2012 Records To Die For Page 6


LADY GAGA: Born This Way
Streamline B0015373 (CD). 2011. Lady Gaga, Vincent Herbert, prods.; Olle Romo, Dave Russell, Rafa Sardina, engs. DDD. TT: 61:12


GARY WILSON: Electric Endicott
Western Vinyl WEST079 (CD). 2010. Gary Wilson, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 32:08

These latest releases by Lady Gaga and Gary Wilson have so much in common. Both are perfectionist performance artists whose onstage personae leave some enchanted and others aghast. Both are musical talents who blend disparate musical genres, acoustic and electronic textures, and multiple instruments to create an intoxicating pair of releases that are intellectually stimulating yet unusually accessible. Wilson continues in his vein of crooning about all of those women in his past who either left him behind or never let him get close. As usual, he supplies all of the instruments and voice work, but separates many of the songs with short instrumental interludes that are either largely electronic or acoustic in a traditional jazz setting. I hear as much Bacharach as I hear Björk and John Cage in "Electric," and I'm pleased to hear some rare acoustic piano work by Wilson as well. Although Gaga's work centers around her vocals, keyboards, and synth programming, nearly two dozen guest musicians appear on Born This Way. I hear more Kraftwerk and less Madonna on this album, but Gaga's greatest deviation from her typical MO is the current hit "You and I," a hard-rock power ballad that wouldn't be out of place on a Dana Fuchs Band recording.


HOLLAND BAROQUE SOCIETY WITH MILOS VALENT: Barbaric Beauty: Telemann & 18th-Century Dance Transcriptions
Arrangements by Milos Valent & Tineke Steenbrink of works by Telemann and reconstructions of contemporary dance music.
Milos Valent, leader, violin, voice; Jan Rokyta, flutes, cimbalom; Holland Baroque Society
Channel Classics CCA SA 31911 (SACD/CD). 2011. Jared Sachs, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 77:32

This marvelous disc, drawn from several archives, presents dance music from the Eastern Europe of present-day Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary that Telemann would be likely to have known. Each track is a suite of dances that includes related pieces by Telemann. One offers Hungarian themes familiar to us from the works of Liszt and Bartók; another is a basketful of traditional Jewish melodies of the time. All are ingratiating, melodic, and colorful. Relating them to the interdigitated Telemann is fascinating, but musicology aside, this disc is arranged, played, and recorded with such flavor and zest that it's a thoroughly delightful experience for the music lover and audiophile.


KORNGOLD: Symphony in F-sharp Major, Much Ado About Nothing
Marc Albrecht, Orchestra Philharmonique de Strasburg
Pentatone Classics PTC 5186 373 (SACD/CD). 2010. Wolfram Nehls, prod., eng.; Job Maarse, prod.; Philipp Knop, eng. DDD. TT: 67:41

Korngold's only symphony, completed in 1952 after his long and successful hiatus as a Hollywood film composer, shows us what might have happened to the centuries-long middle-European symphony tradition had not two world wars intervened and scattered that tradition to Russia and Scandinavia. Richly invested with colorful orchestrations and graceful shaping, this symphony is characterized by an apposition and reiteration of melodies reminiscent of the leitmotiv concept that informed Korngold's film music. This and the incidental music from Much Ado About Nothing, his first Hollywood success, are played with panache and precision by the Strasbourgers and are presented in a clear, deep soundstage that reveals all the details of Korngold's brilliant scoring.


TEDDYBEARS: Devil's Music
Big Beat/Atlantic 2527035 (CD). 2011. Teddybears, prods.; Seb Roc, Herman Sîderstrîm, Graham Marsh, Janne Hansson, Joe Corey, engs. AAD. TT: 34:06

Teddybears are a longtime Swedish production team that appears onstage and in videos in bear outfits. Who knew they secretly wanted to retrofit rock'n'roll? But that's just what they've done here. Rock'n'roll? Oh, it used to go like that; now it goes like this. "Rocket Scientist," with a sexy vocal from Eve, lays down the terms—"I'm the robot Elvis rocking my bionic pelvis . . . I am the killer shaking up some old rock and roll, fool"—and offers up the refrain of the year: "Them drum machines ain't got no soul." Elsewhere, "Get Fresh With You" borrows unashamedly from "Louie Louie" but sets it in a present-day inner-city neighborhood, and Cee Lo Green raids the funk pantry for the catty "Cho Cha." The crème de résistance is "Devil's Music," which gives the classic Bo Diddley/Johnny Otis shave-and-a-haircut riff a Mohawk, snips courtesy Robert Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, and Jimmy Page. "Better watch out for that devil's music / It's got a hold of my soul." Oh yeah.


GILLIAN WELCH: The Harrow & the Harvest
Acony ACNY1109 (CD). 2011. David Rawlings, prod.; Matt Andrews, eng. AAD. TT: 45:58

On this album, eight years in the making, singer-songwriter Gillian Welch and guitarist David Rawlings, longtime partners who perform as the band Gillian Welch, have actually become one instrument, one voice. Except for a banjo, a trace of harmonica, and some knee slapping, it's just two voices and two guitars working in perfect equanimity. The 10 songs, all cowritten by the pair, often seem foreboding and desperate, but you're not quite sure why. Iconic Civil War images linger and fade: camptown men, Gatling guns, silver daggers, Tennessee, Asheville boys, six white horses, the Dixie line. And, oh, the whiskey. No wasted notes. No frills. This is the best argument for not hurrying music I have ever heard. Fully realized folk music.


XL 4096252 (CD). 2010. Richard Russell, prod.; Rodaidh McDonald, eng., mix; Ichiho Nishiki, eng. DDD? TT: 28:25

"R2D4" is a strange place for an obituary, but this magazine needs to acknowledge somewhere the passing of Gil Scott-Heron (1949–2011). He was variously described as the godfather of rap and hip-hop, the black Dylan, and many other things, but attempts to label GSH with a neat, concise catchphrase have always been futile, and necessarily fall short of doing justice to an artist with such a broad outlook. His musical roots were in blues, funk, and rock, but what made him special were his lyrics, and the wonderful baritone voice that conveyed those words straight into the hearts and minds of his fans, whether he was singing or speaking. His last album, I'm New Here, is clearly the work of an old man, but, like Johnny Cash's American Recordings, it shows that accepting the darkness in one's life doesn't mean there's no place for hope and resilience. The sound is stark, disjointed, yet strong and propulsive, and a wonderful reflection of the lyrics. Kudos to producer Richard Russell. A must-have album.


Anti- 87148-2 (CD). 2011. Jean Paul Romann, prod., eng.; Ian Brennan, prod.; Andris Balins, Jake Eckert, Tom Schick, Mark Wheaton, engs. DDD. TT: 53:54

Tinariwen is a Touareg group. Their music is traditional Arab desert, tempered with a strong awareness of Western traditions, especially those Western traditions that take their roots from Africa; eg, the blues. This latest record—the first to be partially sung in English—was recorded in a tent in South Algeria, with just a few overdubs and the addition of the Dirty Dozen Brass band on one track. The feeling is relaxed, confident, positive: the perfect antidote to stress, and a wonderful record to come home to. The sound is fairly dry, which I like, and lucid.


THE MAMA'S AND THE PAPA'S: If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
MCA MCAD-11739 (CD). 1966/1998. Lou Adler, prod.; Bones Howe, eng. AAD? TT: 34:56

Probably the only misstep on this, the L.A. quartet's timeless debut album, is the ungrammatical inclusion of those pesky apostrophes in the group's name. But musically the collection is above reproach, a combination of such mellifluous, ear-catching originals as "Monday, Monday" and "Go Where You Wanna Go," and swanky covers of songs by Leiber-Spector, Lennon-McCartney, and P.F. Sloan. Primary songwriter John Phillips's gift for marrying evocative lyrics ("Stopped into a church / I passed along the way") to gorgeous harmonies was already fully evident when "California Dreamin'" first burst onto the radio in late 1965, and nearly 50 years after its release, the song still sounds dark and chilly . . . and warm and fuzzy. Over the next few years, Phillips and company would turn out a string of smart radio confections that refuse to grow old. But this is where that fascinating blend of folky hipness and grounded, meticulous songcraft and arranging took root.


Warner Bros. 46010-2 (CD). 1995. Son Volt, Brian Paulson, prods.; Hans Buff, Steve McKinstry, engs. AAD? TT: 42:12

It's a fun—and maybe impossible—exercise to pick the best album to come out of the ashes of alt-country darlings Uncle Tupelo, and Wilco has certainly waxed a couple records to die for (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born). But Trace, the debut from Jay Farrar's then-fledgling band, is such a consistent affair in terms of tunefulness and sound that it would also be a wise choice. It's a musical journey filled with torrents of ragged, screeching guitars leavened with melodic twang and that bit of innocence that comes from Farrar's old-soul voice—and from his songs, which morph masterfully from one to the next while evoking dark nights, faraway places, and time fading away. The one nonoriginal here, the album-ending "Mystifies Me," from Ron Wood's 1974 beauty, I've Got My Own Album to Do, fits in sweetly. (XIX-1)


U2: Achtung Baby: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Island Universal B0016043-02 (2 CDs). 1991/2011. Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno, prod., mix; Flood, eng., mix. ADD. TT: 78:30

Only the greatest rock bands are able to completely transform their music in response to the changing culture they reflect. U2 achieved this feat on the remarkable Achtung Baby, which allowed the band to morph from the 1980s arena rock displayed on Rattle and Hum to the interactive extravaganza of Zooropa. It's not surprising that this feat nearly destroyed the group; rebirth ain't pretty, but it's worth it. The original release still sounds glorious—"Mysterious Ways," "Until the End of the World," "Even Better Than the Real Thing," and "One" are all defining moments in rock history—but the B-sides and remixes of disc 2 flesh out this music so well that this is one of the few examples of an anniversary release that actually improves on the original.


THE WILD TCHOUPITOULAS: The Wild Tchoupitoulas
Fontana Island 1625399082 (CD). 1976/1992. Allen Toussaint, prod., eng. AAD. TT: 37:12

This is one record I never grow tired of listening to—it keeps revealing deeper secrets 35 years after it was made. The Wild Tchoupitoulas represent the core identity of the legendary Neville family of New Orleans. Family elder George Landry, aka Big Chief Jolly in this Black Indian gang, enlisted the help of New Orleans funk pioneers the Meters, led by his nephew Art Neville on keyboards, and their producer, Allen Toussaint, to record a collection of Mardi Gras Indian chants arranged for a full band. Art and his three brothers—Cyril, Aaron, and Charles—would go on to form the Neville Brothers after singing together here. Classic Black Indian folklore—"Brother John," "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront," "Indian Red," "Big Chief Got a Golden Crown"—was codified for general consumption on this session, and New Orleans music has never been the same.


HANDEL: Water Music, Suites in F, G, D; Rodrigo Overture
Marc Minkowski, Les Musicians du Louvre–Grenoble
Naïve V5234 (CD). 2010. Jean-Pierre Loisil, prod.; Laure Casanava-Péré, eng.;
étienne Grossien, asst. eng. DDD. TT: 67:32

Together, these three suites comprise the complete Water Music, music written by Handel for King George I's big "river party" on the Thames on July 17, 1717. Never mind that Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre–Grenoble are French, not English; Handel wasn't English—nor, for that matter, was King George. Anyway, the music itself is more French, German, and Italian. The ensemble playing is superb, and exquisitely recorded. The horn playing is immediate, alive, ravishing—really. They almost bray. Minkowski uses no harpsichord, no timpani. (Imagine trying to stuff a harpsichord onto a barge.) The "filler" is the overture to Handel's opera Rodrigo, composed in 1711. Interesting that the Water Music seems to reflect it. This has become my favorite recording of the Water Music. You probably have at least one other—by Pinnock, Gardiner, Mackerras, etc. Get this one, too.


SCHUBERT: Impromptus & Dances
Impromptus, D.899 Nos. 1–4, D.935 Nos. 1 & 2; Ländler (excerpts); Waltzes, D.145 & D.980
Vassily Primakov, piano
Bridge 9327 (CD). 2010. Becky Starobin, exec. prod.; David Starobin, prod.; Viggo Mangor, eng.; Adam Abeshouse, mastering. DDD. TT: 76:22

Schubert didn't dance, or so the liner notes say. I don't, either. But Schubert was prolific in composing dances—some 400 in all. Primakov offers an unconventional program of 12 waltzes, 13 ländler (in a suite compiled by his teacher, Vera Gornostaeva), and six impromptus. The total time is 76:22, so this is a very generous helping of Schubert. The impromptus are the more substantial works, and Primakov has exactly the right touch: light, lyrical, dark when he needs to be. Listen especially to the Impromptu D.899 No.4 in A-flat . . . and D.935 No.2, in the same key. Few pianists so capture the light and the life that was (briefly) Schubert's. The performances seem to radiate from within. Like all piano releases from the Bridge label, this one is very well recorded, albeit a little up close. Some more atmosphere of Carl Nielsen Hall, in Odense, Denmark, might have been welcome; then again, maybe not. The sound of the Hamburg Steinway D does strike me as clangy some of the time—more like a fortepiano than a piano. Perhaps this was the desired effect. A superb disc. 

soulful.terrain's picture

lady gaga???

Since when did this auto-tune freak show become worthy of any recognition as a singer?

I'd rather listen to 60 minutes of white noise..

Watthead's picture


+1 on that one

Ariel Bitran's picture

but the girl can actually sing.


and write well-constructed/melodically innovative pop songs.

himynameisjuan's picture

but what's up with the Lady Gaga cover art? There's a random "H" in there, and the image is eerily photoshopped. The image should look something like this, though not really, because the CD has entirely different artwork.

Regardless, Born This Way is too uplifting for my tastes. The first LP of The Fame or the entire The Fame Monster LP are much more listenable. They're far from my favorite albums of all time, but when playing records for friends I start with something familiar then move to more eclectic stuff.

Also, why do you guys post R2D4 lists a year behind? It took me a while to realize this a different list from the one in the latest issue.

John Atkinson's picture

why do you guys post R2D4 lists a year behind? It took me a while to realize this a different list from the one in the latest issue.

We started doing this 15 years ago, so that R2D4 being on-line free would not cannibalize sales of the February issue of the paper magazine. We've run a year behind ever since.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture

We've run a year behind ever since.

Following a brief discussion with Web Monkey Jon Iverson, we will post the 2013 R2D4 in February and stay up-to-date in subsequent years. Just don't stop buying the paper magazine!

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

deckeda's picture

... that revolved around having current content increase SEO which drives site and therefore advertiser traffic and that the print product is what it is either way.

Rust's picture

Seriously, Led Zep 4 should be replaced by Celebration in your soon to be posted list. Who would have thought that in their 60's the boys would have put on such a performance. The sound quality of the CD's is adaquate at best, the blue ray is much better. The various guest covers of Zep at the Kennedy Center were awful, on the other hand Beth Harts performance was stellar although she was rather constrained compared to...

......her "Live at Paradiso" of 2004. Get the DVD. One of the cleanest if not THE cleanest live rock preformance I've ever seen. What a live rock perfrormance in a smaller venue should be. She has that very rare thing missing in every other female rocker with the sole exception of Janis, power. IMO the best female rock artist ever, with the sole exception of Janis. The woman is a beautiful train wreck, I'm grateful her early success didn't kill her, a close thing.

Hendrix. Winterland. Live. The latest reissue sounds better than some, with the best performances (I rhink?) of a multi-night gig selected. It isn't just his use of feedback and tone, it's his phrasing. The best Hendrix release.

Holly Cole. "Romantically Helpless". She doesn't sound like anyone else. Quirky in a very original way. A different vocal range than you would normally expect. Unique phrasing. Her interpretations of classics like "Come Fly With Me" and "Loving You" are prime  examples.

Try listning to Sonny Landreth Live at the Grant Street Saloon. The best slide guitar player ever.

Try listening to pretty much anything Adrain Legg has done, brilliant technique.

Try going to Wolfgangs Vault, literally thousands of live performances, many filmed, from the Filmores East and West, Winterland and many other venues. Before huge arenas became the norm. Some of the recordings are very good indeed. Thank you Bill Graham.

On the very broad subject of Rock. Led Zeppelin and even Hendrix have been accused of raiding the music of others. Duh. Even Robert Johnson expanded on those who came before him. But Willie Dixon never sounded like Zep, and no one ever sounded like Hendrix.

If you want to see an enormous amount of roots americana, try Document Records. Leave it to the Brits to have the largest collection old blues and jazz commercially available anywhere I know of. You'd be surprised at how many of the 40's, 50's and 60's jazz greats dipped into the well of those who had gone before them.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Proprius Music's Cantate Domino is available in DSD, FLAC 96, and FLAC 192 at

and in 24/192 format at