Great Moments in Bargain Vinyl #1

After years of resigning myself to appreciating music exclusively through digital media, I returned to old technology this March by buying a used turntable in a flea market over Spring Break. In the weeks since then, I have accumulated--no lie--over 110 LPs, mostly by combing local thrift shops and Goodwill stores to scope out what sonic treasures have been cast aside in our constant slouch forward toward smaller, more synthesized ways of listening to tunes.

So, a new feature, here, in which I'll occasionally feature memorable LPs I've found for cheap in my travels. My criteria are these: the LP had to cost me less than three dollars, and has to be a less-obvious choice for personal canonization. (I could boast about the copy of Ellington at Newport I found for a couple bucks, but it's more fun for me to highlight some the more obscure recordings that have warmed my heart in this recent vinyl odyssey).

Joe Cocker, Jamaica Say You Will (A&M Records, 1975) [Cost: One dollar.]

Google this LP online and you'll find that it's not as popular with Cockerites as the earlier, more immediately famous stuff. I fear, though, that the dirty-toed hippie acolytes who first took to Joe doing gritty, late 60s covers of The Beatles and The Box Tops, might have missed the boat, by mistaking the mid-70s studio polish of this one for apostasy or posturing. I took a chance on it merely for the two Randy Newman covers he offers here ("I Think It's Going to Rain Today" on Side One, and "Lucinda" on Side Two) and was impressed with the consistent Me-Decade slick-funk and laidback Hollywood gospel he serves up in ample amounts. Some of the formulae here are familiar from earlier Cocker records--notably, the interplay with his female background singers--but what really wows me is the Dream Team rhythm section of session all-stars backing him: Richard Tee on keys, Chuck Rainey on bass, and Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie on drums. Indeed, Purdie is so in the pocket on "(That's What I Like) In My Woman," and "It's All Over but the Shoutin'" that Joe's trademark guttural non-semantic lyricizing fall back into the mix for me. First-rate, soulful pop, and well worth the 100 pennies it cost me to bring it home.

Barney Kessel, Bossa Nova (Reprise Records, 1962) [Cost: A buck and a half.]

I am a fan of guitarist Kessel's more traditional jazz playing, especially the trio recordings he did with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown, under the name The Poll Winners. This LP stood out immediately to me in a roadside thrift shop for its va-va-voom 60s cover art. The music on the vinyl inside takes that bit of New Frontier decadence two steps forward. I swear, this is the soundtrack for sipping Old Fashioneds in your mid-century ranch home (literally, the use to which I've put it more than once over the past few weeks), or being chased by Soviet bad guys in your Aston Martin on the Autobahn in a Cold War spy saga. It's not bossa nova in the "Girl from Ipanema" vein, but rather, a super-swingin', sun-soaked, twang and go-go beats party. Imagine standards like "Summertime" or "Sweet Georgia Brown" amped up and shot from a canted angle, with a dash of angostura bitters. It doesn't even bother me that the drums are literally the same on every track here.

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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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