By Siri Harrison
As a huge fan of Pearl Jam’s debut Ten, I only recently explored their second album. It did not disappoint! Vs. rivals the band’s debut in every way. It’s an explosive, more jarring follow up to the ballad-ridden Ten. That’s not to say Vs. doesn’t have its ballady moments and Ten doesn’t have its own startling moments (“Jeremy” comes to mind), but in Vs. the primary feeling is indignance. This became apparent to me around track four, “Glorified G,” in which Eddie Vedder mocks drummer Dave Abbruzzese by donning the persona of a macho man who carries two loaded guns–“but that’s okay, man, ‘cause [he loves] God.” This track sums up the experience the band had creating their second record. Tensions were running high following their multi-platinum debut. Some rabid “fans” had accused the band of selling out, and even more fans were hungry for a record as immaculate as their first. The band was feeling pressured and impatient. It was those suffocating emotions that allowed them to snap back at the public like animals trapped in a corner–(see album cover).
So many of the songs on Vs. detail the strife of interpersonal relationships, just like the one between PJ and, well, the entire world at the time. The first track “Go” embodies that indignance I mentioned, in all the most deliciously wrong ways. The starting riff tears into listeners without mercy, and then Vedder unleashes a frantic vocal assault, acting as an entitled partner desperate to “repossess” the person they’ve wronged. “Animal,” the second track, takes the elements of abuse themes and unrelenting riff work and runs with them. Though “Daughter” mellows things out a bit, it tells yet another story of domestic turmoil, this time between a young girl and “the hand that holds her down.”
I’ve found “W.M.A” to be the underappreciated gem of the album, as it’s the track that displays perhaps the most compelling case of righteous indignation, rivaled only by “Rearviewmirror.” Both songs feature some of Vedder’s most powerful vocal performances. Another one of my less popular favorites is the mellow, haunting “Indifference.” It’s a striking standout on an album fueled by adrenaline, and some of the band’s most impressive lyrical work. It acts as the heavy sigh coming after a storm of raw emotion. The equally haunting “Crazy Mary” is the release that comes after that heavy sigh. Like the majority of the album, it’s certainly not very uplifting, but it is the only song that seems to provide some sense of coziness. After listening to a plethora of music about divided people, it’s important for listeners to absorb this final, shining, moment of the album, which offers them to “take a bottle, drink it down” and “pass it around.”
By Mitch Harrison
Here’s some rare audiophileish talk. I got the chance recently to inexpensively upgrade the cartridge on the tone arm of my turntable. The cartridge is at the end of the tone arm and holds the stylus (needle). The head shell sits on top of the cartridge. And with this upgrade, there was more weight at the end of my tone arm so the counterbalance and anti skate had to be tweaked. The process took a while, with record testing involved. I was baffled by some clean looking records crackling excessively. Must be grime deep in the grooves right? No, cleaning made no difference. The culprit was excessive pressure from the stylus. Further tweaks fixed it and the Justin Townes Earle record sounded sweeter than ever. My audio tip to you.
I grew up listening to David Gray’s “White Ladder” along with what is, in my opinion, an equally masterful album, “Draw the Line,” and only recently did I get to see the English singer-songwriter live. The show was in Boston, for White Ladder’s twentieth anniversary tour, in the Leader Bank Pavilion, a gorgeous, open venue on a waterfront. I had never been to a concert so big, so the show was an especially wonderful experience, complete with outfit changes, lights and smoke, and storytelling. Cleverly, David changed from a black suit to a white suit to kick off the performance of White Ladder in its entirety, after playing some of my personal favorites of his: Fugitive, Kathleen, and The One I Love.
The album White Ladder was a stroke of genius for David Gray, who had been struggling on the margins for his first three albums. Though not without talent, Gray truly set himself apart from other folk singer-songwriters by experimenting with a drum machine on his fourth work. It’s the soft, steady beats, which are recognizable on their own, that make White Ladder so special. In Boston, Gray described White Ladder as an album about being discouraged and becoming hopeful, reflecting his personal journey, which shows in the heartfelt, bittersweet lyrics. It’s clear that White Ladder was poured directly from David Gray’s soul, as the whole album holds up incredibly well today. Its songs cover a vast spectrum of human emotion, from having a tired but hopeful heart (This Year’s Love, Babylon) to feeling lost and in despair (Nightblindness, My Oh My) to being so giddy you become awkward around the person you love (Please Forgive Me). Gray recorded the whole album with his band in his room, which is fitting for such intimate, honest material.
At the concert, Gray told the story of how Babylon, his first hit, placed at number five in the top forty. “It wasn’t number one, but who f**king cared,” he said with a chuckle. He recounted the tale of how his father, who was in the hospital receiving chemo at the time, pulled out his IV, burst out of the building to see his son perform at Glastonbury, and proceeded to strike up a conversation with David Bowie while there. The story was punctuated by a surprise rendition of Life On Mars, which Gray’s voice suited well. Going into the concert, I knew almost nothing about David Gray as a person, so hearing White Ladder’s origin stories added depth to the music and strengthened my love for it.
Next Chapter Records will have David Gray’s latest album, “Skellig,” in stock soon.
The debate of vinyl vs. streaming has long existed, but I believe it’s finally time to lay it to rest and agree that both modes of listening have strengths to bring to the table. Without streaming, many listeners would never have discovered unreleased gems such as Hole’s “Best Sunday Dress,” or Billie Eilish’s “True Blue” and “Fingers Crossed.” The ease of creating playlists is a benefit of streaming as well. Mixing and matching songs to create the perfect soundtrack for a character or story is incredibly fun. This being said, there’s something special about building a collection of CDs or records that you can hold in your hands. The colors and images gracing the album covers act as decoration in your home, and serve as a testament to your music taste. For me, a child of the technological age, seeing the needle drop, watching the record spin, and hearing the full-bodied sound it produces is a sort of magic. I feel immersed in a unique listening experience, because when one side of the record plays out, I have to flip it, and if it crackles, I have to clean the dust from it. Vinyl listening, even CD listening, for that matter, is a more involved and delicate process than typing a name and hitting a button. Of course, this could be what draws some people to streaming. It’s low-maintenance. There’s also the matter of money. The cost of building a tangible music collection can really add up over time, but if you’re sick of ads and unwilling to pay for a Spotify or (good grief) YouTube premium subscription just to listen to your favorite album unmolested, I highly recommend opting for a cheap, used record or CD in good condition. I’ve found myself appreciating the peace of the brief pauses between songs on a CD or record, and the heavenly silence after they play to their end, where you’re not being assaulted by “Liberty Mutual customizes your car insurance so you only pay for what you need!” Or “your music, your way!”
Our soft opening on Saturday, May 28 far exceeded our expectations. In opening our door for the first time we welcomed our first customers and those that were local warmly welcomed us to the community. Some folks also stopped in who were visiting from out-of-state. There was such a buzz of excitement as people chatted about music and genuinely seemed excited about having a record store in Putney. Other business owners in town checked in on us and welcomed us. Thank you so much for the response. With the success of this past Saturday, we will open some weekends prior to our Grand Opening on June 25th.
With a jangling guitar sound, meandering vocals, jarring lyrics, and rattling drums, the Violent Femmes 1983 self-titled debut is nothing short of unique. In a year where Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports was released, the Violent Femmes were ahead of their time. No band would have been more perfect for an appearance on MTV unplugged in the early nineties, because the Femmes maintained their massive punk energy mostly acoustically, even gaining one of their debut album hits- “Gone Daddy Gone” -with a xylophone solo.
Their debut starts off strong with “Blister in the Sun” -which has now become a classic that’s reached beyond the ears of devoted Violent Femmes’ followers to become a favorite of mainstream listeners -and only gains energy as it tears through the grim but irresistible “Kiss Off.” Gordon Gano’s voice murmurs and groans its way through songs without losing momentum, embodying unbridled adolescence. Gano himself was only eighteen and in high school- that is, until his performance of “Gimme The Car” at an assembly got him expelled -when he wrote the songs on Violent Femmes. It is an explosive debut that tore a hole in the rock scene of the early 80s, carving out space for generations of artists seeking to blaze their own trails. From its bouncy intro to its surprisingly beautiful conclusion, “Good Feeling,” the album gripped me and left me with a chill.
We continue to take steps each week toward opening the doors of Next Chapter Records. In another week I will hit the road to meet an old friend in Pennsylvania to buy his collection. Around 1,000 records will be added to our inventory, including some great new wave, punk, and alt country titles. Although part of Next Chapter Records is our on-line business at https://www.discogs.com/seller/Next-Chapter-Records/profile, our priority is making great music available in our physical store. We look forward to being part of the Putney, Vermont community and bringing the record store experience to those living in the region and those people visiting our area. Until next time, spin one for me.