Managed to visit Washington DC last weekend without getting killed, and also without visiting any record stores to speak of. I stopped into ‘Smash’, which is apparently a classic punk store in Georgetown. They didn’t really have anything for me.

The other day, I did stop into the thrift store next door to where I work (I would feel blessed, but I’m really trying not to accumulate stuff), and picked up a couple of nice records. Since I bought one for the cover and haven’t had a chance to listen to the other, here’s just a brief description. Scotty MacGregor’s Command Performance for Kiddies Vol. 3 is a children’s novelty record that looks like it’s from the early 60s. I bought it because there’s a track called ‘The rollicking men from mars’. That would be a good name for a band, eh… The other was A Young Man And A Maid by Theodore Bikel and Cynthia Gooding. The record is trashed, but what an incredible cover! From 1956. My mono copy has a cool old elektra logo in the bottom right.

Compilation - Burt Bacharach: 'Easy Loungin' - Twenty Easy Listening Classics' (CD; Polydor; 1967-1973)
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If you're interested in Burt Bacharach, there's a sea of material out there to try out; so much, in fact, that many people simply turn on the radio or settle for something mediocre. I have big stack of Bacharach-related CDs and records, but none of them are quite like this.

Released in 1995, this is a compilation of Burt's solo LPs on A&M from the late 60s and early 70s. Pretty much all of his most famous tunes are here, along with some less-famous ones. What every track has in common is that it is beautifully arranged, with incredible string sounds and percussion. Almost all of the tracks are instrumental; 'something big' has a good Burt vocal, and many others have occasional chorus or wordless vocals.

The opening track is the furiously upbeat 'Bond Street' from Casino Royale (aka 'The Benny Hill theme'), but almost all the other tracks are much more smooth and beautiful. 'Walk the way you talk' is outstanding: beautifully distilled orchestral mood music. I'm sure many people would dismiss this as being musak or elevator music, but these stunning arrangements really deserve to be heard. Another great track is 'Nikki', which was used as the ABC TV theme in the 60s. Vinnie Bell did a great version of this on a late 60s decca album. It's beautiful and catchy, with great brass, woodwind and string arrangements, accompanied by light piano, guitar and percussion.

Some familiar tracks sound especially stunning in these arrangements, including 'The look of love', with a great guiro sound and a cool beginning sequence, and 'I say a little prayer', which has a great little minor-key section added to the beginning. 'Are you there with another girl' is also incredible, with organ, strings, guitar, and a stuttering percussion section.

'South American Getaway' is a remarkable 5-minute epic, with a bouncy piano part, percussion, and a harmonizing 'ba-ba' wordless vocal chorus. It swells beautifully, changing pace frequently. I particularly love the section near the end when everything slows down, and the chorus provides an acappella accompaniment for the solo female vocal. Stunning track!

'Long ago Tomorrow' is similarly incredible. The warmth of the arrangement is quite amazing. 'Something big' is a lovely slice of Bacharach pop with a catchy use of vocal chorus and brass.

Even tracks that I previously never enjoyed, such as 'promises promises', 'I'll never fall in love again' and 'raindrops keep fallin' on my head' sound great in the context of this compilation.

The concluding track is the epic 'and the people were with her', complete with lovely neoclassical string interludes.

This is a great compilation, kind of like a Mondo Bacharach (in fact, the cover art is in the same style as that for Mondo Morricone, and is by the same guy, Stefan Kassel). I've nothing against 'The Look of Love' 3CD compilation, but I do think it's a shame that its success and omnipresence may lead people to forget that these songs sound great without center-stage pop vocals as well!

Gentle People: 'Soundtracks for Living' (CD; Rephlex; 1997)
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I've had this album for 5 years, but listening to it today, I suspect that I didn't really give it the attention it deserved before. I say that because I had entirely missed the track 'dream', which has some great Morricone touches with harpsichord, reminiscent of the Goldfrapp record.

The album as a whole is a strange hybrid of styles: ambient, modern pop, and glamorous 60s easy listening. True to the title, there is a soundtracky kind of feel as well. The first track, 'intro' is cool. It has a catchy indie-sounding guitar riff, backed by a bossa nova beat with a stereo effect, bouncing between the channels.

'The soundtrack of life' is quite good. If my ears are hearing correctly, it samples the Peter Thomas version of Marcos Valle's 'gente'. There are a lot of synths and ba-ba vocals.

'Le Tunnel de l'amour' and 'stay' are both rather cool slow ambient electronic pieces with string samples. I'm less into the kitschy pop songs with slightly cheesy effects-laden vocals, although their backings are often great. These include 'Laurie's theme', 'Journey'.

There is more to say than I have time for right now, but this is definitely an interesting album. I think that the production has slightly too much reverb on everything, and I'm not crazy about some of the vocals, but the influences and compositions are often great. There are some breathtaking echoey string samples.

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