Sunday, 17 January 2010

“The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” by JOE WALSH (2009 Audio Fidelity 24-Karat Audiophile CD - No'd Ltd Edition - Kevin Gray Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"…Oh Yeah! AAGH! AAGH!"

As a war-weary veteran of over 3000 posts/reviews across 8 years of Amazon and Blogger postings - like many music fans purchasing remastered CDs - I grow tired of record companies and their blurbs about 'meticulous transfers' and 'painstaking restoration'...  So it was with a certain amount of gonad-holding trepidation that I approached the latest Audiophile reissue of one of my favourite Joe Walsh albums – his 2nd studio effort - 1973’s album "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get."

But I'm so glad that I bought this because ‘seriously accomplished transfer’ jumps to mind. I'm properly blown away - I really am. But to the voice-box details first...

Original Produced by Joe Walsh and BILL SZYMCZYK - the musicians were:
JOE WALSH - Lead Guitar, Lead Vocals, Keyboard and Synthesiser
JOE VITALE - Drums, Flute, Vocals, Keyboards & Synthesiser
ROCKE GRACE - Keyboards and Vocals
KENNY PASSARELLI - Bass and Vocals
JOE LALA - Percussion

1. Rocky Mountain Way
2. Book Ends
3. Wolf
4. Midnight Moodies
5. Happy Ways
6. Meadows [Side 2]
7. Dreams
8. Days Gone By
9. Daydream (Prayer)

His second solo vinyl album "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get." by JOE WALSH was originally released September 1973 in the USA on Dunhill/ABC DSX-50140 and on Probe SPBA 6275 in the UK in October 1973. This US-only 24 KT + Gold CD (HDCD encoded) on Audio Fidelity AFZ 059 (Barcode 780014205928) is a December 2009 straightforward reissue of that Seventies rock classic (36:10 minutes). Engineer and disc-cutter KEVIN GRAY (over 150 credits to his name) has remastered the original first generation tapes using AF's "analogue to digital converter" system. Without any further 'sonic manipulation', the disc is then cut in 'real time' to get the very best sound achievable.

The inlay is placed behind the CD in the card wrap - some people have found that this left it with indentation on other AF releases - all I can say is that it hasn't done so here. Other buyers have also complained about the AF version of The Cars "Heartbeat City" - songs that were segued together on the original LP were clumsily separated with jarring breaks on the CD reissue - again not so here. Rocke Grace's funky flute instrumental "Midnight Moodies" segues into the crystal clear bass opening of "Happy Ways" and while the rock of "Meadows" fades out, the drum and cymbal count of "Dreams" sneaks in so sweetly - there are no gaps - the transition to each is seamless and beautifully handled.

The outer card wrap is numbered on the rear (a limited edition of 3000), the fold-out inlay reproduces the outer and inner gatefold artwork of the original US sleeve (pictures Side 1 and 2 of the Dunhill/ABC labels too), but disappointingly doesn't have any further liner notes nor historical appreciation (this is something AF really should address). But as ever, the real fireworks on a release like this, lies in the sound...

Having been a rabid fan of this album for over 35 years and having parted with a hefty wad of cash to acquire this Audiophile CD, the temptation of course is to 'hear' stuff because you desperately want to. But that's a no-brainer with AFZ 059. The sonic improvement is so absolute and so obvious as to render that argument completely mute. The reproduction is clean, muscular and staggeringly detailed. Every instrument seems to be `there' all of a sudden - especially on the lethal double of Vitale's "Bookends" followed by Walsh's "Wolf" - the synth on the first pounds out of the speakers, while the spacious echo of Walsh's guitar on the second sounds glorious - just huge. 

The album's opener "Rocky Mountain Way" was always going to be a sonic tester for this reissue - and it doesn't disappoint - guitar riffage everywhere - drums and bass so sweetly complimenting - it's astonishingly clean and full of power. "Happy Ways" was written by Kenny Passarelli and Joe Lala's lifelong friend BERNARD "BUDDY" ZOLOTH (of Blues Image fame) and it has Latin-based acoustic guitars that are so Stephen Stills' Manassas - the sonic clarity is simple breathtaking on it. The flanged guitar of "Days Gone By" coupled with the flute and keyboards - again wonderfully vibrant. There's a keyboard flourish about one minute into "Dreams" which literally made me stop in my tracks - gorgeous clarity - then it rocks about 2:18 and I'm blubbering like a fool. The album finishes with the quiet piano of "Daydream (Prayer)" which is perhaps the prettiest song on here - the girly vocals of King and Fields now so beautifully clear.

I own the AF versions of "Montrose" by Montrose and "A Nod Is As Good As A Wink..." by Faces and thought them great in some ways, but slightly underwhelming in others - not so on "Smoker". The words "meticulous transfer" actually do apply here because every single second of every single song screams it. If I met Kevin Gray on the street, I'd shake his hand, pat his kids on the forehead and stick a medal on his chest.

Joe Walsh talks babble at the beginning of "Meadows" and eventually screams "Oh Yeah! AAGH! AAGH!" On thrilling to this fabulous CD reissue, I now know exactly what he means. A stunning job done…

PS: see also my reviews for the Hip-O Select version of his 1972 debut album "Barnstorm" and BOTH the 2004 Japanese Card Repro and the 2009 Japanese SHM CD versions of his 3rd album "So What" from 1974... 

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