Records to Die For 2018 Page 7

Herb Reichert


Mascara Quartet: Barco Negro
Polona Udovic, vocal, violin; Timi Krajnc, guitar; Matjaz BoZo Banovic, bandone¢n; Mitja Rezman, bass guitar; Vid Usenicnik, percussion; Bozo Banovic, Peter Urek, Sasa Bastallec, arr.
Sazas Biem VVE LP 001 (LP). 2017. AAA. TT: 43:03

Imagine Argentine tango, Portuguese fado, and Latin milonga, all wrapped in artful musical extrapolations—from Slovenia. Picture the tall, enchanting presence of Polona Udovic doing her best to channel the sorrowful spirit of renowned fadista Amália Rodrigues singing "Barco Negro." Then imagine all this heartache, death, and dark soul captured in an exquisite all-analog recording made with no cuts or editing. The Mascara Quartet just turned on the tape and poured it all out. The sound and performances are fresh and warm, steeped in late-night contradanza. This disc satisfies on both the musical and sonic levels.


Transcending Continents & Memories: Medieval Europe Meets Traditional Chinese Meets Avante-Gard
Lien Peiju, pipa; Jean-Lou Descamps, hardingfele; Christophe Deslignes, organetto; Thierry Gomer, percussion
M•A Recordings M091A (CD). 2016. Todd Garfinkle, prod., eng., ed. DDD. TT: 47:00

This perfectly recorded admixture of French medieval, traditional Chinese, and post-postmodern avant-garde music is surely one of producer-engineer Todd Garfinkle's finest releases, on both musical and sonic levels. The contrapuntal interplay of Chinese pipa (lute), organetto, medieval fiddle, and percussion parlays contrasting tones, textures, and unexpected shifts in harmony into marvelous musical moments without precedent or equal. When I listen to this unusual recording, I inhabit the musicians' space, and feel I'm sitting in the room among them. This CD is, for now at least, the finest combination of music, art, and sound I know of.

Kalman Rubinson


Unheard: CD Premieres with Music from the Interwar Period
Erich Itor Kahn: Fragment eines unvollendeten; Hans Walter Süsskind: Rechenschaft über uns, Vier Lieder; Josef Matthias Hauer: Zweites Streichquartett op.28; Louis Gruenberg: Vier Indiskretionen für Quartett Op.20.
Ebony Quartet, Barbara Kozelji (mezzo), Daniel Reuss (narrator)
Channel Classics DSD256-5CH download ( Also available on CD as Channel Classics 40517. 2017. Werner Herbers, prod.; Jared Sacks, eng. DDD. TT: 1:08:36

In the years after the 1st World War, much of European music expresses the relief from the terrors of war and seeks madly to find joy. However, those expressions are curdled by a disturbing premonition of the unavoidable terrors yet to come because the war to end all wars wasn't. This deeply emotional recording confronts these mixed feelings and its centerpiece, Süsskind's "Rechenschaft über uns," (an accounting or reckoning for us) addresses them directly. Its voice-over-quartet uses an eerie Sprechstimme to present both intense happiness and dread. The rest of the music is similarly unsettling from the first "Fragment" by Kahn that ends midphrase through the last but not concluding "Indiscretions for Quartet" by Gruenberg.

The performances are profoundly communicating and the multichannel recording is excellent. Both serve well to enclose you into a hothouse of unease. Disturbing but deeply affecting.


Sibelius Piano Trio, Volumes 1&2
Diego Schissi: Nene; David S. Lefkowitz: Ruminations; Jean Sibelius: Korppoo Trio in D (JS 209), Havträsk Trio in a (JS 207), Lovisa Trio in C (JS 208); Lotta Wennäkoski: Päärme; Kaija Saariaho: Je sens un deuxième coeur.
Sibelius Piano Trio
Yarlung DSD256-5CH download ( , Also available on 2 CDs as YAR52638. 2016. Bob Attiyeh, prods; Tom Caulfield, eng. DDD. TT: 1:55.00

In the months since I downloaded this album, it is probably the one I most return to. First off, I love Sibelius and, although I did not know these three piano trios before, I find them romantically engaging. The performances brim with vigor and elan. Second, they are interspersed with and complemented by 4 additional works of quite different temperament such that listening to the entire program a varied experience and bears repeating. Schissi's Nene is a contemporary suite of evocative moments and Lefkowitz's Ruminations is more moody but dance-like and these recorded premieres serve as excellent appetizers for the Korppoo Trio. Wennäkoski's and Saariaho's contributions are more bracingly modern and impassioned that provide refreshing contrast to Sibelius' more traditional trios.

Finally, this multichannel release was made and offered at DSD256. Tom Caulfield used a carbon-fiber frame for his four DPA 4006A microphones and one 4041 (for center channel) and the result is a clear and immediate sound with just the right amount of hall ambiance to be thrillingly realistic.

Rob Schryer


Gord Downie: Introduce Yerself
Arts & Crafts Productions A+C 144 (CD). 2017. Kevin Drew, prod.; Nyles Spencer, eng. DDD? TT: 73:19

Released posthumously, Introduce Yerself was recorded in haste as Gord Downie, frontman for Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, was dying of brain cancer. But rather than sound rushed or half-baked, the album's sparsely arranged songs, most recorded in first takes, brim with vitality and honesty. Devoid of artifice, this music connects on a profound, visceral level, as Downie reminisces about the people who marked his life: "You were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen," and "The Bruins kept us tight." You get the sense that Downie isn't just singing—he's savoring every moment. The result is a masterpiece of minimalist swansong.


LCD Soundsystem: American Dream
DFA/Columbia 88985456102 (CD). 2017. James Murphy, prod.; Al Doyle, David Jones, Riley MacIntyre, Raymond Richards, Korey Richey, Matt Shaw, engs. DDD.? TT: 68:38

American Dream had me at its lead single, "Call the Police"—a propulsive, seven-minute guitar-synth-drums romp across a fatalistic landscape: "We all know this is nothing, this is nowhere," sings James Murphy, who spends most of the album seeming to lament middle age: "I'm not dangerous now the way I used to be, I'm just too old for it" (from "Change Yr Mind"). Still, Murphy's nuanced sing-talk style suits the music, a percussion-rich blend of rock, pop, and electronica that can be dazzling to hear, if a bit emotionally cold. Not a note on this album sounds like an afterthought.

Jason Victor Serinus


Terry Riley: Four Four Three: Music of Terry Riley
In C, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector
Ragazze Quartet, Kapok, Slagwerk Den Haag
Channel Classics 37816 (SACD/CD). 2015. Jared Sacks, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 57:13

I know of no finer way to re-experience the stoned-out ecstasy of minimalist master Terry Riley than to turn off the lights, play this recording at the highest resolution your system can handle, and immerse yourself in In C—a unique improvisatory take on the 53 patterns that came to Riley in 1964 while riding the bus to his job as a pianist at San Francisco's Gold Street Salon. The engineering is sensational, the colors supersaturated, the dynamic climax so thrilling that you may find yourself gasping for breath, unable to move. Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector (1980) was the first work that Riley wrote for the Kronos Quartet; Kapok's performance here offers a viable alternative to Kronos's, recorded 35 years after they premiered the work.


Philippe Jaroussky: The Händel Album
Arias from: Amadigi di Gaula; Ezio; Flavio, Rè di Longobardi; Giustino; Imeneo; Radamisto; Riccardo Primo; Serse; Siroe, Rè di Persia; Tolomeo
Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor; Ensemble Artaserse
Warner Classics 564134 (CD). 2017. Alain Lanceron, prod.; étienne Collard, prod., ed.; Michelle Pierre, eng., mix. DDD. TT: 71:58

Some of the most exquisite singing on record, from a countertenor who can convey innocence, pathos, heartbreak, constancy, anger, vengeance, and fury in equal measure. Jaroussky's coloratura technique is astounding, his long-breathed legato lines a miracle, and his consistent beauty of tone masterful. The music itself, mostly from rarely performed operas by the greatest German-English composer of his era, is unusually expressive and frequently moving. Ensemble Artaserse, a 20-player period ensemble, offers splendid support. All lovers of voices owe it to themselves to hear this recording, on CD or as a 24/96 download.

David Sokol


The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man
Columbia/Legacy CK 64845 (CD). 1965/1996. Terry Melcher, orig. prod.; Bob Irwin, reissue prod.; Vic Anesini, reissue eng. AAD? TT: 45:41

With a synthesis of the trailblazing sounds of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man"—first the song, then the album—hit like a burst of lightning from the heavens in 1965. And with it, folk-rock had an enduring gold standard.

On this, their major-label debut, Roger (still Jim back then) McGuinn and company—a stellar band also including future all-stars Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman—had a knack for picking and writing glorious songs, most just two or three minutes long, three of them plucked from Another Side of Bob Dylan and enriched. Pete Seeger and Jackie DeShannon contributed others, as did singer Clark, whose poignant "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" and "Here Without You" helped define folk-rock.

Each of the original album's 12 songs blends perfectly into the next—this record truly has a sound. And the six bonus tracks on the 1996 reissue give peeks behind the curtain. From Columbia Records' "360 Sound" in 1965 to "Super Bit Mapping" in '96, and to this very day, the sound, the jangle, the energy, and the songs on Mr. Tambourine Man are as fresh as when those bursts of lightning first struck. (Vol.27 No.2)


Mary Chapin Carpenter: Come On Come On
Columbia CK 48881 (CD). 1992. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Buckingham, John Jennings, prods.; Bob Dawson, Marshall Morgan, Denny Purcell, engs. ADD. TT: 49:49

Very little on country radio in 1992 sounded like Mary Chapin Carpenter and her mix of folk, rock, and country. Which makes it all the more remarkable that this, her groundbreaking fourth album, spent nearly four years (!) on the charts, and landed seven songs high on Billboard's hit parade of Country Singles. Two of the biggest hits here tackle yearning (a cover of Lucinda Williams's "Passionate Kisses") and falling desperately out of love ("He Thinks He'll Keep Her"), and throughout, there's a sublime optimism in her poetry ("I take my chances / forgiveness doesn't come with a debt") and in her gorgeous, underrated singing. She's joined by some stellar players, including keyboardists Matt Rollings, Jon Carroll, and Benmont Tench, as well as the then-ascending Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin. Twenty-five years later, Carpenter remains a joy to see in concert, where she still draws a healthy slice of her repertoire from this timeless album.

John Swenson


Hampton Grease Band: Music to Eat
Columbia/Legacy C2K 67483 (2 CDs). 1971/1996. Hampton Grease Band, Tom McNamee, prods.; David Baker, prod., eng.; Tim Geelan, eng. ADD. TT: 88:37

Col. Bruce Hampton blew my mind with this album, and went on to influence a couple of generations of New South alt-rockers via his astonishing body of work and tribal hegemony over the coming-of-age jamband circus known as the H.O.R.D.E. tour. The avant-garde singer, dadaist performer, sideshow magician, zen gambler, and spiritual leader shows all his cards in this tour-de-force two-disc debut of music designed to expel the unworthy and enthrall the curious, much as did Zappa's and Sun Ra's outfits of the same era: the early 1970s. The late Hampton is the frontman here, with dual guitarists Glen Phillips and Harold Kelling, bassist Mike Holbrook, and percussionist Jerry Fields providing the Captain Beefheart-meets-Pink Floyd-on-speed soundtrack to his dangerous visions. Phillips is one of the more creative guitarists of this very innovative generation. The sessions were recorded at Georgia's legendary Studio One.

The Bottle Rockets: Songs of Sahm
Bloodshot BS-086 (CD). 2001. Bottle Rockets, prods.; Lou Whitney, prod., eng. DDD? TT: 47:10

Doug Sahm was such a character that his voice seems to define his songs, but there's a universality to his vision-of-innocents account of characters from late-1960s California through the "Groover's Paradise" world of Austin, Texas, in the '70s. Sahm's soundscape offers an R. Crumb sense of multiple dimensions at work in a timeless description of a reality that never existed and yet is perfectly captured by the art. Sympathetic interpreters can mine that vision profitably, and the Bottle Rockets were certainly fellow travelers. Taking pieces from multiple sources in the Sahm catalog, including some deep-cut dives ("Song of Everything," "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day," "I'm Not That Kat Anymore"), the Rockets play this music on their own terms, more straightforward indie rock than the jangly Tex Mex (save for "She's About a Mover," of course) and cosmic-cowboy delivery Sahm brought to it. Take a good hit before you listen to this one. Brian Henneman's vocal in "At the Crossroads" rivals Ian Hunter's on the first Mott the Hoople album for the distinction of being the greatest interpretation of a Sahm song. The lo-fi production is perfectly in keeping with the loose-limbed spirit of the material. (Vol.25 No.5)

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.