Friday, November 11, 2016
TAVES and the Tale of Three LPs
I just returned from TAVES, the annual audio show held in Toronto. It's the first hi-fi show I've done outside of the US and I wish I had a bunch of stories to tell about my daring adventures in a foreign land. But I spent the entire show in the hotel which was located in the Richmond Hill area of Toronto, far out into the suburbs. Everyone told me how beautiful Toronto is and that I should check out the downtown area, but alas, Richmond Hill looked just like any sprawling metro area in any US city with its greenbelts and its traffic intersections and its road signs and its suburban neighborhoods and its industrial parks. It was clean and organized, but it didn't have that same exotic feel as Sydney. It looked like Irvine.
Not that I'm bashing Toronto. I didn't explore enough, and that's my fault. It's just that when people ask me "How was Canada?" I can only reply that it was fine and nothing bad happened to me, thanks for asking. If anything, the experience has prompted me to plan for a Montreal trip ASAP--that place has to be more unusual than Toronto. It HAS to be. They speak French there, after all.
Anyway, I wound up coming home with three new LPs. Each has its own little story.
The first album was a present from Vince Scalzitti, our distributor counterpart up in Canada, for basically showing up and giving him a hand running his five rooms for TAVES. It was this album, Raising Sand, from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. I was gobsmacked. It's as if Vince stuck his fingers into my grubby little brain and pulled out a sad old story of mine and acted upon it. I reviewed the Raising Sand LP many years ago, basically when it first came out. I loved it, gave it a great review for a hi-fi mag and even chose it as my favorite album of the year for the annual writer's poll at Perfect Sound Forever.
Then, goddamnnit, the publisher of the mag (not PSF, by the way) asked for it back. He wanted it. I guess I was so used to keeping the LPs that I reviewed that I thought I was going to get to keep it, but no. Maybe this is why I now insist on getting hard copies of every piece of music I review. If I'm going to think that hard on a recording, it must become a part of my collection afterward. Does that sound weird? I don't care.
I actually went to buy it on LP, and I was mildly shocked that it was $30. I guess that was a deal-breaker back in 2007--now it's pretty much the going price for a new piece of 2-LP set. But as time went on I just resigned myself to the fact that I didn't actually own one of my favorite LPs released in the last decade, and my left eyelid would start spasming whenever the subject of Raising Sand came up. So thanks, Vince, for making me whole again.
I grew up in Southern California in the '60s and '70s, about nine miles from the ocean. So you probably know how I feel about The Beach Boys, and it's this:
Not my thing. Never was. People I grew up now think it's strange that I have utterly no love for The Beach Boys. But I remember back when we were young, o California peeps, and none of us were listening to the Beach Boys. NONE OF US. We were listening to the Beatles and the Stones and Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and The Who (the cool people) and Foreigner and Journey and Styx and REO Speedwagon (the dorks). Sure, they played a lot of Beach Boy tunes on the radio, and that's when I switched the station. I can't remember one person from my youth who loved the Beach Boys back then, but now they're all sappy and emotional whenever someone mentions Brian Wilson or "Good Vibrations" or even Pet Sounds. Whatever.
But here it is, Pet Sounds, a semi-permanent resident in my collection. How did this happen? Well, I went to TAVES with Bartolomeo Nasta of Unison Research and Opera, and this was his present from Vince. And he accidentally left it behind when he flew back to Italy, so now it's mine. But I can give it back to him in January when I see him at CES. I won't be sad.
The only saving grace here is that this Pet Sounds is the one recently remastered by Analogue Productions. (It's the mono version.) It sounds much better than any other version I've heard. I once had someone bring me their original copy from the '60s and the grooves were so worn out that it sounded like the music was coming out of a tinny transistor radio circa 1966. I thought to myself, really? This is the album that everyone thinks is so great? This is the album that inspired Paul McCartney to start work on Sgt. Pepper's?
Nevertheless, I have a copy of it for now. And it sounds pretty good for a fey, precious trifle about adolescence.
This is the only album I actually purchased at TAVES, and that's because I already planned on buying it. I love Anne Bisson--she's one of my very favorite "do you have any female voice?" artists. I do enjoy her singing voice, but I think I like her even more for personal reasons--I've met her a few times in the past and she is one of the sweetest, kindest, happiest human beings I've ever met. When she says hi to you while you're passing in the corridors of a hi-fi show--and she shows up to most of them--you'll have a smile on your face for the next hour. She's sunlight in a mason jar sitting high up on the shelf next to the window.
I own two of her albums on vinyl already--and they're absolutely beautiful pressings. This one is no different. But before I go on and on about the new Anne Bisson album I do have stop and say this is not hers alone. Conversations features Anne's voice and Vincent Belanger's cello, equal billing, and perhaps this is why I like it even more than the other two. It's more varied in tone and style because Belanger shines on his own for close to half of the album through his moody, evocative instrumentals. (It's a "conversation" between the two, after all.) I won't go into too much detail now since I may give it a more proper and thorough review later--I'm still rooting around in all the beauty and I'm still making discoveries.
One bummer about this album--I heard Anne was at the show and I was hoping she would come into our room. As it turns out, Anne had her own booth set up in the marketplace where she was selling the LP. I saw here sitting in her chair, talking to a half-dozen Canadian audiophiles who were clearly mesmerized, so I decided I'd come back later. When I finally had a moment, she wasn't there, so I bought the LP from the person who was manning the booth. I can't remember what that person looked like, or whether it was a man or a woman. I just knew it wasn't Anne.