Four From the Discount Rack

Tony Alfieri

While crouching over a crate of records in a dusty nook of Poo-Bah Record Shop in Pasadena recently, I realized the clerk behind the heavily stickered counter had swapped the store’s soundtrack from bluegrass to Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” And I had no clue when.

My mind is free to wander at places like Poo-Bah, clawing through used titles among the crinkled concert posters and mysterious albums that plaster the walls, racks of glossy rock mags and starchy jazz ‘zines, and ancient audio equipment piled in store fronts and back rooms.

It satisfies my appetite for the eclectic and also my budget. A single CD or digital album equals a dozen used LPs. I indulge in unknown artists or unique cover artwork with no remorse. A treasure chest – or trash heap – of possibility waits in the forgotten aisles of your local music dealer.

Sample the haul from my latest trip to Poo-Bah:

“Moods in Music: Music for Dining” – The Melachrino Strings and Orchestra Conducted by George Melachrino (RCA Victor, 1954)

This may also be Music for Falling Asleep. Harps and twinkling piano lull you over a ceaseless tide of strings. Then again, maybe music shouldn’t be the focus. (Anyone who’s ever tried to eat while listening to the “Hamster Dance” knows what I’m talking bout.) A track list suggests the perfect course to complement each song: an exotic aperitif for the “frothy, utterly sippable” opening tune, and the classical ditty “Clopin Clopant” with duckling and orange sauce. Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken with corn pudding mix well, too. “Music for Dining” will probably be in my play list for a week or two before I shelve it until the next time my wife and I want to pretend to be the dashing debutante and cad sitting by candlelight on the cover.

“Chet Atkins’ Workshop” – Chet Atkins (RCA Victor, 1961)

The cover photo depicts the entire album: a pompadoured Atkins in his studio, at ease among towers of electronic panels and meters, his red Gretsch hollow-body guitar draped over his knee. Recorded with a bare backup band – a brush drum set and intermittent organ – the songs have the lonesome feel of a man picking on personal favorites for his own pleasure. Or maybe it was one big experiment with guitar tone – cosmic reverb at its finger pickin’ best, the kind of sound that makes you examine the label and exclaim “Wow! This was recorded in 1961?” While Atkins effortlessly blends country picking and jazz strumming in this collection of amplified standards and original tunes – his version of the mood music classic “Them From a Summer Place” leaves any other versions covered in vapor trail – the lack of variance in tempo or production drags at points. He doesn’t deliver the truly blistering finger styling of his later work until side two with the swingin’ ditty “Hot Mocking Bird.”

Rockabilly and even a little distortion shine through on a couple other tracks, but the rest seem to trudge together into indistinguishable background music. Still, Atkins’ impeccable artistry is a lesson in balancing melody and virtuosity. “Hot Mocking Bird” is in my regular rotation if nothing else.

“Muddy Mississippi Line” – Bobby Goldsboro (United Artists Records, 1970)

An interesting title considering this album sounds about as muddy as the satin neckerchief Goldsboro wears in the cover photo. Any shred of the howlin’ rhythms associated with Mississippi was either polished out in a Nashville studio or never existed. Most of the songs are well-known, non-country cover tunes. Offering no creative twists other than Goldsboro’s poppy croon, his versions of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Proud Mary,” and “Sweet Caroline” are shallow facsimiles of the originals. The string arrangement on his version of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi” made me cringe. Goldsboro’s original tunes are heartfelt if not trite, and at times the jangly rhythm guitars mix well with twangy leads, but it’s not enough to beat the overall vapidity nor Goldsboro’s bowl cut hairdo. Seeing him on a late night ad for “Country’s Greatest Love Songs” should have tipped me off. Still, at $.49 it was worth the risk. I think I’ll let my one-year-old chew on this album.

“God Gave the Song” – Eleanor Vandruff (Dean Brown Productions, 1976)

The first song, a blustery hymn lifted by a stark, elegant piano, was all I needed to hear. Although Vandruff and her orchestra perform with a pleasant conviction, and a dash American old-time that I wasn’t expecting, her religious hymns and patriotic ditties are not for me. The numerous scripture suggestions throughout the liner notes were another turn off. Yet, I consider this a successful buy. “God Gave the Song” is the latest addition to my collection of obscure albums with inspirational dedications handwritten on the cover.

Vandruff writes (in perfect cursive): “Dearest Jeanne, my first accompaniment. Your friendship and talent is a blessing to me and I pray the richest blessings be yours. Love in Christ, Eleanor. Proverbs 3:5-6.” I will never listen to this album again, but I can wonder about Vandruff and “Jeanne” for days.

Not a bad lot for only $4.83. I’ll probably pick up another Atkins album if I find one and I know to stay away of Goldsboro. Plus, I snagged a free Yanni CD on the way out of the store. My Christmas shopping is almost done for the year.