From the Department of Better-Late-Than-Never: I went to Amoeba Music in Hollywood to spend the gift certificate that I got for Christmas.
I've bought records all my life. From the Sam Goody's in the Green Acres Shopping Center in my hometown of Valley Stream, NY (an "All-Label Sale!!!") ... to E.J. Korvette's ("Eight Jewish Korean veterans??") ... to the Record Hunter on Fifth Avenue ... to Village Oldies (where I was waited on several times by Lenny Kaye) ... to Discount Records ... to Downstairs Records ... to the glorious Record Mart in the 42nd Street subway station arcade, where I bought countless 45s ... to Bleecker Bob's ... to Bob Caruso's store in White Plains where he taught me about doo-wop and Springsteen bootlegs ... to Tower Records (in the Village, on the West Side, in Pasadena, and on Sunset Blvd.) ... to Academy Records on 18th Street where I still buy used opera CDs when I'm in New York.
I've sought out rare reggae records in Jamaica, the north Bronx, and the wilds of Brooklyn. I've bought records in Paris and London and Vienna and Prague and Dublin. (And I'm not even discussing mail-order and bootleg trading.)
All of which is my build-up to saying that the Amoeba Music on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood is the greatest all-around record store that I've ever been in. There is simply nothing like it; not even close. The selection is beyond enormous. The staff is both helpful and knowledgeable. They have lots of used CDs to save you money. If you've ever loved records, this is truly record-buyer's Nirvana. The only thing you need to bring with you is self-control.
But I had a gift certificate so I could "spend" freely, and this is what I got.
THE MAVERICKS – MONO
I should have bought this one when it came out on February 17th, but I waited a little so that I could get it at Amoeba and then blog about it. For the past twenty years, the Mavericks have been one of my favorite groups, and Raul Malo is certainly one of the greatest contemporary singers. The Mavericks' fusion of country-rock-pop-Latin-swing music is unique, creating a sound that is both refreshingly eclectic and yet comfortingly traditional. I've seen them many times in concert, and Raul solo several times more. They must be seen live! And Raul could sing the phone book, and I would love it.
The big surprise on this new album is that the band kicked out founding member Robert Reynolds. He evidently has a major drug problem. In fact, the last time I saw the Mavs, Reynolds, the original bassist, was relegated to strumming an acoustic guitar that was very low in the mix. I wondered what was happening. Very sad. Fortunately, the music didn't suffer one bit.
This CD has a nice bonus track: Sir Douglas' "Nitty Gritty." The Mavs should have been doing Doug Sahm songs all these years.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiIzChCyB8s -- "Come Unto Me" – the Mavericks killing at the 2102 Americana Music Awards
LUCINDA WILLIAMS – DOWN WHERE THE SPIRIT MEETS THE BONE
I should have bought this one when it came out a few months ago, but I was lazy. I have everything that Lucinda's ever released, in addition to a few dozen bootlegs. I consider her to be one of the best living songwriters and one of the most important female recording artists of our era (along with Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Chrissie Hynde, and Emmylou Harris.) So it was only a matter of time before I got this one. It's a two-disc set, and it's been widely acclaimed as a comeback album for Lucinda after a couple of sub-par efforts. Lucinda is a famous perfectionist – only twelve albums in thirty-six years -- and she has set a high standard for herself. Everyone should own the "Lucinda Williams" and "Car Wheels On a Gravel Road" albums.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZ-VgByTctI -- "Still I Long For Your Kiss" from Austin City Limits
LITTLE WILLIE JOHN – COMPLETE HIT SINGLES – A's & B's
Little Willie John was one of the greatest soul singers of all time. The fact that he is not better known is the result of a combination of factors. First, he was born right when the blues and R&B were metamorphosizing into soul music, and he just missed the big wave. Second, he was in jail for manslaughter at the age of twenty-six and dead before he was thirty, so he didn't leave that many records. But you just have to hear the open pain and feeling in his voice to know that you are hearing something very, very special.
As The Rough Guide to Soul and R&B says, "If any one person invented soul singing, it was Little Willie John." I think that's an overstatement, but it gives you some idea of how highly this singer is regarded. James Brown used to open up for Little Willie John (they were both on King Records), and you can hear the obvious influence: the naked intensity, the suffering emotion.
I have all of Little Willie John's hits, in several collections, but this set offered every chart single along with its rare B-side. There could be a few gems in here.
As Marvin Gaye said, "Little Willie John is the soul singer's soul singer."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO0dyBC9Yrw -- the original "Talk To Me, Talk To Me"
LORRAINE HUNT LIEBERSON – BERLIOZ AND HANDEL ARIAS
Some voices are holy, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson had one of them. The emotional truth of her mezzo-soprano voice thrilled and inspired audiences all over the world before her death from cancer in 2006 at the age of 52. I thought I had everything that she had recorded, but I guess this one got past me.
Her voice will live forever. If you're having a bad day, click on this YouTube selection for a dose of pure, unadulterated beauty. If you're having a good day, do it too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9Jh7DF1nxY -- "Ombra Mai Fu" by Handel
RHIANNON GIDDENS – TOMORROW IS MY TURN
I've been dying to get this one. The brilliantly talented, charismatic lead singer of the Carolina Chocolate Drops produced by T Bone Burnett?? Sign me up!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPl8qlKq41o -- the breakthrough "Hit 'Em Up Style" live – with the Carolina Chocolate Drops
DR. JOHN – MERCERNARY
When I blogged recently about Johnny Mercer, the greatest song lyricist of all time, a music-savvy friend of mine brought to my attention this album of all-Mercer songs by Dr. John. Mercer songs soaked in the Doctor's gumbo? Sounds good to me.
And I found it at Amoeba, used – for $3.99! In their special "New Orleans" section!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCRrXZP8b0I -- "Such A Night" – the good Doctor with The Band from "The Last Waltz"
and unsurprisingly ...
KEITH JARRETT – BREGENZ AND MUNCHEN
I have a lot of Keith Jarrett albums of his solo improvisations, but I can't really get enough of them. I write to them, especially in the afternoon (but only when the Tiny Goddess is out of hearing range. She doesn't do jazz or Wagner, though sometimes I can still slip in some "Ring" instrumentals.)
These are three discs from 1981. I am sure that I can put them to good use.
Here is a YouTube goodie, something his audience might get as an encore.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eq0EWNuR1H8 -- "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" – live from Tokyo, 1984
OK, I went a little over on the gift certificate, but not by much.