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My associate here at Audiophilereview.com, Paul Wilson, recently wrote a lovely tribute to Prince and other artists that have passed on too soon. To his point about the “what ifs” of what some of these artists might have accomplished had they lived, here are some others you, Dear Readers, should most certainly look into. Their catalogs — some small, some large — have many audiophile-worthy riches to explore. There is much joy to be heard once you realize that — as The Kinks’ Ray Davies wrote so poignantly in the early 1970s about film stars in the song “Celluloid Heroes” — our musical stars never really die. Their music and love lives on for all who take the time to listen. Sure, many of you probably know about The Beatles’ John Lennon and George Harrison and Joe Strummer of The Clash, but here are some other greats you might want to check out:
Jeff Buckley – Boy, talk about a star that shined so brightly. Cut down after just one formal album was released, Jeff Buckley left behind a truly remarkable debut album called Grace that influenced legions of musicians to come. Initially only on CD, Grace has been reissued on lovely audiophile grade vinyl that sounds wonderful. The CD always sounded great and the vinyl even better. If you’ve never heard Grace before, it is one of those recordings where it is best to just sit in a darkened room with the sound up loud, as Jeff’s multi-octave voice and gorgeous song writing channel in a single swoop everyone from Led Zeppelin to Nina Simone and Edith Piaf. The post-humously released Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk is also a wonderful listen, particularly on the first disc featuring a lovely — but ultimately not-satisfying to Jeff and thus unfinished — mix by the great Tom Verlaine of Television fame.
Frank Zappa – For an artist who died when he was just 52 years of age, Frank Zappa certainly qualifies for title of most prolific composer of the latter part of the 20th century. There were something like 60 or 70 albums out by the time he passed and now there are well over 100 titles around given post-humous releases issued by the Zappa Family Trust. Diving into Zappa’s music is not an easy task for the casual listener so some pointers may be helpful. One long standing audiophile favorite is Zappa’s now-classic and pioneering jazz-rock fusion album Hot Rats. This was a go-to record for many many audiophiles who wanted a well recorded, dynamic showcase to show off their spiffy speakers and sound systems. Mostly instrumental, the album features one vocal cameo by the legendary (and also now sadly deceased) Captain Beefheart who channels his best Howlin’ Wolf on the rocking bluesy jam called “Willie The Pimp.” But other tracks such as album opener “Peaches en Regalia” and the jazzy side two opener “Little Umbrellas” — with its gorgeous stand up bass lines by legendary session player and Wrecking Crew alumnus Max Bennett — are worth the price of admission. On vinyl, look for an original pressing on the teal blue colored Bizarre Records label (Zappa’s then subsidiary of Warner / Reprise Records). On CD, look for the recent reissues which sound great and feature the original mixes (the 1990s CDs on Rykodisc featured a total remix / reinvention of the album done by Zappa, which is interesting, but ultimately not as satisfying as his original vision). If you find yourself enjoying Zappa’s music here, then go on to explore albums such as Waka Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo and then perhaps even dive into Roxy & Elsewhere (a tremendous live recording) and Lather.
Don Pullen – I discovered Don’s music late in his life when a mesmerizing song of his came on the radio on a jazz station, which a friend and I were listening to while driving home from a party one night. Arriving home, I sat in the car for several minutes to hear the end of the song, waiting for the announcer to tell me what this music was. He never did. So I called up the station and got through to the DJ who said to me (probably with a smile on his face) “Where you been, maaaaan? That’s Don Pullen. Don’t you know his music?” I didn’t. And, in my defense, most people I know haven’t really known his music. But that night I became a fan. As it turns out Pullen was an alumnus of Charles Mingus’ mid-1970s band. He also worked with numerous other musicians, check the wiki here for more details. In the 1980s Pullen went on to issue a number of wonderful and — often wild — albums before passing away in 1995. While I don’t have all of his albums — and they aren’t easy to find on vinyl — my favorite to-date still remains that first one I heard, his 1990 Blue Note Records release Random Thoughts. Pullen had an unusual playing style for some of his piano soloing — at first listen may sound like a child pounding on the keys, but — sort of akin to appreciating Thelonius Monk before him — once you get accustomed to what he was doing it becomes quite fascinating at times. Sort of akin to Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” approach to Saxophone, only on Piano. The stand-out track on this album — one which I have played for friends even on CD as a system demo disc — is the melodically gorgeous tune “Ode To Life.” Still only available on CD as far as I can tell, this is a recording that really deserves a re-release on high resolution formats like Vinyl or Blu-ray Disc or an HDTracks download. But for now, the CD will suffice.