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Vinyl finally

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I’ve mentioned some LPs in both my reviews and my Beatnik Column, but not on a regular basis. I’m not just an audio equipment reviewer; I was a music lover as well as an audiophile for 35 years before I wrote my first review. I hear live music weekly, sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes it’s classical, other times it’s pop, or even spiritual music. I listen to music almost the whole time I’m at home, and I work from home. I listen on the vinyl system downstairs, I listen on the digital system upstairs, and I listen on the computer system in the office.

Not only am I an avid music listener, I am also an avid reader. Normally, I read about two books a week, plus most of the online audio and music sites/blogs. I have also been a faithful reader of Stereophile and The Absolute Sound since they came into existence. Nowadays, I also read the British magazine Hi-Fi+. One of the biggest frustrations I have with the audio press is that again and again they tell you how superior vinyl is to digital and then when you get to their music reviews or even Stereophile’s “Records to Die For”, they are all at least eighty percent CDs, probably more like ninety percent.

Month after month, year after year I’ve been looking for reviews of great vinyl, but except for Michael Fremer’s ‘musicangle’ there’s just not a lot out there; thank you Michael for carrying the ball for vinyl lovers through thick and thin all these years. Anyway, a few months ago when I was complaining about this someone said, “well why don’t you do it?” At first I said no, and then after my Beatnik column on mono recordings was published, a record label approached me about reviewing some of their mono reissues; this time I said yes. So here goes nothing, your old friend the Beatnik is going to try to bring you monthly reviews on the music that’s available on vinyl, some will be new releases, some reissues, and some records you can easily find at used record stores. So finally there will be something for those who like me are always looking for something to read about LPs they just might want to buy. This month I will start with four great LPs that have recently come my way.

Byrd In Flight

Classic Records: BN 4048-MONO-200G
Donald Byrd: Trumpet
Duke Pearson: Piano
Lex Humphries: Drums
Hank Mobley: Tenor Sax
Jackie McLean: Alto Sax
Doug Watkins or
Reggie Workman: Bass

This new Blue Note reissue from Classic Records is classic be-bop, which means my favorite kind of jazz. It is a reissue on 200g vinyl and my copy was flat, quiet, and beautiful. It’s from the Classic Blue Note Signature LP Reissue Series, and was mastered and cut on their own all-tube mono cutting system. This should allow the listener to hear the music as Rudy Van Gelder mixed and intended it to be heard. I listened to it with an EMT true mono cartridge.

Donald Byrd was born in Detroit and was still in high school when he performed with Lionel Hampton. He also played for the Air Force band while serving in the military. After his time in the military he attended the Manhattan School of Music. It was while he was there that he replaced Clifford Brown as one of Art Blakey’s “Jazz Messengers.”

Byrd in Flight was recorded in 1960 and gives us a chance to hear him mix it up with the likes of Jackie McLean playing alto, Hank Mobley playing tenor, Duke Pearson’s on piano, while Lex Humphries plays drums, and Reggie Workman and Doug Watkins split time on the bass.

Like I said earlier this is classic be-bop and it really bops. The tunes are mostly originals such as Byrd’s Afro-Cuban tinged “Ghana” and “Lex”, the latter a song dedicated to drummer Humphries. Pearson contributes three solids with “Gate City”, “Bo” and “My Girl Shirl”. The lone standard is “Little Boy Blue” and it is played with a very fun injection of each of the quintet’s personalities.

This album was very involving for me musically, and while I did not have an original pressing to compare the Classic reissue to, still I was very pleased with the sound. The surfaces were dead quiet. The dynamics were not in any way compressed, the scale was not squashed, and it was very transparent. I mention these traits in particular as they are areas that I often find to be disappointing with reissues. So a big thanks goes out to Classic for giving us an LP of great music that sounds great too.

If you have not experienced really good mono recordings, don’t be afraid to try this album. You will be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful good mono recordings can sound. You might not go as far as I did to get a true mono cartridge to play them with, but even with a stereo cartridge I bet you seldom think about the fact they are mono once you get caught up in the music, and heck you might just find you love mono, too.

1. Ghana
2. Little Boy Blue
3. Gate City
4. Lex
5. Bo
6. My Girl Shirl

Live At Massey Hall

Category: Classic Records 200 Gram Vinyl Reissue
Label: Reprise
Price: $44.00

This new reissue from Classic Records is just plain fun. It is a reissue on 200g vinyl of a live album that wasn’t released until 2007. The wonderful music on this album was recorded live at a concert in Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada in 1971 during the “Journey Through the Past Solo Tour”. It is the second release in Neil Young’s Archives Performance Series.

If this album had been released at the time of the concert, I think it would have come out between After the Gold Rush and Harvest. The concert took place only 4 months after the release of After the Gold Rush. Young was a 25-year-old singer/songwriter and this recording allows us to hear him alone with his guitar, a piano, and a live audience. On this recording he is singing and playing about as well as you will ever hear him. It surprises me how well songs like “Ohio” sound so right without Crosby, Stills and Nash to accompany him. The emotion of the live event comes trough wonderfully on this LP.

As soon as you the lower the tonearm you become part of the live audience and, you know you’re in for a very special experience. The clapping and crowd noise capture the hall space so well that you feel like you are there. Why can’t all live recordings pull off this trick?

The album starts with a very simple cover of Buffalo Springfield classic “On the Way Home”, and with this your very special experience at Massey Hall begins. The selections on this album reflect how early in Young’s career it is. He simply covers songs such as “Helpless,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Ohio,” and others. Both his piano playing and his acoustic guitar work is revealed in a very intimately and beautifully way. Truth is the words intimate and beautiful about sum up this album. There is something so right about the sound of the hall and reflections that gently lets you feel like you’re just part of the crowd.

In regard to the sound, the good news for all of us is that Massey Hall had phenomenal acoustics and they come through in grand form on this recording. The LP mastering and cutting was done using the original 1/2″ analog master tapes with plating and pressing on Classic’s proprietary 200g QUIEX Super Vinyl Profile at RTI. The result just may be the best live acoustic rock record I’ve ever heard. Young’s voice, the guitar and piano are beautifully recorded. They are just there in the room with you, completely transparent and three-dimensional. All of this results in an album which is both emotionally involving and serious ear candy at the same time. The Beatnik has both Thumbs UP!

Tracks: LP 1
1. On The Way Home
2. Tell Me Why
3. Old Man
4. Journey Through The Past
5. Helpless
6. Love In Mind
7. A Man Needs A Maid/Heart of Gold Suite
8. Cowgirl In The Sand

LP 2
1. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
2. There’s a World
3. Bad Fog Of Loneliness
4. The Needle And The Damage Done
5. Ohio
6. See The Sky About To Rain
7. Down By The River
8. Dance Dance Dance
9. I Am A Child

Jennifer Warnes, Famous Blue Raincoat: 20th Anniversary Edition

No. of Discs: 3
45 RPM Vinyl LP
Label: Cisco (Shout Factory)
Mastered by Bernie Grundman from Jennifer’s own analog master tapes.

What more can be said about Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album of Leonard Cohen songs? In 1986 when first released, Harry Pearson pronounced it one of the best albums ever with sound to match. It’s been one of my most-listened-to female vocal albums since its release, and I’ve always found side one of the original release just mesmerizing. My three favorite cuts on the original album were “Bird On A Wire,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and “Joan of Arc”. One of the best things about the new 20th Anniversary Edition is that it gives me three new favorite songs, “Came So Far For Beauty,” “Ballad Of The Runaway Horse,” “If It Be Your Will,” and a live version of “Joan of Arc”. In fact, “Ballad Of The Runaway Horse” is now my favorite song on the whole three LP set. (Jack, I’ll make a point to ask you to play it for me next time I visit you. –Ed.)

Jennifer Warnes has made a couple of albums that have really caught on with the audiophile community, The Well being the latest one, but in no way should this put these albums in the category of “audiophile albums”. Warnes’ voice is full of emotion, power; it’s haunting, and capable of moving me to tears. Combined that with the Cohen songs and you have quite a musical experience.

So what about the sound of this three disc, 45 rpm, 20th Anniversary Edition? Well I own two copies of the original Cypress releases of Famous Blue Raincoat and I didn’t buy the 20th Anniversary copy looking for better sound, but for the new songs on it. So, I admit I was quite shocked to discover this was one time when an audiophile release of an LP, even a 45 rpm release, actually did sound better the original release. It has better flow, more nuances, and just sounds more like real music. It’s very alive-sounding.

So there you have it, a great album, from a great voice, with music by a true artist, with new great songs, and exceptional sound. I put my money where my mouth is; I purchased two copies, just in case something happened to the first one. (Thank you. –Ed.)

1. First We Take Manhattan
2. Bird On A Wire
3. Famous Blue Raincoat
4. Joan Of Arc
5. Ain’t No Cure For Love
6. Coming Back To You
7. Song Of Bernadette
8. A Singer Must Die
9. Came So Far For Beauty
10. Night Comes On
11. Ballad Of The Runaway Horse
12. If It Be Your Will
13. Joan Of Arc (Live)
14. A Singer Must Die (Demo)

Tuck and Patti, Tears of Joy

Label: Windam Hill

My last LP for this month is one I picked up at Half Priced Books for $1.00 a few years ago. I see copies all the time in the Concord, California Half Priced Books, but now they are usually $2.00 and sometimes ever $3.00. In case you have never heard of them, Tuck & Patti are an American husband and wife jazz duo. Tuck Andress is a guitar player from Oklahoma, who was a session musician for The Gap before he met Patti Cathcart, a female singer with a rich, wonderful voice.

They began doing gigs together in Norther California in the early eighties and got married about a couple of years later. Then in the late eighties they signed with the Windham Hill label. Tears of Joy was their first album, and my favorite of their albums. Tuck’s guitar playing may not be virtuoso, but it’s beautiful, and has lots of personality. HIs guitar playing is loosely kind of funk inspired, and Patti’s singing is somewhere between soul and folk. Together they make music that I find to be the comfort food of jazz vocal records. They take great songs and make them their own, and give then such personality. Simply put, Patti has great chops that sound even better when accompanied by Tuck’s funky guitar playing.

The sound of this album matches the music. The vinyl is quiet, the sound is rich and beautiful; Patti’s voice is clear, and the recording allows you to hear every nuance of her voice. All in all, I’m going back to the “Comfort Food” analogy. That’s exactly what I find the music and the sound of this album to be. Highly recommended when you’re in the mood for comfort music.

1. Tears of Joy
2. Takes My Breath Away
3. I’ve Got Just About Everything
4. Time After Time
5. Everything’s Gonna Be All Right
6. Better Than Anything
7. My Romance
8. Up And At It
9. Mad Mad Me
10. Love Is The Key

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3 Responses to Vinyl finally

  1. greg mitchell says:

    Great big ditto on the Jennifer Warnes, Massenberg engineered, FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT, and yes, Bird on a Wire has long been a go-to for audiophile testing. (Song of Bernadette, not mentioned, is easily one of the best songs ever written). I need to get the 45 RMP FBR quick before it disappears for good. That’s the only FBR vinyl audiophile release, i believe (see her website), which Warnes approves.

  2. Henry Saskowski says:

    Hi, I am the live recording engineer that did the Neil Young “live @Massey Hall” recording, oh so long ago. I spent many years doing live recording with Wally Heider Recording Studios in Hollywood. That prepared me to do this Recording of Neil. Thanks for the kudos of my work. There are many tricks of the trade that were used in this recording. I had one shot to get it right as this was a one night event

  3. Jack Roberts says:

    Thank you Henry for such a fine recording.

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