10 must-own records for the newest vinyl col­lec­tors

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dy­lan Owens

Stick­ing with digital mu­sic doesn’t make you any less of a mu­sic fan. But if you have the means and you seek a deeper con­nec­tion to mu­sic, a record col­lec­tion isn’t a bad place to start.

So, you’ve asked for a record player for the hol­i­days. You know that mu­sic has never been freer or eas­ier to get in the his­tory of the world, right? Just check­ing. The vinyl re­nais­sance could be seen as a pur­pose­ful at­tempt to rein­vest in the idea of mu­sic. Lit­er­ally ev­ery time you buy an al­bum, you’re in­vest­ing money in mu­sic, which makes you that much more likely to spend time with it.

That’s not to say all albums merit close listening — Pit­bull ain’t gonna sing any more on a hi-fi au­dio set-up than your gro­cery store’s speak­ers. But there are many albums de­serv­ing of more than two dis­tracted min­utes of your time over air­plane head­phones.

Records are about own­er­ship and sen­ti­men­tal­ity, ideas that digital store­fronts have proven are un­der­stand­ably less of a con­cern than price point for most folks.

If that sounds hokey, we get it. Stick­ing with digital mu­sic doesn’t make you any less of a mu­sic fan. But if you have the means and seek a deeper con­nec­tion to mu­sic, a record col­lec­tion isn’t a bad place to start.

Be­low, we’ve high­lighted 10 records that no col­lec­tor should be with­out. Keep in mind that choos­ing a fa­vorite al­bum is like choos­ing a sig­nif­i­cant other: Even a friend you nor­mally re­spect and con­sider kin is li­able to have wildly dif­fer­ent, head-scratch­ing taste. Pick­ing 10 we can all agree on is im­pos­si­ble, so the omis­sions here will be as glar­ing to some as the in­clu­sions. (If we missed

your fa­vorite, please for­give us.)

In light of that, we aimed for a list of mu­si­cally un­for­get­table albums that are fur­ther el­e­vated by top-notch pro­duc­tion. That said, some gen­res are un­der-rep­re­sented, as the for­mat tends to work bet­ter for some styles (jazz, clas­si­cal, acous­tic) more than others. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get that 8-disk elec­tronic drone set you’ve been dy­ing to hear, but don’t be dis­ap­pointed if it sounds un­re­mark­able, and drop­ping the sty­lus 16 times in one sit­ting gets old fast.

“Blue Train,” John Coltrane

Jazz just works bet­ter on vinyl. Like clas­si­cal, there is no de­fin­i­tive jazz al­bum (al­though many posit Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”). For its kind, “Blue Train” is hard to beat. In the style of hard bop, Coltrane and his band play an al­most har­ried form of the genre, like they’re late to catch a bus that’s just blocks away from the stu­dio. In that tempo, the level of vir­tu­os­ity is as­ton­ish­ing, thanks in no small part to a band that would go on to be­come a part of Art Blakey’s Art Mes­sen­gers. There are nerdy take­aways here for afi­ciona­dos: The sax­o­phon­ist’s sig­na­ture “Coltrane changes” make their first recorded ap­pear­ance on the al­bum. But if jazz is less an ob­ses­sion than a piece of am­biance, it’s just as co­pacetic as a din­ner­party sound­track.

“Once I Was an Ea­gle,” Laura Mar­ling

If you haven’t heard of Laura Mar­ling, it’s a shame. Though only 26, Mar­ling has been per­form­ing pro­fes­sion­ally for a decade, first as a mem­ber of indie out­fit Noah and the Whale, and then un­der her own crim­i­nally un­der­rated singer-song­writer pro­ject. Mar­ling is as natural and pro­lific of a folk tra­di­tion­al­ist as you like, but “Once I Was an Ea­gle” makes for the strong­est in­tro­duc­tion. The al­bum starts with four tracks that blend into one fluid re­flec­tion. “When we were in love, I was an ea­gle and you were a dove,” she sings over the al­bum’s roil­ing ti­tle track. Set the nee­dle on a quiet night and you can prac­ti­cally feel the chill.

“Nighthawks at the Diner,” Tom Waits

This is a rel­a­tively deep cut, but a wor­thy in­clu­sion to any col­lec­tion. Tom Waits is in noir mode on “Nighthawks,” spin­ning yarns to an in-stu­dio au­di­ence be­tween jazz so­los and nar­ra­tive asides. It’s the rare live al­bum that benefits from its crowd, as Waits works the room like a sea­soned stand-up. Through the right speak­ers, it’s as if you’re there with him, dodg­ing cherry stems and cat­er­waul­ing along to his bach­e­lor’s credo, “Bet­ter Off With­out a Wife.”

“The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Lau­ryn Hill,” Lau­ryn Hill

Yeah, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is on here. But that’s only the steeple of Lau­ryn Hill’s im­mense cathe­dral of a de­but. Un­like so many be­fore and af­ter her, Hill didn’t sim­ply in­ter­pret soul mu­sic on “The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Lau­ryn Hill” — she also in­vig­o­rated it. On a song like “Ev­ery­thing is Ev­ery­thing,” you’ll rec­og­nize the chan­de­lier-shak­ing melodies from the hey­day of Aretha Franklin, but they’re slid over the hard snap of ’90s hiphop rhythm and Hill’s for­mi­da­ble rapped verse. Harps, clar­inets, tim­pani drums — Hill in­sisted on re­tain­ing the “hu­man ele­ment” of mu­sic on the al­bum, and you can hear it on the record. On wax or oth­er­wise, it’s as re­mark­able as it was then (it won the Grammy for Al­bum of the Year in 1999) as it is to­day.

“The Band,” The Band

Go fig­ure that it took a Cana­dian band to make the best Amer­i­cana rock al­bum of all time. The so-called “brown al­bum” fea­tures The Band’s best-known numbers, ones that even your dub­step-ob­ses­sive neigh­bor could join on the cho­ruses of if the spirit moved him. Fa­mously recorded in a West Hol­ly­wood pool house, the al­bum sounds re­mark­ably in­ti­mate for how jovial it is, like Rob­bie Robert­son and com­pany were caught in a drunken sin­ga­long with old friends. It’s one of those albums that makes the most sense as a record. Few things sound as right as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” pulled through a sty­lus.

“The Idler Wheel …,” Fiona Ap­ple

Re­leased in a limited run of vinyl back in 2012, “The Idler Wheel” is hard to find and, like Fiona Ap­ple her­self, hard to fig­ure. From her straight­for­ward jazz-pop roots, Ap­ple forges an elec­tric me­nagerie of songs that pop and smol­der in fits. Be­tween the an­guish of “Ev­ery Sin­gle Night” and the ec­stasy of “Hot Knife” (the al­bum’s book­ends), the mu­sic whips from tribal re­vival to throat-shred­ding yawps sung in rounds. It’s cap­ti­vat­ing — har­row­ing and gor­geous, of­ten at the same time — and ranks high among those spe­cial albums that re­fuses to re­sign them­selves to back­ground mu­sic.

“Black Mes­siah,” D’An­gelo

Af­ter al­most 15 years, D’An­gelo fol­lowed up his sem­i­nal “Voodoo” with an­other all-pur­pose mas­ter­piece. As the­mat­i­cally com­plex as it is, thanks to its slick funk, “Black Mes­siah” can score par­ties or a stargaz­ing ses­sion just as well as an evening in. The vinyl press­ing is a won­der­ful ex­am­ple of how the medium can breath life into the mu­sic. On wax, it’s in­flected with a sub­tle warmth and a good show­ing of dy­namic range that’ll seat you squarely be­tween the bass and drums.

“Pas­tel Blues,” Nina Si­mone

There is no sin­gle def­i­ni­tion of a classic Nina Si­mone al­bum. You could eas­ily tip “Sings the Blues,” Si­mone’s RCA de­but that finds her in full jazz-stan­dard mode (and her most pre­dictable). What “Pas­tel Blues” may lack in fox­trot fod­der, it makes up for with range. De­spite the ti­tle, Si­mone does more than just the blues here, and when she does them, she does the blues in many more hues than one. Con­sider the emo­tional breadth be­tween the aw-shucks “No­body Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Strange Fruit,” one of the most shat­ter­ing songs ever writ­ten. The dis­tance that strains the lim­its of the genre. “Pas­tel Blues” gives you all that and the gal­lop­ing 10-minute jazz spir­i­tual “Sin­ner­man.” If you’re only go­ing to get one, none of Si­mone’s others are as swag­ger­ing or top­down com­plete as this one.

“Ran­dom Ac­cess Mem­o­ries,” Daft Punk

See­ing how Daft Punk con­sciously em­braced ana­log record­ing and per­for­mance in “Ran­dom Ac­cess Mem­o­ries,” it’s no sur­prise that it shines on vinyl. From the tini­est high-hat quiver to the ex­cep­tion­ally mas­sive bass, the elec­tronic duo’s ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail ex­tends into this modern disco classic’s high-qual­ity mas­ter­ing. On a turntable, it gives you a depth of listening that you just can’t get out of lap­top speak­ers.

“MY WOMAN,” Angel Olsen

The heart of Angel Olsen’s “MY WOMAN” is dis­tended and ripped, cours­ing blood in thick arcs of gui­tar. The 29-year-old singer-song­writer sounds above love, look­ing down on it like a movie critic from the bal­cony, when she isn’t trawl­ing for its scraps (like on “Shut Up Kiss Me Hold Me Tight”). In turn, she’s never sounded so grounded — both in dis­il­lu­sioned the­mat­ics and, with a gnarly elec­tric Gib­son gui­tar in hand, cur­rent.

Den­ver Post file

Tom Waits’ “Nighthawks at the Diner” is one of the 10 records you should own. Den­ver Post file

Daily Cam­era file

Me­gan Chaney al­pha­bet­izes albums in the mu­sic li­brary of Ra­dio 1190 at the Univer­sity of Colorado in Boul­der in 2009.

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