Here's a tasty collection of new music from the Beatles, Jack White, Okkervil River, and so much more.
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.
Are you ready for a weekend of binge listening to new sounds? Here's the latest round up of albums that caught and sustained my attention.
The Beatles, Live at the Hollywood Bowl
For some strange reason these live Beatles tracks from the Hollywood Bowl have never been released in any digital format, just the 1977 Capitol LP. So there's a fair chance most younger fans have never heard a live Beatles album. These shows date from 1964 and 1965 capture a sizable helping of the excitement of their concerts, it's just too bad the Beatles stopped touring in '66, so this one album will have to do.
Jack White, Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016
Think of this as Jack White's unplugged album that shows off his blues and country roots. I knew I'd love his White Stripes-era tunes' acoustic renditions, but as White evolved he just went deeper; his newer acoustic tunes are all really decent. Since White is a die-hard analog audio evangelist, I bought the two-LP set, but the pressing quality is only so-so. Musically this collection is a terrific overview of a musician who still has a long way to go.
Andrew Bird, I Want To See Pulaski At Night
What a gorgeous, spirited recording, Andrew Bird plays violin and sings, but this is a mostly instrumental affair. This nearly all acoustic album is sweet and grandly melodic. Bird has been playing violin since age 4, but he called violin his "Goth Music" when he was a teenager.
Recorded to two-track analog tape, this folk/country record sounds like you are in the studio with Amy Speace, Emily Barker and the always excellent Amber Rubarth. Dynamics are intact, not compressed, if you want to hear how natural your speakers or headphones can sound, check out "Applewood Road."
This one's really special; Mobile Fidelity's remastered 45 RPM, 180-gram, two-LP set of "Abraxas" sounds better than ever. I mean that! The power of the music, the band's massive rhythmic drive, and Santana's brilliant guitar still feel fresh. The packaging and cover art never looked better than it does here.
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
Cohen passed away shortly after this album's release, but he still managed to make a work of quiet intensity. The title track, "You Want It Darker" perfectly sums up Cohen's oeuvre, and now he's ready to check out. Religious overtones, somber choirs, withering love affairs quietly churn and seethe, but Cohen seems at peace. I'll miss him.
Okkervil River, Away
This is one emotionally naked recording, Will Sheff and his reformed band tell it like it is as life, loss and joy get their due. Sweet, floating melodies played out on strings and lush arrangements make for an odd record for a rock band, but why not? It also helps that "Away" is a spectacular recording.
Nels Cline, Lovers
Nels Cline gets around, sure; he plays guitar in Jeff Tweedy's band Wilco, but Cline is also one hell of a jazz picker. His latest album, "Lovers" hit me hard. It's a big, lavishly produced affair, but for once the production doesn't get in the way. It feels kind of low-key, and then you notice how perfectly the arrangements unfold. A Los Angeles, film noirish vibe holds it all together; "Lovers" is the best jazz album of 2016.
Hildur Gudnadottir, Saman
Icelandic cellist/composer Hildur Gudnadottir's music for strings and voices is blissfully serene, and yet there's undertones of sadness. The recording, in a plush acoustic setting, sounds breathtakingly atmospheric, pure and natural; it's the sort of music that's best enjoyed late at night, preferably by candlelight.
Fiona Boyes, Professin' The Blues
Fiona Boyes means business, blues business, and she nearly singlehandedly hammers home that point on this incredible album. She sings, barks and plays a bunch of acoustic guitars and percussion on a collection of mostly original tunes. Her blues feel fresh, not retreads of old licks; this music comes straight from her heart. Oh, and the sound is fantastic; "Professin' The Blues " is easily the best blues recording I've heard in a long, long time.
Recomposed by Max Richter - Vivaldi's Four Seasons
Max Richter is a minimalist ambient composer, but this time out he set out to "recompose" Antonio Vivaldi's most famous work, "The Four Seasons." For the most part "Recomposed" sounds a lot like the original, but Richter claims that only 25 percent of Vivaldi's score is intact. Subtle electronics and studio effects are employed, so the music develops, explodes, evolves, shatters and moves in ways "The Four Seasons" never has before. Sound quality is first-rate.