Michael Fremer  |  May 26, 2003  |  0 comments

Being out of the record-biz hype loop has certain benefits. Until I bought this album I knew nothing about Ryan Adams other than the name and a vague notion that he was an extremely talented kid who used to front an alterna-country band called Whiskeytown. I'm willing to admit to being two years behind the hype curve. So be it. That Gold was issued on a nicely packaged two-LP set (as are many Lost Highway releases) put me in a positive frame of mind. I wanted to like this record and Ryan Adams both. But when I saw the American-flag-draped cover and Adams' contrived pose, my bullshit detector went off and it didn't stop ringing throughout the four sides of this set of well-recorded musical comfort food.

Michael Fremer  |  May 26, 2003  |  0 comments

I've always wondered whether Otis Redding's Live in Europe, newly reissued on vinyl by Sundazed, was actually recorded in Europe. Frankly, I doubt it. The liner notes quote Redding reviews from Paris and the various cities in the UK, but they also refer to a Stax-Volt review featuring many artists, none of whom were given an album's worth of stage time, that's a guarantee. The audience here sounds as if it is predominantly Southern black Americans, and it's not racist to say you can tell the race and nationality of the woman who screams at Otis, "Sing 'Good to Me,' baby!" And the opening announcer sounds generically white-bread American (Little Feat's announcer on Waiting For Columbus copped this dude's riff). Maybe he was part of Redding's traveling entourage, but I doubt that too. Not that it matters where this supercharged performance took place.

Michael Fremer  |  May 01, 2003  |  0 comments

On her 18th album--and her first in eight years--Joan Armatrading offers a mostly light-hearted exploration of love and affection on Lover's Speak, a set of 14 melodic, hard-rocking, well-crafted songs. Whether leading with her husky, low-end growl or vulnerable, breathy falsetto, the 52-year-old veteran performer's distinctive voice remains remarkably supple--her mid-'70s power barely diminished by time.

Michael Fremer  |  May 01, 2003  |  0 comments

At a party the other day, I heard a guy complaining about the sad state of rock’n’roll, pop, or whatever you want to call it. “Where are today’s Beatles,” he demanded to know. “Listen to the crap on the radio,” he went on. I tried to remind him that aside from the odd ‘60’s cultural inversion that made what was good, popular, (Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Motown, etc.), much of what was good was not popular (Dylan for instance), and that by the end of the decade what we consider “popular,” (Hendrix, Clapton, Cream, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, etc.) were essentially “underground” acts, way outside of the mainstream “Top 40.”

 |  Apr 16, 2003  |  0 comments

Eighty Eight's, the new jazz label from Yasohachi "88" Itoh (, a division of Sony Music Japan's Village Records), charged out of the starting gate this past winter with an ambitious series of eight audiophile-quality jazz recordings. Itoh is well known to '70s audiophiles for his legendary East Wind series of "Direct Cutting," direct-to-disc recordings. Among the most highly sought after of the series is The L.A. 4's Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte (EW 10003, 1977). The title tune is a jazz rendering of the Ravel piece arranged by The L.A. 4's guitarist, Laurindo Almeida. The other three of the quartet are Bud Shank (flute/saxophone) and the superb rhythm team of Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. Groove Note recently reissued Just Friends (1978), another L.A. 4 recording, on SACD and on two 45-rpm, 180-gram vinyl discs. (That will be reviewed here shortly.)

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 16, 2003  |  0 comments

Lonely and Blue, the rarest and most valuable of Roy Orbison's Monument LPs--his first for the label--has been given splendid sonic and packaging care by Classic Records, in both monophonic and stereo editions. According to Classic's Mike Hobson, this is the first time the original master tapes have been used since the original pressings were issued in 1961. At a January 2003 Consumer Electronics Show press conference, Hobson told how the masters were discovered in Nashville and gave every indication of having not been "cracked" since they were used to generate the original LP. What Mobile Fidelity used for its gold CD, or Sony for its gold CD, remains a mystery, then, but when you hear this issue, you'll have no doubt the original tapes were used--especially if you've become accustomed to those CDs.

 |  Mar 16, 2003  |  0 comments

This collection of mostly home recordings, originally issued on Atco in 1983, strips away the rock-star glam and reveals Pete Townshend's inner geek: a techno-dweeb who plays with recording equipment. Gotta love that! On the first LP's inner sleeve Townshend does a version of what audiophiles like to do: he lists his gear history. For example, "Studio One Ealing 1964: Above parents home. 2 Vortexion mono tape machines. 1 microphone (a Reslo)." Or "Studio Six Twickenham 'Home' 1969: Built my first separate control room/studio in two tiny adjacent rooms. Bought Dolby A301s for my REVOXES and later a small NEVE desk and a gorgeous 7'4" BOSENDORFER grand piano. The WHO did some work here when I went 8 track in 1971."

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 16, 2003  |  0 comments

By the end of the '70s, rock was dead, prog-rock had grown grotesquely self-indulgent, and the angry punk/new wave deconstruction had begun. It was a long-overdue musical cleansing. The Sex Pistols and The Clash were at opposite ends of the dividing line: one unabashedly stupid, the other worldly and literate. The late Joe Strummer was anything but working class, but he kept his upper-class roots tightly wrapped beneath a veneer of growling anger and disgust. He was hardly alone in towing the image line.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 16, 2003  |  First Published: Dec 31, 1969  |  0 comments
Dense, compact, and built to run O-rings around the competition, SME's flagship turntable makes every other design I've encountered—with the possible exception of Rockport's System III Sirius—look almost homemade. I don't mean to insult the many fine, well-engineered designs out there, but I've seen nothing else to compare with SME's tank-like approach to spinning a record. Comparing the Model 30/2 to a tank isn't exactly fair: the machining is done to higher than mil-spec tolerances. I don't think anyone else building turntables today is capable of this level of construction quality, never mind design ingenuity and fit'n'finish.
 |  Mar 16, 2003  |  0 comments

The Beatles and The Stones took '50s American blues, country, and R&B, absorbed it, transposed it, and gave it back to a generation of white middle-class American kids from whom the originals had been purposefully kept. Pat Boone redid Little Richard's "Tutti Fruiti" to make it "acceptable" to white America, and, well, surely you know the rest of the story, so I won't repeat it here.