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  • Writer's pictureNeil Rajala

RSD ROUNDUP: The Final Score

It took a while (explained below) but I finally consider Record Store Day 2023 in the books. I had a great time with the crowd and staff at my local and picked up almost all of my must-haves from the release list. I’ve had a chance to live with these records long enough to have something worthwhile to say about them. In no particular order, except the last one.

• Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, Streetcore (2003) - Easily #1 on my want list. I had Joe’s final record on CD for a while, but it had been a long time since I’d heard it and this is the first vinyl release. Joe passed before Streetcore was finished, some of the vocals are studio guide vocals meant to be replaced later, and some songs have more studio polish than others. To me, that contrast gives the record an emotional boost. The opening combo of “Coma Girl” and “Get Down Moses” is prime post-Clash Strummer - hard-punching with locked-in deep grooves that stick. I wonder if the album had been finished would we have gotten Joe’s haunting solo cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on side two? He played it alone in the studio with an acoustic guitar, presumably intending to flesh it out later. The spare version that was released is the exposed heart of Streetcore, and a fine tribute to a gifted artist gone too soon.

EARWORM: "Get Down Moses" - Locked and loaded Strummer. The band digs deep into the irresistible groove. I assume this is one of the finished tracks.

• The Pogues, The Stiff Records B-Sides 1984-1987 – This one was on my RSD want list, but near the bottom, but that unpredictable alchemy that happens in a record store played out again. Once I picked it up to look it over, I found I couldn’t put it down again and it followed me home.

I just wrote about the Pogues in my last post so I won’t rehash here. Stiff Record’s approach in those days was to flood the market with singles and EPs and worry about albums later, depending on how the singles sold. Unless you bought them all, you missed out on a bunch of the songs Elvis Costello produced for the band, all of which are worth hearing. Until Elvis married the bass player and absconded with her, his creative partnership with the Pogues was memorable. The final hook for me to pick this up was the inclusion of “The Body of an American” from the Poguetry in Motion EP. A scene from my all-time favorite TV show, The Wire, takes place in a Baltimore bar during a wake for a fallen officer. As much as I love that scene, I didn’t know until much later that the full volume, roaring drunk song the cops were singing was a Pogues song.

EARWORM: "The Body of an American" - Have several drinks and sing it loud and off-key and you'll understand the song's (and the Pogue's) appeal.

• Flash and the Dynamics, The New York Sound (1971) - A totally blind buy, I had never heard of these guys before the RSD list was released. The description intrigued me – “The 1971 album, which marks the band’s sole release, blends traditional Latin melodies with distorted guitars, soulful psychedelia and funky rhythms” – and as the day approached The New York Sound was generating a fair amount of online buzz. Flash and the Dynamics were musicians from Puerto Rico seeking fame and fortune in NYC in the wake of Santana’s success. Their only record is a grittier, funkier version of what Carlos and his band were doing. It’s a great batch of semi-traditional sounding Latin songs with a satisfying rock edge. The tracks with vocals (some English, some Spanish) are excellent, but, to my ears, it’s the handful of instrumentals that really put this one over the top. The band is dynamic and deep grooving and you can definitely dance to it.

EARWORM: "Electric Latin Soul" - Pretty much nails the mission and feel of the album.

• Yes, Live at Knoxville Civic Auditorium - I deeply love the music of the classic lineup of Yes, specifically from The Yes Album to Tales of Topographic Oceans. Until now, the only officially live representation of that era (on vinyl) has been Yessongs, which has always been a bit of a disappointment. Rather than a complete show, the 3LPs were assembled segments from several shows on the Close to the Edge tour, before and after drummer Bill Bruford left the band in the middle. To compensate for the sound of the different venues, the final mix of Yessongs was given a unifying, but oddly thin, sound. The incredible complexity of the songs was there, and you had to be impressed they could pull off their musical puzzles live so spectacularly, but the dynamics and bombast were missing. Live at Knoxville Civic Auditorium is the one I’ll pull out when I want to hear 1972 Yes wowing a crowd from now on. A full show and encores from the second U.S. leg of the tour, Alan White fully settled in on drums. There’s a slight touch of boominess to the sound, common to analog live recordings in the big concrete barns of the era, but overall the recording sounds more "real" than Yessongs. That works for me. Bonus: I love the Roger Dean watercolors on the package, another reason to pull it off the shelf.

EARWORM: "Siberian Khatru" - The classic show opener, with all the bottom-end thump missing from Yessongs. (caveat: the Spotify streaming version doesn't pack the sonic wallop of the new vinyl remaster, but you'll get the idea.)

• Various Artists, New York Noise: Dance Music from the New York Underground 1977-1982 - The record that caused the delay for this post. This was my #1b choice to the Joe Strummer #1a on my want list, but getting to the record store at opening time was too late. By the time the line got as far as the bins, the two copies they had were gone. I tried to find it online after RSD, but everywhere that listed it showed it as not in stock. I knew that New York Noise was a RSD regional release, meaning not many copies and not distributed everywhere in the U.S., so I was accepting fate, sure I had struck out. A Facebook post a couple weeks later by a local store I rarely visit because it’s twenty miles of heavy traffic away showed a photo of an endcap featuring a smattering of releases from Soul Jazz Records. And there it was. I made the drive and was finally able to call RSD 2023 done and done.

New York Noise was another title I didn’t know before the RSD list came out, but I knew some of the artists, I knew about the scene they sprang from, and I knew I wanted one. The underground dance scene in NYC turned pretty wild after the punks joined the party in ‘77. Only a few of the bands, notably Mars and The Contortions, sounded like a punk/dance music copulation, the rest of the bands took advantage of the newly-opened creative doors to create funky, trippy, quirky, sometimes jarring music for the punks to dance to in the downtown clubs. The variety of moods, textures, and arrangements they explored is remarkable. It’s all wonderfully compelling, fun, and utterly unique music from bands that mostly came and went quickly; few left behind a full album. New York Noise is a great document of one of music history’s volcanic moments. It’s become my current favorite record, spinning constantly on the turntable.

EARWORM: "Reduction" by Material - Bill Laswell went on to have a reasonably significant and eclectic career as a bassist and producer, but this early song by his long-time band makes my jaw drop every time.

• So let me know. If you were there for RSD 2023 last month, or got your hands on some titles another way, what did you pick up and what do you think after a few weeks of spins?

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May 21, 2023

I couldn't get there on Saturday but I did get CRS's third and last copy of Husker Du "Tonight at the Longhorne" the next day. Messy board tapes of insanely loud shows. It was the only RSD release I cared about so I'm happy.

Neil Rajala
Neil Rajala
May 23, 2023
Replying to

That one was on my list, but too far down for the available funds to reach.

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