Sea Level

In the last collection of vinyl I purchased, one of the intriguing artists was a group named Sea Level.  At first I paid it no mind, but when i found multiple albums, I started wondering.  There was a lot of jazz, blues, guitar rock, and some psychedelic music in there, so I wondered what kind of music this group played.

Looking them up on the internet, I found the Wiki page and discovered I had all five of the studio albums issued between 1977 and 1980.  The only albums missing were a couple ‘best of’ albums issued in the 1990’s.  They were described as a Southern Rock/fusion jam band that was originally an offshoot from the Allman Brothers Band, so i was very interested.  I decided to listen to them in chronological order.

The first album is the self titled Sea Level, and it really sounds like what i would largely call jazz fusion.  There’s piano, keyboard, brass, and solid guitar.  It would probably be good upbeat dinner music.  The track Shake a Leg really caught my attention.  The second side was mostly instrumental jams, but I found it really motivating and good music to listen to while working on cleaning vinyl.

The album was good enough it made me start rethinking some of the other bands that the previous owner had several albums for – it seems his taste in music aligned relatively well with mine.   Artists like Thin Lizzy (8 albums), Little Feat (First 8 Albums), The Marshall Tucker Band (8 albums), Blue Oyster Cult (4 albums), The Dixie Dregs (4 albums), and Traffic (9 albums – all but the 1994 reissue.)  These might form a lot of my December listening – if I like them.

Part of what makes the albums so compelling to play is their condition. These are early pressings from the 1970’s, but most of them were stored in upgraded sleeves almost from the day they were purchased.  They may not be quite as nice as modern Mo-Fi sleeves, but they’re close.  The owner said he felt he was smart to “invest” in better sleeves, as they really made a difference.  Even the albums with beat up jackets are still in near pristine condition. The very first collection of 78 albums I bought in March of 2015 had these sleeves, and i didn’t appreciate how nice it kept the albums.  Now I’m always excited when i see them, as odds are the collection was well cared for.

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My favorite vintage sleeve
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Two different Vintage upgraded sleeves

Back to Sea Level

The second album was titled Cats on the Coast, and it started out very nice as well.  It has a little bit of a Disco influence in the first few songs, and overall it feels a little softer an more jazz than Southern Rock in my opinion.  It was still good upbeat background music, but I wasn’t as impressed as the first album.

The third Sea Level album titled On the Edge starts off with a bit more of a funk feel.  It’s off to a much better start than the previous album.  But it’s still just driving, energetic music that doesn’t inspire me, but it doesn’t distract me.  It might be good office music.

The fourth album, Long Walk on a Short Pier, had some weird skipping at the beginning, and it looks like there’s a lot of defects in the album.   It sounded a lot like the third album started out, so i just decided to skip it (no pun intended).

Album five is titled Ball Room.  Honestly, I din’t finish it.  The music just didn’t speak to me enough.   By the time I got to this point, i was so uninspired that side 2 of this album sat on the counter while I played other albums.   I ultimately decided to get rid of all the Sea Level albums, and I forgot to take pictures of them before I got rid of them!

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Side 2 waited on the counter for days….

 

One of my goals for December is to have all those albums I purchased in November processed.  Either cleaned and ready for sale, donated, or on a shelf in my queue for personal listening.  I’m about half way through them (including 75 cleaned today!), so I’m on a good pace.  And while the Sea Level albums didn’t impress once I experienced the entire set of albums,  some of the other artists might become favorites.  That’s part of the joy – listening to new music, finding new stuff, and just expanding my experiences in general.

 

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Vinyl Renaissance

During my latest business trip, I got the crazy idea to buy a few vinyl albums.  I read that Vinyl is seeing a resurgence, and I hadn’t listened to a record since the late 1980’s, except for the few nostalgic trips on our Victrola playing music from our great-grandparent’s era.    There were really only two challenges to overcome:  One, I didn’t have any vinyl records. And two, I didn’t own a turntable.

Fast forward 3 weeks, and I have amassed a collection larger than I ever had as a child – actually larger than any I remember seeing as a kid.  How many, you ask?  Well, my playlist is over 300.  Yes, I have bought an average of 100 albums from the 60’s – 80’s a week over the last three weeks.  I found a turntable rather quickly as well that is much better than anything I’ve ever had before.

Doing some quick math, I have at least 200 hours of listening to do.  So I decided to just start playing them in order as my background music while I’m doing other things.  Because the prices are so low – like between free and $1 per album – I’ve been bringing home anything that looked like it was in good shape.  So this indiscriminate buying coupled with just playing them in whatever order they’re stacked is making for a varied day of music.

I’ve always had somewhat odd tastes, or at least eclectic tastes in music, so I don’t mind spending 40 minutes listening to something new or something I wouldn’t otherwise identify as “my kind of music.”  Today I have definitely spent an unusual amount of time playing albums, but I expect many days to have a similar range.  But today’s seems especially “weird” and lacking any common thread, so I thought it would be good to share.   So here’s what I listened to today, in the order I experienced them.  Sorry about the pictures – the light in the “man cave” isn’t great.

Album 1: George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Maverick

George Thorogood

Ok, first I must admit this one wasn’t random.   I’ve been a fan of Thorogood since college, but my wife can’t stand his music.  So I put this one on right after she walked out the door for the morning.  “I drink alone” was better than I ever remember on CD.  It was a good way to start the day, but there was a little skip on side 2 of the album.   I easily got $1 worth of enjoyment out of this one!

Album 2:    Staying Alive, Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Honestly, I don’t remember the second half of this album.  Most of it sounded the same to me.  Pretty sure this was a free one, but I can honestly say I’ve listened to it now.  Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah….staying alive.  It wasn’t that bad, and wasn’t the toughest to make it through.

Album 3: ABBA, Voulez Vous

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I remember my mother listening to ABBA a lot when I was a kid.   I didn’t recognize any of these songs, but I did find myself sitting on the couch in the listening sweet spot a few times during this album.  It’s a pretty solid listening experience; I rather enjoyed it.

Album 4: Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels

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Never heard of her before.  First off, the sound quality of this album is stellar.  This is the kind of sound that makes people say vinyl sounds better than digital music.  It’s definitely more immersive and engaging because it just somehow feels more musical; more organic in nature.  This isn’t my type of music, but I’d play it again as background music.

Album 5: George Carlin, AM/FM.

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A classic comedy album from 1972, this one’s as old as I am.  Somewhere in the mid 80’s I first watched Carlin’s seven dirty words on cable TV.  This album focuses mostly on broadcast comedy, and it is pretty funny.  Nowhere near as raw as I remember Carlin being, for which I’m thankful.  Did have me crying from laughter, but definitely brought a few laughs as I was working around the house.

Album 6: Willie Humphrey, New Orleans Clarinet

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This album is amazing.  I’ve never heard of Humphrey, but man is he talented!  There’s a lot of New Orleans jazz standards here.  From the back of the album, they describe his tone like this: “it blends the richness of Mississippi gumbo-mud with the bite of Louisiana hot sauce.”  This was a real treat, and unfortunately for my wife will reinforce my practice of buying anything that’s in good shape, because this album I will treasure.  Better yet, it was recorded in 1974, and is sparkling clean.  No noise to detract from Willie’s tone.

Album 7:  Spyro Gyra, Freetime

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Ok, I thought Spyro Gyra was going to be some sort of new wave, new age electronic music.  Was I surprised when it was actually something like what I would probably call jazz fusion.  Modern jazz with some great guitar.  Another album I wouldn’t mind hearing again sometime, and it would be great background music for pre-dinner cocktails.

Album 8: Electric Light Orchestra, Discovery

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“Don’t bring me down, grroosss”…  You know, I always thought it was “don’t bring me down, Bruce.”  The beauty of album sleeves with lyrics.  So while that’s the iconic song at the end of side 2 on this album, side 1 is amazingly mixed and had me sitting on the couch for a solid 15 minutes.   The last track on Side 1 is “The Diary of Horace Wimp”, which to my ears was heavily influenced by Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles and is a thoroughly enjoyable song.  I mentioned it to my wife, and she knew it well.  Nothing like being 35 years late to the party, but better late than never!

Album 9:  Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were.

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Side 1 of this was almost excruciating for me to listen to, especially following Willie, Spyro Gyra, and ELO.  My wife came home as the title track was playing, so I went up to make lunch.  As we ate, we listened to side 2, and I finally started to appreciate the beauty of Streisand’s music.  It’s wonderful dinner music.  Oh- and she looks pretty darn beautiful on the cover.

Album 10: The Love Unlimited Orchestra, White Gold

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Ohhh, yeah!  Barry White.  The first time I actually listened to him that wasn’t in a movie or TV show.  Actually, I didn’t even realize it was Barry White when I bought it.  I really enjoyed this as well.  I guess I’d call it “after dinner music.” 🙂

Album 11: Boston, Boston

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What a way to change gears!  This debut album literally had 7 hits out of the 8 songs.  I have never considered myself a Boston fan, and I’ve never owned any of the groups music.  But this album rocks.  More importantly, it is sonically amazing as well.  The acoustic guitars, drums, electric guitars, and wailing voices are all immaculately reproduced.  The vinyl is in amazing shape, as is the cover.  I can’t imagine how this album has survived 40 years, with this kind of hard driving, entertaining rock and roll, and it seems unplayed.  Wow, is this a great album.  Luckily, there’s more Boston in the queue.

Album 12: Quincy Jones, Mellow Madness

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This is probably my first Quincy Jones album too.  I was pretty busy during this album, but it was nice.  I think the madness part was this album didn’t seem very cohesive.  There’s a lot of variety in the sound of the songs.  It’s like he just picked a bunch of songs he liked and put them all in one album.  So many  of the albums today had a consistent feel, or almost told or story, or lead you through the sonic transitions.  This one felt more like an old mix tape.

Album 13: Burt Bacharach’s Greatest Hits

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Hmmm…elevator music at it’s finest.  Or maybe it’s 70’s sitcom music, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I guess it’s like late 60’s or 70’s easy listening.  Which is weird, because it wasn’t easy for me to listen to!  Hey, if you like it, this album had good sound.  The horns on “The Look of Love” (I think that was the song) were amazingly clear and filled the space wonderfully.  Great stereo imaging, great use of ambient sounds.  Just about put me to sleep, though.

Album 14: Billy Idol, Rebel Yell

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Well, there’s a large scratch at the beginning of Rebel Yell, but it’s still better than Bacharach to my ears!  The recording is flatter sounding than some of the others today, perhaps condition related, or maybe it’s just the fact that there seem to only be 4 instruments and it’s just they way they were recorded.  Also weird, is they are side 3 and 4, but it’s only a single album.  Maybe he wanted to do a double LP, but just didn’t have enough material!  Eyes without a face opened up a lot.  The fake “hand claps” with the screaming guitar just filled the room from all angles.  And side 2 was amazing, absolutely surrounding me with sound on “Flash for Fantasy”, so maybe the pressing on side 1 was a little “off”.

So today was a good day of listening to vinyl albums.  By far the most complete albums I’ve listened to, maybe even for a week.  I’ve been playing a few tracks or a song, maybe an entire side, bt I’m going to work on just listening through an LP or three, or 14, in a sitting.   Do yourself a favor and listen to some vinyl records.  It does sound “different”  than CD, and much better and more dynamic than MP3.