I figured it would happen sooner or later. Sure enough, on the day this data was available, I was looking at the list of most expensive albums sold in March from the Discogs marketplace and pretty much freaking out.
There were no big-picture themes. I only recognized a handful of albums. What the heck was I going to do with this mess? Granted, my wit and charm know no bounds, so that’ll always keep these Top 30 priciest album lists fresh (right?), but I have to at least pretend to know what I’m talking about.
Wait. Do I?
Dare To Be Stupid
The whole crazy scheme unfolded from there. See, whenever there’s a really strange album at the upper end of these lists, I find myself wishing that I had the time to really dive in and figure out why folks would pay top dollar for something that most music fans will never hear about, let alone listen to.
So: what if I did exactly that? What if I went in blind, took the music at face value, and reported the results, all in the name of trying to uncover why these records are so highly coveted?
Well, I don’t have to wonder any longer. It’s all happening. I took the most expensive album of March (or, well, a digital transfer from vinyl available online), sat down, listened free of distraction, and took notes. Those thoughts are lightly edited below, but I’m leaving in the embarrassing listening mistakes. Hint: this album actually has co-vocalists, not just a single lead vocalist. Whoopsy.
Oh, that album, by the way, is Swaddling Songs, a slice of progressive folk circa 1972 from Irish balladeers Mellow Candle. Just to be clear, this is a release that I didn’t even know existed until yesterday. And yet, a copy of the first pressing topped the Discogs marketplace list of heftiest price tags from March at $3477. What in the world would possess somebody to shell out that kind of money for a bunch of jigs and reels? Maybe this Spin Report will shed a little light. Then again, maybe not.
Spin Report: Swaddling Songs
0:08: Here we go. Side one, track one. Heaven Heath. Before the vocals have even started I’m already blown away by all of these keyboards. I was expecting a folk album. This is…wait, is that a freakin’ harpsichord? I was expecting a folk album! Side note: if there isn’t a harpsichord folk genre (folksichord? harpsifolk?), I want one, stat!
1:00: As the joys of harpsifolk unfold, I start to focus in on the vocals. Definitely digging them so far. Was expecting a heavier Irish accent. If it’s there, it’s faint. Just a hint along the edges. Anyway, yeah: beautiful voice.
1:28: Oh, hey, an electric guitar solo. Yeah, I can get into this! Nice, mellow, warm tone, but definitely being approached as an electric guitar, y’know? Not just amplified strumming.
2:50: A jaunty little breakdown! That’ll get the feet moving.
3:07: And onto track two, Sheep Season. Starting off with some nuanced drumming. Very complementary, quite nimble. There is also a weird rotary speaker or Leslie effect, I think…is it guitar? Maybe keys? I’m into it. Almost psychedelic!
4:10: Oooh, yeah, here come the multi tracked vocals. I always dig the lone vocalist call-and-response.
5:25: Two for two on guitar solos. Is this how you make me fall in love with you, Mellow Candle? Funnily enough, the solo spot enables the contributions from the pianist and the bassist to shine all the more. The ensemble work here is ace.
7:35: A long instrumental fade wraps up and we start in on Silver Song. Agile work from the bassist gets things started off on the right foot.
8:20: The vocal work is standing out so far as a real highlight on this album. Very emotive on this track. Sweet, but with sadness streaked throughout.
11:25: Very nice production work. There’s a lot going on, but things aren’t crowded.
12:05: Having just finished saying that, of course we start off The Poet And The Witch with sounds of the ocean and seagull noises. Good ol’ seagull noises.
12:25: Much more assertive vocal work here. This is, like, just straight up rock. Or pretty damn close. There’s some edge in the chord progression, some attitude in the vocals. Those vocals…they’re kinda reminiscent of Sandy Denny‘s work on Unhalfbricking, maybe. Maybe. I’m actually surprised at how infrequently I’m able to come up with sonic touchstones so far. Perhaps that’s just a sign that I’m way out of my element and that I need a good solid education in the ways of prog-folk. Granted: that is 100% true. I hang my head in shame and swish my cape sadly.
13:15: Ugh, man, I’m such a sucker for a song about the age of sailing and royal intrigue and, umm, I dunno, I guess I’m still just really stuck on the thought of a bunch of capes. This is cape music is what I’m saying.
14:30: And before you know it, we exit on those same ocean sounds we came in on. Goodbye, seagulls! I was ready for more!
14:50: Get ready for Messenger Birds. Back to some lower-key terrain after all the excitement of the last track. This one is propelled along by mellow but solid bass work and trebly guitar chords.
16:20: Picking up steam. The vocalist is hitting some high notes as the percussion picks up. Then, simultaneously, the instruments all exhale and we’re back to being chill.
17:43: Dan The Wing starts and you know shit is about to go down. The energy has picked up again, and this is about THE FREAKIN’ DEVIL! YES!
19:02: Okay, wait a second: is this song about a guy named Dan who gets to fight the devil? I mean, c’mon, how cool is that? Rock on, Dan! Or, hell, I dunno, maybe I should be rooting for the devil. Boy, I’m in a real pickle.
19:40: Aw, damn, that seemed so quick. Already clear of side one and on to side two and the next track: Reverend Sisters. I miss Dan already.
20:00: So much piano. So many floaty vocals. Uh, I miss the devil now, too.
20:40: Quick judgment here but, so far, this is the first track that has lost me. Has it aged badly? Is this more dated than the rest of the album, or is it just me? Maybe I have an unnatural tolerance for songs about rooks and the lord of the seas; maybe a song about a nun’s office is just not gonna cut it. Especially if it’s a song about a nun’s office featuring a lot of starry-eyed piano jamming. Now I definitely miss the guitar solos.
23:45: Yeah, this is more like it. Break Your Token is bringing back that fire. That progressive folky fire. Er, anyway, the vocal line has a cool melodic arc. It’s unpredictable. It’s leaping, bounding. Keeping my ears on their toes. Their weird tiny ear toes. This makes me forget about the devil. Ah, crap, it was making me forget about the devil, at least.
24:40: Oh, wow, this wordless vocal interlude is really something. Diddley, diddley!
25:25: YES! More diddles! Honestly, this stuff is impressive. And fun! Mellow Candle: putting the fun back in progressive folk!
26:15: Another up-tempo song: Buy Or Beware.
27:00: Are…are those male background vocals hanging out there in the distance? First time I think I’ve heard those on the album so far. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a nice addition to the mix.
28:40: These stop/start breakdowns are hip and happening. Gotta give the instrumental crew credit: they’re on point.
29:05: Hold the fort. Those are some damn funky guitar stabs. Go ahead, take it to the bridge!
29:25: Hahah, not gonna let that funk interlude develop, huh? Well, onto the next track anyway: Vile Excesses. With a title like that, maybe we can get the devil back up in this album.
30:40: Some propulsive, rolling piano work alongside a bit of acoustic guitar and…sniff sniff…is that woodblock I hear? Woodblock! Hell yeah!
32:30: We’re starting Lonely Man and we’re doing it with an awful lot of solo piano. Uh, this did not go so well last time…
32:40: Whew! Okay, we have everyone onboard here. Close one.
33:40: Definitely digging these guitar fills. Quite a bit of bite to ’em. Meaty! Yeah, like meat in your ear! Hmm, okay, maybe not really like that. A definite treat for a rock-leaning listener, though.
35:20: And we are currently stuck in the middle of this guitar solo. Doesn’t really sound like it’s going anywhere. Oof, that’s too bad. Bwomp bwomp.
36:59: Boulders On My Grave. Lots of wordless vocals flying around, even cooler than the earlier diddleys. Very vaguely jig-ish, but with just-enough-crunch guitars and some hard-hitting drum work.
37:55: Oh, dang, here we go with some “Too-Ra Loo-Ra Loo-Ral”-type vocalization. Honestly, this is the first time I think I’d really have been able to pick out the Irish roots of this group if I were a casual listener. Well, okay, if I hadn’t read it on Wikipedia before I started this post.
39:25: Okay, this instrumental breakdown is something else. The drums are really going at it, full tilt. This is…this is kinda Jethro Tull-esque. Jethro Tull if somebody snatched Ian Anderson‘s flute and threw it out the goddamn window. Then again, is Jethro Tull without flute really Jethro Tull? Shoot, I’m edging into dangerous territory here.
40:00: HANDCLAPS! Just for a second; then they’re gone and we get another instrumental stop/start breakdown. And that’s it. We’re out. But, man, I was really jazzed about those handclaps. Dammit, I’m going to have to go listen to The Cars now. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?
Are there takeaway lessons here? Oh, you can bet your folksichord collection there are takeaway lessons here!
- Don’t assume that two Irish ladies who sound similar are just the same Irish lady. I hope you never find yourself in a predicament where this advice proves useful, but in that situation you’d better believe that this is going to be absolutely key to your survival. In my defense: they sounded really, really similar! Really!
- Don’t even pretend to start getting funky unless you plan to follow through on that promise. Once the funk is summoned there had better be sufficient time for shaking one’s booty.
- Diddley! Diddley diddley!
- Ozzy Osbourne has had the right idea all along: songs about the devil are cool. They just are. This doesn’t mean you need to worship him, or even tolerate his various foibles, but you’d better believe that you get some gravitas when you start to sing about eternal damnation and brimstone.
- On that note: even a guy named Dan can have an epic struggle with Satan.
- We all need more cape music.
- This album is super duper solid. Highlight: vocals. Beautiful stuff. Great arrangements, interesting melodies, tone and timbre that strike one as being characteristic of this particular group and not overly generic, and able to cover a real range of emotions, from sweet, serene, and detached to insistent and muscular. The musicians are definitely operating at a high level as well. All told, there are very few low points throughout and, indeed, many memorable bits.
- Still, I would not spend $3.5k on it. Then again, I’m not really a collector. Just a guy who loves listening.
- Electric guitars are always called for.
- [seagull noises]
Good times but, goddamn, I hope there is some XTC or Joni Mitchell or Television or Buddy Guy or Allan Holdsworth somewhere on next month’s most expensive albums list. Or maybe they’ll all be CDs. That’d be something. In the meantime, don’t forget that there are 29 other entries on the list of biggest sellers from March 2017 in the Discogs marketplace. If you find a cool theme that I missed this month, please do give a shout in the comments section below!