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  Listen Up! 11/5/03 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Nov. 5

Sonny Boy Williamson, “Blue Bird Blues,” Bluebird Records. I know I tend to repeat myself sometimes, and I’ve mentioned several times the amazing quality of contemporary remastering for CD release, but permit me one more time. HOLY COW! These recordings from 1937 to 1945 sound pretty much as vibrant as if they were recorded yesterday. There is no snap, crackle or pop on these old records, nor is there any consequent loss of upper end, as we had gotten used to 10 years ago with noise removal techniques of the day. There is a rich guitar sound, a harmonica that pretty much sounds like it would if you were in the room with it, and vocals that jump out of the speakers. Alright, that’s an advertisement for every CD in this year’s Bluebird blues reissue series. Now, let’s talk about Williamson. This is the first Sonny Boy Williamson, the one who mostly recorded in acoustic contexts, though he was moving into the electric band stuff in the couple of years before he died in 1948. He wrote the original “Good Morning, School Girl,” and had dozens of equally lively party songs. His harmonica playing is spectacular, and as you listen to these songs in chronological order, you hear him building up a thicker and more powerful sound almost every time he stepped up to the microphone. Great songs, great playing, great sound. What more do you want from classic blues?

Marvin Gaye, “I Want You,” Motown Records. Right now, I’m just checking out the first disc, the original album remastered earlier this year. (There are also single mixes, alternate mixes, alternate vocals, and outtakes stuck at the end of disc one and loading up all of disc two.) Once again, the sound is a million times better than it ever was before. You will feel like you are lying in a bed with your baby and a bottle of wine, surrounded by Marvin and this amazing bunch of musicians. This was basically Marvin’s collaboration with Leon Ware, who wrote some sexy music, and knew that there was nobody more capable of getting to the emotional core of it than Gaye. There were a lot of seduction artists at work in the 70s soul world, but Gaye took care of the body and the mind and the spirit. While the title track is the only perfect hit on this record, everything else fits right in its mold. Prepare to melt inside these riveting grooves.

The Strokes, “Room On Fire,” RCA Records. Hey, remember that one song on the first Strokes album, the one that got some radio play? Here are 11 more songs just like that one, only without the parts that made it stand out a little bit from the others. Look, these guys aren’t unlistenable. The drummer actually nails some of those old school new wave rhythms. But, jeez, can’t we have a different melody line or chord progression now and again?

--Steve Pick

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