September was a busy month in the audio world with two major shows in North America; both CEDIA and RMAF were held in Denver less than a week apart making it a great opportunity to listen to a lot of new products that will be available this month, October, and January 2020. It was also a very busy month in the music industry with some great new releases, and the introduction of Amazon Music HD — which is going to hopefully create a lot more interest in high-resolution digital audio. What that means for audiophile music streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz remains to be seen.
One item that needs to be clearly explained is that 16-bit/44kHz is not high-resolution digital audio. Consumers accepted the big lie that MP3s were fine after a few decades of listening to CDs that were audibly superior. Convenience trumped sound quality; making it somewhat bemusing that vinyl has made such a huge comeback, and people are looking at reel-to-reel machines again. Consumers abandoned vinyl for horrible sounding CDs (first few years of digital were putrid…and we’re being kind), and then dropped CDs for inferior sounding downloads — only to jump back to vinyl and 16-bit digital streaming. Better late than never.
Here are some of our favourite new releases:
Fort Defiance: The Haunts of Youth (SoulStep Records, Vinyl)
Fort Defiance have been on the road for the past two years playing hundreds of live shows in support of their sophomore effort, The Haunts of Youth, and this brilliant collection of Americana released in 2017 by the husband and wife team of Jordan Eastman and Laurel Lane, might be one of our favorite albums of 2019 (the vinyl version is brand new). Eastman’s vocals remind us of Tom Russell; another veteran of the Americana/Folk scene whose studio work is vastly underrated. Lane and Eastman charge through each of the tracks with a sense of melancholy, and the deep emotional connection they share as a married couple.”Shadows Through a Canyon” has to be a breakout song for this duo; it immediately brings to mind John Prine and Iris DeMent’s “In Spite of Ourselves,” with its quirkiness — and because Lane sounds eerily like DeMent. All three versions (download, CD, and vinyl) sound excellent; the vinyl pressing released by SoulStep Records has a warmer presentation, and deeper sounding soundstage that gives this album even more presence.
Fort Defiance: The Haunts of Youth on Vinyl
John Coltrane: Coltrane’s Sound (ORG -1091, Vinyl)
Recorded during the same three-day period as “My Favorite Things” in the fall of 1960, “Coltrane’s Sound” remains as one his most underrated and lesser known recordings. This classic recording finally receives the ORG Music audiophile treatment with this 180g double LP 45RPM reissue, mastered from original tapes by Bernie Grundman and pressed at Pallas in Germany. Coltrane powers through the six pieces with the soulful intensity that defined his early releases in the 1960s including Giant Steps, and My Favorite Things, and the ORG release does not disappoint with a rich tonal balance, and deep soundstage.
Buy John Coltrane: Coltrane’s Sound on Vinyl
The New Pornographers: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (Tidal, 16-bit/44.1kHz)
A.C. Newman has been crafting clever and ambitious indie rock for almost two decades, so it’s somewhat difficult to find anything on “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” that breaks new ground, but the songwriting and music does not disappoint making this a worthy dive into relationships, love, and cars.
Buy The New Pornographers: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights on Vinyl
J.S. Ondara: Tales of America: The Second Coming (Tidal, 16-bit/44.1kHz)
It’s hard to top something as emotionally satisfying as Ondara’s debut album, Tales of America, but the Kenyan-born folksinger who is now based out of Minnesota, doesn’t have to worry about people noticing him anymore. Prince would have turned this local kid into a superstar.
Chrissie Hynde with the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble: Valve Bone Woe (Tidal, 16-bit/44.1kHz)
The notion that Chrissie Hynde can only belt out rock songs disappears relatively quickly on this surprising collection of jazz and pop covers that include John Coltrane’s “Naima,” Nick Drake’s “River Man,” and the Kinks “No Return.” The album has a deliberately slow pace that might have you skipping through the tracks, but the 70s vibe, and Hynde’s polished sounding vocals make this a satisfying listen.
Buy Chrissie Hynde with the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble: Valve Bone Woe on Vinyl