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LP Reviews: Venessa Fernandez, Buddy Miller & Friends, Starker, Ma, Bernstein

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Vanessa Fernandez – “When the Levee Breaks”
Numbered Limited Edition 180g 45rpm 3LP Cut by Bernie Grundman

LP 1
Side A:
1. Immigrant Song
2. Black DogSide B:
3. Kashmir
4. Trampled Underfoot
LP 3
Side E:
9. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
10. Immigrant Song
LP 2
Side C:
5. When the Levee Breaks (acoustic)
6. The Lemon SongSide D:
7. Ramble On
8. Whole Lotta Love
Side F: (LP only exclusive)
11. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (alternate mix – LP   only bonus cut)
12. Whole Lotta Love (full rock mix – LP only bonus)

 

Let me start this review by saying I have loved Led Zeppelin since I was a teenager. In fact, at the Newport Audio Show I paid big money for a really nice, early pressing of both Led Zeppelin I and IV. So, I was nervous about buying these LPs; I wondered how much mostly acoustic covers of Led Zeppelin would appeal to me. The other thing that made me hesitate was all the audiophile hype I was hearing about these LPs.

So I tried to prepare myself for the obvious truth that this Vanessa Fernandez 45rpm 3-LP set wasn’t going to be Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I was right but I was also surprised. Fernandez sings these Led Zeppelin songs with powerful intensity and a somewhat seductive voice. No, these LPs don’t sound like Led Zeppelin, but they sound wonderful. If anything, I’ll probably pull out this album as often as any of the other Led Zeppelin albums. I really liked it!

I should also mention that all the effort that was made to produce this 100% all-analogue recording certainly paid off. The sonics of these LPs are just about perfect and the vinyl are perfectly flat and quiet. Well done!

 

Buddy Miller & Friends – “Cayamo Sessions At Sea” 180g LP

Side One:

  1. After the Fire Is Gone – with Lee Ann Womack
  2. Love’s Gonna Live Here – with Kacey Musgraves
  3. Sunday Morning Coming Down – with Kris Kristofferson
  4. Just Someone I Used to Know – with Nikki Lane
  5. Hickory Wind – with Lucinda Williams
  6. Wedding Bells – with Richard Thompson

Side Two:

  1. If Teardrops Were Pennies – with Elizabeth Cook
  2. Wild Horses – with Shawn Colvi
  3. Come Early Mornin’ – with Jill Andrews
  4. Take the Hand of Jesus – with Doug Seegers
  5. Angel From Montgomery – with Brandi Carlile and The Lone Bellow

 

I’ll be honest, somehow Buddy Miller had slipped by my radar. So, I have to admit I bought this LP because the cover caught my eyes and when I read who the “Friends” were, I took a chance on it. Miller has toured as lead guitarist and backing vocalist for Emmylou Harris’s Spyboy band, Steve Earle on his El Corazon tour, Shawn Colvin, Linda Ronstadt, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Patty Griffin. In 2002, Miller toured as part of the Down from the Mountain Tour along with Alison Krauss and Union Station. Miller also toured as part of the band on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Raising Sand tour of the U.S. and Europe in 2008.

On this LP, he is performing with a pretty impressive group of friends: Brandi Carlisle, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, Kris Kristofferson, Shawn Colvin, Lee Ann Womack, Kacey Musgraves, Nikki Lane, Elizabeth Cook, Jill Andrews, Doug Seegers, and The Lone Bellow. From the opening number, “After the Fire Is Gone” with Lee Ann Womack to the closing track  “Angel From Montgomery” with Brandi Carlisle and The Lone Bellow, I enjoyed this album.

The sound quality of the LP is not in the same league as the Vanessa Fernandez LP When the Levee Breaks I talked about above, but it’s plenty good enough to have a lot of fun listening to it.

 

A Little Cello Music

When it comes to classical music, I must confess to you that I am far from an expert. Truth is, my knowledge of classical music is the same as my knowledge of paintings. If I see a painting that moves me, I like it, and if it doesn’t, I don’t. The same is the way I feel about classical music. I guess that is true for all music and art for me.

A little research will tell you that these Bach Cello Suites have come to be considered very significant works after almost 300 years of not being taken seriously. The Good-Music-Guide.com says “The Solo Cello Suites are perhaps the cellist’s equivalent of climbing Everest.”

Both of these performances move me greatly, but they are very different in how they are played and how they are recorded. The Starker is considered by many the ultimate performance and recording of Bach’s Cello Suites. To me, it is a very exciting and very intense performance. From the same site quoted above, it says the Starker is known for his “reputation for technical perfection, sensitive phrasing, and a supreme expressive intensity.”  I felt good when I read this, for this agrees with what I was hearing. It seems to me the recording engineer wanted to let the listener hear this style of playing. I can hear lots of air around and within the cello. You can clearly hear the fingering and the sound of the bow as it goes across the strings.

The Yo-Yo Ma performance seems to me to be much more about flow and feelings. It seems much more intuitive and romantic than the precision of the Starker interpretation. I have to give both recordings’ engineers credit. The Ma recording seems to place him farther away from the listener. A sound that is much more like I was sitting in one of the side boxes of Davies Hall than close up.

I read some reviews of the music that suggested that Ma was self-indulgent and falls short of the ecstatic performance of Starker. All I know is that my mood decides which one I like best. When I was feeling sickly the other day I wanted to play some music that would be the equivalent of comfort food; the Yo-Yo Ma was completely satisfying. If I was upset or wanting to hear a spectacular performance and recording, then the Starker is it! I guess if I could only have one, I would choose the Starker as an equipment reviewer and the Yo-Yo Ma if I didn’t care about the sound, but just wanted a beautiful musical experience.

 

Leonard Bernstein – Bartok: Violin Concerto/ Stern

While I’m talking about classical music, let me mention one more LP that has been ministering to my soul lately. It’s another great reissue from the folks at Speaker’s Corner, Bartok’s Violin Concerto conducted by Leonard Bernstein with Isaac Stern on violin.

The recording was made in January 1958 at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York, by Jack Ashkinzy and produced by Howard H. Scott. The combination of Bernstein’s conduction and Stern’s playing is just magical to me.

The pressing is quiet, the vinyl is flat, the recording is very good, and the music is magical; what more could you ask for?

 

Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
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