picked up at a temporary-looking store-front junk shop in Rye, loom large in my childhood. His long-haired, marijuana indulging redneck ways were philosophically influential in my neck of the woods. I even saw Waylon in concert at a small arena gig in Kentucky in 1980–fabulous show–with people who had an Ol’ Waylon bumper stick plastered on their bathroom mirror.Waylon’s probably best known in this country for his Dukes of Hazzard theme, but he only got that gig because of albums like this. Famously, Jennings was also Buddy Holly’s airplane-avoiding bass player, so his credentials stretch back quite a ways before he (and Willie Nelson and Tompall Glasser) hit on their “outlaw” wheeze, whereby they could remain country artists while performing Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac songs. The sound here is clean with only the electric guitars slightly phased, “Eat shit”-style bass (e.g. 2/4 time notes alternating on the root and lower fifth) abounds. Jennings, in fact, is no great shakes as a singer, but his presence sells the songs and blends well Willie’s downhome nasal croon. Of course, at this point in history it’s hard to see any musical or philosophical difference between the “outlaw” country music of Jennings, et. al. and the slightly defensive/God-fearing/footloose/country singer hero who resignedly celebrated his flaws of  generations previous, but back in the day, the choice of covers, the length of one’s hair and the amount of dope one smoked were important points of cultural division. By the 80s and 90s, the “outlaw” movement and its absorption of pop and rock moves had hardened into pose; the “New Traditionalist” movement sought redress this.Favorite line: “Take back the weed/take back the cocaine, baby/I can get off on you.”


Ennio Morricone

Two soundtrack albums from the master of spaghetti western music, on RCA and EMI respectively. The first record needs little introduction, assuming you have similarly fond memories of watching these films as a kid. “This Is..” features highlights from other classics like The Good, the Bad and The Ugly and Death Rides A Horse, but opens each side somewhat jarringly with the main theme from Chi Mai, and the funky groove of  Come Maddalena. Still, beggars can’t be choosers.

Albums Compilations Dance

Rare Grooves

One last dance collection from 1987, this one totally focused on looking over its shoulder to the recent past for inspiration. Released on the little known Jam Today label, thankfully featuring just three tracks per side, and promising ‘all tracks in original and untouched form – ABSOLUTELY NO REMIXES OR EDITS’ this is obviously meant to appeal to the cash-strapped purist who like his/her rare grooves untarnished by contemporaneous production techniques. So no bolstering with drum machines, no stuttering samples or carelessly applied James Brown grunts here.

The time period covered is 1979-1982, and the style is instrumental disco, with Atmosfear’s “Dancing In Outer Space” a strong opening track; its uptempo groove laced with pleasingly kitsch Moog frills. Also from ’79, Stop’s “Iauwata” combines energetic percussion with cocktail piano vamps – you can hear Shakatak coming around the corner – whilst Powerline’s “Double Journey” from the following year strips the format back with space-inducing lashes of dub-echo and some furiously tight slap-bass noodling.

But then when you think you have this compilation pegged, along comes the proto-electro vocoder funk of “Inside You” by Contact-U, and finishing with a mellow funk jam from little-known Brit saxophonist Dave Chambers and his ensemble.

To be honest, most of this stuff sounds suspiciously like groovy elevator music, rather than smokin’ hot dancefloor rarities, but perhaps that is actually part of this collection’s curious appeal today.

Albums Compilations Dance

Dance Mania – Full Length 12″ Extended Or Remixed Versions

Yet another dance collection from 1987, but by contrast with the previous post, Needle Records’ decision to cram ten full-length mixes onto a single platter (not an uncommon practice back then) sacrifices sound quality in the name of ‘value for money’. It’s probably short-sighted sales tactics like this that allowed CD to dominate the market so quickly.

Content-wise, this collection keeps one eye firmly on classic funk and disco sounds that evoke the feeling of previous eras, reminding us that, despite the wave of new House and Hip Hop sounds crossing the Atlantic, there was still a big appetite for ‘rare grooves’ in the UK, typified by the subtly tweaked ‘club mix’ of Maceo & The Macks’ 1974 classic “Cross The Tracks”, and the ‘House Mix’ of Philly disco number “Let No Man Put Asunder” by First Choice.

Most contemporaneous styles are represented, with the harder-edged House grooves of T-Coy  and House Master Boys, mellow rappin’ and go-go funk  from Kool Chip and Black Britain respectively, both sides finishing with syrupy, anodyne eighties soul from Lanier & Co and 52nd Street. A somewhat confusing blend, but as the sleeve notes say “Mash It Up!”