2011 Records To Die For

Each year when I sit down to write this introduction, I get stuck on the whole dying-for-music thing. I get visions of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, swinging from ropes with sacks over their heads. Like '80s hair bands do ya? Pull the trap door! Or Mary Queen of Scots kneeling before the block: A fan of smooth jazz? Let the blade fall! Yes, it's silly on some level, but what exactly is the feeling that would make one martyr oneself for music?

Actually, I think it's more about dying without the stuff. Audiophilism is usually about having too much music and needing a way—or, in many cases, successively different and better ways—to experience it. It's also about personal history: giving shape to your life by connecting wandering dots of key musical flashbacks. It's the way you hear a song, stop, and go back to the time you first heard it. It's the ecstasy of hearing upbeat, exultant music that you love, like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," over and over. And it's torturing yourself, pouring a little more salt on the wounds, with music (any late-period Billie Holiday will do) that is exquisitely sad. I've often thought that perhaps, despite the overtones of cheesy naãveté, it's time to change the name of this feature to "Music To Live For"—which is what it is to the folks represented below.

The only rules for this annual exercise were: 1) Don't choose anything you've chosen before; and 2) the records selected have to be (or have been) in print and available in the US. As always, we hope we've brought out a few forgotten masterpieces and hidden gems. Without further ado, here is the music the contributing editors of Stereophile simply must have.—Robert Baird

Note: If a recording listed here has previously been reviewed in Stereophile, whether in "Record Reviews" or in past editions of "Records To Die For," the volume and number of the pertinent issue appear in parentheses at the end of the review. For example, a listing of "(XXXI-7)" means that a review of the recording appeared in Vol.31 No.7 (July 2008).