"...Devil In Disguise..."
Since his tragic loss in July 2013 renewed interest in J.J. Cale and his wonderfully laid-back songwriting magic has never been higher - so this box set 'claiming' to be 2013 remasters is a very tempting deal indeed (and for newcomers it is a good buy). But as usual with so many major label reissues these days - fans replacing old discs for new remasters need to know that there's snakes in the grass...
I recently bought and reviewed two of the truly amazing Japanese SHM-CD reissues of his first 8 albums ("Troubadour" and "5"). The titles released in Japan are "Naturally" (1972), "Really" (1973), "Okie" (1974), "Troubadour" (1976), "5" (1979), "Shades" (1981), "Grasshopper" (1982) and No. 8" (1983) - all of which ARE REMASTERED to superlative effect. As you can see from the list below - 5 of those 8 titles are in this mini box set "Classic Album Selection" (Barcode 600753418918) - but this UK/European Universal set absolutely IS NOT REMASTERED despite what Amazon UK and USA claim. Here's a breakdown and I hope an explanation:
1. Naturally - 32:13 minutes, cata no 0600753418949
2. Troubadour - 36:27 minutes, cata no. 06000753418956
3. Shades - 33:20 minutes, cata no. 060075348925
4. Grasshopper - 35:09 minutes, cata no 0600753418963
5. No. 8 - 29:59 minutes, cata no. 0600753418932
The CDs look exactly like the old Eighties and Nineties issues except for the longer catalogue number listed above - the old Mercury designed labels of silver and orange lines. My Mac even remembered the old track references I'd personally put on tracks when I put the discs in to read them. I tried an outside source - like a desktop CD player - same thing - same old discs - absolutely not new. So where does this '2013 Remaster' claim come from? I suspect from the Japanese SHM-CD reissues which seem to exclusively have remasters.
The point is that the sound difference between the SHM-CD issues and the ordinary 'digitally mastered' discs in this 2013 "Classic" box is literally like chalk and cheese. Don't get me wrong - the discs in the "Classic" box set sound good - they do - especially the 3 criminally underrated Eighties LPs "Shades", "Grasshopper" and "No. 8" which were beautifully produced anyway. And the box is cheap too. But it's his classy first five albums from the Seventies which need the remastering most. And if you're a real fan - once you get an earful of the SHM-CD of "Troubadour" (which actually has extended playing times too) or "Naturally" for that matter - you'll have to own the lot because the sound upgrade is so great.
To sum up - if you're a newcomer to the great man then "Classic" will suffice and is properly good value for money.
But if you're a real fan - then you need the real remasters - the Japanese SHM-CD reissues (list below).
J.J. Cale was one of my audio heroes growing up - and his influence on Eric Clapton, Dire Straits and even John Mayer is undeniable.
What a loss and what an artist.
The albums in the June 2013 Japanese CD reissue series are:
1. Naturally on Universal UICY-75627
2. Really on Universal UICY-75628
3. Okie on Universal UICY-75629
4. Troubadour on Universal UICY-75630 [SEE REVIEW]
5. "5" on Universal UICY-75631 [SEE REVIEW]
6. Shades on Universal UICY-75632
7. Grasshopper on Universal UICY-75633
8. No. 8 on Universal UICY-75634