Otis Redding, Lonely & Blue - If you like your soul ballads slow and steady, there are few who could deliver like Otis Redding. Recognizing the need for a collection of some of his greats, the good folks at Concord Music Group created a new album that never existed before, yet looks and feels like it might have been a vintage release from the hey day when Otis was reigning king of soul, before his life was cut tragically short. This album comes on nicely pressed colored vinyl -- the packaging says blue but in reality the pressing is a nice purple. The CD sounds good too (it is also up on HDTracks.com as a CD-quality download).
As an audiophile trying to enjoy music from this period, it is important to acknowledge that recordings like this weren't made for uber hi fi systems. That doesn't make them any less good -- the music is what is the key thing here and this stuff oozes with passion, something missing from many an audiophile release. So do keep in mind that these kinds of recordings were made back in the day when most every pop, rock and soul record was compressed to maximize the music's impact coming out of a then-common three-inch transistor radio portable or car radio speaker, or one of the all-in-one consoles with speakers, amps and record changer built into the box. They'll sound good but will bear the imprint of that specific sound the producers wanted you to hear. Its not a purist thing.
A bit on that before moving forward: a friend who is heavily into "mid century" furnishing (i.e. stuff from the 1950s and 1960s) recently purchased a vintage Magnavox console system on eBay from the original owner; the system came with all the original paperwork and had been cared for over the years , with only the speakers replaced due to age. It is fascinating to hear "old" records on this system because they sound great! Early stereo mixes, with hard left-right panning of instruments and voices, work remarkably well on the console.
I'm giving you all this information to make an informed decision about what you buy. If you are expecting an incredible "audiophile" experience, this (and many of these vintage rock and soul recordings from the mid-60s) aren't necessarily going to be your bag. But if you want to hear a sweet, mellow listen of one of the great voices of our times, Lonely & Blue may be just for you. Groove on the tunes here and the vintage packaging Concord has created. Nice stuff.
Solomon Burke, The King of Rock'n Soul - One of Otis Redding's contemporaries was the great Solomon Burke who even at his most saccharine can (in my book) do no wrong.
It was exciting to find a sweet reissue of early Solomon Burke music quietly appearing in the bins at Amoeba Records for about $11 -- a vintage 1966 release that is pretty hard to find even in collectors circles. Pressed by Rhino -- Warners owns the Atlantic catalog these days -- this reissue of The King of Rock 'n Soul FEELS like an original pressing, so much so I have begun to question whether I really NEED an original pressing at this stage.
This one is great, right down to its thick, heavy, perfectly centered pressing, quiet vinyl, period-accurate label and most importantly good sound. This sounds like it was taken off a master tape or at least something very low generationally -- there is almost no hiss on this disc -- with decent mids and low end for the period and a nice crisp high end, particularly on some of the country-gospel flavored tunes (remember, Ray Charles had broken down that boundary a few years prior) with sweet acoustic guitar picking up front in the mix. Fun stuff here!
I'll be exploring, comparing and contrasting more classic reissues as I find them in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned...
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com