Caiman rebuilds Tower, plans superstores…f22b775d00af90

Caiman rebuilds Tower, plans superstores

By Ed Christman, Billboard
April 28, 2007

NEW YORK — Online merchant Caiman Inc., which acquired the bankrupt Tower Records' logo, and the company's intellectual property for $4.2 million in a March bankruptcy auction, has big plans for the brand.

That's the word from Caiman Inc. CEO Didier Pilon, who said he plans to relaunch as well as open brick-and-mortar superstores in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco within nine months. In fact, Pilon has turned to some experts to help revive the Tower brand, hiring former Tower purchasing executive George Scarlet as director of entertainment purchasing for the company and former Tower buyer Kevin Hawkins.

The company, which buys mainly from one-stops and some independent distributors, hopes to convert to buying direct from all independent distributors and the majors and, where appropriate, the labels themselves, sources said.

Earlier in the decade, Caiman had a distribution operation that went into Chapter 11. Pilon said he closed that operation and has since been focusing on its online business.

London-based Caiman employs about 200 people, and operates offices in Montreal and Sacramento and has a 48,000-square-foot warehouse in Miami, Pilon said. Billboard estimates the company's volume at about $150 million-$175 million. is a good fit for Caiman, which operates its own site at But it also appears to do big business as a participant in the Amazon marketplace. At its peak, was generating $25 million in business, but "what I like about it is it still gets 40,000 unique visitors a day," Pilon said.

Since Tower was liquidated, the online store has been operating by a skeleton crew so it has a lot of missing and white pages, but Caiman will fix that. The plan is to launch the site with brand new technology behind the store and to become the entertainment destination, Pilon said. The store will offer 275,000 CD and DVD titles and about 1.2 million book titles. He also plans to sell vinyl and wants to make that one of the site's differentials. "We are best at selling one piece at a time, that's all we know how to do," he said.…f22b775d00af90

Kevin Gray/Steve Hoffman remastering of Warner Bros./Reprise catalog for Rhino vinyl!

As most of the world knows today, it has finally been announced that Rhino/WB/Reprise has undertaken the most ambitious vinyl reissue program of any major label in recent history.

Spurred on by a vinyl lover high up in the Warner Bros./Reprise records administration, I can now reveal that Kevin and I have been remastering for Rhino 180 gram vinyl the cream of the WB/Reprise back catalog for release. Mastered at AcousTech and pressed on virgin vinyl at RTI, Camarillo, these albums will feature the original artwork, track listings and (most importantly to me) are all being cut in true analog from the original Warner Bros./Reprise stereo master mixes, some untouched for 35 years.

There will be a dedicated website where you will be able to order these titles and much more:

They will also be at the usual places (Acoustic Sounds, Music Direct, etc.)

Also, BRAND NEW WB RELEASES are coming in vinyl. You have seen our mastering efforts from analog tape to lacquer on the current TOM PETTY/Highway Companion and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS/Stadium Arcadium, Mastering legend Stan Ricker has cut from hi-rez digital DIRE STRAITS/Brothers In Arms, etc. and most of you have grabbed JONI MITCHELL's/Blue, our first Rhino "reissue vinyl" attempt. We are working on the new WHITE STRIPES/Icky Thump right now (from amazing sounding 1" 30 ips master tapes) and such classic albums as FLEETWOOD MAC/Rumours, RICKIE LEE JONES, JAMES TAYLOR/Sweet Baby James, Mudslide Slim, VAN MORRISON/Moondance, ZZ Top/Tres Hombres, Fandango, FRANK SINATRA and MANY HUNDREDS MORE. If you are patient, you will see your own personal favorites on the list, all painstakingly (and I mean PAINSTAKINGLY) cut directly from the original analog master tapes.

Now threads like the Van Morrison Moondance thread below are probably making more sense to you:…d.php?t=102782

FRIENDS, this is the time to buy a turntable. Trust me on this: You will not hear these classic titles sound better anywhere, ever!

to get on their email mailing list. It will be well worth your while!

Stay tuned. Much more to come.

More here…

ATLANTA, GA April 27 2005 Warner Brothers records with Rhino/Reprise recently announced that they have hired Steve Hoffman, one of the world’s most revered mastering engineers, to undertake the most ambitious vinyl reissue program of any major label in recent history. Steve will be mastering with cutter Kevin Gray at Kevin’s AcousTech Mastering and records will be pressed on 180 gram virgin vinyl at RTI – all are being cut in true analog from original Warner Brothers/Reprise stereo master mixes – some of which have been untouched for 35 years.

Steve Hoffman shares, “The old “EQ Cutting Masters” had compromises built in to the sound of the tapes. In the old days the tapes were routinely EQ’d, compressed and sometimes filtered to make it easy for needles to track the groove. When I bypass those tapes the original untouched master mixes reveal a whole new scene; detailed, beautiful sounding dynamic music appears and we can cut this directly onto a phonograph record.”

At Mr. Hoffman’s request, Signals-SuperFi, LLC, in concert with Continuum Audio Labs of Australia, will provide a Criterion turntable and Copperhead tonearm for test-pressing evaluation. Asked why he chose Continuum for the job, Steve remarked, “I heard the Continuum Criterion turntable with the special Copperhead tonearm at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show and was impressed by the resolving sound. This system will be perfect for my evaluation of the Rhino/WB/Reprise vinyl 180 gram test pressings from RTI.”

“We’re terribly excited about the project,” confides Chris Sommovigo, owner of Signals-SuperFi and distributor of Continuum’s record players in North America. “The fact that Warner Bros./Reprise/Rhino is showing this much commitment to the vinyl format – to not just cut and release LPs from the old EQ Masters but to hire Steve to re-master the albums entirely – is really fantastic news for vinyl lovers. Continuum’s analog gear will give Steve the kind of tool that no mastering engineer has had at his disposal before, and Steve will – in turn – be delivering some of the best vinyl ever set onto a turntable.”

Finally : Information on Because Sound matters


Thank you for checking out

Site launch May 1

As I sit hear listening to a test pressing of the incredible new Wilco record,"Sky Blue Sky" I am pleased to finally let you know the site will have a soft launch on May 1st.

The Warner Bros. Records on line vinyl and DVD Audio store is about to finally be reality!!!!

You can expect to find all types of titles on the site, both current and catalog releases. Regular weight records, 180 GRAM audiophile records, exclusives to the site, 7" singles, colored vinyl, picture discs, box sets, and much more.

Our goal is to make sure whether it is a regular weight pro tools recorded new band, or an audiophile dream… that tender loving care from vinyl freaks who LOVE music went in to the making of the package.

We also want to create a community aspect where we don't just have a store dedicated to our music, but a place for vinyl/music heads to go for information, and to pass along ideas to us as well.

We will have interviews with our artists about their music, the recording process, the vinyl process, DVD Audio process and more.

By mid June will be flushed out and ready to have a more "official" launch.

Thanks again for signing up to

Expect more specific e-mails soon about all these titles.
Next time the story of how Neil Young inspired our name…..

Musically Yours,

Team BSM



April 23, 2007 • Issue 1
Brought to you by

U2 – How to dismantle an atomic bomb

There are some bands you just fall out of love with. Despite enjoying just about everything from U2's early days to the mid-90's my enthusiasm for the Irish superstars has all but disappeared. Their last effort (quoted in despatches as a return to form) All That You Can't Leave Behind left me bemused and sniggering at a band whose latest re-invention was to return as themselves, they'd packed Bono's Fly shades but sadly had forgotten their songs.

To backtrack, The Joshua Tree seemed to be the pinnacle of U2's journey through mainstream Eighties rock and arguably the decade itself. Rattle And Hum saw the wheels wobble as they tried to encompass a range of music out with their reach and a critical mauling ensued. Then came along Achtung Baby; an album which ditched their pious baggage and showed a willingness to reflect on their flaws with admissions of hedonism, guilt and fear. It successfully debunked their overblown status and begun to flirt with art rock and club culture but more importantly it covered new territory and was full of great music. Several experiments followed in the shape of cold futurism (Zooropa) and ambient/avant pop( Passengers) which left many fans bewildered.1997 saw Pop the first proper U2 album in six years but the record didn't deliver as the band's sound fell between two stools (rock and dance/electro experimentation) and the subsequent Pop Mart tour had the critics sharpening their knives yet again. If it seemed U2 had an identity crisis ( Paul Hewison's various stage guises to escape his Bono persona) and were stuck in an artistic rut then a Greatest Hits package heralded by a thirteen year old B-side only seemed to emphasise the point.

Well the good news is that How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is clearly their best album for thirteen years. The reason is simple; they have worked very hard on consistently strong songs, the key element missing from their music for a long time.

The uniformity of the album's sound (production sees the return of Steve Lillywhite) is belied by the multitude of mixers and assistants on board. There is little doubt that the band and their assorted helpers have slaved over this album getting the songs to knit properly. This album is however designed to sound great on lesser musical equipment-a good system will reveal compression and a loss of clarity is evident when the sound is separated, the drum sound is especially muddled. Still U2 didn't become the biggest band in the world worrying about niche corners of the global market.

The 12 tracks come in at 53 minutes and it is probably fair to say there is isn't a track that fails to deliver on some level. The highpoints include opener Vertigo which is everything Beautiful Day wasn't -a slice of big statement raw energy rock and roll and Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own. This is a heartfelt paean to Bono's father who passed away in 2001, an honest reflection on their relationship and all the more touching for the fractious detail conveyed. Musically it holds its own too with a nice acoustic introduction and a well crafted song that soars in the chorus. This track reflects most of the album in that the songs are well constructed, many of them highlighting several strong sections, great instrumentation and arrangements.

The Edge is on top form throughout and whilst there are multiple echoes of earlier U2 styles everywhere, the aforementioned song quality, assured rhythm playing and confident vocals lends itself to forgiveness.

There are minor moments though, One Step Closer brings a nice mood change but lacks conviction and the overwrought synths on Original Of The Species might have been best left out.

Elsewhere Bono's occasional lyrical lapses are swept along by the energy of the music as songs like Miracle Drug, A Man And A Woman and Yahweh demonstrate. However there a couple of decent tunes that sink under the weight of Bono's intent. Crumbs From Your Table and Love And Peace Or Else are both (at least partly) political numbers (the Palestine conflict and world poverty) which in cold analysis lack the incisive observation or the tightly honed lyricism required to succeed. Whilst I don't subscribe to the cynical view on Bono's various causes that doesn't exempt him from criticism on his day job. Doubtless though these songs may well attract some listeners to the issues in question but a more mature or developed slant on Bono's writing is missing.

The album finishes with the exotic Fast Cars, a well executed song that recalls Patti Smith's Dancing Barefoot, its fast acoustic guitar and mixture of Mexican and Eastern sounds fit a driving Bono lyric.However the album is very similarly paced which makes it something of a flat listen although I don't doubt it is the type of album that will see a varied cross section of songs picked as fans favourites.

This album will do little to change the minds of the anti-U2 brigade and maybe they've already achieved that once anyway, despite the odd blemish it would be churlish not to recognise it is a strong return to form. The music press in the UK all made the same point that U2 are probably the only band from the early 80's to have retained longevity, relevance and quality-true to an extent but only their massive populist standing has led to the momentum that has kept them going, thirteen years is a long time to wait for an album near to their best work, few bands survive that size of quality gap.

For me personally the lack of subtle touches, the rigid tried and tested formulas and the adult realisation that U2 are only great some of the time means I haven't totally changed my mind about them. The album whilst good lacks the invention to see it ranked amongst their classic work. In the meantime they continue to sell concert tickets by the truckload and show every sign of a Rolling Stones style career, lets just hope their recording future shows more progression and invention.

© Ben campbell

Vinyl quality is alright. U2 record all their music to a Mac in not very impressive audio. 53 minutes for an LP is too long and this record should really be spread 
out on 3 or 4 sides. But the vinyl is clean and quite well pressed. Outer picture 
and inner picture sleeves.

Brian Wilson – Smile

In 1966 Brian Wilson almost single handedly created Pet Sounds , an ambitious and groundbreaking piece of work a long way from the Beach Boys successful surf songs. His reward was a response from his bandmate and general bete noir Mike Love that he shouldn't “f*** with the formula”.

The public and the critics also gave it the thumbs down but nearly forty years on it's widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.

Wilson saw his main competition as the Beatles and considered Pet Sounds to be an attempt to top their Revolver . Next he embarked on an even more ambitious project to be called Smile . Lack of confidence after the failure of Pet Sounds meant it was abandoned as a complete suite but some of the key tracks turned up on Smiley Smile , a watered down version of his original vision, most notably the sublime Good Vibrations and the song which was to be the other cornerstone of Smile, Heroes And Villains . Other Smile tracks surfaced over the next five or six years on subsequent albums, but Smile as a concept became one of the great lost albums.

Fast forward to 2004 and following last years weak Getting' In Over My Head, which was over laden with celebrity appearances and lacking in inspiration Wilson has attempted to recreate his original vision as the complete work as it was initially envisaged, this time with the assistance of his touring band The Wondermints, in the same studio as before with pretty much the same equipment as before.

In '67 an atmosphere of (largely drug induced) madness pervaded. Wilson instructed all involved to don fireman's helmets for the recording of Mrs O'Leary's Cow and his paranoia let him to believe that it led to him causing a number of fires in L.A. at the time. Now with clear heads all round a marvellous facsimile of the original album, as it was intended, has been created. Brian of course handles all lead vocals and while his voice might not be what it once was any deficiencies are well masked.

Inevitably the remake of Good Vibrations can't match the original (though in a splendid move to snub Love, Wilson has replaced the line he wrote to gain him co-authorship with one of his own thus removing his name from the credits) and in general its fair to say this works as an ensemble piece rather than in isolating individual tracks.

Heroes And Villains contains an additional section which will be unfamiliar to those who remember the originally released version and segue's neatly onto Roll Plymouth Rock which is musically a variation on the same theme. Lots of light-hearted moments abound such as Vegetables which sadly doesn't feature Paul McCartney on carrot this time like the original!(its also worth noting that while Wilson recreates this sophisticated piece of art Macca was last heard of re-releasing his twenty year old frog chorus “classic” We All Stand Together).

Musically the general feel is a combination of the arcane and the contempory that recalls an era that never existed, really just Brian's world.

Even after all these years Van Dyke Parks lyrics remain elusive and impressionistic. Sample this”Hung velvet overtaking me / Dim chandelier awaken me / To a song dissolved in the dawn”. Not sure what it means either but it just sounds right.

Pet Sounds probably still retains the title as Wilson 's greatest achievement since it was released on completion and has make its impact with the world in the intervening years. Had Smile been completed and issued in '67 history might have been altered. This is a highly impressive attempt at recreating it though and in 2004 it stands as one of the best releases of the year and one that that few artists around today could even contemplate creating.

© Gordon Russell

Generally, the vinyl is considered to be far superior sonically to the cd release despite being a digital recording. It comes in a nice gatefold hard cardboard package with an embossed cover. Standard paper inner sleeves.

Bjork – Medulla

Review: Medúlla (Polydor 9867591) – Björk

(Stereo/Multichannel SA-CD)

Audio Systems:

Stereo – Sony ES, Art Audio, Reference 3A, Cardas

Multichannel – Denon, Marantz, Bryston, Paradigm Reference (HT system)

Music/Performance (4/5)

Sonics (4.5/5)

Normally I review music/performance and sonics in separate sections, but this doesn't really seem possible with Björk's new album, a strange project even by Björkian standards, but one that I've liked better every time I've listened to it. Consisting entirely of voices and a few sparse electronics (and one piano), Medúlla succeeds with slick production, excellent collaboration with a variety of international artists, real originality, and the force of Björk's famously enigmatic personality.

The Medúlla experience begins when one consults the fold-out booklet/poster, most of which is written in near-inscrutable, vaguely runic typeface – glossy black on slightly-less-glossy black. One then enters a world of the human voice, and I will say right out that the multichannel program is excellent, and I would speculate that Medúlla was probably conceived and created for surround sound, although the stereo program is no disappointment. Björk sings passionately as ever. The subtle engineering presents her flexible voice with a variety of tones and textures, even aside from a few obvious special vocal effects. For instance, her voice has a (mildly irritating) slightly “cracked” quality in the short solo “Show Me Forgiveness” and its expanded continuation “ Vökuró ,” a startling naturalness in “ Öll Birtan,” and a great sheen/reverb-type effect in the infectious “Who Is It.” Sometimes she seems “right there,” and then it's like a curtain you didn't even perceive is dropped and she becomes even more immediate.

The musical content ranges from pop to ballad to vaguely Orthodox medieval to dance, but none of it is really classifiable like this. In the end, it's all Björk. A few superficially radio-ready songs such as “Who Is It,” “Oceania,” and “Mouth's Cradle” use grooves built up out of elements of voice that can only be discerned and appreciated with fairly careful listening. And the overarching “point” of the album seems to be a celebration of the expressive diversity of the human voice, for example in the exaggerated breathing in a song like “Submarine,” the impossibly precise percussion in the beat-driven songs, and the unnerving moans and growls contrasting with the calm of the lone piano in “Ancestors.” Most of these sounds have a disembodied quality to them, floating, shifting, blending, coalescing, and multiplying in a black but benevolent void. The album pivots on the searching, hypnotic “Desired Constellation” and ends with the playful and partially successful “Triumph of a Heart,” which is really the first time that I actually said to myself: “This sounds like people making weird noises.”

As much of a sonic adventure as this album is, especially in multichannel, the overall impression is still one of musical adventure, and of the diverse, even elemental, power of voice. One is reminded of the musical/mimetic traditions of rural Tuva. While succeeding as (broadly speaking) pop music, and only rarely succumbing pretentiousness, Medúlla underscores how fundamentally human it is to make music. Throughout, Björk sustains her characteristic directness and authenticity, perhaps especially in her native Icelandic. A solid recommendation for this genuinely original, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally satisfying project.

© Lyle Crawford

Vinyl is back, honest

Vinyl is back, honest

No DRM and you can play it where you like

By Nick Farrell: Tuesday 17 April 2007, 07:38
VINYL LONG-PLAYING platters are staging a comeback because music lovers are fed up with the shenanigans of the music industry.

According to the latest sales figures, sales of old fashioned LPs have increased by ten per cent in the last year.

The increase in sales, while traditional CDs have fallen, is being touted as a backlash against the recording labels installing DRM onto CDs.

While some still think that the sound quality on LPs was better, there was also the technological advantage that you could do what you liked with it. You could install a turntable on your computer, listen to the music on any stereo you like, and copy it onto CD so you can take it with you on your car. All things that the music industry says is piracy.

More here.

Turning back time Turning back time April 8, 2007 By Patrick Timothy Mullikin Correspondent Martin Bryan holds a rare RCA Victrola Heritage Series vinyl record from the early 1900s in his massive collection of old records stored in the basement of Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury. Photo: Photo by Stefan Hard A 4-1/2-inch, half-ounce CD can hold up to 80 minutes of crystal-clear sound. A 10-inch, half-pound 78-rpm record, on the other hand, holds about 2-1/2 minutes of music that is accompanied by pops, skips and grinding surface noise that sounds as if bacon is frying in the background. What kind of person would be drawn to collecting these relics? “There’s the straggly haired 25-year-old from Burlington who comes in with his mother. There’s the bow-tie type of guy. There are the people who have a Victrola and a room dedicated to the era,” says Jacob Grossi, 33, owner of Riverwalk Records in Montpelier. He deals in used LPs and occasionally dabbles in 78s. Sandy Thurston, who sells used records as the owner of the Barre shop Exile on Main Street, is a bit more diplomatic. “They tend to be a little older. Lots of times they are completists; they want everything by that particular artist.” Whatever their age or personality, these collectors are all chasing an artifact that had its heyday during the first half of the previous century. As a medium for recorded music the 78-rpm record has had the longest life span – roughly from the late 1800s to the late 1950s. It was the child of the Edison cylinder and parent to the 33 1/3-rpm vinyl LP and 45, all three of which coexisted for a time during the 1950s. Countless millions of 78s were mass produced over the years. “I’d say there are 5 (million) to 10 million 78s out there. Might be more than that,” says John Tefteller, owner of World’s Rarest Records in Grants Pass, Ore. Many early ones — from the teens, ’20s and ’30s — along with rock ‘n’ roll recordings from the ’50s, have been snatched up by collectors, leaving a glut of ’40s big band-era recordings, which have little value. During its half-century reign, the 78 was played on windup phonographs, electric turntables and jukeboxes around the world. Now its sound is a novelty appreciated by a few. q q q In the catacomb-like basement of Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury are close to 80,000 records, the bulk of Martin Bryan’s collection of more than 100,000. Bryan, 61, a longtime employee of the arts group, began bringing them to store there 20 years ago – with the board of directors’ blessing, he says. The lucky discs are filed vertically (the correct way to store records) on heavy shelving. Others tower precariously in stacks. Many are stuffed into milk crates and cardboard boxes. Handfuls sit directly on the floor, in the way like lazy dogs. There are a few casualties here and there: one half of a record is tacked to the wall; several look like someone’s taken a bite from them. Unlike the vinyl LP, the shellac-based 78 is inflexible and brittle. If dropped, it will chip or shatter. Bryan’s collection began when he was a 9-year-old growing up outside Springfield, Mass. “One day my grandmother came over with a 78. I remember her saying, ‘Here’s a record I think you should have.’ It was a 1915 or 1916 recording of Alma Gluck singing ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.'” It was his first “grown-up” record. “I played it over and over, probably 10 times a day,” he recalls. Bryan was soon scouring thrift shops for more. “My mother was somewhat encouraging. My father thought: ‘What is this kid getting into?'” Perhaps Robert Crumb explains it best, in his 1979 cartoon strip “Why I’m Neurotic About My Record Collection”: “It’s a sickness, really! And let’s be honest, it’s more than just a love of music. … It’s collecting mania. The thrill of possession! The owning of a fetish! The mysterious attraction of the series syndrome!!! Oboy! I got all three of the Big Chief Henry’s Indian String Band records!” For his part, Bryan recognizes the roots of the collecting mentality: “There’s got to be an obsession there,” he says with a laugh. “The record has to be in the right sleeve. If it’s a Victor record it can’t go in a Columbia sleeve.” q q q That obsession can lead a collector down an esoteric path. Doug Scott was a high school junior in the 1950s when his parents gave him a portable record player. “I remember looking in the Montgomery Ward catalog right after Christmas, and there were three 10-inch LPs for sale — two by Gene Autry and one by the Sons of the Pioneers.” That was the beginning of a lifelong pursuit for the Barre man. Scott, 69, now has some 300 different Sons of the Pioneers 78s in his collection, along with 800 others by artists like Bob Wills, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb and Jimmy Rodgers. “You get involved in something like this and you want everything,” he says. The last time he listened to a 78 on the turntable was a few months back. “I had this song running through my mind, ‘Brush Those Tears From Your Eyes’ by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, and I knew I had that on 78. I got that out and played it. Oh, it sounded good.” That sound – the scratches and all – is part of the 78 experience. “The reason I collect 78s is because they sound different,” says John Miller, 57, of Montpelier, who has around 500. “They have a completely unique — what would you call it? — astral sound. Surface noise is part of that sound. The reason I think that sound is so unique is that it actually puts you into the feedback loop of the artist who recorded the 78.” For collector Bill Zucca of Rochester, his Victrola — with its ornate tone arm, hand crank and dark wood cabinet — is a time machine. “I do live in the past, in a time that I never experienced,” he says. “I can easily close my eyes and transport myself to another period of time just by sitting in my parlor.” His collection of 10,000 records takes him back to the days of speak-easies and flappers. Zucca, 55, who grew up in Orlando, Fla., first heard 1920s jazz one summer when he worked as a teen at the nearby Annie Russell Theater and has been hooked ever since. Shortly thereafter came the whistling incident. “I was with a group of my friends, and I started whistling one of my favorite records: (1928’s) “You Took Advantage Of Me” by Miff Mole and His Little Molers. One of my friends had said to the group: ‘Everybody be quiet. Bill’s whistling some jazz thing.’ And I looked over, and they were all listening. It was embarrassing.” While his musical taste might make him stand out, there was a time when everyone would have been whistling along to a 78. Their ubiquity in the 1930s and ’40s means that the country is awash in more old records than collectors could ever want. So the flip side of acquiring 78s is disposal, says Miller. “Somebody will say: ‘I hear you’re interested in 78s. When I get there, there are boxes and boxes of 78s. The deal is you’ve got to take them all. What are you going to do with them? I have no idea.” When he first started collecting, Miller would occasionally accept those boxes of rejects in hopes of finding something he would want, but no more. “I have taken them to the dump,” he says. “I don’t feel great about that, but nobody wants them. A Columbia red-label Dinah Shore?” Still, enough people want to listen to some of these relics to keep a handful of Victrola repairmen in business in the United States. One of them is Rod Lauman, 49. His St. Johnsbury repair shop is filled with old windup players, some for sale, some being repaired, their metal entrails strewn about his workbench. Lauman has been repairing windup players since 1993, and collecting 78s as well. He has about 6,000 scattered about his shop/apartment. He, too, talks about how listening to 78s takes him back to another era. Playing the discs on one of his machines becomes an event, he says. There’s the constant need to crank the machine, and you can forget about a six-disc changer: About every 2-1/2 minutes the listener will need to put on another record. “You can’t be doing something else,” he says as he lowers the heavy tone arm onto a 1929 recording of “Mean to Me” by Sid Garry, whose voice wafts above the sizzle of frying bacon: Sweetheart I love you Think the world of you But I’m afraid You don’t care for me … Photo by Jon Olender A 78-rpm record plays on Bill Zucca’s antique phonograph at his home in Rochester. Photo by Jon Olender Records from the labels Columbia, Okeh, Victor, Perfect and Pathe’ are part of Bill Zucca’s collection of 78s at his home in Rochester. Photo by Jon Olender Record collector Bill Zucca looks through his extensive collection of 78s at his home in Rochester.

Al Bums record store is closing

Scratch another one

Al Bums record store is closing


WORCESTER— I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play…

“American Pie,” Don McLean

On a recent day the front window of the sacred store looked like the day the music died and that maybe Al Pacino had killed it.

Beneath a sign delivering the bad news that Al Bums, legendary Highland Street deep discount entertainment emporium, is going out of business, Pacino, armed to the snout in Scarface posters surrounded the already prostrate Dave Matthews poster and the Jane’s Addiction poster, daring either to utter a note.

But something far more insidious than Scarface is doing in the 37-year-old anti-institution, which closes at the end of April.

“I can’t compete with the Internet,” said Justin Aslanian, son and nephew of Al Bums founders Justine Shea and Kevin Shea. “I’ve lost all the college kids, the high school kids. They don’t come in here anymore. They don’t have to. They sit in their rooms and download and burn.”

With the exception of an aberrational upsurge in 2004, CD sales have been tumbling since 2000, when 942.5 million were sold, to 705.4 million in 2005.

While the Recording Industry Association of America does not acknowledge used CD sales, much less track them, Mr. Aslanian said the anecdotal evidence in the trade bodes ill for the future of used compact discs. “The stuff is just too available online.”

The cachet of vinyl, however, is strong and growing, said Mr. Aslanian, and the market for bootleg concert performances, something not readily found on the Internet, is a solid niche he has been happy to fill over the years, legal issues be doodled.

“We were known for our great bootleg selection, and I just want my customers to know that I will still have my bootleg connection,” he said, beaming.

A man of appreciable bulk who has clearly spent some time pushing up heavy objects, Mr. Aslanian said he will continue to sell his considerable holdings on eBay, where he is already active. An Al Bums Web site is in development and Mr. Aslanian plans to continue to buy music collections and to eventually open his garage to regular customers.

“I’m still going to miss this place though,” he said of the store he has worked in since he was 14 and run since he graduated from Doherty Memorial High School in 1992. “My 9-year-old daughter, Alexis, will too. She’s already running the register. People are calling, saying please don’t close. But right after 9-11 the business started going down. I held on three years too long.”

Music lovers who can’t shake their fondness for vinyl can turn to the Record Shop in Southbridge.

Owner Richard Lavigne stocks a handful of new releases that are distributed as albums. Some fans of vinyl say the sound mix is better, with multiple singers sounding like one.

“They’re pressing a limited number,” Mr. Lavigne said. “Vinyl seems to have a softer sound.”

Mr. Lavigne knows nostalgia can only go so far. He also sells compact discs — an economic necessity — not to mention he simultaneously runs a second business. The Vac Clinic vacuum store is located next door to the Record Shop, both on Hamilton Street, Southbridge.

The closing of Al Bums will leave a void in the Worcester music scene. Al Bums has been as much a place to hang out as it is to get a deal on “Ed Sullivan Presents My Fair Lady” or “Tadpoles and the Bonzo Dog Band” featuring the deep cut “Tubas in the Moonlight.”

The cosmos of freaky juxtapositions will also be the lesser. Al Bums basement is likely the only place on the planet where Hericane Alice, Dino, Desi & Billy (“I’m a Fool, I’m a Fool, I’m a Fool”) Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed by the Pro Musica Orchestra, The Who’s “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy,” Little Richard’s “17 Grooviest Original Hits,” Julio Iglesias and all his shining teeth, John Lennon’s “Shaved Fish” with the Plastic Ono Band, “Nearer My God to Thee and Other Gospel Favorites” and “New Year’s Eve with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians” all reside without any apparent culture clash.

Chris Jones, who lives in the neighborhood and stops in daily, came by to check on the Marvin Gaye box set.

“Gone,” Mr. Aslanian said. “$20. Too bad I would have sold it to you for $15.”

Going back and forth with Mr. Aslanian on price is part of the store’s charm. The owner has been known to undercut the customer’s offer. “If I’m feeling good,” he said.

“I could stay home and download,” Mr. Jones said. “But I want to get out and come down here.”

Mr. Aslanian’s expansive personality is as much a store asset as price, said Mike Hill, who once coached him in hockey and has been a customer since the store first opened on Pleasant Street. “He has a natural high, and he spreads it around.”

“I’m very sad,” said Bill Gatos, who typically arrives an hour before closing and quietly goes about looking for house music or nothing in particular. He has browsed a little too quietly on occasion.

“I locked him in a couple of times,” said Maria Diaz, who has worked as a part-time clerk in the store for 10 years. “Right, Bill?”

“I want to be the last customer,” Mr. Gatos said.

“Stop it. You’re going to make me cry,” she replied.

The sweep of Ms. Diaz’s knowledge of the store’s stock is encyclopedic, a critical asset in an environment of marginally controlled chaos. When a visitor asked Mr. Aslanian what was the most valuable thing in the store, he started to point to the large caricature of a squat guy with stogie and stubble (Al Bum) when Ms. Diaz answered, “Maria.”

She works alone on Sundays. Her regular customers have become like family. “Kids who were WPI students are now coming back with their kids,” she said. “I’m going to miss them so much,” said Ms. Diaz, who by day works as an accountant.

The basement has a turntable that can be heard on speakers upstairs as well as in the basement. “People don’t know that,” Ms. Diaz said, “and they try doing a little deejaying on the turntable. We can hear the scratches up here.”

Elevated behind the counter are the Top 20 (might be 18 or 22), the picks to click include the pink and green Elvis Presley album, “Pope John Paul II Sings,” and “Introducing The Beatles, England’s Number One Vocal Group.” The cover on this issue of the album is the one without the ripped off dolls heads. The Cheech and Chong album with the high quality rolling papers, has alas, been sold.

Even though he was looking for a Kate Bush CD — Ms. Diaz produced a choice of three — the store’s appeal for Mr. Hill is nostalgia.

“That sweet Motown sound,” he said, “Smokey Robinson, The Temptations. I’m so old school I even like Tom Jones. There are days I just want to put on a stack of 45s and kick back. My kids say, ‘45? What’s that?’ ”

“It’s going to be funny without Al Bums,” Ms. Diaz said. She did not mean funny ha-ha, as Tommy DeVito from “GoodFellas” might say.

“They should do something to keep it alive,” Mr. Gatos said as it approached closing time. “Get up a petition or something.”

Some things, like the memories stoked by old music, or the must of 1950s album art, or bartering with Mr. Aslanian, cannot be saved by petition. But come May, Al Bums will still survive in the non-virtual world. Uncle Kevin Shea operates a used music-video store by that name in Newburyport.

Yes – Fragile

1972 brought Yes their major break through in the shape of a surprise hit single Roundabout . Catapulting the band from cult status in America to a top 5 album hit and cementing their success in the UK . Late '71 had seen keyboard player Tony Kaye leave (to join Flash and old Yes mate Peter Banks) and be replaced by Rick Wakeman. With heavy touring and financial strain Fragile was recorded in 2 months again with Eddie Offord at the production helm.

What is clear despite some indulgences on the record is that Yes had refined their sound further. The bass playing of Chris Squire is more prominent and indeed leads many of the main musical themes and the whole Yes sound has a more organic feel. Wakeman's playing is flashier at times than Kaye's and whilst it would lead the band ultimately to greater heights but another dominant musical personality added to the friction factor which would continue to plague the band.

Roundabout kicks the album off in a confident manner, a classical guitar intro is quickly despatched behind the main jaunty inventive commercial groove, the song unfolds in typical Yes fashion eventually encompassing a slow passage before kicking back into the main theme.

The album is ultimately more fragmented than its predecessor due to the decision to allow each member their own individualpiece of music. Two of these resulted in nice solo interludes from Squire ( Fish ) and Howe's classical guitar piece Mood For A Day but the other 3 are so slight as to add little to proceedings other than create little interludes.

However the epic bookends Roundabout and Heart Of The Sunrise and two other main songs provide the bulk of the album. Long Distance Run Around is the shortest at just under 4 minutes, a commercial mini-epic . South Side Of The Sky for the first time shows the more challenging side of Yes, the main theme hints at free Jazz /Rock fusion and is a much more aggressive musical mix than they had previously attempted however the centre piece is a soothing piece of harmony singing with little piano motifs that evoke Take Five era Dave Brubeck. The highlight of the record is Heart Of The Sunrise eleven minutes of changing time signatures and a soaring and reflective chorus perfectly conceived in the new mature Yes style.

Fragile also saw the debut of Roger Dean's artwork which became so much of the Yes story. The packaging of the disc reflects this as the series moves away from plain jewel cases into an extravagant outer sleeve housing a three piece fold out replica of the original vinyl, it's a nice touch that is repeated through the Dean releases with the exception of Drama.

Fragile couldn't repeat the cohesion of it's predecessor but it does reflect a band moving and growing at a remarkable pace.

© Ben Campbell

For this reissue, Analogue productions have impeccably released the record in a beautiful hard gatefold cover. This is inside its own protective plastic sleeve. the record itself is inside a plastic lined paper inner. Although some think this sounds quite sharp sounding, it has been remastered from the original analog/ue tapes by Steve Hoffman and we can assume this is as close to the original as you can get. Perfect 180grm, completely silent vinyl pressing. Analogue Productions use their own record label instead of  original label.