2005 Records To Die For Page 8


MARIANNE FAITHFUL: Before the Poison
ANTI/Epitaph 86732-2 (CD). 2004. PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Hal Willner, Rob Ellis, Head, prods.; Rik Simpson, Head, mix. AAD. TT: 39:04
Legendary rock icon Marianne Faithfull re-emerges with her latest emotional exorcism, Before the Poison. A timeless collection of lenitive euphoria, the set pairs Faithfull's signature slow-burning smoky growl and brooding lyrics with inspired collaborations from contemporary alt rockers PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, and Blur's Damon Albarn. Such tracks as the lo-fi garage-rock opener, "The Mystery of Love," the languid "No Child of Mine," "There Is a Ghost," and the seismic "Desperanto" showcase the enduring veteran in top form. This is easily her most lucid, resonant, assertive work since 1990's Blazing Away and her seminal 1979 masterpiece, Broken English.

SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES: Downside Up: B Sides and Rarities
Universal Special Products UK 98-2182-3 (4 CDs). 2004. The Banshees, Doug Hart, compilation prods. AAD. TT: 3:49:38
Alternative music icons Siouxsie and the Banshees finally deliver their long-awaited B-sides-and-rarities anthology, Downside Up. The exquisitely packaged 4-disc set features 55 remastered tracks (34 previously unavailable on CD) spanning the Banshees' impressive career from 1977 to 1996. This comprehensive nostalgic journey documents the group's metamorphosis from uncanny post-punk revolutionaries to innovative, pop-charting, modern rock vanguards whose trademarked bewitching, cabaret-styled sound oscillated among subterranean gloom, sumptuous melancholia, dizzying mania, and rabid fury. Standouts include "Pulled to Bits," the complete previously deleted The Thorn EP, and "The Humming Wires" (which includes The Cure's Robert Smith in the band's lineup). A must-have for diehard and casual fans alike.


THE REMAINS: The Remains
Epic BN-26214 (LP). 1966. Robin McBride, prod.; Roy Halley, eng. AAA. TT: 25:46
Sundazed LP 5055 (180gm LP). 1966/2003. Bob Irwin, remastering. AAA.
This record is archeological proof that in 1965–66, American rock'n'roll wasn't a commodity produced only overseas. Though the Remains were big in their native Boston, it's a shame no one anywhere important took enough notice of this killer band at the time. They rocked like the Stones at their most raucous, or recalled a more profound Yardbirds. As almost a bonus, The Remains is a demo-worthy recording. It's even blessed with that rarest of qualities: a truly great drum sound (the kick will slay you). Buy the Sundazed for stereo and the bonus tracks. And you owe it to yourself to hear an original pressing on a good system in full mono.

Albert Ayler, tenor sax, vocals; many others
Revenant RVN 213 (9 CDs). 1962–1970/2004. Ben Young, eng., mastering, project supervision; Joe Lizzi, Kevin Reeves, mastering. A?D. TT: 9:58:59
"This is the only way that's left for musicians to play. All the other ways have been explored." —Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler's music still sounds fresh and exploratory some 35 years after his body was fished out of the East River. Included here, in a gorgeous replica of a hand-carved African onyx "spirit box," are reproductions of photos, flyers, and pamphlets, a full-color +200-page hardcover book, 9 CDs comprising almost entirely unreleased music, and a real pressed flower. As an objet, Holy Ghost exudes real and lasting value. At under $100, it's a steal. As a document, it succeeds in filling many of the gaps in this influential genius' spotty discography, bringing his arc into focus. The music is challenging. The sound quality ranges from top-notch to "as good as the source will allow." Regardless, many of the performances are indispensable. We may never know the truth about Ayler's death, but it is absolutely miraculous that we finally have such a clear window into his artistic life.


MAHLER: Symphony 2, "Resurrection"
Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano; Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra & Chorus (Vance George, dir.); Michael Tilson Thomas
SFSO 821936-0006-2 (SACD). 2004. Andreas Neubronner, prod.; Peter Laenger, eng. DDD. TT: 88:03
This, the fourth entry in Tilson Thomas' Mahler series with the SFSO, is outstanding in every way. The first movement begins with less weight than some but builds to great intensity while avoiding exaggeration. Overall, the dramatic progression is balanced and seemingly inexorable, leading to a cathartic climax of splendid clarity. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's Urlicht is utterly seamless, vocally and dramatically. The recording values are balanced as well, with orchestra and chorus revealed with both transparency and power in a believable acoustic space. Details, such as the offstage brass, are presented realistically, and the timpani and organ are impressive in their weight. Less manic than Bernstein, more consistent than Rattle, more passionate than Litton, and more subtle than Kaplan, MTT's "Resurrection" is a great performance in glorious sound.

MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro
Veronique Gens, Partizia Ciofi, sopranos; Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano; Simon Keenlyside, baritone; Lorenzo Regazzo, bass; Concerto Köln, René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi 801818.20 (SACD/CD). 2004. Richard Lorber, prod.; Sebastian Roth, Reiner Kuhl, engs. DDD. TT: 2:52:00
Every role here is sung with stylish authority, and René Jacobs' direction is brisk and dramatic. Some listeners, of course, will always prefer the warmth of the Vienna Philharmonic on Erich Kleiber's classic Decca recording, but Jacobs' vision demands the overt instrumental detail of Concerto Köln's instrumental forces. The voices are beautifully distinct from the instruments in their placement and integrity, approximating a staged performance. That is promoted, to a great extent, by the convincing ambience of the performance space re-created by the multichannel reproduction. Without question, this is the most perfect opera recording, in performance and sound, available in multichannel today. (XXVII-10)


WORLD PARTY: Goodbye Jumbo
Chrysalis/Ensign F221654 (CD). 1990. Karl Wallinger, prod. AAD. TT: 53:36
Listening to Goodbye Jumbo is like making your way through the detritus of an audio attic—stepping among old 45s, LPs, eight-tracks, and memorable riffs, bridges, and choruses. Though every Karl Wallinger song stands on its own, there are plentiful references to icons from the Beach Boys to Prince to the Beatles—and, yes, those are the "whoo-whoos" from the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy from the Devil" leading out "Way Down Now," and the melodies of "Please Mr. Postman" and "Be Bop A Lula" underpinning "When the Rainbow Comes." There is not a song here that you can't sing along to.

Rounder 0366 (CD). 1971/1997. David Bromberg, prod.; Claude J. Hill, eng. AAD. TT: 40:10
The record that changed the bluegrass landscape forever. Until then captive to RCA producers who didn't know what to do with his literate, often hilarious songs, Hartford slipped below Warner Bros.' radar, hooked up with David Bromberg and some of the genre's top guns, and tore the lid off traditional bluegrass. Together, they spilled out the contents, rolled them back up with some kinda bud, and let the tapes roll. Aereo-Plain's combustible jumble of old-time reverence and flower-power curiosity became an unofficial muse for a new generation of players (led by Sam Bush and New Grass Revival) that has extended the influence of bluegrass far beyond its original borders.


NRBQ: Tiddlywinks
Rounder 3048 (CD). 1980. Tom Mark, prod., eng.; Terry Adams, Joey Spampinato, prod.; Toby Mountain, mastering. AAD. TT: 34:01
Even those of us who revere NRBQ with near-religious fervor have to admit that the veteran combo often fails to capture on tape the gleeful eclecticism and freewheeling spontaneity of their live shows. But that's not to say that the band hasn't made a passel of wonderful, enduring records. While some Q diehards might give the edge to Tiddlywinks' major-label predecessor, At Yankee Stadium, I'd pick this short but sweet winner as the best and most representative sampler of the quartet's deceptively casual-sounding genius, with roaring rock ("Me and the Boys"), sweet romanticism ("Beverly"), and a nod to history in a manic cover of the jazz standard "Music Goes 'Round and Around."

Collector's Choice/Elektra/Rhino 1016/WWCCM 0314 (CD). 1974/2002–2003. Thomas Jefferson Kaye, prod.; Tony Reale, eng. AAD. TTs: US: 43:12. UK: 74:54.
Gene Clark lacked fellow ex-Byrd Gram Parsons' knack for self-mythology, not to mention Parsons' career savvy in dying young. But Clark was an equally visionary talent, and an equally vital force in the birth of alt-country. The lavishly produced No Other is in many ways the crowning achievement of Clark's frustratingly spotty solo catalog, a work of genuine poetic power that's all the more compelling for its failure to reach a mainstream audience. Often interpreted as Clark's elegy to the hedonism of 1970s LA, the baroque song cycle aches with tarnished grandeur and irreconcilable loss, as manifested in such tunes as "Silver Raven," "Life's Greatest Fool," and "From a Silver Phial." Collector's Choice's no-frills reissue was followed by an expanded UK edition that adds seven alternate versions.


DAN BERN & THE IJBC: Fleeting Days
Messenger MSGR 12 (CD). 2003. Wil Masisak, prod., eng.; Russ Fowler, eng. AAD? TT: 53:25
Dan Bern is a throwback: a singer-songwriter who marvels at life's beauty, fragility, and complexity with a fresh, defiantly uncompromising style. In another era, he might have been as beloved as Dylan or Lennon (he's that good), but the times they have a-changed. A remarkably prolific songsmith, Bern is comfortable and convincing, funny and topical as a solo performer—but he's even better with a band, and that electric palette is what you get on Fleeting Days. These joyously melodic songs are filled with heartache one minute, wonder the next; he references Hemingway and Paul Simon, Brownsville, Texas, and a Waffle House, and on the album's closer, "Soul," Bern looks to his soul and eloquently concludes how important it is to stay true to oneself in this dog-eat-dog world. "Are you gonna follow your soul or just the style of the day?" I've always believed that an album had to be at least five years old to qualify as a Record To Die For, but Fleeting Days is just too good to have to wait...

DMZ/Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax CK 89222 (CD). 2003. CJ Vanston, prod., eng.; T Bone Burnett, exec. prod.; Ed Cherney, David Cole, Charlie Bouis, engs.; AAD? TT: 45:06
... and so is this complement to Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy's brilliant 2003 film, which lovingly and hysterically creates an alternate universe to the folk scene of the 1960s. With new songs that echo but don't mimic the classics of that time, Guest, Levy, and fellow troupers Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Catherine O'Hara nail it in all its political, poppy, and unctuously romantic glory. Sample lyric: "My daddy was the son of a railroad man from west of hell / Where the trains don't even run," from "Never Did No Wanderin'." And when was the last time you heard a sidesplitting song about a mining disaster? Or a folked-up version of a Stones song ("Start Me Up")? The kicker is that these songs, as tongue-in-cheek and twinkle-in-eye as they may be, are beautifully crafted and performed, and as much fun to play on the guitar as on the living-room sound system.