The Wonderful Sounds of Female Vocals

Humungous conflict of interest alert! I wrote this compilation’s liner notes and created the 22 song track order. Chad Kassem selected the female artists and the individual tracks sourced from albums he’d previously licensed and released on vinyl, SACD and high resolution download (maybe even R2R tape).

The concept was simple enough: a collection of well-recorded female vocalists revered by audio enthusiasts as well as by music lovers in general.

Since Kassem’s licensing choices hit sonic and musical bullseyes, all were guaranteed to sound good. But since they weren’t selected mindful of any particular concept, ordering them into a coherent “story” was the difficult if not impossible task I faced.

The sources all were high-resolution files, some DSD, some PCM, depending upon what Kassem was originally given in the digital domain, or in most cases what Gus Skinas produced in DSD using the original analog tapes. Anyone thinking why wasn’t this cut from tape is either insane or ignorant.

Cutting from tape would have necessitated getting the originals, which would be both costly and time consuming (if at all still possible), and making a copy from the master of each song and then splicing them all together.

Speaking of “splicing them together” here’s what I did to order the tracks: the set begins with Julie London’s “Cry Me a River”, arguably the first female vocalist at the beginning of the “hi-fi” era to appear as if in the listener’s room and backed simply by bass and guitar. Why not segue into another intimately recorded, track, Ella Fitzgerald ‘s “Black Coffee”, on which she’s backed by solo piano.

After copping out in the notes by writing “there’s no way to thematically link….” the 22 tunes, the compilation moves to Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man”, the excuse being she’s backed by jazz musicians. Works for me!

Next up is Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” just because, but it’s an easy call to move from there to Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin’”. The side ends with Rickie Lee Jones’s cover of Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids”, with backing by some jazz greats. Pretty good side if you axe me!

Side two opens with Patsy Cline’s enduring cover of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” recorded at Bradley’s Barn followed for obvious reasons by Holly Cole’s cover of “Tennessee Waltz” and then by Nashville resident Janis Ian’s “Breaking Silence.”

I’m not going to continue the “play by play”. However, there are three “moon” songs on side three: RLJ’s “The Moon is Made of Gold”, Julie London’s “Blue Moon” and Nancy Bryan’s “Blame it on the Moon”.

Other artist faves include Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Jennifer Warnes, Patricia Barber, Nina Simone and Diana Krall.

If you’re unfamiliar with Myra Taylor, after you hear her take on “Hey There”, you might want to buy the album My Night to Dream.

This double LP set works well as entertainment and as a great sampler of the LPs mostly released by Analogue Productions and mostly AAA (where there’s tape to begin with). You can’t go wrong.

As for my liner notes: I used “great” a great many times when I shouldn’t have (sorry!) but worse: no one in the editing caught where I accidentally uses “rolls” instead of “roles”. I hate when that happens though it’s not as bad as the time in The Tracking Angle where I wrote about “Billy” Holiday (the "roll" era will be fixed on the second pressing now being being produced—at the recently Hong Kong Audio Show 1600 copies were sold just about evenly split between LPs and SACDs).

This is a great sampler! (there I go again). Easy to recommend for the music and the consistently fine sound. And yes, the album title sounds like either Reader's Digest lives or something hatched by Time-Life in the 1970s!

Ortofan's picture

... made-to-order for use as demo material at hi-fi shows.

Jim Tavegia's picture

for doing this before Reader's digest thought of it and the sound was not up to par.

vinyl listener's picture

i have some that used rca recordings.
ditto time-life boxes featuring fritz reiner rca living stereo recordings

Eskisi's picture

But you do bitch a lot when others use digital sources. Which is it?

Michael Fremer's picture
When there's no excuse for doing so. In this case there was a very good reason. Which I explained. Not that you are interested. Nice try at a "gotcha" comment but you didn't get me.
Snowdog57's picture

...that Aretha didn't make it. Would hope it was licensing or quality issues. BTW, "Wonderful Sound" or "Wonderful Sounds"?

Michael Fremer's picture
Correct. My mistak
mauidj's picture

When a participant in a project reviews his own work.
I don’t care if you only made coffee for the really should have drawn a line and let somoene else do this. This is so wrong. But in this age of fox news nothing surprises me anymore.
If you had written this as a...behind the scenes article about the making of the album...then all good. But to be rating it is self serving and unethical.

Wimbo's picture

Are you going to sue ffs?

mauidj's picture

Who is ffs? Do they have lots of money? I will call my brief in the morning.

Michael Fremer's picture
I felt full upfront disclosure was sufficient. Now had I not also disclosed the digital nature of the source material you might have had a point but I also felt providing the "inside" track on how it was sequenced made for an interesting review.
weaselriot's picture

Okay, then I will craft up a review. However, I should note that I have not heard it (yet) but am quite familiar with virtually everything on it. Cut from Hi-Res digital? Not a problem for me, and I can understand the impracticality of mastering and cutting from original work tapes in this type of project. I have every expectation that the sound will be stellar. Please understand, though, that what follows is the most negative review I could possibly write.

The only problems I have with this set are the artists chosen and the track list. Understand that I absolutely intend to buy it, AND that virtually every artist and track on it I already have in collection, either on vinyl or on highest available quality digital to date, or both. However, the title of the album strongly suggests a certain era and a certain generation (namely, 1950s and the "Greatest Generation", in all of its smug postwar glory, not to mention on the cusp of its peak earning years). Vocalists (male and female) were in fact THE music and soundtrack of the era for anybody who wasn't a teenager or a beatnik. The very cover photo used for the album strongly suggests the same era and generation. The prime venue was invariably a "swank" night club, usually "downtown" (in Chicago it was Mister Kelly's, among others), where the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy and many others (mentioning only females in this context) held forth before a decidedly upscale audience usually dressed to the nines (though to be fair many women of that era doused in enough strong perfume to peel the damned wallpaper, and EVERYBODY smoking of course). It's the same music my Dad once listened to in stereo on the FM radio in the Cadillac on the way home from Bears games while JFK was still in the Oval Office, just before everything changed (when JFK departed too soon, less than a month before the Beatles vaulted up the charts, followed only weeks later by the debut of the Ford Mustang). Not so many years later I would respond to his doubts about my maturity by pointing out that he had no trouble considering me mature enough to be sent overseas to burn impoverished villages and machine-gun peasants in a ditch. That, too, would fade in time, but I am certain that if he looked at the jacket of this release, and then the tracklist, "HUH!?" would be the best he would be able to muster

In short, there should have been much more from artists of that original era (yes, Ella is there, but only for one track), tying the whole vibe together just like the cover itself depicts. And less of the music emanating from coffee houses favored by scruffy leftists and student protesters of a later generation (Joan Baez), to say nothing of music from 70s and beyond. Being a Baby Boomer myself, I love 'em all, but not for what I was hoping for or expecting here. I never thought I would live to see the day when I would be getting too much Rickie Lee Jones, but it looks like I'll be getting too much of her here in this context. And why stop there? Where on earth is Joni Mitchell, then? Oh, wait, thar she blows, covered by...Diana Krall (admittedly one of the few I'm not all that crazy about).

I can't help thinking about a five disc 1962 box set on RCA called "The Music of Life", inherited from my late parents decades ago. Stone mint with a 72 page photo essay about those postwar times, up until the dawn of the Beatles, by the photographers of Life Magazine (which would itself fade away much like the generation it depicted). The booklet cover photo is a full page color shot of an end table in some posh residence, with car keys, a fancy handbag, a half empty champagne glass and a cigarette smoking in the ashtray (one of them with lipstick on it). Man, oh, Man, that set REALLY takes you there in pictures and sound, dripping with authenticity, yet so dreamlike that one is left to wonder whether it ever really happened at all. Now that it is almost way too late to ask those who were actually there. It would be unfair to expect this new set to so totally "nail it" like that box set produced at the tail end of that era. But certainly more of the prime artists of that era should have been included, while another set for the later singer-songwriters would be wholly appropriate as well.

Rest assured I will still buy this (at least the SACD) and be very happy to have it. And I will no doubt purchase the upcoming set for male vocalists as well. But I am already learning to expect more Tom Waits, James Taylor, Paul Simon (or even, Gack!, latter day Rod Stewart) with perhaps just a couple of tracks from the Rat Pack, Harry Belafonte, Jack Jones, or Johnny Mathis. If that is what is planned, then the cover should more appropriately depict the Troubador, the Whiskey, or maybe even Max's Kansas City.

mauidj's picture

Thanks for the response Michael.
Yes I agree 100% that it was a good read and that your disclosure was as professional as it should have been. My overreactive post was more concerning the "review" element of the post. It is hard to believe that you would have given it anything but 10/10. You might well have...but we will never know. And I just felt that this part could have been left out or given to another reviewer. In the end it's your site and I should just be happy it is here for all of us to enjoy. But next time give it to the "kid"...just kidding!

tcinoz's picture

Awarding 10/10 for sound quality on an LP compiled from digital files suggests that there is now no sonic advantage in cutting from original tape. That should make the job of those responsible for remastering for vinyl a lot easier going forward!

HiFiMark's picture

There is still the coveted 11/11 hanging out there for the ne plus ultra in recordings ;-).
Though Michael was involved in this project, I don't understand the agita over his ratings. C'mon people, this is a fun hobby - lighten up! He stated up front his involvement and "conflict of interest," so breath deeply and relax.
Let's all have some fun. If you don't trust Mike's take on the deal due to his involvement, don't buy the darn record!
Now, invite someone you love into your listening space and enjoy a recording together. Good friends of mine spin a record and drink wine together every Friday night. Good for their marriage, good for their souls, and affirming of what this hobby is all about.
Wine and vinyl. I named it Winyl Night for them. Make it a thing and enjoy the music.

toasterbill's picture

I find that the reproduction of the female voice to be critical to any quality stereo system, be it Joni Mitchell's "Blue" or Joan Baez's "Farewell Angelina," both are R2D4, but I have never seen the latter on any such list. However, most notable are the jazz/cabaret vocalists, from Lee Wiley to Ella to June Christy to Blossom Dearie, from the 1950s to the present. Specifically, in 1986 Japanese CBS/Sony recorded 10 female jazz vocalists in NY with first rate small combos, from Shirley Horn (her version of "Dindi" alone is to die for) to Vivian Lord. Even though they were digital recordings, they are outstanding. I picked up the LP versions at Tower's 4th Street location upon their release in 1987, never to be seen again. CD versions, however, can be found on eBay, usually from Japan. Even though I have never heard the CDs, I'd begin with the Horn album, and if it suits your fancy, seek out the others. Speaking of Horn, I was never a big fan of the Verve albums. I much prefer the SteepleChase recordings and her 1987 "Softly" album on George Buck's label Audiophile, where she also performs "Dindi."

kaloman's picture

Hello there. I might be chastised for this, but for those that own the vinyl version, do you folks hear sibilance, especially within Nina Simone's track? Specifically, when the piano makes its entrance and throughout its use in the song? I noticed it with other tracks as well, but Nina's was the most pronounced. My first thought was, oh man, my VTA and VTF must be off. I checked that, made some minor tweaks, but still the harshness was there. Otherwise, I think the album is fantastic. I don't notice the sibilance in other records that I've tested and my Ortofon 2M bronze seems to be tracking okay. My audiophile knowledge is still infant so, please pardon my ignorance on things.

Q Code's picture

There are reports over on the Hoffman forum of tracks with inner groove distortion and AP is aware of the overall problems customers are having with this release. Sounds like there was a bad run of pressings at one point since early reviews were raves across the board. As of this morning, the album is on “back order” at Acoustic Sounds, so maybe they are correcting the issue and will offer a replacement disc program?

decio lopes do couto's picture

The Wonderful Sounds of Female Vocals works fine on my 27 years old Linn Sondek LP12/Lingo/Ekos/Koetsu system with Classé Six/25 electronics and Volent Paragon speakers. Congratulations to Chad Kassem from whom I bought many second hand and new LP's in the 90's by phone when I was working in Madrid. I'm a vinyl addict but I recognize a good job from a digital source when I heard one. And that double LP is a good work. Hope to hear more about the future male voice edition. My suggestion is to include one or two songs from Capitol 1963 Tennessee Ernie Ford "Country Hits Feelin' Blue" on such compilation. Keep up the good work Michael!!!