Friday, October 13, 2017

In out, in out.....


I was planning to write this post last weekend but then the weather intervened. It was a glorious day last Sunday - sunshine and an almost complete lack of wind lent the day a wonderfully serenity. Just had to get outside and enjoy it. We’ve had plenty of calm days so far this month and I seem to remember a similar pattern last year. September has always been my favourite month, but it seems October maybe becoming the new September.

I’ve written about the certain serenity that September brings before, and I think then I featured Johnnie Taylor’s song It’s September. What’s that in the picture? It’s a Johnnie Taylor album. But what is it doing next to a Ruby Turner album?

Fifteen years apart in release date but they do have some things in common: (the trivial) both are still partially in their shrink sporting dollar denominated price stickers - I keep albums in their shrink long after I should just accept the shrink is too torn and should just be ditched. The thing is I see the shrink as an integral part of the album’s history so it is very difficult to part with it - ; both albums have been buried deep in the collection without seeing the light of day for a fair few years; (the not so trivial) both feature singers I hold in very high regard.

The two albums are featured here, however, because they are a perfect representation of where I am with my record collection right now. I have once again reached maximum capacity and I’m in purge mode. This time I’m trying to be a bit more ruthless with my purging. As I said both these singers have great voices and I love them dearly but even so they have been tentatively put in the out pile. I say tentatively because I admit to being very anal over this and so ‘ruthless’ still entails a process. Even though these albums have sat in my collection for a fair few years without a play (let’s face it some of the records I am pulling out I may never have played before!), and realistically they are not likely to get a play anytime soon – ever? – I cannot bring myself to put them straight into the outbox. So the process is I play them once, or just needle drop, to see if there are tracks that grab my attention. If there are enough strong tracks I then proclaim the album to be a hidden gem, and keep it (patting myself on the back for being so discerning in picking up the album in the first place). If there is nothing of note then easy – into the outbox it goes. If there are one or two tracks of note I record them in wav format with a view to putting them on a mix CD and then outbox them. That’s the theory. Of course it does make purging a slow process. But actually for the most part not a painful one. It makes me listen to albums I’ve picked up (for pennies mostly) but possibly never given a proper chance, I find some new gems, I manage to distil down some worthwhile tracks, and then one way or another I feel I’ve had my money’s worth.

Of course there are grey areas.

Johnnie Taylor’s album for example I found to contain as many as four decent tracks when I put it through the “process” the other day. To be honest I was surprised. Johnnie Taylor is one of my very favourite male singers, but this album was recorded in 1976 by which time Disco and slick production was sweeping good honest soul music aside. (There are so many JT songs to enjoy from his 60s-70s Stax period). There was also the problem of record companies increasingly calling the tune resulting in more frequent releases, without necessarily having the quality songs to fill them. Consequently my expectation wasn't high, but there are more decent songs on this album than I was expecting, and Johnnie’s voice wins me over time and time again. But in the end Eargasm is a patchy album. For that reason I doubt I would ever play it all the way through so it is going in the outbox.... Ha! Except as I wrote this I gave it another listen and Johnnie's voice is so beguiling he's won the day and now I'm keeping it!

Ruby Turner is now close to National Treasure status after her years with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. She has been involved in the music business for many years, a fact that I'm so glad to see was recognised last year when she was awarded an MBE for services to music. She has a fantastic voice. The Other Side was an album released in 1991 and production wise is very much of its time. A Soul to Soul / Mantronix vibe permeates many of the tracks This and its generally commercial production values I think restricts Ruby's ability to fully showcase her magnificent pipes. This album was targeted very much at the US audience I believe to follow up on three top 30 US R&B single hits she had in 1990. The album did nothing though. Ultimately it is much of a muchness I think, but it is fairly even throughout. Again I'm going to keep it, because in the end there are hidden forces at play – sentiment. I believe it is the first album I ever bought on foreign soil, 13 years ago now I picked it up in the US, which just happened to be 13 years after its release. I picked out the track below to share, then, as I was writing this, I suddenly had this little memory nudge that perhaps I had written about Ruby before. Sure enough back in 2009 I did, my comments on the album were very similar, and I shared the same track then! At least I'm consistent (or should that be boring!).




So, in light of the above, is my process actually resulting in any purges?, I hear you ask. Yes, the outbox is a fair size and it's full. Now a second box is lined up waiting.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Spinning again


Three months away from this little indulgence is long enough. Let's straighten it out and get posting again.

Summer's over, the great outdoors doesn't beckon so much, and the nights are drawing in. There must be time for some blog meanderings again surely?

Surprise finds in the charity shops and car boots often spark a post here, and one reason for the lack of posts has been the lack of finds this year. For want of sounding like a broken record my hunt for vinyl in the wild has once again taken a turn for the worse. This year's trawling has been worse than last year, which in turn was worse than the year before. Vinyl may be back but it's gone AWOL in the fields of England, at least in my experience.       

Gwen McCrae's 1978 album Let's Straighten It Out was one welcome find a couple of months ago. It's not the strongest album I've heard, but has a number of redeeming features. There is Gwen's voice of course, and a great picture of her on the front cover - foxy lady! The Cat label in the middle of an album is a nice thing to see too. I've always loved Latimore's version of this song (the original?) and Gwen's take on it here is gorgeous.

Gwen McCrae - Let's Straighten It Out  1978   

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Beach ready

We're off to Portugal for a week in less then 24 hours. So I'll have to be brief.

The car boots have been almost completely devoid of vinyl so far this year. Each year the pickings get slimmer. The charity shops proved a bit better earlier in the year but they haven't produced much lately either. Something good to come out of this state of affairs is it has allowed me to concentrate on actually playing more of the records I have accumulated over recent times (instead of times I could easily have said years!). A novel approach eh? Sitting down and listening to records rather than just simply piling them up in a corner. Many albums I buy out of curiosity and in the full expectation of maybe only finding one track of real worth. So it is I have been playing quite a few of my recent acquisitions properly for the first time, picking out the cherries and recording them for further listening on, say, a beach.

One of the albums I played on Sunday was a Timi Yuro compilation (75p from a Sally Army charity shop if memory serves). About six tracks made it into wav/mp3 format. One of those tracks is a storming version of Fever. I had not heard it before but I know I will be hearing it a lot more from now on. 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Hallmarked


I've said it before and I'm saying it again, the allure of a piece of plastic seven inches in diameter otherwise known as a single, a 45, or simply “ a little one” goes far beyond just what's in the grooves. The sleeve, be it picture or sporting a record company design, the label, and the dead wax, all have their attractions and the little details they hold can cause me to happily lose endless hours diving down some research rabbit hole.

Focussing on the label for now, just some of the information it will offer in addition to the artist and title, usually, are composer, arranger, and producer credits. I am a digger so I happily trawl, physically and virtually, through lots and lots of records that are unknown to me and I have learnt to pay close attention to the credits beyond the artist because they can hold clues. The artist maybe unknown, so now is it Soul, or Country, or Psych? The label name itself can help but not always, but a look at the detail credits can often pinpoint a genre. I've been a Soul nut for a fair few years now so I'm pretty good at spotting a Soul record, but will it be any good? I've learnt that certain names are almost a guarantee of quality.

There are many such names that will spark my interest, here are just five by way of example: Dees, Terry, Wansel, Armstead, Warren.
Familiar to Soul buffs I'm sure, here is just a line or two on each of them anyway.

Sam Dees writes, sings and produces. He has written so many great soul songs and released one of the greatest Soul albums – The Show Must Go On.

Mike Terry was initially a session bari' sax player at Motown, he has featured on so many of Soul's well known records; he then went on to become a prolific arranger in Detroit, Chicago, Philly, New York and elsewhere.

Dexter Wansel is a keyboardist and producer/arranger responsible for so many sublime Philly records throughout the 70s.

Joshie” Jo Armstead is a singer but is more well known as a songwriter. She also worked with Ashford & Simpson (ah, two more names on the “hallmark” list).

Dale Warren was an accomplished conservatory-trained violinist who became an arranger initially at Motown and later with Stax.

So to today's 45. I am familiar with Back Beat and Little Carl Carlton so there is no doubting there will be Soul in the grooves. But let's take a closer inspection on those credits – not one, but two names make an appearance from my list – producer Mike Terry, songwriter J. Armstead. This record is most definitely hallmarked!


There, see?!

PS: The latest hiatus here was partially caused by the collapse in faith in my stylus. It wasn't that old but everything I was playing no longer sounded right. So I just stopped playing things, and so the mojo disappeared again, and writer's block followed (something other bloggers around this neck of the 'net also seemed to be suffering from lately). New stylus arrived in the post a few days ago and is now duly installed. So, let's see.

PPS: Rustiness caused me to put the wrong link up (thanks for pointing it out John). Link corrected above and as a bonus here is the B side correctly named: 


Little Carl Carlton - Drop By My Place  1970

Friday, May 19, 2017

The boxes keep delivering

Yes, I went to the “little” fair again last weekend and, yes, I found some more records worth bringing home.


Most of the records I picked up this time I have probably flicked through many times before, there is no new stock in evidence, but each time I go I collect a stack that catch my attention and listen to them on the portable and I'm gradually working through them all that way. The prices get cheaper every time too as the one particular dealer whose boxes I frequent must be winding down his stock with a view to retirement in the not too distant future.

There was another dealer with a Soul box there as well this time. So, after this latest visit, my mind's made up to a next time for this little fair. But that next time will probably be next year as I will be on holiday the next time it's in town and they don't think there will be a pre Christmas one this year.


The pick of the bunch this time round is by The Vareeations, released on the Dionn label in 1968. I can find no info on The Vareeations beyond the fact they had two singles released on Dionn. Was their group name a mis-spelling? Or maybe the lead singer's name is Varee? I believe that is a name, the Ohio Players certainly wrote a song that referenced  a Varee - Varee Is Love that can be found on their album Pain

Dionn was part of the Jamie/Guyden group of labels and hailed from Philly. “Tom” Bell, in what must be an early example, is credited as arranger on Foolish One which was the plug side on this DJ copy. I love the “This Side Hot” (“Thanks – A. Lott”) sticker on the label, and the fact it has survived for almost 50 years now. What is interesting is that on 45cat and Discogs the scans of DJ copies show the other side - It's The Loving Season - with the PLUG designation. So was my copy a mistake? It's possible the record company plugged both sides at the same time, maybe to different radio stations, or different cities. So which could be considered to be the A side on the issue copy? I guess we will never know, although the matrix identifier might suggest Foolish One which is certainly a play on repeat side for me at the moment.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Maybe tomorrow

I sometimes feature records hear that I have picked up at a little local record fair that hits town about four times a year. That fair is in town again tomorrow. Each time I have been in the last year or so I have wondered whether it would be my last visit. It's mainly R&R and the few dealers with Soul boxes have dwindled to basically just one on my last visit. And that dealer is not getting any new stock in; he's not getting any younger and has stopped his visits to the States as much as anything because of the dive in the exchange rate. At the last visit he was telling me how he used to hit the big fairs and warehouses and ship hundreds, thousands of 45s back at "book rate" which was dirt cheap then. Granted this is going back a good few years now. Alas, now I finally have the inclination to do the same, those days are long gone I feel.

Anyway, at my last visit to the fair (late last year, that long ago already!) I still managed to pick up a handful of 45s I was pleased with. I thought I would dig them out and give them another spin to encourage me to go to the fair again tomorrow for yet another "one last time".

I will share of couple of them with you now.

This Sheila Ellis 45 on SAN is pretty obscure. I really love the B side If This Is Love. Described as Swamp Pop on Discogs it is certainly swampy, and I think it has a fair dash of soul too.



Sheila Ellis - If This Is Love  1963 

The Radiants were another great male vocal harmony group form the Sixties that were equally at home with dancers and the slower numbers. This one is another B side.         


The Radiants - Tomorrow   1965   

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fridays on my mind

I am surrounded by people I know who are either recently retired, talking about retiring, or reducing their working hours. It's my age – and theirs - of course. So, for a few months now, this topic has been in the forefront of my mind, and it had made me a bit restless. Retire as soon as you can and enjoy life while you are still able is something I often hear – but what would I do to fill the time? I feel like I need at least some sort of plan - don't worry about that, just do it and you will soon find things to fill your days. Hmmm. I don't feel ready to retire just yet, but at the same time working five days a week holds no attraction anymore (and we are in the fortunate position that I don't really need to work full time from a monetary perspective). So I made the decision recently to reduce my working hours, something my employers were amenable to. Today, therefore, was my last working Friday. Four days (also slightly shorter) working and three days play seems a good work-life balance for the time being. That gives me a bit more space to think about what shape retirement should actually take. I guess I'm on retirement's nursery slopes.


The car boots have shown some promise this year in the early weeks of the season proper. Let's hope this continues after a fairly dismal 2015 and 2016. I was chuffed to pick up a copy of Kool & The Gang's Wild And Peaceful album for 50p last weekend. Kool & The Gang, at least in their early Seventies incarnation, have always been a favourite band of mine but I had never owned this particular album before. Singles such as Funky Stuff – which is on this album – and Jungle Boogie* were some of my earliest clubbing memories, and on the back of such singles they became known a s a funk band. But they were always so much more than that, and there was always a large dash of jazz to be found in the grooves of their albums of the time, as you will here on the title track.


[* EDIT: I must be going blind in my old age; Funky Stuff and Jungle Boogie are both on this album, as is Hollywood Swinging. I was probably as guilty as the rest of us at the time for thinking these would be the highlights of the album and the other tracks would probably be just funk heavy soundalike tracks.]