Thumbing Through the Racks: Acoustic Sounds, SoundStageDirect, & Chesky Records

Art Dudley browses the LP racks at the Quality Record Pressings booth. Photo: Ariel Bitran.

One of the fun sidelights of any audio show is visiting the rooms or booths of the high-end vinyl dealers who attend and, in that regard, the New York Audio Show 2013 was no exception. I spent much of the first day either listening to records via the Classic Album Sundays room with Colleen Murphy, talking about new releases with David Chesky (who I will get to in a moment), or thumbing through juicy looking new and reissue vinyl and DVDs at the booths of Acoustic Sounds, AIX Records, and SoundStageDirect.com.

No audio show is complete without the boxes and boxes of beautifully remastered vinyl reissues from Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds empire which now includes his own Salina, Kansas-based Quality Records pressing plant. Kassem, a true believer in music as well as being one of the high end’s more memorable characters, told me, “It’s all good. We’re very happy with the show, selling lots of vinyl. Vinyl is happening!”

In his boxes, all of which were being anxiously thumbed through by a constant stream of audiophiles and vinyl junkies (many of whom, I noticed, walked away with hefty bags full), I noticed a couple new releases that looked promising. There was a 200gm, single-LP reissue of the 1967 Decca collection, Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits. In that case, as well as a new reissue of the self-titled album by Phoebe Snow, Kassem has turned what was once just a single album jacket into a lush gatefold package that is very sweet. While his six-LP boxed set of The Doors is impressive—all remastered from the original analog tape—it was his 45rpm Elvis ’57 package that caught my eye the most. The fact that this release exists at all is quite a tale involving Los Angeles sound engineer Thorne Nogar who worked on the original sessions, the gist of which Kassem told me, but which can also be found on the Acoustic Sounds website:

“One day years later when Thorne was "cleaning out" his tapes closet, remarkably, he set these 2-track backup tapes aside, intending to dispose of them. Noted producer Bones Howe had worked for Nogar as a tape operator at Radio Recorders, and thanks to him the tapes were saved from a final resting place in the trash can. Bones took the tapes home with him. He'd put them safely away in a bank vault.

“These 2-tracks have "erase" clearly written on the master log sheets. They're from January 1957 sessions at which Presley produced material for two EPs and the film Loving You soundtrack. They're the only known ones surviving from the pre-stereo era.”

Needless to say, this is an important release even for casual Elvis fans!

I came upon another trove of vinyl up in the SoundStageDirect.com room where they teamed up with the Sound Organization and PMC Speakers to present a variety of events over the weekend. I was there to hear friend and now Grammy Award winning audio engineer, Jim Anderson, talk about surround sound recording, Patricia Barber, and many other music- and engineering-related topics. While it’s always good to see Jim and hear his opinions and tales of artist and/or label kookiness, I ended up in the back of the room, perusing the boxes of LPs that were there for sale. SoundStageDirect.com brought with them over 2500 records from labels like Speakers Corner, Mobile Fidelity, and Music on Vinyl which made for some high quality box digging. If there is a heavier, quieter, or better done reissue that Mobile Fidelity’s recent super-quiet, RTI-pressed GAIN 2TM Ultra Analog 180gm 2-LP release of Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes, which incidentally has to be the weightiest MoFi ever, I have yet to see or hear it.

Finally, there in the middle of the bullpen of the fourth floor registration room were Lisa Hershfield and David Chesky of Chesky Records/HDtracks. David has a new release, The New York Rags, which fuses what in the liner notes he calls his “style of harmonic writing and fragmentation writing” with some of the spirit of ragtime. The pianist/composer/label owner/hi rez download pioneer has taken the Gershwin idea about using some of New York’s hustle-bustle to inspire music into his really intriguing modern, tonal/atonal re-interpretations of ragtime. See Michael Lavorgna’s praise for this outstanding release at AudioStream.com.

“We’re kicking it up and putting it on steroids," said Chesky. "Rags are like a hundred years old and we’re reinventing the idiom and making it modern and relevant so people can relate."

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