My record collecting isn’t quite worthy of an episode of Hoarders or a psychology textbook, but it’s borderline. What keeps me on the right side of the threshold? I have never descended down the rabbit hole of collecting shellac ‘78s. Partially because I have enough trouble explaining to my partner why I’m forever squandering precious rent money on new wave picture discs, but mostly because a) the party scene in Ghost World creeped me out and b) there are plenty of fine labels like Dust-to-Digital and Archeophone Records who preserve the best of the best of these rarities on more conventional formats, like compact disc and LP.
Old-time Los Angeles musician Frank Fairfield, who released a debut album last year that sounds like it could’ve been compiled from old shellac discs, is braver — or more foolish, depending on your point-of-view — than I am. He’s been collecting ‘78s for quite a few years, and while he readily admits that most of the good jazz and hillbilly records have long since been snapped up by other collectors or trade for absurd sums of money, he still turns up treasures. His secret? Collecting records that haven’t necessarily been deemed “collectibles” yet.
“You just find the things that you’re into that get overlooked,” he told me last year. “I like collecting a lot of ethnic recordings lately. That’s the Wild West, the last frontier. Nobody knows anything about it. You think there are a lot of records that were recorded in the United States? Look around the world: there’s just masses. That’s a place where you still find really interesting records that nobody knows anything about.”
Happily, the California troubadour has just compiled sixteen of his favorites on a new CD anthology, Frank Fairfield’s Pawn Records presents Unheard Ofs & Forgotten Abouts (“rare and unheralded gramophone recordings from around the globe”), released by the fine folks at Tompkins Square. The set makes no bones about being little more than one man’s mix tape. It has no aspirations to being a “definitive” collection of any kind, or an educational tool. So what? On a purely musical level, it is a sheer delight, encompassing dusty selections from Scotland, Japan, Kenya, Venezuela, and Indonesia, as well as various regional pockets of the U.S. of our grandparents. Frank Fairfield has already invested his time, love and money in digging through the stacks for these haunting tunes; all you have to do is sit back and enjoy his handiwork.
DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, returns every Monday on the KEXP Blog. You can now follow DJ El Toro on Twitter!