Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Sensible Gray Cells • So Long (7″)

Being a huge fan of The Damned and its longtime guitarist Captain Sensible, I was pretty excited to see that the man’s originally one-off side project, THE SENSIBLE GRAY CELLS, was making a new record. “So Long” (b/w “What’s the Point of Andrew?”) is the lead single from the upcoming longplayer (called Get Back Into the World on the back of this single), and it’s a respectable 45.

The group, made up of Sensible, ex-/current-Damned bassplayer Paul Gray and Marty Parrott on drums, put out an album in 2013 called A Postcard from Britain (with a different drummer, Ant Thickett), and it was pretty good. Not great – in fact, I really wanted it to be much better. I wanted it to rock with punk exuberance like the best of The Damned, and to have the sense of humor and fun that the best of Captain Sensible’s solo records had. It was marginally close, but no cigar. This new single, a teaser for another LP, is again, pretty good. Not great – it does showcase the Captain’s standard political stance, which I generally agree with, but it just feels not quite finished. The song itself is a rockin’ number with a serviceable arrangement, but the lead vocal seems buried a bit and lacking what I’d call doneness (not sure it’s a word, but it is a button on my microwave oven). It’s lacking that exuberance and in-your-face delivery that makes a great single.

As this is a 7″ and I am likely to be reviewing its attendant LP, I’m keeping this short. “So Long” is enjoyable but I’d be inclined to play it a lot more if they give it a better mix for the album. I am asking, Sensible Gray Cells, for a better mix. As John Lennon (who was great, both dead and alive) once sang, “Don’t let me down!”

2.5/5 (Damaged Goods DAMGOOD538 [UK], 2020)

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Emma Swift • Blonde on the Tracks [LP, CD]

Bob Dylan’s one of those songwriters who is much better writing songs than he is recording and performing them. That’s, at least, what many of us feel at this point in time – early in the 21st century when the man’s voice is not only no longer what it used to be but even harder to take now than it was in the ’60s when he first came on the scene. Between then and now he’s been many things, including a Nobel Prize winner, and he’s had his songs covered by more artists than probably anyone besides The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. EMMA SWIFT’s new album, Blonde on the Tracks, is packed with five per side (or a flat out ten on compact disc) and how you’ll feel about her album may largely be determined by what you think of Dylan’s writing.

That being said, Emma Swift has assembled a batch of Bob’s tunes that aren’t gonna ring a bell with your typical, mainstream music fan who is just familiar with the hits or best-known of the man’s canon. I certainly don’t consider myself one of those, yet I was only familiar with a few of these songs prior to hearing them here. I like what Emma & Co. have done with them and that’s partially because I like her singing and partially because of the fact that this selection’s not already worn out in my mind. And that might be the clincher. Even newer songs like “I Contain Multitudes” – which came out only a few months ago as a download (and is on Dylan’s brand new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways) – sound like classic Bob among the older ones here, such as “Queen Jane Approximately” or “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde) thanks to them all being part of one current collection. The arrangements are somewhere between The Byrds’ jingle-jangle mornin’s and today’s indie sound, by way of players like Pat Sansone (who also produced) of Wilco and Emma’s beau, Robyn Hitchcock, who lend a solid backing to the proceedings. I must say that said proceedings are definitely on the medium tempo, low key side of town, which is not my usual choice of neighborhood. But for one of those times when you’re not up to rockin’ out and would rather just chill, you may hope to bypass Bob’s own versions and find this Blonde on the Tracks instead.

3/5 (Tiny Ghost TG-03, 2020) available via emmaswift.bandcamp.com

The Flying Burrito Bros. • The Gilded Palace of Sin, Burrito Deluxe [CD/SACD]

We’re so ahead of our time here at NuDisc that we’re finally reviewing our first SACDs in the year 2020. The pair in question are by that legendary country rock group, THE FLYING BURRITO BROS. The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe are the sole two albums the original group released (in 1969 and 1970), so it being the 50th year since the latter’s initial release, Intervention Records has put them out on SACD. These Super Audio Compact Discs are actually hybrid CD/SACDs and are mastered “direct to DSD from analog tapes,” and in the case of Burrito Deluxe at least, from the 1/2″ safety copy of the stereo master tape. (SACD discs have a higher resolution than regular CDs so they theoretically will have more information and therefore better sound; these releases are hybrid discs and will play in regular CD players, but you’ll need an SACD player to access that layer and the superior audio it contains.) That alone isn’t a guarantee that the audio will be top notch, but there are a few other factors working in these reissues’ favor.

First off, Intervention Records, in its short time in the marketplace, has made a name for itself as a label that strives for (and typically succeeds at) producing damn good reissues. I’ve already got a few of their vinyl releases (The Gilded Palace of Sin and three releases by Joe Jackson) and they’re quite good. Second, both of these were mastered by Kevin Gray at CoHEARent Audio – this guy is really good at what he does! In fact, when I see his name in the credits it’s practically an instant purchase. Whether he’s at the helm of a punk rock remaster (The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned, for instance [not an Intervention release]) or country rock classics like these, this man’s golden ears can be counted on for flawless framing of the music in question. These two SACDs are the first I’ve heard with Gray’s remastering credit, though he also did Intervention’s all analog reissues of the Flying Burrito Bros., and I can vouch for the sound quality of the one Burritos/Intervention record I do have.

In the case of these two delicious Burritos, both the debut and Deluxe sound superior to any other versions I’ve heard. (And that includes original US vinyl of both, a European CD featuring both albums on one disc and two different compilations with most of the material from both.) I am officially going on record with this: the SACD of Gilded Palace sounds better than Intervention’s own vinyl pressing (which sounds fantastic). Yes, folks, Analog Vinyl Guy is voting for the digital disc. I know the album well enough to say I can hear more distinction between, say, Sneeky Pete’s pedal steel guitar and Gram Parsons’ keyboards with the SACD – it’s not that they sound separated, but that they don’t sound like one big “thing”. Does that make sense? Perhaps an analogy would help: imagine a burrito where you can make out the difference between the tortilla and each of the separate fillings and one that tastes like a single overall taste. Not only that, but Chris Ethridge’s bass and the (various players’) drums have more punch without sounding like someone re-EQ’d the record. In all manners, Intervention’s remastered SACD/CDs of The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe really sound like the best possible version of themselves that you could wish for outside of owning the actual master tapes yourself.

5/5, 4/5 (Intervention IR-SCD3 & IR-SCD8, 2017 & 2020)

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