Friday, December 11, 2009

Michael Fremer Review

I am very proud to continue our feature (look for this every Friday), music reviews that are written by the senior contributing editor of Stereophile magazine- Michael Fremer. It has been a pleasure to speak with Michael and learn more about audio sound and equipment. In fact, his new DVD, "It's A Vinyl World, After All" has hit the shelves and is selling out very quickly. This is a must have for anybody who loves vinyl, it is a true masterpiece.

Various Artists (new reissue)
A Christmas Gift to You From Philles Records

Sundazed LP 5323 180g mono LP

Produced by: Phil Spector
Engineered by: Larry Levine
Mixed by: Phil Spector and Larry Levine
Mastered by: Bob Irwin (LP cut by "WG/NRP")

Review by: Michael Fremer


The classic Phil Spector Christmas album is Sundazed’s holiday gift to us all. Mastered in glorious mono from the original mono master tape (remember: Phil didn’t do stereo so if you see “stereo” on the jacket, it’s fake stereo, though I heard there was a 1974 “stereo remix” but given how Spector recorded I can’t imagine from what source tracks such a mix could have been assembled).

Phil used jingle bells and such when recording secular teen love songs so the move to Christmas wasn’t particularly difficult. And who better than a New York Jew to produce such a timeless Christmas classic? After all, Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas,” and Mel Tormé (Melvin Howard Torma) co-wrote “The Christmas Song” (“chestnuts roasting on the open fire”). And don’t forget, the guy whose birthday everyone is celebrating was also one.

And what better place to record a Christmas album than Los Angeles? Well, I can name ten, but what better studio to record a Phil Spector album in than Gold Star? I can name none.

And what worse day to release a cheery Christmas album than Novemberr 22nd, 1963? There are no worse days, so the album, like the president, stiffed (sorry, I couldn’t help myself but I wish I could have).

Few copies sold of such a wonderful record means original pressings are rare and expensive. Apple reissued with a different cover and name in 1972 and that time it went into the Top Ten and deservedly so.

So here’s Sundazed’s gift to you with the original Philles cover and all of the great tracks recorded by Phil’s outstanding artist roster.

The Ronette’s “Frosty The Snowman,” and “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” might be my favorites and the latter is the foundation for the E-Street Band, but there’s really not a bad track on the album. The strings and baritone sax provide warmth, the percussion and castenets the icicles and the big wobbly vibratos the soul. Such a classic combination! You know the guy who wrote and sang “To Know Him is to Love Him” knows how to pour on the sap!

Spector places the vocals way above the background mass of strings and percussion and Hal Blaine’s drums are in another time zone but that just adds to the vast holiday cheer this album produces every time you play it$#151at least until you get to Phil’s sign-off at the end of side two. It sounded creepy back in 1972 when I first heard it but now given what’s happened to poor Phil it sounds creepy squared.

I compared this reissue cut from the analog tapes with the digitally remastered LP included in the out of print ABKCO Phil Spector Box Back to MONO (even though the box says “mastered in analog” that referred to the analog tapes being used to produce the digital master) and the Sundazed reissue is clearly the winner in terms of crystalline clarity and that certain pleasing piercing quality to the vocal mix that’s supposed to cut through on an edge without slicing your eardrums. The digitally remastered box set version is thicker and not as pleasingly icy-clean.

However I was a bit disappointed by a lack of bass heft on some of the big drum “thwacks” that the box set version has. Whether that was someone goosing up the bottom end there, or cutting a bit off here, I don’t know. Accurate or not, I like it.

Still, overall the new Sundazed reissue wins the clarity and transparency race and that’s more important if you want to hear into the Spector wall and pull out all the candy-elements.

Even the 180 gram pressing, which I assume is from United, Nashville is good. Non “no-fill” and no noise. Maybe Sundazed’s Bob Irwin is finally whipping that woefully sloppy joint into shape?

Now that A Christmas Gift For You is out again all analog on vinyl, it will definitely be a merry Christmas!

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved

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