Mission 781 Speakers

I don’t really use Facebook much but I was on there on Saturday and something from the ‘Local Sales’ thing was in my feed. I clicked on it and there were a pair of speakers for sale 2 miles from my house, at a reasonable price. I’ve been thinking about getting new speakers for some time now and this seemed an ideal opportunity to finally get some. Here they are:

They sound great!

Gillian Welch – The Harrow and the Harvest

Gillian Welch is a person, but also a duo, they are Gillian and husband Dave Rawlings, although they aren’t actually married, who occasionally record as Dave as well. Clear? Good, then I’ll continue. This is their 5th album as Gillian Welch and the first to be release on vinyl, and what a release. There are many people who say vinyl is best others who disagree and sometimes either can be right, but in this case the vinyl is perfect. There are a number of reason for this, firstly the music lends itself to the format as it is limited in instrumentation and there is no requirement for many overdubs. Secondly, it was recorded using old analogue equipment, which again lends itself to the format. When I say old analogue this is from the microphone to the amps to the desk to the tape, proper old school, and it shows. My ears are not as good as they used to be but I can still hear the difference.

I’ve mentioned before about a Billy Holiday album I have that was recorded in the 50’s, it sounds amazing, as though we are in the same room, The Harrow and the Harvest has the same feel about it. Another nice touch, for the CD version at least, was that the covers where letter pressed, which is something I’ve tried my hand at (it’s difficult) and individually coffee stained to give them an aged look. It’s small touches like this that makes this album special throughout. That and they released it on their own Acony record label.

I saw them at Warwick Arts Centre on the tour promoting this album and it was captivating, so engrossed was I that it came as a complete surprise to me when it ended as I had lost track of time. Just two people with guitars, no light show, no pyrotechnics and it was amazing. That’s the set list from the night above.

Now I fully understand that a lot of people are turned off at the mere suggestion of Country music, and while you could throw this album into that category I find it sits better in Americana. These are pretty dark songs, not about pick up trucks and other country tropes, they are often delicate and have a seam of sadness running through them, they are beautifully constructed and performed.

I have to share this about Dave Rawlings guitar playing,

Rawlings achieves his signature guitar sound flatpicking a small archtop guitar. The 1935 Epiphone Olympic that has been his primary instrument was a mid-priced guitar for its time, with a carved arched solid sprucewood top, carved arched solid mahogany back and mahogany sides. It sold for about $35 in 1935. The guitar’s lower bout measures 13 5/8 inches wide, and it has three piece f-holes.[

Rawlings “scavenged” the guitar from a friend’s attic and is now hardly seen playing anything else. As he states, “I just picked it up. It was filthy, and it didn’t have strings. You could just see the shape of it under the sawdust.” Rawlings tuned it and brought it to a recording session for the Welch’s first record. “As soon as I heard it through the microphone and through the speakers I was like, ‘I love this guitar.'” he says.

The New Yorker‘s Wilkinson described Rawlings as a “strikingly inventive guitarist” who plays solos that are “daring melodic leaps”. A review in No Depression by Andy Moore observed that Rawlings “squeezes, strokes, chokes and does just about everything but blow into” his guitar. He’s not flashy, but he is an extraordinarily emotive guitar player.

A1Scarlet Town
A2Dark Turn Of Mind
A3The Way It Will Be
A4The Way It Goes
A5Tennessee
B1Down Along The Dixie Line
B2Six White Horses
B3Hard Times
B4Silver Dagger
B5The Way The Whole Thing Ends

When Welch’s first two albums came out, critics questioned the authenticity of her music, having grown up in Southern California but performing Appalachian themed songs.  This is, of course, complete crap and The Wall Street Journal’s Taylor Holliday said it best: “Stingy critics give Ms. Welch a hard time because she’s a California city girl, not an Appalachian coal miner’s daughter. But as Lucinda or Emmylou might attest, love of the music is not a birthright, but an earned right. Listen to Ms. Welch yodel, in a tune about that no-good “gal” Morphine, and you know she’s as mountain as they come.

It’s been 8 years since this was released and it is high time that a new album was released, which could include a new track for which they received an Oscar nomination. They lost out to a song from ‘A Star Is Born’ which, in my opinion is rather formulaic, but even being nominated is pretty damn good. The song is the theme to the Coen Brothers’ Western anthology The Ballad of Busters Scruggs, the song soundtracks a pivotal gun battle between Tim Blake Nelson’s titular gunfighter and the upstart “The Kid,” played by former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson. Nelson’s character tragically loses, and he and “The Kid” duet on the song as Scruggs is lifted into heaven. Welch and Rawlings recently released their own version of “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” earlier this month. The video is their understated but wonderful performance at the Oscars ceremony.

I think it pretty obvious by now that I highly recommend this and all their albums. There’s something very endearing about them and they connect brilliantly with their audience, like below on a Neil Young cover:

I’ve included below an hour long concert for the BBC performed at St Lukes in London, because it is quite brilliant.

Finally, a Radiohead cover, that’s right, Radiohead. Heaven.

Rating: 9.4

New Years Resolutions

January 2nd. Done.

Following the great December shelf collapse a solution was required, and quickly. I don’t usually make new year resolutions but I did, just this once, and it was to sort out the storage situation for my records. Subject to a bit of decorating and some dusting, its done thanks to a trip to Ikea and a hernia inducing trip back to the car, I have some Kallax shelving.

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There are about 1500 records there, which are sorted alphabetically by band/artist. I still need to distribute them a little better, just move everything along a bit, but my back and knees have had enough for now. A far better idea is to put a record on and write this while having a nice sit down.

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I’m on the look out for some replacement speakers as well, when I have a spare bit of cash, as children’s fingers did some prodding years ago and damaged these, they sound ok though.

Long Live Vinyl – A Magazine

I rarely buy magazines nowadays as I never seem to have the time to read them when I do, apart from ‘Record Collector’ now and then, however, I was in town with a couple of hours to spare a few weekends ago and wandered into WH Smith with a view to getting something, although I hadn’t thought much about what, when I spied a new magazine, called ‘Long Live Vinyl’. It’s the size of a record sleeve, about 12″ x  12″, which is a nice idea and comes in at 114 pretty big pages, it is pricey though at £9.99.

I retired to a coffee shop with a Hazelnut Latte and set about reading. It had articles that I would probably expect to see, such as most valuable records in the world, classic album: Revolver, Essential Bowie and a nice piece on Roger Dean, who did the Yes albums and more. None of these came as much of a surprise but were interesting nonetheless and well illustrated with photographs. A guide to Brighton record shops was a good read and if I ever go there I’ll be re-reading before I set off and there was a nice 8 page piece featuring a collector of Price records. Also included were equipment reviews, headphones was one, turntables another, cleaning tips for records along with album releases, new and re-releases.

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It was a good read and I ended up in the coffee shop for about two hours, without reading everything, I still have some pages to go yet. I liked it, I didn’t like the price, but the magazine was really good and it’s great to see a magazine solely focused on vinyl so I wish them all the best with this venture.

Christmas Comes But Once A Year

I received a joint present from my Wife and Son this year, which they bought on Christmas Eve. This is a bonus for me as when they leave it stupidly late I tend to get something better than if they had time to think about it and to buy in advance. So I was asked to stay at home on Christmas Eve as they had to go out and get something, which I dutifully did, counteracting my disappointment and not having to trek amongst the thousands descending upon the shops by playing records and drinking coffee, it was tough but I managed it.

On Christmas morning I was delighted to receive a load of Record Vouchers, always good as I can then buy the records I want and not the records people think I want, which would usually be wrong. I also received a pair of headphones, which I had wanted as the ones I had been using were struggling, the slightest movement and one ear would cut out. These were not just any headphones though, they were exactly the Headphones I would have chosen has I had the opportunity. The Bose Quiet Comfort 35, what a set of headphones these are.

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These headphones are outstanding, well, compared to any I’ve owned before they are magical. They are bluetooth and automatically connect with my phone when I switch them on, a nice lady also tells me how much battery life I have left at this point as well. The battery lasts for up to 20 hours and so far, with a lot of listening, I’ve only charged them once, when it was down to 30%. They are super comfortable to wear as they cover the entire ear and are pretty light weight. The noise cancelling aspect is surprising, to me at least, as you can switch them on and immediately hear the difference as the outside world becomes distant, which is rather disconcerting at first but I quickly acclimatised to it. The noise cancellation works by continuously measuring, comparing and reacting to outside noise, then cancels it with the opposite signal.When you press play you are engulfed in the music with little or no outside noise distractions, depending on where you are, they can’t remove everything but it does make a huge difference to the listening experience.

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One thing I was glad to see was that they will still work even if the battery has no charge, a lead is provided for this, and the noise cancellation won’t work, but at least you can still use them.

The sound quality is wonderful and I’m hearing things in the music that I’m listening to that I didn’t know was there until now. A top Chef has a palette that can taste things that I can’t and there are producers and suchlike that can hear things that I can’t, but with these headphones I feel I’m getting close. What has also been a surprise is the range, I left my phone in the kitchen and went upstairs at the other side of the house and there was no noticeable difference in the reception. The other massive bonus is that I am no longer catching the lead, like that of my old headphones, on just about everything, door handles chairs, anything and everything seemed to be trying to yank them out of my ears.

There are volume controls on the right ear piece which also double as pause and skip and, though I haven’t tried it yet, you can take calls while wearing these as they have a built in microphone.

I am well aware that I’m gushing praise somewhat but theses things have really enhanced my listening experience and I love them! Yes, they are expensive, that’s for sure, but as I was lucky enough to not have to pay for them (not directly anyway) I can’t worry about that. I don’t know exactly how much this pair were but I would expect them to be somewhere around £290.

Here is a review, I haven’t listened to it but I will, and these are the grey pair (I prefer the black):