Listening to you...
I've been busy with finals of late, so I haven't really had the time to engage in a whole lot of serious listening, which means that I try to keep the music solidly in the realm of pop. It annoys me to no end when people talk of Bach or Beethoven as "study music." If you are going to reduce something like the Goldberg Variations or one of Beethoven's sonatas to sonic wallpaper, then you're missing the point. Serious music deserves to be met on its own terms, not while working a bunch of derivative problems for calculus.
Here is what has been on my headphones a lot lately. With the exception of Siegfried, I don't feel too bad if I tune out from time to time with this stuff, but it's a good idea to pay attention, too.
1. Bill Evans - Explorations (Riverside 1961)
While Evans' work at the Village Vanguard is notable, I prefer Explorations as a rule. Tracks like "Nardis" show what a force Evans, La Faro, and Motian were during the all-too-brief time they collaborated.
2. Buddy Holly - For the First Time Anywhere (MCA 1983)
Worth it for "Bo Diddley." Interesting to hear a sort of raw, live-in-the-studio (more or less) sound for Holly. In a lot of the tracks, there's a more propulsive sound that I like. The road between Holly and other artists like Johnny Cash is better illuminated here than elsewhere.
3. Richard Wagner - Siegfried (Naxos' potted Melchior set)
Sometimes it's nice to be able to hear a Heldentenor of the first rank. I think, given the state of both Wagnerian singing and the record industry today, that well-mastered recordings of the greats are more essential than ever. Melchior, I am becoming firmly convinced, was the greatest exponent of Siegfried and a contender for the greatest Siegmund on record (I really like James King's performance for Böhm, though).
4. The Smiths - Hatful of Hollow (Rough Trade 1984)
It's worth tracking down the original RT issue (Rough CD76) instead of the Sire/Reprise issue. For whatever reason, I think that the bass is a better reproduced on the French MPO-made discs from the original issue. The contributions of Morrissey and Johnny Marr need no defense, but heard on the RT CD, Andy Rourke's role becomes clearer and integral.
5. Bob Dylan - New Morning [remaster] (Sony 2009)
This record, most notable for The Big Lebowski's use of "The Man In Me," is one of Dylan's criminally underrated gems. I don't know if it's Al Kooper's organ or Dylan himself, but there is a lighter, exuberant mood to the record that I like.