Aural Robert

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Robert Baird  |  May 02, 2024  |  0 comments
So, former White Stripe and Third Man label founder Jack White has now moved into jazz? It was a question that intrigued me when I first heard about the partnership between Universal Music and White's Third Man Records, a vinyl reissue series called Verve By Request. Was Universal just a client for Third Man's relatively new LP pressing plant in Detroit, or was this a genuine collaboration? And what the hell does Jack White know about jazz?
Robert Baird  |  Apr 02, 2024  |  1 comments
Recently, a letter to the editor from Len Eggert arrived in Stereophile's digital mailbox that closed with a question: "How about coverage of other notable 'outlaw' singer-songwriters who shunned Nashville and put Austin on the musical map: Guy Clark? Kris Kristofferson? Jerry Jeff Walker? Waylon Jennings? Billie Joe Shaver? David Allan Coe? Are you listening, Robert Baird?"

Timely if nothing else, that email came just after I had serendipitously acquired a new-to-my-collection, first-pressing LP copy of the first Guy Clark album, Old No. 1.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 26, 2024  |  0 comments
Photo by Sabrina Santiago

There's a fear out there, even among jazz cognoscenti, that the music's best years and true geniuses are all part of the past. Even in New York City, the richest magnet for live jazz on earth, it sometimes seems that experiencing generational talent, the kind that once drove the music forward, is now confined to gazing at the famous photos on the walls of the music's most revered shrine, the Village Vanguard. Yet, seeing pianist Sullivan Fortner at the Vanguard, as part of Cécile McLorin Salvant's band, convinced me that there's still jazz magic in the world. By turns playful, blindingly brilliant, and at times puppy dog goofy, Fortner was spectacular. He is clearly a star in the music's future.

Robert Baird  |  Jan 29, 2024  |  4 comments
"When I first listened to the tape I thought, this is so good that if I do anything else in my life, I have to make sure the world hears this," David Prinz says with obvious intensity. "That's how I really feel. It makes me happy that all these Gram fans are finally going to get to hear what he was really like live."

The love of music can drive human beings to astonishing lengths. For Prinz, cofounder/owner of California's Amoeba Music chain, that fervor revolves around the work of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Despite the often-outlandish mythology that's grown up around this shooting star since his tragic 1973 overdose at age 26, Prinz has made it his quixotic mission to find, restore, and release unreleased Gram Parsons live shows.

Robert Baird  |  Dec 26, 2023  |  1 comments
Having just finished this review of The Replacements' Tim: Let It Bleed Edition, I thought I'd glance at a couple of online forums to see what the collective verdict was on the sound quality of the set's main attraction: a remix of the album by Ramones engineer Ed Stasium. At Steve Hoffman's forums, I saw this in one of the first posts: "It sounded like I expected Tim to sound when it came out in the fall of 1985. I've also listened to the newly remastered original album that comes with the set, and while it sounds good and I'm glad to have it, it pales compared to the 2023 Stasium mix." Ticking down a post or two, exuberance gushed forth: "Well, IMO the [Stasium] version of Tim may be the greatest rock record of all time."
Robert Baird  |  Nov 30, 2023  |  0 comments
A vital member of the second wave of Texas singer-songwriters that emerged in the 1970s and included Lucinda Williams, Butch Hancock, and Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith was a product of a time when, to paraphrase a once-ubiquitous bumper sticker, Austin was still weird. Gifted with a delicate, sweet voice and fierce determination, she started playing out at the age of 12 and getting paid at 14. While never having the ability to project Joan Baez–like volume, she could certainly fill a room. And while her voice could at times take on a flat, almost-nasal resonance, her tight vibrato was strong and evocatory the more you listened.
Robert Baird  |  Oct 31, 2023  |  1 comments
A cultural steamroller that's sold more than 20 million copies so far, Frampton Comes Alive! is also the most celebrated example of an artist who broke through to worldwide fame thanks to a live record. In the wake of this monster success, fans went back and listened to Peter Frampton's four solo studio records that predated the live behemoth. Sales and respect grew.

Three of those four releases, Wind of Change (1972), Frampton's Camel (1973), and Frampton (1975), have been remastered and reissued in a limited edition, 180gm vinyl-LP box set, Frampton@50, In the Studio 1972–1975, by Intervention Records.

Robert Baird  |  Sep 13, 2023  |  0 comments
Resurrecting musical treasures is a tough business. The explosion of vinyl-reissue labels, ranging from superlative to second-rate, has made it increasingly difficult for newcomers to stand out—to make the kind of splash that serious LP buyers will notice. Even more elusive is endurance and turning a profit. The affable, musically savvy James Batsford, owner of a pair of vinyl-only UK labels, New Land Records and Omerta Records, can't help but laugh over our New York–to–London Zoom connection when I ask why an obviously intelligent person with taste, like himself, would jump into the vinyl-reissue tarpit?
Robert Baird  |  Aug 21, 2023  |  2 comments
If music reflects the life of the person who created it—if, for example, we can hear Mozart's inner turmoil in his operas—then Warren Zevon's song catalog is uncommonly revealing. Headless mercenaries, killer rapists, and yes, impeccably dressed werewolves with a taste for pina coladas are all part of the colorful world of WZ's twisted imagination and especially of his masterpiece, 1978's Excitable Boy, recently reissued by Mobile Fidelity on two 180gm LPs cut at 45rpm.
Robert Baird  |  Aug 02, 2023  |  4 comments
Photo by Reinout Bos

Audio engineers never get the credit they deserve. The same is true for music arrangers, who are also an unheralded but hugely fundamental part of any musical success. As a composer, conductor, and inventive arranger of popular music, the modest but multitalented Vince Mendoza says he's most focused on enhancing the song he is arranging and the story it is trying to tell.

"Young arrangers are very concerned with their own voice and spinning their own melodies and turning things upside down and backwards, and they forget what a song really is about," he told me in a recent Zoom conversation from his home in Los Angeles. "You could be writing about heartbreak, and there are a million and one ways to tell that story, but the listener still has to feel it."

Robert Baird  |  Jul 01, 2023  |  2 comments
In 1973, Elton John and Bernie Taupin capped one of pop music's most epic periods of sustained creativity by writing, recording, and releasing the 10-track single disc Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player and the 17-track double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, both of which are now celebrating their 50th anniversary. As two of the strongest entries among the many classics that make 1972–73 the peak years for rock albums, both went #1 in the US and UK and arguably stand as the dual highpoints of John's recorded legacy.
Robert Baird  |  Apr 25, 2023  |  0 comments
Back in 2003, in an uptown New York City studio, a man who epitomized cool in the 1960s waited patiently for my next question. Well into his 70s but still thin and handsome, Burt Bacharach was casually dapper in his contrasting sweater and polo shirt. In town to perform with Ronald Isley in support of their new record together, Here I Am—Isley Meets Bacharach, the songwriter extraordinaire is warm and approachable, wary but unusually guileless when answering the questions of a lifelong fan of his melodies, a fan who's trying hard to be professional and hide the fact that he's utterly starstruck.

As rhythm has become predominant in pop music and melody has receded in importance, Bacharach and lyricist Hal David's brand of sleek, memorable tune craft has slipped into history. Yet despite Bacharach's death in February 2023, at age 94, their body of work is timeless.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 27, 2023  |  1 comments
At this point in the vinyl revival, it's hard to believe there are many undiscovered masterpieces left that are worth discovering. Record Store Day (RSD), a much-ballyhooed source of unique and unreleased music on vinyl, has been a major spur in the drive to plumb the vaults, but even though it has an excellent reputation, most RSD unearthings have turned out to be less than essential.

The increasingly rare exceptions are to be celebrated. Here's one. Just before the year turned to 2023, on what would have been Donald Byrd's 90th birthday, a smoldering, untapped artifact surfaced after 50 years in the can.

Robert Baird  |  Jan 03, 2023  |  1 comments
It's time to address a snarky rumor, a persistent urban legend surrounding music fans who care about listening in the highest quality sound possible. It's been posited from time to time that quality gear and heavy, quiet LP pressings go better with a certain intoxicant—that you have to get high to truly have the fullest possible listening experience.
Robert Baird  |  Nov 08, 2022  |  0 comments
Professor Longhair in his living room! Etta James—live—at Tipitina's!! Previously unknown James Booker recordings!!! All of it unreleased and unheard???

In the music world, spare time spurred by COVID closures led to many good ideas and side projects. Few have been better than Tipitina's Record Club (TRC).