Tech Rap: Recommended Records
It is a great feeling when you discover a song or album that has not become a household name or is not being played endlessly on the radio. It is like finding your own secluded hideaway before it turns into a popular vacation destination for the masses. I would like to share with you some of my vinyl discoveries over the last several months. Admittedly, some of the titles are quirky, but they just might bring a smile to your face and a tap to your finger.
After having fallen asleep on the sofa with the TV on, something I do far too often I am afraid, I awoke early in the morning to a song playing on the TV which I found most appealing, but I was not familiar with the song or the group. Still in a daze, I quickly fumbled for my smartphone, launched the Shazam app, and held my phone up to one of the speakers on my wall. Shazam, acquired by Apple almost two years ago, is nothing short of amazing. It is a free app that identifies songs (and TV shows) by playing it a short snippet. In less than 20 seconds, Shazam had queried its massive music data base and identified the song in question as “Sea Gets Hotter” by Durand Jones and The Indications. Their self-titled debut album has a lot of great music, but it was a low budget production and I was wary of the sound quality, so I ended up purchasing their sophomore and latest outing, “American Love Call” (which includes “Sea Gets Hotter”). All of the songs are entirely original, yet many have a cool, 1960’s retro soul/R&B vibe. This music is so different from what I normally listen to, but different in a refreshing way like an ice cold lemonade on a hot day. I cannot say enough good things about this group.
Continuing the R&B theme, some of Emily King’s songs are contemporary R&B, but most of her music is really more on the pop side. I honestly do not remember how I became acquainted with her music, possibly from NPR, but I am glad I did. Her latest effort, “Scenery”, released earlier this year, is also a collection of original songs. To my ears, her voice is a satisfying mixture of Macy Gray and Dionne Warwick. Stand-out tracks include “Can’t Hold On” and “Teach You”, but my favorite is the shortest track on the album, “What Love Is”. Clocking in at under 2.5 minutes, it is as simple as her album cover, but equally attractive. This is probably not an album that will get you up and dancing, but it will speak to you.
Let us now jump from the current to the past with The Gramercy Six. Who? I was not familiar with them either until I stumbled upon them by chance while searching for used vintage jazz records on eBay. They performed and recorded with Artie Shaw as the Gramercy Five, but released “Great Swinging Sounds” without Shaw. What is most unique about this jazz group is that it featured a harpsicord instead of a piano. That may sound like a wacky instrument for a jazz sextet, but surprisingly, it works. Joining Ray Sherman on harpsichord was Shorty Sherock on trumpet, Eddie Rosa on clarinet, Al Hendrickson on guitar, Nick Fatool on drums, and Jud DeNaut on bass. Do not poo-poo it until you have a listen. I am partial to the tracks “Mullholland Drive” and “My Blue Heaven”, but every song will transport you back to a simpler time when the music was just as big and bold as the automobiles. And dig that crazy album cover, man. They don’t make album covers like they used to!
Jumping ahead a few more years to 1962, but remaining with the jazz theme, there’s the “Mr. Peters’ Pets” soundtrack. This was a low budget adult film that by today’s standards would not even qualify for a late-night showing on Cinemax. Back in the day it was termed a “nudie cutie”. The ridiculous plot concerned a man who turned himself into various household pets for the sole purpose of getting a peek a boo at his buxom female owners in various stages of undress (mostly fully undressed). But I am not writing a film review here, this is about the music soundtrack, which I am happy to report is considerably more entertaining than the film. The movie itself might be “blue”, but the music is not. The title track is playful, like a man who is up to no good, and I also like “Three Sporty Ladies” (the song, not the ladies). Bongos feature prominently throughout this mono recording, and you can read into that what you wish. This record is not a desert island disc for sure, but it is a fun listen.
Everyone knows the Carpenters and their hit songs dripping with innocence. I recall one music critic referring to Karen and Richard as “goodie four shoes”. I will never forgive them for mangling The Beatles’ hit rock song “Ticket To Ride” into a depressing single that should have come with a coupon for a free bottle of Prozac. One Carpenters’ album that gets overlooked, if not panned altogether, is “Passage”. It was quite a departure for the successful brother-sister duo. For one, none of the songs were written by brother Richard. For another, it was a mish-mash of songs that, by themselves, were very nice, but did not work well together as an album. The bizarre stand out track is “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”, a nugget from the disco era that sings out to extraterrestrials. Perhaps this song should have been included as a track on the gold record carried by the Voyager space craft that launched a month before this record was released. That song aside, Karen covers a Michael Franks smooth jazz song, “B’Wanna She No Home”, “I just Fall in Love Again” (also nice, but nothing will ever beat Anne Murray’s version), and a rendition of “Cry for Me Argentina”. If “Sweet, Sweet Smile” and “Man Smart” are the “uppers” in the track list, “Two sides” is the downer. “All You Get from Love Is A Love Song” is also a very nice listen. In less than six years after “Passage”, Karen’s heart would take its last beat and her angelic voice would be silenced forever. As cut-and-paste as this album comes off as, if you liked the Carpenters, you owe it to yourself to take this record for a spin.
The final and most mainstream album of the bunch I want to call out is Joni Mitchell’s “Mingus”. At best, I am a casual Mitchell fan, but my love for jazz drew me to this great recording. It is funny how one thing can lead to another. The album was recorded several months prior to Charles Mingus’ death. In her liner notes, Mitchell wrote of Mingus:
“The first time I saw his face it shone up at me with a joyous mischief. I liked him immediately I had come to New York to hear six new songs he had written for me. I was honored! I was curious! It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water – feeling it out – and Charlie came by and pushed me in – “sink or Swim” – him laughing at me dog paddling around in the currents of black classical music.”
Though Mitchell wrote the lyrics to all of the songs, Mingus composed four of the six music tracks. Besides Mitchell, other performers included the likes of Jaco Pastorius on bass, Wayne Shorter on sax, and Herbie Hancock on piano. The album is sprinkled with spoken word recordings of Mingus “rapping” about various topics ranging from his age, to his funeral, to money. This was not Mitchell’s first “dog paddle” in the jazz river, but in my humble opinion, it is her best. Coincidentally, I only just found out that Mitchell’s “Mingus” celebrated its 40th Birthday last month.
Hopefully my little record highlights have inspired you to add a turntable to your Como Audio or other music system. Accordingly, I have to take a moment to promote our wonderful turntable before I sign off. What sets our turntable aside from the throngs of other models? To begin with, we did not take an “off the shelf” model and slap our name on it and call it a day. The Como Audio Turntable is manufactured in the Czech Republic to our specifications. More important than this is the connection flexibility. With integrated Bluetooth, you can connect our turntable wirelessly to any stereo having a Bluetooth receiver, or for that matter, amplified Bluetooth speakers or Bluetooth headphones. Not being tethered by a cable means you do not need to position the turntable within a few feet of your primary audio system if you do not want to or do not have the space. Should your Wi-Fi network go out or develop an issue, you can still wirelessly stream your records via Bluetooth.
If Bluetooth is not an option, or you prefer using an audio cable, the Como Audio Turntable gives you two more options. You can use the included high-quality audio cable with the turntable’s built-in phono pre-amplifier and connect the cable to your system’s Auxiliary input. Or, if you already have a phono pre-amp, or your main system has a dedicated phono input, you can use the turntable’s dedicated phono output. One way or another, you can connect the turntable to just about any audio system. If you own multiple Como Audio systems and group them, you can enjoy your records simultaneously over each model with no audio delay. Just imagine listening to your records wirelessly on your Amico on your deck.
“It sounds beautiful. Haven’t listened to this album in about 20 years. Practically crying. Thank you.”
Another unique aspect is the finish options to match your Como Audio music system or general décor. The Como Audio Turntable is offered in real hickory and walnut veneers, and piano gloss black and white, all at the same $399 price.
There are other features worth touting like the Ortofon OM10 moving magnet cartridge, the reliable, quiet belt drive, the electronic speed control, the large, heavy steel platter, the removable dust cover, the universal external power supply, the two year warranty, and the simple set up (no need to adjust tonearm weight, tracking, or anti-skating). You get everything you need to start listening to records except the records.
Jeanne from NH was one of our first Como Audio Turntable customers and she emailed us to say: “…First, there was the way the sound sounded: warmer and more mellow. The faint little hiss and pops of the wear of a much-played record sounded comfortable, not distracting. Then there was the listening to the whole album the way the artist wanted it to be heard in totality. As a work of art. Not a single song streaming in many. But one song carefully chosen to go before or after another. And then the pause to turn it over. And it (the music AND the way it sounded) evoked of course, that time in our lives, before our kids, before cable news, before the worries we have now…It sounds beautiful. Haven’t listened to this album in about 20 years. Practically crying. Thank you.” By the way, the record that got Jeanne so emotional was Willie Nelson’s “You’re Always On My Mind.”
Records are one of the oldest and highest quality formats for music reproduction, and a turntable is one of the most, if not the most, engaging and enjoyable ways to enjoy the music.
Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio as V.P. of Product Development in 2016. In addition to Tech Rap, Peter also writes for his own blog, www.RecommendedStations.com. He can be reached directly at email@example.com
Tech Rap: Happy Birthday, Phonograph