Reviews

What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

06/02/2010 | The Vinyl District First Date | vinyldistrict.blogspot.com/ | Album Review
DC native Laura Burhenn, she of The Mynabirds, returns to town this evening with a show at The Black Cat in support of what's become our favorite release to date for 2010, 'What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood.' It's made even more heartwarming to know we share a fondness for...well, let's have Laura tell it. —Ed.

My introduction to vinyl was through a Mickey Mouse record player my mom bought for me at a garage sale when I was about four or so. It came with a whole stack of storybooks and read-along records -- the kind that sound a bell when it's time to turn the page. I remember sitting in the attic for hours at a time, flipping the records over, screwing down in the little plastic 45 adaptor, playing them again and again. Ever since then I've had an intense love affair with *used* records. There's something about listening to songs that once belonged to someone else. You can imagine the sleeve in someone else's hand, them turning the heavy stock over, reading the song titles on the back, pulling the vinyl disc out of the paper sleeve, laying out the square page of liner notes on the table or floor, next to a mug of coffee or glass of wine, soaking the songs in, letting those melodies define their moment. Not that anyone drank a bottle of wine while listening to those Mickey Mouse records. At least, I hope not.

That last image comes more from my favorite used record of all time: Neil Young's "Harvest". I bought it from a Salvation Army store when I was in college. The cover was marked on the top right corner with "Ruth Tabor" in black ink pen. I loved not only that entire album, but the whole process of wondering who Ruth was. Did she mark her name on all of her records? What else was in her collection? Did this record feel lost without its others? Sometimes when I feel down, I steep myself a mug of tea, pull "Harvest" out of its "Ruth Tabor" sleeve, spread out some big sheets of paper on the floor to draw on, and drop the needle. Never fails to help me feel better.

I grew up in a really conservative Christian household. But beyond some of the records you might expect to find on the shelf (that I made some killer dance routines to, I might add), my mom kept some great classical records around as well. I remember Bach's Brandenburg Concertos most, the harpsichord spooling out complicated mathematics over the hum of a sunny afternoon. That's probably why one of my favorite used vinyl finds is a box of 53 records at a music library sale when I was in college—all 53 for just $3. There were some really incredible finds in there: Debussy, Shostakovich, Schoenberg, Gershwin, miscellaneous collections of jazz standards, The Supremes covering the Beatles, and another favorite go-to: Dvorak's New World Symphony.

On any road trip in my childhood, my mom would name the year each classic pop song was released as it came on the radio. When I asked her how she did it, she admitted that she once had a pretty extensive record collection—before she burned them when she tried Mormonism briefly in college. This is one of the greatest vinyl tragedies I can imagine. So you can only guess how elated I was to uncover a missed stack of her 45s when I was visiting my grandmother one day back when I was in high school. Right there in a bottom dresser drawer next to her Mr. Natural Gemini t-shirt (which I cut short and wore to Lollapalooza in '94): Elton John, the Temptations, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, the "American Pie" single that you have to flip mid-way through the song to finish it. (I love that people had the patience for that—that they'd listen the whole way through with the mechanical stop-flip pause from side A to B in the middle.)

My grandmother, by the way, had a great little collection of country and bluegrass records, lots of Hank Williams. Her husband was a coal miner in West Virginia before becoming a Methodist minister. He died before I was born and I feel like that record collection stopped growing when he passed. Listening to her records made me feel like I was getting to know him, what their life was like together.

When I was in high school I discovered what it was like to find a record and fall in love, to feel like that music defined who I was—like the person singing was the only person in the world who really understood me. I have some good brand-new-to-me vinyl finds from those days, including a limited edition pressing of Tori Amos' "Boys for Pele" on clear blue vinyl (which I got from the Intergalactic Garage in Shepherdstown, West Virginia—the lifeblood indie record shop I frequented that had all the best imports and rarities) and a hand-numbered pressing of Portishead's "All Mine" single from when I saw them play 9:30. But as much as I loved those records (still do), I really loved listening to my mom's 45s. Made me feel like I was getting a window into the past, finding out something I would only know by listening to her records. In that sense, I've always felt like vinyl is a real way of connecting people through time and space. There's something about the physics and physicality of it all. You have to touch the records, hold them in your hands. And they've got those grooves, little ranges of mountains that bounce sound around like people shouting "Echo! Echo! Echo!" into the air, into our eardrums, into our brains. And there it sticks. That, to me, is an incredible process—something that digital music (all summed up in 1s and 0s) will never quite do. I love working with Saddle Creek, a label that still values and puts out vinyl. They keep this whole cycle alive.


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