Otherwise known as the Seattle-based band Climax Golden Twins, Rob Millis and Jeffery Taylor have been collecting 78rpm records for some time now. In addition to incorporating samples of some of these recordings into their own work, they also lovingly recorded batches of these often completely rare recordings onto somewhat nondescript cassettes and released them in ten different volumes under the name Victrola Favorites. Meant to be a peek into their parlor (so to speak), these collections literally span the globe (with selections from China, Japan, Turkey, Burma, and elsewhere) and a huge spectrum of sound (everything from jazz to pop to folk to novelty kitsch).
To their surprise, these tapes were in high demand, and each of the ten volumes ended up selling out, but fortunately the story didn’t end there. Considering the original series was released on cassette with photocopied liner notes without any real credits or information, this insanely-nice new set is about as far on the other side of the spectrum as one can get.
What would one expect from Dust-To-Digital, though, as the reissue label has put out everything from the stunning Goodbye Babylon to the more-recent Art of Field Recording Volume 1. In terms of high-quality CD reissues, the label has continued to set the bar incredibly high.
Victrola Favorites: Artifacts From Bygone Days is no different. Once again taking a musical release and turning it into more of an art object, this release takes two CDs of music and houses them in an incredibly-nice clothbound, wood-free hardback book. In addition to the tracklistings and some other basic information about the music contained within, the book mainly serves as sort of a picture into the graphic design and general stylistic feel of the era from which the recordings were taken. In 144 pages, it’s like a trip back in time almost 100 years, with hundreds of graphics and photographs taken from sleeves, photos, labels, needle tins, advertisements, and other sources.
Oh, and the music is pretty dang great as well. Whereas music on the previous cassette-tape version of the Victrola series was split into different genres, this 2CD set is set up more like two sprawling mixes that span style and landmass. In the first ten songs of the first CD alone, you get music from 7 different countries (and 5 different continents), with everything from Congolese chant-style song, to broken-down blues from the United States and more traditional Chinese music from the Guangzhou Cantonese Opera Troupe. The feeling is something akin to having your own time-travel device, as you alternately find yourself landing in the middle of a back-alley market halfway across the world, the dusty back porch of some homesteaders, and other exotic (and not so) locales. Some of my personal favorites include the beautiful “Balada Do Encantamento (Ballad Of Enchantment)” from Dr. Edmundo Bettencourt of Portugal and the hilariously-fun “The Cowboy’s Dizzy Sweetheart” by Goebel Reeves (from the United States).
“Balada Do Encantamento (Ballad Of Enchantment)” – Dr. Edmundo Bettencourt (Portugal)
“The Cowboy’s Dizzy Sweetheart” – Goebel Reeves (USA)
And really, that’s just the start of things. Millis and Taylor obviously have a love for collecting these old oddities, and it’s a sort of like a peek into their sepia-toned parlor when listening through the recordings of this release. Recorded straight from their own old Victrola, with a minimum amount of audio cleanup, there’s a good bit of crackle and hiss on the recordings, which only adds to the experience.
As with all their releases, the Dust-To-Digital website has a fair amount more information on the release, including an interview with Millis and Taylor and audio clips of every song on the release in the (somewhat unfortunate) windows media format. In an era of many labels simply giving up on physical recordings other than bare minimum, it’s nice to see someone who obviously cares so much about the tactile quality of a releases still. It’s not quite the same as having a big cone in your ear as the acetate platter spins around, but it’s a pretty good surrogate, and a lot less work to boot.