Les Paul's After You've Gone: Is Digitally Sourced Vinyl All Bad?

I'll answer the headline question to this article right off the bat here with a resounding "no." I have quite a number of good -- and even great! -- sounding LPs which were mastered from digital source material. Some of them are high resolution digital transfers of rare recordings from the analog domain and others are albums made pretty much entirely in the digital universe.  But I do have some terrible ones as well which always gives me pause...

AR-LesPaulAfterYouveGoneCover225.jpgAdmittedly, I sometimes have to catch myself to consider my motivation for purchasing certain albums on vinyl?  Nostalgia?  Perhaps. Preferred sound?  Generally, yes; exclusively, no.  Insatiable curiosity? Absolutely.

The latter is where I get into trouble as with several recent purchases I almost regretted. Why? Because I found out they were sourced essentially from CD quality files or even a CD itself. Thus apart from the added warmth I might get from playback of the album through a tube preamp, there is -- in theory -- really is no particular benefit for having those recordings on vinyl. At least for me...

My thinking about this began late last year when I quite excitedly purchased a "new" Les Paul album that was released out of the blue in one of those special Record Store Day / Black Friday exclusives at Barnes & Noble. The packaging was really nice and the colored vinyl was a fun twist I couldn't resist. Of course I should have been swayed by the hype sticker which says "First Ever Vinyl Pressing," which I knew was not exactly the case as I own much of this music on an LP from 30-plus years ago.... More on that in a moment.  

AR-LesPaulPlaying225.jpgSome of you may know by now that I am a long time Les Paul fanatic and have written about him quite a bit in the past. In the early 1990s I wrote two feature articles on Les celebrating the then new five-CD boxed set which was being released by Capitol Records. One article appeared in recording industry trade Mix Magazine and the other was a cover feature in the now defunct record collectors magazine  DISCoveries. The latter article was republished in edited form by new owner Goldmine in two parts after Les passed away some years back.  Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2 if you are interested in reading them.  

The recordings here sound quite good all things considered, likely culled from transcription discs made in the 1940s. 

AR-LesPaulTrioFeedbackLPCover225.jpgA good fifty percent of the recordings on this new Les Paul album -- which is called Les Paul And His Trio: After You've Gone -- seem to have been previously released in the mid 1980s on Circle Records (an LP which I own) called Les Paul And His Trio: Feedback 1944-1945. This new edition even bears the same track running order, on Disc 1 at least.  On that earlier release they offer specific dates of the sessions done for World Broadcasting. 

I reached out to Org Music, this new edition's record label, and was sent some interesting information from the company which did the mastering, Infrasonic Sound: this new LP set was made from the same digital archives as a previous CD release, but completely remastered for vinyl with masters cut on a restored Neumann lathe. A pretty cool pedigree for the most part! 

I applaud the care put into trying to get the most out of these digital recordings and that the recordings have been released again on vinyl. I do wish, however, that (a) the producers would have indicated the sources used for creating the album and (b) offered some liner notes so the buyer could get some idea of the significance of these recordings. I also wonder why the label didn't do more to try to find the original transcription discs which were used by Circle Records to make the earlier album.  That would have made Les Paul And His Trio: After You've Gone that much more special. Someone, somewhere probably has those master discs...

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That said, Les Paul And His Trio: After You've Gone sounds pretty good, with caveats. The mid ranges are quite a bit cleaner and more distinct than the old Circle Records version but the recordings also sound a bit thinner, with the bass coming through much less full bodied. Its a trade off as the Circle Records version is a bit noisier from the original transcription disc sources while this new version has probably been digitally de-clicked and de-essed and such. 

Perhaps accordingly, and a bit problematic for me, is that sort of inexplicable digital feeling I hear on the new version.  It is not horrible and I certainly got used to it pretty quickly, but I always find this factor curious because I know it doesn't have to happen. There are plenty of digitally sourced recordings I have on vinyl that don't deliver this sort of uncomfortable sonic edginess, for lack of a better phrase.   

The clear pink and yellow colored vinyl pressings are quite nice, thick and quiet plus they are generally well centered. From the ORG Music website, we learn that this album was reportedly pressed at Pallas in Germany, although it doesn't indicate that information anywhere on the album or discs. 

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The second disc on this set is handy as it does include some material I only had on assorted CDs and even then some of this I didn't have at all in my collection. That alone makes Les Paul And His Trio: After You've Gone a keeper for me. 

But what about for you, Dear Readers of Audiophile Review?  Should you shell out $30 for a vinyl album of monaural recordings from the 1940s that was mastered from a digital source? Well, that depends on how much you like Les' early music! This is from a period when Les Paul was a hot Jazz Cat and much sought after session musician, so there is a lot of fire in his playing that in some ways took a back seat for his hit making period with Mary Ford in the 1950s.  If you have Tidal, you can get an idea what The Les Paul Trio sounded like then -- click here for a similar but different batch of recordings from the period.

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For the Les Paul fan, I think recordings like this are essential. And for the casual listener, there is much to love here as Les fires off his soon- to-become-trademark high speed runs and riffs in displays of electric guitar fireworks that the world really hadn't heard before, aside from Les' hero and future friend Django Rheinhart and the great early electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian. Plus, as with all of Les' music, there is an underlying sense of friskiness inherent in his playing so that makes this music all the more appealing. 

Here is a link to a fun rare film clip of Les and his trio doing one of his then-signature showcase pieces, "Dark Eyes" (with some comic support in the middle).  If you like this, then you may very well enjoy the rest of Les Paul And His Trio: After You've Gone.  Check it out. 

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