Audiophile Vinyl

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Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Christmas in July! Here, in glorious mono – but of course – is what many regard as the greatest rock ’n’ roll Christmas LP of all time: Phil Spector’s deliriously joyful showcase for his Philles Records stable of pop maestri, from 1963. You get the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans, backed by one of the finest assemblies of session players ever to enter a studio: the amazing Wrecking Crew, with Leon Russell, Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono in its ranks. The package offers 13 Christmas pop standards, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear a more uplifting take of ‘White Christmas’. The Wall of Sound rules, beyond prison walls.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Practitioners of Zydeco – the black, bluesy, more rocking cousin to swampy Cajun music – serve a select audience, for the genre rarely produces crossover hits. But if you get bitten by the bug, it’s irresistible. Major Handy is one of Zydeco’s younger, more active performers, born in the heart of the Louisiana region that gave birth to the sound, and a veteran who played with Rockin’ Dopsie. Chad Kassem’s crew has captured the swing and the feel of the genre, while showcasing an instrument that’s key to Zydeco but hardly an audiophile staple: the accordion.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
Although most would credit Sly & the Family Stone or Funkadelic’s empire for inventing acid-dripping, hard funk, back in ’69, the super-smooth Temptations were getting spacey, too. Sharp suits metamorphosed into the kind of garb that Elvis Presley would copy for his Vegas era, and track times would extend beyond the AM-friendly norm of Motown. While fans may have been taken aback by the wicked title track, the Temps had already shown an experimental streak with ‘I Know I’m Losing You’. And we certainly owe thanks to this LP for the later ‘Psychedelic Shack’, and of course, the immortal ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 10, 2010
It simply doesn’t get any better than this if you’re a Motown addict. This LP from ’67 contains a half-dozen gems, eg, ‘Bernadette’, that are forever associated with the ’Tops, plus a couple of covers they made their own: ‘Walk Away Renee’ and ‘If I Were A Carpenter’. With 20/20 hindsight, considering that The Monkees have been reassessed and found not to be the infra dig swill that snobs once deemed them to be, we learn here just how appealing was the material they chose: the ’Tops cover two of their hits, turning ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ and ‘I’m A Believer’ into almost-credible Motown stompers. Reach Out is the quintessence of the group’s and the label’s sound.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 09, 2010
Yes, an LP of the CD I’ve been boring you with for six years. While probably a digital original, the album lends itself beautifully to the analogue medium because it’s just so damned rich: perfectly-recorded piano; fluid guitar, Dobro and bass; Keb’ Mo’s textured vocals. This was his ‘covers album’, the bluesman choosing nine peace ’n’ love folk and rock classics, mainly from the 1960s, like ‘Get Together’, ‘Imagine’ and ‘For What It’s Worth’. They serve as a statement that’s as relevant in 2010 as when the songs were new.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
For those in need of some distaff R&B amidst the incredible male performers captured live by Chad Kassem & Co, Texan songstress Greenleaf and her band Blue Mercy exhibit precisely the kind of fire and grit that exemplifies the great blues and (southern) soul belters of the 1960s and 1970s. Greenleaf acknowledges gospel inspiration and cites Koko Taylor and Aretha Franklin amongst her muses, so you can expect and do receive earthy, powerful interpretations of five tracks that suffer no sonic restraint. If the modernity of the recording’s crystal clarity jars with what is a genre of elderly vintage, think of this as you would a b/w movie filmed in high-def. This is shake your booty stuff.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
Ms Ross, exactly 80 years old on the day that I’m writing this, is one of the UK’s best-kept secrets: jazz aficionados who know their onions appreciate that she is one of the best interpreters of standards in the business, so this set from World Pacific back in 1959 – featuring Zoot Sims on sax – ranks with any ‘Great American Songbook’ you can imagine. The stance here differs from her more famous work as part of Lambert, Hicks & Ross, the crack sextet (with a touch of big-band class provided by Mel Lewis on drums) accenting her vocals with uncanny precision. It may be a half-century old, but it can teach a few tricks to today’s crop of wannabees. Mesmerising.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
Sundazed continues to plough a furrow that only a few other reissue labels dare, that of all-but-forgotten psychedelia. This time they’ve unearthed an ultra-obscure album by a band that might have been little more than a footnote, for once having included Elliott Randall in its ranks. But they produced one of those deliriously gloomy/druggy, proto-Goth sets that mix freakish originals with unusual covers: Love’s ‘Signed DC’, Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and even a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins track. The mix shows their eclecticism, but the best aspect of Creation – unlike too much from this genre which deserves to be forgotten – is that the music is terrific.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
There’s a strong case for regarding this as EC’s best album – if not of his entire career, which is too varied and complex, then surely of his early years. The magic ingredient was the arrival of the band that would accompany him through his strongest period, his most sympathetic backing of all: the butt-kicking Attractions, who injected enough adrenalin into these Nick Lowe-produced sessions to yield an embarrassment of riches – ‘Pump It Up’, ‘Radio Radio’, ‘Lipstick Vogue’ and eight more acidic tracks. It’s ignoble to suggest that Costello was maturing: he arrived fully formed and in no need of assistance. It was like giving a great F1 driver a faster car.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
If you enjoyed the gold CD edition, reviewed in March, then the LP will provide some surprises. Although The Cars were born in the analogue era, they embraced an artificial, otherworldly sound, which logic dictates might be favoured by digital. But so rich and layered were their recordings, and so distinctive the vocals, that the music lends itself equally to what should be passé technology in this context. Blessedly, The Cars were not as Fritz Lang-ian in their modernism as, say, the far-quirkier Devo, never allowing melody to be subjugated by studio wizardry, so even the proliferation of synths – which date the album – does not jar with analogue warmth.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
As this series of Nat ‘King’ Cole LPs, pressed on two 45rpm discs, concentrates on his golden era, you know what to expect: perfect sound quality, breathtaking arrangements, tasteful material and that voice. Aaah! That voice! It delivered so much, and was so inimitable that Cole could use it to make any song his own. This release from 1963, the last of a trio of LPs arranged and conducted by Gordon Jenkins, was themed with the subtitle ‘Songs of Love And Loneliness’. Cole creates the necessary mood with such completeness that you feel an ache in nearly every note.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
There have been blues prodigies in the past, young kids who defy their age with a sound conveying wisdom, experience and other abilities which suggest the passage of time. But quite how Knox managed to ingest the anima of a 60-year-old in a 17-year-old’s mind/body is part of the mystery that makes this LP so compelling. Had you heard the album before being told this, his interpretation of Willie Dixon’s ‘You Need Love’ would have you convinced the guy had been playing juke joints for decades. When you realise that he composed nearly all of the material, you’ll want to see his birth certificate.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 08, 2010
While the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean successfully co-opted the ‘surf’ genre by adding vocals, its inventor was Dick Dale, aka ‘King of the Surf Guitar’. Dale launched the genre with ‘Let’s Go Trippin’’ from 1961, which kicks off this set, developing a sound he forged to reflect the sensations of the sport. Along the way he directly influenced so many guitarists (eg Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen) that he’s even credited by some with inventing heavy metal. What these 28 mono tracks reveal are ingenious techniques that dazzle and frighten in equal measure 50 years on.
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 06, 2010
As eerie a song as has ever topped the charts, the surprise success of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ ensured that Gentry’s 1967 debut LPwould also reach No 1. In retrospect, this is a seminal release helping to create the break between traditional, Opry-style country warblers, the gutsy, bluesy component turning this into, sort of, a distaff effort at the outlaw approach, with Gentry eschewing the beehive, pointy-bra’d, down-trodden angst of most of her contemporaries. As Gentry faded from the public a mere five or so years afterwards, working only sporadically, this reissue is a reminder of how much she helped to empower today’s country songbirds. Sound Quality: 88% .
Ken Kessler  |  Dec 06, 2010
In case anyone thought that a stint in the US Army might have dulled Elvis’s talents, this astonishing LP from 1960 delivered exactly what the title promised, including the exclamation mark. His voice was in superb form, he was backed by the most sympathetic line-up in his career – including Scotty Moore, the Jordanaires, Hank Garland, and DJ Fontana – and the repertoire included ‘Fever’, ‘The Girl Of My Best Friend’, ‘Reconsider Baby’, ‘Such A Night’… Do you really need any more of an inducement to rush out and buy this state-of-the-art two-disc, 45rpm edition? Audiophile-grade Frank and Elvis LPs in the same month: oh, we are spoiled rotten. Sound Quality: 95% . .

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