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Vinyl Views is our weekly blog where we feature album recommendations from our store team (Shayne and Jaxon), and reveal picks from guest contributors.  We took a pause last week, but now we turn to November where we will loosely focus on Thanksgiving and/or being thankful.  This week’s guest contributor is a long-time friend of the store, Mary Kroeck and Shayne changes his alternate persona from “Skinwalker” to “Casserole”.

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Mary Kroeck is a writer, photographer and performance artist. She believes in the power of storytelling as a tool for learning about social issues and creating positive change. Mary is often caught listening to or singing lines from the “Moana” soundtrack to cope with life. Val was featured in Mary’s M.A. thesis on the life and works of Shel Silverstein.

Mary believes music is a universal language. It creates bridges. It moves hearts. It brings people together, even when they can’t be together. That’s absolutely something to be thankful for. As we prepare for rather subdued and socially distant holidays this year, Mary wanted to share three 2020 releases by women whose music has inspired and motivated her for decades. 

Artist: Alanis Morissette
Album: Such Pretty Forks in the Road

Last November, I happened to be in New York and was able to catch a preview of “Jagged Little Pill: The Musical.” With a catalog that goes beyond the ’90s record that propelled Alanis Morissette’s career and made her the youngest artist at the time to win the Grammy for Album of the Year and a book by Illinois native Diablo Cody (“Juno”), the show reminded me of just how powerful of a singer/songwriter Morissette is. Thanks to Val’s, I added some of her discs I’ve been missing to my collection and got in a full Alanis groove.

Morresette’s sixth studio album, and her first in eight years, was released in late July–three months after its initial release date. It’s rare that an album will resonate with me from top to bottom. This one grabbed me from first listen and hasn’t let go. Though it was recorded over the span of four years, “Such Pretty Forks in the Road” is the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack of the pandemic.

The record’s title comes from a lyric in the album’s lead track, “Smiling,” an action women are often criticized for not doing enough of and something masks now generally hide in public. The song, also featured in the musical, opens with the lines “This is a life of extremes//Both sides are slippery and enticing//These are my places off the rails//And this, my loose recollection of a falling//I barely remember who I failed//I was just trying to keep it together.” Life of extremes – check. A story of sides – check. Everything feeling off the rails – check. Seriously, aren’t we all just trying to keep it together right now? It is a story of survival, moving through a busy and often unforgiving world. The following track, “Ablaze,” is the best hug a song can give, especially if you’re a kid missing your parents or you’re a parent missing your kids. (Confession: I can almost never hear the song without getting a little teary. So if you need a cry, give this one a spin. I haven’t been able to hug my Mom in months so this one gets me, like every dang time.) If you haven’t seen her performance of it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, check it out. It’s sure to warm your heart. “Losing the Plot” is the superwoman and hero song we all need right now. With a refrain of “I am losing the plot//I am grieving the end of superwoman-ing//I have laid down my cape//As though I haven’t risen like a phoenix from a thousand deaths//As though I haven’t been reborn to notice that my mission is not dead yet.” Indeed, if we’re still here, our missions are still alive. Superheros no longer wear capes. They wear PPE. If this album came out next year, I would 100% believe that songs like “Reasons I Drink” and “Diagnosis” were written about trying to survive 2020. This album gets bonus points because I’m generally an absolute sucker for songs with my name in them and “Her” checks that box.

I will never be able to thank Alanis enough for putting this album out in the world. Give it a listen. Twenty-five years after her first Grammy win, I’m pulling for her to win another Album of the Year award for this.

Check out the track Missing the Miracle.

Artist: Mariah Carey
Album: The Rarities

Back in 1998, I begged my Dad to take me to the B96 Summer Bash. The lineup featured N’Sync, Destiny’s Child, Savage Garden, Next (who had that song “Too Close” which no sixth grader should have probably been singing) and headliners Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey. Now, let me explain something to some youngins who may not quite understand: this was *the* lineup of lineups at the time. Think about it. This meant seeing Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé before they were solo artists. This was Savage Garden’s (yeah, those “Truly, Madly, Deeply” guys) first North American tour. Boyz II Men and Mariah? Well, with their release of “One Sweet Day,” they just spent 16 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 list, a record they held for 22 years until it was tied in 2017, then beaten in 2019. To say this show was *the* concert of concerts might be an understatement.

Needless to say, my Dad caved and took me (mainly because he also liked Savage Garden). We sat on the lawn at what is now known as First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in the blistering June sun and, that night, I watched three of my favorite acts perform live, with the ultimate highlight being a very rare live performance of Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s chart-topping duet about love, loss, hope and faith.

Having this experience with my Dad (who passed suddenly in the later part of last year) and the many memories I have of my Mom and Mariah (including “stealing” my Mom’s tape of “Emotions” when I was 6-years-old and never giving it back), Mariah’s music has consistently had a special place in my life.

Her new record, “The Rarities,” is a two-disc collection. Disc one features 15 hand-picked tracks previously unreleased songs, b-sides, and, of course, rarities recorded over the 30-year span of Mariah’s career so far that have special meaning to her. The second disc is the audio of her 1996 Live from the Tokyo Dome concert, in support of her “Daydream” World Tour.

From her rendition of the Broadway classic ballad “Out Here on My Own” (from “Fame”) to the jazz standard “Lullaby in Birdland” to the get-up-and-dance “Here We Go Again,” a track cut from her 1990 debut album, the record encapsulates Mariah’s one-of-a-kind range, in vocals and genre. Speaking of range, “The Rarities” pairs nicely and intentionally with her new memoir, “The Meaning of Mariah,” in which Carey reveals back in the 90s she recorded a grunge album, “Someone’s Ugly Daughter,” under the band name Chick. Of course, the collection includes a live version of “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but even Mariah has suggested waiting until after Thanksgiving to start blasting this one. Then again, there’s a pandemic, so listen to whatever brings you joy.

Check out the track I Pray.


Artist: Selena
Album: Ones

If you somehow don’t know who Selena Quintanilla-Pérez is, with the release of the highly anticipated “Selena: The Series” coming to Netflix this December, you’re likely soon to find out. Selena’s incredible voice, girl-next-door personality and influential style has continued to have an international impact a quarter of a century after her tragic murder.

With classic tracks like “Como la Flor,” “Amor Prohibido,” and the ever-popular “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” “Selena: Ones” is a solid introduction to the legendary performer. The 2020 vinyl release of this album is a stunning double vinyl celebrating her life, music and iconic fashion sense. With a cover in shimmering silver and purple and images of Selena in purple hue on both sides of both records, the packaging of this album is a fitting tribute to the Queen of Tejano.

Selena’s life was cut short right as she was transitioning into the English-langauge music market. The singer was born and raised in Texas, barely spoke Spanish before she started recording and toured with her family. (Her brother and sister were both in her band, which was managed by her father, and she married her guitar player.) Though she rose to fame through Spanish-language songs, Selena always wanted to record in English. As is widely known, prior to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s smash hit “Conga,” the world of bilingual (English/Spanish) music was largely kept off major Top 40 stations. Part of Selena’s incredible legacy lies in the record that was unfinished at the time of her death, the groundbreaking “Dreaming of You.” Released less than four months after her passing, the record’s first four singles all charted within the top ten of various U.S. charts. An astonishing 175,000 copies of the album were sold on its release day in the U.S., which set a record at the time for a female artist. The posthumous release is widely regarded as one of the most important records of the era. Selena proved that a Latin artist could be successful in U.S. mainstream music and the industry hasn’t been the same since.

Though “Disco Medley” isn’t included on this record, it’s super uplifting. Give it a spin.

Check out the track No Quiero Saber.


Artist: Cab Calloway
Album: Are You Hep To The Jive?

Oddly enough I very nearly used some Cab Calloway for a Halloween pick (by way of Danny Elfman by way of The Devil, watch The Forbidden Zone) but what better way to kick off a month of feasting and giving thanks than this toe-tapping anthem to feeding all of your friends and loved ones?! 

Check out the track Everybody Eats When They Come To My House.


Artist: Al Jarreau
Album: We Got By

This comes as a shock to me because I was convinced, I disliked Al Jarreau! I discovered this absolute gem while trying to see if November could produce the same thematic quality of October or (Stay Tuned) December. I ended up owning a live album that doesn’t even include this song!

This is funky and delicious, and I look forward to my homework!

Check out the track Sweet Potato Pie.


Artist: Kajmir Royale
Album: ThanksKilling Soundtrack

Ok, so maybe I’m not entirely out of Spoopy spirit just yet! This bit of schlock was produced for less than four thousand dollars, received naught but jeers, and somehow managed to crowdfund a sequel called “ThanksKilling 3.” All of which is certainly… Interesting? But of real note here is how damn good this score is! Come right on with the old-school John Carpenter sound with turkey gobbles!

Check out the track ThanksKilling Main Theme.

Artist: K.U.K.L.
Album: The Eye

K.U.K.L. (which means Sorcery in Icelandic) is one of the earlier projects of Iceland’s darling, Björk. I have no clue why more people don’t know about this album. This precursor to The Sugarcubes contains an almost identical lineup, but even Sugarcubes fans seem to be in the dark. K.U.K.L.’s music draws inspiration from punk as well as avant-garde with Björk’s haunting vocals over the top. If you like the Sugarcubes, you must give this a listen. 

Check out the track The Spire.


Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

This album is a noisy masterpiece – by far my favorite Sonic Youth album. It has catchy hooks, but it is still loud and experimental (as the album name suggests). When people talk about Sonic Youth, I don’t hear this album mentioned as one of their best, but it fits my tastes perfectly. I love every song on this thing, which makes it hard for me to narrow down one song recommendation. If I have to pick one, I guess I will have to go with Waist, which has been on countless playlists of mine.

Check out the track Waist.


Artist: Weezer
Album: Pinkerton

Ok, so I’m going to start by admitting that I am not really a big Weezer fan. Most of their discography doesn’t seem to keep my attention all that much. The album Pinkerton is the exception. Dare I say – I love this album? It is a geeky heart-filled blend of power pop and pop-punk, that helped inspire a new wave of emo bands. If you don’t already love this album, which I’m sure many of you do, give it a listen. 

Check out the track Why Bother.

How Do I Order Music (Or Other Things)?

Val’s is now open again (safely)! Bring a face mask and we will sanitize your hands on the way in.  Social distancing, of course.  Val’s halla has worked hard over this quarantine period to launch its Online Store which has thousands of titles for you to choose from.  We will continue to add inventory everyday, but just let us know what you are looking for!  We are happy to look through our off-line inventory of over 50,000 titles to see what we have for you.  Also, we place orders with our distributor every Monday which means we see them in our store by Tuesday (most of the time).  We sell records (as well as turntables), CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, DVDs and more.  To get started, you can Click Here to access the Online Store, or fill out the form below to let us know what you are looking for.

What About Delivery?

Val’s is offering Curbside Pickup and No-Contact Delivery Service to customers who live within a 5-mile radius of the Oak Park Arts District. Orders can also be shipped to customers outside that radius for a flat fee of $5.  Order as much as you want – still $5 shipping! Stay safe and be well!

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