Stunning 2013 SHM-CD Remaster of J.J. Cale's "Troubadour" (Some Tracks Extended)
*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE JAPANESE-ONLY SHM CD REMASTER FROM 2013 ****
Since his tragic loss in July 2013 renewed interest in J.J. Cale and his wonderfully laid-back songwriting magic has never been higher - and if you want an example of just how good he was (and can sound) - then a few bob spent on this fabulous Japanese CD reissue is going to be money well spent. And more importantly to long-time fans - this 'actually remastered' reissue has tracks which are longer than all previous releases. Here are the gory details...
His 4th studio album "Troubadour" was originally issued on vinyl album in September 1976 on Shelter/Island ISA 5011 in the UK and Shelter SRL-52002 in the USA (excepting one song, they're all Cale originals). Its first CD appearance was way back in 1983 on Mercury 800 001-2 (the infancy of CD) - but it was an OK-sounding CD rather than a great one. Tracks from "Troubadour" were re-mastered for the 1997 2CD anthology "Any Way The Wind Blows" and fans got to hear just how good it could sound. But little will prepare them for the stunning sonic attack of this 2013 remaster - beautifully transferred and fully realizing the magic that was always there.
Released in Japan 26 June 2013 on Universal UICY-75630 (Barcode 4988005771612) - it's a SHM-CD (Super High Materials) and features Repro LP artwork including the Inner Sleeve - rare in any of his Seventies albums (includes track-by-track recording info). The OBI mentions that this disc is part of the "Rock Company '77" Series.
A SHM-CD doesn't require a special CD player to play it on (compatible on all) nor audiophile kit to hear the benefits. It's a new form of the format which picks up the nuances of the transfer better (top quality make). I own about 10 of them and they're uniformly superb. But the big news here is that some tracks are extended over previous issues. It's total playing time is 37:43 minutes as opposed to the original at 36:27 minutes. I've listed a track-by-track comparison to show the timing differences...
1. Hey Baby (3:20 new, 3:11 old)
2. Travelin' Light (2:53 new, 2:50 old)
3. You Got Something (4:05 new, 4:00 old)
4. Ride Me High (3:40 new, 3:34 old)
5. Hold On (2:06 new, 1:58 old)
6. Cocaine (2:53 new, 2:49 old)
7. I'm A Gypsy Man (2:46 new, 2:42 old)
8. The Woman That Got Away (2:56 new,
9. Super Blue (2:42 new, 2:41 old)
10. Let Me Do It To You (3:01 new, 2:59 old)
11. Cherry (3:31 new, 3:21 old)
12. You Got Me On So Bad (3:19 new, 3:17 old)
As you can see from the list above - on some tracks the difference is very slight - but on say "Ride Me High" - the combo of the superb remaster and the extra 10-second extended ending - make it almost feel like a new song - the version we should always have been listening to.
On the subject of sound - a few words first about the remaster (and Cale's remasters in general). Both Amazon UK and USA list the 5CD mini box set "Classic Album Selection" as having 2013 remasters ("Troubadour is among them) - it doesn't. Each disc has a new catalogue number that reflects the box - but that's all. They all have the old Mercury designed labels of silver and orange lines and are precisely the same as the old Eighties and early Nineties reissues. My Mac even remembered the old track references I'd personally put in. 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 these Japanese SHM-CD reissues which are Universal Japan issues only. The point is that the sound difference between this SHM-CD and the ordinary 'digitally mastered' disc in the 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". And the box is cheap too. But if you're a real fan - you will have to have these because the sound upgrade is so great.
It doesn't say which engineer has done the remaster and transfer in the booklet but the work is AWESOME - truly beautiful sound on every track. If I was to nail down two that show most improvement - it would be "The Woman Who Got Away" and "Cherry". The opening bass and drums on "Woman" are so sweet and clear now - as is the slinky piano-playing. I'd also swear that the original CD had a slight glitch/skip in the mastering - that seems to be now fixed. But the slightly longer "Cherry" is incredible. The high-hat symbol that runs throughout sounds like its going to punch out your grandmother - and his vocal hovering in echo over it all - shimmering and full of eerie presence.
I also love the whack that now comes out of both "Travelin' Light" and the Side 2 opener "I'm A Gypsy Man" (a Sonny Curtis cover). The shuffling sticks and pedal steel on "Super Blue" is accentuated too as is the chugging guitar in the naughty "Let Me Do It To You". I could go on... I've also reviewed the SHM-CD of "5" from 1979 and its just as amazing.
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. And damn the Japanese for being so good with these bloody things - because I need all 8 of them now! My long suffering bank manager will be pleased...
The albums in this June 2013 Japanese CD reissue series are:
1. Naturally (1972 - his debut) on Universal UICY-75627
2. Really (1973) on Universal UICY-75628
3. Okie (1974) on Universal UICY-75629
4. Troubadour (1976) on Universal UICY-75630
5. "5" (1979) on Universal UICY-75631 [SEE REVIEW]
6. Shades (1981) on Universal UICY-75632
7. Grasshopper (1982) on Universal UICY-75633
8. No. 8 (1983) on Universal UICY-75634