Friday, February 1, 2008

an evening with: The Soul Brothers: Last Train to Skaville

I was very excited to get my ears around this reissue of tracks I had for the most part never heard before. Listening on the iPod I was definitely delighting in the music - so exciting to hear a track such a 'Ska-culation' and rack my brain to finally figure out that it is a loose cover of the Chantays 'Pipeline' (more on this kind of oddity at a later date I'm sure!) - but after a few tracks the novelty of the new tracks quickly waned. I was definitely conscious of the fact that I was hearing the tunes through the sound destroying ear buds that came with the pod...and then I got home and...

The remastering is thoroughly awful. I think it is a Studio One reissue, so there is not much of a surprise in this, but I have my own vinyl rips of the Carib Soul and Hot Shot LPs and they sound so bright, energetic and musical in comparison. The 'Last Train...' tracks sound pretty dead to my ears. The difference? If you must insist on removing clicks and scratches you must know what you are doing (check anything reissued by Blood and Fire who I think in most cases did and continue to do a stellar job of bringing the music to life and minimizing the extraneous vinyl noise in a subtle fashion) . If you are anything like me, you would rather have the clicks and scratches and whatever other surface noise if you can hear the music (check the podcast in a previous posting). On these tracks I can still hear the clicks but they are clearly EQed out in some blanket way - so obviously the frequencies that are the same as the clicks are also minimized. Bad news by any sonic reckoning. Much of the drums, hats and cymbals are very obviously lost and much else I'm sure...

In fairness to Studio One, we're still talking about a fairly ad hoc system of reissue from my understanding. I have Studio One vinyl that to my ears sounds like it has been ripped to tape from vinyl and then re-pressed, resulting in a weird double layer of clicks. It makes interesting listening sometimes! But when the vinyl copy is good it can be ripped and still sound vibrant. what in the name of the god of sound can be wrong with a bit of surface noise?

To add to this, I have met a few times a sound engineer who was present at a session of Studio One tape archiving (I know not the studio or circumstances but it was prob. about late 80s). He (Mike D) told me that much of the very early Studio One material was on one track paper tape (!) and that the archive process involved trying to get the paper tape to pass successfully over the heads. In many cases the tape disintegrated immediately after passing over the heads. Powdered musical genius anyone. you could sell it in bottles...

So maybe some of this Soul Brothers material fits into this category of only redeemable via vinyl.

So I would say, these are great tracks for the most part, but if you can find them on vinyl - do it. I certainly will.

And this applies to most pre - say 1975 stuff for me now. I don't have the cash but, hell, better to spend a bit on the real deal instead of a hack job of vinyl ripping.

All of that said, there are some great tracks on here and only a couple of dupes from Carib Soul and Hot Shot (one from the JM Tribute - the excellent Boogaloo track) - I recommend the music without reservation - it is wonderful but it could sound so much better...gimme the vinyl and I'll do an honest to goodness straight rip, clicks'n'all!

Side notes: If this is Jackie Mittoo at age 13+ playing and arranging, it is truly humbling! The Soul Brothers at Studio One material is a really interesting period that I would like to hear a lot more of (leave comments with recommendations please!). In this music you have Ska-becoming Rock Steady-being jazzy and loading a lot of (current at the time) pop culture than people are aware of. Make no assumptions. these kids were sophisticated. But having fun. Chicken and Booze! Alright, where's mine?

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