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Corsair – Barrel Aged Gin (Made in Tennessee)

Gin aged in rum barrels, interesting right?  It is gin flavored, but sweeter. This is a brilliant hack.

I like a very dry martini and I am the kind of snob who believes that the gin makes the martini, not the glass. So, I like to think of myself as a gin fan.

Corsair’s Barrel Aged Gin is brown, but don’t be distracted – it still tastes like gin, with a touch of the rum’s sweetness. It is a great flavor. I would not mix it – just pour it over ice or neat. It is such a bright and fruity gin you don’t want to distract it with anything but ice.

Per Corsair:

Barrel-Aged Gin: To craft this spirit, we take our award-winning gin and age it in used spiced rum barrels for 3-6 months. This process imparts baking spice and vanilla notes to the botanical gin, making for a complex and citrusy spirit.

It is a nice desert drink in that it tastes light and fresh after a heavy meal.

I was never a rum drinker. When I used to think of rum, I assumed Captain Morgan. Pretty bad booze as far as I am concerned. But then I had Indeed Rum King and I began to wonder what good rum might taste like. A friend, who appreciates rum like I appreciate whiskey, turned me on to fine quality rum that you sip like a fine whiskey.  With his guidance, I have come to appreciate rum as a legitimate spirit. I am now receptive to beverages aged in rum barrels. This particular Corsair bottle is aged six months in a the rum barrel (it is hand written on the bottle).

I am fascinated by the traditional gin flavor sweetened by rum, a very unique flavor. I am consistently impressed by Corsair. Everything I have tried has been great. Triple Smoke is my favorite whiskey of the moment. Barrel aged gin is a brilliant idea.  Gin – you are now on the brown juice shelf.  You have done it again Corsair!


Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens

Whoever’s idea it was to match up legendary jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd with a couple of unique toned guitarists and the queen of Americana is crazy – a crazy genius that is. I was a big fan of Charles & the Marvels last outing I Long To See You. This is a worthy follow up.

The Marvels are Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar and dobro, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Several songs have Lucinda Williams on vocals. Vanished Gardens was produced by Lloyd, Dorothy Darr, and Don Was.

I love the combination of Frisell’s folkie jazz guitar, Leisz country twang, Williams’ smokey drawl and of course Lloyd’s charming sax. This would not work on paper, but it works on wax.

I am a jazz and country music fan and typically when you merge those you get western swing. This is something altogether different. It is Americana Jazz, mellow, yet rich. Gorgeous tones ooze out of all the players. It is beyond belief that at 80 years old, Lloyd still sounds on the top of his game.

Low – Double Negative

My introduction to Low was their 2005 masterpiece The Great Destroyer. That album was blessed five years later by Robert Plant covering two of its songs on his Band of Joy album: “Monkey” and “Silver Rider.”

AllMusic describes Low accurately as a:

Indie trio from northern Minnesota who pioneered slowcore with beautiful, atmospheric songs marked by long, unsettling silences.

Double Negative is on the more experimental side of Low’s repertoire. It is filled with noise and stuttering edits. Yet these sharp edges do nothing to diminish the fundamental beauty of Low – they enhance the beauty. It reminds me of the jagged beauty of a frozen Lake Superior winter shoreline.  The weave of Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s voices are beautiful as always. The beauty of those voices, juxtaposed with industrial noise highlights and enhances those voices.

Low’s Alan Sparhawk stated in City Pages that the album is a reaction to our fractured times:

“This is very much a reaction to what was going on,” Sparhawk says. “It’s very much an expression of… sometimes despair, sometimes confusion, sometimes anger. There’s one line in the album [from “Dancing and Fire”] that I keep coming back to: ‘It’s not the end. It’s just the end of hope.’ A lot of the music on the record feels to me like, it’s very obvious that everything is completely flawed, and we are in a dire and almost traumatic situation here. How do you keep breathing? Once our fight with hope has ended, what now? What then?”

This is not easy listening music, but these are not easy times.

Postscript: I recently attend a Low in store performance at the Electric Fetus. They played a short semi unplugged set. Mid-set Alan Sparhawk solicited questions from the audience. After a little Q&A, I shouted out “Beatles or Stones?”  Sparhawk thought a second – I am paraphrasing here – and endorsed the Beatles. He said that whenever he is struggling for composition inspiration, he pulls out the Beatles’ songbook and plays a few tunes. Not to copy them, but to immerse himself into their songwriting genius and to remind himself how it is done – to be inspired by the boys. Pretty interesting take.

Tube Rolling – 12AX7- Tung-Sol Gold Pin

Question: What is tube rolling?

Answer: Tube rolling is the process of trying out a number of tubes in the same spot in an amplifier and selecting the one that sounds best to you. This can be very helpful in optimizing the tone of the amplifier. Tung-Sol

Several years ago I got into tube HiFi gear. It was a game changer. Tube amplification is gorgeous. It is tender on the ears and gives music a unique character. Sound reproduction always adds an opinion. So you want an opinion that will enlighten you and not annoy you. Tubes make music smooth and soft. There are no sharp edges. If you think about pairings (a meal and drink), tubes are the perfect complement to LPs (vinyls as you kids call them). It’s an analog on analog love affair.

My first exposure to tubes was with an ancient guitar amp I bought. It never helped my guitar playing, but the tone was sure cool. I instantly understood why real guitar players would dig tubes.

My real tube experience came when I got a Jolida Glass FX 10 integrated stereo amp. It’s a 7 by 8 inch cuboid of 10 watt goodness.  I have had lots of stereo equipment over the years, but this is the most life changing piece of gear I have every owned. The sound was nothing short of amazing. It has been a solid foundation to my rig for several years now. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have a headphone stage.

My next tube addition was a phono preamp. I chose the Bellari VP130 Tube Phono Preamp because it was tube based, reasonably priced and as a bonus it has a headphone stage (as noted the FX 10 did not – so this filled a big hole in my rig).

When we moved into a condo with a very open concept the headphone amp on the Bellari became a key feature in my listening.

I have been wanting to upgrade my equipment, but it is not in the budget (and not really necessary) so I thought maybe I should do an inexpensive upgrade – roll the tube on the Bellari (a single 12AX7).

I went to the Needle Doctor and picked up a Mullard. I swapped it out and my system sounded instantly better. Brighter without being harsh. A bigger sound stage. Overall lusher.

After a month my right channel got quiet – about 75% of the volume of the left. I started to diagnose and to cut to the chase it was the Mullard tube in the Bellari. For the last few weeks I have been back to the stock tube. I returned it to the Needle Doctor and they accepted the return without hassle. I decided to take it up a notch and bought a Tung-Sol Gold Pin.

I listened to the new Paul McCartney (Egypt Station) album with the stock tube and then replayed the McCartney via the Tung Sol. Sounds amazing. Super lively. Like the Mullard, it has a bigger sound stage than the stock tube. What a fun way to upgrade your rig for less than $50. Per Tung-Sol:

The Ultimate 12AX7 enhanced with Gold Pins. Big, warm, and musical. High Gain, ultra-low microphonics, and superb linearity with a dynamic 3-D sound.

Tubes are not for everyone. They are not without hassles, like the Mullard going bad after a month. But this is why you work with reputable dealers like the Needle Doctor.

I don’t know much about the esoterica of tubes. Both tubes I rolled were manufactured in Russia – which is where things like this still get made. Sometimes it helps to be a backwards country. Maybe someday I will be more knowledgeable, but I have a feeling you don’t need to know much. Rolling tubes is like trying on walking shoes. Keep trying until you find something that fits comfortably. So far the 12AX7- Tung-Sol Gold Pin is feeling pretty comfy.

Paul McCartney – Egypt Station

The first hint that Sir Paul had something special up his sleeve was his appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. The next hint was a preview single “Come On To Me” – the single was solid.

Egypt Station is the best thing Macca has done in twenty years. Great songs, great production and he has still has his singing chops.

Greg Kurstin produced the album. I did not know this guy, so I scrolled through his credits. Wow. This is an interesting matchup. Kurstin is a pop guy, he is more than a knob turner, he is a serious musician. How much fun do you think these two studio rats had?

Per McCartney, this is a concept album: each cut is a train station and thus each cut should sound different. You are rolling down the tracks checking out each station. Not much of a concept – but if it inspired McCartney who cares – we are the beneficiaries.

On Egypt Station he sounds like classic McCartney, yet completely current. The contemporary production does not overpower or seem awkward. It seems like an appropriate update of McCartney’s sound. You can hear McCartney borrowing from his own disciples: U2, Coldplay, Sting, Spoon, etc. I guess you can do that when you have been in the game nearly sixty years.

McCartney is not leaning on his silly love songs, but rather he is sharing wisdom from his 76 years on the planet. How to handle bullies (“Who Cares”), cheerleading (“Do It Now”), Trump (“Despite Repeated Warnings”), etc.

It is great to see a master create yet another masterpiece late in his career. He is not content to coast on his hits – he has a need to make new creations. Egypt Station is a completely successful album. Congrats Sir Paul!

Crate Digger’s Gold: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band – East-West

I have had The Paul Butterfield Blues Band anthology on CD for many years and my favorite song on that collection is “East-West.” So I jumped on the opportunity to buy a vintage LP of the source of that cut: 1966’s East-West. I was browsing the fresh used wax at the Electric Fetus when I saw it and nabbed it. I checked out the grooves and they were clean. Ten bucks – I am in. One thing I really appreciate about the Fetus is they have fair prices – not a discounter – a fair price. They stand by their stuff too. Not to mention the store has a funky vibe – Prince shopped at the Fetus.

Back on topic. What a great album. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were pioneers foreshadowing the psychedelic blues and acid rock. This was 1966 – it predates Jimi’s Are You Experienced by a year, Cream was hatching at the same time across the pond and the Grateful Dead’s debut was a year away.

If you love the Allman Brothers you are going to love this. Dueling guitars: Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. If you love classic rock – this is as foundational as the Stones, The Band, The Doors and most importantly: electric Dylan. Bloomfield was the guitarist on Highway 61 Revisited (arguably Dylan’s greatest LP).

This is a very cool blues take. These were the most legitimate white blues interpreters in America – overshadowed by the Brits – these guys were directly schooled by Chicago Blues royalty: Muddy & Howlin’ Wolf – to name drop two. This band is a little below the radar – they deserve more of a reputation – to have a broader audience – especially with rock minded millennials.

I have to admit, beyond the titular cut I am not that knowledgeable about their catalog. I know Bloomfield from Dylan. I just missed this – too much good music and too little time.

This is amazing stuff. Chicago Blues waiving its freak flag. At times, it is knocking on the jazz fusion door. British Blues had such a huge market share and lasting influence that Americans like this band are overlooked (although they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame).

Bloomfield is amazing. Per The Paul Butterfield Blues Band entry on the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame’s website:

Michael Bloomfield became one of the era’s first electric-guitar heroes, right there with Eric Clapton in terms of taking blues guitar to a new level. The gunpowder in the band’s equation, Bloomfield was a musician who saw no boundaries, only possibilities, and approached songs like they were vessels to be filled with his hugely impressionistic soundscapes. Joining the group for its first recording sessions, Bloomfield fit seamlessly with original guitarist Elvin Bishop, and together they built a sound perfect for Butterfield’s vocals and harmonica.

This album is a magic moment in the rock and roll timeline. It is great that after all these years, there are still hunks of gold to stumble on. I will be listening to this frequently over the next few months. I have found a new rabbit hole.

Crate Digger’s Gold: Animal Collective- Merriweather Pavilion

I recently picked up a used vinyl copy of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Pavilion.  The Electric Fetus is my main record store. I went there for a couple of new releases (The Internet and Charles Lloyd) and couldn’t resist this one. I had completely forgotten about this album and how good it is. I had a nicely packaged CD from when it came out in 2009. Loved it then, but it slipped off my radar and I have not been hooked by any of Animal Collective’s other albums – so it was really off my radar.

To be honest I did not really crate dig this one. The LP was displayed on the “Fetus wall” (staff picks from the recent crop of used records and highlights the best catches). So it easily caught my attention.

When I got home there was no question what the priority was. I dropped the needle on Animal Collective: bliss.

I love finding original used LPs from the CD era. They are almost always issued with care. They tend to be expensive ($15 to $20), but they are high quality stamps. So it is worth it. The year 2009 was early in the vinyl renaissance, so should not be a surprise that a sound oriented act like Animal Collective were going to make sure the wax was perfectly executed. This is one of the best sounding albums from the last ten years. The LP sounds clean. It is more organic and softer than the WAV file.

This is a well-tended LP, but well-played. I wonder what the sad story is? How is it that this got in a crate? According to Discogs the version I found is an original US edition from 2009.  The Fetus staff knew this was a high-profile item so it was on “the wall” and not in the crates. The Fetus had it at market rate at $15.99, but I had a $3 off coupon to make it a deal/steal.

If you have not checked out Animal Collective – I am speaking to my generation – think Peter Gabriel era Genesis. If you like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, you will probably like this. Another reference would be the weirder side of Lindsey Buckingham and Pink Floyd’s Meddle.

Merriweather Pavilion sounds like the the late aughts, it would not be out-of-place on a playlist with The Shins and Vampire Weekend. But it is on the weirder end of the alternative spectrum. This is thinking man’s pop-rock.

This is classic headphone music. The music swirls around you and is more sound effects than melody. The band has almost Beach Boys harmonies over ambient rhythmic keyboards. If you ever wondered what Pet Sounds would sound like in the 21st Century check out Animal Collective’s Merriweather Pavilion.