At the risk of sounding like a museum curator (actually a dream job of mine), I’m ÜBER excited to share that we recently acquired four crates worth of near-mint condition records from Alex’s parents’ house. The Barton collection, as we call it, is an extremely well-kept selection of singer-songwriter, classic rock, bluegrass, and niche LA and Bay Area recordings. The plan was that we would safe-keep the records while they renovate their living room, but I think the mutual understanding is that “safe-keeping” actually means “keeping” in this case (one of the main reasons for this is that we’re the only ones in the family with a record player, although much of our setup was also “borrowed” from Alex’s dad).
Anyway, thanks to this new acquisition, we now have near-complete discographies for the Grateful Dead, Beatles, and Joni Mitchell. And we’ve been filling in our DIY record shelf rather nicely!
Classic rock aside, the majority of albums in the collection I’ve never heard before. As a result, we’ve been spending recent afternoons and evenings in the dining room/record room, drinking wine and listening to a few random picks at a time—my very favorite way to pass the time. Some highlights:
Old & In the Way – Old & In the Way
I didn’t know about this Jerry Garcia/David Crisman/Peter Rowan collab until about two months ago. Then, in quick succession, not only did we acquire a cassette tape of this album while in Vista for the holidays (I picked it out of a box of my dad’s old cassettes—Alex’s car is old enough to have a cassette player and we were looking for music to listen to on the drive back), but soon after we came to possess two copies of the album on vinyl, both of them presumably from Alex’s dad’s half of the record collection. What can I say, it’s a classic Boomer Dad album, with a name worthy of many Boomer Dad jokes (“Oh that old album? Take it, it’s just getting in the way.”).
It’s wonderfully bluegrassy, a mix of originals and traditional songs, with a cover of “Wild Horses” thrown in for good measure. A fun tidbit: it was recorded live at the Boarding House, a music and comedy venue in San Francisco with quite a storied history.
Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow
Another eponymous first album – we’re on some kind of roll here!
I am one of those people who became acquainted with Phoebe Snow through her credits on Paul Simon songs, and waited far too long to listen to her solo work. In fact, I’ve still only listened to this debut album in full, and have yet to explore her later albums (we don’t have any others on vinyl). Anyway, don’t be like me! Listen to Phoebe Snow now, not later!! Her voice is incredible…angelic and sexy and powerful all at once, capable of slipping effortlessly between folk, jazz, pop, soul. The entire album is just so cool. A small sampling.
Can I also just say how great I think this album cover is? The font, the sparse style and delicate rainbows in Phoebe’s hair, the glasses. Instant brownie points from me for any artist who flaunts glasses on their album covers.
Strange Paradise – Cris Williamson
One of my favorite discoveries to come from these listening sessions has been Olivia Records, the first record label made for and by women. Alex’s parents had quite a few albums from Olivia Records and/or the Women’s Music Movement: Meg Christian, Margie Adams, Cris Williamson. Those I’ve listened to so far have been immensely refreshing and empowering, with Strange Paradise so far being one of my favorites. As the cover so aptly suggests, it’s the kind of album you might listen to on a solo road trip through the most sacred corners of the American Southwest.
When Strange Paradise was released, Olivia Records was based in Oakland and according to liner notes, the album was recorded partly at The Automatt in San Francisco. So I want to believe the song “On, Judah!” is about the N Judah, even though the lyrics suggest the train is maybe more of an Amtrak sort?, and the notes dedicate it to the Lion of Judah. :shrug:
I just really like the vibe of this album. With lyrics like Home, like a folding of wings and choruses that repeat Gonna kill them with kindness …it’s given me a few new personal anthems.
Silk Purse – Linda Ronstadt
Show me the discography of a popular artist I don’t know very well and ask me to pick an album, and I’ll probably choose the one that looks the most like a country rock album from 1970. I’ve still only scratched the surface of Linda’s catalog, and I knew she did a good amount of country-adjacent stuff, but I wasn’t prepared for how truly down-home this album would be. Her yodelicious version of “Lovesick Blues” pulled me in and kept me happily surprised all the way to “Life is Like a Mountain Railway”—pure Americana!
There are so many entry points to Linda Ronstadt: her music spans at least a dozen genres and she’s collaborated with so many people! My entry point, unsurprisingly, was Mike Nesmith, thanks to her cover of “Different Drum” with the Stone Poneys. But maybe you’ve heard her collabs with Philip Glass, Frank Zappa(?!), or Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Or maybe you’ve even seen this 1979 Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow duet (how relevant!) from SNL! I certainly hadn’t before now, but want to thank the YouTube algorithm for so conveniently introducing it to me. The icing on the cake is that they’re singing a song by the Roches! 😍
Ignore the circa-2004-DVD-menu graphics; no idea what’s up with that but I couldn’t find another version:
Those 1979 styles though! I wish I could pull off either look.
Anyway, it’s been too cold to go outside lately and there are stacks upon stacks of records waiting to be listened to, so I’m sure I’ll be back soon with another round.