Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  1 comments

In this post-modern, post-rock age of bratty musical cynicism, along comes this Montreal-based outfit projecting meter-pinning 70's style sincerity and passion.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  1 comments

Despite being an agnostic with an outright hostility towards religion, this double Grammy winning gospel/rock set by Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama masterfully recorded at Capitol's historic Studio B Hollywood Studio has spent more time on my turntable and iPod than most of what's been released lately.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  1 comments

Johnny Shines labored long and unfairly in the shadow of Robert Johnson, who he'd met and traveled with briefly, shortly before the blues legend's death. Like Johnson, Shines was a genuine country-bred Delta bluesman. Even when he moved to the city, he retained his rural sound.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  0 comments

If any Byrds music deserves to be heard stripped of its vocals, it's the exploratory jazz and raga influenced instrumental tracks produced for the Fifth Dimension sessions. Having fallen under the influence of Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane, the band spent long nights in the studio jamming, finally producing its epic “Eight Miles High” along with the rest of the album, some of which was not quite as accomplished.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  1 comments

If the point of this record is to transport the listener back in time to an intimate late-1800's musical recital in some well-to-do mid-westerner's or southerner's living room parlor, perhaps overlooking the Mississippi River, then it is a complete success. Even if it has some other purpose and I'm totally wrong, the record is a winner.

Brent Raynor  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  1 comments

1969 Velvet Underground Live (Mercury SRM 2-7504) starts off with Lou Reed talking up the crowd for a minute and a half before even starting “Waiting For My Man”.  He asks the crowd if they have a curfew, if they prefer one long set or two sets: “Whichever makes it easier for you”.  He encourages the handful of fans to “Settle back, pull up [their] cushions…and whatever else you have with you that makes life bearable in Texas,” and even mentions how the Cowboys killed the Eagles earlier in the day.  Pretty standard pre-show preamble—yet completely bereft of the ego-adrenaline fueled yawp of, say, “Hello Cleveland” that Spinal Tap made famous and that Van Halen apparently took as gospel.


I nearly lost my best friend in one of the worst taping accidents ever. Lending him my copy of 1969... to dupe for a much anticipated road trip, I was mortified when upon pushing it into the Blaupunkt that it went straight into song.  When I questioned (alright, interrogated) him, his response was: “I wanna hear tunes, not some schlep talk about football.” 


Suffice it to say, things were never the same between us again, and after losing him to the great Guns N’ Roses-Nirvana wars (he fought for the Axl of Evil) of the early nineties, we lost touch altogether.  However sad, and even true this story is, it proves that along with religion and politics, one should not discuss the Velvet Underground.


Bright Eyes, however, is a different story.  Conor Oberst is the petite protagonist of the piece in question, and for all intents, he is Bright Eyes.  What greets your ears when you drop the needle in the groove (or, ahem…push play) is not music at all, but the groggy voice of a young man who coolly sips at a glass of what I hope is water, and who proceeds to tell a story of a woman flying on a plane to see her fiancé.  After a futile attempt to converse with a fellow passenger, she reads an article about a third world country she can’t even pronounce to fight the boredom. Suddenly, an engine gives out and as the plane plummets towards the ocean, she asks the silent passenger where they are going.  His response is that they are going to a party: a birthday party—her birthday party, and that they all love her very, very, very much.


Just as with that Velvet Underground album, many a soul will be tempted to pass over the prose and get right into the lead song, “At The Bottom Of Everything.” A mistake really, as his rambling offers an important introduction to the piece you’re about to hear.  Indeed, it sets the tone and feel of the entire album, and is not some exercise in self-indulgent fulfillment, but an odd statement of purpose that makes the album wholly complete and understandable in such a way that you end up wishing it hadn’t.  Listening to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning is like stealing someone’s micro-tape recorder cassettes that have been filled up with disturbing thoughts and observations that are so personal you can’t help but to feel ashamed as you listen from the confines of a locked washroom stall.  Like our recent voyeuristic-fetish fascination with “Reality TV,”  I’m Wide Awake evokes the feeling of a guilty pleasure.


The album is as New York as anything by Paul Simon or Lou Reed, but from the perspective of a transplanted Nebraskan who’s young enough to feel he can change the world, but wise enough to know he can’t.  He’s lovelorn and fragile, melancholically sedated yet hopeful in his new land of child prostitutes, drugs, and neon signs that call to him in a language he vaguely understands.  Yet at the end of day “it all boils down to one quotable phrase: if you love something give it away.” That line, from “Landlocked Blues”, can almost be seen as a signifier for the entire album—that he is in the excruciatingly painful limbo of awaiting the second half of that quotable phrase: if it truly loves you, it will come back.


The songs are wonderfully recorded with spare, mostly acoustic accompaniment that features: mandolin, vibraphone, trumpet, and pedal steel to round out the guitar, drums, and bass that typify the alt. folk sound that Conor Oberst has come to represent.  So affecting is his voice (delicate and nasally soft yet with an ability to scream out lyrics like he just punctured a lung), that combined with his lilting arrangements, it took me a while to realize the woman harmonizing with him on three of the tracks was indeed Emmylou Harris.  No small feat considering the impact her voice can impart on a song, and doubly so considering I’m a die-hard Gram Parsons fan who after many years still sheds a tear every time I hear “A Song For You” and “Love Hurts.” It’s a refreshingly uncompressed sounding album that has a live-in-the-studio type feel to it, with cracked vocals and bum notes (however few and far between) left on for time to judge; and for audiophiles to drool over as they call up their friends to see if they too heard the cough on track three coming from the left speaker that is undoubtedly to be blamed on that damn pedal steel player.


Yet for all the audio-knobery (an affectation, I promise) and great melodies this album offers, it’s Conor Oberst’s ability to express dark feelings that every human at one point in their lives has felt that makes him so engagingly endearing.  It’s not some gloomfest, “my world is falling apart at the seams” type diatribe going on here, but rather a heart- felt outpouring of emotions that most of us are too self-conscious and ashamed to verbalize in any real way lest we be seen as abnormal and weak that sets this album apart from others; that more often than not come off as self-serving and contrived.  Oberst has had enough of, to quote Modest Mouse mainman Isaac Brock, "that Mad Max bullshit,” and has in the process served up a platter that almost approaches Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks in transcendental- soul scouring- scope and complexity.


Michael Fremer  |  Jun 01, 2005  |  0 comments

Recorded in May, 1981 but not issued until Getz's passing a decade later in 1991, this live recording at San Francisco's Keystone Korner is a “volume 2” to the previously issued The Dolphin (Concord CCD 4158).

Michael Fremer  |  May 27, 2005  |  0 comments

The veteran Irish singer Mary Black is probably better known among American audiophiles than among the general music-loving populace because her recordings are exquisite sounding, audiophiles tend to dig chick singers, and for some reason Black has never received major radio airplay.

Michael Fremer  |  May 15, 2005  |  First Published: Dec 31, 1969  |  0 comments
The $3000 moving-coil (MC) PhD, available from Chad Kassem's Acoustic Sounds operation, is a monumental achievement that, for me, sets new standards for the cleanness and transparency possible in a phono preamp—and I've had a lot of experience with phono preamps.
Robert J. Reina  |  May 01, 2005  |  First Published: Dec 31, 1969  |  0 comments
Shortly after Motel's Adrian Milan rediscovered Wilson and was busy reissuing the landmark recording, Milan played the record for documentary film director Michael Volk, who shared Motel's penchant for oddball 70's film soundtracks.