Latest Audiophile Vinyl Reviews – 26 Albums! – Part I of II
Published on February 21, 2010
Diana Krall – All For You: A Dedication to The Nat King Cole Trio – Original Recordings Group/ Verve ORG 006 audiophile vinyl (2 discs) *****:
(Diana Krall, piano & lead vocal; Russell Malone, guitar; Paul Keller, bass; Benny Green, piano; Steve Kroon, percussion)
A truly great work often announces its greatness in the first few moments. This is absolutely the case with the vinyl re-release of Dian Krall‘s, All For You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio. The opening piano and vocal refrain from Krall stuns the listener with its sound. The recording is of the very highest quality, pressed onto 180 gram virgin vinyl, and the relatively brief album is divided into 4 album sides to insure the highest possible fidelity. This masterful use of technology is utilized to re-master a incredible album from Krall and her band mates, who eschew virtuosity and showmanship in favor of evocative versions of classic compositions made famous by the Nat King Cole Trio.
The albums first track, I’m an Errand Girl for Rhythm, leaves the listener awestruck by the presence of Krall’s voice. Russell Malone on guitar has a great solo, with high notes leaping out at the listener, and Krall on piano responds in kind with a dizzying solo. Krall is sly as the song’s narrator, a hip girl promising to turn the listener onto a cool jazz joint.
Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You, the second track, starts off with Malone setting a lounge-jazz tone. Krall is understated, almost demure, sounding defeated as a lover forlornly listing everything she does for her man, knowing all along that it won’t ever be enough. The regretful, almost resigned mood is beautifully expressed by Krall’s sparse piano solo.
On You Call It Madness, Krall shows how intelligent she is about using her contralto range. While her voice is capable of fireworks she instead uses a whispering, husky tone to convey the desperation of a woman who is being mocked and insulted for the depth of her feeling by a callous lover. Paul Keller on bass is such an assured rhythm section all by himself that the absence of percussion on this and almost every other track isn’t perceptible.
The next track, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, is probably the best song on the album. Krall adopts a more flamboyant, theatrical style to heighten the drama of this tale of a torrid love affair between a male and female prostitute in a bleak urban environment. This powerful number also has a tense and off-kilter solo from Krall.
The sixth track, Baby Baby All The Time, features Krall showing off her careful phrasing. She is very deliberate with the material, and she knows how much meaning and nuance can be conveyed with how she speeds up or slows the end of a phrase, or how she drops the melody to speak the end of a refrain. This is exemplified on this wonderful number about a woman longing for a man whose affections she once spurned.
Hit That Jive Jack is the highest energy track on the record. It features energetic interplay between Krall and Malone on back-up vocals, and the band letting loose for the first time in the recording. Krall delivers a high-energy, driving piano and Malone gives his most blistering solo yet, crackling and vamping up and down the melody.
The second best track on the album, You’re Looking At Me, opens with an idyllic refrain from Malone. Krall allows the confidence of her delivery to create an ironic counterpoint to this story of a woman who once wrapped men around her finger and now finds herself the victim of the same manipulative games she herself played. Malone provides nearly the entire atmosphere of the song, unaccompanied by piano, but he evokes more than six-piece bands often do.
On the last song on the third side, I’m Thru With Love, Krall returns to a breathy, intimate delivery. Over the sparse instrumentation of the band, this airy tone forces the listener to focus on the story of painful retreat from human warmth.
A Blossom Fell again features masterful phrasing from Krall. She stretches out the end of each phrase, as though running out of breath and struggling to finish it. This accentuates the shock and disbelief of the song’s character at seeing her man with another woman.
On the final number, If I Had You, Krall pulls no punches. She attacks the beginning of each line, emphasizing the “I could” of each statement the character makes about the feats that would be possible if only she had her object of affection. This choice turns the song into a plea for love which increases the emotional temperature of what could be a low-energy ballad.
All For You is the perfect marriage of machinery and musicianship: the attention to detail of the Original Recording Group’s re-master allows the listener to experience this emotional album which will surely be a definitive interpretation of Cole’s work for years to come.
TrackList: Side 1; I’m an Errand Girl for Rhythm, Gee Baby, Ain’t I good To You, You Call It Madness Side 2; Frim Fram Sauce, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Baby Baby All the Time Side3; Hit That Jive Jack, You’re Looking At Me, I’m Thru With Love Side 4; Deed I Do, A Blossom Fell, If I Had You
- Ethan Krow
Robert Pete Williams with Big Joe Williams – Storyville/Pure Pleasure Analogue PPAN SLP 225, 180 gram vinyl LP, 1972 (Copenhagen, Denmark) ***1/2:
(Robert Pete Williams, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar; Big Joe Williams, kazoo)
Robert Pete Williams is a relatively unknown country blues guitarist, who did not receive the acclaim he was due till late in his life. Born in 1914 in Louisiana, Williams spent a stretch in prison, and remained untainted by the electric blues that the 1960s and early 70s brought to the U.S. and Europe.
Williams’ blues has an intensity that is immediately felt. This 1972 LP is made up of entirely Williams’ originals that deal with sickness (Dr. Blues), jail (Talkin’ Blues), the life of the traveling man (Goodbye Baby and Greyhound Bus), and other of life’s travails. The accompaniment of Big Joe Williams on kazoo, brings an other-worldliness that is striking. The kazoo seems to spur on Williams like the harmonica did with John Lee Hooker.
Williams is not all dark-spirited. He explores a sexual theme with the more lighthearted It’s Gotta Be Jelly Cause Jam Don’t Shake Thataway. Self-taught on a guitar made of copper strings and a cigar box, Robert Pete Williams poured out his heart and soul in his blues telling the story of his trials and tribulations. His trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, to record this Storyville LP in 1972, must have been a real eye opener to Williams as it was not till the 1960s did he receive the acclaim that many other acoustic southern blues men received in the waning years of their lives. Williams was a hit at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. He then toured with Mississippi Fred McDowell to adoring largely white audiences in the States and Europe. This LP was recorded seven years before his death.
PurePleasure has done their usual fine remastering job again and Williams’ guitar and voice and Big Joe’s eerie kazoo have the great presence that warm analogue can bring to authentic folk blues.
Got On His Mind
Meet Him Over in Paradise
It’s Got to Be Jelly Cause Jam Don’t Shake That Way
- Jeff Krow
J B Lenoir – Alabama Blues – L & R/ Pure Pleasure Records 42001 – 180 gram audiophile LP, mono, 1965 ****:
(J B Lenoir, vocal and guitar; Freddie Below, drums; Willie Dixon, vocal on I Feel So Good)
J B Lenoir, born in 1929 and passed away in 1967, is relatively unknown today to acoustic blues fans, yet his legacy in writing critical social and political songs – as opposed to the more typical “been done wrong by my woman” blues lyrics- has been recognized by the Library of Congress, which has placed Alabama Blues in its archives of American Musical History. Never released in the U.S. until 1979, when Horst Lippmann brought this album out on his German label L & R., it has now been re-released on the English audiophile label PurePleasure, after being remastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering in London.
PurePleasure has done their typical outstanding job in putting out a quality product. Lenoir’s lyrics are presented crystal clear in his high vocal register, and his uncomplicated boogie shuffle guitar style is mixed well. With Lenoir, however, it is his lyrics which attract immediate attention. Alabama Blues outlines the trials of existing as a black man in Alabama. Mojo Boogie is more typical fare, with little political commentary. God’s Word deals with God’s wrath and asking to be released “so I can go home.” The Whale Has Swallowed Me compares Jonah’s plight with Lenoir’s, asking to be turned loose.
Move This Rope is back to social ills – requesting the removal of this rope from his neck. Done to a boogie beat similar to an acoustic John Lee Hooker, it is a conversation between Lenoir and his “father” asking again to be set free after his prayer is heard. Closing Side 1 is a happier, I Feel So Good, done with assistance of the Chicago blues master Willie Dixon, who supervised the May 5, 1965 recording date.
Side 2 opens with more Southern tribulations on Alabama March, with some great strumming, and lyrics dealing with calling on God to lift us up. Talk to Your Daughter is a plea to a young woman’s mother to convince her to accept J B. Lenoir’s guitar is much more animated here and the beat is contagious. Mississippi Road is a simple paean to his mother. Good Advice brings his grandmother in giving instructions to “keep on going if you know you are right.”
Politics of the day are brought out in Vietnam as Uncle Sam has drafted him to go to Vietnam. He worries about being shot down and wonders when all wars will come to an end. I Want to Go ends on a shuffle about leaving the county farm.
Less than two years later after the recording of this LP, Lenoir died – possibly from injuries sustained in an auto accident that occurred just a few weeks earlier. Listening to Alabama Blues will make you want to explore more of J B Lenoir. Jimi Hendrix was said to have cited Lenoir as an early blues artist who influenced his self-liberation. PurePleasure should be commended for releasing Alabama Blues, as Lenoir was known to have recorded only three or four other sessions, and his topical songs are a nice change from typical southern blues fare.
Side 1: Alabama Blues, The Mojo Boogie, God’s Word, The Whale Has Swallowed Me, Move This Rope, I Feel So Good
Side 2: Alabama March, Talk to Your Daughter, Mississippi Road, Good Advice, Vietnam, I Want to Go
- Jeff Krow
Rickie Lee Jones – Pop Pop – Original Recordings Group ORG 007 audiophile 180-gram 2-disc LP set, 50 minutes *****:
My introduction to this record came quite a while ago right after its introduction in 1991 while I was working at an audio store. A buddy of mine had a CD collection that only included audiophile discs that sounded great, but were usually vacant of good music (although, of course, there were exceptions). At the time I remember thinking how great the disc sounded, so I was anxious to take a listen to an audiophile LP reissue of Pop Pop.
Right off the bat the listener is greeted with guitar that has such a natural liquid presentation that makes the listener adjust in his/her seat—the notes practically fall out of the speaker. If you happen to own (like I do) Jones’ popular self-titled record from 1979 you will know what to expect regarding Rickie Lee’s voice and it won’t be a shock. On this record her voice is simply annoying most of the time. The way she drones on on the first track is almost painful. Luckily, the backing musicians are just the opposite. People like Charlie Haden and Robben Ford populate most of the tunes. If you could remove the vocals from the mix you’d have a pleasant record for background listening. Jones’ vocals are strictly an acquired taste.
On a few of the tracks the listener is treated to the bandoneon played by Dino Saluzzi—an Argentine musician who has worked with Charlie Haden and Al Di Meola to mention a couple. The instrument gives the music a very ethnic feel—similar music heard in the film Amelie. It adds a very pleasant quality and refrains from sounding off-putting.
A highlight, and one of the songs I remember from back in the day, is “Dat Dere”–a Bobby Timmons tune with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr. Jones is joined by Joe Henderson on saxophone and vocally she is in her element singing in a pseudo-scat rhythm. It’s original and it’s good at the same time! If you want to hear better well-recorded avantgarde female vocal jazz then I would point you to Patricia Barber instead. There is a bit of a tie-in between the playful “pop rocks” cover of the album and the childish vocals and material offered up in the record like “I Won’t Grow Up” and if you can make it to the end of the fourth side you’ll be rewarded with a somber number entitled “Comin’ Back To Me”–a song reminiscent of Rickie’s earlier (and better) material.
Record surface is very quiet and pressing (and even the sleeves) are of very high quality. My only reservation are Jones’ unique vocals – so buy at your own risk. For those already familiar and okay with her “sound” then buy away!
TrackList: My One and Only Love; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Hi-Lili Hi-Lo; Up From The Skies; Second Time Around; Dat Dere; I’ll Be Seeing You; Bye Bye Blackbird; The Ballad of the Sad Young Men; I Won’t Grow Up; Love Junkyard; Comin’ Back To Me.
- Brian Bloom
Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees – Columbia/ PurePleasure PC 33920 – Audiophile 180 gram LP – 1976 *****:
(Boz Scaggs, vocals; David Paich, keyboards; Louis Shelton, electric guitar; Fred Tackett, electric guitar; David Hungate, bass; Jeff Porcaro, drums. Special guests include horns of Tom Scott, Plas Johnson, Chuck Findlay, Bud Shank, Dick Hyde, Paul Hubinon, and Vincent deRosa. Les Dudek plays slide guitar on Jump Street; Concertmaster: Sid Sharp)
Silk Degrees was a breakout album for Boz Scaggs. Coming out on the heels of My Time in 1972, and Slow Dancer in 1974, Silk Degrees cemented Scaggs’ reputation as a master balladeer, and a white soul singer. Whereas Van Morrison has the grit and the blues-based string and horns market, Boz Scaggs continues to this day to own the niche of polished silky soul. He continues to draw his lifetime fans when he tours most summers, only occasionally needing to bring out new CDs to keep his audience in touch.
Silk Degrees included the hits, What Do You Want the Girl to Do, Harbor Lights, Lowdown, and Lido Shuffle. When it was released in 1976, it was during the heyday of disco, and some critics put it in that bag. However, thirty plus years later, it has aged well and now would be described as a blue eyed soul album with a Philly and pop influence. With the requisite sweet soul background vocals supplementing Boz’ sensual voice, and boasting top LA session jazz based horns of Plas Johnson, Tom Scott, Bud Shank, and Chuck Findlay, this album both swings in a mellow manner but can snap to attention when needed.
David Paich, who went on to play in Toto, handled the arrangements, and the strings and brass were orchestrated by Concertmaster Sid Sharp, who had the knack to either add sheen or strut to the elegance that Scaggs brings to his vocals. I would describe Silk Degrees as “feel good” music that shines either in a club setting, or for romantic late night listening.
There are no filler weak songs on Silk Degrees. It had been over twenty years, at least, since I had last heard this album. But one spin on the turntable brought back so many good memories as each track re-introduced itself to me. Ray Staff, ace remastering engineer at PurePleasure, has done his usual spot on perfect job bringing the airiness and polish out that Silk Degrees had then even on cheap vinyl, and now updated to audiophile sound, it shines in all its production glory.
Audiophile LPs are not cheap, but when they re-release classic albums as PurePleasure does, the sheer happiness that they bring back in lost memories updated to top grade vinyl sonic pleasure, then it’s money well spent. Such is the case with Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees. Boz Scaggs’ fans who have kept their turntables in good condition should relish its reappearance.
Side One: What Can I Say, Georgia, Jump Street, What Do You Want the Girl to Do, Harbor Lights
Side Two: Lowdown, It’s Over, Love Me Tomorrow, Lido Shuffle, We’re All Alone
Otis Spann: Portraits In Blues Vol. 3 – Storyville/Pure Pleasure Records Limited PPAN SLP157 180 gram vinyl audiophile LP, 38.5 minutes *****:
This audiophile release was re-mastered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios and features Spann playing piano and singing along with Lonnie Johnson playing guitar on “Trouble in Mind.” During the time of his touring in 1963 through Europe, Otis participated in an American Folk Blues Festival and recorded this disc for Storyville Records in Copenhagen. The back of the LP details his biography including what might have been his big break—playing with Muddy Waters in 1958 at the Leeds Festival.
Unlike some of his accompaniment (which can be a bit pronounced), this record is mellower and more intimate. After all, just about every song is just the soloist. All the tracks except two are written by the artist and the passion he puts into every song is palpable. Some of the songs will make you jump up and dance, but most are constructed in an entirely different fashion—much slower and more tradition old-school blues. Jelly Roll Baker is a funny tune that even manages to elicit a chuckle from the artist at its conclusion. Spann’s voice is powerful and unique in its way while his piano playing is excellent. There are sure to be more than a few favorites on this disc for the blues enthusiast. For those unfamiliar with the artist, what better introduction than this beautiful sounding record?
The disc is very low in noise and the recording is quite minimal. The piano is placed off to one side while the vocals are on the other (but not hard-panned to each channel). Sound is considerably better than you’d expect from a record of this period. Recording quality: A-. Music: A.
TrackList: Good Morning, Mr. Blues; Love, Love, Love; Riverside Blues; Must Have Been The Devil; Jelly Roll Baker; Trouble In Mind; Worried Life Blues; T.B. Blues; Spann’s Boogie; Don’t You Know; Goin’ Down Slow.
Buddy Guy – The Blues Giant – Isabel/ PurePleasure Records PPAN010 – 180 gram audiophile LP – Stereo 1979 *****:
(Buddy Guy, guitar, vocals; Phil Guy, rhythm guitar; J. Williams, bass guitar; Ray Allison, drums)
The advance liner notes from the British audiophile LP remastering company, PurePleasure, make some strong statements. They state (truthfully) that there are few Buddy Guy LPs that present the excitement and raw abandon of a live Buddy Guy performance. They are either too old-fashioned, based on 1950s Chess Records recordings, or too “modern” by trying to have Buddy play like Hendrix or Clapton.
The 1960s and 70s were a fallow period for Buddy Guy, and his records did not do him justice. In 1979, while touring in Europe, in Toulouse, France, Guy recorded a studio album for the obscure label Isabel (named for Guy’s mother), for which he was allowed to cut loose. With little planning, Guy cut The Blues Giant in one day.
The verdict: PurePleasure has good judgment and taste in their re-releases. Guy’s electric guitar playing genius is unleashed in all its raw power. Guy tears loose immediately on I Smell a Rat, laying down the law, about this rat in his house that only has two legs. Buddy snarls and you know this man means business. The guitar runs slash and rip – no holding back here – nine plus minutes of asserting his manhood.
Are You Losing Your Mind? is a slower blues ballad. Remastering engineer Ray Staff brings Guy’s singing just a tad back in the mix, with his guitar runs taking center stage. They jump from your speakers, grab you by the neck, and do not let go. The feel of a live recording in a Chicago blues club is there. Only a screaming audience is missing. Guy is so dominant that the rhythm guitar and bass are along just for the ride. Only Ray Allison’s drums can keep pace and they add to the blues power.
Side 2 opens with She is Out There, and mention is made of his woman somewhere out there, seemingly hiding. Buddy is out on the prowl, riding in a Yellow Cab to track her down. His guitar must have been in top shape that day in 1979, as he rips off one chorus after another of blisteringly fast runs. Outskirts of Town follows, and Guy indicates it’s time to move away from the city – probably a good choice to keep the neighbors from calling the cops about that madman upstairs with his feverish squeals. His vocalizing of “Yeah, Yeah” as he tears it up shows Guy’s joy in letting loose without interference from some uptight engineer. This is Guy’s stage and he lets you know it.
When I Left Home must be a crowd pleaser as you can just imagine a few “Amens” as this slow gut-wrencher unfolds. Guy ratchets up the energy, and then slows to a whisper as he pours out his guts about what happened when he left home. Tension and release is used effectively. PurePleasure should have included a waterproof cover on The Blues Giant, as testament to the sweat that Buddy Guy expended on this session. It’s a barnburner.
Side 1: I Smell a Rat, Are You Losing Your Mind, You’ve Been Gone Too Long
Side 2: She is Out There, Outskirts of Town, When I Left Home
Mississippi Fred McDowell – I Do Not Play No Rock ‘N Roll – Capitol/ Pure Pleasure PPAN ST 409 – 180 Gram LP Limited Edition – Audiophile re-mastering by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman (Recorded Sept. 1969, Jackson, Mississippi) ****1/2:
When you listen to the great Mississippi Fred McDowell, you know you are getting authentic Delta blues with no BS. Though known as an acoustic guitarist, Fred’s only compromise on this 1969 session was playing electric guitar. Featuring a slashing bottleneck style honed over decades, Fred was the real deal with few compromises. He introduces himself on Side 1 as playing only the “natchel blues,” and that he does. His playing inspired Bonnie Raitt and influenced her early bottleneck efforts.
McDowell never recorded in his youth in the 20s and 30s, and was not “discovered” until 1959, and did not begin touring in front of adoring white young audiences until the mid-60s. This LP was recorded in 1969, and by mid-1972 he had passed away from cancer at age 68. Though his period in the limelight was short, Fred had begun playing a bottleneck hollowed out of a steer bone, while he was still in his teens. For nearly 30 years McDowell survived by farming in the Delta and playing picnics and house parties. Alan Lomax, the folklorist, first introduced Fred to a larger circle of blues fans in 1959, but it was not until the blues label Arhoolie began recording McDowell that his fortune changed.
I Do Not Play No Rock ‘N’ Roll backs Fred with bass player, Jerry Puckett and drummer, Darin Lancaster. Highlights of this LP are opening tracks of each side, where McDowell introduces his playing style and life’s philosophy. Sometimes hard to understand, the album liner notes provide an easily readable self introduction by Fred. He explains that his style of blues was called “a reel.”
Everybody’s Down on Me, by far the longest track, is a mournful blues punctuated by great bottleneck runs.” 61 Highway must have influenced Bob Dylan, as Good Morning Little School Girl, another McDowell classic became a staple of white blues rockers and amplified Chicago-based bluesmen.
Fred advises that country blues came from the church confessing religion. Glory Hallelujah, with references to laying your burden down, is a treasure of McDowell’s bottleneck prowess, as is Jesus is On the Mainline.
The esteemed Steve Hoffman and partner, Kevin Gray, have done a superb job re-mastering this LP. They put you in the Delta with Fred as he brings us acolytes into his life, sitting in front of him on a back porch, soaking in an authenticity that in the 21st Century is as rare as his hollowed out steer bone bottleneck. He was the undiluted real deal, who boastfully states, “I do NOT play no rock ‘n’ roll.”
Baby Please Don’t Go
Good Morning Little School Girl
Kokomo Me Baby
That’s All Right Baby
Red Cross Store
Everybody’s Down on Me
Jesus in On the Mainline
- Jeff Krow
Eddie Boyd with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – 7936 South Rhodes – Blue Horizon/Pure Pleasure audiophile LP 2 7-63202, 41:32 **1/2:
(Eddie Boyd – piano, vocals; Peter Green – guitar; John McVie – bass; Mick Fleetwood – drums)
These days, blues pianist Eddie Boyd probably does not get the name recognition of Otis Spann or Memphis Slim. But in his heyday Boyd attracted a large audience due to material like his standard “Five Long Years,” which has been covered by B. B. King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and others, and chart toppers such as “24 Hours” and “Third Degree,” also done by Clapton. When Boyd visited Europe as part of the 1965 American Folk Blues Festival, he decided to stay and thus recorded with a number of continental talents.
Some of his fruitful European studio forays were a series of recordings for English producer Mike Vernon, who paired the expatriate with whomever he could corral, resulting in fine material as well as an adequate but not stellar release, 7936 South Rhodes. This is the second outing Boyd made with the original Fleetwood Mac – the British blues revival outfit led by guitarist Peter Green with John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, not the later and more famous adult-pop, hit-making machine. The outcome is a straightforward setting for Boyd’s Chicago-styled blues piano technique.
The dozen tracks are a blend of mostly slow to medium tempo numbers that comprise several tunes Boyd fans should recognize, including a rendition of “Third Degree.” Fleetwood Mac are a relaxed fit with Boyd since the young trio had backed Boyd on college and club dates and were familiar with his approach, personality and way of doing things.
“You Got to Reap” is a strong opener, a shuffling blues that dates back to Boyd’s time on Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon’s Bea & Baby label. Boyd is the star on the song’s first half, sounding warm and comfortable, while Green’s spirited solo takes up the second half (Green does not add vocals to this or any other song). On “You Got to Reap” and further pieces Green displays why he was Eric Clapton’s equal – and in some ways surpassed Clapton – as one of the best electric blues guitarists in the British Isles. Another invigorating offing is “She Is Real,” a jump blues where Boyd’s piano tumbles and leaps with a touch of barrelhouse, Green slips in sharp Elmore James-like licks and McVie and Fleetwood keep up an intent gait. Better still is the rollicking instrumental “Back Slack,” a showcase for Boyd’s effervescent boogie prowess that indicates Roosevelt Sykes’ influence.
“Just the Blues” is an earnest and unhurried heart-render. Boyd’s voice persuasively conveys the pain of a man who faces each morning as if it might be his last but continues on so he might one day find his lost lover. Unfortunately, McVie’s bass is overpowering and too loud and mars the rhythmic aspects. Once again Green’s guitar is only heard in passing, although his duet with Boyd near the song’s ending is worthwhile. Boyd’s beaten-but-not-out voice characterizes “Be Careful,” an additional broken-hearted blues ballad which is pared down to a twosome of Boyd and Green.
The album’s flip side has respective standouts as well. “The Blues Is Here to Stay” has a lively R&B transit that exhibits Green’s guitar versatility. On the late-night tale of rueful romance, “You Are My Love,” Boyd frames his midnight reverie with vocal phrasings that drip with emotional weariness. The highlight, though, is the slow-burning “Third Degree,” a classic moderate blues. While this performance does not match Boyd’s initial version, there’s no mistaking the tune’s deliberately-paced strength. Closer “(I Can’t Stop) Loving You” finishes the proceedings with a solid mid-tempo measure.
It is important to note this vinyl reissue does not put either Boyd or Fleetwood Mac in the most favorable light. Boyd is in satisfactory form but his 1950s Chicago material is his best. Meanwhile, the Mac are sympathetic collaborators but do not offer the caliber of musicianship featured on their own late-sixties blues long players. 7936 South Rhodes is a historical catalog item which most likely would benefit fans of the early blues-inclined Fleetwood Mac but is less essential for Boyd aficionados who can find superior sustenance on his numerous compilations.
Another problem is the mix. Although the vinyl version of 7936 South Rhodes was seemingly remastered, it was not remixed. While this new vinyl LP is available in stereo for the first time, the original mixing difficulties remain: Green’s guitar stays too low throughout and McVie’s bass is too high. While it is obvious the 180 gram audiophile vinyl has higher fidelity than prior vinyl issues, it still cannot cover for the poor mix. The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions CD, distributed in 2006, has all 12 selections presented here plus two previously unreleased tracks and four rare singles. The sound for The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions was cleaned up, so Green’s contributions are elevated into the foreground where they should be. Also, Vernon’s liner notes are minimal on the vinyl release but on the CD they are voluminous.
1. You Got to Reap
2. Just the Blues
3. She’s Real
4. Back Slack
5. Be Careful
6. Ten to One
7. The Blues Is Here to Stay
8. You Are My Love
9. Third Degree
10. Thank You Baby
11. She’s Gone
12. (I Can’t Stop) Loving You
– Doug Simpson
Blood, Sweat & Tears – Columbia CS9720/Pure Pleasure 180-gram audiophile vinyl *****:
This was a winner of three Grammies in 1970 and was No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts for seven weeks. Though self-titled, this was the band’s second LP, and was the 13th best-selling album of all time in the U.S. There were five of the eight original members and among the four newcomers was vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, who changed the whole slant of the group from the previous Al Kooper-directed original album. It was more commercial, with the very distinctive big voice of Clayton-Thomas at its core. And he’s still doing it today – appearing at festivals with the current version of Blood, Sweat & Tears!
Three of the tracks made it near the top of the charts as singles: Spinning Wheel, You‘ve Made Me So Very Happy, and And When I Die. A great arrangement of Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child, and a rewrite version of Smiling Phases by Traffic are also standouts. The album gets a bit into the classical area as did their first, with two of the Three Gymnopedies by Erik Satie. The producer was James William Guerico, and this would have to be the greatest album ever by this group; it stands up very well today in Pure Pleasure’s superb remastering.
– John Henry
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Happy Trails – Pure Pleasure/Capitol ST120 -180 gram audiophile LP, 48:41 ****:
(John Cipolina, guitar and vocals; Gary Duncan, guitar and vocals; Greg Elmore, percussion; Dave Friedberg, bass and vocals)
The Quicksilver Messenger Service never had the fame of their Bay Area counterparts like the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, but as the vinyl reissue of their second album, Happy Trails, proves, that had nothing do with their talent. Remastered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios, Happy Trails sounds rich and sharp, capturing a lot more of the atmospheric low end on tracks like Maiden of the Cancer Moon and Calvary than may have been heard on earlier pressings.
Largely made up of two song cycles based around Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?, and Mona, Happy Trails is more about psychedelic exploration than catchy pop songs. Using the songs mostly as a chord template, the two guitarists – lead vocalist John Cipollina and Gary Duncan – play a variety of solos, some beautifully ragged and bluesy, some jazzier, and some that use echo effects and the plinking sound of the strings on the guitar neck to create an eerie claustrophobic sound.
On Side 2’s Mona, there is some stellar wah-wah guitar solos that, coupled with a stereo mix that ping-pongs sharply between the left and right channels, turns Diddley’s rockabilly shuffle into a trippy, angst filled love song. Calvary uses a lot of Spanish-sounding guitar lines and horseshoe sound effects to create a somber song that was clearly influenced by the music of Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Reverb-heavy backing vocals, a Morricone staple, appear in the middle section of the track, sounding like a choir of ghosts. The album ends with a cover of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ Happy Trails that’s clearly meant to be ironic, since the music that precedes it, especially the desolate sounding Calvary, sounds like the soundtrack to the unhappiest of trails.
While classic records get reissued every week by a record industry desperate to relive past successes, it’s the return of records like Happy Trails – that were exciting and experimental but never got their due – that is truly needed.
Side 1: When Do You Love, Pt. 1, When You Love, Where You Love, How You Love, Which Do You Love, Who Do You Love, Pt. 2
Side 2: Mona, Maiden of the Cancer Moon, Calvary, Happy Trails
- Daniel Krow
Jefferson Airplane – Bless It’s Pointed Little Head – RCA Victor/Pure Pleasure PPAN LSP-4133 180 gram audiophile LP, 52:39 **1/2:
(Marty Balin, guitar and vocals; Jack Casady, bass; Spencer Dryden, drums; Paul Kantner, guitar and vocals; Jorma Kaukonen, guitar and vocals; Grace Slick, keyboard and vocals)
Recorded October 24-26, 1968 at Fillmore West and Novemeber 28-30 of that same year at Fillmore East, Jefferson Airplane’s Bless It’s Pointed Little Head is the group’s first live album, and it’s an interesting document of the band when they were better known for their energy than their musical tightness. Remastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering Studios in London, the album sounds as clear and crisp as possible considering the flaws of the original recording and the band’s sometimes uneven performances. Both Jack Casady’s bass and the three guitarists can sound individually great, especially on Somebody to Love and Rock Me Baby, but on songs like 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds and on Fat Angel the band’s timing is so sloppy that it’s hard to appreciate the sound of the individual players.
With at least three songs over seven minutes in length, Bless It’s Pointed Little Head shows a strange side of the Airplane, one more interested in long form jams (the 11 minute Bear Melt is entirely improvised) than the short kinetic rock songs they’re known for. A quick perusal of Jefferson Airplane message boards revealed many fans who think the album is one of the greatest live albums in rock history, but for me it’s not playing towards the band’s strengths. The aforementioned Bear Melt feels interminable and the band’s cover of Donovan’s Fat Angel seems stretched out primarily so that the band can repeat the song’s reference to them ("Fly Jefferson Airplane, get you there on time") over and over.
However, the band does shine on Plastic Fantastic Lover, Rock Me Baby, It’s No Secret, and The Other Side of This Life, a Fred Neil cover. The latter is especially noteworthy because it shows the band is actually capable of jamming for almost seven minutes without becoming boring or sloppy. Plastic Fantastic Lover is easily the best song on the LP and a glimpse into how good the album could have been had the band stuck to mostly short fiery rockers.
Perhaps you have to be a true fan of the band to fully appreciate Bless It’s Pointed Little Head. Many of the message board comments I read praised the album for its rawness and its true reflection of the band’s live show. But to my ears, it sounds uneven and too enamored of long jam sessions to stand alongside such live album classic as The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, and The Who Live at Leeds.
TrackList: Side A: Clergy, 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds, Somebody to Love, Fat Angel, Rock Me Baby
Side B: The Other Side of This Life, It’s No Secret, Turn Off The Lights, Bear Melt
– Daniel Krow
Art Pepper – ..The Way It Was – Contemporary Records/ Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-297 – 1956, 1957 & 1960 – Half-Speed Production and Mastering by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – 180 gram vinyl (Limited edition of 2000) *****:
(Art Pepper, alto sax; Warne Marsh, tenor sax; Ronnie Ball, Red Garland, Dolo Coker, Wynton Kelly – pianists; Ben Tucker, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Bond – bassists; Gary Frommer, Philly Joe Jones, Frank Butler, Jimmy Cobb – drummers)
I know that money is tight in today’s economy, but find any excuse to cut back on another non-necessity. If you are an audiophile and a fan of early Art Pepper, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has your number. Their limited pressing of 2000 copies of the Art Pepper compilation album, The Way It Was, is heaven on a turntable. Composed of seven standards and covering a period from 1956-1960, this audiophile pressing finds Art in top company. All but three tracks were recorded in Nov. 1956 and featured Art blending his sweet soulful alto with Warne Marsh’s tenor sax. Marsh’s playing can be a little dry for my taste but here Pepper evidently inspired him as the two saxes blend seamlessly. Art indicates in the liner notes that Marsh played like Miles Davis, in that he always played the right notes.
Side 1 was recorded in Los Angeles in 1956, with Marsh’s backing band of Ronnie Ball, Ben Tucker, and Gary Frommer. Not having enough tracks to issue a full LP, Art and Contemporary Records waited till 1972 to add some previously unissued takes from three other later sessions. The added tracks on Side 2 are all winners as the all-star rhythm section of Garland, Chambers, and Philly Joe take The Man I Love to new heights. Chambers’ solo here is glorious and MoFi remastering gives the woody tone such resonance that you feel you can touch Paul’s bass. Autumn Leaves from 1960, is Pepper at his prime, with Dolo Coker’s piano fills, Bond’s walking bass, and Frank Butler’s steady drumming sealing the deal. The Way You Look Tonight with Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb from 1960, is taken at brisk pace and prodded by Cobb’s drumming, Chambers and Kelly keep pace with Art’s up-tempo blowing.
The 1956 Marsh sides on side 1 are equally moving. On I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me Marsh takes lead and then he and Pepper exchange choruses. All the Things You Are provides more opportunity for the two saxes to play off each other to our delight. What’s New, then one of Pepper’s favorite ballads, gives Art the chance to show his ballad mastery-when he was on his game few altoists could match Pepper’s ballad skills. Lester Young’s Tickle Toe closes out the 1956 meeting between the two sax masters. Pepper honors Pres, whom he credits along with Zoot Sims, as then having the most influence on his playing.
The Original Master Recording boasts impeccable sound from this time period. Produced by the great Lester Koenig, and engineered by Roy DuNann, Mobile Fidelity’s version of this LP blows every other issued version out of the water. The soundstage is wide and background noise is non-existent. At its $34.99 list price it is a steal compared to the 2-CD list-price standard reissues one finds in record stores. This is the real deal with classic tracks by the incomparable Art Pepper. With a limited run of only 2000 pressings this LP is likely to sell out even in these tough economic times. Look at it as an aural investment!
[We published a review of the stereo SACD version of this Pepper album from Mo-Fi. See It Here. I also did an A/B comparison of the SACD reissue and this vinyl reissue, and aside from a very subtle increase in "air" around Pepper’s sax found them basically identical in sonics…Ed.]
I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me
All the Things You Are
The Man I Love
The Way You Look Tonight
Stanley Turrentine – Sugar – CTI/ PurePleasure Records PPAN CTI 605 – 180 gram audiophile LP, 1970 ****1/2:
(Stanley Turrentine, tenor sax; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Lonnie Liston Smith, electric piano; George Benson, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Billy Kaye, drums (On Sunshine and Impressions, Butch Cornell, organ and Richard “Pablo” Landrum, conga replace Lonnie Liston Smith))
There are those of us that think that the best period for Stanley Turrentine was his time with Blue Note in the 1960s. That may be true but his tenure with CTI, under the supervision of Creed Taylor, comes a very close second. Taylor provided a roster of ex-Blue Note stars, as well as cream of the crop Columbia veterans. On some releases Taylor would overload the session with strings and too much electric baggage. That is certainly not the case with Stanley Turrentine’s 1970 album, Sugar. Giving the roster of artists above room to stretch out – only two tracks per side – and having Rudy Van Gelder at the helm engineering the session, was a recipe for success.
PurePleasure just adds to our aural pleasure by having Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman remaster Sugar for audiophile vinyl. They have done a superb job, and this issue of Sugar has a warmth and live feel that the red book CD and previous LP issue cannot match. Its sonics and blend of instruments is stunning.
Side 1 consists of some funky playing by Turrentine at the top of his game, matched by Freddie Hubbard at his confident and brash best. Lonnie Liston Smith’s electric piano provides fills and George Benson has his moments to shine as well on Sugar, and Sunshine Alley.
Side 2 opens with a mellow version of Coltrane’s Impressions, where the horns blend perfectly and Butch Cornell on organ gets extended time. Carter and Kaye provide the backbeat needed, and Freddie wails. Hubbard’s Gibraltar closes the album, with some Blue Note-type hard bop. Hubbard and Turrentine play well off each other, spurred on by the solid bassist Ron Carter, and Billy Kaye’s rock steady drumming.
For the definitive version of Sugar look no farther than this audiophile release. It truly is PurePleasure.
Side 1: Sugar, Sunshine Alley
Side 2: Impressions, Gibraltar
– Jeff Krow
Sonny Rollins – What’s New – RCA Victor/Pure Pleasure Records Limited PPAN LSP-2572 180 gram audiophile vinyl, 43 minutes:
What’s new in 1962? Sonny Rollins producing a catchy, head-boppin’ and toe-tappin’ Latin jazz record—that’s what! This disc was engineered by Ray Hall and recorded in RCA Victor’s Studio B, New York City on April 5, 25, 26 and May 14, 1962. The record for Pure Pleasure was re-mastered by Steve Hoffman & Kevin Gray. The players are: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Jim Hall (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Ben Riley (drums), Candido Camero (congas), Dennis Charles, Frank Charles, Willie Rodriguez (percussion).
Bossa Nova to Rollins is quite a different experience than what you’d expect if you are a big Stan Getz listener. There is nothing so soft and mellow to this music. It’s all about twisting the music on its head and using the familiar (things like bop) to create an entirely different take on the sound. In fact, you could say you get a little bop, bam, boom! The cartoon fight sequences in the old Batman TV serial come to mind. You can’t compare it to predecessors like Dizzy either. Although the flavor comes through on occasion, the avantegarde is explored and you really have to sit on this one for a while to feel it, especially on the first track which may seem familiar, but soon veers off into a direction that may be difficult to grasp. You’ll get sway and beat (I’m a huge Candido fan and the sounds are hypnotic), but it’s fast and full of energy—not morose and maudlin.
The horn is on the right, percussion in the center, guitar/congas are placed on the left. Sound is sublime—a joy to hear from an almost 50-year old record–A+ and music is an A. With this one you get sax aplenty and even if you are afraid of later Coltrane and Dolphy this one is not so scary.
TrackList: If Ever I Would Leave You; Jungoso; Bluesongo; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; Brownskin Girl.
- Brian Bloom