Saturday, March 26, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

Small Change

Tom Waits

Asylum/ Rhino 7E-1078 180g LP

Produced by: Bones Howe
Engineered by: Bones Howe
Mixed by: Bones Howe
Mastered by: Gavin Lurssen
Lacquer Cut by: Ron McMaster at Capitol Mastering



"Cut From the Analog Master Tapes"? Not Exactly

by Michael Fremer
February 01, 2011

Reissuing the Tom Waits Asylum catalog on vinyl was a good idea.

I've got most of the originals but since Rhino's current management can't even be bothered to send me email publicity blurbs, never mind promo copies to review, I choose to spend most of my money on new releases and my time reviewing records I buy and that some labels are kind enough to send me—and that doesn't guaranty a good review as I'm sure you know.

So I didn't order any of these reissues, but judging by Rhino's past track record, particularly when Warner Brothers vinyl maven Tom "Grover" Biery was involved, the results were uniformly excellent. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Mr. Biery involuntarily parted ways with Warner Brothers.

When the emails began to arrive complaining about these Tom Waits reissues, I had to hear what was going on.

"Sounds like wet socks," one reader wrote. "What's going on with the Tom Waits reissues, they sound dull and dead," wrote another.

I got emails from around the world complaining about this series.

Another reader was so upset he contacted Rhino to ask what could possibly have gone wrong.

What he found out was pretty shocking considering that the sticker on the plastic sealer read "Cut from the original analog tapes."

Not exactly.

The customer service person at Rhino told the reader that mastering engineer Gavin Lurssen had taken the 1/4" analog masters and using analog EQ, had equalized the tapes (essentially the same as mastering for all intents and purposes) and then created 96/24 bit files that were sent to Ron McMaster at Capitol where the lacquers were cut and then sent to RTI for plating and pressing.

No doubt the production was directed by someone at Rhino, not by Lurssen, who was doing his job as contracted by Rhino.

Something went terribly wrong somewhere in the chain because this Small Change does indeed sound thick, congealed, terribly rolled off and utterly airless. It's unfortunate that this review posts immediately following similar comments made about Mobile-Fidelity's equally dull and airless Dixie Chicken, but trust me: it's not my system. The original of Small Change sounds superb—and I used to play my copy often on the radio back in the '70s, so it's been played.

Yet despite its age and use it sounds bright, airy, open, three-dimensional and basically spectacular as one would expect from a Bones Howe production recorded live to two-track analog tape at Wally Heider's.

Yes, the trio of Shelly Manne, bassist Jim Hughart and saxophonist Lew Tabackin are playing live behind Waits and his piano as is the sumptuous sixteen piece string section. It's a spectacularly natural-sounding three dimensional recording of one of Waits' most colorful albums.

There's not a weak tune in the set and many classics like the greatest alcoholic in denial song "The Piano Has Been Drinking" and the Ron Popiel tribute "Step Right Up." Now "Step Right Up" is a simple quartet recording: the jazz trio and Waits. It should be spacious, open, three dimensional and just about every audio fan's idea of a sonic wet dream. At one point one of the players lets out a spontaneous yelp. It should knock you out of your seat. It's barely audible as are the finger snaps that should "pop" will realism.

What a shame.

What happened? First of all, why the hell wouldn't you just cut the fucking record from the master tape as long as you have it and you're in Hollywood—especially if you're advertising it as having been "cut from the original analog tapes?" Why digitize it? Why cut it at Capitol? Why Ron McMaster? He's known as a competent cutter in my opinion, but he's certainly not in the audiophile loop, nor am I sure Capitol's mastering room is up there with Kevin Gray's or Stan Ricker's, or Doug Sax's.

Who made such a choice? I can't imagine Gavin Lurssen equalized this record to have no top end. Something else must be going on here.

Who evaluated lacquer cuts before approving the project? I bet no one.

Who evaluated test pressings before approving the project? I bet no one.

And if it was someone, it was someone who doesn't know what he's doing.

This is a wonderful opportunity wasted.

Don't buy this and if you have bought it, you're entitled to your money back. You bought a record advertised as having been "cut from the analog master tape" and it wasn't.

Look, the Band on the Run reissue was cut from 96/24 bit files made from the master tapes and its arguably better than the U.S., British and German originals (review coming), so it's not the "digital" that ruined this. It's something else.

I'm trying to get answers.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

Vinyl Record News & Music Notes

lots of great reading today, a new us stamp, some vinyl history, a q & a with the record guys, a vinyl record party from the folks at Penn State:

Local music store to promote vinyl culture with event

By Hannah Rishel Collegian Staff Writer

Fans of “High Fidelity” will have a chance to experience a similar atmosphere this weekend, sans John Cusack.

The Music Underground, 224 W. College Ave., will present a “Stax of Trax” record show from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

The event will feature hundreds of LPs, 45s and records from various genres. Josh Ferko, DJ “Tapes” and DJ Sassmouth will provide the soundtrack to the event

Music Underground owner Jesse Ruegg said the store has records for sale every day, but he wanted to do something as a specific event and make it fun.

Read the rest at


Legendary Jersey rockers The Feelies to release first new album in 20 years

By Jim Testa/For The Jersey Journal

“Is it too late to do it again?”

Those are the opening words of the first new Feelies recording to be heard in 20 years, from the track “Nobody Knows” that kicks off the legendary New Jersey group’s soon-to-be-released Here Before, its first album since 1991’s Time For A Witness.

Read the rest of this interesting article at


U.S. Postal Service Is 'Stampin' at the Savoy

NEW ORLEANS, March 26, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- To celebrate America's musical gift to the world, the U.S. Postal Service today issued the Jazz Appreciation Forever Stamp.

Inspired by vintage jazz record-album covers, Pasadena, Calif., artist Paul Rogers captured the eclectic nature of jazz music and the spontaneity and improvisation of jazz artists in creating art for the Jazz Appreciation Forever Stamp.

"With this evocative Jazz stamp, we celebrate the music and the musicians who play it in studios, clubs and concert halls and on festival stages," said Thurgood Marshall Jr., vice chairman, Postal Service Board of Governors. "I can't think of a more perfect place to dedicate this new stamp than here in New Orleans, the birthplace of so many legendary jazz performers… and where jazz first flowered near the dawn of the 20th century.

"Jazz is a pastime that brings people together, regardless of race, ethnicity or background," said Marshall. "It's a lot like the Postal Service, which has been bringing people together for over 235 years, through the power of the mail."

Forever Stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce rate. The Jazz Appreciation stamps go on sale today nationwide at Post Offices and online at

Joining Marshall to dedicate the Jazz Appreciation Forever Stamp were Guy Cottrell, chief postal inspector; Nancy Marinovic, president, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation; Shamarr Allen, leader of the funk band Underdawgs; Jeffery Taylor, manager, Louisiana District, Postal Service; and Paul Rogers.

Get more information at


‘Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology’ highlights genre’s history

One of the most unlikely hit records in history came out in 1973, when a critic and historian at the Smithsonian Institution named Martin Williams released an anthology called the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz.
It consisted of six vinyl LPs that explored and summarized the history of jazz and was later released on compact disc. It was the first comprehensive collection of its kind and immediately became part of the jazz curriculum at colleges throughout the country. Music lovers bought it to introduce others to jazz. Over time it sold so many copies that it went double platinum.

There's much more to the story, read on at



Akim Boldireff and Aaron Keele: The Record Guys


Aaron Keele and Akim Boldireff

Record dealers and organizers of 10th annual Toronto Downtown Record Show

Ages: 39 and 46, respectively

You know those super-knowledgeable guys behind the counter of the local indie record store, the kind that could have come straight out of the Nick Hornby novel High Fidelity? That’s Mr. Keele and Mr. Boldireff.

Mr. Keele grew up in his father’s Toronto record store, Don’s Discs, which specialized in 1940s and 1950s blues and doo-wop.

Read the rest at


Top Best Selling Vinyl Records at

1) Neil Young - Live At Massey Hall
2) Radiohead - King Of Limbs (pre-order)
3) Chicago - Chicago VI
4) Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
5) Eagles - Greatest Hits 1971-1975
6) Genesis - 1970-1975 Box Set
7) Chicago - Chicago Transit Authority
8) English Beat - Special Beat Service


and in music history for today:

In 1957, Ricky Nelson recorded his first tunes for the Verve label, "A Teenager's Romance", which will climb to #2 on the

Billboard chart and "I'm Walkin'", which will reach #4. Over his fifteen year recording career, Rick will place 36 songs in the US Top 40.

In 1958, Eddie Cochran recorded his only US Top Ten hit, "Summertime Blues", which will rise to #8 in the US next Fall.

In 1968, blues artist Little Willie John died in prison under mysterious circumstances after being convicted of manslaughter two years earlier. He had fourteen hits on the US R&B charts and the same number on the Pop charts, including "Fever", "Sleep", and "Talk To Me, Talk To Me".

In 1977, Hall & Oates started a three-week run at #1 on the Billboard singles chart with “Rich Girl,” the duo’s first U.S. chart-topper.

In 1980, Jon Paulos, drummer for The Buckinghams on their string of 1967 hits, including "Kind Of A Drag" and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", died of a drug overdose. He was 32.

In 1985, radio stations in South Africa banned all of Stevie Wonder’s records after he dedicated the Academy Award he had won the night before to Nelson Mandela.

In 1988, Michael Jackson started a two-week run at #1 on the U.S. singles chart with “Man in the Mirror.”

In 2004, Jan Berry of Jan & Dean died at the age of 62 after being in poor health from injuries sustained in a 1966 car crash.  The duo’s biggest hit was the 1963 #1 single “Surf City” (#26 in the U.K.), which was co-written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

In 2005, Australian drummer Paul Hester, formerly of Split Enz, Crowded House and Largest Living Things, committed suicide by hanging himself in a park in Melbourne. He was 46. After leaving Crowded House in 1994, Hester appeared on many TV and radio shows in Australia.

In 2006, British readers of Total Guitar magazine voted Jimmy Page’s “Stairway to Heaven” solo the “greatest guitar solo of all time”. It edged out entries from Van Halen, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles. certainly up for debate in my book....

In 2009, a jumpsuit that Elvis Presley wore at a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden sold at an auction for $212,588.

birthday wishes to Diana Ross (1944) and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith (1948), among others.