“It’s Alright, Don…”: An Open Letter to Donald Fagen

Donald_Fagen

Dear Mr. Fagen:

I read your somehow controversial interview in the current Rolling Stone, along with your rebuttal published on your Facebook page.  Frankly, I see no amends to be made.

The press seems to have latched onto two parts of your interview: your opinion of Bob Dylan’s current vocal abilities and the cranky Dukes of September tour diary from your upcoming book, Eminent Hipsters.  (Great title, by the way.)  Let’s start with ol’ Zimmy…

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Apparently there is no room in the world for any perceived negative critique of Bob Dylan.  And you went there.  What people seem to forget is that you’ve stated on-the-record numerous times how you hated the sound of your own voice enough that you didn’t even want to sing on your own records.  In fact, Steely Dan had one different lead singer (the miscast David Palmer) and you attempted to recruit another to replace you (the could’ve-been-perfect Michael McDonald).  You’ve also made your fandom and respect of Dylan quite clear in past interviews as well.  (Dylan even named his 1997 “comeback” album Time Out Of Mind…whether that’s a nod back at Steely Dan or not is up for debate.)  And you’re both successful in the same business.  Therefore, you have every right to express an opinion on his voice and music not just as a fan, but as a musical peer.  I’ve never been a fan of his voice myself, and frankly it’s turned me off to a lot of his music.  His lyrics are brilliant, but they’re delivered via a package that I often can’t get with.  The last two sentences have likely been uttered by music fans about Steely Dan as well.  And how you described some of Dylan’s recent performances live and on record could well be applied to Steely Dan as well.  (Not by me.  I’ve yet to see a bad Dan show.  Your setlist, however…well that’s for another time.  As is my disappointment with the sound of Sunken Condos…)  But, that’s what subjectivity is all about.  Music “fans” need to deal with it.  And if they claim to never have had strong feelings and arguments about their favorite artists “slipping” a bit, or veering away from their usual style, well, they’re just lying.

Dukes_of_Sept

Now, for the tour diary.  I’m not a big enough deal to have the privilege of reading the galleys of your yet-to-be-released memoir.  But, I can bet the majority of it, tour diary included, will have been written in a highly sarcastic/sardonic manner, possibly with some science-fiction thrown in, and maybe even some intentional fiction for the sake of levity.  Hmmm…that sounds like it could describe a lot of your song lyrics.  Which, to me, establishes a pattern by which virtually everything you write should not necessarily be taken at face value.  I doubt you hate your audience.  I’m sure there are nights you’d like to kill us, just for that one douchebag who constantly yells “Play ‘Peg’!” when you dare to hit us with a newer or deep catalog track.  And you’re entitled to bitch about it.  I’m positive, at times, you can be a “cranky old Jew”.  My family is full of them.  I myself will be one.  Wear that badge proudly.  It’s what made modern America!

I’ve said this before, to occasional eye-rolls, and I’ll put it in cyberprint here, Mr. Fagen:  Steely Dan are my Beatles.  Yet I still have the ability to be critical (see paragraph 3 above) and realize that what I say isn’t Gospel, nor is it intended to be.  It’s opinion.  Same as you voiced in that interview.  People need to take your old Yacht Rock sparring partner Don Henley’s advice and “Get over it…”

Warmest Regards,

Just another internet blogger…

Bernhoft. That is all.

Saw this kid on Conan O’Brien’s woefully under-promoted late night show the other night and was blown away.  (Note:  I said “kid”, meanwhile he’s two years younger than I am, according to Wikipedia!)

Going by the single name Bernhoft (nee Jarle Bernhoft), he’s a Norwegian multi-instrumentalist now on his second solo album titled Solidarity Breaks…which was actually released over two years ago.  In the performance above, he struck me as a cross between John Mayer, Jonny Lang and Prince.

Check him out.  I will be…

 

Bernhoft’s Website

Bernhoft on Spotify

Your Super-Duper-Deluxe Peter Gabriel box just became “So” unnecessary!

Gabriel Athens Blu-ray

A popular music industry trend of the past few years has been the Super Deluxe Edition reissue, where your favorite album is re-released on some anniversary and put in a ridiculously large box with vinyl, DVDs, Edison cylinders, all sorts of useless tchotchkes…and slapped with an equally-ridiculous high price tag.

One such set was Peter Gabriel’s So: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set, which failed to excite a large swath of his fans, and was taken to task by the excellent (and excellently-named) Super Deluxe Edition blog for all its shortcomings – one of which was including a DVD of the concert Live in Athens 1987 instead of a higher-resolution Blu-ray, which would’ve provided better sound as well.  Surely a sonic crusader such as Peter Gabriel would’ve seen the merit in doing that for fans shelling out such a pretty penny.

At the time, the bulldog-like SDE blog surmised that they’d likely not included a Blu-ray so that one could be released separately in the future, further bilking the fans who’d already bought the set.  Peter Gabriel HIMSELF even responded directly to SDE saying he “got this wrong” and that there were “no plans, at present, for a stand-alone version” of the Athens set.

The key words, apparently, were “at present”.

On September 16th, Eagle Rock will indeed be releasing Live in Athens 1987 on Blu-ray.  They will be adding some content not on the DVD…but that content is the previously-released 2004 video collection Play, which fans likely already own.

The SDE blog is already campaigning for Gabriel to offer fans a free copy of this Blu-ray with proof-of-purchase of the So box.  Details are in that link if you’d like to join them.

At the very least, I hope this will get the artists and the industry to think a little harder about what goes into a boxed set with an MSRP equaling the price of a round-trip to Vegas.

ZZ Top’s Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990…a swing and a miss

ZZTop_CompleteStudioAlbums

For years, fans of ZZ Top’s earlier, less-synthesized albums suffered with the Six Pack.  Basically what happened here is that ZZ Top had so much commercial success with their synth-pop/fake-drum-infused Eliminator and Afterburner albums that they decided to go back and inject that sound (along with some horrible ’80s-era digital reverb) into their earlier, more spare and organic-sounding work.  Hence, the Six Pack – which took their first five albums plus their seventh (sparing Deguello, for some lucky reason) and made them sound like Eliminator-style bonus tracks.  This travesty occurred right as the CD era was hitting its full stride, so for about 20 years the only versions of those first albums you could purchase on CD were filled with those ghastly remixes.

The tide started turning in 2003, when their boxed set Chrome, Smoke and BBQ featured the original mixes of tracks from those classic albums for the very first time on CD. (You vinyl fetishists never had a problem finding the original mixes…)  Then, a reissue campaign seemed to follow with Tres Hombres and Fandango being reissued in Expanded Editions with live bonus tracks…and all the studio takes were the original mixes.  The mastering on these sets, as on the boxed set, was done by legendary mastering engineer Bob Ludwig.  We were in good hands, right?

Yep.  Until they fast-forwarded to reissue Eliminator in time for its 25th Anniversary (dang, that record industry just loves those date-related cash-ins, don’t they?).  This time, the mastering was handled by Pat Kraus, and was everything a modern remastering should not be: unceasingly loud, incredibly ear-fatiguing.

Now, after five years of catalog silence we get ZZ Top: The Complete Albums 1979-1990 – every single album in their original mixes, packaged as mini-albums, at a price that rounds out to less than 5 bucks a disc.  Can’t get better, right?

Not so fast there, Sparky.

These Complete Albums sets have been the newest reissue wave in the music industry for the last few years.  I believe Sony/Legacy pioneered the concept with catalog-spanning sets from Billy Joel, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley and others, each with nice packaging, fact-filled booklets and uniformly excellent mastering from their stable of sonic crusaders including Vic Anesini, Mark Wilder and Joe Palmaccio.  So, Warner Music followed suit – and proceeded to water down the concept in the process.  Their versions have nice-looking boxes, but once you open them you’re greeted with flimsy cardboard sleeves, bordering-on-blurry graphics, no booklets, liners or mastering info, and they seem to utilize whatever masters they can cobble together quickly, whether it’s the most recent remaster, or the oldest original ’80s CD master, or a convoluted combination of both.

This ZZ Top set is a Warner Music box through and through.  Nice box, blurry sleeves, and more botches than corrections on the mastering.

One thing they did get right: they are indeed the original mixes throughout.  BUT, the entirety of ZZ Top’s First Album, the second half of Rio Grande Mud and the first half of Tejas all appear to have their channels swapped.  If you compare those tracks to the original vinyl releases, or the same tracks as they appear on the Chrome, Smoke & BBQ boxed set, you will notice that what you’re used to hearing come out of the left speaker or headphone is now coming out of the right, and vice-versa.  How does this happen?  Especially to the half-albums where one full side is correct?  And how does it not get CAUGHT?  (Hint: betcha Bob Ludwig would’ve figured it out…)

It appears someone remastered the First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, and Tejas specifically for this box. (Can’t tell you who…no liners, no booklet!)  The 2006 Fandango remaster (by Bob Ludwig) appears to be re-used here, but without the bonus tracks, and the 2008 Eliminator ear-bleeder was re-used here as well – again, no bonus tracks.  Deguello, El Loco, Afterburner and Recycler seem to have their original ’80s-’90s masterings “recycled”.  And Tres Hombres is a true original – it’s not the 2006 Ludwig remaster, and it’s not the Six Pack obliteration.  It seems to have the same characteristics as the high-definition download currently available at HDTracks.com.  Huh?  Why would you single out Tres Hombres for that and not use the most recent Ludwig remaster?  Or conversely, why not just use the HDTracks masters for everything?  How about some uniformity in sound here?

The argument seems to be that in order to keep this set as a “budget” reissue, nothing new could be done in terms of mastering – ergo, the scraps-and-heaps nature of grabbing whatever they could find in the vaults.  I call “bull” on that.  Get someone in-house (who’s already on the payroll) to properly remaster everything…not just rip-and-reload, make it uniform.  And get someone involved with the band or the original recordings to listen and quality-check that the speed, channel orientation, and takes are all correct.

I’m torn.  I love that this set exists.  I love that the first seven albums all now appear in their original mixes.  I love the price.  I can live with the slip-shod packaging.

But I hate those mastering mistakes.

Too bad ZZ Top’s back-catalog didn’t follow them to RCA in the mid-’90s.  Sony/Legacy would’ve done this set right.

“Whoooooooo are you…who, who…who, who?”

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Glad you asked…

I’m Rob Maurer, lifelong music fan and former employee of the radio arm of a certain “fair and balanced” news organization.  While there, I created the FOXLight music release blog (as well as a companion DVD release blog), which I had the pleasure of updating weekly for about 5 years.  Took a while, but, with very little promotional support, weekly page views got well into the thousands before both it and I became the victims of mandatory staff reduction.

Now, after a few months of licking my wounds…not to mention fruitless job searching…I’ve gotten the bug to write again.  So, what will follow here will hopefully be cathartic for me, entertaining for you, and offensive to no one…though I’m not guaranteeing that last one.

I’ll try to keep the posts frequent (but not too frequent) and they’ll contain thoughts, diatribes and some reviews…but not a strict weekly release rundown as I did before.  (Truth be told, Gerry Galipault already does the best, most concise one on the web – Pause and Play)

Listening to, collecting and enjoying music is really my only hobby.  My tastes are fairly eclectic (Metallica to Manilow, Cash to “Classical Thunder”, Elvis Presley and Costello), my opinions are plentiful, and my ears are always open.

Marley’s right…”One good thing about music / When it hits, you feel no pain.”