Another favourite Bob Ludwig mastered album of mine is Leonard Cohen’s Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, 2015. It’s a potpourri of concert performances and sound checks recorded at various locations around the globe from 2012 to 2013. Interestingly enough, this is not a Greatest Hits Live album, but rather an interesting compilation of obscure chestnuts, new compositions, and well-chosen covers. In 2008, Luke Turner wrote in The Quietus: “For me, Dylan has always paled into insignificance compared to his contemporary Leonard Cohen. A poet before he became a reluctant musician, Cohen possessed an uncomfortable and humble voice that found itself over simple acoustic guitar. This simplicity is what liberated his brilliant words.”
The backing musicians on Can’t Forget are nothing short of exemplary, a particular favorite is Neil Larsen on the Hammond B3. Sharon Robinson’s sweet backing vocals are a delicious counterpoint to Mr. Cohen’s husky singing. Mr Cohen at eighty is in fine from and his voice is superb, a little credit is probably due to the Neumann U 47 microphone and a Neve 1073 mic preamp (originally owned by Frank Sinatra). His explorations of the human condition are amusing and appropriate; check out “Stages”, which starts with a monologue about a man’s allure to the opposite sex as he grows progressively older; it’s hilarious. I like how he thanks the audience for waiting outside the concert hall in the pouring rain in I Can’t Forget in Copenhagen. It comes across as heartfelt and sincere. I used “Got A Little Secret” on Demo XVIII and though I have heard this track countless times, it never ceases to delight. Strong, strong recommendation.
Tidal link – tidal.com/album/43397679
As good as Beck’s Sea Change is in stereo on both SACD and LP, you really need to hear the creative multi-channel mix that Bob Ludwig did in 2002. While Beck Hansen is singing from the center channel, there are instruments swirling all around you. It’s a trippy , psychedelic experience—mellow and really enjoyable. On “Lonesome Tears”, Beck has created a warm, enveloping sound—synths lay drown a dreamy background while there’s an orchestra and lots of different instruments fade in and out. A slow percussion and bass duo tie the whole sound together.
On Sea Change Beck’s typical ironic lyrics were replaced by sincere, simpler lyrical content. He also put aside the heavy sampling of his previous albums in favour of live instrumentation. When interviewed, Beck cited the breakup (after nine years) with his longtime girlfriend as the major influence on the album. Musically and sonically 5/5. This album gets my unreserved recommendation.
Last Friday was the release date of Enya’s first album in seven years—Dark Sky Island.
Enya’s name in gaelic is Eithne Ní Bhraonáin. Her musical career started with her family’s band—Clannad (Gaelic for family) —as a singer & keyboards player from 1980 to 1982. (My favorite Clannad album actually came out in 1983—after her departure from the band—The Magical Ring).
In 1982 at the age of 27, she left the band to go off on her own and started writing soundtrack music. The first thing she did of note was the music for a TV series called The Celts (1986) where Enya began her distinctive New Age meets Irish Folk soundscape.
Two years later in 1988, she released her first album called Watermark. The highlight of that album was “Orinoco Flow,” which delights with an enthralling, mesmeric melody and is probably her best known song to date. Absolute bliss.
Enya has sold over 80 million albums and has become quite wealthy. She lives in a castle in Ireland, but interestingly, she’s a very private person who spends very little time in the public eye. She did promote this album with several public appearances, but that’s very unusual for her. You can purchase Dark Sky Island on CD now. It is scheduled to be released on vinyl on December 18th. You can stream it on Tidal here.
With their 2012 Boys & Girls (debut) album, Alabama Shakes displayed that they were a band comfortable with blues, soul, gospel, and country but raised on modern rock. In their 2015 follow up, Sound & Color, they have pushed past any boundaries that might have confined them to deliver one of the best rock albums in years!
Brittany Howard sounds like she has been playing for the past twenty years (since the last album) screaming a force of natural delivery. The variety of genres, rhythms, arrangements, tempos, and vocal styling keep the listener rapt with attention. Sound quality is superb: tight, articulate guitars & rhythm section; composition is fresh & engaging. I have the high rez download and the three sided clear vinyl LP. Check it out on TIDAL.
Rejoice if you felt that Björk went off the deep end about ten years ago into pretty incomprehensible territory—here is an album to wrap your arms around, sink into your comfortable sofa, pour a fine Irish whiskey and let this sublime music seep into your soul.
Vulnicura’s cover shows Björk with a gaping chest wound; the latin words “vulnus” and “cura” respectively translate to “injury” and “healing”. It is an expression of sadness, coming on the back of her break up with her husband and it immerses the listener in the devastation of heartbreak. The sadness is not pitiful but heartfelt and the perfect vehicle for Björk to convey the emotion that sadly many of her recent albums have lacked.
Musically, it starts out with a string quartet (sadly no credits in the liner notes) and her singing is slowly joined by some electronic bass / synths and percussion providing the lower octave accompaniment.
The album opens with ‘Stonemilker’, the strings proving the perfect backdrop to Björk’s unique vocal delivery. The lyrics provide an intuition of what’s to come, with Björk pleading for openness: “show some emotion”, “I wish to synchronize our feelings”. She ponders whether one person can remain open while another is “shut” but the music is immediate and optimistic. There is no catchy chorus to latch on to, but what it lacks in catchiness, it makes up for in its haunting energy and emotion.
Her emotions turn darker from here on out, but are certainly worth the journey; while a dark album, it is not depressing—rather soothing and certainly one of Björk’s best albums to date.
All Music counts Vulnicura as Björk’s 19th album. Excluding all the live and remixed albums, it’s her 10th studio album. It’s available as a CD, LP or high rez download from HD Tracks. Also delighted to note that the vinyl is quiet, sounds terrific and is a huge improvement over earlier albums that I bought a decade ago which delivered snap, crackle and pop (and a huge dose of frustration). Highly, highly recommended.
If ever there was a singer / song writer deserving the Rick Rubin production treatment, it’s fellow Irishman, Damien Rice. This is only his third studio album and his most recent in eight years! After releasing 0 (debut) in 2002 to huge success with the help of tear-jerkers like “Volcano” and “The Blower’s Daughter,” he separated from his collaborator, lover, and friend, Lisa Hannigan, following the release of 2006’s 9: The last album I bought of his was “Live At Fingerprints“, hitherto his only album on vinyl.
“My Favourite Faded Fantasy” is full of grippingly intimate confessions from a songwriter unafraid to present himself and his flaws; guided by Rick Rubin who has a very deft touch with production but never over-producing. While its only an eight-song set, some of these are eight & nine minutes’ long and the time has been used wisely.
Simple piano chords give way to sparse guitar, enriched by cello and even massed strings to be stripped away to Rice’s fragile voice crying / whispering over acoustic guitar. These are simple yet complex songs, meant to be sipped and enjoyed with repeated listens.
The album opens with the title track “My Favourite Faded Fantasy” starting out with simple guitar melody, replaced by piano, then slowly augmented by strings before finishing with a large scale crescendo. The second track “It Takes A Lot To Know A Man” takes you on an even more expansive journey @ 9:32 this is quite an epic, clearly it was not written to be played on the radio, rather savored, like a fine wine or whiskey, ideally with friends.
I played the 2 x 45 RPM LP set last night for friends & both were unanimous in their praise. At times I would have preferred a single cello (as played on 0 & 9) to the strings, and Lisa Hannigan (there was terrific vocal interplay between these two) was also missed. But taken as a whole this is a very enjoyable album showing a lot more complexity than his earlier albums & as I mentioned earlier Rick Rubin deserves a lot of credit for such a wonderful musical gift. Well recorded, if you are spinning vinyl, you won’t be disappointed.
Last but not least, you can stream this on TIDAL at 16/44.1.
Another music highlight at AXPONA 2015 from Kyomi Audio is Frank Sinatra’s September of my Years on vinyl. It was such a great album that we kept playing it repeatedly at AXPONA and no one got tired of it.
It was 1965 when the British Invasion was in full swing. Rock music was exploding in many different directions. Yet, in the midst of it all, came this beautiful, reflective album from the Chairman of the Board. September of my Years was a perfectly arranged (by Gordon Jenkins) selection of songs recorded as Sinatra approached his 50th birthday.
“It was a Very Good Year” is the standout track, and the kind of magic even Sinatra could not have recorded when he was starting out in the late 1930’s. Here it is evocative, heartfelt and very moving. There is a maturity in his delivery that comes with experience and his voice is a finely honed instrument at this stage.
At AXPONA we played the title track, a gorgeous harp accompanies the Nelson Riddle orchestra as Sinatra delivers his lonely liturgy and of course the effects of aging. An experience that we all share but one which had not been touched upon up until then by popular singers. String tone is superb, lots of air and a rich dense tonal texture. It is Sinatra’s greatest achievement with Reprise, and held up as one of his top five albums by the critics.
We listened to a Reprise reissue, though original LPs are readily available. This was a very popular album track in 1965, when it won a Grammy for “Album of the Year”. Clean Mint- copies are readily available. Also on CD or TIDAL.
I bought the DSD download of the Blues and the Abstract Truth album a couple of years ago and have been mesmerized by the all-time classic, “Stolen Moments”. Recorded over fifty years ago in 1961, this piece is a timeless beauty. Its indisputable beauty shines through in a three-part horn harmony fronting Freddie Hubbard’s lead trumpet melody.
At AXPONA, George Vatchnadze, Kyomi Audio, whipped out the 45RPM LP and spun “Hoedown” – which is quite different from the rest of the album in that it has a joyful, country flavour; I love the barking of the horns from the different speakers in a call & response. The music is infectious and makes the listener sit up & pay attention.
Blues and the Abstract Truth is Oliver Nelson’s triumph as a musician & composer for not only defining the sound of an era but also for assembling one of the most potent modern jazz sextets ever. Oliver Nelson, while a fine tenor sax player in his own right, is surrounded by extraordinary talent of Bill Evans (piano), Roy Haynes (drums), Eric Dolphy (flute & alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass) & Freddie Hubbard (trumpet).
Like Brubeck’s Time Out, Adderley’s Somethin’ Else and a handful of other jazz albums, Blues and the Abstract Truth will stand the test of time as one of the top dozen jazz albums from the fifties & sixties. Sound & Music quality – 10/10. Available on CD, SACD, LP or DSD download.
Revisiting Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” from Saxophone Colossus on SACD at AXPONA was one of my personal highlights of the show. I first heard this when Paul Stubblebine from the Tape Project lent us (for CES one year) a Studer A80 with Dan Schmalle’s wonderful tube tape head preamp. We played the 1/4″ master tape at 15IPS. That is the yardstick that I hold dear as to how amazing this cut can be.
I LOVE Max Roach’s drum solo, two and a half minutes into the song. We could clearly hear how tight the drum skin is. When the music is so exciting, we quickly forget that we were listening to a mono recording.
The Luxman D-08u CD/SACD player’s performance (that we were using as the source at AXPONA) did not disappoint, none of the bloom that LP playback gives us, but probably closer to what the actual tape sounds like. Nonetheless it’s terrific music, however you get to play it. My only regret was that there weren’t enough hours on the Luxman D-08u as it was exhibiting signs of not being fully broken in. Wish we had more hours on it before the show.
I must confess that I’ve been buying Bryan Ferry’s album continuously for the past twenty plus years and we have a few “resident Bryan Ferry raving fans” in the household.
Our teenagers love his involvement in the Great Gatsby soundtrack: my personal favourite is his Yellow Cocktail Music.
Not to be on a down note but to set up my review of Avonmore, I must let you know that The Jazz Age, which had a 78 RPM with a sound quality that rolled off on the highs and lows, left me distinctively disappointed and my other family members in shock at the concept of a Bryan Ferry album without his distinctive vocals.
With that set up, you can imagine my delight when Avonmore was announced a few months ago and to find out that Bryan Ferry had covered Robert Palmer’s “Johnny & Mary” as Mr. Palmer’s original still gives me an emotional flutter every time I hear it.
I was even more delighted to find out that Mr. Ferry and I saw completely eye-to-eye on this song. The world really does not need the same melody, played at the same pace with a change of singers given Robert Palmer had done a remarkable job first time around. It was so refreshing to hear that Mr. Ferry had slowed the song down, changed the instrumentation and morphed this classic into a fresh, new musical delight, all done without discarding the emotional context that made it so compelling in the first instance.
Other than Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”, the rest of the album are all original songs… eight of them. This is easily his best original album in over a decade and I highly recommend it.
The tracks merge into a series of moody vignettes with the cries & sighs of a wounded lover. The haunting melodies pouring from a fountain of shimmering notes with sparkling riffs of guitar, saxophone, piano, synth and voices cascading over swirling bass and drums. Guitarists Nile Rodgers, Mark Knopfler and Johnny Marr all contributed but none called attention to their own distinctive styles, such is the unique textural blend. Kudos to producer Rhett Davies for delivering the Bryan Ferry sound, updated yet instantly recognizable.
Ferry’s vocal skills are in fine settle (hard to believe he’s approaching 70). Spellbinding!
It’s up on Tidal for you to listen (stream), I ordered the LP from Music Direct.
Last May, Joe Cali dropped by Capistrano & played a few cuts from an upcoming Lori Lieberman CD that will be released in a few months time. One track, he was particularly proud of was “Burden & Gift” a rough demo version (piano and vocal) with a lovely melody and a simple emotional vocal over a piano accompaniment. Fast forward to CES 2015, Joe returned with the finished version (mastered by Darcy Proper) which has a simple but tasteful production, guitar instead of piano accompaniment and an exquisite fiddle brought in halfway through the song that adds a heartbreaking plaintive quality to this gorgeous song.
It occurred to me that “The Evolution Of A Great Song” is a great demonstration for audio show and seminar attendees. I know I was fascinated by the evolution of this great song, from the rough demo, to the recording with various layers of instrumentation, leading up to the final mix, and then of course, the final mix compared to the finished mastered version (or sweetened as they call it in the movie industry, which I felt is a more appropriate term).
We will be conducting “The Evolution Of A Great Song” demo at the first show / music seminar we are able to, hopefully as early as the Montreal Show, possibly Axpona or definitely the Newport Show.
Jimmy Page spoke about the making of Led Zeppelin’s greatest track, Kashmir, from their newly reissued album, Physical Graffiti. Music blogger, Michael Hahn of the Guardian wrote this article that showed a terrific YouTube video of this song being played live and Jimmy Page’s account of the back story for this famous song.
The band was in cracking great form with Jimmy Page (guitarist), Robert Plant (singer), John Bonham (drummer) and Paul Jones (base player). My original UK first pressing has never been better sonically.
Not only did this song stand the test of time, here’s a trivia about the band that you may not know: Led Zeppelin is the holder of a Guinness Record…
For those who recalled, on December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin was the headline act for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert that was a benefit concert held at the O2 Arena in memory of music executive Ahmet Ertegün, founder of Atlantic Record. This was their first full-length concert since the death of drummer, John Bonham in 1980 in a one-off reunion where Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, played drums during the set and provided backing vocals for two songs. According to Guinness World Records, that concert holds the world record for the “Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert” as 20 million requests for the reunion show were rendered online.
Erik Fortier at Coup de Foudre Audio Montreal turned me on to this track off of his classic 1994 release “Samedi Soir Sur La Terre”. While this album is relaxed, it never loses interest due to the change of instrumentation and the focus on Cabrel’s voice & guitar – both of which are in fine fettle.
Whether you speak French or not, this is a great album – sit back, and relax (but if you’re curious as to the lyrics, try Google translate!). Cabrel has a wonderful voice, and the groove of the music – slow, yet with a lively pace – makes one feel as though they are sitting outside in Reyes of Gypsy King cameo and the beautifully clean production by Gerard Bikialo, it’s just plain pretty. The CD case is a book itself, complete with full lyrics and photos of the band members. Reference quality recording. Only available on CD.