Fri, Apr 19, 2013.
Saturday is the annual celebration of that beloved but beleaguered institution in the music world, the record store. For the past decade, the good old locally-owned, cranky, elitist, smug and nerdy, dusty and creepy, crammed and chaotic homes of vintage vinyl and trendy imports have had their own day, when special records are released just for sale in those stores (screw you, Wal-mart), and local punk bands come out to play. Hopefully, folks will come out and help celebrate, and buy locally instead of downloading or shopping on-line, or the mall stores. The special day was started when local independent stores were shutting down left and right, and the hopes were this would remind record fans of those glory days when going to the store was fun. Not only did the plan work well, ironically it's these stores that are the only stable part of the old music industry, and more and more people have braved the above-listed eccentricities to get back into buying vinyl, or finding local favourites on CD.
I kid (slightly) about the nerdy, smug, dusty part, and certainly most of this province's stores aren't much like that, but I sure grew up visiting them in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and everywhere. There's a reason music fans liked the film High Fidelity, and it wasn't the romance, it was the accurate portrayal of the store. Except for the John Cusack character, nobody that pretty ever owned a record store. But obsessed, list-making, hostile clerks like Jack Black? Oh yeah, I knew a bunch of them. But I also met a ton of really nice people, like that kid Jay in Halifax, who grew up to be Jay Ferguson of Sloan. Or Rick, John and Todd in Fredericton, still great friends. And now record stores are more open and fun that ever before, and it is fascinating to see new generations discover classic albums, reissued on vinyl, having the same conversations with helpful clerks that I had back when those albums were new in the 70's. It's not uncommon to overhear some 20-year old debating with a friend over, say, which Led Zeppelin album is the one to own.
Record Store Day is exciting for us seasoned collectors because of the exclusive releases made available, in limited quantities. Each year, dozens of titles, mostly all of them on vinyl, hit the racks on Saturday, causing early line-ups and geeky collector pleasure. I'm overly excited about a Bob Dylan 45 coming out, that features two previously-unreleased items from his past, an unreleased demo of his song Wigwam from 1970, backed with a previously unreleased recording of Thirsty Boots. Others will be hunting for a couple of David Bowie 45's, one from his new album, another a picture disc of his old Drive-In Saturday track. R.E.M. will release the Live In Greensboro E.P., an 80's performance that won't come out elsewhere. There are solo Beatles reissues, new stuff from Iron & Wine and Kings Of Leon, and lots of exclusive-to-Canada pieces as well. I like the reissue of the original version of Gordon Lightfoot's album Sit Down Young Stranger, which was later changed to If You Could Read My Mind, to reflect the success of that hit single.
Another great thing about the RSD movement is that it retains a big local component. Bands play at many of the stores all afternoon, fun for the shopper, and good exposure for up-and-comers. And even local acts and labels get into the release part of the day. The Halifax/Fredericton record label, Forward Music, home of Olympic Symphonium, Gypsophilia, Alan Jeffries and others, has come up with two very exclusive singles going on sale Saturday. Montreal native Michael Feuerstack has been known as Snailhouse since the '90's, and has a strong indie fan base, and lots of Maritime fans. But the Snailhouse name has been put to bed, at least for now, and for the first time he's releasing music under his own name. He has a brand-new album coming out in May, but the first fruits of the labour will be out for RSD. It's an exclusive 45 featuring two tracks from the album sessions, neither of which will appear on that disc. Shadow and Wolves are the songs, and the single is limited to just 300 copies. It comes on heavy, clear vinyl, and appears in a very nice hand-screened paper cover, designed and signed by artist Nick Kuepfer. Sax player Colin Stetson (Arcade Fire, Bon Iver) guests, and the cuts show the new Feuerstack sound for the forthcoming album. Shadow is more upbeat than his past songs, driven by a drum machine beat, and featuring Stetson's smooth counterpoint.
The other Forward release comes from Halifax favourite Paper Beat Scissors (Tim Crabtree). This one is another 45 limited to 300 copies, and comes in a more traditional, and nice picture sleeve. This one features a live recording from last year's Halifax Jazz Festival. Tendrils was done along with the New York classical section Clogs, and also features backing vocals from My Brightest Diamond. It's a lovely acoustic piece, Crabtree sounding decidedly English, especially with the bassoon part behind. The flip features another folk-classic number, again previously unreleased, called Onwards, done as a quartet piece with violin, bassoon and french horn. Lovely stuff.
So, check out your local record store, there's live music, and some truly interesting purchases to be had. Most of the stores will have stocked up on these exclusive items, plus lots more interesting things for the day, as traffic will be high in the stores. You might even want to get out your old turntable, it probably still works. Long live the record store.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).