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#19 Jeff Beck Meets the Black Chicken

Anybody who’s been into wine for awhile has had the fun of living beyond their means, without having to come up with the means. I’ve gotten bottles, parts of bottles, glasses and tastes of glasses that I couldn’t possibly afford, been invited to exclusive events and dinners, and savored leftovers from exclusive dinners that I’ve served. When you’re in the wine industry, you’re in the right place and just have to wait for the right time. I’m fairly sure that transfers to just about any industry, wherever your head’s at, whatever the time. Which is how I ran across a Linn Arkiv cartridge at an estate sale. Obviously, I needed to test it before I put it on the block and so, at least for the time being, I get to enjoy something I can’t afford (until it sells). It’s spring break, and time to pull out a lot of old favorites.

http://www.jeffbeck.com/

One of those favorites is Jeff Beck’s iconic Blow by Blow album, which, coincidentally, was released 42 years ago this month. I’ve been listening to it for most of that time, and remember the first time I heard it as plain as day. I was in high school, KATT was on my clock radio and one morning I’d just gotten up and heard the DJ announce “Jeff Beck.” I’d never heard his music before, but I knew he’d been a Yardbird with Jimmy Page, which was good enough for me to stop what I was doing and listen. They played “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” I was too young to drive but a few days later I got my friend Paul to stop by Sound Warehouse on our way to swimming practice. To my parents’ chagrin—they weren’t into the idea of me buying records without prior approval. Naturally when she picked it up, my mother’s eye went directly to the title, “Constipated Duck.”

What wine to pair with it, though? I texted a friend—musician, and wine lover Lael Aldermanfor ideas, and was surprised that he suggested Zinfandel. But the possibilities rose with a serendipitous email from Vinopolis in Portland, announcing the latest release of  a long time favorite, Robert Biale Black Chicken. This wine is among my most fond Los Angeles memories and discoveries. Robert Levitan turned me on to it, then we met Aldo and Clementina Biale when they came into the restaurant shortly after. Perfect.

To say the album has aged well almost seems beside the point, such is the understatement. “Freeway Jam” is still required listening on any road trip. But putting the Biale under my nose and getting all the dried fruit and flowers aromatics was like driving on a hot summer day with the windows down. Aging well is generally not what Zinfandels do, however, and the Black Chicken is no different. It’s as good as it’s going to be right now, but will still hold for a few years if you’re waiting for just the right moment. By that time, you should have bought more, anyway, because this wine is always fantastic.

And so is this record. Blow by Blow has served as an introduction to jazz for countless listeners. It’s a touchstone for producer George Martin’s work, fitting in neatly with The Beatles, the Paul Winter Consort, Goldfinger, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, America and even Cheap Trick. He didn’t look down on rock and roll. He knew something beautiful when he heard it—and knew it well ahead of Jeff Beck, who was less impressed with “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” before he heard it played back. Then he knew there was magic happening.

Magic, indeed… The jam of “AIR Blower” and the segue going into “Scatterbrain” is epic, sounding like a car chase scene fit for a James Bond movie. This album changed my life, over forty years ago, and it’s just as good now. Maybe even better, as I live above my means.

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#18 Frank Sinatra meets a pretty good American Malbec

Happiness is a knock on the door and the UPS man hands you a package with wine in it. In this case, it was from my college friend Maria, who works for Maison La Belle Vie winery in Colorado. I’d only had one Colorado wine in my life and that was a very long time ago, so this particular Malbec was as good as square one. Maria’s actually from New York, so choosing the record was a treat—and a solid justification for buying an album I’d had my eye on for awhile.

I’d been wanting to buy a copy of the Ultimate Frank Sinatra Collection since I’d first heard about it. My Best Of record was from those “mud on the tracks” days in the 80s, but even then, it didn’t sound bad—and all I really thought I had to have was “The Summer Wind,” and “That’s Life.” The new record offered obvious improvement even before hearing it: it had those two tracks, plus “My Way,” all on the same side. What I got was a pretty good lesson on Sinatra’s career path, starting with “All or Nothing at All,” where he was singing the way he was told to, later moving into the style that was all his. By the time Nelson Riddle took over the arrangements, The Voice had come into his own. 

The wine had a dark, deep ruby red and I wondered if it might be a bit too brooding for the music. But by the time I got to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” it had opened up and an intense blackberry note had come up in the nose. Black plum and black cherry flavors brought images of a smoky supper club. Everything was just fine. 

The album’s remastering was top flight, I thought. That voice is right up front as it should be, and certainly as it would be in one of his performances. By the time I got to “The Summer Wind,” I could think about the cocoa and espresso finish. At length, because I picked up the needle and played it again. OK, three times. It’s my favorite. After that, I felt an overwhelming need to watch The Pope of Greenwich Village. 

Frank Sinatra was cool. Actually, Frank’s still cool (even if Miles was the birth of cool). And so was the wine. I poured the last sip and savored the cassis, black currants, and licorice notes of a pretty good New World Malbec. I was glad I’d had the chance to try it, so I raised my glass to my friend in Colorado and put on one last song.

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#17 Jan Garbarek, Grandpère

The wine picks the record this time around. It had been a long time since I’d had a serious, slamming, old vine Zinfandel. Longer still was the last time I’d enjoyed Renwood Grandpère and, this being Portland and not LA, I had to order it from Liner & Elsen. I picked it up and rode home with the next “event” in my pack.

There are a handful of musicians who didn’t just influence my taste, they changed the way I perceived and listened to music altogether. Their pictures hang on my listening room wall: Jacqueline Du Pré, Miles Davis, Michael Hedges, but hanging above the Linn Sondek is Jan Garbarek. He’s been my favorite for a good long time.

Back in the day, I had a system to grow my record collection: buy one ECM Records artist, check the liner notes and buy records from all the other musicians in the band. Much like Johnny Marr led me to a lot of great groups, ECM’s players collaborated on a lot of great records, so my collection grew pretty fast. By my last count, I have almost 50 albums he plays on, either as primary artist or supporting; one is my favorite album of all time. The earliest was recorded in 1968, but most of them are on ECM Records. That made it a little hard to pick just one record this time, especially since I usually play Jan Garbarek albums in twos and threes. And why not?

I started off with my newest LP (reissue; I bought the CD when it first came out), I Took Up the Runes. It’s a go to whenever I turn somebody on to Garbarek. Molde Canticle has fascinated me since the first time I heard it, but His Eyes Were Suns still makes me shiver, and nothing beats the groove they lay down on the title track. 

The first sip of the Grandpère brought back a lot of memories on its own. My time in LA was spent consuming copious quantities of dark, jammy Zinfandels—and the jammier the better. I still love them, but when I moved to a Pinot Noir producing state, my tastes started to change. It took me about a year and a half to “get” Oregon Pinot Noir’s delicate, elegant refinement. After that, a few of the Zins with lighter touches that I hadn’t enjoyed before came on my radar, two of them being Renwood’s Grandpère and Jack Rabbit Flat. 

That same kind of learning and contemplation goes for music, too, of course. Those really “woolly” improvisational jazz pieces wake up your ears for possibility, somehow preparing you for melody later on. Afric Pepperbird is a good example of this. Garbarek’s first ECM record: after looking for it for years I walked into Beacon Sound and there it was (I found Karen Krog in the same place—great store). After two sides worth of challenging honking, “Beast of Komodo” is a very easy listen. Yes, I’m a fan.

There are lots of stories that go with those albums: Seeing him perform in New York with the Hilliard Ensemble and meeting him after the show (one of the few times I’ve been both star struck and speechless), the girlfriends who have said he sounds like either “duck torture” or “tickling whales” (guess which relationship lasted), and the numerous times that I’ve been asked, “Do you really find this relaxing? How?”  But there's no other music like this. You never know what you'll get when the new album comes out.

Ah, but there was more to be had: As I dug into the collection for a desert island album, Photo with Blue Sky, White Clouds, Wires and a Red Roof. The record’s been played so many times it sounds like bacon in a frying pan, but the music’s still fresh after almost forty years. The wine was really opening up now, showing Amador County’s signature raisiny character. My palate has broadened enough over the years that I could pick up the subtler notes of tobacco, cigar box and cedar in the Grandpère. I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked that up before. But there was no shortage of jam, ripe black plums and cherry pie, and the wine’s dark, deep, yet clear garnet color held its own gorgeous allure, a hint of more tales to be told.

I wrapped up the session with the place I started, recalling the moment I first heard Jan Garbarek as clear as day. We were on a union break at the radio station, listening to the Eulipion Jazz Network unfold on a friend’s car stereo, when I asked what album was playing. My now departed friend told me it was a new one called Wayfarer. Discussing the music with the radio bunch back then, I called it a “more playful tune,” to incredulous response. “Hey, some kids like to play in the dark!” and we all laughed. Thirty years later, I think perhaps I still do.
 

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#16 Miles Davis Dark Magus at Teutonic Wine Tavern

 

Vinyl lovers like me are often—frequently—constantly—accused of being flat earthers, but if you have a fondness for vintage hi fi, you’re really getting it from all sides. “Rob, there has been tremendous technology released since you were in high school…” (I get the same thing in bike shops when people see the friction shifters on my venerable De Rosa bike, too. In the same helpful tone.) A visit to Teutonic Wine Factory rekindled my fondness for that distinctly 70s sound.

We were there to review the "Teutonic Wine Tavern" for American Winery Guide so instead of drinking one bottle with a record, this was a wine flight of several great wines. And while it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a tasting room, it’s also significant that this Vine+Vinyl was on the road, on another turntable than my trusted Linn Sondek. Teutonic’s Pro-Ject turntable was brand new and quite capable, but my geek flag went up when they cranked a Sansui integrated amp into a pair of big, vintage JBLs hanging in the back of the room.

“4130s!” exclaimed winemaker Barnaby Tuttle as he pointed at me with a grin. It was a gleeful boast and a well-earned brag for him, a trip down memory lane for me. This was a coveted system when I first got into hifi back in high school. A few years later, my college radio mentor at the Eulipion Jazz Network played a new Steve Tibbetts album on a pair of those things. Good times. Very LOUD times.

Assistant winemaker Alex Neely put on Miles Davis Dark Magus, recorded live at Carnegie hall in 1974 (a warm up for the acid funk that was to come, from a band that hadn't quite solidified). Then he rolled out the red carpet and poured a long flight of great wines. That’s a good day by any measure, made all the more fun with a decent sounding music system. But, just like a Miles Davis album, there was a moment where it was wise to stop, pause, and contemplate a particular movement. In this case it was Teutonic’s 2013 Deep Probe.

Like Dark Magus, the 2013 Deep Probe is made by a "band" that breaks a lot of rules (Portland's Tripod Project, of which Barnaby is a member). Or, as Alex cogently explained, “It begs the philosophical question, “What is a flaw?” Tart red fruit flavors, but a strange nose that reminded me of orange wine. Like orange wines, it was interesting and had, shall we say, redeeming values because of its peculiarity. OK, I’ll admit it: I didn’t love it. But I think it woke up my taste buds for the rest of the flight that Alex was pouring. Orange wine has gained traction because of those peculiarities, intriguing food pairings and a whole lot of nerd appeal. Deep Probe made me think and it made me think about wine differently than I had been, in much the same way that listening to Miles Davis made me think differently about music (John Cage plays the same role for a lot of classical listeners, and asks similar questions). That’s invaluable. 

After that, upon returning home, I shuffled around my stereo and plugged my old Marantz 2252b back into the system. Then I put on Agharta, the next step in the saga that’s often called Miles Davis’s “difficult years—” my favorites, actually. Maybe the Marantz is a little loose with the details, but it’s warm, lush and easy to listen to all night long. And even if I can’t always play it as loud as I’d like, I can always pour another glass of wine and put on another record.
 

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Vine+Vinyl #15 Johnny F'n* Marr!

 

Anybody who knows me knows my mad passion for guitar music. My formative years were spent listening to the mighty Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Stephen Stills and Pete Townshend. For me, the Eighties were when I discovered Adrien Belew, Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny. The whole course of my life was permanently altered the first time I heard Ralph Towner and Michael Hedges at a friend’s house (I became a concert promoter because of that). Unfortunately, because of my deep immersion in jazz during that time, I completely missed The Smiths.

In the Nineties, working in a record store and grinding through graduate school, I discovered an underrated album by another group I’d overlooked: Dusk, by The The. There was an understated, warmly melodic guitar sound that might easily be overlooked because of the light touch—and yet the music clearly would have fallen apart without it. It was a complex style and an absolutely gorgeous tone that shimmered beneath the surface of the song. “Who is this guy?” I wondered. Eight years after their demise, I had discovered The Smiths' brilliant guitar player, Johnny Marr.

Johnny Fuckin' Marr

Johnny Fuckin' Marr

April 16th, 2013, Aladdin Theater, Portland, Oregon

After that, any album with Johnny Marr on it was worth a listen--which has turned out to be a lot: Bryan Ferry, Modest Mouse, Neil Finn, and New Order’s offshoot, Electronic, to name a few others. The first time I saw him perform was with The Healers, supporting his first solo album. I was completely amped, dragging out three friends who had little or no idea what or who I was gushing about but had somehow been convinced that this show was a big deal. It was the first time I ever heard somebody yell, "Johnny Fuckin' Marr!" and he blew us away. What I remember most vividly about that show was every other song he said, “I love this guitar,” as he brought out a new instrument. They were beautiful things, each with its own sound. I was smitten and have been a huge fan ever since. 

Fast forward another decade. Johnny Marr had a new album and was out on tour again (after living half of that time in Portland, it turns out) but this time I was out with people who knew what he was all about. Adrenalin Baby pretty much chronicles the show we saw at the Aladdin Theater (most of it--we were treated to much longer performance). I’d forgone the special edition vinyl on this one. For one thing, it cost twice as much as the black copy I bought. And it was pink, which is a color I reserve for rosé and we’ll leave it at that. Straight up: the recording is good, maybe not stellar but the concert was so beautiful, I just don’t care.** 

But I also got a screaming deal on this record so I wanted a wine to reflect the bargain. I’m not sure how Safeway ended up with 2010 Maysara Jamsheed, but if it’s in one Safeway, it’s in every Safeway (by state that is), which means a lot of people have access to an aged bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir at a grocery store price. Pale ruby red, reviewers said that it’s more Old World Style. Which if you’ve got a California palate it might be, but a peculiar fusion of Old and New World is Oregon Style to me. One of my favorite vintages, 2010 was a cool (even cold) year that brought about some delicate, lissome wines. Contrast this with the McMinnville AVA which shows distinctly dark, chewy tannic structure that’s as distinct as Napa’s “Rutherford Dust.” With structure like this, it’s a good idea to wait and winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi holds her wines back a little while longer than most producers. Still finding a six year old on the shelf falls in the “miracle” category.

Hand painted original photograph by Jai Soots

2010’s calling card was a briar note on the nose that I liked a lot, and the Jamsheed brought it, along with tomato vines, crushed berries and spices. A cool year tends to yield elegant, graceful wines with leaner texture, and this was right up my alley. 

The overall sound of the album is pretty lean, too, which for a live album is no surprise. But JFM's guitar is front and center in the mix, and clear as a bell. That’s what we came for. Every song is great, the band is brilliant, rock solid and razor sharp. That extra little ring that Marr puts into his guitar tone is especially rich on “New Town Velocity,” “Generate! Generate!” and “Candidate.”

I’ve been to lots of concerts where people sang along with the artist, but this one was unique  because there seemed to be three groups of singers. The band played a half dozen Smiths songs, and more than half the audience joined in on “There is a Light That Never Goes Out. A different third (including me) knew his recent material from The Messenger and Playland. But the real, bonafide, Johnny Marr fans were on their feet for “Getting Away With It,” the lone song from Electronic. It was my favorite of the night, even though I’d never heard it before. And everybody was on their feet for The Clash’s “I Fought the Law.” Who could ever resist that?

It's amazing how much great music I've discovered thanks to this guy--the only downside being that I wonder who else I’ve missed along the way. Fortunately, there have been plenty of records to help catch me up and so far, the wine supply has held. The struggle continues.

*The original title of this post was Johnny Fuckin' Marr. I was surprised when I had trouble emailing bits back and forth for editing, having them swallowed by spam filters. Still other filters knocked the article right out of regular readers' feeds. And so, now it's Johnny Effen Marr. 

**As an aside, I played Adrenaline Baby twice on iPod while stirring lees, which got the job done much faster.

 

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Vine+Vinyl #14 The Heroic Return of The High Violets

In terms of indelible memories, the first time I heard The High Violets is something along the lines of a mental tattoo. The Laurelhurst Theater is one of those delicious Portland institutions; a second run movie theater that serves pizza and beer. I was standing in line for the latter two when some wonderful music caught my ear. When my turn came, I asked the bartender what he was playing.

“It’s The High Violets,” he grinned. They’re here now, so I thought it would be good to play them.”

Once I sat down in the theater, I looked around and noticed a guy with long, super sharp sideburns next to an equally distinct, attractive woman. That had to be them, I thought. They were just… cooler than anybody else there. A couple of weeks later I caught the band at Berbati’s Pan and found that I’d been exactly right. They’ve been my favorite Portland band ever since and I almost never miss a show. Over the next dozen years since we watched The Warriors together (you were wondering about the movie, weren’t you?), I've gotten waves from them as I got on the train in a High Violets tee shirt, crossed paths with them at parties, seen Clint Sargent playing with Starry Saints, run into drummer Luke Strahota at the bike shop—then accidentally caught a performance with his riotously fun Satin Chaps at my neighborhood street fair. Like many of their fans, I stayed in touch and jumped like a fish to every rumor of a new album until finally, after six years, The High Violets have delivered Heroes and Halos. Call it shoegazer or dream pop (Heroes and Halos is more of the latter), The High Violets’ music is beautiful. It’s good to have them back.

Despite all the anticipation—and Facebook sharing—I pointedly avoided any singles or prerelease videos, instead waiting patiently for my special edition LP to arrive. What I did do was play the other albums in anticipation--44 Down, To Where You Are, Satellite Remixes and Cinéma, in order. Easy, since I’ve never tired of them and they still get played a lot. Unfortunately, my lavishly beautiful ultra clear with blue haze vinyl limited edition, preordered record... arrived late. I was a cranky all weekend as I watched other fan posts and pictures. But all that was forgiven once I dropped the needle on my Linn Sondek.

A reminder that art is work: Kaitlyn ni Donnovan's notes. 

A reminder that art is work: Kaitlyn ni Donnovan's notes. 

After six years, the band’s gotten a few things worked out, but I was intrigued when Kaitlyn ni Donovan posted pictures of all the notebooks full of lyrics that covered that time span. There’s as much sweat in this record as there is just setting it down and walking away. End of the day, it was worth the wait—especially since now I could read the lyrics off a real album cover.* I love this album as a whole—which is perhaps unusual when listening to two sessions as an LP. That said, I’ll say I liked side two better, “Comfort in Light” is my favorite song, because I’ve always loved Clint Sargent’s guitar work. A musician friend once told me that the whole point of rock and roll was to be bigger than life, and that’s what Clint does with an overdriven Telecaster. Kaitlyn ni Donovan’s voice is clear as a crystal bell and has never sounded better. Just like the first track of the record implies, I love everything about Heroes and Halos. Every single note. 

Winding down the night after the fourth play, there’s a peculiar moment of reflection: I’ve still got one more bottle of a pretty good white Burgundy. After I shut down the turntable for the night, I went downstairs and tucked it away in the back, under the stairs in the Harry Potter closet. I want to save it for the next High Violets album.

 
*The mighty Shelby Lynne has pointed out other benefits of album covers.

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Vine+Vinyl #13 Storm Large: the Red and the Black

The first time I saw Storm Large was at Music Fest Northwest in the Roseland Theater (2003, I think). She’d been playing every Wednesday night at Dante’s and would keep that gig until she got on TV a few years later. Portland turned out for her in bars across town, watching her perform and compete on Rock Star: Supernova. She was our champion, her star was rising and we loved her. But I’m getting ahead…

That first performance, I wandered into a busy but not full hall of curious people, all of whom had their chins on the floor. Dressed in a slinky black dress and full length red gloves, Storm didn’t so much command the stage as claim it as her property. She was charming, she was provocative, with a wicked sense of humor and equally wicked voice. She was bloody great is what she was, and the whole room stood astonished at this combination of elegance and racy burlesque.

It was that thought of “red and black” that came to mind when I selected a bottle of Boedecker Cellars 2004 Athena Pinot Noir. I’d recently refitted my beloved 1976 Linn Sondek with a Macassar ebony plinth and now the grain in the wood makes me pause a moment, just before dropping the needle. But this time there was a heady feeling of extravagant indulgence: I’d picked up Storm’s latest release, Le Bon Heure*, on limited edition red vinyl—with black streaks, (“Really quite sexy,” said Jai, as she shot the pictures. “Like smoke from burning love letters.”) I’d bought it months ago, right before harvest and hadn’t had time to play it. Well, this column is about perfect moments, after all, and new Storm Large album is an event. A less refined wine simply wouldn’t do, and a 2004 Athena is as rare as an honest politician these days.

Athena Pappas likes black fruit flavors in her signature cuvée, but 2004 was very much a “red” year. In fact, 2004 had a unique ruby red that upon release, stood out from other wines and other vintages and I wondered how it might match the record visually. The muscular structure I usually associate with Athena’s style had mellowed over eleven years, and red fruit had stepped up in front of the black. But there were still plenty of fresh fruit flavors—lots of ripe black cherry and raspberry—still a little spice on the nose, and a dreamy, lingering finish. It’s peaked, but it’s far from decline and sure enough, the color alone was quite the match to what was on my turntable.

Le Bon Heure is a gorgeous recording, starting with a slightly irreverent rendition of Cole Porter’s “Under My Skin—” irreverent because as Storm has often done, a cutesy love song is performed from a stalker’s perspective. (Consider the implications of, “Don’t you know, little fool/You never can win.”) After that is a typically ambitious collection of metal turned torch, silly ditties elevated to rock anthems, a Black Sabbath song turned into a samba, and a  Randy Newman tune sounds like it belongs in a church. (Seriously, what’s more Portland than “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today?”) It’s all part of Storm Large’s clever, campy mystique

A heartfelt version of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” has all the warm sense of loss—and naughtiness—of the original. But there’s a fond celebration of life that wasn’t in the original, a reason for us pause to smell the wine, and savor our time. And what better time spent than with two formidable women, Storm Large and Athena Pappas. It was a delicious adventure into the red and the black.

 

 

*To my knowledge, Storm Large is never one to overlook a double entendre.

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Vine+Vinyl #12 Smaller Circles and Big Moments with Lael Alderman

My first couple of years in Portland was spent serving lunch to the business class, in a restaurant 30 floors above the city street. Like the food, the money was mediocre but I had the advantage of having my nights free to explore the local music scene. In short order, I discovered Pink Martini, Storm Large and The High Violets. Following those bands around, I discovered Kleveland, Kaitlyn ni Donovan, Morgan Grace, and The Starry Saints. The first time I saw the Bella Fayes was opening for The High Violets. When I learned that their dynamic front man, Lael Alderman, had gone out on his own, I caught his shows every chance I could. Lael and I became friends over time, discovering a fondness for wine and records. Lael’s a winemaker himself, and we’ve worked together on the Boedecker bottling crew a couple of times. We bought our Led Zeppelin reissues almost simultaneously (he beat me by a week), and we both played them through vintage Marantz receivers.

So when I discovered a new company that offered one-off records, I was curious and immediately contacted him. Would he send me a couple of songs that I could have cut onto a 7” single? It didn’t take much to talk him into it, and within a week, I had a new 45 RPM single by Lael’s new band, The Loved, on my turntable ready to go. With a glass of 2012 Boedecker Cherry Grove in hand, I sat back on the couch ready to let my geek flag fly. And found I’d made a drastic mistake.

The horror of starting 45 RPM singles at 33 1/3 was thought to be of times past, but that is not the case. It’s not the biggest problem I’ll deal with in a week, but those who have seen my single speed, 1976 Linn Sondek have been amazed by the chore that goes with playing 45 RPM. Remove the platter, pull back the rubber belt, insert the 45 RPM pulley, replace the belt and the platter and you’re ready for 45. I do it every Christmas when I play my two singles: David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” by Led Zeppelin. After that, I’m good for another year. It actually takes less time than reading this paragraph, but I still needed to refill my wine glass.

However, lowering the needle on that little record offered a thrill I hadn’t expected: I’ve known many of the musicians in my music collection and it’s always fun to listen to a friend’s music—especially getting it before it’s in stores. But a 45 is old school, and it turns out that old school is a hell of a lot of fun. Recall the scene in That Thing You Do when the band first hears their song on the radio, and you’ll have a good idea. Of course, part of the experience is getting up and flipping the thing over every three minutes. I did that at least a dozen times that night and never tired of it.

While completing this article, Lael texted me, saying he’d put me on the guest list for his next show. All I had to do was give him the record. Looks like I’m going back to listening to 45s once a year. I can’t be the only one who has all the fun…

 

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Vine+Vinyl #11 Winemaker's Pick: Bob Mould

In the ongoing question of “Does the wine pick the record or does the record pick the wine,” a new variable arises: what would the winemaker pick?

John Grochau and I have been friends for awhile now, ever since we shared the same tasting room at the Portland Wine Project (with Boedecker Cellars). Tasting room music is always a tricky thing, along the lines of room temperature. What’s best for the worker bees is often not best for the customers, and while the worker bees want it cooler because they’re buzzing around, customers tend to be stationary and get cold. Likewise, a warm, relaxing audio environment for customers often creates complacency among those who serve them. Balance needs to be attained.

Or not. John and I have been running into each other at Bob Mould concerts for years, and he was always happy to oblige me when I put Workbook on in the tasting room, although sometimes I had to turn it down. OK, usually I had to turn it down. We’re those proverbial diehard fans who will buy a ticket to, paraphrasing Steve Winwood, watch their hero go onstage and fart. Which, in a way, I have: Bob even said in his biography that his Carnival of Light and Sound Tour “wasn’t working.” That was the first time I saw him. But I’ve seen him play five great shows since, gotten a lot of my records autographed, and had a blast. And I’ve run into John Grochau almost every time.

I’d recently noticed the Life and Times album was spending a lot of time on my turntable. The very definition of a sleeper is an album that gets played all the time and you didn’t realize it, which is the case here. It’s an introspective album, not surprising since it was recorded when he was gearing up to write his autobiography, See a Little Light. When I asked John what he had that would work with that, his wine pick turned out to be the Grochau Cellars 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. I was pleasantly surprised that it was made from Anderson Family Vineyards’ fruit—a place I’d worked briefly over the holidays. He gave it to me at Hop and Vine, and over a beer he explained that he thought the album warranted something with a little more power, but this one wasn’t “powerful in the conventional sense. The power lies somewhere… not up front, more underneath.”

There’s an underlying earthiness I’ve come to expect from Grochau Wines, which I noticed right away with the first chords. What wasn’t expected was the darkness—something I hadn’t encountered in a Dundee Hills wine in quite some time (specifically a 2002 Arcus Estate). Black cherry, marionberry and boysenberry flavors are prevalent, rather than the spicy, red fruit flavors I generally associate with Dundee. Shortly after, Bob shouted, “What the fuck.” I’ve rarely had a more perfect moment with a glass of wine.

Track two is actually one of my favorite Mould tunes and “The Breach,” seemed to correlate best to Grochau’s “power underneath,” idea. The lyrics are dense and metaphorical, telling a painful tale of alienation well before the hard electric guitar hits. The wine was just opening up now, and I thought the muscular structure befitting the guitar grit. But that’s just me. By the time I flipped the record to side two, the wine had opened up to full throttle. 

There’s an understanding that tasting notes and high fidelity go only so far. Music and wine present emotion in their own ways and formats. On a good day you, you get it and find yourself wandering around in the artist’s head. On another, your palate’s razor sharp and you can taste every note and breathe every nuance from the land the wine came from. On a better day, you can do it with both. Of course, it helps to have the artist’s biography in arm’s reach, after you’ve gotten the lowdown from the winemaker. 

What could be better? Well, I’ll tell you. While finishing the post, I got word that a new Bob Mould album comes out at the end of March—and even got tour dates. That deserves its own toast, later...

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Vine+Vinyl #10 Fond Memories of the Future, with Peter Murphy

The eternal question of this column is, “Does the wine pick the record or the record pick the wine?” Most of the time it seems to be the latter. When I got a newsletter from Vinopolis heralding the arrival of Hartford Dina’s Vineyard Zinfandel, I saw opportunity for the former. I have fond memories of this wine, and although all the Hartford wines are good, Dina’s Vineyard is exponentially the greatest. Then I realized it had been fifteen years since I’d last enjoyed one; not since I’d moved from Los Angeles. 

When I moved to Portland in 2001, I had the definitive California palate. Bigger was better, and I loved the bold, deep, jammy flavors of Zinfandel. It took almost two years to grasp Oregon Pinot Noir and by that time, everything I’d learned about wine in the LA restaurant scene was out the window. (For the record, what I’d learned wasn’t wrong. It was just a limited view.) With that purchase, I started thinking about how much I’d changed since then, and what I was listening to at the time. Truth be told, my taste in music is still so eclectic that I can safely say it hasn’t changed: I’ll still try anything once and want to hear anything new. After that, favorites are still favorites but the “go to albums” that show up in the stack week after week are different, year by year. In 2000, I recall heavy rotation including PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City and Peter Murphy’s Cascade--and I'd seen Peter Murphy at House of Blues that year. A recent visit to Jackpot Records had yielded a copy of Lion, Peter Murphy’s current double LP. There’s a match.

After years of seductive crooning and introspective whispering, I was both surprised and excited that the opening track showed an industrial bent, reminiscent of Bauhaus. A lot of my favorites have been going back to their roots lately (Bob Mould’s last album was a lot more Hüsker Dü and a lot less Sugar), so to hear Peter Murphy go full on Goth was an all out blast. Well, Cali Zins are my roots of a sort, and this was the sort of high octane I thrived on back then. Deep, dark, intense, with ripe blackberry, white pepper, cocoa and violets on the nose, this wine is an overwhelming mouthful of blackberry jam. Power is in play here--with focus.

My tastes have changed—or rather, expanded. There’s a minerality from 96 year old vines that I can recognize now like I couldn’t fifteen years ago. Although I was looking for black pepper and anise notes I expect from a great Zinfandel, I didn’t find them until I smelled my empty glass (promptly refilling it, of course), and that’s something else I’d learned recently, from Marcus Goodfellow. Ripe black plum and marionberry flavors showed later, toward the end of the album when the synth beats really cranked up. 

Everything I've learned has changed the way I taste wine now. In the meantime, Peter Murphy has gone from creating singles like Cuts You Up and Fall on Your Knife to epic albums like Dust, and back again with 2011’s Nine. Lion has some of both, with a bent toward the epic. It’s glorious, bombastic fun, full of dark intensity with underlying subtlety that only comes from years of experience—like deep, 96 year old roots.

 

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Vine+Vinyl #9 Don't Just Sing

I discovered Karin Krog in the mid-80s on a John Surman album, released by the divinely eclectic, sometimes idiosyncratic ECM record label—and inflicted it upon all my friends without mercy. Some got it, some didn’t but fortunately, most chalked it up to “just Rob” and left me to it. A couple weeks ago, I was killing time in Portland’s Mississippi district at Beacon Sound and…ran across a Karin Krog album. Light in the Attic Records has issued a glorious double LP collection of Krog’s work, as a primer for American listeners before they reissue other albums in her catalog. With the exception of some collaborations with other artists, she’s never released an American record. I’d stumbled onto a big deal, mere weeks after its release. 

This was going to require a good bit of digging—through the cases of wine in the Harry Potter closet—for just the right wine. I settled on a 2010 Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir by Carabella. Settled isn’t exactly the right word, since I had it in my mind that this would be the wine by the time I got home with the record. But it’s always fun to rummage through the cellar and view the treasures, confirming my decision. (OK, and I had to find it.) Opening it was truth and beauty… after awhile. It was shy at first but by the end of the first side, the wine was singing right along with Ms. Krog, hitting all the right briary, cedary notes from the 2010 vintage. 

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Archival photo by Sandra Boedecker

As the cherry and raspberry notes started unfolding (into Side 2—the wine was pretty tight at first), the music got weirder, which was fine with me. Karin Krog isn’t just a singer. She’s an experimental musician who uses a microphone and effects to augment her voice. The album’s called Don’t Just Sing for a reason besides just a title track—but which could easily be overdone. Fortunately, she knows how much is enough and after scaring the audience a little bit, she breaks into something more melodic. Balance is key, and timing is everything. I had it cranked up when the song “Images in Glass” came on. The pristinely recorded breaking glass—really loud breaking glass—had Jai running out the door looking for vandals in the courtyard. 

To her credit (at least in my mind), Ms. Krog doesn’t scat much at all and even at its most venturesome, this is still an album of songs. Like the 2010 Carabella, the obvious was tempered with subtlety and finesse. By Side 3 the wine had opened up fully to it’s cherry, raspberry, spicy splendor and the album was showing everything I’d hoped for after reading the liner notes. The musician lineup reads like a Who’s Who in European Jazz: Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen, Arild Andersen, and, of course, her husband John Surman. From America, there were Steve Swallow, Steve Kuhn and Dexter Gordon. It’s all but incomprehensible that with the exception of her ECM appearances, this music hasn’t been available in America. The most accessible song is a seriously hip version of “Ode to Billy Joe,” with Dexter Gordon. A peek at the liner notes reveals was shelved for thirty years, added as a bonus track to a CD reissue that was only released in Europe. There’s something criminal about that.

But now she’s here. Light in the Attic has done a wonderful thing with this album. Don’t Just Sing is beautiful, from the packaging to the remastering and 180 gram pressing. It goes without saying that this album isn’t for everybody, but the same might be said of any record or any wine in my collections. Don’t Just Sing is for the real jazz lover what Carabella is for a real wine lover: much, much more lies just beneath the surface and one must take some time to know that. If you’re really lucky, you might get to try them both together.

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Vine+Vinyl #8 Presence Through the Out Door

This week, the wine picks a record, allowing me a justification. 

The Mighty Jimmy Page has been reissuing the Led Zeppelin albums over the last year, so I’ve been gradually replacing the records I listened to since high school; sequentially. The last three had just come out and I’d just bought Presence, but decided to wait for next paycheck to buy In Through the Out Door, so I’d have two to play. Then I ran across a rosé from Calabria that I thought looked interesting, followed by a silly thought about “the tapping toe of the Italian boot.” I bought the wine, then bought the record on the way home.

A little research into the (previously unknown) grape Gaglioppo, yielded that it’s a cross between Sangiovese and… nobody knows for sure. And for some, it’s the “Nebbiolo of the South.” A couple more links revealed that I’d happened on the area’s oldest producer, in business since 1845. OK, I’m in. This rosé will take me down yet another wine rabbit hole, and I’ll be richer for it. 

A big part of the fun in the Led Zeppelin reissues is playing them through a vintage Marantz 2252B—my family’s, from the 70s, and the same stereo I heard them on the very first time. Echo Audio of Portland refurbished it for me, and thanks to manufacturing technology that’s ten times more precise than forty years ago, it’s actually better than new. I can’t recommend it for everybody because you can almost buy new equipment for the same amount of money. Those blue and red Marantz lights were a big part of my growing up and there’s a warmth to the sound that I’m fond of, but it’s definitely a broad brush stroke of a sound. There’s not as much definition as other products offer but with a Linn Sondek, it sounds like Madison Square Garden in 1976. A lot of so called cocktail wines offer me the same broad brush stroke pleasure and… wait… here I am, drinking rosé with Led Zeppelin.

There’s been a hair raising thrill in the whole reissue thing. One expects to be blown away by sonic superiority but after thirty years of records sounding like a pan of popping bacon, the initial shock is the deathly silence that is the lead-in groove. Oh, and that lead-in groove? It’s twice, maybe three times as long, so you have time to drop the needle, get back to your chair and pick up your glass of wine before the music starts. Why did no one think about that in Seventies? Or maybe it just takes Jimmy a little longer to get across the room these days? Ah, and I had two of them to play for twice the fun, although I ended up running short of wine. 

Presence came out just after I was introduced to Zeppelin. Like a lot of kids, that was in the car with an older driver shuttling: In 1977 we were on our way to the pool for swimming team practice, and the band was mounting what was to be their last American tour. (Driver Mike, like thousands of Oklahoma City kids, would camp out for days to get tickets to a concert of a lifetime—which my parents would NEVER allow me to attend. Not that I didn’t try. Ah, forbidden fruit.) Some say—and I agree—that Presence feels a little “tossed off,” but there’s an intensity that I gravitate to, much like Bob Mould’s Black Sheets of Rain. Sometimes, a guy’s gotta howl.

In Through the Out Door has the distinction of being the only Led Zeppelin album I ever listened to with my father. He’d heard about them in church, from the pulpit and other parents. He’d seen the posters on our walls, and he was going to find out if they really were the high representative of the devil’s music. To this day, I can see his face squinch up when I hear the backward guitar opening to “In the Evening.” But my dad had been a musician in his younger years and he understood what it meant to “play live.” He wasn’t exactly tapping his toe to “Fool in the Rain,” but he knew real players when he heard them. In the end, he thought “Hot Dog” was a good song and didn’t think our souls were in jeopardy, after all. But he still thought it was too loud.

Every record holds a memory like that and every glass of wine does, too—and if you’re doing it right, they each have their own rabbit hole that leads to its own Wonderland. Gaglioppo is my new quest. What is it really like? I wonder... Rest assured that the music will be cranked to the rafters. Life has its ups and downs, and often it's good when it gets a little loud.

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Vine & Vinyl # 7 First Formal Tastings

In my early college days in the dormitory at Oklahoma State University, I tried my first glass of Italian wine with a couple of friends. The tastings usually began at 10:30 with the local TV rerun of M*A*S*H, but inevitably ran a little later into a record or two. That often meant the Byrds, our hosts favorite group and a unique blend of something we all dug that was mellow enough not to disturb the neighbors. The other guy had invested in a nice wood box containing two reds and two whites, which is most of what I remember about it. No idea what was actually in that box—could’ve been Antinori, could have been Banfi, undoubtedly not Gaja. But we all wanted to learn something new and this was our square one. As is the case with most newbies, our taste buds were overwhelmed immediately and there were few notes of distinction. We all agreed that one smelled like cedar, a possibility we’d never considered before. Unfortunately, at the time we thought that was a fault.

My tastes are more refined than those early dorm room days, but it’s wise to not forget one’s roots and often a good idea to return to them. So it was with that memory in mind that I visited Europa Wine Merchant on the way home from work, looking for an Italian white wine; mentioning I particularly enjoyed minerality. I was pointed to a 2013 I Clivi Ribolla Gialla, which I’d never heard of, and headed home with the idea of an old recipe with better ingredients. 

The record was in my head by the time I’d unlocked my bike to head home: McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. These were three of the original Byrds, which had disbanded some years before but these fellows had crossed paths on tour in Europe, played a few songs together for the fans, and decided to work together once more. There’s a particular energy to the record that comes from its objective. This was not a “band” playing together. These were three stone cold, solid, professional musicians performing their respective parts in a studio, wanting to prove they could write good songs, play and record them well--and make some money. Three careers were riding on this record. Two made out very well in the long run. It’s arguably overproduced. The recording of each instrument is pristine but there’s often an extra instrument for texture that’s not needed for the song. But this is one of my test records; usually about the third or fourth record I reach for when I listen to new stereo gear, because of the purity of the recording.

I Clivi is from Fruili, at the northeast top of the boot, with Slovenia to the east and Austria to the north. The soil they call “ponca,” is chock full of calcium that imparts minerality to wines. Simpler, more straightforward than the New World wines I’d been drinking lately, but not austere. Lemon and tart nectarine flavors, but what I wanted was the stony, mineral note. I got it. A great wine! 

Purity is where the two paths meet; both of purpose and execution. Ribolla Gialva is a simpler wine, but that simplicity is a beautiful thing. Not exactly a quaffer, but great with a nibble (I had salami and cucumbers), it finishes clean. Not so for McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, who at least caught a break with their timing. The Eagles were riding high but between albums, and the album was close enough to the SoCal sound that was on the radio then to put the album up on the charts, and put “Don’t You Write Her Off” into the Top 40. Chris Hillman’s career as a country artist ramped up shortly after. Roger McGuinn has become a PBS fundraising staple and distinguished gentleman of rock and roll. But Gene Clark died at 47, shortly after the Byrds’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s a bittersweet ending, but if you pour a glass of wine and crank up the Byrds’ first album, you’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.

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