A much sought after rare treasure
Sundazed's decision to issue Blonde on Blonde using the much sought after mono mix is indicative both of the company's dedication to doing what's musically correct, and of the vinyl marketplace's newfound maturity. There was a time a few years ago when no "audiophile" vinyl label would dare issue a mono recording; audiophiles wouldn't stand for it was the conventional wisdom. Perhaps back then it was even true.Sundazed's decision to issue Blonde on Blonde using the much sought after mono mix is indicative both of the company's dedication to doing what's musically correct, and of the vinyl marketplace's newfound maturity. There was a time a few years ago when no "audiophile" vinyl label would dare issue a mono recording; audiophiles wouldn't stand for it was the conventional wisdom. Perhaps back then it was even true. Today, with Sundazed, Classic, Analogue Productions and others issuing monophonic LPs on a regular basis (and one has to assume selling them as well) listeners are appreciating the music for music's sake, and equally importantly, for the wonderful qualities of monophonic sound reproduction. The choice was also pragmatic, as the original stereo mix-master reel was rendered unusable back in the 1970's. It wore out from being repeatedly used to cut lacquers. That tells you that second, third and possible higher pressings were cut from the original tapes and probably sound pretty good, but there's nothing like an early "360 Sound." Subsequent remixes from the 4 track masters were made, including a particularly bad one used on Columbia's early '90s "longbox" gold CD - a must to avoid. A recent remix, supposedly supervised by Dylan is said to be much better, but even an original stereo doesn't hold up the nuanced, musically coherent mono mix.
Dylan's mono edition of Blonde on Blonde has long been a collector's item fetching well over $100 in mint condition. As with The Beatles, who were heavily involved in the mono mix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band but left the stereo mix to others - almost as an afterthought - Dylan apparently had a strong hand in the Nashville-based mono mix of Blonde on Blonde (the tracks were recorded there as well) but didn't pay nearly as much attention to the stereo mix done in NYC.
As Bob Irwin told me when I interviewed him for Stereophile last year, the original mono mix-master reel was in excellent shape. Many mixes were attempted of each song, and when the final choice was made, it was spliced into the master reel, so what was used to cut the original and this re-issue was the actual mix down master. Back then, the concept of a mastering engineer who would do the final sonic "tweak" had yet to be developed, so what was on that mix reel was how the record was intended to sound, and aside from a few minor EQ tweaks, the LP was cut from the tapes "as is." See Dylan historian Roger Ford's interview with Bob Irwin at: http://www.sundazed.com/scene/workshop/blonde.html.
As for the music, not until Blood on the Tracks did Dylan invest so much energy in investigating love's intricate entanglements. Even the surprise hit single with the refrain "everybody must get stoned" (which would probably be banned from radio today) is called "Rainy Day Women #12 &35. Dylan at his most vulnerable even invented a new voice for himself, one that whined and pleaded almost comically over the top. Add Nashville's crack "Bradley's Barn" musicians plus Robbie Robertson and Al Kooper (the 1 1/2 Jews' blues team) and that's why this set will never go out of date.
If you're used to the stereo mix, you'll find the mono edition offers a cohesiveness, and a carefully drawn instrumental emphasis the stereo mix doesn't. Yes, you lose the width and separation, but you end up hearing more details - the ones Dylan is interested in you hearing - and you'll find it just as easy to follow instrumental lines stacked up centered between your speakers. For instance, even if you've heard the tune 100 times, the guitar interplay on "4th Time Around," will have you sitting up and taking notice. If anything drifts left or right when you play this set, you've got some speaker repositioning to do, or room reflections that need to be tamed.
Sundazed's reissue gives the original a run for the money and remains true to the original, though it suffers in the bass, which while deep and reasonably well defined, is not as tightly drawn or focused. The upper mids on the original also bloom in a way that the reissue's don't, giving the reissue a slightly darker, recessed sound, but there's still sufficient energy up there since Dylan's close-miked vocals pack an upper midrange punch. If the vocals or harmonica sound spitty and unpleasantly harsh, it's your system, not the record - though there's plenty of grit up there. On the plus side, the overall clarity and transparency of the reissue beats the original. A really fine remastering job.
Thanks to Sundazed for making this once again available - even if they couldn't get permission to use the unauthorized photo of Claudia Cardinale that appears in the gatefold of the original. Pick this up now, or kick yourself later.