The Second Disc

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Archive for September 6th, 2012

A Second Disc Interview: Talking Matt Monro, Mastering and Mixing with RICHARD MOORE

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A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career. He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. We welcomed MICHELE MONRO to The Second Disc yesterday for this interview, and today we’re happy to speak to Michele’s collaborator, sound engineer RICHARD MOORE!  Richard is co-compiler of the new compilation, and the man responsible for restoring, remixing and remastering its tracks.  Click here if you missed our introduction to The Rarer Monro, or read on, to join our conversation with Richard!

Thanks for talking with us, Richard.  How did your association with Michele Monro and EMI begin?

I initially offered my help to the Monro estate in about 2005.  At this point Michele didn’t know much about what I could do, but in early 2006 I contacted her again – and as fate would have it, just as a cassette containing the only copy of a rare interview broke in her cassette machine.  [See yesterday’s interview for the full story!] She asked if I could repair it and transfer it to CD for her. Evidently she was happy with what I did, as I have worked on every official Monro CD release since. It was Michele who brought me in contact with EMI.

I’d like to pose one question to you that I also asked Michele: what was the biggest challenge in assembling The Rarer Monro

The biggest challenge is finding the material in the first place. I’ve lost count of the TV and radio stations and archives we’ve contacted around the globe, the hundreds of home recordings we’ve ploughed through to find one gem. It can be very frustrating too; some people are unwilling even to answer a simple enquiry, but persistence is the key!

Another big challenge is pulling all of the different sources together and making the sound fairly consistent. This album has material from 78 rpm shellac disc, vinyl disc, acetates, cassettes, ¼-inch home-recorded tapes and even an 8-track cartridge! On top of this there was material from the BBC – some of which was dubbed by them.  In other cases I was sent the tapes; recordings from Mood Media [took] almost a year to be found and dubbed, as well as material from the EMI archives in every conceivable track format.

And what was the most satisfying aspect of assembling this new set?

The most satisfying aspect is being able to bring so many lost gems to the public after so long. Finding a lost tape, or a previously undocumented session is a great feeling. Being the first person to hear recordings that haven’t been heard in years is a great honour. For instance, some early stereo tapes were found hidden in a cupboard in the BBC Research and Development Department and probably hadn’t been played since the day they were recorded in 1958. In cases like this you’ve no idea what you’re going to get. Does the tape actually contain what’s written on the box? Has the tape been wiped, demagnetised or recorded over? When you finally play the tapes and what you hear is good, it’s beyond satisfying!  Michele is always jealous as I always get to hear things before she does!

You and Michele should also be credited as detectives, Richard!  Out of all of the songs you discovered for this project, which presented the biggest obstacles for restoration?

Thankfully, very few of the tracks required major restoration.  “I Suddenly” came from a publishers’ demo on an acetate disc. In fact I had two copies; one was 78rpm, the other 45rpm. I had to restore both versions in order to find out which would be the best. The 78 was in best condition, but the frequency response was better on the 45. It became a bit of a trade off; eventually the 45 rpm disc won, but the amount of restoration required was more extensive. I pride myself on not being too heavy handed with restoration, but there are occasions where you have to scrub that little bit harder, which is what I had to do with this recording. The very last chord of this song as heard on the CD actually comes from the 78 as there was irreparable damage to the end of the song on the 45.

Another track in that required a lot of help was a recording taken from a promotional 8-track cartridge, the jingle for “Newport Cigarettes.” 8-tracks were never the greatest sounding format invented and this one that was nearly 45 years old, so [that] didn’t make matters any easier. The sound was lifeless and covered in major amounts of tape hiss. It’s still probably the worst-sounding of all the tracks, but Michele really wanted to include it.

The tracks from Matt’s Kind of Music, a long-lost radio series, also required some careful handling.  I am not a great fan of digital noise reduction where tape hiss is concerned. It’s overused and unnecessary most of the time. However there are times when used carefully, it is a godsend. The tapes of this series were wiped many years ago, Thankfully Matt kept a few incomplete shows himself taped off air on to 3¾ ips half track Mono ¼ inch tape. These tapes were transferred to cassette by EMI in the mid-1980s, but for reasons unknown, the original reels were not returned and have since been lost. The amount of hiss from the FM radio interference, low speed reel tape and now cassette was excessive, so I had no choice but to use it. I find that more damage can be caused if you try and remove the hiss in one go, so I removed it using four or five gentle passes. I didn’t try to remove it completely, just [to] take it down to an acceptable level. I originally restored the recordings back in 2006, but technology has moved on so for this issue I went back to the original cassettes and retransferred them in 96k 24bit.

After the jump: Richard talks mastering, reflects on Matt’s collaborators, and reveals what’s next for him! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 6, 2012 at 16:47

Posted in Interviews, Matt Monro, News, Reissues

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Review: “A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection”

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On its surface, it seems kind of crazy to make a compilation of tunes from A&M Records. There are plenty of labels with clearer narrative arcs: Columbia was a hotbed for melodic singer-songwriters in the ’60s and ’70s, from Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel to Springsteen and Billy Joel. Burgeoning soul fans started with Motown and graduated to Stax or Atlantic, depending on their region. ZTT was the place for avant-garde dance-pop/rock in the ’80s, much like Elektra was the source for dreamy West Coast folk-pop.

A&M, on the other hand, was an artist, trumpeter Herb Alpert, and a record promoter, Jerry Moss. Two guys working out of a garage. That’s the kind of narrative fit for Apple, not a label that facilitated everything from jazz-pop, British rock and New Wave to polished R&B and even a smidgen of grunge. In a weird way, the lack of narrative is almost a worthy narrative in and of itself – and it’s what makes A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection (A&M/UMe B0016884-02) a potentially vital compilation for your library.

And yet, the set misses the mark, obscuring that free-form narrative with a presentation that suggests uncertainty, as if this whole “A&M 50” venture was even worth it in the first place.

That’s not to say the set is bad. Remember, A&M doesn’t have the kind of market share a Motown might, so the deck is already stacked against the concept. But from a content perspective, A&M 50 excels. The three themed discs – “From AM to FM,” “A Mission to Rock” and “Soul, Jazz and More” – bring some sort of cohesion to the proceedings.

Disc One focuses mostly on the early years of the label, when Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 and the Carpenters were the stars of the A&M roster. Gradually, while the demeanor and ideology of pop artists would change, going from earthy (Cat Stevens, Joan Baez) to ineffectual (The Captain & Tennille, Chris de Burgh) to a mix of both (Amy Grant, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow), that devotion to pop hooks and inoffensive, of-the-moment production was always there.

Disc Two is where things get interesting. The (mostly British) rock scene A&M tapped into not only yielded some of the biggest hits on the label (The Police, Styx, Bryan Adams, Peter Frampton) but kept that smorgasbord mentality of A&M alive. This was a label that hosted guitar-heavy hitters like Procol Harum and Free alongside electronically influenced, wordplay-loving tunesmiths like Joe Jackson, Squeeze and Split Enz (all among the era’s most criminally underappreciated acts!). The two-song transition that closes this disc, Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun” and Sting‘s “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” are whiplash-inducing in their dissimilarity, and easily the point where you might agree with this point of view – that variety was the whole point of A&M Records.

The third disc amps up the eclecticism even more. A&M wasn’t content to just give you “soul music.” There were your classics old (the Phil Spector-produced “Black Pearl” by Sonny Charles & The Checkmates, Ltd.) and new (a 1991 cover of The Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Aaron Neville); real jazz (Jobim, Getz, Quincy Jones); some funky stuff (Billy Preston, The Brothers Johnson) and a few heaping helpings of poppy R&B (Jeffrey Osbourne, Janet Jackson, late-period Barry White). The disc earns its “and more” distinction by offering danceable tracks like “Crazay” by Jesse Johnson (formerly of The Time) and “Finally” by CeCe Peniston (unusually presented in its original album version, one of the few idiosyncratic decisions as far as which versions of songs appear on the compilation).

A&M 50 offers some fun discs, which is great. So what’s the problem? The set comes in a four-panel digipak, with a picture of Alpert and Moss and a brief essay (which nobody is credited with writing). The writer and producer credits are consigned to the inner panels, with little information outside of that. It’s very plain, and altogether a bit lacking. While a full-on box set approach might have been a tough sell, a double-sized digipak with a nicely-designed booklet should be less of a luxury and more of a commonality with sets like these.

Ultimately, it’s that lack of “luxury” which fails to elevate A&M 50 past a “Now That’s What I Call Three Sampler CDs from a Particular Label!” level. This was a fun idea that demanded better execution. Alpert and Moss may not have had a unifying goal when they founded that label out of their garage, but they had something worth showing off. It’s a shame that this concept didn’t quite get its due here.

Written by Mike Duquette

September 6, 2012 at 15:56

Getting the Knack (No, Not That Knack!) From Now Sounds

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When The Knack burst onto the scene in 1979 with the album Get the Knack, allegedly the fastest-selling debut LP since Meet the Beatles, was it a case of déjà vu for Dink Kaplan, Larry Gould, Pug Baker and Michael Chain?  The “My Sharona” group was a quartet that came to prominence in Los Angeles, played the Sunset Strip, signed to Capitol Records, and was lauded for a Beatlesque pop style via a massive promotional campaign.  But Kaplan, Gould, Baker and Chain had been through it all before.  They had formed a quartet by the name of The Knack, came to prominence in Los Angeles, played the Sunset Strip, signed to Capitol Records, and were lauded for a Beatlesque pop style via a massive promotional campaign.  So why did that Knack disappear?

Cherry Red’s Now Sounds label attempts to answer that elusive question with Time Waits for No One: The Complete Recordings of The (original) Knack, in stores now.  Perhaps a more distinct name would have behooved our Knack; the British group that would become The Gun had already started as The Knack, too!  But the moniker chosen by the former InMates might be the band’s only misstep, based on the 14 tracks included on this dynamic new collection.  You’ll hear a touch of the Raiders, a dollop of the Buckinghams and a dash of the Byrds, but that’s no knock on a band brimming with enthusiasm and talent: Michael Chain on lead vocals and guitar, Larry Gould on bass, Michael “Dink” Kaplan on guitar and Howard “Pug” Baker on drums.

Over four decades after the band’s breakup, Now Sounds has lovingly created an album that never was.  As with the label’s recent excavation of the recordings of MC Squared, producer Steve Stanley has flawlessly designed an LP jacket that could well have adorned a Knack album in 1967, but this CD release was certainly worth the wait.  (Of course, the CD’s label is also a perfect evocation of 1967 Capitol Records!)  It collects all of the group’s four singles (eight sides) plus extant other material, totaling five previously unreleased songs and one alternate mix, all fresh from the Capitol archives.

There’s plenty more, after the jump, including order link and full track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 6, 2012 at 10:08

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Knack

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