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Listening Report: Marianne Faithfull’s Montreux Years Concerts On Vinyl, CD & Streaming

Mark Smotroff appreciates a fine live career overview…

Reviewing a live album that is also retrospective of an artist’s career becomes a pleasure when the producers of the recording have put some TLC into the project. Balanced song selection, choice of ace performances and use of best quality audio sources can result in a powerful listening experience that complements the artist’s catalog. Not all live recording achieve this. But, several of the new releases from BMG — as part of their series of archival releases from the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival — do!

In the latest edition in the series, the producers have done a wonderful job creating a fine overview of legendary ‘60s British Invasion-era singer Marianne Faithfull’s performances at Montreux between the years of 1995 and 2009. This tracks her late period renaissance and it is the sequencing of the album which elevates the album above the norm.  The feel flow of music on Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years delivers peaks and valleys, arcs, twists and turns.

From the rocking angst of her ‘80s comeback breakthrough “Broken English” to the moody and haunting song Tom Waits wrote for her, “Strange Weather, across this hour plus album you’ll get tastes of rock, jazz, reggae, dance and ambient production styles. You’ll also hear compelling tales from Faithfull, she a survivor of rock ‘n’ roll excess, stardom and celebrity intrigue. Her version of “Sister Morphine” – – written with the Rolling Stones Mick Jagger — is powerful here as is her take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”

Overall the fidelity on Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years is quite wonderful and remarkably consistent. The CD version sounds fine and the LP is excellent, pressed on thick dark 180-gram vinyl that is quiet and well centered.  

As with the earlier albums in the Montreux concert series I’ve reviewed, Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years was mastered using MQA technology — yes, the vinyl was mastered via MQA.  This is interesting since most audiophile folks know MQA from Tidal’s high resolution streams.

In my review of Nina Simone’s Montreux Years set I explored this in some detail (click here in case you missed it). From that report I’ll recap a clarifying paragraph on why MQA is gaining favor among some vinyl mastering engineers:

“… The process of digitization (whether historic or recent) introduces artifacts such as time smear, or “blur.”  Apparently, the MQA encoder ‘cleans’ or ‘de-blurs’ the recording and then the MQA decoding and rendering in the DAC provides a clean path to analogue, preventing any artifacts being reintroduced during conversion.”

Accordingly, you can find Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years streaming in 96 kHz, 24-bit resolution on Tidal in MQA format (click here) as well as in Qobuz Hi Res (click here). Both versions sound real nice, crisp and clean with a pleasant richness to the bass and drums in particular. In this case I lean a bit toward the Tidal version as I like how it treats Faithfull’s naturally raspy vocals. Everything feels a bit warmer there, dare I say it, a bit more analog feeling.  

It all adds up: a great combination of choice songs, high quality sound and compelling performances make Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years a winning collection.

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