Tag Archives: Kevin Gray

John Prine • The Atlantic Albums [4LP Box Set]

Coronavirus deaths are definitely a drag, for sure. The April 2020 passing of folk singer/legend JOHN PRINE was a big bummer, whether – like me – you’re relatively new to his stuff or a longtime fan. The Atlantic Albums, a 4 LP box set of his first recordings, came at a great time (though clearly already in the works before he became sick from the virus) for me, as I had only a copy of his debut album (John Prine) on vinyl and was really starting to crave more.

I’m not particularly well-versed on Prine’s history, having first given him a try only a year or so ago when my partner gifted me a copy of a best-of CD, Prime Prine. I had heard of him, of course. But I hadn’t paid him no never mind until – I’ll admit it – I felt obligated to give him a go. So I’ll let you research things on your own, if you’re of a mind to, with a hint to start with maybe his Wikipedia page, his official website, or just go YouTube some videos (a couple are included below). Rolling Stone aptly called him “the Mark Twain of songwriting,” and singers like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters have trumpeted the man’s way with words. Dylan said in 2009, “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” I was first tickled by some of his song titles, such as “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” “Sour Grapes,” “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You,” and so on. I’m naturally drawn to humor and that’s what I heard first in Prine’s songs. Then comes the poignancy and his ability to illuminate issues with a keen eye and a wisdom that was beyond his years: “Hello In There” is one of his best loved tunes, about old folks and how we kinda look right past ’em without considering that “old people just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say ‘Hello in there… hello.’” Whether you’re a fan of folk music or not – and Prine’s is adorned with instruments beyond guitar and mandolin or dulcimer – his lyrics’ll get ya. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t usually home in on the words right outta the gate.

The Atlantic Albums is a pretty basic box set, with four albums in a sturdy slipcase with a pair of funky black ’n’ white photos of John back in the day. You get 1971’s self-titled debut, ’72’s Diamonds in the Rough, ’73’s Sweet Revenge, and his last album for the label, Common Sense (1975). They’re reissued in old-style covers with the original artwork, complete with lyrics inserts. The 180-gram pressings sound incredible with no notable surface noise, and benefit from mastering and lacquers cut by Kevin Gray (whom I’ve praised before; see this review and this one). This Record Store Day release is limited to 2,000 copies and prices right now (a week after RSD) are pretty high, but that price might go down some. (There’s also a 7CD box on the horizon that includes these four albums and the next three he did for Asylum Records.) This set is a great way to get those original albums on vinyl, as the first issues can fetch pretty good money online (especially if you’re after those lyric sheets), but if this box is priced too high you can probably expect that very soon these albums will be made available separately. Of course, if you haven’t yet jumped into John’s pond, where better to start? This is pure Prine right here. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Rhino/Atlantic 603497848294, 2020)

 

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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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