I try to balance this blog with an interest in both independent film and music. But lately movie reviews have certainly been favored… so much so that I do not feel I can fairly offer a truly objective list of top 10 albums of 2011 (though February will certainly see a list of 20 of the best films I saw this year, as usual). I do plan a year-end music review post, but it will be one of the most subjective year-end posts/articles I have ever written.

In the meantime, as the new year looms, what better time to make my resolution to bring more music coverage to this blog for 2012, starting today with a personal music-oriented excursion that proves I still have a strong interest in vinyl records.

Last weekend, I made by bi-annual visit to Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s Rodeway Inn, about an hour-long drive north of my home, for a small, regular Florida record show that just may be the only routine record collector’s meet in South Florida. The last time I went, about six months ago, I arrived late and came out with scant few offerings to boast about. This time I was going to pay the extra three bucks for early entry (the show has a $7 cover for early entry before 10 a.m. and $5 after that [$4 with the flyer I had]), and it paid off. Below are pictures of the haul with some notes on the records.

One of my early great finds resulted in some awesome David Bowie bootlegs offered at a steal of a price: $3 for vinyl bootlegs, including some of his most acclaimed: Slaughter in the Air, the Thin White Duke and Resurrection on 84th Street. The first was culled from a performance in 1978. I’ve heard that live material well enough on the official Stage live album, and it’s not the greatest period for Bowie in concert. The latter two are both from the 1976 Station to Station tour, the Resurrection set is one of Bowie’s most famous concerts, at the Nassau Coliseum in New York. That has since been reissued on both CD and vinyl by EMI Records, as noted in many of my most popular postings on this blog (Could ‘Station to Station’ be EMI’s final Bowie reissue?; David Bowie’s Station to Station to be reissued in fancy 9-disc package; U.S. release date announced for Bowie’s Station to Station reissue; Advance copies for Bowie’s Station to Station features DVD-A).

I was comfortable to be in the presence of those records but would not see myself playing them over enough, if at all. I was interested in some other Bowie boots that included this cheap, black and white covered version of Bowie’s live appearance on the Midnight Special in 1974, offering previews of music that would end up on Diamond Dogs and covering his earlier hits, entitled Dollars in Drag – The 1980 Floor Show.

Then there was this double LP boot entitled The Serious Moonlight Rehearsals.

It’s another live era that never did Bowie much justice but also saw him selling out stadiums, following the release of his hit 1983 album Let’s Dance. The titles of the tracks, like “I Really Meant to Say” and “Hinterland” intrigued, though those are probably made up titles by the bootlegger of popular Bowie cuts.

I expect “Hinterland” will turn out to be “Red Sails,” but I cannot ever recall hearing that song live from a 1983 performance recording, and the cover and vinyl looked to be in good enough condition to make it worth checking out. But the special icing on this cake of this boot is the fact that guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn is advertised as having participated, and though he famously recorded guitar for Let’s Dance, giving the album quite a distinctive sound, he did not actually join the tour (Earl Slick came in for that), so this should make for an interesting spin on the record player.

Then there was this “Original Master Recording™” of The Rise and Fall and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, one of the few essential Bowie albums missing from vinyl collection. Though the cover looked worn, the vinyl did not, and these Original Master Recording™s (yes, they earned the TM on that) from the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs are no joke.

It’s rare to stumble across Bowie records at record shows, much less a whole stack at cheap prices. Eight bucks for three rare Bowie records. I made up for that early extra cost at that one booth, for sure.

Right next to that seller, another guy was looking to dump this excellent condition Donovan double album, A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, for $12:

All inserts (12 individually printed pages of lyrics for each song on the second LP in a folder) were there and the vinyl records looked great.

Plus, the box looked amazing with no tears or splits. The back cover had a photo of Donovan with the guru of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, attached to it (I would later learn, that this record indeed covered his feeling of initiation into TM).

I also went ahead and grabbed a great condition Mellow Yellow record from this dealer for $1. The cover looked worn, but, more importantly, as far as vinyl, I saw no scratches at all on the record.

I’ve recently been on a Donovan kick, as I have grown to realize his importance in bridging the gap between folk and psychedelic music in the late sixties. The music is phenomenal and resonates to this day on many contemporary acts. I like both Donovan and Belle and Sebastian for their mutual retro rock feel, though one is of the era and one is paying tribute to the era. Also, both Donovan and Belle and Sebastian frontman, Stuart Murdoch share a similar lilt to their voices, seeing as both hail from Scotland.

This find is a promo-only single for Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”:

Though it has the same song on both sides, the vinyl looked immaculate and the cover, a still image from her music video for the same song, is just a gorgeous, very literal (if unscientific) expression of the song title. It screams steam-punk technology before the term “steam-punk” ever came around. Plus, the track is from my all-time favorite Kate Bush album, 1985’s the Hounds of Love. Heck, Hounds of Love is probably one of the greatest albums of that year, even.

That record was $2, and, for the same price, I also picked up OMD’s Dazzle Ships, from 1983, only because I’ve heard it hyped by some musician friends of mine. Trusting them…

It also looked to be in great condition. Though you never know what you’ll get when you put the need to the vinyl, I do try to avoid any easy-to-spot scratches on the vinyl.

Speaking of, some of the more expensive records I splurged on that day included a $15 Music for Films record by Brian Eno, which I bargained down from $20 for a couple of tiny scratches (the music on there is too subtle to mar with pops and surface noise).

At another dealer’s table, I found a record from Hans-Joachim Roedelius, one of the founders of those electronic Krautrock pioneers Cluster (the softer, piano-oriented member): a 1984 album on the EG label, entitled Geschenk des Augenblicks – Gift of the Moment. For a spot of dried, water damage on the record, which I hope to get off with a record cleaning solution, I got half off the $10 asking price.

That same dealer also had an amazing looking version of an original A&M Records release of the Sky’s Gone Out from Bauhaus, with the original inner picture sleeve of the boys in the band and lyrics for $15. With the seller going half on the Roedelius record, I felt this record was also worth going for.

All told, I spent just $67 and walked out with nine records, including a double album and box set. Not bad.

Maybe this will lead to some individual reviews down the road, as one of the great things about hearing albums on vinyl is the rediscovery of a recording that still holds up nicely to this day. I’ve already started putting together a list of older records I’ve found on-line or at local record stores dating from the nineties on back that I hold up as some of the best of all time or of their times. Next year, beyond the smattering of new music reviews and even profiles (I have one interview with a major musician from the upcoming Weezer cruise in the can), readers of this blog can expect the celebration of some nice vinyl records, including original pictures of the artifacts.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Back when I had a weekly space of print in my college paper, Florida International University’s “The Beacon,” I had the chance to preview Kate Bush‘s 1993 album, the Red Shoes (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon). I had hoped to dig up that old review to see what my thoughts on the album were nearly 20 years ago now. It might have been interesting to compare my thoughts now on Bush’s re-imagining of several of the album’s tracks on her latest album, Director’s Cut (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon), which sees its official North American release today. It seems I no longer even have a computer file of it, much less an actual clipping.

I do recall that I had a lukewarm response to the Red Shoes, as I, like most casual fans of Bush, would always hold all her albums up against 1985’s Hounds of Love (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the nice vinyl reissue on Amazon). But now comes a Bush album that begs a comparison not only with the Red Shoes but also its predecessor, 1989’s the Sensual World (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon), as Director’s Cut is composed of a selection of songs from both albums.

The concept of this new album might seem audacious to some. But, coming from Bush, it should not come as a complete surprise. This is the same artist who re-recorded her vocals for her first hit single, 1978’s “Wuthering Heights,” for its inclusion in her 1987 hits compilation the Whole Story (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on Amazon).

Director’s Cut, takes that concept a step beyond, offering a look at a famously reclusive artist with her more popular years behind her. She was once up there in notoriety with Madonna in the early and mid-eighties (think today’s Lady Gaga and Katy Perry as far as recognition goes). But as a very well-read and quirky artist (she toured only once at the start of her 30+ career in support of an album), her appeal tended to the arty, more challenging side of rock, alongside artists like Peter Gabriel, David Bowie and Pink Floyd, whose guitarist, David Gilmour has been credited with discovering her.

Director’s Cut may even seem a bit excessive, characteristic of an OCD-type of artist, but it also reveals an artist still deeply invested in her work. Sometimes this sort of careful attention can produce respectable results. Look at the amount of time Gabriel spends on his music between albums and consistently delivers (except on maybe one occasion). But then it may seem a bit self-indulgent. This re-visioning of older songs in her catalog more closely recalls George Lucas’s efforts to remake the past by adding digital effects to his early Star Wars movies.

But Bush is not as ham-fisted an egomaniac as Lucas. What comes through Director’s Cut is an artist with tender respect for her original songs. Many Bush fans, or fans of the original albums, will be pleased to find the differences she has made are minimal. The soul of all the songs remains intact and sometimes more enhanced, as most of the new versions come across more luscious in general.

I do not normally feel inclined to take a track-by-track approach to my album reviews, but here comes an album that deserves such a close listen. Appropriately enough, you can also choose a deluxe version of the album that includes remastered versions of the original albums (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the deluxe edition on Amazon).

I had not listened to the Red Shoes nor the Sensual World in more than a decade, so I spent some time getting re-acquainted with them ahead of this review. According to Bruce Eder on the All Music Guide website Bush “re-cut all of her vocals and drums, and left virtually everything else unchanged.” That might be too pat a summary for this album, much less Bush’s approach to her intelligent pop music, as the majority of the re-workings cannot be so easily summed up.

Bush has done much more than simply re-record drums and vocals. She has given much more attention to the sound of the songs. The production has a delicate and affectionate touch behind it. On several occasions, the songs have aged well. The passage of time has added a depth to some themes, and Bush indulges in this, sometimes extending the songs with more patience than the original recordings. “Woman’s Work,” has nearly doubled in length and resonates more powerfully in the years that have passed since its original recording back in 1989. “Song of Solomon” also benefits from a more patient development.

The opening lines of “Deeper Understanding” works more powerfully in today’s age of social networking on the Internet than it did over 20 years ago: “As the people here grow colder/I turn to my computer/And spend my evenings with it like a friend.” To top it off, Bush has robotocized the chorus with a warped, more modern auto-tune effect. It’s a witty up-date to a song whose coda she also extends an extra couple of minutes with odd computer effects and a slow jam with drums, bass, harmonica and her own quirky voice. She also directed the video for it:

Sometimes, however, an indulgence in extending the songs works to their detriment. “Moments of Pleasure” spends too much time creeping into existence, leaving behind the romantic, wistful yet grand quality of the original. “The Sensual World,” now renamed “Flower of the Mountain,” featured Bush’s voice working at its peak, fluttering and whispering, doing sexy credit to the original title. The song was originally inspired by the ending of James Joyce’s Ulysses (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the book on Amazon). When Bush was denied permission by Joyce’s estate to use words from the book, back in 1989, she wrote her own lyrics (read more on that here). For Director’s Cut, however, the Joyce family gave her their blessing to use the text. She re-titled the song to reflect the changed lyrics that are now a sort of collaboration with Joyce, as originally envisioned by Bush, and you cannot argue the words of Joyce do take the song to another level. Too bad her voice is not what it used to be in the eighties.

Another song that suffers due to it’s re-interpretation is “Rubberband Girl,” which closes Director’s Cut. The new version sounds a bit uneventful, bouncing along on a reserved acoustic guitar rhythm. The original featured a shameless, over-the-top energy and, again, the voice of Bush that I miss most on this new record.

Though you cannot deny the passage of 20 years time on a singer’s voice, there are moments that her matured voice  (she is 52, btw) enhances the music. “Lily” is no longer the dull trudge it used to be. It has a new-found power thanks to Bush screaming and growling up front.

The differences in the other tracks are more subtle. “The Red Shoes” has a more open, expansive sound. Otherwise, it is very similar to the original. “Never be Mine” feels almost as subdued as the original. It might feature a different bass effect. If so, the change is subtle. But even on the Sensual World “Never be Mine” had a weak presence, and on Director’s Cut it again suffers a similar fate.

“Top of the City” sounds very similar to the 1993 version, though it sounds a bit grander in its original form on the Red Shoes. The new version grows a bit too hushed during its quiet moments, getting lost in its softness. Finally, “And So Is Love” is another mellow tune that features a very minimal change. Bush chucks the original’s electronic beat, and her voice once again comes across more energetic on the original version.

The Director’s Cut becomes a sort of mixed bag when you compare it to the originals. Some of the songs have benefited with age and certainly show maturity. However, there are several that seem quite uneventful. But I am sure serious Kate Bush fans will have a more heightened sense of the changes. Plus, the quality of the song craft from Bush certainly stands above much of today’s pop music. How many of today’s popular artists can make a career in music by referencing classic literature like Ulysses and— at the start of her career— Wuthering Heights?

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)