On a recent evening, Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes sat back and listened to Van Morrison's sweeping, improvisational gem Astral Weeks. While the frequent Allman Brothers Band and Dead contributor had cherished this iconic album for several decades, on this particular occasion, the 51-year-old devoured it with renewed awe. "It was a totally different listening experience," Haynes says of hearing the vinyl edition of the 1968 LP for the first time in years. "I had been listing to the CD for the past 25 years or more," he says, "but the difference (in sound) with vinyl is tremendous."
On November 25th, Haynes, and many other prominent artists – from classic acts such as the Beatles and the Byrds, to new-school bands like the Black Keys and Kings of Leon – will celebrate this adoration for vinyl records with limited-edition releases for Record Store Day's "Back to Black" Friday. Record Store Day – a concept dreamed up in 2007 by independent record store owners – has been an annual April event since 2008, but this will mark the second straight year that special vinyl releases are being released for the post-Thanksgiving rush.
Haynes, who will be releasing a limited-edition 12-inch of "Rivers Gonna Rise," a protest song from his solo album Man in Motion that has also recently latched itself onto the Occupy movement – believes vinyl's newfound popularity can be attributed to sonic qualities not available in other formats. "Eventually you start missing the warmth and the depth that vinyl offers," he says.
A variety of other top-notch artists will be unveiling special vinyl releases to mark the occasion. Iron and Wine's Sam Beam, a longtime record collector who cites Austin's End of an Ear and Cleveland's Music Saves as two of his particularly favorite record stores, will release a live performance recorded this past August at Los Angeles' Village Studios and originally broadcast on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. Above, you can listen to an exclusive preview of "Me and Lazarus," a track from the limited-edition LP.
Other highlights of the event include the 40-gram red vinyl version of Red Hot Chili Peppers legendary 1991 punk-funk masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik, The Black Keys' limited-edition 12-inch of their new single El Camino, with a bonus b-side "Run Right Back", Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn's Honolulu Blues featuring two new tracks from his debut solo LP, in 7-inch format, and a 12-inch edition of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Kiss My Amps, which features six live cuts from last year's bluesy Mojo tour.
Once a struggling relic in the digital music era, independent music retailers have seen increased vinyl sales numbers in recent years, thanks in part to Record Store Day. A second day, from a business perspective, only seemed logical. "The Record Store Day people were always looking for a second day to balance out the year," explains Jim Henderson, manger at Los Angeles' Amoeba Records. Record Store Day, as Chris Connelly, manager of Chicago's Reckless Records, says, causes noticeably increased foot traffic for retailers like him. "It's really aggressive buying," Connelly says of typical Record Store Day purchasing behavior. "To see people buying records (so intensely) is just fantastic." Soul singer Sharon Jones, who has been releasing albums on analog-only label Daptone Records for the past 16 years, and will release a vinyl edition of her new album Soul Time! on Black Friday, has palpable reason to believe her fans prefer vinyl to CDs. "We sell all our vinyl before we sell all our CDs," she says matter-of-factly.
For singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who is releasing a 7-inch edition of his Harlem River Blues' single "Slippin' and Slidin'," which also will include a cover of Randy Newman's "1927 Louisiana," new digital music practices have proved quite frustrating, leading him to strongly prefer vinyl. "It's appalling what (digital recording) does to the sound of a record," Earle says. "Nothing has any room to expand."
John Paul White, one half of Americana duo the Civil Wars, who will release a winter-themed cut "Tracks in the Snow" on 10-inch for Black Friday, cites the desire for a physical product as a motivation for his vinyl preference. "I've never been able to transition into downloading records," White says.
But like Earle, White also cherishes the listening experience that vinyl offers. "The beautiful thing about vinyl is that it forces you to stop, slow down," White says, "put it on the player, sit and just listen to the music."
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