Friday, January 1, 2010

Michael Fremer Review

Jethro Tull (reissue)

Island/Classic Records ILPS 9145-200G 200 gram LP

Produced by: Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis
Engineered by: John Burns
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering

Review by: Michael Fremer

Ian Anderson himself may wonder why people are still interested in Aqualung thirty-six years after it was first released—or maybe not. Though almost comically simple, the opening riff to the title cut is one of rock's most ingenious and indelible. The contemplative album is packed with memorable melodies expressing anger, nostalgia, pity, regret, tenderness and contempt.

Anderson totally jettisons his Roland Kirk and hyper-blues affectations for a neat blend of acoustic folk and electric rock and he knows how to shift the ensemble into spirited overdrive.

The arrangements are supple, the production is clean and the recording is intimate and well-organized, though bass is on the light side for a riff-oriented rock record.

I compared Classic's new 200g reissue with: 1) an original UK Chrysalis 2) an original American Chrysalis/Warner Brothers, 3) an original French Pink Label Island, 4) The Mobile Fidelity ' speed mastered edition and 5) DCC's 180g issue mastered by the team of Hoffman and Gray.

Now rather than make value judgments, let's just compare without prejudice. First of all, the EQ on the Mo-Fi is extreme: the bass has been boosted to cartoon levels and the upper mids have a presence region peak. Very 'hi-fi' and the intimacy and warmth of Anderson's voice is sacrificed to edge and sibilants. My least favorite, though the surfaces are dead quiet and the transients, as you'd expect from half-speed mastering, are clean and precise. On some systems, (bass shy, midband rich), the Mo-Fi could sound great.

The UK Chrysalis is somewhat disappointing, with harsh and overly large vocals plus somewhat brittle acoustic guitars. Overall, pretty good though, especially the tight and not overdone bass. I like the French Pink Label Island, for its warmish midrange and expressive acoustic guitars. It captures the intimacy I think Anderson wanted for his vocals and the crystalline, though warm bodied acoustic guitars.

The original American Warner Brothers/Chrysalis has the most coherent tonal balance of all of the commercial releases, with a rich midband and reasonably good extension. However, it sounds dynamically compressed and lacks ultimate clarity and focus

As for the DCC, I would never bet against the house of Hoffman/Gray, then operating at Artisan and the DCC is a model of good EQ taste and clarity, plus a fine 180g RTI pressing. Just for the hell of it, I also listened to the DCC gold CD. Give me a break! Martin Barre plays a descant recorder (a small, inexpensive wooden wind instrument in the key of C) on, among other tracks 'Mother Goose.' It's 'flutey' and 'woody' and 'airy' and 'round' on all of the LP editions. You can barely hear it on the CD.

However, the new Classic, cut from the original master tape loaned to Classic by Mr. Anderson himself, and not previously used by anyone to cut a lacquer, to the best of my knowledge, has it all. Cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman's, the new version has warmth, extension, focus, clarity, dynamics and everything else you'd want.

Understand: like Acoustic Sounds' release of Yes's Fragile, Aqualung was not a great recording to begin with. It is somewhat bass shy, though the very bottom is surprisingly robust and if your system goes all the way down, you'll hear it on the Classic without the muck and mud added by too much low end EQ on some of the others.

This newest Aqualung is the definitive version and if you love this record, it's worth the money. You will hear musical details and colors not previously revealed on any other version and Mr. Anderson's vocals will literally be in your lap, they are so purely and intimately rendered on Bellman's cut. On no other version do the acoustic guitars have both believable attack and sustain.

As for the pressing quality, perhaps you've heard about Classic's recent 'hiccup,' or have had complaints about lead-in groove noise and/or warps on some Classic releases, especially the recent Norah Jones and Diana Krall.

Without going into all of the details, Classic has been 'experimenting' with pressing plants other than RTI and as with any 'start-up' operation, there have been difficulties. Indeed, pressing 'flat' lipless (no groove guard) 200 gram LPs is inherently problematic. By 'flat' I mean that the groove area does not dip down to the halfway point and up the rest of the way, as do all other LPs, 180 gram or whatever. Pressing flat is laudable as it eliminates azimuth and other errors caused by 'downhill' and 'uphill' travel. However, getting vinyl to flow properly to the outer grooves is tricky, and made even trickier by Classic's insistence on no 'groove guard' or outer lip. That profile allows some vinyl to flow in the tool beyond the edge of the record, creating noise and other issues.

So, Classic has re-tooled its tools to produce a slight lip that you will see on this and future Classic records. However, the records retain the flat profile and 200 gram weight. If the sealed pressing of Aqualung I received is typical of what we can expect from Classic going forward, I think everyone will be pleased. The record was perfectly flat and absolutely silent.

Finally, Classic has spared no expense in reproducing the original LP's textured linen finish. You get the look and feel of the original UK issue with better sound.

I am very proud to continue our new 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.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved

This Date In Music History-January 1st


Joe McDonald - Country Joe and the Fish (1942)

Born on this day in 1945, Jim Gordon, American drummer, one of the most requested session drummers in the late 1960s and 1970s. Gordon co-wrote Layla with Eric Clapton, worked with The Everly Brothers, The Monkees, The Beach Boys, (Pet Sounds) The Byrds, George Harrison, (All Things Must Pass), John Lennon, (Imagine), The Carpenters, Traffic, Glen Campbell, (Wichita Lineman), Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Frank Zappa and many others. A diagnosed schizophrenic, Gordon murdered his mother on June 3, 1983, by pounding her head with a hammer. He was sentenced to sixteen years-to-life in prison in 1984.

Morgan Fisher - Mott The Hopple (1950)

Diane Warren - US songwriter (1956) Warren has written over 80 US Top 20 hits.

Joseph Saddler (Grandmaster Flash)(1958)

They Are Missed:

Country singer Hank Williams died of a heart attack in 1953 brought on by a lethal cocktail of pills and alcohol (age 29). Made his first record in 1946, scored 36 Top 10 US country hits, his best Known being "Your Cheatin Heart." Over 20,000 mourners attended his funeral.

Alexis Korner died of lung cancer in 1984 (age 55). Known as "the Founding Father of British Blues", he was a major force behind the UK early 60's R&B scene. Formed Blues Incorporated; members at various times included Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond and Charlie Watts. Had hits with CCS, including a version of Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love' which was used as the theme for BBC's Top Of The Pops for several years. Became a radio presenter in the 70's.


In 1912, the first song with the term "blues" in the title was released, "Memphis Blues" by W.C.Handy.

Jelly Roll Morton published his first composition, "The Jelly Roll Blues" in 1915.

In 1939, Billie Holiday was among the first artists to perform at Cafe Society, a new jazz club in Manhattan. Two classic songs introduced in this propitious year, "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child," remain her masterworks.

In 1950, Sam Phillips opened Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue. He begins recording several local blues artists, including B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and James Cotton.

Elvis Presley appeared at The Eagles Hall in Houston Texas in 1955. Presley went on to play over 250 shows in 1955.

The Kingston Trio hit #1 in 1958 with "Tom Dooley".

In 1959, "Baby Talk," by Jan and Dean, became the first of more than 150 singles featuring Hal Blaine on drums to reach the Top Ten.

Johnny Cash played a free concert for the inmates of San Quentin Prison, California in 1960.

Etta James made her Chess Records debut in 1960.

In 1960, RCA signed Sam Cooke to a recording contract that payed him a $100,000 advance.

Joan Baez' self-titled first album released in 1960.

In 1961, Motown signed the Primettes, a girl group just out of high school. They change their name to the Supremes.

The Beatles make their debut at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1961.

Robert Johnson's 'King of the Delta Blues' was released in 1961.

In 1962, the Beatles and the Tremeloes auditioned for Decca Records. Decca passed on The Beatles and signed the Tremeloes. Ooops....

Also in 1962-Bob Dylan's eponymous debut album released; as is Peter, Paul & Mary's self-titled debut.

'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' was released in 1963, containing "Blowin' In the Wind", "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright".

The Beach Boys recorded "Fun Fun Fun" in 1964.

Top Of The Pops premieres on British TV in 1964. Over the years, this landmark weekly music program presented nearly all the major British Rock groups. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Dave Clark Five appear on the opener.

In 1966, Simon and Garfunkel started a two week run at #1 on the US singles chart with "The Sounds Of Silence."

The Doors made their first live television appearance lip-synching their first single ‘Break on Through’ on Shebang, KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles in 1967.

In 1968, Billboard magazine reported that for the first time albums had outsold singles in the US with album sales reaching over 192 million units.

Carole King started a three week run at #1 on the US album chart in 1972 with 'Music', her second US chart topper.

In 1977, The Clash played the opening night at punk's first real venue, The Roxy Club in London.

London Calling, by the Clash, was released in 1980. Critics hail it as the best album of the Eighties.

Abba made their final live appearance as a group in 1982 when they played in Stockholm, Sweden.

VH1 makes its debut in 1985. It’s initially designed to appeal aging baby-boomers, leaving MTV to the teen audience.

Metallica release their classic “Master Of Puppets” in 1986. "I think there's still an innocence about it and just a ‘real world' attitude to it still," says Metallica’s James Hetfield, twenty years later. "And we weren't, I think, very influenced by all of the 'bigness' of Metallica [yet]."

Breakdancers Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan signed a contract with Boney M producer Frank Farian in 1988. Milli Vanilli were born.

Nirvana signed a one-year recording contract with Sub Pop records in 1989.

In 1990, a new American radio station WKRL in Florida played the Led Zeppelin track 'Stairway To Heaven' for 24 hours, as a prelude to an all Zeppelin format.

Garth Brooks started a six week run at #1 on the US album charts in 1995 with 'The Hits.'

Dixie Chicks release their major label debut, "Wide Open Spaces" in 1998.