- Written by Jason Crawford
- Published on 11 November 2013
Miles Davis "Milestones" Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
I'm a Jazz fan. I'm no expert, but I love the genre enough to capitalize the "J" when I'm writing about it. I started out making purchasing decisions based on serious scientific data like "how cool is the album cover?" At some point, I decided that you can't go wrong with Blue Note recordings. As I became more informed, I finally started looking at the players' names that kept cropping up on the best titles that I'd been exposed to. And at this point, I know enough to buy any work that involves Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and "Philly" Joe Jones working in tandem. That's no great testament to my knowledge of the genre, huh? And when you put Miles Davis' name down on top of all the rest, you have a serious no-brainer. And when MoFi is heading up the reissue project, you'd almost think that the record should have just jumped off the shelf and delivered itself to your turntable without provocation. That's more or less how Milestones found its way to me. In addition to all the wonderful things that MoFi does already, they had the good sense to keep this one in its glorious original monaural format. Life is good when you have access to the music on this disc. Life is good.
I was starting getting into Jazz when I got into Kerouac. This means that I started with Charlie Parker. I had a couple of his cassettes. Cassettes. We might as well be talking about the Pyrenean ibex. Anyway, I was into Charlie Parker and, if you listen to Jazz at all, you'll obviously wind up getting into Miles, but my discovery was accelerated by the fact that Davis played on one of my Parker cassettes. Well, it's been a long time since I heard any of those tapes, but Milestones kicks off with a tune called "Dr. Jekyll" which brought those days right back to me. It may not be a classic example of "bebop," but it's jaunty and fast and serves as a reminder, at least. Things don't stay at that break neck pace for long. In fact, the rest of the recordings here are comparatively mild. And clear. And beautiful. Milestones is pretty diverse as far as textures and tempos are concerned. I'm not versed enough to be able to identify a Coltrane solo versus an Adderly one, especially since the record's not mixed to have one player in each channel. But I know this, there's not a dull moment on Milestones and the saxes are a major reason why. The title track is especially fun as the main theme is introduced at the beginning before all three horn players are given a chance to explore and wander to the point of resolution and, perhaps, even discovery. We return briefly to the theme before the fade. From there, Red Garland takes the reins and steers us through the bulk of "Billy Boy" which the liner notes describe as a "pop tune." I'm often mystified by the liners on the backs of the old Jazz records, and I just as often don't read them at all. To my ears, "Billy Boy" is one of six superior recordings on a badass Jazz record put together by one Miles Dewey Davis III. I don't hear a "pop tune" amongst them.
I don't have an original copy to compare to MoFi's Milestones, but I can tell you this: I think it's a fine time to be a Jazz fan if you're into vinyl. There are lots of different companies handling many disparate reissues and I've not gotten a hold of a bad one yet. Next month, we'll look at a few of them from a variety of sources, and Milestones was the inspiration for that project. I recommend it.
(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)
The Band "The Band" Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
The Band was a tricky entity, no? They're universally regarded as one of the great Rock and Roll bands of all time, but I think they only had two essential studio releases. The rest of their legacy, I'd say, was built on the muscle of their live performances and the individual bad-assedness of the group's original members. Mobile Fidelity has already released their take on the immortal Music From Big Pink as well as the most listenable version of Stage Fright that I'm aware of. Their version of Rock of Ages is also top shelf, and they just blew the lid off of the whole enterprise with their release of the Band's self-titled sophomore release colloquially known as The Brown Album. It's absolutely one of my favorite records, and I've never heard it sound so warm and with so much detail. I've been waiting for this. For much longer than I realized.
I don't know where to start. I've listened to this recording so many times that you'd think I'd have become immune to its charms by now. I mean, I've heard "Stairway to Heaven" so many times that I can't even tell if I like the song any more. This is not a concern with the songs on The Brown Album. Every song on it is as strong as the characters it describes. My earliest MTV memory is of seeing the Band perform "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" from The Last Waltz on television at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a school day. I knew immediately that I wanted on that train, and I haven't stepped off since. I had the good fortune of getting to shake Levon's hand once and it's still one of the highlights of my adult life, and I say that without shame or regret. The man's work moves me, and a healthy portion of that emotion is tied up in songs like "Rag Mama Rag" and "Jemima Surrender." MoFi's version of The Brown Album introduces waves in Garth Hudson's organ work that I'd not been privy to until now. Rick Danko's bass sounds so real and punchy that it would be overwhelming if it weren't so perfectly integrated into the textures of the other instruments. Richard Manuel's vocals on "Whispering Pines" have what I assume was the intended effect which was to bring grown men to tears, and when you add all of that together you get an album that never tires, never stops growing, and whose only disappointment lies in the fact that the members couldn't hold it together long enough to do it again. I blame Robbie Robertson. You can blame it on Cane. We need somebody to burn, I know that. My original copy of this recording is a fun one to have. It gets more "cool" points than a reissue ever will. The neon green Capitol label screams vintage hip, but the sound is a little less expansive and the crackles don't help either. When it comes listening time, and that time will come again and again, I'll be reaching for my MoFi copy. I'm thankful for it.
I really don't know much else to say about this, gang. MoFi is on a roll with some stellar titles and I'm gonna ride that wave until it crashes. We still have the Band's collaboration with Dylan on Before the Flood to look forward to, and their Basement Tapes to absorb. I'd get all of these while you still can. They'll be pricey later. And they'll be worth it.
(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)
The Allman Brothers Band "Eat A Peach" Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
Every once in a while you need a reminder. Something to come along and take you back to something that you've known in your bones, but somehow lost track of for a while. Recently, I've had a couple of reminders of the potency of Macon, Georgia's musical produce from the late '60's and early '70's. I picked up a Blu-Ray copy of Otis Redding's Shake!, dusted off my Specialty Little Richard box set, and dug into MoFi's recent reissue of Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers. I remember seeing my dad's copy of the latter when I was a kid. I opened up the gatefold, couldn't figure out what I was seeing, and put the record back without paying it further mind. Later, of course, I'd know the error of my ways. I'd dive headlong into an Allman Brothers bender that would last for some long years. And then I'd... forget? Allow myself to become distracted? Something happened, and I put the Allman habit down for a while, and was only brought back to it by hearing MoFi's take on their first two records. And they sound wonderful. While Eat A Peach sounds otherworldly. I've come back to some of the bands I was listening to in my early college days and realized why I left them behind. I come back to the Allman Brothers Band and I'm lucky to make it out with my scalp on my head. You can turn your nose up at all the "jam bands" that the Allmans inspired, but you can't turn away from the source. These guys were the real thing, and Eat A Peach captures them at the height of their super powers.
Unfortunately, Duane Allman didn't live to see the Eat A Peach sessions to completion. He's featured on all of the live material starting on side two, and on most of the studio recordings except for those found on side one. Which means that Duane didn't actually play slide on "Ain't Wastin' Time No More." This would have been devastating news to me as a 16 year old, but now, of course, I see Dicky Betts' contributions on slide as a celebration of Duane. And as a statement of purpose for the band moving forward. They'd just lost the group's life force and foundation to a motorcycle accident, and somehow they managed to cobble together a mix of studio and live material that rivaled anything they'd done to that date. And, perhaps even more impressively, they made the set cohere. Their re-recording of Gregg's "Melissa" without Duane must have stung a bit in the studio as it was reported to be amongst Duane's favorite Allman tunes. And it became absolutely entrenched in the Georgia soil from which I grew out of. Almost as essential as the soil itself. And MoFi brings all of the band's harmonies and textures into such wonderful shimmery relief. It sounds like summer. Out of all the tragedy, doubt, and confusion, Tom Dowd and the Allman Brothers Band produced one of the truly great Rock and Roll records of the '70's or of any era. This was the band's fourth full length offering, and they had one more to pull from their utility belt before things came unhinged.
That next one was called Brothers and Sisters and MoFi has it in the pipeline already. I think it will lend itself especially well to the MoFi treatment as that recording is already a little cleaner than the preceding Allman albums. As is, I think Eat A Peach stands as MoFi's finest Allman achievement to date. The soundstage is set up like a live concert event, and I can't think of many concerts I'd rather have been at than the Fillmore shows that the Allmans are so well known for. Parts of those shows are captured here, and the studio material is equally as great. Get this one now.
(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)
Bob Dylan "Blonde On Blonde" Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
I've been looking for a minty original copy of Blonde On Blonde for a minute now. Initially, I was looking for a nice mono copy. If I'm going to own one of those, it will be because I either got unexpectedly and suddenly rich or because I found a copy at a goodwill store. In the meantime, my mono reissue as part of the The Original Mono Recordings box will suffice quite nicely. And Mobile Fidelity just released their take on the stereo version. It was cut at 45rpm and pressed on three flawless records. The hunt may not be over, but it's certainly less of a priority now. This one sounds definitive to me. Not sure how much better it could get. I'm kinda blown away.
The first thing that jumped out at me about this version was the liveliness of the tambourine on "Rainy Day Women." It just sounds so much more real and airy than it ever has before. The same can be said for Dylan's harp minus the bit about being "airy." You can almost hear its inner workings as it cuts through the band's accompaniment and forces its way into the party despite its lack of refinement or etiquette. And then there's "The Voice." Front and center. Unapologetic and challenging. Floating in and out of the guitars and the organ, melding with them like some beautifully corrosive cocktail. You can bathe in this sound. Let it roll all over you, and luxuriate in the details that might be finding you for the first time. It'll burn off what's ailing you and leave you cleansed and invigorated. Ready for what comes next. The sound is so crisp and clear that you feel like it should shed some light on the work's lyrical mystery. Seems like some of the clarity should rub off on you and allow you to finally discern the meaning behind "I watch upon your scorpion that crawls across your circus floor." Or you could just listen to the damn thing. Forget history and context and mystery and meaning. Is it not a singular piece of art in the truest sense of the word? Have you heard anything else like it? Before or since? MoFi is rolling out a number of Dylan titles from the '60's and '70's including the two records that comprise what many think of as a trilogy with Blonde. Those titles are Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. The latter is not available yet, but the former has been out for a little while which means that time could be of the essence. I'm not sure how many of each title are being pressed, but I know that I positively got the 364th copy of the Blonde box. It's one of my most cherished records already. It's also the third copy of Blonde that I own, and it will render my Simply Vinyl version obsolete. That version is supposedly a reissue of the original UK stereo mix which hasn't been heard from in any format since inception. And it sounds fine, but it's a little sharp, a little less rounded out and a little bit jarring by comparison. MoFi's version is like a wave in the ocean. Simply Vinyl's more like a raisin in the bun. And I love the ocean more than I do pastries.
MoFi housed this masterpiece in a box that contains the three heavy discs in addition to a full sized photography booklet. They blew an opportunity to add more to that booklet, but whatever. The lead ins on the records seem abnormally long and the records are so silent that it's caused me to wonder if my stereo were muted on more than one occasion. MoFi's website shows that they are already out of stock so I'd recommend moving fast on this one. You'd be nuts to do much else.
(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)
Willie Nelson and Friends "Live at Third Man Records" Third Man Records
I did the right thing by signing up for Jack White's Third Man Records Premium Vault membership. Four times annually, I get a package in the mail that contains one full length vinyl offering along with a 7" record (except for this month), and some bit of ephemera. The only problem is the interminable waiting between releases. But a monthly release would be pricey as each package is worth $60 American to the good folks at Third Man. And they charge what they're worth. One of the four releases that I've gotten so far was less than stellar, and I'd still have paid the $60 for it. The most recent package is absolutely stellar, and is built around Willie Nelson's performance for CMT at the Third Man facility in Nashville on April 18 of this year. He had lots of help, and the whole shooting match was captured on analog tape. They called it Willie Nelson and Friends Live at Third Man Records. Long may Willie run...
This package's shipment was delayed while its producers cut through all the red tape necessary to get all of the artists onto the release. Couldn't have been easy with a roster including Norah Jones, Neil Young, and Sheryl Crow. Leon Russell is a player too, as is Ashley Monroe although I don't know who she is. The guests share equally in Willie's spotlight as Jones takes lead vocals on "Funny How Time Slips Away," Neil handles lead on "Sail Away" and "Long May You Run," and Willie duets on a couple of the others with whoever is available. I caught one of Willie's shows probably ten years ago, and his voice wasn't doing so hot. It sounds fine on this release, but I wonder if the guests were brought in to spell him so that he could hold up for the show's entirety. The event also served as Willie's 80th Birthday Celebration so I doubt anyone's going to blame him for calling in the cavalry. And the effect truly seems more celebratory than anything else. I mean, I don't get the feeling at all that the other artists are concealing a flaw in Willie's game. I do get the feeling that everyone was thrilled to be there, and that the night was memorable. The acoustic instruments sound so warm and inviting on this release that it's tempting to step into a pile of clichés while discussing the affair. "You feel like you're at the show" would be an appropriate one here. I'd lamented the state of my Willie collection when we looked at a couple of his records here a while back, and this release helps a lot. It's a beautiful, fluid listen throughout. Perfect for a relaxing night at home. Something for everyone. Fun for the whole family. A bolt from the blue. (Insert your fave cliché... here.)
This is a double vinyl release with an etching of Willie's iconic guitar on the fourth side. The records are thin, but quiet. They're also crazy colors. The first is described as "Smokey Gray" and the other is "Bio-Diesel Green." Commence with the Smokey Green Willie jokes now. This package's 7" is actually a 6" and it features Willie and Jack duetting on "Red Headed Stranger." The ephemera is a poster. The next package is built around the Raconteurs performance at the Ryman a couple of years back. I'd sign up now for that one. It should roll in just in time for Christmas, I'd guess.