Vinyl You Need: Black Hills Vinyl

On August 11, 2016

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Vinyl You Need calls up the people who work at record stores and asks them what records they think are essential. This edition features Black Hills Vinyl.

At first, the only reason I wanted to go to South Dakota was to fulfill some irrational, romanticized dream of visiting all 50 states. But, the more research I did, the more fascinated I became with this sprawling, ostracized, rectangular state. So, as I planned my grand return to the East Coast, I planned to stop in South Dakota not for one just-passin’-through night, but for three nights and four days.

I rolled through Rapid City, the second-largest city in South Dakota, on Thursday, ready to recuperate and prepare for another drive to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands National Park. Known as the Gateway to the Black Hills—a small mountain range in the southwest part of the state that looks dark from a distance due to its tree-lined slopes—Rapid City is actually quite flat, at least in in quaint downtown region. The streets stretch wide like post-industrial Detroit, yet, the mystical spirit of the land never feels far.

When I wandered into Black Hills Vinyl, located right in downtown Rapid City, I found a pretty standard record shop. T-shirts hung on the wall, limited edition LPs and rare records sat in glass cases behind the counter, and crates of new and used albums filled the rest of the deep room. It seemed like a solid place for locals to find their fixin’s.

But then, on my way out, I found the local section—demure, but right at the front of the shop. And that collection is the true treasure of Black Hills Vinyl. Immediately, an autographed collection of cowboy songs jumped out at me. The Circle B Cowboys’ A Cowboy Has To Sing features four actual cowboys, part of The Circle B Chuckwagon Suppers and Western Show, singing traditional tunes in close, nasally harmonies.

Thanks to Black Hills Vinyl, this strange little South Dakotan record has since become one of my favorite mementos from my time on the road. So, we checked in with co-owners Michael and Jennifer Calabrese to see what some of their favorites are.

Five Essential Records to Own on Vinyl

Michael Calabrese
Co-Owner, Black Hills Vinyl

Artist: The Allman Brothers Band
Album: At Fillmore East
Reason: “So… you hate live albums, eh? Ever heard At Fillmore East?’” This is something I’ve said numerous times since we’ve owned the store. This album was absolutely essential for me when I started collecting vinyl. On the shorter bluesy tracks, the band is so tight you would swear it had to be the combination of many takes (though no overdubs were used). On the longer songs they really let loose into some wild jams that can end up recalling free jazz. I love seeing live music and no other album transports me to a show I wish I could’ve seen more than this one.

Artist: Black Moth Super Rainbow
Album: Dandelion Gum
Reason: I like weird, trippy music and BMSR definitely fits the bill. Hailing from our hometown of Pittsburgh, BMSR is a band I’ve been collecting for a few years. I find myself being immersed in the textures they create and this is my favorite of their albums. I don’t know if I can describe this album any better than the insert: “Deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania vocoders hum amongst the flowers and synths bubble under the leaf-strewn ground while flutes whistle in the wind and beats bounce to the soft drizzle of a warm acid rain. As the sun peeks out from between the clouds, the organic aural concoction of Black Moth Super Rainbow starts to glisten above the trees.” Yeah, that sounds about right.

Artist: Dr. John
Album: In the Right Place

Reason: Our friend with a chronologically arranged collection insists that 1973 was the best year for music. This record is solid supporting evidence for his case with Dr. John himself, The Meters as his band, and Allen Toussaint playing piano and producing the album. The band melds rock, boogie, funk, blues and jazz into a gumbo that’s better than the sum of its parts. This might be the pinnacle of his discography, and is a great intro to the funky side of New Orleans. I have a lot of Dr. John records, but this one takes the king cake for me.

Artist: Parliament
Album: Mothership Connection
Reason: Parliament-Funkadelic has been a favorite of mine since I first heard them. Their hooks are the basis for much of the west coast hip-hop sound that permeated the mainstream when I was growing up. In its original form, it makes you want to shake your ass on the dance floor all night. Their odd, intergalactic themed lyrics keep things light, though the playing is anything but a joke. Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker on horns with the band’s best line-up (in their prime) make this a must own for me.

Artist: John Prine
Album: John Prine
Reason: This album is the perfect blend of folk-rock and real, genuine country. I can’t resist his witty lyrics and great songwriting. Most folks have probably heard some version of “Angel from Montgomery,” but the entire album is essential. Though the album is 45 years old, a lot of the themes have stood the test of time. With songs about opioid addiction, war, and faux-patriotism the album still feels relevant today. Any fan of modern alt-country, singer songwriters should definitely get this record.

Jennifer Calabrese

Co-Owner, Black Hills Vinyl

Artist: Grateful Dead
Album: American Beauty
Reason: While their live albums capture what most Deadheads love about them, American Beauty is a wonderfully arranged studio piece that even non-Dead fans can appreciate. Robert Hunter’s lyrics shine with multi-part harmonies and concise but intricate instrumentation. If I am ever having a bad day, I throw on this record and dance my troubles away.

Artist: Flaming Lips
Album: The Soft Bulletin
Reason: One of the best rock albums of the ‘90s (my personal favorite), The Flaming Lips shed their lo-fi noise rock for a dreamy symphonic masterpiece. Spread out over two discs, Wayne Coyne floats you through the album, spanning the gamut of emotions while leaving you to feel hopeful for the future. We were fortunate enough to see them perform this album live with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks in May, and I fell in love with it all over again.

Artist: Ryan Adams
Album: Heartbreaker
Reason: I am an unabashed Ryan Adams fangirl, owning a majority of his discography, and this is my absolute favorite. His first solo release featured many talented artists including Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and David Rawlings. While there is a sprinkling great upbeat alt-country tracks, sometimes you need some sad songs to cry to, and for me, this does the trick.

Artist: The Claypool Lennon Delirium
Album: Monolith of Phobos
Reason: Being a huge Les Claypool fan, this album had me excited the moment the collaboration was announced and has quickly become my favorite of 2016. The unmistakable driving bass lines of Claypool are mixed with psychedelic riffs, reminiscent of the Beatles, which of course, are produced by John Lennon’s son Sean. Claypool hits it out of the park with this one, and you can get it on gold colored vinyl. Who doesn’t love a cool piece of colored wax?

Artist: Galactic
Album: Ya-Ka-May
Reason: Once you visit New Orleans, there is always a piece of you that wants to go back, and whenever I start missing it, I listen to Ya-Ka-May. Galactic blends their funky jams into a variety of genres with the help of local staples such as Allen Toussaint, Rebirth Brass Band, Big Chief Bo Dollis, and Big Freedia. If you could distill the diversity of the Crescent City music scene into a single album, it would sound something like this.

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