2010 Records To Die For Page 6


VIVIAN GIRLS: Everything Goes Wrong
In The Red ITR 179 (LP). 2009. Mike McHugh, prod., eng. AAD? TT: 36:01

It really is the greatest thing: Listening to this record on the hi-fi immediately takes me back to that strange, magical night at Bamboo Beach in the sandy town of Isabela, Puerto Rico, the perfect setting for a Vivian Girls performance. With a smile that illuminates the entire island, Kickball Katy is just inches away, playing these tugging, lassoing riffs on her little Hofner bass; Cassie Ramone is off to the right, kneeling on the floor with her Fender Strat, reverb and the most radiant noise shooting off like white-hot stars in the overwhelming sky; Ali, in bright-red, heart-shaped sunglasses, pounds the kit with lightning rolls and furious passion. All together now, so simply, and pulsing with such great life, they sing, over and over again: "I can't, I can't, can't get over you."

RAMSES III: I Could Not Love You More
Type TYPE 052 (translucent orange LP!). 2009. Daniel Freeman, prod., eng.; Stephen Lewis, Spencer Grady, prods. AAD? TT: 57:49

Would you like to hear something extremely beautiful? Daniel Freeman, Stephen Lewis, and Spencer Grady sit calmly and wring subtle magnificence from lap-steel guitars, samplers, and keyboards, combining it all with their own pleading sighs and simple field recordings—trickling water, wind in the leaves, the sounds of birds calling to one another—to draw a painfully restrained and impossibly lovely journey. The song titles mirror the moods: "We Shall Never Sing of Sorrow," "The Kindness in Letting Go," "All Shall Be Well." This album amplifies life's most exquisite joys and makes more bearable its deepest sorrows.


Guy Clark, David Allan Coe, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, John Hiatt, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Young
HackTone DK37457 (CD). 1976/2006. David Gorman, Michael Nieves, prods.; Alvar Stugard, Alan Silverman, engs. AAD. TT: 79:29

This CD is a compilation of recordings made over 20 days in 1975–76, initially and primarily for a documentary film of the same title that highlighted the emergence of a number of bright new country singer-songwriter talents. I don't normally like compilation albums by "various artists," nor am I any great fan of country music, but this outstanding album captures future stars such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Steve Earle by simply visiting their homes and mixing performances straight to a Nagra—a sure recipe for top-quality live recordings (check out Jerry Garcia's bluegrass outing, Old and In the Way). The original recordings have been painstakingly remastered using Rupert Neve's analog Legendary Audio Masterpiece process. The notes appositely conclude: "Warning: after hearing the naturalness and honesty of the performances . . . listening to modern recordings may be difficult." (XXIX-9)

Warner Bros. 7599259002 (CD). 1989. Laurie Anderson, Roma Baran, Mike Thorne, Ian Ritchie, Peter Scherer, Arto Lindsay, Leon Pendarvis, prods.; Neil Dorfsman, Bob Clearmountain, Jay Healy, Josh Abbey, engs. DDD. TT: 46:03

I've two LP and two CD copies of this wonderful album, 'cos I've worn out one of each through a mixture of overplaying and abuse. Even 20 years on, it's still full of Anderson's characteristically dry, wry wit, and sounds every bit as fresh as the day it was made. Anderson doesn't make many albums, but nearly all of them show quite superb musical and songwriting originality, and a high quality of recording (possibly the influence of onetime Hi-Fi News writer Mike Thorne among the producer credits). Strange Angels is perhaps her most accessible recording—"least weird" might be more accurate. Its combination of intelligence and variety make it one of very few "pop" albums that continue to defy the passage of time. (XV-2)


JAMES BROWN: Live at the Apollo
Polydor Chronicles B0001715 (CD). 1962/2004. James Brown, prod.; Tom Nola, eng.; Harry Weinger, reissue prod.; Ellen Fitton, remastering. AAD. TT: 40:47

I grew up in a small Southern textile town, and one summer afternoon in the early 1960s observed a caravan of cars and trucks speeding past our house, all bearing US and Confederate flags. Excited, I asked my father if we could join the "parade," but he explained that "it's not our kind of parade"—that the people were afraid of all the changes going on in America, and they sometimes went out and did mean things. A year or so later, when I started buying records, I discovered Live at the Apollo, recorded in 1962. The album's power floored me; in that instant, I understood what those folks had been afraid of.

LEONARD COHEN: Live in London
Columbia 8697405022 (2 CDs). 2009. Edward Sanders, prod.; Stephen J. Spencer, eng. ADD? TT: 2:31:11

Admittedly, it's cheating to include a 2009 release here; albums need years to season before they can prove their greatness. But as I write, I've just come back from seeing The Bard put on an astounding concert, and as its set list and performances closely mirrored those of Live in London, I feel confident in my selection. All the classics are here, from a grave yet sardonic "The Future" to a show-stopping, extended take on Cohen's greatest composition, "Hallelujah." More important, though, is that voice: older, yes, but no less elegant, still dipped in romance and tragedy, and abetted by an ensemble of sterling musicians and singers. Hallelujah, indeed.


RANDY WESTON: The Spirits of Our Ancestors
Randy Weston, piano; Talib Kibwe, alto saxophone, alto flute; Dewey Redman, Billy Harper, Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone; Dizzy Gillespie, Idrees Sulieman, trumpet; Benny Powell, trombone, bass trombone; Alex Blake, Jamil Nasser, bass; Idris Muhammad, drums; Big Black, Azzedin Weston, percussion; Yassir Chadly, genbri, karkaba, clapping, vocals; Melba Liston, arr.
Antilles 314-511 896-2 (2 CDs). 1992. Randy Weston, Brian Bacchus, Jean-Philippe Allard, prods.; J. Newland, eng. TT: 106:37

One of the high points of rhythm-oriented pianist Randy Weston's career, the vivacious The Spirits of Our Ancestors celebrates the African roots of jazz with indelible lyricism, charged percussion, and brilliant musicianship in adventurous, meter-shifting arrangements for 12-piece band by longtime Weston collaborator Melba Liston. Guests include Dizzy Gillespie and Pharoah Sanders, who join the likes of Dewey Redman and Idris Muhammad in expressing the beauty, joy, and mysticism of Weston's 10 originals. While the full band enthralls during such epic tunes as the spirited "African Cookbook" and the Latin-sparked "African Sunrise," it's Weston's pianistic brilliance that carries the day, especially on the solo pieces that bookend these CDs: "African Village Bedford-Stuyvesant 1" and "A Prayer for Us All."

HEADS HANDS & FEET: Heads Hands & Feet
Tony Colton, vocals; Albert Lee, guitar, dobro, vibes, Moog synthesizer, vocals; Ray Smith, guitar, vocals; Chas Hodges, bass, banjo, fiddle, vocals; Mike O'Neill, piano, organ, vocals; Pete Gavin, drums, percussion, vibes, vocals. With: Elton Dean, alto saxophone; Jerry Donahue, Ray Osborne, backing vocals.
Capitol SVBB-680 (2 LPs). 1971. Tony Colton, prod.; Eddie Offord, Alan Hunter, engs. AAA. TT: 75:35

To the best of my knowledge, Heads Hands & Feet's eponymous 1971 debut on two LPs has never been issued on CD Stateside. (It was released on CD in the UK in 1996 by See for Miles Records, now out of print.) It's a shame—this jaunt through Americana by a crew of Brit rockers cofounded by guitarist Albert Lee and singer-songwriter Tony Colton is a rare jewel. While the album starts out with a rocking vibe typical of the era, by the time the band gets into the swamp-funky "Green Liquor" and the rollicking hoedown "Country Boy" (which became a hit in 1984 for Ricky Skaggs), it's largely a hip country affair, with the dobro-flavored, fiddle-spiced "Tryin' to Put You On," the Appalachian-channeled "Devil's Elbow," and the banjo-plucked, shuffling "Everybody's Hustlin'," which distinctively enters the Johnny Cash zone (it's a shame he never covered the tune). Lee delivers tasty licks throughout, and Soft Machine alto saxophonist Elton Dean guests on two tracks. The slower tunes are average, except for two beauts: "Look at the World It's Changing" and "Song for Suzie."


GEOFF MULDAUR & THE TEXAS SHEIKS: Geoff Muldaur & the Texas Sheiks
Tradition and Moderne 045 (CD). 2009. Geoff Muldaur, Bruce Hughes, prods.; Stuart Sullivan, eng. AAD.? TT: 49:15

Listeners who came of musical age during the folk scare of the early 1960s will immediately recognize here the voice of Jim Kweskin—though it's deepened since those early days of "roots music," his mastery of it has grown. This tribute to the early Piedmont string bands of the 1920s and '30s is a hoot, and Muldaur is ably aided by an all-star cast. Best of a very good lot are Muldaur's reprise of "Blues in the Bottle"—a standard back in the days of Jim Kweskin's Jug Band—and the trippy "Under the Chicken Tree." Not enough cowbell, perhaps, but extra points for virtuoso kazoo.

CONJURE: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed
Ishmael Reed, voice; Taj Mahal, vocals, guitar; Allen Toussaint, piano, organ; David Murray, tenor saxophone; Lester Bowie, Olu Dara, trumpet; Jean-Paul Bourelly, guitar; Carla Bley, Kenny Kirkland, piano; Steve Swallow, bass, piano; Jamaaladeen Tacuma, bass; Billy Hart, drums; Frisner Augustin, Puntilla, Milton Cardona, Olufemi Claudette Mitchell, Elysee Pyronneau, Jack Bruce, Arto Lindsay, percussion; Ejaye Tracey, vocals
HDtracks 24-bit/88.2kHz download. 1983/2009. Kip Hanrahan, prod.; Frank Rodriguez, eng. AAD? TT: 45:43

Kip Hanrahan put together a supergroup for the ages in his 1983 Conjure Project, a collection of song settings and "inspirations" that is tremendously fun to listen to, while remaining true to Ishmael Reed's outlaw spirit. Highlights include "Skydiving" (conclusion: "learn how to fall"), as well as "J'es Grew"'s reduction of Reed's +200-page 1972 magnum opus, Mumbo Jumbo, to 4:04. I'm also rather partial to the hokum-inspired line "Betty touched his organ / Made his cathedral rock," from "Betty Ball's Blues." The original American Clave LP featured spectacular sound, the Sting-financed Pangaea CD slightly less so—but this hi-rez download is a revelation.

John Atkinson's picture
Interesting thread on our website forum in response to this year's feature: http://www.stereophile.com/content/records-die-2

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

soulful.terrain's picture

Excellent to see the Complete Columbia Album Collection on this list.

xenomanic's picture

Hey Jon or anyone. I can't find the 20/20 album anywhere. I would settle for even AAC 256 files. There should be a place you can download it. Any ideas?

Olliecat70's picture

I live in Pinehurst, NC and I'm hving difficulty locating a store where I can purchase classical CD's.  Any suggestions?