The Trick Is To Keep Going

Archive for September, 2009

Beatles remastered: Revolver & Sgt. Pepper’s

by on Sep.23, 2009, under Music

In the summer of 1967, when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, fans of The Beatles didn’t get together with friends and listen to the mono version of this landmark album.

beatles-sgt-peppersI don’t recall anyone buying the mono version. Perhaps  if you couldn’t afford the $1 extra for stereo, because that’s all it was. But that’s not the point. The way to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s back then, as it is now, was in stereo.

I can remember at rehearsals and jams at the Aiardo Brothers house during the summer between the demise of the Bram Rigg Set and before I went off to school in Boston, we would take a break and listen to the entire album’s left channel.

Later the same afternoon we would listen to the whole album but just the right channel. Yeah, it was entertaining, listening to what George Martin and The Beatles were up to, but we were also trying to figure out what the hell they were doing as far as the recording process.

It wasn’t until several weeks later that I found out this album was recorded on a four-track machine. A four-track! Most studios in the States had long before installed eight-track recorders, including Syncron, later Trod Nossel, all the way out in Wallingford, CT, where my bands Bram Rigg Set and later Pulse worked out of.

Yet, The Beatles and Martin had produced an album on a four-track, albeit bouncing to a second four-track for many songs, and the album sounded extraordinary.

In a previous post on the recently released remastered versions of Help! and Rubber Soul, The Beatles albums that preceded these two, I wrote that bottom line the mono versions of those albums, even though I had grown up with the stereo, were my preference. OK, maybe not for Drive My Car and a few other tunes, but mono is the way to go for those: balanced, clear, direct and in-your-face punchy. (continue reading…)

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Concerts Vol. 9: Taj Mahal

by on Sep.19, 2009, under Music

Earlier this summer, I saw Taj Mahal in concert with Bonnie Raitt on the impressive Bon Taj Roulet tour, the third time I’ve seen Taj.

Taj Mahal 68474-5The second time was in the spring of 1969 at the improbable club in New Haven, the Stone Balloon, fashioned after Greenwich’s Village’s Cafe Au Go Go.

As mentioned in a post on Jethro Tull, who had played the club in February, ’69, the Balloon wasn’t open long, less than a year, but booked a plethora of rising stars from Tull to Taj to Neil Young. Quite a venue situated under a Pegnataro’s Supermarket with a back entrance from the super’s parking lot.

Taj had released two albums by this time, his self-titled debut and the classic Natch’l Blues, which was released the previous summer. He was touring with his original band that included the incomparable Jesse Ed Davis on lead guitar, Chuck Blackwell on drums and bassist Gary Gilmore.

The Stone Balloon was tiny. We went to see them on a Saturday night, some weeks after the Tull show, and Taj and his band were in fine form playing a mix of tunes from the first two albums. They were not as loud as Tull (not that I didn’t like Ian Anderson & Co.), instead perfectly suited to the room size and Davis was mesmerizing.

Of course, Taj wasn’t too shabby either. He had a beautiful take on modern country blues with his unique and refreshing originals mixed with classics like Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Corrina and You Don’t Miss Your Water (‘Til Your Well Runs Dry). (continue reading…)

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Beatles remastered: Help! & Rubber Soul

by on Sep.15, 2009, under Music

The Beatles remastered catalogue on CD has arrived. I decided to start listening with two albums that were originally released back-to-back in 1965, Help! and Rubber Soul.

beatles-helpThese two also are the only ones with three versions released over the various formats of the series. Both are available in stereo and can be purchased individually or as part of The Beatles Stereo box set. Those versions are the 1987 re-mixes by producer George Martin, the same mix as the original CD releases from the late ’80s but of course remastered.

The albums are also included in The Beatles in Mono box, each disc of which includes a mono mix, only available if you purchase this mono set, and the original 1965 stereo mixes remastered, the first time those mixes have been available on CD.

I also have the 1987 CDs of these titles. So, I was able to compare all four versions.

Why were these two albums remixed in 1987 by George Martin? Good question. He said back in 1987, after being completely overlooked by EMI on The Beatles first four albums of that remastering campaign, that these two albums along with Revolver sounded “woolly” and he wound up not changing anything but “hardening” the sound up.

He applied digital echo in the mixing process as opposed to the original echo chamber at Abbey Road from the ’60s and cut down a little of the background noise. But that really simplifies it. Check this link  for an interview with Martin in 1987 in which he gives a more detailed reasoning of the process. It can be quite illuminating.

In fact, the differences in the stereo mixes are quite subtle, but the differences in the new remastering applied are significant. But let’s start with the mono versions. (continue reading…)

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A Jackie DeShannon quartet

by on Sep.10, 2009, under Music

More than a decade before the singer-songwriter era of the early 1970s, Jackie DeShannon was interpreting other writers’ songs and writing hit records of her own.

jackie-deshannon-first-albumShe came clearly into the public conscience after her recording of Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono’s Needles and Pins in 1963 and followed it with her own When You Walk In The Room. In 1964, both songs became hits for the English band The Searchers.

But DeShannon had been recording since the late 1950s and she would continue with a string of eclectic albums on Imperial, a subsidiary of Liberty Records, throughout the ’60s, which would include a couple of world-wide hits.

Running through all her changes in style was a pure, proficient and pleasing voice that held a tinge of country and gospel from her background and was perfectly suited for pop and rock music.

Collectors’ Choice Music has just released remastered versions of four of DeShannon’s albums spanning a period from her self-titled folk album of 1963, seeing its debut on CD, to 1968’s Me About You coupled with Set Me Free (1970) on a two-fer and on to 1975’s New Arrangement, which yielded the Grammy Hall of Fame song Bette Davis Eyes, a major hit for Kim Carnes six years later. (continue reading…)

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White’s Weather experiment

by on Sep.04, 2009, under Music

Jack White’s latest group The Dead Weather reaches highs that equal the best of two of his other projects, The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. Still, despite excellent musicianship, effective vocals and intriguing lyrics, the group falls a little short overall of sustaining those highs throughout its debut, Horehound, particularly in comparison with The Raconteurs’ two records.

horehound-albumAn interesting hard-edged, lyrically dark album, Horehound combines elements of Zeppelin-inspired hard rock with modern takes on alternative and blues themes. The group is at its best when Alison Mosshart, of The Kills, takes lead vocal duties as she does on nine of the 11 tracks.

Her voice is perfectly suited for the band’s style, sometimes evoking a female Robert Plant at others sounding reminiscent of Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano or for moments even a trace of P.J. Harvey. Comparisons aside, she retains a singular quality that only reminds one of those artists. Her performance here shows her off as one of modern rock’s best singers and front-women.

Things work best on the first two tracks, 60 Feet Tall and Hang You From The Heavens, both written by Mosshart and guitarist Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age. For this assemblage White plays drums on all but one track and The Raconteurs Jack Lawrence joins in on bass. (continue reading…)

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