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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 The Record Exchange in Boise, Idaho.
The largest record store in all of Idaho has two doors. One entrance on 11th Street and one on W. Idaho Street—provide access to the musical mecca that is downtown Boise’s The Record Exchange. One door takes you into a café that served as Boise’s first espresso bar, leading into a world of local goods and pop cultural tchotchkes, and branded ware. The other, however, leads you directly into the maze of vinyl racks. Backed up against the wall of the musical side stands a small stage, no more than a foot or two off the ground, but prestigious enough to host such acts like La Luz and Willis Earl Beale during the recent citywide Treefort Music Festival back in March.
As Boise’s population continues to grow (Forbes recently named it one of the country’s 20 fastest growing metro areas), the people’s desperation for live and recorded music, coffee, and a sense of community should theoretically parallel its rise. Luckily, The Record Exchange has been serving the good folks of Boise for 36 years, and is poised to continue doing so. We checked in with five staffers at The Record Exchange to see which records they think you should own on vinyl.
Five Essential Records to Own on Vinyl courtesy of The Record Exchange
Rachel Prin, Buyer
Artist: The Clash
Album: Combat Rock
Reason: This was the very first album I ever listened to on vinyl. Like, really listened to. My dad sat me down with a pair of headphones, handed me the liner notes and I was captivated by the very first chiming notes of guitar. Following 1980’s Sandinista!, this album feels like a true return to form for The Clash. Lyrically, Combat Rock showcases some of Joe Strummer’s best work as he tackles Vietnam, civil rights, apocalypse, drug addiction and an overall sense of frustration. And yet, despite the heaviness of some of the lyrical content, The Clash manages to balance the intensity with some incredible pop songs. “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” is pop gold, and I dare you not to dance to “Rock the Casbah.” There’s something that comes through when listening to this album on vinyl that I’ve always felt gets lost in any other format. The intensity and desperation of the lyrics, the fuzziness of Paul Simonon’s bass, the twang of Mick Jones’ guitar, and the snarl of Strummer’s voice all just feel more potent coming through wax. Featuring the classic lineup for the last time, Combat Rock is arguably The Clash’s best work and a must have for any collector.
Brion Rushton, Assistant Store Manager/Indie Buyer
Artist: Arthur Russell
Album: World of Echo
Reason: Recorded with nothing more than a cello, a pool of reverb and his yearning voice, Arthur Russell's 1986 album World of Echo is the sound of sad ballads breaking apart and drifting into the ether. It’s essential listening for the likes of Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie, and all the lonely people.
Chad Dryden, Marketing and Promotions Director
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Reason: When I got back into vinyl in 1998, this was the first record I bought. I was in college—impressionable, susceptible, and prone to romantic idealism. Records have a way of staring at you in the racks, of calling out to you, and The Songs of Leonard Cohen had been wooing me for months in a basement record shop in Athens, Ohio. When I finally took it home with me, I couldn’t take it off the turntable. Alluring and mystical, deep with meaning, Cohen’s flamenco-tinged tales of the heart and the flesh pulled me in again and again. I didn’t know what to make of it all, or what it all meant, but I did know that I had not lived and loved that deeply and I wanted to learn how. So I kept playing it. And playing it. Flipping it over and over. Alone in the dark. Amid friends and philosophies and late-night haze. With my now-wife the night we met; years later when I finally wore out my crackling first copy, she put it in a frame, hung it on the wall and bought me a replacement as an anniversary gift. As I near 40, The Songs of Leonard Cohen is a much different, much deeper listen than it was at 21. That’s how it goes when you live with a record. You change, it changes. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse. Leonard and I share a birthday. I like that. And I love this record. It only gets better.
John O’Neil, Store Manager
Album: Is This Real?
Reason: Punk rock dropped into my life when I most needed it. I recognized the return of the short song as a good thing, because I grew up listening to my older siblings’ music. I hated the bombastic, meandering rock I was subjected to by my contemporaries, i.e., other kids. I liked songs I heard on the radio sometimes, but I was fixated on big band-era jazz, like Ellington and Shaw, and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
I was a weird kid.
Growing up in a lightly populated part of Oregon, there were not a lot of band things happening. That was something I thought happened in New York or London. The appearance of Is This Real? shattered that misconception. Immediate, energetic and gloomy all at the same time, it blew my mind to hear something created in my state that sounded as great as things happening elsewhere. Greg Sage, the singer/songwriter/guitarist of Wipers, was ahead of his time in that he believed in tube amplifiers, pure signals, home recordings and a do-it-yourself aesthetic. He was a prickly, self-possessed man with thinning hair, no propensity for costumes or show business (although he did love professional wrestling!).
This record, and its follow up, Youth Of America, explode off the turntable in a rush, with an aggressive forward sound, repetitive bass lines and lead guitar lines instead of excessive solos. There were melodramatic moments for sure, but the lack of bombast was refreshing. He inspired a lot of us around the Pacific Northwest to play guitar, form bands, record ourselves and move forward. And we actively sought out the other people in the other little towns who were doing the same thing.
That is the power of a record. I have never tired of this one. Thank you to Jackpot Records in Portland for taking such care of this reissue, and to Greg Sage for the inspiration.
Catherine Merrick, Assistant Gift Shop Manager
Artist: Karen Dalton
Album: In My Own Time
Reason: Nick Cave once said that Karen Dalton was his favorite singer; that was enough for me to investigate who she was (albeit many years after her death) and this album, her last before her death in 1993, was my first introduction to her. From the opening chords of "Something On Your Mind"—a repetitive drone that leads to her lonely, broken-down vocal delivery, I was hooked by that song alone, and the way it perfectly captures the feeling of someone innately and lovingly recognizing the pain swirling within a person close to them. With versions of more familiar songs ("When a Man Loves a Woman" and "How Sweet It Is”), I was thrilled by Dalton's interpretations and especially her unique, almost jazzy phrasing, which left me sometimes wondering if she was going to make it "back into" the song, but she did every time. Recorded by many other artists, Dalton's version of "Katie Cruel" (a traditional American/Scottish folk tune) is often considered the best. With just banjo, fiddle and her voice, it practically transports you to a wooded mountaintop—the air heavy with campfire smoke and wet leaves. Though the American version of the song is said to date back to the Revolutionary War, I couldn't help but wonder if Karen related to it on a more personal level, having once been part of the '60s Greenwich Village folk music scene (and highly regarded by Bob Dylan, amongst others, at the time), but that is the brilliance of her voice. She had the ability to interpret songs so deeply that you can't help but believe she's singing about herself. The other stand out track for me is "Are You Leaving For the Country," a laid back, strolling fusion of R&B and folk, with Dalton's sweet, fractured voice languidly floating over the top of the acoustic guitars and bass, which never fails to trigger the urge to jump in the car and find an old dirt road to travel down. Truth be told, I do have this on CD, as well, purely for car listening, but the warmth and frailty of Karen Dalton's voice, as well as the purity of the acoustic instruments, come through so much better on vinyl. There is something far more magical about hearing these songs whilst sitting on the floor in a softly lit room, especially if you're with a friend who shares your enthusiasm for getting up and starting the record all over again.