Records to Die For 2019 Page 5

Stephen Mejias


Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
Naïve M6702 (2 LPs). 2018. Meshell Ndegeocello, Jebin Bruni, prods.; S. Husky Hoskulds, eng.; Pete Min, mix, mastering. DDA? TT: 53:29

When I was a kid and felt overwhelmed by various fears and foes (asthma attacks, roaches, rats, guard dogs, dark halls, ghosts), I locked myself in my bedroom, wrapped myself around a little GPX boom box, and found comfort on the FM dial. Z100, Hot 97, and Power 105 gave me Lisa Lisa's "I Wonder if I Take You Home," Ralph Tresvant's "Sensitivity," The System's "Don't Disturb This Groove," Sade's "Smooth Operator," and more. Meshell Ndegeocello breathes sweet new life into these and other R&B hits from my childhood, as though performing just for me. A portion of the profits from Ventriloquism goes to the ACLU.


Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
Mello Music Group MMG-00106-1 (LP). 2017. Mark Bowen, exec. prod.; Daddy Kev, mix, mastering. DDA? TT: 39:11

Rapping rapidly but effortlessly over laid-back boom-bap beats and samples—bubbling synth sounds, angular guitar riffs, echoes of funk and jazz and soul—Chicago's Open Mike Eagle digs through the rubble of the Robert Taylor Homes, a demolished South Side housing project, to protect his past from those who would rather deny it, rewrite it, and forget. In those projects, ambitious children use their superpowers to battle asthma attacks, roaches, rats, guard dogs, dark halls, and ghosts. When OME sings, "This goes out to ghetto children making code words in the projects around the world," he's singing to me.

Paul Messenger


Jeff Beck: Truth
EMI SCX 6293 (LP). 1968. Mickey Most, prod.; Ken Scott, eng. AAA. TT: 40:16

I can't believe I haven't recommended this album before. I've long been a huge fan of Jeff Beck, who's always seemed to add a sense of humor to his licks that was missing from those of Clapton, Page, and Green. And look at the sidemen: Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, etc., etc. This was the album that started the whole metal craze, some years before it actually happened. In my opinion, its existence also made Led Zeppelin largely redundant, somewhat before they found time to take off! (Vol.29 No.12)


Massive Attack: Mezzanine
Virgin WBRLP4 8 45599 1 (2 LPs). 1998. Massive Attack, Neil Davidge, prods.; Lee Shepherd, eng. AAA.? TT: 61:29

Mezzanine might not be the best album produced by Bristol-based trip-hop collective Massive Attack—that honor arguably belongs to Blue Lines, one of my R2D4s for 2000. The reason this double album makes it onto the list is largely down to one track. "Inertia Creeps" is simply the best subwoofer test track I've heard, and the fact that it provides more than a hint of menace is a bonus. The rest of the album is pretty good, too, but "Inertia Creeps" stands out, and is much more than a test track.

Ken Micallef


Forq: Forq
groundUP 8829514692 (CD). 2014. Michael League, prod.; Rudyard Lee Cullers, eng. DDD. TT: 54:19

On their 2014 debut, four-piece funk-fusion outfit Forq mash up the Meters' groove gyrations and Tower of Power's metric manipulations with a heavy slab of tightly wound New York City musicianship to create the perfect template for dance floors, pool halls, and NASA launch pads. Sticky and greasy, yet emanating a sense of heavy, organ-infused soul, Forq's instrumental lava is hot, spicy, and dangerous. For this album Forq comprised Snarky Puppy's Michael League, keyboardist Henry Hey, guitarist Adam Rogers, and drummer JC Thomas, he of the titanic beat. Since then they've released Batch and Threq, with another CD on the way for 2019. Mighty mighty!


Rafael Anton Irisarri: The Unintentional Sea
Room40 RM455 (LP). 2013. Rafael Anton Irisarri, prod., eng., mix. DDA? TT: 40:57

Defying such tags as "ambient" or "drone," Rafael Anton Irisarri combines field recordings, bowed guitars, treated instruments, and electronics in epic works that are often chilling and disturbing, but never cold. The Unintentional Sea is like the emotional soundtrack to a film about a ship lost at sea: unknown objects bang against the hull, visibility ends at 20 yards, and the ominous sea roils endlessly below. While the music conjures darkness and a void, it's impossible to stop listening. Is it the call of the unknown, or that temptation to jump off a nearby ledge, that makes The Unintentional Sea so compelling?

Thomas J. Norton


Harry Gregson-Williams: Kingdom of Heaven: Original Soundtrack
Harry Gregson-Williams, London Session Orchestra, Bach Choir, King's Consort Choir, Fretwork (Concert of Viols)
Sony Classical SK 94419 (CD). 2005. Harry Gregson-Williams, prod.; Peter Cobbin, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 61:57

Harry Gregson-Williams's score magnificently complements Ridley Scott's 2005 film about the Crusades. It's an astonishing work, superbly recorded at London's Abbey Road and AIR studios and featuring orchestra, choirs, and musical styles from both the West and the Middle East. There's a little edginess in the louder bits, but the dominant, softer choral passages, with their rich depth and ambience, are consistently addictive. If this music inspires you to seek out the film (as it well might), ignore the butchered theatrical release (justifiably ravaged by critics), and insist on the longer Director's Cut. It's a near masterpiece.


Organi Storici D'Italia: The Fabled Organs of Italy
Works for organ by Cavazzoni de Bologna, Frescobaldi, Gabrieli, Galuppi, Guami, Landini, Lucchesi, Merulo, Moretti, Pasquini, Pescetti, Segni de Modena, Spergher, Anonymous
Sergio De Pieri, Umberto Pineschi, Liuwe Tamminga, organists
Lyrichord Early Music Series LEMS 8037 (CD). 1999. David Litwin, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 70:41

Comprising 21 tracks played on six different Italian organs, this CD is a hidden gem. Even if you're not an inveterate organ enthusiast (I'm not), you can't fail to be taken by the sound of these classic beasts, built from 1471 to 1813, and each restored to its former glory in the past century. Don't expect the deepest notes, which came into style only after these instrument were built. But these recordings, made with a single pair of B&K 4006 microphones, magnificently capture both the sounds of these instruments and the rich ambiences of their venues. Extensive liner notes included.

Herb Reichert


Deep Listening Band: The Ready Made Boomerang
Pauline Oliveros, composer, voice, accordion, pipes; Thomasa Eckert, Panaiotis, voice; William O. Smith, clarinet; Stuart Dempster, trombone, voice; Al "Pop" Swanson, balloon; John Cage, indecipherable liner notes
New Albion NA 044 (CD). 1991. Foster Reed, prod. DDD. TT: 56:04

Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening Band recorded Ready Made Boomerang inside an empty, two-million-gallon water tank in Port Townsend, Washington, and dedicated the results to John Cage. In Balloon Payment, a balloon is popped—and for the next 44 seconds its sound dramatically decays, to demonstrate the precise reverberation time of this unique recording venue. In "CCCC (Cistern Chapel Chance Chants)," a man and woman improvise lyrics in the Chapel's vast hollowness. The seven compositions on Boomerang are precisely conceived to engage listeners at the highest levels of which their minds and senses are capable. Oliveros's austere, ethereal art invites the listener to listen "deeply and completely."


Skip James: Blues from the Delta
Vanguard 79517-2 (CD). 1968/1998. Tom Vickers, compilation prod.; Captain Jeff Zaraya, eng. ADD. TT: 75:44

I grew up in Chicago, and had experienced many of the dirt-road Mississippi Delta blues legends before I could drive. But no blues persona has affected me more than the Delta's finest singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist: Skip James. His high-pitched, ethereal voice raised songs like "Crow Jane," "I'm So Glad," "Devil Got My Woman," and "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" to the highest level of musical art. James recorded for Paramount Records in 1931, then disappeared. In 1964, musicians John Fahey, Bill Barth, and Henry Vistine went searching for him—and found him. The result of their faith and understanding, originally released in 1968 as Devil Got My Woman, is included here in its entirety.

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.