As I’ve said before, my favorite Christmas presents are gift certificates to buy albums. Here are three LPs I added to my collection this year using Christmas gifts. And, I can assure you, they will continue to bring joy long after the holiday is gone and the decorations are put away.
Rob Wasserman – Duets, a Reissue from Analogue Productions
Anyone who regularly reads my reviews knows that I love this album. I now own three different LP issues of it and a K2-HD CD. Like I expect many others, for several years I’ve been asking Chad Kassim to please give us a reissue of this LP. To be honest, I had given up on this happening, but here it is finally.
Done by Analogue Productions, this 33 1/3, 200-gram LP was pressed at Quality Record Pressings. It was mastered from the original analog multi-tracks to 88.2/24 by Joe Gastwirt and Rob Wasserman. The original lacquer cut was by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. The heavy cardboard stock packaging featuring ‘Old-School’ tip-on gatefold sleeves is really nice looking.
The first LP I owned of this album was digitally mastered, then I found a 180-gram audiophile version that the cover said AAA or all analog, and now I have this new one from Analog Productions. I know the big question is how does it sound, but first, let me share with you my thoughts about the music and the performers.
This is a collection of duets featuring bassist Wasserman joined by special guests Aaron Neville, Rickie Lee Jones, Bobby McFerrin, Lou Reed, Jennifer Warnes, Dan Hicks, Cheryl Bentyne and Stephane Grappelli. Unlike much of current music, where vocals are compressed and highly equalized, Wasserman said that he “sought to create on Duets a music record — without technology interfering. It’s kinda like being in a club. It lets you get closer to the song.”
The recording was superb. Wasserman’s bass playing is superb, and the performances are even better. Almost every cut is great, but there were a few tracks that I think are particularly fine. My favorite is the Wasserman and Jennifer Warnes version of “Ballad of the Runaway Horse”. This is my favorite of the bonus songs on the anniversary edition of the Famous Blue Raincoat album. This presentation here is so much simpler and still has just as much emotion. It is simply beautiful.
“Angel Eyes” with Cheryl Bentyne is another great cut. Wasserman’s bass playing is just impeccable, and again the recording is just so very natural sounding. The “Moon is Made of Gold” with Rickie Lee Jones is a very emotionally involving piece. Her voice comes through almost like she is in the room with you, and the performance is just spot on. The last cut I want to point out is my second favorite and the perfect song and performance to end the album. It’s a simply beautiful rendition of “Over the Rainbow” performed as a duet with Stephane Grappelli on violin and Rob Wasserman on bass. I would have never guessed that an instrumental version of “Over the Rainbow” could be so moving and beautiful, and I guess that last phrase just about sums up this great album.
Up until now, you had to look on eBay or at used record stores to find this LP. The early digital copy goes for too much and the audiophile analog one is often around $200 or more. I have never found a mint one but I did pay $200 for a NM- copy and it sounds great.
So how does the new Analog Productions’ issue compare? Well, it blows away the early digitally mastered one, and it comes really, really close to the analog one. I doubt you could tell the difference unless you played these LPs one right after the other. I may slightly prefer the audiophile issue, but surely not $165 more. And, I can’t imagine an LP that I could be much happier to see reissued. I highly recommend this one!
Sincerely L. Cohen: A Live Celebration Of Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen, my favorite poet and songwriter of the late 20th and 21st century, died on November 7, 2016, one day before the 2016 Presidential Election. On January 24, 2017, New York City finally paid tribute to the ‘Poet of Montréal’ with a concert featuring dozens of singers, songwriters and musicians, including Richard Thompson, Josh Ritter, Will Sheff, Amy Helm, Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Elvis Perkins, Holly Miranda, Joan As Police Woman and more. It was an evening the Village Voice called “a loving, thoughtful tribute to Cohen’s life in music and poetry.” Oh how I wished I had been there!
This live album from those performances is entitled, Sincerely, L. Cohen: A Live Celebration Of Leonard Cohen. The album features highlights from this nearly three-hour concert.
The concert and subsequent album were produced by Cohen fans Jesse Lauter (Tedeschi Trucks Band), Hannah Gold (City Winery Presents) and Josh Kaufman. Kaufman’s guitarist, Bob Weir, led the house band, which featured first-rate, New York-based musicians including Ray Rizzo (Drums-Yo Yo Ma), Walt Martin (Keys-The Walkmen), Annie Nero (Bass-Craig Finn), Stuart Bogie (Brass & Woodwinds-Arcade Fire, Superhuman Happiness), Nick Kinsey (Percussion-Kevin Morby), and Dave Harrington (Guitar-Darkside), punctuated by Leslie Mendelson, Jocie Adams and Cassandra Jenkins, a backing vocal trio Cohen would have been proud of.
I couldn’t wait to put this LP on the turntable, and I was immediately vastly disappointed. I have heard many versions of the song “Hallelujah” that I have enjoyed, but Delicate Steve’s performance wasn’t one of them. The good news is that this was the only let down on the whole album.
Josh Ritter’s performance of “Chelsea Hotel #2” was superb as was Richard Thompson’s version of “Bird On The Wire” though not quite up to Johnny Cash’s. Song after song on these two LPs were moving and a wonderful tribute of one of my all-time favorites.
Yusuf/Cat Stevens: The Laughing Apple
I have been a huge fan of Cat Stevens since I was 15. As far as I know, I have every LP he has ever done, and in many cases, different pressings of these LPs. I have had the privilege to hear him live as well.
While I have enjoyed his later albums, to me they did not quite capture the magic of his LPs from the seventies. Now he has gone back to his roots with this LP, and I think it is a wonderful musical experience. One other bonus is that the album’s cover features an original Yusuf illustration for the first time since 1972.
The Laughing Apple marks the 50th anniversary of Cat Stevens’ first two albums, both released in 1967. This album reinterprets some of his songs from that era, including four from New Masters and others not released at that time. It helps that he’s reunited with his old 1970s guitar player Alan Davies and Paul Samwell-Smith the original producer behind his landmark recordings, including the 1970s Tea for the Tillerman.
The cleaner, simpler arrangements on The Laughing Apple are like many of his early ballads. Still, his voice has aged and some of the songs chosen for this album benefit from his now well-aged, gravelly voice giving it a greater gravitas. The new songs are very enjoyable with a warmth and thoughtfulness, making for a late-career album that returns to his roots but does not try to be something he can no longer be. Very highly recommended from a true fan!