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Cirque Du Soleil
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Patricia Barber
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Jim Pearce
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Andy Timmons Band
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Ralph Towner
Time Line
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Anoushka Shankar

Amos Lee
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Julius Curcio
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Alligator Shoes
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"Come Alive"
Changing Into Me
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Feature [Issue #7]
LPs Today and Tomorrow: The Vinyl Frontier:
By Ken Micallef

As a youngster growing up in Milford, Michigan, my daily routine would include hightailing it home after my third grade classes to beat my sister to the front door. With a window of perhaps 30 minutes before my older sibling arrived, I would sneak into her room and delicately remove The Beatles’ Abbey Road from her collection of pop and folk LPs, place it on her BSR turntable, lower the tonearm, and quickly get lost in the sounds.

Even on her small system and $50 turntable, I could sense the magic in the grooves. The sister unit would soon arrive, by which time I would be out and goofing off, but for those 30 minutes it was just me and The Beatles, beginning a lifelong relationship with vinyl, gear, and Rock and Roll.

Would I have become just as entranced had my clandestine endeavors involved dropping a CD into a crummy-sounding (by comparison) Walkman? Well, probably, yes, but I would be infinitely poorer for the lack of vinyl experience. As the record spun and the sounds flew through the air and into my prepubescent head, I examined the cover art for clues to deepen the listening experience and expand my quest for more and more sounds. Cover art was a big part of the vinyl relationship, just as maintaining its precious grooves and album sleeve would become as I fell further under its spell. Assembling a quality stereo to enjoy the music with more vigor would also become a life-changing and expensive part of the process.

That love of the sound, feel, and physical allure of vinyl (not to mention it’s easy on the pocket costs), both in 33 and 45RPM formats, is why vinyl maintains market share even in this digitally-dominated era.

“I think there will always be a market for vinyl,” says Scott Wenzel, producer for Connecticut-based Mosaic Records. “There are enough people who say, ‘Why would we buy CDs? It sounds so much better on LP.’ They will always want it, whether they have a CD player or not. They look for LPs at stores, ebay and garage sales.”

With the rise of vinyl-espousing hip-hop and electronica DJs, as well as the graying of the baby boomers and the discovery of ‘70s music on old vinyl, often by the children of those boomers, the 33 record has tenaciously clung to consumers’ fingers long after the major record companies pronounced the compact disc as “perfect sound forever” and the supposed end of vinyl’s decades - long reign.

Well, vinyl’s reign is over, for the most part. But though it is finished as a mass-marketing tool, the LP has gone underground to those who truly love and understand what the medium is about. Not only have many records never been reissued on CD, most vinyl aficionados claim that even a relatively inexpensive turntable can produce better sound than CD. Vinyl sound is easy on the ears, instrumental and vocal images are larger as they emanate from the speakers, and the overall sound is more natural and lifelike. Gone are the piercing treble and unnaturally stolid bass of the CD. Playing records also requires more care and feeding, but that is part of the Zen of LP maintenance, with its concomitant rewards.

Just as there are more turntable (and tube amp) manufacturers than ever, there are a number of record companies dedicated to creating and reissuing music in LP and even 45 formats. Not only are well-heeled audiophiles heeding the vinyl call, but music lovers of all ages are discovering original LPs and the rich sound of old favorites on the original vinyl vehicle. Newer vinyl labels move only five to six thousand copies of their titles, but that indie status is part of the allure.

“Our most recent LP set is Miles Davis at the Blackhawk,” Mosaic’s Wenzel says. “And we have a lot of Miles’ back catalog on LP including In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, the ‘55 to ‘58 quintet, as well as Teddy Wilson on Verve, Stan Kenton on Capitol, Amos Milburn, and Eddie Condon. We are doing everything from Mildred Bailey to the Four Freshman to New Orleans to Curtis Amy on the Select label. It is what we feel is musically important that hasn’t come out properly.”

Analogue Productions and its retail arm, Acoustic Sounds, and Sundazed Records (along with Classic Records, the home of all Zeppelin LP reissues) are two of the biggest players in the vinyl-manufacturing realm. Acoustic Sounds offers 180-gram vinyl records, priced between $15 and $30, by Isaac Hayes, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, AC/DC, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, with new titles by the late Eva Cassidy, Jack Johnson, and David Elias. While Analogue Productions appeals to audiophiles, Coxsackie, New York’s Sundazed Records dominates the market for all things Indie, Surf, Oldie, Garage, Psychedelic, Soul, Country, and even softcore porn. Sundazed’s biggest sellers include titles by the Byrds, the Stooges, Wilco, Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding as well as finds by lesser-knowns like Fred Neil, the Remains, Hal Blaine, the Chesterfield Kings, and Graham Parsons’ International Submarine Band.

“We do have a lot of audiophiles and older folks that remember this music from the first time around,” says Sundazed’s Tim Livingston. “But it seems like more and more a lot of listeners aged 18 to 25 are really getting into vinyl, buying turntables, discovering records and the ‘60s artists we put out who are the originators of the music they listen to now. It is the romance and the sound of vinyl. People realize that it is warmer sounding.”

Brian Dornbach of New Jersey’s Princeton Record Exchange says that no request is too odd for his store’s inventory of 100,000 used LPs. “People do request records that they think are impossible to find and we very often have them. Most recently somebody was trying to find an Andy Griffith record and being a Andy Griffith fan myself I was able to discern that she wanted was What it Was, Was Football from an Andy Griffith collection.”

Comedy records aside, PREX’s bestsellers include the usual Beatles-Stones-Cream-Hendrix titles, as well as a handful of new releases and CDs. What do they consider to be a rare record? Not much, it seems. Even an original-zippered Sticky Fingers only brings a meager seven bucks.

“An original-zippered Sticky Fingers is not that uncommon,” Dornbach claims. “A supergroup like the Rolling Stones sold tens of millions of records so even though it is a different thing for a record to have a zipper on the cover that doesn’t automatically make it rare. We typically sell that for around four to seven dollars.”

Not so fast for Fred Cohen of New York’s Jazz Record Center, whose regular eBay auctions bring thousands for select LPs. “Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus on Prestige sells for $1500 to $2000,” Cohen reports. “Tommy Flanagan’s Overseas on Prestige also sells for $1500, and Jackie McLean on Adlib sells for $1500 to $2000.”

But as with PREX, the bulk of Cohen’s 50,000 inventory can be had in the eight to ten dollar range. A stickler for clean records and a strict grading system (which is not always the case at PREX), the Jazz Record Center has customers as diverse as Wynton Marsalis and Q-Tip, but the unflappable Cohen takes it all in stride. His bestsellers include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, and Benny Goodman’s 1938 Concert. But Cohen won’t easily confirm that the vinyl’s sound quality is typically better than their digital counterparts.

“Everybody says analog sounds better, but I couldn’t say. In many instances, people do not listen to music with their ears. They either listen with their wallets or based upon what other people say. They presume that it will sound better on LP, but oftentimes you can do a blindfold test and people will be stumped. It will vary from CD to CD and record to record; it is all a matter of engineering and production. But someone who is listening to the music on an adequate system can tell the difference. That difference may not be enough to make a difference, but you can hear differences.”

As the boomers turn into seniors and their kids take over their collections, vinyl will expand into the new century and beyond. Production and distribution methods may morph and change, but vinyl’s legacy is both of the past and the future.

“In our lifetime, I think there will always be a vinyl market,” says Sundazed’s Tim Livingston. “We see it at shows like the WFMU record fair in New York and through calls and emails. We meet a lot of these young people who are just getting into it. We had a 22-year-old girl ask us, ‘When are you going to release the Sagittarius album on vinyl?’ That is a really obscure, psychedelic record for someone so young to be asking about. So I see it lasting for that collector’s market and for the kids who are also getting into vinyl.”

LPs Today and Tomorrow: The Vinyl Frontier

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