Records to Die For 2017 Page 2

David R. Adler


Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucía: Passion, Grace & Fire
Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucía, acoustic guitars
Columbia 38645 (LP). 1983. Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucía, prods.; Dennis MacKay, others, engs. AAA. TT: 31:49

Fusion guitar connotes amps cranked to 11, but John McLaughlin was deep into an all-acoustic phase when he partnered with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía for this studio session. It's more than just some of the most pyrotechnic playing you'll hear—there's a wondrous precision and nuance in every light-speed run, contrapuntal flourish, and rippling arpeggio. The compositions (two by each player) all have an enigmatic, chamber-like beauty; McLaughlin's "Aspan" and de Lucía's "Chiquito" are particularly fetching and full of surprise, with echoes of jazz, flamenco, tango, and more. It's a genuine collaboration, not a shredding contest.


Esperanza Spalding: Emily's D+Evolution
Esperanza Spalding, bass, synth bass, piano, vocals; Matthew Stevens, guitar; Justin Tyson, drums; Karriem Riggins, drums, percussion; Corey King, synth, trombone, backing vocals; Emily Elbert, Nadia Washington, others, backing vocals
Concord 7238265 (CD). 2016. Esperanza Spalding, Tony Visconti, prods.; Kyle Hoffman, Tim Price, engs. DDD. TT: 45:44

She could be making perfectly respectable, straight jazz albums, but Esperanza Spalding always shoots for bigger, with steadily more impressive results. This ambitious epic for power trio has a theatrical conceit that adds to its allure. What makes it a masterpiece, however, is its uncanny balance of earworm melodies and thorny musical twists, a feast for both the casual listener and the devotee. The brash, dissonant rock of "One" and "Good Lava," the restrained, grooving lilt of "Rest in Pleasure" and "Judas," the nod to Willy Wonka with a warped "I Want It Now": expression this deep and well conceived is a rare thing. (Vol.39 No.6)

John Atkinson


Finzi: Introit: Orchestral Works & Arrangements
Amy Dickson, soprano & alto saxophones; Nico Fleury, horn; Thomas Gould, violin; Tom Poster, piano; Aurora Orchestra, Nicholas Collon
Decca 0289 478 9357 8 (CD, 24/96 AIFF files). 2016. Alexander van Ingen, prod.; Andrew Mellor, eng., mix, mastering; Robin Hawkins, Claire Hay, asst. engs. DDD. TT: 76:33

"A musical portrait of Finzi without the words he loved so much is no portrait at all," was how one Gramophone critic dismissed this album, echoed by another: "If you're one of those unenlightened souls who dismiss Finzi as a purveyor of generic 'smooth classics,' these arrangements will do nothing to change your mind." Yet since I bought the hi-rez download of Introit, this collection of short instrumental pieces and specially commissioned instrumental arrangements of songs, produced in collaboration with the Finzi Trust "to aid wider appreciation of one of England's best-loved composers," has been in constant rotation. I've been a fan of this very English composer since I first heard the 1964 recording of his cantata Dies Natalis, featuring tenor Wilfred Brown and the ECO conducted by Christopher Finzi, the composer's son. And yes, while Gerald Finzi did have a supreme gift for setting words to music, the soloists in the arrangements of vocal works on this album, saxophonist Amy Dickson in particular, shine a light on his genius from a different, no less worthy direction. Her performance of "Come away, come away death" sends chills down my spine. Musically, this collection succeeds on its own terms. Recorded in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, England, a few blocks from my office when I edited Hi-Fi News & Record Review in the 1980s, the sound is lush, luminous, and richly detailed.


Brahms: Complete Piano Trios
Piano Trios No.1, Op.8 (rev. 1889 version); No.2, Op.87; No.3, Op.101
Christian Tetzlaff, violin; Tanja Tetzlaff, cello; Lars Vogt, piano
Ondine ODE 1271-2D (2 CDs, DSD128 files). 2015. Christoph Franke, prod.; René LaFlamme, eng. DDD. TT: 83:05

In 1990 I produced Intermezzo, one of Stereophile's first recordings: Robert Silverman playing Brahms's Piano Sonata 1 in f, Op.5, and Three Intermezzi, Op.117. As you can see from the opus numbers, the sonata is an early work, the Intermezzi from close to the end of the composer's life, and I was struck by the contrast between them. The sonata is bombastic, filled with notes; the Intermezzi are sparsely written and, as a result, deeper in meaning and, paradoxically, more emotionally powerful. All three of the piano trios on this set are late works—although the original version of the Trio Op.8 was written when Brahms was a young man, the revised version dates from 1889, eight years before his death. And, as in the Intermezzi, the scoring is no more complex than it need be. The performances are intimate rather than overblown, and the recording—I listened to the DSD128 download—sets the three musicians in a richly supportive acoustic, with satisfyingly neutral tonalities and a weighty but not overbearing left-hand piano register. Delicious, Romantic music-making.

Jim Austin


Hank Williams Jr.: Almeria Club Recordings
Curb 78725 (CD). 2002. Hank Williams Jr., Chuck Howard, prods.; Jeff Watkins, eng. DDD? TT: 52:45

My Alabama family has a history of sorts with the Hanks Williams, on both sides. My father grew up on a dirt farm in Banks, Alabama, down an iron-ore–strewn clay road from the Sheppard place, where Audrey Sheppard lived before she married Hank Sr. When he wasn't plowing or pulling peanuts, my father babysat proto-Bocephus (Hank Jr.) once or twice.

On my mother's side, the old homestead—it's still in the family—is a short walk down the street from the Almeria Club, the converted schoolhouse where, at one early performance, Hank and Audrey climbed out a window to escape a brawl. It's where my grandfather's 80th birthday party was held, and many family reunions. It's also where, in early 2001, Hank Jr. made Almeria Club Recordings.

This is not your typical Hank Jr. It's a country/bluegrass jam featuring the great (the entire Nickel Creek lineup of Chris Thile and Sean and Sara Watkins) and the famous (Kid Rock, who, like Bocephus, has a deer-hunting ranch up the road). The playing is superb, including Hank's own, on banjo and dobro: the old boy can play. The whole thing is amazing good fun, and seriously good in the way country blues/bluegrass jams can be. Then the terrorists attacked.

As the album neared release, 9/11 happened, and Hank decided to go into the studio and record "America Will Survive," a remake of his 1981 hit, "Country Boys Can Survive." It's a cringe-worthy song in terrible sound that doesn't belong on this otherwise superb album. It's easy to find used, and was reissued in October 2011.


Jerry Jeff Walker: ¡Viva Terlingua!
MCA MCA-919 (LP). 1973. Michael Brovsky, prod.; Martin Lennard, eng. AAA. TT: 37:43

I'm not in London and haven't spent much time in Texas, but New York City is similar enough, and south Alabama and rural Florida have armadillos, too. This is the album that contains the definitive live version of Ray Wiley Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall, Red Neck." There's nothing fancy here—no mandolin virtuosos or fiddlers who can also play Bach—just drunken revelry and homesick lonesome fun. Listen on LP if you can—or, better still, on the AM radio in an old pickup truck. The latter might be hard to arrange, but used copies of the LP still pop up in record stores.

Robert Baird


The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons
Decca SKL 4852 (LP). 1967. Andrew Loog Oldham, prod.; no eng. listed. AAA. TT: 38:42


The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet
Decca SLK 4955 (LP). 1968. Jimmy Miller, prod.; Eddie Kramer, Glyn Johns, engs. AAA. TT: 39:47

Let's call it preventive record buying. As the toll from the musician death-plague year of 2016 mounts, several similarly obsessed friends and I have begun buying new and vintage LPs by music icons over 65—just in case. Sir Paul and Ringo, Stevie Wonder, Jagger and Richards—all fit squarely in that category. Listening to Stones records sent me back into the band's late-1960s catalog, to a time when Between the Buttons and Beggars Banquet bristled with fascinating clues about what the band was about to become: rock superstars who'd make a trio of classic records between 1969 and 1972—Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. This pair of LPs also features some of the last audible contributions of the then increasingly troubled Brian Jones. Both records have been remastered several times for various reissues, but I still prefer the sound of the original British LP pressings. The 2002 SACDs, digitally remastered by Steve Rosenthal and mastered by Bob Ludwig, are also very good.

Frequently slagged for being too faux psychedelic (fuzz guitars, odd percussive effects, lots of arty open space) and trying too hard to emulate the Beatles—which perhaps was true—Between the Buttons is still a sort of secret pleasure for serious Stones fans. Almost folky in spots, it's the last record where you can hear the '60s band struggling to find their groove and the sound that would make them '70s rock royalty. The original UK version of the album contained no obvious hits (the US edition includes "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday"), but greasy, sloppy, rocked-up numbers like "All Sold Out" presage "Midnight Rambler," not to mention such Exile fare as "Tumbling Dice." While "Connection" is the rocker, the album's star track is "My Obsession," with its great fuzzed-out bass riff. In "Who's Been Sleeping Here?," Jagger finds the voice and loud/soft delivery that would later make "Sister Morphine" so effective. And the band's ode to a groupie, "Miss Amanda Jones," with its Kinks-like chorus of "Round and round she goes," is the first of the many Stonesy portraits of females in song that were to come.

Beggars Banquet opens with the African drums and Jagger's primate yowls of "Sympathy for the Devil," and it's immediately clear that a new confidence and more aggressive attitude are suddenly ascendant. "Dear Doctor" is one of the band's best country honks, a subgenre that would continue until "Faraway Eyes." "Jig-Saw Puzzle," with its jaunty piano and keening guitars, is a forerunner of the otherworldly sound that makes Exile such a classic. "Salt of the Earth" is the rare Stones number in which both principals sing. While the cover of Rev. Robert Wilkins's "Prodigal Son," a traditional blues, is heartfelt, the Jagger-Richards original "Stray Cat Blues" is a first-class blues-rock tune that's been covered by numerous other artists. Then there's "Street Fighting Man," the first of many Stones anthems that would elicit fist pumping, hip shakin', and adoration for a band that, despite a lot of shaky records in their catalog, have made their share of masterpieces and continue to write and record music even as the Glimmer Twins enter their mid-70s. Wasn't it Jagger who said he'd prefer death to singing "Satisfaction" at age 45?

Larry Birnbaum


The Seeds: The Seeds
GNP Crescendo GNPD 2023 (CD). 1966/2005. Sky Saxon, Marcus Tybalt, prods.; Chuck Britz, Lanky Linstrot, Mike Durrough, engs. ADD? TT: 34:44

Poised somewhere between garage and acid rock, this Los Angeles–based quartet, augmented by a studio bassist, packs a raw, raunchy punch in its debut album. Fuzz-tone guitar vamps, oddly tinkling keyboards, pummeling drums, and a chorus of wailing band members frame songwriter Sky Saxon's gritty, yelping lead vocals as he aggressively bemoans his love/hate relationships with women. Included is the group's only national hit, "Pushin' Too Hard," but similarly bitter, angry songs—"No Escape," "Excuse, Excuse," and the fierce "Evil Hoodoo"—are no less potent. Unfortunately, The Seeds comes packaged with the band's second album, the mellower Web of Sound.


Count Basie: The Complete Decca Recordings
Decca Jazz 611 (3 mono CDs). 1937–39/2015. Bob Stephens, Orrin Keepnews, prods. A–D. TT: 3:05:28

Perhaps the ultimate early Basie collection, this one extends from January 1937, shortly after the bandleader's arrival in New York from Kansas City, to February 1939, whereupon he switched labels, from Decca to Columbia. Tracing his musical evolution from riff-driven head arrangements to sleekly polished charts, it features such big-band classics as "Honeysuckle Rose," "One O'Clock Jump," "Jumpin' at the Woodside," and "Cherokee," along with several bluesy small-combo sides. The star soloists include saxophonists Lester Young and Herschel Evans, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Harry "Sweets" Edison, trombonists Eddie Durham and Dickie Wells, and singers Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes. The rhythm section—Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass, Jo Jones on drums, and Basie himself on piano—virtually defined swing.

Thomas Conrad


Francesco Cafiso: 3
Francesco Cafiso, alto saxophone, flute; 33 members of the London Symphony Orchestra; 21 others
Artist First ALF 007-8-9 (3 CDs). 2014. Alfredo Lo Faro, prod.; Ricardo Piparo, Gary Thomas, Tony Maimone, engs. DDD? TT: 2:04:28

At 15, Francesco Cafiso was an astonishing child prodigy of the alto saxophone who made otherwise rational people think about Charlie Parker and reincarnation. But critics worried whether he could grow beyond bebop. It happened in 2014, when Cafiso was 25, with this epic three-CD set. He had never been a notable composer, but 3 contains 29 vivid new songs, many inspired by the traditional music of his native Sicily. It also contains new levels of virtuosity, passion, aggression, and freedom in his saxophone playing. This album allows Cafiso to assume his rightful place as the best alto saxophonist in jazz.


Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra: Coming About
Maria Schneider, composer, arr., conductor; 18-piece orchestra
Enja ENJ-9069 2/ArtistShare AS0087 (CD). 1996/2008. Maria Schneider, prod.; Jim Anderson, eng. DDD. TT: 67:48

In the new millennium, Maria Schneider's albums have won numerous "Record of the Year" and Grammy awards, and have established her as the foremost composer and jazz-orchestra leader of our time. Her second recording, Coming About, made before she was famous, has a fresh magic all its own. By 1996, her touch with pastel colors was already flawless. Her pieces already unfolded with extraordinary patience, as unhurried as looming clouds. In a three-part suite like Scenes from Childhood, she was already able to employ orchestral sweep and complexity to render intimate autobiography. And she already had world-class soloists, the greatest of whom is Rich Perry.

BradleyP's picture

If you like Jon Iverson's recommendation of Tikiyaki Orchestra, you'll also like "The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter." Only it's 50 years older. It's one of those 50s recordings that leaves you shaking your head convinced that stereo recording hasn't gotten ANY better since then. It's a beauty.

dalethorn's picture

Interesting collection! It sounds almost like they used a different studio for each track, so you not only get a different composition each time, but a different presentation too. BTW, the Baxter album in question is one of the most highly reviewed albums on Amazon.

Bluejimbop's picture

We lost the universally admired Bobby Hutcherson in August of 2016.

Allen Fant's picture

Another great list of recordings. Stick with R2D4.

alank's picture

I picked up a quad pressing several years ago in great condition which was manufactured in Germany.I had an sq
set in the 70's.I still have a cartridge for four channel with a shibata stylus.I'm thinking of perusing ebay for a decoder for sq.The record sounds great in stereo and I might plug it into my home theater receiver and see how it sounds in surround mode.

Mrubey's picture

For those of us lucky enough to live in the Texas Hill Country this album is one of our treasures. Back in the day I played it until the grooves wore out. I have always assumed that the elderly right hand on the cover belonged to Johnny "Hondo" Crouch. Hondo owned Luckenbach and was the spiritual inspiration to much of the Texas creative impulse of the time. I was blessed to have known Hondo when I was just a boy. His influence has never left me. I can still picture him whittling a ball inside a cage while chewing plug tobacco and opening doors to secret worlds in a oak leaf. Hondo let me know that there are such a things as magical people in the world. It is due to him that my faith in humanity has endured.

freejazz00's picture

What serious record collector or audiophile would leave records un-sleeved sitting flat on the floor? This is not a well-thought-out image for a Stereophile article.


That's how cats get to appreciate your LPs.

Bluejimbop's picture

Liquor is a harsh mistress.

Herb Reichert's picture

Hello John Swenson . . . interesting pairing. Way back in the 1970s in New York City, Mark Bingham (post Indiana pre-New Orleans), hung with old friend Kevin Teare (MX-80 Sound) and my artist/painter gang in Tribeca. Late late nights Mark would play the Meters, Longhair, and the Nevilles. Mark, Kevin, and Brian Kelly turned me on to a lot of the music I love now. That's is one of the ways music binds us all together.

Anon2's picture

I have seen this periodic summary before. While the assessment has always been excellent, the Stereophile staff has assembled the broadest, and most interesting, range of recordings that I've seen yet.

I look forward to seeing this line-up in greater detail. I also look forward to purchasing some of these recordings.

For fans of the Tiki-torch orchestra, Youtube put this full album of a related theme in the "you might like this" section of their webpage. It appears to be another classic of the late 1950s early 1960s exotica:

gbroagfran's picture


Should this be titled

"records that died 30 years ago?"

rschryer's picture

Great music floats above the pap-du-jour to live on indefinitely. That's how you know for sure it's a R2D4.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Not only is Robert Schryer's comment about the timelessness of music right on, but I'm afraid you've missed a helluva lot of the listings. The first page alone has 4 recent issues, and one newly available historical issue. The second page has 5 recent issues, plus several newly available remasterings that show the music in best light. The third page has four new recordings, and others that are certainly less than 30 years old. My two choices are of retired classical sopranos, one now dead, who have never sounded this good since their original LP issues... which is to say, that the digital engineering has finally begun to catch up to the original analog sound.

gbroagfran's picture

What I meant by new music is not a recording that is from 1967 and reissued. I mean new music, that which has been written and recorded in the past year or two. Something that someone younger than 60 might have heard of.

rschryer's picture

You like to exaggerate, don't you?

gbroagfran's picture

Well, I am on cheap, crappy drugs, so I guess I must have hallucinated that new would mean a year or two old.

Maybe to you, records to die for means new copies of the same old stuff, but not for me. I already have lots of classic rock and jazz albums. The records to die for in my life are the ones that make me stand up and say," Wow, what was that?" It isn't the job of these reviewers to find just technically good records, but stuff you have never seen or heard. They are record reviewers, but apparently, not very adventurous.

rschryer's picture

"The records to die for in my life are the ones that make me stand up and say," Wow, what was that?"
Couldn't agree more. It's exactly what I asked myself when I heard Paul Messenger's R2D4 pick of The Incredible String Band's 5000 Spirits... album. It came out in 1967.

gbroagfran's picture

Ah, 1967. I had a Weathers turntable, old dual-mono tube electronics and custom speakers. I also had two hits of good acid, a handful of joints, a cute, furry hippie gal with no underwear and every record the String Band had made. I still have the records. I like them. That's my point. Now, in 2017, for "oldies", I want to hear Hank Three and Kammerflimmer Kollecteif.

In the last couple of months, I have purchased vinyl by the following artists;

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Goat, Kadaver, Dave Alvin, Seasick Steve, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Fat Boy Slim, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Doc Pomus, SCOTS, and a compilation of 40s-50s voodoo music from the Caribbean.

What have your purchased that might interest the readers?

rschryer's picture

As a music lover, I enjoy the familiarity of the old and discovering the new. But here's the thing, as far as I'm concerned: It's all about context. This segment is called R2D4, not Album that Caught My Fancy in 2017. There's a weightiness at play here that I think should not be overlooked.

I believe that for a record to merit the distinction of being one to die for, hyperbole aside, its music has to have proven itself with the listener/R2D4 judge OVER TIME. Like true love.

The albums you've listed may be great, but will they stand the test of time FOR YOU? Those that continue to find a place in your heart over, say, a 10 year period, will have earned their nomination as a R2D4. The rest, however fun they may have been to listen to in the spring of 2016 but never again, will not.

Bottom line: I believe that time is of the essence when it comes to choosing one's R2D4.

gbroagfran's picture

1. I clearly stated that I like the Incredible String Band and have listened to their albums for 50 years. I have been a stereo fan since 1959. I have seen more than most.

2. Hundreds of other albums, none of which appear on these lists, have stood the test of time of 5-50 years for me, but most audiophiles have never heard of them because they only listen to 100 albums, over and over. They are generally looking for the records that make their systems sound better. My system exists to make my records, all of them, sound better.

3. How about a "rule" that a piece of music can only appear once on these lists? Once a record has appeared, you can easily go back and look at the previous years' lists. Personally, I find almost all remixes and remastered records worse than the originals. Elvis should sound like he is coming out of a car radio. Pink Floyd should sound very loud, bass and 60's. Phoebe Snow should be played on a Quad system from the 70's. That's historically relevant.

rschryer's picture

"My system exists to make my records, all of them, sound better." This statement, as far as my experience goes, better sums up the audiophile ethos than your 100-album cliche that precedes it.

And again, R2D4 is not a list of arbitrary album reviews. It represents albums that are, for personal and unique reasons, meaningful to those who picked them. On this basis, it wouldn't be fair to prohibit a writer from listing a R2D4 because someone else beat him or her to the punch.

gbroagfran's picture

My friend has a collection of 60,000 records. Even he says he listens to the same 100 over and over. Everyone does.

rcwortman's picture

I bought the Cecile McLorin Salvant record that two people recommended months ago after I ran accross a rave review from MF. Once again I was disappointed by audiophile approved vinyl. The record had areas in it that were inexcusably noisy for a new pressing and frankly the music left me flat. Old standards reinterpreted and stylistically butchered to the point of being unrecognizable are not my cup of tea. I need to find someone who likes this sort of melodically jarring wretchedness to give it away to.