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The Original Mono Recordings, Ella and Duke at The Cote D’Azur

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Bob Dylan The Original Mono Recordings

Bob Dylan The Original Mono Recordings
Label: Legacy
Genre: Folk Rock
Box Set of nine 180 gram LP

Bob Dylan needs no introduction, and neither do most of these records. Pretty much this is folk music; but even 40 years removed from their original release, these albums still hold up musically, sonically, and have a strong audience willing to buy them. Which brings us to these mono LPs that are remastered from the original mono tapes by Mark Wilder of Sterling Sound. The set includes the reissue of Dylan’s first eight albums covering his debut through 1967’s John Wesley Harding. Wilder used first generation monaural mixes and the sleeves faithfully replicate the artwork, complete with labels and stickers from the original albums.

Granted, there may not be many astonishing revelations on these LPs, but the clarity, transparency, imaging, richness, and dimensionality never failed to impress. In mono, it was an almost-direct signal path from Dylan’s voice, guitar, and harmonica to my listening room.

Why anyone would want the monos?

I own most of Dylan’s LPs, some stereo and some mono. I also have several “audiophile” vinyl reissues. Let me tell you that none of these come close to sounding like a live concert like this new mono set. This vinyl set is simply that good. One of the reasons they sound so good is that when Dylan plays live his harmonica doesn’t magically appear up in the air and a few feet to the right, while his guitar is over on the left, with the vocal directly in the center.

Second, the remastering and pressings are superb and much more realistic; they simply sound better. The stereo recordings in general sound brighter; the monos have a much more natural sound.

A Few Examples. Let’s take a look at a few of Dylan’s best-known songs.

“Blowin’ in the Wind.” (From Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963)
The mono version is fuller, more realistic, and simply more correct sounding.

“One Too Many Mornings.” (From The Times They Are a-Changin’, 1964)
My stereo LP release plays hell with Dylan’s vocals and harmonica’s spatial presentation. The guitar sounds as if it is being played by another musician who is a few feet away and below where Dylan is. The new mono reissue has none of these problems and has much greater resolution.

“Mr. Tambourine Man.” (From Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
I have the original vinyl mono on this one. It takes the voice, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar and places them directly behind the vocal. The stereo recording has greater clarity, but splits the two guitars into separate channels way to the right and left of the vocal. To make it even stranger than Dylan’s guitar not being in the center with him, the acoustic sounds louder than the electric. The mono LP is by far the most natural sounding LP with a soundstage that place the instruments and vocal all in a nice natural space.

“Just Like a Woman.” (From Blonde on Blonde, 1966)
The mono version brings out the venom in Dylan’s voice and gives the acoustic guitar lines a pronounced placement. Still, my stereo copy is very good with the acoustic guitar, organ and drums between the chorus. In stereo, the sound stage swings from one side back and forth across the playing field; in mono, it stacks up more like it would if you were further back listening to it. I like both; you will have to decide for yourself.

“Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (From Blond on Blonde, 1966)
This is my favorite song on this LP. If you’re used to the stereo mix, you’ll find the mono version has more cohesiveness. It also draws me into the music in a way the stereo mix doesn’t. Sure with the mono version you lose the width and separation, but I promise you that you will hear more details, more music, and you’ll find it easier to follow instrumental lines.

“All Along the Watchtower.” (From John Wesley Harding, 1967)
The stereo recording is both good and poor. The vocals are very clear and transparent, but the drums sound hollow, and the harmonica is ear piercing. These monos solve all of that, with Charles McCoy’s bass bringing the recording to life.

Ella and Duke at The Cote D’Azur

Ella and Duke at The Cote D’Azur
Label: Mosaic
Box of three 180 gram LPs

The festival at Antibes/Juan-les-Pins, on the French Cote D’Azur enjoyed an excellent reputation through the 1960s, and remains one of the top jazz festivals in the world. But it’s hard to imagine any achieving as much raw emotion as the collaboration by these two acknowledged masters. This box set is a re-release of the original 2-LP set, plus the Ellington album Soul Call issued from the same concerts. These French concerts were recorded live to two-track tape in Juan-les-Pines between late June and July, 1966.

The concert has Ellington and Ella together with the orchestra, the orchestra alone without vocals, and Ella with a sometimes stripped-down version of the orchestra, but mostly accompanied by the Jimmy Jones Trio. The recordings prove that, as magisterial as Ella was in the studio and so in control of her gifts, she could be a woman unleashed in concert. They simply blow away such jazz standards as “Mack the Knife,” Gershwin’s’ “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, “Goin’ Out of My Head,” and many others. Fitzgerald is in top form.

Mosaic is to be congratulated for giving us a jazz classic that has sonics to match the performance. They also give us a nice booklet with rare photos and excellent liner notes.

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