Records to Die For 2019 Page 2

John Atkinson


Van Morrison/Joey DeFrancesco: You're Driving Me Crazy
Van Morrison, vocals, alto saxophone; Joey DeFrancesco, soprano saxophone, Hammond organ.
Exile/Legacy 19075820041 (CD). 2018. Van Morrison, Joey DeFrancesco, prods.; Jim Stern, eng. DDD. TT: 70:35

The 39th studio album by Sir George Ivan Morrison, OBE, was recorded live to Pro Tools at 24-bit/96kHz in a Sausalito studio over two days. It has a wonderfully loose feel, as Van Morrison and Hammond organist Joey DeFrancesco's quartet—the other players are Troy Roberts, soprano & tenor saxophones; Dan Wilson, guitar; Michael Ode, drums—work their way through a mix of standards and Morrison's own songs. Every track shines, the musicians providing empathetic, always swinging accompaniments behind Van's typically clipped vocalizing. And as I wrote in our September 2018 issue, "even though the tempi are virtually identical, the reworking of 'The Way Young Lovers Do' on Crazy is less frenetic than the original on Astral Weeks, more laid-back and open-sounding than the re-creation [on 2009's Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl]. The key in all three versions is A minor, but the half-century-older Van sings in a lower register, digging deep into the lyric in a way that wasn't possible for either his callow 1968 self or his mature 2009 persona. . . . this is the best live Van Morrison gig that never was." (Vol.41 No.9)


Various Artists: Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute to John Martyn
Liaison Music 4013 (2 CDs, 256kbps MP3). 2012. Jim Tullio, exec. prod.; various prods., engs. DDD. TT: 2:12:40

To my regret, there are musicians I wish I'd paid more attention to while they were alive. One such is British singer-songwriter and guitarist John Martyn (like Van Morrison, a recipient of the OBE), who contracted pneumonia and passed away at his home in Ireland in January 2009. I'd first seen Martyn play in 1971, when a band I was playing bass for had played support for him, and I'd sporadically followed his increasingly eclectic music making as he left his folksinger roots behind with albums like Solid Air (1973). However, while I never fully connected with his work, it was still a shock when I belatedly learned of his death in a review, by music-industry pundit Bob Lefsetz, of this 30-track double tribute album. Johnny Boy Would Love This has been in constant rotation here since I downloaded the MP3 version, and I've been continually surprised at how familiar so many of the songs are, despite my lack of attention while Martyn was alive. While some of the covers don't live up to Martyn's own versions, some equal them: Beck's "Stormbringer," Joe Bonomassa's "The Easy Blues," Snow Patrol's "May You Never," Beth Orton's "Go Down Easy," and Skye's "Solid Air," for examples. And some—eg, Paolo Nutini's "One World," Sabrina Dinan's "Certain Surprise," Judi Tzuke's haunting "Hurt in Your Heart," and especially Phil Collins's "Tearing and Breaking," with its overdubbed, a cappella vocals—might even transcend them.

Jim Austin


Paul Desmond Quartet: Featuring Don Elliott
Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Don Elliott, trumpet; Norman Bates, bass; Joe Dodge, drums
Fantasy 3235/OJC-119 (LP). 1956. Saul Zaentz, prod.(?) AAA. TT: 44:00

A silly ritual regularly takes place at my house around dinnertime. My wife starts dinner, and I put on a record. If there's some small reason to celebrate—maybe it's a Friday and we've made it through another week—I'm likely to choose one of a small number of records I associate with these small celebrations. They share a few things in common: I own them on LP, they have good sound, they're easy to listen to, and they're almost always jazz.

"Is that a new record?" my wife asks every time, as she hears the first few seconds of the record for maybe the 400th time. I smile and make some not-too-witty remark. We take a sip and enjoy the music.

The first thing you'll notice about this record is the cover: a striking painting by Peggy Tolk-Watkins, a Bay-area primitive artist from the 1950s. This record is, producer Saul Zaentz writes on the back cover, "the first serious attempt to fuse primitive art with modern jazz." If true, it's worth collecting for the cover art alone. Droll liner notes by hipster comedian Mort Sahl establish the mood.


Count Basie: And the Kansas City 7
Count Basie, piano, organ; Frank Wess, flute; Eric Dixon, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Frank Foster, tenor sax; Thad Jones, trumpet; Freddie Green, guitar; Ed Jones, bass; Sonny Payne, drums
Impulse! A-15/Analogue Productions AIPJ-15 (LP). 1962/2010. Bob Thiele, prod.; Bob Arnold, Rudy Van Gelder, engs. AAA. TT: 41:06 (SACD, DSD); 36:18 (LP).

This record—available as a reissue LP, an SACD, a DSD download at Acoustic Sounds, and quite possibly at your local used record store—has a bit of that same hep-cat vibe as the Desmond recording, a fact I'm sure was not lost on the Count. The first song, "Oh, Lady, Be Good," is surely a nod to that proto-hipster, Lester Young, who recorded it in 1936; it was one of his first records that really got noticed. Like the Prez, this music swings in a laid-back way.

Mix up a martini: The sound is superb, the playing is good, and the music—West Coast cool jazz—is just the thing for cocktail hour.

Larry Birnbaum


The Boswell Sisters: Shout, Sister, Shout!
Living Era CD AJA 5471 (CD). 1931–36/2003. Ray Crick, Peter Dempsey, prods., John Hadden, remastering. A–D. TT: 75:26

Radio stars of the 1930s, the Boswell Sisters are nearly forgotten today, but they were among the most brilliant vocal groups ever. This compilation includes several of their biggest hits, including "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," "Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On," and "Rock and Roll," the last referring to the "rollin', rockin' rhythm of the sea." Accompanied mostly by the Dorsey Brothers band, these three white sisters turn songs inside out, twisting melodies, shifting modes and tempos, scat-singing and imitating instruments—all in skin-tight harmony. Ella Fitzgerald modeled herself after lead singer Connie Boswell, who, with her jazzy feel and New Orleans accent, sounds passably black.


Ali Hassan Kuban: From Nubia to Cairo
Shanachie 64036 (CD). 1991. Unknown, prod.; Robert Vosgien, remastering. AAD. TT: 53:31

Applying modern Western instruments to the traditional music of Upper Egypt, singer and bandleader Ali Hassan Kuban became first a popular Nubian wedding musician, then a world-music star, before his death in 2001. First issued on the German Piranha label, which recently reissued it, this album collects some of the made-for-cassette recordings that originally brought Kuban fame. Buoyantly rhythmic and joyously celebratory, songs such as "Sukkar Sukkar Sukkar" and "Mabruk," sung in a Nubian language, catch an exhilarating, effervescent groove. Considering that all tracks but one were recorded in Cairo using a single microphone, the sound quality is remarkably good.

Thomas Conrad


Bill Charlap Trio: Uptown Downtown
Bill Charlap, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Kenny Washington, drums
Impulse! 5781103 (CD). 2017. Bill Charlap, prod.; James A. Farber, eng. DDD? TT: 54:26

This is just an unassuming album of standards by a mainstream piano trio that you might think is out of surprises, as it's been together 20 years. But Bill Charlap can fool you—he's like a world-class athlete who makes everything look easy. Or, like Picasso with a pencil stroke, he can render a song's essence in a quick, seemingly effortless gesture. He also knows what to leave out. "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is musical autobiography, in unfinished phrases and meaningful silences from his life. When it's this elegant and timeless, style is an art in itself.


Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far from Over
Vijay Iyer, piano, Fender Rhodes; Steve Lehman, alto saxophone; Mark Shim, tenor saxophone; Graham Haynes, trumpet, flugelhorn, electronics; Stephan Crump, bass; Tyshawn Sorey, drums
ECM 2581 (CD). 2017. Manfred Eicher, prod.; James A. Farber, eng. DDD. TT: 57:55

Iyer's solo, duo, and trio albums have made him famous and won him a MacArthur Fellowship. But Far from Over proves that his true calling is to lead a full ensemble in which elite soloists can feed off his special energy and confront the provocative ideas in his compositions. Like so many current jazz recordings, Far from Over is a cry of rage against the darkness of the Trump Era. The players in Iyer's sextet, especially Lehman and Shim, achieve something rare: They translate into music their despair, defiance, and hard-won hope with such passion, honesty, and eloquence that they turn social protest into art.

Brian Damkroger


Dvorák: Symphony 9
Rafael Kubelik, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Decca SXL 2005/London 6020 (LP). 1958. John Culshaw, prod.; James Brown, eng. AAA. TT: 41:00

I love Decca/London's early stereo LPs. The musicians are superb, and because the recordings are typically of a single take, they demonstrate the commitment and risk of a live performance. The combination of a "Decca tree" of microphones and simple production approach is unparalleled in its ability to capture a performance and environment. All of this is on display in this Dvorák Ninth (identified on early editions of this LP as "Symphony No.5"). Kubelik's light touch gets a lovely performance from the Vienna Philharmonic, one that you'll hate to hear end. The sound is excellent, including a rich but well-balanced re-creation of Vienna's Sofiensaal. Overall, and on a good system, this is one of the best LPs ever recorded.


Bruce Springsteen: Darkness on the Edge of Town
Columbia JC 35318 (LP). 1978. Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, prods.; Jimmy Iovine, Charles Plotkin, Thom Panunzio, engs.; Mike Reese, mastering. AAA. TT: 42:59

It was a good year to be a Bruce Springsteen fan. In 1978 we were still humming his first two albums and riding the adrenaline from Born to Run. Then came Darkness on the Edge of Town. It understood. It confronted us with the dark introspection we struggled to avoid. It shone a light on our fear that we'd give up and resign ourselves to a stranded, joyless life. But amid all that, Springsteen's masterpiece gave us the courage to admit how desperately we wanted out, and that, within us, we had the power to do it. It's all stored on a simple vinyl disc. (Vol.25 No.11)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Deep listening :-) ..........

Anton's picture

Some added info:

For Jim Austin's great choices...

1) The Paul Desmond Quartet album can be had on CD, "remastered" in 2015, on a disc called Paul Desmond Quintet & Quartet "Here I Am" that has two albums on the disc, and includes the full album Mr. Austin mentions.

2) If you really wanna Hi Fi up on the Count Basie and the Kansas City Seven album in the digital realm, the Esoteric SACD from their "6 Great Jazz, Impulse!" set is pretty awesome. (It's my favorite digital verson.)

All the discs in that set are great. My wife swoons for the Coltrane Ballads album, and the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is an all time classic. The set is very worthwhile, I feel.

My only criticism of Jim's entry is that he failed to mention the "Wines To Die For" he was opening when he mentioned sipping!!!


volvic's picture

Anton, does the Count and Coltrane really sound that much better on the Esoteric SACD?

Anton's picture

This being subjective and all...I think they do.

I can hear so far into the Count Basie, it's spookie. There are some studio sounds way way down inside that still make me look around for people when I listen in the dark.

I think the set offers good value.

volvic's picture

What hardware are you using? I am a late adopter to SACD.

Anton's picture

I have an Esoteric DV50 that Alex Peychev modded. He used to do it via APL Hi Fi and I have heard nothing in the past decade to move me away from it! I think he was very early on the scene with clocking mods and such.

Also, a couple of Oppo UDP-205 players that I just can't say enough good things about for the price.

Also, some 8+ year old Marantz players whose model numbers escape me and I am not at home.

This is a generalization, but...I think I find that SACD players have done a better job with redbook CD playback for me, as well.

I really pray SACD remains, I have found great joy in those discs.

volvic's picture

Let me know which Marantz players you like, been looking at the $1k Yamaha player and the soon to be released Technics one. I too hope SACD survives despite not caring for it much when it first came out.

audiophile90's picture

6014.. the 9.2 channel one. It's around $1000 as well, and more future proof than the ones you mentioned.

Anton's picture

Robert Schryer absolutely has his finger on the pulse of greatness with his Bruce Cockburn choice. "Dust and Diesel" is my favorite track on that great album.

Sticking with Bruce...his oeuvre is immense!

"Nothing But A Burning Light," "Charity Of Night," "Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws," "Big Circumstance," "World Of Wonders," "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu," "You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance," well, I was going to mention a few other great Bruce LP's, but how do we slice his awesomeness?

Solidly desert island artist territory there.

Thanks for picking Bruce!

What a Mt. Rushmore of guitar skill he has, as well.

Jon Iverson's picture
Cockburn's In The Falling Dark is also an all-time favorite. The songs are wonderful, but the guitar playing on "Gavin's Woodpile" is exceptional.
Anton's picture

That's the hardest part of narrowing down the list!

All good!

halloweenjack's picture

You can still grab a decent, original mono or stereo copy of this title for semi-reasonable $ - they sound great -

mtrot's picture

Yes, even though the movie is only good, not great, I find myself watching Kingdom of Heaven over and over, simply because the score is so beautiful!

music or sound's picture

This years are the last scrapings of bottom of the barrel. With previous years I discovered some music I found great or at least interesting. Sad!

Anton's picture

146 characters.

If we had to go 140 characters...

This year's are the last scrapings of bottom of the barrel. In the past, I discovered some music I found great or at least interesting. Sad!

There! 140 characters! You are now Presidential!


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Anton ...... Best comment I have read all day ......... You made my day and thank you .:-) ........

Anton's picture

Imagine my country if Twitter had been based on a 17 syllable 5/7/5 format of political communication.

Converting Twitter style to Hi Fi haiku...

Barrel’s last scrapings.
Was much better in the past.
Now not great, so sad.

music or sound's picture

you trumping it! Why one can not express ones opinion without been trolled

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Choices" .......... George Jones :-) ..........

mmole's picture

Some say R2D4 is now passe.
It used to rule (back in the day).
They maintain this year's is very bad
And that for me is awfully sad.
Next up, Recommended Components (oy vey)

Anton's picture

I like your idea!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hopefully AD would write more polite commentary for the recommended components list (oy vey) :-) ........

ok's picture

tonykaz's picture

Tyll, you forgot Tyll dammit. How could you forget Tyll? Tyll is a Giant.

and you forgot...

... Steve Guttenberg!

Steve Guttengerg ( Steve G. ) and Paul McGowan are making significant contributions to the supply of accurate information about all things Audiophile ( especially affordable audio ) , as is the now blooming Kal Rubenson in his explaining of the immersive audio experiences.

Herb R brings the reader into the room and has him share his experience. Herb could be a Michael Connelly and is Audio's all time Great, readers 100 years from now will read Herb and feel the exact same experience that we feel as we read Herb's writing fresh. HR is No.1 with words and prose.

Bob Katz belongs in the Greats List, he's easily the most Credentialed Audiophile Evah!,

Tony in Michigan

ps. I'm not including any Advocates in my listings, a good many Reviewers have obvious Commercial Relationships. Paul McGowan is PS Audio and is my only exception, Paul is a man of Integrity that I've known since 1982

ps. I can't accept the agenda writers, agenda writers are paid to support and will dismiss or diminish defects, even ignore glaring problems. Agenda writers are selling product. example: Tube Gear that eats tubes, Vinyl systems that cost the price of a House. Today, Vinyl is a Collecting and Hoarding hobby based on it's history of being part of the Audiophile Hobby. Vinyl electronics are designed and made to make Vinyl sound good. I was a Vinyl guy.

rschryer's picture

It all comes down to what is pleasurable for the listener.

You don't have to spend a gazillion bucks to have a rewarding vinyl setup. I own a Rega P5 equipped with an Audio Musikraft / Denon DL-103 catridge, which I tend to listen to more regularly than I do my more technologically modern Bryston BDP-1USB streamer / BDA-2 DAC. The latter, for whatever reason, is marginally less involving musically for me than my analog rig.

Don't forget, Tony, that cars and bikes and parking meters are all based on old technologies that keep getting refined. Just like turntables.

ok's picture

..when record (later known as vinyl, please not to be confused with cheap cd plastic) loyalists proudly declared superiority of all things analog as a backlash to the humiliating “perfect sound forever” new digital age chant. Man, hadn't it been so embarassingly difficult for one to simply indulge into one’s miserable little habits with no wish to make the rest of the world appreciate and applause!

tonykaz's picture

I'm not referring to you, you should present a review of your P5 or your Wires or Amplifier or just write about being an Audiophile in Eastern Canada ( fascinating )

I'm referring to the Vinyl Shrine Reviewers.

I own Vinyl.

Vinyl playback has an "Electrified Air" quality about it. Those sizzling lead-in grooves set-up a person's nervously thrilling expectation. Vinyl people have synapses connecting to deliver a dopamine High, that build a memory, reconstructing with the sound of the needle finding the groove. The Brain never quite forgets it's vinyl wiring circuits. All music works this way, it's whats delightful about Singing and playing music.

Vinyl is 100% a "hands-on" experience, there is no Auto Pilot in a vinyl system. It's like flying an older Multi-Engine Aircraft where the busy Pilot is adjusting all aspects of a very complex system. Not for Everyone and it's an entirely different type of experience, well apart from enjoying music itself. Playing Vinyl is something you learn to Master from being a part of a peer group.

A cantankerous Vinyl system, i.e. LINN LP12/Ittok/Koetsu, AudioResearch SP9, Amp & Quads is a hell-of-a Vinyl system, probably $10,000 Used from StereoExchange but it still needs a useful record cleaning machine. Then comes the Record Collecting ( great if you live in Brooklyn,NY ) A wonderful hobby in itself. It's a fully hands-on participation, needing significant monthly financial commitment in a USA where the bottom 50% of the population are POOR, working multiple jobs, no health insurance and struggling on a paycheck to paycheck Basis. So, for many aspiring audiophiles, a $50,000 Magazine Front Cover Product is a Hubristic middle Finger Statement.

Stereophile & JA do provide a useful service to our financially challenged. Mr. HR writes directly to a greater population of disadvantaged Music Lovers, as does Steve G. & Tyll ( long gone ).

Tony in Michigan ( getting our first Snow of the Season )

rschryer's picture

I agree with much of your comment, Tony. However, not sure that me writing about life as an audiophile in Eastern Canada is going to enthrall a predominantly American audience.

BTW, I'm surprised you didn't add your own special memory to my latest AWSI; I peg you as someone who has a gazillion memories, especially considering your lengthy stint in audio retail.

Why don't you regale us with a story?

tonykaz's picture

Telling your Story is exactly what makes Stereophile wonderful.

It's kinda like Walking into a Audio Salon where someone is carefully listening in the Big Audition Room and you join-in. Later you discover the magnificent performance is coming from some small Loudspeaker, not those Big MG3 Magies. Wow, a Story!

You have plenty to say and the ability to say it. You are our Stereophile Foreign Correspondent. Your point of view is an important ingredient to the Larger Audiophile Experience. Your experiences widen-out the Image that Stereophile projects, you bring important dimensionality to what all of us are enhancing our lives with. Your "Voice" brings Clarity and Focus. You've been given a Podium and I'm delighted with JA for it. You're part of the reason JA has his own following and reputation.

Tony in Michigan

ps. of course, everyone has stories but few have the ability to tell them, It takes multiple proof readings and at least one proof reader. ( are you proofing me? )

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for the Invitation, if thats what it is.

I'm just about coming-out of a another crisis.

I haven't yet read the article but did notice the old recorder.

Tony In Michigan

rschryer's picture

..way of expressing yourself, Tony. Your writing sticks out. It is immediately recognizable. It is you. I do not feel compelled to "proof" you or otherwise judge your writing style because it is exactly as it should be.

"You're part of the reason JA has his own following and reputation." Yeah, I know. John's been riding my coattails for a while now, but I'm glad to have given him his big break in the publishing biz. He's a good man.

As usual, thanks for your support, Tony.

tonykaz's picture

Proof reading isn't judgmental, isn't critique.

Proofing is Building, it's constructive, it's enhancing.

It's a successful thing to have a 1st. Proof reader ( like a wife ) and then have 3 additional successive Proof readers to make the writing presentable to the intended audience. Proof readers will transform a writing person into a Steven King! --- then look-out world!!!

The Manufacturing World will always have multiple proofers refining the processes. ( ad infinitum )

Tony in Michigan

BillyC's picture

Tony, why can't we be all natural and write the way we feel? This is only the internet and all, you know. btw I checked your post on Grammarly. It gave your writing 70 (out of 100).


BillyC's picture

 I don't have an idea how those records sound. They are probably good but very much doubt I'd die for owning them. Because in my experience no audio recording is perfect. There are so many parameters affecting a recording that no audio engineer can capture them perfectly. That said, I've come across an old recording recently that blew my mind. I had downloaded an hour-long audiophile (?) YouTube music video that some DJ compiled. There was a song in the video sang by a baritone (didn't have a clue who the singer was but after I uploaded the video on YouTube, UMG on behalf of Roy Rodger's estate claimed the copyright) singing a version of the old tune 'I Don't Hurt Anymore' accompanied by acoustic guitar and bass. I never heard a voice recording so realistic and wonderful in my life. It's what I call 100% transparency. You guys need to check it out. Oh, don't forget to wear your headphones (and the Focal Beryllium tweeter looks yummy). Here is the link:

Drastic's picture

The rules say that R2D4 records must be (or have been) in print and available in the US. Mr. Damkroger interprets this liberally when he offers up the Kubelik Vienna Philharmonic's LP of the Dvorak 9. Originally pressed by Decca and issued on the London label in the US, both are long out of print. Used ones are always available, though near mint copies are rare and command high prices. I am not aware of a reissue that is readily available. Please advise if I have missed it.