Tag Archives: Vinyl

Are You An Enthusiastic Music Collector Or A Hoarder?

This is a touchy subject… But it is a topic that keeps on coming up both personally and in discussion threads on social media in many music enthusiast groups. So I feel a need to address it because the problem arises more often than is necessary or fair. Frankly some of the comments people make on this topic border on bullying… Stick with me for a bit while I explain the scenario… 

Many people are casual music enthusiasts who might have a modest collection of recordings they enjoy. A lot of folks these days have sizable digital collections they manage through software programs or via streaming services or they have gone through tons of their old physical CDs which they’ve ripped to hard drives and manage manually.

But, then there is a sizable group of music enthusiasts who still enjoy — and prefer — to obtain and own their music on some physical form. That would be vinyl records for some, CDs for others. Heck, there is a resurgence of cassette fans these days, so it is a matter of what ever might float your boat! 

In my experience, people who aren’t especially passionate about any specific “things” in life don’t tend to collect much of anything.  That is not a slam and it is perfectly OK as it suits their lifestyles.  They have a so called “balanced” amount of books, artwork, clothes and music in their universes.  They seem equally content to simply view a particularly item in photographic form in a book or in person at a museum or on the Internet.  They don’t have a passion for any one thing that spurs them on to want to build their own collection, be it physical or virtual.

That is all fine and good. It is their choice in life to live that way.

However, it is some of these same individuals who seem to have issues with those of us who do get deeper into one thing — and in this case it is music I’m talking about, as represented in physical form of records, CDs and many other formats that have been around over the years!  And that is where things start to get strange. 

Some of these people may not even realize it when they are making harsh, hurtful and often offensive public statements.

It is particularly harsh when somebody points a finger and jovially calls you a “hoarder.” This totally demeans someone’s personal passion.  

At this point, I thought it would be useful to provide a broad, basic dictionary definition for the purposes of illustration about what these folks are referring to: 

Hoarding Disorder : a psychological disorder characterized by the persistent accumulation of a variety of items that are often considered useless or worthless by others and by the inability to discard such items without great distress.

I consider myself a student of music and am quite passionate about it. I have been involved in the entertainment industry pretty much my entire career so it is useful for me to have easy access to a lot of this music that is not reliant on computers or the Internet. 

I own a lot of music, no question. I am a pretty serious enthusiast of pre-recorded music by many artists. When I get “into” a certain artist I will often “go deep” and try to obtain their entire catalog of music, some of which can be quite rare and even sometimes offering differences in how the recordings sound (ie. Mono, Stereo, Quadrophonic, Surround Sound, etc.).

Sound was one of the reasons I started collecting old records in the first place. Beyond the reality that some recordings were out of print, I soon learned that the earlier pressings (on vinyl in particular) sounded better than many of the reissues. I could tell this early on even on our modest stereo equipment which I shared with my older brothers back in the early 1970s. 

My collection is generally alphabetized by artist and broken down into quite detailed categories which helps me to locate titles quite quickly when I need — or want — to play them. Jazz to Blues to Vocal Pop to Reggae to Soul to Classical and more… 

Today I have 10- and 12-inch vinyl LPs, 45 RPM singles, 78s dating back to the early 1900s, 16-inch radio transcription discs from the 1950s — primarily for rare jazz performances — and of course CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. I even still have some cassettes (note: I gave my sizable Grateful Dead tape collection to a friend’s young son who was getting into them about 15 years ago).  Heck, I own a handful of rare laserdiscs, some vintage 8-tracks and a few cylinders. Save for the cylinders, I have players for most of  these things. 

I maintain a modest library of books related to music and the arts. To an outsider, my collection might seem large but I think that is because they have little to nothing of their own.  Again, this is about perspective.

My collection — and I suspect those of many of my music loving brothers and sisters around the world — is a labor of love and far from being “considered useless or worthless by others.“

Not that size really matters but in reality my collection is also pretty tame in comparison to some of the collectors I’ve met over the years and continue to meet on social media. 

So what is the problem that some seem to have about people who are passionate about collecting music?  They don’t flinch at some multimillionaire who has built dedicated special garages to house their many rare automobiles. I know people with hundreds of guitars and other instruments, working musicians who are passionate about the distinct and often unique sounds they can create.  

Heck, some years back I learned that an acquaintance collects antique egg trays! That was his thing so I wasn’t about to judge him calling it useless or worthless. 

Most collectors I know are generally quite thoughtful and organized, a very different thing than the clinical definition of hoarders (click here to go to The Mayo Clinic’s explanation).  

A Living Breathing Museum

Before he died suddenly, I briefly knew a very wealthy and serious collector of 78 RPM discs who also had a stunning recording studio built in his home. He owned vintage microphones and thousands of gorgeous, beautifully cared for 78s plus the specific players they were designed to be played on. He had so many records that he kept a large portion of the collection in the dry basement of a friend’s home down the block (where he also had more vintage 78  and cylinder players!). 

Is this hoarding? No way.  This man lived in one of San Francisco’s ritziest neighborhoods and was absolutely passionate about sound and music! He knew the ins and outs of particular players and which records sounded best on them (yes, early on before standards were established some records were optimized for playback on certain types of machines). This was his own personal working museum which he clearly enjoyed every day and liked to share with appreciative audiences (like me!). 

Now, I do understand the problems some collectors come head to head with at some point involving physical space and other people’s perception of it.  I am well aware of the challenges therein. I have even written about this topic a bit before, discussing the purging process (click here to read that). 

But, some outsiders have a misperception as to what is acceptable to their standards. So they make derogatory comments, even if in jest seemingly.  For those folks, if it seems to take up more space than they think it should in their perception of the world, well then it must be bad. 

I have been the target of these sort of half-joking/half-serious comments more times than I would like to admit.  My collection is nowhere near as big as many other very very serious, heavy duty music collectors around the world. There are people who build entire rooms just to house their collections and their stereos and home theater systems. These are people who regularly buy collections from others in quantity to cherry pick rarities they seek as well as upgrades. 

Digital Hoarding?

When non-physical digital music started happening as a mass market public phenomenon, I remember chuckling to myself as I frequently saw friends sizing one another up based on the size of their digital collections.  It was a badge of honor to tell your friends how many songs you had on your iPod. I remember one friend gleefully talking about how he had something like 20,000 songs in his pocket. 

Size mattered! 

But…. was that hoarding? Digitally it might appear that way to some, but I don’t see it that way.

My friend with the 20,000-song iPod is passionate about his music. He listens to and really enjoys it. He buys CDs and tickets for more concerts than he can probably afford. He loves music! 

I also know that if he had the budget and the physical space he would have lots and lots of records and CDs.. Actually he has a lot of CDs and his other passion is collecting T-shirts – – rock concert T-shirts! I’ve seen his collection. He has T-shirts almost like I have records. It’s pretty amazing and wonderful too! 

Is this friend a hoarder? No. This collection is organized, categorized and stored carefully. He knows where everything is. 

I guess the point of all this is before you make jokes, take a minute to consider that what you are saying might be ultimately insulting to someone who has spent a lifetime curating their collection. 

There is a difference.  And I hope people can start to understand and appreciate the passion many of us have for music.  

Just because someone does not fit your real-estate-staged concept of what a pristine home living environment is supposed to be doesn’t mean it is bad.

Take a moment to think about what you are saying…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Why Is The Violent Femmes Best Selling Album Not What You Might Think It Is?

Ok, so I will admit I was a bit surprised when I read this line in the official press release for a new Violent Femmes reissue:  “Craft Recordings is pleased to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Violent Femmes’ Why Do Birds Sing? with a reissue of the bestselling album from the folk-punk pioneers.” 

It is an innocuous enough a statement but the latter part of it gave me pause as I always assumed that their eponymously titled debut was their biggest moment in the limelight. I was very wrong.  

Another informative press release paragraph is even more enlightening:

“Released in the spring of 1991, Why Do Birds Sing? pushed the Violent Femmes into their highest level of mainstream success—nearly a decade into their career. Over the next few years, the band became a must-see act at festivals like Lollapalooza and Woodstock ’94, while their videos could be seen regularly on MTV. As the group was embraced by a new generation of fans, Violent Femmes* entered the Billboard 200 for the first time since its release and was certified platinum by the RIAA.”

*(Note: their self titled debut album from 1983…)

Who knew? Not me, clearly and perhaps a few of you, Dear Readers.

I always liked Why Do Birds Sing? not only for its immediately likable anthem “American Music” —which hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock charts around that time — and their terrific reinvention of Culture Club’s classic ‘80s hit “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.”  I also liked this recording because it felt more like what their sophomore album probably should have been. I won’t go into Hallowed Ground’s strengths and weaknesses (you can read about it on the wiki) but it may have not been the ideal second album coming after the strength of that amazing debut. The third album The Blind Leading the Naked was good too but a very different affair, produced by Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and delivering a more traditional band feel instead of the stripped down acoustic punk folk trio most of us loved at the beginning. 

So, after some time in the musical wilderness, fans were clearly happy with the so called “return to form” of Why Do Birds Sing? and because of this it holds up very well as an end-to-end listen.  

Coinciding with the band’s 40th anniversary, Craft Recordings has reissued Why Do Birds Sing? for (as far as I can tell) the first time on vinyl in the United States — there were LP pressings in 1991 in Europe and Australia according to the record collecting marketplace website Discogs).

The new Craft Recordings’ pressing of Why Do Birds Sing?  is excellent. It is manufactured on thick dark black 180-gram vinyl that is well centered and quiet.  The music sounds great there. No complaints. 

There is a two disc CD version of the album which includes previously unreleased alternates and outtakes as well as a complete concert from 1991 (recorded at The Boathouse in Norfolk, VA). 

You can find the deluxe edition of Why Do Birds Sing? streaming in CD quality on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here). Both sound real good.  The live recording is especially revealing as you can hear the audience which was clearly and passionately in sync with the band, singing along loudly to the introduction of “Add It Up.” Its a fun show! 

And for all its undercurrent of seriousness, fun is ultimately one of the key calling cards of The Violent Femmes music. And with these new more deluxe and expanded editions of Why Do Birds Sing?  it is a great time to be reminded why you fell in love with this band in the first place. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Deeper Shades Of Soul: The Good Good Feeling Fania Boxed Set, Part 2

Yesterday, we explored a bit of the fantastic new retrospective from Craft Recordings called It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records. This set presents the tremendous and often groundbreaking singles from legendary, pioneering Latin Soul label Fania Records.  If you missed that first part of the review, please click here to catch up on it. 

Before I continue, it is important to point out that for a retrospective compilation spanning many years and different artists,  the fidelity is great on this set. So kudos must go out to Grammy Award-winning engineer, Paul Blakemore who ensured remarkable consistency from track to track which were no doubt recorded at many different times and places. This is especially significant given that the recordings here were pulled from best available sources, a combination of original master tapes, 45 RPM singles and probably some non-analog sources. Nonetheless, I’ve found this to be a very enjoyable listen on standard CDs and the streams found on Qobuz and Tidal (links follow below).

“Some Lonely Heart” by Ronnie Marks is an epic pop production with stinging electric guitars, soaring orchestral strings and passionate vocals.  Ralfi Pagan’s fascinating twist on David Gates’ “Make It With You” starts out more like the Bloomfield-Cooper-Stills version of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” — with a ripping distorted electric guitar solo — before it settles into a sweet falsetto vocal backed by chill vibe slow groove. 

Ray Barretto — who makes a particularly stunning performance in the fantastic new documentary Summer Of Soul — turns in some killer tracks here. Included is his original version of “A Deeper Shade Of Soul” (which was sampled by Urban Dance Squad for their early ’90 smash hit of the same name).  “Hard Hands” and “Love Beads” are great rocking soul slabs as well.

Ray Baretto

“Accept Me” features spectacular vocals on this track from The Harvey Averne Dozen.  Ali Baba’s novelty jam “Ungawa” revolves around a fun tale about a visitor from Mars all wrapped up in a slinky groove with punchy horns, congas and piano. 

Disc four has a slew of tracks which I’m loving by an artist I’ve never heard prior to this release, again, Ralfi Pagan.  I need to get more of his music — Ralfi’s voice falls somewhere between Little Anthony (of The Imperials fame), Eddie Holman (“Hey There Lonely Girl”) and even “Prince.” “It’s Alright” is a kicker, working of a great wah-wah guitar pulse a smokin’ rock groove and ripping distorted guitar leads weaving between the vocals and congas — its kind of like hearing an alternate universe version of early Chicago when Terry Kath was leading the band but with a singer who seems to channel James Brown and Edgar Winter in the same breath. Pagan breathes an authentic Latin groove in to Carole King’s “Its Too Late” which hinted at the vibe in her original hit. 

Butterscotch’s “Try A Little Harder” is really interesting, feeling almost like a an early Todd Rundgren pop hit (think “Hello Its Me”). But, with its very unconventional approach to the drum beats — which land the snare hits in a place you don’t really expect them to be in a dance recording — the result is an unusual groove that makes it sound like nothing else.  The other Butterscotch track, “Today” is a bit more of a conventional slow soul burner ala The Delfonics and The Stylistics.  By the time you get to W.R.L.C.’s “Johnny No Good” we are getting into early Disco territory but the vibe is more hard rocking and some badass electric guitar breaks and a fine groove this side of Bohannon are featured. 

It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records also includes a bonus 7-inch vinyl single featuring vintage promo tracks for famed DJ “Symphony” Sid Torin’s radio shows on New York’s WEVD AM and FM — an early champion of Latin music who helped popularize the genre in the 1960’s. 

It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records is on many popular digital and streaming platforms. You can find it in CD quality on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here). 

A two-LP vinyl edition of It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records cherry picks 28 choice cuts plus an 8-page booklet. There is an  orange-crush colored pressing of 300 copies which is sadly already sold out from the pre-order.  I suspect there will be standard black vinyl copies of the set happening at some point given the likely strong demand for a set like this.

But really, you’ll probably do well getting the boxed set. Its a really fun package and with nearly five hours of music, you’ll have a great handy soundtrack for any party or road trip road trip at your fingertips. 

Highly recommended.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Deeper Shades Of Soul: The Good Good Feeling Fania Boxed Set, Part 1

In the world of record collecting — and music collecting, I should say — there is both excitement and periodic regret which comes with experience. The excitement is from the joy of discovering new music which we’ve never heard before and come to love. The regret comes from knowing that we’ve overlooked this music many many times in the past.

Such is the case with for me with what are now regarded as classic — and even legendary — recordings on the Fania Records label.  Most of my life I remember seeing albums from this company, which specialized in modern Latin sounds, popping up pretty much everywhere I looked.  But, for whatever reasons, I never bothered to stop and try to listen to them. So, I frequently skipped over these records when I would find them out in the wilds of collecting, from garage sales and flea markets to used record shops. My bad. As I’ve been diving deep in to Soul and Latin musics, especially over the past 20 years, my collection and listening tastes are much more balanced and diverse than when I was a kid. 

Nowadays many of these Fania recordings are highly revered by both fans of dance music as well as jazz infused Latin sounds. If you go to whosampled.com and search for some of the great Fania artists like Ray Barretto and Joe Battaan you’ll find they have been referenced a whole bunch in the digital age, pumping up the collectibility and value of these already rare original records as DJs around the world seek them out for their collections and new projects. 

Just recently I was very excited to have found one of these rare Fania albums at a garage sale in great condition for its age by the great Latin soul singer Joe Battaan.  It is sooooo good! When I looked up the album on Discogs.com, I was kind of stunned as even the CDs and re-issues of his recordings are commanding some very hefty prices on the marketplace!  There were no original vinyl pressings listed at the time of this writing!

Joe Bataan

So the point of all this record collector’s hoo ha is simply that if you want to start exploring this music, there are some good options out there. Thankfully, the good folks at Craft Recordings — which owns the Fania Records catalog — are beginning to make this music available again on a wider scale.

First up is a fine new four CD hardcover book styled set providing a terrific overview of the label and the single releases from its major artists.  This music onIt’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records sounds timeless and totally fits in with the music that new artists today are making as heard on labels like Penrose Records and Colemine Records. I’ve written about these labels before and some of the lowrider-vibing bands on them such as Thee Sinseers, Thee Sacred Souls, The Altons and Los Yesterdays. If you missed these reviews, please click on those label names in the prior sentence add you’ll jump to some of the stories.

All this really whet my appetite for more of this music so the timing of receiving It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records for review was just perfect. I’m way into this, as you might be able to tell! 

A little paragraph from the album’s official press release may help to put this music into further perspective: “In the ’60s, a unique musical moment was brewing in New York City, as young Latin American artists—many of them second-generation—found themselves split between the traditional music they grew up on and the rising sounds of soul, doo-wop, and R&B. They began experimenting in the clubs, blending Afro-Cuban beats, Latin jazz, and soul with predominantly English lyrics. The result was a delectable new genre with broad appeal that epitomized the cultural melting pot of New York. While boogaloo and Latin soul was a short-lived craze (peaking in the late ’60s and early ’70s), it popularized Latin music in America and established the careers of many internationally beloved artists.” 

In total on the set you get nearly 90 songs spread across four nice sounding compact discs. This music was originally designed for play on AM radio back in the day so there is a certain flavor to these single mixes which still sound great whether you are playing them on at home, on headphones or your car stereo. That said, don’t be thrown by the reality that the recordings were pulled from best available sources, a combination of masters as well as 45 singles and other non analog sources. Generally, the fidelity is great on this set all things considered.

There is so much goodness here, its hard to narrow down favorites on It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records. You’ll find classics like Joe Bataan’s “Gypsy Woman” and the Doo Wop-inspired low-rider vibe gem “When We Get Married.”  Monguito Santamaria’s “Crying Time” is a wonderful slow jam with punchy horns and a fat bass line (and yes, he is the son of legendary Cuban percussionist and bandleader, Mongo Santamaria!).  

I’ll go into more of my favorites tomorrow in Part II of this review. If you want to start streaming it to get a taste of the music, you can find it in CD quality on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here). 

Monguito Santamaria

You can also check out some of the tracks I’ve posted below for you to taste these great grooves. 

There is so much more, so tune in tomorrow as we continue to explore It’s A Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul Of Fania Records. More fun to come!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Lou Barlow’s Reason To Live: Fresh Modern Campfire Songs For 2021

It finally hit me about what I find so endearing with Lou Barlow’s acoustic-based solo albums: they are like having a friend play you a song late one night around a campfire in the woods while passing around a communal guitar.  It is a very personal listening experience.

Barlow tends to rely on a distinctive strumming guitar pulse he’s mastered to build up his incredibly melodic songs. These tracks all tend to showcase his rich voice and gift for crafting wistful, thoughtful timely topical tunes.  

Indeed, his recordings are a sort of alternative rock twist on campfire songs. However,  these days Lou is singing about his current life with his family as well as all that is going on around us in these strange modern pandemic times.  This album was written and recorded between Spring 2019 through Fall 2020. 

Reason To Live features 17 new songs that were all crafted at home.  As with all Lou Barlow albums, by the second and third spin your humming along to his infectious hooks.

As with Springsteen’s best acoustic work, many of the songs here on Reason To Live (and many other of Lou’s solo albums for that matter) could easily be blown up into full fledge rockers with his band Sebadoh or The Folk Implosion.

So far, my favorite songs on this album include “Why Can’t It Wait” (with its beautiful acoustic guitar signatures) and the resonant “I Don’t Like Changes.”  “All You People Suck” is a powerful and quietly angry song about selfish blind followers who “don’t believe that we’re all connected.”

“Lows and Highs” features a haunting, somewhat Robert Wyatt-esque vibe, possibly about domestic violence. Some heavy truths reside inside this song: “We give our lives away, Love is why they say, We are so isolated.”  

You can find Reason To Live streaming in CD quality (16-bit, 44.1 kHz) on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here) and both sound real good. I especially enjoyed using the offline streaming function of those services to pre-load the album into the apps on my phone for listening in the car. 

The standard weight light blue vinyl version of Reason To Live  — issued by Joyful Noise Records — is happily very quiet and well centered so there are no problems on that front. 

Do go into this knowing, however, that Lou recorded this material in his home so you should not go into this expecting an Abbey Road-level production. Yet, it is in no way a “Lo Fi” listening experience — actually, there are often lovely layers of chiming acoustic and sparkling electric guitars. His richly recorded vocals are icing on the cake for this ultimately very tasty recording. There is even a Mellotron-like texture on one of the songs!

You can find Reason To Live on Amazon as well as from the Joyful Noise website (click here) which also has the cassette and CD versions. Get it. And also check out his past releases. I have reviewed the fine first time vinyl edition of his great album EMOH (click here) and his last album, Brace The Wave (click here).

Modern campfire songs with heart and soul… Tasty tunes and flavorful new favorites… In this day and age what else can you ask for when one of your favorite artists gives you good heart food? 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Exploring Amy Winehouse’s Catalog On Vinyl, Qobuz, Tidal Streaming

I wish I had heard Amy Winehouse’s debut album, Frank, first before the mega-platinum follow up Back To Black.

I was sort of late to the party on Amy anyhow so I don’t purport to be the world’s biggest authority. But I liked her hits enough to buy that CD back in the day — before she passed away — which counts for something, right?!  

Anyhow, fast forward to my birthday this year and a friend kindly gifted me not only Frank but also the posthumous release Lioness: Hidden Treasuresthanks Ron!!. The latter is a sweet collection of rarities. Both are two disc sets on colored vinyl, and both sound quite nice.

Musically, I won’t spend a lot of time here on the songs and the joys of Ms. Winehouse’s music as I’m sure a lot of you — perhaps most of you — know the albums more intimately than myself.  

However, I will talk about the sound quality on these pressings, which is what more than a few of you come to Audiophile Review to learn about, I suspect.

Now, as far as I can tell Frank initially only came out on CD back when it first was released and didn’t appear on vinyl until 2011 (at least according to Discogs). Given that it was probably a modern digital recording, there is no doubt a certain tell-tale sonic flavor to this recording. The more I think about it this may well be an intentional vibe crafted by the producers. It reminds me a bit of the production vibe on Queen of The Stone Age’s last album, Villains. I discuss this in my review of that album (click here to read that)

Some people may like this production aesthetic I suppose, but I find it a bit annoying at times, a bit like a fly buzzing around your ear on a hot summer’s day. I suspect that sort of textural approach to the music will work at its best when heard over fidelity-limited ear buds or via Bluetooth through one of those single point wireless speakers. I’m not dissing or dismissing this, mind you. But I do feel obligated to explore the sonic reality (if you will) that some of you may encounter when playing these albums on vinyl. 

Of the two albums, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is the better sounding of the two.  Spinning at 45 RPM and pressed on nice dark but translucent heavy-weight (probably 180-gram) blue-green vinyl — this record is not flimsy and is happily quiet and well centered. 

There is a still a bit of that digital feel evident on Winehouse’s vocals but overall the instruments sound richer and fuller than on Frank. You can find Frank streaming on Tidal in MQA format at 24-bits and 44.1 kHz resolution (click here) and on Qobuz in Hi Res (also 24/44.1, click here)

Lioness is only streaming in CD quality but it actually sounds pretty clean there with less of the digital vibe that comes across on the LP version. I don’t have a CD to compare it to but — guessing here — perhaps the additional disc mastering for vinyl exacerbated some of that digital footprint (if you will). Click here for it on Tidal and here for it on Qobuz. 

One last trivia tidbit for some of you who may not know it: “October Song” (from Frank) won me over with its reference to the opening track of my favorite Sarah Vaughan album from 1954, “Lullaby Of Birdland.”  If you aren’t familiar with the original version, I’ve posted it below.

Clearly, I am enjoying owning these albums and adding them into my collection. I’m looking forward to getting closer with the recordings. And I guess now I have no excuse: I need to get Back To Black on vinyl to complete my set! 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Lady Blackbird Takes Flight With Black Acid Soul

I’m excited.

Last week I reported on a new discovery for me in Madeleine Peyroux, a kind of modern jazz-folk-pop singer with a whisky-toned voice this side of Billie Holiday. Click here if you missed that review.

Coincidentally, I received an album in the mail that week about a new singer named Lady Blackbird who has released an equally knocked out recording titled Black Acid Soul.

The bio info on her Bandcamp page (click here) kinda sums it up but I think it misses one very distinct touchstone: “….reflecting influences as varied as Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner and Chaka Khan, Los Angeles-based Lady Blackbird (aka Marley Munroe) possesses a style and emotional intensity that is very much her own.“  

I would add Nina Simone to the top of that list, who wrote the opening track on Black Acid Soul. Here on this track, we get to experience a singer ready for her moment to lift-off; apparently she’s been around on the scene for a while but things — the right songs, the right production, the right musicians, etc. — came together when she connected with GRAMMY® Award-nominated writer-and-producer Chris Seefried who helped shape this music around her.  

The haunting title track which closes the album is an exercise in grand arrangement this side of spiritual recordings ala Alice Coltrane with bowed upright acoustic bass, lush orchestral strings and funky Clavinet-flavored soloing — it creates a soaring mood that I only wish went on longer.  “It’s Not Easy” is great simple showcase for her voice. This too I would have liked to have heard expanded upon — I suspect that live on stage it will grow and blossom.

But for my initial impression, it has been the interpretations and interesting arrangements that make this all work for me.  

The real jaw-dropper is tucked away in the middle of the recording — and the opening of side 2 on the vinyl version of Black Acid Soul — a dramatic reworking of Joe Walsh’s 1969 psych-rock opus “Collage.”  If you know the original which appeared on the first LP by Walsh’s original band The James Gang — called Yer Album — you’ll be a bit gobsmacked by this wistful moody reinvention.

This new interpretation places the burden of carrying the tune on Lady Blackbird vs. the original which is built up on a rich production of The James Gang’s guitar, bass and drum power trio aesthetic plus orchestral strings to elevate Walsh’s thin voice (click here if you’ve never heard that version before). A personal aside: I’m pleased that someone other than myself is still a fan of that band and that great debut album in particular (my older brother had it on cassette when it came out so I used to listen to it on headphones all the time as a little kid!). 

Another stunner on Black Acid Soul is “Fix It” which is based on the Bill Evans classic instrumental “Peace Piece.” The Evans Estate granted Lady Blackbird and Seefried co- authorship to add lyrics and vocals which amazingly sounds like a natural and complete work, again bringing out her very rich Nina Simone influence.  Pianist Deron Johnson’s solo adds drizzles a beautiful sun-shower of sparkling rain drops on this misty blue Sunday morning mix. Click here to hear the original from the album Everybody Digs Bill Evans

The vinyl version of Black Acid Soul is very nice: 180-grams thick, dark black, well centered and quiet. No problems there and with mastering by Bernie Grundman himself, there is nothing not to like here. The production values on this package are also exemplary with gorgeous raised glossy lettering (reminiscent of original pressings of Black Sabbath’s Master’s Of Reality, for those of you trying to imagine this). There is also a colored vinyl version available. Unfortunately, both vinyl editions were very limited runs of 500 each only available on her Bandcamp page and they are sold out already. Hopefully there will be a repress — I imagine there will be some significant demand for this album on vinyl.

Until then, you can find Black Acid Soul streaming on Tidal (click here) and Qobuz (click here) in 24-bit, 44.1 resolution, respectively. Both versions sound very nice as streaming audio goes. I’ve also posted several of her videos below.

Black Acid Soul is a great first flight. I’m looking forward to hearing where the winds take Lady Blackbird on her journey. All fingers crossed for smooth travels ahead.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Can World Music Bridge The Gap To Prog Rock? Part 1: New Music From Cuba’s Okuté.

I rarely hear anything from my online friends who are into progressive rock about newer musics from other locales (other than America and Europe) such as Africa and Cuba.  Some prog-leaning music fans these days bring up vintage recordings by Fela Kuti periodically — especially the ones with Ginger Baker — and fewer still King Sunny Adé. But interest there seems to end there, as if time stopped.  Yet, there is all this other music which happened and continues to happen; I wonder sometimes why the two paths don’t cross more frequently. 

Now, I certainly don’t purport to be a super expert on this topic but I do recognize that there is a massive universe of music out there to explore which doesn’t get played out as much as it should in America.  So I try to connect some cultural dots when I can (and mea culpa if I make some mistakes along the way! Let’s share the love of education, folks!).

That said, most prog fans love 1980s-era King Crimson and the seminal works of Talking Heads such as Fear of Music and Remain In Light. But — admittedly based on what I see happening in online forums on social media — most don’t seem to get down to the music that influenced those recordings or music that expands on that continuum.  Sometimes you’ll see a post about the brilliant Buena Vista Social Club album. I think I saw someone post about one of David Byrne’s productions on his Luaka Bop label. Heck, I think I’ve only seen one post about America’s early rhythm king, Hamilton Bohannon other than the occasional post I’ve made myself. It all seems rather disconnected at times…. 

Hold on to those thoughts for a moment…

When I learned of some new recordings from groups in Cuba and Ghana, my virtual ears perked up and I requested review samples as they sounded fascinating just reading about them.  Today we’ll explore a new release from Cuba’s Okuté. Hailing from Havana, Okuté’s press release gives a concise insight into the group’s and its intent: 

Okuté uncovers deeply rooted pathways at the intersection of Cuban rumba and West African music. Okuté is as unfiltered as Havana itself, where lines blur between the sacred and profane, and between centuries and even millennia of melodies, rhythms and incantations. Lead singer Pedro “Tata” Francisco Almeida Barriel draws not only on traditional rumba, but also his deep knowledge of Arará, Abakua, and Lucumi religious music. Tata’s vocals cascade over the polyrhythms of the ensemble’s famous percussionists — the legendary Vizcaino family, Roberto Sr. and Roberto Jr., are joined by Machito and Ramoncito. Virtuoso trésero Coto and bassist Gaston Joya further lock into syncopations that conjure not only Arsenio Rodriguez, but the changui of Eastern rural Cuba.”

For those of you whom may not remember, last month I reviewed a fascinating and wonderful new boxed set all about Changui (click here to catch up on that in case you missed it).

From Okuté‘s Facebook page we get some additional insights worth noting:  “In the Yoruban religion Okuté is the creator of the cold waters that brought shackled Africans to the port of Havana. Here Rumba was born in solares, played on wooden cajons ferried across the waters, its rhythms still resounding centuries later.”

For me, the joy of listening to Okuté is the connective glue between the generations, the propulsive grooves and the instruments which tie them all together. These kind of hypnotic repetitive guitar signatures intertwining with the percussion lead me to make inevitable jumps back to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew who worked their guitar wizardry into a signature sound (on the albums Discipline, Beat and Three Of A Perfect Pair) which is still being expanded up on today (Fripp just completed another tour with a version of the band that features three drummers!).  

Certain songs on Okuté are already starting to work their earworms into my subconscious including the infectious “Chi Chi Rabako” and the tight-but-loose “Dveuelvame La Voz.” 

I love the slow build of “Gaston’s Rumba” with its upright acoustic bass solos at the start, and then aching strings floating atop which are greeted by an off-the-hook distorted electric guitar like solo (I think it might be a “Tres,” a guitar like instrument, perhaps 6-string to create a sound akin to a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar). Whatever it is I suspect it would make Robert Fripp proud and all this happens before the core song actually starts!  

If you had Bryan Ferry record a vocal on “Rumbarimbula” it might sound like some Afro-centric twist on vintage Roxy Music. “Orakinyango” actually has sonic textures which make me wonder if Okuté had listened to some of Fripp’s lush soundscapes — this is a beautiful mood piece. 

The recording on Okuté is excellent both on the CD quality streams you’ll find on Qobuz (click here) and Tidal (click here). There are some deep bass sounds here plus crisp-but-warm highs and a nice peppery midrange.  The vinyl sounds great too.  The only thing I was a little disappointed in was that my LP arrived quite warped — and the cover pretty bent up from shipping — although it plays fine. Given the careless cover damage from the mail handling, I wonder if it might have been left in a hot truck along the way. Hopefully your copy won’t have this sort of issue. 

Below are some samples of Okute’s music if you don’t have access to Tidal or Qobuz. 

Also be sure to check out their website at  okuterumba.com

Tune in tomorrow when I’ll explore some fascinating music from Ghana’s The Alostmen.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Which Version Of Bob Marley’s Capitol Sessions Is Right For You: Vinyl, DVD Or A High Res Stream?

I have to say that had I not known that  the new Bob Marley & The Wailers archival release of a classic 1973 studio session was taken from a video source, I might have thought this was a rough mix made from multitrack master.  But then I was alerted that it was all in Mono and upon closer listen I can hear that made-on-the-fly essence despite a wonderful presence of the band in the studio.

This was analog video in 1973 so it is not entirely surprising that the sound is so warm. And thus it is also not surprising that Bob Marley’s The Capitol Sessions ’73 has been pressed on to vinyl records from that source. However, we need to understand and accept that there are challenges inherent to this material, so there will be periodic distortions you may notice, possibly resulting from levels which were perhaps not being monitored to the audio feed going on to the video tape as closely as they might have been (apparently the multi-track master are long lost, alas, so this is all that remains). Perhaps the engineers got a bit of a contact high from the spliffs Marley lights up at the start of the video!  Joking aside, speaking of video, if you missed my earlier review of the DVD you should click here to jump to it for some insights into the package. 

Like on the DVD, The Capitol Sessions ’73 is streaming on Tidal in 24-bit, 48 kHz MQA format (click here) which sounds quite wonderful all things considered. The tom toms on “Rastaman Chant” are huge sounding to the point where you can almost feel the air they are pushing through the large drums there. The version on Qobuz (also streaming in 48 kHz and 24-bits) has a nice resonance, again particularly on that big floor tom tom (click here), but the stream is a bit brighter sounding overall.  

Comparatively, the audio feels a bit more reigned in on the vinyl version — I would guess to keep your stylus from jumping out of the grooves. Both versions sound basically good but — again, just guessing here — I get a sense that whomever did the vinyl mastering (ie. cutting the lacquers) might have had some challenges with the blur of low end and mid range sounds working with this less than perfect master tape.

When you jump between platforms you start to appreciate the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of each version. In preparing the streaming digital version there may not have been as much need for additional compression applied to the recording. So, in this instance the streaming versions when played through a DAC to deliver the full resolution to your speakers, sounds at times bigger than the vinyl.

There are tradeoffs, no doubt. The vinyl version while a bit more restrained in its presentation might sound a bit more like Marley’s recordings of the period vs. the crisper feel of the DVD and streaming versions (if that makes some reverse logic sense to some of you). 

There is of course something nice about playing this on an LP, that album feel you get flipping the sides and enjoying the large scale cover art. You get none of that aesthetic when streaming. The other thing to keep in mind is that by buying the album you are helping to ensure that the powers that be who put up the funds to bring this album to market get compensated fairly. Unfortunately, the economics of streaming are not generally in favor of the artists yet it seems. 

If you like listening to Bob Marley, and enjoy vinyl as your medium of choice, then by all means pick up The Capitol Sessions ’73. If you already have the DVD, that may be enough for some of you. But if you get the vinyl — and there are several color variants which I have not heard, by the way — be sure to also get the DVD as that is essential viewing to appreciate this performance. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review