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Best High Performance Recordings of 2004…according to surroundablog..

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This year saw a decline in the number of DVD-Audio releases and a tipping point for SACD. All in all…a strong high performance audio library could be built just by purchasing the following top 10 from Amazon…

10. Buddy Guy – “DJ Play My Blues”
A hitherto unknown recording from Blue’s best guitarist. It was taped live in a UK studio in 1981 and transferred to SACD this year. It stands up as one of Guy’s most honest and real performances. In 5.1, Guy slices up the livingroom with neat little stinging strat slashes.

9. Everlast – “White Trash Beautiful”
It wasn’t as strong as his previous outings, but this one glowers with a ferocity and rumble that is better felt than heard. Standouts include “This Kind of Lonely” interpolated with Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry”. The title track invokes visions of Lucy from the “hit” TV show, “The Trailer Park Boys”..

8. Frank Zappa – “Quadiophiliac”
Tapes for this album were discovered by Dweezil last year.
After trying to audition them on reel to reel; the Dweez soon realized that these were the makings of father Frank’s foray into quadrophonic sound. Dweezil completed the project with the help of DTS and transferred it to DVD-Audio. “Quadiophiliac” sounds every bit as freaky and unpredictable as the best of Frank in the ’70’s. Check out the guitar solo on “Rollo”…(available at dtsentertainment.com)

7. Little Feat – “Kickin’ it at the Barn”
Here’s yet another under the radar DVD-Audio release that is so satisfying that long time fans can finally put Lowell George to rest. The instrumental track, “Stomp”, should be required listening for all the “so called” jam bands these days. Nevermind those Grateful Dead transfers of “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead”…get this one directly from littlefeat.com

6. Mark Knopfler – “Shangri-La”
Take your pick…DVD-Audio or SACD…Knopfler has never sounded more emotive or played more fluid. It simply is “more”. A masterpiece that begs the exclamation, “I want my MTV” on SACD….and “Telegraph Road” and makes you wanna swing your sultans all around and remaster them in surround…..(ahem)…

5. The Allman Brothers – “Eat a Peach”
This is an early ’70’s masterpiece that begged…nay; demanded to be remastered. The original analog release accurately interplayed the brilliance of Dickie Betts and Duane Allman. But in SACD… these spectacular performances are clearly defined and easily identified. “Filmore East” is fantastic…but “Peach” is jubilant and joyful..

4. Albert King – “I’ll Play The Blues For You”
Another solid re-offering from the King library. Last year’s “In Session” with Stevie Ray Vaughan was a guitarist’s guitar album. This one recorded in 1972 featured the incredible Bar-Kays and Albert’s phenomenal Flying V. The tones on this will warm the hearth of the most cold-hearted self-loathing toe-staring critic. Although this SACD release was a stereo-only remaster it certainly stands up with the best of 2004…

3. The Animals – “Retrospective”
You got yer Animals…and you got Eric Burdon and the Animals…and a little Eric Burdon and War too. Not only is this the best of the Animal’s greatest hits collections, it’s a close runner for my best of the year. The additions of “Monterrey” and “Spill the Wine” help to offset the haunting nature of “House of the Rising Sun” and “I’m Crying”. Once again, “Retrospective” is a stereo-only release transferred to digital at Abbey Road Studios..

2. Ray Charles – “Genius Loves Company”
Given the timeliness of its release, “Genius Loves Company” is likely to be the runaway favorite at the Grammy’s inaugural awarding of the best surround sound recording of 2004. It features the brilliant reworking of “Crazy Love” with your pal and mine Van Morrison. It; however, falls just short of #1…

1. Elton John – “Honky Chateau”
This is simply breathtaking. The first time I heard it, I dragged people into our home to listen to it. Last year’s reissue of “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road” was great…terrific even…but suffered from being a little too bright. This year they got it right. I enjoyed all the 2004 Elton John reissues..but decided to include only 1 on this list. I had a tough time choosing between the giddiness of “Chateau” or the ethereal texture of “Madman Across the Water”….but one relisten to “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” sealed it…

Honourable mentions
Elton John – “Madman Across The Water”
John Hiatt – “Bring The Family”
Eric Clapton – “Slowhand”
The Kinks – “Muswell Hillbillies”
Uriah Heep – “Gold From The Byron Era” (available from acousticsounds.com)
Nine Inch Nails – “Downward Spiral”

Ron Wheeler
Editor
www.surroundablog.com

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