By Dave Thompson
The pickings were slender, the lines were middling and the prices, in many cases, were chunky. But Record Store Day’s Black Friday offering has long since settled down into its role as its springtime equivalent’s under-nourished urchin sibling, and 2016 was no different.
There were a handful of fast movers: a triple album expansion of the Afghan Whigs’ “Black Love” that piled demos onto the now-20-year-old original album; a 10-inch addendum to The Monkees’ “Good Times,” which served up red vinyl versions of “Terrifying Me,” “Me & Magdalena (Version 2),” “A Better World” and “Love’s What I Want”; and Harry Nilsson’s “Popeye” soundtrack.
For my money, though, only the long (nine month)-awaited vinyl release for Jherek Bischoff and Amanda Palmer’s “Strung Out In Heaven” EP (8ft Records, above) really set the pulse racing. Originally released online less than a month after Bowie’s death, string-driven rearrangements of “Space Oddity,” “Ashes to Ashes” and “Heroes” all satisfy, an instrumental “Life On Mars?” less so.
But it’s the opening “Blackstar” that is the triumph, brittle, beautiful and Brechtian, with eerie strings soaring behind duetting vocals (Palmer and Anna Calvi) that feel well-worn enough to be weary, but are shot through with warmth, regardless. Taking the musical extremes of Bowie’s original to an even darker level, it’s a dramatic rendering, a veritable benchmark for anybody else who ventures into this most (deliberately?) poignant of all Bowie’s latter-day compositions.