With Passover and Easter in the rear view mirror and life here in the U.S. starting to show some semblance of normality, we are crate digging again. Record bins are slightly empty locally as consumers have been snapping up new records at a historic pace. A recent trip to Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank highlighted that reality as 75% of the new music on our list was already sold out. Record labels and pressing plants are definitely behind right now. We did manage to snag copies of Chet Baker, Lana Del Rey, and Jack’s Mannequin’s latest releases in record stores in Houston and Miami. Talk about dedication.
Schlepping vinyl on airplanes during the pandemic is a bit of an adventure but it’s also a conversation starter; flight attendants on recent flights saw me reading the album jackets and brought me extra nuts after I made some recommendations. The perks of an audio journalist. Woof.
Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails over the Country Club
If her 2019 release, Norman Fucking Rockwell! was a departure from her previously pop-oriented albums, her 7th studio album is a pivot in another direction altogether. Chemtrails over the Country Club feels stripped down and far more simplistic in its production and storytelling. Lana Del Rey has evolved as a songwriter and her lyrics deliver a brutal blow to their intended targets; the music industry and our celebrity culture that she has become a huge part of. The atmospheric layering on the album is a clever production trick and keeps one engaged as Lana Del Rey laments her life as a superstar (cry me a river). Has she become the sub-conscious of America? It’s possible that we will look back at her music in 20 years as either pop tripe or an accurate reflection of the woke and shallow culture we’ve created. – Ian White
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
This 1998 release has aged well with its electronic-synth mixed with hip-hop and a few moments of scratching. It’s a clever collection of tracks that put this European duo on the map and in the same camp as Aphex Twin and Daft Punk. The music is a throwback to the music of the 1980s and 1990s and those of us who can remember learning MIDI on a Commodore 64 or Atari 1040ST. One of the best electronic albums ever recorded and a must-own album if you can find it right now. – Ian White
J.B. Hutto & His Hawks – Hawk Squat
Hawk Squat is an album I had seen posted occasionally on Instagram that had always piqued my interest. When I came across a copy on sale at my local shop a couple of years ago, I had to pick it up. Bluesman J.B. Hutto had an interesting career, playing different instruments in several bands throughout Chicago in his early years. He eventually settled on the guitar, but decided to give up his music career in the late ‘50s. He came back about ten years later, first recording a few albums for Vanguard, Testament, and Delmark in the late ‘60s. Hawk Squat is the hallmark album of his discography, released in 1968 on Delmark. His effervescent vocals, killer slide guitar, and no-frills backing band lay the groundwork for a Chicago blues classic. Hawk Squat is definitely a record to keep an eye out for when out digging. – Lauren Halliday
Jack’s Mannequin – Everything in Transit
In my eyes, everything Andrew McMahon touches is gold. Jack’s Mannequin was the second band fronted by McMahon after he found success with alt rock outfit Something Corporate in the early 2000s. Jack’s Mannequin released three studio albums, but the one that holds a special place in a lot of hearts, including mine, is their debut Everything in Transit. It was released in 2005 at a time when piano rock bands were becoming cool thanks to groups like Coldplay and Keane. It’s piano rock with a punk pop attitude that was perfectly emblematic of the time. It’s been hard to find this album on vinyl, so a new reissue in 2021 was well overdue. If you come across this album in the wild and you’re looking for an upbeat listen, it’s worth a grab. – Lauren Halliday
Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)
Is this one of the most poignantly beautiful albums I own? It’s certainly one of the shortest. 11 songs, all written by Drake, lasting a little over 28 minutes start to finish. His third and last studio album, recorded in October 1971 at age 26 – just 2 years before his untimely and early death – in two late-night sessions, with just Drake on guitar and vocals (and piano later overdubbed onto the title track), overseen by producer John Wood.
Drake sounding like a troubadour, Pied Piper of London, caravan-hippy-campfire-street singer. Voice a thing of beauty, throaty and airy, slightly quavery tenor-alto-falsetto. Finger-picky guitar rendered beautifully, crystal clear, on both gut and steel strings – thick and plucky, sharp and twangy. A spare, simple, intimate, shyly-presented collection.
Drake, a solitary, withdrawn figure, suffered from depression but was reluctant to take anti-depressants due to negative stigma. Some theorize Pink Moon is a reflection of struggles with depression. More likely though it was a celebration between bouts. There were no concerts and little promotion in support of the album which wasn’t a big seller in his life time, but over time it has been recognized as a classic by music lovers and critics, with some considering it one of the most significant folk albums of all time. Definitely one to add to a collection, if it’s not there already. – Eric Pye