Recording of the Month

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Sasha Matson  |  Sep 16, 2020  |  2 comments
Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways
Columbia C-250652 194397980991 (2LP; also available on CD and as 24/96 FLAC download) Chris Shaw, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The stats alone are impressive—or, as we at Stereophile like to say, the measurements. 79-year-old Bob Dylan's 39th studio album is his first album of original material since 2012. Rough and Rowdy Ways times out at more than 70 minutes of music, due in part to the inclusion of Dylan's lengthiest studio song to date, "Murder Most Foul," which runs 16 minutes, 54 seconds. The LP version requires 2 discs. His tour was supposed to be Never Ending—but it did end, temporarily, because of COVID-19, just as Dylan and the band were set to play Japan.

Dan Ouellette  |  Aug 13, 2020  |  5 comments
Norah Jones: Pick Me Up Off the Floor
Blue Note B003179402 (CD). 2020. Also available on LP as Blue Note B003179801 and as high-rez download. Norah Jones, Jeff Tweedy, prods.; Patrick Dillett, Brandon Bost, Andy Taub, Matt Marinelli, Jake Owens, Tom Schick, engs.; Greg Calbi, Steve Fallone, mastering
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

It has been almost two decades since Norah Jones emerged shyly from obscurity into astonishing pop/jazz stardom, first with 2001's First Sessions EP, her Blue Note launchpad, then with 2002's Come Away With Me, which wowed the world. It has been surmised that Jones's self-described "mellow piano music" salved the pain of 9/11—whatever the reason, the album won five Grammy Awards and is reported to have sold some 27 million copies: more than Eric Clapton's Unplugged and slightly fewer than The Eminem Show.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Jul 17, 2020  |  5 comments
Alice Phoebe Lou: Live at Funkhaus Berlin
Alice Phoebe Lou, no catalog number. Auditioned as 24/44.1 FLAC stream, also available for download at Qobuz and streaming at 16/44.1 on Tidal. Vinyl can be purchased at merchbar.com. 2020. Alice Phoebe Lou, prod.; Paul Scheffler, Noah Georgeson, Zino Mikorey, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ***½

Nothing about Alice Phoebe Lou's musical career reflects industry norms. She maintains complete control over every aspect of her work, from creation to release. The result is always original and fascinating. Lou is at her best when she has an audience to connect with; this live performance is an ideal introduction to her powerful voice and courageous message.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Jun 18, 2020  |  10 comments
EOB (Ed O'Brien): Earth
Capitol (24/88.2 streaming). 2020. Flood and Catherine Marks, prods.; Alan Moulder, Stephen Marcussen, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Calling himself EOB, songwriter/singer/guitarist Ed O'Brien has released his first solo album after 35 years with Radiohead. Over the decades, bandmates have branched out for high-profile projects—Jonny Greenwood writes film scores and Thom Yorke has several solo recordings—but O'Brien has stayed mostly in the background. Earth pushes him to the forefront, revealing a knack for collaborative creativity.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 13, 2020  |  24 comments
Eriks Ešenvalds: Translations
Portland State Chamber Choir, Ethan Sperry, cond.
Naxos 8.574124 (CD, auditioned as 24/96 WAV). 2020. Erick Lichte, prod.; John Atkinson, Doug Tourtelot, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

I'll admit to a conflict of interest in choosing as Recording of the Month a work co-engineered by our very own John Atkinson. We—I, who nominated the piece, and Editor Jim Austin, who ultimately chose the winner—have both worked with John for years. And I'd never deny it was moving to sit next to him during his recent visit to Port Townsend following the release party for this new album, Translations, watching him shed tears as we listened together to the heavenly voices of the Portland State Chamber Choir singing "In paradisum" (2012), which Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds dedicated to his grandmother, who died the morning of the premiere.

John Swenson  |  Apr 20, 2020  |  1 comments
Frank Zappa: The Hot Rats Sessions
Zappa Records/UMe ZR20032 (6 CDs). 1969–2019. Frank Zappa, prod.; Joe Travers, Craig Parker Adams, Jack Hunt, others, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Frank Zappa's first real solo album (he conducted but did not play on Lumpy Gravy) is probably his greatest recording and perhaps his most uncharacteristic in that his singing voice is nowhere to be heard. The one vocal, "Willie the Pimp," is sung by Captain Beefheart, whose Zappa-produced pinnacle Trout Mask Replica was released the same year (1969).

Kurt Gottschalk  |  Mar 18, 2020  |  0 comments
Cooper, Cerrone, Pergolesi, et al: Afterimage
String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Argus Quartet, Melissa Hughes, Kate Maroney, Rachel Lee Priday
Furious Artisans facd6823 (CD). 2020. Emily Bookwalter, Eli Spindel, prods.; Ryan Streber, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

If an orchestra is going to wait more than a decade before releasing its first record, it had better go big when it finally does—which is what the String Orchestra of Brooklyn has done. Afterimage includes compositions by Paganini (1782–1840) and Pergolesi (1710–1736) alongside works by Rome Prize winner Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984) and the less well-known Jacob Cooper (b. 1980).

John Swenson  |  Feb 19, 2020  |  11 comments
The Who: Who
Interscope B0031280-02 (CD). 2019. Pete Townshend, Dave Sardy, Bob Pridden, Dave Eringa, prods.; Dave Sardy, James Monti, others, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

What motivates an artist to make great statements?

Whatever it is, it's certainly a shock to see a rock-era songwriter rediscover his muse after some 40 years treading water. So it is that Pete Townshend re-emerges at the end of 2019 with his most powerful collection of songs since Empty Glass and the best Who album since Quadrophenia.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 17, 2020  |  24 comments
B>Cecilia Bartoli: Farinelli
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini, cond.
Decca 4850214 (24/96 download). 2019. Arend Prohmann, prod. and editor; Philip Siney, eng.
Performance: *****
Sonics: ****

When I first heard mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli in person some 29 years ago, at her West Coast debut in the "Cal Performances" series at Berkeley's Hertz Hall, she was just 24 years old. Along with the rest of the audience, I was astonished at her ability to ally phenomenal coloratura technique with an out-of-the-box range of expression—unheard since the prime of Maria Callas. It was clear why Decca had already signed her and released her first recording the year before, when she was just 23.

Thomas Conrad  |  Dec 27, 2019  |  4 comments
Keith Jarrett: Munich 2016
ECM 2667/2668 (2 CDs). 2019. Keith Jarrett, prod.; Manfred Eicher, exec. prod.; Martin Pearson, eng.; Christoph Stickel, mastering eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

I just measured the Keith Jarrett shelf in my CD library and it's 25" long: 51 CDs and CD sets. But when I played the new Munich 2016, I felt like I was rediscovering him after an unexplained absence.

Jarrett has been off my radar lately. Apparently I am not alone. The single best indicator of a jazz musician's critical standing is the DownBeat International Critics Poll. In 2017, Jarrett did not make the top 10 in the piano category. In 2018, he did not make the top 20.

Art Dudley  |  Nov 13, 2019  |  22 comments
The Beatles: Abbey Road (3-LP Anniversary Edition)
Apple Corps/Universal Music Group 0602508007466 (3 LPs). 1969/2019. George Martin, orig. prod., Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, orig. engs.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., Sam Okell, reissue eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Here are seven things you need to know about the three-LP, newly remixed—by Giles Martin and Sam Okell—and remastered version of Abbey Road, all of said re-ing done in honor of the album's 50th anniversary...

John Swenson  |  Oct 24, 2019  |  3 comments
The Doors: The Soft Parade (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Rhino Records R2-596001 (3CDs, 1LP). 1969–2019. Paul A. Rothchild, prod.; Bruce Botnick, eng. ADD. TT: 146:47
Performance ****
Sonics ****

The Soft Parade has long been the Doors' most under-valued album. After the revolutionary impact of the band's first two LPs, The Doors and Strange Days, and the commercial consolidation of the band's popularity on the third, Waiting for the Sun, Soft Parade was perceived as a fall from grace. The charismatic Jim Morrison, famously dubbed "The Lizard King" by Crawdaddy! guru Paul Williams, had transitioned from perhaps the most sexually powerful rock'n'roll figure since Elvis Presley into a troubled frontman bent on self-destruction.

Jon Iverson  |  Sep 25, 2019  |  5 comments
Various Artists: Woodstock: Back To The Garden - 50th Anniversary Experience
Rhino Records A 587817 (10 CD). 2019. Andy Zax, Brian Kehew, reissue prods; Dave Schultz, reissue mastering; Eddie Kramer, Lee Osborne, engs. TT: 12:42:23
Performance *****
Sonics ***

Fifty years, man! By the time you read this, the dates will have passed during which promoters had hoped to stage a 50th anniversary Woodstock Festival—sadly, they failed in their effort—and Woodstock mania will have peaked and died—even pieces of the Woodstock stage are available to buy (I have two!). And yet the artifact that will always remain at the center of the era-defining event is this extensive and amazing audio document that the organizers had the foresight to record.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 13, 2019  |  0 comments
Patricia Barber: Higher
Patricia Barber, piano & vocals; Patrick Mulcahy, bass; Jon Deitemyer, drums; Neal Alger, acoustic guitar; Jim Gailloreto, tenor saxophone
ArtistShare AS01712 (CD). 2019, Patricia Barber, prod.; Martha Feldman, assoc. prod.; Jim Anderson, rec. and mixing eng.; Bob Ludwig, mastering eng. DDD. TT: 55:18
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

As a singer and writer, Patricia Barber has never been easy to define. In the audiophile world, she's too often defined—and her brilliance obscured—by her ubiquity at audio shows and her regrettable membership in a sorority of generic, well-recorded "female vocalists." But in what idiom?

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 18, 2019  |  5 comments
Henry Brant: Ice Field
Cameron Carpenter, organ, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edwin Outwater, Conds.
SFS Media SFS 0075 (24/48 WAV). 2019. Jack Vad, prod, and eng.; Roni Jules, Gus Pollek, Jonathan Stevens, Denise Woodward, supporting engs.; Jack Vad, Mark Willsher, John Loose, Atmos post-prod. DDD. TT: 24.31
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Even though Henry Brant's mind-boggling Ice Field for orchestra and organ won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2002—the year after its premiere—and years later was revisited by the San Francisco Symphony, for which it was commissioned, no recording format has succeeded at capturing its musical and spatial wonders. Until now.

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