Being a report from the arrival lounge of a hopeless music addict, with annotations.
Holidays are great for Vinyl Hunter-Gatherers. First stop is Goldmine CDs & Records. Even though the used vinyl holding is much smaller than the ‘New’ section, it often comes through with a couple of interesting LPs or at least a ‘hole plugger’… but not today. Undaunted, I address the CD racks.
Picking up a Bill Evans CD is always pleasant, so $5 for Bill Evans at Town Hall… Volume One is, despite the unusual grammar, a fine opening stanza. Also managed to complete The Shins discography with 2001’s Oh, Inverted World. I enjoy The Shins skewed pop and bought last year’s album on vinyl when it came out, so having their first release is nice.
Referring to the Melbourne ‘Vinyl Lovers Tour Guide’ map (see earlier post Vinyl Hunter Gatherers) I navigate to 222 Retro And Vintage. Hmm. Rubbish and Rip-off might be more apt. A preponderance of junky furniture in teetering piles, crates crammed full of dirty scruffy LPs with ridiculous prices on common titles; ten minutes is too much.
Further up the street to Thornbury Records. Their holding of new vinyl is quite extensive but I’m not in the mood to hand over $30 on impulse so I mosey up the street towards Music Jungle. This moodily lit store has a good stock of second-hand vinyl but like many shops these days, the prices are based either on internet research or outrageous optimism or both. Feeling rather depressed, I head for home.
May as well check my local Op Shop again… you never know, do you?
Nothing. Though a nice book of Mythical Creatures jig-saw should go down well with the boy as a school holiday treat.
‘Shouldn’t grumble’, I think as I check the Post Office box, ‘This is supposed to be the July Austerity Drive’… (Cue portentous music) Or is it?
A little card tells me there is a parcel to collect. Slight quickening of pulse as the queue inches towards the counter. It’s square, it’s solid, it’s my order from Japanese eBay shop Vinyl Garage Japon.
Just what are the rules here; when do I count the purchase? From when it was ordered? From when the transaction appeared on my credit card? (Over a week later following considerable ‘correspondence’ around unclear shipping charges). From when the goods arrive? (Today). If the point at which a purchase arrives home to the cubby is the most meaningful marker, then there are four new LPs to add to the July total.
[More Folon here]
Steve Khan’s Eyewitness was the album that drove the entire purchase. I enjoy his electric jazz/fusion guitar, having first clocked his name as a Steely Dan session muso on Aja. Plus I absolutely love the Folon covers. A Japanese pressing of David Sylvian’s limpid Brilliant Trees was nice to win at auction. The other two could be described, in Christmas parlance, as stocking fillers: the Kate Bush On Stage EP and a re-issue of the first Savoy recording by the Modern Jazz Quartet.
At home I check the condition and the invoice to work out what I’ve got and what I paid for it. The prices are OK considering international shipping, but the condition of all of the albums disappoints. All are dusty, have finger-prints, and have more scratches and marks than you would expect from the eBay item grading. I feel disappointed and am drawn to venting my spleen via a string of negative Feedback messages. Or is this a life lesson? Grasshopper, if you cannot inspect it, don’t buy it. Maybe Omar Khayam has some advice. I’ll leave some space to ponder the options on that one.
No in-comings for over a week and I’m getting twitchy. I find myself thinking about things I’ve left in the racks recently. Should I go back for that copy of JJ Cale’s Okie? Perhaps not.
One image that drifts up through the sludge of memory is of seeing a bunch of Dixie Dregs albums somewhere. Don’t know much about them, but wasn’t gun guitarist Steve Morse in the band? He subbed for Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple didn’t he? Is that really a recommendation? Just how desperate am I?
Checking out the progarchives site is often helpful when navigating the vast undulating plains of progressive music, even for a veteran of the 70s Prog Wars*. Like many fan-based resources, there’s a mixture of focussed analysis and ill-informed blather. You might get insight and rich detail or some breathless grammatical train-wreck of a review by someone who has just acquired their first Pink Floyd album. It’s something of a lottery.
Up come the Dixie Dregs in the Jazz Rock/Fusion category. They’re a US outfit that has been compared to The Mahavishnu Orchestra. High praise indeed and enough to launch a voyage of acquisition. I ring the shop and ask them to check. Yep, they still have the albums. Yep, they’ll hold them. Instant gratification! I wonder if they home deliver? But then I’d miss out on browsing for other stuff. Greedy bastard.
That evening I’m leafing through a pile of new second-hand records. The first four albums as The Dixie Dregs and the following two sans ‘Dixie’. It feels exciting, indulgent, and slightly overwhelming to have suddenly acquired pretty much the entire catalogue of a band that I’ve never really heard. And on vinyl too.
And in case you were wondering, that was not all. I also picked up a 1981 album by Scots singer-songwriter Dick Gaughan plus Nightingales & Bombers by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, for whom I have a soft spot.
So much music, so little time.
* I was a Lance Corporal in the Pantheistic Army. Our motto – “No Clash in Curved Air” – was widely misunderstood, especially within our own ranks. The second attempt at a rallying cry, “Say YES to Sex Pistols” resulted in a sponsorship offer from Ann Summers but aided musical détente not at all. Eventually we were slaughtered by the noisy tribes of ‘Myopia’ and ‘Mine’s-better-than-Yours, Mush’ after they united under the leadership of General Ignorance. But I still love both Gilgamesh and Radio Birdman.
Steve Khan “Eyewitness”
This is a more relaxed sounding album than the late 70s fusion material I know well. Although Khan’s guitar sound is mellower, the music is consistently inventive and incisive. Two longer pieces on side two; understated additional percussion. Early impression: very classy indeed. And the cover painting is superb. Did I mention I love Folon?
Kate Bush “On Stage”
Each time I have played this I’ve been astounded by Kate’s deep baritone voice. Then I’ve changed the turntable speed to 45 rpm. Just not a singles guy, I guess. As a brief (17 mins total) live artefact, it’s OK. This marvellous English eccentric became a careful and meticulous studio creator (and curator) of her own music so it is not surprising that ‘live’ recordings and touring have not featured in her career. “James And The Cold Gun” has a great (uncredited) guitar coda and is the standout. The condition of this vinyl EP detracted from the listening experience. Which reminds me, I still haven’t left Feedback for Vinyl Garage Japon.
Bill Evans “Bill Evans at Town Hall”
Just before this NY date, Bill’s father died unexpectedly. He played the gig, including a solo piece dedicated to his father’s memory. This moving and reflective track is probably the stand-out, though the whole album is very solid. Sixteen minutes of bonus tracks from the same concert are welcome; CDs do have some positive points.
Modern Jazz Quartet “Modern Jazz Quartet”
Really, this album should be entitled “Birth of the MJQ” as only 4 of the dozen tracks are played by the quartet. The others were recorded the previous year by The Milt Jackson Quartet. Accuracy quibbles aside, the music shows all the hallmarks of the group’s enduring sound: delicate interplay between the musicians, a slightly fussy attention to detail in the music, great vibraphone playing. Most notable is that all the original material was written by Milt; later pianist John Lewis would take over compositional duties pretty much entirely.
Dixie Dregs “Free Fall”
This first album is quite varied in tone, though generally ‘up beat’ as suggested by the cheerful musicians tumbling out of an aeroplane, grinning as they plummet earthwards. It is lively and very well played, but I find myself irritated by the comparisons with The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Free Fall is rooted in country and blues rock with a side order of southern funk, not exploratory jazz and progressive rock like the famous McLaughlin/Hammer/Goodman/Cobham/Laird quintet. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced; wanting wasabi and getting BBQ sauce.
Dixie Dregs “What If”
Now this is more like it. Here is a much more consistent album fusing rock and jazz influences with red-hot playing. That’s what the genre is about and I can definitely hear connections with Jeff Beck’s mid-70s fusion period. Yes, there are still cheeky little musical touches and a sense of positive energy but the package is more integrated. Second piece “Odyssey” is an absolute ripper, the title track a pensive minor key melody, whilst “Travel Tunes” races off through interesting musical terrain. I’m enjoying this one. Still don’t like the hoedown stuff though.
Dixie Dregs “Night of the Living Dregs”
One of those half-‘n’-half albums: side one is studio and side two live. The studio cuts show the trademark quality playing and variety of stylistic influences – these could almost be out-takes from “What if”. The live side was recorded at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1978 and is OK, though two of the four tracks have prominent yee-haw fiddle. Did I mention the hoedown stuff is not my bag?
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band “Nightingales & Bombers”
Having started as a jazz player before venturing very successfully into the world of pop, South African born Manfred Mann formed the Earth Band after the more jazz influenced Manfred Mann Chapter Three failed to make much impression. I have quite a few and all are well played. This one is terrific. The successful single, a cover of Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night” is OK (and presaged the massive success of the next year’s Springsteen cover; you know the one) but it is the instrumental work – especially Mann’s synths – that really fire. Guitarist Mick Rogers is solid and adds sinew to the overall progressive sound.
The Other Albums
David Sylvian “Brilliant Trees” [Virgin, 1984]
Dick Gaughan “Handful of Earth” 
Dixie Dregs “Night of the Living Dregs” 
Dixie Dregs “Dregs of the Earth” 
The Dregs “Unsung Heroes” 
The Dregs “Industry Standard” 
The Shins “Oh, Inverted World” [Sub Pop, 2001]
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