Bill Graham once introduced The Grateful Dead as “the greatest band in the land” (before the start of their magnificent Englishtown, New Jersey show of 9/3/77 -recorded in glorious audiophile sound on Dick’s Picks Volume No. 15 [www.dead.net]) and Graham was right on target. The Dead continue to roll on with great new releases from their legendary concerts. Many of these recordings are courtesy of Rhino Records, such as the recent release of the Dead’s Sunshine Daydream concert from 8/27/72 in Veneta, Oregon [ www.rhino.com]. This recent release captures the Dead in titanic form, from the chugging opener of “Promised Land” to the elegiac “Sing Me Back Home.”
There’s another label that has captured the Dead in superb sound (that this greatest band deserves), focusing on some of their studio work. That label is Audio Fidelity, (www.audiofidelity.net] a California based label that is the brainchild of music maven Marshall Blonstein, a guy plugged into every good time rock n’ roll album around.
Blonstein has connected up with mastering guru Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio to produce some fine vinyl releases, including Audio Fidelity’s edition of the Dead’s Shakedown Street [AFZLP 120] a virtual feast for the ears. Audio Fidelity releases have this knack for delivering up the specific acoustic of a given recording, if your system is up to its potential. On Shakedown Street, this takes the form of a confined studio space where Bob Weir can hawk his great voice goods and have his voice ricochet off the walls of the studio or where Jerry Garcia can experiment with electronic flair and give his bluesy strings a special bend, (such as he does on the dashing “Stagger Lee”). Each vocal and string bend is heard clear and tactile – that great gift of vinyl reproduction in general, and Audio Fidelity in particular. The recording allows one to peer in on all of this action in the studio and explore the give and take going on between these fine simpatico partners.
Audio Fidelity’s gift for capturing acoustic spaces (along with great imaging focus and resolution) is repeated on any number of their other vinyl releases. For instance, their edition of Bryan Adams’ Waking Up The Neighborhood [Audio Fidelity AFZLP2 130] is a barn burner of soaring rock anthems captured in big, brawny fashion. In contrast, there’s Sade’s Diamond Life [Audio Fidelity AFZLP 089] where all of the intimacy, groove and warmth of Sade’s voice and production values come through in radiant form.
The myriad sonic gifts offered on Audio Fidelity releases also extend to their auditioned CD’s. Their “Gold” CD release of the legendary session of The Blues Breakers [AFZ 056] delivers all of the heat, close studio space and random amplifier noise (and ruckus) that makes this legendary session crackle. Close quarters, searing guitar licks, Mayall’s breathy harp -all instill “Hideaway,” “Double Crossing Time,” “Another Man” and others with a piercing, high energy presence.
Finally, moving from barn burners to the quiet, glowing lyricism of early James Taylor (on his brilliant classics Sweet Baby James” [AFZ 118] and Mud Slide Slim [AFZ 128]), Audio Fidelity’s CD versions deliver a bounty of gifts, including a tactile presence to Taylor’s (young) soulful voice that is stunningly beautiful. Leland Sklar’s bass is heard big and fertile, on such cuts as “You’ve Got A Friend” and “Steamroller”. Russ Kunkel’s sharp drum hits sparkle on many cuts, (such as on “Machine Gun Kelly”) with Taylor’s voice and acoustic guitar sweet and radiant through out. Every Taylor vocal is heard clear and clean, honed to an emotional sharpness on these Audio Fidelity editions. On his lost little chestnut, “Oh Baby, Don’t Lose Your Lip On Me,” Taylor’s vocals and careening acoustic guitar bust out in bluesy, rocking fashion transcending time to bring us back to this loose, informal recording session where Taylor first created his magic.
Check out Audio Fidelity’s website, www.audiofidelity.net, for updates on their latest audiophile recordings and what rock n’ roll classics they are digging into next.