Showing posts with label classic rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classic rock. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

If you're trying to decide if it's worth shelling out for the new Dylan double LP versus the cheaper CD, these pictures might help you decide.

"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" CD Version

"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" LP Version

I've kind of burned out on talking about what these differences mean (see previous posts tagged "loudness wars" for my thoughts on this subject). On average the LP version of this track has about 4 dB more dynamic range than the CD. This despite the fact that technically (as I've mentioned before) CD is capable of around 30 dB more dynamic range than the LP.

The difference between the two versions isn't as dramatic as I remember it being with Modern Times, so perhaps we're seeing some progress. But at around -11 dB average RMS the CD, while not the worst offender in the loudness wars, is still (in my opinion) too loud to sound really good. By comparison, with the peaks normalized to 0 dB, the LP version is around -15 dB average RMS, which allows for a more exciting, dynamic presentation.

The pressing quality of my LP was pretty good with only a few stray clicks and pops. I could quibble with the packaging: shoving two 180 gram LPs into a single, flimsy cover will quickly lead to seam splits. For $26, a gatefold cover would have been nice, but at least the CD is included as a bonus (if you can call it that).

BTW, I'm really loving the music. Dylan just keeps reaching further and further back in time for musical inspiration. But you don't need me to tell you Uncle Bobby is great and that he's on a serious late-career roll.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Working On A Dream

A couple questions.

First, why is it that every time I buy an LP from a major label that promises a bonus MP3 download, the download doesn't work? I've purchased dozens of LPs from indie labels like Sub-Pop, Merge and Matador, and never had a single problem downloading the MP3's. But with nearly every LP/MP3 package I've purchased from Universal or Sony, there has been some problem with the download (Warner and EMI are apparently still too afraid of big bad MP3's to even pretend to offer them with their vinyl). The zip file I downloaded for Springsteen's latest, Working On A Dream, was totally corrupted and couldn't be decompressed, despite the fact that I tried with several different applications.

It's no big deal I guess; I'll just rip the LP when I get a chance. And considering this is Sony we're talking about, I may be lucky the file didn't work because it might have turned my computer into some sort of evil spy-bot for the RIAA that would, in the fullness of time, rise up against its master and destroy him. But considering I'm one of the few people left on earth willing to shell out $25 for a new album, I think I should get what I've been promised.

Second, what the hell is up with Bruce Springsteen's album covers these days? Born To Run, Born In The U.S.A., Nebraska, Darkness At The Edge Of Town... those albums offered iconic images that carried nearly as much force as the music inside. The cover for Working On A Dream, on the other hand, looks like it was done by an eight-year old who just discovered all the wicked cool things you can do with filters in Photoshop. And his past few albums haven't looked much better.

Unfortunately, the same over-reliance on technology creates a problem for the music too. Brendan O'Brien's production sounds sterile and stitched together in ProTools just as surely as the cover looks like a Photoshop monstrosity. (I hope Springsteen works with a producer he's a little less comfortable with next time.) But, as was the case with 2007's Magic, their are some really good songs here if you can listen past the production. It's not impossible, and perhaps even worth the effort.

It's a nice, quiet, 2 LP pressing anyway.

UPDATE: The support team at Hip Digital Media (the company Sony outsourced the download to) were very helpful and responded to my emails right away (an all too rare occurrence these days). It turns out the problem is that most unarchive utilities on the Mac are incompatible with the zip file, but they found one that worked, called The Unarchiver. So if you've had a similar problem and have a Mac, download this utility, and it should solve your problem.

The other good news is that the MP3s are encoded at 320kps, and at first glance do not appear to suffer from the overly-aggressive dynamic range compression that plagued Magic. Perhaps we really are nearing the end of the loudness wars. Also, it was nice of the Boss to name the eight-minute lead-off track after me. I'll have to thank him for that (and gently take him to task over the cover art) next time I see him.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

28 Years Ago Today

Twenty-eight years ago today I was in the 6th grade and on Safety Patrol duty. I had woken up that morning to the shocking news that John Lennon had been murdered the night before. My Safety Patrol assignment was to raise the flag in front of the school every morning. That morning I only raised the flag to half mast. I didn't ask anyone if it was okay, I just did it. It seemed like the right thing to do, and nobody argued otherwise. I think former Safety Patrol officer (and then still President) Jimmy Carter would have approved.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Buffalo Springfield

Just to give a heads-up, it looks to me like the Buffalo Springfield box set might be falling out-of-print. There are still some reasonably priced used copies available on Amazon, but prices appear to be creeping up. Then again maybe not, because it can still be ordered new directly from Rhino.

I only mention this because with Neil Young involved, you never know when a release is going to appear or disappear. Speaking of which, hardcore fans might be happy to know that his long-promised, massive Archives Volume One box set is now available for pre-order on DVD or Blu-Ray at Amazon. It has a current street date of January 27, 2009 (and with a little luck it just might actually be available for purchase for next year's holiday season).

I'd be shocked if the long-delayed archives set actually meets a January 27th release date, but in the meantime, those hoping to find a little Shakey in their stocking this year might consider adding Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968 to their wish list (this one is promised for December 2nd, and so far its release date has only been pushed back once).

Of course, if you don't already own it, you can't go wrong with the Buffalo Springfield Box Set. Even if you own all three albums, there's lots to be discovered in the box such as nice acoustic demos like this one for "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong."

There's also a wealth of previously unreleased material such as "Down, Down, Down," a Young-penned song that formed the basis for "Broken Arrow."

The box also features a number of previously unreleased songs recorded after the second album as the band was falling apart. Tracks like the Richie Furay sung "Whatever Happened To Saturday Night" prove that The Springfield's posthumous swan song, Last Time Around, could have been a much stronger album if it had been assembled more carefully.

Of course whenever Neil Young compiles something there are bound to be as many complaints about what's missing as excitement about what's there. A few tracks from Last Time Around are not represented, but the most common complaint is the absence of the nine-minute version of "Freebird" "Bluebird" that has only ever been available on a two LP compilation released in 1973 and has never been released on CD. The four and a half minute version of "Bluebird" that appeared on Buffalo Springfield Again (and the box) was edited down from this extended performance (with a different, banjo-fied, ending tacked on). An even shorter version of the song (sliced all the way down to 1:59) was released as a single and reached #58 on Billboard's Pop Singles chart in 1967. Amazingly, this was the only song from Buffalo Springfield Again to chart.

Legend has it that either Neil or Stephen Stills, or possibly both, never wanted the long version of "Bluebird" released in the first place. Despite their objections, once released the track became a minor staple of classic rock radio, and many fans of the band consider it the version of the song to hear. Whatever you think of the then ascendant tendency to turn pop songs into extended semi-improvisational rock jams, the long version of "Bluebird" holds an important place in the Springfield canon: the band was known to end their live sets with epic-length versions of the song. I imagine Stills and Young view this version as a poor substitute for the legendary live performances of the song. But since no quality Buffalo Springfield live recordings are known to exist, this is all we have.

As extended guitar epics go, I would rank this somewhere between Love's "Revelations" (tedious) and Television's "Marquee Moon" (sublime). There is some nice guitar interplay between Stills and Young, but at times Stills falls back on blues cliches that make the jamming sound predictable. Or perhaps it only sounds predictable in retrospect, this kind of thing probably sounded a lot fresher before the seventies happened. Maybe you had to be there.