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Roll Back by Peter Aaron

Ida—Tales of Brave Ida
(Polyvinyl Record Co.)
Ida—I Know About You
(Polyvinyl Record Co.)
Ida—Ten Small Paces
(Polyvinyl Record Co.)

Within the last few years it seems that those of us who grew up with vinyl have at last been vindicated, with the not-long-ago left-for-dead medium recently having a raging resurgence among listeners of all ages. While the convenience of CDs can’t be denied and there have been quantum improvements made to the infamously cold sonic process since the format first appeared in the mid 1980s, thus far nothing equals the aural warmth of a well mastered and pressed LP played on a decent home stereo—not to mention the visual appeal of album artwork resplendent in its full 12x12 glory. MP3s? Horrid. They have their place, as default thumbnail representations of the actual source material, but next to the awesome analog authenticity of vinyl it’s like comparing stick-figure sketches to the Sistine Chapel.

Exhibits A, B, and C are these lavish gatefold reissues of the first three albums by New York-turned-Woodstock indie rockers Ida, each of which came out on CD via the Simple Machines label and now make their first appearance on (180-gram) wax. The acclaimed folk-revisionist act—whose most recent full-length of newer material, Lovers Prayers, was reviewed in Roll’s March/April 2008 issue—centers on the acoustic guitars and breathy, tender harmonies of husband-and-wife duo Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell, a sighing, aching sound like a modern-day Richard and Mimi Farina. Released in 1995 during the head-banging height of grunge, the band’s quietly strummed debut Tales of Brave Ida (here on double LP) certainly stood apart from the numerous Nirvanabes then eyeing the college radio charts. But though the tellingly named “Nick Drake” and other soft cuts are emblematic of Ida’s style, even this early on, the noisy electric guitars of “Dog Show” display the group’s willingness to bend its own rules (as well as referencing Littleton’s roots in DC-area hardcore band, The Hated).


Also on double vinyl is 1996’s sophomore I Know About You, which sees the addition of drums courtesy of Daniel’s brother, Michael Littleton, and cello, as well as a slight infusion of more (low-key) electric guitars. The lush, wide grooves of this edition are the perfect new vehicle for I Know About You’s sparse and beautifully produced, contemplative and conversational relationship songs, the pièce de résistance being the lengthy, unfolding “Treasure Chest.”

The band really begins to hit its stride with Ten Small Paces (1997), which features new member Karla Schickele on bass, who also contributes two songs; “Fallen Arrow” and “Poor Dumb Bird.” The set also includes a trio of covers: Brian Eno’s “Golden Hours,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (retitled “Blue Moon of Livonia”), and a storming version of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.” But such stellar and intimate Mitchell/Littleton originals as “Purely Coincidental” and the instrumental “Ashokan Reservoir”—recorded outdoors on site, all squeaking strings and chirping crickets—show Ida taking its gorgeous craft to masterful new heights. For the turntable-challenged, enclosed in each of these stunning packages is a coupon for a free album download.—Peter Aaron

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