The Kate Bush Theme continues…

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Fish People, Kate’s record label, contacted me today informing me I was selected to purchase one the limited edition “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 2012 Remix” vinyl picture discs.

Kate released the disc originally for this year’s record store day (April 20th).

Honestly, I had forgotten that I even registered. I liked hearing the remix during the Olympics, so I thought I would give it a try.

Words cannot express how excited I was to receive the email. In the midst of applying for countless jobs, I get a little present. Christmas in September, if you will.

Something new I get to add to my collection.

Release Me

Release Me
Barbra Streisand (Columbia, 2012)

CK Rating: 5 Stars / A+

Since Columbia released the vinyl edition of Release Me  on September 25th, the company has posted other tracks on Soundcloud for all to hear. Finally, the album was released today, and I also got notification that QVC shipped my CD/DVD set. I love every track on the recording. Most fans have been dying to hear these unreleased gems for decades. After years of waiting and wishing, Barbra fans have them in three formats: CD, vinyl and digital download. The vinyl edition of the album took me by surprise for reasons: she said back in 1986, “I never want to hear vinyl again,” and Love Is The Answer Barbra’s 2009 offering had a double-Lp release that was super limited. I find it so intriguing that after not having a vinyl pressing of a Barbra Streisand for decades, her 2012 release of “unreleased” material gets released on Lp. Nice choice for Columbia to do that, or did Barbra Streisand change her tune on conventional records?

Here are my thoughts on my favorite tracks:

“Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” an outtake from the 1985 Broadway Album  sessions, opens the album with an anthem that seems to be perfect for Streisand – “being good isn’t good enough.” The song perfectly summarizes Streisand. Once labeled a perfectionist, the lyrics suit the ideal that being good just isn’t enough. In musical terms this is true, if Streisand heard a wrong note, or was unhappy with her vocal take, she would shelve a song or perhaps an entire session of work. The track was supposed to open the  GRAMMY winning album; however, the business related “Putting it Together” by Stephen Sondheim with commentary on Streisand’s struggles in the music made the album.

“Didn’t We” is a classic Jimmy Webb song, which was featured during Streisand’s live concert at the Forum. Strangely enough, it didn’t have a studio version release. That injustice has been corrected. Streisand’s voice soars on the track and blows her live version from 1972 out of the water.

“Willow Weep For Me” recorded during the Simply Streisand  sessions with Ray Ellis, in 1967, is beautiful, jazzy and smooth. The arrangement by Ellis is perfectly suited to Streisand’s early voice.

“How Are Things in Glocca Morra?/Heather on the Hill” – The medley of two classic Broadway songs, is from the 1988  Back to Broadway sessions with the brilliant Rupert Holmes, who had created the successful Mystery of Edwin Drood  for Broadway in 1986. The wonderful thing about these sessions is they’re available on YouTube. The video footage of Barbra in full recording mode is fascinating, albeit dated. The process of recording the arrangement, tempo, orchestra and voice just right is so intriguing. Amazingly, Streisand makes it all look and sound effortless. The track on Release Me is just beautiful. Editorializing, I wish she had gone ahead with her  Back to Broadway  sessions in 1988, instead of what Columbia released in 1993.

“Mother And Child” is a duet between Barbra and herself in two roles: mother and child. The track is taken from a Michel Legrand (and Bergman) song cycle from the 1970s. The song is wonderful, almost something from Sesame Street like the classic “Sing” by Joe Raposo. I love the whole thing. When I was listening to the song, for some reason, I shed tears. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was the lyrics? The Music? I don’t know. Subesquently listenings moved me to tears as well.

“Home” – from The Wiz  was made famous by Diana Ross when she sang the song in the motion picture version of the musical. Streisand’s interpretation doesn’t offer anything new; however, she does add her signature styling to the song. The song was recorded initially for the The Broadway Album in 1985. Fortunately, the arrangement has been slightly updated to fully realize the potential of the song. Barbra is in her element on this song. She should include it on her new tour!

Organization is Key.

Buying music is so easy these days. A simple click of a mouse and one can have any amount of music at their fingertips. Thanks to such services like the Apple iTunes Store and Amazon’s Mp3 service, music is more accessible than ever before. It can be found anywhere on the Internet too! Admittedly over the last six or seven years, I’ve found 60% of the music in both my iTunes and my Google Play accounts over the Internet. I must thank Google Blog search for that. Just type an artist and with any luck you’ll get numerous blogs dedicated to a particular artist or artists. Now, I fully realize that the sharing of music or any copyrighted material via the Internet is quite frankly, illegal, but how are people supposed to fully understand or even appreciate music if they can’t access it, hear it or buy it?

This is why I am so happy that there are used music and bookstores that still cater to the music and book fiend in all of us. Here in Music City, USA there is no shortage of stores of both kinds. It’s the best of both worlds here. If you want strictly music, there are stores like Phonoluxe and Third Man Records. To expand ones Library The Bookworm and Parnassus Books in Nashville are just the ticket.

I’ve taken to hitting up Phonoluxe quite a bit, a lovely store in Nashville that’s only open on the weekends; it is filled with records, tapes and CD’s at rock bottom prices. I’ve been able to leave with seven or eight records for just under $50.00 – compare that to B&N which will charge a customer $17.95 for the latest piece Lady Gaga ear candy. No thank you.

There is also a store in Nashville that sells strictly “used books, CD’s, Movies, & More.” The McKay store is located just off I-40 on Old Hickory Blvd. It’s been in it’s current location for less than a year, having recently moved from their big-box residence this past Winter. The original McKay store was a cramped space with a claustrophobic parking lot. This new building is a revelation. McKay Used Books is a chain of three stores in Tennessee with 2 others in Chattanooga and Knoxville.

The store’s description is nothing special nor was its former location. The building, a former CompuServe, seemed ideal for a bookstore, but it was clear at the patrons felt it too small and the parking lot was very inconvenient, often drivers could be seen jockeying for any space available. When I heard they would be relocated my ears perked up.

I heard about the store thanks to a college librarian who, like myself, was a music lover. We would often sit for hours in the school library and chat about music; she even let me listen to some of her albums she kept behind her desk. Most days the library was filled with music and I finally had to ask her “Where did you get that?” “Oh, McKay’s,” she cheerily replied. I knew I had to look this store up.

Their new location is just right down the street from where my dad lives, but still the store is a good forty-five minutes away from where I live. If Nashville traffic is good, the trip can be a smooth one, more often than not, getting to West Nashville is frustrating and arduous. I couldn’t stand the drive to see my dad, why would I make a special trip just to a bookstore. I wouldn’t and I haven’t since they moved many months ago.

Finally today seemed the perfect chance for me to get up off my rump, and make a trip up to Nashville to finally visit the store.

Apparently tons of others had the same notion because the place was quite busy. You can imagine the scene: kids laughing and running, parents sitting just inside the entrance in comfy armchairs reading, a long line at the checkout counter, kids looking for textbooks and college kids doing the same.

The building itself is a revelation. Bright and clean, painted white and blue with rows and rows of unfinished wooden bookshelves. The second story is something of a balcony with those atypical black CD organizers and a small area for select vinyl records. Instantly, I knew what I wanted: Music. As I amounted the stairs with Olympian speed and agility I was quickly overcome with sight that met me upon making the second floor landing.

Now my idea of a used book and music store is something akin to Barnes and Noble: if you want music, there’s a large selection and if you want books, you’re more than covered. I dislike the way McKay has their space setup, the second story has the music against the walls and a long blue walkway that overlooks the open first floor and the rows of bookshelves. It looks like a track at the YMCA, If I wanted to do laps upstairs I could have, with ease!

Another annoyance is the lack of organization. For example I found an album by an artist I’ve adored for years, Cleo Laine, in the “easy listening” genre. She is clearly a jazz artist. The second floor music area is a mess with music thrown thither and dither.  Fortunately I did find three albums that made it worth my time, however the disorganization continued on the main floor.  VHS tapes and DVD’s together without any sort of delineation except by alphabetical order, they should be separated – VHS (who watches those anymore?) and DVD’s not just mixed together.

Don’t even get me started on the books. It took me a good twenty minutes to find Agatha Christie.  Where is the organization? I’ve never been so frustrated in not being able to find something quickly in a store. I love the store; I just think it’s not laid out very well. Yes, the empty space is nice, but all that could be useable space for more inventory.

I still buy music, but it’s so irritating when I can’t find what I want.

Artists should thank people like me!

Barbra: Reflections

Music is speaks to every part of the body. It speaks to ones soul, it has healing qualities and can transform lives. Barbra Streisand is an artist that is so cathartic to me. Her musical genius is nothing short of inspirational. I remember the first time I saw Barbra, it was watching a really old VHS tape of Funny Girl. Everything about that film amazed me. The music, the story, the colors, the sets, the costumes – it all fascinated me. What thrilled me most was Barbra’s voice. I remember I was about 4 or 5 when I first saw the film and I was hooked.

As a child, I remember staying at home a lot with my mother. I would take naps in my bedroom, and mother would clean the house and turn on the stereo in the living room. To make the cleaning go faster, she would crank up the music and sing along to it. I wasn’t sure what I enjoyed more – my mother singing or the music playing in the background. One of the first Barbra Streisand albums I can remember hearing is “The Broadway Album.” Everything about the album at the time fascinated me. I often asked my mother to repeat the album, over and over and over again. Every song was wonderful, Barbra’s voice took me to far off places, and introduced to so many different characters. I learned about musical theatre thanks in part to that album.

“The Broadway Album” became an irrevocable part of my life. Every song seemed tailor made for some aspect of my life. I would ask my mother, “How did they do that?” (talking about an aspect of the production of a certain song) or “Why does Barbra sing this note?” I remember asking my piano teacher when I was 7 years old, if she would teach me songs from the album. By this time I was picking out tunes by ear, trying in some way to get everything I heard onto my tiny keyboard. I wanted to recreate the space-age atmosphere in “Somewhere,” and play the business driven anthem “Putting it Together” and I was just seven years old!

I’ve written about this album before, and I have no issue with returning to it because it’s made such an impact on my life. As I wrote in a old blog post, “Music, for me, has always been cathartic. When ever I’m down or depressed, I turn to it. When I was twelve, my life was in true turmoil. There were issues at home, my sister had just joined the Navy and my school life was complete torment. Music saved me. The ability to play music and express myself at the piano transformed my pain and anguish. I was liberated. I relished in the ability to get lost in music, to listen to it, to play it, for it was always there.” I still believe that, even today.

These days, I’m more fascinated with how music is created: how albums are arranged, orchestrated. How arrangers go about figuring out the instrumentation for a certain piece of music. A good example of this fascination is with a certain song performed by Barbra Streisand. “Putting it Together” by Stephen Sondheim was written by the composer/lyricist for his 1984 musical “Sunday in the Park with George.”

The song details the difficult struggle between art and business and has the unique stylistic features that are so indicative of a Sondheim composition. My fascination is not with the vocals of Streisand, but the arrangement specifically recorded by the artist in 1985. Peter Matz (who arranged the first three albums by Streisand in the early 1960′s) is arranger/conductor on “The Broadway Album” and his vision for the first cut of the album has always amazed me. The beauty of it, the style, the use of synthesizer, orchestra, percussion all come together in a cohesive piece. (I love synthesizers, don’t ask me why) What I find even more interesting is how different the track is from the HBO Special Putting it Together: Making The Broadway (1986) when Barbra actually does a take of the song complete with orchestra and the commentary by David Geffin, Ken Sylk and the late Sydney Pollack, versus the one on the final release of the album.

All the aspects of a music: ideas, formulation, instrumentation and arrangement I have always been keenly aware of. With certain singers or pieces of music, that awareness is heightened and my “Why” and “How does that happen” kick in. I always want to know how and why. Especially in music. How does something make a certain sound? How can you color a certain song with a different arrangement? What does an arranger zero in on when formulating a chart of music?

My freak adoration of music has perplexed me for so long, I even wanted to make it part of my academic career. When I was first at MTSU and in the honors college, I was told I could do my Honors Thesis on anything I could think of, pending approval. I immediately thought “Music.” Wild ideas chased each other around my head: Could I ask Columbia to examine the master tapes of Streisand’s 1985 sessions? Are there instrumental tracks without Barbra’s vocals mixed in? I envisioned myself doing a 70-150 page examination of how orchestrators, past and present created music for the entertainment icon. Sadly, that never came to pass. I still have tons of questions I’d love to ask Streisand and her “team.” To add insult to injury, David Foster, (who produced “Somewhere” on the album) also created a duet for the young soprano, Jackie Evancho for her debut album “Dream with Me.” The duet between Streisand and Evancho uses 1985 outtakes of “Somewhere,” further fueling obsession.

Replacing Phonograph Styli and Cartridges

I will be the first to admit, I’m on the ground floor when it comes to being an audiophile and/or a vinyl record enthusiast. It’s so much fun though. Buying records at local shops, finding good deals on Ebay, or just looking for vinyl copies of favorite albums – it’s become something of an addiction.

I have a turntable from audio-technica. An AT-PL120. Thankfully my turntable is not USB supported, I have those trusty red and white audio cables.

The one thing I’m unsure of is how to go about replacing my stylus/cartridge. I’ve done my homework. I’ve been to needle doctor.com and have seen their cadre of different options. I had no idea one could fork over $15k for phono cartridge? I mean, is there any true reason to spend that kind of money on cartridge?! What I’m really getting at is this. Since I have an audio-technica table should I buy their cartridges, or go with another vender/brand name?

Here’s what I’m really after. I want to replace my stock cartridge with something more “upmarket” as it were. However, I’m a college student on a budget – thus I can’t go out and spend more than $100 on a new cart. I want something that brings out beautiful lows and lush highs and has can balance treble and bass appropriately. I usually rip vinyl so I can listen to it on my iPod (I know vinyl experts will laugh reading that.)

Thoughts and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.