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The best-sounding music of 2014, so far (pictures)

The Audiophiliac picks the best of the best-sounding albums he's heard this year.

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Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
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1 of 9

Norah Jones/Puss N Boots, "No Fools, No Fun"

Bad sound can't be blamed on digital, analog, vinyl, CD, or even MP3. Those are release formats; it's the recording's quality that matters most, and that's what I'm talking about in these capsule reviews.

Puss N Boots is Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson, and Catherine Popper, and their vocal harmonies will light up your speakers or headphones on this collection of studio and live cuts. "No Fools, No Fun" is easily one of the best albums of 2014.

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2 of 9

Mica Levi, "Under the Skin"

Mica Levi's brilliantly abstract score for the film "Under the Skin" seamlessly meshes synthesized sounds with real instruments. It's bizarre, atmospheric, and positively mesmerizing.

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3 of 9

Anna Von Hausswolff, "Ceremony"

This is "pop" music unlike any pop music you've heard before, and it's a gorgeous-sounding recording. Hausswolff's mighty church organ will test the limits of your subwoofer; she also sings and plays piano and synths. All in all, the sound is earthy, organic, and warm.

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4 of 9

Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, "Cold World"

This is a brand-new, 2014 recording, but Ms. Shelton and her Gospel Queens have the sort of passion I associate with the best soul recordings of the late 1960s. Cold World was recorded in Brooklyn, N.Y. on eight-track analog tape, no wonder it sounds like the real deal.

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5 of 9

Chris Thile, "Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1"

And now for something completely different, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile's album of three Bach works written for solo violin: Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001; Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002; and Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003. Thile owns these pieces on his mandolin; the album is highly recommended.

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6 of 9

Marc Sloan, "Portrait Of The Musician As Forever Moonlight"

Marc Sloan serves up a rather eclectic mix of folk, blues, and Gypsy-tinged Flamenco, but it sounds like nothing else. Sloan pulls out all the stops -- this is a highly entertaining, seriously quirky recording. I keep playing this one over and over again.

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7 of 9

Charlie Haden & Jim Hall

Bassist Charlie Haden recently passed away, and guitarist Jim Hall passed last year; this live jazz concert performance from 1990 will serve as a terrific introduction to their music. I have an advance copy, the CD will be released on September 30.

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8 of 9

Austin Wintory, "The Banner Saga"

Wintory is an American composer who has scored over 40 feature films, a dozen video games, and numerous concert works. In 2012 he received a Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for the game soundtrack from Journey. "The Banner Saga" is orchestral music, with electric guitar, didgeridoo, accordion, and Icelandic singers. It's exciting stuff, and since it was recorded by legendary engineer Keith O. Johnson, the sound is superb!

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9 of 9

Louis Hayes, "Return of the Jazz Communicators"

"Return of the Jazz Communicators" was recorded live on November 16, 2013 at the Smoke Jazz Club in New York City. Hayes's band has a soulful swing that reminds me of the best 1960s-era Blue Note LPs, but the music feels fresh. "Communicators" is part of the Smoke Sessions Records series of CDs, LPs, and high-resolution downloads, they're all first-rate offerings.

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