Records to Die For 2018 Page 4

Michael Fremer


Cécile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers
Cécile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass, arr.; Lawrence Leathers, drums. With: Sullivan Fortner, piano; Catalyst String Quartet.
Mack Avenue MAC 1120 (3 LPs). 2017. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Al Pryor, prods.; Todd Whitelock, Damon Whittemore, engs.; Kevin Gray, disc cutting. DDA. TT: 112:11

Jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant "arrived" by winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition (after almost not submitting an entry), after which she released two superb albums on Mack Avenue, the second nabbing the 2016 Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy. This set, recorded live at the Village Vanguard, is destined to join Bill Evans's two live Vanguard albums as a classic of performance and sound. McLorin Salvant and her trio nimbly skip through breezy American Songbook chestnuts like "Never Will I Marry" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance" with mischievous delight, while the singer infuses the darker numbers with a gravitas well beyond her years.


Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest
Acony ACNY 1109LP (LP). 2011/2017. David Rawlings, prod.; Matt Andrews, eng. AAA. TT: 46:01

Recorded on magnetic tape but originally released only on CD, this übernaturally recorded album of "modern sounds in Appalachian balladry" combines the dark, tragic themes found in traditional music with more modern subject matter. Click here to hear a needle drop of "The Way It Goes," a song about drug addiction, escape, loss, failure, and rejection, which Gillian Welch sings with wry resignation. Skillfully played, sung, and recorded, and sumptuously packaged in a gatefold sleeve, this album sets a high bar for a vinyl release. Why vinyl? After years of listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks on CD, they found an original vinyl copy and were shocked by what they'd been missing. (Vol.35 No.2, Vol.36 No.2)

Larry Greenhill


Eriks Esenvalds: The Doors of Heaven
The First Tears, Rivers of Light, A Drop in the Ocean, Passion and Resurrection
Ethan Sperry, Portland State Chamber Choir; instrumentalists
Naxos 8.579008 (CD, 24/88.2 AIFF master files). 2017. Erick Lichte, prod.; John Atkinson, Doug Tourtelot, engs. DDD. TT: 58:52

Robert Levine, in his review of the October 2017 issue's Bonus Recording of the Month, praised this collection of choral works by Eriks Esenvalds for its "flawless engineering," and found that "its organic balance of shouts and whispers is quite a feat." John Atkinson masterfully served as the recording engineer for three of the works, and later circulated a digital copy of the recording's master files to Stereophile's contributing editors. The First Tears won the most praise. The work requires choristers to precisely maintain pitches to achieve minute but oh-so-clear shifts between consonance and dissonance. Native American flutes are used sparingly in a retelling of an Inuit folk tale of Raven and the Whale. Other selections capture the hall ambience, the space between the soloists, and their precise positions on a wide soundstage. The contrast between "intimate whisperings" and a thunderous mix of full chorus and 32Hz drums reveals remarkable dynamic range. (Vol.40 No.10)


Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kijé Suite, Symphony 2
David Clatworthy, baritone; Erich Leinsdorf, Boston Symphony Orchestra.
RCA LSC-3061 (LP). 1969. Richard Mohr, prod.; Anthony Salvatore, eng. TT: 50:07

Lieutenant Kijé reveals Prokofiev's musical wit in this more tuneful, less complex suite excerpted from music originally composed for a humorous film set in the 1800s: Due to a typographical error in a communiqué, Czar Paul I comes to believe in the existence of a nonexistent officer, Lieutenant Kijé. The film shows the fantastic subterfuges his staff resorts to to provide the Czar with Kijé's complete but fictitious military career, and the music includes wedding music and military marches. This LP provides good examples of the "brass blattiness" that Stereophile's late founder, J. Gordon Holt, always found so involving. The warmth and full tonalities of baritone soloist David Clatworthy are clearly heard in the Romance and Troika. Also included is Prokofiev's Symphony 2. At these 1968 sessions, engineer Anthony Salvatore captured the full dynamics and pace of this orchestral work.

Steve Guttenberg


John Mellencamp: No Better Than This: Thirteen New Songs
Rounder 11661 3284 2 (CD). 2010. T Bone Burnett, prod.; Paul Mahern, eng. ADD. TT: 53:49

John Mellencamp's career has had its ups and downs, but there's no doubting he's in it for the long haul. You probably bopped your head to his radio-friendly hits "Jack and Diane" and "Hurts So Good," but No Better Than This is a woefully underappreciated, sweat-soaked, blood-on-the-tracks collection. It was recorded in part in Sam Phillips's Sun Studio, in Memphis, with the ghosts of Howlin' Wolf and Elvis Presley bouncing off the walls, and in part in the San Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson cut "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom." The tunes are all Mellencamp's, and it feels as if he's put some miles on 'em.


John Beasley: Monk'estra Vol.1
John Beasley, piano, synthesizer, arr.; large ensemble
Mack Avenue MAC 1113 (CD). 2016. John Beasley, Ran Pink, Gavin Lurssen, prods.; Joshua Stuebe, Samon Rajabnik, Scott Moore, engs. DDD? TT: 54:16

The very first jazz record I bought was Thelonious Monk's Big Band and Quartet in Concert; every day, when I came home from high school, I couldn't wait to play it. John Beasley's Monk'estra Vol.1 had a similar effect on me—Beasley's rip-roaring horn charts for his Crescent City big band catapult Monk's music into the 21st century. I'm no musician, but Monk's tunes sound as if they're a joy to play, and Beasley's band is having a ball. I just hope some 14-year-old kids out there are finding their ways into Monk's music with this CD.

Jon Iverson


Lydia Ainsworth: Darling of the Afterglow
Arbutus ABT053 (16/44.1k Bandcamp download). 2017. Lydia Ainsworth, prod., eng.; David Krystal, Jim-E Stack, prods.; Christ Kasych, eng. DDD. TT: 40:46

It's one of those albums that immediately has you calling out the influences: Kate Bush, Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs, Peter Gabriel, even Bulgarian Voices. Ainsworth is classically trained, yet reveals modernist tendencies that veer toward pop but luckily never quite get there. And this album is very well made: the better your system, the better it will sound. The centerpiece is easily "Afterglow," which will challenge all but the most robust speakers and rooms with its spectacularly engineered bottom end and soundstage, and has become my in-house demo track of the year. There's even an odd cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." Ainsworth sings, "To play it safe is not to play at all." So true.


Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: The Punishment of Luxury
100% Records/White Noise 100CD66 (24/44.1k Bandcamp download). 2017. OMD, prods., engs. DDD. TT: 42:07

Some of us still believe in the synth-pop future laid out by Kraftwerk so many decades ago. And though their groundbreaking formula has mutated in unexpected ways (obvious examples: hip-hop, techno, house), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are one of the torchbearers who still manage to put out great electronic albums that hew close to the original impulse. Love 'em or hate 'em, OMD sounds even better today than back in the 1980s, musically and sonically. Their music lives or dies as much on its technical creativity as on the quality of the tunes they sing. The Punishment of Luxury offers high levels of both.

Fred Kaplan

This is my 12th entry for "Records to Die For," and there really aren't that many records that I'd dash into a blazing room to save, so let me alter the terms. Here are the two albums—one new, one historical—that I cherish most of those released in 2017.


Cécile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers
Cécile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums. With: Sullivan Fortner, piano; Catalyst String Trio.
Mack Avenue MAC 1120/112060 (2 CDs/3 LPs). 2017. Cécile McLorin Salvant, Al Pryor, prods.; Todd Whitelock, Damon Whittemore, engs. DDD/DDA. TT: 112:11

The newest album from this wunderkind singer, 28 years old and already the Sarah Vaughan of our times, marks a quantum leap in her evolution—more poignant, more swinging, less mannered than her earlier discs (and she's carved new headways since). She sings standard ballads, dirty blues, French ditties, Weill operas, all with lyrical insight, rhythmic wit, and wonder. Her trio is top notch. Recorded mainly live at the Village Vanguard, it sounds superb.


Bill Evans: Another Time: The Hilversum Concert
Bill Evans, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums
Resonance HCD-2031/ HLP-9031 (LP/CD). 1968/2017. Joop de Roo, prod.; Andre Louwerse, eng.; Zev Feldman, reissue prod.; Fran Gola, mastering. ADA/ADD? TT: 41:16

Another gem from Resonance Records' vault hunting, this 1968 session, recorded before a small audience in a Dutch studio, finds Evans in rare buoyant spirit, heading a short-lived band exceeded only by his classic trio of 1958–61. It was recorded five days after their gig at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which was released the same year by Verve and may be Evans's best post-1961 album. This one ranks just below it. The sound is excellent, too. (Vol.40 No.6)

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.