musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Rock Corner’

Living on Neil Young’s Earth

When I was in Kuala Lumpur a few months back, I packed up a trio of recently released Neil Young CDs, including The Monsanto Years and Earth. Both albums are highly recommended and feature Neil playing with his new band, Promise of the Real. That band, interestingly enough, features two of Willie Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Mikah. And these guys rock as hard as Crazy Horse, the legendary outfit that played on so many of Neil’s best albums.

 

To my ears, Neil and Promise of the Real are a great fit, merging tight musicianship with Neil Young’s distinctive guitar playing and of course the equally distinctive vocals of the man himself. And, as you would expect, the lyrical content makes a statement too. Plus, on Earth, which is a live recording, the songs are supplemented by the sound of crows cawing, and a few other barnyard sound effects. If that sounds weird, well hey, it’s just Neil Young being Neil Young, and the crow stuff actually enhances the vibe and works pretty well. Thank heavens we have still have Neil Young out there and making vital music and caring about what happens to our environment. More people should listen to him and ignore all the bloated politicians spewing their dated rhetoric and other nonsense.

 

Speaking of Kuala Lumpur, I picked up the Neil Young CDs at the Victoria Music outlet in the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya. On weekends at Amcorp Mall you can also find many dealers selling vintage vinyl and used CDs at the indoor “flea market.” While in KL I also made my pilgrimage to a few of the Rock Corner branches, the number of which are sadly on the decline. After the closure of their branches in KLCC, the Mid-Valley Megamall, and 1 Uttama, the store at the Curve also closed, and now the ones in Bangsar Village and Subang Jaya are also slated to shut by the end of this month. After that retail decimation, the only branch open will be the one in the Gardens, the smaller shopping center adjacent to the Mid-Valley Megamall. Considering how difficult it is for retail music shops to operate in these downloading, streaming times, it’s not shocking to see those wonderful establishments shut their doors, but it really depresses me all the same. Meanwhile, here are the other albums that have me pumping my fists in the air and doing silly dances in the living room:

 

Patty Loveless – Sleepless Nights

The talented singer-songwriter turns the tables and does an album of classic country songs, covering tunes made popular by George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, and more. Delightful stuff.

Bash & Pop – Anything Could Happen

BNQT – Volume One

The Velvet Crush – Heavy Changes

Nada Surf – Peaceful Ghosts

 

Billy Butler – The Right Tracks: The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-1966

Jerry Butler’s brother shows that he was a fine singer in his own right on these vintage Okeh label songs. Plenty of great soul tunes, many of them written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, plus some groovy unreleased backing tracks.

Eugene Record – The Eugene Record/Trying To Get To You

The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Vavoom!

Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep

The Primitives – Echoes and Rhymes

 

Drive By Truckers – It’s Great To Be Alive!

Can I call these guys the best band working in the USA? I’m gonna do it anyway. They’ve been through several lineup shuffles over the past decade or so, the band does indeed keep on truckin’, thanks to the outstanding songs of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. And some impressive guitar playing too. The live setting on this sprawling 3-CD set only makes their songs all the more powerful. Life affirming music.

Joe Haywood – Warm and Tender Love

Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – Little Windows

Cait Brennan – Third

 

Khun Narin Electric Phin Band – Khun Narin Electric Phin Band

From Thailand’s Northeastern Isaan region, Khun Narin’s band is back with another intoxicating collection of instrumentals. They fuse traditional Thai morlam music with a propulsive, almost psychedelic groove. This album changes tempos more than their last one, but still plenty of tunes to get your booty shaking. Check out their videos of YouTube! Lively up yourself!

Kenny Burrell & Jimmy Smith – Blue Bash!

Natural Four – Heaven Right Here On Earth/Natural Four

Dexter Wansel – Stargazer: The Philadelphia International Records Anthology 1976-1980

Calexico – Edge of the Sun

 

Rozetta Johnson – A Woman’s Way: The Complete 1963-1975

Where did this lady come from? Listen to hear belt soulful song after soulful song and you wonder why she didn’t make bigger waves in the music industry. Great songs and a great voice. Dig in and love it!

Various Artists – One Track Mind: More Motown Guys

John Jarvis – Something Constructive

Walter Jackson – It’s All Over: the Okeh Recordings Vol. 1

Royksopp – In Inevitable End

 

Artful Dodger – The Complete Columbia Recordings

The underrated and now defunct power-pop group from the US get a justly deserved 2-CD retrospective of their 1970s recordings. Catchy as hell.

Over the Rhine – Discount Fireworks

Chuck Berry – Chuck

The Feelies – In Between

Aimee Mann – Mental Illness

 

Various Artists – Next Stop Soweto Vol. 4: 1975-1985

Subtitled “Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga, this is another impressive collection of vintage South African music, the fourth in this series from Strut Records.

Jimmy Castor Bunch – Butt Of Course/Supersound/E-Man Groovin’

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Cotton Mather – Wild Kingdom

Shawn Colvin – All Fall Down

 

John Holt – 4000 Volts of Holt

This must have been where UB40 got the idea for their “Labour of Love” albums. Pop and Soul hits covered by the sweet-singing John Holt. It’s not all fabulous, but you’ll find plenty to like on this 2-CD set.

Gerry Beckley – Horizonal Fall

The Well Wishers – How I Won the War

Isaac Hayes – Out of the Ghetto: The Polydor Years

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Damage and Joy

 

Pat Thomas – Coming Home: Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1964-1981

Another underrated African musician, this time a guy from Ghana who played in several groups before going solo. Another fine 2-CD reissue from Strut Records.

Chet Ivey – A Dose of Soul: The Sylvia Fun Recordings 1972-75

Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny – Beyond the Missouri Sky

The Creation – Action Painting

Don Covay – The House of Blue Lights

 

Various Artists – Afrosound of Colombia: Volume 2

I loved this first volume of this series, highlighting the extensive catalog of Colombia’s Disco Fuentes label, and this one is equally as fun. A lively stew of Salsa, Boogaloo, Afro-Beat, Cumbia, Soul, and Funk.

The Fantastic Four – Alvin Stone/Night People

Link Wray – 3-Track Shack

Various Artists – Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian and Ghanaian Recordings 1954-1966

Dionne Warwick – The Essential Dionne Warwick

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Keeping the Music Alive and the Pages Turning in KL

I returned from a four-day trip to Kuala Lumpur earlier this week. KL has become one of my favorite quick getaway destinations in recent years. I don’t much, if any, sightseeing at this stage of my visits, however. I have a clear agenda upon arrival: buy CDs, buy books, buy more CDs, and eat lots of good meals.

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Unlike Bangkok, where retail CD shops have become very scarce, Kuala Lumpur still does have several good shops that sell new CDs, both domestic and imports. Rock Corner sports the best selection and has several branches in the greater KL area, as does the Victoria Music Center, and there is even a branch of Tower Records still open! I had thought that Tower had finally bit the dust (as they have in the US) after their one large store downsized and moved into the corner of an electronics department in KL’s Times Square two years ago. But I accidentally stumbled upon their new location in the Gardens, adjacent to the Mid Valley Megamall, on the same floor at the Rock Corner branch. The stock at Tower is greatly reduced from their glory years, but it appears that Classical music takes up about half of the stock and those sales are keeping the shop alive. Tower also has a pretty good selection of Jazz and World Music, but their pop and rock offerings are pitiful at this point.

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Meanwhile, Rock Corner, despite having the largest selection and most interesting assortment of CDs and DVDs, appears as if they are struggling to stay open. Last year they closed their branch in the Mid Valley Megamall, as well as the one in the 1 Utama shopping center, and this year I was dismayed to find that they had also shuttered their original shop in KLCC. The manager at one shop told me that spiraling rents were to blame. But they still have four very well-stocked shops still operating in Bangsar Village, Subang Parade in Subang Jaya, the Curve, and the Gardens. My bulging bags coming back to Bangkok are evidence that they still have plenty of good titles.

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The Amcorp Mall also holds a few treasures for music lovers, especially on weekends. The Victoria Music Center branch there has a decent selection of CDs and the employees are very knowledgeable. On weekends the mall has an indoor flea market with several dealers selling secondhand CDs and vinyl records. A little browsing leads to a lot! A further lure at Amcorp Mall is the giant BookXcess store. They sell remainders — all new books at greatly reduced prices — in many categories, and you get a further discount if you have a member card. Speaking of books, the long-running Junk Book Store on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee is still around too. They sell only secondhand books and the prices are a bit cheap for the quality of the stuff they are selling, but it’s a fun place to browse. I am always amazed at the old treasures they have in stock. Any shop that has multiple titles by the likes of Donald E. Westlake, Ed McBain, and Ross Thomas is alright in my book! Needless to say, I usually find something to buy there, even if the book is overpriced and finding what you want is challenging. With its narrow aisles, low ceiling and baffling way of grouping books together, good luck finding what you are looking for. The books are neatly stacked, and most wrapped in plastic, but if they are organized in any manner at all, I have yet to figure out their system!

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Quirky or not, it’s still a pleasure to shop in places like the Junk Book Store and CD shops like Rock Corner, Tower Records, and Victoria Music, all of which are managing to stay in business and cater to “old school” customers like me who appreciate a well-stocked shop that is run by people who are passionate about what they are doing. Hey, all of this online crap is fun and shiny and oh-so-easy, but don’t forget about the brick and mortar shops that remain the foundation of the music and book business. They need your support now more than ever!

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KL Quickie

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Not much to say today, just posting a few photos that I took during my trip to Kuala Lumpur in January, just before the start of the annual Lunar New Year. As usual, I made multiple trips to buy CDs at various branches of Rock Corner and Victoria Music, bought a bunch of bargain books at Book Xcess in the Amcorp Mall (and couldn’t resist browsing the selection of used CDs at their weekend flea market), and had many great meals at places such as the historic Coliseum Café.

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On another food note, over in the Dang Wagi neighborhood, the legendary Yut Kee has moved! But regular customers need not worry too much; the revered kopitiam has only moved around the corner, to spacious new multi-floor digs. Unfortunately, I was unable to eat at the new location. I showed up on a Monday, the one day of the week they are closed!

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Kuala Lumpur Again and Again

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My first trip to Kuala Lumpur came about five or six years ago, and it was almost by accident. KL wasn’t really a city high on my list of places to visit, but needing to make a visa run to renew my non-immigrant visa for Thailand that year, it made for a convenient destination. I ended up enjoying my time in the city so much that I’ve gone back to visit every year since then.

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I engaged in a bit of the typical tourist sightseeing stuff the first trip or two, but there are only so many times you can marvel at the Petronas Twin Towers, so since those first few trips I have concentrated on three main activities: sampling the city’s delicious restaurants and street food; buying CDs from well-stocked local chains such as Rock Corner and Victoria Music; and buying books, both secondhand and new, at small shops and the giant Book Xcess store at the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya.

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And, like I do in any place I visit, I bring my camera along end up taking lots of photos too. Here are a few shots that I took around Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya on my last trip.

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Victoria Music in Kuala Lumpur

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During my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur I spent a lot of time browsing the CD shops in town. Unlike in Bangkok, where it’s become nearly impossible to find good back catalog or anything other than mainstream new releases, there are several shops in Kuala Lumpur offering a very good selection of CDs and even some vinyl records. I may be one of a vanishing breed, but I vastly prefer shopping for real CDs, as opposed to downloading songs or buying stuff online. Okay, I’ve worked in retail since the late 1970s, so I’m biased, but I still think that nothing compares to the experience and ambience of shopping in a well-stocked store, and thankfully in Kuala Lumpur they have those in abundance!

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I think it’s safe to say that the Rock Corner chain of stores have the best selection of CDs in the KL area. I went to their branches in KLCC (next to the famous Petronas Twin Towers), Mid Valley Megamall, 1 Utama, The Curve, Subang Parade, and Bangsar Village, the latter branch having my favorite mix of new releases and older titles, plus the employees are all very nice, and the in-store music that they play is always interesting too. In some shops you invariably encounter a metalhead, hip-hop fanatic, or even someone who still worships Kenny G, but the employees at the Rock Corner Bangsar branch have much better taste in music!

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Another good chain in town is Victoria Music. I always visit their branches at the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya and in Sungai Wang Plaza in the Bukit Bintang area. I stumbled upon both stores by accident initially, but I now go out of my way to visit them, finding that, like the Rock Corner stores, they have a good mix of new releases and back catalog. The young woman who works at the Amcorp Mall branch is always very friendly and invariably recommends something I had not thought of or had overlooked during my bin browsing. She is one of those retail wizards who know exactly what they have in stock.

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Both Victoria Music and Rock Corner also have a good selection of these new mini-boxed sets of CDs that WEA and Sony have been putting out the past couple of years. These sets include 4 or 5 entire albums by a single artist (dozens of popular names, such as Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, Fleetwood Mac, Foghat, Young Rascals, X, Chicago, George Duke, George Benson, and many, many more) all housed in cardboard sleeves and packaged inside a sturdy box. But the best thing is that they are priced not much more than what it would cost you to buy a single disc, so they are great bargains indeed. For some reason I never see any of these special CD sets at the shops in Bangkok and if check online at sites like Amazon they are quite expensive. But not in KL!

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During my shopping spree I found a ton of new music from the likes of Broken Bells, Robert Cray, Blood Orange, Bombay Bicycle Club, Capital Cities, Mazzy Star, Tory Y Moi, Paul Heaton, Low, Temper Trap, White Denim, Eddi Reader, and My Morning Jacket. And I bought plenty of older goodies from The Hollies, The Turtles, Peter Green, Crown Heights Affair, Solomon Burke, Husker Du, Willie Nile, Robin Trower, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and The Troggs, Gordon Lightfoot, oodles of cool compilations, and many more than I want to list!

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Another cool thing about the Amcorp Mall, in addition to Victoria Music and the giant Book Xcess store, is their weekend “Flea Market”. This indoor market features several dealers that sell affordable secondhand CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records. Some dealers even have Star Wars memorabilia and other collectible items. Something for everyone!

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Snatching it Back in KL

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As I noted in the previous post, I had another whirlwind trip to Kuala Lumpur last month. I don’t know anyone in the city except for the nice folks at my hotel, as well as the helpful clerks who remember me at the various branches of Rock Corner and Victoria Music where I always buy CDs, but always I enjoy spending time in Kuala Lumpur.

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I like to walk around Kuala Lumpur as much as possible, but when going somewhere that’s more than a few blocks in distance I use the handy train system they have, which includes a monorail and the KL Komuter line. This time around I ventured as far as Subang Jaya, in pursuit of — what else — more CDs, at a branch of Rock Corner I had never previously visited in the Subang Parade shopping center.

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There is not much in the way of historic buildings to see in Kuala Lumpur, but nevertheless I do enjoy the variety of modern architecture and skyscrapers that sprout up around the city, plus the colorful old shophouses in the Dang Wangi area. I had read something online recently about a rash of bag snatchings in the city, mostly perpetrated by thieves on motorcycles. I didn’t witness anything like that, and thankfully I didn’t have anything stolen, but I did see several notices around town, warning people to “beware of snatch thieves”. Such a shame that scum-sucking, cycle-driving thieves have to prey on pedestrians. Despite those warnings, however, I find KL to be a very safe city.

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As usual, I had meals — and a few nighttime bottles of beer — at Gantawin, the Myanmar restaurant located near Central Marker (Pasar Seni). And, as usual, I was the only Westerner in there each time I visited. But I get a kick out of eating monhinga for breakfast, having Shan noodles for dinner, and speaking Burmese with the waitresses. Plus, there is a variety of other Burmese business scattered on that street —including young women selling betel nut — another factor that makes Kuala Lumpur such an interesting and colorful city.

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CD Shopping in Kuala Lumpur

In addition to buying books, one of the joys of visiting Kuala Lumpur — at least for me — is browsing the CD bins in the various music shops around town. Unlike in Bangkok, where CD shops with a decent selection of titles are becoming very scarce, KL boasts dozens of well-stocked shops, most of them located in shopping malls in Central KL or nearby Petaling Jaya.

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The best chain in operation, by far, is Rock Corner. They have branches at KLCC (next to the famous Petronas Twin Towers), Mid Valley Mega Mall, Bangsar Village, The Curve, 1 Utama Shopping Center, The Gardens, and Subang Parade. I’ve visited six of these branches over the past three years and they all are very well stocked, but my favorite is the one in Bangsar Village. It’s only a short walk from the Bangsar LRT station, the woman who manages the shop is very pleasant (and she plays good music, unlike the heavy metal dudes in some branches), and most importantly it has the best selection. They seem to be particularly on top of most important new releases, plus the back catalog they stock runs very deep, putting the woeful selection in Bangkok shops to shame.

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Thus, you can safely assume that I get a bit carried away when shopping at the Rock Corner stores, sometimes buying a dozen or more discs at a time. When I visited earlier this month, I found lots of new releases that were on my want list at the Bangsar branch, along with some cool unexpected oldies, titles I assumed that I’d have to order online if I wanted them. Because of the haphazard filing system, artists aren’t always where you would expect them to be, so I’ve discovered, it pays to thumb through the entire stock. It can be a tiring process, especially when they shelve the CDs with the spine out, like you see some bookshops do with paperbacks, but I’ve found some real jewels by being persistent.

 

Another smaller chain, Victoria Music, has branches worth visiting in the Amcorp Mall and BB Plaza. There is also a single Tower Records outlet still in business, recently relocated to the Times Square shopping center. But sadly, it looks like this Tower branch is running on fumes and may not be around too much longer. Their stock keeps shrinking and so has the number of employees. When I dropped by on a Saturday evening, only one guy was working. Nevertheless, I managed to find a half-dozen CDs amidst their dregs. But both Rock Corner and Victoria Music appear to be doing thriving business, judging from the number of customers that I see in their stores each time I visit. It puzzles me that KL has so many good CD shops, while in Bangkok it’s become very difficult to find a store with any depth in selection.

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I realize that more people are downloading music nowadays, but for me nothing beats the experience of perusing the selections in a well-stocked shop and talking music with a knowledgeable clerk. More power to retail, I say. I hope these stores can survive the digital onslaught and continue to profitably run their operations. If you enjoy buying CDs, even half as much as I do, it’s worth your while to visit Kuala Lumpur, especially the Rock Corner branches.

 

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