2015 Records to Die For Page 3


The Smithereens: Especially for You
Enigma ST-73208 (LP). 1986. Don Dixon, prod.; James A. Ball, Gray Russell, Carol Cafiero, Paul Special, Frank Pekoc, engs. AAA. TT: 44:14

Especially for You isn't just a great and great-sounding rock album, it might just be the rock album. "Blood and Roses" got all the attention, and yes, it truly does reach in and grab your soul. But the real stunners are the two cuts that precede it, "In a Lonely Place" and "Behind the Wall of Sleep." Suzanne Vega's background vocal in the former is spectacular, and gorgeously showcased by the production. And "Wall of Sleep" is pure adrenaline. The opening riff is like a '70 Hemi 'Cuda dumping the clutch at 5000rpm—the tires light up and time stops for a split-second, but before you can take a breath, they grab, and you'd better hang on: it's going to be a wild ride.

The Marshall Tucker Band: Carolina Dreams
Capricorn CPN-0180 (LP). 1977. Paul Hornsby, prod.; Kurt Kinzel, engs. AAA. TT: 37:18

You know those songs that get stuck in your head, and run over and over in an endless loop? For most people, they're usually something like a jingle about laundry detergent that they want to get rid of before they go insane. Maybe it's because I'm already pretty much insane, but my earworms aren't unwanted intruders; they're like old friends dropping in, and remind me how much I like and have missed them. Carolina Dreams is kind of . . . well, let's just say "uneven"—but "Heard It in a Love Song" may be my favorite earworm, and the one that visits most often. I'm picking Carolina Dreams as an R2D4 because of one song? Absolutely.


Johann Strauss Jr.: Die Fledermaus: Gala Performance
Waldemar Kmentt, Hilde Gueden, Erika Köth, Walter Berry, Eberhard Wächter, Giuseppe Zampieri, Regina Resnik; Vienna Philharmonic, Vienna State Opera Chorus; Herbert von Karajan
London 421 046-2 (2 CDs). 1960/1987. John Culshaw, Christopher Raeburn, prods.; Gordon Parry, James Brown, engs. ADD. TT: 2:29:09

Why, you may ask, having in 1991 already designated as an R2D4 a recording of Die Fledermaus, would I bestow the same honor on another recording of it?

The answer is simple: Each is a great recording, and, for an operetta fan like me, both are indispensable. Here is the lush sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by von Karajan, and a cast that's as strong as the one led by Willi Boskovsky (Angel). But what distinguishes the present recording is the so-called Gala sequence. Decca/London assembled the greatest stars of their opera recordings—Tebaldi, Nilsson, del Monaco, Berganza, Sutherland, Björling—and gave them a chance to sing their party pieces. You ain't heard nothin' till you've heard Birgit Nilsson sing "I Could Have Danced All Night."

Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Columbia CK 9914 (CD). 1970/1990. Paul Simon, Arthur Garfunkel, prods.; Roy Halee, prod., eng.; Ted Brosnan, eng. ADD. TT: 37:13

A classic, for sure. Wikipedia describes this recording as folk/rock, and although I'm not a particular fan of folk or rock, I absolutely love Bridge Over Troubled Water—the song and the album. Most albums include tracks that make me reach for the remote and press Next. Bridge Over Troubled Water doesn't. Each song has an effective melodic hook and something interesting to say. Other than the title track, my favorite is "The Only Living Boy in New York," which also happens to sound fabulous, and shows improvements with the latest generation of digital playback.


Mal Waldron: The Quest
Mal Waldron, piano; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, clarinet; Booker Ervin, tenor saxophone; Ron Carter, cello; Joe Benjamin, bass; Charles Persip, drums
New Jazz NJ-8269 (LP). 1961. Esmond Edwards, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng. AAA. TT: 42:17

An early-1970s LP reissue of The Quest is labeled as an Eric Dolphy album—an understandable mistake, since it's Dolphy's adventurous alto-sax work that first grabs the listener's attention. Also in the front line are Mingus alum Booker Ervin on tenor sax and the great Ron Carter, appearing here not as a bassist but as a soloist on cello (bowed and plucked). Waldron, whose piano is somewhat quieter in the mix than one would expect, almost seems to be in a supporting role—yet his exquisitely crafted, consistently understated solos stay with the listener. Waldron composed all of the music, the highlight of which is "Warm Canto," a plaintive yet oddly sunny melody that sounds resolutely French.

As I write this, Ron Carter and drummer Charles Persip are still very much with us. So, too, is The Quest's recording engineer, the legendary Rudy Van Gelder—but while the recording quality is good enough, those looking for one of Van Gelder's typically vivid, colorful-sounding sessions won't find it here. The sound of the eminently findable Original Jazz Classics LP reissue (OJC-082) is more than acceptable. (XXXVI-2)

Eric Weissberg & Marshall Brickman: New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass
Eric Weissberg, banjo, mandolin; Marshall Brickman, banjo, guitar; Clarence White, guitar; Gordon Terry, fiddle; Jimmy Bond, bass
Elektra EKL 238 (mono LP). 1963. Jac Holzman, exec. prod.; Dino Lappas, eng. AAA. TT: 33:50

Shortly before the musicians of the so-called British Invasion began teaching Americans a thing or two about rock'n'roll, a similar movement took place in folk clubs and coffeehouses throughout the Northeast: Kids from New York and Massachusetts and Maine and New Jersey started playing bluegrass. Some of them—people like Bill Keith, Peter Rowan, Tony Trischka, Russ Barenberg, Clarence White, Roland White, Pete Wernick, and David Grisman—brought to the music so much talent, and so deep an affinity for the stylings of Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, and other rural Southerners, that these Yankees soon put their own stamp on an entire genre.

Another such artist is Eric Weissberg, the dazzling banjoist behind the Deliverance soundtrack, who first made his mark in this collaboration with the multi-instrumentalist (and, later, Annie Hall and Manhattan screenwriter) Marshall Brickman. More than just another Scruggs imitator, Weissberg was noted for exploring, in his own way, the melodicism pioneered by Bill Keith. This LP, which can be found in stereo or mono—the former is fine, but the latter kicks its ass—also features on guitar the late Clarence White, who had yet to record under his own name, yet whose groundbreaking syncopated style was already in place.


The Beatles: The Beatles in Mono
Apple 6337971 (14 180gm LPs). 1963–1968/2014. George Martin, orig. prod.; Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott, others, engs; Sean Magee, Steve Berkowitz, mastering. AAA. TT: 7:36:22

That in 2014 a major entertainment conglomerate released an all-analog, superbly packaged set of 14 LPs is, by any definition, miraculous—almost as miraculous as what the Beatles accomplished musically in seven years (compare with 2007–2014).

Meticulously mastered from the original master tapes by Sean Magee and Steve Berkowitz (tape copies were used for first LP and Mono Masters 2-LP compilation), and well pressed by Optimal, in Germany, the discs in this set are arguably the best-sounding mono Beatles albums ever released—and that includes the original pressings, which were bass-shy in order to be playable on that era's kiddie phonographs. At $328 including a hardcover book, it's a bargain that won't be around forever.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Masterpieces by Ellington
Duke Ellington, piano; and big band
Columbia Masterworks/Analogue Productions ML 4418 (180gm mono LP). 1950/2014. George Avakian, prod.; Fred Plaut, eng.; Ryan Smith, remastering. AAA. TT: 46:59

Among the first recordings arranged and produced to take advantage of the LP's longer playing time, this album was released in 1950 on Columbia Records' classical imprint, Masterworks, with a whimsical cover by Stan Fraydas (author of Hoppy, the Curious Kangaroo) that's reproduced for this edition. (Columbia soon replaced it with an image more "modern" and more mundane.)

Freed from the 78rpm single's three-minute constraint, Ellington could score and record concert-length arrangements similar to those enjoyed by his concert audiences. Three of the four selections, including "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady," are familiar Ellington classics stretched and elasticized to luxurious effect. The harmonically saturated, transparent mono sound is astonishing for any era of recording. It's sure to leave you swooning, and wondering how and why recorded sound has since gone so far south. (XXVII-9, XXXV-2)


Beethoven: Symphony 9
June Anderson, soprano; Sara Walker, mezzo-soprano; Klaus König, tenor; Jan-Hendrick Rootering, bass; Children's Chorus of the Dresden Philharmonic; Bavarian Radio Symphony & Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Orchestra of Paris, Staatskapelle Dresden; Leonard Bernstein
Deutsche Grammophon 429861-2 (CD). 1990. DDD. TT: 74:03

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Germans began passing back and forth between East and West Berlin on November 9, 1989, at the Bornholmer Strasse crossing. In the following days, jubilant Berliners began to dismantle the wall and celebrate their new freedom. The historic liberation of Germany attracted musicians to commemorate the event. On Christmas Day, 1989, an ailing Leonard Bernstein conducted a gala performance of Beethoven's Symphony 9 in the Schausspielhaus of East Berlin, as played by five prominent multinational orchestras—the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Kirov Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestra of Paris—and choirs and soloists from East and West. In the final, choral movement, Bernstein replaced the word Freude (joy) with Freiheit (freedom). Although Bernstein's tempos are slower than in other Ninths I've heard, the emotion and sense of occasion of this recording are tremendously moving. The separation of instruments, the passion of the soloists and choirs, and the spaciousness of the soundstage make this recording my favorite Ninth, for its choral qualities. Perhaps my infatuation comes from the concert's historical significance, but I don't care. An album to die for.

Coldplay: Parachutes
Parlophone 5 40504 2 (CD). 2000. Ken Nelson, prod., eng.; Mark & Ken Phythian, engs.; Andrea Wright, Jim Coles, Paul Read, Simon Biernicott, Jon Bailey, Ben Thackeray, Jon Withnal, asst. engs. AAD? TT: 54:14

This album hooked me when, listening to Sirius XM, I heard "Yellow," remixed by Alpha for Coldplay's EP Mince Spies (2001). I couldn't get frontman Chris Martin's plaintive, haunting voice out of my head. I preferred the original version from Coldplay's first album, Parachutes. "Yellow"'s simple but intensely romantic lyrics, its intoxicatingly slow and dark atmosphere, and Martin's plaintive falsetto totally captivated me. Mackenzie Wilson of Rolling Stone aptly describes how the band's "gauzy acoustics and airy percussion" create "dream pop landscapes," as heard in "High Speed" and "Shivers." The guitar chords and large soundstage of "Spies" create a sad, eerie, chilling feeling I can't shake off. This album's a keeper.

dalethorn's picture

Some nifty selections here - Molly Drake no less! And some new ones to look up.

Edit: I buy almost any kind of music, if I get a hot tip on something good that I can sample first. Most of what I buy based on Stereophile features is classical. I have a lot of jazz genre recordings, but rarely buy anything based on a Stereophile review. Jimmy Scott was featured just after he died at the age of 88. Many times people say that it's the music that matters - not so much the sound quality. But when the recording people put out a remastered album like Jimmy Scott's with attention to getting the best possible sound from it, that's where it really counts.

volvic's picture

- Sam described the Schubert "as one of the finest performances ever released of the Sonata for Arpeggione," - Really? Even better than the Rostropovich/Britten recordings from 1968? Will have to take you up on that and purchase the Meneses/Pires CD.

Great selection, concur on the Peter Grimes a great recording, thought the Britten/Pears was the standard but loved this recording with Sir Colin Davis after recently finding it......I miss Sir Colin Davis.

JDDisantis's picture

Its not that I have a problem with it but I am a little suprised that nothing really out there was listed, like Flying Lotus's You're Dead! Its a very good mix of fusion jazz, electronic, and rap and I thought it was to die for, not just because the album is titled You're Dead. I would've liked to see some more out there stuff, some fresh new "hip" stuff for the younger audience, even Aphex Twin. Just my opinion.

Jon Iverson's picture
Do my Shpongle or Entheogenic picks count?
JDDisantis's picture

Haven't heard of them but i will definitley give them a try

michaelavorgna's picture

I enjoy the Flying Lotus album and if I had heard it in time, I would have included D'Angelo's "Black Messiah".

JDDisantis's picture

Heard of Thundercat? If you like vocals that have R&B elements and such but also enjoy fantastic bass playing and an occaisional trip in a beat production from Flying Lotus, give Stephen Bruner (Thundercat) a listen. His Apocolypse album is one of my all time favorites and his last song "A Message For Austin//Praise The Lord//Enter The Void" is an amazing live peice set made to memorialize the passing of one of his best friends, Austin Peralta.

michaelavorgna's picture

But I will check him out, thanks.

Alan Tomlinson's picture

Who Are You(which is a damn fine album) was the last Who album with Keith Moon drumming, not Who By Numbers.


Alan Tomlinson

Littlefire 1974's picture

Hey Alan, thank you, I stand corrected, sort of. Keith passed away 9/7/1978 and Who Are You debuted on the Billboard LPs chart dated 9/9/78 (two days later). But it was released on August 18, so in fact Who By Numbers wasn't the last to be released before Keith's death. But I didn't mean to imply that WBN was the last album with Keith drumming. The great Mr. Moon is obviously all over Who Are You.

carlosgallardo's picture

In the internet era, why you don't put a sample of the records to listen to ?
I really trust your words, but I trust my ears more.

John Atkinson's picture
carlosgallardo wrote:
In the internet era, why you don't put a sample of the records to listen to ?

Copyright issues make hosting samples problematic. We have thought of providing Spotify or Tidal links. Maybe next time.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
If you go to the Stereophile Facebook Page - www.facebook.com/stereophilemag - David Solomon of Tidal has listed Tidal links to all the recordings we recommend.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anon2's picture

Thanks for the insightful recommendations. A recent Stereophile review of new recordings led to a very rewarding SACD purchase a couple of months ago.

I can vouch for the CSO Scheherazade recording. It is among the very best recordings of this work. For those who are CD/SACD purchasers, you can get this recording of Scheherazade along with the fascinating and rare recording of the Song of the Nightingale by Stravinsky.

Other great recordings of Scheherazade include the 1990 recording on Telarc with Sir Charles Mackerras. The 1960s BPO recording on DG with Herbert von Karajan has the most riveting first 2 minutes of the 3rd movement I have heard. If you can find it (either on LP or CD) there is a superb Scheherazade with Leopold Stokowski directing the RPO, also on RCA.

DG, on its Virtuoso series, re-released a very strong rendering of this work with the Orchestre de l'Opera Bastille, directed by Myung-Whun Chung. This issue has an excellent Firebird Suite to round out the CD.

This article's recommended recording of Scheherazade is a stand-out. It is among the best recordings of the work. It is also among the best recordings and performances we have from the grand epoch of RCA Living Stereo, Fritz Reiner and the CSO.

It is unfortunate, despite its very worthy CSO Resound series of recordings, that we no longer have the voluminous output of recordings from the CSO that this great ensemble churned out during the eras of such great conductors as Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Rafael Kubelick, Carlo Maria Giulini, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Pierre Boulez.

Nonetheless, Bernard Haitink has produced some recent recordings on the CSO Resound series that will stand among the other monumental achievements of this ensemble's vast recorded legacy.

volvic's picture

Can't argue with those recommendations. Try also if you can find the Kondrashin on Philips as well as the MSO with Dutoit from the early 80's. I also have the Stokowski with the LSO which is also a fine performance and a few months ago editor Atkinson said he loved the Beecham version which I also have and forgot how lovely that performance is. Guess I have way too many versions. Great performances all.

Anon2's picture

Perhaps it's not on the official best-of-Scheherazade lists, but a surprise discovery was the recording made with the NYPO directed by Yuri Temirkanov. This is an early 1990s recording on RCA Red Seal.

While we are on the subject of Yuri Temirkanov, we should also mention the very excellent recording he made, also on RCA Red Seal, of the Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (recorded in Henry Wood Hall).

From the same early 1990s time frame, there was an equally excellent recording of Tchaikovsky's complete Nutcracker, directed by Yuri Temirkanov and the Royal Philharmonic. Again, the recording is was made by RCA Red Seal. This recording may only be available in the used market on amazon.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

So much retread, except ... Hal, by Yasmine Hamdan, on Ya Nass, is like sun breaking thru a wall of stale predictability.

RCA Scheherazade, Maiden Voyage and Best of Spencer Davis, really? How old are you people, 103? I never ever buy music based on a review, having been burned umpteen times -- reviewers are such constipated bugs. But, believe me, Ya Nass is new and original. The tune Hal is outstanding.

Hal by Yasmine Hamdan was the ONLY bright spot in Jim Jarmusch's latest, Only Lovers Left Alive (not recommended). She appeared on BBC's Later with Jools Holland (also not recommended -- what can one expect from Squeeze's keyboardist but pop pap?). Nevertheless, some people are noticing -- she's broken thru the wall of noise.

Have long ago moved away from "world music." But this is different. This is soul music, which, btw, is no longer made in the US, blacks having sold out and gotten rich, e.g., Nicki Manaj and Kanye West.

Some heartbreak here.

damir's picture

I am sorry to say this but you guys listen to some of the most boring, simpleton and pompous music I have ever listened to.

Thanks to Spotify I was able to listen to most of your recommended music. It was cringe worthy. Things you write about some of it... Are you guys all high when you do your reviews?

The music you listen to plain sucks and most of it would sound ok even on lowest quality HiFi equipment.

Leonard Cohen, Coldplay, Neil Young... and that's it. Then again, Coldplay?!

Everything else was... godawful.

People, do you even know there is so much more to music than those plain and boring old recordings?!

You need new blood, ASAP!

Those were not records to die for, those were records one would die of.

John Atkinson's picture
damir wrote:
Thanks to Spotify I was able to listen to most of your recommended music. It was cringe worthy. Things you write about some of it... Are you guys all high when you do your reviews?...The music you listen to plain sucks...

Perhaps your self-awareness needs tweaking, damir. Your taste in music is your taste, period, It is neither better nor worse than anyone else's.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I don't often find something to purchase from the pop music reviews, or even jazz reviews in spite of my growing jazz collection. But the old mostly-forgotten reviews of interesting and lesser-known classical recordings have been a treasure trove. I'd bet there are others who've found the same, in those other genres as well.

damir's picture

I'm not talking abut music tastes.

I am talking about:

1. Quality of the production
2. Quality of musicianship
3. Literary merit
4. Level of induced emotional response
5. Level of induced rational response

Most of those songs have abysmal production quality, lyrics you could laugh at, provoke zero emotional response and for sure offer nothing that would make you think.

They are useless to evaluate HiFi equipment.

Comments like "Oh yes, this song sounds wonderfully layered" while listening to a recording of a pop song from 60's remind me of 10.000 USD network cable snake oil talk "Oh yes, those bits and bytes flow much nicer now, my music is wonderful!"

You really should get some new blood. There is real, wonderful music out there, produced in 2015 that offers all you would need to really evaluate HiFi equipment. At the same time, you would connect with the potential customers that don't live in the past.

Spotify offers your customers to listen to the same songs your reviewers were using while evaluating equipment. I am not the only one that said "What in a world is he talking about? This song is rubbish, there is no production or art value in it to be able to discern anything meaningful."

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Go for it, damir. These crusty old snobs need a bit of shaking up. They prattle, for instance, about the wonderfulness of "old" music. Gee, how deep. I know the music of Thomas Luis de Victoria, Ellington of all eras, etc. I probably know more JS Bach than most here. Most reviewers and posters have nothing to teach me, or anyone else. They're smug and dull. Like I said, I never buy music on the basis of reviews, having been burned umpteen times. Instead, I look at lists like these merely out of curiosity and to learn about music which I'm not familiar with. Of course, pseudohip bugs always list obscure, worthless music, just so they can be one up over everyone else.

One thing I cannot stand are jazz snobs or classical snobs. I can''t stand snobs who put down George Jones or Patsy Cline.

Mindless pop drones outnumber all other forms of life on the planet, even cockroaches: Jackson Brown, really? Do we need to hear STILL more about the Who, possibly the most overexposed pop group, after the Beatles?

And why is there so little depth here in the blues (the real blues, not Keb Mo), the motherload of American music?

Personally, I don't give a flying rat's a$$ about sound quality. It's the music that matters, above all else. It's a mere incidental bonus if the sound is good. For instance, my favorite version of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is the one recorded by Tureck for Decca in the '60s, which has loud tape hiss. Schnabel's Beethoven Sonatas, recorded in the mid 1930s, is desert island music for me. By comparison, the highly lauded RCA's and Mercury's are mostly dreary pop classical.

Taste and discernment matter. Just watched the Grammys (DVR), to see what's up with commercial pop. You couldn't ask for a more blatant example of music in which taste and discernment DON'T matter.

PS. Don't see how you could sample all the music on Spotify, as you claim. Arvo Part, Fur Anna Maria, for example, is not available there.

PondWatcher's picture

Editors!!! Rejoice in the irony!!!!

Anon2's picture

Stereophile recently gave a review of a superb 21 year old pianist. There was also a review of a very youthful European guitarist. Another story featured a young manufacturer of string instruments.

There is no anti-youth bias in the greater body of Stereophile's music industry assessments and reports. There is equal weight given to the up-and-coming and to the established in its pages.

These young performers are but two examples of young performers--more youthful, I'd bet, than a couple of our "youth-oriented" commenters on this discussion thread--to be found if one would bother to delve deeper into Stereophile's website and magazine.

If these performers are playing 100-200 year old music, then that's simply a testament of the success of the genres and composers of the music that they perform. A perusal of the wider music industry press and recordings would demonstrate no shortage of young people devoting themselves to "old music." Asia, a youthful and up-and-coming continent writ-large, exemplifies these trends in music (Western and Eastern).

Meanwhile, I'll look for the fountain of youth, and keep reading Stereophile's superb assessments of MANY types of recordings. It's good that some of us are paying attention to Stereophile's overall track record, and not throwing some rhetorical bombs towards one review of very context-specific recordings.

Stereophile, keep up the good work with your music review. We'll take the "signal to noise ratio" in its appropriate measure on some of the less-enlightened comments found underneath your reports.

PredatorZ's picture

Arg, count me out if you think coldplay is worthy of recommendation, pure pop drivel, the writer lost all credibility for me at that point. To each his own obviously, and I am sure the boys in coldplay have some fans, but not me, no not ever. Almost worthy of my subscription cancellation, why support a magazine with views so opposite of my tastes. I only have a few bands I truly hate, and these gents are at the top of the dung heap for me. Give me some Patricia Barber or Lamb of God, Ill throw extra ducats they're way before I would torture myself with trifle pop. Sorry, had to vent.... a paying customer !