Friday, August 22, 2008

Late-Summer Heavy Rotation

(1) Roy Orbison - All-Time Greatest Hits (MFSL)
This record seems to have a magnetic pull for audiophile labels: it was done on DCC with Steve Hoffman mastering it, and now it's out on Mobile Fidelity (mastered by Rob LoVerde and Shawn Britton). The MFSL release is louder than Hoffman's DCC set, but, when push comes to shove, both sound pretty darned good. As to the music: if you're not familiar with at least some of Orbison's tracks, then you're either a horrible space monster from the year 3000 or you're not paying attention. Great stuff. It doesn't need much commentary.

(2) Johann Sebastian Bach - Motetten (Hilliard Ensemble, ECM)
Most audiophile releases of pop records would die happy deaths if they could sound this good. The Hilliard Ensemble, despite doing one-voice-per-part, unaccompanied performances of these pieces, of which BWV 225, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied," is the showpiece, though BWV 227 receives its due, is intelligent and convincing in its interpretation. These motets are cornerstones of the Western canon (either individually, since, as the booklet notes, Richard Wagner had nice things to say about BWV 225), but they're durable enough to take a range of interpretations. ECM's sound is wonderful, though whether you want to pay ECM prices is up to you.

(3) Joe Pass - Virtuoso (Cisco/JVC XRCD)
This is a classic of the jazz guitar repertoire, and rightly so. The sound is pretty darned good, especially on something with reasonably good resolution and good treble response (e.g., Etymotics ER-4P, though the wood-bodied Grados, e.g., RS-2, sound nice with this stuff), and the performances are great. Coming in 1973, with fusion at the height of its power, this must have been like a kick in the teeth for all the right reasons.

(4) Bob Dylan - At Budokan (Columbia)
While the foregoing are pretty much unquestionably good records, Dylan's document of the 1978 tour is not so beloved (up there with Self-Portrait on the dislike-o-meter). Dylan's perpetual revising and reconsidering his tracks did not necessarily lead to lurching, Elvis-style rockers that never went out of their way to sound like the originals. Bad move, Bob. Fanatical fans don't seem like they're the first to like the idea of Vegas-tinted big-band interpretations of songs they know by heart. It's not as bad as you'd think, though. Some tracks, like "Shelter from the Storm," "Simple Twist of Fate," and "I Want You," come off looking pretty nice in their new clothes. Others could have done without Bob's ministrations and reorchestrations. Not for everyone.

(5) Steely Dan - Gaucho (DVD-A, MCA)
The Steely Dan remasters aren't universally beloved, but the DVD-A is generally liked. It was remastered for DVD-A back when the engineers couldn't do some of the standard tricks that they use on CDs. This isn't the Dan's best record, though I really dig it most of the time, but, sonically speaking, they were at the top of their game (with no DBX foul-ups like Katy Lied). It's a great hi-res release, but, unless you're more into sound than music, which, while soulless and horrible, is fine by me, don't start your Steely Dan collection with Gaucho in any format.

(6) The Louvin Brothers - When I Stop Dreaming: The Best Of (Razor and Tie)
Mastered by Steve Hoffman, this set appeals to a certain crowd. It should appeal to just about everyone. I'll admit that it sounds pretty darned good, but coming from serious art-music, what is audiophile for pop connoisseurs doesn't necessarily make the grade. Regardless, this is just good, old-fashioned country music (heavy on mandolin, which may or may not be your stringed instrument of choice). Their close harmony style might not be for everyone, but it cannot be denied that these guys were good. Really good, and that's from someone who isn't a big C&W fan.