Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird  |  Nov 16, 2022  |  2 comments
The Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies/Everybody's in Show-Biz
BMG BMGCAT720DBOX (6 LP, 4 CD, Blu-ray). 2022. Ray Davies, Andrew Sandoval, prods.; Mike Bobak, Matt Jaggar, Kevin Gray, others, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ***½

Despite world-class songwriting and great singing from Ray Davies, solid guitar work from brother Dave, a run of six classic albums from Face to Face (1966) to Muswell Hillbillies (1971), multiple hit singles and albums in the US and the UK, the Kinks are rarely mentioned, on either side of the Atlantic, in the same breath as contemporaries the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Why is that?

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 18, 2022  |  3 comments
Víkingur Ólafsson: From Afar
Víkingur Ólafsson, grand and upright pianos
DG 4861681 (24/192 WAV, available on 2 CD, 2 LP). 2022. Christopher Tarnow, prod. & eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

From Afar seems on its face like a dream recording for audiophiles and music lovers. The 2-CD, 44-track project spotlights Víkingur Ólafsson, the sensitive, 38-year-old Icelandic pianist, performing a captivating program of short pieces twice on dissimilar pianos with very different sound: a concert grand and an upright. The very different performances are dictated by Ólafsson's response to these very different instruments. The contrasts are wondrous.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Sep 14, 2022  |  0 comments
Howard Jones: Dialogue
D-Tox Records (Multiple formats; auditioned as 16/44.1 stream). 2022. Howard Jones, prod.; Robbie Bronnimann, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Howard Jones has always come across as an endearing blend of mad scientist and hopeless romantic. Since his 1983 debut single, "New Song," he has blended obsessive technical detail with extreme emotionality. His newest album, Dialogue, is the latest example of this approach, in which intricate structures of synthesized sound grow into musical mountains supporting impassioned lyrics.

Phil Brett  |  Aug 18, 2022  |  6 comments
Bowie: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Parlophone DBZS50 (LP). 2020/1972. David Bowie and Ken Scott, prods.; Ken Scott, John Webber, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was one of the first albums I ever purchased. A week before, an uncle had given me his old red Dansette record player; I used collected pocket money to christen it. After just one play, the 10-year-old me was blown away. But it wasn't just elementary school kids who loved this album, causing it to break into the top 30 US and UK album charts. This was the album that launched Bowie to superstardom.

Mike Mettler  |  Jul 21, 2022  |  3 comments
Wilco: Cruel Country
dBpm (24/96 stream, Qobuz; also available as 2CD, 2LP). 2022. Jeff Tweedy, Tom Schick, prods.; Tom Schick, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

The cover art for Wilco's finely hewn double album Cruel Country resembles a hand-stitched doily or the kind of patch you might have seen sewn onto the back pocket of a pair of vintage faded jeans circa 1978. It's appropriate: Wilco's music has long been a patchwork, piecing together the scope and potential of American music for the band's nearly 30 years.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Jun 23, 2022  |  14 comments
The Linda Lindas: Growing Up
Epitaph (16/44.1 stream, Qobuz). 2022. Produced, engineered, and mixed by Carlos de la Garza.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

When your uncle is an award-winning producer and engineer, a band formed by you and your cousins has a higher-than-average shot at going somewhere. But even that family advantage can't explain the immediate success of the Los Angeles–based Linda Lindas; they've earned their accolades through talent, hard work, and ingenuity. Their first album, Growing Up, offers proof of their worth and the promise of a stellar musical future.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 25, 2022  |  0 comments
Richard Strauss: Orchestral Works
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Andris Nelsons, cond.; Yuja Wang, piano; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Deutsche Grammophon 486 2049 (7 CDs, auditioned as 24/96 WAV), 2022. Various prods. and engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

At last, a box set of the orchestral works of Richard Strauss to rival the classic analog traversal from German conductor Rudolf Kempe and the Staatskapelle Dresden: a heaping helping of orchestral blockbusters, 93 tracks of music that, for color, splash, dynamic impact, fantasy, romance, wonder, and thrill, are without peer in the classical canon.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Apr 20, 2022  |  4 comments
John Mellencamp: Strictly a One-Eyed Jack
Republic (16/44.1 stream, EMI/Qobuz). 2022. John Mellencamp, prod.; David Leonard, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

You might think an artist with 22 Top-40 hits would identify his winning formula and stick with it. Instead, John Mellencamp's long career has been a tale of determined development and often improvement. On his latest album, the 70-year-old Indiana native has nestled deeper into his rural Midwestern roots, eschewing rock defiance for folk philosophy. The result is a powerful baring of the soul, which, to many Americans, will also be a glance in the mirror.

Fred Kaplan  |  Mar 24, 2022  |  5 comments
Cécile Mclorin Salvant: Ghost Song
McLorin Salvant, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano, Fender Rhodes; Aaron Diehl, piano, pipe organ; Paul Sikivie, Burniss Travis, bass; Alexa Tarantino, flute; Marvin Sewell, guitar; James Chirillo, banjo; Keita Ogawa, percussion; Kyle Poole, drums; Daniel Swenberg, lute, theorbo; Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
Nonesuch (LP, CD). McLorin Salvant, prod.; Todd Whitelock, Patrick Dillet, Chris Muth, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Starting with her out-of-nowhere triumph at the 2010 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition and continuing with the release of four albums including three Grammy winners, Cécile McLorin Salvant, still just 32, has been raising eyebrows and neck hairs for a dozen years. She reigns as the supreme jazz singer of our time, ranking among the best of all time. More remarkable, she keeps getting better, and, rarer still, she keeps evolving, expanding her repertoire of styles—which was vast from the start—without losing a wisp of her deep blues, swing, precision, wit, operatic range, or storytelling drama.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Feb 17, 2022  |  2 comments
Bill Callahan And Bonnie Prince Billy: Blind Date Party
Drag City Records (16/44.1kHz FLAC, Qobuz; also available on LP, CD, and cassette tape). 2021. Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy, prods.
Performance ****
Sonics ***

Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy—the latter is a stage name for Will Oldham—did not set out to make an album together. They were just trying fill the long pandemic months with music. In 2020, they started singing other people's songs together, broadcasting them to fans via Zoom. They recorded the tracks, choosing a different guest musician to contribute to each song. Eventually they amassed recordings of enough covers, plus reimaginings of some original works, to create this album for Drag City, where they're both signed artists. It's an endlessly interesting and clever project, full of musical exploration. Some of the covers nearly outshine the original versions.

Tom Fine  |  Jan 26, 2022  |  10 comments
The Doors: L.A. Woman (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Elektra/Rhino R2 659055 (3CD/1LP). 2021. Bruce Botnick/Doors, prods.; Botnick, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

The Doors flew like a comet across the rock/pop universe, running only four and a half years and six studio albums with lead singer/poet/shaman Jim Morrison. L.A. Woman, their last album, marked a hard turn back to the rock and blues basics from whence they sprang in 1966 as a hot bar band on Sunset Strip. It is a masterpiece, a hit out of the gate that has grown in stature over time. Morrison took a sabbatical shortly before its release, decamped to Paris, and died there as this record climbed the charts.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 14, 2021  |  5 comments
Sofia Gubaidulina: Dialog: Ich und Du; The Wrath of God; The Light of the End
Vadim Repin, violin; Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Andris Nelsons, cond.
Deutsche Grammophon 4861457 (auditioned as 24/96 WAV). 2021. Everett Porter, Bernhard Güttler, prods.; Porter, Sebastian Nattkemper, Benedikt Schröder, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

At 90 years of age, Sofia Gubaidulina has honed her musical language amidst conflict. Since 2003, the profoundly religious, visionary, and visceral Russian composer has written three huge, prescient works that depict in musical terms a standoff between God and humankind. All receive their world premiere "live" recordings in this sensational-sounding, system-demanding outpouring from Andris Nelsons and the venerable orchestra that Felix Mendelssohn once led, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

Kurt Gottschalk  |  Nov 24, 2021  |  6 comments
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle
Impulse!/UMe (CD B0034290-02, LP B0034291-01, download). 2021. Ravi Coltrane, prod.; Kevin Reeves, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

John Coltrane's career as a bandleader can be divided, with haphazard tidiness, into three periods. His so-called classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones, which deserves every bit of its legendary status, dominates the 1962–1965 middle section and encompasses Coltrane's greatest achievements. Before that was the ramp-up and after lay the free jazz experiments.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 26, 2021  |  9 comments
J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Vols. 1 and 2
Zuill Bailey, cello
Octave Records OCT-0008 (Multiple formats; auditioned as DSD64). 2021. Five/Four Productions, Ltd.: Thomas C. Moore, prod.; Robert Friedrich, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Why is Stereophile publishing its fourth review (at least) in three years of a recording of Bach's Six Cello Suites? Partly it's because the suites, which were composed ca 1720 but remained in obscurity until a young Pablo Casals rediscovered them in a secondhand sheet music store in Barcelona in 1890, contain some of the most joyous, moving, and profound music in the Western classical music canon. It's also because these two volumes, which present Grammy Award–winning cellist Zuill Bailey's second recorded exploration of the suites (the first was on Telarc more than two decades ago), abound in astoundingly beautiful musicianship illumined by fresh insights and superb engineering.

Fred Kaplan  |  Sep 23, 2021  |  3 comments
Various Artists: Kimbrough
Fred Hersch, Helen Sung, Craig Taborn, Dan Tepfer, Gary Versace, piano; Ben Allison, Jay Anderson, Rufus Reid, bass; Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, guitar; Ted Nash, Joe Lovano, Danny McCaslin, Scott Robinson, Alexa Tarantino, Immanuel Wilkins, reeds; Dave Douglas, Kirk Knuffke, trumpets; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Olivia Chindamo, vocals; Billy Drummond, Clarence Penn, Matt Wilson, drums; 44 others.
Newvelle/Bandcamp. Elan Mehler, prod.; Marc Urselli, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Frank Kimbrough was one of the most beloved figures in jazz and the most puzzlingly unsung among the great jazz musicians of our time. When he died on December 30, 2020, at the age of 64, there was much mourning among his colleagues—which explains why, over a three-day period this past May, it was possible to corral 67 of them to cover 58 of his compositions, without pay, for this download-only album. The proceeds will fund a scholarship in his name at Juilliard, where he taught. The good cause aside, the $20 download charge is crazy cheap for five and a half hours of music from some of New York's finest jazz musicians.

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