2015 Records to Die For Page 6


Was (Not Was): Born to Laugh at Tornadoes
Geffen GEF 25592 (UK LP). 1983. Don Was, prod., mix; Jack Tann, David Was, prods.; Robert Kinkel, asst. eng.; Duane Bradley, Ken Collier, mix. AAA. TT: 35:31

I don't know how this LP found its way into my collection in the early 1980s, but I've no regrets. Having lost it for years, I've now rediscovered what turns out to be a real gem. It's beautifully recorded throughout, and shows such great variety in both style and personnel that categorization is impossible. Each track comes as a fresh surprise, and none more than the last, "Zaz Turned Blue," which features a delightful performance by classic torch singer Mel Tormé. Other guest singers include Mitch Ryder and Ozzy Osbourne. And the front cover is wonderful, so go for the vinyl.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle be Unbroken
EMI America GFX-2071-3 (3 LPs), E2-46589 (2 CDs). 1972/1985. William E. McEuen, prod.; Derio Zappas, eng.; Rick Horton, Rex Collier, engs., mix; Doug Sax, mastering. AAA/AAD. TT: 119:30

I've owned this on vinyl for many years, but only recently have come to appreciate its exceptional virtues—finding one's way around six sides is tough. But these three LPs are well worth extended exploration, and arguably comprise the definitive tribute to what many consider the classic era of Nashville country music. Besides featuring a guest list that includes a plethora of country standards and stars—Vassar Clements, Merle Travis, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff, Doc Watson—the recordings themselves have a delightful freshness and immediacy that are all too rarely found in current recordings. The phrase "live in the studio" springs to mind. (XXIII-2, XXXVI-7)


Funkadelic: Funkadelic
Westbound/Ace CDSEWM210 (CD). 1970/2005. George Clinton, prod.; Milan Bogden, Russ Terrana, Ed Wolfrum, Bryan Dombrowski, engs. AAD. TT: 75:06

Though Maggot Brain (1971) and its Afrodelic freak-out title track are perhaps most often namechecked when singing the praises of early George Clinton, the self-titled 1970 debut of Funkadelic, his Detroit-based, LSD-gobbling soul-funk-rock outfit, is where true acolytes learn to free their minds. The rest will follow, natch. From the Horace Silver–tipping blues strut "Music for My Mother" to the swaggering rocker "I'll Bet You" to the loony "What Is Soul"—which would make Jimi Hendrix hoist his freak flag in salute—Funkadelic is seamless, sinewy, and, per the times, savvy. Grab this 2005 UK reissue, which boasts extensive notes and no fewer than seven proximate and choice bonus tracks.

Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
Highway 20 H2001 (2 CDs). 2014. Lucinda Williams, Greg Leisz, Tom Overby, prods.; David Bianco, eng. AAD? TT: 103:12

This is the kind of collection that, once upon a time in the 1970s, gave two-disc sets a legendary luster. A throwback to vintage country-funk swamp pop, it conjures the contradictory elements that made us fall in love with Williams in the first place: saucy yet sensitive vocals abetted by rutting-in-the-dirt twang and leavened-by-angels jangle, plus intimate turns of phrase that betray the hurt of an old soul and the ecstasy of one eternally young. It may be cheating to predict Desert Island Disc status for an album barely four months old as this sees print, but given the stark contrast between Williams's initial run of classics and her string of latter-day letdowns, DWTSMTB is more than just a comeback—it's a goddam reaffirmation.


John Tavener: Eternity's Sunrise
Paul Goodwin, Choir & Orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907231 (CD). 1998. Robin G. Young, prod.; Mike Hatch, Floating Earth, engs. DDD. TT: 65:03

For me, whether it's Son House, J.S. Bach, or John Tavener, music is always church. This transcendental work for two sopranos, baritone, and violin, commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Academy of Ancient Music, is best described by St. Isaac the Syrian: "When we reach love, we have reached God; our road is ended and we have crossed to the Island which is beyond the world." (XXII-4)

Terry Allen: Human Remains
Sugar Hill SHCD-1050 (CD). 1996. Terry Allen, Lloyd Mains, prods.; Alan Crossland, Jay Hudson, engs. ADD? TT: 54:04

"Gone to Texas": "I don't need no chicken shit businessman telling me what to do . . . / I don't need no sweet-faced woman goin' sour-mouthed on me . . . / I don't need no weekend warrior protecting me / he's as dumb with his gun as he is with his tongue / and he's shooting off on TV!" I've always wanted to tell the world about the internationally esteemed conceptual artist and outlaw country singer Terry Allen, here singing with a star-studded bunch of Armadillo World Headquarters graduates that includes David Byrnes, Charlie Sexton, Joe Ely, and Lucinda Williams. Before Sugar Hill bought up Allen's catalogue, you could buy his records only at art museums. Art meets the Trickster (again)—at the crossroads!


Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
RCA Living Stereo/Acoustic Sounds LSC 2446 (LP). 1960/2013. TT: Not noted
Mussorgsky-Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
RCA Living Stereo/Acoustic Sounds LSC-2201 (LP). 1957/2013. TT: Not noted
Both: Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Richard Mohr, prod.; Lewis Layton, eng. AAA.

All collectors of RCA Living Stereo LPs have their favorites, and these are mine. Reiner's reading of Scheherazade is the pinnacle of grace, precision, delicacy, and drama, and it's no wonder it commands the highest prices in the market for used shaded dogs. The late Harry Pearson once told me that he could learn anything he needed to know about an audio component by playing the final movement of this recording. I prefer the relatively less popular Pictures. The interpretation is lively, refined, and subtle, but bombastic when it needs to be. At times, Reiner could make the CSO swing. I hear wider dynamic contrasts, sense of drama, deeper bass, and more clearly delineated room sound in Pictures than in Scheherazade.

I'm talking about original shaded-dog pressings. I've been disappointed by all the reissues released over the last 20 years that have promised better sound than the originals but have fallen far short of that. I had much higher expectations of these new reissues, from Chad Kassem's Quality Record Pressings, having been very impressed by some of QRP's rock and jazz reissues. When I spun them, I was floored. After comparing them to early shaded-dog pressings of the same recordings, I felt the only area in which the originals were still superior was the subtle, additional layer of air and sparkle in the highs (master-tape age, perhaps?). But the reissues' quality and extension of bass and high-level dynamic contrasts were superior. And the surfaces of the new pressings are so quiet they let each subtle midrange detail emerge from a "black" background. At times, the background is so silent I have to do a double take to verify that the needle is still in the groove and the platter is still turning.


Dvorák & Janácek: Symphony 8, Symphonic Suite from Jenufa
Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Reference Fresh! FR-710SACD (SACD/CD). 2014. Dirk Subotka, prod.; Mark Donahue, Harold Chambers, John Newton, engs. DDD. TT: 62:04

In the 2014 R2D4, I ended my recommendation for Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburghers' Reference Fresh! release of tone poems by Richard Strauss with: "This is a thrilling disc. I look forward to hearing more from this team, and its performers on both sides of the microphones." Well, this year they've trumped themselves with even more idiomatic performances and an even more naturally dynamic recording. I early imprinted on Bruno Walter's Columbia LP of Dvorák's Symphony 8, and have since expanded my favorites to include Kubelik, Kertész, and Iván Fischer. Honeck displaces them all. The realization and performance of the suite from Janácek's Jenufa (conceptualized by Honeck, realized by Tomás Ille) is brilliant, and streets ahead of Peter Breiner's conducting of his own arrangement for Naxos. Conducted and played with appropriate style and verve and recorded in the best and most thrilling sound, this new disc immediately goes to the top of the list.

Stockhausen: Stimmung
Paul Hillier, Theatre of Voices
Harmonia Mundi HMU 897408 (SACD/CD). 2007. Robina G. Young, Paul Hillier, prods.; Brad Michel, eng., ed. DDD. TT: 78:02

How to describe Stimmung? Composed in 1968, it comprises 51 "models" for six unaccompanied voices. The models range in length from 38 seconds to 5 minutes, but I experience them as 78 minutes of almost unbroken immersion, surrounded by conversations in varying intonations and meters. Gradually, I am subsumed enough to feel the urge to join in. Of course, a relaxed mood, aided in any way you choose, will help you to connect with what seems superficially to be early minimalism, but a listener in the right frame of mind will be very much inside the music. Mesmerizing.

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 !