It was really hard to narrow down my favorites this year — and there are still so many I have yet to hear and review! But these are some of the great releases we explored in 2019 chosen for their combination of compelling music, sound quality, historical import/significance and the overall complete experience right down to the packaging. Click on the sub-headlines for each title and it will take you to my original reviews so you can read more about the albums (and hopefully, maybe just maybe even listen or even buy some of these!). This list are presented in pretty random order, so be sure to read to the end otherwise you might miss some goodies there.
This deluxe edition called Psurroundabout Ride delivers stellar high resolution versions of all of The Dukes of Stratosphear’s recordings in Surround Sound and Stereo. The surround remix reimagines what 5.1 might have been like if it existed in 1967. If you are a fan of XTC (who are The Dukes, FYI) or are a fan of 1960s psychedelic music and surround sound, you need this.
A flurry of fun, friskiness and feelings, Tank and the Bangas gleefully mix hip hop, jazz, soul, rock, funk, spoken word and Springsteen-like storytelling into a heady fresh brew on Green Balloon. Imagine if Funkadelic, Frank Zappa and Meshell Ndegeocello had a big party with Laura Nyro and Bette Midler and you might have some idea of where we’re going. Sounds great on vinyl or Qobuz/Tidal CD quality streams. I also liked their recent live album (click here for that review)
Turn on, Tune In features the current incarnation of this legendary group performing live without a net and it is one of those rare records that captures the live stage feel of the group. The sound quality is excellent. It is worth buying if only just to hear the opening track written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin — “Don’t Ever Change” — a song I first heard on BBC recordings by The Beatles. NRBQ’s harmonies rival those of the Fab Four’s version! Turn on, Tune In is a great addition to the NRBQ catalog and a fine introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before.
I had to include a favorite indie release which happens to be made by a San Francisco Bay Area legend among music-making and record collecting circles. If you ask your Ouija Board about the latest-greatest, brand-spankin’ newest 21st Century music that simultaneously channels Captain Beefheart, Howlin’ Wolf, Adrian Belew and Mike Watt it might well spell out the name of Owen Maercks and his new album Kinds of Blue. Laid down in one three and a half-hour session, the album has a remarkably organic band feel, which, by the way happens to include Grammy-nominated Guitarist Henry Kaiser!
If you love Zappa’s Hot Rats album, you need the Hot Rats Sessions 50th Anniversary collection. Across six great sounding CDs the set contains every note that went into the creation of this groundbreaking 1969 jazz rock fusion recording from outtakes to unedited jam sessions. There have been a number of great Zappa restorations this year including Zappa In NY, Orchestral Favorites 40th Anniversary, and the great Halloween ’73 set. But the Zappa Family Trust saved the best for last, giving one of Zappa’s most influential recordings the super deluxe treatment.
The 1959 original cast recording of The Sound of Music is an audiophile listening experience worth considering. Recorded at Columbia Records’ legendary CBS 30th Street Studio, the same place where Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was made, the presence of orchestras, choirs and all manner of theatrical expression can put your audiophile system to the test. That this musical happens to be one of the most popular in history featuring a wealth of beloved music is a bonus.
This new album by late legendary singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson — called Losst and Founnd (that title is not a typo) — was a happy surprise this year! Here, Harry sounds great and engaged in the music. This album took 25 years to complete but the final results are fabulous! The sound is quite good here — recorded over many years at multiple studios — but at the end of the day its about the music and this is a fun album overall.
The Bakersfield Sound tells the full story of how the city came to be the magnetic heart and soul for contemporary Country Western music in the 50s and 60s. Across 10 CDs and a 224-page hardcover book, you get a great snapshot of the music and the personalities behind the songs. This new set is comprehensive and exhaustive.
I like the new 5.1 Surround Sound remix of Abbey Road a lot as Producer Giles Martin exercised restraint while demonstrating love and respect for the music, the artists as well as his Father’s original mixes. One of the classic records of The Beatles catalog, it remains among the most respected Stereo mixes of all time, yet the new remixes offer new insights to complement it (click here for the Stereo review portion of my two-part series).
Western Stars is probably Springsteen’s strongest album since 2007’s Magic and 2009’s Working on A Dream. Like his 1975 masterpiece, Born To Run, Western Stars delivers a big epic sound, but with brilliant late 1960s Jimmy Webb-inspired production twists. Bruce’s singing is relaxed and flowing. The vinyl version of Western Stars sounds much better than the CD-quality streams with richer bass and midrange presence. Western Stars in a single sweep recalls everything Bruce has done while breaking new artistic ground.
T’was a time when if you wanted to hear John Coltrane’s music from his important transitional year of 1958, you had to piece together sessions released across many Prestige Records albums. Beloved recordings like Lush Life, Soultrane, Bahia — and my personal favorite The Stardust Session — are now all compiled in an ultra-super-deluxe package: Coltrane ’58: The Prestige Recordings. Mastered from the original analog master tapes recorded by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, the new LPs were cut from 24-bit/192kHz transfers and sound terrific. If this wasn’t enough, there was also a NEW Coltrane album released this year called Blue World (click here for that review)
The Record Store Day release of the legendary test pressing of Dylan’s classic 1975 album Blood On The Tracks, is a momentous event for fans. After years of only hearing the murky bootlegged version, we now have a fine replica of the actual Blood On The Tracks Test Pressing which was released in very limited quantity to industry insiders in 1974 before Dylan decided to rework the record. Hearing this album is like watching a master painter creating a masterpiece.
(note: click each title to jump to the original reviews)