Roundabout Records Roundup: Off-Track Records Edition
If you hang around a record collector long enough, they might start talking about “wealth on the shelf”. While I’m always worried my collection could go the way of the dinosaurs or their offspring, the Beanie Babies at any minute, there’s some truth to this old axiom in 2023.
When Jason Planitizer, owner of Saratoga’s Off-Track Records, offhandedly mentioned his desire to track down a clean copy of The Soft Boys’ 1980 classic, Underwater Moonlight, I told him that I had just the thing – a VG+ Italian copy that I was willing to part with (my UK pressing secure on my IKEA Kallax shelf and staying there of course).
And so we determined that a trade might be on the table. Among record fiends, a trade is probably the friendliest way of doing business. It’s always a little awkward to buy records from a friend, and Jason is a friend, so I figured that maybe between this Soft Boys record and a cool Chico Hamilton record from 1959 (Gongs East), I could secure a bit of store credit and we could do an even swap without any green American dollars entering the picture.
Off-Track Records (OTR), located on the lower level of 480 Broadway in Saratoga Springs’ Collamer Building next to City Hall, shares space with luthier Tom Dunn’s Sixth Generation Strings and carries on the rich tradition of the location which used to house Saratoga Guitar. Much like the dearly-departed Matt McCabe’s beloved former shop, you can browse a curated selection of records while your string-bending shopping buddy finger picks a dreadnought acoustic. Dunn and Planitizer’s cozy space features an in-store live music nook/listening lounge, and a wide selection of new and used records with a noticeable emphasis on indie, 90s, hip hop, punk, jazz, and classic rock staples.
Jason and I agreed on $50 of trade value, and I settled into the crates.
While I was flipping through the new arrivals, Jason handed me a mysterious pressing of Hank Mobley’s 1962 release on Blue Note Records, Workout. The jacket was of nice quality, but there wasn’t a barcode on the back. Jason thought maybe it was a Japanese pressing, but usually even Japanese releases that are missing their trademark OBI-strip have an identifiable King Records or Toshiba marking in the dead wax around the label or on the bottom of the back cover. This had none of the above, marking it as a controversial early 2000s Scorpio pressing. A bit of internet sleuthing suggests that these releases are most likely from digital sources or copies of master tapes. In other words, they are kind of like big cds with better cover art.
Despite my reservations, I didn’t own a copy of Workout on vinyl and I was interested in the sound quality of the release. We live in a golden-moment of jazz reissues, especially from the Blue Note label. The luxurious Tone Poet series offers audiophile sound and deluxe gatefold jackets for about $38 a record and the Blue Note 80 series saves some money on the jackets but offers an all-analogue pressing with excellent mastering for under $30. Considering a majority of original Blue Note titles have soared into the stratosphere of the collecting market, these are (relatively) affordable options. For collectors that don’t care much about the source (or don’t know enough to look into these things), there are the digitally-sourced Blue Note 75 anniversary series, and plenty of gray-market releases in the UK that are probably cut from CD. And then there are the enigmatic Scorpios – which if nothing else are a VERY affordable way to pick up an officially licensed Blue Note album on vinyl (dare I say the bargain basement cheapest way).
So how did Workout workout? It was okay. The cover and the music are phenomenal, but the sound is a bit thin and compressed. This was most notable in Paul Chambers’ bass. I own a fair amount of Tone Poets and Analogue Production audiophile pressings and the presence in the bass just wasn’t comparable. But this is a record collector column and I don’t even consider myself a true audiophile, so let’s talk about the music:
Mobley is joined by a slightly unusual lineup that features Grant Green on guitar, Wynton Kelly on piano, the aforementioned Chambers on bass, and the veteran Philly Joe Jones on the drums. The title track, “Smokin’, and “Greasin’ Easy” are the standout cuts for me on an album that highlights Mobley’s greatest talent – playing the blues. In the liner notes, Leonard Feather calls Mobley “the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” and the backhanded compliment is probably also rooted in the truth. While Mobley wasn’t an innovator like Coltrane, his sound really lends itself to hard bop music. Listeners can hear the influence of Charlie Parker’s bop phrasing and runs as applied to a slightly funkier and updated 60s sound.
I grabbed two other records from Jason to complete the trade – The self-titled Love Tractor (1980, DB Recs) and The Electric Prunes’ Mass in F Minor (1968, Reprise).
Love Tractor was a great Athens, GA band from the 80s who were part of the college rock scene with R.E.M. and Pylon. Their all-instrumental jangle pop debut has the angularity of the Feelies best work (in fact, The Feelies still cover “Fun To Be Happy” in their sets sometimes). Other tunes have a twangy surf-music energy that meets the big-drum sound of Mitch Easter style productions (even though this one was produced by Bruce Baxter and the band). This is an album very much of its time, but if I had a time machine, I’d rather go back to Athens in the 1980s than Ancient Greece.
Fans of The Electric Prunes “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” might honestly hate Mass in F Minor because it really isn’t a garage-psych record or even a Prunes record. For all intents and purposes F Minor is a David Axelrod record and it has all the studio hallmarks of the Axelrod sound – outstanding guitar work, swinging ‘60s grooves, and the ambiance of a great movie score. Sure all of the singing is in Latin. Of course there’s a decidedly Christian bent to the content. Admittedly Jason was a little confused when I pulled this from the bargain bin, but then I told him that as an Axelrod enthusiast I had to rescue it (even if it did have a needle mark that was worrisome). I used to own a German pressing of this record, but sold it like a dummy. I wanted to hear “Kyrie Eleison” (which appeared in Easy Rider) and the weird hippie-church chant of “Gloria in excelsis Deo” in… well… all its glory again, I guess..
Axelrod is notable for biting off a little more than he could chew when it came to projects. He’s the same guy who wrote environmentalist concept albums (see Earth Rot) and a series of records based on the work of poet William Blake. None of these were very good commercial ideas, but crate diggers will be the first to tell you that Axelrod albums are a great place to mine funky drum breaks and guitar licks. He’s a hip hop beatconductor icon for good reason – grab anything with his name on it.
And since you’ll be looking, you might as well go to OTR, ‘tis the season and all. And if you worry the record collector in your life already has everything, grab a gift card – Jason has those for sale too. Maybe stop in on Black Friday when he’ll do a bargain bin blowout (all $4-$5 LPs will be buy-one-get-one free). The day after Thanksgiving also marks the drop date for Jason’s Christmas stock. Word on the street is that he’s going to pull out some rare Beatles stuff for the Black Friday/Small Business Saturday weekend as well. Give the gift of music.
Postscript – Private Collection Buy:
I had to hustle a bit to complete my trade with Jason because I had an appointment to take a look at a private collection across town. People always ask me where I get my stock for record shows and brewery pop ups, and a large part of it is through word of mouth leads on private collections.
This particular night, I was going back to an undisclosed location where I had purchased a large quantity of jazz records in 2022. This gentleman had kept a few boxes that he wasn’t sure he wanted to part with and reached out to me now that he was ready.
While I won’t get into a lot of specifics (other than to say I had the best time talking music with this seller), I will say that my own collection is growing beyond my fairly small record room. I try very hard to only keep 1-2 records from each collection I buy for my personal collection. This time, my decision about what I wanted to keep was an easy one: I was fortunate to acquire a 1971 pressing of Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidananda in what I can only describe as archival condition. It looked like maybe it had seen a turntable once and the gatefold was still in its original shrink. This Impulse! label classic is one of my favorite spiritual jazz records, and one of my favorite records period. I’ve owned a number of pressings through the years, but this one will be the best copy I ever find. I can stop looking and I can simply enjoy the beauty of Alice’s harp, the deeply hypnotic bass grooves of Cecil McBee, and what I consider to be the finest saxophone playing of Pharoah Sanders storied career. Just listen to the title track – it’s meditation and mindfulness that you can’t get on any app.
Albany Record Riot Report: 11/12/23 Polish Community Center
A lot of buyers at the record shows seem curious about what happens before anyone is allowed in for early buyer admission. Here’s what goes down: like sharks in the water, we’re all looking for a new vendor who might have some deals. There was one new seller in Albany and we were lined up to see if we might get a bargain. But alas, the Discogs median price has ruined a lot of this fun. While I did grab a Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies and a copy of Gram Parsons on Shiloh (a reissue of the LHI International Submarine Band record) for $15, this was hardly exciting, so I had to create my own adventure.
I gave myself a $100 budget to buy a bunch of out-there, not-for-the-faint-of-heart titles in free jazz or experimental music. I did pretty well – before anyone had entered the show I found titles by Albert Ayler, Carla Bley, Luciano Berio, and Sun Ra to add to my collection. The vendors that I bought these records from hailed from the Capital Region, the Hudson Valley, New York City, and Quebec. The best find of the day for me was a signed copy of a solo soprano sax record by Poughkeepsie free jazz legend Joe McPhee. I collect his stuff, so if somehow you have some Joe McPhee records collecting dust somewhere, look me up. If you haven’t ever listened to his classic album Nation Time (which was recorded in 1970 at Vassar College), do yourself a favor and find a reissue or stream it.
What’s Coming Up For Roundabout Records?
I’ll be selling records (and yes I’ll have the new Taylor Swift) at the Utica Record Show at the Deerfield Fire House on Sunday, December 3 and locally at Singlecut North Taproom’s Holiday Market on Sunday, December 17.
The next Albany Record Riot will be a big one on Sunday, January 28 at the Polish Community Center. Come for the records, stay for the pierogi.
Records purchased for the column…
Off Track Records:
- The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor
- Hank Mobley – Workout
- Love Tractor – Love Tractor
- Undisclosed Private Collection Buy in Saratoga:
- Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda
- Albany Record Riot:
- Albert Ayler – Mothers and Children
- Luciano Berio – Différences
- The Carla Bley Band – Musique Mecanique
- Larry Coryell – The Essential Larry Coryell
- Gram Parsons – Gram Parsons
- The Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies
- Joe McPhee – Soprano (signed by Joe!)
- Joe McPhee & Chris Corsano – Under a Double Moon
- Sun Ra – Pictures of Infinity
Ross Marvin, aka Roundabout Records, is a local English teacher who buys, sells, and trades vinyl records, primarily at the Albany and Saratoga Record Riots.