Thoughts & Notes on Sturgill Simpson’s ‘The Ballad of Dood & Juanita’

  • What an epic, cinematic story!
  • The vivid imagery of the characters and details really help paint the picture
  • On that first listen it’s a gripping and emotional rollercoaster as you follow along
  • This album has a vast smorgasbord of country and roots sounds throughout it
  • “Juanita” is absolutely gorgeous! Willie and Trigger sound great and are the perfect finishing touch to a wonderfully laid out song. More on this later
  • The song is emotionally stirring, especially after learning from Sturgill’s interview in Rolling Stone that his grandmother Juanita cried upon hearing this album. There’s no greater feeling than making your family proud
  • Speaking of family, this album brings Sturgill back full circle with his beginnings, not just going back to his roots stylistically, but also thematically since family was a heavy focus on his first album High Top Mountain
  • Dood himself of course greets the listener on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and then the album concludes with the hidden bonus track “Pan Bowl”, which is an ode to Simpson’s family and days of youth spent with them
  • I did not expect to be greeted by the sounds of whistling, the march of battle and the roar of cannon fire and gunfire to open this album. But it’s a pleasant surprise, not just because I think it helps set the time period of the album’s story well, but also because I’m a history buff and I nerd out over little things like this in an album
  • Sure, it’s a bit on the nose to open like this. But its clear Sturgill’s approach to this is more like a movie than an album. More on this later
  • Definitely happy that Simpson utilized sound effects throughout this album, as it really adds to the songs. Just little things like in “Ol’ Dood (Part I)” where when he utters “things he could do with that rifle” and then a short pause to allow the firing of the gun helps tell the story crystal clear to the listener and immerses you more into it
  • Like I said the attention to detail is so great and it’s really this album’s greatest strength. A straight-forward story like this does not work effectively without adding these little touches through each part of the story because the story itself is no groundbreaking, new idea that Simpson is telling. It’s a standard cowboy story that anyone could tell. But to tell it effectively you gotta suck people in and make them care, which Simpson does right away
  • And it’s not just the production elements that are part of these little details, but amusing lines like when Simpson describes Dood’s shot to be so precise he could “blow the balls off a bat.” It’s both hilarious and hyperbolic, fitting for this larger than life, romanticized, overly fictionalized love story
  • In one song, Sturgill establishes Dood pretty quickly and clearly: he’s a tough son of a bitch who takes no shit and was kind of a cold loner until the day he meets Juanita
  • And the effect she has on him is described quite well too. She not only gives him the love of family, but brings out the compassion and caring that was buried underneath. I mean it’s a common trope that’s been done to death in all forms of media where the hardened person softens up and demonstrates growth. But it’s common for a reason because everybody enjoys rooting for this type of character
  • It’s even easier to root for Dood when the conflict that sets up the journey of the story is established: A bandit named Seamus riding up and stealing Juanita and shooting Dood as he takes her away. The man who had found contentment after years of riding alone may have just had his world cruelly ripped away
  • I love the phrase “saw the ball had passed through, clean as a church floor.” It’s one of several “folksy” observations I enjoy in this album. They remind me a lot of the sayings I would hear growing up in my hometown
  • “Shamrock” soars!! Not just the song, but the horse too of course
  • The sound immediately hooks me and doesn’t want to let go. It gets even better when the Hillbilly Avengers get to stretch out and do an instrumental outro
  • The soaring nature of the song makes you feel you’re right there with Dood as he sets off across Kentucky on his journey to find his love. If this was a movie I could picture a nice montage of Dood traversing over hills and across rivers, day and night, with a look of determination in his eyes
  • I could also picture the glorious looking Shamrock, who Sturgill spares no moments describing in an exact detail right down to him not needing horseshoes due to having hooves so thick and also being able to kick coyotes into the stratosphere (followed by a cartoonishly great flying sound effect)
  • I mean’s Sam cool, but Shamrock is cooler!
  • No love for the mule though I guess. Must be a real jackass to be the only character to not get a name or story (even the bad guy gets one)
  • A little detail I love at the end of “Shamrock” to perfectly transition into the next track: the sound of Shamrock moaning with tiredness after days of travel and the crackling of the campfire that bleeds into the next song to signal the rest top and ultimately the crossroads of the journey
  • “Played Out” sees our heroes at their wits end. The trail has gone cold after five days and nights of searching. Dood is broken both physically and mentally. Shamrock is exhausted. And poor Sam’s body has been destroyed. The feeling of hopelessness of our heroes and the situation couldn’t be spelled out any clearer.
  • Then Sam dies and Sturgill makes sure to make this even sadder by going into great details of how the thorns tore up his paws and Sam letting out one last baying call, which I can just hear in my head and it’s sad as hell. The kind of thing that just punches you in the gut when you hear it. But man does it make for a fantastic song!
  • Also anyone who’s had a dog, well at least those who have or have had a dog that runs free in the country, knows the description of Sam running himself literally to death is an accurate description of a dog’s behavior. I can’t forget all the times growing up my brothers’ dogs and mine would run rabbits (or other animals) until they were crawling up the hill to the house. Dogs are so loyal and focused on their goals, but sometimes to a fault and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it; it’s just their nature
  • Sturgill promised a capella and he delivers it on “Sam.” And some great hillbilly harmonies too
  • “A good dog on the ground is worth three in the saddle” – lyrics like this just stick with you
  • Really this whole song has everything I like in a great song, so there’s not a damn thing I would change
  • That being said though, “Juanita” is the clear favorite for me on this album
  • I mean I highlighted it at the very beginning because it immediately bowled me over once I heard it
  • There’s no duo better than Willie and Trigger to deliver that Spanish guitar sound this song called for
  • And no, Willie did not need to have any vocals on this song. I saw some people complain about this and it’s clear they’ve never paid attention to Willie’s guitar playing. Go see him live and you’ll gain an even greater appreciation for it
  • Also one last thing on this complaint: there’s no logical reason to have him on the song. Like there’s no clear moment that Willie should join in and sing, especially since this is Sturgill singing about his grandparents
  • I’m gonna praise the lyrical detailing of Sturgill once again. Setting the scene of Dood laying under the stars, dreaming of his woman and holding her in his arms once again, it gives the song such a satisfyingly romantic feel. I mean putting that on top of the Spanish-driven sound of the song and it feels like cheating to make this song feel so good
  • “You are the ocean, I am a grain of sand” – perfectly conveys the importance of her to him. This contrast is fantastic
  • “Juanita! Where’d your mama get that name?” – Not only am I like many just randomly blurting this line out after hearing because come on it’s so damn catchy, but the passion that Sturgill puts behind the vocal delivery here could not hit any harder
  • And then he follows this up with lyrics so sweet that it makes molasses seem sour
  • Takes me back to a quote Sturgill said years ago at NPR Tiny Concerts where he said the next one is for the ladies, only to pause and then say they’re all for the ladies
  • Don’t sleep on the Hillbilly Avengers in this song either, as they get their own moments to shine in the bridge
  • The last “Juanita!” may be the most impressive, as it’s a pretty dramatic and loud delivery. But it’s necessary to show the desperateness of Dood to find her and have her in his arms once again
  • I really enjoy Sturgill including Native American characters in the story, as I don’t really recall a lot of country songs with them, which surprises me. Maybe there is and I just don’t know about them. If you do, please speak up in the comments!
  • But including them in the story is a nice follow up and foreshadowing on the mentions of Dood being Shawnee at the beginning of the album. In addition, their presence not only advances the story, but also helps further set the time period of the story
  • The blind chief is a really cool character! You gotta have a mentor in the hero’s journey of course
  • Part of me wishes that the moment Dood reunites with Juanita was better fleshed out in another song, but then again there was maybe no use after “Juanita” perfectly captured what she meant to him
  • I’m torn on this part of the story. On one hand, it works fine as is and less is more usually. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded another song here
  • I have to say it’s a rare moment for me to think an album could have been longer
  • Regardless, this album has a very satisfying conclusion on “Ol’ Dood (Part II)” when Dood sets off to kill Seamus and get his revenge
  • Once again the scene of the song is set so well by Sturgill. But my favorite part is the little twist when Dood comes up to inspect Seamus after successfully shooting him 300 yards away, where Seamus is playing possum and tries to lunge at Dood with a knife, only for Dood to tomahawk him.
  • Personally how I envision it in my head is Seamus lunging, but not even really getting close, as Dood calmly whips his tomahawk out and throws it through the air, perfectly catching Seamus in the forehead (since Sturgill sings “moonlight bouncing off that tomahawk” and establishing that Dood has a perfect shot). Furthermore, he says it’s the last thing Seamus sees and you hear a little “whoosh,” which to me sounds like the tomahawk being removed from his head. Either that or it’s the sound of Dood scalping Seamus’ hair as a trophy.
  • The last minute and a half of just hearing the sounds of campfire, a stream of water, frogs croaking and locust chirping with some light banjo and harmonica over it is the perfect closer, as it establishes the peace that has now come over Dood and Juanita.
  • I also like to picture this as Dood making his way home that night and just sitting around the campfire, Juanita holding him, surrounded by his children and Shamrock, with a peaceful and easy smile on his face knowing he has his world back and that the journey he just went on has made him all the more grateful for what he has
  • This is a fun and fantastic album from Sturgill. It’s a fitting conclusion to his five-album arc too. But it’s funny how I think this has the least replayability of all his albums despite me thoroughly enjoying it. And there’s a few reasons I think for this. For one I think this is the most simplistic album Sturgill has delivered, which isn’t a bad thing. The simplicity serves this story well and makes sense. But also simplicity doesn’t make you want to come back for more listens. It doesn’t take that long to really “get” this album. Repeat listens for me have more about appreciating the aesthetics of the album. The other reasoning and what I think is a bigger reason this doesn’t lend as well to replaying as his other albums is this being treated more like a movie than an album. Like to me this is a no-brainer that it should be adapted into a film on Netflix. And Sturgill is clearly interested in movies.
  • But back to it being a movie more than an album hurting it’s replayability: I don’t know about you, but for me I can’t go back and rewatch a movie over and over because nothing beats the freshness of the excitement of the first watch of a movie. It only loses it’s luster with more viewings subsequently right after seeing it the first time. I have to space a good bit of time out before wanting to watch it and really enjoy it again.
  • Really this is often the case with most concept albums that tell one story throughout. The obvious comparison with this album has been Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and I couldn’t really tell you my thoughts on this because I’ve never listened to the album. Yes, I know it’s shocking, especially with me being a big Willie fan. But there’s only so much time to listen to music and it’s just something that’s slipped through the cracks. If anything I feel like me not hearing it helps me look at this album a bit differently. I’m also going to be sure to listen to it now.
  • So the comparisons I thought of with this album instead were Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives’ Way Out West and Dwight Yoakam’s Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room. I love both of these albums just like this album. But my feelings on going back to listen to them feel very much like I’m going to feel with this. Again I really enjoy them, but they’re not albums I go back to listen to all the time. They’re for a specific mood. They’re niche. You have to listen to them in full to gain the greatest appreciation of them. And you certainly can’t break them up in a playlist or listen to the songs individually. So it comes down to how much value you place on this element to determine how much you enjoy it now and in the long run.
  • For me, I look at The Ballad of Dood & Juanita like a fine bottle of wine to pull out on special occasions. It may be a while in between listens, but I’m going to really appreciate it and enjoy it when I do put it on.

Thoughts & Notes on Willie Nelson, the Osborne Brothers & Bob Wills’ records

As promised, my thoughts on the haul of records I discussed in my previous post. Time to spin some records and give you my thoughts on them…

Willie Nelson’s Stardust

  • I liken this album to a warm blanket, as you can put it on anytime and it’s instantly comforting
  • Willie just glides effortlessly over the melodies
  • While Willie is rightfully known for being one of the all time great songwriters, this album shows he’s an equally great interpreter
  • In addition, this album shows his excellence when it comes to adapting to various styles of music
  • The opening title track tells you right up front what to expect with this album, soft and gentle music unlike any of his outlaw stuff that made him famous in the previous few years
  • The tender weariness of Willie’s vocals combined with the understated soulful production from Booker T. Jones on “Georgia On My Mind” makes one feel full when listening to it
  • The harmonica solo in the bridge is a great touch, as some country creeps through in this jazzy song
  • Then again I guess harmonica isn’t something exclusive to country music. But Mickey Raphael on harmonica on a Willie song is
  • Who doesn’t know “All of Me”? And even if you don’t, I feel like it’s one of those songs you can instantly sing along with. Made famous by Willie’s friend and music legend Frank Sinatra, this song just fits Willie like a glove.
  • It fits him so well for the same reason it fit Sinatra so well: they effortlessly convey emotion behind the lyrics. There’s a passion behind the delivery that makes you care. Again it comes back to the interpreting ability of Willie. Sure you could get somebody who’s a really polished, technically sound vocalist sing this. But it wouldn’t have near the charm and appeal that a vocalist like Willie brings to it.
  • The same can be said of Willie’s interpretation of “Unchained Melody,” a song that has been done countless times across every genre and a song firmly entrenched in American culture. I mean is it a surprise a song about pining for love fits Willie well? He brings that achiness needed to make the song connect with the listener
  • I love the lingering piano that greets you in “September Song” and then drifts in the background throughout. It makes you feel like you’re taking a walk through the woods on a crisp fall afternoon in…well September.
  • Trigger of course sounds great as always in the bridge with a well placed solo to complement the carefree melody of the song
  • Just like “All of Me,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is one of those instantly likable songs to me. There’s a reason it became a jazz standard and covered by every big name of that genre. And Willie’s cover is certainly worthy of being right next to the best of the jazz interpretations of the song.
  • You would think I would have more to say on an album I hold to such high esteem, but the funny thing I’ve learned listening to hundreds of albums is sometimes you don’t have a lot of words to say about an album you enjoy other than a succinct, “I just like it.” Stardust is one of those albums that is better left for you to listen to and hear for yourself rather than someone else describing it to you. If you think would enjoy a country/jazz/pop fusion or if you love Willie Nelson, you’ll love this album too

Willie Nelson’s Always On My Mind

  • I had no clue that “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin
  • Willie obviously has a much different take, but very much makes it his own by making more of a country pop waltz
  • By the way you can tell right away that this is an 80s album, with what I call the “dramatic” production that permeates every genre of music in this time
  • Another thing I learned: Originally producers Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons suggested to both Nelson and Merle Haggard to record the song for their collaboration album Pancho & Lefty. But Merle turned it down! Willie says he never heard it right according to his autobiography, but he was impressed by it the moment he heard it. It goes to show even legends can sometimes miss on “getting” music
  • To me this song is absolutely gorgeous and Willie’s version is by far my favorite of all the versions of it recorded. It’s one of the first songs I think of when I think of Willie Nelson. From the soft and smooth piano strokes that open to the tenderness of Nelson’s delivery, it’s one of those songs that gives you goose bumps. It’s a love song with true emotion that resonates with anyone who listens closely
  • I completely forgot there was a hidden Waylon feature on “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” so I popped up from my seat when listening to this vinyl record for the first time
  • The lyrics to this song are so different, especially for Willie and Waylon. But they absolutely nail what was originally a baroque pop song. They’re rightfully known as the kings of outlaw country, but their talent made them capable of taking on any genre they set their minds to. That’s just brilliant artists for you
  • Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is one of those American classics you can’t avoid, especially since Simon feels like your favorite songwriter’s songwriter
  • With Willie’s version, I like the subdued production choice here by Chips Moman and letting Willie’s voice be front and center. When he hits those upper notes it stands out even more
  • “Old Fords and a Natural Stone” is one of those simple songs that Nelson knocks out in his sleep. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but enjoyable nonetheless. I also enjoy the saxophones that pop up in the background throughout. Again I’m a sucker for 80s production and over Willie singing it’s just even better
  • So the song I mentioned before that’s my favorite on the album (and that’s saying something with multiple great songs on it)
  • “Permanently Lonely” is the definition of confident bitterness. Oh I’ll be alright from his breakup, but you won’t because you’re always going to be lonely. And in light of a breakup, I think it’s perfectly natural to feel this way
  • But of course it’s not just bitterness being displayed here, but it’s also a coping mechanism. It’s easier to get over a breakup when you tell yourself that your ex is going to be lonely forever
  • Chris Stapleton did a good job with his cover of Gary P. Nunn and Donna Farar’s “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning.” But Willie’s version is the definitive version for me
  • Willie’s version is much better than Stapleton’s because of the vocal deliveries of each. It goes back to what I said in my thoughts on Stardust above: Willie brings a weary charm that fits a heartbreaking song like this, whereas Stapleton’s voice, while powerful and amazing, is too much for a song like this (Stapleton does heartbreak best on a song like “Either Way”)
  • Trigger’s solo to play out this song is mesmerizing and really puts an exclamation point on this great song
  • It just makes sense to end an album with a song called “The Party’s Over”
  • That phrase also just works in a song about a relationship ending. Hell I even think I ended a relationship saying the exact phrase. But again another great piece of writing from Willie
  • Funny how this album basically happened because Willie wanted to record the title track. If Merle had said yes, maybe this album doesn’t happen. All I know is I’m glad it did, as it’s quite enjoyable and ranks as one of my favorites in Willie’s discography

Willie Nelson’s City of New Orleans

  • Remember how I said above that there are some albums that can be just summed up as “I just like it”? Well that’s pretty much the case here
  • The title track is a fun song about a train ride to New Orleans that Willie covers with a powerful delivery backed by some catchy production
  • Willie’s cover of “She’s Out of My Life” rivals the most popular version of it by Michael Jackson in my opinion. And I love the Jackson version
  • What makes the Jackson version really stand out of course is it’s so different than the rest of the songs on Off the Wall, an album full of upbeat disco songs. So the song itself is an emotional gut punch and it punches even harder next to these type of songs
  • By the way, Off the Wall is on my all time favorite albums list, so I couldn’t recommend it more. I actually think it’s better than Thriller
  • I find it hard to believe Bette Midler’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” is the most popular version of this song. Because in the words of a former doctor of mine, “Bette Midler is awful.”
  • So give me the Willie version this song! It’s a beautiful song that suits his voice perfectly. Have you gotten sick of me saying this yet in this post? That’s what happens when you decide to write about three Willie albums that are largely covers.
  • City of New Orleans is a solid album and follow-up to the same idea Willie followed on Always on My Mind. Unfortunately this album doesn’t quite hit the highs of that album, but this is still a good showing

Osborne Brothers’ Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style

  • As soon as I heard the sweet sounds of Bob Osborne’s mandolin playing in “Sweet Thing,” I had a feeling I would really enjoy this album
  • What a great opening song! And the female vocalist is fantastic! Unfortunately it does not list on the back of the album or anywhere on it who this woman is. And my Google searching did not turn up anything definitive either. It could possibly be Felice Bryant? I’m not sure, so if anyone reading this could help me here I would greatly appreciate your help in identifying the vocalist
  • Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuby!
  • That’s one way to open a song! Also I immediately recognized “Ruby, Are You Mad”! I know I’ve heard it, granted a really, really long time, likely from my dad or grandpa when showing me bluegrass at a very young age. My memory is great, but it’s not strong enough to remember exactly when
  • While the picking on this song is quite entertaining, the pipes on the female vocalist impress me even more. I’m out of breath just listening!
  • The harmonizing at the end is awesome, a really nice bow on a great song
  • “May You Never Be Alone” is so mournful and sad, but also quite beautiful. The picking in the bridge lights up your soul, both the banjo picking from Sonny and mandolin picking from Bob. These brothers damn sure know how to make a compelling melody!
  • It’s a Hank song, you know actual Hank, not his drunk son. So of course the song is well written.
  • I didn’t even watch the show and I immediately recognized “Ballad of Jed Clampett.” Beverly Hillbillies is of course right up there with the Dukes of Hazzard, Hee Haw and The Andy Griffith Show as the most influential and influential shows in country and bluegrass history
  • “Sour Wood Mountain” is where the brothers really show off their picking; it’s no surprise as they wrote this one themselves. The banjo really shines on this one
  • Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” I thought I had never heard, yet I knew I was enjoying this too much and knew the lyrics too quickly for this to be true. Sure enough I realized I heard this first on Dwight Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room. And it’s been covered by several in country music.
  • I’m not surprised because man, this is an enjoyable heartbreak song.
  • Once again the harmonizing is right on point and really gives the song some heft
  • It’s definitely amusing to hear about how bluegrass is the in and hip thing on Earnest Tubb’s “Bluegrass Music’s Really Gone to Town.” Because other than a brief period in the early 2000s, this has never been the case in my lifetime. Then again this album was released in 1963
  • “Night Train to Memphis” is really catchy and the gospel influences on this are really enjoyable. Of course I think every song on this album is catchy and enjoyable
  • Well “New Partner Waltz” just lays it right out there: a couple both notice the other looking over each others’ shoulders during the waltz and concluding they’ll each have a new partner when the next song begins. Yet he seems to think they’ll be alone after this dance? Maybe I’m reading too much into what’s just a simple heartbreak song
  • “White Lightning” is a song that holds such importance in the history of country and bluegrass: it pays homage to the influence of moonshining, it was the first hit for George Jones and it’s a go-to example of how the genres utilized humor in it’s earlier days to win audiences over
  • I mean how can you not chuckle and smile with the funny lyrics and reactions of the characters throughout to taking a sip of white lightning
  • I will say I’ve never had a chance to take a sip of white lightning myself, but based on what I’ve heard it sounds like it would knock me on my ass
  • While I’ve heard my share of bluegrass albums that sound repetitive and really hearing these types of bluegrass album is what kept me away from further exploring the genre, this album is certainly not repetitive. In fact, I’m dying to hear more of it
  • I shit you not the first time I played this record I immediately had to play it a few more times because I was thrilled by what I was hearing
  • The melodies on this are fantastic and captivating, the vocals are very impressive and Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style is definitely my type of bluegrass
  • Needless to say I’ll continue to search for more of this type of bluegrass

Bob Wills’ Fiddle

  • Well it’s an all instrumental, fiddle-laden album. While the music nerd in me enjoys this, it honestly doesn’t make for interesting writing in my opinion, unless you yourself are an expert fiddle player who can break down all the details they could pick up listening to Bob Wills. And even then I would probably skim their writings. 
  • All in all though I’ll leave you with this: If you thought Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History was pretty neat like I did, then you need to check out Bob Wills.
  • While Childers’ project was great from an artistic standpoint, from a technical standpoint it wasn’t anywhere near what you get with Wills. There’s a reason he’s one of the all time great fiddle players and what I love about this album is how it shows his progression. The album begins with some of his earliest recordings in the 1930s, which are simpler in nature songs and the album progresses up until the end in the mid 40s, where you can hear the complexities and learnings he’s accumulated over the years to good use. The back of the album makes for fantastic reading as you listen because it explains all of this and how Wills was shaped by various influences. Particularly fascinating to me is his love of many genres, including blues, Spanish music, dance music and most interestingly, jazz! I would have never thought this, but then you listen and you can’t unhear it.
  • He actually worked with several jazz fiddlers, which I didn’t know was a thing. It’s not really what I think of with jazz (and they usually call it a violin I thought). It’s really a good reminder of how much of a melting pot music is and how integral each genre truly is, as one may not exist without the other. 
  • Wow! I actually did have something to write! I guess disregard the beginning of this section. And man what a fun haul of music! 

A Trip to the Record Store

One of my favorite hobbies is going to the record store. Especially after a stressful week, it was exactly what I needed. And the thing is there was absolutely nothing I had in my mind in particular I was looking for on my trip. Of course I have my list of records I’m on the hunt for to add to my collection, but I went on this trip with no expectations other than to browse and have fun.

And of course not overpay for a record. Like many, I appreciate a good deal when it comes to buying anything. Who doesn’t want a good deal? Whether I’m checking out deals online or in a record store, if I can snag it for a good price, I’m going to be even more thrilled with my buy. Lately this feels like it’s become even more important in the hobby of collecting records. The prices of records have been absolutely ballooning, with no signs of slowing down. Record sales have been steadily climbing for a decade, but it got even bigger in the midst of this pandemic we’re in, as people have embraced new hobbies, one of them being collecting records. The pandemic has also played a major factor in another aspect of vinyl: the pressing of them, or rather the shortage due to increased demand and the mess COVID-19 has created in shipping and manufacturing. Highly sought after records and limited variants can be hard to find nowadays in some cases. It doesn’t help that a lot of people give into the FOMO or worse, paying outrageous reseller prices on Discogs and EBay.

All of this has become especially egregious in hip hop. Out of all the genres, it attracts the most hype beasts. It’s not surprising when a lot of music in it glorifies materialism and having the best/most stuff. Hip hop is also a major part of popular culture and fashion and something that is constant through human history is obsession with popularity. It doesn’t effect my enjoyment of the genre in the least, but it’s certainly affected my record collecting habits. I refuse to pay $40 for the new J. Cole album, even though The Off-Season is a great record. Cole raps his ass off on it and the features are all impressive. But I’ll gladly wait on it to drop in price.

So I made my way to the record store and there was a lot of people, which surprised me, but in a good way. It’s a great sight to see so many people getting into this fun hobby. Anyone who loves music I highly encourage getting into collecting records (CDs or cassettes if that’s more your speed too). Of course with more people buying records it means I have a harder time finding the ones I want. But that’s not a big deal. I was especially happy to see though that the store had expanded, so I had even more records to browse. I knew I was about to spend a couple hours digging (I did).

The first section I head for is the country and bluegrass section: one because I love the genres of course and two because there weren’t any people in that section. I’m not surprised it’s empty, as so many people unnecessarily thumb their noses down upon country music, especially in the city I’ve come to realize. Oh sure I’ve found some people who appreciate it. But most in the city either don’t care for it or they just like the stuff on the radio. But it also means I should find some great records. So I began to dig.

Right away I notice a lot of the records are brand new records, which means high prices. And oh sure there’s some that are on my list I want to get, but the price is too damn high. For example, I come across Miranda Lambert’s The Marfa Tapes. I really enjoy this album, as it’s what I would describe as a fun campfire record. The stripped down nature and the “flaws” of the recordings of the songs make it an enjoyable listen. However, I don’t like it enough to pay $32 for it. I have to really love an album to pay that price for a record. I don’t really love this album, so I will wait until I can grab it at a better price. And hey I know this has become the standard price, but I don’t have to like it.

The rest of the albums in the section are the higher priced used albums they have, I’m talking $20 or more. I normally don’t like to pay that for used records, unless it’s something I absolutely love and it’s in excellent shape. There a few records priced in the range I usually like to buy used ones in. One that catches my eye is Willie Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack. I’m familiar with multiple songs on the album (“On The Road Again,” “Whiskey River”, etc.), but I’ve never listened to the whole album. Usually I like to listen to the whole album, but in this case it was more of this record isn’t amongst the Willie Nelson albums I’m looking for. I put it back and kept it in the back of my head as a possible maybe to return to later as I continued to look.

I finished my way through the section of country and bluegrass records sitting on the tables and I was surprised by the lack of variety and so many new records populating the section. I walked over to the jazz section next to it, poking around, only to find it was very much the same case. This made no sense to me, until I figured out I wasn’t looking hard enough. I noticed below the tables of country and bluegrass records I just pilfered through to see several crates and boxes marked “country overflow.” I start to dig in this group of records and this was more of what I was looking for. I spend twice as much time digging through these, despite having to bend down on the ground and block aisles than I did with the top shelf selections. Sure, it’s awkward having to move out of the way for people trying to make their way around. But this is a record store and anybody who has ever dug for records knows record stores aren’t exactly Ikea when it comes to organization and efficient aisle ways. It’s the just the way it is.

This is the part where the digging pays off. Remember earlier I said there were certain Willie Nelson records I was looking for? Well I find the first of the day that I hold onto without hesitation: Willie’s Always On My Mind. The Chips Moman produced album of course is highlighted by Willie’s take on the title track. The album mostly consists of covers, but I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed Willie’s interpretations of others’ songs because many times he can equal or surpass them. My favorite of this album though is him covering one of his own songs from a previous album, “Permanently Lonely.” It’s a pointed, subtle as a brick to the face breakup song that perfectly encapsulates the fallout anger of a relationship. It’s a song that to me shows why Willie is one of the all time great singer-songwriters.

My next two finds are unconventional and surprising; the latter because I have never listened to these albums before. It’s not something I do a lot when record picking, but when I’m feeling adventurous I like to buy records of albums I’ve never heard. When you have a big selection at your disposal like this one, it’s fun to take risks and buy records that are sort of a mystery. The first is a Bob Wills fiddle instrumental compilation album released in the late 80s. Of course I’ve heard many of Wills’ songs, but an all instrumental album with many songs I’ve never heard from him really caught my eye. The second is the Osborne Brothers’ Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style. Now bluegrass is a genre I started dipping my toes into more after Sturgill Simpson released his Cuttin’ Grass albums. But with me always having a wandering ear, I kind of sidetracked and lost sight of my exploration into the genre. But with so many bluegrass records at my selection in this mess of records in front of me, I thought picking one to take home with me would be a good way to kick start my exploration of it once again. My final pickup in this section is yet another Chips Moman-produced Willie album: City of New Orleans. While it’s not quite as good of a fun covers album as Always On My Mind, it’s still a really enjoyable album that feels like a successful follow-up on the former’s formula. And well…can you really go wrong with Willie?

After having quite a fill of the country and bluegrass section, I set off next for the rock and pop sections. Like when I first went into the country section, I start off by looking through the top shelf records, where just like before I just find a bunch of records that are too highly priced and/or not what I’m looking for. I repeat this process with the hip hop section. This section is without a doubt the most picked over I’ve looked through. It’s also the most overpriced. No surprise, as I mentioned before when discussing hip hop. But I was more inclined to buy a new hip hop record versus any other genre if it was something hard to find or out of stock online. For example, Griselda records were something I was definitely inclined to buy. Griselda of course refers to the trio of Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn (and there are other great artists on the label too, but these three are the faces). But after much searching, I couldn’t find anything. The same search for Freddie Gibbs records turned out the same, although for a hot minute I thought I found something. It was a single of his song “Playa” with various remixes on the record. I had never heard or seen this before, so for a second I thought I found something rare. And I was also surprised I didn’t know of this because I had spent a lot of time digging through Gibbs’ discography after he won me over immediately with Pinata and Freddie. The latter is an album I still regret not buying on vinyl when I had the chance, so it along with You Only Live 2wice remain on my wanted list. But a quick Discogs search showed this “Playa” record was quite common. Not to mention I reminded myself that I don’t and buy play singles very often and playing the same song over and over just doesn’t make for a good listening experience. So I put it back in hopes of finding something else to take it’s place.

Now I turn my attention back to the overflow, bottom sections in rock and pop. And man there’s a lot more to dig through! But at this point after being here for a couple hours, my patience for digging is running thinner. Plus, I’ve already landed four records from the country section and I didn’t want to spend a ton today. One album in particular though I’m looking for is Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue. For fellow seasoned collectors, yes I know this album is incredibly common and it’s ridiculous I don’t have it. Chalk it up to bad luck I guess! But I’ve never come across it before. And today was no different. I do however pick up two records that I give strong consideration to: The Doobie Brothers’ first greatest hits album (you know the one with the jukebox on the front) and the Carpenters’ Christmas album. I ultimately though decide against both of them after 10 minutes of wavering. I decide against the Doobie record because I realize I already have their second greatest hits album and I don’t even listen to it a bunch, so why get the one that is my less favorite of the two? And I decide against the Carpenters’ record because despite my love of the duo, it’s just really hard to buy a Christmas album when it’s 90 degrees outside. I also waffle on my thoughts on collecting Christmas albums. On one hand, they’re great to play around the holidays. Nothing beats the cozy feeling of sitting on the couch listening to a record with the Christmas tree glowing and snow pouring down outside. On the other hand, they sit on a shelf for 10.5 months the rest of the year. So it makes sense to be more picky and selective with them.

But it’s funny how one small moment of hesitation led to my final find of the day. While I’m walking around the store stalling and mulling over getting these records, a line forms at the front. After my mulling it’s still there. And it’s quite cramped up front near the register. I really don’t want to be close to people if I don’t have to, especially with the Delta variant in full swing. So to kill some time I look around more and find a section of newly arrived used albums. How did I not see this before? Might as well look through them, you never know…less than 10 records into my flipping through them, I hit the jackpot! I find staring back at me a record that’s been on my list for quite some time. It’s one of my all time favorite albums: Willie Nelson’s Stardust! The cover is in perfect condition and it’s even a promotional copy, which means it’s not been played much either. The record is scratch free. I grabbed it without hesitation.

The line disappeared and happy with what I have in hand, I paid for my records and I set off home with my haul for the day.

Don’t worry I’ll get to the music on these records next time…