Friday, February 16, 2007

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: MY ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 16, 2007



It was just what I needed — another way to spend money on music from the worldwide interwebs.

Back in September, I signed up on Lala.com, an online service for trading used CDs — and a pretty cool little music club.

As a bona fide used-bin bloodhound for the last 15 years or so, I’ve been able to get my hands on some CDs I’ve wanted for years that you just don’t see at used-record shops in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Basically it costs $1.75 per CD. You set up a “have” list and a “want” list and wait for someone to request CDs you have and send you those you want. The company provides postage-paid envelopes and plastic “clamshell” cases.

Since joining, I’ve received almost 60 CDs and sent out about the same number. Some of the ones I received I later sent out again. I’ve heard rumors that some people copy songs onto their computers or iPods from the CDs they get, then trade them. There is a comically unenforceable Lala.com rule forbidding this.

I have yet to receive an unplayable CD — knock on wood — though I’ve had to clean a couple. I’m waiting for four CDs to arrive: two Mike Watt solo albums, an out-of-print Irma Thomas twofer called Safe With Me/Live at the Kingfish, and Wild, Cool & Swingin’, a Julie London compilation.

My first month was the most active one. I spent $38.50 for 22 CDs. Since then, I’ve averaged a little more than $16 a month. I’ve found that I have to constantly add to the CDs I’m willing to part with as well as the ones I want.There are now 171 CDs on my “want” list. (Doesn’t anyone want to part with Surfin’ in Harlem by Swamp Dogg or The Electric Prunes’ Stockholm 67?)

I’ve only got 22 I want to get rid of, which means I probably ought to start going through my collection with an eye on thinning it out.

There are a few rules. You can choose to receive CDs only with art. If you choose this option, those sending CDs to you are required to send the front booklet. (Most also will send you the back-cover art even though it’s not required.) And you’re not allowed to send promotional CDs, which make up a good chunk of a music critic’s collection.

Some of my Lala plunder consists of obscure albums I reviewed in the early days of this column (the late ’80s and early ’90s) that I originally had on cassette tape.

These include:

*There Goes the Wondertruck by Mary’s Danish. This was a fun little Los Angeles band featuring two female singers; it was “the next big thing” for about 14 seconds back then.

*Preaching and Confessing by Rotondi. They were a kind of polka-rock (accordion and sax) band though not as crazy (or as tight) as Brave Combo or The Polkaholics. My favorite song here is “The Commie Hoedown,” a salute to the fall of communism and the end of the Reagan administration.

*Reading, Writing and Arithmetic by The Sundays. The mellow, haunting, almost-folkish British duo featured a singer named Harriet Wheeler. The Sundays became popular in the early 1990s.

*Zvuki Mu. This was the self-titled album by a Russian band that could only be described as the Soviet Captain Beefheart.

*Loser Illusion Pt. 0 by The Leaving Trains. This was a six-song EP on the influential SST label. Five of the songs are run-of-the-mill punk rock. The standout is the epic conspiracy rocker “Rock ’n’ Roll Murder,” which cleverly mixes elements of Patti Smith’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Nigger” with Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed.” (Which many recognize as a tribute to the late Sandy Denny.) Karen Carpenter was murdered, the Trains claim, “But she was one of them.” And Peter Tosh was murdered, they say: “He even made it look like a murder to cover up a murder!”

Other obscurities I’ve found on Lala.com:

*Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars. This is a haunting piece of music that I can’t play frequently. It’s a repetitive work based on a tape loop of a homeless man singing this sweet little hymn, originally recorded for a documentary by a Bryars filmmaker crony. As the hymn plays over and over again, different instruments — string quartet, full orchestra, etc. — come and go. One lengthy track features Tom Waits. At first it seemed maddeningly monotonous, but a few minutes into the music the melody becomes like a mantra and, if you let yourself flow with it, an emotional experience. The little tramp becomes a Stan Laurel/Buddha spirit who will live in your heart.

*The Trip by The Electric Flag. This is the soundtrack for the 1967 Roger Corman hippie-exploitation flick starring Peter Fonda. I was somewhat disappointed with this CD. Somehow this music (by a band that included guitarist Mike Bloomfield and drummer Buddy Miles) didn’t sound nearly as psychedelic as the music I heard on the DVD of The Trip I recently rented from Netflix (and I wasn’t tripping when I watched the movie). Maybe it just sounds better while watching tacky LSD special effects.

*A Tribute to Robert Altman’s Nashville. This was put together by alt-country singer Carolyn Mark and features songs by Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and others. Some of these tunes, especially Mark’s version of Ronee Blakley’s “Idaho Home,” make me realize that some songs from this movie should have been country hits and Blakley should have been a star.

*Spillane by John Zorn. This is strange and wonderful music by Zorn and friends. The first song is Zorn’s avant-garde take on crime jazz, a 25-minute musical collage. The next two songs feature bluesman Albert King, who plays guitar on both and narrates a weird little story on “Two-Lane Highway: Hico Killer — Long Mile to Houston.” Then there’s “Forbidden Fruit,” a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet.

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