Saturday, November 26, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

The double Rhino 180g LP set adds another level of sonic greatness!

(new release)

Brian Wilson

Brimel/Rhino R1 76582, 2 180g LPs/ Nonesuch 79846-2 HDCD
Produced by: Brian Wilson
Engineered by: Mark Linett
Mixed by: Mark Linett
Mastered by: Don Grossinger (LP) at Masterdisk/ Bob Ludwig (CD) at Gateway Mastering



Wilson's Smile Delivers Even Better Vibrations on Vinyl!

by Michael Fremer

LP mastering engineer Don Grossinger brought over two LP editions of Smile last week, test pressings from RTI used for the domestic Rhino release and a set from Pallas in Germany for the European market. Grossinger cut identical lacquers for both.

First of all, as Bob Ludwig predicted, the LPs, cut from an analog tape copy of the 88.2K original (see story) add another octave of high frequency extension compared to the CD, and the result is a far more natural and organic sound to the production. Soundstaging is far more open and expansive and for the first time, you can actually "sense" and "see" Wilson's head and mouth. Transients are far cleaner, faster and more transparent, and the level of sonic excitement is greatly heightened.

The double set is exquisitely packaged, with a blue foil insert of "Smile" logo and embossed picture frame effect on the front and rear of the double truck gatefold packaging.

RTI's pressing was tighter and better defined in the bass, while the Pallas pressing offered a wider, arc-shaped soundstage, with greater transient speed and clarity and an overall more pristine-sounding picture. Either version will do, believe me! Now back to the original review, written before the LP was released:

How this long awaited project finally came to be is well covered in the articles and interviews found elsewhere on this website. You should read that first. It won't prepare you for what's been produced on this disc, but it puts into focus the enormity of the accomplishment and lets the reviewer off the hook.

Re-creating any failed musical project almost 30 years after the fact, however pure the motives, is almost an impossibility, especially this one given the fragility of the composer involved. Even were Lennon and Harrison still available to perform on it, imagine trying to “finish” Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band had some songs not been recorded, by re-recording the entire song cycle, and making it sound convincing and credible.

That was the level of the challenge facing the participants. “Good Vibrations,” went beyond familiar-it was iconic. Other songs such as “Surf's Up” and “Heroes And Villains “ were also burned into the synapses of millions of Wilson fans. Fans lucky enough to buy 20-20 when it was issued heard original Smile session performances of “Our Prayer” and “Cabin Essence.”

Over the years Smile had acquired a life of its own. Bootlegs stitched together forensic versions of what fans thought Wilson intended, and articles surmised what it might have sounded like. Now we know much of what Brian had in mind, not just in form, but in spirit. Fear not a “Good Vibrations” that compares to the familiar #1 single the way Ringo's summer tour “Help From My Friends” compares to the original.

Even Brian partisans recognized a brittleness permeating his “comeback” music making. It's not here, which is a good thing, because this music requires suppleness and flow. And it requires effective vocalizing, which the Beach Boys certainly were capable of delivering. The singing here is actually better in most ways compared to The Beach Boys-especially whoever's covering for Mike Love's parts. Love wasn't into this phase of Wilson's music-making and he detested Van Dyke Parks's lyrics, which he didn't understand. Who does? Not that it matters. Parks's lyrical impressionism worked brilliantly during the '60s. His dazzling ephemeral word-pictures, depicting an optimistic, sunny Americana, are even more effectively now as both a tonic and as nostalgia. Wilson's vocals rise to the occasion as well. You can sense Wilson casting off decades old cobwebs as he swims toward the musical light.

The finished Smile is an ambitious celebration of a once bright and optimistic America and of the power of the unfettered human voice. It opens with a series of rich cascading a-capella grooves that bathe the listener in golden honey, in preparation for what's to come. For listeners used to today's “modern” dynamically compressed, bright and etchy recordings, the immediacy, power, transparency and richness of Mark Linett's production will be truly startling-even listening on computer speakers. This is one musical package not worth owning as a downloaded MP3 file. In fact, the vocals were recorded using a vacuum tube driven board identical to the one used by The Beach Boys throughout the 1960's.

The familiar “Heroes and Villains” comes first, and the performance and production immediately erase any doubts about the viability of the project. The singing is remarkably strong, losing nothing to the original. The production and sound quality, while somewhat “ultra-clean” and harmonically restrained for my tastes, is still leagues beyond what passes for “modern sound” today.

The sound is coherent and full-bodied, with uncommonly well-focused three dimensional images on an expansive soundstage few modern pop records deliver. That's true in part because Wilson chose to record master tracks with everyone playing live-including strings and horns according to David Leaf's annotation-and in the same Sunset Sound Studio One (with original echo chamber intact) used for the original “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains.”

Listening to “Cabin Essence,” you hear in one song what High Llamas's Sean O'Hagan turned into an entire and rich musical career-and that's not meant to slight O'Hagan.

By the time the song cycle reaches “Surf's Up,” the listener has been elevated to heights of musical and sonic ecstasy few contemporary records are capable of producing. More musical riches follow including “Vega-tables,” “Wind Chimes,” “In Blue Hawaii,” and finally wrapping up with “Good Vibrations.”

Wilson's original plan included a trip through American musical time. 30 years later, an additional layer of time does nothing to diminish the brilliance and audacity of the concept and of Wilson's musical growth while still a young man. If early Beach Boys was about sand, surf and car-centric Southern California in the early '60s, Smile is about growing up and reaching back to find America's rich musical heritage. With the teen musical constraints dropped, Wilson's musical influences become more pronounced: the vocal harmonies of The Four Freshman, perhaps the melodies of Stephen Foster, and definitely the grand sweep of George Gershwin.

The musical mix of strings, horns, fanciful sound effects, pounding tympani, and complex vocal harmonies-gracefully takes flight thanks to Wilson's extraordinary arranging gifts-his soaring, swooping palette of colors and textures, his use of unexpected silences, and his ability to construct segue ways and bridges that create musical updrafts lifting the listener ever higher.

The endless possibilities promised in the mid- 60's and embodied in Wilson's Smilehave given way to a grimmer 21st Century, but this newly minted time capsule is a gift that reminds us of what was, and perhaps what still could be. If you buy one disc this year, make it this one.

Editor's note: I may have already told you this story, but I'll repeat it: back in the mid-80's a friend of mine was Brian Wilson's doctor for a short time. He was not a fan, and was not much into music, period. One day he called and asked if I'd like to meet Wilson-as a goof. I was taken aback by his attitude, but glad to have the opportunity.

He drove me into the Sunset Blvd. hills off the coast to a nice home in which I found a grossly obese Brian Wilson, wearing some kind of diaper. There was an adult size high chair with a tray covered in cigarette burns. Wilson was smoking, lighting one cigarette after another and forgetting the one he'd just lit.

While my friend discussed Wilson's condition and his medication regimen with the full time nurse, I tried talking with him, but it was difficult. His mouth was peculiarly twisted, and his voice was guttural and sandpapery. He spoke in short outbursts as if he was communicating from far away, which, being heavily medicated, he obviously was.

At one point he left the room and came back with a stack of LPs-not in jackets. He flipped through them telling me what each was-some jazz, some gospel, some rock-and apologizing that he couldn't play any of them because his record player was broken.

Brian Wilson with a broken record player and no one could take the time to fix it or get him a new one? How sick is that? “Maybe I can fix it for you!” I exclaimed. A warm flush came over me as I thought of the implications of being able to add music to Brian Wilson's day! He looked at me in anticipation with a puppy face as he led me to the cabinet in which I found a Dual 1209 or perhaps one model down, in mid-cycle-the arm hanging in the air.

A closer inspection showed a cantilever bent at a right angle midway down the shaft. I popped out the headshell, disconnected the wires, and took the 'table down from the shelf. Freeing up the changer's cam mechanism was easy. A shot of petroleum jelly in the cam's pathways, plus a bit of bending and straightening got the mechanism working perfectly. Wilson's nurse supplied a pair of tweezers and I set about working on the cantilever, which would either get straight, or break off. I've been there before! Luckily, it straightened out almost perfectly. I reinstalled, set the tracking force and anti-skating and put one of the records on the spindle. I pushed play, it dropped and soon I had added music to Brian Wilson's life! As soon as the first note hit, he closed his eyes and began rocking back and forth to the beat, tears falling from his eyes, and mine. A few minutes later he arose and began thanking me over and over, while vigorously pumping my hand.

My friend saw all of this, and oblivious to the significance of what had just occurred, laughed and said “Let's go. See? I told you it was a bizarre scene.” I don't know if Brian Wilson remembers that evening, but I'll never forget it!

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 Exclusive Permission

Vinyl Record News & Music Notes

nice account of a wonderful day for our beloved vinyl!

Record Store Day on Black Friday: A Firsthand Account

By Johnny Firecloud

Celebrating a ton of new releases and experiencing a little bit of the magic of the few independent record shops that remain.

Independent music stores and rare and potentially fantastic little nooks full of wonder and discovery. They were a cultural hub of our youth, an escape, a place to meet with friends or make new ones through a shared common love of music and the legend surrounding it. Then, throughout the nineties, they were co-opted by the big box retailers - countless generic CD Warehouse and Sam Goody sorts of stores which cropped up in every town with a population over ten. The romance dissolved, the magic suffocated by bright florescence and life-size cardboard Britney Spears cutouts. Eventually, the time-honored ritual of going out to pick up new music became a venture into enemy territory, rather than an immersion into enrichment. It meant having to deal with the corporate interpretation of "cool," according to the market-tested demographic in which you fit.

Read the rest at


Mobile Fidelity Announces Major New LP/SACD Reissue Program Featuring Dylan and Davis

Mobile Fidelity announced today a new reissue program featuring iconic albums from Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, all mastered from the original analog tapes. Contractual issues mean some titles will be at 45rpm and some at 33 1/3, but either way this will return to the reissue catalog some of the most important albums in 20th century musical history.

From Miles Davis will come Kind of Blue, Milestones, In A Silent Way, Sketches of Spain and two others. The Dylan releases will include Blood on the Tracks, Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde (a 45rpm box set), Another Side of Bob Dylan and Freewheelin'. Also, the first audiophile remastering of The Basement Tapes

All titles will be in stereo.


Doors at 45rpm Coming From Analogue Productions

Analogue Productions announced today a Doors reissue project that will include all six studio titles on 45rpm LP and Hybrid Multichannel SACD. With the exception of the first Doors album, where the master tape is missing and will be cut from "the best tape copy," the project will use the original analog master tapes cut by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab.

Door producer/engineer Bruce Botnick will work with Sax to assure a superb set up and execution that will be faithful to the original releases.

The originals were recorded and mastered on tube gear and tubes will be used for this reissue series, which will be pressed on 200g vinyl.


music history for the 26th of november:

In 1955, "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford tops the Billboard singles chart, becoming the fastest selling single in recording industry history up to that time.

Also in 1955, Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" reaches #1 in the UK and is considered to be the first Rock and Roll record to accomplish that feat.

In 1956, trombonist/bandleader Tommy Dorsey died at the age of 51. Dorsey had started taking sleeping pills regularly and died from choking in his sleep after a heavy meal, so sedated that he was unable to awaken.

In 1958, Johnny Cash, made his debut on the US country chart when “Cry! Cry! Cry!” made it to #14. His next seven singles would all make the country top 10, with “I Walk the Line” and “There You Go” both hitting #1.

CVR Blog 45rpm Singles Spotlight:
In 1962, at EMI's Abbey Road studios in London, the Beatles recorded "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why." "Please Please Me" was a re-recording of the song in a more uptempo style after producer George Martin told the band that their original ballad version was "too bloody boring for words."

John Lennon, who was a big Roy Orbison fan, wrote this in the style of Orbison's overly-dramatic singing. Beatles producer George Martin suggested it would sound better sped up. In 2006, Martin told The Observer Music Monthly, "The songs the Beatles first gave me were crap. This was 1962 and they played a dreadful version of 'Please Please Me' as a Roy Orbison-style ballad. But I signed them because they made me feel good to be with them, and if they could convey that on a stage then everyone in the audience would feel good, too. So I took 'Love Me Do' and added some harmonica, but it wasn't financially rewarding even though Brian Epstein bought about 2,000 copies. Then we worked for ages on their new version of 'Please Please Me', and I said: 'Gentlemen, you're going to have your first number one'."

Lennon was partly inspired by a line from a Bing Crosby song that read, "Please lend a little ear to my pleas." He recalled: "I remember the day I wrote it, I heard Roy Orbison doing "Only The Lonely", or something. And I was also always intrigued by the words to a Bing Crosby song that went, 'Please lend a little ear to my pleas'. The double use of the word 'please'. So it was a combination of Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby." Lennon was a great fan of Bing Crosby and when in 1978, Yoko gave him a vintage '50s Wurlitzer jukebox for his birthday he loaded the machine with as many 78-rpm records by the easy-listening vocalist as he could find.

Capitol Records, EMI's United States label, was offered the right to release "Please Please Me" in the US, but turned it down. Instead, it was placed with Transglobal, an EMI affiliate that worked to place foreign masters with US record labels. It was told to find an American outlet for the record as quickly as possible, in order to appease Martin and Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. "Please Please Me" was then offered to Atlantic, which also rejected it. Finally, Vee-Jay, which had released the top-five hit "I Remember You" by Frank Ifield in 1962, another record Capitol had turned down, was offered the right to issue "Please Please Me" in the States, and chose to do so. The exact date of the US issue was lost for decades, but research published in 2004 showed that the single "Please Please Me"/"Ask Me Why" was released by Vee-Jay on 7 February 1963. Coincidentally, this was exactly one year before The Beatles' plane landed in New York on their first visit as a band to America.

Dick Biondi, a disc jockey on WLS in Chicago and a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, played the song on the radio, perhaps as early as 8 February 1963, thus becoming the first DJ to play a Beatles' record in the United States. Art Roberts, legendary DJ and Music Director at the time tells how the record came to be played first at the station:

"Let me tell you the story of "Please Please Me". The record was released on the Vee-Jay label. It was a local Chicago recording company. The owner, Ewart Abner, brought a copy of the record to W. L. S. I was the music director at the time and listened to his story about a group, and looked at pictures in teen magazines he brought back from England. I figured, what if this group would get as popular in the United States as they were in England and Europe. So I added the record to the list."

Rolling Stone ranked the song at number 184 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In 1964, the Zombies recorded "Tell Her No."

In 1966, "I'm Losing You" by The Temptations enters the US R&B chart where it will become the group's fourth straight number one. The record peaked at #8 on the Pop chart. The tune will return in versions by Rare Earth in 1970 (#7) and Rod Stewart in 1971 (#24).

In 1969, at EMI's Abbey Road studios in London, John Lennon spent the afternoon mixing the Beatles songs "What's The New Mary Jane" and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" with the intention of releasing them as the two sides of a Plastic Ono Band single. When this plan fell through, "Number" was released as the b-side of the Beatles' "Let It Be" single, making this the last time John Lennon was in the studio working on a Beatles song.

In 1973, John Rostill former bassist with The Shadows died after being electrocuted at his home recording studio. A local newspaper ran the headline, “Pop musician dies, guitar apparent cause.” After the break up of The Shadows Rostill worked with Tom Jones and wrote songs covered by Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John.

In 1974, Elton John's 'Greatest Hits' became his fifth consecutive number 1 album in the US. The record spent 10 weeks at the top and followed "Honky Chateau", "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Caribou".

In 1976, the Sex Pistols released the single “Anarchy In The UK.” It peaked at #38 on the UK charts.

Also in 1976, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley left the group 10CC to work as a duo, and to concentrate on their other projects, including the development of the Gizmo, a device used to make orchestral sounds on a guitar.

In 1989, the Rolling Stones played a concert at Death Valley Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina to help raise money for the victims of Hurricane Hugo.

In 1991, country singer Garth Brooks asked fans to bring 10 cans of food to a grocery store in exchange for a lottery envelope, some of which contained tickets to see Garth at a forthcoming show. Over 10,000 cans were donated to charity.

In 1994, when "Hell Freezes Over" was the answer that former Eagles members would give when asked when a reunion would take place. When they finally gave in to financial pressures, the band titled their album just that, and it hit the top of the Billboard album chart on this day. The effort was a combination of live versions of earlier hits and studio cuts of newly recorded material.

In 2000, Frank Smith of the Monotones, who reached number 5 in 1958 with "Book Of Love," died of cancer. He was 61.

In 2003, rapper (Slow Motion) James Tapp, Jr., whose stage name was Soulja Slim, was shot to death at age 26. His killer has never been brought to justice.

In 2008, the parents of missing Manic Street Preachers guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards were granted a court order for him to be declared presumed dead, after he disappeared nearly 14 years ago. Despite alleged sightings all over the world many believed Edwards, whose car was found near the Severn Bridge, took his own life at the age of 27.

In 2009, Paul McCartney told a BBC interviewer that his concerts are a way of helping him "revisit" other members of the Beatles and his late wife Linda. "If I'm doing songs by the Beatles, I obviously remember the sessions when we recorded. Similarly with John and Linda - in a way you're kind of in contact with them again and it's sad, it's emotional."

birthdays today (among others) include: Tina Turner (72), Jean Terrell (Supremes) (67), Alan Henderson (Them) (67), John McVie (Fleetwood Mac) (66), Adam Gaynor (Matchbox 20) (47), John Stirratt (Wilco) (44) and Ronald Jones (Flaming Lips) (41)