Listening #3 Page 2

Records To Die From
Burt Bacharach: Casino Royale(soundtrack), with Herb Alpert & his Tijuana Brass, Colgems COSO 5005
There are many sad things in audio, but the saddest of all is the image of grown men paying hundreds of dollars for an out-of-print album of bad game-show music: Can't you just imagine almost any of these tracks behind a television announcer as he oils his way through a list of consolation prizes? ("Well, Chuck, from Samsonite we have a beautiful five-piece set...")

The album's single exception, the late Dusty Springfield singing Bacharach and David's "The Look of Love," is nice but hardly worth the price of an average CD, let alone the crazy prices this overhyped cow flop has been known to command.

Leroy Anderson: The Music of Leroy Anderson, Frederick Fennell, Eastman-Rochester Pops Orchestra, Mercury 289 432 013 2
In the 1950s and '60s, evil movie-theater owners tortured children by attracting them to Saturday matinees, then delaying the show while they played light classical music over the sound system: the kind of fey crap that would make the devil himself beg for a bottle of sleeping pills. Leroy Anderson's "The Syncopated Clock" and "Fiddle Faddle" are a little worse than that.

As if that weren't enough, The Music of Leroy Anderson, like so many other Mercury classical albums, sports a cover that makes the compact disc and its miniature sleeve seem like a good idea: The centerpiece is a hideous stuffed cat with a human face, juxtaposed against a pale mint background that screams "1960s" more loudly than sack suits and hairspray. Holy cripes.

Various Artists: The Sheffield Track Record, Sheffield Labs LAB-20
The Sheffield Track Record is to rock music as "Fiddle Faddle" is to classical: It uses some of the same instruments, but that's about all. The playing is soullessly slick in a way that suggests the musicians spent most of the rest of their time playing jingles and giving lessons at the local music store, and the compositions themselves are so witless and uninspired they don't even deserve to be called "product."

As a surprise bonus, the recording isn't even that good: I could name literally hundreds of rock records, from indies to the major labels and everything in between, that sound better—and so, I'll bet, could you.

Dick Schory: Music for Bang, Ba-ROOM, and Harp, RCA Living Stereo LSP-1866
I feel guilty in a way for slagging this admittedly superb recording of undiluted nerd music, if only out of sadness for the fact that an album like this could never get made today—at least not by a major company like RCA. As it was, the musicians and producers behind MFBB&H returned a number of times to the scene of this crime.

Still, Schory's recordings should and would have faded away for good if not for the "discovery," decades later, that they contained "greater stage depth at the extreme left and right than we heretofore dreamed possible." Or something.

Mark P. Wetch: Ragtime Razzmatazz, Wilson Audio (no catalog number)
Come back, Dick Schory. All is forgiven.

Did I call Music for Bang, Ba-ROOM, and Harp "nerd music"? Sorry. That was before I remembered this stinker—a razor-sharp, kissing-close recording of that most cloying of instruments, the tack piano. In light of an album like Ragtime Razzmatazz, Dick Schory sounds moody and cerebral.

Don't feel bad if your stereo doesn't transport you to a different place: If it did, the people who live there would beat you up for listening to this.

Dishonorable Mentions: Few things smell up a room as effectively as the tone-challenged saxophone solo in Donald Johanos and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's recording of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (Vox Turnabout TV 34145S). Although the performance as a whole isn't out-and-out dreadful, much better ones are easy to find (try Ashkenazy—as conductor—on London), some sounding just as good in their own way (try Goossens on Everest). And Jazz at the Pawnshop (Proprius PRCD 7779) deserves every rotten thing that has been, or ever will be, said about it: If you're out shopping for hi-fi gear and a salesman suggests giving it a spin, go someplace else.

I'm a big Phil Ochs fan, although I think that his mid-period records fall short of the brilliance of his early ones—but only because so many of the otherwise effective songs on those later albums are hobbled by wretchedly inappropriate arrangements, many featuring what can only be described as Carpenteresque (as in Richard, not John) piano. But don't take my word: Listen for yourself to 1967's Pleasures of the Harbor (A&M SP 4133) and 1969's Rehearsals for Retirement (A&M SP 4181) and see what you think. If you agree that the arrangements are overwrought, overplayed, and just plain stinky...well, there you go: Not much we can do about it, Phil being dead and all.

But if you listen to those records and find yourself wishing for less Phil and more filler, then you might actually enjoy the recordings that the pianist assigned to Ochs, one Lincoln Mayorga, went on to make for the record label he co-founded, Sheffield Labs. Your choices would include Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues, Vol.III, The Missing Linc, and Growing Up in Hollywood Town. Please, help yourself.

NB: Not all audiophile labels really are audiophile labels. Just because a record company is small and pays attention to sound quality, that doesn't mean they can't sell good music. Chesky Records has a roster that includes the great David Johansen, a man incapable of making a boring record; and on the classical side, Chesky also happens to have the best Schmidt Symphony 4 in the catalog (Chesky CD143, with Martin Sieghart and the Bruckner Orchester Linz). And my colleague John Marks has produced a number of irreplaceable albums on his own, eponymous record label, many featuring violinist Arturo Delmoni, whose skill and exquisite tone place him in the first rank of contemporary players (which for me also includes England's brilliant Tasmin Little, who has the added advantage of being beautiful).