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Remastered music that'll make your hi-fi sing

Rhino's remasters are always good, so I checked out a recent batch from Ry Cooder, Frank Sinatra, The Smiths, and Warren Zevon CDs. They're good, really good.

Rhino mastered the remastering game long ago; it seeks out the best sounding tapes, locates killer unreleased tracks, and spruces up the packaging. I must own a hundred Rhino CDs, and they're always in heavy rotation.

"The Sound of the Smiths" 45 track, best-of collection totally trumps the sound of my old Smiths "Louder Than Bombs" LP. The Smiths recordings tended to have thin, sometimes even harsh tonal balances. The new CD set corrects that. Morrissey's vocals are beautifully fleshed out, and the rhythm section now packs a wallop that lights up the music. The remastered CD even has better dynamic kick than the LP, which sounds compressed and lifeless by comparison.

There's no previously unreleased bonus tracks, but this two-disc collection's wealth of B-sides and live material should satisfy Smiths fans. The booklet's bevy of photos of the band are simply gorgeous.

"The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO has Landed" is another two-disc best-of collection. He somehow fuses Tex-Mex, rock, blues, country, folk, with a mess of other stuff in his music, but it all comes out sounding like Ry Cooder. It's a pleasure to hear music as good as this, mastered without the wretched compression that squashes the life out of so many contemporary recordings.

For "Warren Zevon: The Collector's Edition" Rhino refreshed the sonics of the original album, and there's a second disc of rarities. Disc one sounds splendid, again with more of LP-like analogness of the original recordings intact. Older Zevon CDs sound leaner, more ragged than this new remaster. But it's disc two's demos that present literally another side of Zevon's music. A solo piano take of "Mohammed's Radio" is reason enough to get this collection.

An early take of "Desperados Under the Eaves" feels more desperate than the one found on the album. I'm thrilled that it's included here.

Finally, "Sinatra: Nothing But The Best" will bring out the best sound from any hi-fi. OK, it's not a Rhino remaster per se, but it's an awfully nice compilation of Frank Sinatra's Reprise era albums. They start in 1960 and the tunes sound big and juicy here. Big band workouts with the likes of Count Basie, Quincy Jones, and Nelson Riddle groove like crazy, but The Voice is always front and center.

The thing about these recordings is that Sinatra was singing live with the band, and that adds to the the music's energy and drive. Sonics are to die for.