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Nov 19, 2017

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Hank Williams; Billie Holiday; Deep Ska…
by S. Duda
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.5
Twenty bucks is the key. You got twenty bucks and good things can happen. You can (almost) fill the tank and drive somewhere; you can get a good, hot meal; a ticket to a baseball game; or you can invite your sweetie to a movie.

And, for twenty bucks, we all should be able to get a good bottle of wine. Opening a twenty-buck bottle (from a wine shop, not a restaurant, by the way), we expect a warm glow — maybe a jackpot. Yeah, the jackpot bottle, that’s it. A bottle maybe $14.99, with a cool label and a snazzy write-up from the wine shop crew. Look, it’s our favorite… a New Zealand sav blanc… Marlborough! There’s the cool label! Yes. Buy! Cool! Now! Ah! It’s owned and there’s still five bucks in the kitty!

Finally home and oh, it’s so good. Cold, flinty, grapefruit. Heaven, basking in the glow of your own good taste and a killer less-than-twenty-buck bottle grand slam…

Well, that’s the dream, anyway.

Buying a CD — or getting a music consumer “value” (bwahahahahah!) — is an even a bigger crapshoot than finding a great wine buy. Twenty bucks? For a CD? Still enjoying that Sugar Ray album? That hunk o’ crap was probably $17.99! Oy!

So that’s the point — finding real value for twenty bucks. Let’s go!

What’s this? A New Zealand sav blanc leads the list? Go figure. At right around twenty bucks, the Seresin 2003 Marlborough sauvignon blanc is a no-brainer. This is a big concentrated SB, but one that brushes against rounded, soft corners. There’s a predominant tang of green apple, grass and grapefruit, but still a lushness and easy finish is allowed to gambol about for a moment or two. This deep, amber-colored, robust glass of white will stand up to any appropriately staunch cooking-experiment thing you may attempt.

If you’re dead set on spending twenty bucks on a CD, I can think of no better option than investing in a Proper Records box set. Proper specializes in prime sets of bebop, ska, hillbilly, Texas swing, early country, vocalists, big band, soul, blues… you name it, they’ve got it. These swank sets include remastered tracks, a huge booklet and up to five hours of music. All for twenty bucks? You gotta be kiddin’. Proper box sets don’t look like they only cost twenty bucks — they feature great art, informative writing, the full package. I can personally vouch for the following stellar sets: Hank Williams Sr., Hillbilly Hero; Ernest Tubb, The Texas Troubadour; Billie Holiday, The Lady Sings, as well as Doughboys, Cowboys and Playboys, and Deep Ska, both various artist compilations. Friends, there’s no better value than these high-quality sets.

Two of the most formidable grapes in all of twenty-buck land are shiraz and grenache. But the two combined? For $14.49? Heck yeah, we’ll give that a try! Hill of Content 2001 Grenache Shiraz from Australia is a blend of 83 percent grenache from Clare Valley and 17 percent shiraz from McLaren Valley. The resulting red is candy-apple spicy with cinnamon, raspberry and notes of leather, pepper and oak. While I can recommend this wine, it’s definitely something you’ll want to drink with food. Even with the blend being predominantly grenache, which is a much more soft and subtle grape than the shiraz, this is still a big, sturdy wine. Lay it down for a year or three.

Much like Proper, JSP Records is a British company specializing in super-cool, value-packed box sets. Usually featuring four or five discs for right around (yep, you guessed it) twenty bucks, JSP’s catalog is a bit more targeted to blues and jazz than the Proper offerings. But there are stellar boxes from country patron saints the likes of the Carter Family and the Delmore Brothers. However, my fave JSP boxes feature the brilliant French/Gipsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. If you’ve ever schemed to seduce someone using wine, candlelight and music, Django Reinhardt must be the soundtrack.

No, I do not know why chardonnay prices have rocketed in the past five years or so. I’m sure there are plenty of explanations, but I’m not interested. Sure, I like chardonnay, but there’s no friggin’ way I’m spending $50 on a bottle when I know I can score an absolutely killer bottle of sav blanc for — get this — $14.49! Matthews Cellars, a Washington-based winery, has been best known for its Bordeaux-style reds. I’ve been recommending (and hoarding) these wines for a while. Up until now they haven’t produced many whites. But the 2002 Alder Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc is, in a word, killer. It’s quite pale but loaded with as much exploding juice fruit as this varietal can hold. I the sweet taste of ripe mandarin orange and the mouth-filling, lush pineapple and melon flavors. Yeah, there’s a bit of the cold sav blanc bite that’s so emblematic of the grape. But more than anything, this is a phat, fruity and incredibly pleasing wine.

Trojan Records doesn’t quite offer the value of our friends at JSP and Proper. After all, a Trojan box offers only three CDs and not really much in terms of a booklet or art. However, it must be noted that most Trojan boxes retail for well under twenty bucks! Plus, Trojan owns perhaps the finest archive of reggae, dub, ska, rock steady, dancehall and DJ in the known world. Trojan packs three CDs full of killer Jamaican music and prints the liner notes — which are usually quite good and helpful — on the CD sleeves. It’s clearly a “value proposition.” But the music really is second to none. I own a large number of these boxes, including the Trojan Rocksteady Box, both of the Trojan Dub boxes, both of the Trojan Ska boxes, the Trojan Dancehall box set, the Trojan Tribute to Bob Marley box, the Trojan Ganja Reggae box… cripes, I own about 20 of these things. They all kick ass. My all-time favorite would be a tossup between the sweet and catchy Trojan Rocksteady box and the amazing Trojan Upsetter box, which chronicles the whirling dervish known as Lee “Scratch” Perry.


Sam Beam, a Florida-based singer songwriter, expands his Iron and Wine solo project to a group resembling a full band on Our Endless Numbered Days, his second full-length CD. Including banjo, guitar strumming, slide guitar and percussion, Beam’s wondrously sweet, gentle melodies have evolved from back porch vignettes to something more full and grand, yet still ripe with intimate feeling and graceful elegance. Beam’s hushed songs resonate with soul and hope, and in these times that’s a lot to ask for under twenty bucks.

A great effort was made to find a new, super-cheap favorite red. The reigning champ? 2001 Yellowtail Shiraz (six bucks!!!). The contenders? Well, the 2002 Yellowtail vintage and the 2002 Delicato California shiraz. The 2002 Yellowtail (now about nine bucks) retains the big fruit and plummy berry flavors of the 2002, if slightly muted. The Delicato ($5.99) has gotten tons of press touting its big plum and blueberry flavors. It is, indeed, a yummy wine. But as of this tasting, the 2001 Yellowtail is still the reigning champ.

Which Way is East, a series of duets between drummer Billy Higgins and saxist Charles Lloyd, is quite easily my favorite jazz album of 2004. Recorded just weeks before the death of Higgins, this disc serves as something of a shared celebration of the friendship between these two jazz vets. This music’s both introspective and approachable, peaceful but sparked by the never-ending creative wit of Higgins and Lloyd. There’s a wide variety of sounds and styles on display here, as both Higgins and Lloyd play a number of instruments. Think this is a garden variety jazz album? Think again. This is more like a masterwork. Highest recommendation.

K Vineyards is the Washington vineyard currently being caressed by all in-the-know lips. Their wines, while often well above twenty bucks, are still bargains compared to the established Washington big shots like DeLille and Woodward Canyon. K does attempt a twenty-something bottle. The 2002 Milbrandt Wahluke Slope Syrah is a huge red, filled with rich, dark flavors. Order a few bottles off the website and set them aside. In a few years, these bottles will qualify as a bona fide investment, and you’ll be a genius.

Mclusky, a rather wild and unpredictable group of Welshmen, have a charming knack for album titles. Their latest, The Difference Between Me And You Is That I’m Not On Fire, is quite insane. Following the rather wobbly footsteps of early alternative bands like the Pixies, Scratch Acid, Butthole Surfers or Big Black, Mclusky charge through scenes and songs like their hair was on fire. Recorded by Steve Albin (Nirvana, Pixies, everyone else) this has his trademark stripped-down, loud n’ live sound. There are scenes of unscripted rock insanity here that’re both exhilarating and a bit scary. Mclusky rant, roar and stomp all through this record, and it’s hard not to swing to their insanity.

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