1995 Records To Die For Page 13

Don Scott

MICHAEL MURRAY: Music for Organ, Brass, & Percussion
Music of Dupré, Telemann, Purcell, Hovhaness, others
Michael Murray, organ; Empire Brass
Telarc CD-80216 (CD only). Jack Renner, eng.; Elaine Martone, Jack Renner, Robert Wood, prods. DDD. TT: 62:04

Alan Hovhaness's interests in Armenian music and Far Eastern cultures has led him to incorporate unusual rhythmic material into his work. "The Prayer of Saint Gregory" has a dominant theme of mysticism coupled with simple harmonies. Exquisite trumpet solos by Rolf Smedvig are joined by other brass and organ. Organist Michael Murray's delicate pedal work and French hornist Martin Hackleman's perfect pitch add to the smooth flow of the prayer-like performance. Never is there anything harsh or overpredictable to put off the listener. Close your eyes, listen, and appreciate how wonderful classical music can be.

Sound? This one selection is worth the price of the entire CD. The valve openings and air flow of the organ mechanics, the organ itself, the brass, and the other accompaniments each stand out, with no intermodulation distortion between them---none distorts the other, yet the sum is the measure of the best audio systems. Bass notes flap pants-legs in deep smoothness, while the brass embodies silky sweetness. If that's not what you hear, the fault is not with the recording, but with your system.

Other selections here suffer digital hardness, and are not as electronically accurate. The performances are only mediocre, aimed more at sonic bashing than musical enjoyment.

Jonathan Scull

HARRY CONNICK, JR.: We Are in Love
Harry Connick, Jr., piano, vocals; Benjamin Jonah Wolfe, bass; Shannon Powell, drums; Russel Malone, guitar; Branford Marsalis, tenor & soprano sax
Columbia CK 46146 (CD). Harry Connick, Jr., Marc Shaiman, prods.; Joel Moss, rec., mix; Bernie Grundman, mastering. DDD. TT: 52:51

Great CDs don't happen by accident, mes amis; they're grown with loving care and effort. This is a great CD, make no mistake---and I might have passed on it had XLO's Roger Skoff not gone on about it. (Can he go on!) Spacious, open, airy; Connick, focused and animated, sounds silky and masculine deep down in the soundfield. Branford Marsalis provides the counterpoint with which Connick styles our favorite song, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." And Bernie Grundman is responsible for the mastering. Wonderful songs recorded in a fashion that shows just how fine digital can be. (XIV-2)

ERIC BIBB & NEEDED TIME: Spirit & The Blues
Eric Bibb, vocals, guitar; Oile Eriksson, bass; Christer Lyssarides, mandolin, bouzouki; Gran Wennerbrandt, bottleneck guitar, guitars; Jenny Bohman, Derrick Walker, harmonica; Björn Gideonsson, drums; The Deacons, vocals
Opus 3 CD 19401 (CD). Jan-Eric Persson, prod., mastering. AAD. TT: 61:01

"I Want Jesus to Walk With Me," a traditional gospel song adapted by Eric Bibb, is my favorite cut on this wonderfully tactile disc. "You don't have to be Jewish...," the commercial used to say. This song casts a deep, peaceful spell on me in an almost impossibly human way.

The compelling, moving, shockingly present recording is always a joy to listen to, effortlessly establishing that certain atmosphere that (until now) seemed only within the provenance of tubed electronics. Bibb, who works with the much-admired gospel singer Cyndee Peters (to whose appearance on Opus 3's Test CD 4 I so often refer), does a superb job here. A true recording to die for.

Allen St. John

BOB DYLAN: Highway 61 Revisited
DCC G2S-1021 (CD only). Bob Johnson, Tom Wilson, prods.; Steve Hoffman, remastering eng. AAD. TT: 51:35

When Al Kooper sits down in front of a Hammond B-3 for the first time in his life and pounds out the most famous organ riff this side of J.S. Bach, who needs 1000 monkeys and 1000 typewriters? The combination of this serendipity and the raw genius of a freshly electrified Bob Dylan with something to prove make Highway 61 a landmark record that still astonishes 30 years later. But you knew all that.

The news is the sound of DCC's gold disc. On the CBS CD, "Ballad of a Thin Man" ought to end with "you should be made to wear earplugs." Steve Hoffman's remastering deglazes the upper mids, decompresses the dynamics, unravels musical lines long left for dead, and, most of all, resurrects the sense of space. There's just more there there. A great-sounding version of (arguably) rock's most important album. (XVI-1)

JOHNNY CASH: American Recordings
American 45520-2 (CD). Rick Rubin, prod.; Jim Scott, mixing eng. DDD. TT: 41:51

Now we know why they call him The Man in Black. Listening to these tales of murder, war, and other detours is like eavesdropping in the confessional (or is that the interrogation room?). But there's nothing touchy-feely about American Recordings. While Cash borrows songs from Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, Loudon Wainwright III, and the forgotten soul who wrote "Oh Bury Me Not," what holds them together is a voice as timeless and resonant as a coyote's howl. And when Cash sings "I don't have to do that anymore," he's tapping into a cycle of temptation and redemption as old as Adam and Eve. The sound is just as honest as the music, with nothing but Cash and the first black guitar ever built by C.F. Martin: up close and personal. (XVII-7)