High Fidelity: King Crimson, Joe Walsh, Skynyrd in hi-res roundup

 By Todd Whitesel
In The Court Of The Crimson King
In The Court Of The Crimson King
It’s time again to look at the latest high-resolution recordings.

But first, I want to update Goldmine readers on a happening that relates to a recent column covering 12 collectible high-res recordings. At the top of the list was Aerosmith’s Rocks SACD, and I wrote, “floated around chat rooms for years about whether or not this album was actually released on SACD. It’s been verified, but there seems to be very few copies circulating. If you find one or have one, I’d love to hear from you. Value? Name your price.” Well, someone has.

The only copy I’ve ever seen surfaced for sale on eBay. The seller posted several pictures that confirm it as the real deal. Asking price? $12,500. The disc’s posting generated a lot of buzz but no buyers the first time around. As I write this, the SACD has been re-listed with a “buy it now” price of $8,000. More to follow.

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I can’t properly convey my excitement and pleasure over the latest King Crimson 40th Anniversary Series offerings: In The Court Of The Crimson King and Lizard.

I’ve touched on the remarkable remastering job done by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp for Court, and that holds true for Lizard, too. Both 40th anniversary issues feature a compact disc and DVD with new stereo album mixes using the original multi-track master tapes, high-res 24/48 PCM Stereo 2.0 and 24/96 MLP Lossless Stereo mixes and 5.1 Surround mixes in MLP Lossless and DTS formats.

Hearing the updated stereo mixes is worth the purchase, but experiencing both groundbreaking releases in surround feels like hearing it for the first time. Though many fans still consider Court Crimson’s finest moment, I’ve always had a soft spot for Lizard and found it to be equally ambitious and just as fearless as the band’s celebrated debut.

Lizard truly had no predecessor or follower. As Fripp notes in the liners, “At the beginning of 1970 I felt that everything to be done for the next two years would be wrong, but had to be done anyway — to get to the other side. What was on the other side, I didn’t know; but knew it would be there. …. nevertheless, the transitional era of 1970-71 had its own particular triumphs and some of them are on Lizard.”

Hearing “Indoor Games,” with its chiming guitar bits, buoyant horn hosannas, rolling drums and excellent Gordon Haskell vocals all expertly placed in the rarefied surround mix, is sure to thrill any Crimson fan. The dense and strangely menacing “Happy Family” is perhaps even more convincing in 5.1, with its free-jazz leanings spinning wildly like an out-of-balance coin held in motion by the forces of Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and English prog.

Wilson’s masterful re-interpretation even convinced Fripp, asserting, “For the first time I have heard the music in the music.” If you have even the remotest interest in this record, buy now! Three bonus tracks, too.

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Audio Fidelity has embarked on an ambitious release schedule in 2010, with limited-edition 24 Karat Gold CDs out now or in the works for artists including Judas Priest (Hell Bent For Leather), Yes (90125), Simon & Garfunkel (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), Randy Newman (12 Songs) and Alice Cooper (Love It To Death).

I had the chance to hear three recent releases — Joe Walsh’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second Helping. Audio Fidelity has made a point of staying true to the original masters for any reissue.

The dynamic studio duo of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray have typically been employed to bring the AF vision to fruition. My experience with the 24 K + discs has been positive overall, though some releases have not been without problems. The initial Second Helping release had a glitch where “Call Me The Breeze” skipped or “false-started” at the beginning. By the time I received my copy the discrepancy was resolved.

Second Helping and Walsh’s Smoker are both HDCD-encoded discs, so with a compatible player you can get higher resolution (20-bit/44.1kHz) playback than from standard redbook CD (16-bit/44.1kHz). The discs, however, will work in any player.

It’s difficult for me to listen to “Sweet Home Alabama” with any sense of objectivity after hearing it trampled to death across radio, TV and film, but a couple of deep tracks, the minor-key plea “I Need You” and “Swamp Music,” sound terrific.

For those who discovered Joe Walsh through The Eagles or his subsequent solo efforts, an often-incomplete picture of his music emerged — Walsh the hard-rocker or Walsh the joker.

Those who know Walsh from his James Gang days and early solo records have heard a breadth of music that encompasses rock, soul, R&B and folk.

If you don’t believe, give a listen to 1973’s Smoker, and beyond the well-known “Rocky Mountain Way” is a basket of many-colored eggs, including the marvelously arranged memoir “Bookends,” the moody “Wolf,” whose acoustic-guitar intro is terrific here, and the Caribbean-tinged “Happy Ways.” The AF version is very smooth and analog-sounding and a welcome reissue, not just for the sound but for the great music.

One thought on “High Fidelity: King Crimson, Joe Walsh, Skynyrd in hi-res roundup

  1. I thought you might like to know that the King Crimson re-issue series has continued in High Resolution, with “Red”, “Islands”, “In The Wake Of Poseidon” & “Discipline” getting the 5.1 & new stereo mix treatment (with the much loved original mixes present on the DVD as well) and also a new title from JFC called “A Scarcity Of Miracles”.

    Also in the classic albums in HIgh Resolution surround department is of course The Who’s “Quadrophenia”.

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