Listening #134 Page 2
Except for the modest aluminum plate to which the tube sockets are fastened, the D'Yquem's caseworkthe mass and stiffness of which are also elements in the voicing of this and other Shindo modelsis formed from steel and finished, on all surfaces, in the company's trademark shade of green. The transformer cover and tube cage share a distinctly sculpted look, with neatly curved edges and ventilation openings that manage to be both functional and attractive. (Unfortunately, the D'Yquems sound considerably better with the tube cages removed: something that's true of every Shindo amp I've heard so far.) As with few other brands in perfectionist audio, the Shindo D'Yquem's good-looking casework is free from overkill and tacked-on artifice; just as uniquely, it is engineered and built with such precision that tube cages, lids, bottom plates, and the like all fit precisely. One needn't bend, twist, pry, or pray when reinserting a Shindo amplifier's machine screws in their threaded sockets.
With their thoroughly reasonable size and weight and their individual level controlsthe latter allow the user to operate his or her preamp within its optimal range of volume-control settings, along with providing a means of adjusting channel balancethe D'Yquems were easy to swap into my system, replacing my own (very slightly smaller) Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks.
The D'Yquems performed brilliantly at that most important and challenging of all domestic-audio tasks, preserving and bringing to the fore all of the strengths for which 78rpm records are cherished: superior touch, impact, and presence, plus exquisitely realistic musical flow and momentum (footnote 2). The voice of Enrico Caruso, singing the Crucifixus from Rossini's Petite Messe solennelle (acoustic 78, Victrola 87335), had an amazing sense of the forceful propulsion of sound from the singer's chest; and the exceptional presence and clarity of the lap steel guitar in Montana Slim's "Shoo Shoo Shoo, Sh' La La (Daddy's Lullaby)" (electric 78, Decca 29384) had to be heard to be believed.
The D'Yquems were no less impressive with stereo LPs. With Ravi Shankar's 1971 recording, with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, of Shankar's colorful Sitar Concerto (LP, EMI ASD 2752), the new Shindo amps rose to the challenge and presented the record's almost uniquely wide palette of timbral and textural signatures with exceptional color and touch. Most noteworthy, perhaps, was a conspicuous harp arpeggio in the second part of the work's first movement (Chhed): Through the D'Yquems it was, forgive me, a holy shit moment, the instrument sounding immense and deeply, beautifully impactful. And throughout the work, each single drum tap, set against the rich carpet of the sitar's drone strings, was a delightful experience. (The liner notes say "bongos"; I don't know if that's an error for "tabla" or if it's literally true.) In fact, the D'Yquems made all percussion instruments sound wonderful, regardless of settingas in Big Star's "Life Is White," from the indispensable Radio City (LP, Ardent ADS-1501): Jody Stephens's remarkable drumming never sounded less compressed or more colorful than through these new Shindos.
Now: All of the qualities I've described so farthe color, the texture, the impact, and so forthhave been offered, to different degrees and in different combinations, by all of the Shindo amplifier models I've heard at home so far: the Montille, the Lafon GM 70, the Corton-Charlemagne, and two distinct versions each of the Haut-Brion and Cortese. Where the Shindo D'Yquem departed from those and other amplifiers was in the warm, colorful clarity it brought to musical sounds in the lowest octavesand especially to the sound of the double bass. I had a roomful of friends on hand while playing, through the warmed-up D'Yquems, Dexter Gordon's wonderful One Flight Up (LP, Blue Note/Cisco 84176/BLP-4176). After listening through the side-long "Tanya," we all described, wide-eyed in astonishment, the same experience: hearing, in Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen's bass lines, an instrument that was physically large, made of very old wood, and played with considerable human force and nuance. Cliché it might be, but the truth was undeniable: We all reported seeing that big string bass right there in the room.
It was then that I knew: These amplifiers had to go. Preferably by the next day. They were evilevil,, I tell youbecause my little rat brain had already started to gnaw at my soul, suggesting that, Hey, no problem, I can find a way to afford a pair of Shindo D'Yquems. Sure. With a teenager headed for college, looming medical-insurance bills to pay, a house whose wood siding is starting to rot in a few places, a car that needs new tires, and a desperate sense that, in my present financial state, I won't be able to retire until age 90, I can nonetheless find $25,000 for a pair of magnificent, peerless, unparalleled, and altogether green amplifiers. Sure.
They went back to importer Jonathan Halpern, aka Tone Imports, the very next day. And, yes, I remain thankful for all the blessingsincluding the less-expensive Shindo amplifiersthat I already have.
This is easy
After a stretch of dull adolescence in which the social enjoyment of rock'n'roll was perversely mirthlessmy friends and I were among those denim-jacketed cretins who thought that music, whether live or recorded, was best enjoyed with arms crossed and scowls firmly in placeI finally got over my bad self and danced.
The change was occasioned by countless live bands and a few seminal records: the Clash's London Calling (1980), Rockpile's Seconds of Pleasure (1980), and, especially, the eponymous debut album of Marshall Crenshaw (1982). Throughout the 1980s, even in my cramped New York City apartment, Crenshaw's first LP almost never failed to get visitors on their feet.
That and his later records rewarded closer listening, too: a distinction that applies equally well to the music that Crenshaw is making today, some 30 years and 13 albums later. Marshall Crenshaw continues to write, sing, and play some of the most sublimely perfect rock'n'roll songs of our timeand vinyl continues to be his medium of choice. In 2012, Crenshaw began offering his newest recordings on a series of 10", 45rpm discs, each containing three tracks: a new Crenshaw song, a reworking of a classic Crenshaw song, and a cover. The EPs are individually available for $12 each, or as part of a $30 subscription in which the subscriber receives three records, released about six months apart; each record comes with a coupon redeemable for a free digital download.
The title track of the first EP, I Don't See You Laughing Now (Addle-Ville MC1), is one of Crenshaw's most topical songs. The lyric, he says, was written about "a composite of greed-driven villainsMadoff, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, etc." The melody and chord sequence are more complexand arguably much more engagingthan the power-pop norm, and the arrangement draws the listener in with rich chord voicings and a fine, Chilton-esque guitar solo from Crenshaw, a superb player who seems to be getting even better with age. It's a brilliant, memorable song from start to finish, and surely among Crenshaw's best.
The first EP also includes a live version, with the St. Louis band the Bottle Rockets, of "There She Goes Again"the track that opened Marshall Crenshawand a lovingly faithful cover of Jeff Lynne's "No Time," from the Move's Message from the Country, an early-'70s pop masterpiece that remains in my Top 10 exactly 40 years after I bought my first copy. Speaking of terrific covers, the second EP in the series, Stranger and Stranger (Addle-Ville MC2), contains a performance of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Close to You" that you'll enjoy in spite of your bad selfplus an acoustic reworking of Crenshaw's early song "Maryanne," and the compellingly wistful title track. The last is beautifully arranged, with congas and vibraphone, and Byron House, late of Nickel Creek, on double bass.
Sound quality, though never bad, is variable across the two EPs I've received so far (footnote 3) reflecting the different recording settings and techniques: "I'm doing a lot of the recording at home," Crenshaw says. "I have Pro Tools and a 1" eight-track machine, so it's a kind of a hybrid digital/analog thing." That said, throughout all the tracks there endure the warmth, presence, and impact that come only from vinyland in this case, great vinyl. I strongly recommend visiting marshallcrenshaw.com, where you can buy these lovingly made EPs and subscribe to Year Two.
A few miscellaneous record-release notes
Recently out on Tompkins Square Records is the three-CD boxed set Live at Caffä Lena: Music from America's Legendary Coffeehouse (19672013), a collection of memorable performances selected from the 50-year history of the upstate New York café, which continues to do business on Phila Street, in Saratoga Springs. The new set offers previously unreleased performances by Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Rick Danko, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk, and a host of others. A must for any serious folk fan.
The distinguished German LP-reissue house Speakers Corner has released another three titles in what is described as their final wave of classic Decca titles: Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande performing Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and various shorter works (SXL 2292); Stravinsky's Symphony in C by the same conductor and orchestra (SXL 2237); and Dame Joan Sutherland's The Art of the Prima Donna, Vols. 1 and 2, with Francesco Molinari-Pradelli conducting the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra (SXL2256/57). All are fine, the Prokofiev especially so: For sheer color, texture, and you-are-there presence, not to mention the dead-silent surfaces for which the company is known, this ranks with the very best work Speakers Corner has ever released.
After the astonishing release, by London's Electric Recording Company, of Johanna Martzy's legendary recordings of J.S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (see "Listening," August 2013, and "Records for Which to Die" in this issue), my favorite new mono LP reissue is Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' Charlie Parkerinspired Hard Bop (Columbia/Impex CL 1040). As with the above-mentioned German and British firms, the US-based Impex uses an analognever digitaldelay loop in mastering their records; as Madison Avenue once said of an altogether different sort of product, don't you wish everyone did? Speaking of ERC, I have a test pressing of their forthcoming reissue, in stereo, of the famous recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto by Leonid Kogan, Constantin Silvestri, and the Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire Paris (Columbia/ERC SAX 2386). It is very much worth waiting for.
In their recent LP reissue of Nick Drake's Pink Moon (Island 1745697), Universal Music Enterprises offered vinyl lovers the richest, most detailed, most human-sounding version available of that brilliant record. I bought my own copy in August, but it wasn't until several weeks later that I actually listened to side 2and when I did, I heard an annoying series of clicks throughout "Know." I returned it to Music Direct, who, in typical fashion, sent a replacement copy without hassle. Imagine my surprise, on listening to side 2 of my new copy, at hearing the same clicks in the same places! I endure in recommending this reissue for its fine musicality, but noise-sensitive buyers are forewarned, and Universal is advised to audition their test pressingsand, if necessary, to replate their lacquerswith a level of care befitting a $25 LP.
Footnote 2: Which do you think sounds more impactful and dynamically nuanced: a CD played on a high-end audio system, or a YouTube video of someone playing a 78, heard through your computer? For the answer, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WmCKuy9vZE.
Footnote 3: The third Crenshaw EP, Driving and Dreaming, will have been released by the time you read this.