Tag Archives: Vinyl

John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band 50th Anniversary Boxed Set, Part I: The Stereo Remix On Vinyl & Blu-ray Disc

Before I even opened the package, the first thing I noticed about the new 50th Anniversary edition of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band is that the cover image looked clearer, like a layer of haze has been removed.

This theme continues inside as much sonic blur has been removed from the recordings, leaving the music and Lennon’s vocals to shine on center stage. 

For those of you who don’t know, Plastic Ono Band was the first true solo album Lennon issued after leaving The Beatles. It was a watershed moment of brutal honesty, powerful lyricism and dynamic musicality.

A bookend of a sort to Paul McCartney’s very different first solo release, both albums were the polar opposite of what The Beatles were about. The sound is mostly stripped back to raw vocals, guitars , piano, bass and drums. Here, Lennon puts his heart on the table and the song titles reveal much about what to expect:  “Working Class Hero,” “God,” “Isolation,” “My Mummy’s Dead” and “Love.”

For the 50th Anniversary deluxe edition of Plastic Ono Band, executive producer Yoko Ono Lennon followed the path employed on the recent Gimme Some Truth and Imagine – The Ultimate Collection sets. The set features new mixes which are faithful and respectful to the originals, yet are sonically clearer with attention to improve the clarity of John’s vocals.  

In case you missed it, you can read my multi-part review of Gimme Some Truth by clicking here for the Stereo, here for the Surround Sound mix and here for the other bonus goodies. For Imagine – The Ultimate Collection, I also reviewed the Stereo and Surround mixes as well as Bonus tracks.

Plastic Ono Band has been fully remixed by Paul Hicks at Abbey Road Studios under Yoko’s supervision. Working from high-definition 192 kHz, 24-bit transfers of the original first-generation multitrack recordings, the result is quite remarkable and at times stunning. Given the seeming simplicity of the original recordings, much new detail is revealed.

I like this new Stereo mix of Plastic Ono Band a whole lot as it is more direct and yet still feels right.  Listening to the new LP edition, the first thing I noticed was that the church bells at the start of “Mother” are clearer.

“Hold On” is one of my favorites of the set sounding richer with Klaus Voorman’s bass prominent in the mix. Listen for the beautiful decay on Ringo’s final cymbal crash there. John’s amplifier skronk on “I Found Out” is more ripping than ever. “Isolation” sound so fantastic now, with Voorman’s bass resonating in lock step with Ringo’s strong kick drum, providing an even more solid foundation for John’s piano. When John sings “I… I… I … soo… layyyyy tion” before leading into the dramatic double tracked bridge, the impact is more haunting than ever.  

“Remember” sounds amazing, with Klaus, Ringo and John connected instrumentally as one on the verses. It may be my favorite among the new remixes (more on that in a bit)

There are some badass guitar parts on “Well Well Well” that are much more audible now. Notably, listen for the sort of Pete Townshend-esque / Jimi Hendrix-like rips which Lennon plays intermittently throughout the song (which were buried further down in the mix previously). Lennon’s primal screams here have never sounded more… well… primal!  

Billy Preston’s gospel-tinged piano on “God,” sounds woodier and more open than I’ve ever heard. Even “My Mummy’s Dead” sounds less boxy.

My only issue with the vinyl pressing was that there was some paper dust on the discs (in the inner-sleeve) causing some surface noise along the way. After I gave the album a washing however it sounded fine, the noise floor of the vinyl basically disappearing. I had a similar problem with early pressings of Paul McCartney’s New album when it was first released some years back but this new occurrence was nowhere near as bad; hopefully my copy is just a one-off issue. Otherwise, the thick black 180-gram vinyl is dark, quiet and well centered.

The Stereo mix on the Blu-ray Disc version of Plastic Ono Band in 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity is a wonder in its own right. It offers much of the same vibe as the vinyl but is a bit more open sounding.

I suspect this may be because there was no need for additional compression as there is no vinyl disc mastering stage (which helps to keep your stylus from flying off the grooves). It is a bit brighter sounding of course but not in an off putting way. It feels very natural, actually.

Tracks like “Hold On” have an incredible presence even more than the vinyl. The crack of Ringo’s rimshots on the verses is more distinct. I noticed a nice rhythm he gets going there that isn’t quite as apparent on the LP version (listen for the rimshot followed by two ticks on the high hat which create that buoyant pulse making the song fly). 

On “Isolation” you can hear Ringo’s snare resonate more while the tom toms sound huge, enhanced by that classic way in which only Ringo can play them. The cymbal crashes on the bridge are more present with a lovely decay. 

As good as it sounds on the Blu-ray version, I do think I prefer the way “Remember” sounds on the vinyl edition. Either way, the drums and bass are rich and round supporting Lennon’s incredibly natural sounding piano.

Listen for the slap echo on Ringo’s kick drum and how it interacts with Klaus Voorman’s bass thump on “Well Well Well”— it makes the heartbeat-like rhythm pulse.  Again, Lennon’s ripping power chords stand out beautifully in this new mix. 

Interestingly, “God” sounds a bit different on the Blu-ray version than the vinyl version. Purely speculating, I wonder if it is the effect of the compression applied in vinyl disc mastering, especially given that the track is nearly the last on the album. John’s falsetto vocal toward the end, where he sings “I was the Walrus, but now I’m John” sends a shudder down the spine. 

All in all this new Stereo mix of Plastic Ono Band is very enjoyable and a lovely complement to the original. I think it is an important release which allows fans of the recording to hear it in a new light. And for first-time listeners, it presents the music even more directly, in a timeless flavor beyond the slightly echo laden, dated mix by original co-producer Phil Spector. 

In Part Two of my listening report on the new 50th Anniversary edition of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band I’ll explore the 5.1 surround sound remixes. Much more Lennon joy to come. Stay tuned. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Do You Need Brian Eno’s Film Music 1976 – 2020 On Vinyl?

I have been listening to Brian Eno’s music for a long long time now, first getting into his music in the late ‘70s when vinyl was pretty much the only avenue for good sound quality. Cassettes were happening then, of course, but for the most part pre-recorded magnetic tape editions were ultimately inferior sounding to LPs. 

Eno’s first four albums were more or less rock recordings so they generally fared well on vinyl. As I got deeper into his music, particularly digging into his ambient releases, I soon found there were potential sonic issues because of the limitations of the medium at the time.

Vinyl quality was suffering at the time due to the oil crisis in the late 1970s and by the early 1980s; many labels were challenged and cutting corners, so quality controls suffered.

Thus an ambient leaning recording with long held notes and quiet passages could easily be ruined by surface noise and — most annoying to me — off center pressings. 

 
I started seeking out imported pressings which were more expensive and elusive at the time. Right around that time, the CD happened and suddenly one of my main concerns became a moot issue, so I started getting Eno’s music on primarily on that platform. 

I think the last one I had on vinyl was a promo copy of Music For Films  (not the super rare one) and it was disappointing at the time.


So I didn’t look back really considering Eno’s music on vinyl much until the recent Abbey Road half speed mastered editions (some of which I’ve reviewed here and here and here). When I learned that a new collection of Brian Eno Film Music 1976 – 2020was coming out on vinyl, I was compelled to check it out. 

The pressing is on thick, dark, black vinyl that is dead quiet and the pressings are perfect. Given that these are recordings made over a 40-plus year period, there is a remarkable level of consistency from track to track, some likely made digitally and others in the analogue domain.

So kudos again to Abbey Road mastering engineer Miles Showell for paying attention to those “little details” which matter and are actually a very big deal. 

Perhaps part of why Brian Eno Film Music 1976 – 2020 also works so well as a vinyl listening experience is that it is a combination of ambient musics and themes as well as vocal-driven pieces. So as an album listening experience it never gets remotely monotonous or same-y.  It also saves you from having to buy all those individual soundtracks!

Some of these tracks I never owned before, such as “Under” from the Cool World soundtrack and his beautiful and plaintive country-western-flavored cover of William Bell’s soul hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” from Married To The Mob.  And now you don’t have to own the Dune soundtrack just to get one Eno track there, “Prophecy Theme” (the rest of the original album is by Toto actually!).

This has been a very happy listening experience for me as the music sounds rich and full. And it brings us up to date with pulsing gems like “Reasonable Question” from last year’s We Are As Gods a film I hope to see about former Merry Prankster and influential environmentalist Stewart Brand and his Whole Earth Catalog. 

Brian Eno Film Music 1976 – 2020 features seven previously unreleased tracks. 

So, for example, I noticed that “Late Evening In Jersey” from 1995’s Heat was not listed on the original soundtrack. It is a lovely track that sounds especially good with its very natural sounding acoustic cymbal and snare drum work dancing above a haunting organ, synthesizer pulses and very ambient low bass booms.

Audiophiles note: possible demo disc material here.

Going back to the question I posed in the headline above, I think the answer is  a resounding: yes, you do need this one on vinyl.  Whether you are an established fan or new to his music, Brian Eno Film Music 1976 – 2020 is a great overview that works as a fine listening experience in its own right. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Are Super Limited Editions Vexing The Vinyl-verse?

I get it…

Times are tough and everybody is struggling to make a buck and a dime… and vinyl is a hot and highly visible commodity these days… But I fear there is a tipping point where short term profit motives may undermine the industry over the long-haul.

I’ll stop vague-blogging and zero in on what seems to be upsetting many vinyl collecting fans. I’m talking about the “limited edition” release concept which has escalated to fairly ridiculous levels.

I’m talking about rare albums which are reissued as special colored vinyl editions or on super duper, uber-audiophile versions… or special web exclusive sets…. or a previously unreleased concert or studio recording by a famous artist… These kinds of releases have become almost events unto themselves. And if you are a marketer of these products, you are probably excited about that factor. However, if you are the consumer, the excitement may be waning…

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m OK with having these special versions.  In fact, I like them, especially when issued around the time of Record Store Day which helps to drive fans into the stores and ultimately helps keep the retail infrastructure afloat… When the process works it can be fun. I’m good with that level of exclusivity as it gives fans a fair chance to get their hands on a copy — especially if enough copies are manufactured — this is a key thing, folks. 

But it doesn’t always work that way and in these pandemic times many labels have taken to leveraging the Internet to sell these special editions… and this is where the problems seem to be creeping in… For example, in recent years there have been a number of fine specialized, niche audiophile boutique labels popping up which have been doing some great work generally. These labels (some backed by major label entities) are offering affordably priced high quality editions which is indeed helping to inspire new generations of collectors and music fans. It is allowing them to experience classic recordings that have long been out of reach for most people due to high prices — and relative rarity — on the collectors resale market.

Those things are all good, as they say… Blue Note Tone Poet and Verve Acoustic Sounds… heck, even basic Mobile Fidelity’s limited edition runs are popular but I haven’t really heard any significant grumbling. Most people seem to be able to get what they want without too much hassle. I even purchased a recent reissue of a popular MoFi edition which sold out initially, Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach’s Painted From Memory. I even wrote about that experience (click here to read it)

But then you have new technologies driving development of even more specialized and more limited edition releases such as Mobile Fidelity’s Ultradisc One-Step pressings. These releases often put classic albums out as two LP sets, spinning at 45 RPM and charging more than $100 per set. Typically, these albums seem to sell out quickly. Perhaps too quickly. Concord Music’s Craft Recordings label has started a similar series — called “Small Batch” — that is already upsetting many fans because many fans can not get their hands on them. They sell out on pre-order. Several people have grumbled to me about these and others, in part prompting this thought piece.

The reason for the vinyl fan upset is similar to the reason that concert goers get mad at ticket scalpers: they feel like they are getting the short shrift, burned even. Many true fans of their favorite artists are not able to get through on the pre-orders because of circumstance or lack of sophisticated online buying strategies.  

I have heard speculation from some people that “bots” are snapping up the titles before the fans. Apparently this was an issue in the sneaker collecting market (click here for an old article on Wired exploring this).  I’ve heard stories that this kind of thing is going on in the video games universe as well. And the “flippers” (as they are known in collecting circles) seem to be putting them up on places like eBay and Discogs at enormously inflated prices. Don’t believe me?  Click here for eBay and here for Discogs. 

This process is seemingly self defeating. Sure, the labels make a bit more on each sale but they are also LOSING money because the flippers are making as much if not more in the aftermarket resale. Are extra wealthy collectors willing to pay those premium prices for the convenience or just to be in that exclusive group who get the albums first (ie. bragging rights)?

Copies of the recently released Small Batch version of John Coltrane’s Lush Life are up on eBay for upwards of $700! (click here for a recent search on that) and they begin on Discogs at $500 going up from there (click here for that search).  Mobile Fidelity’s One Step series releases are also seemingly fetching some coin there (click here for a recent search). The copies of Santana’s Abraxas on that disc format begin at $800 and go upwards on Discogs (and they go way up!!). 

And this issue is not just limited to these super high end editions. Paul McCartney’s new half-speed mastered edition of RAM has already sold out on pre-order on his website! And yes, people are already offering them for double that amount on eBay (click here for a recent search)

As I wasn’t able to get one of the Record Store Day half speed mastered edition of Sir Paul’s first solo album, this latest process was more upsetting than it needed to be. And I hear you cynics in the back row saying “awww… boo hoo…” These are “first world” problems, I know. (I did ultimately find a way to pre-order RAM online from an independent record store in Grass Valley, California!). 

If this process makes me, a lifetime music collector, feel crummy, I can imagine younger collectors getting discouraged. And that is ultimately what bothers me. It shouldn’t be this difficult. I wouldn’t be surprised if limited editions from Billie Eilish or Doja Cat or whomever are also hard to come by…  At least Billie is selling her posable dolls at Target so hopefully fans can get them there… I’ve read online and heard from some friends that Bowie fans have been going through vinyl collector gyrations lately as well.

Is it any wonder that streaming music services thrive, many shafting artists out of proper royalties due to low pay out structures? 

Again, I think these super special editions are at their root a good thing. That isn’t the problem here. The issue is that the industry is not serving the marketplace well, and it seems to be priming a secondary market for price-gouging flippers.  

The industry should consider the impact it may have over the long-haul. I know that’s easier said than done because for many executives if they don’t make their numbers they get laid off. 

But if everybody takes that short term profit center attitude, there may not be much of an industry left…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Vinyl Moon Record Club Curates Multi-artist Mixtape Listening Experiences

I have long loved sampler albums and I’m happy to have learned in recent years that the form seems to be making a comeback. Click on the highlighted labels here for my reviews of recent compilations by Numero Group, Jazz Dispensary and Colemine Records.

Sampler albums are nothing new. In the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, labels promoted up-and-coming artists through these collections, some even thematically linked.  In the late ’60s Warner Brothers raised the bar with its innovative “Loss Leaders” mail-order-only series of two-LP collections (which only cost about $2 a piece!). These were often very creative affairs with clever artwork and thoughtful programming / curating done by none other than Barret Hansen (aka Dr. Demento!). Other labels tried this but Warner’s definitely cracked the code on these things, continuing into the 90s — via their hip Sire Records’ subsidiary, then run by 415 Records founder Howie Klein — with creative collections like the Just Say Yes series of CDs.

Fast forward to present times, I’ve often thought that it’d be cool to do a vinyl sampler of unknown new artists, kind of like the many collections put out on CD back in the 90s when the indie music universe exploded. Even those were largely un-curated listening affairs, fun but typically random collections of tracks which didn’t always hold together.

Enter Vinyl Moon, a newer record club I only recently learned about that has been successfully doing just this for the past five years, issuing curated thematic and beautifully produced mixtape type collections on vinyl. During the last year, subscriptions to their service have more than doubled! 

Vinyl Moon sent me a couple of their collections to check out and largely I am quite impressed with what they are doing.

First, they look stunning, the packaging is exemplary and of very high quality.  Each LP features beautiful original design by one specific artist that relates to the music inside. You get profiles of all the bands and musicians on the collections with contact information should you want to explore more of their music.

Artist driven, and global in scope, remarkably enough audio wise, these albums sound surprisingly consistent all things considered. There is no doubt in my mind that these are modern digitally produced tracks but the mastering is very good so there is consistency from track to track. The producers paid close attention to detailing so there aren’t lots of harsh edges getting in the way of the tunes.  

All the albums are on lovely colored vinyl variants which for the most part sound good. As you know from my articles on that topic, there can be sonic anomalies depending on how intensely patterned the albums are. These albums I heard are generally quiet and well centered. Only one of them displaying some brief noises a few times across one album side, but it was no kind of deal breaker for me. 

Following is a look at each of the albums. 

Odd Party

Curating mixed tapes is two edged sword. In the quest to create a unified vibe musically and thematically, there is the danger the album could grow boring and same sounding. Additionally, many artists working from home studios are using similar drum programming sequencers, loops and such which can create a too-familiar sound. It is a two-edged sword.

Here, the artists are cut from similar cloth, yet sequenced carefully so it plays well end to end like an “actual album” and not just a random collection of tracks. Tracks on this album often remind me of Toro Y Moi, Ra Ra Riot and The Helio Sequence (all good touchstones, mind you!).  

All of Side A holds together especially well, kicking off with one of my favorite tracks here, “Brother,” by Tommaso from Chicago. Germany’s Georgisound breaks things up a bit with the haunting guitar-and-beats instrumental “Dias.”  Los Angeles’ Melpo Mene delivers a great side closer “Wrong At Last” (which sounds kind of like a lost track by The Helio Sequence)

The cover art by London’s Marija Tiurina is especially inviting, with windows and doors giving a sparkling peek into the fabulous odd world inside the album’s gatefold cover. This cover reminds me of some street artists I’ve seen around San Francisco, notably Sirron Norris (click here) who paints these kaleidoscopic cartoon universes that are a wonder.  Here, Tiurina spins that concept through an Heironymous Bosch lens and the result is trippy fun!

And that is part of the point in this series, to give subscribers a fun and compelling viewing and listening experience.

The Long Run

My favorite of the two, this album has more of an epic feel to it, crafted amidst the pandemic. It tells a story of a sort of adventure story for a hero, no doubt enhanced by visual artist Shane Cluskey’s quite stunning illustrations which remind me of no less than Gerald Scarfe by way of Edward Gorey. You get a beautiful full color comic book (8” x 8”) as well. 

Stand out songs for me include “As You Healed / The Guide” by Nashville artist Vian Izak which feels like what might happen if Zach Condon from Beirut was collaborating with Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles

This album seems to have more diversity of sounds including guitars and pianos. An acoustic flavored song like “Perfect Passions” by Benedikt (which includes an Accordion and horns, again, echoes of Beirut here). Opening track “Evergreen” by Bootstraps (aka writer Jordan Beckett who has written for Grey’s Anatomy and Power Rangers among others) is a piano based modern pop rock track mining classic songwriting forms and loop based constructs and driving it a haunting wistful vocal. Joel Ansett’s “Through” has a moody feel, a slight more soulful take on a songwriting flavor The Flaming Lips explored on some of their early 00s albums…

Many riches to explore here…

I think Vinyl Moon is on to something here, offering a platform for newer artists while creating a distinct series of albums that stand on their own. They’ve been around for 5 years or so and are on release #64 already so clearly there is a groundswell of support for albums like this.  

I hope they’ll send me more releases to review. I’m enjoying this series.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Nickel Creek Live at The Fox Theater, Oakland On 180-gram Vinyl

Nickel Creek is an amazing trio of musicians who went on a performing hiatus at a peak in their career, apparently due to the the rigors of touring from what I’ve read on line and to expand their musical horizons. It is understandable, as they had pretty much been on the road since they were teens. 

Thus I unfortunately never got a chance to see the group in concert. So it was especially exciting to learn that they were issuing a live album from their last tour in 2014, recorded right here where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area.   

I pre-ordered my copy right away and it finally arrived recently. It was worth the wait.  The milky coke bottle green vinyl is quiet and well centered. Not surprisingly, the music contained on the discs is rich and rewarding. 

I would not be surprised if this album was recorded digitally so it has a crisp modern acoustic sound, yet there are no real harsh edges getting in the way. 

Live at the Fox Theatre was recorded on May 19, 2014 and it is one of those great live recordings which captures the essence of the band on stage as well as some of the feel of the theater. The instruments are close mic’d so there is plenty of detail on the acoustic bass, mandolins and guitars. The trio’s vocal blend is gorgeous and it just underscores what brilliant musicians they are being able to pull off this complex music in a concert setting — live without a net.

Make no mistake, Nickel Creek may be acoustic and rooted in bluegrass traditions but their music is closer to Prog Rock by way of early Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  And on Live at the Fox Theatre you get to hear this unfold across four luscious sides. 

There are spine tingling moments through out. One of the earliest comes at the intro to the second song, “Scotch and Chocolate,” with it’s haunting slow mandolin and violin introduction which gives way to a rollicking high speed drive this side of foggy mountain (no breakdowns reported on the mountainside).

Of course, Live at the Fox Theatre delivers many fan favorites and those tunes shine with in-the-moment joy including “The Lighthouse’s Tale,” “The Fox” and “When You Come Back Down.” 

Amazingly enough for a band whose albums tend to sell out (and some become fast collector’s items!), Live at the Fox Theatre is still available from the band’s website so you should get your order in soon if you want a  copy. It is not available on the streaming services like Qobuz and Tidal but their other albums are. It is however available in digital form via the band’s Bandcamp page (download and streaming, click here to jump to that)

If you are interested in how their studio albums faire on vinyl, please click here to read my recent review of their reissues on colored vinyl.  

There are many riches to explore here from this tremendous modern progressive acoustic band. If you are a fan you need this. If you are curious about what Nickel Creek is about, this might not be a bad place to start…

Here is some fan footage from the show which sounds remarkably good.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band Delivers Hopeful Dance Songs For Hard Times

I first got introduced to Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band a few years back when the stars aligned. Almost at the same time, both a good friend and a noted music industry publicist started telling me about them. 

The latter sent me their CD thinking I might enjoy it and he was right! They eventually sent me the vinyl version of the album to review which you can read by clicking here.

I’ve been keeping loose tabs on what the good Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band have been up to and I was excited when I heard that they were putting out a new album crafted during the pandemic. It is called, appropriately, Dance Songs For Hard Times

Before I get to all that I should explain that this Big Damn Band is actually a tight trio, featuring Peyton’s lead guitar and vocals. “Washboard Breezy Peyton” delivers backing vocals, percussion and plays the washboard while the two get bedrock support from drummer, percussionist and vocalist Max Senteney.

Peyton himself plays bad-ass, gut-bucket barrelhouse blues guitar which alone would be enough to captivate many guitar fanatics.  But he sings with a piercing voice that falls somewhere between old time blues greats from the 20-50s and punk blues legends like Gary Floyd (The Dicks, Sister Double Happiness, Black Kali Ma) and maybe even a little bit of Jello Biafra (i.e. The Dead Kennedys).

One of the big distinctions I’ve discovered as I’ve been picking up more of the Reverend’s albums – – and I’ve been surprised just how many of them there are! – – is that he can write a good tune, bottom line.

Don’t go into this expecting a lot of groundbreaking “new” music in terms of genre busting and crossover and such. No, this band is steeped in the grand tradition of open-tuned slide guitar driven blues and R&B with a little bit of  punk attitude and occasional mayhem thrown in for good measure.

In a word: this music is fun!

I keep on coming back to the melodies and hooks and this new album has tons of them.  Two of my favorites on the new album, Dance Songs For Hard Times, are happily also early video releases for the group.

The fun “Ways & Means” is perfect for these times where everyone is trying to make ends meet somehow. “Too Cool To Dance” resonated with me as I was admittedly once one of those nervous wallflowers at clubs and dances afraid to dance and missing many chances (because I was trying to be cool but in actuality I was not feeling remotely cool enough to make it out on the dance floor. Lessons learned!). 

Dance Songs For Hard Times does have some poignant moments of reflection such as the beautiful “No Tellin’ When” which explores the fears of not seeing our family and friends during this pandemic nightmare. 

As I have found with past albums by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, the recording quality on Dance Songs For Hard Times is very good and appropriate for the music. 

Reading between the lines on the liner notes — which says “this album was recorded live to tape with supreme joy” — it seems quite possible that was made at least in part in the analog domain if not totally. It was recorded at Sputnik Sound, a studio which is outfitted with much vintage gear, so that is great to know about this attention to detail employed to deliver a sound true to the music. 

Produced by four time Grammy winner Vance Powell, there is clearly some strong musical DNA beneath creation of this album.  Accordingly, Dance Songs For Hard Times has a nice rich feel on vinyl — which is dark, thick, well centered and dead quiet, a nice pressing — in particular. The CD sounds great in the car if you still have a player there.  

Dance Songs For Hard Times will be out soon so you should pick it up. A fun and inspiring album finding light amidst the strum und drang of 21st Century life.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Feeling The Natural Joy Of Brazil’s Airto On Real Gone Vinyl

Some of you may know that I’ve been going on a deeper dive into the music of Brazilian master musicians Hermeto Pascoal and Sivuca (click on their names to read recent reviews).

As I dig down into their catalogs I’m discovering that these musicians were part of a universe of players back in the day who seemed to help each other out as they moved forward in their careers. 

Along the way in the past few weeks I learned that Real Gone Music had reissued two of Brazilian percussion great Airto’s earliest albums which originally appeared in America on the Buddah Records label and are now significant collector’s pieces. I’ve never seen either of these albums out in the wilds.

As I dug into my research I learned that both Hermeto Pascoal and Sivuca as well as Flora Purim were on these albums! So, I made a mental note to track copies down soon.

The very next day at Amoeba Music I found a brand new copy of that first Airto album, Natural Feelings, on sale!

Score!

Natural Feelings is a pretty amazing recording which crosses boundaries from Bossa Nova to the more out and experimental sides of jazz fusion which was just just beginning to emerge at that time. The music even gets a bit psychedelic. 

Natural Feelings is thus a bit of a trip and it works really well. Hermeto plays organ, piano, harpsichord and flute, Sivuca is on guitar and bassist Ron Carter brings up the low end.

“Terror” feels like a cross between Miles Davis’ more outside musics from the period and some of Frank Zappa’s work on Uncle Meat and Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Like many of you I first knew of Airto from his 70s albums on the CTI label as well as a multitude of appearances on other artists records including Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Paul Desmond, Gato Barbieri, Mickey Hart, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hubert Laws and many others. The man was busy, with a capitol B!


So how does Natural Feelings sound? 

All in all, its quite wonderful.  The vinyl is dark, quiet, reasonably thick and well centered. I do suspect it might made be from a digital source. I mean… it stands to reason…. what is the likelihood that these original master tapes would be sent to a boutique reissue label doing a small run of 500 copies (if the tapes even exist anymore)?  

But just the fact that Natural Feelings has been reissued at all is a wonderful thing.  So, sure,  there is a bit of that compressed-but-crisp high end going on here but nothing horrible that makes the music unlistenable. Just don’t come into this expecting buckets of analog warmth. For that reason, I’ll continue to try to track down original pressings. 

This version still sounds a bit richer than the CD quality streams on Tidal and Qobuz (click the service names to jump to those versions if you have subscriptions).

The cover art on Natural Feelings features trippy snippets of a work by Dutch surrealist painter Heironymous Bosch and it looks quite nice all things considered. I like that the folks at Real Gone Records attempted to make the labels appear close to period-accurate by mimicking the quasi-tie-dye background look/feel of the classic Buddah Records label.  

All in all, this is a timeless sounding Latin jazz fusion session that is full of joy and… well…. Natural Feelings.  It even includes Hermeto’s beautiful song “The Tunnel” which Sivuca also covered on his 1973 album on Vanguard Records. 

Community, love, musicians all supporting one another in free spirited music unconstrained by conventions of time and place. That is a vibe I can groove on.  Natural Feelings, indeed. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Is Fleet Foxes’ Shore Really Released Now That It Is Out On Vinyl?

Last Fall, one of my favorite 21st century bands, Fleet Foxes, dropped a pleasant surprise on it’s fans with a new album pre-released in the digital domain. Shore was a much needed sonic elixir amidst the dark of the pandemic. Beauty and solace dancing hand in hand with fear and uncertainty, presented at a time when our world was escalating into madness and fear. It felt just right then… and it still feels right today…

Previously, I reviewed Shore based on the digital streams on Tidal and Qobuz which you can read by clicking here. My positive feelings towards this album have not changed – if anything they’ve grown over the course of the last six months as the music has worked its way into the back spaces of my mind much in the way that its predecessor, Crack Up, did in 2017 (my favorite album that year, by the way)

Along the way the band offered a pre-order for Shore on vinyl which I promptly put my dibs in. The album was supposed to arrive a couple months ago but things were delayed as is the case of most new releases these days given the pandemic scenario.

We all have to just be patient…

Now, maybe its just my bias towards physical media, but one thing was gnawing at me in the back of my head: the album didn’t feel quite “real” without knowing that a physical version of it had been released. So finally getting Shore “in hand” was almost a sign of relief and release.  (fanboy thoughts: ‘Yes…. At last its here… yes… its a real album!’)

The good news is that Shore on vinyl was worth the wait. My special edition on ocean blue colored vinyl arrived a few days ago and while the pressing is not perfect, I’m generally not disappointed. In fact, I’m overall quite happy and even at times elated! The album is mostly dead quiet even though it’s on translucent teal blue vinyl (I’ve noticed that clear vinyl variants can sound harsher than opaque colors).  The record sounds quite warm and rich even when you turn up the volume on your amplifier. 

I did find two nits to pick, however. One annoyance for me is that one disc is pressed a little off center. Why this matters has to do with the kind of music Fleet Foxes has produced here: soaring SMiLEs of instruments including pianos and horns, big strumming acoustic guitar feel flows, underlying cool cool chordal waters and ambient surf’s up soundscapes. Shore is the kind of music where even a little bit of wavering can create audible tonal fluctuations. I admit that this is not a big deal for many people but to me it is important. It is also evidence on just how I’ve internalized this music to where I can notice the differences when they happen.  

On side two there were a couple very very brief groove distortion sounds that came through but they were so subtle I really shouldn’t even make a point of calling them out… but… well… I guess I have a responsibility to be honest to you, Dear Readers, as much as to myself. 

Those little dings aside, in generally I’m happy how the album sounds on vinyl. Shore is one of those albums you can enjoy at full volume or softly on a lazy sunny afternoon.

Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines but this new version of Shore makes me wonder if the whole album was crafted with vinyl in mind (vs. the streams on Tidal and Qobuz). One could I argue that I just like the sound of vinyl but I think they had to work some wizardry making this a consistent great sounding record given it was made in three different studios in New York — including Jimi Hendrix’ legendary Electric Lady Studios — as well as one in Paris! So, kudos to recording/mixing engineer Beatriz Artola (Adele, Ce Lo Green, Tegan & Sarah, Ryan Adams, etc.) and mastering engineer Joe Laporta (the latter of Sterling Sound).  

I still can’t get over a track like “Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman” (second to last song on Side 3) which simultaneously channels David Crosby’s title track from the second CSNY album Deja Vu and any number of songs by Beirut and Philip Glass and David Byrne’s Knee Plays and… well… you get the idea. 

It is a pulsing, mesmerizing, shimmering, horns ’n sparkling guitars collision that works together to form a quite perfect pop symphony. 

The cover art on Shore is also a pleasant surprise as it works beautifully as a full sized album. As a tiny digital JPEG we see on streaming services and online retailers, it doesn’t work quite so well. But in its large format glory, the patterned cross hatching of sea foam against an isolated beach is haunting.

It is a lovely package, as detailed on Fleet Foxes’ website

“Shore arrives on vinyl as a 2xLP set encased in an Old Style Double Gatefold Jacket with black polybags and 24”x24” poster insert, printed at Stoughton Printing Company. Side D features an etching of fifteen hand drawn flora by visual artist Dino Matt, each tied to one of the album’s fifteen songs. The album’s cover, front and back, showcases artwork by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Hamaya and design by Benjamin Tousley with Robin Pecknold.”

This is also one of those three-sided albums that doesn’t feel like you are missing anything by not having a fourth side. It feels just right. And the fourth side with its lovely art etchings is really a perfect complement to the music. 

Looking forward, I hope that someday Fleet Foxes’ leader Robin Pecknold would remix all their albums into surround sound… that would be some kinda sonic bliss I suspect… 

I noticed on the cover of Shore that there is some cryptic wording which says “IV. Rising Phase.” While it could simply be a notation that this is Fleet Foxes fourth album, it’s vagueness reminds me of the sort of hints Robert Fripp (King Crimson) would drop in liner notes (and interviews), talking about his “Drive to 1981” and such…

That said, I look forward to Phase V of Fleet Foxes’ journey…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Did I Really Need Another Copy Of In The Court Of The Crimson King?

The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc version of King Crimson’s classic progressive rock landmark, In the Court of the Crimson King is one of those releases I’ve been meaning to pick up for some time. But, time kept marching onward and it never presented itself to me…

Arguably the birthplace for progressive rock as we came to know it, In the Court of the Crimson King was recognized as an instant masterpiece upon its release and it has held on to that crown for 50 years… and counting!

I’ve had this debut album by King Crimson for ages. I have it on a nice original US pressing in mint condition. And I own the 40th anniversary DVD Audio version with the high resolution surround sound mix.What more did I need, my wallet reasoned?  

I admit I don’t yet have the drive to get the even newer massive new Complete 1969 Recordings boxed set (which includes a Dolby Atmos mix, which I can’t play anyhow just yet).  (Note: I do have the 81-84 Discipline box set and the Thrak box of 94-95 era recordings, so I’m not being a slouch here folks)

Still, I have been tempted. I’ve heard that the 200 gram vinyl version of In the Court of the Crimson King is quite stunning but I haven’t been able to justify buying that just yet (I still want an original UK and US white label promo copies, truth be told).  

None the less, the 2019 Blu-ray Disc edition continued to call to me as I was curious to hear the new surround sound mix. I just needed to find it at the right price, time and place. Whenever I went to look for it online it always seemed to be sold out and I never saw it in the stores. That is until recently at Amoeba Music, I found a perfect condition used copy. 

At last, In the Court of the Crimson King 2019 presented itself to me in a manner I could not refuse!

Accordingly, I thought it might be helpful to review it now from my vantage point for those you out there who are also struggling to keep pace with and catch up on the intense flow of archival musics coming from our favorite artists… Better late than never!

For those of you who are wondering about the title of this review and whether I will answer it, you can stop holding your breath.  Yes, I needed this and if you are a fan of the album, so do you.  

Why?

I could hear the difference immediately. First, I did a refresher reference listen to In the Court of the Crimson King via the 40th Anniversary 2009 DVD Audio Disc version which sounded thinner than I remembered. That surround mix is presented at 48 kHz, 24 bit resolution. The new Blu-ray edition is twice that at 96/24 and all that extra disc capacity is in part why it sounds better — you are hearing more of the music.  

But it is also a different mix! 

Clearly, remix producer and surround sound engineer Steven Wilson felt he could do more with the recording, enough to revisit the project anew. No doubt there have been advances in the technologies available for mixing. And, frankly, there is probably even more demand now for hearing this album in the highest quality possible than in 2009, so taking advantage of the Blu-ray Disc’s capabilities makes good sense. 

So how does it sound, you ask? Pretty terrific! 

How is it different than the old DVD Audio mix?

Good question… 

Somebody online asked me if this new version of In the Court of the Crimson King is just louder than the old DVD Audio version. After listening to them back to back several times and sampling select tracks, I do not think so. 

I’m hearing much more detail on the new version in the 5.1 mix in particular, again now presented in 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity. The most immediate thing I noticed was that Greg Lake’s bass sounds much richer, and if you listen closely you can hear the slap of his Fender bass’ guitar strings, a detail I didn’t hear on the earlier version.

The drums also sound more natural and realistic, effectively delivering a hearty crack instead of just a tap on the snare. The tom tom drums in particular seem to resonate a bit in the room now.  Details like that are super impressive, especially when you consider these are 50 year old recordings of an embryonic band that didn’t yet have access to the finest studios in the land. It was however recorded on an 8-channel multi-track recorder which was still a big deal in 1969.

The overall sound design of the 5.1 mix seems to be fairly similar to the original version yet everything feels more in focus somehow.

That wonderful excitement when you first hear “21st Century Schizoid Man” in surround is preserved as Fripp’s guitar stabs during the verses jump from speaker-to-speaker in time around the room. It is a fun moment that works without feeling gimmicky.  

Similarly on the title track, on those rolling opening drum hits you can almost feel the smack of the drumsticks on the tom tom head, the skins bending as the drummer works his way around the kit. Greg Lake’s vocals sound much better on this new version too, feeling more open and air-y somehow. The cymbals are also now much tighter and natural sounding, delivering more of a ringing ping than just a clink.

There are so many bonus tracks on this Blu-ray Disc, it is hard to go into all the detail. I’m still exploring!  From Burningshed.com we learn it contains:

  • 2019, 5.1 and stereo mixes by Steven Wilson in 24/96 resolution (for the first time)
  • Original master edition of the 1969 album mix in 24/96 stereo.
  • A complete alternate album comprising 2019 mixes by Steven Wilson including a much extended duo version of I Talk to The Wind, a June 19th version of ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ from the band’s final day at Morgan studios in June 1969, an isolated voice dominant version of ‘Epitaph’ & a version of ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ which combines the Morgan studios instrumental with Greg Lake vocals from Wessex studios and August 2019 overdubs by Mel Collins & Jakko Jakszyk – the latter two mixed by David Singleton.
  • A further album’s worth of additional material drawn from studio takes – much of it mixed by Steven Wilson & including extracts from the ‘wind session’ that produced the intro to 21CSM in stereo for the first time, the single a/b sides of the album title track drawn, for the first time since on disc, from the original master tapes & more are also included.
  • The Blu-Ray is completed by a set of 2019 instrumental mixes and the surviving fragment of black & white footage from Hyde Park in 1969

So, you can see why I’ve been hesitant to get the big 1969 box set – there is so much right here on this disc! 

Of the outtakes I’ve heard thus far, I love the June 1969 basic trio recording of the title track — just drums, bass and acoustic guitar. The latter is significant because you get to hear Fripp’s beautiful acoustic guitar work, something you don’t get to hear much on later King Crimson recordings and which gets sort of overlooked (in a way) in the final mixes. That said, the instrumental versions of the album tracks are lush and wonderful.

Anyhow, I think you probably get the idea by now that this is a fine release. I’m glad I finally got a copy of  this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc version of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King

Perhaps it is your turn to get it now too!  

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Sivuca Vs. Sivuca – Is a 45 Year Old Bossa Nova Classic Worthy Of A Reissue?

Many of you know by now that I’m an avid record collector… Vinyl, CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, DVD audio, SACD, 78’s… About the only thing I haven’t gotten deeply into is cylinders! Yeah… I love music!

A bunch of years back at a garage sale or flea market somewhere I found a curious record by an artist on Vanguard Records I’d never seen before or heard of named “Sivuca.” The cover of the album was fascinating as it showed this very intensely focused Hobbit-like Santa Claus-esque bearded man playing acoustic nylon string guitar as if he were Jimi Hendrix, against a backdrop of mountains. It looked interesting and for the dollar so I spent on it I grabbed it.

One quick play when I got home and I fell in love with Sivuca‘s music and soon found out that he was one of Brazil’s most accomplished musicians. An accompanist for Maria Makeba and Harry Belafonte, this legendary Brazilian musician has performed with Airto and had even been involved with a Broadway musical call Joy

The wonder of music, I’d never heard of this fellow and thus set about to try and find some more of his recordings. I soon found out that this was not going to be an easy task because his records were out of print and most were not available in America to begin with!

Eventually I found Sivuca‘s recordings on streaming services such as Qobuz and Tidal. And, I found one more of his albums on vinyl from a little later in his career. But I found it remarkable that it was hard to even find CDs or anything available affordably domestically.

Thus, I was excited when I learned a few months back that a re-issue was brewing of that very same Sivuca album that I picked up years ago. I finally got my hands on a copy of the reissue and generally I’m not disappointed!

My original copy of Sivuca was not in great condition and given that it was an early 70s album in Stereo — and a largely acoustic-based album to boot — the clicks and pops were actually quite a bit distracting from the music. So the new version of Sivuca is pristine and sounds crisp and clean pressed on nice purple – – possibly Quiex – – vinyl. The standard weight LP is quiet and well centered, so no problems were detected there.

I do have a suspicion that Sivuca was probably made from a digital master at its root because there’s a bit of a high end crispness that is not evident on the original analog-era 1973 pressing. However, in fairly short order once I’ve listen to the album for even just a little bit I get used to the sound of it. It is more than adequate and certainly a nicer listen than my scratchy original.

So, what does Sivuca’s music sound like, you ask?  Well, if  you like the classic Stan Getz / Joao Gilberto album from the mid ‘60s — which I reviewed recently (click here) — you’ll probably enjoy this album which crosses many boundaries of folk, jazz, pop, and Brazilian stylings.  There is a lovely pop bossa version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and you’ll even hear a tune written by another Brazilian musician I’ve been getting deeper into, the great Hermeto Pascoal’s “Tunnel” (I’ve written about Hermeto previously, click here for more on this amazing musician’s music). 

You can find many of Sivuca’s albums streaming on Tidal and Qobuz so do check them out if you have a subscription. You can also find an equally limited edition, multi-colored vinyl version of this album at Vinyl Me Please (click here). The purple editions — 750 copies made — seem to be available on Amazon so click on the highlighted Sivuca anywhere in this article to jump to that. I would grab one while you can.

Whatever way you listen, this album is a great introduction to the joyous hybrid universe of Brazilian folk, jazz and bossa nova stylings that is Sivuca

Following are some wonderful live performances by Sivuca and friends

Many musical riches await you around the world…

Sivuca with Hermeto Pascoal — jawdropping jazz Accordion!
Sivuca’s remarkable Accordion duel with Hermeto Pascoal on Melodica
Sivuca Live in Sweden, circa 1969

Original Resource is Audiophile Review