Two new recordings from Chesky Records are rich with superlatives, extraordinary recording quality, musicality, and performance. John McEuen is country music royalty (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and the contributing list of musicians to this performance is a who’s who of roots music. Macy Gray’s "Stripped" finds the singer accompanied mostly by acoustic instruments, allowing her seductive voice to find its place, and her band to shine on their own.
John McEuen “Made In Brooklyn”
One of the most influential recordings in American music was the groundbreaking "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. To understand why John McEuen is held in such high esteem just listen to the gorgeous 40th Anniversary Edition high-resolution remastering of that classic title released a couple of years ago. Recorded direct to two-track tape, this latest remastering breathes with life and air, you can imagine yourself in the studio where the collision of country music legends collide with the long-hairs of youthful embrace of traditional music. It’s a perfect starting point for McEuen’s latest title, the superbly recorded and performed “Made In Brooklyn” which features an all-star cast of supporting musicians starting with Steve Martin, whose comedy routine began over 30 years ago with a banjo, and whose commitment to bluegrass hasn’t wavered.
The band consists of David Bromberg, Matt Cartsonis, Jay Ungar, Andy Goessling, Martha Redbone, David Amram, John Cowan, Steve Martin, John Carter Cash, Skip Ward, and Kevin Twigg. In the extensive liner notes, McEuen provides context for the song choices which range from Warren Zevon to Jerry Jeff Walker, in addition to six self-penned titles. This is a joyous recording of old pros, gathered around a binaural microphone, clearly comfortable with each other, enjoying what almost seems like a day off to be around friends. There isn’t a hint of strain or insincerity, just making music for the joy of it. Bluegrass meets Warren Zevon’s Dirty Life and Times, simply wonderful.
Macy Gray’s “Stripped”
I was on a flight recently and talking with my seatmate about high-resolution audio. He noticed that I had both headphones (Oppo PM-3) and earphones (the new Etymotic ER-4XR) and a small Astell & Kern AK jr music player. He was a music enthusiast but had never really heard any audiophile level audio. So, I set the AK jr to play the new Macy Gray "Stripped" title and he was just astonished, never having heard any recording that was so clear, so musical, so beautifully recorded. We swapped headphones, earphones, and his ear buds, and not only was he instantly able to discern the difference, even on a noisy plane, he asked for the details of the title. And he wrote down the product names to purchase.
Stripped is an effervescent title, allowing Gray the jazz vocalist, to strut her stuff, without competing with an overly produced sound. “Lucy” is a mildly ribald track that given Donald Trump's recently released recordings has a suprisingly new political edge, has a soundstage so well defined that you feel like you could reach out and touch the instruments. Backed by Russell Malone, Ari Hoenig, Daryl Johns, and Wallace Roney, Gray romps through the songs, with a sultry late night groove, her voice alternating between a sensuous come on, to a moving almost pleading reading of Bob Marley’s "Redemption Song", and even an unexpected version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, which is a wonderfully moving interpretation that I never saw coming. A tour de force of Chesky’s Binaural recording technique, this is a recording that invites a good set of headphones, earphones, and DAC. It sounds great on speakers, but I think it’s really only fully realized via headphones or earphones.
Gray's unique voice, coupled with first rate production, has a raspy breathiness, for lack of a better word. In thinking about how she got her start, this recording brings to mind her early years of playing jazz clubs and cafes. This is quiet, confident yet not showy musicianship. The guitar solos, the bass lines, horns, and the beautiful brushwork and percussion all work together to create a quiet intimate and fluid experience. Best of all, this is a symbiotic recording that is full of life and energy. Highly recommended.
Harris Fogel, posted 10/8/2016
For more information on John McEuen “Made In Brooklyn” visit: www.chesky.com
For more information on Macy Gray “Stripped” visit: www.chesky.com
For more information on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 40th Anniversary Edition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” visit: www.hdtracks.com