To Be Determined

More SACD Reviews of New Releases

Issue 144

 

 

The Doobie Brothers – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

I’ve always had this kind of love/hate relationship with the Mobile Fidelity record label, and that goes all the way back to the very first MoFi LP I ever bought, which was Al Stewart’s classic Year of the Cat. This was probably in 1977, and don’t get me wrong – MoFi’s albums were easily among the very best pressings ever produced of any particular title they chose to offer, and in many respects, they were the gold standard of LPs at the time. But I also noticed right out of the gate that they took certain, shall we say, liberties with the remastering process; on Year of the Cat, for example, there were obvious quick fade-outs on some of the tracks that didn’t match the catalog LPs. I noticed that as well on other classic albums, like Fleetwood Mac, where there was a really rapid fade-out on “Blue Letter” that almost completely truncated Lindsay Buckingham’s great guitar solo at the end of the track. The worst was on Jackson Browne’s The Pretender, where the entire second verse of the title track was omitted – how in God’s name do you explain that? I’m still scratching my head over that one!

Regardless, I still bought dozens of the discs, which inexplicably vanished during my first move from the outskirts to the big city in the early eighties. We moved in a single pickup truck, which had my boxes of LPs in the uncovered truck bed; like a complete idiot, I packed all of the most desirable LPs in the same box, and somebody got really lucky when they grabbed just the right box from the truck during a stop. Live and learn.

When MoFi first tested the waters of SACD back in the early days, I’d just gotten the gig at Audiophile Audition, and John Sunier created a direct pipeline of SACDs from them to me. Unfortunately, that didn’t last too long, as everybody basically jumped ship from the SACD bandwagon after a few years, including MoFi. But I did figure out, with the dozen or so discs I got from them, that they had refined their mastering process to the point where I couldn’t point to any specific grievances I had with any particular titles. And I thought the sound quality was pretty much superb, and definitely on par with their LP offerings. When MoFi re-entered the SACD market a few years ago, I didn’t immediately jump in, since I didn’t have an SACD player at the time. The Doobie’s What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits is my first new-production SACD from MoFi. I really just about played my original LP to death back in the day.

The Doobie Brothers appealed to me right out of the gate; being a Southern boy, I had an immense attraction for bands that featured two drummers, like the Allman Brothers Band. I bought this album the day it was released back in 1974; it rarely left my turntable for months afterwards, and I’d frequently hear deeper tracks from the album while listening to the local Atlanta AOR station, 96 Rock. They regularly cranked out tracks like “Eyes of Silver,” “Down In The Track,” and “Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need),” as well as “Daughters of the Sea,” which segued into the instrumental “Flying Cloud.” I couldn’t get enough of the Side Two opener, Patrick Simmons’ “You Just Can’t Stop It,” with it’s really funky guitar intro and chorus of “We can make it, we can shake it,” all accompanied by the Memphis Horns. The LP was kind of a departure for the Doobie Brothers, who found that following the hugely successful The Captain And Me was a very tough act. The first two singles from the album, “Another Park, Another Sunday,” and “Eyes of Silver” both stalled on the charts, and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits was beginning to be viewed as a commercial flop just months after its release.

That was, until a DJ at an easy listening station in the Roanoke, Virginia area flipped over the 45 of “Another Park, Another Sunday” and played the B-Side, “Black Water.” Suddenly, the phone lines lit up, the song soon rose to Number One on the station’s request line, and “Black Water” started very quickly gaining traction on the national scene. Rising to the Number One position on Billboard’s Hot 100, it was the band’s very first Number One song. Only months later, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits had gone double platinum, vaulting it to the Number 4 position on Billboard’s Album charts. Ted Templeman, the album’s producer, has said that he just didn’t see “Black Water” as a single – it just didn’t strike him as having that kind of appeal, especially the a cappella section near the song’s center – which has gone on to become a kind of sing-along sensation ever since.

Mobile Fidelity’s SACD surpasses my original LP pressing in every conceivable way, which sounds range-restricted in comparison. And that’s especially true with playback of my DSD rip via the I²S connection between my Euphony streaming setup and my PS Audio DAC; the percussion intro to “Black Water” has the kind of delicacy and realism that gives new meaning to the term ear candy. And the a cappella section – just wow! The SACD is more dynamic than the LP; this is truly a remarkably good disc that really takes me back and has renewed my enthusiasm for MoFi. I ordered four more discs after hearing this one, and the Import CDs website I frequent usually has the MoFi titles for several dollars less than the competition. Very highly recommended!

Mobile Fidelity, SACD

 

 

Patricia Barber – Clique

I’ve been a fan of Patricia Barber’s for a couple of decades now; I reviewed the “Unmastered” SACD version of her classic Cafe Blue album here in Copper Issue 142. That reissue is a technological and musical tour de force – be sure and check it out if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed. One of my favorite Patricia Barber albums is 2000’s Nightclub, which features a really eclectic mix of PB’s unique take on classic songs from Tin Pan Alley, the Great American Songbook and elsewhere. I frequently use the album for evaluation of new equipment in my system – it’s really that good.

So, being basically a big-time fanboy, imagine my surprise when Patricia Barber’s publicist contacted me out of the blue in May for the opportunity to review her new release, Clique. And in the format of my choice – which included the super-high resolution 32-bit DXD format. I jumped at the chance! Of course, I never stopped to think for a moment whether my system was even capable of playing DXD files, but never being one to let small details like incompatibility cloud my enthusiasm, I dove in and started downloading the massive 11 GB file. Which proved to be quite the chore; I ended up downloading each song individually after the zipped file crapped out repeatedly. Anywho, once I had the files loaded onto my music server and had massaged the metadata, I immediately ran downstairs to try playing the files, which played without a hitch. Until I noticed that the display on my PS Audio GainCell DAC showed no information for the file – everything sounded pretty great, but I had no way of verifying that I was getting full-resolution playback.

I contacted PS Audio, who told me that via a USB connection, the maximum resolution I’d be able to get was 24 bits, but that 32-bit resolution was capable via the DAC’s I²S input. I ended up ordering a Douk Audio U2 Pro USB digital interface for $56 from Amazon; you can read about that great experience here in Copper Issue 141. Anyway, in a matter of a couple of weeks, I was getting bit-perfect, 32-bit playback with my GainCell DAC, and let me tell you this: Patricia Barber’s Clique is without a doubt the finest-sounding digital music file in my library of over 3,000 albums.

Recorded at the same sessions as her 2019 album Higher, Clique is Patricia Barber’s twelfth studio album. It finds her again visiting a mix of jazz standards along with songs that have become de facto standards over the decades. Most of the tunes here have served as encores in her live performances; her current trio has been together for over ten years, and the players know these songs exceptionally well. Clique features Patricia Barber on piano and vocals, Patrick Mulcahy on bass, and John Deitemyer on drums; a couple of tunes add appearances by Neal Alger on acoustic guitar and Jim Gailloreto on tenor saxophone. Clique is her first record since Nightclub that consists entirely of covers (well, mostly!).

Clique’s nine songs cover a broader range than those found on Nightclub, which holds much closer to the jazz standards mantle. The album opens with a great acoustic bass intro from Patrick Mulcahy on Lee Hazlewood’s “This Town,” which Frank Sinatra covered back in 1967. With a confident vocal, Barber proves that she owns this tune, without all the unnecessary orchestral bombast that propped up Ol’ Blue Eyes. For PB, Chicago has been “the make or break you town,” and producer Jim Anderson’s microphone placement for Mulcahy’s bass here is absolute perfection. You really feel the “woodiness” of the bass, a quality that’s severely lacking on so many of today’s jazz recordings. Alec Wilder’s “Trouble Is A Man” was originally popularized by Sarah Vaughan’s 1947 recording; Barber’s rendition moves closer to the dark side. I’m talking serious man trouble! John Deitemyer’s cymbal and brush work on this song absolutely shimmers; Jim Anderson’s microphone placement again offers a clinic in perfectly capturing every nuance of both the performers and the studio’s acoustic.

“Mashup” is the only Barber original here, and the first of two instrumentals found on Clique. It’s an eight-minute trio romp that’s an homage to jazz trios of days gone by, but don’t expect any tinkling cocktails in the background – PB’s trio outings are more firmly rooted in the post-bop era. Jobim’s classic “Samba de Uma Nota Só (One Note Samba)” is given a subdued performance; guitarist Neal Alger provides a perfectly-played bossa nova solo that adds authenticity to the tune. Barber’s takes on two Broadway numbers, Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from My Fair Lady) and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance?” (from The King and I) stand in absolute, utter contrast to the more jaunty originals. Jim Gailloreto adds a tenor sax solo to the latter, and Barber’s vocal approach on each is definitely less sunny than the originals.

Billy Page’s “The In Crowd” is a duo between Barber and Mulcahy; this slightly murkier version of the classic tune seems more focused on Chicago’s shadowy nightlife. Thelonious Monk’s classic “Straight, No Chaser” is the album’s second instrumental, and everyone gets plenty of room to stretch out. While drummer Deitemyer’s work on Clique has been to mostly provide texture, here he pounds the drums like there’s no tomorrow, while Mulcahy solos furiously. PB’s work at the keyboard is filled with the kind of abundant eccentricities that would definitely get Monk’s approval. Clique closes with a poignant rendering of Stevie Wonder’s classic “All In Love Is Fair”; the obvious emotion in Barber’s voice makes it clear that she’s no stranger to heartbreak. Barber’s opening piano solo is achingly beautiful; the overall brilliance of Jim Anderson’s recording here is maybe the album’s finest moment.

Clique is an exceptional recording, one of those rare events where all elements of the creative process combine to yield a record of perfect performances and technical brilliance. The SACD disc showed up a few weeks into the process, and as great as the DXD files are, my rip of the SACD isn’t very far behind. Clique is a truly outstanding listening experience. Very highly recommended!

Impex Records, SACD; also available as MQA CD; DXD (32-bit/352.8 kHz) digital download; and hi-res streaming (24-bit/96 kHz) on Tidal and Qobuz.

 

 

Deep Purple – Machine Head

Not much needs to be said about this classic title: along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple’s Machine Head helped herald the entry of metal into the lexicon of rock music. I’m aware of the existence of three SACD versions of Machine Head; one that was originally released by Warner in 2001, one from SHM in Japan, and this one, which comes from Warner/Rhino Japan. I had the Warner SACD at the time of its release, but living in a household where my kids have very liberally borrowed from my collection (and generally never asking to do so), things disappear from time to time. That appears to be the case with that Machine Head SACD, which was a hybrid and would play in a standard CD player. Unfortunately, I don’t have either of the others to compare to, so my remarks are solely about the current version.

A while back I covered a 2012 CD remastering that I felt was a revelation compared to the standard catalog issue; that reissue CD was remastered by John Astley at Universal, but the enclosed booklet has zero information regarding the remastering process. The current Warner/Rhino SACD booklet has extensive details about the production process. And from what I’ve been able to glean from online info about the 2001 SACD release, this one appears to be identical to it – the more I look at the booklet and information, the more I’m convinced they’re the same. In fact, it’s the only non-classical SACD I’ve bought recently that actually contains a multichannel surround layer (I’m not currently set up for surround sound, so no report on that aspect). Considering everything, I’m pretty certain this one is a repress of the 2001 release. So how does it sound?

My rip of the SACD via my PS Audio DAC sounds superb. It seems to offer more of everything that I felt made the 2012 Universal CD such an improvement over the catalog issue. Machine Head has never been an audiophile-quality album, but the level of realism here is off the charts good. And you get that impression right out of the gate from the very first notes of “Highway Star.” It’s like the band is actually in your listening environment, and this Warner/Rhino SACD is really dynamic. I always felt the bass on the original album was somewhat anemic, but the SACD seems to achieve a better overall sonic balance with tons of firmer, deeper bass. Even when listening at reference levels (read, LOUD!) there’s only a very small amount of tape hiss present, but that’s mostly only noticeable on the intro to “Smoke On The Water.” The overall effect of hearing this SACD is like listening to a really great LP pressing – one that offers warmth, greatly improved spatial presence, and spectacular imaging. On the album’s centerpiece, “Lazy,” Ian Paice’s drums just bash through the center of the soundstage – I’ve heard this album literally a thousand times, but it’s never, ever sounded this great. Highly recommended.

Warner/Rhino Japan, Japanese Import SACD

 

 

The Church – Starfish

The Church was one of my favorite bands from the Eighties, and their breakthrough album, 1988’s Starfish, is definitely one of the records that defines the decade. And maybe one of the best in the band’s entire catalog. But if you look into the backstory surrounding the album, there was tons of drama during the recording process. It’s a wonder it ever got released.

The members of the band didn’t particularly get along with the album’s producer, Waddy Wachtel, who had been chosen for the project by Arista, their record company. And Wachtel didn’t seem to share the band’s vision for the new record. Bassist and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey, who was the band’s creative driving force, wasn’t very happy with the direction the sessions were heading in, feeling the band’s sound had become somewhat homogenized under Wachtel. Regardless, upon release, Starfish leaped onto the charts, eventually reaching Gold Record sales status on the strength of the single “Under The Milky Way,” which reached Number 24 on Billboard’s Hot 100, as well as landing at Number 2 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. This success helped the band to attain the significant exposure that had previously eluded them both in the US and worldwide.

Starfish was mastered for Intervention Records Direct to DSD from the original analog tapes by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound, and the SACD includes eight bonus tracks from the original sessions. Fans of this album will be blown away by the added clarity and dynamics of the new transfer; this is one of the best SACD rips in my collection. The bonus tracks are all really great, making you think this album could easily have been originally released as a double LP/CD. The Intervention SACD sounds impressively better than my CD in every way possible; along with the stunning improvement in dynamics, Steve Kilbey’s bass is much more taut and deep, and the album displays a soundstage depth and width that’s eerily realistic.

Despite all the studio drama, the band eventually embraced the music, and many of the songs went on to become part of their regular concert set lists. Despite the unprecedented level of success The Church achieved with Starfish, all was not completely well with the band. Steve Kilbey had developed a deepening heroin addiction; I read an online interview with him a couple of years ago where he stated that he’d probably spent over a million dollars on heroin over the couple of decades he was addicted! And drummer Richard Ploog had reportedly dropped so much acid that he could barely function onstage or in the studio. He’d hang around for one more album.

Still, Starfish marks a high water mark in the band’s career; it’s easily the most even mix of songs on any of their albums, and the SACD is well worth checking out. It comes very highly recommended!

Intervention Records, SACD

Header image of Patricia Barber courtesy of the artist/Jimmy Katz.

 

9 comments on “More SACD Reviews of New Releases”

  1. hi Tom,

    Thanks for the recommendations. I have alread received the PB SACD as i saw your earlier comments on FB I believe. will have to order the Doobie SACD.

    i have a question: where did you get the SACD of Deep Purple.
    i have loved that album since hearing it in my dorm room back in 71/72. i have a remastered version with some extra songs but am always looking to hear it in the best possible sounds. Happy Listening.

    Kent Tager

    1. Hi, Kent,

      Machine Head came from importcds.com. Those guys are kind of hit or miss — sometimes I find really remarkable stuff there, other times — nothing.

      Good luck!

      Tom

    2. Kent,

      One other thing about importcds.com — their setup and selection is a little flaky. Sometimes, I have to look at the artist listings to find the SACD or other disc I’m looking for. Sometimes if I just click SACDs, the disc doesn’t show up, you have to dig a bit to find certain titles. It’s usually worth it though, because typically, their pricing is several dollars less per title than at Music Direct, Elusive Disc, or Acoustic Sounds. And occasionally, significantly less!

      Tom

  2. Friends of mine rave about Mobile Fidelity but honestly, I haven’t been too enamored of their releases over the past decade. Between the questionable mastering practices (some are ear-bleedingly bright) and stale repertoire of tired classic rock titles that they primarily focus on these days, there isn’t anything at all in their catalog I’d spend a dollar on. Analogue Productions, on the other hand, at least has a much wider selection for all musical tastes, and their mastering practices are much more natural sounding to my ears. It’s just rare that I’ll buy new vinyl anymore. So thankfully, AP still offers SACDs of many of their titles.

    1. Hi, Rudy,

      I haven’t bought a ton of MoFi stuff in their most recent group of offerings, just the Doobie Brothers title and three of the Dire Straits titles (1st, Making Movies, LOG), which I felt were definitely an uptick in sound quality over the catalog originals. I haven’t really noticed any excessive brightness with any of them, and both of my loudspeakers, Zu Audio Omens (Eminence compression driver supertweeters) and Magneplanar LRS (quasi-ribbon tweeters) will definitely showcase any additional brightness in a recording. Probably the entire electronics chain affects everything down the line, but I’m pretty happy with the ability of my system to do a decent job of resolving the sound of whatever I’m hearing. And my room isn’t overly damped either, so that’s not really a contributing factor.

      I agree with MoFi’s selection of releases, but in terms of getting the occasional catalog release of a title I’ve been maybe a bit underwhelmed by, I’d probably still take a chance on the MoFi discs. And I totally agree with the AP SACDs; they always sound remarkable — I actually went on a binge last year and bought about a dozen of the RCA Living Stereo titles, and they sound better than ever! There are about a half-dozen or so AP SACDs I’ve been jonesing for and need to go ahead and pull the trigger before its too late.

      Tom

      1. Tom,
        Thanks for the recommendations. Since you mentioned Dire Straits LOG I was wondering if you’ve heard the Japanese SHM SACD and if you prefer it to the MOFI version. LOG is on my to buy list for this month and I keep teetering back and forth between the two.

        Thanks!
        OHT

        1. Although I’m beginning to build a collection of SHM discs, I don’t currently have any of the Dire Straits titles, so unfortunately, I can’t comment on how they sound in comparison. Sorry!

          Thanks for reading!

          Tom

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