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Wilco – Cruel Country (vinyl take)

When it comes to issuing vinyl, the challenges of the Covid supply chain disruption are exacerbated by the music industry’s overall incompetence. There are not enough vinyl record factories to meet demand despite a decade-long trend that vinyl is a “thing.” Therefore, some artists are impatient and focus on the digital/steaming release and then put in their order for vinyl. I appreciate the artist’s urgency to get music in front of their fans. I also appreciate the delay between digital and vinyl as it allows me to get familiar with the album and determine if I am really committed to owning the vinyl version.

I love streaming, but I also love vinyl. I mostly listen to music via streaming services – even on my home stereo. My bias towards streaming is due to convenience. It is obviously great when you are on the go, but with the right streaming service and the right equipment, you can get audiophile quality out of a streaming service. I use Tidal’s MQA via a Bluesound Node – it sounds fantastic. This post is not a record review, but rather a comparison of digital to vinyl releases of an album. I am not someone who passionately believes vinyl is better than digital or that digital is better than vinyl. It depends – in a 2021 post on the Bluesound Node streaming device I said:

Since I am focused on streaming and I am a vinyl guy – which sounds better vinyl or digital? I can give you a definitive answer: it depends on the specific recording. How an album was recorded, how it was mastered and how it was transferred to the final state (a vinyl record or a digital file) can make a vinyl record sound better than the digital file and vice versa. Don’t forget your mood upon listening. I find I am a more attentive listener with vinyl because the format demands more engagement: pull the album off the shelf, clean it, drop the needle, flip the record, etc. But in general, a well recorded digital album (and most everything recorded in last 20 years is a digital source anyway) that has been well mastered to digital generally wins over its vinyl sibling. Ultimately the last steps in production is an art form. Those final steps in the production to form the final product, whether vinyl or a digital file, are an artistic expression too. They are susceptible to the skills and taste of the engineer. All that being said, I love vinyl and despite the great sound and convenience of the Bluesound NODE 2i, I will not be giving up on vinyl any time soon.

When vinyl is well done it is worth the expense and the inconvenience. When it is well executed – it often is not – it is a great experience. When a recording artist gives a shit about vinyl (vs. money-grab merch), they will make an effort:

  • Creating a unique vinyl mix that is sensitive to what vinyl is good and bad at
  • Stamp the vinyl in cool colored wax – although this is more about vinyl as a fetish collectible vs. a superior audio media
  • Great packaging – the vinyl format allows enough space and purchase price to do some creative presentations – (not much has been done with the digital medium and CDs were just too small to do much creatively)
  • High-quality pressing (the rarest of successes – most new vinyl is not carefully pressed resulting in surface noise)

I fell hard for Cruel Country when it was digitally released in late May 2022. I loved Wilco’s full-scale embrace of country music, albeit with Wilco’s unique take on country music. It ended up as my number two favorite album of 2022. As soon as Wilco announced the vinyl release I pre-ordered it. The vinyl was released on January 20, 2023.

The vinyl mix sounds fantastic – I am hearing things I missed on the digital/streaming version. It is luscious with a nice wide stereo sound stage. The guitars sound especially good. Comparing it to the digital version (Tidal Master/MQA) I find the digital a bit harsh vs. the mellow warmth of the vinyl. The digital soundstage slightly compressed compared to the vinyl. The wax is not as pristine as it could be (see Blue Note’s Tone Poet series for the gold standard) – although it is generally quiet, it does have pops and clicks. Despite the surface noise I prefer the vinyl version.

I love vinyl sides that are appropriate in length; too many new vinyl records are 2 or 3 songs on each side. Cruel Country‘s sides are 4 to 6 songs. Wilco must have thought through the song sequencing in advance to be ready for vinyl as there are no awkwardly short sides. The 21 songs are nicely paced across 4 sides.

One of the clever packaging decisions was to include postcards that have the lyrics and credits on the other side of the postcard. Another is the cover doily image is expanded on the inside gatefold with the song titles. The photos of the band members on the album sleeves have a deliberate old-time photography feel.

Cover
Inside gatefold
Inside gatefold closeup
Back cover
Record sleeves
Record sleeves
Vintage postcards
Reverse side of postcards – lyrics and credits

In general, Wilco has met my expectations of a good vinyl release: unique mix, great packaging, beautiful red and blue wax, and great sound that offers something different from the digital release. I would recommend this vinyl edition despite pops and clicks. However, the digital version (even the Spotify version) is well executed – the differences between the high resolution stream and the vinyl is very slight. Wilco really knocks it out of the park with the vinyl packaging. If you are a Wilco obsessive the vinyl is must have.

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Margo Price – Strays

Margo Price
Strays
(2023)

Strays is Margo Price’s best album. That is saying a lot as she has been a three album roll since her 2016 debut on Third Man Records (Midwest Farmer’s Daughter). That album was pure country (almost retro), but with each successive album, she has evolved away from that sound to a more classic rock sound. On Strays she takes that classic rock sound to a new place: a hybrid of 80s New Wave and 70s Country Rock with a psychedelic twist – it is actually pretty hard to categorize. I hear so many influences, yet those influences are neither appropriation nor imitation, but inspiration. It is psychedelic without being nonsensical – she manages to be a hippie without being dippy.

Just as her career was getting some traction, the pandemic hit. She did not let COVID overwhelm her, instead, she finished and published a memoir, quit drinking and recorded and released Strays. The album narrative for Strays is that Margo and her husband/musical partner (Jeremy Ivey) took a psychedelic trip in 2020 and that was the creative spark for the songs they wrote for Strays. As a bonus, the psilocybin inspired Margo to quit alcohol (she is now two years alcohol sober, but she still enjoys weed and psychedelics).

What influences do I hear on Strays?

  • Patti Smith
  • Tom Petty
  • George Harrison
  • Linda Ronstadt
  • The Moody Blues
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Father John Misty (not surprising given producer Jonathan Wilson)
  • Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks
  • Rosanne Cash

I hear so many influences, yet those influences are neither appropriation nor imitation, but inspiration. It is psychedelic without being nonsensical – she manages to be a hippie without being dippy.

Producer Jonathan Wilson is the perfect sonic complement to Margo’s psilocybin-influenced songwriting. They took the classic rock sound that Margo and Sturgill Simpson produced That’s How Rumors Get Started (2020) and perfected it. It is now as slick (in a good way) as a Fleetwood Mac or Tom Petty album. Strays sounds confident and fully realized. Margo has evolved on each record; I believe this is the best version of herself.

“Been To The Mountain” was the first single and the opening track. I am an album guy and so I rarely listen to the teaser tracks, but I did listen to this one and it definitely caught my ears and foreshadowed that this was going to be a special album. I have seen some reviews that suggest the song has a Janis Joplin feel, but I don’t hear it; instead, I hear Patti Smith fronting the Moody Blues.

“Light Me Up” features Mike Campbell (Tom Petty) and it is epic. I know Margo is a Petty fan and she makes his sound her own – similar to how Stevie Nicks successfully “stole” Petty’s vibe. This is a wonderful example of Jonathan Wilson’s production genius.

“Radio” features singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten in this brilliant cocktail of 80s new wave and folk rock. Imagine if The Cars and The Eagles got together to back up Linda Ronstadt.

“Change Of Heart” continues the New Wave/Country Rock vibe. I could easily hear Tom Petty covering this song.

“County Road” has a nice mid-70s Linda Ronstadt vibe mixed with a countrified Fleetwood. The song opens with a beautiful Joni-inspired piano intro. Lyrically it imagines an old friend who never had a car who is now passed, but now has wheels in the afterlife.

“Time Machine” has a playful Kacey Musgraves vibe. This is the only song on the album not penned by Margo – it was written by Chris Denney & Dillon Napier (Margo’s drummer).

“Hell In The Heartland” is Rosanne Cash meets Fleetwood Mac.

“Anytime You Call” features Lucius and has a George Harrison feel.

“Lydia” was the second teaser single and is a mournful narrative of a woman’s visit to an abortion clinic. Sonically it is the most austere track on the album. The simplicity of the arrangement makes it better – a busy arrangement would have overshadowed the raw beauty of the song. Lyrically it is like a feature movie.

“Landfill” is Margo’s strongest and most impressive vocal on the album – coupled with the arrangement it is a gorgeous track. The last track is a wistful life-to-date self-reflection and the perfect end of the album.

This is a magnificent evolution of a recording artist: great songs, great performance, and great sonics (production). What an album to open 2023! I can’t wait to see/hear this live on the “Til the Wheels Fall Off Tour.”

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Cheap Used Records – Billy Cobham – Spectrum

Billy Cobham
Spectrum
(1973)

This was Billy Cobham’s debut album. He had made a name for himself as a jazz rock fusion drummer with Miles Davis and then with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The core band for this album is: Billy Cobham – drums, percussion, production and Jan Hammer (also in the Mahavishnu Orchestra) – electric and acoustic pianos, Moog synthesizer. Other players include: Tommy Bolin – guitar, Echoplex; Lee Sklar – electric bass; Joe Farrell – soprano and alto saxes, flute; Jimmy Owens – flugelhorn, trumpet; John Tropea – guitar; Ron Carter – acoustic bass and Ray Barretto – congas.

This is a classic example of 70s jazz rock fusion. It is more accessible than the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but still adventurous. It has a nice touch of funk to it. Under the credits, Cobham is quoted: “What is life but a Spectrum and what is music but life itself.” Dig it!

Jon Lord of Deep Purple (guitarist Tommy Bolin would later play in Deep Purple) called Spectrum “an utterly astounding album. There was Tommy Bolin just shredding away like mad. And it was just gorgeous stuff, all improvised, all just off the top of his head.”

My copy is in decent shape for a $1 record. Some pops and scratches, but no skips. The cover is well worn, but not broken. Overall condition is “Good” per the Goldmine standard.

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Cheap Used Records -Rosanne Cash – King’s Record Shop

Rosanne Cash
King’s Record Shop
(1987)

This was my introduction to Roseanne Cash. It is a masterpiece. Although Cash is classified as country, she transcends the genre. The album has a timeless quality. She is a sophisticated pop country singer that has more in common with Linda Ronstadt than her country contemporaries. If she was coming on the scene now she would be categorized as Americana. She is both a cover artist and singer songwriter.

This is the sixth and last Cash album that would be produced by Rodney Crowell. She was also married to Crowell. Cash and Crowell were a successful music partnership with lots of hits with an unconventional approach in the country genre. This album is a great example of their amazing musical cocktail. It is pop county, without any of the cliches. This album made me a Rosanne Cash fan. Her subsequent albums were less popular, but more sophisticated. Her prior albums were even more pop, but brilliant.

This is a $2 record. It is pristine except for a skip in the first track of side one – it only needs a slight nudge to play through the skip.

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Cheap Used Records – Lowell George – Thanks I’ll Eat It Here

Lowell George
Thanks I’ll Eat It Here
(1979)

Thanks I’ll Eat It Here is in the Catchgroove hall of fame. This still had the $1 price tag on it (pealed that off 😂 for the photo below). The cover is a little beat up and has a cutout gouge. The vinyl is decent with some light scratches resulting in a few pops and clicks – but in great shape for a dollar record. This is an easy album to find cheap. Highly recommended.

In my original post I wrote: “At the time this album was recorded, George felt Little Feat was venturing too far toward jazz rock fusion, a style he hated, so he retreated back to the Dixie Chicken vibe on this solo debut. The album is a mix of covers and George originals. The album has an easy, almost tossed-offed feel, but if you listen to it carefully it is deeply soulful, cleverly arranged and expertly played by the top session cats of the day (late 70s). Sadly, this would be George’s last album as he died shortly after its release.”

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Cheap Used Records – Box Of Frogs

Box Of Frogs
(1984)

Box of Frogs were an English rock band formed in 1983 by former members of the Yardbirds. The core group consisted of Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith, and Jim McCarty. Vocals on this eponymous album were done by John Fiddler (formerly of Medicine Head and British Lions). Jeff Beck is featured on four of the nine tracks. Rory Gallagher is on two tracks.

It is a hard album to describe, but my hot take would be pop Yardbirds. It has a 80s rock aesthetic. The songs are good, the musicianship is excellent and John Fiddler is a solid vocalist who fits well in the concept.

This is one of my favorite albums of the 80s. It sounds like familiar classic rock and has great songs with catchy riffs and killer guitar solos. I can’t understand why this was not a more of a hit. The follow up failed to catch my interest. This was a wonderful moment in time.

Catchgroove’s Best of 2022

I consumed a little less new music in 2022 than prior years. Not because it was not a good year in music, but because:

  • I got hooked on the albums I already own (see my 🌵 sessions on cheap used vinyl)
  • Some of my favorite albums were long – four LPs albums became a norm
  • I took a deep dive into the Drive By Truckers (that took about two months 😊)

In summary, there was not a lot of time to consume new music. That being said, I still discovered lots of great music in 2022 that I want to share with you. As I read other year end lists I realized I have missed lots of great music from 2022.

#1
Goose
Dripfield

Goose has been around for awhile and they have a nice following. They have lots of recordings out (mostly live), but this is their first proper studio album. They absolutely nailed it! The songs are perfectly sequenced and the opening two tracks, “Borne” and “Hungersite” are seamlessly connected. This is an album and not a collection of songs. The album is beautifully recorded and mixed. Although they are a jam band, they have a pop sensibility that separates them from that scene. They play songs and not just riffs and jams. See full post here. I saw these guys last summer and they were fantastic live.

# 2
Wilco
Cruel Country

Wilco decided to fully embrace their alt-county/Americana roots on this album. They dropped the album when it was finished on streaming services vs. waiting for physical release (vinyl adds 6 – 12 months to the release process). Cruel Country is country music (in the non-Nashville alt-county/Americana sense that Tweedy helped invent), but it is also a double meaning: it is music about our country. Wilco are country like the Grateful Dead are country: they are informed and influenced by it; they borrow from the country palette. They then deconstruct it and reassemble something new. See full blog post here.

#3a
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Unlimited Love
#3b
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Return of the Dream Canteen

The Red Hot Chili Peppers managed to release two double albums this year that rival the best albums from their catalog. Both albums are great and on any given day I prefer one versus the other. The reality is they are just one massive album. The question is, with this much material, should Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen have been edited down to a 45 minute masterpiece? My answer is no. At this point in the RHCP’s career a taut masterpiece is not needed, but an excessive quadruple LP is. Links to my original reviews can be found here: Unlimited Love & Return of the Dream Canteen

Looking forward to seeing the band live in Phoenix May of 2023.

#4
Tedeschi Trucks Band
I Am The Moon

My favorite album of 2021 was the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s (TTB) take on Layla. TTB has now doubled down by creating over two hours of original songs inspired by the Layla’s source material: the “eastern Romeo and Juliet” Layla and Majnun by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjav. I Am The Moon is a 4 LP set (24 songs). It was released digitally in four chapters over the summer and is now available in physical formats (CD, vinyl and a sold out vinyl deluxe box set). Each chapter has an accompanying film/video. See link for full post.

#5
Drive By Truckers
Welcome 2 Club XIII

I bought this album because I was going to see the band live. I was not a fan and was only marginally familiar with their music, but felt like I should be a fan based on who I thought they were. I love this album and in anticipation of the show I studied their catalog. I am now a fan. If you are not familiar with the DBTs this is a great starting point.

#6
Father John Misty
Chloë and the Next 20th Century

I am a long time fan of Father John Misty – I have all his albums and have seen him live (including this year in support of this album) several times. In my review earlier this year I said: “One of my favorite music critics, Steven Hyden, has an interesting rubric – the five-albums test. The idea is to declare a band or artist great, or no no based on the fact that they have released five good to great albums in a row. This is not the only tool to measure greatness, but one tool. In his recent podcast, Indiecast Hyden declared that with Chloë and the Next 20th Century Father John Misty (FJM) had passed the five-albums test. I couldn’t agree more.”

#7
Taylor Swift
Midnights

I loved TSwift’s dalliance with Americana during Covid, but I fully appreciate her return to pure pop with Midnights. Is anyone actually seeing TSwift live given the Ticketmaster debacle?

#8
Dawes
Misadventures Of Doomscroller

I was a big fan of Dawes’ 2009 debut North Hills. I loved its Jackson Browne singer songwriter vibe. I tried to stick with them, but successive albums just didn’t click. But I thought I would give this a try as I realized it was produced by Jonathan Wilson. I had no idea Wilson was affiliated with Dawes. This is the fourth album he has produced for Dawes (including that debut album I liked so much). This new album has hooked me. I love its Grateful Dead jam band vibe. I guess Dawes recent moonlighting gig playing with the Dead’s Phil Lesh rubbed some jam on to them.

#9
The Smile
A Light For Attracting Attention

I think of myself as a Radiohead fan and I am generally aware of their side projects, but I totally missed this one. I recently became aware of it when one of the vinyl heads I follow posted a picture of the LP. I went to my streaming service and gave it a listen – it is stunning. It is beautiful and it rocks.

The Smile is Radiohead members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood with the drummer Tom Skinner (member of the jazz band Sons of Kemet). Yorke provided vocals, and he and Greenwood played guitar, bass and keyboards. The album was produced by Radiohead’s longtime producer Nigel Godrich.

It sounds like Radiohead, but different. At times more lush and at times more heavy. I am still absorbing it, but it is pretty fantastic so far. Most importantly there are lots of guitars and real drums!

In December the band issued a live set on streaming services that is a rawer (in a good way) version of several of these songs.

#10
Black County, New Road
Ants From Up There
(Deluxe)

I had never heard of this band until the guys on Indiecast (one of my favorite podcasts) alerted me to it. I said in my blog post earlier this year: “I know it’s weird, no it’s weird as fuck. All I can say is listen at least five times. It is an acquired taste.”

Reissue of the Year
Wilco
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Mega Deluxe Reissue

Wilco has been systematically reissuing their back catalog in deluxe/expanded editions for a few years now, but YHF is their most ambitious reissue to date. This is fitting as YHF was the album that moved them from middling indie-rock band to the American Radiohead – they have never had a radio hit or gotten to arena level commercial success – but with this album they earned serious cachet amongst musicheads (ironically they eventually devolved into dad rock). Wilco has taken an ingenious approach to the typical reissue of alternative takes and outtakes: they have sequenced three alternative YHF universes with three alternative versions of YHF. This is a wonderful reissue that gives you deep insights into Wilco’s artistic methods. Must listening for obsessive fans.

Honorable Mentions – no particular order

Maggie Rogers
Surrender

This is a worthy follow up to the breakthrough debut. Many young artists have a sophomore slump. Not Maggie. The debut was a strong collection of singles where Surrender an album – that is, it is a cohesive whole. As much as I liked Heard It In A Past Life, I prefer Surrender. But I have always been an album guy. Surrender sounds more mature and self assured. This is pop music, but with a wonderful quirkiness. It has a bit of a 80s New Wave vibe. Looking forward to seeing Maggie live at a festival in Phoenix in March 2023.

Big Thief
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

It is a wonderfully weird album. It is both tossed off and ambitious. I don’t know what to make of it, but I like it. I hear so many things: Radiohead, The Band, Bon Iver, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris – I will stop there – this is a deep album. Adrianne Lenker’s voice is wonderfully haunting.

Maren Morris
Humble Quest

I became a Maren Morris fan on her last album Girl. I wrote earlier this year: “Maren Morris’s music is rooted in country, but she is comfortable performing R&B, rock, Americana and pop. Country has been flirting with pop as long as I can remember. Sometimes that flirtation works, but often it comes off forced. Not for Morris, she is a master at country pop. Her latest, Humble Quest (her third major label album release) makes it a country pop hat trick – she has it figured out.”

Angel Olsen
Big Time

This is the third album on this list produced by Jonathan Wilson. Wilson is the reason I came to this album. It is a slow burn of an album and occasionally Big Time swells. The production is stunning, but great production is not enough – Angel Olsen delivers: she is a fine songwriter and great vocal performer.

Harry Styles
Harry’s House

This is his third solo album, and although there is nothing new here, there is the pure confidence of an artist who doesn’t feel the need to impress anyone but himself. I listened to a recent podcast from the New York Times that suggested that Styles’ music does not live up to his greatness as a pop star and celebrity. I get that. His music is derivative and unoriginal, but it is fun and engaging. That is good enough for me! Full post here.

Nikki Lane
Denim & Diamonds

This is the long overdue follow up 2017’s Highway Queen. Denim & Diamonds has the Americana singer songwriter working with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and his band. That unlikely pairing works. A little less twang and a little more grit – it is a nice progression.

Billy Strings
Me / And / Dad

This is a late add to the list. My son picked this up for the 🌵 Sessions when visiting for the holidays. Billy Strings has succeeded at being a rockstar and as a bluegrass musician. He comes about the genre from his dad’s influence and this is a dedication to his dad. Strings puts a modern twist on bluegrass, but this album is his most traditional. It is a collection of bluegrass classics with Billy and his dad alternating the leads. A delightful album and a great introduction to Billy Strings if you are unfamiliar with him. Looking forward to seeing him live in the spring of 2023 (Phoenix).

Ryan Adams
2022

2022 is a comeback year for Ryan Adams: he released four LPs and he had a successful solo tour of theater-sized venues. I saw him live in Minneapolis and it was a fantastic show – including several Minneapolis covers: Bob Mould’s “Black Sheets Of Rain” (which is fairy common in his set), Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” and The Replacements “Achin’ To Be.” The four albums are rocking. Chris is dedicated to his deceased brother, Romeo & Juliet is naturally a love album, FM is classic rock and Devolver is power pop. All are excellent.

And if that was not enough, Ryan released two covers albums for the holidays: Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. Wow!

Schitt: VALHALLA
TRIODE OTL HEADPHONE AMP AND PREAMP

Gear is a big part of my music experience. In my Minneapolis home I almost exclusively listen to music via headphones. For the last several years I have used a Schiit Vali 2 and have really enjoyed it. I brought it down to our Phoenix home and left it there and upgraded Minneapolis with a Schiit Valhalla. Schiit describes the Valhalla as “triode OTL amp”. Per my research, an output transformerless (OTL) is a type of vacuum tube audio power amplifier, which omits an output transformer for the purpose of greater linearity and fidelity. Conventional vacuum tube amplifier designs rely upon an output transformer to couple the amplifier’s output stage to the loudspeaker. I have no idea what the hell that means. Here is what I know: this is a rockin’ headphone amp – it sounds great. Schiit makes great budget audiophile equipment.

Margo Price
-Maybe We’ll Make It: A Memoir

I don’t read a lot of books, but when I do it is typically a music biography/autobiography. I listened to the audiobook version of this memoir and Margo’s reading of her memoir was a grand performance. See full review here.

And that’s a wrap. Already looking forward to 2023 when I will be retired and have more time to listen to music.

🌵 Sessions – Book Review – Margo Price – Maybe We’ll Make It: A Memoir

I am a Margo Price fan. A serious fan.

Me and Margo
April 14, 2018
First Avenue (Minneapolis)

I decided not to read her book, but instead listen to the audiobook. I have never consumed a book in audio form before. My wife and I were going to make our annual drive to Phoenix (about 26 hours on the road). We decided to invite Margo along to pass the time.

From what I hear, some audio books are read by the author and others are read by a voice actor. Margo is the former – sort of. Margo not so much reads her memoir, but performs it. And she performs it brilliantly.

Margo Price is a country/Americana singer songwriter. She is a hard to categorize, so I hate to pigeonhole her as country. When I am trying to turn someone on to Margo my shorthand description is that she is a country Stevie Nicks. A female Tom Petty might be more appropriate. But she can twang when she wants. I love her voice, her musical arrangements and her songwriting. As I said at the beginning of this post I am a fan.

In the memoir, Margo is extremely candid. She is so transparent at times it is unnerving to the reader/listener. As a fan it is a wonderful peak behind the curtain. How did a fuck up become an amazing artist? Simple: talent, drive, learning from your mistakes, tenacity, a little help from some friends, some luck and the humility to know that the fuck up is you – don’t deny it – embrace it and then transcend it.

Margo is not an overnight sensation. And she is not even a big deal in the music business. But she is a success – she is nearly 40 and she has a tribe. She is making a living making her music.

I enjoyed the book. For me, the purpose of a musician’s memoir is for me to get to know a favorite artist better. I know Margo Price better and I have greater respect and appreciation for her artistry than before I read the book.

Spoiler alert: alcohol abuse is bad for your career and family. However, it is possible to stop drinking with determination and a little help from psychedelics.

🌵 Sessions 2.0: Record Store Day (Black Friday 2022) – Gary Saracho – En Medio

Gary Saracho – En Medio
(1973 – RSD BF 2022 Release)

This is exactly what Record Store Day should do: introduce your ears to a lost classic. When issued in 1973 the jazz magazine Down Beat gave Gary Saracho’s En Medio their crown of excellence: a five star review. For a variety of reasons the album fell into obscurity.

This album defies categorization. It is clearly jazz with Latin flavoring, but it is also kind of funky. The closest connection would be Chic Corea’s Return To Forever. But it is not derivative, it is its own unique thing.

I had not heard of any of the musicians on this album. Per some googling, I learned most we’re affiliated with the Union of God’s Musicians and Artist Ascension (UGMAA), a network of largely African American jazz musicians organized by Horace Tapscott that acted as a community resource, linking musicians together and helping them find work.

I didn’t know anything about this album beyond what I read in the Record Store Day list. I took the $30 gamble and it paid off. This is a totally hip lost jazz/funk/Latin classic.

Musicians:

Gary Saracho – Composer, Keyboards, Piano, Primary Artist

Carmelo Garcia – Congas

Bahir Hassan – Drums

Lawrence Higgins – Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor)

Owen Marshall – Percussion, Synthesizer

Roberto Miguel Miranda – Bass (Electric)

Bruce Morgenthaler – Keyboards

Marvin Pallat – Violin

This album is not on streaming services, but it is on YouTube:

🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Cheap Used Records – Steely Dan Aja

Aja (1977)

Steely Dan’s Aja is one of my top 25 albums of all time. It was my first audiophile obsession – this album sounds so good! It is sonic perfection. This is my go to reference album given its outstanding production:

  • Test driving new equipment? Play Aja.
  • Got a new piece of equipment? Break it in with Aja.
  • Showing off your stereo? Exhibit One: Aja.
  • An album that has a great sound and production – is it as good as Aja?

This album has never gotten old for me. It is slick, but in a good way. It is sophisticated pop – almost jazz. The musicianship is spectacular. Per Wikipedia, Steely Dan for this album was

“…nearly 40 musicians, band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pushed Steely Dan further into experimenting with different combinations of session players while pursuing longer, more sophisticated compositions for the album.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aja_(album)

If you see this LP used, in good shape and at a decent price (under $5) buy it. It is doubtful it will be reissued. Per Wikipedia

When DTS attempted to make a 5.1 version, it was discovered that the multitrack masters for both “Black Cow” and the title track were missing. For this same reason, a multichannel SACD version was cancelled by Universal Music. Donald Fagen has offered a reward for the missing masters or any information that leads to their recovery.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aja_(album)
Duplicate for the 🌵 Sessions