Eva Cassidy – Songbird

I'm a regular reader of the hi-fi magazines and the online sites and forums. For years now I've been reading about 'Songbird' by Eva Cassidy. I've never felt it was my thing; my area of interest. It came out on CD many years ago, and then more recently, but still years, and apparently due to demand it has had a couple of vinyl issues.

This is what I've finally bought.

The first song is Sting's 'Fields of Gold' and while listening to it I also skimmed through the sleevenotes of her brief and tragic career before she succumbed to cancer in 1996. Perhaps it was teh combination of both that brought a tear to my eye.

More than any other female singer, Jeff Buckley is the face and voice I keep thinking of as I listen to this record. There are the same strange bedfellows of power and purity in their voices, the way they emote what they sing and can soar or be subtle as they wish and as the music suits.

An album of covers, there is a strong variety of styles including blues, soul and ballads. Pete Seeger, Sting, Curtis mayfield and Christine McVie are amongst the original songwriters. Some particularly stunning soulful classics with incredible performances from Eva. Why is it they only ever play 'Somewhere over the rainbow'??

So do I like it? I do. It far surpasses the libidoless schmaltz you often get from the audiophile labels. This is a record you'll actually listen to. And of course it sounds great too.

Packaging is nice enough, a gatefold sleeve with appropriate sleevenotes and elegy. Great sound and record pressing from the team of S&P and Steve Hoffman/Kevin Gray.

PS : There are a couple of messages in the deadwax…

Shelby Lynne – Just a little lovin’

Quite famous this one. A lot has been made of the fact that its on vinyl, and particularly that its an all analogue recording on Studer 2 inch tape. To quote Shelby…

"My new album, "Just A Little Lovin'" was made on a 2-inch tape machine. I demanded it. I like working with engineers and producers who love and appreciate tape. I love the sound, smell, and feel of tape. That's why I enlisted legendary record producer, Phil Ramone, and the brilliant recording engineer, Al Schmitt. They didn't mind my insistence. They put up with my hardheadedness. Hardly anyone uses tape anymore because they claim it's so expensive and it's just easier to use a computer. Most engineers can operate any computer rig in studios these days. But if you ask them to run a Studer and put on a reel of tape, they run down the hallway screaming for Mommy. I'm sorry, but I can't get turned on looking at a computer screen. First of all, it's not more expensive. By the time digital users spend the time and money to buy the software needed to put that "tape sound" on their digital record, they have spent more time and money than I have. While their downloading "tape sound" software, I'm kicking back on the houseboat drinking beer with a fishing pole in my hand listening to Django."


So there you have it. Tape is marvellous and, well, actually it is. The sound off this LP IS warm, IS finely detailed and sounds well, beautiful. And full, and has excellent bass and treble and pretty much all you could ask for.

The album is itself a collection of songs made famous by Dusty Springfield, that wonderful songstress from the 60s with a husky voice to die for and a knack for putting every emotion into her songs. The songs are from a variety of writers but Dusty made them her own.

Shelby doesn't just try to replicate the Dusty originals for that would be futile but she puts her own spin on each one. This basically means stripping each song down to its barest elements, plucked guitar, brushed cymbals, solitary vocal and reducing the pace. She reduces the pace a LOT. We're in Norah Jones or Diana Krall territory here. Which is great if you're a fan. But I'm not. They're too slow, dare I say too boring for me. I'd have to be real tired or getting real romantic for this record to work. But as its on vinyl I'd have to get up every 20 minutes which, well defeats the point. I could of course buy it on CD, but then, well that defeats the whole Studer analogue 2 inch tape argument, doesn't it?

For the record, the songs are

1. Just A Little Lovin'
2. Anyone Who Had A Heart
3. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
4. I Only Want To Be With You
5. The Look Of Love
6. Breakfast In Bed
7. Willie And Laura Mae Jones
8. I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore
9. Pretend
10. How Can I Be Sure

'Breakfast in Bed' jazzes things up a little in an electric fashion, while 'Willie and Laura Mae Jones' countrifies things a little.

I got the repressing which is meant to be an improvement on the problematic first pressing. I still notice a lot of noise and am getting some extra sibilance…well more than sibilance issues. So the original tape sounds like it was pretty good but the pressing could be way better. Pity. Packaging is minimal but then again this is a cheap record. Maybe they should have charged more and made it perfect.

Hugh Masekela – Hope

Over the last few years I've picked up a few records by Hugh Masekela. The south african trumpeteer has been releasing them for way longer than I've been born and I guess I still have quite a few to collect. A couple of years ago I bought his record on Bernie Grundman's 'Straight ahead' records, 'Almost like being in jazz'. It was immaculately produced and presented but the music left me somewhat cold. It was literally 'straight ahead' jazz but didn't seem to have much to stand out.

In 2004 Hugh performed live at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley and ran through a selection of his classic tracks from over the years. 'Grazing in the grass' is there as is 'Stimela(The Coal Train)'(Coltrane??).

Some like 'Lakuta' are fairly standard, but most appealing, jazz with the trumpet obviously to the fore, but for the most part this double 45rpm set is full of the african rhythms and also vocals from the townships of South Africa where Hugh might have grown up. Its a vibrant, thrilling set of songs, a classic collision of the best musicianship and the joy of African music. I can only imagine what it was like to be there that night. It would have been pure heaven for me.

The aforementioned 'Stimela' is the last track on the album, out of 7 tracks and is a ten minute epic. This political tale of the trains that run to the mines in South Africa from all across the continent send the blood cold and the music is shocking and thrilling, tension builds and you are drawn into a frenzy. You stamp your feet and shake your head as you bow your will to that of the music. It reaches into the deepest emotions, most primitive feelings and is thoroughly rivetingly gripping.

Not only is the music of the highest quality, the musicianship peerless but the sound quality, particularly for a live environment is equally stunning. The realism, space and depth is astounding, the detail wonderful. We are blessed that such an excellent engineer was on hand that night to capture the performance. And that Analogue productions elected to put this out on the 45rpm dbl lp set that we have here. You can't get better sound than this and you really should snap this up before it is gone. Its $50 dollars but you'll never regret it. The only downside is the packaghing is flimsy and minimal, but the inner sleeves are the plastic lined paper ones that do keep your records in excellent condition.