Q Division was a champ in the days when I was more directly involved in Boston local — warm, homey sound. Produced a surprising number of the keepers from that time.
[Just a reminder, this is the general title for posts where I want to do a quick plug of an oldie (or several) that’s too little-known, according to me.]
Bela Bartok, The 6 String Quartets (Lindsay String Quartet) (ASV, 1981)
This requires a shout-out to my long-gone half sister, Betty Jane, who, when she heard I was becoming captivated by music, said something like: “Pay attention to Bartok — my favorite — he’s not like anybody else.” And that his intelligence radiated from everything he wrote.
I’m not music-tech illiterate, but as close as I can be to get by (stopped taking lessons in grade school when an ignoramus told me I couldn’t play if I couldn’t read scores) so all I can say is that every moment of these three discs runs a marvelous abstract movie in my mind that’s different each time through. (Yeah, it’s not in chronological order and I wouldn’t have any other sequence than this one.) I had not played it for a long, long time because (I was reminded a couple months ago) this weird glitch had developed about two minutes into the Second Movement of Quartet No. 1, one of my most beloved passages in the whole thing. I cleaned the disc but it still wouldn’t play right. I understood I better hurry up and replace the OOP set if I didn’t want to shell out a fortune. So I did and every morning this week has featured supernatural sunshine as a result.
The end of hectic travel means organizing and sorting CDs and vinyl that have been laying around for months.
Before we get to tech and types, two albums that sounded tremendous on the road:
David Bowie, Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) (Parlophone) Bowie was not a driven professional in all senses. I was furious at him for years because I felt he’d become lazy making albums and he mailed in the final time I saw him perform. But, as you know, if he knew something serious was on the line, he could unleash the torrents on stage. These two particular performances (June 30 and July 1) were intended to become a film and fortunately were mixed and produced. Then Bowie decided he couldn’t stand the visuals and the whole project got shelved. The band sound a tiny bit distant at times but that’s the only reason I wouldn’t say get this before Stage even. Although the material and song sequence are very similar, the impassioned, even slightly crazed vocals here create a stand-alone work.
Gorillaz, The Now Now (WB/Parlophone). Only heard this twice, but let me just cite one marvelous long shot: “Humility” (feat. George Benson) really clicks.
I feel a key richness of design and depth of thought and feelings are lost if the unit of music slides from albums into single songs and playlists. And I’m not some sort of Mr. Natural Sound — I believe the right sort of extensive production can work wonders. But certain things have holes in their soul: almost all piano-roll recordings; new vocals tacked onto the music of dead people; and the latest, hi-tech Frankenstein’s monsters where music from all sorts of eras can be bolted together. Yargh.
This fine obit must be supplemented by me noting the Ventures, and Edwards in particular, changed my life in 1964 when my family got its first couch-sized stereo. Happened the installer had brought along The Ventures Play Telstar and The Lonely Bull (1963) to demonstrate the sound of the system. I had never heard speakers so large and never realized how much the detail of sounds could go into the impact of music. You had to have a certain kind of fluid technique and imagination to make pop instrumentals work. Wow. There was a lot more to music than I had realized.
About an item from last week’s, actually.
Now that I’ve listened to the American Epic box, I have to underscore that you need to get it for the sound alone. This is the way I’ve always wanted these vintage sides to be. I’ve never heard the voice-to-voice and voice-to-instruments relationships so natural and consistent. They’ve been cleaned up and clear before, sure, but voices and instruments in particular seemed out whack even so. Not here.
I’m not enough of a tech head to have anything to say about the methods used on the recordings, and it may be too late in the game for the recording industry in general, but at least these sides are here.
Wearing my “rock.com” t-shirt today and feel happy and confident. For eons it stayed stashed away in a box because it represented an exciting professional future that never came to pass. I was haunted by the feeling that we made mistakes, if we’d only caught a couple lucky breaks, the operation could have been a thumping success. After all, we were unbound by print from the start. But the Leviathan future for the internet now looks inevitable and Google and Amazon stand revealed as mean as any giants.
Now I simply remember the fun. Best salary I ever made. Tickled to be headed into work every day. Talk directly to the wondrous music fans.
No matter how clever or slyly eclectic an international music fusion is, if the recording centers on a voice, the same old, same old question is all that matters: “does the singing transcend language?”
No-budget recording will hamper an album no matter how much it combines obscure release and admirable taste (and even execution).