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Primary Rig

Clockwise: Schiit Vali 2 augmented with a with a vintage Amperex ECC88 tube (headphone amp), Massdrop Sennheiser HD 6XX , Headphones, Bluesound Node 2i streamer, and Croft Phono Integrated (amp)

This is not much of a post, but given I mostly post about music, I thought I would share how I listen. 90% of my serious listening is on headphones with the source material being Tidal streaming via my Bluesound Node 2i. I still love my records and CDs, but streaming is so damn convenient. And with high resolution, streaming sounds great too! My primary rig is in the photo above with links to more details about each piece of equipment. Love to see what you all listen through.

Prince – The Truth

RSD Drops 2021 June 12th, 2021

My son recently asked me about my take on the Prince release that will part of this year’s Record Store Day. I had seen it on the list, but I had not checked it out. When I did, I realized it was part of the 1998 release Crystal Ball which is in my CD collection.

Per Record Store Day site:

The Truth is widely regarded as one of Prince’s most underappreciated hidden gems. Originally released as an accompaniment to the 1998 triple album Crystal Ball, which marked the first time that Prince released an album totally independently, The Truth was also the first Prince album to be labeled “acoustic,” though it does contain electronic instruments and elements, and it gave listeners an unprecedented chance to hear his songwriting and voice in a stripped-down presentation. This release as part of RSD Drops marks the first time The Truth is available on vinyl, with gorgeous, foil-embossed artwork designed by Prince’s long-time art director Steve Parke.

I am a Prince fan, but not an obsessive. I have most of Prince’s official albums, but he released so much material that a lot of it’s not that familiar to me (even stuff I own). I am more familiar with the packaging of Crystal Ball than the music. The Truth album is a worthy candidate for my “Lost on the shelves” posts – this is a new release to my ears.

Packaging: “The Truth,” the song, was originally released as a mail order CD single via Prince’s fan club. There was a plan to release The Truth as an album, but label trouble resulted in the album getting shelved.

The original 1998 CD

Eventually, it was included as a bonus CD with a three CD set Crystal Ball. Crystal Ball was in a clear plastic round box. This packaging was kind of cool to look at, but not very practical. It did not file easily on a typical CD shelf and it was challenging to pull an individual CD out of the package to play it.

History: Originally Prince had a album concept called Crystal Ball. The concept was abandoned and many of those songs ended up on Sign O’ The Times. The Crystal Ball that ultimately got released as a “box set” was a collection of outtakes and songs from Prince’s vault. The Truth was thrown in as a bonus and ironically was a more thought-out album vs. the hodgepodge that is Crystal Ball.

The Music: The shorthand take on The Truth is that it is Prince’s acoustic album. It certainly leans acoustic, but it does have some electronic instruments.

The album opens with “The Truth” that has a Tracy Chapman “Give Me One Reason” vibe, but with stranger lyrics and odd vocals – in a good way.

“Don’t Play Me” has a singer songwriter feel. Lyrically, Prince is direct and mysterious at the same time.

After two sparse acoustic songs (augmented with some electronics), Prince gets lush. “Circle of Amour” is a gorgeous ballad recounting a kinky high school memory.

“3rd Eye” is acoustic guitar and bad ass electric bass. Prince explores religious themes. Prince offers some self-help:

“In self-pity so dark
This shitty and stark
Realization is all that will soothe
Ultimately the only one
That can save you is you
Your God is inside and for that God you will do
Whatever it takes
If nothing else is true
The only one that can save you is you, yeah

Some trivia: the “This shitty and stark” line is the last time Prince cussed on record.

“Dionne” is lushly arranged and has a Broadway show tune feel.

“Man In A Uniform” is a kinky novelty song, but in Prince’s hands it is funky AF.

“Animal Kingdom” is a vegan anthem and sonically is as weird as you would expect.

“The Other Side Of The Pillow” is an acoustic blues with the epic lyric: “Cool as the other side of the pillow.”

“Fascination” has a jazzy Doobie Brothers vibe.

“One Of Your Tears” is a heartbreak song where Prince coos: “Sometimes I want to die and come back as one of your tears.”

“Comeback” is about the ultimate loss.

The album ends with “Welcome 2 The Dawn (Acoustic Version)” which is a brilliant ending – it is the kind of song you would play for the end credits of a movie. It is the strongest song on an album of good songs.

This truly is a hidden gem in the tsunami that is Prince’s catalog. It is totally Prince, but another side of his brilliant star. It is not quite like anything else in his catalog, it’s wonderfully oddball. So glad to have been reminded of its existence by Record Store Day. It is not one of his greatest albums, but it is a fascinating footnote to his genius.

P.S. Sonically this is a great sounding record. Super clean and intimate sounding. Proof a CD can sound fantastic.

Check out @catchgroove

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I have been posting fewer blog posts lately in favor of Instagram and Twitter. Some of this is laziness, but also I get more traction on those platforms.

My approach on Instagram is short takes on what I am listening to, drinking and eating with a photo. Pre Covid I would highlight activities like concerts and sporting events.

My approach on Twitter is to embrace the medium and give even a shorter take on the same stuff I would post on Instagram.

If you like this blog consider following @catchgroove on Instagram and Twitter. Thanks.

Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords

Maria Schneider Orchestra – Data Lords on ArtistShare

I heard a lot of positive hype on this album in 2020, but not being familiar enough with Schneider’s work I was reluctant to lay out $25 for a hi-res download. My typical purchase of music (mostly vinyl and occasionally downloads and CDs) is predicated on my being very familiar with the artist or being able to test drive the album on a streaming service. This album wasn’t on streaming services, so I forgot about it.

I recently won a 24-BIT/96HZ FLAC version of Data Lords in a contest from the website All About Jazz. I have had a chance to listen to it and it lives up to the hype. It is an instrumental concept album. Per Maria Schneider:

“…I feel my life greatly impacted by two very polarized worlds: the digital world, and the organic world. While one world clamors desperately for our constant attention, the other really doesn’t need any of us at all. …Feeling both of these opposite worlds represented in my recent music, I have decided to make this a two-album release reflecting these two polar extremes.”

I did some research on Schneider and now I understand why she would not issue her work on a streaming service. She finds the streaming services and labels (along with the various digital Goliaths) as anathema. In an article/interview she states:

“The way the music streaming economy works is [based on] how many times people listen to a piece of music and everybody is paid according to a play. So now everybody starts making their music shorter, so they can get more plays and what’s really absurd about it is somebody like me is making a record that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and if I agree to have my music on a streaming site I’m being paid the exact same rate as a kid who makes a record in his bedroom.”

I understand the frustration, but because of her stance, fewer people are hearing her music. There are few artists who can avoid the streaming services and labels and Schneider appears to be one of them. But point taken – record labels and streaming services suck for creators.

Per a piece on NPR Schneider was inspired by her work with David Bowie – the song “Sue” from Blackstar. Data Lords uses some of the same jazz musicians that Blackstar did. In an email to Bowie she said:

“I felt like someone twisted my head so far to the right, it snapped off. What have you done to me?!” Bowie’s reply was short and sweet: “my work here is done!!”

But what about the music? This an epic big band/jazz orchestra (18 pieces). The first half of the album is the “digital world” and the second half is the “natural world. Both halves are beautiful. The digital world half is aggressive and in your face – in Schneider’s words: clamoring desperately for our constant attention (thanks Mr. Bowie). The natural world half is pastoral and conventionally beautiful (from what I have read, Schneider’s wheelhouse).

It is hard to categorize music, but I would easily categorize this as jazz. It is orchestral – given the size of “the band” and the elaborate arrangements. The ensemble has mostly traditional jazz instrumentation: horns and more horns and a conventional rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. A guitar and one odd ball: an accordion.

The album is exquisitely recorded. The 24-BIT/96HZ FLAC is warm and easy to listen to.

Having had a chance to hear the album, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay. Available at ArtistsShare as a download or CD.

The band:

Steve Wilson – alto/soprano/clarinet/flute/alto flute
Dave Pietro – alto/clarinet/piccolo/flute/alto flute
Rich Perry – tenor
Donny McCaslin – tenor/flute
Scott Robinson – baritone/Bb, bass & contra-bass clarinets/muson
Tony Kadleck – trumpet/flügelhorn
Greg Gisbert – trumpet/flügelhorn
Nadje Noordhuis – trumpet/flügelhorn
Mike Rodriguez – trumpet/flügelhorn
Keith O’Quinn – trombone
Ryan Keberle – trombone
Marshall Gilkes – trombone
George Flynn – bass trombone
Gary Versace – accordion
Ben Monder – guitar
Frank Kimbrough – piano
Jay Anderson – bass
Johnathan Blake – drums/percussion

Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

I don’t know how Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree escaped my attention over the last 25 years. Seems like something I should have noticed. I saw this album upon release and ignored it – I did wonder about it as it seemed to be getting some hype. I recently listened to a podcast with Wilson, and he was so interesting that I was compelled to check out the new album. Once I heard the interview it jogged my memory that he is well regarded as remixer (both stereo and surround) of choice for various classic rock acts and audiophiles (a side hustle). His remix of the Jethro Tull catalog is amazing.

The Future Bites is a concept album performed in a sophisticated pop style that sounds contemporary, but familiar to these classic rock ears. Kind of like if Pink Floyd had been informed by hip hop and electronica. Per Wilson’s website:

The Future Bites deals with two recurring themes of my musical output, identity and technology. It picks apart our 21st century utopia, while also allowing for moments of personal growth and optimism. It’s less a bleak vision of an approaching dystopia, more a curious reading of the here and now”

Steven Wilson

Sonically the album sounds great. Not surprisingly given Wilson’s work as a remix engineer on classic recordings. If you want a little taste, check out the song “12 Things I Forgot” – it is like a long-lost ELO song – pure ear candy. Another great song is “Man Of The People.” In the podcast interview, Wilson said it was his favorite of the album and he envisioned it as Marvin Gaye meets Pink Floyd – pretty spot on.

It is early in the year to make this claim, but this will be on my top-10 for 2021. Looking forward to diving down the Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree rabbit hole.

John Scofield & Pat Metheny – I Can See Your House From Here (Tone Poet reissue)

180-gram LP
Mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio from the original master tape
Plated and pressed at RTI

This is one of my favorite albums from two of my favorite guitarists: John Scofield & Pat Metheny. I Can See Your House From Here is a worthy candidate for the Blue Note Tone Poet series. Per Blue Note:

“The Blue Note Tone Poet Series was born out of Blue Note President Don Was’ admiration for the exceptional audiophile Blue Note LP reissues presented by Music Matters. Was brought Joe Harley (from Music Matters), a.k.a. the “Tone Poet,” on board to curate and supervise a series of reissues from the Blue Note family of labels.”

First, this is an excellent performance by Scofield and Metheny. Second, each of the guitarists brought great compositions to the session. Third, the rhythm section of Steve Swallow (bass guitar) & Bill Stewart (drums) could not be more perfect. Finally, the sonics of the recording are audiophile reference quality. The original CD from 1994 sounded fantastic – this vinyl record sounds even better. In a recent post I said:

“…which sounds better vinyl or digital? I can give you a definitive answer: it depends on the specific recording. How an album was recorded, how it was mastered and how it was transferred to the final state (a vinyl record or a digital file) can make a vinyl record sound better than the digital file and vice versa.”

Spinning at home

This Tone Poet release is a great example of the art of mastering to vinyl. In the hands of an expert artist, the vinyl medium can’t be beat. Unfortunately, it is rare that such care is taken. This version is perfection – all the care was taken, it sounds gorgeous. This will be my go-to vinyl reference recording. Ironically, this vinyl is sourced from digital (in this case, 88.2 kHz/24-bit) as this was originally a digital recording. But even with a digital source, a vinyl craftsman can work their magic. I look forward to listening to more of the Tone Poet catalog.

John Scofield is heard on the left channel and Pat Metheny on the right of this stereo recording. Despite two guitar wizards, this is not a cutting contest, but rather a freewheeling conversion between friends. I have a kind of synesthesia when it comes to music – I can taste certain sounds – this is one of those tasty albums.

It was recorded in one of the greatest Studios – The Power Station in NYC – a piece of art itself.

Although you won’t get the total feel of the audiophile LP, you can still hear the beauty of the performance and compositions on the stream:

New Season of Cocaine & Rhinestones Podcast

I am excited to hear a new season of Cocaine & Rhinestones podcast is coming April 20, 2021. Here is an announcement:

For those of you not familiar with this podcast, it is about country music history. Tyler Mahan Coe is the researcher, writer, and presenter. The 14-episode first season debuted in October 2017. The show was critically acclaimed and popular.

Coe is wonderfully opinionated, but backs it with exhaustive research. This is not a dry reporting of history – Coe is a captivating storyteller. Here is my review from a few years ago.

In season one each episode focused on “some mystery about country music” like: the controversy over Loretta Lynn’s recording of “The Pill”, the meaning of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee”, and the musical relationship of the Louvin Brothers. I can’t emphasize how deep Coe gets into a topic – episodes typically are 90 minutes or more. Coe augments episodes with “liner notes, “clarifications and corrections” and sources. I assume season two will follow the same basic format, but Coe has suggested some enhancements. Think of this as an audio documentary vs. a conversational podcast.

Catchgroove’s Hall Of Fame: Joni Mitchell – Miles Of Aisles

I was listening to the My Favorite Album Podcast and Nashville singer songwriter Kim Richey selected Joni Mitchell’s Miles Of Aisles and it reminded me of how important that album was to forming my musical taste.

My introduction to Joni Mitchell was probably Judy Collins’ cover of Joni’s “Both Sides Now” – a ubiquitous hit song from my youth. But I had no idea it was Joni or who Joni was. That came in the fall of 1977.

I was a freshman in college and I liked music, but I was very naïve in my taste. I made friends with a guy in the dorm who was a few years older than me and way cool (shout out to Uncle Paul). Why he took a geek freshman like me under his wing is beyond me, but we have ended up as life-long friends. Anyway, he rolled one and we smoked it. He went over to his turntable and dropped the needle on Joni’s Court and Spark and in that instant my life changed – I became a musichead.

Uncle Paul also had Miles of Aisles. That was the first Joni album I bought because it was kind of a greatest hits: a live album of songs from across her career – past, present and (oddly) future.

The live album is from the Court And Spark tour. It combines rearranged versions of some of her most famous songs and obscurities (even a couple songs that would show up on future studio albums). Half the album is with a jazz fusion band, The L.A. Express, and the other half solo.

I was introduced to the Mitchell catalog via these versions and discovered the originals later as I acquired the original albums. Experiencing these live rearrangements first helped me understand what a true musician Joni was.

Side one opens the album with “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” from 1972’s For The Roses. She gives it a jazz twist with the L.A. Express on this version. Next, she goes back to 1970’s Ladies Of The Canyon with “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Rainy Night House” and “Woodstock.” She leverages the L.A. Express to reinvent her sophisticated folk into sophisticated pop jazz.

For side two she ditches the band and goes solo with the relatively obscure “Cactus Tree” – the last song from her debut Song to a Seagull. Next “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” from For The Roses augmented with a lonely soprano sax from Tom Scott. She pulls out another one from For The Roses: “Woman of Heart and Mind.” She returns to the hits with “A Case Of You” and “Blue” (on piano) from Blue.

Side three opens with a Joni monologue which segues into the sing along “Circle Game” from Ladies of the Canyon. Staying acoustic and stripped down she plays “People’s Parties” from the recently released Court and Spark. Next is “All I Want” from Blue. Moving over to piano she plays “Real Good For Free” from Ladies Of The Canyon. The side ends with “Both Sides Now” from Clouds. After a solo acoustic introduction to that song, the L.A. Express joins in – a set up for side four.

Side four she goes all in with the L.A. Express opening with a bold arrangement of Blue’s “Carey” and “Last Time I Time I Saw Richard”. Next, she foreshadows three albums into the future with “Jericho” from Don Juan’s Restless Daughter. As best I know “Love or Money” has not appeared on another Joni Album.

This is a great introduction to Joni and a must have for long time fans. Also, this is one of my favorite album covers – love the combination of a photo and Joni’s painting.

Arlo Parks – Collapsed Sunbeams

Arlo Parks, née Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho

For long time followers of this blog, you may have picked up on the fact I have a thing for female singer songwriters. It started with Joni Mitchell in the late 70s. Arlo Parks is my latest infatuation. Arlo Parks has been getting lots of hype in anticipation of her debut album that came out 1/29/21. So I have not exactly discovered her.

Per her website:

Arlo Parks is a singer-songwriter from London. In her words she spent most of school feeling like that black kid who couldn’t dance for shit, listening to too much emo music and crushing on some girl in her Spanish class. Her songs are confessional and tender, mainly inspired by Portishead and Earl Sweatshirt.

Per her website

I don’t like having to label music, but it is a useful way to explain what an artist or band sounds like. For Arlo Park I would call it “folk soul.” It has the intimacy and simplicity of folk music and some subtle funk and hip-hop vibe to give it soul.

Park is known as a poet and songwriter. The album opens with a spoken poem (not a rap) and a few of the other songs have spoken word parts. For the most part Park is singing in a relaxed easy-going style. Lyrically the songs are relationship oriented. They alternate between first person obsessions and third person observations. Most of the songs are stories – almost mini movies. The instrumentation has more of a hip hop beats feel than typical R&B or soul music. There is a freshness and originality to the album. It sounds nothing like Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life, but it has the same sincere and youthful vibe. I love the Britishness of her phrasing.

I know it can be hard to commit to a whole album when sampling a new artist. If you just want a little taste, try “Black Dog.” That is a great example of what Arlo Parks is all about. I have a feeling I am going to wrap myself up in this album for the next few months.

Catchgroove’s Hall of Fame: John Cale – Sabotage/Live

I don’t recall how I got turned on to this album when it came out in December of 1979. It must have been touted in some music magazine like Rolling Stone. I certainly wasn’t a Velvet Underground or John Cale fan at that time. It was more punk than what I was into. But I was completely obsessed with it.

Sabotage/Live was recorded at CBGB, New York on 13–16 June 1979, and released by SPY Records. SPY Records was founded and owned by Cale and Jane Friedman, who was the manager of Patti Smith, and Cale’s girlfriend at the time. The idea of the label was for all the artists to be produced by Cale. The label never panned out, but Sabotage/Live is a masterpiece and a pretty amazing legacy for any label.

“Mercenaries (Ready for War)” is the single and pretty epic rock song. It set the tone for the album: dark, cynical paranoid and apocalyptic. It has this classic opening line:

“Mercenaries are useless, disunited, unfaithful
They have nothing more to keep them in a battle
Other than a meager wage
Which is just about enough to make them wanna kill for you
But never enough to make them wanna die for ya”

“Baby You Know” sounds like a cross between The Doors and The Monkeys. “Evidence” sounds like a punk rock version of Santana. “Dr. Mudd“ sounds like the punkier side of the Talking Heads. “Walkin’ The Dog” is a twisted cover of the Rufus Thomas soul song. “Captain Hook” is punkified prog rock – it is epic and awesome. “Only Time Will Tell” is a beautiful ballad sung by Deerfrance. “Sabotage” is darkness – it sounds like a punk rock Black Sabbath song. “Chorale” is a very cool ending to the album: a hymn – it is the perfect walk off song to what must have been an epic live show. The vinyl record ends with an obnoxious alarm sound that plays endlessly in the catch groove – pretty nifty gimmick.

Overall the album seems like the appropriate response of the Velvet Underground alumnus to punk and New Wave. The Velvet Underground were direct influences on the CBGB crowd (The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, etc.). With the exception of The Ramones (who were truly punk), Blondie, Talking Heads and Television were art rock in the grand tradition of the Velvets. Cale’s Sabotage/Live seems like a love letter to the CBGB scene from an elder art-rock statesman.

The album is not available on conventional music streaming services, but it is on YouTube.

P.S. never has the album art been a more perfect match to the music.