Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Prog Rocks Box Set

This is the third instalment, or fourth if you count the freebie given away with Prog Magazine, in the Prog Rocks campaign. This is a joint venture between the labels EMI, Inside Out and Prog Magazine. The aim is to highlight the wide range of artists which "fit" under the umbrella of progressive rock. The legacy side of prog is covered by EMI with the current scene represented by acts associated with Inside Out. Whereas the first two volumes of the Prog Rocks campaign were 2 CD affairs this year they have pushed things further with a 5 CD box set. Each disc is given over to a specific prog affiliated label. The first four volumes being EMI owned, namely Harvest, Charisma, Virgin and Liberty. The last volume covers Inside Out's roster.

These types of compilations are never going to be definitive as they either represent the personal taste of the compiler or are restricted by licensing issues. Here Prog Magazine's edition Jerry Ewing has done a fair job of mixing more familiar prog fair such as VdGG, Hawkwind and Steve Hackett with more obscure items by the likes of Machiavel, Slapp Happy and Beardfish which will keep the curious happy in searching further afield.

It's a well put together box. Each disc in a cardboard sleeve, all housed in a clamshell box. The booklet has essays by Ewing and Inside Out label head Thomas Waber. A nice touch is that each disc has the original LP classic label design recreated. I particularly like the Roger Dean colour Virgin logo.

By the way Jerry Ewing put together another pretty useful 4CD prog box set a few years back for Universal called "Wondrous Stories". Again this covered prog from the early days up to the present and included some of the big names of prog like Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Marillion and Rush. Nice book style packaging.




Friday, 22 March 2013

Remembering Mini Disc

I have been upgrading my stereo set-up, replacing my old Arcam Alpha amp with a new Denon multichannel receiver. I took the opportunity to upgrade the cabling between all the units as well. Delving at the bottom of the rack I came across this black box. A bit dusty but rummaging for its remote control I switched it on and it sprang into life. It was my old Sony MDS JE-530 mini disc player. I then routed around for some discs and played David Sylvian's "Everything and Nothing" compilation. My how good this sounds! Not just the music but the reproduction. Mini Disc was good! Even though it did use ATRAC compression, I found compared to MP3 it sounded much better. As an alternative to the age old cassette, mini disc was a fantastic upgrade. It was robust, portable and sounded much better than tape, which suffered from wow and flutter and channel drop out. I also hated having to clean those pesky capstan rollers and recording heads.

I had a portable Sonynplayer and the Sony JE as my main deck. I remember hours of fun making up compilations on blanks, putting titles on all the discs. So what went wrong for the mini disc? Well, just the same as what is happening to CD, downloads via MP3 players killed it. I had a MP3 player for a while but I just couldn't be bothered with the time it took to put stuff on the computer and then onto the device. It also got full and i knew one daynthe whole thing would stopmworking and imwould lose everything. I just want to listen to music I don't want all the faffing around! I also like the physical look of the mini disc and its packaging. It was aesthetically pleasing to me.

It' a shame the mini disc died a premature death. I for one will now pay a bit more attention to my long forgotten friend and take pleasure in what it has to offer again. I have even tracked down a new copy of Apollo Four Forty's excellent electro rock classic "Electro Glide in Blue" on mini disc. So there is still life out there for the old format!


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Hawkwind - Warrior On The Edge Of Time Deluxe Edition

This surely will be the reissue of the year. "Warrior On The Edge Of Time" is one of Hawkwind's best albums but has never been given a proper release on CD due to "legal" reasons. Only ever available before on CD taken from second generation copies, vinyl copies or illegal issues from unknown sources, at last it gets the full Esoteric deluxe treatment. From the pic it looks like they have gone to town to give us a definitive edition. Not only is this the first time the album has been mastered from the original master tapes but Steven Wilson (of course) has done new high resolution stereo and surround mixes too. The Super Deluxe edition also comes with a vinyl copy in a sleeve replicating the original shield design. I have waited years to hear this album in all its space rock glory. Not long now.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Gentle Giant - Octopus SHM-SACD

The last post was about the SACD of Close to the Edge. Great sounding but let down by the packaging for what is meant to be a high end product. No qualms about this Japanese SHM-SACD edition of Gentle Giant's wonderful "Octopus" album from 1972. This is one of the best sounding discs I have. Not only benefiting from the SACD format but also the SHM manufacture of the disc. The album is a straight flat transfer in using DSD from the analogue master tapes. For me I think this is as near to hearing those master tapes as it's going to get. The packaging befits the high end sound if the disc. A fold out cardboard sleeve with the original album artwork and credits beautifully reproduced. The printing is clear and sharp. The other notes are in Japanese of course but the overall feel of this package is really classy!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Yes - Close To The Edge SACD

It's heartening to see that the SACD format is not dead and buried yet. The Audio Fidelity label has started to release SACD titles, the first of which has been "Counterparts" by Rush and "Close To The Edge" by Yes. This latter title has been remastered by venerable mastering engineer Steve Hoffman. I have a number of versions of this title. The first being the Joe Gastwirt edition from the 90's, the Bill Inglot remaster, released on the Rhino label from around 2003. But until now my favourite version was the Japanese SHM papersleeve edition edition which was based on the Rhino remaster but sounded much better.

However this SACD edition knocks the spots off all these. It sounds really crisp and clear. There is no distortion at all during Rick Wakeman's organ solo during the title track which has always been a pain in earlier editions and the clarity and detail on Steve Howe's acoustic guitar intro to "And You and I" is amazing.

The one gripe I have about this new edition is the packaging. I know it comes in the standard Audio Fidelity style jewel box with slip case, but who puts discs in jewel boxes with black trays nowadays. These audiophile discs are not cheap so they should come in deluxe packaging. Something like the Super Jewel Case would be preferred. Even the booklet is not brilliant. Just lyrics and a reproduction of Roger Deans painting. Even the printing could be sharper. I would have liked some notes by Hoffman on the process he used to master the disc. That would have been quite interesting. Never mind, this issue is all about the sound quality which is exceptional.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Brand X Papersleeve Mini LP Box Set

Another recent acquisition all the way from the far east was this box set of the Brand X albums which the band recorded for Charisma. I was so fed up waiting for a decent reissue of their albums I saw this item on ebay and went for it. The box is one of those promo things made by Disk Union in Japan which you get if you buy the whole series of the mini LP editions of the albums. I am glad I got this as the sound is superb and the packaging is first rate.



Thursday, 14 March 2013

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

I will admit to being a fan of Steven Wilson's work since the early days of No-Man back in the mid 90's. He does seem to have the midas touch in whatever he does, either as musician, composer, producer or remixer. I think this new solo album is the best showcase yet of his talents. There is a feel that everything he has done in the past has led to this album. Everything slots into place perfectly. Though Porcupine Tree is a great vehicle for his songwriting this new band is something really special. Theo Travis is the sax/flute man to have as was Mel Collins back in the 70's. It should be remembered that Adam Holzman was Miles Davis's musical director/keyboardist in the 80's. Miles didn't play with just anyone! Nick Beggs again through his work with Iona, Steve Hackett and on the recent Lifesigns album is ahot property as is mega drummer Marco Minnemann. But it's new boy Guthrie Govan who gives us one of the best moments on the album. Just listen to the guitar solo at the end of "Drive Home". Absolutely sensational!
One of the interesting aspects about the album is that it hasn't been mastered in the normal way. The album is a flat transfer from the masters. Wilson isn't a big fan of compression and EQ. I have a few of those Japanese SHM-SACD editions and they are all DSD flat transfers. Also when the Brian Eno catalogue was reissued a few years back they were all DSD masters produced from flat transfers of the original analogue tapes. Does make you think about all this remastering malarky!
Lastly, kudos to Wilson for keeping the art of album packaging alive. He does always strive to deliver a well designed product. The deluxe edition of this album is another beautiful hardback book affair. Another two fingers to the download generation.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Current Listening: Henry Fool - Men Singing

I was glad to see Tim Bowness and co resurrect the Henry Fool project. Their last and first album was way back in October 2001 on Malcolm Parkers excellent Cyclops label. This new album is a completely different kettle of fish. Completely instrumental and made up of only four tracks, "Men Singing" is a different band all together. This is jazzy, spacey, meandering and quite wonderful. With no singing, Bowness provides guitar embellishments as the main sonic sounds are provided mainly by guitarist Michael Bearpark and keyboardist Stephen Bennett, though you can tell Bowness has a major hand in directing proceedings.
When snooker guru and all round Magma maniac Steve Davis heard the demos of the album he told Bowness that it reminded him of Quiet Sun's "Mainstream" album. Say no more and Phil Manzanera comes on board to embellish a couple of tracks with his amazing playing. Talking of which I always preferred Manzanera's albums with 801 and Quiet Sun than Roxy Music. Muchmore interesting! I wish Manzanera would reissue his "Listen Now" and "K-Scope" albums as deluxe collectors editions as he did with "801 Live" and "Mainstream".
Is it a coincidence that the Henry Fool album is on the Kscope label?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Steve Howe - Beginnings SHM Mini LP

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the Jon Anderson "Olias of Sunhillow" mini LP release. Of course that album was part of a series of solo albums which members of Yes recorded during the hiatus between "Relayer" and "Going for the One". The first to release their solo effort was Steve Howe. His "Beginnings" album is not too highly regarded, many citing Howe's thin and weedy vocals as the main downfall of the album. However for me I am particularly fond of it as I bought the album when it first came out at the end of October 1975 and was the first piece of Yes related music I had heard and no it didn't put me off!

The album was remastered by Joe Gastwirt back in the 90's as part of a general remastering of Yes's back catalogue. However this new SHM edition sounds really fresh and detailed. I also love the reproduction of the original sleeve design as I am particularly fond of the picture on the inside of the gatefold and the typo used for the lyrics and credits. Also it's one of my fav Roger Dean sleeves.



Peter Banks

I was sad to hear about the untimely passing of Peter Banks, Yes's first guitarist. Although Steve Howe is recognised as taking the Yes sound into its most successful period, it was Banks who set the foundations for the Yes sound. His guitar playing was distinctly rock in tone put with a subtle jazzy colouring. I really enjoyed his work on those early Yes albums, with his band Flash and the solo album "Two Sides of Peter Banks". Thanks Pete!

Jon Anderson - Olias Of Sunhillow SHM Mini LP

I recently picked up the SHM mini LP of Jon Anderson's "Olias of Sunhillow". Although this is available on CD it hasn't been remastered for a long time or given a decent packaging. I believe this SHM issue has been remastered, as it does sound different (and to my ears better) to the currently available issue. Maybe the SHM (super high material) manufacture has helped, more on that in the future. As with all these Japanese papersleeve issues, the attention to the packaging is fantastic, even down to the glossy, mottled effect on the outer sleeve which mimics the leather feel of a book as per the original LP. This issue is part of a series of Yes solo albums released by the Disk Union label Arcangelo. Nice job they have done to.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Blogging Again

I am going to have another go at doing this blog. Using IPad now will hopefully make it easier. I hope to use the blog for not just going on about prog rock in general but also looking at some of my CD collection. I have been collecting those lovely Japanese papersleeve mini LP discs, SACD discs and box sets which I will mull over too. I want to show how great physical product is before downloads take over. Or will they?

Kenso Complete Box

Received this through the post today. The complete works of the great Japanese prog band Kenso. Cheap it was not!