Audiophile Digital

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Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Although you may have seen this ‘making of’ documentary on TV, as with all the DVDs from the Classic Albums series, this features substantial amounts of added material (a TV promo, detailed studies of the instruments’ sounds, and more). When the subject is one of rock’s most intelligent practitioners, a second viewing with extras is worth every second. This chronicles the band’s third release, from 1979, which cleared any lingering mislabelling from the punk era, ‘Refugee’ and ‘Here Comes My Girl’ being enough to establish Petty’s rep. This was their first release after Shelter Records folded, with Petty in recovery mode from the aggravation.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Of all the ‘lost’ rock films, this should never have landed in the vaults. A multi-artist concert from ’64, it may be the most important ‘rockumentary’ of the era, in the Top 5 of any rock-flick list. Viewed only in fragments for 46 years, it’s now available in clean 16:9 black & white, with a mono soundtrack. What you get are magical performances from (deep breath) the Barbarians, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, James Brown & the Famous Flames, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Jan and Dean, Billy J.
Yes
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Although ‘progressive rock’ remains a smug oxymoron, Yes were the least aggravating of all the snots who smarmed their way across the music firmament from the late-1960s onward. This was their third, the 1971 set that proved to be a massive breakthrough, setting the stage for their masterpiece, Fragile. It’s all here: virtuoso playing, airy harmonies, the sub-Tolkien/post-2001 mystical mumbo-jumbo. To play a track called ‘Starship Trooper’ with a straight face… who am I to deem a few million fans devoid of taste? But if my remarks on prog-rock seem harsh, never forget that we have to thank it for this: the backlash to the genre was punk.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Like a pair of favourite slippers, a Livingston Taylor CD is a blue-chip cert if you want to relax. OK, so the audiophile equivalent of comfort food might not seem challenging, but his easy-going balladry is delicious – not least because Taylor called on members of Alison Krauss’ band Union Station to enhance it with a thread of bluegrass. As it was recorded in Tennessee, you can subtitle this his ‘Country Album’. Other guests include Steve Gadd, one of the greatest drummers in rock, country giant Vince Gill and Leland Sklar, bassist par excellence.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
A renowned gig with Satchmo celebrating his 60th birthday at one of the world’s greatest jazzfests, backed by Billy Kyle (piano), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Trummy Young (trombone), Mort Herbert (bass), Danny Barcelona (drums) and Velma Middleton sharing the vocals – if you can’t locate the CD, the silky, wider-than-Rhode Island stereo will qualify this download the best $10 you ever spent on New Orleans sizzle. Classic material – ‘Tiger Rag’, ‘Mack The Knife’, ‘St. Louis Blues’, a brace of tunes from High Society, ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy’, culminating in ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘Happy Birthday, Louis!’. ‘Utterly joyous’ is the only way to describe it.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Talk about a breakthrough: by 1973 with this, album number three, the Doobies had metamorphosed from a quasi-boogie/rock outfit, looking like Allman Brothers wannabees, into a slick Left Coast outfit able to segue country rock into blue-eyed soul. This particular set, possibly a career best, alternated hard rockers with rootsy ballads, handing us enough AOR masterpieces to ensure permanent rotation on American FM wavebands: ‘Natural Thing’, ‘Long Train Runnin’’, the immortal ‘China Grove’ and the lush title track… Most bands would kill to produce something this accomplished. And this SACD let’s you hear just how gorgeous it all was. Sound Quality: 88% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
For some purists, especially those blessed enough to have seen The Band in concert, this live album, recorded on New Year’s Eve 1971-2, exposes more of the group’s heart and soul than any of their studio albums. Although consisting of material culled from their four studio efforts, the live experience (and a horn section with arrangements courtesy of New Orleans R&B hero Allen Toussaint) reveals an outfit so perfectly hewn by the road, and with such a deep love for rock ’n’ roll and R&B, that it seems to contradict their almost po-faced, scholarly image. January ’72 must’ve been a helluva month in NYC, with James Taylor’s gig recorded there three weeks later! Sound Quality: 90% . .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Since I saw JT on this particular tour, maybe I’m prejudiced, but, damn! this performance is a textbook example of how to charm an audience. Despite the size of the venue, and the clearly stoned crowd, it could have been an intimate coffee shop gig. The sound is clear as a bell, and every one of the 14 tracks is so familiar (to elder baby boomers) that they’re bound to bring tear to eye. Taylor remains the pinnacle of singer-songwriter bliss, particularly for those who favour the unplugged, not-entirely-maudlin sort, as far removed from Leonard Cohen or Nick Drake as the range of human emotions allows.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
Arguably the finest album of standards he ever delivered – the opener is ‘When I Fall In Love’, for goodness sake – this stunner sounds so good that Analogue Productions has released it on both 2x45rpm vinyl (to be reviewed soon) and SACD. But not just any SACD: its layers are set up so you can enjoy it in mono, stereo, three-channel and, if your processor has worthy rear-channel extraction, in surround. However you choose to play it, the sound is so silky and natural that you’ll use this as a demo disc. Of course, this is first and foremost about the music.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
After last month’s Nowhere Boy, a sequel (with Backbeat in-between) in the life of John Lennon. This BBC effort caused controversy, everyone acknowledging Eccleston’s remarkable performance, with some bitching that he’s too old for the part. Nonsense! He looks more like Lennon than any other actor who’d played him before. More pertinent is the way the story plays fast and loose with the facts, featuring more of Lennon’s errant father than actually may have happened.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
Not one but two recent biopics of John Lennon have taxed the patience of the hardcore, but the consensus is that this beats BBC4’s Lennon Naked hands down, despite Christopher Eccleston’s uncanny, note-perfect, award-worthy portrayal in the latter. This covers Lennon’s pre-Hamburg youth, so the two form a natural pairing (or a chronological trilogy, with Backbeat in the middle), but the depth and sensitivity of this entry strikes the viewer as somehow more authentic. All three suffer the sort of anachronistic details that will have the fanboys’ knickers in a twist, and they also beg the real need for fictional accounts of events so recent, but this one is perhaps worth a viewing for its cinematic value. Sound Quality: 83% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
Yes, a mono SACD, as if to remind us that it’s sound quality rather than multichannel capability which keeps this much under-appreciated format alive. Although this is hardly the best-sounding recording Charles ever issued, musically it’s one of his milestones, showing absolute mastery of yet another genre. Instead of re-interpreting hoary old chestnuts, Charles recorded seven originals to complement five standards, showing that he could not only sing the blues, he could also write them. The sound is uptown, not rural, suggesting that he could have carved out as big a career in the blues – had he so desired – as Bobby Bland, Jimmy Witherspoon or any of the other more urbane practitioners.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
After a run of smash hit LPs, the Doobies had no trouble maintaining a winning streak in 1976 because this, their sixth release, was also their first with the man who would kick everything up a notch and strengthen its sound in a highly distinctive manner: vocalist Michael McDonald. There were always signs that the group had hidden blue-eyed soul leanings and MM’s presence, along with that of another Steely Dan refugee, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, ensured that the increasing levels of sophistication would render the band an AOR/FM staple. Classy, and not as far removed from ’Dan as you might imagine, in case you’ve always hungered for more from that outfit. Sound Quality: 87% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
Mayfield was one of the very first soul artists to imbue his songs with serious political content. And this self-produced, solo debut from 1970 melded contemporary soul and R&B with production values rarely glimpsed before, resulting in Mayfield’s immediate elevation to the front rank. Overshadowed by masterpieces from Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye from the same period, Curtis expanded on the ground-breaking work he’d created with the Impressions in the previous decade. Sounding dated only in that it lacks the abrasiveness of the post-rap era, Curtis succeeds instead because of its intensity, beauty, intelligence and grandeur.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
On Main Street, this has been made available as a separate purchase for those who didn’t buy the luxury box set. It is probably more Stones than you’ll ever need or want unless you’re truly part of their hardcore following: a documentary running to over two hours dealing with the making of a single album. Admittedly, some consider Exile to be their best, so it’s no conceit to honour it in the way one would document Sgt Pepper or Blonde On Blonde. Using amazing footage, and contemporary and new interviews, it tells the entire saga of their most louche period.

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