Bargain Bin Beauties: My Favorite Finds of 2011
2011 was the year of the record for me. Not a single collection of songs, but rather a physical entity and a format. When 2011 started, my record collection fit in a corner of a bookshelf. As 2011 ends my collection fills three full shelves, three empty boxes of cat food for 45s, organized by loose genres and alphabatized within collections: Pacific Northwest, Pre-War Blues & Jazz, Country and Folk, Post-Genre (New), Dance Party and my “Most Played” section so I didn’t have to debate what a “classic” was (and if a bad Ringo Starr record was a classic, because he’d been a Beatle). Last time I tried to count the records, I stopped near 400, having not even begun to touch my crammed 45s, and I realize this is just the beginning.
These are ten of my favorite finds over the last year of crate digging. What was your favorite find of 2011?
10. Dillard and Clark – Through The Morning, Through The Night Found: Sonic Boom – Ballard
Here’s why taking the time to comb through your local record stores is better than the instant satisfaction of buying your holy grail record online, beyond the whole supporting a local business. This out of print Dillard and Clark record goes for over $40 on sites like discogs and ebay, if you can find it, but if you patiently thumb through used bins, you might find an impeccable copy for $8. You also might yelp in excitement and frighten Sonic Boom browsers around you … but for this little known classic, it’s totally worth the embarrassment.
If it weren’t such an obscure record, I’d think it was seminal listening for anyone playing Ballard Avenue twang today. Featuring the duo of bluegrass banjo virtuoso Doug Dillard and original Byrd and country rock forefather, Gene Clark. At the forefront of what we now call “Americana”, Through The Morning, Through the Night is full of great original songs, traditionals like “I Bowed My Head and Cried Holy” and “Rocky Top” and perhaps my favorite Beatles cover ever, a down-tempo twang rendition of “Don’t Let Me Down.”
09. Numero Group #17: Eccentric Soul – The Deep City Label Found: Mississippi Records – Portland, Oregon
I’m kind of cheating on this inclusion, as I bought it brand new … but it is cover-to-cover all-killer, no-filler and if you ever see it at a record store forsake all other purchases and pick this one up. The price tag may seem a little steep, as most Numero Group releases do, but remember it is a double LP and it is worth every penny spent. Put this record on when you’re alone and its an instant, soul and booty shaking party. Put this record on when you’re not alone and its a make out soundtrack extraordinaire.
08. Arthur & Yu – Don’t Piss in the Fire Found: Everyday Music
With Grant Olsen’s latest project Gold Leaves being one of my most listened to albums of 2011, I was giddy to find this dreamy creamsicle colored Sub Pop single from his last project Arthur & Yu in the used bins. My find was confirmed as victorious by the nodding approval of the guy behind the counter, followed by a grumbling, “Damn, I wish I’d seen that first.”
07. Gene Clark – White Light Found: Twist and Shout Records – Denver, Colorado
After Greg Vandy recommended picking up this record on his excellent blog American Standard Time, I wasn’t the only vinyl lover who went looking for it in Seattle. Store after store, a perplexed clerk would tell me that I was the third or fourth person coming in to look for Gene Clark’s stellar second solo album and that no, they didn’t have it. So I was delighted when a gorgeous copy stared back at me in Denver’s cavernous Twist and Shout Records. White Light is a hidden classic and on it Clark helps invent what is known and loved now as “Americana” and cosmic country. It rambles at all the right places, like the cover of Dylan and The Bands “Tears of Rage” and the original songs that have inspired local bands like The Moondoggies and Sons of Warren Oates leave you wondering why Clark isn’t recognized as one of his generations finest songwriters. An album like White Light is ripe for a reissue and however you get your hands on it, even if it takes leaving the state, I recommend you do.
06. S – I’m Not As Good As You Found: Sonic Boom Records
Coming in at #7 on our 25 Favorite Northwest Records of 2010 and #4 on my personal list, finding a copy of the import only I’m Not As Good As You was a bit like discovering unicorns exist by stumbling on one in the wild. I had no idea this beautiful bummer was ever pressed to wax and while $18.99 was a bit steep for the reality of my bank account, there was no way this record wasn’t coming home with me. Because I’m Not As Good As You has only gotten better with time, more devastating in its honesty, more lovely in its loneliness. And were I writing that Best of 2010 list today, I would fight for it to be ranked much higher. Since her days with Carissa’s Wierd Jen Ghetto has been writing the best sad songs in all of Seattle, if not the country. She continues to do so solo as “S” and I’m Not As Good As You is equal parts heartbreak and stunner.
See my top five vinyl finds of 2011
05. Fuck Me I’m Rich (Sub Pop Comp) Found: Crossroads Records – Portland, Oregon
I was picking through bins right till the end of 2011 and I picked up this cheeky Sub Pop comp in the final hours at Crossroad Records in Portland. Fuck Me I’m Rich features five of Sub Pop’s first singles by Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Tad, Swallow and Blood Circus, classic Charles Peterson photos, foul mouthed thanks yous from Bruce Pavitt and Jon Poneman and it was pressed on gorgeous clear red vinyl. It all added up to Fuck Me I’m Rich being my final vinyl purchase of 2011, with four hours to spare.
04. Negro Prison Songs from Mississippi State Penetentiary Found: Mississippi Records – Portland, Oregon
Its a humbling thing to a hold a record 40 years older than you that is in perfect condition. And its dizzying when that record is of nameless recordings of African American prisoners in a Mississippi State penitentiary. The songs on this record feel like they should be hundreds of years old, of a time far outside something anyone alive can remember. The sound of the clink of the chain gang and the birth of rhythm & blues, soul and rock & roll audible in the anonymous performances. But this is our history and our recent history. My father was a five year old boy in the Mississippi that made this record. And while the music is beautiful, this is as much a reminder of where we’ve come from as it is a record. Alan Lomax in his detailed liner notes and incredible audio, captured the blues born of brutality.
03. Hoquiam – s /t Found: Spin Cycle Records
This record was meant to be mine. You see, back in March of 2010, Hoquiam hosted their record release party at Cairo with a limited number of hand made album covers. I debated back and forth between this one and another that said “Zombies Eat Your Flesh” with a torn map of King County modge-podged to the scrap paper. Taking into account “Zombies of the Sea,” one of my favorite tracks off the album, I settled on the zombie cover and made my way back into the cramped concert. About five minutes later, trapped in the far corner of Cairo, I realized I made a terrible mistake and the cover I should’ve chose declared “Drake and Kurt: we were born here.” Drake being Drake Jurado of Hoquiam and Kurt, of course, being Kurt Cobain. I ignored politeness and made my way back through the crowd to the small merch table to exchange records, but it was gone. Someone, probably one of those people I’d ungraciously passed on my way out, had bought my record.
Fast-forward to my first visit to Spin Cycle, Broadway’s new record store. As I’m flipping through their excellent used indie section, I spy it, my record. I gasp audibly and grab it as if some ghost in the otherwise empty store is going to snatch the record from under my nose again. When I go to the counter the owner nods approvingly at the record and says, “Nice find.” “You have no idea,” I tell him.
02. The History of Northwest Rock Volume Two Found: Easy Street Records – Queen Anne
This record would be worth the price of purchase for the cover alone, a Ballard Avenue prototype from the ’60s, big old beard, big old amp and a Rainier Beer, but of course. But this album is so much more than the excellent artwork. Featuring songs from big Northwest names like The Sonics and Paul Revere and the Raiders and band’s I’d never heard of like Don & the Goodtimes and the Springfield Rifle, the record is a glimpse into a changing time in NW rock (’64-67) where music was moving from dance halls into garages. And this comp covers it all from instrumental lounge tunes to twist to, to Seattle surf songs, to glossy pop and the first glimpse of psychedelia. If you ever see any of the volumes in this series on the now defunct “Great Northwest Music Company,” get ‘em … or don’t, I’m hoping to pick up Volumes I and III in 2012.
01. Songs from the Taverns of the Pacific Northwest Found: Sonic Boom – Capitol Hill
Usually, I don’t bother even thumbing through the “Collector’s” section at record stores as the prices are usually way outside anything I can conceivably afford to spend on a record. But one sunny Sunday, I made the mistake at Sonic Boom and stumbled upon this gem of “Songs of the Taverns of the Pacific Northwest.” Budget be damned, I had to have it.
Recorded in the summer and winter of 1975, featuring tavern (we call those dive bars now) artists from Seattle, Vancouver BC and Portland, Oregon. The album is described as being “Put together by the musicians who attempt to make a living in the taverns, it is a tribute to the good times had and the good music that is played in the local bars where people gather to talk, drink, shake it off, meet, and dance.” Featuring songs from dive bar bands like Les Clamtones, Lance Romance & the 3 Minute Boogie, Cement City Cowboys and Barbara Bush — its a fascinating glimpse into what I would’ve been watching at The Blue Moon if I’d been born 30 years earlier. And a song like “I’ve Been Playing Guitar on the Toilet Too Long” is worth what I paid for the record alone.