The recent recording by the Brian Setzer Orchetra is a high point of his big band projects. The tracks on Songs from Lonely Avenue are of the film noir variety–a collection of songs that are begging to be the soundtrack for a stylish 50’s detective movie. While I’ve written about this excellent album here before, I was anxiously awaiting my LP version. The package I bought is in a beautiful gatefold LP jacket, with the CD attached to one side of the gatefold on a foam hub. (The CD is the image of an almost full moon…clever idea!)
I wish I could be as enthused about the quality of the vinyl release, though. The disc itself is slightly warped, but that is not a major issue. The vinyl itself is a bit noisy, but I have not yet run it through the record vacuum to see if some of the residual noise clears up. It may just be a slightly noisy pressing.
The biggest disappointment is in the mastering. Having the CD and LP versions readily at hand makes for an easy comparison when you’re doing a shootout, but trust me, what you’ll hear (or not hear) on the LP is so readily apparaent that you’ll wonder if something is wrong with your equipment. Yes, it is that bad. I did spin the LP once on my Music Hall/Dynavector DV10X3 turntable rig, and it sounded dull…but that is an extremely dull cartridge to begin with, and I only had it going through an older Kenwood receiver and spare set of speakers. Now that the big rig with the Walker/Grace/Shure V15VMR turntable is up and running, the shortcomings hit you immediately like a wet rag.
Or rather, it sounds like there is a wet rag covering both speakers. The sound is so utterly dead and lifeless, the LP is not enjoyable to listen to. The V15VMR is known to be a very neutral cartridge, and I’ve compared some CDs and LPs that sound nearly indistinguishable which were mastered from the same tapes. Not so for this one. The CD is actually a small amount on the bright side, but the LP is overly dull. “Trouble Train” opens with a high-hat, which doesn’t have a lot of sheen to it. But when the brass comes in shortly thereafter, there is no bite at all to the brass section. Switch to the CD, and all the sonics are back where they should be.
A friend of mine came over on Thanksgiving, and his thoughts were the same. In fact, after hearing the high hat on “Trouble Train” from the LP, before even hearing the CD, he passed me a look that pretty much summed up how I felt about the whole thing: what the heck is wrong with this LP?? And while the CD was slightly bright and compressed, it is clearly the better of the two. I can turn on the tone controls and crank the treble up to about 3:00 to make it listenable, but then the ticks and clicks are bright enough to zap mosquitos…three states away. My friend and I have both played in big bands (and, being in the front row, I can attest to the sound of having a full trombone and trumpet section behind me). The LP does the brass section no favors.
I had written Surfdog Records about my disappointment, but never received word back from them. Surfdog is distributed by Warner Brothers, so I had expected better. But I can’t fault manufacturing…just the mastering. I really wanted to like this LP, and looked forward to it for months. Utter disappointment. I’d still give the music 4-1/2 out of 5 stars, but the sound quality of the LP I could only give 1-1/2 stars out of 5. Save your money and get the CD this time out.