Archive for May, 2008

Gramophone online – major new resource for grown-up classical fans

May 30, 2008

Readers occasionally ask Music for Grown-Ups “which is the best recording of… “ (any classical piece, say Haydn’s Creation). 


My knowledge of classical for grown-ups usually falls short of discriminating between competing versions, so I point them to the best collection of online classical reviews, in the Gramophone magazine’s archive.  It’s a peerless, rich resource, distilling the wisdom of countless experts.


So it’s welcome news that the self-styled “world’s best classical magazine” plans to increase its online content well beyond CD reviews.  From September, all new editorial content will be available online.  And then, early next year, the website will be extended further to incorporate downloads, online CD sales and ticket purchases.


The new site – – promises to become the major resource for grown-up classical fans.  Rave on Haymarket, publishers of the monthly Gramophone magazine!





Gerry Smith    

No Depression, high quality Americana mag: RIP

May 30, 2008

Americana, like most musical genres, is a mixed bag.  It has a core of unmissable folksy/country/bluesy musicians – Hank, Gillian Welch, Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, John Hyatt, Lyle Lovett, Ralph Stanley and a few more are quintessential musicians for grown-ups.


But there aren’t many more.  In fact, I’d cross the street to avoid most of the musos covered in Americana mag, No Depression.  Below the top level, most Americana sounds like gnarled nostalgia to me, sung by an army of mostly superannuated left-field guitar pickers way too deep into their own mythology.


Regardless, No Depression is a high quality, stylish magazine, covering Americana with passion and authority. 


Or, rather, it was such a mag.  Because, after 13 years of publication, Issue 75 May-June 2008, is the last: collapsing CD sales claim yet another victim.


Undaunted, No Depression’s founders plan to serve the community they’ve developed by expanding their web site. 


May they live forever young.  And prosper.






Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next seven days

May 28, 2008

Over the next seven days, I hope to catch/record these tempting TV/radio broadcasts:


Thurs 29 May

2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 1 – Devil) – BBC Radio 2


Fri 30 May

2100 Johnny Cash: the Last Great American – BBC Four

2100 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2 – Dreams) – BBC 6 Music


Sun 1 June

2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music




Gerry Smith




Celebrating Chess Records

May 27, 2008

Let’s not mince words here: Chess Records, the Chicago label which gave the world the electric blues, thence rock ‘n’ roll, ranks among the most important creative enterprises.  Ever.


In the postwar years, Chess’s roster of artists made up the blues premier league – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson were merely the tip of the iceberg.  Then Chess recorded Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.


Without Chess, no rock ‘n’ roll.  No Elvis.  No Dylan.  No Stones.


Marshall, scion of the Chess dynasty, has been in London to promote Chess Moves, a hip-hop remix album of the label’s legendary recording artists, out next Monday.


The one-hour interview he did for Jools Holland on BBC Radio 2 was a wonderful Chess primer.  You can hear it for the next week here:



And the Marshall Chess interview in today’s Independent newspaper is a valued complement:




Gerry Smith

Wilfrid Mellers, music critic for grown-ups: RIP

May 23, 2008

I was saddened to read this week of the death of composer/writer/academic Wilfrid Mellers, latterly Professor Of Music at York University.


Uniquely among the music academics I’ve encountered, Mellers was passionately interested all musics, not just the European art variety.  He wrote accessibly – for those beyond, as well as within, the conservatoire.  And he contextualised his musician subjects by explaining the times and societies from which they sprang.


The best known of his 20-odd books are celebrations of Bach and Beethoven, but A Darker Shade Of Pale: A Backdrop To Bob Dylan (Faber, 1984, 255pp) is the Mellers book with which I’m most familiar.


Mellers was a skilful early advocate of grown-ups crossing genre boundaries.  May he rest in peace.




Gerry Smith   

True hi-fi sound and Neil Young’s Blu-Ray Archive

May 22, 2008

Thanks to Jerry Crew:


I just read your entry regarding Neil Young’s ever-moving target of an archive project, now to possibly be issued on Blu-Ray.


“As a music aficionado (though certainly not an audiophile), I must say that I have completely re-invigorated my interest in the simple joy of listening after having recently discovered SACD and DVD-Audio, especially in multi-channel format.


“Of course the tie between that statement and the Neil Young announcement is that Blu-Ray is quite likely the hi-resolution, multi-channel successor to those prior formats.  Now I question why I avoided purchasing the hi-resolution formats prior to now, especially considering they have been available since the early ‘00s.

“To briefly summarize the benefits: 1) even in stereo mode only, the sound quality is, practically without exception, wonderful on every disc (something that cannot be said about all standard CDs), 2) the multi-channel experience, especially coupled with the higher resolution, takes it to yet another listening level.  The traditional “sound stage” created by stereo imaging becomes a “sound womb”, if you will, when played back in multi-channel.

“Speaking monetarily, there are several reasonably priced, high performing “universal disc” players, capable of SACD and DVD-Audio, and soon, I’m sure, Blu-Ray.  Check out Oppo’s 980H for one.

“If you already have a decent surround sound-capable receiver and speakers (5.1 set up), you can start listening for under $200 USD with the addition of a universal player.  Also, while SACD and DVD-Audio disc were initially priced at 2-3 times the going rate of the standard CD, they can often now be found for the same price, or perhaps even less, with some smart shopping (which is also part of the thrill), than their standard CD counterparts.

“Finally, as I perceive that your tastes are probably more classically-oriented than mine (adult dance music notwithstanding), there are a plethora of classical titles available on SACD, with more issued every day.  

“OK, I will step down from my soapbox, but I would encourage you to give the various hi-res, multi-channel media a try if you have not already.

“Here’s a link to an excellent site devoted to SACDs:

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next seven days

May 21, 2008

Over the next seven days, I hope to catch/record these tempting TV/radio broadcasts:


Wed 21 May 2008

2130 6 Music Plays It Again – Paul Weller (1/2) – BBC 6 Music


Thurs 22 May

2130 6 Music Plays It Again – Paul Weller (2/2) – BBC 6 Music

2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 1 – Flowers) – BBC Radio 2


Fri 23 May

2100 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2 – Smoking) – BBC 6 Music

2230 McCoy Tyner, Jazz Library, BBC Radio 3


Mon 26 May

2045 Delius, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3

(1/5, continues Tues-Fri)

2230 Jools Holland, interviews Marshall Chess – BBC Radio 2  


Tues 27 May

2230 David Bowie, Icons Revisited – BBC Radio 2  



Gerry Smith

Neil Young Archive soon? Possibly maybe

May 20, 2008

Ask any hardcore Neil Young fan about the singer-songwriter’s Archive project and you’re likely to get a knowing smirk.  The legendary multi-volume project has been mooted and dropped so often that most reasonable people despair of ever seeing it during their lifetime.


But Young’s recent promotional activity – at an IT industry conference, of all places – suggests the first tranche of product might finally be nearing release.


Volume 1 (of 5) was promoted as a 10 disc set, with 128 tracks, and archival printed matter (letters, notes, reviews etc) from Young’s first decade as a creative artist, 1963 to 1972.  The musical content looks spellbinding.


The bad news?  It was promoted at the Sun Microsystems JavaOne conference in San Francisco as a Blu-ray (high def DVD) product – which requires a dedicated player or a Sony PlayStation 3. 


But the installed user base of these machines is so comparatively small, especially among Young’s key Baby Boomer demographic, that Music for Grown-Ups would be staggered if Warner/Reprise didn’t also release the Archive on CD, regardless of Young’s well-aired scorn for the technology.


Watch this space …




Gerry Smith 


Miles Davis CD/DVD package – bargain of the year

May 19, 2008

With the price of music product dropping like a stone, it takes a pretty special deal to stop me in my tracks, but the Miles Davis package I saw in Fopp, Cambridge, recently did just that: it has to be bargain of the year.


Fopp’s offer?  A Sony box pairing Kind Of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all, with the wonderful DVD of Ian Carr’s 2001 documentary two-parter, The Miles Davis Story.  Both are must-haves. 


Fopp’s price? 


£3: cheap at five times the price.



Gerry Smith

Postings switched to master site in week commencing Monday 12 May

May 9, 2008

I won’t be adding any new articles to this blog site in the week commencing Monday 12 May, during some behind-the-scenes work on my small portfolio of web sites. 


New articles will continue to be posted for much of the week on the master site,, so please take a look there:


I’ll be posting daily here again from Monday 19 May, so please make a note to return then! 


Sorry for any inconvenience




Gerry Smith, Editor