Category Archives: Audiophile

Paul McCartney • McCartney (50th Anniversary Half-Speed Master) [LP]

It’s just about Record Store Day 2020 “Drop 2” (Sat. 9/26/2020) and here we have my main purchase, PAUL McCARTNEY’s McCartney, released for the album’s 50th anniversary. This reissue – coming just three years on from the red vinyl edition – begs the question: How many copies of this (or any) album do we really need? (Which is followed by the companion question: How many times do we have to reconsider the first question?)

Well? Do you already have a copy? On vinyl? How much do you like the album? Do you play it on a regular or even once-in-awhile basis? Let me see: I already have – we’ll call it – a few copies of McCartney on vinyl. (Don’t ask how many copies including CDs…) And yes, I do like the album and play it at least a few times a year. Oh yeah, don’t forget this question that’s crucial to us older (read: 50 and above) dudes: How many more times will I be able to play this before I die, and if it’s not very many, will this new version noticeably enhance my listening experience or would the other copy(ies) I have suffice? Okay, now that we have these rhetorical considerations out of the way (or eating away!), here’s what you need to know about the new half-speed mastered McCartney.

For its 50th anniversary, Macca has decided to issue his first solo album again on vinyl, and this time the mastering really is top notch. Completed at Abbey Road by Miles Showell, who has worked on many Beatles-related projects, the record was cut from a presumably (very) high resolution file that came from the analog master tape.* Many of us would prefer it to be all analog but that kinda thing rarely happens these days, since everyone who still has original masters of their work (or entrusts them to a large conglomerate who hasn’t allowed them to fester or burn while in storage) wants to keep them safe and intact. The thing is, the method for completing a remaster isn’t as important as the care and ears that go into the process. Stay all-analog, go digital, one or the other or both, I don’t really care as long as the people involved have a good idea of what sounds good and achieve that goal. In this case, I think this McCartney sounds better than any other version I know of. (Many people would point to the UK first pressing as the holy grail, but of course, good luck finding one at a reasonable price. I don’t have one.) It was pressed on 180-gram vinyl for a deep groove, which means more info gets transferred to your speakers and therefore your ears, but the half-speed mastering process can tend to weaken the bass frequencies and I do feel like McCartney may be missing the oomph it needs to really knock it out of the park. BUT… what you do hear sounds incredible and the bass – though it may be a bit low in the mix – at least sounds distinctive.

I haven’t even got into the music itself, but I imagine anyone with even a modest interest in McCartney’s solo stuff knows what McCartney is about. It’s about 35 minutes of really good songs, with only a minor clunker factor, all played by Paul himself and joined by Linda Mac on the harmonies. My picks on this LP are “Every Night,” which really should have been a single, the rockin’ “Oo You,” and the gentle ditty “Junk.” Don’t forget “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which wasn’t released as a single in 1970 but instead became a hit when Wings did it on their 1976 live album, Wings Over America. Still – most everyone’s familiar with the song and this version isn’t much different than the band’s. The rest of the songs are primarily snippets, such as opener “The Lovely Linda” and “Valentine Day,” or interesting instrumentals that allowed Macca to flex his muscles and do something beyond what was typically allowed on a Beatles album (not counting The White Album).

This RSD version of McCartney is a limited edition (supposedly 7,000 copies worldwide) so you’d better high-tail it to your indie dealer and grab one before they’re gone or garnering higher prices once they’re made available on the internet. You can go to the Record Store Day website to find your closest dealer. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe 602508 464720 0, 2020)

* Here’s what it says on the insert inside: “This half-speed master closely references the 2011 remaster by Steve Rooke and Guy Massey. It was made as a vinyl specific transfer in high resolution and without digital peak limiting for the best possible reproduction.” That tells us this pressing comes from a new lacquer, which was cut from a hi-res digital copy that was struck from (presumably) the original analog master tape.

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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. – Marsh Gooch

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

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Cracker • Kerosene Hat [2LP]

Well, that’s mighty, errr, low… No 25th anniversary celebration for CRACKER’s sophomore album, Kerosene Hat? The one that spawned their biggest hit, errr, “Low”? Not quite. It’s true that the band left their original (major) label, Virgin Records, in much less than amicable circumstances, so I assume the acrimony left the label’s current corporate overlords (Universal Music) unmotivated to do anything, as I assume Cracker themselves were. So, has anything been done to fête their (second) greatest album? Well, yes.

Leave it to Music On Vinyl out of the Netherlands to do it. Their 2LP, 180 gram release of Kerosene Hat is actually the first-ever vinyl pressing of the album (outside of a super rare Greek issue from ’93). Originally released mainly on CD and cassette, the album was their big ’90s breakthrough, with the hit “Low” and numerous other great “alternative” rock tunes, like “Get Off This” and my personal favorite, “Movie Star.” What’s cool about this reissue is that they didn’t try to cram the twelve songs from the album onto one record. Instead, MOV spread the dozen tunes over three sides and used side four for the “bonus” tracks that were buried on the original CD. Those songs, including the excellent “Euro-Trash Girl” and “I Ride My Bike,” were tucked away among dozens of silent :04 second tracks that were designed to confound listeners. (The CD has 99 tracks on it, only 16 of which have music; these four songs are numbers 15, 69, 88 and 99 and all the rest after number 12 are blank.) I have a few other vinyl pressings from this label – Elvis Costello’s Brutal Youth and Iggy Pop’s Party – and they’re uniformly excellent. I don’t know whether this mastering job came from the original (maybe analog) master tapes, but regardless, the sound of this Kerosene Hat is worth putting on.

Cracker, the followup band to David Lowery’s indie/college rock group Camper Van Beethoven, took a more hard rock approach to the humorous tunes that he wrote. The band was/is of your twoguitarsbassanddrums variety, unlike CVB who augmented their arrangements with East European influences carried out by violin on wacky instrumentals and funny, catchy songs like “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and “Where the Hell Is Bill.” The fiddle wasn’t part of Cracker’s instrumentation so the sound was tougher and just right for the early ’90s, just before grunge was coined and gave birth to a thousand crummy, angsty bands. Kerosene Hat was the followup to Cracker’s eponymous debut album, which had a few minor college radio hits on it (“Happy Birthday to Me,” for instance). This 2LP vinyl reissue is a great way to enjoy the album a quarter of a century later.

4/5 (Music On Vinyl MOVLP 2091, 1993/2018)

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R.E.M. • Automatic for the People [LP]

It’s already been 25 years since R.E.M. put out their last great album, Automatic for the People. This anniversary sees the release of a few different configurations to choose from (as is the custom these days), including a 3CD/BD deluxe set, a 2CD version and what I’m primarily concerned with here, an all-analog remaster on vinyl. This 180 gram audiophile pressing comes in your basic LP cover (faithful to the original release), with a printed inner sleeve and digital download voucher card. Mastered by industry vet Stephen Marcussen* at Precision Mastering, this vinyl is pretty quiet (as in, in between songs and in quiet moments) and has a very rich sound.

Some of that richness might be attributed to the fact that Automatic was a fairly orchestrated affair, with a handful of tunes bathed in strings arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame. Another factor is that, by this time in R.E.M.’s career, they were trying out a lot of different styles and arrangements beyond their standard guitar/bass/drums/Stipe archetype. Peter Buck’s often arpeggiated 12-string guitar is typically replaced by more inventive guitar parts, organ and other keyboard pads that make the record a much more moody thing than previous releases. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” used bits ’n’ bobs of the old pop classic (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) to interesting effect – not sampling, more like paraphrasing – though the “deeee dee deee deee” gets a little trying. Meanwhile, “Star Me Kitten” uses the F-word in place of the star in its title and, despite being a cool track with a lush vocal bed, is slightly overshadowed by the version R.E.M. did with writer William S. Burroughs narrating the lyrics. (It appeared on a soundtrack album for The X-Files.) Also present is “Everybody Hurts,” which feels a little syrupy but really works when the drums kick in and the orchestra just goes for it. I think “Man on the Moon” is still one of their greatest songs, and was so well regarded that it was used for the title and soundtrack of the film about comedian Andy Kaufman. In all, R.E.M. achieved something pretty daunting with Automatic for the People; it sold over 18 million copies worldwide, so clearly this was something much bigger than anything Murmur hinted at.

Those going for the 2CD version of Automatic will get a live concert recorded in 1992 at Athens, GA’s 40-Watt Club, the place where R.E.M. cut their teeth. This is substantial, as the band didn’t tour behind the album and this show was their only one of the year. And if you’re plunking down the extra bucks for the deluxe release you’ll also get a CD of demos and a Blu-ray disc with a new Dolby Atmos mix of the album. (Atmos is sorta like surround sound, but with sound coming at you from the ceiling if your system’s wired and hardwared that way; otherwise it will play as a 5.1 surround mix via standard AV surround receivers.)

Though it wasn’t necessarily the album for many of us who discovered the band when they first showed up with 1982’s Chronic Town EP, Automatic for the People was a watershed for R.E.M. It demonstrated that there was much more to this foursome than mumbly vocals and jangly guitars.

* Marcussen mastered the original vinyl, and appears to have done this version, too (though that credit could be a holdover from the artwork for the original album sleeve).

4/5 (Craft Recordings CR00046, 1992/2017)

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The Dukes of Stratosphear • The Complete and Utter Dukes [Box Set]

They’ve taken both of XTC’s alter ego releases as THE DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR and put them into an ultra-mega-deluxe box set called The Complete & Utter Dukes that includes both CD and vinyl versions (180 gram, too!), a 7″ single, a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, some Dukes Dollars, and a coupon for a Dukes t-shirt of your very own. All of this comes in a real nice purple velvet box. So if you haven’t picked up 25 O’Clock or Psonic Psunspot since they were reissued by Andy Partridge’s Ape House label, now’s the time. The remasters are much better than the ones Virgin originally put out, the CDs feature extra demos and stuff, and the vinyl is very psychedelically psupreme. (The vinyl versions come out separately in their own right anytime now.)
5/5 (Ape House APEBOX002)
[blurb originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]
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MC5 • The Motor City Five [LP]

It’s oh so tempting to start this review with:

“Right now, right now it’s time to… KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHERFUCKERS!”

But that would be such a cliché. Everyone knows that that’s how they introduce the song “Kick Out the Jams” on the MC5’s debut album, Kick Out the Jams. Have I said “kick out the jams” enough times so far? Well, lucky for you, this album I’m reviewing here is called The Motor City Five, and therefore I won’t need to say “kick out the jams” again for another few paragraphs, I reckon.

This album is one of the first releases on a new label called Run Out Groove, a semi-crowdsourced label that ostensibly lets the consumer pick what they’re going to put out (via voting on their web site), then does a small, “craft” pressing of the winner, limited to however many copies they get pre-orders for. This release, ROGV-003, is limited to 2,668 copies, which can be bought via the above web site (though this one’s already sold out there), online or in-store. I missed out on ordering this one but found one at a local Seattle area plattery. Mine’s number #0989 for those keeping score at home. It’s pressed on high-quality 180-gram audiophile vinyl (clear with subtle red and blue swirls in it) and housed in a heavy duty Stoughton tip-on album cover – this one’s got that reflective silver foil material that’s so cool. (You can see a vague rendition of me hovering above the MC5 in these photos.) Each Run Out Groove release will be a limited edition, and though some will be reissues of existing albums (releases that only came out on CD, for instance), The Motor City Five is a compilation of tracks the MC5 recorded throughout their original run in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Let’s get into more about this specific release, alrighty?

Kind of a shorter version of the CD compilation The Big Bang! Best of the MC5 (from 2000), The Motor City Five is a 12-track, 50 minute compilation with a couple of raw, pre-Elektra singles and then a selection of cuts from their three original albums from 1969 to 1971. Of course you get (you knew it wouldn’t last!) “Kick Out the Jams,” “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa),” plus later cuts like “High School” and “The American Ruse.” It’s a killer collection and a superb way to get into the MC5. Their hard rockin’, garage-y psychedelic goodness spawned many a great rock, punk and/or metal band (Stooges, The Dogs) – if you’ve wondered if all of those genres could co-exist in one band then here’s the proof. Few bands can or will ever stand up next to the MC5 in terms of sheer strength and energy. I never got to see them live but I can assure you that if the live cuts here – from their first album* – are any indicator, holy shit! I’m sure my whole life would’ve changed.

Overall this is an amazing account of one of America’s most kick-ass rock bands and a great start for a new record label (though it is an offshoot of Rhino). Yes, I found a couple of nits to pick – the notes on the insert refer to Detroit’s venerable Grande Ballroom as the “Grand Ballroom,” which wouldn’t really matter except that “Grande” is pronounce “grandie” by the locals – but they’re tiny little nits! Besides, you knew that I would find something to knock. It’s my job! That being said, I hope the quality of Run Out Groove’s future releases stays at this level. If it does and you buy ’em then you’ll be adding some seriously great records to your rack.

5/5 (Run Out Groove ROGV-003, 2017)

(* Their first album was recorded live and is called, ahem, Kick Out the Jams!)

 

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Pugwash • Almond Tea [LP], Almanac [LP]

pugwash-almondtea_350pxFirst off, get over to Sugarbush Records right now and order a copy of each of these before they run out. I’ll wait for ya. Okay, now that you’re back: PUGWASH is the best Irish band since The Undertones and one of the best bands of the last two decades, period. Their first two albums, 1999’s Almond Tea and 2002’s Almanac, have been reissued in very limited editions for the first time on (colored) vinyl and they’re stunning! If you haven’t heard of Thomas Walsh’s band it’s not surprising – Pugwash is as obscure here in the States as a hot dog is in Ireland. And it’s hard to understand why, in this Internet/Wikipedia/“Google it!” age, that a cursory search of “power pop,” “Irish rock bands,” or “those guys with the big-hearted, big guy who writes the catchiest tunes this side of 1960s Liverpool” doesn’t serve up the name Pugwash. The band, fronted by Walsh and including his current, more-than-able mates Tosh Flood, Shaun McGee and Joe Fitzgerald, has had a career-spanning “best of” (A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash, 2014) and a further CD released here in the States in recent years, and a new 2017 release on the way. (You can support that release on Kickstarter here.) But this is where it all started.

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Almond Tea in “mint tea green” and Almanac in orange.

Almond Tea (”as served by Pugwash”) was the band’s debut release, and one of those albums that comes out of nowhere (or in this case, Dublin) with a sound that is at once of its time and of no time. Put out by now defunct Vélo Records, it was Walsh’s first fully realized project after years of making his own demos in a shed out back. This time he and his mates go all out. Their songs sometimes recall ’60s greats like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Beach Boys, plus later heroes ELO and XTC, but none of them are out and out copies. “The Finer Things in Life” (pronounced “tings” in Walsh’s particular Irish accent), a tender yet semi-rockin’ love song, recalls John Lennon with its Rubber Soul meets Double Fantasy melancholy vibe. Further songs are in a more power pop place, like “Two Wrongs” and “Missing the Point.” Throughout Almond Tea you hear references to all kinds of records in your collection.

pugwash-almanac_350pxWalsh’s talent to come up with canny concoctions continues on Almanac, Pugwash’s sophomore release (also originally released by Vélo). More upbeat than its predecessor, the band’s second LP features guitar gems like “Monorail,” “Keep Movin’ On” and “Apples,” among a harvest of other treats straight out of The Big Book of Psychedelic Psunshine Pop. Thomas’s voice is a sonorous one, equal parts nasal and not; his range and note-hitting precision is something lacking in most of today’s lead singers. There’s not a hint of gimmicky affect or studio trickery anywhere. The other band members’ voices help carry Walsh’s to a place that is seldom seen or heard anymore.

Thanks to the folks at Sugarbush Records these early Pugwash albums are available on beautiful, 180 gram colored vinyl LPs. In your choice of two colors each, they are limited to 250 copies per color and rumor is this breed is just about extinct. Considering the original CDs are also an endangered species (they fetch big bucks on Ebay), you might just want to hop to it.

(Also of note: Sugarbush has many fine, limited edition releases available, including some by Seattle psych-pop greats Green Pajamas. Finally, I reviewed Pugwash’s 2015 release, Play This Intimately, right here.)

3.5/5, 4/5 (Almond Tea, Sugarbush SB021; Almanac, Sugarbush SB028)

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Blur • Blur [LP]

blur-blur_400pxBritpop heavyweights BLUR landed their first US biggie in 1997 with the eponymous Blur. Twenty years ago this week – another time, another place, at least for me – it was released as the followup to their celebrated (and then rescinded) The Great Escape, the last of their “Life” trilogy (which also included Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife). Blur was a departure, for gone were the new wavey arrangements,  the mellotrony goodness and the generally upbeat sound that defined their oeuvre. Here the band were primed and ready to shoot for bear with super distorted guitars, lo-fi production values and an even more overt down vibe. (Not counting “M.O.R.,” which feels at least slightly hopeful.)

The thing that was unexpected to many of us Yanks was how Blur had gone grunge. I’m not talking as grunge as Pearl Jam or even Nirvana, but after their last three albums, which were like finger flicks to the cheek, this one was a punch in the face. The underlying tunes were still quintessentially Blur, sure, but you’d have to be deaf to not hear the difference. Of course, twenty years later, the change feels more cosmetic and not as jarring as it did in ’97. Blur welcomed the band’s newfound American fan base thanks to the ubiquitous “Song 2” (“Woo hoo!”), whose video was played constantly and audio was everywhere there wasn’t a TV monitor. They were, indeed, looking for America (“with its kooky knives and suicides,” as they sang in “Look Inside America”) and they found it. Albarn, Coxon, James & Rowntree found the Promised Land, alright, warts ’n’ all.

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So, today I have a 2LP pressing of Blur from 2012 (180 gram, natch) that almost sounds too pristine considering this was Blur’s big fuck you and good night! to the Britpop sound they helped define. I almost think it would’ve served the material better if they’d crammed all 57 minutes onto one record. Bring out less of the snap and more of the crackle! Yet, there’s no denying that it’s an era-capturing album, among the handful of releases that make Blur an important part of my music collection.

4/5 (Food/Parlophone FOODLPX19; 2012 reissue)

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Fleetwood Mac • Rumours [LP]

fleetwoodmac-rumours-cvr_400pxYikes! 40 years ago this week one of rock’s undisputed greatest albums of all time was unleashed on the world. FLEETWOOD MAC‘s Rumours would go on to sell some 45 million copies globally and permanently chisel the band’s name into the figurative stone tablet of rock’s quintessential records.

So much has been written about the band and this seminal album that it’s hard to come up with anything about them that hasn’t already been said. But I have so many memories that are tied up in the band/album that I had to list them for myself just to pick a few poignant ones. I started my first band in 1977 with my pals Mike and Jerry in Cypress, California (Orange County for those keeping score at home). The three of us tried our best to learn songs we liked (“Smoke on the Water,” I believe, was first – and it was all riff and nothing else!) The band soldiered on, and by the time Jerry moved we had added two girl singers, Sharlyn and Dee Dee, and once Mitch replaced Jerry we were 3 guys + 2 girls = teenage Fleetwood Mac. I don’t remember if that was a conscious idea or whether it just happened that way, but indeed it was very handy. How better to reproduce our own versions of “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman”? We had the exact same makeup, because Sharlyn sang and played piano and Dee Dee sang and played guitar. I’m not trying to say we were able to even partially capture what the real Mac was, but we at least had the parts. So there’s that.

fleetwoodmac-band2_400pxLater that year my dad asked me to play a song on the guitar for my great uncle Sam (that was his name, I kid you not). I didn’t know what to play – what guy his age would know any of the songs I could possibly come up with? I didn’t think he’d know “Rocky Raccoon” or “A Horse with No Name,” so after wracking my brain, I read the lyrics to Christine McVie’s “Don’t Stop,” one of the tunes she sings on Rumours with heavy assistance from Lindsey Buckingham. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow / Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here / It’ll be better than before / Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” Oh lord. The thought didn’t dawn on me then, but much later: Was I telling my uncle Sam to just let go? Well, I don’t know how lucid he was at the time (I remember he was in hospice and I played for him sitting in a chair near his bed), but he might have heard it that way. I was just a kid, thought it was a pleasant sounding song, and it was pretty easy to learn. (It helped having the songbook with all the chords!)

Like thousands of kids my age I had photos of the band plastered on my bedroom walls (along with Wings, ELO and Linda Ronstadt), favoring those that had Stevie Nicks in them. Rumours became one of those albums that I can quote without even thinking about it. Despite hearing most of its songs literally thousands of times, it’s an album that I never get tired of.

fleetwoodmac-band3_375pxA year or so ago, while watching the Classic Albums DVD on the making of Rumours with my wife Sarah, I had a weirdly emotional moment. They were discussing how they recorded Christine McVie playing the piano part for “Songbird” in an auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus. At the time I was coming to a reckoning about some personal issues of mine that were making my relationship with my wife difficult. Laying on the couch with my head in her lap, I began crying. Big boys don’t cry. But there I was, 50-something, bawling in Sarah’s lap. Something about that beautiful song. “I feel that when I’m with you, it’s alright… And I love you, I love you, I love you like never before.” I think Christine was trying to tell me something. Listen to me: don’t mess this up. She is your songbird! And Good Lord. The very moment I’m writing this the freaking sun comes out after raining hard all morning. It turns out that Christine, like the songbirds of which she wrote, knew the score.

These days when I put on Rumours I listen to a pressing of the album that was done at 45rpm on two records. It’s an audiophile edition that came out in 2009, pressed on 180-gram vinyl and designed to bring out more of the nuances in the music that can get lost in lesser, shoddy pressings. And, indeed, you get more of the shimmer of the voices, more of the crystalline timbre of Buckingham’s underrated guitar playing and even more of John McVie’s killer bass lines and Mick Fleetwood’s kick ’n’ snare than on other editions. If you can find this pressing, and you’re not worn out by the continued ubiquity of this record, you should get a copy. That’s not to say that the 2CD reissue and the later box set aren’t worthy of your attention, as they both have many of the demo and live versions of the songs that give you a better idea of what it took to bring this baby to life and what it sounds like live. You can go your own way – pick the version that works best for you. All I know is, in one form or another, for me Rumours is going to be there until the end.

5/5 (Reprise 9362-49793-4; originally issued 1977, this version 2009)

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Frank Zappa • Joe’s Garage (Acts 1, 2 & 3) [3LP set] – Part II

Part II, in which I wrap up the story of Joe’s Garage – Frank Zappa’s 1979 3LP masterpiece.

zappa_joesgarage2_400pxJoe’s Garage, Acts 2 & 3

Act 1 of Joe’s Garage showed FRANK ZAPPA at his most adolescent. (See the first part of this review.)Dirty words and all, this one record release was basically a showcase for the more casual listener. It has lots of funny bits, real solid hooks and catchy songs that you couldn’t help but want to sing along with, though you might wince at singing something like “Catholic girls / with the tiny little moustache… With a tongue like a cow / she could make you go ‘wow’!” The subject matter – young Joe and his induction to the world of rock ’n’ roll – could be one of those After School Specials from the ’70s if it weren’t for the salty language and references to venereal diseases and the like.

Fast forward only a couple of months from early September ’79 and Zappa releases Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III, a 2-record set that continues where Act I left off. Instead of featuring songs that advanced the plot of Joe’s Garage, this lengthy, melancholy set focused on extended excursions into FZ’s guitar soloing. Which is to say, this is the one for those who are primarily interested in how Frank could develop a solo, from a possibly stark beginning to a meaty middle and on to its satisfying conclusion. “Watermelon in Easter Hay” is a great example, a 9-minute instrumental that displays one of the man’s greatest gifts. There are songs you can sing along to, like “Stick It Out,” but the man and the band’s musicality is what’s mostly to be enjoyed here. The plot is secondary, and though you do get to find out what happens to Joe, it is best explained in the libretto that expands on the themes of free will, free speech, the drawbacks of big government and the evils of Big Brother that the author dared explore.

zappa_wbsucks_300pxIt must have been daunting to the execs at Zappa’s new record label (they gave him his own imprint, called Zappa Records, at PolyGram earlier that year): did they really want to put out a three-record set that could very well lose money as the artist’s first release on their dollar? Well, I’m not sure how it originally went down when Zappa presented the work to the label suits, but we do know that the album was split into two releases (keeping it greasy so it’d go down easy?). The first record served as a good beginning and the second, 2LP set wrapped up the story. Sadly, the Acts II & III release suffered on its own (if you didn’t buy the first one you were highly unlikely to buy this – and you certainly would have no idea WTF was going on), but when, in 1987, the three records were first put together in one set, the whole shebang made a lot more sense. Thematically, musically, plotwise, it turned out that Joe’s Garage wasn’t nearly as indecipherable as The Who’s Tommy after all. (It actually took a poke at Tommy with the line “see the chrome, feel the chrome, touch the chrome, heal the chrome” [from “Stick It Out”]!)

Joe’s Garage, Acts 1, 2 & 3, finally, puts all of what made Frank Zappa so amazing (his guitar playing, witty lyric writing, clever song arranging) into one enormous but approachable package. The sound of the records is gorgeous, the songs on the records are among FZ’s finest and the physical format, in all its double-gatefold glory, is like the icing on a very tasty cock… err, CAKE!

4.5/5 (Zappa Records ZR3861-1, 2016)

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