Records to Die For 2018 Page 3

Thomas Conrad


Stefano Battaglia: Pelagos
Stefano Battaglia, piano, prepared piano
ECM 2570/71 (2 CDs). 2017. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Stefano Amerio, eng. DDD. TT: 2:11:59

With regard to R2D4 eligibility, my rule has been that albums are like wine: They must be allowed to age before they can achieve distinction. Stefano Battaglia's new solo recording is a necessary exception. It is a single imaginative arc, motivated by the plight of the refugees who have been flooding into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, fleeing war, oppression, and famine. Many have been refused entry. Many have died on the way. Battaglia's piano markings on silence are devastating in their beauty and sadness. Pelagos is a concept album that transcends its concept and becomes universal. We are all exiles from something or somewhere. We all seek asylum.


Miles Davis Quintet: Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival
Miles Davis, trumpet; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Tony Williams, drums
Monterey Jazz Festival MJFR-30310 (CD). 1963/2007. Jason Olaine, Nick Phillips, prods.; Wally Heider, eng. ADD. TT: 52:07

In 2007, Monterey Jazz Festival Records was launched with much fanfare. It was supposed to become an ongoing series, drawn from an archive of 2000 hours of music recorded at the festival. Only a few titles ever appeared, but one is a masterpiece. "Autumn Leaves" and "So What" and "Walkin'" are here in their most advanced states of creative license, preserved just before Miles Davis moved on from this repertoire. Drop-dead solos keep coming from Ron Carter (arco), Herbie Hancock in the bloom of youth, 17-year-old savant Tony Williams, and criminally underrated George Coleman. Miles is dug in deep, especially in "Stella by Starlight," with its profound silences. The live outdoor sound is workable.

Jana Dagdagan


Keola & Kapono Beamer: Honolulu City Lights
Paradise Productions 808 (LP). 1978. Teddy Randazzo, arr., conducting, prod. AAA. TT: 30:31

"Honolulu City Lights," the song this album is centered around, and the Beamer Brothers' most popular hit single, is a comforting mix of old and new—musically akin to downtown Honolulu of the 1970s, now and perhaps forever. Keola and Kapono Beamer (the Beamer Brothers) are part of a group of iconic musicians who helped to build a solid foundation for what we now refer to as "Hawaiian music." I've spent far too many nights ironically driving around downtown Honolulu while listening to this album. Fun fact: The Carpenters heard "Honolulu City Lights" while vacationing in Hawaii, and later released their own cover of the song, in 1986. (I think the original is better.)


Joe Hisaishi: Hisaishi Meets Miyazaki Films
Milan 399 613-2 (LP). 2008/2014. Joe Hisaishi, compositions, arr. AAA? TT: 42:51

Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese animator, manga artist, film producer, and cofounder of the legendary Studio Ghibli, is undoubtedly one of the greatest animation legends of all time. The beauty of his work is a combination of the sheer scale of his worlds (on a par with the likes of Tolkien, Rowling, and Disney), the use of advanced animation beyond its time, and deeply beautiful stories that continue to warm the hearts of people of all ages—a rare feat for animated films to do on the scale that Miyazaki does it. Of course, this impact would not be possible without the work of Joe Hisaishi, who scores Miyazaki's movies. Hisaishi Meets Miyazaki Films is a compilation of epic orchestral hits from Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Porco Rosso.

Brian Damkroger


Jackson Browne: Solo Acoustic Vol.1
Inside INR5251-2 (CD). 2005. Jackson Browne, prod.; Paul Dieter, prod., eng.; RJ DeSanto, Bill Lane, engs. DDD. TT: 70:36

Singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne, offset with slighter harder rock bands—say, AC/DC—made up the soundtrack of my formative years. But as the years went on, Browne's albums spent less and less time on my turntables, and somewhere along the line disappeared altogether. Then, one day last summer, Pandora delivered an acoustic version of "Running on Empty." Wow, talk about a shock to the system! I immediately tracked down and bought this CD and listened to it twice, front to back. When I thought about it a little later, it hit me that Solo Acoustic wasn't just a trip down memory lane—it was a flat-out great performance and recording.


Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Nine Tonight
Capitol STBK-12182 (2 LPs). 1981. Bob Seger, prod.; Bill Hewitt, eng. AAA. TT: 78:30

Between Live Bullet and Nine Tonight, it was a tough choice. I ended up choosing the latter because, being born and raised on a ranch in Nebraska, and having a wife born and raised in L.A., "Hollywood Nights" has always made me smile. Well, the first three verses, anyway. By 1980, Bob Seger was successful enough to focus on his singing, and had tweaked his Silver Bullet Band into a unit good enough to nail absolutely everything, all while creating the feeling of a rough-and-tumble neighborhood bar. Great songs, great performances, and better-than-average sound come together to make Nine Tonight the album I go to when I feel like rocking.

Robert Deutsch


Dean Martin: This Time I'm Swingin'!
Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD2135 (SACD/CD). 1960/2013. Lee Gillette, prod.; Rob LoVerde, eng. ADD. TT: 33:47

On being chosen 2009 Vocalist of the Year by Musical America, the great mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, whose repertoire extends from Wagner to Offenbach, was asked about her influences. She said that, as a student, her absolute role model had been Plácido Domingo, but that "right now I listen to one singer all the time: Dean Martin." Commenting on Blythe's ability to handle a variety of musical styles, Anthony Tomassini, wrote, in the New York Times, "even in her big Verdi and Wagner roles she sings with vocal ease and no trace of forcing." Sounds like a description of Dean Martin's singing.

The match of Nelson Riddle's arrangements for this recording, and Martin's relaxed, oh-so-cool style is perfect. Martin does a particularly good job with "Just in Time," which he sang in the film version of Bells Are Ringing, making me wish he'd done more musicals. Mobile Fidelity has done an excellent job of mastering.


Various Artists: Decca Sound: 55 Great Vocal Recitals
Decca 478 9670 (55 CDs). 1950–2011/2016. Many prods., engs. ADD/DDD. TT: 69:56:40

The review by Jason Victor Serinus piqued my interest: a 55-CD boxed set of vocal recitals for about $2 a disc. How could I lose? I took a chance—and it's paid off! I haven't yet listened to every disc—including all the bonus material, the total time comes to 70 hours. However, dipping in here and there, I have yet to be disappointed. Some great singers are represented in this set, in most cases in recordings made early in their careers, with a freshness of voice they later struggled to maintain. Decca has been most generous in including bonus material with almost every disc—usually excerpts from complete recordings of operas, some of them no longer in print. Given the period represented (1950–2011), the recording quality varies, and some of it is mono—but the voices always come through loud and clear.

Art Dudley


Elliott Smith: Either/Or: Expanded Edition
Kill Rock Stars KRS620 (2 LPs). 1997/2017. Elliott Smith, Tom Rothrock, Rob Schnapf, prods., engs.; Joanna Bolme, Larry Crane, Greg DiGesu, engs. ??A. TT: 70:25

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, who died in 2003 at the age of 34 (the coroner's report left open the question of whether his death was a homicide or suicide), crafted memorable, sharply drawn lyrics—a frequent subject was dependence, on other people as on drugs and alcohol—set against chord sequences of remarkable ingenuity and beauty, and performed with a whispery, decidedly fragile-sounding voice. His earliest recordings were basic in the extreme, made mostly in his own living room and in low-budget studios—as it is here, on his third album, made and released in 1997 and reissued in 2017 with live performances, alternate takes, and previously unreleased material. Among the last is "I Figured You Out," an acoustic-guitar-and-harmonium-driven song with an uncannily insightful lyric and a hook-laden melody: It alone is worth the price of admission.

On its original release, Either/Or attracted considerable attention, most notably from filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who included three of its songs in the soundtrack for Good Will Hunting—and the rest, as they say, is history. Smith went on to record two more albums during his lifetime. The more polished XO (1998) is also indispensable, but the raw, decidedly lo-fi Either/Or remains his most moving work—and, at times, his most harrowing.


The Electric Light Orchestra: The Electric Light Orchestra
Harvest/EMI SHVL 797 (LP). 1971. Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, prods. AAA. TT: 41:16

Less cool than this Birmingham, UK, trio's last album as the Move—Message from the Country (1971), also a Record to Die For—but no less inspired, is their first as the Electric Light Orchestra. It would also be the last time guitarist-pianist Jeff Lynne and multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood would work together, the former emerging as ELO's de facto leader while the latter went on to form the octet Wizzard, a UK hit machine that failed to earn a following in the US. If your knowledge of ELO is limited to "Evil Woman," "Rockaria," and "Sweet Talkin' Woman," this brilliantly conceived and surprisingly raw take on classical rock deserves your attention. The rehabilitation of Jeff Lynne is long overdue.

Incidentally, this eponymous debut album was released in the US by United Artists with a very different title born of a clerical error: A secretary at UA was asked to call the band's UK label, Harvest Records, to determine what title to print on the record labels and jacket spine. Failing to get a reply, she left a note to that effect for her boss—who, on seeing the cover art and its photo of an empty room, didn't think twice about calling it No Answer.

Frank Larsen's picture

“Magnificat” by Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir
“Arktis.” by Ihsahn

volvic's picture

I have the Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky and although fine, it still is a bit tame compared to other rival interpretations. But that's just me.

rustybutt's picture

One of my go-to records for listening to system detail is this Scott Hamilton recording. You can't listen to something again and again if you don't fall in love in the first 4 bars and this is it. Take a listen to (flac format)

That's All

hnickm's picture

Some of these albums I have; some I have never heard, but will explore.

May I humbly suggest Neil Young's After the Gold Rush be added.

Jerry Garcia's picture

Lindsey Webster's Back to your Heart. What a voice! Phenomenal recording on Shanachie SH5445

romath's picture

Listening right now. Nice for dancing. However, whether or not she can sing - hard to tell from the title song - the music sounds like a zillion other songs on for quite some time on smooth jazz radio and many pop stations. Would like to hear something original from her.

lowcost plentymusic's picture

Start selling low cost musical instruments and digital sound processing and recording for the general market. Today's digital technologies are produced at next to nothing costs and can be sold worldwide. Every young folks can now produce an album and post it in a website for almost no money. Digital studio monitors and every recording devises cost less than a thousands.. Do you realize how much money it cost them to produce pink Floyd the wall ??? now stop this game and produce as good albums as yes, emerson lake and palmer or pink Floyd and put that on the market. For a living any musicians and album producers can keep their daily jobs in restaurants or factories and work late at night and on week ends at home and just transfert their tracks to each other and record at home with headphones. If ever the material is good than show it on free hdtv antenna television channels so we gonna record it for free at home and remove all publicity

RVCJJ3J's picture

I realize I’m way late to this conversation but still felt as if I must respond to the Tom Petty picks for ‘Albums to Die For’. While the above mentioned are great picks I’ve recently been going for Petty’s 1994 solo masterpiece Wildflowers. Another gem recorded at the legendary Sound City in Los Angeles. The album was produced by Petty, Mike Campbell and, notably, Rick Rubin. Like some of Rubin’s other recordings, I’m thinking of the Johnny Cash American Records and some of the Avett Bros. stuff, these tracks are stripped to their minimums yet still carry weight ‘like a Mack truck’. This album of great songs were exceptionally recorded, mixed and mastered and are one of the ‘Albums I’d Die For’.

Bkhuna's picture

I zipped over to Tidal to give "The Yellow Moon of Andalusia" a listen. Thought it was a long lost Frank Zappa recording.