The flight to Chicago was uneventful and actually felt pretty short compared to some of my recent flights to Detroit and Montreal. I plugged in my new set of PM-1 Oppo headphones to my iPhone and listened to “The Essential Bob Dylan” 2-CD set for most of the trip. I’m not usually a headphones kind of guy, but sitting on a plane and listening to music for over 3 hours may have changed my mind.
The Dylan compact discs span his entire life’s work. Everything from “Blowin’ In The Wind” to “Blind Willie McTell” and all of the hits in between including a couple of my favorites “Lay, Lady Lay” and :”Like a Rolling Stone”. I found it really interesting to experience the sonic and mix differences between older and newer stuff. And I must say that I generally preferred the older stuff and not just because the tunes were more familiar. There was more “essential musicality” to the essential Dylan tunes. The vocal was pushed forward and the dynamics kept in tact. The differences were especially apparent when listening through a great set of headphones (and the PM-1 Oppo phones are exceptional..I’ll do a full review on them as soon as I get back to Los Angeles. I unpacked a new pair AND the HA-1 headphone amplifier here in Chicago…very cool!). When you’re hearing music “up close and personal”, the musical details become very apparent.
Dylan’s vocals are always in the center but his acoustic guitar is sometimes panned to one side or the other. Some tracks have a nice wide stereo spread and others are virtually mono. If there’s a background vocal or additional musicians playing they are generally panned to the hard left and right sides. There’s not a lot of consistency to the tunes as they unfold. And I did listen to both albums of the set from beginning to the end…28 tracks all together.
I also have the “Stronger” album by Sara Evans, “August and Everything After” by the Counting Crows and “Tearing I Up” by Albert Lee…one of my own productions. There wasn’t time to listen to all three of these other albums during the flight but I did do a sonic survey of the sonics and mixes after I finished the Dylan set. As you might expect from a Nashville produced commercial country release, the Sara Evans recording is highly polished, slick (in a good way) and comprised of brilliant arrangements and clear, upfront vocals. I’m a big fan of this woman’s singing. She has just enough twang in her voice and sings with enough heart to connect with this country fan (I fully admit to be a bit of musical contradiction when I listen to Bach, Boulez, The Beatles, John Gorka, Mark Chesnutt and The Avett Brothers. Whatever works…right?
The Counting Crows record is more organic in sound. Sure, they used plenty of compression to get the pop/rock sound that they are know for but Adam Duritz’s vocals are open and widely dynamic in comparison to most pop records. The over sound is a little muted and flat but I just love the tunes and the loose way in which Adam delivers his songs.
Then I got to my own recording. The Albert Lee tracks are just so vivid and alive compared to the Sara Evans record and Counting Crows? Was it the mixing and mastering that makes all the difference of was it the production methodology? I think it’s actually a little bit of both. The sound was captured during a live session…no overdubs. No many artists make records like this. The usual model is to spend months in the studio figuring out what the tunes are going to be, what parts are going to created etc. The Albert Lee (and all of my records) are much more open and spontaneous because that’s the way that I like to make them. I get board trying to figure out what guitar part belongs in a particular song. I’d rather leave it up to the artist to play their tunes and be the conduit to the end listener.
So we arrived and made out way to the hotel. Setting up the room is an on going process. Later.