carla thomas, comfort me, vinyl me please, swaps program

Vinyl Me, What? Vinyl Me, Please!!

Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives. With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club…it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month. In their living room.

The Skinny

Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (plans start at $25/month) and they send you one meticulously selected album worthy of your time and attention. Easy, right? Each custom pressing (often on colored vinyl!) also comes with special features like original artwork and even a recipe for a companion cocktail. Best of all, you get access to the VMP online store. That means you’ll have a chance to grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including April’s rollicking reissue of Arctic Monkeys’ debut album Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – not to mention a bevy of rare and exclusive releases.

The store is now open. That means members have unfettered access to a slew of sexy new discs, like a slick reissue of Tom Waits’ jazzy, freewheeling live set on Nighthawks at the Diner, and a killer 25th Anniversary reissue of Liz Phair’s grunge-tinged classic Exile in Guyville. If those aren’t quite your speed, jazz fans should definitely catch up with that reissue of Ben Webster’s Gone with the Wind (on white vinyl with exclusive artwork), and if you’re on the hunt for something new and exciting, look no further than Middle Kids’ latest, Lost Friends (on sea glass colored wax, ltd. to 750 copies). Of course, if you’re a lunatic like me and covet hard to find film soundtracks, then there’s a re-release of Jonny Greenwood’s long out of print score for the 2003 documentary Bodysong in the store, and it’s this month’s unrivaled pièce de résistance.

There’s more. A lot more. While the store is open to the public, many of the more exciting selections are only available to members, so you’ll need to sign up if you wanna get your mitts on them. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection over to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you don’t like for a past AOM that’s a little more your speed. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.

So, what’s in this month’s box? Get ready to get down with the soulful sounds of Comfort Me, the sophomore release from “Queen of Memphis Soul,” Carla Thomas.

Comfort Me

For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND (or, how I learned to stop worrying and use the Swaps Program)

Those of you who keep track of what Vinyl Me, Please is up to every month are probably wondering why you aren’t reading about their April Essentials selection of Lord Willin’ by Clipse. The answer is quite simple in that – with all due respect to the immensely talented boys behind Clipse (aka Pusha T and No Malice) – Lord Willin’ is an album I listened to once back in 2002 and never felt the need to revisit. Period. Thanks to VMP’s Swaps Program, I didn’t have to. Rather, I decided to use my first swap to test drive one of their supplemental, genre-based subscription services, the jazz/soul/blues focused Vinyl Me, Please Classics.

That test drive came via Carla Thomas’ Stax Records classic Comfort Me, and my turntable is still thanking me. Now, I’m assuming you already know the story behind Memphis-based Stax Records. I’m also assuming you probably don’t know much about Carla Thomas. Don’t worry, I didn’t either. But joining a record club is all about discovering music you may have never heard, so I’ll start by saying this – Thomas’s Comfort Me doesn’t just feel like a discovery, it feels like an outright revelation.

And yes, Comfort Me is revelatory, if only because out of all the iconic names associated with Stax over the years – Otis Redding (by way of Volt), Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the M.G.s to name a few – Carla Thomas is the one you almost never hear. Hell, even her father Rufus (who had a couple of hits on his own) gets more recognition. The fact is that none of those artists, nor Stax Records itself, would’ve gotten the attention they got without Thomas, whose hit single “Gee Whiz, Look At His Eyes” (which she wrote and recorded at the ripe old age of 15) literally put Stax on the map.

Thomas followed that single with a hit album to boot in 1961’s Gee Whiz, a collection of  doe-eyed, romantic teen-pop soul songs. It would be four years before she returned to Stax to record her followup album. Thomas spent the time in between earning a degree from Tennessee A&I University. She also grew up a little. When she came back to Stax, she was a little older, a little wiser, and ready to take control of her music.

That wisdom can be heard in every single track on Comfort Me, an album almost devoid of the dewy, youthful sentimentalism that drove her debut, and driven instead by soulful, yearning balladry. Thomas opens the album with “Comfort Me,” a track that sees the singer no longer gazing into the eyes of her prospective other, instead crooning for that other to comfort her in her time of need. She closes the album with “Another Night Without My Man,” another soulful stunner that find her bemoaning a lover who has yet to recognize her virtue.

The songs that bridge the gap between opener and closer find Thomas mixing impassioned, original numbers like “No Time To Lose” and “I’m For You” (co-written by Isaac Hayes) with fresh takes on popular hits like “Let It Be Me” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” As the album unfolds, so too does the sound of a woman not just taking control of her music, but taking control of her life, and discovering the power of her own voice. It’s a voice that changed the landscape soul music, r&b music, and pop music forever. You owe it to yourself to finally hear it the way it was meant to be heard. On vinyl, of course.

Cover Matters

Sultry, sweet, silly, and just a little bit rough around the edges. This is the sound of Stax Records. It’s the sound of Comfort Me too, and that cover says it all … but the things that it doesn’t say can also be read on the flip side of that sleeve.

Comfort Me

But What’s in the Box!?

Here’s the thing, the Swaps Program is a game-changer for those of us looking to fine-tune our record collections with exactly the sort of albums we want, it does come at a little bit of a cost – i.e. you don’t get the oh-so-sexy original artwork you’d usually get with VMP Essential picks, and you won’t have the chance to discover your new favorite drink via the companion cocktail for that album either. As far as the original prints go, they’re usually quite gorgeous, but if you’re a diehard collector then cover art is all the artwork you should need. And as far as the specialty cocktail goes, well, sometimes actual cocktails are just a pain in the ass, so I’d encourage you to go the easy route this month with my own personal favorite … a nice single malt with maybe an ice-cube or two. Got it?

Good. On to the business at hand then, ’cause even if there’s fewer goodies with the Classics collection, there’s still a lot to cover. But before we go any further, take a moment to process the info on this important little sticker.

You’ll want to pay attention to the back of that album too, if only to ogle that Vinyl Me, Please Classics foil stamp, and of course that sweet, sweet Stax Records logo.

If you’re looking to drop some coin in the VMP store this month, you’ll want to check out this handy little slip too so you can start deciding which records you most need in your collection. Just FYI – that Thelonious Alone in San Francisco is a must own for any Monk fan.

Even without the art and the cocktail recipe, you still get a few sweet goodies with your Classics selection. Chief amongst them is a Listening Notes booklet featuring a little history about the artist/album selected and a track by track breakdown with behind the scenes info detailing how each track came about. Which is pretty damn cool.

Comfort Me

What about that disc you ask? Well, it’s black and it’s beautiful and I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

And it’s guaranteed to bring a little comfort to even the saddest of turntables.

Comfort Me

How’s it sound? Usually, I’d take a moment here to write something profound, possibly even poetic about the overall vibe of the record I’ve just unboxed and listened to, but sometimes it’s best to just let the music speak for itself. So go ahead and push play for a little taste of Carla Thomas’ Comfort Me. You’re welcome.

Give It a Spin

Joining a record club can be a brilliant way to help build your record collection, but it can also be a bit of a dicey prospect, if only because the idea of any record club always selecting an album you’re wild about is pure fantasy. That being said, Vinyl Me, Please has a pretty damned impeccable record for picking winners, so it sort of feels like their showing off with their almost too good to be true Swaps Program. Either way, I’m glad the program exists, and you should be too. Thanks to Team Vinyl Me, Please for giving me the opportunity to swap for a record I really wanted, for helping me discover a genuine classic in Carla Thomas’ Comfort Me, and for making every month another marvelous, musical adventure.

A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the official Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each month! Can’t wait to see what sizzling selection they send our way for June!

 

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