Media

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February, 2012

Dusty Springfield "Dusty In Memphis" Atlantic Records/Analogue Productions

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A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February  2012

Almost two years ago exactly, we took a look at 4 Men With Beards' reissue of "Dusty In Memphis" by Dusty Springfield. I hadn't quite learned how to shop for vinyl reissues then. I'm a little better equipped to know what I'm looking for now. And, in the meantime, I've unsuccessfully sought an original copy and gotten rid of my 4 Men With Beards version. I'd still like to have an original. I don't miss the "bearded" version one bit. Especially now that I'm the proud owner of a two-disc, 45 r.p.m. version by Analogue Productions. Good night, America! It might be the best sounding record in my collection. I'd put it right up there with my Big Star reissues from Classic Records. It's insanely dynamic and Dusty's voice is hauntingly intimate. The tunes are so laid back and lush that her nearness is eerie. I mean that in the most loving way. You know the album is a classic, you know the material is there. This version may be definitive. That's why I need the original for comparison's sake. I can't imagine that the actual vinyl quality could be any better than Analogue's version. I'm just curious to know how the original tapes have held up over the years. Obviously, this most recent offering used nothing but. There will undoubtedly be sonic differences between a 2012 release and one from 40 plus years ago, but I wouldn't bet against the new one from a sonic perspective. That's a wager I'd love to lose. Then again, my head might explode if I did. I typically prefer original versions as a matter of course. It would be an interesting collation at the very least.

In some ways, "Memphis" is a victim of late '60's stereo experimentation which is one of the only knocks on it in my book. The drums are heavy in one channel with woodwinds in the other, for example. This is especially noticeable on "So Much Love," but it's pervasive throughout. As always, I'd have loved for this unbelievable project to have been done in mono, but it wasn't. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a mono copy for sale, definitely not in person. I'm sure the album singles were released in mono and that might be a worthy project to undertake for the more compulsive collectors in our ranks. Again, I'm splitting hairs here. The album is an acknowledged classic and has been since its initial release as best I can tell from here. None other than Tom Dowd himself assisted with the production alongside Jerry Wexler. These folks are not to be trifled with from a historical standpoint, but it just goes to show that the advent of stereo technology was a tempting plaything even for folks with the most trained ears of the time. Just ask George Martin. Having said all that, the last thing I'm thinking of during album opener "Just A Little Lovin'" is the drums' location. I'm thinking of the voice. Period. Then, I get into the construction of the actual song, and finally to the woodwinds and strings that I typically prefer to be left off my plate. It all works to perfection on "Memphis," and in my opinion works better as a rule for soul music than rock and roll. Make no mistake about it, "Memphis" is a product of its time. What other era would produce a song called "The Windmills Of Your Mind?" It all creates a mood that makes me feel like I was there, and I wasn't born until five years after its release. The whole thing seems a little racy for the times according to my understanding of what went on then. I mean, the sexuality is pretty overt. And that stands to reason as Springfield was an acknowledged bi-sexual as early as 1970 which must have been even harder than it is now. Hopefully, we've made some progress in that arena although it's hard to tell depending on where you're living. Like her buddy Elton John, Springfield was able to sing about the opposite sex with enough emotion to fool us all. I wonder what it would have sounded like if she had been able to honor her true emotions. I guess that's what being a professional is. Per Ray Charles, you bring as much feeling to the material as you can muster. Some of us are just better at it than others. Springfield contributed to popular culture more than most of us realize as she played a hand in Led Zeppelin's signing at Atlantic, and she introduced many Motown acts to Europe via her TV show. I have no doubt that she'd still be a force today if she were still with us. But, really, that's all incidental to her voice. That's where the action always was and is now.

I think I've said about enough about the quality of this vinyl release. Analogue Productions has some Grateful Dead titles heading our way soon and I'm determined to find a Dead album that I like all the way through. For some reason, I feel obligated. I know one's out there somewhere, and any help I can get from the sonic wonderland that AP creates can only strengthen the cause. If you're familiar with "Dusty In Memphis," and you're a vinyl lover already, you should have this one in your collection. The discs are perfect. No better description applies. The inner sleeves are on par with a MoFi inner, but for some reason AP housed it all in a flimsy single outer sleeve. I'd have preferred a gatefold. I'll get over it. This one's a revelation. Go get it.

R.E.M. "Life's Rich Pageant" IRS/Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

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A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February  2012

Seems like it was just yesterday that I was looking towards a future with no R.E.M. at this very site. It was not yesterday. It was last April. Now, the time is upon us. If we're to take these gentlemen at their collective word, they will no longer be recording new music. Who knows what's in the vault or if they'll let it out? In April 2011, we were looking at "Collapse Into Now." From this point on, we'll be looking backwards which suits me just fine when it comes to music anyway. Mobile Fidelity has reissued "Life's Rich Pageant," folks. That's a big deal because that's one of the finest rock records of the last 30 years which means, really, that it's one of the finest ever. It's rich, indeed. It stands up to repeated listens. I'm speaking from experience. I was never their biggest supporter. They didn't need me. They'd climbed the mountain by the time I got on board and were well on their way to redefining what a rock band could be. These aren't the folks you'd expect to see riding their motorcycles up and down the Chateau Marmont lobby. Well, maybe Peter Buck, but it's doubtful. Certainly not Michael Stipe. Unless he did. You never know with that guy. It's kind of his thing. But a motorcycle runs on gas and Stipe probably powers vehicles with his own sense of self satisfaction by now. And he should have plenty to spare. He's enriched the lives of millions of people through his music and who knows how many directly through philanthropic endeavor. I say "hats off to you, gentlemen." Thanks for the memories. And thanks to MoFi for taking this one on. It's one of my favorites from the band. It's one of my favorite things in the world.

This is my third copy. The first had a small tick in a quiet section that I couldn't handle so I got a second. It's a mint original, and I'll never tire of it. It's as rock and roll as I've known the band to get, Chateau Marmont be damned. Maybe there's another R.E.M. record out there that rocks harder in the traditional sense. I doubt it. If anyone knows of one, lemme know. Anyway, I thought it was kind of a strange one for MoFi to put their stamp on, and I think I was right. Seems like they'd have gone with one of the more acoustic based numbers, but I'm no consultant. And I like their work a lot. And I like this one a lot, but not more than the original. The MoFi release is like a brawler that learned to box. It might technically be a better show, but the raw power is more entertaining to me. I compared the two: original versus MoFi, and I noticed two things right off the bat: the MoFi release is noticeably quieter (as in "less loud"), and the bass is five times more prominent than on the original. Somewhat less noticeable, but present none the less, is a lack of distortion when compared to the original. Now, I wouldn't expect to hear a MoFi release laden with distortion, but I'm in a bit of a quandary because I don't expect to hear "Life's Rich Pageant" without it. I'm not suggesting that this record is unlistenable. At all. For many, it's probably a vast improvement. But I'm in the business of rocking, and, while business is still good here, the clientele is a little too refined for my tastes in this instance. This isn't coming out right on the page at all. It sounds like I'm giving this record a bad review. I'm keeping the record, and I'm happy to have it. I just happen to prefer the original. Maybe I'll play the MoFi release when my mom's visiting or something. Seriously, it's a pronounced difference. I wish I had a DJ rig so I could switch back and forth between the two versions to get a read on what's happening in real time. As it is, I have to actually remove one record from the platter and try to keep the sound in my mind for the amount of time it takes to replace it with the next version. The two most obvious differences have already been documented, but I'm sure there are more. One thing's for certain: the songs are still strong. They've aged as well as anything I can think of from the '80's. Granted, I try not to think too much about the '80's at all, but these songs could be from any time or no time. This record is a monument to itself if nothing else, and Mobile Fidelity has given us another look at it for posterity. Purists be warned: they've put their stamp right across the monument's nose. "Begin The Begin" doesn't come charging from the first bell with quite as much fury as it did in '86. It actually has a jab, now. And fancy footwork and sound fundamentals. I like round-house hooks to the solar plexus and nasty uppercuts. They're in these grooves still, you just have to turn it up a little more to get at them. So do it.

The actual quality of the vinyl on this release is not in question. It's everything you'd expect from MoFi which is to say that it's flawless. They've actually housed the reissue in a gatefold cover whereas the original was a pedestrian outer sleeve with artwork printed on the inner paper sleeve. Now, that artwork is in the outer gatefold and the record is kept warm in a patented MoFi inner. As of tonight, my original is housed in a patented MoFi inner as well, but it's still in the gloriously pedestrian outer sleeve that's been making its way in this world since I was in sixth grade. (I've just blown my own mind.) All visiting mother jokes aside, when will I play the newer version? How will I decide which to go with on what occasion? I haven't worked my way through it yet, but I don't need to be in a hurry. God willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be around to figure it out in time. And, with a record this timeless, that's a comforting thought to have. "Life's Rich Pageant" is 26 years old, and I'd be disappointed if I'm not still enjoying it 26 years from now. If that sounds crazy to you, I'd recommend you take "Fall On Me" for a spin. You'll see what I mean.

The Black Keys "El Camino" Nonesuch

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A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February  2012

I had tickets to see Jesco the Dancing Outlaw perform one time in Athens, Georgia, but I left before he took the stage to see the Black Keys play down the street. It was the first time I'd see them and somehow I haven't seen them live since. That's a testament to my laziness more so than a commentary on the Keys' performance because they brought some serious heat that night and I didn't miss Jesco one bit. I wish I could have had my Jesco cake and eaten it at the Keys show, but that's the peril involved with living in Athens. One of them, anyway. Man, they were great in a small room, and I walked up and bought tickets at the door and staggered in right then. Those days are long past. The Black Keys, mark my words, are poised to take over the universe in 2012. I've never been more sure of anything in my life. Their songs are everywhere already, and somehow I'm not annoyed by seeing them in a Nissan commercial, and a wicker furniture commercial, and a laxative commercial, and during the opening credits to whatever the latest hot movie is, and during the romantic interlude in whatever new TV show is hot. I guess I don't equate that level of commercialism with a lack of artistic merit any more. Or maybe I'm just soft on the Keys. Or maybe I'm just glad that popular media is foisting something that actually rocks on us. Regardless, they could probably retire by now and never miss another fine meal, but they don't seem to be content to rest on any laurels. They keep them coming and "El Camino" was on lots of year end "best of" lists for 2011. It came out in early December so that's saying something in and of itself. It's not my favorite Black Keys record, but it's the one that fixed things so that I have to go to a basketball arena if I want to see them play live now. And I probably won't be doing that just based on principle so I'll have to wait for them to come back to Earth before I'll see them play live again. You gotta draw the line somewhere...

This one found its way to me via an email that a buddy sent with a link to the "Lonely Boy" video. It's funny. Check it out. And the song rocks too. The band may have seen what was coming because these tunes sound like they were designed to be performed in arenas. Some of them sound like they were designed to be performed in arenas during timeouts at sporting events. I would site "Gold On The Ceiling" as one such song. It has a catchy glam feel a la "Gene Genie" starting out, and it's not the only song in the batch with glam rock leanings either. Of course, the Keys stamp themselves on the forehead of any song and genre they explore and "Ceiling" is no different. I'm not thinking of Bowie when Dan Auerbach rips his first guitar solo, that's for sure. "Dead and Gone" has some moody echoes of Danger Mouse's "Rome" album from last year which makes perfect sense as he's back as producer on "El Camino" for the first time since the Keys' stellar "Attack and Release." It's the bells and the chanting that conjures Western images from "Rome" before the Keys blast off again into their version of outer space. Speaking of "Attack and Release," they could have called "Little Black Submarines" "Release and Attack" as it slowly builds to a full-on assault that reminds me of a harder, raunchier take on Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane." I guess their influences are somewhat easy to discern in some ways, but these guys are making noises that are immediately recognizable as their own no matter which commercials they land in. I'm not suggesting they ripped Petty or Bowie or anyone else off, but I suspect that they're aware of both acts and I bet they like them. It's hard to tune out your heroes completely during the creative process, at least in my experience. Some of it's gonna bleed through, and thank goodness for that. (On the other hand, nothing is more frustrating than writing a new song only to find out that you've ripped it off subconsciously and have to start over or try to disguise it somehow. And the Keys would certainly be more qualified to do either than most bands out there now.) There are a lot of textures and a lot of different sounds on "Camino" and I'm curious to know how the band is gonna pull these songs off live. Will they tour with additional band members? I think that's what they did in support of "Brothers," and I have some ideas about what I'd like to see in a perfect world scenario. I'd look for a set as a power duo to appease the traditionalist die-hard fans before a segue into a set with an expanded lineup. Maybe even a couple of acoustic Auerbach numbers thrown in to bridge the two show sections. If I got wind of an arrangement like that, I might head on over to the arena after all. But probably not.

Luckily, the Black Keys are a Nonesuch act and those folks understand what a top shelf vinyl release looks, feels, and sounds like. The single vinyl disc on this one is heavy and visually pristine which wouldn't mean much if it didn't sound so great too. I mean, the needle hits the record and you'd be none the wiser unless you were looking for it. It's that quiet. The record comes housed in a nice inner liner to preserve the vinyl's integrity, and there's a CD of the whole shooting match so you might as well get the vinyl like a sensible adult if you're going to get it at all. For the less sensible adult, there's a big poster included. The record is called "El Camino" so it stands to reason that the vehicles on the cover and on the poster are... mini vans. Always expect the unexpected with regards to the latest Black Keys record, I guess. Unless you're expecting a new batch of killer rock and roll songs. In that case, you're getting exactly what you bargained for, buddy. Rock on.

Ray Charles "What'd I Say" Friday Music

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A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February  2012

Saying that Ray Charles was a gifted musician is like saying the Dalai Lama is a swell guy or Shaquille O'Neal is tall. It's the most obvious thing in the world. So, what do you say? "What'd I Say" was recently released by Friday Music, and it was built from the original mono tapes. Things are looking up around here, that's what I say. We looked at a Charles MoFi reissue a while back that was also in mono. I almost wish everything was. I'm in the process of reading a book on personality types that has helped to clarify why I can't get things stripped down enough to suit me. It's a hell of an era to live in with that issue as we seem to pile layer upon layer of every distraction available to mask the fact that the music being made and the artists making it are just not very compelling. Even some of Ray's recordings were cluttered up with an over abundance of string arrangements and the like. But not while he was with the Atlantic label. And that's the label that originally brought us "What'd I Say." It was 1959. Things were looking up then too. Musically, at least. For me, that is.

The album's title track is the lead song on "What'd I Say," and for good reason. The album's great. The song is timeless. And I've learned something by hearing the version on the full length record: it has a breakdown in it that precedes the Temptations records when I thought they invented the move. They used it to great effect in "I Can't Get Next To You." Maybe someone else did it before Ray. There's nothing new under the sun, after all, but someone had to be the first and Ray's song predates the Tempts' by a decade. There's also a melody that Ray hums in the fade out on "Be My Baby" that was co-opted by the Rolling Stones to close out their "Emotional Rescue." It's a direct rip off, note for note. And Ray beat the Englishmen to it by twenty years this time. Timeless, indeed. Now, I suppose there's a chance that the Stones didn't realize that Ray's riff was there, but that's highly unlikely. I'd be disappointed to learn that Keith Richards was unaware of it. I much prefer to think of it as an homage. We've gotten off topic. We're talking about Ray Charles here, for crying out loud. The aforementioned MoFi release was actually a compilation of recordings which I thought accounted for the differing voices that Ray used on that record, but he does it on "What'd I Say" too so maybe it was just his thing. One of his things... He expounds at length in the original liners (reprinted here, of course) about the necessity of "feeling" the music you make so perhaps he was just talented enough to use the timbre most applicable to the song he was playing at the moment based on mood. Similar to a reed man with a bevy of different horns at his disposal. Thankfully, there's also an instrumental to lead off side two ("Rockhouse") to display Charles' piano chops, but he never really cuts loose on it. "Roll With Me Baby" follows that one and finds Charles in Nat "King" Cole vocal territory. It's not imitation, but it's a noticeable nod to his idol for certain. Ultimately, none of the other songs measure up to the greatness of "What'd I Say," but how could they? That would be like expecting every Stones tune to be "Gimme Shelter." And the other songs are far from filler territory too. They're Ray Charles songs, after all. From 1959. On Atlantic Records. If you don't know what that means, I'd say it's time to piece it together. Do it now.

The vinyl package on this one is pretty stellar, I gotta say. I'd seen some titles on Friday Music that piqued my interest and some that I thought, and think, are laughable. They have a tendency towards mid-70's prog rock and bloated self indulgent mid-70's music generally. Some of those recordings probably contain some of the finest sonics in recorded music history and blah, blah, blah. Someone will buy it, I'm sure, or Friday Music wouldn't bother themselves with it. Seems a little farfetched to me that someone out there can't get by without "Left overture" by Kansas (see what they've done with their wordplay there?) or "We're An American Band" by Grand Funk (they're coming to your town, they'll help you party down), but I'm a little nuts. I wouldn't mind checking out their Solomon Burke record as his originals are crazy pricey or maybe their upcoming version of Muddy's "Hard Again." I won't, however, be taking any rides on Jefferson's Starship. The "What'd I Say" pressing is pretty flawless with virtually no noise at all, and the raw power of Charles' performance comes through loud and clear. They housed it in a high quality inner sleeve which seems to be catching on too so I'll give props where they're due. The record's right around the $25 range too which is reasonable in this market for a release that someone put some care into. I'd recommend this one to anyone that doesn't have a clean original copy. That includes me. Now, I'm covered. You should be too. My apologies to any Jefferson Starship fans that I may have offended. But you should be listening to Ray Charles anyway. Seriously.

Rod Stewart "Every Picture Tells A Story" Mercury/Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

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A Collection of New Vinyl Releases for the Audiophile - February  2012

Some folks will have a hard time believing that Rod Stewart was ever a legitimate rocker, but I'm here to say that he was. As part of the Faces he was one of the rock ingest rockers of them all, actually. He was never the greatest pop singer in the world, and he's probably not the worst now, but he's had the greatest fall-off from his days on top that's for sure. I don't know what he's doing now. I'm scared to investigate too much for fear of what I'll find. Ronnie Wood said it best on one of those "Behind the Music" type documentaries. His quote was something along the lines of "People still love Rod Stewart's voice, they just don't want to hear him sing stupid songs." I couldn't agree more. The man has one of the most distinctive vocal instruments in the game. Full of emotion and nuance. Able to reach impossible notes just when it seems on the verge of breaking. All for naught at this stage of the game, I'm afraid. He's not exactly "hungry" any more, I don't suppose, so he might as well sing duets with Cher, I guess. I don't see the point when he could just sing "Maggie May" again. Luckily, Mobile Fidelity has released his "Every Picture Tells A Story" album on their "Silver" imprint. That'll take some of the hurt away. And it gives new life to "Maggie" too.

I'll admit to being a little disappointed when I realized that "Every Picture" is not a Faces album dressed up in Rod Stewart's clothing. I thought it was the same band on another label with Rod as the "face" of the ensemble. Not that he was ever anything else. As I understand it, the Faces were coming along quite nicely when Rod signed a solo record deal that would eventually crumble this great band, and it would never perform as a complete unit again. I thought that the band basically backed him up on his first few solo discs and they may have, but "Picture" doesn't mention any participation from the original rhythm section which is where the groove lives, obviously. It still doesn't hurt to have Ian McLagan manning the keys or Ronnie Wood on strings of varying sizes and descriptions. Nowhere is that more obvious than on "Maggie" when Woody takes his iconic bass solos. I've heard that song at least once for every day that I've been alive and it still doesn't wear out. The other major discovery on this one is the title track, "Every Picture Tells A Story" which does live up to the Faces legend. Every bit of it rocks with soul and guts across the board. The original mix already achieved great clarity and separation between and amongst the acoustic and electric instruments. MoFi warms them up even more so that the acoustics shine brighter than ever, especially Woody's parts. The organ on "Maggie" is especially welcoming on this version and really adds a warm lower layer for the other parts to float around on. The dobra work on the "Amazing Grace" segue is amazingly lifelike, and, of course, Stewart's voice is right out front the whole time in all of its ragged glory. To me, Stewart has always been at his best singing about how rough and dirty he is or how bad he smells. A quick look at some vintage Faces footage should confirm that this was indeed the case. I'd held out hope for a reunion for as long as I could, but Ronnie Lane passed away a while back, and now the band is touring with a different bassist and the Simply Red guy as lead singer. Which is not at all as much of a joke as one might expect. Seriously. There's some YouTube footage that shows this incarnation getting it done the old-fashioned way, folks. I'd travel a reasonable distance to see them play for sure. Meanwhile, Rod Stewart is plotting his next Righteous Brothers medley with Bette Midler as featured guest or whatever. (I'm making that up, but it could just as easily have already happened.) There's no accounting for what direction a true artist may go in, but Rod's missteps over the years are enough to make you wonder. I'm not suggesting he's anything other than an artist, but he certainly seems to have lost his will to rock. It's almost like it never happened. That's why it's nice to have MoFi releasing some of his earlier work. It's a reminder for some, and proof for others. Inspiring and sad in the same Rod Stewart breath. How did he let this get away?

The MoFi Silver Label Series includes discs pressed on standard weight vinyl at RTI. They make no mention of using original tapes or half-speed mastering. I'm not going to lie and say that my ear is developed enough to tell the difference. I mean, I've certainly never fallen out of bed reaching for the volume knob to turn off a record because it was clearly not pressed onto 180-gram vinyl. To me, this record sounds phenomenal. I prefer it to the version that I grew up on which was from my mom's collection and was every bit as scuffed up as my dad's earlier Ray Charles gems. It makes me wonder what those hippies were up to, really... MoFi did Stewart's "Gasoline Alley" too, and I may pick that one up as well, but I wanted to start with "Picture" as I was way more familiar with the subject matter. To me, this is the version to have, and I look forward to getting a ton of use from it. Rod's version of the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You" is like a message from a prior life. It affirms that there was, in fact, a prior life. Rod Stewart has left the building, folks, but you can still hear his echo all over "Every Picture Tells A Story." It's an echo worth hearing. Beats the hell out of "For Sentimental Reasons" (featuring Dave Koz). Geez.

**Follow-Up**
I was digging around on iTunes to find a suitably crappy song to reference as a closer to this article. I settled on the Dave Koz collaboration. In so doing, I noticed that there has already been at least one Bette Midler duet although it was not on a Righteous Brothers medley. Missed opportunity for Rod on that one, I guess. I'm feeling anger right now. Really. No fooling. Anger. About Rod Stewart. Clearly, that says more about me than him. Bette Midler? Dave Koz? I could go on and on...