Audio Fidelity August Releases

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by David Martin

31st August, 2015

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Audio Fidelity August Releases

New from Audio Fidelity for August, four SACDs, two in 4.0 /2.0 SACD/Hybrid, and two straight stereo SACD Hybrids. Releases include Joe Walsh, B.B. King & Eric Clapton, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jeff Beck Group.

JOE WALSH - "SO WHAT" 1974.

AUDIO FIDELITY: SACD Stereo / Hybrid.
AFZ 214

It is sometimes forgotten that Joe Walsh had a life beyond the wingspan of The Eagles. His band, "THE JAMES GANG" had a large, though U.S. confined following, and produced some great 70s vintage rock.

He also released a string of excellent solo albums, such as "BARNSTORM", "BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS ..." , "THE SMOKER YOU DRINK, THE PLAYER YOU GET " ( ..arguably the best album title ever), and this minor gem from '74, "SO WHAT".

Recorded at various studios in L.A., Sausalito and New York City, it also featured some work tracked at Joes' home studio.

Walsh penned all tracks bar his short take on Maurice Ravels'  'Pavane of The Sleeping Beauty', which Joe performs on ARP and Mellotron. His talent as an arranger and instrumentalist is very evident here, as is his humour and ability to perform something as sad and poignant as 'Song for Emma' without sinking into sentimentality.

The album contains a re-recording of his all time classic, 'Turn To Stone'. Opinions are divided as to which version is the better: my thought being that both are excellent, but the version here seems more considered and shaded.

You couldn't get away with sticking a track like 'All Night Laundry Mat Blues' on an album nowadays, and it perhaps shows Joes' sense of the ridiculous to have it included here.

'Help Me Thru The Night' is the other well known track , and 'Falling Down' holds up very well.

Joe has a gift for hooks and melodies, and I think they are the reason this album is still worth a listen decades later. As always, his guitar playing is exemplary.

This mastering by Kevin Gray serves the album well. Nice dynamics, very 'organic'.

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B.B.KING & ERIC CLAPTON- "RIDING WITH THE KING" 2000.

AUDIO FIDELITY -SACD Stereo/Hybrid.
AFZ 211.

Having bumped 'tuning heads' many times over the previous four decades, this was the culmination of many probable "We must do something together some day!" style conversations between B.B. KING and ERIC CLAPTON. 

B.B. was one of the main torch carriers for the blues resurrection, and Eric was nothing less than the 'apprentice' of the tradition, as it re-ignited in Britain in the mid- sixties. 

B.B's career was forged with endless road work, periodic recordings, and the wax and wane of public visibility. His authenticity was never, for a moment, in doubt.

Eric started with the blues, having fallen in thrall to ROBERT JOHSON in his teens.

A 'Tour of Duty' with THE YARDBIRDS left him dissatisfied with their evident drift to the mutant pop tunes that made the band a frequent flyer on the charts. A stint with JOHN MAYALLS' BLUES BREAKERS delivered what many still consider the finest British blues album ever - the so-called ' BEANO' album. From there, to 'CREAM', ' BONNIE & DELANEY, ' DEREK & THE DOMINOES', all manner of solo albums, and finally, the wheel turned back to the blues. If you love music, you know the story.

This album was produced by Eric and Simon Climie. There is a nice sixties era photograph included within the cover-slick of a the two men sitting on their Fenders, possibly jamming.

B.B., suited, slicked, intense, regal. Eric, bouffant-deluxe, moccasins and a pair of 'stovepipe' trousers. In some ways, it defines the relationship. The Master, and The Apprentice.

This album bought all manner of acclaim when originally released. It won the Grammy for 'Best Traditional Blues Album' in the year of release, and has sold multi-platinum copies, so general regard for the album is high.

I want to love this, but it is just so damned polite and clean. Not my go-to album for either artist.

That said, this mastering by Steve Hoffman opens it up wonderfully, and it does work better when the wick is turned up. At lower levels, it tends to fade into the background.

So, for me, a great mastering of a 'missed opportunity' album.

Sorry guys. Send cards and letters of complaint to ...............

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MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA- "BIRDS OF FIRE" 1973.

AUDIO FIDELITY -SACD Surround 4.0/ SACD Stereo/ Hybrid.
AFZ5 212.

It is a testament to the open-mindedness of the seventies that a band such as MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA could not only release albums such as this, but sell by the bucket loads, and pack out tours.

This was challenging music back then, and remains so today.  It still retains the power to pin your ears back.

Band leader, John McLaughlin had drafted keyboard legend Jan Hammer, drum virtuoso Billy Cobham, ex-FLOCK violinist Jerry Goodman, and renowned bassist Rick Laird to form the band that could/would set his compositions on fire.

McLaughlin composed all the tracks, and entered TRIDENT STUDIOS with the legendary KEN SCOTT at the board. Extra engineering credit went to Jim Green in New York.

Over the course of ten tracks, the band manage to soothe, excite, batter, seduce and rattle the senses. At times, we hear the sound of five virtuosos all soloing at the same time at maximum volume. Then, at the next turn, fragile, sweet and gentle.

Perhaps the keystone track would be 'Open Country Joy', which manages to encompass everything the band could do in one succinct package.

Starting with a lilting, almost country/chamber-music like intro, the track falls to silence for a few beats before exploding into some of the earliest and most innovative shredding committed to tape.

On original vinyl, and two subsequent CD reissues, I felt that the sheer sonic assault of much of this music totally overwhelmed the media. It always sounded right on the edge of overload, and on a less than capable system, could clear a room in five minutes.

So, it is a joy to report that Kevin Grays' mastering brings us closer to the music than ever before. In no way tamed, or less challenging, he delivers John McLaughlins' music to our ears in a manner that lets the whole beautiful, chaotic adventure breathe.

That is just the stereo layer. The surround takes it all to nirvana.

Gus Skinas did the 4.0 Analog to Hi Def DSD transfer. Quad sound supervision courtesy of Harold J. Kleiner . Quad remix Engineer Don Young.

This is not music for the timid or unadventurous listener. It is an supreme example of one of the most daring and inspired bands ever to shake the foundations.

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JEFF BECK GROUP- "JEFF BECK GROUP" 1972.

AUDIO FIDELITY -SACD Surround 4.0/SACD Stereo/ Hybrid.
AFZ5 219.

After his tenure with The Yardbirds (where he added some of their most distinctive sonic touches) Jeff Beck struck out in his own direction, leaving us with the influential "TRUTH" and "BECK-OLA" albums.

"TRUTH" could be considered the basic template for much of the British Blues-Rock that followed in its wake.

There were plans to form a super group with Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice from VANILLA FUDGE, but a serious road accident in 1969 left Jeff with head injuries, and a long recuperation to endure.

When he resurfaced in 1971, it was as The Jeff Beck Group, and a debut album, "ROUGH and READY". This was a tentative stab at melding several styles into a unified whole. It was carried by some excellent musicianship, but perhaps hampered by the lack of truly distinctive material. Jeff is still sitting on the blues-rock side of the bench, but it did well, and certainly did not blot his record in any way.

The second album under the banner was simply called 'THE JEFF BECK GROUP' and with a release in 1972, became known as 'THE ORANGE ALBUM'. This was recorded in Memphis with Steve Cropper wearing the producers hat.

The line was Max Middleton on keyboards, Clive Chaman on bass, Cozy Powell on percussion, and the vocals of Bob Tench.

For point of reference regarding Bob Tench, I would note he is the equal of Terry Reid in tone, texture and phrasing.

I would place this as the ' transitional album' for Jeffs' move between the blues-rock material, and the jazz/fusion direction that followed.

There is a strong sense of Jeff being a band member, not necessarily a band leader. That is to say, he does not crush all before him.

My guess is that a lot of this was written in the studio, or selected at least there.

Some tracks are very assured. The cover of DYLANS' 'Tonight I'll be Staying Here With You' turns a sweet and buoyant original into something a little more 'earthy'.

One track is self evident filler- 'Sugar Cane': a Beck/ Cropper composition with no real redeeming features, suggesting Dr. John in a 'I don't give a damn' mood.

An instrumental take of the Ashford/Simpson/Holland tune 'I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You' is a taste of the majestic feel Jeff would consolidate on the 'WIRED' album a few years later. Short, inspired, excellent.

Penultimate track,  'Highways', a vocal take, still sounds fresh with Jeff peeling off some very tasty solos, and Middleton adding some gorgeous keyboard textures. It is faded out way too soon.

Album closer, 'Definitely Maybe' has all the calling cards you need to anticipate where Jeffs' muse would take him with 1975s 'BLOW BY BLOW' and the brilliant 'WIRED' from 1976. Again, it is faded out to soon.

He did eventually get to record with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice on the 1973 self titled album.

The remastering for Stereo CD and SACD is by Kevin Gray.

Quad sound supervision and engineering is courtesy of Ronnie Capone, with Gus Skinas looking after the 4.0 Analog to Hi Def. DSD Transfer.

It retains the essential feel of a band playing together in the studio with minimal production tweaks. 

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For more information visit Audio Fidelity.

David Martin's avatar

Written by:

David Martin

A walking encyclopedia of music, David's broad music knowledge is a valued member to the team. Without music, there would be no HiFi. Look out for his words on current, past and future music, as well as album reviews.

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