Music and Recording Features

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Robert Baird  |  Dec 07, 2017  |  8 comments
While it hasn't always made money or hit records, the music business has never been short on ideas. Most are nonsense, but every once in a while—the gramophone, onstage monitors, Les Paul's overdubbing—the biz comes up with a winner.

Many of the craziest ideas I've heard in 30 years of writing about music have been expounded on at the South by Southwest Music Festival, held each year in Austin, Texas. At SXSW, hope springs eternal. Secrets are whispered. Buzz bands gain momentum. Rumors ripple through crowds. Everyone has visions of morphing into a mogul. There's an intoxicating energy to it all.

Richard Lehnert  |  Nov 09, 2017  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1991  |  8 comments
Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky
544 pages, $20 hardcover. Published by William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.

Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and The Doors by John Densmore
319 pages, $19.95 hardcover. Published by Delacorte Press, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103.

With at least six books on Jim Morrison and The Doors now on the shelves, five published within the last year to take advantage of tie-in sales on the flowing, copious coattails of Oliver Stone's powerful film, The Doors, you'd think one of them, at least, might approach "very good," "excellent," even "definitive."

Not so.

Robert Baird  |  Oct 24, 2017  |  12 comments
While it may elicit shakes of the head, nasty, distasteful looks, or vociferous yawps about its being nothing more than a load of warmed-over psychedelic pandering, the time may have come to listen again to Their Satanic Majesties Request, the much-maligned 1967 album by the Rolling Stones—and perhaps think of it in a slightly more humane light. Few records from that or any other era have been as widely savaged. It's easy to make the argument that any record with such a pretentious title deserves to be ridiculed. The music itself is scattered and feels unfinished in spots. Then there's that cover image.
Robert Baird  |  Oct 05, 2017  |  0 comments
Seeing your album in a record store's cutout bin meant one thing. Despite the label execs' wide smiles, warm handshakes, and earnest promises to the contrary, once the record jacket had a hole punched in it, or its corner clipped, it meant your record label had lost faith and moved on.

Record collectors felt differently. The prices of cutouts were right—usually, from 99õ to a penny under two bucks. And cutouts were better than digging through crates because the records were still sealed . . . even if the jackets were a bit mangled. The beauty of cutouts was that they were so cheap, you could afford to be lavish, and go home with anything that caught your fancy.

Robert Baird  |  Aug 31, 2017  |  3 comments
Long ago, I stopped associating Act II of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake with dancing. Now, every time I hear it, I immediately flash on broken battlements, a black cape, and Béla Lugosi's unmistakable Hungarian accent: "Listen to them—cheelllldreennn of dee night. What muuuusic they make!"

Then there were James Bernard's tense scores for the Hammer films—like Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), starring Christopher Lee—that my parents somehow let me see in a theater when I was seven, as part of an afternoon of bargain monster movies that included all the sourballs and unbuttered popcorn you could wolf down. Scared to death, my life was forever changed.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Jun 29, 2017  |  6 comments
It's been going on for a while now: Despite support for multichannel in audio/video receivers and A/V processors priced from as little as $200 to $30,000, there are still very few offerings that cater to the music listener. They may offer stereo-only streaming features through their USB or Ethernet inputs, but these inputs don't see your multichannel files. To handle such files, they would require you to add a music server with HDMI output. However, I know of no turnkey music servers that will output multichannel audio via HDMI.
Robert Baird  |  Jun 27, 2017  |  2 comments
New Age. Most of it was acoustic. While there were vocals here and there, much of it featured instrumentalists playing solo or in groups. Some of it was meant to alleviate stress. Some of it was marginally connected to a similarly named movement in spirituality. Environmentalism and respect for nature were constant themes. Some New Age artists created moody, ambient sounds that were intended as background music, to promote healing and relaxation.
Robert Baird  |  May 30, 2017  |  1 comments
For fans, of course, he's never been gone, not even for a minute. A jazz pianist who played from the heart and spent a tumultuous life fighting his demons while searching, as singer Tony Bennett has often said, "for truth and beauty," Bill Evans is now the subject of four previously unheard, recently released titles, on LPs, CDs, and downloads, of live recordings of his music. There's also, from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, a new and superlative One-Step Process vinyl reissue of his classic Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Finally, there's a wonderful new documentary, Bill Evans: Time Remembered, a labor of love by a fan and titled for one of Evans's best-loved tunes. And, unlikely as it sounds, the demand for Evans's music is still strong enough to inspire a controversy over rights and clearances, 37 years after his death, in 1980, at the age of 51.
David Lander  |  May 02, 2017  |  2 comments
Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown and the American Soul
by James McBride. Spiegel & Grau, 2016. Hardbound, 232 pp., $28. Also available as paperback, eBook, and audiobook.

Comparing James McBride's search for James Brown with the quest depicted in the classic John Ford film The Searchers reveals some dramatic changes in American racial attitudes over the years, along with some consistencies. Ford's film begins in post–Civil War Texas; its white protagonist, a former Confederate soldier named Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), spends most of the film hunting for the Comanches who've kidnapped his niece. To Edwards, such captives are tainted—"they ain't white," he rails—and he intends to kill the girl when he finds her.

John Atkinson, Art Dudley  |  Apr 14, 2017  |  2 comments
It has been six years since we last released a recording on the Stereophile label—a jazz album featuring Attention Screen, the late Bob Reina's free-jazz ensemble. This dry spell was mainly due to the increasing demands made on our editorial team's time by social media and the magazine's website, but also by John Atkinson's recording activities with the Portland State Chamber Choir, who issue their recordings on their own label. Nevertheless, we've been keeping our eyes and ears open for suitable opportunities.
Robert Baird  |  Mar 07, 2017  |  0 comments
One is a well-established reissue label, known the world over for its completist black boxes filled with beautifully remastered jazz recordings from the 1930s through the 1960s.

The other is a new label that records only new jazz, released in elaborate packages that include a poem and original artwork, not to mention transparent 180gm pressings, tying into the newly fashionable idea of a vinyl lifestyle.

In both cases, hope truly springs eternal.

John Swenson  |  Feb 07, 2017  |  First Published: May 01, 1997  |  14 comments
1996 was a banner year for Ray Davies—one of the most talented writers and conceptualists rock has ever produced. After more than 30 years with The Kinks, the group he has led off and on along with his younger brother Dave, Ray was enjoying a new career as a solo artist. His keen wit and storytelling ability enabled him to take his remarkable one-man play, 20th Century Man, to packed houses and critical acclaim all over the United States. The play, based loosely on his equally remarkable fictionalized autobiography, X-Ray, provided a unique insight into the forces that have shaped Ray Davies's long, prolific career as a rock songwriter.
Stereophile Staff  |  Jan 26, 2017  |  23 comments
Never in the history of our venerable "Records To Die For" feature has the word Die come to mean as much as it has in the past year. Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Rudy Van Gelder, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, Otis Clay, Blowfly, Bob Cranshaw, George Martin, Steve Young, Chips Moman, Lonnie Mack, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Ralph Stanley, David Bowie—all died in the past year. So to drive away any evil spirits that may be hovering over this year's R2D4 extravaganza, we may need to think of this 2017 installment more as "Records to Live For."
John Atkinson  |  Nov 22, 2016  |  6 comments
I am sad to report that, 19 years to the day after I recorded her performing Schulhoff's Sonata for Solo Violin for Stereophile's Duet CD, Ida Levin passed away on Friday November 18, after a lengthy battle with leukemia. She was 53. Our condolences to her family, her fellow musicians, her students, and to all who, like me, were thrilled by her playing. As a tribute to Ida, from now until January 1, 2017, we are offering Duet to our readers free of charge (though we will still have to charge shipping and handling).
Robert Baird  |  Jun 10, 2016  |  1 comments
Eine kleine Nachtmusik it ain't. And yet, in 1992, lightning struck, tectonic plates shifted, and the third symphony of Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki (1933–2010) became a bona-fide hit. Defying both skeptics and logic, a recording of this decidedly sepia-toned work, subtitled The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, by the London Sinfonietta conducted by American maestro David Zinman, and featuring soprano soloist Dawn Upshaw, eventually sold over a million copies, making it the largest-selling recording of modern classical music ever.

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