2015 Records to Die For Page 7


Vincent Segal: T-Bone Guarnerius
Vincent Segal, electric & acoustic cello; Magic Malik, flute, vocals; Glenn Ferris, trombone; Gilles Coronado, Seb Martel, guitar; Piers Faccini, guitar, vocals; Vic Mona, mandolin; Pascal Palisco, accordion; Mama Chandja, vocals
Label Bleu LBLC 6646 (CD). 2003. Pierre Walfisz, prod.; Philippe Teissier Du Cros, eng. ADD? TT: 66:06

Hot on the heels of my selection for R2D4 2014 of Chamber Music, his collaboration with Ballaké Sissoko, let me introduce you to another Vincent Segal album. T-Bone Guarnerius is a collection of solo and duo tracks that showcase Segal's extremely wide horizon, including a bare-bones reworking of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," two tracks with American trombonist Glenn Ferris, and collaborations with Afro-French musician Mama Chandja. One critic labeled the album "transcultural zapping," and yes, you get a series of glimpses into different musical universes, but zapping may imply a certain superficiality or arbitrariness, and there's none of that. Each track stands up to scrutiny, and all are informed by Segal's sheer genius; I mean, what other musician would even dare to make an interesting piece of music out of the most irritating sound known to mankind: the bleeps of a pocket alarm (in "Mercurial Gramofon," partly recorded on the Paris Périphérique at 4am)? Every time I listen to this album, I find new beauty in it.

The tracks were recorded on a portable Nagra at various inspirational places in France, including a very small chapel on St. Michel Island, the woods of St. Germain, a flat in Marseille, and the courtyard of Segal's Paris home. The sound is honest, with a no-nonsense simplicity that I find very appealing.

Yasmine Hamdan: Ya Nass
Crammed Discs Cram 210 (CD, 2013). Marc Collin, prod., eng.; Yasmine Hamdan, eng. DDD? TT: 62:59

My second selection comes from another Paris-based artist, Lebanon-born singer Yasmine Hamdan. After founding Soapkills, the only electro-pop duo in the Arab world, she ended up in France, where she eventually teamed up with Marc Collin, of Nouvelle Vague fame, who produced and co-wrote much of this album.

Ya Nass is a rewarding mixture of cultures that marries Arabic elements—though fluent in English and French, Hamdan sings entirely in various Arabic dialects, and takes some melodies from such classic Arabic singers as Oum Khaltoum—to Western song structures, rhythms, and instrumentation (including a host of old analog synths from Collin's collection, such as a Roland Jupiter 8 and a Chroma Polaris). This is very much music for grown-ups: reflective, seductive, generally mid-tempo or slower, and dominated by Hamdan's fairly deep, hugely expressive voice. Wonderful.


Joyce DiDonato: Stella di Napoli
Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Orchestra & Chorus of the National Opera of Lyon, Riccardo Minasi
Erato 463656 2 (CD). 2014. Alain Lanceron, Daniel Zalay, prods.; Hugues Deschaux, eng. DDD. TT: 72:15

Corn-fed in Kansas and impeccably schooled in bel canto technique, mezzo Joyce DiDonato was at her absolute peak when, in October 2013, she recorded this recital of 10 operatic arias from early 19th-century Naples. While some of the music is of top quality—prime examples are "Io vi rivedo alfin," from Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, and "Tu sola, o mia Giulietta," from Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi—some lesser-known works are best received as high camp. These include the premiere recording of "Lasciami . . . ad ogni sguardo," from Carlo Valentini's Il sonnambulo, whose melody and lyrics seem worlds apart—and even "Par che me dica ancora," from Donizetti's Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, whose wild, keyboard-played glass harmonica and joyful melody seem distinctly out of sync with the drama's suffering. What matter most, however, are DiDonato's beauty of voice, sincerity of approach, and melding of astounding coloratura technique with a plethora of nuance that gifts every track with consummate artistry. Other artists may be capable of greater emotional range or have a more distinctive sound, but when all is said and sung, DiDonato's phenomenal gifts (enjoyable in hi-rez from HDtracks) are to die for. When she gets going in "Riedi al soglio," from Rossini's Zelmira, prepare to capitulate.

The Portland State Chamber Choir: Into Unknown Worlds
Ethan Sperry, dir.; Erick Lichte, asst dir.
CD Baby 888295153546 (CD). 2014. Erick Lichte, prod.; John Atkinson, eng. DDD. TT: 46:43

This marvelously recorded compendium of "modern choral music from the far reaches of the globe" rises to the top thanks to the quality of its music and singing and to its captivating sense of space. Perhaps taking their cue from the album's title's implied "to boldly go where no man has gone before," Stereophile's John Atkinson (engineer) and Erick Lichte (producer) exploited the reverberant acoustic of Portland, Oregon's St. Stephen's Catholic Church to frame the Portland State Chamber Choir in wondrous warmth and light. While all will have their favorite selections—JA is especially captivated by the surprisingly modern harmonies of Purcell's 400-year-old "Hear my Prayer, O Lord"—I keep returning to the music from Eriks Esenvalds, Latvia's answer to Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen. To balance the choir with the radiant sound of the glockenspiel that emerges near the end of Esenvalds's Northern Lights, JA positioned the instrument at the very rear of the church. The results are magical.

I'm equally entranced by the sweet innocence of the young soprano soloist in "Amazing Grace," whose voice helps soothe the pain of words intended to save a wretch like me or you. Although the choir's execution of Sperry's arrangement of the Indian raga Desh suggests that none of these singers has ever heard someone speak with an Indian accent, the music's upbeat rhythms and energetic outbursts make a fitting conclusion to a wonderful musical journey. I've been spoiled by JA's superb 24/88.2k master mixes, which he occasionally plays at audio shows; here's hoping that he and EL can find a way to make them available for all to enjoy.


Bill Lloyd: Reset 2014
Whole in One (CD). 2014. Bill Lloyd, prod., eng.; Jonathan Bright, Doug Kahan, Jim DeMain, engs. DDD? TT: 59:39

It's not easy to improve on perfection, and that was never the intention. But Bill Lloyd's idea of marking the 20th anniversary of his Set to Pop—perhaps the greatest power-pop album of all time—with a new companion album of its songs, including remakes, live recordings, and early mixes, was most inspired. Presented in their original running order with a couple bonus songs thrown in, song after song on Reset 2014 rings out with fresh energy, like seeing dear old friends with new sparkle in their eyes. STP is so good because every one of its songs is lyrically keen, well crafted, and damn catchy. While the newly minted remake of "I Went Electric" rocks more than the original, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" takes on a softer tone, with piano and jangly mandolin. A live version of the tourist-trap misadventure "Niagara Falls," with its wink at Moe, Larry, and Curly, is grungier and even funnier than the original, while "Anything Less Than Love," one of rock's best album-closers and a wonderful ode to optimism, feels a bit more Beatles-esque in this early mix. Another gem is a live version of "The S.W.A.T. Team of Love," recorded in 1994 at the Ace of Clubs, in Nashville, with Al Kooper on organ and Kim Richey on harmony vocal. As with that joyful reunion with old friends, you just don't want Reset 2014 to end. (For more info, and to get a taste of Reset 2014, visit billlloydmusic.net.)

The Who: By Numbers
MCA MCAD-11493 (CD). 1975/1996. Glyn Johns, orig. prod.; Jon Astley, Andy Macpherson, reissue prods., remix. AAD? TT: 49:51

Released in October 1975, By Numbers was the Who's first studio release following the ultra-ambitious Quadrophenia of two years earlier, and their last before Keith Moon's death. Kind of the Led Zeppelin III of Who albums, it's one of their most understated and underappreciated—and one of their best. Pete Townshend was in an introspective mindset at the time, and while he could lighten things up with ear candy like "Squeeze Box," for most of the rest of this album he went deep. He examines companionship in the chilling "How Many Friends," in which singer Roger Daltrey asks, "How many friends have I really got?" and quickly answers himself: "You can count 'em on one hand." And in the gorgeous "Blue, Red and Grey," Townshend, who sings this song and accompanies himself on ukulele, takes a deep breath and exults in the oft-overlooked beauty that is everywhere, concluding, "I like every minute of the day." The band, especially Moon, sounds superb throughout, abetted on four tracks by the great Nicky Hopkins on piano, who helps accentuate the songs' gentler sides. Bassist and cover artist John Entwistle's "Success Story" is a gem, a prescient three-minute glimpse into the fickle, fleeting realities of rock stardom. The three live bonus tracks are fierce, and include Moon's loopy introduction to "Squeeze Box." Making this stellar CD reissue even better is a fascinating contextual essay by omnipresent journalist John Swenson. And if you're in the market for a Memoir to Die For, check out Townshend's Who I Am. Like much of the Who's best work, it's probing and intensely honest.


Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Ragged Glory
Reprise 26315-2 (CD). 1990. Neil Young, David Briggs, prods.; John Hanlon, eng.; Tim Mulligan, digital eng. DDD. TT: 62:42

It took a lifetime to make this the unlikely choice for my favorite Neil Young album, but if I had to choose only one to take with me to that desert island, it would be this grunge-era masterpiece of rustic metal music. Crazy Horse was locked in behind Young's guitar eruptions and emotive singing throughout these 10 songs, and Young was dealing characteristic observations about skewed life on planet Earth, from the anthemic cry "F*!#in' Up" to the utopian fantasy of "Mansion on the Hill," the raging intensity of "Love to Burn," and the pastoral hymn "Mother Earth." Neil himself showed his preference for this set by including so many of these songs in the set lists for what was probably his final tour with Crazy Horse, two years ago. (XIV-2, XVII-2, XXXII-2)

Davis Rogan: The Once and Future DJ
Sousaphonk 004 (CD). 2005. Tim Stambaugh, prod.; Bruce Bennet, eng. DDD? TT: 73:26

This album is Davis Rogan's answer to a loaded question asked by editors of Louisiana's OffBeat magazine in the early '00s: "Is New Orleans R&B Dead?" The answer is a resounding NO (as in New Orleans). Though he's a pasty-complexioned Irishman, Rogan channels such potentates of New Orleans R&B as Allen Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe, Fats Domino, and Professor Longhair in this all-original set of contemporary R&B classics. The songs are so good that, after listening to the album, TV producer David Simon tracked Davis down to rural France, where his Katrina evacuation tour had taken him, and hired him as a consultant for Treme, Simon's HBO series set in New Orleans. Simon went on to make a character based on Davis one of the central figures in the drama. Songs from this album, including "Hurricane," "I Quit," and "Godzilla vs. MLK," figure prominently in the Treme storyline.

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 !